The various and violent emotions to which Giacomo had been prey had knocked him down, exhausting him what little vital force he had drawn from the immense love he brought to his children. That excessive tension of the nerves in the state in which he found himself had so crushed him that for a short time he was thought dead.
Father Ambrogio had first with beautiful ways removed the tender children from the banks of the paternal bed, doing himself the harshest violence, because at the sight of the icy mortal remains of the old man the dabben minister of the church had felt the heart being torn apart, neither more nor less than. if that lying body had belonged to his father: hence he understood what and how much the pain of the children must have been, and how the cessation of that life so dear must have caused it to burst like a sudden thunderbolt.
The old man’s features had blanched like the hair that shaded his temples; no sign revealed life in him.
Father Ambrogio felt the pulse of the lying man and his face cleared.
– It is but a swoon, he said; soon he will recover the feeling.
And she placed a small bottle of life-giving ether under his nostrils.
Lucia, Marietta and Giuseppe were sitting around the parent’s bed, but at a certain distance, so having arranged Father Ambrogio.
Daniele was standing near an open terrace, from which he let his distracted eyes wander over the distant hills of Poggioreale and Capodichino.
The moon rose whole and red behind those hills and cast a wide band of white light on the cypresses of S. Maria del Pianto almost a mortuary sheet. Various lights appeared and disappeared among the trees of that sad countryside: it was the pitiful procession that accompanies with the prayers the descent of a man in his last asylum.
Such a sad sight and which had so much relation to the present circumstances did not move Daniel’s heart at all, who, his gaze, far from the place where he was, tried to escape the oppressive reflections that faced the thought. At the same time, other ideas, other completely opposite images presented themselves to his mind, ideas full of life, laughing images, of youth, of pleasures. He thought that this was the usual hour in which he used to find himself almost every evening among the brilliant groups of gay young men, of beautiful women; he would have given half his life to be able to fly away from that house where death and sadness were, and take a flight to Palazzo S … where everything was happiness, and where he was perhaps expected by Emma!
It was eleven in the evening. Silence reigned in that lonely district as well as in that house.
Giacomo remained, however, in the stillness of death, although his breathing was so excited that a rattle was heard in the hollow of his chest.
Lucia, after she had re-supplied the little light that had almost extinguished in front of the sacred image of oil, had approached Daniele … gave her the subject of hope, but because Daniel was there … In the troubles and misfortunes the presence of those who love each other makes time and soothes the pain, is balm to the suffering heart. On the other hand, was it not the young man to be considered now as her husband?
– Daniele, the young girl said timidly, will you stay with us tonight? Our father is so happy to see you at his side, among us … You see, I am almost sure that … this does him good; did you observe with how much passion he was looking at you a little while ago? If you knew how many times the poor man has asked for you in these two days when you did not come to us! … I do not speak to you about what you made my heart suffer, that Virgin of Mount Carmel, who I prayed so much, knows. so much so that I would die next to my father, if ever you … no longer loved me.
The girl brought the edge of her apron to her eyes and sobbing was drying the big tears that the memory of her pain brought to her lashes; then she dropped her head to send the long hair that had fallen off her face back to her temples and straightened her very pale face looking at him with tenderness.
The glare of the moon lit up those delicate features and those eyes, whose very shiny black now stood out more against that white background. Lucia at this moment seemed very beautiful to Daniele, who, taking her by the hand, took her to the terrace, and remained silent for some time contemplating her.
In the center of the terrace was a basket of jasmine which was wrapped around its leaves between the rods of the railing, and it was all covered with white flowers that gave off a sweet perfume so much that the whole house was embalmed.
– Take, my friend, Daniele said, picking out one of those white little flowers and giving it to him, tonight you really look like this flower … How beautiful you are! Oh, don’t doubt, I won’t leave you anymore; am I not today but your husband? Don’t you belong to me maybe?
A roar of laughter was heard at that moment, Lucia blushed all over, and rat flew off the terrace.
Bird had burrowed into the shadows behind the jasmine seedling; he had heard Daniel’s words, and laughed in his naive idioticism.
Oh! that laugh was the most biting irony of those words that did not emanate from the heart of the perfidious young man.
Daniele exclaimed as he came into the room!
– Damn idiot! I hate it as my bad fate.
Giacomo’s rattle became stronger and stronger, more oppressive; his half-open eyes were injected with that livid, whitish mood that heralds the last hour.
Father Ambrogio had resumed the sad office of assistant from the dying man.
The whole family was immersed in a state of anguished expectation: pale, mute, inanimate, those children no longer found even tears in their eyes.
Daniele had sat down next to Lucia: this did not mean he was satisfied and calm, as a sign that a feverish impatience could not be read on his distracted face: if he had gazed into the depths of that heart, one would have noticed with horror a living desire , very ardent of the death of James. Yes, it is necessary to confess it; Daniele counted the minutes for the desire to feel dead that man who with his slow agony took away an hour of pleasure and condemned him to stay away from the woman he loved.
Ah! unfortunately this human heart is such a mixture of wicked contradictions, of barbaric tendencies and at the same time of outbursts of sublime affection and unheard-of sacrifices that man always has something to be amazed and disheartened in the contemplation of man. There are, in the depths of the soul, certain sewers of turpitude as well as certain mines of heroism that will always make the human creature the most curious subject of the investigations of the philosophers who end up confessing their complete ignorance of these arcane contradictions.
