Cuore (Chapter 20)
Edmondo De Acimis
It is still snow, snow. A shameful thing happened in connection with the snow this morning when we came out of school. A flock of boys had no sooner got into the Corso than they began to throw balls of that watery snow which makes missiles as solid and heavy as stones. Many persons were passing along the sidewalks. A gentleman called out, “Stop that, you little rascals!” and just at that moment a sharp cry rose from another part of the street, and we saw an old man who had lost his hat and was staggering about, covering his face with his hands, and beside him a boy who was shouting, “Help! help!”
People instantly ran from all directions. He had been struck in the eye with a ball. All the boys dispersed, fleeing like arrows. I was standing in front of the bookseller’s shop, into which my father had gone, and I saw several of my companions approaching at a run, mingling with others near me, and pretending to be engaged in staring at the windows: there was Garrone, with his penny roll in his pocket, as usual; Coretti, the little mason; and Garoffi, the boy with the postage-stamps. In the meantime a crowd had formed around the old man, and a policeman and others were running to and fro, threatening and demanding: “Who was it? Who did it? Was it you? Tell me who did it!” and they looked at the boys’ hands to see whether they were wet with snow.
Garoffi was standing beside me. I perceived that he was trembling all over, and that his face was as white as that of a corpse. “Who was it? Who did it?” the crowd continued to cry.
Then I overheard Garrone say in a low voice to Garoffi, “Come, go and present yourself; it would be cowardly to allow any one else to be arrested.”
“But I did not do it on purpose,” replied Garoffi, trembling like a leaf.
“No matter; do your duty,” repeated Garrone.
“But I have not the courage.”
“Take courage, then; I will accompany you.”
And the policeman and the other people were crying more loudly than ever: “Who was it? Who did it? One of his glasses has been driven into his eye! He has been blinded! The ruffians!”
I thought that Garoffi would fall to the earth. “Come,” said Garrone, resolutely, “I will defend you;” and grasping him by the arm, he thrust him forward, supporting him as though he had been a sick man. The people saw, and instantly understood, and several persons ran up with their fists raised; but Garrone thrust himself between, crying:—
“Do ten men of you set on one boy?”
Then they ceased, and a policeman seized Garoffi by the hand and led him, pushing aside the crowd as he went, to a pastry-cook’s shop, where the wounded man had been carried. On catching sight of him, I suddenly recognized him as the old employee who lives on the fourth floor of our house with his grandnephew. He was stretched out on a chair, with a handkerchief over his eyes.
“I did not do it intentionally!” sobbed Garoffi, half dead with terror; “I did not do it intentionally!”
Two or three persons thrust him violently into the shop, crying, “Your face to the earth! Beg his pardon!” and they threw him to the ground. But all at once two vigorous arms set him on his feet again, and a resolute voice said:—
“No, gentlemen!” It was our head-master, who had seen it all. “Since he has had the courage to present himself,” he added, “no one has the right to humiliate him.” All stood silent. “Ask his forgiveness,” said the head-master to Garoffi. Garoffi, bursting into tears, embraced the old man’s knees, and the latter, having felt for the boy’s head with his hand, caressed his hair. Then all said:—
“Go away, boy! go, return home.”
And my father drew me out of the crowd, and said to me as we passed along the street, “Enrico, would you have had the courage, under similar circumstances, to do your duty,—to go and confess your fault?”
I told him that I should. And he said, “Give me your word, as a lad of heart and honor, that you would do it.” “I give thee my word, father mine!”