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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 14
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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 14 Post by :Christina Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :819

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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 14


Don Ippolito did not go directly to the painter's. He walked toward his house at first, and then turned aside, and wandered out through the noisy and populous district of Canaregio to the Campo di Marte. A squad of cavalry which had been going through some exercises there was moving off the parade ground; a few infantry soldiers were strolling about under the trees. Don Ippolito walked across the field to the border of the lagoon, where he began to pace to and fro, with his head sunk in deep thought. He moved rapidly, but sometimes he stopped and stood still in the sun, whose heat he did not seem to feel, though a perspiration bathed his pale face and stood in drops on his forehead under the shadow of his nicchio. Some little dirty children of the poor, with which this region swarms, looked at him from the sloping shore of the Campo di Giustizia, where the executions used to take place, and a small boy began to mock his movements and pauses, but was arrested by one of the girls, who shook him and gesticulated warningly.

At this point the long railroad bridge which connects Venice with the mainland is in full sight, and now from the reverie in which he continued, whether he walked or stood still, Don Ippolito was roused by the whistle of an outward train. He followed it with his eye as it streamed along over the far-stretching arches, and struck out into the flat, salt marshes beyond. When the distance hid it, he put on his hat, which he had unknowingly removed, and turned his rapid steps toward the railroad station. Arrived there, he lingered in the vestibule for half an hour, watching the people as they bought their tickets for departure, and had their baggage examined by the customs officers, and weighed and registered by the railroad porters, who passed it through the wicket shutting out the train, while the passengers gathered up their smaller parcels and took their way to the waiting-rooms. He followed a group of English people some paces in this direction, and then returned to the wicket, through which he looked long and wistfully at the train. The baggage was all passed through; the doors of the waiting-rooms were thrown open with harsh proclamation by the guards, and the passengers flocked into the carriages. Whistles and bells were sounded, and the train crept out of the station.

A man in the company's uniform approached the unconscious priest, and striking his hands softly together, said with a pleasant smile, "Your servant, Don Ippolito. Are you expecting some one?"

"Ah, good day!" answered the priest, with a little start. "No," he added, "I was not looking for any one."

"I see," said the other. "Amusing yourself as usual with the machinery. Excuse the freedom, Don Ippolito; but you ought to have been of our profession,--ha, ha! When you have the leisure, I should like to show you the drawing of an American locomotive which a friend of mine has sent me from Nuova York. It is very different from ours, very curious. But monstrous in size, you know, prodigious! May I come with it to your house, some evening?"

"You will do me a great pleasure," said Don Ippolito. He gazed dreamily in the direction of the vanished train. "Was that the train for Milan?" he asked presently.

"Exactly," said the man.

"Does it go all the way to Milan?"

"Oh, no! it stops at Peschiera, where the passengers have their passports examined; and then another train backs down from Desenzano and takes them on to Milan. And after that," continued the man with animation, "if you are on the way to England, for example, another train carries you to Susa, and there you get the diligence over the mountain to St. Michel, where you take railroad again, and so on up through Paris to Boulogne-sur-Mer, and then by steamer to Folkestone, and then by railroad to London and to Liverpool. It is at Liverpool that you go on board the steamer for America, and piff! in ten days you are in Nuova York. My friend has written me all about it."

"Ah yes, your friend. Does he like it there in America?"

"Passably, passably. The Americans have no manners; but they are good devils. They are governed by the Irish. And the wine is dear. But he likes America; yes, he likes it. Nuova York is a fine city. But immense, you know! Eight times as large as Venice!"

"Is your friend prosperous there?"

"Ah heigh! That is the prettiest part of the story. He has made himself rich. He is employed by a large house to make designs for mantlepieces, and marble tables, and tombs; and he has--listen!--six hundred francs a month!"

"Oh per Bacco!" cried Don Ippolito.

"Honestly. But you spend a great deal there. Still, it is magnificent, is it not? If it were not for that blessed war there, now, that would be the place for you, Don Ippolito. He tells me the Americans are actually mad for inventions. Your servant. Excuse the freedom, you know," said the man, bowing and moving away.