Shortly after, unable to stand it any longer due to the extreme impatience he was winning, and tired of waiting more, Daniele suddenly stood up and said to Lucia these few and harsh words:
– My dear, your father will not die for now; it’s tomorrow’s business; meanwhile I must go away; I have said nothing to my servant, who is waiting for me … On the other hand, I have my horse down here, and it is necessary that I make him restore some food.
Saying this, stroking his hair up on his straight temple, and taking up his hat again, he was ready to leave that house: he had already taken two steps towards the door, when, not Lucia, who had been amazed and annihilated by such barbaric features, but Marietta nevertheless stood between the door and him.
– Oh! Daniele; you won’t go away, are you? You will not abandon us tonight: Daddy can expire at any moment, isn’t he, Father Ambrogio? Have mercy on our pain; if you still love us, if you love my poor sister, you won’t go away! It is late now, this countryside is unsafe … You have so long to go … No, Daniele, do not go away for this night ….. See, we are afraid to be alone.
– Actually, I don’t want to go away, Daniele replied, but I can’t help myself; I tell you that it is difficult for Papa Giacomo to go away tonight: can’t you hear? and he sleeps soundly, does nothing but snore.
– Snore! the priest interjected, to whom such hardness of heart caused a profound pain: Signor Daniele, your father is dying; he has only a few minutes of life: do not want to abandon him at that moment … He commands you even dead.
– Sir, I repeat, I cannot help myself: I will be back in good time tomorrow morning, at daybreak. In the meantime, if you need money, here it is.
And from the pocket of his overcoat he drew an elegant mesh silk purse, took out a coin, throwing it with pride and annoyance on the chest of drawers. It was a piece of twelve pugs that he overturned on that piece of furniture, and hit the glass where the little light was placed, which went out drowning in overturned oil.
Lucia gave a cry of desperate anguish.
Father Ambrogio got up calmly, picked up the coin from the chest of drawers, and, handing it over to the young man, said to him with paternal goodness:
– Take it, sir; for now this unfortunate family needs pity, love, affectionate help; it needs heart and not metal. Take back your plate: if money is needed, I can provide for it myself for the moment. I join my prayers to those of these unhappy creatures so that you may be pleased to stay in this house during this night, which is already almost half past. Think that the miserable James will not see tomorrow; perhaps he, before expiring, can ask about you: think that this man has been for you not only a father, but a friend, a true friend. We will then provide for your horse, do not worry. Stay, don’t abandon this unhappy family in this terrible hour.
– I am sorry to have to refuse your commands, Daniele replied, but it is impossible for me to detain myself any longer. I’ll be here tomorrow at dawn … Goodbye.
It was no longer possible to hold him back.
He had crossed the threshold of the door without even glancing at the dying old man and his fiancée, who remained as if stupefied and crushed by despair.
Only one individual had a smiling face in the midst of those groups of pain: Bird; a flash of extravagant glee shone on his stupid physiognomy. He wandered around the room, snapped with his hand, looked often towards the door of the stairs, and laughed … laughed with that short, jerky laugh.
Suddenly, Daniele shows up again at the edge of the room.
He throws a furious look around him.
– Who hurt my horse’s leg? he shouts in a stentorian voice, and with his eyes blazing with anger and revenge.
– Me, replies Uccello, always laughing, as when he used to make a joke to the old maid and from whom he took so much delight.
– You! Daniel exclaims, roaring like a lion.
And he raised his whip to strike the unhappy idiot.
Father Ambrogio intervened and stopped the furious man’s arm.
Meanwhile a cry had gone out from the bed where the dying man lay.
It was James who had heard everything, everything included! …
Oh terrible sight! The old man had raised his head from the pillow as if from a grave: he looked like a larva, a ghost.
– Ungrateful! … ungrateful! … murmured the poor man with a voice choked by the sobs of death … God opened my eyes to the edge … of the pit … You want … to strike my son John … as already … you destroyed me … my daughter Lucia … Go, son of sin … You betray a dying man. Go … ungrateful … if you meditate I perjury … God punish you! ..
Lucia sends a desperate cry … the immediate priest calls to calm the dying man who shows himself repentant of the sudden anger into which Daniel’s ferocity had thrown him … looks at the crucifix and tries to say something, but he cannot finish a word, ending in a deep sob. The poor man had tucked up his pillows again.
He was dead!
A few moments after this frightening scene, in the room where Giacomo’s corpse lay was none other than Father Ambrogio, who recited the following precedent beside the dead man:
“Almighty God, with whom live those who die in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, since they are free from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and happiness, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for having liked to to free this brother of ours from the miseries of this world of sins: and let us not forget to pray your merciful goodness to admit him soon among your chosen ones. ”
We must not neglect to observe that Uccello, in order to prevent Daniel’s departure, stealthily armed with his father’s saber, which was provided with it as a military customs officer, had wounded the leg of the young man’s horse, without any of the family being accused. it were.
Uccello had had enough clarity of mind to understand that Daniel could not have gone on foot to his home which was a long way down that road; and that it would have been impossible for him to find a carriage in that lonely street and at an hour late in the night.