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The Parent's Assistant; Or, Stories for Children By Maria Edgeworth Characters: 21646

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Tutte le gran faciende si fanno di poca cosa.

What great events from trivial causes spring.

Signor Camillo, the artist employed by Mr. Lee to copy some of the antique ornaments in Herculaneum, was a liberal minded man, perfectly free from that mean jealousy which would repress the efforts of rising genius.

"Here is a lad scarcely fifteen, a poor gardener's son, who, with merely the instructions he could obtain from a common carpenter, has learned to draw these plans and elevations, which you see are tolerably neat. What an advantage your instruction would be to him," said Mr. Lee, as he introduced Francisco to Signor Camillo. "I am interested in this lad from what I have learned of his good conduct. I hear he is strictly honest, and one of the best of sons. Let us do something for him. If you will give him some knowledge of your art, I will, as far as money can recompense you for your loss of time, pay whatever you may think reasonable for his instruction."

Signor Camillo made no difficulties; he was pleased with his pupil's appearance, and every day he liked him better and better. In the room where they worked together there were some large books of drawings and plates, which Francisco saw now and then opened by his master, and which he had a great desire to look over; but when he was left in the room by himself he never touched them, because he had not permission. Signor Camillo, the first day he came into this room with his pupil, said to him, "Here are many valuable books and drawings, young man. I trust, from the character I have heard of you, that they will be perfectly safe here."

Some weeks after Francisco had been with the painter, they had occasion to look for the front of a temple in one of these large books. "What! don't you know in which book to look for it, Francisco?" cried his master, with some impatience. "Is it possible that you have been here so long with these books, and that you cannot find the print I mean? Had you half the taste I gave you credit for, you would have singled it out from all the rest, and have it fixed in your memory."

"But, signor, I never saw it," said Francisco, respectfully, "or, perhaps, I should have preferred it."

"That you never saw it, young man, is the very thing of which I complain. Is a taste for the arts to be learned, think you, by looking at the cover of a book like this? Is it possible that you never thought of opening it?"

"Often and often," cried Francisco, "have I longed to open it; but I thought it was forbidden me, and however great my curiosity in your absence, I have never touched them. I hoped indeed, that the time would come when you would have the goodness to show them to me."

"And so the time is come, excellent young man," cried Camillo; "much as I love taste, I love integrity more. I am now sure of your having the one, and let me see whether you have, as I believe you have, the other. Sit you down here beside me; and we will look over these books together."

The attention with which his young pupil examined everything, and the pleasure he unaffectedly expressed in seeing these excellent prints, sufficiently convinced his judicious master that it was not from the want of curiosity or taste that he had never opened these tempting volumes. His confidence in Francisco was much increased by this circumstance, slight as it may appear.

One day, Signor Camillo came behind Francisco, as he was drawing with much intentness, and tapping him upon the shoulder, he said to him: "Put up your pencils and follow me, I can depend upon your integrity; I have pledged myself for it. Bring your note-book with you, and follow me; I will this day show you something that will entertain you at least as much as my large book of prints. Follow me."

Francisco followed, till they came to the pit near the entrance of Herculaneum. "I have obtained leave for you to accompany me," said his master, "and you know, I suppose, that this is not a permission granted to everyone?" Paintings of great value, besides ornaments of gold and silver, antique bracelets, rings, etc., are from time to time found amongst these ruins, and therefore it is necessary that no person should be admitted whose honesty cannot be depended upon. Thus, even Francisco's talents could not have advanced him in the world, unless they had been united to integrity. He was much delighted and astonished by the new scene that was now opened to his view; and as, day after day, he accompanied his master to this subterraneous city, he had leisure for observation. He was employed, as soon as he had gratified his curiosity, in drawing. There are niches in the walls in several places, from which pictures have been dug, and these niches are often adorned with elegant masques, figures and animals, which have been left by the ignorant or careless workmen, and which are going fast to destruction. Signor Camillo, who was copying these for his English employer, had a mind to try his pupil's skill, and, pointing to a niche bordered with grotesque figures, he desired him to try if he could make any hand of it. Francisco made several trials, and at last finished such an excellent copy, that his enthusiastic and generous master, with warm encomiums, carried it immediately to his patron, and he had the pleasure to receive from Mr. Lee a purse containing five guineas, as a reward and encouragement for his pupil.

