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not to-night; and when he opened the door he saw the reason. A single dim light was burning above the dying fire, and showed Tessa in a kneeling attitude by the head of the bed where the baby lay. Her head had fallen aside on the pillow, and her brown rosary, which usually hung above the pillow over the picture of the Madonna and the golden palm branches, lay in the loose grasp of her right hand. She had gone fast asleep
rer her beads. Tito stepped lightly across the little room, and sat down close to her. She had probably heard the opening of the door as part of her dream, for he had not been looking at her two moments before she opened her eyes. She opened them without any start, and remained quite motionless looking at him, as if the sense that he was there smiling at her shut out any impulse which could disturb that happy passiveness. But when he put his hand under her chin, and stooped to kiss her, she said:
"I dreamed it, and then I said it was dreaming - and then I awoke, and it was true.”
“Little sinner!” said Tito, pinching her chin, "you have not said half your prayers. I will punish you by not looking at your baby; it is ugly."
Tessa did not like those words, even though Tito was smiling. She had some pouting distress in her face, as she said, bending anxiously over the baby,
“Ah, it is not true! He is prettier than anything. You do not think he is ugly. You will look at him. He is even prettier than when you saw him before - only he's asleep, and you can't see his eyes or his tongue, and I can't show you his hair – and it grows isn't that wonderful? Look at him! It's true his face is very much all alike when he's asleep, there is not so much to see as when he's awake. If you kiss him very gently, he won't wake: you want to kiss him, is it not true?”
He satisfied her by giving the small mummy a butterfly kiss, and then putting his hand on her shoulder and turning her face towards him, said, “You like looking at the baby better than looking at your husband, you false one!”
She was still kneeling, and now rested her hands on his knee, looking up at him like one of Fra Lippo Lippi's roundcheeked adoring angels.
"No," she said, shaking her head; "I love you always best, only I want you to look at the bambino and love him; I used only to want you to love me."
"And did you expect me to come again so soon?” said Tito, inclined to make her prattle. He still felt the effects of the agitation he had undergone, still felt like a man who has been violently jarred, and this was the easiest relief from silence and solitude.
"Ah, no," said Tessa, “I have counted the days - to-day I began at my right thumb again since you put on the beautiful chain coat, that Messer San Michele gave you to take care of you on your journey. And you have got it on now," she said, peeping through the opening in the breast of his tunic. "Perhaps it made you come back sooner.”
"Perhaps it did, Tessa," he said. "But don't mind the coat now. Tell me what has happened since I was here. Did you see the tents in the Prato, and the soldiers and horsemen when they passed the bridges - did
you hear the drums and trumpets?”
“Yes, and I was rather frightened, because I thought the soldiers might come up here. And Monna Lisa was a little afraid too, for she said they might carry our kids off; she said it was their business to do mischief. But the Holy Madonna took care of us, for we never saw one of them up here. But something has happened, only I hardly dare tell you, and that is what I was saying more Aves for.”
“What do you mean, Tessa ?" said Tito, rather anxiously. "Make haste and tell me."
“Yes, but will you let me sit on your knee? because then I think I shall not be so frightened.'
He took her on his knee, and put his arm round her, but looked grave: it seemed that something unpleasant must pursue him even here.
“At first, I didn't mean to tell you," said Tessa, speaking
almost in a whisper, as if that would mitigate the offence; "because we thought the old man would be gone away before you came again, and it would be as if it had not been. But now he is there, and you are come, and I never did anything you told me not to do before. And I want to tell you, and then you will perhaps forgive me, for it is a long while before I go to confession."
“Yes, tell me everything, my Tessa.” He began to hope it was after all a trivial matter.
“Oh, you will be sorry for him: I'm afraid he cries about something when I don't see him. But that was not the reason I went to him first; it was because I wanted to talk to him and show him my baby, and he was a stranger that lived nowhere, and I thought you wouldn't care so much about my talking to him. And I think he is not a bad old
and he wanted to come and sleep on the straw next to the goats, and I made Monna Lisa say, “Yes, he might,' and he's away all the day almost, but when he comes back, I talk to him, and take him something to eat."
