Infomotions, Inc.The Waters of Edera / Ouida, 1839-1908



Author: Ouida, 1839-1908
Title: The Waters of Edera
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): adone; don silverio; silverio; edera; ruscino; nerina; clelia; clelia alba; alba; terra vergine; edera water; adone alba; river
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 74,757 words (short) Grade range: 8-11 (high school) Readability score: 69 (easy)
Identifier: etext13459
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Title: The Waters of Edera

Author: Louise de la Ramée, a.k.a. Ouida

Release Date: September 15, 2004 [EBook #13459]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE WATERS OF EDERA ***




This eBook was prepared by Carol Poster.






THE
WATERS OF EDERA




BY
O U I D A

Author of
"Moths," "Under Two Flags," "The Silver Christ," Etc.



London
T. FISHER UNWIN
Paternoster Square

1900





THE WATERS OF EDERA


I

It was a country of wide pastures, of moors covered with heath, of
rock-born streams and rivulets, of forest and hill and dale, sparsely
inhabited, with the sea to the eastward of it, unseen, and the
mountains everywhere visible always, and endlessly changing in
aspect.

Herdsmen and shepherds wandered over it, and along its almost disused
roads pedlars and pack mules passed at times but rarely. Minerals and
marbles were under its turf, but none sought for them; pools and
lakes slept in it, undisturbed save by millions of water fowl and
their pursuers. The ruins of temples and palaces were overgrown by
its wild berries and wild flowers. The buffalo browsed where emperors
had feasted, and the bittern winged its slow flight over the fields
of forgotten battles.

It was the season when the flocks are brought through this lonely
land, coming from the plains to the hills. Many of them passed on
their way thus along the course of the Edera water. The shepherds,
clothed in goatskin, with the hair worn outward, bearded, brown,
hirsute men, looking like savage satyrs, the flocks they drove before
them travel-worn, lame, heart-broken, the lambs and kids bleating
painfully. They cannot keep up with the pace of the flock, and, when
they fall behind, the shepherds slit their throats, roast their
bodies over an evening fire, or bake them under its ashes, and eat
them; if a town or village be near, the little corpses are sold in
it. Often a sheep dog or a puppy drops down in the same way, footsore
and worn out; then the shepherds do not tarry, but leave the
creatures to their fate, to die slowly of thirst and hunger.

The good shepherd is a false phrase. No one is more brutal than a
shepherd. If he were not so he could not bear his life for a day.

All that he does is brutal. He stones the flock where it would tarry
against his will. He mutilates the males, and drags the females away
from their sucking babes. He shears their fleeces every spring,
unheeding how the raw skin drops blood. He drives the halting,
footsore, crippled animals on by force over flint and slate and
parching dust. Sometimes he makes them travel twenty miles a day.

For his pastime he sets the finest of his beasts to fight. This is
the feast day and holiday sport of all the shepherds; and they bet on
it, until all they have, which is but little, goes on the heads of
the rams; and one will wager his breeches, and another his skin
jacket, and another his comely wife, and the ram which is beaten, if
he have any life left in him, will be stabbed in the throat by his
owner: for he is considered to have disgraced the _branca_.

This Sunday and Saints' day sport was going on a piece of grass land
in the district known as the Vale of Edera.

On the turf, cleared of its heaths and ferns, there was a ring of
men, three of them shepherds, the rest peasants. In the midst of them
were the rams, two chosen beasts pitted against each other like two
pugilists. They advanced slowly at first, then more quickly, and yet
more quickly, till they met with a crash, their two foreheads, hard
as though carven in stone, coming in collision with a terrible force;
then each, staggered by the encounter, drew back, dizzy and bruised,
to recoil, and take breath, and gather fresh force, and so charge one
on the other in successive rounds until the weaker should succumb,
and, mangled and senseless, should arise no more.

One of the rams was old, and one was young; some of the shepherds
said that the old one was more wary and more experienced, and would
have the advantage; in strength and height they were nearly equal,
but the old one had been in such duels before and the young one
never. The young one thought he had but to rush in, head downward, to
conquer; the old one knew that this was not enough to secure victory.
The young one was blind with ardour and impatience for the fray; the
old one was cool and shrewd and could parry and wait.

After three rounds, the two combatants met in a final shock; the
elder ram butted furiously, the younger staggered and failed to
return the blow, his frontal bone was split, and he fell to the
ground; the elder struck him once, twice, thrice, amidst the
uproarious applause of his backers; a stream of blood poured from his
skull, which was pounded to splinters; a terrible convulsion shook
his body and his limbs; he stretched his tongue out as if he tried to
lap water; the men who had their money on him cursed him with every
curse they knew; they did not cut his throat, for they knew he was as
good as dead.

"This is a vile thing you have done," said a little beggar girl who
had been passing, and had been arrested by the horrible fascination
of the combat, and forced against her will to stand and watch its
issue. The shepherds jeered; those who had backed the victor were
sponging his wounds beside a runlet of water which was close at hand;
those who had lost were flinging stones on the vanquished. The girl
knelt down by the dying ram to save him from the shower of stones;
she lifted his head gently upward, and tried to pour water through
his jaws from a little wooden cup which she had on her, and which she
had filled at the river. But he could not swallow; his beautiful
opaline eyes were covered with film, he gasped painfully, a foam of
blood on his lips and a stream of blood coursing down his face; a
quiver passed over him again; then his head rested lifeless on his
knees. She touched his shattered horns, his clotted wool, tenderly.

"Why did you set him to fight?" she said with an indignation which
choked her voice. "It was vile. He was younger than the other, and
knew less."

Those who had won laughed. Those who had lost cursed him again; he
had disgraced his _branca_. They would flay him, and put him in the
cauldron over the wood fire, and would curse him even whilst they
picked his bones for a white-livered spawn of cowards; a son of a
thrice-damned ewe.

The girl knew that was what they do. She laid his battered head
gently down upon the turf, and poured the water out of her cup; her
eyes were blind with tears; she could not give him back his young
life, his zest in his pastoral pleasures, his joy in cropping the
herbage, his rude loves, his merry gambols, his sound sleep, his
odorous breath.

He had died to amuse and excite the ugly passions of men, as, if he
had lived longer, he would, in the end, have died to satisfy their
ugly appetites.

She looked at his corpse with compassion, the tears standing in her
eyes; then she turned away, and as she went saw that her poor ragged
clothes were splashed here and there with blood, and that her arms
and hands were red with blood: she had not thought of that before;
she had thought only of him. The shepherds did not notice her; they
were quarrelling violently in dispute over what had been lost and
won, thrusting their fingers in each other's faces, and defiling the
fair calm of the day with filthy oaths.

The girl shrank away into the heather with the silent swiftness of a
hare; now that she had lost the stimulus of indignant pity she was
afraid of these brutes; if the whim entered into them they would be
as brutal to her as to their flock.

Out of fear of them she did not descend at once to the river, but
pushed her way through the sweet-smelling, bee-haunted, cross-leaved
heaths; she could hear the sound of the water on her right all the
time as she went. She knew little of this country, but she had seen
the Edera, and had crossed it farther up its course on one of its
rough tree-bridges.

When, as well as she could judge, she had got half a mile away from
the scene of the rams' combat, she changed her course and went to the
right, directed by the murmur of the river. It was slow walking
through the heath and gorse which grew above her head, and were
closely woven together, but in time she reached shelving ground, and
heard the song of the river louder on her ear. The heath ceased to
grow within a few yards of the stream and was replaced by various
water plants and acacia thickets; she slid down the banks between the
stems and alighted on her bare feet where the sand was soft and the
water-dock grew thick. She looked up and down the water; there was no
one in sight, nothing but the banks rosehued with the bloom of the
heather, and, beyond the opposite shore, in the distance, the tender
amethystine hues of the mountains. The water was generally low,
leaving the stretches of sand and of shingle visible, but it was
still deep in many parts.

She stripped herself and went down into it, and washed the blood
which had by this time caked upon her flesh. It seemed a pity, she
thought, to sully with that dusky stain this pure, bright, shining
stream; but she had no other way to rid herself of it, and she had in
all the world no other clothes than these poor woollen rags.

Her heart was still sore for the fate of the conquered ram; and her
eyes filled again with tears as she washed his blood off her in the
gay running current. But the water was soothing and fresh, the sun
shone on its bright surface; the comfrey and fig-wart blew in the
breeze, the heather smell filled the atmosphere.

She was only a child, and her spirits rose, and she capered about in
the shallows, and flung the water over her head, and danced to her
own reflection in it, and forgot her sorrow. Then she washed her
petticoats as well as she could, having nothing but water alone, and
all the while she was as naked as a Naiad, and the sun smiled on her
brown, thin, childish body as it smiled on a stem of plaintain or on
the plumage of a coot.

Then when she had washed her skirt she spread it out on the sand to
dry, and sat down beside it, for the heat to bake her limbs after her
long bath. There was no one, and there was nothing, in sight; if any
came near she could hide under the great dock leaves until such
should have passed. It was high noon, and the skirt of wool and the
skirt of hemp grew hot and steamed under the vertical rays; she was
soon as dry as the shingles from which the water had receded for
months. She sat with her hands clasped round her updrawn knees, and
her head grew heavy with the want of slumber, but she would not
sleep, though it was the hour of sleep. Some one might pass by and
steal her clothes, she thought, and how or when would she ever get
others?

When the skirt was quite dried, the blood stains still showed on it;
they were no longer red, but looked like the marks from the sand. She
tied it on round her waist and her shirt over it, and wound an old
crimson sash round both. Then she took up her little bundle in which
were the wooden cup and a broken comb, and some pieces of hempen
cloth and a small loaf of maize bread, and went on along the water,
wading and hopping in it, as the water-wagtails did, jumping from
stone to stone, and sometimes sinking up to her knees in a hole.

She had no idea where she would rest at night, or where she would get
anything to eat; but that reflection scarcely weighed on her; she
slept well enough under stacks or in outhouses, and she was used to
hunger. So long as no one meddled with her she was content. The
weather was fine and the country was quiet. Only she was sorry for
the dead ram. By this time they would have hung him up by his heels
to a tree, and have pulled the skin off his body.

She was sorry; but she jumped along merrily in the water, as a
kingfisher does, and scarcely even wondered where its course would
lead her.

At a bend in it she came to a spot where a young man was seated
amongst the bulrushes, watching his fishing net.

"Aie!" she cried with a shrill cry of alarm, like a bird who sees a
fowler. She stopped short in her progress; the water at that moment
was up to her knees. With both hands she held up her petticoat to save
it from another wetting; her little bundle was balanced on her head,
the light shone in her great brown eyes. The youth turned and saw
her.

She was a very young girl, thirteen at most; her small flat breasts
were those of a child, her narrow shoulders and her narrow loin spoke
of scanty food and privation of all kinds, and her arms and legs were
brown from the play of the sun on their nakedness; they were little
else than skin and bone, nerves and sinew, and looked like stakes of
wood. All the veins and muscles stood revealed as in anatomy, and her
face, which would have been a child's face, a nymph's face, with
level brows, a pure straight profile, and small close ears like
shells, was so fleshless and sunburnt that she looked almost like a
mummy. Her eyes had in them the surprise and sadness of those of a
weaning calf; and her hair, too abundant for such a small head,
would, had it not been so dusty and entangled, have been of a read
golden bronze, the hue of a chestnut which has just burst open its
green husk.

"Who are you?" said the young man, looking at her in surprise.

"I am Nerina," answered the child.

"Where do you come from? What is your country?"

She pointed vaguely to the south-west mountains, where the snow on
the upper ranges was still lying with bands of cloud resting on it.

"From the Abruzzo?"

She was silent. She did not know the mountains of her birthplace by
their names.

"Who was your father?" he asked, with some impatience.

"He was Black Fausto."

"What did he do for a living?"

"He went down with the fair season to the Roman plain."

He understood: the man had no doubt been a labourer, one of those who
descend in bands from the villages of the Abruzzo heights to plough,
and mow, and sow, and reap, on the lands of the Castelli Romani; men
who work in droves, and are fed and stalled in droves, as cattle are,
who work all through the longest and hottest days in summer, and in
the worst storms of winter; men who are black by the sun, are half
naked, are lean and hairy and drip with continual sweat, but who take
faithfully back the small wage they receive to where their women and
children dwell in their mountain-villages.

"He went, you say? Is he ill? Does he work no longer?"

"He died last year."

"Of what?"

She gave a hopeless gesture. "Who knows? He came back with a wolf in
his belly, he said, always gnawing and griping, and he drank water
all day and all night, and his face burned, and his legs were cold,
and all of a sudden his jaw fell, and he spoke no more to us. There
are many of them who die like that after a hot season down in the
plains."

He understood; hunger and heat, foul air in their sleeping places,
infusoria in the ditch and rain water, and excessive toil in the
extremes of heat and cold, make gaps in the ranks of these hired
bands every year as if a cannon had been fired into them.

"Who takes care of you now?" he asked with pity, as for a homeless
bitch.

"Nobody. There is nobody. They are all gone down into the earth."

"But how do you live?"

"I work when I can. I beg when I cannot. People let me sleep in the
stalls, or the barns, and give me bread."

"That is a bad life for a girl."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I did not make it."

"And where are you going?"

She opened her arms wide and swept the air with them.

"Anywhere. Along the water, until I find something to do."

"I cannot do much," she added, after a pause. "I am little, and no
one has taught me. But I can cut grass and card wool."

"The grass season is short, and the wool season is far off. Why did
you not stay in your village?"

She was mute. She did not know why she had left it, she had come away
down the mountainside on a wandering instinct, with a vague idea of
finding something better the farther she went: her father had always
come back with silver pieces in his pocket after his stay down there
in those lands which she had never seen, lying as they did down far
below under the golden haze of what seemed an immeasurable distance.

"Are you not hungry?" said the fisher.

"I am always hungry," she said, with some astonishment at so simple a
question. "I have been hungry ever since I can remember. We all were
up there. Sometimes even the grass was too dried up to eat. Father
used to bring home with him a sack of maize; it was better so long as
that lasted."

"Are you hungry now?"

"Of course."

"Come to my house with me. We will feed you. Come. Have no fear. I am
Adone Alba, of the Terra Vergine, and my mother is a kind woman. She
will not grudge you a meal."

The child laughed all over her thin, brown face.

"That will be good," she said, and leapt up out of the water.

"Poor soul! Poor soul!" thought the young man, with a profound sense
of pity.

As the child sprang up out of the river, shaking the water off her as
a little terrier does, he saw that she must have been in great want
of food for a long time; her bones were almost through her skin. He
set his fishing pole more firmly in the ground, and left the net sunk
some half a yard below the surface; then he said to the little girl:

"Come, come and break your fast. It has lasted long, I fear."

Nerina only understood that she was to be fed; that was enough for
her. She trotted like a stray cur, beckoned by a benevolent hand,
behind him as he went, first through some heather and broom, then
over some grass, where huge olive trees grew, and then through corn
and vine lands, to an old farmhouse, made of timber and stone; large,
long, solid; built to resist robbers in days when robbers came in
armed gangs. There was a wild garden in front of it, full of cabbage
roses, lavender, myrtle, stocks and wallflowers. Over the arched door
a four-season rose-tree clambered.

The house, ancient and spacious, with its high-pitched roof of ruddy
tiles, impressed Nerina with a sense of awe, almost of terror. She
remained hesitating on the garden path, where white and red stocks
were blossoming.

"Mother," said Adone, "here is a hungry child. Give her, in your
kindness, some broth and bread."

Clelia Alba came out into the entrance, and saw the little girl with
some displeasure. She was kind and charitable, but she did not love
beggars and vagabonds, and this half-naked female tatterdemalion
offended her sense of decency and probity, and her pride of sex. She
was herself a stately and handsome woman.

"The child is famished," said Adone, seeing his mother's displeasure.

"She shall eat then, but let her eat outside," said Clelia Alba, and
went back into the kitchen.

Nerina waited by the threshold, timid and mute and humble, like a
lost dog; her eyes alone expressed overwhelming emotions: fear and
hope and one ungovernable appetite, hunger.

Clelia Alba came out in a few minutes with a bowl of hot broth made
of herbs, and a large piece of maize-flour bread.

"Take them," she said to her son.

Adone took them from her, and gave them to the child.

"Sit and eat here," he said, pointing to a stone settle by the wall
under the rose of four seasons.

The hands of Nerina trembled with excitement, her eyes looked on
fire, her lips shook, her breath came feverishly and fast. The smell
of the soup made her feel beside herself. She said nothing, but
seized the food and began to drink the good herb-broth with thirsty
eagerness though the steam of it scorched her.

Adone, with an instinct of compassion and delicacy, left her
unwatched and went within.

"Where did you find that scarecrow?" asked his mother.

"Down by the river. She has nobody and nothing. She comes from the
mountains."

"There are poor folks enough in Ruscino without adding to them from
without," said Clelia Alba impatiently. "Mind she does not rob the
fowl-house before she slips sway."

"She has honest eyes," said Adone. "I am sure she will do us no
harm."

When he thought that she had been given time enough to finish her
food he went out; the child was stretched at full length on the stone
seat, and was already sound asleep, lying on her back; the empty bowl
was on the ground, of the bread there was no longer a crumb; she was
sleeping peacefully, profoundly, her thin hands crossed on her naked
brown bosom, on which some rose leaves had fallen from the rose on
the wall above.

He looked at her in silence for a little while, then returned to his
mother.

"She is tired. She sleeps. Let her rest."

"It is unsafe."

"How unsafe, mother? She is only a child."

"She may have men behind her."

"It is not likely."

Adone could not say (for he had no idea himself) why he felt sure
that this miserable little waif would not abuse hospitality: "She is
a child," he answered rather stupidly, for children are often
treacherous and wicked, and he knew nothing of this one except what
she had chosen to tell of herself.

"She may have men behind her," repeated his mother.

"Such men as you are thinking of, mother, do not come to this valley
nowadays. Ulisse Ferrero was the last of them. Indeed, I think this
poor little creature is all alone in the world. Go and look at her.
You will see how forlorn and small she is."

She went to the doorway and looked at the sleeping beggar; her eyes
softened as she gazed, the whole attitude and appearance of the child
were so miserable and so innocent, so helpless, and yet so tranquil,
that her maternal heart was touched; the waif slept on the stone
bench beside the door of strangers as though she were in some safe
and happy home.

Clelia Alba looked down on her a few moments, then took the kerchief
off her hair, and laid it gently, without awakening the sleeper, over
the breast and the face of the child, on which flies were settling
and the sun was shining.

Then she picked up the empty earthenware bowl, and went indoors
again.

"I will go back to the river," said Adone. "I have left the net
there."

His mother nodded assent.

"You will not send this little foreigner away till I return?" he
asked. Every one was a foreigner who had not been born in the vale of
Edera.

"No; not till you return."

He went away through the sunshine and shadow of the olive-trees. He
knew that his mother never broke her word. But she thought as she
washed the bowl: "A little stray mongrel bitch like that may bite
badly some day. She must go. She is nothing now; but by and by she
may bite."

Clelia Alba knew human nature, though she had never been out of sight
of the river Edera. She took her spinning-wheel and sat down by the
door. There was nothing urgent to do, and she could from the
threshold keep a watch on the little vagabond, and would be aware if
she awoke. All around was quiet. She could see up and down the
valley, beyond the thin, silvery foliage of the great olive-trees,
and across it to where the ruins of a great fortress towered in their
tragic helplessness. The sun shone upon her fields of young wheat,
her slopes of pasture. The cherry-trees and the pear-trees were in
bloom, her trellised vines running from tree to tree. Ragged-robin,
yellow crowsfoot, purple orchis, filled the grass, intermixed with
the blue of borage and the white and gold of the oxeye. She did not
note these things. Those fancies were for her son. Herself, she would
have preferred that there should be no flower in the grasses, for
before the cow was fed the flowers had to be picked out of the cut
grass, and had served no good end that she could perceive, for she
knew of no bees except the wild ones, whose honey no one ever tasted,
hidden from sight in hollow trees as it was.

Nerina slept on in peace and without dreams. Now and then another
rose let fall some petals on her, or a bee buzzed above her, but her
repose remained undisturbed.

The good food filled her, even in her sleep, with deep contentment,
and the brain, well nourished by the blood, was still.

Clelia Alba felt her heart soften despite herself for this lonely
creature; though she was always suspicious of her, for she had never
known any good thing come down from the high mountains, but only
theft and arson and murder, and men banded together to solace their
poverty with crime. In her youth the great brigands of the Upper
Abruzzo had been names of terror in Ruscino, and in the hamlets lying
along the course of the Edera, and many a time a letter written in
blood had been fastened with a dagger to the door of church or
cottage, intimating the will of the unseen chief to the subjugated
population. Of late years less had been heard and seen of such men;
but they or their like were still heard and felt sometimes, up above
in lonely forests, or down where the moorland and macchia met, and
the water of Edera ran deep and lonely. In her girlhood, a father, a
son, and a grandson had been all killed on a lonely part of the
higher valley because they had dared to occupy a farm and a
water-mill after one of these hillmen had laid down the law that no
one was to live on the land or to set the waterwheel moving.

That had been a good way off, indeed, and for many a year the Edera
had not seen the masked men, with their belts, crammed with arms and
gold, round their loins; but still, one never knew, she thought;
unbidden guests were oftener devils than angels.

And it seemed to her that the child could not really be asleep all
this time in a strange place and the open air. At last she got up,
went again to the bench and drew her handkerchief aside, and looked
down on the sleeper; on the thin, narrow chest, the small, bony
hands, the tiny virginal nipples like wood strawberries.

She saw that the slumber was real, the girl very young and more than
half-starved. "Let her forget while she can," she thought, and
covered her face again. "It is still early in the day."

The bees hummed on; a low wind swept over a full-blown rose and shook
its loose leaves to the ground. The shadow from the ruined tower
began to touch the field which lay nearest the river, a sign that it
was two hours after noon.







II

The large square fresh-water fishing-net had sunk under the surface,
the canes which framed it were out of sight; only the great central
pole, which sustained the whole, and was planted in the ground of the
river-bank, remained visible as it bent and swayed but did not yield
or break. Such nets as this had been washed by the clear green waters
of the pools and torrents of the Edera ever since the days of
Etruscan gods and Latin augurs; religions had changed, but the river,
and the ways of the men of the river, had not altered.

Adone did not touch it, for it was well where it was; he seated
himself on the bank ready to seize and hold it if its pole showed any
sign of yielding and giving way and heeling over into the stream. He
sat thus amongst the bulrushes for many an hour, on many a spring day
and summer night. Although fish were not numerous he never tired of
his vigil, lulled by the sound of the current as it splashed among
the stones and rippled through the rushes; a deeper music coming from
its higher reaches, where it fell over a ledge of rock and leapt like
a live thing into the air. And, indeed, what thing could be more
living than this fresh, pure, untroubled water, glad as a child,
swift as a swallow, singing for sport, as a happy boy sings, as it
ran down on its way from the hills?

To the young man sitting now on its bank amidst the bulrushes it was
as living as himself, his playmate, friend, and master, all in one.
First of all things which he could remember were the brightness and
the coolness of it as it had laved his limbs in his childhood on
mid-summer noons, his mother's hands holding him safely as he waded
with rosy feet and uncertain steps along its pebbly bottom! How many
mornings, when he had grown to boyhood and to manhood, had he escaped
from the rays of the vertical sun into its acacia-shadowed pools; how
many moonlit, balmy nights had he bathed in its still reaches, the
liquid silver of its surface breaking up like molten metal as he
dived! How many hours of peace had he passed, as he was spending
this, waiting for the fish to float into his great net, whilst the
air and the water were alike so still that he could hear the little
voles stealing in and out amongst the reeds, and the water-thrush
pushing the pebbles on its sands in search for insects, though beast
and bird were both unseen by him! How many a time upon the dawn of a
holy-day had he washed and swam in its waters whilst the bells of the
old church in the village above had tolled in the softness of dusk!

He thought of none of these memories distinctly, for he was young and
contented, and those who are satisfied with their lot live in their
present; but they all drifted vaguely through his mind as he sat by
the side of the river, as the memories of friends dear from infancy
drift through our waking dreams.

He was in every way a son of the Edera, for he had been born almost
in the water itself; his mother had been washing linen with other
women at the ford when she had been taken with the pains of labour
two months before her time. Her companions had had no time or thought
to do more than to stretch her on the wet sand, with some hempen
sheets, which had not yet been thrown in the water, between her and
the ground; and the cries of her in her travail had echoed over the
stream and had startled the kingfishers in the osiers, and the wild
ducks in the marshes, and the tawny owls asleep in the belfry tower
of the village. But her pains had been brief though sharp, and her
son had first seen the light beside the water; a strong and healthy
child, none the worse for his too early advent, and the rough
river-women had dipped him in the shallows, where their linen and
their wooden beaters were, and had wrapped him up in a soiled woollen
shirt, and had laid him down with his face on his mother's young
breast, opening his shut unconscious mouth with their rough fingers,
and crying in his deaf ear, "Suck! and grow to be a man!"

Clelia Alba was now a woman of forty-one years old, and he, her only
son, was twenty-four; they had named him Adone; the beautiful Greek
Adonais having passed into the number of the saints of the Latin
Church, by a transition so frequent in hagiology that its strangeness
is not remembered save by a scholar here and there. When he had been
born she had been a young creature of seventeen, with the wild grace
of a forest doe; with that nobility of beauty, that purity of
outline, and that harmony of structure, which still exist in those
Italians in whom the pure Italiote blood is undefiled by Jew or
Gentile. Now her abundant hair was white, and her features were
bronzed and lined by open-air work, and her hands of beautiful shape
were hard as horn through working in the fields. She looked an old
woman, and was thought so by others, and thought herself so: for
youth is soon over in these parts, and there is no half-way house
between youth and age for the peasant.

Clelia Alba, moreover, had lost her youth earlier even than others:
lost it for ever when her husband at five-and-twenty years of age had
been killed by falling from an olive-tree of which the branch
sustaining him had cracked and broken under his weight. His neck had
been broken in the fall. She had been dancing and shouting with her
two-year-old child on the grassland not far off, romping and playing
ball with some dropped chestnuts; and when their play was over she
had lifted her boy on to her shoulder and run with him to find his
father. Under one of the great, gnarled, wide-spreading olives she
had seen him, lying asleep as she thought.

"Oh, lazy one, awake! The sun is only two hours old!" she had cried
merrily, and the child on her shoulder had cooed and shouted in
imitation, "Wake--wake--wake!" and she, laughing, had cast a chestnut
she had carried in her hand upon the motionless figure. Then, as the
prostrate form did not stir, a sudden terror had seized her, and she
had set the baby down upon the grass and run to the olive-tree. There
she had seen that this was death, for when she had raised him his
head had dropped, and seemed to hang like a poppy broken in a blast
of wind, and his eyes had no sight, and his mouth had no breath.

From that dread hour Clelia Alba had never laughed again. Her hair
grew white, and her youth went away from her for ever.

She lived for the sake of her son, but she and joy had parted company
for ever.

His death had made her sole ruler of the Terra Vergine; she had both
the knowledge and the strength necessary for culture of the land, and
she taught her boy to value and respect the soil.

"As you treat the ground ill or well, so will your ground treat you,"
she said to him.

 She always wore the costume of the province, which was similar to
that of the Abruzzo villages, and suited her cast of features and her
strong and haughty carriage. On feast-days she wore three strings of
fine pearls round her throat, and bracelets of massive gold and of
fine workmanship, so many in number that her arms were stiff with
them; they had been her mother's and grandmother's and
great-grandmother's, and had been in her dower. To sell or pawn them
under stress of need, had such occurred, would never have seemed to
any of her race to be possible. It would have seemed as sacrilegious
as to take the chalice off the church altar, and melt its silver and
jewels in the fire. When she should go to her grave these ornaments
would pass to Adone as heirlooms; none of her family were living.

"Never talk of death, mother," he said, whenever she spoke of these
things. "Death is always listening; and if he hear his name he taps
the talker on the shoulder, just to show that he is there and must be
reckoned with."

"Not so, my son!" replied Clelia Alba, with a sigh. "He has every
soul of us written down in his books from the time we are born; we
all have our hour to go and none of us can alter it."

"I do not believe that," said Adone. "We kill ourselves oftentimes;
or we hasten our end, as drunkards do."

"Did your father hasten his end?" said his mother. "Did not some one
break that olive branch? It was not the tree itself, though the
Ruscino folks would have it cut down because they called it a felon."

"Was it not the devil?" said Adone.

He believed in the devil, of course, as he had been taught to do; and
had he not as a child met the infernal effigy everywhere--in marble,
in stone, in wood, in colour, in the church and outside it, on
water-spout and lamp-iron, and even on the leaves of his primer? But
it seemed to him that the devil had "_troppo braccia_" given him, was
allowed too long a tether, too free a hand; if indeed he it were that
made everything go wrong, and Adone did not see who else it could be.
Here, in the vale of Edera, all the world believed in Satan as in
holy water, or in daily bread.

Clelia Alba crossed herself hastily, for she was a pious woman.

"We are talking blasphemy, my son," she said gravely. "Of course
there is the good God who orders the number of our days for each of
us, and is over us all."

Adone was silent. To him it seemed doubtful. Did the good God kill
the pretty little children as the butcher in a city killed his lambs?
But he never contradicted or vexed his mother; he loved her with a
great and tender affection. He was less ignorant than she was, and
saw many things she could not see; he was, as it were, on a hilltop
and she down in a valley, but he had a profound respect for her; he
obeyed her implicitly, as if he were still a child, and he thought
the world held no woman equal to her.

When he went back to his house that evening, with his great net on
his shoulder and swinging in one hand some fresh-water fish, he
looked at the stone bench, which was empty of all except some fallen
rose-leaves, and then anxiously, questioningly, in the face of his
mother.

So he answered the regard.

"The girl is gone to Gianna's custody," she said rather harshly.
"Gianna will give her her supper, and will let her sleep in the loft.
With the morning we will see what we can do for her, and how she can
be sped upon her way."

Adone kissed her hands.

"You are always good," he said simply.

"I am weak," answered his mother, "I am weak, Adone; when you wish
anything I consent to it against my judgment."

But she was not weak; or at least only weak in the way in which all
generous natures are so.

On the morrow Nerina was not sped on her way. The old woman, Gianna,
thought well of her.

"She is as clean as a stone in the water," she said; "she has
foul-smelling rags, but her flesh is clean. She woke at dawn, and
asked for something to do. She knows nought, but she is willing and
teachable. We can make her of use. She has nowhere to go. She is a
stray little puppy. Her people were miserable, but they seem to have
been pious folks. She has a cross pricked on her shoulder. She says
her mother did it when she was a babe to scare the devil off her. I
do not know what to say; she is a poor, forlorn little wretch; if you
like to keep her, I for my part will see to her. I am old: it is well
to do a good work before one dies."

Gianna was an old woman, half house-servant, half farm-servant,
wholly friend; she had lived at the Terra Vergine all her life; big,
gaunt, and very strong, she could do the work of a man, although she
was over seventy years of age; burnt black by the sun, and with a
pile of grey hair like the hank of flax on her distaff, she was
feared by the whole district for her penetrating glance and her
untiring energy. When Gianna was satisfied the stars had changed
their courses, said the people, so rare was the event; therefore,
that this little wanderer contented her was at once a miracle and a
voucher indisputable.

So the child remained there; but her presence troubled Adone's
mother, though Nerina was humble as a homeless dog, was noiseless and
seldom seen, was obedient, agile, and became useful in many manners,
and learned with equal eagerness the farm work taught her by Gianna,
and the doctrine taught her by Don Silverio, for she was intelligent
and willing in every way. Only Clelia Alba thought, "Perhaps Gianna's
good heart misleads her. Gianna is rough; but she has a heart as
tender at bottom as a ripe melon's flesh."

Anyhow, she took her old servant's word and allowed the child to
remain. She could not bring herself to turn adrift a female thing to
stray about homeless and hungry, and end in some bottomless pit. The
child might be the devil's spawn. No one could be sure. But she had
eyes which looked up straight and true, and were as clear as the
river water where it flowed over pebbles in the shade. When the devil
is in a soul he always grins behind the eyes; he cannot help it; and
so you know him; thus, at least, they thought at Ruscino and in all
the vale of Edera; and the devil did not lurk in the eyes of Nerina.

"Have I done right, reverend sir?" asked Clelia Alba of the Vicar of
Ruscino.

"Oh, yes--yes--charity is always right," he answered, unwilling to
discourage her in her benevolence; but in his own mind he thought,
"The child is a child, but she will grow; she is brown, and starved,
and ugly now, but she will grow; she is a female thing and she will
grow, and I think she will be handsome later on; it would have been
more prudent to have put some money in her hand and some linen in her
wallet, and have let her pass on her way down the river. The saints
forbid that I should put aloes into the honey of their hearts; but
this child will grow."

Clelia Alba perceived that he had his doubts as she had hers. But
they said nothing of them to each other. The issue would lie with
Time, whom men always depict as a mower, but who is also a sower,
too. However, for good or ill, she was there; and he knew that,
having once harboured her, they would never drive her adrift. Clelia
Alba was in every sense a good woman; a little hard at times, narrow
of sympathy, too much shut up in her maternal passion; but in the
main merciful and correct in judgment.

"If the child were not good the river would not have given her to
us," said Adone to her; and believed it.

"Good-day, my son," said the voice of the Vicar, Don Silverio
Frascara, behind him, where Adone worked in the fields. "Where did
you find that scarecrow whom your mother has shown me just now?"

"She was in the river, most reverend, dancing along in it, as merry
as a princess."

"But she is a skeleton!"

"Almost."

"And you know nothing of her?"

"Nothing, sir."

"You were more charitable than wise."

"One cannot let a little female thing starve whilst one has bread in
the hutch. My mother is a virtuous woman. She will teach the child
virtue."

"Let us hope so," said Don Silverio. "But all, my son, do not take
kindly to that lesson."

"What will be, will be. The river brought her."

He credited the river with a more than human sagacity. He held it in
awe and in reverence as a deity, as the Greeks of old held their
streams. It would have drowned the child, he thought, if she had been
an evil creature or of evil augury. But he did not say so, for he did
not care to provoke Don Silverio's fine fleeting ironical smile.

A goatherd who passed some few days later with his flock on his way
to the mountains recognised the little girl.

"You are Black Fausto's daughter," he said to her. "Is he dead? Eh,
well, we must all die. May his soul rest."

To Gianna, who questioned him, he said, "Yes, he was a good soul.
Often have I seen him down in the Roman plains. He worked himself to
death. These gangs of labourers get poor pay. I saw him also in the
hills where this girl comes from, ever so high up, you seem to touch
the sky. I summered there two years ago; he had his womankind in a
cabin, and he took all that he got home to them. Aye, he was a good
soul. We can come away out of the heats, but they have to stay down
in them; for the reaping and the sowing are their chief gain, and
they get the fever into their blood, and the worms into their
bellies, and it kills them mostly before they are forty. You see, at
Ansalda, where he came from, it was snow eight months out of the
twelve, so the heats and the mists killed him: for the air you are
born in you want, and if you do not get it in time you sicken."

"Like enough," said Gianna, who herself had never been out of sight
of the river Edera ever since she had been a babe in swaddling
clothes. "Tell me, gossip, was the child born in wedlock?"

"Eh, eh!" said the goatherd grinning. "That I would not take on me
to say. But like enough, like enough; they are always ready to go
before the priest in those high hills."

The little girl glided into her place humbly and naturally, with no
servility but with untiring willingness and thankfulness. It seemed
to her an amazing favour of heaven to live with these good people; to
have a roof over her head and food regularly every day. Up there in
her home, amongst the crags of Ansalda, she had never known what it
was not to have a daily hunger gnawing always in her entrails, and
making her writhe at night on her bed of dry leaves. In her thirteen
years of life she had never once had enough--no one ever had. A full
stomach had been a thing unknown.

She began to grow, she began to put a little flesh on her bones; they
had cut her hair short, for it had been so rough, and it grew again
burnished and bright like copper; colour came into her cheeks and
lips; she seemed to spring upward, visibly, like a young cane. She
worked hard, but she worked willingly, and she was well nourished on
sound food, though it had little variety and was entirely vegetable;
and every day she went down and bathed in the river at the same place
where she had sat nude under the dock leaves whilst her skirt dried
in the sun.

To her the Terra Vergine was Paradise itself; to be fed, to be
clothed, to have a mattress to sleep on, to work amongst the flowers
and the grass and the animals--it was all so beautiful, she thought
sometimes that she must be in heaven.

She spoke little. Since she had been under this roof she had grown
ashamed of the squalor and starvation and wretchedness of her past
existence. She did not like to think of it even; it had been no fault
of hers, but she felt ashamed that she ever should have been that
little, filthy, unkempt, naked thing, grovelling on the clay floor,
and fighting for mouldy crusts with the other children on the rock of
Ansalda.

"If I had only known when father was alive," she thought; but even if
she had known all she knew now, what could she have done? There had
been nothing to use, nothing to eat, nothing to wear, and the rain
and the snow and the wind had come in on them where they had lain
huddled together on their bed of rotten leaves. Now and then she said
something of that rude childhood of hers to Adone; she was afraid of
the women, but not of him; she trotted after him as the little white
curly dog Signorino trotted after Don Silverio.

"Do not think of those dark days, little one," he said to her. "They
are gone by. Think of your parents and pray for their souls; but let
the rest go; you have all your life to live."

"My mother was young when she died," said the child. "If she had had
food she would not have died. She said so. She kept on gnawing a bit
of rag which was soaked in water; you cheat hunger that way, you
know, but it does not fill you."

"Pour soul! Poor soul!" said Adone, and he thought of the great
markets he had seen in the north, the droves of oxen, the piles of
fruits, the long lines of wine carts, the heaps of slaughtered game,
the countless shops with their electric light, the trains running one
after another all the nights and every night to feed the rich; and he
thought, as he had thought when a boy, that the devil had _troppo
braccio_, if any devil indeed there were beside man himself.

Should there be anywhere on the face of the earth, young women, good
women, mothers of babes who died of sheer hunger like this mother of
Nerina's up yonder in the snows of the Abruzzo? He thought not; his
heart revolted at the vision of her, a living skeleton on her heap of
leaves.

"Father brought all he had," continued the child, "but he could not
come back until after harvest, and when he came back she had been in
the ground two months and more. They put him in the same ditch when
his turn came; but she was no longer there, for they take up the
bones every three years and burn them. They say they must, else the
ditch would get too full."

Adone shuddered. He knew that tens of thousands died so, and had died
so ever since the days of Phenicians and Gauls and Goths. But it
revolted him. The few gorged, the many famished--strange
disproportion! unkind and unfair balance!

But what remedy was there?

Adone had read some socialistic and communistic literature; but it
had not satisfied him; it had seemed to him vain, verbose, alluring,
but unreal, no better adapted to cure any real hunger than the soaked
rag of Nerina's mother.





III

The Valdedera is situated on the south of the Marches, on the
confines of what is now the territorial division of the
Abruzzo-Molese, and so lies between the Apennines and the Adriatic,
fanned by cool winds in summer from the eternal snow of the mountain
peaks, and invigorated in all seasons by breezes from the Adrian Sea.

Ruscino, placed midway in the valley, is only a village to which no
traveller has for many years come, and of which no geographer ever
speaks; it is marked on the maps of military topographers, and is, of
course, inscribed on the fiscal rolls, but is now no more than a
village; though once, when the world was young, it was the Etruscan
Rusciae, and then the Latin Ruscinonis; and then, when the Papacy was
mighty, it was the militant principality of the fortified town of
Ruscino. But it was, when the parish of Don Silverio, an almost
uninhabited village; a pale, diminutive, shrunken relic of its heroic
self; and of it scarcely any man knows anything except the few men
who make their dwelling there; sons of the soil, who spring from its
marble dust and return to it.

