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by [?]

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But now it was an awfully long time ago since little Mariano and Father Gonzales had first climbed the stairs to where Grandfather Fortuny lived. The old grandfather and Mariano worked very hard, but they were quite content and happy. They had enough to eat, and each had a straw bed and warm blankets to cover him at night, and when the weather was very cold they made a fire of charcoal in a brazier and sat before it with spread-out hands, very thankful that God had given them such a good home and so many comforts.

The grandfather made images out of white plaster, flowers sometimes, and curious emblems that people bought for votive offerings. Little Mariano’s share in the work was to color the figures with blue and red paint, and give a lifelike tint to the fruit and bouquets that the grandfather cast from the white plaster.

Father Gonzales was their best customer, and used often to come up and watch Mariano paint an image of the Virgin, just as he ordered it. Mariano was very proud to receive Father Gonzales’ approval; and when the image was complete he would sometimes get a copper extra for delivering the work to some stricken person that the priest wished especially to remember. For one of Father Gonzales’ peculiarities was that although he bought lots of things he always gave them away.

Mariano used often to carry letters and packages for Father Gonzales.

One day the good priest came up the stairs quite out of breath. He carried a letter in his hand.

“Here, Mariano, my boy, you can run, while my poor old legs are full of rheumatism. Here, take this letter down to the Diligence Office and tell them to send it tonight, sure. It is for the Bishop at Barcelona and it must be in his hands before tomorrow. Run now, for the last post closes very soon.”

Mariano took the letter, dived hatless out of the door and, sitting on the first stair, shot to the bottom like the slide to doom.

Grandfather Fortuny and the gentle old priest leaned out over the stone window-sill and laughed to see the boy scurry down the street.

Then the priest went his way.

Grandfather Fortuny waited, looking out of the window, for the boy to come back. The boy did not come.

He waited.

Lights began to flicker in the windows across the way.

A big red star came up in the West. The wind blew fresh and cool.

The old man shut down the sash, and looked at the untasted supper of brown bread and goat’s milk and fresh fruit.

He took his hat from the peg and his cane from the corner and hobbled down the stairs. He went to the Diligence Office. No one there remembered seeing the boy–how can busy officials be expected to remember everything?

Grandfather Fortuny made his way to the house of Father Gonzales. The priest had been called away to attend a man sick unto death–he would not be back for an hour.

The old man waited–waited one hour–two.

Father Gonzales came, and listened calmly to the troubled tale of the old man. Then together they made their way over to the tall tenement and up the creaky stairway.

There was the flicker of a candle to be seen under the door.

They entered, and there at the table sat Mariano munching silently on his midnight supper.

“Where have you been?” was the surprised question of both old men, speaking as one person.

“Me? I’ve been to Barcelona to give the letter to the Bishop–the last diligence had gone,” said the boy with his mouth full of bread.

“To Barcelona–ten miles, and back?”

“Me? Yes.”

“Did you walk?”

“No, I ran.”

Father Gonzales looked at Grandfather Fortuny, and Grandfather Fortuny looked at Father Gonzales; then they both burst out laughing. Mariano placed an extra plate on the table, and the three drew up chairs.