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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMarzio's Crucifix - Chapter 8
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Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 8 Post by :MrRich Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1892

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Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 8


Lucia hastened homewards with the good news she bore. Her young nature was elastic, and, in the sudden happiness of having secured Gianbattista's recall, she quickly recovered from the shock she had received. She did not reflect very much, for she had not the time. It had all happened so quickly that her senses were confused, and she only knew that the man she loved must be in despair, and that the sooner she reached him the sooner she would be able to relieve him from what he must be suffering. Her breath came fast as she reached the top of the stairs, and she panted as she rang the bell of the lodging. Apparently she had rung so loud in her excitement as to rouse the suspicions of old Assunta, who cautiously peered through the little square that opened behind a grating in the door, before she raised the latch. On seeing Lucia she began to laugh, and opened quickly.

"So loud!" chuckled the old thing. "I thought it was the police or Sor Marzio in a rage."

Lucia did not heed her, but ran quickly on to the sitting-room, where the Signora Pandolfi was alone, seated on her straight chair and holding her bonnet in her hand, the bonnet with the purple glass grapes; she was the picture of despair. Lucia made haste to comfort her.

"Do not cry, mamma," she said quickly. "I have arranged it all. I have seen papa. I have brought Tista's money. Papa wants him to stay after all. Yes--I know you cannot guess how it all happened. I went in to ask about the chickens, and then I asked about Tista, and he told me that I should not see him any more, and then--then I felt this passion--here in the chest, and everything went round and round and round like a whirligig at the Termini, and I fell right down, mamma, down upon the bricks--I know, my frock is all dusty still, here, look, and here, but what does it matter? Patience! I fell down like a sack of flour--_pata tunfate_!"

"T-t-t-t!" exclaimed the Signora Pandolfi, holding up her hands and drawing in her breath as she clacked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "T-t-t-t! What a pity!"

"And when I came to my senses--I had fainted, you understand--I was sitting on the old straw chair and papa was holding my hands in his and calling me his angel! _Capperi_! But it was worth while. You can imagine the situation when he called me an angel! It is the first time I have ever fainted, mamma--you have no idea--it was so curious!"

"Ah, my dear, it must have softened his heart!" cried Maria Luisa. "If I could only faint away like that once in a while! Who knows? He might be converted. But what would you have?" The signora glanced down sadly at her figure, which certainly suggested no such weakness as she seemed to desire. "Well, Lucia," she continued, "and then?"

"Yes, I talked to him, I implored him, I told him I should probably faint again, and, indeed, I felt like it. So he said I might have my way, and he told me to come home and tell Tista at once. Where is Tista?"

"Eh! He is in his room, packing up his things. I will go and call him. Oh dear! What a wonderful day this is, my child! To think that it is not yet eleven o'clock, and all that has happened! It is enough to make a woman crazy, fit to send to Santo Spirito. First you are to be married, and then you are not to be married! Then Gianbattista is sent away--after all these years, and such a good boy! And then he is taken back! And then--but the chickens, Lucia, you forgot to ask about the chickens--"

"Not a bit of it," answered the young girl. "I asked first, before he told me. Afterwards, I don't know--I should not have had the strength to speak of chickens. He said roasted, mamma. Poor Tista! He likes them with rice. Well, one cannot have everything in this world."

The Signora Pandolfi had reached the door, and called out at the top of her voice to the young man.

"Tista! Tista!" She could have been heard in the street.

"Eh, Sora Luisa! We are not in the Piazza Navona," said Gianbattista, appearing at the door of his little room. "What has happened?"

"Go and talk to Lucia," answered the good lady, hurrying off in search of Assunta to tell her the decision concerning the dinner.

Gianbattista entered the sitting-room, and, from the young girl's radiant expression, he guessed that some favourable change had taken place in his position, or in the positions of them both. Lucia began to tell him what had passed, and gave much the same account as she had given to her mother, though some of the intonations were softer, and accompanied by looks which told her happiness. When she had explained the situation she paused for an answer. Gianbattista stood beside her and held her hand, but he looked out of the window, as though uncertain what to say.

