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By A. Derlitzki.
The Firm W. L. & Co. was at that time the Mecca of the international printers of London. Alongside of about forty English compositors worked French and German colleagues, as well as Russians, Spaniards, Italians, Hollanders and Swiss; representatives of other nations could often also be found there.
Our work, in various languages, was divided into groups, called “ships”; each ship was in charge of a “Captain” or Clicker. The foreigners were all grouped together, but the French ship was by far the most interesting. The latter printed the “Courier de Londres.”
Facing me stood an old veteran from the South of France. The sharp features of his withered face betrayed the storms of a strenuous past. During the revolutionary period of France he was both Student and hero of the barricades. Subsequently the battle of existence taught him the trade of compositor. In his old days he became a mute thinker, and we nicknamed him “the philosopher.”
The “Captain” of the Courier was a surly old Belgian. His chief assistant, Monsieur Norrin, was an ex-sergeant of the French Army; he was known among us as “the comrade.”
Carl, Norrin’s friend, was a German—deserter. He was a good sort; he considered obedience an optional virtue—to be practiced voluntarily, but never to be forced. Once, while still wearing the Kaiser’s uniform, he applied the Biblical injunction, “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth” to his superior officer—and then he bade farewell to his dear Fatherland.
My Russian neighbor had circled the globe. The Spaniard at his side was also a great traveler, as well as a Greek and Latin scholar. In short, we were a jolly family, and it was quite touching to see these strange fellows sharing their last crumbs with some needy journeyman.
In the beginning of the summer of 1897 a new compositor joined our group—Signor Angiolino, an Italian of noble birth. Angiolino, by the way, means little angel.
His personal appearance, his havelock and soft felt hat suggested the journalist rather than the disciple of Guttenberg. His delicate hands, moreover, betrayed the fact that he did not grow up at the “case.” With his handsome, frank face, his soft dark hair, short beard and alert expression he looked the very type of the vivacious Southerner. The gold eye-glasses were very becoming to him.
We were very crowded at the time, and as I had a “double stand,” I was asked to make room for the new compositor, and thus Angiolino became my right-hand neighbor.
We got along quite well, though our conversation was rather limited at first; Angiolino spoke Italian, Spanish, and French, but no English; the little French I knew was not sufficient to carry on a prolonged conversation. However, Angiolino soon began to acquire the English idiom; he learned rapidly, playfully, and it was not long till he became very popular with his fellow-compositors His distinguished and yet modest manner and his consideration towards his colleagues won him the hearts of all the boys. His past, however, remained an enigma— which served to make him still more interesting.
One Sunday afternoon Angiolino called on me. Following the English custom, I introduced my visitor to the members of the household. I did not fail to notice the strong impression he made upon the ladies of the house— his fine, manly presence and polished manners were very fascinating.
We had tea; one of the young ladies entertained the company with music. Someone inquired, “could the Signor play?” Receiving an affirmative reply, the ladies begged Angiolino to try his skill. Angiolino consented, and soon the room was vibrant with choice classical music. He played with a master hand. His audience was entranced. Then the Signor began to sing Spanish and Italian love-ditties, accompanying himself on the piano. He was a tenor of remarkable calibre; his singing was beautiful enough to have honored any operatic stage. His sweet tones, full of feeling and tenderness, carried his audience away, away into the paradise of melody. They were enchanted. No wonder the ladies lost their hearts to the fascinating Son of the South. They begged me to bring him again soon—but I never did so; perhaps I was cautious; perhaps it was—jealousy.
One day Angiolino failed to report for work. Several days passed, and we received no tidings from him. We were becoming anxious. At last I decided to call on him —he might be sick.
It was evening when I entered his room. Angiolino seemed somewhat surprised. I noticed that his desk was littered with manuscripts. A journalist, I thought. On the wall I noticed a picture of Victor Hugo, the soldier of Liberty; on the table lay a copy of “Liberta.” At home Angiolino was once editor of that paper. His bold utterances soon attracted the attention of the authorities; persecutions began, and Angiolino fled from Italy to Spain, thence to France and Belgium, finally settling in England. Ah! the mystery of our noble friend is solved, I thought:—Angiolino is a revolutionist.
The English press had reported the bomb-explosion in one of Barcelona’s theatres. The Spanish police began reprisals. Several suspects were shot and a large number of radicals were arrested. The Government attempted to force confessions from the prisoners; the means resorted to reminded one of the Inquisition. Some of those unfortunates, subsequently banished, reached London in a terribly mutilated condition.
Among them were friends of Angiolino. The latter, being in constant communication with Spain, was well informed about the details of the arrest and torture. All this I learned incidentally.
Angiolino seemed deeply moved. There was a pause. He was evidently trying to think. For a while all was silence, and then, overcome with grief, he suddenly began to weep,—sobbingly, heartbreakingly.
I was painfully affected.
Then Angiolino rose. “Canovas, Canovas!” he cried. A passionate outburst followed in his native Italian, which I did not understand; then some phrases in English and then again Italian. I understood, however, that Canovas—then Spain’s Prime Minister—was being charged with the responsibility for all that was happening; Canovas, the heartless dictator during the Queen Regents regime,—the man who perpetrated those name less atrocities upon the women and children of Cuba,— the beast whose path was strewn with mutilated corpses. His measure was full.
I could do nothing here. I tried to console Angiolino, and then I quietly left.
The next day Angiolino came to our printing shop to bid us good-bye. Englishmen and foreigners, all regretted to see him leave—and none knew whither he was going.
* * *
Seor Antonio Canovas del Castillo, Prime Minister of Spain, sojourned at Santa Agueda. As is usual in such cases, all strangers were carefully kept away from his exalted presence. One exception, however, was made in the case of a distinguished-looking, elegantly dressed Italian—the representative, it was understood, of an important journal. The distinguished gentleman was— Angiolino.
Senor Canovas, about to leave his house, stepped on the veranda. Suddenly Angiolino confronted him. A shot rang out, and Canovas was a corpse.
The wife of the Prime Minister rushed upon the scene. “Murderer! Murderer 1” she cried, pointing at Angiolino. The latter bowed. “Pardon, Madame,” he said, “I respect you as a lady, but I regret that you were the wife of that man.”
* * *
News of Angiolino’s deed was flashed to England. The authorities were investigating his movements in London. Our printing shop was surrounded by detectives, and as we left the office that evening, we were snapshoted. We eagerly bought the papers containing his picture; we recognized the beautiful face.
Calmly Angiolino faced death. Death in its most terrible form—for the man whose soul was as a child’s.
He was garrotted. His body lay, sun-kissed, till the day hid in twilight. And people came,—and pointing the finger of terror and fear they said, “There—the criminal —the cruel murderer——“
My heart was bleeding.
A. Derlitkzki, “Angiolino,” Mother Earth 1, no. 8 (October 1906): 20-23.