A Foregone Conclusion
W. D. Howells
Part 2 out of 4
continually enfeebled the painter in his attempts to portray his
Venetian priest, and that gave its undecided, unsatisfactory character
to the picture before him--its weak hardness, its provoking
superficiality. He expressed the traits of melancholy and loss that he
imagined in him, yet he always was tempted to leave the picture with a
touch of something sinister in it, some airy and subtle shadow of
He stared hard at Don Ippolito while this perplexity filled his mind,
for the hundredth time; then he said stiffly, "I don't know. I don't
want to marry anybody. Besides," he added, relaxing into a smile of
helpless amusement, "it's possible that Miss Vervain might not want to
"As to that," replied Don Ippolito, "you never can tell. All young
girls desire to be married, I suppose," he continued with a sigh. "She
is very beautiful, is she not? It is seldom that we see such a blonde
in Italy. Our blondes are dark; they have auburn hair and blue eyes,
but their complexions are thick. Miss Vervain is blonde as the morning
light; the sun's gold is in her hair, his noonday whiteness in her
dazzling throat; the flush of his coming is on her lips; she might
utter the dawn!"
"You're a poet, Don Ippolito," laughed the painter. "What property of
the sun is in her angry-looking eyes?"
"His fire! Ah, that is her greatest charm! Those strange eyes of hers,
they seem full of tragedies. She looks made to be the heroine of some
stormy romance; and yet how simply patient and good she is!"
"Yes," said Ferris, who often responded in English to the priest's
Italian; and he added half musingly in his own tongue, after a moment,
"but I don't think it would be safe to count upon her. I'm afraid she
has a bad temper. At any rate, I always expect to see smoke somewhere
when I look at those eyes of hers. She has wonderful self-control,
however; and I don't exactly understand why. Perhaps people of strong
impulses have strong wills to overrule them; it seems no more than
"Is it the custom," asked Don Ippolito, after a moment, "for the
American young ladies always to address their mammas as _mother_?"
"No; that seems to be a peculiarity of Miss Vervain's. It's a little
formality that I should say served to hold Mrs. Vervain in check."
"Do you mean that it repulses her?"
"Not at all. I don't think I could explain," said Ferris with a certain
air of regretting to have gone so far in comment on the Vervains. He
added recklessly, "Don't you see that Mrs. Vervain sometimes does and
says things that embarrass her daughter, and that Miss Vervain seems to
try to restrain her?"
"I thought," returned Don Ippolito meditatively, "that the signorina
was always very tenderly submissive to her mother."
"Yes, so she is," said the painter dryly, and looked in annoyance from
the priest to the picture, and from the picture to the priest.
After a minute Don Ippolito said, "They must be very rich to live as
"I don't know about that," replied Ferris. "Americans spend and save in
ways different from the Italians. I dare say the Vervains find Venice
very cheap after London and Paris and Berlin."
"Perhaps," said Don Ippolito, "if they were rich you would be in a
position to marry her."
"I should not marry Miss Vervain for her money," answered the painter,
"No, but if you loved her, the money would enable you to marry her."
"Listen to me, Don Ippolito. I never said that I loved Miss Vervain,
and I don't know how you feel warranted in speaking to me about the
matter. Why do you do so?"
"I? Why? I could not but imagine that you must love her. Is there
anything wrong in speaking of such things? Is it contrary to the
American custom? I ask pardon from my heart if I have done anything
"There is no offense,' said the painter, with a laugh," and I don't
wonder you thought I ought to be in love with Miss Vervain. She
_is_ beautiful, and I believe she's good. But if men had to marry
because women were beautiful and good, there isn't one of us could live
single a day. Besides, I'm the victim of another passion,--I'm laboring
under an unrequited affection for Art."
"Then you do _not_ love her?" asked Don Ippolito, eagerly.
"So far as I'm advised at present, no, I don't."
"It is strange!" said the priest, absently, but with a glowing face.
He quitted the painter's and walked swiftly homeward with a triumphant
buoyancy of step. A subtle content diffused itself over his face, and a
joyful light burnt in his deep eyes. He sat down before the piano and
organ as he had arranged them, and began to strike their keys in
unison; this seemed to him for the first time childish. Then he played
some lively bars on the piano alone; they sounded too light and
trivial, and he turned to the other instrument. As the plaint of the
reeds arose, it filled his sense like a solemn organ-music, and
transfigured the place; the notes swelled to the ample vault of a
church, and at the high altar he was celebrating the mass in his
sacerdotal robes. He suddenly caught his fingers away from the keys;
his breast heaved, he hid his face in his hands.
Ferris stood cleaning his palette, after Don Ippolito was gone,
scraping the colors together with his knife and neatly buttering them
on the palette's edge, while he wondered what the priest meant by
pumping him in that way. Nothing, he supposed, and yet it was odd. Of
course she had a bad temper....
He put on his hat and coat and strolled vaguely forth, and in an hour
or two came by a roundabout course to the gondola station nearest his
own house. There he stopped, and after an absent contemplation of the
boats, from which the gondoliers were clamoring for his custom, he
stepped into one and ordered the man to row him to a gate on a small
canal opposite. The gate opened, at his ringing, into the garden of the
Florida was sitting alone on a bench near the fountain. It was no
longer a ruined fountain; the broken-nosed naiad held a pipe above her
head, and from this rose a willowy spray high enough to catch some
colors of the sunset then striking into the garden, and fell again in a
mist around her, making her almost modest.
"What does this mean?" asked Ferris, carelessly taking the young girl's
hand. "I thought this lady's occupation was gone."
"Don Ippolito repaired the fountain for the landlord, and he agreed to
pay for filling the tank that feeds it," said Florida. "He seems to
think it a hard bargain, for he only lets it play about half an hour a
day. But he says it's very ingeniously mended. He didn't believe it
could be done. It _is_ pretty.
"It is, indeed," said the painter, with a singular desire, going
through him like a pang, likewise to do something for Miss Vervain.
"Did you go to Don Ippolito's house the other day, to see his traps?"
"Yes; we were very much interested. I was sorry that I knew so little
about inventions. Do you think there are many practical ideas amongst
his things? I hope there are--he seemed so proud and pleased to show
them. Shouldn't you think he had some real inventive talent?"
"Yes, I think he has; but I know as little about the matter as you do."
He sat down beside her, and picking up a twig from the gravel, pulled
the bark off in silence. Then, "Miss Vervain," he said, knitting his
brows, as he always did when he had something on his conscience and
meant to ease it at any cost, "I'm the dog that fetches a bone and
carries a bone; I talked Don Ippolito over with you, the other day, and
now I've been talking you over with him. But I've the grace to say that
I'm ashamed of myself."
"Why need you be ashamed?" asked Florida. "You said no harm of him. Did
you of us?"
"Not exactly; but I don't think it was quite my business to discuss you
at all. I think you can't let people alone too much. For my part, if I
try to characterize my friends, I fail to do them perfect justice, of
course; and yet the imperfect result remains representative of them in
my mind; it limits them and fixes them; and I can't get them back again
into the undefined and the ideal where they really belong. One ought
never to speak of the faults of one's friends: it mutilates them; they
can never be the same afterwards."
"So you have been talking of my faults," said Florida, breathing
quickly. "Perhaps you could tell me of them to my face."
"I should have to say that unfairness was one of them. But that is
common to the whole sex. I never said I was talking of your faults. I
declared against doing so, and you immediately infer that my motive is
remorse. I don't know that you have any faults. They may be virtues in
disguise. There is a charm even in unfairness. Well, I did Bay that I
thought you had a quick temper,"--
Florida colored violently.
--"but now I see that I was mistaken," said Ferris with a laugh.
"May I ask what else you said?" demanded the young girl haughtily.
"Oh, that would be a betrayal of confidence," said Ferris, unaffected
by her hauteur.
"Then why have you mentioned the matter to me at all?"
"I wanted to clear my conscience, I suppose, and sin again. I wanted to
talk with you about Don Ippolito."
Florida looked with perplexity at Ferris's face, while her own slowly
cooled and paled.
"What did you want to say of him?" she asked calmly.
"I hardly know how to put it: that he puzzles me, to begin with. You
know I feel somewhat responsible for him."
"Of course, I never should have thought of him, if it hadn't been for
your mother's talk that morning coming back from San Lazzaro."
"I know," said Florida, with a faint blush.
"And yet, don't you see, it was as much a fancy of mine, a weakness for
the man himself, as the desire to serve your mother, that prompted me
to bring him to you."
"Yes, I see," answered the young girl.
"I acted in the teeth of a bitter Venetian prejudice against priests.
All my friends here--they're mostly young men with the modern Italian
ideas, or old liberals--hate and despise the priests They believe that
priests are full of guile and deceit, that they are spies for the
Austrians, and altogether evil."
"Don Ippolito is welcome to report our most secret thoughts to the
police," said Florida, whose look of rising alarm relaxed into a smile.
"Oh," cried the painter, "how you leap to conclusions! I never
intimated that Don Ippolito was a spy. On the contrary, it was his
difference from other priests that made me think of him for a moment.
He seems to be as much cut off from the church as from the world. And
yet he is a priest, with a priest's education. What if I should have
been altogether mistaken? He is either one of the openest souls in the
world, as you have insisted, or he is one of the closest."
"I should not be afraid of him in any case," said Florida; "but I can't
believe any wrong of him."
Ferris frowned in annoyance. "I don't want you to; I don't, myself.
I've bungled the matter as I might have known I would. I was trying to
put into words an undefined uneasiness of mine, a quite formless desire
to have you possessed of the whole case as it had come up in my mind.
I've made a mess of it," said Ferris rising, with a rueful air.
"Besides, I ought to have spoken to Mrs. Vervain."
"Oh no," cried Florida, eagerly, springing to her feet beside him.
"Don't! Little things wear upon my mother, so. I'm glad you didn't
speak to her. I don't misunderstand you, I think; I expressed myself
badly," she added with an anxious face. "I thank you very much. What do
you want me to do?"
