A Real Happening by Mary B. Claflin

Old Beppo and Nina, his wife, with their two boys, lived in one of those little excavations which everybody who has visited Naples will remember. I hardly know what to call them, for they certainly do not deserve the name of dwellings. They are little holes dug in the sandy hillsides just outside the busy city, where the poor people crawl in at night, and where they keep their little belongings by day. The poor of Naples live out of doors, as indeed the poor people all through Southern Italy do; and it does not seem half as hard to be poor in Italy as elsewhere. The beautiful, clear, blue sky overhead, and the soft, warm earth to sit and lie upon, with the delicious air to breathe, and the great Duomos always open to them where they can go at any hour of the day and feel that they have just as much right as kings and princes—who wonders that they are contented, lazy and dreamy? Give a Neapolitan beggar macaroni and sunshine, and he will sit and dream away the hours with no thought or care of what will come to-morrow. He has just energy to whine—"Poverino Signorina"—and it matters little whether his extended hand is filled with centismi or not; according as it may be, he calls upon the "Sanctissmi Virgina" to bless or curse you and sinks away into dreamy content till the next stranger approaches. Not so with Old Beppo; he tugged all day grinding out dolorous tunes from his old organ, and whether people paid him for grinding, or paid him to stop grinding, all the same Old Beppo thought he was earning an honest living.

Everybody in the little neighborhood of Lazzaroni knew and loved Old Beppo—why he was always called Old Beppo, I never knew, unless it was because his home-life had given him a subdued, downcast look, and his shoulders were more rounded and bent than even his heavy organ would have made them if he could have had a little comfort and cheer in the poor place he called home. Nina was a peevish, querulous wife—always finding fault, and never satisfied with Beppo's earnings; true, it was little enough he brought at night after trudging all day with his hand-organ, and as he approached the little rookery at the end of the day his steps grew languid and heavy, for he knew his only welcome would be Nina's grumbling, fretful greeting; and poor Old Beppo, after unstrapping his burden and eating his poor meal of macaroni, found rest, not on the little seat outside his own door with his wife and children, but on the sand-bank, or on a neighbor's doorseat where he could smoke his pipe in peace beyond the sound of Nina's croaking, scolding voice. The two boys were like their mother, and Beppo found little comfort in them, so it must be confessed that when in the summer of 1860 Nina was called away to a country where Old Beppo hoped she would not find so much to scold about, his grief was not inconsolable, and a year later he found a more congenial companion in a trim, pretty little widow whose husband was taken off by the same scourge that carried Nina away. Italia had one little boy who was, like his mother, amiable and pretty, with the beautiful great black eyes of a true Italian, and all the fascinating ways of a pretty child of nature. He might have been used for a model of Italian child-beauty.

Old Beppo spent two peaceful and happy years with Italia, and then came again the summer pestilence and poor Italia was one of the victims. Little Dino was heartbroken at the loss of his mother, and Old Beppo, after trying in vain to console the little boy, decided to take him, with the two half-brothers, to America, as much perhaps to change the scene for little Dino as to better his condition in our land of hope and promise. Dino played the violin and accompanied Old Beppo in his wanderings over the country for a time, until the old man became restless and unhappy and longed for his native air. Dino had recovered his childish spirits, and was happy in the freedom of our free sunny summer weather where he had plenty to eat, and was petted and pampered because of his pretty little ways and his bright black eyes. But Old Beppo could not live away from his "beautiful Italy," and as soon as he gathered pennies enough, he took passage for Naples and left the three boys in America.

The two older boys were to look after little Dino and to give him such care as he needed. True to their coarse nature and instincts, they began, as soon as their father had left, to send Dino out with his violin to earn not only his own bread but theirs; for they knew that his attractive little face and winsome manners would win for them more pennies than they could for themselves. This was true, but sometimes the pennies failed, and the days were dull, and people did not care for Dino's music; and then the brothers beat him and ill-treated him until he could endure it no longer.

The summer was passing; the days were becoming cool, and the nights damp and chilly, and oftentimes little Dino, rather than go to his brothers where he was sure to meet with cruel treatment, would creep under an old cart or under some door-steps and spend the night. This he did not complain of until the nights grew frosty, and the poor little fellow found himself stiff and cold when morning came; and then with the tears streaming down his cheeks he longed for "My Italy. I 'fraid I freeze to death, I want my mother," he said pitifully.

His brothers kept track of him and lost no opportunity to illtreat him, and he resolved to run away from Boston and go to some place where they could not find him. Accordingly one rainy, chilly night in November, he took the cars and started to go—he knew not where, but anywhere beyond the knowledge of the brothers who had whipped him until he bore the marks all over his little body. Crouched down in a corner of the cars, Dino was counting his pennies when the conductor found him and asked in not the pleasantest tones where he wished to go.

Of course he had no idea how much money it took to ride in the cars even a short distance; so he gave the conductor all the pennies he had, and said, "I want to go so far."



It was on this dismal, chilly November night that little Dino found himself in one of the suburban towns of Boston, where some young ladies were holding a little sale for the benefit of a Home for Orphan Children in their neighborhood. The day being so unpropitious, visitors had been few and sales very slow. The young people, with rueful faces, were talking in the twilight of their disappointed hopes, and wondering if the evening would bring customers for the little articles they had spent all their leisure summer hours upon, in the hope of adding a large sum to the depleted treasury of the town, when suddenly a child's voice was heard at the door, "Me want to play me fiddle for some supper."

