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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 199


THE law has been compared by some writers to Fate. It may, perhaps, be accurately compared to the Juggernaut, which rolls on regardless whether it crushes straw or diamonds, youth or age, beauty or deformity.

The Juggernaut having been set in motion by Messer Nellemane, it rolled over Pippo quite regardless of his circumstances; and a few mornings after the Usciere had taken away everything except the little rusty pot, the law, which is never conscious of being ridiculous, served a summons to this old page: 200 destitute man to pay sixty francs for a month’s delay in executing the work above the running water commanded by the commune.

Pippo could not read, but he knew the look of the summons paper with the arms of the province a‐top of its long pages. He laughed a shrill, hard little laugh, and twisted the paper up and lit his pipe with it.

He had a stupid and vacant look on his face, and he was very taciturn; and when alone at work could always be heard muttering over and adding up those figures; but he had set his back up straight against his lot; he would not die like Nanni.

He went on with his basket‐work and vegetable garden; one neighbour brought in an old chair, and another a kettle, and another some cracked plates, and Dom Lelio lent him a mattress; and so Pippo began life again at nigh seventy years of age; an age page: 201 when hope is only a remembered thing, like a fair bird flown away long down the golden mists of the valley of youth.

They had been allowed to see ’Nunziatina once more, but the interview was but added pain to her and to themselves. She was almost distraught; her dim eyes were streaming with tears, and her voice was hoarse with screaming. She could be made to understand nothing; she could not fancy anything except that they thought her guilty of some crime.

‘Let me get out; let me go free!’ she was crying with all her force. ‘I want the air; I want to see the sky. This is the day I am always to go to Varammista for my bread, and the pretty foreign child comes and gives me something more herself, and smiles with her blue eyes; let me get out; I have got a rose at home on purpose for the little miss; page: 202 let me go to my own home. I shall die away from the my own house.’

The little musty place where she had cooked and worked, and eaten and slept for forty years, ever since her husband’s death, was dearer to her than her palace to a queen.

‘Dear lad, don’t you get into trouble for me,’ she said to Carmelo. ‘But let me out they must. I have done no harm at all. I only want to go home; I don’t want a cart or anything; I can walk every step of the way.’

But no one would let her out; and there they had to leave her. But for the entreating pressure of Viola’s hand upon his arm, Carmelo would have done that day what would have lodged him anew in the Carcere of Pomodoro. Sadly they had left her, and sadly they had returned.

Carmelo had only one thing of any value page: 203 in the world; it was a watch that his grandfather had given him, leaving it to him by will as to his favourite. It was an old silver watch, two hundred years old, with fine répoussé work of cherubs and foliage around it: it went well still, and was as big as a peach. Carmelo loved and honoured it so that he never wore it except on feast‐days and Sundays. He wound it up only on those rarer occasions; at other times it lay in his drawer, wrapped in a silk handkerchief.

The day after he had seen Annunziata for the second time, in the prison of Pomodoro he waited carefully till Viola was busy washing linen and his father was out of sight; then he stepped upstairs, took the watch out of its drawer and slipped it in his pocket. Then he went and harnessed the mule.

‘I am going to take that flour back to page: 204 Varammista,’ he called in at the kitchen window.

The flour had been ground for the fattore of that place. His brothers helped him up with the sacks, and he drove away, no one thinking that he was on any uncommmon errand.

He drove to Varammista (where unhappily he found the owners who liked Annunziata were absent), and left his sacks with their fattore, then on into the town that he hated. His face was flushed, and he carried his head high as he went through the streets. He fancied everyone was pointing at him.

There was a shop in the place that was a jeweller’s and an antiquity seller’s, both in one, kept by a man of whom in the happy weeks before his marriage Carmelo had brought some little coral and silver earrings for Viola.

page: 205

Carmelo walked into the shop now, and held out the watch. ‘How much?’ he asked.

The jeweller stared, and took the watch in one hand; he had often seen and often coveted it.

‘Twenty francs?’ he said, hesitatingly. ‘You know it will only sell for old silver. No one will buy a watch that is not new.’

‘That is a lie,’ said Carmelo, ‘for you told me yourself that all that work round it made it of value; yourself, you said so two years ago, at the wine fair, when I showed it you.’

‘I only said that to please you,’ said the jeweller, who, however, longed for the watch.

After chaffing and disputing a quarter of an hour, Carmelo was sick of heart, and said passionately:

‘Give me fifty francs, and you shall have page: 206 it. You know well enough I would not let it go but for some dire necessity.’

‘You are always in trouble,’ said the jeweller testily; but he paid the money and locked the old watch up in a desk: he knew a collector of such things who would give him ten napoleons any day for it.

Carmelo went out of the shop; his face was a dusky red; he felt ashamed. But he kept to his purpose. He took the fifty francs and went to the prison. If anyone would pay so much caution money as guarantee that the offence would not be repeated, those guilty of begging were let go out again.

‘My father has sent me to pay the money for ’Nunziatina,’ he said unsteadily to the gaoler. ‘May she come out with me now?’

‘Ugh! We do not do things as fast as all that,’ they said to him.

page: 207

Nevertheless, they were obliged to abide by their own rules, and the next night Annunziata, weeping and laughing, was home in her own room.

Viola missed the watch.

‘Oh, my love, how good you are!’ she cried.

Carmelo blushed and shook his head.

‘Do not praise me, sweetheart. Your people are mine.’

After that action something of the gloom and bitterness that had been on him, lifted, and once or twice he smiled his old merry smile, and little Isola threw her arms about him, and cried:

‘Oh, Carmelino mio! Forget all the wicked men, and let us be happy.’

‘I will forget them if they will let me, dear,’ said Carmelo.

And so he would, and, thus forgetting, page: 208 would have been a blameless, useful, and contented man.

But the State, which creates Messer Nellemane, does not care to have useful, harmless, and contented men in its cities and communes. It thinks it of far greater importance that no dog should be seen in the streets, no poverty be exempt from a tax, and no man be able to call his soul his own; it likes to have its gros bataillons of unwilling conscripts, and it thinks it more profitable to have its galleys and its hospitals full than to remit a tax, or cease to t keep ten clerks to do the work of one.