Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Home Tragedy
By Giovanni Verga (1840–1922)
CASA ORLANDI was all at sixes and sevens. The young Countess Bice was in a slow decline. Some attributed the disease to constitutional feebleness; others to some deep-seated disorder.  1
  In the large bedroom where the lights were turned low, although all that part of the town was illuminated as if for a festival, the mother, pale as a sheet, was sitting beside the sickbed waiting for the doctor to come. She held in her feverish hand her daughter’s thin and glowing hand, and was talking to her in that caressing accent and with that put-on smile wherewith we try to reply to the anxious and scrutinizing look of those who are seriously ill. Melancholy conversations were these, which under a pretended calmness concealed the dread of a fatal disease which was hereditary in the family, and had threatened the countess herself after Bice was born; which brought back the recollection of the hours of anxiety and worry attendant on the infancy of the delicate little girl, and the worry caused by the cruel presentiments which had almost choked down the woman’s natural mother-love, and palliated the husband’s first steps astray—that husband who had died young of a wasting illness, during which he had suffered for years confined to his easy-chair.  2
  Later, another passion had caused the widow to bloom out in fresh youth. She had faded somewhat prematurely, what with the cares of the feeble infant, and of that husband who was the embodiment of a living death: it was a deep and secret affection, a cause of uneasiness and jealousy, mingling itself with all her mundane joys and apparently thriving upon them, and refining them, rendering them more subtile, more intense, like a delicate delight perfuming everything—a festa, a society woman’s triumph.  3
  Then suddenly this other threatening cloud had arisen—her daughter’s illness darkening the bright skies of her happiness, and seeming to spread over the heavy curtains of the sick girl’s bed, and to stretch out until it met with those former dark days;—her husband’s long death struggle; the grave and anxious face of the very same physician who had been in charge of the other case; the tick-tock of the same clock which had marked the hours of death, and now filled the whole chamber, the whole house, with a gloomy presentiment. The words of the mother and of the daughter, though they tried to seem calm and gay, died away like a sigh in the shadow of the infinite vault.  4
  Suddenly the electric bell echoed through a long suite of brilliant but deserted rooms.  5
  A silent servant walking on his tiptoes preceded the doctor, who was an old family friend, and seemed to be the only calm person, while all the rest were full of anxiety. The countess stood up, unable to hide her nervous agitation.  6
  “Good evening. I’m a little late to-day. I am just finishing my round of calls. And how is the young lady?”  7
  He had taken his seat by the bedside. Then when he had asked to have the shade removed from the lamp, he began his examination of the invalid, holding between his white, fat fingers the girl’s colorless, delicate wrist, and asking her the usual questions.  8
  The countess replied with a slight tremor of anxiety in her voice; Bice with monosyllables in a feeble tone, keeping her bright restless eyes fixed on the doctor.  9
  In the reception-room was heard the subdued sound of the bell several times repeated, announcing other visitors; and the chambermaid entered like a shadow to whisper into the countess’s ear the names of the intimate friends who had come to inquire after the young countess.  10
  Suddenly the doctor raised his head:—  11
  “Who is it that just entered the drawing-room?” he asked with a certain vivacity.  12
  “Marquis Danei,” replied the countess.  13
  “The usual medicine for to-night,” continued the doctor, as if he had forgotten what he had asked. “We must take notice at what hour the fever begins. Otherwise there is nothing new. We must give time for the cure.”  14
  But he did not take his fingers off the girl’s wrist, and he fixed a scrutinizing look on her. She had closed her eyes. The mother waited anxiously. For a moment her daughter’s brilliant eyes looked into hers, and then a sudden flush of color glowed in Bice’s face.  15
  “For heaven’s sake, doctor, for heaven’s sake!” exclaimed the countess in a supplicating voice, as she accompanied the doctor into the drawing-room, paying no attention to the friends and relatives who were waiting there chattering in low voices, “how do you think my daughter is this evening? Tell me the truth.”  16
  “Nothing new,” he replied; “the usual touch of fever, the usual nervous disturbance.”  17
  But as soon as they had reached a small room on one side, he planted himself directly in front of the countess, and said brusquely:—  18
  “Your daughter is in love with this Signor Danei.”  19
  The countess uttered not a word in reply. Only she grew horribly pale, and instinctively put her hand to her heart.  20