"Here is the money," said Lucia. "You will take it, won't you? Then it will be all settled. What is the matter, Tista? Are you not glad?"

"I do not trust him," answered the young man. "It is not like him to change his mind like that, all in a minute. He means some mischief."

"What can he do?"

"I do not know. I feel as if some evil were coming. Patience! Who knows? You are an angel, Lucia, darling."

"Everybody is telling me so to-day," answered the young girl. "Papa, you--"

"Of course. It is quite true, my heart, and so every one repeats it. What do you think? Will he come home to dinner? It is only eleven o'clock--perhaps I ought to go back and work at the ewer. Somehow I do not want to see him just now--"

"Stay with me, Tista. Besides, you were packing up your belongings to go away. You have a right to take an hour to unpack them. Tell me, what is this idea you have that papa is not in earnest? I want to understand it. He was quite in earnest just now--so good, so good, like sugar! Is it because you are still angry with him, that you do not want to see him?"

"No--why should I still be angry? He has made reparation. After all, I took a certain liberty with him."

"That is all the more reason. If he is willing to forget it--but I could tell you something, Tista, something that would persuade you."

"What is it, my treasure?" asked Gianbattista with a smile, bending down to look into her eyes.

"Oh, something very wonderful, something of which you would never dream. I could scarcely believe my eyes. Imagine, when I went to find him just now, the door was open. I looked through before I went in, to see if you were there. Do you know what papa was doing? He was kneeling on the floor before a beautiful crucifix, such a beautiful one. I think he was saying prayers, but I could not see his face. He stayed a long time, and then when I knocked he covered it up, was not that strange? That is the reason why I persuaded him so easily to change his mind."

Gianbattista smiled incredulously. He had often seen Marzio kneel on the floor to get a different view of a large piece of work.

"He was only looking at the work," he answered. "I have seen him do it very often. He would laugh if he could hear you, Lucia. Do you imagine he is such a man as that? Perhaps it would not do him any harm--a little praying. But it is a kind of medicine he does not relish. No, Lucia, you have been deceived, believe me."

The girl's expression changed. She had quite persuaded herself that a great moral change had taken place in her father that morning, and had built many hopes upon it. To her sanguine imagination it seemed as though his whole nature must have changed. She had seen visions of him as she had always wished he might be, and the visions had seemed likely to be realised. She had doubted whether she should tell any one the story of what she regarded as Marzio's conversion, but she had made an exception in favour of Gianbattista. Gianbattista simply laughed, and explained the matter away in half a dozen words. Lucia was more deeply disappointed than any one, listening to her light talk, could have believed possible. Her face expressed the pain she felt, and she protested against the apprentice's explanation.

"It is too bad of you, Tista," she said in hurt tones. "But I do not think you are right. You have no idea how quietly he knelt, and his hands were folded on the bench. He bent his head once, and I believe he kissed the feet--I wish you could have seen it, you would not doubt me. You think I have invented a silly tale, I am sure you do."

The tears filled her eyes as she turned away and stared vacantly out of the window at the dark houses opposite. The sun, which had been shining until that moment, disappeared behind a mass of driving clouds, and a few drops of rain began to beat against the panes of glass. The world seemed suddenly more dreary to Lucia. Gianbattista, who was sensitive where she was concerned, looked at her, and understood that he had destroyed something in which she had wished to believe.

"Well, well, my heart, perhaps you are right," he said softly, putting his arm round her.

"No, you do not believe it," she answered.

"For you, I will believe in anything, in everything--even in Sor Marzio's devotions," he said, pressing her to his side. "Only--you see, darling, he was talking in such a way a few moments before--that it seemed impossible--"

"Nothing is quite impossible," replied Lucia. "The heart beats fast. There may be a whole world between one beat and the next."

"Yes, my love," assented Gianbattista, looking tenderly into her eyes. "But do you think that between all the beatings of our two hearts there could ever be a world of change?"