It had shrunk to a mere hamlet as far as its population was counted;
it shrank more and more with every census. There was but a handful of
poor people who, when gathered together in the great church, looked
no more than a few flies on a slab of marble.

The oldest men and women of the place could recall the time when it
had been still of some importance as a posting place on the mountain
route between the markets of the coast and the western towns, when
its highway had been kept clean and clear through the woods for
public and private conveyance, and when the clatter of horses' hoofs
and merry notes of horns had roused the echoes of its stones. In that
first half of the century, too, they had lived fairly well, and wine
and fowls had cost next to nothing, and home-made loaves had been
always large enough to give a beggar or a stray dog a slice. But
these times had long been over; every one was hungry now, and every
one a beggar, by way of change, and to make things equal, as the
people said, with dreary mirth and helpless acquiescence in their
lot. Like most riverain people, they lived chiefly by the river,
cutting and selling its canes, its sallows, its osiers, its sedges,
catching its fish, digging its sand; but there were few buyers in
this depopulated district.

Don Silverio Frascara, its vicar, had been sent thither as a
chastisement for his too sceptical and inquiring mind, his too
undisciplined temper. Nearly twenty years in this solitude had
chastened both; the fire had died out of his soul and the light out
of his eyes. His days were as monotonous as those of the blinded ass
set to turn the wine-press. All the steel of his spirit rusted, all
the brilliancy of his brain clouded; his life was like a fine rapier
which is left in a corner of a dusty attic and forgotten.

In certain rare states of the atmosphere the gold cross on St.
Peter's is visible from some of the peaks of the Abruzzese Apennines.
It looks like a speck of light far, far away in the silver-green of
the western horizon. When one day he climbed to such an altitude and
saw it thus, his heart contracted with a sickly pain, for in Rome he
had dreamed many dreams; and in Rome, until his exile to the Vale of
Edera, he had been a preacher of noted eloquence, of brilliant
fascination, and of daring thought.

There had been long cypress alleys which at sunset had glowed with
rose and gold, where he had in his few leisure hours builded up such
visions for the future as illumined the unknown years to the eyes of
an Ignatius, a Hildebrand, a Lacordaire, a Bossuet. On the place
where those grand avenues had stretched their green length in the
western light, and the seminarist had paced over the sward, there
were now long, dreary lines of brick and stone, the beaten dust of
roadways, the clang and smoke of engines: as the gardens had passed
away so had passed his ambitions and visions; as the cypresses had
been ground to powder in the steam mill, so was he crushed and
effaced under an inexorable fate. The Church, intolerant of
individuality, like all despotisms, had broken his spirit; like all
despotisms the tyranny had been blind. But he had been rebellious to
doctrine; she had bound him to her stake.

He would have been a great prelate, perhaps even a great Pope; but he
would have been also a great reformer, so she stamped him down into
nothingness under her iron heel. And for almost a score of years she
had kept him in Ruscino, where he buried and baptized the old and new
creatures who squirmed in the dust, where any ordinary country priest
able to gabble through the ritual could have done as well as he. Some
few of the more liberal and learned dignitaries of the Church did
indeed think that it was waste of great powers, but he had the Sacred
College against him, and no one ventured to speak in his favour at
the Vatican. He had no pious women of rank to plead for him, no
millionaires and magnates to solicit his preferment. He was with time
forgotten as utterly as a folio is forgotten on a library shelf until
mildew eats its ink away and spiders nest between its leaves. He had
the thirty pounds a year which the State pays to such parish priests;
and he had nothing else.

He was a tall and naturally stately man, but his form was bent by
that want of good food which is the chronic malady of many parts of
Italy. There was little to eat in Ruscino, and had there been more
there would have been no one who knew how to prepare it. Bread,
beans, a little oil, a little lard, herbs which grew wild, goat's
milk, cheese, and at times a few small river fish; these were all his
sustenance: his feasts and his fasts were much alike, and the little
wine he had he gave away to the sick and the aged. For this reason
his high stature was bent and his complexion was of the clear, yellow
pallor of old marbles; his profile was like the Caesarian outline on
a medallion, and his eyes were deep wells of impenetrable thought;
his finely cut lips rarely smiled, they had always upon them an
expression of bitterness, as though the apple of life in its eating
had been harsh and hard as a crab.

His presbytery was close to his church, a dreary place with only a
few necessaries and many books within it, and his only servant was an
old man, lame and stupid, who served also as sacristan.

It was a cure of souls which covered many miles but counted few
persons. Outside the old walls of Ruscino nearly all the land of vale
of Edera was untilled, and within them a few poverty-stricken people
dragged out their days uncared for by any one, only remembered by the
collectors of fiscal dues. "_They_ never forget," said the people.
"As soon as one is born, always and in every season, until one's
bones rattle down into the ditch of the dead, _they_ remember
always."

The grasp of an invisible power took the crust off their bread, the
toll off their oil, off their bed of sacking, off their plate of
fish, and took their children when they grew to manhood and sent them
into strange lands and over strange seas; they felt the grip of that
hard hand as their forefathers had felt it under the Caesars, under
the Popes, under the feudal lords, under the foreign kings; they felt
it so now under the Casa Sabauda; the same, always the same; for the
manners and titles of the State may change, but its appetite never
lessens, and its greed never spares. For twice a thousand years their
blood had flowed and their earnings had been wrung out of them in the
name of the State, and nothing was changed in that respect; the few
lads they begot amongst them went to Africa, now as under Pompeius or
Scipio; and their corn sack was taken away from them under Depretis
or Crispi, as under the Borgia or the Malatesta; and their grape
skins soaked in water were taxed as wine, their salt for their
soup-pot was seized as contraband, unless it bore the government
stamp, and, if they dared say a word of resistance, there were the
manacles and the prison under Vittorio and Umberto as under Bourbon
or Bonaparte; for there are some things which are immutable as fate.
At long intervals, during the passing of ages, the poor stir, like
trodden worms, under this inexorable monotony of their treatment by
their rulers; and then baleful fires redden the sky, and blood runs
in the conduits, and the rich man trembles; but the cannon are
brought up at full gallop and it is soon over; there is nothing ever
really altered; the iron wheels only press the harder on the unhappy
worm, and there is nothing changed.

Here at Ruscino there were tombs of nenfro which had overhung the
river for thirty centuries; but those tombs have never seen any other
thing than this, nor ever will, until the light and the warmth of the
sun shall be withdrawn for ever, and the earth shall remain alone
with her buried multitudes.

There was only Don Silverio who thought of such a thing as this, a
scholar all alone amongst barbarians; for his heart ached for his
barbarians, though they bore him no love in return for his pity. They
would have liked better a gossiping, rotund, familiar, ignorant,
peasant priest, one of themselves, chirping formula comfortably over
skeleton corpses.

In default of other interests he interested himself in this ancient
place, passing from neglect into oblivion, as his own life was doing.
There were Etruscan sepulchres and Pelasgic caves which had been
centuries earlier rifled of their objects of value, but still
otherwise remained untouched under the acacia woods by the river.
There were columns and terraces and foundations of marble which had
been there when the Latin city of Ruscinonis had flourished, from the
time of Augustus until its destruction by Theodoric. And nearest of
all these to him were the Longobardo church and the ancient houses
and the dismantled fortress and the ruined walls of what had been the
fief of the Toralba, the mediaeval fortified town of Ruscino. It
still kept this, its latest, name, but it kept little else. Thrice a
thousand centuries had rolled over it, eating it away as the sea eats
away a cliff. War and fire and time had had their will with it for so
long that dropped acorns and pine-pips had been allowed leisure to
sink between the stones, and sprout and bud and rise and spread, and
were now hoary and giant trees, of which the roots were sunk deep
into its ruins, its graves, its walls.

It had been Etruscan, it had been Latin, it had been Longobardo, it
had been Borgian and Papal; through all these changes a fortified
city, then a castellated town, then a walled village; and a village
it now remained. It will never be more; before many generations pass
it will probably have become still less; a mere tumulus, a mere
honeycomb of buried tombs. It was now perishing, surely though
slowly, but in peace, with the grass growing on its temple stairs and
the woodbine winding round its broken columns.

The trained and stored intellect of Don Silverio could set each
period of its story apart, and read all the vestiges remaining of
each. Ruscino was now to all others a mere poverty-stricken place,
brown and gaunt and sorrowful, scorching in the sun, with only the
river beneath it to keep it clean and alive. But to him it was as a
palimpsest of surpassing value and interest, which, sorely difficult
to decipher, held its treasures close from the profane and the
ignorant, but tempted and rewarded the scholar, like the lettering on
a Pompeian nuptial ring, the cyphers on a funeral urn of Herculaneum.
"After all, my lot might be worse than it is," he thought with
philosophy. "They might have sent me to a modern manufacturing town
in one of the Lombard provinces, or exiled me to some native
settlement in Eritrea."

Here, at least, he had history and nature, and he enjoyed thousands
of hours undisturbed in which to read or write, or muse and ponder on
this chronicle of brick and stone, this buried mass of dead men's
labours and of dead men's dust.

Doubtless, his manuscripts would lie unknown, unread; no man would
care for them; but the true scholar cares neither for public not
posterity; he lives for the work he loves; and if he knows that he
will have few readers in the future--maybe none--how many read
Grotius, or Boethius, or Chrysostom, or Jerome?

Here, like a colony of ants, the generations had crowded one on
another, now swept away by the stamp of a conqueror's heel and now
succeeded by another toiling swarm, building anew each time out of
ruin, undaunted by the certainty of destruction, taught nothing by
the fate of their precursors. From the profound sense of despair
which the contemplation of the uselessness of human effort, and the
waste of human life, produces on the scholar's mind, it was a relief
to him to watch the gladness of its river, the buoyancy of its
currents, the foam of white blossom on its acacia and syringa
thickets, the gold sceptres and green lances of its iris-pseudacorus,
the sweep of the winds through its bulrushes and canebreaks, the
glory of colour in the blue stars of its veronica, the bright rosy
spikes of its epilobium. The river seemed always happy, even when the
great rainfall of autumn churned it into froth and the lightnings
illumined its ink-black pools.

It was on the river that he had first made friends with Adone, then a
child of six, playing and splashing in the stream, on a midsummer
noon. Don Silverio also was bathing. Adone, a little nude figure, as
white as alabaster in the hot light, for he was very fair of skin,
sprang suddenly out of the water on to the turf above where his
breeches and shirt had been left; he was in haste, for he had heard
his mother calling to him from their fields; an adder started out of
a coil of bindweed and would itself round his ankle as he stooped for
his clothes.

The priest, standing waist-deep in the river a few yards away, saw it
before the child did, and cried out to him: "Stand still till I come!
Be not afraid!" Adone understood, and, although trembling with terror
and loathing as he realised his danger, and felt the slimy clasp of
the snake, remained motionless as he was bidden to do. In a second of
time the priest had leaped through the water to his side, seized the
adder, and killed it.

"Good boy," he said to the child. "If you had moved your foot the
creature would have bitten you."

Adone's eyes filled with tears.

"Thank you, sir; thank you for mother," he said very gently, for he
was a shy child, though courageous.

The priest stroked his curls.

"There is death in the grass very often. We should not fear death,
but neither should we run risk of it uselessly, especially when we
have a mother whom it would grieve. Come and bathe at this spot, at
this hour, to-morrow and every day, if you like. I will be here and
look after you, you are little to be alone."

They were often together from that day onwards.

The brutishness and greed of his flock oppressed him. He was sent
here to have care of their souls, but where were their souls? They
would all have sold them to the foul fiend for a mess of artichokes
fried in oil. In such a solitude as this he had been glad to be able
to teach and move the young malleable mind of Adone Alba; the only
one of them who seemed to have any mind at all. Adone also had a
voice as sweet as a nightingale in the syringa bushes in May; and it
pierced the gloom of the old naked gaunt church as a nightingale's
thrills through the dark hour before dawn.

There was no other music in that choir except the children's or
youths' voices; there was nothing to make music with except those
flexible pipes of the boyish throats; and Don Silverio loved and
understood choral music; he had studied it in Rome. Adone never
refused to sing for him, and when the voice of adolescence had
replaced that of childhood, he would still stand no less docilely by
the old marble lectern, and wake the melodies of early masters from
the yellow pages.

The church was as damp as a vault of the dead; cold even when the
dog-star reigned in the heavens. The brasses and bronzes were rusted
with moisture, and the marbles were black with the spores of mould;
rain dripped through the joints of the roof, and innumberable
sparrows made their nests there; the mosaics of the floor were green
from these droppings, and from those of the rain; the sun never
entered through any of the windows, which were yellow with age and
dust; but here, with a lantern for their only light, they solaced
each other with the song of the great choral masters. Only Adone,
although he never said or showed it, was glad when the huge key
groaned in the lock of the outer door, and he ran out into the
evening starlight, down the steep streets, across the bridge, and
felt the fresh river air blowing on him, and heard the swirling of
the water amongst the frost-stiffened canes, and saw far off in the
darkened fields the glimmer of a light--the light of home.

That old home was the dearest thing on earth to the young man. He had
never been away from it but once, when the conscription called him.
In that time, which had been to him like a nightmare, the time of his
brief exile to the army, because he was the only son of a widow, he
had been sent to a northern city, one of commerce and noise and
crowded, breathless life; he had been cooped up in it like a panther
in a den, like a hawk in a cage. What he saw of the vices and
appetites of men, the pressure of greed and of gain, the harsh and
stupid tyranny of the few, the slavish and ignoble submission of the
many, the brutish bullying, the crouching obedience, the deadly
routine, the lewd licence of reaction--all filled him with disdain
and with disgust. When he returned to his valley he bathed in the
waters of Edera before he crossed his mother's threshold.

"Make me clean as I was when I left you!" he cried, and took the
water in the hollow of his hands and kissed it.

But no water flows on the earth, from land to sea, which can wholly
cleanse the soul as it cleanses the body.

That brief time under arms he cursed as thousands of youths have
cursed it. Its hated stigma and pollution never wholly passed away.
It left a bitterness on his lips, a soil upon his memories. But how
sweet to him beyond expression, on his return, were the sound of the
rushing river in the silence of the night, the pure odours of the
blossoming beanfields, the clear dark sky with its radiant stars, the
sense of home, the peace of his own fields!

"Mother, whether life for me shall be long or short, here its every
hour shall be spent!" he said, as he stood on his own ground and
looked through the olive-trees to the river, running swiftly and
strong beneath the moon.

"Those are good words, my son," said Clelia Alba, and her hands
rested on his bowed head.

He adored both the soil and the water of this place of his birth; no
toil upon either seemed to him hard or mean. All which seemed to him
to matter much in the life of a man was to be free, and he was so. In
that little kingdom of fertile soil and running stream no man could
bid him come and go, no law ruled his uprising and his down lying; he
had enough for his own wants and the wants of those about him, enough
for the needs of the body, and the mind here had not many needs; at
the Terra Vergine he was his own master, except so far as he
cheerfully deferred to his mother; and all which he put into the
earth he could take out of it for his own usage, though indeed the
fiscal authorities claimed well nigh one-half, rating his land at far
more than its worth. No doubt scientific agriculture might have made
it yield more than he did; but he was content to follow the ways of
old; he farmed as men did when the Sun-god was the farm slave of
Admetus. The hellebore and the violets grew at will in his furrows;
the clematis and the ivy climbed his figtrees; the fritillaria and
daphne grew in his pastures, and he never disturbed them, or scared
the starling and the magpie which fluttered in the wake of his wooden
plough. The land was good land, and gave him whatever he wanted; he
grudged nothing off it to bird, or beast, or leaf, or flower, or to
the hungry wayfarer who chanced to pass by his doors. In remote
places the old liberal, frank, open-handed hospitality of an earlier
time is still in Italy a practice as well as a tradition.

The house was their own, and the earth gave them their bread, their
wine, their vegetables, their oil, hemp, and flax for their linen,
and herbs for their soup; of the olive-oil they had more than enough
for use, and the surplus was sold once a year in the nearest town,
San Beda, and served to meet the fiscal demands. They had rarely any
ready money, but no peasant in Italy ever expects, unless by some
luck at lotto, to have money in his pocket.

He worked hard; at some seasons extremely hard; he hired labour
sometimes, but not often, for to pay for the hiring takes the profit
off the land. But he had been used to such work from childhood, and
it was never irksome to him; even though he rose in the dark, and
rarely went home to supper till the stars were shining. He had no
near neighbours except the poor folks in Ruscino. All surrounding him
was grass and moor and wood, called communal property, but in reality
belonging legally to no one; vast, still, fragrant leagues of
uninhabited country stretching away to the blue hills, home of the
fox and the hare and the boar, of the hawk and the woodpecker and the
bittern.

Through those wilds he loved to wander alone; the sweet stillness of
a countryside which was uncontaminated by the residence of men
stilling the vague unrest of his youth, and the mountains towering in
the light lending to the scene the charm of the unknown.

In days of storm or rain he read with Don Silverio or sang in the
church; on fine holy-days he roamed far afield in the lonely
heatherlands and woodlands which were watered by the Edera. He
carried a gun, for defence if need be, for there were boars and
wolves in these solitudes; but he never used it upon bird or beast.

Like St. Francis of Assissi, both he and Don Silverio took more
pleasure in the life than in the death of fair winged things.

"We are witness, twice in every year, of that great and inexplicable
miracle," the priest said often, "that passage of small, frail,
unguided creatures, over seas and continents, through tempests and
simoons, and with every man's hand against them, and death waiting to
take them upon every shore, by merciless and treacherous tricks, and
we think nought of it; we care nought for it; we spread the nets and
the gins--that is all. We are unworthy of all which makes the earth
beautiful--vilely unworthy!"

One of the causes of his unpopularity in Ruscino was the inexorable
persistence with which he broke their gins, lifted their nets,
cleared off their birdlime, dispersed their watertraps, and forbade
the favourite night poaching by lanterns in the woods. More than once
they threatened his life, but he only smiled.

"_Faccia pure_!" he said, "you will cut a knot which I did not tie,
and which I cannot myself undo."

But they held him in too much awe to dare to touch him, and they knew
that again and again he went on bread and water himself to give his
wine to their sick, or his strip of meat to their old people.

Moreover, they feared Adone.

"If you touch a hair of Don Silverio's head, or the hem of his
cassock, I will burn Ruscino," said Adone to one of those who had
threatened his friend, "and you will all burn with it, for the river
will not help you; the river will turn to oil and make the flames
rage tenfold."

The people were afraid as they heard him, for the wrath of the gentle
is terrible from its rarity.

"For sure 'tis the dead Tor'alba as speak in him," they said with
fright under their breath, for there was a tale told in the district
that Adone Alba was descended from the old war-lords.

The veterans of the village and the countryside remembered hearing
their fathers say that the family of the Terra Vergine were descended
from those great marquises who had reigned for centuries in that
Rocca which was now a grim, ivy-covered ruin on the north of the
Edera water. But more than this no one could say; no one could tell
how the warlike race had become mere tillers of the soil, or how
those who had measured out life and death up and down the course of
the valley had lost their power and possessions. There were vague
traditions of a terrible siege, following on a great battle in the
vale; that was all.





IV

The church in which Don Silverio officiated every morning and evening
for the benefit of a few old crones, had once been a Latin temple; it
had been built from the Corinthian pillars, the marble peristyle, the
rounded, open dome, like that of the Pantheon, of a pagan edifice;
and to these had been added a Longobardo belfry and chancel; pigeons
and doves roosted and nested in it, and within it was cold even in
midsummer, and dark always as a vault. It was dedicated to St.
Jerome, and was a world too wide for the shrunken band of believers
who came to worship in it; there was a high, dark altar said to have
been painted by Ribera, and nothing else that spoke in any way of
art, except the capitals of its pillars and the Roman mosaics of its
floor.

The Longobardo bell-tower was of vast height and strength; within it
were various chambers, and these chambers had served through many
ages as muniment-rooms. There were innumerable documents of many
different epochs, almost all in Latin, a few in Greek. Don Silverio,
who was a fine classic as well as a learned archæologist, spent all
his lonely and cold winter evenings in the study of these early
chronicles, his oil lamp burning pale and low, his little white dog
lying on his knees.

These manuscripts gave him great trouble, and were in many parts
almost unintelligible, in others almost effaced by damp, in others
again gnawed by rats and mice. But he was interested in his labours
and in his subject, and after several years of work on them, he was
able to make out a consecutive history of the Valdedera, and he was
satisfied that the peasant of the Terra Vergine had been directly
descended from the feudal-lords of Ruscino. That pittance of land by
the waterside under the shadow of the ruined citadel was all which
remained of the great fief of the youth in whose veins ran the blood
of men who had given princes, and popes, and cardinals, and captains
of condottieri, and patrons of art, and conquerors or revolted
provinces, to the Italy of old from the beginning of the thirteenth
century to the end of the sixteenth. For three hundred years the
Tor'alba had been lords there, owning all their eyes could reach from
mountain to sea; then after long siege the walled town and their
adjacent stronghold had fallen into the hands of hereditary foes
whose forces had been united against them. Fire and steel had done
their worst, and only a month-old child had escaped from the burning
Rocca, being saved in a boat laden with reeds at anchor in the river,
and hidden by a faithful vassal. The child had grown to manhood and
had lived to old age, leading a peasant's life on the banks of the
Edera; the name had been mutilated in common usage amongst those who
spoke only the dialect of the province, and for three more centuries
father and son had succeeded each other, working for their daily
bread where their ancestors had defied Borgia and Della Rovere, and
Feltrio, and Malatesta; the gaunt dark shade of the dismantled
citadel lying athwart their fields between them and the setting sun.

Should he tell Adone this or not?

Would the knowledge of his ancestry put a thorn in the boy's
contented heart? Would it act as a spur to higher things, or be
merely as the useless sting of a nettle?

Who could say?

Don Silverio remembered the gorgeous dreams of his own youth; and
what had been their issue?

At fifty years old he was buried in a deserted village, never hearing
from year's end to year's end one word of friendship or phrase of
culture.

Would it be well or would it be wrong to disturb that tranquil
acquiescence in a humble destiny? He could not decide. He dared not
take upon himself so much responsibility. "In doubt do nothing" has
been the axiom of many wise men. The remembrance of the maxim closed
his lips. He had himself been in early manhood passionately
ambitious; he was only a priest, but of priests are made the
Gregorio, the Bonifazio, the Leone of the Papal throne; to the dreams
of a seminarist nothing is impossible. But Adone had no such dreams;
he was as satisfied with his lot as any young steer which wants
nothing more than the fair, fresh fields of its birth. But one day as
he was sitting with the boy, then fifteen years old, on the south
bank of the Edera, the spirit moved him and he spake. It was the day
of San Benedetto, when the swallows come. The grass was full of pink
lychnis and yellow buttercups. A strong east wind was blowing from
the sea. A number of martins, true to the proverb, were circling
gaily above the stream. The water, reflecting the brilliant hues of
the heavens, was hurrying on its seaward way, swollen by recent rains
and hastened by a strong wind blowing from the eastern mountains.

The lands of the Terra Vergine lay entirely on the south-east bank of
the river, and covered many acres, of which some was moorland still.
Almost opposite to it was the one-arched stone bridge, attributed to
Theodoric, and on the northern bank was the ruined Rocca, towering
above the trees which had grown up around it; whilst hidden by it and
by the remains of the fortifications was that which was now the mere
village of Ruscino.

"Listen, Adone!" he said in his deep, melodious voice, grave and
sweet as a mass of Palestrina. "Listen, and I will tell you the tale
of yonder donjon and village, and of the valley of the Edera, so far
as I have been able to make it out for myself."

According to the writers whose manuscripts he had discovered the town
of Ruscino, like Cremona, had existed before the siege of Troy, that
is, six hundred years before the foundation of Rome. Of this there
was no proof except tradition, but the ruins of the walls and the
tombs by the riverside and in the fields proved that it had been an
Etruscan city, and of some considerable extent and dignity, in those
remote ages.

"The foundations of the Rocca," he continued, "were probably part of
a great stronghold raised by the Gauls, who undoubtedly conquered the
whole of this valley at the time when they settled themselves in what
is now the Marches, and founded Senegallia. It was visited by
Asdrubal, and burned by Alaric; then occupied by the Greek free
lances of Justinian; in the time of the Frankish victories, in common
with greater places, it was forced to swear allegiance to the first
papal Adrian. After that it had been counted as one of the fiefs
comprised in the possessions of the Pentapolis; and later on, when
the Saracens ravaged the shores of the Adriatic, they had come up the
Valdedera and pillaged and burned again. Gregory the Ninth gave the
valley to the family of its first feudal lords, the Tor'alba, in
recompense for military service, and they, out of the remains of the
Gallic, Etruscan, and Roman towns, rebuilt Ruscino and raised the
Rocca on the ruins of the castle of the Gauls. There, though at feud
many time with their foes, the Della Rovere, the Malatesta, and the
Dukes of Urbino, they held their own successfully, favoured usually
by Rome, and for three centuries grew in force and in possessions.
But they lost the favour of Rome by their haughtiness and
independence; and under pretext that they merited punishment, Cesare
Borgia brought troops of mercenaries against them, and after a fierce
conflict in the valley (the terrible battle of which the villagers
preserved the memory) the town was besieged and sacked.

"After this battle, which must have taken place on yonder moor, to
the north-west, for the assailants had crossed the Apennines, the
Tor'alba and the remnant of men remaining to them retreated within
the walls of Ruscino.

"The whole place and the citadel were burning, set on fire by order
of Borgia. The church alone was spared, and the dead men were as
thick as stones on the walls, and in the streets, and in the nave of
the church, and on the streets, and in the houses. This river was
choked with corpses, and dark with blood. The black smoke towered to
the sky in billows like a sea. The mercenaries swarmed over the
bastions and violated the women, and cut off their breasts and threw
their bodies down into the stream and their children after them. The
Lady of Tor'alba, valiant as Caterina Sforza, was the first slain.

"The whole place was given up to flame and carnage, and the great
captains were as helpless as dead oxen. They were all slain amongst
their troopers and their vassals, and their bodies were burnt when
the fortress was fired.

"Only one little child escaped the massacre, a month-old babe, son of
the Marquis of Tor'alba, who was hidden by a faithful servant amongst
the reeds of the Edera in a basket. This servant was the only male
who escaped slaughter.

"The river rushes were more merciful than man, they kept the little
new-born lordling safe until his faithful vassal, under cover of the
night, when the assailants were drunk and stupid with licence
gratified, could take him to a poor woman to be suckled in a cottage
farther down the river. How he grew up I know not, but certain it is
that thirty years later one Federigo Tor'alba was living where you
live, and your house and land have never changed hands or title
since; only your name has been truncated, as often happens in the
speech of the people. How this land called the Terra Vergine was
first obtained I cannot say; the vassal may have saved some gold or
jewels which belonged to his masters, and have purchased these acres,
or the land may have been taken up and put gradually into cultivation
without any legal right to it; of this there is no explanation, no
record. But from that time the mighty lordship of Tor'alba has been
extinct, and scarcely exists now even in local tradition; although
their effigies are on their tombs, and the story of their reign can
be deciphered by any one who can read a sixteenth-century manuscript,
as you might do for yourself, my son, had you been diligent."

Adone was silent. He had listened with attention, as he did to
everything which was said or read to him by Don Silverio. But he was
not astonished, because he had often heard, though vaguely, the
legend of his descent.

"Of what use is it?" he said, as he sat moving the bright water with
his bare slim feet. "Nothing will bring it all back."

"It should serve some great end," said Don Silverio, not knowing very
well what he meant or to what he desired to move the young man's
mind. "Nobility of blood should make the hands cleaner, the heart
higher, the aims finer."

Adone had shrugged his shoulders.

"We are all equal!" he answered.

"We are not all equal," the priest said curtly. "There is not
equality in nature. Are there even two pebbles alike in the bed of
the river?"

Don Silverio, for the first time in his life, could have willingly
let escape him some unholy word. It incensed him that he could not
arouse in the boy any of that interest and excitement which had moved
his own feelings so strongly as he had spent his spare evenings
poring over the crabbed characters and the dust-weighted vellum of
the charred and mutilated archives discovered by him in a secret
closet in the bell-tower of his church. With infinite toil, patience,
and ability he had deciphered the Latin of rolls, registers, letters,
chronicles, so damaged by water, fire, and the teeth of rats and
mice, that it required all an archæologist's ingenuity and devotion
to make out any sense from them. Summer days and winter nights had
found him poring over the enigma of these documents, and now, when he
had conquered and revealed their secret, he who was most concerned in
it was no more stirred by curiosity or pride than if he had been one
of the big tawny owls dwelling in the dusk of the belfry.

Don Silverio was a learned man and a holy man, and should have
despised such vanities, but an historic past had great seduction for
him; a militant race fascinated him against his conscience, and
aristocracy allured him despite all his better judgement; it seemed
to him that if he had learned that he had come from a knightly _gens_
such as this of the Tor'alba, he would have been more strongly moved
to self-glorification than would have become a servant of the Church.
He himself had no knowledge even of his own near parentage; he had
been a forsaken child, left one dark autumn night in the iron cradle
of the gates of a foundling hospital in Reggio Calabrese. His names
had been bestowed on him by the chaplain of the institution; and his
education had been given him by an old nobleman of the town,
attracted by his appearance and intelligence as a child. He was now
fifty years of age; and he had never known anything of kith and kin,
or of the mingled sweetness and importunity of any human tie.

Adone sat silent, looking up at the fortress of his forefathers. He
was more moved than his words showed.

"If we were lords of the land and the town and the people, we were
also lords of the river," was what he was thinking; and that thought
moved him to strong pride and pleasure, for he loved the river with a
great love, only equalled by that which he felt for his mother.

"They were lords of the river?" he asked aloud.

"Undoubtedly," answered the priest. "It was one of the highways of
the province from east to west and _vice versâ_ in that time; the
signoria of this Rocca took toll, kept the fords and bridges and
ferries; none could pass up and down under Ruscino without being seen
by the sentinels on the ramparts here. The Edera was different then;
more navigable, perhaps less beautiful. Rivers change like nations.
There have been landslips which have altered its course and made its
torrents. In some parts it is shallower, in others deeper. The woods
which enclosed its course then have been largely felled, though not
wholly. Sand has been dug from it incessantly, and rocks have fallen
across it. As you know, no boats or barges which draw any depth of
water can ascend or descend it now without being towed by horses; and
in some parts, as here, it is course, too precipitous in its fall for
even small boats to adventure themselves upon it: its shoals of
lilies can blossom unmolested where its surface is level. Yes;
undoubtedly, the lords of Ruscino were also lords of the Edera, from
its mouth to its source; and their river formed at once their
strongest defence and their weakest point. It was difficult
sufficiently to guard so many miles of water; above all because, as I
say, its course was so much clearer, and its depth so much greater,
that a flotilla of rafts or cutters could ascend it from its mouth as
far as this town in the Middle Ages; in fact, more than once,
corsairs from the Levant and from Morocco did so ascend it, and
though they were driven back by the culverins of the citadel, they
every time carried off to slavery some of the youths and maidens of
the plain."

Adone gazed across the river to the moss-grown walls which had once
been fortifications still visible on the side of the hill, and to the
frowning donjon, the blackened towers, the ruined bastions, of what
had been once the Rocca, with the amber light and rosy clouds of the
unseen sun behind them.

"Teach me Latin, your reverence," was all he said.

"I have always offered to do so," said Don Silverio.

Adone was again silent, swinging his slender brown feet in the water,
and looking always upward at the evening sky beyond the great round
shape of the dismantled fortress.

He learned some Latin with much difficulty, studying hard in his
evening leisure in the winters, and with time he could decipher for
himself, with assistance from Don Silverio, the annals of the
Tor'alba; and he saw that it was as certain as anything grown over
with the lichens and cobwebs of time can be that he himself was the
last of the race.

"Your father used to say something of the sort," his mother said;
"but he had only heard it piecemeal from old people, and never heard
enough to put the pieces together as you have done. 'What does it
matter either?' he used to say; and he said those great lords had
been cut-throats on the land and robbers on the river. For your
father's father had worn the red shirt in his youth, as I have told
you often, and thought but little of lords and princes."

But Adone was different; the past allured him with the fascination
which it has for poets and scholars; he was neither of these, except
in a vague, unconscious way; but his imagination was strong and
fertile once aroused; the past, as suggested to him by the vicar, by
degrees became to him a living thing and nearer than the present, as
it is to scholars who are poets. He was neither scholar nor poet; but
he loved to muse upon that far-off time when his forefathers had been
lords of the land and of the water.

He did not want the grandeur, he did not envy the power which they
had possessed; but he wished that, like them, he could own the Edera
from its rise in the hills to its fall into the sea.

"Oh, dear river!" he sang to it tenderly, "I love you. I love you as
the dragon-flies do, as the wagtails do, as the water voles do; I am
you and you are me. When I lean over you and smile, you smile back to
me. You are beautiful in the night and the morning, when you mirror
the moon and play with the sunbeams, when you are angry under the
wind, and when you are at peace in the heat of the noon. You have
been purple with the blood of my people, and now you are green and
fresh as the leaves of the young vine. You have been black with
powder and battle, now you are fair with the hue of the sky and the
blue of the myosotis. You are the same river as you were a thousand
years ago, and yet you only come down to-day from the high hills,
young and strong, and ever renewing. What is the life of man beside
yours?"

That was the ode which he sang in the dialect of the province, and
the stream washed his feet as he sang; and with his breath on his
long reed flute--the same flute as youths have made and used ever
since the days that Apollo reigned on Saracte--he copied the singing
of the river, which piped as it ran, like birds at dawn.

But this was only at such times as daybreak or early night when he
was alone.

There were but a few people within the ruined walls of Ruscino; most
of the houses were tenantless and tottering to their fall. A few old
bent men and weather-beaten women and naked children climbed its
steep lanes and slept under its red-brown roofs, bawled to each other
from its deep arched doorways to tell of death or birth, and gathered
dandelion leaves upon its ramparts to cure their shrunken and swollen
bladders. He knew them every one, he was familiar with and kind to
them; but he was aloof from them by temperament and thought, and he
showed them his soul no more than the night birds in the towers
showed their tawny breasts and eyes of topaz to the hungry and ragged
fowls which scratched amongst the dust and refuse on the stones in
the glare of day.

"_Il Bel Adone_!" sighed matrons and the maidens of the scattered
farms and the old gloomy castellated granges which here and there,
leagues distant from one another, broke the green and silent monotony
of the vast historic country whose great woods sloped from hill to
plain. But to these, too, he was indifferent, though they had the
stern and solid beauty of the Latium women on their broad low brows,
their stately busts, their ox-like eyes, their shapely feet and
limbs; and often, joined to that, the red-gold hair and the fair skin
of the Adriatic type. As they bound the sheaves, and bore the
water-jars, and went in groups through the seeding grass to chapel,
or fountain, or shrine, they had the free, frank grace of an earlier
time; just such as these had carried the votive doves to the altars
of Venus and chanted by the waters of the Edera the worship of Isis
and her son. But to Adone they had no charm. What did he desire or
dream of? Himself he could not have said. Perhaps they were too warm;
it was certain that they left him cold.

Sometimes he learned over the river and looked longingly into its
depths.

"Show me the woman I shall love," he said to the water, but it
hastened on, glad, tumultuous, unheeding; and he only saw the
reflection of the white jonquils or of the golden sword rush on its
banks.





V

Fruits ripen quickly in these provinces, and children become women in
a summer hour; but with Nerina, through want and suffering and
hunger, physical growth had been slow, and she remained long a child
in many things and many ways. Only in her skill and strength for work
was she older than her actual age.

She could hoe and reap and sow: she could row and steer the boat
amongst the shallows as well as any man; she could milk the cow, and
put the steers in the waggon; she could card hemp and flax, and weave
and spin either; she could carry heavy weights balanced on her head;
she was strong and healthy and never ill, and with it all she was
happy. Her large bright eyes were full of contentment, and her rosy
mouth often smiled out of the mere gladness of living. Her senses
were still asleep and her young soul wanted nothing more than life
gave her.

"You can earn your bread anywhere now, little one," said Clelia Alba
to her one day, when she had been there three years.

The girl shrank as under a blow; her brown and rosy face grew
colourless. "Do you wish me to go away?" she said humbly.

"No, no," said Clelia, although that was what she did desire. "No,
not while I live. But should I die, you could not stay here with my
son."

"Why?" said Nerina. She did not understand why.

Clelia hesitated.

"You ought to feel that yourself," she said harshly. "Young men and
young maids do not dwell together, unless"

"Unless what?" asked Nerina.

"You are a simpleton indeed, or you are shamming," thought Adone's
mother; but aloud she only said, "It is not in our usage."

"But you will not die," said Nerina anxiously. "Why should you think
of dying, madonna? You are certainly old, but you are not so very,
very old."

Clelia smiled.

"You do not flatter, child. So much the better. Run away and drive in
those fowls. They are making havoc in the beanfield."

She could not feel otherwise than tenderly towards this young
creature, always so obedient, so tractable, so contented, so
grateful; but she would willingly have placed her elsewhere could she
have done so with a clear conscience.

"My son will never do ill by any creature under his roof," she
thought. "But still youth is youth; and the girl grows."

"We must dower her and mate her; eh, your reverence?" she said to Don
Silverio when he passed by later in that day.

"Willingly," he answered. "But to whom? To the owls or the cats at
Ruscino?"

In himself he thought, "She is as straight and as slight as a
chestnut wand, but she is as strong. When you shall try to bend her
where she shall not want to go you will not succeed."

For he knew the character of Nerina in the confessional better than
Clelia Alba judged of it in her house.

"It was not wise to bring her here," he added aloud. "But having
committed that error it would be unfair to charge the child with the
painful payment of it. You are a just woman, my good friend; you must
see that."

Clelia saw it clearly, for she never tried to trick her conscience.

"Your reverence mistakes me," she answered. "I would not give her to
any but a good man and a good home."

"They are not common," said Don Silverio. "Nor are they as easy to
find as flies in summer."

What was the marriage of the poor for the woman? What did it bring?
What did it mean? The travail of child-bearing, the toil of the
fields, the hardship of constant want, the incessant clamour on her
ear of unsatisfied hunger, the painful rearing of sons whom the State
takes away from her as soon as they are of use, painful ending of
life on grudged crusts as a burden to others on a hearth no longer
her own. This, stripped of glamour, is the lot nine times out of ten
of the female peasant -- a creature of burden like the cow she yokes,
an animal valued only in her youth and her prime; in old age or in
sickness like the stricken and barren goat, who has nought but its
skin and its bones.

Poor little Nerina!

As he went home he saw her cutting fodder for a calf; she was
kneeling in a haze of rose colour made by the many blossoms of the
_orchis maculat_ which grew there. The morning light sparkled in the
wet grass. She got up as she saw him cross the field, dropped her
curtsey low with a smile, then resumed her work, the dew, the sun,
the sweet fresh scents shed on her like a benison.

"Poor little soul," thought Don Silverio. "Poor little soul! Has
Adone no eyes?"

Adone had eyes, but they saw other things than a little maiden in the
meadow-grass.

To her he was a deity; she believed in him and worshipped him with
the strongest faith, as a little sister might have done. She would
have fought for him like a little mastiff; she would have suffered in
his service with rapture and pride; she was as vigilant for his
interests as if she were fidelity incarnated. She watched over all
that belonged to him, and the people of Ruscino feared her more than
they feared Pierino the watch-dog. Woe betided the hapless wight who
made free with the ripe olives, or the ripe grapes, with the fig or
the peach or the cherry which grew on Adone's lands; it seemed to
such marauders that she had a thousand eyes and lightning in her
feet.

One day, when she had dealt such vigorous blows with a blackthorn
stick on the back of a lad who had tried to enter the fowl-house,
that he fell down and shrieked for pardon, Adone reproved her.
"Remember they are very poor, Nerina," he said to her. "So were your
own folks, you say."