  “I have been suspecting it for some time,” continued the doctor, with a sort of harsh outspokenness. “Now I am sure of it. It makes a complication in her illness which on account of the patient’s extreme sensitiveness at this moment might become serious. We must think it over.”  21
  “He!”  22
  That was the first word that escaped from the countess’s lips. It seemed to be spoken outside of her.  23
  “Yes: her pulse told me so. Has she never shown any sign of it? Have you never suspected anything of the sort?”  24
  “Never! Bice is so timid—so—”  25
  “Does the Marquis Danei come to the house often?”  26
  The poor woman, under the keen penetrating eyes of this man who seemed to have assumed the importance of a judge, stammered, “Y-yes.”  27
  “We doctors sometimes have the cure of souls,” added the doctor with a smile. “Perhaps it was a fortunate thing that he came while I was here.”  28
  “But all hope is not lost, is it, doctor?—for the love of God!”  29
  “No. It depends on circumstances. Good evening.”  30
  The countess remained a moment in that same room, which was almost dark, wiping with her handkerchief the cold perspiration that stood out on her temples. Then she went back through the drawing-room swiftly, greeting her friends with a nod, and scarcely looking at Danei, who was in a corner among the intimates.  31
  “Bice! My daughter! The doctor thinks you are better to-day: did you know it?”  32
  “Yes, mama!” replied the girl gently, with that heart-chilling indifference characteristic of those who are very ill.  33
  “Some of our friends are here; they came on your account. Would you like to see any of them?”  34
  “Who are here?”  35
  “Well, a number of them: your aunt Augusta, Signor Danei. Shall they come in for a little moment?”  36
  Bice closed her eyes as if she were tired out, and she was so pale that in the semi-darkness a faint tint of pink could be seen mounting to her cheek.  37
  “No, mama, I do not wish to see any one.”  38
  Through her closed eyelids, delicate as rose-leaves, she felt her mother’s keen and sorrowful eyes fixed upon her. Suddenly she opened them, and flung her slender trembling arms around her neck with an inexpressible mingling of confusion, tenderness, and vexation. Mother and daughter held each other long in a close embrace, without saying a word, weeping tears which they would have been glad to hide….  39
  The relatives and friends who were anxiously waiting to hear about the invalid had the usual report from the countess, who stood right in the middle of the drawing-room, unable to repress an inward tension that now and again cut her breath short. When they had all taken their departure, she and Danei remained face to face. Many times during Bice’s illness they had been left alone together for a little time, as they were now, in the window recess, exchanging a few words of comfort and hope, or absorbed in a silence that blended their thoughts and minds in the same painful preoccupation; sad and precious moments, in which she gained the courage and the power to re-enter into the close and lugubrious atmosphere of the sick-room with a smile of encouragement.  40
  She stood some time without opening her mouth, her hand pressed to her forehead. She had such an expression of sadness in her whole appearance that Danei did not know what to say. At last he took her hand. She withdrew it. “Listen, Roberto. I have something to tell you, something on which my daughter’s life depends.”  41
  He waited, grave, a little anxious.  42
  “Bice loves you.”  43
  Danei looked confounded, gazing at the countess, who had hidden her face in her hands and was sobbing.  44
  “She? It is impossible! Just consider!”  45
  “No. The idea was suggested by the doctor, and now I am sure of it. She is dying of love for you.”  46
  “I swear to you, I swear to you that—”  47
  “I know it; I believe you; I have no need of seeking the reason why my daughter loves you, Roberto,” exclaimed the mother, sadly. And she sank down on the sofa. Roberto was also agitated. He tried to take her hand again. She gently withheld it.  48
  “Anna!”  49
  “No, no!” she replied resolutely. And the silent tears seemed to furrow her delicate cheeks, as if years—years of grief and punishment—had been suddenly thrust into her thoughtless life.  50
  The silence seemed insurmountable. At last Roberto murmured, “What do you wish me to do? Tell me.”  51
  She looked at him with unspeakable anguish and perplexity, and stammered, “I don’t know—I don’t know. Let me go back to her. Leave me alone!”…  52
  When the countess returned to the sick-room, her daughter’s eyes in the shadow of the curtain were fixed on her with such a singularly ardent flame that her mother’s blood seemed frozen as she stood on the threshold.  53
  “Mama!” cried Bice, “who is in there now?”  54
  “No one, dear.”  55
  “Ah! stay with me, then. Don’t leave me.”  56
  And the girl grasped her hands, trembling.  57
  “Poor little girl! Poor dear! You will soon be well. Don’t you know the doctor said so?”  58
  “Yes, mama.”  59
  “And—and—you shall be happy.”  60
  The daughter still looked at her mother in the same way.  61
  “Yes, mama.”  62
  Then she closed her eyes, which seemed black in their sunken sockets. A death-like silence followed. The mother gazed at that pale and impenetrable face before her with keen eyes, flushing and then turning pale.  63
