From the studio Father Rocco went straight to his own rooms, hard by the church to which he was attached. Opening a cabinet in his study, he took from one of its drawers a handful of small silver money, consulted for a minute or so a slate on which several names and addresses were written, provided himself with a portable inkhorn and some strips of paper, and again went out.
He directed his steps to the poorest part of the neighborhood; and entering some very wretched houses, was greeted by the inhabitants with great respect and affection. The women, especially, kissed his hands with more reverence than they would have shown to the highest crowned head in Europe. In return, he talked to them as easily and unconstrainedly as if they were his equals; sat down cheerfully on dirty bedsides and rickety benches; and distributed his little gifts of money with the air of a man who was paying debts rather than bestowing charity. Where he encountered cases of illness, he pulled out his inkhorn and slips of paper, and wrote simple prescriptions to be made up from the medicine-chest of a neighboring convent, which served the same merciful purpose then that is answered by dispensaries in our days. When he had exhausted his money, and had got through his visits, he was escorted out of the poor quarter by a perfect train of enthusiastic followers. The women kissed his hand again, and the men uncovered as he turned, and, with a friendly sign, bade them all farewell.
As soon as he was alone again, he walked toward the Campo Santo, and, passing the house in which Nanina lived, sauntered up and down the street thoughtfully for some minutes. When he at length ascended the steep staircase that led to the room occupied by the sisters, he found the door ajar. Pushing it open gently, he saw La Biondella sitting with her pretty, fair profile turned toward him, eating her evening meal of bread and grapes. At the opposite end of the room, Scarammuccia was perched up on his hindquarters in a corner, with his mouth wide open to catch the morsel of bread which he evidently expected the child to throw to him. What the elder sister was doing, the priest had not time to see; for the dog barked the moment he presented himself, and Nanina hastened to the door to ascertain who the intruder might be. All that he could observe was that she was too confused, on catching sight of him, to be able to utter a word. La Biondella was the first to speak.
“Thank you, Father Rocco,” said the child, jumping up, with her bread in one hand and her grapes in the other—“thank you for giving me so much money for my dinner-mats. There they are, tied up together in one little parcel, in the corner. Nanina said she was ashamed to think of your carrying them; and I said I knew where you lived, and I should like to ask you to let me take them home!”
“Do you think you can carry them all the way, my dear?” asked the priest.