Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Taquisara by F. Marion Crawford

Part 8 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

than friend and touching his hand softly in the long silence. All this
she could do, and if there were ever any effort in it, that was surely
not an effort to be kind, but one of those little doubting, uncertain,
spontaneous efforts which we make whenever we unconsciously begin to
feel that it will not be enough to do right, but that we must also seem
to do right in other eyes, lest our right be thought half hearted.

The days were monotonous, but it was not their monotony which she felt,
so much as that irrevocable quality of them all which made a grey
background in her soul, against which something was moving, undefined,
strong as the unseen wind, yet mistily visible sometimes, having more
life than shape--a terrible thing which drew her to it against her will,
and yet a thing which had in it much besides terror.

She turned from it when she knew that it was there, and fixed her sight
upon Gianluca's face. Sometimes she found comfort in that, and she did
all that was required of her, and more also, and was glad to do it.

But the wrong done to nature was deeper and more real than all the good
she could do to hide it, and it cried out against her continually by the
voice of the woman's instinct. It was not Gianluca who became
intolerable to her, but she herself, and it was to escape from herself
that she clung to him closely, as well as out of affection for him; for
when she was by herself she was no longer alone. That other unshaped
something kept her company.

She was bound hand and foot, soul, body, and intelligence, for life.
She, the very strong, was tied to the helpless; she, the energetic, was
bound to apathy; she, the active, was nailed to the passive; she, the
free, the erect, was bowed under a burden which she must carry to her
life's end, never to be free again.

She could bear the burden, and she said none of these things to herself.
But the wrong was upon nature, and the mother of all turned against the
one child that would be unlike all the rest.

The man who was a man, soul and body, heart, hand, and spirit, stood
beside the other, who was a shadow, and beside her, who was a woman--and
the tragedy began in the prologue of contrast. Strength to weakness,
motion to immobility, the grace and carriage of manly youth to the sad
restfulness of helpless, hopeless limbs that never again could feel and
bear weight; that was the contrast from which there was no escaping. On
the steps of love's temple, at the very threshold, the one lay half
dead, never to rise again; and beside him stood the other, in the pride
and glory of the morning of life.

It would have been hard, even if the contrast had been less strong to
the eye, and the distance of the two souls greater one from the
other--even if Taquisara had not been what he was. But as the one, in
his being, was alive from head to heel, so the other was dead save in
the thoughts in which he still had a shadowy life. And for the
rest--flesh, blood, and life apart--they were equals. Was Gianluca true?
Taquisara was as honest and loyal as the brave daylight. Was the one
brave? So was the other, in thought and deed. Was Gianluca enduring? So
was Taquisara, and he had the more to endure, the more to fight, the
more to keep down in him.

She knew that he loved her. How it was that she knew it she could not
tell, but sometimes the music of the truth rang in her ears till the
flame shot up in her face and she shut her eyes to hide her soul--a
loud, triumphant music, stately and grand as might herald the marching
of archangels--till her inward cry of terror pierced it, and all was as
still as the grave. Then, for a space, the vision of sin stood dark in
the way, and she turned and fled from it back to Gianluca's side, back
to the care of him, back to his helpless love for her, back to his
pathetic, stricken restfulness, back to the maiden dreams of a life-long
friendship, unbroken as the calm of the summer ocean, perfect as the
cloudless sky of those golden autumn days.

For a time, the dark wraith of sin faded, and there was no music in the
air, and her cheek was cool, while she looked all the world in the face
with the fearless eyes of a child-empress. Again the monotonous, good
day rolled in the same grooves, noiselessly, and surely, as all the days
to come were to roll along, to the end of ends. She worked for her
people, talked with Don Teodoro, talked, smiled, laughed with Gianluca,
and bore the old Duchessa's ramblings with patience and kindness.

But all of a sudden, for a nothing, at the sight of a fencing foil, at
the smell of Gianluca's cigarette, at the sound of a footfall she knew,
there came the mad wish to be alone; and she resisted it, for it did not
seem good to her, and even as she struggled the blood rose in her throat
and was in her cheeks in a moment, so that if just then by chance
Taquisara came upon her suddenly, the room swam and for an instant her
brain reeled as she turned her face from him in mortal shame.

She knew so well that he loved her, and that he was suffering, too. It
was love's hands that had chiselled the bronze of his face to leaner
lines, and that threw a new darkness into his dark eyes. It was for her
that there was that other note in his voice that had never been there
before. It was for love of her that once or twice, when she took his
hand in greeting, it was icy cold--not like Gianluca's, half dead, and
dull, and chilly, and very thin--but cold from the heart, as it were,
and more wildly living than if it had burned like fire; trembling, and
not in weakness, with something that caught her own fingers and ran like
lightning to the very core and quick of her soul, hurting it overmuch
with its bolt of joy and fear. It was for her that, at the first, he had
been cold and silent, because he was afraid of himself, and of love, and
of the least, faintest breath that might tarnish the bright shield of
his spotless loyalty to Gianluca.

All the little changes in his speech and manner were clear to her now,
and each had its meaning, and all meant the same. His words, spoken from
time to time, came back to her, and she understood them, and saw how,
for his friend's sake, he had held his peace for himself, and had ever
urged her to marry Gianluca, in spite of everything.

If he had not loved her, or if she had thought that he did not, she
would have had the pride to tear her heart clean from love's terrible
hands, whole or broken, as might be, and to toss it, with the dead dull
weeks into old time's sack of irrevocably lost and useless things, and
so to live her life out, loveless, in the still haven of Gianluca's
friendship. But, having his love, she had not such pride; and the
loyalty she truly had was matched alone against all human nature since
the world began.

Do what she would, she yielded sometimes to that great wish to go
suddenly to her own room and be alone. Then, standing at her window when
the mist whitened in the valley under the broad moon, she listened, and
instantly the air was full of music again as love lifted up its voice,
and sweetly chanted the melody of life. With parted lips she listened,
till the moonlight filled her eyes, and her heart fluttered softly, and
her throat was warm.

And sometimes, too, while she was there, the man who loved her so
silently and so well was by his friend's side, tending as his own the
life that stood between him and the hope of happiness; loving both him
and her, but honour best. But sometimes he, too, was alone in his own
room, and even at his window, facing the same broad moon, the same white
mist in the sleeping valley, the same dark, crested hills, but not
hearing the music that the woman heard. He could be calm for a while as
he looked out; but presently, without warning, he swallowed hard, and
again, as on the fatal day, he held her little hand in his, under the
priest's great sign of the cross, and his own blood shrieked in his
ears. In cruel anger against himself, he turned from the window then and
paced the room with short, braced steps, till at last he threw himself
into a deep chair and sullenly took the first book at hand, to read
himself back to the monotony of all he had to bear.

