On an autumn day, Mateo Falcone and his wife visit the fields to inspect their flocks, leaving their home under the care of Fortunato, their ten-year-old son. While they are away, Fortunato hears a burst of gunfire and then sees a man in ragged dress, wounded in the thigh, emerge from the underbrush not far from the house. The man is Gianetto Sanpiero, a bandit who has been raiding the area recently who is now being pursued by government troops. Fortunato is reluctant to help Sanpiero until the bandit offers him a five-franc piece. Fortunato hides Sanpiero under a haystack and arranges a cat and her kittens on top of it so that it looks as though the hay has not been disturbed. Shortly thereafter, government troops arrive at the house and the adjutant, a distant relative of Mateo named Tiodoro Gamba, asks Fortunato if he has seen a man in the area. Fortunato claims that he has been asleep but makes his excuse in so clumsy a manner that Gamba refuses to believe him. The adjutant threatens the boy several times, but Fortunato will not provide any information, merely repeating the words “My father is Mateo Falcone!” over and over.
The government troops search the house and even thrust into the haystack with their bayonets, but Fortunato displays little concern. Finally, Gamba holds up a fine silver watch worth at least ten écus and offers to give it to Fortunato if he will tell him where he has hidden Sanpiero. Fortunato is strong enough to resist temptation only for a few moments. He then takes the watch in one hand, gesturing toward the haystack with the other. Immediately, the troops begin to remove the hay, find Sanpiero, and take him into custody....
(The entire section is 687 words.)