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SANTA ROSALIA IN THE BRONX

Williamsbridge, New York, 1909 - They have vivid memories in Williamsbridge of Santa Rosalia of Palermo. In the colony on Jerome street are many Palermese [Palermitani, people from Palermo], and where there are Palermese there is Santa Rosalia. In far Palermo their own dear saint is more thought of than the Virgin. Her feast is the great feast—the 9th to the 13th of July—five glorious days. Out of the northwest gate, one of twelve ancient portals, a great procession emerges, following a massive silver image of the saint, carried in an enormous galley shaped float. It winds along the white road toward the Grotto of Monte Pellegrino, in which the santi lived centuries ago. All Palermo is there, and half Sicily. Thus it is in Palermo.

In Williamsbridge? Well, Jerome street is not the Via Vittorio Emanuele, and there remains but a memory of the beautiful grotto. Instead of five glorious, idle days, there is but one which is truly festal — totally devoid of work. But to this day the rock mass on which the village stands shakes with explosions of a thousand home-made bombs. Surely Santa Rosalia must hear it in her grotto and be pleased! There is feasting, drinking, singing, love-making, prayer and devotion. Jerome street becomes a grand parade. It is good to live. Blessed Santa Rosalia!

It was the last night of the Festa in Williamsbridge. Steady people had stopped celebrating, but the younger men caring more, perhaps, for amusement than for devotions proper to the time, still kept up their merriment. There was a happy group in Giovanni Bilotti's summer garden:  Giovanni, Sabino, Giuseppe, Michele, Pasquale, and others, who sat and drank late. With the rapidly-consumed wine their spirits rose: they sang, they toasted each other, they played merry pranks.

Who can say just how an Italian quarrel arises? A look, a word—sometimes a mere intonation—then oaths, then blows and blood. So it was now, and Sabino Buonarotti was carried out by his friends, a limp mass, while Michele Bianca lay on the floor with his hands clasped over a throbbing place in his side. There was very little noise—it is a fell thing to bring the police into Little Italy; it means days without work, dreary lingering in the House of Detention, weeks without happiness. Moreover, it is better to settle these things in another way.

There was very little noise, yet in a moment Little Italy knew all about it. Sabino Buonarotti was in a bad way. Yes, Sabino was a Buonarotti. It would be best, then, to keep one's hands off. It is always a good rule to mind one's own business. So Michele Bianca might lie there. "Michele the Friendless," he was called a silent fellow, uppish, indeed quite a Roman, and poor as the rest, for all his handsome face.

Yet there was one heart in Williamsbridge which throbbed with his. Within five minutes a slight figure hurried up Jerome street and into the little garden where the "Friendless" lay. "Michele! Michele! Mio caro! Gioia mia!" sobbed the girl, she threw herself upon the prostrate form. "They have killed him; they have killed him," she cried—but softly, for she respected the customs which pertain to deeds of violence among her people. Still, there are things to be done when a man is hurt, even in Little Italy. She must get him to his room, happily just around the corner in First Street. "Be brave, my Michele," she whispered. "I will support thee. Canst thou walk, leaning on me? Be brave, mio caro."

Michele became brave under her sight. Murmuring. "It is as Santa Rosalia would do, little one," he tottered to his feet, and with her anxious help reached the street. What a struggle it was to hold him up. But the saint was with her. Santa Rosalia it was who had sent the thought all unexpected, that Michele was wounded. She would help now. After infinite pain for both, Michele at length fell prostrate upon his bed. There were yet things to do. Francesca did not shrink.

The wound was stanched, and the man fell into an uneasy sleep, clasping the hand of Francesca. The girl did not think of herself until a pebble struck the window-pane. When she opened the sash, she saw her mother below and heard this: "Come down, come down, you graceless girl. Mother of God! Did I raise you for this? What have you done—you, an unmarried girl? He has killed a Buonarotti. Do you hear—a Buonarotti? They will kill you."

Robert Guiscard and Roger de Hauteville were ancient heroes of the Sicilians; perhaps their spirit cropped up in Francesca. "What care I?" she cried.

La Signora Grundy is not without honor among the Italians. Late as it was, several matrons had gathered in the street.

"Come down, come down." they cried, in scandalized tones. '"Remember that you are an unmarried girl."

"Come one of you up," sobbed Francesca. "He is a man. He is human. Have you no hearts?"

"The Buonarotti! Think." Then they fled. Even her mother forsook her. Francesca sobbed on the window-sill, but softly, softly—he must not know.

"What shall I do?" she wailed. "Oh, how they will talk! My father will kill me. My brothers will kill Michele. What shall I do? There is but one thing to do—and that I cannot. But I must— I must! Santa Rosalia, help me!"

Though her maiden heart shrank within her, she knelt at the bedside and gently awakened Michele. "Michele, Michele, caro mio—listen. Thou are hurt, and without friends save me, who love thee. If I stay not to tend thee, thou wilt die. There is but one thing. Dost thou not see?"

He looked at her with loving eyes.

"Michele," she whispered, "dost thou not remember? It was in the last month. You asked me very often, and I said, 'Some time—perhaps.'" Michael's eyes brightened.

"Cara mia, Father Joe—go to him. Ask him to come. Tell him"—he lifted himself upon his elbow in spite of the pain, and raised his head proudly—"tell him that I am a Del Sassari from Caltanissetta—the last of the race. Then he will come, little one."

In a few minutes Francesca was speeding toward the priest's house. How wonderful! Michele a Del Sassari! And he loved her—a poor girl of plain family!

When Father Joe heard Francesca's blushing request, he refused point blank. "But father," implored the girl, "they have left him to die, the Buonarotti. No one will tend him save me. The Buonarotti say he has stabbed their Giovanni. It is a lie, I know, but nobody will come near my Michele. Father, he said I was to tell you that he is a Del Sassari of Caltanissetta—the last of his race."

"Ah!" cried the priest, "is there yet one? A Del Sassari! I will go to see." They were soon at the bedside of the "Friendless."

Father Joe went downstairs and soon returned with Francesca's kin, their fears strangely dissipated. It is good that certain things be known. A messenger was sent to the priest's house for the articles necessary for the ceremony. In a quarter of an hour Francesca and Michele were acclaimed in Jerome street as man and wife.

On a certain sunny day, Father Joe met Luigi Buonarotti, the head of that family.

"It is a fact that Michele 'Bianca' is well again," said the priest, "is it not?"

"Yes," answered Luigi, "I believe it is so."

"The Buonarotti are a proud people," said Father Joe—"yet they are not of Caltanissetta, I believe?"

Luigi bowed.

"Evidently we understand each other?"

"Capisco. I understand."

"God be with you!"

"God be with you! Keep well!"

It was understood that the Buonarotti desired quietness, and things remained quiet in Little Italy for the longest stretch of time known in years.

 

The Virginia Enterprise, September 6, 1901 from the New York Evening Post.