Francisco had no sooner received this money, than he hurried to his father and mother's cottage. His mother, some months before this time, had taken a small dairy farm; and her son had once heard her express a wish that she was but rich enough to purchase a remarkably fine brindled cow, which belonged to a farmer in the neighbourhood.

"Here, my dear mother," cried Francisco, pouring the guineas into her lap; "and here," continued he, emptying a bag which contained about as much more, in small Italian coins, the profits of trade-money he had fairly earned during the two years he sold fruit amongst the little Neapolitan merchants; "this is all yours, dearest mother, and I hope it will be enough to pay for the brindled cow. Nay, you must not refuse me-I have set my heart upon the cow being milked by you this very evening; and I'll produce my best bunches of grapes, and my father, perhaps, will give us a melon; for I've had no time for melons this season; and I'll step to Naples and invite-may I, mother?-my good friends, dear Carlo and your favourite little Rosetta, and my old drawing master, and my friend Arthur, and we'll sup with you at your dairy."

The happy mother thanked her son, and the father assured him that neither melon nor pine-apple should be spared, to make a supper worthy of his friends.

The brindled cow was bought, and Arthur and Carlo and Rosetta most joyfully accepted their invitation.

The carpenter had unluckily appointed to settle a long account that day with one of his employers, and he could not accompany his children. It was a delicious evening; they left Naples just as the sea-breeze, after the heats of the day, was most refreshingly felt. The walk to Resina, the vineyard, the dairy, and most of all, the brindled cow, were praised by Carlo and Rosetta, with all the Italian superlatives which signify, "Most beautiful! most delightful! most charming!" Whilst the English Arthur, with as warm a heart, was more temperate in his praise, declaring that this was "the most like an English summer's evening of any he had ever felt since he came to Italy: and that, moreover, the cream was almost as good as what he had been used to drink in Cheshire." The company, who were all pleased with each other, and with the gardener's good fruit, which he produced in great abundance, did not think of separating till late.

It was a bright moonlight night, and Carlo asked his friend if he would walk with them part of the way to Naples. "Yes, all the way most willingly," cried Francisco, "that I may have the pleasure of giving to your father, with my own hands, this fine bunch of grapes, that I have reserved for him out of my own share."

"Add this fine pine-apple for my share, then," said his father, "and a pleasant walk to you, my young friends."

They proceeded gaily along, and when they reached Naples, as they passed through the square where the little merchants held their market, Francisco pointed to the spot where he found Carlo's rule. He never missed an opportunity of showing his friends that he did not forget their former kindness to him. "That rule," said he, "has been the cause of all my present happiness, and I thank you for-"

"Oh, never mind thanking him now," interrupted Rosetta, "but look yonder, and tell me what all those people are about." She pointed to a group of men, women and children, who were assembled under a piazza, listening in various attitudes of attention to a man, who was standing upon a flight of steps speaking in a loud voice, and with much action, to the people who surrounded him. Francisco, Carlo and Rosetta joined his audience. The moon shone full upon his countenance, which was very expressive and which varied frequently according to the characters of the persons whose history he was telling, according to all the changes of their fortune. This man was one of those who are called Improvisatori-persons who, in Italian towns, go about reciting verses or telling stories, which they are supposed to invent as they go on speaking. Some of these people speak with great fluency, and collect crowds round them in the public streets. When an Improvisatore sees the attention of his audience fixed, and when he comes to some very interesting part of his narrative, he dexterously drops his hat upon the ground, and pauses till his auditors have paid tribute to his eloquence. When he thinks the hat sufficiently full, he takes it up again, and proceeds with his story. The hat was dropped just as Francisco and his two friends came under the piazza. The orator had finished one story, and was going to commence another. He fixed his eyes upon Francisco, then glanced at Carlo and Rosetta, and after a moment's consideration he began a story which bore some resemblance to one that our young English readers may, perhaps, know by the name of "Cornaro, or the Grateful Turk."

Francisco was deeply interested in this narrative, and when the hat was dropped, he eagerly threw in his contribution. At the end of the story, when the speaker's voice stopped, there was a momentary silence, which was broken by the orator himself, who exclaimed, as he took up the hat which lay at his feet, "My friends, here is some mistake! this is not my hat; it has been changed whilst I was taken up with my story. Pray, gentlemen, find my hat amongst you; it was a remarkably good one, a present f

rom a nobleman for an epigram I made. I would not lose my hat for twice its value. It has my name written withinside of it, Dominicho, Improvisatore. Pray, gentlemen, examine your hats."

