A Foregone Conclusion
W. D. Howells
Part 3 out of 4
for being a skeptic?" she asked very earnestly.
"No," said Ferris, with a smile at her seriousness, "I should think
such a skeptic as that was to blame for being a priest."
"Shouldn't you be very sorry for him?" pursued Florida still more
"I should, indeed, if I liked him. If I didn't, I'm afraid I
shouldn't," said Ferris; but he saw that his levity jarred upon her.
"Come, Miss Vervain, you're not going to look at those fat monks and
sleek priests in the procession to-morrow as so many incorporate
tragedies, are you? You'll spoil my pleasure if you do. I dare say
they'll be all of them devout believers, accepting everything, down to
the animalcula in the holy water."
"If _you_ were that kind of a priest," persisted the girl, without
heeding his jests, "what should you do?"
"Upon my word, I don't know. I can't imagine it. Why," he continued,
"think what a helpless creature a priest is in everything but his
priesthood--more helpless than a woman, even. The only thing he could
do would be to leave the church, and how could he do that? He's in the
world, but he isn't of it, and I don't see what he could do with it, or
it with him. If an Italian priest were to leave the church, even the
liberals, who distrust him now, would despise him still more. Do you
know that they have a pleasant fashion of calling the Protestant
converts apostates? The first thing for such a priest would be exile.
But I'm not supposably the kind of priest you mean, and I don't think
just such a priest supposable. I dare say if a priest found himself
drifting into doubt, he'd try to avoid the disagreeable subject, and,
if he couldn't, he'd philosophize it some way, and wouldn't let his
skepticism worry him."
"Then you mean that they haven't consciences like us?"
"They have consciences, but not like us. The Italians are kinder people
than we are, but they're not so just, and I should say that they don't
think truth the chief good of life. They believe there are pleasanter
and better things. Perhaps they're right."
"No, no; you don't believe that, you know you don't," said Florida,
anxiously. "And you haven't answered my question."
"Oh yes, I have. I've told you it wasn't a supposable case."
"But suppose it was."
"Well, if I must," answered Ferris with a laugh. "With my unfortunate
bringing up, I couldn't say less than that such a man ought to get out
of his priesthood at any hazard. He should cease to be a priest, if it
cost him kindred, friends, good fame, country, everything. I don't see
how there can be any living in such a lie, though I know there is. In
all reason, it ought to eat the soul out of a man, and leave him
helpless to do or be any sort of good. But there seems to be something,
I don't know what it is, that is above all reason of ours, something
that saves each of us for good in spite of the bad that's in us. It's
very good practice, for a man who wants to be modest, to come and live
in a Latin country. He learns to suspect his own topping virtues, and
to be lenient to the novel combinations of right and wrong that he
sees. But as for our insupposable priest--yes, I should say decidedly
he ought to get out of it by all means."
Florida fell back in her chair with an aspect of such relief as comes
to one from confirmation on an important point. She passed her hand
over the sewing in her lap, but did not speak.
Ferris went on, with a doubting look at her, for he had been shy of
introducing Don Ippolito's name since the day on the Brenta, and he did
not know what effect a recurrence to him in this talk might have. "I've
often wondered if our own clerical friend were not a little shaky in
his faith. I don't think nature meant him for a priest. He always
strikes me as an extremely secular-minded person. I doubt if he's ever
put the question whether he is what he professes to be, squarely to
himself--he's such a mere dreamer."
Florida changed her posture slightly, and looked down at her sewing.
She asked, "But shouldn't you abhor him if he were a skeptical priest?"
Ferris shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I don't find it such an easy matter
to abhor people. It would be interesting," he continued musingly, "to
have such a dreamer waked up, once, and suddenly confronted with what
he recognized as perfect truthfulness, and couldn't help contrasting
himself with. But it would be a little cruel."
"Would you rather have him left as he was?" asked Florida, lifting her
eyes to his.
"As a moralist, no; as a humanitarian, yes, Miss Vervain. He'd be much
happier as he was."
"What time ought we to be ready for you tomorrow?" demanded the girl in
a tone of decision,
"We ought to be in the Piazza by nine o'clock," said Ferris, carelessly
accepting the change of subject; and he told her of his plan for seeing
the procession from a window of the Old Procuratie.
When he rose to go, he said lightly, "Perhaps, after all, we may see
the type of tragical priest we've been talking about. Who can tell? I
say his nose will be red."
"Perhaps," answered Florida, with unheeding gravity.
The day was one of those which can come to the world only in early June
at Venice. The heaven was without a cloud, but a blue haze made mystery
of the horizon where the lagoon and sky met unseen. The breath of the
sea bathed in freshness the city at whose feet her tides sparkled and
The great square of St. Mark was transformed from a mart, from a
_salon_, to a temple. The shops under the colonnades that inclose
it upon three sides were shut; the caffes, before which the circles of
idle coffee-drinkers and sherbet-eaters ordinarily spread out into the
Piazza, were repressed to the limits of their own doors; the stands of
the water-venders, the baskets of those that sold oranges of Palermo
and black cherries of Padua, had vanished from the base of the church
of St. Mark, which with its dim splendor of mosaics and its carven
luxury of pillar and arch and finial rose like the high-altar,
ineffably rich and beautiful, of the vaster temple whose inclosure it
completed. Before it stood the three great red flag-staffs, like
painted tapers before an altar, and from them hung the Austrian flags
of red and white, and yellow and black.
In the middle of the square stood the Austrian military band,
motionless, encircling their leader with his gold-headed staff
uplifted. During the night a light colonnade of wood, roofed with blue
cloth, had been put up around the inside of the Piazza, and under this
now paused the long pomp of the ecclesiastical procession--the priests
of all the Venetian churches in their richest vestments, followed in
their order by facchini, in white sandals and gay robes, with caps of
scarlet, white, green, and blue, who bore huge painted candles and
silken banners displaying the symbol or the portrait of the titular
saints of the several churches, and supported the canopies under which
the host of each was elevated. Before the clergy went a company of
Austrian soldiers, and behind the facchini came a long array of
religious societies, charity-school boys in uniforms, old paupers in
holiday dress, little naked urchins with shepherds' crooks and bits of
fleece about their loins like John the Baptist in the Wilderness,
little girls with angels' wings and crowns, the monks of the various
orders, and civilian penitents of all sorts in cloaks or dress-coats,
hooded or bareheaded, and carrying each a lighted taper. The corridors
under the Imperial Palace and the New and Old Procuratie were packed
with spectators; from every window up and down the fronts of the palaces,
gay stuffs were flung; the startled doves of St. Mark perched upon the
cornices, or fluttered uneasily to and fro above the crowd. The baton
of the band leader descended with a crash of martial music, the priests
chanted, the charity-boys sang shrill, a vast noise of shuffling feet
arose, mixed with the foliage-like rustling of the sheets of tinsel
attached to the banners and candles in the procession: the whole
strange, gorgeous picture came to life.
After all her plans and preparations, Mrs. Vervain had not felt well
enough that morning to come to the spectacle which she had counted so
much upon seeing, but she had therefore insisted the more that her
daughter should go, and Ferris now stood with Florida alone at a window
in the Old Procuratie.
"Well, what do you think, Miss Vervain?" he asked, when their senses
had somewhat accustomed themselves to the noise of the procession; "do
you say now that Venice is too gloomy a city to have ever had any
possibility of gayety in her?"
"I never said that," answered Florida, opening her eyes upon him.
"Neither did I," returned Ferris, "but I've often thought it, and I'm
not sure now but I'm right. There's something extremely melancholy to
me in all this. I don't care so much for what one may call the
deplorable superstition expressed in the spectacle, but the mere
splendid sight and the music are enough to make one shed tears. I don't
know anything more affecting except a procession of lantern-lit
gondolas and barges on the Grand Canal. It's phantasmal. It's the
spectral resurrection of the old dead forms into the present. It's not
even the ghost, it's the corpse, of other ages that's haunting Venice.
The city ought to have been destroyed by Napoleon when he destroyed the
Republic, and thrown overboard----St. Mark, Winged Lion, Bucentaur, and
all. There is no land like America for true cheerfulness and light-
heartedness. Think of our Fourth of Julys and our State Fairs. Selah!"
Ferris looked into the girl's serious face with twinkling eyes. He
liked to embarrass her gravity with his antic speeches, and enjoyed her
endeavors to find an earnest meaning in them, and her evident trouble
when she could find none.
"I'm curious to know how our friend will look," he began again, as he
arranged the cushion on the window-sill for Florida's greater comfort
in watching the spectacle, "but it won't be an easy matter to pick him
out in this masquerade, I fancy. Candle-carrying, as well as the other
acts of devotion, seems rather out of character with Don Ippolito, and
I can't imagine his putting much soul into it. However, very few of the
clergy appear to do that. Look at those holy men with their eyes to the
wind! They are wondering who is the _bella bionda_ at the window
Florida listened to his persiflage with an air of sad distraction. She
was intent upon the procession as it approached from the other side of
the Piazza, and she replied at random to his comments on the different
bodies that formed it.
"It's very hard to decide which are my favorites," he continued,
surveying the long column through an opera-glass. "My religious
disadvantages have been such that I don't care much for priests or
monks, or young John the Baptists, or small female cherubim, but I do
like little charity-boys with voices of pins and needles and hair cut
_a la_ dead-rabbit. I should like, if it were consistent with the
consular dignity, to go down and rub their heads. I'm fond, also, of
_old_ charity-boys, I find. Those paupers make one in love with
destitute and dependent age, by their aspect of irresponsible
enjoyment. See how briskly each of them topples along on the leg that
he hasn't got in the grave! How attractive likewise are the civilian
devotees in those imperishable dress-coats of theirs! Observe their
high collars of the era of the Holy Alliance: they and their fathers
and their grandfathers before them have worn those dress-coats; in a
hundred years from now their posterity will keep holiday in them. I
should like to know the elixir by which the dress-coats of civil
employees render themselves immortal. Those penitents in the cloaks and
cowls are not bad, either, Miss Vervain. Come, they add a very pretty
touch of mystery to this spectacle. They're the sort of thing that
painters are expected to paint in Venice--that people sigh over as so
peculiarly Venetian. If you've a single sentiment about you, Miss
Vervain, now is the time to produce it."
