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The Journey of Elisa
From Switzerland to America
By Nancy Parker Brummett, Kathy Davis
David C. CookCopyright © 2000 Nancy Parker Brummett
All rights reserved.
Pernambuco, Brazil May, 1853
Elisa Bolli kicked her feet softly against the bottom rail of the big wooden chair in her father's office. As she had on countless Saturday mornings, she was waiting for him to finish his work so the two of them could shop in the marketplace.
"Not too much longer, ma chérie," her father said as he entered figures into a large, leather-bound ledger.
Elisa knew her father, Edouard Bolli, was an important man in Pernambuco, the coastal port in Brazil where her family had lived since he was appointed Swiss Consul. But she wasn't thinking about his duties as Consul or the record keeping that he had to do for his dry-goods business that morning. She just wanted him to finish his work.
While she waited, Elisa picked through a bowl of nuts on the table beside her, choosing the sweet cashews and leaving the big Brazil nuts behind.
Every fifth Saturday it was Elisa's turn to accompany her father into town while her three sisters and brother stayed at home. Although Elisa had enjoyed many such Saturday mornings before, this one was special.
Elisa was almost eleven years old, and her father had promised her a special birthday gift from one of the shops in town. It was also special because Elisa knew it was the last time she would sit in this richly paneled office and look out at the ships in the harbor below as she waited for her father. Before it was her turn to have another Saturday morning with him, her family would sail for North America to join her mother's Swiss relatives in East Tennessee.
"What will become of this furniture when we go, Papa?" Elisa asked as she looked around the room at the big Brazilwood desk and credenza. "Will we be taking it with us?"
"No, dear, it belongs to the consulate. Now be still just a bit longer. No more questions, please. The fewer distractions I have, the sooner we can go shopping."
Elisa couldn't imagine her father not sitting behind the big desk with the marble top. She remembered the day her sister Cecile had agreed to share her Saturday morning with Elisa and the two of them had played house under the desk with their dolls. She wondered who would be sitting in the big leather chair after her father left, but she didn't dare interrupt him to ask. Instead, she crunched on a mouthful of cashew nuts and listened to the tick-tock-tick of the mantel clock and the scritch-scratch-scritch of her father's pen on paper.
Elisa was too hot to move. Because this was a special Saturday morning with Papa, Mama had agreed to let her wear the white cotton dress with the high lace collar usually kept freshly bleached for Sundays. Josepha, the cook, had braided Elisa's dark hair on the sides and fastened the two braids in back with a large white bow. Elisa knew she looked nice, but she was far too warm.
She wished she had brought along some needlework to pass the time. Mama was teaching her to make cross-stitch napkin rings. As it was, she didn't have anything to do besides eat nuts, and she was starting to feel that she'd eaten too many of those already.
"Okay, my little chipmunk," Papa said as he looked over at Elisa, her cheeks full of cashews. "We can go now."
Papa closed the big ledger and put his goose quill pen into the inkwell. Elisa noticed he faltered a bit as he stood, pulling himself up by the arms of his chair. She wondered if he was having another "weak spell" as Mama called them.
Elisa jumped down from the chair and pulled the back of her shirt away from her damp, sweaty legs. It would feel good to be outside again. The only bad thing about being in her father's office on the weekend was that very few of the big windows were open to let in the breeze.
Papa walked slowly to the wooden hat rack in the corner and claimed his new white Panama hat. Elisa thought it was by far the most handsome hat he had ever owned. When it was in place on his head, set at just the right angle, it made her father's eyes look as blue as the ocean the family was soon to cross.
Papa reached out to Elisa, and she put her small hand in his big, strong one. She ran her other hand along the top of the cool marble desk for the last time as they moved toward the door. Elisa thought her father lingered a bit longer than usual before pulling the door closed and turning the big key in the keyhole. Does he find it hard to leave his stately office, knowing it won't be his much longer? Elisa wondered.
Once they were out on the street, Papa seemed to have more energy. He swung Elisa's hand in his. The cool breeze from the harbor felt wonderful and carried the fragrance of laurel blossoms blended with the pungent, fishy smells of the day's catch.
Crossing over the bridge near Papa's office building where the street vendors sold their wares, Papa gave Elisa a coin for candy. She bought one of the bolas quemada, balls of caramel that all the Brazilian children loved. Papa bought a jar of molasses made from sugar cane to take home to Mama.
It seemed to Elisa that Papa knew everyone they passed on the street, or at least that they knew him. He wasn't the tallest or strongest man in Pernambuco, but when Elisa looked up at him standing so straight in his pressed white suit and new Panama hat, she was sure he was the most handsome.
"Are you still hungry, Miss Bolli?" Papa teased when he saw Elisa gazing through the window of a bakery at all the pastries lined up on silver trays.
"No, Papa, I ate some nuts at your office."
