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The Village Commune (Vol. 1). Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 317


NEXT morning timid Cecco the cooper went for Pippo and paid the two hundred and forty three francs claimed by the municipality.

Pippo was in bed with what is called a stroke of heat, and wandered in his speech and seemed stupid. Timid Cecco went and paid it all because the girl asked him to do so, he being very far from sure that he would not be incriminated in some way himself. But when they gave him the receipt for the money, the simple soul was overjoyed, and ran back as fast as ever he could, and tore up Pippo’s page: 318 stairs, and went in triumph to Pippo’s bedside.

‘Now you have got a bit of paper,’ he cried, ‘they never can hurt you any more. Keep it close. Never lose it. You’ve got your bit of paper now!’

The old man lay with his face to the wall, and answered nothing.

Viola, young, and so hopeful, caught Cecco’s arm in both her hands.

‘Is that true? Is that really true? Will they never be able to torment us any more? Are you quite certain?’

Simple Cecco, in the honesty of his own convictions, patted her hands kindly, and said:

‘Of course they can’t, my dear, now you have got that bit of paper. You must keep it close, and always have it by to show; this bit of paper. Why, my dear,’ continued page: 319 Cecco, with a touch of patriotic indignation, ‘Do you think after taking nigh three hundred francs from your poor grandfather, they wouldn’t respect his bit of paper? No, no; they’re bad, but not so bad as that.’

‘And Raggi may be loose?’

‘Why, I should say so, my dear: for what else is the tax paid for her, and that bit of paper given?’

The one‐idea’d mind of Cecco the cooper could not embrace a state of things in which you pay heaps of fines and taxes and yet get nothing in return for them.

‘Poor grandfather!’ said Viola with her onyx‐like eyes suffused and tender. ‘Pray God send him no more trouble.’

Pippo, as she spoke, sat suddenly up in his bed.

page: 320

‘Nay, nay; Dominiddio has nought to do with sending this sort of trouble,’ he said, with a thickened voice and a sort of wild gesture. ‘Never lay it on God, my child. This trouble and them who made it are spawned and hatched in hell.’

The girl shuddered.

She had never seen her kindly, placid, pious old grandfather thus.

A lull occurred in the storm of summonses. Some eight or ten days drifted by in peace. Raggi ran about.

At the end of the week Pippo got up and put on his clothes and went out to his daily work.

‘Never to cut the reeds! Never to cut the reeds!’ he muttered: but he had been cowed and terrified; he did not dare take his reaping‐hook and wade in amongst the little green blowing rushes. It is the per‐ page: 321 fection of these laws that they change brave men into soulless machines.

He got his spade and went and dug, in his little bit of ground amongst the potatoes and tomatoes. Seeing him thus labouring the girl took heart, and began to hope all would go well. She did not know enough to realise all the mortgage on the little house implied, and she felt sure that Carmelo would soon be free.

She called Raggi, and ran lightly up to Gigi Canterelli’s shop to buy a little macaroni. She passed Messer Gaspardo Nellemane. She coloured hotly, remembering the gifts of Corpus Domini. He uncovered his head with a bland smile; his eye, glancing from her, fell on little yellow Raggi.

That night he said to Bindo, ‘There are still dogs loose despite the law. Enforce our regulations.’

page: 322

Bindo promised extra zeal, though it was by no means to his views to drill the populace into perfect obedience, but rather to leave a little troop of contraventions straying about like gipsies, on which he could pounce down for his fines at leisure, as a hawk picks one out a brood of young birds for breakfast, and takes another at noonday.

The next day another summons, to ‘make accord on a transgression,’ was left at Filippio Mazetti’s. Viola received it when her grandfather was in the kitchen garden, and after a moments hesitation thrust it in her pocket, and waited her opportunity to take counsel with Cecco the cooper.

‘It is a mistake,’ said Cecco. ‘Of course it’s a mistake, when you have got the bit of paper! Lend me the bit of paper, and I will go and see to it. I have been once;—I can page: 323 just as well go again, and not worry your grandfather.’

Cecco was a long, thin man, like a lath, and was very pale, and almost anything in the world set him all of a tremble, as he would say himself, and he shook in his shoes as he went up to the Municipal Palace on his unselfish errand. But he was a good neighbour and friend, and was fond of Viola; and he put a bold front over a quaking spirit as he asked to see Messer Nellemane. It was the hour when the potentate gave gracious audience.

‘I have ventured, sir,’ he began, with great respect in his tone, for he knew that the Secretary liked and expected much obsequiousness. ‘I have ventured, Pippo being ailing himself, as one may say, and not able in any way to come to you, to bring your most illustrious this summons they page: 324 have sent him by a mistake, sir. Quite a mistake, as you will see, sir, for you will remember only last week giving to me, who came for him then also, a bit of paper that set him free of all these things. This is a mistake, sir—’

‘We never make mistakes,’ said Messer Nellemane frigidly, and glanced his eye over the summons. ‘I cannot suppose for a moment it is a mistake. But it is not in my department. However, as you seem a well‐meaning person, I will send for the usciere.’

