“Fabio! Fabio!” cried the girl, sinking again on the seat, and hiding her face.
“It is for his good,” said Father Rocco, calmly: “for Fabio’s good, remember.”
“What would he think of me if I went away? Oh, if I had but learned to write! If I could only write Fabio a letter!”
“Am I not to be depended on to explain to him all that he ought to know?”
“How can I go away from him! Oh! Father Rocco, how can you ask me to go away from him?”
“I will ask you to do nothing hastily. I will leave you till to-morrow morning to decide. At nine o’clock I shall be in the street; and I will not even so much as enter this house, unless I know beforehand that you have resolved to follow my advice. Give me a sign from your window. If I see you wave your white mantilla out of it, I shall know that you have taken the noble resolution to save Fabio and to save yourself. I will say no more, my child; for, unless I am grievously mistaken in you, I have already said enough.”
He went out, leaving her still weeping bitterly. Not far from the house, he met La Biondella and the dog on their way back. The little girl stopped to report to him the safe delivery of her dinner-mats; but he passed on quickly with a nod and a smile. His interview with Nanina had left some influence behind it, which unfitted him just then for the occupation of talking to a child.
Nearly half an hour before nine o’clock on the following morning, Father Rocco set forth for the street in which Nanina lived. On his way thither he overtook a dog walking lazily a few paces ahead in the roadway; and saw, at the same time, an elegantly-dressed lady advancing toward him. The dog stopped suspiciously as she approached, and growled and showed his teeth when she passed him. The lady, on her side, uttered an exclamation of disgust, but did not seem to be either astonished or frightened by the animal’s threatening attitude. Father Rocco looked after her with some curiosity as she walked by him. She was a handsome woman, and he admired her courage. “I know that growling brute well enough,” he said to himself, “but who can the lady be?”
The dog was Scarammuccia, returning from one of his marauding expeditions The lady was Brigida, on her way to Luca Lomi’s studio.
Some minutes before nine o’clock the priest took his post in the street, opposite Nanina’s window. It was open; but neither she nor her little sister appeared at it. He looked up anxiously as the church-clocks struck the hour; but there was no sign for a minute or so after they were all silent. “Is she hesitating still?” said Father Rocco to himself.
Just as the words passed his lips, the white mantilla was waved out of the window.