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"Stay by me," Beppi begged, "don't go way downstairs, I am afraid."
"Poor angel," Amelie cried, "he won't be left alone; old Amelie will bring up the little sister's dinner and she can eat by his bedside,"
and she hurried off, crooning to herself as she went to the kitchen below.
Nana, now that she knew that Beppi was not going to die, started scolding him for not looking where he was going, but Lucia sent her downstairs.
"He is too tired to listen to-night, Nana, and anyway he will be careful. Do go away and rest a little, you must be tired."
When Nana had left, Lucia returned to the bed and sat down. She did not have any idea what time it was, and she knew that it would be impossible to leave Beppi until he was quiet. She hardly touched the tempting tray that Amelie brought her, and her voice trembled as she asked what time it was.
"Ten minutes after seven," Amelie told her after she had carefully consulted the big hall clock.
"Oh!" Lucia was surprised and relieved. She thought she must have slept for hours, but now she realized that in reality she had only dozed for a few minutes.
She took Beppi's hand and set about putting him to sleep. It was a difficult task. She told him story after story, but at the end of each his eyes were bright and his demand for another one as insistent as ever.
Lucia kept time by the chimes of the clock, and at ten she turned out the light.
"I am coming to bed beside you," she explained as Beppi protested, "I think the light will hurt your head." She took off her dress and slipped on her nightgown. Beppi snuggled contentedly into her arm, and she went on with her stories.
"Sing to me," he asked at last, sleepily, "your song," and Lucia began very softly to sing.
"O'er sea the silver star brightly is glowing, Rocked now the billows are.
Soft winds are blowing, Come to my bark with me.
Come sail across the sea.
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia."
Beppi's even breathing rewarded her efforts. She slipped her arm from under his head and stole softly out of the room just as the clock chimed eleven. She put on her dress hurriedly.
The house was very still as she crept downstairs and out into the garden. The stars were out and it was an easy matter to find her way.
She ran until she reached the path that led to the sh.o.r.e, then she moved very cautiously. She hoped to reach the guard, tell him what she had heard, and then go home, but when she reached the beach she realized that she was too late.
There was no guard in sight, but her ears detected the splash of oars, and she knew that the boatman was coming. She crouched down beside the wall and waited. She watched him pull his boat up on sh.o.r.e and then walk swiftly off in the opposite direction from her.
She did not know what to do, and she was frightened--badly frightened.
The broad s.h.i.+ning water on one side and the hill on the other seemed to hem her in, and she felt lost. It was not like the mountains of Cellino, where she knew every path.
She crouched down by the wall and waited. Another figure joined the boatman, and they stood still, a little farther up the beach. Lucia knew it was the man she had seen that afternoon, and she knew too that in a very few seconds they would turn around and come back to the boat.
With a courage born of fear she jumped up and before she quite realized what she was doing she was tugging at the boat.
It was not very high up on the beach for the boatman had left it so that it would be easily shoved off. Fortunately the tide was going out. Lucia's arms were strong and she pushed with a will. The boat found the water and drifted silently away.
Her feet were wet, but she did not realize it. She crept back to the beach and flattened herself against the wall. The men returned. They too kept in the shadow of the wall. It was not until they were almost brus.h.i.+ng against Lucia that the boatman noticed that his boat was gone.
"The Saints preserve us!" he exclaimed. "It has been spirited away. I knew I should be punished for doing such a black deed."
"Spirits, nonsense!" the man spoke angrily. "It is your own stupid carelessness, you did not pull it up on sh.o.r.e far enough. You rattlebrain idiot, I've a good mind to kill you for this. See, there is your boat out there--empty--go and get it. Do you hear?"
"But how?" the boatman wrung his hands desperately. "I do not know how to swim. I will die. Santa Lucia, Saint of sailormen, spare me," he screamed as the man lifted his heavy cane to strike him.
"Don't you dare strike that man!" Lucia exclaimed, "he did pull his boat up on sh.o.r.e, but I pushed it off. I heard you this afternoon, and I knew you wanted to go away to that big s.h.i.+p out there, and perhaps sail to Austria. I know what you are, you two-faced man. You speak, you laugh, you scold in Italian, and all the time your black heart is Austrian."
"You shall not go away from here. I, Lucia Rudini, tell you, you shall not!"
"Santa Lucia! A miracle!" The boatman trembled with fear, but the man was not so superst.i.tious. He caught Lucia's arm and shook her roughly.
"You did it, you little fiend, well, you shall get what you deserve for your meddling." He motioned to the frightened boatman. "Get me a rope, I'll make a gag of my handkerchief; hurry man, if you are found you will be shot."
"But I dare not, I dare not, she is the spirit of Santa Lucia. She came when I called. The Saints have mercy!"
With a growl of disgust the man turned from him and caught both of Lucia's wrists in his firm clasp. Then he lifted his cane.
"She must not tell until we are well away," he said, and brought the cane down heavily. It was his intention to stun Lucia, but he had miscalculated when he expected her to stand still and receive the blow.
She dodged to the right and began kicking and struggling. The boatman wrung his hands and screamed for help.
It was not many minutes before the guard, attracted by the noise, came running towards them. The man's back was towards him, but Lucia saw him and stopped struggling.
The man raised his cane again but this time he stopped, because the muzzle of a gun was pressing him between the shoulder blades.
Lucia turned to the guard and explained hurriedly. In the starlight she could see that he had a long scar across his face, and she felt very secure.
"I know your nephew, Roderigo," she ended, "he helped me blow up the bridge in Cellino."
The soldier nodded.
"I know about that, Senorina," he said respectfully, "and the rest of your fine deeds. You were born for the work it seems. Move an inch and off comes your head," he turned furiously on the man who had tried to edge away. Then he continued in the soft, courteous tones he had been using. "I hope some day you will do me the honor of telling me of the attack yourself," he said. "It is sometimes very lonely here while I am on guard."
His gentle tone, and above all the flattering respect he showed, gave Lucia back her courage.
"Of course I will come," she said, "just as soon as my little brother is better. He fell and cut his head, and, and--well, I guess I'd better be going back, he may awaken and be frightened. Good night."
"Good night, Senorina," the soldier replied, "I am proud to have seen you."
"Now then,--" his voice became harsh again as he turned to his prisoners, "go along, one wink of your eyelid in the wrong direction and I will shoot."
He marched them off quickly, and Lucia, because the affair seemed finished, started for home.
THE END OF THE STORY
"Tell me a story," Beppi demanded when she was lying beside him once more, "I'm all awake again and my face hurts."