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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
page: 261


ALL those papers that Pippo thought he abolished by burning them as he lit his pipes, were rising in a heap over him, in truth, at Pomodoro, till they grew into a mighty mound of contumacy, and under this pile justice required that the contumacious one should be buried alive.

In a word, as he did not appear and did not reply, and no one appeared or replied for him, the lawyer who had his mortgage, and the lawyer who acted on behalf of the municipality, had it all their way, as no doubt they would have managed equally to have if page: 262 he had appeared and had replied; and after the many ceremonies and formalities of the law had all been observed, he knowing nothing of it all the while, due notice was sent him that his property would be sold to satisfy the just demands of the mortgagee, and of the debts due by him to the commune for works not done by him, and repeated contraventions and fines for the same, all unpaid for a term of eighteen months.

But as this notice also took the form of a paper half printed and half written, and was delivered by the Usciere, Pippo twisted it up, set light to it, and pushed it blazing and smouldering under the little earthern pipkin containing his dinner, then boiling on the fire.

He was no wiser than before.

The lawyers and Messer Nellemane had had a great deal to do at Pomodoro in this page: 263 matter, and all the engines and battering rams of the law had been set in motion against the poor little house by the river, but Pippo knew nought of it.

‘They can’t get bark out of a peeled pine,’ was all he said; and when the man of law left these long papers upon him, with all their formidable array of writing and printing that he could not read, he set light to them and thought that was an end.

‘They will tire before long,’ he thought. ‘They can’t get anything more out of me, and they’ll give over.’

Pippo often went days on only a bit of bread, and once passed twenty‐four hours without eating at all; but he shut up his pains in his own breast and would not take them to worry the girl: she was always the girl to him.

To Carmelo he did speak a little, for he page: 264 and the young man were victims of the same torturer.

‘Lord’s sake, lad,’ he said one day, ‘when I was a middle‐aged man, even so near as that, the land was all at peace and fed us all. Wine—why you could get it for the asking, or buy it for a soldo a flask. Bread—ay, there was bread for the dogs and the pigs then; loaves were as thick as stones in Rosa’s bed. We were all quiet and happy. The gentlefolks didn’t go roaming away to foreign parts, and didn’t dine nigh midnight as they do now. They all got their dinners at three, and there was plenty for a hundred, if a hundred came by and wanted sup and bite. They bided in villa all summer, and they went down to their own city, whichever it was, for winter. Oh, lad! Then the cities were alive and pretty, with all the money spent honestly in page: 265 them, not taken out to this, that, and the other foreign place as it is now. All the old feasts and fairs were kept, and the laughing and dancing all winter, and the pranks and bravery of Carnival kept the cold out, and, Lord! on a holy day, what poor soul denied himself a chicken in his pot. It cost but two soldi. Now a chicken—why you might almost as well talk of getting down the moon to eat. The fowls are packed off to foreign parts, and here we are all starving. Can you tell me the right of it?’

‘I can tell you the wrong of it,’ said Carmelo, his mind reverting to all the German communist had told him. ‘The pot has boiled till all the scum is up; the knaves are saddled on us because they bellow “Liberty!” while they cudgel our bare bones. As our gentlefolks don’t care how we starve so long as they go and cut a page: 266 figure in Parigi, so the knaves don’t care how we perish so long as they get soldiers and ships, and put money in their purses.’

‘I suppose that’s it,’ said the old man, not much the wiser.

‘I know twenty years ago there was a rare screaming about “Italy for the Italians;” and who’s got Italy now?—the Jews,’ said the elder Pastorini. ‘Jew here, Jew there, Jew everywhere; and the poor sicken and die and what d—d Jew dog of them cares? It is all the fault of the gentlefolks; they flare through their money to look fine, and then, when they’re all burning up to waste, the Jews come in behind them. I never knew much, but that I do know. Look at what the old Marchese was, Palmarola, I mean; every soldo spent by him amongst his own people, and every hour spent by him here on his own soil. What’s his son? page: 267 A monkey‐looking thing that scarce ever comes nigh his land, squanders all he gets out of it in Rome, or that place you call Parigi, and is whittling away every bit of the old property in gaming and harlotry, and trying to look like a foreigner. It’s all the fault of the gentlefolks. Why didn’t they send them adrift with the stranieri?’

‘Ah,’ said Pippo. ‘Palmarola died in time; it would have broken his heart to see that youngster, always dwelling with foreign folks, and keeping bad women as they say he does. And what a fine‐looking man was the old Marchese, and what a shrivelled up looking monellino is this youngster! It seems to me as if the men now were all so small—’

‘Of course they are,’ said the miller. ‘They smoke at fourteen, and they keep bad women as you say, at sixteen, and they page: 268 gamble all night long, and they drink strong spirits to get their courage up in the morning. Of course they are weaklings, that is all that the foreign craze has done for our nobles. And those who don’t do that, are like Count Saverio there in the town; all they think of is buying scrips and stock, and they would sell the Madonna herself to get a share or two in a foreign railway, or be the first to suck the gilt off a bit of jobbery down in the city. But I don’t know what we’re to do; I have heard that the Inglese and the Americani have done it all, bringing in their mad ways and midnight dinners, and their craze for killing things: it may‐be.’

