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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarzio's Crucifix - Chapter 10
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Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 10 Post by :gooz123 Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1072

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Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

Gianbattista reached the church in which he was to do his work, and superintended the unloading of the carts. It was but a little after one o'clock, and he expected to succeed in putting up the grating before night. The pieces were carefully carried to the chapel where they were to be placed, and laid down in the order in which they would be needed. It took a long time to arrange them, and the apprentice was glad he had advised Maria Luisa and Lucia to come late. It would have wearied them, he reflected, to assist at the endless fitting and screwing of the joints, and they would have had no impression of the whole until they were tired of looking at the details.

For hours he laboured with the men, not allowing anything to be done without his supervision, and doing more himself than any of the workmen. He grew hot and interested as the time went on, and he began to doubt whether the work could be finished before sunset. The workmen themselves, who preferred a job of this kind to the regular occupation of the studio, seemed in no hurry, though they did what was expected of them quietly and methodically. Each one of them was calculating, as nearly as possible, the length of time needed to drive a screw, to lift a piece into position, to finish off a shank till it fitted closely in the prepared socket. Half an hour wasted by driblets to-day, would ensure them for the morrow the diversion of an hour or two in coming to the church and returning from it.

From time to time Gianbattista glanced towards the door, and as the hours advanced his look took the same direction more often. At last, as the rays of the evening sun fell through the western window, he heard steps, and was presently rewarded by the appearance of the Signora Pandolfi, followed closely by Lucia. They greeted Gianbattista from a distance, for the church being under repairs was closed to the public, and had not been in use for years, so that the sound of voices did not seem unnatural nor irreverent.

"It is not finished," said Gianbattista, coming forward to meet them; "but you can see what it will be like. Another hour will be enough."

At that moment Don Paolo suddenly appeared, walking fast up the aisle in pursuit of the two women. They all greeted him with an exclamation of surprise.

"Eh!" he exclaimed, "you are astonished to see me? I was passing and saw you go in, and as I knew about the grating, I guessed what you came for and followed you. Is Marzio here?"

"No," answered Gianbattista. "He said he might perhaps come, but I doubt it. I fancy he wants to be alone."

"Yes," replied Don Paolo thoughtfully, "I daresay he wants to be alone."

"He has had a good many emotions to-day," remarked Gianbattista. "We shall see how he will be this evening. Of course, you have heard the news, Don Paolo? Besides, you see I am at work, so that the first great difference has been settled. Lucia managed it--she has an eloquence, that young lady! She could preach better than you, Don Paolo."

"She is a little angel," exclaimed the priest, tapping his niece's dark cheek with his white hand.

"That is four to-day!" cried Lucia, laughing. "First mamma, then papa--figure to yourself papa!--then Tista, and now Uncle Paolo. Eh! if the wings don't grow before the Ave Maria--"

She broke off with a pretty motion of her shoulders, showing her white teeth and turning to look at Gianbattista. Then the young man took them to see the grating. A good portion of it was put up, and it produced a good effect. The whole thing was about ten or twelve feet high, consisting of widely-set gilt bars, between which were fastened large arabesques and scrolls. On each side of the gate, in the middle, an angel supported a metal drapery, of which the folds were in reality of separate pieces, but which, as it now appeared, all screwed together in its place, had a very free and light effect. It was work of a conventional kind and of a conventional school, but even here Marzio's great talent had shown itself in his rare knowledge of effects and free modelling; the high lights were carefully chosen and followed out, and the deep shadows of the folds in dull gold gave a richness to the drapery not often found in this species of decoration. The figures of the angels, too, were done by an artist's hand--conventional, like the rest, but free from heaviness or anatomical defects.

"It is not bad," said Don Paolo, in a tone which surprised every one. He was not often slow to praise his brother's work.

"How, not bad? Is that all you say?" asked Gianbattista, in considerable astonishment. He felt, too, that as Marzio and he worked together, he deserved acme part of the credit. "It is church decoration of course, and not a 'piece,' as we say, but I would like to see anybody do better."

"Well, well, Tista, forgive me," he answered, "The fact is, Marzio showed me something to-day so wonderful, that I see no beauty in anything else--or, at least, not so much beauty as I ought to see. I went in to find him again, you know, just as Lucia was leaving, and he showed me a crucifix--a marvel, a wonder!--he said he had had it a long time, put away in a box."

"I never saw it," said Tista.

