Edmondo De Acimis
THE SON OF THE BLACKSMITH-IRONMONGER
Yes, but I also esteem Precossi; and to say that I esteem him is not enough,—Precossi, the son of the blacksmith-ironmonger,—that thin little fellow, who has kind, melancholy eyes and a frightened air; who is so timid that he says to everyone, “Excuse me”; who is always sickly, and who, nevertheless, studies so much. His father returns home, intoxicated with brandy, and beats him without the slightest reason in the world, and flings his books and his copy-books in the air with a backward turn of his hand; and he comes to school with the black and blue marks on his face, and sometimes with his face all swollen, and his eyes inflamed with much weeping. But never, never can he be made to acknowledge that his father beats him.
“Your father has been beating you,” his companions say to him; and he instantly exclaims, “That is not true! it is not true!” for the sake of not dishonoring his father.
“You did not burn this leaf,” the teacher says to him, showing him his work, half burned.
“Yes,” he replies, in a trembling voice; “I let it fall on the fire.”
But we know very well, nevertheless, that his drunken father overturned the table and the light with a kick, while the boy was doing his work. He lives in a garret of our house, on another staircase. The portress tells my mother everything: my sister Silvia heard him screaming from the terrace one day, when his father had sent him headlong down stairs, because he had asked for a few soldi to buy a grammar. His father drinks, but does not work, and his family suffers from hunger. How often Precossi comes to school with an empty stomach and nibbles in secret at a roll which Garrone has given him, or at an apple brought to him by the schoolmistress with the red feather, who was his teacher in the first lower class. But he never says, “I am hungry; my father does not give me anything to eat.” His father sometimes comes for him, when he chances to be passing the schoolhouse,—pallid, unsteady on his legs, with a fierce face, and his hair over his eyes, and his cap awry; and the poor boy trembles all over when he catches sight of him in the street; but he immediately runs to meet him, with a smile; and his father does not appear to see him, but seems to be thinking of something else. Poor Precossi! He mends his torn copy-books, borrows books to study his lessons, fastens the fragments of his shirt together with pins; and it is a pity to see him performing his gymnastics, with those huge shoes in which he is fairly lost, in those trousers which drag on the ground, and that jacket which is too long, and those huge sleeves turned back to the very elbows. And he studies; he does his best; he would be one of the first, if he were able to work at home in peace. This morning he came to school with the marks of finger-nails on one cheek, and they all began to say to him:—
“It is your father, and you cannot deny it this time; it was your father who did that to you. Tell the head-master about it, and he will have him called to account for it.”
But he sprang up, all flushed, with a voice trembling with indignation:—
“It’s not true! it’s not true! My father never beats me!”
But afterwards, during lesson time, his tears fell upon the bench, and when any one looked at him, he tried to smile, in order that he might not show it. Poor Precossi! To-morrow Derossi, Coretti, and Nelli are coming to my house; I want to tell him to come also; and I want to have him take luncheon with me: I want to treat him to books, and turn the house upside down to amuse him, and to fill his pockets with fruit, for the sake of seeing him contented for once, poor Precossi! who is so good and so courageous.