By Ferris's impulse they both began to move down the garden path toward
the water-gate. The sunset had faded out of the fountain, but it still
lit the whole heaven, in whose vast blue depths hung light whiffs of
pinkish cloud, as ethereal as the draperies that floated after Miss
Vervain as she walked with a splendid grace beside him, no awkwardness,
now, or self-constraint in her. As she turned to Ferris, and asked in
her deep tones, to which some latent feeling imparted a slight tremor,
"What do you want me to do?" the sense of her willingness to be bidden
by him gave him a delicious thrill. He looked at the superb creature,
so proud, so helpless; so much a woman, so much a child; and he caught
his breath before he answered. Her gauzes blew about his feet in the
light breeze that lifted the foliage; she was a little near-sighted,
and in her eagerness she drew closer to him, fixing her eyes full upon
his with a bold innocence. "Good heavens! Miss Vervain," he cried, with
a sudden blush, "it isn't a serious matter. I'm a fool to have spoken
to you. Don't do anything. Let things go on as before. It isn't for me
to instruct you."
"I should have been very glad of your advice," she said with a
disappointed, almost wounded manner, keeping her eyes upon him. "It
seems to me we are always going wrong"--
She stopped short, with a flush and then a pallor.
Ferris returned her look with one of comical dismay. This apparent
readiness of Miss Vervain's to be taken command of, daunted him, on
second thoughts. "I wish you'd dismiss all my stupid talk from your
mind," he said. "I feel as if I'd been guiltily trying to set you
against a man whom I like very much and have no reason not to trust,
and who thinks me so much his friend that he couldn't dream of my
making any sort of trouble for him. It would break his heart, I'm
afraid, if you treated him in a different way from that in which you've
treated him till now. It's really touching to listen to his gratitude
to you and your mother. It's only conceivable on the ground that he has
never had friends before in the world. He seems like another man, or
the same man come to life. And it isn't his fault that he's a priest. I
suppose," he added, with a sort of final throe, "that a Venetian family
wouldn't use him with the frank hospitality you've shown, not because
they distrusted him at all, perhaps, but because they would be afraid
of other Venetian tongues."
This ultimate drop of venom, helplessly distilled, did not seem to
rankle in Miss Vervain's mind. She walked now with her face turned from
his, and she answered coldly, "We shall not be troubled. We don't care
for Venetian tongues."
They were at the gate. "Good-by," said Ferris, abruptly, "I'm going."
"Won't you wait and see my mother?" asked Florida, with her awkward
self-constraint again upon her.
"No, thanks," said Ferris, gloomily. "I haven't time. I just dropped in
for a moment, to blast an innocent man's reputation, and destroy a
young lady's peace of mind."
"Then you needn't go, yet," answered Florida, coldly, "for you haven't
"Well, I've done my worst," returned Ferris, drawing the bolt.
He went away, hanging his head in amazement and disgust at himself for
his clumsiness and bad taste. It seemed to him a contemptible part,
first to embarrass them with Don Ippolito's acquaintance, if it was an
embarrassment, and then try to sneak out of his responsibility by these
tardy cautions; and if it was not going to be an embarrassment, it was
folly to have approached the matter at all.
What had he wanted to do, and with what motive? He hardly knew. As he
battled the ground over and over again, nothing comforted him save the
thought that, bad as it was to have spoken to Miss Vervain, it must
have been infinitely worse to speak to her mother.
It was late before Ferris forgot his chagrin in sleep, and when he woke
the next morning, the sun was making the solid green blinds at his
window odorous of their native pine woods with its heat, and thrusting
a golden spear at the heart of Don Ippolito's effigy where he had left
it on the easel.
Marina brought a letter with his coffee. The letter was from Mrs.
Vervain, and it entreated him to come to lunch at twelve, and then join
them on an excursion, of which they had all often talked, up the Canal
of the Brenta. "Don Ippolito has got his permission--think of his not
being able to go to the mainland without the Patriarch's leave! and can
go with us to-day. So I try to make this hasty arrangement. You
_must_ come--it all depends upon you."
"Yes, so it seems," groaned the painter, and went.
In the garden he found Don Ippolito and Florida, at the fountain where
he had himself parted with her the evening before; and he observed with
a guilty relief that Don Ippolito was talking to her in the happy
unconsciousness habitual with him.
Florida cast at the painter a swift glance of latent appeal and
intelligence, which he refused, and in the same instant she met him
with another look, as if she now saw him for the first time, and gave
him her hand in greeting. It was a beautiful hand; he could not help
worshipping its lovely forms, and the lily whiteness and softness of
the back, the rose of the palm and finger-tips.
She idly resumed the great Venetian fan which hung from her waist by a
chain. "Don Ippolito has been talking about the vitteggiatura on the
Brenta in the old days," she explained.
"Oh, yes," said the painter, "they used to have merry times in the
villas then, and it was worth while being a priest, or at least an
abbate di casa. I should think you would sigh for a return of those
good old days, Don Ippolito. Just imagine, if you were abbate di casa
with some patrician family about the close of the last century, you
might be the instructor, companion, and spiritual adviser of
Illustrissima at the theatres, card-parties, and masquerades, all
winter; and at this season, instead of going up the Brenta for a day's
pleasure with us barbarous Yankees, you might be setting out with
Illustrissima and all the 'Strissimi and 'Strissime, big and little,
for a spring villeggiatura there. You would be going in a gilded barge,
with songs and fiddles and dancing, instead of a common gondola, and
you would stay a month, walking, going to parties and caffes, drinking
chocolate and lemonade gaming, sonneteering, and butterflying about
"It was doubtless a beautiful life," answered the priest, with simple
indifference. "But I never have thought of it with regret, because I
have been preoccupied with other ideas than those of social pleasures,
though perhaps they were no wiser."
Florida had watched Don Ippolito's face while Ferris was speaking, and
she now asked gravely, "But don't you think their life nowadays is more
becoming to the clergy?"
"Why, madamigella? What harm was there in those gayeties? I suppose the
bad features of the old life are exaggerated to us."
"They couldn't have been worse than the amusements of the hard-
drinking, hard-riding, hard-swearing, fox-hunting English parsons about
the same time," said Ferris. "Besides, the abbate di casa had a charm of
his own, the charm of all _rococo_ things, which, whatever you may
say of them, are somehow elegant and refined, or at least refer to
elegance and refinement. I don't say they're ennobling, but they're
fascinating. I don't respect them, but I love them. When I think about
the past of Venice, I don't care so much to see any of the heroically
historical things; but I should like immensely to have looked in at the
Ridotto, when the place was at its gayest with wigs and masks, hoops
and small-clothes, fans and rapiers, bows and courtesies, whispers and
glances. I dare say I should have found Don Ippolito there in some
Florida looked from the painter to the priest and back to the painter,
as Ferris spoke, and then she turned a little anxiously toward the
terrace, and a shadow slipped from her face as her mother came rustling
down the steps, catching at her drapery and shaking it into place. The
young girl hurried to meet her, lifted her arms for what promised an
embrace, and with firm hands set the elder lady's bonnet straight with
"I'm always getting it on askew," Mrs. Vervain said for greeting to
Ferris. "How do you do, Don Ippolito? But I suppose you think I've kept
you long enough to get it on straight for once. So I have. I _am_
a fuss, and I don't deny it. At my time of life, it's much harder to
make yourself shipshape than it is when you're younger. I tell Florida
that anybody would take _her_ for the _old_ lady, she does seem
to give so little care to getting up an appearance."
"And yet she has the effect of a stylish young person in the bloom of
youth," observed Ferris, with a touch of caricature.
"We had better lunch with our things on," said Mrs. Vervain, "and then
there needn't be any delay in starting. I thought we would have it
here," she added, as Nina and the house-servant appeared with trays of
dishes and cups. "So that we can start in a real picnicky spirit. I
knew you'd think it a womanish lunch, Mr. Ferris--Don Ippolito likes
what we do--and so I've provided you with a chicken salad; and I'm
going to ask you for a taste of it; I'm really hungry."
There was salad for all, in fact; and it was quite one o'clock before
the lunch was ended, and wraps of just the right thickness and thinness
were chosen, and the party were comfortably placed under the striped
linen canopy of the gondola, which they had from a public station, the
house-gondola being engaged that day. They rowed through the narrow
canal skirting the garden out into the expanse before the Giudecca, and
then struck across the lagoon towards Fusina, past the island-church of
San Giorgio in Alga, whose beautiful tower has flushed and darkened in
so many pictures of Venetian sunsets, and past the Austrian lagoon
forts with their coronets of guns threatening every point, and the
Croatian sentinels pacing to and fro on their walls. They stopped long
enough at one of the customs barges to declare to the swarthy, amiable
officers the innocence of their freight, and at the mouth of the Canal
of the Brenta they paused before the station while a policeman came out
and scanned them. He bowed to Don Ippolito's cloth, and then they began
to push up the sluggish canal, shallow and overrun with weeds and
mosses, into the heart of the land.
The spring, which in Venice comes in the softening air and the
perpetual azure of the heavens, was renewed to their senses in all its
miraculous loveliness. The garden of the Vervains had indeed confessed
it in opulence of leaf and bloom, but there it seemed somehow only like
a novel effect of the artifice which had been able to create a garden
in that city of stone and sea. Here a vernal world suddenly opened
before them, with wide-stretching fields of green under a dome of
perfect blue; against its walls only the soft curves of far-off hills
were traced, and near at hand the tender forms of full-foliaged trees.
The long garland of vines that festoons all Italy seemed to begin in
the neighboring orchards; the meadows waved their tall grasses in the
sun, and broke in poppies as the sea-waves break in iridescent spray;
the well-grown maize shook its gleaming blades in the light; the
poplars marched in stately procession on either side of the straight,
white road to Padua, till they vanished in the long perspective. The
blossoms had fallen from the trees many weeks before, but the air was
full of the vague sweetness of the perfect spring, which here and there
gathered and defined itself as the spicy odor of the grass cut on the
shore of the canal, and drying in the mellow heat of the sun.
The voyagers spoke from time to time of some peculiarity of the villas
that succeeded each other along the canal. Don Ippolito knew a few of
them, the gondoliers knew others; but after all, their names were
nothing. These haunts of old-time splendor and idleness weary of
themselves, and unable to escape, are sadder than anything in Venice,
and they belonged, as far as the Americans were concerned, to a world
as strange as any to which they should go in another life,--the world
of a faded fashion and an alien history. Some of the villas were kept
in a sort of repair; some were even maintained in the state of old; but
the most showed marks of greater or less decay, and here and there one
was falling to ruin. They had gardens about them, tangled and wild-
grown; a population of decrepit statues in the rococo taste strolled in
their walks or simpered from their gates. Two or three houses seemed to
be occupied; the rest stood empty, each
"Close latticed to the brooding heat,
And silent in its dusty vines."
