Veronica made a slight effort of instinct, to loose his hold and to take the hand that had fallen from hers. But it was only instinctive and hardly conscious at all. Her eyes were on Gianluca’s face, and the blackness of a vast grief already darkened her soul.
There was but an instant. The tall old priest, with eyes lifted heavenwards, neither saw nor heard.
“Ego conjungo vos—” He said all the words, and then, high in air, he made the great sign of the cross. “Benedictas vos omnipotens Deus—” and he spoke all the benediction.
He closed his eyes a moment in instant prayer. When he opened them and looked down, his face turned whiter still. On each side, before him, knelt the living, Veronica and Taquisara, their hands clasped and wedded, as they had been when he had spoken the high sacramental words, and between them, white, motionless, the halo of his fair hair about his marble brow, lay Gianluca della Spina, like an angel dead on earth.
“Merciful Lord! What have I done!” cried the priest.
At the sound of his voice Taquisara turned quickly. But Veronica did not hear. The Sicilian saw where Don Teodoro’s starting eyes were fixed, and he understood, and his own blood shrieked in his ears, for he was married to Veronica Serra. Married—half married, wholly married, married truly or falsely, by the sudden leap of violent chance—but a marriage it was, of some sort. Both he and the priest knew that, and that it must be a voice of more authority than Don Teodoro’s which could say that it was no marriage. For the Church’s forms of office, that are necessary, are few and very simple, but they mean much, and what is done by them is not easily undone. But Veronica neither saw nor heard.
“I think—I assure you that nobody knows anything—but I think that Don Gianluca will improve rapidly after this crisis.”
That was the opinion of the great doctor, when he had seen the patient on the afternoon of that memorable day. For Veronica, Taquisara, and Don Teodoro had all three been mistaken when they had thought that Gianluca was dead. As the doctor said, there had been a crisis, an inward convulsion of the nerves, a fainting which had been almost a catalepsy, and, several hours later, a return to consciousness with a greatly increased chance of life, though with extreme momentary exhaustion.
It was Taquisara who went to find the doctor, leaving Veronica on her knees, while Don Teodoro stood motionless at the foot of the couch, his hands gripping each other till his nails cut the flesh, his grotesque face invested for the moment with an almost sublime horror of what he had unwittingly done.
And then had come the physician’s systematic and painful search for life, his doubts, his hopes, his suspicions, his increasing hope again, his certainty at last that all was not over—and then the necessity for instantly carrying out his orders, the getting of all things needed for the sick man snatched out of death, and all the confusion that rises when the whole being of a great household must exert its utmost strength in one direction, to save one life.