A Foregone Conclusion
W. D. Howells
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Eric Eldred, Joshua Hutchinson
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
A FOREGONE CONCLUSION
W. D. HOWELLS
A FOREGONE CONCLUSION
As Don Ippolito passed down the long narrow _calle_ or footway
leading from the Campo San Stefano to the Grand Canal in Venice, he
peered anxiously about him: now turning for a backward look up the
calle, where there was no living thing in sight but a cat on a garden
gate; now running a quick eye along the palace walls that rose vast on
either hand and notched the slender strip of blue sky visible overhead
with the lines of their jutting balconies, chimneys, and cornices; and
now glancing toward the canal, where he could see the noiseless black
boats meeting and passing. There was no sound in the calle save his own
footfalls and the harsh scream of a parrot that hung in the sunshine in
one of the loftiest windows; but the note of a peasant crying pots of
pinks and roses in the campo came softened to Don Ippolito's sense, and
he heard the gondoliers as they hoarsely jested together and gossiped,
with the canal between them, at the next gondola station.
The first tenderness of spring was in the air though down in that calle
there was yet enough of the wintry rawness to chill the tip of Don
Ippolito's sensitive nose, which he rubbed for comfort with a
handkerchief of dark blue calico, and polished for ornament with a
handkerchief of white linen. He restored each to a different pocket in
the sides of the ecclesiastical _talare_, or gown, reaching almost
to his ankles, and then clutched the pocket in which he had replaced
the linen handkerchief, as if to make sure that something he prized was
safe within. He paused abruptly, and, looking at the doors he had
passed, went back a few paces and stood before one over which hung,
slightly tilted forward, an oval sign painted with the effigy of an
eagle, a bundle of arrows, and certain thunderbolts, and bearing the
legend, CONSULATE OF THE UNITED STATES, in neat characters. Don
Ippolito gave a quick sigh, hesitated a moment, and then seized the
bell-pull and jerked it so sharply that it seemed to thrust out, like a
part of the mechanism, the head of an old serving-woman at the window
"Who is there?" demanded this head.
"Friends," answered Don Ippolito in a rich, sad voice.
"And what do you command?" further asked the old woman.
Don Ippolito paused, apparently searching for his voice, before he
inquired, "Is it here that the Consul of America lives?"
"Is he perhaps at home?"
"I don't know. I will go ask him."
"Do me that pleasure, dear," said Don Ippolito, and remained knotting
his fingers before the closed door. Presently the old woman returned,
and looking out long enough to say, "The consul is at home," drew some
inner bolt by a wire running to the lock, that let the door start open;
then, waiting to hear Don Ippolito close it again, she called out from
her height, "Favor me above." He climbed the dim stairway to the point
where she stood, and followed her to a door, which she flung open into
an apartment so brightly lit by a window looking on the sunny canal,
that he blinked as he entered. "Signor Console," said the old woman,
"behold the gentleman who desired to see you;" and at the same time Don
Ippolito, having removed his broad, stiff, three-cornered hat, came
forward and made a beautiful bow. He had lost for the moment the
trepidation which had marked his approach to the consulate, and bore
himself with graceful dignity.
It was in the first year of the war, and from a motive of patriotism
common at that time, Mr. Ferris (one of my many predecessors in office
at Venice) had just been crossing his two silken gondola flags above
the consular bookcase, where with their gilt lance-headed staves, and
their vivid stars and stripes, they made a very pretty effect. He
filliped a little dust from his coat, and begged Don Ippolito to be
seated, with the air of putting even a Venetian priest on a footing of
equality with other men under the folds of the national banner. Mr.
Ferris had the prejudice of all Italian sympathizers against the
priests; but for this he could hardly have found anything in Don
Ippolito to alarm dislike. His face was a little thin, and the chin was
delicate; the nose had a fine, Dantesque curve, but its final droop
gave a melancholy cast to a countenance expressive of a gentle and
kindly spirit; the eyes were large and dark and full of a dreamy
warmth. Don Ippolito's prevailing tint was that transparent blueishness
which comes from much shaving of a heavy black beard; his forehead and
temples were marble white; he had a tonsure the size of a dollar. He
sat silent for a little space, and softly questioned the consul's face
with his dreamy eyes. Apparently he could not gather courage to speak
of his business at once, for he turned his gaze upon the window and
said, "A beautiful position, Signor Console."
"Yes, it's a pretty place," answered Mr. Ferris, warily.
"So much pleasanter here on the Canalazzo than on the campos or the
"Oh, without doubt."
"Here there must be constant amusement in watching the boats: great
stir, great variety, great life. And now the fine season commences, and
the Signor Console's countrymen will be coming to Venice. Perhaps,"
added Don Ippolito with a polite dismay, and an air of sudden anxiety
to escape from his own purpose, "I may be disturbing or detaining the
"No," said Mr. Ferris; "I am quite at leisure for the present. In what
can I have the honor of serving you?"
Don Ippolito heaved a long, ineffectual sigh, and taking his linen
handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his forehead with it, and rolled it
upon his knee. He looked at the door, and all round the room, and then
rose and drew near the consul, who had officially seated himself at his
"I suppose that the Signor Console gives passports?" he asked.
"Sometimes," replied Mr. Ferris, with a clouding face.
Don Ippolito seemed to note the gathering distrust and to be helpless
against it. He continued hastily: "Could the Signor Console give a
passport for America ... to me?"
"Are you an American citizen?" demanded the consul in the voice of a
man whose suspicions are fully roused.
"Yes; subject of the American republic."
"No, surely; I have not that happiness. I am an Austrian subject,"
returned Don Ippolito a little bitterly, as if the last words were an
unpleasant morsel in the mouth.
"Then I can't give you a passport," said Mr. Ferris, somewhat more
gently. "You know," he explained, "that no government can give
passports to foreign subjects. That would be an unheard-of thing."
"But I thought that to go to America an American passport would be
"In America," returned the consul, with proud compassion, "they don't
care a fig for passports. You go and you come, and nobody meddles. To
be sure," he faltered, "just now, on account of the secessionists, they
_do_ require you to show a passport at New York; but," he
continued more boldly, "American passports are usually for Europe; and
besides, all the American passports in the world wouldn't get
_you_ over the frontier at Peschiera. _You_ must have a passport
from the Austrian Lieutenancy of Venice,"
Don Ippolito nodded his head softly several times, and said,
"Precisely," and then added with an indescribable weariness, "Patience!
Signor Console, I ask your pardon for the trouble I have given," and he
made the consul another low bow.
Whether Mr. Ferris's curiosity was piqued, and feeling himself on the
safe side of his visitor he meant to know why he had come on such an
errand, or whether he had some kindlier motive, he could hardly have
told himself, but he said, "I'm very sorry. Perhaps there is something
else in which I could be of use to you."
"Ah, I hardly know," cried Don Ippolito. "I really had a kind of hope
in coming to your excellency."
"I am not an excellency," interrupted Mr. Ferris, conscientiously.
"Many excuses! But now it seems a mere bestiality. I was so ignorant
about the other matter that doubtless I am also quite deluded in this."
"As to that, of course I can't say," answered Mr. Ferris, "but I hope
"Why, listen, signore!" said Don Ippolito, placing his hand over that
pocket in which he kept his linen handkerchief. "I had something that
it had come into my head to offer your honored government for its
advantage in this deplorable rebellion."
"Oh," responded Mr. Ferris with a falling countenance. He had received
so many offers of help for his honored government from sympathizing
foreigners. Hardly a week passed but a sabre came clanking up his dim
staircase with a Herr Graf or a Herr Baron attached, who appeared in
the spotless panoply of his Austrian captaincy or lieutenancy, to
accept from the consul a brigadier-generalship in the Federal armies,
on condition that the consul would pay his expenses to Washington, or
at least assure him of an exalted post and reimbursement of all outlays
from President Lincoln as soon as he arrived. They were beautiful men,
with the complexion of blonde girls; their uniforms fitted like kid
gloves; the pale blue, or pure white, or huzzar black of their coats
was ravishingly set off by their red or gold trimmings; and they were
hard to make understand that brigadiers of American birth swarmed at
Washington, and that if they went thither, they must go as soldiers of
fortune at their own risk. But they were very polite; they begged
pardon when they knocked their scabbards against the consul's
furniture, at the door they each made him a magnificent obeisance, said
"Servus!" in their great voices, and were shown out by the old Marina,
abhorrent of their uniforms and doubtful of the consul's political
sympathies. Only yesterday she had called him up at an unwonted hour to
receive the visit of a courtly gentleman who addressed him as Monsieur
le Ministre, and offered him at a bargain ten thousand stand of
probably obsolescent muskets belonging to the late Duke of Parma.
Shabby, hungry, incapable exiles of all nations, religions, and
politics beset him for places of honor and emolument in the service of
the Union; revolutionists out of business, and the minions of banished
despots, were alike willing to be fed, clothed, and dispatched to
Washington with swords consecrated to the perpetuity of the republic.
"I have here," said Don Ippolito, too intent upon showing whatever it
was he had to note the change in the consul's mood, "the model of a
weapon of my contrivance, which I thought the government of the North
could employ successfully in cases where its batteries were in danger
of capture by the Spaniards."
"Spaniards? Spaniards? We have no war with Spain!" cried the consul.
"Yes, yes, I know," Don Ippolito made haste to explain, "but those of
South America being Spanish by descent"--
"But we are not fighting the South Americans. We are fighting our own
Southern States, I am sorry to say."
"Oh! Many excuses. I am afraid I don't understand," said Don Ippolito
meekly; whereupon Mr. Ferris enlightened him in a formula (of which he
was beginning to be weary) against European misconception of the
American situation. Don Ippolito nodded his head contritely, and when
Mr. Ferris had ended, he was so much abashed that he made no motion to
show his invention till the other added, "But no matter; I suppose the
contrivance would work as well against the Southerners as the South
Americans. Let me see it, please;" and then Don Ippolito, with a
gratified smile, drew from his pocket the neatly finished model of a
"You perceive, Signor Console," he said with new dignity, "that this is
nothing very new as a breech-loader, though I ask you to observe this
little improvement for restoring the breech to its place, which is
original. The grand feature of my invention, however, is this secret
chamber in the breech, which is intended to hold an explosive of high
potency, with a fuse coming out below. The gunner, finding his piece in
danger, ignites this fuse, and takes refuge in flight. At the moment
the enemy seizes the gun the contents of the secret chamber explode,
demolishing the piece and destroying its captors."
The dreamy warmth in Don Ippolito's deep eyes kindled to a flame; a
dark red glowed in his thin cheeks; he drew a box from the folds of his
drapery and took snuff in a great whiff, as if inhaling the sulphurous
fumes of battle, or titillating his nostrils with grains of gunpowder.
He was at least in full enjoyment of the poetic power of his invention,
and no doubt had before his eyes a vivid picture of a score of
secessionists surprised and blown to atoms in the very moment of
triumph. "Behold, Signor Console!" he said.
"It's certainly very curious," said Mr. Ferris, turning the fearful toy
over in his hand, and admiring the neat workmanship of it. "Did you
make this model yourself?"
"Surely," answered the priest, with a joyous pride; "I have no money to
spend upon artisans; and besides, as you might infer, signore, I am not
very well seen by my superiors and associates on account of these
little amusements of mine; so keep them as much as I can to myself."
Don Ippolito laughed nervously, and then fell silent with his eyes
intent upon the consul's face. "What do you think, signore?" he
presently resumed. "If this invention were brought to the notice of
your generous government, would it not patronize my labors? I have read
that America is the land of enterprises. Who knows but your government
might invite me to take service under it in some capacity in which I
could employ those little gifts that Heaven "--He paused again,
apparently puzzled by the compassionate smile on the consul's lips."
