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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 89


A LITTLE while after that, there came a hue and cry of mad dogs in Santa Rosalia. These cries are very common. They bring in plenty of dog skins for the guards to sell.

If any dog be hunted by boys, be thirsty for water he cannot find, or be gaunt or faint from hunger and ill‐treatment, straightway is he declared arrabiato, and up on the walls there appear placards that every dog seen about will be killed. Then Bindo, with his poisoned polpetti and his pistol, is busy and happy all over the land.

page: 90

A woman was bitten the other day by one of these mad dogs, and was recovered by the bone of a saint being laid by her pillow, but present municipalities are not desirous to bring out the virtues of saints, and they do like to sell the skins of dogs; so they scream at every possible wag of a tail or sign of a growl, and fly to poison and to pistols.

Such a panic seized the municipality of Vezzaja and Ghiralda in this month of February, when Pippo was being summoned again and again for little Raggi and putting the summons in the fire.

If you tunnel a mountain and stifle a score of men you are a public benefactor; if you keep a factory, in which no one lives over thirty years of age from the notions dust or noxious gas inhaled in the work, no one finds human life at all too precious page: 91 for you to use up as you like in your own interests; but if ever a dog snap at somebody—ah! then of what sanctity is human life! what horror is anything that menaces it!

Messer Nellemane, in the absence of Cavaliere Durellazzo, who was at his candle‐warehouses, took fright now, nothing loth to do so, and had placards stuck up, announcing that the guards were authorised to destroy every dog they saw loose.

The dullest imagination can conjecture the ‘lovely time’ that Bindo and Angelo had in the commune, and no one dared to check their slaughtering hand, remembering the fate that had befallen Carmelo.

Viola, terrified, kept little Raggi in the house, and shut her up in the house, and kept her out of danger all she could, and at night would start up and feel for the little floss silk curls of the dog as it lay at the foot of her page: 92 bed, waking from a dream that Raggi had been seized and killed.

‘I said the dog should never be kept in for those devils,’ growled her grandfather: but the girl pleaded to him that her trouble for Raggi’s own sake.

The old man let her do as she would; he was growing apathetic, yet desperate; though he had burned the Giunta’s order about his brook, the memory of it and the dread of what they might do to him haunted him night and day. And he was so very poor; he did not so much mind depriving himself of wine and tobacco, but it hurt him terribly to see Viola’s clothes mended till they were but patchwork, and her feet going bare.

Viola had always been the neatest and cleanest as well as the comeliest maiden in the province. Clean she was still, but neat page: 93 you cannot be when you are so very poor that even to buy a few pins, a little thread, a bit of tape, is quite beyond your means.

This is the poverty that the world does not understand, and, not apprehending, does not pity; famine it understands, the famine that desolates Cashmere and Bombay, but not the poverty which can just put enough in the body to keep life alive uncomplainingly, but has not a coin beyond for any need or pleasure of life.

It was a great sorrow, too, to Viola not to be able to be decently dressed for mass as she had used to be; but she did not think so much of that as she did of her inability to give her grandfather a scrap or two of meat in his broth and her equal powerlessness to defend Raggi.

At Christmas she had sold her little string of seed pearls to a richer maiden, the page: 94 big butcher’s daughter, and the money they had fetched had long since gone in charcoal and bread for themselves and soup for Annunziata. Money runs away so fast when it has no companions in your drawer.

One morning whilst the placards concerning dogs were still upon the walls, and the reign of terror still dominated all Vezzaja and Ghiralda, Viola had her week’s washing to do. She needed not to go for this, as most had to do, to the edge of the river, or to the springs on the hillsides, because the brook that offended the Giunta filled a tank in their own little garden.

There she washed the sheets and shirts and other linen that she and Pippo used, and washed her great‐aunt’s linen, too, if such poor little rags can be dignified by the name; and she was at this work all the chilly forenoon with the bitter north wind whist‐ page: 95 ling round her head and nipping the red flowers of the almond trees near her.

She had shut the house door, and Raggi was with her running loose about the little place; Pippo was out trying to get an order for skips or baskets or the osier‐covers of wine‐flasks.

Viola looked often for the little dog and saw it lying out of the wind under the wall, but about eleven o’clock, having wrung out her linen, she was so busied hanging it up on the clothes’ line, tied to the delicate almond trees, that she never heard the wind blow open the entrance door, and when her work was done at noon she missed Raggi.

The little dog never left her side usually, but Raggi had a little friend in Cecco’s youngest boy, a gentle mite of four years old, a cripple with a cherub’s face and curling golden hair.

page: 96

Whenever Raggi heard the tic‐tac of the poor little man’s crutch, she always trotted out to it, for Lillo, as they called the child, would share his bread and milk with her, and throw his little wooden ball to please her, and loved her dearly. Raggi—perhaps with that divine pity which dogs have—divined the sad destiny of crippled Lillo, and so gave him her preference.

This forenoon she heard the sound of the crutch on the stones of the threshold, and got up and went to it, not knowing she was doing any harm.

Lillo, delighted to see his playmate, covered her with kisses and hobbled along to his father’s house, and there got a bit of bread; and hobbled farther with the dog by his side out to the few willows that there fringed the river bank, and sat down in the sun and shared his bread with her.

page: 97

Lillo and Raggi were very merry, indeed, about nothing; seeking stones in the grass, making a feast of the crust, and playing with the dry twigs that the wind scattered so plentifully. Raggi’s yellow curls blew, and Lillo’s blew, too, and the one barked, and the other sang and laughed, and both were as happy as two little mortals could be, with that sweetest of all happiness which is born out of nothing beyond the mere glad sense of living.

But along the road by the river there came a grim shadow; the shadow of a man in grey clothes, with a feather in his hat and a sword by his side.

His eyes flashed over the little child and the little dog sitting together under the willows, and his ear caught the sound of that quick little bark, that gay little laugh.

He drew his pistol and shot the dog.

page: 98

As the dog dropped on its side the child fell backward, screaming violently.

People ran out from their houses, and Bindo Terri walked away as one who has done his duty and earned his wage.

Viola had run out with the rest; she fell on her knees by Raggi.

Blood was pouring from its mouth, but it moved its little curly tail feebly in welcome and farewell. Then the little bright eyes glazed and seemed to sink into its head, its heart beat convulsively through a few seconds more, it stretched its limbs out feebly, and then was still for ever.

It lay dead in a pool of its own blood.

Never more would Lillo laugh under the willows, and break his bread with Raggi. Never more would Raggi dance to the children’s piping. And little Lillo, never very wise, was imbecile from that hour; a frightened, cowering, mindless thing.

page: 99

But what mattered that? The law had asserted its majesty and vindicated its rights.

When the old man Pippo dug a small grave under the blossoming almond‐trees, and laid the blood‐stained body of the little dog in it, covered with moss and grass, he groaned as he turned each sod.

‘Assassins and thieves are set above us, and work their wicked will, and no one cares. How long, O Lord? How long?’