The Betrothed CHAPTER 12

This was the second year of bad harvests. The year before, stocks of food left over from earlier harvests had filled the gaps to a certain extent. The population had got through to the autumn of 1628 – the year of which we are now speaking – without being either overfed or starved, but it was left with absolutely nothing in hand. Then the longed-for harvest turned out to be even more wretched than the one before; partly because the weather was worse, not only in the territory of Milan but for a considerable distance around it, but also through the fault of mankind. The damage and waste caused by the war – that magnificent war which we have already mentioned – were such that in the part of the state nearest the fighting many more farms than usual remained uncultivated, having been deserted by peasants who were compelled to go out and beg their bread instead of growing it by the sweat of their brow for themselves and for their fellow men. ‘More than usual’, I said, because other causes also contributed to the abandonment of farms. The unbearable level of taxation, levied with incredible greed and incredible folly; the habitual behaviour of the troops quartered in the villages, which even in peacetime was indistinguishable from that of enemy invaders, according to the melancholy testimony of contemporary documents; and various other factors which need not be mentioned here had been slowly helping to produce that tragic result throughout the territory of Milan. The particular circumstances which we are about to describe were like a sudden turn for the worse in a chronic illness. And that miserable harvest was not yet fully gathered in, when requisitions for the army, together with the wholesale waste that always accompanies them, made such a hole in it that the shortage of grain began to be felt immediately. With the shortage came its painful, salutary, inevitable consequence, a rise in prices.

But when prices rise more than a certain amount, they always produce a certain effect – or at least they always have done up to the present day. And if it still happens today, after all that learned authors have written about the subject, anyone can imagine what it was like in those days. This effect is a common conviction that it is not in fact the shortage of goods that has caused the high prices. People forget that they have feared and predicted the shortage, and suddenly begin to believe that there is really plenty of grain, and that the trouble is that it is being kept off the market. Though there are no earthly or heavenly grounds for that belief, it gives food to people’s anger and to their hopes. Real or imaginary hoarders of grain, landowners who did not sell their entire crop within twenty-four hours, bakers who bought grain and held it in stock – everyone in fact who possessed or was thought to possess grain was blamed for the shortage and for the high prices, and made the target of universal complaint and of the hatred of rich and poor alike. The storehouses and granaries were known to be full, overflowing, bursting with grain; their location was known too, and the number of sacks they contained, which was impossibly large.

People talked with certainty about the vast quantities of grain that were being secretly exported to other territories. (In those territories, no doubt, people were shouting with equal certainty and with equal fury that their grain was being sent to Milan.)

There are certain official measures which the multitude always regards (or always has regarded up to the present day), as fair, simple and ideally calculated to bring out the grain that has been secreted – or walled up, or buried, to use the language then in fashion – and to bring back times of plenty. The magistrates were implored to take those measures at once; and they did take certain steps. They fixed maximum prices for a number of foodstuffs, they decreed penalties for anyone who refused to sell at those prices, and passed one or two other regulations of that kind. But all the official measures in the world, however vigorous they may be, cannot lessen a man’s need for food, nor produce crops out of season. The measures actually taken on this occasion were certainly not calculated to attract imports from other areas where there might conceivably be a surplus. And so the trouble continued and grew worse. The multitude attributed this result to the small number and the half-heartedness of the measures taken, and screamed for more full-blooded and decisive action. And unfortunately the multitude got just the man it was looking for.

The Governor of Milan, Don Gonzalo Fernandez of Cordova, was away commanding the troops at the siege of Casale, in Montferrat, and the Grand Chancellor Antonio Ferrer – another Spaniard – was acting as his deputy. Ferrer saw, as anyone could see, that it is highly desirable that there should be a fair price for bread. He also thought – and this was where he went wrong – that an order from him could do the trick. He fixed the price of bread at the level that would have been right with corn at thirty-three lire per measure. But it was really being sold at up to eighty. Ferrer was behaving like a lady of a certain age, who thinks she can regain her youth by altering the date on her birth certificate.

Orders much less stupid and unjust than these had often remained a dead letter through the sheer resistance of natural forces. But the crowd itself saw to the execution of this order. It had seen its dreams given the force of law, and would not allow them to be turned into a mockery. People hastened to the bakeries to demand bread at the official price; and they demanded it with that air of threatening resolution which comes from the combination of passionate conviction, physical strength and legal rights.