"I know they are poor," replied Nerina; she held to her opinions.
"But when they ask, you always give. Therefore it is vile to rob you.
Besides," she added, "if you go on and let them steal and steal till
you will have nothing left."

Whatever she saw, whatever she heard, she told Adone; and he gave ear
to her because she was not a chatterer, but was usually of few words.
All her intelligence was spent in the defence and in the culture of
the Terra Vergine; she did not know her alphabet, and did not wish to
do so; but she had the quickest of ears, the keenest of eyes, the
brightest of brains.

One morning she came running to him where he was cutting barley.

"Adone! Adone!" she cried breathlessly, "there were strange men by
the river to-day."

"Indeed," said Adone astonished, because strangers were never seen
there. Ruscino was near no highroad, and the river had long ceased to
be navigable.

"They asked me questions, but I put my hands to my ears and shook my
head; they thought I was deaf."

"What sort of men were they?" he asked with more attention, for there
were still those who lived by violence up in the forests which
overhung the valley of the Edera.

"How do I know? They were clothed in long woollen bed-gowns, and they
had boots on their feet, and on their heads hats shaped like
kitchen-pans."

Adone smiled. He saw men from a town, or country fellows who aped
such men, with a contempt which was born at once of that artistic
sense of fitness which was in him, and of his adherence to the
customs and habits of his province. The city-bred and city-clothed
man looked to him a grotesque and helpless creature, much sillier
than an ape.

"That sounds like citizens or townsfolk. What did they say?"

"I could not understand; but they spoke of the water, I think, for
they pointed to it and said a great deal which I did not understand,
and seemed to measure the banks, and took your punt and threw a chain
into the water in places."

"Took castings? Used my punt? That is odd! I have never seen a
stranger in my life by the Edera. Were they anglers?"

"No."

"Or sportsmen?"

"They had no guns."

"How many were they?"

"Three. They went away up the river talking."

"Did they cross the bridge?"

"No. They were not shepherds, or labourers, or priests," said Nerina.
To these classes of men her own acquaintance was confined.

"Painters, perhaps?" said Adone; but no artists were ever seen there;
the existence even of the valley was scarcely known, except to
topographers.

"What are painters?" said Nerina.

"Men who sit and stare and then make splashes of colour."

"No; they did not do that."

"It is strange."

He felt vaguely uneasy that any had come near the water; as a lover
dislikes the pressure of a crowd about his beloved in a street, so he
disliked the thought of foreign eyes resting on the Edera. That they
should have used his little punt, always left amongst the sedges,
seemed to him a most offensive and unpardonable action.

He went to the spot where the intruders had been seen, but there was
no trace of them, except that the wet sand bore footprints of persons
who had, as she had said of them, worn boots. He followed these
footprints for some mile or more up the edge of the stream, but there
he lost them from sight; they had passed on to the grass of a level
place, and the dry turf, cropped by sheep to its roots, told no
tales. Near this place was a road used by cattle drivers and mules;
it crossed the heather for some thousand yards, then plunged into the
woods, and so went up over the hills to the town of Teramo,
thirty-five kilometres away. It was a narrow, rough, steep road,
wholly unfit for vehicles of any kind more tender than the rude
ox-treggia, slow as a snail, with rounds of a tree-trunk for its
wheels, and seldom used except by country folks.

He would have asked Don Silverio if he had heard or seen anything of
any strangers, but the priest was away that day at one of the lonely
moorland cabins comprised in his parish of Ruscino, where an old man,
who had been a great sinner in his past, was at his last gasp, and
his sons and grandsons and great-grandchildren all left him to meet
his end as he might.

It was a fine day, and they had their grain to get in, and even the
women were busy. They set a stoup of water by him, and put some in
his nostrils, and shut the door to keep out the flies. It was no use
to stay there they thought. If you helped a poor soul to give up the
ghost by a hand on his mouth, or an elbow in his stomach, you got
into trouble; it was safer to leave him alone when he was a-dying.

Don Silverio had given the viaticum to the old man the night before,
not thinking he would outlive the night. He now found the door locked
and saw the place was deserted. He broke the door open with a few
kicks, and found the house empty save for the dying creature on the
sacks of leaves.

"They would not wait! They would not wait -- hell take them!" said
the old man, with a groan, his bony hands fighting the air.

"Hush, hush! the holy oil is on you," said Don Silverio. "They knew I
should be here."

It was a charitable falsehood, but the brain of the old man was still
too awake to be deceived by it.

"Why locked they the door, then? Hell take them! They are reaping in
the lower fields -- hell take them!" he repeated, his bony, toothless
jaws gnashing with each word.

He was eighty-four years old; he had been long the terror of his
district and of his descendants, and they paid him out now that he
was powerless; they left him alone in that sun-baked cabin, and they
had carefully put his crutch out of reach, so that if any force
should return to his paralysed body he should be unable to move.

It was the youngest of them, a little boy of seven years old, who had
thought to do that; the crutch had hit him so often.

The day had been only beginning when Don Silverio had reached the
cabin, but he resolved to await there the return of the family; its
hours were many and long and cruel in the midsummer heat, in this
foetid place, where more than a score of men, women, and children of
all ages, slept and swarmed through every season, and where the
floors of beaten earth were paven with filth three millimetres thick.
The people were absent, but their ordure, their urine, their lice,
their saliva were left there after them, and the stench of all was
concentrated on this bed where the old man wrestled with death.

Don Silverio stayed on in the sultry and pestilent steam which rose
up from the floor. Gnats and flies of all kinds buzzed in the heavy
air, or settled in black knots on the walls and the rafters. With a
bunch of dried maize-leaves he drove them off the old man's face and
hands and limbs, and ever and again at intervals gave the poor
creature a draught of water with a few drops in it from a phial of
cordial which he had brought with him. The hours passed, each seeming
longer than a day; at last the convulsive twitching of the jaws
ceased; the jaw had fallen, the dark cavern of the toothless mouth
yawned in a set grimace, the vitreous eyes were turned up into the
head: the old man was dead. But Don Silverio did not leave him; two
sows and a hog were in a stye which was open to the house; he knew
that they would come and gnaw the corpse if it were left to them;
they were almost starving, and grunted angrily.

He spent so many vigils similar to this that the self-sacrifice
entailed in them never struck either him or those he served.

When the great heat had passed he set the door wide open; the sun was
setting; a flood of light inundated the plain from the near mountains
on the west, where the Leonessa towered, to those shadowy green
clouds which far away in the east were the marshes before the sea.
Through the ruddy glory of the evening the family returned, dark
figures against the gold; brown women, half-nude men, footsore
children, their steps dragging reluctantly homeward.

At the sight of the priest on the threshold they stopped and made
obeisance humbly in reverent salutation.

"Is he dead, most reverend?" said the eldest of the brood, a man of
sixty, touching the ground with his forehead.

"Your father is dead," said Don Silverio.

The people were still; relieved to hear that all was over, yet
vaguely terrified, rather by his gaze than by his words. A woman wept
aloud out of fear.

"We could net let the good grain spoil," said the eldest man, with
some shame in his voice.

"Pray that your sons may deal otherwise with you when your turn shall
come," said Don Silverio; and then he went through them, unmoved by
their prayers and cries, and passed across the rough grass-land out
of sight.

The oldest man, he who was now head of the house, remained prostrate
on the threshold and beat the dust with his hands and heels; he was
afraid to enter, afraid of that motionless, lifeless bag of bones of
which the last cry had been a curse at him.

Don Silverio went on his way over the moors homeward, for he had no
means except his own limbs whereby to go his scattered parishioners.
When he reached the village and climbed its steep stones night had
long fallen and he was sorely tired. He entered by a door which was
never locked, and found an oil wick burning on his table, which was
set out with the brown crockery used for his frugal supper of cheese
and lettuce and bread. His old servant was abed. His little dog alone
was on the watch to welcome him. It was a poor, plain place, with
whitewashed walls and a few necessary articles of use; but it was
clean and sweet, its brick floors were sanded, and the night air blew
in from its open casement with the freshness from the river in it.
Its quiet was seldom disturbed except by the tolling of the bell for
the church services; and it was welcome to him after the toil and
heat and stench of the past day.

"My lot might have been worse," he thought, as he broke his loaf; he
was disinclined to eat; the filthy odours of the cabin pursued him.

He was used to have had a little weekly journal sent to him by the
post; which came at rare intervals on an ass's back to Ruscino, the
ass and his rider, with a meal sack half filled by the meagre
correspondence of the district, making the rounds of that part of the
province with an irregularity which seemed as natural to the
sufferers by it as to the postman himself. "He cannot be everywhere
at once," they said of him with indulgence.

When he reached his home that evening the little news-sheet was lying
on his table beside the brown crockery, the cheese, lettuces, and
bread. He scarcely touched the food; he was saddened and sickened by
the day he had passed, although there had been nothing new in it,
nothing of which he had not been witness a hundred times in the
cabins of his parishioners. The little paper caught his eye, he took
it and opened it. It was but a meagre thing, tardy of news, costing
only two centimes, but it was the only publication which brought him
any intelligence of that outer world from which he was as much
separated as though he had been on a deserted isle in mid-ocean.

By the pale light of the single wick he turned over its thin sheet to
distract his thoughts; there was war news in east and west, Church
news in his own diocese and elsewhere; news all ten days old and
more; political news also, scanty and timidly related. The name of
the stream running underneath the walls of Ruscino caught his regard;
a few lines were headed with it, and these lines said curtly:

"_The project to divert the course of the Edera river will be brought
before the Chamber shortly; the Minister of Agriculture is considered
to favour the project_."

He held the sheet nearer to the light and read the paragraph again,
and yet again. The words were clear and indisputable in their
meaning; they could not be misconstrued. There was but one river
Edera in the whole province, in the whole country; there could be no
doubt as to what river was meant; yet it seemed to him utterly
impossible that any such project could be conceived by any creature.
Divert the course of the Edera? He felt stupefied. He read the words
over and over again; then he read them aloud in the stillness of the
night, and his voice sounded strong in his own ears.

"It must be a misprint; it must be a mistake for the Era of Volterra,
or the Esino, north of Ancona," he said to himself, and he went to
his book closet and brought out an old folio geography which he had
once bought for a few pence on a Roman bookstall, spread it open
before him, and read one by one the names of all the streams of the
peninsula, from the Dora Baltea to the Giarretta. There was no other
Edera river. Unless it were indeed a misprint altogether, the stream
which flowed under his church walls was the one which was named in
the news-sheet.

"But it is impossible, it is impossible!" he said so loudly, that his
little dog awoke and climbed on his knee uneasily and in alarm. "What
could the people do? What could the village do, or the land or the
fisher folk? Are we to have drought added to hunger? Can they respect
nothing? The river belongs to the valley: to seize it, to appraise
it, to appropriate it, to make it away with it, would be as monstrous
as to steal his mother's milk from a yearling babe!"

He shut the folio and pushed it away from him across the table. "If
this is true," he said to himself, "if, anyhow, this monstrous thing
be true, it will kill Adone!"

In the morning he awoke from a short perturbed sleep with that heavy
sense of a vaguely remembered calamity which stirs in the awakening
brain like a worm in the unclosing flower.

The morning-office over, he sought out the little news-sheet, to make
sure that he had read aright; his servant had folded it up and laid
it aside on a shelf, he unfolded it with a hand which trembled; the
same lines stared at him in the warm light of sunrise as in the faint
glimmer of the floating wick. The very curtness and coldness of the
announcement testified to its exactitude. He did not any longer doubt
its truth; but there were no details, no explanations: he pondered on
the possibilities of obtaining them; it was useless to seek them in
the village or the countryside, the people were as ignorant as sheep.

Adone alone had intelligence, but he shrank from taking these tidings
to the youth, as he would have shrunk from doing him a physical hurt.
The news might be false or premature; many projects were discussed,
many schemes sketched out, many speculations set on foot which came
to nothing in the end: were this thing true, Adone would learn it all
too soon and read it on the wounded face of nature. Not at least
until he could himself be certain of its truth would he speak of it
to the young man whose fathers had been lords of the river.

His duties over for the forenoon, he went up the three hundred stairs
of his bell-tower, to the wooden platform, between the
machicolations. It was a dizzy height, and both stairs and roof were
in ruins, but he went cautiously, and was familiar with the danger.
The owls which bred there were so used to him that they did not stir
in their siesta as he passed them. He stood aloft in the glare of
noonday, and looked down on the winding stream as it passed under the
ruined walls of Ruscino, and growing, as it flowed, clearer and
clearer, and wilder and wilder, as it rushed over stones and
boulders, foaming and shouting, rushed through the heather on its way
towards the Marches. Under Ruscino it had its brown mountain colour
still, but as it ran it grew green as emeralds, blue as sapphires,
silver and white and gray like a dove's wings; it was unsullied and
translucent; the white clouds were reflected on it. It went through a
country lonely, almost deserted, only at great distances from one
another was there a group of homesteads, a cluster of stacks, a
conical cabin in some places where the woods gave place to pasture;
here and there were the ruins of a temple, of a fortress, of some
great marble or granite tomb; but there was no living creature in
sight except a troop of buffaloes splashing in a pool.

Don Silverio looked down on its course until his dazzled eyes lost it
from sight in the glory of light through which it sped, and his heart
sank, and he would fain have been a woman to have wept aloud. For he
saw that its beauty and its solitude were such as would likely enough
tempt the spoilers. He saw that it lay fair and defenceless as a
maiden on her bed.

He dwelt out of the world now, but he had once dwelt in it; and the
world does not greatly change, it only grows more rapacious. He knew
that in this age there is only one law, to gain; only one duty, to
prosper: that nature is of no account, nor beauty either, nor repose,
nor ancient rights, nor any of the simple claims of normal justice.
He knew that if in the course of the river there would be gold for
capitalists, for engineers, for attorneys, for deputies, for
ministers, that then the waters of the Edera were in all probability
doomed.

He descended the rotten stairs slowly, with a weight as of lead at
his heart. He did not any longer doubt the truth of what he had read.
Who, or what, shall withstand the curse of its time?

"They have forgotten us so long," he thought, with bitterness in his
soul. "We have been left to bury our dead as we would, and to see the
children starve as they might; they remember us now, because we
possess something which they can snatch from us!"

He did not doubt any more. He could only wait: wait and see in what
form and in what time the evil would come to them. Meantime, he said
to himself, he would not speak of it to Adone, and he burned the
news-sheet. Administrations alter frequently and unexpectedly, and
the money-changers, who are fostered by them, sometimes fall with
them, and their projects remain in the embryo of a mere prospectus.
There was that chance.

He knew that, in the age he lived in, all things were estimated only
by their value to commerce or to speculation; that there was neither
space nor patience amongst men for what was, in their reckoning,
useless; that the conqueror was now but a trader in disguise; that
civilisation was but the shibboleth of traffic; that because trade
follows the flag, therefore to carry the flag afar, thousands of
young soldiers of every nationality are slaughtered annually in
poisonous climes and obscure warfare, because such is the _suprema
lex_ and will of the trader. If the waters of Edera would serve to
grind any grit for the mills of modern trade they would be taken into
bondage with many other gifts of nature as fair and as free as they
were. All creation groaned and travailed in pain that the great
cancer should spread.

"It is not only ours," he remembered with a pang; on its way to and
from the Valdedera the river passed partially through two other
communes, and water belongs to the district in which it runs. True,
the country of each of these was like that of this valley,
depopulated and wild; but, however great a solitude any land may be,
it is still locally and administratively dependent on the chief town
of its commune. Ruscino and its valley were dependent on San Beda;
these two other communes were respectively under a little town of the
Abruzzo and under a seaport of the Adriatic.

The interest of the valley of the Edera in its eponymous stream was a
large share; but it was not more than a share, in this gift of
nature. If it came to any question of conflicting interests, Ruscino
and the valley might very likely be powerless, and could only, in any
event, be represented by and through San Beda; a strongly
ecclesiastical and papal little place, and, therefore, without
influence with the ruling powers, and consequently viewed with an
evil eye by the Prefecture.

He pondered anxiously on the matter for some days, then, arduous as
the journey was, he resolved to go to San Beda and inquire.

The small mountain city was many miles away upon a promontory of
marble rocks, and its many spires and towers were visible only in
afternoon light from the valley of the Edera. It was as old as
Ruscino, a dull, dark, very ancient place with monasteries and
convents like huge fortresses and old palaces still fortified and
grim as death amongst them. A Cistercian monastery, which had been
chiefly built by the second Giulio, crowned a prominent cliff, which
dominated the town, and commanded a view of the whole of the valley
of the Edera, and, on the western horizon, of the Leonessa and her
tributary mountains and hills.

He had not been there for five years; he went on foot, for there was
no other means of transit, and if there had been he would not have
wasted money on it; the way was long and irksome; for the latter
half, entirely up a steep mountain road. He started in the early
morning as soon as Mass had been celebrated, and it was four in the
afternoon before he had passed the gates of the town, and paid his
respects to the Bishop. He rested in the Certosa, of which the
superior was known to him; the monks, like the Bishop, had heard
nothing. So far as he could learn when he went into the streets no
one in the place had heard anything of the project to alter the
course of the river. He made the return journey by night, so as to
reach his church by daybreak, and was there in his place by the high
altar when the bell tolled at six o'clock, and the three or four old
people, who never missed an office, were kneeling on the stones.

He had walked over forty miles, and had eaten nothing except some
bread and a piece of dried fish. But he always welcomed physical
fatigue; it served to send to sleep the restless intellect, the
gnawing regrets, the bitter sense of wasted powers and of useless
knowledge, which were his daily company.

He had begged his friends, the friars, to obtain an interview with
the Syndic of Sand Beda, and interrogate him on the subject. Until he
should learn something positive he could not bring himself to speak
of the matter to Adone: but the fact of his unusual absence had too
much astonished his little community for the journey not to have been
the talk of Ruscino. Surprised and disturbed like others, Adone was
waiting for him in the sacristy after the first mass.

"You have been away a whole day and night and never told me,
reverendissimo!" he cried in reproach and amazement.

"I have yet to learn that you are my keeper," said Don Silverio with
a cold and caustic intonation.

Adone coloured to the roots of his curling hair.

"That is unkind, sir!" he said humbly; "I only meant that -- that --"

"I know, I know!" said the priest impatiently, but with contrition.
"You meant only friendship and good-will; but there are times when
the best intentions irk one. I went to see the Prior of the Certosa,
and old friend; I had business in San Beda."

Adone was silent, afraid that he had shown an unseemly curiosity; he
saw that Don Silverio was irritated and not at ease, and he hesitated
what words to choose.

His friend relented, and blamed himself for being hurried by
disquietude into harshness.

"Come and have a cup of coffee with me, my son," he said in his old,
kind tones. "I am going home to break my fast."

But Adone was hurt and humiliated, and made excuse of field work,
which pressed by reason of the weather, and so he did not name to his
friend and councillor the visit of the three men to the river.

Don Silverio went home and boiled his coffee; he always did this
himself; it was the only luxury he ever allowed himself, and he did
not indulge even in this very often. But for once the draught had
neither fragrance nor balm for him. He was overtired, weary in mind
as in body, and greatly dejected; even though nothing was known at
San Beda he felt convinced that what he had read was the truth.

He knew but little of affairs of speculation, but he knew that it was
only in reason to suppose that such projects would be kept concealed,
as long as might be expedient, from those who would be known to be
hostile to them, in order to minimise the force of opposition.





VI

On the morning of the fourth day which followed on the priest's visit
to San Beda, about ten in the forenoon, Adone, with his two oxen,
Orlando and Rinaldo, were near the river on that part of his land
which was still natural moorland, and on which heather, and ling, and
broom, and wild roses, and bracken grew together. He had come to cut
a waggon load of furze, and had been at work there since eight
o'clock, when he had come out of the great porch of the church after
attending mass, for it was the twentieth of June, the name-day of Don
Silverio.

Scarcely had that day dawned when Adone had risen and had gone across
the river to the presbytery, bearing with him a dozen eggs, two
flasks of his best wine, and a bunch of late-flowering roses. They
were his annual offerings on this day; he felt some trepidation as he
climbed the steep, stony, uneven street lest they should be rejected,
for he was conscious that three evenings before he had offended Don
Silverio, and had left the presbytery too abruptly. But his fears
were allayed as soon as he entered the house; the vicar was already
up and dressed, and was about to go to the church. At the young man's
first contrite words Don Silverio stopped him with a kind smile.

"I was impatient and to blame," he said as he took the roses. "You
heap coals of fire on my head, my son, with your welcome gifts."

Then together they had gone to the quaint old church of which the one
great bell was tolling.

Mass over, Adone had gone home, broken his fast, taken off his velvet
jacket, his long scarlet waistcoat, and his silver-studded belt, and
put the oxen to the pole of the waggon.

"Shall I come?" cried Nerina.

"No," he answered. "Go and finish cutting the oats in the triangular
field."

Always obedient, she went, her sickle swinging to her girdle. She was
sorry, but she never murmured.

Adone had been at work amongst the furze two hours when old Pierino,
who always accompanied the oxen, got up, growled, and then barked.

"What is it, old friend?" asked Adone, and left off his work and
listened. He heard voices by the waterside, and steps on the loose
shingle of its shrunken summer bed. He went out of the wild growth
round him and looked. There were four men standing and talking by the
water. They were doubtless the same persons as Nerina had seen, for
they were evidently men from a city and strangers. Disquietude and
offence took alarm in him at once.

He conquered that shyness which was natural to him, and which was due
to the sensitiveness of his temperament and the solitude in which he
had been reared.

"Excuse me, sirs," he said, as he advanced to them with his head
uncovered; "what is it you want with my river?"

"Your river!" repeated the head of the group, and he smiled. "How is
it more yours than your fellows?"

Adone advanced nearer.

"The whole course of the water belonged to my ancestors," he
answered, "and this portion at least is mine now; you stand on my
ground; I ask you what is your errand?"

He spoke with courtesy, but in a tone of authority which seemed to
the intruders imperious and irritating. But they controlled their
annoyance; they did not wish to offend this haughty young peasant.

"To be owner of the water it is necessary to own both banks of it,"
the stranger replied politely, but with some impatience. "The
opposite bank is communal property. Do not fear, however, whatever
your rights may be they will be carefully examined and considered."

"By whom? They concern only myself."

"None of our rights concern only ourselves. What are those which you
claim in special on the Edera water?"

Adone was silent for a few moments; he was astonished and
embarrassed; he had never reflected on the legal side of his claim to
the river; he had grown up in love and union with it; such
affections, born with us at birth, are not analysed until they are
assailed.

"You are strangers," he replied. "But what right do you question me?
I was born here. What is your errand?"

"You must be Adone Alba?" said the person, as if spokesman for the
others.

"I am."

"And you own the land known as the Terra Vergine?"

"I do."

"You will hear from us in due time, then. Meantime"

"Meantime you trespass on my ground. Leave it, sirs."

The four strangers drew a few paces, and conferred together in a low
tone, consulting a sheaf of papers. Their council over, he who
appeared the most conspicuous in authority turned again to the young
man, who was watching them with a vague apprehension which he could
not explain to himself.

"There is no question of trespass; the river-side is free to all,"
said the stranger, with some contempt. "Courtesy would become you
better, Sir Adone."

Adone coloured. He knew that courtesy was at all times wise, and
useful, and an obligation amongst men; but his anger was stronger
than his prudence and his vague alarm was yet stronger still.

"Say your errand with the water," he replied imperiously. "Then I can
judge of it. No one, sirs, comes hither against my will."

"You will hear from us in due time," answered the intruder. "And
believe me, young man, you may lose much, you cannot gain anything,
by rudeness and opposition."

"Opposition to what?"

The stranger turned his back upon him, rolled up his papers, spoke
again with his companions, and lifted from a large stone on which he
had placed it a case of surveyor's instruments. Adone went close up
to him. "Opposition to what? What is it you are doing here?"

"We are not your servants," said the gentleman with impatience. "Do
not attempt any brawling I advise you; it will tell against you and
cannot serve you in any way."

"The soil and the water are mine, and you meddle with them," said
Adone. "If you were honest men you would not be ashamed of what you
do, and would declare your errand. Brawling is not in my habit; but I
will drive my oxen over you. The land and the waters are mine."

The chief of the group gave a disdainful, incredulous gesture, but
the others pulled him by the sleeve and argued with him in low tones
and a strange tongue, which Adone thought was German. The leader of
the group was a small man with a keen and mobile face and piercing
eyes; he did not yield easily to the persuasions of his companions;
he was disposed to be combative; he was offended by what seemed to
him the insults of a mere peasant.

Adone went back to his oxen, standing dozing with drooped heads; he
gathered up the reins of rope and mounted the waggon, raising the
heads of the sleepy beasts. He held his goad in his hand; the golden
gorze was piled behind him; he was in full sunlight, his hair was
lifted by the breeze from his forehead; his face was flushed and set
and stern. They saw that he would keep his word and drive down on to
them, and make his oxen knock them down and the wheels grind their
bodies into pulp. They had no arms of any kind, they felt they had no
choice but to submit: and did so, with sore reluctance.

"He looks like a young god," said one of them with an angry laugh.
"Mortals cannot fight against the gods."

With discomfiture they retreated before him and went along the grassy
path northward, as Nerina had seen them do on the day of their first
arrival.

So far Adone had conquered.

But no joy or pride of a victor was with him. He stood and watched
them pass away with a heavy sense of impending ill upon him; the
river was flowing joyously, unconscious of its doom, but on him,
though he knew nothing, and conceived nothing, of the form which the
approaching evil would take, a great weight of anxiety descended.

He got down from the waggon when he had seen them disappear, and
continued his uninterrupted work amongst the furze; and he remained
on the same spot long after the waggon was filled, lest in his
absence the intruders should return. Only when the sun set did he
turn the heads of the oxen homeward.

He said nothing to the women, but when he had stalled and fed his
cattle he changed his leathern breeches and put a clean shirt on his
back, and went down the twilit fields and across the water to
Ruscino; he told his mother that he would sup with Don Silverio.

When Adone entered the book-room his friend was seated at a deal
table laden with volumes and manuscripts, but he was neither writing
nor reading, nor had he lighted his lamp. The moonlight shone through
the vine climbing up and covering the narrow window. He looked up and
saw by Adone's countenance that something was wrong.

"What are they coming for, sir, to the river?" said the young man as
he uncovered his head on the threshold of the chamber. Don Silverio
hesitated to reply; in the moonlight his features looked like a mask
of a dead man, it was so white and its lines so deep.

"Why do they come to the river, these strangers?" repeated Adone.
"They would not say. They were on my land. I threatened to drive my
cattle over them. Then they went. But can you guess, sir, why they
come?"

Don Silverio still hesitated. Adone repeated his question with more
insistence; he came up to the table and leaned his hands upon it, and
looked down on the face of his friend.

"Why do they come?" he repeated a fourth time. "They must have some
reason. Surely you know?"

"Listen, Adone, and control yourself," said Don Silverio. "I saw
something in a journal a few days ago which made me go to San Beda.
But there they knew nothing at all of what the newspaper had stated.
What I said startled and alarmed them. I begged the Prior to acquaint
me if he heard of any scheme affecting us. To-day, only, he has sent
a young monk over with a letter to me, for it was only yesterday that
he heard that there is a project in Rome to turn the river out of its
course, and use it for hydraulic power; to what purpose he does not
know. The townsfolk of San Beda are in entire sympathy with this
district and against the scheme, which will only benefit a foreign
syndicate. That is all I know, for it is all he knows; he took his
information direct from the syndic, Count Corradini. My boy, my dear
boy, control yourself!"

Adone had dropped down on a chair, and leaning his elbow on the table
hid his face upon his hands. A tremor shook his frame from head to
foot.

"I knew it was some deviltry," he muttered. "Oh, Lord! oh, Lord!
would that I had made the oxen trample them into thousand pieces!
They ought never to have left my field alive!"

"Hush, hush!" said the priest sternly. "I cannot have such language
in my house. Compose yourself."

Adone raised his head; his eyes were alight as with fire; his face
was darkly red.

"What, sir! You tell me the river is to be taken away from us, and
you ask me to be calm! It is not in human nature to bear such a wrong
in peace. Take away the Edera! Take away the water! They had better
cut our throats. What! a poor wretch who steals a few grapes off a
vine, a few eggs from a hen roost, is called a thief and hounded to
the galleys, and such robbery as this is to be borne in silence
because the thieves wear broadcloth! It cannot be. It cannot be; I
swear it shall never be whilst I have life. The river is mine. We
reigned here three hundred years and more; you have told me so. It is
written on the parchments. I will hold my own."

Don Silverio was silent; he was silent from remorse. He had told
Adone what, without him, Adone would have lived and died never
knowing or dreaming. He had thought only to stimulate the youth to
gentle conduct, honourable pride, perhaps to some higher use of his
abilities: no more than this.

He had never seen the young man thus violent and vehement; he had
always found him tranquil to excess, difficult to rouse, slow to
anger, indeed almost incapable of it; partaking of the nature of the
calm and docile cattle with whom so much of his time was passed. But
under the spur of an intolerable menace the warrior's blood which
slumbered in Adone leapt to action; all at once the fierce temper of
the lords of Ruscino displayed its fire and its metal; it was not the
peasant of the Terra Vergine who was before him now, but the heir of
the seigneury of the Rocca.

"It is not only what I told him of his race," he thought. "If he had
known nothing, none the less would the blood in his veins have
stirred and the past have moved him."

Aloud he said:

"My son, I feel for you from the depths of my soul. I feel with you
also. For if these foreigners take the river-water from us what will
become of my poor, desolate people, only too wretched already as they
are? You would not be alone in your desperation, Adone. But do not
let us take alarm too quickly. This measure is in gestation; but it
may never come to birth. Many such projects are discussed which from
one cause or another are not carried out; this one must pass through
many preliminary phases before it becomes fact. There must be surely
many vested rights which cannot with impunity be invaded. Take
courage. Have patience."

He paused, for he saw that for the first time since they had known
each other, Adone was not listening to him.

Adone was staring up at the moon which hung, golden and full, in the
dark blue sky, seeming framed in the leaves and coils of the vine.

"The river is mine," he muttered. "The river and I are as brothers.
They shall kill me before they touch the water."

"He will go mad or commit some great crime," thought his friend,
looking at him. "We must move every lever and strain every nerve, to
frustrate this scheme, to prevent this spoliation. But if the thieves
see money in it who shall stay their hands?"

He rose and laid his hands on Adone's shoulders.

"To-night you are in no fitting state for calm consideration of this
possible calamity. Go home, my son. Go to your room. Say nothing to
your mother. Pray and sleep. In the forenoon come to me and we will
speak of the measures which it may be possible to take to have this
matter examined and opposed. We are very poor; but still we are not
altogether helpless. Only, there must be no violence. You wrong
yourself and you weaken a good cause by such wild threats.
Good-night, my son. Go home."

The long habit of obedience to his superior, and the instinctive
docility of his temper compelled Adone to submit; he drew a long,
deep breath and the blood faded from his face.

Without a word he turned from the table and wept out of the
presbytery into the night and the white glory of the moonshine.





VII

Don Silverio drew to him his unfinished letter to the Prior; the
young monk who would take it back in the morning to San Beda was
already asleep in a little chamber above. But he could not write, he
was too perturbed and too anxious. Although he had spoken so calmly
he was full of carking care; both for the threatened evil in itself,
and for its effects upon his parishioners; and especially upon Adone.
He knew that in this age it is more difficult to check the devouring
monster of commercial covetousness than it ever was to stay the Bull
of Crete; and that for a poor and friendless community to oppose a
strong and wealthy band of speculators is indeed for the wooden lance
to shiver to atoms on the brazen shield.

He left his writing table and extinguished his lamp. Bidding the
little dog lie still upon his chair, he went through the house to a
door which opened from it into the bell tower of his church and which
allowed him to go from the house to the church without passing out
into the street. He climbed the belfry stairs once more, lighting
himself at intervals by striking a wooden match; for through the
narrow loopholes in the walls the moonbeams did not penetrate. He
knew the way so well that he could have gone up and down those
rotting stairs even in total darkness, and he safely reached the
platform of the bell tower, though one halting step might have sent
him in that darkness head foremost to his death.

He stood there, and gazed downwards on the moonlit landscape far
below, over the roofs and the walls of the village towards the open
fields and the river, with beyond that the wooded country and the
cultured land known as the Terra Vergine, and beyond those again the
moors, the marshes, and the mountains. The moonlight shone with
intense clearness on the waters of the Edera and on the stone
causeway of the old one-arched bridge. On the bridge there was a
figure moving slowly; he knew it to be that of Adone. Adone was going
home.

He was relieved from the pressure of one immediate anxiety, but his
apprehensions for the future were great, both for the young man and
for the people of Ruscino and its surrounding country. To take away
their river was to deprive them of the little which they had to make
life tolerable and to supply the means of existence. Its winter
overflow nourished the fields which they owned around it, and the
only cornmill of the district worked by a huge wheel in its water. If
the river were turned out of its course above Ruscino the whole of
this part of the vale would be made desolate.

Life was already hard for the human creatures in these fair scenes on
which he looked; without the river their lot would be intolerable.

"Forbid it, O Lord! Forbid this monstrous wrong," he said, as he stood
with bared head under the starry skies.

When the people of a remote place are smitten by a public power the
blow falls on them as unintelligible in its meaning, as invisible in
its agency, as a thunderbolt is to the cattle whom it slays in their
stalls. Even Don Silverio, with his classic culture and his
archæological learning, had little comprehension of the means and
methods by which these enterprises were combined and carried out; the
world of commerce and speculation is as aloof from the scholar and
the recluse as the rings of Saturn or the sun of Aldebaran. Its
mechanism, its intentions, its combinations, its manners of action,
its ways of expenditure, its intrigues with banks and governments:
all these, to men who dwell in rural solitudes, aloof from the babble
of crowds, are utterly unknown; the very language of the Bourses has
no more meaning to them than the jar of wheels or roar of steam.

He stood and looked with a sinking heart on the quiet, moonlit
country, and the winding course of the water where it flowed, now
silvery in the light, now black in the gloom, passing rapidly through
the heather and the sallows under the gigantic masses of the Etruscan
walls. It seemed to him to the full as terrible as to Adone; but it
did not seem to him so utterly impossible, because he knew more of
the ways of men and of their unhesitating and immeasurable cruelty
whenever their greed was excited. If the fury of speculation saw
desirable prey in the rape of the Edera then the Edera was doomed,
like the daughter of Ædipus or the daughter of Jephtha.

Adone had gone across the bridge, but he had remained by the
waterside.

"Pray and sleep!" Don Silverio had said in his last words. But to
Adone it seemed that neither prayer nor sleep would ever come to him
again so long as this impending evil hung over him and the water of
Edera.

He spent the first part of that summer night wandering aimlessly up
and down his own bank, blind to the beauty of the moonlight, deaf to
the songs of the nightingales, his mind filled with one thought. An
hour after midnight he went home and let himself into the silent
house by a small door which opened at the back, and which he used on
such rare occasions as he stayed out late. He struck a match and went
up to his room, and threw himself, dressed, upon his bed. His mother
was listening for his return, but she did not call to him. She knew
he was a man now, and must be left to his own will.

"What ails Adone that he is not home?" had asked old Gianna. Clelia
Alba had been herself perturbed by his absence at that hour, but she
had answered:--

"What he likes to tell, he tells. Prying questions make false
tongues. I have never questioned him since he was breeched."

"There are not many women like you," had said Gianna, partly in
admiration, half in impatience.

"Adone is a boy for you and me," had replied his mother. "But for
himself and for all others he is a man. We must remember it."

Gianna had muttered mumbled, rebellious words; he did not seem other
than a child to her; she had been one of those present at this birth
on the shining sands of the Edera.

He could not sleep. He could only listen to the distant murmur of the
river. With dawn the women awoke. Nerina came running down the steep
stone stair and went to let out and feed her charges, the fowls.
Gianna went to the well in the court with her bronze pitcher and
pail. Clelia Alba cut great slices of bread at the kitchen table; and
hooked the cauldron of maize flour to the chain above the fire on the
kitchen hearth. He could not wait for their greetings, their
questions, the notice which his changed mien would surely attract.
For the first time in all his twenty-four years of life he went out
of the house without a word to his mother, and took his way to the
river again; for the first time he was neglectful of his cattle and
forgetful of the land.

Nerina came in from the fowl-house with alarm on her face.

"Madama Clelia!" she said timidly, "Adone has gone away without
feeding and watering the oxen. May I do it?"

"Can you manage them, little one?"

"Oh, yes; they love me."

"Go then; but take care."

"She is a good child!" said Gianna. "The beasts won't hurt her. They
know their friends."

Clelia Alba, to whom her own and her son's dignity was dear, said
nothing of her own displeasure and surprise at Adone's absence. But
she was only the more distressed by it. Never, since he had been old
enough to work at all, had he been missing in the hours of labour.

"I only pray," she thought, "that no woman may have hold of him."

Adone hardly knew what he did; he was like a man who has had a blow
on the temple; his sight was troubled; his blood seemed to burn in
his brain. He wandered from habit through the field and down to the
river, to the spot where from his infancy he had been used to bathe.
He took off his clothes and waded into the water, which was cold as
snow after the night. The shock of the cold, and the sense of the
running current laving his limbs, restored him in a measure to
himself. He swam down the stream in the shadow of the early morning.
The air was full of the scent of dog-roses and flowering thyme; he
turned on his back and floated; between him and the sky a hawk
passed; the bell of the church was tolling for the diurnal mass. He
ran along in the sun, as it grew warm, to dry his skin by movement,
as his wont was. He was still stupefied by the fear which had fallen
upon him; but the water had cooled and braced him.

He had forgotten his mother, the cattle, the labours awaiting him;
his whole mind was absorbed in this new horror sprung up in his path,
none knew from where, or by whom begotten. The happy, unconscious
stream ran singing at his feet as the nightingale sang in the acacia
thickets, its brown mountain water growing green and limpid as it
passed over submerged grass and silver sand.

How could any thieves conspire to take it from the country in which
it was born? How could any dare to catch it, and imprison it, and put
it to vile uses? It was a living thing, a free thing, a precious
thing, more precious than jewel or gold. Both jewels and gold the law
protected. Could it not protect the Edera?

"Something must be done," he said to himself. "But what?"

He had not the faintest knowledge of what could or should be done; he
regretted that he had not written his mark with the horns and the
hoofs of his oxen on the foreign invaders; they might never again
fall into his power.

He had never felt before such ferocious or cruel instincts as arose
in him now. Don Silverio seemed to him tame and lukewarm before this
monstrous conspiracy of strangers. He knew that a priest must not
give way to anger; yet it seemed to him that even a priest should be
roused to fury here; there was a wrath which was holy.

When he was clothed he stood and looked down again at the gliding
stream.

A feeble, cracked voice called to him from the opposite bank.

"Adone, my lad, what is this tale?"

The speaker was an old man of eighty odd years, a native of Ruscino,
one Patrizio Cambi, who was not yet too feeble to cut the rushes and
osiers, and maintained a widowed daughter and her young children by
that means.

"What tale?" said Adone, unwilling to be roused from his own dark
thoughts. "What tale, Trizio?"

"That they are going to meddle with the river," answered the old man.
"They can't do it, can they?"

"What have you heard?"

"That they are going to meddle with the river."

"In what way?"

"The Lord knows, or the devil. There was a waggon with four horses
came as near as it could get to us in the woods yonder by Ruffo's,
and the driver told Ruffo that the gentry he drove had come by road
from that town by the sea-- I forget its name-- in order to see the
river, this river, our river; and that he had brought another posse
of gentry two weeks or more on the same errand, and that they were
a-measuring and a-plumbing it, and that they were going to get
possession of its somehow or other, but Ruffo could not hear anything
more than that; and I supposed that you knew, because this part of it
is yours if it be any man's; this part of it that runs through the
Terra Vergine."