"Ah--that is different, Tista. Why should we change? We could only change for worse if we began to love each other less, and that is impossible. But papa! Why should he not change for the better? Who can tell you, Tista, dear, that in a moment, in a second, after you were gone, he was not sorry for all he had done? It may have been in an instant. Why not?"

"Things done so very quickly are not done well," answered the young man. "I know that from my art. You may stamp a thing in a moment with the die--it is rough, unfinished. It takes weeks to chisel it--"

"The good God is not a chiseller, Tista."

The words fell very simply from the young girl's lips, and the expression of her face did not change. Only the tone of her voice was grave and quiet, and there was a depth of conviction in it which struck Gianbattista forcibly. In a short sentence she had defined the difference between his mode of thought and her own. To her mind omnipotence was a reality. To him, it was an inconceivable power, the absurdity of which he sought to demonstrate by comparing the magnitude claimed for it with the capacities of man. He remained silent for a moment, as though seeking an answer. He found none, and what he said expressed an aspiration and not a retort.

"I sometimes wish that I could believe as you do," he said. "I am sure I could do much greater things, make much more beautiful angels, if I were quite sure that they existed."

"Of course you could," answered Lucia. Then, with a tact beyond her years, she changed the subject of their talk. She would not endanger the durability of his aspiration by discussing it. "To go back to what we were speaking of," she said, "you will go to the workshop this afternoon, Tista, won't you?"

"Yes," he said mechanically. "What else should I do? Oh, Lucia, my darling, I cannot bear this uncertainty," he cried, suddenly giving vent to his feelings. "Where will it end? He may have changed, he may be all you say he is to-day, all that he was not yesterday, but do you really believe he has given up his wild idea? It is not all as it should be, and that is not his nature. It will come upon us suddenly with something we do not expect. He will do something--I cannot tell what, but I know him better than you do. He is cruel, he plots over his work, and then, when all seems calm, the storm breaks. It will not end well."

"We must love each other, Tista. Then all will end well. Who can divide us?"

"No one," answered the young maid firmly. "But many things may happen before we are united for ever."

He was not subject to presentiments, and his self-confident nature abhorred the prospect of trouble. He had arrived at his conclusion by a logical process, and there seemed no escape from it. As he had told Lucia, he knew the character of the chiseller better than the women of the household could know it, for he had been his constant companion for years, and was not to be deceived in his estimate of Marzio's temper. A man's natural disposition shows itself most clearly when he is in his natural element, at his work, busied in the ordinary occupations of his life. To such a man as Marzio, the workshop is more sympathetic than the house. Disagreeing on most points with his family, obliged to be absent during the whole day, wholly absorbed in the production of works which the women of his household could not thoroughly appreciate, because they did not thoroughly understand the ideas which originated them, nor the methods employed in their execution--under these combined circumstances it was to be expected that the artist's real feelings would find expression at the work-bench rather than in the society of his wife and daughter. Seated by Marzio's side, and learning from him all that could be learned, Gianbattista had acquired at the same time a thorough knowledge of his instincts and emotions, which neither Maria Luisa nor Lucia was able to comprehend.

Marzio was tenacious of his ideas and of his schemes. Deficient in power of initiative and in physical courage, he was obstinate beyond all belief in his adherence to his theories. That he should suddenly yield to a devotional impulse, fall upon his knees before a crucifix and cry _mea culpa over his whole past life, was altogether out of the question. In Gianbattista's opinion it was almost as impossible that he should abandon in a moment the plan which he had announced with so much resolution on the previous evening. It was certain that before declaring his determination to marry his daughter to the lawyer he must have ruminated and planned during many days, as it was his habit to do in all the matters of his life, without consulting any one, or giving the slightest hint of his intention. Some part of his remarkable talent depended upon this faculty of thoroughly considering a resolution before proceeding to carry it out; and it is a part of every really great talent in every branch of creative art, for it is the result of a great continuity in the action of the mind combined with the power of concentration and the virtue of reticence. Many a work has appeared to the world to be the spontaneous creation of transcendent genius, which has, in reality, been conceived, studied, and elaborated during years of silence. Reticence, concentration, and continuity, are characteristics which cannot influence one part of a man's life without influencing the rest as well. The habit of studying before proceeding is co-existent with the necessity of considering before acting; and a man who is reticent concerning one half of his thoughts is not communicative about the other half. Nature does not do things by halves, and the nerves which animate the gesture at the table are the same which guide the chisel at the work-bench.

