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Heart is a novel written by the Italian author Edmondo De Amicis who was a novelist, journalist, writer and poet. The novel is his best known work to this day, having been inspired by his own children Furio and Ugo who had been schoolboys at the time.It is set during the Italian unification, and includes several patriotic themes. It was issued by Treves on October 18, 1886, the first day of school in Italy, and rose to immediate success.Representing the Huckleberry Finn of Italy, this is the most read classic in the country. Presented in the form of a diary, its subject is a young boy's life in Turin.
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Liczba stron: 483
(Cuore) An Italian Schoolboy's Journal
by Edmondo De Amicis
Translated from the italian by Isabel F. Hapgood
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 ItalianMunicipalSchool.” 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.
AN ITALIAN SCHOOLBOY’S JOURNAL
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, withthe 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; andhe 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 womanentered 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.
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 ladwith 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 clearvoice, “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 withwrinkles, 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.
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 mimickinghim, 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 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 lesscolor 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 besidesa 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!
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 struckme 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 canstudy 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 otherboys 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 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 aboy. 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 excitedwith 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—’ exclaimedthe 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 thirtysoldi, 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.
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 themselvesaway; 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.
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; coarseshoes; 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 manœuvres, 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.
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.”
THE CHARCOAL MAN AND THE GENTLEMAN.
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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 bringgrass 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 toourselves, ‘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 havecaused 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 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.
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