"Nothing, dear, nothing," answered the priest. He walked out of the station with a light step, and went to his own house, where he sought the room in which his inventions were stored. He had not touched them for weeks. They were all dusty and many were cobwebbed. He blew the dust from some, and bringing them to the light, examined them critically, finding them mostly disabled in one way or other, except the models of the portable furniture which he polished with his handkerchief and set apart, surveying them from a distance with a look of hope. He took up the breech-loading cannon and then suddenly put it down again with a little shiver, and went to the threshold of the perverted oratory and glanced in at his forge. Veneranda had carelessly left the window open, and the draught had carried the ashes about the floor. On the cinder-heap lay the tools which he had used in mending the broken pipe of the fountain at Casa Vervain, and had not used since. The place seemed chilly even on that summer's day. He stood in the doorway with clenched hands. Then he called Veneranda, chid her for leaving the window open, and bade her close it, and so quitted the house and left her muttering.

Ferris seemed surprised to see him when he appeared at the consulate near the middle of the afternoon, and seated himself in the place where he was wont to pose for the painter.

"Were you going to give me a sitting?" asked the latter, hesitating. "The light is horrible, just now, with this glare from the canal. Not that I manage much better when it's good. I don't get on with you, Don Ippolito. There are too many of you. I shouldn't have known you in the procession yesterday."

Don Ippolito did not respond. He rose and went toward his portrait on the easel, and examined it long, with a curious minuteness. Then he returned to his chair, and continued to look at it. "I suppose that it resembles me a great deal," he said, "and yet I do not _feel like that. I hardly know what is the fault. It is as I should be if I were like other priests, perhaps?"

"I know it's not good," said the painter. "It _is conventional, in spite of everything. But here's that first sketch I made of you."

He took up a canvas facing the wall, and set it on the easel. The character in this charcoal sketch was vastly sincerer and sweeter.

"Ah!" said Don Ippolito, with a sigh and smile of relief, "that is immeasurably better. I wish I could speak to you, dear friend, in a mood of yours as sympathetic as this picture records, of some matters that concern me very nearly. I have just come from the railroad station."

"Seeing some friends off?" asked the painter, indifferently, hovering near the sketch with a bit of charcoal in his hand, and hesitating whether to give it a certain touch. He glanced with half-shut eyes at the priest.

Don Ippolito sighed again. "I hardly know. I was seeing off my hopes, my desires, my prayers, that followed the train to America!"

The painter put down his charcoal, dusted his fingers, and looked at the priest without saying anything.

"Do you remember when I first came to you?" asked Don Ippolito.

"Certainly," said Ferris. "Is it of that matter you want to speak to me? I'm very sorry to hear it, for I don't think it practical."

"Practical, practical!" cried the priest hotly. "Nothing is practical till it has been tried. And why should I not go to America?"

"Because you can't get your passport, for one thing," answered the painter dryly.

"I have thought of that," rejoined Don Ippolito more patiently. "I can get a passport for France from the Austrian authorities here, and at Milan there must be ways in which I could change it for one from my own king"--it was by this title that patriotic Venetians of those days spoke of Victor Emmanuel--"that would carry me out of France into England."

Ferris pondered a moment. "That is quite true," he said. "Why hadn't you thought of that when you first came to me?"

"I cannot tell. I didn't know that I could even get a passport for France till the other day."

Both were silent while the painter filled his pipe. "Well," he said presently, "I'm very sorry. I'm afraid you're dooming yourself to many bitter disappointments in going to America. What do you expect to do there?"

"Why, with my inventions"--

"I suppose," interrupted the other, putting a lighted match to his pipe, "that a painter must be a very poor sort of American: _his first thought is of coming to Italy. So I know very little directly about the fortunes of my inventive fellow-countrymen, or whether an inventor has any prospect of making a living. But once when I was at Washington I went into the Patent Office, where the models of the inventions are deposited; the building is about as large as the Ducal Palace, and it is full of them. The people there told me nothing was commoner than for the same invention to be repeated over and over again by different inventors. Some few succeed, and then they have lawsuits with the infringers of their patents; some sell out their inventions for a trifle to companies that have capital, and that grow rich upon them; the great number can never bring their ideas to the public notice at all. You can judge for yourself what your chances would be. You have asked me why you should not go to America. Well, because I think you would starve there."

