The result of these meditations was that, by the time the hour of repose arrived, he had determined on a line of conduct; and it was well that he had been able to do so, for just as the silent dinner at the farm-house had come to a conclusion, and the farmer and his sons were lounging out of the kitchen door, to enjoy as they best might the after-dinner hour of repose, Don Evandro made his appearance, and after a word of greeting to Signor Paolo, and a few of condolence for the misfortune which had fallen on the family to la sposa, intimated his desire to speak a few words to Beppo. Beppo had been about to put his hour of rest to profit by getting a little sleep, of which he stood so much in need. But of course he roused himself to do the priest's bidding; and at his invitation, strolled with him along the path leading to the village. The priest was aware of the readiness and acuteness of his friend Carlo's ears, and he chose that his conversation upon this occasion should not be overheard by them.
CHAPTER XVII. A PAIR OF CONSPIRATORS.
"Your number was one hundred and one, I hear, Signor Beppo!" said the priest.
"Yes! your reverence, that was my number!" answered the young man.
"What is the number of men demanded by the excommunicated government?"
"Somewhere between seventy and eighty from our district, I believe, your reverence. I don't know exactly."
"And it don't signify to know exactly, worse luck! Of course it is quite certain that one hundred and one will be far within the number that will be wanted to make up the roll."
"I suppose so, your reverence! no doubt of it. Of course they all know that it was as safe to have to march as number one."
"And what do you mean to do, my young friend?" asked the priest with a manner expressive of much sympathy.
"I have not thought much about it yet, your reverence," said Beppo, without being aware how far his words deviated from representing the exact truth.
"But you must think; and think very seriously too, my son! It is a matter requiring very much consideration. You are aware, from what I said the other day, that I cannot in conscience advise your father to bring forward the sum necessary for procuring a substitute. Indeed if it were his purpose to do so, I should feel it to be my bounden duty to use my utmost influence to dissuade him from it. You must have understood, I think, the nature of my views on this point. And I can i assure you that they are shared almost without exception by my brother priests throughout the country."
"I dare say your reverence is very right."
"You have not nourished any expectation then, I suppose, that your father should interfere to such a purpose?"
"Not the least, your reverence."
"Well, then we come to the question, what course you mean to pursue." said the priest, again looking hard into the young man's face. "You may speak to me, my son," he continued, "with all openness, not only as the old friend of your family, but as your own parish priest, whose bounden duty it is to assist you with his counsel in every difficulty. And remember, that what you say to me in that capacity is as sacred as if it were said in the confessional. If you feel that you could speak more freely under the protection of that holy sacrament, you have only to say so, and I am ready to hear you in confession. It is the intention and not the confessional that makes the sacredness of the rite, my son."
"In truth, father, I have little to say either in confession or otherwise. The fact is, that I do not seem to care so much about going for a soldier as I did, before—before—before I had been made very unhappy by——."
"I know what is in your heart, my son, as well as if you had spoken it," said the priest with a compassionate sigh. "My son, you have suffered and are suffering the penalty inseparable from having bestowed affection where it was not deserved,—where the older and wiser friends who knew that there were none of the qualities which should have called it forth, warned you not to place it. You cannot say, my son, that you were unwarned; or that if your heart had been more chastened and docile, the misery which has fallen on you would not have been spared you. You must feel that, Beppo mio."
There was a long pause, during which the young man kept his eyes fixed on the ground.
"Any way," he said at last, with a profound sigh, "the misery which your reverence seems to know I am suffering, has made me care little about this other trouble of the conscription."
"But it is my duty, my son, to warn you that recklessness is the frame of mind in which, above all others, the eternal enemy of our souls finds an easy conquest. I will not insist on the fact, that the day will surely come when you will look back on the feelings and passions which are now tormenting you, as on the disquietudes of a troubled dream; when new hopes and new objects will have i grown up in your mind, and all that now