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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Waters Of Edera - Chapter XXI
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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XXI Post by :halwaku Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :3152

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The Waters Of Edera - Chapter XXI

It was the beginning of winter when Don Silverio Frascara, having been put upon his trial and no evidence of any sort having been adduced against him, was declared innocent and set free, no compensation or apology being offered to him.

"Were it only military law it had been easy enough to find him guilty," said Senator Giovacchino Gallo to the Syndic of San Beda, and the Count Corradini warmly agreed with his Excellency that for the sake of law, order, and public peace it would be well could the military tribunals be always substituted for the civil; but alas! the monarchy was not yet absolute!

He had been detained many weeks and months at the city by the sea, where the trial of the young men of the Valdedera had been held with all the prolonged, tedious, and cruel delays common to the national laws. Great efforts had been made to implicate him in the criminal charges; but it had been found impossible to verify such suspicions; every witness by others, and every action of his own, proved the wisdom, the purity, and the excellence in counsel and example of his whole life at Ruscino. The unhappy youths who had been taken with arms in their hands were condemned for overt rebellion and conspiracy against authority, and were sentenced, some to four, some to seven, some to ten, and, a few who were considered the ringleaders, to twenty-five years of cellular confinement. But against Don Silverio it was found impossible even to make out the semblance of an accusation, the testimony event of those hostile to him being irresistibly in his favour in all ways. He had done his utmost to defend the poor peasantry who had been misled by Adone to their own undoing, and he had defended also the motives and the character of the dead with an eloquence which moved to tears the public who heard him, and touched even the hearts of stone of president and advocates; and he had done this at his own imminent risk; for men of law can never be brought to understand that comprehension is not collusion, or that pity is not fellowship.

But all his efforts failed to save the young men from the utmost rigour of the law. The judge, agreeing with the State prosecutor, declared that the most severe example was necessary to check once for all by its terrors the tendency of the common people to resist the State and its public works and decrees. Useful and patriotic enterprises must not be impeded or wrecked because ignorance was opposed to progress: thus said the King's advocate in an impassioned oration which gained for him eventually emolument and preferment. The rustics were sent in a body to the penitentiaries; and Don Silverio was permitted to go home.

Cold northern blasts blew from the upper Apennines, and piled the snows upon the grey and yellow rocks of the Abruzzo heights, as he crossed the valley of the Edera towards Ruscino. It seemed to him as though a century had passed since he had left it. In the icy wind which blew form the hills he shivered, for he had only one poor, thin coat to cover him. His strength, naturally great, had given way under the mental and physical sufferings of the last six months, although no word of lament had ever escaped him. Like all generous natures he rebuked himself for the sins of others. Incessantly he asked himself -- might he not have saved Adone?

As he came to the turn in the road which brought him within sight of the river, he sat down on a stone and covered his eyes with his hands.

The sacristan had come to meet him, bringing the little dog, grown thin, and sad, and old with sorrow.

"I did all I could for him, but he would not be consoled," murmured the old man.

From the point which they had reached the course of the Edera, and the lands of the Terra Vergine, were visible. With an effort, like one who forces his will to look on a dead face, he uncovered his eyes and looked downward. The olive-trees were still standing; where the house had stood there was a black, charred, roofless shell; the untilled fields lay bare beneath the frost.

"Reverend sir," said the old man below his breath, "when Clelia Alba knew that Adone was drowned she set fire to the house, and so perished. They say she had promised her son."

The wind from the north swept across the valley and drove the river in yellow foam and black eddies through the dead sedges. Above Ruscino the acacia thickets had been cut down, the herbage was crushed under timber and iron and stone, the heather was trampled and hacked, the sand and gravel were piled in heaps, the naked soil yawned in places like fresh-dug graves; along the southern bank were laid the metals of a light railway; on the lines of it were some trucks filled with bricks; the wooden huts of the workmen covered a dreary, dusty space; the water was still flowing, but on all the scene were the soil, the disorder, the destruction, the vulgar meanness and disfigurement which accompany modern labour, and affront like a coarse bruise the gracious face of Nature.

"There have been three hundred men form the Puglie at work," said the sacristan. "They have stopped awhile now on account of the frost, but as soon as the weather opens --"

"Enough, enough!" murmured Don Silverio; and he rose, and holding the little dog in his arms, went on down the familiar road.

"His body has never been found?" he asked under his breath.

The old man shook his head.

"Nay, sir; what Edera takes it keeps. He dropped where he knew it was deepest."

As the vicar returned up the village street there was not a soul to give him greeting except old Gianna, who kneeled weeping at his feet. The people poured out of their doorways, but they said not a word of welcome. The memory of Adone was an idolatry with them, and Adone had said that their priest had betrayed them. One woman threw a stone at Signorino. Don Silverio covered the little dog, and received the blow on his own arm.

"For twenty years I have had no thought but to serve these, my people!" he thought; but he neither rebuked nor reproached them.

The women as he passed them hissed at him; "Judas! Judas!"

One man alone said: "Nay, 'tis a shame. Have you forgot what he did in the cholera? 'Tis long ago, but still --"

But the women said: "He betrayed the poor lads. He brought the soldiers. He sold the water."

Under that outrage, his manhood and his dignity revived.

He drew his tall form erect, and passed through the reviling crowd, and gave them his blessing as he passed.

Then he went within his church; and remained there alone.

"He is gone to pray for the soul of Adone," said the sacristan.

When he came out of the church and entered his house, the street was empty; the people were afraid of what they had done and of their own ingratitude. He crossed the threshold of the presbytery. The sere vine veiled his study casement; in the silence he could hear the sound of the Edera water; he sat down at his familiar table, with the dog upon his knees. His eyes were wet, and his heart was sick; his courage was broken.

"How shall I bear my life here?" he thought. All which had made it of value and lightened its solitude was gone. Even his people had turned against him; suspicious, thankless, hostile.

The old sacristan, standing doubtful and timid at the entrance of the chamber, drew near and reverently touched his arm.

"Sir -- here is a letter -- it came three days ago."

Don Silverio stretched out his hand over the little dog's head, and took it.

He changed colour as he saw its seal and superscription.

Rome had at last remembered him, and awakened to his value.

At the latest Consistory he had been nominated to the Cardinalate.

 

NOTE

As it may appear strange to the English reader that the Porpora Romana should be given to a village priest, I may here say that, to my knowledge, a country vicar was himself sweeping out his rural church when he was informed of his nomination as Cardinal, and M. S. de Mérode was only deacon when raised to that elevation.


(THE END)
Ouida's book: Waters of Edera

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