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.”