And so those two fearless ones went through the days and weeks in
twofold terror of themselves and each of the other, and the slow,
wordless tragedy was acted before eyes that saw but did not understand.
Still Gianluca refused to go away, and still Veronica refused to send
for the syndic. She would not yield to the Duchessa, who found herself
opposed both by her son and her son's wife.

No one knew how much Veronica herself still hoped, when the bright
autumn days were broken at last by the first winter storm that rose out
of the dark south in monstrous wrath against such perpetual calm. She
herself did not know whether she still hoped for any improvement, or
whether, in her inmost thoughts, she had given up hope and had accepted
the certainty that Gianluca was never to be better than he was now.
There is something of habit in all hope that has been with us long, and
the habits we notice the least are sometimes the hardest of all to

When Veronica said that Gianluca would yet stand up and walk, no one
contradicted her, except the doctors, and she had no faith in them.
They came and went. The great professor came three times from Naples and
saw the patient, ate his dinner, slept soundly, and went away assuring
Veronica that it was useless to send for him unless some great change
took place. To please her, he recommended a little electricity, baths,
light treatment such as could give little trouble, and he carefully
instructed the young doctor of Muro in all he was to do. When he had
finished, and the young man had promised to do everything regularly,
they looked at each other, smiled sadly, but professionally, and parted
with mutual good will and understanding, both knowing that the case was
now perfectly hopeless. Their coming and going made little intervals in
the tragic play of life, but never broke its continuity.

The old Duca appeared again, and slipped quietly into his place, as
before. But at the end of a week there was an unexpected flaring-up of
energy, as it were, in his docile and affectionate being. When he and
his wife and Veronica were with Gianluca, he suddenly declared that the
situation must end, and that they must all go down to Naples. Veronica
should send for the syndic, and have the legal marriage at once, and
then they would all go down together. It was quite clear in his mind, as
simple as daylight, as easy of performance as breathing, as satisfactory
as satisfaction itself. The Duchessa was with him, and supported all he
said with approving nods and futile gestures and incoherent phrases
thrown in, as one throws straws upon a stream to see the current carry
them away.

Gianluca said nothing, and Veronica stood alone against them all, for
she knew that he was on his father's side. She guessed, perhaps, that
Gianluca had made up his mind never to leave her roof except as her
lawful husband, clinging to her, as he had tried to cling to her skirt
on that most eventful day when she had gone to the window for a moment;
and she understood why, having spoken once, he would not speak again. He
was too proud to repeat such a request, but his love was far too
obstinate to be satisfied with less than its fulfilment. But his own
hope for his recovery was more alive than hers.

Instinctively, as she opposed them all, Veronica looked round for
Taquisara. It was not often that she needed help, and she knew that he
could have helped her, had he been there. But she had to speak for
herself. She said what she could; but in that self-examination which
self-defence forces upon those who have never dissected their own
hearts, a new and fearful truth sprang up, clear of all others, bright,
keen, and terrible.

It was no longer for her people's sake that she was waiting in the hope
of Gianluca's recovery. It was no longer for her own, nor for his. It
was out of her deadly love for Taquisara that all her nature rose
against that final bond of the law, and the world, and society. So long
as that was not yet welded and made fast upon her, there was the
fleeting shadow of a desperate hope that she might still be free.

It rose and smote her between the eyes, and clutched at her heart; and
when she knew its face, she stopped in the midst of her speech, and
turned white, even to her lips and her throat.

"I do not know. I will think about it," she said faintly.

As her power to oppose gave way, the Duca's astonishment at his victory
swelled his weakness to violence; and he raved of duties and
obligations, of paternal authority, of the obedience of children and
children-in-law, in all the boundless, self-assured incoherence of
feebleness suddenly let loose against smitten strength.

Veronica seemed to hear nothing. She had resumed her seat beside
Gianluca, and was stroking his white hand,--less thin than it had been,
but somehow even more lifeless,--and she looked down at it very
thoughtfully, while he watched her face. He was happier than he had been
for a long time, for he knew that she was going to make a concession,
and that he had not asked for it.

There was silence, and Veronica raised her head. The old Duca's face
was red with the exertion of much speaking. He was a good man and meant
well, but in that moment Veronica hated him as she had never hated any
one, not even Matilde Macomer. And yet she knew that his intention was
all for the best, and that it was natural that he should press his point
and exult when she gave up the fight. She opened her lips to speak.

At that moment the door turned on its hinges opposite her eyes, and
Taquisara stood before her. He came in quietly and not knowing that
anything extraordinary was occurring. But his eyes met hers for one
moment, and instantly her cheek reddened in the evening light.

"I will give you a promise," she said slowly. "This is the first week in
December. If Gianluca is not much better by the first of January, I will
do as you ask. The civil marriage shall take place here, and if he
wishes to go down to Naples, we will all go together."

The Duca began to speak again, sure that he could press her further. But
she interrupted him. Taquisara had gone to the window and was turning
his back on them all.

"No," said Veronica. "That is what I will do, and I will do it--I have
promised--that, and nothing else."

She had risen, and as she pronounced the last words, she left Gianluca's
side and, with her eyes fixed before her, went straight to the door,
pale and erect. She felt that she had given her life a second time.
Taquisara heard her footsteps, left the window, and opened the door for
her to pass, standing aside while she went by. He saw her head move a
little, as though she would turn and look at him, and he saw how
resolutely she resisted and looked before her. He understood that she
would not trust herself to see his eyes again, and he quietly closed the
door behind her. She knew what he must have felt when she had spoken,
and he felt a lofty pride that she should trust him to bear the knife
without warning, sure that he would utter no cry.


The tenth of December was at hand, on which day Don Teodoro had been in
the habit of going to Naples to pay his annual visit to his friend Don
Matteo. When Taquisara told him of what had taken place, the priest knew
that he need not disturb Veronica for permission to leave Muro, merely
for the sake of gaining a day or two. One day was all he needed, and
there would be three weeks from the tenth of December to the first of
January. He made his preparations for the little journey with much care,
and went away with more luggage than usual. He also set all his
manuscripts and books in order. When he was going away he gave the key
of his little house to Taquisara.

