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Authors: Paul Gallico

The Small Miracle

BOOK: The Small Miracle
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T
HIS
simple and sincere story of the faith—and determination—of a little Italian boy from modern Assisi has, like its predecessor in the same genre,
The Snow Goose,
gained the admiration and affection of many thousands of readers. First published in 1951, it has sold close on 150,000 copies in the original English edition alone. Filmed under the title
Never Take No For An Answer
it has made one of the best loved pictures of recent years.

This new edition is illustrated with 28 four-color drawings by David Knight. They catch admirably the touching charm of Paul Gallico’s story.

“All our god-children who can read may be given
The Small Miracle . . .
The book will also convert unconverted parents if not to Christianity at least to greater charity. It is a story of a small boy in modern Assisi . . . His love and livelihood are a donkey named Violetta. This donkey falls ill and the small miracle is the way the boy obtains the Pope’s permission to take his donkey into the church where the bones of St. Francis are buried. It is told by Paul Gallico with exquisite touchingness and no waste of words.”

JOHN BETJEMAN
(
Daily Telegraph
)

“Has the magical touch of
The Snow Goose . . .
written with great craftsmanship and simplicity it is a moving, sincere and human story.”

THE QUEEN MAGAZINE

First published by

MICHAEL JOSEPH LTD
26
Bloomsbury Street
London, W.C.
1

NOVEMBER
1951

This edition first published
1953

To
ST. FRANCIS
a man among
saints

The beautiful setting of Assisi is clearly essential for the purposes of this story. But the characters exist only in the imagination of the author and are not based upon any real persons. They are delineated as they are for purely literary reasons.

T H E   S M A L L
M I R A C L E

A
PPROACHING Assisi via the chalky, dusty road that twists its way up Monte Subasio, now revealing, now concealing the exquisite little town, as it winds its way through olive and cypress groves, you eventually reach a division where your choice lies between an upper and a lower route.

If you select the latter, you soon find yourself entering Assisi through the twelfth-century archway of the denticulated door of St. Francis. But if, seduced by the clear air, the wish to mount even closer to the canopy of blue Italian sky and expose still more of the delectable view of the rich Umbrian valley below, you choose the upper way, you and your vehicle eventually become inextricably entangled in the welter of humanity, oxen, goats, bawling calves, mules, fowl, children, pigs, booths and carts gathered at the market place outside the walls.

It is here you would be most likely to encounter Pepino, with his donkey Violetta, hard at work, turning his hand to anything whereby a small boy and a strong, willing beast of burden could win for themselves the crumpled ten and twenty lira notes needed to buy food and pay for lodging in the barn of Niccolo the stableman.

Pepino and Violetta were everything to each other. They were a familiar sight about Assisi and its immediate environs—the thin brown boy, ragged and barefooted, with the enormous dark eyes, large ears, and close-cropped, upstanding hair, and the dust-colored little donkey with the Mona Lisa smile.

Pepino was ten years old and an orphan, his father, mother and near relatives having been killed in the war. In self-reliance, wisdom and demeanor he was, of course, much older, a circumstance aided by his independence, for Pepino was an unusual orphan in that having a heritage he need rely on no one. Pepino’s heritage was Violetta.

She was a good, useful and docile donkey, alike as any other with friendly, gentle eyes, soft taupe-colored muzzle, and long, pointed brown ears, with one exception that distinguished her. Violetta had a curious expression about the corners of her mouth, as though she were smiling gently over something that amused or pleased her. Thus, no matter what kind of work, or how much she was asked to do, she always appeared to be performing it with a smile of quiet satisfaction. The combination of Pepino’s dark lustrous eyes and Violetta’s smile was so harmonious that people favored them and they were able not only to earn enough for their keep but, aided and advised by Father Damico, the priest of their parish, to save a little as well.

There were all kinds of things they could do—carry loads of wood or water, deliver purchases carried in the panniers that thumped against Violetta’s sides, hire out to help pull a cart mired in the mud, aid in the olive harvest, and even, occasionally, help some citizen who was too encumbered with wine to reach his home on foot, by means of a four-footed taxi with Pepino walking beside to see that the drunkard did not fall off.

But this was not the only reason for the love that existed between boy and donkey, for Violetta was more than just the means of his livelihood. She was mother to him, and father, brother, playmate, companion, and comfort. At night, in the straw of Niccolo’s stable, Pepino slept curled up close to her when it was cold, his head pillowed on her neck.

Since the mountainside was a rough world for a small boy, he was sometimes beaten or injured, and then he could creep to her for comfort and Violetta would gently nuzzle his bruises. When there was joy in his heart, he shouted songs into her waving ears; when he was lonely and hurt, he could lean his head against her soft, warm flank and cry out his tears.

On his part, he fed her, watered her, searched her for ticks and parasites, picked stones from her hoofs, scratched and groomed and curried her, lavished affection on her, particularly when they were alone, while in public he never beat her with the donkey stick more than was necessary. For this treatment Violetta made a god of Pepino, and repaid him with loyalty, obedience and affection.

Thus, when one day in the early spring Violetta fell ill, it was the most serious thing that had ever happened to Pepino. It began first with an unusual lethargy that would respond neither to stick nor caresses, nor the young, strident voice urging her on. Later Pepino observed other symptoms and a visible loss of weight. Her ribs, once so well padded, began to show through her sides. But most distressing, either through a change in the conformation of her head, due to growing thinner or because of the distress of the illness, Violetta lost her enchanting and lovable smile.

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