THE mellow gold of the sunset was fading in the late afternoon sky, and the mountains had taken on the blue-gray tint of twilight. Antonio Yon stood in the bay window of the dining room of his home. He was scarcely aware of the colors of the landscape or the crowd of young people gathered in the piazza. He was thinking of the scene in his shop that morning, when Constantino had told him of his plans for his younger brother. Now he was mentally thumbing through the photograph album of his mind, seeing pictures of Pietro.
There were many snapshots of this son of his on the film of memory, though nearly every one had the same thing in common. There was almost always a piano in these pictures, for when Pietro had not been in a scrap of some sort, due to his highly temperamental nature, his fingers had been busy picking out tunes on the large square piano. Often as a little fellow, three or four years old, his mother had found him asleep with his head on the keyboard. And when Constantino had given him his first lessons, he had aborbed the teaching like a sponge.
Now as Antonio turned these things over in his mind, he thought: “Maybe Constant is right. Pietro is saturated with music. He may have something—something special.”
The clock, striking the hour of seven, aroused him from his reveries. He turned impatiently. It was dinnertime. He was hungry. He couldn’t see why the family couldn’t assemble at the table in quicker fashion. Annoyed at the delay, he paced the room, his hands behind his back.
Constantino sat straddling his upright chair, his fingers tapping the back in a light staccato. He was secretly amused at his father’s uneasiness, knowing full well that he was like a child bursting with news tonight—news that would astonish everyone at the table, even though it dealt primarily with Pietro. As his sisters filed into the dining room, Constantino rose and stood behind his mother’s chair.
Margherita sat down, smiling. Her son gently pushed her chair into place and then patted her white hair. She looked up at him, then her large blue eyes wandered nervously over her assembled family. One was missing.
For a moment no one spoke. The calm was broken by the even ticking of the clock as its long, golden arm swung smoothly to and fro.
Then Lina, in a soft voice, interrupted the silence. “Pietro’s late, but he must have a good reason.”
Margherita smiled again as she thought: “Lina is always the one who defends him. I hope that bond will last.”
Antonio’s voice, like a burst of fireworks, came from the other end of the table. “Did anyone ask you to take your brother’s part?” The girl withered in her chair at the reproof. Her sisters started to giggle, but one glance from their irate father brought sterner lines to their faces.
Suddenly there was wild yelling in the piazza, and a familiar voice screamed its own welcome as hurrying feet hammered furiously up the stairway. The next instant, a sturdy, brown-eyed boy stood in the doorway. His disheveled hair tumbled in brown ringlets over his well-formed forehead.
“Here I am,” he said triumphantly. “Papà, I’m sorry I’m late. I’ll tell you about it at dinner.” He turned to make a dash for the kitchen sink. His face was covered with mud, and as he passed his mother she noticed, with a wince, a wide gash across his left elbow.
“Come here!” roared his father, the picture of enraged parenthood. As long as I can remember, dinner at the Yon house has always been at seven. Perhaps you do not care to eat tonight.” His sarcasm sliced through the air. A beseeching glance from Constantino forestalled punishment.
“Avanti! Wash. We are all waiting for our dinner. Fa presto!”
For a time the round table, cluttered with busy hands and full mouths, was the center of attraction. At length, Antonio wiped his mustache, brushed aside a piece of toma cheese, and opened the conversation.
“Pietro!” The boy’s curls shook at the tone of his father’s voice. “How many times have I warned you not to enter those amateur bicycle races?”
As the bright brown eyes of his son searched for an answer, Antonio continued. “Do not bother to deny it. The dust, the mud on your clothes, even the wind-blown red in your eyes, prove it to me.”
Pietro dropped his head an inch as he stood up in his place. Tears filled his eyes as he spoke. “Please, Papà. Let me have my say, then give me la botta, the best whipping you ever gave me, if you want to.”
Antonio was taken back by such frankness, although he should have been used to it from Pietro. He pushed his chair away from the table, lit his long, curved pipe, and enjoyed a deep drag. He observed his son shifting from one foot to the other and purposely prolonged the interval.
Settling back, he said, “Go ahead, Pietro, and we shall see.”
As the boy leaned forward eagerly, Lina gave him a reassuring squeeze on the leg, which did not miss her father’s keen eyes. “Like her mother,” Antonio thought. “Always encouraging this youngster.”
Pietro started apologetically, “I know those amateurs are future professionals. I know I don’t belong on the same road with them.” His fingers played nervously with a loose button on his jacket while his mother eyed his action disapprovingly.
“I know I was forbidden to ride in another race. I disobeyed, Papà.” He gathered momentum now and plunged along like a torrent rushing over a stairway of rocks. “Accipichia, Papà, you know what happened? Girodo hurt his knee. He couldn’t race. He offered me his bicycle—his racing bicycle—if I would take his place, and senti, Papà, for only twenty per cent of what I might win.” He ended on a note of triumph as if such an honor justified his disobedience.
The boy’s strong voice climbed to fever pitch. “Senti, Papà, there was Giavanotti, the favorite from Ivrea, and there was a five-hundred-lire first prize.”
