A Foregone Conclusion
W. D. Howells
Part 4 out of 4
The old woman wiped her eyes with the corner of her shawl, and her chin
wobbled pathetically while she shot a glance of baleful dislike at
Ferris, who answered after a long dull stare at her, "Tell him I'll
He did not believe that Don Ippolito could tell him anything that
greatly concerned him; but he was worn out with going round in the same
circle of conjecture, and so far as he could be glad, he was glad of
this chance to face his calamity. He would go, but not at once; he
would think it over; he would go to-morrow, when he had got some grasp
of the matter.
The old woman lingered.
"Tell him I'll come," repeated Ferris impatiently.
"A thousand excuses; but my poor master has been very sick. The doctors
say he will get well. I hope so. But he is very weak indeed; a little
shock, a little disappointment.... Is the signore very, _very_
much occupied this morning? He greatly desired,--he prayed that if such
a thing were possible in the goodness of your excellency .... But I am
offending the signore!"
"What do you want?" demanded Ferris.
The old wretch set up a pitiful whimper, and tried to possess herself
of his hand; she kissed his coat-sleeve instead. "That you will return
with me," she besought him.
"Oh, I'll go!" groaned the painter. "I might as well go first as last,"
he added in English. "There, stop that! Enough, enough, I tell you!
Didn't I say I was going with you?" he cried to the old woman.
"God bless you!" she mumbled, and set off before him down the stairs
and out of the door. She looked so miserably old and weary that he
called a gondola to his landing and made her get into it with him.
It tormented Don Ippolito's idle neighborhood to see Veneranda arrive
in such state, and a passionate excitement arose at the caffe, where
the person of the consul was known, when Ferris entered the priest's
house with her.
He had not often visited Don Ippolito, but the quaintness of the place
had been so vividly impressed upon him, that he had a certain
familiarity with the grape-arbor of the anteroom, the paintings of the
parlor, and the puerile arrangement of the piano and melodeon.
Veneranda led him through these rooms to the chamber where Don Ippolito
had first shown him his inventions. They were all removed now, and on a
bed, set against the wall opposite the door, lay the priest, with his
hands on his breast, and a faint smile on his lips, so peaceful, so
serene, that the painter stopped with a sudden awe, as if he had
unawares come into the presence of death.
"Advance, advance," whispered the old woman.
Near the head of the bed sat a white-haired priest wearing the red
stockings of a canonico; his face was fanatically stern; but he rose,
and bowed courteously to Ferris.
The stir of his robes roused Don Ippolito. He slowly and weakly turned
his head, and his eyes fell upon the painter. He made a helpless
gesture of salutation with his thin hand, and began to excuse himself,
for the trouble he had given, with a gentle politeness that touched the
painter's heart through all the complex resentments that divided them.
It was indeed a strange ground on which the two men met. Ferris could
not have described Don Ippolito as his enemy, for the priest had
wittingly done him no wrong; he could not have logically hated him as a
rival, for till it was too late he had not confessed to his own heart
the love that was in it; he knew no evil of Don Ippolito, he could not
accuse him of any betrayal of trust, or violation of confidence. He
felt merely that this hapless creature, lying so deathlike before him,
had profaned, however involuntarily, what was sacredest in the world to
him; beyond this all was chaos. He had heard of the priest's sickness
with a fierce hardening of the heart; yet as he beheld him now, he
began to remember things that moved him to a sort of remorse. He
recalled again the simple loyalty with which Don Ippolito had first
spoken to him of Miss Vervain and tried to learn his own feeling toward
her; he thought how trustfully at their last meeting the priest had
declared his love and hope, and how, when he had coldly received his
confession, Don Ippolito had solemnly adjured him to be frank with him;
and Ferris could not. That pity for himself as the prey of
fantastically cruel chances, which he had already vaguely felt, began
now also to include the priest; ignoring all but that compassion, he
went up to the bed and took the weak, chill, nerveless hand in his own.
The canonico rose and placed his chair for Ferris beside the pillow, on
which lay a brass crucifix, and then softly left the room, exchanging a
glance of affectionate intelligence with the sick man.
"I might have waited a little while," said Don Ippolito weakly,
speaking in a hollow voice that was the shadow of his old deep tones,
"but you will know how to forgive the impatience of a man not yet quite
master of himself. I thank you for coming. I have been very sick, as
you see; I did not think to live; I did not care.... I am very weak,
now; let me say to you quickly what I want to say. Dear friend,"
continued Don Ippolito, fixing his eyes upon the painter's face, "I
spoke to her that night after I had parted from you."
The priest's voice was now firm; the painter turned his face away.
"I spoke without hope," proceeded Don Ippolito, "and because I must. I
spoke in vain; all was lost, all was past in a moment."
