Extract from the translation of "Il mio cadavere" by F. Mastriani
The gabeller’s family.
If a traveler, drawn there by chance or for the sake of solitary meditation, had found himself descending the slopes near the Real Albergo de' Poveri and S. Maria degli Angeli alle Croci at dusk on a beautiful summer evening in 1826, he would certainly have stopped passing by a poor dwelling largely destroyed by the tremors of the quake known as the quake of S. Anna, which occurred in Naples on the evening of July 26, 1805.
The supposed stroller would have stopped near that dwelling because in a room on the second and last floor, the one that appeared to be the most damaged, he would hear crying voices that would have torn the hardest heart. Those voices were mostly those of women and children and, from the muffled words and the bits of sentences mixed with the sobs of a cry that seemed to be desperate, one could tell that a dear member of that family was dead or dying. And indeed, a man was close to depart this life. This man was the head of that family.
Let's enter the interior of the wretched dwelling. Sublime and moving spectacle! Religion, which sustains the last moments of a father's life; religion, which is about to open to him the gates of heaven; religion, which alone remains at the bedside of the dying man, the divine ring that connects time to eternity; religion, which lives in tears, turned even to the survivors to mitigate their bitterest pain.
A priest stood beside the infirm old man, and while stirring to heaven the thoughts of the man at the end of his life, he was lavishing affectionate words and loving care on his children, appeasing and calming the extreme outburst of grief that knew no limit or restraint.
This minister of God was still young, for it seemed that he had only just passed the age of thirty. In his features, flecked with pallidness, one could read an angel's soul, especially in his eyes, which were filled with immeasurable piety. For two nights and three very long days of summer, this pious clergyman had not left that house, where he had undertaken the noble mission of substituting for that little family the paternal care, of which the miserable children were deprived, both for lack of a mother and for the infirmity of the father.
He administered medicine to the sick, and had them bought with his own money; he encouraged the sick to hope in heaven, to trust in the art of healing; and when the sick man, out of sad conviction, shook his head and rejected every argument of hope, Father Ambrose (this was the name of the reverend) spoke to him in a different language: He spoke to him of the miseries of human life, of the noble end of man created for a higher and immortal destiny, he consoled him by placing before his eyes the tender and sacred memory that his children would keep of him, the honored name that he left them, the general lament and the prayers that would accompany him to eternal rest, and finally, that holy man reassured him about the future of the children, promising never to abandon them and to have for them the loving solicitude and care of a father.
Nor did Father Ambrose limit himself to this compassionate but sad office. Rather, at times when the dying man had less need for his work and assistance, the priest was all around the children. And this generous man drew from the treasures of his piety arguments of comfort for the eldest, who understood the bitter loss they would soon make, and of distraction for the youngest, who often cried when they saw the others crying but understood nothing of the reason for their crying, and vaguely attributed it to their father's illness.
Father Ambrose was one of those creatures, pearls of humanity, who seem to have received from heaven the exclusive task of representing Charity on earth, not that maimed and haughty charity that is contented and satisfied in throwing the alms, but that consoles, revives, bends, humbles; that charity that enacts the true and only Christian equality among men, that which comes from mutual love.
Father Ambrose understood the full height of his divine ministry—wholehearted, delicate, reasoned self-denial for the benefit of suffering humanity. Pointing to heaven, the supreme port of health, he soothed the woes of the earth; he spoke to the humble and the poor of their greatness before the eyes of the Lord; to the proud, he showed the nothingness of human pomp, the vanity of worldly goods. He placed the dissolute before the shame of their vices; he had in great abundance arguments and words for every misery, for every weakness; he loved men when they were most blind in their mind, burdened with wickedness or fallen to the depths of disgrace.
Five children remained deprived of their parents, two females and three males.
Lucia was the second daughter. Although she had not yet reached her fifteenth birthday, she had all the wisdom and prudence of a woman; she was, in a way, the mother of her brothers, and the government of the family was carried out by her, who put so much care, patience, and love into it, that she often deprived herself of something so that her brothers would not lack it.
An excessive sensitivity formed the whole of her character, as piety was her soul, her life. Lucia could not live without devoting herself to good deeds, without countless daily sacrifices, without giving way to that river of loving kindness that overflowed from her heart. God had created her to love and suffer, and her days were nothing but the continuous exercise of this twofold destiny of womanhood.
Lucia was not beautiful in face, if one looks at the regularity of features, but her eyes were the most sublime expression of the human soul. One could not look at them without feeling torrents of sweetness raining down on one's heart; they were beautiful beyond belief and spread over her whole person the spell that came from them.
We have said that Lucy was the second-born; who then was the first one?
The first son of Giacomo was an idiot, whose real name was Giovanni, but who was commonly referred to as Uccello (Bird), because the poor guy, unable to stand on his feet, balanced himself by stretching out his arms and pointing his elbows like the wings of a bird. A long and tormenting illness suffered by him in his childhood, for which he escaped death almost by a miracle, had afflicted his nervous and muscular system in such a way that, in addition to having the toes of both feet and the left hand twisted, and the pupil diverted from its regular center, it had deprived him entirely of the use of his intellectual faculties.
Uccello (this is how we shall call him from now on), who stuttered and was chatty at the same time, poorly articulated sounds and words; and it was curious to hear him speak when he was angry at someone, for in this case, more than usual, the chattiness tangled or curled his words so much with the drool that came copiously to his mouth that it was a veritable firework.
The caducous illness, which frequently struck the unhappy young man, added to make this creature extremely miserable. To complete the portrait of Uccello, we must note that, although twenty-three to twenty-four years of age, he was short in stature and devoid of hair on his face, so he did not seem to have reached adolescence. At the slightest opposition to his childish will, by any slight objection, he cried loudly as children do, and he quickly cheered his face and made a sound like laughter when he was given the toy or food he asked for.
Marvelous provision of Providence! Uccello, when he got what he craved, was happy, completely happy, like the ambitious man who gains and holds his intent, like the miser who reaches for his treasure chest, like the lover in the arms of his beloved.Uccello had in his idiotism a singular sympathy for Lucia more than for his other sister and brothers. Oh, how happy the poor idiot was when he could steal a kiss from his favorite sister! Oh, how he rejoiced! How that dead heart turned over when he embraced her!
It is true that he seldom dared to do this, due to the invincible shyness that Lucia's serious demeanor inspired in him; but if he sometimes saw her less thoughtful than usual, if he caught her smiling at his inept stammering, oh, then he could not resist and threw himself at her neck like a little dog.
When the idiot did this, Lucia would start getting angry, then frown, and not a few times would she end by pressing a kiss on the wretch's narrow, compressed forehead, who did not stop jumping for joy and saying so many things so fast that his sister understood nothing.