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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPhil The Fiddler - Chapter 7. The Home Of The Boys
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Phil The Fiddler - Chapter 7. The Home Of The Boys Post by :Clifford_Mee Category :Long Stories Author :Horatio Alger Date :May 2012 Read :2134

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Phil The Fiddler - Chapter 7. The Home Of The Boys


It was a quarter-past eleven when Phil and Giacomo entered the shabby brick house which they called home, for want of a better. From fifteen to twenty of their companions had already arrived, and the padrone was occupied in receiving their several contributions. The apartment was a mean one, miserably furnished, but seemed befitting the principal occupant, whose dark face was marked by an expression of greed, and alternately showed satisfaction or disappointment as the contents of the boys' pockets were satisfactory or otherwise. Those who had done badly were set apart for punishment.

He looked up as the two boys entered.

"Well, Filippo," he said, harshly, "how much have you got?"

Phil handed over his earnings. They were up to the required limit, but the padrone looked only half satisfied.

"Is that all you have?" he asked, suspiciously.

"It is all, signore."

"You have not done well this afternoon, then. When I met you at twelve o'clock you had more than a dollar."

"It was because a good signora gave me fifty cents."

The padrone, still suspicious, plunging his hands into Phil's pockets, but in vain. He could not find another penny.

"Take off your shoes and stockings," he said, still unsatisfied.

Phil obediently removed his shoes and stockings, but no money was found concealed, as the padrone half suspected. Sometimes these poor boys, beset by a natural temptation, secrete a portion of their daily earnings. Whenever they are detected, woe betide them. The padrone makes an example of them, inflicting a cruel punishment, in order to deter other boys from imitating them.

Having discovered nothing, he took Phil's violin, and proceeded to Giacomo.

"Now for you," he said.

Giacomo handed over his money. The padrone was surprised in turn, but his surprise was of a different nature. He had expected to find him deficient, knowing that he was less enterprising than Phil. He was glad to get more money than he expected, but a little disappointed that he had no good excuse for beating him; for he had one of those hard, cruel natures that delight in inflicting pain and anguish upon others.

"Take care that you do as well to-morrow," he said. "Go and get your supper."

One of the larger boys was distributing bread and cheese to the hungry boys. Nearly all ate as if famished, plain and uninviting as was the supper, for they had been many hours without food. But Phil, who, as we know, had eaten a good supper at Mrs. Hoffman's, felt very little appetite. He slyly gave his bread to one of the boys, who, on account of the small sum he brought home, had been sentenced to go without. But the sharp eyes of the padrone, which, despite his occupation, managed to see all that was going on, detected this action, and he became suspicious that Phil had bought supper out of his earnings.

"Why did you give your bread to Giuseppe?" he demanded.

"Because I was not hungry," answered Phil.

"Why were you not hungry? Did you buy some supper?"

"No, signore."

"Then you should be hungry."

"A kind lady gave me some supper."

"How did it happen?"

"I knew her son. His name is Paolo. He asked me to go home with him. Then he gave me a good supper."

"How long were you there? You might have been playing and brought me some more money," said the padrone, who, with characteristic meanness, grudged the young fiddler time to eat the meal that cost him nothing.

"It was not long, signore."

"You can eat what is given you, but you must not waste too much time."

A boy entered next, who showed by his hesitating manner that he did not anticipate a good reception. The padrone, accustomed to judge by appearances, instantly divined this.

"Well, Ludovico," he said, sharply, "what do you bring me?"

"Pardon, padrone," said Ludovico, producing a small sum of money.

"I could not help it."

"Seventy-five cents," repeated the padrone, indignantly. "You have been idle, you little wretch!"

"No, padrone. Indeed, I did my best. The people would not give me money."

"Where did you go?"

"I was in Brooklyn."

"You have spent some of the money."

"No, padrone."

"You have been idle, then. No supper to-night. Pietro, my stick!"

Pietro was one of the older boys. He was ugly physically, and his disposition corresponded with his appearance. He could have few good traits, or he would not have possessed the confidence of the padrone. He was an efficient assistant of the latter, and co-operated with him in oppressing the other boys. Indeed, he was a nephew of the padrone's, and for this reason, as well as his similarity of disposition, he was treated with unusual indulgence. Whenever the padrone felt suspicious of any of the boys, he usually sent them out in company with Pietro, who acted as a spy, faithfully reporting all that happened to his principal.

Pietro responded with alacrity to the command of the padrone, and produced a stout stick, which he handed to his uncle.

"Now strip off your jacket," said the padrone, harshly.

"Spare me, padrone! Do not beat me! It was not my fault," said the unhappy Ludovico, imploringly.

"Take off your jacket!" repeated the padrone, pitilessly.

One look of that hard face might have taught Ludovico, even if he had not witnessed the punishment so often inflicted on other boys, that there was no hope for him.

"Help him, Pietro," said the padrone.

Pietro seized Ludovico's jacket, and pulled it off roughly. Then he drew off the ragged shirt which the boy wore underneath, and his bare back was exposed to view.

"Hold him, Pietro!"

In Pietro's firm grasp, the boy was unable to stir. The padrone whirled the stick aloft, and brought it down upon the naked flesh, leaving behind a fearful wheal.

Ludovico shrieked aloud, and again implored mercy, but in vain, for the stick descended again and again.

Meanwhile the other boys looked on, helpless to interfere. The more selfish were glad that they had escaped, though not at all sure but it would be their turn next evening. There were others who felt a passive sympathy for their unlucky comrade. Others were filled with indignation at the padrone, knowing how cruel and unjust were his exactions. Among these was Phil. Possessed of a warm and sympathetic heart, he never witnessed these cruel punishments without feeling that he would like to see the padrone suffering such pain as he inflicted upon others.

"If I were only a man," he often thought, "I would wrench the stick from his hand, and give him a chance to feel it."

But he knew too well the danger of permitting his real sentiments to be reflected in his face. It would only bring upon him a share of the same punishment, without benefiting those who were unfortunate enough to receive it.

When Ludovico's punishment was ended, he was permitted to go to bed, but without his supper. Nor was his the only case. Five other boys were subjected to the same punishment. The stick had no want of exercise on that evening. Here were nearly forty boys, subjected to excessive fatigue, privation, and brutal treatment daily, on account of the greed of one man. The hours that should been given in part to instruction, and partly to such recreation as the youthful heart craves, were devoted to a pursuit that did nothing to prepare them for the duties of life. And this white slavery--for it merits no better name--is permitted by the law of two great nations. Italy is in fault in suffering this traffic in her children of tender years, and America is guilty as well in not interfering, as she might, at all events, to abridge the long hours of labor required of these boys, and forcing their cruel guardians to give them some instruction.

One by one the boys straggled in. By midnight all had returned, and the boys were permitted to retire to their beds, which were poor enough. This, however, was the least of their troubles. Sound are the slumbers of young however hard the couch on which it rests, especially when, as with all the young Italian boys, the day has been one of fatigue.

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