"I am used to that," said Don Ippolito; "and besides, until some of my inventions became known, I could give lessons in Italian."

"Oh, bravo!" said Ferris, "you prefer instant death, then?"

"But madamigella seemed to believe that my success as an inventor would be assured, there."

Ferris gave a very ironical laugh. "Miss Vervain must have been about twelve years old when she left America. Even a lady's knowledge of business, at that age, is limited. When did you talk with her about it? You had not spoken of it to me, of late, and I thought you were more contented than you used to be."

"It is true," said the priest. "Sometimes within the last two months I have almost forgotten it."

"And what has brought it so forcibly to your mind again?"

"That is what I so greatly desire to tell you," replied Don Ippolito, with an appealing look at the painter's face. He moistened his parched lips a little, waiting for further question from the painter, to whom he seemed a man fevered by some strong emotion and at that moment not quite wholesome. Ferris did not speak, and Don Ippolito began again: "Even though I have not said so in words to you, dear friend, has it not appeared to you that I have no heart in my vocation?"

"Yes, I have sometimes fancied that. I had no right to ask you why."

"Some day I will tell you, when I have the courage to go all over it again. It is partly my own fault, but it is more my miserable fortune. But wherever the wrong lies, it has at last become intolerable to me. I cannot endure it any longer and live. I must go away, I must fly from it."

Ferris shrank from him a little, as men instinctively do from one who has set himself upon some desperate attempt. "Do you mean, Don Ippolito, that you are going to renounce your priesthood?"

Don Ippolito opened his hands and let his priesthood drop, as it were, to the ground.

"You never spoke of this before, when you talked of going to America. Though to be sure"--

"Yes, yes!" replied Don Ippolito with vehemence, "but now an angel has appeared and shown me the blackness of my life!"

Ferris began to wonder if he or Don Ippolito were not perhaps mad.

"An angel, yes," the priest went on, rising from his chair, "an angel whose immaculate truth has mirrored my falsehood in all its vileness and distortion--to whom, if it destroys me, I cannot devote less than a truthfulness like hers!"

"Hers--hers?" cried the painter, with a sudden pang. "Whose? Don't speak in these riddles. Whom do you mean?"

"Whom can I mean but only one?--madamigella!"

"Miss Vervain? Do you mean to say that Miss Vervain has advised you to renounce your priesthood?"

"In as many words she has bidden me forsake it at any risk,--at the cost of kindred, friends, good fame, country, everything."

The painter passed his hand confusedly over his face. These were his own words, the words he had used in speaking with Florida of the supposed skeptical priest. He grew very pale. "May I ask," he demanded in a hard, dry voice, "how she came to advise such a step?"

"I can hardly tell. Something had already moved her to learn from me the story of my life--to know that I was a man with neither faith nor hope. Her pure heart was torn by the thought of my wrong and of my error. I had never seen myself in such deformity as she saw me even when she used me with that divine compassion. I was almost glad to be what I was because of her angelic pity for me!"

The tears sprang to Don Ippolito's eyes, but Ferris asked in the same tone as before, "Was it then that she bade you be no longer a priest?"

"No, not then," patiently replied the other; "she was too greatly overwhelmed with my calamity to think of any cure for it. To-day it was that she uttered those words--words which I shall never forget, which will support and comfort me, whatever happens!"

The painter was biting hard upon the stem of his pipe. He turned away and began ordering the color-tubes and pencils on a table against the wall, putting them close together in very neat, straight rows. Presently he said: "Perhaps Miss Vervain also advised you to go to America?"

"Yes," answered the priest reverently. "She had thought of everything. She has promised me a refuge under her mother's roof there, until I can make my inventions known; and I shall follow them at once."

"Follow them?"

"They are going, she told me. Madama does not grow better. They are homesick. They--but you must know all this already?"

"Oh, not at all, not at all," said the painter with a very bitter smile. "You are telling me news. Pray go on."

