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Agnes M. Dunne

The Captive


Early one morning, Antonio, a noble youth of sixteen, was wandering by the seashore. He had just come from a high school in Salerno, Italy, and wished to spend the Easter holidays at his father's ancestral home. The earth looked gay in all the beauty of spring, and the sea shone in the rosy light of the morning sun. Antonio's heart glowed with adoration as he gazed upon the scene, and he thanked the Creator of all these wonders. With hurried steps he continued his way, thinking of his home and the reception awaiting him.

His parents were of noble birth. They had lost considerable property and money; but they desired to give their son every advantage and—what was worth more than money—an excellent education. From his earliest childhood, they had taught him to reverence God and respect the laws. All his talents were being carefully developed. At a great personal sacrifice, they had sent him to the high school. Here Antonio denied himself many pleasures in which his richer classmates indulged, and tried in every way to live economically. He made no secret of his lack of money, nor did he envy those who possessed more than he did. So on this particular morning we find Antonio saving traveling expenses by making the journey to his home on foot.

The path led through some tall bushes and curved around a huge rock. Here he suddenly espied a queer looking vessel lying at anchor. Several men with swarthy faces, clothed in a strange, odd fashion, were drawing water from a spring which gushed from the rock. They were pirates from Algiers. As soon as they caught sight of the boy, they sprang upon him, like tigers upon a harmless lamb, seized him, dragged him to the ship, robbed him of his beautiful clothing, dressed him like a slave, bound him hand and foot and placed him beside some other captives, who greeted Antonio with loud cries.

When Antonio had recovered from the first great shock, he folded his chained hands, and turning his eyes towards the heavens, he cried aloud to God for strength to bear this great trial, and for safe deliverance from the hands of his enemies.

The other prisoners, mostly Italians, had understood his prayers and were deeply touched by his great faith. They soon became confidential, and little by little they unfolded to one another the story of their lives. One prisoner, well versed in law, who knew Antonio's father, showed the boy much sympathy. Another prisoner, a sailor, grieved over the old parents whose mainstay he had been for many years. "Oh," sighed he, "now hunger and want will overtake them." Another, a fisherman, somewhat older than the rest, was the saddest of them all. He sat apart at one end of the ship, holding his head in his hand and weeping silently. He was the father of five children. He grieved sorely when he thought what his absence would mean to them. Antonio tried to comfort the old man with the assurance that some rescuer would be sent to save them.

All the prisoners listened to Antonio. His appearance, his friendliness, his cheerfulness, his faith, his trust brightened them all and gave them renewed hope. Then the fisherman stood up and said: "This boy has been sent to cheer us. Let us trust as he does, and some day, perhaps, our chains may be removed." Then he began to sing and all the prisoners joined in the song.

The Slave

The pirates now weighed anchor, and slowly the ship began to move. Antonio watched the mountains, the hills, the temples and the palaces gradually become smaller and smaller and finally fade from view. Then a great pain at leaving his beloved fatherland, his sunny Italy, clutched his heart. Soon he was able to see nothing but the heavens and the vast expanse of water.

For several days the vessel sailed hither and thither, in search of more prey. Suddenly the pirates spied in the distance a warship, which was in pursuit of them. The prisoners rejoiced in silence and felt buoyed by the hope of an early rescue. The pirates lashed the prisoners to greater activity, and made them help with the oars. Under cover of the night, the pirates made their escape.

As the morning sun broke over the sea, Antonio gazed upon the waters, and saw nothing of the warship. His heart sank, and he could scarcely repress his tears. But suddenly he raised his voice, and said to his fellow-prisoners, "Though our trusting prayers have not been answered, they will not pass unheeded, and our deliverance will surely come."

In less than an hour they saw in the distance the city of Algiers, glistening in the sunlight. Little by little they were able to distinguish the houses, and the Temple of the Turks, with the sign of the Crescent upon it.

The ship anchored, the prisoners were landed, and after a short rest were led through the narrow, dirty streets to the market place. Here they were exhibited for sale like cattle. The purchasers passed among the prisoners, and examined them as they would horses. In order to display their strength, the prisoners were obliged to lift heavy stones, placed there for that purpose. Many sales were made. The lawyer, the sailor and several others went for a good price. As Antonio could not lift the heavier stones, the buyers considered him too weak for a slave and scornfully passed him by.

