ITALIAN SCHOOLBOY'S JOURNAL
A Book for Boys
EDMONDO DE AMICIS
TRANSLATED FROM THE THIRTY-NINTH ITALIAN EDITION
ISABEL F. HAPGOOD
NEW YORK THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT, 1887, 1895 and 1901.
BY THOMAS Y. CROWELL & COMPANY
BY ISABEL F. HAPGOOD
Printed in the United States of America
THIS book is specially dedicated to the boys of the elementary schools between the ages of nine and thirteen years, and might be entitled: "The Story of a Scholastic Year written by a Pupil of the Third Class of an Italian Municipal School." In saying written by a pupil of the third class, I do not mean to say that it was written by him exactly as it is printed. He noted day by day in a copy-book, as well as he knew how, what he had seen, felt, thought in the school and outside the school; his father at the end of the year wrote these pages on those notes, taking care not to alter the thought, and preserving, when it was possible, the words of his son. Four years later the boy, being then in the lyceum, read over the MSS. and added something of his own, drawing on his memories, still fresh, of persons and of things.
Now read this book, boys; I hope that you will be pleased with it, and that it may do you good.
EDMONDO DE AMICIS.
OCTOBER. PAGE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL 1 OUR MASTER 3 AN ACCIDENT 5 THE CALABRIAN BOY 6 MY COMRADES 8 A GENEROUS DEED 10 MY SCHOOLMISTRESS OF THE UPPER FIRST 12 IN AN ATTIC 14 THE SCHOOL 16 The Little Patriot of Padua 17 THE CHIMNEY-SWEEP 20 THE DAY OF THE DEAD 22
MY FRIEND GARRONE 24 THE CHARCOAL-MAN AND THE GENTLEMAN 26 MY BROTHER'S SCHOOLMISTRESS 28 MY MOTHER 30 MY COMPANION CORETTI 31 THE HEAD-MASTER 35 THE SOLDIERS 38 NELLI'S PROTECTOR 40 THE HEAD OF THE CLASS 42 The Little Vidette of Lombardy 44 THE POOR 50
THE TRADER 52 VANITY 54 THE FIRST SNOW-STORM 56 THE LITTLE MASON 58 A SNOWBALL 61 THE MISTRESSES 62 IN THE HOUSE OF THE WOUNDED MAN 64 The Little Florentine Scribe 66 WILL 75 GRATITUDE 77
THE ASSISTANT MASTER 79 STARDI'S LIBRARY 81 THE SON OF THE BLACKSMITH-IRONMONGER 83 A FINE VISIT 85 THE FUNERAL OF VITTORIO EMANUELE 87 FRANTI EXPELLED FROM SCHOOL 89 The Sardinian Drummer-Boy 91 THE LOVE OF COUNTRY 100 ENVY 102 FRANTI'S MOTHER 104 HOPE 105
A MEDAL WELL BESTOWED 108 GOOD RESOLUTIONS 110 THE ENGINE 112 PRIDE 114 THE WOUNDS OF LABOR 116 THE PRISONER 118 Daddy's Nurse 122 THE WORKSHOP 132 THE LITTLE HARLEQUIN 135 THE LAST DAY OF THE CARNIVAL 139 THE BLIND BOYS 142 THE SICK MASTER 149 THE STREET 151
THE EVENING SCHOOLS 154 THE FIGHT 156 THE BOYS' PARENTS 158 NUMBER 78 160 A LITTLE DEAD BOY 163 THE EVE OF THE FOURTEENTH OF MARCH 164 THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRIZES 166 STRIFE 172 MY SISTER 174 Blood of Romagna 176 THE LITTLE MASON ON HIS SICK-BED 184 COUNT CAVOUR 187
SPRING 189 KING UMBERTO 191 THE INFANT ASYLUM 196 GYMNASTICS 201 MY FATHER'S TEACHER 204 CONVALESCENCE 215 FRIENDS AMONG THE WORKINGMEN 217 GARRONE'S MOTHER 219 GIUSEPPE MAZZINI 221 Civic Valor 223
CHILDREN WITH THE RICKETS 229 SACRIFICE 231 THE FIRE 233 From the Apennines to the Andes 237 SUMMER 276 POETRY 278 THE DEAF-MUTE 280
GARIBALDI 290 THE ARMY 291 ITALY 293 THIRTY-TWO DEGREES 295 MY FATHER 297 IN THE COUNTRY 298 THE DISTRIBUTION OF PRIZES TO THE WORKINGMEN 302 MY DEAD SCHOOLMISTRESS 305 THANKS 308 Shipwreck 309
THE LAST PAGE FROM MY MOTHER 317 THE EXAMINATIONS 318 THE LAST EXAMINATION 321 FAREWELL 323
AN ITALIAN SCHOOLBOY'S JOURNAL.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.
TO-DAY is the first day of school. These three months of vacation in the country have passed like a dream. This morning my mother conducted me to the Baretti schoolhouse to have me enter for the third elementary course: I was thinking of the country and went unwillingly. All the streets were swarming with boys: the two book-shops were thronged with fathers and mothers who were purchasing bags, portfolios, and copy-books, and in front of the school so many people had collected, that the beadle and the policeman found it difficult to keep the entrance disencumbered. Near the door, I felt myself touched on the shoulder: it was my master of the second class, cheerful, as usual, and with his red hair ruffled, and he said to me:—
"So we are separated forever, Enrico?"
I knew it perfectly well, yet these words pained me. We made our way in with difficulty. Ladies, gentlemen, women of the people, workmen, officials, nuns, servants, all leading boys with one hand, and holding the promotion books in the other, filled the anteroom and the stairs, making such a buzzing, that it seemed as though one were entering a theatre. I beheld again with pleasure that large room on the ground floor, with the doors leading to the seven classes, where I had passed nearly every day for three years. There was a throng; the teachers were going and coming. My schoolmistress of the first upper class greeted me from the door of the class-room, and said:—
"Enrico, you are going to the floor above this year. I shall never see you pass by any more!" and she gazed sadly at me. The director was surrounded by women in distress because there was no room for their sons, and it struck me that his beard was a little whiter than it had been last year. I found the boys had grown taller and stouter. On the ground floor, where the divisions had already been made, there were little children of the first and lowest section, who did not want to enter the class-rooms, and who resisted like donkeys: it was necessary to drag them in by force, and some escaped from the benches; others, when they saw their parents depart, began to cry, and the parents had to go back and comfort and reprimand them, and the teachers were in despair.
My little brother was placed in the class of Mistress Delcati: I was put with Master Perboni, up stairs on the first floor. At ten o'clock we were all in our classes: fifty-four of us; only fifteen or sixteen of my companions of the second class, among them, Derossi, the one who always gets the first prize. The school seemed to me so small and gloomy when I thought of the woods and the mountains where I had passed the summer! I thought again, too, of my master in the second class, who was so good, and who always smiled at us, and was so small that he seemed to be one of us, and I grieved that I should no longer see him there, with his tumbled red hair. Our teacher is tall; he has no beard; his hair is gray and long; and he has a perpendicular wrinkle on his forehead: he has a big voice, and he looks at us fixedly, one after the other, as though he were reading our inmost thoughts; and he never smiles. I said to myself: "This is my first day. There are nine months more. What toil, what monthly examinations, what fatigue!" I really needed to see my mother when I came out, and I ran to kiss her hand. She said to me:—
"Courage, Enrico! we will study together." And I returned home content. But I no longer have my master, with his kind, merry smile, and school does not seem pleasant to me as it did before.
My new teacher pleases me also, since this morning. While we were coming in, and when he was already seated at his post, some one of his scholars of last year every now and then peeped in at the door to salute him; they would present themselves and greet him:—
"Good morning, Signor Teacher!" "Good morning, Signor Perboni!" Some entered, touched his hand, and ran away. It was evident that they liked him, and would have liked to return to him. He responded, "Good morning," and shook the hands which were extended to him, but he looked at no one; at every greeting his smile remained serious, with that perpendicular wrinkle on his brow, with his face turned towards the window, and staring at the roof of the house opposite; and instead of being cheered by these greetings, he seemed to suffer from them. Then he surveyed us attentively, one after the other. While he was dictating, he descended and walked among the benches, and, catching sight of a boy whose face was all red with little pimples, he stopped dictating, took the lad's face between his hands and examined it; then he asked him what was the matter with him, and laid his hand on his forehead, to feel if it was hot. Meanwhile, a boy behind him got up on the bench, and began to play the marionette. The teacher turned round suddenly; the boy resumed his seat at one dash, and remained there, with head hanging, in expectation of being punished. The master placed one hand on his head and said to him:—
"Don't do so again." Nothing more.
Then he returned to his table and finished the dictation. When he had finished dictating, he looked at us a moment in silence; then he said, very, very slowly, with his big but kind voice:—
"Listen. We have a year to pass together; let us see that we pass it well. Study and be good. I have no family; you are my family. Last year I had still a mother: she is dead. I am left alone. I have no one but you in all the world; I have no other affection, no other thought than you: you must be my sons. I wish you well, and you must like me too. I do not wish to be obliged to punish any one. Show me that you are boys of heart: our school shall be a family, and you shall be my consolation and my pride. I do not ask you to give me a promise on your word of honor; I am sure that in your hearts you have already answered me 'yes,' and I thank you."