Gianbattista understood Marzio's character, and in his mind tried to construct the future out of the present. He endeavoured to follow out what he supposed to be the chiseller's train of thought to its inevitable conclusion, and the more he reflected on the situation the more certain he became that Lucia's hypothesis was untenable. It was not conceivable, under any circumstances whatever, that Marzio should suddenly turn into a gentle, forgiving creature, anxious only for the welfare of others, and willing to sacrifice his own inclinations and schemes to that laudable end.

At twelve o'clock, Marzio appeared, cold, silent, and preoccupied. His manner did not encourage the idea entertained by Lucia, though the girl explained it to herself on the ground that her father was ashamed of having yielded so easily, and was unwilling to have it thought that he was too good-natured. There was truth in her idea, and it showed a good deal of common sense and appreciation of character. But it was not the whole truth. Marzio not only felt humiliated at having suffered himself to be overcome by his daughter's entreaties; he regretted it, and wished he could undo what he had done. It was too late, however. To change his mind a second time would be to show such weakness as his family had never witnessed in his actions.

He ate his food in silence, and the rest of the party ventured but few remarks. They inwardly congratulated themselves upon the favourable issue of the affair, in so far as it could be said to have reached a conclusion, and they all dreaded equally some fresh outburst of anger, should Marzio's temper be ruffled. Gianbattista himself set the example of discretion. As for the Signora Pandolfi, she had ready in her pocket the money her husband had given her in the morning for the purchase of Lucia's outfit, and she hoped at every moment that Marzio would ask for it, which would have been a sign that he had abandoned the idea of the marriage with Carnesecchi. But Marzio never mentioned the subject. He ate as quickly as he could, swallowed a draught of weak wine and water, and rose from the table without a word. With a significant nod to Maria Luisa and Lucia, Gianbattista left his seat and followed the artist towards the door. Marzio looked round sharply as he heard the steps behind him.

"Lucia told me," said the young man simply. "If you wish it, I will come and work."

Marzio hesitated a moment, beating his soft felt hat over his arm to remove the dust.

"You can go with the men and put up the prince's grating," he said at last. "The right hand side is ready fitted. If you work hard you can finish it before night."

"Very well," answered Gianbattista. "I will see to it. I have the keys here. In fire minutes I will come across."

Marzio nodded and went out. Gianbattista returned to the room where the women were finishing their dinner.

"It is all right," he said. "I am to put up the grating this afternoon. Will you come and see it, Sora Luisa?" He spoke to the mother, but he included the daughter by his look.

"It is very far," objected the Signora Pandolfi, "and we have been walking so much this morning. I think this day will never end!"

"Courage, mamma," said Lucia, "it will do you good to walk. Besides, there is the omnibus. What did he say, Tista? Am I not right?"

"Who knows? He is very quiet," replied the apprentice.

"What is it? What are you right about, my heart?" asked Maria Luisa.

"She thinks Sor Marzio has suddenly turned into a sugar doll," answered Gianbattista, with a laugh. "It may be. They say they make sugar out of all sorts of things nowadays."

"_Capperi! It would be hard!" exclaimed Maria Luisa. "If there is enough sugar in him to sweeten a teaspoonful of coffee, write to me," she added ironically.

"Well--I shall be at the church in an hour, but it will be time enough if you come at twenty-three o'clock--between twenty-two and twenty-three." This means between one hour and two hours before sunset. "The light is good then, for there is a big west window," added Gianbattista in explanation.

"We will come before that," said Lucia. "Good-bye, Tista, and take care not to catch cold in that damp place."

"And you too," he answered, "cover yourselves carefully."