"I did!" exclaimed Lucia. She regretted the words as soon as she had spoken them, and bit her lip. She had not told her mother what she had told Gianbattista.

"When did you see it? Is it so very beautiful?" asked the Signora Pandolfi.

"Oh, I only saw it through the door, when I went," she answered quickly. "The door was open, but I knocked and I saw him hide it. But I think it was very fine--splendid! What did you talk about, Uncle Paolo? You have not told us about your visit. I whispered to you that everything was settled, but you looked as though you did not understand. What did you say to each other?"

"Oh, nothing--nothing of any importance," said Don Paolo in some embarrassment. He suddenly recollected that, owing to his brother's strange conduct, he had left the studio without saying a word about the errand which had brought him. "Nothing," he repeated. "We talked about the crucifix, and Marzio gave a very long explanation of the way it was made. Besides, as Lucia says, she had told me that everything was settled, and Marzio spoke very quietly."

This was literally true. Marzio's words had been gentle enough. It was his action that had at first startled Don Paolo, and had afterwards set him thinking and reflecting on the events of those few minutes. But he would not for anything in the world have allowed any of his three companions to know what had happened. He was himself not sure. Marzio had excused the position of his hand by saying that the sun was in his eyes. There was something else in his eyes, thought Paolo; a look of hatred and of eager desire for blood which it was horrible to remember. Perhaps he ought not to remember it, for he might, be mistaken, after all, and it was a great sin to suspect any one of wishing to commit such a crime; but nevertheless; and in spite of his desire that it might not have been true, Don Paolo was conscious of having received the impression, and he was sure that it had not been the result of any foolish fright. He was not a cowardly, man, and although his physical courage had rarely been put to the test, no one who knew him would have charged him with the contemptible timidity which imagines danger gratuitously, and is afraid where no fear is. He was of a better temper than Marzio, who had been startled so terribly by a slight noise when his back was turned. And yet he had been profoundly affected by the scene of the morning, and had not yet entirely recovered his serenity.

Lucia noticed the tone of his answer, and suspected that something had happened, though her suspicion took a direction exactly opposed to the fact. She remembered what she had seen herself, and recalling the fact that Paolo had entered the workshop just as she was leaving it, she saw nothing unnatural in the supposition that her father's conversation with her uncle had taken a religious tone. She used the word religion to express to herself what she meant. She thought it quite possible that after Marzio had been so suddenly softened, and evidently affected, by her own fainting fit, and after having been absorbed in some sort of devotional meditation, he might have spoken of his feelings to Don Paolo, who in his turn would have seized the opportunity for working upon his brother's mind. Paolo, she thought, would naturally not care to speak lightly of such an occurrence, and his somewhat constrained manner at the present moment might be attributed to this cause. To prevent any further questions from her mother or Gianbattista, Lucia interposed.

"Yes," she said, "he seemed very quiet. He hardly spoke at dinner. But Tista says he may perhaps be here before long, and then we shall know."

It was not very clear what was to be known, and Lucia hastened to direct their attention to the new grating. Gianbattista returned to work with the men, and the two women and Don Paolo stood looking on, occasionally shifting their position to get a better view of the work. Gianbattista was mounted upon a ladder which leaned against one of the marble pillars at the entrance of the side chapel closed by the grating. A heavy piece of arabesque work had just been got into its place, and was tied with cords while the young man ran a screw through the prepared holes to fasten one side of the fragment to the bar. He was awkwardly placed, but he had sent the men to uncover and clean the last pieces, at a little distance from where he was at work. The three visitors observed him with interest, probably remarking to themselves that it must need good nerves to maintain one's self in such a position. Don Paolo, especially, was more nervous than the rest, owing, perhaps, to what had occurred in the morning. All at once, as he watched Gianbattista's twisted attitude, as the apprentice strained himself and turned so as to drive the screw effectually, the foot of the ladder seemed to move a little on the smooth marble pavement. With a quick movement Don Paolo stepped forward, with the intention of grasping the ladder.

Hearing the sound of rapid steps, Gianbattista turned his head and a part of his body to see what had happened. The sudden movement shifted the weight, and definitely destroyed the balance of the ladder. With a sharp screech, like that of a bad pencil scratching on a slate, the lower ends of the uprights slipped outward from the pillar. Gianbattista clutched at the metal bars desperately, but the long screw-driver in his hands impeded him, and he missed his hold.

