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Phil, the Fiddler

Phil, the Fiddler

Author:Jr. Horatio Alger


“Viva Garibaldi!” sang a young Italian boy in an uptown street, accompanying himself on a violin which, from its battered appearance, seemed to have met with hard usage...
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  “Viva Garibaldi!” sang a young Italian boy in an uptown street,accompanying himself on a violin which, from its battered appearance,seemed to have met with hard usage.

  As the young singer is to be the hero of my story, I will pause todescribe him. He was twelve years old, but small of his age. Hiscomplexion was a brilliant olive, with the dark eyes peculiar to hisrace, and his hair black. In spite of the dirt, his face was strikinglyhandsome, especially when lighted up by a smile, as was often the case,for in spite of the hardships of his lot, and these were neither few norlight, Filippo was naturally merry and light-hearted.

  He wore a velveteen jacket, and pantaloons which atoned, by their extralength, for the holes resulting from hard usage and antiquity. Hisshoes, which appeared to be wholly unacquainted with blacking, were,like his pantaloons, two or three sizes too large for him, making itnecessary for him to shuffle along ungracefully.

  It was now ten o’clock in the morning. Two hours had elapsed sinceFilippo, or Phil, as I shall call him, for the benefit of my readersunfamiliar with Italian names, had left the miserable home in CrosbyStreet, where he and forty other boys lived in charge of a middle-agedItalian, known as the padrone. Of this person, and the relations betweenhim and the boys, I shall hereafter speak. At present I propose toaccompany Phil.

  Though he had wandered about, singing and playing, for two hours, Philhad not yet received a penny. This made him somewhat uneasy, for he knewthat at night he must carry home a satisfactory sum to the padrone, orhe would be brutally beaten; and poor Phil knew from sad experience thatthis hard taskmaster had no mercy in such cases.

  The block in which he stood was adjacent to Fifth Avenue, and was linedon either side with brown-stone houses. It was quiet, and but few passedthrough it during the busy hours of the day. But Phil’s hope was thatsome money might be thrown him from a window of some of the fine housesbefore which he played, but he seemed likely to be disappointed, for heplayed ten minutes without apparently attracting any attention. Hewas about to change his position, when the basement door of one of thehouses opened, and a servant came out, bareheaded, and approached him.Phil regarded her with distrust, for he was often ordered away as anuisance. He stopped playing, and, hugging his violin closely, regardedher watchfully.

  “You’re to come in,” said the girl abruptly.

  “Che cosa volete?”


said Phil, suspiciously.



“What do you want?”

  “I don’t understand your Italian rubbish,” said the girl. “You’re tocome into the house.”

  In general, boys of Phil’s class are slow in learning English. Aftermonths, and even years sometimes, their knowledge is limited to a fewwords or phrases. On the other hand, they pick up French readily, and asmany of them, en route for America, spend some weeks, or months, in theFrench metropolis, it is common to find them able to speak the languagesomewhat. Phil, however, was an exception, and could manage to speakEnglish a little, though not as well as he could understand it.

  “What for I go?” he asked, a little distrustfully.

  “My young master wants to hear you play on your fiddle,” said theservant. “He’s sick, and can’t come out.”

  “All right!” said Phil, using one of the first English phrases he hadcaught. “I will go.”

  “Come along, then.”

  Phil followed his guide into the basement, thence up two flight ofstairs, and along a handsome hall into a chamber. The little fiddler,who had never before been invited into a fine house, looked withadmiration at the handsome furniture, and especially at the picturesupon the wall, for, like most of his nation, he had a love for whateverwas beautiful, whether in nature or art.

  The chamber had two occupants. One, a boy of twelve years, was lyingin a bed, propped up by pillows. His thin, pale face spoke of longsickness, and contrasted vividly with the brilliant brown face of thelittle Italian boy, who seemed the perfect picture of health. Sittingbeside the bed was a lady of middle age and pleasant expression. It waseasy to see by the resemblance that she was the mother of the sick boy.