The coil of suspicions and misgivings and fears in which Ferris had
lived was suddenly without a clew; he could not look upon the pallid
visage of the priest lest he should now at last find there that subtle
expression of deceit; the whirl of his thoughts kept him silent; Don
Ippolito went on.
"Even if I had never been a priest, I would still have been impossible
to her. She"....
He stopped as if for want of strength to go on. All at once he cried,
"Listen!" and he rapidly recounted the story of his life, ending with
the fatal tragedy of his love. When it was told, he said calmly, "But
now everything is over with me on earth. I thank the Infinite
Compassion for the sorrows through which I have passed. I, also, have
proved the miraculous power of the church, potent to save in all ages."
He gathered the crucifix in his spectral grasp, and pressed it to his
lips. "Many merciful things have befallen me on this bed of sickness.
My uncle, whom the long years of my darkness divided from me, is once
more at peace with me. Even that poor old woman whom I sent to call
you, and who had served me as I believed with hate for me as a false
priest in her heart, has devoted herself day and night to my
helplessness; she has grown decrepit with her cares and vigils. Yes, I
have had many and signal marks of the divine pity to be grateful for."
He paused, breathing quickly, and then added, "They tell me that the
danger of this sickness is past. But none the less I have died in it.
When I rise from this bed it shall be to take the vows of a Carmelite
Ferris made no answer, and Don Ippolito resumed:--
"I have told you how when I first owned to her the falsehood in which I
lived, she besought me to try if I might not find consolation in the
holy life to which I had been devoted. When you see her, dear friend,
will you not tell her that I came to understand that this comfort, this
refuge, awaited me in the cell of the Carmelite? I have brought so much
trouble into her life that I would fain have her know I have found
peace where she bade me seek it, that I have mastered my affliction by
reconciling myself to it. Tell her that but for her pity and fear for
me, I believe that I must have died in my sins."
It was perhaps inevitable from Ferris's Protestant association of monks
and convents and penances chiefly with the machinery of fiction, that
all this affected him as unreally as talk in a stage-play. His heart
was cold, as he answered: "I am glad that your mind is at rest
concerning the doubts which so long troubled you. Not all men are so
easily pacified; but, as you say, it is the privilege of your church to
work miracles. As to Miss Vervain, I am sorry that I cannot promise to
give her your message. I shall never see her again. Excuse me," he
continued, "but your servant said there was something you wished to say
that concerned me?"
"You will never see her again!" cried the priest, struggling to lift
himself upon his elbow and falling back upon the pillow. "Oh, bereft!
Oh, deaf and blind! It was _you_ that she loved! She confessed it
to me that night."
"Wait!" said Ferris, trying to steady his voice, and failing; "I was
with Mrs. Vervain that night; she sent me into the garden to call her
daughter, and I saw how Miss Vervain parted from the man she did not
love! I saw"....
It was a horrible thing to have said it, he felt now that he had
spoken; a sense of the indelicacy, the shamefulness, seemed to alienate
him from all high concern in the matter, and to leave him a mere self-
convicted eavesdropper. His face flamed; the wavering hopes, the
wavering doubts alike died in his heart. He had fallen below the
dignity of his own trouble.
"You saw, you saw," softly repeated the priest, without looking at him,
and without any show of emotion; apparently, the convalescence that had
brought him perfect clearness of reason had left his sensibilities
still somewhat dulled. He closed his lips and lay silent. At last, he
asked very gently, "And how shall I make you believe that what you saw
was not a woman's love, but an angel's heavenly pity for me? Does it
seem hard to believe this of her?"
"Yes," answered the painter doggedly, "it is hard."
"And yet it is the very truth. Oh, you do not know her, you never knew
her! In the same moment that she denied me her love, she divined the
anguish of my soul, and with that embrace she sought to console me for
the friendlessness of a whole life, past and to come. But I know that I
waste my words on you," he cried bitterly. "You never would see me as I
was; you would find no singleness in me, and yet I had a heart as full
of loyalty to you as love for her. In what have I been false to you?"
"You never were false to me," answered Ferris, "and God knows I have
been true to you, and at what cost. We might well curse the day we met,
Don Ippolito, for we have only done each other harm. But I never meant
you harm. And now I ask you to forgive me if I cannot believe you. I
cannot--yet. I am of another race from you, slow to suspect, slow to
trust. Give me a little time; let me see you again. I want to go away
and think. I don't question your truth. I'm afraid you don't know. I'm
afraid that the same deceit has tricked us both. I must come to you to-
morrow. Can I?"
He rose and stood beside the couch.
"Surely, surely," answered the priest, looking into Ferris's troubled
eyes with calm meekness. "You will do me the greatest pleasure. Yes,
come again to-morrow. You know," he said with a sad smile, referring to
his purpose of taking vows, "that my time in the world is short. Adieu,
to meet again!"