At that moment the beadle entered to announce the close of school. We all left our seats very, very quietly. The boy who had stood up on the bench approached the master, and said to him, in a trembling voice:—
"Forgive me, Signor Master."
The master kissed him on the brow, and said, "Go, my son."
The year has begun with an accident. On my way to school this morning I was repeating to my father these words of our teacher, when we perceived that the street was full of people, who were pressing close to the door of the schoolhouse. Suddenly my father said: "An accident! The year is beginning badly!"
We entered with great difficulty. The big hall was crowded with parents and children, whom the teachers had not succeeded in drawing off into the class-rooms, and all were turning towards the director's room, and we heard the words, "Poor boy! Poor Robetti!"
Over their heads, at the end of the room, we could see the helmet of a policeman, and the bald head of the director; then a gentleman with a tall hat entered, and all said, "That is the doctor." My father inquired of a master, "What has happened?"—"A wheel has passed over his foot," replied the latter. "His foot has been crushed," said another. He was a boy belonging to the second class, who, on his way to school through the Via Dora Grossa, seeing a little child of the lowest class, who had run away from its mother, fall down in the middle of the street, a few paces from an omnibus which was bearing down upon it, had hastened boldly forward, caught up the child, and placed it in safety; but, as he had not withdrawn his own foot quickly enough, the wheel of the omnibus had passed over it. He is the son of a captain of artillery. While we were being told this, a woman entered the big hall, like a lunatic, and forced her way through the crowd: she was Robetti's mother, who had been sent for. Another woman hastened towards her, and flung her arms about her neck, with sobs: it was the mother of the baby who had been saved. Both flew into the room, and a desperate cry made itself heard: "Oh my Giulio! My child!"
At that moment a carriage stopped before the door, and a little later the director made his appearance, with the boy in his arms; the latter leaned his head on his shoulder, with pallid face and closed eyes. Every one stood very still; the sobs of the mother were audible. The director paused a moment, quite pale, and raised the boy up a little in his arms, in order to show him to the people. And then the masters, mistresses, parents, and boys all murmured together: "Bravo, Robetti! Bravo, poor child!" and they threw kisses to him; the mistresses and boys who were near him kissed his hands and his arms. He opened his eyes and said, "My portfolio!" The mother of the little boy whom he had saved showed it to him and said, amid her tears, "I will carry it for you, my dear little angel; I will carry it for you." And in the meantime, the mother of the wounded boy smiled, as she covered her face with her hands. They went out, placed the lad comfortably in the carriage, and the carriage drove away. Then we all entered school in silence.
THE CALABRIAN BOY.
Yesterday afternoon, while the master was telling us the news of poor Robetti, who will have to go on crutches, the director entered with a new pupil, a lad with a very brown face, black hair, large black eyes, and thick eyebrows which met on his forehead: he was dressed entirely in dark clothes, with a black morocco belt round his waist. The director went away, after speaking a few words in the master's ear, leaving beside the latter the boy, who glanced about with his big black eyes as though frightened. The master took him by the hand, and said to the class: "You ought to be glad. To-day there enters our school a little Italian born in Reggio, in Calabria, more than five hundred miles from here. Love your brother who has come from so far away. He was born in a glorious land, which has given illustrious men to Italy, and which now furnishes her with stout laborers and brave soldiers; in one of the most beautiful lands of our country, where there are great forests, and great mountains, inhabited by people full of talent and courage. Treat him well, so that he shall not perceive that he is far away from the city in which he was born; make him see that an Italian boy, in whatever Italian school he sets his foot, will find brothers there." So saying, he rose and pointed out on the wall map of Italy the spot where lay Reggio, in Calabria. Then he called loudly:—
"Ernesto Derossi!"—the boy who always has the first prize. Derossi rose.
"Come here," said the master. Derossi left his bench and stepped up to the little table, facing the Calabrian.
"As the head boy in the school," said the master to him, "bestow the embrace of welcome on this new companion, in the name of the whole class—the embrace of the sons of Piedmont to the son of Calabria."
Derossi embraced the Calabrian, saying in his clear voice, "Welcome!" and the other kissed him impetuously on the cheeks. All clapped their hands. "Silence!" cried the master; "don't clap your hands in school!" But it was evident that he was pleased. And the Calabrian was pleased also. The master assigned him a place, and accompanied him to the bench. Then he said again:—
"Bear well in mind what I have said to you. In order that this case might occur, that a Calabrian boy should be as though in his own house at Turin, and that a boy from Turin should be at home in Calabria, our country fought for fifty years, and thirty thousand Italians died. You must all respect and love each other; but any one of you who should give offence to this comrade, because he was not born in our province, would render himself unworthy of ever again raising his eyes from the earth when he passes the tricolored flag."
Hardly was the Calabrian seated in his place, when his neighbors presented him with pens and a print; and another boy, from the last bench, sent him a Swiss postage-stamp.
The boy who sent the postage-stamp to the Calabrian is the one who pleases me best of all. His name is Garrone: he is the biggest boy in the class: he is about fourteen years old; his head is large, his shoulders broad; he is good, as one can see when he smiles; but it seems as though he always thought like a man. I already know many of my comrades. Another one pleases me, too, by the name of Coretti, and he wears chocolate-colored trousers and a catskin cap: he is always jolly; he is the son of a huckster of wood, who was a soldier in the war of 1866, in the squadron of Prince Umberto, and they say that he has three medals. There is little Nelli, a poor hunchback, a weak boy, with a thin face. There is one who is very well dressed, who always wears fine Florentine plush, and is named Votini. On the bench in front of me there is a boy who is called "the little mason" because his father is a mason: his face is as round as an apple, with a nose like a small ball; he possesses a special talent: he knows how to make a hare's face, and they all get him to make a hare's face, and then they laugh. He wears a little ragged cap, which he carries rolled up in his pocket like a handkerchief. Beside the little mason there sits Garoffi, a long, thin, silly fellow, with a nose and beak of a screech owl, and very small eyes, who is always trafficking in little pens and images and match-boxes, and who writes the lesson on his nails, in order that he may read it on the sly. Then there is a young gentleman, Carlo Nobis, who seems very haughty; and he is between two boys who are sympathetic to me,—the son of a blacksmith-ironmonger, clad in a jacket which reaches to his knees, who is pale, as though from illness, who always has a frightened air, and who never laughs; and one with red hair, who has a useless arm, and wears it suspended from his neck; his father has gone away to America, and his mother goes about peddling pot-herbs. And there is another curious type,—my neighbor on the left,—Stardi—small and thickset, with no neck,—a gruff fellow, who speaks to no one, and seems not to understand much, but stands attending to the master without winking, his brow corrugated with wrinkles, and his teeth clenched; and if he is questioned when the master is speaking, he makes no reply the first and second times, and the third time he gives a kick: and beside him there is a bold, cunning face, belonging to a boy named Franti, who has already been expelled from another district. There are, in addition, two brothers who are dressed exactly alike, who resemble each other to a hair, and both of whom wear caps of Calabrian cut, with a peasant's plume. But handsomer than all the rest, the one who has the most talent, who will surely be the head this year also, is Derossi; and the master, who has already perceived this, always questions him. But I like Precossi, the son of the blacksmith-ironmonger, the one with the long jacket, who seems sickly. They say that his father beats him; he is very timid, and every time that he addresses or touches any one, he says, "Excuse me," and gazes at them with his kind, sad eyes. But Garrone is the biggest and the nicest.
A GENEROUS DEED.
It was this very morning that Garrone let us know what he is like. When I entered the school a little late, because the mistress of the upper first had stopped me to inquire at what hour she could find me at home, the master had not yet arrived, and three or four boys were tormenting poor Crossi, the one with the red hair, who has a dead arm, and whose mother sells vegetables. They were poking him with rulers, hitting him in the face with chestnut shells, and were making him out to be a cripple and a monster, by mimicking him, with his arm hanging from his neck. And he, alone on the end of the bench, and quite pale, began to be affected by it, gazing now at one and now at another with beseeching eyes, that they might leave him in peace. But the others mocked him worse than ever, and he began to tremble and to turn crimson with rage. All at once, Franti, the boy with the repulsive face, sprang upon a bench, and pretending that he was carrying a basket on each arm, he aped the mother of Crossi, when she used to come to wait for her son at the door; for she is ill now. Many began to laugh loudly. Then Crossi lost his head, and seizing an inkstand, he hurled it at the other's head with all his strength; but Franti dodged, and the inkstand struck the master, who entered at the moment, full in the breast.
All flew to their places, and became silent with terror.
The master, quite pale, went to his table, and said in a constrained voice:—
"Who did it?"
No one replied.
The master cried out once more, raising his voice still louder, "Who is it?"
Then Garrone, moved to pity for poor Crossi, rose abruptly and said, resolutely, "It was I."
The master looked at him, looked at the stupefied scholars; then said in a tranquil voice, "It was not you."
And, after a moment: "The culprit shall not be punished. Let him rise!"
Crossi rose and said, weeping, "They were striking me and insulting me, and I lost my head, and threw it."
"Sit down," said the master. "Let those who provoked him rise."