Everybody present examined their hats, and showed them to Dominicho, but his was not amongst them. No one had left the company; the piazza was cleared, and searched in vain. "The hat has vanished by magic," said Dominicho.

"Yes, and by the same magic a statue moves," cried Carlo, pointing to a figure standing in a niche, which had hitherto escaped observation. The face was so much in the shade, that Carlo did not at first perceive that the statue was Piedro. Piedro, when he saw himself discovered, burst into a loud laugh, and throwing down Dominicho's hat, which he held in his hand behind him, cried, "A pretty set of novices! Most excellent players at hide-and-seek you would make."

Whether Piedro really meant to have carried off the poor man's hat, or whether he was, as he said, merely in jest, we leave it to those who know his general character to decide.

Carlo shook his head. "Still at your old tricks, Piedro," said he. "Remember the old proverb: No fox so cunning but he comes to the furrier's at last." [332]

"I defy the furrier and you, too," replied Piedro, taking up his own ragged hat. "I have no need to steal hats; I can afford to buy better than you'll have upon your head. Francisco, a word with you, if you have done crying at the pitiful story you have been listening to so attentively."

"And what would you say to me?" said Francisco, following him a few steps. "Do not detain me long, because my friends will wait for me."

"If they are friends, they can wait," said Piedro. "You need not be ashamed of being seen in my company now, I can tell you; for I am, as I always told you I should be, the richest man of the two."

"Rich! you rich?" cried Francisco. "Well, then, it was impossible you could mean to trick that poor man out of his good hat."

"Impossible!" said Piedro. Francisco did not consider that those who have habits of pilfering continue to practise them often, when the poverty which first tempted them to dishonesty ceases. "Impossible! You stare when I tell you I am rich; but the thing is so. Moreover, I am well with my father at home. I have friends in Naples, and I call myself Piedro the Lucky. Look you here," said he, producing an old gold coin. "This does not smell of fish, does it? My father is no longer a fisherman, nor I either. Neither do I sell sugar-plums to children: nor do I slave myself in a vineyard, like some folks; but fortune, when I least expected it, has stood my friend. I have many pieces of gold like this. Digging in my father's garden, it was my luck to come to an old Roman vessel full of gold. I have this day agreed for a house in Naples for my father. We shall live, whilst we can afford it, like great folks, you will see; and I shall enjoy the envy that will be felt by some of my old friends, the little Neapolitan merchants, who will change their note when they see my change of fortune. What say you to all this, Francisco the Honest?"

"That I wish you joy of your prosperity, and hope you may enjoy it long and well."

"Well, no doubt of that. Everyone who has it enjoys it well. He always dances well to whom fortune pipes." [333a]

"Yes, no longer pipe, no longer dance," replied Francisco; and here they parted; for Piedro walked away abruptly, much mortified to perceive that his prosperity did not excite much envy, or command any additional respect from Francisco.

"I would rather," said Francisco, when he returned to Carlo and Rosetta, who waited for him under the portico, where he left them-"I would rather have such good friends as you, Carlo and Arthur, and some more I could name, and, besides that, have a clear conscience, and work honestly for my bread, than be as lucky as Piedro. Do you know he has found a treasure, he says, in his father's garden-a vase full of gold? He showed me one of the gold pieces."

"Much good may they do him. I hope he came honestly by them," said Carlo; "but ever since the affair of the double measure, I suspect double-dealing always from him. It is not our affair, however. Let him make himself happy his way, and we ours.

"He that would live in peace and rest,

Must hear, and see, and say the best." [333b]

All Piedro's neighbours did not follow this peaceable maxim; for when he and his father began to circulate the story of the treasure found in the garden, the village of Resina did not give them implicit faith. People nodded and whispered, and shrugged their shoulders; then crossed themselves, and declared that they would not, for all the riches of Naples, change places with either Piedro or his father. Regardless, or pretending to be regardless, of these suspicions, Piedro and his father persisted in their assertions. The fishing-nets were sold, and everything in their cottage was disposed of; they left Resina, went to live at Naples, and, after a few weeks, the matter began to be almost forgotten in the village.

