Saturday, July 3, 2010

Eight - Along the Allegheny

The card in her hand was Maria’s only guide to her future. On the one side, Pittsburgh on the other Harmarville. She managed to sleep for a portion of the train ride westward; when she awoke she was in Pennsylvania. The train made its way through the mountains of the Allegheny and past the odd sounding names of the towns. At every stop, the place name would ring out. Johnstown. Altoona.

There was a stir of excitement in the air when they went round the “Horseshoe Bend” a pair of words that were spoken aloud, often enough before they got there, that Maria knew something unusual was about to happen. Indeed, it did, as the long train made its way round the engineering wonder and both the big engine out in front and the caboose at the back of the train could be seen out her window. Eventually, the train came into the station, a huge building with impressive spaces and lots of people hurrying as if they did this every day. The impression Maria had of the place was dark and gritty. The clothes the people wore were also dark and gritty, whether the people looked poor or prosperous. It seemed as if they wanted to somehow blend into the sooty air all around them. But Maria did not have time to linger over the scene. The other side of her card was beckoning. So she found someone in uniform, showed him the word “Harmarville” and gave him a questioning look.

“This way,” the man said. He was stern looking but even so, acted in a way that made Maria feel as if she could trust him. He walked down one long platform and then took her to another, amid the steam and clanking sounds and the rushing, gray and black and dark brown garbed people, the trunks and suitcases, the frantic activity. Maria hurried to keep up with him. He led her to a place with a few benches, indicated to her to sit down, and then took out his watch.

“Stay here till this time,” he said, first gesturing to the bench, and then pointing to the watch. He moved the hands, one hour, two hours and a half. Then he pointed to a clock suspended from a wall nearby. “Understand?” Maria nodded.

“Okay, then you get on the train over there,” he pointed to the nearest platform. “Do you understand?”

Maria nodded, indicated with her hand, one finger, second finger, half a finger and then pointed to the platform.

“Yes! Good! Right!” the man said. “You are going to do just fine. Good luck!” And with that he gave a sort of a nod, and was off to other duties.

Maria whiled away the two hours by watching the people who came and went. At one point the train on the platform where her train would eventually appear departed. A big of a pang in her heart made her wonder if she had missed what should have been, in fact, her train. But the man had been so clear and so kind. She tried to shake away her own doubts. People came and went and she strained to her some word or two in her own language but she could not, everyone was speaking English, or so it sounded to her. A mother nearby dandled a small girl on her knee, but they soon stood and greeted a fine looking man who hugged the woman and hoisted the child on his shoulders and off they went.

The hours passed and then about fifteen minutes before she was to board it, the next train arrived. Maria watched the people getting off. No one walked slowly, they all hurried along.

“This is a place of hurry and purpose,” she said to herself. “I will have to be like this too.”

As the appointed hour drew nearer, she saw people making their way to the train. So Maria gathered up her belongings and went toward it as well. She found a uniformed man near where they were boarding, and showed him the card: “Harmarville”. She gave him a questioning look.

“Yes,” the man nodded, “hop aboard.” As she climbed up the steps into the train car, some light fell through the big glass enclosure of the train shed and through even the windows opposite in the car itself and for a moment—an instant only—the intense brightness penetrated the surrounding gloom. It seemed like a good omen to Maria, as the ray of light fell upon her.

She found a seat and settled in. The car was not crowded. Nor would it fill much more before it left the station, with not much of a warning. Again, Maria felt a pang of concern—was she on the right train? Too late now to know for certain.

The train shed was so long that it seemed they would never get on their way in earnest, but they did. There was more sunshine, outside. In fact the light and the heat were stronger than she had expected when she had been waiting in the station. The train moved out of the city at a slow pace, and because the main part of the city was behind her, Maria did not see the place where the tall buildings stood in a cluster by The Point, where the Allegheny and Monongahela converged to form the Ohio River.

The train was going through a down-at-the-heels part of the city, where all of the buildings looked as if they had been made of some tar-like substance. Streaked with soot and grime, they looked tawdry in the bright sunlight.

Before long the train crossed the river—the Allegheny—and was on its north bank. Being a local, the train came to the first of many stops.

“Millvale!” the conductor called out as he walked through the car. Maria saw factories and smoke stacks and the dark gray river and steep hillsides with houses perched up and down them. Here and there were churches, each one very different from the other, with oddly shaped domes and towers. After a short stop, the train continued on.

“Sharpsburg!” the conductor called as the train inched past an impressive cathedral, or so it seemed, and into another district of warehouses and factories. There was not much to admire out of the window. Again, the train moved onward.