  Suddenly a deep pallor came over her face, and she cried in an altered voice, “Bice!”  64
  Her breast heaved spasmodically as if something were struggling with death within. Then she leaned over her daughter, placing her feverish cheek upon the other cheek so thin and pale, and whispered in her daughter’s ear almost so low as to be unintelligible, “Do you hear, Bice? You love him?”  65
  Bice suddenly opened her eyes wide; her face was all aflame. And with those wide-open and almost frightened eyes, fascinated by her mother’s tearful face, she stammered with an indescribable accent of bitterness, and as it were of reproach, “O mama!”  66
  Then the hapless woman, feeling that accent and that exclamation penetrate to the very depths of her heart, had the courage to add, “Danei has asked for your hand.”  67
  “O mama! O mama!” said the girl, again and again, with the same beseeching and agonized tone, wrapping the sheet around her with a sense of shame. “Mamma mia!”  68
  The countess, who seemed as if she were on the verge of fainting, stammered, “But if you do not love him—if you do not love him—say so—tell me—”  69
  The girl listened, palpitating, anxious, moving her lips without uttering a word, with her eyes wide open, and seeming too large for her wasted face, gazing into her mother’s eyes. Suddenly as her mother bent over her, she threw her arms around her neck, trembling all over, pressing her with all the power of her slender arms, with an effusion that told the whole story.  70
  The mother, in an impulse of despairing love, sobbed, “You shall get well, you shall get well.”  71
  And she also trembled convulsively….  72
  The next day the countess was waiting for Danei in her boudoir, sitting near the grate and stretching toward the fire her hands that were so white that they seemed bloodless, and with her eyes fixed on the flames. What thoughts, what visions, what recollections, were passing before those eyes! The first time that she had felt disturbed at the sight of Roberto—the silence that had unexpectedly come upon them—the first words of love that he had whispered in her ear as he bent his head and lowered his voice—the delicious quickening of the pulse that sent the color to her cheeks and neck as she saw him waiting in the vestibule of the Apollo to see her pass, handsome, elegant, in her white satin mantellina. Then afterwards, the long rose-colored day-dreams in that very spot, the palpitating intense joys, the feverish expectation, during those hours when Bice was taking her music-lesson or drawing.  73
  Now at the sound of the bell she arose with a nervous tremor; and immediately by an effort of the will she sat down again with her hands crossed on her lap.  74
  The marquis stood hesitatingly on the threshold. She stretched out her burning hand, but avoided looking at him. As soon as Danei, not knowing what to think, inquired for Bice, the countess replied after a brief silence, “Her life is in your hands.”  75
  “For the love of God, Anna—you are mistaken! Bice is mistaken! It cannot be! It cannot be!”  76
  The countess shook her head sadly: “No, I am not mistaken! She has confessed to me. The doctor says that her recovery depends—on that!”  77
  “On what?”  78
  Her only reply was to look into his eyes with her eyes glowing with fever. Then, under the influence of that look, his first word, impetuous, almost brusque, was, “Oh!—No!”  79
  She clasped her hands.  80
  “No, Anna! Just consider. It cannot be. You are mistaken,” said the marquis again in violent agitation.  81
  Tears choked her voice. Then she stretched out her hands toward Roberto without saying a word, as in those happy days no more. Only her face, with its expression of anguish and of agonizing entreaty, had entirely changed in twenty-four hours. Roberto bent his head down to hers.  82
  Both of them were upright and loyal souls, in the worldly sense of the word, so far as it means being sincere in every act. Since Fate had seen fit to humble these proud and worthy heads, they were for the first time required to face a result that abruptly upset all their logic and showed its falsity. The countess’s revelation had overwhelmed Danei with a sort of stupor. At this moment, as he thought the matter over, he was terrified; and in that contest of loves and duties, under the reserve imposed upon both of them by their relationships which rendered it more difficult, he found himself at a complete loss. He spoke of themselves, of the past, of the future so full of peril; he tried to hit upon phrases and words that should smooth the way for his arguments, lest by their harshness they should offend or wound a single one of those sentiments so delicate and complicated.  83
  “But just imagine, Anna! Such a marriage is out of the question!”  84
  She knew not what to say. She merely murmured, “My daughter! my daughter!”  85
  “Well! Do you wish me to go away? do you wish me to leave you forever? You know what a sacrifice I should make! Well, do you wish it?”  86
  “If you did, she would die.”  87
  Roberto hesitated before bringing forth his last resource. Then lowering his voice he said, “Well, then—then nothing remains but to confess everything.”  88
