THE STORY OF A HOMING PIGEON
By LUCY M. BLANCHARD
The Riverside Literature Series
DEDICATED TO ALL WHO LOVE VENICE
As is well known, the time for haphazard reading in the schools has passed.
The carefully selected lists compiled by those who make the education of
children their life work are adapted to the needs of every grade.
It is not enough that a book possess story interest and that it be worth
while from a literary point of view. The great consideration is its
influence upon the mental and moral development of the child. It must be
stimulating and present to the pupil such ideals as will have a permanent
influence upon the formation of character.
In CHICO, THE STORY OF A HOMING PIGEON, I believe present-day requirements
have been met, and that the book will prove of real value as a
supplementary reader in the primary grades.
It has been my aim to depict accurately the Italian atmosphere and to give
information in such a way that children unconsciously will learn much of
the country form a true idea of the scenes described.
Explanations of Italian words and phrases have been given when needed.
I believe that the book will be found particularly valuable from the
standpoint of visual education, and well adapted also for silent reading
and topical recitations.
The story was written out of a full heart, with the hope that it might
foster the love and appreciation of birds, and that the boy's sacrifice of
his precious homing pigeon to his country at a time of peril might carry an
ethical appeal to every young reader.
I. OLD PAOLO
II. ANDREA'S WISH
III. MARIA'S BIRTHDAY
V. THE MEANEST CAT IN VENICE
VII. DANGER AHEAD!
VIII. A TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE
IX. "COO-OO, COO-OO-OO. RUK-AT-A-COO"
X. A GALA DAY
XI. A LITTLE JOURNEY IN THE WORLD
XII. THE BLUE ROSETTE
XIII. AND ALL FOR ITALY!
XIV. EVVIVA VENEZIA! EVVIVA ITALIA!
XV. THE HERO OF THE SQUARE
Some years before the Great War, there lived in a little house on one of
the side canals of Venice, an honest workman and his family. Giovanni
Minetti, for such was his name, was employed in a certain glass factory in
Murano, while, in all Venice, there was no one with fingers more deft in
the making of beautiful lace than Luisa, his wife.
At the time of our story, Andrea, the elder child, was nearly eight, and
his little sister, Maria, two years younger.
Consigning the children to the care of her uncle (old Paolo, the caretaker
of St. Mark's), Luisa would go each morning to the lace factory, returning
just in time to prepare the simple dinner, at eventide.
Those were wonderful days for the children, for though they missed their
father and mother, they were always happy with old Paolo.
"Buon giorno" [Footnote: Good-morning.] they would shout every morning when
he stopped for them on his way to the famous church, and Maria, holding
tight to one of the old man's hands, would trot along by his side, while
Andrea, more independent, would run on ahead in his eagerness to thread the
narrow streets catch the first glimpse of the Piazza, as St. Mark's Square
Then, while the old man cleaned and dusted, the children wandered about
the dusky interior, touching the gold mosaic figures with awed fingers, or
gazing reverently at the great altar front of silver gilt.
After a little, hand in hand, they would scamper out into the bright
sunshine where they never tired of the many wonderful objects that make St.
Mark's Square a fairyland for young and old alike.
"'Roglo!" little Maria would cry, as she pointed upward to the great clock
with its dial of blue and gold. It was the nearest she could come to
pronouncing "orologio," the Italian word for clock. Then she would listen
as hard as ever she could, hoping the bronze figures would strike the hour
on the bell.
But Andrea loved best the horses that stood above the entrance of the
church. In his little soul he almost worshiped the fiery steeds and loved
to fancy himself seated on their backs. He even went so far as to plan to
scale the wall in order to satisfy his ambition.
"Sometime, I will do it," he used to say, as he struck a determined
attitude, and Maria would look at him with adoring eyes. How venturesome he
was! He was taller than she by half a head, and his added two years gave
him a place in dignity far above her.
It was no wonder the boy should be so crazy over the great bronze steeds
when one remembers that Venice is practically horseless and that they were
almost the only ones he had ever seen.
Perchance, even, as they talked, they would hear the flutter of wings, and
some half-dozen pigeons, with soft coos, would light on their shoulders.
Then Maria would laugh aloud with delight, and Andrea would forget his wild
dreams as they stroked the glossy wings and admired the bright eyes, all
the while feeding them dried peas or grain with which their mother never
forgot to see their pockets were supplied.
If, by chance, they flung a handful on the ground, in a second there would
be a whole flock of pigeons, lighting on the pavement.
Then Maria would clap her hands, and Andrea would have all he could do to
see that no bird, greedier than the rest, got more than its share.
The children would be so absorbed that they would become quite unconscious
of the tourists that would gather to watch the pretty group, for Venice was
full of tourists in those days—people who came, even from far-off America,
to see the wonderful St. Mark's Square, and hard-hearted, indeed, was the
man or woman who could turn away without buying at least one bag of grain
from insistent vendors and join the children in feeding the pigeons.
But I have not yet begun to tell the wonders of St. Mark's Square. This was
in June, 1910; the Campanile was being built to replace the old one that
had fallen in 1902, and to little Maria and Andrea, there was a fascination
in watching the workmen lift the great stones into place from the confused
debris at its base.
If the Piazza was wonderful, so, too, was the piazzetta with the Ducal
Palace with the golden staircase and the two columns, the one surmounted
by the winged lion of St. Mark, the other by St. Theodore, standing on a
Sometimes, after having wandered to the edge of the Grand Canal and looked
away to the blue dome of the church of Maria della Salute, they would run
back to the Square and, hand in hand, go window-wishing among the shops
that line its sides. No one who has never seen these shops of Venice can
form any conception of how fascinating they are with their strands of
glittering beads or yards upon yards of marvelous laces.
Often Andrea would exclaim, as they flattened their noses against the
glass, "When I am a man, I will work in the glass factory as my father
does, and, perhaps, who knows, I shall discover some new glaze which shall
make all the world amazed?" He had never forgotten the day when his father
had taken him to the factory and shown him the molten glaze and the workmen
blowing the glass into marvelous shapes. That day he had decided upon his
But little Maria cared more for the laces, and would shyly point to some
especially beautiful piece and say softly:
"Perhaps, it was the madre who made that."
Once she followed an American woman into the shop and stood by her side
watching her bargain for an exquisite collar. So intently she looked that
the woman turned and met her gaze, remarking to her companion:
"Even the children have it in them—I mean the love for beautiful things;
and did you see her fingers?—any one could tell they were meant for
Sometimes the children lingered so long in this way that the bronze figures
would strike twelve, and they would have to hurry back so as not to keep
old Paolo waiting for his noonday lunch.
Then, in some little recess around the corner of the church, with countless
pigeons waiting for the crumbs, they would sit with him, sharing his frugal
meal. When they had finished, he would sometimes take them for a ride in
his shabby gondola on the Grand Canal, and on the way they would beg to
stop for just a moment at the famous well with two porphyry lions. Andrea
was tall enough to clamber by himself after the manner of young Venetians,
and nothing would do but Paolo must lift Maria, so she, too, would proudly
straddle one of the fierce figures. There they would sit while the old
caretaker would count the pigeons bathing and splashing in the water.
But, better than anything else, the children liked to snuggle close to
their companion while he told them wonderful stories until it was time for
him to go back to work.
While they watched with fascinated eyes, he would trace a diagram in the
pavement to show how the Grand Canal, in its wanderings, exactly describes
the letter "S." His eyes would glow as he told of the grandeur of Venice
in the time of the Doges, or cause the children to shudder at gruesome
accounts of how, in the olden time, the prisoners were thrown from the
Bridge of Sighs, into the water below.
Perchance, he would tell of the wedding of the Adriatic and call Venice the
Bride of the Sea, or give a vivid account of how the body of St. Mark was
brought there in the long ago.
In fact, his tales were so realistic, that it almost seemed as if he must
have been an eyewitness of every incident he narrated.
Of all the old man's tales, there was not one the children liked so well as
the story of St. Mark's pigeons.
It was strange that, as soon as he began to talk about them, there would be
heard the whirr, whirr of wings, and in an instant, countless birds would
light on every possible ledge, nestling among the statuary and filling the
air with the soft music of their coos.
On this special day of which I am going to tell you, three of the very
prettiest flew straight into Maria's lap and settled there, to her delight,
with an air of proprietorship, while one particularly striking fellow
perched inquisitively on Andrea's shoulder.
"See, Paolo," the boy cried, "isn't he—GREAT?" This was a new word that he
had caught from one of the American tourists and he was immensely proud
of having mastered its pronunciation. As he spoke, he pointed to the fine
glossy wings and the bill that arched so delicately at the point.
"See," he cried again, calling attention to the iridescent colors, shining
green and purple in the sunshine, then sighed disconsolately. "I do wish he
belonged to me." And he stroked lovingly the feathered head. "I never have
had a pet of any kind."
"Is it, then, a matter of such grief?" questioned the old caretaker,
surprised at the lad's desire.
"Si," [Footnote: Yes.] he answered passionately, "I wish—oh, how I wish
that I might have one for my very own!"—and he held the captive pigeon
close against his cheek. "Do you understand?"
Paolo's answer came slowly. He had not forgotten an incident in his own
boyhood when he had made a pet of a certain fledgling. It had been injured
in some way and would have died had it not been for the careful nursing his
rescuer bestowed. His eyes grew misty and, somewhat angrily, he hastily
drew his coarse sleeve over them that the children might not perceive his
weakness. It had been foolish enough to have grieved, as a child, because a
pet pigeon had been shot by some heartless fellow for a pot-pie, but, after
a lapse of over sixty years—He cleared his throat, then patted Andrea's
"There is no reason why you should not have your wish. Patience! and the
next fledgling that falls from the nest shall be yours."
"Grazie!" the boy cried joyfully; "mil grazie!" [Footnote: Thanks! A
thousand thanks!] And in a paroxysm of delight, he seized one of his good
Laughing, Paolo turned to Maria who had sat quietly all the while, fondling
the feathered creatures in her lap.
"How about you, little one? Would you, too, like a pigeon of your own?"
"No," she answered shyly, "I love them all too much." And the soft coo,
coo-oo-oo from the lapful of birds seemed appreciative of her words.
"Very well, my dear, it shall be as you wish, and now that I have it all
straight in my old head, what pleases each of you best, what say you, shall
I begin the story?"
"Si! Si!" they cried in unison, settling back against the wall, anxious not
to lose a single syllable.
"It was in the time of the Doge, Enrico Dandolo," he began, bending a
questioning look at his eager listeners; "of course, you know that in the
long ago, Venice was ruled by men who bore the title of Doge?"
The children nodded assent, and he went on, impressively:
"Dandolo was a great man. He was eighty years old at the time he came into
the office, and blind, as well, but he was not too old to undertake mighty
"When was it he lived?" asked Andrea meditatively.
"Oh, many, many years ago—I am inclined to think it must have been at
least five or six hundred."
"Five or six hundred years ago!" repeated Andrea incredulously, his
childish mind refusing to compass so great a lapse of time.
"Well—thereabouts," Paolo resumed, somewhat disturbed at the interruption;
"it was in the time of the crusades. Have you ever heard of the crusades,
my dear?" And he softly touched Maria's chin. Before she could reply, her
brother put in, proudly, "I know, they were wars to rescue the holy lands
from the—" he paused.
"Infidels," supplied Paolo approvingly. "That's right." And any one seeing
the old man would surely have thought that he had himself fought against
the infidels, such fire shot from his eyes, and so tense became his
muscles. "It was in the Fourth Crusade that Venice played so mighty a
"Was Dandolo the leader?" asked Andrea, sitting bolt upright in his
excitement, and forgetting the pigeon which, loosed by the sudden movement,
escaped, and soared, with a quick spiral curve, to the blue sky.
Regretfully, the child watched the flight, but settled back as Paolo went
"Old though he was, he was the hero of the whole expedition. Even the
French had no general to compare with him. And tell me, both of you, did
you ever see a picture of a Doge of Venice?"
"I have!" Maria cried; "and he wore a coat all red and gold and a cap—"
"Si! si!" the old man interrupted, almost beside himself with excitement;
"those were his robes of state, but in armor, and on horseback before the
walls of Constantinople! Ah, then he must have been magnifico!"
"On horseback, did you say?" repeated Andrea, and his eyes wandered to the
bronze steeds the manes of which glistened in the sunlight.
Paolo nodded, "And I have no doubt but that the one great Dandolo rode was
like those very horses; and, by the way, my lad, did you ever hear that
they were part of the spoils he brought from the East in triumph and placed
above our own St. Mark's?"
Without allowing Andrea time to comment on the amazing fact, he went on,
still more excitedly;
"It is said that Dandolo, great as he was, would not have been able to
take the city had it not been for a messenger pigeon that brought him most
important information. Nor is that all the part the brave birds played at
this great time, for it was no other than some of our own fine homers that
conveyed the first news of glorious victory to Venice. Hence it was, that
when the Doge returned, in triumph, he issued a proclamation that the
pigeons should evermore be held in reverence."
Paolo paused, well-nigh exhausted by his enthusiasm, and, reaching over,
laid his withered hand on the birds that still cooed contentedly in Maria's
"It's no wonder they're so tame when every one has been loving them for the
last five or six hundred years!" she murmured.
"Paolo!" Andrea suddenly asked, with sparkling eyes, "do you suppose that
we can teach my pigeon to carry messages?"
"I shouldn't be surprised," replied the old caretaker, entering into the
lad's enthusiasm; "they're as intelligent now as they ever were. All they
need is the training. It's funny how their little heads can hold so much."
Reaching over, he took one of the birds from Maria's lap and pointed to the
bulge just above the tiny ear:
"Some people say that's where their sense of direction is located, but you
can't convince me it isn't in their hearts. It's the love they have
for their homes that makes 'em fly from any distance straight to their
nesting-places. I've noticed that a good homing pigeon has bright eyes, and
a stout heart, not to mention a keen sense of direction, and strong wings
to carry him long distances, but more than all else, there must be the love
Andrea had lost not a syllable of what the old man said. For a long time
he had secretly cherished the desire to own one of the pretty fluttering
creatures, but not, until now, had the possibility occurred to him that he
might teach one to carry messages.