“Aspinwall!” the conductor cried. Here, too, the place looked dismal in the sunlight, but perhaps less so than the places they had passed up till now. The train started up again, and before long was passing two very grand looking buildings near the water’s edge, with huge arched windows—both made of pale yellow brick and trimmed with stone. Other than the churches, these were the first places of any claim to distinction Maria had seen.

Soon the landscape changed. The train was skirting a small hamlet, but not stopping there. Maria saw a sign that read “Hoboken” and looked down at the card she still clutched in her hand. No, they both began with “H” but the words were quite different. The train was following the Allegheny River bank, and bent to the left as it drew into a narrow space between the water on her right and high precipitous cliffs on her left. This was an odd landscape, with rocky outcroppings and some indication that rocks had fallen down on to the track and had been pushed aside from time to time. Maria looked up at the cliffs and prayed that none of the huge boulders would suddenly break free and come careening down upon the train, which seemed very small in comparison. The train chugged onward.

Maria could see a town across the river, clustered between the big hills over there and amid the trees. They passed the backs of a long row of identical narrow brick houses, pushed together like an accordion’s bellows. There was washing hanging out and people were going about there household tasks as indifferent to the passing train as if it had not been there. The sheer cliffs gave way, and as they did Maria saw a group of large black buildings, more like overgrown sheds, and high in the air, what looked like a rickety train track that angled upward to a spindly tower. She wondered, as the train continued onward what in the world it could possibly be.

Now, the land opened up. On her right, there was an island in the river, with many trees and Maria could see small hovels, houses perhaps but they looked as if they were made of some flimsy stuff. There were clothes drying on lines near some of these. She could see children running and dogs at their heels.

On her left, the hills were far back, now and beyond the road that paralleled the train tracks was a broad field in which men were busily at work, tending, hoeing, what looked to be vegetable crops. It made Maria think of her father and the men of her village back home, and she felt the tears as then fell involuntarily down her cheeks. Maria sighed as she saw the men, bent over their work in the hot sunshine. The train had slowed and then stopped and was beginning to move forward once more.

Maria could not take her eyes off this scene. This little space of flat land between the distant hills and the river. The place was not very large but compared to the compressed atmosphere of the higher, towering cliffs and hills that she had seen so far, it seemed a relief to see more land and sky.

Then, the scene changed once more, as the train squeezed past a point where yet another high cliff formed an almost impassable barrier between itself and the river. It was as if the train itself had to narrow down to fit through. So, this little place where the vegetable fields grew, thought Maria, is guarded on each side by high cliffs—and surrounded by a natural amphitheater of hills. It seemed to Maria a place apart from the crowd and noise of the cities and towns she had seen so far in the valley of the Allegheny.

But the place was now behind her and again she was traveling through a kind of warehouse and factory district. Theses buildings were placed further apart and there were only here and there houses on the far side of the road. The conductor came through the train and shouted out, “Cheswick!” and then stopped by Maria’s seat.

“Why didn’t you get off the train at Harmarville?” the conductor said to her. Maria blinked, not knowing what he was saying except that the one word sounded right, sounded like the place written on her card. She shrugged, and shook her head.

“Back there!” the man pointed, “Harmarville. We passed it at the last stop. Why didn’t you get off the train?”

“Harmarville?” Maria repeated.

“That way!” the conductor pointed again. “Back that way!” The train by now was slowing down and coming to the next small station. Through repeated words and gestures the conductor made it plain to Maria that she had gone too far. He gathered up her belongings, and indicated to her that she had to leave the train. Once she followed him and did as he directed, he pointed back toward the valley of the vegetable gardens.

“You will have to walk, back, now,” the conductor told her, making a little sign like a person's walking with the fingers of his right hand. “Walk. Back. There.”

“All aboard!” he then yelled much louder and with that the train lurched forward, leaving Maria on the small platform under the sign that read “Cheswick.”

Maria stood on the platform until the train disappeared. Then she picked up her things and began to slowly make her way along the road back in the direction from which she had so recently come. She walked slowly, along the dusty road, in the mid-afternoon heat, and looked about her at what was to be seen. There was an old stone building nearby and not far away she could see a small church.

Maria did not know it, but the land she walked past was part of the Borland farm, from which the Borland family sold vegetables down river to Pittsburgh. Over toward the river, she could see some fine looking houses, with big porches that stood tall amid shade trees. They suggested an era recently passed, before the dust and noise of the trains had impinged on the placid riverside setting.