But tell me, signore, how this invention appears to you." "Have you had
any practical experience in gunnery?" asked Mr. Ferris.
"Why, certainly not."
"Neither have I," continued Mr. Ferris, "but I was wondering whether
the explosive in this secret chamber would not become so heated by the
frequent discharges of the piece as to go off prematurely sometimes,
and kill our own artillerymen instead of waiting for the
Don Ippolito's countenance fell, and a dull shame displaced the
exultation that had glowed in it. His head sunk on his breast, and he
made no attempt at reply, so that it was again Mr. Ferris who spoke.
"You see, I don't really know anything more of the matter than you do,
and I don't undertake to say whether your invention is disabled by the
possibility I suggest or not. Haven't you any acquaintances among the
military, to whom you could show your model?"
"No," answered Don Ippolito, coldly, "I don't consort with the
military. Besides, what would be thought of a _priest_," he asked
with a bitter stress on the word, "who exhibited such an invention as
that to an officer of our paternal government?"
"I suppose it would certainly surprise the lieutenant-governor
somewhat," said Mr. Ferris with a laugh. "May I ask," he pursued after
an interval, "whether you have occupied yourself with other
"I have attempted a great many," replied Don Ippolito in a tone of
"Are they all of this warlike temper?" pursued the consul.
"No," said Don Ippolito, blushing a little, "they are nearly all of
peaceful intention. It was the wish to produce something of utility
which set me about this cannon. Those good friends of mine who have
done me the honor of looking at my attempts had blamed me for the
uselessness of my inventions; they allowed that they were ingenious,
but they said that even if they could be put in operation, they would
not be what the world cared for. Perhaps they were right. I know very
little of the world," concluded the priest, sadly. He had risen to go,
yet seemed not quite able to do so; there was no more to say, but if he
had come to the consul with high hopes, it might well have unnerved him
to have all end so blankly. He drew a long, sibilant breath between his
shut teeth, nodded to himself thrice, and turning to Mr. Ferris with a
melancholy bow, said, "Signor Console, I thank you infinitely for your
kindness, I beg your pardon for the disturbance, and I take my leave."
"I am sorry," said Mr. Ferris. "Let us see each other again. In regard
to the inventions,--well, you must have patience." He dropped into some
proverbial phrases which the obliging Latin tongues supply so
abundantly for the races who must often talk when they do not feel like
thinking, and he gave a start when Don Ippolito replied in English,
"Yes, but hope deferred maketh the heart sick."
It was not that it was so uncommon to have Italians innocently come out
with their whole slender stock of English to him, for the sake of
practice, as they told him; but there were peculiarities in Don
Ippolito's accent for which he could not account. "What," he exclaimed,
"do you know English?"
"I have studied it a little, by my myself," answered Don Ippolito,
pleased to have his English recognized, and then lapsing into the
safety of Italian, he added, "And I had also the help of an English
ecclesiastic who sojourned some months in Venice, last year, for his
health, and who used to read with me and teach me the pronunciation. He
was from Dublin, this ecclesiastic."
"Oh!" said Mr. Ferris, with relief, "I see;" and he perceived that what
had puzzled him in Don Ippolito's English was a fine brogue
superimposed upon his Italian accent.
"For some time I have had this idea of going to America, and I thought
that the first thing to do was to equip myself with the language."
"Um!" said Mr. Ferris, "that was practical, at any rate," and he mused
awhile. By and by he continued, more kindly than he had yet spoken, "I
wish I could ask you to sit down again: but I have an engagement which
I must make haste to keep. Are you going out through the campo? Pray
wait a minute, and I will walk with you."
Mr. Ferris went into another room, through the open door of which Don
Ippolito saw the paraphernalia of a painter's studio: an easel with a
half-finished picture on it; a chair with a palette and brushes, and
crushed and twisted tubes of colors; a lay figure in one corner; on the
walls scraps of stamped leather, rags of tapestry, desultory sketches
Mr. Ferris came out again, brushing his hat.
"The Signor Console amuses himself with painting, I see," said Don
"Not at all," replied Mr. Ferris, putting on his gloves; "I am a
painter by profession, and I amuse myself with consuling;" [Footnote:
Since these words of Mr. Ferris were first printed, I have been told
that a more eminent painter, namely Rubens, made very much the same
reply to very much the same remark, when Spanish Ambassador in England.
"The Ambassador of His Catholic Majesty, I see, amuses himself by
painting sometimes," said a visitor who found him at his easel. "I
amuse myself by playing the ambassador sometimes," answered Rubens. In
spite of the similarity of the speeches, I let that of Mr. Ferris
stand, for I am satisfied that he did not know how unhandsomely Rubens
had taken the words out of his mouth.] and as so open a matter needed
no explanation, he said no more about it. Nor is it quite necessary to
tell how, as he was one day painting in New York, it occurred to him to
make use of a Congressional friend, and ask for some Italian consulate,
he did not care which. That of Venice happened to be vacant: the income
was a few hundred dollars; as no one else wanted it, no question was
made of Mr. Ferris's fitness for the post, and he presently found
himself possessed of a commission requesting the Emperor of Austria to
permit him to enjoy and exercise the office of consul of the ports of
the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom, to which the President of the United
States appointed him from a special trust in his abilities and
integrity. He proceeded at once to his post of duty, called upon the
ship's chandler with whom they had been left, for the consular
archives, and began to paint some Venetian subjects.
He and Don Ippolito quitted the Consulate together, leaving Marina to
digest with her noonday porridge the wonder that he should be walking
amicably forth with a priest. The same spectacle was presented to the
gaze of the campo, where they paused in friendly converse, and were
seen to part with many politenesses by the doctors of the neighborhood,
lounging away their leisure, as the Venetian fashion is, at the local
The apothecary craned forward over his counter, and peered through the
open door. "What is that blessed Consul of America doing with a
"The Consul of America with a priest?" demanded a grave old man, a
physician with a beautiful silvery beard, and a most reverend and
senatorial presence, but one of the worst tongues in Venice. "Oh!" he
added, with a laugh, after scrutiny of the two through his glasses,
"it's that crack-brain Don Ippolito Rondinelli. He isn't priest enough
to hurt the consul. Perhaps he's been selling him a perpetual motion
for the use of his government, which needs something of the kind just
now. Or maybe he's been posing to him for a picture. He would make a
very pretty Joseph, give him Potiphar's wife in the background," said
the doctor, who if not maligned would have needed much more to make a
Joseph of him.
Mr. Ferris took his way through the devious footways where the shadow
was chill, and through the broad campos where the sun was tenderly
warm, and the towers of the church rose against the speck-less azure of
the vernal heaven. As he went along, he frowned in a helpless
perplexity with the case of Don Ippolito, whom he had begun by doubting
for a spy with some incomprehensible motive, and had ended by pitying
with a certain degree of amusement and a deep sense of the futility of
his compassion. He presently began to think of him with a little
disgust, as people commonly think of one whom they pity and yet cannot
help, and he made haste to cast off the hopeless burden. He shrugged
his shoulders, struck his stick on the smooth paving-stones, and let
his eyes rove up and down the fronts of the houses, for the sake of the
pretty faces that glanced out of the casements. He was a young man, and
it was spring, and this was Venice. He made himself joyfully part of
the city and the season; he was glad of the narrowness of the streets,
of the good-humored jostling and pushing; he crouched into an arched
doorway to let a water-carrier pass with her copper buckets dripping at
the end of the yoke balanced on her shoulder, and he returned her
smiles and excuses with others as broad and gay; he brushed by the
swelling hoops of ladies, and stooped before the unwieldy burdens of
porters, who as they staggered through the crowd with a thrust hero,
and a shove there forgave themselves, laughing, with "We are in Venice,
signori;" and he stood aside for the files of soldiers clanking heavily
over the pavement, then muskets kindling to a blaze in the sunlit
campos and quenched again in the damp shadows of the calles. His ear
was taken by the vibrant jargoning of the boatmen as they pushed their
craft under the bridges he crossed, and the keen notes of the canaries
and the songs of the golden-billed blackbirds whose cages hung at
lattices far overhead. Heaps of oranges, topped by the fairest cut in
halves, gave their color, at frequent intervals, to the dusky corners
and recesses and the long-drawn cry of the venders, "Oranges of
Palermo!" rose above the clatter of feet and the clamor of other
voices. At a little shop where butter and eggs and milk abounded,
together with early flowers of various sorts, he bought a bunch of
hyacinths, blue and white and yellow, and he presently stood smelling
these while he waited in the hotel parlor for the ladies to whom he had
sent his card. He turned at the sound of drifting drapery, and could
not forbear placing the hyacinths in the hand of Miss Florida Vervain,
who had come into the room to receive him. She was a girl of about
seventeen years, who looked older; she was tall rather than short, and
rather full,--though it could not be said that she erred in point of
solidity. In the attitudes of shy hauteur into which she constantly
fell, there was a touch of defiant awkwardness which had a certain
fascination. She was blonde, with a throat and hands of milky
whiteness; there was a suggestion of freckles on her regular face,
where a quick color came and went, though her cheeks were habitually
somewhat pale; her eyes were very blue under their level brows, and the
lashes were even lighter in color than the masses of her fair gold
hair; the edges of the lids were touched with the faintest red. The
late Colonel Vervain of the United States army, whose complexion his
daughter had inherited, was an officer whom it would not have been
peaceable to cross in any purpose or pleasure, and Miss Vervain seemed
sometimes a little burdened by the passionate nature which he had left
her together with the tropical name he had bestowed in honor of the
State where he had fought the Seminoles in his youth, and where
he chanced still to be stationed when she was born; she had the
air of being embarrassed in presence of herself, and of having an
anxious watch upon her impulses. I do not know how otherwise to
describe the effort of proud, helpless femininity, which would have
struck the close observer in Miss Vervain.
"Delicious!" she said, in a deep voice, which conveyed something of
this anxiety in its guarded tones, and yet was not wanting in a kind of
frankness. "Did you mean them for me, Mr. Ferris?"
"I didn't, but I do," answered Mr. Ferris. "I bought them in ignorance,
but I understand now what they were meant for by nature;" and in fact
the hyacinths, with their smooth textures and their pure colors,
harmonized well with Miss Vervain, as she bent her face over them and
inhaled their full, rich perfume.
"I will put them in water," she said, "if you'll excuse me a moment.
Mother will be down directly."
Before she could return, her mother rustled into the parlor.
Mrs. Vervain was gracefully, fragilely unlike her daughter. She entered
with a gentle and gliding step, peering near-sightedly about through
her glasses, and laughing triumphantly when she had determined Mr.
Ferris's exact position, where he stood with a smile shaping his full
brown beard and glancing from his hazel eyes. She was dressed in
perfect taste with reference to her matronly years, and the lingering
evidences of her widowhood, and she had an unaffected naturalness of
manner which even at her age of forty-eight could not be called less
than charming. She spoke in a trusting, caressing tone, to which no man
at least could respond unkindly.
