Cuore (Chapter 56)
Edmondo De Acimis
IN THE COUNTRY
My good father forgave me, even on this occasion, and allowed me to go on an expedition to the country, which had been arranged on Wednesday, with the father of Coretti, the wood-peddler.
We were all in need of a mouthful of hill air. It was a festival day. We met yesterday at two o’clock in the place of the Statuto, Derossi, Garrone, Garoffi, Precossi, Coretti, father and son, and I, with our provisions of fruit, sausages, and hard-boiled eggs; we had also leather bottles and tin cups. Garrone carried a gourd filled with white wine; Coretti, his father’s soldier-canteen, full of red wine; and little Precossi, in the blacksmith’s blouse, held under his arm a two-kilogramme loaf.
We went in the omnibus as far as Gran Madre di Dio, and then off, as briskly as possible, to the hills. How green, how shady, how fresh it was! We rolled over and over in the grass, we dipped our faces in the rivulets, we leaped the hedges. The elder Coretti followed us at a distance, with his jacket thrown over his shoulders, smoking his clay pipe, and from time to time threatening us with his hand, to prevent our tearing holes in our trousers.
Precossi whistled; I had never heard him whistle before. The younger Coretti did the same, as he went along. That little fellow knows how to make everything with his jack-knife a finger’s length long,—mill-wheels, forks, squirts; and he insisted on carrying the other boys’ things, and he was loaded down until he was dripping with perspiration, but he was still as nimble as a goat. Derossi halted every moment to tell us the names of the plants and insects. I don’t understand how he manages to know so many things. And Garrone nibbled at his bread in silence; but he no longer attacks it with the cheery bites of old, poor Garrone! now that he has lost his mother. But he is always as good as bread himself. When one of us ran back to obtain the momentum for leaping a ditch, he ran to the other side, and held out his hands to us; and as Precossi was afraid of cows, having been tossed by one when a child, Garrone placed himself in front of him every time that we passed any. We mounted up to Santa Margherita, and then went down the decline by leaps, rolls, and slides. Precossi tumbled into a thorn-bush, and tore a hole in his blouse, and stood there overwhelmed with shame, with the strip dangling; but Garoffi, who always has pins in his jacket, fixed it so that it was not perceptible, while the other kept saying, “Excuse me, excuse me,” and then he set out to run once more.
Garoffi did not waste his time on the way; he picked salad herbs and snails, and put every stone that glistened in the least into his pocket, supposing that there was gold and silver in it. And on we went, running, rolling, and climbing through the shade and in the sun, up and down, through all the lanes and cross-roads, until we arrived dishevelled and breathless at the crest of a hill, where we seated ourselves to take our lunch on the grass.
We could see an immense plain, and all the blue Alps with their white summits. We were dying of hunger; the bread seemed to be melting. The elder Coretti handed us our portions of sausage on gourd leaves. And then we all began to talk at once about the teachers, the comrades who had not been able to come, and the examinations. Precossi was rather ashamed to eat, and Garrone thrust the best bits of his share into his mouth by force. Coretti was seated next his father, with his legs crossed; they seem more like two brothers than father and son, when seen thus together, both rosy and smiling, with those white teeth of theirs. The father drank with zest, emptying the bottles and the cups which we left half finished, and said:—
“Wine hurts you boys who are studying; it is the wood-sellers who need it.” Then he grasped his son by the nose, and shook him, saying to us, “Boys, you must love this fellow, for he is a flower of a man of honor; I tell you so myself!” And then we all laughed, except Garrone. And he went on, as he drank, “It’s a shame, eh! now you are all good friends together, and in a few years, who knows, Enrico and Derossi will be lawyers or professors or I don’t know what, and the other four of you will be in shops or at a trade, and the deuce knows where, and then—good night comrades!”
“Nonsense!” rejoined Derossi; “for me, Garrone will always be Garrone, Precossi will always be Precossi, and the same with all the others, were I to become the emperor of Russia: where they are, there I shall go also.”
“Bless you!” exclaimed the elder Coretti, raising his flask; “that’s the way to talk, by Heavens! Touch your glass here! Hurrah for brave comrades, and hurrah for school, which makes one family of you, of those who have and those who have not!”
We all clinked his flask with the skins and the cups, and drank for the last time.
“Hurrah for the fourth of the 49th!” he cried, as he rose to his feet, and swallowed the last drop; “and if you have to do with squadrons too, see that you stand firm, like us old ones, my lads!”
It was already late. We descended, running and singing, and walking long distances all arm in arm, and we arrived at the Po as twilight fell, and thousands of fireflies were flitting about. And we only parted in the Piazza dello Statuto after having agreed to meet there on the following Sunday, and go to the Vittorio Emanuele to see the distribution of prizes to the graduates of the evening schools.
What a beautiful day! How happy I should have been on my return home, had I not encountered my poor schoolmistress! I met her coming down the staircase of our house, almost in the dark, and, as soon as she recognized me, she took both my hands, and whispered in my ear, “Good by, Enrico; remember me!” I perceived that she was weeping. I went up and told my mother about it.
“I have just met my schoolmistress.”—“She was just going to bed,” replied my mother, whose eyes were red. And then she added very sadly, gazing intently at me, “Your poor teacher—is very ill.”