A little removed from the crowd, there stood a merchant with a very wrinkled face, who seemed to be taking but little interest in the sale. After all the captives had been sold, except Antonio, the merchant stepped nearer, put on his spectacles, and surveyed Antonio from head to foot. He examined his hands, and hesitated when he found them soft and white. "But," said the merchant, speaking in Italian, "there must be something that you have learned." Antonio thought a moment, and not wishing to hide anything, said confidently that he could do clerical work and could write in the Italian and French languages. "Hm, hm," said the merchant, "that is something, but what else can you do?"

Antonio said, "I understand Latin and Greek."

"Oh, my, such wares we cannot use here. Is there nothing else that you know?"

"Yes," answered Antonio, "I can sing and play the guitar."

"I wish I had an instrument at hand," said the merchant; "but suppose you sing a song for me."

Antonio did as the old man wished, and his voice was sweet and clear.

The merchant offered three gold pieces for Antonio, but as the dealers kept on raising the price, the merchant shrugged his shoulders, turned and went on.

The pirates called him back and offered him the boy for ten gold pieces. The merchant paid the price, and the boy belonged to him.

It grieved Antonio to think that he had been bought like a horse or a dog; but his trust and faith were so steadfast that he knew, in the fullness of time, some good would result from it.

The merchant was named Jesseph. He carried on a slave business, but only occasionally. Slaves who were accustomed to rough, hard work he never deigned to purchase; such as were young, active, refined or clever suited his purpose best. Besides, he tried to buy at the lowest figure, and sell at a great profit. He certainly hoped to sell Antonio at a high price.

When he reached home, he said to his overseer: "See what a fine specimen I have brought. Notice his manly bearing and refined, handsome face. See the intelligence that beams from his eyes. All these things fill me with the expectation of soon disposing of him profitably.

"Now," said he, turning to Antonio, "go with my overseer and buy yourself a guitar of the very best make." Then, addressing the overseer, he said, "Be sure you pay the very least amount possible."

When they returned Jesseph bade Antonio play and sing.

"Oh, that is beautiful!" cried he. "That touches the heart. You talk well and you sing well; both are good recommendations and will certainly secure for you a fine position." And, thought he to himself, "will bring me a good price, too."

Jesseph did not try to sell Antonio immediately. He hoped to teach him a little of the language, manners and customs of the Turks, so that he could the better fill a position in a Turkish household. He gave him instruction, and was surprised at his rapid progress. He fed him well and housed him well, and exacted from him daily labor at clerical work. Often Antonio was obliged to unpack large cases of goods; but he performed all the work with patience, cheerfulness and obedience.

In the Turkish Family

A year had slowly passed. One day Jesseph called Antonio to him and said: "I have some good news to impart. I have secured a very desirable position for you, and I am certain that you will meet all the requirements."

Jesseph bade Antonio gather together his things, and provided him with a suitable outfit. At the end of the week, he conducted Antonio to a Turkish house in the heart of the city. The servant, having announced their arrival, ushered them into a magnificent reception room.

The master of the house, a Turk, clad in rich Turkish garments, sat upon a divan, smoking a long bamboo pipe which was filled with fragrant tobacco. Beside him, on a low table, stood a cup of coffee.


The Master of the House

Turning to Antonio, the Turk said, "I have been told that you are a fine singer and player. Let me hear you perform."

Modestly Antonio addressed the Turk and said: "I can sing nothing in your language; I know only Italian songs."

"That will please me, as I understand Italian. Just sing and play what you know best," said the Turk.

Then Antonio, who felt himself an outcast from his own pleasant, sunny Italy, and transported as a captive to Africa, softly lifted his voice, and sang a song of home and fatherland, with deep tenderness and soulfulness.

The Turk listened attentively, the smoke rising from his pipe, and said as soon as the song was ended: "Bravo! your talent exceeds my expectation."

After plying Antonio with a few more questions, he said, "I think you possess the necessary qualifications."