The pleasure-party had no fixed plan for the day further than to ascend
the canal, and by and by take a carriage at some convenient village and
drive to the famous Villa Pisani at Stra.
"These houses are very well," said Don Ippolito, who had visited the
villa once, and with whom it had remained a memory almost as signal as
that night in Padua when he wore civil dress, "but it is at Stra you
see something really worthy of the royal splendor of the patricians of
Venice. Royal? The villa is now one of the palaces of the ex-Emperor of
Austria, who does not find it less imperial than his other palaces."
Don Ippolito had celebrated the villa at Stra in this strain ever since
they had spoken of going up the Brenta: now it was the magnificent
conservatories and orangeries that he sang, now the vast garden with
its statued walks between rows of clipt cedars and firs, now the
stables with their stalls for numberless horses, now the palace itself
with its frescoed halls and treasures of art and vertu. His enthusiasm
for the villa at Stra had become an amiable jest with the Americans.
Ferris laughed at his fresh outburst he declared himself tired of the
gondola, and he asked Florida to disembark with him and walk under the
trees of a pleasant street running on one side between the villas and
the canal. "We are going to find something much grander than the
Villa Pisani," he boasted, with a look at Don Ippolito.
As they sauntered along the path together, they came now and then to a
stately palace like that of the Contarini, where the lions, that give
their name to one branch of the family, crouch in stone before the
grand portal; but most of the houses were interesting only from their
unstoried possibilities to the imagination. They were generally of
stucco, and glared with fresh whitewash through the foliage of their
gardens. When a peasant's cottage broke their line, it gave, with its
barns and straw-stacks and its beds of pot-herbs, a homely relief from
the decaying gentility of the villas.
"What a pity, Miss Vervain," said the painter, "that the blessings of
this world should be so unequally divided! Why should all this
sketchable adversity be lavished upon the neighborhood of a city that
is so rich as Venice in picturesque dilapidation? It's pretty hard on
us Americans, and forces people of sensibility into exile. What
wouldn't cultivated persons give for a stretch of this street in the
suburbs of Boston, or of your own Providence? I suppose the New Yorkers
will be setting up something of the kind one of these days, and giving
it a French name--they'll call it _Aux bords du Brenta_. There was
one of them carried back a gondola the other day to put on a pond in
their new park. But the worst of it is, you can't take home the
sentiment of these things."
"I thought it was the business of painters to send home the sentiment
of them in pictures," said Florida.
Ferris talked to her in this way because it was his way of talking; it
always surprised him a little that she entered into the spirit of it;
he was not quite sure that she did; he sometimes thought she waited
till she could seize upon a point to turn against him, and so give
herself the air of having comprehended the whole. He laughed: "Oh yes,
a poor little fragmentary, faded-out reproduction of their sentiment--
which is 'as moonlight unto sunlight and as water unto wine,' when
compared with the real thing. Suppose I made a picture of this very
bit, ourselves in the foreground, looking at the garden over there
where that amusing Vandal of an owner has just had his statues painted
white: would our friends at home understand it? A whole history must be
left unexpressed. I could only hint at an entire situation. Of course,
people with a taste for olives would get the flavor; but even they
would wonder that I chose such an unsuggestive bit. Why, it is just the
most maddeningly suggestive thing to be found here! And if I may put it
modestly, for my share in it, I think we two young Americans looking on
at this supreme excess of the rococo, are the very essence of the
sentiment of the scene; but what would the honored connoisseurs--the
good folks who get themselves up on Ruskin and try so honestly hard to
have some little ideas about art--make of us? To be sure they might
justifiably praise the grace of your pose, if I were so lucky as to
catch it, and your way of putting your hand under the elbow of the arm
that holds your parasol,"--Florida seemed disdainfully to keep her
attitude, and the painter smiled,--"but they wouldn't know what it all
meant, and couldn't imagine that we were inspired by this rascally
little villa to sigh longingly over the wicked past."
"Excuse me," interrupted Florida, with a touch of trouble in her proud
manner, "I'm not sighing over it, for one, and I don't want it back.
I'm glad that I'm American and that there is no past for me. I can't
understand how you and Don Ippolito can speak so tolerantly of what no
one can respect," she added, in almost an aggrieved tone.
If Miss Vervain wanted to turn the talk upon Don Ippolito, Ferris by no
means did; he had had enough of that subject yesterday; he got as
lightly away from it as he could.
"Oh, Don Ippolito's a pagan, I tell you; and I'm a painter, and the
rococo is my weakness. I wish I could paint it, but I can't; I'm a
hundred years too late. I couldn't even paint myself in the act of
While he talked, he had been making a few lines in a small pocket
sketch-book, with a furtive glance or two at Florida. When they
returned to the boat, he busied himself again with the book, and
presently he handed it to Mrs. Vervain.
"Why, it's Florida!" cried the lady. "How very nicely you do sketch,
"Thanks, Mrs. Vervain; you're always flattering me."
"No, but seriously. I _wish_ that I had paid more attention to my
drawing when I was a girl. And now, Florida--she won't touch a pencil.
I wish you'd talk to her, Mr. Ferris."
"Oh, people who are pictures needn't trouble themselves to be
painters," said Ferris, with a little burlesque.
Mrs. Vervain began to look at the sketch through her tubed hand; the
painter made a grimace. "But you've made her too proud, Mr. Ferris. She
doesn't look like that."
"Yes she does--to those unworthy of her kindness. I have taken Miss
Vervain in the act of scorning the rococo, and its humble admirer, me,
"I'm sure _I_ don't know what you mean, Mr. Ferris; but I can't
think that this proud look is habitual with Florida; and I've heard
people say--very good judges--that an artist oughtn't to perpetuate a
temporary expression. Something like that."
"It can't be helped now, Mrs. Vervain: the sketch is irretrievably
immortal. I'm sorry, but it's too late."
"Oh, stuff! As if you couldn't turn up the corners of the mouth a
little. Or something."
"And give her the appearance of laughing at me? Never!"
"Don Ippolito," said Mrs. Vervain, turning to the priest, who had been
listening intently to all this trivial talk, "what do you think of this
He took the book with an eager hand, and perused the sketch as if
trying to read some secret there. After a minute he handed it back with
a light sigh, apparently of relief, but said nothing.
"Well?" asked Mrs. Vervain.
"Oh! I ask pardon. No, it isn't my idea of madamigella. It seems to me
that her likeness must be sketched in color. Those lines are true, but
they need color to subdue them; they go too far, they are more than
"You're quite right, Don Ippolito," said Ferris.
"Then _you_ don't think she always has this proud look?" pursued
Mrs. Vervain. The painter fancied that Florida quelled in herself a
movement of impatience; he looked at her with an amused smile.
"Not always, no," answered Don Ippolito.
"Sometimes her face expresses the greatest meekness in the world."
"But not at the present moment," thought Ferris, fascinated by the
stare of angry pride which the girl bent upon the unconscious priest.
"Though I confess that I should hardly know how to characterize her
habitual expression," added Don Ippolito.
"Thanks," said Florida, peremptorily. "I'm tired of the subject; it
isn't an important one."
"Oh yes it is, my dear," said Mrs. Vervain. "At least it's important to
me, if it isn't to you; for I'm your mother, and really, if I thought
you looked like this, as a general thing, to a casual observer, I
should consider it a reflection upon myself." Ferris gave a provoking
laugh, as she continued sweetly, "I must insist, Don Ippolito: now did
you ever see Florida look so?"
The girl leaned back, and began to wave her fan slowly to and fro
before her face.
"I never saw her look so with you, dear madama," said the priest with
an anxious glance at Florida, who let her fan fall folded into her lap,
and sat still. He went on with priestly smoothness, and a touch of
something like invoked authority, such as a man might show who could
dispense indulgences and inflict penances. "No one could help seeing
her devotedness to you, and I have admired from the first an obedience
and tenderness that I have never known equaled. In all her relations to
you, madamigella has seemed to me"--
Florida started forward. "You are not asked to comment on my behavior
to my mother; you are not invited to speak of my conduct at all!" she
burst out with sudden violence, her visage flaming, and her blue eyes
burning upon Don Ippolito, who shrank from the astonishing rudeness as
from a blow in the face. "What is it to you how I treat my mother?"
She sank back again upon the cushions, and opening the fan with a clash
swept it swiftly before her.
"Florida!" said her mother gravely.
Ferris turned away in cold disgust, like one who has witnessed a
cruelty done to some helpless thing. Don Ippolito's speech was not
fortunate at the best, but it might have come from a foreigner's
misapprehension, and at the worst it was good-natured and well-meant.
"The girl is a perfect brute, as I thought in the beginning," the
painter said to himself. "How could I have ever thought differently? I
shall have to tell Don Ippolito that I'm ashamed of her, and disclaim
all responsibility. Pah! I wish I was out of this."
The pleasure of the day was dead. It could not rally from that stroke.
They went on to Stra, as they had planned, but the glory of the Villa
Pisani was eclipsed for Don Ippolito. He plainly did not know what to
do. He did not address Florida again, whose savagery he would not
probably have known how to resent if he had wished to resent it. Mrs.
Vervain prattled away to him with unrelenting kindness; Ferris kept
near him, and with affectionate zeal tried to make him talk of the
villa, but neither the frescoes, nor the orangeries, nor the green-
houses, nor the stables, nor the gardens could rouse him from the
listless daze in which he moved, though Ferris found them all as
wonderful as he had said. Amidst this heavy embarrassment no one seemed
at ease but the author of it. She did not, to be sure, speak to Don
Ippolito, but she followed her mother as usual with her assiduous
cares, and she appeared tranquilly unconscious of the sarcastic
civility with which Ferris rendered her any service. It was late in the
afternoon when they got back to their boat and began to descend the
canal towards Venice, and long before they reached Fusina the day had
passed. A sunset of melancholy red, streaked with level lines of murky
cloud, stretched across the flats behind them, and faintly tinged with
its reflected light the eastern horizon which the towers and domes of
Venice had not yet begun to break. The twilight came, and then through
the overcast heavens the moon shone dim; a light blossomed here and
there in the villas, distant voices called musically; a cow lowed, a
dog barked; the rich, sweet breath of the vernal land mingled its odors
with the sultry air of the neighboring lagoon. The wayfarers spoke
little; the time hung heavy on all, no doubt; to Ferris it was a burden
almost intolerable to hear the creak of the oars and the breathing of
the gondoliers keeping time together. At last the boat stopped in front
of the police-station in Fusina; a soldier with a sword at his side and
a lantern in his hand came out and briefly parleyed with the
gondoliers; they stepped ashore, and he marched them into the station
"We have nothing left to wish for now," said Ferris, breaking into an
"What does it all mean?" asked Mrs. Vervain.