There is no need to ask what the bakers thought about it. They were mixing, kneading, putting dough into the ovens and taking bread out of them all day long, without ever pausing for breath; for the people had a confused feeling that there was something unnatural about the situation, and so they besieged the bakers all the time, wanting to take advantage of this Utopia while it was still there. The bakers were sweating and toiling twice as hard as usual, and making a dead loss on every loaf; anyone can imagine their feelings. But on the one hand they had the magistrates threatening them with prison, and on the other hand the multitude, which wanted service. If a baker was a moment late in responding, the mob would begin to shove, and to grumble, in that loud and fearsome voice that mobs have, and to threaten one of those acts of popular justice which are among the worst acts of justice the world ever sees. There was no salvation for the bakers; they had to go on mixing, kneading, baking and selling. But to keep them going on those lines the most fearsome threats and the most pressing orders were not enough. They also had to have the physical means to carry them out; and if the thing had gone on just a little longer the means would have been lacking.

The bakers made it clear to the magistrates how iniquitous and intolerable a burden had been placed on their shoulders; they swore that they would rather throw their shovels in the fire and emigrate than go on like that; and meanwhile they carried on as best they could, hoping that sooner or later the Grand Chancellor would see reason. But Ferrer was what would now be called a man of character. He replied that the bakers had done very well indeed in the past, and would do very well indeed again as soon as times of plenty returned; that the matter would be considered and they might possibly receive some sort of compensation; and that in the meantime they must carry on as best they could. Was he truly convinced by his own arguments, or did he realize the impossibility of enforcing his edict, but prefer to leave the odium of revoking it to someone else? Who can now enter into the mental processes of Antonio Ferrer? In any case, he stood firm on his decision. Finally the decurions – a body of municipal magistrates drawn from the nobility, which survived until 1796 – decided to act. They wrote a letter to the Governor, describing the state of affairs, and asking him to find a way out of the impasse.

Don Gonzalo was up to his eyes in military problems. The reader can guess what he did, which was to nominate a commission with authority to fix a workable price for bread, at a level which would make life bearable for all parties. The commission held a meeting (or rather a junta, to use the half-Spanish jargon of the secretariat in those days), and after much bowing, complimenting, prefacing, lamenting, postponing, kiteflying and shilly-shallying, they were all impelled to a decision by a necessity of which all were aware. Knowing that they were doing something pregnant with consequences, but convinced that there was nothing else to do, they decided to put up the price of bread. The bakers breathed again, but the people went mad with fury.

The evening before Renzo reached Milan, the city’s streets and squares had been swarming with men. Possessed by a common anger and dominated by a common thought, all of them, whether they knew each other or not, began to form into groups. They joined forces without any prearrangement, almost without being aware that they were doing so, like drops of water coming together as they run down the same slope. Every speech that was made increased the conviction and the passion both of the listeners and the speaker.

Amid all those enthusiasts, there were some cooler heads, who were very pleased to see the muddy water stirred up, and did their best to stir it up still further. They put forward arguments and stories of a kind that the cunning can always invent and the hot-headed will always believe. They had no intention of letting the troubled waters settle again without doing a little fishing in them.

Thousands of men went to bed with a vague feeling that something must be done, and that something would be done.

Before dawn, there were again a number of groups of people to be seen in the streets. Boys, women and men, the old, the workers, the destitute, all assembled together at random. In one place there would be a whispering of many voices; in another there would be a single speaker with an applauding audience. When asked a question by his neighbour on one side, a man would repeat it to his neighbour on the other; a second man would pass on all the exclamations that reached his ears in the same way. Complaints, threats and cries of astonishment could be heard on every side; but the total number of different words that made up the vocabulary of all that talk was very small.

To convert words into deeds, all that was needed was a chance, a push, an initial movement of any kind; and it was not long before one occurred. Soon after daybreak the delivery boys always came out of the bakeries, each with a great basket of loaves on his back, to be taken round to the houses of regular customers. The first appearance of one of those unfortunate lads in a place where a crowd had gathered had an effect like a firecracker falling into a keg of gunpowder.

‘And they say there’s no bread.!’ shouted a hundred voices.

‘There’s bread enough for our tyrants, who wallow in plenty, and want to starve us to death!’ cried one man. He went up and slapped his hand on to the rim of the lad’s basket, gave it a shake, and said ‘Let’s see what you’ve got in there!’

