The Train Station.
Fratelli felt rather tired when the next day began. He dragged himself out of bed and readied for Mass. Sunlight pierced the cathedral window, diffusing various colors as it brushed Cardinal Fratelli’s face. Fully-vested and wearing a bishop’s miter, he sat in a large chair beside the altar and spoke:
“The Lord says “Come unto me, all you who are heavy-laden and I shall give you rest. Know, that this means more than mere respite from work. The things which lay heavy burdens upon us are often immaterial: our worries, our frights and our regrets. Perhaps our own scrupulosity or sinfulness? When we listen to the word of our Good and merciful Lord, what does he tell us most often? Be not afraid. He says this so many numerous times: Be not afraid.
Come to him all who are heavy laden and he shall give you rest! Jesus has indeed come to free us from worries, from our darkest fears, to heal us from sin and regret so that they may burden us no more!”
Walking home silently, following the Mass, Fratelli couldn’t help but think how apt this sermon was. On this vacation that awaited him, would he also leave his worries and regrets behind, would he leave them behind for the Lord?
Entering the cool interior of his villa, Fratelli met Francine. Grinning, she turned around and greeted him:
“Why, Angelo! I am so happy to hear you are finally taking a vacation!”
Fratelli frowned somewhat, wondering why everyone suddenly knew about it.
“Oh, it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Francine said, perceiving his nervousness, “You look like you need rest…and look at this, your hair has gotten too long again.”
As she reached, trying to touch a lock of his curly hair, Fratelli moved her hand away.
“Yes, yes, I’ve forgotten…”
“Well, my goodness, don’t go on vacation looking like that,” she continued to chide.
“Alright Francine,” he grumbled before walking away and down the hall.
Sitting down to a breakfast of warm rosemary bread, various fruits and of course, tea, Fratelli mentioned his need of a hair-cut to Dina who promptly left in search of the local barber. Thus, he sat quietly with Father Rodrigo. Neither of them spoke for some time, picking at their food. Fratelli didn’t feel much of an appetite but once tasting the delicious, soft and freshly-seasoned bread, he ate readily.
“I want to wish you a wonderful vacation, Your Eminence,” Rodrigo finally said.
“Why thank you.”
He hadn’t given much thought to the fact Rodrigo wasn’t going with him. Things would feel strange without his secretary constantly by his side. Then, the cardinal shifted in his seat, remembering something.
“Rodrigo, there is another thing…”
“Well, is the first time I’ll be traveling somewhere unfamiliar,” Fratelli responded, “And if something should happen to me, I would like you to take over the temporary duties until a new bishop is appointed.”
“You mean, you want me to act as your Vicar General? Oh, I don’t know what to say.”
“It’s not like you have a choice, Rodrigo, there is a letter already on your desk,” Fratelli said, awkwardly trying to smile but finding at this moment, his lips would not bend that way.
Rodrigo smiled for him. He conveyed an inner happiness, a rewarded feeling.
“Actually, I am very glad for this opportunity, glad my hard work is finally being recognized.”
“Very well then! The Lord is good!” Fratelli exclaimed, unseating.
He turned to leave then darted back, grabbing an extra piece of bread. It was delicious and fresh after all. Entering the hallway, mind occupied with his vacation, Cardinal Fratelli nearly stumbled into a 14-year-old boy. The child’s golden-brown hair shone in morning sun as he smiled.
“Good morning, Eminenza, bon giorno,” Gianni said, pronouncing his words perfectly, giving a little bow.
Fratelli smiled now and replied,
“Good morning Gianni, go ahead and eat breakfast.”
“Oh, I will, I will but I want to go on vacation with you,” Gianni said back.
“Merciful goodness!” Fratelli exclaimed, clasping his hands together, “I just want to be on a quiet vacation without disturbances…without children.”
Gianni frowned, about to leave when Dina appeared behind him.
“I think it’s a great idea that Gianni goes with you, Your Eminence,” she suddenly interjected, “He’s a poor boy who has never had anything nice…”
“He has plenty of nice things now!” Fratelli retorted.
“Your Eminence…please take Gianni with you. He will get to see the country and the ocean…How can you withhold this opportunity from him?”
Feeling guilt creep up inside, Fratelli pursed his lips, still holding his hands together.
“Alright, alright, I shall think about it.”
The next morning, Dina packed a couple bags for Gianni and left them by the door. As Cardinal Fratelli descended the stairs, fully dressed, his hair trimmed, he stifled a yawn. He approached Dina and took the extra train ticket from her hand.
“Where is he?” he whispered.
Dark pre-dawn sky still enveloped everything in sight and they wished to keep quiet as they moved across the front yard towards a waiting carriage.
“He is waiting already inside,” Dina answered, “poor thing is probably so tired…”
Jan, their newest house-servant, came forth and loaded their bags. He jumped into the coach after Fratelli who turned and asked,
“Are you coming as well?”
“Of course, Your Eminence,” Jan replied, awkwardly leaning so he could kiss the cardinal’s ring, “You don’t think we would leave you totally alone.”
Blinking tiredly, Fratelli muttered, “No I suppose not.”
Against the darkness, no one moved. Jan stared out the black window and Gianni was curled asleep across from them. Around the boy’s shoulders draped a small, white quilt- knitted by Dina most-likely. It was a short ride before reaching the train-station, where they would all board the train to Pisa, so Fratelli laid back in his seat, folded his long robes over himself like a blanket and figured to get some more sleep.
Sunrise stretched above Lucca’s tall hills, touching distant city buildings with faint, yellow light. The carriage-driver waited with Fratelli, Jan and Gianni at the sleepy, relatively empty station. The only other person there was an old, white-haired woman who sat waiting, her head nodding off to sleep. She didn’t even notice as Fratelli and his company strode near, standing on the raised platform.
