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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVII Post by :Maurice2 Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :2632

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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 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.

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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVIII The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVIII

The Waters Of Edera - Chapter 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

The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVI The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVI

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