Sometimes, Cosimo wakes in the night hearing cries that the bandit Gian dei Brughi robbed someone. Cosimo and Ottimo Massimo scour the forest looking for the bandit unsuccessfully, and townsfolk scorn Cosimo’s attempts when Cosimo doesn’t even know what the bandit looks like. Cosimo grows suspicious and begins to ask the itinerant people camping in the woods about Gian dei Brughi. Their answers are confusing at first, but Cosimo gradually learns that the extreme fear of the bandit in the valley is something laughable to those who live in the woods.
Though Biagio doesn’t elaborate, it’s likely that to those in the woods, Gian dei Brughi is either entirely a figment of their imagination—or he helps them, Robin Hood style. Because of this, Cosimo learns to think critically about what he hears and how things change depending on who’s speaking and what their motivations might be. This will later help him figure out who is most worthy of his help.
One afternoon, as Cosimo reads a novel in a walnut tree, a shabby-looking man races ahead of two constables who shout that they’re running down Gian dei Brughi. Cosimo throws a rope down to the bandit, who climbs up. Cosimo moves into a different tree and when the constables arrive, he insists he saw a diminutive man head for the stream. The constables insist that Gian dei Brughi is tall and frightening, but run toward the stream. Cosimo returns to his book, but acknowledges the bandit. The two discover that they both know of the other’s reputation. Gian dei Brughi asks if he might borrow Cosimo’s book when he’s done with it, as he loves to read. Cosimo agrees.
Though Gian dei Brughi is clearly a skilled thief and is probably terrifying in some regard, what shines through here is how human he is: he’s a bumbling older man who loves to read, and in this sense, he resembles an older version of Cosimo. When Cosimo agrees to lend the bandit books, it shows that he understands that Gian dei Brughi isn’t less deserving of education or of diversions because of his line of work, an Enlightenment idea.
Biagio passes books to Cosimo from the family library at first, but because Gian dei Brughi spends all day hidden and reading, he devours novels quickly. He also has particular tastes, so Cosimo begins to trade game for books from a Jewish bookseller. Gian dei Brughi insists that Cosimo at least skim books before he passes them on and soon, Cosimo spends most of his time reading. He develops a passion for learning and spends most night reading. Eventually, Gian dei Brughi discovers Samuel Richardson’s novels and loves them, so Cosimo can read in peace while the bandit, engrossed in his books, ignores the growing resentments of his accomplices.
Especially when Gian dei Brughi instills this love of reading and learning in Cosimo, the novel makes the case that it’s possible to learn valuable lessons everywhere—even from someone, like a bandit, who might not be one’s first choice of teacher. Buying books also allows Cosimo to broaden his community and pull more people into his circle, thereby introducing him to even more individuals who will go on to influence his philosophy.
Gian dei Brughi used to lead a band of men in trouble with the law, and all of them used his name as cover. He was a formidable, terrifying thief, but as time went on, Gian dei Brughi stopped trying. Once he discovers Richardson, he stops stealing at all. Two young bandits, the former fruit thieves Ugasso and Bel-Loré, decide to “rehabilitate” Gian dei Brughi. They tear out pages of his book until he agrees to rob the tax collector for them. Their plan fails, however, as Gian dei Brughi is too intent on getting his book back to be scary. He runs to the appointed meeting spot with bags of coins, where constables arrest him.
Dei Brughi’s downfall suggests that literature and education can actually help someone rise above a lifetime of crime. Given the way the novel treats Gian dei Brughi, this suggests that education, reading, and the connections that a person forms through engaging with their education can be extremely restorative and give someone a healthier outlook on how to be a part of society.
Gian dei Brughi doesn’t care at all about his trial—he knows he’ll be hanged—but he does care about finishing his novel. Cosimo gets another copy of it and reads to the bandit from a pine tree near his window. He then chooses a happier novel. It takes days to get Gian dei Brughi to confess to all his crimes, but finally, the day of his hanging arrives. With the noose around his neck, the bandit hears a whistle. Seeing Cosimo, he asks how the book ends and Cosimo tells him. Satisfied, Gian dei Brughi kicks the ladder away and dies. Cosimo stays with the body until nightfall, chasing away crows.
Through Gian dei Brughi, Cosimo learns the importance of helping someone facing death die in a satisfied and dignified way, which he does here by sharing the ending of the book. Though this is a small kindness on Cosimo’s part, it’s extremely meaningful for the bandit. This shows Cosimo that even the smallest kindnesses can be extremely meaningful, and in this way, he learns to be a kinder and more compassionate person.