  The mother grew rigid with a nervous spasm; her fingers clutched the arms of the easy-chair; and she replied in a muffled voice, bending her head, “She knows it—she suspects!”  89
  “And in spite of it?” asked Danei after a brief silence.  90
  “It would kill her. I made her believe that she was mistaken.”  91
  “And she believed you?”  92
  “Oh!” exclaimed the countess with a sad smile, “love is credulous. She believed me!”  93
  “And you?” he demanded, with a quiver which he could not control betraying itself in his voice.  94
  “I have already sacrificed everything for my daughter.” Then she extended her hand and added, “Do you perceive how calm I am?”  95
  “Are you certain that you will always be as calm?”  96
  She replied, “I am.” And he felt a chill at the roots of his hair, at the back of his head.  97
  He arose staggering, and his head sank on his chest.  98
  “Listen, Roberto. Now it is the mother who embraces you: Anna is dead! Think of my daughter; love her for me and for her own sake. She is pure and beautiful as an angel. Happiness will bring back all her bloom. You will love her as you have never loved before. Forget everything that has passed; be calm!”  99
  Roberto grew pale as death, and answered never a word.  100
  The engagement of the Contessina Bice was officially announced a few days after she was regarded as fairly convalescent.  101
  Friends and relatives came to congratulate her on these two fortunate events. The Marquis Danei was a most suitable person; and if any one indiscreetly remarked on the disparity in age between them, or made any other disparaging remark, a chorus of ladies unanimously arose in scandalized protest against such criticisms.  102
  The girl was really returning to health, and growing radiant with new life, sincerity, credulity, oblivion,—the frank egoism of happiness, which found an answering chord in the heart of the mother, who found sufficient strength even to smile upon them. The doctor rubbed his hands, grumbling, “I deserve no thanks. I do like Pilate. This blessed time of youth laughs at science. Now here is my prescription: the spring at San Remo or at Naples; the summer at Pegli or Leghorn; a trip to Rome for the carnival—and a handsome little son to complete the cure.”  103
  When Bice wanted to take her mother along with her, the countess replied, “No. The doctor and I have nothing whatever to do with your journey. All my desire is that you may be happy.”  104
  And she smiled on the newly engaged pair with her rather pathetic smile. The daughter from time to time flashed a keen look, as it were involuntarily, first at her mother and then at her lover. When she heard her mother say these words, she, without knowing why, threw her arms tightly round her and hid her face in her bosom.  105
  The countess had said that this should be her last festival; and at the wedding ceremony, when the rooms were brilliant with lights and crowded with friends and relatives, her pale delicate cheeks really reminded them of the days when they used to come and inquire for Bice. Roberto, when he kissed the countess’s hand, could not hide a certain anxiety. Afterwards, when the last guest had departed, and the only carriage left was the marquis’s little coupé at the entrance, and the hack had taken their luggage to the station, and Bice had gone to change her gown,—the countess and Roberto were left alone for a moment.  106
  “Make her happy!” she said.  107
  Danei was nervous: he kept fingering the button on his overcoat and taking off his gloves. He made no remark.  108
  Mother and daughter held each other in a long and tender embrace. At last the countess almost brusquely pushed her daughter away, saying, “It’s late. You will lose your train. Go, go!”  109
  The Countess Orlandi had coughed a little that winter, and had occasionally called in the doctor; who, with the desire not to frighten her, scolded her for being in the habit of spending the morning in church, “to save her soul at the expense of her body,” he would say. The worthy man pretended to make light of the matter, so as to encourage her, but in reality he was anxious; thus each of them almost deceived the other with a feigned gayety, though they both felt that the trouble was serious.  110
  Bice wrote that she was well, that she was having a delightful time, that she was so happy; and later she hinted vaguely at a coming event which would hasten their return before the end of the year.  111
  The countess telegraphed her to do nothing, but to await the event where they were, protesting that she feared the journey might be deleterious for her daughter. Later she said she would come and join her. But she did not start, inventing a thousand excuses, putting off from day to day the journey as if she dreaded it. Telegram followed telegram. At last Roberto had a dispatch:  112
  “Shall arrive to-night.”  113
  The first person whom Anna saw on the platform of the station when she arrived was Roberto, who was waiting for her. She pressed her muff spasmodically to her heart, as if she found it hard to breathe. The marquis kissed her gloved hand and gave her his arm while she whispered, “Bice—how is she?”  114
