All that day the people of Ruscino crowded round the Presbytery.
“What of the Edera water, sir?” they asked him a hundred times in the shrill cries of the women, in the rude bellow of the men, in the high-pitched, dissonant clamour of angry speakers. And all the day his patience and kindness were abused, and his nerves racked and strained, in the effort to persuade them that the river which ran beneath their walls was no more theirs than the stars which shone above it.
It was hopeless to bring home to their intelligence either the invalidity of their claim, or the peril which would lie in their opposition.
“’Twas there in the beginning of time,” they said. “There it must be for our children’s children.”
He talked nonsense, they thought; who should be able to stop a river which was for ever running? The Edera water was carried in the womb of the Leonessa: Leonessa gave it fresh birth every day.
Yes! thought Don Silverio, as he walked by the river after sunset, and watched its bright, impetuous current dash over the stones and shingle whilst two kingfishers flashed along its surface. Yes, truly Nature would pour it forth every day from her unfailing breast so long as man did not do it outrage. But how long would that be? A year, two years, three years, at most; then its place would know it no more, and its song would be silent. The water-pipet would make its nest no more in its sedges, and the blue porphyrion would woo his mate no more on its bosom. As one of the rich men in Rome had said to him with a cynical smile, “The river will be there always, only it will be dry!”
In the gloaming he went and spoke to Adone’s mother. She was at her spinning-wheel, but her hands moved mechanically; her face was dark and her eyelids swollen.
“My friend,” he said, as he sat down on the bench beneath the rose-tree, “I have brought you ill-tidings.”
“It is true then, sir?”
“I do not believe it. God will not let it be.”
“Would that I could think so.”
“’Tis you, sir, who should think so, and not I.”
“My good Clelia,” he said, with some impatience, “it is no use to dream dreams. Try and persuade your son to accept the inevitable. My words seem harsh. They are not so. But I dare not let you cherish your illusions like this; blind yourself to fact, you expect some supernatural intercession. They will take your river; they will take your lands. Your house will be yours no more. If you do not go peaceably they will have you turned out, as if you were a debtor. This may take some time, for it will be done with all due legal forms, but it will be done. They will pay you and your son some value by appraisement, but they will take your land and your house and all that is yours and his; I have seen the plans in Rome. Can you think that I should invent this to torture you? There will be a process, a sentence, an award; the money the law allots to you will be strictly paid to you; but you will be driven away form the Terra Vergine. Realise this. Try and keep your reason and save your son from madness. Surely, where there is great love between two people, and bonds of memory and mutual duty, and strong faith, there a home may be made anywhere, even over seas?”