The Silent Mass.
Early next morning, just as Jan woke Gianni for breakfast, one hotel maid alerted him that a very distinguished person wanted to see Cardinal Fratelli; The Primate of Pisa, who basically functioned as the city’s main governor. Jan darted back upstairs. Knocking on Fratelli’s door he shouted, “Your Eminence, it’s time to get up…and the Primate of Pisa wishes to see you.”
Anxiously, Jan knocked again.
No sound came from the door’s other side. Gently opening it, Jan gazed about an empty room. He immediately descended and told the maid that the cardinal had gone missing.
“Well, his appointment is at 9 this morning…” she said, walking off nonchalantly.
Jan grew nervous. He snatched Gianni prematurely from breakfast and as the boy gobbled down a last muffin, searched through the long hallway. Returning to Fratelli’s room, he finally let Gianni go. The boy rubbed his aching hand and asked,
“Where is His Eminence?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out!” Jan replied.
Suddenly, he noticed that Fratelli’s red skullcap along with his cross and ring were missing from the nearby nightstand. He was gone, perhaps on an early stroll. Pointing a finger at Gianni, Jan instructed,
“You stay here.”
“You stay here.”
Then he dashed off to find the cardinal.
Outside, sun streamed down brightly, mist curled around the ocean front. It felt unusually hot and damp so Jan removed his small hat. Mario was standing by the door. Approaching, he quickly said,
“Have you seen Cardinal Fratelli?”
“No,” Jan said, “You neither?”
Shifting his weight nervously, Mario replied, “No I went to fetch him this morning, he was gone. I’ve been looking around the hotel yard for him then I came out here.”
“How could he just disappear?” Jan cried throwing up his hands.
“Now, now, don’t panic,” Mario said in assurance, “He is probably strolling. Let’s go look.”
At once, they took off down the walkway, combing the beach-area and the shady palm trees. No sign of the cardinal anywhere. Jan really began feeling nervous. He stopped briefly, raising his hand to his mouth, nibbling a bit on his nails. Mario paused beside him but Jan was not to be consoled.
“We lost a cardinal!” he muttered, “A Prince of the Holy Church! Gone right from under our noses…God forbid…”
“Stop it,” Mario said sternly, “If you keep worrying like this, you’ll never find him. Maybe he went to the cathedral.”
“But that’s such a long way from here!”
He didn’t continue his protest but rather followed right on Mario’s heels as he paced down the road. Several carriages passed by and people strolled en route to their daily work. Jan craned his neck, trying to see between them yet did so in vain. He tried not to think of what may happen if they didn’t find Fratelli, tried to put the horrible consequences far from his mind.
~ ~ ~
Waiting in Fratelli’s deserted room, Gianni walked back and forth. He sat on the bed, discovered the cardinal’s rosary and began playing with it. Then, growing bored, he set it down and left. How could they tell him to just stay there all day when a whole new town surrounded him, waiting to be explored! Gianni slunk downstairs, past the great lobby and walked out the door.
Humid air brushed against his face and he shed his heavy coat. Perhaps, it was perfect weather for swimming. Gianni went swimming yesterday and loved it. He loved the feel of the waves slapping his back and the water’s coolness.
Walking towards the moist sandy beach, Gianni heard a voices coming from behind a nearby tree.
“This is good Bruno, where did you get it?”
“Stole it from my papa- It will put hair on your chest Donny.”
The boys gathered behind the tree spotted Gianni several feet away. Bruno, who was the tallest, with short, black hair and dark, beady eyes, advanced asking:
“What are you doing here?”
Glancing up, Gianni answered:
“You’re not from here are you?”
“No, I’m from Lucca.”
Suddenly, Bruno aggressively clutched at Gianni’s shirt collar and growled, “We don’t like out-of-towners, so get out of here.”
With that he shoved Gianni away. The others laughed as Gianni almost stumbled from the force. He recovered footing, angrily dusted himself off, made a sour face and prepared a good response. However, seeing the glaring boys, who were all older than him, he decided it best to flee.
