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The Village Commune (Vol. 1). Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 195


MEANTIME Bindo slunk away across the square, fumbling at the revolver with which the commune had lately armed him on pretext of mad dogs, and meditating within himself on his vengeance. Suddenly a bright inspiration occurred to him.

The favourite mission of Bindo was to poison dogs. Messer Gaspardo hated dogs; hey had an unfortunate way of smelling at him which made people laugh and remember the old saying that a dog can smell a rogue, and hurt his dignity in his own sight and that page: 196 of others. Moreover, courage does not characterise the tyrant always; though Atilla was brave, Messer Nellemane was not. He was afraid of dogs; and he had made it Article I. of Rule I. in his Regulations that a free dog was never to be seen in all the length and breadth of Vezzaja and Ghiralda.

But there will always be dogs loose, all Regulations to the contrary notwithstanding, for there is no population anywhere in which everybody is a poltroon. So, as loose dogs still trotted about the commune, and led their pretty, merry, brisk lives under his very eyes, in impertinent disregard of Article I., Rule I., Messer Nellemane had at once bethought himself of poisoning them. Phosphorus was cheap and deadly, so were rat‐poisons, and when fried with liver as Bindo fried them, and thrown about in the dust of the highway, they stretched many a gallant hound low, and left page: 197 many a puppy rigid and swollen after an agony more terrible than the hanged malefactor suffers; whilst for those that his poisoned polpetti did not slaughter he wore out the lives of the owners thereof with summonses without end and fines without mercy.

It grew to be the general belief in Vezzaja and Ghiralda that you had better stab a man than keep a dog, and you would pay less for doing it, too.

Carmelo, like most sons of the soil, was fond of his dog, a fine curly white fellow, strong and young like Carmelo himself, who was called Toppa because he scared away robbers. Toppa, by choice, kept close about the mill, and in that little boschetto of poplars which had belonged to the Pastorini longer than men could remember; for he was a good and dutiful dog, and knew that if he page: 198 went roaming, thieves might break in and steal. Therefore Toppa rarely fell under the head of a contravention, since even Article I., Rule I., could not assert that a man’s dog must not be loose upon his own property.

Nevertheless, on Toppa the evil eye of Bindo had often fallen, for Bindo had been pinned by Toppa more than once in unregenerate days before becoming a functionary of the State; and moreover, Messer Nellemane had said, ‘That dog at the mill looks dangerous; he barks when anyone passes;’ which hint sufficed for the guard now that to natural cruelty was united the thirst of personal animosity. At dawn, whilst the mists of earliest morning were still white on the river and the hills, he walked warily within sight of the little wood by the mill, intent alike on hurting Carmelo and pleasing page: 199 his patron. Toppa was lying with his head between his paws on the grass on the bank; he kept wide awake all night from his strong principle, and now when the sun had risen, knew that he might slumber and dream in peace without peril to the homestead.

Nevertheless, when he heard a step fall upon the thick dust of the road, Toppa, although he was no longer sentry, performed a sentry’s part and rose, and ran, and looked. He kept within his own boundary, as he had been taught to do, being a very faithful dog, and only looked; a cat may look at a king, says the old saw, but in Vezzaja and Ghiralda a dog must not look at a guard.

Bindo spoke not a word, but he threw something he held in his hand from the road where he stood into the grass beneath the poplars, near the dog.

page: 200

Toppa was at no time very well fed, no dog is in the country; and he had not eaten since sunset. His nostrils smelled an odour savoury and sweet to them. The thing lay in his own grass, within a foot of him; he drew close to it and smelt it closer; it was a fried slice of liver rolled up in a tempting way. He ate it. Almost in an instant he staggered, strove to vomit, became convulsed, gasped, and gave a strangled, hollow moan, then turned round giddily, as men may when drunk, and fell prone on the dewy grass.

Bindo leapt to him, seized him by the skin of his throat and back, and dragged him into the highway; the dog was quivering, rolling, panting in agony as the poison burned and tore his entrails.

Leaving him there, Bindo slunk away. Toppa lay in the dust, mute in his death throes; page: 201 his snowy, curly body swelling and writhing, his bright brown eyes protruding, his tongue forced out, his lambs paralyzed; suffering as men deem it too cruel to make murderers suffer. Within a stone’s throw of his master and his friends, he could not raise a cry, he could not move a limb. The burning hellish poison had its way, tearing, consuming, killing him.

Presently the mists began to yield to the lovely light of the fuller day; and in the sunshine on the lonely road Toppa lay dead; foam on his lips, a little blood upon the dust that he had vomited even as he died.

