Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 68 out of 78
It had been made out for three thousand pounds, in Clementina's name as
well as her own; but she had lived wastefully since she had come abroad,
and little money remained to be taken up. With the letter Clementina
handed the vice-consul the roll of Italian and Austrian bank-notes which
she had drawn when Mrs. Lander decided to leave Venice; they were to the
amount of several thousand lire and golden. She offered them with the
insensibility to the quality of money which so many women have, and which
is always so astonishing to men. "What must I do with these?" she asked.
"Why, keep them! returned the vice-consul on the spur of his surprise.
"I don't know as I should have any right to," said Clementina. "They
"Why, but"--The vice-consul began his protest, but he could not end it
logically, and he did not end it at all. He insisted with Clementina
that she had a right to some money which Mrs. Lander had given her during
her life; he took charge of the bank-notes in the interest of the
possible heirs, and gave her his receipt for them. In the meantime he
felt that he ought to ask her what she expected to do.
"I think," she said, "I will stay in Venice awhile."
The vice-consul suppressed any surprise he might have felt at a decision
given with mystifying cheerfulness. He answered, Well, that was right;
and for the second time he asked her if there was anything he could do
"Why, yes," she returned. "I should like to stay on in the house here,
if you could speak for me to the padrone."
"I don't see why you shouldn't, if we can make the padrone understand
"You mean about the price?" The vice-consul nodded. "That's what I want
you should speak to him about, Mr. Bennam, if you would. Tell him that I
haven't got but a little money now, and he would have to make it very
reasonable. That is, if you think it would be right for me to stay, afta
the way he tried to treat Mrs. Lander."
The vice-consul gave the point some thought, and decided that the
attempted extortion need not make any difference with Clementina, if she
could get the right terms. He said he did not believe the padrone was a
bad fellow, but he liked to take advantage of a stranger when he could;
we all did. When he came to talk with him he found him a man of heart if
not of conscience. He entered into the case with the prompt intelligence
and vivid sympathy of his race, and he made it easy for Clementina to
stay till she had heard from her friends in America. For himself and for
his wife, he professed that she could not stay too long, and they
proposed that if it would content the signorina still further they would
employ Maddalena as chambermaid till she wished to return to Florence;
she had offered to remain if the signorina stayed.
"Then that is settled," said Clementina with a sigh of relief; and she
thanked the vice-consul for his offer to write to the Milrays for her,
and said that she would rather write herself.
She meant to write as soon as she heard from Mr. Hinkle, which could not
be long now, for then she could be independent of the offers of help
which she dreaded from Miss Milray, even more than from Mrs. Milray; it
would be harder to refuse them; and she entered upon a passage of her
life which a nature less simple would have found much more trying. But
she had the power of taking everything as if it were as much to be
expected as anything else. If nothing at all happened she accepted the
situation with implicit resignation, and with a gayety of heart which
availed her long, and never wholly left her.
While the suspense lasted she could not write home as frankly as before,
and she sent off letters to Middlemount which treated of her delay in
Venice with helpless reticence. They would have set another sort of
household intolerably wondering and suspecting, but she had the comfort
of knowing that her father would probably settle the whole matter by
saying that she would tell what she meant when she got round to it; and
apart from this she had mainly the comfort of the vice-consul's society.
He had little to do besides looking after her, and he employed himself
about this in daily visits which the padrone and his wife regarded as
official, and promoted with a serious respect for the vice-consular
dignity. If the visits ended, as they often did, in a turn on the Grand
Canal, and an ice in the Piazza, they appealed to the imagination of more
sophisticated witnesses, who decided that the young American girl had
inherited the millions of the sick lady, and become the betrothed of the
vice-consul, and that they were thus passing the days of their engagement
in conformity to the American custom, however much at variance with that
of other civilizations.
This view of the affair was known to Maddalena, but not to Clementina,
who in those days went back in many things to the tradition of her life
at Middlemount. The vice-consul was of a tradition almost as simple, and
his longer experience set no very wide interval between them. It quickly
came to his telling her all about his dead wife and his married
daughters, and how, after his home was broken up, he thought he would
travel a little and see what that would do for him. He confessed that it
had not done much; he was always homesick, and he was ready to go as soon
as the President sent out a consul to take his job off his hands. He
said that he had not enjoyed himself so much since he came to Venice as
he was doing now, and that he did not know what he should do if
Clementina first got her call home. He betrayed no curiosity as to the
peculiar circumstances of her stay, but affected to regard it as
something quite normal, and he watched over her in every way with a
fatherly as well as an official vigilance which never degenerated into
the semblance of any other feeling. Clementina rested in his care in
entire security. The world had quite fallen from her, or so much of it
as she had seen at Florence, and in her indifference she lapsed into life
as it was in the time before that with a tender renewal of her allegiance
to it. There was nothing in the conversation of the vice-consul to
distract her from this; and she said and did the things at Venice that
she used to do at Middlemount, as nearly as she could; to make the days
of waiting pass more quickly, she tried to serve herself in ways that
scandalized the proud affection of Maddalena. It was not fit for the
signorina to make her bed or sweep her room; she might sew and knit if
she would; but these other things were for servants like herself. She
continued in the faith of Clementina's gentility, and saw her always as
she had seen her first in the brief hour of her social splendor in
Florence. Clementina tried to make her understand how she lived at
Middlemount, but she only brought before Maddalena the humiliating image
of a contadina, which she rejected not only in Clementina's behalf, but
that of Miss Milray. She told her that she was laughing at her, and she
was fixed in her belief when the girl laughed at that notion. Her
poverty she easily conceived of; plenty of signorine in Italy were poor;
and she protected her in it with the duty she did not divide quite evenly
between her and the padrone.
The date which Clementina had fixed for hearing from Hinkle by cable had
long passed, and the time when she first hoped to hear from him by letter
had come and gone. Her address was with the vice-consul as Mrs. Lander's
had been, and he could not be ignorant of her disappointment when he
brought her letters which she said were from home. On the surface of
things it could only be from home that she wished to hear, but beneath
the surface he read an anxiety which mounted with each gratification of
this wish. He had not seen much of the girl while Hinkle was in Venice;
Mrs. Lander had not begun to make such constant use of him until Hinkle
had gone; Mrs. Milray had told him of Clementina's earlier romance, and
it was to Gregory that the vice-consul related the anxiety which he knew
as little in its nature as in its object.
Clementina never doubted the good faith or constancy of her lover; but
her heart misgave her as to his well-being when it sank at each failure
of the vice-consul to bring her a letter from him. Something must have
happened to him, and it must have been something very serious to keep him
from writing; or there was some mistake of the post-office. The vice-
consul indulged himself in personal inquiries to make sure that the
mistake was not in the Venetian post-office; but he saw that he brought
her greater distress in ascertaining the fact. He got to dreading a look
of resolute cheerfulness that came into her face, when he shook his head
in sign that there were no letters, and he suffered from the covert
eagerness with which she glanced at the superscriptions of those he
brought and failed to find the hoped-for letter among them. Ordeal for
ordeal, he was beginning to regret his trials under Mrs. Lander. In them
he could at least demand Clementina's sympathy, but against herself this
was impossible. Once she noted his mute distress at hers, and broke into
a little laugh that he found very harrowing.
"I guess you hate it almost as much as I do, Mr. Bennam."
"I guess I do. I've half a mind to write the letter you want, myself."
"I've half a mind to let you--or the letter I'd like to write."
It had come to her thinking she would write again to Hinkle; but she
could not bring herself to do it. She often imagined doing it; she had
every word of such a letter in her mind; and she dramatized every fact
concerning it from the time she should put pen to paper, to the time when
she should get back the answer that cleared the mystery of his silence
away. The fond reveries helped her to bear her suspense; they helped to
make the days go by, to ease the doubt with which she lay down at night,
and the heartsick hope with which she rose up in the morning.
One day, at the hour of his wonted visit, she say the vice-consul from
her balcony coming, as it seemed to her, with another figure in his
gondola, and a thousand conjectures whirled through her mind, and then
centred upon one idea. After the first glance she kept her eyes down,
and would not look again while she told herself incessantly that it could
not be, and that she was a fool and a goose and a perfect coot, to think
of such a thing for a single moment. When she allowed herself, or forced
herself, to look a second time; as the boat drew near, she had to cling
to the balcony parapet for support, in her disappointment.
The person whom the vice-consul helped out of the gondola was an elderly
man like himself, and she took a last refuge in the chance that he might
be Hinkle's father, sent to bring her to him because he could not come to
her; or to soften some terrible news to her. Then her fancy fluttered
and fell, and she waited patiently for the fact to reveal itself. There
was something countrified in the figure of the man, and something
clerical in his face, though there was nothing in his uncouth best
clothes that confirmed this impression. In both face and figure there
was a vague resemblance to some one she had seen before, when the vice-
"Miss Claxon, I want to introduce the Rev. Mr. James B. Orson, of
Michigan." Mr. Orson took Clementina's hand into a dry, rough grasp,
while he peered into her face with small, shy eyes. The vice-consul
added with a kind of official formality, "Mr. Orson is the half-nephew of
Mr. Lander," and then Clementina now knew whom it was that he resembled.
"He has come to Venice," continued the vice-consul, "at the request of
Mrs. Lander; and he did not know of her death until I informed him of the
fact. I should have said that Mr. Orson is the son of Mr. Lander's half-
sister. He can tell you the balance himself." The vice-consul
pronounced the concluding word with a certain distaste, and the effect of
gladly retiring into the background.
"Won't you sit down?" said Clementina, and she added with one of the
remnants of her Middlemount breeding, "Won't you let me take your hat?"
Mr. Orson in trying to comply with both her invitations, knocked his well
worn silk hat from the hand that held it, and sent it rolling across the
room, where Clementina pursued it and put it on the table.
"I may as well say at once," he began in a flat irresonant voice, "that I
am the representative of Mrs. Lander's heirs, and that I have a letter
from her enclosing her last will and testament, which I have shown to the
"Vice-consul," the dignitary interrupted with an effect of rejecting any
part in the affair.