With this injunction, and a parting wave of the hand, he left the house, affecting a gay humour he did not really feel. His invitation to the two women to join him in the church had another object besides that of showing them the magnificent gilded grating which was to be put in place. Gianbattista feared that Marzio had sent him upon this business for the sake of getting him out of the way, and he did not know what might happen in his absence. The artist might perhaps choose that time for going in search of Gasparo Carnesecchi in order to bring him to the house and precipitate the catastrophe which the apprentice still feared, in spite of the last events of the morning. It was not unusual for Maria Luisa and her daughter to accompany him and Marzio when a finished work was to be set up, and Gianbattista knew that there could be no reasonable objection to such, a proceeding.

With an anxious heart he left the house and crossed the street to the workshop where the men were already waiting for the carts which were to convey the heavy grating to its destination. The pieces were standing against the walls, wrapped in tow and brown paper, and immense parcels lay tied up upon the benches. It was a great piece of work of the decorative kind, but of the sort for which Marzio cared little. Great brass castings were chiselled and finished according to his designs without his touching them with his hands. Huge twining arabesques of solid metal were prepared in pieces and fitted together with screws that ran easily in the thread, and then were taken apart again. Then came the laborious work of gilding by the mercury process, smearing every piece very carefully with an amalgam of mercury and gold, and putting it into a gentle, steady fire, until the mercury had evaporated, tearing only the dull gold in an even deposit on the surfaces. Then the finishing, the burnishing of the high lights, and the cleaning of the portions which were to remain dull. Sometimes the gilding of a piece failed, and had to be begun again, and there was endless trouble in saving the gold, as well as in preventing the workmen from stealing the amalgam. It was slow and troublesome work, and Marzio cared little for it, though his artistic instinct restrained him from allowing it to leave the workshop until it had been perfected to the highest degree.

At present the artist stood in the outer room among the wrapped pieces, his pipe in his mouth and his hands in his pockets. A moment after Gianhattista had entered, two carts rolled up to the door and the loading began.

"Take the drills and some screws to spare," said Marzio, looking into the bag of tools the foreman had prepared. "One can never tell in these monstrous things."

"It will be the first time, if we have to drill a new hole after you have fitted a piece of work, Maestro Marzio," answered the foreman, who had an unlimited admiration for his master's genius and foresight.

"Never mind; do as I tell you. We may all make mistakes in this world," returned the artist, giving utterance to a moral sentiment which did not influence him beyond the precincts of the workshop. The workman obeyed, and added the requisite instruments to the furnishing of his leather bag.

"And be careful, Tista," added Marzio, turning to the apprentice. "Look to the sockets in the marble when you place the large pieces. Measure them with your compass, you know; if they are too loose you have the thin plates of brass to pack them; if they are tight, file away, but finish and smooth it well Don't leave anything rough."

Gianbattista nodded as he lent a helping hand to the workmen who were carrying the heavy pieces to the carts.

"Will you come to the church before night?" he asked.

"Perhaps. I cannot tell. I am very busy."

In ten minutes the pieces were all piled upon the two vehicles, and Gianbattista strode away on foot with the workmen. He had not thought of changing his dress, and had merely thrown an old overcoat over his grey woollen blouse. For the time, he was an artisan at work. When working hours were over, and on Sundays, he loved to put on the stiff high collar and the cheeked clothes which suggested the garments of the English tourist. He was then a different person, and, in accordance with the change, he would smoke a cigarette and pull his cuffs over his hands, like a real gentleman, adjusting the angle of his hat from time to time, and glancing at his reflection in the shop windows as he passed along. But work was work; it was a pity to spoil good clothes with handling tools and castings, and jostling against the men, and, moreover, the change affected his nature. He could not handle a hammer or a chisel when he felt like a real gentleman, and when he felt like an artisan he must enjoy the liberty of being able to tuck up his sleeves and work with a will. At the present moment, too, he was proud of being in sole charge of the work, and he could not help thinking what a fine thing it would be to be married to Lucia and to be the master of the workshop. With the sanguine enthusiasm of a very young man who loves his occupation, he put his whole soul into what he was to do, assured that every skilful stroke of the hammer, every difficulty overcome, brought him nearer to the woman he loved.

