X immediately flew in a passion at the idea of such indignity, and declared it preposterous to expect him to mount a ladder of that sort; he said he would rather return to town. The young peasant who was holding the ladder below kept assuring him that it was entirely safe, and another peasant who, attracted by the talk, had come to the opening into the loft, also took hold of the ladder, and shouted— “Come up, Signore, don’t be afraid! It’s strong.”
Being younger, and accustomed to feats of mountain climbing, besides being urged on by curiosity, I determined upon the ascent, and moving cautiously, succeeded in reaching the loft without mishap. X, emboldened by my success, finally changed his mind and followed.
In the loft was a miserable and filthy straw bed, and lying upon it was an old man in rags, with features like wrinkled parchment, one eye entirely closed, and the other almost devoid of life. Though he breathed with difficulty, he did not appear to be suffering. Two men stood near him, one on either side, both lean and crafty-looking, and with cleanly shaven faces. One had a branch in his hand and was engaged in fanning away the flies from the face of the old man, while the other kept putting in the toothless mouth dry bread and small bits of cheese.
“Magne, pare; eat, father!” he said in his peasant dialect.
A little distance off on a bundle of hay sat an old woman holding her face in her hands, and farther away still were several peasants, evidently witnesses, talking in a low voice. A table, chair and inkstand stood ready for our use. We were told that the dying man had received absolution early the same morning, and that while he was unable to speak he understood everything, and would make his wishes known by signs.
As X hesitated, under the circumstances, to proceed with the making of the will, the sons volunteered to put their father to the proof brought us.
“To Gigio; is that what you mean .”
Again he nodded.
“Now you see, Sior,” the son concluded, turning to X , “I am not mistaken.”
The latter, however, was not yet satisfied and began to question the wife, the old woman crouching in the hay. With a sudden outburst of words she confirmed what had been said in regard to her husband, and insisted that he was in full possession of all his faculties, since only half an hour before he had objected to the veterinary bleeding one of the oxen which had fallen sick. She added that she knew exactly his intentions as to the distribution of the property.