Four rose, and hung their heads.
"You," said the master, "have insulted a companion who had given you no provocation; you have scoffed at an unfortunate lad, you have struck a weak person who could not defend himself. You have committed one of the basest, the most shameful acts with which a human creature can stain himself. Cowards!"
Having said this, he came down among the benches, put his hand under Garrone's chin, as the latter stood with drooping head, and having made him raise it, he looked him straight in the eye, and said to him, "You are a noble soul."
Garrone profited by the occasion to murmur some words, I know not what, in the ear of the master; and he, turning towards the four culprits, said, abruptly, "I forgive you."
MY SCHOOLMISTRESS OF THE UPPER FIRST.
My schoolmistress has kept her promise which she made, and came to-day just as I was on the point of going out with my mother to carry some linen to a poor woman recommended by the Gazette. It was a year since I had seen her in our house. We all made a great deal of her. She is just the same as ever, a little thing, with a green veil wound about her bonnet, carelessly dressed, and with untidy hair, because she has not time to keep herself nice; but with a little less color than last year, with some white hairs, and a constant cough. My mother said to her:—
"And your health, my dear mistress? You do not take sufficient care of yourself!"
"It does not matter," the other replied, with her smile, at once cheerful and melancholy.
"You speak too loud," my mother added; "you exert yourself too much with your boys."
That is true; her voice is always to be heard; I remember how it was when I went to school to her; she talked and talked all the time, so that the boys might not divert their attention, and she did not remain seated a moment. I felt quite sure that she would come, because she never forgets her pupils; she remembers their names for years; on the days of the monthly examination, she runs to ask the director what marks they have won; she waits for them at the entrance, and makes them show her their compositions, in order that she may see what progress they have made; and many still come from the gymnasium to see her, who already wear long trousers and a watch. To-day she had come back in a great state of excitement, from the picture-gallery, whither she had taken her boys, just as she had conducted them all to a museum every Thursday in years gone by, and explained everything to them. The poor mistress has grown still thinner than of old. But she is always brisk, and always becomes animated when she speaks of her school. She wanted to have a peep at the bed on which she had seen me lying very ill two years ago, and which is now occupied by my brother; she gazed at it for a while, and could not speak. She was obliged to go away soon to visit a boy belonging to her class, the son of a saddler, who is ill with the measles; and she had besides a package of sheets to correct, a whole evening's work, and she has still a private lesson in arithmetic to give to the mistress of a shop before nightfall.
"Well, Enrico," she said to me as she was going, "are you still fond of your schoolmistress, now that you solve difficult problems and write long compositions?" She kissed me, and called up once more from the foot of the stairs: "You are not to forget me, you know, Enrico!" Oh, my kind teacher, never, never will I forget thee! Even when I grow up I will remember thee and will go to seek thee among thy boys; and every time that I pass near a school and hear the voice of a schoolmistress, I shall think that I hear thy voice, and I shall recall the two years that I passed in thy school, where I learned so many things, where I so often saw thee ill and weary, but always earnest, always indulgent, in despair when any one acquired a bad trick in the writing-fingers, trembling when the examiners interrogated us, happy when we made a good appearance, always kind and loving as a mother. Never, never shall I forget thee, my teacher!
IN AN ATTIC.
Yesterday afternoon I went with my mother and my sister Sylvia, to carry the linen to the poor woman recommended by the newspaper: I carried the bundle; Sylvia had the paper with the initials of the name and the address. We climbed to the very roof of a tall house, to a long corridor with many doors. My mother knocked at the last; it was opened by a woman who was still young, blond and thin, and it instantly struck me that I had seen her many times before, with that very same blue kerchief that she wore on her head.
"Are you the person of whom the newspaper says so and so?" asked my mother.
"Yes, signora, I am."
"Well, we have brought you a little linen." Then the woman began to thank us and bless us, and could not make enough of it. Meanwhile I espied in one corner of the bare, dark room, a boy kneeling in front of a chair, with his back turned towards us, who appeared to be writing; and he really was writing, with his paper on the chair and his inkstand on the floor. How did he manage to write thus in the dark? While I was saying this to myself, I suddenly recognized the red hair and the coarse jacket of Crossi, the son of the vegetable-pedler, the boy with the useless arm. I told my mother softly, while the woman was putting away the things.
"Hush!" replied my mother; "perhaps he will feel ashamed to see you giving alms to his mother: don't speak to him."
But at that moment Crossi turned round; I was embarrassed; he smiled, and then my mother gave me a push, so that I should run to him and embrace him. I did embrace him: he rose and took me by the hand.
"Here I am," his mother was saying in the meantime to my mother, "alone with this boy, my husband in America these seven years, and I sick in addition, so that I can no longer make my rounds with my vegetables, and earn a few cents. We have not even a table left for my poor Luigino to do his work on. When there was a bench down at the door, he could, at least, write on the bench; but that has been taken away. He has not even a little light so that he can study without ruining his eyes. And it is a mercy that I can send him to school, since the city provides him with books and copy-books. Poor Luigino, who would be so glad to study! Unhappy woman, that I am!"
My mother gave her all that she had in her purse, kissed the boy, and almost wept as we went out. And she had good cause to say to me: "Look at that poor boy; see how he is forced to work, when you have every comfort, and yet study seems hard to you! Ah! Enrico, there is more merit in the work which he does in one day, than in your work for a year. It is to such that the first prizes should be given!"
Yes, study comes hard to you, my dear Enrico, as your mother says: I do not yet see you set out for school with that resolute mind and that smiling face which I should like. You are still intractable. But listen; reflect a little! What a miserable, despicable thing your day would be if you did not go to school! At the end of a week you would beg with clasped hands that you might return there, for you would be eaten up with weariness and shame; disgusted with your sports and with your existence. Everybody, everybody studies now, my child. Think of the workmen who go to school in the evening after having toiled all the day; think of the women, of the girls of the people, who go to school on Sunday, after having worked all the week; of the soldiers who turn to their books and copy-books when they return exhausted from their drill! Think of the dumb and of the boys who are blind, but who study, nevertheless; and last of all, think of the prisoners, who also learn to read and write. Reflect in the morning, when you set out, that at that very moment, in your own city, thirty thousand other boys are going like yourself, to shut themselves up in a room for three hours and study. Think of the innumerable boys who, at nearly this precise hour, are going to school in all countries. Behold them with your imagination, going, going, through the lanes of quiet villages; through the streets of the noisy towns, along the shores of rivers and lakes; here beneath a burning sun; there amid fogs, in boats, in countries which are intersected with canals; on horseback on the far-reaching plains; in sledges over the snow; through valleys and over hills; across forests and torrents, over the solitary paths of mountains; alone, in couples, in groups, in long files, all with their books under their arms, clad in a thousand ways, speaking a thousand tongues, from the most remote schools in Russia. Almost lost in the ice to the furthermost schools of Arabia, shaded by palm-trees, millions and millions, all going to learn the same things, in a hundred varied forms. Imagine this vast, vast throng of boys of a hundred races, this immense movement of which you form a part, and think, if this movement were to cease, humanity would fall back into barbarism; this movement is the progress, the hope, the glory of the world. Courage, then, little soldier of the immense army. Your books are your arms, your class is your squadron, the field of battle is the whole earth, and the victory is human civilization. Be not a cowardly soldier, my Enrico.
THE LITTLE PATRIOT OF PADUA.
(The Monthly Story.)
I will not be a cowardly soldier, no; but I should be much more willing to go to school if the master would tell us a story every day, like the one he told us this morning. "Every month," said he, "I shall tell you one; I shall give it to you in writing, and it will always be the tale of a fine and noble deed performed by a boy. This one is called The Little Patriot of Padua. Here it is. A French steamer set out from Barcelona, a city in Spain, for Genoa; there were on board Frenchmen, Italians, Spaniards, and Swiss. Among the rest was a lad of eleven, poorly clad, and alone, who always held himself aloof, like a wild animal, and stared at all with gloomy eyes. He had good reasons for looking at every one with forbidding eyes. Two years previous to this time his parents, peasants in the neighborhood of Padua, had sold him to a company of mountebanks, who, after they had taught him how to perform tricks, by dint of blows and kicks and starving, had carried him all over France and Spain, beating him continually and never giving him enough to eat. On his arrival in Barcelona, being no longer able to endure ill treatment and hunger, and being reduced to a pitiable condition, he had fled from his slave-master and had betaken himself for protection to the Italian consul, who, moved with compassion, had placed him on board of this steamer, and had given him a letter to the treasurer of Genoa, who was to send the boy back to his parents—to the parents who had sold him like a beast. The poor lad was lacerated and weak. He had been assigned to the second-class cabin. Every one stared at him; some questioned him, but he made no reply, and seemed to hate and despise every one, to such an extent had privation and affliction saddened and irritated him. Nevertheless, three travellers, by dint of persisting in their questions, succeeded in making him unloose his tongue; and in a few rough words, a mixture of Venetian, French, and Spanish, he related his story. These three travellers were not Italians, but they understood him; and partly out of compassion, partly because they were excited with wine, they gave him soldi, jesting with him and urging him on to tell them other things; and as several ladies entered the saloon at the moment, they gave him some more money for the purpose of making a show, and cried: 'Take this! Take this, too!' as they made the money rattle on the table.
