She laid the handkerchief in the basket, and also the cross, and closed the lid. But when he looked into her face, he started. Great heavy drops were rolling down her cheeks; she let them flow unheeded.
“Maria Santissima!” he cried. “Are you ill? You are trembling from head to foot!”
“It is nothing,” she said; “I must go home”; and with unsteady steps she was moving to the door, when suddenly she leaned her brow against the wall, and gave way to a fit of bitter sobbing. Before he could go to her she turned upon him suddenly, and fell upon his neck.
“I cannot bear it!” she cried, clinging to him as a dying thing to life—“I cannot bear it! I cannot let you speak so kindly, and bid me go, with all this on my conscience. Beat me! trample on me! curse me! Or if it can be that you love me still, after all I have done to you, take me and keep me, and do with me as you please; only do not send me away so!” She could say no more for sobbing.
Holy Mother of God
Speechless, he held her a while in his arms. “If I can love you still!” he cried at last. “Holy Mother of God! Do you think that all my best heart’s blood has gone from me through that little wound? Don’t you hear it hammering now, as though it would burst my breast and go to you? But if you say this to try me, or because you pity me, I can forget it. You are not to think you owe me this, because you know what I have suffered for you.”
“No!” she said very resolutely, looking up from his shoulder into his face, with her tearful eyes; “it is because I love you; and let me tell you, it was because I always feared to love you that I was so cross. I will be so different now. I never could bear again to pass you in the street without one look! And lest you should ever feel a doubt, I will kiss you, that you may say, ‘She kissed me’; and Laurella kisses no man but her husband.”
She kissed him thrice, and, escaping from his arms: “And now goodnight, amor mio, cara vita mia!” she said. “Lie down to sleep, and let your hand get well. Do not come with me; I am afraid of no man, save of you alone.”
And so she slipped out, and soon disappeared in the shadow of the wall.
He remained standing by the window, gazing far out over the calm sea, while all the stars in heaven appeared to flit before his eyes.
The next time the little curato sat in his confessional, he sat smiling to himself. Laurella had just risen from her knees after a very long confession.
“Who would have thought it?” he said musingly—“that the Lord would so soon have taken pity upon that wayward little heart? And I had been reproaching myself for not having adjured more sternly that ill demon of perversity.
Our eyes are but shortsighted to see the ways of Heaven! Well, may God bless her, I say, and let me live to go to sea with Laurella’s eldest born rowing me in his father’s place! Ah! well, indeed! Arrabiata!”