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   Chapter 23 A PITCHED BATTLE

Phil, the Fiddler By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 10064

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Has my youthful reader ever seen a dog slinking home with downcast look and tall between his legs? It was with very much the same air that Pietro in the evening entered the presence of the padrone. He had received a mortifying defeat, and now he had before him the difficult task of acknowledging it.

"Well, Pietro," said the padrone, harshly, "where is Filippo?"

"He is not with me," answered Pietro, in an embarrassed manner.

"Didn't you see him then?" demanded his uncle, hastily.

For an instant Pietro was inclined to reply in the negative, knowing that the censure he would incur would be less. But Phil might yet be taken-he probably would be, sooner or later, Pietro thought-and then his falsehood would be found out, and he would in consequence lose the confidence of the padrone. So, difficult though it was, he thought it politic to tell the truth.

"Si, signore, I saw him," said he.

"Then why didn't you drag him home?" demanded his uncle, with contracted brow. "Didn't I tell you to bring him home?"

"Si, signore, but I could not."

"Are you not so strong as he, then?" asked the padrone, with a sneer. "Is a boy of twelve more than a match for you, who are six years older?"

"I could kill him with my little finger," said Pietro, stung by this taunt, and for the moment he looked as if he would like to do it.

"Then you didn't want to bring him? Come, you are not too old for the stick yet."

Pietro glowed beneath his dark skin with anger and shame when these words were addressed to him. He would not have cared so much had they been alone, but some of the younger boys were present, and it shamed him to be threatened in their presence.

"I will tell you how it happened," he said, suppressing his anger as well as he could, "and you will see that I was not in fault."

"Speak on, then," said his uncle; but his tone was cold and incredulous.

Pietro told the story, as we know it. It will not be necessary to repeat it. When he had finished, his uncle said, with a sneer, "So you were afraid of a woman. I am ashamed of you."

"What could I do?" pleaded Pietro.

"What could you do?" repeated the padrone, furiously; "you could push her aside, run into the house, and secure the boy. You are a coward-afraid of a woman!"

"It was her house," said Pietro. "She would call the police."

"So could you. You could say it was your brother you sought. There was no difficulty. Do you think Filippo is there yet?"

"I do not know."

"To-morrow I will go with you myself," said the padrone. "I see I cannot trust you alone. You shall show me the house, and I will take the boy."

Pietro was glad to hear this. It shifted the responsibility from his shoulders, and he was privately convinced that Mrs. McGuire would prove a more formidable antagonist than the padrone imagined. Whichever way it turned out, he would experience a feeling of satisfaction. If the padrone got worsted, it would show that he, Pietro, need not be ashamed of his defeat. If Mrs. McGuire had to surrender at discretion, he would rejoice in her discomfiture. So, in spite of his reprimand, he went to bed with better spirits than he came home.

The next morning Pietro and the padrone proceeded to Newark, as proposed. Arrived there, the former led his uncle at once to the house of the redoubtable Mrs. McGuire. It will be necessary for us to precede them.

Patrick McGuire was a laborer, and for some months past had had steady work. But, as luck would have it, work ceased for him on the day in which his wife had proved so powerful a protector to Phil. When he came home at night he announced this.

"Niver mind, Pat," said Mrs. McGuire, who was sanguine and hopeful, "we'll live somehow. I've got a bit of money upstairs, and I'll earn something by washing. We won't starve."

"I'll get work ag'in soon, maybe," said Pat, encouraged.

"Shure you will."

"And if I don't, I'll help you wash," said her husband, humorously.

"Shure you'd spoil the clothes," said Bridget, laughing.

In the evening Phil played, and they had a merry time. Mr. McGuire quite forgot that he was out of work, and, seizing his wife by the waist, danced around the kitchen, to the great delight of the children.

The next morning Phil thanked Mrs. McGuire for her kindness, and prepared to go away.

"Why will you go?" asked Bridget, hospitably. "Shure we have room for you. You can pay us a little for your atin', and sleep with the childer."

"I should like it," said Phil, "but--"

"But what?"

"Pietro will come for me."

"And if he does, my Pat will kick him out of doors."

Mr. McGuire was six feet in height, and powerfully made. There was no doubt he could do it if he had the opportunity. But Phil knew that he must go out into the streets and then Pietro might waylay him when he had no protector at hand. He explained his difficulty to Mrs. McGuire, and she proposed that he should remain close at hand all the forenoon; near enough to fly to the house as a refuge, if needful.