The poor boy went scarlet, and then white; he trembled, and wanted to say: ‘Let me go!’, but the words died on his lips. He dropped his arms, and tried to free himself from the shoulder-straps.

‘Let’s have the basket, then!’ shouted someone meanwhile. Many hands seized it at once. In a moment it was on the ground, the canvas cover flew through the air, and a warm fragrance began to spread around.

‘We’re human beings too; we need bread as much as anyone else,’ said the first speaker. He pulled a round loaf out of the basket, raised it on high for all to see, and sank his teeth into it. Many hands grabbed at the basket, and the loaves took wing; it was empty in a moment. Those who got nothing were angry at the sight of the gains won by the others, and encouraged by the easiness of the enterprise. They moved off in groups to look for other baskets; and all that they found were quickly emptied of their contents. There was no need to manhandle the delivery boys. Those who were so unlucky as to be on their rounds at the time soon saw what an unpleasant turn things were taking, put down their burdens willingly enough, and ran for it. But even so those who got nothing were by far the greater part. Even the winners were dissatisfied with the size of their haul; and mingled among both those classes were those who were aiming at a more thoroughgoing revolt.

‘The bakery! Let’s go to the bakery!’ was the cry.

In the street called the Corsia de’ Servi, there is still today a bakery which bears the same name that it did then. In Tuscan it would be called the ‘Forno delle Grucce’; but in the Milanese dialect its name is made up of such strange, uncouth and barbarous sounds that our alphabet has no symbols to represent them.1 The crowd hurried off in that direction. The shop people were questioning the delivery boy, who had returned without his basket, looking very frightened and tousled. He was stammering out an account of his lamentable adventure, when they heard a sound of trampling and howling. It grew louder and nearer, and then the forerunners of the revolt came into sight.

In great confusion and haste one of the bakers sped off to ask for the help of the captain of police, while the others quickly closed the shop and barred the doors. The crowd gathered outside, and began to shout: ‘Bread! Bread! Open up! Open up!’ A few minutes later the captain of police arrived, with an escort of halberdiers.

‘Out of the way, lads; go home; make way for the captain of police!’ shouted the officer and his men. The crowd was not yet really dense, and it made a little room for them to pass. They managed to make their way through to the shop and took up their position, together though not in any precise military formation, in front of the door.

‘Listen, good people!’ said the captain, from that vantage-point, in sermonizing tones. ‘What are you doing here? Go home! Go home! Have you no fear of God? No respect for our sovereign lord the King? We don’t want to do you any harm; but you must go home! Be good lads! Gathering together in a great mob like that … what do you think you’re up to? Nothing good, I’ll be bound, nothing good for body or soul. Go home! Go home!’

But even those who could see the speaker’s face and hear his words – even if they had wanted to obey him – how could they do what he said? They were being pushed and trampled by the people just behind them, who in turn were being pushed by others, wave on wave, back to the edge of the crowd, which was still growing. The captain began to find himself short of breath.

‘Push them back a bit and let me breathe,’ he said to the halberdiers, ‘but don’t hurt anybody. We’ll see if we can get into the shop. Knock at the door. And make these people stand back.’

‘Back! Back!’ cried the halberdiers, pushing forward all together against the front row of the crowd, and shoving them back with the handles of their halberds. The front row howled and drew back as best they could, pushing their shoulders against the chests, their elbows against the stomachs, and their heels against the toes of the people behind them. The result was a crowding and jostling which those in the middle would have given something to avoid. Meanwhile a small open space did appear in front of the door. The captain knocked, and knocked again, shouting for the people inside to open up. They looked out of the windows, saw who it was, and ran down to open the door. The captain went in and called the halberdiers after him. They squeezed in one after the other, the last couple of them holding back the crowd with their halberds. When they were all inside, they quickly put the chain on the door and barred it again. The captain ran upstairs and put his head out of the window. What an ants’ nest met his gaze!

‘Listen, good people!’ he shouted. Many faces turned up towards him. ‘Good people, listen! Go home! A free pardon for everyone who goes home straight away!’

‘Bread! Bread!’ – ‘Open up! Open up!’ were the phrases easiest to make out in the horrible clamour the crowd gave him for his answer.