"But I haven't. I'm afraid I have no sentiment at all," answered the
girl ruefully. "But this makes me dreadfully sad."
"Why that's just what I was saying a while ago. Excuse me, Miss
Vervain, but your sadness lacks novelty; it's a sort of plagiarism."
"Don't, please," she pleaded yet more earnestly. "I was just thinking--
I don't know why such an awful thought should come to me--that it might
all be a mistake after all; perhaps there might not be any other world,
and every bit of this power and display of the church--_our_
church as well as the rest--might be only a cruel blunder, a dreadful
mistake. Perhaps there isn't even any God! Do you think there is?"
"I don't _think _it," said Ferris gravely, "I _know_ it. But
I don't wonder that this sight makes you doubt. Great God! How far it
is from Christ! Look there, at those troops who go before the followers
of the Lamb: their trade is murder. In a minute, if a dozen men called
out, 'Long live the King of Italy!' it would be the duty of those
soldiers to fire into the helpless crowd. Look at the silken and gilded
pomp of the servants of the carpenter's son! Look at those miserable
monks, voluntary prisoners, beggars, aliens to their kind! Look at
those penitents who think that they can get forgiveness for their sins
by carrying a candle round the square! And it is nearly two thousand
years since the world turned Christian! It is pretty slow. But I
suppose God lets men learn Him from their own experience of evil. I
imagine the kingdom of heaven is a sort of republic, and that God draws
men to Him only through their perfect freedom."
"Yes, yes, it must be so," answered Florida, staring down on the crowd
with unseeing eyes, "but I can't fix my mind on it. I keep thinking the
whole time of what we were talking about yesterday. I never could have
dreamed of a priest's disbelieving; but now I can't dream of anything
else. It seems to me that none of these priests or monks can believe
anything. Their faces look false and sly and bad--_all_ of them!"
"No, no, Miss Vervain," said Ferris, smiling at her despair, "you push
matters a little beyond--as a woman has a right to do, of course. I
don't think their faces are bad, by any means. Some of them are dull
and torpid, and some are frivolous, just like the faces of other
people. But I've been noticing the number of good, kind, friendly
faces, and they're in the majority, just as they are amongst other
people; for there are very few souls altogether out of drawing, in my
opinion. I've even caught sight of some faces in which there was a real
rapture of devotion, and now and then a very innocent one. Here, for
instance, is a man I should like to bet on, if he'd only look up."
The priest whom Ferris indicated was slowly advancing toward the space
immediately under their window. He was dressed in robes of high
ceremony, and in his hand he carried a lighted taper. He moved with a
gentle tread, and the droop of his slender figure intimated a sort of
despairing weariness. While most of his fellows stared carelessly or
curiously about them, his face was downcast and averted.
Suddenly the procession paused, and a hush fell upon the vast assembly.
Then the silence was broken by the rustle and stir of all those
thousands going down upon their knees, as the cardinal-patriarch lifted
his hands to bless them.
The priest upon whom Ferris and Florida had fixed their eyes faltered a
moment, and before he knelt his next neighbor had to pluck him by the
skirt. Then he too knelt hastily, mechanically lifting his head, and
glancing along the front of the Old Procuratie. His face had that
weariness in it which his figure and movement had suggested, and it was
very pale, but it was yet more singular for the troubled innocence
which its traits expressed.
"There," whispered Ferris, "that's what I call an uncommonly good
Florida raised her hand to silence him, and the heavy gaze of the
priest rested on them coldly at first. Then a light of recognition shot
into his eyes and a flush suffused his pallid visage, which seemed to
grow the more haggard and desperate. His head fell again, and he
dropped the candle from his hand. One of those beggars who went by the
side of the procession, to gather the drippings of the tapers, restored
it to him.
"Why," said Ferris aloud, "it's Don Ippolito! Did you know him at
The ladies were sitting on the terrace when Don Ippolito came next
morning to say that he could not read with Miss Vervain that day nor
for several days after, alleging in excuse some priestly duties proper
to the time. Mrs. Vervain began to lament that she had not been able to
go to the procession of the day before. "I meant to have kept a sharp
lookout for you; Florida saw you, and so did Mr. Ferris. But it isn't
at all the same thing, you know. Florida has no faculty for describing;
and now I shall probably go away from Venice without seeing you in your
real character once."
Don Ippolito suffered this and more in meek silence. He waited his
opportunity with unfailing politeness, and then with gentle punctilio
took his leave.
"Well, come again as soon as your duties will let you, Don Ippolito,"
cried Mrs. Vervain. "We shall miss you dreadfully, and I begrudge every
one of your readings that Florida loses."
The priest passed, with the sliding step which his impeding drapery
imposed, down the garden walk, and was half-way to the gate, when
Florida, who had stood watching him, said to her mother, "I must speak
to him again," and lightly descended the steps and swiftly glided in
"Don Ippolito!" she called.
He already had his hand upon the gate, but he turned, and rapidly went
back to meet her.
She stood in the walk where she had stopped when her voice arrested
him, breathing quickly. Their eyes met; a painful shadow overcast the
face of the young girl, who seemed to be trying in vain to speak.
Mrs. Vervain put on her glasses and peered down at the two with good-
"Well, madamigella," said the priest at last, "what do you command me?"
He gave a faint, patient sigh.
The tears came into her eyes. "Oh," she began vehemently, "I wish there
was some one who had the right to speak to you!"
"No one," answered Don Ippolito, "has so much the right as you."
"I saw you yesterday," she began again, "and I thought of what you had
told me, Don Ippolito."
"Yes, I thought of it, too," answered the priest; "I have thought of it
"But haven't you thought of any hope for yourself? Must you still go on
as before? How can you go back now to those things, and pretend to
think them holy, and all the time have no heart or faith in them? It's
"What would you, madamigella?" demanded Don Ippolito, with a moody
shrug. "It is my profession, my trade, you know. You might say to the
prisoner," he added bitterly, "'It is terrible to see you chained
here.' Yes, it is terrible. Oh, I don't reject your compassion! But
what can I do?"
"Sit down with me here," said Florida in her blunt, child-like way, and
sank upon the stone seat beside the walk. She clasped her hands
together in her lap with some strong, bashful emotion, while Don
Ippolito, obeying her command, waited for her to speak. Her voice was
scarcely more than a hoarse whisper when she began.
"I don't know how to begin what I want to say. I am not fit to advise
any one. I am so young, and so very ignorant of the world."
"I too know little of the world," said the priest, as much to himself
as to her.
"It may be all wrong, all wrong. Besides," she said abruptly, "how do I
know that you are a good man, Don Ippolito? How do I know that you've
been telling me the truth? It may be all a kind of trap"--
He looked blankly at her.
"This is in Venice; and you may be leading me on to say things to you
that will make trouble for my mother and me. You may be a spy"--
"Oh no, no, no!" cried the priest, springing to his feet with a kind of
moan, and a shudder, "God forbid!" He swiftly touched her hand with the
tips of his fingers, and then kissed them: an action of inexpressible
humility. "Madamigella, I swear to you by everything you believe good
that I would rather die than be false to you in a single breath or
"Oh, I know it, I know it," she murmured. "I don't see how I could say
such a cruel thing."
"Not cruel; no, madamigella, not cruel," softly pleaded Don Ippolito.
"But--but is there _no_ escape for you?"
They looked steadfastly at each other for a moment, and then Don
"Yes," he said very gravely, "there is one way of escape. I have often
thought of it, and once I thought I had taken the first step towards
it; but it is beset with many great obstacles, and to be a priest makes
one timid and insecure."
He lapsed into his musing melancholy with the last words; but she would
not suffer him to lose whatever heart he had begun to speak with.
"That's nothing," she said, "you must think again of that way of
escape, and never turn from it till you have tried it. Only take the
first step and you can go on. Friends will rise up everywhere, and make
it easy for you. Come," she implored him fervently, "you must promise."
He bent his dreamy eyes upon her.
"If I should take this only way of escape, and it seemed desperate to
all others, would you still be my friend?"
"I should be your friend if the whole world turned against you."
"Would you be my friend," he asked eagerly in lower tones, and with
signs of an inward struggle, "if this way of escape were for me to be
no longer a priest?"
"Oh yes, yes! Why not?" cried the girl; and her face glowed with heroic
sympathy and defiance. It is from this heaven-born ignorance in women
of the insuperable difficulties of doing right that men take fire and
accomplish the sublime impossibilities. Our sense of details, our fatal
habits of reasoning paralyze us; we need the impulse of the pure ideal
which we can get only from them. These two were alike children as
regarded the world, but he had a man's dark prevision of the means, and
she a heavenly scorn of everything but the end to be achieved.
He drew a long breath. "Then it does not seem terrible to you?"
"Terrible? No! I don't see how you can rest till it is done!"
"Is it true, then, that you urge me to this step, which indeed I have
so long desired to take?"
"Yes, it is true! Listen, Don Ippolito: it is the very thing that I
hoped you would do, but I wanted you to speak of it first. You must
have all the honor of it, and I am glad you thought of it before. You
will never regret it!"
She smiled radiantly upon him, and he kindled at her enthusiasm. In
another moment his face darkened again. "But it will cost much," he
"No matter," cried Florida. "Such a man as you ought to leave the
priesthood at any risk or hazard. You should cease to be a priest, if
it cost you kindred, friends, good fame, country, everything!" She
blushed with irrelevant consciousness. "Why need you be downhearted?
With your genius once free, you can make country and fame and friends
everywhere. Leave Venice! There are other places. Think how inventors
succeed in America"--
"In America!" exclaimed the priest. "Ah, how long I have desired to be
"You must go. You will soon be famous and honored there, and you shall
not be a stranger, even at the first. Do you know that we are going
home very soon? Yes, my mother and I have been talking of it to-day. We
are both homesick, and you see that she is not well. You shall come to
us there, and make our house your home till you have formed some plans
of your own. Everything will be easy. God _is_ good," she said in
a breaking voice, "and you may be sure he will befriend you."
