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The Parent's Assistant; Or, Stories for Children By Maria Edgeworth Characters: 30495

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Chi di gallina nasce, convien che rozole.

As the old cock crows, so crows the young.

Those who have visited Italy give us an agreeable picture of the cheerful industry of the children of all ages in the celebrated city of Naples. Their manner of living and their numerous employments are exactly described in the following "Extract from a Traveller's Journal." [301]

"The children are busied in various ways. A great number of them bring fish for sale to town from Santa Lucia; others are very often seen about the arsenals, or wherever carpenters are at work, employed in gathering up the chips and pieces of wood; or by the sea-side, picking up sticks, and whatever else has drifted ashore, which, when their basket is full, they carry away.

"Children of two or three years old, who can scarcely crawl along upon the ground, in company with boys of five or six, are employed in this pretty trade. Hence they proceed with their baskets into the heart of the city, where in several places they form a sort of little market, sitting round with their stock of wood before them. Labourers, and the lower order of citizens, buy it of them to burn in the tripods for warming themselves, or to use in their scanty kitchens.

"Other children carry about for sale the water of the sulphurous wells, which, particularly in the spring season, is drunk in great abundance. Others again endeavour to turn a few pence by buying a small matter of fruit, of pressed honey, cakes, and comfits, and then, like little peddlers, offer and sell them to other children, always for no more profit than that they may have their share of them free of expense.

"It is really curious to see how an urchin, whose whole stock and property consist in a board and a knife, will carry about a water-melon, or a half roasted gourd, collect a troup of children round him, set down his board, and proceed to divide the fruit into small pieces among them.

"The buyers keep a sharp look out to see that they have enough for their little piece of copper; and the Lilliputian tradesmen act with no less caution as the exigencies of the case may require, to prevent his being cheated out of a morsel."

The advantages of truth and honesty, and the value of a character for integrity, are very early felt amongst these little merchants in their daily intercourse with each other. The fair dealer is always sooner or later seen to prosper. The most cunning cheat is at last detected and disgraced.

Numerous instances of the truth of this common observation were remarked by many Neapolitan children, especially by those who were acquainted with the characters and history of Piedro and Francisco, two boys originally equal in birth, fortune and capacity, but different in their education, and consequently in their habits and conduct. Francisco was the son of an honest gardener, who, from the time he could speak, taught him to love to speak the truth, showed him that liars are never believed-that cheats and thieves cannot be trusted, and that the shortest way to obtain a good character is to deserve it.

Youth and white paper, as the proverb says, take all impressions. The boy profited much by his father's precepts, and more by his example; he always heard his father speak the truth, and saw that he dealt fairly with everybody. In all his childish traffic, Francisco, imitating his parents, was scrupulously honest, and therefore all his companions trusted him-"As honest as Francisco," became a sort of proverb amongst them.

"As honest as Francisco," repeated Piedro's father, when he one day heard this saying. "Let them say so; I say, 'As sharp as Piedro'; and let us see which will go through the world best." With the idea of making his son sharp he made him cunning. He taught him, that to make a good bargain was to deceive as to the value and price of whatever he wanted to dispose of; to get as much money as possible from customers by taking advantage of their ignorance or of their confidence. He often repeated his favourite proverb-"The buyer has need of a hundred eyes; the seller has need but of one." [302] And he took frequent opportunities of explaining the meaning of this maxim to his son. He was a fisherman; and as his gains depended more upon fortune than upon prudence, he trusted habitually to his good luck. After being idle for a whole day, he would cast his line or his nets, and if he was lucky enough to catch a fine fish, he would go and show it in triumph to his neighbour the gardener.

"You are obliged to work all day long for your daily bread," he would say. "Look here; I work but five minutes, and I have not only daily bread, but daily fish."

Upon these occasions, our fisherman always forgot, or neglected to count, the hours and days which were wasted in waiting for a fair wind to put to sea, or angling in vain on the shore.

Little Piedro, who used to bask in the sun upon the sea-shore beside his father, and to lounge or sleep away his time in a fishing-boat, acquired habits of idleness, which seemed to his father of little consequence whilst he was but a child.