"I do not expect to come back," he said. "But you will hear from me. It
will be kind of you to have my books and manuscripts sent to an address
which I will give you in my letter. I do not think that we shall meet
again. Good-bye. If I were not what I am, I would bless you. Good-bye."

Taquisara held his hand for a moment.

"We shall all bless you," he answered, "if you can end this trouble."

"I can," said the priest. "And your blessing is worth having."

He went away quickly, as though not trusting himself to speak any more.
He had taken leave of Veronica and the rest as hastily as he could
without giving offence to any one. It was not until he looked back at
the poor people who waved their hands at him as he went out of the
village that the hot tears streamed down his cheeks.

He was twenty-four hours in reaching Naples, as usual, and his friend
greeted him with open arms as he always did. He thought that Don Teodoro
looked ill and tired, and as it was a fine day they walked the short
distance from Don Matteo's house to the cafe where the priest had sat
with Bosio, and they each drank a cup of chocolate.

Don Matteo observed that the tenth of December had been a fine day in
the preceding year, too, and Don Teodoro tried to remember in what year
it had last rained on that date. They ate little puffed bits of pastry
with their chocolate, and they sat a long time over it, while Don Matteo
told Don Teodoro of an interesting document of the fourteenth century
which he had discovered in a private library. Don Teodoro spoke rarely,
but not at random, for the thinking habit of the scholarly mind does not
easily break down, even under a great strain.

Then they went back to Don Matteo's house, and sat down together in the
study. Don Matteo wondered why his friend did not unpack and arrange his
belongings, especially as he had brought more luggage than usual with
him, but he saw that he was tired, and said nothing. Don Teodoro took
off his spectacles, and rubbed them bright with the corner of his
mantle. He looked at them and took a long time over polishing them, for
he was thinking of all the things he had seen through the old
silver-rimmed glasses, some of which he should never see again.

"My friend," he said at last, "I wish to tell you a secret."

Don Matteo turned slowly in his seat, uncrossed his knees, and looked at

"You may trust me," he answered.

"I know that," said Don Teodoro. "But there are reasons, as you will
see, why you cannot receive this as an ordinary secret. I wish to tell
it to you as a confession. You will then have to consult the archbishop,
before giving me absolution--and advice."

"Is it as serious as that?" asked Don Matteo, very much surprised, for
only the very gravest matters, and generally the most terrible crimes,
are referred to the bishop by a confessor.

"It is a grave matter," answered Don Teodoro. "Have the kindness to get
your stole, and I will make my confession, here. But we will lock the
enter door of the outer room, if you please."

He was shivering, and his face was white as he rose to go and slip the
bolt. Re-entering the room, he locked the inner door also behind him.
Don Matteo had produced from a drawer an old violet stole with tarnished
silver embroidery. It was carefully wrapped up in thin, clean, white
paper. A priest always wears the stole in administering any of the seven
sacraments. He passed it over his head, and the broad bands fell over
his breast, and he held the ends, upon which were embroidered small
Greek crosses, in one of his hands. Grave and silent, he sat down beside
the table, resting his elbow upon it and shading his eyes with his other

Don Teodoro knelt down, beside him at the table, and each said his part
of the preliminary form in a low voice. When Don Teodoro had said the
first half of the 'Confiteor,' he was silent for some time, and Don
Matteo was aware that his tall, thin frame was trembling, for the table
shook under his elbow. Then he began to speak, as follows:--

"I must tell the story of my life. My father was an officer in the army
of King Ferdinand, under the former government, and I was his only
child. He had a little fortune, and his pay was relatively large for
those days, so that I was brought up as a gentleman's son. My father,
who had been so fortunate as to make many advantageous friendships in
the course of his career, wished me to enter the military academy and
the army. By his interest I should have had rapid advancement. But this
was not my inclination. Ever since I can remember anything, I know that
I ardently wished to be a priest. As a little boy, I used to make a
small altar in a dark room behind my own, and I used to adorn it and
dress it for the feast days, and light tapers on it, and save my pocket
money to buy tiny silver ornaments for it. Before I could read I knew
the Rosary and the short Litanies, and I used to say them very devoutly
before my little altar, with genuflexions and other gestures such as I
saw the priests make in church. My father smiled sometimes, but he did
not interfere. He was a devout man, though he was a soldier. I had some
facility for learning, also, and was fond of all books. My mother died
when I was four years old.

"I need not tell how the devout passion increased in me as I grew older.
I passed through all the stages of such development very quickly. My
father believed that I had a true vocation for the Church, and yielding
to my entreaties and to the advice of his friends, who told him that he
could never make a soldier of such a boy, he allowed me to enter a
seminary. I was very happy, and my love of books and my earnest desire
to be a priest continued to increase. I was made a deacon and received
the tonsure. Then I fell ill. It was the will of Heaven, for I never was
ill before that, nor have been since. It was a long illness, a dangerous
fever. Just before that time, while I was in the seminary, my father had
married a second time, a young and very beautiful woman, scarcely two
years older than I. They both took care of me, and she was very kind and
liked me from the first.

"I loved her. That was perhaps an illness also, for I never suffered in
that way again. It was very terrible, for I knew what a great sin it was
to love my father's wife. I never told her that I loved her, and she was
always the same, kind and good. My heart was red-hot iron in my breast,
day and night, and it was very long before I was really well again.
After that, I confessed my sin many times, but I could not feel
repentance for it. My father wondered, and so did she, why I would not
go back to the seminary for the few months that remained to complete my
studies. It would have been better if I had gone back. But I loved her,
and I could not. I could not confess the sin in my heart to the
confessor of the seminary, for whom I had great esteem and who had known
me so long, I was ashamed, and waited, thinking that it would pass. But
I wished to escape.

"I joined myself as a lay brother to a Franciscan mission that was
going to Africa. My father made many objections to this, but I overcame
them. I think he guessed that I loved his wife, and though he loved me,
too, he was glad that I should go away. As for me, I trusted that in the
labours of a distant mission I should forget my love, feel honest
repentance, receive absolution, and be ordained a true priest by a
missionary bishop.