Long after Paolo had returned to his duties in the church, the boy sat
watching the clouds of pigeons circling above, or flying double (bird and
shadow), against the walls of the church.
He had made up his mind that as soon as Paolo fulfilled his promise, he
would begin to train his fledgling.
"There's no knowing," he cried eagerly to Maria, "what important messages
my bird will carry!"
In reply she only smiled—it was enough for her that the pigeons loved to
have her stroke them as they nestled in her lap.
Andrea was so possessed with his idea that he ran every step of the way
home that afternoon, climbed up the narrow dark stairs, two steps at a
time, and burst upon his mother in such excitement that she feared some
misfortune had befallen the children.
"What is it?" she cried, looking up from the stiff porridge she was mixing,
"are you hurt?—and Maria—where is she?"
"Nothing has happened," was the breathless answer; "that is, nothing
dreadful, and Maria is behind with Paolo. It is only—" his dark cheeks
flushed. "It is only that he has promised me a pigeon of my own!"
"Is that all?" Greatly relieved, his mother turned again to the polenta.
[Footnote: Cake, or thick porridge made of maize.] What a child he was, to
be sure, to be so pleased at the idea of the possession of a pigeon!
"But, madre," he protested, "I am going to train it to carry messages.
There's no knowing what my pigeon will do!"
"Si! Si!" She replied absently as she turned to see if the charcoal was
right for the baking.
It was a mean little house, at least so it would seem to most American
children—just three rooms overlooking one of the side canals, and over
a fish shop. It was built of brick (no one knew, how long ago), and was
wedged in between others, of exactly the same type.
But it was home, and whatever else it lacked, it had a front window, with
shutters, and a balcony with an iron railing, and when tucked up in their
beds at night, in the tiny dark alcove, the children could hear the soft
swish of the water against the embankment.
In spite of the window, even the best room was never very light, and only
an occasional streak of sunshine found its way in, but on those rare
occasions it fell upon the choicest treasure of the home, a rude colored
print of the Virgin, in a modest shrine, hung with gilded fringe. On the
shelf above, Luisa took care to see that a lamp was ever burning, and on
the table before it stood always a tiny vase of fresh flowers. What matter,
that the carpet was old, and the furniture worn, the Virgin's shrine was
Unconsciously, the children trod gently in this room, and their
laughter was subdued, but in the kitchen—ah, there, their spirits were
Maria was not long behind her brother, but the scampi,[Footnote: Fish.]
were already frying in the pan, before Giovanni, in his working shirt,
appeared in the doorway, hungry and ready for his dinner.
"Padre! Padre!" cried Andrea; "only guess—the pet I am to have!" Then,
with scarcely an instant's pause, he went on, in a shrill voice, "A pigeon,
padre, isn't that—GREAT?"
"Well, well!" Giovanni answered, taking his seat at the head of the table,
"and so you are to have a pigeon for a pet. I might have guessed anything
else—a parrot, a little singing bird, or perhaps, a couple of grilli
[Footnote: Crickets.] in a tiny cage, but a pigeon! Why, you play with them
all day long on St. Mark's Square."
"But that is not like having one of one's own," the boy protested.
He made a gesture of disgust. "A parrot, a singing bird, a couple of
grilli! What was his father thinking of?" and in another moment he was
explaining how he would train his bird to be a carrier pigeon, and how
bright its eyes would be, and how strong its wings, until his father
laughed and declared himself convinced that it would be the most wonderful
thing in all the world to own a pigeon.
The fish had quite disappeared from the platter when Giovanni again spoke:
"To-morrow is the Sabbath, and it is the little Maria's birthday—what say
you?"—he addressed himself particularly to Luisa—"shall we go to the
To the Lido! The children's eyes sparkled. There was nothing they loved
more to do than to play on the sand at the Lido.
"Si!" Luisa answered with ready acquiescence; "and on the way let us spend
a little time at the Accademia—it has been long since I have seen the
pictures of the great Titian and even Maria is quite old enough."
So it was settled, and the children talked of nothing else the rest of the
evening, dropping off to sleep without once giving a thought to the lapping
of the water.
When they woke, it was late; their mother had been up for a long time,
getting everything ready for the day's excursion. Already the lunch-basket
was packed, and as soon as the children were dressed and the breakfast
eaten, it was time to start.
At first, Andrea walked with his mother, insisting upon carrying
the basket, but after a little his arms became weary and, without
expostulation, he allowed his father to take it from him, while he ran
joyfully ahead, eager to catch a glimpse of the bronze horses, and dabble
his fingers a few moments in the well with the bathing pigeons.
As for Maria, she was most conscious of the fact that she was six years
old, and with shining eyes walked carefully by her mother's side. She wore
a string of gay beads about her neck (a birthday gift from her father) and
red tassels dangled bewitchingly from the tops of her new shoes.
It was only a ten-minutes walk from St. Mark's to the Accademia, and after
a number of turns through one narrow calle after another, they came to the
bridge that led directly to the entrance.
Maria was awed at the imposing doorway, but Andrea, boylike, marched in
unabashed, and, after a cursory glance in various directions, declared
himself ready to leave. He would far rather be outdoors and could scarcely
wait to get on to the Lido.
"Not so soon, my lad, there is much that you should see." And, taking him
by the hand, Giovanni led him into a great room with two immense pictures.
One was the Assumption of the Virgin by the great Titian and before it even
restless Andrea was stilled, feeling a little of the spell that has made of
this place a world shrine for all lovers of art—the wonderful figure of
the Virgin, in billowy robes, rising to heaven, while countless angels,
each one seeming more adorable than the other, seem to bear her up in her
"Listen," Luisa whispered, "do you not hear them singing 'Halleleujah'?"
There were other pictures in the same room, and one especially that
interested Andrea. It was Tintoretto's Miracle of St. Mark, and he listened
attentively as his father told the story:
How a certain pious slave, forbidden to visit and venerate the house of St.
Mark, disobeyed the command and went, notwithstanding. His master, angered,
ordered that the poor fellow's eyes be put out. But lo, a miracle stayed
the hands of those who were sent to carry out the cruel sentence. The slave
was freed, and his master converted.
Then Luisa led Maria into another room, saying:
"Here is the picture I most wanted you to see, for you are named for the
blessed Virgin. Have you not heard how, when Mary was scarcely more than a
child, she was taken to the temple and consecrated to the service of the
Maria shook her head; her childish heart was full; and with solemn eyes she
looked long and earnestly at the little girl, with tightly braided hair,
slowly mounting the long flight of steps to the high priest who, though he
seemed stern and austere, held out his hand in kindly greeting.
Long Maria lingered, noticing every detail, the blue dress, the lighted
taper, the halo round the head, and she was loath to leave, even when her
father came to the door, and her mother said gently:
"Come, we must be off, if we would be at the Lido for our lunch."
Soon they were in the steamer which chugged so merrily that Andrea forgot
all about the pictures he had seen in his interest in watching the wheels
go around and the white foam in the vessel's wake, but Maria sat in a kind
of dream until they reached the landing.
Then, in the hurry that ensued and the many distractions on the shore, the
picture of the brave little girl, for the time, faded from her mind, and
she, too, gave herself up with undisguised pleasure to the fascinations of
It is a strip of shore extending along the mouth of the Lagoon and forming
a bulwark of Venice against the Adriatic. It was here that the wedding
ceremony was performed in the long ago, and the view is most beautiful from
They sat on a bench in front of the Aquarium to eat their luncheon, and the
children could scarcely wait to finish, they were so eager to press their
noses against the glass and watch the funny creatures swimming in the
tanks. Maria clapped her hands and declared the best of all were the
sea-horses—"Cavalli marini," she called them.
Then, what a glorious afternoon they had on the smooth beach, hunting for
shells and digging in the sand. How Andrea laughed when his father took him
away out and let the breakers roll over him. Then Maria, holding tight to
her brother's hand, who still seemed much bigger and stronger, even if this
was her birthday, ventured far into the waves.
Much too quickly the happy hours sped, and before they knew it it was six
All the way home on the steamer Andrea held tightly to the dried starfish
he had found on the sand, while Maria was the happiest child in Venice,
with a brooch made from the pearl shell of the Lido, which Luisa called
"fior di mare," or flower of the sea.
As they stumbled sleepily across the Square in the darkening twilight,
holding fast to the hands of their mother and father, their ears failed to
catch the faint cheep of a baby bird in distress, and they reached home
entirely unaware of the tragedy that had happened in pigeon-land.
When Paolo called for the children Monday morning, there was an air of
mystery about him that was distinctly puzzling. Then, too, he walked
unusually fast, so that Andrea found it difficult to keep up with him,
and finally demanded curiously, "What's the matter?" without, however,
receiving any answer.
"What's the matter?" echoed Maria, falling behind after a futile effort to
keep up, Paolo slackened his pace with a laconic "Wait and see," that was
even more mystifying.
On reaching the Piazza, his manner showed still greater excitement.
"Venite!" [Footnote: "come here"] he exclaimed, leading the way to a small
shed back of the church where he was accustomed to keep his tools.
"Venite!" he repeated, entering by a rear into the gloomy interior.
It was several moments before the eyes of the children became sufficiently
accustomed to the dim light to really see what was being pointed out. High
above their heads was a small window, close to which had been placed a
The old man stopped a moment, listened, reached up his hand, then drew it
back with an air of satisfaction, while the youngsters, fascinated, watched
without in the least surmising what it was all about.
With a finger on his lips to enjoin silence, he suddenly seized Andrea and
raised him to the level of the window ledge.
"There!" he cried, "don't be afraid. Put your hand into the box."
As the boy timidly obeyed, he went on, "Now tell me, what do you feel?
The frightened look on Andrea's face gave way, first to one of
mystification, then to an expression of joy as his hand touched something
"L'uccello!" [Footnote: The bird.] he cried; then, in an ecstasy of
delight, "Is it mine?"
Paolo nodded, and, after putting the boy down on the floor, gently lifted
Maria so that she, too, might put her fingers into the nest he had made for
the fledgling he had found on the pavement the evening before.
"It's a baby pigeon," she softly murmured.
"Si! Si!" the old caretaker declared, delighted at the sensation he had
caused, "I came across him all huddled up by yonder column."
"And may I really have him?" queried Andrea, finding it hard to realize
that he had gained his heart's desire.
"Why not? I doubt if the old birds will even notice he has gone. You
know when the mother has other eggs to take her attention, she gives the
fledglings into the care of the father bird, and it isn't very long before
he pushes them out to shift for themselves. There is no reason why this
particular one should not belong to you: in fact, I imagine he's a bit
lonesome in this strange place, though, to be sure, I did all I could to
make him comfortable, with a wisp of hay and a few dried sticks, but, at
best, I'm not much of a nest-maker. Come now, would you like to have a look
"Si! Si!" the children cried together. And with that Paolo, after lighting
a bit of discarded candle and giving it to Andrea to hold, stretched up and
took the pigeon from the nest.
In the flickering light the children bent lovingly over the little
fluttering thing in the old man's hand; they had never before seen a young
bird at such close range and they looked with wonder at the soft, shapeless
body, the big eyes, the ugly bill, wide open in insistent demand for food.
"May I give him a crumb to eat?" asked Andrea in an odd tone.
"Si," was the ready assent; "I expect he's hungry enough, with no one to
wait on him. By the way, did you ever see a baby pigeon fed?"
The children shook their heads and listened most eagerly as the old man
"This is a matter in which both father and mother take a hand, and the
first food is a liquid secreted in their crops and called 'pigeons' milk.'
When mealtime comes, the parents open wide their beaks, the little birds
thrust in their bills, and the fun begins. I tell you it takes a great deal
of effort and bobbing of heads for Baby Pigeon to get a satisfactory meal."
"How can we—ever—feed him?" Andrea anxiously interrupted, as if he felt
that his charge might prove somewhat of a responsibility.
"Don't worry," was the comforting response as Paolo nodded his wise old
head; "he may not be able to shift for himself, but I am willing to wager
he will manage to eat whatever you offer him. You see this particular
kind of infant food only lasts a few days; after that the milk gradually
thickens and becomes mixed with bits of grain. Almost before he knows
it, Baby Pigeon is independent of his parents and eats quite as if fully
With that the old caretaker held out a piece of cracked wheat to the
fledgling who devoured it greedily and opened his beak for more.
The children laughed aloud and clapped their hands in glee, continuing
to feed him until Paolo declared the bird had had a royal breakfast and
carefully replaced him in the nest.
Then, with Andrea on one side and Maria holding tightly to the other hand,
he led them out of the shed and into the bright sunshine.
They stopped for a moment under the window for a lingering glance upward
while Paolo called their attention to the dry-goods box he had placed on
end for their special convenience.
"By standing on this," he explained, "you can get on a level with the nest
without being dependent on me."
All the morning the children hung around the shed, delighted when there
was an occasional sound from the nest above, and from time to time they
clambered up to whisper soft nothings to the sharp ears of Baby Pigeon.
At noon, when eating their luncheon, they plied the old caretaker with
questions some of which, it must be confessed, taxed all his ingenuity to
"How long will it be before I can begin to train him?" interrupted Andrea,
on fire with his desire at once to realize his ambition.
Paolo laughed. "One question at a time. I notice some soft down already
beginning to show, so I fancy it will not be many weeks until he can boast
as much in the way of fine clothes as his own father and mother. As for his
training, it's quite too soon to think of that; so, my boy, you will have
to possess your soul in patience for a while longer. By the way, your bird
should have a name. Have you any in mind?"
"Not yet, although I've been thinking about that very thing," Andrea
answered meditatively; "no name seems good enough."