  “Bice is well,” he replied,—“as well as could be expected. She will be so glad to see you.”  115
  It seemed as if he were trying to choose the right words. He kept his eyes turned to the door, impatient to be at home. They passed swiftly by rows of brightly lighted houses and shops. Then they went into darkness as they crossed a square. Both instinctively kept at a distance and were silent.  116
  Bice came hurrying forward to meet her mother, and threw herself on her neck with a storm of kisses and disconnected words. She was nervous, and Roberto gave her his arm to help her up-stairs. The countess followed, being herself weary, and loaded down under her heavy fur cloak.  117
  When they met in the parlor by daylight, she was struck by Bice’s appearance: by her loose dressing-sack, by her blue-veined hands, resting on the arms of the easy-chair into which she had sunk down as if exhausted, but radiant with serene happiness. Roberto bent down to whisper something in her ear. Without being aware of it, they kept going aside gladly, to indulge in little private conferences near the fireplace, the flames of which cast a roseate aureole around them; in their self-absorption far from the world, far from every one, forgetful of everything else.  118
  After the first excitement of that evening, the countess seemed calmer. When she and Roberto chanced to be alone together, and he talked,—talked as if he were afraid of silence,—she listened with an abstracted smile, leaning back in her easy-chair near the fire, which lighted up her dark hair, and her fine profile, which in contrast with the light seemed like a cameo.  119
  But a cloud seemed to hover between mother and daughter in the intimacy of the family: an annoying and insurmountable coolness which quenched all affectionate confidences; an embarrassment that rendered disquieting all Roberto’s acts of politeness toward either of them, and sometimes even his presence with them—as if it were a shadow of the past, clouding the daughter’s eyes, sending the color from the mother’s cheeks, and even disturbing Roberto from time to time. A tinge of bitterness could be detected in the simplest words, in smiles which expected no return, in glances which passed from one to the other full of suspicion.  120
  One evening when Bice had retired earlier than usual, and Roberto had remained in the parlor with the countess to keep her company, silence suddenly fell between them with a strange sense of impending evil. Anna was standing with bent head before the dying fire, shivering from time to time; and the lamp placed on the mantelpiece threw golden reflections on the masses of her hair, on the delicate nape of her neck, which seemed also to be lighted up with wandering flames. As Roberto stooped over to pick up the tongs, she gave a sudden start and bade him good-night, saying that she felt weary. The marquis accompanied her to the door: he also felt the impulse of a vague uneasiness. At that instant Bice appeared looking like a ghost, clad in a white dressing-sack. Mother and daughter looked at each other, and the former stood speechless, almost breathless. Roberto, the least embarrassed of the three, asked, “What is the matter, Bice?”  121
  “Nothing. I couldn’t go to sleep. What time is it?”  122
  “It is not late. Your mother was just going to bed; she said she felt tired.”  123
  “Ah!” replied Bice. “Ah!” That was all she said.  124
  Anna, still trembling, murmured with a sad smile, “Yes, I am tired; at my age—my children!—”  125
  “Ah!” said Bice again.  126
  Then the mother, growing pale as death, as if choked by unspeakable anguish, added with the same melancholy smile, “Don’t you believe me? Don’t you believe, Bice?” And lifting her hair a little from her temples, she showed her that the locks underneath were all white.  127
  “Oh, it is a long time—a long, long time!”  128
  Bice, with an affectionate impulse, threw her arms around her neck, and hid her face without saying another word. And her mother’s hands could feel how she was all trembling. Roberto, who felt as if he were on pins and needles, had turned to go out, seeing that his presence must be annoying under the circumstances. At that instant his eyes and Anna’s met. He flushed, and for a moment there seemed to flash forth a recollection of the past.  129
  The Countess Anna spent two weeks in her daughter’s house, feeling all the time that she was an outsider, not only to Bice but also to Roberto. How changed they were! When he gave her his arm to go out to the dining-room—when Bice addressed her as “mama” without looking at her, and blushed when she spoke of her husband—  130
  “Forget!—Be calm!” she had said to Roberto, and neither the one nor the other had forgotten at all.  131
  She shut her eyes and shuddered at the thought. Sometimes, suddenly, she was overwhelmed by flashes of anger, of a strange unreasoning jealousy. He had robbed her of her daughter’s heart! This man had taken everything from her!  132
