Ruth Mcenery Stuart - Carlotta's Intended (1894)
This story treats of Italian life among the fruit-venders of New Orleans, its pivotal incident bringing into relief the discipline and power for vengeance of the Mafia. It was written just before the sensational execution in the prison, by a committee of reputable American citizens, of eleven Italian murderers who had been fraudulently acquitted of complicity in a series of crimes, notably the murder of the chief of police, and whose liberation was regarded as a menace to public safety. The story was declined by the editor of one of the leading magazines, who hastened to try to recall it a few days later, after the tragedy; but he was too late, as it had found ready acceptance elsewhere. We present the author's own shortened version of the novel.
GENIAL Patrick Rooney was a one-legged cobbler who pursued his trade in a corner of the Di Carlo fruit-shop, a privilege for which he paid by doing the family cobbling—a fair enough arrangement at the time it was made, when the beautiful daughter, Carlotta, was an infant, but a steady increase from one to nine shoe-wearing boys and girls made Pat's rent come high now, even with the added concession of a room in the garret. Here he had moved his few belongings, including a much-framed photograph of Carlotta in her first-communion dress, a rosary, a crucifix, the moth-eaten remains of a bright uniform and a broken torchlight—for before the accident that left him a cripple Pat had been a live Irishman, a Fenian, and a ward politician. From the day she had put up her pretty red lips for the shaggy old fellow to kiss, his heart and purse had belonged to the baby Carlotta.
"Say, Carlo," said Carlotta's mother to her husband one day—this was when Carlotta was about six—"wad you say eef we geev-a C'lotta to Meesta Pad fo' wife one day, eh?"
"Indade, me respected mother-in-law," replied Pat, "ye're too late shpakin'. Lottie an' me's engaged six months come Mardi Gras!"
And so it came about that he called the dark-eyed child "me swateheart," "me intinded," "me future," and the like, while she would leave father or mother to go to "Woona," her best baby effort at his name.
When Carlotta was in her seventeenth year she was a beauty, and young men and old, and even boys, had begun to hang about the shop when there was nothing to buy, and all the time were looking at her. Conspicuous among the habitués of the place was a repulsive, toothless old Sicilian, Pietro Socola by name—a widower and rich—and while he talked with the old people Pat saw that his eyes followed the girl.
One day, soon after the beginning of Socola's visits, Carlotta flitted through the shop, her face like a storm-cloud. Pat suspected that the old Sicilian had somewhat to do with her displeasure, and called to the girl.
"Come here, Lottie!" he cried. "What ails ye?" "I don't like of Pietro Socola," she flashed.
"Norr me, naythur. But tell me what he done ye?" "He mashed my chin."
"Squazed yer chin, did he? An' may the divil snatch his mother from heaven!"
"Yas—an' try to kiss me. I hate him!"
"Thried to kiss ye, did he? Bad luck to his lonesome mough! An' who seen 'im?"
"My paw an' my maw was a-talkin'. I don' know if my maw seen 'im or not. She laughed. I hate 'im!"
There was no longer any doubt. Socola, the rich, the honored guest for whom the Di Carlos opened their best wine, was coming for Carlotta.
That same evening, when Socola was holding a whispered conference with her parents, Pat overheard Carlotta's name, and then something about "a thousand dollars," to which the father and the mother of the girl nodded assent,
Pat staggered as he hobbled to the stairs, and when he reached his room he sank into a chair, bewildered, trembling. All night long he sat as one dazed. For more than a year he had not been able to speak of the girl as his sweetheart, and he had not dared ask himself why. The ludicrous view of such folly which his Irish perception afforded had been a safeguard.
For three days he did not trust himself to go downstairs, and on the morning of the fourth he was startled to discover the Signora trudging up to his garret.
