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The Village Commune (Vol. 1). Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 297

CHAPTER XII.

IT was too late that day to go anywhere else, but the next morning Pippo set forth again. He went to each of the gentlemen of the district who formed the Giunta; there were seven of them. Two of them, as said, were noblemen, two were small gentry; one was a doctor, one was a lawyer, and one was the money‐lender Zauli. Pippo tried the nobles first; one was at his estates in another province, and the other, who was at home, said he was very sorry, but he could not interfere; he had no power to page: 298 alter the law; he was kind, however, and told his maestro di casa to send the old man into the kitchen to have a meal; the small gentry said much the same, a little more disagreeably; the lawyer said that they were determined to make their laws respected; and when the old man timidly asked why the law had been made, and suggested that they would be very much better un‐made again, grew angry, and told Pippo he was impudent, which was indeed, the last thing that Pippo ever dreamed of being. The doctor said much the same thing as the lawyer, and as for going to Zauli, Pippo knew that would be no good; as soon will you get peaches off an ant‐eaten tree as mercy out of the heart of a money‐lender.

In Pippo’s eyes, and in those of most in Santa Rosalia, Simone Zauli was as a great swollen dragon, gorged on the bodies and page: 299 the souls of other men, and he was the only incarnation that they knew of usury.

Jaded, footsore, very heart‐sick, Pippo trotted through the ankle‐deep dust, carrying his boots in his hands; he had thought it only respectful to enter the gentlemen’s houses with his boots on, but that was no reason why he should wear them out on the common highway. He was very tired when he got home; for one way and another, up and down hill, and to and fro, he had walked five and twenty miles, if one. But he ate his bit of supper in silence, and went to bed. In bed another hope dawned on him; a faint one, but still something on which to act.

He said nothing to his daughter, for he held the old‐fashioned opinion that women had no head for anything, and had best be told naught, but next morning put on his page: 300 festa coat and waistcoat, took his straw hat and went through the clouds of dust in the shaky diligence to Pomodoro.

‘They do say he is a liberal one and has a heart for the poor,’ thought Pippo, and boldly went and asked for Signore Luca Finti, who had taken a lodging in the town, for people were now saying that the new deputy, who was a bachelor, was thinking of nothing less than asking for the hand of Teresina Zauli, an ugly wench, indeed, brown, clumsy, with a bearded lip, and a chignon like a melon, dressed in all the colours of the rainbow, but worth her weight in gold, and owning all they jewels, too, of a dead countess whose affairs her father had managed; the countess, being a poor‐witted and sad‐spirited lady. Teresina Zauli had given her heart to a brave young bailiff who was floridly handsome as a dahlia page: 301 flower, but that was not the match her father meant for her, and she had soon resigned herself to the idea of being a deputy’s wife, and living in Rome, and going to the Quirinal when a state ball was given, as Luca Finti’s wife would do unquestionably.

The ‘note’ of the new deputy being all things to all men, and familiar good‐nature to the entire population, the little old dusty figure of Pippo was shown into the chamber where the deputy was taking a light breakfast of stuffed onions and a risotto of liver and brains. Signore Finti, thinking the old man came to beg, buttoned up his pockets, but saluted him with a sweet smile and words so bland that Pippo thought at a bound: ‘he will get me let off the fines.’

He was benignity and kindness itself, for this Luca Finti was to everyone; but when he found what the errand was he grew a page: 302 little colder, a trifle less affable; for to the mind of the Deputy municipal law was sacred. The bureaucratic mind, all the world over, believes the squeak of the official penny whistle to be as the trump of archangels and the voice from Sinai.

That all the people do not fall down prostrate at the squeak is, to this order of mind, the one unmentionable sin.

With hope Pippo began his tale.

He was a long time telling it, and he told a good deal of it three times over; and he muddled it all together, and at the close of it he damned the State in general, and Messer Gaspardo Nellemane in particular, very finely.

Luca Finti listened patiently; but when Pippo, out of breath, paused in his cursing, he frowned, and drew himself up with the gesture he generally kept for the Tribune.

page: 303

‘I fear you are contumacious.’

‘Eh? sir?,’ said Pippo. ‘That’s what they say in the summons‐papers. Con‐tu‐ma‐cious. It’s a mighty long word for poor folks that don’t know what it means. What have I done? Nought! Nought! He came prying and poking where he’d no business: he didn’t make the reeds in the water; God made them. He didn’t set my brook running; God set it. As for the poor little beast, every child knows her and loves her. I have done nought. That I’ll say if I die for it. I live peaceably, and I hurt none; and this Jack‐in‐office comes spying on me, and worrying me, and beggaring me, and then he calls it all con‐tu‐macy! What have I done?’