"There is no more. She made me promise to come to you and listen to your advice before I took any step. I must not trust to her alone, she said; but if I took this step, then through whatever happened she would be my friend. Ah, dear friend, may I speak to you of the hope that these words gave me? You have seen--have you not?--you must have seen that"--

The priest faltered, and Ferris stared at him helpless. When the next words came he could not find any strangeness in the fact which yet gave him so great a shock. He found that to his nether consciousness it had been long familiar--ever since that day when he had first jestingly proposed Don Ippolito as Miss Vervain's teacher. Grotesque, tragic, impossible--it had still been the under-current of all his reveries; or so now it seemed to have been.

Don Ippolito anxiously drew nearer to him and laid an imploring touch upon his arm,--"I love her!"

"What!" gasped the painter. "You? You I A priest?"

"Priest! priest!" cried Don Ippolito, violently. "From this day I am no longer a priest! From this hour I am a man, and I can offer her the honorable love of a man, the truth of a most sacred marriage, and fidelity to death!"

Ferris made no answer. He began to look very coldly and haughtily at Don Ippolito, whose heat died away under his stare, and who at last met it with a glance of tremulous perplexity. His hand had dropped from Ferris's arm, and he now moved some steps from him. "What is it, dear friend?" he besought him. "Is there something that offends you? I came to you for counsel, and you meet me with a repulse little short of enmity. I do not understand. Do I intend anything wrong without knowing it? Oh, I conjure you to speak plainly!"

"Wait! Wait a minute," said Ferris, waving his hand like a man tormented by a passing pain. "I am trying to think. What you say is.... I cannot imagine it!"

"Not imagine it? Not imagine it? And why? Is she not beautiful?"


"And good?"

"Without doubt."

"And young, and yet wise beyond her years? And true, and yet angelically kind?"

"It is all as you say, God knows. But.... a priest"--

"Oh! Always that accursed word! And at heart, what is a priest, then, but a man?--a wretched, masked, imprisoned, banished man! Has he not blood and nerves like you? Has he not eyes to see what is fair, and ears to hear what is sweet? Can he live near so divine a flower and not know her grace, not inhale the fragrance of her soul, not adore her beauty? Oh, great God! And if at last he would tear off his stifling mask, escape from his prison, return from his exile, would you gainsay him?"

"No!" said the painter with a kind of groan. He sat down in a tall, carven gothic chair,--the furniture of one of his pictures,--and rested his head against its high back and looked at the priest across the room. "Excuse me," he continued with a strong effort. "I am ready to befriend you to the utmost of my power. What was it you wanted to ask me? I have told you truly what I thought of your scheme of going to America; but I may very well be mistaken. Was it about that Miss Vervain desired you to consult me?" His voice and manner hardened again in spite of him. "Or did she wish me to advise you about the renunciation of your priesthood? You must have thought that carefully over for yourself."

"Yes, I do not think you could make me see that as a greater difficulty than it has appeared to me." He paused with a confused and daunted air, as if some important point had slipped his mind. "But I must take the step; the burden of the double part I play is unendurable, is it not?"

"You know better than I."

"But if you were such a man as I, with neither love for your vocation nor faith in it, should you not cease to be a priest?"

"If you ask me in that way,--yes," answered the painter. "But I advise you nothing. I could not counsel another in such a case."

"But you think and feel as I do," said the priest, "and I am right, then."

"I do not say you are wrong."

Ferris was silent while Don Ippolito moved up and down the room, with his sliding step, like some tall, gaunt, unhappy girl. Neither could put an end to this interview, so full of intangible, inconclusive misery. Ferris drew a long breath, and then said steadily, "Don Ippolito, I suppose you did not speak idly to me of your--your feeling for Miss Vervain, and that I may speak plainly to you in return."

"Surely," answered the priest, pausing in his walk and fixing his eyes upon the painter. "It was to you as the friend of both that I spoke of my love, and my hope--which is oftener my despair."

"Then you have not much reason to believe that she returns your--feeling?"

