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.
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.”