"Some one," answered Don Ippolito, with tears in his eyes, "has already
been very good to me. I thought it was you, but I will call it God!"
"Hush! You mustn't say such things. But you must go, now. Take time to
think, but not too much time. Only,--be true to yourself."
They rose, and she laid her hand on his arm with an instinctive gesture
of appeal. He stood bewildered. Then, "Thanks, madamigella, thanks!" he
said, and caught her fragrant hand to his lips. He loosed it and lifted
both his arms by a blind impulse in which he arrested himself with a
burning blush, and turned away. He did not take leave of her with his
wonted formalities, but hurried abruptly toward the gate.
A panic seemed to seize her as she saw him open it. She ran after him.
"Don Ippolito, Don Ippolito," she said, coming up to him; and stammered
and faltered. "I don't know; I am frightened. You must do nothing from
me; I cannot let you; I'm not fit to advise you. It must be wholly from
your own conscience. Oh no, don't look so! I _will_ be your
friend, whatever happens. But if what you think of doing has seemed so
terrible to you, perhaps it _is_ more terrible than I can
understand. If it is the only way, it is right. But is there no other?
What I mean is, have you no one to talk all this over with? I mean,
can't you speak of it to--to Mr. Ferris? He is so true and honest and
"I was going to him," said Don Ippolito, with a dim trouble in his
"Oh, I am so glad of that! Remember, I don't take anything back. No
matter what happens, I will be your friend. But he will tell you just
what to do."
Don Ippolito bowed and opened the gate.
Florida went back to her mother, who asked her, "What in the world have
you and Don Ippolito been talking about so earnestly? What makes you so
pale and out of breath?"
"I have been wanting to tell you, mother," said Florida. She drew her
chair in front of the elder lady, and sat down.
Don Ippolito did not go directly to the painter's. He walked toward his
house at first, and then turned aside, and wandered out through the
noisy and populous district of Canaregio to the Campo di Marte. A squad
of cavalry which had been going through some exercises there was
moving off the parade ground; a few infantry soldiers were strolling
about under the trees. Don Ippolito walked across the field to the
border of the lagoon, where he began to pace to and fro, with his head
sunk in deep thought. He moved rapidly, but sometimes he stopped and
stood still in the sun, whose heat he did not seem to feel, though a
perspiration bathed his pale face and stood in drops on his forehead
under the shadow of his nicchio. Some little dirty children of the
poor, with which this region swarms, looked at him from the sloping
shore of the Campo di Giustizia, where the executions used to take
place, and a small boy began to mock his movements and pauses, but was
arrested by one of the girls, who shook him and gesticulated warningly.
At this point the long railroad bridge which connects Venice with the
mainland is in full sight, and now from the reverie in which he
continued, whether he walked or stood still, Don Ippolito was roused by
the whistle of an outward train. He followed it with his eye as it
streamed along over the far-stretching arches, and struck out into the
flat, salt marshes beyond. When the distance hid it, he put on his hat,
which he had unknowingly removed, and turned his rapid steps toward the
railroad station. Arrived there, he lingered in the vestibule for half
an hour, watching the people as they bought their tickets for
departure, and had their baggage examined by the customs officers, and
weighed and registered by the railroad porters, who passed it through
the wicket shutting out the train, while the passengers gathered up
their smaller parcels and took their way to the waiting-rooms. He
followed a group of English people some paces in this direction, and
then returned to the wicket, through which he looked long and wistfully
at the train. The baggage was all passed through; the doors of the
waiting-rooms were thrown open with harsh proclamation by the guards,
and the passengers flocked into the carriages. Whistles and bells were
sounded, and the train crept out of the station.
A man in the company's uniform approached the unconscious priest, and
striking his hands softly together, said with a pleasant smile, "Your
servant, Don Ippolito. Are you expecting some one?"
"Ah, good day!" answered the priest, with a little start. "No," he
added, "I was not looking for any one."
"I see," said the other. "Amusing yourself as usual with the machinery.
Excuse the freedom, Don Ippolito; but you ought to have been of our
profession,--ha, ha! When you have the leisure, I should like to show
you the drawing of an American locomotive which a friend of mine has
sent me from Nuova York. It is very different from ours, very curious.
But monstrous in size, you know, prodigious! May I come with it to your
house, some evening?"
"You will do me a great pleasure," said Don Ippolito. He gazed dreamily
in the direction of the vanished train. "Was that the train for Milan?"
he asked presently.
"Exactly," said the man.
"Does it go all the way to Milan?"
"Oh, no! it stops at Peschiera, where the passengers have their
passports examined; and then another train backs down from Desenzano
and takes them on to Milan. And after that," continued the man with
animation, "if you are on the way to England, for example, another
train carries you to Susa, and there you get the diligence over the
mountain to St. Michel, where you take railroad again, and so on up
through Paris to Boulogne-sur-Mer, and then by steamer to Folkestone,
and then by railroad to London and to Liverpool. It is at Liverpool
that you go on board the steamer for America, and piff! in ten days you
are in Nuova York. My friend has written me all about it."
"Ah yes, your friend. Does he like it there in America?"
"Passably, passably. The Americans have no manners; but they are good
devils. They are governed by the Irish. And the wine is dear. But he
likes America; yes, he likes it. Nuova York is a fine city. But
immense, you know! Eight times as large as Venice!"
"Is your friend prosperous there?"
"Ah heigh! That is the prettiest part of the story. He has made himself
rich. He is employed by a large house to make designs for mantlepieces,
and marble tables, and tombs; and he has--listen!--six hundred francs a
"Oh per Bacco!" cried Don Ippolito.
"Honestly. But you spend a great deal there. Still, it is magnificent,
is it not? If it were not for that blessed war there, now, that would
be the place for you, Don Ippolito. He tells me the Americans are
actually mad for inventions. Your servant. Excuse the freedom, you
know," said the man, bowing and moving away.
"Nothing, dear, nothing," answered the priest. He walked out of the
station with a light step, and went to his own house, where he sought
the room in which his inventions were stored. He had not touched them
for weeks. They were all dusty and many were cobwebbed. He blew the
dust from some, and bringing them to the light, examined them
critically, finding them mostly disabled in one way or other, except
the models of the portable furniture which he polished with his
handkerchief and set apart, surveying them from a distance with a look
of hope. He took up the breech-loading cannon and then suddenly put it
down again with a little shiver, and went to the threshold of the
perverted oratory and glanced in at his forge. Veneranda had carelessly
left the window open, and the draught had carried the ashes about the
floor. On the cinder-heap lay the tools which he had used in mending
the broken pipe of the fountain at Casa Vervain, and had not used
since. The place seemed chilly even on that summer's day. He stood in
the doorway with clenched hands. Then he called Veneranda, chid her for
leaving the window open, and bade her close it, and so quitted the
house and left her muttering.
Ferris seemed surprised to see him when he appeared at the consulate
near the middle of the afternoon, and seated himself in the place where
he was wont to pose for the painter.
"Were you going to give me a sitting?" asked the latter, hesitating.
"The light is horrible, just now, with this glare from the canal. Not
that I manage much better when it's good. I don't get on with you, Don
Ippolito. There are too many of you. I shouldn't have known you in the
Don Ippolito did not respond. He rose and went toward his portrait on
the easel, and examined it long, with a curious minuteness. Then he
returned to his chair, and continued to look at it. "I suppose that it
resembles me a great deal," he said, "and yet I do not _feel_ like
that. I hardly know what is the fault. It is as I should be if I were
like other priests, perhaps?"
"I know it's not good," said the painter. "It _is_ conventional,
in spite of everything. But here's that first sketch I made of you."
He took up a canvas facing the wall, and set it on the easel. The
character in this charcoal sketch was vastly sincerer and sweeter.
"Ah!" said Don Ippolito, with a sigh and smile of relief, "that is
immeasurably better. I wish I could speak to you, dear friend, in a
mood of yours as sympathetic as this picture records, of some matters
that concern me very nearly. I have just come from the railroad
"Seeing some friends off?" asked the painter, indifferently, hovering
near the sketch with a bit of charcoal in his hand, and hesitating
whether to give it a certain touch. He glanced with half-shut eyes at
Don Ippolito sighed again. "I hardly know. I was seeing off my hopes,
my desires, my prayers, that followed the train to America!"
The painter put down his charcoal, dusted his fingers, and looked at
the priest without saying anything.
"Do you remember when I first came to you?" asked Don Ippolito.
"Certainly," said Ferris. "Is it of that matter you want to speak to
me? I'm very sorry to hear it, for I don't think it practical."
"Practical, practical!" cried the priest hotly. "Nothing is practical
till it has been tried. And why should I not go to America?"
"Because you can't get your passport, for one thing," answered the
"I have thought of that," rejoined Don Ippolito more patiently. "I can
get a passport for France from the Austrian authorities here, and at
Milan there must be ways in which I could change it for one from my own
king"--it was by this title that patriotic Venetians of those days
spoke of Victor Emmanuel--"that would carry me out of France into
Ferris pondered a moment. "That is quite true," he said. "Why hadn't
you thought of that when you first came to me?"
"I cannot tell. I didn't know that I could even get a passport for
France till the other day."
Both were silent while the painter filled his pipe. "Well," he said
presently, "I'm very sorry. I'm afraid you're dooming yourself to many
bitter disappointments in going to America. What do you expect to do
"Why, with my inventions"--
"I suppose," interrupted the other, putting a lighted match to his
pipe, "that a painter must be a very poor sort of American: _his_
first thought is of coming to Italy. So I know very little directly
about the fortunes of my inventive fellow-countrymen, or whether an
inventor has any prospect of making a living. But once when I was at
Washington I went into the Patent Office, where the models of the
inventions are deposited; the building is about as large as the Ducal
Palace, and it is full of them. The people there told me nothing was
commoner than for the same invention to be repeated over and over again
by different inventors. Some few succeed, and then they have lawsuits
with the infringers of their patents; some sell out their inventions
for a trifle to companies that have capital, and that grow rich upon
them; the great number can never bring their ideas to the public notice
at all. You can judge for yourself what your chances would be. You have
asked me why you should not go to America. Well, because I think you
would starve there."