"Ah, how could she consciously return it? I have been hitherto a priest to her, and the thought of me would have been impurity. But hereafter, if I can prove myself a man, if I can win my place in the world.... No, even now, why should she care so much for my escape from these bonds, if she did not care for me more than she knew?"

"Have you ever thought of that extravagant generosity of Miss Vervain's character?"

"It is divine!"

"Has it seemed to you that if such a woman knew herself to have once wrongly given you pain, her atonement might be as headlong and excessive as her offense? That she could have no reserves in her reparation?"

Don Ippolito looked at Ferris, but did not interpose.

"Miss Vervain is very religious in her way, and she is truth itself. Are you sure that it is not concern for what seems to her your terrible position, that has made her show so much anxiety on your account?"

"Do I not know that well? Have I not felt the balm of her most heavenly pity?"

"And may she not be only trying to appeal to something in you as high as the impulse of her own heart?"

"As high!" cried Don Ippolito, almost angrily. "Can there be any higher thing in heaven or on earth than love for such a woman?"

"Yes; both in heaven and on earth," answered Ferris.

"I do not understand you," said Don Ippolito with a puzzled stare.

Ferris did not reply. He fell into a dull reverie in which he seemed to forget Don Ippolito and the whole affair. At last the priest spoke again: "Have you nothing to say to me, signore?"

"I? What is there to say?" returned the other blankly.

"Do you know any reason why I should not love her, save that I am--have been--a priest?"

"No, I know none," said the painter, wearily.

"Ah," exclaimed Don Ippolito, "there is something on your mind that you will not speak. I beseech you not to let me go wrong. I love her so well that I would rather die than let my love offend her. I am a man with the passions and hopes of a man, but without a man's experience, or a man's knowledge of what is just and right in these relations. If you can be my friend in this so far as to advise or warn me; if you can be her friend"--

Ferris abruptly rose and went to his balcony, and looked out upon the Grand Canal. The time-stained palace opposite had not changed in the last half-hour. As on many another summer day, he saw the black boats going by. A heavy, high-pointed barge from the Sile, with the captain's family at dinner in the shade of a matting on the roof, moved sluggishly down the middle current. A party of Americans in a gondola, with their opera-glasses and guide-books in their hands, pointed out to each other the eagle on the consular arms. They were all like sights in a mirror, or things in a world turned upside down.

Ferris came back and looked dizzily at the priest trying to believe that this unhuman, sacerdotal phantasm had been telling him that it loved a beautiful young girl of his own race, faith, and language.

"Will you not answer me, signore?" meekly demanded Don Ippolito.

"In this matter," replied the painter, "I cannot advise or warn you. The whole affair is beyond my conception. I mean no unkindness, but I cannot consult with you about it. There are reasons why I should not. The mother of Miss Vervain is here with her, and I do not feel that her interests in such a matter are in my hands. If they come to me for help, that is different. What do you wish? You tell me that you are resolved to renounce the priesthood and go to America; and I have answered you to the best of my power. You tell me that you are in love with Miss Vervain. What can I have to say about that?"

Don Ippolito stood listening with a patient, and then a wounded air. "Nothing," he answered proudly. "I ask your pardon for troubling you with my affairs. Your former kindness emboldened me too much. I shall not trespass again. It was my ignorance, which I pray you to excuse. I take my leave, signore."

He bowed, and moved out of the room, and a dull remorse filled the painter, as he heard the outer door close after him. But he could do nothing. If he had given a wound to the heart that trusted him, it was in an anguish which he had not been able to master, and whose causes he could not yet define. It was all a shapeless torment; it held him like the memory of some hideous nightmare prolonging its horror beyond sleep. It seemed impossible that what had happened should have happened.

