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?”
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 have trained her well.”
Relieved of all anxiety, she herself lay down in the dark and slept. The girl seemed a good, quiet, tame little thing, and said her paternosters as she should do. But Nerina did not sleep. She was stifled in this little close room with its one shuttered window. She who was used to sleeping with the fresh fragrant air of the dark fields blowing over her in her loft, felt the sour, stagnant atmosphere take her like a hand by the throat.