"I am used to that," said Don Ippolito; "and besides, until some of my
inventions became known, I could give lessons in Italian."
"Oh, bravo!" said Ferris, "you prefer instant death, then?"
"But madamigella seemed to believe that my success as an inventor would
be assured, there."
Ferris gave a very ironical laugh. "Miss Vervain must have been about
twelve years old when she left America. Even a lady's knowledge of
business, at that age, is limited. When did you talk with her about it?
You had not spoken of it to me, of late, and I thought you were more
contented than you used to be."
"It is true," said the priest. "Sometimes within the last two months I
have almost forgotten it."
"And what has brought it so forcibly to your mind again?"
"That is what I so greatly desire to tell you," replied Don Ippolito,
with an appealing look at the painter's face. He moistened his parched
lips a little, waiting for further question from the painter, to whom
he seemed a man fevered by some strong emotion and at that moment not
quite wholesome. Ferris did not speak, and Don Ippolito began again:
"Even though I have not said so in words to you, dear friend, has it
not appeared to you that I have no heart in my vocation?"
"Yes, I have sometimes fancied that. I had no right to ask you why."
"Some day I will tell you, when I have the courage to go all over it
again. It is partly my own fault, but it is more my miserable fortune.
But wherever the wrong lies, it has at last become intolerable to me. I
cannot endure it any longer and live. I must go away, I must fly from
Ferris shrank from him a little, as men instinctively do from one who
has set himself upon some desperate attempt. "Do you mean, Don
Ippolito, that you are going to renounce your priesthood?"
Don Ippolito opened his hands and let his priesthood drop, as it were,
to the ground.
"You never spoke of this before, when you talked of going to America.
Though to be sure"--
"Yes, yes!" replied Don Ippolito with vehemence, "but now an angel has
appeared and shown me the blackness of my life!"
Ferris began to wonder if he or Don Ippolito were not perhaps mad.
"An angel, yes," the priest went on, rising from his chair, "an angel
whose immaculate truth has mirrored my falsehood in all its vileness
and distortion--to whom, if it destroys me, I cannot devote less than a
truthfulness like hers!"
"Hers--hers?" cried the painter, with a sudden pang. "Whose? Don't
speak in these riddles. Whom do you mean?"
"Whom can I mean but only one?--madamigella!"
"Miss Vervain? Do you mean to say that Miss Vervain has advised you to
renounce your priesthood?"
"In as many words she has bidden me forsake it at any risk,--at the
cost of kindred, friends, good fame, country, everything."
The painter passed his hand confusedly over his face. These were his
own words, the words he had used in speaking with Florida of the
supposed skeptical priest. He grew very pale. "May I ask," he demanded
in a hard, dry voice, "how she came to advise such a step?"
"I can hardly tell. Something had already moved her to learn from me
the story of my life--to know that I was a man with neither faith nor
hope. Her pure heart was torn by the thought of my wrong and of my
error. I had never seen myself in such deformity as she saw me even
when she used me with that divine compassion. I was almost glad to be
what I was because of her angelic pity for me!"
The tears sprang to Don Ippolito's eyes, but Ferris asked in the same
tone as before, "Was it then that she bade you be no longer a priest?"
"No, not then," patiently replied the other; "she was too greatly
overwhelmed with my calamity to think of any cure for it. To-day it was
that she uttered those words--words which I shall never forget, which
will support and comfort me, whatever happens!"
The painter was biting hard upon the stem of his pipe. He turned away
and began ordering the color-tubes and pencils on a table against the
wall, putting them close together in very neat, straight rows.
Presently he said: "Perhaps Miss Vervain also advised you to go to
"Yes," answered the priest reverently. "She had thought of everything.
She has promised me a refuge under her mother's roof there, until I can
make my inventions known; and I shall follow them at once."
"They are going, she told me. Madama does not grow better. They are
homesick. They--but you must know all this already?"
"Oh, not at all, not at all," said the painter with a very bitter
smile. "You are telling me news. Pray go on."
"There is no more. She made me promise to come to you and listen to
your advice before I took any step. I must not trust to her alone, she
said; but if I took this step, then through whatever happened she would
be my friend. Ah, dear friend, may I speak to you of the hope that
these words gave me? You have seen--have you not?--you must have seen
The priest faltered, and Ferris stared at him helpless. When the next
words came he could not find any strangeness in the fact which yet gave
him so great a shock. He found that to his nether consciousness it had
been long familiar--ever since that day when he had first jestingly
proposed Don Ippolito as Miss Vervain's teacher. Grotesque, tragic,
impossible--it had still been the under-current of all his reveries; or
so now it seemed to have been.
Don Ippolito anxiously drew nearer to him and laid an imploring touch
upon his arm,--"I love her!"
"What!" gasped the painter. "You? You I A priest?"
"Priest! priest!" cried Don Ippolito, violently. "From this day I am no
longer a priest! From this hour I am a man, and I can offer her the
honorable love of a man, the truth of a most sacred marriage, and
fidelity to death!"
Ferris made no answer. He began to look very coldly and haughtily at
Don Ippolito, whose heat died away under his stare, and who at last met
it with a glance of tremulous perplexity. His hand had dropped from
Ferris's arm, and he now moved some steps from him. "What is it, dear
friend?" he besought him. "Is there something that offends you? I came
to you for counsel, and you meet me with a repulse little short of
enmity. I do not understand. Do I intend anything wrong without knowing
it? Oh, I conjure you to speak plainly!"
"Wait! Wait a minute," said Ferris, waving his hand like a man
tormented by a passing pain. "I am trying to think. What you say is....
I cannot imagine it!"
"Not imagine it? Not imagine it? And why? Is she not beautiful?"
"And young, and yet wise beyond her years? And true, and yet
"It is all as you say, God knows. But.... a priest"--
"Oh! Always that accursed word! And at heart, what is a priest, then,
but a man?--a wretched, masked, imprisoned, banished man! Has he not
blood and nerves like you? Has he not eyes to see what is fair, and
ears to hear what is sweet? Can he live near so divine a flower and not
know her grace, not inhale the fragrance of her soul, not adore her
beauty? Oh, great God! And if at last he would tear off his stifling
mask, escape from his prison, return from his exile, would you gainsay
"No!" said the painter with a kind of groan. He sat down in a tall,
carven gothic chair,--the furniture of one of his pictures,--and rested
his head against its high back and looked at the priest across the
room. "Excuse me," he continued with a strong effort. "I am ready to
befriend you to the utmost of my power. What was it you wanted to ask
me? I have told you truly what I thought of your scheme of going to
America; but I may very well be mistaken. Was it about that Miss
Vervain desired you to consult me?" His voice and manner hardened again
in spite of him. "Or did she wish me to advise you about the
renunciation of your priesthood? You must have thought that carefully
over for yourself."
"Yes, I do not think you could make me see that as a greater difficulty
than it has appeared to me." He paused with a confused and daunted air,
as if some important point had slipped his mind. "But I must take the
step; the burden of the double part I play is unendurable, is it not?"
"You know better than I."
"But if you were such a man as I, with neither love for your vocation
nor faith in it, should you not cease to be a priest?"
"If you ask me in that way,--yes," answered the painter. "But I advise
you nothing. I could not counsel another in such a case."
"But you think and feel as I do," said the priest, "and I am right,
"I do not say you are wrong."
Ferris was silent while Don Ippolito moved up and down the room, with
his sliding step, like some tall, gaunt, unhappy girl. Neither could
put an end to this interview, so full of intangible, inconclusive
misery. Ferris drew a long breath, and then said steadily, "Don
Ippolito, I suppose you did not speak idly to me of your--your feeling
for Miss Vervain, and that I may speak plainly to you in return."
"Surely," answered the priest, pausing in his walk and fixing his eyes
upon the painter. "It was to you as the friend of both that I spoke of
my love, and my hope--which is oftener my despair."
"Then you have not much reason to believe that she returns your--
"Ah, how could she consciously return it? I have been hitherto a priest
to her, and the thought of me would have been impurity. But hereafter,
if I can prove myself a man, if I can win my place in the world.... No,
even now, why should she care so much for my escape from these bonds,
if she did not care for me more than she knew?"
"Have you ever thought of that extravagant generosity of Miss Vervain's
"It is divine!"
"Has it seemed to you that if such a woman knew herself to have once
wrongly given you pain, her atonement might be as headlong and
excessive as her offense? That she could have no reserves in her
Don Ippolito looked at Ferris, but did not interpose.
"Miss Vervain is very religious in her way, and she is truth itself.
Are you sure that it is not concern for what seems to her your terrible
position, that has made her show so much anxiety on your account?"
"Do I not know that well? Have I not felt the balm of her most heavenly
"And may she not be only trying to appeal to something in you as high
as the impulse of her own heart?"
"As high!" cried Don Ippolito, almost angrily. "Can there be any higher
thing in heaven or on earth than love for such a woman?"
"Yes; both in heaven and on earth," answered Ferris.
"I do not understand you," said Don Ippolito with a puzzled stare.
Ferris did not reply. He fell into a dull reverie in which he seemed to
forget Don Ippolito and the whole affair. At last the priest spoke
again: "Have you nothing to say to me, signore?"
"I? What is there to say?" returned the other blankly.
"Do you know any reason why I should not love her, save that I am--have
"No, I know none," said the painter, wearily.
"Ah," exclaimed Don Ippolito, "there is something on your mind that you
will not speak. I beseech you not to let me go wrong. I love her so
well that I would rather die than let my love offend her. I am a man
with the passions and hopes of a man, but without a man's experience,
or a man's knowledge of what is just and right in these relations. If
you can be my friend in this so far as to advise or warn me; if you can
be her friend"--
Ferris abruptly rose and went to his balcony, and looked out upon the
Grand Canal. The time-stained palace opposite had not changed in the
last half-hour. As on many another summer day, he saw the black boats
going by. A heavy, high-pointed barge from the Sile, with the captain's
family at dinner in the shade of a matting on the roof, moved
sluggishly down the middle current. A party of Americans in a gondola,
with their opera-glasses and guide-books in their hands, pointed out to
each other the eagle on the consular arms. They were all like sights in
a mirror, or things in a world turned upside down.