If Pietro did not appear in that time, he probably would not at all.

Phil agreed to this plan, and accordingly began to play and sing in the neighborhood, keeping a watchful lookout for the enemy. His earnings were small, for the neighborhood was poor. Still, he picked up a few pennies, and his store was increased by a twenty-five cent gift from a passing gentleman. He had just commenced a new tune, being at that time ten rods from the house, when his watchful eyes detected the approach of Pietro, and, more formidable still, the padrone.

He did not stop to finish his tune, but took to his heels. At that moment the padrone saw him. With a cry of exultation, he started in pursuit, and Pietro with him. He thought Phil already in his grasp.

Phil dashed breathless into the kitchen, where Mrs. McGuire was ironing.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"The padrone-Pietro and the padrone!" exclaimed Phil, pale with affright.

Mrs. McGuire took in the situation at once.

"Run upstairs," she said. "Pat's up there on the bed. He will see they won't take you."

Phil sprang upstairs two steps at a time, and dashed into the chamber. Mr. McGuire was lying on the outside of the bed, peacefully smoking a clay pipe.

"What's the matther?" he asked, repeating his wife's question.

"They have come for me," said Phil.

"Have they?" said Pat. "Then they'll go back, I'm thinkin'. Where are they?"

But there was no need of a reply, as their voices were already audible from below, talking with Mrs. McGuire. The distance was so trifling that they had seen Phil enter the house, and the padrone, having a contempt for the physical powers of woman, followed boldly.

They met Mrs. McGuire at the door.

"What do you want?" she demanded.

"The boy," said the padrone. "I saw him come in here."

"Did ye? Your eyes is sharp thin."

She stood directly in the passage, so that neither could enter without brushing her aside.

"Send him out," said the padrone.

"Faith, and I won't," said Bridget. "He shall stay here as long as he likes."

"I will come in and take him," said the padrone, furiously.

"I wouldn't advise ye to thry it," said Mrs. McGuire, coolly.

"Move aside, woman, or I will make you," said the Italian, angrily.

"I'll stay where I am. Shure, it's my own house, and I have a right to do it."

"Pietro," said the padrone, with sudden thought, "he may escape from the front door. Go round and watch it."

By his sign Bridget guessed what he said, though it was spoken in Italian.

"He won't run away," she said. "I'll tell you where he is, if you want to know."

"Where?" asked the padrone, eagerly.

"He's upstairs, thin."

The padrone would not be restrained any longer. He made a rush forward, and, pushing Mrs. McGuire aside, sprang up the stairs. He would have found greater difficulty in doing this, but Bridget, knowing her husband was upstairs, made little resistance, and contented herself, after the padrone had passed, with intercepting Pietro, and clutching him vigorously by the hair, to his great discomfort, screaming "Murther!" at the top of her lungs.

The padrone heard the cry, but in his impetuosity he did not heed it. He expected to gain an easy victory over Phil, whom he supposed to be alone in the chamber. He sprang toward him, but had barely seized him by the arm, when the gigantic form of the Irishman appeared, and the padrone found himself in his powerful grasp.

"What business have ye here, you bloody villain?" demanded Pat; "breakin' into an honest man's house, without lave or license. I'll teach you manners, you baste!"

"Give me the boy!" gasped the padrone.

"You can't have him, thin!" said Pat "You want to bate him, you murderin' ould villain!"

"I'll have you arrested," said the padrone, furiously, writhing vainly to get himself free. He was almost beside himself that Phil should be the witness of his humiliation.

"Will you, thin?" demanded Pat. "Thin the sooner you do it the betther. Open the window, Phil!"

Phil obeyed, not knowing why the request was made. He was soon enlightened. The Irishman seized the padrone, and, lifting him from the floor, carried him to the window, despite his struggles, and, thrusting him out, let him drop. It was only the second story, and there was no danger of serious injury. The padrone picked himself up, only to meet with another disaster. A passing policeman had heard Mrs. McGuire's cries, and on hearing her account had arrested Pietro, and was just in time to arrest the padrone also, on the charge of forcibly entering the house. As the guardian of the peace marched off with Pietro on one side and the padrone on the other, Mrs. McGuire sat down on a chair and laughed till she cried.

"Shure, they won't come for you again in a hurry, Phil, darlint!" she said. "They've got all they want, I'm thinkin'."

I may add that the pair were confined in the station-house over night, and the next day were brought before a justice, reprimanded and fined.

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