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A Tale of the Epiphany
Amidst all the noise of bargaining, the shrieks of fowls, and the blare of the glass trumpets, a poor woman made her way through the busy, crowded streets. Her thin old shawl was tightly wound round her shoulders, and in its folds was wrapped a little bundle which from its shape might be a baby. Another child, three or four years old, clattered along over the stone pavement, at her side, clutching a fold of the mother's gown, Behind came the tap, tap of wooden crutches as a bigger child who was lame tried to keep up with the rest.
The woman looked wistfully at the array of fowls held up so temptingly before her, and the quick eye of one of the sellers rested on her at once.
'Eeeo,' he cried, 'this is the very thing thou seekest! See how fat and tender he is.' Here he displayed a sad-looking, long-legged bird, little more than skin and bone and bedraggled feathers. 'And the price is so small, it is really nothing. I rob myself and my innocent children, but there! I give it thee for two lire.'
The woman shook her head and hurried on. She could not trust herself to look at the tempting dainty.
'Mother,' said Brigida, the little lame girl, making an effort to keep up at her mother's side, 'shall we have no festa to-morrow?'
'Who can tell?' said her mother cheerfully. 'Perhaps we may earn money to-day. If the master can but pay us, we may keep the festa with the best of them. A good boiled fowl and plenty of polenta, a gay new dress for the old doll thou lovest so well, a toy for little Maria here, and good milk for little Beppino. Ah yes, who knows, we too may keep the festa!'
The faces of the two children brightened as she talked, and Maria's little legs, which had begun to drag wearily along, stepped out bravely once more.
'See, here we are,' said the mother, stopping before a big, gloomy-looking entrance and preparing to climb the steps which led up and up to the top story.
'Who comes there?' sounded a warning voice from above.
'A friend,' answered the woman, and then climbed steadily on, giving a helping hand to the tired child at her side.
At last they all reached the topmost flight, and there a door stood open, and a tall, stern-faced old man looked keenly out on the little family who came toiling up the last few steps.
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