Nino by Sara Conant

THE rain was just beginning to fall in a thin, chilling drizzle, and the cold air nipped sharply any unwary toe that showed itself, as Nino played a little air full of thoughts of birds and flowers. His thin jacket was no protection, and his dark eyes looked as if a shower might drop from them; but the clouds had been over his life too long, and there were no tears left to fall. He was not so old that this must be the case; but he stood alone in the wide street, and no one spoke to or noticed him. One friend he had—his guitar; and now he put that under his jacket, lest the rain should hurt it.

Ah, carissima!” he murmured, as he hugged it under his arm; “you are never hungry or tired, and you shall not be wet. One of us shall be happy.”

The guitar gave a little whisper as his jacket rubbed against it, and Nino smiled and nodded in answer. Now the rain was falling rapidly, and he stepped under an awning, to wait until it held up. There was a lady standing there, her skirts held high, and her cloak drawn closely, and Nino stood one side; for why should he be near any one? He well knew no one wanted him. He watched the water run by in the gutter, and looked into the barrel of apples at his side—large, rosy apples, that would be so good; and he glanced up to see if any one saw him. Why not take one? He could hide it, and eat it afterwards. The grocer had so many; he had none, and it was days since he had eaten anything but dry bread. He knew it was not right to take what belonged to another; but he heard so little of right, and hunger and want pressed him every day.

As he stood thinking, not quite resolved to take one, there was a patter of little feet, a merry laugh, and a bright vision stood by his side.

Was she a fairy? She looked as he always felt his guitar would look if it could take a human form—slender, active, fair. A shower of golden hair, not pale, but bright, like the summer sun; eyes as deep and blue as the distant sky; a face of which one would dream. Nino held his breath, and as the blue velvet coat brushed his ragged arm, drew a sigh, and stepped back.

“Did I frighten you, little boy?” asked the child. “It was raining so hard, and nursey had to run.”

“Come, stand in here, where it does not drip,” cried the nurse, drawing her away.

Nino peeped under his coat, to be sure his guitar had not been transformed, and then stepped aside under the eaves. It seemed as if he ought to be wet when such a lovely being was obliged to endure the discomfort of standing there. As she chattered, he drew near again, and wondered whether angels did not look like that. She was certainly more beautiful than those in churches. He had forgotten that he was cold, and was feeling very happy, when the intentness of his gaze attracted the child’s attention. She was whispering to her nurse, when a harsh voice cried out,—

“Boy, go away from there! I can’t watch those apples all the time.”

Nino had thoughtlessly laid his hand on the barrel, and when the grocer spoke, moved hastily away.

“Here, little boy,” cried the silvery tones of the child; “don’t go; I want to give you an apple.” Then she said to the grocer, “A big one, please.”

“Yes, miss; I did not notice you were there; but those boys are so bad!”

 Nino’s face flushed, and his eyes glittered; but when the child handed him the apple, he smiled, touched his hat, and said,—

“Thankee, little lady.”

As he walked away, he did not notice the falling drops, but laid his cheek against the apple, and smoothed its plump rosiness before he tasted its rich juiciness.

Nino had no associates among the rough boys in the streets; he had a pride that kept him above their coarse ways. As he played and sang the songs he learned in Italy, dim memories of a better life came to him, and his music seemed a holy spirit. He would have died but for that, his life was so cold, hard, and bare.

He had been brought over by a sea captain, who dealt in boys; and as he was very ill on the voyage, the captain let an old woman take him for a small sum. She thought his thin, sad face would move the passers, and in pity they would give him money. For this reason she sent him out day after day, in storm or shine, ill clad and weary, giving him but little food. But nature helped him. In spite of this treatment, he became stronger, and after a time ran away from her. Then he joined himself to a party of boy musicians, and by their help got his guitar. But they were unkind to him; for he was yet weak and timid, and the leader, a large boy, sometimes beat him if he refused to play. One night Nino ran away from them, his precious guitar under his arm; and since then he had played and sung through the streets, sometimes begging, sometimes in despair, with thoughts of stealing.

