“I have a mind to take you by the throat myself,” said Don Silverio, with an irritation which he found it hard to control. “Well, I will think over what you wish, and if I find it possible, if I think it justified, if I can afford the means, if I can obtain the permission, for such a journey, I will go to Rome; for your sake, for your mother’s sake. I will let you know my decision later. Let us walk homeward. The sun is low. At your house the three women must be anxious.”
Adone accompanied him in silence through the heather, of which the blossoming expanse was reddening in the light of the late afternoon until the land looked a ruby ocean. They did not speak again until they reached the confines of the Terra Vergine.
Then Don Silverio took the path which went through the pasture to the bridge, and Adone turned towards his own dwelling.
“Spare your mother. Speak gently,” said the elder man; the younger man made a sign of assent and of obedience.
“He will go to Rome,” said Adone to himself, and almost he regretted that he had urged the journey, for in his own veins the fever of unrest and the sting of fierce passions were throbbing, and he panted and pined for action. He was the heir of the lords of the river.
Like the cooper Ruffo, Clelia Alba had received the tidings with incredulity, though aghast at the mere suggestion.
“It is impossible,” she said. She had seen the water there ever since she had been a babe in swaddling clothes.
“It is not possible,” she said, “that any man could be profane enough to alter the bed which heaven had given it.”
But she was sorely grieved to see the effect such a fear had upon Adone.
“I was afraid it was a woman,” she thought; “but this thing, could it be true, would be worse than any harlot or adulteress. If they took away the river the land would perish. It lives by the river.”
“The river is our own as far as we touch it,” she said aloud to her son; “but it was the earth’s before it was ours. To sever water from the land it lives in were worse than to snatch a child from its mother’s womb.”
Adone did not tell her that water was no more sacred than land to the modern contractor. She would learn that all to soon if the conspiracy against the Edera succeeded. But he tried to learn from her what legal rights they possessed to the stream: what had his father thought? He knew well that his old hereditary claim to the Lordship of Ruscino, however capable of proof, would be set aside as fantastic and untenable; but their claim to the water through the holding of Terra Vergine could surely not be set aside.
“Your father never said aught about the water that I can remember,” she answered. “I think he would no more have thought it needful to say it was his than to say that you were his son. It is certain we are writ down in the district as owners of the ground; we pay taxes for it; and the title of the water must be as one with that.”