Don Silverio drew to him his unfinished letter to the Prior; the young monk who would take it back in the morning to San Beda was already asleep in a little chamber above. But he could not write, he was too perturbed and too anxious. Although he had spoken so calmly he was full of carking care; both for the threatened evil in itself, and for its effects upon his parishioners; and especially upon Adone. He knew that in this age it is more difficult to check the devouring monster of commercial covetousness than it ever was to stay the Bull of Crete; and that for a poor and friendless community to oppose a strong and wealthy band of speculators is indeed for the wooden lance to shiver to atoms on the brazen shield.
He left his writing table and extinguished his lamp. Bidding the little dog lie still upon his chair, he went through the house to a door which opened from it into the bell tower of his church and which allowed him to go from the house to the church without passing out into the street. He climbed the belfry stairs once more, lighting himself at intervals by striking a wooden match; for through the narrow loopholes in the walls the moonbeams did not penetrate. He knew the way so well that he could have gone up and down those rotting stairs even in total darkness, and he safely reached the platform of the bell tower, though one halting step might have sent him in that darkness head foremost to his death.
He stood there, and gazed downwards on the moonlit landscape far below, over the roofs and the walls of the village towards the open fields and the river, with beyond that the wooded country and the cultured land known as the Terra Vergine, and beyond those again the moors, the marshes, and the mountains. The moonlight shone with intense clearness on the waters of the Edera and on the stone causeway of the old one-arched bridge. On the bridge there was a figure moving slowly; he knew it to be that of Adone. Adone was going home.
He was relieved from the pressure of one immediate anxiety, but his apprehensions for the future were great, both for the young man and for the people of Ruscino and its surrounding country. To take away their river was to deprive them of the little which they had to make life tolerable and to supply the means of existence. Its winter overflow nourished the fields which they owned around it, and the only cornmill of the district worked by a huge wheel in its water. If the river were turned out of its course above Ruscino the whole of this part of the vale would be made desolate.
Life was already hard for the human creatures in these fair scenes on which he looked; without the river their lot would be intolerable.
“Forbid it, O Lord! Forbid this monstrous wrong,” he said, as he stood with bared head under the starry skies.