"I think I had better go see."
"We will go with you," said Mrs. Vervain.
"Pazienza!" replied Ferris.
The ladies rose; but Don Ippolito remained seated. "Aren't you going
too, Don Ippolito?" asked Mrs. Vervain.
"Thanks, madama; but I prefer to stay here."
Lamentable cries and shrieks, as if the prisoners had immediately been
put to the torture, came from the station as Ferris opened the door. A
lamp of petroleum lighted the scene, and shone upon the figures of two
fishermen, who bewailed themselves unintelligibly in the vibrant
accents of Chiozza, and from time to time advanced upon the gondoliers,
and shook their heads and beat their breasts at them, A few police-
guards reclined upon benches about the room, and surveyed the spectacle
with mild impassibility.
Ferris politely asked one of them the cause of the detention.
"Why, you see, signore," answered the guard amiably, "these honest men
accuse your gondoliers of having stolen a rope out of their boat at
"It was my blood, you know!" howled the elder of the fishermen, tossing
his arms wildly abroad, "it was my own heart," he cried, letting the
last vowel die away and rise again in mournful refrain, while he stared
tragically into Ferris's face.
"What _is_ the matter?" asked Mrs. Vervain, putting up her
glasses, and trying with graceful futility to focus the melodrama.
"Nothing," said Ferris; "our gondoliers have had the heart's blood of
this respectable Dervish; that is to say, they have stolen a rope
belonging to him."
"_Our_ gondoliers! I don't believe it. They've no right to keep us
here all night. Tell them you're the American consul."
"I'd rather not try my dignity on these underlings, Mrs. Vervain;
there's no American squadron here that I could order to bombard Fusina,
if they didn't mind me. But I'll see what I can do further in quality
of courteous foreigner. Can you perhaps tell me how long you will be
obliged to detain us here?" he asked of the guard again.
"I am very sorry to detain you at all, signore. But what can I do? The
commissary is unhappily absent. He may be here soon."
The guard renewed his apathetic contemplation of the gondoliers, who
did not speak a word; the windy lamentation of the fishermen rose and
fell fitfully. Presently they went out of doors and poured forth their
wrongs to the moon.
The room was close, and with some trouble Ferris persuaded Mrs. Vervain
to return to the gondola, Florida seconding his arguments with gentle
It seemed a long time till the commissary came, but his coming
instantly simplified the situation. Perhaps because he had never been
able to befriend a consul in trouble before, he befriended Ferris to
the utmost. He had met him with rather a browbeating air; but after a
glance at his card, he gave a kind of roar of deprecation and apology.
He had the ladies and Don Ippolito in out of the gondola, and led them
to an upper chamber, where he made them all repose their honored
persons upon his sofas. He ordered up his housekeeper to make them
coffee, which he served with his own hands, excusing its hurried
feebleness, and he stood by, rubbing his palms together and smiling,
while they refreshed themselves.
"They need never tell me again that the Austrians are tyrants," said
Mrs. Vervain in undertone to the consul.
It was not easy for Ferris to remind his host of the malefactors; but
he brought himself to this ungraciousness. The commissary begged
pardon, and asked him to accompany him below, where he confronted the
accused and the accusers. The tragedy was acted over again with blood-
curdling effectiveness by the Chiozzotti; the gondoliers maintaining
the calm of conscious innocence.
Ferris felt outraged by the trumped-up charge against them.
"Listen, you others the prisoners," said the commissary. "Your padrone
is anxious to return to Venice, and I wish to inflict no further
displeasures upon him. Restore their rope to these honest men, and go
about your business."
The injured gondoliers spoke in low tones together; then one of them
shrugged his shoulders and went out. He came back in a moment and laid
a rope before the commissary.
"Is that the rope?" he asked. "We found it floating down the canal, and
picked it up that we might give it to the rightful owner. But now I
wish to heaven we had let it sink to the bottom of the sea."
"Oh, a beautiful story!" wailed the Chiozzoti. They flung themselves
upon the rope, and lugged it off to their boat; and the gondoliers went
The commissary turned to Ferris with an amiable smile. "I am sorry that
those rogues should escape," said the American.
"Oh," said the Italian, "they are poor fellows it is a little matter; I
am glad to have served you."
He took leave of his involuntary guests with effusion, following them
with a lantern to the gondola.
Mrs. Vervain, to whom Ferris gave an account of this trial as they set
out again on their long-hindered return, had no mind save for the
magical effect of his consular quality upon the commissary, and accused
him of a vain and culpable modesty.
"Ah," said the diplomatist, "there's nothing like knowing just when to
produce your dignity. There are some officials who know too little,--
like those guards; and there are some who know too much,--like the
commissary's superiors. But he is just in that golden mean of ignorance
where he supposes a consul is a person of importance."
Mrs. Vervain disputed this, and Ferris submitted in silence. Presently,
as they skirted the shore to get their bearings for the route across
the lagoon, a fierce voice in Venetian shouted from the darkness,
"Indrio, indrio!" (Back, back!) and a gleam of the moon through the
pale, watery clouds revealed the figure of a gendarme on the nearest
point of land. The gondoliers bent to their oars, and sent the boat
swiftly out into the lagoon.
"There, for example, is a person who would be quite insensible to my
greatness, even if I had the consular seal in my pocket. To him we are
possible smugglers; [Footnote: Under the Austrians, Venice was a free
port but everything carried there to the mainland was liable to duty.]
and I must say," he continued, taking out his watch, and staring hard
at it, "that if I were a disinterested person, and heard his suspicion
met with the explanation that we were a little party out here for
pleasure at half past twelve P. M., I should say he was right. At any
rate we won't engage him in controversy. Quick, quick!" he added to the
gondoliers, glancing at the receding shore, and then at the first of
the lagoon forts which they were approaching. A dim shape moved along
the top of the wall, and seemed to linger and scrutinize them. As they
drew nearer, the challenge, "_Wer da?_" rang out.
The gondoliers eagerly answered with the one word of German known to
their craft, "_Freunde_," and struggled to urge the boat forward;
the oar of the gondolier in front slipped from the high rowlock, and
fell out of his hand into the water. The gondola lurched, and then
suddenly ran aground on the shallow. The sentry halted, dropped his gun
from his shoulder, and ordered them to go on, while the gondoliers
clamored back in the high key of fear, and one of them screamed out to
his passengers to do something, saying that, a few weeks before, a
sentinel had fired upon a fisherman and killed him.
"What's that he's talking about?" demanded Mrs. Vervain. "If we don't
get on, it will be that man's duty to fire on us; he has no choice,"
she said, nerved and interested by the presence of this danger.
The gondoliers leaped into the water and tried to push the boat off. It
would not move, and without warning, Don Ippolito, who had sat silent
since they left Fusina, stepped over the side of the gondola, and
thrusting an oar under its bottom lifted it free of the shallow.
"Oh, how very unnecessary!" cried Mrs. Vervain, as the priest and the
gondoliers clambered back into the boat. "He will take his death of
"It's ridiculous," said Ferris. "You ought to have told these worthless
rascals what to do, Don Ippolito. You've got yourself wet for nothing.
It's too bad!"
"It's nothing," said Don Ippolito, taking his seat on the little prow
deck, and quietly dripping where the water would not incommode the
"Oh, here!" cried Mrs. Vervain, gathering some shawls together, "make
him wrap those about him. He'll die, I know he will--with that reeking
skirt of his. If you must go into the water, I wish you had worn your
abbate's dress. How _could_ you, Don Ippolito?"
The gondoliers set their oars, but before they had given a stroke, they
were arrested by a sharp "Halt!" from the fort. Another figure had
joined the sentry, and stood looking at them.
"Well," said Ferris, "_now_ what, I wonder? That's an officer. If
I had a little German about me, I might state the situation to him."
He felt a light touch on his arm. "I can speak German," said Florida
"Then you had better speak it now," said Ferris.
She rose to her feet, and in a steady voice briefly explained the whole
affair. The figures listened motionless; then the last comer politely
replied, begging her to be in no uneasiness, made her a shadowy salute,
and vanished. The sentry resumed his walk, and took no further notice
"Brava!" said Ferris, while Mrs. Vervain babbled her satisfaction, "I
will buy a German Ollendorff to-morrow. The language is indispensable
to a pleasure excursion in the lagoon."
Florida made no reply, but devoted herself to restoring her mother to
that state of defense against the discomforts of the time and place,
which the common agitation had impaired. She seemed to have no sense of
the presence of any one else. Don Ippolito did not speak again save to
protect himself from the anxieties and reproaches of Mrs. Vervain,
renewed and reiterated at intervals. She drowsed after a while, and
whenever she woke she thought they had just touched her own landing. By
fits it was cloudy and moonlight; they began to meet peasants' boats
going to the Rialto market; at last, they entered the Canal of the
Zattere, then they slipped into a narrow way, and presently stopped at
Mrs. Vervain's gate; this time she had not expected it. Don Ippolito
gave her his hand, and entered the garden with her, while Ferris
lingered behind with Florida, helping her put together the wraps strewn
about the gondola.
"Wait!" she commanded, as they moved up the garden walk. "I want to
speak with you about Don Ippolito. What shall I do to him for my
rudeness? You _must_ tell me--you _shall_," she said in a fierce
whisper, gripping the arm which Ferris had given to help her up
the landing-stairs. "You are--older than I am!"
"Thanks. I was afraid you were going to say wiser. I should think your
own sense of justice, your own sense of"--
"Decency. Say it, say it!" cried the girl passionately; "it was
indecent, indecent--that was it!"
--"would tell you what to do," concluded the painter dryly.