Ferris came back and looked dizzily at the priest trying to believe
that this unhuman, sacerdotal phantasm had been telling him that it
loved a beautiful young girl of his own race, faith, and language.
"Will you not answer me, signore?" meekly demanded Don Ippolito.
"In this matter," replied the painter, "I cannot advise or warn you.
The whole affair is beyond my conception. I mean no unkindness, but I
cannot consult with you about it. There are reasons why I should not.
The mother of Miss Vervain is here with her, and I do not feel that her
interests in such a matter are in my hands. If they come to me for
help, that is different. What do you wish? You tell me that you are
resolved to renounce the priesthood and go to America; and I have
answered you to the best of my power. You tell me that you are in love
with Miss Vervain. What can I have to say about that?"
Don Ippolito stood listening with a patient, and then a wounded air.
"Nothing," he answered proudly. "I ask your pardon for troubling you
with my affairs. Your former kindness emboldened me too much. I shall
not trespass again. It was my ignorance, which I pray you to excuse. I
take my leave, signore."
He bowed, and moved out of the room, and a dull remorse filled the
painter, as he heard the outer door close after him. But he could do
nothing. If he had given a wound to the heart that trusted him, it was
in an anguish which he had not been able to master, and whose causes he
could not yet define. It was all a shapeless torment; it held him like
the memory of some hideous nightmare prolonging its horror beyond
sleep. It seemed impossible that what had happened should have
It was long, as he sat in the chair from which he had talked with Don
Ippolito, before he could reason about what had been said; and then the
worst phase presented itself first. He could not help seeing that the
priest might have found cause for hope in the girl's behavior toward
him. Her violent resentments, and her equally violent repentances; her
fervent interest in his unhappy fortunes, and her anxiety that he
should at once forsake the priesthood; her urging him to go to America,
and her promising him a home under her mother's roof there: why might
it not all be in fact a proof of her tenderness for him? She might have
found it necessary to be thus coarsely explicit with him, for a man in
Don Ippolito's relation to her could not otherwise have imagined her
interest in him. But her making use of Ferris to confirm her own
purposes by his words, her repeating them so that they should come back
to him from Don Ippolito's lips, her letting another man go with her to
look upon the procession in which her priestly lover was to appear in
his sacerdotal panoply; these things could cot be accounted for except
by that strain of insolent, passionate defiance which he had noted ill
her from the beginning. Why should she first tell Don Ippolito of their
going away? "Well, I wish him joy of his bargain," said Ferris aloud,
and rising, shrugged his shoulders, and tried to cast off all care of a
matter that did not concern him. But one does not so easily cast off a
matter that does not concern one. He found himself haunted by certain
tones and looks and attitudes of the young girl, wholly alien to the
character he had just constructed for her. They were child-like,
trusting, unconscious, far beyond anything he had yet known in women,
and they appealed to him now with a maddening pathos. She was standing
there before Don Ippolito's picture as on that morning when she came to
Ferris, looking anxiously at him, her innocent beauty, troubled with
some hidden care, hallowing the place. Ferris thought of the young
fellow who told him that he had spent three months in a dull German
town because he had the room there that was once occupied by the girl
who had refused him; the painter remembered that the young fellow said
he had just read of her marriage in an American newspaper.
Why did Miss Vervain send Don Ippolito to him? Was it some scheme of
her secret love for the priest; or mere coarse resentment of the
cautions Ferris had once hinted, a piece of vulgar bravado? But if she
had acted throughout in pure simplicity, in unwise goodness of heart?
If Don Ippolito were altogether self-deceived, and nothing but her
unknowing pity had given him grounds of hope? He himself had suggested
this to the priest, and how with a different motive he looked at it in
his own behalf. A great load began slowly to lift itself from Ferris's
heart, which could ache now for this most unhappy priest. But if his
conjecture were just, his duty would be different. He must not coldly
acquiesce and let things take their course. He had introduced Don
Ippolito to the Vervains; he was in some sort responsible for him; he
must save them if possible from the painful consequences of the
priest's hallucination. But how to do this was by no means clear. He
blamed himself for not having been franker with Don Ippolito and tried
to make him see that the Vervains might regard his passion as a
presumption upon their kindness to him, an abuse of their hospitable
friendship; and yet how could he have done this without outrage to a
sensitive and right-meaning soul? For a moment it seemed to him that he
must seek Don Ippolito, and repair his fault; but they had hardly
parted as friends, and his action might be easily misconstrued. If he
shrank from the thought of speaking to him of the matter again, it
appeared yet more impossible to bring it before the Vervains. Like a
man of the imaginative temperament as he was, he exaggerated the
probable effect, and pictured their dismay in colors that made his
interference seem a ludicrous enormity; in fact, it would have been an
awkward business enough for one not hampered by his intricate
obligations. He felt bound to the Vervains, the ignorant young girl,
and the addle-pated mother; but if he ought to go to them and tell them
what he knew, to which of them ought he to speak, and how? In an
anguish of perplexity that made the sweat stand in drops upon his
forehead, he smiled to think it just possible that Mrs. Vervain might
take the matter seriously, and wish to consider the propriety of
Florida's accepting Don Ippolito. But if he spoke to the daughter, how
should he approach the subject? "Don Ippolito tells me he loves you,
and he goes to America with the expectation that when he has made his
fortune with a patent back-action apple-corer, you will marry him."
Should he say something to this purport? And in Heaven's name what
right had he, Ferris, to say anything at all? The horrible absurdity,
the inexorable delicacy of his position made him laugh.
On the other hand, besides, he was bound to Don Ippolito, who had come
to him as the nearest friend of both, and confided in him. He
remembered with a tardy, poignant intelligence how in their first talk
of the Vervains Don Ippolito had taken pains to inform himself that
Ferris was not in love with Florida. Could he be less manly and
generous than this poor priest, and violate the sanctity of his
confidence? Ferris groaned aloud. No, contrive it as he would, call it
by what fair name he chose, he could not commit this treachery. It was
the more impossible to him because, in this agony of doubt as to what
he should do, he now at least read big own heart clearly, and had no
longer a doubt what was in it. He pitied her for the pain she must
suffer. He saw how her simple goodness, her blind sympathy with Don
Ippolito, and only this, must have led the priest to the mistaken pass
at which he stood. But Ferris felt that the whole affair had been
fatally carried beyond his reach; he could do nothing now but wait and
endure. There are cases in which a man must not protect the woman he
loves. This was one.
The afternoon wore away. In the evening he went to the Piazza, and
drank a cup of coffee at Florian's. Then he walked to the Public
Gardens, where he watched the crowd till it thinned in the twilight and
left him alone. He hung upon the parapet, looking off over the lagoon
that at last he perceived to be flooded with moonlight. He desperately
called a gondola, and bade the man row him to the public landing
nearest the Vervains', and so walked up the calle, and entered the
palace from the campo, through the court that on one side opened into
Mrs. Vervain was alone in the room where he had always been accustomed
to find her daughter with her, and a chill as of the impending change
fell upon him. He felt how pleasant it had been to find them together;
with a vain, piercing regret he felt how much like home the place had
been to him. Mrs. Vervain, indeed, was not changed; she was even more
than ever herself, though all that she said imported change. She seemed
to observe nothing unwonted in him, and she began to talk in her way of
things that she could not know were so near his heart.
"Now, Mr. Ferris, I have a little surprise for you. Guess what it is!"
"I'm not good at guessing. I'd rather not know what it is than have to
guess it," said Ferris, trying to be light, under his heavy trouble.
"You won't try once, even? Well, you're going to be rid of us soon I We
are going away."
"Yes, I knew that," said Ferris quietly. "Don Ippolito told me so to-
"And is that all you have to say? Isn't it rather sad? Isn't it sudden?
Come, Mr. Ferris, do be a little complimentary, for once!"
"It's sudden, and I can assure you it's sad enough for me," replied the
painter, in a tone which could not leave any doubt of his sincerity.
"Well, so it is for us," quavered Mrs. Vervain. "You have been very,
very good to us," she went on more collectedly, "and we shall never
forget it. Florida has been speaking of it, too, and she's extremely
grateful, and thinks we've quite imposed upon you."
"I suppose we have, but as I always say, you're the representative of
the country here. However, that's neither here nor there. We have no
relatives on the face of the earth, you know; but I have a good many
old friends in Providence, and we're going back there. We both think I
shall be better at home; for I'm sorry to say, Mr. Ferns, that though I
don't complain of Venice,--it's really a beautiful place, and all that;
not the least exaggerated,--still I don't think it's done my health
much good; or at least I don't seem to gain, don't you know, I don't
seem to gain."
"I'm very sorry to hear it, Mrs. Vervain."
"Yes, I'm sure you are; but you see, don't you, that we must go? We are
going next week. When we've once made up our minds, there's no object
in prolonging the agony."
Mrs. Vervain adjusted her glasses with the thumb and finger of her
right hand, and peered into Ferris's face with a gay smile. "But the
greatest part of the surprise is," she resumed, lowering her voice a
little, "that Don Ippolito is going with us."
"Ah!" cried Ferris sharply.
"I _knew_ I should surprise you," laughed Mrs. Vervain. "We've
been having a regular confab--_clave_, I mean--about it here, and
he's all on fire to go to America; though it must be kept a great
secret on his account, poor fellow. He's to join us in France, and then
he can easily get into England, with us. You know he's to give up being
a priest, and is going to devote himself to invention when ho gets to
America. Now, what _do_ you think of it, Mr. Ferris? Quite strikes
you dumb, doesn't it?" triumphed Mrs. Vervain. "I suppose it's what you
would call a wild goose chase,--I used to pick up all those phrases,--
but we shall carry it through."
Ferris gasped, as though about to speak, but said nothing.
"Don Ippolito's been here the whole afternoon," continued Mrs. Vervain,
"or rather ever since about five o'clock. He took dinner with us, and
we've been talking it over and over. He's _so_ enthusiastic about
it, and yet he breaks down every little while, and seems quite to
despair of the undertaking. But Florida won't let him do that; and
really it's funny, the way he defers to her judgment--you know _I_
always regard Florida as such a mere child--and seems to take every
word she says for gospel. But, shedding tears, now: it's dreadful in a
man, isn't it? I wish Don Ippolito wouldn't do that. It makes one
creep. I can't feel that it's manly; can you?"
