“No!” said Taquisara, anxiously. “I did not know it. I sometimes hear him draw his breath sharply once or twice—but he never complains. I thought it hurt him a little.”
“It is agony,” said the doctor. “He must be a very brave man.”
The professor seemed much impressed by what Taquisara had said.
Taquisara went immediately to find Don Teodoro, who was generally at home at that hour, in his little house just opposite the castle gate. He found him with his silver spectacles pushed up to the top of his head, his long nose buried in a musty volume, a cup of untasted coffee at his elbow, absorbed in study. The small room was filled with books, old and new, and smelt of them. As Taquisara entered, the old priest looked up, screwing his lids together in the attempt to recognize his visitor without using his spectacles. He took him for the syndic of Muro, a respectable countryman of fifty years, come to consult with him about some public matters.
“Be seated,” he said. “If you will pardon me, for a moment—I was just—”
In an instant his nose almost touched the page again, and he did not complete the sentence, before he was lost in study once more. Taquisara sat down upon the only chair there was and waited a few moments, not realizing that he had not been recognized. But the priest forgot his existence immediately and if not disturbed would probably have gone on reading till noon.
“Don Teodoro!” said Taquisara, rousing him. “Pray excuse me—”
The old man looked up suddenly, with an exclamation of surprise.
“Dear me!” he cried. “Are you there, Baron? I beg your pardon. I think I took you for some one else.”
He drew his spectacles down to the level of his eyes, and let the big book fall back upon the table.
“Our friend is very ill,” said Taquisara, gravely. “That is why I have come to disturb you.”
He told the priest what the doctor had said about Gianluca’s condition. Don Teodoro listened with an expression of concern and anxiety, for he had become fond of the sick man during the past weeks, and Gianluca liked him, too. Almost every day they talked together, and the refined taste and sincere love of literature of the younger man delighted in the profound learning of the old student, while the latter found a rare pleasure in speaking of his favourite occupations to such an appreciative listener.
“The fact is,” Taquisara concluded, “though I have not much faith in doctors, I really believe that he may die at any moment. You know what kind of man he is. Go and sit with him after luncheon to-day—or before—the sooner, the better. Do not frighten him—do not tell him that I have spoken to you about his condition. I believe that he knows it himself, and if he is alone with you for some time, and you speak of the uncertainty of life, as a priest can, he will probably himself propose to make his confession. You understand those things, Don Teodoro—it is your business. It is our business to give you a chance.”