"I think 'bambino' would be nice," suggested Maria; "he's such a darling
"Si, but he will soon be grown up" put in Andrea; "I was wondering how
Marco would do."
"Well, I don't say it wouldn't do," Paolo answered reflectively; "but it
seems to me something like 'caro' or 'amato' [Footnote: Dear—beloved]
might be appropriate for such a pet."
Andrea shook his head. And, after again racking his brain in an effort to
suggest a really appropriate name, the old man finally slapped his hand on
"It just comes to me this instant, something I heard one of those touristas
call a little curly dog by. At the time it occurred to me that it sounded
more like a name for a pigeon."
"What was it?" Andrea inquired eagerly.
"Chico," Paolo answered, lingering on the first syllable, exactly as the
tourista had done—"Chee-ko."
Andrea was charmed, agreeing that there was something about it that seemed
to suit a saucy pigeon, and, vastly pleased, he repeated over and over,
"Chico, Chico," while Maria echoed softly "Chee-ko."
THE MEANEST CAT IN VENICE
It is hard to imagine a more forlorn experience in the life of a young bird
than to be suddenly pushed from the nest and find himself alone on a hard
pavement. It is bad enough when it happens as the result of premeditation
on the part of an unfeeling parent who has made up his mind that his
offspring are quite able to shift for themselves, but, when it occurs from
accident, it is nothing short of tragic.
Poor Chico, this was what had happened to him, and he had huddled,
shivering, close to the column of St. Theodore and tried in vain to reason
everything out in his pigeon mind. Many things had happened of late that he
had not been able to understand. His mother, hitherto most attentive to his
sister and himself, had suddenly ceased feeding them with the nice soft
food they loved so well, at the same time refusing to cuddle them under her
He remembered vaguely hearing her impatiently coo to his father, that he
would have to look out for the fledglings, her duty was to the eggs. At the
time he hadn't understood what she meant by eggs, although once or twice he
had caught a glimpse of two white oval things under her breast which she
seemed to be dreadfully proud of.
It wouldn't have been so bad if his father had been as affectionate as
usual, but, on the contrary, he had treated his sister and himself as if
they were in the way, and it was easy to see Father Pigeon would have
greatly preferred crowding on the nest with his mate to getting food for
two greedy fledglings.
In fact, that was how the accident had happened. Chico had been so
unfortunate as to get in the way, with the result that he had been pushed
out and had fallen to the ground.
Poor little naked fledgling, he had shivered and huddled close to the
friendly column, for, even in summer, the breeze from the Adriatic often
blows fresh and cool.
He had just begun to wonder how he should get anything to eat, when
suddenly a shadow had come over him, causing him to crouch low in even,
greater terror, while his heart thumped horribly, but before he could utter
a sound he had been seized by a big warm hand, and a voice that was not
unkindly had exclaimed:
"Did the little pigeon fall from the nest?"
In the warm comfort of Paolo's hand the bird had forgotten his fear, and
his little heart had ceased to thump as he reflected this must be a human,
and his mother had always taught him that "humans" were kind to birds in
St. Mark's Square. So, with a feeling akin to confidence, he had allowed
himself to be carried somewhere he did not know, and deposited In what he
supposed was meant for a nest, although it was not bit like the nice, soft
one to which he had accustomed.
He had even managed to eat a crumb or two, and, in spite of the fact that
he was very lonely without his sister to keep him company, he had finally
succeeded in going to sleep.
In the morning the big hand had grasped him again and had shown him to two
long-legged creatures who he had guessed were human children, because they
looked much as his mother had described them in one of her favorite lullaby
coos. He had not been afraid of them, but, flattered by their delighted
exclamations, had eaten everything they had offered him.
By the time the second night had come, Chico had so far become accustomed
to his strange surroundings that he slept almost as well as if he had been
under his mother's wings.
He was still dreaming when he heard a voice call, "Chico, Chico—are you
still there, Chico?"
He roused instantly, reminded of his friends who had given him his
breakfast the morning before.
He raised his head. There was a sound of other little feet climbing upon
the dry-goods box, and a softer voice called, "Chico, Chico!"
Still he made no movement, listening while the children speculated as to
whether or not their pet had been spirited away during the night.
"Chico! Chico!" There was something so pleading in the boy's voice that the
baby pigeon thrust his open bill out of the window on the ledge.
"He's here, he's here!" Andrea shouted, almost losing his balance in his
excitement, but he saved himself in time to put a bit of cracked wheat into
the wide-open mouth. It was greedily swallowed and the open bill demanded
more. This performance was repeated until the boy's supply was exhausted.
Then the bill was withdrawn, and Chico disappeared from view. But between
the boy and the bird had been established a bond that would never be
broken. From that time on, Chico was his pigeon in every sense of the word,
and, at Andrea's first call, the greedy bill would immediately appear.
So it went on, until one bright morning, when the children turned the
corner of the church, they found Chico, perched on the window ledge, faking
a sun-bath and waiting for his friends.
My! what excitement there was! Andrea could scarcely wait to climb up on
the box, and was delighted when Chico cocked his head on one side and
actually permitted his caresses.
"Bambino!" murmured Maria; "dear little baby bird. Oh, see! he's actually
It was true, the soft down with which he was covered in some places was
beginning to give way to the first pin feathers, his bill did not seem
so awkwardly large, and the soft, shapeless body already showed signs of
developing future grace.
After this Chico was always waiting for the children, and would cock his
head on one side when he saw them coming, uttering little squeaky noises
that did not sound in the least like cooing. All the time his feathers were
growing and his wings becoming stronger.
Then came a day when Paolo declared that Chico must have his first lesson
in flying, and the children watched, with abated breath, as the old man
took the bird from his nest and placed him on the pavement, at the same
time stationing himself at a little distance and holding an enticing
morsel. At first the baby pigeon flopped aimlessly about when, suddenly,
Maria caught Andrea's arm, whispering excitedly, "He's going to do it, oh,
he's going to do it!" and, miracle of miracles! after awkwardly raising
one wing and then another, he actually mastered the first lesson and, in
consequence, was treated to a royal breakfast. It was a great exertion,
and, after satisfying his hunger, he then and there closed his weary eyes
and took a nap on the pavement, much to Paolo's amusement.
"Well," he exclaimed, "it's the first time I ever taught a bird to fly. One
never knows what one can do until one tries."
After that not a day passed that Chico did not make short flights, to
Andrea from Maria, and from her to the old man's shoulder, until, one
morning, he greatly amazed them by flying into his own window box.
Gaining confidence, Chico must have had it in his pigeon mind one morning
to fly from his nest and greet his friends upon the pavement. But alas, he
miscalculated his strength, even as human beings often do, and while he
spread his wings most boldly, he lost his balance and fell ignominiously to
the ground. That would not of itself have been so bad, for, like children
learning to walk, baby pigeons must have many a disaster before the art of
flying is completely mastered, but, by some strange chance, it happened
that a lean tortoise-shell kitten was prowling about one of the side
streets and at that moment poked her head into St. Mark's Square. Now, in
Venice, there are very few cats—in fact, because of the esteem in which
pigeons are held, they are not popular pets. More than that, they are
positively prohibited from St. Mark's Square, as any well-trained feline
Where this cat came from, and to whom she belonged, ever remained a
mystery, but as she curiously poked her head into the forbidden precinct
she caught sight of Chico, lying stunned and helpless from his fall. Here
was her chance. Straightway flinging caution to the winds, with a quick
spring she landed full upon the trembling bird, at the same time seizing
him with her paws and burying her cruel teeth in his tender flesh.
What would have been the result I shudder to reflect, had not Andrea at
that moment appeared upon the scene. With a scream of terror he rushed
forward, clapping his hands and making such an outcry that the kitten,
frightened, dropped her prey and disappeared down the side street from
which she had ventured.
When Paolo arrived on the scene a few moments later he found Andrea,
well-nigh distracted, hugging his wounded pet to his breast, and whispering
over and over again:
"Chico, Chico, you mustn't die—you mustn't die!"
It took Paolo but a few moments to assure himself that Chico was not
seriously hurt, although he bore the scar made by the cruel claws for many
a day, and it was weeks before he dared again to try the flight from his
nest to the pavement.
As for the cat, although the old caretaker sallied forth vowing vengeance,
she was never again seen.
Soon it was time for the children to go to school in the old building
situated some distance from St. Mark's, not far from the Rialto.
There was now only time in the morning for a brief visit with Chico before
lessons began, and a hurried half-hour with him at luncheon. Hence the
moments after four o'clock and the full holiday on Saturday were most
precious, and on those occasions no one was happier than Chico, flying from
one to another, and usually ending by perching coquettishly on Andrea's
"There isn't a pigeon in Venice to compare with him," remarked Andrea,
lovingly touching the daintily arched bill, and looking into the clear
eyes. "Tell me, Paolo, did you ever see so fine a bird?"
In answer the old man thoughtfully stretched out the well-shaped wings,
saying, as the colors shone iridescent green and blue in the sunshine:
"They're as beautiful as any wings I ever saw, and better than that,
they're strong. Wings like that can carry a pigeon any distance. Yes," he
continued, more to himself than to the children, "if he's to be a homer, it
seems to me it's full time to begin his training."
Andrea started in an ecstasy of delight.
"Do you mean it, Paolo? Do you really mean it?"
The old man nodded. "Yes, and if you have no objections, we'll give him the
first lesson next Saturday morning."
As if surmising that he was the subject of discussion, Chico flew back to
Andrea's shoulder, where he coo-ooed blissfully, while Paolo unfolded to
his eager listeners the details as he had planned them.
As a first step he had secured a wicker basket with a close-fitting cover
which roused the liveliest curiosity and caused Andrea to ask, doubtfully:
"What has a basket to do with teaching a pigeon?"
"Just about everything," the old man wisely replied. "By carrying the bird
in a dark basket to the place from which he is to make his flight, he will
have no way of acquainting himself with the direction in which he traveled,
and, when released, must depend entirely upon his homing instinct."
"Chico won't like being shut up in a dark prison," interrupted Maria,
stretching up to caress the glossy neck; "it's like being blindfolded."
"Perhaps not," was the rejoinder, "but if he is going to be trained to be a
faithful homer, he will have to spend a good deal of time in the same dark
prison. It's part of the discipline of his life." As he finished, he began
tracing figures on the pavement, and the children, wondering still more,
watched him, fascinated.
"There's no doubt," he mused, more to himself than to his listeners, "but
that he could find his way from such near-by points as the Ducal Palace and
the Bridge of Sighs—I'm disposed to take him farther away for his first
trial—say to the Rialto."
"Bene! bene!" [Footnote: Good! good!] shouted Andrea, clapping his hands.
"Then," continued the old man, without paying any attention to the
interruption, "if he does well from such distances as that, we'll gradually
take him farther away—perhaps to the Lido and—"
"To the Lido," repeated Andrea, to whom this seemed a great distance. "Do
you think he could find his way from there?"
"Without the least difficulty," was the answer, "and within a few weeks,
unless I miss my guess; after a while we'll have to arrange to try him from
other parts of Italy—Milan, for instance."
"Milan! Other parts of Italy!" The children found it hard to fancy cooing
little Chico finding his way home from distant cities, and in spite
of himself, Andrea's eyes filled with tears, as he faltered,
"I—wouldn't—want—him to get—lost!"
"Not much danger of that, I fancy. If he doesn't fall down on the easy
flights, he'll be able to take the longer ones.
"Why, lad," Paolo went on kindly, touched by the boy's dejection, "if you
want Chico to be a real homing pigeon, you must expect him to run some
risks. Don't you remember Dandolo's bird that carried the glad news from
Andrea nodded, doubtfully. While he had thought much of the possible glory
Chico might gain as a faithful messenger, for the first time he trembled
lest, in realizing the ambition, the safety of the bird might be
endangered. Thoughts of possible perils filled his mind with foreboding,
but he didn't wish Paolo to think he was turning the white feather, so he
swallowed hard and forced himself to say:
"I guess it will be all right."
"All right! I should say it would be," was the hearty response; "and just
remember, my boy, if you expect your bird to have a stout heart you must
keep up your own courage."
At last Saturday came, the day Paolo had set for the training to begin.
Andrea was so excited he had no appetite for breakfast and would have
rushed from the house without a mouthful if Luisa had not insisted that
he eat at least one piece of the hot polenta. But that was all—he almost
bolted it whole, and, without waiting for Paolo, was out of the house and
in St. Mark's Square at least half an hour earlier than ever before.
Not that it was much satisfaction, for hardhearted Paolo had carefully
placed the pigeon in the basket the night before, saying as he secured the
"He must not be allowed his freedom until we reach the Rialto, then he will
be hungry and doubly anxious to reach home."
"Can't we give him anything to eat?" Andrea asked anxiously.
"Not a morsel!" was the stern reply. "If he is to be trained at all, it
must be done right. Come, children, give me your promise not to interfere."
"We won't," they answered in unison, and though Andrea still thought
the treatment very harsh, he dared not again raise his voice in further
It seemed very forlorn not to find Chico waiting on his window ledge
when he turned the corner of the church, and with heart aching for the
imprisoned bird, he entered the dark little shed and looked anxiously for
the basket. There it was, in the corner where Paolo had left it, but, as he
called once, and then again, there was no answering "coo."
Andrea's heart sank; perhaps the bird was sick. Beset by anxious thoughts
he crossed the room, took the basket in his hand and held it to his ear.
Not a sound! Genuinely frightened, he regretted bitterly that he had
ever wished the bird trained. Why had he not been content with him as he
was—the most beautiful bird in St. Mark's Square?
Turning the basket about, he looked it all over carefully. There was a
slight stir. He breathed a sigh of relief, then joyfully caught his breath
as he suddenly discovered two bright eyes looking straight at him through
one of the cracks.