He took Ferris's hand, hanging weak and hot by his side, and drew him
gently down by it, and kissed him on either bearded cheek. "It is our
custom, you know, among _friends_. Farewell."
The canonico in the anteroom bowed austerely to him as he passed
through; the old woman refused with a harsh "Nothing!" the money he
offered her at the door.
He bitterly upbraided himself for the doubts he could not banish, and
he still flushed with shame that he should have declared his knowledge
of a scene which ought, at its worst, to have been inviolable by his
speech. He scarcely cared now for the woman about whom these miseries
grouped themselves; he realized that a fantastic remorse may be
stronger than a jealous love.
He longed for the morrow to come, that he might confess his shame and
regret; but a reaction to this violent repentance came before the night
fell. As the sound of the priest's voice and the sight of his wasted
face faded from the painter's sense, he began to see everything in the
old light again. Then what Don Ippolito had said took a character of
ludicrous, of insolent improbability.
After dark, Ferris set out upon one of his long, rambling walks. He
walked hard and fast, to try if he might not still, by mere fatigue of
body, the anguish that filled his soul. But whichever way he went he
came again and again to the house of Don Ippolito, and at last he
stopped there, leaning against the parapet of the quay, and staring at
the house, as though he would spell from the senseless stones the truth
of the secret they sheltered. Far up in the chamber, where he knew that
the priest lay, the windows were dimly lit.
As he stood thus, with his upturned face haggard in the moonlight, the
soldier commanding the Austrian patrol which passed that way halted his
squad, and seemed about to ask him what he wanted there.
Ferris turned and walked swiftly homeward; but he did not even lie
down. His misery took the shape of an intent that would not suffer him
to rest. He meant to go to Don Ippolito and tell him that his story had
failed of its effect, that he was not to be fooled so easily, and,
without demanding anything further, to leave him in his lie.
At the earliest hour when he might hope to be admitted, he went, and
rang the bell furiously. The door opened, and he confronted the
priest's servant. "I want to see Don Ippolito," said Ferris abruptly.
"It cannot be," she began.
"I tell you I must," cried Ferris, raising his voice. "I tell you."....
"Madman!" fiercely whispered the old woman, shaking both her open hands
in his face, "he's dead! He died last night!"
The terrible stroke sobered Ferris, he woke from his long debauch of
hate and jealousy and despair; for the first time since that night in
the garden, he faced his fate with a clear mind. Death had set his seal
forever to a testimony which he had been able neither to refuse nor to
accept; in abject sorrow and shame he thanked God that he had been kept
from dealing that last cruel blow; but if Don Ippolito had come back
from the dead to repeat his witness, Ferris felt that the miracle could
not change his own passive state. There was now but one thing in the
world for him to do: to see Florida, to confront her with his knowledge
of all that had been, and to abide by her word, whatever it was. At the
worst, there was the war, whose drums had already called to him, for a
He thought at first that he might perhaps overtake the Vervains before
they sailed for America, but he remembered that they had left Venice
six weeks before. It seemed impossible that he could wait, but when he
landed in New York, he was tormented in his impatience by a strange
reluctance and hesitation. A fantastic light fell upon his plans; a
sense of its wildness enfeebled his purpose. What was he going to do?
Had he come four thousand miles to tell Florida that Don Ippolito was
dead? Or was he going to say, "I have heard that you love me, but I
don't believe it: is it true?"
He pushed on to Providence, stifling these antic misgivings as he
might, and without allowing himself time to falter from his intent, he
set out to find Mrs. Vervain's house. He knew the street and the
number, for she had often given him the address in her invitations
against the time when he should return to America. As he drew near the
house a tender trepidation filled him and silenced all other senses in
him; his heart beat thickly; the universe included only the fact that
he was to look upon the face he loved, and this fact had neither past
But a terrible foreboding as of death seized him when he stood before
the house, and glanced up at its close-shuttered front, and round upon
the dusty grass-plots and neglected flower-beds of the door-yard. With
a cold hand he rang and rang again, and no answer came. At last a man
lounged up to the fence from the next house-door. "Guess you won't make
anybody hear," he said, casually.
"Doesn't Mrs. Vervain live in this house?" asked Ferris, finding a
husky voice in his throat that sounded to him like some other's voice
"She used to, but she isn't at home. Family's in Europe."
They had not come back yet.
"Thanks," said Ferris mechanically, and he went away. He laughed to
himself at this keen irony of fortune; he was prepared for the
confirmation of his doubts; he was ready for relief from them, Heaven
knew; but this blank that the turn of the wheel had brought, this
The Vervains were as lost to him as if Europe were in another planet.
