When the novel opens, four children are waiting to be taken into custody of the Sisters of Charity. Their mother has died in the most recent smallpox epidemic, and their father has disappeared. The children all resemble each other, with dark curly hair and blue eyes.
The children are:
Rosa, the eldest, keenly aware of the promise she made to her mother to keep the children together and determined to do so
Tonino, who is very quiet during the medical exam Anna conducts to provide him with a certificate of good health, and who will come into the story again in its last chapters.
Lia, irrepressible, affectionate, tender-hearted, nurturing
Vittorio, a three month old infant