"Chico!" he cried joyfully; "Chico! Are you all right?" Placing his ear to
the wicker prison, he caught a faint answering "coo," and a minute later
the very tip of the bird's bill found its way through one of the cracks. It
was heartrending, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that Andrea
restrained himself from tearing off the cover of the basket and feeding
his hungry pet, but he had given his promise, so he was obliged to content
himself with holding the basket close to his cheek and murmuring soft words
into the responsive ears of the prisoner.
So Paolo found him. Andrea started guiltily as the old caretaker stepped in
the door, but drew himself up proudly at the sharp inquiry:
"Is it possible that you are feeding Chico?"
"No," was the quick reply, "I am only talking to him. Surely there isn't
any harm in that!"
"No harm at all," the old man answered; "and now I propose to take him to
the Rialto and there give him his freedom, while you wait here and see
if he knows enough to come home. Notice the time by the big clock; if he
returns promptly, you may reward him with a good breakfast and plenty of
water to drink, for he will be thirsty."
Andrea's face lighted up with joy. He had a pocket full of choice morsels,
and, with a happy face, watched Paolo set out, carefully holding the basket
with its precious load, while he and Maria settled themselves to await
The Rialto is one of the busiest spots in all Venice; especially is it
so at this time in the morning, for hither come the black boats from the
island laden with fruits and vegetables to provision the city. On
every side, amid the jostling throngs of people, one sees mountains of
watermelons, piles of garlic, old scows and worn-out gondolas, heaped with
all manner of strange-looking fish. Crossing over the bridge to the end
where the jewelers have their shops, and elbowing through the crowd of
young girls and matrons, with their gay-colored handkerchiefs and strands
of bright beads, Paolo came to a more secluded quarter. Here he stopped,
and, with careful deliberation, lifted the cover of the basket, saying as
he laid his hand affectionately on Chico's glossy head, "Now fly, my bird,
straight to your house!"
Without a moment's delay Chico was out of his prison and with a quick,
spiral curve had soared into the blue Venetian sky. Pausing for an
imperceptible instant, as though in search of some familiar object, he was
off in the direction of St. Mark's Square.
In the meantime Andrea and Maria waited impatiently enough. They knew it
would take time for Paolo to reach his destination, for the old man's steps
were not as quick as they had once been. And then the awful thought would
come that Chico might not fly straight home—might be beguiled elsewhere
for some reason.
Full well Andrea knew how much depended upon this first flight.
Just as the figures on the great clock struck the hour of ten there was a
whirr of wings. An arrow of silver shot through the air, and in another
instant Chico was in his nest.
"Urra! Urra!" the boy shouted, throwing his cap into the air; then
boisterously seizing his pet, "You did it, you did it! Chico, old bird! My,
but I'm proud of you!" Then remembering that Paolo had said there would be
a message concealed about the bird's leg, his hand felt for the closely
wound bit of tissue paper, and tense with excitement he shouted aloud
Chico's first message:
"Evviva Italia!" [Footnote: Long live Italy!]
Again he hugged his pet until he suddenly discovered a hungry bill in his
pocket, and he remembered that Chico hadn't had his breakfast.
When Paolo arrived upon the scene, puffing from his unaccustomed exertion,
he found Chico greedily eating while Maria was still repeating, "Viva
Upon comparing his watch with the clock Paolo's delight knew no bounds at
finding that Chico had made the flight in one minute and a half, fully one
half a minute shorter time than Paolo had allowed.
"Bene! bene!" he cried excitedly, "I told you he had the points of a good
homing pigeon. All he needs is training." Then, laying his hand on Andrea's
shoulder, he added, "My boy, you have a bird of which you may well be
While he was thus under discussion Chico, seemingly unconscious that he had
done anything at all remarkable, with his crop fairly bulging with the good
things which he had eaten, perched serenely on the window ledge diligently
preening his feathers.
This was but the first of many flights: the next time it was Paolo who
stayed to watch the nest while Andrea set off, carrying the bird in his
basket. He was especially delighted because the Colleoni statue was his
destination, for there was no place in Venice (except the Piazza of St.
Mark's) which possessed a greater fascination for him than the Campo of
Giovanni e Paolo. The sight of the stalwart figure of Colleoni in his coat
of mail astride the splendid steed never failed to rouse in his young heart
the fires of ambition.
"It's a great thing, Chico!" he exclaimed, peering through the cracks at
the bright eyes—"a great thing to be so brave and do so much for Venice.
Perhaps, who knows, you and I may do as much some day."
With that he loosed the prisoner who straightway flew into the air, and
after gracefully circling for an instant around the statue, without further
hesitation was off and was soon a mere speck in the blue sky.
Once the boy had the felicity of keeping Chico in his home all night. Then
nothing would do but Luisa must admire his fine plumage, and his father
must declare that he was quite the finest pigeon he had ever seen. It took
the combined force of the family to consider what message they should send
old Paolo in the morning, and, after a great deal of discussion, Giovanni's
stiff old hand penned the simple words on a bit of paper:
So the days passed; every few mornings Chico essayed some new flight until
Paolo declared he was satisfied that the bird knew his way perfectly within
a certain radius and must now venture farther from home. After this it was
not so easy, and on several occasions Chico had adventures that tried even
his stout little heart, and brought many an hour of anxiety to his friends.
The earnest little fellow carrying his bird in a basket was now a familiar
object in Venice and attracted much attention from tourists and bystanders
who often collected in little groups to watch the graceful flights. To some
it was the subject of jest, and to them it seemed nothing short of folly to
spend so much time in the training of a pigeon, while others were loud in
exclamations of delight.
"Bello! Bello Colombo! [Footnote: Beautiful! Beautiful pigeon!] He's a
mighty fine bird, my boy!"
As for Chico, one could see that he greatly enjoyed his experience. He no
longer showed resentment at being shut up in the basket, but evidently
considered that a necessary prelude to his glorious flights.
One morning Andrea set out for the Arsenal, which is, as every one
acquainted with the city knows, one of the show places of Venice. In the
olden days, when the Venetians were first in the art of shipbuilding, it
was the working spring of their strength, their enemies looking upon
the stronghold with envious eyes as symbolizing her supremacy over the
Adriatic, and even now there was always a large number of strangers in its
Andrea approached and took his station, near one of the two great lions
that guard the entrance. He was accosted by a well-dressed Austrian:
"What have you there, my boy? Anything to sell?"
"No, signore," was the quick reply. But Andrea, intent upon his mission,
felt vaguely disturbed, liking neither the looks of the man nor the tone of
Silently and with evident envy the man watched the pigeon's joyous spiral;
then he again addressed the boy:
"Come, now, what will you take for him! Twenty lire! [Footnote: A lire in
ordinary times is worth about twenty cents.] A. hundred? You must admit
that is a high price for a pigeon when it would be so easy a matter to
replace him. There are hundreds of pigeons in Venice."
"He is not for sale!" Andrea answered curtly, wishing the man would leave
The stranger turned sullenly, not liking to be baffled, muttering under his
breath, "That bird would be worth any amount of money to me if I could but
secure him for the War Department in Vienna!"
As for Chico his troubles for the day had only begun. By chance he flew
somewhat lower than was usual with him, and thus attracted the attention of
a shabby, ill-looking fellow who with gun in hand was wandering about the
side streets, hoping he might be so fortunate as to get a shot at some fat
pigeon for a pot-pie.
After a quick glance to be sure no sharpnosed guard was in sight, he raised
his gun and fired. Startled by the report Chico quickened his flight, and
the bullet whizzed past merely grazing one wing and inflicting a slight
wound on his left leg. The pain, however, was sharp and caused him to slow
down, so that he did not reach his destination until some time after Andrea
had returned, much to the anxiety of his friends.
When he finally fluttered, exhausted, into the nest, the old caretaker
caught sight of the bloodstain, and exclaimed in alarm, "Chico, my bird,
what happened?" while Andrea, fairly beside himself, mourned as he stroked
his wounded pet.
"It was the Austrian! I know It was! I liked not his words nor the
expression of his eyes. And now Chico is going to die!"
"Nay, lad," Paolo answered, after carefully examining the leg. "It is only
a flesh wound, and he will soon be himself again. As for the Austrian—I
doubt very much if such was the case. I judge, from what you say, that
he is quite too anxious to get possession of the bird to run any risk of
harming him. More likely some greedy fellow shot him for a pie. I have
known such things to happen in Venice."
"Shot for a pot-pie!" repeated Andrea, hot with indignation, while Maria
whispered, "Poor Chico! Poor Chico!" at the same time gently touching the
bird's head, who responded with a mournful "coo."
For a few days the bird drooped and was quite an invalid: it was more than
a week before he ventured beyond the friendly precincts of St. Mark's
But he had learned a lesson which, later on, stood him in good stead, for
ever after he took care to fly far above the reach of cruel gunners.
Several weeks after this incident, Paolo himself took the pigeon to
Chioggia, some fifteen miles from Venice. However famous this little
Italian town may be because of the battle that was fought there in the long
ago, between the Venetians and the Genoese, it is now known chiefly as a
fishing village and a picturesque spot where artists love to congregate.
On leaving the steamer the old man, not wishing to attract attention,
avoided the broad street, with its arcades and cafes, instead picking his
way along the canal, packed with fishing craft of every description, until
he to a superb white bridge, the pride of the little town.
There he paused, and thinking himself quite away from inquisitive
spectators, loosed the bird and stood a few moments watching him speeding
his way above the beautiful white arch towards home.
How strong were the graceful wings, and how steady the flight!
It was a warm day in early spring; he threw himself on the bank of the
canal grass thinking how pleasant it was on the water's edge. Suddenly a
voice sounded in his ears causing him to start visibly:
"Surely, it must be a pleasant occupation to be a pigeon fancier."
The tone was ingratiating, but resenting the intrusion, Paolo looked
around and caught an expression that belied the smooth words, and made him
instinctively distrust the stranger who had accosted him.
He did not answer, and the man pursued: "No wonder, when you have so fine a
bird. May I ask for what particular purpose you are training him?"
"Only for a boy's pleasure," was the short reply. Paolo immediately
surmised that this was he of whom Andrea had told him.
As he rose to go, the man went on, still more suavely: "By the way, I have
a very special reason why I should like a carrier pigeon." He lowered his
voice. "And am prepared to pay any amount for him; will you not set a
Paolo emphatically shook his head. "He can't be bought! I tell you the bird
is not for sale!" And with that the old caretaker walked away.
He was troubled, and the remainder of the time before the steamer sailed
walked the narrow streets, too much disturbed over the incident to notice
the women in the doorways making lace and the children sitting on the
ground beside the narrow footpaths, their fingers busy knitting or
He did not know that the Austrian followed him, and that, on reaching the
quay, the intruder chose a seat on the other side of the steamer. It is
no wonder that the artists go wild over the harbor, dotted as it is with
picturesque sails of yellow, blue, or red. Just beyond is Palestrina,
equally interesting, and known as the "narrowest town on earth," while a
little farther on the steamer skirts along manifold vegetable gardens, in
the midst of settlements whose simple homes are gay in their coloring of
pink, yellow, red, or white.
By the time the Lido was reached, the sun was low in the heavens, and soon
the lagoon was before them, bright in the roseate rays. After this it was
not long before Venice came in sight, more lovely than ever in the first
With a sigh Paolo stretched his limbs, cramped by sitting so long in one
position. He was getting old, he reflected, and found even a few hours'
excursion tiring in the extreme. As he made his way towards the Piazza, he
decided positively that not one syllable would he breathe to the children
of his encounter with the Austrian.
"It would only worry them, and what's the use?" he reflected. "It's old
Paolo who must guard Chico"—and he shook his head—"I fear it will be a
hard thing to do."
At a safe distance the stranger followed until St. Mark's Square was
reached. There he concealed himself behind a column and watched to see the
location of Chico's nest.
It was so late that the children had gone home, but Andrea had left a
folded paper, weighted by a stone, on the window ledge. Opening it Paolo
deciphered, without difficulty, the boy's writing.
"Chico reached home at ten minutes to four."
"Bene!" the old man ejaculated, forgetting his fatigue; "he made it in
thirty minutes, and it took me all of three hours."
As he reached his rough hand in through the window and touched
affectionately the sleeping bird, the Austrian moved from his position and
slunk down a side street. He had found out all he wanted, and his malicious
expression changed to one of triumph as he muttered:
"I'll have that bird yet, in spite of the old man!"
A TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE
Ever since Chico had become grown he had been in the habit of flying from
his nest in the early morning for a brief survey of the Piazza. First, he
would make his way to the famous well and, after a refreshing bath, would
walk about on the ground for a while in search of stray morsels of food,
perchance left by tourists the day before. Then, on the way back to his
ledge, he would stop for a moment here and there among the statuary for
a gossipy "coo" with one and another pigeon friend. But no matter how
interested he became in the sights and news of the Square, he was always on
his ledge in time to greet his dear human friends, upon whose appearance
there would ensue such an excited fluttering of wings and such a delighted
cooing that Maria would laugh aloud in glee, while Andrea emptied his
pockets of choicest tidbits.
One morning, a few weeks after the trip to Chioggia, as Chico was making
his customary early flight, his bright eyes caught sight of some enticing
crumbs on the pavement close to the steps leading to the new Campanile.
They seemed unusually good, and he lingered for some time pecking, first at
one and then another.
Suddenly he was grasped by a strong hand and hastily thrust into a padded
Poor Chico! His heart fluttered so that he couldn't think. Not but what he
was used to being handled, and perhaps his prison was a new kind of basket,
but even so he rebelled. There were no friendly cracks through which he
could catch an occasional glint of light, but only a few airholes clustered
at the top. Then, too, his quarters were so cramped that even the slightest
flutter was well-nigh impossible; and, after a few struggles, utterly
discouraged, and fearing the worst, he gave up and crouched down, entirely
at a loss as to what had happened.