She flung away the arm to which she had been clinging, and ran to where
the priest stood with her mother at the foot of the terrace stairs.
"Don Ippolito," she cried, "I want to tell you that I am sorry; I want
to ask your pardon--how can you ever forgive me?--for what I said."
She instinctively stretched her hand towards him.
"Oh!" said the priest, with an indescribable long, trembling sigh. He
caught her hand in his held it tight, and then pressed it for an
instant against his breast.
Ferris made a little start forward.
"Now, that's right, Florida," said her mother, as the four stood in the
pale, estranging moonlight. "I'm sure Don Ippolito can't cherish any
resentment. If he does, he must come in and wash it out with a glass of
wine--that's a good old fashion. I want you to have the wine at any
rate, Don Ippolito; it'll keep you from taking cold. You really must."
"Thanks, madama; I cannot lose more time, now; I must go home at once.
Before Mrs. Vervain could frame a protest, or lay hold of him, he bowed
and hurried out of the land-gate.
"How perfectly absurd for him to get into the water in that way," she
said, looking mechanically in the direction in which he had vanished.
"Well, Mrs. Vervain, it isn't best to be too grateful to people," said
Ferris, "but I think we must allow that if we were in any danger,
sticking there in the mud, Don Ippolito got us out of it by putting his
shoulder to the oar."
"Of course," assented Mrs. Vervain.
"In fact," continued Ferris, "I suppose we may say that, under
Providence, we probably owe our lives to Don Ippolito's self-sacrifice
and Miss Vervain's knowledge of German. At any rate, it's what I shall
"Mother, don't you think you had better go in?" asked Florida, gently.
Her gentleness ignored the presence, the existence of Ferris. "I'm
afraid you will be sick after all this fatigue."
"There, Mrs. Vervain, it'll be no use offering _me_ a glass of
wine. I'm sent away, you see," said Ferris. "And Miss Vervain is quite
right. Good night."
"Oh--_good_ night, Mr. Ferris," said Mrs. Vervain, giving her
hand. "Thank you so much."
Florida did not look towards him. She gathered her mother's shawl about
her shoulders for the twentieth time that day, and softly urged her in
doors, while Ferris let himself out into the campo.
Florida began to prepare the bed for her mother's lying down.
"What are you doing that for, my dear?" asked Mrs. Vervain. "I can't go
to bed at once."
"No, Florida. And I mean it. You are too headstrong. I should think you
would see yourself how you suffer in the end by giving way to your
violent temper. What a day you have made for us!"
"I was very wrong," murmured the proud girl, meekly.
"And then the mortification of an apology; you might have spared
"It didn't mortify me; I didn't care for it."
"No, I really believe you are too haughty to mind humbling yourself.
And Don Ippolito had been so uniformly kind to us. I begin to believe
that Mr. Ferris caught your true character in that sketch. But your
pride will be broken some day, Florida."
"Won't you let me help you undress, mother? You can talk to me while
you're undressing. You must try to get some rest."
"Yes, I am all unstrung. Why couldn't you have let him come in and talk
awhile? It would have been the best way to get me quieted down. But no;
you must always have your own way Don't twitch me, my dear; I'd rather
undress myself. You pretend to be very careful of me. I wonder if you
really care for me."
"Oh, mother, you are all I have in the world!"
Mrs. Vervain began to whimper. "You talk as if I were any better off.
Have I anybody besides you? And I have lost so many."
"Don't think of those things now, mother."
Mrs. Vervain tenderly kissed the young girl. "You are good to your
mother. Don Ippolito was right; no one ever saw you offer me disrespect
or unkindness. There, there! Don't cry, my darling. I think I
_had_ better lie down, and I'll let you undress me."
She suffered herself to be helped into bed, and Florida went softly
about the room, putting it in order, and drawing the curtains closer to
keep out the near dawn. Her mother talked a little while, and presently
fell from incoherence to silence, and so to sleep.
Florida looked hesitatingly at her for a moment, and then set her
candle on the floor and sank wearily into an arm-chair beside the bed.
Her hands fell into her lap; her head drooped sadly forward; the light
flung the shadow of her face grotesquely exaggerated and foreshortened
upon the ceiling.
By and by a bird piped in the garden; the shriek of a swallow made
itself heard from a distance; the vernal day was beginning to stir from
the light, brief drowse of the vernal night. A crown of angry red
formed upon the candle wick, which toppled over in the socket and
guttered out with a sharp hiss.
Florida started from her chair. A streak of sunshine pierced shutter
and curtain. Her mother was supporting herself on one elbow in the bed,
and looking at her as if she had just called to her.
"Mother, did you speak?" asked the girl.
Mrs. Vervain turned her face away; she sighed deeply, stretched her
thin hands on the pillow, and seemed to be sinking, sinking down
through the bed. She ceased to breathe and lay in a dead faint.
Florida felt rather than saw it all. She did not cry out nor call for
help. She brought water and cologne, and bathed her mother's face, and
then chafed her hands. Mrs. Vervain slowly revived; she opened her
eyes, then closed them; she did not speak, but after a while she began
to fetch her breath with the long and even respirations of sleep.
Florida noiselessly opened the door, and met the servant with a tray of
coffee. She put her finger to her lip, and motioned her not to enter,
asking in a whisper: "What time is it, Nina? I forgot to wind my
"It's nine o'clock, signorina; and I thought you would be tired this
morning, and would like your coffee in bed. Oh, misericordia!" cried
the girl, still in whisper, with a glance through the doorway, "you
haven't been in bed at all!"
"My mother doesn't seem well. I sat down beside her, and fell asleep in
my chair without knowing it."
"Ah, poor little thing! Then you must drink your coffee at once. It
"Yes, yes," said Florida, closing the door, and pointing to a table in
the next room, "put it down here. I will serve myself, Nina. Go call
the gondola, please. I am going out, at once, and I want you to go with
me. Tell Checa to come here and stay with my mother till I come back."
She poured out a cup of coffee with a trembling hand, and hastily drank
it; then bathing her eyes, she went to the glass and bestowed a touch
or two upon yesterday's toilet, studied the effect a moment, and turned
away. She ran back for another look, and the next moment she was
walking down to the water-gate, where she found Nina waiting her in the
A rapid course brought them to Ferris's landing. "Ring," she said to
the gondolier, "and say that one of the American ladies wishes to see
Ferris was standing on the balcony over her, where he had been watching
her approach in mute wonder. "Why, Miss Vervain," he called down, "what
in the world is the matter?"
"I don't know. I want to see you," said Florida, looking up with a
"I'll come down."
"Yes, please. Or no, I had better come up. Yes, Nina and I will come
Ferris met them at the lower door and led them to his apartment. Nina
sat down in the outer room, and Florida followed the painter into his
studio. Though her face was so wan, it seemed to him that he had never
seen it lovelier, and he had a strange pride in her being there, though
the disorder of the place ought to have humbled him. She looked over it
with a certain childlike, timid curiosity, and something of that lofty
compassion with which young ladies regard the haunts of men when they
come into them by chance; in doing this she had a haughty, slow turn of
the head that fascinated him.
"I hope," he said, "you don't mind the smell," which was a mingled one
of oil-colors and tobacco-smoke. "The woman's putting my office to
rights, and it's all in a cloud of dust. So I have to bring you in
Florida sat down on a chair fronting the easel, and found herself
looking into the sad eyes of Don Ippolito. Ferris brusquely turned the
back of the canvas toward her. "I didn't mean you to see that. It isn't
ready to show, yet," he said, and then he stood expectantly before her.
He waited for her to speak, for he never knew how to take Miss Vervain;
he was willing enough to make light of her grand moods, but now she was
too evidently unhappy for mocking; at the same time he did not care to
invoke a snub by a prematurely sympathetic demeanor. His mind ran on
the events of the day before, and he thought this visit probably
related somehow to Don Ippolito. But his visitor did not speak, and at
last he said: "I hope there's nothing wrong at home, Miss Vervain. It's
rather odd to have yesterday, last night, and next morning all run
together as they have been for me in the last twenty-four hours. I
trust Mrs. Vervain is turning the whole thing into a good solid
"It's about--it's about--I came to see you"--said Florida, hoarsely. "I
mean," she hurried on to say, "that I want to ask you who is the best
Then it was not about Don Ippolito. "Is your mother sick?" asked
Ferris, eagerly. "She must have been fearfully tired by that unlucky
expedition of ours. I hope there's nothing serious?"
"No, no! But she is not well. She is very frail, you know. You must
have noticed how frail she is," said Florida, tremulously.
Ferris had noticed that all his countrywomen, past their girlhood,
seemed to be sick, he did not know how or why; he supposed it was all
right, it was so common. In Mrs. Vervain's case, though she talked a
great deal about her ill-health, he had noticed it rather less than
usual, she had so great spirit. He recalled now that he _had_
thought her at times rather a shadowy presence, and that occasionally
it had amused him that so slight a structure should hang together as it
did--not only successfully, but triumphantly.
He said yes, he knew that Mrs. Vervain was not strong, and Florida
continued: "It's only advice that I want for her, but I think we had
better see some one--or know some one that we could go to in need. We
are so far from any one we know, or help of any kind." She seemed to be
trying to account to herself, rather than to Ferris, for what she was
doing. "We mustn't let anything pass unnoticed".... She looked at him
entreatingly, but a shadow, as of some wounding memory, passed over her
face, and she said no more.
"I'll go with you to a doctor's," said Ferris, kindly.
"No, please, I won't trouble you."
"It's no trouble."
"I don't _want_ you to go with me, please. I'd rather go alone."
Ferris looked at her perplexedly, as she rose. "Just give me the
address, and I shall manage best by myself. I'm used to doing it."
"As you like. Wait a moment." Ferris wrote the address. "There," he
said, giving it to her; "but isn't there anything I can do for you?"
"Yes," answered Florida with awkward hesitation, and a half-defiant,
half-imploring look at him. "You must have all sorts of people applying
to you, as a consul; and you look after their affairs--and try to
"Well?" said Ferris.
"I wish you wouldn't remember that I've asked this favor of you; that
you'd consider it a"--
"Consular service? With all my heart," answered Ferris, thinking for
the third or fourth time how very young Miss Vervain was.
"You are very good; you are kinder than I have any right," said
Florida, smiling piteously. "I only mean, don't speak of it to my
mother. Not," she added, "but what I want her to know everything I do;
but it would worry her if she thought I was anxious about her. Oh! I
wish I wouldn't."
