The next day and the next passed in much the same way. They danced and sang in the villages to earn their bread, and then passed out again to the highway, where there were sign-posts to guide them, or they could ask directions from fellow travelers. One night they passed in an olive orchard, under a spreading tree. Another was spent under the protection of a wayside shrine.
When he awoke in the morning, Beppo found his sister kneeling before the shrine. She turned a beaming face upon him as he opened his eyes.
"Oh, Beppo mio," she said, "I haven't forgotten once, and this is the ninth day! I've made my novena! I'm almost sure the blessed Saint Anthony means to get us to Padua this very day. If he does, I think I shall die of joy."
"What would be the good of that?" Beppo inquired, practically. Then he added, "Anyway, I think it'll be very mean if he doesn't, after all the praying you've done, and all my thinking too."
They ate a hasty bite of bread beside the shrine, then trudged on, and, before the morning was over, actually found themselves passing through the beautiful gardens which surround the city of Padua. They entered it from the east by the Porta di' Pontecorbo, walked a short distance along a wide street, crossed a canal, and, turning to the left, saw rising before them from a great open piazza the huge church of Saint Anthony of Padua, crowned by its six domes and many spires. It was as if they had known every inch of the way, so directly had they come.
The bells of the church were pealing joyfully, and the square was full of people, all going toward the church, for it was the festa of Saint Anthony, though the children did not know it.
Passers-by glanced curiously at the two queer, forlorn little figures, but no one spoke to them, and they stood for a moment uncertain what to do, or in what direction to go, when suddenly Beppina gave a shriek of joy, and, springing forward, threw her arms about a tall, stern-looking woman in a nurse's ruff and streamers who was hurrying toward the church carrying an immense loaf of bread in her hand.
"Teresina!" screamed Beppina.
The woman looked at the child in blank astonishment, but it was not until she saw Beppo that the light of recognition dawned in her face. Then, dropping the bread and falling upon her knees, she engulfed both ragged, dirty children in a wide embrace.
"Oh, thanks be to God, the blessed Virgin, and Saint Anthony, you are found again!" she cried, her eyes streaming tears and her tongue prayers of thanksgiving at the same time. "I was just on my way to offer this bread at the shrine of the blessed Saint, and pray, as I have prayed daily since you were lost, that you might be found again! And here before I have even been to the church at all, the blessed Saint has heard my prayers, and you rise up before me as if out of the ground. It is a miracle! Ah, Madonna mia! what tears the Signora has wept for you! And the Signore your father, he has not slept for seeking you! Come, come—do not delay! We must send word to the villa at once that they may come running to meet you even as his father met the prodigal son."
Her tongue ran so fast that the children had no chance to ask questions. A crowd now gathered about them, and when Teresina had explained the cause of the excitement and joy, sympathetic bystanders rushed to send word to the villa, seven miles away, and to spread the good news that the children of the Marchese Grifoni, for whom the police had been searching every town in Italy for two months, had now appeared in Padua.
"It is not for nothing that Saint Anthony is the patron saint of all who suffer loss," said the pious ones, and many a candle was gratefully offered on his shrine that day.
When her joy had a little subsided, Teresina gazed with horror at the Twins. They were indeed a terrifying spectacle. Ragged, thin, encrusted with dirt, with their toes sticking through their worn-out shoes, it is no wonder that she did not at once recognize the children of the Marchese. Grasping them by the hands as if she would never again let them go, Teresina hurried them toward the Hotel Due Croci Bianche, which opened upon the square, followed by crowds of interested spectators. The landlord himself, when the news reached him, came out to greet the wanderers and conduct them to a room.
Teresina went with them, giving orders right and left as she flew down the long corridor.
"It is for the Marchese Grifoni!" she cried to the bewildered servants, as she hustled the children before her to the bath. "Bring soap, bring towels, bring food, and for the love of Saint Anthony keep the wires hot to the villa. Never mind the cost, for the lost is found. They will reward you well. Tell them, for the love of Heaven, to bring clothes for the Signorina and Don Beppo, and hurry, hurry, hurry!"
Then she shut the door upon her charges, and the process of purification began. She rang the bell furiously a few moments later, and, opening the door a crack, handed the servant who answered it a bundle, hastily wrapped in newspaper.
"Their clothes," she said briefly. "The Marchesa must not see them. Burn them at once!"
For one hour or more she scrubbed and shampooed, and all but boiled the wanderers alive in her frantic efforts to get them clean before their mother should be able to reach them.
At last a carriage, drawn by a pair of steaming black horses, dashed up to the hotel, and the beautiful Marchesa, pale but radiant, sprang out and, attended by the landlord himself, hurried to the room where her lost ones waited to embrace her! Teresina opened the door, and, stepping into the hall, left the mother and children together with no human eye to see that meeting! Red-eyed herself, and wiping her nose vigorously on her apron, she went down to tell the footman all the news, and to get the bundle of clothes for the children, which in the haste and excitement had been left in the carriage.
An hour later, the Marchesa and two very clean and happy children came out of the hotel, followed by Teresina. The coachman, grinning, as Teresina said, "like a cracked melon," greeted the children as if he were an old friend, and the Marchesa, standing in her carriage, scattered tips with a lavish hand. They drove away with the landlord bowing from the doorway, and the crowd shouting vivas as long as the carriage was in sight.
It was a long drive over beautiful, winding roadways to the villa, and every inch of the way the Marchesa sat with her arms clasped about her darlings telling them of their father, who was still in Florence conducting the search, of the baby, who had six teeth and was fat as butter, and hearing from them the tale of their adventures, while Teresina beamed at them from the opposite seat.
At last they rounded a well-remembered curve in the road, and there, shining down on them from the summit of a hill overlooking the village, was their own white, vine-covered villa. The children shouted with joy when they saw it, and Beppina threw a kiss.
Then they heard a great shouting down the road. All the village had come out to greet the children of their beloved Marchesa. Old and young, they swarmed about the carriage, shouting "Ben trovati," which means "Welcome," and tossing flowers at the feet of the returned travelers. Ah, what a happy time it was!
At last the carriage stood before the loggia of the villa, and when his old dog, barking with joy, came bounding out to meet them, Beppo, who had been dry-eyed and brave through all the dreadful weeks, buried his head in Tonio's shaggy fur and gave way to tears.
After the baby had been kissed, and the servants greeted, and all the dear, familiar places visited once more, it was time for supper, and, oh, what a supper it was! The cook, the moment the wonderful news had reached the villa, had flown to the kitchen, and there she had cooked all their favorite dishes. There were artichokes for Beppina, and stufato for Beppo, and a cake as soft and light as thistle-down for dessert. In the evening they received a telegram of welcome from their dear Babbo in Florence, for the good news had been flashed across the wires to him and all the servants in the Grifoni palace were rejoicing too.
When bedtime came, instead of lying down upon straw, or a husk mattress, the Twins had their own mother to tuck them in their own white beds in their own dear, clean rooms, and then to sing them to sleep as she had done when they were little, little children.
Long after they were safe in dreamland, the Marchesa lingered beside their beds, and then, throwing herself upon her knees before the image of the Madonna in her own room, she poured out her grateful heart in thanksgiving to that other Mother who had lived and suffered too.