"Vice-consul, I should say,--and I wish to lay them both before you, in
"Oh, that is all right," said Clementina sweetly. "I'm glad there is a
will. I was afraid there wasn't any at all. Mr. Bennam and I looked for
it everywhe'e." She smiled upon the Rev. Mr. Orson, who silently handed
her a paper. It was the will which Milray had written for Mrs. Lander,
and which, with whatever crazy motive, she had sent to her husband's
kindred. It provided that each of them should be given five thousand
dollars out of the estate, and that then all should go to Clementina.
It was the will Mrs. Lander told her she had made, but she had never seen
the paper before, and the legal forms hid the meaning from her so that
she was glad to have the vice-consul make it clear. Then she said
tranquilly, "Yes, that is the way I supposed it was."
Mr. Orson by no means shared her calm. He did not lift his voice, but on
the level it had taken it became agitated. "Mrs. Lander gave me the
address of her lawyer in Boston when she sent me the will, and I made a
point of calling on him when I went East, to sail. I don't know why she
wished me to come out to her, but being sick, I presume she naturally
wished to see some of her own family."
He looked at Clementina as if he thought she might dispute this, but she
consented at her sweetest, "Oh, yes, indeed," and he went on:
"I found her affairs in a very different condition from what she seemed
to think. The estate was mostly in securities which had not been
properly looked after, and they had depreciated until they were some of
them not worth the paper they were printed on. The house in Boston is
mortgaged up to its full value, I should say; and I should say that Mrs.
Lander did not know where she stood. She seemed to think that she was a
very rich woman, but she lived high, and her lawyer said he never could
make her understand how the money was going. Mr. Lander seemed to lose
his grip, the year he died, and engaged in some very unfortunate
speculations; I don't know whether he told her. I might enter into
"Oh, that is not necessary," said Clementina, politely, witless of the
disastrous quality of the facts which Mr. Orson was imparting.
"But the sum and substance of it all is that there will not be more than
enough to pay the bequests to her own family, if there is that."
Clementina looked with smiling innocence at the vice-consul.
"That is to say," he explained, "there won't be anything at all for you,
"Well, that's what I always told Mrs. Lander I ratha, when she brought it
up. I told her she ought to give it to his family," said Clementina,
with a satisfaction in the event which the vice-consul seemed unable to
share, for he remained gloomily silent. "There is that last money I drew
on the letter of credit, you can give that to Mr. Orson."
"I have told him about that money," said the vice-consul, dryly. "It
will be handed over to him when the estate is settled, if there isn't
enough to pay the bequests without it."
"And the money which Mrs. Landa gave me before that," she pursued,
eagerly. Mr. Orson had the effect of pricking up his ears, though it was
in fact merely a gleam of light that came into his eyes.
"That's yours," said the vice-consul, sourly, almost savagely. "She
didn't give it to you without she wanted you to have it, and she didn't
expect you to pay her bequests with it. In my opinion," he burst out, in
a wrathful recollection of his own sufferings from Mrs. Lander, "she
didn't give you a millionth part of your due for all the trouble she made
you; and I want Mr. Orson to understand that, right here."
Clementina turned her impartial gaze upon Mr. Orson as if to verify the
impression of this extreme opinion upon him; he looked as if he neither
accepted nor rejected it, and she concluded the sentence which the vice-
consul had interrupted. "Because I ratha not keep it, if there isn't
enough without it."
The vice-consul gave way to violence. "It's none of your business
whether there's enough or not. What you've got to do is to keep what
belongs to you, and I'm going to see that you do. That's what I'm here
for." If this assumption of official authority did not awe Clementina,
at least it put a check upon her headlong self-sacrifice. The vice-
consul strengthened his hold upon her by asking, "What would you do.
I should like to know, if you gave that up?"
"Oh, I should get along," she returned, Light-heartedly, but upon
questioning herself whether she should turn to Miss Milray for help,
or appeal to the vice-consul himself, she was daunted a little, and she
added, "But just as you say, Mr. Bennam."
"I say, keep what fairly belongs to you. It's only two or three hundred
dollars at the outside," he explained to Mr. Orson's hungry eyes; but
perhaps the sum did not affect the country minister's imagination as
trifling; his yearly salary must sometimes have been little more.
The whole interview left the vice-consul out of humor with both parties
to the affair; and as to Clementina, between the ideals of a perfect
little saint, and a perfect little simpleton he remained for the present
unable to class her.
Clementina and the Vice-Consul afterwards agreed that Mrs. Lander must
have sent the will to Mr. Orson in one of those moments of suspicion when
she distrusted everyone about her, or in that trouble concerning her
husband's kindred which had grown upon her more and more, as a means of
assuring them that they were provided for.
"But even then," the vice-consul concluded, "I don't see why she wanted
this man to come out here. The only explanation is that she was a little
off her base towards the last. That's the charitable supposition."
"I don't think she was herself, some of the time," Clementina assented in
acceptance of the kindly construction.
The vice-consul modified his good will toward Mrs. Lander's memory so far
as to say, "Well, if she'd been somebody else most of the time, it would
have been an improvement."
The talk turned upon Mr. Orson, and what he would probably do. The vice-
consul had found him a cheap lodging, at his request, and he seemed to
have settled down at Venice either without the will or without the power
to go home, but the vice-consul did not know where he ate, or what he did
with himself except at the times when he came for letters. Once or twice
when he looked him up he found him writing, and then the minister
explained that he had promised to "correspond" for an organ of his sect
in the Northwest; but he owned that there was no money in it. He was
otherwise reticent and even furtive in his manner. He did not seem to go
much about the city, but kept to his own room; and if he was writing of
Venice it must have been chiefly from his acquaintance with the little
court into which his windows looked. He affected the vice-consul as
forlorn and helpless, and he pitied him and rather liked him as a fellow-
victim of Mrs. Lander.
One morning Mr. Orson came to see Clementina, and after a brief passage
of opinion upon the weather, he fell into an embarrassed silence from
which he pulled himself at last with a visible effort. "I hardly know
how to lay before you what I have to say, Miss Claxon," he began, "and I
must ask you to put the best construction upon it. I have never been
reduced to a similar distress before. You would naturally think that I
would turn to the vice-consul, on such an occasion; but I feel, through
our relation to the--to Mrs. Lander--ah--somewhat more at home with you."
He stopped, as if he wished to be asked his business, and she entreated
him, "Why, what is it, Mr. Osson? Is there something I can do? There
isn't anything I wouldn't!"
A gleam, watery and faint, which still could not be quite winked away,
came into his small eyes. "Why, the fact is, could you--ah--advance me
about five dollars?"
"Why, Mr. Orson!" she began, and he seemed to think she wished to
withdraw her offer of help, for he interposed.
"I will repay it as soon as I get an expected remittance from home.
I came out on the invitation of Mrs. Lander, and as her guest, and I
"Oh, don't say a wo'd!" cried Clementina, but now that he had begun he
was powerless to stop.
"I would not ask, but my landlady has pressed me for her rent--I suppose
she needs it--and I have been reduced to the last copper"--
The girl whose eyes the tears of self pity so rarely visited, broke into
a sob that seemed to surprise her visitor. But she checked herself as
with a quick inspiration: "Have you been to breakfast?"
"Well--ah--not this morning," Mr. Orson admitted, as if to imply that
having breakfasted some other morning might be supposed to serve the
She left him and ran to the door. "Maddalena, Maddalena!" she called;
and Maddalena responded with a frightened voice from the direction of the
She hurried out with the coffee-pot in her hand, as if she had just taken
it up when Clementina called; and she halted for the whispered colloquy
between them which took place before she set it down on the table already
laid for breakfast; then she hurried out of the room again. She came
back with a cantaloupe and grapes, and cold ham, and put them before
Clementina and her guest, who both ignored the hunger with which he swept
everything before him. When his famine had left nothing, he said, in
"That is very good coffee, I should think the genuine berry, though I am
told that they adulterate coffee a great deal in Europe."
"Do they?" asked Clementina. "I didn't know it."
She left him still sitting before the table, and came back with some
bank-notes in her hand. "Are you sure you hadn't betta take moa?" she
"I think that five dollars will be all that I shall require," he
answered, with dignity. "I should be unwilling to accept more. I shall
undoubtedly receive some remittances soon."
"Oh, I know you will," Clementina returned, and she added, "I am waiting
for lettas myself; I don't think any one ought to give up."
The preacher ignored the appeal which was in her tone rather than her
words, and went on to explain at length the circumstances of his having
come to Europe so unprovided against chances. When he wished to excuse
his imprudence, she cried out, "Oh, don't say a wo'd! It's just like my
own fatha," and she told him some things of her home which apparently did
not interest him very much. He had a kind of dull, cold self-absorption
in which he was indeed so little like her father that only her kindness
for the lonely man could have justified her in thinking there was any
She did not see him again for a week, and meantime she did not tell the
vice-consul of what had happened. But an anxiety for the minister began
to mingle with her anxieties for herself; she constantly wondered why she
did not hear from her lover, and she occasionally wondered whether Mr.
Orson were not falling into want again. She had decided to betray his
condition to the vice-consul, when he came, bringing the money she had
lent him. He had received a remittance from an unexpected source; and he
hoped she would excuse his delay in repaying her loan. She wished not to
take the money, at least till he was quite sure he should not want it,
but he insisted.
"I have enough to keep me, now, till I hear from other sources, with the
means for returning home. I see no object in continuing here, under the
In the relief which she felt for him Clementina's heart throbbed with a
pain which was all for herself. Why should she wait any longer either?
For that instant she abandoned the hope which had kept her up so long; a
wave of homesickness overwhelmed her.
"I should like to go back, too," she said. "I don't see why I'm staying."
Mr. Osson, why can't you let me"--she was going to say--"go home with
you? "But she really said what was also in her heart, "Why can't you let
me give you the money to go home? It is all Mrs. Landa's money, anyway."
"There is certainly that view of the matter," he assented with a
promptness that might have suggested a lurking grudge for the vice-
consul's decision that she ought to keep the money Mrs. Lander had given
But Clementina urged unsuspiciously: "Oh, yes, indeed! And I shall feel
better if you take it. I only wish I could go home, too!"
The minister was silent while he was revolving, with whatever scruple or
reluctance, a compromise suitable to the occasion. Then he said, "Why
should we not return together?"