How should he find them there? Besides, he was poor; he had no money to
get back with, if he had wanted to return.
He took the first train to New York, and hunted up a young fellow of
his acquaintance, who in the days of peace had been one of the
governor's aides. He was still holding this place, and was an ardent
recruiter. He hailed with rapture the expression of Ferris's wish to go
into the war. "Look here!" he said after a moment's thought, "didn't
you have some rank as a consul?"
"Yes," replied Ferris with a dreary smile, "I have been equivalent to a
commander in the navy and a colonel in the army--I don't mean both, but
"Good!" cried his friend. "We must strike high. The colonelcies are
rather inaccessible, just at present, and so are the lieutenant-
colonelcies, but a majorship, now"....
"Oh no; don't!" pleaded Ferris. "Make me a corporal--or a cook. I shall
not be so mischievous to our own side, then, and when the other fellows
shoot me, I shall not be so much of a loss."
"Oh, they won't _shoot_ you," expostulated his friend, high-
heartedly. He got Ferris a commission as second lieutenant, and lent
him money to buy a uniform.
Ferris's regiment was sent to a part of the southwest, where he saw a
good deal of fighting and fever and ague. At the end of two years,
spent alternately in the field and the hospital, he was riding out near
the camp one morning in unusual spirits, when two men in butternut
fired at him: one had the mortification to miss him; the bullet of the
other struck him in the arm. There was talk of amputation at first, but
the case was finally managed without. In Ferris's state of health it
was quite the same an end of his soldiering.
He came North sick and maimed and poor. He smiled now to think of
confronting Florida in any imperative or challenging spirit; but the
current of his hopeless melancholy turned more and more towards her. He
had once, at a desperate venture, written to her at Providence, but he
had got no answer. He asked of a Providence man among the artists in
New York, if he knew the Vervains; the Providence man said that he did
know them a little when he was much younger; they had been abroad a
great deal; he believed in a dim way that they were still in Europe.
The young one, he added, used to have a temper of her own.
"Indeed!" said Ferris stiffly.
The one fast friend whom he found in New York was the governor's
dashing aide. The enthusiasm of this recruiter of regiments had not
ceased with Ferris's departure for the front; the number of disabled
officers forbade him to lionize any one of them, but he befriended
Ferris; he made a feint of discovering the open secret of his poverty,
and asked how he could help him.
"I don't know," said Ferris, "it looks like a hopeless case, to me."
"Oh no it isn't," retorted his friend, as cheerfully and confidently as
he had promised him that he should not be shot. "Didn't you bring back
any pictures from Venice with you?"
"I brought back a lot of sketches and studies. I'm sorry to say that I
loafed a good deal there; I used to feel that I had eternity before me;
and I was a theorist and a purist and an idiot generally. There are
none of them fit to be seen."
"Never mind; let's look at them."
They hunted out Ferris's property from a catch-all closet in the studio
of a sculptor with whom he had left them, and who expressed a polite
pleasure in handing them over to Ferris rather than to his heirs and
"Well, I'm not sure that I share your satisfaction, old fellow," said
the painter ruefully; but he unpacked the sketches.
Their inspection certainly revealed a disheartening condition of half-
work. "And I can't do anything to help the matter for the present,"
groaned Ferris, stopping midway in the business, and making as if to
shut the case again.
"Hold on," said his friend. "What's this? Why, this isn't so bad." It
was the study of Don Ippolito as a Venetian priest, which Ferris beheld
with a stupid amaze, remembering that he had meant to destroy it, and
wondering how it had got where it was, but not really caring much.
"It's worse than you can imagine," said he, still looking at it with
"No matter; I want you to sell it to me. Come!"
"I can't!" replied Ferris piteously. "It would be flat burglary."
"Then put it into the exhibition."
The sculptor, who had gone back to scraping the chin of the famous
public man on whose bust he was at work, stabbed him to the heart with
his modeling-tool, and turned to Ferris and his friend. He slanted his
broad red beard for a sidelong look at the picture, and said: "I know
what you mean, Ferris. It's hard, and it's feeble in some ways and it
looks a little too much like experimenting. But it isn't so
"Don't be fulsome," responded Ferris, jadedly. He was thinking in a
thoroughly vanquished mood what a tragico-comic end of the whole
business it was that poor Don Ippolito should come to his rescue in
this fashion, and as it were offer to succor him in his extremity. He
perceived the shamefulness of suffering such help; it would be much
better to starve; but he felt cowed, and he had not courage to take
arms against this sarcastic destiny, which had pursued him with a
mocking smile from one lower level to another. He rubbed his forehead
and brooded upon the picture. At least it would be some comfort to be
rid of it; and Don Ippolito was dead; and to whom could it mean more
than the face of it?
