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Phil, the Fiddler By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 8391

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Phil and Giacomo entered the lodging-house, wholly unconscious of the threatening storm, The padrone scowled at them as they entered but that was nothing unusual. Had he greeted them kindly, they would have had reason to be surprised.

"Well," he said, harshly, "how much do you bring?"

The boys produced two dollars and a half which he pocketed.

"Is this all?" he asked.

"It was cold," said Phil, "and we could not get more."

The padrone listened with an ominous frown.

"Are you hungry?" he asked. "Do you want your supper?"

Phil was puzzled by his manner, for he expected to be deprived of his supper on account of bringing less money than usual. Why should the padrone ask him if he wanted his supper? Though he was not hungry, he thought it best to answer in the affirmative.

"What would you like?" asked the padrone.

Again Phil was puzzled, for the suppers supplied by the padrone never varied, always consisting of bread and cheese.

"Perhaps," continued the padrone, meeting no answer, "you would like to have coffee and roast beef."

All was clear now. Phil understood that he had been seen going in or out of the restaurant, though he could not tell by whom. He knew well enough what to expect, but a chivalrous feeling of friendship led him to try to shield his young companion, even at the risk of a more severe punishment to be inflicted upon himself.

"It was my fault," he said, manfully. "Giacomo would not have gone in but for me."

"Wicked, ungrateful boy!" exclaimed the padrone, wrathfully. "It was my money that you spent. You are a thief!"

Phil felt that this was a hard word, which he did not deserve. The money was earned by himself, though claimed by the padrone. But he did not venture to say this. It would have been revolutionary. He thought it prudent to be silent.

"Why do you say nothing?" exclaimed the padrone, stamping his foot. "Why did you spend my money?"

"I was hungry."

"So you must live like a nobleman! Our supper is not good enough for you. How much did you spend?"

"Thirty cents."

"For each?"

"No, signore, for both."

"Then you shall have each fifteen blows, one for each penny. I will teach you to be a thief. Pietro, the stick! Now, strip!"

"Padrone," said Phil, generously, "let me have all the blows. It was my fault; Giacomo only went because I asked him."

If the padrone had had a heart, this generous request would have touched it; but he was not troubled in that way.

"He must be whipped, too," he said. "He should not have gone with you."

"He is sick, padrone," persisted Phil. "Excuse him till he is better."

"Not a word more," roared the padrone, irritated at his persistence. "If he is sick, it is because he has eaten too much," he added, with a sneer. "Pietro, my stick!"

The two boys began to strip mechanically, knowing that there was no appeal. Phil stood bare to the waist. The padrone seized the stick and began to belabor him. Phil's brown face showed by its contortions the pain he suffered, but he was too proud to cry out. When the punishment was finished his back was streaked with red, and looked maimed and bruised.

"Put on your shirt!" commanded the tyrant.

Phil drew it on over his bleeding back and resumed his place among his comrades.

"Now!" said the padrone, beckoning to Giacomo.

The little boy approached shivering, not so much with cold as with the fever that had already begun to prey upon him.

Phil turned pale and sick as he looked at the padrone preparing to inflict punishment. He would gladly have left the room, but he knew that it would not be permitted.

The first blow descended heavily upon the shrinking form of the little victim. It was followed by a shriek of pain and terror.

"What are you howling at?" muttered the padrone, between his teeth. "I will whip you the harder."

Giacomo would have been less able to bear the cruel punishment than Phil if he had been well, but being sick, it was all the more terrible to him. The second blow likewise was followed by a shriek of anguish. Phil looked on with pale face, set teeth, and blazing eyes, as he saw the barbarous punishment of his comrade. He felt tha

t he hated the padrone with a fierce hatred. Had his strength been equal to the attempt, he would have flung himself upon the padrone. As it was, he looked at his comrades, half wishing that they would combine with him against their joint oppressor. But there was no hope of that. Some congratulated themselves that they were not in Giacomo's place; others looked upon his punishment as a matter of course. There was no dream of interference, save in the mind of Phil.

The punishment continued amid the groans and prayers for mercy of the little sufferer. But at the eighth stroke his pain and terror reached a climax, and nature succumbed. He sank on the floor, fainting. The padrone thought at first it was a pretense, and was about to repeat the strokes, when a look at the pallid, colorless face of the little sufferer alarmed him. It did not excite his compassion, but kindled the fear that the boy might be dying, in which case the police might interfere and give him trouble; therefore he desisted, but unwillingly.

"He is sick," said Phil, starting forward.

"He is no more sick than I am," scowled the padrone. "Pietro, some water!"

Pietro brought a glass of water, which the padrone threw in the face of the fallen boy. The shock brought him partially to. He opened his eyes, and looked around vacantly.

"What is the matter with you?" demanded the padrone, harshly.

"Where am I?" asked Giacomo, bewildered. But, as he asked this question, his eyes met the dark look of his tyrant, and he clasped his hands in terror.

"Do not beat me!" he pleaded. "I feel sick."

"He is only shamming," said Pietro, who was worthy to be the servant and nephew of such a master. But the padrone thought it would not be prudent to continue the punishment.

"Help him put on his clothes, Pietro," he said. "I will let you off this time, little rascal, but take heed that you never again steal a single cent of my money."

Giacomo was allowed to seek his uncomfortable bed. His back was so sore with the beating he had received that he was compelled to lie on his side. During the night the feverish symptoms increased, and before morning he was very sick. The padrone was forced to take some measures for his recovery, not from motives of humanity, but because Giacomo's death would cut off a source of daily revenue, and this, in the eyes of the mercenary padrone, was an important consideration.

Phil went to bed in silence. Though he was suffering from the brutal blows he had received, the thought of the punishment and suffering of Giacomo affected him more deeply than his own. As I have said, the two boys came from the same town in southern Italy. They had known each other almost from infancy, and something of a fraternal feeling had grown up between them. In Phil's case, since he was the stronger, it was accompanied by the feeling that he should be a protector to the younger boy, who, on his side, looked up to Phil as stronger and wiser than himself. Though only a boy of twelve, what had happened led Phil to think seriously of his position and prospects. He did not know for how long his services had been sold to the padrone by his father, but he felt sure that the letter of the contract would be little regarded as long as his services were found profitable.

What hope, then, had he of better treatment in the future? There seemed no prospect except of continued oppression and long days of hardship, unless-and here the suggestion of Mr. Pomeroy occurred to him-unless he ran away. He had known of boys doing this before. Some had been brought back, and, of course, were punished severely for their temerity, but others had escaped, and had never returned. What had become of them Phil did not know, but he rightly concluded that they could not be any worse off than in the service of the padrone. Thinking of all this, Phil began to think it probable that he, too, would some day break his bonds and run away. He did not fix upon any time. He had not got as far as this. But circumstances, as we shall find in our next chapter, hastened his determination, and this, though he knew it not, was the last night he would sleep in the house of the padrone.

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