"Would you take me?" she entreated.
"That should be as you wished. I am not much acquainted with the usages
in such matters, but I presume that it would be entirely practicable. We
could ask the vice-consul."
"He must have had considerable experience in cases of the kind. Would
your friends meet you in New York, or"--
"I don't know," said Clementina with a pang for the thought of a meeting
she had sometimes fancied there, when her lover had come out for her, and
her father had been told to come and receive them. "No," she sighed,
"the'e wouldn't be time to let them know. But it wouldn't make any
difference. I could get home from New Yo'k alone," she added,
listlessly. Her spirits had fallen again. She saw that she could not
leave Venice till she had heard in some sort from the letter she had
written. "Perhaps it couldn't be done, after all. But I will see Mr.
Bennam about it, Mr. Osson; and I know he will want you to have that much
of the money. He will be coming he'e, soon."
He rose upon what he must have thought her hint, and said, "I should not
wish to have him swayed against his judgment."
The vice-consul came not long after the minister had left her, and she
began upon what she wished to do for him.
The vice-consul was against it. "I would rather lend him the money out
of my own pocket. How are you going to get along yourself, if you let
him have so much?"
She did not answer at once. Then she said, hopelessly, "I've a great
mind to go home with him. I don't believe there's any use waiting here
any longa." The vice-consul could not say anything to this. She added,
"Yes, I believe I will go home. We we'e talking about it, the other day,
and he is willing to let me go with him."
"I should think he would be," the vice-consul retorted in his indignation
for her. "Did you offer to pay for his passage?"
"Yes," she owned, "I did," and again the vice-consul could say nothing.
"If I went, it wouldn't make any difference whether it took it all or
not. I should have plenty to get home from New York with."
"Well," the vice-consul assented, dryly, "it's for you to say."
"I know you don't want me to do it!"
"Well, I shall miss you," he answered, evasively.
"And I shall miss you, too, Mr. Bennam. Don't you believe it? But if I
don't take this chance to get home, I don't know when I shall eva have
anotha. And there isn't any use waiting--no, there isn't!"
The vice-consul laughed at the sort of imperative despair in her tone.
"How are you going? Which way, I mean."
They counted up Clementina's debts and assets, and they found that if she
took the next steamer from Genoa, which was to sail in four days, she
would have enough to pay her own way and Mr. Orson's to New York, and
still have some thirty dollars over, for her expenses home to
Middlemount. They allowed for a second cabin-passage, which the vice-
consul said was perfectly good on the Genoa steamers. He rather urged
the gentility and comfort of the second cabin-passage, but his reasons in
favor of it were wasted upon Clementina's indifference; she wished to get
home, now, and she did not care how. She asked the vice-consul to see
the minister for her, and if he were ready and willing, to telegraph for
their tickets. He transacted the business so promptly that he was able
to tell her when he came in the evening that everything was in train.
He excused his coming; he said that now she was going so soon, he wanted
to see all he could of her. He offered no excuse when he came the next
morning; but he said he had got a letter for her and thought she might
want to have it at once.
He took it out of his hat and gave it to her. It was addressed in
Hinkle's writing; her answer had come at last; she stood trembling with
it in her hand.
The vice-consul smiled. "Is that the one?"
"Yes," she whispered back.
"All right." He took his hat, and set it on the back of his head before
he left her without other salutation.
Then Clementina opened her letter. It was in a woman's hand, and the
writer made haste to explain at the beginning that she was George W.
Hinkle's sister, and that she was writing for him; for though he was now
out of danger, he was still very weak, and they had all been anxious
about him. A month before, he had been hurt in a railroad collision, and
had come home from the West, where the accident happened, suffering
mainly from shock, as his doctor thought; he had taken to his bed at
once, and had not risen from it since. He had been out of his head a
great part of the time, and had been forbidden everything that could
distress or excite him. His sister said that she was writing for him now
as soon as he had seen Clementina's letter; it had been forwarded from
one address to another, and had at last found him there at his home in
Ohio. He wished to say that he would come out for Clementina as soon as
he was allowed to undertake the journey, and in the meantime she must let
him know constantly where she was. The letter closed with a few words of
love in his own handwriting.
Clementina rose from reading it, and put on her hat in a bewildered
impulse to go to him at once; she knew, in spite of all the cautions and
reserves of the letter that he must still be very sick. When she came
out of her daze she found that she could only go to the vice-consul. She
put the letter in his hands to let it explain itself. "You'll undastand,
now," she said. "What shall I do?"
When he had read it, he smiled and answered, "I guess I understood pretty
well before, though I wasn't posted on names. Well, I suppose you'll
want to layout most of your capital on cables, now?"
"Yes," she laughed, and then she suddenly lamented, "Why didn't they
"Well, I guess he hadn't the head for it," said the vice-consul, "and the
rest wouldn't think of it. They wouldn't, in the country."
Clementina laughed again; in joyous recognition of the fact, "No, my
fatha wouldn't, eitha!"
The vice-consul reached for his hat, and he led the way to Clementina's
gondola at his garden gate, in greater haste than she. At the telegraph
office he framed a dispatch which for expansive fullness and precision
was apparently unexampled in the experience of the clerk who took it and
spelt over its English with them. It asked an answer in the vice-
consul's care, and, "I'll tell you what, Miss Claxon," he said with a
husky weakness in his voice, "I wish you'd let this be my treat."
She understood. "Do you really, Mr. Bennam?"
"I do indeed."
"Well, then, I will," she said, but when he wished to include in his
treat the dispatch she sent home to her father announcing her coming, she
would not let him.
He looked at his watch, as they rowed away. "It's eight o'clock here,
now, and it will reach Ohio about six hours earlier; but you can't expect
an answer tonight, you know."
"No"--She had expected it though, he could see that.
"But whenever it comes, I'll bring it right round to you. Now it's all
going to be straight, don't you be afraid, and you're going home the
quickest way you can get there. I've been looking up the sailings, and
this Genoa boat will get you to New York about as soon as any could from
Liverpool. Besides there's always a chance of missing connections and
losing time between here and England. I should stick to the Genoa boat."
"Oh I shall," said Clementina, far less fidgetted than he. She was, in
fact, resting securely again in the faith which had never really deserted
her, and had only seemed for a little time to waver from her when her
hope went. Now that she had telegraphed, her heart was at peace, and she
even laughed as she answered the anxious vice-consul.
The next morning Clementina watched for the vice-consul from her balcony.
She knew he would not send; she knew he would come; but it, was nearly
noon before she saw him coming. They caught sight of each other almost
at the same moment, and he stood up in his boat, and waved something
white in his hand, which must be a dispatch for her.
It acknowledged her telegram and reported George still improving; his
father would meet her steamer in New York. It was very reassuring, it
was every thing hopeful; but when she had read it she gave it to the
vice-consul for encouragement.
"It's all right, Miss Claxon," he said, stoutly. "Don't you be troubled
about Mr. Hinkle's not coming to meet you himself. He can't keep too
quiet for a while yet."
"Oh, yes," said Clementina, patiently.
"If you really want somebody to worry about, you can help Mr. Orson to
worry about himself!" the vice-consul went on, with the grimness he had
formerly used in speaking of Mrs. Lander. "He's sick, or he thinks he's
going to be. He sent round for me this morning, and I found him in bed.
You may have to go home alone. But I guess he's more scared than hurt."
Her heart sank, and then rose in revolt against the mere idea of delay.
"I wonder if I ought to go and see him," she said.
"Well, it would be a kindness," returned the vice-consul, with a
promptness that unmasked the apprehension he felt for the sick man.
He did not offer to go with her, and she took Maddalena. She found the
minister seated in his chair beside his bed. A three days' beard
heightened the gauntness of his face; he did not move when his padrona
"I am not any better," he answered when she said that she was glad to see
him up. "I am merely resting; the bed is hard. I regret to say," he
added, with a sort of formal impersonality, "that I shall be unable to
accompany you home, Miss Claxon. That is, if you still think of taking
the steamer this week."
Her whole being had set homeward in a tide that already seemed to drift
the vessel from its moorings. "What--what do you mean?" she gasped.
"I didn't know," he returned, "but that in view of the circumstances--all
the circumstances--you might be intending to defer your departure to some
"No, no, no! I must go, now. I couldn't wait a day, an hour, a minute
after the first chance of going. You don't know what you are saying!
He might die if I told him I was not coming; and then what should I do?"
This was what Clementina said to herself; but what she said to Mr. Orson,
with an inspiration from her terror at his suggestion was, "Don't you
think a little chicken broth would do you good, Mr. Osson? I don't
believe but what it would."
A wistful gleam came into the preacher's eyes. "It might," he admitted,
and then she knew what must be his malady. She sent Maddalena to a
trattoria for the soup, and she did not leave him, even after she had
seen its effect upon him. It was not hard to persuade him that he had
better come home with her; and she had him there, tucked away with his
few poor belongings, in the most comfortable room the padrone could
imagine, when the vice-consul came in the evening.
"He says he thinks he can go, now," she ended, when she had told the
vice-consul. "And I know he can. It wasn't anything but poor living."
"It looks more like no living," said the vice-consul. "Why didn't the
old fool let some one know that he was short of money? "He went on with
a partial transfer of his contempt of the preacher to her, "I suppose if
he'd been sick instead of hungry, you'd have waited over till the next
steamer for him."
She cast down her eyes. "I don't know what you'll think of me. I should
have been sorry for him, and I should have wanted to stay." She lifted
her eyes and looked the vice-consul defiantly in the face. "But he
hadn't the fust claim on me, and I should have gone--I couldn't, have
helped it!--I should have gone, if he had been dying!"
"Well, you've got more horse-sense," said the vice-consul, "than any ten
men I ever saw," and he testified his admiration of her by putting his
arms round her, where she stood before him, and kissing her. "Don't you
mind," he explained. "If my youngest girl had lived, she would have been
about your age."
"Oh, it's all right, Mr. Bennam," said Clementina.