Marzio entered the inner studio when Gianbattista was gone, leaving a boy who was learning to cut little files--the preliminary to the chiseller's profession--in charge of the outer workshop. The artist shut himself in and bolted the door, glad to be alone with the prospect of not being disturbed during the whole afternoon. He seemed not to hesitate about the work he intended to do, for he immediately took in hand the crucifix, laid it upon the table, and began to study it, using a lens from time to time as he scrutinised each detail. His rough hair fell forward over his forehead, and his shoulders rounded themselves till he looked almost deformed.

He had suffered very strong emotions during the last twenty-four hours--enough to have destroyed the steadiness of an ordinary man's hand; but with Marzio manual skill was the first habit of nature, and it would have been hard to find a mental impression which could shake his physical nerves. His mind, however, worked rapidly and almost fiercely, while his eyes searched the minute lines of the work he was examining.

Uppermost in his thoughts was a confused sense of humiliation and of exasperation against his brother. The anger he felt had nearly been expressed in a murderous deed not more than two or three hours earlier, and the wish to strike was still present in his mind. He twisted his lips into an ugly smile as he recalled the scene in every detail; but the determination was different from the reality and more in accordance with his feelings. He realised again that moment during which he had held the sharp instrument over his brother's head, and the thought which had then passed so rapidly through his brain recurred again with increased clearness. He remembered that beneath the iron-bound box in the corner there was a trap-door which descended to the unused cellar, for his workshop had in former times been a wine-shop, and he had hired the cellar with it. One sharp blow would have done the business. A few quick movements and Paolo's body would have been thrown down the dark steps beneath, the trap closed again, the safe replaced in its position. It was eleven o'clock then, or thereabouts. He would have sent the workmen to their dinner, and would have returned to the inner studio. They would have supposed afterwards that Don Paolo had left the place with him. He would have gone home and would have said that Paolo had left him--or, no--he would have said that Paolo had not been there, for some one might see him leave the workshop alone. In the night he would have returned, his family thinking he had gone to meet his friends, as he often did. When the streets were quiet he would have carried the body away upon the hand-cart that stood in the entry of the outer room. It was not far--scarcely three hundred yards, allowing for the turnings--to the place where the Via Montella ends in a mud bank by the dark river. A deserted neighbourhood, too--a turn to the left, the low trees of the Piazza de' Branca, the dark, short, straight street to the water. At one o'clock after midnight who was stirring? It would all have been so simple, so terribly effectual.

And then there would have been no more Paolo, no more domestic annoyances, no more of the priest's smooth-faced disapprobation and perpetual opposition in the house. He would have soon brought Maria Luisa and Lucia to reason. What could they do without the support of Paolo? They were only women after all. As for Gianbattista, if once the poisonous influence of Paolo were removed--and how surely removed!--Marzio's lips twisted as though he were tasting the sourness of failure, like an acid fruit--if once the priest were gone, Gianbattista would come back to his old ways, to his old scorn of priests in general, of churches, of oppression, of everything that Marzio hated. He might marry Lucia then, and be welcome. After all, he was a finer fellow for the pretty girl than Gasparo Carnesecchi, with his claw fingers and his vinegar salad. That was only a farce, that proposal about the lawyer--the real thing was to get rid of Paolo. There could be no healthy liberty of thought in the house while this fellow was sneaking in and out at all hours. Tumble Paolo into a quiet grave--into the river with a sackful of old castings at his neck--there would be peace then, and freedom. Marzio ground his teeth as he thought how nearly he had done the thing, and how miserably he had failed. It had been the inspiration of the moment, and the details had appeared clear at once to his mind. Going over them he found that he had not been mistaken. If Paolo came again, and he had the chance, he would do it. It was perhaps all the better that he had found time to weigh the matter.

But would Paolo come again? Would he ever trust himself alone in the workshop? Had he guessed, when he turned so suddenly and saw the weapon in the air, that the blow was on the very point of descending? Or had he been deceived by the clumsy excuse Marzio had made about the sum shining in his eyes?

