Suddenly there stole on the air a divine strain that caused a hush as by magic to fall upon the restless groups. Louder, sweeter, stronger, more entrancing it rose, then sunk to the whispering cadence of a sigh. The old man’s hands were crossed before him, and tears poured down his withered cheeks. Ere the charmed listeners realized that the voice had ceased, the singer gave the poor supplicant a coin, and waving him toward the crowd, which was increasing every moment, said,—
“Tell them I will sing again.”
The old man went from one to another till the worn hat grew so heavy that he had to carry it in his arms. Money for his needs, money for his dear little girl. Then the signora sang again; when about to depart she scribbled an address which she handed the bewildered man, and drove on to her hotel.
What a Christmas was that! And what a feeling of happiness filled her heart! And the duenna said nothing.
A day or two later the beggar and his grandchild appeared at the private entrance of the hotel where the signora was sojourning. The paper he carried in his hand was a passport, and he soon stood in her parlor. He was dressed in a neat new suit, and the child was as sweet as a wild rose.
“Come and kiss me, little one,” said the beautiful lady. “I want to hear you sing.”
Unappalled by the richness of the apartment, and conscious only the kindness shown her, the child, who was about twelve years old, sang one of the popular street ballads of the day.
“Santa Maria!” exclaimed the signora, who always ejaculated in her own tongue. “But you have a treasure here, my friend! The child is a wonder. This voice must be trained—we will see—we will see.”
Touching an electric bell, she summoned a messenger and hastily wrote a line which she gave him. During the boy’s absence she questioned the strange pair in whom she felt so absorbing an interest, and gathered what there was to tell of their daily life. Their neighbors were kind, and the women exercised a sort of motherly care over the little girl; but the very best there was to know seemed bad enough, and the singer shuddered as she imagined the dreariness of such poverty as their’s.
In answer to the call a young man stood before her.
“Beppo,” she said, “your fortune is made; look at that old man.” She spoke in Italian, and the face of the artist, for such he was, lit up with enthusiasm, as he marked the striking head and face of the person indicated. “Your model for the Beggar of San Carlo,” continued the lady.
Beppo Cellini, at the bidding of his countrywoman, at once made terms with the old man to sit to him for his great Academy picture.
The little girl, whose voice now commands thousands of dollars on the operatic stage, was placed under training at the joint expense of her benefactress and two other artist friends.
The old man, Signor Beppo’s model, is at rest now, but he still lives in the “Beggar of San Carlo.” And the Signora Cavada, among all the good deeds of her charitable career, has never known a truer thrill of happiness than she experienced on her American Christmas Day.