He touched a hand bell.

The usciere was out, serving warrants; in his stead fat Maso, who was below cracking walnuts, as he had been eating figs when Carmelo’s wedding‐party had come, responded to the summons, even tried to look pompous and official, knowing that the master of all their destinies expected it.

page: 325

‘This summons, Signore Tommaso,’ said Messer Gaspardo to him, with dignity yet graciousness; ‘Will you be as good as to say why it was issued? It is worded so as to call to account Mazzetti Filippo, for a transgression of the law on the 15th ult.; that was the day before yesterday. What is his offence?’

‘Dog loose, Signore,’ said the fat Maso, who knew that his superior liked to do all the eloquence himself, and expected pithy and pregnant replies from his colleagues and inferiors.

‘Dog loose? Ah! The witness?’ asked Messer Nellemane.

Maso replied promptly, ‘The municipal guard, Terri Bindo.’

‘All in order—all quite in order,’ said Messer Gaspardo complacently, and turned to Cecco. ‘You perceive, my friend, there page: 326 is no mistake. No mistake is ever made here. I should have thought that Mazzetti had had caution and lesson enough; he must be an extremely obstinate and perverse person. His dog was loose the day before yesterday. He must pay two francs, and if he continue his transgression the next penalty must be higher.’

Cecco gasped: he remained standing with his mouth wide open, so amazed and so horror‐stricken he was.

‘But your honour,’ he said with a trembling and panting voice. ‘Please, your honour, here is this bit of paper; you gave it yourself, and the taxgatherer gave such another; I paid all that mint of money for him only last week; if it don’t set him free, what was the use of it? what was the money paid for—?’

This most timid man grew audacious in page: 327 his grief and amazement. If a bit of paper was no protection, then to Cecco heaven and earth alike were falling.

‘What was the money paid for—what was the money paid for?’ he stammered in his bewilderment. ‘Sixty‐five francs of it was every penny for Raggi!’

‘Everything is in order,’ said Messer Nellemane, coldly eyeing the agitated creature with some scorn and more disgust. ‘What this very stubborn friend of yours paid last week were arrears; long due arrears. That payment has nothing to do with this, nor with any future ones that his contumacy may cost him.’

‘Lord have mercy on his soul!’ groaned Cecco.

Messer Nellemane grew impatient.

‘If you are come to pay the fine, pay it. page: 328 If not, I must remind you that my time is valuable, and so also is that of the other officers of the commune.’

‘Lord have mercy on his soul,’ ejaculated Cecco, looking all round the room with a scared expression. ‘Why, if he were as rich as a wax candle maker he would be ruined at this rate in a month!’

‘Are you coming to pay the fine?’ repeated Messer Nellemane, sharply hitting his desk with his ruler, as Léon Gambetta does when in a rage with Paul de Cassagnac.

‘Lord, have mercy!’ moaned the cooper for the third time, and fumbled in his breeches pocket and pulled out some very dirty little half‐franc notes and halfpence.

‘Is it two francs?’ he asked faintly.

‘Three‐fifty with spese,’ * said Maso with great rapidity.


page: 329

Cecco counted out the sum; he happened to have it in his pocket, for he had just been paid for some wine barrels.

Maso made him out a receipt grudgingly, but Cecco put it back with a feeble gesture.

‘What is the use of it if you will come again directly?’ said this very stupid man.

‘Imbecile!’ thundered Messer Nellemane. ‘Every charge is separate, and every charge is just. A word more, and I call the guard.’

Poor Cecco went humbly out, fumbling in his pocket at the few pence that were left him, and sorely terrified at his own temerity. He went home, and passing Viola, who stood with anxious face and wistful eyes awaiting his return at her door, he tried to nod cheerfully.

‘It is all right, my dear. It was a mistake,’ he said briskly. ‘Only—only—keep page: 330 Raggi with a string beside you. She will be safest so.’

Then he hurried on to his noonday meal, as he said, fearing she would question him.

‘We won’t have meat for a few Sundays, Guiditta,’ he said to his wife. ‘I had a misfortune. I lost the money they paid me for mending the casks. Nay, never tear your hair. It is no such great calamity. How did I lose it?—oh, I don’t know; I daresay I pulled it out unawares with my pipe.’

A falsehood that certainly may go heavenward with Uncle Toby’s oath.

When his frugal dinner of beans was over Cecco went to his workshop with a heavy heart and a bewildered brain. ‘Lord have mercy on us,’ he said to himself as he hammered his staves. ‘We’ll all be ruined men!’

page: 331

Meanwhile fat Maso was spending the one franc fifty centimes, that he had had for spese, on a very comfortable meal of pork chops and fried artichokes in the back room of the shop of Gigi Canterelli, who, as he served him, thought to himself. ‘By Bacchus, I should do little harm if I poisoned the whole damned lot of you in your pasta!’

For these are the cheerful and loyal feelings in the populace that the present administrators of the Law promote.