Then the Turk counted out one hundred gold pieces to Jesseph and laid them upon the table. Jesseph counted them and placed them in his leather bag. "Your honor," said he, turning to the Turk, "will be pleased with this bargain, I am sure; and you, Antonio, must show by your good works that you are worthy the price. Live well! Adieu!"

The Turk, Ashmed by name, was a rich merchant who traded extensively with other countries. He wished Antonio to carry on his correspondence with French and Italian merchants, and to serve in his house.

As it was now time to dine, he directed Antonio to prepare himself and then proceed to the dining-room.

Here Antonio became acquainted with the other members of the household. At the table there were four persons, Ashmed, his wife, Fatime, and their two children, a boy and a girl.

As Ashmed's wife removed the veil which had concealed her face, Antonio was struck by her exquisite beauty. The children, who were very well behaved, greeted him in a friendly way and watched him attentively. Antonio tried to do his best, and felt amply repaid when Ashmed said: "Your services this day have pleased us. Now you may sing and play for us."


"Now you may sing and play for us."

As Antonio had noticed the affection which existed in this household, he sang a sweet Italian song of motherly love.

"The song is beautiful," said the girl. And the boy said, "I wish I could sing like that."

"Very well," said the father, "Antonio shall teach you."

The children were overjoyed, and Antonio assured the father that it would give him great pleasure to instruct them. The music served as a bond to draw them closer, and soon the children grew very fond of Antonio. This pleased the parents, and won for Antonio their full appreciation.

The Lion

Ashmed now decided to take his family, Antonio included, to visit his country estate, which lay in the southwestern part of Algeria near the mountains. Here he owned a large house, surrounded by a beautiful garden. A short distance from the house stood a great number of olive trees belonging to the estate. Many slaves were busily employed gathering the olives, which were afterwards pressed to extract the oil.

Shortly after their arrival, Ashmed took his family to view the estate and to watch the laborers finishing their day's work. The sun was fast declining and the men, before leaving the grounds for the day, tried to extinguish a small fire which they had shortly before lighted. They stamped on the burning material and scattered it, leaving a brand or two to die out slowly.

Ashmed and Fatime walked on to view the mountains, whose tops glowed in the sunlight, while the valley lay in shadow. The two children enjoyed themselves chasing insects that looked to them like flying diamonds.

Suddenly there came down the mountain path a ferocious lion, with bristling mane and wide open mouth. All fled toward the house, pale with fright. The little girl, Almira, who could not run so fast, lost her footing and fell helpless on the ground as the lion was approaching her. Antonio quickly seized a glowing fire-brand, swung it in circles and thus renewed the flames. With this fiery torch whirling before him, he walked boldly in the direction of the lion.

He knew that all animals fear fire. The lion stumbled, stood still, shook his mane, uttered a roar that brought a thunderous echo from the mountains, then slowly retreated, always keeping his eyes fixed upon the torch. The enraged lion again stood still, growled and roared louder than before, and once more stood ready to spring. Antonio plucked up courage, and steadily swung his fiery weapon before him. The lion stood still for the third time. Suddenly it turned, trotted up the mountain path, and soon disappeared in the darkness of the approaching night.

In the meantime the frightened child had reached her mother, who had tried hard to save her, but had found herself too helpless to move. Almira sank into her mother's arms, overcome with the shock. The mother pressed her child's pale face close to her own, and their tears mingled. The father turned his eyes, full of gratitude, toward heaven. He drew Antonio, inwardly trembling, close to his side and pressed his hands in silent thanks. Little Aladin caressed his sister and said: "How glad I am that you are saved. If Antonio had not been here, the lion would have eaten you."

The father and mother praised Antonio for his heroism. But Antonio was only too glad to have saved Almira; and at night he thanked God for the strength and courage which He had sent him to save a human life.

The Offer

In his whole life Antonio had never slept so peacefully as he did on this night; never had he arisen from his bed in such a happy frame of mind as on the following morning. He walked out into the garden and gazed for a long time at the sun, just peeping over the hills; he thought it had never shone so brightly. Never had the heavens appeared so blue or the flowers more vivid. Each dewdrop, too, seemed to be more brilliant. All nature proclaimed itself friendlier than ever. With the fragrance of the flowers, his grateful prayer ascended to heaven. As he went about gathering blossoms for the decoration of the house, he met his master, Ashmed, who wished him a pleasant good-morning.

