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   Chapter 24 THE DEATH OF GIACOMO

Phil, the Fiddler By Jr. Horatio Alger Characters: 9589

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Great was the astonishment at the Italian lodging-house that night when neither the padrone nor Pietro made his appearance. Great was the joy, too, for the nightly punishments were also necessarily omitted, and the boys had no one to pay their money to. There was another circumstance not so agreeable. All the provisions were locked up, and there was no supper for the hungry children. Finally, at half-past eleven, three boys, bolder than the rest, went out, and at last succeeded in obtaining some bread and crackers at an oyster saloon, in sufficient quantities to supply all their comrades. After eating heartily they went to bed, and for one night the establishment ran itself much more satisfactorily to the boys than if the padrone had been present.

The next morning the boys went out as usual, having again bought their breakfast and dispersed themselves about the city and vicinity, heartily hoping that this state of things might continue. But it was too good to last. When they returned at evening they found their old enemy in command. He looked more ill-tempered and sour than ever, but gave no explanation of his and Pietro's absence, except to say that he had been out of the city on business. He called for the boys' earnings of the day previous, but to their surprise made no inquiries about how they had supplied themselves with supper or breakfast. He felt that his influence over the boys, and the terror which he delighted to inspire in them, would be lessened if they should learn that he had been arrested and punished. The boys were accustomed to look upon him as possessed of absolute power over them, and almost regarded him as above law.

Pietro, too, was silent, partly for the same reasons which influenced the padrone, partly because he was afraid of offending his uncle.

Meanwhile poor Giacomo remained sick. If he had been as robust and strong as Phil, he would have recovered, but he was naturally delicate, and exposure and insufficient food had done their work only too well.

Four days afterward (to advance the story a little) one of the boys came to the padrone in the morning, saying: "Signore padrone, Giacomo is much worse. I think he is going to die."

"Nonsense!" said the padrone, angrily. "He is only pretending to be sick, so that he need not work. I have lost enough by him already."

Nevertheless he went to the little boy's bedside.

Giacomo was breathing faintly. His face was painfully thin, his eyes preternaturally bright. He spoke faintly, but his mind seemed to be wandering.

"Where is Filippo?" he said. "I want to see Filippo."

In this wish the padrone heartily concurred. He, too, would have been glad to see Filippo, but the pleasure would not have been mutual.

"Why do you want to see Filippo?" he demanded, in his customary harsh tone.

Giacomo heard and answered, though unconscious who spoke to him.

"I want to kiss him before I die," he said.

"What makes you think you are going to die?" said the tyrant, struck by the boy's appearance.

"I am so weak," murmured Giacomo. "Stoop down, Filippo. I want to tell you something in your ear."

Moved by curiosity rather than humanity, the padrone stooped over, and Giacomo whispered:

"When you go back to Italy, dear Filippo, go and tell my mother how I died. Tell her not to let my father sell my little brother to a padrone, or he may die far away, as I am dying. Promise me, Filippo."

There was no answer. The padrone did indeed feel a slight emotion of pity, but it was, unhappily, transient. Giacomo did not observe that the question was not answered.

"Kiss me, Filippo," said the dying boy.

One of the boys who stood nearby, with tears in his eyes, bent over and kissed him.

Giacomo smiled. He thought it was Filippo. With that smile on his face, he gave one quick gasp and died-a victim of the padrone's tyranny and his father's cupidity.(1)

(1) It is the testimony of an eminent Neapolitan physician

(I quote from Signor Casali, editor of L'Eco d'Italia) that

of one hundred Italian children who are sold by their

parents into this white slavery, but twenty ever return

home; thirty grow up and adopt various occupations abroad,

and fifty succumb to maladies produced by privation and

exposure.

Death came to Giacomo as a friend. No longer could he be forced out into the streets to suffer cold and fatigue, and at night inhuman treatment and abuse. His slavery was at an end.