‘Be reasonable, good people! Think what you are about! It’s not too late yet. Be off with you; go home! You’ll get your bread all right, but this is not the way to set about it … What are you doing down there? What’s happening to the door? Shame on you! I can see what you’re up to. Be sensible! Think what you’re doing. It’s a serious offence … I’m going to come down. Drop those iron bars! Down with those hands! It’s a disgraceful thing for you Milanese to do, who are so famous for your good nature. You’ve always been such good lads … Bastards!’

The sudden change in his style was caused by a stone which left the hand of one of the good lads, flew through the air, and struck the captain in the forehead, on the left-hand bump of the metaphysical cavity.

‘Bastards! Bastards!’ he continued to shout as he jumped back quickly and shut the window. But though he shouted with the full strength of his lungs his praise and his oaths alike had been carried away and dispersed in the tempestuous clamour that rose up from below. When he had said that he could see what they were up to, he had been watching a lot of heavy work going on with big stones and iron bars – the first implements they had been able to find in the streets – around the door, which they were trying to break down, and the windows, from which they were trying to wrench the protective gratings. The work was already well advanced.

Meanwhile both the shop-keepers and their apprentices were standing upstairs at the windows, armed with stones – probably cobbles which they had torn up from an inner courtyard. They howled and made threatening gestures at the mob below, to drive them away. They also held out the stones, and made as if to hurl them down into the crowd. Seeing that this had no effect, they really did begin to throw their stones. None of them missed its mark, for the crowd was so thick now that – as they say in those parts – you could drop a grain of millet and it would never reach the ground.

Cries of ‘Swine! Blackguards! Is this the bread you give to the poor?’ came up from below, mingled with screams of pain. A number of people were hurt; two boys were actually killed. Rage gave new strength to the multitude. The door was broken in, the bars over the windows were torn down, and the human flood poured in at every gap. Seeing the ugly turn things were taking, the people indoors took refuge in the attic. The captain, the halberdiers and one or two of the shop people stayed there, stranded in the corners. Some of the others got out of the skylights and climbed up over the roofs like cats.

When the conquerors saw the booty before them, they forgot their plans for revenge. They dashed to the shelves and quickly emptied them of bread. Others made for the till, broke the lock, seized the boxes, and helped themselves by the handful. They filled their pockets, and went away loaded with coin, meaning to come back later for some stolen bread, if any were left. Then the mob invaded the store-rooms. They seized the sacks, dragging them around, and turning them upside down. One man grabbed a sack between his knees, unfastened its mouth, and poured out part of the contents to reduce it to a manageable load; others cried ‘Wait! Wait!’ and bent down with apron, neck-cloth or hat held out to receive this bounty from heaven. Another ran to a bin and took a lump of dough, which soon began to dribble out of his grasp and fall all over the place. Another, who had won himself a sieve, held it high in the air as he bore it off. Newcomers replaced those who left. Men, women and children were pushing and howling at each other, while a fine white powder settled over everything, lifting and resettling with every movement, veiling and misting over the whole scene. Outside two long processions, travelling in opposite directions, continually got in each other’s way and jostled one another – one lot going home with its booty, the other trying to get in and secure a share of the spoils.

While that particular establishment was being turned upside down, none of the other bakeries in the city was safe or quiet. But none of them was mobbed by a crowd large enough to have its own way. In some cases the bakers had recruited extra hands to guard their premises. Others saw themselves outnumbered and came to terms with the mob when it began to collect at their doors, giving bread away to its members on condition that they went home. And they did go away in fact, not so much because they were satisfied as because the halberdiers and the police, while keeping clear for the most part of the terrifying situation at the Forno delle Grucce, showed their faces boldly enough at other points, turning out in sufficient numbers to intimidate ruffians whose numbers did not constitute a mob. But this meant that the position went from bad to worse at that first unhappy bakery. For everyone who felt the itch to carry out some memorable exploit preferred to go to the place where his friends had the upper hand, and impunity was more or less guaranteed.

This was the stage things had reached when Renzo, who had now finished munching his bread, made his way through the East Gate quarter of the city. Though he did not know it, he was heading for the very centre of the storm. He walked on, now moving briskly, and now held up by the crowd, but always watching and listening in the hope of gathering a clearer idea of what was going on from the continual buzz of conversation. This is roughly what he heard in the course of his walk:

‘Now the truth’s out!’ shouted one man. ‘The wicked deceit of those blackguards who said there was no bread, no flour and no grain! Now the truth’s clear for all to see, and they won’t be able to pull the wool over our eyes again. Long live the time of plenty!’

‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ said another, ‘all this is no good at all. It’s quite useless; in fact things will get worse again afterwards, if they don’t really make an example of somebody. We’ll get cheap bread now all right; but it’ll be poisoned, and we poor folk’ll die off like flies. They say there are too many of us. They said that in the junta; and I happen to know it’s true, because I heard it myself with these ears, from my kids’ godmother, who’s a friend of a relation of a scullion in the household of one of those noble gentlemen.’

Another man was holding a ragged neckcloth to his tousled, bleeding scalp, foaming at the mouth, as he uttered words which we cannot repeat here; though some of the bystanders echoed them, as if to console him.

‘Please be so kind as to make way, gentlemen; let a poor father come past, who is carrying food for a family of five children.’ These words came from a man who was staggering under the weight of a huge sack of flour; and everyone did their best to move aside and make way for him.

‘For my part,’ said another to his companion, speaking almost in a whisper, ‘I’m getting out of here. I’m a man of the world and I know how these things go. By tomorrow or the day after, all these idiots who’re making such a noise now will be back in their homes, shivering with fear. I’ve noticed certain faces in the crowd, certain gentlemen going around in the mob, apparently doing nothing in particular; but they were making a careful note of who was there and who wasn’t. When it’s all over, there’ll be a settling of accounts, and those who’ve asked for trouble will get it.’

‘The man who protects the bakers,’ shouted a sonorous voice, which caught Renzo’s attention, ‘is the commissioner of provisions.’

‘They’re all rogues,’ said the man standing next to him.

‘Yes, but he’s the biggest rogue of all,’ said the first speaker.

The official of whom they were speaking was appointed every year by the Governor from a short list of six nobles, drawn up by the council of decurions. He became president both of the council of decurions itself and also of the tribunal for provisions, which consisted of twelve more nobles, and had various functions, the most important being the control of the year’s supply of food. Whoever occupied a post of that description was bound to be regarded as the root of all evil in times of general ignorance and general hardship – unless he had adopted the policy followed by Ferrer. That would have been beyond his powers, even if it had crossed his mind.

‘What swine!’ cried another. ‘Could they do worse if they tried? Now they’re saying that the Grand Chancellor is in his second childhood; they want to destroy his authority and run everything themselves. It’d be a fine thing to build them a big hen-coop and put them inside to feed on vetches and tares, the way they want us to live.’

‘Talk about bread!’ said another, trying to run, despite the throng, ‘Nice pound loaves of granite! Stones this big, coming down like hail! And you could get your ribs crushed, just in the crowd. I can’t wait to be back in my own house.’

It is hard to say whether these remarks did more to inform Renzo or to confuse him, but he continued on his way, despite the shouting and the pushing of the crowd, until he reached the famous bakery. The crowd was much thinner now, and the ugly picture of recent damage was clear to see. The walls had been stripped of plaster and dented by stones and bricks, the windows were off their hinges, the door was demolished.

‘This is an ugly sight,’ said Renzo to himself. ‘If they treat all the bakeries like this, where are they going to make their bread? In the wells?’

Every so often someone came out of the shop carrying part of a cupboard or a breadbin or a sifting-machine, or the pole from a kneading trough, or a bench, a basket or an account-book – anything in fact which belonged to that unfortunate bakery. They shouted: ‘Make way! Make way!’ and forced their way through the crowd. They all went off in the same direction, and you could see they were all going to a pre-arranged destination.

What’s this again, then? thought Renzo. He noticed a man make up a bundle of broken planks and splintered wood, swing it on to his shoulder and walk off in the same direction as the others. Renzo decided to follow him. The man went along the road which passes the north side of the cathedral, and is now called after the steps that used to be there, but were removed a short time ago. Keen as he was to find out what was happening, the young hillman could not help stopping when the great edifice appeared before him, and looking up at it with open mouth. Then he quickened his pace, to catch up with the man he had chosen as his guide. He turned the corner and glanced up at the fa├žade of the cathedral, which was still to a large extent in a rough and unfinished state at that time, and went on again, still following the other man, who was heading for the centre of the square. The crowd got thicker as he went on, but it made way for the man with the load. He cut his way through the mass of people, and Renzo, still in his wake, arrived with him at the centre of the mob. There was an open space there, and in the middle of it a heap of hot ashes, which was all that was left of the equipment mentioned before. All round there was a clapping of hands and a stamping of feet, a mixed roar of triumph and of cursing.

