Still the priest never said a word. He put the lamp down on the nearest table. Luca observed that his hand shook. He had never seen his brother violently agitated before. When Rocco had announced, but a few minutes ago, that Maddalena’s life was despaired of, it was in a voice which, though sorrowful, was perfectly calm. What was the meaning of this sudden panic—this strange, silent terror?
The priest observed that his brother was looking at him earnestly. “Come!” he said in a faint whisper, “come to her bedside: we have no time to lose. Get your hat, and leave it to me to put out the lamp.”
He hurriedly extinguished the light while he spoke. They went down the studio side by side toward the door. The moonlight streamed through the window full on the place where the priest had been standing alone with the lamp in his hand. As they passed it, Luca felt his brother tremble, and saw him turn away his head.
. . . . . . . .
Two hours later, Fabio d’Ascoli and his wife were separated in this world forever; and the servants of the palace were anticipating in whispers the order of their mistress’s funeral procession to the burial-ground of the Campo Santo.
About eight months after the Countess d’Ascoli had been laid in her grave in the Campo Santo, two reports were circulated through the gay world of Pisa, which excited curiosity and awakened expectation everywhere.
The first report announced that a grand masked ball was to be given at the Melani Palace, to celebrate the day on which the heir of the house attained his majority. All the friends of the family were delighted at the prospect of this festival; for the old Marquis Melani had the reputation of being one of the most hospitable, and, at the same time, one of the most eccentric men in Pisa. Every one expected, therefore, that he would secure for the entertainment of his guests, if he really gave the ball, the most whimsical novelties in the way of masks, dances, and amusements generally, that had ever been seen.
The second report was, that the rich widower, Fabio d’Ascoli, was on the point of returning to Pisa, after having improved his health and spirits by traveling in foreign countries; and that he might be expected to appear again in society, for the first time since the death of his wife, at the masked ball which was to be given in the Melani Palace. This announcement excited special interest among the young ladies of Pisa. Fabio had only reached his thirtieth year; and it was universally agreed that his return to society in his native city could indicate nothing more certainly than his desire to find a second mother for his infant child. All the single ladies would now have been ready to bet, as confidently as Brigida had offered to bet eight months before, that Fabio d’Ascoli would marry again.