Cuore (Chapter 54)
Edmondo De Acimis
During the five days which have passed since the National Festival, the heat has increased by three degrees. We are in full summer now, and begin to feel weary; all have lost their fine rosy color of springtime; necks and legs are growing thin, heads droop and eyes close. Poor Nelli, who suffers much from the heat, has turned the color of wax in the face; he sometimes falls into a heavy sleep, with his head on his copy-book; but Garrone is always watchful, and places an open book upright in front of him, so that the master may not see him. Crossi rests his red head against the bench in a certain way, so that it looks as though it had been detached from his body and placed there separately. Nobis complains that there are too many of us, and that we corrupt the air. Ah, what an effort it costs now to study! I gaze through the windows at those beautiful trees which cast so deep a shade, where I should be so glad to run, and sadness and wrath overwhelm me at being obliged to go and shut myself up among the benches. But then I take courage at the sight of my kind mother, who is always watching me, scrutinizing me, when I return from school, to see whether I am not pale; and at every page of my work she says to me:—
“Do you still feel well?” and every morning at six, when she wakes me for my lesson, “Courage! there are only so many days more: then you will be free, and will get rested,—you will go to the shade of country lanes.”
Yes, she is perfectly right to remind me of the boys who are working in the fields in the full heat of the sun, or among the white sands of the river, which blind and scorch them, and of those in the glass-factories, who stand all day long motionless, with head bent over a flame of gas; and all of them rise earlier than we do, and have no vacations. Courage, then! And even in this respect, Derossi is at the head of all, for he suffers neither from heat nor drowsiness; he is always wide awake, and cheery, with his golden curls, as he was in the winter, and he studies without effort, and keeps all about him alert, as though he freshened the air with his voice.
And there are two others, also, who are always awake and attentive: stubborn Stardi, who pricks his face, to prevent himself from going to sleep; and the more weary and heated he is, the more he sets his teeth, and he opens his eyes so wide that it seems as though he wanted to eat the teacher; and that barterer of a Garoffi, who is wholly absorbed in manufacturing fans out of red paper, decorated with little figures from match-boxes, which he sells at two centesimi apiece.
But the bravest of all is Coretti; poor Coretti, who gets up at five o’clock, to help his father carry wood! At eleven, in school, he can no longer keep his eyes open, and his head droops on his breast. And nevertheless, he shakes himself, punches himself on the back of the neck, asks permission to go out and wash his face, and makes his neighbors shake and pinch him. But this morning he could not resist, and he fell into a leaden sleep. The master called him loudly; “Coretti!” He did not hear. The master, irritated, repeated, “Coretti!” Then the son of the charcoal-man, who lives next to him at home, rose and said:—
“He worked from five until seven carrying faggots.” The teacher allowed him to sleep on, and continued with the lesson for half an hour. Then he went to Coretti’s seat, and wakened him very, very gently, by blowing in his face. On beholding the master in front of him, he started back in alarm. But the master took his head in his hands, and said, as he kissed him on the hair:—
“I am not reproving you, my son. Your sleep is not at all that of laziness; it is the sleep of fatigue