Back the hotel, he pursed his lips, flushed angrily and sat in a chair with his arms folded. He would think of a way to show them…
~ ~ ~
Finally after a half hour, they reached the towering cathedral. It stood grey in morning light. Quietly, Mario stepped ahead and pried the huge, wooden door open. It creaked, causing him to cringe. Gingerly, they stepped inside the smoky, cool air, Jan trailing behind. Sure enough, Mario heard a small voice coming from the left. It spoke Latin. Off to the side altar, they saw a lean figure, wearing green vestments, with dark, curly hair. Jan moved forward, parting his lips to shout “Your Eminence!”
Only the word “Your-” escaped as Mario yanked him back and covered his mouth. Jan realized why. The cardinal was celebrating Mass. Facing the wall, deeply reverent and gently, he quietly lifted a small, round, white object in his hand as he muttered something inaudible. Seeing the Body of Christ right before him, Jan knelt on the ground. Mario remained standing and crossed himself. They patiently waited until the entire Mass was ended. Just as Fratelli turned around and faced them, Jan scrambled to him, shouting, “Your Eminence!”
Startled out of his deep pondering, suddenly jolted back to earth, Fratelli finally saw Jan running and shouting at him. He stopped short, put one finger over his mouth and replied,
Grabbing the cardinal’s arm, Jan continued in a softer tone, “How could you just run off without telling anyone?”
“I was going to be back by noon,” Fratelli replied.
Then assuming an indignant stance, he added, “Perhaps I would like to go where I wish without be escorted everywhere?”
“But Your Eminence, the Primate of Pisa wanted to see you this morning. He is going to be so upset that you never showed.”
Fratelli suddenly touched his hand to his face,
“Merciful goodness!” he said, “How could I have forgotten!”
With that, he dashed past them. Still wearing vestments which flapped behind him, he hurried down the cathedral aisle and out the door.
“Let’s go” Mario remarked, “Before we lose him again.”
Fratelli paused at the cathedral’s steps. Gently, though hurrying much as he could, he removed his vestments then folded them in his hands and continued to run. The heavy cloth slowed him down and gasping from exertion, his pace dwindled to a brisk plod. Some people saw the cardinal crossing the street, vestments awkwardly lumped in his arms, panting and sweating. Most of them didn’t raise an eye but one man leaped to catch Fratelli, holding a square-shaped, scarlet hat in his hands.
“Your Eminence, you dropped this” he said, giving it to Fratelli.
“Oh, my biretta,” Fratelli muttered, seeing how dusty it was.
With his free hand, Fratelli took it, thanked the man and folded it also beneath his arm. This small intervention had given Mario enough time to catch up. Seeing Fratelli, he took the vestments and biretta from him.
“Why thank you,” the cardinal said, his voice raspy.
“Stay here,” Mario replied, “I’ll summon a carriage.”
Fratelli arrived at the primate’s palace in a frazzle. Standing within a large foyer, he tried to pat down his messy hair and stuffed it beneath his red zucchetto. When the primate entered, wearing a tailored, black suit with golden buttons and pressed, black pants, Fratelli straitened and let him bend to kiss his ring. Showing some frustration, the primate asked:
“Why did you keep me waiting so long?”
“I apologize,” Fratelli said, “I was saying Mass at the cathedral and its beauty…just drew me in.”
The primate’s rough laughter broke the tension. He gestured for Fratelli to sit down then sat in a wide chair across from him. A servant came forth with wine but Fratelli kindly asked for water. His throat was still very dry from running.
Soon breakfast arrived and they moved into a spacious dining room with pristine, white walls and lovely paintings. It was twice the size of Fratelli’s dining room. Gladly, Jan and Mario joined for breakfast. There were eggs, oysters, lemons, apples and pastry tarts. A nice, gold-flecked teapot sat at the table’s center.