"Yes, it is mine," answered Adone very slowly. "It is mine here, and
it was once ours from source to sea."

"Aye, it is ours!" said old Trizio Cambi mistaking him. He was a man
once tall, but now bent nearly double; he had a harsh, wrinkled face,
brown as a hazel nut, and he was nearly a skeleton; but he had eyes
which were still fine and still had some fire in them. In his youth
he had been a Garibaldino.

"It is ours," repeated Trizio. "At least if anything belongs to poor
folks. What say you, Adone?"

"Much belongs to the poor, but others take it from them," said Adone.
"You have seen a hawk take a sparrow, Trizio. The poor count no more
than the sparrows."

"But the water is the gift of God," said the old man.

Adone did not answer.

"What can we do?" said Trizio, wiping the dew off his sickle. "Who
knows aught of us? Who cares? If the rich folks want the river they
will take it, curse them!"

Adone did not answer. He knew that it was so, all over the earth.

"We shall know no more than birds tangled in a net," said Trizio.
"They will come and work their will."

Adone rose up out of the grass. "I will go and see Ruffo," he said.
He was glad to do something.

"Ruffo knows no more than that," said Trizio angrily. "The driver of
the horses knew no more."

Adone paid him no need, but began to push his way through the thick
network of the interlaced heather. He thought that perhaps Ruffo, a
man who made wooden shoes, and hoops for casks, and shaped chestnut
poles for vines, might tell him more than had been told to old
Trizio; might at least be able to suggest from what quarter and in
what shape this calamity was rising, to burst over their valley as a
hailstorm broods above, then breaks, on helpless fields and
defenceless gardens, beating down without warning the birds and the
blossoms of spring.

When he had been in Lombardy he had seen once a great steam-engine at
work, stripping a moorland of its natural growth and turning it into
ploughed land. He remembered how the huge machine with its stench of
oil and fire had forced its way through the furze and ferns and wild
roses and myrtle, and torn them up, and flung them on one side, and
scattered and trampled all the insect life, and all the bird life,
and all the hares, and field mice, and stoats, and hedgehogs, who
made their home there. "A fine sight," a man had said to him; and he
had answered, "A cursed wickedness." Was this what they would do to
the vale of Edera? If they took the river they could not spare the
land. He felt scared, bruised, terrified, like one of these poor
moorland hares. He remembered a poor stoat which, startled out of its
sleep, had turned and bitten one of the iron wheels of the machine,
and the wheel had gone over it and crushed it into a mass of blood
and fur. He was as furious and as helpless as the stoat had been.

But when he had walked the four miles which separated the Terra
Vergine from the chestnut woods where the maker of wooden shoes
lived, he heard nothing else from Ruffo than this: that gentlemen had
come from Teramo to study the Edera water; they were going to turn it
aside and use it; more than that the man who had driven them had not
heard and could not explain.

"There were four horses, and he had nothing to give them but water
and grass," said the cooper. "The gentry brought wine and food for
themselves. They came the day before yesterday and slept here. They
went away this morning. They paid me well, oh, very well. I did what
I could for them. It is five-and-thirty miles if one off Teramo, aye,
nearer forty. They followed the old posting road; but you know where
it enters the woods it is all overgrown, and gone to rack and ruin,
from want of use. In my grandfather's time it was a fine, well-kept
highway, with posthouses every ten miles, though a rare place for
robbery; but nowadays nobody wants it at all, for nobody comes or
goes. It will soon be blocked, so the driver says; it will soon be
quite choked up what with brambles, and rocks, and fallen trees, and
what not. He was black with rage, for he was obliged to go back as he
had come, and he said he had been cheated into the job."

Adone listened wearily to the garrulous Ruffo, who emphasised each
phrase with a blow of his little hammer on a shoe. He had wasted all
his morning hours, and learned nothing. He felt like a man who is
lost in a strange and deserted country at night; he could find no
clue, could see no light. Perhaps if he went to the seaport town,
which was the Prefecture, he might hear something?

But he had never left the valley of the Edera except for that brief
time which he had passed under arms in the north. He felt that he had
no means, no acquaintance, no knowledge, whereby he could penetrate
the mystery of this scheme. He did not even know the status of the
promoters, or the scope of their speculation. The Prefecture was
placed in a port on the Adriatic which had considerable trade to the
Dalmatian and Greek coasts, but he scarcely knew its name. If he went
there what could he do or learn? Would the stones speak, or the waves
tell that which he thirsted to know? What use was the martial blood
in his veins? He could not strike an invisible foe.

"Don't go to meet trouble half way," said the man Ruffo, meaning
well. "I may have mistaken the driver. They cannot take hold of a
river, how should they? Water slips through your fingers. Where it
was set running in the beginning of the world, there it will go on
running till the crack of doom. Let them look; let them prate; they
can't take it."

But Adone's reason would not allow him to be so consoled.

He understood a little of what hydraulic science can compass; he knew
what canalisation meant, and its assistance to traffic and trade; he
had seen the waterworks on the Po, on the Adige, on the Mincio; he
had heard how the Velino had been enslaved for the steel foundry of
Terni, how the Nerino fed the ironworks of Narni; he had seen the
Adda captive at Lodi, and the lakes held in bond at Mantua; he had
read of the water drawn from Monte Amiata; and not very many miles
off him, in the Abruzzo, was that hapless Fuscino, which had been
emptied and dried up by rich meddlers of Rome.

He knew also enough of the past to know how water had been forced to
serve the will and the wants of the Roman Consulate and the Roman
empire, of how the marble aqueducts had cast the shadow of their
arches over the land, and how the provinces had been tunnelled and
bridged and canalised and irrigated, during two thousand years, by
those whose bones were dust under the Latin soil. He could not wholly
cheat himself, as these unlettered men could do; he knew that if the
commerce which has succeeded the Caesars as ruler of the world
coveted the waters of Edera, the river was lost to the home of its
birth and to him.

"How shall I tell my mother?" he asked himself as he walked back
through the fragrant and solitary country. He felt ashamed at his own
helplessness and ignorance. If courage could have availed anything he
would not have been wanting; but all that was needed here was a
worldly and technical knowledge, of which he possessed no more than
did the trout in the stream.

As he neared his home, pushing his way laboriously through the
interlaced bracken and heaths which had never been cut for a score of
years, he saw approaching him the tall, slender form of Don Silverio,
moving slowly, for the heather was breast high, his little dog
barking at a startled wood-pigeon.

"They are anxious about you at your house," Don Silverio said with
some sternness. "Is it well to cause your mother this disquietude?"

"No, it is not well," replied Adone. "But how can I see her and not
tell her, and how can I tell her this thing?"

"Women to bear trouble are braver than men," said the priest. "They
have more patience in pain than we. I have said something to her; but
we need not yet despair. We know nothing of any certainty. Sometimes
such schemes are abandoned at the last moment because too costly or
too unremunerative. Sometimes they drag on for half a lifetime; and
at the end nothing comes of them."

"You have told my mother?"

"I told her what troubles you, and made you leave your work undone.
The little girl was feeding the cattle."

Adone coloured. He was conscious of the implied rebuke.

"Sir," he said in a low tone, "if this accursed thing comes to pass
what will become of us? What I said in my haste last night I say in
cold reason to-day."

"Then you are wrong, and you will turn a calamity into a curse. Men
often do so."

"It is more than a calamity."

"Perhaps. Would not some other grief be yet worse? If you were
stricken with blindness?"

"No; I should still hear the river running."

Don Silverio looked at him. He saw by the set, sleepless, reckless
look on his face that the young man was in no mood to be reached by
any argument, or to be susceptible to either rebuke or consolation.
The time might come when he would be so; but that time was far off he
feared. The evenness, the simplicity, the loneliness of Adone's
existence, made it open to impressions, and absorbed by them, as busy
and changeful lives never are; it was like the heather plants around
them, it would not bear transplanting; its birthplace would be its
tomb.

"Let us go back to your mother," he said. "Why should you shun her?
What you feel she feels also. Why leave her alone?"

"I will go home," said Adone.

"Yes, come home. You must see that there is nothing to be done or to
be learned as yet. When they know anything fresh at San Beda they
will let me know. The Prior is a man of good faith."

Adone turned on him almost savagely; his eyes were full of sullen
anger.

"And I am to bear my days like this? Knowing nothing, hearing
nothing, doing nothing to protect the water that is as dear to me as
a brother, and the land which is my own? What will the land be
without the river? You forget, sir, you forget!"

"No, I do not forget," said Don Silverio without offence. "But I ask
you to hear reason. What can you possibly do? Think you no man has
been wronged before you? Think you that you alone here will suffer?
The village will be ruined. Do you feel for yourself alone?"

Adone seemed scarcely to hear. He was like a man in a fever who sees
one set of images and cannot see anything else.

"Sir," he said suddenly, "why will you not go to Rome?"

"To Rome?" echoed the priest in amazement.

"There alone can the truth of this thing be learned," said Adone. "It
is to Rome that the promoters of this scheme must carry it; there to
be permitted or forbidden as the Government chooses. All these things
are brought about by bribes, by intrigues, by union. Without
authority from high office they cannot be done. We here do not even
know who are buying or selling us--"

"No, we do not," said Don Silverio; and he thought, "When the
cart-horse is bought by the knacker what matter to him the name of
his purchaser or his price?"

"Sir," said Adone, with passionate entreaty. "Do go to Rome. There
alone can the truth be learnt. You, a learned man, can find means to
meet learned people. I would go, I would have gone yesternight, but,
when I should get there, I know no more than a stray dog where to go
or from whom to inquire. They would see I am a country fellow. They
would shut the doors in my face. But you carry respect with you. No
one would dare to flout you. You could find ways and means to know
who moves this scheme, how far it is advanced, what chance there is
of our defeating it. Go, I beseech you, go!"

"My son, you amaze me," said Don Silverio. "I? In Rome? I have not
stirred out of this district for eighteen years. I am nothing. I have
no voice. I have no weight. I am a poor rural vicar buried here for
punishment."

He stopped abruptly, for no complaint of the injustice from which he
suffered had ever in those eighteen years escaped him.

"Go, go," said Adone. "You carry respect with you. You are learned
and will know how to find those in power and how to speak to them.
Go, go! Have pity on all of us, your poor, helpless, menaced people."

Don Silverio was silent.

Was it now his duty to go into the haunts of men, as it had been his
duty to remain shut up in the walls of Ruscino? The idea appalled
him.

Accomplished and self-possessed though he was, his fine mind and his
fine manners had not served wholly to protect him from that rust and
nervousness which come from the disuse of society and the absence of
intercourse with equals.

It seemed to him impossible that he could again enter cities, recall
usages, seek out acquaintances, move in the stir of streets, and wait
in antechambers.

That was the life of the world; he had done with it, forsworn it
utterly, both by order of his superiors and by willing
self-sacrifice. Yet he knew that Adone was right. It was only from
men of the world and amongst them, it was only in the great cities,
that it was possible to follow up the clue of such speculations as
now threatened the vale of Edera.

The young man he knew could not do what was needed, and certainly
would get no hearing--a peasant of the Abruzzo border, who looked
like a figure of Giorgione's, and would probably be arrested as an
anarchist if he were to endeavour to enter any great house or public
office. But to go to Rome himself! To revisit the desecrated city!
This seemed to him a pilgrimage impossible except for the holiest
purpose. He felt as if the very stones of Trastevere would rise up
and laugh at him, a country priest with the moss and the mould of a
score of years passed in rural obscurity upon him. Moreover, to
revisit Rome would be to tear open wounds long healed. There his
studious youth had been passed, and there his ambitious dreams had
been dreamed.

"I cannot go to Rome," he said abruptly. "Do not ask me, I cannot go
to Rome."

"Then I will go," said Adone; "and if in no other way, I will force
myself into the king's palace and make him hear."

"And his guards will seize you, and his judges will chain you up in a
solitary cell for life! Do not say such mad things. What could the
king reply, even if he listened, which he would not do? He would say
that these things were for ministers and prefects and surveyors and
engineers to judge of, not for him or you. Be reasonable, Adone; do
not speak or act like a fool. This is the first grief you have known
in your life, and you are distraught by it. That is natural enough,
my poor boy. But you exaggerate the danger. It must be far off as
yet. It is a mere project."

"And I am to remain here, tilling the land in silence and inaction
until, one day without notice, I shall see a crowd of labourers at
work upon the river, and shall see appraisers measuring my fields!
You know that is how things are done. You know the poor are always
left in the dark until all is ripe for their robbery. Look you, sir,
if you go to Rome I will wait in such patience as I can for whatever
you may learn. But if you do not go, I go, and if I can do no better
I will take the king by the throat."

"I have a mind to take you by the throat myself," said Don Silverio,
with an irritation which he found it hard to control. "Well, I will
think over what you wish, and if I find it possible, if I think it
justified, if I can afford the means, if I can obtain the permission,
for such a journey, I will go to Rome; for your sake, for your
mother's sake. I will let you know my decision later. Let us walk
homeward. The sun is low. At your house the three women must be
anxious."

Adone accompanied him in silence through the heather, of which the
blossoming expanse was reddening in the light of the late afternoon
until the land looked a ruby ocean. They did not speak again until
they reached the confines of the Terra Vergine.

Then Don Silverio took the path which went through the pasture to the
bridge, and Adone turned towards his own dwelling.

"Spare your mother. Speak gently," said the elder man; the younger
man made a sign of assent and of obedience.

"He will go to Rome," said Adone to himself, and almost he regretted
that he had urged the journey, for in his own veins the fever of
unrest and the sting of fierce passions were throbbing, and he panted
and pined for action. He was the heir of the lords of the river.





VIII

Like the cooper Ruffo, Clelia Alba had received the tidings with
incredulity, though aghast at the mere suggestion.

"It is impossible," she said. She had seen the water there ever since
she had been a babe in swaddling clothes.

"It is not possible," she said, "that any man could be profane enough
to alter the bed which heaven had given it."

But she was sorely grieved to see the effect such a fear had upon
Adone.

"I was afraid it was a woman," she thought; "but this thing, could it
be true, would be worse than any harlot or adulteress. If they took
away the river the land would perish. It lives by the river."

"The river is our own as far as we touch it," she said aloud to her
son; "but it was the earth's before it was ours. To sever water from
the land it lives in were worse than to snatch a child from its
mother's womb."

Adone did not tell her that water was no more sacred than land to the
modern contractor. She would learn that all to soon if the conspiracy
against the Edera succeeded. But he tried to learn from her what
legal rights they possessed to the stream: what had his father
thought? He knew well that his old hereditary claim to the Lordship
of Ruscino, however capable of proof, would be set aside as fantastic
and untenable; but their claim to the water through the holding of
Terra Vergine could surely not be set aside.

"Your father never said aught about the water that I can remember,"
she answered. "I think he would no more have thought it needful to
say it was his than to say that you were his son. It is certain we
are writ down in the district as owners of the ground; we pay taxes
for it; and the title of the water must be as one with that."

"So say I; at least over what runs through our fields we, alone, have
any title, and for that title I will fight to the death," said Adone.
"River rights go with the land through which the river passes."

"But, my son," she said with true wisdom, "your father would never
have allowed any danger to the water to make him faithless to the
land. If you let this threat, this dread, turn you away from your
work; if you let your fears make you neglect your field and your
olives, and your cattle and your vines, you will do more harm to
yourself than the worst enemy can do you. To leave a farm to itself
is to call down the vengeance of heaven. A week's abandonment undoes
the work of years. I and Gianna and the child do what we can, but we
are women, and Nerina is young."

"No doubt you speak wisely, mother," replied Adone humbly. "But of
what use is it to dress and manure a vine, if the accursed phylloxera
be in its sap and at its root? What use is it to till these lands if
they be doomed to perish from thirst?"

"Do your best," said his mother, "then the fault will not lie with
you, whatever happen."

The counsel was sound; but to Adone all savour and hope were gone out
of his labour. When he saw the green gliding water shine through the
olive branches, and beyond the foliage of the walnut-trees, his arms
fell nerveless to his side, his throat swelled with sobs, which he
checked as they rose, but which were only the more bitter for
that--all the joy and the peace of his day's work were gone.

It was but a small space of it to one whose ancestors had reigned
over the stream from its rise in the oak woods to its fall into the
sea; but he thought that no one could dispute or diminish or
disregard his exclusive possession of the Edera water where it ran
through his fields. They could not touch that, even if they seized it
lower down, where it ran through other communes. Were they to take it
above his land, above the bridge of Ruscino, its bed here would be
dried up, and his homestead and the village both be ruined. The
clear, intangible right which he meant to defend at any cost, in any
manner, was his right to have the river run untouched through his
fields. The documents which proved the rights of the great extinct
Seigneury might be useless, but the limited, shrunken right of the
peasant ownership was as unassailable as his mother's right to the
three strings of pearls; or so he believed.

The rights of the Lords of Ruscino might be but shadows of far-off
things, things of tradition, of history, of romance, but the rights
of the peasant proprietors of the Terra Vergine must, he thought, be
respected if there were any justice upon earth, for they were plainly
writ down in the municipal registers of San Beda. To rouse others to
defend their equal rights in the same way, from the source of the
Edera to its union with the Adriatic, seemed to him the first effort
to be made. He was innocent enough to believe that it would suffice
to prove that its loss would be their ruin to obtain redress at once.

Whilst Don Silverio was still hesitating as to what seemed to him
this momentous and painful journey to Rome his mind was made up by a
second letter received from the Superior of the Certosa at San Beda,
the friend to whom he had confided the task of inquiring as to the
project for the Edera.

This letter was long, and in Latin. They were two classics, who liked
thus to refresh themselves and each other with epistles such as St.
Augustine or Tertullian might have penned. The letter was of elegant
scholarship, but its contents were unwelcome. It said that the Most
Honourable the Syndic of San Beda had enjoyed a conference with the
Prefect of the province, and it had therein transpired that the
project for the works upon the river Edera had been long well known
to the Prefect, and that such project was approved by the existing
Government, and therefore by all the Government officials, as was but
natural. It was not admitted that the Commune of San Beda had any
local interest or local right sufficiently strong to oppose the
project, as such a claim would amount to a monopoly, and no monopoly
could exist in a district through which a running river partially
passed, and barely one-fifth of the course of this stream lay through
that district known as the valley of the Edera. The entire
Circondario, except the valley, was believed to be in favour of the
project, which the Prefect informed the Syndic could not be otherwise
than most favourable to the general interests of the country at
large.

"Therefore, most honoured and revered friend," wrote the Superior of
the Cistercians, "his most esteemed worship does not see his way to
himself suggest opposition to this course in our Town Council, or in
our Provincial Council, and the Most Worshipful the Assessors do not
either see theirs; it being, as you know, an equivocal and onerous
thing for either council to express or suggest in their assembly
views antagonistic to those of the Prefecture, so that I fear, most
honoured and reverend friend, it will not be in my power farther to
press this matter, and I fear also that your parish of Ruscino, being
isolated and sparsely populated, and its chief area uncultivated,
will be possessed of but one small voice in this matter, the
interests of the greater number being always in such a case
preferred."

Don Silverio read the letter twice, its stately and correct Latinity
not serving to disguise the mean and harsh fact of its truly modern
logic. "Because we are few and poor and weak we have no rights!" he
said bitterly. "Because the water comes from others, and goes to
others, it is not ours whilst in our land!"

He did not blame his friend at San Beda.

Ecclesiastics existed only on sufferance, and any day the Certosa
might be closed if its inmates offended the ruling powers. But the
letter, nevertheless, lay like a stone on his heart. All the
harshness, the narrowness, the disregard of the interests of the
weak, the rude, rough, tyrannical pressing onward of the strong to
their own selfish aims, all the characteristics of the modern world
seemed to find voice in it and jeer at him.

It was not for the first time in his life that he had pressed against
the iron gates of interest and formula and oppression, and only
bruised his breast and torn his hands.

He had a little sum of money put by in case of illness and for his
burial; that was the only fund on which he could draw to take him to
Rome and keep him when there, and it was so small that it would be
soon exhausted. He passed the best part of the night doubting which
way his duty pointed. He fasted, prayed, and communed with his soul,
and at length it seemed to him as if a voice from without said to
him, "Take up your staff, and go." For the journey appalled him, and
where his inclination pointed he had taught himself to see error. He
shrank inexpressibly from going into the noise and glare and crowd of
men; he clung to his solitude as a timid animal to its lair; and
therefore he felt persuaded that he ought to leave Ruscino on his
errand, because it was so acutely painful to him.

Whilst he should be gone Adone at least would do nothing rash; would
of course await the issue of his investigations. Time brings council,
and time, he hoped, would in this instance befriend him. He had
already obtained the necessary permission to leave his parish; he
then asked for a young friend from San Beda to take his place in the
village; left his little dog to the care of Nerina; took his small
hoard in a leathern bag strapped to his loins, and went on his way at
daybreak along the southwest portion of the valley, to cover on foot
the long distance which lay between him and the nearest place at
which a public vehicle went twice a week to a railway station; whence
he could take the train to Terni and so to Rome.

Adone accompanied him the first half of the way, but they said little
to one another; their hearts were full. Adone could not forget the
rebuke given to him, and Don Silverio was too wise a man to lean
heavily on a sore and aching wound, or repeat counsels already given
and rejected.

At the third milestone he stopped and begged, in a tone which was a
command, the young man to return home.

"Do not leave your land for me," he said. "Every hour is of gold at
this season. Go back, my son! I pray that I may bring you peace."

"Give me your blessing," said Adone meekly, and he knelt down in the
dust of the roadside. His friend gave it; then their hands met in
silent farewell.

The sun had risen, and the cold clear air was yielding to its rays.
The young man reluctantly turned back, and left the priest to go
onward alone, a tall, dark figure in the morning light; the river
running between acacia thickets and rushes on his right. Before long
he was forced to leave the course of the stream, and ascend a rugged
and precipitous road which mounted southward and westward through oak
woods into the mountains between the Leonessa and Gran Sasso, until
it reached a shrunken, desolate village, with fine Etruscan and Roman
remains left to perish, and a miserable hostelry, with the miserable
diligences starting from it on alternate days, the only remains of
its former posting activity. There he arrived late in the evening,
and broke his fast on a basin of bean soup, then rested on a bench,
for he could not bring himself to enter the filthy bed which was
alone to be obtained, and spent the following morning examining the
ancient ruins, for the conveyance did not start until four o'clock in
the afternoon. When that hour came he made one of the travellers, all
country folks, who were packed close as pigeons in a crate in the
ramshackle, noisy, broken-down vehicle, which lumbered on its way
behind its lean and suffering horses, through woods and hills and
along mountain passes of a grandeur and a beauty on which the eyes of
educated travellers rarely looked.

The journey by this conveyance occupied seven hours, and he was
obliged to wait five more at that village station which was the
nearest point at which he could meet the train which went from Terni
to Rome. Only parliamentary trains stop at such obscure places; and
this one seemed to him slower even than the diligence had been. It
was crammed with country lads going to the conscription levy in the
capital: some of them drunk, some of them noisy and quarrelsome, some
in tears, some silent and sullen, all of them sad company. The dusty,
stinking, sun-scorched waggons, open one to another, with the stench
of hot unwashed flesh, and the clouds of dust driven through the
unglazed windows, seemed to Don Silverio a hell of man's own making,
and in remembrance his empty quiet room, with its vine-hung window,
at Ruscino, seemed by comparison a lost heaven.

To think that there were thousands of men who travelled thus, every
day of every year, in every country, many of them from no obligation
whatever, but from choice!

"What lunatics, what raving idiots we should look to Plato or to
Socrates, could they see us!" he thought. Was what is called progress
anything else except increased insanity in human life?

He leaned back in his corner, and bore the dust in his eyes and his
throat as best he might, and spoke a few kind words to the boys
nearest to him, and felt as if every bone in his body was broken as
the wooden and iron cage shook him from side to side. The train
stopped finally in that area of bricks and mortar and vulgarity and
confusion where once stood the Baths of Diocletian. It was late in
the night when he heard the name of Rome.

No scholar can hear that name without emotion. On him it smote with a
keen personal pain, awakening innumerable memories, calling from
their graves innumerable dreams.

He had left it a youth, filled with all the aspirations, the fire,
the courage, the faith, of a lofty and spiritual temper. He returned
to it a man aged before his time, worn, weary, crushed, spiritless,
with no future except death.

He descended from the waggon with the crowd of jaded conscripts and
mingled with that common and cosmopolitan crowd which now defiles the
city of the Caesars. The fatigue of his body, and the cramped pain of
his aching spine, added to the moral and the mental suffering which
was upon him as he moved a stranger and alone along the new,
unfamiliar streets where, alone here and there, some giant ruin, some
stately arch, some marble form of god or prophet, recalled to him the
Urbs that he had known.

But he remembered the mission on which he came; and he rebuked his
self-indulgence in mourning for his own broken fate.

"I am a faithless servant and a feeble friend," he thought in
self-reproach. "Let me not weaken my poor remnant of strength in
egotism and repining. I come hither for Adone and the Edera. Let me
think of my errand only; not of myself, nor even of this desecrated
city."






IX

It was now the season to plough the reapen fields, and he had always
taken pleasure in his straight furrows; as straight as though
measured by a rule on the level lands; and of the skill with which on
the hilly ground Orlando and Rinaldo moved so skillfully, turning in
so small a space, answering to every inflection of his voice, taking
such care not to break a twig of the fruit trees, or bend a shoot of
the vines, or graze a stem of the olives.

"Good hearts, dear hearts, faithful friends and trusty servants!" he
murmured to the oxen. He leaned his bare arms on the great
fawn-coloured flanks of Orlando, and his forehead on his arms, which
grew wet with hidden tears.

The cattle stood motionless, breathing loudly through their distended
nostrils, the yokes on their shoulders crinking, their hides
twitching under the torment of the flies. Nerina, who had been
washing linen in the Edera, approached through the olives; she
hesitated a few minutes, then put the linen down off her head on to
the grass, gathered some plumes of featherfew and ferns, and brushed
the flies off the necks of the oxen. Adone started, looked up in
displeasure at being thus surprised, then, seeing the intruder was
only the little girl, he sat down on the side of the plough, and made
believe to break his noon-day bread.

"You have no wine," said the child. "Shall I run to the house for a
flask?"

"No, my dear, no. If I am athirst there is water -- as yet there is
water!" he murmured bitterly, for the menace of this impending horror
began to grow on him with the fixity and obsession of a mania.

Nerina continued to fan the cattle and drive off the flies from their
necks. She looked at him wistfully from behind the figures of the
stately animals. She was afraid of the sorrow which was in the air.
No one had told her what the evil was which hung over the Terra
Vergine; and she never asked questions. The two elder women never
took her into their confidence on any subject, and she had no
communication with the few people in Ruscino. She had seen that
something was wrong, but she could not guess what: something which
made Madonna Clelia's brows dark, and Gianna's temper bad, and Adone
himself weary and ill at ease.

Seeing him sitting there, not eating, throwing his bread to some wild
pigeons which followed the plough, she plucked up courage to speak;
he was always kind to her, though he noticed her little.

"What is it that ails you all?" she asked. "Tell me, Adone, I am not
a foolish thing to babble."

He did not answer. What use were words? Deeds were wanted.

"Adone, tell me," she said in a whisper; "what is this that seems to
lie like a stone on you all? Tell me why Don Silverio has gone away.
I will never tell again."

There was a pathetic entreaty in the words which touched and roused
him; there was in it the sympathy which would not criticise or doubt,
and which is to the sore heart as balm and soothes it by its very
lack of reason.

He told her; told her the little that he knew, the much that he
feared; he spent all the force of his emotion in the narrative.

The child leaned against the great form of the ox and listened, not
interrupting by a word or cry.

She did not rebuke him as Don Silverio had done, or reproach him as
did his mother; she only listened with a world of comprehension in
her eyes more eloquent than speech, not attempting to arrest the fury
of imprecation or the prophecies of vengeance which poured from his
lips. Hers was that undoubting, undivided, implicit faith which is so
dear to the wounded pride and impotent strength of a man in trouble
who is conscious that what he longs to do would not be approved by
law or sanctioned by religion. That faith spoke in her eyes, in her
absorbed attention, in the few breathless sentences which escaped
her; there was also on her youthful face a set, stern anger akin to
his own.

"Could we not slay these men?" she said in a low, firm voice; she
came of a mountain race by whom life was esteemed little and revenge
honour.

"We must not even say such a thing," said Adone bitterly, in whose
ears the rebuke of Don Silverio still rang. "In these days everything
is denied us, even speech. If we take our rights we are caged in
their prisons."

"But what will you do, then?"

"For the moment I wait to learn more. These things are done in the
dark, or at least in no light that we can see. To kill these men as
you wish, little one, would do nothing. Others of their kind would
fill their places. The seekers of gold are like ants. Slay thousands,
tens of thousands come on; if once the scent of gain be on the wind
it brings men in crowds from all parts, as the smell of carrion
brings meat-flies. If they think of seizing the Edera it is because
men of business will turn it into gold. The Edera gives us our grain,
our fruits, our health, our life; but if it will give money to the
foreigner, the foreigner will take it as he would take the stars and
coin them if he could. The brigand of the hills is caged or shot; the
brigand of the banks is allowed to fatten and die in the odour of
success. There are two measures."

Nerina failed to understand, but her own mind was busy with what
seemed to her this monstrous injustice.

"But why do they let them do it? They take and chain the men who rob
a traveller or a house."

Adone cast his last atom of bread to the birds.

"There are two measures," he answered. "Kill one, you go to the
galleys for life. Kill half a million, you are a hero in history, and
get in your own generation titles, and money, and applause."

"Baruffo was a good man and my father's friend," Nerina said,
following her own thoughts. "Baruffo was in the oak woods always, far
below us, but he often brought us wine and game at night, and
sometimes money too. Baruffo was a good man. He was so kind. Twice my
father aided him to escape. But one night they seized him; there was
a whole troop of carabineers against him, they took him in a trap,
they could never have got him else, and I saw him brought down the
mountain road and I ran and kissed him before they could stop me; and
he never came back -- they kept him."

"No doubt they kept him," said Adone bitterly. "Baruffo was a peasant
outlawed; if he had been a banker, or a minister, or a railway
contractor, he might have gone on thieving all his life, and met only
praise. They keep poor Baruffo safe in their accursed prisons, but
they will take care never to keep, or take even for a day,
law-breakers whose sins are far blacker than his, and whose victims
are multitudes."

"If Baruffo were here he would help you," said Nerina. "He was such a
fine strong man and had no fear."

Adone rose and put his hands on the handles of the plough.

"Take up your linen, little one," he said to the girl, "and go home,
or my mother will be angry with you for wasting time."

Nerina came close to him and her brown dog-like eyes looked up like a
dog's into his face.

"Tell me what you do, Adone," she said beseechingly, "I will tell no
one. I was very little when Baruffo came and went to and fro in our
hut; but I had sense; I never spoke. Only when the guards had him I
kissed him, because then it did not matter what they knew; there was
no hope."

"Yes, I will tell you," said Adone. "Maybe I shall end like Baruffo."

Then he called on Orlando and Rinaldo by their names, and they
lowered their heads and strained at their collars, and with a mighty
wrench of their loins and shoulders they forced the share through the
heavy earth.

Nerina stood still and looked after him as he passed along under the
vine-hung trees.

"Baruffo may have done some wrong," she thought, "but Adone, he has
done none, he is as good as if he were a saint of God, and if he
should be obliged to do evil it will be no fault of his, but because
other men are wicked."

Then she put the load of linen on her head, and went along the grassy
path homeward, and she saw the rosy gladioli, and the golden tansy,
by which she passed through tears. Yet she was glad because Adone had
trusted her; and because she now knew as much as the elder women in
his house, who had put no confidence in her.





X

"I SHALL not write," Don Silverio had said to Adone. "As soon as I
know anything for certain I shall return. Of that you may be sure."

For he knew that letters took a week or more to find their slow way
to Ruscino, and he hoped to return in less than that time; having no
experience of "what hell it is in waiting to abide," and of the
endless doublings and goings to earth of that fox-like thing, a
modern speculation; he innocently believed that he would only have to
ask a question to have it answered.

Day after day Adone mounted to the bell-tower roof, and gazed over
the country in vain. Day after day the little dog escaped from the
custody of Nerina, trotted over the bridge, pattered up the street,
and ran whining into his master's study. Every night the people of
Ruscino hung up a lantern on a loophole of the belfry, and another on
the parapet of the bridge, that their pastor might not miss his way
if he were coming on foot beside the river; and every night Adone
himself watched on the river bank or by the town wall, sleepless,
longing for, yet dreading that which he should hear. But more than a
week passed, and the priest did not return. The anxiety of Adone
consumed him like fire. He strove to dull his anxiety by incessant
work, but it was too acute to be soothed by physical fatigue. He
counted the days and the hours, and he could not sleep. The women
watched him in fear and silence; they dared ask nothing, lest they
should wound him. Only Nerina whispered to him once or twice in the
fields, "Where is he gone? When will he come back?"

"God knows!" he answered. Every evening that he saw the sun set
beyond the purple line of the mountains which were heaped in their
masses of marble and snow between him and the Patrimonium Petrus, he
felt as if he could never bear another night. He could hear the
clear, fresh sound of the running river, and it seemed to him like
the voice of some friend crying aloud to him in peril. Whilst these
summer days and nights sped away what was being done to save it? He
felt like a coward; like one who stands by and sees a comrade
murdered. In his solitude and apprehension he began to lose all
self-control; he imagined impossible things; he began to see in his
waking dreams, as in a nightmare, the dead body of Don Silverio lying
with a knife in its breast in some cut-throat alley of Rome. For two
weeks passed, and there was no sign of his return, and no message
from him.

The poor people of Ruscino also were troubled. Their vicar had never
left them before. They did not love him; he was too unlike them; but
they honoured him, they believed in him; he was always there in their
sickness and sorrow; they leaned on his greater strength in all their
penury and need; and he was poor like them, and stripped himself
still barer for their sakes.

Through the young friar who had replaced him they had heard something
of the calamity which threatened to befall them through the Edera. It
was all dark to them; they could understand nothing. Why others
should want their river and why they should lose it, or in what
manner a stream could be turned from its natural course -- all these
things were to them incomprehensible. In the beginning of the world
it had been set running there. Who would be impious enough to meddle
with it?

Whoever tried to do so would be smitten with the vengeance of Heaven.
Of that they were sure. Nevertheless, to hear the mention of such a
thing tormented them; and when they opened their doors at dawn they
looked out in terror lest the water should have been taken away in
the night.

Their stupidity irritated Adone so greatly that he ceased altogether
to speak to them of the impending calamity. "They are stocks and
stones. They have not the sense of sheep nor the courage of goats,"
he said, with the old scorn which his forefathers had felt for their
rustic vassals stirring in him.

"I believe that they would dig sand and carry wood for the engineers
and the craftsmen who would build the dykes!" he said to his mother.

Clelia Alba sighed. "My son, hunger is a hard master; it makes the
soul faint, the heart hard, the belly ravenous. We have never known
it. We cannot judge those who know nothing else."

"Even hunger need not make one vile," he answered.

But he did not disclose all his thoughts to his mother.

He was so intolerant of these poor people of Ruscino because he
foresaw the hopelessness of forging their weak tempers into the metal
necessary for resistance. As well might he hope to change a
sword-rush of the river into a steel sabre for combat. Masaniello,
Rienzi, Garibaldi, had roused the peasantry and led them against
their foes; but the people they dealt with must, he thought, have
been made of different stuff than these timorous villagers, who could
not even be make to comprehend the magnitude of the wrong which was
plotted against them.

"Tell them," he said to old Trizio: "tell them their wells will run
dry; their fish will rot on the dry bed of what was once the river;
their canes, their reeds and rushes, their osiers, will all fail
them; when they shall go out into their fields nothing which they sow
or plant will grow, because the land will be cracked and parched;
there will be no longer the runlets and rivulets to water the soil;
birds will die of thirst, and thousands of little river creatures
will be putrid carcasses in the sun; for the Edera, which is life and
joy and health to this part of the country, will be carried far away,
imprisoned in brick walls, drawn under ground, forced to labour like
a slave, put to vile uses, soiled and degraded. Cannot you tell them
this, and make them see?"

The old man shook his white head. "They would never believe. It is
too hard for them. Where the river runs, there it will always be. So
they think."

"They are dolts, they are mules, they are swine!" said Adone. "Nay,
may the poor beasts forgive me! The beasts cannot help themselves,
but men can if they choose."

"Humph!" said Trizio doubtfully. "My lad, you have not seen men shot
down by the hundred. I have -- long ago, long ago."

"There is no chance of their being shot," he said with contempt,
almost with regret. "All that is wanted of them are common sense,
union, protestation, comprehension of their rights."

"Aye, you all begin with that," said the old Garabaldino. "But, my
lad, you do not end there, for it is just those things which are your
right which those above you will never hear of; and then up come the
cannon thundering, and when the smoke clears away there are your dead
-- and that is all you get."

The voice of the old soldier was thin and cracked and feeble, but it
had a sound in it which chilled the hot blood of his hearer.

Yet surely this was no revolutionary question, no socialistic theory,
no new alarming demand; it was only a claim old as the hills, only a
resolve to keep what the formation of the earth had given to this
province.

As well blame a father for claiming his own child as blame him and
his neighbours for claiming their own river!

They were tranquil and docile people, poor and patient, paying what
they were told to pay, letting the fiscal wolf gnaw and glut as it
chose unopposed, not loving their rulers indeed, but never moving or
speaking against them, accepting the snarl, the worry, the theft, the
greed, the malice of the State without questioning.

Were they to stand by and see their river ruined, and do nothing, as
the helpless fishermen of Fuscino have accepted the ruin of their
lake?

To all young men of courage and sensibility and enthusiasm the
vindication of a clear right seems an act so simple that it is only
through long and painful experience that they realize that there is
nothing under the sun which is so hard to compass, or which is met by
such strong antagonism. To Adone, whose nature was unspoilt by modern
influences, and whose world was comprised in the fields and moors
around Ruscino, it seemed incredible that such a title as that of his
native soil to the water of Edera could be made clear to those in
power without instant ratification of it.

"Whether you do aught or naught it comes to the same thing," said the
old Garibaldino, who was wiser. "We did much; we spent our blood like
water, and what good has it been? For one devil we drove out before
our muskets, a thousand worse devils have entered since."

"It is different," said Adone, impatient. "All we have to do is to
keep out the stranger. You had to drive him out. No politics or
doctrines come into our cause; all we mean, all we want, is to be
left alone, to remain as we are. That is all. It is simple and just."

"Aye, it is simple; aye, it is just," said the old man; but he sucked
his pipe-stem grimly: he had never seen these arguments prosper; and
in his own youth he had cherished such mistakes himself, to his own
hindrance.

Had he not sung in those glorious days of hope and faith,

    "Fratelli d'Italia!
    L'Italia s'e desta!"

In the night which followed on the fourteenth day of the Vicar's
absence, Adone, unable either to rest or to labour, went into his
cattle-stalls and fed and watered all the animals, then he crossed
the river and went along its north bank by the same path which he had
followed with Don Silverio two weeks earlier. He had passed to and
fro that path often since his friend's departure, for by it the
priest must return; there was no other way to and from the west.

Rain had fallen in the night, and the river was buoyant, and the
grass sparkled, the mountains were of sapphire blue, and above the
shallows clouds of flies and gnats were fluttering, waterlilies were
blossoming where the water was still, and in the marshes buffaloes
pushed their dark forms amongst the nymphoea and the nuphar.

He had no longer any eyes to see these things; he only strained his
sight to catch the first glimpse of a tired traveler. The landscape
here was level for many miles of moor and pasture and a human form
approaching could be seen from a great distance. It was such a dawn
as he had used to love beyond all other blessings of nature; but now
the buffaloes in the pools and swamps were not more blind to its
charm than he.