The Austrian, angered at having been thwarted in every attempt he had made
to purchase the pigeon, had been watching the bird's habits ever since he
had followed the old caretaker, and had deliberately planned to capture him
in this way. His prize now secured, he made his way straight for a gondola
and gave orders to be rowed with the greatest possible speed to his
lodgings, and, on arriving, carried to his room the innocent-appearing
black box which resembled nothing so much as a folding kodak.
How satisfied he felt with himself, and how he gloated over the way in
which he had outwitted the old man! For a moment he held the box to his
ear, as if anxious to assure himself that the bird was still there. Not a
sound came from the trembling inmate. Had anything happened? Cautiously
unfastening the catch, he reached in his hand and touched the soft head.
There was a slight quiver.
Catching hold of the trembling body, he lifted out the bird and feasted his
eyes upon him. What a beauty he was! Not so large, to be sure, as some that
flit about Venice, but so perfectly marked, and with so broad a breast, and
such sweep of wings! He would profit richly by his morning's work. If only
he could get his prize safely out of Venice. There was no time to lose. He
might be tracked by that old fool of a caretaker, and in that case he would
have had his pains for nothing. And if by chance the matter should be
brought to the attention of the authorities, he might be arrested and
jailed; the Venetians make such a fuss over their precious pigeons.
A knock at the door made him start guiltily and thrust the pigeon roughly
back into the box. After all, it was only a messenger with a telegram
recalling him immediately to Vienna, which, he reflected, fitted nicely
into his plans. He would start the next morning, he concluded, as he
carefully concealed the black box under the bed, and took more than usual
pains in locking the door when he went out for dinner and to complete his
arrangements in regard to leaving.
Chico heard the door close and knew he was alone. What did it all mean? He
had never before suffered such indignities! To be placed by loving friends
in his dear familiar basket, while he was being taken to some point from
which he might make a glorious flight—he had long since become
reconciled to that experience; but to be seized by a stranger's hands and
ignominiously shoved into a black prison and hidden in a strange room—that
was an insult his free spirit could not brook. For a while he felt too
utterly despondent to make a movement, but after a little, very cautiously,
he began again to feel carefully with his beak around the box in search of
some crack. There was not one to be found. Next he tried with all his power
to enlarge the tiny airholes. It was impossible, and he gave himself up to
When his captor returned he opened the box, took out the bird, at the same
time placing some kernels of corn and a saucer of water before him. Chico
had no appetite for food, but parched with thirst drank feverishly.
"Eat! can't you?" The man spoke roughly. What on earth was the matter with
the pigeon to be so obstinate? "Hang it, if he won't eat," he exclaimed
aloud, "he'll starve to death before I can get him to the War Department."
With that he fairly forced the spiritless head into the pile of kernels on
the floor, but without avail; the bird, heart-broken, refused to open his
beak. His tail feathers drooped more mournfully than ever, and his captor,
thoroughly out of patience, angrily thrust him back into his prison. So the
rest of the day and night passed.
The Austrian rose early the next morning and hastily throwing his
belongings together was soon on his way to the station, suitcase in one
hand and the black box in the other.
At the depot there was more than the usual delay in procuring his ticket.
There was a crowd of men and women before him, and, impatiently enough, he
was obliged to wait his turn. Worse than anything, he found it necessary to
lay aside his possessions. He hesitated, then, after a quick survey of the
room, selected a corner near enough for him to keep an eye on his
precious box. It seemed an eternity before he could get anywhere near the
ticket-office window, and he completely lost what little temper he had when
a garrulous woman blocked his way and took fifteen minutes of additional
time in an interminable wrangle over change.
In the meantime an inquisitive youngster, left to his own devices by his
mother who was also in line before the ticket-office window, was creeping
about the floor in search of diversion. After being foiled in
various directions, his sharp eyes caught sight of the suit-case and
interesting-looking box. Without an instant's hesitation he scrambled
thither. As it happened, the Austrian having at last attained his object,
was at that very moment engaged in folding the long ticket, his attention,
therefore, was diverted from watching his property.
The child fumbled first with the suit-case. It was securely locked. Next he
seized the black box with his grimy fingers. It was fastened only with a
single strap. As this finally yielded, a look of rapture spread over his
Italian features, and with renewed zeal he proceeded to pry open the cover.
Suddenly he gave a shriek, at the same covering his face in terror as
something sharp brushed against his cheeks and flashed upwards.
It was Chico! He was free at last! For a moment, dazed by the sudden
release, the bird battered his splendid head against the ceiling, then,
before the roomful of travelers realized what had happened, he was out in
the open, spreading his glorious wings toward home.
When the Austrian, on turning to gather up his possessions, realized what
had occurred, he turned in rage toward the frightened child:
"You, you—" He choked in wrath, raising his arm as if to strike. But at
that moment the mother threw herself against him, screaming:
"You touch my child! You touch—"
The crowd by this time was closing in upon them, so that even the station
guard found it difficult to push his way through in his endeavor to find
out the cause of the disturbance.
Suddenly the cry of "All aboard!" was heard, and instantly the excited
gathering dispersed, the enraged woman grabbing her child and leading the
Just behind came the Austrian, bearing his suitcase and the empty black
box. Fortunate it was for him that the summons had come when it did, for
otherwise he might soon have found himself taken into custody on the charge
of disturbing the peace, and on the way to a cell in the Venetian prison.
As it was, he sank into his seat in the little train muttering all sorts of
imprecations upon the whole Italian people, and thanking his stars he would
soon be out of the country.
While all this had been going on, great had been the consternation in St.
Mark's Square over Chico's strange disappearance. When the children did
not find him waiting, as usual, for them, they were sure he must have been
shot, and Andrea mourned constantly, "E morte! E morte!" [Footnote: He is
But Paolo had his theory, and the more he thought the matter over, the more
he felt convinced that the bird was alive and in the possession of the
Austrian. Dropping his work for the day, he spent the weary hours going up
and down the narrow streets in vain effort to discover some trace of him.
From time to time he called, "Chico! Chico!" But, alas, no Chico answered.
Then the night came. Still no news. The next morning Paolo resolved to go
to the authorities, and was about to set out when suddenly there was a cry
from Maria, who was sitting grieving on the lowest step of the church,
watching the pigeons flying about in the blue sky.
"There's Chico!" she exclaimed, greatly excited, and pointing to a small
speck, far above them. "It's he! I know it's he!"
"I'm afraid not," the old man answered, shaking his head; "we have been
deceived too many times."
But Andrea was leaning forward, his whole form tense with emotion, and, in
another moment with radiant face he flung his cap into the air, and leaped
to his feet, shouting, joyfully:
"Urra! Urra! It's he! It's he!" and so it proved. No other bird could fly
with such strong, sure strokes.
Soon he was in his nest drinking eagerly the water Andrea had placed for
him. It was the first thing he always wanted when he returned from a
flight, but now he drank more thirstily than usual Then, how he did eat! It
was plain he was half starved. There was no mistake about it, he was thin,
and his feathers were so bedraggled that it was evident he had not preened
them since he had been gone.
But he was home, nothing else mattered!
"COO-OO, COO-OO-OO. RUK-AT-A-COO"
There was no denying the fact that Chico was a handsome bird, and as time
passed, he became more and more careful of his appearance. He would spend
fully half an hour each morning over his toilet, smoothing every feather
into place with the most exact nicety, polishing his delicately arched
bill, and proudly spreading his tail. Then, when the sun shone full upon
him, the peculiar markings of his wings seemed fairly radiant in their
From the saucy tilt of his dainty head to his graceful feet, he was a Beau
Brummel among pigeons.
It was no wonder that his little master's heart swelled with pride, and
that he repeated, over and over again, "My Chico is grande; my Chico
But there came a time when it was evident that, in spite of the gorgeous
appearance he presented, he was not altogether happy.
While he polished his beak and preened his feathers more assiduously than
ever, there was a note of pleading in his cooing that puzzled the children,
and caused Andrea to remark: "I wonder what can be the matter with Chico!"
In reply Paolo nodded his wise old head and answered, with a touch of
sympathy, "I know—he's lonely, and wants a mate." The old man even went so
far as to select a dainty little lady pigeon and place her on the ledge,
but alas! Chico resented what he evidently considered an intrusion,
retreated to the extreme edge, where he looked askance at his companion,
and refused, to be moved by her modest advances. Not a single "coo" would
he give, and to his everlasting disgrace finally gently but firmly pushed
her off the ledge. It was plain she had no charms for him! After one or two
further attempts, which ended in the same way, Paolo gave up and allowed
Chico to manage his own courting.
When his gentle, beseeching cooing failed to attract, he resorted to bolder
methods, flying about the Square, and lingering longer than was his wont
among neighboring nests, until he chanced upon a pigeon that took his
She was a modest little thing, soft drab in color, and not as strikingly
marked as he, but she was popular with the birds about, and Chico had to
fight one or two lusty rivals before he won her for himself.
The children watched it all with fascinated interest, and when one morning
they found her by his side on the ledge outside his nest, they were fairly
beside themselves with delight.
All day long they perched together, billing and cooing to their hearts'
content, "the prettiest sight in Venice," as all agreed who saw them.
"Coo-oo," he would begin, and she would answer softly. Then they would join
in "Coo-oos coo-oo-oo. Ruk-at-a-coo, coo-oo."
Sometimes he would playfully ruffle her feathers, and she would respond by
turning to him so coquettishly that they would touch their bills together,
so the hours would as they billed and cooed in their love-making.
It was Maria who named the dainty little mate, calling her Pepita, from the
first time she saw her by Chico's side. But it was Paolo who declared he
could give a pretty good guess as to what they were saying to each other in
their soft pigeon language.
"Well, what is it?" Andrea asked incredulously.
"She wants him to help her fix up the old nest," he asserted in a tone
of confidence that greatly impressed his audience; "like the rest of the
women-folks, she isn't satisfied with it as it is, I don't know as I blame
her—it's a pretty poor excuse for a home, even if Chico did manage to make
it do while he was a bachelor."
The children's faith in the old man increased tenfold when, the very next
day, they discovered Pepita returning from a short flight with a few coarse
straws in her beak, while in another moment Chico came flying around the
corner of the church with half a dozen more.
"You were right!" Andrea exclaimed, as he made an effort to restrain his
boisterous delight, and quietly looked in at the busy pair; "they are
working as hard as ever they can this very minute."
After that there were more straws brought, besides other things evidently
intended for lining, and though their home, when done, was not as smooth or
fine a piece of workmanship as many other birds can boast of, at least it
was comfortable, and exactly according to their ideas.
Chico had always loved his nest, but, with the appearance of two eggs under
Pepita's breast, he found it difficult to leave, even on necessary flights.
He was a devoted husband and was content to perch by her side the whole day
long, softly cooing in his efforts to entertain her, and always ready to
relieve her in keeping the eggs warm when she wished to take a turn around
the Square for exercise or in search of food.
To the children the nest was a place of mystery, and the first thing in the
morning they would together climb up to the old box and whisper:
"Buon giorno, Chico; buon giorno, Pepita; how are the eggs to-day?"
And then the mystery deepened! It was Paolo who whispered the wonderful
news in their ears.
"How do you know the eggs have hatched?" Andrea queried somewhat
In reply the old man pointed to the pavement where some broken shells were
a mute witness of the miracle that had occurred.
They were wild with ecstasy, and could scarcely wait to see the little
fledglings, and the second morning after the old caretaker let them come
into the shed and, by the light of a flickering candle, showed them the
naked little bodies, just as he had shown them Chico, months before.
Pepita had, from the first, accepted the children as her friends (probably
Chico had told her all about them in the early days of their courtship),
but she couldn't help showing her anxiety on this occasion, and flew
distractedly back and forth, while Chico kept jealous watch perched on
He was a good father, never failing in loving attention to his family, and
bringing the choicest tidbits to Pepita.
He hovered anxiously about while she fed the greedy fledglings with the
soft pulpy mass she prepared so carefully, and was always ready to look
after the "bambini," as Maria insisted on calling the baby birds.
Altogether, Chico was so taken up with his new cares that his training was
badly interrupted, and Andrea, especially, became greatly worried lest he
should forget all he had learned.
"He'll be all out of practice," he mourned, "and the next time we try him
he'll forget and lose his way home."
But Paolo was reassuring. "Never you fear," he replied; "I have heard that
the most important messages are entrusted to birds that have young in the
nest. That is when the love of home is strongest."
And so it proved: when Chico was once more tried, he surprised them by the
swiftness of his flight. In fact, in some instances he actually made more
than thirty miles an hour.
The spring advanced: there were other eggs in the nest, and other broods
to be cared for, and always Chico remained the faithful husband and
father—tender to his fledgling offspring—loving and true to his little
And, whenever household cares permitted, the two could be seen on the
window ledge, billing and cooing:
"Coo-oo, coo-oo-oo, Ruk-at-a-coo."
A GALA DAY
At last the new Campanile was completed. When the historic old bell tower
had fallen that morning in July, the people had been stunned and had given
way to such grief as only Italians feel over the loss of a thing of beauty.
It had fallen at nine-thirty in the morning, and when the Town Council met
that evening, it had been at once decided that immediate steps be taken to
erect a new tower, "dov'era, com'era" (where it was and as it was). And in
this all Italy concurred. The first stone had been laid on St. Mark's day,
April 25, 1903.
Slowly the graceful tower had risen from the confused mass of debris at its
base, no effort being spared to make it as strong and beautiful as possible
to conceive. Three thousand piles had been used in the foundation, and
almost every fragment of the old had been utilized in the effort to
reproduce, as nearly as possible, the much-loved structure. Carefully
the shattered pieces of bas-reliefs had been fitted together by trained
artisans, the figure of Venice on the east walls had been completely
restored, while one favorite group of the Madonna and Child had been pieced
from sixteen hundred fragments: the bells had been recast, and when
this gala day dawned, the same gold angel surmounted the top of the new
Campanile that had looked protectingly over the city for generations.