It was long, as he sat in the chair from which he had talked with Don Ippolito, before he could reason about what had been said; and then the worst phase presented itself first. He could not help seeing that the priest might have found cause for hope in the girl's behavior toward him. Her violent resentments, and her equally violent repentances; her fervent interest in his unhappy fortunes, and her anxiety that he should at once forsake the priesthood; her urging him to go to America, and her promising him a home under her mother's roof there: why might it not all be in fact a proof of her tenderness for him? She might have found it necessary to be thus coarsely explicit with him, for a man in Don Ippolito's relation to her could not otherwise have imagined her interest in him. But her making use of Ferris to confirm her own purposes by his words, her repeating them so that they should come back to him from Don Ippolito's lips, her letting another man go with her to look upon the procession in which her priestly lover was to appear in his sacerdotal panoply; these things could cot be accounted for except by that strain of insolent, passionate defiance which he had noted ill her from the beginning. Why should she first tell Don Ippolito of their going away? "Well, I wish him joy of his bargain," said Ferris aloud, and rising, shrugged his shoulders, and tried to cast off all care of a matter that did not concern him. But one does not so easily cast off a matter that does not concern one. He found himself haunted by certain tones and looks and attitudes of the young girl, wholly alien to the character he had just constructed for her. They were child-like, trusting, unconscious, far beyond anything he had yet known in women, and they appealed to him now with a maddening pathos. She was standing there before Don Ippolito's picture as on that morning when she came to Ferris, looking anxiously at him, her innocent beauty, troubled with some hidden care, hallowing the place. Ferris thought of the young fellow who told him that he had spent three months in a dull German town because he had the room there that was once occupied by the girl who had refused him; the painter remembered that the young fellow said he had just read of her marriage in an American newspaper.

Why did Miss Vervain send Don Ippolito to him? Was it some scheme of her secret love for the priest; or mere coarse resentment of the cautions Ferris had once hinted, a piece of vulgar bravado? But if she had acted throughout in pure simplicity, in unwise goodness of heart? If Don Ippolito were altogether self-deceived, and nothing but her unknowing pity had given him grounds of hope? He himself had suggested this to the priest, and how with a different motive he looked at it in his own behalf. A great load began slowly to lift itself from Ferris's heart, which could ache now for this most unhappy priest. But if his conjecture were just, his duty would be different. He must not coldly acquiesce and let things take their course. He had introduced Don Ippolito to the Vervains; he was in some sort responsible for him; he must save them if possible from the painful consequences of the priest's hallucination. But how to do this was by no means clear. He blamed himself for not having been franker with Don Ippolito and tried to make him see that the Vervains might regard his passion as a presumption upon their kindness to him, an abuse of their hospitable friendship; and yet how could he have done this without outrage to a sensitive and right-meaning soul? For a moment it seemed to him that he must seek Don Ippolito, and repair his fault; but they had hardly parted as friends, and his action might be easily misconstrued. If he shrank from the thought of speaking to him of the matter again, it appeared yet more impossible to bring it before the Vervains. Like a man of the imaginative temperament as he was, he exaggerated the probable effect, and pictured their dismay in colors that made his interference seem a ludicrous enormity; in fact, it would have been an awkward business enough for one not hampered by his intricate obligations. He felt bound to the Vervains, the ignorant young girl, and the addle-pated mother; but if he ought to go to them and tell them what he knew, to which of them ought he to speak, and how? In an anguish of perplexity that made the sweat stand in drops upon his forehead, he smiled to think it just possible that Mrs. Vervain might take the matter seriously, and wish to consider the propriety of Florida's accepting Don Ippolito. But if he spoke to the daughter, how should he approach the subject? "Don Ippolito tells me he loves you, and he goes to America with the expectation that when he has made his fortune with a patent back-action apple-corer, you will marry him." Should he say something to this purport? And in Heaven's name what right had he, Ferris, to say anything at all? The horrible absurdity, the inexorable delicacy of his position made him laugh.

On the other hand, besides, he was bound to Don Ippolito, who had come to him as the nearest friend of both, and confided in him. He remembered with a tardy, poignant intelligence how in their first talk of the Vervains Don Ippolito had taken pains to inform himself that Ferris was not in love with Florida. Could he be less manly and generous than this poor priest, and violate the sanctity of his confidence? Ferris groaned aloud. No, contrive it as he would, call it by what fair name he chose, he could not commit this treachery. It was the more impossible to him because, in this agony of doubt as to what he should do, he now at least read big own heart clearly, and had no longer a doubt what was in it. He pitied her for the pain she must suffer. He saw how her simple goodness, her blind sympathy with Don Ippolito, and only this, must have led the priest to the mistaken pass at which he stood. But Ferris felt that the whole affair had been fatally carried beyond his reach; he could do nothing now but wait and endure. There are cases in which a man must not protect the woman he loves. This was one.

