Mr. Cattley's Proposal*

Chapter 7

In the weeks that followed Stefano's death, a kind of bond had grown up between Ragazzo and his master, a sympathy and understanding. Missing her brother, Rosa too looked more and more to Ragazzo as a companion. In some ways he began to feel himself more a part of the family.

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Although he still worked in the chocolate-making shop, Carlo often took him out of it to run messages and sometimes he accompanied Rosa on a family outing. Then because of Rosa's insistence he began to go out with her and her father on the weekly round of his small cafes and kiosks.

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And so he found himself every Monday bumping along in the road in Signor Carlo's pony and trap with Rosa sitting up at the front clinging to the rail while he guarded the two pails ready for the week's takings. They would rattle through the streets at a great pace, the trap swaying and bouncing as Signor Carlo touched the pony with his whip, or they might be caught in a dreadful street jam and find themselves overwhelmed by the tall buses and drays with their huge horses sweating and panting, the heavy smell of fresh dung all around them.

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Ragazzo loved to be out and about. It was on the round that he met other men who worked for Signor Carlo, for it was Carlo's way, as his business expanded, to send for more men from his own or nearby villages to come and seek their fortune with him in London. He would set up the most enterprising in a kiosk or cafe, pay them a weekly wage and collect up the takings at the end of each week.

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Always friendly and sympathetic, Signor Carlo was, nevertheless, sharp over money and it was on visits such as these that Ragazzo and Rosa, even as children, learnt the hard facts of the business. They learnt too, of the sour looks from the local shopkeepers, for Gatti's men kept their cafes open on Sundays, something much disapproved of by the English.

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Amongst the Gatti men they were most welcome. The men had left their wives and families in the Ticino, so they were always glad to see the children. There were all kinds of titbits to be had and sometimes at the end of the morning, Ragazzo could scarcely down his dinner!

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They got back to Holborn Hill about midday. Trade had been good, the buckets were full. In turning a corner in Fetter Lane, the trap mounted the pavement and one of the pails overturned spilling the money all over the floor. So they arrived at the shop to the sound of coins jingling and chinking as they tumbled round their feet. "Well Carlo," said Battista as he met them at the door, "you sound like a millionaire, even if you're not one yet."

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Picking up the full pail, Carlo laughed. "Ragazzo, you and Rosa collect up the money, bring it in and then Ragazzo take the pony round to the yard."
"Yes, Signore."

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Rosa giggled with excitement as together they refilled the pail, searching every corner of the trap for any stray coins which had escaped their notice. As they carried the second pail in, Ragazzo saw a strange gentleman standing in the shop and heard Mary Sherwood saying "Signore, this is the gentleman who came earlier, about the Great Exhibition."

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"Good morning, Mr. Gatti. The name is Cattley. I'm Secretary of the City of London Exhibitions Committee. You'll have read no doubt of the Exhibition which will be held next year... or perhaps you have seen the preparations for the great palace they are building at Kensington?" Carlo nodded. "It will be a very fine affair with exhibits from all over the world, but my concern is for the City of London and the exhibits we can offer. We've had many suggestions, many good entries, but now we're looking for novelty - something original, and someone mentioned your chocolate machine." Looking at the machine rumbling round in the window, he smiled, "I can only agree. It would make a good contrast with some of the heavy machinery."

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Carlo translated what he had said to Battista who beamed with approval. "Well now if you're interested, it would mean submitting the machine for approval. You would need first to fill this form, letting us know the amount of floor space you would require, the height of the machine and what it would involve in erecting and dismantling it. The exhibition lasts for four months, of course, from May to September." Seeing confusion on Carlo's face, he said, "Think about it and I'll call back in a few days to hear your decision." He handed over the form, "Good morning."

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"Four months," Battista said in horror. "But what shall we do without the machine for four months? It will mean dismantling it just when it begins to work perfectly."

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The thought of returning to the back-breaking task of making chocolate by hand filled him with alarm, and Ragazzo remembering his hours of toil on the stone watched his master anxiously.

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"But think of the honour of exhibiting the machine, Battista. It will make our name famous in England, famous throughout the world." Carlo was quite carried away with enthusiasm.

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"We can't manage without the machine now that the business is growing."

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For two days the battle raged between the partners. There was little peace in the shop whilst Carlo and Battista were together. Julian and Ragazzo watched tight-lipped. Carlo had plans for building up great stocks of chocolate to tide them over the summer months; for developing the ice cream trade during the summer, for changing the shop to a cafe or a pastry shop. Battista was adamant. He was a chocolatier not a pastry cook. No one should destroy his chocolate-making business. The machine could not go. Carlo said there would never be another opportunity like it.

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So it was with sinking hearts that Julian and Ragazzo waited the return of Mr. Cattley. To their surprise Signor Carlo was hesitant. "Signore, I am sorry. It would mean a very serious loss of business for us. It would have been an honour, I appreciate that, but under the circumstances we cannot afford...." His voice trailed away in disappointment.

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"You mean this is your only machine?"
"Yes."
"Forgive me, I did not understand that. Well, that is a disappointment. The machine would have been an excellent exhibit." He paused. "But wait now, what about a model?"
"A model?" they all chorused.
"Yes, there's an excellent section for working models. If you can arrange to have a model made, we can give you space for that and the goods to display with it." Carlo's eyes lit up. "But remember, nothing can be bought or sold at the Exhibition." With that Mr. Cattley left.

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Excitement broke out in the shop. A model - what an excellent idea! Gatti and Bolla would be represented at the Exhibition after all. But where would they find a model-maker and what would it cost? All afternoon Carlo and Battista discussed the matter and then Carlo went round to Coppice Row to ask Signor Gaspero's advice. It was a delicate task. The model must be an exact replica in full working order.

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Later that afternoon as he was cracking out some tablets of chocolate, Ragazzo had an idea. He remembered seeing a model in one of the shops in Leather Lane. Which one was it? Why he thought it was in Mr. Spizzi's shop only a few doors away. Eagerly he approached Carlo.
"Signore."
"Yes Ragazzo?"
"There is a model in Mr. Spizzi's window in the shop round the corner."
"Luigi Spizzi. Of course! It was he who helped us with the machine in the first place. I shall go round and see him this minute. Thank you Ragazzo."

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He was back shortly with the news that it was Mr. Spizzi's father who was a skilled model maker and that he had agreed to come the next day to make drawings and take measurements.

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For a week or two old Mr. Spizzi spent a good deal of time in the shop and once he demanded they unscrew the main bowl of the machine so that he could see the detailed workings below. All this made Battista very nervous and difficult to work with, so Ragazzo was relieved when he went away.

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Then some weeks later the old man came to say that the model was ready and would someone collect it. Julian and Ragazzo went round to the shop in Leather Lane and proudly carried it back on its plinth, setting it down on the shop counter. "Bello," said Battista, turning the handle slowly round and round, "It is perfect." "It's so exact, so right in every detail," said Carlo.

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Old Mr. Spizzi coloured with pride. "It will need a cover to protect it, if it's going to the Exhibition." "A glass dome," cried Carlo, forgetting for once the expense, "it shall have a glass dome and we will all go to see it at the Great Exhibition."