Biagio admits that he’s not sure it’s true that in the olden days, a monkey could travel from Rome to Spain in the trees. During his lifetime, the trees in Europe were only dense around Ombrosa. Today, the landscape is unrecognizable: the French cut the trees down on Napoleon’s orders. Before, Biagio says that people always had trees above them, even in the low lemon groves. Lemons and olives gradually gave way to oaks and then a pine forest on the mountain. Cosimo soon learns all the routes through the trees.
Through these asides about what the world is like in Biagio’s present (sometime in the mid-1800s), Biagio forces the reader to constantly remember that what Cosimo does by taking to the trees is something that he could only do at this very specific point in time, when the trees were of a certain type and configuration to allow him to live there.
Cosimo wakes up in the tree that first morning and looks around. He senses a wave running through the countryside and occasionally hears cracks and cries coming from cherry groves all over the valley. At first he thinks the cherries are talking and heads for the nearest grove. Cosimo looks up into the eyes of a group of boys—the fruit thieves. They call Cosimo a dandy and spit cherry pits at him. Two attempt to drop a sack over Cosimo, but Cosimo slashes the sack with his sword. The fruit thieves curse, alerting farmers below to their presence. Farmers poke pitchforks up into the trees, intent on saving their crop. Cosimo decides that he doesn’t need to be afraid and begins moving through the trees until he passes over a hedge. Most of the boys follow him and race away once on the other side of the hedge.
The fruit thieves as a group can be read as an encapsulation of the ways in which society has, at this point, failed to help people—they’re poor boys who, even when they go out into nature to try to help themselves, aren’t ever truly welcome or successful. When they follow Cosimo through the trees, it does suggest that individuals like this are willing and capable of following someone who has better ideas about how to move through the world—but those new ideas aren’t going to occur to those lower-class individuals themselves.
Later, the fruit thieves are shocked to discover Cosimo sitting in the top of the tallest cherry tree, eating cherries. They call him an “ice cream eater,” but are intimidated by him. One points out that there are ice cream eaters who are smart, like the Sinforosa. The boys try to make a deal with Cosimo, but Cosimo asks who the Sinforosa is. The fruit thieves laugh, alerting the farmers that are now perched in the trees. The boys run but Cosimo stays put and parries the farmers’ pitchforks. A farmer recognizes Cosimo and offers to fetch him a ladder, but Cosimo moves off and away through the treetops. The farmers are shocked, especially when they hear Cosimo singing for the Sinforosa.
Despite the implication that these impoverished individuals won’t come up with any Enlightenment-style ideas of their own, insulting the rich (ice cream eater) does point to the current of unrest at this time that influenced many Enlightenment ideas. Many countries were still monarchies, and most Enlightenment philosophers suggested that monarchs were incapable of properly and justly ruling over everyone else.