She began a hasty search for her handkerchief; he saw her lips tremble
and his soul trembled with them.
In another moment, "Good-morning," she said briskly, with a sort of
airy sob, "I don't want you to come down, please."
She drifted out of the room and down the stairs, the servant-maid
falling into her wake.
Ferris filled his pipe and went out on his balcony again, and stood
watching the gondola in its course toward the address he had given, and
smoking thoughtfully. It was really the same girl who had given poor
Don Ippolito that cruel slap in the face, yesterday. But that seemed no
more out of reason than her sudden, generous, exaggerated remorse both
were of a piece with her coming to him for help now, holding him at a
distance, flinging herself upon his sympathy, and then trying to snub
him, and breaking down in the effort. It was all of a piece, and the
piece was bad; yes, she had an ugly temper; and yet she had magnanimous
traits too. These contradictions, which in his reverie he felt rather
than formulated, made him smile, as he stood on his balcony bathed by
the morning air and sunlight, in fresh, strong ignorance of the whole
mystery of women's nerves. These caprices even charmed him. He
reflected that he had gone on doing the Vervains one favor after
another in spite of Florida's childish petulancies; and he resolved
that he would not stop now; her whims should be nothing to him, as they
had been nothing, hitherto. It is flattering to a man to be
indispensable to a woman so long as he is not obliged to it; Miss
Vervain's dependent relation to himself in this visit gave her a grace
in Ferris's eyes which she had wanted before.
In the mean time he saw her gondola stop, turn round, and come back to
the canal that bordered the Vervain garden.
"Another change of mind," thought Ferris, complacently; and rising
superior to the whole fitful sex, he released himself from uneasiness
on Mrs. Vervain's account. But in the evening he went to ask after her.
He first sent his card to Florida, having written on it, "I hope Mrs.
Vervain is better. Don't let me come in if it's any disturbance." He
looked for a moment at what he had written, dimly conscious that it was
patronizing, and when he entered he saw that Miss Vervain stood on the
defensive and from some willfulness meant to make him feel that he was
presumptuous in coming; it did not comfort him to consider that she was
very young. "Mother will be in directly," said Florida in a tone that
relegated their morning's interview to the age of fable.
Mrs. Vervain came in smiling and cordial, apparently better and not
worse for yesterday's misadventures.
"Oh, I pick up quickly," she explained. "I'm an old campaigner, you
know. Perhaps a little _too_ old, now. Years do make a difference;
and you'll find it out as you get on, Mr. Ferris."
"I suppose so," said Ferris, not caring to have Mrs. Vervain treat him
so much like a boy. "Even at twenty-six I found it pleasant to take a
nap this afternoon. How does one stand it at seventeen, Miss Vervain?"
"I haven't felt the need of sleep," replied Florida, indifferently, and
he felt shelved, as an old fellow.
He had an empty, frivolous visit, to his thinking. Mrs. Vervain asked
if he had seen Don Ippolito, and wondered that the priest had not come
about, al day. She told a long story, and at the end tapped herself on
the mouth with her fan to punish a yawn.
Ferris rose to go. Mrs. Vervain wondered again in the same words why
Don Ippolito had not been near them all day.
"Because he's a wise man," said Ferris with bitterness, "and knows when
to time his visits." Mrs. Vervain did not notice his bitterness, but
something made Florida follow him to the outer door.
"Why, it's moonlight!" she exclaimed; and she glanced at him as though
she had some purpose of atonement in her mind.
But he would not have it. "Yes, there's a moon," he said moodily.
"Good night," answered Florida, and she impulsively offered him her
hand. He thought that it shook in his, but it was probably the
agitation of his own nerves.
A soreness that had been lifted from his heart, came back; he walked
home disappointed and defeated, he hardly knew why or in what. He did
not laugh now to think how she had asked him that morning to forget her
coming to him for help; he was outraged that he should have been repaid
in this sort, and the rebuff with which his sympathy had just been met
was vulgar; there was no other name for it but vulgarity. Yet he could
not relate this quality to the face of the young girl as he constantly
beheld it in his homeward walk. It did not defy him or repulse him; it
looked up at him wistfully as from the gondola that morning.
Nevertheless he hardened his heart. The Vervains should see him next
when they had sent for him. After all, one is not so very old at
"Don Ippolito has come, signorina," said Nina, the next morning,
approaching Florida, where she sat in an attitude of listless patience,
in the garden.
"Don Ippolito!" echoed the young girl in a weary tone. She rose and
went into the house, and they met with the constraint which was but too
natural after the events of their last parting. It is hard to tell
which has most to overcome in such a case, the forgiver or the
forgiven. Pardon rankles even in a generous soul, and the memory of
having pardoned embarrasses the sensitive spirit before the object of
its clemency, humbling and making it ashamed. It would be well, I
suppose, if there need be nothing of the kind between human creatures,
who cannot sustain such a relation without mutual distrust. It is not
so ill with them when apart, but when they meet they must be cold and
shy at first.
"Now I see what you two are thinking about," said Mrs. Vervain, and a
faint blush tinged the cheek of the priest as she thus paired him off
with her daughter. "You are thinking about what happened the other day;
and you had better forget it. There is no use brooding over these
matters. Dear me! if _I_ had stopped to brood over every little
unpleasant thing that happened, I wonder where I should be now? By the
way, where were _you_ all day yesterday, Don Ippolito?"
"I did not come to disturb you because I thought you must be very
tired. Besides I was quite busy."
"Oh yes, those inventions of yours. I think you are _so_
ingenious! But you mustn't apply too closely. Now really, yesterday,--
after all you had been through, it was too much for the brain." She
tapped herself on the forehead with her fan.
"I was not busy with my inventions, madama," answered Don Ippolito, who
sat in the womanish attitude priests get from their drapery, and
fingered the cord round his three-cornered hat. "I have scarcely
touched them of late. But our parish takes part in the procession of
Corpus Domini in the Piazza, and I had my share of the preparations."
"Oh, to be sure! When is it to be? We must all go. Our Nina has been
telling Florida of the grand sights,--little children dressed up like
John the Baptist, leading lambs. I suppose it's a great event with
The priest shrugged his shoulders, and opened both his hands, so that
his hat slid to the floor, bumping and tumbling some distance away. He
recovered it and sat down again. "It's an observance," he said coldly.
"And shall you be in the procession?"
"I shall be there with the other priests of my parish."
"Delightful!" cried Mrs. Vervain. "We shall be looking out for you. I
shall feel greatly honored to think I actually know some one in the
procession. I'm going to give you a little nod. You won't think it very
She saved him from the embarrassment he might have felt in replying, by
an abrupt lapse from all apparent interest in the subject. She turned
to her daughter, and said with a querulous accent, "I wish you would
throw the afghan over my feet, Florida, and make me a little
comfortable before you begin your reading this morning." At the same
time she feebly disposed herself among the sofa cushions on which she
reclined, and waited for some final touches from her daughter. Then she
said, "I'm just going to close my eyes, but I shall hear every word.
You are getting a beautiful accent, my dear, I know you are. I should
think Goldoni must have a very smooth, agreeable style; hasn't he now,
They began to read the comedy; after fifteen or twenty minutes Mrs.
Vervain opened her eyes and said, "But before you commence, Florida, I
wish you'd play a little, to get me quieted down. I feel so very
flighty. I suppose it's this sirocco. And I believe I'll lie down in
the next room."
Florida followed her to repeat the arrangements for her comfort. Then
she returned, and sitting down at the piano struck with a sort of soft
firmness a few low, soothing chords, out of which a lulling melody
grew. With her fingers still resting on the keys she turned her stately
head, and glanced through the open door at her mother.
"Don Ippolito," she asked softly, "is there anything in the air of
Venice that makes people very drowsy?"
"I have never heard that, madamigella."
"I wonder," continued the young girl absently, "why my mother wants to
sleep so much."
"Perhaps she has not recovered from the fatigues of the other night,"
suggested the priest.
"Perhaps," said Florida, sadly looking toward her mother's door.
She turned again to the instrument, and let her fingers wander over the
keys, with a drooping head. Presently she lifted her face, and smoothed
back from her temples some straggling tendrils of hair. Without looking
at the priest she asked with the child-like bluntness that
characterized her, "Why don't you like to walk in the procession of
Don Ippolito's color came and went, and he answered evasively, "I have
not said that I did not like to do so."
"No, that is true," said Florida, letting her fingers drop again on the
Don Ippolito rose from the sofa where he had been sitting beside her
while they read, and walked the length of the room. Then he came
towards her and said meekly, "Madamigella, I did not mean to repel any
interest you feel in me. But it was a strange question to ask a priest,
as I remembered I was when you asked it."
"Don't you always remember that?" demanded the girl, still without
turning her head.
"No; sometimes I am suffered to forget it," he said with a tentative
She did not respond, and he drew a long breath, and walked away in
silence. She let her hands fall into her lap, and sat in an attitude of
expectation. As Don Ippolito came near her again he paused a second
"It is in this house that I forget my priesthood," he began, "and it is
the first of your kindnesses that you suffer me to do so, your good
mother, there, and you. How shall I repay you? It cut me to the heart
that you should ask forgiveness of me when you did, though I was hurt
by your rebuke. Oh, had you not the right to rebuke me if I abused the
delicate unreserve with which you had always treated me? But believe
me, I meant no wrong, then."
His voice shook, and Florida broke in, "You did nothing wrong. It was I
who was cruel for no cause."
"No, no. You shall not say that," he returned. "And why should I have
cared for a few words, when all your acts had expressed a trust of me
that is like heaven to my soul?"
She turned now and looked at him, and he went on. "Ah, I see you do not
understand! How could you know what it is to be a priest in this most
unhappy city? To be haunted by the strict espionage of all your own
class, to be shunned as a spy by all who are not of it! But you two
have not put up that barrier which everywhere shuts me out from my
kind. You have been willing to see the man in me, and to let me forget
"I do not know what to say to you, Don Ippolito. I am only a foreigner,
a girl, and I am very ignorant of these things," said Florida with a
slight alarm. "I am afraid that you may be saying what you will be
"Oh never! Do not fear for me if I am frank with you. It is my refuge
The passionate vibration of his voice increased, as if it must break in
tears. She glanced towards the other room with a little movement or
"Ah, you needn't be afraid of listening to me!" cried the priest
"I will not wake her," said Florida calmly, after an instant.