Papa laughed. "I believe you ate them all, my dear—the cashews anyway. But I won't tell your mother you've spoiled your appetite for the noonday meal."
"Where are we going to shop for my special present, Papa?" Elisa asked. She skipped along to keep up with her father's graceful, long strides. They had just passed a shop with wonderful porcelain dolls in the window, and Elisa had been sure that was where her father was leading her.
"You'll soon see, daughter. You're terribly curious for a birthday girl, aren't you?"
Finally they reached the corner shop, the last one before the street turned steeply down the hill to the wharf.
"Let's stop in here just to see what they have," Papa said, and Elisa noticed a twinkle in his eye that hadn't been there before. A tiny silver bell tinkled as Elisa and Papa stepped inside the small shop. Elisa looked around to see leather-bound books lining the walls all the way up to the ceiling. She took a deep breath to take in the wonderful, intoxicating aroma of new paper and leather.
"Oh, Papa, we've come to the bookstore!" she exclaimed. "I wish I could stay here until I read every single book."
"Bonjour, Monsieur Bolli," the shopkeeper said. Although the people of Pernambuco spoke Portuguese, the most educated also spoke French. Since they knew Elisa's father was French, many addressed him in his own language.
"Good day, Henri," Papa said. "Has my package from Paris arrived?"
"It has indeed, sir. Came in with a shipment delivered from the wharf just two days ago."
"None too soon," Papa said. "It's a birthday gift for my second daughter Elisa here. She's turning eleven this week and deserved something very special, so we've come to fetch it."
"Yes, sir. Allow me to bring it out for you," the shopkeeper said.
Elisa's heart was beating so hard she thought she would faint. She looked up into Papa's face. He looked down at her and smiled, and Elisa could tell he was almost as excited about her gift as she was.
"Papa, my special gift is from Paris?" Elisa exclaimed. "What is it?"
"Something I hope you will cherish all your life, Elisa."
Elisa had been born in Paris in 1842, but she had lived in Brazil since she was four years old, so she didn't really remember much about France. She only knew that the very finest things came from Paris. It was in Paris that Papa bought the rosepoint lace used to make a veil for his French-speaking Swiss bride, Elisa's mother, when the two were married in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Each Christmas, all the Bolli children anxiously awaited Grandfather Bolli's box from Paris. He sent wonderful books, games, elegant dresses, and dolls with wax heads, curly hair, and eyes that would open and shut. Tucked in among the tissue-paper bundles the children would find creamy chocolates and other fancy candies.
Elisa also loved the two globes that Grandfather Bolli had sent from Paris—one terrestrial and one celestial. It was because of those beautiful globes that she loved geography. So anything from Paris held a special charm for Elisa and the other children of Elise and Edouard Bolli.
Elisa thought the shopkeeper would never return with Papa's package for her. Soon she heard the sound of his footsteps approaching, and he emerged from behind the cream-colored curtain that divided the front part of the shop from the storage room.
In his hands was a small package, but Elisa still didn't know what her gift was because the package was wrapped brown paper and tied with string.
"Shall we have a look at it?" Papa teased.
"Yes, let's!" Elisa exclaimed.
The storekeeper took a knife and cut the string carefully in two places. Slowly, very slowly it seemed to Elisa, he unwrapped the brown paper.
Elisa was up on her toes at this point, her hands clutching the edge of the counter and her eyes as round as the face of the mantel clock in Papa's office. Then she saw it—the most elegant brown leather Bible in the world.
"Oh, Papa! It's so beautiful!" she exclaimed. "Is it really mine?"
"Yes, honey. Your mother and I thought it was time for you to have a Bible of your own. This one is written in French. I know you've learned to speak and read Portuguese since you've lived here, but French is your native language—one that will serve you better once we are united with our French-Swiss relatives in America. We want you to have it for your birthday so you can practice your French. But more importantly, so that you will learn the truth God reveals to us through His Word and bury it deep within your heart."
The Bolli children attended an Episcopal church with their parents each Sunday, but there was no Sunday School for them to attend. It was at home that they heard the Bible stories and Scripture verses that encouraged them to live every day as children of the King. Elisa knew her father valued the Holy Bible far above all other books, because it was the inspired Word of God.
Papa handed the shopkeeper several large bills, and the shopkeeper moved to his cash register to make change. Elisa reached up and gently touched the front cover of the Bible, letting her fingers move lightly over the raised filigree border and letters.
"It's the most wonderful gift ever, Papa, and I promise I'll cherish it forever," Elisa said.
"Just as I'll cherish you, precious daughter," Papa said. "Just as I'll cherish you."CHAPTER 2
The shopkeeper rewrapped the Bible in the brown paper and handed it to Elisa. Because it was small, the Bible was almost as thick as it was wide. It looked like a small jewelry box when it was wrapped. Elisa carried the package to the door of the shop, but then gave it to her father to carry for fear she might drop it on the way home.
