The master said nothing more; we went away. But all the way from Moncalieri to Turin I could not get that prisoner, standing at his little window, that farewell to his master, that poor inkstand made in prison, which told so much, out of my head; and I dreamed of them all night, and was still thinking of them this morning--far enough from imagining the surprise which awaited me at school! No sooner had I taken my new seat, beside Derossi, and written my problem in arithmetic for the monthly examination, then I told my companion the story of the prisoner and the inkstand, and how the inkstand was made, with the pen across the copy-book, and the inscription around it, "Six years!" Derossi sprang up at these words, and began to look first at me and then at Crossi, the son of the vegetable-vender, who sat on the bench in front, with his back turned to us, wholly absorbed on his problem.
"Hush!" he said; then, in a low voice, catching me by the arm, "don't you know that Crossi spoke to me day before yesterday of having caught a glimpse; of an inkstand in the hands of his father, who has returned from America; a conical inkstand, made by hand, with a copy-book and a pen,--that is the one; six years! He said that his father was in America; instead of that he was in prison: Crossi was a little boy at the time of the crime; he does not remember it; his mother has deceived him; he knows nothing; let not a syllable of this escape!"
I remained speechless, with my eyes fixed on Crossi. Then Derossi solved his problem, and passed it under the bench to Crossi; he gave him a sheet of paper; he took out of his hands the monthly story, Daddy's Nurse, which the teacher had given him to copy out, in order that he might copy it in his stead; he gave him pens, and stroked his shoulder, and made me promise on my honor that I would say nothing to any one; and when we left school, he said hastily to me:--
"His father came to get him yesterday; he will be here again this morning: do as I do."
We emerged into the street; Crossi's father was there, a little to one side: a man with a black beard sprinkled with gray, badly dressed, with a colorless and thoughtful face. Derossi shook Crossi's hand, in a way to attract attention, and said to him in a loud tone, "Farewell until we meet again, Crossi,"--and passed his hand under his chin. I did the same. But as he did so, Derossi turned crimson, and so did I; and Crossi's father gazed attentively at us, with a kindly glance; but through it shone an expression of uneasiness and suspicion which made our hearts grow cold.