He had remained calm, or Marzio tried to think so. But the artist himself had been so much moved during the minutes that followed that he could hardly feel sure of Paolo's behaviour. It was a chilling thought, that Paolo might have understood and might have gone away feeling that his life had been saved almost by a miracle. He would not come back, the cunning priest, in that case; he would not risk his precious skin in such company. It was not to be expected--a priest was only human, after all, like any other man. Marzio cursed his ill luck again as he bent over his work. What a moment this would be if Paolo would take it into his head to make another visit! Even the men were gone. He would send the one boy who remained to the church where Gianbattista was working, with a message. They would be alone then, he and Paolo. The priest might scream and call for help--the thick walls would not let any sound through them. It would be even better than in the morning, when he had lost his opportunity by a moment, by the twinkling of an eye.

"They say hell is paved with good intentions--or lost opportunities," muttered Marzio. "I will send Paolo with the next opportunity to help in the paving."

He laughed softly at his grim joke, and bent lower over the crucifix. By this time he had determined what to do, for his reflections had not interfered with his occupation. Removing two tiny silver screws which fitted with the utmost exactness in the threads, he loosened the figure from the cross, removed the latter to a shelf on the wall, and returning laid the statue on a soft leathern pad, surrounding it with sand-bags till it was propped securely in the position he required. Then he took a very small chisel, adjusted it with the greatest care, and tapped upon it with the round wooden handle of his little hammer. At each touch he examined the surface with his lens to assure himself that he was making the improvement he contemplated. It was very delicate work, and as he did it he felt a certain pride in the reflection that he could not have detected the place where improvement was possible when he had worked upon the piece ten years ago. He found it now, in the infinitesimal touches upon the expression of the face, in the minute increase in the depressions and accentuated lines in the anatomy of the figure. As he went over each portion he became more and more certain that though he could not at present do better in the way of idea and general execution, he had nevertheless gained in subtle knowledge of effects and in skill of handling the chisel upon very delicate points. The certainty gave him the real satisfaction of legitimate pride. He knew that he had reached the zenith of his capacities. His old wish to keep the crucifix for himself began to return.

If he disposed of Paolo he might keep his work. Only Paolo had seen it. The absurd want of logic in the conclusion did not strike him. He had not pledged himself to his brother to give this particular crucifix to the Cardinal, and if he had, he could easily have found a reason for keeping it back. But he was too much accustomed to think that Paolo was always in the way of his wishes, to look at so simple a matter in such a simple light.

"It is strange," he said to himself. "The smallest things seem to point to it. If he would only come!"

Again his mind returned to the contemplation of the deed, and again he reviewed all the circumstances necessary for its safe execution. What an inspiration, he thought, and what a pity it had not found shape in fact at the very moment when it had presented itself! He considered why he had never thought of it before, in all the years, as a means of freeing himself effectually from the despotism he detested. It was a despotism, he reflected, and no other word expressed it. He recalled many scenes in his home, in which Paolo had interfered. He remembered how one Sunday, in the afternoon, they had all been together before going to walk in the Corso, and how he had undertaken to demonstrate to Maria Luisa and Lucia the folly of wasting time in going to church on Sundays. He had argued gently and reasonably, he thought. But suddenly Paolo had interrupted him, saying that he would not allow Marzio to compare a church to a circus, nor priests to mountebanks and tight-rope dancers. Why not? Then the women had begun to scream and cry, and to talk of his blasphemous language until he could not hear himself speak. It was Paolo's fault. If Paolo had not been there the women would have listened patiently enough, and would doubtless have reaped some good from his reasonable discourse. On another occasion Marzio had declared that Lucia should never be taught anything about Christianity, that the definition of God was reason, that Garibaldi had baptized one child in the name of Reason and that he, Marzio, could baptize another quite as effectually. Paolo had interfered, and Maria Luisa had screamed. The contest had lasted nearly a month, at the end of which tune, Marzio had been obliged to abandon the uneven contest, vowing vengeance in some shape for the future.