"Hello, Meesta Pad," she called while still invisible, "'m come talk weeth-a you. God-a so much-a troub' l" Dropping into a chair, she put the baby she was carrying on the floor beside her. She had come to pour out her complaint of Carlotta:
"For two days can'd do northeen weeth-a C'lotta!" She wailed, "God-a fine chanze, C'lotta! Pietro Socola ees-a wan reech-a man! Wan'-a marry weeth-a C'lotta !"
"The divil's pitchfork! An' what does —what does she say?"
"Say she won'-a marry weeth-a heem! Can'd do northeen weeth-a C'lotta! Her pa ees-a w'ip 'er. Me, I ees-a w'ip 'er, an' the mo' we ees-a beat 'er, the mo' she ees-a sassy me to my face! 'm goin'-a call 'er talk weeth-a you. C'lotta do anytheen fo' you. Please talk sense weeth 'er! Tell her she haf to marry Socola."
Pat saw the futility of opposition. He let her call Carlotta. Paler than he ever had seen her, her pallor exaggerating a dark bruise upon her cheek, she appeared before them.
"What ails yer face, Lottie?" Pat drew a stool forward as he spoke, but the girl remained standing while the mother answered:
"W'en somebody slap-a company in-a face mus'-a show 'er how it feel Lo have-a face slap!"
"An' who done ut?"
"Me, myselve, done it. Slap 'er face good for 'el.! Muz-a teach-a my chil' some manners. Hit 'er good weeth-a tin cup. Take plenny pains, yas, teach-a C'lotta manners—an' raise 'er nice,"
The tension here was happily relieved by the voice of the father calling for his wife to come and light up the shop. She rose hastily and bidding Carlotta to mind the baby, left her with Pat. The child began to fret, and Carlotta took it upon her lap.
Sitting thus in the tender twilight with the beautiful babe in her arms she looked not unlike the statues in the churches of the Virgin Mother and Child. Pat saw it and felt like crossing himself. The habitual spirit of joyousness had passed out of her face, which seemed clothed with modesty and sadness. She did not speak nor even look at Pat.
"Well, mavourneen," he began at last, "me poor child of sorrow, the throuble's come quicker nor I thought for. Forgive me now while I talk to ye plain, Lottie."
She inclined her head slightly.
"'R ye goin' to marry Peter Socola?"
She shook her head.
"An' why not? D'ye know he's rich an'll make a fine lady of ye?"
"But ye don't want 'im, not if 'e should come wud the golden keys o' the kingdom of this airth?"
"No, I don't want."
"Ye don't want an' ye sha'n't have the antiquated ould pill coated for a sugar-plum! But is there onybody else ye'd like to marry?"
She looked at him in silence, and his heart thumped. "Is it Joe Limongi?"
She shook her head. Neither was it Antonino, it appeared, nor yet Nicolo, nor the baker's boy.
"Is it onybody, Lottie? An' are ye engaged to 'um?" "I don't know."
"Is it makin' a fool of me ye are, Lottie?"
The girl saw he was wounded and suddenly became aroused.
"You don't like me no more!" she flashed. "Since two years you never call me no more `intend.' I don't care, me. But you took me when I was little an' know no better an' speak love-words with me—say I am for you; an' now when I know to love you turn your back; like to see me marry some strange man!"
After a moment's silence Pat raised his face and hands and said reverently :
"Holy Mary, an' all the saints, wutness this mericle in the little shanty on S'int Andthrew Street!" Then he said softly: "An' did ye think yer ould `Woona' turrned ag'in ye? Sure 'twas love that sent me from ye. For two years yer name like an odd cat, an' bring her home to the mother that's grievin' afther 'er?"
His passion calmed the woman. She looked dazed, but answered nothing.
"If yer divinity'll parrdon me shirrt-sleeves till I do putt on me rain-coat, I'll shtep out mesel' an' see if bechance her ould granny can thrace her."
He proceeded to raise the lid of his trunk, but it resisted. It was fastened—on the inside! Here had been Carlotta's old hiding-place where as a child she had escaped many a whipping.
