The Arrival of the Brothers

Chapter 13

A few months later, the brothers Giuseppe and Giovanni arrived, together with their families. The house at Holborn Hill was each day flooded with children. Giuseppe and Carolina had three grown-up daughters, a son of sixteen and five younger children. Giovanni and his Maria had Agostino, about Ragazzo's age, Stefano about four and the baby Emilia. There was so much to do and so many mouths to feed that Ragazzo was summoned from the chocolate-making to help out upstairs.

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Ragazzo found it hard to imagine that these well-dressed sober men in their smart cravats, black frock coats and top hats were Carlo's brothers. The wives, too, were rather grand, wearing what seemed to be Paris fashions. Their children were dressed much like their parents, the girls in pretty flowered dresses and frilly pantaloons. They were constantly told to keep clean and take care of their clothes.

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At first the new Signora clearly thought their lives had taken a turn for the worst. They were friendly and polite to Carlo, because they knew their husbands depended on his support, but they treated Maria with some disdain and were surprised at her simple clothes and the fact that she still cooked for the men, and that the family ate with them altogether. In Paris they said they had servants to cook and ate themselves in their own dining room. Maria, alarmed by their grand ways and a little ashamed, did her best to please them.

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Rosa was unabashed by her new aunts, and she was enchanted by her cousins. With the younger ones she soon became a leader, bossing them a little and teaching them English words. Whereas she had been content to play with Ragazzo whenever he had the time, now she was always too occupied, too involved with the cousins to take much notice of him. Soon she was demanding fine dresses and bonnets like her cousins and Carlo, happy to be surrounded by his own relations and pleased to see Rosa's affection towards them, sent her off with the Signora and Giuseppe's wife, Carolina on a shopping expedition.

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The transformation was remarkable. From the sturdy little girl who rode out in the trap on her father's rounds, Rosa was found in front of a mirror, prinking herself, smoothing her skirt, imitating her older cousins in their manners and ways of speech. The Signora too was not unaffected. She began to dress more fashionably and insisted that Carlo should bring in one of the cooks from the cafe to relieve her of some of the household duties so that she could spend more time, chatting, drinking chocolate and discussing the latest bonnets with the other ladies. Business being good, Carlo was amused to oblige.

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Gradually the two families settled, Giuseppe's family in Aldgate and Giovanni's family in the Strand, but they all met in large family parties each Sunday in each others houses and Ragazzo who had become accustomed to join Rosa in many of the Gatti activities now found himself left out of these family functions or simply acting as a servant at the dining table. Rosa was still affectionate towards him, trying to include him in the games the children played, boasting about the tricks and acrobatics which he could perform, but the others regarded him a little askance and he never felt comfortable with them. Only Agostino, a friendly lad, asked his advice and would accompany him on an errand to learn his way about the London streets.

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It was on one of these Sunday gatherings that Ragazzo's life began to change. Rosa had dragged him into a game of Blind Man's Buff. He had been set in the middle of the ring of children, a scarf over his eyes, his task to catch and identify one of them. Silence fell, except for a few excited giggles, as he moved forward, his arms outstretched, searching and listening for a victim. Suddenly to his right, he recognized Rosa's laugh and making a dive, caught her in his arms holding her tightly as she struggled. He tore off the scarf and amid much laughter, tied it over Rosa's eyes and pushed her into the ring. As he stepped back, he heard Giuseppe's wife say, "I can't understand you, Maria, letting that boy become so friendly with Rosa. Why you said yourself Carlo picked him off the streets. You know nothing about him. Mark my words, it'll bring you nothing but trouble in the long run."

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For a moment Ragazzo's heart missed a beat. He waited for Maria's reply and when it came it was timid. "Yes, yes dear, you may be right. I must speak to Carlo."

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What did they mean, Ragazzo wondered. What trouble? Why should he harm Rosa? Once again the uncertainty of his past raised a fear in his heart. Who was he? Where had he come from? If he had a name and a family, would those fine ladies have accepted him? He stood back from the game as Rosa blundered from one to the other of the children, his heart full of pain.

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A few days later Signor Carlo called him upstairs. "Well Ragazzo," he said briskly, "It's time we thought about your future. What sort of job you should have, what sort of training."

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Ragazzo was alarmed.

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"I'm opening a second shop in Hungerford Market. I'd like you down there as a shopboy and in a year or two when there's a vacancy you can go to the cafe to learn how to be a waiter. Learn your trade and one day we may see you with a café of your own. His tone was loud and hearty. "It's a good opportunity, Ragazzo, I want you to take it."
Ragazzo stood silent. He knew a great break had come. He was to leave the Gattis, leave Holborn Hill, leave the safe comfort of the attic with the workmen he knew so well, leave Rosa. He could not speak.
"Well lad, have you nothing to say? I'm offering you a real job with a good future." "Yes, Signore."
Signor Carlo got up, "Very well then. Put your things together tomorrow morning and I'll take you down first thing."

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It was a silent Ragazzo that stood ready with his little bundle next morning as they set off for the Market, and few words passed between him and his master. Although he knew the way to the Strand well by now, London that morning seemed an unfriendly place, a place full of new experiences, new dangers. At the shop he was introduced to the man in charge of the shop, Lorenzo Branca, and given a strong white apron and told to be ready for customers. In time Lorenzo would teach him the names of the cakes and pastries, how to pack them up, how to count money, how to give change and so on. Whilst Carlo spoke to the shopman, Ragazzo struggled with his apron which reached almost to the ground.

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Signor Carlo turned, "Why that's not the way to do it. See here, draw the apron tightly round you, cross the strings at the back and tie in front."

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For a moment Carlo put his arm round the boy and pressed him to him. "Don't grieve lad. I shall be down every day to see how you get on."

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With that he left, and with that Ragazzo had to be satisfied.