Blagden nodded, and the two moved back in the shadows a short distance to the front line of little low chairs. Before them, over the dancing light of the four candles, stood the mutilated picture of Mary, beneath it the dust-covered dagger.

And then the withered monk began speaking, and Blagden listened looking up at the picture.

“It all happened a great many years ago,” said the old man; “but I am old, so I remember.

“Rosa was the girl’s name. She lived with her father and mother in a little house above Menaggio. And every day in the warm sunlight of the open fields she sang as she watched the goats for the old people, and her voice was like cool water laughing in the shadows of a little brook.

“She was always singing, little Rosa; for she was young, and the sun had never stopped shining for her. People used to call her beautiful.

“And there was Giovanni. Each morning he would pass her home where the yellow roses with the pink hearts grew so sweetly, and always she would blow him a kiss from the little window.

“Then Giovanni would toil with all the strength of his youth, and he too would sing while he toiled; for was it not all for her?

“Often Rosa’s goats would stray toward Giovanni’s vineyard as dusk came, and they would drive them home together, always laughing, always singing, hand in hand, as the sun slipped golden over the top of the hills across the lake. Sometimes they would walk together in the afterglow, and Giovanni would weave a crown of the little flowers that grew about them, and his princess would wear it, laughing happily.

“They were like two children, Signor. There were nights spent together on the lake, when he told her of his dreams, while the gentlest of winds stirred her curls against his brown cheek, and the moon’s wake stretched like a golden pathway from shore to shore.

“They were to be married when the grapes were picked, people used to whisper.

“And then one day a new force came into the girl’s life. The Church, Signor!

“No one understands when or why this comes to a young girl, I think. She was torn with the idea that she should join her church, go into the little nunnery across the lake, and leave the sunshine.

“She did not want to go, and it was a strange yet a beautiful thing. This young, beautiful girl who seemed so much a part of the sunshine and the flowers was to close the door of the Church upon it all!

“You are thinking it was strange, Signor.

“Giovanni was frantic—you can understand.

“He had dreamed so happily of that which was to be, that now to have the cup snatched from his lips was torture. He took her little sun-kissed hands in his and begged on his knees with tears streaming down his cheeks. And Rosa wept also—but could not answer as he begged. I think she loved the boy, Signor. Yet there is something stronger than the love of a boy and a girl.

“She asked for one more night in which to decide. She would come up here to this little church and pray for Mary to guide her. He kissed her cold lips and came away.

“He was a boy, and he never doubted that she would choose his strong young arms.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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