“No,” said Clelia Alba; “whether he came from those war-lords of old I know not, but he would have fought as they fought.”
The autumn and winter passed without more being heard in the Valdedera of the new invasion. The peasantry generally believed that such silence was favourable to their wishes; but Don Silverio knew that it was otherwise. The promoters of the work did not concern themselves with the local population, they dealt with greater folks; with those who administered the various communes, and who controlled the valuation of the land through which the course of the Edera ran; chiefly those well-born persons who constituted the provincial council. A great deal of money would change hands, but it was intended, by all through whose fingers those heavy sums would pass, that as little of the money as possible should find its way to the owners of the soil. A public work is like a fat hog; between the slaughterers, the salesmen, the middlemen, and the consumers, little falls to the original holder of the hog. The peasants of the Valdedera were astonished that no one came to treat with them; but they did not understand that they dwelt under a paternal government, and the first care of a paternal government is to do everything for its children which is likely to promise any profit to itself.
The men of business whom Don Silverio had seen in Rome did not trouble themselves with the rustic proprietors of either water or land; they treated with the great officials of the department, with the deputies, the prefects, and sub-prefects, the syndics and assessors; so a perfect silence on the question reigned from the rise of the river to its mouth, and many of the men said over their wood-fires that they had been scared for nothing. The younger men, however, and those who were under Adone’s influence, were more wary; they guessed that the matter was being matured without them; that when the hog should be eaten, the smallest and rustiest flitch would then be divided amongst them. Agents, such agents as were ministerial instruments of these magnates in election time, went amongst the scattered people and spoke to them of the great public utility of the contemplated works, and made them dispirited and doubtful of the value of their holdings, and uncertain of the legality of their tenures. But these agents were cautious and chary of promises, for they knew that in this district the temper of men was proud and hot and revengeful; and they knew also that when these rural owners should be brought into the courts to receive their price they would be dealt with just as the great men chose. One by one, so that each should be unsupported by his neighbours, the men of the valley were summoned, now to this town, now to the other, and were deftly argued with, and told that what was projected would be their salvation, and assured that the delegates who would be sent in their name by their provincial council to the capital would defend all their dearest interests.