"The boy pocketed it all, thanking them in a low voice, with his surly mien, but with a look that was for the first time smiling and affectionate. Then he climbed into his berth, drew the curtain, and lay quiet, thinking over his affairs. With this money he would be able to purchase some good food on board, after having suffered for lack of bread for two years; he could buy a jacket as soon as he landed in Genoa, after having gone about clad in rags for two years; and he could also, by carrying it home, insure for himself from his father and mother a more humane reception than would have fallen to his lot if he had arrived with empty pockets. This money was a little fortune for him; and he was taking comfort out of this thought behind the curtain of his berth, while the three travellers chatted away, as they sat round the dining-table in the second-class saloon. They were drinking and discussing their travels and the countries which they had seen; and from one topic to another they began to discuss Italy. One of them began to complain of the inns, another of the railways, and then, growing warmer, they all began to speak evil of everything. One would have preferred a trip in Lapland; another declared that he had found nothing but swindlers and brigands in Italy; the third said that Italian officials do not know how to read.
"'It's an ignorant nation,' repeated the first. 'A filthy nation,' added the second. 'Ro—' exclaimed the third, meaning to say 'robbers'; but he was not allowed to finish the word: a tempest of soldi and half-lire descended upon their heads and shoulders, and leaped upon the table and the floor with a demoniacal noise. All three sprang up in a rage, looked up, and received another handful of coppers in their faces.
"'Take back your soldi!' said the lad, disdainfully, thrusting his head between the curtains of his berth; 'I do not accept alms from those who insult my country.'"
Yesterday afternoon I went to the girls' school building, near ours, to give the story of the boy from Padua to Silvia's teacher, who wished to read it. There are seven hundred girls there. Just as I arrived, they began to come out, all greatly rejoiced at the holiday of All Saints and All Souls; and here is a beautiful thing that I saw: Opposite the door of the school, on the other side of the street, stood a very small chimney-sweep, his face entirely black, with his sack and scraper, with one arm resting against the wall, and his head supported on his arm, weeping copiously and sobbing. Two or three of the girls of the second grade approached him and said, "What is the matter, that you weep like this?" But he made no reply, and went on crying.
"Come, tell us what is the matter with you and why you are crying," the girls repeated. And then he raised his face from his arm,—a baby face,—and said through his tears that he had been to several houses to sweep the chimneys, and had earned thirty soldi, and that he had lost them, that they had slipped through a hole in his pocket,—and he showed the hole,—and he did not dare to return home without the money.
"The master will beat me," he said, sobbing; and again dropped his head upon his arm, like one in despair. The children stood and stared at him very seriously. In the meantime, other girls, large and small, poor girls and girls of the upper classes, with their portfolios under their arms, had come up; and one large girl, who had a blue feather in her hat, pulled two soldi from her pocket, and said:—
"I have only two soldi; let us make a collection."
"I have two soldi, also," said another girl, dressed in red; "we shall certainly find thirty soldi among the whole of us"; and then they began to call out:—
"Amalia! Luigia! Annina!—A soldo. Who has any soldi? Bring your soldi here!"
Several had soldi to buy flowers or copy-books, and they brought them; some of the smaller girls gave centesimi; the one with the blue feather collected all, and counted them in a loud voice:—
"Eight, ten, fifteen!" But more was needed. Then one larger than any of them, who seemed to be an assistant mistress, made her appearance, and gave half a lira; and all made much of her. Five soldi were still lacking.
"The girls of the fourth class are coming; they will have it," said one girl. The members of the fourth class came, and the soldi showered down. All hurried forward eagerly; and it was beautiful to see that poor chimney-sweep in the midst of all those many-colored dresses, of all that whirl of feathers, ribbons, and curls. The thirty soldi were already obtained, and more kept pouring in; and the very smallest who had no money made their way among the big girls, and offered their bunches of flowers, for the sake of giving something. All at once the portress made her appearance, screaming:—
"The Signora Directress!" The girls made their escape in all directions, like a flock of sparrows; and then the little chimney-sweep was visible, alone, in the middle of the street, wiping his eyes in perfect content, with his hands full of money, and the button-holes of his jacket, his pockets, his hat, were full of flowers; and there were even flowers on the ground at his feet.
THE DAY OF THE DEAD.
This day is consecrated to the commemoration of the dead. Do you know, Enrico, that all you boys should, on this day, devote a thought to those who are dead? To those who have died for you,—for boys and little children. How many have died, and how many are dying continually! Have you ever reflected how many fathers have worn out their lives in toil? how many mothers have descended to the grave before their time, exhausted by the privations to which they have condemned themselves for the sake of sustaining their children? Do you know how many men have planted a knife in their hearts in despair at beholding their children in misery? how many women have drowned themselves or have died of sorrow, or have gone mad, through having lost a child? Think of all these dead on this day, Enrico. Think of how many schoolmistresses have died young, have pined away through the fatigues of the school, through love of the children, from whom they had not the heart to tear themselves away; think of the doctors who have perished of contagious diseases, having courageously sacrificed themselves to cure the children; think of all those who in shipwrecks, in conflagrations, in famines, in moments of supreme danger, have yielded to infancy the last morsel of bread, the last place of safety, the last rope of escape from the flames, to expire content with their sacrifice, since they preserved the life of a little innocent. Such dead as these are innumerable, Enrico; every graveyard contains hundreds of these sainted beings, who, if they could rise for a moment from their graves, would cry the name of a child to whom they sacrificed the pleasures of youth, the peace of old age, their affections, their intelligence, their life: wives of twenty, men in the flower of their strength, octogenarians, youths,—heroic and obscure martyrs of infancy,—so grand and so noble, that the earth does not produce as many flowers as should strew their graves. To such a degree are ye loved, O children! Think to-day on those dead with gratitude, and you will be kinder and more affectionate to all those who love you, and who toil for you, my dear, fortunate son, who, on the day of the dead, have, as yet, no one to grieve for.
MY FRIEND GARRONE.
THERE had been but two days of vacation, yet it seemed to me as though I had been a long time without seeing Garrone. The more I know him, the better I like him; and so it is with all the rest, except with the overbearing, who have nothing to say to him, because he does not permit them to exhibit their oppression. Every time that a big boy raises his hand against a little one, the little one shouts, "Garrone!" and the big one stops striking him. His father is an engine-driver on the railway; he has begun school late, because he was ill for two years. He is the tallest and the strongest of the class; he lifts a bench with one hand; he is always eating; and he is good. Whatever he is asked for,—a pencil, rubber, paper, or penknife,—he lends or gives it; and he neither talks nor laughs in school: he always sits perfectly motionless on a bench that is too narrow for him, with his spine curved forward, and his big head between his shoulders; and when I look at him, he smiles at me with his eyes half closed, as much as to say, "Well, Enrico, are we friends?" He makes me laugh, because, tall and broad as he is, he has a jacket, trousers, and sleeves which are too small for him, and too short; a cap which will not stay on his head; a threadbare cloak; coarse shoes; and a necktie which is always twisted into a cord. Dear Garrone! it needs but one glance in thy face to inspire love for thee. All the little boys would like to be near his bench. He knows arithmetic well. He carries his books bound together with a strap of red leather. He has a knife, with a mother-of-pearl handle, which he found in the field for military manoeuvres, last year, and one day he cut his finger to the bone; but no one in school envies him it, and no one breathes a word about it at home, for fear of alarming his parents. He lets us say anything to him in jest, and he never takes it ill; but woe to any one who says to him, "That is not true," when he affirms a thing: then fire flashes from his eyes, and he hammers down blows enough to split the bench. Saturday morning he gave a soldo to one of the upper first class, who was crying in the middle of the street, because his own had been taken from him, and he could not buy his copy-book. For the last three days he has been working over a letter of eight pages, with pen ornaments on the margins, for the saint's day of his mother, who often comes to get him, and who, like himself, is tall and large and sympathetic. The master is always glancing at him, and every time that he passes near him he taps him on the neck with his hand, as though he were a good, peaceable young bull. I am very fond of him. I am happy when I press his big hand, which seems to be the hand of a man, in mine. I am almost certain that he would risk his life to save that of a comrade; that he would allow himself to be killed in his defence, so clearly can I read his eyes; and although he always seems to be grumbling with that big voice of his, one feels that it is a voice that comes from a gentle heart.
THE CHARCOAL-MAN AND THE GENTLEMAN.
Garrone would certainly never have uttered the words which Carlo Nobis spoke yesterday morning to Betti. Carlo Nobis is proud, because his father is a great gentleman; a tall gentleman, with a black beard, and very serious, who accompanies his son to school nearly every day. Yesterday morning Nobis quarrelled with Betti, one of the smallest boys, and the son of a charcoal-man, and not knowing what retort to make, because he was in the wrong, said to him vehemently, "Your father is a tattered beggar!" Betti reddened up to his very hair, and said nothing, but the tears came to his eyes; and when he returned home, he repeated the words to his father; so the charcoal-dealer, a little man, who was black all over, made his appearance at the afternoon session, leading his boy by the hand, in order to complain to the master. While he was making his complaint, and every one was silent, the father of Nobis, who was taking off his son's coat at the entrance, as usual, entered on hearing his name pronounced, and demanded an explanation.