What wonder that Venice was beside herself with joy, and that great
festivities had been arranged to celebrate the occasion—on St, Mark's day,
The city was filled with visitors; the little steamers and motor-boats
chugged right merrily along the canals, laden with sight-seers, while the
gondoliers reaped a rich, harvest from the crowds of strangers.
Among those who came to attend the festivities was the children's uncle,
Pietro Minetti. He was the elder brother of Giovanni, and was an important
personage (at least in his own estimation) for had he not left the little
Venetian home years before and become a citizen of the world? Andrea and
Maria were wild with delight when they heard he was coming, and speculated
much as to their rich uncle, for, of course, he must be rich as every one
was out in the great world.
And at first sight it seemed that he must be even richer than they had
dreamed, so elegant did he appear in his checked trousers and starched
shirt. His mustache was waxed, and he walked with a swagger as he jauntily
swung a cane.
All at once the little home on the side canal seemed poorer and shabbier
than ever, and Luisa couldn't help wishing the smells of fish and garlic
from the shop below were not quite so strong.
But though Pietro looked somewhat superciliously at the plain surroundings,
after the strangeness wore off he proved to be a most entertaining guest,
with his stories of the great cities which he had visited. He had been as
far as London, and the children drew close in order that they might not
lose a single syllable of his wonderful tales.
"Well, well!" he exclaimed, introducing the subject of the Campanile, "it
really seems as if the town is waking up! I hear there is a lift in the
tower, and the old angel on the top has been actually placed on a pivot, to
act as a weather vane as well as a thing of beauty. That's more than could
have been expected of slow Venetians. If it were only possible to get in a
few automobiles there might be some hope for the city."
"Automobiles!" Giovanni was indignant, resenting even the mention of such
newfangled contrivances. "Venice wouldn't be Venice with automobiles!"
"Well, motor-cycles, then!" laughed Pietro good naturedly; "anything that
would give some noise and ginger to the old town. Pep is what Venice
needs!" And he chuckled to himself at the thought of motor-cycles on St.
Neither Giovanni nor Luisa had any patience with such talk, but the
children edged nearer, and their eyes grew bigger as they asked him eager
questions in regard to the marvelous things he had mentioned.
"Have you ever seen horses?" Andrea ventured timidly; "I mean real horses,
not pretend ones like those on the top of St. Mark's?"
"Horses!" he repeated, bursting into so loud a laugh that Maria shrank
away, half frightened; "horses! Why, they're so old-fashioned that no one
cares for them any more. They're quite too slow for the twentieth century!"
Andrea's head swam—horses old-fashioned! What kind of a strange world was
it outside of Venice? All at once his childish air castles came tumbling
down. But before he could question further it was time for bed, and with
his imagination roused to the utmost he tossed uneasily until he fell
asleep to dream he was racing with the wind in a strange kind of car with
the Devil himself as driver.
The exercises were to begin at ten o'clock the next morning, and the Piazza
was fairly packed with people hours before that time. Thanks to Paolo our
little group had a good place to view the proceedings in a certain musty
alcove of St. Mark's, and there they sat cramped through what seemed to
Maria like interminable hours.
As for St. Mark's Square, even Pietro had only words of praise for its gala
appearance: from the three flagstaffs opposite the church fluttered the
colors of Italy. Everywhere was music, everywhere was gayety, and the
crowds of people united in glad cries of "Viva Venezia!" [Footnote: Long
For Venice, more than any other place in the world, belongs to rich and
poor alike, and in the midst of it all, sympathizing with every mood, is
St. Mark's Church, the pride of the Venetian people. Never did she seem
more glorious than on this gala day, never did her gold mosaics sparkle
more brilliantly in the sunshine than when the great high magistrate
pronounced the solemn words: "Dov'era, com'era," and the bells rang to mark
the completion of the exercises.
Then, hark! a whirr, whirr of wings, a sudden darkening of the sky that
caused the joyful thousands to look into the heavens above them.
In an instant the shadow resolved itself into over twenty-five hundred
pigeons that had been brought to Venice that they might carry the glad news
to every part of Italy.
Then it was that the populace went wild with joy; thousands of
handkerchiefs fluttered, the cries of "Viva Venezia!" swelled and rent the
air, until they were drowned by the inspiring notes of the Italian national
tune, played by patriotic musicians in the bandstand at Florian's.
Our little group shared in all the excitement, waving with the rest
and joining in glad cries of "Urra! Urra!" Even Pietro was aroused to
admiration, and as the music died away and the crowds began to disperse, he
exclaimed: "There's no doubt but that Venice has outdone herself, and it
was a master stroke to make such use of homing pigeons. These spoiled birds
that flutter about the Square have no spirit in them, and I doubt if one of
them could carry a message even from the Lido!"
"Chico could," asserted Andrea stoutly, touched to the quick by the
sweeping declaration; "he could carry a message from 'most anywhere to
"Who's Chico?" Pietro asked quickly, elbowing his way through the surging
mass of people in the church.
"He's my pigeon!" Andrea answered, eager to defend his bird, and raising
his voice in an effort to make himself heard above the confusion. "I've
trained him, and I'll show you to-morrow! I don't suppose I could get to
him in all this crowd."
"To-morrow will do as well," Pietro managed to ejaculate, as they found
themselves at last in the Square, which was still solidly jammed with
people. "I am somewhat of a pigeon-fancier myself, and if that bird of
yours is what you say he is we'll see, we'll see!"
With this their conversation was interrupted and not again resumed, the
remainder of the afternoon being spent in promenading the Square, going up
in the lift of the Campanile, and managing to appease their appetites with
the various pastes and fruits which Pietro generously stood treat for.
Almost before they were aware of it, the afternoon was drawing to a close,
and with the coming of twilight Venice became more of a fairyland than
Outlining the buildings throughout the Square, throwing into prominence
every graceful point and cornice, were thousands of electric lights: St.
Mark's herself appeared more like a jewel box than ever, and was only
surpassed by the Campanile which was ablaze from top to bottom.
Everywhere was music, everywhere was light, and in this new and splendid
setting, Venice looked a very gorgeous "Bride of the Sea!"
The spirit of the old Carnival days was once more present: as women in
black shawls and strange masked figures threaded their way amid the throngs
of people accompanied by wild music, while confetti, thrown from every
balcony, caused shouts of laughter and fell harmlessly upon them.
There were to be fireworks on the water, and Paolo had offered his old
gondola that they might join the gay crowds on the Grand Canal. Here Pietro
was supreme, and it required only the twisting of a scarf about his waist
to transform him into a gondolier, at least in the eyes of his not too
So Giovanni and the children crowded into the shabby gondola and rowed with
thousands of others up and down, watching the rockets soaring into the sky
and bursting into myriads of dazzling stars as they fell into the water
Later, when the display was over, Pietro guided them among the storied
palaces of the long ago, now close behind some concert barge, playing
softest strains of grand opera, or answering the low call of passing
gondoliers with like musical response.
A LITTLE JOURNEY IN THE WORLD
The morning after the great Carnival day Andrea woke with a sense of
disquietude. Something was going to happen, but for a few moments he could
not think what it was. Then with a rush he remembered. He had promised to
show Chico to his uncle. Since the suggestion had been made he had not been
able to dismiss it from his mind and, even while watching the bursting
rockets the evening before, he had found himself wondering what Pietro
could have meant by his mysterious remark, "If the bird is what you say—we
shall see. We shall see!"
Although he liked his uncle immensely, he had not been able entirely to
overcome a certain feeling of awe in his presence, and he shuddered at
thought of many scathing criticisms he had heard him make upon objects
which he had been brought up to regard with veneration. Suppose he should
make fun of Chico! The quick tears started at the thought. Then his eyes
flashed and he sprang out of bed, exclaiming to himself, "I don't care what
he may say, I know he's the finest pigeon in the world!"
This feeling of confidence lasted until they finished breakfast and Pietro
had pushed back his chair, with the remark:
"And now, my boy, we must be off to see that wonderful bird of yours!"
Then his timidity returned, and beset by anxious fears, he walked silently
by his uncle's side.
Pietro was in his most jocund mood that morning, jauntily swinging his
cane, joking about the Rialto as they crossed it, and talking a great deal
about London and Paris. His companion's courage gradually oozed away. In
fact it was completely gone by the time they rounded the corner of the
church and came upon the happy couple basking in the sunlight and cooing
affectionately to each other.
"So that's the fellow!"—and Pietro pointed to Chico, entirely ignoring
little Pepita by his side.
Andrea nodded, not daring to trust himself to speak.
"Hum-mm." His uncle cleared his throat. "Suppose you call him that I may
see him closer."
Andrea managed a faint "Chico," and in an instant the pigeon was in his
lap, burrowing in his pocket in search of the usual tidbits.
"Hum-mm." Pietro caught the bird firmly in one hand, at the same time
swiftly running the other over the trembling body.
"Long wings, bulge prominent over the ear, broad breast, a clear, keen
Andrea's heart almost ceased to beat.
Then, very slowly, Pietro went on appraisingly. "Very good, very good,
indeed! And you say he has had some training?"
"Oh, yes!" the boy answered, and with glowing face, vastly relieved, "he
has carried messages from ever so far, from the Lido, from Chioggia—"
"Have you kept his record?" Pietro interrupted brusquely.
At this the boy fished in one pocket after another, finally producing a
grimy card, covered with figures.
His uncle took it and, after studying it over carefully, handed it back,
"This is somewhat remarkable, and should be marked on his wings." With that
he produced a tiny bottle of India ink a rubber stamp, and while Andrea,
with fascinated interest, held the bird, Pietro copied the figures on the
primary feathers of the right wing, remarking as he finished, "There, I
guess that will attract attention from any fancier. You have really a fine
bird, my boy, and I would suggest that it might be well to exhibit him at
some pigeon show. There's to be one at Verona next week."
Andrea's head swam. What was his uncle saying? Go to Verona? Exhibit Chico?
Impossible! Well he knew there was no money in the little home to pay for
any such expenditure, but Pietro was not yet through.
"Your father and mother have treated me right royally ever I've been in
Venice, and I am sure they will not deny me this opportunity to make
some return. It will not cost you a single lira. What say you, will you
accompany me? I happen to be going in that direction and can arrange to
stop over as well as not."
Andrea caught his uncle's hands in a paroxysm of joy. In his wildest dreams
he had never thought of ever going anywhere outside of Venice, and now, to
be thus calmly discussing an errand like this, it seemed as if he could
scarcely believe his ears.
Then Pietro, taking for granted that the matter was settled as far as
Andrea was concerned, that very evening broached the plan to the boy's
father and mother, overruling all their objections with the result that the
following Monday found the two travelers, with Chico in his basket, on the
train bound for Verona.
It is an interesting trip for any one through the plain towns of northern
Italy, and, needless to state, not the slightest detail of the passing
landscape was lost on Andrea. Not once did he take his eyes from the car
window save occasionally to look through the cracks of the basket into
Chico's bright eyes, as if to assure himself that the bird was still there.
On, on they sped, catching glimpses of gnarled olive trees, silvery gray,
while Roman walls, centuries old, silhouetted against the horizon, spoke
of a civilization long past. There were rounded hill-slopes and ancient
castles, while the broad Adige dashed madly along the sides of the track.
It was two o'clock when they reached their destination and rumbled into the
huge covered station of Verona.
With beating heart, Andrea followed the business-like Pietro as he led the
way out of the station and hailed a vettura [Footnote: Carriage.] to take
them up the wide tree-shaded avenue.
The boy paid little attention to the marble palaces by which they drove,
but was overwhelmed at the experience of actually being behind a horse.
He drew a deep breath—it was a dream come true; he was further amazed at
finding their conveyance but one of an endless throng of wagons, carriages,
In many ways Verona is fully as old-fashioned as Venice, but to Andrea the
city seemed the personification of all that was progressive, and while the
horses were not the gay steeds of the boy's dream, they were really alive,
and wonder of wonders, as they drove over the grand arches of the historic
structure which bridges the muddy, swirling waters of the Adige, they
were suddenly outdistanced by what Pietro pointed out as one of the few
automobiles of Verona.
The boy's eyes widened. What tales he would have to tell old Paolo and the
little Maria! When they came to the great Arena, in the heart of the city,
Pietro dismissed their vettura, and together they walked down the principal
promenade to the shopping center where they mingled with the endless crowds
of pedestrians and looked into the windows of the gay little shops that
made Andrea think of Venice.
Not far from the imposing City Hall was an ancient red marble Gothic cross
about which were clustered hundreds of what looked like canvas toadstools,
but which were, in reality, immense white umbrellas, sheltering countless
market stalls. Here were gathered a motley collection of all sorts of
things for sale, ranging from boots and shoes to many kinds of provisions
Through all this Pietro walked so fast that his companion had hard work to
keep up with him, and was glad when they finally stopped in front of an
enclosure sheltered by two large umbrellas. Then his heart sank and he
clutched his basket closer as he realized that here was where the pigeon
show would be held, and understood, from what a loud-voiced man was
calling, that the birds were already being entered. He wished—oh, how he
wished—he had not come, and was almost overwhelmed by the thought that he
would be obliged to leave Chico with these chattering strangers.
There was no alternative—already many of the birds were in place. He
could see some of them and realized they were, for the most part, dejected
looking specimens. He touched Pietro's sleeve nervously and inquired
faintly, "Are you sure I shall get him back?"
But on this point his uncle was most reassuring and replied confidently:
"There's nothing at all to worry about. The bird will be perfectly safe.
They'll fasten an aluminum tag about his leg with his number on it and give
you the duplicate. A claim check, you know. Come, buck up and be a sport!"
Still doubtful, Andrea sorrowfully relinquished his pet. From that time on,
his peace of mind was gone, and he mournfully studied the bit of aluminum
with the number—1104.