Ferris found voice to say something about those things being different
with the Latin races.
"Well, at any rate," said Mrs. Vervain, "I'm glad that _Americans_
don't shed tears, as a general _rule_. Now, Florida: you'd think
she was the man all through this business, she's so perfectly heroic
about it; that is, outwardly: for I can see--women can, in each other,
Mr. Ferris--just where she's on the point of breaking down, all the
while. Has she ever spoken to you about Don Ippolito? She does think so
highly of your opinion, Mr. Ferris."
"She does me too much honor," said Ferris, with ghastly irony.
"Oh, I don't think so," returned Mrs. Vervain. "She told me this
morning that she'd made Don Ippolito promise to speak to you about it;
but he didn't mention having done so, and--I hated, don't you know, to
ask him.... In fact, Florida had told me beforehand that I mustn't. She
said he must be left entirely to himself in that matter, and"--Mrs.
Vervain looked suggestively at Ferris.
"He spoke to me about it," said Ferris.
"Then why in the world did you let me run on? I suppose you advised him
"I certainly did."
"Well, there's where I think woman's intuition is better than man's
The painter silently bowed his head.
"Yes, I'm quite woman's rights in that respect," said Mrs. Vervain.
"Oh, without doubt," answered Ferris, aimlessly.
"I'm perfectly delighted," she went on, "at the idea of Don Ippolito's
giving up the priesthood, and I've told him he must get married to some
good American girl. You ought to have seen how the poor fellow blushed!
But really, you know, there are lots of nice girls that would
_jump_ at him--so handsome and sad-looking, and a genius."
Ferris could only stare helplessly at Mrs. Vervain, who continued:--
"Yes, I think he's a genius, and I'm determined that he shall have a
chance. I suppose we've got a job on our hands; but I'm not sorry. I'll
introduce him into society, and if he needs money he shall have it.
What does God give us money for, Mr. Ferris, but to help our fellow-
So miserable, as he was, from head to foot, that it seemed impossible
he could endure more, Ferris could not forbear laughing at this burst
"What are you laughing at?" asked Mrs. Vervain, who had cheerfully
joined him. "Something I've been saying. Well, you won't have me to
laugh at much longer. I do wonder whom you'll have next."
Ferris's merriment died away in something like a groan, and when Mrs.
Vervain again spoke, it was in a tone of sudden querulousness. "I
_wish_ Florida would come! She went to bolt the land-gate after
Don Ippolito,--I wanted her to,--but she ought to have been back long
ago. It's odd you didn't meet them, coming in. She must be in the
garden Somewhere; I suppose she's sorry to be leaving it. But I need
her. Would you be so very kind, Mr. Ferris, as to go and ask her to
come to me?"
Ferris rose heavily from the chair in which he seemed to have grown ten
years older. He had hardly heard anything that he did not know already,
but the clear vision of the affair with which he had come to the
Vervains was hopelessly confused and darkened. He could make nothing of
any phase of it. He did not know whether he cared now to see Florida or
not. He mechanically obeyed Mrs. Vervain, and stepping out upon the
terrace, slowly descended the stairway.
The moon was shining brightly into the garden.
Florida and Don Ippolito had paused in the pathway which parted at the
fountain and led in one direction to the water-gate, and in the other
out through the palace-court into the campo.
"Now, you must not give way to despair again," she said to him. "You
will succeed, I am sure, for you will deserve success."
"It is all your goodness, madamigella," sighed the priest, "and at the
bottom of my heart I am afraid that all the hope and courage I have are
"You shall never want for hope and courage then. We believe in you, and
we honor your purpose, and we will be your steadfast friends. But now
you must think only of the present--of how you are to get away from
Venice. Oh, I can understand how you must hate to leave it! What a
beautiful night! You mustn't expect such moonlight as this in America,
"It _is_ beautiful, is it not?" said the priest, kindling from
her. "But I think we Venetians are never so conscious of the beauty of
Venice as you strangers are."
"I don't know. I only know that now, since we tave made up our minds to
go, and fixed the day and hour, it is more like leaving my own country
than anything else I've ever felt. This garden, I seem to have spent my
whole life in it; and when we are settled in Providence, I'm going to
have mother send back for some of these statues. I suppose Signor
Cavaletti wouldn't mind our robbing his place of them if he were paid
enough. At any rate we must have this one that belongs to the fountain.
You shall be the first to set the fountain playing over there, Don
Ippolito, and then we'll sit down on this stone bench before it, and
imagine ourselves in the garden of Casa Vervain at Venice."
"No, no; let me be the last to set it playing here," said the priest,
quickly stooping to the pipe at the foot of the figure, "and then we
will sit down here, and imagine ourselves in the garden of Casa Vervain
Florida put her hand on his shoulder. "You mustn't do it," she said
simply. "The padrone doesn't like to waste the water."
"Oh, we'll pray the saints to rain it back on him some day," cried Don
Ippolito with willful levity, and the stream leaped into the moonlight
and seemed to hang there like a tangled skein of silver. "But how shall
I shut it off when you are gone?" asked the young girl, looking
ruefully at the floating threads of splendor.
"Oh, I will shut it off before I go," answered Don Ippolito. "Let it
play a moment," he continued, gazing rapturously upon it, while the
moon painted his lifted face with a pallor that his black robes
heightened. He fetched a long, sighing breath, as if he inhaled with
that respiration all the rich odors of the flowers, blanched like his
own visage in the white lustre; as if he absorbed into his heart at
once the wide glory of the summer night, and the beauty of the young
girl at his side. It seemed a supreme moment with him; he looked as a
man might look who has climbed out of lifelong defeat into a single
instant of release and triumph.
Florida sank upon the bench before the fountain, indulging his caprice
with that sacred, motherly tolerance, some touch of which is in all
womanly yielding to men's will, and which was perhaps present in
greater degree in her feeling towards a man more than ordinarily
orphaned and unfriended.
"Is Providence your native city?" asked Don Ippolito, abruptly, after a
"Oh no; I was born at St. Augustine in Florida."
"Ah yes, I forgot; madama has told me about it; Providence is
_her_ city. But the two are near together?"
"No," said Florida, compassionately, "they are a thousand miles apart."
"A thousand miles? What a vast country!"
"Yes, it's a whole world."
"Ah, a world, indeed!" cried the priest, softly. "I shall never
"You never will," answered the young girl gravely, "if you do not think
about it more practically."
"Practically, practically!" lightly retorted the priest. "What a word
with you Americans; That is the consul's word: _practical_."
"Then you have been to see him to-day?" asked Florida, with eagerness.
"I wanted to ask you"--
"Yes, I went to consult the oracle, as you bade me."
"And he was averse to my going to America. He said it was not
"Oh!" murmured the girl.
"I think," continued the priest with vehemence, "that Signor Ferris is
no longer my friend."
"Did he treat you coldly--harshly?" she asked, with a note of
indignation in her voice. "Did he know that I--that you came"--
"Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I shall indeed go to ruin there. Ruin,
ruin! Do I not _live_ ruin here?"
"What did he say--what did he tell you?"
"No, no; not now, madamigella! I do not want to think of that man, now.
I want you to help me once more to realize myself in America, where I
shall never have been a priest, where I shall at least battle even-
handed with the world. Come, let us forget him; the thought of him
palsies all my hope. He could not see me save in this robe, in this
figure that I abhor."
"Oh, it was strange, it was not like him, it was cruel! What did he
"In everything but words, he bade me despair; he bade me look upon all
that makes life dear and noble as impossible to me!"
"Oh, how? Perhaps he did not understand you. No, he did not understand
you. What did you say to him, Don Ippolito? Tell me!" She leaned
towards him, in anxious emotion, as she spoke.
The priest rose, and stretched out his arms, as if he would gather
something of courage from the infinite space. In his visage were the
sublimity and the terror of a man who puts everything to the risk.
"How will it really be with me, yonder?" he demanded. "As it is with
other men, whom their past life, if it has been guiltless, does not
follow to that new world of freedom and justice?"
"Why should it not be so?" demanded Florida. "Did _he_ say it
"Need it be known there that I have been a priest? Or if I tell it,
will it make me appear a kind of monster, different from other men?"
"No, no!" she answered fervently. "Your story would gain friends and
honor for you everywhere in America. Did _he_"--
"A moment, a moment!" cried Don Ippolito, catching his breath. "Will it
ever be possible for me to win something more than honor and friendship
She looked up at him askingly, confusedly.
"If I am a man, and the time should ever come that a face, a look, a
voice, shall be to me what they are to other men, will _she_
remember it against me that I have been a priest, when I tell her--say
to her, madamigella--how dear she is to me, offer her my life's
devotion, ask her to be my wife?"...
Florida rose from the seat, and stood confronting him, in a helpless
silence, which he seemed not to notice.
Suddenly he clasped his hands together, and desperately stretched them
"Oh, my hope, my trust, my life, if it were you that I loved?"...
"What!" shuddered the girl, recoiling, with almost a shriek.
"_You_? _A priest_!"
Don Ippolito gave a low cry, half sob:--
"His words, his words! It is true, I cannot escape, I am doomed, I must
die as I have lived!"
He dropped his face into his hands, and stood with his head bowed
before her; neither spoke for a long time, or moved.
Then Florida said absently, in the husky murmur to which her voice fell
when she was strongly moved, "Yes, I see it all, how it has been," and
was silent again, staring, as if a procession of the events and scenes
of the past months were passing before her; and presently she moaned to
herself "Oh, oh, oh!" and wrung her hands. The foolish fountain kept
capering and babbling on. All at once, now, as a flame flashes up and
then expires, it leaped and dropped extinct at the foot of the statue.
Its going out seemed somehow to leave them in darkness, and under cover
of that gloom she drew nearer the priest, and by such approaches as one
makes toward a fancied apparition, when his fear will not let him fly,
but it seems better to suffer the worst from it at once than to live in
terror of it ever after, she lifted her hands to his, and gently taking
them away from his face, looked into his hopeless eyes.
