“Can I do nothing?” asked Don Teodoro.
Bosio still smiled, as a man smiles in torture when one speaks to him of peace.
“If I believed that anything could be done,” he said, “I should not suffer as I do. I have lived a bad life, and the time has come when I must pay the score. But it is not my fault if things are as they are—it is not all my fault.”
The priest sighed, and looked away after a moment.
“We have all done some one great wrong thing in our lives,” he said gently. “The price may perhaps be paid to God in good, as well as to man in pain.”
Bosio shook his head, and a long silence followed. Once or twice he roused himself, stirred the cup of chocolate which the waiter had set before him, and sipped a teaspoonful of it absently. The corner where the two men sat together was quiet, but from the front of the cafe came the continual clatter of plates and glasses, the echo of feet, and the ring of voices; for it was just midday, and the place was full of its habitual frequenters.
“If we were in church,” said Bosio at last, “and if you were in a confessional—”
He stopped, and glanced at his companion without completing the sentence.
“You would make a confession? There are churches near,” said Don Teodoro. “I am ready. Will you come?”
“No,” he said at last. “I could tell you nothing without betraying others.”
“Betraying! Is it a crime that you have on your conscience?” The priest’s voice was low and troubled.
“Many crimes,” answered Bosio. “The crimes that must come, and that I cannot prevent by living, nor hinder by dying.”
Again there was silence during several minutes.
“You may trust me as a friend, even if, as a priest, you could not confess all the circumstances to me,” said Don Teodoro, after the long pause. “I do not wish you to make confidences to me, unless you are impelled to do so. But you are in that frame of mind, my dear Bosio, in which a man will sooner or later unburden himself to some one. You might do worse than choose me. I am your friend, I am old, and I know that I am discreet. I am extraordinarily discreet. It may seem strange that I should say so myself, but my own life has taught me that I am to be trusted with secrets.”
“Yes,” replied Bosio. “You must have heard strange things sometimes under the seal of confession.”
“I have known of strange things.” Don Teodoro’s face grew sad and thoughtful, and Bosio, seeing it, suddenly made up his mind.
He leaned far back against the painted wall for a moment, with half-closed eyes. Then he drew nearer to his friend, so that he spoke close to the latter’s ear, though he looked down at the table before him. His nervous fingers played with the teaspoon in the saucer of his cup.