Crickets stopped their chirping, birds sang lazily in trees above as the sun rose higher, bathing them in pristine light. All these beautiful sounds of nature fell silent as a powerful rumbling broke from the distance. Screaming and hissing with grey curls of steam, a huge locomotive ran along the tracks. With another loud hiss and a screeching grind, it stopped.
Startled by the machine’s sheer immensity and noise, Gianni jumped and ducked behind Fratelli. Ignoring him, Fratelli grabbed one of his smaller bags and prepared to board as the conductor appeared, waving his hand. Suddenly, noticing the elderly lady had not yet risen from her sleep, the cardinal paused then ventured back towards her. Jan cocked his head, confusedly watching as Fratelli neared the sleeping, old lady and delicately touched her arm.
“My lady…the train is here…” he said softly.
At once, the elderly woman’s head snapped up, her eyes blinked awake, she grunted and seeing a man tugging at her sleeve, she shouted,
“Away from me you pick-pocket!”
“Away from me you pick-pocket!”
She swung right at him with her purse! Fratelli recoiled, rubbing where the purse had clomped his face. He backed away, staring in bewilderment as the woman then stood, examined him and realized who in fact he was.
“Oh, Dear Eminence, I’m so sorry!”
Like a tender grandmother, she took his hand and touched his hurt cheek, trying to make it feel better. She murmured and patted his head. Jan finally rescued him from the lady’s excessive coddling, nudging him away and escorting him towards the train. Without looking back, knowing he’d learned his lesson, Fratelli leapt up a short flight of stairs and disappeared into the cabin.
Arriving to a private compartment near the train’s rear, Fratelli breathed in cool, shady air. He also found himself face-to-face with a tall, thin man, nicely dressed, wearing a fine hat and armed with a small sword. He had black hair and a vivid expression.
“Greetings Your Eminence,” the man said, his dark brown eyes gazing intensely, “My name is Mario Genoa, I was sent to meet you here and be your attendant.”
“Oh,” was all Fratelli uttered while Mario took his hand and kissed his ring.
He really had hoped he would be left more to himself but acknowledged that this wasn’t a realistic expectation. Mario greeted Jan and Gianni who scrambled inside, finding someplace to sit. They all did sit down, resting in plump seats, hearing a loud hiss and feeling a jolt as the train started up and began its sluggish march towards Pisa. Excitedly, eyes lit-up, Gianni pressed against a window, watching green trees blur by with increasing speed.
After some time came, a steward in a bright red uniform came and brought them some grapes, wine and cheese. After eating, Fratelli observed noonday sun through the window and reached into a small bag for his breviary, a prayer book used by clergy to say prayers at fixed hours of the day. It was amiss.
“Where is my breviary?” Fratelli asked, hands still shuffling in the bag.
Mario shrugged. Fratelli finished with the bag, unseated and searched through another. By now, Jan stood and helped him look about.
“I must say noonday prayer,” Fratelli said, “The last place I saw it was on my dresser… I told Rodrigo to get it… Now, where is it?”
Gianni suddenly smacked the palm of his hand against his forehead. His face whitened.
“Oh no!” he cried.
“Yes Gianni?” they both asked simultaneously.
The boy squealed, “Rodrigo told me to get it and I forgot!”
Hiding his utmost irritation, Fratelli sat back down. He sighed, tried to look collected and spoke:
“I suppose I’ll pray from memory…”
“I suppose I’ll pray from memory…”
He gracefully signed a cross, muttering some words in Latin then froze, a vacant look engulfing his face.
“Oh no, I cannot remember!”
Tension spread throughout the tiny space, only relieved when Jan stood and announced, “Oh, Your Eminence, I saw another priest on board this train, up near the front. Surely he has the same prayer-book?”
“I suppose he certainly would,” Fratelli answered, nervously touching his chin.
Jan quickly got up, almost having to grab onto a nearby rail to avoid falling.
“I’ll go get him, you stay here.”
He left and following a few minutes and returned with a middle-aged priest in tow. Shaky and quite intimidated, looking as if he’d landed in some sort of trouble…he glanced straight at Fratelli.
“Um, hello, Your Eminence.”
Nervously, he bent to kiss Fratelli’s ring.
Trying to stand up straight, feeling jolted by the train’s movement, Fratelli addressed the priest:
“May we pray the hour together?”
The priest’s terrified expression became a smile.
“Why, yes- what an honor! I’ve never actually met a cardinal before… I mean, Your Eminence… I never knew I would meet one here. I’m totally unprepared to be in your presence. You see… I’m just going to Pisa for a short time then I must go back to my parish church in Florence.”
He kept rambling on and on. Fratelli shifted impatiently, not knowing how to react, if he should silence him or not. Jan then stopped the priest who immediately quieted, gazed anxiously and produced his small, weather-beaten breviary. His mouth didn’t remain shut for long:
“Oh yes, noonday prayer, shall we begin? In nomine Patris, et Filli et Spiritus Sancti…”
After noonday prayer had been finished and the priest left, Fratelli leaned back, hoping things would keep quiet. Restless- and not willing to be quiet, Gianni strayed outside the compartment, wandering down the train’s narrow passenger aisles. Mario made sure however, he didn’t wonder too far. While escorting Gianni back, Mario asked him, “So how old are you?”
“Just turned fourteen…Sir.”
“And what do you want to be when you are grown up?”
“Oh, I know that,” Gianni answered, “A cardinal! I want to wear red robes, white gloves and say “merciful goodness!”.”
Mario laughed, “Well, you might want to start working your way up…”