There were some industrial buildings. One had the words “Penwick Distillery” painted on its side. It was a large brick building. There were some smaller factories, a few scattered houses, and a fair amount of wagon traffic going to and fro on the road she followed. The hills rose to the right of her, beyond the farms and houses. More hills rose to the left of her, on the far side of the riverbank.

Maria took it all in, but her main concern was finding her way back to the place where, by now, she should have been. As she continued along, several of the men who were working in the nearest field called out to her. Maria had no idea what they were saying at first, but then she noticed they were speaking not English, but Italian.

"Chi la sono la giovane donna? E dove lei va"? “Who are you young lady? And where are you going?”

Maria’s first instinct was to ignore the men and keep on walking. But the day was hot and her burden was heavy and they did not seem to be ruffians. Their questions to her were posed respectfully enough.

“I need to find out where I am and how I can get to the home of my brother,” thought Maria. So she turned to them and told her a shortened version of her travels. So she told them, “I am from Neopoli and have come to live with my brother and his wife in Harmarville.”

One of the men who was a bit younger than the rest answered, “Did you walk all the way?” He and Maria both laughed and so did the men with them.

Maria shook her head. “I got off the train at the wrong place,” was her eventual reply. One of the other men, about Maria’s father’s age then said, “Sono venuto anche da Neopoli; I also come from Neopoli.”

Soon they learned that they knew of each other’s families and the men assured her that they would take her to her brother’s house as soon as their work ended. They pressed her to wait with them, showing her a place where a few trees stood at a corner of the field. There, in the shade, they gave her cold spring water to drink and an apple to eat.

The men whistled or sang as they continued their work. These were songs of home. Maria recognized them and with some, she sang along in her head and in her heart. The cool shade, the cold water, the crisp apple, the comforting songs, all combined to create a dream like atmosphere. If she closed her eyes, Maria thought she could almost see the familiar sights of home, to go along with the familiar songs of home. She closed her eyes. She traced the outlines of far away hills and fields.

And before long, Maria was asleep.

“Hello, Maria!” a voice softly called to her. Maria stirred. Then opened her eyes. Standing before her was, the young man who had first asked if she had walked all the way from Neopoli. “While we have been working, you have been sleeping!” He said, and then laughed heartily.

“Yes.” Maria answered, “but my heart was awake.”

"How can your heart be awake while the rest of you is asleep?” he chided gently. “You are asleep or you are awake, one or the other, but not both.”

“You are probably right,” Maria answered. “But many a time my foot has fallen asleep while the rest of me is awake. Why shouldn’t it be the other way around. Why can’t a person be asleep, but her heart is still awake?”

“You have funny ideas but I like thinking about them,” the young man held out a hand to Maria. “Here, let me help you up from there. We are about to leave the field and head for home. You may come along with us. I will carry your things, and you will find the going is a lot easier that way.”

Maria accepted the hand and was soon on her feet. The other men called to them, “Come on, let’s go! See, it is getting late.”

They all started back toward Harmarville, and as they went they talked among themselves. The young man introduced himself as Giovanni Contadino, whose family came from Sinise. Two of the other men were his relatives, cousins Bruno Contadino and Vince Contadino—they too had family back in the old country, as they called it.

“We write to them and send money, and they write back and say send more,” said Bruno and they all laughed.

“It is better here than there,” said Vince, “but only if we stick together.”

The oldest of the group, a man in his forties at least, was Francesco Basso, who nodded in agreement and said, “The people around here who are not from Italy don’t understand us. That is alright as long as we understand one another.”

“Plus we do the work no one else wants to do,” said Vince. “Like working in the mines. And working in the mills.”

“But you are working in the fields, like at home,” said Maria.

“Yes, the Borlands are good people, and they figured out pretty fast that we understood about growing vegetables—it has worked out better for us than we thought it would,” Giovanni explained. “No dark hole in the ground for us. No fiery furnace for us. We are out in the open air and can see the sky.”

“And no organizers and anarchists to stir the pot,” said Francesco.

Maria looked at him, puzzled.

“They come in from outside, and make all kinds of trouble, and give the rest of us a bad name,” Giovanni said. “Like that fellow Berkman, who took a crack at old Frick in his office. He says he is for the working man to have things better. But he is just out for himself, and things got worse once he did that.”

“But as long as we do good work and let our employers know we are glad to be doing it,” said Francesco, “it is almost as good as at home.”