Elisa almost floated down the sidewalk. In fact, she was so full of joy that she might have floated completely away if her father hadn't been holding her hand. Her mind was full of questions as she glanced again and again in the direction of the Bible to make sure her father still had it.
Where should she keep it so the smaller children in the family wouldn't tear the pages? What should she read first? The story of David and Goliath, or the Psalms her mother always read aloud while the girls worked on their embroidery samplers in the evening?
"What do you think I should read first, Papa?" Elisa asked. "Should I begin in Genesis and read straight through?"
"That's always a good idea, Elisa, because it helps you understand God's plan for His people throughout time. However, it's the Gospel story I want you to know the best. Why don't you begin with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John?"
"Okay, Papa! I'll read them all!" Elisa exclaimed as the two of them turned into Rua D'Aurora, the street where they lived.
"Are you feeling all right, Papa?" Elisa asked when she noticed her father seemed a bit short of breath.
"I'm fine, dear. Go on ahead. I'll be along soon."
Elisa let go of Papa's hand and ran down the lane toward the big brick house that was home to the Swiss Consul and his family.
In the front courtyard her little sister Adele, the youngest of the five Bolli children, was chasing a calico cat through the trellis-covered garden. Close behind her was the children's nursemaid, Maria. Adele had taken a bad fall off a stone wall when the family was on vacation at their country house several summers ago. Everyone was just a bit more careful of her since her long convalescence.
"Adele, Papa bought me a beautiful French Bible!" Elisa called out as she picked up her little sister under the arms and began swinging her around.
"Dear me, Miss Elisa! Do be careful with her," Maria exclaimed.
"Sorry, Maria. I'm just so excited I have to tell everyone. Do you know where Mama is? And where's Cecile?"
"Everyone's inside," Maria explained. "The packing materials arrived, and your mother is beginning to pack. I should be helping, but I can't just yet."
The embassy provided three servants for the Bolli family.
Sabino was a young man with tattoos on his face and arms. He went to market, carried wood and water, mopped the floors, and ran errands.
Josepha, the big ebony cook, ruled the kitchen that occupied most of the third floor of the house. She also oversaw the pantry where all the china and crystal that the Bollis needed to entertain was displayed on wide wooden shelves.
But as the children's nursemaid, it was Maria, a young woman with skin the color of coffee and cream, who would miss the family more than anyone. It was hard for her to help with the packing when she didn't want the children to leave at all.
Elisa set Adele down carefully and then ran into the house. She passed between the bathroom and storeroom on the first floor. Then she took the stairs two at a time until she arrived on the second floor where the bedrooms, parlor, and dining room were. A large veranda off the parlor looked toward the sea. Another, off the dining room, overlooked the garden where pomegranate, fig, and laurel trees created a canopy over the grapevines, roses, and camellias.
Elisa found her mother in the parlor, leaning over a large wooden barrel.
"Mama! Papa gave me the Bible! It's so beautiful, Mama. I know it's from you, too. Thank you so much."
"You're very welcome, Elisa," Mama said as she straightened up and tucked a strand of loose brown hair back into the bun on the back of her head. "I know you will take very good care of it—and it will reveal God's truth to you."
Elisa stood with her arms around her mother's slender waist and looked up into the pretty face and dark brown eyes that she loved so much. She told her mother all about her morning with Papa and the wonderful bookstore with all the leather-bound books.
"Happy birthday, dear girl," Mama said at last as she gave Elisa a kiss on her forehead. "Now, it's time we started thinking about getting packed for our move to America. Cecile, Albertine, and Emmanuel are already in their rooms sorting through their things, and Maria has promised to help Adele with hers later. You need to go to your room and begin to decide what to pack. Remember, we can't take everything."
"I will, Mama, I promise—but first I want to read my Bible," Elisa said. Just then Papa entered the room with the prized package under his arm. Elisa ran to retrieve it from him.
"One hour, then we'll eat, and then you really must get busy packing," Mama said.
"Yes, Mama, I promise," Elisa said. She carried her Bible out onto the veranda and nestled into the cushion of a large cane chair. She could hear the pigeons cooing in the pigeon roost below the veranda as she opened the Bible for the first time.
The feel of the smooth white pages under her fingers was just as wonderful as Elisa had imagined it would be. Carefully, she turned the pages one by one, moving quickly through the Old Testament but slowing down once she got to the Gospels.
Elisa was aware of the sounds of packing going on behind her in the house. Still, the family activity seemed far away from the place where she dwelled with her Bible and the Gospel according to Matthew. The French words were a bit strange at first because she was used to reading Portuguese, but the story was familiar. Soon Elisa was able to make out almost every sentence.
Excerpted from The Journey of Elisa by Nancy Parker Brummett, Kathy Davis. Copyright © 2000 Nancy Parker Brummett. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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