"What will you do with Piedro as he grows up, neighbour?" said the gardener. "He is smart and quick enough, but he is always in mischief. Scarcely a day has passed for this fortnight but I have caught him amongst my grapes. I track his footsteps all over my vineyard."

"He is but a child yet, and knows no better," replied the fisherman.

"But if you don't teach him better now he is a child, how will he know when he is a man?" said the gardener.

"A mighty noise about a bunch of grapes, truly!" cried the fisherman: "a few grapes more or less in your vineyard, what does it signify?"

"I speak for your son's sake, and not for the sake of my grapes," said the gardener; "and I tell you again, the boy will not do well in the world, neighbour, if you don't look after him in time."

"He'll do well enough in the world, you will find," answered the fisherman, carelessly. "Whenever he casts my nets, they never come up empty. 'It is better to be lucky than wise.'" [303a]

This was a proverb which Piedro had frequently heard from his father, and to which he most willingly trusted, because it gave him less trouble to fancy himself fortunate than to make himself wise.

"Come here, child," said his father to him, when he returned home after the preceding conversation with the gardener; "how old are you, my boy?-twelve years old, is not it?"

"As old as Francisco, and older by six months," said Piedro.

"And smarter and more knowing by six years," said his father. "Here, take these fish to Naples, and let us see how you'll sell them for me. Venture a small fish, as the proverb says, to catch a great one. [303b] I was too late with them at the market yesterday, but nobody will know but what they are just fresh out of the water, unless you go and tell them."

"Not I; trust me for that; I'm not such a fool," replied Piedro, laughing; "I leave that to Francisco. Do you know, I saw him the other day miss selling a melon for his father by turning the bruised side to the customer, who was just laying down the money for it, and who was a raw servant-boy, moreover-one who would never have guessed there were two sides to a melon, if he had not, as you say, father, been told of it?"

"Off with you to market. You are a droll chap," said his father, "and will sell my fish cleverly, I'll be bound. As to the rest, let every man take care of his own grapes. You understand me, Piedro?"

"Perfectly," said the boy, who perceived that his father was indifferent as to his honesty, provided he sold fish at the highest price possible. He proceeded to the market, and he offered his fish with assiduity to every person whom he thought likely to buy it, especially to those upon whom he thought he could impose. He positively asserted to all who looked at his fish, that they were just fresh out of the water. Good judges of men and fish knew that he said what was false, and passed him by with neglect; but it was at last what he called good luck to meet with the very same young raw servant-boy who would have bought the bruised melon from Francisco. He made up to him directly, crying, "Fish! Fine fresh fish! fresh fish!"

"Was it caught to-day?" said the boy.

"Yes, this morning; not an hour ago," said Piedro, with the greatest effrontery.

The servant-boy was imposed upon; and being a foreigner, speaking the Italian language but imperfectly, and not being expert at reckoning the Italian money, he was no match for the cunning Piedro, who cheated him not only as to the freshness, but as to the price of the commodity. Piedro received nearly half as much again for his fish as he ought to have done.

On his road homewards from Naples to the little village of Resina, where his father lived, he overtook Francisco, who was leading his father's ass. The ass was laden with large panniers, which were filled with the stalks and leaves of cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, lettuces, etc.-all the refuse of the Neapolitan kitchens, which are usually collected by the gardeners' boys, and carried to the gardens round Naples, to be mixed with other manure.

"Well filled panniers, truly," said Piedro, as he overtook Francisco and the ass. The panniers were indeed not only filled to the top, but piled up with much skill and care, so that the load met over the animal's back.

"It is not a very heavy load for the ass, though it looks so large," said Francisco. "The poor fellow, however, shall have a little of this water," added he, leading the ass to a pool by the roadside.

"I was not thinking of the ass, boy; I was not thinking of any ass, but of you, when I said, 'Well filled panniers, truly!' This is your morning's work, I presume, and you'll make another journey to Naples to-day, on the same errand, I warrant, before your father thinks you have done enough?"

"Not before my father thinks I have done enough, but before I think so myself," replied Francisco.

