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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Waters Of Edera - Chapter XX
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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XX Post by :outsourcing Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :2388

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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XX

Don Silverio rose with the dawn of day, and entered his church at five of the clock. There were but a few women gathered in the gaunt, dark vastness of the nave. The morning was hot, and the scent of buds and blossoms and fresh-cut grass came in from the fields over the broken walls and into the ancient houses.

When Mass was over, old Alaida crept over the mouldy mosaics timidly to his side, and kneeled down on the stones.

"Most reverend," she whispered, "'twas not my fault. I slept heavily; she must have unlocked the door, for it was undone at dawn; her bed is empty, she has not returned."

"You speak of Nerina?"

"Of Nerina, reverence. I did all I could. It was not my fault. She was like a hawk in a cage."

"I am grieved," he said; and he thought: "Is it Adone?"

He feared so.

"Is she not at the Terra Vergine?" he asked. Alaida shook her head.

"No, reverend sir. I sent my grandchild to ask there. Gianna has not seen her, and says the girl would never dare to go near Clelia Alba."

"I am grieved," said Don Silverio again.

He did not blame the old woman, as who, he thought, blames one who could not tame an eaglet?

He went back to the presbytery and broke his fast on a glass of water, some bread, and some cresses from the river.

He had sent for Gianna. In half an hour she came, distressed and frightened.

"Sir, I know not of her; I should not dare to harbour her, even in the cattle-stall. Madonna Clelia would turn me adrift. When Madonna Clelia has once spoken --"

"Adone is at home?"

"Alas! No, sir. He went out at nightfall; we have not seen him since. He told me he went to a meeting of men at the Three Pines, at what they call the Tomb of the Barbarian."

Don Silverio was silent.

"It is very grave," he said at last.

"Aye, sir, grave indeed," said Gianna. "Would that it were love between them, sir. Love is sweet and wholesome and kind, but there is no such thing in Adone's heart. There it is only, alas! Blackness and fire and hatred, sir; bloodlust against those who mean ill to the river."

"And his mother has lost all influence over him?"

"All, sir. She is no more to him now than a bent stick. Yet, months ago, she gave him her pearls and her bracelets, and he sold them in a distant town to buy weapons."

"Indeed? What madness!"

"How else could the men have been armed, sir?"

"Armed!" he repeated. "And of what use is it to arm? What use is it for two hundred peasants to struggle against the whole forces of the State? They will rot in prison; that is all that they will do."

"Maybe yes, sir. Maybe no," said the old woman, with the obstinacy of ignorance. "Some one must begin. They have no right to take the water away, sir; no more right than to take the breast from the babe."

Then, afraid of having said so much, she dropped her curtsey and went out into the street. But in another moment she came back into the study with a scared, blanched face, in which the wrinkles were scarred deep like furrows in a field.

"Sir -- sir!" she gasped, "there are the soldiery amongst us."

Don Silverio rose in haste, put the little dog on his armchair, closed the door of his study, and went down the narrow stone passage which parted his bookroom from the entrance. The lofty doorway showed him the stones of the familiar street, a buttress of his church, a great branch of one of the self-sown ilex-trees, the glitter of the arms and the white leather of the cross belts of a sentinel. The shrill lamentations of the women seemed to rend the sunny air. He shuddered as he heard. Coming up the street farther off were half a troop of carabineers and a score of dragoons; the swords of the latter were drawn, the former had their carbines levelled. The villagers, screaming with terror, were closing their doors and shutters in frantic haste; the door of the presbytery alone remained open. Don Silverio went into the middle of the road and addressed the officer who headed the carabineers.

"May I ask to what my parish owes this visit?"

"We owe no answer to you, reverend sir," said the lieutenant.

The people were sobbing hysterically, catching their children in their arms, calling to the Holy Mother to save them, kneeling down on the sharp stones in the dust. Their priest felt ashamed of them.

"My people," he called to them, "do not be afraid. Do not hide yourselves. Do not kneel to these troopers. You have done no wrong."

"I forbid you to address the crowd," said the officer. "Get you back into your house."

"What is my offence?"

"You will learn in good time," said the commandant. "Get you into your presbytery."

"My place is with my people."

The officer, impatient, struck him on the chest with the pommel of his sword.

Two carabineers thrust him back into the passage.

"No law justifies your conduct," he said coldly, "or authorises you to sever me from my flock."

"The sabre is law here," said the lieutenant in command.

"It is the only law known anywhere in this kingdom," said Don Silverio.

"Arrest him," said the officer. "He is creating disorder."

The carabineers drove him into his study, and a brigadier began to ransack his papers and drawers.

He said nothing; the seizure of his manuscripts and documents was indifferent to him, for there was nothing he had ever written which would not bear the fullest light. But the insolent and arbitrary act moved him to keen anxiety, because it showed that the military men had licence to do their worst, at their will, and his anguish of apprehension was for Adone. He could only hope and pray that Adone had returned, and might be found tranquilly at work in the fields of the Terra Vergine. But his fears were great. Unless more soldiery were patrolling the district in all directions it was little likely, he thought, that these men would conduct themselves thus in Ruscino; he had no doubt that it was a concerted movement, directed by the Prefect, and the General commanding the garrisons of the province, and intended to net in one haul the malcontents of the Valdedera.