His friend had his way about framing it, and it was got into the
exhibition. The hanging-committee offered it the hospitalities of an
obscure corner; but it was there, and it stood its chance. Nobody
seemed to know that it was there, however, unless confronted with it by
Ferris's friend, and then no one seemed to care for it, much less want
to buy it. Ferris saw so many much worse pictures sold all around it,
that he began gloomily to respect it. At first it had shocked him to
see it on the Academy's wall; but it soon came to have no other
relation to him than that of creatureship, like a poem in which a poet
celebrates his love or laments his dead, and sells for a price. His
pride as well as his poverty was set on having the picture sold; he had
nothing to do, and he used to lurk about, and see if it would not
interest somebody at last. But it remained unsold throughout May, and
well into June, long after the crowds had ceased to frequent the
exhibition, and only chance visitors from the country straggled in by
twos and threes.
One warm, dusty afternoon, when he turned into the Academy out of
Fourth Avenue, the empty hall echoed to no footfall but his own. A
group of weary women, who wore that look of wanting lunch which
characterizes all picture-gallery-goers at home and abroad, stood faint
before a certain large Venetian subject which Ferris abhorred, and the
very name of which he spat out of his mouth with loathing for its
unreality. He passed them with a sombre glance, as he took his way
toward the retired spot where his own painting hung.
A lady whose crapes would have betrayed to her own sex the latest touch
of Paris stood a little way back from it, and gazed fixedly at it. The
pose of her head, her whole attitude, expressed a quiet dejection;
without seeing her face one could know its air of pensive wistfulness.
Ferris resolved to indulge himself in a near approach to this unwonted
spectacle of interest in his picture; at the sound of his steps the
lady slowly turned a face of somewhat heavily molded beauty, and from
low-growing, thick pale hair and level brows, stared at him with the
sad eyes of Florida Vervain. She looked fully the last two years older.
As though she were listening to the sound of his steps in the dark
instead of having him there visibly before her, she kept her eyes upon
him with a dreamy unrecognition.
"Yes, it is I," said Ferris, as if she had spoken.
She recovered herself, and with a subdued, sorrowful quiet in her old
directness, she answered, "I supposed you must be in New York," and she
indicated that she had supposed so from seeing this picture.
Ferris felt the blood mounting to his head. "Do you think it is like?"
"No," she said, "it isn't just to him; it attributes things that didn't
belong to him, and it leaves out a great deal."
"I could scarcely have hoped to please you in a portrait of Don
Ippolito." Ferris saw the red light break out as it used on the girl's
pale cheeks, and her eyes dilate angrily. He went on recklessly: "He
sent for me after you went away, and gave me a message for you. I never
promised to deliver it, but I will do so now. He asked me to tell you
when we met, that he had acted on your desire, and had tried to
reconcile himself to his calling and his religion; he was going to
enter a Carmelite convent."
Florida made no answer, but she seemed to expect him to go on, and he
was constrained to do so.
"He never carried out his purpose," Ferris said, with a keen glance at
her; "he died the night after I saw him."
"Died?" The fan and the parasol and the two or three light packages she
had been holding slid down one by one, and lay at her feet. "Thank you
for bringing me his last words," she said, but did not ask him anything
Ferris did not offer to gather up her things; he stood irresolute;
presently he continued with a downcast look: "He had had a fever, but
they thought he was getting well. His death must have been sudden." He
stopped, and resumed fiercely, resolved to have the worst out: "I went
to him, with no good-will toward him, the next day after I saw him; but
I came too late. That was God's mercy to me. I hope you have your
consolation, Miss Vervain."
It maddened him to see her so little moved, and he meant to make her
share his remorse.
"Did he blame me for anything?" she asked.
"No!" said Ferris, with a bitter laugh, "he praised you."
"I am glad of that," returned Florida, "for I have thought it all over
many times, and I know that I was not to blame, though at first I
blamed myself. I never intended him anything but good. That is
_my_ consolation, Mr. Ferris. But you," she added, "you seem to
make yourself my judge. Well, and what do _you_ blame me for? I
have a right to know what is in your mind."
The thing that was in his mind had rankled there for two years; in many
a black reverie of those that alternated with his moods of abject self-
reproach and perfect trust of her, he had confronted her and flung it
out upon her in one stinging phrase. But he was now suddenly at a loss;
the words would not come; his torment fell dumb before her; in her
presence the cause was unspeakable. Her lips had quivered a little in
making that demand, and there had been a corresponding break in her
"Florida! Florida!" Ferris heard himself saying, "I loved you all the
"Oh indeed, did you love me?" she cried, indignantly, while the tears
shone in her eyes. "And was that why you left a helpless young girl to
meet that trouble alone? Was that why you refused me your advice, and
turned your back on me, and snubbed me? Oh, many thanks for your love!"
