Ah, this is certainly the strangest event of the whole year! Yesterday morning my father took me to the suburbs of Moncalieri, to look at a villa which he thought of hiring for the coming summer, because we shall not go to Chieri again this year, and it turned out that the person who had the keys was a teacher who acts as secretary to the owner. He showed us the house, and then he took us to his own room, where he gave us something to drink. On his table, among the glasses, there was a wooden inkstand, of a conical form, carved in a singular manner. Perceiving that my father was looking at it, the teacher said:--
"That inkstand is very precious to me: if you only knew, sir, the history of that inkstand!" And he told it.
Years ago he was a teacher at Turin, and all one winter he went to give lessons to the prisoners in the judicial prison. He gave the lessons in the chapel of the prison, which is a circular building, and all around it, on the high, bare walls, are a great many little square windows, covered with two cross-bars of iron, each one of which corresponds to a very small cell inside. He gave his lessons as he paced about the dark, cold chapel, and his scholars stood at the holes, with their copy-books resting against the gratings, showing nothing in the shadow but wan, frowning faces, gray and ragged beards, staring eyes of murderers and thieves. Among the rest there was one, No.78, who was more attentive than all the others, and who studied a great deal, and gazed at his teacher with eyes full of respect and gratitude. He was a young man, with a black beard, more unfortunate than wicked, a cabinet-maker who, in a fit of rage, had flung a plane at his master, who had been persecuting him for some time, and had inflicted a mortal wound on his head: for this he had been condemned to several years of seclusion. In three months he had learned to read and write, and he read constantly, and the more he learned, the better he seemed to become, and the more remorseful for his crime.