No one who saw that tiny boy with his pleading eyes, and his rich, soft voice and his broken foreign accent, as he stood half clad in the chill of that November night, can ever forget the picture. They were at a loss to know what to do. They said, "But we don't want to hear your fiddle. Where did you come from, and what is your name, and where are you going? It is night and where will you sleep?"

"Me come from Naple," he said; and holding out his little brown hands he displayed the scratches and said, "Me big brothers beat me, and scratch me, and me run away."

"But where did you come from?" a half a dozen eager girls asked all at once.

"Me don't know. Me sleep under cart and me very cold. Can't me play me fiddle for some supper?"

The tears began to start not only in the eyes of the little waif, but handkerchiefs were in demand among all who stood listening to the story, forgetful of sales or profits for the moment, and intent only upon feeding the little orphan who stood before them.

"Come," they said, "and you shall have some supper; but where will you stay to-night?"

"Me don't know. Me mother die, me father go back to Naple, and me cry."

The interest grew with every word he uttered, and the excitement ran high among the enthusiastic young girls, each of whom fed and petted him till the little fellow's countenance beamed with happiness. He had never fallen into such hands before, and his sorrows, like all childish sorrows, melted away under the first rays of loving kindness. He was placed on the flower-stand, and there among the flowers, in the warm, cheerful hall, he was reminded of his own beautiful Italy, the land of flowers; and the notes of his little fiddle attracted the visitors so that as the evening wore on, Dino found his friends increasing and his pockets filling with pennies, and his eyes overflowing with joy. Pointing to one of the ladies, he said in a plaintive tone, "Nobody love me, nobody smile on me but her—and my mother die and I cry."

But the evening was wearing away. The flowers were fading, the people were leaving one by one, and the hall would soon be deserted. What then would become of poor Dino? It was decided at length, after much consultation, to place him in the Orphans' Home.

The morning dawned and brought one of those clear, crisp November days which are common in our New England after a rain, and Dino was taken to his new home. This Home for Orphan Boys is a cosey, cheerful house, and when Dino was introduced to the kind man who has charge and told if he would be a good boy he should have a home there, have dinners and suppers, have a place to sleep like other little boys, he gave a sigh of relief, took a deliberate look around the sunny room, and then thrust his little brown chubby hand into the pocket of his torn, dilapidated trousers, and drew forth the pennies that were snugly tucked away in their depths, and with a grateful smile, his black eyes fairly dancing for joy, he handed them to the superintendent, saying, "You give me home, I give you my pennies. I was so 'fraid I freeze to death."

It was touching to see how Dino clung to his little old fiddle. It seemed to be the one connecting link between the days in Italy where he had lived an easy, happy life with his mother whom he seemed to love so dearly, and the new home which promised to give him shelter. His little old fiddle was a source of much amusement to the children, whose tunes he readily caught, and he soon became a great favorite. The visitors who came to the Home always asked first for Dino, the Italian boy, and seldom went away without leaving something for the little fellow.

As the days and weeks wore away, Dino constantly improved in mind and manners, and developed all the sweetness of heart and disposition that he promised on that November morning when he gave "his pennies for a home." At the end of five years he left the Home and sought a place where he could earn his own living.

Years passed and the memory of little Dino was fading out of the hearts of those who had befriended him, when the Sabbath stillness of a midsummer afternoon was broken by the sound of approaching footsteps, as the family sat on the broad piazza of a pleasant country house. A young gentleman was seen coming up the shady avenue, and the question went around, "Who can the stranger be?"

The bell rang and the message came: "Say to the lady, Dino would like to see her. I think she will remember the name."

As the lady approached—she of whom he had said on that dreary night in November, "Nobody love me, nobody smile on me but her"—she recognized the Italian eyes, and the old, sweet, musical accent with which she had been familiar years before.

With a graceful bow, he said, as if to assure himself of a welcome, "Madam, I should not have ventured in your presence if I had not been informed by my friends at the Home, upon whom I have called, that you would be glad to see me; for I felt that by my long silence I had forfeited all claim to your friendship."

Of course he was most cordially welcomed, and invited to tell the story of his long absence. He said, "I was earning an honest living in a grocer's establishment as job-boy after I left the Home, when the idea took possession of me that I must have more education, and I knew the only way I could get it was to go into the country and work for my board where I could go to school. I found a kind old farmer who gave me board and lodging for what I could do out of schoolhours on the farm, and here I remained for some years, Then came over me the old longing for music. I had kept the little music I knew during my stay at the farm, for I had led the Sabbath choir and the Sunday-school singing, and had never missed a Sabbath while I was there. But I longed for some knowledge of music. I felt that I could not live without it, and though the kind old farmer offered me good wages if I would remain with him, and a generous sum when I should become of age, I said, 'I cannot live without music,' and so I bade adieu to my pleasant home, and went to a city where I could hear music—my heart's great desire—and take lessons as soon as I could earn money enough to pay for them. I soon found occupation, and now I am earning an honest living." He then modestly added: "Perhaps, madam, you will be gratified to learn that I have never tasted intoxicating drink, nor spoken a profane word since I left the Home. I have never forgotten the first passages of Scripture I learned from the little Bible you gave me: 'There is not a word in my tongue but lo! O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.'"

The little Italian beggar now has a wife and a pretty little boy in a comfortable home of his own, and his testimony is, "If I had not been cared for and instructed in that Christian Home, I should be a beggar now as I was when I entered it."