She dashed the gathered tears angrily away, and went on. "Perhaps you
knew, too, what that poor priest was thinking of?"
"Yes," said Ferris, stolidly, "I did at last: he told me."
"Oh, then you acted generously and nobly to let him go on! It was kind
to him, and very, very kind to me!"
"What could I do?" demanded Ferris, amazed and furious to find himself
on the defensive. "His telling me put it out of my power to act."
"I'm glad that you can satisfy yourself with such a quibble! But I
wonder that you can tell _me_--_any_ woman of it!"
"By Heavens, this is atrocious!" cried Ferris. "Do you think ... Look
here!" he went on rudely. "I'll put the case to you, and you shall
judge it. Remember that I was such a fool as to be in love with you.
Suppose Don Ippolito had told me that he was going to risk everything--
going to give up home, religion, friends--on the ten thousandth part of
a chance that you might some day care for him. I did not believe he had
even so much chance as that; but he had always thought me his friend,
and he trusted me. Was it a quibble that kept me from betraying him? I
don't know what honor is among women; but no _man_ could have done
it. I confess to my shame that I went to your house that night longing
to betray him. And then suppose your mother sent me into the garden to
call you, and I saw ... what has made my life a hell of doubt for the
last two years; what ... No, excuse me! I can't put the case to you
"What do you mean?" asked Florida. "I don't understand you!"
"What do I mean? You don't understand? Are you so blind as that, or are
you making a fool of me? What could I think but that you had played
with that priest's heart till your own"....
"Oh!" cried Florida with a shudder, starting away from him, "did you
think I was such a wicked girl as that?"
It was no defense, no explanation, no denial; it simply left the case
with Ferris as before. He stood looking like a man who does not know
whether to bless or curse himself, to laugh or blaspheme.
She stooped and tried to pick up the things she had let fall upon the
floor; but she seemed not able to find them. He bent over, and,
gathering them together, returned them to her with his left hand,
keeping the other in the breast of his coat.
"Thanks," she said; and then after a moment, "Have you been hurt?" she
"Yes," said Ferris in a sulky way. "I have had my share." He glanced
down at his arm askance. "It's rather conventional," he added. "It
isn't much of a hurt; but then, I wasn't much of a soldier."
The girl's eyes looked reverently at the conventional arm; those were
the days, so long past, when women worshipped men for such things. But
she said nothing, and as Ferris's eyes wandered to her, he received a
novel and painful impression. He said, hesitatingly, "I have not asked
before: but your mother, Miss Vervain--I hope she is well?"
"She is dead," answered Florida, with stony quiet.
They were both silent for a time. Then Ferris said, "I had a great
affection for your mother."
"Yes," said the girl, "she was fond of you, too. But you never wrote or
sent her any word; it used to grieve her."
Her unjust reproach went to his heart, so long preoccupied with its own
troubles; he recalled with a tender remorse the old Venetian days and
the kindliness of the gracious, silly woman who had seemed to like him
so much; he remembered the charm of her perfect ladylikeness, and of
her winning, weak-headed desire to make every one happy to whom she
spoke; the beauty of the good-will, the hospitable soul that in an
imaginably better world than this will outvalue a merely intellectual
or aesthetic life. He humbled himself before her memory, and as keenly
reproached himself as if he could have made her hear from him at any
time during the past two years. He could only say, "I am sorry that I
gave your mother pain; I loved her very truly. I hope that she did not
suffer much before"--
"No," said Florida, "it was a peaceful end; but finally it was very
sudden. She had not been well for many years, with that sort of
decline; I used sometimes to feel troubled about her before we came to
Venice; but I was very young. I never was really alarmed till that day
I went to you."
"I remember," said Ferris contritely.
"She had fainted, and I thought we ought to see a doctor; but
afterwards, because I thought that I ought not to do so without
speaking to her, I did not go to the doctor; and that day we made up
our minds to get home as soon as we could; and she seemed so much
better, for a while; and then, everything seemed to happen at once.
When we did start home, she could not go any farther than Switzerland,
and in the fall we went back to Italy. We went to Sorrento, where the
climate seemed to do her good. But she was growing frailer, the whole
time. She died in March. I found some old friends of hers in Naples,
and came home with them."
The girl hesitated a little over the words, which she nevertheless
uttered unbroken, while the tears fell quietly down her face. She
seemed to have forgotten the angry words that had passed between her
and Ferris, to remember him only as one who had known her mother, while
she went on to relate some little facts in the history of her mother's
last days; and she rose into a higher, serener atmosphere, inaccessible
to his resentment or his regret, as she spoke of her loss. The simple
tale of sickness and death inexpressibly belittled his passionate woes,
and made them look theatrical to him. He hung his head as they turned
at her motion and walked away from the picture of Don Ippolito, and
down the stairs toward the street-door; the people before the other
Venetian picture had apparently yielded to their craving for lunch, and
"I have very little to tell you of my own life," Ferris began
awkwardly. "I came home soon after you started, and I went to
Providence to find you, but you had not got back."
