Full Online Books
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVI
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVI Post by :zional81 Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :1831

Click below to download : The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVI (Format : PDF)

The Waters Of Edera - Chapter 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.

If you like this book please share to your friends :

The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVII The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVII

The Waters Of Edera - Chapter 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

The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XV The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XV

The Waters Of Edera - Chapter 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