One afternoon I called the Signora Monti to my room. She came, surprised, and a little anxious. Was anything wrong with the service? I reassured her housewifely scruples, and came to the point at once.
“I would speak to you of your child, the little Lilla,” I said, kindly. “Have you ever thought that she may marry?”
Her dark bold eyes filled with tears and her lips quivered.
“Truly I have,” she replied with a wistful sadness; “but I have prayed, perhaps foolishly, that she would not leave me yet. I love her so well; she is always a babe to me, so small and sweet! I put the thought of her marriage from me as a sorrowful thing.”
“I understand your feeling,” I said. “Still, suppose your daughter wedded a man who would be to you as a son, and who would not part her from you?—for instance, let us say Vincenzo?”
Signora Monti smiled through her tears.
“Vincenzo! He is a good lad, a very good lad, and I love him; but he does not think of Lilla—he is devoted to the eccellenza.”
“I am aware of his devotion,” I answered. “Still I believe you will find out soon that he loves your Lilla. At present he says nothing— he fears to offend you and alarm her; but his eyes speak—so do hers. You are a good woman, a good mother; watch them both, you will soon tell whether love is between them or no. And see,” here I handed her a sealed envelope, “in this you will find notes to the amount of four thousand francs.” She uttered a little cry of amazement. “It is Lilla’s dowry, whoever she marries, though I think she will marry Vincenzo. Nay—no thanks, money is of no value to me; and this is the one pleasure I have had for many weary months. Think well of Vincenzo—he is an excellent fellow. And all I ask of you is, that you keep this little dowry a secret till the day of your fair child’s espousals.”
Before I could prevent her the enthusiastic woman had seized my hand and kissed it. Then she lifted her head with the proud free-born dignity of a Roman matron; her broad bosom heaved, and her strong voice quivered with suppressed emotion.
“I thank you, signor,” she said, simply, “for Lilla’s sake! Not that my little one needs more than her mother’s hands have toiled for, thanks be to the blessed saints who have had us both in their keeping! But this is a special blessing of God sent through your hands, and I should be unworthy of all prosperity were I not grateful. Eccellenza, pardon me, but my eyes are quick to see that you have suffered sorrow. Good actions lighten grief! We will pray for your happiness, Lilla and I, till the last breath leaves our lips. Believe it—the name of our benefactor shall be lifted to the saints night and morning, and who knows but good may come of it!”
I smiled faintly.
“Good will come of it, my excellent signora, though I am all unworthy of your prayers. Rather pray,” and I sighed heavily, “for the dead, ‘that they may be loosed from their sins.’”