"So very good of you, to take all this trouble, Mr. Ferris," she said,
giving him a friendly hand, "and I suppose you are letting us encroach
upon very valuable time. I'm quite ashamed to take it. But isn't it a
heavenly day? What _I_ call a perfect day, just right every way;
none of those disagreeable extremes. It's so unpleasant to have it too
hot, for instance. I'm the greatest person for moderation, Mr. Ferris,
and I carry the principle into everything; but I do think the
breakfasts at these Italian hotels are too light altogether. I like our
American breakfasts, don't you? I've been telling Florida I can't stand
it; we really must make some arrangement. To be sure, you oughtn't to
think of such a thing as eating, in a place like Venice, all poetry;
but a sound mind in a sound body, _I_ say. We're perfectly wild
over it. Don't you think it's a place that grows upon you very much,
Mr. Ferris? All those associations,--it does seem too much; and the
gondolas everywhere. But I'm always afraid the gondoliers cheat us; and
in the stores I never feel safe a moment--not a moment. I do think the
Venetians are lacking in truthfulness, a little. I don't believe they
understand our American fairdealing and sincerity. I shouldn't want to
do them injustice, but I really think they take advantages in
bargaining. Now such a thing even as corals. Florida is extremely fond
of them, and we bought a set yesterday in the Piazza, and I _know_
we paid too much for them. Florida," said Mrs. Vervain, for her
daughter had reentered the room, and stood with some shawls and wraps
upon her arm, patiently waiting for the conclusion of the elder lady's
speech, "I wish you would bring down that set of corals. I'd like Mr.
Ferris to give an unbiased opinion. I'm sure we were cheated."
"I don't know anything about corals, Mrs. Vervain," interposed Mr.
"Well, but you ought to see this set for the beauty of the color;
they're really exquisite. I'm sure it will gratify your artistic
Miss Vervain hesitated with a look of desire to obey, and of doubt
whether to force the pleasure upon Mr. Ferris. "Won't it do another
time, mother?" she asked faintly; "the gondola is waiting for us."
Mrs. Vervain gave a frailish start from the chair, into which she had
sunk, "Oh, do let us be off at once, then," she said; and when they
stood on the landing-stairs of the hotel: "What gloomy things these
gondolas are!" she added, while the gondolier with one foot on the
gunwale of the boat received the ladies' shawls, and then crooked his
arm for them to rest a hand on in stepping aboard; "I wonder they don't
paint them some cheerful color."
"Blue, or pink, Mrs. Vervain?" asked Mr. Ferris. "I knew you were
coming to that question; they all do. But we needn't have the top on at
all, if it depresses your spirits. We shall be just warm enough in the
"Well, have it off, then. It sends the cold chills over me to look at
it. What _did_ Byron call it?"
"Yes, it's time for. Byron, now. It was very good of you not to mention
him before, Mrs. Vervain. Bat I knew he had to come. He called it a
coffin clapped in a canoe."
"Exactly," said Mrs. Vervain. "I always feel as if I were going to my
own funeral when I get into it; and I've certainly had enough of
funerals never to want to have anything to do with another, as long as
She settled herself luxuriously upon the feather-stuffed leathern
cushions when the cabin was removed. Death had indeed been near her
very often; father and mother had been early lost to her, and the
brothers and sisters orphaned with her had faded and perished one after
another, as they ripened to men and women; she had seen four of her own
children die; her husband had been dead six years. All these
bereavements had left her what they had found her. She had truly
grieved, and, as she said, she had hardly ever been out of black since
she could remember.
"I never was in colors when I was a girl," she went on, indulging many
obituary memories as the gondola dipped and darted down the canal, "and
I was married in my mourning for my last sister. It did seem a little
too much when she went, Mr. Ferris. I was too young to feel it so much
about the others, but we were nearly of the same age, and that makes a
difference, don't you know. First a brother and then a sister: it was
very strange how they kept going that way. I seemed to break the charm
when I got married; though, to be sure, there was no brother left after
Miss Vervain heard her mother's mortuary prattle with a face from which
no impatience of it could be inferred, and Mr. Ferris made no comment
on what was oddly various in character and manner, for Mrs. Vervain
touched upon the gloomiest facts of her history with a certain
impersonal statistical interest. They were rowing across the lagoon to
the Island of San Lazzaro, where for reasons of her own she intended to
venerate the convent in which Byron studied the Armenian language
preparatory to writing his great poem in it; if her pilgrimage had no
very earnest motive, it was worthy of the fact which it was designed to
honor. The lagoon was of a perfect, shining smoothness, broken by the
shallows over which the ebbing tide had left the sea-weed trailed like
long, disheveled hair. The fishermen, as they waded about staking their
nets, or stooped to gather the small shell-fish of the shallows, showed
legs as brown and tough as those of the apostles in Titian's
Assumption. Here and there was a boat, with a boy or an old man asleep
in the bottom of it. The gulls sailed high, white flakes against the
illimitable blue of the heavens; the air, though it was of early
spring, and in the shade had a salty pungency, was here almost
languorously warm; in the motionless splendors and rich colors of the
scene there was a melancholy before which Mrs. Vervain fell fitfully
silent. Now and then Ferris briefly spoke, calling Miss Vervain's
notice to this or that, and she briefly responded. As they passed the
mad-house of San Servolo, a maniac standing at an open window took his
black velvet skull-cap from his white hair, bowed low three times, and
kissed his hand to the ladies. The Lido in front of them stretched a
brown strip of sand with white villages shining out of it; on their
left the Public Gardens showed a mass of hovering green; far beyond and
above, the ghostlike snows of the Alpine heights haunted the misty
It was chill in the shadow of the convent when they landed at San
Lazzaro, and it was cool in the parlor where they waited for the monk
who was to show them through the place; but it was still and warm in
the gardened court, where the bees murmured among the crocuses and
hyacinths under the noonday sun. Miss Vervain stood looking out of the
window upon the lagoon, while her mother drifted about the room,
peering at the objects on the wall through her eyeglasses. She was
praising a Chinese painting of fish on rice-paper, when a young monk
entered with a cordial greeting in English for Mr. Ferris. She turned
and saw them shaking hands, but at the same moment her eyeglasses
abandoned her nose with a vigorous leap; she gave an amiable laugh, and
groping for them over her dress, bowed at random as Mr. Ferris
presented Padre Girolamo.
"I've been admiring this painting so much, Padre Girolamo," she said,
with instant good-will, and taking the monk into the easy familiarity
of her friendship by the tone with which she spoke his name. "Some of
the brothers did it, I suppose."
"Oh no," said the monk, "it's a Chinese painting. We hung it up there
because it was given to us, and was curious."
"Well, now, do you know," returned Mrs. Vervain, "I _thought_ it
was Chinese! Their things _are_, so odd. But really, in an
Armenian convent it's very misleading. I don't think you ought to leave
it there; it certainly does throw people off the track," she added,
subduing the expression to something very lady-like, by the winning
appeal with which she used it.
"Oh, but if they put up Armenian paintings in Chinese convents?" said
"You're joking!" cried Mrs. Vervain, looking at him with a graciously
amused air. "There _are_ no Chinese convents. To be sure those
rebels are a kind of Christians," she added thoughtfully, "but there
can't be many of them left, poor things, hundreds of them executed at a
time, that way. It's perfectly sickening to read of it; and you can't
help it, you know. But they say they haven't really so much feeling as
we have--not so nervous."
She walked by the side of the young friar as he led the way to such
parts of the convent as are open to visitors, and Mr. Ferris came after
with her daughter, who, he fancied, met his attempts at talk with
sudden and more than usual hauteur. "What a fool!" he said to himself.
"Is she afraid I shall be wanting to make love to her?" and he followed
in rather a sulky silence the course of Mrs. Vervain and her guide. The
library, the chapel, and the museum called out her friendliest praises,
and in the last she praised the mummy on show there at the expense of
one she had seen in New York; but when Padre Girolamo pointed out the
desk in the refectory from which one of the brothers read while the
rest were eating, she took him to task. "Oh, but I can't think that's
at all good for the digestion, you know,--using the brain that way
whilst you're at table. I really hope you don't listen too attentively;
it would be better for you in the long run, even in a religious point
of view. But now--Byron! You _must_ show me his cell!" The monk
deprecated the non-existence of such a cell, and glanced in perplexity
at Mr. Ferris, who came to his relief. "You couldn't have seen his
cell, if he'd had one, Mrs. Vervain. They don't admit ladies to the
"What nonsense!" answered Mrs. Vervain, apparently regarding this as
another of Mr. Ferris's pleasantries; but Padre Girolamo silently
confirmed his statement, and she briskly assailed the rule as a
disrespect to the sex, which reflected even upon the Virgin, the
object, as he was forced to allow, of their high veneration. He smiled
patiently, and confessed that Mrs. Vervain had all the reasons on her
side. At the polyglot printing-office, where she handsomely bought
every kind of Armenian book and pamphlet, and thus repaid in the only
way possible the trouble their visit had given, he did not offer to
take leave of them, but after speaking with Ferris, of whom he seemed
an old friend, he led them through the garden environing the convent,
to a little pavilion perched on the wall that defends the island from
the tides of the lagoon. A lay-brother presently followed them, bearing
a tray with coffee, toasted rusk, and a jar of that conserve of rose-
leaves which is the convent's delicate hospitality to favored guests.
Mrs. Vervain cried out over the poetic confection when Padre Girolamo
told her what it was, and her daughter suffered herself to express a
guarded pleasure. The amiable matron brushed the crumbs of the
_baicolo_ from her lap when the lunch was ended, and fitting on
her glasses leaned forward for a better look at the monk's black-
bearded face. "I'm perfectly delighted," she said. "You must be very
happy here. I suppose you are."
"Yes," answered the monk rapturously; "so happy that I should be
content never to leave San Lazzaro. I came here when I was very young,
and the greater part of my life has been passed on this little island.
It is my home--my country."
"Do you never go away?"
"Oh yes; sometimes to Constantinople, sometimes to London and Paris."
"And you've never been to America yet? Well now, I'll tell you; you
ought to go. You would like it, I know, and our people would give you a
very cordial reception."
"Reception?" The monk appealed once more to Ferris with a look.
Ferris broke into a laugh. "I don't believe Padre Girolamo would come
in quality of distinguished foreigner, Mrs. Vervain, and I don't think
he'd know what to do with one of our cordial receptions."
"Well, he ought to go to America, any way. He can't really know
anything about us till he's been there. Just think how ignorant the
English are of our country! You _will_ come, won't you? I should
be delighted to welcome you at my house in Providence. Rhode Island is
a small State, but there's a great deal of wealth there, and very good
society in Providence. It's quite New-Yorky, you know," said Mrs.
Vervain expressively. She rose as she spoke, and led the way back to
the gondola. She told Padre Girolamo that they were to be some weeks in
Venice, and made him promise to breakfast with them at their hotel. She
smiled and nodded to him after the boat had pushed off, and kept him
bowing on the landing-stairs.
"What a lovely place, and what a perfectly heavenly morning you
_have_ given us, Mr. Ferris I We never can thank you enough for
it. And now, do you know what I'm thinking of? Perhaps you can help me.
It was Byron's studying there put me in mind of it. How soon do the
"About the end of June," responded Ferris mechanically, staring with
helpless mystification at Mrs. Vervain.
"Very well; then there's no reason why we shouldn't stay in Venice till
that time. We are both very fond of the place, and we'd quite
concluded, this morning, to stop here till the mosquitoes came. You
know, Mr. Ferris, my daughter had to leave school much earlier than she
ought, for my health has obliged me to travel a great deal since I lost
my husband; and I must have her with me, for we're all that there is of
us; we haven't a chick or a child that's related to us anywhere. But
wherever we stop, even for a few weeks, I contrive to get her some kind
of instruction. I feel the need of it so much in my own case; for to
tell you the truth, Mr. Ferris, I married too young. I suppose I should
do the same thing over again if it was to be done over; but don't you
see, my mind wasn't properly formed; and then following my husband
about from pillar to post, and my first baby born when I was nineteen--
well, it wasn't education, at any rate, whatever else it was; and I've
determined that Florida, though we are such a pair of wanderers, shall
not have my regrets. I got teachers for her in England,--the English
are not anything like so disagreeable at home as they are in
traveling, and we stayed there two years,--and I did in France, and I
did in Germany. And now, Italian. Here we are in Italy, and I think we
ought to improve the time. Florida knows a good deal of Italian
already, for her music teacher in France was an Italian, and he taught
her the language as well as music. What she wants now, I should say, is
to perfect her accent and get facility. I think she ought to have some
one come every day and read and converse an hour or two with her."
