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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVIII
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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XVIII Post by :BlogD Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :843

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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 -- oh, Lord!"

"Keep her where she is for the present. I am going home. I will speak with some of the women in Ruscino, and find her some temporary shelter."

"She will go to none, sir. She says she must be where she can serve Adone. If she be shut up, she will escape and run into the woods. Three years ago she was a wild thing; she will turn wild again."

"Like enough! But we must do what we can. I am going home. I will come or send to you in a few hours."

Gianna reluctantly let him go. As he crossed the river he looked down on the bright water, here green as emeralds, there brown as peat, eddying round the old stone piers of the bridge, and an infinite sorrow was on him.

As a forest fire sweeps away under its rolling smoke and waves of flame millions of obscure and harmless creatures, so the baneful fires of men's greed and speculations came from afar and laid low these harmless lives with neither thought of them or pity.

Later in the day he sent word to Gianna to bring Nernia to the presbytery. They both came, obedient. The child looked tired and had lost her bright colour; but she had a resolute look on her face.

"My poor little girl," he said gently to her, "Madonna Clelia is angered against you. We will hope her anger will pass ere long. Meanwhile you must not go to the house. You would not make ill-blood between a mother and her son?"

"No," said Nernia.

"I have found a home for awhile for you, with old Alaida Manzi; you know her; she is a good creature. I am very sorry for you, my child; but you did wrong to be absent at night; above all not to go back to your chamber when Clelia Alba bade you to do so."

Nernia's face darkened. "I did no harm."

"I am sure you did not mean to do any; but you disobeyed Madonna Clelia."

Nernia was silent.

"You are a young girl; you must not roam the country at night. It is most perilous. Decent maidens and women are never abroad after moonrise."

Nernia said nothing.

"You will promise me never to go out at night again?"

"I cannot promise that, sir."

"Why?"

"If I be wanted, I shall go."

"If Adone Alba bid you -- is that your meaning?"

Nernia was silent.

"Do you think that it is fitting for you to have secrets from me, your confessor?"

Nernia was silent; her rosy mouth was closed firmly. It was very terrible to have to displease and disobey Don Silverio; but she would not speak, not if she should burn in everlasting flames for ever.

"Take her away. Take her to Alaida," he said wearily to Gianna.

"She only obeys Adone, sir," said the old woman. "All I can say counts as naught."

"Adone will send her on no more midnight errands, unless he be brute and fool both. Take her away. Look to her, you and Alaida."

"I will do what I can, sir," said Gianna humbly, and pushed the girl out into the village street before her.

Don Silverio sat down at his deal writing-table and wrote in his fine, clear calligraphy a few lines: "_In the name of my holy office I forbid you to risk the life and good name of the maiden Nernia on your unlawful errands_."

Then he signed and sealed the sheet, and sent it by his sacristan to Adone.

He received no answer.

The night which followed was one of the most bitter in its meditations that he had ever spent; and he had spent many cruel and sleepless nights ere then.

That Adone could for one fleeting moment have harboured so vile a thought filled him with nausea and amaze. Betray them! He! -- who would willingly have given up such years of life as might remain to him could he by such a sacrifice have saved their river and their valley from destruction. There was nothing short of vice or crime which he would not have done to save the Edera water from its fate. But it was utterly impossible to do anything. Even men of eminence had often brought all their forces of wealth and argument against similar enterprises, and had failed in their opposition. What could a few score of peasants, and one poor ecclesiastic, do against all the omnipotence of Parliament, of millionaires, of secretaries of State, of speculators, of promoters, tenacious and forcible and ravenous as the octopus?

In those lonely night hours when the moonbeams shone on his bed and the little white dog nestled itself close to his shoulder, he was tortured also by the sense that it was his duty to arrest Adone and the men of the Valdedera in their mad course, even at the price of such treachery to them as Adone had dared to attribute to him. But if that were his duty it must be the first duty which consciously he had left undone!

If he could only stop them on their headlong folly by betraying them they must rush on to their doom!

He saw no light, no hope, no assistance anywhere. These lads would not be able to save a single branch of the river water, nor a sword-rush on its banks, nor a moorhen in its shallows, nor a cluster of myosotis upon its banks, and they would ruin themselves.

The golden glory of the planet Venus shone between the budding vine-leaves at his casement.

"Are you not tire?" he said to the shining orb. "Are you not tired of watching the endless cruelties and insanities on earth?"

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The people of Ruscino went early to their beds; the light of the oil-wicks of the Presbytery was always the only light in the village half an hour after dark. Nerina went uncomplainingly to hers in the dark stone house within the walls where she had been told that it was her lot to dwell. She did not break her fast; she drank great draughts of water; then, with no word except a brief good-night, she went to the sacking filled with leaves which the old woman Alaida pointed out for her occupancy."She is soon reconciled," thought the old crone. "They
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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
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