Don Paolo, the sound of whose step had at first made the young man turn, and had thus probably precipitated the accident, sprang forward, threw himself under the falling ladder, and grasped it with all his might. But it was too late. Gianbattista was heavy, and the whole ladder with his weight upon it had gained too much impetus to be easily stopped by one man. With a loud crash he fell with the wooden frame upon the smooth marble floor. Rolling to one side, Gianbattista leapt to his feet, dazed but apparently unhurt.

The priest lay motionless in a distorted position under the ladder, his head bent almost beneath his body, and one arm projecting upon the pavement, seemingly twisted in its socket, the palm upwards. The long white fingers twitched convulsively once or twice, and then were still. It was all the affair of a moment. Maria Luisa screamed and leaned against the pillar for support, while Lucia ran forward and knelt beside the injured man. Gianbattista, whose life had probably been saved by Don Paolo's quick action, was dragging away the great ladder, and the workmen came running up in confusion to see what had happened.

It seemed as though Marzio's wish had been accomplished without his agency. A deadly livid colour overspread the priest's refined features, and as they lifted him his limp limbs hung down as though the vitality would never return to them--all except the left arm, which was turned stiffly out and seemed to refuse to hang down with the rest. It was dislocated at the shoulder.

A scene of indescribable confusion followed, in which Gianbattista alone seemed to maintain some semblance of coolness. The rest all spoke and cried at once. Maria Luisa and Lucia knelt beside the body where they had laid it on the steps of the high altar, crying aloud, kissing the white hands and beating their breasts, praying, sobbing, and calling upon Paolo to speak to them, all in a breath.

"He is dead as a stone," said one of the workmen in a low voice.

"Eh! He is in Paradise," said another, kneeling at the priest's feet and rubbing them.

"Take him to the hospital, Sor Tista--"

"Better take him home--"

"I will run and call Sor Marzio--"

"There is an apothecary in the next street."

"A doctor is better--apothecaries are all murderers."

Gianbattista, very pale, but collected and steady, pushed the men gently away from the body.

"_Cari miei_, my dear fellows," he said, "he may be alive. One of you run and get a carriage to the side door of the sacristy. The rest of you put the things together and be careful to leave nothing where it can fall. We will take him to Sor Marzio's house and get the best doctor."

"There is not even a drop of holy water in the basins," moaned Maria Luisa.

"He will go to Heaven without holy water," sobbed Lucia. "Oh, how good he was--"

Gianbattista kneeled down in his turn and tried to find the pulse in the poor limp wrist. Then he listened for the heart. He fancied he could hear a faint flutter in the breast. He looked up and a little colour came to his pale face.

"I think he is alive," he said to the two women, and then bent down again and listened. "Yes," he continued joyfully. "The heart beats. Gently--help me to carry him to the sacristy; get his hat one of you. So--carefully--do not twist that arm. I think I see colour in his cheeks--"

With four other men Gianbattista raised the body and bore it carefully to the sacristy. The cab was already at the door, and in a few minutes poor Don Paolo was placed in it. The hood was raised, and Maria Luisa got in and sat supporting the drooping head upon her broad bosom. Lucia took the little seat in front, and Gianbattista mounted to the box, after directing the four men to follow in a second cab as fast as they could, to help to carry the priest upstairs. He sent another in search of a surgeon.

"Do not tell Sor Marzio--do not go to the workshop," he said in a last injunction. He knew that Marzio would be of no use in such an emergency, and he hoped that Don Paolo might be pronounced out of danger before the chiseller knew anything of the accident.

In half an hour the injured man was lying in Gianbattista's bed. It was now evident that he was alive, for he breathed heavily and regularly. But the half-closed eyes had no intelligence in them, and the slight flush in the hollow cheeks was not natural to see. The twisted arm still stuck out of the bed-coverings in a painfully distorted attitude. The two women and Gianbattista stood by the bedside in silence, waiting for the arrival of the surgeon.

He came at last, a quiet-looking man of middle age, with grizzled hair and a face deeply pitted with the smallpox. He seemed to know what he was about, for he asked for a detailed account of the accident from Gianbattista while he examined the patient. The young man, who was beginning to feel the effects of the fall, now that the first excitement had subsided, sat down while he told the story. The surgeon urged the two women to leave the room.

"The left arm is dislocated at the shoulder, without fracture," said the surgeon. "Lend me a hand, will you? Hold his body firmly--here and here--with all your might, while I pull the joint into place. If his head or spine are not injured the pain may bring him to consciousness. That will be a good thing. Now, ready--one, two, three, pull!"