Mrs. Vervain leaned back in her seat, and looked at Ferris, who said,
feeling that the matter was referred to him, "I think--without
presuming to say what Miss Vervain's need of instruction is--that your
idea is a very good one." He mused in silence his wonder that so much
addlepatedness as was at once observable in Mrs. Vervain should exist
along with so much common-sense. "It's certainly very good in the
abstract," he added, with a glance at the daughter, as if the sense
must be hers. She did not meet his glance at once, but with an
impatient recognition of the heat that was now great for the warmth
with which she was dressed, she pushed her sleeve from her wrist,
showing its delicious whiteness, and letting her fingers trail through
the cool water; she dried them on her handkerchief, and then bent her
eyes full upon him as if challenging him to think this unlady-like.
"No, clearly the sense does not come from her," said Ferris to himself;
it is impossible to think well of the mind of a girl who treats one
with tacit contempt.
"Yes," resumed Mrs. Vervain, "it's certainly very good in the abstract.
But oh dear me! you've no idea of the difficulties in the way. I may
speak frankly with you, Mr. Ferris, for you are here as the
representative of the country, and you naturally sympathize with the
difficulties of Americans abroad; the teachers will fall in love with
"Mother!" began Miss Vervain; and then she checked herself.
Ferris gave a vengeful laugh. "Really, Mrs. Vervain, though I
sympathize with you in my official capacity, I must own that as a man
and a brother, I can't help feeling a little sorry for those poor
"To be sure, they are to be pitied, of course, and _I_ feel for
them; I did when I was a girl; for the same thing used to happen then.
I don't know why Florida should be subjected to such embarrassments,
too. It does seem sometimes as if it were something in the blood. They
all get the idea that you have money, you know."
"Then I should say that it might be something in the pocket," suggested
Ferris with a look at Miss Vervain, in whose silent suffering, as he
imagined it, he found a malicious consolation for her scorn.
"Well, whatever it is," replied Mrs. Vervain, "it's too vexatious. Of
course, going to new places, that way, as we're always doing, and only
going to stay for a limited time, perhaps, you can't pick and choose.
And even when you _do_ get an elderly teacher, they're as bad as
any. It really is too trying. Now, when I was talking with that nice
monk of yours at the convent, there, I couldn't help thinking how
perfectly delightful it would be if Florida could have _him_ for a
teacher. Why couldn't she? He told me that he would come to take
breakfast or lunch with us, but not dinner, for he always had to be at
the convent before nightfall. Well, he might come to give the lessons
sometime in the middle of the day."
"You couldn't manage it, Mrs. Vervain, I know you couldn't," answered
Ferris earnestly. "I'm sure the Armenians never do anything of the
kind. They're all very busy men, engaged in ecclesiastical or literary
work, and they couldn't give the time."
"Why not? There was Byron."
"But Byron went to them, and he studied Armenian, not Italian, with
them. Padre Girolamo speaks perfect Italian, for all that I can see;
but I doubt if he'd undertake to impart the native accent, which is
what you want. In fact, the scheme is altogether impracticable."
"Well," said Mrs. Vervain; "I'm exceedingly sorry. I had quite set my
heart on it. I never took such a fancy to any one in such a short time
"It seemed to be a case of love at first sight on both sides," said
Ferris. "Padre Girolamo doesn't shower those syruped rose-leaves
indiscriminately upon visitors."
"Thanks," returned Mrs. Vervain; "it's very good of you to say so, Mr.
Ferris, and it's very gratifying, all round; but don't you see, it
doesn't serve the present purpose. What teachers do you know of?"
She had been by marriage so long in the service of the United States
that she still regarded its agents as part of her own domestic economy.
Consuls she everywhere employed as functionaries specially appointed to
look after the interests of American ladies traveling without
protection. In the week which had passed since her arrival in Venice,
there had been no day on which she did not appeal to Ferris for help or
sympathy or advice. She took amiable possession of him at once, and she
had established an amusing sort of intimacy with him, to which the
haughty trepidations of her daughter set certain bounds, but in which
the demand that he should find her a suitable Italian teacher seemed
trivially matter of course.
"Yes. I know several teachers," he said, after thinking awhile; "but
they're all open to the objection of being human; and besides, they all
do things in a set kind of way, and I'm afraid they wouldn't enter into
the spirit of any scheme of instruction that departed very widely from
Ollendorff." He paused, and Mrs. Vervain gave a sketch of the different
professional masters whom she had employed in the various countries of
her sojourn, and a disquisition upon their several lives and
characters, fortifying her statements by reference of doubtful points
to her daughter. This occupied some time, and Ferris listened to it all
with an abstracted air. At last he said, with a smile, "There was an
Italian priest came to see me this morning, who astonished me by
knowing English--with a brogue that he'd learned from an English priest
straight from Dublin; perhaps _he_ might do, Mrs. Vervain? He's
professionally pledged, you know, not to give the kind of annoyance
you've suffered from in teachers. He would do as well as Padre
Girolamo, I suppose."
"Do you really? Are you in earnest?"
"Well, no, I believe I'm not. I haven't the least idea he would do. He
belongs to the church militant. He came to me with the model of a
breech-loading cannon he's invented, and he wanted a passport to go to
America, so that he might offer his cannon to our government."
"How curious!" said Mrs. Vervain, and her daughter looked frankly into
Ferris's face. "But I know; it's one of your jokes."
"You overpraise me, Mrs. Vervain. If I could make such jokes as that
priest was, I should set up for a humorist at once. He had the touch of
pathos that they say all true pieces of humor ought to have," he went
on instinctively addressing himself to Miss Vervain, who did not
repulse him. "He made me melancholy; and his face haunts me. I should
like to paint him. Priests are generally such a snuffy, common lot. And
I dare say," he concluded, "he's sufficiently commonplace, too, though
he didn't look it. Spare your romance, Miss Vervain."
The young lady blushed resentfully. "I see as little romance as joke in
it," she said.
"It was a cannon," returned Ferris, without taking any notice of her,
and with a sort of absent laugh, "that would make it very lively for
the Southerners--if they had it. Poor fellow! I suppose he came with
high hopes of me, and expected me to receive his invention with
eloquent praises. I've no doubt he figured himself furnished not only
with a passport, but with a letter from me to President Lincoln, and
foresaw his own triumphal entry into Washington, and his honorable
interviews with the admiring generals of the Union forces, to whom he
should display his wonderful cannon. Too bad; isn't it?"
"And why didn't you give him the passport and the letter?" asked Mrs.
"Oh, that's a state secret," returned Ferris.
"And you think he won't do for our purpose?"
"I don't indeed."
"Well, I'm not so sure of it. Tell me something more about him."
"I don't know anything more about him. Besides, there isn't time."
The gondola had already entered the canal, and was swiftly approaching
"Oh yes, there is," pleaded Mrs. Vervain, laying her hand on his arm.
"I want you to come in and dine with us. We dine early."
"Thank you, I can't. Affairs of the nation, you know. Rebel privateer
on the canal of the Brenta."
"Really?" Mrs. Vervain leaned towards Ferris for sharper scrutiny of
his face. Her glasses sprang from her nose, and precipitated themselves
into his bosom.
"Allow me," he said, with burlesque politeness, withdrawing them from
the recesses of his waistcoat and gravely presenting them. Miss Vervain
burst into a helpless laugh; then she turned toward her mother with a
kind of indignant tenderness, and gently arranged her shawl so that it
should not drop off when she rose to leave the gondola. She did not
look again at Ferris, who resisted Mrs. Vervain's entreaties to remain,
and took leave as soon as the gondola landed.
The ladies went to their room, where Florida lifted from the table a
vase of divers-colored hyacinths, and stepping out upon the balcony
flung the flowers into the canal. As she put down the empty vase, the
lingering perfume of the banished flowers haunted the air of the room.
"Why, Florida," said her mother, "those were the flowers that Mr.
Ferris gave you. Did you fancy they had begun to decay? The smell of
hyacinths when they're a little old is dreadful. But I can't imagine a
gentleman's giving you flowers that were at all old."
"Oh, mother, don't speak to me!" cried Miss Vervain, passionately,
clasping her hands to her face.
"Now I see that I've been saying something to vex you, my darling," and
seating herself beside the young girl on the sofa, she fondly took down
her hands. "Do tell me what it was. Was it about your teachers falling
in love with you? You know they did, Florida: Pestachiavi and Schulze,
both; and that horrid old Fleuron."
"Did you think I liked any better on that account to have you talk it
over with a stranger?" asked Florida, still angrily.
"That's true, my dear," said Mrs. Vervain, penitently. "But if it
worried you, why didn't you do something to stop me? Give me a hint, or
just a little knock, somewhere?"
"No, mother; I'd rather not. Then you'd have come out with the whole
thing, to prove that you were right. It's better to let it go," said
Florida with a fierce laugh, half sob. "But it's strange that you can't
remember how such things torment me."
"I suppose it's my weak health, dear," answered the mother. "I didn't
use to be so. But now I don't really seem to have the strength to be
sensible. I know it's silly as well as you. The talk just seems to keep
going on of itself,--slipping out, slipping out. But you needn't mind.
Mr. Ferris won't think you could ever have done anything out of the
way. I'm sure you don't act with _him_ as if you'd ever encouraged
anybody. I think you're too haughty with him, Florida. And now, his
"He's detestable. He's conceited and presuming beyond all endurance. I
don't care what he thinks of me. But it's his manner towards you that I
"I suppose it's rather free," said Mrs. Vervain. "But then you know, my
dear, I shall be soon getting to be an old lady; and besides, I always
feel as if consuls were a kind of one of the family. He's been very
obliging since we came; I don't know what we should have done without
him. And I don't object to a little ease of manner in the gentlemen; I
"He makes fun of you," cried Florida: "and there at the convent,", she
said, bursting into angry tears, "he kept exchanging glances with that
monk as if he.... He's insulting, and I hate him!"
"Do you mean that he thought your mother ridiculous, Florida?" asked
Mrs. Vervain gravely. "You must have misunderstood his looks; indeed
you must. I can't imagine why he should. I remember that I talked
particularly well during our whole visit; my mind was active, for I
felt unusually strong, and I was interested in everything. It's nothing
but a fancy of yours; or your prejudice, Florida. But it's odd, now
I've sat down for a moment, how worn out I feel. And thirsty."
Mrs. Vervain fitted on her glasses, but even then felt uncertainly
about for the empty vase on the table before her.
"It isn't a goblet, mother," said Florida; "I'll get you some water."
"Do; and then throw a shawl over me. I'm sleepy, and a nap before
dinner will do me good. I don't see why I'm so drowsy of late. I
suppose it's getting into the sea air here at Venice; though it's
mountain air that makes you drowsy. But you're quite mistaken about Mr.
Ferris. He isn't capable of anything really rude. Besides, there
wouldn't have been any sense in it."
The young girl brought the water and then knelt beside the sofa, on
which she arranged the pillows under her mother, and covered her with
soft wraps. She laid her cheek against the thinner face. "Don't mind
anything I've said, mother; let's talk of something else."
