Monday, February 18, 2013

A Vacation for Cardinal Fratelli, ch. 11-12

Chapter 11.

Fratelli awoke the next morning with a terrible itch on his back. Trying to reach it, he tossed and turned. Finally, in frustration, he threw off the linen bed-sheets. He craned his arm around, trying again and unexpectedly rolled off his bed. Jan emerged as he lay there, rubbing his back against the wood floor.
“Your Eminence- what on earth are you doing?” the utterly perplexed servant stammered.
 Fratelli scrambled afoot, dusted himself off and nonchalantly dismissed the whole affair.
“Do not bother asking,” he said.
Jan didn’t.
Come noon, Fratelli shared lunch with Gianni, Jan and Mario. When a cool breeze from the nearby, open window brushed his face, Fratelli longed to go outside. He checked the wood-framed clock perched beside him on a fireplace which read: 12:12. There was still much of the town he hadn’t seen.  He finished eating, walked upstairs and donned his casual attire. Gianni stopped him at the door, begging to come with.
“No, not today Gianni,” Fratelli answered.
“Now, I need some time for myself,” Fratelli insisted, pausing to grab a scarlet cloak and likewise-colored, broad hat.
However, he felt sorry for the boy and turned back. Handing some coins over to Jan, he asked him to take Gianni out and perhaps buy him some badly-needed new clothes.
Noonday brought crowds to the main piazza where Fratelli wandered, looking at the many market stalls and café’s that lined the street. Mario followed in the distance but was easily ignored. Touching his chin, he wondered what to buy… Seeing him pass, a large man shouted and held up a shiny vase. Fratelli became more interested however in a stall brimming with religious statues. He had wanted to get gifts for everyone at home. A bronze statuette of St. Michael the Archangel, fiercely gleaming in the sun, caught his eye.
A small-framed man with grey hair greeted him, “Hello, do you see anything you like?”
“Yes, I would like this St. Michael,” Fratelli answered.
He paid for the statue, put in in his cloth satchel and smiled. This would be perfect for Ernesto who needed heavenly protection when on his patrol duties. “Now, what shall I get for the others?” Fratelli asked himself.
A woman nearby was selling jewelry and Fratelli remembered how much Michele loved exotic hairclips. His hands quickly chose a nice barrette made of coral, inlaid with pearls. It reminded him of the sea. Michele would love it! Fratelli suddenly turned at hearing a loud voice:
            “Beautiful dinnerware and napkins, unlike any in town, sold here!”
Fratelli couldn’t help but investigate.
“Oh, greetings fine gentleman,” the vendor said, twirling his mustache, deep in thought, “Perhaps you would like these red napkins to match your coat?”
Fratelli shied away from the red bundle presented to him.
“Oh, no, I’m tired of red. My shoes are red, my socks are red, my hat is red, my gloves are red, my buttons are red, merciful goodness, I do not want red napkins!”
“Perhaps blue is your color?” the vendor asked.
“Yes, I like them much more,” Fratelli replied, accepting the blue bundle of soft, silky napkins.
These were perfect for Francine…
Afterwards, Fratelli found a nice teapot for Dina and a tin filled with glistening licorice candy for Gianni. With satisfaction, he smiled. Everyone now had a gift.
Nearing the edge of the palatial piazza, Fratelli wiped some sweat from his brow. He sat down on a bench beneath a shady tree, collecting together his things. Feeling thirsty, Fratelli stood and wandered to a café where he sipped fresh lemonade. Sitting, eyes closed, he sipped the cool, tart beverage.  It was nice being here in regular clothes, without the hordes of people who usually assailed him asking for blessings, advice and attention. Vacation…
His back began itching. Fratelli squirmed, trying to reach the itch with one hand. Oh, why now! Seeing him in such torment, a young man approached.
“You look like you may need one of these,” he said, lifting up an ivory backscratcher.
“Oh, yes, yes!” Fratelli said.
He stood up, eager to snatch the useful tool.
“Ah, ah, you must pay first…”
Grumbling, Fratelli handed over some coins then took the backscratcher and furiously drew it across his back. At last, the itching was relieved! He strolled from the marketplace and thanked God.