"This workman has come," said the master, "to complain that your son Carlo said to his boy, 'Your father is a tattered beggar.'"
Nobis's father frowned and reddened slightly. Then he asked his son, "Did you say that?"
His son, who was standing in the middle of the school, with his head hanging, in front of little Betti, made no reply.
Then his father grasped him by one arm and pushed him forward, facing Betti, so that they nearly touched, and said to him, "Beg his pardon."
The charcoal-man tried to interpose, saying, "No, no!" but the gentleman paid no heed to him, and repeated to his son, "Beg his pardon. Repeat my words. 'I beg your pardon for the insulting, foolish, and ignoble words which I uttered against your father, whose hand my father would feel himself honored to press.'"
The charcoal-man made a resolute gesture, as though to say, "I will not allow it." The gentleman did not second him, and his son said slowly, in a very thread of a voice, without raising his eyes from the ground, "I beg your pardon—for the insulting—foolish—ignoble—words which I uttered against your father, whose hand my father—would feel himself honored—to press."
Then the gentleman offered his hand to the charcoal-man, who shook it vigorously, and then, with a sudden push, he thrust his son into the arms of Carlo Nobis.
"Do me the favor to place them next each other," said the gentleman to the master. The master put Betti on Nobis's bench. When they were seated, the father of Nobis bowed and went away.
The charcoal-man remained standing there in thought for several moments, gazing at the two boys side by side; then he approached the bench, and fixed upon Nobis a look expressive of affection and regret, as though he were desirous of saying something to him, but he did not say anything; he stretched out his hand to bestow a caress upon him, but he did not dare, and merely stroked his brow with his large fingers. Then he made his way to the door, and turning round for one last look, he disappeared.
"Fix what you have just seen firmly in your minds, boys," said the master; "this is the finest lesson of the year."
MY BROTHER'S SCHOOLMISTRESS.
The son of the charcoal-man had been a pupil of that schoolmistress Delcati who had come to see my brother when he was ill, and who had made us laugh by telling us how, two years ago, the mother of this boy had brought to her house a big apronful of charcoal, out of gratitude for her having given the medal to her son; and the poor woman had persisted, and had not been willing to carry the coal home again, and had wept when she was obliged to go away with her apron quite full. And she told us, also, of another good woman, who had brought her a very heavy bunch of flowers, inside of which there was a little hoard of soldi. We had been greatly diverted in listening to her, and so my brother had swallowed his medicine, which he had not been willing to do before. How much patience is necessary with those boys of the lower first, all toothless, like old men, who cannot pronounce their r's and s's; and one coughs, and another has the nosebleed, and another loses his shoes under the bench, and another bellows because he has pricked himself with his pen, and another one cries because he has bought copy-book No. 2 instead of No. 1. Fifty in a class, who know nothing, with those flabby little hands, and all of them must be taught to write; they carry in their pockets bits of licorice, buttons, phial corks, pounded brick,—all sorts of little things, and the teacher has to search them; but they conceal these objects even in their shoes. And they are not attentive: a fly enters through the window, and throws them all into confusion; and in summer they bring grass into school, and horn-bugs, which fly round in circles or fall into the inkstand, and then streak the copy-books all over with ink. The schoolmistress has to play mother to all of them, to help them dress themselves, bandage up their pricked fingers, pick up their caps when they drop them, watch to see that they do not exchange coats, and that they do not indulge in cat-calls and shrieks. Poor schoolmistresses! And then the mothers come to complain: "How comes it, signorina, that my boy has lost his pen? How does it happen that mine learns nothing? Why is not my boy mentioned honorably, when he knows so much? Why don't you have that nail which tore my Piero's trousers, taken out of the bench?"
Sometimes my brother's teacher gets into a rage with the boys; and when she can resist no longer, she bites her finger, to keep herself from dealing a blow; she loses patience, and then she repents, and caresses the child whom she has scolded; she sends a little rogue out of school, and then swallows her tears, and flies into a rage with parents who make the little ones fast by way of punishment. Schoolmistress Delcati is young and tall, well-dressed, brown of complexion, and restless; she does everything vivaciously, as though on springs, is affected by a mere trifle, and at such times speaks with great tenderness.
"But the children become attached to you, surely," my mother said to her.
"Many do," she replied; "but at the end of the year the majority of them pay no further heed to us. When they are with the masters, they are almost ashamed of having been with us—with a woman teacher. After two years of cares, after having loved a child so much, it makes us feel sad to part from him; but we say to ourselves, 'Oh, I am sure of that one; he is fond of me.' But the vacation over, he comes back to school. I run to meet him; 'Oh, my child, my child!' And he turns his head away." Here the teacher interrupted herself. "But you will not do so, little one?" she said, raising her humid eyes, and kissing my brother. "You will not turn aside your head, will you? You will not deny your poor friend?"
Thursday, November 10th.
In the presence of your brother's teacher you failed in respect to your mother! Let this never happen again, my Enrico, never again! Your irreverent word pierced my heart like a point of steel. I thought of your mother when, years ago, she bent the whole of one night over your little bed, measuring your breathing, weeping blood in her anguish, and with her teeth chattering with terror, because she thought that she had lost you, and I feared that she would lose her reason; and at this thought I felt a sentiment of horror at you. You, to offend your mother! your mother, who would give a year of happiness to spare you one hour of pain, who would beg for you, who would allow herself to be killed to save your life! Listen, Enrico. Fix this thought well in your mind. Reflect that you are destined to experience many terrible days in the course of your life: the most terrible will be that on which you lose your mother. A thousand times, Enrico, after you are a man, strong, and inured to all fates, you will invoke her, oppressed with an intense desire to hear her voice, if but for a moment, and to see once more her open arms, into which you can throw yourself sobbing, like a poor child bereft of comfort and protection. How you will then recall every bitterness that you have caused her, and with what remorse you will pay for all, unhappy wretch! Hope for no peace in your life, if you have caused your mother grief. You will repent, you will beg her forgiveness, you will venerate her memory—in vain; conscience will give you no rest; that sweet and gentle image will always wear for you an expression of sadness and of reproach which will put your soul to torture. Oh, Enrico, beware; this is the most sacred of human affections; unhappy he who tramples it under foot. The assassin who respects his mother has still something honest and noble in his heart; the most glorious of men who grieves and offends her is but a vile creature. Never again let a harsh word issue from your lips, for the being who gave you life. And if one should ever escape you, let it not be the fear of your father, but let it be the impulse of your soul, which casts you at her feet, to beseech her that she will cancel from your brow, with the kiss of forgiveness, the stain of ingratitude. I love you, my son; you are the dearest hope of my life; but I would rather see you dead than ungrateful to your mother. Go away, for a little space; offer me no more of your caresses; I should not be able to return them from my heart.
MY COMPANION CORETTI.
My father forgave me; but I remained rather sad and then my mother sent me, with the porter's big son, to take a walk on the Corso. Half-way down the Corso, as we were passing a cart which was standing in front of a shop, I heard some one call me by name: I turned round; it was Coretti, my schoolmate, with chocolate-colored clothes and his catskin cap, all in a perspiration, but merry, with a big load of wood on his shoulders. A man who was standing in the cart was handing him an armful of wood at a time, which he took and carried into his father's shop, where he piled it up in the greatest haste.
"What are you doing, Coretti?" I asked him.
"Don't you see?" he answered, reaching out his arms to receive the load; "I am reviewing my lesson."
I laughed; but he seemed to be serious, and, having grasped the armful of wood, he began to repeat as he ran, "The conjugation of the verb—consists in its variations according to number—according to number and person—"
And then, throwing down the wood and piling it, "according to the time—according to the time to which the action refers."
And turning to the cart for another armful, "according to the mode in which the action is enunciated."
It was our grammar lesson for the following day. "What would you have me do?" he said. "I am putting my time to use. My father has gone off with the man on business; my mother is ill. It falls to me to do the unloading. In the meantime, I am going over my grammar lesson. It is a difficult lesson to-day; I cannot succeed in getting it into my head.—My father said that he would be here at seven o'clock to give you your money," he said to the man with the cart.
The cart drove off. "Come into the shop a minute," Coretti said to me. I went in. It was a large apartment, full of piles of wood and fagots, with a steelyard on one side.
"This is a busy day, I can assure you," resumed Coretti; "I have to do my work by fits and starts. I was writing my phrases, when some customers came in. I went to writing again, and behold, that cart arrived. I have already made two trips to the wood market in the Piazza Venezia this morning. My legs are so tired that I cannot stand, and my hands are all swollen. I should be in a pretty pickle if I had to draw!" And as he spoke he set about sweeping up the dry leaves and the straw which covered the brick-paved floor.
"But where do you do your work, Coretti?" I inquired.
"Not here, certainly," he replied. "Come and see"; and he led me into a little room behind the shop, which serves as a kitchen and dining-room, with a table in one corner, on which there were books and copy-books, and work which had been begun. "Here it is," he said; "I left the second answer unfinished: with which shoes are made, and belts. Now I will add, and valises." And, taking his pen, he began to write in his fine hand.
"Is there any one here?" sounded a call from the shop at that moment. It was a woman who had come to buy some little fagots.