The mother drew some loose threads of the daughter's hair through her
slender fingers, but said little more, and presently fell into a deep
slumber. Florida gently lifted her head away, and remained kneeling
before the sofa, looking into the sleeping face with an expression of
strenuous, compassionate devotion, mixed with a vague alarm and self-
pity, and a certain wondering anxiety.
Don Ippolito had slept upon his interview with Ferris, and now sat in
his laboratory, amidst the many witnesses of his inventive industry,
with the model of the breech-loading cannon on the workbench before
him. He had neatly mounted it on wheels, that its completeness might do
him the greater credit with the consul when he should show it him, but
the carriage had been broken in his pocket, on the way home, by an
unlucky thrust from the burden of a porter, and the poor toy lay there
disabled, as if to dramatize that premature explosion in the secret
His heart was in these inventions of his, which had as yet so
grudgingly repaid his affection. For their sake he had stinted himself
of many needful things. The meagre stipend which he received from the
patrimony of his church, eked out with the money paid him for baptisms,
funerals, and marriages, and for masses by people who had friends to be
prayed out of purgatory, would at best have barely sufficed to support
him; but he denied himself everything save the necessary decorums of
dress and lodging; he fasted like a saint, and slept hard as a hermit,
that he might spend upon these ungrateful creatures of his brain. They
were the work of his own hands, and so he saved the expense of their
construction; but there were many little outlays for materials and for
tools, which he could not avoid, and with him a little was all. They
not only famished him; they isolated him. His superiors in the church,
and his brother priests, looked with doubt or ridicule upon the labors
for which he shunned their company, while he gave up the other social
joys, few and small, which a priest might know in the Venice of that
day, when all generous spirits regarded him with suspicion for his
cloth's sake, and church and state were alert to detect disaffection or
indifference in him. But bearing these things willingly, and living as
frugally as he might, he had still not enough, and he had been fain to
assume the instruction of a young girl of old and noble family in
certain branches of polite learning which a young lady of that sort
might fitly know. The family was not so rich as it was old and noble,
and Don Ippolito was paid from its purse rather than its pride. But the
slender salary was a help; these patricians were very good to him; many
a time he dined with them, and so spared the cost of his own pottage at
home; they always gave him coffee when he came, and that was a saving;
at the proper seasons little presents from them were not wanting. In a
word, his condition was not privation. He did his duty as a teacher
faithfully, and the only trouble with it was that the young girl was
growing into a young woman, and that he could not go on teaching her
forever. In an evil hour, as it seemed to Don Ippolito, that made the
years she had been his pupil shrivel to a mere pinch of time, there
came from a young count of the Friuli, visiting Venice, an offer of
marriage; and Don Ippolito lost his place. It was hard, but he bade
himself have patience; and he composed an ode for the nuptials of his
late pupil, which, together with a brief sketch of her ancestral
history, he had elegantly printed, according to the Italian usage, and
distributed among the family friends; he also made a sonnet to the
bridegroom, and these literary tributes were handsomely acknowledged.
He managed a whole year upon the proceeds, and kept a cheerful spirit
till the last soldo was spent, inventing one thing after another, and
giving much time and money to a new principle of steam propulsion,
which, as applied without steam to a small boat on the canal before his
door, failed to work, though it had no logical excuse for its
delinquency. He tried to get other pupils, but he got none, and he
began to dream of going to America. He pinned his faith in all sorts of
magnificent possibilities to the names of Franklin, Fulton, and Morse;
he was so ignorant of our politics and geography as to suppose us at
war with the South American Spaniards, but he knew that English was the
language of the North, and he applied himself to the study of it.
Heaven only knows what kind of inventor's Utopia, our poor, patent-
ridden country appeared to him in these dreams of his, and I can but
dimly figure it to myself. But he might very naturally desire to come
to a land where the spirit of invention is recognized and fostered, and
where he could hope to find that comfort of incentive and companionship
which our artists find in Italy.
The idea of the breech-loading cannon had occurred to him suddenly one
day, in one of his New-World-ward reveries, and he had made haste to
realize it, carefully studying the form and general effect of the
Austrian cannon under the gallery of the Ducal Palace, to the high
embarrassment of the Croat sentry who paced up and down there, and who
did not feel free to order off a priest as he would a civilian. Don
Ippolito's model was of admirable finish; he even painted the carriage
yellow and black, because that of the original was so, and colored the
piece to look like brass; and he lost a day while the paint was drying,
after he was otherwise ready to show it to the consul.
He had parted from Ferris with some gleams of comfort, caught chiefly
from his kindly manner, but they had died away before nightfall, and
this morning he could not rekindle them.
He had had his coffee served to him on the bench, as his frequent
custom was, but it stood untasted in the little copper pot beside the
dismounted cannon, though it was now ten o'clock, and it was full time
he had breakfasted, for he had risen early to perform the matin service
for three peasant women, two beggars, a cat, and a paralytic nobleman,
in the ancient and beautiful church to which he was attached. He had
tried to go about his wonted occupations, but he was still sitting idle
before his bench, while his servant gossiped from her balcony to the
mistress of the next house, across a calle so deep and narrow that it
opened like a mountain chasm beneath them. "It were well if the master
read his breviary a little more, instead of always maddening himself
with those blessed inventions, that eat more soldi than a Christian,
and never come to anything. There he sits before his table, as if he
were nailed to his chair, and lets his coffee cool--and God knows I was
ready to drink it warm two hours ago--and never looks at me if I open
the door twenty times to see whether he has finished. Holy patience!
You have not even the advantage of fasting to the glory of God in this
house, though you keep Lent the year round. It's the Devil's Lent,
_I_ say. Eh, Diana! There goes the bell. Who now? Adieu, Lusetta.
To meet again, dear. Farewell!"
She ran to another window, and admitted the visitor. It was Ferris, and
she went to announce him to her master by the title he had given, while
he amused his leisure in the darkness below by falling over a cistern-
top, with a loud clattering of his cane on the copper lid, after which
he heard the voice of the priest begging him to remain at his
convenience a moment till he could descend and show him the way up-
stairs. His eyes were not yet used to the obscurity of the narrow entry
in which he stood, when he felt a cold hand laid on his, and passively
yielded himself to its guidance. He tried to excuse himself for
intruding upon Don Ippolito so soon, but the priest in far suppler
Italian overwhelmed him with lamentations that he should be so unworthy
the honor done him, and ushered his guest into his apartment. He
plainly took it for granted that Ferris had come to see his inventions,
in compliance with the invitation he had given him the day before, and
he made no affectation of delay, though after the excitement of the
greetings was past, it was with a quiet dejection that he rose and
offered to lead his visitor to his laboratory.
The whole place was an outgrowth of himself; it was his history as well
as his character. It recorded his quaint and childish tastes, his
restless endeavors, his partial and halting successes. The ante-room in
which he had paused with Ferris was painted to look like a grape-arbor,
where the vines sprang from the floor, and flourishing up the trellised
walls, with many a wanton tendril and flaunting leaf, displayed their
lavish clusters of white and purple all over the ceiling. It touched
Ferris, when Don Ippolito confessed that this decoration had been the
distraction of his own vacant moments, to find that it was like certain
grape-arbors he had seen in remote corners of Venice before the doors
of degenerate palaces, or forming the entrances of open-air
restaurants, and did not seem at all to have been studied from grape-
arbors in the country. He perceived the archaic striving for exact
truth, and he successfully praised the mechanical skill and love of
reality with which it was done; but he was silenced by a collection of
paintings in Don Ippolito's parlor, where he had been made to sit down
a moment. Hard they were in line, fixed in expression, and opaque in
color, these copies of famous masterpieces,--saints of either sex,
ascensions, assumptions, martyrdoms, and what not,--and they were not
quite comprehensible till Don Ippolito explained that he had made them
from such prints of the subjects as he could get, and had colored them
after his own fancy. All this, in a city whose art had been the glory
of the world for nigh half a thousand years, struck Ferris as yet more
comically pathetic than the frescoed grape-arbor; he stared about him
for some sort of escape from the pictures, and his eye fell upon a
piano and a melodeon placed end to end in a right angle. Don Ippolito,
seeing his look of inquiry, sat down and briefly played the same air
with a hand upon each instrument.
Ferris smiled. "Don Ippolito, you are another Da Vinci, a universal
"Bagatelles, bagatelles," said the priest pensively; but he rose with
greater spirit than he had yet shown, and preceded the consul into the
little room that served him for a smithy. It seemed from some
peculiarities of shape to have once been an oratory, but it was now
begrimed with smoke and dust from the forge which Don Ippolito had set
up in it; the embers of a recent fire, the bellows, the pincers, the
hammers, and the other implements of the trade, gave it a sinister
effect, as if the place of prayer had been invaded by mocking imps, or
as if some hapless mortal in contract with the evil powers were here
searching, by the help of the adversary, for the forbidden secrets of
the metals and of fire. In those days, Ferris was an uncompromising
enemy of the theatricalization of Italy, or indeed of anything; but the
fancy of the black-robed young priest at work in this place appealed to
him all the more potently because of the sort of tragic innocence which
seemed to characterize Don Ippolito's expression. He longed intensely
to sketch the picture then and there, but he had strength to rebuke the
fancy as something that could not make itself intelligible without the
help of such accessories as he despised, and he victoriously followed
the priest into his larger workshop, where his inventions, complete and
incomplete, were stored, and where he had been seated when his visitor
arrived. The high windows and the frescoed ceiling were festooned with
dusty cobwebs; litter of shavings and whittlings strewed the floor;
mechanical implements and contrivances were everywhere, and Don
Ippolito's listlessness seemed to return upon him again at the sight of
the familiar disorder. Conspicuous among other objects lay the
illogically unsuccessful model of the new principle of steam
propulsion, untouched since the day when he had lifted it out of the
canal and carried it indoors through the ranks of grinning spectators.
From a shelf above it he took down models of a flying-machine and a
perpetual motion. "Fantastic researches in the impossible. I never
expected results from these experiments, with which I nevertheless once
pleased myself," he said, and turned impatiently to various pieces of
portable furniture, chairs, tables, bedsteads, which by folding up
their legs and tops condensed themselves into flat boxes, developing
handles at the side for convenience in carrying. They were painted and
varnished, and were in all respects complete; they had indeed won
favorable mention at an exposition of the Provincial Society of Arts
and Industries, and Ferris could applaud their ingenuity sincerely,
though he had his tacit doubts of their usefulness. He fell silent
again when Don Ippolito called his notice to a photographic camera, so
contrived with straps and springs that you could snatch by its help
whatever joy there might be in taking your own photograph; and he did
not know what to say of a submarine boat, a four-wheeled water-
velocipede, a movable bridge, or the very many other principles and
ideas to which Don Ippolito's cunning hand had given shape, more or
less imperfect. It seemed to him that they all, however perfect or
imperfect, had some fatal defect: they were aspirations toward the
impossible, or realizations of the trivial and superfluous. Yet, for
all this, they strongly appealed to the painter as the stunted fruit of
a talent denied opportunity, instruction, and sympathy. As he looked
from them at last to the questioning face of the priest, and considered
out of what disheartened and solitary patience they must have come in
this city,--dead hundreds of years to all such endeavor,--he could not
utter some glib phrases of compliment that he had on his tongue. If Don
Ippolito had been taken young, he might perhaps have amounted to
something, though this was questionable; but at thirty--as he looked
now,--with his undisciplined purposes, and his head full of vagaries of
which these things were the tangible witness.... Ferris let his eyes
drop again. They fell upon the ruin of the breech-loading cannon, and
he said, "Don Ippolito, it's very good of you to take the trouble of
showing me these matters, and I hope you'll pardon the ungrateful
return, if I cannot offer any definite opinion of them now. They are
rather out of my way, I confess. I wish with all my heart I could order
an experimental, life-size copy of your breech-loading cannon here, for
trial by my government, but I can't; and to tell you the truth, it was
not altogether the wish to see these inventions of yours that brought
me here to-day."