"We were seven who started together upon that mission. After two years I
alone was left alive. One after the other they died of the fever of that
country. We had written for help, but I knew afterwards that our letters
had not reached the sea. That was why no one came to bring help. We had
converted people amongst those savages and had built a chapel. Even
those who were not converted were friendly, for we had taught them many
things. My companions all died, one by one, and I buried the last. But I
myself was never ill of the fever. Yet the people there clung around me.
I committed a great sin. They had no priest, and they did not understand
that I was not one, for I dressed like the others. If there were no more
services in the little chapel, they would think that Christianity was
dead, and they would fall back to their former condition. I took the sin
upon myself, and I said mass for them, knowing that it was no mass, and
praying that God would forgive me, and that it might not be a sacrilege.
I did not fall ill. I lived amongst them, and received their
confessions and administered all the sacraments when they were required,
for the space of a year and a half, during which I sent many appeals for
help. But in my letters I did not explain what I was doing, for I
intended to go to the bishop if I ever got home alive, and confess to

"At last help came, priests and lay brothers. It pleased Heaven that
they should come at last at the very moment when I was saying mass for
the people. Of course there was no bishop amongst them, and none of them
knew that I was not a priest. I should have confessed the truth to the
eldest of them, but I had no courage, for I did not do it at once, but
put it off, and as every priest said mass every day, I said mine, too,
on the first morning after the others had come. I wished to go away at
once. But I alone knew all the people, and could preach a little in
their language, and I was much loved by them, for I had been alone with
them during eighteen months. So my new brethren would not let me go, and
after what I had done so far, I was ashamed to tell the truth about
myself. They looked up to me as a superior, because I had been so long
in the mission and had lived through what had killed so many. They
thought me very humble and praised my humility. But it was not
humility--it was shame.

"During two years more I remained with them, and two of them died, but
the rest lived, for I had learned how men should live in that country in
order to escape the fevers, and I taught them. The mission grew, and
many people were converted. Then they began to speak of sending home two
of their number to Rome, to give an account of the work, and to get more
help, if possible, in order that the conversion might be carried further
into the country; and they decided to do so. It was my right to be one
of the two, and I took it. My companion was a young priest less strong
than the rest, and we left the mission and after a long journey we got
home safely. I meant to go to the first bishop I met, and make my

"But when we came to Rome and we were giving an account of what had been
done, the young priest thrust me forward to speak, as was natural, and I
seemed to be a personage of importance, because I had lived through so
many perils and had outlived so many. We two were invited to dinner by
cardinals, and were admitted to a private audience of the Pope.
Everybody seemed to know what I had done, and even the liberal
newspapers praised my courage and devotion.

"I had no courage, for being full of vanity, I never confessed my sin.
But I would not go back to the mission, and when I could leave Rome, I
left the young priests there and went to Naples to see my father. He
had read what had been written about me, and was proud of me, and he
received me gladly, for he loved me and was a devout man. Six years had
passed since I had seen his wife, and though I trembled when I was just
about to see her, yet when she entered the room I knew that I did not
love her any more, and I was very much pleased to find that this sin, at
least, had left me.

"I lived with them several years, devoting myself to study, and I used
to say my mass in a church close by. For I was a priest by nature and
heart, and I had grown so used to my sin of sacrilege, that I shut my
eyes, and told myself that it was the wish of Heaven. But the truth is,
I was a coward. It was then that you first knew me and you know how my
father died and my stepmother married again, and how I undertook to be
the tutor of poor Bosio Macomer. But with years, the city grew
distasteful to me, and I wished to be alone, for Bosio was grown up, and
I had no heart for teaching any one else. I was also very poor, having
spent what my father left me, both on books, and in other ways of which
I need not speak because there was nothing wrong in what I did with the

"And then, Count Macomer--the one who is now insane--offered to make me
curate of Muro and chaplain of the castle of the Serra, all of which
you know. And I, accustomed to my wickedness, and feeling myself a
priest, though I was not one, accepted it for the peace of it.

"It is a very terrible thing. For all the sacraments I have administered
in these many years have been of no value; but the worst, for its
consequences, is that none of the many hundreds I have married, are
truly married, and that if the truth were known to them, the confusion
would be beyond my power to imagine. But Christians they are, for a
layman may baptize, even though he be not in a state of grace.

"And for the other sacraments, the sin is all mine, as you see, and God
will be good to them all, according to the intention and belief they
had. And now a worse thing has happened, though it was not my fault,
excepting that the original fault is all mine. For Don Gianluca della
Spina was lying at the point of death, and there were with him the
princess and Don Sigismondo Taquisara, the Baron of Guardia, his friend.
The princess desired to be married to Don Gianluca, before he died, and
sent for me in great haste and commanded me to marry them. As I raised
my eyes to speak, for it was impossible to resist her will, the
Taquisara thought that Don Gianluca was dead and took the princess's
hand from the dead man's, as he thought, and as I suppose--and I gave
them the benediction. But when I looked down, it was the Baron of
Guardia who appeared to have been married to the princess, for their
right hands were clasped; and I cannot tell whether, if I were a true
priest, they would have been married or not.

"But the princess and Don Gianluca believe that I made them husband and
wife, though the Taquisara knows that something was wrong, since he held
her hand. For Don Gianluca has recovered, and they are now about to have
a civil marriage and announce it to their friends.

"It was the will of God that my own sin should follow me to the end, and
that it should be the means of freeing these three persons from their
terrible position. For the Baron of Guardia believes that he is married
to the princess, and she believes that she is Don Gianluca's wife. But
as yet no further harm is done, and the Taquisara is the bravest
gentleman and the truest man to his friend that ever drew breath.
Therefore I have made this confession. And I will abide all the
consequences. The bishop before whom you will lay the case will know
what is to be done. It will be in his power, I presume, to acquaint the
princess with the fact that she is not married at all, and must be
married by a true priest; and to do so, without injuring the poor people
of Muro who have been the victims of my sin for many years.

"That is my confession. And now, if I have not made all clear to you, I
beg you to ask me such questions as you think fit, for it is not in
your power to give me absolution."

Don Teodoro was exhausted. His face sank upon his folded hands on the
edge of the table, and his shoulders trembled.

"My poor friend! My poor friend!" repeated Don Matteo, in a low and
wondering tone. "No--it is quite clear," he added. "There is nothing
which I have not understood. But I can say nothing, my poor friend!
Pray--pray for forgiveness. God will forgive you, for you have done evil
only to yourself, and never anything but good to others."

Don Teodoro in a hardly audible voice repeated the second half of the
'Confiteor' and remained on his knees a little while longer. Don Matteo
covered his eyes with his hands, and during several minutes there was
silence. Then the two old men rose and looked at each other for a

"Courage!" said Don Matteo, and he gently patted his friend's shoulder.

He took off his stole, folded it carefully, and wrapped it in its clean
white paper again, before putting it away. But he did that by force of
habit. Confessors hear strange things sometimes and are not easily
disconcerted, but Don Teodoro's was the strangest tale that had ever
come to Don Matteo's ears. Again he came and patted Don Teodoro's
shoulder in a way of kindly encouragement.