When the time came for them to leave Venice, Mr. Orson was even eager to
go. The vice-consul would have gone with them in contempt of the
official responsibilities which he felt to be such a thankless burden,
but there was really no need of his going, and he and Clementina treated
the question with the matter-of-fact impartiality which they liked in
each other. He saw her off at the station where Maddalena had come to
take the train for Florence in token of her devotion to the signorina,
whom she would not outstay in Venice. She wept long and loud upon
Clementina's neck, so that even Clementina was once moved to put her
handkerchief to her tearless eyes.
At the last moment she had a question which she referred to the vice
consul. "Should you tell him?" she asked.
"Tell who what?" he retorted.
"Mr. Osson-that I wouldn't have stayed for him."
"Do you think it would make you feel any better?" asked the consul, upon
"I believe he ought to know."
"Well, then, I guess I should do it."
The time did not come for her confession till they had nearly reached the
end of their voyage. It followed upon something like a confession from
the minister himself, which he made the day he struggled on deck with her
help, after spending a week in his berth.
"Here is something," he said, "which appears to be for you, Miss Claxon.
I found it among some letters for Mrs. Lander which Mr. Bennam gave me
after my arrival, and I only observed the address in looking over the
papers in my valise this morning." He handed her a telegram. "I trust
that it is nothing requiring immediate attention."
Clementina read it at a glance. "No," she answered, and for a while she
could not say anything more; it was a cable message which Hinkle's sister
must have sent her after writing. No evil had come of its failure to
reach her, and she recalled without bitterness the suffering which would
have been spared her if she had got it before. It was when she thought
of the suffering of her lover from the silence which must have made him
doubt her, that she could not speak. As soon as she governed herself
against her first resentment she said, with a little sigh, "It is all
right, now, Mr. Osson," and her stress upon the word seemed to trouble
him with no misgiving. "Besides, if you're to blame for not noticing, so
is Mr. Bennam, and I don't want to blame any one." She hesitated a
moment before she added: "I have got to tell you something, now, because
I think you ought to know it. I am going home to be married, Mr. Osson,
and this message is from the gentleman I am going to be married to.
He has been very sick, and I don't know yet as he'll be able to meet me
in New Yo'k; but his fatha will."
Mr. Orson showed no interest in these facts beyond a silent attention to
her words, which might have passed for an open indifference. At his time
of life all such questions, which are of permanent importance to women,
affect men hardly more than the angels who neither marry nor are given in
marriage. Besides, as a minister he must have had a surfeit of all
possible qualities in the love affairs of people intending matrimony.
As a casuist he was more reasonably concerned in the next fact which
Clementina laid before him.
"And the otha day, there in Venice when you we'e sick, and you seemed to
think that I might put off stahting home till the next steamer, I don't
know but I let you believe I would."
"I supposed that the delay of a week or two could make no material
difference to you."
"But now you see that it would. And I feel as if I ought to tell you--
I spoke to Mr. Bennam about it, and he didn't tell me not to--that I
shouldn't have staid, no not for anything in the wo'ld. I had to do what
I did at the time, but eva since it has seemed as if I had deceived you,
and I don't want to have it seem so any longer. It isn't because I don't
hate to tell you; I do; but I guess if it was to happen over again I
couldn't feel any different. Do you want I should tell the deck-stewahd
to bring you some beef-tea?"
"I think I could relish a small portion," said Mr. Orson, cautiously, and
he said nothing more.
Clementina left him with her nerves in a flutter, and she did not come
back to him until she decided that it was time to help him down to his
cabin. He suffered her to do this in silence, but at the door he cleared
his throat and began:
"I have reflected upon what you told me, and I have tried to regard the
case from all points. I believe that I have done so, without personal
feeling, and I think it my duty to say, fully and freely, that I believe
you would have done perfectly right not to remain."
"Yes," said Clementina, "I thought you would think so."
They parted emotionlessly to all outward effect, and when they met again
it was without a sign of having passed through a crisis of sentiment.
Neither referred to the matter again, but from that time the minister
treated Clementina with a deference not without some shadows of
tenderness such as her helplessness in Venice had apparently never
inspired. She had cast out of her mind all lingering hardness toward him
in telling him the hard truth, and she met his faint relentings with a
grateful gladness which showed itself in her constant care of him.
This helped her a little to forget the strain of the anxiety that
increased upon her as the time shortened between the last news of her
lover and the next; and there was perhaps no more exaggeration in the
import than in the terms of the formal acknowledgment which Mr. Orson
made her as their steamer sighted Fire Island Light, and they both knew
that their voyage had ended: "I may not be able to say to you in the
hurry of our arrival in New York that I am obliged to you for a good many
little attentions, which I should be pleased to reciprocate if
opportunity offered. I do not think I am going too far in saying that
they are such as a daughter might offer a parent."
"Oh, don't speak of it, Mr. Osson!" she protested. "I haven't done
anything that any one wouldn't have done."
"I presume," said the minister, thoughtfully, as if retiring from an
extreme position, "that they are such as others similarly circumstanced,
might have done, but it will always be a source of satisfaction for you
to reflect that you have not neglected them."
In the crowd which thronged the steamer's dock at Hoboken, Clementina
strained her eyes to make out some one who looked enough like her lover
to be his father, and she began to be afraid that they might miss each
other when she failed. She walked slowly down the gangway, with the
people that thronged it, glad to be hidden by them from her failure, but
at the last step she was caught aside by a small blackeyed, black-haired
woman, who called out "Isn't this Miss Claxon? I'm Georrge's sisterr.
Oh, you'rre just like what he said! I knew it! I knew it!" and then
hugged her and kissed her, and passed her to the little lean dark old man
next her. "This is fatherr. I knew you couldn't tell us, because I take
afterr him, and Georrge is exactly like motherr."
George's father took her hand timidly, but found courage to say to his
daughter, "Hadn't you betterr let her own fatherr have a chance at herr?"
and amidst a tempest of apologies and self blame from the sister, Claxon
showed himself over the shoulders of the little man.
"Why, there wa'n't no hurry, as long as she's he'a," he said, in prompt
enjoyment of the joke, and he and Clementina sparely kissed each other.
"Why, fatha!" she said. "I didn't expect you to come to New Yo'k to meet
"Well, I didn't ha'dly expect it myself; but I'd neva been to Yo'k, and I
thought I might as well come. Things ah' ratha slack at home, just now,
She did not heed his explanation. "We'e you sca'ed when you got my
"No, we kind of expected you'd come any time, the way you wrote afta Mrs.
Landa died. We thought something must be up."
"Yes," she said, absently. Then, "Whe'e's motha?" she asked.
"Well, I guess she thought she couldn't get round to it, exactly," said
the father. "She's all right. Needn't ask you!"
"No, I'm fust-rate," Clementina returned, with a silent joy in her
father's face and voice. She went back in it to the girl of a year ago,
and the world which had come between them since their parting rolled away
as if it had never been there.
Neither of them said anything about that. She named over her brothers
and sisters, and he answered, "Yes, yes," in assurance of their well-
being, and then he explained, as if that were the only point of real
interest, "I see your folks waitin' he'e fo' somebody, and I thought I'd
see if it wa'n't the same one, and we kind of struck up an acquaintance
on your account befo'e you got he'e, Clem."
"Your folks!" she silently repeated to herself. "Yes, they ah' mine!"
and she stood trying to realize the strange fact, while George's sister
poured out a voluminous comment upon Claxon's spare statement, and
George's father admired her volubility with the shut smile of toothless
age. She spoke with the burr which the Scotch-Irish settlers have
imparted to the whole middle West, but it was music to Clementina, who
heard now and then a tone of her lover in his sister's voice. In the
midst of it all she caught sight of a mute unfriended figure just without
their circle, his traveling shawl hanging loose upon his shoulders, and
the valise which had formed his sole baggage in the voyage to and from
Europe pulling his long hand out of his coat sleeve.
"Oh, yes," she said, "here is Mr. Osson that came ova with me, fatha;
he's a relation of Mr. Landa's," and she presented him to them all.
He shifted his valise to the left hand, and shook hands with each,
asking, "What name?" and then fell motionless again.
"Well," said her father, "I guess this is the end of this paht of the
ceremony, and I'm goin' to see your baggage through the custom-house,
Clementina; I've read about it, and I want to know how it's done. I want
to see what you ah' tryin' to smuggle in."
"I guess you won't find much," she said. "But you'll want the keys,
won't you?" She called to him, as he was stalking away.
"Well, I guess that would be a good idea. Want to help, Miss Hinkle?"
"I guess we might as well all help," said Clementina, and Mr. Orson
included himself in the invitation. He seemed unable to separate himself
from them, though the passage of Clementina's baggage through the
customs, and its delivery to an expressman for the hotel where the
Hinkles said they were staying might well have severed the last tie
"Ah' you going straight home, Mr. Osson?" she asked, to rescue him from
the forgetfulness into which they were all letting him fall.
"I think I will remain over a day," he answered. "I may go on to Boston
before starting West."
"Well, that's right," said Clementina's father with the wish to approve
everything native to him, and an instinctive sense of Clementina's wish
to befriend the minister. "Betta come to oua hotel. We're all goin' to
the same one."
"I presume it is a good one?" Mr. Orson assented.
"Well," said Claxon, "you must make Miss Hinkle, he'a, stand it if it
ain't. She's got me to go to it."
Mr. Orson apparently could not enter into the joke; but he accompanied
the party, which again began to forget him, across the ferry and up the
elevated road to the street car that formed the last stage of their
progress to the hotel. At this point George's sister fell silent, and
Clementina's father burst out, "Look he'a! I guess we betty not keep
this up any Tonga; I don't believe much in surprises, and I guess she
betta know it now!"
He looked at George's sister as if for authority to speak further, and
Clementina looked at her, too, while George's father nervously moistened
his smiling lips with the tip of his tongue, and let his twinkling eyes
rest upon Clementina's face.
"Is he at the hotel?" she asked.
"Yes," said his sister, monosyllabic for once.
"I knew it," said Clementina, and she was only half aware of the fullness
with which his sister now explained how he wanted to come so much that
the doctor thought he had better, but that they had made him promise he
would not try to meet her at the steamer, lest it should be too great a
trial of his strength.
"Yes," Clementina assented, when the story came to an end and was
beginning over again.
She had an inexplicable moment when she stood before her lover in the
room where they left her to meet him alone. She faltered and he waited
constrained by her constraint.