The Deputy’s face clouded and grew grave as he looked over the papers which Pippo had handed to him.

page: 304

‘They seem all in order,’ he murmured a little severely: if the penny whistle has shrieked, who shall dare to find fault with its blast?

‘Eh, sir?’ said Pippo wistfully.

‘I see nothing out of order in these,’ said Luca Finti. ‘Really nothing. It may fall hard on you; but you should have observed the laws.’

‘Laws, sir?’ said the old man hotly. ‘I never broke the law—never. It never could be put against me. They are not laws, these tomfool’s rubbish that those spies and blackguards lay their heads together to concoct, that they may wring our money out of us when they want a breakfast, or a supper, or a drink, or a trull!’

‘Hush—sh—sh!’ said the Deputy, putting up his hand with quite a shiver. ‘You must not say such things. You must never page: 305 say such things. The Law is unassailable, and its administrators and representatives must be respected. These papers are perfectly correct. They are founded on Imperial Law, and, were they not so, every municipality has a right to make and to enforce its own laws. The regulations of your commune are admirable ones; wise, preventative, full of an excellent forethought and caution. It is your duty, and it ought to be your pleasure, to obey them—’

Messer Luca Finti might have gone on in this strain for an hour, since every Italian is eloquent, or, at any rate, long‐winded and master of a million words, but old Pippo, whose slow and patient blood was beginning to boil under the bitterness of his disappointment, interrupted him.

‘Listen, your honor; that guard is a rogue that has been a vagabond before all page: 306 our eyes ever since he could run alone; and the clerk that makes the laws is a rogue too, only a smooth one, in cloth clothes; and wrong, to my knowledge, I have never done; and the brook has been put there by God in heaven, and the reeds any man of us cuts when he pleases, and no one is a penny the worse; and my little old dog is a pet of every baby about in the place, and why shouldn’t it sit at the door; and if you only will think on the cruelty of all this, and the shame and the sin against me, an old man, and one who never did harm, and—’

‘My dear friend,’ said the Deputy wearily, ‘your head is a wooden head. You will not understand. You have broken the law. Libel against the officers of the law will not efface the fact, but only increase your criminality. I can do nothing. Nothing whatever.

page: 307

‘What is the use of you being our Deputy, then, if you cannot see to having us righted?’ said Pippo, whose spirit had risen as his heart was breaking.

‘You are not wronged,’ said Luca Finti with a polite contempt. ‘Were you wronged, be sure my protection should be all over you. You are not wronged at all, caro mio. You have transgressed certain just laws, and you must be made to pay a just penalty for your disobedience. It is no use to groan,’ added the Deputy, as Pippo did groan at all the grand words that fell like ice on his ear.

‘You should not complain. You should confess yourself to blame. I do not see that the fines are in any way excessive. You must pay them, and you will be a wiser man for the future.’

Pippo stood quite still; the veins swelling page: 308 on his wrinkled forehead and great angry tears gathering in his eyes.

There is nothing on earth so hard to endure as this tone of easy superiority, of jaunty counsel: to the old man, with whom this matter was ruin itself, every one of the tranquil, insolent, chill words was like the stab of a knife.

He gathered up the papers with a tremulous hand; it was all he could do to keep from bursting out crying like a child.

‘There’s no right in them, and no justice,’ he muttered. ‘God forgive you gentlemen who ruin the poor.’

And with that he put his hat on his old white head, and turned his back on Luca Finti, and went out of the door. The Deputy hesitated a moment, then rose and went after him: this was an old fool rightly served, he thought; but then—he page: 309 wanted to keep a good name in his newly‐won Collegio.

He touched Pippo on the shoulder.

‘Here,’ he said a little hurriedly. ‘You must try and make a collection and pay those amounts so; they are not at all excessive; quite just, quite just; but if you are so poor, take this to begin with; only you must not say I gave it.’

Then he slid into the old man’s hand a five‐franc note.

Pippo put it back again very quietly.

‘Thank you sir,’ he said very quietly too. ‘I came for justice not for favour, and I never was a beggar yet.’

Then he went down the stairs and Messer Luca Finti for the first time in his life felt crest‐fallen.

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