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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 149


THE Italians are patient to a great degree. There is here as much hunger as there is in Ireland, and there are proprietors as indifferent as the absentees, but here there is no agrarian crime, no revolt against masters or landlords, no effort to shirk just payments or even unjust ones.

‘Our people do not understand their rights,’ said a prefect to me. I thought: ‘When they do—well,—there will not be many prefects.’

This is the fact: they do not understand; page: 150 they let their sons go to the conscription, their bread money to the municipal extortioners, their last tool in fine to the tax‐gatherer, their last shirt in pawn to the Monte di Pieta, and then shut themselves up and die of hunger secretly, or throw themselves in the river without a word of complaint to anyone. They do not understand their rights, and they are not at all envious of the pretty happy people driving by with prancing horses. The cursing envy of Irish or French poor is not in the Italian; if he can sit in the sun and cut a slice of melon in summer, a slice of sausage in winter, he is content, and ready to laugh and be merry with you.

Foreigners judge the Italians by Menotti’s restless emigrants and Mazzini’s mystic disciples, but in real truth these make up but a small portion of the nation; to the great page: 151 bulk of it revolt is alien, and a good‐humoured and docile obedience most natural.

Now, no doubt it would have been far better had Carmelo gone elsewhere to seek a living. But to the higher sort of Italian poor it never occurs to leave their home. The same love that bound Dante to the cerchio antico binds the Italian cotter or workman to his native village. When they are taken perforce away as by conscription they hunger ceaselessly till they see their hill‐side farm or cottage in the plains. Emigration does not attract them; even a change to a near city or a neighbouring province appals them as a kind of expatriation.

‘I want to go to my native country’ (paese nativo), said one of the men in my employ. ‘It is such a long‐time since I was there.’

By his native country he meant an olive‐ page: 152 clad hill that rose in sight about two miles off; he had not been there since Pasqua, and he spoke on S. Giovanni’s day!

The paese nativo is what they love, and to this sentiment their rulers owe their incredible and illimitable patience which forbears from revolution. Leave them in their paese nativo, and you may do almost any oppression or extortion to them that you will.

Therefore neither to him or his did it ever occur that Carmelo would do well to leave Santa Rosalia. Besides he was the elder son, and had always been promised that the mill should pass to him, after an old rule of the family that ignored all the primogeniture‐abolition of ’48.

The eldest Pastorini had always had the mill, and the others had always lived there if they liked, and worked at other trades; and Demetrio Pastorini was strongly conser‐ page: 153 vative, as indeed every rural Italian is in mind and blood, abhorring change, and never understanding it, or being willing to allow for it in any way.

Therefore, as I say, there was no thought that Carmelo would do well to put some breadth of strange land between himself and his foes; but although things were going so ill at the mill‐house, his marriage was never doubted or spoken of as a matter that would brook delay.

‘They have suffered enough,’ said Pastorini, ‘and nothing will chase away the gloom that has gathered upon him like the face of the woman he loves always by him by day or by night.’

‘My son,’ he said therefore to Carmelo that night. ‘You are come home to us in evil times. The trees are down, and never a soldo will I see for them. That is certain. page: 154 The steam mill of Rossi’s is taking all our custom away; some go because it gets done quick, and more go because they think to please the Syndic, and the gentlemen, that set it up there. I am not at all sure, my lad, that the place will bring us bread a year more. And I owe money, that I will not deny to you. I owe money, but I have not heart to stand in the way of the only joy you can grasp. You shall wed the girl tomorrow.’

So the very morning after his return, all formalities having been gone through well‐nigh twelve months before, they went quietly and with no mirth up to the church of San Giuseppe, and were wedded before the altar by Dom Lelio.

There were few dry eyes there amongst their friends: she had thought of little Raggi, and had put an almond sprig in her page: 155 bosom off the tree that grew by the little grave, and the two old men stood beside her, careworn, and with a vague and ghastly dread weighing on their souls.

Would these two, whose lives were made one, find anything in the future except toil and pain? Would their children be begotten for anything beyond hunger and care? Would they be allowed to see their years go by in such peace as sweetens labour? Would not their hearts be harrowed and their cupboards bare?

There would be enough if they were let alone, but not enough for tax and fine, for torment and extortion.

Carmelo said very little. He felt scarce any joy. The dull, sullen shame of his captivity was still on him. The bitter rage of his wrongs suffocated almost all gentler thoughts, all tenderer emotions. He loved page: 156 the maiden who had been so true to him; but the days of dalliance seemed gone for ever from him: he said to himself, ‘Have I a right to procreate innocent creatures to be as wretched as I have been, and to bear the burdens that our people bear?’

For he had learned to think, in the long watches of those nights, in hospital and in prison; and all that the communist had taught him was for ever fermenting in his mind.

The marriage service was said and over very early in the morning, for they wished to make no fuss, and draw no eyes upon them, save the kindly ones of a few old neighbours who had known them both from their birth. The child Isola had gathered a great bunch of the wild narcissus, which filled the church with its fragrance; that was their only rejoicing. Viola wore page: 157 the grey gown she had laid aside in the past summer; and the good vicar blessed them with a quiver in his voice, and they went as quietly and sadly home again; the stick of old Pippo keeping tune and time on the stones with Annunziata’s crutch.

Then every one went to his work again, and there was no attempt at any kind of festivity: it would have been unfitting, and Carmelo would have had no heart for such a thing.

He and Viola went home and with the old man to the little square house to break bread with him ere she departed for ever. They had offered to live with him there a few months before taking up their abode at the mill; but Pippo had refused the offer, sweet as it was to him, for he said to himself: ‘They will distrain all I have: the girl will be best away from that.’

page: 158

He had a little meal for them, and they sat at it silently: no one had appetite to eat. It was like a funeral rather than a bridal feast. None of the broad jokes common at such times were heard, and no levity could lift its head under such sorrow.

It wrung the heart of Viola to leave the old man all alone to do his chores, and make his bread and bed; but Pippo, harshly at the last, said that he would have it so, and so best liked it: and she submitted.

The mill was but a half‐a‐mile off down the river: she promised herself that she would run in to him a dozen times a day to do all that was needed. With the miller’s three girls there would be little for her to do in her father‐in‐law’s house, and Carmelo was fond of Pippo.

Pippo filled a glass with wine and lifted it solemnly upward.

page: 159

‘My girl,’ he said gravely; ‘be as good a wife as you have been a good child to me, and you will be as a vein of gold to those you go to dwell with. You have had sore trouble here. May it never find you where you go now. Demetrio, drink with me: health and long life to your son and your son’s sons when you and I be underneath the sod.’

Then with twilight, the young people went away to the mill‐house, where there were now no nightingales safe in leafy trees to sing through the hours of their nuptial night; and old Pippo was left alone in his little, dull, and quiet place, where there was not sound but of the Rosa water breaking on the sand beneath the willows.

He looked through his back door at little Raggi’s grave.

‘My wee dog,’ he said to it. ‘I shall page: 160 soon be like you now. Let the thieves come and seize; they cannot get blood out of a post; and it does not matter for me, since you and the girl are gone.’

Then he sat him down by the cold hearth, with his hands on his knees, and his head on his breast, and never stirred till midnight came.