Then he took his three-cornered hat and went out without a word. In
such a case there was no time to be lost.

Cardinal Campodonico was at that time the archbishop of Naples, and he
received Don Matteo immediately, for the priest was a man of
extraordinarily brilliant gifts and well known to the prelate, who liked
him and had caused him to be made a canon of the cathedral not many
years earlier.

Don Matteo, as was right in such a position, laid the whole matter
before him as a theoretical case of conscience, without names, and
without any useless details which might by any possibility give a clue
to his real penitent's identity. He stated it all with great clearness
and force, but he dwelt much upon the spotless life of charity and good
works which the man had led, in spite of his one chief sin. He knew,
when Don Teodoro spoke of having spent his father's fortune, that almost
every penny of it had gone to the poor of Naples in one way or another,
and he had seen at a glance how his poor friend had in his youth
exaggerated his boyish admiration for his stepmother. But Don Matteo put
the main point very clearly before the cardinal--always as a purely
theoretical case of conscience, asking what a confessor's duty would be
in such an extremely difficult situation.

The cardinal listened attentively, and then was silent for some time.

"The first thing to be done," he said at last, "would be to make a
priest of him. He is evidently a man with a vocation, and the chain of
circumstances which led him into this sin and difficulty is a very
strange one. I hardly know what to say of it--left alone with savages
only just converted--well, he was wrong, of course. But the man you
represent in your theoretical case is supposed to be in all other
respects almost a holy man."

"Yes, a man of holy life," said Don Matteo, earnestly.

"I do not see how a man of such disposition could have been so lacking
in courage afterwards," said the cardinal.

"But suppose that it were exactly as I represent the case, Eminence,
what should the confessor do?"

The cardinal looked into his eyes long and gravely.

"I should think it best to make a priest of him as soon as possible," he
said at last.

"But how? No bishop could ordain him a priest without knowing his

"I would ordain him, if he came to me. I think I should be doing right."

"But then your Eminence would know him, and the secret of confession
would have been betrayed."

"That is true. Let him go to another bishop and tell his story."

"Another bishop might not think as your Eminence does. Besides, the
question is what the confessor is to do under the circumstances."

The cardinal suddenly rose, went to the broad window, and looked out
thoughtfully. Don Matteo stood up respectfully, waiting. It seemed to
him a long time before the prelate turned, and what he did then
surprised the priest very much, for he went to each of the three doors
of the room in succession, opened it, looked out, closed it again and
locked it. Then he came back to Don Matteo.

"Are you, to the best of your belief, in a state of grace, my friend?"
he asked in a low voice. "Have you no mortal sin on your conscience?
Reflect well. This is a grave matter."

"I cannot think of any, Eminence," answered the good priest, after a
moment's pause.

"Very well. We are alone here. The case of conscience you have laid
before me is a very extraordinary one. I do not wish to know whether it
has actually come before you in confession. But if it has,--or if it
should,--I should wish you to be in a position to help that poor man and
set his life straight, by the grace of God, without injuring him, and,
above all, without injuring any of those persons to whom he has
administered the sacraments. I have known you a long time, Don Matteo,
and I can trust you to make no use of any power I give you, before the
world. I have the power and the right to consecrate a bishop any priest
whom I think a fit person. Kneel down here, say the 'Confiteor,' and I
will lay my hands on you. You could then give the penitent absolution
and ordain him a priest privately."

Don Matteo started in utmost surprise, and hesitated an instant.

"Kneel down," said the cardinal. "I take this upon myself."

The priest knelt, and the solemn words sounded low in the quiet little
room, as the archbishop laid his hands upon Don Matteo's grey head. When
the latter rose, he kissed the cardinal's ring, trembling a little, for
it had all been very unexpected. The cardinal embraced him in the
ecclesiastical fashion, and then, to his further amazement, drew off his
episcopal ring and slipped it upon Don Matteo's finger, took his own
bishop's cross and chain from his neck and hung it about Don Matteo's

"Keep them both in memory of this morning," said the prelate. "But hide
the chain and the cross under your cassock, for people need not see that
you are a bishop, when you sit among the canons in church. You know it,
I know it, your penitent must know it if the case is a real one, and the
Pope shall know it--but no one else living need ever guess it. Will you
kindly unlock the doors? Thank you. We will not mention this occurrence
again, if we can help it. Good morning, Don Matteo--good morning, my

When Don Matteo was in the street again, he stood still and passed his
hand over his eyes, trying to collect his thoughts. His bishop's ring
touched his forehead, and he realized that it was all true. He had not
been half an hour in the archbishop's palace, and when he reached his
own door, he had not been absent an hour from the house.

He found Don Teodoro in the same room and still in the same chair, into
which he had dropped exhausted when Don Matteo had gone out, his head
sunk on his breast, his hands clasped despairingly on his knees. As the
door opened, he looked up with scared eyes, and rose.

"Courage!" exclaimed Don Matteo, patting his shoulder just as he had
done before going out. "I have seen his Eminence."

Don Teodoro looked at him in mute and resigned expectation, and wondered
at his cheerful face. But his friend made him sit down again, and told
him all that had taken place, and then, before Don Teodoro could recover
his astonishment and emotion, he found himself kneeling on the floor and
heard the words of absolution spoken softly over him. A moment later he
felt upon his head the laying of hands and heard those still more
solemn words pronounced over him, which, he had never hoped to hear
said for himself.

When he rose to his feet at last, he saw Don Matteo wrapping up the
bishop's cross and chain and ring in the same piece of clean white paper
in which he kept the old stole.

But Don Teodoro went to his little room, which was ready for him as
usual, and he was not seen again on that day. Several times Don Matteo
went softly to the door. Once he heard the old man sobbing within as
though his heart would break, all alone; and once again he heard his
voice saying Latin prayers in a low tone; and the third time all was
very still, and Don Matteo knew that the worst was past.

On the next morning very early Don Teodoro came out of his room. Neither
of the two spoke of what had happened, but the clear light was in the
old priest's eyes again, clearer and happier than before, and little by
little the lines smoothed themselves from his singular face until there
were no more there than there had been for years. All that day they
talked together of books and of Don Teodoro's great history of the
Church. But they were both thoughtful and subject to moments of absence
of mind.

It was not until the evening of the third day that Don Teodoro asked his
friend a question.

"What do you advise me to say to the princess?" he inquired, when they
were alone together.