The sun rose behind him out of the unseen Adrian waves, and a rosy
light spread itself over the earth; and at that moment he saw afar
off a dark form moving slowly. With a loud cry he sprang forward and
ran with the fleetness of a colt the hundred yards which were between
him and that familiar figure.

"My son! my dear son!" cried Don Silverio, as Adone reached him and
fell on his knees on the scorched turf.

"At last!" he murmured, choked with joy and fear. "Oh, where have you
been? We are half dead, your people and I. What tidings do you bring?
What comfort?"

"Rise up, and remember that you are a man," said Don Silverio; and
the youth, gazing upwards keenly into his face, suddenly lost all
hope, seeing no ray of hope on that weary countenance.

"You cannot save us?" he cried, with a scream like a wounded hare's.

"I cannot, my dear son," answered Don Silverio.

Adone dropped backward as if a bullet had struck him; his head smote
the dry ground; he had lost consciousness, his face was livid.

Don Silverio raised him and dragged him into the shade of a bay-tree
and dashed water on him from the river. In a few minutes he was
roused and again conscious, but on his features there was a dazed,
stunned look.

"You cannot save us?" he repeated.

"Neither you nor I have millions," said Don Silverio with bitterness.
"It is with no other weapon that men can fight successfully now."

Adone had risen to his feet; he was pale as a corpse, only the blood
was set in his forehead.

"Is it true, then?" he muttered. "Do they mean to come here?"

"Yes."

"Who are they? Jews?"

"Jews and Gentiles. There is no difference between those races now;
they have a common Credo -- greed; they adore one Jehovah -- gold. My
boy, I am very tired, and you are ill. Let us get home as quickly as
we can."

"I am not ill. It was nothing. It is passed. Tell me the worst."

"The worst, in a work, is that a foreign company, already established
for several years in this country, has obtained a faculty to turn
this water out if its course and use it as the motive power of an
electric railway and of an acetylene manufactory, and of other
enterprises."

"And this cannot be undone?"

"I fear not; they are rich and powerful. What are we? Let me get
home. There you shall hear all, and judge."

Adone asked and said no more. He turned and went backward. His steps
were slow and unsteady, his head was hung down. The dry, hot air was
like fire around them; the sun, though still low, darted fierce rays
upon them, like spears thrown with a sure aim. He had not known how
much and how strongly he had hoped until now that he heard that there
was no hope left.

Don Silverio, though he did not speak of himself, was faint with
fatigue; the return journey had tried him more cruelly than the
first, since on his way to Rome he had been sustained by the hope to
find the project abandoned, or at the least uncertain. He had spent
all his scanty earnings, so hardly and tediously collected through a
score of years, and he had brought back to his poor people, and to
the youth he loved, nothing except the confirmation of their worst
fears. It was with difficulty that he could drag his aching feet over
the burn grass back to his parish.

When they reached the bridge they were on the village side of the
stream. Adone, with an effort, raised himself from the trance into
which he had fallen.

"Forgive me, sir; you are overtired, you must rest. I will come to
you later."

"No, no," said Don Silverio quickly, for he thought the youth in no
state to be alone. "I will wash and take a cup of coffee, then I will
tell you all. Wait in my book-room."

They went together to his house. There was no one in the street or on
the walls except some children gathering dandelion leaves in the
ditch. They reached the priest's house unobserved; only the little
dog, who was making his diurnal search there, rushed out of the
entrance in a frenzy of rapture.

"Poor little man! Dear Signorino!" murmured Don Silverio, and he took
the little creature in his arms. Then he opened the door of his
study. "Wait there," he said to Adone. "I will soon come downstairs.
I will only wash off the dust of this journey."

Adone obeyed.

The room was dusky, cool, silent; he sat down in it and waited; he
could hear the loud, uneven beating of his own heart in the
stillness.

As he felt now, so, he thought, must feel men who have heard their
own death-sentence, and are thrust alone into a cell.

If Don Silverio could do nothing, to whom could he turn?

Could he induce the people to rise? It would be their ruin as well as
his, this rape of the river. Would they bear it as they bore
taxation, neglect, conscription, hunger?

It was not half an hour, although it seemed to him half a day, which
passed before Don Silverio came down the stone stair, his little dog
running and leaping about him. He seated himself before Adone, by the
shuttered window, through which, by chinks and holes in the wood,
there came rays of light and tendrils of vine.

Then detail by detail, with lucidity and brevity, he narrated all he
had heard and done in Rome, and which it was exceeding hard to bring
home to the comprehension of a mind wholly ignorant of such things.

"When I reached Rome," he explained, "I was for some days in despair.
The deputy of San Beda was not at the Chamber. He was in Sicily.
Another deputy, a friend of the Prior at San Beda, to whom I had a
letter, was very ill with typhoid fever. I knew not where to turn. I
could not knock at the doors of strangers without credentials. Then I
remembered that one with whom I had been friends, great friends, when
we were both seminarists, had become a great man at the Vaticano. It
was scarcely possible that he, in his great elevation, would
recollect one unseen for a quarter of a century. But I took courage
and sent in my name. Imagine my surprise and emotion when I was
admitted at once to his presence, and was received by him with the
uttermost kindness. He assisted me in every way. He could not of
course move ostensibly in a matter of the government, himself, but he
gave me letters to those who could obtain me the information and the
interviews which I desired. He was goodness itself, and through him I
was even received by his Holiness. But from all those political and
financial people whom I saw I learned but the same thing. The matter
is far advanced, is beyond any alteration. The company is formed. The
concurrence of parliament is not to be, but has long been, given. The
ministry favours the project. They all repeated to me the same
formula: public works are to the public interest. They babbled
commonplaces. They spoke of great advantages to the province. I
pleaded as forcibly as I could in the interests of this valley, and I
opposed fact to formula. But my facts were not those which they
wanted; and they told me, politely but unmistakably, that a churchman
should not seek to interfere with civil matters. The promoters are
masters of the position. They are all of accord: the foreign bankers,
the Italian bankers; the foreign engineers, the Italian engineers;
the Technical office, the President of Council, the dicastero of
Hygiene, of Agriculture, of Public Works, all of them. Our poor
little valley seems to them a desirable prey; they have seized it,
they will keep it. They were all courteous enough. They are polite,
and even unwilling to cause what they call unnecessary friction. But
they will not give an inch. Their talons are in our flesh as an
eagle's in a lamb's. One thinks fondly that what a man possesses is
his own, be it land, house, stream--what not! But we mistake. There
is a thing stronger, higher, more powerful than any poor title of
property acquired by heritage, by purchase, or by labour. It is what
they call expropriation. You think the Edera cannot be touched: it
can be expropriated. You think the Terra Vergine cannot be touched:
it can be expropriated. Against expropriation no rights can stand. It
is the concentration and crystallisation of Theft legitamised by
Government; that is by Force. A vagrant may not take a sheaf of your
wheat, a fowl from your hen-house: if he do so, the law protects you
and punishes him. A syndicate of rich men, of powerful men, may take
the whole of your land, and the State will compel you to accept any
arbitrary price which it may choose to put upon your loss. According
as you are rich or poor yourself, so great or so small will be the
amount awarded to you. All the sub-prefects, all the syndics, all the
officials in this province, will be richly rewarded; the people
defrauded of the soil and the river will get what may be given them
by an enforced valuation. I have conversed with all kinds and
conditions of men; and I have heard only one statement in the mouths
of all: the matter is beyond all alteration. There is money in it;
the men whose trade is money will not let it go. My son, my dearest
son, be calm, be prudent. Violence can only injure yourself, and it
can save nothing."

He had for the moment spoken as he had been speaking for the last two
weeks to men of education and of the world.

He was recalled to the fact that his present auditor did not reason,
did not comprehend, only felt, and was drunk with his own force of
feeling. The look on Adone's face appalled him.

The youth seemed almost to have no intelligence left, almost as if
all which had been said to him had reached neither his ear nor his
brain.

Don Silverio had been in the world of men, and unconsciously he had
adopted their phraseology and their manner. To Adone, who had
expected some miracle, some rescue almost archangelic, some promise
of immediate and divine interposition, these calm and rational
statements conveyed scarcely any sense, so terrible was the
destruction of his hopes. All the trust and candour and sweetness of
his nature turned to gall.

He listened, a sullen, savage darkness stealing over his countenance.

"And our rights? Theirs? -- mine?" he said as Don Silverio paused.

"For all rights taken away they will give legal compensation."

"You dare repeat that, sir?"

Don Silverio controlled his indignation with difficulty.

"I dare do whatever I deem right to do. You should know that by this
time."

"You think this right?"

"I think it right to repeat exactly what has been said to me. I do
not of necessity approve because I repeat."

"You know no compensation is possible!"

"Morally, none. I speak of but what the law allows."

"The law of pirates, of cut-throats!"

"The law of the State, alas!"

Adone laughed. His hearer had heard such laughter as that in
madhouses.

"The State kills a soldier, and gives his family a hundred francs!
That is the compensation of the State. If they emptied their
treasuries, could they give the soldier back his life? If they
emptied their treasuries, could they give us back what they will take
from us?"

"My dear son, do not doubt my sympathy. All my heart is with you. But
what can be done? Can a poor village, a poor commune, struggle with
any chance of success against a rich company and a government? Can a
stalk of wheat resist the sickle? Can an ear of wheat resist the
threshing-flail? I have told you the story of Don Quixote della
Mancha. Would you fight the empty air like him?"

Adone did not reply.

His beautiful face grew moody, dark, fierce; in his eyes flamed
passions which had no voice upon his lips; his white teeth ground
against one another.

"Believe me, Adone," said his friend, "we are in evil days, when men
babble of liberty, and are so intent on the mere empty sound of their
lips that they perceive not the fetters on their wrists and feet.
There was never any time when there was so little freedom and so
little justice as in ours. Two gigantic dominions now rule the human
race; they are the armies and the moneymakers. Science serves them
turn by turn, and receives from each its wage. The historian Mommsen
has written that we are probably inferior both in intelligence and in
humanity, in prosperity and in civilisation, at the close of this
century to what the human race was under Severus Antonius; and it is
true."

Adone did not seem to hear. What were these abstract reasonings to
him? All he cared for were his river and his fields.

"I sought for an old friend of mine in Rome," said Don Silverio,
endeavouring to gain his attention and divert his thought, "one
Pamfilio Scoria. He was a learned scholar; he had possessed a small
competence and a house of his own, small too, but of admirable
architecture, a Quattrocentisto house. I could not find this house in
Rome. After long search I learned that it had been pulled down to
make a new street. Pamfilio Scoria had in vain tried to preserve his
rights. The city had turned him out and taken his property, paying
what it chose. His grief was so great to see it destroyed, and to be
turned adrift with his books and manuscripts, that he fell ill and
died not long afterwards. On the site of the house there is a
drinking-place kept by Germans; a street railway runs before it. This
kind of theft, of pillage, takes place every week. It is masked as
public utility. We are not alone sufferers from such a crime."

Adone was still silent.

His thoughts were not such as he could utter aloud in the priest's
presence; and he heard nothing that was said; he heard only little
Nerina's voice saying: "Could we not kill these men?" That flutelike
whisper seemed to him to sigh with the very voice of the river
itself.

Don Silverio rose, his patience, great as it was, exhausted.

"My son, as you do not give ear to me it is useless for me to speak.
I must go to my office. The friar from San Beda desires to return
this evening. I have done all I can. I have told you the facts as
they stand. Take courage, Be peaceable for your mother's sake and
restrain yourself for your own. It is a frightful calamity which
hangs over us all. But it is our duty to meet it like men."

"Like men!" muttered Adone as he rose to his feet; had not the child
from the Abruzzo rocks a better sense of men's duty than this priest
so calm and wise?

"Men resist," he said very low.

"Men resist," repeated Don Silverio. "They resist when their
resistance serves any purpose, but when it can only serve to crush
them uselessly under a mass of iron they are not men if they resist,
but madmen."

"Farewell, sir," said Adone.

And with an obeisance he went out of the chamber.

"Poor boy! Poor, passionate, dear youth!" thought Don Silverio as the
door closed. "He thinks me cold and without emotion; how little he
knows! He cannot suffer as I suffer for him and for my poor wretched
people. What will they do when they shall know? They will mourn like
starved sheep bleating in a field of stones, and I, their shepherd,
shall not have a blade of grass wherewith to comfort them!"





XI

Adone's sight was troubled as soon as he passed out of the dusky room
into the blaze of noonday sunshine. His eyes seemed filled with
blood. His brain was dizzy. That which had been his sheet-anchor in
all doubts and contrition, his faith in and his reverence for Don
Silverio, availed him nothing now. A blind sympathy with his most
violent instincts was the only thing which could now content or
console him.

He was in that state to which all counsels of moderation appear but
so much treason and unkindness. As he went out of the priest's house
in that dazzling light, a hand caught his sleeve and that young
flutelike voice of which he had thought murmured to him --

"Adone! what tidings? What has he told you?"

Nerina, having run across the bridge and up the street after the
little dog, had seen him and Don Silverio enter, and had waited for
Adone to come out of the house.

Adone pushed her away.

"Let me be!" he said impatiently. "It is all bad -- bad -- bad. Bad
as ill-blood. Bad as crime."

She clung to his arm nevertheless.

"Come into the church and tell me. No one cares as I do."

"Poor little soul!"

He let her draw him into the great porch of the church and thence
into the church itself; it was dark, as it always was, cold as an
autumn evening, damp even in the canicular heat.

"No one will hear; tell me!" said the child.

He told her.

"And what are you to do?" she asked, her eyes dilated with horror.

"According to him," said Adone bitterly, "I am to be meek and
helpless as the heifer which goes to the slaughter. Men must not
resist what the law permits."

Nerina was mute. To dispute what Don Silverio said was like blasphemy
to her; she honoured him with all her soul, but she loved Adone.

She loved the Edera water too; that fair green rippling water, on
whose bank she had sat naked under the dock leaves the day the two
rams had fought. That which was threatened was an unholy, wicked,
cruel robbery. Was it indeed necessary to yield to it in submission?

She remembered a saying of Baruffo's: "If a man stand up to me I
leave him some coins in his pocket, some life in his body; but if he
crouch and cringe I stick him in the throat. He is a craven."

The doctrine of Baruffo seemed to her the more sound. It warmed the
blood of the little Abruzzo-born maiden to recall it. In the high
mountains and forests the meeker virtues are not greatly honoured.

She stood by Adone's side, knitting her brows under her auburn
curling locks, clenching her hands.

"Is there _one_ who does this evil most of all?" she said at length.
"_One_ we could reach?"

"You are a brave child, Nerina!" said Adone, and his words made her
proud. "I fear there is a crowd. Such men are like locusts; they come
in swarms. But the first man who touches the water--"

"Shall sup of it and drown!"

The little girl added the words with a fierce joy in her great bright
eyes.

"Hush!" said Adone, "and get you homeward, and tell my mother that
Don Silverio has returned, and that I will come back to my work in a
little while. Tell her he says there is no hope."

Nerina obeyed him instantly, her bare feet flying over the stones of
the street. He was left alone in the sombre church, with the great
winged angels of stone above his head.

He was grateful for its gloom. He shrank from the light of the
morning. Every drop of blood in his body, and in his brain, and in
his limbs, seemed to him to turn to fire -- a fire which all the
waters of the Edera would never quench.

How could they be accused of rebellion or wrong-doing because they
wanted to keep the water running in the channel which it had made for
itself in the very beginning of the world?

The Edera was ancient as its neighbours, the Fiumicino which heard
the voice of Cæsar, or the Marecchia which was bridged by Augustus;
ancient as the fountain of Arethusa, as the lake of Diana Nemorensis.
What sacrilege could be more heinous than to chase it from its chosen
course? No Lucumon of Etruria, or Esarch of Ravenna, or Pope or Rome,
had ever dared to touch it. Revolutionists! they, who only sought to
preserve it? The revolutionists were those who with alien hands and
vampire's greed would seek to disturb its peace.





XII

All that day the people of Ruscino crowded round the Presbytery.

"What of the Edera water, sir?" they asked him a hundred times in the
shrill cries of the women, in the rude bellow of the men, in the
high-pitched, dissonant clamour of angry speakers. And all the day
his patience and kindness were abused, and his nerves racked and
strained, in the effort to persuade them that the river which ran
beneath their walls was no more theirs than the stars which shone
above it.

It was hopeless to bring home to their intelligence either the
invalidity of their claim, or the peril which would lie in their
opposition.

"'Twas there in the beginning of time," they said. "There it must be
for our children's children."

He talked nonsense, they thought; who should be able to stop a river
which was for ever running? The Edera water was carried in the womb
of the Leonessa: Leonessa gave it fresh birth every day.

Yes! thought Don Silverio, as he walked by the river after sunset,
and watched its bright, impetuous current dash over the stones and
shingle whilst two kingfishers flashed along its surface. Yes, truly
Nature would pour it forth every day from her unfailing breast so
long as man did not do it outrage. But how long would that be? A
year, two years, three years, at most; then its place would know it
no more, and its song would be silent. The water-pipet would make its
nest no more in its sedges, and the blue porphyrion would woo his
mate no more on its bosom. As one of the rich men in Rome had said to
him with a cynical smile, "The river will be there always, only it
will be dry!"

In the gloaming he went and spoke to Adone's mother. She was at her
spinning-wheel, but her hands moved mechanically; her face was dark
and her eyelids swollen.

"My friend," he said, as he sat down on the bench beneath the
rose-tree, "I have brought you ill-tidings."

"It is true then, sir?"

"Alas!"

"I do not believe it. God will not let it be."

"Would that I could think so."

"'Tis you, sir, who should think so, and not I."

"My good Clelia," he said, with some impatience, "it is no use to
dream dreams. Try and persuade your son to accept the inevitable. My
words seem harsh. They are not so. But I dare not let you cherish
your illusions like this; blind yourself to fact, you expect some
supernatural intercession. They will take your river; they will take
your lands. Your house will be yours no more. If you do not go
peaceably they will have you turned out, as if you were a debtor.
This may take some time, for it will be done with all due legal
forms, but it will be done. They will pay you and your son some value
by appraisement, but they will take your land and your house and all
that is yours and his; I have seen the plans in Rome. Can you think
that I should invent this to torture you? There will be a process, a
sentence, an award; the money the law allots to you will be strictly
paid to you; but you will be driven away form the Terra Vergine.
Realise this. Try and keep your reason and save your son from
madness. Surely, where there is great love between two people, and
bonds of memory and mutual duty, and strong faith, there a home may
be made anywhere, even over seas?"

Clelia Alba snapped with violence the thread she span. "They have
talked you over, sir," she said curtly. "When you went away you were
with us."

"With you!" he echoed. "In heart, in pity, in sympathy, yes; never
could I be otherwise. But were I to see you struck with lightning,
should I save you by telling you that lightning did not kill? I did
not know that the enterprise was as mature as I found it to be when I
saw the promoters of it in Rome. But I know now that it has been long
in incubation; you must remember that every bend and ordnance maps;
every stream, however small, is known to the technical office, and
the engineers civil and military. I abhor the project. It is to me a
desecration, an infamy, a robbery; it will ruin the Valdedera from
every point of view; but we can do nothing; this is what I implore
you to realise. We are as helpless as one of your fowls when you cut
its throat. Violence can only hurry your son into the grip of the
law. His rights are morally as plain as yonder snow on those
mountains; but because they will buy his rights at what will be
publicly estimated as a fair price, the law will not allow him to
consider himself injured. My dear friend, you are a woman of sense
and foresight; try to see this thing as it is."

"I will hear what Adone says, sir," replied Clelia Alba doggedly. "If
he bids me burn the house, I shall burn it."

Don Silverio was heart-sick and impatient. What use was it to argue
with such minds as these? As well might he waste his words on the
trunks of the olives, on the oxen in their stalls.

They were wronged.

That the wrong done them was masked under specious pretences, and was
protected by all the plate armour of law and government, made the
outrage little the worse to them. The brigand from the hills who used
to harry their cattle and pillage their strong-box looked to them a
hero, a saint, a Christ, compared to these modern thieves who were
environed with all the defences and impunity which the law and the
State could give. When an earth-shock makes the soil under your feet
quiver, and gape, and mutter, you feel that unnatural forces are
being hurled against you, you feel that you are the mere sport and
jest of an unjust deity. This was what they felt now.

"Nay," said Clelia Alba, "if the earth opened, and took us, it would
be kinder; it would bury us at least under our own rooftree."

What use was it to speak to such people as these of the right of
expropriation granted by parliament, of the authority of a
_dicastero_, and of a prefecture, of the sophistries and arguments of
lawyers, of the adjudication of values, of the appraisement of
claims? They were wronged: and they came of a race and of a soil in
which the only fitting redresser of wrong was revenge.

"Mother," cried Adone, "my father would not have given up his land as
meekly as a sheep yields up her life."

"No," said Clelia Alba; "whether he came from those war-lords of old
I know not, but he would have fought as they fought."




XIII

The autumn and winter passed without more being heard in the
Valdedera of the new invasion. The peasantry generally believed that
such silence was favourable to their wishes; but Don Silverio knew
that it was otherwise. The promoters of the work did not concern
themselves with the local population, they dealt with greater folks;
with those who administered the various communes, and who controlled
the valuation of the land through which the course of the Edera ran;
chiefly those well-born persons who constituted the provincial
council. A great deal of money would change hands, but it was
intended, by all through whose fingers those heavy sums would pass,
that as little of the money as possible should find its way to the
owners of the soil. A public work is like a fat hog; between the
slaughterers, the salesmen, the middlemen, and the consumers, little
falls to the original holder of the hog. The peasants of the
Valdedera were astonished that no one came to treat with them; but
they did not understand that they dwelt under a paternal government,
and the first care of a paternal government is to do everything for
its children which is likely to promise any profit to itself.

The men of business whom Don Silverio had seen in Rome did not
trouble themselves with the rustic proprietors of either water or
land; they treated with the great officials of the department, with
the deputies, the prefects, and sub-prefects, the syndics and
assessors; so a perfect silence on the question reigned from the rise
of the river to its mouth, and many of the men said over their
wood-fires that they had been scared for nothing. The younger men,
however, and those who were under Adone's influence, were more wary;
they guessed that the matter was being matured without them; that
when the hog should be eaten, the smallest and rustiest flitch would
then be divided amongst them. Agents, such agents as were ministerial
instruments of these magnates in election time, went amongst the
scattered people and spoke to them of the great public utility of the
contemplated works, and made them dispirited and doubtful of the
value of their holdings, and uncertain of the legality of their
tenures. But these agents were cautious and chary of promises, for
they knew that in this district the temper of men was proud and hot
and revengeful; and they knew also that when these rural owners
should be brought into the courts to receive their price they would
be dealt with just as the great men chose. One by one, so that each
should be unsupported by his neighbours, the men of the valley were
summoned, now to this town, now to the other, and were deftly argued
with, and told that what was projected would be their salvation, and
assured that the delegates who would be sent in their name by their
provincial council to the capital would defend all their dearest
interests.

The rich man, the man of business, the man of cities, may receive in
such transactions compensation, which is greatly to their advantage,
because traffic is their trade, because to buy and sell, and turn and
return, and roll the ball of gold so that it grows bigger every hour,
is their custom and interest. But the poor man, the rustic, the man
with the one ewe lamb, loses always, whether he assents to the sale
or has it forced upon him. These people of the valley might have a
little ready money given them on valuation, but it would be money
clipped and cropped by the avarice of intermediates until little of
it would remain, and they would be driven out to begin life anew;
away from their old rooftree and the fruits of long years of labour.

From far and near men came to Ruscino to take counsel of its vicar;
his wisdom being esteemed and his intelligence known in the valley
beyond the confines of his parish: and what advice could he give
them? He could but tell them that it was useless to kick against the
pricks. He knew so well the cold, curt, inflexible official answer;
the empty, vapouring regrets, false, simpering, pharisaical; the
parrot-phrases of public interests, public considerations, public
welfare; the smile, the sneer, the self-complacent shrug of those who
know that only the people whom they profess to serve will suffer. To
him, as to them, it seemed a monstrous thing to take away the water
from its natural channel and force the men who lived on it and by it
to alter all their ways of life and see their birthplace changed into
a desert in order that aliens might make money. But he could not
counsel them to resist; no resistance was possible. It was like any
other tyranny of the State: like the fiscal brutality which sold up a
poor man's hayrick or clothing because he could not pay the poll-tax.
If the poor man resisted, if he fired his old fowling-piece, or used
his knife on the minions of the State, what use was such resistance?
He went to rot in prison.

His calling, his conscience, his good sense, his obedience to law,
all alike compelled him to urge on them patience, submission, and
inaction before the provocation of a great wrong. He dared not even
let them see one tithe of the sympathy he felt, lest if he did so
they should draw from it an incentive to illegal action.

The part which he was obliged to take in thus persuading the people
to be tranquil under injustice estranged him farther and farther from
Adone Alba, who found it a cowardice and a treachery, although he
dared not say so in words. Had he retained the coolness of reason the
youth would have known and acknowledged that in the position of Don
Silverio no other course would have been possible or decent. But
reason had long left him, and inaction and impulse alone remained. He
would not allow that a wrong might be condemned, and yet endured. To
him all endurance had in it the meanness of condonation.

He ceased to have any faith in his friend and teacher; and gradually
grew more and more alienated from him; their intimate affection,
their frequent intercourse, their long walks and evening meeting were
over; and even as his spiritual director the vicar had no longer
power over him. Most of his actions and intentions were concealed;
except in the younger men of the district, who saw as he saw, he had
now no confidence in any one. The impending loss of the land and the
water turned all the sweetness of his nature to gall. He thought that
never in the history of the world had any wrong so black been done.
He, himself, flung broadcast the fires of burning incitation without
heeding or caring whither the flames might reach. Riots had been
successful before this: why not now? He was young enough and innocent
enough to believe in the divine right of a just cause. If that were
denied, what remained to the weak?

If he could, he would have set the valley in flames from one end to
the other rather than have allowed the foreigners to seize it. Had
not his forefather perished in fire on yonder hill rather than cede
to the Borgia?

Evening after evening he looked at the sun setting behind the Rocca
and felt the black rage in him gnaw at his heart like a vulture.

They would offer him money for this dear earth, for this fair,
beloved stream! -- the mere thought choked him as a man who loved his
wife would be choked at the though of her dishonoured sale.

Some were half persuaded that it would be a fine thing to get some
crisp banknotes in exchange for waste ground which yielded little, or
a cabin which was falling to pieces, or a strip of woodland which
gave them fuel, but not much more. But the majority were angry,
irreconcilable, furious to lose the water, full of their wrongs.
These were glad to find Adone Alba a spokesman and a leader: they
were tow which caught fire at his torch. They comprehended little,
but they knew that they were wronged; and they agreed with him that
the labourers who should come from over the border to meddle with
them should be made to rue it bitterly.

The Italian goes over seas, indeed; huddled under the hatches of
emigrant ships; miserable, starved, confined; unable to move, scarce
able to breathe, like the unhappy beasts carried with him. But he
never goes willingly; he never wrenches himself from the soil without
torn nerves and aching heart; if he live and make a little money in
exile he comes back to the shadow of the village church, to the sound
of the village bell which he knew in his boyhood, to walk in the
lanes where he threw his wooden quoit as a lad, and to play dominoes
under the green bough of the winehouse where as a child he used to
watch his elders and envy them.

Most of these people dwelling on the Edera water had not been five
miles away from the river in all their lives. The moorland birds and
beasts went farther afield than they. They had no interest in what
was beyond their own freehold; they did not even know or care whither
the water went, or whence it came. Where it was, they owned it. That
was enough for them.

"Sir, what is it Adone does?" said Clelia Alba, one dusky and stormy
eve after vespers. "At nightfall out he goes; and never a word to me,
only 'Your blessing, mother,' he says, as if he might lose his life
where he goes. I thought at first it was some love matter, for he is
young; but it cannot be that, for he is too serious, and he goes
fully armed, with his father's pistols in his belt and his own long
dagger in his stocking. True, they go so to a love tryst, if it be a
dangerous one; if the woman be wedded; only I think it is not that,
for men in love are different. I think that he broods over some act."

"Neither you nor I can do aught. He is of age to judge for himself,"
said Don Silverio; "but, like you, I do not think a woman is the
cause of his absence."

"Can you not speak to him, sir?"

"I have spoken. It is useless. He is moved by a motive stronger than
any argument we can use. In a word, good Clelia, this coming seizure
of the water is suffering so great to him that he loses his reason.
He is trying to make the men of the commune see as he sees. He wants
to rouse them, to arm them. He might as well set the calves in your
stalls to butt the mountain granite."

"Maybe, sir," said Clelia Alba, unwillingly; but her eye gleamed, and
her stern, proud face grew harder. "But he has the right to do it if
he can. If they touch the water they are thieves, worse than those
who came down from the hills in the years of my girlhood."

"You would encourage him in insurrection, then?"

"Nay, I would not do that; but neither would I blame him. Every man
has a right to defend his own. Neither his father nor mine, sir, were
cowards."

"This is no question of cowardice. It is a question of common sense.
A few country lads cannot oppose a government. With what weapons can
they do so? Courage I honour; without it all active virtues are
supine; but it is not courage to attempt the impossible, to lead the
ignorant to death -- or worse."

"Of that my son must judge, sir," said Adone's mother, inflexible to
argument. "I shall not set myself against him. He is master now. If
he bid me fire the place I shall do it. For four-and-twenty years he
obeyed me like a little child; never a murmur, never a frown. Now he
is his own master, and master of the land. I shall do as he tells me.
It is his turn now, and he is no fool, sir, Adone."

"He is no fool; no. But he is beside himself. He is incapable of
judgment. His blood is on fire and fires his brain."

"I think not, sir. He is quiet. He speaks little"

"Because he meditates what will not bear speech. Were he violent I
should be less alarmed. He shuns me -- me -- his oldest friend."

"Because no doubt, sir, he feels you are against him."

"Against him! How can I, being what I am, be otherwise? Could you
expect me to foment insurrection, and what less than that can
opposition such as he intends become?"

"You speak as you feel bound to speak, sir, no doubt."

"But think of the end? Must not every action be weighed and
considered and judgment passed on it by what will be its issue? No
rising of our poor people can effect anything except their own
destruction. It is only a demagogue who would urge them on to it.
Adone is not a demagogue. He is a generous youth frantic from sorrow,
but helpless. Can you not see that?"

"I do not see that he is helpless," said his mother with obstinacy.
"The thing that are about to do us is unjust. I would load a gun
myself against them, and if money be what is wanted I would give
Adone my pearls. He asks me for nothing, but when he does I will
strip myself to my shift to aid him."

"It is a terrible madness!" cried Don Silverio. "What can your
fowling-piece or your necklace do against all the force these
speculators and contractors will employ? It is a great, a heinous
wrong which will be done to you; that no one can feel more strongly
than I. But there are wrongs to which we must submit when we are
weak; and, my good Clelia, against this we poor folks in the Vale of
Edera are as weak as the teal in the marshes against the swivel guns
of the sportsmen's punts."

But he argued in vain; logic and persuasion are alike useless when
opposed to the rock of ignorance and obstinacy. She held him in deep
reverence; she brought her conscience to his judgment; she thought
him beyond ordinary humanity: but when he endeavoured to persuade her
that her son was wrong he failed.

"Sir, you know that this crime against the river will ruin us," she
said doggedly. "Why then should you try to tie our hands? I do not
know what Adone does; his mind is hid from me, but if, as you say, he
wants a rising of our people, it is natural and just."

When the mind of the peasant -- man or woman -- be made up in its
stubbornness, all learning, wisdom, experience, even fact, speak in
vain; it opposes to all proofs the passive resistance of a dogged
incredulity: to reason with it is as useless as to quarry stone with
a razor.

Many and many a time had he given up in exhaustion and nausea his
endeavours to convince the rural mind of some simple fact, some clear
cause, some elementary principle. He knew that Clelia Alba would
never believe in the exile which would be her certain fate until the
armed and liveried creatures of the State should drive her from her
home by order of the State. He had seen in Rome that there was no
possible chance of opposing this enterprise against the Edera water.
It had been decided on by men of money who had the ear of ministers,
the precedence in ante-chambers, the means of success in political
departments and in commercial centres. A few scattered provincial
owners of land and labourers on land might as well try to oppose
these men as the meek steinbok in the mountain solitudes to escape
the expanding bullet of a prince's rifle. Yet he also saw how
impossible it was to expect a young man like Adone, with his lineage,
his temperament, his courage, and his mingling of ignorance and
knowledge, to accept the inevitable without combat. As well might he
be bidden to accept dishonour.

The remorse in his soul was keen, inasmuch as without him Adone would
never have known of his descent from the lords of Ruscino, and never,
probably, have acquired that "little learning" which a poet of the
north has said is a dangerous thing.

"Better," thought Don Silverio, with tormenting self-reproach,
"better have left him to his plough, to his scythe, to his
reaping-hook; better have left him in ignorance of the meaning of art
and of study; better have left him a mere peasant to beget peasants
like himself. Then he would have suffered less, and might possibly
have taken peaceably such compensation as the law would have allowed
him for the loss to his land, and have gone away to the West, as so
many go, leaving the soil they were born on to pass out of culture."

Would Adone ever have done that? No; he would not; he was wedded to
the soil like the heaths that grew out of it. He might be violently
dragged away, but he would never live elsewhere; his heart had struck
its roots too deeply into the earth which nurtured him.

"Why did you tell him of all the great men that lived?" Clelia Alba
had often said to him. "Why did you fill his soul with that hunger
which no bread that is baked can content? We, who work to live, have
no time to do aught except work, and sleep awhile to get strength for
more work; and so on, always the same, until age ties knots in our
sinews, and makes our blood thin and slow. What use is it to open
gates to him which he must never pass, to make his mind a tangled
skein that can never be undone? When you work hard you want to rest
in your resting hours, not to dream. Dreaming is no rest. He is
always dreaming, and now he dreams of blood and fire."

Don Silverio's heart was with them, and by all the obligations of his
calling was forced to be against them. He was of a militant temper;
he would gladly have led them into action as did the martial priests
of old; but his sense, his duty, his conscience, all forbade him to
even show them such encouragement as would lie in sympathy. Had he
been rich he would have taken their cause into the tribunals and
contested this measure inch by inch, however hopelessly. But who
would plead for a poor parish, for a penniless priest? What payment
could he offer, he who could scarcely find the coins to fill his
salt-box or to mend his surplice?

A great anxiety consumed him. He saw no way out of this calamity. The
people were wronged, grossly wronged, but how could they right that
wrong? Bloodshed would not alter it, or even cure it. What was
theirs, and the earth's, was to be taken from them; and how were they
to be persuaded that to defend their own would be a crime.

"There is nothing, then, but for the people to lie down and let the
artillery roll over them!" said Adone once, with bitter emphasis.

"And the drivers and the gunners are their own brothers, sons,
nephews, who will not check their gallop an instant for that fact;
for the worst thing about force is that it makes its human
instruments mere machines like the guns which they manoeuver," thought
Don Silverio, as he answered aloud: "No; I fear there will be nothing
else for them to do under any tyranny, until all the nations of the
earth shall cease to send their children to be made the janissaries
of the State. No alteration of existing dominions will be possible so
long as the Armies exist."

Adone was silent; convinced against his will, and therefore convinced
without effect or adhesion.

He dared not tell his friend of the passionate propaganda which he
had begun up and down the course of the Edera, striving to make these
stocks and stones stir, striving to make the blind see, the deaf
hear, the infirm rise and leap.

"Let us go and make music," said the priest at last. "That will not
harm any one, and will do our own souls good. It is long since I
heard your voice."

"It will be longer," thought Adone, as he answered: "Excuse me, sir;
I cannot think of any other thing than this great evil which hangs
over us. There is not one of our country people who does not curse
the scheme. They are frightened and stupid, but they are angry and
miserable. Those who are their spokesmen, or who ought to be, do not
say what they wish, do not care what they wish, do not ask what they
wish. They are the sons of the soil, but they count for nothing. If
they met to try and do anything for themselves, guards -- soldiery --
would come from a distance, they say, and break up the meetings, and
carry those who should speak away to some prison. The Government
approves the theft of the water: that is to be enough."

"Yet public meeting has been a right of the people on the Latin soil
ever since the Cæsars."

"What matter right, what matter wrong? No one heeds either."

"We must help ourselves."

He spoke sullenly and under his breath. He did not dare to say more
clearly what was in his thoughts.

"By brute force?" said Don Silverio. "That were madness. What would
be the number of the able-bodied men of all three communes? Let us
say two thousand; that is over the mark. What weapons would they
have? Old muskets, old fowling-pieces, and not many of those; their
scythes, their axes, their sticks. A single battalion would cut them
down as you mow grass. You have not seen rioters dispersed by trained
troops. I have. I have seen even twenty carabineers gallop down a
street full of armed citizens, the carabineers shooting right and
left without selection; and the street, before they had ridden two
hundred yards, was empty except for a few fallen bodies which the
horses trampled. You can never hope to succeed in these days with a
mere _jacquerie_. You might as well set your wheatsheaves up to
oppose a field battery."

"Garibaldi," muttered Adone, "he had naught but raw levies!"

"Garabaldi was an instinctive military genius, like Aguto, like
Ferruccio, like Gian delle Bande Neri, like all the great
Condottieri. But he would probably have rotted in the Spielberg, or
been shot in some fortress of the Quadrilateral, if he had not been
supported by that proclamation of Genoa and campaign of Lombardy,
which were Louis Napoleon's supreme errors in French policy."

Adone was silent, stung by that sense of discomfiture and
mortification which comes upon those who feel their own inability to
carry on an argument. To him Garibaldi was superhuman, fabulous, far
away in the mists of an heroic past, as Ulysses to Greek youths.

"You, sir, may preach patience," he said sullenly. "It is no doubt
your duty to preach it. But I cannot be patient. My heart would choke
in my throat."

Don Silverio looked him straight in the face.

"What is it you intend to do?"

"I tell you that you can do nothing, my son."

"How know you that, reverend? You are a priest, not a man."

A faint red colour came over Don Silverio's colourless face.

"One may be both," he said simply. "You are distraught, my son, by a
great calamity. Try and see yourself as other see you, and do not
lead the poor and ignorant into peril. Will the Edera waters be freer
because your neighbours and you are at the galleys? The men of gold,
who have the men of steel behind them, will be always stronger than
you."

"God is over us all," said Adone.

Don Silverio was silent. He could not refute that expression of
faith, but in his soul he could not share it; and Adone had said it,
less in faith than in obstinacy. He meant to rouse the country if he
could, let come what might of the rising.

Who could tell the issue? A spark from a poor man's hearth had set a
city in flames before now.

"How can you think me indifferent?" said Don Silverio. "Had I no
feeling for you should I not feel for myself? Almost certainly my
life will be doomed to end here. Think you that I shall see with
callousness the ruin of this fair landscape, which has been my chief
consolation through so many dreary years? You, who deem yourself so
wholly without hope, may find solace if you choose to take it. You
are young, you are free, all the tenderest ties of life can be yours
if you choose; if this home be destroyed you may make another where
you will. But I am bound here. I must obey; I must submit. I cannot
move; I cannot alter or renew my fate; and to me the destruction of
the beauty of the Edera valley will be the loss of the only pleasure
of my existence. Try and see with my eyes, Adone; it may help you to
bear your burden."

But he might as well have spoken to the water itself, or to the
boulders of its rocks, or to the winds which swept its surface.

"It is not yours," said Adone, almost brutally. "You were not born
here. You cannot know! Live elsewhere? My mother and I? Sooner a
thousand times would we drown in Edera!"