"Here I am!" replied Coretti; and he sprang out, weighed the fagots, took the money, ran to a corner to enter the sale in a shabby old account-book, and returned to his work, saying, "Let's see if I can finish that sentence." And he wrote, travelling-bags, and knapsacks for soldiers. "Oh, my poor coffee is boiling over!" he exclaimed, and ran to the stove to take the coffee-pot from the fire. "It is coffee for mamma," he said; "I had to learn how to make it. Wait a while, and we will carry it to her; you'll see what pleasure it will give her. She has been in bed a whole week.—Conjugation of the verb! I always scald my fingers with this coffee-pot. What is there that I can add after the soldiers' knapsacks? Something more is needed, and I can think of nothing. Come to mamma."
He opened a door, and we entered another small room: there Coretti's mother lay in a big bed, with a white kerchief wound round her head.
"Ah, brave little master!" said the woman to me; "you have come to visit the sick, have you not?"
Meanwhile, Coretti was arranging the pillows behind his mother's back, readjusting the bedclothes, brightening up the fire, and driving the cat off the chest of drawers.
"Do you want anything else, mamma?" he asked, as he took the cup from her. "Have you taken the two spoonfuls of syrup? When it is all gone, I will make a trip to the apothecary's. The wood is unloaded. At four o'clock I will put the meat on the stove, as you told me; and when the butter-woman passes, I will give her those eight soldi. Everything will go on well; so don't give it a thought."
"Thanks, my son!" replied the woman. "Go, my poor boy!—he thinks of everything."
She insisted that I should take a lump of sugar; and then Coretti showed me a little picture,—the photograph portrait of his father dressed as a soldier, with the medal for bravery which he had won in 1866, in the troop of Prince Umberto: he had the same face as his son, with the same vivacious eyes and his merry smile.
We went back to the kitchen. "I have found the thing," said Coretti; and he added on his copy-book, horse-trappings are also made of it. "The rest I will do this evening; I shall sit up later. How happy you are, to have time to study and to go to walk, too!" And still gay and active, he re-entered the shop, and began to place pieces of wood on the horse and to saw them, saying: "This is gymnastics; it is quite different from the throw your arms forwards. I want my father to find all this wood sawed when he gets home; how glad he will be! The worst part of it is that after sawing I make T's and L's which look like snakes, so the teacher says. What am I to do? I will tell him that I have to move my arms about. The important thing is to have mamma get well quickly. She is better to-day, thank Heaven! I will study my grammar to-morrow morning at cock-crow. Oh, here's the cart with logs! To work!"
A small cart laden with logs halted in front of the shop. Coretti ran out to speak to the man, then returned: "I cannot keep your company any longer now," he said; "farewell until to-morrow. You did right to come and hunt me up. A pleasant walk to you! happy fellow!"
And pressing my hand, he ran to take the first log, and began once more to trot back and forth between the cart and the shop, with a face as fresh as a rose beneath his catskin cap, and so alert that it was a pleasure to see him.
"Happy fellow!" he had said to me. Ah, no, Coretti, no; you are the happier, because you study and work too; because you are of use to your father and your mother; because you are better—a hundred times better—and more courageous than I, my dear schoolmate.
Coretti was pleased this morning, because his master of the second class, Coatti, a big man, with a huge head of curly hair, a great black beard, big dark eyes, and a voice like a cannon, had come to assist in the work of the monthly examination. He is always threatening the boys that he will break them in pieces and carry them by the nape of the neck to the quaestor, and he makes all sorts of frightful faces; but he never punishes any one, but always smiles the while behind his beard, so that no one can see it. There are eight masters in all, including Coatti, and a little, beardless assistant, who looks like a boy. There is one master of the fourth class, who is lame and always wrapped up in a big woollen scarf, and who is always suffering from pains which he contracted when he was a teacher in the country, in a damp school, where the walls were dripping with moisture. Another of the teachers of the fourth is old and perfectly white-haired, and has been a teacher of the blind. There is one well-dressed master, with eye-glasses, and a blond mustache, who is called the little lawyer, because, while he was teaching, he studied law and took his diploma; and he is also making a book to teach how to write letters. On the other hand, the one who teaches gymnastics is of a soldierly type, and was with Garibaldi, and has on his neck a scar from a sabre wound received at the battle of Milazzo. Then there is the head-master, who is tall and bald, and wears gold spectacles, with a gray beard that flows down upon his breast; he dresses entirely in black, and is always buttoned up to the chin. He is so kind to the boys, that when they enter the director's room, all in a tremble, because they have been summoned to receive a reproof, he does not scold them, but takes them by the hand, and tells them so many reasons why they ought not to behave so, and why they should be sorry, and promise to be good, and he speaks in such a kind manner, and in so gentle a voice, that they all come out with red eyes, more confused than if they had been punished. Poor head-master! he is always the first at his post in the morning, waiting for the scholars and lending an ear to the parents; and when the other masters are already on their way home, he is still hovering about the school, and looking out that the boys do not get under the carriage-wheels, or hang about the streets to stand on their heads, or fill their bags with sand or stones; and the moment he makes his appearance at a corner, so tall and black, flocks of boys scamper off in all directions, abandoning their games of coppers and marbles, and he threatens them from afar with his forefinger, with his sad and loving air. No one has ever seen him smile, my mother says, since the death of his son, who was a volunteer in the army: he always keeps the latter's portrait before his eyes, on a little table in the head-master's room. He wanted to go away after this misfortune; he prepared his application for retirement to the Municipal Council, and kept it always on his table, putting off sending it from day to day, because it grieved him to leave the boys. But the other day he seemed undecided; and my father, who was in the director's room with him, was just saying to him, "What a shame it is that you are going away, Signor Director!" when a man entered for the purpose of inscribing the name of a boy who was to be transferred from another schoolhouse to ours, because he had changed his residence. At the sight of this boy, the head-master made a gesture of astonishment, gazed at him for a while, gazed at the portrait that he keeps on his little table, and then stared at the boy again, as he drew him between his knees, and made him hold up his head. This boy resembled his dead son. The head-master said, "It is all right," wrote down his name, dismissed the father and son, and remained absorbed in thought. "What a pity that you are going away!" repeated my father. And then the head-master took up his application for retirement, tore it in two, and said, "I shall remain."
His son had been a volunteer in the army when he died: this is the reason why the head-master always goes to the Corso to see the soldiers pass, when we come out of school. Yesterday a regiment of infantry was passing, and fifty boys began to dance around the band, singing and beating time with their rulers on their bags and portfolios. We were standing in a group on the sidewalk, watching them: Garrone, squeezed into his clothes, which were too tight for him, was biting at a large piece of bread; Votini, the well-dressed boy, who always wears Florence plush; Precossi, the son of the blacksmith, with his father's jacket; and the Calabrian; and the "little mason"; and Crossi, with his red head; and Franti, with his bold face; and Robetti, too, the son of the artillery captain, the boy who saved the child from the omnibus, and who now walks on crutches. Franti burst into a derisive laugh, in the face of a soldier who was limping. But all at once he felt a man's hand on his shoulder: he turned round; it was the head-master. "Take care," said the master to him; "jeering at a soldier when he is in the ranks, when he can neither avenge himself nor reply, is like insulting a man who is bound: it is baseness."
Franti disappeared. The soldiers were marching by fours, all perspiring and covered with dust, and their guns were gleaming in the sun. The head-master said:—
"You ought to feel kindly towards soldiers, boys. They are our defenders, who would go to be killed for our sakes, if a foreign army were to menace our country to-morrow. They are boys too; they are not many years older than you; and they, too, go to school; and there are poor men and gentlemen among them, just as there are among you, and they come from every part of Italy. See if you cannot recognize them by their faces; Sicilians are passing, and Sardinians, and Neapolitans, and Lombards. This is an old regiment, one of those which fought in 1848. They are not the same soldiers, but the flag is still the same. How many have already died for our country around that banner twenty years before you were born!"
"Here it is!" said Garrone. And in fact, not far off, the flag was visible, advancing, above the heads of the soldiers.
"Do one thing, my sons," said the head-master; "make your scholar's salute, with your hand to your brow, when the tricolor passes."
The flag, borne by an officer, passed before us, all tattered and faded, and with the medals attached to the staff. We put our hands to our foreheads, all together. The officer looked at us with a smile, and returned our salute with his hand.
"Bravi, boys!" said some one behind us. We turned to look; it was an old man who wore in his button-hole the blue ribbon of the Crimean campaign—a pensioned officer. "Bravi!" he said; "you have done a fine deed."
In the meantime, the band of the regiment had made a turn at the end of the Corso, surrounded by a throng of boys, and a hundred merry shouts accompanied the blasts of the trumpets, like a war-song.
"Bravi!" repeated the old officer, as he gazed upon us; "he who respects the flag when he is little will know how to defend it when he is grown up."
Nelli, too, poor little hunchback! was looking at the soldiers yesterday, but with an air as though he were thinking, "I can never be a soldier!" He is good, and he studies; but he is so puny and wan, and he breathes with difficulty. He always wears a long apron of shining black cloth. His mother is a little blond woman who dresses in black, and always comes to get him at the end of school, so that he may not come out in the confusion with the others, and she caresses him. At first many of the boys ridiculed him, and thumped him on the back with their bags, because he is so unfortunate as to be a hunchback; but he never offered any resistance, and never said anything to his mother, in order not to give her the pain of knowing that her son was the laughing-stock of his companions: they derided him, and he held his peace and wept, with his head laid against the bench.
