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A Village Commune, Vol. II. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 31

CHAPTER XIX.

BEFORE the week was out the poplars were all down, as I have said, and the birds that had made their homes in them had flown, shrilly piping in their woe, across the Rosa water.

Messer Nellemane visited the spot often.

The municipal soul loves destruction. Whether it beholds a noble and fair monument of ancient times being changed to dust and rubble by the hammers of masons, or whether it sees a gracious sylvan haunt alter to a desolation of sand and stones beneath the hatchets of wood‐cutters, the municipal page: 32 soul is equally full of an exceeding joy, of an unspeakable contentment.

Messer Nellemane, who possessed the municipal soul in its entire perfection, was thus happy now; and his happiness was further pointed by the acid pungency of a grudge paid off, a vengeance accomplished.

It was a sad sight to other eyes than his: the mossy bank where Toppa had used to roam stamped down into mud, the brave trees felled, their yellow leaves churned into a paste of earth and water, the branches piled in squares to be sold for firewood, the tall trunks trimmed and set in rows to be disposed of as timber; all the place unsightly, naked, miserable, where all had been so lately freshness, and peace, and forest loveliness.

The white wall of the mill‐house stood bare and ugly, no friendly shadows cast on it from waving boughs. The heart of the page: 33 miller seemed broken in his breast; he could scarce bear to pass his door; he could not bear to look across the stream.

He never spoke of it to anyone since the trees had gone.

Once his third son, little Dante, said timidly:

‘Is it well, father, that they should sell the wood like that? They have not paid you.’

Then Demetrio Pastorini said to him:

‘If they sold your sister to the brothel would you squabble to share the price? Pay? no, they will never pay. They are thieves. Thieves do not pay for what they take.’

Then the young man was afraid, and did not dare to speak of the wood again.

After a while the timber was carried away, and the boughs also; no one knew where they went; it was understood to go page: 34 to the City. No one ventured to inquire, since the stern lips of Pastorini were dumb.

If he had spoken he would have learned little: he would have heard that the engineers had valued his possession, and the municipality had contracted to pay for it: that was all he would have been told. He did not know that he was highly honoured, and that they were treating him exactly as the princely owner of Farnesina was treated before him.

This destruction of the boschetto, which had been a favourite haunt for feast days with the neighbours, and the dread of the iron way that was to follow it, harassed and saddened all the people in Santa Rosalia, and added to the gloom of a wet and stormy November, which was in turn followed by an unusual and severe winter.

The harvest had been good, and so had page: 35 been the vintage, and so also proved the olive‐gathering, rain notwithstanding, and as foreign papers innocently wrote, nothing was wanting to the happiness of the country.

But the foreign papers only read the statistics of corn, wine, and oil, and did not try to see any further; indeed, having started with this fixed idea of Italian happiness, would not have believed any explanations proving the contrary. Foreign papers did not understand that, as the local taxes always go up in proportion to the excellence of the harvest and vintage, that excellence is not the unmixed gain which it is supposed to be, and, indeed, is scant profit to anyone.

The more you have, the more I take, say the municipalities to the communities; there can be no more admirable recipe for keeping a populace poor.

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