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.
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.