His chief delight and comfort was to lie in the sun on a fair day. He was always hungry, almost always cold, and when the wind did not blow, and the sun was hot, he liked to bask on a step, and dream of good dinners, pretty clothes, and a soft bed. The sun was the only thing he could find in the cold northern climate which was like his old home. In this way he would be nearly happy; but when storms came, he was chilled within and without. The world then was gray; he could not even play on his guitar, which in sunny days brought him pleasant pictures of green fields, dancing water, and leafy vines, loaded with purple grapes.

His guitar was his only companion, and he treated it as if it was alive; he talked to it, cared for and loved it with a tenderness which was of no value to the instrument, but was of service to the friendless boy, in giving him an unselfish motive.

The autumn was fast advancing when he met the golden-haired child; and as the days became colder, he cherished the thought of her, and it made him warm when the sky was cloudy, as if she was a ray of sunlight. He had generally slept on steps or any spot where the police would leave him unmolested; but now the nights were so chill, that he tried hard with a few cents to pay for a lodging.

With this purpose in his mind, he stopped before a house in a private street one evening just after dark. The gas was already lighted; but the curtains were not drawn, and Nino could see the table bountifully spread, and a servant moving about, adding various articles to it. A dancing figure passed and repassed the window, now peeping out, and again running back. Nino’s voice trembled as he saw this light and warmth; and as he sang of “love and knightly deeds,” he thought of himself out in the cold, with nothing to love but his guitar, and he felt very sad.

In a moment the door opened, and out sprang the child he had thought of so long. The light seemed to follow her, and she cried,—

“Here are some pennies.” Nino removed his ragged hat, and held it out, and she said, “O, you’re the same little boy! Wait a minute, and I’ll get you a cake.”

Nino sings and plays guitar

NINO.

 Nino stood with his hat off until she returned and gave him a cake.

“You play such pretty tunes! and I know you now; for I’ve seen you twice,” she said, folding her hands, and looking at him.

Nino murmured,—

“Thankee, pretty lady,” and looked at her as if she was a being from another world.

“What is your name?” she asked.

“Nino.”

“Come, darling; don’t stand out there,” called her mother from the house.

“My name’s Viola. Good by,” she cried, as she ran in.

Nino sang one more song, and then kissing his hand to the little form at the window, went on his way happy. The money brought him a night’s lodging and permission to leave his guitar. In the morning—for the following day was Sunday, and if he carried it with him, the police might arrest him for trying to play—he made a light breakfast on a roll, and went to the street where Viola lived, to see if he could meet her. As the bells were ringing, she came down the steps with her parents, and Nino followed at a respectful distance, until they went into church. Nino attempted to go in also; but the sombre sexton at the door frightened him with a severe look, and he wandered on. After a time he came to a mission church, where, by a sign, all were invited to enter. Taking a back seat, and trying to understand the preacher, he fell asleep. When he awoke, the preacher was gone; but the room was full of ragged children, and for the first time Nino found himself in a Sunday school.

The teacher nearest to him was a sweet-faced lady, who spoke gently to the boys of being kind to others, and patient with those who had not the chance to learn that they had; she told them stories, to show them how kindness would return to them, and how happy it made them to have others gentle with them. Nino listened, and thought of Viola; and when all sang some hymns while a lady played the piano, a new life stirred in him.

When the services were over, the teacher gave him a paper, and asked him to come again. He sat on the steps after all were gone, looking at the pictures, and when he returned to his lodging went around by Viola’s house, and was rewarded by seeing her sitting in the window with a book. When he reached the wretched place where he had spent the night, and looked for his guitar, he could not find it. Asking the woman about it, she said she was cleaning up, and it was somewhere on the floor. Nino’s heart began to swell, and when he found it in one corner, snapped and broken, his grief and anger burst forth in a volley of Italian. He hugged it, and sobbed over it, called the woman a beast, and pointed to the ruin of his favorite in angry despair.

In the midst of this tumult of feeling the paper he had received dropped out of his bosom, and striking his feet, recalled the teacher’s words and Viola sitting quietly by the window. Nino stopped, and for a moment was silent, then saying, “You didn’t mean to,” picked up the paper, folded his jacket over the guitar, and left the house. His anger had vanished; but his grief remained. He spent the evening in tears and wretchedness, alternately gazing at his guitar, stroking it, and then giving way to passionate crying. At last he slept, curled up in one corner, and in the morning awoke with a cough which hurt his side.

