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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Waters Of Edera - Chapter IX
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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter IX Post by :pearsonbrown Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :3072

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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter 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.

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"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
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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
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