"Is it all a mistake, Clementina?" he asked, with a piteous smile.
"Am I so much changed?"
"No; you are looking better than I expected."
"And you are not sorry-for anything?"
"No, I am--Perhaps I have thought of you too much! It seems so
"I understand," he answered. "We have been like spirits to each other,
and now we find that we are alive and on the earth like other people; and
we are not used to it."
"It must be something like that."
"But if it's something else--if you have the least regret,--if you would
rather "--He stopped, and they remained looking at each other a moment.
Then she turned her head, and glanced out of the window, as if something
there had caught her sight.
"It's a very pleasant view, isn't it?" she said; and she lifted her hands
to her head, and took off her hat, with an effect of having got home
after absence, to stay.
It was possibly through some sense finer than any cognition that
Clementina felt in meeting her lover that she had taken up a new burden
rather than laid down an old one. Afterwards, when they once recurred to
that meeting, and she tried to explain for him the hesitation which she
had not been able to hide, she could only say, "I presume I didn't want
to begin unless I was sure I could carry out. It would have been silly."
Her confession, if it was a confession, was made when one of his returns
to health, or rather one of the arrests of his unhealth, flushed them
with hope and courage; but before that first meeting was ended she knew
that he had overtasked his strength, in coming to New York, and he must
not try it further. "Fatha," she said to Claxon, with the authority of a
woman doing her duty, "I'm not going to let Geo'ge go up to Middlemount,
with all the excitement. It will be as much as he can do to get home.
You can tell mother about it; and the rest. I did suppose it would be
Mr. Richling that would marry us, and I always wanted him to, but I guess
somebody else can do it as well."
"Just as you say, Clem," her father assented. "Why not Brother Osson,
he'a?" he suggested with a pleasure in the joke, whatever it was, that
the minister's relation to Clementina involved. "I guess he can put off
his visit to Boston long enough."
"Well, I was thinking of him," said Clementina. "Will you ask him?"
"Yes. I'll get round to it, in the mohning."
"No-now; right away. I've been talking with Geo'ge about it; and the'e's
no sense in putting it off. I ought to begin taking care of him at
"Well, I guess when I tell your motha how you're layin' hold, she won't
think it's the same pusson," said her father, proudly.
"But it is; I haven't changed a bit."
"You ha'n't changed for the wohse, anyway."
"Didn't I always try to do what I had to?"
"I guess you did, Clem."
Mr. Orson, after a decent hesitation, consented to perform the ceremony.
It took place in a parlor of the hotel, according to the law of New York,
which facilitates marriage so greatly in all respects that it is strange
any one in the State should remain single. He had then a luxury of
choice between attaching himself to the bridal couple as far as Ohio on
his journey home to Michigan, or to Claxon who was going to take the boat
for Boston the next day on his way to Middlemount. He decided for
Claxon, since he could then see Mrs. Lander's lawyer at once, and arrange
with him for getting out of the vice-consul's hands the money which he
was holding for an authoritative demand. He accepted without open
reproach the handsome fee which the elder Hinkle gave him for his
services, and even went so far as to say, "If your son should ever be
blest with a return to health, he has got a helpmeet such as there are
very few of." He then admonished the young couple, in whatever trials
life should have in store for them, to be resigned, and always to be
prepared for the worst. When he came later to take leave of them, he was
apparently not equal to the task of fitly acknowledging the return which
Hinkle made him of all the money remaining to Clementina out of the sum
last given her by Mrs. Lander, but he hid any disappointment he might
have suffered, and with a brief, "Thank you," put it in his pocket.
Hinkle told Clementina of the apathetic behavior of Mr. Orson; he added
with a laugh like his old self, "It's the best that he doesn't seem
"Yes," she assented. "He wasn't very chee'ful. But I presume that he
meant well. It must be a trial for him to find out that Mrs. Landa
wasn't rich, after all."
It was apparently never a trial to her. She went to Ohio with her
husband and took up her life on the farm, where it was wisely judged that
he had the best chance of working out of the wreck of his health and
strength. There was often the promise and always the hope of this, and
their love knew no doubt of the future. Her sisters-in-law delighted in
all her strangeness and difference, while they petted her as something
not to be separated from him in their petting of their brother; to his
mother she was the darling which her youngest had never ceased to be;
Clementina once went so far as to say to him that if she was ever
anything she would like to be a Moravian.
The question of religion was always related in their minds to the
question of Gregory, to whom they did justice in their trust of each
other. It was Hinkle himself who reasoned out that if Gregory was
narrow, his narrowness was of his conscience and not of his heart or his
mind. She respected the memory of her first lover; but it was as if he
were dead, now, as well as her young dream of him, and she read with a
curious sense of remoteness, a paragraph which her husband found in the
religious intelligence of his Sunday paper, announcing the marriage of
the Rev. Frank Gregory to a lady described as having been a frequent and
bountiful contributor to the foreign missions. She was apparently a
widow, and they conjectured that she was older than he. His departure
for his chosen field of missionary labor in China formed part of the news
communicated by the rather exulting paragraph.
"Well, that is all right," said Clementina's husband. "He is a good man,
and he is where he can do nothing but good. I am glad I needn't feel
sorry for him, any more."
Clementina's father must have given such a report of Hinkle and his
family, that they felt easy at home in leaving her to the lot she had
chosen. When Claxon parted from her, he talked of coming out with her
mother to see her that fall; but it was more than a year before they got
round to it. They did not come till after the birth of her little girl,
and her father then humorously allowed that perhaps they would not have
got round to it at all if something of the kind had not happened. The
Hinkles and her father and mother liked one another, so much that in the
first glow of his enthusiasm Claxon talked of settling down in Ohio, and
the older Hinkle drove him about to look at some places that were for
sale. But it ended in his saying one day that he missed the hills, and
he did not believe that he would know enough to come in when it rained if
he did not see old Middlemount with his nightcap on first. His wife and
he started home with the impatience of their years, rather earlier than
they had meant to go, and they were silent for a little while after they
left the flag-station where Hinkle and Clementina had put them aboard
"Well?" said Claxon, at last.
"Well?" echoed his wife, and then she did not speak for a little while
longer. At last she asked,
"D'he look that way when you fust see him in New Yo'k?"
Claxon gave his honesty time to get the better of his optimism. Even
then he answered evasively, "He doos look pootty slim."
"The way I cypher it out," said his wife, "he no business to let her
marry him, if he wa'n't goin' to get well. It was throwin' of herself
away, as you may say."
"I don't know about that," said Claxon, as if the point had occurred to
him, too, and had been already argued in his mind. "I guess they must
'a' had it out, there in New York before they got married--or she had.
I don't believe but what he expected to get well, right away. It's the
kind of a thing that lingas along, and lingas along. As fah fo'th as
Clem went, I guess there wa'n't any let about it. I guess she'd made up
her mind from the staht, and she was goin' to have him if she had to hold
him on his feet to do it. Look he'a! W hat would you done?"
"Oh, I presume we're all fools!" said Mrs. Claxon, impatient of a sex not
always so frank with itself. "But that don't excuse him."
"I don't say it doos," her husband admitted. "But I presume he was
expectin' to get well right away, then. And I don't believe," he added,
energetically, "but what he will, yet. As I undastand, there ain't
anything ogganic about him. It's just this he'e nuvvous prostration,
resultin' from shock, his docta tells me; and he'll wo'k out of that all
They said no more, and Mrs. Claxon did not recur to any phase of the
situation till she undid the lunch which the Hinkles had put up for them,
and laid out on the napkin in her lap the portions of cold ham and cold
chicken, the buttered biscuit, and the little pot of apple-butter, with
the large bottle of cold coffee. Then she sighed, "They live well."
"Yes," said her husband, glad of any concession, "and they ah' good
folks. And Clem's as happy as a bud with 'em, you can see that."
"Oh, she was always happy enough, if that's all you want. I presume she
was happy with that hectorin' old thing that fooled her out of her
"I ha'n't ever regretted that money, Rebecca," said Claxon, stiffly,
almost sternly, "and I guess you a'n't, eitha."
"I don't say I have," retorted Mrs. Claxon. "But I don't like to be made
a fool of. I presume," she added, remotely, but not so irrelevantly,
"Clem could ha' got 'most anybody, ova the'a."
"Well," said Claxon, taking refuge in the joke, "I shouldn't want her to
marry a crowned head, myself."
It was Clementina who drove the clay-bank colt away from the station
after the train had passed out of sight. Her husband sat beside her, and
let her take the reins from his nerveless grasp; and when they got into
the shelter of the piece of woods that the road passed through he put up
his hands to his face, and broke into sobs. She allowed him to weep on,
though she kept saying, "Geo'ge, Geo'ge," softly, and stroking his knee
with the hand next him. When his sobbing stopped, she said, "I guess
they've had a pleasant visit; but I'm glad we'a together again." He took
up her hand and kissed the back of it, and then clutched it hard, but did
not speak. "It's strange," she went on, "how I used to be home-sick for
father and motha"--she had sometimes lost her Yankee accent in her
association with his people, and spoke with their Western burr, but she
found it in moments of deeper feeling--" when I was there in Europe, and
now I'm glad to have them go. I don't want anybody to be between us; and
I want to go back to just the way we we'e befo'e they came. It's been a
strain on you, and now you must throw it all off and rest, and get up
your strength. One thing, I could see that fatha noticed the gain you
had made since he saw you in New Yo'k. He spoke about it to me the fust
thing, and he feels just the way I do about it. He don't want you to
hurry and get well, but take it slowly, and not excite yourself. He
believes in your gleaner, and he knows all about machinery. He says the
patent makes it puffectly safe, and you can take your own time about
pushing it; it's su'a to go. And motha liked you. She's not one to talk
a great deal--she always leaves that to father and me--but she's got deep
feelings, and she just worshipped the baby! I neva saw her take a child
in her ahms before; but she seemed to want to hold the baby all the
time." She stopped, and then added, tenderly, "Now, I know what you ah'
thinking about, Geo'ge, and I don't want you to think about it any more.
If you do, I shall give up."