"Tell her that you have consulted an ecclesiastical authority and that
there was an irregularity about the marriage with Don Gianluca so that
you must solemnly marry them again before they can consider themselves
man and wife. And tell the Baron of Guardia that the same authority is
sure that he was not married to the princess, but is a free man. It is
very simple, and there can be no possible mistake, now."

"Yes," said Don Teodoro. "It is very simple."

And so it was, for Cardinal Campodonico deserved the reputation he
enjoyed of being, in ecclesiastical affairs, a man equal to the most
difficult emergencies, in character, in keen discernment, and in prompt

But Don Teodoro sighed softly when he had spoken, for he thought of
Taquisara and of what that brave and silent man would suffer when he was
forced to stand by Gianluca's side and see the rings exchanged and the
hands joined, and hear the words spoken which must cut him off forever
from all hope. But Taquisara, at least, in his suffering, would have the
consolation of having been honest and true and loyal from first to last.
He would never have to bear the consequences of having been a coward at
a great moment. It could not be so very hard for him, after all, thought
Don Teodoro.

And he saw no reason for curtailing his stay in Naples, since there was
time until the first of January. On the contrary, he grew glad of those
long days, in which he could meditate on the past and think of the
future, and be supremely and humbly thankful for the great change that
had come into his life.


Don Teodoro wrote a few words to Taquisara, embodying what Don. Matteo
had advised him to say. He added also that matters had not turned out as
he had expected and that he should return to Muro as usual on the
twentieth of the month. The Sicilian, read the letter twice and then
burned it carefully. He was neither surprised nor disappointed by its
contents, though he had expected that there would be much more
difficulty in undoing what had been done. There was clearly nothing more
to be said, as there was most certainly nothing more to hope. Don
Teodoro had undoubtedly consulted the archbishop of Naples, thought
Taquisara, and such a decision was final and authoritative.

He had succeeded in forcing himself into a sort of mechanical regularity
of life which helped him through the day. Gianluca needed him still,
though less than formerly, and as long as he could be of use, and could
control his face and voice, he would stay in Muro. Since Veronica had
fixed the first of January as a limit, he could hardly find an excuse
for going away during the last three weeks of the time, when he could
still be of infinite service to his friend on the journey to Naples.

On the whole, he considered himself very little. It was easier to do his
utmost, and to invent more than his utmost to be done, than it would be
to live an idle life anywhere else.

Again, as in the early days, he avoided Veronica when he could do so,
without attracting Gianluca's attention, and Veronica herself kept out
of his way as much as she could. Without words they had a tacit
understanding that they would never be left alone together, even for an

One day, by chance, going in opposite directions through the house, they
opened opposite doors of the same room and faced each other
unexpectedly. For a single instant both paused, and then came forward to
pass each other. Veronica held her head high and looked straight before
her, for they had met already on that day, and there was no reason why
she should speak to him. But Taquisara could not help looking into her
face, and he saw how hard it tried to be and yet how, in spite of
herself, it softened almost before she had passed him. He turned and
glanced at her retreating figure, and her head was bent low, and her
right hand, hanging by her side, opened and shut twice convulsively, in
his sight.

He had not dared to suggest to himself until then that she might
possibly love him, but in the flash of that quick passing he almost knew
it. Then, before he had closed the door behind him and entered the next
room, the knowledge was gone, and he cursed himself for the thought, as
though it had been an insult to her. If he should have to pass her alone
again, he would rather cut off his right hand than turn and look at her.
But that one moment, past and gone, had life in it to torment him night
and day.

Gianluca was no better, and no worse. He wheeled himself about the great
rooms, and on fine mornings Veronica took him to drive. She read to him,
played besique with him, fenced with Taquisara to amuse him; she devoted
herself to him in every way; but as day followed day, she invented all
sorts of occupations and games which should take the place of
conversation. Anything was better than talking with him, now; anything
was better than to hear him say that he loved her, expecting her to
pronounce the words.

He himself lost heart suddenly.

"I shall never walk again," he said, one afternoon, as they sat together
in the big room.

The days were very short, for it was mid-December, and the lamps had
been brought. They had been out in the carriage, and when Taquisara had
lifted him from his seat, he had made a desperate attempt to move his
legs, a sudden effort into which he had thrown all the concentrated
hope and will that were still in him. But there had been neither motion
nor sensation, and all at once he had felt that it was all over,

Veronica looked at him quickly, and he was watching her face. He saw no
contradiction there of what he had said, but only a little surprise that
he should have said it.

"You may not be able to walk as soon as we thought," she answered
gently. "But that is no reason why you should never walk at all."

"I am afraid it is," he said.

She stroked his hand, as she often did, and her eyes wandered from his
face to the other side of the room, and back again.

"I have been trying very hard to get well," he continued presently.
"Harder than any one knows."

"I know," Veronica answered. "You are so brave!"

"Brave? No. I am desperate. Do you think I do not know what it must be
to you, to be tied to a hopeless cripple like me?"

"Tied? I?" She spoke bravely, for it would have been a deadly cruelty
not to contradict him. "It is for you," she went on. "You must not think
of me as tied to you, dear, as you call it! I did it gladly, of my own
free will, and I knew what I was doing."

"Ah no!" he answered sadly. "You could not have known what you were
doing, then. Your whole life has only saved half of mine."

A chill of fear shot through Veronica's heart.

"Dear," she said anxiously and nervously. "Have I done anything to make
you talk like this?"

"Yes, love, you have done much," he answered, with a tender, regretful
look. "No--do not start! I am sorry that you did not understand. It is
because you do so much, because you give your whole life for my wretched
existence, because I know what my hours of happiness cost you now and
will cost you hereafter. That is why I say these things. It would have
been so much easier and simpler if I had died with my hand in yours,
that day, when Don Teodoro married us. Veronica--tell me--did he say all
the words? I fainted, I think."

"Yes," answered Veronica, still pale. "He said all the words."

"And did he give us the benediction?"

"Yes, he gave us the benediction."

Gianluca sighed.

"Then it cannot be undone, dear," he said softly. "You must forgive me."

"I would not have it undone, Gianluca."

And before that great unselfishness, Veronica bowed her head down, until
her lips kissed his hands. But as she touched them, she heard the door
open, and instantly she was erect again, and trying to smile. Taquisara
came in.

Veronica rose, for she felt that she could not sit still by Gianluca's
side, with his words in her ear, her own scarcely cold upon her lips,
and the man for whom she would have given her soul's salvation, who
would have died ten deaths for her, standing quietly there, looking on.
She walked nervously up and down the room.

