WAS he thankless?
No. He thanked God.
God was good: so he said from the depths of his soul. Had not the boy his desire? But Bruno said, “God is good,” as the Argive mother said it when, in answer to her prayer for their blessing, her sons were smitten down dead.
She did not doubt the goodness of her gods: nor did he that of his.
But as the woman’s heart was rent in two by the fulfilling of her prayer, so was his now.
Some faint hope had been alive in him which he had hated because it was hope, which he had plucked at to pluck out from his soul as his the basest and meanest of crimes: some faint hope, cruel, irrepressible.
As he went, some men and women coming from the fair, merry and loud‐tongued from wine, tossing their masks by the strings, and flinging white comfits and pellets of chalk one from another up against the closed casements and the iron bars, reeled against him as they passed and recognised him.
“Ah, Bruno, black Bruno!” they called to him, half drunkenly. “There is rare news of your little lad in the city, of Pippa’s son, as you call him. A lion in Venice, a lion with wings! Such a fuss never was. The boy is a great man, just at one leap. Bravo! Why not? We will have his music down in Florence at Easter. If he be your own boy — say so now. Claim him while you can get him. Another year he will be too fine to notice you — oh, they are all the same, those sweet‐throated brids, when they get a nest of gold and a bough of laurel to sing in — che, che! — he will be like the rest.”
Bruno passed them without a blow or word. And yet men had often hurt him less, and all his blood had been in flame, and his steel had been in their flesh.
The maskers, laughing, dashed their chalk up at the grated casements, and reeled noisily through the still sleeping Lastra; he walked away over the bridge, with the mountain wind fierce in his teeth.
The solitary bell of his own little brown church was ringing for the first mass when he reached the hills above the farm of Fiastra, tolling sadly through the grey winter‐fog.
He entered it, and prostrated himself on the stones.
There was no one there save the old priest officiating; the candles burned dully, the white mist had got into the church, and the vapours of it hung about the altar; the voice of the priest seemed to come from a cloud. Some sheep left out all night, forgotten by the shepherd, had crept in and lay huddled together at the foot of one of the pillars; the north wind blew loud without.
Bruno kneeled there in the dampness and the darkness and the bitter cold.
“O God, save the boy always,” he prayed with all the might of his heart. “Do not think of me — if I starve here — if I burn hearafter — it does not matter — I am nothing. Only save the boy.”
So he prayed again and again and again, with his forehead on the stones, and his heart going out to the great unknown powers he believed in with a mortal agony of supplication. The world was as a fiend to him that wrestled with him for the soul of Pippa’s son. Of himself he could do nothing.
Would heaven be on his side?
Would the great quiet angels stir, and come down and have pity?
When the mass was over, and the old priest, thinking the church empty, had gone away to break his fast, the shepherd, seeing his strayed sheep, followed with his dog within the church doors, and found them sleeping together at the foot of the pillar; and found besides them a man stretched face downward, half senseless, in a trance of prayer.
“It is that tall, strong, fierce brute. We thought him made of iron!” said the shepherd, wondering, to his sheepdog.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53