“The place belongs to me,” he said simply, and offered his shoulder to support the statue. He set his teeth in fierce determination to sup-press the infernal pain.
“What are you going to do?” asked Mattao.
“Whatever be the will of St. Gonselvo,” he answered, and started on the procession together with the rest.
The crowd was stupefied.
During the procession his bleeding wound was gradually becoming black. Now and then someone would ask:
“Well, Umma, how do you feel?”
Ummalido did not answer, but marched in step with the music. He walked with heavy head under the broad canopy floating in the wind. The crowd was constantly growing in volume.
At the corner of a certain street Ummalido suddenly sank to the ground. The statue tipped slightly. Dismayed for a moment, the crowd slowed up. Soon, however, the procession was resumed. The place of Ummalido was taken by Mattia Scarfarola. Two relatives lifted the fainting man and carried him to the nearest house.
Anna di Ceuzo, an old woman, skilled in the art of healing, looked at the deformed and bleeding hand and shook her head.
“What can you do?”
In this case her art was powerless.
Ummalido recovered from the swoon and stubbornly retained his silence. He sat up and calmly examined his wound. The hand with its bones all crushed was evidently lost.
Two or three old peasants came up to look at it; by word or gesture each of them expressed the same thought.
“Who carried the Saint?” asked Ummalido.
“Mattia Scarfarola,” they answered.
“And what is taking place there now?” he asked again.
“Vespers and music,” was the answer.
The peasants bade him farewell, and left for the vespers. The sound of ringing bells was coming from the church.
One of the relatives placed a bucket of cold water near the wounded man and said:
“Dip your hand into it; we are going. The vesper-bells are calling.”
Ummalido remained alone. The ringing changed its rhythm and grew louder. The day was nearing its end. It grew dark. Shaken by the wind, the branches of an olive tree struck against the pane.
Slowly Ummalido began to wash his hand. And as he removed the clots of blood it became apparent how really terrible the wound was.
“Useless,” thought Ummalido; “the hand is lost. St. Gonselvo, I sacrifice it to Thee.”
He took a knife and went out. All the streets were abandoned. The pious populace crowded the church. Above the houses, scarlet clouds, illumined by a September sunset, glided past like flocks in flight.
Accompaniment of music
The people gathered at the church joined the voices of the choir to the accompaniment of music. The heat of human bodies and the smoke of burning candles made the atmosphere well-nigh stifling. The silver head of St. Gonselvo shone like a beacon above the crowd.
Ummalido entered. In the midst of general disorder he approached the altar.
“St. Gonselvo, I offer it to Thee,” said he in a firm voice, holding the knife in his hand.
With these words he began to cut deep into the wrist of his right hand. The astounded crowd was struck dumb. The shapeless hand began to part from the arm. For a moment it dangled on the last ten-dons, then it fell at the feet of the Patron Saint into the bowl where money-offerings were deposited.
Then Ummalido lifted up the bloody stump and in a firm voice repeated:
“St. Gonselvo, I offer it to Thee.”