The water was golden under the reflections of the sun as he spoke;
the great net was swaying in it, clear of the sword rush and iris; a
kingfisher like a jewel was threading its shallows; there was the
fresh smell of the heather and the wild tulips on the air.

"You do not know what it is to love a thing! -- how should you? --
you, a priest!" said Adone.

Don Silverio did not reply. He went on down the course of the stream.






XIV

One morning in early April Adone received a printed invitation to
attend in five days' time at the Municipality of San Beda to hear of
something which concerned him. It was brought by the little old
postman who went the rounds of the district once a week on his
donkey; the five days had already expired before the summons was
delivered. Adone's ruddy cheeks grew pale as he glanced over it; he
thrust it into the soil and drove his spade through it. The old man
waiting, in hopes to get a draught of wine, looked at him in dismay.

"Is that a way to treat their Honours' commands?" he said aghast.

Adone did not answer or raise his head; he went on with his digging;
he was turning and trenching the soil to plant potatoes; he flung
spadefuls of earth over the buried summons.

"What's amiss with you, lad?" said the old fellow, who had known him
from his infancy.

"Leave me," said Adone, with impatience. "Go to the house if you want
to drink and to bait your beast."

"Thank ye," said the old man. "But you will go, won't you, Adone? It
fares ill with those who do not go."

"Who told you to say that?"

"Nobody; but I have lived a' many years, and I have carried those
printed papers a' many years, and I know that those who do not go
when they are called rue it. Their Honours don't let you flout them."

"Their Honours be damned!" said Adone. "Go to the house."

The little old man, sorely frightened, dropped his head, and pulling
his donkey by its bridle went away along the grass path under the
vines.

Adone went on delving, but his strong hands shook with rage and
emotion as they grasped the handle of the spade. He knew as well as
if he had been told by a hundred people that he was called to treat
of the sale of the Terra Vergine. He forced himself to go on with his
forenoon's labour, but the dear familiar earth swam and spun before
his sight.

"What?" he muttered to it, "I who love you am not your owner? I who
was born on you am not your lawful heir? I who have laboured on you
ever since I was old enough to use a tool at all am now in my manhood
to give you up to strangers? I will make you run red with blood
first!"

It wanted then two hours of noon. When twelve strokes sounded from
across the river, tolled slowly by the old bronze bell of the church
tower, he went for the noonday meal and rest to the house.

The old man was not longer there, but Clelia Alba said to him --

"Dario says they summon you to Dan Beda, and that you will not go?"

"He said right."

"But, my son," cried his mother, "go you must! These orders are not
to be shirked. Those who give them have the law behind them. You know
that."

"They have the villainy of the law behind them: the only portion of
the law the people ever suffered to see."

"But how can you know what it is about if you do not go?"

"There is only one thing which it can be. One thing that I will not
hear."

"You mean for the river -- for the land?"

"What else?"

Her face grew as stern as his own. "If that be so... Still you should
go, my son; you should go to hold your own."

"I will hold my own," said Adone; and in his thoughts he added, "but
not by words."

"What is the day of the month for which they call you?" asked his
mother.

"The date is passed by three days. That is a little feat which
authority often plays upon the people."

They went within. The meal was eaten in silence; the nut-brown eyes
of Nerina looked wistfully in their faces, but she asked nothing; she
guessed enough.

Adone said nothing to Don Silverio of the summons, for he knew that
the priest would counsel strongly his attendance in person at San
Beda, even though the date was already passed.

But the Vicar had heard of it from the postman, who confided to him
the fears he felt that Adone would neglect the summons, and so get
into trouble. He perceived at once the error which would be committed
if any sentence should be allowed to go by default through absence of
the person cited.. By such absence the absentee discredits himself;
whatsoever may be the justice of his cause, it is prejudiced at the
outset. But how to persuade of this truth a man so blind with pain
and rage and so dogged in self-will as Adone had become, Don Silverio
did not see. He shrank from renewing useless struggles and disputes
which led to no issue. He felt that Adone and he would only drift
farther and farther apart with every word they spoke.

The young man viewed this thing through a red mist of hatred and
headstrong fury; it was impossible for his elder to admit that such
views were wise or pardonable, or due to anything more than the
heated visions evoked by a great wrong.

That evening at sunset he saw the little girl Nerina at the river.
She had led the cows to the water, and they and she were standing
knee deep in the stream. The western light shone on their soft,
mottled, dun hides and on her ruddy brown hair and bright young face.
The bearded bulrushes were round them; the light played on the broad
leaves of the docks and the red spikes of great beds of willow-herb;
the water reflected the glowing sky, and close to its surface numbers
of newly-come swallows whirled and dipped and darted, chasing gnats,
whilst near at hand on a spray a little woodlark sang.

The scene was fair, peaceful, full of placid and tender loveliness.

"And all this is to be changed and ruined in order that some sons of
the mammon of unrighteousness may set up their mills to grind their
gold," he thought to himself as he passed over the stepping-stones,
which at this shallow place could be crossed dryfoot.

"Where is Adone?" he called to the child.

"He is gone down the river in the punt, most reverend."

"And his mother?"

"Is at the house, sir."

Don Silvero went through the pastures under the great olives. When he
reached the path leading to the house he saw Clelia Alba seated
before the doorway spinning. The rose-tree displayed its first
crimson buds above her head; on the roof sparrows and starlings were
busy.

Clelia Alba rose and dropped a low courtesy to him, then resumed her
work at the wheel.

"You have heard, sir?" she said in a low tone. "They summons him to
San Beda."

"Old Dario told me; but Adone will not go?"

"No sir; he will never go."

"He is in error."

"I do not know sir. He is best judge of that."

"I fear he is in no state of mind to judge calmly of anything. His
absence will go against him. Instead of an amicable settlement the
question will go to the tribunals, and if he be unrepresented there
he will be condemned _in contumacium_."

"Amicable settlement?" repeated his mother, her fine face animated
and stern, and her deep dark eyes flashing. "Can you, sir, dare you,
sir, name such a thing? What they would do is robbery, vile robbery,
a thousand times worse than aught the men of night ever did when they
came down from the hills to harass our homesteads."

"I do not say this otherwise; but the law is with those who harass
you now. We cannot alter the times, good Clelia; we must take them as
they are. Your son should go to San Beda and urge his rights, not
with violence but with firmness and lucidity; he should also provide
himself with an advocate, or he will be driven out of his home by
sheer force, and with some miserable sum as compensation."

Clelia Alba's brown skin grew ashen grey, and its heavy lines
deepened.

"You mean... that is possible?"

"It is more than possible. It is certain. These things always end so.
My poor dear friend! do you not understand, even yet, that nothing
can save your homestead?"

Clelia Alba leaned her elbows on her knees and bowed her face upon
her hands. She felt as women of her race had felt on some fair morn
when they had seen the skies redden with baleful fires, and the
glitter of steel corslets shine under the foliage, and had heard the
ripe corn crackle under the horses' hoofs, and had heard the
shrieking children scream, "The lances are coming, mother! Mother!
save us!"

Those women had had no power to save homestead or child; they had
seen the pikes twist in the curling locks, and the daggers thrust in
the white young throats, and the flames soar to heaven, burning
rooftree and clearing stackyard, and they had possessed no power to
stay the steel or quench the torch. She was like them.

She lifted her face up to the light.

"He will kill them."

"He may kill one man -- two men -- he will have blood on his hands.
What will that serve? I have told you again and again. This thing is
inevitable -- frightful, but inevitable, like war. In war do not
millions of innocent and helpless creatures suffer through no fault
of their own, no cause of their own, on account of some king's
caprice or statesman's blunder? You are just such victims here.
Nothing will preserve to you the Terra Vergine. My dear old friend,
have courage."

"I cannot believe it, sir; I cannot credit it. The land is ours; this
little bit of the good and solid earth is ours; God will not let us
be robbed of it."

"My friend! no miracles are wrought now. I have told you again and
again and again you must lose this place."

"I will not believe it!"

"Alas! I pray hat you may not be forced to believe; but I know that I
pray in vain. Tell me, you are certain that Adone will not answer
that summons?"

"I am certain."

"He is mad."

"No, sir he is not mad. No more than I, his mother. We have faith in
Heaven."

Don Silverio was silent. It was not for him to tell them that such
faith was a feeble staff.

"I must not tarry," he said, and rose. "The night is near at hand.
Tell your son what I have said. My dear friend, I would almost as
soon stab you in the throat as say these things to you; but as you
value your son's sanity and safety make him realise this fact, which
you and he deny: the law will take your home from you, as it will
take the river from the province."

"No, sir!" said Clelia Alba fiercely. "No, no, no! There is a God
above us!"

Don Silverio bade her sadly farewell, and insisted no more. He went
through the odorous grasslands, where the primrose and wild hyacinth
grew so thickly and the olive branches were already laden with small
green berries, and his soul was uneasy, seeing how closed is the mind
of the peasant to argument or to persuasion. Often had he seen a poor
beetle pushing its ball of dirt up the side of a sandhill only to
fall back, and begin again, and again fall; for any truth to
endeavour to penetrate the brain of the rustic is as hard as for the
beetle to climb the sand. He was disinclined to seek the discomfiture
of another useless argument, but neither could he be content in his
conscience to let this matter wholly alone.

Long and dreary as the journey was to San Beda, he undertook it
again, saying nothing to any one of his purpose. He hoped to be able
to put Adone's contumacy in a pardonable light before the Syndic, and
perhaps to plea his cause better than the boy could plead it for
himself. To Don Silverio he always seemed a boy still, and therefore
excusable in all his violence and extravagances.

The day was fine and cool, and walking was easier and less exhausting
than it had been at the season of his first visit; moreover, his
journey to Rome had braced his nerves and sinews to exertion, and
restored to him the energy and self-possession which the long,
tedious, monotonous years of solitude in Ruscino had weakened. There
was a buoyant wind coming from the sea with rain in its track, and a
deep blue sky with grand clouds drifting past the ultramarine hues of
the Abruzzo range. The bare brown rocks grew dark as bronze, and the
forest-clothed hills were almost black in the shadows, as the
clustered towers and roofs of the little city came in sight. He went,
fatigued as he was, straight to the old ducal palace, which was now
used as the municipality, without even shaking the dust off his feet.

"Say that I come for the affair of Adone Alba," he said to the first
persons he saw in the ante-room on the first floor. In the little
ecclesiastical town his calling commanded respect. They begged him to
sit own and rest, and in a few minutes returned to say that the most
illustrious the Count Corradini would receive him at once in his
private room; it was a day of general council, but the council would
not meet for an hour. The Syndic was a tall, spare, frail man, with a
patrician's face and an affable manner. He expressed himself in
courteous terms as flattered by the visit of the Vicar Ruscino, and
inquired if in any way he could be of the slightest service.

"Of the very greatest, your Excellency," said Don Silverio. "I have
ventured to come hither on behalf of a young parishioner of mine,
Adone Alba, who, having received the summons of your Excellency only
yesterday, may, I trust, be excused for not having obeyed it on the
date named. He is unable to come to-day. May I offer myself for his
substitute as _amicus curie_!"

"Certainly, certainly," said Corradini, relieved to meet an educated
man instead of the boor he had expected. "If the summons were delayed
by any fault of my officials, the delay must be inquired into.
Meanwhile, most reverend, have you instructions to conclude the
affair?"

"As yet, I venture to remind your Excellency, we do not even know
what is the affair of which you speak."

"Oh no; quite true. The matter is the sale of the land known under
the title of the Terra Vergine."

"Thank Heaven I am here, and not Adone," thought Don Silverio.

Aloud he answered, "What sale? The proprietor has heard of none."

"He must have heard. It can be no news to you that the works about to
be made upon the river Edera will necessitate the purchase of the
land known as the Terra Vergine."

Here the Syndic put on gold spectacles, drew towards him a black
portfolio filled by plans and papers, and began to move them about,
muttering, as he searched, little scraps of phrases out of each of
them. At last he turned over the sheets which concerned the land of
the Alba.

"Terra Vergine -- Commune of Ruscino -- owners Alba from 1620 --
family of good report -- regular taxpayers -- sixty hectares -- land
productive; value -- just so -- humph, humph, humph!"

Then he laid down the documents and looked at Don Silverio from over
his spectacles.

"I conclude, most reverend, that you come empowered by this young man
to treat with us?"

"I venture, sir," replied Don Silverio respectfully, "to remind you
again that it is impossible I should be so empowered, since Adone
Alba was ignorant of the reason for which he was summoned here."

Corradini shuffled his documents nervously with some irritation.

"This conference, then, is a mere waste of time? I hold council
to-day --"

"Pardon me, your Excellency," said Don Silverio blandly. "It will not
be a waste of time if you will allow me to lay before you certain
facts, and, first, to ask you one question: Who is, or are, the buyer
or buyers of this land?"

The question was evidently unwelcome to the Syndic; it was direct,
which every Italian considers ill-bred, and it was awkward to answer.
He was troubled for personal reasons, and the calm and searching gaze
of the priest's dark eyes embarrassed him. After all, he thought, it
would have been better to deal with the boor himself.

"Why do you ask that?" he said irritably. "You are aware that the
National Society for the Improvement of Land and the foreign company
of the Teramo-Tronto Electric Railway combine in these projected
works?"

"To which of these two societies, then, is Adone Alba, or am I, as
his _locum tenens_, to address ourselves?"

"To neither. This commune deals with you."

"Why?"

Count Corradini took off his glasses, put them on again, shifted the
papers and plans in his imposing portfolio.

"May I ask again -- why?" said Don Silverio in the gentlest tones of
his beautiful voice.

"Because, because," answered the Syndic irritably, "because the whole
affair is in treaty between our delegates and the companies. Public
societies do not deal with private individuals directly, but by
proxy."

"Pardon my ignorance," said Don Silverio, "but why does the commune
desire to substitute itself for the owner?"

"It is usual."

"Ah! It is usual."

Corradini did not like the repetition of his phrase, which would not
perhaps bear very close examination. He looked at his watch.

"Excuse me, Reverend Father, but time presses."

"Allow me to crave of your bounty a little more time, nevertheless. I
am not habituated to business, but I believe, if I understand your
worshipful self aright, the commune contemplates purchasing from the
individuals, with power and intent to sell to the companies."

What an unmannerly ecclesiastic! thought Corradini; for indeed, put
thus bluntly and crudely what the commune, as represented by himself,
was doing did not look as entirely correct as could be desired.

"I was in Rome, most illustrious," said Don Silverio, "in
connection with this matter some months ago?"

"In Rome?"

To hear this was unpleasant to the Syndic; it ha never occurred to
him that his rural, illiterate, and sparsely populated district would
have contained any person educated enough to think of inquiring in
Rome about this local matter.

"To Rome! Why did you go to Rome?"

"To acquire information concerning this scheme."

"You are an owner of land?"

"No, sir. I am a poor, very poor, priest."

"It cannot concern you, then."

"It concerns my people. Nothing which concerns them is alien to me."

"Humph, humph! Most proper, most praiseworthy. But we have no time
for generalities. You came to treat of the Terra Vergine?"

"Pardon me, sir; I came to hear why you summoned Adone Alba, one of
my flock."

"Could he not have come himself? It had been but his duty."

"He could not, sir; and, to say truth, he would not. He does not
intend to sell his land."

"What!"

Corradini half rose from his chair, leaning both hands on the table,
and staring though his glasses across the mass of portfolios and
papers at the priest.

"He will have no choice allowed him," he said with great anger. "To
the interests of the State all minor interests must bend. What! a
mere peasant stand in the way of a great enterprise?"

"You intend expropriation then?"

The voice of Don Silverio was very calm and sweet, but his
countenance was stern.

Corradini was irritated beyond measure. He did not desire to play
that great card so early in the game.

"I do not say that," he muttered. "There must be parliamentary
sanction for any forced sale. I spoke in general terms. Private
interest must cede to public"

"There is parliamentary sanction already given to the project for the
Valley of Edera," said Don Silverio, "expropriation included."

Count Corradini threw himself back in his chair with an action
expressive at once of wrath and of impotence. He had an irritating
sense that this priest was master of the position, and knew much more
than he said. In reality Don Silverio knew very little, but he had
skill and tact enough to give a contrary impression to his auditor.
He followed up his advantage.

"Expropriation is to be permitted to enforce sales on recalcitrant
landowners," he continued. "But that measure, even though conceded in
theory, will take time to translate into practice. I fear, sir, that
if it be ever put into execution we shall have trouble in your
commune. Your council has been over hasty in allying itself with
these speculators. You and they have not taken into account the
immense injury which will be done to the valley and to my own village
or town, call it as you will, of Ruscino. The people are quiet,
patient, meek, but they will not be so if they are robbed of the
water of the Edera. It is the source of all the little -- the very
little -- good which comes to them. So it is with Adone Alba. He has
been God-fearing, law-abiding, a good son, excellent in all
relations; but he will not recognise as law the seizure of his land.
Sir, you are the elected chief of this district; all these people
look to you for support in their emergency. What are these foreign
speculators to you that you should side with them? You say this
commune will purchase from its peasant proprietors in the interests
of these foreigners. Was it to do this that they elected you? Why
should the interests of the foreigners be upheld by you to the injury
of those of your own people? Speaking for my own parish, I can affirm
to you that, simple souls as they are, poor in the extreme, and
resigned to poverty, you will have trouble with them all if you take
it on you to enforce the usurpation of the Edera water."

Count Corradini, still leaning back in his large leathern chair,
listened as if he were hypnotised; he was astounded, offended,
enraged, but he was fascinated by the low, rich, harmonious
modulations of the voice which addressed him, and by the sense of
mastery which the priest conveyed without by a single word asserting
it.

"You would threaten me with public disorder?" he said feebly, and
with consciousness of feebleness.

"No sir; I would adjure you, in God's name, not to provoke it."

"It does not rest with me."

He raised himself in his chair: his slender aristocratic hands played
nervously with the strings of the portfolio, his eyelids flickered,
and his eyes avoided those of his visitor.

"I have no voice in this matter. You mistake."

"Surely your Excellency speaks with the voice of all you electors?"

"Of my administrative council, then? But they are all in favour of
the project; so is his Excellency the Prefect, so is the Deputy, so
is the Government. Can I take upon myself in my own slender
personality to oppose these?"

"Yes, sir, because you are the mouthpiece of those who cannot speak
for themselves."

"Euh! Euh! That may be true in a sense. But you mistake; my authority
is most limited. I have but two votes in Council. I am as wholly
convinced as you can be that some will suffer for the general good.
The individual is crushed by the crowd in these days. We are in a
period of immense and febrile development; of wholly unforeseen
expansion; we are surrounded by the miracles of science; we are
witnesses of an increase of intelligence which will lead to results
whereof no living man can dream; civilisation in its vast and
ineffable benevolence sometimes wounds, even as the light and heat of
the blessed sun --"

"Pardon me, sir," said Don Soverio, "at any other moment it would be
my dearest privilege to listen to your eloquence. But time passes. I
came here on a practical errand. I desire to take back some definite
answer to Adone and Clelia Alba. Am I to understand from you that the
municipality, on behalf of these foreign companies, desires to
purchase his land, and even insists upon its right to do so?"

The Syndic, accustomed to seek shelter from all plain speaking in the
cover of flowery periods such as those in which he had been arrested,
was driven from his usual refuge. He could not resume the noble and
enlightened discourse which had been thus recklessly cut in two. He
tied the strings of the portfolio into a bow, and undid them, and
tied them again.

"I have received you, sir, _ex officio_," he replied after a long
silence. "You address me as if I possessed some special individual
power. I have none. I am but the mouthpiece, the representative of my
administrative council. You, a learned ecclesiastic, cannot want to
be taught what are the functions of a Syndic."

"I am to understand then that I must address myself on behalf of my
people to the Prefect?"

Corradini was silent. The last thing he desired was for this
importunate priest to see the Prefect.

"I must go into council at once," he said, again looking at his
watch. "Could you return? Are you remaining here?"

"Some hours, sir."

"Will you dine with me at my house at three? You will give me much
pleasure, and the Countess Corradini will be charmed."

"I am grateful for so much offered honour, but I have promised to
make my noonday meal with an old friend, the superior of the
Cistercians."

"An excellent, a holy person," said Corradini, with a bend of his
head. "Be at my house, reverend sir, at five of the clock. I shall
then have spoken with the assessors of your errand, and it will be
dealt with probably in council."

Don Silverio made a low bow, and left him free to go to his awaiting
councillors, who were already gathered round a long table covered by
green cloth, in a vaulted and stately chamber, stories from Greek
mythology carved on its oaken doors and stone cornices.

"Pray excuse me, gentleman," said the courtly mayor to his assessors,
taking his seat on an old walnut-wood throne at the head of the
table. "I have been detained by this matter of the Valdedera. I fear
the people of that valley will show an ungrateful and refractory
temper. How hard it is to persuade the ignorant where their true
interests lie! But let us to business."

"It will be a hard matter," said the Prior to Don Silverio as they
walked together in the little burial-ground of the monastery between
its lines of rose-trees and its lines of crosses, after the frugal
noonday meal had been eaten in the refrectory. "It will be a hard
matter. You will fail, I fear. The municipalities here smell money.
That is enough to make them welcome the invasion. What can you do
against the force of gold?"

"Would it avail anything to see the Prefect?"

"Nothing. He is cousin to the Minister of Agriculture, whose brother
is chairman of the Teramo-Fermo Company. We are governed solely by
what the French call _tripotage_."

"What character does this Syndic bear?"

"A good one. He is blameless in his domestic relation, an indulgent
landlord, a gentleman, respectful of religion, assiduous in his
duties; but he is in debt; his large estates produce little; he has
no other means. I would not take upon me to say that he would be
above a bribe."

At five of the clock, as the Syndic had told him to do, Don Silverio
presented himself at the Palazzo Corradini. He was shown with much
deference by an old liveried servant into a fine apartment with
marble busts in niches in the walls, and antique bookcases of oak,
and doorhangings of Tuscan tapestry. The air of the place was cold,
and had the scent of a tomb. It was barely luminated by two bronze
lamps in which unshaded oil wicks burned. Corradini joined him there
in five minutes' time, and welcomed him to the house with grace and
warmth of courtesy.

"What does he want of me?" thought Don Silverio, who had not been
often met in life by such sweet phrases. "Does he want me to be
blind?"

"Dear and reverend sir," said the mayor, placing himself with his
back to the brass lamps, "tell me fully about this youth whom you
protect, who will not sell the Terra Vergine. Here we can speak at
our ease; yonder at the municipality, there may be always some
eavesdropper."

"Most worshipful, what I said is matter well known to the whole
countryside; all the valley can bear witness to its truth," replied
Don Silverio, and he proceeded to set forth all that he knew of Adone
and Clelia Alba, and of their great love for their lands; he only did
not mention what he believed to be Adone's descent, because he feared
that it might sound fantastical or presumptuous. Nearly three hundred
years of peasant ownership and residence were surely titles enough
for consideration.

"If land owned thus, and tilled thus by one family, can be taken away
from that family by Act of Parliament to please the greedy schemes of
strangers, why preserve the eighth commandment in the Decalogue? It
becomes absurd. There cannot be a more absolute ownership than this
of the Alba to the farm they live on and cultivate. So long as there
is any distinction at all between _meum et tuum_, how can its violent
seizure be by any possibility defended?"

"There will be no violent seizure," said Corradini. "The young man
will be offered a good price; even, since you are interested in him,
a high price."

"But he will take no price -- no price, if he were paid million; they
would not compensate for his loss."

"He must be a very singular young man."

"His character is singular, no doubt, in an age in which money is
esteemed the sole goal of existence, and discontent constitutes
philosophy. Adone Alba wants nothing but what he has; he only asks to
be left alone."

"It is difficult to be left alone in a world full of other people! If
your hero want a Thebaid, he can go and buy one in La Plata, or the
Argentine, with the price we shall give for his land."

"We?" repeated Don Silverio with significant emphasis.

Corradini reddened a little. "I only use the word because I am
greatly interested in the success of this enterprise, being convinced
of its general utility to the province. Being cognisant as I am of
the neighbourhood, I hoped I could prevent some friction."

"The shares are, I believe, already on the market?"

It was a harmless remark, yet it was a disagreeable one to the Syndic
of San Beda.

"What would be the selling price of the Terra Vergine?" he said
abruptly. "It is valued at twelve thousand francs."

"It is useless to discuss its price," replied Don Silverio, "and the
question is much wider than the limits of the Terra Vergine. In one
word, is the whole of the Valdedera to be ruined because a Minister
has a relation who desires to create an unnecessary railway?"

"Ruined is a large word. These constructions appear to all, except
primitive and ignorant people, to be improvements, acquisitions,
benefits. In our province we are so aloof from all movement, so
remote in our seclusion, so moss-grown in our antiquity, so wedded to
the past, to old customs, old habits, old ways of act and thought,
that the modern world shocks us as impious, odious, and intolerable."

"Sir," said Don Silverio with his most caustic smile, "if you are
here to sing the praises of modernity, allow me to withdraw from the
duet. I venture to ask you, as I asked you this morning, one plain
question. To whom is Adone Alba, to whom are my people of Ruscino, to
appeal against the sequestration?"

"To no one. The Prefect approves; the Minister approves; the local
deputies approve; I and my municipal and provincial councils approve;
Parliament has approved and authorised. Who remain opposed? A few
small landowners and a mob of poor persons living in your village of
Ruscino and in similar places."

"Who can create grave disorders and will do so."

"Disorders, even insurrections, do not greatly alarm authority
nowadays; they are easily pressed since the invention of the
quick-firing guns. The army is always on the side of order."

Don Silverio rose.

"Most honourable Corradini! your views and mine are so far asunder
that no amount of discussion can assimilate them. Allow me to salute
you."

"Wait one instant, reverence," said the Syndic. "May I ask how it is
that an ecclesiastic of your appearance and your intellect can have
been buried so long in such an owls' nest as Ruscino?"

"Sir," replied Don Silverio very coldly, "ask my superiors: I am but
one of the least of the servants of the Church."

"You might be one of her greatest servants, if influence --"

"I abhor the word influence. It means a bribe too subtle to be
punished, too gilded to alarm."

"Nay, sometimes it is but a word in season, a pressure in the right
place."

"It means that which cannot serve the poor man without degrading
him."

"But -- but -- if as a reward for duty, advancement cane to you?"

"I fail to understand."

"Let me speak frankly. With your superiority to them you must easily
rule the embryo rioters of the Valdedera. If, to your efforts it
should be owing that the population remain quiet, and that this Adone
Alba and others in a similar position come to me in an orderly manner
and a pliant spirit, I will engage that this service to us on your
part shall not be forgotten."

He paused; but Don Silverio did not reply.

"It is lamentable and unjust," continued the mayor, "that any one of
your evident mental powers and capacity for higher place should be
wasting your years and wasting your mind in a miserable solitude like
Ruscino. If you will aid us to a pacific cession of the Valdedera I
will take upon myself to promise that your translation to a higher
office shall be favoured by the Government-"

He paused again, for he did not see upon Don Silverio's countenance
that flattered and rejoiced expression which he expected; there was
even upon it a look of scorn. He regretted that he had said so much.

"I thank your Excellency for so benevolent an interest in my poor
personality," said Don Silverio. "But with the King's government I
have nothing to do. I am content in the place whereto I have been
called, and have no disposition to assist the speculations of foreign
companies. I have the honour to bid your Excellency good evening."

He bowed low, and backed out of the apartment this time. Count
Corradini did not endeavour to detain him.

When he got out into the air the strong mountain wind was blowing
roughly down the steep and narrow street. He felt it with pleasure
smite his cheeks and brows.

"Truly only from nature can we find strength and health," he
murmured. "In the houses of men there are but fever and corruption,
and uncleanliness."





XV

To neglect no possible chance, he resolved to see the Prefect, if the
Prefect consented to see him. This great official dwelt in a seaport
city, whence he ruled the province, for such a period at least as his
star should be in the ascendant, that is, whilt his political group
should be in power. It was scarcely likely that a government official
would be accessible to any arguments which a poor country priest
could bring forward against a government project. Still, he resolved
to make the effort, for at the Prefect's name apprehension, keen and
quaking, had leapt into Count Corradini's faded eyes.

From San Beda to the seaport city there stretched some forty miles of
distance; the first part a descent down the spurs of the Apennines,
the latter half through level sandy country, with pine woods here and
there. The first half he covered on foot, the second by the
parliamentary train, which drew its long black line snake-like and
slow, through the dunes and the stagnant waters. He had but a few
francs in his waistband, and could ill afford to expend those.

When he reached his destination it was evening; too late for him to
present himself at the Prefecture with any chance of admittance. The
Prior at San Beda had given him a letter to the vicar of the church
of Sant Anselmo in the city, and by this gentleman he was received
and willingly lodged for the night.

"A government project -- a project approved by ministers and
deputies?" said his host on hearing what was the errand on which he
came there. "As well, my brother, might you assail the Gran Sasse
d'Italia! There must be money in it, much money, for our Conscript
Fathers."

"I suppose so," said Don Silverio, "but I cannot see where it is to
come from."

"From the pockets of the taxpayers, my friend!" replied the incumbent
of Sant Anselmo, with a smile as of a man who knows the world he
lives in. "The country is honeycombed by enterprises undertaken
solely to this end -- to pass the money which rusts in the pockets of
fools into those of wise men who know how to make it run about and
multiply. In what other scope are all our betterments, our hygiene,
our useless railway lines, our monstrous new streets, all our
modernisation, put in the cauldron and kept boiling like a witch's
supper?"

"I know, I know," said Don Silverio wearily. "The whole land is
overrun by _affaristi_, like red ants."

"Do not slander the ants!" replied his host; "I would not offend the
name of any honest, hard-working little insect by giving it to the
men through whom this country is eaten up by selfish avarice and
unscrupulous speculation! But tell me, what do you hope for from our
revered Prefect?"

"I hope nothing, but I wish to leave no stone unturned. Tell me of
him."

"Of his Excellency, Giovacchino Gallo, senator, Grand Cross, and
whatnot? There is much to tell, though there is nothing which could
not be also told of many another gentleman in high place. It is the
usual story: the supple spine, the sharp eye, the greased foot. He
was a young lawyer, useful to deputies. He married a lovely woman
whom a prince had admired beyond him. He asked no questions; her
dower was large. To do him justice, he has always behaved very well
to her. He entered Parliament early, and there was useful also, to
existing institutions. He was instrumental in carrying many railway
and canal bills through the chamber. He has been always successful in
his undertakings, and he knows that nothing succeeds like success. I
am told that he and his wife are _persone gratissime_ at the
Quirinale, and that her jewels are extremely fine. When he was named
Senator two years ago the Press, especially the Press of the Right,
saluted his nomination as strengthening the Senate by the accession
to it of a person of impeccable virtue, of enlightened intellect, and
of a character cast in antique moulds of noble simplicity and Spartan
courage. You think, my brother, that this favourite of fortune is
likely to favour your plea for your parishioners?"

"Dear and revered brother," replied Don Silverio, "I came hither
with no such illusions. If I had done, your biography of this
functionary would have dispelled them."

Nevertheless, although without hope, at two o'clock of that day he
went to the audience which was granted him at the intervention of the
bishop of the city, obtained by means of the vicar of Sant Anselmo.

The Prefecture was situated in a palace of sixteenth century
architecture, a noble and stately place of immense size, greatly
injured by telegraph and telephone wires stretching all round it, the
post-office and the tax offices being situated on the ground floor,
and the great central court daubed over with fresh paint and
whitewash. Some little soldiers in dingy uniforms, ill-cut and
ill-fitting, stood about gates and doors. On the first floor were the
apartments occupied by his Excellency. Don Silverio was kept waiting
for some time in a vestibule of fine proportions painted by
Diotisalvi, with a colossal marble group in its centre of the death
of Caesar.

He looked at it wistfully.

"Ah, Guilio!" he murmured, "what use were your conquests, what use
was your genius, the greatest perchance the world has ever seen? What
use? You were struck in the throat like a felled ox, and the land you
ruled lies bleeding at every pore!"

In a quarter of an hour he was ushered through other large rooms into
one of great architectural beauty, where the Prefect was standing by
a writing-table.

Giovacchino Gallo was a short, stout person with a large stomach, a
bald head, bright restless eyes, and a high, narrow forehead; his
face was florid, like the face of one to whom the pleasures of the
table are not alien. His address was courteous but distant, stiff,
and a little pompous; he evidently believed in himself as a great
person and only unbent to other greater persons, when he unbent so
vastly that he crawled.

"What can I do for your Reverence?" he asked, as he seated himself
behind the writing-table and pointed to a chair.

The words were polite but the tone was curt; it was officialism
crystallised.

Don Silverio explained the purpose of his visit, and urged the
prayers of his people.

"I am but the vicar of Ruscino," he said in explanation, "but in this
matter I plead for all the natives of the Valdedera. Your Excellency
is Governor of this province, in which the Edera takes its rise and
has its course. My people, and all those others who are not under my
ministry, but whose desires and supplications I represent, venture to
look to you for support in their greatest distress, and intercession
for them against this calamity."

The face of the Prefect grew colder and sterner, his eyes got an
angry sparkle, his plump, rosy hands closed on a malachite
paper-knife; he wished the knife were of steel, and the people of the
Valdedera had but one head.

"Are you aware, sir," he said impatiently, "that the matter of which
you speak has had the ratification of Parliament?"

"But it has not had the ratification of the persons whom it most
concerns."

"Do you supposed, then, when a great public work is to be
accomplished the promoters are to go hat in hand for permission to
every peasant resident on the area?"

"A great public work seems to me a large expression: too large for
this case. The railway is not needed. The acetylene works are a
private speculation. I venture to recall to your Excellency that
these people, whom you would ignore, own the land, or, where they do
not own it, have many interests both in the land and the water."
"Pardon me, your Excellency, but that is a phrase: it is not a fact.
You could not, if you gave them millions, compensate them for the
seizure of their river and their lands. These belong to them and to
their descendants by natural right. They cannot be deprived of these
by Act of Parliament without gross injury and injustice."
"There must be suffering for the individual in all benefit of the
general!"

"And doubtless, sir, when one is not the individual the suffering
appears immaterial!"

"What an insolent priest!" thought Giovacchino Gallo, and struck the
paper-knife with anger on the table.

"Take my own parishioners alone," pursued Don Silverio. "Their small
earnings depend entirely upon the Edera water; it gives them their
food, their bed, their occupation; it gives them health and strength;
it irrigates their little holdings, _extra murus_, on which they and
their families depend for grain and maize and rice. If you change
their river-bed into dry land they will starve. Are not your own
countrymen dearer to you than the members of a foreign syndicate?"

"There will be work for them at the acetylene factory."

"Are they not free men? Are they to be driven like slaves to a work
which would be hateful to them? These people are country born and
country bred. They labour in the open air, and have done so for
generations. Pardon me, your Excellency, but every year the King's
Government forces into exile thousands, tens of thousands, of our
hard working peasants with their families. The taxation of the land
and of all its products lays waste thousands of square miles in this
country. The country is being depleted and depopulated, and the best
of its manhood is being sent out of it by droves to Brazil, to La
Plata, to the Argentines, to anywhere and everywhere, where labour is
cheap and climate homicidal. The poor are packed on emigrant ships
and sent with less care than crated of fruit receive. They consent to
go because they are famished here. Is it well for a country to lose
its labouring classes, its frugal, willing, and hard-working manhood?
to pack them off across the oceans by contract with other states? The
Government has made a contract with a Pacific island for five
thousand Italians? Are they free men or are they slaves? Can your
Excellency call my people free who are allowed no voice against the
seizure of their own river, and to whom you offer an unwholesome and
indoor labour as compensation for the ruin of their lives? Now, they
are poor indeed, but they are contented; they keep body and soul
together, they live on their natal soil, they live as their fathers
lived. Is it just, is it right, is it wise to turn these people into
disaffection and despair by an act of tyranny and spoilation through
which the only gainers will be foreign speculators abroad and at home
the gamblers of the Bourses? Sir, I do not believe that the world
holds people more patient, more long-suffering, more pacific under
dire provocation, or more willing to subsist on the poorest and
hardest conditions than Italians are; is it right or just or wise to
take advantage of that national resignation to take from half a
province the natural aid and the natural beauty with which God
Himself has dowered it in the gift of the mountainborn stream? You
are powerful, sir, you have the ear of the Government; you will not
try to stop this infamous theft of the Edera water whilst there is
still time?"

Don Silverio spoke with that eloquence and with that melody of voice
which few could bear unmoved; and even the dull ear and the hard
heart of the official who heard him were for one brief moment moved
as by the pathos of a song sung by some great tenor.

But that moment was very brief. Over the face of Giovacchino Gallo a
look passed at once brutal and suspicious. "Curse this priest!" he
thought; "he will give us trouble."

He rose, stiff, cold, pompous, with a frigid smile on his red, full,
_bon viveur's_ lips.

"If you imagine that I should venture to attack, or even presume to
criticise, a matter which the Most Honourable the Minister of
Agriculture has in his wisdom approved and ratified, you must have a
strange conception of my fitness for my functions. As regards
yourself, Reverend Sir, I regret that you appear to forget that the
chief duty of your sacred office is to inculcate to your flock
unquestioning submission to Governmental decrees."

"Is that your Excellency's last word?"

"It is my first, and my last, word."

Don Silverio bowed low.

"You may regret it, sir," he said simply, and left the writing-table
and crossed the room. But as he approached the door the Prefect,
still standing, said, "Wait!"

Gallo opened two or three drawers in his table, searched for some
papers, looked over them, leaving the priest always standing between
him and the door. Don Silverio was erect; his tall frail form had a
great majesty in it; his pallid features were stern.

"Return a moment," said Gallo.

"I can hear your Excellency where I am," replied Don Silverio, and
did not stir.

"I have here reports from certain of my agents," said Gallo,
fingering his various papers, "that there is and has been for some
time a subversive movement amongst the sparse population of the
Valdedera."

Don Silverio did not speak or stir.

"It is an agrarian agitation," continued Gallo, "limited to its area,
with little probability of spreading, but it exists; there are
meetings by night, both open-air and secret meetings; the latter take
place now in one farmhouse, now in another. The leader of this
noxious and unlawful movement is one Adone Alba. He is of your
parish."

He lifted his eyelids and flashed a quick, searching glance at the
priest.

"He is of my parish," repeated Don Silverio, with no visible emotion.

"You know of this agitation?"

"If I did, sir, I should not say so. But I am not in the confidence
of Adone Alba."

"Of course I do not ask you to reveal the secrets of the
confessional, but --"

"Neither in the confessional nor out of it have I heard anything
whatever from him concerning any such matter as that of which you
speak."

"He is a young man?"

"Yes."

"And the owner of the land known as the Terra Vergine?"

"Yes."

"And his land is comprised in that which will be taken by the
projected works?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure that he has not sent you here?"

"My parishoners are not in the habit of 'sending' me anywhere. You
reverse our respective positions."

"Humility is not one of your ecclesiastical virtues, Most Reverend."

"It may be so."

Gallo thrust his papers back into their drawer and locked it with a
sharp click.

"You saw the Syndic of San Beda?"

"I did."

"Much what you say. Official language is always limited and learned
by rote."

Gallo would willingly have thrown his bronze inkstand at the insolent
ecclesiastic; his temper was naturally choleric, though years of
sycophancy and State service had taught him to control it.

"Well, Reverend Sir!" he said, with ill-concealed irritation, "this
conversation is, I see, useless. You protect and screen your people.
Perhaps I cannot blame you for that, but you will allow me to remind
you that it is my duty to see that the order and peace of this
district are not in any manner disturbed; and that any parish priest
if he fomented dissatisfaction or countenanced agitation in his
district, would be much more severely dealt with by me than any
civilian would be in the same circumstances. We tolerate and respect
the Church so long as she remains strictly within her own sphere, but
so long only."

