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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 100


AS by a very irony and wantonness of cruelty, that very night there was left at his house by the usciere a mandate from the court of Pomodoro to pay the sum of fifty‐seven francs on account of the little dog.

As he had neglected to answer the summons for contravention, the charges against him for contumacy had been taken as usual to the senior court, and had been proved and assessed against him with costs.

Two francs for every time that poor little Raggi had been seen loose soon told up to a page: 101 high sum total, and the public accuser who officiates for the commune on such occasions had stated that, but for the mercifulness of that administration, the number of summonses would have been much greater. They regretted, they said, to be severe on a poor man, but the law must be respected. The law must be respected, said all the officials in a chorus.

That document, like the others, found the fire.

‘They may kill me as they killed the little dog,’ said Pippo; ‘’twould be less trouble, and done once for all.’

Viola was weeping as though her tears would, to use Dante’s words, destroy her very heart; and in the cooper’s house a sad mother sat by a little bed where a golden‐headed child, with vacant, terrified eyes, was pointing for ever in the air, and stammering page: 102 uncouth, shapeless sounds, and then shivering as though with ague, and cowering down under the clothes.

Bright‐haired Lillo’s body lived, but his mind was as dead as Raggi’s, buried in her grave underneath the almonds.

‘Carmelo must not know,’ said Viola over and over again in the darkness of the night, sobbing and missing her little furry friend, who for seven years had slept upon her bed; and when the morning dawned she begged of Lillo’s mother and father, and of all about the house, that never would they let Carmelo know that Raggi had been killed by Bindo Terri, and the child thus lost his wits from terror.

All promised her, but she could not be sure that the promise would be kept, for she knew how every little story leaks from the dry cask of empty heads, and she was afraid, page: 103 terribly afraid. Sometimes she thought that she would lose her brain, like little timid Lillo.

Her father, too, was for ever saying, ‘Let them kill me as they have killed the dog. They have made me a beggar.’

The cold was passing away. The damp was drying up, the corn lands were green with young wheat, and soon amidst the grass the violets were giving place to the daffodils, and on the hill‐sides the peach‐trees and pear‐trees were throwing out their sprays of blossom, making the steep slopes beautiful.

But spring brought no joy to the small house of the Madonna; and by the mill upon the river, in lieu of lovely pillars of lightest green, thickening and deepening with every day, in lieu of that leafy screen, full of the nests of doves and merles and nightingales, there was a waste land of mud and shingle, page: 104 barren spot, of no use or good to man or beast or bird.

Nothing had been done with it. The holes yawned where the trees had been uprooted, and the water‐beetles crawled undisturbed over the heaps of mud. The tramway was not made; the foreign speculators and the home municipalities were quarrelling, and until their quarrels were ended the work could not be begun. The speculators said the municipalities had cheated, and the municipalities gave the speculators a tu‐quoque. It was a quarrel like a croupier’s and a gamester’s.

Of all these things the population of the commune understood nothing; they were like a horse who has his mane docked and his chin singed; he feels uncomfortable, but he does not know what is done to him.

Italy is always being docked and singed; page: 105 being amiable, she does not kick her groom, but she is always smarting, and the flies are always raising gall upon her loins.

The sweet spring came; and so sweet is it, here, that it is joy enough to live only to go out into the fields all laden with blossom, and feel your heart dance with the daffodils in the full sense of Wordsworth’s words.

But the poor have not leisure for this, nor have they insight for it, and the spring brought no solace to Santa Rosalia.

Another trouble, and a yet greater anxiety, fell on Demetrio Pastorini at this time.

There was another miller on the other side of the village, who had never done very much work, because the water was so much shallower there, and who indeed did not care about it, being a very well‐to‐do man, owning an oil‐shop and warehouse in Pomodoro. His name was Remigio Rossi; he had never been page: 106 looked on at all as a rival by Carmelo’s family, and did not seek to be one.

But one fine day four oxen appeared on the river‐edge dragging a huge, black, shapeless, uncouth‐looking object behind them; and a few days later, Pippo and Viola, looking out of their house door, saw a long black chimney, and a cone of black smoke, coming out of the roof of Remigio’s mill, which was within ten yards of them.

Pippo ran and shouted with all his might that the place was a‐fire, but people standing on the bank, looking on, said to him,

‘Be still, you, for an old fool; that is the new machine a‐grinding.’

Demetrio Pastorini, who was a home‐biding man, and never went to public‐houses of any kind for gossip, and so never heard anything that was going on until a dozen days after all Santa Rosalia knew it, saw this page: 107 black thing spitting smoke, and heard all at a blow, as it were, that the miller Remigio Rossi had obtained a steam‐engine from the city, by means of which he could grind grain in fair weather or foul, and snap his finger and thumb at all shallow waters.

The steam‐mill was a hideous blot on the landscape, and its ugly iron chimney vomited filthy odours and darkening vapours over all the green country and glancing waters, and made a mass of ash and cinders and general blackness and sootiness all about the pretty grass bank on which the building stood.

The engines were set going with plenty of last year’s grain, by favour of the Cavaliere Durellazzo; and hearing their whirring and booming, and seeing the heavy veil of its smoke, the eider Pastorini turned away, ‘death in his heart,’ for hope was for ever gone out of him.

page: 108

How could he wrestle against this thing? he with his mill wheels high and dry, for five months out of the year, since the woods had been cut on the banks?

‘So you bring devils of fire and iron to ruin your old neighbour, Remigio?’ he said reproachfully when he met him at mass on the Sunday.