The two men gave a vigorous jerk, and to Gianbattista's surprise the arm fell back in a natural position; but the injured priest's features expressed no pain. He was evidently quite unconscious. A further examination led the surgeon to believe that the harm was more serious. There was a bad bruise on one side of the head, and more than one upon other parts of the body.

"Will he live?" asked Gianbattista faintly, as he sank back into his chair.

"Oh yes--probably. He is likely to have a brain fever; One cannot tell. How old is he?"

He asked one or two other questions, arranging the patient's position with skilful hands while he talked Then he asked for paper and wrote a prescription.

"Nothing more can be done for the present," he said. "You should put some ice on his head, and if he recovers consciousness, so as to speak before I come back, observe what he says. He may be in a delirium, or he may talk quite rationally. One cannot tell Send for this medicine and give it to him if he is conscious. Otherwise, only keep his head cool. I will come back early in the evening. You are not hurt yourself?" he inquired, looking at Gianbattista curiously.

"No; I am badly shaken, and my hands are a little cut--that is all," answered the young man.

"What a beautiful thing youth is!" observed the surgeon philosophically, as he went away.

Gianbattista remained alone in the sick-room, seated upon his chair by the head of the bed. With anxious interest and attention he watched the expressionless face as the heavy breath came and went between the parted lips. In the distance he could hear the sobbing and incoherent talk of the two women, as the doctor explained to them Paolo's condition, but he was now too much dazed to give any thought to them. It seemed to him that Don Paolo had sacrificed his life for him, and that he had no other duty than to sit beside the bed and watch his friend. All the impressions of the afternoon were very much confused, and the shock of the fall had told upon his nerves far more severely than he had at first realised. His limbs ached and his hands pained him; at the same time he felt dizzy, and the outline of Don Paolo's face grew indistinct as he watched it. He was roused by the entry of Lucia, who had hastily laid aside her hat. Her face was pale, and her dark eyes were swollen with tears; her hair was in disorder and was falling about her neck. Gianbattista instinctively rose and put his arm about the girl's waist as they stood together and looked at the sick man. He felt that it was his duty to comfort her.

"The doctor thinks he may get well," he said.

"Who knows," she answered tearfully, and shook her head, "Oh, Tista, he was our best friend!"

"It was in trying to save me--" said the young fellow. But he got no further. The words stuck in his throat.

"If he lives I will be a son to him!" he added presently. "I will never leave him. But perhaps--perhaps he is too good to live, Lucia!"

"He must not die. I will take care of him," answered Lucia. "You must pray for him, Tista, and I will--we all will!"

"Eh! I will try, but I don't understand that kind of thing as well as you," said Gianbattista dolefully. "If you think it is of any use--"

"Of course it is of use, my heart; do not doubt it," replied the young girl gravely. Then her features suddenly quivered, she turned away, and, hiding her face on the pillow beside the priest's unconscious, head, she sobbed as though her heart would break. Gianbattista knelt down at her side and put his arm round her neck, whispering lovingly in her ear.

The day was fading, and the last glow of the sun in the south-western sky came through the small window at the other end of the narrow room, illuminating the simple furniture, the white bed coverings, the upturned face of the injured man, and the two young figures that knelt at the bedside. It was Gianbattista's room, and there was little enough in it. The bare bricks, with only a narrow bit of green drugget by the bed, the plain deal table before the window, the tiny round mirror set in lead, at which the apprentice shaved himself, the crazy old chest of drawers--that was all. The whitewashed walls were relieved by two or three drawings of chalices and other church vessels, the colour of the gold or silver, and of the gems, washed into one half of the design and the other side left in black and white. A little black cross hung above the bedstead, with a bit of an olive branch nailed over it--a reminiscence of the last Palm Sunday. There were two nails in another part of the room, on which some old clothes were hung--that was all. But the deep light of the failing day shed a peaceful halo aver everything, and touched the coarse details of a hardworking existence with the divine light of Heaven.

Lucia's sobbing ceased after a while, and, as the sunset faded into twilight and dusk, the silence grew more profound; the sick man's breathing became lighter, as though in his unconsciousness he were beginning to rest after the day in which he had endured so much. From the sitting-room beyond the short passage the sound of Maria Luisa's voice, moaning in concert with old Assunta, gradually diminished till they were heard only at intervals, and at last ceased altogether. The household of Marzio Pandolfi was hushed in the presence of a great sorrow, and awed by the anticipation of a great misfortune.

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