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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Waters Of Edera - Chapter XIV
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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XIV Post by :AllenMacCannell Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :756

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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter 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."

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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
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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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