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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 191


THE cart drove on, and the old man Pippo sat himself down in the chimney corner, though it was a warm day, and fine of course, and saying never a word, and making no sign, he let the plunderers carry on their work of pillage. The spirit had gone out of him; something of vacancy had come over his face and into his eyes; his hands were joined on his knees, and he kept muttering:

‘Two and three make five, and four is nine, and six is fifteen—’

And so on through all the numerals; he page: 192 was adding up all the sums that the municipality had claimed from him; those that had been paid by him and those for which the law was now seizing his goods.

It was a long sum, and it bothered his head; he had never been good at figures.

He sat there till it was quite dark; long after the distrainers had ransacked every hole and corner, and carried off every pot and pan and gone away leaving him nought but his four bare walls and the roof above him.

When it was quite dark, and the stars were beginning to tremble in the summer skies, the cart came by his door again and stopped and Viola came to him.

She was shivering very much and sobbing. Pippo did not either hear or see her at first; the figures were in his ears, in his heart, in his brain before his sight. She had to shake him by the shoulder to rouse him; and even then he looked stupid.

page: 193

‘What did you find? he said then, and he thought his mouth moved with difficulty, and his tongue seemed fastened.

‘We found her locked up,’ sobbed his granddaughter. ‘And we could do nothing, nothing. They will not let her out, and she is so wretched, and I feared all the while that Carmelo would break into some violence; it was all his father and I could do to keep him still—’

‘They have locked her up have they?’

‘Yes! And she is always crying to them to let her see the sun!’ and Viola’s tears choked her voice as she spoke.

‘They have locked her up, have they?’ said Pippo stupidly. ‘And they have taken all my things. Well, I do not know, my lass why folk should try to be decent and honest; we are fools for our pains.

page: 194

Then he turned round to the cold fireplace once more and began counting.

‘Two and three make five, and four is nine, and six is fifteen—

Viola went to the door and spoke.

‘Let me stay with him this night; I cannot leave him alone; indeed, indeed, I cannot!’

‘I will stay too,’ said Carmelo; and he came down from the cart, and bade his father drive home.

Pippo did no notice him; he was always counting.

There was no light but from the moon, for the men of the law had taken away both lamp and oil. There was nothing to use; nothing to serve; no table to spread.

Viola, checking her bitter sobs, sought in the old wall‐cupboards she knew so well for a broken plate or a bent spoon, but all was page: 195 gone. There was only a little rusty tin can and a half‐loaf of bread; nothing else anywhere was to be found in all the house.

Carmelo stooped down and made a little fire with some charcoal‐dust that lay in the stove, and she pumped some fresh water, and put it, with some of the bread, and an onion, from the garden in the little pot to boil. There was not a stoup of wine nor a pinch of rice in all the place.

All this while Pippo was busy counting. The young people crouched together on the ground, and the old man sat on the wooden settle; the white moon shone in through the square window; the room was full of smoke and bad smells from the steam‐mill; in other years at this season every chamber had been sweet with the scent of the lilacs by the river.

Suddenly a mouse ran across the feet of page: 196 Pippo; the mouse roused him; he lifted his head from his breast and saw the figures of his children crouching together on the stones in the moonlight.

Then he looked round the empty, naked room, and laughed a little harshly.

‘They have got blood out of a post; they have got blood out of a post, have my gentlemen. They think I’ll kill myself like Nanni. It’s four hundred and sixty‐five francs in all, and I am to drive my brook underground, and spend all my mint of money on masons and engineering folk. What would the king say? what would the king say? And the old woman locked up like a purse‐lifter or a trull. This is what we lit up our oil for the day after San Martino! There’s the moon, but where’s the lilacs? I don’t smell them. What’s that smoke coming in my house? What smoke is that? Get page: 197 out, you foul thing, get out! They have sold me up, but I am master here yet!’

He got on his feet struck at the smoke wildly, beating the air with his hands; then, finding nothing resist him, he looked round angrily, and slowly recognised Carmelo and Viola.

‘Why wait you here?’ he said thickly. ‘Go you home, my dears. You are lovers still, and the night is sweet to you; get you home. Nay, I would be alone. I have my house over my head; I am not out in the street yet.’

And he would take no denial, but thrust them away almost roughly, and shut to the door; then he sat himself down again, and again began counting, ‘Two and three make five, and four are nine, and six make fifteen,’ and so on through all the figures they had brought against him, repeating them over page: 198 and over again, all through the dreary hours of the night.

‘He will lose his mind, saying over those figures!’ sobbed Viola, as they stood in the night air, no more, as of old, clear, silver and sweet, but full of noxious steam and stench.

Carmelo wound his arm about her; he dared not trust himself to speak.