“Stella must be patient and quiet—Stella must lie down, the pain will be better so; there! that is right!” as the child sunk back on her bed obediently, still keeping her gaze fixed upon me. I knelt at the bedside, and watched her yearningly—while Assunta moistened her lips, and did all she could to ease the pain endured so meekly by the poor little thing whose breathing grew quicker and fainter with every tick of the clock. “You are my papa, are you not?” she asked, a deeper flush crossing her forehead and cheeks. I made no answer—I only kissed the small hot hand I held. Assunta shook her head.
“Ah, poverinetta! The time is near—she sees her father. And why not? He loved her well—he would come to fetch her for certain if the saints would let him.”
And she fell on her knees and began to tell over her rosary with great devotion. Meanwhile Stella threw one little arm round my neck--her eyes were half shut—she spoke and breathed with increasing difficulty.
“My throat aches so, papa!” she said, pitifully. “Can you not make it better?”
“I wish I could, my darling!” I murmured. “I would bear all the pain for you if it were possible!”
She was silent a minute. Then she said:
“What a long time you have been away! And now I am too ill to play with you!” Then a faint smile crossed her features. “See poor To-to!” she exclaimed, feebly, as her eyes fell on a battered old doll in the spangled dress of a carnival clown that lay at the foot of her bed. “Poor dear old To-to! He will think I do not love him any more, because my throat hurts me. Give him to me, papa!”
And as I obeyed her request she encircled the doll with one arm, while she still clung to me with the other, and added:
“To-to remembers you, papa; you know you brought him from Rome, and he is fond of you, too—but not as fond as I am!” And her dark eyes glittered feverishly. Suddenly her glance fell on Assunta, whose gray head was buried in her hands as she knelt.
The old woman looked up.
“Bambinetta!” she answered, and her aged voice trembled.
“Why are you crying?” inquired Stella with an air of plaintive surprise. “Are you not glad to see papa?”
Her words were interrupted by a sharp spasm of pain which convulsed her whole body—she gasped for breath—she was nearly suffocated. Assunta and I raised her up gently and supported her against her pillows; the agony passed slowly, but left her little face white and rigid, while large drops of sweat gathered on her brow. I endeavored to soothe her.
“Darling, you must not talk,” I whispered, imploringly; “try to be very still—then the poor throat will not ache so much.”
She looked at me wistfully. After a minute or two she said, gently:
“Kiss me, then, and I will be quite good.”
I kissed her fondly, and she closed her eyes. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes passed and she did not stir. At the end of that time the doctor entered. He glanced at her, gave me a warning look, and remained standing quietly at the foot of the bed. Suddenly the child woke, and smiled divinely on all three of us.