"Come with me; I have something important to tell you," said Ashmed.

He took Antonio affectionately by the hand and led him to a pathway lined on both sides with flowering bushes, where they walked up and down for a few moments in deep silence. After a short pause, Ashmed said: "I am greatly indebted to you, Antonio. You have saved my child. Each moment I realize your bravery more and more fully. From this hour you shall no longer be my slave, but I will look upon you as my son. You shall share all our joys."

For a moment Antonio seemed unable to utter a word, so completely was he lost in thought and overcome with emotion. Oh, the delight of being once more free, with the possibility of some day clasping in his arms his loved ones, still so far away. Suddenly awaking from his reverie, Antonio thanked Ashmed again and again.

Resuming their walk, Antonio talked of his childhood and his home in Italy; and so tenderly and pathetically did he speak of his parents that Ashmed's heart was deeply moved.

Appreciating the confidence and love which he felt drawing him closer and closer to the Turk, Antonio continued the conversation. He vividly described his home and country, and expressed a great longing to visit the familiar scenes again, and be clasped in the arms of his parents.

This awoke in Ashmed a sense of the great loss which Antonio and his parents had suffered. As he had on the previous day almost lost his dear Almira, he now understood much better what the loss of a child could mean. He began to think how noble it would be to restore Antonio to his parents. He said nothing, however, and together they walked toward home.

When Antonio entered the house he found Fatime awaiting her husband.

"Good Antonio!" she cried, as he entered, "you certainly performed a heroic deed yesterday. You snatched my child from death's grasp, and you did it at the risk of your own life."

"It was no more than my duty," said Antonio.

Then Almira took his hand and said: "Antonio, how good you were to save me"; and she kissed him again and again.

Fatime then led him to talk of himself, and became intensely interested in the tale of his home and early training. Her mother's heart went out to the boy who had saved her child.

Breakfast had been long delayed. As Ashmed now entered the room, the meal was soon dispatched, and the children went with Antonio to an adjoining room, where they sang and played till dinner time.

The Plans

Ashmed and Fatime withdrew to the library, and seated themselves to enjoy a quiet half-hour in conversation.

"My dear husband," said his wife, "I wish you had come a few moments sooner, and you would have heard a sad story. It was so full of love and longing that if I could help Antonio get back to his mother I feel that I should be repaying him, in a measure at least, for saving my child. Oh, how much better I understand now what a mother must feel at the loss of a child."

Ashmed's face brightened as he heard these words. "How thankful I am that you are so minded," said he. "I feel just as you do, and I wish to discuss the matter fully with you."

Fatime was ready with plans at once. "You have," said she, "often spoken of taking a trip to Italy and making your residence there. What could better suit your purpose than to do it now. Our treasures of gold and silver, pearls, diamonds and other valuables we could take with us. Our landed estates and all your wares we could sell. Let us do so as soon as possible, and leave Algiers forever."

Ashmed praised his wife for her cleverness, and resolved to carry out her plans immediately.

After a few more months of planning, he met with unusual success in disposing of his property, real and personal, and with his wife, the children and Antonio soon took passage on a steamer bound for Italy.

As the city of Algiers receded from view, Ashmed and his family felt happy. Antonio was the happiest boy in the world. The thought of home and parents made the voyage seem a short one to him; and soon the city of Salerno could be seen in the distance. When the steamer reached port, Ashmed and his family took up their quarters at a hotel, while Antonio was permitted to seek his home and family.

One evening, as Antonio's parents were seated beneath a tree at the door of their cottage, thinking and talking of their loved boy, there came toward them a stranger. At first they did not recognize him as their Antonio, for he had grown taller and his complexion browner; but when they looked into his face, they saw there such an expression of love and tenderness, that they immediately knew their son. Oh, the great joy of this meeting, and the embracing and hand-shaking! Words failed them; for they were so overcome with emotion that they could not speak; but they drew him in triumph into the house. Antonio removed his cloak and stood before them, richly clad, suitable to his station. His mother soon prepared a sumptuous meal for him, and while partaking of it, he related to his parents the events that had occurred during his long absence. They wept over his woes, and rejoiced over his bravery, and praised him for his steadfastness.