"Should you like to fence?" asked Taquisara. "We have not touched a foil

Anything seemed good which could pass the time without talking. But to
her it seemed heartless just then.

"No," she answered, almost curtly. "It seems to me that we are always

But Gianluca understood why she refused. And to him, perhaps, anything
was better than thinking.

"Please do!" he said. "I enjoy it so much!"

Mechanically and without a word, she went to the corner where the foils
and other things were kept in a great carved chest.

Taquisara moved a large table out of the way, pushing it slowly before

"Do you think you can see? Or shall we have more lamps?" asked Veronica.

"I can see very well--as well as one can, by lamp-light," answered
Taquisara, as he placed the lamps together upon the table, so that the
light should fall sideways upon them when they fenced.

Veronica was glad to slip her mask over her face, just then. She was
conscious of the fact when she had done it, though she hardly knew what
she was doing as she took a foil from the long chest and stepped out
into the room to meet Taquisara. Then, as he raised his arm to engage
and she still held her foil down, her habitual interest in the amusement
momentarily asserted itself.

"Shall we try that feint of yours that you were doing the other day?"
she asked. "You know, you touched me with it. I think I can meet it now,
for I have been thinking about it."

"Yes, try it!" said Gianluca, from his chair.

"Certainly," answered Taquisara.

Instantly, both fell into position and engaged. Barely crossing foils,
Taquisara executed the feint in question at once, and lunged his fullest
length. But Veronica had thought out the right parry and answer, and was
quicker than he.

His weapon ran past her head without touching her, and as he recovered
himself, hers shot out after him. He uttered an exclamation as it ran
under his arm, with a little soft resistance.

"Touched!" cried Veronica, at the same instant.

He said nothing. Then, a second later, she uttered a sharp cry of
horror, dropped her foil upon the floor and raising her mask stared at
him with wild, white face. Not heeding what she did, she had taken the
sharp foil by mistake. It was dark in the corner where the chest stood.

"It is nothing," he said. "It is nothing, I assure you."

"What is the matter?" asked Gianluca, in astonishment, for he could not
see that the foil had no button.

But Veronica did not answer him. She was close to Taquisara now,
clutching his arm with both hands and staring at the wire mask which
covered his face.

"You are hurt! I know you are hurt!" she said, in a voice faint with

"Oh no!" he answered, with a short laugh. "I was a little surprised.
Take another foil. It is nothing, I assure you."

"I know you are hurt," she repeated. "Oh God! I might have killed you--"

She felt dizzy, and sick with horror, and she clung to his arm, now, for

"Do you mean to say that you had the sharp foil?" asked Gianluca,
beginning to understand.

"It is nothing at all," said Taquisara. "It ran through my jacket, just
under the arm. It did not touch me."

"It might have run through you," said Gianluca, gravely. "It might have
killed you."

"Oh--please--please--" cried Veronica, still clinging to Taquisara's
arm and turning her pale face to Gianluca.

He looked on, and his face changed. There was something in her attitude,
just for a few seconds, in her ghastly pallor, in the tones of her
voice, that went through Gianluca like a knife. The dreadful instinctive
certainty that she loved the man she had so nearly killed, took
possession of him in a dark prevision of terror. Veronica was strong and
brave, but it would have been strange indeed if she had shown nothing of
what she felt.

It did not last long, and perhaps she knew what she had shown, for she
dropped Taquisara's arm, and the colour rushed to her face as she
stooped and picked up the foil with the green hilt. The hilts of the
others were blue, like those of many Neapolitan foils, and in the
lamp-light she could hardly distinguish the difference.

With sudden anger Veronica set her foot upon the steel and bent it up,
trying to break it. She could not, for it was of soft temper, but she
bent it out of all shape, so as to be useless.

She forced herself to take another, and they fenced again for a few
minutes. Gianluca watched them at first, but soon his head fell back,
and he stared at the ceiling. Death had entered into his soul. He had
guessed half the truth. But in the state in which he was on that
evening, and after what had passed between him and Veronica, the
suspicion alone would have been enough. Nothing could have saved him
from it, since it was indeed the truth. Such passionate, strong love
could only hide itself so long as it lived in the even, unchanging light
of monotonous days. In the flash of a danger, a terror, a violent
chance, its shape stood out for an instant and was not to be mistaken.

Gianluca scarcely spoke again on that evening. The next morning, before
he left his own room, Taquisara was with him, walking up and down and
smoking while Gianluca drank his coffee. They had been discussing the
accident of the previous evening, and Taquisara had laughed over it. But
Gianluca was sad and grave.

"I wish to ask you a question," he said, after a short silence. "When I
fainted, that day--did Don Teodoro pronounce all the proper words? You
must have heard him. Was it a real marriage, without any defect of

Taquisara stopped in his walk and hesitated. After all, since Don
Teodoro had written to him that the marriage must be performed again, it
was much better that Gianluca should be prepared for it, since he
himself had put the question.

"Since you ask me," answered Taquisara, after a moment's thought, "I may
as well tell you what I know. After it was done, both Don Teodoro and I
had doubts as to whether the marriage were perfectly valid, and he
determined to consult a bishop. I suppose that he has done so, for he
has written to me about it. He says that the ecclesiastical authority
before whom the matter was laid declares that there were informalities,
and that you must be married again. You see, in the first place, there
were no banns published in church, and there was no permission from the
bishop to omit publishing them. But, of course, that might be set aside.
I fancy that the real trouble may have been that you were unconscious.
At all events, it is a very simple matter to be married again."

"In other words, it is no marriage at all. I thought so--I thought so."
Gianluca repeated the words slowly and sadly.

"What does it matter?" asked Taquisara, turning away and walking again.
"It is a question of five minutes. I should think that you would be

"Yes--perhaps I am glad," said Gianluca, so low that the words were
scarcely an interruption.

"Because you can be married in your full senses," continued Taquisara,
bravely, "with your father and mother beside you, and all the rest of

Gianluca said nothing to this, and again there was a short silence. Just
as Taquisara came to the table in his walk, Gianluca spoke again.

"Stop a moment," he said. "Look at me, Taquisara. If you were in my
place, what would you do?"

Their eyes met, and Gianluca saw the quick effort of the other's
features, controlling themselves, as though he had been struck unawares.

"I?" exclaimed Taquisara, taken entirely off his guard. "If I were in
your place? Why--" he recovered himself--"I should get married again, as
soon as possible, of course. What else should any one do?"