Florida stopped him and looked perplexedly into his face, and then
"Then I went into the army. I wrote once to you."
"I never got your letter," she said.
They were now in the lower hall, and near the door.
"Florida," said Ferris, abruptly, "I'm poor and disabled; I've no more
right than any sick beggar in the street to say it to you; but I loved
you, I must always love you. I--Good-by!"
She halted him again, and "You said," she grieved, "that you doubted
me; you said that I had made your life a"--
"Yes, I said that; I know it," answered Ferris.
"You thought I could be such a false and cruel girl as that!"
"Yes, yes: I thought it all, God help me!"
"When I was only sorry for him, when it was you that I"--
"Oh, I know it," answered Ferris in a heartsick, hopeless voice. "He
knew it, too. He told me so the day before he died."
"And didn't you believe him?"
Ferris could not answer.
"Do you believe him now?"
"I believe anything you tell me. When I look at you, I can't believe I
ever doubted you."
"Because--because--I love you."
"Oh! That's no reason."
"I know it; but I'm used to being without a reason."
Florida looked gravely at his penitent face, and a brave red color
mantled her own, while she advanced an unanswerable argument: "Then
what are you going away for?"
The world seemed to melt and float away from between them. It returned
and solidified at the sound of the janitor's steps as he came towards
them on his round through the empty building. Ferris caught her hand;
she leaned heavily upon his arm as they walked out into the street. It
was all they could do at the moment except to look into each other's
faces, and walk swiftly on.
At last, after how long a time he did not know, Ferris cried: "Where
are we going, Florida?"
"Why, I don't know!" she replied. "I'm stopping with those friends of
ours at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. We _were_ going on to Providence
to-morrow. We landed yesterday; and we stayed to do some shopping"--
"And may I ask why you happened to give your first moments in America
to the fine arts?"
"The fine arts? Oh! I thought I might find something of yours, there!"
At the hotel she presented him to her party as a friend whom her mother
and she had known in Italy; and then went to lay aside her hat. The
Providence people received him with the easy, half-southern warmth of
manner which seems to have floated northward as far as their city on
the Gulf Stream bathing the Rhode Island shores. The matron of the
party had, before Florida came back, an outline history of their
acquaintance, which she evolved from him with so much tact that he was
not conscious of parting with information; and she divined indefinitely
more when she saw them together again. She was charming; but to
Ferris's thinking she had a fault, she kept him too much from Florida,
though she talked of nothing else, and at the last she was discreetly
"Do you think," whispered Florida, very close against his face, when
they parted, "that I'll have a bad temper?"
"I hope you will--or I shall be killed with kindness," he replied.
She stood a moment, nervously buttoning his coat across his breast.
"You mustn't let that picture be sold, Henry," she said, and by this
touch alone did she express any sense, if she had it, of his want of
feeling in proposing to sell it. He winced, and she added with a soft
pity in her voice, "He did bring us together, after all. I wish you had
believed him, dear!"
"So do I," said Ferris, most humbly.
* * * * *
People are never equal to the romance of their youth in after life,
except by fits, and Ferris especially could not keep himself at what he
called the operatic pitch of their brief betrothal and the early days
of their marriage. With his help, or even his encouragement, his wife
might have been able to maintain it. She had a gift for idealizing him,
at least, and as his hurt healed but slowly, and it was a good while
before he could paint with his wounded arm, it was an easy matter for
her to believe in the meanwhile that he would have been the greatest
painter of his time, but for his honorable disability; to hear her, you
would suppose no one else had ever been shot in the service of his
It was fortunate for Ferris, since he could not work, that she had
money; in exalted moments he had thought this a barrier to their
marriage; yet he could not recall any one who had refused the hand of a
beautiful girl because of the accident of her wealth, and in the end he
silenced his scruples. It might be said that in many other ways he was
not her equal; but one ought to reflect how very few men are worthy of
their wives in any sense. After his fashion he certainly loved her
always,--even when she tried him most, for it must be owned that she
really had that hot temper which he had dreaded in her from the first.