“Your brother is a smart one, too,” said Giovanni. “He works in the mine but he also has the boarding house. So the people come and live there and pay him and he doesn’t have to give everything he has to the big bosses, or the company store.”

They had by this time passed the narrow place Maria had noticed on the train, and were in the large flat bottom land around that was given over to gardens. It was the place that Maria had admired from the train. Up close it was every bit as special as from the train windows.

"Is this part of the Borland farm, as well?” she asked.

“No,” said Giovanni, “This part belongs to the Armstrong family and they let us grow our own crops and then give them some as rent and keep some for our own use or to sell. Another good family.”

“And you all have gardens here?” Maria asked.

“Yes and lots of the miners do, too,” Vince said.

“And what’s that, way over there?” Maria asked, pointing to the black shed-like buildings with the angled track that attached to the spindly tower.

“The mine, of course,” said Francesco. “That is the Harmar Mine. Where they mine the coal. They bring it up in small cars like train cars but not so big. That thing is the coal tipple.”

"Coal tipple," Maria repeated. Maria thought the word sounded odd but she filed it away. So many new things to learn. They walked along and came to a bridge over a small stream. Then up a small rise and the men announced, “Here you are, Maria; your new home!”

They took off their hats and gave a sort of courtly bow. As they were doing that, a face appeared at the window and a voice called out, “You there, do you have nothing better to do than pose in the streets? Move along! Muoversi Avanti! Move along!”

The men laughed and then Francesco called out, “Marigia, close your mouth and open your eyes! Don’t you know your own family?”

“Family? Bah!” came the reply from the window, “What good for nothings you farmers are! What are you talking about?”

“Here is Maria Fucci, sister of your husband Giacomo, all the way from Neopoli,” sang out Giovanni. “We have brought her to you.”

A great deal of fussing noises were heard from inside the house, snatches of words that sounded like “buono per niente!” fell upon their ears, though none of them were clear enough to be sure of, which Maria felt sure was a good thing. Then the door was thrown open abruptly, and Marigia Fucci emerged, wearing a faded housedress and worn apron, sturdy shoes and her hair tied up with some small piece of cloth.

“'Meglio tardi che mai.' Better late than never. Don’t stand there in the street, like some poor orphan, Maria, come inside at once!” Marigia said, reaching out a hand for Maria and pulling her through the doorway. The men looked at one another and shrugged and then followed along behind, with Maria’s baggage.

“Wipe your feet! Pulire i suoi piedi!” Marigia cried out. “This floor has just been washed. I need no garden soil in my house!” The men did more than that, taking off their boots and leaving them beside the threshold. Marigia stared at their bare, dirty feet and made a sound like the ticking of a clock, shook her head till the rag holding up her hair went flopping to and fro like rabbits' ears.

“How did you come to be with these dull farmers?” Marigia asked Maria. The story of the missed station was soon told and then—and only then—did Marigia offer the men some cold water and tell Maria to sit down at the kitchen table. The men accepted the water, drank it and then moved toward the door as if to leave.

“I must thank you—all of you—for the help you have given me in finding my way.” Said Maria, "And for your kind welcome to me, also. You are my first new friends in America.”

The men all smiled sheepishly, and having said that she was more than welcome, made their departure, pulling on their boots outside on the front stoop.

Once the men had gone, Marigia said, “Here, Maria, stand up and let me look at you.” Maria who was as dead tired as she had ever been in her life, obeyed nonetheless and rose to her feet.

“Turn around,” Marigia instructed. “Yes. Good. Sit down.”

Maria again did as she was bidden.

“You are a good strong girl,” Marigia announced. “A bit small for your age but with hard work and time that will improve I have no doubt. 'Chi la dura la vince.' 'He who perseveres wins at last.' It is good that you left Italy and came here. 'L'Italia farà da sé.' 'Italy will take care of itself.' There, I do not think your prospects would have been very bright. But in this place all is new and there is much to do. I think you will do well here.”

This little speech seemed fine in its way to Maria but it was not exactly what one might call being welcomed with open arms, at least to her mind.

“Here,” said Marigia, “I will show you the place. Come along!” And with that they embarked on a tour of the boarding house, which had a confusing arrangement of rooms, some large and some small, some not really rooms at all with no windows, but all of them had beds galore, and in many of them, men were sleeping.

“These are the ones who work nights,” Marigia said in a loud whisper. “They sleep in the day. If they pay for their bed for all the time then they have it for all the time but if they pay less then they share it with the men who work in the day, and sleep in the night. It is a good arrangement since it saves them money and it makes us more.”