"I do enough to satisfy myself and my father, too," said Piedro, "without slaving myself after your fashion. Look here," producing the money he had received for the fish; "all this was had for asking. It is no bad thing, you'll allow, to know how to ask for money properly."

"I should be ashamed to beg, or borrow either," said Francisco.

"Neither did I get what you see by begging, or borrowing either," said Piedro, "but by using my wits; not as you did yesterday, when, like a novice, you showed the bruised side of your melon, and so spoiled your market by your wisdom."

"Wisdom I think it still," said Francisco.

"And your father?" asked Piedro.

"And my father," said Francisco.

"Mine is of a different way of thinking," said Piedro. "He always tells me that the buyer has need of a hundred eyes, and if one can blind the whole hundred, so much the better. You must know, I got off the fish to-day that my father could not sell yesterday in the market-got it off for fresh just out of the river-got twice as much as the market price for it; and from whom, think you? Why, from the very booby that would have bought the bruised melon for a sound one if you would have let him. You'll allow I'm no fool, Francisco, and that I'm in a fair way to grow rich, if I go on as I have begun."

"Stay," said Francisco; "you forgot that the booby you took in to-day will not be so easily taken in to-morrow. He will buy no more fish from you, because he will be afraid of your cheating him; but he will be ready enough to buy fruit from me, because he will know I shall not cheat him-so you'll have lost a customer, and I gained one."

"With all my heart," said Piedro. "One customer does not make a market; if he buys no more from me, what care I? there are people enough to buy fish in Naples."

"And do you mean to serve them all in the same manner?" asked Francisco.

"If they will be only so good as to give me leave," said Piedro, laughing, and repeating his father's proverb, "'Venture a small fish to catch a large one.'" [306] He had learned to think that to cheat in making bargains was witty and clever.

"And you have never considered, then," said Francisco, "that all these people will, one after another, find you out in time?"

"Ay, in time; but it will be some time first. There are a great many of them, enough to last me all the summer, if I lose a customer a day," said Piedro.

"And next summer," observed Francisco, "what will you do?"

"Next summer is not come yet; there is time enough to think what I shall do before next summer comes. Why, now, suppose the blockheads, after they had been taken in and found it out, all joined against me, and would buy none of our fish-what then? Are there no trades but that of a fisherman? In Naples, are there not a hundred ways of making money for a smart lad like me? as my father says. What do you think of turning merchant, and selling sugar-plums and cakes to the children in their market? Would they be hard to deal with, think you?"

"I think not," said Francisco; "but I think the children would find out in time if they were cheated, and would like it as little as the men."

"I don't doubt them. Then in time I could, you know, change my trade-sell chips and sticks in the wood-market-hand about the lemonade to the fine folks, or twenty other things. There are trades enough, boy."

"Yes, for the honest dealer," said Francisco, "but for no other; for in all of them you'll find, as my father says, that a good character is the best fortune to set up with. Change your trade ever so often, you'll be found out for what you are at last."

"And what am I, pray?" said Piedro, angrily. "The whole truth of the matter is, Francisco, that you envy my good luck, and can't bear to hear this money jingle in my hand. Ay, stroke the long ears of your ass, and look as wise as you please. It's better to be lucky than wise, as my father says. Good morning to you. When I am found out for what I am, or when the worst comes to the worst, I can drive a stupid ass, with his panniers filled with rubbish, as well as you do now, honest Francisco."

"Not quite so well. Unless you were honest Francisco, you would not fill his panniers quite so readily.".

This was certain, that Francisco was so well known for his honesty amongst all the people at Naples with whom his father was acquainted, that everyone was glad to deal with him; and as he never wronged anyone, all were willing to serve him-at least, as much as they could without loss to themselves: so that after the market was over, his panniers were regularly filled by the gardeners and others with whatever he wanted. His industry was constant, his gains small but certain, and he every day had more and more reason to trust to his father's maxim-That honesty is the best policy.