From his study there was no view upon the street; he could hear the wailing of women and screaming of children from the now closed houses: that was all.

"What is it your men do to my people?" he said sternly.

The brigadier did not reply; he went on throwing papers into a trunk.

"Where is your warrant for this search? We are not in a state of siege?" asked Don Silverio.

The man, with a significant gesture, drew his sabre up half way out of its sheath; then let it fall again with a clash. He vouchsafed no other answer.

Some women's faces pressed in at the grating of the window which looked on the little garden, scared, blanched, horrified, the white head, and sunburnt features of Gianna foremost.

"Reverendissimo!" they screamed as with one voice. "They are bringing the lads in from the moors."

And Gianna shrieked, "Adone! They have got Adone!"

Don Silverio sprang to his feet.

"Adone! Have you taken Adone Alba?"

"The ringleader! By Bacchus! Yes," cried the brigadier, with a laugh. "He will get thirty years at the galleys. Your flock does you honour, Reverendissimo!"

"Let me go to my flock," said Don Silverio; and some tone in his voice, some gesture of his hand, had an authority in them which compelled the carabineer to let him pass unopposed.

He went down the stone passage to the archway of the open door. A soldier stood sentinel there. The street was crowded with armed men. The air was full of clangour and clamour; above all rose the shrill screams of the women.

"No one passes," said the sentinel, and he levelled the mouth of his musket at Don Silverio's breast.

"I pass," said the priest, and with his bare hand he grasped the barrel of the musket and forced it upward.

"I rule here, in the name of God," he said in a voice which rolled down the street with majestic melody, dominating the screams, the oaths, the hell of evil sound; and he went down the steps of his house, and no man dared lay a hand on him.

He could hear the trampling of horses and the jingling of spears and scabbards; some lancers who had beaten the moors that night were coming up the street. Half a company of soldiers of the line, escorted by carabineers, came in from the country, climbing the steep street, driving before them a rabble of young men, disarmed, wounded, lame, with their hands tied behind them, the remnant of those who had met at the tomb of Asdrubal in the night just passed. They had been surprised, seized, surrounded by a wall of steel; some had answered to their leader's call and had defended themselves, but these had been few; most of them had thrown down their weapons and begged for mercy when the cold steel of the soldiers was at their throats. Adone had fought as though the shade of Asdrubal had passed into him; but his friends had failed him; his enemies had outnumbered him a score to one; he had been overpowered, disarmed, bound, dragged through his native heather backward and upward to Ruscino, reaching the shadow of the walls as the sun rose.

The child lay dead by the stagnant pond, and the men she had led to their death lay choked with the weeds and the slime; but of that he knew naught.

All he knew was that his cause was lost, his life forfeit, his last hope dead.

Only by his stature and his bearing could he be recognised. His features were black from powder and gore; his right arm hung broken by a shot; his clothing had been torn off him to his waist; he was lame; but he alone still bore himself erect as he came on up the village street. The others were huddled together in a fainting, tottering, crazed mob; all were sick and swooning from the long march, beaten when they paused by the buckles of belts and the flat of sabres.

Don Silverio saw that sight in front of his church, in the white, clear light of early morning, and on the air there was a sickly stench of sweat, of powder, of wounds, of dust.

He went straight to the side of Adone.

"My son, my son! I will come with you. They cannot refuse me that."

But the soul of Adone was as a pit in which a thousand devils strove for mastery. There was no light in it, no conscience, no gratitude, no remorse.

"Judas!" he cried aloud; and there was foam on his lips and there was red blood in his eyes. "Judas! You betrayed us!"

Then, as a young bull lowers his horns, he bent his head and bit through and through to the bone the wrist of the soldier who held him; in terror and pain the man shrieked and let go his hold; Adone's arms remained bound behind him, but his limbs, though they dripped blood, were free.

He fronted the church, and that breach in the blocks of the Etruscan wall through which Nerina had taken her path to the river a few hours before. He knew every inch of the descent. Hundreds of times in his boyhood had he run along the ruined wall and leaped in sport over the huge stones, to spring with joyous shouts into the river below.

As the soldier with a scream of agony let go his hold, he broke away like a young lion released from the den. Before they could seize him he had sprung over the wall, and was tearing down the slope; the linesmen, rushing in swift pursuit behind him, stumbled, rolled down the slippery grass, fell over the blocks of granite. He, sure of foot, knowing the way from childhood, ran down the hill safely, though blood poured from his wounds and blinded his sight, and a sickness like the swooning of death dulled his brain. Beyond him and below him was the river. He dashed into it like a hunted beast swimming to sanctuary; he ran along in it, with its brightness and coolness rippling against his parched throat. He stooped and kissed it for the last time.

"Take me! -- save me! -- comrade, brother, friend!" he cried aloud to it with his last breath of life; and he plunged where it was deepest.

Then the sky grew dark, and only the sound of the water was heard in his ears. By the bridge its depth was great, and the current was strong under the shade of the ruined keep. It swept his body onward to the sea.

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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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