This whimsical and dark bit of fiction was written by my grandfather, Delbert M. Draper, Sr., and printed in Vol. 1, No. 1, of the University Pen (a student organ of the University of Utah) in January, 1910. G’pa served as the Editor-in-Chief of the publication.
ANTONIO JACKETTA came to America in 1897. He came because the doctor told him, he would die of heart failure in less than five years if he remained in Italy. Antonio was a poor laborer, but his wife and five little black-eyed boys and girls loved him without longing for riches. He was a faithful laborer, moreover, and his wife was so industrious and economical that when the doctor’s rather startling announcement came, she had enough money saved to pay Antonio’s fare to the extreme western part of the United States, where wages were two dollars a day. At that enormous rate Antonio hoped to save enough in two years, at the most, to pay for the transportation of his whole family to the little castle he had already builded in the air.
Arriving in the West, he found conditions as favorable as he expected. He got a job on the railroad, which kept him busy seven days of the week, and, better still, the new climate made him forget that he had a heart, except as the region about it filled with a longing for a tender and happy reunion with his family.
For six months he labored, and for six months he saved, taking time for no other amusement than to read and answer letters from home. His savings were growing into a shining heap, which he counted fondly, not because he was miserly, but because it would soon remove the broad sea that separated him from his loved ones. The size an jingle of the pile set Antonio to calculating on the possibility of sending for them at the end of the year. His figures said it could be done, barring accidents, and provided he gave up on the idea of a home. Without stating plainly his purpose, he wrote to his wife, covertly hinting at the new possibility, though he did not conceal the fact that the luxury of a home would have to be foregone. In doubtful expectation he, awaited his wife’s reply.
Mrs. Jacketta had been a lace-maker before her marriage, and no sooner had Antonio sailed for America than she began making Venetian lace, which she sold to tourists at a fair profit. It was not without pride, then, that she answered Antonio: “I have half enough money of my own to build a cottage, and the soonest you can name for our sailing will seem a great way off to us.”
Poor Antonio cried when, he got this letter, and thanked the blessed Virgin for so dear a helpmate. On the fourth day following this happy settlement Antonio pitched twice as much dirt as his companions, but on the fifth day, every time he stooped to fill his shovel he felt a little catch in his left side that made him slacken his pace. The next day he pitched only half as much gravel as the laziest man of the gang, for which he was called a measly dago and threatened with discharge. On the seventh day he was unable to work at all, and on the eighth day he was in the hospital, vacillating between life and death. Excitement and over-exertion had renewed his old affliction in an aggravated form. But Antonio was no weakling in will; he refused to die while he had so much for which to live. His recovery might have been more speedy than it was had he known that the railroad company paid the doctor bills of its employees, but he didn’t know, and consequently he was much depressed when he considered how time and money were slipping from his grasp. He improved most rapidly when his mind was in Italy or when enjoying the doctor’s kindly smile and the nurse’s gentle touch, in an atmosphere infinitely sweeter than that of the railroad.
Slowly but surely he regained his strength, and as soon as he was able to be about he visited the doctor at his office. “You have been a very kind to me, doctor,” he said. “You save a de life. But I got a de mon’. I pay all. How much, doctor?”
Antonio had been in the hospital twenty-six days and he judged that the doctor’s time was worth about twice as much as his, on which basis his bill would run up to about one-hundred dollars. Paying this would reduce his savings to two hundred dollars, and at the same time remove the arrival of his wife several months. But he was patient and glad matters were no worse.
The doctor looked at him rather whimsically .He had already received his fee from the railroad company; but here was an opportunity for a practical joke too good to pass. So he said: “You’re a pretty good fellow, Antonio, and I don’t mean to be hard on you. I’ll let you off for five hundred dollars.”
Antonio looked up with wild, staring eyes, and then sank in a heap in the big arm chair. The doctor hastened to raise the limp body, but the face was pallid and the heart was still.