Chapter 12.
The Scuffle.

Arriving back to the hotel, Fratelli was abruptly greeted by Mario who held a crumpled letter in his hand. With patience, Fratelli set down the various gifts he had bought at the marketplace, took the letter from Mario’s waving hand and unraveled it. He read aloud:

To the Most-Reverend Cardinal Fratelli,

I deeply apologize that this news has come with such short notice and promise to make it up to you.  The last time we met together, I entirely forgot to mention that on this night, I’m attending the Primate’s ball and that I’m allowed to invite one guest. Please, if you can make time and energy, come as my guest. Needless to say, I hope to meet you at the grand foyer of the Primate’s estate, at 7’O’clock this evening.
Your friend,
Rodolfo Fierri, Archbishop of Pisa.

Fratelli paused, stricken by this sudden turn of events. All he said was:
“7’O’clock? Gianni won’t even be in bed yet…”
Hearing his name, Gianni strolled in.
“What is it?” he asked.
Ignoring him, Fratelli asked Mario:
“What shall I do?”
Mario answered, “I would go- it’s a rare opportunity.”
“What’s a rare opportunity?” Gianni continued.
“Who will watch after Gianni?” Fratelli then asked.
Waving his arms in frustration, Gianni cried out: “I’m right here!”
“Okay…okay…” Fratelli mumbled, sitting down and pondering, “Though I feel quite tired, I can’t risk offending the Archbishop of Pisa, despite his short notice, and I certainly can’t make it seem as if I’m avoiding the Primate of this fine city.”
“So, you’ll go?” Mario inquired.
Absolutely annoyed at being ignored, Gianni jumped between Fratelli and Mario. He put one hand on Fratelli’s knee, peered up boyishly and asserted:
“Please tell me what is going on!”
Hiding his irritation, Fratelli finally answered the boy:
“We are going to a dance.”
Gianni moaned and stuck out his tongue.
“I don’t know how to dance,” he grumbled.
“Well then, we’ll have to teach you,” Fratelli said.