The afternoon wore away. In the evening he went to the Piazza, and drank a cup of coffee at Florian's. Then he walked to the Public Gardens, where he watched the crowd till it thinned in the twilight and left him alone. He hung upon the parapet, looking off over the lagoon that at last he perceived to be flooded with moonlight. He desperately called a gondola, and bade the man row him to the public landing nearest the Vervains', and so walked up the calle, and entered the palace from the campo, through the court that on one side opened into the garden.

Mrs. Vervain was alone in the room where he had always been accustomed to find her daughter with her, and a chill as of the impending change fell upon him. He felt how pleasant it had been to find them together; with a vain, piercing regret he felt how much like home the place had been to him. Mrs. Vervain, indeed, was not changed; she was even more than ever herself, though all that she said imported change. She seemed to observe nothing unwonted in him, and she began to talk in her way of things that she could not know were so near his heart.

"Now, Mr. Ferris, I have a little surprise for you. Guess what it is!"

"I'm not good at guessing. I'd rather not know what it is than have to guess it," said Ferris, trying to be light, under his heavy trouble.

"You won't try once, even? Well, you're going to be rid of us soon I We are going away."

"Yes, I knew that," said Ferris quietly. "Don Ippolito told me so today."

"And is that all you have to say? Isn't it rather sad? Isn't it sudden? Come, Mr. Ferris, do be a little complimentary, for once!"

"It's sudden, and I can assure you it's sad enough for me," replied the painter, in a tone which could not leave any doubt of his sincerity.

"Well, so it is for us," quavered Mrs. Vervain. "You have been very, very good to us," she went on more collectedly, "and we shall never forget it. Florida has been speaking of it, too, and she's extremely grateful, and thinks we've quite imposed upon you."


"I suppose we have, but as I always say, you're the representative of the country here. However, that's neither here nor there. We have no relatives on the face of the earth, you know; but I have a good many old friends in Providence, and we're going back there. We both think I shall be better at home; for I'm sorry to say, Mr. Ferns, that though I don't complain of Venice,--it's really a beautiful place, and all that; not the least exaggerated,--still I don't think it's done my health much good; or at least I don't seem to gain, don't you know, I don't seem to gain."

"I'm very sorry to hear it, Mrs. Vervain."

"Yes, I'm sure you are; but you see, don't you, that we must go? We are going next week. When we've once made up our minds, there's no object in prolonging the agony."

Mrs. Vervain adjusted her glasses with the thumb and finger of her right hand, and peered into Ferris's face with a gay smile. "But the greatest part of the surprise is," she resumed, lowering her voice a little, "that Don Ippolito is going with us."

"Ah!" cried Ferris sharply.

"I _knew I should surprise you," laughed Mrs. Vervain. "We've been having a regular confab--_clave_, I mean--about it here, and he's all on fire to go to America; though it must be kept a great secret on his account, poor fellow. He's to join us in France, and then he can easily get into England, with us. You know he's to give up being a priest, and is going to devote himself to invention when ho gets to America. Now, what _do you think of it, Mr. Ferris? Quite strikes you dumb, doesn't it?" triumphed Mrs. Vervain. "I suppose it's what you would call a wild goose chase,--I used to pick up all those phrases,--but we shall carry it through."

Ferris gasped, as though about to speak, but said nothing.

"Don Ippolito's been here the whole afternoon," continued Mrs. Vervain, "or rather ever since about five o'clock. He took dinner with us, and we've been talking it over and over. He's _so enthusiastic about it, and yet he breaks down every little while, and seems quite to despair of the undertaking. But Florida won't let him do that; and really it's funny, the way he defers to her judgment--you know _I always regard Florida as such a mere child--and seems to take every word she says for gospel. But, shedding tears, now: it's dreadful in a man, isn't it? I wish Don Ippolito wouldn't do that. It makes one creep. I can't feel that it's manly; can you?"

