FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.
TO-DAY is the first day of school. These three months of vacation in the country have passed like a dream. This morning my mother conducted me to
the Baretti schoolhouse to have me enter for the third elementary course: I was thinking of the country and went unwillingly. All the
streets were swarming with boys: the two book-shops were thronged with
fathers and mothers who were purchasing bags, portfolios, and copy-books, and in front of the school so many people had collected, that the beadle and the policeman found it difficult to keep the
entrance disencumbered. Near the door, I felt myself touched on the
shoulder: it was my master of the second class, cheerful, as usual, and
with his red hair ruffled, and he said to me:--
"So we are separated forever, Enrico?"
I knew it perfectly well, yet these words pained me. We made our way in with difficulty. Ladies, gentlemen, women of the people, workmen, officials, nuns, servants, all leading boys with one hand, and holding the promotion books in the other, filled the anteroom and the stairs,
making such a buzzing, that it seemed as though one were entering a theatre. I beheld again with pleasure that large room on the ground floor, with the doors leading to the seven classes, where I had passed
nearly every day for three years. There was a throng; the teachers were going and coming. My schoolmistress of the first upper class greeted me from the door of the class-room, and said:--
"Enrico, you are going to the floor above this year. I shall never see you pass by any more!" and she gazed sadly at me. The director was surrounded by women in distress because there was no room for their sons, and it struck me that his beard was a little whiter than it had been last year. I found the boys had grown taller and stouter. On the ground floor, where the divisions had already been made, there were little children of the first and lowest section, who did not want to enter the class-rooms, and who resisted like donkeys: it was necessary
to drag them in by force, and some escaped from the benches; others, when they saw their parents depart, began to cry, and the parents had to go back and comfort and reprimand them, and the teachers were in
My little brother was placed in the class of Mistress Delcati: I was put
with Master Perboni, up stairs on the first floor. At ten o'clock we were all in our classes: fifty-four of us; only fifteen or sixteen of my companions of the second class, among them, Derossi, the one who always gets the first prize. The school seemed to me so small and gloomy when I thought of the woods and the mountains where I had passed the summer! I
thought again, too, of my master in the second class, who was so good, and who always smiled at us, and was so small that he seemed to be one of us, and I grieved that I should no longer see him there, with his tumbled red hair. Our teacher is tall; he has no beard; his hair is gray
and long; and he has a perpendicular wrinkle on his forehead: he has a
big voice, and he looks at us fixedly, one after the other, as though he were reading our inmost thoughts; and he never smiles. I said to myself:
"This is my first day. There are nine months more. What toil, what monthly examinations, what fatigue!" I really needed to see my mother when I came out, and I ran to kiss her hand. She said to me:--
"Courage, Enrico! we will study together." And I returned home content.
But I no longer have my master, with his kind, merry smile, and school
does not seem pleasant to me as it did before.
My new teacher pleases me also, since this morning. While we were coming in, and when he was already seated at his post, some one of his scholars of last year every now and then peeped in at the door to salute him; they would present themselves and greet him:--
"Good morning, Signor Teacher!" "Good morning, Signor Perboni!" Some
entered, touched his hand, and ran away. It was evident that they liked
him, and would have liked to return to him. He responded, "Good
morning," and shook the hands which were extended to him, but he looked at no one; at every greeting his smile remained serious, with that perpendicular wrinkle on his brow, with his face turned towards the
window, and staring at the roof of the house opposite; and instead of being cheered by these greetings, he seemed to suffer from them. Then he surveyed us attentively, one after the other. While he was dictating, he descended and walked among the benches, and, catching sight of a boy whose face was all red with little pimples, he stopped dictating, took
the lad's face between his hands and examined it; then he asked him what was the matter with him, and laid his hand on his forehead, to feel if it was hot. Meanwhile, a boy behind him got up on the bench, and began to play the marionette. The teacher turned round suddenly; the boy resumed his seat at one dash, and remained there, with head hanging, in
expectation of being punished. The master placed one hand on his head and said to him:--
"Don't do so again." Nothing more.
Then he returned to his table and finished the dictation. When he had
finished dictating, he looked at us a moment in silence; then he said,
very, very slowly, with his big but kind voice:--
"Listen. We have a year to pass together; let us see that we pass it well. Study and be good. I have no family; you are my family. Last year I had still a mother: she is dead. I am left alone. I have no one but you in all the world; I have no other affection, no other thought than you: you must be my sons. I wish you well, and you must like me too. I do not wish to be obliged to punish any one. Show me that you are boys
of heart: our school shall be a family, and you shall be my consolation and my pride. I do not ask you to give me a promise on your word of honor; I am sure that in your hearts you have already answered me 'yes,' and I thank you."
At that moment the beadle entered to announce the close of school. We all left our seats very, very quietly. The boy who had stood up on the bench approached the master, and said to him, in a trembling voice:-- Forgive me, Signor Master." The master kissed him on the brow, and said, "Go, my son."