"Oh," said Don Ippolito, with a mortified air, "I am afraid that I have
wearied the Signor Console."
"Not at all, not at all," Ferris made haste to answer, with a frown at
his own awkwardness. "But your speaking English yesterday; ... perhaps
what I was thinking of is quite foreign to your tastes and
possibilities."... He hesitated with a look of perplexity, while Don
Ippolito stood before him in an attitude of expectation, pressing the
points of his fingers together, and looking curiously into his face.
"The case is this," resumed Ferris desperately. "There are two American
ladies, friends of mine, sojourning in Venice, who expect to be here
till midsummer. They are mother and daughter, and the young lady wants
to read and speak Italian with somebody a few hours each day. The
question is whether it is quite out of your way or not to give her
lessons of this kind. I ask it quite at a venture. I suppose no harm is
done, at any rate," and he looked at Don Ippolito with apologetic
"No," said the priest, "there is no harm. On the contrary, I am at this
moment in a position to consider it a great favor that you do me in
offering me this employment. I accept it with the greatest pleasure.
Oh!" he cried, breaking by a sudden impulse from the composure with
which he had begun to speak, "you don't know what you do for me; you
lift me out of despair. Before you came, I had reached one of those
passes that seem the last bound of endeavor. But you give me new life.
Now I can go on with my experiment. I can at test my gratitude by
possessing your native country of the weapon I had designed for it--I
am sure of the principle: some slight improvement, perhaps the use of
some different explosive, would get over that difficulty you
suggested," he said eagerly. "Yes, something can be done. God bless
you, my dear little son--I mean--perdoni!--my dear sir."...
"Wait--not so fast," said Ferris with a laugh, yet a little annoyed
that a question so purely tentative as his should have met at once such
a definite response. "Are you quite sure you can do what they want?" He
unfolded to him, as fully as he understood it, Mrs. Vervain's scheme.
Don Ippolito entered into it with perfect intelligence. He said that he
had already had charge of the education of a young girl of noble
family, and he could therefore the more confidently hope to be useful
to this American lady. A light of joyful hope shone in his dreamy eyes,
the whole man changed, he assumed the hospitable and caressing host. He
conducted Ferris back to his parlor, and making him sit upon the hard
sofa that was his hard bed by night, he summoned his servant, and bade
her serve them coffee. She closed her lips firmly, and waved her finger
before her face, to signify that there was no more coffee. Then he bade
her fetch it from the caffe: and he listened with a sort of rapt
inattention while Ferris again returned to the subject and explained
that he had approached him without first informing the ladies, and that
he must regard nothing as final. It was at this point that Don
Ippolito, who had understood so clearly what Mrs. Vervain wanted,
appeared a little slow to understand; and Ferris had a doubt whether it
was from subtlety or from simplicity that the priest seemed not to
comprehend the impulse on which he had acted. He finished his coffee in
this perplexity, and when he rose to go, Don Ippolito followed him down
to the street-door, and preserved him from a second encounter with the
"But, Don Ippolito--remember! I make no engagement for the ladies, whom
you must see before anything is settled," said Ferris.
"Surely,--surely!" answered the priest, and he remained smiling at the
door till the American turned the next corner. Then he went back to his
work-room, and took up the broken model from the bench. But he could
not work at it now, he could not work at anything; he began to walk up
and down the floor.
"Could he really have been so stupid because his mind was on his
ridiculous cannon?" wondered Ferris as he sauntered frowning away; and
he tried to prepare his own mind for his meeting with the Vervains, to
whom he must now go at once. He felt abused and victimized. Yet it was
an amusing experience, and he found himself able to interest both of
the ladies in it. The younger had received him as coldly as the forms
of greeting would allow; but as he talked she drew nearer him with a
reluctant haughtiness which he noted. He turned the more conspicuously
towards Mrs. Vervain. "Well, to make a long story short," he said, "I
couldn't discourage Don Ippolito. He refused to be dismayed--as I
should have been at the notion of teaching Miss Vervain. I didn't
arrange with him not to fall in love with her as his secular
predecessors have done--it seemed superfluous. But you can mention it
to him if you like. In fact," said Ferris, suddenly addressing the
daughter, "you might make the stipulation yourself, Miss Vervain."
She looked at him a moment with a sort of defenseless pain that made
him ashamed; and then walked away from him towards the window, with a
frank resentment that made him smile, as he continued, "But I suppose
you would like to have some explanation of my motive in precipitating
Don Ippolito upon you in this way, when I told you only yesterday that
he wouldn't do at all; in fact I think myself that I've behaved rather
fickle-mindedly--for a representative of the country. But I'll tell
you; and you won't be surprised to learn that I acted from mixed
motives. I'm not at all sure that he'll do; I've had awful misgivings
about it since I left him, and I'm glad of the chance to make a clean
breast of it. When I came to think the matter over last night, the fact
that he had taught himself English--with the help of an Irishman for
the pronunciation--seemed to promise that he'd have the right sort of
sympathy with your scheme, and it showed that he must have something
practical about him, too. And here's where the selfish admixture comes
in. I didn't have your interests solely in mind when I went to see Don
Ippolito. I hadn't been able to get rid of him; he stuck in my thought.
I fancied he might be glad of the pay of a teacher, and--I had half a
notion to ask him to let me paint him. It was an even chance whether I
should try to secure him for Miss Vervain, or for Art--as they call it.
Miss Vervain won because she could pay him, and I didn't see how Art
could. I can bring him round any time; and that's the whole
inconsequent business. My consolation is that I've left you perfectly
free. There's nothing decided."
"Thanks," said Mrs. Vervain; "then it's all settled. You can bring him
as soon as you like, to our new place. We've taken that apartment we
looked at the other day, and we're going into it this afternoon. Here's
the landlord's letter," she added, drawing a paper out of her pocket.
"If he's cheated us, I suppose you can see justice done. I didn't want
to trouble you before."
"You're a woman of business, Mrs. Vervain," said Ferris. "The man's a
perfect Jew--or a perfect Christian, one ought to say in Venice; we
true believers do gouge so much, more infamously here--and you let him
get you in black and white before you come to me. Well," he continued,
as he glanced at the paper, "you've done it! He makes you pay one half
too much. However, it's cheap enough; twice as cheap as your hotel."
"But I don't care for cheapness. I hate to be imposed upon. What's to
be done about it?"
"Nothing; if he has your letter as you have his. It's a bargain, and
you must stand to it."
"A bargain? Oh nonsense, now, Mr. Ferris. This is merely a note of
"Yes, that's one way of looking at it. The Civil Tribunal would call it
a binding agreement of the closest tenure,--if you want to go to law
"I _will_ go to law about it."
"Oh no, you won't--unless you mean to spend your remaining days and all
your substance in Venice. Come, you haven't done so badly, Mrs.
Vervain. I don't call four rooms, completely furnished for
housekeeping, with that lovely garden, at all dear at eleven francs a
day. Besides, the landlord is a man of excellent feeling, sympathetic
and obliging, and a perfect gentleman, though he is such an outrageous
scoundrel. He'll cheat you, of course, in whatever he can; you must
look out for that; but he'll do you any sort of little neighborly
kindness. Good-by," said Ferris, getting to the door before Mrs.
Vervain could intercept him. "I'll come to your new place this evening
to see how you are pleased."
"Florida," said Mrs. Vervain, "this is outrageous."
"I wouldn't mind it, mother. We pay very little, after all."
"Yes, but we pay too much. That's what I can't bear. And as you said
yesterday, I don't think Mr. Ferris's manners are quite respectful to
"He only told you the truth; I think he advised you for the best. The
matter couldn't be helped now."
"But I call it a want of feeling to speak the truth so bluntly."
"We won't have to complain of that in our landlord, it seems," said
Florida. "Perhaps not in our priest, either," she added.
"Yes, that _was_ kind of Mr. Ferris," said Mrs. Vervain. "It was
thoroughly thoughtful and considerate--what I call an instance of true
delicacy. I'm really quite curious to see him. Don Ippolito! How very
odd to call a priest _Don_! I should have said Padre. Don always
makes you think of a Spanish cavalier. Don Rodrigo: something like
They went on to talk, desultorily, of Don Ippolito, and what he might
be like. In speaking of him the day before, Ferris had hinted at some
mysterious sadness in him; and to hint of sadness in a man always
interests women in him, whether they are old or young: the old have
suffered, the young forebode suffering. Their interest in Don Ippolito
had not been diminished by what Ferris had told them of his visit to
the priest's house and of the things he had seen there; for there had
always been the same strain of pity in his laughing account, and he had
imparted none of his doubts to them. They did not talk as if it were
strange that Ferris should do to-day what he had yesterday said he
would not do; perhaps as women they could not find such a thing
strange; but it vexed him more and more as he went about all afternoon
thinking of his inconsistency, and wondering whether he had not acted
The palace in which Mrs. Vervain had taken an apartment fronted on a
broad campo, and hung its empty marble balconies from gothic windows
above a silence scarcely to be matched elsewhere in Venice. The local
pharmacy, the caffe, the grocery, the fruiterer's, the other shops with
which every Venetian campo is furnished, had each a certain life about
it, but it was a silent life, and at midday a frowsy-headed woman
clacking across the flags in her wooden-heeled shoes made echoes whose
garrulity was interrupted by no other sound. In the early morning, when
the lid of the public cistern in the centre of the campo was unlocked,
there was a clamor of voices and a clangor of copper vessels, as the
housewives of the neighborhood and the local force of strong-backed
Frinlan water-girls drew their day's supply of water; and on that sort
of special parochial holiday, called a _sagra_, the campo hummed
and clattered and shrieked with a multitude celebrating the day around
the stands where pumpkin seeds and roast pumpkin and anisette-water
were sold, and before the movable kitchen where cakes were fried in
caldrons of oil, and uproariously offered to the crowd by the cook, who
did not suffer himself to be embarrassed by the rival drama of
adjoining puppet-shows, but continued to bellow forth his bargains all
day long and far into the night, when the flames under his kettles
painted his visage a fine crimson. The sagra once over, however, the
campo relapsed into its habitual silence, and no one looking at the
front of the palace would have thought of it as a place for
distraction-seeking foreign sojourners. But it was not on this side
that the landlord tempted his tenants; his principal notice of lodgings
to let was affixed to the water-gate of the palace, which opened on a
smaller channel so near the Grand Canal that no wandering eye could
fail to see it. The portal was a tall arch of Venetian gothic tipped
with a carven flame; steps of white Istrian stone descended to the
level of the lowest ebb, irregularly embossed with barnacles, and
dabbling long fringes of soft green sea-mosses in the rising and
falling tide. Swarms of water-bugs and beetles played over the edges of
the steps, and crabs scuttled side-wise into deeper water at the
approach of a gondola. A length of stone-capped brick wall, to which
patches of stucco still clung, stretched from the gate on either hand
under cover of an ivy that flung its mesh of shining green from within,
where there lurked a lovely garden, stately, spacious for Venice, and
full of a delicious, half-sad surprise for whoso opened upon it. In the
midst it had a broken fountain, with a marble naiad standing on a
shell, and looking saucier than the sculptor meant, from having lost
the point of her nose, nymphs and fauns, and shepherds and
shepherdesses, her kinsfolk, coquetted in and out among the greenery in
flirtation not to be embarrassed by the fracture of an arm, or the
casting of a leg or so; one lady had no head, but she was the boldest
of all. In this garden there were some mulberry and pomegranate trees,
several of which hung about the fountain with seats in their shade, and
for the rest there seemed to be mostly roses and oleanders, with other
shrubs of a kind that made the greatest show of blossom and cost the
least for tendance. A wide terrace stretched across the rear of the
palace, dropping to the garden path by a flight of balustraded steps,
and upon this terrace opened the long windows of Mrs. Vervain's parlor
and dining-room. Her landlord owned only the first story and the
basement of the palace, in some corner of which he cowered with his
servants, his taste for pictures and _bric-a-brac_, and his little
branch of inquiry into Venetian history, whatever it was, ready to let
himself or anything he had for hire at a moment's notice, but very
pleasant, gentle, and unobtrusive; a cheat and a liar, but of a kind
heart and sympathetic manners. Under his protection Mrs. Vervain set up
her impermanent household gods. The apartment was taken only from week
to week, and as she freely explained to the _padrone_ hovering
about with offers of service, she knew herself too well ever to unpack
anything that would not spoil by remaining packed. She made her trunks
yield all the appliances necessary for an invalid's comfort, and then
left them in a state to be strapped and transported to the station
within half a day after the desire of change or the exigencies of her
feeble health caused her going. Everything for housekeeping was
furnished with the rooms. There was a gondolier and a sort of house-
servant in the employ of the landlord, of whom Mrs. Vervain hired them,
and she caressingly dismissed the padrone at an early moment after her
arrival, with the charge to find a maid for herself and daughter. As if
she had been waiting at the next door this maid appeared promptly, and
being Venetian, and in domestic service, her name was of course Nina.