  Phil looked from one to the other, uncertain what was required of him.

  “Can you speak English?” asked Mrs. Leigh.

  “Si, signora, a little,” answered our hero.

  “My son is sick, and would like to hear you play a little.”

  “And sing, too,” added the sick boy, from the bed.

  Phil struck up the song he had been singing in the street, a song wellknown to all who have stopped to listen to the boys of his class, withthe refrain, “Viva Garibaldi.” His voice was clear and melodious, andin spite of the poor quality of his instrument, he sang with so muchfeeling that the effect was agreeable.

  The sick boy listened with evident pleasure, for he, too, had a tastefor music.

  “I wish I could understand Italian,” he said, “I think it must be a goodsong.”

  “Perhaps he can sing some English song,” suggested Mrs. Leigh.

  “Can you sing in English?” she asked.

  Phil hesitated a moment, and then broke into the common street ditty,“Shoe fly, don’t bouder me,” giving a quaint sound to the words by hisItalian accent.

  “Do you know any more?” asked Henry Leigh, when our hero had finished.

  “Not English,” said Phil, shaking his head.

  “You ought to learn more.”

  “I can play more,” said Phil, “but I know not the words.”

  “Then play some tunes.”

  Thereupon the little Italian struck up “Yankee Doodle,” which he playedwith spirit and evident enjoyment.

  “Do you know the name of that?” asked Henry.

  Phil shook his head.

  “It is ‘Yankee Doodle.’”

  Phil tried to pronounce it, but the words in his mouth had a drollsound, and made them laugh.

  “How old are you?” asked Henry.

  “Twelve years.”

  “Then you are quite as old as I am.”

  “I wish you were as well and strong as he seems to be,” said Mrs. Leigh,sighing, as she looked at Henry’s pale face.

  That was little likely to be. Always a delicate child, Henry had ayear previous contracted a cold, which had attacked his lungs, and hadgradually increased until there seemed little doubt that in the longstruggle with disease nature must succumb, and early death ensue.

  “How long have you been in this country?”

  “Un anno.”

  “How long is that?”

  “A year,” said Henry. “I know that, because ‘annus’ means a year inLatin.”

  “Si, signor, a year,” said Phil.

  “And where do you come from?”

  “Da Napoli.”

  “That means from Naples, I suppose.”

  “Si, signor.”

  Most of the little Italian musicians to be found in our streets arebrought from Calabria, the southern portion of Italy, where theyare purchased from their parents, for a fixed sum, or rate of annualpayment. But it is usual for them when questioned, to say that they comefrom Naples, that being the principal city in that portion of Italy, orindeed in the entire kingdom.

  “Who do you live with,” continued Henry.

  “With the padrone.”

  “And who is the padrone?”

  “He take care of me--he bring me from Italy.”

  “Is he kind to you?”

  Phil shrugged his shoulders.

  “He beat me sometimes,” he answered.

  “Beats you? What for?”

  “If I bring little money.”

  “Does he beat you hard?”

  “Si, signor, with a stick.”

  “He must be a bad man,” said Henry, indignantly.

  “How much money must you carry home?”

  “Two dollars.”

  “But it isn’t your fault, if people will not give you money.”

  “Non importa. He beat me.”

  “He ought to be beaten himself.”

  Phil shrugged his shoulders. Like most boys of his class, to him thepadrone seemed all-powerful. The idea that his oppressive taskmastershould be punished for his cruelty had never dawned upon him. Knowingnothing of any law that would protect him, he submitted to it as anecessity, from which there was no escape except by running away. Hehad not come to that yet, but some of his companions had done so, and hemight some day.

  After this conversation he played another tune. Mrs. Leigh drew out herpurse, and gave him fifty cents. Phil took his fiddle under his arm,and, following the servant, who now reappeared, emerged into the street,and moved onward.