Bowing politely, he said: "Ye'll excuse me manners, ma'am, forr lavin' me saloon parrlor whin I have company, but—wull ye walk firrst, Misthress Di Carlo?"
Sniffling, the woman rose and preceded him down the stairs. Pat hurried into the street but returned in a moment, mounted the stairs, entered his room, and tapped gently upon the trunk: "Whist!" The girl's head pushed up the lid. Aiding her to rise, he whispered: "Glory be to God Almighty!"
Standing in the trunk, Carlotta gave him a hasty, whispered account of the affair which was soon interrupted by loud voices from below. The wedding-party had returned. In the tumult the father's voice prevailed.
"What am I that my wife lies to me? You said the child consented. You lied! I told you I would not compel her. You are paid. I am glad. But I want my daughter. Where is the child? What can I do? Where I go to seek her I spread an ugly tale—Carlotta, the pretty daughter of Di Carlo, is not in her father's house at night. A sweet story that! Oh, my wife is a fine schemer—got a rich husband for Toney's ugly girl with the pimply face. Ha! She is kind, yes! I am glad, but only—I want my little girl."
"I'm goin', Woona." Carlotta started suddenly and began to cry: "I never knowed my paw liked me before. Haf to go to him." The girl flitted through the window and merged into the shadow of the tree by which she had come up over the shed. Soon Pat heard a timid knock at the street-door. Carlotta was "a cute one." She was entering from without—even now pre-serving her secret.
There was a rush of boys' heavy feet, a clank of iron as the hook was lifted, and now came a sound of loud crying, like the heart-sobs of a little child. So Carlotta met her father and was folded in his arms.
Pat's business trip resulted in an engagement which took him away from town. He still kept his room at the Di Carlos', with whom warm relations were quickly reestablished, and during the next year it was his habit to return at the week-ends.
Carlotta was still to her fond old lover a dainty saint within a high niche. He told himself she was free, and yet, as he put by small sums of money, he would think: "How purrty it'll shtuff out her little pocketbook!"
He expected to find young men around the shop, and the sound of an accordion or a flute or tambourine served but to identify the crowd. It was only when the accordion became his invariable greeting that he began to wonder why Carlotta never had spoken of this particular player. She artlessly told him of others who came and spoke of love. But Pat saw her little alone. He had promised himself and her to wait till she should pass her eighteenth birthday before binding herself by formal promise. She knew that he loved her—that he was working early and late for her. One day, when both were in a street-car with the children, growing weary of his silence she invited a declaration, asking: "You like me yet, Woona?"
"Like ye yet?" He chuckled. "Arrah, musha! an' what're ye sayin', darlint? Like ye? Sure I love ye from the crown of yer party little black head to the soles of yer two feet, an' all the way, wud a lap over. An' why d'ye ask me that?" She only colored like a rose and said: "I'm glad."
"Begad, I'm glad ye're glad, mavourneen," said Pat. "Sure sorrow'll dim my day whin ye're sorry." As he raised his eyes he saw a young man who smiled and tipped his hat to Carlotta, and under his arm he carried an accordion. Pat felt a shiver pass through him, for he never had seen a youth so beautiful.
"That's Giuseppe Rubino," said Carlotta, looking into his eyes with the directness of a child.
"Is it, indade? Sure I tuck him for a vision of Saint Joseph or wan of the angels. An' isn't he a beauty?"
"He sings pritty. He comes every evenin', pass the time away."
"An' what does he do for a livin' ? Sure there's little money in the Machine he carries, wud all its puffin' an' blowin'."
"He's pore. He works for of Socola. He's savin' up. Bimeby he's goin' to start for hisself. He says he seen me first in his sleep. He talks funny. I don't pay no 'tention."
When they rose to leave the car the young man stood also, and as they passed out together Carlotta said:
"Please to make you 'gtiainted with Mister Rooney, Mister Rùbino," and the three, Carlotta in the middle, followed the children home.
