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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Waters Of Edera - Chapter XII
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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XII Post by :cjdnnm Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :1386

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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter 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."

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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
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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
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