But one morning Garrone jumped up and said, "The first person who touches Nelli will get such a box on the ear from me that he will spin round three times!"
Franti paid no attention to him; the box on the ear was delivered: the fellow spun round three times, and from that time forth no one ever touched Nelli again. The master placed Garrone near him, on the same bench. They have become friends. Nelli has grown very fond of Garrone. As soon as he enters the schoolroom he looks to see if Garrone is there. He never goes away without saying, "Good by, Garrone," and Garrone does the same with him.
When Nelli drops a pen or a book under the bench, Garrone stoops quickly, to prevent his stooping and tiring himself, and hands him his book or his pen, and then he helps him to put his things in his bag and to twist himself into his coat. For this Nelli loves him, and gazes at him constantly; and when the master praises Garrone he is pleased, as though he had been praised himself. Nelli must at last have told his mother all about the ridicule of the early days, and what they made him suffer; and about the comrade who defended him, and how he had grown fond of the latter; for this is what happened this morning. The master had sent me to carry to the director, half an hour before the close of school, a programme of the lesson, and I entered the office at the same moment with a small blond woman dressed in black, the mother of Nelli, who said, "Signor Director, is there in the class with my son a boy named Garrone?"
"Yes," replied the head-master.
"Will you have the goodness to let him come here for a moment, as I have a word to say to him?"
The head-master called the beadle and sent him to the school, and after a minute Garrone appeared on the threshold, with his big, close-cropped head, in perfect amazement. No sooner did she catch sight of him than the woman flew to meet him, threw her arms on his shoulders, and kissed him a great many times on the head, saying:—
"You are Garrone, the friend of my little son, the protector of my poor child; it is you, my dear, brave boy; it is you!" Then she searched hastily in all her pockets, and in her purse, and finding nothing, she detached a chain from her neck, with a small cross, and put it on Garrone's neck, underneath his necktie, and said to him:—
"Take it! wear it in memory of me, my dear boy; in memory of Nelli's mother, who thanks and blesses you."
THE HEAD OF THE CLASS.
Garrone attracts the love of all; Derossi, the admiration. He has taken the first medal; he will always be the first, and this year also; no one can compete with him; all recognize his superiority in all points. He is the first in arithmetic, in grammar, in composition, in drawing; he understands everything on the instant; he has a marvellous memory; he succeeds in everything without effort; it seems as though study were play to him. The teacher said to him yesterday:—
"You have received great gifts from God; all you have to do is not to squander them." He is, moreover, tall and handsome, with a great crown of golden curls; he is so nimble that he can leap over a bench by resting one hand on it; and he already understands fencing. He is twelve years old, and the son of a merchant; he is always dressed in blue, with gilt buttons; he is always lively, merry, gracious to all, and helps all he can in examinations; and no one has ever dared to do anything disagreeable to him, or to say a rough word to him. Nobis and Franti alone look askance at him, and Votini darts envy from his eyes; but he does not even perceive it. All smile at him, and take his hand or his arm, when he goes about, in his graceful way, to collect the work. He gives away illustrated papers, drawings, everything that is given him at home; he has made a little geographical chart of Calabria for the Calabrian lad; and he gives everything with a smile, without paying any heed to it, like a grand gentleman, and without favoritism for any one. It is impossible not to envy him, not to feel smaller than he in everything. Ah! I, too, envy him, like Votini. And I feel a bitterness, almost a certain scorn, for him, sometimes, when I am striving to accomplish my work at home, and think that he has already finished his, at this same moment, extremely well, and without fatigue. But then, when I return to school, and behold him so handsome, so smiling and triumphant, and hear how frankly and confidently he replies to the master's questions, and how courteous he is, and how the others all like him, then all bitterness, all scorn, departs from my heart, and I am ashamed of having experienced these sentiments. I should like to be always near him at such times; I should like to be able to do all my school tasks with him: his presence, his voice, inspire me with courage, with a will to work, with cheerfulness and pleasure.
The teacher has given him the monthly story, which will be read to-morrow, to copy,—The Little Vidette of Lombardy. He copied it this morning, and was so much affected by that heroic deed, that his face was all aflame, his eyes humid, and his lips trembling; and I gazed at him: how handsome and noble he was! With what pleasure would I not have said frankly to his face: "Derossi, you are worth more than I in everything! You are a man in comparison with me! I respect you and I admire you!"
THE LITTLE VIDETTE OF LOMBARDY.
In 1859, during the war for the liberation of Lombardy, a few days after the battle of Solfarino and San Martino, won by the French and Italians over the Austrians, on a beautiful morning in the month of June, a little band of cavalry of Saluzzo was proceeding at a slow pace along a retired path, in the direction of the enemy, and exploring the country attentively. The troop was commanded by an officer and a sergeant, and all were gazing into the distance ahead of them, with eyes fixed, silent, and prepared at any moment to see the uniforms of the enemy's advance-posts gleam white before them through the trees. In this order they arrived at a rustic cabin, surrounded by ash-trees, in front of which stood a solitary boy, about twelve years old, who was removing the bark from a small branch with a knife, in order to make himself a stick of it. From one window of the little house floated a large tricolored flag; there was no one inside: the peasants had fled, after hanging out the flag, for fear of the Austrians. As soon as the lad saw the cavalry, he flung aside his stick and raised his cap. He was a handsome boy, with a bold face and large blue eyes and long golden hair: he was in his shirt-sleeves and his breast was bare.
"What are you doing here?" the officer asked him, reining in his horse. "Why did you not flee with your family?"
"I have no family," replied the boy. "I am a foundling. I do a little work for everybody. I remained here to see the war."
"Have you seen any Austrians pass?"
"No; not for these three days."
The officer paused a while in thought; then he leaped from his horse, and leaving his soldiers there, with their faces turned towards the foe, he entered the house and mounted to the roof. The house was low; from the roof only a small tract of country was visible. "It will be necessary to climb the trees," said the officer, and descended. Just in front of the garden plot rose a very lofty and slender ash-tree, which was rocking its crest in the azure. The officer stood a brief space in thought, gazing now at the tree, and again at the soldiers; then, all of a sudden, he asked the lad:—
"Is your sight good, you monkey?"
"Mine?" replied the boy. "I can spy a young sparrow a mile away."
"Are you good for a climb to the top of this tree?"
"To the top of this tree? I? I'll be up there in half a minute."
"And will you be able to tell me what you see up there—if there are Austrian soldiers in that direction, clouds of dust, gleaming guns, horses?"
"Certainly I shall."
"What do you demand for this service?"
"What do I demand?" said the lad, smiling. "Nothing. A fine thing, indeed! And then—if it were for the Germans, I wouldn't do it on any terms; but for our men! I am a Lombard!"
"Good! Then up with you."
"Wait a moment, until I take off my shoes."
He pulled off his shoes, tightened the girth of his trousers, flung his cap on the grass, and clasped the trunk of the ash.
"Take care, now!" exclaimed the officer, making a movement to hold him back, as though seized with a sudden terror.
The boy turned to look at him, with his handsome blue eyes, as though interrogating him.
"No matter," said the officer; "up with you."
Up went the lad like a cat.
"Keep watch ahead!" shouted the officer to the soldiers.
In a few moments the boy was at the top of the tree, twined around the trunk, with his legs among the leaves, but his body displayed to view, and the sun beating down on his blond head, which seemed to be of gold. The officer could hardly see him, so small did he seem up there.
"Look straight ahead and far away!" shouted the officer.
The lad, in order to see better, removed his right hand from the tree, and shaded his eyes with it.
"What do you see?" asked the officer.
The boy inclined his head towards him, and making a speaking-trumpet of his hand, replied, "Two men on horseback, on the white road."
"At what distance from here?"
"Half a mile."
"Are they moving?"
"They are standing still."
"What else do you see?" asked the officer, after a momentary silence. "Look to the right." The boy looked to the right.
Then he said: "Near the cemetery, among the trees, there is something glittering. It seems to be bayonets."
"Do you see men?"
"No. They must be concealed in the grain."
At that moment a sharp whiz of a bullet passed high up in the air, and died away in the distance, behind the house.
"Come down, my lad!" shouted the officer. "They have seen you. I don't want anything more. Come down."
"I'm not afraid," replied the boy.
"Come down!" repeated the officer. "What else do you see to the left?"
"To the left?"
"Yes, to the left."
The lad turned his head to the left: at that moment, another whistle, more acute and lower than the first, cut the air. The boy was thoroughly aroused. "Deuce take them!" he exclaimed. "They actually are aiming at me!" The bullet had passed at a short distance from him.
"Down!" shouted the officer, imperious and irritated.
"I'll come down presently," replied the boy. "But the tree shelters me. Don't fear. You want to know what there is on the left?"
"Yes, on the left," answered the officer; "but come down."
"On the left," shouted the lad, thrusting his body out in that direction, "yonder, where there is a chapel, I think I see—"
A third fierce whistle passed through the air, and almost instantaneously the boy was seen to descend, catching for a moment at the trunk and branches, and then falling headlong with arms outspread.