"We are all perfectly well aware of the conditions attached to the
_placet_ and the _exequatur_ at all times, and we are all conscious
that even the limited privileges of civilians are denied to us!"
replied Don Silverio. "I have the honour to wish your Excellency good
morning."

He closed the door behind him.

"Damnation!" said Giovacchino Gallo; "that is a strong man! Is Mother
Church blind that she lets such an one rust and rot in the miserable
parish of Ruscino?"

When Don Silverio rejoined the Vicar of Sant Anselmo the latter asked
him anxiously how his errand had sped.

"It was a waste of breath and words," he answered. "I might have
known that it would be so with any Government official."

"But you might have put a spoke in Count Corradini's wheel. If you
had told Gallo that the other is trafficking --"

"Why should I betray a man who received me in all good faith? And
what good would it have accomplished if I had done so?"

And more weary than ever in mind and body he returned to Ruscino.

As he had left the Prefect's presence that eminent person had rung
for his secretary.

"Brandone, send me Sarelli."

In a few moments Sarelli had appeared; he was the usher of the
Prefecture by appointment; by taste and in addition he was its chief
spy. He was a native of the city, and a person of considerable acumen
and excellent memory; he never needed to make memoranda -- there is
nothing so dangerous to an official as written notes.
"Sarelli, what are the reports concerning the vicar of Ruscino?"

Sarelli stood respectfully at attention; he had been a
non-commissioned officer of artillery; and answered in rapid but
clear tones --

"Great ability -- great eloquence -- disliked by superiors; formerly
great preacher in Rome; supposed to be at Ruscino as castigation;
learned -- benevolent -- correct."

"Humph!" said Gallo, disappointed. "Not likely then to cause trouble
or disorder? -- to necessitate painful measures?"

Sarelli rapidly took his cue.

"Hitherto, your Excellency, uniformly correct; except in one instance
--"

"That instance?"

"Your Excellency will have heard of Ulisse Ferrero, a great robber of
the lower Abruzzo Citeriore Primo?"

"I have: continue."

"Ulisse Ferrero was outlawed; his band had been killed or captured,
every one; he had lost his right arm; he hid for many years in the
lower woods of Abruzzo; he came down at night to the farmhouses, the
people gave him food and drink, and aided him --"

"Their criminal habit always: continue."

"Sometimes in one district, sometimes in another, he was often in the
_macchia_ of the Valdedera. The people of the district, and
especially of Ruscino, protected him. They thought him a saint,
because once when at the head of his band, which was then very
strong, he had come into Ruscino and done them no harm, but only
eaten and drunk, and left a handful of silver pieces to pay for what
he and his men had taken. So they protected him now, and oftentimes
for more than a year he came out of the _macchia_, and the villagers
gave him all they could, and he went up and down Ruscino as if he
were a king; and this lasted for several seasons, and, as we learned
afterwards, Don Silverio Frascara had cognisance of this fact, but
did nothing. When Ulisse Ferrero was at last captured (it is nine
years ago come November, and it was not in Ruscino but in the woods
above), and brought to trial, many witnesses were summoned, and
amongst them this Don Silverio; and the judge said to him, 'You had
knowledge that this man came oftentimes into you parish?' and Don
Silverio answered, 'I had.' 'You knew that he was an outlaw, in
rupture with justice?' 'I did,' he answered. Then the judge struck
his fist with anger on his desk. 'And you a priest, a guardian of
order, did not denounce him to the authorities?' Then Don Silverio,
your Excellency, quite quietly, but with a smile (I was there close
to him), had the audacity to answer the judge. 'I am a priest,' he
said 'and I study my breviary, but do not find in it any command
which authorises me to betray my fellow creatures.' That made a
terrible stir in the tribunal, you Excellency. They talked of
committing him to gaol for contempt of court and for collusion with
the outlaw. But it took place at San Beda, where they are all
_papalini_, as your Excellency knows, and nothing was done, sir."

"That reply is verily like this priest!" thought Giovacchino Gallo.
"A man of ability, of intellect, of incorruptible temper, but a man
as like as not to encourage and excuse sedition."

Aloud he said, "You may go, Sarelli. Good morning."

"May I be allowed a word, sir?"

"Speak."

"May it not well be, sir, that Don Silverio's organisation or
suggestion is underneath this insurrectionary movement of the young
men in the Valdedera?"

"It is possible; yes. See to it."

"Your servant, sir."

Sarelli withdrew, elated. He loved tracking, like a bloodhound, for
the sheer pleasure of the "cold foot chase." The official views both
layman and priest with contempt and aversion; both are equally his
prey, both equally his profit: he lives by them and on them, as the
galleruca does on the elm-tree, whose foliage it devours, but he
despises them because they are not officials, as the galleruca
doubtless, if it can think, despises the elm.




XVI

Of course his absence could not be hidden from any in his parish. The
mere presence of the rector of an adjacent parish, who had taken his
duties, sufficed to reveal it. For so many years he had never stirred
out of Ruscino in winter cold or summer heat, that none of his people
could satisfactorily account to themselves for his now frequent
journeys. The more sagacious supposed that he was trying to get the
project for the river undone; but they did not all have so much faith
in him. Many had always been vaguely suspicious of him; he was so
wholly beyond their comprehension. They asked Adone what he knew, or,
if he knew nothing, what he thought. Adone put them aside with an
impatient, imperious gesture. "But you knew when he went to Rome?"
they persisted. Adone swung himself loose from them with a movement
of anger. It hurt him to speak of the master he had renounced, of the
friend he had forsaken. His conscience shrank from any distrust of
Don Silverio; yet his old faith was no more alive. He was going
rapidly down a steep descent, and in that downward rush he lost all
his higher instincts; he was becoming insensible to everything except
the thirst for action, for vengeance.

To the man who lives in a natural state away from cities it appears
only virile and just to defend himself, to avenge himself, with the
weapons which nature and art have given him; he feels no satisfaction
in creeping and crawling through labyrinths of the law, and he cannot
see why he, the wronged, should be forced to spend, and wait, and
humbly pray, while the wrongdoer may go, in the end, unchastised.
Such a tribunal as St. Louis held under an oak-tree, or the Emperor
Akbar in a mango grove, would be intelligible to him; but the
procedure, the embarrassments, the sophistries, the whole machinery
of modern law are abhorrent to him.

He yearned to be the Tell, the Massaniello, the Andreas Hofer, of his
province; but the apathy and supineness and timidity of his neighbors
tied his hands. He knew that they were not made of the stuff with
which a leader could hope to conquer. All his fiery appeals fell like
shooting stars, brilliant but useless; all his vehement excitations
did little more than scare the peasants whom he sought to rouse. A
few bold spirits like his own seconded his efforts and aided his
propaganda; but these were not numerous enough to leaven the inert
mass.

His plan was primitive and simple: it was to oppose by continual
resistance every attempt which should be made to begin the projected
works upon the river; to destroy at night all which should be done in
the day, and so harass and intimidate the workmen who should be sent
there that they should, in fear and fatigue, give up their labours.
They would certainly be foreign workmen; that is, workmen from
another province; probably from the Puglie. It was said that three
hundred of them were coming that week from the Terra d'Otranto to
work above Ruscino. He reckoned that he and those he led would have
the advantage of local acquaintance with the land and water, and
could easily, having their own homes as base, carry on a guerrilla
warfare for any length of time. No doubt, he knew, the authorities
would send troops to the support of the labours, but he believed that
when the resolve of the district to oppose at all hazards any
interference with the Edera should be made clear, the Government
would not provoke an insurrection for the sake of favouring a foreign
syndicate. So far as he reasoned at all, he reasoned thus.

But he forgot, or rather he did not know, that the lives of its
people, whether soldiers or civilians, matter very little to any
Government, and that its own vanity, which it calls dignity, and the
financial interests of its supporters, matter greatly; where the
Executive has been defied there it is inexorable and unscrupulous.

Both up and down the river there was but one feeling of bitter rage
against the impending ruin of the water; there was but one piteous
cry of helpless desperation. But to weld this, which was mere
emotion, into that sterner passion of which resistance and revolt are
made, was a task beyond his powers.

"No on will care for us; we are too feeble, we are too small," they
urged; they were willing to do anything were they sure it would
succeed, but --

"But who can be sure of anything under heaven?" replied Adone. "You
are never sure of your crops until the very last day they are reaped
and carried; yet you sow."

Yes, they granted that; but sowing grain was a safe, familiar
labour; the idea of sowing lead and death alarmed them. Still there
were some, most of them those who were dwellers on the river, or
owners of land abutting on it, who were of more fiery temper, and
these thought as Adone thought, that never had a rural people juster
cause for rebellion; and these gathered around him in those meetings
by night of which information had reached the Prefecture, for there
are spies in every province.

Adone had changed greatly; he had grown thin and almost gaunt; he had
lost his beautiful aspect of adolescence; his eyes had no longer
their clear and happy light; they were keen and fierce, and looked
out defiantly from under his level brows.

He worked on his own land usually, by day, to stave off suspicion;
but by night he scoured the country up and down the stream wherever
he believed he could find proselytes or arms. He had no settled plan
of action; he had no defined project; his only idea was to resist, to
resist, to resist. Under a leader he would have been an invaluable
auxiliary, but he had not the knowledge whatever of stratagem, or
manoeuvre, or any of the manifold complications of guerrilla warfare.
His calm and dreamy life had not prepared him to be all at once a man
of action: action was alien alike to his temperament and to his
habits. All his heart, his blood, his imagination, were on fire; but
behind them there was not that genius of conception and command which
alone makes the successful chief of a popular cause.

His mother said nothing to disturb or deter him on his course, but in
herself she was sorely afraid. She kept her lips shut because she
would have thought it unworthy to discourage him, and she could not
believe in his success, try how she might to compel her faith to
await miracles.

Little Nerina alone gave him that unquestioning, blind belief which
is so dear to the soul of man. Nerina was convinced that at his call
the whole of the Valdedera would rise full-armed, and that no hostile
power on earth would dare to touch the water. To her any miracle
seemed possible. Whatever he ordered, she did. She had neither fear
nor hesitation. She would slip out of her room unheard, and speed
over the dark country on moonless nights on his errands; she would
seek for weapons and bring them in and distribute them; she would
take his messages to those on whom he could rely, and rouse to his
cause the hesitating and half-hearted by repetition of his words. Her
whole young life had caught fire at his; and her passionate loyalty
accepted without comprehending all he enjoined her or told to her.

The danger which she ran and the concealment of which she was guilty,
never disturbed her for an instant. What Adone ordained was her law.
Had he not taken pity on her in her misery that day by the river? Was
she not to do anything and everything to serve him and save the
river? This was her sole creed; but it sufficed to fill her still
childish soul. If, with it, there were mingled a more intense and
more personal sentiment, she was unconscious of, and he indifferent
to, it. He sent her to do his bidding as he would have sent a boy,
because he recognised in her that zeal and fervent fidelity to a
trust of which he was not sure in others.

Although she was a slender brown thing, like a nightingale, she was
strong, elastic, untiring; nothing seemed to fatigue her; she always
looked as fresh as the dew, as vigorous as a young cherry-tree. Her
big hazel eyes danced under their long lashes, and her pretty mouth
was like one of the four-season roses which bloomed on the house
wall. She was not thought much to look at in a province where the
fine Roman type is blended with the Venetian colouring in the beauty
of its women; but she had a charm and a grace of her own; wild and
rustic, like that of a spray of grass or a harvest mouse swinging on
a stalk of wheat.

She was so lithe, so swift, so agile; so strong without effort, so
buoyant and content, that she carried with her the sense of her own
perfect health and happiness, as the east wind blowing up the Edera
water bore with it the scent of the sea.

But of any physical charm in her Adone saw nothing. A great rage
filled his soul, and a black cloud seemed to float between him and
all else which was not the wrong done to him and his and the water of
Edera. Until he should have lifted off the land and the stream this
coming curse which threatened them, life held nothing for him which
could tempt or touch him.

He used the girl for his own purposes and did not spare her; but
those purposes were only those of his self-imposed mission, and of
all which was youthful, alluring, feminine, in her he saw nothing:
she was to him no more than a lithe, swift, hardy filly would have
been which he should have ridden over the moors and pastures to its
death in pursuit of his end. He who had been always so tender of
heart had grown cruel; he would have flung corpse upon corpse into
the water if by such holocaust he could have reached his purpose.
What had drawn him to Nernia had been that flash of ferocity which he
had seen in her; that readiness to go to the bitter end in the sweet
right of vengeance; instincts which formed so singular a contrast to
the childish gaiety and the sunny goodwill of her normal disposition.

He knew that nothing which could have been done to her would have
made her reveal any confidence placed in her. That she was often out
all the hours of the night on errands to the widely scattered
dwellings of the peasants did not prevent her coming at dawn into the
cattle stalls to feed and tend the beasts.

And she was so dexterous, so sure, so silent; even the sharp eyes of
old Gianna never detected her nocturnal absence, even the shrewd
observation of Clelia Alba never detected any trace of fatigue in her
or any negligence in her tasks. She was always there when they needed
her, did all that she was used to do, was obedient to every word or
sign; they did not know that as she carried the water pails, or cut
the grass, or swept the bricks, or washed the linen, her heart sung
proudly within her a joyous song because she shared a secret -- a
perilous secret -- of which the elder woman knew nothing. Any night a
stray shot might strike her as she ran over the moors, or through the
heather; any night a false step might pitch her headlong into a
ravine or a pool; any night, returning through the shallows of the
ford, she might miss her footing and fall into one of the bottomless
holes that the river hid in its depths: but the danger of it only
endeared her errand the more to her; made her the prouder that she
was chosen for it.

"I fear nothing," she said to him truthfully; "I fear only that you
should not be content."

And as signal fires run from point to point, or hill to hill, so she
ran from one farmhouse to another, bearing the messages which
organised those gatherings whereof Giavacchino Gallo had the
knowledge. The men she summoned and spoke with were rough peasants,
for the most part, rude as the untanned skins they wore at their
work, but not one of them ever said a gross word or gave a lewd
glance to the child.

She was _la bimba_ to them all; a brave little soul and honest; they
respected her as if she were one of their own children, or one of
their own sisters, and Nernia coming through the starlight, with an
old musket slung at her back, which Adone had taught her to use, and
her small, bronzed feet leaping over the ground like a young goat's,
was a figure which soon became familiar and welcome to the people.
She seemed to them like a harbinger of hope; she had few words, but
those words reverberated with courage and energy; she moved the
supine, she braced the timid; she brought the wavering firmness and
the nervous strength; she said what Adone had taught her to say, but
she put into it all her own immense faith in him, all her own
innocent and undoubting certainty that his cause was just and would
be blessed by heaven.

The Edera water belonged to them. Would they let it be turned away
from their lands and given to strangers?

As a little spaniel or beagle threshes a covert, obedient to his
master's will and working only to please him, so she scoured the
country-side and drove in, by persuasion, or appeal, or threat, all
those who would lend ear to her, to the midnight meetings on the
moors, or in the homesteads, where Adone harangued them, with
eloquence ever varied, on a theme which was never stale, because it
appealed at once to the hearts and to the interests of his hearers.

But many of them, though fascinated, remained afraid.

"When all is said, what can we do?" they muttered. "Authority has a
long arm."

The people of the district talked under their breath of nothing else
than of this resistance which was being preached as a holy war by the
youth of Terra Vergine. They were secret and silent, made prudent by
many generations which had suffered from harsh measures and brutal
reprisals, but the league he proclaimed fascinated and possessed
them. Conspiracy has a seduction subtle and irresistible as gambling
for those who have once become its servants. It is potent as wine,
and colours the brain which it inflames. To these lowly, solitary
men, who knew nothing beyond their own fields and coppices and
wastelands, its excitement came like a magic philter to change the
monotony of their days. They were most of them wholly unlettered;
knew not their A B C; had only learned the law of the seasons, and
the earth, and the trees which grew, and the beasts which grazed; but
they had imagination; they had the blood of ancient races; they were
neither dolts not boors, though Adone in his wrath called them so.
They were fascinated by the call to rise and save their river. A
feeling, more local than patriotism, but more noble than interest,
moved them to share in his passionate hatred of the intruders, and to
hearken to his appeals to them to arm and rise as one man.

But, on the other hand, long years of servitude and hardship had made
them timid as gallant dogs are made so by fasting or the whip. "What
are we?" some of them said to him. "We are no more than the
earthworms in the soil." For there is a pathetic humility in these
descendants of the ancient rulers of the world; it is a humility born
of hope deferred, of the sense of every change of masters, of
knowledge that the sun rises and sets upon their toil, as it did on
that of their fathers, as it will do on that of their children, and
will never see it lessened, nor see the fruits thereof given to
themselves or to their sons. It is a humility which is never ignoble,
but is infinitely, because hopelessly, sad.

The river was their own, surely, yes; but, like so much else that was
their own, the State claimed it.

"What can be more yours than the son you beget, the fruit of your
loins, the child for whom you have laboured through long years?" said
an old man to him once. "Yet the State, as soon as he is of use to
you, the State takes him, makes a beast of burden of him, kills his
youth and his manhood; sends him without a word to you, to be maimed
and slaughtered in Africa, his very place of death unknown to you;
his body -- the body you begat and which his mother bore in her womb
and nourished and cherished -- is devoured by the beasts of the
desert and the birds of the air. They take all; why shall they not
take the river also?"

The glowing faith of Adone was flung, as the sunlit salt spray of the
ocean is cast on a cliff of basalt, against the barrier of that weary
and prostrate despair which the State dares to tell the poor is their
duty and their portion upon earth.

But the younger men listened to him more readily, being less bent and
broken by long labour, and poor food, and many years of unanswered
prayers. Of these some had served their time in regiments, and aided
him to give some knowledge of drill and of the use of weapons to
those who agreed with him to dispute by force the claim of strangers
to the Edera water.

These gatherings took place on waste lands or bare heaths, or in
clearings or hollows in the woods, and the tramp of feet and click of
weapons scared the affrighted fox and the astounded badger. They
dared not fire lest the sound should betray their whereabouts to some
unfriendly ear; but they went through all other military exercises as
far as it lay in their power to do so.

The extreme loneliness of the Edera valley was in their favour. Once
in half a year, perhaps, half a troop of carabineers might ride
through the district, but this was only if there had been any notable
assassination or robbery; and of police there was none nearer than
the town of San Beda.

It was to arrange these nightly exercises, and summon to or warn off
men from them, as might be expedient, that Nernia was usually sent
upon her nocturnal errands. One night when she had been bidden by
Adone to go to a certain hamlet in the woods to the north, the child,
as she was about to slip back the great steel bolts which fastened
the house door, saw a light upon the stairs which she had just
descended, and turning round, her hand upon the lock, saw Clelia
Alba.

"Why are you out of your bed at this hour?" said the elder woman. Her
face was stern and dark.

Nernia did not answer; her gay courage forsook her; she trembled.

"Why?" asked Adone's mother.

"I was going out," answered the child. Her voice shook. She was
clothed as usual in the daytime, but she had over her head a woollen
wrapper. She had not her musket, for she kept it in the hen-house,
and was accustomed to take it as she passed that place.

"Going out! At the fourth hour of the night? Is that an answer for a
decent maiden?"

Nernia was silent.

"Go back to your room, and I will lock you in it; in the morning you
will account to me."

Nernia recovered her self-possession, though she trembled still.

"Pardon me, Madama Clelia," she said humbly, "I must go out."

She did not look ashamed, and her small brown face had a resolute
expression.

A great anguish seized and wrung the heart of Clelia Alba. She knew
that Adone was not in the house, Did he, the soul of purity and
honour, seduce a girl who dwelt under his own roof? -- carry on an
intrigue with a little beggar, to his own shame and the outrage of
his mother? Was this the true cause of his frequent absence, his many
nights abroad? Her dark brows contracted, her black eyes blazed.

"Go to your room, wanton!" she said in tones of thunder. "In the
morning you will answer to me."

But Nernia, who had before this slipped the bolt aside, and who
always kept her grasp upon the great key in the lock, suddenly turned
it, pushed the oak door open, and before the elder woman was
conscious of what she was doing, had dashed out into the air, and
slammed the door behind her. The rush of wind had blown out the lamp
in Clelia Alba's hand.

When, after fumbling vainly for some minutes to find the door, and
bruising her hands against the wall and oaken chair, she at last
found it and thrust it open, the night without was moonless and
starless and stormy, and in its unillumined blackness she saw no
trace of the little girl. She went out on to the doorstep and
listened, but there was no sound. The wind was high; the perfume of
the stocks and wallflowers was strong; far away the sound of the
river rushing through the sedges was audible in the intense
stillness, an owl hooted, a nightjar sent forth its sweet, strange,
sighing note. Of Nernia there was no trace. Clelia Alba came within
and closed the door, and locked and bolted it.

The old woman Gianna had come downstairs with a lighted rush candle
in her hand; she was scared and afraid.

"What is it? What is it, madama?"

Clelia Alba dropped down on the chair by the door.

"It is -- it is -- that the beggar's spawn you would have me shelter
is the leman of my son; and he has dishonoured his house and mine."

Gianna shook her grey head in solemn denial and disbelief.

"Sior'a, Clelia, do not say such words or think such thoughts of your
son or of the child. She is as harmless as any flower that blows out
there in the garden, and he is a noble youth, though now, by the
wickedness of me, distraught and off his head. What makes you revile
them so?"

"They are both out this night. Is not that enough?"

Gianna was distressed; from her chamber above she had heard the words
which had passed between Adone's mother and Nernia, and knew the girl
was gone.

"I would condemn others, but not Adone and the child," she returned.
"For sure they do not do right to have secrets from you, but they are
not such secrets as you think."

"Enough!" said Clelia Alba sternly. "The morning will show who is
right. It suffices for me that the son of Valeria Albo, my son, has
forgot his duty to his mother and his respect for himself."

Clelia Alba rose with effort from her chair, relighted her lamp at
the old woman's rush candle, and went slowly and heavily up the
stairs. She felt stunned and outraged. Her son! -- hers! -- to lie
out of nights with a little nameless vagrant!

Gianna caught hold of her skirt. "Madama -- listen. I saw him born
that day by the Edera water, and I have seen him every day of his
life since till now. He would never do a base thing. Do not you, his
mother, disgrace him by thinking of it for an hour. This thing is
odd, is ugly, is strange, but wait to judge it --"

Clelia Alba released her skirt from her old servant's grasp.

"You mean well, but you are crazed. Get you gone."

Gianna let go her hold and crept submissively down the stair. She set
her rushlight on the floor and sat down in the chair beside the door,
and told her beads with shaking fingers. One or other of them, she
thought, might come home either soon or late, for she did not believe
that any amorous intimacy was the reason that they were both out --
God knew where -- in this windy, pitch-dark night.

"But he does wrong, he does wrong," she thought. "He sends the child
on his errands perhaps, but he should remember a girl is like a
peach, you cannot handle it ever so gently but its bloom goes; and he
leaves us alone, two old women here, and we might have our throats
cut before we should be able to wake old Ettore in the stable."

The night seemed long to her in the lone stone entrance, with the
owls hooting round the house, and the winds blowing loud and tearing
the tiles from the roof. Above, in her chamber, Adone's mother walked
to and fro all night sleepless.





XVII

Gianna before it was dawn went out in the hope that she might meet
Adone on his return, and be able to speak to him before he could see
his mother. She was also in extreme anxiety for Nerina, of whom she
had grown fond. She did not think the little girl would dare return
after the words of Clelia Alba. She knew the child was courageous,
but timid, like an otter or a swallow.

She went to the edge of the river and waited; he must cross it to
come home; but whether he would cross higher up or lower down she
could not tell. There was the faint light which preceded the rising
of the sun. A great peace, a great freshness, were on the water and
the land.

"Oh Lord, what fools we are!" thought the old woman. "The earth makes
itself anew for us with every dawn, and our own snarling, and
fretting, and mourning cloud it all over for us, and we only see our
own silly souls!"

Soon, before the sun was rising, Adone came in sight, passing with
firm, accustomed step across the undressed trunks of trees which were
here thrown across the river to make a passage lower down the stream
than the bridge of Ruscino. He was walking with spirit and ease, his
head was erect, his belt was filled with arms, his eyes had sternness
and command in them; he came from one of the military drillings in
the woods, and had been content with it. Seeing old Gianna waiting
there he understood that something must have happened, and his first
fears were for his mother.

"Is she ill?" he cried, as he reached the bank of his own land.

"No; she is well in health," answered Gianna, "but she is sorely
grieved and deeply angered; she found the girl Nerina going out at
the dead of night."

Adone changed colour. He was silent. Gianna came close to him.

"The child and you both out all night, heaven knows where! What but
one thing can your mother think?"

"If she thinks but one thing, that thing is false."

"Maybe. I believe so myself, but, Sior' Clelia will not. Why do you
send the child out at such hours?"

"What did she say to my mother?"

"Nothing; only that she had to go."

"Faithful little soul!"

"Aye! And it is when little maids are faithful like this that men
ruin them. I do not want to speak without respect to you, Adone, for
I have eaten your bread and been sheltered by your roof through many
a year; but for whatever end you send that child out of nights, you
do a bad thing, a cruel thing, a thing unworthy of your stock; and if
I know Clelia Alba----and who should know her if not I?-- she will
never let Nerina enter her house again."

Adone's face grew dark.

"The house is mine. Nerina shall not be turned out of it."

"Perhaps it is yours; but it is your mother's too, and you will
scarce turn out your mother for the sake of a little beggar-girl?"

Adone was silent; he saw the dilemma; he knew his mother's nature; he
inherited it.

"Go you," he said at last; "go you and tell her that the child went
out on my errands, indeed, but I have not seen her; there is no
collusion with her, and she is not and never will be _dama_ of mine."

"I will take her no such message, for she would not listen. Go you;
say what you choose; perhaps she will credit you, perhaps she will
not. Anyhow, you are warned. As for me, I will go and search for
Nerina."

"Do you mean she has not returned?"

"Certainly she has not. She will no more dare to return than a kicked
dog. You forget she is a young thing, a creature of nothing; she
thinks herself no more than a pebble or a twig. Besides, your mother
called her a wanton. That is a word not soon washed out. She is
humble as a blade of grass, but she will resent that. You have made
much trouble with your rebellious work. You have done ill -- ill --
ill!"

Adone submitted mutely to the upbraiding; he knew he had done
selfishly, wrongfully, brutally, that which had seemed well to
himself with no consideration of others.

"Get you gone and search for the child," he said at last. "I will go
myself to my mother."

"It is the least you can do. But you must not forget the cattle.
Nerina is not there to see to them."

She pushed past him and went on to the footbridge; but midway across
it she turned and called to him: "I lit the fire, and the coffee is
on it. Where am I to look for the child? In the heather? in the
woods? up in Ruscino? down in the lower valley? or may be at the
presbytery?"

"Don Silverio is absent," Adone called back to her; and he passed on
under the olive-trees towards his home. Gianna paused on the bridge
and watched him till he was out of sight; then she went back herself
by another path which led to the stables. A thought had struck her:
Nerina was too devoted to the cattle to have let them suffer;
possible she was even now attending to them in their stalls.

"She is a faithful little thing as he said!" the old servant
muttered. "Yes; and such as she are born to labour and to suffer, and
to eat the bread of bitterness."

"Where is she, Pierino?" she said to the old white dog; he was lying
on the grass; if the girl were lost, she thought, Pierino would be
away somewhere looking for her.

Gianna's heart was hard against Adone; in a dim way she understood
the hopes and the schemes which occupied him, but she could not
forgive him for sacrificing to them his mother and this friendless
child. It was so like a man, she said to herself, to tear along on
what he thought a road to glory, and never heed what he trampled down
as he went -- never heed any more than the mower heeds the daisies.

In the cattle stalls she found the oxen and the cows already watered,
brushed, and content, with their pile of fresh grass beside them;
there was no sound in the stables but of their munching and
breathing, and now and then the rattle of the chains which linked
them to their mangers.

"Maybe she is amongst the hay," thought Gianna, and painfully she
climbed the wide rungs of the ladder which led to the hay loft.
There, sure enough, was Nerina, sound asleep upon the fodder. She
looked very small, very young, very innocent.

The old woman thought of the first day that she had seen the child
asleep on the stone bench by the porch; and her eyes grew dim.

"Who knows where you will rest to-morrow?" she thought; and she went
backwards down the ladder noiselessly so as not to awaken a sleeper,
whose awaking might be so sorrowful.

Gianna went back to the house and busied herself with her usual
tasks; she could hear the voices of Adone and Clelia Alba in the
chamber above; they sounded in altercation, but their words she could
not hear.

It was at dawn that same day that Don Silverio returned from his
interviews with Count Corradini and Senatore Gallo. When he reached
Ruscino the little rector of the village in the woods had already
celebrated mass. Don Silverio cleansed himself from the dust of
travel, entered his church for his orisons, then broke his fast with
bread and a plate of lentils, and whilst the day was still young took
the long familiar way to the Terra Vergine. Whatever the interview
might cost in pain and estrangement he felt that he dared not lose an
hour in informing Adone of what was so dangerously known at the
Prefecture.

"He will not kill me," he thought; "and if he did, it would not
matter much;-- except for you, my poor little man," he added to his
dog Signorino, who was running gleefully in his shadow. Gianna saw
him approaching as she looked from the kitchen window, and cried her
thanks to the saints with passionate gratitude. Then she went out and
met him.

"Praise be to the Madonna that you have come back, reverendissimo!"
she cried. "There are sore trouble and disputes under our roof."

"I grieve to hear that," he answered; and thought, "I fear I have
lost my power to cast oil on the troubled waters."

He entered the great vaulted kitchen and sat down, for he was
physically weary, having walked twenty miles in the past night.

"What you feel at liberty to tell me, let me hear," he said to the
old servant.

Gianna told him in her picturesque, warmly-coloured phrase what had
passed between Sior' Clelia and the little girl in the night; and
what she had herself said to Adone at dawn; and how Nerina was lying
asleep in the hay-loft, being afraid, doubtless, to come up to the
house.

Don Silverio listened with pain and indignation.

"What is he about to risk a female child on such errands? And why is
his mother in such vehement haste to say cruel words and think unjust
and untrue things?"

"They are unjust and untrue, sir, are they not?" said Gianna. "But it
looked ill, you see; a little creature going out in the middle of the
night, and to be sure she was but a vagrant when she came to us."

"And now -- how does the matter stand? Has Adone convinced his mother
of the girl's innocence?"

"Whew! That I cannot say, sir. They are upstairs; and their voices
were loud an hour ago. Now they are still. I had a mind to go up, but
I am afraid."

"Go up; and send Adone to me."

"He is perhaps asleep, sir; he came across the water at dawn."

"If so, wake him. I must speak to him without delay."

Gianna went and came down quickly.

"He is gone out to work in the fields, sir. Madama told me so. If he
does not work, the land will go out of cultivation, sir."

"He may have gone to Nerina?"

"I do not think so, sir. But I will go back to the stable and see."

"And beg Sior' Clelia to come down to me."

He was left alone a few minutes in the great old stone chamber, with
its smell of dried herbs hanging from its rafters and of maize leaves
baking in the oven.

The land would go out of cultivation -- yes! -- and the acetylene
factories would take the place of the fragrant garden, the olive
orchards, the corn lands, the pastures. He did not wonder that Adone
was roused to fury; but what fury would avail aught? What pain, what
despair, what tears, would stay the desecration for an hour? The
hatchet would hew it all down, and the steam plough would pass over
it all, and then the stone and the mortar, the bricks and the iron,
the engines, and the wheels, and the cauldrons, would be enthroned on
the ruined soil: the gods of a soulless age.

"Oh, the pity of it! The pity of it!" thought Don Silverio, as the
blue sky shone through the grated window and against the blue sky a
rose branch swung and a swallow circled.

"Your servant, Reverendissimo," said the voice of Clelia Alba, and
Don Silverio rose from his seat.

"My friend," he said to her, "I find you in trouble, and I fear that
I shall add to it. But tell me first, what is this tale of Nerina?"

"It is but this, sir; if Nerina enter here, I go."

"You cannot be serious!"

"If you think so, look at me."

He did look at her; at her severe aquiline features, at her heavy
eyelids drooping over eyes of implacable wrath, at her firm mouth and
jaw, cold as if cut in marble. She was not a woman to trifle or to
waver; perhaps she was one who having received offence would never
forgive.

"But it is monstrous!" he exclaimed; "you cannot turn adrift a little
friendless girl -- you cannot leave your own house, your dead
husband's house -- neither is possible -- you rave!"

"It is my son's house. He will harbour whom he will. But if the girl
pass the doorstep I go. I am not too old to labour for myself."

"My good woman -- my dear friend -- it is incredible! I see what you
believe, but I cannot pardon you for believing it. Even were it what
you choose to think -- which is not possible -- surely your duty to a
motherless and destitute girl of her tender years should counsel more
benevolence?"

The face of Clelia Alba grew chillier and harder still.

"Sir, leave me to judge of my own duties as the mother of Adone, and
the keeper of this house. He has told me that he is master here. I do
not deny it. He is over age. He can bring her here if he chooses, but
I go."

"But you must know the child cannot live here with a young man!"

"Why not?" said Clelia Alba, and a cruel smile passed over her face.
"It seems to me more decent than lying out in the fields together
night after night."

"Silence!" said Don Silverio in that tone which awed the boldest. "Of
what avail is your own virtue if it make you thus harsh, thus
unbelieving, thus ready to condemn?"

"I claim no more virtue than any clean-living woman should possess;
but Valerio Alba would not have brought his leman into my presence,
neither shall his son do so."

"In your present mood, words are wasted on you. Go to your chamber,
Sior' Clelia, and entreat Heaven to soften your heart. There is
sorrow enough in store for you without your creating misery out of
suspicion and unbelief. This house will not long be either yours or
Adone's."

He left the kitchen and went out into the air; Clelia Alba was too
proud, too dogged, in her obstinancy to endeavour to detain him or to
ask him what he meant.

"Where is Adone?" he asked of the old labourer Ettore, who was
carrying manure in a great skip upon his back.

"He is down by the five apple-trees, sir," answered Ettore.

The five apple-trees were beautiful old trees, gnarled, moss-grown,
hoary, but still bearing abundant blossom; they grew in a field which
was that year being trenched for young vines, a hard, back-breaking
labour; the trenches were being cut obliquely, so as not to disturb
the apple-trees or injure some fine fig-trees which grew there. Adone
was at work, stripped to his shirt and hidden in the delved earth to
his shoulders.

He looked up from the trench and lifted his hat as he saw the priest
enter the field; then he resumed his labour.

"Come out of your ditch and hearken to me. I will not weary you with
many words."

Adone, moved by long habit of obedience and deference, leapt with his
agile feet on to the border of the trench and stood there, silent,
sullen, ready to repel reproof with insolence.

"Is it worthy of you to ruin the name of a girl of sixteen by sending
her on midnight errands to your fellow-rebels?"

Don Silverio spoke bluntly; he spoke only on suspicion, but his tone
was that of a direct charge.

Adone did not doubt for a moment that he was in possession of facts.

"Has the girl played us false?" he said moodily.

"I have not seen the girl," replied Don Silvero. "But it is a base
thing to do, to use that child for errands of which she cannot know
either the danger or the illegality. You misuse one whose youth and
helplessness should have been her greatest protection."

"I had no one else that I could trust."

"Pour little soul! You could trust her, so you abused her trust! No:
I do not believe you are her lover. I do not believe you care for her
more than for the clod of earth you stand on. But to my thinking that
makes what you have done worse; colder, more cruel, more calculating.
Had you seduced her, you would at least feel that you owed her
something. She has been a mere little runner and slave to you -- no
more. Surely your knowledge that she depends on you ought to have
sufficed to make her sacred?"

Adone looked on the ground. His face was red with the dull flush of
shame. He knew that he merited all these words and more.

"I will provide temporarily for her; and you will send her out no
more upon these errands," continued Don Silverio. "Perhaps, with
time, your mother may soften to her; but I doubt it."

"The house is mine," said Adone sullenly. "She shall not keep Nerina
out of it."

"You certainly cannot turn your mother away from her own hearth,"
replied Don Silverio with contempt. "I tell you I will take the girl
to some place in Ruscino where she will be safe for the present time.
But I came to say another thing to you as well as this. I have been
away three days. I have seen the Prefect, Senatore Gallo. He has
informed me that your intentions, your actions, your plans and
coadjutors are known to him, and that he is aware that you are
conspiring to organise resistance and riot."

A great shock struck Adone as he heard; he felt as if an electric
charge had passed through him. He had believed his secret to be as
absolutely unknown as the graves of the lucomone under the ivy by the
riverside.

"How could he know?" he stammered. "Who is the traitor?"

"That matters little," said Don Silverio. "What matters much is, that
all you do and desire to do is written down at the Prefecture."

Adone was sceptical. He laughed harshly.

"If so, sir, why do they not arrest me? That would be easy enough. I
do not hide."

"Have you not ofttimes seen a birdcatcher spread his net? Does he
seize the first bird which approaches it? He is not so unwise. He
waits until all the feathered innocents are in the meshes: then he
fills his sack. That is how the Government acts always. It gives its
enemies full rope to hang themselves. It is cold of blood, and slow,
and sure."

"You say this to scare me, to make me desist."

"I say it because it is the truth; and if you were not a boy, blind
with rage and unreason, you would long since have known that such
actions as yours, in rousing or trying to rouse the peasants of the
Valdedera, must come to the ear of the authorities. Do not mistake.
They let you alone as yet, not because they love you or fear you; but
because they are too cunning and too wise to touch the pear before it
is ripe."

Adone was silent. He was convinced; and many evil thoughts were black
within his brain. His first quarrel with a mother he adored had
intensified all the desperate ferocity awake in him.

"You are as blind as a mole," said Don Silverio, "but you have not
the skill of the mole in constructing its hidden galleries. You
scatter your secrets broadcast as you scatter grain over your
ploughed field. You think it is enough to choose a moonless night for
you and your companions-in-arms to be seen by no living creature!
Does the stoat, does the wild cat, make such a mistake as that? If
you make war on the State, study the ways of your foe. Realise that
it has as many eyes, as many ears, as many feet as the pagan god;
that its arm is as long as its craft, that it has behind it
unscrupulous force and unlimited gold, and the support of all those
who only want to pursue their making of wealth in ease and in peace.
Do you imagine you can meet and beat such antagonists with a few
rusty muskets, a few beardless boys, a poor little girl like Nerina?"

Don Silverio's voice was curt, imperious, sardonic; his sentences cut
like whips; then after a moment of silence his tone changed to an
infinite softness and sweetness of pleading and persuasion.

"My son, my dear son! cease to live in this dream of impossible
issues. Wake to the brutality of fact, to nakedness of truth. You
have to suffer a great wrong; but will you be consoled for it by the
knowledge that you have led to the slaughter men whom you have known
from your infancy? It can but end in one way -- your conflict with
the power of the State. You, and those who have listened to you, will
be shot down without mercy, or flung into prison, or driven to lead
the life of tracked beasts in the woods. There is no other possible
end to the rising which you are trying to bring about. If you have no
pity for your mother, have pity on your comrades, for the women who
bore them, for the women who love them."

Adone quivered with breathless fury as he heard. All the blackness of
his soul gathered into a storm of rage, burst forth in shameful doubt
and insult. He set his teeth, and his voice hissed through them,
losing all its natural music.

"Sir, your clients are men in high places; mine are my miserable
brethren. You take the side of the rich and powerful; I take that of
the poor and the robbed. Maybe your reverence has deemed it your duty
to tell the authorities that which you say they have learned?"