"Oh, Don Ippolito," she grieved. "What shall I say to you, what can I
do for you, now?"
But there was nothing to do. The whole edifice of his dreams, his wild
imaginations, had fallen into dust at a word; no magic could rebuild
it; the end that never seems the end had come. He let her keep his cold
hands, and presently he returned the entreaty of her tears with his
wan, patient smile.
"You cannot help me; there is no help for an error like mine. Sometime,
if ever the thought of me is a greater pain than it is at this moment,
you can forgive me. Yes, you can do that for me."
"But who, _who_ will ever forgive me" she cried, "for my
blindness! Oh, you must believe that I never thought, I never dreamt"--
"I know it well. It was your fatal truth that did it; truth too high
and fine for me to have discerned save through such agony as.... You
too loved my soul, like the rest, and you would have had me no priest
for the reason that they would have had me a priest--I see it. But you
had no right to love my soul and not me--you, a woman. A woman must not
love only the soul of a man."
"Yes, yes!" piteously explained the girl, "but you were a priest to
"That is true, madamigella. I was always a priest to you; and now I see
that I never could be otherwise. Ah, the wrong began many years before
we met. I was trying to blame you a little"--
"Blame me, blame me; do!"
--"but there is no blame. Think that it was another way of asking your
forgiveness.... O my God, my God, my God!"
He released his hands from her, and uttered this cry under his breath,
with his face lifted towards the heavens. When he looked at her again,
he said: "Madamigella, if my share of this misery gives me the right to
ask of you"--
"Oh ask anything of me! I will give everything, do everything!"
He faltered, and then, "You do not love me," he 8aid abruptly; "is
there some one else that you love?"
She did not answer.
"Is it ... he?"
She hid her face.
"I knew it," groaned the priest, "I knew that too!" and he turned away.
"Don Ippolito, Don Ippolito--oh, poor, poor Don Ippolito!" cried the
girl, springing towards him. "Is _this_ the way you leave me?
Where are you going? What will you do now?"
"Did I not say? I am going to die a priest."
"Is there nothing that you will let me be to you, hope for you?"
"Nothing," said Don Ippolito, after a moment. "What could you?" He
seized the hands imploringly extended towards him, and clasped them
together and kissed them both. "Adieu!" he whispered; then he opened
them, and passionately kissed either palm; "adieu, adieu!"
A great wave of sorrow and compassion and despair for him swept through
her. She flung her arms about his neck, and pulled his head down upon
her heart, and held it tight there, weeping and moaning over him as
over some hapless, harmless thing that she had unpurposely bruised or
killed. Then she suddenly put her hands against his breast, and thrust
him away, and turned and ran.
Ferris stepped back again into the shadow of the tree from which he had
just emerged, and clung to its trunk lest he should fall. Another
seemed to creep out of the court in his person, and totter across the
white glare of the campo and down the blackness of the calle. In the
intersected spaces where the moonlight fell, this alien, miserable man
saw the figure of a priest gliding on before him.
Florida swiftly me anted the terrace steps, but she stopped with her
hand on the door, panting, and turned and walked slowly away to the end
of the terrace, drying her eyes with dashes of her handkerchief, and
ordering her hair, some coils of which had been loosened by her flight.
Then she went back to the door, waited, and softly opened it, Her
mother was not in the parlor where she had left her, and she passed
noiselessly into her own room, where some trunks stood open and half-
packed against the wall. She began to gather up the pieces of dress
that lay upon the bed and chairs, and to fold them with mechanical
carefulness and put them in the boxes. Her mother's voice called from
the other chamber, "Is that you, Florida?"
"Yes, mother," answered the girl, but remained kneeling before one of
the boxes, with that pale green robe in her hand which she had worn on
the morning when Ferris had first brought Don Ippolito to see them. She
smoothed its folds and looked down at it without making any motion to
pack it away, and so she lingered while her mother advanced with one
question after another; "What are you doing, Florida? Where are you?
Why didn't you come to me?" and finally stood in the doorway. "Oh,
you're packing. Do you know, Florida, I'm getting very impatient about
going. I wish we could be off at once."
A tremor passed over the young girl and she started from her languid
posture, and laid the dress in the trunk. "So do I, mother. I would
give the world if we could go to-morrow!"
"Yes, but we can't, you see. I'm afraid we've undertaken a great deal,
my dear. It's quite a weight upon _my_ mind, already; and I don't
know what it _will_ be. If we were free, now, I should say, go to-
morrow, by all means. But we couldn't arrange it with Don Ippolito on
Florida waited a moment before she replied. Then she said coldly, "Don
Ippolito is not going with us, mother."
"Not going with us? Why"--
"He is not going to America. He will not leave Venice; he is to remain
a priest," said Florida, doggedly.
Mrs. Vervain sat down in the chair that stood beside the door. "Not
going to America; not leave Venice; remain a priest? Florida, you
astonish me! But I am not the least surprised, not the least in the
world. I thought Don Ippolito would give out, all along. He is not what
I should call fickle, exactly, but he is weak, or timid, rather. He is
a good man, but he lacks courage, resolution. I always doubted if he
would succeed in America; he is too much of a dreamer. But this,
really, goes a little beyond anything. I never expected this. What did
he say, Florida? How did he excuse himself?"
"I hardly know; very little. What was there to say?"
"To be sure, to be sure. Did you try to reason with him, Florida?"
"No," answered the girl, drearily.
"I am glad of that. I think you had said quite enough already. You owed
it to yourself not to do so, and he might have misinterpreted it. These
foreigners are very different from Americans. No doubt we should have
had a time of it, if he had gone with us. It must be for the best. I'm
sure it was ordered so. But all that doesn't relieve Don Ippolito from
the charge of black ingratitude, and want of consideration for us. He's
quite made fools of us."
"He was not to blame. It was a very great step for him. And if"....
"I know that. But he ought not to have talked of it. He ought to have
known his own mind fully before speaking; that's the only safe way.
Well, then, there is nothing to prevent our going to-morrow."
Florida drew a long breath, and rose to go on with the work of packing.
"Have you been crying, Florida? Well, of course, you can't help feeling
sorry for such a man. There's a great deal of good in Don Ippolito, a
great deal. But when you come to my age you won't cry so easily, my
dear. It's very trying," said Mrs. Vervain. She sat awhile in silence
before she asked: "Will he come here to-morrow morning?"
Her daughter looked at her with a glance of terrified inquiry.
"Do have your wits about you, my dear! We can't go away without saying
good-by to him, and we can't go away without paying him."
"Yes, paying him--paying him for your lessons. It's always been very
awkward. He hasn't been like other teachers, you know: more like a
guest, or friend of the family. He never seemed to want to take the
money, and of late, I've been letting it run along, because I hated so
to offer it, till now, it's quite a sum. I suppose he needs it, poor
fellow. And how to get it to him is the question. He may not come to-
morrow, as usual, and I couldn't trust it to the padrone. We might send
it to him in a draft from Paris, but I'd rather pay him before we go.
Besides, it would be rather rude, going away without seeing him again."
Mrs. Vervain thought a moment; then, "I'll tell you," she resumed. "If
he doesn't happen to come here to-morrow morning, we can stop on our
way to the station and give him the money."
Florida did not answer.
"Don't you think that would be a good plan?"
"I don't know," replied the girl in a dull way.
"Why, Florida, if you think from anything Don Ippolito said that he
would rather not see us again--that it would be painful to him--why, we
could ask Mr. Ferris to hand him the money."
"Oh no, no, no, mother!" cried Florida, hiding her face, "that would be
too horribly indelicate!"
"Well, perhaps it wouldn't be quite good taste," said Mrs. Vervain
perturbedly, "but you needn't express yourself so violently, my dear.
It's not a matter of life and death. I'm sure I don't know what to do.
We must stop at Don Ippolito's house, I suppose. Don't you think so?"
"Yes," faintly assented the daughter.
Mrs. Vervain yawned. "Well I can't think anything more about it to-
night; I'm too stupid. But that's the way we shall do. Will you help me
to bed, my dear? I shall be good for nothing to-morrow."
She went on talking of Don Ippolito's change of purpose till her head
touched the pillow, from which she suddenly lifted it again, and called
out to her daughter, who had passed into the next room: "But Mr.
Ferris----why didn't he come back with you?"
"Come back with me?"
"Why yes, child. I sent him out to call you, just before you came in.
This Don Ippolito business put him quite out of my head. Didn't you see
him? ... Oh! What's that?"
"Nothing: I dropped my candle."
"You're sure you didn't set anything on fire?"
"No! It went dead out."
"Light it again, and do look. Now is everything right?"
"It's queer he didn't come back to _say_ he couldn't find you.
What do you suppose became of him?"
"I don't know, mother."
"It's very perplexing. I wish Mr. Ferris were not so odd. It quite
borders on affectation. I don't know what to make of it. We must send
word to him the very first thing to-morrow morning, that we're going,
and ask him to come to see us."
Florida made no reply. She sat staring at the black space of the door-
way into her mother's room. Mrs. Vervain did not speak again. After a
while her daughter softly entered her chamber, shading the candle with
her hand; and seeing that she slept, softly withdrew, closed the door,
and went about the work of packing again. When it was all done, she
flung herself upon her bed and hid her face in the pillow.
* * * * *
The next morning was spent in bestowing those interminable last touches
which the packing of ladies' baggage demands, and in taking leave with
largess (in which Mrs. Vervain shone) of all the people in the house
and out of it, who had so much as touched a hat to the Vervains during
their sojourn. The whole was not a vast sum; nor did the sundry
extortions of the padrone come to much, though the honest man racked
his brain to invent injuries to his apartments and furniture. Being
unmurmuringly paid, he gave way to his real goodwill for his tenants in
many little useful offices. At the end he persisted in sending them to
the station in his own gondola and could with difficulty be kept from
going with them.
Mrs. Vervain had early sent a message to Ferris, but word came back a
first and a second time that he was not at home, and the forenoon wore
away and he had not appeared. A certain indignation sustained her till
the gondola pushed out into the canal, and then it yielded to an
intolerable regret that she should not see him.