But the bold eyes for once looked down a little, their steadiness

"You would do nothing of the sort," said Gianluca.

"What do you mean?" Again Taquisara started almost imperceptibly, and
his brows contracted as he looked up sharply.

"If you were in my place," said Gianluca, "you would cut your throat
rather than ruin the life of the woman you loved, by tying your misery
to her for life, a load for her to carry."

"Do not say such things!" exclaimed the Sicilian, turning suddenly from
the table and resuming his walk. "You are mad!"

"No--not mad. But not cowardly either. There is not much left of me, but
what there is shall not be afraid. I am not truly married to her. I will
not be. I will not die with that on my soul."

"Gianluca--for God's sake do not say such things!" Taquisara turned upon
him, staring.

He sat in his deep chair, his fair angel head thrown back, the dark blue
eyes bright, brave, and daring--all the rest, dead.

"I say them, and I mean them," he answered. "I love her very much. I
love her enough for that. I love her more than you do."

"Than I?" Taquisara's voice almost broke, as the blow struck him, but
there was no fear in his eyes either. He drew a breath then, and spoke
strong words. "Now may Christ forget me in the hour of death, if I have
not been true to you!"

"And me and mine if I blast your life and hers," came back the
unflinching answer.

A deep silence fell upon them both. At last Gianluca spoke again, and
his voice sank to another tone.

"She loves you, too," he said.

"Loves me?" cried Taquisara, his brows suddenly close bent. "Oh no!
Unsay that, or--no--Gianluca--how dare you even dream the right to say
that of your wife?"

It was beyond his strength to bear.

"She is not my wife," said Gianluca. "You have told me so--she is not my
wife. She has done what no other living woman could have done, to be my
wife and to love me. But she is not my wife, and what I say is true, and
right as well, your right and hers.

"No--not that--not hers." Taquisara turned half round, against the
table, where he stood, and his voice was low and broken.

"Yes, hers. You will know it soon--when I have taken my love to my
grave, and left her yours on earth."


Taquisara could not speak, beyond that, but he laid his hand upon his
friend's arm and clutched it, as though to hold him back. His dark eyes
darkened, and in them were the terrible tears that strong men shed once
in life, and sometimes once again, but very seldom more.

Gianluca's thin fingers folded upon the hand that held him.

"You have been very true to me," he said. "She will be quite safe with

For a long time they were both silent. It began to rain, and the big
drops beat against the windows, melancholy as the muffled drum of a
funeral march, and the grey morning light grew still more dim.

"I will not go into the other room just yet," said Gianluca, quietly. "I
would rather be alone for a little while."

Their eyes met once more, and Taquisara went away without a word.

That had been almost the last act of the strange tragedy of love and
death which had been lived out in slow scenes during those many weeks.
It was needful that it should come, and inevitable, soon or late. It
began when Gianluca made that one last desperate effort to move, in
sudden certainty of hope that ended in the instant foreknowledge of what
was to be. A little thing swayed him then--such a little thing as the
accident of a sharp foil, a rent in a jacket, the woman's blinding fear
for the man she loved. There are many arrows in fate's quiver, and the
little ones are as keen as the long shafts, and quicker to find the
tender mark.

The man was born to suffer, but he had in him that something divine by
which martyrs made death the witness of life and turned despair of earth
to sure hope of heaven.

He had ever been a man tender and gentle. His nature did not fail him
now. With exquisite devotion and thought for Veronica's happiness, and
with a love for her that penetrated the short future of near death, he
would not say to her what he had said to Taquisara. He would not let one
breath of doubt disturb her only satisfaction while he still lived, nor
trouble her with the least fear lest she had not done all her fullest to
give him happiness while she could. In the end, it was his love that cut
short his living, and no one knew what hours and days and nights of pain
he bore, till the end came. He made of his love and his death a way for
her life. She had given him all she had. He gave it back to her a
hundred-fold, but she should not know, while he lived, that her great
gift had not been to him more than she could make it, all that she
wished it might be, all that she knew it was not.

He had not far to carry his burden; but except his friend, no one should
know the heaviness of his heart, neither his father nor his mother, and
least of all, Veronica. He could not hide that he was dying, but he
could hide the cost of it, and its bitterness. After that day, his life
went from him, as the strength falls away from a ship's sails when the
breeze is softly dying on a summer's evening. In fear Veronica watched
him, and in fear she met Taquisara's eyes. In the long nights, when it
rained and there was no moon, the darkness of death's wings was in the
air, and she held her breath, alone in her dim room.

They all knew it, and none said it, though shadow answered shadow in one
another's faces when they met. It was as though another element than air
had descended amongst them, dull, unresonant, hushing word and tread.

For each life we love is a sun, in our lives that would be dark if there
were no love in them, and when it goes down to its setting in our
hearts, the last light of love's day is very deep and tender, as no
other is after it, and the passionate, sad twilight of regret deepens
to a darkness of great loneliness over all, until our tears are wept,
and our souls take of our mortal selves memories of love undying.

The end came soon, in the night, for it was his will to live that had
kept him with them so long. Taquisara was with him. One by one the
others came, hastily muffled and wrapped in dark robes, for the night
was cold and damp even within doors. One after another they came, and
they stood and knelt beside him on the right and left. He spoke to them
all,--to his father and his mother first, for he felt the tide ebbing.
With streaming eyes Veronica bent down and looked for the fading light
in his, through her fast-falling tears. And close to her his mother
stretched out weak hands that trembled with every breaking sob. His
father knelt there, burying his face against the pillow, shaking all
over, his arms hanging down loose and helpless by his sides, bent,
bowed, crushed, as a weak old lion, stricken in age and cruelly wounded
to death. And above them all, Taquisara's sad, deep-chiselled face
looked down, as the face of a bronze statue beside a grave. Without, the
winter's rain beat a low dead-march on the great windows, and the
southwest wind sighed out its vast breath along the castle walls.

It was long since he had spoken, and they thought that they should never
hear his voice again. But still the last light lingered in his eyes.
Very little was left for him to do.

He moved Veronica's right hand, that was in his, drawing it a little,
and she let it move; and his other held Taquisara's, and he drew it
also, they yielding, till the two touched, and at his dying will clasped
one another. Then he smiled faintly, his last smile on earth. And as it
faded forever, there came back to them from beyond all pain the words of
his blessing upon their two strong young lives.

"Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus--" and the angels heard the rest.

Thus died Gianluca della Spina.


Book of the day: