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The Apprentice’s Revenge

This yarn was told to me back in the early eighties by my brother-in-law as we walked from his house to the “Top Bar” in his village in Sth’n Italy … he told me the basic rudiments of the story … as one does when relating a matter of interest, rather than a complete and constructed story-line … which is what I offer here to you.

It is of interest that in the days of yore, not that long ago as it happens … perhaps even to the early 1950s in some villages, an apprentice was not hired like we do here and now, rather, he was offered to a master craftsman to train by the youth’s parents … and sometimes money would be paid for that training … the apprentice becoming a sort of “live-in” servant to the master … not being paid any money, but given board in lieu of .. and perhaps being trained alongside a son as a companion. I have spoken to some older European tradesmen who “served their time” in this manner.

The downside was that once apprenticed, there was little that could be done to get out of the arrangement and this could result in a cruel master subjugating the youth to all sorts of abusive treatment. The story I heard may or may not be a type of generic village “myth” … but none the less, it was one of the best “paybacks” by a tyrannised apprentice I have heard. It must be said that the peasants of these isolated villages were very gullible to a well presented lie, and could be persuaded to accept all sorts of weird and lurid scenarios (what am I saying!..is it any different here?) … It wasn’t long ago that I heard and witnessed a “Evil Eye” consultation in that same village.

The superstitions still remain … Anyway, to the story for your entertainment …

It went like this:

The Apprentice’s Revenge

Little puffs of condensed breath steamed from the boy’s mouth in unison with his quick steps.

“Hurry there, boy, hurry” the Master Tailor poked and prodded the youth in the ribs with his rule “why, I had a donkey once, more lively than you.”

“Yes! … ” thought the boy “ … and I bet it carried almost as much, you old bugger!” but he said nothing and kept on hurrying over the cobblestone road, as he stepped, the pewter’d sheen of street-lamps reflecting off the wet stones made his steps cautious.

“What are you mumbling about? … don’t mumble, just get a move on … we have to be at Gemano Alfonsi’s half an hour ago! … step lively now!”

“Please don’t push me master, for if I stumble I will surely drop these bolts of cloth in the mud!”

“Drop the cloth?! Drop the cloth?! Just you try it, boy, just you try it and you will feel the thick edge of my boot a thousand times … yes, yes two thousand times!!” and he prodded the youth once more. A door opened on their right and a shaft of yellow light stabbed onto the road to their feet. a stocky man silhouetted in the doorway called to them in a mocking tone.

“Ahh! Master Tailor … keep a tight rein on your steed there, for these young ones will find any excuse to spit the bit!”

“Ha Ha! … right you are Signor blacksmith … right you are … but never fear, I have this young colt well and truly hobbled .. ha ha! on with you boy, on with you! … to Gemano Alfonsi’s to measure a suit … hurry now!”

So on they went, down street and lane till they halted in front of a peasant’s cottage at the far end of the village. Through the small window facing the street could be seen the wife and three children … girls (for Signor Alfonsi was blessed with only girls) methodically preparing the evening meal. Wafting of steam from a large pot misted over the window, a man’s hand wiped circular on the glass and a face peered out, then with raised eyebrows of recognition pulled away and opened the heavy wooden door.

‘Master Tailor … and his apprentice no less … we were expecting you an hour ago …. lose your way?”

“I was busy fitting a ruby coat to the king of Siam!” replied the tailor.

“And I am to meet him next Monday! … what a coincidence !” mocked the peasant.
‘Ebbene! … my house is your house … Master Tailor … the good wife is preparing a meal for us now.”

“First I will measure you and then I will eat … and tomorrow evening I will cut the cloth … speaking of which, I will leave some cloth for you to choose from though if I may suggest … ”

“Ah!.. I can guess what you may suggest, Master Tailor … But I want cloth that is elegant, BUT! … manly … ”

“Well, if I may … ”

“A suit with fine lines, BUT! … not too delicate … ”

“Well, if I may … “

”Robust.BUT! … (and here he wagged his finger side to side) not in the style of a pig farmer’s overalls!”

“Allora! … then it leaves me only one option to pursue I will make a suit of clothes for you so fine, that when you take the promenade on the Sabbath, people will stop and stare and say: “Ah! … There goes Signor Alfonsi; a Gentleman!”

All this banter back and forth was done with the appropriate gestures and twirls and twists of fingers and hands, with all the nuances insinuated with raised eyebrows and winked eyes. The two men finished with effusive back slapping.

“Master … ” the youth interjected so they both turned a surprised eye to him. “The cloth, it gets heavy.”

“Ah! … if they’re not lazing off in some corner … they’re whining for the little work they have to do.”

Signor Alfonsi “tch’d- tch’d” and nodded in agreement.

The cottage, having one room for eating and meeting, the rest for bedrooms, meant the measuring for the suit had to be done amongst the setting out of the evening meal. The females weaving about and placing dishes amongst the lifting of arms and the shifting of legs … the apprentice eyed the meal, for he was as hungry as … as only a young man can be … and oh! … the tantalizing aromas of a hearty peasant feast sent his tongue licking and smacking against his lips!

“But seriously, Master Tailor, I must look my best for the council meeting next month!” and here he bent low to whisper secretively into the tailor’s ear. “I have heard … heard mind!, that a position may be available for me to sit on the commune council for next term … and then?” (a gesture with the hand).

“Aha! … then you must look to your friends who support your election … and I for one would be grateful for any uniform work that could come my way?”

“Well, I am not elected yet Master Tailor, but … er … given the right price for your services … er … I will certainly not overlook the … er … consideration.”

“BOY! ” called the tailor, “wake up and bring me the chalk!”

“Signori! … ” called the matron of the house. “Dinner is served!” … and placed a large bowl of Chicken cuts in a deep sauce in the middle of the table.

“Are you asleep, boy? … ah! … I see …. more of a mind for the meal than your work eh? … I didn’t bring you here for a feast outside with you! out! out!”

“Ah … truly, Master Tailor … ?” began the peasant …

“Out … and next time think more of the duty to your trade than your stomach! … ” and he shut the youth outside … The peasant and his family were a little embarrassed at the whole incident, but said nothing, not wishing to further compromise the boy.

“A firm hand … Gemano .. a firm hand is what is needed … ” (then a cutting motion with hand-on-edge up and down …).

The youth outside sat sorrowfully down on a bench seat and commiserated with himself … then he plotted his revenge … he would have to be cunning!

“Hmm! Ah!”

The next day in the street near the post office.

Gemano Alfonsi gently lay his hand on the apprenticed youth’s shoulder …

“Look. it was a terrible thing for you to be left out of the meal last night … We expected you to eat with the tailor as is the custom (shrug of shoulders) but … ?”

“NO, no, signor Alfonsi, think not of it, for I am used to Master Tailor’s moods … ” Here he turned to look about him and then looking meaningfully to the peasant made a twirling motion with his finger about his ear

“He gets a bit crazy, you know.”

The peasant raised his eyebrows.

“How do you mean … he doesn’t seem … ?”

“A bit unbalanced … is what I mean … oh! not badly, mind … he just flies off the handle sometimes … it builds up in him, you know.”

“He did seem a bit tense last night … for he was a little hard on you … ”

“Oh that was nothing … but it is building up though … little by little … I can tell.” The youth leant a little closer; “That incident last year in San Angelo ?”

“What incident!?”

“Oh, it was hushed up nicely .. cost Master Tailor a pretty penny .. ” with a low whistle and a nodding of his head. “It’s those lonnng, sharrp scissors he uses to cut the cloth … he becomes mesmerised by them … they say his pregnant mother was threatened in the war by a sword wielding soldier”.

“Long, sharp, scissors?”

“Yes, Signor Alfonsi … you’ll see … you watch his eyes when he runs his thumb along the edge to test the sharpness … you watch … mesmerised.”

“But what will he do? … I have my family … ”

“Nothing! … nothing, if you act to snap him out of it! … Oh don’t judge him cruelly I beg you … and I chastise myself most severely if I have led you to doubt Master Tailor’s intentions, which, at all other times are irreproachable .. and I beg of you also not to tell of this … this confession to Master Tailor, for, while I feel I must be a sort of guardian against any outrage that he may commit in a … a dazed state, I must consider his “face” in the community and his pride … what man needs his pride dragged through common mud … ?”

At those words the peasant puffed out his chest … for there is none more proud than he! … for it is always so: The more unworldly a man is, the more that pride has hold of his heart.

“Have no fear of betrayal on my part, boy … but what can I do to snap him out of this … this mood?”

The youth pulled the peasant close in a huddle, shoulder to shoulder, face to face and went through a little pantomime.

“You will see when he is about to ‘snap’, for he will be cutting the cloth like this and his tongue will be pushed between his lips and he will be biting down on it … look, look … like this .. and his eyes will grow wider and wider … ” and the youth acted out the gesture while the peasant, now wide eyed also, obediently watched … “and when he is doing that, you must have a stout stick handy … no, not too heavy, for we don’t want to brain him! … just stun him … and when he is doing that which I just described … whack! … on the back of the head …. just here … ” he tapped the peasants’ head … the peasant rubbed the spot as if reassuring himself it was really there … “and he will snap out of it”.

“But, he will demand to know why I hit him!?”

The youth pulled a confident face and made a dismissing gesture .

“Deny it … and say he fainted … and tell your family to say the same and all will be well … you’ll see … this isn’t the first time, you know … and after all, you’ll be protecting your family AND his honour.”

“Why don’t YOU hit him then .. since you know how it’s done?”

“ME!… as if I can move about without Master Tailor watching my every move and giving me orders … no .. it must be you, signor Alfonsi .. or we must ALL take our chances.”

That night in the kitchen of Gemano Alfonsi’s …

It was a very nervous family that gathered behind the Master Tailor as he stood at the kitchen table with the cloth laid out in front of him. The peasant; Gemano Alfonsi stood immediately behind the tailor, behind him cowered his wife and the three girls clutching at her skirt. All were wide eyed and trembling.

“My scissors,” commanded the tailor, with hand out.

The youth made a grand gesture of extracting the long shears from their sheaf, like he was withdrawing a sword for the executioner (he had spent some time that day polishing these shears so they gleamed cruelly). The peasant’s hand tightened on a stout stick he had ready behind his leg, his tongue flicked over his dry lips, his eyes as wide as saucers. The tailor snipped once or twice in the air then suddenly spun around toward Gemano … God. how they all leapt in the air!

“I had the boy sharpen them today … you can’t do a good job with blunt instruments.” and he licked and ran his thumb slowly along the keen edge of the blade. The apprentice puckered his eyebrows toward Gemano meaningfully, fear filled the peasant’s eyes, mama’s knees began to fold and she was clutched under the arm by the stout Gemano and brought around.

“Allora!” cried the tailor, “to work” and he bent over the cloth, the family in one motion also leant over the tailor watching his lips closely … he straightened up, so did they …

“My glasses!” he announced, reaching into his pocket, “where are they?” he stared into the empty holder … (the youth had earlier deliberately removed them and left them at the tailor’s home).

“I remember you setting them on your desk at your home ” … the youth quickly answered.

“Well if you know where they are, go and get them! … don’t just stand there!”

The boy opened the door, stopped for a moment and gazed at the little scene … The tailor, head slightly turned on one side, his right eye close to his markings on the cloth, his left hand held the cloth off the table, his right was ready to cut the cloth then with an expression of utmost concentration on his face, he slipped his tongue (as he was want to always do from habit) out between his lips and bit down on it gently, his eyes widening in a glaring stare of deep concentration … The boy stepped outside and closed the door … he took two steps, halted, cocked his ear to one side to listen …

“WHACK!!”

… the noise of the thump, a trifling interruption in the still, silent air of the night. The youth smiled and with his hands plunged deep in his pockets, went off whistling down the cobbled street!


9 comments

  1. New England Cocky

    At the NY airport check in counter there was an Afro-American luggage attendant working methodically through the luggage labelling the destinations. The line of passengers was long and the temper of the front customer was short.

    The customer became very impatient and abusive, making numerous racist comments, still the luggage attendant worked on methodically in silence.

    The customer moved away form the counter having completed his business.

    The next passenger, who had been embarrassed by the entire incident, complimented the luggage attendant on the way he handled the situation.

    “Why thank you sir”, he said politely. “That man was obviously having a terrible day, so I felt that I should remain quiet rather than stir him up more”.

    Again the next passenger complimented him, and agreed that he hoped things improved for the previous passenger.

    “Well sir, I think he will be all right … until he gets to London and finds his luggage is in Los Angles”.

  2. Joseph Carli

    NEC…Ha ha!..good one!….There’s an old saying ..: Never insult your plumber or the man that is mixing your drinks!

  3. Terence Mills

    Love it !

    Thank you Joseph : the picture brings back some wonderful memories, too !

  4. Sunday

    Sunday’s advice:
    It is one thing to know of someone that comments on this site that uses a pseudonym. And who know who your real identity is. Lets say a few people who know each other and they all have pseudonyms. Even some who write articles for AIMN. All good so far.
    Though This site can be a bit incestuous. What one shouldn’t have to put up with is ad hominem insider group thought attacks by people making comments “cheap shots” that has nothing to do with the subject. When you don’t even have the enough courage to take it up with them personally or on this site. ie. And when you get someone else to make the dig. It’s cowardly and very small minded stuff.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Terence..yes..the picture reminds me of my sister’s village in the Apennines…and I had to look closely to see that it was not…But then I didn’t choose the pic…it was Michael…but it is a good pic of a classic village street…

  6. New England Cocky

    Sunday, you are sprouting Liarbral Party rubbish and appear to be a spook … if you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

  7. Joseph Carli

    The best payback I know of personally was confessed to me by a woman tradie..a house painter who was bullied by this misogynist builder who didn’t believe building sites were a place for “girlies” as he called her..He would bump the step-ladder when she was on it, kick her long-handled roller as he walked past and generally be a real bastard.

    On her last day, just before she left the job, she took his tea-pot from the smoko bench (he liked his tea made in a pot and poured into a mug)…and went and urinated in it…swirled it around a few times, emptied it out and replaced it…just as she was getting into her van, she told the apprentice of what she had done( knowing full well the mischievous intentions of the lad).

    At smoko, the builder prepared his usual pot of tea, poured himself his mug and proceeded to drink it down…the apprentice, being an apprentice, let him get a few good gulps down and then with an air of innocence blurted out:
    “Oh..I meant to tell you..that painter woman..she pissed in your tea pot..”
    At this point we can, as Mark Twain wrote..; “Draw the curtain of charity down over the following proceedings.”

  8. Joseph Carli

    Billy Guy.

    Billy Guy wasn’t so much a mystery as an enigma…and that only because he spoke with such a thick Scottish accent that nobody could understand a word he said. Mark could claim that he knew him best, having spent a whole evening drinking with him, conversing with him while both were in an inebriated state..but when pressed to reveal the slightest bit of knowledge as to Billy’s occupation, place of origin, dreams or aspirations..even his favourite football team, Mark was completely dumbfounded.

    “But you spent the whole night there at the bar drinking and talking and slapping each other on the back!…Didn’t you learn anything?” his friends demanded.

    “Are you kidding??..with that brogue?..I’m buggered if I can remember what he said…and in the state we both were in, I’d be mighty surprised if’n he knew anything I was saying!” Mark tersely replied.

    So Billy Guy remains an enigma to this day. That is not to say that he looked mysterious, or had an interesting character…or an interesting job, for his clothes never betrayed any occupation above junior clerical or it could have been storeman…or electrician..the more “hands-on” trades like mechanic or builder would have been betrayed by a dirtier clothed countenance.

    But you would sometimes spot him walking down steep Wheatland Street of a darkening evening, his collar pulled up against the sea-wind that blew up the road and climbing the “Guests Entrance” steps to go to his room on the second floor of the Seacliff Hotel , where he resided for more years than many of the wastrel clientele that drank there could remember. It was said that whenever the hotel changed ownership, Billy was traded in the sale as part of the “goods and chattels”.

    So far as anyone could recall, going by various patrons opinions, Billy Guy resided at that establishment for nigh on 15 years…with only one change of address..; from room 6 to room 7..one person did recall in a lucid spoken moment that Billy admitted to him that it was this lengthy stay that he believed created his drinking problem.

    The only ecstatic outburst witnessed from that nondescript character, that in turn betrayed his passion for the code of football known in the antipodes as : soccer..was a news clip on the tele’ showing “Celtic football club” winning the Scottish league back in the mid seventies sometime…

    “Yahgrahhhyergronnagriberrrrichaaaa !…” Billy shouted , or at least something that sounded like that, as he jumped onto the front bar shouting at the television with both arms pumping up and down to every elses dumbfounded amazement!! He soon regained his composure and with shamefaced apologies to Ron the barman, climbed down to sit quietly again on his stool there in his usual place in the corner of the bar.

    To this day, I do not know in the slightest as to what happened to Billy Guy, and no one else seems to either…When the Seacliff Hotel was finally totally renovated and the old clientele evicted to cater for the Gen x’s and y’s taste in decor and amusement , Billy Guy evaporated back into the ether..

    But for this…

  9. Mark Needham

    An Italian story, about how Italians are.

    Roma,
    Mark Needham

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