"See how you speak the thing you mean, always, always, always! You
could not deny that you meant to wake her, for you have the life-long
habit of the truth. Do you know what it is to have the life-long habit
of a lie? It is to be a priest. Do you know what it is to seem, to say,
to do, the thing you are not, think not, will not? To leave what you
believe unspoken, what you will undone, what you are unknown? It is to
be a priest!"
Don Ippolito spoke in Italian, and he uttered these words in a voice
carefully guarded from every listener but the one before his face. "Do
you know what it is when such a moment as this comes, and you would
fling away the whole fabric of falsehood that has clothed your life--do
you know what it is to keep still so much of it as will help you to
unmask silently and secretly? It is to be a priest!"
His voice had lost its vehemence, and his manner was strangely subdued
and cold. The sort of gentle apathy it expressed, together with a
certain sad, impersonal surprise at the difference between his own and
the happier fortune with which he contrasted it, was more touching than
any tragic demonstration.
As if she felt the fascination of the pathos which she could not fully
analyze, the young girl sat silent. After a time, in which she seemed
to be trying to think it all out, she asked in a low, deep murmur: "Why
did you become a priest, then?"
"It is a long story," said Don Ippolito. "I will not trouble you with
it now. Some other time."
"No; now," answered Florida, in English. "If you hate so to be a
priest, I can't understand why you should have allowed yourself to
become one. We should be very unhappy if we could not respect you,--not
trust you as we have done; and how could we, if we knew you were not
true to yourself in being what you are?"
"Madamigella," said the priest, "I never dared believe that I was in
the smallest thing necessary to your happiness. Is it true, then, that
you care for my being rather this than that? That you are in the least
grieved by any wrong of mine?"
"I scarcely know what you mean. How could we help being grieved by what
you have said to me?"
"Thanks; but why do you care whether a priest of my church loves his
calling or not,--you, a Protestant? It is that you are sorry for me as
an unhappy man, is it not?"
"Yes; it is that and more. I am no Catholic, but we are both
Don Ippolito gave the faintest movement of his shoulders.
--"and I cannot endure to think of your doing the things you must do as
a priest, and yet hating to be a priest. It is terrible!"
"Are all the priests of your faith devotees?"
"They cannot be. But are none of yours so?"
"Oh, God forbid that I should say that. I have known real saints among
them. That friend of mine in Padua, of whom I once told you, became
such, and died an angel fit for Paradise. And I suppose that my poor
uncle is a saint, too, in his way."
"Your uncle? A priest? You have never mentioned him to us."
"No," said Don Ippolito. After a certain pause he began abruptly, "We
are of the people, my family, and in each generation we have sought to
honor our blood by devoting one of the race to the church. When I was a
child, I used to divert myself by making little figures out of wood and
pasteboard, and I drew rude copies of the pictures I saw at church. We
lived in the house where I live now, and where I was born, and my
mother let me play in the small chamber where I now have my forge; it
was anciently the oratory of the noble family that occupied the whole
palace. I contrived an altar at one end of it; I stuck my pictures
about the walls, and I ranged the puppets in the order of worshippers
on the floor; then I played at saying mass, and preached to them all
"My mother was a widow. She used to watch me with tears in her eyes. At
last, one day, she brought my uncle to see me: I remember it all far
better than yesterday. 'Is it not the will of God?' she asked. My uncle
called me to him, and asked me whether I should like to be a priest in
good earnest, when I grew up? 'Shall I then be able to make as many
little figures as I like, and to paint pictures, and carve an altar
like that in your church?' I demanded. My uncle answered that I should
have real men and women to preach to, as he had, and would not that be
much finer? In my heart I did not think so, for I did not care for that
part of it; I only liked to preach to my puppets because I had made
them. But said, 'Oh yes,' as children do. I kept on contriving the toys
that I played with, and I grew used to hearing it told among my mates
and about the neighborhood that I was to be a priest; I cannot remember
any other talk with my mother, and I do not know how or when it was
decided. Whenever I thought of the matter, I thought, 'That will be
very well. The priests have very little to do, and they gain a great
deal of money with their masses; and I shall be able to make whatever I
like.' I only considered the office then as a means to gratify the
passion that has always filled my soul for inventions and works of
mechanical skill and ingenuity. My inclination was purely secular, but
I was as inevitably becoming a priest as if I had been born to be one."
"But you were not forced? There was no pressure upon you?"
"No, there was merely an absence, so far as they were concerned, of any
other idea. I think they meant justly, and assuredly they meant kindly
by me. I grew in years, and the time came when I was to begin my
studies. It was my uncle's influence that placed me in the Seminary of
the Salute, and there I repaid his care by the utmost diligence. But it
was not the theological studies that I loved, it was the mathematics
and their practical application, and among the classics I loved best
the poets and the historians. Yes, I can see that I was always a
mundane spirit, and some of those in charge of me at once divined it, I
think. They used to take us to walk,--you have seen the little
creatures in their priest's gowns, which they put on when they enter
the school, with a couple of young priests at the head of the file,--
and once, for an uncommon pleasure, they took us to the Arsenal, and
let us see the shipyards and the museum. You know the wonderful things
that are there: the flags and the guns captured from the Turks; the
strange weapons of all devices; the famous suits of armor. I came back
half-crazed; I wept that I must leave the place. But I set to work the
best I could to carve out in wood an invention which the model of one
of the antique galleys had suggested to me. They found it,--nothing can
be concealed outside of your own breast in such a school,--and they
carried me with my contrivance before the superior. He looked kindly
but gravely at me: 'My son,' said he, 'do you wish to be a priest?'
'Surely, reverend father,' I answered in alarm, 'why not?' 'Because
these things are not for priests. Their thoughts must be upon other
things. Consider well of it, my son, while there is yet time,' he said,
and he addressed me a long and serious discourse upon the life on which
I was to enter. He was a just and conscientious and affectionate man;
but every word fell like burning fire in my heart. At the end, he took
my poor plaything, and thrust it down among the coals of his
_scaldino_. It made the scaldino smoke, and he bade me carry it
out with me, and so turned again to his book.
"My mother was by this time dead, but I could hardly have gone to her,
if she had still been living. 'These things are not for priests!' kept
repeating itself night and day in my brain. I was in despair, I was in
a fury to see my uncle. I poured out my heart to him, and tried to make
him understand the illusions and vain hopes in which I had lived. He
received coldly my sorrow and the reproaches which I did not spare him;
he bade me consider my inclinations as so many temptations to be
overcome for the good of my soul and the glory of God. He warned me
against the scandal of attempting to withdraw now from the path marked
out for me. I said that I never would be a priest. 'And what will you
do?' he asked. Alas! what could I do? I went back to my prison, and in
due course I became a priest.
"It was not without sufficient warning that I took one order after
another, but my uncle's words, 'What will you do?' made me deaf to
these admonitions. All that is now past. I no longer resent nor hate; I
seem to have lost the power; but those were days when my soul was
filled with bitterness. Something of this must have showed itself to
those who had me in their charge. I have heard that at one time my
superiors had grave doubts whether I ought to be allowed to take
orders. My examination, in which the difficulties of the sacerdotal
life were brought before me with the greatest clearness, was severe; I
do not know how I passed it; it must have been in grace to my uncle. I
spent the next ten days in a convent, to meditate upon the step I was
about to take. Poor helpless, friendless wretch! Madamigella, even yet
I cannot see how I was to blame, that I came forth and received the
first of the holy orders, and in their time the second and the third.
"I was a priest, but no more a priest at heart than those Venetian
conscripts, whom you saw carried away last week, are Austrian soldiers.
I was bound as they are bound, by an inexorable and inevitable law.
"You have asked me why I became a priest. Perhaps I have not told you
why, but I have told you how--I have given you the slight outward
events, not the processes of my mind--and that is all that I can do. If
the guilt was mine, I have suffered for it. If it was not mine, still I
have suffered for it. Some ban seems to have rested upon whatever I
have attempted. My work,--oh, I know it well enough!--has all been
cursed with futility; my labors are miserable failures or contemptible
successes. I have had my unselfish dreams of blessing mankind by some
great discovery or invention; but my life has been barren, barren,
barren; and save for the kindness that I have known in this house, and
that would not let me despair, it would now be without hope."
He ceased, and the girl, who had listened with her proud looks
transfigured to an aspect of grieving pity, fetched a long sigh. "Oh, I
am sorry for you!" she said, "more sorry than I know how to tell. But
you must not lose courage, you must not give up!"
Don Ippolito resumed with a melancholy smile. "There are doubtless
temptations enough to be false under the best of conditions in this
world. But something--I do not know what or whom; perhaps no more my
uncle or my mother than I, for they were only as the past had made
them--caused me to begin by living a lie, do you not see?"
"Yes, yes," reluctantly assented the girl.
"Perhaps--who knows?--that is why no good has come of me, nor can come.
My uncle's piety and repute have always been my efficient help. He is
the principal priest of the church to which I am attached, and he has
had infinite patience with me. My ambition and my attempted inventions
are a scandal to him, for he is a priest of those like the Holy Father,
who believe that all the wickedness of the modern world has come from
the devices of science; my indifference to the things of religion is a
terror and a sorrow to him which he combats with prayers and penances.
He starves himself and goes cold and faint that God may have mercy and
turn my heart to the things on which his own is fixed. He loves my
soul, but not me, and we are scarcely friends."
Florida continued to look at him with steadfast, compassionate eyes.
"It seems very strange, almost like some dream," she murmured, "that
you should be saying all this to me, Don Ippolito, and I do not know
why I should have asked you anything."
The pity of this virginal heart must have been very sweet to the man on
whom she looked it. His eyes worshipped her, as he answered her
devoutly, "It was due to the truth in you that I should seem to you
what I am."
"Indeed, you make me ashamed!" she cried with a blush. "It was selfish
of me to ask you to speak. And now, after what you have told me, I am
so helpless and I know so very little that I don't understand how to
comfort or encourage you. But surely you can somehow help yourself. Are
men, that seem so strong and able, just as powerless as women, after
all, when it comes to real trouble? Is a man"--
"I cannot answer. I am only a priest," said Don Ippolito coldly,
letting his eyes drop to the gown that fell about him like a woman's
"Yes, but a priest should be a man, and so much more; a priest"--
Don Ippolito shrugged his shoulders.