“You don’t charge the same for one man who has his own bed and two men who share a bed?” Maria inquired.

“No that would not get us anywhere,” Marigia answered. “I can see you have no head for business. We charge the men who share the beds half and half of that, on top. So with one bed we get the same as if two and a half men were sleeping in it, not two.”

“Oh. I see. And do you have any half-men here?” Maria asked, picturing in her mind’s eye a horribly wounded man who had lost both of his legs.

“Don’t be silly, child!” Marigia scolded. “Whatever put such an idea in your head? Half-men! You have let your travels go to your brain! Where do you see half-men, I ask you!”

They had gone up one stairway and down another and found themselves in the back of the same hallway that gave on to the front door.

"Over here," said Marigia, "is the parlor. Not to be used except for reading the papers and quiet conversation. If any of the men have visitors they must not go upstairs but talk here. Not many of them have visitors. And over here," she said with a sweep of the arm, "is the dining room. The men sit where they are told. The ones who pay the most have the best seats, and then the next and so on. If they are up on their rent then they get the best seats, that is. If not it is below the salt, down there at the other end where they have to wait till the food is passed to them. I leave it to the men to sort out any difficulties if they are not pleased when the platters and bowls reach the foot of the table.”

“Why?” said Maria.

“It is safer that way, plus we live in a democracy, where every man must make his own way.”

“And where do you and my brother sit at meals, then?” Maria asked.

“Not in here. We sit at the table in the kitchen. It is our own little sanctuary of peace away from the noise and fuss of this room. The men know they are not permitted in the kitchen, no matter what. A strict house rule.”

The two women returned to the kitchen and sat down at that very table. While they were still speaking there came a sort of pounding sound in the distance. Then it got louder and louder. The large house began to vibrate, to actually move as the sound got stronger. It seemed as if some sort of cataclysmic disaster was about to befall the women seated there in the kitchen. What could it be? An earthquake? A tornado? The end of the world?

Then Maria heard a shrill whistle.

“It is only a train,” Marigia shrugged, as the noise reached its greatest intensity. Indeed, it was one of sixteen trains that passed close by the back of the boarding house every day but Sunday when there were only four trains. The rail line sat somewhat lower than the house, along the Allegheny. But even so it was not much more than thirty feet from where the women were.

Maria sensed the table and floor and her chair shaking. Then the old building swayed a bit, the tumblers on the shelves shook and sounded like small bells ringing, the pots and pans on the rack overhead rattled and clanked. Then, more whistling as the sound began to subside. The train continued on its way. The rattling and tinkling and pounding and shaking grew less and less. Maria wondered how the men who slept in the day slept through such a racket. What an unfortunate place to have a room in which one tried to get some rest. The thought of it made Maria wonder why her brother and sister-in-law had chosen such a spot for their boarding house business. It would certainly take her some getting used to.

Immediately, another noise came, another kind of pounding or stomping, and then a door to the back of the house flew open and in came none other than her brother,

“So Maria you are here at last!” Giacomo announced. “We almost gave up hope of ever seeing you. But here you are a sight for sore eyes. And just arrived from the look of it.”

Maria said, “Not just arrived, Giacomo. Marigia has been showing me the house.”

“Good, good,” answered Giacomo, “and what do you think of it?”

“It is very large and filled with lots of boarders,” Maria said.

“Yes, too large for one person to care for; that is why you have come to live with us and help to keep up the place,” interjected Marigia.

Maria nodded but her eyes flashed in Marigia’s direction. “Yes,” Maria said quietly, “I have come to make a new life in a new world.”

Giacomo looked from the wife to the sister and back again. This was going to be a challenge to be sure, having two women in one house. It was like having two cats and one mouse or two dogs and one bone. At that very moment Giacomo decided that he was going to leave the whole situation alone. Let Marigia handle it. No need for him to become entwined in the middle of the battle of wills that was sure to emerge before long.

"So what news do you have of the old home place?" Giacomo asked Maria, thinking that a change of subject might be in order. Marie told Giacomo about their parents and how things were when she had left them. Then she added, “I will want to write to them soon; since I promised that I would do so.”

“I am sure they will want to know you arrived all in one piece,” Giacomo said.

“Yes, but that can wait. Now we have work to do if there is going to be supper for these men,” said Marigia. “Maria, put on an apron and let’s get busy!”

That is exactly what Maria did and for the next several hours the time was spent in cooking and setting the table and serving the food and cleaning up afterward.

