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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 63


MEANWHILE in the prison of Pomodoro, Carmelo, thanks rather to his youth than to his leech, recovered despite the bleeding, the camomel, the stench of foul drains, the diet, and the obscurity; in six weeks’ time he was almost ready to go back to his prison cell, he looked but a shadow of himself; he was thin and pale, his eyes were moody, and cast downward; his ruddy, sun‐tanned skin had grown pallid and yellow.

He had recovered, but he had a worse poison in him than even the poison of fever, page: 64 for in the bed next to his there was lying a German with anemia and other ills, and this man talked to him in his own tongue by hours together in the long watches of the night, when they had no other companions than the newts and the rats and the beetles that ran over their couches. The German, a travelling mechanic, was a socialist and an internationalist; and into this ignorant virgin mind of Carmelo, all seething and fermenting now under an unendurable sense of wrong, he poured the black stream of his own beliefs and desires.

Carmelo did not understand a tithe part, but he understood enough, after many a night’s colloquy, to breathe in eagerly this vengeance on society which looked like justice, this insanity for equality which looked like reason. Until wrong had been done to him he had been a perfectly contented lad, page: 65 troubling himself about nothing outside his own duties and occupation, for scarcely knowing how to read, he knew nothing of any other world beyond that of the mill‐house. He had been bred up to be respectful to the gentry and the clergy; to be decent and honest in life, and to be quite happy so long as his father was pleased with him. This had been always Carmelo, until that hapless hour when poor Toppa had been treacherously done to death.

But injustice and despotism change the pure blood of youth into a dark and sullen current. Carmelo who had only rightly punished a poisoner, was treated like a criminal and thrown amongst thieves and assassins.

One of the cruellest sins of any State, in giving petty and tyrannous authority into petty and tyrannous hands, is that it thus page: 66 brings into hatred and disgust the true and high authority of moral law.

‘Where is God? He cannot hear, He cannot care; nor can the saints, since He and they let me lie here and make a king of Bindo Terri,’ thought Carmelo, lying on his bed, with all the bright and vigorous force of his young limbs gone out of them.

If they were indeed throned in heaven, as the priests always said, would they let the poor suffer, and the scoundrels thrive, and the fines be wrung out of starving bodies, and the parasite of the public torture and arraign and sentence honest winners of their daily bread?

Carmelo still shrank from the bold blasphemies of the socialistic doctrines; but the German was wary and skillful, he softened for this foolish young Christian the atheism of the texts he quoted upon all religions, page: 67 and only recited again and again their condemnations of all existing laws, and their invitation to a perfect future, when there would be on all the earth ‘only free men in a free fraternity.’

Carmelo listened, and his sick soul was seduced by the dangerous stimulant of these doctrines, whose greatest danger lies in the fact that there is in all their exaggeration an essential, an undeniable, truth.

He was at war with all the world, with all these unknown, unseen, forces which had been stronger than he; his ear and his heart were open, to words that told; him of the tyranny of property, of the favouritism of law, of the sins of society by which millions groaned in want, and died unpitied.

The German, exiled from his own country for his opinions, was a keen and restless page: 68 student and an ardent propagandist; he was a disciple of the most extreme creeds and deemed, as most of those men now do, all remedy useless save ‘pan‐destruction.’

Well aware that he was dying, and a prey at times to great agony, he beheld in the young Italian his last proselyte, and threw all the last energies of his waning life into the rescue, as he deemed it, of this dumb soul, into the effort to give light to the blind eyes of Carmelo, for he found that Carmelo was ignorance itself; thought heaven had placed the king upon the throne; thought heaven had made one set of men to toil, and another set to do nothing and enjoy; had a vague idea of the Government as of a sort of god hedged round with cannon; fancied the good weather and the bad came from divine pleasure or wrath, and was certain page: 69 that grain would not come up unless the priest made the round of the fields and blessed them.