The year has begun with an accident. On my way to school this morning I was repeating to my father these words of our teacher, when we perceived that the street was full of people, who were pressing close to the door of the schoolhouse. Suddenly my father said: "An accident! The year is beginning badly!"
We entered with great difficulty. The big hall was crowded with parents
and children, whom the teachers had not succeeded in drawing off into the class-rooms, and all were turning towards the director's room, and we heard the words, "Poor boy! Poor Robetti!"
Over their heads, at the end of the room, we could see the helmet of a
policeman, and the bald head of the director; then a gentleman with a tall hat entered, and all said, That is the doctor." My father inquired of a master, "What has happened?"--"A wheel has passed over his foot,"
replied the latter. "His foot has been crushed," said another. He was a
boy belonging to the second class, who, on his way to school through the Via Dora Grossa, seeing a little child of the lowest class, who had run away from its mother, fall down in the middle of the street, a few paces from an omnibus which was bearing down upon it, had hastened boldly forward, caught up the child, and placed it in safety; but, as he had not withdrawn his own foot quickly enough, the wheel of the omnibus had passed over it. He is the son of a captain of artillery. While we were being told this, a woman entered the big hall, like a lunatic, and forced her way through the crowd: she was Robetti's mother, who had been sent for. Another woman hastened towards her, and flung her arms about her neck, with sobs: it was the mother of the baby who had been saved.
Both flew into the room, and a desperate cry made itself heard: "Oh my
Giulio! My child!"
At that moment a carriage stopped before the door, and a little later the director made his appearance, with the boy in his arms; the latter
leaned his head on his shoulder, with pallid face and closed eyes. Every
one stood very still; the sobs of the mother were audible. The director
paused a moment, quite pale, and raised the boy up a little in his arms, in order to show him to the people. And then the masters, mistresses,
parents, and boys all murmured together: "Bravo, Robetti! Bravo, poor
child!" and they threw kisses to him; the mistresses and boys who were near him kissed his hands and his arms. He opened his eyes and said, "My portfolio!" The mother of the little boy whom he had saved showed it to
him and said, amid her tears, "I will carry it for you, my dear little angel; I will carry it for you." And in the meantime, the mother of the wounded boy smiled, as she covered her face with her hands. They went out, placed the lad comfortably in the carriage, and the carriage drove away. Then we all entered school in silence.
THE CALABRIAN BOY.
Yesterday afternoon, while the master was telling us the news of poor
Robetti, who will have to go on crutches, the director entered with a
new pupil, a lad with a very brown face, black hair, large black eyes,
and thick eyebrows which met on his forehead: he was dressed entirely in
dark clothes, with a black morocco belt round his waist. The director
went away, after speaking a few words in the master's ear, leaving
beside the latter the boy, who glanced about with his big black eyes as
though frightened. The master took him by the hand, and said to the
class: "You ought to be glad. To-day there enters our school a little
Italian born in Reggio, in Calabria, more than five hundred miles from
here. Love your brother who has come from so far away. He was born in a
glorious land, which has given illustrious men to Italy, and which now
furnishes her with stout laborers and brave soldiers; in one of the most
beautiful lands of our country, where there are great forests, and great
mountains, inhabited by people full of talent and courage. Treat him
well, so that he shall not perceive that he is far away from the city in
which he was born; make him see that an Italian boy, in whatever Italian
school he sets his foot, will find brothers there." So saying, he rose
and pointed out on the wall map of Italy the spot where lay Reggio, in
Calabria. Then he called loudly:--
"Ernesto Derossi!"--the boy who always has the first prize. Derossi
"Come here," said the master. Derossi left his bench and stepped up to
the little table, facing the Calabrian.
"As the head boy in the school," said the master to him, "bestow the
embrace of welcome on this new companion, in the name of the whole
class--the embrace of the sons of Piedmont to the son of Calabria."
Derossi embraced the Calabrian, saying in his clear voice, "Welcome!"
and the other kissed him impetuously on the cheeks. All clapped their
hands. "Silence!" cried the master; "don't clap your hands in school!"
But it was evident that he was pleased. And the Calabrian was pleased
also. The master assigned him a place, and accompanied him to the bench.
Then he said again:--
"Bear well in mind what I have said to you. In order that this case
might occur, that a Calabrian boy should be as though in his own house
at Turin, and that a boy from Turin should be at home in Calabria, our
country fought for fifty years, and thirty thousand Italians died. You
must all respect and love each other; but any one of you who should give
offence to this comrade, because he was not born in our province, would
render himself unworthy of ever again raising his eyes from the earth
when he passes the tricolored flag."
Hardly was the Calabrian seated in his place, when his neighbors
presented him with pens and a _print_; and another boy, from the last
bench, sent him a Swiss postage-stamp.