Cuore (Chapter 12)
Edmondo De Acimis
THE CHARCOAL-MAN AND THE GENTLEMAN
Garrone would certainly never have uttered the words which Carlo Nobis spoke yesterday morning to Betti. Carlo Nobis is proud, because his father is a great gentleman; a tall gentleman, with a black beard, and very serious, who accompanies his son to school nearly every day. Yesterday morning Nobis quarrelled with Betti, one of the smallest boys, and the son of a charcoal-man, and not knowing what retort to make, because he was in the wrong, said to him vehemently, “Your father is a tattered beggar!” Betti reddened up to his very hair, and said nothing, but the tears came to his eyes; and when he returned home, he repeated the words to his father; so the charcoal-dealer, a little man, who was black all over, made his appearance at the afternoon session, leading his boy by the hand, in order to complain to the master. While he was making his complaint, and everyone was silent, the father of Nobis, who was taking off his son’s coat at the entrance, as usual, entered on hearing his name pronounced, and demanded an explanation.
“This workman has come,” said the master, “to complain that your son Carlo said to his boy, ‘Your father is a tattered beggar.’”
Nobis’s father frowned and reddened slightly. Then he asked his son, “Did you say that?”
His son, who was standing in the middle of the school, with his head hanging, in front of little Betti, made no reply.
Then his father grasped him by one arm and pushed him forward, facing Betti, so that they nearly touched, and said to him, “Beg his pardon.”
The charcoal-man tried to interpose, saying, “No, no!” but the gentleman paid no heed to him, and repeated to his son, “Beg his pardon. Repeat my words. ‘I beg your pardon for the insulting, foolish, and ignoble words which I uttered against your father, whose hand my father would feel himself honored to press.’”
The charcoal-man made a resolute gesture, as though to say, “I will not allow it.” The gentleman did not second him, and his son said slowly, in a very thread of a voice, without raising his eyes from the ground, “I beg your pardon—for the insulting—foolish—ignoble—words which I uttered against your father, whose hand my father—would feel himself honored—to press.”
Then the gentleman offered his hand to the charcoal-man, who shook it vigorously, and then, with a sudden push, he thrust his son into the arms of Carlo Nobis.
“Do me the favor to place them next each other,” said the gentleman to the master. The master put Betti on Nobis’s bench. When they were seated, the father of Nobis bowed and went away.
The charcoal-man remained standing there in thought for several moments, gazing at the two boys side by side; then he approached the bench, and fixed upon Nobis a look expressive of affection and regret, as though he were desirous of saying something to him, but he did not say anything; he stretched out his hand to bestow a caress upon him, but he did not dare, and merely stroked his brow with his large fingers. Then he made his way to the door, and turning round for one last look, he disappeared.
“Fix what you have just seen firmly in your minds, boys,” said the master; “this is the finest lesson of the year.”