The foreign servant lad, to whom Francisco had so honestly, or, as Piedro said, so sillily, shown the bruised side of the melon, was an Englishman. He left his native country, of which he was extremely fond, to attend upon his master, to whom he was still more attached. His master was in a declining state of health, and this young lad waited on him a little

more to his mind than his other servants. We must, in consideration of his zeal, fidelity and inexperience, pardon him for not being a good judge of fish. Though he had simplicity enough to be easily cheated once, he had too much sense to be twice made a dupe. The next time he met Piedro in the market, he happened to be in company with several English gentlemen's servants, and he pointed Piedro out to them all as an arrant knave. They heard his cry of "Fresh fish! fresh fish! fine fresh fish!" with incredulous smiles, and let him pass, but not without some expressions of contempt, though uttered in English, he tolerably well understood; for the tone of contempt is sufficiently expressive in all languages. He lost more by not selling his fish to these people than he had gained the day before by cheating the English booby. The market was well supplied, and he could not get rid of his cargo.

"Is not this truly provoking?" said Piedro, as he passed by Francisco, who was selling fruit for his father. "Look, my basket is as heavy as when I left home and look at 'em yourself, they really are fine fresh fish to-day and yet, because that revengeful booby told how I took him in yesterday, not one of yonder crowd would buy them; and all the time they really are fresh to-day!"

"So they are," said Franscisco, "but you said so yesterday, when they were not; and he that was duped then, is not ready to believe you to-day. How does he know that you deserve it better?"

"He might have looked at the fish," repeated Piedro; "they are fresh to-day. I am sure he need not have been afraid."

"Ay," said Francisco; "but as my father said to you once-the scalded dog fears cold water." [308]

Here their conversation was interrupted by the same English lad, who smiled as he came up to Francisco, and taking up a fine pine-apple, he said, in a mixture of bad Italian and English-"I need not look at the other side of this; you will tell me if it is not as good as it looks. Name your price; I know you have but one, and that an honest one; and as to the rest, I am able and willing to pay for what I buy; that is to say, my master is, which comes to the same thing. I wish your fruit could make him well, and it would be worth its weight in gold to me, at least. We must have some of your grapes for him."

"Is he not well?" inquired Francisco. "We must, then, pick out the best for him," at the same time singling out a tempting bunch. "I hope he will like these; but if you could some day come as far as Resina (it is a village but a few miles out of town, where we have our vineyard), you could there choose for yourself, and pluck them fresh from the vines for your poor master."

"Bless you, my good boy; I should take you for an Englishman, by your way of dealing. I'll come to your village. Only write me down the name; for your Italian names slip through my head. I'll come to the vineyard if it was ten miles off; and all the time we stay in Naples (may it not be so long as I fear it will!), with my master's leave, which he never refuses me to anything that's proper, I'll deal with you for all our fruit, as sure as my name's Arthur, and with none else, with my good will. I wish all your countrymen would take after you in honesty, indeed I do," concluded the Englishman, looking full at Piedro, who took up his unsold basket of fish, looking somewhat silly, and gloomily walked off.

Arthur, the English servant, was as good as his word. He dealt constantly with Francisco, and proved an excellent customer, buying from him during the whole season as much fruit as his master wanted. His master, who was an Englishman of distinction, was invited to take up his residence, during his stay in Italy, at the Count de F.'s villa, which was in the environs of Naples-an easy walk from Resina. Francisco had the pleasure of seeing his father's vineyard often full of generous visitors, and Arthur, who had circulated the anecdote of the bruised melon, was, he said, "proud to think that some of this was his doing, and that an Englishman never forgot a good turn, be it from a countryman or foreigner."

"My dear boy," said Francisco's father to him, whilst Arthur was in the vineyard helping to tend the vines, "I am to thank you and your honesty, it seems, for our having our hands so full of business this season. It is fair you should have a share of our profits."

"So I have, father, enough and enough, when I see you and mother going on so well. What can I want more?"

"Oh, my brave boy, we know you are a grateful, good son; but I have been your age myself; you have companions, you have little expenses of your own. Here; this vine, this fig-tree, and a melon a week next summer shall be yours. With these make a fine figure amongst the little Neapolitan merchants; and all I wish is that you may prosper as well, and by the same honest means, in managing for yourself, as you have done managing for me."

"Thank you, father; and if I prosper at all, it shall be by those means, and no other, or I should not be worthy to be called your son."