"Curse it!" exclaimed the officer, running up.
The boy landed on the ground, upon his back, and remained stretched out there, with arms outspread and supine; a stream of blood flowed from his breast, on the left. The sergeant and two soldiers leaped from their horses; the officer bent over and opened his shirt: the ball had entered his left lung. "He is dead!" exclaimed the officer.
"No, he still lives!" replied the sergeant.—"Ah, poor boy! brave boy!" cried the officer. "Courage, courage!" But while he was saying "courage," he was pressing his handkerchief on the wound. The boy rolled his eyes wildly and dropped his head back. He was dead. The officer turned pale and stood for a moment gazing at him; then he laid him down carefully on his cloak upon the grass; then rose and stood looking at him; the sergeant and two soldiers also stood motionless, gazing upon him: the rest were facing in the direction of the enemy.
"Poor boy!" repeated the officer. "Poor, brave boy!"
Then he approached the house, removed the tricolor from the window, and spread it in guise of a funeral pall over the little dead boy, leaving his face uncovered. The sergeant collected the dead boy's shoes, cap, his little stick, and his knife, and placed them beside him.
They stood for a few moments longer in silence; then the officer turned to the sergeant and said to him, "We will send the ambulance for him: he died as a soldier; the soldiers shall bury him." Having said this, he wafted a kiss with his hand to the dead boy, and shouted "To horse!" All sprang into the saddle, the troop drew together and resumed its road.
And a few hours later the little dead boy received the honors of war.
At sunset the whole line of the Italian advance-posts marched forward towards the foe, and along the same road which had been traversed in the morning by the detachment of cavalry, there proceeded, in two files, a heavy battalion of sharpshooters, who, a few days before, had valiantly watered the hill of San Martino with blood. The news of the boy's death had already spread among the soldiers before they left the encampment. The path, flanked by a rivulet, ran a few paces distant from the house. When the first officers of the battalion caught sight of the little body stretched at the foot of the ash-tree and covered with the tricolored banner, they made the salute to it with their swords, and one of them bent over the bank of the streamlet, which was covered with flowers at that spot, plucked a couple of blossoms and threw them on it. Then all the sharpshooters, as they passed, plucked flowers and threw them on the body. In a few minutes the boy was covered with flowers, and officers and soldiers all saluted him as they passed by: "Bravo, little Lombard!" "Farewell, my lad!" "I salute thee, gold locks!" "Hurrah!" "Glory!" "Farewell!" One officer tossed him his medal for valor; another went and kissed his brow. And flowers continued to rain down on his bare feet, on his blood-stained breast, on his golden head. And there he lay asleep on the grass, enveloped in his flag, with a white and almost smiling face, poor boy! as though he heard these salutes and was glad that he had given his life for his Lombardy.
To give one's life for one's country as the Lombard boy did, is a great virtue; but you must not neglect the lesser virtues, my son. This morning as you walked in front of me, when we were returning from school, you passed near a poor woman who was holding between her knees a thin, pale child, and who asked alms of you. You looked at her and gave her nothing, and yet you had some coppers in your pocket. Listen, my son. Do not accustom yourself to pass indifferently before misery which stretches out its hand to you and far less before a mother who asks a copper for her child. Reflect that the child may be hungry; think of the agony of that poor woman. Picture to yourself the sob of despair of your mother, if she were some day forced to say, "Enrico, I cannot give you any bread even to-day!" When I give a soldo to a beggar, and he says to me, "God preserve your health, and the health of all belonging to you!" you cannot understand the sweetness which these words produce in my heart, the gratitude that I feel for that poor man. It seems to me certain that such a good wish must keep one in good health for a long time, and I return home content, and think, "Oh, that poor man has returned to me very much more than I gave him!" Well, let me sometimes feel that good wish called forth, merited by you; draw a soldo from your little purse now and then, and let it fall into the hand of a blind man without means of subsistence, of a mother without bread, of a child without a mother. The poor love the alms of boys, because it does not humiliate them, and because boys, who stand in need of everything, resemble themselves: you see that there are always poor people around the schoolhouses. The alms of a man is an act of charity; but that of a child is at one and the same time an act of charity and a caress—do you understand? It is as though a soldo and a flower fell from your hand together. Reflect that you lack nothing, and that they lack everything, that while you aspire to be happy, they are content simply with not dying. Reflect, that it is a horror, in the midst of so many palaces, along the streets thronged with carriages, and children clad in velvet, that there should be women and children who have nothing to eat. To have nothing to eat! O God! Boys like you, as good as you, as intelligent as you, who, in the midst of a great city, have nothing to eat, like wild beasts lost in a desert! Oh, never again, Enrico, pass a mother who is begging, without placing a soldo in her hand!
MY father wishes me to have some one of my companions come to the house every holiday, or that I should go to see one of them, in order that I may gradually become friends with all of them. Sunday I shall go to walk with Votini, the well-dressed boy who is always polishing himself up, and who is so envious of Derossi. In the meantime, Garoffi came to the house to-day,—that long, lank boy, with the nose like an owl's beak, and small, knavish eyes, which seem to be ferreting everywhere. He is the son of a grocer; he is an eccentric fellow; he is always counting the soldi that he has in his pocket; he reckons them on his fingers very, very rapidly, and goes through some process of multiplication without any tables; and he hoards his money, and already has a book in the Scholars' Savings Bank. He never spends a soldo, I am positive; and if he drops a centesimo under the benches, he is capable of hunting for it for a week. He does as magpies do, so Derossi says. Everything that he finds—worn-out pens, postage-stamps that have been used, pins, candle-ends—he picks up. He has been collecting postage-stamps for more than two years now; and he already has hundreds of them from every country, in a large album, which he will sell to a bookseller later on, when he has got it quite full. Meanwhile, the bookseller gives him his copy-books gratis, because he takes a great many boys to the shop. In school, he is always bartering; he effects sales of little articles every day, and lotteries and exchanges; then he regrets the exchange, and wants his stuff back; he buys for two and gets rid of it for four; he plays at pitch-penny, and never loses; he sells old newspapers over again to the tobacconist; and he keeps a little blank-book, in which he sets down his transactions, which is completely filled with sums and subtractions. At school he studies nothing but arithmetic; and if he desires the medal, it is only that he may have a free entrance into the puppet-show. But he pleases me; he amuses me. We played at keeping a market, with weights and scales. He knows the exact price of everything; he understands weighing, and makes handsome paper horns, like shopkeepers, with great expedition. He declares that as soon as he has finished school he shall set up in business—in a new business which he has invented himself. He was very much pleased when I gave him some foreign postage-stamps; and he informed me exactly how each one sold for collections. My father pretended to be reading the newspaper; but he listened to him, and was greatly diverted. His pockets are bulging, full of his little wares; and he covers them up with a long black cloak, and always appears thoughtful and preoccupied with business, like a merchant. But the thing that he has nearest his heart is his collection of postage-stamps. This is his treasure; and he always speaks of it as though he were going to get a fortune out of it. His companions accuse him of miserliness and usury. I do not know: I like him; he teaches me a great many things; he seems a man to me. Coretti, the son of the wood-merchant, says that he would not give him his postage-stamps to save his mother's life. My father does not believe it.
"Wait a little before you condemn him," he said to me; "he has this passion, but he has heart as well."
Yesterday I went to take a walk along the Rivoli road with Votini and his father. As we were passing through the Via Dora Grossa we saw Stardi, the boy who kicks disturbers, standing stiffly in front of the window of a book-shop, with his eyes fixed on a geographical map; and no one knows how long he had been there, because he studies even in the street. He barely returned our salute, the rude fellow! Votini was well dressed—even too much so. He had on morocco boots embroidered in red, an embroidered coat, small silken frogs, a white beaver hat, and a watch; and he strutted. But his vanity was destined to come to a bad end on this occasion. After having run a tolerably long distance up the Rivoli road, leaving his father, who was walking slowly, a long way in the rear, we halted at a stone seat, beside a modestly clad boy, who appeared to be weary, and was meditating, with drooping head. A man, who must have been his father, was walking to and fro under the trees, reading the newspaper. We sat down. Votini placed himself between me and the boy. All at once he recollected that he was well dressed, and wanted to make his neighbor admire and envy him.
He lifted one foot, and said to me, "Have you seen my officer's boots?" He said this in order to make the other boy look at them; but the latter paid no attention to them.
Then he dropped his foot, and showed me his silk frogs, glancing askance at the boy the while, and said that these frogs did not please him, and that he wanted to have them changed to silver buttons; but the boy did not look at the frogs either.
Then Votini fell to twirling his very handsome white castor hat on the tip of his forefinger; but the boy—and it seemed as though he did it on purpose—did not deign even a glance at the hat.
Votini, who began to become irritated, drew out his watch, opened it, and showed me the wheels; but the boy did not turn his head. "Is it of silver gilt?" I asked him.
"No," he replied; "it is gold."
"But not entirely of gold," I said; "there must be some silver with it."
"Why, no!" he retorted; and, in order to compel the boy to look, he held the watch before his face, and said to him, "Say, look here! isn't it true that it is entirely of gold?"