OCTOBER. 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 despair.
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....