‘I’ve heard tell the Inglese worship foxes. They’re heathens then,’ said the cooper Cecco timidly. ‘I never knew much about them.’

page: 269

‘This I do know, for I have been told it,’ said Carmelo scornfully, ‘that they’re such poor shots that, if they want to hit a bird, it has to be shut up in a box, and let fly right in front of them! But oh! father, not Inglese nor Francese nor anybody would be able to hurt our Signori if they bided at home as of old, and had human hearts in their breasts, and clean hands. But they have not, they have not! They will not trouble themselves about anything, unless it is to get money, and they give us over into the claws and teeth of the Impiegati as a shepherd gives over his lambs to the butcher’s knife. They do not care whether we live or die. What they care for is their own ease, their foreign travel, the money in their bank—’

‘I remember a chicken two soldi,’ said Pippo, reverting to his original thoughts. page: 270 ‘Two soldi, and fine and fat; not a thing blown out just for market. And now they send all the poultry away by the rail.’

Then he fell to recalling in silence all the easy plenty and merry, simple festivities of his youth, when black Befana had knocked at all doors at Epiphany and when the Maggioli had brought in the spring to every village.

Carmelo with a sigh got up in his cart and went on his way; he had some sacks of ‘torbo’ (lignite), to leave at one of the very few farmers who still were bold enough to show friendship to the Rosa mill‐house, and employed the young Pastorini in divers homely ways; the ‘torbo’ was wanted for the threshing‐machine that would soon be in motion on the hills; one of the ‘pillars of progress’ that came to break up for ever the old gracious pastoral ways which were like pictures from the Bible, and, page: 271 making labour less, make hunger more, and benefit the few to distress the many.

The farm was many miles off; on one of the green hillsides, clothed first with the olive, and higher with the umbrella‐pine, that stretched along both sides of the plains through which the Rosa wound.

It could be seen from the valley, a long, low, white house with an old tower, and the pines standing all around and above it . , The way to it was steep and long; a good, well‐made Roman road of the ancient times when work was not ‘scamped,’ since engineers ‘scamping’ it, would have been beaten with rods or hung to a cross.

The mule was fatigued, for the lignite was very heavy, and it had been fetched from Pomodoro.

Midway on the hill road Carmelo, who was by nature merciful to beasts, checked the page: 272 poor thing, lightened the cart of three sacks and set them down by the roadside, meaning when the mule had, thus relieved, climbed to the top of the steep slope facing it, to carry them up one by one on his own shoulders.

The road wound through wild scrub of myrtle, and cistus, and arbutus; young chestnut trees were growing in clumps; it was quite solitary; no one ever scarcely came there except a woodman, a sportsman, a hill hare, a fox, or a flock of goats.

Carmelo left the sacks by the wayside and began to walk up beside his mule, encouraging it in its toil with kind words and a bunch of sweet hill grass.

He was busy thinking: very simple, honest thoughts; of how best he could labour in the future for his own children, and his brothers and sisters, for Carmelo foresaw that, with six months more, the page: 273 mill‐house would most likely be no more over their heads, his father being no more able to pay his way. He had a stout heart and strong affections; he tried to think how best he could carry his father on his shoulders away from the peril; a humble Æneas bearing a homely Anchises.

He never saw coming through the myrtle and bay the figures of Bindo Terri and old Angelo; their pistols in their hands: when they had any leisure from tormenting the public, they took a turn at shooting thrushes and merles.

‘Stop!’ shouted the rural guards.

Carmelo glanced up, grew red, then white, and continued to pace beside the straining mule.

‘Stop!’ thundered the officers of the law.

Carmelo for all answer went behind the cart, and pushed it to aid the mule.

page: 274

The men went in front of the beast and checked it with a jerk; the incline was great; the cart recoiled, the mule reared, the lignite rolled most of it on the ground; it was with a great effort that Carmelo saved the animal and the baroccino from destruction. He clenched his hands and ground his teeth in his struggle not to resent and avenge the offence done him.

Bindo Terri, keeping his pistol at full cock stood in the middle of the road.

‘You are in contravention,’ he said, with pert authority. ‘Your sacks are lying on the public road. It is an offence against the municipal police. See Art. XV. of Rule 103. Angelo, inscribe the dereliction.’

Angelo opened his book and pretended to write. In real truth he wrote very ill.

Carmelo, whose heart was heaving and whose whole body was shivering with rage, page: 275 stooped over the fallen ‘torbo’ and employed himself in thrusting it back into the sacks.

He would have given twenty years of life to have been able to wrench the pistol out of the hands of the murderer of Toppa, and blow his brains out on to the turf. But he remembered Viola, he remembered his father, he controlled the justice of his bitter wrath, and bore in silence all the insults and jibes of his tormenters. Tired at last, as they could provoke him to no retaliation, they left him alone with his mule and his fallen lignite and went away across the chestnut woods: the land lay within their beat, being within the commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda.

The next day the Usciere served a summons on Carmelo, citing him to appear for contravention of the law in having obstructed the public road.