A knife through his breast-bone would have given a kindlier wound to
his hearer. Amazement under such an outrage was stronger in Don
Silverio than any other feeling for the first moment. Adone -- Adone!
-- his scholar, his beloved, his disciple! -- spoke to him thus! Then
an overwhelming disgust and scorn swept over him, and was stronger
than his pain. He could have stricken the ungrateful youth to the
earth. The muscles of his right arm swelled and throbbed; but, with
an intense effort, he controlled the impulse to avenge his insulted
honour. Without a word, and with one glance of reproach and of
disdain, he turned away and went through the morning shadows under
the drooping apple boughs.

Adone, with his teeth set hard and his eyes filled with savage fire,
sprang down into the trench and resumed his work.

He was impenitent.

"He is mad! He knows not what he says!" thought the man whom he had
insulted. But though he strove to excuse the outrage it was like a
poisoned blade in his flesh.

Adone could suspect him! Adone could believe him to be an informer!

Was this all the recompense for eighteen years of unwearying
affection, patience, and tuition? Though the whole world had
witnessed against him, he would have sworn that Adone Alba would have
been faithful to him.

"He is mad," he thought. "His first great wrong turns his blood to
poison. He will come to me weeping to-morrow."

But he knew that what Adone had said to him, however repented of,
however washed away with tears, was one of those injuries which may
be forgiven, but can never be forgotten, by any living man. It would
yawn like a pit between them for ever.





XVIII

To this apple-tree field there was a high hedge of luxuriant elder
and ash, myrtle and field-roses. Behind this hedge old Gianna was
waiting for him; the tears were running down her face. She took the
skirt of his coat between her hands. "Wait, your reverence, wait! The
child is in the cattle stable."

Don Silverio looked down on her a few moments without comprehension.
Then he remembered.

"Is she there indeed? Poor little soul! She must not go to the
house."

"She does not dream of it, sir. Only she cannot understand why
Madonna Clelia's anger is so terrible. What can I do -- oh, Lord!"

"Keep her where she is for the present. I am going home. I will speak
with some of the women in Ruscino, and find her some temporary
shelter."

"She will go to none, sir. She says she must be where she can serve
Adone. If she be shut up, she will escape and run into the woods.
Three years ago she was a wild thing; she will turn wild again."

"Like enough! But we must do what we can. I am going home. I will
come or send to you in a few hours."

Gianna reluctantly let him go. As he crossed the river he looked down
on the bright water, here green as emeralds, there brown as peat,
eddying round the old stone piers of the bridge, and an infinite
sorrow was on him.

As a forest fire sweeps away under its rolling smoke and waves of
flame millions of obscure and harmless creatures, so the baneful
fires of men's greed and speculations came from afar and laid low
these harmless lives with neither thought of them or pity.

Later in the day he sent word to Gianna to bring Nernia to the
presbytery. They both came, obedient. The child looked tired and had
lost her bright colour; but she had a resolute look on her face.

"My poor little girl," he said gently to her, "Madonna Clelia is
angered against you. We will hope her anger will pass ere long.
Meanwhile you must not go to the house. You would not make ill-blood
between a mother and her son?"

"No," said Nernia.

"I have found a home for awhile for you, with old Alaida Manzi; you
know her; she is a good creature. I am very sorry for you, my child;
but you did wrong to be absent at night; above all not to go back to
your chamber when Clelia Alba bade you to do so."

Nernia's face darkened. "I did no harm."

"I am sure you did not mean to do any; but you disobeyed Madonna
Clelia."

Nernia was silent.

"You are a young girl; you must not roam the country at night. It is
most perilous. Decent maidens and women are never abroad after
moonrise."

Nernia said nothing.

"You will promise me never to go out at night again?"

"I cannot promise that, sir."

"Why?"

"If I be wanted, I shall go."

"If Adone Alba bid you -- is that your meaning?"

Nernia was silent.

"Do you think that it is fitting for you to have secrets from me,
your confessor?"

Nernia was silent; her rosy mouth was closed firmly. It was very
terrible to have to displease and disobey Don Silverio; but she would
not speak, not if she should burn in everlasting flames for ever.

"Take her away. Take her to Alaida," he said wearily to Gianna.

"She only obeys Adone, sir," said the old woman. "All I can say
counts as naught."

"Adone will send her on no more midnight errands, unless he be brute
and fool both. Take her away. Look to her, you and Alaida."

"I will do what I can, sir," said Gianna humbly, and pushed the girl
out into the village street before her.

Don Silverio sat down at his deal writing-table and wrote in his
fine, clear calligraphy a few lines: "_In the name of my holy office
I forbid you to risk the life and good name of the maiden Nernia on
your unlawful errands_."

Then he signed and sealed the sheet, and sent it by his sacristan to
Adone.

He received no answer.

The night which followed was one of the most bitter in its
meditations that he had ever spent; and he had spent many cruel and
sleepless nights ere then.

That Adone could for one fleeting moment have harboured so vile a
thought filled him with nausea and amaze. Betray them! He! -- who
would willingly have given up such years of life as might remain to
him could he by such a sacrifice have saved their river and their
valley from destruction. There was nothing short of vice or crime
which he would not have done to save the Edera water from its fate.
But it was utterly impossible to do anything. Even men of eminence
had often brought all their forces of wealth and argument against
similar enterprises, and had failed in their opposition. What could a
few score of peasants, and one poor ecclesiastic, do against all the
omnipotence of Parliament, of millionaires, of secretaries of State,
of speculators, of promoters, tenacious and forcible and ravenous as
the octopus?

In those lonely night hours when the moonbeams shone on his bed and
the little white dog nestled itself close to his shoulder, he was
tortured also by the sense that it was his duty to arrest Adone and
the men of the Valdedera in their mad course, even at the price of
such treachery to them as Adone had dared to attribute to him. But if
that were his duty it must be the first duty which consciously he had
left undone!

If he could only stop them on their headlong folly by betraying them
they must rush on to their doom!

He saw no light, no hope, no assistance anywhere. These lads would
not be able to save a single branch of the river water, nor a
sword-rush on its banks, nor a moorhen in its shallows, nor a cluster
of myosotis upon its banks, and they would ruin themselves.

The golden glory of the planet Venus shone between the budding
vine-leaves at his casement.

"Are you not tire?" he said to the shining orb. "Are you not tired of
watching the endless cruelties and insanities on earth?"





XIX

The people of Ruscino went early to their beds; the light of the
oil-wicks of the Presbytery was always the only light in the village
half an hour after dark. Nerina went uncomplainingly to hers in the
dark stone house within the walls where she had been told that it was
her lot to dwell. She did not break her fast; she drank great
draughts of water; then, with no word except a brief good-night, she
went to the sacking filled with leaves which the old woman Alaida
pointed out for her occupancy.

"She is soon reconciled," thought the old crone. "They have trained
her well."

Relieved of all anxiety, she herself lay down in the dark and slept.
The girl seemed a good, quiet, tame little thing, and said her
paternosters as she should do. But Nerina did not sleep. She was
stifled in this little close room with its one shuttered window. She
who was used to sleeping with the fresh fragrant air of the dark
fields blowing over her in her loft, felt the sour, stagnant
atmosphere take her like a hand by the throat.

As soon as she heard by the heavy breathing of the aged woman that
she was sunk in the congested slumber of old age, the child got up
noiselessly -- she had not undressed -- and stole out of the chamber,
taking the door key from the nail on which Alaida had hung it. A
short stone stair led down to the entrance. No one else was sleeping
in the house; all was dark, and she had not even a match or a
tinder-box; but she felt her way to the outer door, unlocked it, as
she had been used to unlock the door at the Terra Vergine, and in
another moment ran down the steep and stone street. She laughed as
the wind from the river blew against her lips, and brought her the
fragrance of Adone's fields.

"I shall be in time!" she thought, as she ran down a short cut which
led, in a breakneck descent, over the slope of what had once been the
glacis of the fortress, beneath the Rocca to the bridge.

The usual spot for the assembly of the malcontents was a grassy
hollow surrounded on all sides with woods, and called the tomb of
Asdrubal, from a mound of masonry which bore that name, although it
was utterly improbable that Asdrubal, who had been slain a hundred
miles to the northeast on the Marecchia water, should have been
buried in the Valdedera at all. But the place and the name were well
known in the district to hundreds of peasants, who knew no more who
or what Asdrubal had been than they knew the names of the stars which
form the constellation of Perseus.

Adone had summoned his friends to be there by nightfall, and he was
passing from the confines of his own lands on to those of the open
moors when the child saw him. He was dressed in his working clothes,
but he was fully armed: his gun on his shoulder, his great pistols in
his sash, his dagger in his stocking. They were ancient arms; but
they had served in matters of life and death, and would so serve
again. On the three-edged blade of the sixteenth-century poignard was
a blood-stain more than a century old which nothing would efface.

"Nerina!" he cried as the girl stopped him, and was more distressed
than pleased to see her there; he had not thought of her.

In the moonlight, under the silvery olive foliage her little sunburnt
face and figure took a softer and more feminine grace. But Adone had
not sight for it. For him she was but a sturdy little pony, who would
trot till she dropped.

He was cruel as those who are possessed by one intense and absorbing
purpose always are: he was cruel to Nerina as Garibaldi, in the days
of Ravenna, was cruel to Anita.

But through that intense egotism which sees in all the world only its
own cause, its own end, its own misery, there touched him for one
instant an unselfish pity for the child of whom he had made so
mercilessly his servant and his slave.

"Poor little girl! I have been hard to you, I have been cruel and
unfair," he said, as a vague sense of her infinite devotion to his
cause moved him as a man may be moved by a dog's fidelity.

"You have been good to me," said Nerina; and from the bottom of her
heart she thought so. "I came to see if you wanted me," she added
humbly.

"No, no. They think ill of you for going my errands. Poor child, I
have done you harm enough. I will not do you more."

"You have done me only good."

"What! When my mother has turned you out of the house!"

"It is her right."

"Let it be so for a moment. You shall come back. You are with old
Alaida?"

"Yes."

"How can you be out to-night?"

"She sleeps heavily, and the lock is not hard."

"You are a brave child."

"Is there nothing to do to-night?"

"No, dear."

"Where do you go?"

"To meet the men at the tomb of Asdrubal."

"Who summoned them?"

"I myself. You must be sad and sorry, child, and it is my fault."

She checked a sob in her throat. "I am not far away, and old Alaida
is kind. Let me go on some errand to-night?"

"No, my dear, I cannot."

He recalled the words of the message which he had received from Don
Silverio that day. He knew the justice of this message, he knew that
it only forbade what all humanity, hospitality, manhood, and
compassion forbade to him. One terrible passion had warped his
nature, closed his heart, and invaded his reason to the exclusion of
all other thoughts or instincts; but he was not yet so lost to shame
as, now that he knew what he had done, to send out a female creature
into peril to do his bidding.

"Tell me, then, tell me," pleaded Nerina, "when will anything be
done?"

"Whenever the foreign labourers come to work on the water we shall
drive them away."

"But if they will not go?"

"Child, the river is deep; we know its ways and its soundings; they
do not."

Her great bright eyes flashed fire: an unholy joy laughed in them.

"We will baptize them over again!" she said; and all her face laughed
and sparkled in the moonlight. There was fierce mountain blood in her
veins; it grew hot at the thought of slaughter like the juice of
grapes warmed in an August noon.

He laughed slow, savagely. "Their blood will be on their own heads!"

He meant to drive them out, swamp them in the stream, choke them in
the sand, hunt them in the heather; make every man of them rue the
day that ever they came thither to meddle with the Edera water.

"Curse them! Their blood will be on their own heads!" he said between
his teeth. He was thinking of the strange men who it was said would
be at work on the land and the water before the moon, young now,
should be in her last quarter; men hired by the hundreds,
day-labourers of the Romagna and the Puglie, leased by contract,
marshalled under overseers, different in nothing from slaves who
groan under the white man's lash in Africa.

"Let me come with you to-night," she pleaded again. "I will hide in
the bushes. The men shall not see me."

"No, no," he said sternly. "Get you back to your rest at Ruscino. I
did wrong, I did basely to use your ignorance and abuse your
obedience. Get you gone, and listen to your priest, not to me."

The child, ever obedient, vanished through the olive boughs. Adone
went onward northward to his tryst: his soul was dark as night; it
enraged him to have been forced by his conscience and his honour to
obey the command of Don Silverio.

But she did not go over the bridge to Ruscino. She waited a little
while then followed on his track. Gianna was right. She was a wild
bird. She had been caught and tamed for a time, but she was always
wild. The life which they had given her had been precious and sweet
to her, and she had learned willingly all its ways; but at the bottom
of her heart the love of liberty, the live of movement, the love of
air and sky and freedom were stronger than all else. She was of an
adventurous temper also, and brave like all Abruzzese, and she longed
to see one of those moonlit midnight meetings of armed men to which
she had escaped from Alaida's keeping, she could not have forced
herself to go back out of this clear, cool, radiant night into the
little, close, dark sleeping-chamber. No, not if Don Silverio himself
had stood in her path with the cross raised. She was like a year-old
lioness who smells blood.

She knew the way to the tomb of Asdrubal, even in the darkness, as
well as he did. It was situated in a grassy hollow surrounded by
dense trees, some five miles or more from the Terra Vergine, on the
north bank of the river. The solitude was absolute, and the place
large enough to permit the assemblage of several scores of men.

Adone went on, unconscious that he was followed; he went at a
swinging trot, easy and swift; the sinews of his lithe limbs were
strong as steel, and his rage, all aflame, lent lightning to his
feet.

She allowed him to precede her by half a mile or more, for if he had
seen her his anger would have been great, and she feared it. She went
skipping and bounding along, where the path was clear, in all the joy
of liberty and rapture of the fresh night air. The hours spent in
Alaida's close house in the village had been as terrible to her as
his hours in a birdcatcher's hamper are to a wild bird. Up at Ansalda
she had always been out of doors, and at the Terra Vergine she had
gone under a roof only to eat and sleep.

The moon, which was in the beginning of its first quarter, had passed
behind some heavy clouds; there was little light, for there were as
yet few stars visible, but that was not matter to her. She knew her
way as well as any mountain hare.

The pungent odour of the heaths through which she went seemed to her
like a draught of wine, the strong sea breeze which was blowing bore
her up like wings. She forgot that she was once more a homeless waif,
as she had been that day when she had sat under the dock leaves by
the Edera water. He had told her she should go back; she believed
him: that was enough. Madonna Clelia would forgive, she felt sure,
for what harm had she done? All would be well; she would feed the
oxen again, and go again to the spring for water, and all would be as
it had been before -- her thoughts, her desires, went no farther than
that. So, with a light heart she followed him gaily, running where
there was open ground, pushing hard where the heather grew, going
always in the same path as Adone had done.

All of a sudden she stopped short, in alarm.

The night was still; the spring of the river was loud upon it, owls
hooted and chuckled, now and then a fox in the thickets barked. There
are many sounds in the open country at night; sounds of whirring
pinions, of stealthy feet, of shrill, lone cries, of breaking twigs,
of breaking ferns, of little rivulets unheard by day, of timid
creatures taking courage in the dark. But to these sounds she was
used; she could give a name to every one of them. She heard now what
was unfamiliar to her in these solitudes; she heard the footsteps of
men; and it seemed to her, all around her, as though in a moment of
time, the heath and bracken and furze grew alive to their tryst with
Adone? She did not think so, for she had never known the few men in
the village summon courage to join the armed meetings of the men of
the valley. She stopped and listened, as a pole-cat which was near
her did; the sounds were those of human beings, breathing, creeping,
moving under the heather.

Suddenly she felt some presence close to her in the dark; she held
her breath; she shrank noiselessly between the plumes of heath. If
they were men of the country they would not hurt her, but if not --
she was not sure.

Near her was an open space where the wild growth had been recently
cut. The men debouched on to it from the undergrowth, there was a
faint light from the stars on that strip of rough grass; by it she
saw that they were soldiers, five in number.

A great terror cowed her, like a hand of ice at her heart, a terror
not for herself, but for those away there, in the green hollow by the
three stone-pines.

They were soldiers; yes, they were soldiers; the sounds she had heard
had been the crushing of the plants under their feet, the click of
their muskets as they moved; they were soldiers! Where had they come
from? There were no soldiers at Ruscino.

The only time when she had ever seen soldiers had been when the
troopers had captured Baruffo. These were not troopers; they were
small men, on foot, linen-clad, moving stealthily, and as if in fear;
only the tubes of their muskets glistened in the light of the great
planets.

She crouched down lower and lower, trying to enter the ground and
hide; she hoped they would go onward, and then she could run --
faster than they -- and reach the hollow, and warn Adone and his
fellows. She had no doubt that they came to surprise the meeting; but
she hoped from their pauses and hesitating steps that they were
uncertain what way to take.

"If you come to me to lead you -- aye! I will lead you! -- you will
not forget where I lead!" she said to herself, as she hid under the
heather; and her courage rose, for she saw a deed to be done. For
they were now very near to the place of meeting, and could have taken
the rebels like mice in a trap, if they had only known where they
were; but she, watching them stand still, and stare, and look up to
the stars, and then north, south, east, and west, saw that they did
not know, and that it might be possible to lead them away from the
spot by artifice, as the quail leads the sportsman away from the
place where her nest is hidden.

As the thought took shape in her brain a sixth man, a sergeant who
commanded them, touched her with his foot, stooped, clutched her, and
pulled her upward. She did not try to escape.

"What beast of night have we here?" he cried. "Spawn of devils, who
are you?"

Nerina writhed under the grip of his iron fingers, but she still did
not try to escape. He cursed her, swore at her, shook her, crushed
her arm black and blue. She was sick with pain, but she was mute.

"Who are you?" he shouted.

"I come down from the mountains to work here in summer."

"Can any of you speak her dialect?" cried the sergeant to his
privates: the sergeant was a man of Milan.

One man answered, "I come from Paganica; it is much the same tongue
there as in these parts."

"Ask her the way, then."

The soldier obeyed.

"What is the way to the Three Pines? -- to the tomb of Asdrubal?"

"The way is long," said Nerina.

"Do you know it?"

"I know it."

"Have you heard tell of it?"

"Yes."

"That men meet at night there?"

"Yes."

"Meet this night there?"

"Yes."

"You know where the tomb of Asdrubal is?"

"Have I not told you?"

The soldier repeated her answer translated to his sergeant; the
latter kept his grasp on her.

"Ask her if she will take us there."

The soldier asked her and translated her answer.

"If we give her two gold pieces she will take us there."

"Spawn of hell! I will give her nothing. But if she do not lead us
aright I will give her a bullet for her breakfast."

The soldier translated to Nerina: "He will give you two gold pieces
if you guide us aright; and you need have no fear; we are honest men
and the king's servants."

"I will guide the king's servants."

"You are sure of the way?"

"Is the homing pigeon sure of his?"

"Let us be off," said the sergeant. "A bullet for her if she fail."

He had little pleasure in trusting to this girl of the Abruzzo hills,
but he and his men were lost upon these moors, and might grope all
night, and miss the meeting, and fail to join his comrades and
surprise those who gathered at it. He reckoned upon fear as a sure
agent to keep her true, as it kept his conscripts under arms.

"Bid him take his hand off me," said Nerina, "or I do not move."

The private translated to his superior. "She prays of your mercy to
leave her free, or she cannot pass through the heather."

The sergeant let her go unwillingly, but pushed her in front of him,
and levelled his revolver at her.

"Tell her, if she try to get away, I fire."

"Tell him I know that," said Nerina.

She was not afraid, for a fierce, unholy joy was in her veins; she
could have sung, she could have laughed, she could have danced; she
held them in her power; they had come to ensnare Adone, and she had
got them in her power as if they were so many moles!

They tied her hands behind her; she let them do it; she did not want
her hands. Then she began to push her way doggedly, with her head
down, to the south. The tomb of Asdrubal was due north; she could see
the pole star, and turned her back to it and went due south.

Three miles or more southward there was a large _pollino_, or swamp
as L'Erba Molle, the wet grass; the grass was luxuriant, the flora
was varied and beautiful; in appearance it was a field, in reality it
was a morass; to all people of the Valdedera it was dreaded and
avoided, as quicksand are by the seashore.

She went on as fast as the narrow path, winding in and out between
the undergrowth, permitted her to go; the armed soldiers, heavy laden
with their knapsacks and their boots, following her clumsily, and
with effort, uttering curses on their ill-luck and their sleepless
night.

The stars were now larger and brighter; the darkness was lightened,
the river was running away from its southern birthplace in the hills
which lie like couched lions about the feet of the Gran Sasso. She
could hear its distant murmur. "They come to capture you," she said
to it, "and I will kill them. They shall choke and go down, down,
down -- "

Her heart leapt within her; and she went with the loaded revolver
pointed at her from behind as though she went to her bridal-bed.

"Where are you taking us, vile little bitch?" the sergeant cried, and
the soldier from Paganica translated: "Pretty little brown one,
whither do you go?"

"I take you straight," said Nerina, "only you go to clumsily, for men
in these parts should not wear leather upon their feet."

The soldiers sighed assent, and would willingly have gone barefoot,
and the sergeant swore in tones of thunder because he could not
understand what she said.

Before long they came in sight of the Erba Molle; it looked like a
fair, peaceful pasture, with thousands of sword rushes golden upon
its surface. The light of the stars, which was now brilliant, shone
upon its verdure; there were great flocks of water-birds at roost
around it, and they rose with shrill cries and great noise of wings,
with a roar as though a tide were rising.

Across it stretched a line of wooden piles which served as a rude
causeway to those who had the courage and the steadiness to leap from
one to another of them. It was not three times in a season that any
one dared to do so. Adone did so sometimes; and he had taught Nerina
how to make the passage.

"Pass you after me, and set your feet where I set mine," said Nerina
to the little soldier of the Abruzzo, and she put down her foot on
the first pile, sunk almost invisible under the bright green slime,
where thousands of frogs were croaking.

The soldier of the Abruzzo said to his superior, "She says we must
set our feet where she sets hers. We are quite near now to the tomb
of the barbarian."

Nerina, with the light leap of a kid, bounded from pile to pile. They
thought she went on solid ground; on meadow grass. The sergeant and
his men crowded on to what they thought was pasture. In the uncertain
shadows and scarce dawning light, they did not see the row of
submerged timber. They sank like stones in the thick ooze; they were
sucked under to their knees, to their waists, to their shoulders, to
their mouths; the yielding grasses, the clutching slime, the tangled
weed, the bottomless mud, took hold of them; the water-birds shrieked
and beat their wings; the hideous clamour of dying men answered them.

Nerina had reached the other side of the morass in safety, and her
mocking laughter rang upon their ears.

"I have led you well!" she cried to them. "I have led you well, oh
servants of the king! -- oh swine! -- oh slaves! -- oh spies!-- oh
hunters and butchers of men!"

And she danced on the edge of the field of death, and the light of
the great planets shone upon her face.

Had she run onward at once the wood beyond she would have been saved.
That instant of triumph and mockery lost her.

The sergeant had put his revolver in his teeth; he knew now that he
was a dead man; the slime was up to his chin, under his feet the
grass and the mud quaked, yielded, yawned like a grave.

He drew his right arm out of the ooze, seized his revolver, and aimed
at the dancing, mocking, triumphant figure beyond the border of
golden sword rushes. With a supreme effort he fired; then he sank
under the mud and weed.

The child dropped dead on the edge of the morass.

One by one each soldier sank. Not one escaped.

The water-birds came back from their upward flight and settled again
on the swamp.

Underneath it all was still, save for the loud croaking of the frogs.






XX

Don Silverio rose with the dawn of day, and entered his church at
five of the clock. There were but a few women gathered in the gaunt,
dark vastness of the nave. The morning was hot, and the scent of buds
and blossoms and fresh-cut grass came in from the fields over the
broken walls and into the ancient houses.

When Mass was over, old Alaida crept over the mouldy mosaics timidly
to his side, and kneeled down on the stones.

"Most reverend," she whispered, "'twas not my fault. I slept heavily;
she must have unlocked the door, for it was undone at dawn; her bed
is empty, she has not returned."

"You speak of Nerina?"

"Of Nerina, reverence. I did all I could. It was not my fault. She
was like a hawk in a cage."

"I am grieved," he said; and he thought: "Is it Adone?"

He feared so.

"Is she not at the Terra Vergine?" he asked. Alaida shook her head.

"No, reverend sir. I sent my grandchild to ask there. Gianna has not
seen her, and says the girl would never dare to go near Clelia Alba."

"I am grieved," said Don Silverio again.

He did not blame the old woman, as who, he thought, blames one who
could not tame an eaglet?

He went back to the presbytery and broke his fast on a glass of
water, some bread, and some cresses from the river.

He had sent for Gianna. In half an hour she came, distressed and
frightened.

"Sir, I know not of her; I should not dare to harbour her, even in
the cattle-stall. Madonna Clelia would turn me adrift. When Madonna
Clelia has once spoken --"

"Adone is at home?"

"Alas! No, sir. He went out at nightfall; we have not seen him since.
He told me he went to a meeting of men at the Three Pines, at what
they call the Tomb of the Barbarian."

Don Silverio was silent.

"It is very grave," he said at last.

"Aye, sir, grave indeed," said Gianna. "Would that it were love
between them, sir. Love is sweet and wholesome and kind, but there is
no such thing in Adone's heart. There it is only, alas! Blackness and
fire and hatred, sir; bloodlust against those who mean ill to the
river."

"And his mother has lost all influence over him?"

"All, sir. She is no more to him now than a bent stick. Yet, months
ago, she gave him her pearls and her bracelets, and he sold them in a
distant town to buy weapons."

"Indeed? What madness!"

"How else could the men have been armed, sir?"

"Armed!" he repeated. "And of what use is it to arm? What use is it
for two hundred peasants to struggle against the whole forces of the
State? They will rot in prison; that is all that they will do."

"Maybe yes, sir. Maybe no," said the old woman, with the obstinacy of
ignorance. "Some one must begin. They have no right to take the water
away, sir; no more right than to take the breast from the babe."

Then, afraid of having said so much, she dropped her curtsey and went
out into the street. But in another moment she came back into the
study with a scared, blanched face, in which the wrinkles were
scarred deep like furrows in a field.

"Sir -- sir!" she gasped, "there are the soldiery amongst us."

Don Silverio rose in haste, put the little dog on his armchair,
closed the door of his study, and went down the narrow stone passage
which parted his bookroom from the entrance. The lofty doorway showed
him the stones of the familiar street, a buttress of his church, a
great branch of one of the self-sown ilex-trees, the glitter of the
arms and the white leather of the cross belts of a sentinel. The
shrill lamentations of the women seemed to rend the sunny air. He
shuddered as he heard. Coming up the street farther off were half a
troop of carabineers and a score of dragoons; the swords of the
latter were drawn, the former had their carbines levelled. The
villagers, screaming with terror, were closing their doors and
shutters in frantic haste; the door of the presbytery alone remained
open. Don Silverio went into the middle of the road and addressed the
officer who headed the carabineers.

"May I ask to what my parish owes this visit?"

"We owe no answer to you, reverend sir," said the lieutenant.

The people were sobbing hysterically, catching their children in
their arms, calling to the Holy Mother to save them, kneeling down on
the sharp stones in the dust. Their priest felt ashamed of them.

"My people," he called to them, "do not be afraid. Do not hide
yourselves. Do not kneel to these troopers. You have done no wrong."

"I forbid you to address the crowd," said the officer. "Get you back
into your house."

"What is my offence?"

"You will learn in good time," said the commandant. "Get you into
your presbytery."

"My place is with my people."

The officer, impatient, struck him on the chest with the pommel of
his sword.

Two carabineers thrust him back into the passage.

"No law justifies your conduct," he said coldly, "or authorises you
to sever me from my flock."

"The sabre is law here," said the lieutenant in command.

"It is the only law known anywhere in this kingdom," said Don
Silverio.

"Arrest him," said the officer. "He is creating disorder."

The carabineers drove him into his study, and a brigadier began to
ransack his papers and drawers.

He said nothing; the seizure of his manuscripts and documents was
indifferent to him, for there was nothing he had ever written which
would not bear the fullest light. But the insolent and arbitrary act
moved him to keen anxiety, because it showed that the military men
had licence to do their worst, at their will, and his anguish of
apprehension was for Adone. He could only hope and pray that Adone
had returned, and might be found tranquilly at work in the fields of
the Terra Vergine. But his fears were great. Unless more soldiery
were patrolling the district in all directions it was little likely,
he thought, that these men would conduct themselves thus in Ruscino;
he had no doubt that it was a concerted movement, directed by the
Prefect, and the General commanding the garrisons of the province,
and intended to net in one haul the malcontents of the Valdedera.

From his study there was no view upon the street; he could hear the
wailing of women and screaming of children from the now closed
houses: that was all.

"What is it your men do to my people?" he said sternly.

The brigadier did not reply; he went on throwing papers into a trunk.

"Where is your warrant for this search? We are not in a state of
siege?" asked Don Silverio.

The man, with a significant gesture, drew his sabre up half way out
of its sheath; then let it fall again with a clash. He vouchsafed no
other answer.

Some women's faces pressed in at the grating of the window which
looked on the little garden, scared, blanched, horrified, the white
head, and sunburnt features of Gianna foremost.

"Reverendissimo!" they screamed as with one voice. "They are bringing
the lads in from the moors."

And Gianna shrieked, "Adone! They have got Adone!"

Don Silverio sprang to his feet.

"Adone! Have you taken Adone Alba?"

"The ringleader! By Bacchus! Yes," cried the brigadier, with a laugh.
"He will get thirty years at the galleys. Your flock does you honour,
Reverendissimo!"

"Let me go to my flock," said Don Silverio; and some tone in his
voice, some gesture of his hand, had an authority in them which
compelled the carabineer to let him pass unopposed.

He went down the stone passage to the archway of the open door. A
soldier stood sentinel there. The street was crowded with armed men.
The air was full of clangour and clamour; above all rose the shrill
screams of the women.

"No one passes," said the sentinel, and he levelled the mouth of his
musket at Don Silverio's breast.

"I pass," said the priest, and with his bare hand he grasped the
barrel of the musket and forced it upward.

"I rule here, in the name of God," he said in a voice which rolled
down the street with majestic melody, dominating the screams, the
oaths, the hell of evil sound; and he went down the steps of his
house, and no man dared lay a hand on him.

He could hear the trampling of horses and the jingling of spears and
scabbards; some lancers who had beaten the moors that night were
coming up the street. Half a company of soldiers of the line,
escorted by carabineers, came in from the country, climbing the steep
street, driving before them a rabble of young men, disarmed, wounded,
lame, with their hands tied behind them, the remnant of those who had
met at the tomb of Asdrubal in the night just passed. They had been
surprised, seized, surrounded by a wall of steel; some had answered
to their leader's call and had defended themselves, but these had
been few; most of them had thrown down their weapons and begged for
mercy when the cold steel of the soldiers was at their throats. Adone
had fought as though the shade of Asdrubal had passed into him; but
his friends had failed him; his enemies had outnumbered him a score
to one; he had been overpowered, disarmed, bound, dragged through his
native heather backward and upward to Ruscino, reaching the shadow of
the walls as the sun rose.

The child lay dead by the stagnant pond, and the men she had led to
their death lay choked with the weeds and the slime; but of that he
knew naught.

All he knew was that his cause was lost, his life forfeit, his last
hope dead.

Only by his stature and his bearing could he be recognised. His
features were black from powder and gore; his right arm hung broken
by a shot; his clothing had been torn off him to his waist; he was
lame; but he alone still bore himself erect as he came on up the
village street. The others were huddled together in a fainting,
tottering, crazed mob; all were sick and swooning from the long
march, beaten when they paused by the buckles of belts and the flat
of sabres.

Don Silverio saw that sight in front of his church, in the white,
clear light of early morning, and on the air there was a sickly
stench of sweat, of powder, of wounds, of dust.

He went straight to the side of Adone.

"My son, my son! I will come with you. They cannot refuse me that."

But the soul of Adone was as a pit in which a thousand devils strove
for mastery. There was no light in it, no conscience, no gratitude,
no remorse.

"Judas!" he cried aloud; and there was foam on his lips and there was
red blood in his eyes. "Judas! You betrayed us!"

Then, as a young bull lowers his horns, he bent his head and bit
through and through to the bone the wrist of the soldier who held
him; in terror and pain the man shrieked and let go his hold; Adone's
arms remained bound behind him, but his limbs, though they dripped
blood, were free.

He fronted the church, and that breach in the blocks of the Etruscan
wall through which Nerina had taken her path to the river a few hours
before. He knew every inch of the descent. Hundreds of times in his
boyhood had he run along the ruined wall and leaped in sport over the
huge stones, to spring with joyous shouts into the river below.

As the soldier with a scream of agony let go his hold, he broke away
like a young lion released from the den. Before they could seize him
he had sprung over the wall, and was tearing down the slope; the
linesmen, rushing in swift pursuit behind him, stumbled, rolled down
the slippery grass, fell over the blocks of granite. He, sure of
foot, knowing the way from childhood, ran down the hill safely,
though blood poured from his wounds and blinded his sight, and a
sickness like the swooning of death dulled his brain. Beyond him and
below him was the river. He dashed into it like a hunted beast
swimming to sanctuary; he ran along in it, with its brightness and
coolness rippling against his parched throat. He stooped and kissed
it for the last time.

"Take me! -- save me! -- comrade, brother, friend!" he cried aloud to
it with his last breath of life; and he plunged where it was deepest.

Then the sky grew dark, and only the sound of the water was heard in
his ears. By the bridge its depth was great, and the current was
strong under the shade of the ruined keep. It swept his body onward
to the sea.





XXI

It was the beginning of winter when Don Silverio Frascara, having
been put upon his trial and no evidence of any sort having been
adduced against him, was declared innocent and set free, no
compensation or apology being offered to him.

"Were it only military law it had been easy enough to find him
guilty," said Senator Giovacchino Gallo to the Syndic of San Beda,
and the Count Corradini warmly agreed with his Excellency that for
the sake of law, order, and public peace it would be well could the
military tribunals be always substituted for the civil; but alas! the
monarchy was not yet absolute!

He had been detained many weeks and months at the city by the sea,
where the trial of the young men of the Valdedera had been held with
all the prolonged, tedious, and cruel delays common to the national
laws. Great efforts had been made to implicate him in the criminal
charges; but it had been found impossible to verify such suspicions;
every witness by others, and every action of his own, proved the
wisdom, the purity, and the excellence in counsel and example of his
whole life at Ruscino. The unhappy youths who had been taken with
arms in their hands were condemned for overt rebellion and conspiracy
against authority, and were sentenced, some to four, some to seven,
some to ten, and, a few who were considered the ringleaders, to
twenty-five years of cellular confinement. But against Don Silverio
it was found impossible even to make out the semblance of an
accusation, the testimony event of those hostile to him being
irresistibly in his favour in all ways. He had done his utmost to
defend the poor peasantry who had been misled by Adone to their own
undoing, and he had defended also the motives and the character of
the dead with an eloquence which moved to tears the public who heard
him, and touched even the hearts of stone of president and advocates;
and he had done this at his own imminent risk; for men of law can
never be brought to understand that comprehension is not collusion,
or that pity is not fellowship.

But all his efforts failed to save the young men from the utmost
rigour of the law. The judge, agreeing with the State prosecutor,
declared that the most severe example was necessary to check once for
all by its terrors the tendency of the common people to resist the
State and its public works and decrees. Useful and patriotic
enterprises must not be impeded or wrecked because ignorance was
opposed to progress: thus said the King's advocate in an impassioned
oration which gained for him eventually emolument and preferment. The
rustics were sent in a body to the penitentiaries; and Don Silverio
was permitted to go home.

Cold northern blasts blew from the upper Apennines, and piled the
snows upon the grey and yellow rocks of the Abruzzo heights, as he
crossed the valley of the Edera towards Ruscino. It seemed to him as
though a century had passed since he had left it. In the icy wind
which blew form the hills he shivered, for he had only one poor, thin
coat to cover him. His strength, naturally great, had given way under
the mental and physical sufferings of the last six months, although
no word of lament had ever escaped him. Like all generous natures he
rebuked himself for the sins of others. Incessantly he asked himself
-- might he not have saved Adone?

As he came to the turn in the road which brought him within sight of
the river, he sat down on a stone and covered his eyes with his
hands.

The sacristan had come to meet him, bringing the little dog, grown
thin, and sad, and old with sorrow.

"I did all I could for him, but he would not be consoled," murmured
the old man.

From the point which they had reached the course of the Edera, and
the lands of the Terra Vergine, were visible. With an effort, like
one who forces his will to look on a dead face, he uncovered his eyes
and looked downward. The olive-trees were still standing; where the
house had stood there was a black, charred, roofless shell; the
untilled fields lay bare beneath the frost.

"Reverend sir," said the old man below his breath, "when Clelia Alba
knew that Adone was drowned she set fire to the house, and so
perished. They say she had promised her son."

The wind from the north swept across the valley and drove the river
in yellow foam and black eddies through the dead sedges. Above
Ruscino the acacia thickets had been cut down, the herbage was
crushed under timber and iron and stone, the heather was trampled and
hacked, the sand and gravel were piled in heaps, the naked soil
yawned in places like fresh-dug graves; along the southern bank were
laid the metals of a light railway; on the lines of it were some
trucks filled with bricks; the wooden huts of the workmen covered a
dreary, dusty space; the water was still flowing, but on all the
scene were the soil, the disorder, the destruction, the vulgar
meanness and disfigurement which accompany modern labour, and affront
like a coarse bruise the gracious face of Nature.

"There have been three hundred men form the Puglie at work," said the
sacristan. "They have stopped awhile now on account of the frost, but
as soon as the weather opens --"

"Enough, enough!" murmured Don Silverio; and he rose, and holding the
little dog in his arms, went on down the familiar road.

"His body has never been found?" he asked under his breath.

The old man shook his head.

"Nay, sir; what Edera takes it keeps. He dropped where he knew it was
deepest."

As the vicar returned up the village street there was not a soul to
give him greeting except old Gianna, who kneeled weeping at his feet.
The people poured out of their doorways, but they said not a word of
welcome. The memory of Adone was an idolatry with them, and Adone had
said that their priest had betrayed them. One woman threw a stone at
Signorino. Don Silverio covered the little dog, and received the blow
on his own arm.

"For twenty years I have had no thought but to serve these, my
people!" he thought; but he neither rebuked nor reproached them.

The women as he passed them hissed at him; "Judas! Judas!"

One man alone said: "Nay, 'tis a shame. Have you forgot what he did
in the cholera? 'Tis long ago, but still --"

But the women said: "He betrayed the poor lads. He brought the
soldiers. He sold the water."

Under that outrage, his manhood and his dignity revived.

He drew his tall form erect, and passed through the reviling crowd,
and gave them his blessing as he passed.

Then he went within his church; and remained there alone.

"He is gone to pray for the soul of Adone," said the sacristan.

When he came out of the church and entered his house, the street was
empty; the people were afraid of what they had done and of their own
ingratitude. He crossed the threshold of the presbytery. The sere
vine veiled his study casement; in the silence he could hear the
sound of the Edera water; he sat down at his familiar table, with the
dog upon his knees. His eyes were wet, and his heart was sick; his
courage was broken.

"How shall I bear my life here?" he thought. All which had made it of
value and lightened its solitude was gone. Even his people had turned
against him; suspicious, thankless, hostile.

The old sacristan, standing doubtful and timid at the entrance of the
chamber, drew near and reverently touched his arm.

"Sir -- here is a letter -- it came three days ago."

Don Silverio stretched out his hand over the little dog's head, and
took it.

He changed colour as he saw its seal and superscription.

Rome had at last remembered him, and awakened to his value.

At the latest Consistory he had been nominated to the Cardinalate.


THE END.



NOTE

As it may appear strange to the English reader that the Porpora
Romana should be given to a village priest, I may here say that, to
my knowledge, a country vicar was himself sweeping out his rural
church when he was informed of his nomination as Cardinal, and M. S.
de Mérode was only deacon when raised to that elevation.






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