“We have passed no one,” said Mother
Margherita truthfully, starting up the oxen.
“Hiew! Hiew! Go on! go on,” she clucked.
“We must get home to bed.”
The Hunchback withdrew from the cart unsteadily, and mounted his donkey. For a moment he looked doubtfully up and down the road, then he turned the poor tired animal’s head once more toward the village, and they began to plod back up the slope.
“The Lord forgive me!” whispered Mother Margherita piously. “I told a lie, and before my children, too! But it was to spare a child suffering, perhaps death. Surely, the Lord who loves little children will forgive me this sin.”
So the good woman mused, as, faint with terror and gasping for breath, Gigi came out from under her skirts. He handed back the bag of silver, and gave a sigh of relief. The little boys seized him rapturously.
“You are saved, Gigi!” cried Paolo.
“He will never find you now,” said Giovanni.
“See, we are almost home! You shall come and live with us and teach us how to tumble!” cried Beppo, hugging his new friend closely. But Mother Margherita interrupted him.
“Not so fast, not so fast, children,” she warned. “Gigi is saved for now. But we may be able to do little more for him. Your father is master in the house, remember. Your father may not be pleased with what we have done. Never promise what you may not be able to give, my Beppo.” And she fell to musing again rather uneasily.
The boys were all suddenly silent, and Gigi, who had warmed to their kindness, felt a sudden chill. He had not thought of anything beyond the safety of the moment. He had made no plans, he had only hoped vaguely that these good people might help him. But now, what was to happen next? Was there still something more to fear?
Suddenly the flash of a lantern lighted the road ahead. A man’s voice hailed them loudly. “Hello! Hello! Will you never be coming home?”
“Father! It is father!” cried the three boys in an answering shout. Then with a common thought they all stopped short, and Gigi felt them looking at him in the darkness.
“What will he think of Gigi?” he heard
Beppo whisper to his brothers.
“Sh!” warned Mother Margherita.
the man’s voice sounded nearer.
“Hello, old woman!” it called gruffly.
“Well, you did come back, didn’t you?
I began to believe that you had all run away.”
“Run away!” There was a little pause before any one answered. And Gigi felt the elbows of the boys nudging him in the side.
“Father’s angry!” they whispered. “Father is terrible when he is angry. You had better look out!”
Then Gigi knew that there was something else to fear that night. And his heart sank. Was there to be no end of his troubles?