They had come to a bad piece of road where a Slough of thick mud forced
the wagon-way over the stumps of a turnout in the woods. "You had better
let me have the reins, Clementina," he said. He drove home over the
yellow leaves of the hickories and the crimson leaves of the maples, that
heavy with the morning dew, fell slanting through the still air; and on
the way he began to sing; his singing made her heart ache. His father
came out to put up the colt for him; and Hinkle would not have his help.
He unhitched the colt himself, while his father trembled by with bent
knees; he clapped the colt on the haunch and started him through the
pasture-bars with a gay shout, and then put his arm round Clementina's
waist, and walked her into the kitchen amidst the grins of his mother and
sisters, who said he ought to be ashamed.
The winter passed, and in the spring he was not so well as he had been in
the fall. It was the out-door life which was best for him, and he picked
up again in the summer. When another autumn came, it was thought best
for him not to risk the confinement of another winter in the North. The
prolongation of the summer in the South would complete his cure, and
Clementina took her baby and went with him to Florida. He was very well,
there, and courageous letters came to Middlemount and Ohio, boasting of
the gains he had made. One day toward spring he came in languid from the
damp, unnatural heat, and the next day he had a fever, which the doctor
would not, in a resort absolutely free from malaria, pronounce malarial.
After it had once declared itself, in compliance with this reluctance, a
simple fever, Hinkle was delirious, and he never knew Clementina again
for the mother of his child. They were once more at Venice in his
ravings, and he was reasoning with her that Belsky was not drowned.
The mystery of his malady deepened into the mystery of his death. With
that his look of health and youth came back, and as she gazed upon his
gentle face, it wore to her the smile of quaint sweetness that she had
seen it wear the first night it won her fancy at Miss Milray's horse in
Six years after Miss Milray parted with Clementina in Venice she found
herself, towards the close of the summer, at Middlemount. She had
definitely ceased to live in Florence, where she had meant to die, and
had come home to close her eyes. She was in no haste to do this, and in
the meantime she was now at Middlemount with her brother, who had
expressed a wish to revisit the place in memory of Mrs. Milray. It was
the second anniversary of her divorce, which had remained, after a
married life of many vicissitudes, almost the only experience untried in
that relation, and which had been happily accomplished in the courts of
Dacotah, upon grounds that satisfied the facile justice of that State.
Milray had dealt handsomely with his widow, as he unresentfully called
her, and the money he assigned her was of a destiny perhaps as honored as
its origin. She employed it in the negotiation of a second marriage, in
which she redressed the balance of her first by taking a husband somewhat
younger than herself.
Both Milray and his sister had a wish which was much more than a
curiosity to know what had become of Clementina; they had heard that her
husband was dead, and that she had come back to Middlemount; and Miss
Milray was going to the office, the afternoon following their arrival, to
ask the landlord about her, when she was arrested at the door of the
ball-room by a sight that she thought very pretty. At the bottom of the
room, clearly defined against the long windows behind her, stood the
figure of a lady in the middle of the floor. In rows on either side sat
little girls and little boys who left their places one after another, and
turned at the door to make their manners to her. In response to each
obeisance the lady dropped a curtsey, now to this side, now to that,
taking her skirt between her finger tips on either hand and spreading it
delicately, with a certain elegance of movement, and a grace that was
full of poetry, and to Miss Milray, somehow, full of pathos. There
remained to the end a small mite of a girl, who was the last to leave her
place and bow to the lady. She did not quit the room then, like the
others, but advanced toward the lady who came to meet her, and lifted her
and clasped her to her breast with a kind of passion. She walked down
toward the door where Miss Milray stood, gently drifting over the
polished floor, as if still moved by the music that had ceased, and as
she drew near, Miss Milray gave a cry of joy, and ran upon her. "Why,
Clementina!" she screamed, and caught her and the child both in her arms.
She began to weep, but Clementina smiled instead of weeping, as she
always used to do. She returned Miss Milray's affectionate greeting with
a tenderness as great as her own, but with a sort of authority, such as
sometimes comes to those who have suffered. She quieted the older woman
with her own serenity, and met the torrent of her questions with as many
answers as their rush permitted, when they were both presently in Miss
Milray's room talking in their old way. From time to time Miss Milray
broke from the talk to kiss the little girl, whom she declared to be
Clementina all over again, and then returned to her better behavior with
an effect of shame for her want of self-control, as if Clementina's mood
had abashed her. Sometimes this was almost severe in its quiet; that was
her mother coming to her share in her; but again she was like her father,
full of the sunny gayety of self-forgetfulness, and then Miss Milray
said, "Now you are the old Clementina!"
Upon the whole she listened with few interruptions to the story which she
exacted. It was mainly what we know. After her husband's death
Clementina had gone back to his family for a time, and each year since
she had spent part of the winter with them; but it was very lonesome for
her, and she began to be home-sick for Middlemount. They saw it and
considered it. "They ah' the best people, Miss Milray!" she said, and
her voice, which was firm when she spoke of her husband, broke in the
words of minor feeling. Besides being a little homesick, she ended, she
was not willing to live on there, doing nothing for herself, and so she
had come back.
"And you are here, doing just what you planned when you talked your life
over with me in Venice!"
"Yes, but life isn't eva just what we plan it to be, Miss Milray."
"Ah, don't I know it!"
Clementina surprised Miss Milray by adding, "In a great many things--
I don't know but in most--it's better. I don't complain of mine"--
"You poor child! You never complained of anything--not even of Mrs.
"But it's different from what I expected; and it's--strange."
"Yes; life is very strange."
"I don't mean-losing him. That had to be. I can see, now, that it had
to be almost from the beginning. It seems to me that I knew it had to be
from the fust minute I saw him in New Yo'k; but he didn't, and I am glad
of that. Except when he was getting wohse, he always believed he should
get well; and he was getting well, when he"--
Miss Milray did not violate the pause she made with any question, though
it was apparent that Clementina had something on her mind that she wished
to say, and could hardly say of herself.
She began again, "I was glad through everything that I could live with
him so long. If there is nothing moa, here or anywhe'a, that was
something. But it is strange. Sometimes it doesn't seem as if it had
"I think I can understand, Clementina."
"I feel sometimes as if I hadn't happened myself." She stopped, with a
patient little sigh, and passed her hand across the child's forehead,
in a mother's fashion, and smoothed her hair from it, bending over to
look down into her face. "We think she has her fatha's eyes," she said.
"Yes, she has," Miss Milray assented, noting the upward slant of the
child's eyes, which gave his quaintness to her beauty. "He had
After a moment Clementina asked, "Do you believe that the looks are all
that ah' left?"
Miss Milray reflected. "I know what you mean. I should say character
was left, and personality--somewhere."
"I used to feel as if it we'e left here, at fust--as if he must come
back. But that had to go."
"Everything seems to go. After a while even the loss of him seemed to
"Yes, losses go with the rest."
"That's what I mean by its seeming as if it never any of it happened.
Some things before it are a great deal more real."
"Not exactly. But things when I was very young." Miss Milray did not
know quite what she intended, but she knew that Clementina was feeling
her way to something she wanted to say, and she let her alone. "When it
was all over, and I knew that as long as I lived he would be somewhere
else, I tried to be paht of the wo'ld I was left in. Do you think that
"It was wise; and, yes, it was best," said Miss Milray, and for relief
from the tension which was beginning to tell upon her own nerves, she
asked, "I suppose you know about my poor brother? I'd better tell you to
keep you from asking for Mrs. Milray, though I don't know that it's so
very painful with him. There isn't any Mrs. Milray now," she added, and
she explained why.
Neither of them cared for Mrs. Milray, and they did not pretend to be
concerned about her, but Clementina said, vaguely, as if in recognition
of Mrs. Milray's latest experiment, "Do you believe in second marriages?"
Miss Milray laughed, "Well, not that kind exactly."
"No," Clementina assented, and she colored a little.
Miss Milray was moved to add, "But if you mean another kind, I don't see
why not. My own mother was married twice."
"Was she?" Clementina looked relieved and encouraged, but she did not say
any more at once. Then she asked, "Do you know what ever became of Mr.
"Yes. He's taken his title again, and gone back to live in Russia; he's
made peace with the Czar; I believe."
"That's nice," said Clementina; and Miss Milray made bold to ask:
"And what has become of Mr. Gregory?"
Clementina answered, as Miss Milray thought, tentatively and obliquely:
"You know his wife died."
"No, I never knew that she lived."
"Yes. They went out to China, and she died the'a."
"And is he there yet? But of course! He could never have given up being
"Well," said Clementina, "he isn't in China. His health gave out, and
he had to come home. He's in Middlemount Centa."
Miss Milray suppressed the "Oh!" that all but broke from her lips.
"Preaching to the heathen, there?" she temporized.
"To the summa folks," Clementina explained, innocent of satire. "They
have got a Union Chapel the'a, now, and Mr. Gregory has been preaching
all summa." There seemed nothing more that Miss Milray could prompt her
to say, but it was not quite with surprise that she heard Clementina
continue, as if it were part of the explanation, and followed from the
fact she had stated, "He wants me to marry him."
Miss Milray tried to emulate her calm in asking, "And shall you?"
"I don't know. I told him I would see; he only asked me last night. It
would be kind of natural. He was the fust. You may think it is
Miss Milray, in the superstition of her old-maidenhood concerning love,
really thought it cold-blooded and shocking; but she said, "Oh, no."
Clementina resumed: "And he says that if it was right for me to stop
caring for him when I did, it is right now for me to ca'e for him again,
where the'e's no one to be hu't by it. Do you think it is?"
"Yes; why not?" Miss Milray was forced to the admission against what she
believed the finer feelings 'of her nature.
Clementina sighed, "I suppose he's right. I always thought he was good.
Women don't seem to belong very much to themselves in this wo'ld, do
"No, they seem to belong to the men, either because they want the men, or
the men want them; it comes to the same thing. I suppose you don't wish
me to advise you, my dear?"
"No. I presume it's something I've got to think out for myself."
"But I think he's good, too. I ought to say that much, for I didn't
always stand his friend with you. If Mr. Gregory has any fault it's
being too scrupulous."
"You mean, about that old trouble--our not believing just the same?"
Miss Milray meant something much more temperamental than that, but she
allowed Clementina to limit her meaning, and Clementina went on.
"He's changed all round now. He thinks it's all in the life. He says
that in China they couldn't understand what he believed, but they could
what he lived. And he knows I neva could be very religious."
It was in Miss Milray's heart to protest, "Clementina, I think you are
one of the most religious persons I ever knew," but she forebore, because
the praise seemed to her an invasion of Clementina's dignity. She merely
said, "Well, I am glad he is one of those who grow more liberal as they
grow older. That is a good sign for your happiness. But I dare say it's
more of his happiness you think."
"Oh, I should like to be happy, too. There would be no sense in it if I
"No, certainly not."
"Miss Milray," said Clementina, with a kind of abruptness, "do you eva
hear anything from Dr. Welwright?"
"No! Why?" Miss Milray fastened her gaze vividly upon her.
"Oh, nothing. He wanted me to promise him, there in Venice, too."
"I didn't know it."
"Yes. But--I couldn't, then. And now--he's written to me. He wants me
to let him come ova, and see me."
"And--and will you?" asked Miss Milray, rather breathlessly.
"I don't know. I don't know as I'd ought. I should like to see him, so
as to be puffectly su'a. But if I let him come, and then didn't--It
wouldn't be right! I always felt as if I'd ought to have seen then that
he ca'ed for me, and stopped him; but I didn't. No, I didn't," she
repeated, nervously. "I respected him, and I liked him; but I neva"--
She stopped, and then she asked, "What do you think I'd ought to do, Miss
Miss Milray hesitated. She was thinking superficially that she had never
heard Clementina say had ought, so much, if ever before. Interiorly she
was recurring to a sense of something like all this before, and to the
feeling which she had then that Clementina was really cold-blooded and
self-seeking. But she remembered that in her former decision, Clementina
had finally acted from her heart and her conscience, and she rose from
her suspicion with a rebound. She dismissed as unworthy of Clementina
any theory which did not account for an ideal of scrupulous and unselfish
justice in her.
"That is something that nobody can say but yourself, Clementina," she
"Yes," sighed Clementina, "I presume that is so."
She rose, and took her little girl from Miss Milray's knee. "Say good-
bye," she bade, looking tenderly down at her.
Miss Milray expected the child to put up her lips to be kissed. But she
let go her mother's hand, took her tiny skirts between her finger-tips,
and dropped a curtsey.
"You little witch!" cried Miss Milray. "I want a hug," and she crushed
her to her breast, while the child twisted her face round and anxiously
questioned her mother's for her approval. "Tell her it's all right,
Clementina!" cried Miss Milray. "When she's as old as you were in
Florence, I'm going to make you give her to me."
"Ah' you going back to Florence?" asked Clementina, provisionally.
"Oh, no! You can't go back to anything. That's what makes New York so
impossible. I think we shall go to Los Angeles."
On her way home Clementina met a man walking swiftly forward. A sort of
impassioned abstraction expressed itself in his gait and bearing. They
had both entered the shadow of the deep pine woods that flanked the way
on either side, and the fallen needles helped with the velvety summer
dust of the roadway to hush their steps from each other. She saw him far
off, but he was not aware of her till she was quite near him.
"Oh!" he said, with a start. "You filled my mind so full that I couldn't
have believed you were anywhere outside of it. I was coming to get you--
I was coming to get my answer."
Gregory had grown distinctly older. Sickness and hardship had left
traces in his wasted face, but the full beard he wore helped to give him
an undue look of age.
"I don't know," said Clementina, slowly, "as I've got an answa fo' you,
"No answer is better that the one I am afraid of!"
"Oh, I'm not so sure of that," she said, with gentle perplexity, as she
stood, holding the hand of her little girl, who stared shyly at the
intense face of the man before her.
"I am," he retorted. "I have been thinking it all ever, Clementina.
I've tried not to think selfishly about it, but I can't pretend that my
wish isn't selfish. It is! I want you for myself, and because I've
always wanted you, and not for any other reason. I never cared for any
one but you in the way I cared for you, and"--
"Oh!" she grieved. "I never ca'ed at all for you after I saw him."
"I know it must be shocking to you; I haven't told you with any wretched
hope that it would commend me to you!"
"I don't say it was so very bad," said Clementina, reflectively, "if it
was something you couldn't help."
"It was something I couldn't help. Perhaps I didn't try ."
"Did-she know it?"
"She knew it from the first; I told her before we were married."
Clementina drew back a little, insensibly pulling her child with her.
"I don't believe I exactly like it."
"I knew you wouldn't! If I could have thought you would, I hope I
shouldn't have wished--and feared--so much to tell you."
"Oh, I know you always wanted to do what you believed was right, Mr.
Gregory," she answered. "But I haven't quite thought it out yet. You
mustn't hurry me."
"No, no! Heaven forbid." He stood aside to let her pass.
"I was just going home," she added.
"May I go with you?"
"Yes, if you want to. I don't know but you betta; we might as well;
I want to talk with you. Don't you think it's something we ought to talk
"Why, of course! And I shall try to be guided by you; I should always
submit to be ruled by you, if"--
"That's not what I mean, exactly. I don't want to do the ruling. You
don't undastand me."
"I'm afraid I don't," he assented, humbly.
"If you did, you wouldn't say that--so." He did not venture to make any
answer, and they walked on without speaking, till she asked, "Did you
know that Miss Milray was at the Middlemount?"
"Miss Milray! Of Florence?"
"With her brother. I didn't see him; Mrs. Milray is not he'a; they ah'
divo'ced. Miss Milray used to be very nice to me in Florence. She isn't
going back there any moa. She says you can't go back to anything.
Do you think we can?"
She had left moments between her incoherent sentences where he might
interrupt her if he would, but he waited for her question. "I hoped we
might; but perhaps"--
"No, no. We couldn't. We couldn't go back to that night when you threw
the slippas into the riva, no' to that time in Florence when we gave up,
no' to that day in Venice when I had to tell you that I ca'ed moa fo'
some one else. Don't you see?"
"Yes, I see," he said, in quick revulsion from the hope he had expressed.
"The past is full of the pain and shame of my errors!"
"I don't want to go back to what's past, eitha," she reasoned, without
She stopped again, as if that were all, and he asked, "Then is that my
"I don't believe that even in the otha wo'ld we shall want to go back to
the past, much, do you?" she pursued, thoughtfully.
Once Gregory would have answered confidently; he even now checked an
impulse to do so. "I don't know," he owned, meekly.
"I do like you, Mr. Gregory!" she relented, as if touched by his
meekness, to the confession. "You know I do--moa than I ever expected to
like anybody again. But it's not because I used to like you, or because
I think you always acted nicely. I think it was cruel of you, if you
ca'ed for me, to let me believe you didn't, afta that fust time. I can't
eva think it wasn't, no matta why you did it."
"It was atrocious. I can see that now."
"I say it, because I shouldn't eva wish to say it again. I know that all
the time you we'e betta than what you did, and I blame myself a good deal
moa fo' not knowing when you came to Florence that I had begun to ca'e
fo'some one else. But I did wait till I could see you again, so as to be
su'a which I ca'ed for the most. I tried to be fai'a, before I told
you that I wanted to be free. That is all," she said, gently, and
Gregory perceived that the word was left definitely to him.
He could not take it till he had disciplined himself to accept
unmurmuringly his sentence as he understood it. "At any rate," he began,
"I can thank you for rating my motive above my conduct."
"Oh," she said. "I don't think either of us acted very well. I didn't
know till aftawa'ds that I was glad to have you give up, the way you did
in Florence. I was--bewild'ed. But I ought to have known, and I want
you to undastand everything, now. I don't ca'e for you because I used to
when I was almost a child, and I shouldn't want you to ca'e for me eitha,
because you did then. That's why I wish you had neva felt that you had
always ca'ed fo' me."
"Yes," said Gregory. He let fall his head in despair.
"That is what I mean," said Clementina. "If we ah' going to begin
togetha, now, it's got to be as if we had neva begun before. And you
mustn't think, or say, or look as if the'e had been anything in oua lives
but ouaselves. Will you? Do you promise?" She stopped, and put her
hand on his breast, and pushed against it with a nervous vehemence.
"No!" he said. "I don't promise, for I couldn't keep my promise. What
you ask is impossible. The past is part of us; it can't be ignored any
more than it can be destroyed. If we take each other, it must be for all
that we have been as well as all that we are. If we haven't the courage
for that we must part."
He dropped the little one's hand which he had been holding, and moved a
few steps aside. "Don't!" she said. "They'll think I've made you," and
he took the child's hand again.
They had emerged from the shadow of the woods, and come in sight of her
father's house. Claxon was standing coatless before the door in full
enjoyment of the late afternoon air; his wife beside him, at sight of
Gregory, quelled a natural impulse to run round the corner of the house
from the presence of strangers.
"I wonda what they'a sayin'," she fretted.
"It looks some as if she was sayin' yes," said Claxon, with an impersonal
enjoyment of his conjecture. "I guess she saw he was bound not to take
no for an answa."
"I don't know as I should like it very much," his wife relucted.
"Clem's doin' very well, as it is. She no need to marry again."