The men were a noisy and fast-taking bunch. On this first night the men were all sort of a blur to Maria, and the work was so demanding that she did not even begin to put together the names and the faces. But some of them did make an impression on her for good or bad.

There was Basilio Bello, certainly the most handsome of the men at the table, with dark wavy hair and a big moustache, who sort of lorded it over the rest of them, as a natural born leader. There was a grizzled older fellow named Aldo Saggiolingua who said very little but when he did speak it was as if everyone strained in to hear what his wise tongue had to say. More than once a bold fellow called Cesare Civetta tried to flirt with Maria, and at one point said to the entire group, “Well our fortune has improved now that we have Maria to look at instead of Marigia!”

All of them laughed and nodded their heads, which made Maria blush and hope that Marigia had not heard what he said as she retreated to the kitchen.

“What’s all that noise about?” Marigia asked Maria with a stern look.

“Somebody made a joke and they were all laughing,” Maria replied, which was as much of the truth as she felt she could tell.

“Not a rude joke, I hope?” Marigia said. “I will not have crude language in the house! I have strict rules about it!”

“No it was very tame,” said Maria, who then returned to the dining room with more of the meal.

“Ah here is our angle of mercy back to take good care of us!” said a tough looking fellow called Ilario Forte, who nonetheless had kindly eyes.

“Hooray!” they all shouted. Then stopped abruptly when they saw Marigia at the door from the kitchen, her arms akimbo, her brow furrowed.

“You are nothing but a bunch of hooligans!” Marigia said. “If you keep up like this Maria will stay in the kitchen and I will serve the meal!”

“Lord have mercy upon us,” said Leone Dellaminiera under his breath.

“Yes, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away,” said Maso Istigatore. “If she keeps Maria holed up in the kitchen there will be trouble to pay from me!”

“And me,” said Ruvino Avventato, who stood up on his char and held up his knife like he was posing for the Statue of Liberty. "I will set her free from the dragon in the dungeon!” He pointed the knife in the direction of Marigia who had by this time retreated to her domain.

“Stop being so foolhardy!” Basillo chided him. “Or we will feed you to the river gods. Do you want to bring down the wrath of our landlady upon us?”

Ruvino climbed down from his chair quickly, with a sheepish look on his face.

Maria had witnessed it all and was still blushing terribly.

“Don’t worry little one,” Ilario whispered to her. “They will settle down now. I will have a talk with them when you are in the kitchen. I know they will listen because you bring a bit of joy into this drab place.”

It was late into the evening before Marigia decreed that the work was finished.

And then it was time for bed. Maria realized that Marigia and Giacomo had never told her where she was to sleep. And sometime during the evening, her things had disappeared from where the farmers had left them. That corner of the kitchen was empty. Maria was suddenly tired and frustrated and a bit angry.

“What happened to my things?” Maria asked her brother, who was seated in a corner of the kitchen smoking a pipe.

“In your room,” Giacomo answered, with a kind of a sideways nod, indicating a door through which Maria had not yet passed.

“This way?” she asked him.

“Yes, just there,” he said, not stirring from his place.

Maria went through the doorway to find herself in a kind of a storeroom. There were large containers of staples, bins of potatoes, and the like and over in one corner, a narrow bed, a wooden chair, and a washstand. The corner was tidy. The bed had a quilt on it and a pillow. But it was one small corner of a small room that most people would call a pantry or larder.

There was only one small window, but the darkness outside was complete. Maria noticed that her baggage was also in the room, as Giacomo had indicated.

Maria felt hopelessness taking hold of her, all at once. She sat down on the bed, completely exhausted.

“Maria!” she heard Marigia call, and then her sister-in-law came into the room. “Here you are. I wondered what happened to you. I think you made a fair start of things today but of course once you get to know the routine you will be quicker about everything. You had better get some sleep and be ready when I ring the bell at 5:30 so you can help with the breakfast.” With that, Marigia closed the door, plunging the room into complete darkness.

Maria let her eyes become accustomed to the dark and then was able to move about as she needed in order to take off her clothes and put on her nightgown. She rummaged to find something that would help her relax and found at last the small package that the Padrone had handed to her on their last visit together. She thought of him and his kindness and wondered if perhaps she had made a mistake coming to America. Maria longed to open the gift, but in this darkness, what good would it do? She would have to wait till morning. She thought of Lucia and Grazie and longed to see their kindly, calm faces. She composed the image of them in her minds eye. This was beginning to comfort her but then she thought of Tanio and the spring and his poetry and the tears began to fall down her cheek.

And so ended Maria’s first day in her new home along the Allegheny River.

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