"No, no!" cried the girl. "Your own schemes have all failed, you say;
then why do you not think of becoming a priest in reality, and getting
the good there must be in such a calling? It is singular that I should
venture to say such a thing to you, and it must seem presumptuous and
ridiculous for me, a Protestant--but our ways are so different."... She
paused, coloring deeply, then controlled herself, and added with grave
composure, "If you were to pray"--
"To what, madamigella?" asked the priest, sadly.
"To what!" she echoed, opening her eyes full upon him. "To God!"
Don Ippolito made no answer. He let his head fall so low upon his
breast that she could see the sacerdotal tonsure.
"You must excuse me," she said, blushing again. "I did not mean to
wound your feelings as a Catholic. I have been very bold and intrusive.
I ought to have remembered that people of your church have different
ideas--that the saints"--
Don Ippolito looked up with pensive irony.
"Oh, the poor saints!"
"I don't understand you," said Florida, very gravely.
"I mean that I believe in the saints as little as you do."
"But you believe in your Church?"
"I have no Church."
There was a silence in which Don Ippolito again dropped his head upon
his breast. Florida leaned forward in her eagerness, and murmured, "You
believe in God?"
The priest lifted his eyes and looked at her beseechingly. "I do not
know," he whispered. She met his gaze with one of dumb bewilderment. At
last she said: "Sometimes you baptize little children and receive them
into the church in the name of God?"
"Poor creatures come to you and confess their sins, and you absolve
them, or order them to do penances?"
"And sometimes when people are dying, you must stand by their death-
beds and give them the last consolations of religion?"
"It is true."
"Oh!" moaned the girl, and fixed on Don Ippolito a long look of wonder
and reproach, which he met with eyes of silent anguish.
"It is terrible, madamigella," he said, rising. "I know it. I would
fain have lived single-heartedly, for I think I was made so; but now
you see how black and deadly a lie my life is. It is worse than you
could have imagined, is it not? It is worse than the life of the
cruelest bigot, for he at least believes in himself."
"Worse, far worse!"
"But at least, dear young lady," he went on piteously, "believe me that
I have the grace to abhor myself. It is not much, it is very, very
little, but it is something. Do not wholly condemn me!"
"Condemn? Oh, I am sorry for you with my whole heart. Only, why must
you tell me all this? No, no; you are not to blame. I made you speak; I
made you put yourself to shame."
"Not that, dearest madamigella. I would unsay nothing now, if I could,
unless to take away the pain I have given you. It has been more a
relief than a shame to have all this known to you; and even if you
should despise me"--
"I don't despise you; that isn't for me; but oh, I wish that I could
Don Ippolito shook his head. "You cannot help me; but I thank you for
your compassion; I shall never forget it." He lingered irresolutely
with his hat in his hand. "Shall we go on with the reading,
"No, we will not read any more to-day," she answered.
"Then I relieve you of the disturbance, madamigella," he said; and
after a moment's hesitation he bowed sadly and went.
She mechanically followed him to the door, with some little gestures
and movements of a desire to keep him from going, yet let him go, and
so turned back and sat down with her hands resting noiseless on the
keys of the piano.
The next morning Don Ippolito did not come, but in the afternoon
the postman brought a letter for Mrs. Vervain, couched in the priest's
English, begging her indulgence until after the day of Corpus Christi,
up to which time, he said, he should be too occupied for his visits of
This letter reminded Mrs. Vervain that they had not seen Mr. Ferris for
three days, and she sent to ask him to dinner. But he returned an
excuse, and he was not to be had to breakfast the next morning for the
asking. He was in open rebellion. Mrs. Vervain had herself rowed to the
consular landing, and sent up her gondolier with another invitation to
The painter appeared on the balcony in the linen blouse which he wore
at his work, and looked down with a frown on the smiling face of Mrs.
Vervain for a moment without speaking. Then, "I'll come," he said
"Come with me, then," returned Mrs. Vervain,
"I shall have to keep you waiting."
"I don't mind that. You'll be ready in five minutes."
Florida met the painter with such gentleness that he felt his
resentment to have been a stupid caprice, for which there was no ground
in the world. He tried to recall his fading sense of outrage, but he
found nothing in his mind but penitence. The sort of distraught
humility with which she behaved gave her a novel fascination.
The dinner was good, as Mrs. Vervain's dinners always were, and there
was a compliment to the painter in the presence of a favorite dish.
When he saw this, "Well, Mrs. Vervain, what is it?" he asked. "You
needn't pretend that you're treating me so well for nothing. You want
"We want nothing but that you should not neglect your friends. We have
been utterly deserted for three or four days. Don Ippolito has not been
here, either; but _he_ has some excuse; he has to get ready for
Corpus Christi. He's going to be in the procession."
"Is he to appear with his flying machine, or his portable dining-table,
or his automatic camera?"
"For shame!" cried Mrs. Vervain, beaming reproach. Florida's face
clouded, and Ferris made haste to say that he did not know these
inventions were sacred, and that he had no wish to blaspheme them.
"You know well enough what I meant," answered Mrs. Vervain. "And now,
we want you to get us a window to look out on the procession."
"Oh, _that's_ what you want, is it? I thought you merely wanted me
not to neglect my friends."
"Well, do you call that neglecting them?"
"Mrs. Vervain, Mrs. Vervain! What a mind you have! Is there anything
else you want? Me to go with you, for example?"
"We don't insist. You can take us to the window and leave us, if you
"This clemency is indeed unexpected," replied Ferris. "I'm really quite
unworthy of it."
He was going on with the badinage customary between Mrs. Vervain and
himself, when Florida protested,--
"Mother, I think we abuse Mr. Ferris's kindness."
"I know it, my dear--I know it," cheerfully assented Mrs. Vervain.
"It's perfectly shocking. But what are we to do? We must abuse
"We had better stay at home. I'd much rather not go," said the girl,
"Why, Miss Vervain," said Ferris gravely, "I'm very sorry if you've
misunderstood my joking. I've never yet seen the procession to
advantage, and I'd like very much to look on with you."
He could not tell whether she was grateful for his words, or annoyed.
She resolutely said no more, but her mother took up the strain and
discoursed long upon it, arranging all the particulars of their meeting
and going together. Ferris was a little piqued, and began to wonder why
Miss Vervain did not stay at home if she did not want to go. To be
sure, she went everywhere with her mother but it was strange, with her
habitual violent submissiveness, that she should have said anything in
opposition to her mother's wish or purpose.
After dinner, Mrs. Vervain frankly withdrew for her nap, and Florida
seemed to make a little haste to take some sewing in her hand, and sat
down with the air of a woman willing; to detain her visitor. Ferris was
not such a stoic as not to be dimly flattered by this, but he was too
much of a man to be fully aware how great an advance it might seem.
"I suppose we shall see most of the priests of Venice, and what they
are like, in the procession to-morrow," she said. "Do you remember
speaking to me about priests, the other day, Mr. Ferris?"
"Yes, I remember it very well. I think I overdid it; and I couldn't
perceive afterwards that I had shown any motive but a desire to make
trouble for Don Ippolito."
"I never thought that," answered Florida, seriously. "What you said was
true, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was and it wasn't, and I don't know that it differed from
anything else in the world, in that respect. It is true that there is a
great distrust of the priests amongst the Italians. The young men hate
them--or think they do--or say they do. Most educated men in middle
life are materialists, and of course unfriendly to the priests. There
are even women who are skeptical about religion. But I suspect that the
largest number of all those who talk loudest against the priests are
really subject to them. You must consider how very intimately they are
bound up with every family in the most solemn relations of life."
"Do you think the priests are generally bad men?" asked the young girl
"I don't, indeed. I don't see how things could hang together if it were
so. There must be a great basis of sincerity and goodness in them, when
all is said and done. It seems to me that at the worst they're merely
professional people--poor fellows who have gone into the church for a
living. You know it isn't often now that the sons of noble families
take orders; the priests are mostly of humble origin; not that they're
necessarily the worse for that; the patricians used to be just as bad
in another way."
"I wonder," said Florida, with her head on one side, considering her
seam, "why there is always something so dreadful to us in the idea of a
"They _do_ seem a kind of alien creature to us Protestants. I
can't make out whether they seem so to Catholics, or not. But we have a
repugnance to all doomed people, haven't we? And a priest is a man
under sentence of death to the natural ties between himself and the
human race. He is dead to us. That makes him dreadful. The spectre of
our dearest friend, father or mother, would be terrible. And yet,"
added Ferris, musingly, "a nun isn't terrible."
"No," answered the girl, "that's because a woman's life even in the
world seems to be a constant giving up. No, a nun isn't unnatural, but
a priest is."
She was silent for a time, in which she sewed swiftly; then she
suddenly dropped her work into her lap, and pressing it down with both
hands, she asked, "Do you believe that priests themselves are ever
skeptical about religion?"
"I suppose it must happen now and then. In the best days of the church
it was a fashion to doubt, you know. I've often wanted to ask our
friend Don Ippolito something about these matters, but I didn't see how
it could be managed." Ferris did not note the change that passed over
Florida's face, and he continued. "Our acquaintance hasn't become so
intimate as I hoped it might. But you only get to a certain point with
Italians. They like to meet you on the street; maybe they haven't any
"Yes, it must sometimes happen, as you say," replied Florida, with a
quick sigh, reverting to the beginning of Ferris's answer. "But is it
any worse for a false priest than for a hypocritical minister?"
"It's bad enough for either, but it's worse for the priest. You see
Miss Vervain, a minister doesn't set up for so much. He doesn't pretend
to forgive us our sins, and he doesn't ask us to confess them; he
doesn't offer us the veritable body and blood in the sacrament, and he
doesn't bear allegiance to the visible and tangible vicegerent of
Christ upon earth. A hypocritical parson may be absurd; but a skeptical
priest is tragical."
"Yes, oh yes, I see," murmured the girl, with a grieving face. "Are
they always to blame for it? They must be induced, sometimes, to enter
the church before they've seriously thought about it, and then don't
know how to escape from the path that has been marked out for them from
their childhood. Should you think such a priest as that was to blame
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