Many and many such scenes rose to his memory, and in every one Paolo was the opposer, the enemy of his peace, the champion of all that he hated and despised. In great things and small his brother had been his antagonist from his early manhood, through eighteen years of married life to the present day. And yet, without Paolo, he could hardly have hoped to find himself in his present state of fortune.

This was one of the chief sources of his humiliation in his own eyes. With such a character as his, it is eminently true that it is harder to forgive a benefit than an injury. He might have felt less bitterly against his brother if he had not received at his hands the orders and commissions which had turned into solid money in the bank. It was hard to face Paolo, knowing that he owed two-thirds of his fortune to such a source. If he could get rid of the priest he would be relieved at once from the burden of this annoyance, of this financial subjection, as well of all that embittered his life. He pictured to himself his wife and daughter listening respectfully to his harangues and beginning to practise his principles, Gianbattista, an eloquent member of the society in the inner room of the old inn, reformed, purged from his sneaking fondness for Paolo--since Paolo would not be in the world any longer--and ultimately married to Lucia, the father of children who should all be baptized in the name of Reason, and the worthy successor of himself, Marzio Pandolfi.

Scrutinising the statue under his lens, he detected a slight imperfection in the place where one of the sharp thorns touched the silver forehead of the beautiful, tortured head. He looked about for a tool fine enough for the work, but none suited his wants. He took up the long fine-pointed punch he had thrown back upon the table after the scene in the morning. It was too long, and over sharp, but by turning it sideways it would do the work under his dexterous fingers.

"Strange!" he muttered, as he tapped upon the tool. "It is like a consecration!"

When he had made the stroke he dropped the instrument into the pocket of his blouse, as though fearing to lose it. He had no occasion to use it again, though he went on with his work during several hours.

The thoughts which had passed through his brain recurred, and did not diminish in clearness. On the contrary, it was as though the passing impulse of the morning had grown during those short hours into a settled and unchangeable resolution. Once he rose from his stool, and going to the corner, dragged away the iron-bound safe from its place. A rusty ring lay flat in a little hollow in the surface of the trap-door. Marzio bent over it with a pale face and gleaming eyes. It seemed to him as though, if he looked round, he should see Paolo's body lying on the floor, ready to be dropped into the space below. He raised the wood and set the trap back against the wall, peering down into the black depths. A damp smell came up to his nostrils from the moist staircase. He struck a match, and held it into the opening, to see in what direction the stairs led down.

Something moved behind him and made a little noise. With a short cry of horror Marzio sprang back from the opening and looked round. It was as though the body of the murdered man had stirred upon the floor. His overstrained imagination terrified him, and his eyes started from his head. He examined the bench and saw the cause of the sound in a moment. The silver Christ, unsteadily propped in the position in which he had just placed it, had fallen upon one side of the pad by its own weight.

Marzio's heart still beat desperately as he went back to the hole and carefully reclosed the trap-door, dragging the heavy safe to its position over the ring. Trembling violently, he sat down upon his stool and wiped the cold perspiration from his forehead. Then, as he laid the figure upon the cushion, he glanced uneasily behind him and at the corner.

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Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 9 Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 9

Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 9
CHAPTER IXWhen Don Paolo had shut the door of the studio and found himself once more in the open street, he felt a strangely unpleasant sensation about the heart, and for a few moments he was very pale. He had suffered a shock, and in spite of his best efforts to explain away what had occurred, he knew that he had been in danger. Any one who, being himself defenceless, has suddenly seen a pistol pointed at him in earnest, or a sharp weapon raised in the air to strike him, knows the feeling well enough. Probably he has afterwards tried

Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 7 Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 7

Marzio's Crucifix - Chapter 7
CHAPTER VIIWhen Don Paolo left the workshop, he immediately crossed over and entered the street door of Marzio's house, intending to tell Maria Luisa and Lucia the result of the interview. He had not got to the top of the first flight of stairs when he heard Gianbattista's step behind him, and turning he saw the young man's angry face. "What is the matter, Tista?" asked the priest, stopping on the steps and laying his hand on the iron railing. "I am discharged, turned out, insulted by that animal!" answered the apprentice hotly. "He is like a piece of wood! You