His happy, harmless, honest life was done.

A few moments later Carmelo, who seldom forgot the dog, came out under the poplars to call him for a bit of bread; he page: 202 called in vain; knowing that Toppa never wandered away, and was ever alert to answer his voice, he stepped across the strip of woodland, meaning to whistle down the road. His eye fell on the dead body in the dust. He threw himself on his knees beside it. One glance told him the truth; one instant he gave to grief, passionate as though he had seen a brother perish.

Then on his feet he leapt; with a great shout to all the saints of heaven for justice, he ran fleet as a deer down the road to see who was in sight; the name of Bindo Terri sprang to his lips, and the figure he saw afar off flying in the dust was Bindo’s.

Swift as the hurricane the young fellow tore in the wake of the guard, who now was spurred with a dire terror, and ran not knowing what he did. With one last bound page: 203 like that of the hound on to the wolf, Carmelo seized Bindo in his grasp.

‘You have killed my dog!’

‘I? No—no—no!’

‘You have!’ swore Carmelo, with an oath, and shook the slenderer form of the guard in his grip.

Bindo gathered up a desperate courage.

‘I have not killed him, no. He may have picked up poison on the road—it is the law, the law allows it.’

Carmelo’s hand closed on his throat.

Without a word the more, he dragged him to the edge of the wood where some wood was lying for fencing, and with his other hand snatching a stave of oak, swung Bindo Terri backwards and forwards, striking him on the head, the arms, the shoulders, with the wood the while; men were at work in the vineyards beside page: 204 the road; they screamed, and ran, and caught the arm of the young Pastorini, and, being five to one, wrenched him asunder from the trembling frame of Bindo, being willing enough to see harm wrought on the body of the guard, but afraid of the law if they looked on at the death of one of its myrmidons, and Carmelo, left alone, would have killed in that rude justice which a righteous vengeance is.

The moment that the vine‐dressers freed him, Bindo Terri staggered away, sick, bleeding, bruised, and nearly dead with fright. Carmelo struggled in vain in the hold of five strong men.

‘He has killed Toppa!’ he gasped, his eyes bloodshot, his muscles straining, his whole body writhing to be free.

‘Ay, ay! has he done that?—and he merits death himself,’ muttered the eldest of page: 205 the peasants. ‘But they will have the law on you, and worse for touching him, the vile little villain, that the snakes must have spawned.’

‘My dog! My dog!’ moaned Carmelo, as his passion dissolved into an agony of grief, and his eyes filled with blinding tears, and dully and stupidly he went back to where the dead dog lay, and sat down by him in the dust, and wept.

The men stood around silent and sorrowful, but sorely afraid.

Bindo Terri was a poisoner and a scoundrel, but the arm and the shield of the law were over him, and made him sacred, as religions of old made sacred the snake and the toad.

The law here ordains that you cannot be arrested for anything you do, unless you be taken in the act, even though the deed be page: 206 clearly proved against you. But there are sins so heinous as to be beyond this mercy, as the crimes in the Latin documents of the Vatican are beyond pardon, human or divine. Carmelo’s was such a crime.

You may lay a sacrilegious finger on the Host with more ease than on the person of a municipal guard. Nay, there is more fuss when one is touched than when the King is shot at: if Passavanti had tried to assassinate a guard instead of a sovereign, he would not have been let off the scaffold so easily as he was. Therefore, when Bindo Terri picked himself up, staggered into the house of the elder guard, Angelo, which was within a rood of the millhouse, an there fell down, groaning aloud that he had been murdered by the devil Carmelo, the elder man flew, as one possessed, down the road to the picket of the carabiniers, and brought them to the page: 207 spot to avenge a foul and inexcusable assault whose end would be sooner or later death; and clamoured and roared and raved, while Bindo, dying Bindo, raved with him, and forced the gendarmes to go and seize the assassin. Law can stretch at either end when wanted.

The carabiniers, with their sabres and their white belts flashing in the sun, strode straightaway, therefore, to the mill upon the Rosa and laid hands on the youth, who sat on the bench of his house under the trees with the dead dog at this feet, and his father and brothers and neighbours gathered around him in sad sympathy.

‘But to‐morrow is his marriage‐day!’ stammered the old father, half mad himself with rage and sorrow.

The carabiniers laughed a little grimly and pulled Carmelo up roughly by his arms, page: 208 and marched from the door, pushing him with them. In their hearts they sympathised with both the Pastorini, but it was not their place to say so.