Remigio, who was a good‐natured man, though, like most of them, he loved money too well, looked sheepishly.

‘I do not wish to injure anybody,’ he said, with some embarrassment. ‘But one was sorely wanted now the Rosa is such a captious thing; and as the Giunta find half the cost, it being for the good of the place—’

‘Oh, the Giunta find half the money, do they?’ said Pastorini, with his heart sinking heavier and heavier. ‘And I suppose they will take half the profits too?’

page: 109

Remigio winked, then shuffled into church.

The next day Pastorini, who was by no means behind the scenes in these matters, went and asked innocently for an audience with the Cavaliere Durellazzo: it was the syndic’s day for audiences.

As usual, the Cavaliere Durellazzo was absent; but his secretary would see anyone. After a little delay the miller found himself in the presence of Messer Nellemane, who smiled affably, and, without rising from his writing chair, said, ‘Can I be of any use to you, my friend?’

Then Demetrio Pastorini, not being glib of tongue, except under pressure of excitement, with some hesitation, and with great repetition and amplification, related the object of his coming, and set forth the fact that his people had been millers on the page: 110 Rosa water over three hundred years, well counted and proved, and very likely many more; and then he proceeded to urge that having thus a kind of inherited fief and ancestral right as it were in the stream, it was beyond all justice, not to say all law, to have a steam mill set up in face of him.

Messer Nellemane listened very patiently; and when at last the miller paused for want of breath, said gently:

‘You are under an entire misapprehension, my friend. Did not Remigio Rossi occupy the mill by the piazza for very many years?’

Pastorini admitted the fact.

‘And you never, that I heard of, objected to that water mill being there ?’

‘It did no business,’ said the miller.

‘Excuse me,’ said Messer Nellemane, ‘that is quite beside the question. If it had page: 111 done, you could not have thought of compelling its removal?’

‘I never should have asked it,’ said Pastorini. ‘Live and let live is my motto. That mill was an honest thing. It worked by water; and it was in worse water than I was —’

Messer Nellemane grew a trifle impatient; the obtuseness of the public always irritated him; but he kept his serene smile.

‘All that is beyond the question. You contest the legality of Rossi’s mill. Now, whether it be a water mill or a steam mill, it has, or it has not, the same rights to the ground it stands upon: you do not seem to me to see that; yet, if you reflect a moment, dear sir, you will be persuaded that the manner of working the mill has nothing at all to do with the matter.’

‘Merciful heaven!’ cried Pastorini, page: 112 goaded into torture by this mild and logical reasoning. ‘It has everything to do with it. The mill had the same rights as mine—no less; no more. When Rossi was content with the seasons God sent, and the whim of the Rosa, I had nothing to say: the river is free.’

‘A moment ago you claimed it as the property of your family,’ said his listener very gently: the miller did not heed.

‘Fair contest I would never be a foe to, nor would any son of mine,’ he said, a little hotly. ‘Come rich, come poor, the river is free; a prince and a beggar may strip and sport in it—’

‘More pity,’ said Messer Nellemane, whose propriety was often offended by little, live, dancing amorini bent on a bath in the heat of midsummer.

‘The river’s a free thing; but use it page: 113 fair,’ said the miller, growing heated. ‘Don’t put a hissing boiler on it, and grind, when it’s God’s will that the water’s out; why do you come on the river to do that? it’s like the men I’ve heard of that blow fish out of the waters with gunpowder, and rob all honest anglers with their nets and rods.’

‘Dynamite,’ corrected Messer Nellemane. ‘It is not allowed by our rules.’

‘Then why do you allow the steam mill?’ pursued Pastorini. ‘It’s to me what the blasting is to the fishers. One man will gorge, and all the others starve. I never said I had a right to the Rosa; but I do say I have a right to grind grain for Santa Rosalia and all the farms around. This thing isn’t fair; it isn’t honest; it will eat me up, and make my children hunger; for, of course, all the folks will go where the work is done quickest.’

page: 114

‘You have precisely expressed the reason of its invention,’ said Messer Nellemane blandly, and toying with a pen. ‘In these times work, to please the public, must be done quickly, and done at any moment. It is most painful to me that this innovation should be displeasing to you; but we are compelled to think of the general interest, not of individual aims. It is absurd that, in these times of great inventions, a whole commune should have to wait with its harvests unground because a little river has run dry; so many complaints have been made on this subject to us that we have deemed ourselves bound to find some remedy for them, and as Remigio Rossi was a public‐spirited man with some capital, the most excellent the Cavaliere Durellazzo and the Giunta decided on giving him some help to the better carrying out of this project.’

page: 115

Pastorini stood confounded and dumb. He had intended to cast the loan for the steam mill in the face of this representative of the municipality; but lo! it was boasted of to him as an act of public utility and benignity!

His slow gentle wits were not quick enough or keen enough to combat those of Messer Nellemane.

He stood turning his straw hat in his hands, and stammering stupidly: ‘But the thing’s not honest, It’s not fair. It is to be beat by devils—’ till his auditor amiably reminded him that time was precious, and that there were many persons awaiting audience below.

‘Can I do nothing then?’ said the miller, staring blindly about him.

‘Nothing in this matter. When the Giunta has once given its approbation—’

page: 116

‘Damn the Giunta, and damn you!’ said Demetrio Pastorini bitterly. ‘You have thrown my poor lad in prison, and you will now take the bread out of our mouths.’

Messer Nellemane rang a little bell, and Bindo Terri appeared, and showed the miller the door.

‘All that family is a little amiss here,’ said Messer Nellemane, touching his own forehead with a commiserating smile.