He knew but little of affairs of speculation, but he knew that it was only in reason to suppose that such projects would be kept concealed, as long as might be expedient, from those who would be known to be hostile to them, in order to minimise the force of opposition.
On the morning of the fourth day which followed on the priest’s visit to San Beda, about ten in the forenoon, Adone, with his two oxen, Orlando and Rinaldo, were near the river on that part of his land which was still natural moorland, and on which heather, and ling, and broom, and wild roses, and bracken grew together. He had come to cut a waggon load of furze, and had been at work there since eight o’clock, when he had come out of the great porch of the church after attending mass, for it was the twentieth of June, the name-day of Don Silverio.
Scarcely had that day dawned when Adone had risen and had gone across the river to the presbytery, bearing with him a dozen eggs, two flasks of his best wine, and a bunch of late-flowering roses. They were his annual offerings on this day; he felt some trepidation as he climbed the steep, stony, uneven street lest they should be rejected, for he was conscious that three evenings before he had offended Don Silverio, and had left the presbytery too abruptly. But his fears were allayed as soon as he entered the house; the vicar was already up and dressed, and was about to go to the church. At the young man’s first contrite words Don Silverio stopped him with a kind smile.
“I was impatient and to blame,” he said as he took the roses. “You heap coals of fire on my head, my son, with your welcome gifts.”
Then together they had gone to the quaint old church of which the one great bell was tolling.
Mass over, Adone had gone home, broken his fast, taken off his velvet jacket, his long scarlet waistcoat, and his silver-studded belt, and put the oxen to the pole of the waggon.
“Shall I come?” cried Nerina.
“No,” he answered. “Go and finish cutting the oats in the triangular field.”
Always obedient, she went, her sickle swinging to her girdle. She was sorry, but she never murmured.
Adone had been at work amongst the furze two hours when old Pierino, who always accompanied the oxen, got up, growled, and then barked.
“What is it, old friend?” asked Adone, and left off his work and listened. He heard voices by the waterside, and steps on the loose shingle of its shrunken summer bed. He went out of the wild growth round him and looked. There were four men standing and talking by the water. They were doubtless the same persons as Nerina had seen, for they were evidently men from a city and strangers. Disquietude and offence took alarm in him at once.
He conquered that shyness which was natural to him, and which was due to the sensitiveness of his temperament and the solitude in which he had been reared.