As the evening wore on Pat grew restless and went out alone for a walk. He had not gone far when he came upon a crowd of young Italians, and as a familiar voice accosted him he jollied them. Several of the habitués of the Di Carlo shop were there and they were bantering one another in Italian about Carlotta. All went smoothly until one Tramonetti, an ugly fellow, suddenly turned in anger:
"I could get her to-morrow if I had money!" he sneered. "Haf to get a new face on you first!" laughed another. "My face is just as pretty as old man Socola's. She tried hard enough to 'catch him. Myself saw her try for him—make sheep-eyes and pass before him."
Pat could stand to more.
"An' I say ye're a liar!" lie faced the speaker.
This was unexpected. A stillness fell upon the crowd. After a while an old man broke the silence.
"Wath-a you knowce abouth?" he drawled apathetically.
" I do just happen to know that this young man is a liar."
Then another spoke : "Socola ees-a tell all-a mans on Picayune pier she ees-a try for can, all-a-same."
"An' he's another liar, an' I'd tell it to his gums—the 'tooth-less ould macaroni-sucker!"
For God sague, don'-a mague-a no troub'," suggested an-other. "Blief Socola ees-a just talk for play."
"Thin I'm playin' whin I tell ye that he thried wud all the perrsuasion of his money-bags to get her." Pat gave °a full account of the affair of the wedding, sparing the 'old mar's dignity not at all. When it was done and the men were moving .away, the light from the gas at the corner fell upon a visage, sinister, one-eyed, and lowering, which Pat instantly recognized as the face of the man at the Socola wedding who had been sent to him as interpreter of the Mafia curse—but he did not care.
As he turned away another man arose out of the shadow. He, too, had been a guest at the wedding. When the two Sicilians were alone, the Iast to rise gave the sign of the Mafia. The answering word was given and the two sat down together. Presently one said, in Italian:
"I wish I had gone home tonight."
"And I, too. He is a good friend to the Di Carlos, that Irishman. Last year, when the babies all took smallpox, he signed for the rent—and he paid it all."
"Yes, and Carlotta's schooling, always."
"And when the old man was stung with a tarantula in a bunch of bananas, while everybody cried and ran every way, the shoemaker threw his hat on the spider and sat on it; then he took the old man across his knee and sucked the poison from his neck."
"Yes, and all the people laughed because he said, while he sucked the poison : `Let me kiss you for your mother!' If Tramonetti had only kept his mouth shut to-night!"
"Yes, he made all the trouble."
"Well, easy or hard, I am good for my duty. Domani!" ("To-morrow").
"Domani!" And so they parted.
Before reporting the case the man with the sinister face took the trouble to send an anonymous word of warning to Pat, admonishing him to flee for his life. This was followed by other mysterious warnings, some written to his friends the Di Carlos advising them of Pat's danger. But to all advice he turned a deaf ear. He dealt with the situation in his own characteristic and unique way and feared nothing.
It was at last Carlotta's birthday—the day of days for her impetuous if patient old lover. He came to town earlier than usual that day, thinking to take her out alone, for the first time. They would go to the park and sit together under a tree, and when they came home, they would have something to tell Carlotta's father and mother.
The family sat as usual at the door, but Carlotta was not there. She was out walking with Giuseppe Rubino. On the three consecutive Saturdays preceding this the same thing had happened. But to-night! Had she not remembered? Pat was restless, and after a little friendly talk he strolled toward the river. He would sit here in his favorite retreat, alone, until such a time as he would be sure to find her at home.
As he left the Di Carlos' he could not see that two Sicilians moved stealthily after him in the shadow of the wall.
To sit in a dark corner while he waited for Carlotta to come home suited him.
Suddenly he heard the notes of an accordion, broken snatches of tunes he knew only too well; then came an interval, and then a voice—her voice—rose in protest:
"No, no, Giuseppe! I can't lis'n at you!"