We go back now to Phil. Though he and his friends had again gained a victory over Pietro and the padrone, he thought it would not be prudent to remain in Newark any longer. He knew the revengeful spirit of his tyrants, and dreaded the chance of again falling into their hands. He must, of course, be exposed to the risk o

f capture while plying his vocation in the public streets. Therefore he resisted the invitation of his warm-hearted protectors to make his home with them, and decided to wander farther away from New York.

The next day, therefore, he went to the railway station and bought a ticket for a place ten miles further on. This he decided would be far enough to be safe.

Getting out of the train, he found himself in a village of moderate size. Phil looked around him with interest. He had the fondness, natural to his age, for seeing new places. He soon came to a schoolhouse. It was only a quarter of nine, and some of the boys were playing outside. Phil leaned against a tree and looked on.

Though he was at an age when boys enjoy play better than work or study, he had no opportunity to join in their games.

One of the boys, observing him, came up and said frankly, "Do you want to play with us?"

"Yes," said Phil, brightening up, "I should like to."

"Come on, then."

Phil looked at his fiddle and hesitated.

"Oh, I'll take care of your fiddle for you. Here, this tree is hollow; just put it inside, and nobody will touch it."

Phil needed no second invitation. Sure of the safety of his fiddle, which was all-important to him since it procured for him his livelihood, he joined in the game with zest. It was so simple that he easily understood it. His laugh was as loud and merry as any of the rest, and his face glowed with enjoyment.

It does not take long for boys to become acquainted. In the brief time before the teacher's arrival, Phil became on good terms with the schoolboys, and the one who had first invited him to join them said: "Come into school with us. You shall sit in my seat."

"Will he let me?" asked Phil, pointing to the teacher.

"To be sure he will. Come along."

Phil took his fiddle from its hiding-place in the interior of the tree, and walked beside his companion into the schoolroom.

It was the first time he had ever been in a schoolroom before, and he looked about him with curiosity at the desks, and the maps hanging on the walls. The blackboards, too, he regarded with surprise, not understanding their use.

After the opening exercises were concluded, the teacher, whose attention had been directed to the newcomer, walked up to the desk where he was seated. Phil was a little alarmed, for, associating him with his recollections of the padrone, he did not know but that he would be punished for his temerity in entering without the teacher's invitation.

But he was soon reassured by the pleasant tone in which he was addressed.

"What is your name, my young friend?"

"Filippo."

"You are an Italian, I suppose."

"Si, signore."

"Does that mean 'Yes, sir'?"

"Yes, sir," answered Phil, remembering to speak English.

"Is that your violin?"

"Yes, sir."

"Where do you live?"

Phil hesitated.

"I am traveling," he said at last.

"You are young to travel alone. How long have you been in this country?"

"A year."

"And have you been traveling about all that time?"

"No, signore; I have lived in New York."

"I suppose you have not gone to school?"

"No, signore."

"Well, I am glad to see you here; I shall be glad to have you stay and listen to our exercises."

The teacher walked back to his desk, and the lessons began. Phil listened with curiosity and attention. For the first time in his life he felt ashamed of his own ignorance, and wished he, too, might have a chance to learn, as the children around him were doing. But they had homes and parents to supply their wants, while he must work for his livelihood.

After a time, recess came. Then the boys gathered around, and asked Phil to play them a tune.

"Will he let me?" asked the young fiddler, again referring to the teacher.

The latter, being applied to, readily consented, and expressed his own wish to hear Phil. So the young minstrel played and sang several tunes to the group of children who gathered around him. Time passed rapidly, and the recess was over before the children anticipated it.

"I am sorry to disturb your enjoyment," said the teacher; "but duty before pleasure, you know. I will only suggest that, as our young friend here depends on his violin for support, we ought to collect a little money for him. James Reynolds, suppose you pass around your hat for contributions. Let me suggest that you come to me first."

The united offerings, though small individually, amounted to a dollar, which Phil pocketed with much satisfaction. He did not remain after recess, but resumed his wanderings, and about noon entered a grocery store, where he made a hearty lunch. Thus far good fortune attended him, but the time was coming, and that before long, when life would wear a less sunny aspect.

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