Not that her imperiousness directly affected him. For a long time after
their marriage, she seemed to have no other desire than to lose her
outwearied will in his. There was something a little pathetic in this;
there was a kind of bewilderment in her gentleness, as though the
relaxed tension of her long self-devotion to her mother left her
without a full motive; she apparently found it impossible to give
herself with a satisfactory degree of abandon to a man who could do so
many things for himself. When her children came they filled this
vacancy, and afforded her scope for the greatest excesses of self-
devotion. Ferris laughed to find her protecting them and serving them
with the same tigerish tenderness, the same haughty humility, as that
with which she used to care for poor Mrs. Vervain; and he perceived
that this was merely the direction away from herself of that intense
arrogance of nature which, but for her power and need of loving, would
have made her intolerable. What she chiefly exacted from them in return
for her fierce devotedness was the truth in everything; she was content
that they should be rather less fond of her than of their father, whom
indeed they found much more amusing.
The Ferrises went to Europe some years after their marriage, revisiting
Venice, but sojourning for the most part in Florence. Ferris had once
imagined that the tragedy which had given him his wife would always
invest her with the shadow of its sadness, but in this he was mistaken.
There is nothing has really so strong a digestion as love, and this is
very lucky, seeing what manifold experiences love has to swallow and
assimilate; and when they got back to Venice, Ferris found that the
customs of their joint life exorcised all the dark associations of the
place. These simply formed a sombre background, against which their
wedded happiness relieved itself. They talked much of the past, with
free minds, unashamed and unafraid. If it is a little shocking, it is
nevertheless true, and true to human nature, that they spoke of Don
Ippolito as if he were a part of their love.
Ferris had never ceased to wonder at what he called the unfathomable
innocence of his wife, and he liked to go over all the points of their
former life in Venice, and bring home to himself the utter simplicity
of her girlish ideas, motives, and designs, which both confounded and
"It's amazing, Florida," he would say, "it's perfectly amazing that you
should have been willing to undertake the job of importing into America
that poor fellow with his whole stock of helplessness, dreamery, and
unpracticality. What _were_ you about?"
"Why, I've often told you, Henry. I thought he oughtn't to continue a
"Yes, yes; I know." Then he would remain lost in thought, softly
whistling to himself. On one of these occasions he asked, "Do you think
he was really very much troubled by his false position?"
"I can't tell, now. He seemed to be so."
"That story he told you of his childhood and of how he became a priest;
didn't it strike you at the time like rather a made-up, melodramatic
"No, no! How can you say such things, Henry? It was too simple not to
"Well, well. Perhaps so. But he baffles me. He always did, for that
Then came another pause, while Ferris lay back upon the gondola
cushions, getting the level of the Lido just under his hat-brim.
"Do you think he was very much of a skeptic, after all, Florida?"
Mrs. Ferris turned her eyes reproachfully upon her husband. "Why,
Henry, how strange you are! You said yourself, once, that you used to
wonder if he were not a skeptic."
"Yes; I know. But for a man who had lived in doubt so many years, he
certainly slipped back into the bosom of mother church pretty suddenly.
Don't you think he was a person of rather light feelings?"
"I can't talk with you, my dear, if you go on in that way."
"I don't mean any harm. I can see how in many things he was the soul of
truth and honor. But it seems to me that even the life he lived was
largely imagined. I mean that he was such a dreamer that once having
fancied himself afflicted at being what he was, he could go on and
suffer as keenly as if he really were troubled by it. Why mightn't it
be that all his doubts came from anger and resentment towards those who
made him a priest, rather than from any examination of his own mind? I
don't say it _was_ so. But I don't believe he knew quite what he
wanted. He must have felt that his failure as an inventor went deeper
than the failure of his particular attempts. I once thought that
perhaps he had a genius in that way, but I question now whether he had.
If he had, it seems to me he had opportunity to prove it--certainly, as
a priest he had leisure to prove it. But when that sort of sub-
consciousness of his own inadequacy came over him, it was perfectly
natural for him to take refuge in the supposition that he had been
baffled by circumstances."
Mrs. Ferris remained silently troubled. "I don't know how to answer
you, Henry; but I think that you're judging him narrowly and harshly."
"Not harshly. I feel very compassionate towards him. But now, even as
to what one might consider the most real thing in his life,--his caring
for you,--it seems to me there must have been a great share of imagined
sentiment in it. It was not a passion; it was a gentle nature's dream
of a passion."
"He didn't die of a dream," said the wife.
"No, he died of a fever."
"He had got well of the fever."
"That's very true, my dear. And whatever his head was, he had an
affectionate and faithful heart. I wish I had been gentler with him. I
must often have bruised that sensitive soul. God knows I'm sorry for
it. But he's a puzzle, he's a puzzle!"
Thus lapsing more and more into a mere problem as the years have
passed, Don Ippolito has at last ceased to be even the memory of a man
with a passionate love and a mortal sorrow. Perhaps this final effect
in the mind of him who has realized the happiness of which the poor
priest vainly dreamed is not the least tragic phase of the tragedy of
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