Ferris found voice to say something about those things being different with the Latin races.

"Well, at any rate," said Mrs. Vervain, "I'm glad that _Americans don't shed tears, as a general _rule_. Now, Florida: you'd think she was the man all through this business, she's so perfectly heroic about it; that is, outwardly: for I can see--women can, in each other, Mr. Ferris--just where she's on the point of breaking down, all the while. Has she ever spoken to you about Don Ippolito? She does think so highly of your opinion, Mr. Ferris."

"She does me too much honor," said Ferris, with ghastly irony.

"Oh, I don't think so," returned Mrs. Vervain. "She told me this morning that she'd made Don Ippolito promise to speak to you about it; but he didn't mention having done so, and--I hated, don't you know, to ask him.... In fact, Florida had told me beforehand that I mustn't. She said he must be left entirely to himself in that matter, and"--Mrs. Vervain looked suggestively at Ferris.

"He spoke to me about it," said Ferris.

"Then why in the world did you let me run on? I suppose you advised him against it."

"I certainly did."

"Well, there's where I think woman's intuition is better than man's reason."

The painter silently bowed his head.

"Yes, I'm quite woman's rights in that respect," said Mrs. Vervain.

"Oh, without doubt," answered Ferris, aimlessly.

"I'm perfectly delighted," she went on, "at the idea of Don Ippolito's giving up the priesthood, and I've told him he must get married to some good American girl. You ought to have seen how the poor fellow blushed! But really, you know, there are lots of nice girls that would _jump at him--so handsome and sad-looking, and a genius."

Ferris could only stare helplessly at Mrs. Vervain, who continued:--

"Yes, I think he's a genius, and I'm determined that he shall have a chance. I suppose we've got a job on our hands; but I'm not sorry. I'll introduce him into society, and if he needs money he shall have it. What does God give us money for, Mr. Ferris, but to help our fellow-creatures?"

So miserable, as he was, from head to foot, that it seemed impossible he could endure more, Ferris could not forbear laughing at this burst of piety.

"What are you laughing at?" asked Mrs. Vervain, who had cheerfully joined him. "Something I've been saying. Well, you won't have me to laugh at much longer. I do wonder whom you'll have next."

Ferris's merriment died away in something like a groan, and when Mrs. Vervain again spoke, it was in a tone of sudden querulousness. "I _wish Florida would come! She went to bolt the land-gate after Don Ippolito,--I wanted her to,--but she ought to have been back long ago. It's odd you didn't meet them, coming in. She must be in the garden Somewhere; I suppose she's sorry to be leaving it. But I need her. Would you be so very kind, Mr. Ferris, as to go and ask her to come to me?"

Ferris rose heavily from the chair in which he seemed to have grown ten years older. He had hardly heard anything that he did not know already, but the clear vision of the affair with which he had come to the Vervains was hopelessly confused and darkened. He could make nothing of any phase of it. He did not know whether he cared now to see Florida or not. He mechanically obeyed Mrs. Vervain, and stepping out upon the terrace, slowly descended the stairway.

The moon was shining brightly into the garden.

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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 15 A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 15

A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 15
CHAPTER XVFlorida and Don Ippolito had paused in the pathway which parted at the fountain and led in one direction to the water-gate, and in the other out through the palace-court into the campo. "Now, you must not give way to despair again," she said to him. "You will succeed, I am sure, for you will deserve success." "It is all your goodness, madamigella," sighed the priest, "and at the bottom of my heart I am afraid that all the hope and courage I have are also yours." "You shall never want for hope and courage then. We believe in you,

A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 13 A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 13

A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 13
CHAPTER XIIIThe ladies were sitting on the terrace when Don Ippolito came next morning to say that he could not read with Miss Vervain that day nor for several days after, alleging in excuse some priestly duties proper to the time. Mrs. Vervain began to lament that she had not been able to go to the procession of the day before. "I meant to have kept a sharp lookout for you; Florida saw you, and so did Mr. Ferris. But it isn't at all the same thing, you know. Florida has no faculty for describing; and now I shall probably go