Now he had only his singing to depend on; he had not been taught any useful employment, and did not know how to work. He wandered about in the most disconsolate manner, his cough getting worse, and his grief for his guitar, which he always carried with him, still tormenting  him. Sometimes, when people saw the poor boy crouching in a corner, hugging a broken guitar, and crying bitterly, they would give him a few cents. He would not beg; something held him back, and the thought of Viola would not let him steal.

On the Saturday after he had been to Sunday school, as he was sitting on a step, sadly thinking, he saw Viola and her nurse crossing the street towards him. At that moment a carriage with wildly running horses turned the corner. Men on the sidewalk shouted and waved their arms. Viola, confused by their cries, turned back, and the horses, startled, dashed in the same direction. Nino threw aside his guitar, and sprang forward, drew Viola out of danger, but fell himself, and the carriage passed over his foot, crushing it, while in falling he hit his head against the pavement, and lay insensible. Some of the men ran after the horses, some helped the nurse carry Viola home,—for she was crying and trembling with fright,—and a policeman took Nino away.

When Viola was restored, she began to ask for Nino.

“It was Nino, mamma, and I want to see him,” was her constant cry.

Her father and mother were also anxious to reward the brave boy who had saved their only child, and made many inquiries to find him. The policeman had taken him to the station-house, and there no one remembered anything about him.

“There are so many of those children brought in, madam, you have no idea. We don’t pretend to keep track of them all,” was the only information they could get.

At last they were obliged to give up their search; but Viola was much dissatisfied.

About a week after the accident Viola’s mother was invited by a lady friend to visit one of the city hospitals. She took Viola with her, and as they walked by the white beds, the child held her mother’s hand tightly, and felt quite subdued at the pale, sick faces about her. But suddenly she bounded away, and climbing on a little bed, cried,—

“O, I’ve found him! here he is—my dear Nino.”

Nino—for it was he—shrank back into his pillows, and covering his face with his hands, cried aloud. From the station-house he had been taken to the hospital, where his foot had to be amputated, and he had lain for several days, with a bandaged head, in great pain. His guitar was lost, and he had been so lonely, though the nurses were kind, that at the sight of Viola his fortitude gave way.

“Don’t cry, and don’t be frightened,” said Viola, kissing him, and taking her handkerchief to wipe his tears. “I love you, dear Nino, and now I’ve found you.”

“Is this your Nino, Viola?” asked her mother, while the nurses and other patients looked on with surprise.

“Yes, mamma; is he not pretty?” and she tried to remove his hands.

When he was a little more composed, Viola’s mother thanked and praised him for saving her daughter’s life, and persuaded him to tell her what he knew about himself. And the nurses told how patient he had been, and she gave him some fruit, and promised to come again. When Viola bade him good by, she put her arms about his neck and kissed him, and they left him quite happy.

A few days after they came again, and Viola cried when she saw him.

“You are going to come and live with us, and be my brother.”

“If you would like to,” said her mother; and Nino’s eyes sparkled with joy at the thought.

Then he was carefully laid in the carriage, and taken to his beautiful new home. More than he had ever dreamed,  or fancied, came to him—books, pictures, toys, kind care, love, and a fine new guitar, with the promise of learning to play it better. An artificial foot was to help him walk, and the wonders and delights of his home ever multiplied.

Best of all was his sister Viola. He almost worshipped her; and it was a long time before he could bring himself to treat her with any familiarity. When she caressed him, which was often,—for she loved him dearly, and he was a lovable boy,—he always kissed her hands. One day she shook her head at this, and said,—

“Nino, that is not the way; kiss me good;” and she turned her face, with its rosy mouth, towards him.

With reverence, as if he was saluting a queen, Nino leaned towards her, and then with a sudden impulse, caught her in his arms, and kissed her heartily. That was the seal of their affection, and from that time Nino assumed all a brother’s pride, care, and tenderness. After he had recovered, they were constantly together, and their mother was never so content as when Nino had the charge of Viola. He never spared himself to serve her, and she was ever an impulse to goodness and truth, shining before him like a star, as she had from the first time he saw her. And she clung to him with the same love she had first felt, proud of her brother, who developed a noble character; and they all learned to thank the accident which had brought them so happily together.