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   Chapter 8 A COLD DAY

Phil, the Fiddler By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8565

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The events thus far recorded in the life of our young hero took place on a day toward the middle of October, when the temperature was sufficiently mild to produce no particular discomfort in those exposed to it. We advance our story two months, and behold Phil setting out for his day's wandering on a morning in December, when the keen blasts swept through the streets, sending a shiver through the frames even of those who were well protected. How much more, then, must it be felt by the young street musician, who, with the exception of a woolen tippet, wore nothing more or warmer than in the warmer months! Yet, Phil, with his natural vigorous frame, was better able to bear the rigor of the winter weather than some of his comrades, as Giacomo, to whom the long hours spent in the streets were laden with suffering and misery.

The two boys went about together when they dared to do so, though the padrone objected, but for what reason it did not seem manifest, unless because he suspected that two would plan something prejudicial to his interests. Phil, who was generally more successful than Giacomo, often made up his smaller comrade's deficiencies by giving him a portion of his own gains.

It was a raw day. Only those who felt absolutely obliged to be out were to be seen in the streets; but among these were our two little fiddlers. Whatever might be the weather, they were compelled to expose themselves to its severity. However the boys might suffer, they must bring home the usual amount. But at eleven o'clock the prospects seemed rather discouraging. They had but twenty-five cents between them, nor would anyone stop to listen to their playing.

"I wish it were night, Filippo," said Giacomo, shivering with cold.

"So do I, Giacomo. Are you very cold?"

"Yes," said the little boy, his teeth chattering. "I wish I were back in Italy. It is never so cold there."

"No, Giacomo; you are right. But I would not mind the cold so much, if I had a warm overcoat like that boy," pointing out a boy clad in a thick overcoat, and a fur cap drawn over his ears, while his hands were snugly incased in warm gloves.

He, too, looked at the two fiddlers, and he could not help noticing how cold they looked.

"Look here, you little chaps, are you cold? You look as if you had just come from Greenland."

"Yes," said Phil. "We are cold."

"Your hands look red enough. Here is an old pair of gloves for one of you. I wish I had another pair. They are not very thick, but they are better than none."

He drew a pair of worsted gloves from his pocket, and handed them to Phil.

"Thank you," said Phil; but having received them, he gave them to Giacomo.

"You are colder than I am, Giacomo," he said. "Take them."

"But you are cold, too, Filippo."

"I will put my hands in my pockets. Don't mind me."

Of course this conversation took place in Italian; for, though Phil had learned considerable English, Giacomo understood but a few words of it.

The gloves afforded some protection, but still both boys were very cold. They were in Brooklyn, having crossed the ferry in the morning. They had wandered to a part not closely built up, where they were less sheltered, and experienced greater discomfort.

"Can't we go in somewhere and get warm? pleaded Giacomo.

"Here is a grocery store. We will go in there."

Phil opened the door and entered. The shopkeeper, a peevish-looking man, with lightish hair, stood behind the counter weighing out a pound of tea for a customer.

"What do you want here, you little vagabonds?" he exclaimed, harshly, as he saw the two boys enter.

"We are cold," said Phil. "May we stand by your stove and get warm?"

"Do you think I provide a fire for all the vagabonds in the city?" said the grocer, with a brutal disregard of their evident suffering.

Phil hesitated, not knowing whether he was ordered out or not.

"Clear out of my store, I say!" said the grocer, harshly. "I don't want you in here. Do you understand?"

At this moment a gentleman of prepossessing appearance entered the store. He heard the grocer's last words, and their inhumanity made him indignant.

"What do these boys want, Mr. Perkins?" he said.

"They want to spend their time in my shop. I have no room for such vaga


"We are cold," said Phil. "We only want to warm ourselves by the fire."

"I don't want you here," said the grocer, irritably.

"Mr. Perkins," said the gentleman, sharply, "have you no humanity? What harm can it do you to let these poor boys get warm by your fire? It will cost you nothing; it will not diminish your personal comfort; yet you drive them out into the cold."

The grocer began to perceive that he was on the wrong tack. The gentleman who addressed him was a regular and profitable customer, and he did not like to incur his ill will, which would entail loss.

"They can stay, Mr. Pomeroy," he said, with an ill grace, "since you ask it."

"I do not ask it. I will not accept, as a personal favor, what you should have granted from a motive of humanity, more especially as, after this exhibition of your spirit, I shall not trade here any longer."

By this time the grocer perceived that he had made a mistake.

"I hope you will reconsider that, Mr. Pomeroy," he said, abjectly. "The fact is, I had no objections to the boys warming themselves, but they are mostly thieves, and I could not keep my eyes on them all the time."

"I think you are mistaken. They don't look like thieves. Did you ever have anything stolen by one of this class of boys?"

"Not that I know of," said the grocer, hesitatingly; "but it is likely they would steal if they got a chance."

"We have no right to say that of anyone without good cause."

"We never steal," said Phil, indignantly; for he understood what was said.

"Of course he says so," sneered the grocer. "Come and warm yourselves, if you want to."

The boys accepted this grudging invitation, and drew near the stove. They spread out their hands, and returning warmth proved very grateful to them.

"Have you been out long?" asked the gentleman who had interceded in their behalf, also drawing near the stove.

"Since eight, signore."

"Do you live in Brooklyn?"

"No; in New York."

"And do you go out every day?"

"Si, signore."

"How long since you came from Italy?"

"A year."

"Would you like to go back?"

"He would," said Phil, pointing to his companion. "I would like to stay here, if I had a good home."

"What kind of a home have you? With whom do you live?"

"With the padrone."

"I suppose that means your guardian?"

"Yes, sir," answered Phil.

"Is he kind to you?"

"He beats us if we do not bring home enough money."

"Your lot is a hard one. What makes you stay with him? Don't the boys ever run away?"


"What does the padrone do in that case?"

"He tries to find them."

"And if he does-what then?"

"He beats them for a long time."

"Evidently your padrone is a brute. Why don't you complain to the police?"

Phil shrugged his shoulders, and did not answer. He evidently thought the suggestion an impracticable one. These boys are wont to regard the padrone as above all law. His power seems to them absolute, and they never dream of any interference. And, indeed, there is some reason for their cherishing this opinion. However brutal his treatment, I know of no case where the law has stepped in to rescue the young victim. This is partly, no doubt, because the boys, few of whom can speak the English language, do not know their rights, and seldom complain to outsiders-never to the authorities. Probably, in some cases, the treatment is less brutal than I have depicted; but from the best information I can obtain from trustworthy sources, I fear that the reality, if anything, exceeds the picture I have drawn.

"I think I should enjoy giving your padrone a horsewhipping," said the gentleman, impetuously. "Can such things be permitted in the nineteenth century?"

"I have no doubt the little rascals deserve all they get," said the grocer, who would probably have found in the Italian padrone a congenial spirit.

Mr. Pomeroy deigned no reply to this remark.

"Well, boys," he said, consulting his watch, "I must leave you. Here are twenty-five cents for each of you. I have one piece of advice for you. If your padrone beats you badly, run away from him. I would if I were in your place."

"Addio, signore," said the two boys.

"I suppose that means 'good-by.' Well, good-by, and better luck."

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