One winter's day, Carlo Gatti selling coffee and waffles at his kiosk near Blackfriar's Bridge, sees an Italian organ-grinder beating his tiny assistant. It reminds Carlo of the dreadful beating he received as a boy - the reason why he ran away from his native village, Dongio, across the Alps 600 miles to Paris to his father in Les Halles in Paris - and why indeed he is here in London.
Closing up the kiosk, Carlo begins his walk back to Holborn, when he sees a pile of rags in the gutter. It is the Italian child, starved and unconscious. He carries him back to his lodgings where he lives with his wife and children, Stephano and Rosa. The child, about six, only knows his name as Ragazzo - boy. He has no memory of where he comes from, but he speaks an Italian dialect. Carlo takes him in as a servant.
The Gatti family live above a shop where artificial flowers are
made. Ragazzo meets the women who work there and little Carrie Pye, the
daughter of one of the workers.
One day he and Stephano go out with Carlo and his men
collecting ice from the Regent's Canal. On return Stephano falls ill and dies
in a few days. Ragazzo is drawn closer into the family, and this makes him long
to know who he is and where he comes from.
On the night of the funeral, another immigrant, Battista Bolla
appears. He is a trained chocolatier. Together he and Carlo set up a
chocolate-making business and the family move to Holborn Hill. Carrie comes
Ragazzo begins to learn the back-breaking business of making
chocolate by hand. Later a mixing machine is introduced and Carlo submits a
model of this for the Great Exhibition. He is at the Exhibition on one of the
days, Queen Victoria makes a visit.
Hearing of Carlo's increasing success in London, his two
brothers from Paris, decide to come over to seek their fortune. The arrival of
these rather superior people cast doubt on Ragazzo's relationship with Rosa and
the rest of the family. He is sent to work as a shop boy at Hungerford
In 1854, a Panorama of the Duke of Wellington's Funeral catches
fire at the Hall. Carlo's shop is in danger. Ragazzo runs to Holborn to call
Carlo and his men, who help the newly formed Fire Service to save the
A year later, Hungerford Market is rebuilt and Carlo has established a new cafe and introduced the penny ice cream to the public for the first time. Ragazzo works as a waiter at the café, until Carlo decides it is he who will introduce the penny ice on the streets of London. He has many adventures and is attacked by a gang of boys.
For several summers he sells ice cream in the Strand. Here he
meets a school boy, Tom Crampton, from King's College who tells him about his
school. One day Tom invites him to tea and Ragazzo sees the wealth and luxury
in which Tom lives.
Back in the cafe, Ragazzo develops ambitions to be a
confectioner. Just as he is to ask Carlo for training, Carlo announces a new
business venture - the Norwegian Ice Trade. He will import ice from Norway and
sell it in London.
Insisting that this is where the big opportunities lie, Carlo
appoints Ragazzo as an assistant to one of the deliverymen, to learn the
business from the grass roots. He works in the West End. Once again he is
pestered by a gang of boys. They involve him in a theft. On the way to the
Police Station, he escapes, runs down to the docks and stows away on a
In Carlo's interview with the Police about the theft, it is
revealed that Ragazzo has a birthmark. A waiter, newly arrived from the Ticino,
tells the story of a little boy, Luigi Derighetti, who was stolen from his
village, years ago. The Derighettis are related to the Gattis.
The same morning, Ragazzo is discovered on the ship. The
Captain takes pity on him and allows him to work his passage. As 'last on', he
is made cook and greatly endears himself to the crew.
For a year he serves on the Grimsby run, returning in the
winter to Norway, where like other sailors he is employed in the ice business -
ploughing the lakes, cutting the ice into blocks and storing it for the spring
The following autumn the ship returns to London. Ragazzo is
recognised by the Weighmaster, Luke Corazza, who tells him his innocence had
been proved and that Carlo has important news.
Ragazzo goes to find Carlo. He is in a new restaurant in the
Strand. Carlo immediately wants to cheek his identity. A great family party is
held in honour of Luigi Derighetti. Carlo is anxious to advance Luigi in the
family business. Ragazzo still wants to be a confectioner.
That night he goes with his cousins to Gatti's new Music Hall. A very pretty girl sings an Irish air. He discovers she is his childhood friend, Carrie Pye. He is confused and troubled by his new identity. Who is he, Luigi or Ragazzo? And where does belong? It comes to him that London is his home. He is Ragazzo and always will be. He will be a confectioner and, we suppose, he will marry Carrie.