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The Village Commune (Vol. 1). Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 214


THERE was no court open that day at the Pretura, and the Pretura was seven miles away in another commune, Vezzaja and Ghiralda not being blessed with one, and for criminal matters and large debts being bound to betake themselves to the larger township of Pomodore‐Carciofi, though small civil causes were tried before the Conciliator in Santa Rosalia itself.

So the long hours rolled on, and Carmelo remained in the dirty cramped little den behind the barred door. His father and page: 215 brothers and poor sad old Pippo came to visit him, and the Pastorini paid for him to be kept apart from any other malefactors, and Gigi Canterelli sent him a smoking dish to break his fast with, and a flask of wine. But Carmelo could scarce touch either, and had hardly a word to speak except over and over again he said,

‘Is Toppa buried?—Viola is not angry that I avenged him?’

No other ideas save these seemed to be in his brain; he was dull, and yet fierce; quite changed from the gentle and grave, yet blithe and simple, lad that he had always been.

‘God forbid I should say that you did wrong; who would not have struck a blow for the poor dog?’ said his father weeping. ‘But oh, the pity of it, to see one of my honest sons in these thieves’ den!’

page: 216

For the Pastorini youths had never had a stain or slur upon their name, and for many a generation the men at the mill had been law‐abiding, God‐fearing, and most dutiful sons of the soil.

‘I did right!’ said Carmelo doggedly, and his brothers all echoed, ‘Yes, you did right. But alas!—alas!—’

Meanwhile Messer Nellemane stood by the bedside of Bindo, who had taken to his bed at once, and groaned, and shivered, and vowed all his bones were broken, and the complaisant apothecary rolled him up in wadding soaked in almond oil, and pretended he might die; Messer Nellemane, tenderly regretful and benevolently compassionate, bent over the sufferer and said in benignant tones:

‘My poor, poor fellow! This is all your reward for a too zealous love of duty, and of page: 217 course you never touched the dog at all; is it not so?’

Bindo opened wide his eyes, and almost grinned in his employer’s face; then, recollecting himself, gasped as though his breath were failing him.

‘Not I, Signore; he was stiff and stark, poor beast, when I came upon the road.’

‘Precisely, ‘ said Messer Nellemane. ‘That will be put in evidence. The Pastorini have long borne you a grudge, you say, and took this excuse to pay it off on you. A shocking case. A most brutal assault.’

He shook his head as he spoke, above the bed of the victim, and the pliant apothecary shook his.

‘Contusion of the vertebra,’ he murmured, ‘and sympathetic action may supervene in the heart and lungs, and then—’

page: 218

‘Hush! he has youth on his side,’ said Messer Nellemane tenderly, and stroked the curly head of the guard as he might have stroked a child or a puppy, had he not happened to hate both pups and children.

When he left the sick chamber, taking the parish doctor with him, the invalid sat up in bed and shouted to the old woman who waited on him.

‘Give me my pipe and a beaker of that Vin Santo, and fry me some tripe and artichokes, and hand me the Book of Fate.’

The Book of Fate was the teller of dreams and foreteller of lucky numbers for the public lottery, and with this favourite literature, and his tobacco, and his wine, the murderer of Toppa passed a brave and merry day, even though he was supposed to be upon his death‐bed, and was wrapped up in oil, and had begged to see the priest, and had page: 219 all the sycophants of the place (which, to do Santa Rosalia justice, were not many), coming perpetually about his door, and asking whether he was out of danger.

At home Viola was passing the bright hours weeping and kneeling before her little clay figure of the Mother of the Poor.

Old ’Nunziatina was seated beside her, rocking herself to and fro on her elm staff.

‘My candle was no good!’ she moaned, ‘and yet I spent all I had!’