The old gardener, Francisco's father, was one of those who endeavoured to think the best; and all that he said upon the subject was, that he would not exchange Francisco the Honest for Piedro the Lucky; that one can't judge of the day till one sees the evening as well as the morning. [334]

Not to leave our readers longer in suspense, we must inform them that the peasants of Resina were right in their suspicions. Piedro had never found any treasure in his father's garden, but he came by his gold in the following manner:-

After he was banished from the little wood-market for stealing Rosetta's basketful of wood, after he had cheated the poor woman, who let glasses out to hire, out of the value of the glasses which he broke, and, in short, after he had entirely lost his credit with all who knew him, he roamed about the streets of Naples, reckless of what became of him.

He found the truth of the proverb, "that credit lost is like a Venice glass broken-it can't be mended again." The few shillings which he had in his pocket supplied him with food for a few days. At last he was glad to be employed by one of the peasants who came to Naples to load their asses with manure out of the streets. They often follow very early in the morning, or during the night-time, the trace of carriages that are gone, or that are returning from the opera; and Piedro was one night at this work, when the horses of a nobleman's carriage took fright at the sudden blaze of some fireworks. The carriage was overturned near him; a lady was taken out of it, and was hurried by her attendants into a shop, where she stayed till her carriage was set to rights. She was too much alarmed for the first ten minutes after her accident to think of anything; but after some time, she perceived that she had lost a valuable diamond cross, which she had worn that night at the opera. She was uncertain where she had dropped it; the shop, the carriage, the street, were searched for it in vain.

Piedro saw it fall as the lady was lifted out of the carriage, seized upon it, and carried it off. Ignorant as he was of the full value of what he had stolen, he knew not how to satisfy himself as to this point, without trusting someone with the secret.

After some hesitation, he determined to apply to a Jew, who, as it was whispered, was ready to buy everything that was offered to him for sale, without making any troublesome inquiries. It was late; he waited till the streets were cleared, and then knocked softly at the back door of the Jew's house. The person who opened the door for Piedro was his own father. Piedro started back; but his father had fast hold of him.

"What brings you here?" said the father, in a low voice, a voice which expressed fear and rage mixed.

"Only to ask my way-my shortest way," stammered Piedro.

"No equivocations! Tell me what brings you here at this time of the night? I will know."

Piedro, who felt himself in his father's grasp, and who knew that his father would certainly search him, to find out what he had brought to sell, thought it most prudent to produce the diamond cross. His father could but just see its lustre by the light of a dim lamp, which hung over their heads in the gloomy passage in which they stood.

"You would have been duped, if you had gone to sell this to the Jew. It is well it has fallen into my hands. How came you by it?" Piedro answered that he had found it in the street. "Go your ways home, then," said his father; "it is safe with me. Concern yourself no more about it."

Piedro was not inclined thus to relinquish his booty, and he now thought proper to vary in his account of the manner in which he found the cross. He now confessed that it had dropped from the dress of a lady, whose carriage was overturned as she was coming home from the opera, and he concluded by saying that, if his father took his prize from him without giving him his share of the profits, he would go directly to the shop where the lady stopped whilst her servants were raising the carriage, and that he would give notice of his having found the cross.

Piedro's father saw that his smart son, though scarcely sixteen years of age, was a match for him in villainy. He promised him that he should have half of whatever the Jew would give for the diamonds, and Piedro insisted upon being present at the transaction.

We do not wish to lay open to our young readers scenes of iniquity. It is sufficient to say that the Jew, who was a man old in all the arts of villainy, contrived to cheat both his associates, and obtained the diamond cross for less than half its value. The matter was managed so that the transaction remained undiscovered. The lady who lost the cross, after making fruitless inquiries, gave up the search, and Piedro and his father rejoiced in the success of their man?uvres.

It is said, that "Ill gotten wealth is quickly spent"; [336] and so it proved in this instance. Both father and son lived a riotous life as long as their money lasted, and it did not last many months. What his bad education began, bad company finished, and Piedro's mind was completely ruined by the associates with whom he became connected during what he called his prosperity. When his money was at an end, these unprincipled friends began to look cold upon him, and at last plainly told him-"If you mean to live with us, you must live as we do." They lived by robbery.

Piedro, though familiarized to the idea of fraud, was shocked at the thought of becoming a robber by profession. How difficult it is to stop in the career of vice! Whether Piedro had power to stop, or whether he was hurried on by his associates, we shall, for the present, leave in doubt.

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