The autumn nights were long and cold; in the infirmary they were allowed no charcoal and no light, but the fiery utterances of the Internationalist lit up and warmed the darkness. Carmelo who knew naught that occurred outside the hedges of Santa Rosalia, listened as in his childish days he had listened to the priest’s wonder‐stories of S. Ursula or SS. Cosmo and Damian, to the recital of the movement going secretly onward in Italy; of the insurrections of San Lupo, of Gallo, of Calatabiano; of the ‘Circoli Barsanti,’ and the section of the ‘Figli di Lavoro;’ of the memorable words of Garibaldi in 1873, that were there a society of devils to combat despotism, he would join it; of the Internationalist federa‐ page: 70 tion of Rimini which decrees ‘the earth to who cultivates it, the machine to who uses it, the house to who builds it;’ of the programme of Piacenza, ‘everyone has right to what is necessary, no one has right to what is superfluous;’ of the declaration of the fraternity of Montenero, Antignani, Ardenza, and San Jacopo that ‘the State is the negation of liberty; authority creates nothing and corrupts everything; change of government is useless; if a man have a thorn in his foot, it is of no use for him to change his boots, he must pluck out the thorn;’ and, with these, of many a burning and bitter paragraph from the Plebe of Milan, from the Petroleo of Ferrara, from the Proletario of Turin, and the unhesitating dictate of the Campana, that ‘all authority, human and divine, shall perish and disappear, from God downward to the last agent of police.’

page: 71

The innocent soul of Carmelo revolted from these arguments which tore down his Christ from his crucifix, and dashed his stoup of holy water to the ground; yet the wrong that festered in him made his mind open to all these dreams of freedom and of justice, all these promises of a millennium upon earth.

If such minds as Rousseau’s, Fourier’s, Proudhon’s Bakounine’s do not see the falsehood that is mingled with this truth, how shall Carmelo see it, or the like of Carmelo?

The Italian is as I say, not by nature a revolutionary, but when he is one he goes beyond all others, because, perhaps, he has more than all others to suffer in the contrast between his dead hopes and his present misery. No one seems to remember that the Italian Socialists have rejected Marx page: 72 and decreed Mazzini a reactionist, whilst they subscribe blindly and without change to all the terrible creed of Bakounine.

No one seems to remember this, or heed it; yet Bakounine’s is a creed of nothing less than universal destruction. The disciples of it grow every day in numbers throughout Italy, but since the arrests of 1874, they call themselves by a harmless name¹ and so no one is afraid.

No one is afraid; and the State continues to give them justification by leaving in every commune the breed of Messer Nellemane and of Bindo Terri.

‘It is a question of hunger,’ the Marquis Pepeli said once of the revolts of Budria and Molinella.

Perhaps partly: not altogether. But who makes the hunger? who keeps the

¹ Circoli per i studi sociali.

page: 73 stomachs empty, the hearths cold, the box of the commune full by fines?

The Municipalities.

Here is the thorn that must be pulled from the foot of Italy if the canker and fester of it are not to spread through the whole body.

Carmelo, of course, could not understand a hundredth part of what the German unfolded to him, but the vague meaning that he gleaned dazzled and awed him, and the poison of injustice already given him to drink had left him thirsty for this other poison of revenge.

Carmelo was a brave lad, a lad honest, clean‐living, and harmless in thought and deed; he was dealt with as if he were a criminal, and the bitter sense of his wrongs made it precious to him to hear of sovereign rights that he shared with all mankind.

page: 74

He had been dimly conscious of a right to live in his own way so long as he did no harm to his fellows; he had been by nature independent and of fearless spirit; but of late the petty tyrannies enfolding the lives of the poor had been to him like a choking chain, and he had begun to tremble. He saw men impoverished, and hunted down to beggary, or death, by this thing which they called Law, and which he knew only to be extortion; and he had lost hope and manliness; and in the stead of these there had come on him a moody and morbid resentment, chilled with dread.

He was as ready for the tempting of his teacher, as clay is made moist for the hand and the wheel of the potter.

One night, when the moon was shining in through the grated hole that served as casement, the German mechanic died.

page: 75

Carmelo was too feeble to rise; he sat up in his bed and saw the ghastly agony, and heard the death‐rattle, of this man, who seemed to him his only friend. He strove to call for help, but his tongue clave to his mouth, and when at length he could find his trembling voice he shouted in vain; no one heard.

The horror of that hour aged him by many years.

He dragged his weak limbs out of bed and strove to hold the man in his convulsions, but death was stronger than he, and flung him backward rudely on his own mattress.

With the moonlight on his ghastly face the German struggled with his doom, choking and vomiting blood. Once only, with consciousness in his eyes, he stared upward in the eyes of Carmelo.

page: 76

‘The people—the people—suffer,’ he muttered through his clenching teeth.

Then he gave a bitter cry and died.

Carmelo was alone through all the long chill night with the body of the dead man beside him.