  One evening a great commotion was heard in the house. Carriages and servants were dispatched hastily in various directions. The physician and a woman came anxiously, and were instantly ushered into Bice’s apartment. And not one came after her; her own daughter did not wish her to be present at this crisis of her life. No, no one of them had forgotten! When the man himself came to announce the birth of her granddaughter! when she saw him trembling and radiant—no, she had never seen him look that way before;—when she saw him by Bice’s bedside, where the young mother lay pale as if she were dead, and his eyes filled with love for her alone, when his eyes looked only at her!—then she felt an implacable hatred toward this man, who caressed her daughter in her presence, and who even at that moment received Bice’s answering smile.  133
  When they gave her name to the little granddaughter, and she held the child in her arms at the baptismal service, she said with a smile, “Now I can die.”  134
  Bice was slow in recovering her strength. Her delicate organism was still shaken. In the long days of convalescence, dark thoughts came to her mind,—moods of fierce and unreasonable irritation, of melancholy, as if she were neglected by every one. Then she would give her husband a strange look out of her clouded eyes and say, “Where have you been? Where are you going? Why do you leave me alone?”  135
  Everything hurt her feelings: she even seemed to be jealous of the relics of beauty which her mother still possessed. And one day, trying to hide the eagerness which in spite of her gleamed in her eyes, she went so far as to ask her when she intended to go home.  136
  The mother bent her head as if under the weight of an inevitable punishment.  137
  But afterwards Bice became her natural self, and seemed to be asking forgiveness of them all by means of affectionate words and kisses. As soon as she was able to leave her bed, the countess set the day of her departure. When they bade each other farewell at the station, both mother and daughter were deeply affected: they kissed each other, and at the last moment, were as unable to say a word as if they never expected to meet again!  138
  The countess reached home late at night, deeply depressed, benumbed with cold. The great deserted house was also cold, in spite of the great fire that had been lighted, in spite of the solitary lights in the melancholy rooms.  139
  The Countess Anna’s health rapidly failed. At first she attributed it to her weariness after the journey, the excitement, the severity of the season. For about three months she vibrated between her bed and her lounge, and the doctor came to see her every day.  140
  “It is nothing,” she would say. “To-day I feel better. To-morrow I shall get up.”  141
  To her daughter she wrote regularly, but without referring to the seriousness of the disease that was killing her. Toward the beginning of the autumn she seemed to be really getting better; but all of a sudden she grew so much worse that her household felt obliged to telegraph to the marquis.  142
  Roberto came the following day, greatly alarmed.  143
  “Bice is not well,” he said to the doctor who was awaiting him. “I am anxious about her too. She knows nothing about it. I was afraid that the news—the excitement—the journey—”  144
  “You are right. The marchesa’s health must be carefully watched. It is a disease that runs in the blood, surely. I myself should not have assumed such a responsibility; and if it had not been for the gravity of the case—”  145
  “Is it very serious?” asked Roberto.  146
  The doctor made a motion with his head.  147
  The sick woman, as soon as her son-in-law’s arrival was announced, became greatly agitated.  148
  “And Bice?” she asked as soon as she saw him, “why did she not come?”  149
  He hesitated, grew as pale as she was, and felt a cold perspiration at the roots of his hair.  150
  “Have you been—did you tell her not to come?” she asked in a choked and broken voice.  151
  He had never heard that voice nor seen those eyes before. A woman, leaning over the pillow, endeavored to calm the invalid. Finally she relapsed into silence, closing her eyes, and convulsively clasping her hands over her bosom.  152
  Her last confession was made that evening. After she had partaken of the Communion she had her son-in-law called in again, and she pressed his hand as if to ask his pardon.  153
  The vague odor of the incense still hovered in the room,—the odor of death,—now and again overcome by the sharper odor of ether, penetrating and choking. Livid shadows seemed to wander over the face of the dying countess.  154
  “Tell her,” murmured the poor woman, “tell my daughter—” She struggled with shortness of breath, which choked the words that she wanted to speak, and made her eyes roll as in delirium. Then she signified with a pitiful motion of her head that she could say no more.  155
  From time to time it was necessary to lift from the pillows her poor wasted body, in the supreme anguish of the death-agony. But she signified that Roberto was not to touch her. Her hair, which was white as snow, was in disorder.  156
  “No—no—” those were her last words, heard indistinctly murmured. She put up her hands to join together the nightrobe, which had opened at the neck; and thus with her hands folded she passed away.  157

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