"I _can't_ go without saying good-by to Mr. Ferris, Florida," she
said at last, "and it's no use asking me. He may have been wanting a
little in politeness, but he's been _so_ good all along; and we
owe him too much not to make an effort to thank him before we go. We
really must stop a moment at his house."
Florida, who had regarded her mother's efforts to summon Ferris to them
with passive coldness, turned a look of agony upon her. But in a moment
she bade the gondolier stop at the consulate, and dropping her veil
over her face, fell back in the shadow of the tenda-curtains.
Mrs. Vervain sentimentalized their departure a little, but her daughter
made no comment on the scene they were leaving.
The gondolier rang at Ferris's door and returned with the answer that
he was not at home.
Mrs. Vervain gave way to despair. "Oh dear, oh dear! This is too bad!
What shall we do?"
"We'll lose the train, mother, if we loiter in this way," said Florida.
"Well, wait. I _must_ leave a message at least." "_How could you
be away_," she wrote on her card, "_when we called to say good-by?
We've changed our plans and we're going to-day. I shall write you a
nice scolding letter from Verona--we're going over the Brenner--for
your behavior last night. Who will keep you straight when I'm gone?
You've been very, very kind. Florida joins me in a thousand thanks,
regrets, and good-byes._"
"There, I haven't said anything, after all," she fretted, with tears in
The gondolier carried the card again to the door, where Ferris's
servant let down a basket by a string and fished it up.
"If Don Ippolito shouldn't be in," said Mrs. Vervain, as the boat moved
on again, "I don't know what I _shall_ do with this money. It will
be awkward beyond anything."
The gondola slipped from the Canalazzo into the network of the smaller
canals, where the dense shadows were as old as the palaces that cast
them and stopped at the landing of a narrow quay. The gondolier
dismounted and rang at Don Ippolito's door. There was no response; he
rang again and again. At last from a window of the uppermost story the
head of the priest himself peered out. The gondolier touched his hat
and said, "It is the ladies who ask for you, Don Ippolito."
It was a minute before the door opened, and the priest, bare-headed and
blinking in the strong light, came with a stupefied air across the quay
to the landing-steps.
"Well, Don Ippolito!" cried Mrs. Vervain, rising and giving him her
hand, which she first waved at the trunks and bags piled up in the
vacant space in the front of the boat, "what do you think of this? We
are really going, immediately; _we_ can change our minds too; and
I don't think it would have been too much," she added with a friendly
smile, "if we had gone without saying good-by to you. What in the world
does it all mean, your giving up that grand project of yours so
She sat down again, that she might talk more at her ease, and seemed
thoroughly happy to have Don Ippolito before her again.
"It finally appeared best, madama," he said quietly, after a quick,
keen glance at Florida, who did not lift her veil.
"Well, perhaps you're partly right. But I can't help thinking that you
with your talent would have succeeded in America. Inventors do get on
there, in the most surprising way. There's the Screw Company of
Providence. It's such a simple thing; and now the shares are worth
eight hundred. Are you well to-day, Don Ippolito?"
"Quite well, madama."
"I thought you looked rather pale. But I believe you're always a little
pale. You mustn't work too hard. We shall miss you a great deal, Don
"Yes, we shall be quite lost without you. And I wanted to say this to
you, Don Ippolito, that if ever you change your mind again, and
conclude to come to America, you must write to me, and let me help you
just as I had intended to do."
The priest shivered, as if cold, and gave another look at Florida's
"You are too good," he said.
"Yes, I really think I am," replied Mrs. Vervain, playfully.
"Considering that you were going to let me leave Venice without even
trying to say good-by to me, I think I'm very good indeed."
Mrs. Vervain's mood became overcast, and her eyes filled with tears: "I
hope you're sorry to have us going, Don Ippolito, for you know how very
highly I prize your acquaintance. It was rather cruel of you, I think."
She seemed not to remember that he could not have known of their change
of plan. Don Ippolito looked imploringly into her face, and made a
touching gesture of deprecation, but did not speak.
"I'm really afraid you're _not_ well, and I think it's too bad of
us to be going," resumed Mrs. Vervain; "but it can't be helped now: we
are all packed, don't you see. But I want to ask one favor of you, Don
Ippolito; and that is," said Mrs. Vervain, covertly taking a little
_rouleau_ from her pocket, "that you'll leave these inventions of
yours for a while, and give yourself a vacation. You need rest of mind.
Go into the country, somewhere, do. That's what's preying upon you. But
we must really be off, now. Shake hands with Florida--I'm going to be
the last to part with you," she said, with a tearful smile.
Don Ippolito and Florida extended their hands. Neither spoke, and as
she sank back upon the seat from which she had half risen, she drew
more closely the folds of the veil which she had not lifted from her
Mrs. Vervain gave a little sob as Don Ippolito took her hand and kissed
it; and she had some difficulty in leaving with him the rouleau, which
she tried artfully to press into his palm. "Good-by, good-by," she
said, "don't drop it," and attempted to close his fingers over it.
But he let it lie carelessly in his open hand, as the gondola moved
off, and there it still lay as he stood watching the boat slip under a
bridge at the next corner, and disappear. While he stood there gazing
at the empty arch, a man of a wild and savage aspect approached. It was
said that this man's brain had been turned by the death of his brother,
who was betrayed to the Austrians after the revolution of '48, by his
wife's confessor. He advanced with swift strides, and at the moment he
reached Don Ippolito's side he suddenly turned his face upon him and
cursed him through his clenched teeth: "Dog of a priest!"
Don Ippolito, as if his whole race had renounced him in the maniac's
words, uttered a desolate cry, and hiding his face in his hands,
tottered into his house.
The rouleau had dropped from his palm; it rolled down the shelving
marble of the quay, and slipped into the water.
The young beggar who had held Mrs. Vervain's gondola to the shore while
she talked, looked up and down the deserted quay, and at the doors and
windows. Then he began to take off his clothes for a bath.
Ferris returned at nightfall to his house, where he had not been since
daybreak, and flung himself exhausted upon the bed. His face was burnt
red with the sun, and his eyes were bloodshot. He fell into a doze and
dreamed that he was still at Malamocco, whither he had gone that
morning in a sort of craze, with some fishermen, who were to cast their
nets there; then he was rowing back to Venice across the lagoon, that
seemed a molten fire under the keel. He woke with a heavy groan, and
bade Marina fetch him a light.
She set it on the table, and handed him the card Mrs. Vervain had left.
He read it and read it again, and then he laid it down, and putting on
his hat, he took his cane and went out. "Do not Wait for me, Marina,"
he said, "I may be late. Go to bed."
He returned at midnight, and lighting his candle took up the card and
read it once more. He could not tell whether to be glad or sorry that
he had failed to see the Vervains again. He took it for granted that
Don Ippolito was to follow; he would not ask himself what motive had
hastened their going. The reasons were all that he should never more
look upon the woman so hatefully lost to him, but a strong instinct of
his heart struggled against them.
He lay down in his clothes, and began to dream almost before he began
to sleep. He woke early, and went out to walk. He did not rest all day.
Once he came home, and found a letter from Mrs. Vervain, postmarked
Verona, reiterating her lamentations and adieux, and explaining that
the priest had relinquished his purpose, and would not go to America at
all. The deeper mystery in which this news left him was not less
sinister than before.
In the weeks that followed, Ferris had no other purpose than to reduce
the days to hours, the hours to minutes. The burden that fell upon him
when he woke lay heavy on his heart till night, and oppressed him far
into his sleep. He could not give his trouble certain shape; what was
mostly with him was a formless loss, which he could not resolve into
any definite shame or wrong. At times, what he had seen seemed to him
some baleful trick of the imagination, some lurid and foolish illusion.
But he could do nothing, he could not ask himself what the end was to
be. He kept indoors by day, trying to work, trying to read, marveling
somewhat that he did not fall sick and die. At night he set out on long
walks, which took him he cared not where, and often detained him till
the gray lights of morning began to tremble through the nocturnal blue.
But even by night he shunned the neighborhood in which the Vervains had
lived. Their landlord sent him a package of trifles they had left
behind, but he refused to receive them, sending back word that he did
not know where the ladies were. He had half expected that Mrs. Vervain,
though he had not answered her last letter, might write to him again
from England, but she did not. The Vervains had passed out of his
world; he knew that they had been in it only by the torment they had
He wondered in a listless way that he should see nothing of Don
Ippolito. Once at midnight he fancied that the priest was coming
towards him across a campo he had just entered; he stopped and turned
back into the calle: when the priest came up to him, it was not Don
In these days Ferris received a dispatch from the Department of State,
informing him that his successor had been appointed, and directing him
to deliver up the consular flags, seals, archives, and other property
of the United States. No reason for his removal was given; but as there
had never been any reason for his appointment, he had no right to
complain; the balance was exactly dressed by this simple device of our
civil service. He determined not to wait for the coming of his
successor before giving up the consular effects, and he placed them at
once in the keeping of the worthy ship-chandler who had so often
transferred them from departing to arriving consuls. Then being quite
ready at any moment to leave Venice, he found himself in nowise eager
to go; but he began in a desultory way to pack up his sketches and
One morning as he sat idle in his dismantled studio, Marina came to
tell him that an old woman, waiting at the door below, wished to speak
"Well, let her come up," said Ferris wearily, and presently Marina
returned with a very ill-favored beldam, who stared hard at him while
he frowningly puzzled himself as to where he had seen that malign
"Well?" he said harshly.
"I come," answered the old woman, "on the part of Don Ippolito
Rondinelli, who desires so much to see your excellency."
Ferris made no response, while the old woman knotted the fringe of her
shawl with quaking hands, and presently added with a tenderness in her
voice which oddly discorded with the hardness of her face: "He has been
very sick, poor thing, with a fever; but now he is in his senses again,
and the doctors say he will get well. I hope so. But he is still very
weak. He tried to write two lines to you, but he had not the strength;
so he bade me bring you this word: That he had something to say which
it greatly concerned you to hear, and that he prayed you to forgive his
not coming to revere you, for it was impossible, and that you should
have the goodness to do him this favor, to come to find him the
quickest you could."
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