~ ~ ~
It was a small affair, a very private party with a harpsichord playing softly and hors d'oeuvres. Cardinal Fratelli arrived along with the Gianni and Mario to meet Archbishop Rodolfo at the door. Wearing striking, purple finery, the archbishop greeted him with a big hug.
“I knew you would make it!”
“Yes, yes…” Fratelli mumbled, taken in by the quaint splendor of the party around them.
Women paraded past, clad in blue and magenta-pink dresses. Some waved oriental fans to keep cool. They bowed slightly in greeting Fratelli and Rodolfo then kept meandering by. Gianni’s eyes widened as he saw plates of food being carried by a couple servants. Before Gianni rushed off to grab a tasty morsel, he was introduced by Fratelli:
“Your Excellency, this is Gianni…”
Rodolfo caught Gianni’s small hand in his big hand and shook it. Fratelli raised an eyebrow but said nothing as Rodolfo laughed and let Gianni run towards the food. Fratelli dearly hoped that the boy wouldn’t spill anything on his new suit. He finally followed after and nibbled on some bruschetta squares with black olives. Though he personally favored green olives, he felt very glad that they served these. He wouldn’t dare say anything to disagree with his gracious hosts.
The Primate of Pisa sat at a nearby table, donned in a black suit, red cloak and glistening chains. He rose, seeing Fratelli and Rodolfo come forth.
“I am so glad you could make it, Excellency,” he said taking Rodolfo’s fat hand and kissing his ring. Then he saw Fratelli and did likewise, saying “I’m so glad you brought the esteemed Cardinal of Lucca! We’ve met before.”
Trapped in a conversation, Fratelli stood. He nodded and smiled as the Primate went on and on about how joyous this occasion was. Finally, the Primate sat next to his daughter Lydia. She looked in her twenties, wore a coral-colored dress and had her dark hair tied back. Rodolfo urged Fratelli to take his seat while more conversation began. Fratelli had barely enough time to eat more bruschetta and finish his glass of wine before the dancing started up. Gianni stared nervously at one of the young girls in a green dress, who stared back, giggled and covered her mouth.
“I’m afraid,” Gianni mumbled.
Fratelli understood that feeling all too well.
“Go ahead now,” he assured, gently moving Gianni forward with his hand, “Remember what I taught you and all will be fine.”
Hesitantly, Gianni grabbed the girl’s hand and lead her to the room’s center where other couples danced. The cardinal smiled, watching him grow bolder and begin to dance in step with the others. Gianni had once been a “no-good street urchin”. Now, he was a blossoming gentleman.
Turning back, Fratelli bumped into the Primate.
“Oh, my apologies!” he said, bowing.
“Nonsense,” replied the Primate, “I was just coming to ask you a favor.”
Leaning against the sturdy wall, Fratelli asked, “What is it?”
The Primate answered, “Well you see my daughter over there….She wants to dance with one of the eligible bachelors but I’m not so sure about it. They’re a bunch of rascals and she needs to be safe, but she also needs a partner- and that’s why I’d like you to dance with her.”
Fratelli’s jaw dropped. He hadn’t danced in years! Twenty years to be exact. And it just wasn’t proper for a clergyman... But could he risk offending his host, offending the people in this kind city? No, he had to make do somehow.
The Primate brought Lydia over to Fratelli, who stood, nervously removing his red zucchetto and then fidgeting with it. When the cardinal did nothing, the Primate gave a glare. So, Fratelli delicately took her hand and led her forth. They began to sway awkwardly, holding hands, distant from eachother.
“Your Eminence, what are you doing?”
“Well, I’m dancing with you…”
“This is not dancing.”
Lydia grabbed his arm and put it around her waist. They began stepping in
tune to the soft music.
         “Now, we’re dancing,” she said.
          Fratelli blushed horribly and looked away. Their dance lasted longer than he liked but at last, the music stopped and it was over! Blushing and sweating, he bowed politely to Lydia then left. Watching Fratelli resume his place at the table, Gianni and Rodolfo both laughed. Fratelli pouted, folding his arms.
                        The festivities ended early. Fratelli parted from Rodolfo and the boldly
grinning Primate of Pisa. He said a timid farewell also to Lydia. As they walked outside, embracing the cool, summer night, Gianni loosened the collar of his suit and sighed with relief. However, the boy’s energy was still plentiful. When they returned to the palace hotel, Gianni started skipping; his mind filled with happy memories of dancing with the nice, young girl. He took off towards the beach before Mario could grab him.
                        “Go after him,” Fratelli ordered, “I need to rest.”
Gianni stopped on the soft sand bank. He already outran Mario, wasn’t even tired and he laughed about it. Suddenly, he grew quiet when a lanky shadow fell over him: Bruno.
“I thought I told you to get out of here,” Bruno growled, grabbing Gianni’s collar.
            Furious, seeing they were alone, Gianni wrestled free and swung at him. His fist hit square in Bruno’s face.  His eyes squinting angrily, the other boy yelled, sprinted and tacked Gianni to the ground. Mario rushed forth, found them hitting eachother and rolling on the sand and he separated them. Seeing the adult and the glistening sword at his waist, Bruno thought he was a policeman. He instantly scrambled to his feet then ran off. Gianni stood and faced Mario as he scolded,
            “Fighting! Look at you…and you’ve ruined your new suit!”
                        “He started it,” Gianni protested.
                        “It doesn’t matter now. Let’s go inside.”
            Cardinal Fratelli stood up when they entered their room, Seeing Gianni’s torn suit and the small trickle of blood on his lips, he cried out and rushed to him.
                        “He was fighting with one of the neighborhood boys,” Mario explained.
            “Oh no, Gianni, why did you do this?” Fratelli asked, dabbing at Gianni’s face with his handkerchief. Then he added, “Oh… Dina is going to kill you for ruining this suit!”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Gianni asserted, “They started it by teasing me and telling me to get out of here.”
Fratelli straitened and said, “Well, you must be very careful- and stay inside from now on.”
He heard Gianni groan. Exasperated, the cardinal ignored him and sat down near the window. Looking out at black, night sky, he sighed. He silently wondered what Dina was doing back at home- and how Father Rodrigo was faring with the parish’s work. Things had grown quite stressful for Fratelli on this vacation and for a moment, just a moment, he felt homesick.

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