The child was exceedingly fond of Viola, and the old people thought that her mere presence would bring healing; but when Viola arrived, Beatrice was insensible. Fortunately there was no performance that evening at San Carlo, and she resolved to stay the night and partake its fearful cares and dangerous vigil.
But during the night the child grew worse, the physician (the leechcraft has never been very skilful at Naples) shook his powdered head, kept his aromatics at his nostrils, administered his palliatives, and departed. Old Bernardi seated himself by the bedside in stern silence; here was the last tie that bound him to life. Well, let the anchor break and the battered ship go down! It was an iron resolve, more fearful than sorrow. An old man, with one foot in the grave, watching by the couch of a dying child, is one of the most awful spectacles in human calamities. The wife was more active, more bustling, more hopeful, and more tearful. Viola took heed of all three. But towards dawn, Beatrice’s state became so obviously alarming, that Viola herself began to despair. At this time she saw the old woman suddenly rise from before the image of the saint at which she had been kneeling, wrap herself in her cloak and hood, and quietly quit the chamber. Viola stole after her.
“It is cold for thee, good mother, to brave the air; let me go for the physician?”
“Child, I am not going to him. I have heard of one in the city who has been tender to the poor, and who, they say, has cured the sick when physicians failed. I will go and say to him, ’Signor, we are beggars in all else, but yesterday we were rich in love. We are at the close of life, but we lived in our grandchild’s childhood. Give us back our wealth,—give us back our youth. Let us die blessing God that the thing we love survives us.’”
She was gone. Why did thy heart beat, Viola? The infant’s sharp cry of pain called her back to the couch; and there still sat the old man, unconscious of his wife’s movements, not stirring, his eyes glazing fast as they watched the agonies of that slight frame. By degrees the wail of pain died into a low moan,—the convulsions grew feebler, but more frequent; the glow of fever faded into the blue, pale tinge that settles into the last bloodless marble.
The daylight came broader and clearer through the casement; steps were heard on the stairs,—the old woman entered hastily; she rushed to the bed, cast a glance on the patient, “She lives yet, signor, she lives!”
Viola raised her eyes,—the child’s head was pillowed on her bosom,—and she beheld Zanoni. He smiled on her with a tender and soft approval, and took the infant from her arms. Yet even then, as she saw him bending silently over that pale face, a superstitious fear mingled with her hopes. “Was it by lawful—by holy art that—” her self-questioning ceased abruptly; for his dark eye turned to her as if he read her soul, and his aspect accused her conscience for its suspicion, for it spoke reproach not unmingled with disdain.