At the end of the week Ashmed and his family called upon Antonio's people. Ashmed honored them as if they were his own. He knew, too, that they had met with many financial losses, so he had made out a deed to them, which he handed to them, saying: "As I have been benefited through you and your son, whom you trained so well, and who saved my child, I feel that it is my duty to share my fortune with you. Here is a deed which represents one-fourth of my wealth."

"No—no," answered Antonio's father. "Far be it from me to accept one penny. True, we are not rich; but neither are we poor, and in the return of our long-lost Antonio we feel richly repaid. We offer you our gratitude and thank you for your protection of him, and for your generosity."

"I regret that you will not accept my offer, but I trust you will not prevent me from bestowing it upon your son, Antonio. He has been so well tested that I know riches will not spoil him. Here, my dear Antonio, take this deed."

"I," answered Antonio, "cannot accept your handsome gift, but if I may, I would beg you to use your riches in behalf of those men who were taken captive with me on that pirate ship, particularly the young lawyer, the poor sailor and the old fisherman, and buy their freedom for them. There is a society here in Salerno which devotes its time and attention to the needs of the outcast, the lost and the captive; and as it is in great need of funds, I know that your donation would be most acceptable to it and be productive of much good. I beg you to use the money in this way. A greater charitable work you can never perform."

Ashmed answered: "Not only half, but all of this money, I will give as a ransom for the three unfortunates you name, and for many more."

This greatly pleased Antonio, and he said: "I thank you sincerely, and I am sure that many blessings will be sent you in return."

Restored to Freedom

After searching for a suitable place to settle, Ashmed purchased a beautiful house not far from Antonio's home. The families exchanged visits, and their friendly relations continued for years and years. Antonio resumed his studies at the best colleges, his tuition being paid by his friend and benefactor.

One day, at Eastertide, Antonio returned home for a short visit. Ashmed and his family called upon Antonio, to whom they presented a letter which they had just received. In it, Antonio read the greetings which his friend, the lawyer, extended to him, together with thanks to him and Ashmed for their kind helpfulness in securing his liberty for him.

On the following day, as the guests were all seated at the table, a knock announced some strangers. They were the old fisherman and the young sailor who had been captives with Antonio, but were now free and had come to offer their thanks. It was a touching sight.

Ashmed said, "Don't thank me, but rather this boy. He is your emancipator."

"Yes," said the old fisherman, "this is the boy who appeared to us, like an angel, and comforted us as we sat in chains. We now lay our thanks at his feet."

Antonio waved them back and said, "Thank my dear parents, for they taught me by word and example; and everything I have done is due to their training."

Then Antonio's father stepped into their midst and raising his eyes to heaven, said: "All honor and praise we give to God. As always, He has made everything turn out for the best. He sends us great sorrows for some good purpose; but He also sends us great joys. When a child follows the good instructions received from good parents, makes good use of his talents, and forgets not to be grateful, he will become an instrument of good for the benefit of humanity. Antonio was sent to you in your captivity, and through Antonio you were all led back to your liberty. Let us give thanks."

After a long silence, the conversation again became animated. The men narrated the varied incidents in their lives, and talked about their future prospects.

Ashmed gave the men some ready money with which to start in business, and they promised to repay him as soon as they were able. Ashmed did not wish the money refunded, but they felt that it would be more manly to do this.

As the time for departure arrived, the men bade Antonio and Ashmed good-bye, and were off.

The next day Antonio returned to college. He continued his studies there for several years, and was graduated with high honors.

In the course of time he became an opera singer of international fame. He always maintained a dignified bearing, free from any vanity; and recognizing his gift as coming from God, accepted the praise and acclamation of the world in all humility.

He found time in his busy life to help the needy, and later became a director of the society which we have said was organized for the rescue of the outcast. He devoted his voice, his hands, his strength and his life to the betterment of mankind.