In Buonopane a rabid dog bit an old woman. Soon she fell seriously ill, and was taken to the hospital in Lacco Ameno. The village elders decided that the disease might well have infected all the other dogs, so they began rounding them up. The plan was that when the dogs had been captured they’d shoot them all. Everyone agreed: Better to be safe than sorry.
Seven-year-old Vittoria couldn’t believe their cruelty. The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. So in the afternoon, when everyone was napping, she went to the pen. She opened the gate, shooed the dogs out.
Vincenzo, the owner of the café, saw those dogs running loose on the street. He ran to the back room, got his rifle. He raised the gun to his eyes. His brother, Carlo, shouted: “Wait! What’s wrong with you? A bullet might go into someone’s house.”
The village soon was in an uproar. Who let those dogs out? Who would do such a thing? Naturally, they all remembered not too long ago that little Vittoria girl had released her father’s pig, Tess, who had been scheduled to be the main course at the festival banquet. No question as to who the criminal was.
Vittoria’s father confronted her. Vittoria swore she was innocent, she had nothing to do with it. But that triumphant look on her face told him all he needed to know. “Now, on Sunday,” he said, “you will stand before the community in the piazza and apologize for what you did.”
“I won’t,” Vittoria vowed.
“You will,” her father said.
On Sunday the crowd moved close to hear what little Vittoria had to say. She looked out at all those people with expectant looks on their faces. And then in a clear voice she said:
“Je suis désolé que j'ai rendu tout le monde fou. Mais je ne suis pas désolé que j'ai sauvé la vie des chiens.”
Eyes blinked, lips parted. “What in the world is she saying?” someone asked.
“It’s some kind of foreign language,” another said.
There was one woman in the crowd who smiled in recognition. One of Vittoria’s teachers, Cecile. She knew exactly where her gifted little student got those words. From the book she’d lent her just that morning!
Yes, Cecile thought the world of little Vittoria. But the other teachers in that school didn’t. Columba, for instance. She knew Vittoria—that little brat!—needed to be reined in, because there was no telling what crazy thing she’d do next. Who did she think she was, anyway?
When Vittoria showed up one minute late to class, Columba had just the right punishment. She poured seed corn on the floor in the corner in the back of the classroom. She told Vittoria to kneel down on the hard grains. Now that would teach the girl there are severe consequences for irresponsible behavior.
Vittoria endured her punishment, but when it was over she gathered up a handful of the grains and threw them into Columba’s face.
Oh, my. What an outrage! Something had to be done.
Well, Vittoria’s father listened to Columba’s angry charges as they sat in the school administrator’s office. But Giovanni didn’t agree that Vittoria was out of line.
“This is not the way to treat children,” he said calmly. He turned to Columba. “If you need to torment someone, " he said, "why don’t you start with your own daughter? Meanwhile, you’ll leave MINE alone.”