Then indistinct low pleading, and again the girl said:
"Hush, I say, Giuseppe! I mus'n't lis'n at you! I wish I was c' ad. I hate you! I hate myself! I hate your music! I have everything! Before you came I was satisfied. Everything was promise good, an' I knowed no better. Now, when I put my fingers in my ears, I hear you sing—I hear that music. Oh, I hate it all! To-night I ought to be at home, and I am here with you—always with you."
He spoke more clearly now, in Italian.
"It is not true that you hate me. You love me. I know it, I feel it. Since first I saw you I knew we were for each other."
"But no, Giuseppe. Hush, I say! Since two years I am promised. My word is passed."
"And who is it that holds a child by her word when she loves him not?"
" Oh, hush, I say, Giuseppe ! He holds me not. I hold my-self. He is the best man in all the world. Since I was so big, he loves me—and I loved him. He trusts me, same as the Blessed Mother—he even put my name by her name once; but you have all broken my heart, Giuseppe. Oh, I wish I was dead—and you—and him! You talk about God! For what does God let us make mistakes? How can we be sure? I was crazy for him, and I made him love me. And now—if you will only go away, Giuseppe! If you love me true, go—and let me have peace and not trouble. I love him. I am not a liar.
Only I am like in a dream, and in my dream I see only you. Now I know what you meant when you said that in your sleep I stood always before you. But I will soon wake. It will pass. He will never know."
"And who is this coward for whom you put me away?" "He is no coward, Giuseppe. Better you never know him. Go far away."
"I go not away without you, Carlotta. Every day I will come till I get you. I will walk by your side before this man, and when he looks at us he will see that he is a fool."
"I walk with you no more, Giuseppe. To-night finishes. Come, let us go. I heard a noise, and over there a shadow moved. I am afraid. Come!"
As they rose to go, the accordion, opening by its own weight, sent out an attenuated, discordant wail. To Pat, in the shadows, it sounded like a banshee's weird shriek.
For a long time after they had gone the timbers over his head were not more still than he. Once he thought he heard soft steps. If he had risen he might have seen two dark figures peering stealthily about. But he did not glance upward. The water was so near—so inviting. It seemed almost to call him. There would be only a few bubbles, fit emblems of his life and its story. Had he not promised her his grave whenever it would be a safe bridge over her troubles? The time had come. Or had it come? Would the plunge be for her sake or his own? Was he, after all, a coward—he who had fought and vanquished his potheen with a flask in his pocket?
Distinct, rapid footsteps on the wharf above startled him, and he raised his eyes just in time to see a bundle fall before him into the water. There was a struggle as the dark object twisted for a second within the rings of the eddy that engulfed it. Then he heard the wiry cry of a young kitten. The struggling contents of the whirling bundle were explained. One little unfortunate had slipped from the bag, and hung suspended on the outside of one of the timbers, its own weight and struggles imprisoning it more securely each moment.
For a moment only Pat regarded the writhing form:
"Sure we're in the same boat, kitty, you an' me—wan too many in a crowded worrld," he said.
"But, plaze God, I'll give ye the same chance I take meself— the name o' Him that shaped the two of us."
He swung himself over the timbers and reached upwar by means of a broken oar.
At the voice two shadows rushed noiselessly across wharf and peered over. What they saw was only a whining young kitten crawling feebly back to life along the raft.
The Mafia had been cheated.
The upward reach of the broken oar which had 'released kitten had thrown its deliverer backward, the grip of his one leg being strong enough only to let him down, down, gently, noiselessly into the eddying current. There was not eye so much as a gurgle of the waters as he sank,
On the second day afterward a boy in the shop read from the newspaper that the body of a one-legged man had been washed ashore. Di Carlo hurried to investigate the matter, and when he returned and the family gathered around him he only shook his head, and, taking from his pocket a baby's old red shoe, he said: " It was in his inside pocket."
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
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