As Fratelli sipped tea, the Primate spoke of Pisa, its ancientness and beauty then elaborated on the palace, his duties and the wonderful life there. He went on in long, proud sentences while Fratelli listened. He really couldn’t do anything else.
At noon, they finally arrived back at the hotel. Gianni met them in the lobby, “scolding” them for keeping him alone and bored. He did not tell of his unpleasant encounter with the other boys.
After Fratelli changed into his trousers, red-buttoned coat and hat, he decided to spend the day outside. Gianni felt unsure at first but looking to that place between the palms where the boys once stood, he saw they had left.
“Come, Gianni,” Fratelli said glancing over his shoulder, “We are going to enjoy some gelato.”
They had gelato, an ice-cream treat, in Lucca but Fratelli heard that Pisa’s variety was especially smooth and flavorful. He wanted to find out for himself. Hot sun beamed down on the cobbled streets, furthering their desire for something cold and sweet. At the end of a small, narrow block, children and adults alike thronged around the local gelato cart. Two teenaged girls laughed, seeing Gianni walk beside Fratelli but they turned back to finish their chocolate gelato, which melted quickly.
Mario stood far off, where he could survey Fratelli, leaning against a close wall. I suppose after this morning, they will never let me from their sight, Fratelli silently mused. He waited patiently in the line while Gianni continuously shifted and snorted impatiently. At last, they were in the front. Behind a rickety, old counter, a young man greeted them:
“Good day, what would you like?”
“Chocolate!” Gianni shouted.
Fratelli grinned then calmly said,
He paid and soon they held the cold reward in their hands. Gianni nearly drank the gelato down while Fratelli dabbed his with a spoon, taking small, fastidious bites. Carefully, he began walking and as a drip fell from his spoon, held it away from his garb. Just when Fratelli continued moving, a small boy meandered from his mother and bumped right into him. His tiny hand held a cup of chocolate gelato which happened to smear all over Fratelli’s shirt.
“Oh!” he gasped, drawing away, frantically searching for something to clean this horrible mess with.
The mother saw him, scolded her little boy and she kept apologizing over and over.
“Here,” she then said, grabbing a hand-cloth, “let me clean that for you.”
Fratelli stood, awkwardly grimacing as she wiped at his shirt, spreading the stain.
“No, it’s fine, I’ll go back and change,” he finally stated.
Grumbling under his breath, he darted away with rapt speed through the crowded people and towards the hotel. Approaching the lobby, Fratelli spotted a figure out of the corner of his eye, clad in purple. The Archbishop... probably waiting to see him. No, he couldn’t let him see him like this! Panicking, Fratelli strode away from the hotel towards the beach. There he knelt at the beach and tried washing the sticky gelato from his shirt. After some scrubbing and wringing, he emerged wet- but at least clean. Gianni snickered yet fell silent seeing a stern glare. Mario threw his cloak down onto the sand and sighing, Fratelli figured he’d rest on the beach and let sunlight dry him. Closing his eyes, trying to forget the awful incident, he started drifting asleep.
He woke staring straight into a pair of beady, crustacean eyes. A crab had wandered onto the cloak. It held its pinkish claws perilously close to Fratelli’s nose. Startled, Fratelli shrieked, jerked up and rose, grabbing the coat and beating it against the ground.
Mario came running.
“Your Eminence, what is wrong?”
“It’s a crab!” Fratelli shouted.
The thing finally fell off the cloak and scuttled away. Fratelli gladly watched it retreat across the sandbank.
The archbishop was gone by the time Fratelli returned. He felt somewhat grateful. Once upstairs, he changed into his regular, scarlet cassock and hung his other clothes from the window. Quickly, he sat by the window, gazed at the crescent-shaped moon and recited evening prayer. Then, he headed down for supper. Ironically, plates of steamed vegetables and pink crab-legs were laid out. He refrained from scowling- or perhaps even laughing.