Pietro noticed the lad's dejection and exerted himself to the utmost to
divert him. After a good dinner he proceeded to show him the sights of
Verona, at the same time telling him interesting tales about the Arena,
the beautiful gardens, and the palaces of olden time. But Andrea remained
listless, only rousing when his proposed a visit to the tomb of Romeo and
Juliet which was the one place his mother had charged him to see.
The show was to open the next morning at ten o'clock, and long before that
time there was an eager crowd at the turnstile.
All was in order—the birds of the various exhibits being arranged in cages
in different compartments. There were of every color variety, from big
fellows, brought 'way from London, to all white beauties. One corner was
devoted to the homing pigeons, and here Andrea discovered Chico in the same
cage with some highly trained racers from Belgium. His head had lost its
saucy tilt, and he was miserably pecking in the sawdust as if in search of
something to eat. But otherwise he seemed in good condition, and his master
felt a glow of pride as he mentally contrasted the appearance of "1104"
with those exhibited by the foreign fanciers, although, of course, he
supposed that, in all probability, Chico didn't have a ghost of a chance.
All this time his uncle was excitedly bobbing back and forth, mingling with
the people and commenting on the points of one or another specimen. It was
a good-natured crowd, that had, for the most part, drifted in from the
poultry show that was being held in an adjoining tent. There was not much
enthusiasm until four judges made their appearance, and with notebooks
in hand, began their inspection of the cages. Then there was a stir; the
bystanders pressed more closely to the railing, and there was considerable
excitement as fluttering blue and white ribbons indicated the winners of
first and second honors.
By the time the cage of messenger pigeons was reached, there was a ripple
of genuine excitement, and from one and another quarter bids were shouted
by those who knew the characteristics of a good homer. These began as low
as "Four lire" on a pigeon from Milan, "A hundred lire" on number "670,"
an aggressive-looking Belgian, and then—Andrea's head swam as a burly
American called out, "fifty dollars on '1104.'"
After that things became lively as the judges passed from one to another,
inspecting every bird most carefully and making note of individual
characteristics. When they seemed especially pleased, or stopped to confer,
as occasionally happened, over the record which, in every case, was marked
on the wings, then the bidding became fairly furious, "670" leading and
"1104" a close second. One of the judges took so long in his examination of
Chico that a fat German changed his bid, and an American called out, "Come,
get a move on you!" There was a long conference among the judges, during
which the people waited impatiently enough, and Andrea felt himself more
tense every moment.
Finally, with exasperating deliberateness, one of them turned and announced
that the blue rosette was awarded to number "1104." Andrea's cheeks went
scarlet, and the air was rent by cries of "Urra! Urra!" "Bully for 1104!"
The boy's head swam. CHICO HAD WON. It seemed as if he could scarcely
believe his senses. He looked around for his uncle only to find he had
leaped the railing and was shaking hands with the judges, and pointing
to Andrea as the owner of the bird. On every side could be heard excited
comments, and the American, just behind, was holding forth at a great rate:
"I knew it—I knew it all the time; he doesn't make the show some of 'em
do, but look at his breast! Look at the length of his wings, and his eye!
There isn't a bird here with such a keen eye as he has! Then, did you watch
him? He wasn't half as scared as the other birds! Just kind of bored by the
performance! One can see he has a strong heart, and that's what counts in
a homer! Why, bless me, I'd like to get hold of that bird. Is the owner
It was then Pietro reappeared, jubilant, of course. He wrung the boy's hand
until it ached, at the time exclaiming, "You're wanted on every side; you
can take your pick of chances to sell your bird, and if you ever wish to
engage as a trainer of pigeons, the way is open to you!"
When Andrea presented his metal tag for "1104," the crowd fairly closed in
upon him, shouting offers. Altogether it was a great triumph, but he felt
tired, and his head ached so that it was a distinct relief when Pietro,
looking at his watch, declared there wasn't a moment to lose if he intended
to catch the noon train for Venice!
He was glad it was over, and all the way down the tree-lined avenue, he
kept looking through the cracks of the basket, as if to assure himself that
Chico was really there.
But at the station another ordeal confronted him. Pietro had insisted when
they were first discussing coming to Verona that Chico must fly home, and
to this Andrea, at the time, had consented. Now he wished he had not. He
felt it almost an impossibility again to relinquish his bird, and pleaded
with Pietro to release him from his promise. But, no, his uncle was
obdurate, and was moved by no entreaties.
"Of what are you afraid? A bird which has the blue rosette can find his way
from Verona. He must carry the news of his victory himself, and I miss my
guess, if he doesn't reach home before you do."
"But it looks most terribly like a storm," the boy expostulated, his eyes
resting uneasily on the angry clouds looming over the castled hills.
"And what if it does rain? A homing pigeon has a stout heart and I warrant
it will take more than a thunder-storm to dismay our prize bird." And with
that he fastened to Chico's leg a little aluminum pouch, in which was a bit
of paper, containing the laconic message, "WON—THE BLUE ROSETTE!"
Andrea made no further protest, and away flew the bird, circling into the
air above, then, by still wider circles, higher and higher until he was
Andrea watched until the mere speck in the distance had completely
disappeared. Venice seemed very far away! With a sinking heart he made his
way across the platform, and climbed into the little train from the window
of which he forlornly waved "good-bye" to the irrepressible Pietro, who,
after shouting a final injunction to the lad to "buck-up," and to be sure
and let him know how long Chico took to make the trip by his "air-line,"
jauntily waved his hand, and the train, moved out.
For fully half an hour Andrea crouched in his seat, altogether dejected,
watching the sky illuminated from time to time by flashes of lightning. A
man in the seat across the aisle leaned over to inquire the meaning of the
blue rosette he wore on his breast, but Andrea shook his head and with
blurred eyes looked out at the storm already breaking. Soon the thunder
could be heard above the noise of the train, and hailstones as large as
marbles rattled against the windows.
Somewhere in all that darkness Chico was flying! The boy's heart grew more
and more heavy and was filled with bitterness against his uncle who had
been so insistent. Of what use were empty honors if his bird was lost
In the meantime Chico was having his difficulties. For the first time he
was too far from Venice to catch even a glimpse of her domes or the new
Campanile. He was puzzled.
But somewhere was Venice, somewhere his nest—with Pepita and the
fledglings. The thunder rumbled, the lightning flashed, the rain fell. Yet
his heart was stout and his courage strong.
Do they call it instinct that so unerringly guides the flight of the homing
pigeon? Was it the sea that called? Did the winds convey a message? I know
not, but, after that single moment of hesitation, the brave bird plunged
into the darkness and made his way to home and loved ones.
At last the long afternoon was over and the slow Italian train pulled into
Venice. Andrea sadly picked up his empty basket. As it happened, at the
very moment he stepped upon the platform, the clouds parted and the sun
shone, lighting with splendor the rippling waters of the Adriatic, and
shining full on the golden domes of the churches.
He expected Paolo and his sister would be at the station to welcome him and
to hear the result of the pigeon show. After all, what had it all amounted
to if the bird had been lost in the storm? At that point in his reflections
a little figure came rushing to him, all breathless with excitement. It was
Maria, with her father and mother just behind. They were followed by the
old caretaker, hurrying as fast as his rheumaticky limbs would permit, and,
wonder of wonders! Andrea had to look twice to be sure he was not mistaken,
perched upon his shoulder was—CHICO! To be sure, his feathers were a
little disheveled, for he had been too busy with Pepita and the fledglings
to take time to preen them, but apparently he was unharmed by the perils
through which he had passed, and there was as saucy a tilt to his as ever.
"Urra! Urra!" the boy cried, throwing his cap twice into the air, while his
father wrung his hand excitedly, and Maria exclaimed:
"He came into the nest more than an hour and a half ago. Oh, isn't he the
"He's the fast express all right!" put in Paolo, waving his cane proudly in
the air; "made the whole distance at the rate of over forty miles an hour."
Then they all talked at once, asking questions, first about the pigeon
show, and then about the adventures in Verona.
It seemed as if Andrea couldn't answer fast enough, there was so much to
tell, and he repeated more than once as he passed the blue rosette for
their closer inspection:
"There wasn't a bird to compare with him!"
"And you say you rode behind a horse?" Paolo questioned, as the entire
party crowded into the old gondola, and Chico flew into his master's lap.
"Si! Si! And saw an automobile!" was the proud answer as Andrea went on to
describe how it "went like the wind," just like the one he had dreamed of.
Unconsciously there crept into his demeanor a slight suggestion of Pietro's
swagger, and while he was glad to get home, and though St. Mark's Square
never seemed so beautiful before, still there was no denying it was a great
experience to have traveled and seen something of the world.
AND ALL FOR ITALY!
Some years passed and Andrea was now a stocky lad with resolute walk and
steady black eyes. He was fourteen, the age to which he had long looked
forward as the time when he should realize his ambition to work beside
his father in the glass factory. Maria, too, was growing up: already her
fingers were almost as deft as her mother's in making lace, under
whose guidance she could even fashion the beautiful roses, the special
characteristic of Venetian point.
As for Chico, he was constantly establishing new records, and his wings
bore witness to many triumphs.
Then the Great War came, and the world shook with its thunders. On May 23,
1915, Italy had declared hostilities against Austria-Hungary, although the
Italian offensive did not begin until 1917.
At first the victories were all on the side of Italy, when her brave
heroes broke through on the Isonzo front, it seemed almost as if they were
destined to sweep everything before them Then the tide turned: one town
after another was retaken by the Austrians, until, on October 29, 1917, the
entire Italian front on the Isonzo collapsed.
Then came days of black despair: all Italy mourned, but in Venice
especially was the horror felt. From her situation she had always been a
bulwark against the Austrians, and not yet had she forgotten the hated rule
of her enemies.
Nearer drew the lines until the roar of the cannon could be sometimes
heard, and there was scarcely a clear night that aeroplanes did not hover
over the terrified city. Dimmed were the lights that were wont to make a
fairyland of St. Mark's Square, and in the daytime the red, white, and
green of the Italian flag supplied almost the only color, while the only
music was the martial call of Garibaldi, to which countless marched to the
field of battle.
Haste! Haste! ye martial youth!
On every wind our banners fly,
Rise all with arms, all with fire!"
The glass factories were closed, and Giovanni went, with the rest of the
brave men, to fight for home and country. Even Pietro hastened from his
wanderings to offer his services. The lace factories were deserted,
and instead of the delicate threads and the bobbins, the women busied
themselves with bandages for the Red Cross.
No longer did the canals echo the laughter of gay tourists, and desolately
the pigeons flew about St. Mark's Square, which was almost a deserted place
save for the workmen to whom had been assigned the task of protecting the
church by placing sandbags on the roofs and iron girders at the windows:
mournfully lapped the waters of the Adriatic.
The bronze horses were transferred to Rome for safety; even the pictures by
the great masters were taken from their places and hidden, lest they fall
into the hands of the enemy.
Old Paolo, who, for a year past had been decrepit, died, broken-hearted,
when the first news came of Austrian victories. He was sadly missed in his
accustomed haunts. A younger man succeeded him as caretaker of St. Mark's,
and Andrea, not old enough to be drafted for service at the front, was
appointed chief guard of the church by night.
Sacrifice was the watchword of the hour. Men gave up the savings of years,
women brought their trinkets to be sold or melted down for the use of the
And Andrea—what had he to give?
One night, as he paced back and forth on his beat, listening for the
possible roar of an aeroplane or the sudden bursting of a bomb, there
flashed into his mind the story of services rendered Venice in the olden
time by homing pigeons. He seemed a child again, sitting close to old
Paolo's side and listening to his tales of happenings in the long ago.
True, now there was wireless at the front, besides telephones and
telegraphs, and yet, even with all modern inventions, he wondered if the
War Department might not be able to find some use for a trusty pigeon.
Though the boy's heart grew faint at the thought of the sacrifice, his
resolution was immediately taken, and as soon as he was released from duty
in the morning he made his way directly round the church to the bird's
nest. He was tall now and had no need of the box Paolo had placed so long
ago for use as a step: thrusting his hand through the aperture, he firmly
grasped Chico who happened at that time to be taking his turn with the eggs
while his mate enjoyed a much-needed constitutional.
Naturally he resented the interruption and made futile efforts to free
himself. But Andrea was resolved on no delay, and without more ado bore off
the struggling bird, just as Pepita fluttered into the aperture, with an
apology for being late, and ready to assume her wifely duties.
"Chico! Chico!" the boy exclaimed, gently smoothing the rumpled feathers,
"you mustn't mind, old fellow. I'm sorry to take you away, but you and I
have a duty to our country and we mustn't shirk!"
Gradually the pigeon ceased to struggle, and while not in the least
understanding what it was all about, snuggled close to Andrea's breast,
putting his head confidingly inside his soldier's coat.
"And, Chico," the boy went on, "you must do your part, no matter what
happens. And, if you"—he choked a little at the thought—"and if you
should never come back, it will be for Venice, and for Italy. We won't
forget that, will we, my bird?"
As he spoke, he bent his head to listen caught a faint answering "coo," as
Chico snuggled his head closer.
By this time he had reached the War Office which was located in one of the
buildings on the north side of the Square. In response to his knock he was
ushered into the presence of a kindly official who sat at a table littered
with maps and papers of every description.
There was a moment's pause, during which Andrea stood uneasily fidgeting,
and his courage almost oozed away as he nervously twisted his cap.
But at last the great man looked up, and somewhat abstractly asked, "Well,
my boy, what can I do for you?"
"Please, signore," Andrea faltered, as he took from his coat the precious
bird, "please, I have a homing pigeon—"
At once the officer became alert. "A homing pigeon?" he repeated quickly.
"Is he trained to carry messages?"
"Si, signore." And the boy forgot his embarrassment in his anxiety to tell
of Chico's exploits. "He won the blue rosette at a pigeon show at Verona, a
few years since, and see, here is the record of his flights." With that he
spread out the wings and the officer studied them over thoughtfully.
