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Phil, the Fiddler By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8925

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

To a certain extent Phil was his own master; that is, he was at liberty to wander where he liked, provided he did not neglect his business, and returned to the lodging-house at night with the required sum of money. But woe to him if he were caught holding back any of the money for his own use. In that case, he would be beaten, and sent to bed without his supper, while the padrone, according to the terms of his contract with the distant parent would withhold from the amount due the latter ten times the sum kept by the boy. In the middle of the day he was allowed to spend three cents for bread, which was the only dinner allowed him. Of course, the boys were tempted to regale themselves more luxuriously, but they incurred a great risk in doing so. Sometimes the padrone followed them secretly, or employed others to do so, and so was able to detect them. Besides, they traveled, in general, by twos and threes, and the system of espionage was encouraged by the padrone. So mutual distrust was inspired, and the fear of being reported made the boys honest.

Phil left the house of Mr. Leigh in good spirits. Though he had earned nothing before, the fifty cents he had just received made a good beginning, and inspired in him the hope of getting together enough to save him a beating, for one night at least.

He walked down toward Sixth Avenue, and turning the corner walked down town. At length he paused in front of a tobacconist's shop, and began to play. But he had chosen an unfortunate time and place. The tobacconist had just discovered a deficiency in his money account, which he suspected to be occasioned by the dishonesty of his assistant. In addition to this he had risen with a headache, so that he was in a decidedly bad humor. Music had no charms for him at that moment, and he no sooner heard the first strains of Phil's violin than he rushed from the shop bareheaded, and dashed impetuously at the young fiddler.

"Get away from my shop, you little vagabond!" he cried. "If I had my way, you should all be sent out of the country."

Phil was quick to take a hint. He saw the menace in the shopkeeper's eyes, and, stopping abruptly, ran farther down the street, hugging his fiddle, which he was afraid the angry tobacconist might seize and break. This, to him, would be an irreparable misfortune and subject him to a severe punishment, though the fault would not be his.

Next he strolled into a side street, and began to play in front of some dwelling-houses. Two or three young children, who had been playing in the street, gathered about him, and one of them gave him a penny. They were clamorous for another tune, but Phil could not afford to work for nothing, and, seeing no prospects of additional pay, took his violin, and walked away, much to the regret of his young auditors, who, though not rich, were appreciative. They followed him to the end of the block, hoping that he would play again, but they were disappointed.

Phil played two or three times more, managing to obtain in all twenty-five cents additional. He reached the corner of Thirteenth Street just as the large public school, known as the Thirteenth Street School, was dismissed for its noon intermission.

"Give us a tune, Johnny," cried Edward Eustis, one of the oldest boys.

"Yes, a tune," joined in several others.

This was an invitation to which Phil was always willing to respond. Besides, he knew from experience that boys were more generous, in proportion to their means, than those of larger growth, and he hoped to get enough from the crowd around him to increase his store to a dollar.

The boys gathered around the little minstrel, who struck up an Italian tune, but without the words.

"Sing, sing!" cried the boys.

Phil began to sing. His clear, fresh voice produced a favorable impression upon the boys.

"He's a bully singer," said one. "I can't sing much better myself."

"You sing! Your singing would be enough to scare a dozen tom cats."

"Then we should be well matched. Look here, Johnny, can't you sing something in English?"

Phil, in response to this request, played and sang "Shoo Fly!" which suiting the boys' taste, he was called upon to repeat.

The song being finished, Edward Eustis took off his cap, and went around the circle.

"Now, boys, you have a chance to show your liberality," he said. "I'll start the collection with five cents."

"That's ahead of me," said James Marcus. "Justice to a

large and expensive family will prevent me contributing anything more than two cents."

"The smallest favors thankfully received," said Edward.

"Then take that, and be thankful," said Tom Lane, dropping in a penny.

"I haven't got any money," said Frank Gaylord, "but here's an apple;" and he dropped a large red apple into the cap.

Phil; watching with interest the various contributions, was best pleased with the last. The money he must carry to the padrone. The apple he might keep for himself, and it would vary agreeably his usual meager fare.

"The biggest contribution yet," said Edward.

"Here, Sprague, you are liberal. What'll you give?"

"My note at ninety days."

"You might fail before it comes due."

"Then take three cents. 'Tis all I have; 'I can no more, though poor the offering be.'"

"Oh, don't quote Shakespeare."

"It isn't Shakespeare; it's Milton."

"Just as much one as the other."

"Here, Johnny," said Edward, after going the rounds, "hold your hands, and I'll pour out the money. You can retire from business now on a fortune."

Phil was accustomed to be addressed as Johnny, that being the generic name for boy in New York. He deposited the money in his pocket, and, taking his fiddle, played once more in acknowledgment of the donation. The boys now dispersed, leaving Phil to go on his way. He took out the apple with the intention of eating it, when a rude boy snatched it from his hand.

"Give it back," said Phil, angrily.

"Don't you wish you may get it?" said the other, holding it out of his reach.

The young musician had little chance of redress, his antagonist was a head taller than himself, and, besides, he would not have dared lay down his fiddle to fight, lest it might be broken.

"Give it to me," he said, stamping his foot.

"I mean to eat it myself," said the other, coolly. "It's too good for the likes of you."

"You're a thief."

"Don't you call me names, you little Italian ragamuffin, or I'll hit you," said the other, menacingly.

"It is my apple."

"I'm going to eat it."

But the speaker was mistaken. As he held the apple above his head, it was suddenly snatched from him. He looked around angrily, and confronted Edward Eustis, who, seeing Phil's trouble from a little distance, had at once come to his rescue.

"What did you do that for?" demanded the thief.

"What did you take the boy's apple for?"

"Because I felt like it."

"Then I took it from you for the same reason."

"Do you want to fight?" blustered the rowdy.

"Not particularly."

"Then hand me back that apple," returned the other.

"Thank you; I shall only hand it to the rightful owner-that little Italian boy. Are you not ashamed to rob him?"

"Do you want to get hit?"

"I wouldn't advise you to do it."

The rowdy looked at the boy who confronted him. Edward was slightly smaller, but there was a determined look in his eye which the bully, who, like those of his class generally, was a coward at heart, did not like. He mentally decided that it would be safer not to provoke him.

"Come here, Johnny, and take your apple," said Edward.

Phil advanced, and received back his property with satisfaction.

"You'd better eat it now. I'll see that he doesn't disturb you."

Phil followed the advice of his new friend promptly. He had eaten nothing since seven o'clock, and then only a piece of dry bread and cheese, and the apple, a rare luxury, he did not fail to relish. His would-be robber scowled at him meanwhile, for he had promised himself the pleasure of dispatching the fruit. Edward stood by till the apple was eaten, and then turned away. The rowdy made a movement as if to follow Phil, but Edward quickly detected him, and came back.

"Don't you dare touch him," he said, significantly, "or you'll have to settle accounts with me. Do you see that policeman? I am going to ask him to have an eye on you. You'd better look out for yourself."

The other turned at the caution, and seeing the approach of one of the Metropolitan police quickly vanished. He had a wholesome fear of these guardians of the public peace, and did not care to court their attention.

Edward turned away, but in a moment felt a hand tugging at his coat. Looking around, he saw that it was Phil.

"Grazia, signore," said Phil, gratefully.

"I suppose that means 'Thank you'?"

Phil nodded.

"All right, Johnny! I am glad I was by to save you from that bully."

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