“I cannot find them; where are they?”
“Who, dear master? Oh, have compassion on yourself; they are not here. Blessed saints! this is terrible; he has touched me; I am dead!”
“Dead! who is dead? Is any one dead?”
“Ah! don’t talk so; you must know it well: my poor mistress,—she caught the fever from you; it is infectious enough to kill a whole city. San Gennaro protect me! My poor mistress, she is dead,—buried, too; and I, your faithful Gionetta, woe is me! Go, go—to—to bed again, dearest master,—go!”
The poor musician stood for one moment mute and unmoving, then a slight shiver ran through his frame; he turned and glided back, silent and spectre-like, as he had entered. He came into the room where he had been accustomed to compose,—where his wife, in her sweet patience, had so often sat by his side, and praised and flattered when the world had but jeered and scorned. In one corner he found the laurel-wreath she had placed on his brows that happy night of fame and triumph; and near it, half hid by her mantilla, lay in its case the neglected instrument.
Viola was not long gone: she had found the physician; she returned with him; and as they gained the threshold, they heard a strain of music from within,—a strain of piercing, heart-rending anguish. It was not like some senseless instrument, mechanical in its obedience to a human hand,—it was as some spirit calling, in wail and agony from the forlorn shades, to the angels it beheld afar beyond the Eternal Gulf. They exchanged glances of dismay. They hurried into the house; they hastened into the room. Pisani turned, and his look, full of ghastly intelligence and stern command, awed them back. The black mantilla, the faded laurel-leaf, lay there before him. Viola’s heart guessed all at a single glance; she sprung to his knees; she clasped them,—“Father, father, I am left thee still!”
The wail ceased,—the note changed; with a confused association—half of the man, half of the artist—the anguish, still a melody, was connected with sweeter sounds and thoughts. The nightingale had escaped the pursuit,—soft, airy, bird-like, thrilled the delicious notes a moment, and then died away. The instrument fell to the floor, and its chords snapped. You heard that sound through the silence. The artist looked on his kneeling child, and then on the broken chords... “Bury me by her side,” he said, in a very calm, low voice; “and that by mine.” And with these words his whole frame became rigid, as if turned to stone. The last change passed over his face. He fell to the ground, sudden and heavy. The chords there, too,—the chords of the human instrument were snapped asunder. As he fell, his robe brushed the laurel-wreath, and that fell also, near but not in reach of the dead man’s nerveless hand.
Broken instrument, broken heart, withered laurel-wreath!—the setting sun through the vine-clad lattice streamed on all! So smiles the eternal Nature on the wrecks of all that make life glorious! And not a sun that sets not somewhere on the silenced music,—on the faded laurel!