When at last he spoke, Andrea could not but note the light in the tense
eyes and the eagerness of his tone:
"My boy, this well-trained homing pigeon will, indeed, be valuable to the
War Department. Tell me, what shall I give you for your bird? Name your
"My Chico is not for sale!" the boy protested stoutly, "It is my wish to
give his services to my country!"
"Think carefully, the Department is ready to pay well for this branch of
But Andrea shook his head, "No, signore, it is for Italy. There is but one
thing I would make sure of." He paused.
"And what is that?" the great official inquired kindly. He was beginning to
realize that this was no ordinary relation which existed between the lad
and his pigeon.
"Please, I would ask that when the war is ended, I may have my bird again;
that is, that is—" and the boy's eyes were misty as he spoke.
"To be sure, to be sure," the officer cleared his throat. "I'll see that
you have a written voucher to that effect."
He touched a bell and gave the order in a business-like tone to the
respectful soldier who at once made his appearance.
"We have a valuable addition to our air messengers in the shape of this
well-trained homing pigeon. Have you room for him in the next consignment
that is sent to the front?"
"Si, signore, one will go to-morrow. The baskets have four compartments and
there is one place still vacant." With that he fixed the metal anklet, and
Chico was thereby enrolled as number 7788 in the air brigade of the Italian
But that was not all; a voucher was then and there made out that, after
hostilities had ceased, number 7788 should be returned to the owner, Andrea
The great official affixed his own signature and, after handing the paper
to the lad, escorted him to the door and opened it for him.
Though Andrea's heart was well-nigh bursting with grief, the parting words
brought a thrill to his whole being:
"It is such sacrifices that will win the war for Italy and, believe me,
this act of yours will not be forgotten!"
EVVIVA VENEZIA! EVVIVA ITALIA! [Footnote: Long live Venice! Long live
Still nearer drew the hated Austrians: the roar of cannon could be heard
distinctly now, an air raid was no longer a novelty, and many a home and
public building showed ravages wrought by bursting bombs.
The hospitals were crowded with maimed, among whom was Pietro who had been
gassed and wounded at the front, and was now slowly convalescing in Venice.
The Piazza echoed the tread of marching feet, by day and by night, and the
battle hymn heard on every side:
Haste! Haste! ye martial youth!
On every wind our banners fly,
Rise all with arms, all with fire!"
The world thrilled with tales of bravery, the exploits of Italian soldiers
and aviators were quoted far and wide. But with all their heroism they
could not stay the Austrian advance.
With the coming of 1918 deepest gloom settled over Italy as the people
girded themselves for what seemed a struggle for very existence: not the
slightest suggestion of luxury was permitted, even the making and selling
of cakes, pastry, and confectionery being sternly prohibited by government
The Minetti family had fared as had the others, neither better nor worse,
and though one corner of the wall of the modest home had been torn away
in an explosion, the statue of the Virgin remained as if to protect from
further harm. No news had come from Giovanni since his return to the front,
over six months before, and Luisa, dry-eyed but worn and racked with
anxiety, worked far into the night on bandages for the wounded. Maria,
in common with others of her age, had lost the fresh prettiness that,
by right, belongs to youth, and her form was bent by work and her face
furrowed by lines of apprehension.
Of Chico nothing had been heard since the morning, months before, when his
master had left him in the office of the War Department. One's heart ached
for the faithful little mate, as she brooded forlornly on the window ledge,
refusing to pay the slightest heed to any bold fellow who dared make
overtures to her.
His bird was much in Andrea's thoughts as he paced back and forth each
night upon his beat and, gazing into the sky in his lookout for aeroplanes,
he would strain his eyes for a speck that might resolve itself into Chico's
Possibly, he reasoned, the bird had not yet been made use of. Perhaps—and
at the thought, his heart would almost fail him—perhaps, it might even be
that he had been entrusted with some message, but had failed to reach his
To the boy's other duties had been added that of watching the nest. He had
scorned the suggestion that an electric bell be placed there to attract
"As if I should not hear the slightest flutter of my Chico's wings!" he
protested. But, to make sure, he even slept in the little room back of the
church and arranged that hither should his meals be brought.
Poor lad! He, too, showed the strain of the Great War, and looked tense
and worn. He was not the same Andrea who had dreamed of inventing some
wonderful new glaze: now his ambition was to be an aviator in the service
of the Government and, like the bird he loved, fly through the blue
One evening (it happened to be a cloudless one, with the moon scheduled to
rise about one o'clock) he felt more than usually restless and on fire with
It was on such nights as this that the danger from air raids was especially
imminent, and the boy's senses were at tight tension.
As the moon rose, Venice stood revealed an enchanted city, a place of
beauty, touched as of old with a magic wand. Hark—already the clock was
striking the hour of two! Andrea's eyes wandered from one familiar object
to another the Ducal Palace, the new Campanile, the column of St. Theodore,
and, beyond, the dome of Sta. Maria della Salute. He held his breath, it
was so wonderful. And to think—to-night, to-morrow, all might be in ruins.
Surely the great God would never permit it!
Only a short time before, on June 15, the enemy had launched a new
offensive the Piave River, from the Asiago Plateau to the Adriatic Sea, and
though a few days later the news had reached Venice that their own brave
men had taken the offensive, nothing had since been heard. Would it be as
it had been before, a few spasmodic successes and then—loss and defeat?
Suddenly (was he dreaming?) there was a whirr of wings; he rubbed his
sleeve across his eyes. Swiftly there shot across his vision something that
in the soft moonbeams seemed an arrow of silver—a flash of light! He was
dazed; could it be—Chico? At full speed he ran to the nest, and there,
close by the side of cooing Pepita, lay the exhausted bird, while a ray of
moonlight closed a stain of blood across his breast.
Quick as a flash the boy reached in his hand, unfastened the little
aluminum pouch, and, without waiting to find out whether the pigeon was
alive or dead, fairly flew to the War Department where a light was burning,
as he knew it would be. In these days of strain the high official scarcely
closed his eyes and on this night he was tracing over and over again the
plan of the new offensive.
Andrea rapped on the window—he could not wait to knock and be admitted,
neither did he dare to leave his watch for even a fraction of a second.
"Who is it?"—the window was cautiously opened.
"It is I, Andrea Minetti, number 7788 has just come in with a message from
the front." With that he thrust the metal cylinder into the officer's hand.
He tore it open and for one tense moment scanned the bit of tissue paper,
then, with tears of joy, he read aloud: "'Austrian offensive declared a
failure—Italians make sweeping victories along the Piave: Evviva Venezia!
Evviva Italia!'" Then added exultantly, "Buone notizie! good news, good
news!" and the tears coursed freely down his furrowed cheek, Andrea, beside
himself with joy, threw his cap Into the air, echoing; "Viva Venezia!
Evviva Italia! It was my Chico brought the message!"
At mention of the pigeon the officer turned quickly, asking:
"Your bird—tell me, is he alive and in good condition?"
"I know not, signore, there was a stain of blood upon his breast, but I
stopped not to find the cause."
"Then go, go quickly. I will have some one relieve you of your watch the
rest of the night. See that everything is done. Venice wakes from her
nightmare, and the faithful messenger that brought the joyful tidings must
not be neglected!"
Andrea saluted and started away, but had gone only a few steps when the
officer recalled him:
"Hold—you say there was a stain of blood! The Red Cross surgeon is not too
great a personage to save the bird. If you will take him to the hospital, I
myself will telephone the story!"
With a look of gratitude in his dark eyes, and a "Grazie, signore," Andrea
was off as quickly as he had come, and fifteen minutes later was in the Red
Cross rooms holding out the suffering Chico to the great surgeon, who, in
less time than it takes to say it, had located the trouble, extracted the
tiny bit of lead that had come so perilously near piercing the brave heart,
bound up the wound, and handed the quivering bird back to his master:
"There, I have done my best. A short time and he will be all right,
although his left wing will be crippled and his flights from now on can
only be short." As he spoke, he laid his hand on Andrea's shoulder: "My
boy, there is no greater hero in the wards of this hospital than this
faithful homing pigeon!"
Tears blurred Andrea's sight as he hugged Chico close and with reiterated
expressions of gratitude made his way down the hospital steps. The heart
within his soldier's coat was pulsating with joy at the spontaneous words
of praise and the assurance that Chico would not die. Anything else
Gently he laid the wounded pigeon in his nest, just as Maria came with his
She was dazed, and at first did not understand what had happened; then
a light broke over her face and, reaching up, she smoothed the ruffled
feathers whispered, "Poor Chico! Poor Chico!" until a quiver of the eyelids
and the most pathetic of faint "coos" gave evidence that the sufferer
appreciated her sympathy.
In the meantime the word had spread, and cries of "Evviva Venezia! Evviva
Italia!" rent the air. People, mad with joy, marched up and down the narrow
streets unfurling flags shouting:
"Buone notizie! Buone notizie! Good news! Good news!"
The piazza became an animated place as groups of men, women, children
gathered, embracing one another, and longing to hear further details.
In the hospitals there was great excitement: it was difficult to restrain
the joyful demonstrations. When Luisa whispered the news in Pietro's ear,
he leaped out of bed in spite of his wounds, crying:
"The grande bird! I always said he would be game! Oh, but he's a sport!"
As for Chico, if he could have spoken he would have told a harrowing
tale. Thrown into the air with dozens of others, when all other means
of communication were interrupted, at first even his stout heart was
appalled. One by one the others fluttered to the ground, afraid to attempt
the flight, and of the four who persisted, three fell, torn to pieces by
bullets. But Chico struggled on, on, in spite of shot and shell—on, on, in
spite of the fact that he was wounded, and the loss of blood made him weak,
while the crippled wing retarded the swiftness of his flight. Still he
carried on—his stout heart never wavering, until, in the distance, his
keen eyes detected the tall shape of the new Campanile. Then, on and on, in
spite of the great aeroplanes constantly threatening destruction.
At last the domes of the churches came in sight, and the salt smell of
the Adriatic acted as a tonic to the weary bird. He was nearing home
and Venice. Another moment and he was safe—safe with Pepita excitedly
fluttering over him.
In the rejoicing Chico was called for again and again, but for the first
time since Paolo had clumsily put together the rude nest for the forlorn
little pigeon he found upon the pavement, the window was closed that the
sufferer might not be disturbed.
THE HERO OF THE SQUARE
It was some months before hostilities ended, but favorable word continued
to come from the front, and the gloom that had so long overhung Italy was
dissipated. Women worked with light hearts, men fought with the assurance
Chico was soon about again and was the hero of the Square. Although his
nights were now somewhat restricted, he found it very pleasant to fly about
the accustomed haunts, and if he was a little inclined to assume the airs
of a war veteran, no one criticized.
When Pepita, amid the cares of domesticity, wearied a little of her
husband's oft-repeated tales of life at the front, he had only to repair
to the Piazza where, in the perches among the Statuary, he never failed to
find plenty of cronies eager to pay him fascinated attention.
When the armistice was signed, Venice gave herself up to revelry, and the
scenes when the Piazza was once more illuminated were wilder than at any
Processions of people, mad with joy, marched up and down, headed by Chico
and his master, and shouting in praise of the brave bird.
It was not long before the city began to assume her customary appearance as
greatly prized treasures were brought from their hiding-places.
The Colleoni statue once more stood in place; Titian's famous Assumption of
the Virgin that had transferred to Pisa was returned securely packed in
a huge chest, some seven and a half meters in length, and amid the wild
excitement the bronze horses were restored to their position on the top of
St. Mark's. People thronged to witness the ceremony and afterwards flocked
into the church where the patricians of Venice intoned the Te Deum in
When the time came for conferring honors upon the war heroes, Chico was not
forgotten. After some discussion as to whether it would be practicable for
the bird to wear a band of honor about his leg, the idea was abandoned, and
a special medal was struck off and given to Andrea. It bore the arms of
Italy on one side and a pigeon on the other, with the inscription, "De
virtute." [Footnote: For courage.]
On the eventful day in the office of the War Department, after the
presentation had been made, the General further addressed the boy who
stood, all trembling at the honor that had come to his Chico.
"Special orders, my lad, have come from Rome that something shall be done
As he paused, Andrea protested, "No, No! it is enough—the medal is
"The orders on this point are most explicit." The General's tone was
positive. "Come tell us, what is your ambition?"
"To be an aviator, signore, in the service of my country," was the
"Bene! It shall be done. Your expenses shall be paid to the best government
school of aviation, and, from this time on, an income of one hundred and
fifty lire a month shall be allowed your parents, for it is understood your
father has aged greatly in the service of his country."
Andrea bowed his head. He had no words to express his gratitude. But, once
outside, he ran every step of the way home, in his eagerness to tell the
* * * * *
The Great War is now a matter of history, and once more tourists are
flocking to Venice. Again gay laughter is heard on the Grand Canal. The
little shops that line the sides of the Piazza of St. Mark's are now bright
with glittering strands of beads, while the women are once more busy with
The clock tower, the Ducal Palace, the Campanile—they are all there,
beautiful as ever, and now as ever stands St. Mark's Church, sharing the
joy of her people as she has sympathized with them in their sorrow.
Perchance, reader, you may yourself sometime visit this city of "Beautiful
Nonsense," and, if so, may call "Chico, Chico!" and look to see if one of
the fluttering pigeons that so contentedly coo about the Square will not
come and light upon your shoulder.
Should you be so fortunate as to catch a glimpse of an aeroplane circling
in the blue sky, you may risk a guess that the aviator is Andrea, in the
You may even learn that he wears a medal ever about his neck and that
sometimes he carries with him Chico as a mascot: sometimes, but not always,
for little Pepita is sadly lonesome when her faithful mate is long away.
Who knows but that in the future this story of a homing pigeon may have a
place with the other memories of this wonderful city, and that, five or six
hundred years from now, children may gather about some old caretaker of St.
Mark's and listen, with fascinated attention, as he tells of the service
rendered Venice by a homing pigeon in the time of the Great War?