‘I did what I had a right to do,’ muttered the lad firmly. ‘He killed my dog: I beat him, the poisoner, the devil; I would have beaten him till he could not have stood: I had the right.’

‘You had no right even to complain. Your dog was the offender; he was on the public road,’ shrieked the elder rural guard Angelo, and shook off the miller and thrust Carmelo on between the gendarmes.

‘I will go with you without force,’ said the youth haughtily. ‘I have no fear; I was in the right.’

And he walked steadily, only turning and pausing once to say to his father, who followed him:

page: 209

‘Do not come; stay and bury Toppa. Bury him just there by the porch. He will know we pass in and out, and he will not feel alone. And tell Viola not to mind; it will go well with me; no judge will keep me for a moment when he hears how it all came about.’

The carabiniers behind his back looked at one another and raised their eyebrows satirically. They knew well how the Law would deal with this brave young fellow.

They took him through the village to the lock‐up of the place.

Early though it was, everyone was astir, and all had heard that Bindo Terri had been thrashed by the younger Pastorini; some had heard that Bindo was dead outright; not a soul regretted his fate if it were so; but not a soul either dared to say what they felt page: 210 or stretch the hand of friendship to the prisoner.

Only old Gigi Canterelli stepped bravely out of his shop and cried to him, ‘My lad, if you want a little money or a good word, remember I am here, and send for me.’

But no one else said a syllable.

Carmelo was thankful that as the way to the prison led through the centre of the piazza they did not pass the house of Pippo; he trusted that Viola would know nothing until his sister could reach her and soften the blow to her by tender modes of narration, as women know how to do one with another.

But sad mischance would have it that in the centre of the square he met old Pippo carrying three rush chairs on his back, which he let fall in the extremity of his amaze.

God’s mercy, lad, what hast been page: 211 doing?’ he called to his son‐in‐law of the morrow; and he began to tremble wofully. Carmelo trembled too, for the sorrow that he caused.

‘Grandfather,’ he said tenderly; it was the first time he used the name; ‘do not be alarmed. Bindo Terri killed Toppa, and I have avenged him; that is all. The good judge will judge me innocent.’

‘O Lord, O Lord!’ groaned Pippo, all in a palsy of fear and sorrow; ‘what matters of being innocent? If you touch a hair of the head of those slave‐driving, venomous, viperous jackanapes it is all over with you, all over with you! And to‐morrow your wedding‐day, and my girl at home stitching the veil; O Lord, O Lord!’

The carabiniers hurried Carmelo onwards. ‘A pestilent, seditious, foul‐mouthed old tongue that fellow has,’ said they to one page: 212 another; and they thrust the young Pastorini with scant mercy into the place of detention; a square bare cell with a brick floor, damp and dirty, and a barred door and a little grated casement high up in the wall.

‘But take me to the judge!’ cried Carmelo; ‘take me somewhere to be heard!’

‘All in good time,’ said the carabiniers, and banged the door to on him, and drew the bolts outside it.

Meanwhile, Viola, sitting in the doorway with the little brook running babbling over the stones in front of her, was stitching some orange‐blossoms she had picked off a tree on to the veil she would wear on the morrow; she was singing in a soft low voice one of the love‐songs of the country: Al piè d’un faggio in sull’erba fiorita Aspetto, aspetto, che giù cada il sole; Perche quando sarà l’aria imbrunita Appunto allor vedrò spuntar il sole, page: 213 Levarsi quel bel sol che m’ha ferita, Che mi ha ferita e che guarir mi vuole. E questo sol, ch’io dico, è il mio bel damo, Che sempre io gli riprico io t’amo, io t’amo, E questo sole è il giovanettin bello Chi a Ferragosto mi darà l’annello. *

She was happy. The fear of her powerful tempter and enemy had passed away from her, and the future smiled at her with the eyes of love and faith. A life of labour, of poverty, of fatigue awaited her, but also a life of sunshine, of affection, of peace; to the first she was well used, the second seemed to her heaven.

At foot of hill, amidst the flow’ring grass, I wait, I wait, until the sun shall set; Because, when all the air is dusk and dark, Scarce will the drooping sun the night have met, Than will arise that sun which wounded me, Which wounded me, and now my cure will bring; And this fair sun, I tell thee, is my love, To whom, in echo, ‘Love, O Love!’ I sing. And this fair sun is that most beauteous youth Who, August dawn’d, will bring to me the ring!

Ferragosto is literally—first of August.