But though a shot had killed the rabbit, though the bored rifles of General Cialdini were now dismaying the Bourbon troops at Gaeta, though the midday heat was making men doze off, nothing could stop the ants. Attracted by a few chewed grape skins spat out by Don Ciccio, along they rushed in close order, morale high at the chance of annexing this bit of garbage soaked with an organist’s saliva. Up they came full of confidence, disordered but resolute; groups of three or four would stop now and again for a chat, exalting, perhaps, the ancient glories and future prosperity of ant hill Number Two under cork-tree Number Four on the top of Mount Morco; then once again they would take up their march with the others towards a buoyant future; the gleaming backs of those imperialists seemed to quiver with enthusiasm, while from their ranks no doubt rose the notes of an anthem.
By some association of ideas which it would be inopportune to pursue, the activity of these insects reminded him of the days of the Plebiscite about Unification through which he had lived shortly before at Donnafugata itself. Apart from a sense of amazement those days had left him many an enigma to solve; now, in sight of nature which, except for ants, obviously had no such bothers, he might perhaps find a solution for one of them. The dogs were sleeping stretched and crouched like figures in relief, the little rabbit hanging head down from a branch was swinging out diagonally under the constant surge of wind, but Tumeo, with the help of his pipe, still managed to keep his eyes open.
“And you, Don Ciccio, how did you vote on the twenty-first?”
The poor man started; taken by surprise at a moment when he was outside the stockade of precautions in which like each of his fellow townsmen he normally moved, he hesitated, not knowing what to reply.
The Prince mistook for alarm what was really only surprise, and felt irritated. “Well, what are you afraid of? There’s no one here but us, the wind and the dogs.”
The list of reassuring witnesses was not really happily chosen; wind is a gossip by definition, the Prince was half-Sicilian. Only the dogs were absolutely trustworthy and that only because they lacked articulate speech. But Don Ciccio had now recovered; his peasant astuteness had suggested the right reply - nothing at all. “Excuse me, Excellency, but there’s no point in your question. You know that everyone in Donnafugata voted ‘yes’.”