With a faint sigh the priest’s eyes opened and seemed to gaze for a moment on the crucifix standing in the bright light of the lamp. An expression of wonderful gentleness and calm overspread the refined features.
“Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de coelis.”
The words came faintly from the dying man’s lips, the last syllables scarcely audible in the intense stillness. A deathly pallor crept quickly over the smooth forehead and thin cheeks. Marzio looked for one instant more, and then with a loud cry fell upon his knees by the bedside, his long arms extended across his brother’s body. The strong hot tears fell upon the bed coverings, and his breast heaved with passionate sobbing.
He did not see that Paolo opened his eyes at the sound. He did not notice the rush of feet in the passage without, as Maria Luisa and Lucia and Gianbattista ran to the door, followed by old Assunta holding up her apron to her eyes.
“Courage, Sor Marzio,” said Gianbattista, drawing the artist back from the bed. “You will disturb him. Do you not see that he is conscious at last?”
Lucia was arranging the pillows under Paolo’s head, and Maria Luisa was crying with joy. Marzio sprang to his feet and stared as though he could not believe what he saw. Paolo turned his head and looked kindly at his brother.
“Courage, Marzio,” he said, “I have been asleep, I believe—what has happened to me? Why are you all crying?”
Marzio’s tears broke out again, mingled with incoherent words of joy. In his sudden happiness he clasped the two persons nearest to him, and hugged them and kissed them. These two chanced to be Lucia and Gianbattista. Paolo smiled, but the effort of speaking had tired him.
“Well,” said Marzio at last, with a kinder smile than had been on his face for many a day—“very well, children. For Paolo’s sake you shall have your own way.”
Half an hour later the surgeon made his visit and assured them all that there was no serious injury, nor any further danger to be feared. The patient had been very badly stunned, that was all. Marzio remained by his brother’s side.
“You see, Tista,” said Lucia when they were in the sitting-room, “I was quite right about the crucifix and the rest.”
“Of course,” assented the Signora Pandolfi, though she did not understand the allusion in the least. “Of course you are all of you right. But what a day this has been, cari miei! What a day! Dear, dear!” She spread out her fat hands upon her knees, looking the picture of solid contentment.
* * * * *
My Beloved Wife