The man threw his bundle on to the ashes; another man stirred them with the charred remnant of a baker’s shovel. Smoke rose up and thickened; the flames came to life again, and the shouting grew loud again to match.

‘Long live the times of plenty! Death to those who starve the people! Down with famine! To hell with the commission for provisions! To hell with the junta! Long live this plenteous supply of bread!’

The destruction of sifting machines and breadbins, the wrecking of bakeries and the mobbing of bakers are not really the best methods of ensuring long life to a plenteous supply of bread. But that is one of those philosophical subtleties which a crowd can never grasp. Even without being a philosopher, however, a man will sometimes grasp it straightaway, while the whole matter is still new to him and he can see it with fresh eyes. It is later, when he has talked and heard others talk about it, that it becomes impossible for him to understand. The thought had struck Renzo at the very beginning, as we have seen, and it kept coming back to him now. But he kept it to himself; for when he looked at all the people around him he could not imagine any of them saying: ‘Dear brother, if I go wrong, pray correct me, and I will be duly grateful,’

The fire had died down again, and no one appeared to be bringing any more fuel for it. The crowd was beginning to get bored, when someone was heard to say that a bakery was being attacked at the Cordusio – a small square, or rather crossroads, quite near at hand. In such cases the rumour often produces the event. As the word spread among the mob, an impulse to go and see spread with it. ‘I’m going; are you?” ‘I’m coming; let’s go!’ were phrases heard on every side. The crowd broke up and formed into a procession. Renzo held back, only moving when he was carried along by the human torrent. Meanwhile he was carefully considering whether he should leave the noisy throng and go back to the monastery to try to find Father Bonaventura, or go and have a look at this new development. Curiosity again proved the stronger influence. But he resolved not to force his way into the thick of the mob, where he would run the risk of bruised ribs, or worse, but to keep his distance and watch. He soon found he had a little more room around him, and taking his second loaf out of his pocket, he bit into it, and marched off in the rear of the clamorous army.

The mob had already left the great square and got into the short and narrow street known as the Old Fishmarket, and made their way through a crooked archway into Merchants’ Square. As they passed before the recess which divides the colonnade of the building then known as Doctors’ College, very few of them failed to glance up at the great statue that towered there, portraying the gloomy, the arrogant – no words of mine can do justice to it – the scowling face of King Philip II. Even from the marble he imposed a mysterious respect, with his arm held out as if to say: ‘I’ll come and see to you in a minute, you miserable rabble!’

That statue is not there today, and the explanation is a strange one. About one hundred and sixty years after the events we are describing, they gave His Majesty a new head, put a dagger in his hand instead of a sceptre, and rechristened him Marcus Brutus. The statue remained there in its renovated form for a year or so. But one morning some people who were no friends of Marcus Brutus, and in fact must have had a secret grudge against him, put a rope round the statue, pulled it over, and subjected it to all kinds of indignities. They mutilated it and reduced it to a formless torso; they pulled it through the streets, their eyes starting from their heads and their tongues lolling from their mouths; and when they were completely exhausted, they dumped it somewhere – I cannot say where. How surprised Andrea Biffi, the sculptor, would have been if he had known all this while he was carving the statue!

From Merchants’ Square the rabble passed through another archway into the Via dei Fustagnai and rolled on into the Cordusio. As the rioters entered the little square, each of them looked first at the bakery which was the subject of the rumour. But instead of the crowd of friends they hoped to find already at work on the building, they saw only a small group, standing hesitantly some way back from the shop. The doors were shut, and armed men, who seemed ready to defend themselves, stood at the windows. At this sight, some were amazed, some swore, and some laughed. Some turned round, to tell those who were still approaching what had happened. Some halted; others wanted to retreat; yet others cried; ‘Push on!’ There was shoving from behind and holding back in the foremost ranks; something like a river reaching a dam. There was hesitation, and a confused murmur of argument and consultation. Then there came a fiendish cry from the middle of the crowd: ‘It’s only a couple of yards to the commissioner’s house. Come and give him what he deserves! Come and smash up his house!’ The mob reacted as if it were being reminded of a decision already taken, rather than invited to take a new one. ‘The commissioner! Down with the commissioner!’ was now the only cry to be heard. The crowd moved off, all together, towards the street where the house so unhappily singled out was situated.