Mrs. Vervain now said to Florida that everything was perfect, and
contentedly began her life in Venice by telling Mr. Ferris, when he
came in the evening, that he could bring Don Ippolito the day after the
morrow, if he liked.
She and Florida sat on the terrace waiting for them on the morning
named, when Ferris, with the priest in his clerical best, came up the
garden path in the sunny light. Don Ippolito's best was a little
poverty-stricken; he had faltered a while, before leaving home, over
the sad choice between a shabby cylinder hat of obsolete fashion and
his well-worn three-cornered priestly beaver, and had at last put on
the latter with a sigh. He had made his servant polish the buckles of
his shoes, and instead of a band of linen round his throat, he wore a
strip ot cloth covered with small white beads, edged above and below
with a single row of pale blue ones.
As he mounted the steps with Ferris, Mrs. Vervain came forward a little
to meet them, while Florida rose and stood beside her chair in a sort
of proud suspense and timidity. The elder lady was in that black from
which she had so seldom been able to escape; but the daughter wore a
dress of delicate green, in which she seemed a part of the young season
that everywhere clothed itself in the same tint. The sunlight fell upon
her blonde hair, melting into its light gold; her level brows frowned
somewhat with the glance of scrutiny which she gave the dark young
priest, who was making his stately bow to her mother, and trying to
answer her English greetings in the same tongue.
"My daughter," said Mrs. Vervain, and Don Ippolito made another low
bow, and then looked at the girl with a sort of frank and melancholy
wonder, as she turned and exchanged a few words with Ferris, who was
assailing her seriousness and hauteur with unabashed levity of
compliment. A quick light flashed and fled in her cheek as she talked,
and the fringes of her serious, asking eyes swept slowly up and down as
she bent them upon him a moment before she broke abruptly, not
coquettishly, away from him, and moved towards her mother, while Ferris
walked off to the other end of the terrace, with a laugh. Mrs. Vervain
and the priest were trying each other in French, and not making great
advance; he explained to Florida in Italian, and she answered him
hesitatingly; whereupon he praised her Italian in set phrase.
"Thank you," said the girl sincerely, "I have tried to learn. I hope,"
she added as before, "you can make me see how little I know." The
deprecating wave of the hand with which Don Ippolito appealed to her
from herself, seemed arrested midway by his perception of some novel
quality in her. He said gravely that he should try to be of use, and
then the two stood silent.
"Come, Mr. Ferris," called out Mrs. Vervain, "breakfast is ready, and I
want you to take me in."
"Too much honor," said the painter, coming forward and offering his
arm, and Mrs. Vervain led the way indoors.
"I suppose I ought to have taken Don Ippolito's arm," she confided in
under-tone, "but the fact is, our French is so unlike that we don't
understand each other very well."
"Oh," returned Ferris, "I've known Italians and Americans whom
Frenchmen themselves couldn't understand."
"You see it's an American breakfast," said Mrs. Vervain with a critical
glance at the table before she sat down. "All but hot bread;
_that_ you _can't_ have," and Don Ippolito was for the first
time in his life confronted by a breakfast of hot beef-steak, eggs and
toast, fried potatoes, and coffee with milk, with a choice of tea. He
subdued all signs of the wonder he must have felt, and beyond cutting
his meat into little bits before eating it, did nothing to betray his
strangeness to the feast.
The breakfast had passed off very pleasantly, with occasional lapses.
"We break down under the burden of so many languages," said Ferris. "It
is an _embarras de richesses_. Let us fix upon a common maccheronic.
May I trouble you for a poco piu di sugar dans mon cafe, Mrs. Vervain?
What do you think of the bellazza de ce weather magnifique, Don Ippolito?"
"How ridiculous!" said Mrs. Vervain in a tone of fond admiration aside
to Don Ippolito, who smiled, but shrank from contributing to the new
"Very well, then," said the painter. "I shall stick to my native
Bergamask for the future; and Don Ippolito may translate for the
He ended by speaking English with everybody; Don Ippolito eked out his
speeches to Mrs. Vervain in that tongue with a little French; Florida,
conscious of Ferris's ironical observance, used an embarrassed but
defiant Italian with the priest.
"I'm so pleased!" said Mrs. Vervain, rising when Ferris said that he
must go, and Florida shook hands with both guests.
"Thank you, Mrs. Vervain; I could have gone before, if I'd thought you
would have liked it," answered the painter.
"Oh nonsense, now," returned the lady. "You know what I mean. I'm
perfectly delighted with him," she continued, getting Ferris to one
side, "and I _know_ he must have a good accent. So very kind of
you. Will you arrange with him about the pay?--such a _shame_!
Thanks. Then I needn't say anything to him about that. I'm so glad I
had him to breakfast the first day; though Florida thought not. Of
course, one needn't keep it up. But seriously, it isn't an ordinary
case, you know."
Ferris laughed at her with a sort of affectionate disrespect, and said
good-by. Don Ippolito lingered for a while to talk over the proposed
lessons, and then went, after more elaborate adieux. Mrs. Vervain
remained thoughtful a moment before she said:--
"That was rather droll, Florida."
"His cutting his meat into small bites, before he began to eat. But
perhaps it's the Venetian custom. At any rate, my dear, he's a
gentleman in virtue of his profession, and I couldn't do less than ask
him to breakfast. He has beautiful manners; and if he must take snuff,
I suppose it's neater to carry two handkerchiefs, though it does look
odd. I wish he wouldn't take snuff."
"I don't see why we need care, mother. At any fate, we cannot help it."
"That's true, my dear. And his nails. Now when they're spread out on a
book, you know, to keep it open,--won't it be unpleasant?"
"They seem to have just such fingernails all over Europe--except in
"Oh, yes; I know it. I dare say we shouldn't care for it in him, if he
didn't seem so very nice otherwise. How handsome he is!"
It was understood that Don Ippolito should come every morning at ten
o'clock, and read and talk with Miss Vervain for an hour or two; but
Mrs. Vervain's hospitality was too aggressive for the letter of the
agreement. She oftener had him to breakfast at nine, for, as she
explained to Ferris, she could not endure to have him feel that it was
a mere mercenary transaction, and there was no limit fixed for the
lessons on these days. When she could, she had Ferris come, too, and
she missed him when he did not come. "I like that bluntness of his,"
she professed to her daughter, "and I don't mind his making light of
me. You are so apt to be heavy if you're not made light of
occasionally. I certainly shouldn't want a _son_ to be so
respectful and obedient as you are, my dear."
The painter honestly returned her fondness, and with not much greater
reason. He saw that she took pleasure in his talk, and enjoyed it even
when she did not understand it; and this is a kind of flattery not easy
to resist. Besides, there was very little ladies' society in Venice in
those times, and Ferris, after trying the little he could get at, had
gladly denied himself its pleasures, and consorted with the young men
he met at the caffe's, or in the Piazza. But when the Vervains came,
they recalled to him the younger days in which he had delighted in the
companionship of women. After so long disuse, it was charming to be
with a beautiful girl who neither regarded him with distrust nor
expected him to ask her in marriage because he sat alone with her, rode
out with her in a gondola, walked with her, read with her. All young
men like a house in which no ado is made about their coming and going,
and Mrs. Vervain perfectly understood the art of letting him make
himself at home. He perceived with amusement that this amiable lady,
who never did an ungraceful thing nor wittingly said an ungracious one,
was very much of a Bohemian at heart,--the gentlest and most blameless
of the tribe, but still lawless,--whether from her campaigning married
life, or the rovings of her widowhood, or by natural disposition; and
that Miss Vervain was inclined to be conventionally strict, but with
her irregular training was at a loss for rules by which to check her
mother's little waywardnesses. Her anxious perplexity, at times,
together with her heroic obedience and unswerving loyalty to her mother
had something pathetic as well as amusing in it. He saw her tried
almost to tears by her mother's helpless frankness,--for Mrs. Vervain
was apparently one of those ladies whom the intolerable surprise of
having anything come into their heads causes instantly to say or do
it,--and he observed that she never tried to pass off her endurance
with any feminine arts; but seemed to defy him to think what he would
of it. Perhaps she was not able to do otherwise: he thought of her at
times as a person wholly abandoned to the truth. Her pride was on the
alert against him; she may have imagined that he was covertly smiling
at her, and she no doubt tasted the ironical flavor of much of his talk
and behavior, for in those days he liked to qualify his devotion to the
Vervains with a certain nonchalant slight, which, while the mother
openly enjoyed it, filled the daughter with anger and apprehension.
Quite at random, she visited points of his informal manner with
unmeasured reprisal; others, for which he might have blamed himself,
she passed over with strange caprice. Sometimes this attitude of hers
provoked him, and sometimes it disarmed him; but whether they were at
feud, or keeping an armed truce, or, as now and then happened, were in
an _entente cordiale_ which he found very charming, the thing that
he always contrived to treat with silent respect and forbearance in
Miss Vervain was that sort of aggressive tenderness with which she
hastened to shield the foibles of her mother. That was something very
good in her pride, he finally decided. At the same time, he did not
pretend to understand the curious filial self-sacrifice which it
Another thing in her that puzzled him was her devoutness. Mrs. Vervain
could with difficulty be got to church, but her daughter missed no
service of the English ritual in the old palace where the British and
American tourists assembled once a week with their guide-books in one
pocket and their prayer-books in the other, and buried the tomahawk
under the altar. Mr. Ferris was often sent with her; and then his
thoughts, which were a young man's, wandered from the service to the
beautiful girl at his side,--the golden head that punctiliously bowed
itself at the proper places in the liturgy: the full lips that murmured
the responses; the silken lashes that swept her pale cheeks as she
perused the morning lesson. He knew that the Vervains were not
Episcopalians when at home, for Mrs. Vervain had told him so, and that
Florida went to the English service because there was no other. He
conjectured that perhaps her touch of ritualism came from mere love of
any form she could make sure of.
