The noise disturbed Father Rocco. She heard him rise and leave the summer-house. There would have been time enough, perhaps, for her to conceal herself among some trees if she could have recovered her self-possession at once; but she was incapable of making an effort to regain it. She could neither think nor move--her breath seemed to die away on her lips--as she saw the shadow of the priest stealing over the grass slowly from the front to the back of the summer-house. In another moment they were face to face.
He stopped a few paces from her, and eyed her steadily in dead silence. She still crouched against the summer-house, and still with one hand mechanically kept her hold of the dog. It was well for the priest that she did so. Scarammuccia's formidable teeth were in full view, his shaggy coat was bristling, his eyes were starting, his growl had changed from the surly to the savage note; he was ready to tear down, not Father Rocco only, but all the clergy in Pisa, at a moment's notice.
"You have been listening," said the priest, calmly. "I see it in your face. You have heard all."
She could not answer a word; she could not take her eyes from him. There was an unnatural stillness in his face, a steady, unrepentant, unfathomable despair in his eyes that struck her with horror. She would have given worlds to be able to rise to her feet and fly from his presence.
"I once distrusted you and watched you in secret," he said, speaking after a short silence, thoughtfully, and with a strange, tranquil sadness in his voice. "And now, what I did by you, you do by me. You put the hope of your life once in my hands. Is it because they were not worthy of the trust that discovery and ruin overtake me, and that you are the instrument of the retribution? Can this be the decree of Heaven--or is it nothing but the blind justice of chance?"
He looked upward, doubtingly, to the lustrous sky above him, and sighed. Nanina's eyes still followed his mechanically. He seemed to feel their influence, for he suddenly looked down at her again.
"What keeps you silent? Why are you afraid?" he said. "I can do you no harm, with your dog at your side, and the workmen yonder within call. I can do you no harm, and I wish to do you none. Go back to Pisa; tell what you have heard, restore the man you love to himself, and ruin me. That is your work; do it! I was never your enemy, even when I distrusted you. I am not your enemy now. It is no fault of yours that a fatality has been accomplished through you--no fault of yours that I am rejected as the instrument of securing a righteous restitution to the Church. Rise, child, and go your way, while I go mine, and prepare for what is to come. If we never meet again, remember that I parted from you without one hard saying or one harsh look--parted from you so, knowing that the first words you speak in Pisa will be death to my character, and destruction to the great purpose of my life."
Speaking these words, always with the same calmness which had marked his manner from the first, he looked fixedly at her for a little while, sighed again, and turned away. Just before he disappeared among the trees, he said "Farewell," but so softly that she could barely hear it. Some strange confusion clouded her mind as she lost sight of him. Had she injured him, or had he injured her? His words bewildered and oppressed her simple heart. Vague doubts and fears, and a sudden antipathy to remaining any longer near the summer-house, overcame her. She started to her feet, and, keeping the dog still at her side, hurried from the garden to the highroad. There, the wide glow of sunshine, the sight of the city lying before her, changed the current of her thoughts, and directed them all to Fabio and to the future.