Constantino, alert at the mention of the five hundred lire, leaned toward his brother, catching some of the contagion of his excitement. “Five hundred lire,” he thought. “One year’s tuition.” Aloud he said, “Go on, go on.”
“I didn’t think I’d have much of a chance, but I had to try it, Papà, I had to.” Pietro paused a second for breath. “I thought if I could win even third prize it would mean a few more piano lessons, maybe even some in Torino.” He spoke as if this would be the thrill of a lifetime.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have tried, Papà, but I had to. I’ll never be a musician around this beuch of a town. I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to and I will.” He said the last words defiantly.
Constantino mused. There’s that will of his—that determination. That’s just what I meant this morning.
The boy went on. “The race started in Ivrea, Papà, and went fifty miles to Aosta. I kept with the middle group of riders until we reached the mountain roads.” By now Pietro’s entire countenance was so ablaze with the emotion of the race that even his father could not hide his interest.
“I thought my best chance was on those steep stretches. I’m used to climbing and pretty presto on my feet, so I guessed it shouldn’t be too different on a bicycle.”
His exuberance burst again. “I was right, Papà! With eight miles to go I took the lead.” His voice dropped a bit. “Giavanotti was right behind me, and do you know what that porco did? He steered his front wheel into my back one and sent me flying into the ditch. That porco! That’s how I got this arm,” he added with a touch of heroism for his sister’s benefit.
Lina gulped and his father frowned. “Accidenti,” he said half aloud. “So he didn’t even win.”
“I wasn’t finito yet,” Pietro continued, anxious lest he lose his audience. “I jumped out of the ditch and back on my bicycle and peddled like the diavolo—I mean like fury.” He corrected his lapse in speech, eying his mother. “I got back in second place with a mile to go. It was neck and neck, cosi, cosi, to the finish.”
He paused with an already not indifferent ability at staging suspense.
“Well, Dio mio,” his father roared, “who won?”
Pietro scanned the family circle, now feeling quite sure of himself. Then with dignity and poise, he said simply, “I did.” He sat down, adding, “I gave that Giovanotti a good botta too.”
The group about the table stared at him in amazement. Even Antonio seemed at a loss for words.
The youngster reached in his pocket. “Oh, Papà, here is the check. They said it was certified. What does that mean? Is it buono?" He glanced at Lina, and pride beamed through his tanned cheeks as he passed the slip of paper to the head of the table. He had enjoyed his hour upon the stage, with no time for rehearsal. Secretly he knew that, since he had won, he would not be punished.
His father looked at the check, his eyes a little wet, then turned to his older son, and their glance was quick with communication. One year’s tuition—or almost.
Hero worship shone from Attilio’s face. He was a few years younger than his brother Pietro, and while he listened to the account of the race, excitement had been churning within him. Now he shouted as if he could no longer restrain himself nor hide his utter devotion to his brother. “Bravo! Bravo! Pietro won! Mama Mia, Pietro won!”
The mother, seated at the end of the table, wiped at her eyes, which had suddenly overflowed with admiration and pride. She smiled weakly at Attilio’s exuberance. “Senti, senti, Attilio! Pass Pietro the vino. He must be very tired.” Her mother’s heart knew fifty miles was a long way—a very long way for a twelve-year-old to ride a bicycle, especially over mountain roads. Yet she knew what had prompted this boy of hers to do it. She knew it was not for the glory of winning. No, it was for the money that would pay for more piano lessons. She tried to catch her husband’s eye but found him looking intently at Constantino.
Slowly Antonio rose, but Pietro had jumped to his feet ahead of him.
“Papà. Papà.” Eager anticipation throbbed in his voice. “Can I use some of that money for lessons in Torino? Can I, Papà?" Antonio pulled at his beard in an effort to calm himself. His mixed emotions were playing tricks with his speech. “Sit down, son,” he said at last. There was tenderness in his tone. “Mamma is right. You must be tired. There’ll be no botta this time. I’ll forgive your disobedience.”
“Grazie, grazie, Papà.”
His father then spoke of the discussion that morning, and the important decision that he and Constantino had made concerning the boy’s future—that he could go to the university at Torino if he passed the requirements.
Through it all Pietro sat erect and silent. His dream was coming suddenly to life and the reality stunned him.
A hush fell over the room as Antonio finished.
Then half dazed, Pietro walked quietly to his father and kissed him. He turned and stepped behind his brother Constantino’s chair and placed a hand on his shoulder. He was touched, deeply touched, and his voice wavered with emotion as he began to speak.
“I’ll make you proud. You’ll all be very proud.” For a split second he paused.
His mother looked at him, and tears started afresh down her cheeks. Her boy was talking, but he appeared to be lost in a reverie, off in a world of his own. She followed his gaze out the window, but it seemed to go beyond the rim of the mountains, even beyond the sky, into the very gate of heaven itself.
Antonio made a scraping sound in his throat as his son leaned toward him.
“Grazie, Papà. Grazie, Constant. You’ll see what I’ll do.” At this point his tone changed. It seemed to soar with his eyes into the very realm of glory, as he said, “Can’t you hear my music? Can’t you already hear my music?”
He raised his arms as if he were leading a choir, then suddenly he fled from the room, leaving the high pitch of his emotion still hanging over the family.