Piedro the cunning did not make quite so successful a summer's work as did Francisco the honest. No extraordinary events happened, no singular instance of bad or good luck occurred; but he felt, as persons usually do, the natural consequences of his own actions. He pursued his scheme of imposing, as far as he could, upon every person he dealt with; and the consequence was, that at last nobody would deal with him.

"It is easy to outwit one person, but impossible to outwit all the world," said a man [309] who knew the world at least as well as either Piedro or his father.

Piedro's father, amongst others, had reason to complain. He saw his own customers fall off from him, and was told, whenever he went into the market, that his son was such a cheat there was no dealing with him. One day, when he was returning from the market in a very bad humour, in consequence of these reproaches, and of his not having found customers for his goods, he espied his smart son Piedro at a little merchant's fruit-board devouring a fine gourd with prodigious greediness. "Where, glutton, do you find money to pay for these dainties?" exclaimed his father, coming close up to him, with angry gestures. Piedro's mouth was much too full to make an immediate reply, nor did his father wait for any, but darting his hand into the youth's pocket, pulled forth a handful of silver.

"The money, father," said Piedro, "that I got for the fish yesterday, and that I meant to give you to-day, before you went out."

"Then I'll make you remember it against another time, sirrah!" said his father. "I'll teach you to fill your stomach with my money. Am I to lose my customers by your tricks, and then find you here eating my all? You are a rogue, and everybody has found you out to be a rogue; and the worst of rogues I find you, who scruples not to cheat his own father."

Saying these words, with great vehemence he seized hold of Piedro, and in the very midst of the little fruit-market gave him a severe beating. This beating did the boy no good; it was vengeance not punishment. Piedro saw that his father was in a passion, and knew that he was beaten because he was found out to be a rogue, rather than for being one. He recollected perfectly that his father once said to him: "Let everyone take care of his own grapes."

Indeed it was scarcely reasonable to expect that a boy who had been educated to think that he might cheat every customer he could in the way of trade, should be afterwards scrupulously honest in his conduct towards the father whose proverbs encouraged his childhood in cunning.

Piedro writhed with bodily pain as he left the market after his drubbing, but his mind was not in the least amended. On the contrary, he was hardened to the sense of shame by the loss of reputation. All the little merchants were spectators of this scene, and heard his father's words: "You are a rogue, and the worst of rogues, who scruples not to cheat his own father."

These words were long remembered, and long did Piedro feel their effects. He once flattered himself that, when his trade of selling fish failed him, he could readily engage in some other; but he now found, to his mortification, that what Francisco's father said proved true: "In all trades the best fortune to set up with is a good character."

Not one of the little Neapolitan merchants would either enter into partnership with him, give him credit, or even trade with him for ready money. "If you would cheat your own father, to be sure you will cheat us," was continually said to him by these prudent little people.

Piedro was taunted and treated with contempt at home and abroad. His father, when he found that his son's smartness was no longer useful in making bargains, shoved him out of his way whenever he met him. All the food or clothes that he had at home seemed to be given to him grudgingly, and with such expressions as these: "Take that; but it is too good for you. You must eat this, now, instead of gourds and figs-and be thankful you have even this."

Piedro spent a whole winter very unhappily. He expected that all his old tricks, and especially what his father had said of him in the market-place, would be soon forgotten; but month passed after month, and still these things were fresh in the memory of all who had known them.

It is not easy to get rid of a bad character. A very great rogue [311] was once heard to say, that he would, with all his heart, give ten thousand pounds for a good character, because he knew that he could make twenty thousand by it.

Something like this was the sentiment of our cunning hero when he experienced the evils of a bad reputation, and when he saw the numerous advantages which Francisco's good character procured. Such had been Piedro's wretched education, that even the hard lessons of experience could not alter its pernicious effects. He was sorry his knavery had been detected, but he still thought it clever to cheat, and was secretly persuaded that, if he had cheated successfully, he should have been happy. "But I know I am not happy now," said he to himself one morning, as he sat alone disconsolate by the sea-shore, dressed in tattered garments, weak and hungry, with an empty basket beside him. His fishing-rod, which he held between his knees, bent over the dry sands instead of into the water, for he was not thinking of what he was about; his arms were folded, his head hung down, and his ragged hat was slouched over his face. He was a melancholy spectacle.

