“It means that which cannot serve the poor man without degrading him.”
“But — but — if as a reward for duty, advancement cane to you?”
“I fail to understand.”
“Let me speak frankly. With your superiority to them you must easily rule the embryo rioters of the Valdedera. If, to your efforts it should be owing that the population remain quiet, and that this Adone Alba and others in a similar position come to me in an orderly manner and a pliant spirit, I will engage that this service to us on your part shall not be forgotten.”
He paused; but Don Silverio did not reply.
“It is lamentable and unjust,” continued the mayor, “that any one of your evident mental powers and capacity for higher place should be wasting your years and wasting your mind in a miserable solitude like Ruscino. If you will aid us to a pacific cession of the Valdedera I will take upon myself to promise that your translation to a higher office shall be favoured by the Government-”
He paused again, for he did not see upon Don Silverio’s countenance that flattered and rejoiced expression which he expected; there was even upon it a look of scorn. He regretted that he had said so much.
“I thank your Excellency for so benevolent an interest in my poor personality,” said Don Silverio. “But with the King’s government I have nothing to do. I am content in the place whereto I have been called, and have no disposition to assist the speculations of foreign companies. I have the honour to bid your Excellency good evening.”
He bowed low, and backed out of the apartment this time. Count Corradini did not endeavour to detain him.
When he got out into the air the strong mountain wind was blowing roughly down the steep and narrow street. He felt it with pleasure smite his cheeks and brows.
“Truly only from nature can we find strength and health,” he murmured. “In the houses of men there are but fever and corruption, and uncleanliness.”
To neglect no possible chance, he resolved to see the Prefect, if the Prefect consented to see him. This great official dwelt in a seaport city, whence he ruled the province, for such a period at least as his star should be in the ascendant, that is, whilt his political group should be in power. It was scarcely likely that a government official would be accessible to any arguments which a poor country priest could bring forward against a government project. Still, he resolved to make the effort, for at the Prefect’s name apprehension, keen and quaking, had leapt into Count Corradini’s faded eyes.
From San Beda to the seaport city there stretched some forty miles of distance; the first part a descent down the spurs of the Apennines, the latter half through level sandy country, with pine woods here and there. The first half he covered on foot, the second by the parliamentary train, which drew its long black line snake-like and slow, through the dunes and the stagnant waters. He had but a few francs in his waistband, and could ill afford to expend those.