"Oh, I guess it a'n't that altogetha. He's a good man." Claxon mused a
moment upon the figures which had begun to advance again, with the little
one between them, and then gave way in a burst of paternal pride, "And I
don't know as I should blame him so very much for wantin' Clem. She
always did want to be of moa use--But I guess she likes him too."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Didn't reason about their beliefs, but only argued
Dull, cold self-absorption
Everything seems to go
Gift of waiting for things to happen
He's so resting
It's the best that he doesn't seem prepared for
Life alone is credible to the young
Motives lie nearer the surface than most people commonly pretend
One time where one may choose safest what one likes best
Only man I ever saw who would know how to break the fall
Real artistocracy is above social prejudice
Singleness of a nature that was all pose
Submitted, as people always do with the trials of others
Sunny gayety of self-forgetfulness
Understood when I've said something that doesn't mean anything
We change whether we ought, or not
When she's really sick, she's better
Willing that she should do herself a wrong
Women don't seem to belong very much to themselves
You can't go back to anything
You were not afraid, and you were not bold; you were just right
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE RAGGED LADY:
All in all to each other
Chained to the restless pursuit of an ideal not his own
Composed her features and her ideas to receive her visitor
Didn't reason about their beliefs, but only argued
Dull, cold self-absorption
Everything seems to go
Gift of waiting for things to happen
Going on of things had long ceased to bring pleasure
He a'n't a do-nothin'; he's a do-everything
He's so resting
Hopeful apathy in his face
I'm moa used to havin' the things brought to me
Inexhaustible flow of statement, conjecture and misgiving
It's the best that he doesn't seem prepared for
Kept her talking vacuities when her heart was full
Led a life of public seclusion
Life alone is credible to the young
Luxury of helplessness
Motives lie nearer the surface than most people commonly pretend
New England necessity of blaming some one
No object in life except to deprive it of all object
One time where one may choose safest what one likes best
Only man I ever saw who would know how to break the fall
Perverse reluctance to find out where they were
Provisional reprehension of possible shiftlessness
Real artistocracy is above social prejudice
Scant sleep of an elderly man
Seldom talked, but there came times when he would'nt even listen
Singleness of a nature that was all pose
Submitted, as people always do with the trials of others
Sunny gayety of self-forgetfulness
Thrown mainly upon the compassion of the chambermaids
Tone was a snuffle expressive of deep-seated affliction
Unaware that she was a selfish or foolish person
Under a fire of conjecture and asseveration
Understood when I've said something that doesn't mean anything
We change whether we ought, or not
Weak in his double letters
When she's really sick, she's better
Willing that she should do herself a wrong
Wishes of a mistress who did not know what she wanted
Women don't seem to belong very much to themselves
You can't go back to anything
You were not afraid, and you were not bold; you were just right
You've got a light-haired voice
by William Dean Howells
From his place on the floor of the Hemenway Gymnasium Mr. Elbridge G.
Mavering looked on at the Class Day gaiety with the advantage which his
stature, gave him over most people there. Hundreds of these were pretty
girls, in a great variety of charming costumes, such as the eclecticism
of modern fashion permits, and all sorts of ingenious compromises between
walking dress and ball dress. It struck him that the young men on whose
arms they hung, in promenading around the long oval within the crowd of
stationary spectators, were very much younger than students used to be,
whether they wore the dress-coats of the Seniors or the cut-away of the
Juniors and Sophomores; and the young girls themselves did not look so
old as he remembered them in his day. There vas a band playing
somewhere, and the galleries were well filled with spectators seated at
their ease, and intent on the party-coloured turmoil of the floor, where
from time to time the younger promenaders broke away from the ranks into
a waltz, and after some turns drifted back, smiling and controlling their
quick breath, and resumed their promenade. The place was intensely
light, in the candour of a summer day which had no reserves; and the
brilliancy was not broken by the simple decorations. Ropes of wild
laurel twisted up the pine posts of the aisles, and swung in festoons
overhead; masses of tropical plants in pots were set along between the
posts on one side of the room; and on the other were the lunch tables,
where a great many people were standing about, eating chicken and salmon
salads, or strawberries and ice-cream, and drinking claret-cup. From the
whole rose that blended odour of viands, of flowers, of stuff's, of
toilet perfumes, which is the characteristic expression of, all social
festivities, and which exhilarates or depresses--according as one is new
or old to it.
Elbridge Mavering kept looking at the faces of the young men as if he
expected to see a certain one; then he turned his eyes patiently upon.
the faces around him. He had been introduced to a good many persons, but
he had come to that time of life when an introduction; unless charged
with some special interest, only adds the pain of doubt to the wearisome
encounter of unfamiliar people; and he had unconsciously put on the
severity of a man who finds himself without acquaintance where others are
meeting friends, when a small man, with a neatly trimmed reddish-grey
beard and prominent eyes, stepped in front of him, and saluted him with
the "Hello, Mavering!" of a contemporary.
His face, after a moment of question, relaxed into joyful recognition.
"Why, John Munt! is that you?" he said, and he took into his large moist
palm the dry little hand of his friend, while they both broke out into
the incoherencies of people meeting after a long time. Mr. Mavering
spoke in it voice soft yet firm, and with a certain thickness of tongue;
which gave a boyish charm to his slow, utterance, and Mr. Munt used the
sort of bronchial snuffle sometimes cultivated among us as a chest tone.
But they were cut short in their intersecting questions and exclamations
by the presence of the lady who detached herself from Mr. Munt's arm as
if to leave him the freer for his hand-shaking.
"Oh!" he said, suddenly recurring to her; "let me introduce you to Mrs.
Pasmer, Mr. Mavering," and the latter made a bow that creased his
waistcoat at about the height of Mrs. Pasmer's pretty little nose.
His waistcoat had the curve which waistcoats often describe at his age;
and his heavy shoulders were thrown well back to balance this curve. His
coat hung carelessly open; the Panama hat in his hand suggested a certain
habitual informality of dress, but his smoothly shaven large handsome
face, with its jaws slowly ruminant upon nothing, intimated the
consequence of a man accustomed to supremacy in a subordinate place.
Mrs. Pasmer looked up to acknowledge the introduction with a sort of
pseudo-respectfulness which it would be hard otherwise to describe.
Whether she divined or not that she was in the presence of a magnate of
some sort, she was rather superfluously demure in the first two or three
things she said, and was all sympathy and interest in the meeting of
these old friends. They declared that they had not seen each other for
twenty years, or, at any rate, not since '59. She listened while they
disputed about the exact date, and looked from time to time at Mr. Munt,
as if for some explanation of Mr. Mavering; but Munt himself, when she
saw him last, had only just begun to commend himself to society, which
had since so fully accepted him, and she had so suddenly, the moment
before, found her self hand in glove with him that she might well have
appealed to a third person for some explanation of Munt. But she was not
a woman to be troubled much by this momentary mystification, and she was
not embarrassed at all when Munt said, as if it had all been pre-
arranged, "Well, now, Mrs. Pasmer, if you'll let me leave you with Mr.
Mavering a moment, I'll go off and bring that unnatural child to you; no
use dragging you round through this crowd longer."
He made a gesture intended, in the American manner, to be at once polite
and jocose, and was gone, leaving Mrs. Pasmer a little surprised, and Mr.
Mavering in some misgiving, which he tried to overcome pressing his jaws
together two or three times without speaking. She had no trouble in
getting in the first remark. "Isn't all this charming, Mr. Mavering?"
She spoke in a deep low voice, with a caressing manner, and stood looking
up, at Mr. Mavering with one shoulder shrugged and the other drooped, and
a tasteful composition of her fan and hands and handkerchief at her
"Yes, ma'am, it is," said Mr. Mavering. He seemed to say ma'am to her
with a public or official accent, which sent Mrs. Primer's mind
fluttering forth to poise briefly at such conjectures as, "Congressman
from a country district? judge of the Common Pleas? bank president?
railroad superintendent? leading physician in a large town?--
no, Mr. Munt said Mister," and then to return to her pretty blue eyes,
and to centre there in that pseudo-respectful attention under the arch of
her neat brows and her soberly crinkled grey-threaded brown hair and her
very appropriate bonnet. A bonnet, she said, was much more than half the
battle after forty, and it was now quite after forty with Mrs. Pasmer;
but she was very well dressed otherwise. Mr. Mavering went on to say,
with a deliberation that seemed an element of his unknown dignity,
whatever it might be, "A number of the young fellows together can give a
much finer spread, and make more of the day, in a place like this, than
we used to do in our rooms."
"Ah, then you're a Harvard man too!" said Mrs. Primer to herself, with
surprise, which she kept to herself, and she said to Mavering: "Oh yes,
indeed! It's altogether better. Aren't they nice looking fellows?" she
said, putting up her glass to look at the promenaders.
"Yes," Mr. Mavering assented. "I suppose," he added, out of the
consciousness of his own relation to the affair--"I suppose you've a son
"Oh dear, no!" cried Mrs. Primer, with a mingling, superhuman, but for
her of ironical deprecation and derision. "Only a daughter, Mr.
At this feat of Mrs. Pasmer's, Mr. Mavering looked at her with question
as to her precise intention, and ended by repeating, hopelessly, "Only a
"Yes," said Mrs. Pasmer, with a sigh of the same irony, "only a poor,
despised young girl, Mr. Mavering."
"You speak," said Mr. Mavering, beginning to catch on a little, "as if it
were a misfortune," and his, dignity broke up into a smile that had its
"Why, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Pasmer.
"Well, I shouldn't have thought so."
"Then you don't believe that all that old-fashioned chivalry and devotion
have gone out? You don't think the young men are all spoiled nowadays,
and expect the young ladies to offer them attentions?"
"No," said Mr. Mavering slowly, as if recovering from the shock of the
novel ideas. "Do you?"
"Oh, I'm such a stranger in Boston--I've lived abroad so long--that I
don't know. One hears all kinds of things. But I'm so glad you're not
one of those--pessimists!"
"Well," said Mr. Mavering, still thoughtfully, "I don't know that I can
speak by the card exactly. I can't say how it is now. I haven't been at
a Class Day spread since my own Class Day; I haven't even been at
Commencement more than once or twice. But in my time here we didn't
expect the young ladies to show us attentions; at any rate, we didn't
wait for them to do it. We were very glad, to be asked to meet them,
and we thought it an honour if the young ladies would let us talk or
dance with them, or take them to picnics. I don't think that any of them
could complain of want of attention."
"Yes," said Mrs. Pasmer, "that's what I preached, that's what I
prophesied, when I brought my daughter home from Europe. I told her that
a girl's life in America was one long triumph; but they say now that
girls have more attention in London even than in Cambridge. One hears
such dreadful things!"
"Like what?" asked Mr. Mavering, with the unserious interest which Mrs.
Primer made most people feel in her talk.
"Oh; it's too vast a subject. But they tell you about charming girls
moping the whole evening through at Boston parties, with no young men to
talk with, and sitting from the beginning to the end of an assembly and
not going on the floor once. They say that unless a girl fairly throws
herself at the young men's heads she isn't noticed. It's this terrible
disproportion of the sexes that's at the root of it, I suppose; it
reverses everything. There aren't enough young men to go half round, and
they know it, and take advantage of it. I suppose it began in the war."
He laughed, and, "I should think," he said, laying hold of a single idea
Back to Full Books