Francisco, as he was coming from his father's vineyard with a large dish of purple and white grapes upon his head, and a basket of melons and figs hanging upon his arm, chanced to see Piedro seated in this melancholy posture. Touched with compassion, Francisco approached him softly; his footsteps were not heard upon the sands, and Piedro did not perceive that anyone was near him till he felt something cold touch his hand; he then started, and, looking up, saw a bunch of grapes, which Francisco was holding over his head.

"Eat them: you'll find them very good, I hope," said Francisco, with a benevolent smile.

"They are excellent-most excellent, and I am much obliged to you, Francisco," said Piedro. "I was very hungry, and that's what I am now, without anybody's caring anything about it. I am not the favourite I was with my father, but I know it is all my own fault."

"Well, but cheer up," said Francisco; "my father always says, 'One who knows he has been in fault, and acknowledges it, will scarcely be in fault again.' Yes, take as many figs as you will," continued he; and held his basket closer to Piedro, who, as he saw, cast a hungry eye upon one of the ripe figs.

"But," said Piedro, after he had taken several, "shall not I get you into a scrape by taking so many? Won't your father be apt to miss them?"

"Do you think I would give them to you if they were not my own?" said Francisco, with a sudden glance of indignation.

"Well, don't be angry that I asked the question; it was only from fear of getting you into disgrace that I asked it."

"It would not be easy for anybody to do that, I hope," said Francisco, rather proudly.

"And to me less than anybody," replied Piedro, in an insinuating tone, "I, that am so much obliged to you!"

"A bunch of grapes, and a few figs, are no mighty obligation," said Francisco, smiling; "I wish I could do more for you. You seem, indeed, to have been very unhappy of late. We never see you in the markets as we used to do."

"No; ever since my father beat me, and called me rogue before all the children there, I have never been able to show my face without being gibed at by one or t'other. If you would but take me along with you amongst them, and only just seem my friend, for a day or two, or so, it would quite set me up again; for they all like you."

"I would rather be than seem your friend, if I could," said Francisco.

"Ay, to be sure; that would be still better," said Piedro, observing that Francisco, as he uttered his last sentence, was separating the grapes and other fruits into two equal divisions. "To be sure I would rather you would be than seem a friend to me; but I thought that was too much to ask at first, though I have a notion, notwithstanding I have been so unlucky lately-I have a notion you would have no reason to repent of it. You would find me no bad hand, if you were to try, and take me into partnership."

"Partnership!" interrupted Francisco, drawing back alarmed; "I had no thoughts of that."

"But won't you? can't you?" said Piedro, in a supplicating tone; "can't you have thoughts of it? You'd find me a very active partner."

Franscisco still drew back, and kept his eyes fixed upon the ground. He was embarrassed; for he pitied Piedro, and he scarcely knew how to point out to him that something more is necessary in a partner in trade besides activity, and that is honesty.

"Can't you?" repeated Piedro, thinking that he hesitated from merely mercenary motives. "You shall have what share of the profits you please."

"I was not thinking of the profits," said Francisco; "but without meaning to be ill-natured to you, Piedro, I must say that I cannot enter into any partnership with you at present; but I will do what, perhaps, you will like as well," said he, taking half the fruit out of his basket; "you are heartily welcome to this; try and sell it in the children's fruit market. I'll go on before you, and speak to those I am acquainted with, and tell them you are going to set up a new character, and that you hope to make it a good one."

"Hey, shall I! Thank you for ever, dear Francisco," cried Piedro, seizing his plentiful gift of fruit. "Say what you please for me."

"But don't make me say anything that is not true," said Francisco, pausing.

"No, to be sure not," said Piedro; "I do mean to give no room for scandal. If I could get them to trust me as they do you, I should be happy indeed."

"That is what you may do, if you please," said Francisco. "Adieu, I wish you well with all my heart; but I must leave you now, or I shall be too late for the market."

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