The servants in Mrs. Vervain's lightly ordered household, with the
sympathetic quickness of the Italians, learned to use him as the next
friend of the family, and though they may have had their decorous
surprise at his untrammeled footing, they probably excused the whole
relation as a phase of that foreign eccentricity to which their nation
is so amiable. If they were not able to cast the same mantle of charity
over Don Ippolito's allegiance,--and doubtless they had their reserves
concerning such frankly familiar treatment of so dubious a character as
priest,--still as a priest they stood somewhat in awe of him; they had
the spontaneous loyalty of their race to the people they served, and
they never intimated by a look that they found it strange when Don
Ippolito freely came and went. Mrs. Vervain had quite adopted him into
her family; while her daughter seemed more at ease with him than with
Ferris, and treated him with a grave politeness which had something
also of compassion and of child-like reverence in it. Ferris observed
that she was always particularly careful of his supposable
sensibilities as a Roman Catholic, and that the priest was oddly
indifferent to this deference, as if it would have mattered very little
to him whether his church was spared or not. He had a way of lightly
avoiding, Ferris fancied, not only religious points on which they could
disagree, but all phases of religion as matters of indifference. At
such times Miss Vervain relaxed her reverential attitude, and used him
with something like rebuke, as if it did not please her to have the
representative of even an alien religion slight his office; as if her
respect were for his priesthood and her compassion for him personally.
That was rather hard for Don Ippolito, Ferris thought, and waited to
see him snubbed outright some day, when he should behave without
The blossoms came and went upon the pomegranate and almond trees in the
garden, and some of the earliest roses were in their prime; everywhere
was so full leaf that the wantonest of the strutting nymphs was forced
into a sort of decent seclusion, but the careless naiad of the fountain
burnt in sunlight that subtly increased its fervors day by day, and it
was no longer beginning to be warm, it was warm, when one morning
Ferris and Miss Vervain sat on the steps of the terrace, waiting for
Don Ippolito to join them at breakfast.
By this time the painter was well on with the picture of Don Ippolito
which the first sight of the priest had given him a longing to paint,
and he had been just now talking of it with Miss Vervain.
"But why do you paint him simply as a priest?" she asked. "I should
think you would want to make him the centre of some famous or romantic
scene," she added, gravely looking into his eyes as he sat with his
head thrown back against the balustrade.
"No, I doubt if you _think_," answered Ferris, "or you'd see that
a Venetian priest doesn't need any tawdry accessories. What do you
want? Somebody administering the extreme unction to a victim of the
Council of Ten? A priest stepping into a confessional at the Frari--
tomb of Canova in the distance, perspective of one of the naves, and so
forth--with his eye on a pretty devotee coming up to unburden her
conscience? I've no patience with the follies people, think and say
Florida stared in haughty question at the painter.
"You're no worse than the rest," he continued with indifference to her
anger at his bluntness. "You all think that there can be no picture of
Venice without a gondola or a Bridge of Sighs in it. Have you ever read
the Merchant of Venice, or Othello? There isn't a boat nor a bridge nor
a canal mentioned in either of them; and yet they breathe and pulsate
with the very life of Venice. I'm going to try to paint a Venetian
priest so that you'll know him without a bit of conventional Venice
"It was Shakespeare who wrote those plays," said Florida. Ferris bowed
in mock suffering from her sarcasm. "You'd better have some sort of
symbol in your picture of a Venetian priest, or people will wonder why
you came so far to paint Father O'Brien."
"I don't say I shall succeed," Ferris answered. "In fact I've made one
failure already, and I'm pretty well on with a second; but the
principle is right, all the same. I don't expect everybody to see the
difference between Don Ippolito and Father O'Brien. At any rate, what
I'm going to paint _at_ is the lingering pagan in the man, the
renunciation first of the inherited nature, and then of a personality
that would have enjoyed the world. I want to show that baffled
aspiration, apathetic despair, and rebellious longing which you caten
in his face When he's off his guard, and that suppressed look which is
the characteristic expression of all Austrian Venice. Then," said
Ferris laughing, "T must work in that small suspicion of Jesuit which
there is in every priest. But it's quite possible I may make a Father
O'Brien of him."
"You won't make a Don Ippolito of him," said Florida, after serious
consideration of his face to see whether he was quite in earnest, "if
you put all that into him. He has the simplest and openest look in the
world," she added warmly, "and there's neither pagan, nor martyr, nor
rebel in it."
Ferris laughed again. "Excuse me; I don't think you know. I can
Florida rose, and looking down the garden path said, "He's coming;" and
as Don Ippolito drew near, his face lighting up with a joyous and
innocent smile, she continued absently, "he's got on new stockings, and
a different coat and hat."
The stockings were indeed new and the hat was not the accustomed
_nicchio_, but a new silk cylinder with a very worldly, curling
brim. Don Ippolito's coat, also, was of a more mundane cut than the
talare; he wore a waistcoat and small-clothes, meeting the stockings at
the knee with a sprightly buckle. His person showed no traces of the
snuff with which it used to be so plentifully dusted; in fact, he no
longer took snuff in the presence of the ladies. The first week he had
noted an inexplicable uneasiness in them when he drew forth that blue
cotton handkerchief after the solace of a pinch shortly afterwards,
being alone with Florida, he saw her give a nervous start at its
appearance. He blushed violently, and put it back into the pocket from
which he had half drawn it, and whence it never emerged again in her
presence. The contessina his former pupil had not shown any aversion to
Don Ippolito's snuff or his blue handkerchief; but then the contessina
had never rebuked his finger-nails by the tints of rose and ivory with
which Miss Vervain's hands bewildered him. It was a little droll how
anxiously he studied the ways of these Americans, and conformed to them
as far as he knew. His English grew rapidly in their society, and it
happened sometimes that the only Italian in the day's lesson was what
he read with Florida, for she always yielded to her mother's wish to
talk, and Mrs. Vervain preferred the ease of her native tongue. He was
Americanizing in that good lady's hands as fast as she could transform
him, and he listened to her with trustful reverence, as to a woman of
striking though eccentric mind. Yet he seemed finally to refer every
point to Florida, as if with an intuition of steadier and stronger
character in her; and now, as he ascended the terrace steps in his
modified costume, he looked intently at her. She swept him from head to
foot with a glance, and then gravely welcomed him with unchanged
At the same moment Mrs. Vervain came out through one of the long
windows, and adjusting her glasses, said with a start, "Why, my dear
Don Ippolito, I shouldn't have known you!"
"Indeed, madama?" asked the priest--with a painful smile. "Is it so
great a change? We can wear this dress as well as the other, if we
"Why, of course it's very becoming and all that; but it does look so
out of character," Mrs. Vervain said, leading the way to the breakfast-
room. "It's like seeing a military man in a civil coat."
"It must be a great relief to lay aside the uniform now and then,
mother," said Florida, as they sat down. "I can remember that papa used
to be glad to get out of his."
"Perfectly wild," assented Mrs. Vervain. "But he never seemed the same
person. Soldiers and--clergymen--are so much more stylish in their own
dress--not stylish, exactly, but taking; don't you know?"
"There, Don Ippolito," interposed Ferris, "you had better put on your
talare and your nicchio again. Your _abbate's_ dress isn't
acceptable, you see."
The painter spoke in Italian, but Don Ippolito answered--with certain
blunders which it would be tedious to reproduce--in his patient,
conscientious English, half sadly, half playfully, and glancing at
Florida, before he turned to Mrs. Vervain, "You are as rigid as the
rest of the world, madama. I thought you would like this dress, but it
seems that you think it a masquerade. As madamigella says, it is a
relief to lay aside the uniform, now and then, for us who fight the
spiritual enemies as well as for the other soldiers. There was one
time, when I was younger and in the subdiaconate orders, that I put off
the priest's dress altogether, and wore citizen's clothes, not an
abbate's suit like this. We were in Padua, another young priest and I,
my nearest and only friend, and for a whole night we walked about the
streets in that dress, meeting the students, as they strolled singing
through the moonlight; we went to the theatre and to the caffe,--we
smoked cigars, all the time laughing and trembling to think of the
tonsure under our hats. But in the morning we had to put on the
stockings and the talare and the nicchio again."
Don Ippolito gave a melancholy laugh. He had thrust the corner of his
napkin into his collar; seeing that Ferris had not his so, he twitched
it out, and made a feint of its having been all the time in his lap.
Every one was silent as if something shocking had been said; Florida
looked with grave rebuke at Don Ippolito, whose story affected Ferris
like that of some girl's adventure in men's clothes. He was in terror
lest Mrs. Vervain should be going to say it was like that; she was
going to say something; he made haste to forestall her, and turn the
talk on other things.
The next day the priest came in his usual dress, and he did not again
try to escape from it.
One afternoon, as Don Ippolito was posing to Perris for his picture of
A Venetian Priest, the painter asked, to make talk, "Have you hit upon
that new explosive yet, which is to utilize your breech-loading cannon?
Or are you engaged upon something altogether new?"
"No," answered the other uneasily, "I have not touched the cannon since
that day you saw it at my house; and as for other things, I have not
been able to put my mind to them. I have made a few trifles which I
have ventured to offer the ladies."
Ferris had noticed the ingenious reading-desk which Don Ippolito had
presented to Florida, and the footstool, contrived with springs and
hinges so that it would fold up into the compass of an ordinary
portfolio, which Mrs. Vervain carried about with her.
An odd look, which the painter caught at and missed, came into the
priest's face, as he resumed: "I suppose it is the distraction of my
new occupation, and of the new acquaintances--so very strange to me in
every way--that I have made in your amiable country-women, which
hinders me from going about anything in earnest, now that their
munificence has enabled me to pursue my aims with greater advantages
than ever before. But this idle mood will pass, and in the mean time I
am very happy. They are real angels, and madama is a true original."
"Mrs. Vervain is rather peculiar," said the painter, retiring a few
paces from his picture, and quizzing it through his half-closed eyes.
"She is a woman who has had affliction enough to turn a stronger head
than hers could ever have been," he added kindly. "But she has the best
heart in the world. In fact," he burst forth, "she is the most
extraordinary combination of perfect fool and perfect lady I ever saw."
"Excuse me; I don't understand," blankly faltered Don Ippolito.
"No; and I'm afraid I couldn't explain to you," answered Ferris.
There was a silence for a time, broken at last by Don Ippolito, who
asked, "Why do you not marry madamigella?"
He seemed not to feel that there was anything out of the way in the
question, and Ferris was too well used to the childlike directness of
the most maneuvering of races to be surprised. Yet he was displeased,
as he would not have been if Don Ippolito were not a priest. He was not
of the type of priests whom the American knew from the prejudice and
distrust of the Italians; he was alienated from his clerical fellows by
all the objects of his life, and by a reciprocal dislike. About other
priests there were various scandals; but Don Ippolito was like that
pretty match-girl of the Piazza of whom it was Venetianly answered,
when one asked if so sweet a face were not innocent, "Oh yes, she is
mad!" He was of a purity so blameless that he was reputed crack-brained
by the caffe-gossip that in Venice turns its searching light upon
whomever you mention; and from his own association with the man Ferris
perceived in him an apparent single-heartedness such as no man can have
but the rarest of Italians. He was the albino of his species; a gray
crow, a white fly; he was really this, or he knew how to seem it with
an art far beyond any common deceit. It was the half expectation of
coming sometime upon the lurking duplicity in Don Ippolito, that
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