“Some beggar, I suppose. It was naughty of you, Tessa, and I am angry with Monna Lisa. I must have him sent away."
“No, I think he is not a beggar, for he wanted to pay Monna Lisa, only she asked him to do work for her instead. And he gets himself shaved, and his clothes are tidy: Monna Lisa says he is a decent man. But sometimes I think he is not in his right mind: Lupo, at Peretola, was not in his right mind, and he looks a little like Lupo sometimes, as if he didn't know where he was.”
“What sort of face has he?” said Tito, his heart beginning to beat strangely. He was so haunted by the thought of Baldassarre, that it was already he whom he saw in imagination sitting on the straw not many yards from him. “Fetch your stool, my Tessa, and sit on it.”
“Shall you not forgive me?" she said, timidly, moving from his knee.
“Yes, I will not be angry only sit down, and tell me what sort of old man this is."
“I can't think how to tell you: he is not like my stepfather Nofri, or anybody. His face is yellow, and he has deep marks in it; and his hair is white, but there is none on the top of his head: and his eyebrows are black, and he looks from under them at me, and says, 'Poor thing!' to me, as if he thought I was beaten as I used to be; and that seems as if he couldn't be in his right mind, doesn't it? And I asked him his name once, but he couldn't tell it me: yet everybody has a
is it not true? And he has a book now, and keeps looking at it ever so long, as if he were a padre. But I think he is not saying prayers, for his lips never move;are angry with me, or is it because you are sorry for the old man?"
Tito's eyes were still fixed on Tessa; but he had ceased to see her, and was only seeing the objects her words suggested. It was this absent glance which frightened her, and she eould not help going to kneel at his side again. But he did not heed her, and she dared not touch him, or speak to him: she knelt, trembling and wondering; and this state of mind suggesting her beads to her, she took them from the floor, and began to tell them again, her pretty lips moving silently, and her blue eyes wide with anxiety and struggling tears.
Tito was quite unconscious of her movements-unconscious of his own attitude: he was in that wrapt state in which a man will grasp painful roughness, and press, and press it closer, and never feel it. Anew possibility had risen before him, which might dissolve at once the wretched conditions of fear and suppression that were marring his life. Destiny had brought within his reach an opportunity of retrieving that moment on the steps of the Duomo, when the Past had grasped him with living quivering hands, and he had disowned it. A few steps, and he might be face to face with his father, with no witness by; he might seek forgiveness and reconciliation; and there was money now, from the sale of the library, to enable them to leave Florence without disclosure, and go into Southern Italy, where, under the probable French rule, he had already laid a foundation for patronage. Romola need never know the whole truth, for she could have no certain means of identifying that prisoner in the Duomo with Baldassarre, or of learning what had taken place on the steps, except from Baldassarre himself; and if his father forgave, he would also consent to bury, that offence.
But with this possibility of relief, by an easy spring, from present evil, there rose the other possibility, that the fiercehearted man might refuse to be propitiated. Well — and if he did, things would only be as they had been before; for there would be no witness by. It was not repentance with a white sheet round it and taper in hand, confessing its hated sin in the eyes of men, that Tito was preparing for: it was a repentance that would make all things pleasant again, and keep all past unpleasant things secret. And Tito's softheartedness, his indisposition to feel himself in harsh relations with any creature, was in strong activity towards his father, now his father was brought near to him. It would be a state of ease that his nature could not but desire, if that poisonous hatred in Baldassarre’s glance could be replaced by something of the old affection and complacency.
Tito longed to have his world once again completely cushioned with good-will, and longed for it the more eagerly because of what he had just suffered from the collision with Romola. It was not difficult to him to smile pleadingly on those whom he had injured, and offer to do them much kindness: and no quickness of intellect could tell him exactly the taste of that honey on the lips of the injured. The opportunity was there, and it raised an inclination which hemmed in the calculating activity of his thought. He started up, and stepped towards the door; but Tessa's cry, as she dropped her beads, roused him from his absorption. He turned and said,
“My Tessa, get me a lantern; and don't cry, little pigeon, I am not angry.
They went down the stairs, and Tessa was going to shout