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The Village Commune (Vol. 1). Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 310


LITTLE Pippo, saying nothing more, went with the bitterness gnawing at his heartstrings, and got leave to visit Carmelo.

It was a sad sight to see that strong healthy, handsome youth, who should have been at work in the mill with the weighty sacks pulling at his arms, shut up in prison, lying on a wooden bench face downwards, doing nothing, grown spiritless, and yet sullen, broken in strength, and yet savage, as the dogs are that these wise laws chain.

Pippo sat down before him; the old page: 311 man’s brown face was pinched and pallid, but he was quiet still; he felt like one stunned and paralysed.

‘My boy, these devils claim two hundred and forty three francs of me,’ he said with a little quiver in his voice. ‘If I do not pay they will sell me up; I must get money on the house. You know well a thing borrowed on is as good as lost. I did think to give the girl the house in dower, when she married you. What do you say now? It will come to you mortgaged, and that is no better than a loaf that the mice have gnawed, with all the crumb eat off, but so it must be.’

Carmelo nodded.

Nothing mattered to him much.

‘Will not the new deputy do any good for us?’ he asked wearily.

‘Curse him!’ said Pippo. ‘He is one of them; a scoundrel climbed up on poor fools’ page: 312 backs, and making more poor fools a ladder to get up higher by, that’s all. A scoundrel; a sheer scoundrel, a tongue of oil, a heart of brass! Don’t think of him! You won’t mind then, Carmelo, if the old house never comes to the girl?—’

Carmelo laughed a little bitterly.

‘I am a felon,’ said he. ‘House or no house, Viola will be too good for me when I come out; I am disgraced.’

‘Not you,’ said the old man. ‘You did right; the prison can do you no shame: all the village says that, and Viola will be as proud to walk before the priest with you, as if you were the king. I thought I would tell you of the house, because you had a right to look for it, and when once there is a loan on it, it is gone for good.’

‘Never mind me, ‘ said Carmelo. ‘I am so sorry all this loss falls on you. There page: 313 seems a curse on us. Tell Viola not to fret, to keep a brave heart; I shall be out in three weeks more, for certain I am that when they hear all they will set me free, and then —’

‘Then she shall marry you,’ said Pippo. ‘Not but what if things go on as they are now you will breed but beggars.’

‘We must take our chances of that,’ said Carmelo. ‘If you are sure she will not be ashamed of me —’

‘If she were, she would be turned out of my door, neck and crop,’ said Pippo. ‘But there is no fear of that. Viola is a good girl and a loyal. I am glad you do not care more for the house.’

‘I do not care at all except for you,’ said Carmelo, to whom in his durance it seemed that no roof could ever be needed by anyone except the broad blue sky.

page: 314

Then Pippo left him and said to the gaoler at the prison door:

‘Can you tell me of a man who lends money?’ and the gaoler answered that he knew no one who would lend it without making a profit on it, but if there were a profit to be had, then nobody he thought could be fairer than a certain Signore Nicolo Poccianti, who dwelt hard by the west gate, and was a notary and a lender too.

To him went Pippo.

‘When you must be hanged, what matters the rope?’ he said to himself, and by sunset on the morrow he had three hundred francs in his breeches pocket, and he left his papers that concerned the house with Messer Nicolo, and had put his cross before two witnesses against a long written thing that was read out to him without his page: 315 understanding any word or any sense of it, and had seen seals and signatures set at the public office to documents a metre in length.

When he took his place in the lumbering diligence to be borne homeward, he felt that the dust of the road and the blue of the sky spun round him. Life was over for him, as much as though the coffin had been nailed down above his body.

His little house had been very dear to him; it had made him feel proud and like a man; there had been always that little place to live and die in, a place all his own, as much as the palace is a monarch’s: now that another had a claim on it, all that was over.

‘I have borrowed on the house,’ he said to his daughter when he reached home, and page: 316 sank into a chair, pale to the lips, and with all his limbs and frame trembling.

Then he stretched out his hands with a sudden strength of passion.

‘God’s curse on them!’ he cried fiercely; ‘God’s curse on them!’