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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 2
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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 2 Post by :LindaP Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :1669

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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 2


Mr. Ferris took his way through the devious footways where the shadow was chill, and through the broad campos where the sun was tenderly warm, and the towers of the church rose against the speck-less azure of the vernal heaven. As he went along, he frowned in a helpless perplexity with the case of Don Ippolito, whom he had begun by doubting for a spy with some incomprehensible motive, and had ended by pitying with a certain degree of amusement and a deep sense of the futility of his compassion. He presently began to think of him with a little disgust, as people commonly think of one whom they pity and yet cannot help, and he made haste to cast off the hopeless burden. He shrugged his shoulders, struck his stick on the smooth paving-stones, and let his eyes rove up and down the fronts of the houses, for the sake of the pretty faces that glanced out of the casements. He was a young man, and it was spring, and this was Venice. He made himself joyfully part of the city and the season; he was glad of the narrowness of the streets, of the good-humored jostling and pushing; he crouched into an arched doorway to let a water-carrier pass with her copper buckets dripping at the end of the yoke balanced on her shoulder, and he returned her smiles and excuses with others as broad and gay; he brushed by the swelling hoops of ladies, and stooped before the unwieldy burdens of porters, who as they staggered through the crowd with a thrust hero, and a shove there forgave themselves, laughing, with "We are in Venice, signori;" and he stood aside for the files of soldiers clanking heavily over the pavement, then muskets kindling to a blaze in the sunlit campos and quenched again in the damp shadows of the calles. His ear was taken by the vibrant jargoning of the boatmen as they pushed their craft under the bridges he crossed, and the keen notes of the canaries and the songs of the golden-billed blackbirds whose cages hung at lattices far overhead. Heaps of oranges, topped by the fairest cut in halves, gave their color, at frequent intervals, to the dusky corners and recesses and the long-drawn cry of the venders, "Oranges of Palermo!" rose above the clatter of feet and the clamor of other voices. At a little shop where butter and eggs and milk abounded, together with early flowers of various sorts, he bought a bunch of hyacinths, blue and white and yellow, and he presently stood smelling these while he waited in the hotel parlor for the ladies to whom he had sent his card. He turned at the sound of drifting drapery, and could not forbear placing the hyacinths in the hand of Miss Florida Vervain, who had come into the room to receive him. She was a girl of about seventeen years, who looked older; she was tall rather than short, and rather full,--though it could not be said that she erred in point of solidity. In the attitudes of shy hauteur into which she constantly fell, there was a touch of defiant awkwardness which had a certain fascination. She was blonde, with a throat and hands of milky whiteness; there was a suggestion of freckles on her regular face, where a quick color came and went, though her cheeks were habitually somewhat pale; her eyes were very blue under their level brows, and the lashes were even lighter in color than the masses of her fair gold hair; the edges of the lids were touched with the faintest red. The late Colonel Vervain of the United States army, whose complexion his daughter had inherited, was an officer whom it would not have been peaceable to cross in any purpose or pleasure, and Miss Vervain seemed sometimes a little burdened by the passionate nature which he had left her together with the tropical name he had bestowed in honor of the State where he had fought the Seminoles in his youth, and where he chanced still to be stationed when she was born; she had the air of being embarrassed in presence of herself, and of having an anxious watch upon her impulses. I do not know how otherwise to describe the effort of proud, helpless femininity, which would have struck the close observer in Miss Vervain.

"Delicious!" she said, in a deep voice, which conveyed something of this anxiety in its guarded tones, and yet was not wanting in a kind of frankness. "Did you mean them for me, Mr. Ferris?"

"I didn't, but I do," answered Mr. Ferris. "I bought them in ignorance, but I understand now what they were meant for by nature;" and in fact the hyacinths, with their smooth textures and their pure colors, harmonized well with Miss Vervain, as she bent her face over them and inhaled their full, rich perfume.

"I will put them in water," she said, "if you'll excuse me a moment. Mother will be down directly."

Before she could return, her mother rustled into the parlor.

Mrs. Vervain was gracefully, fragilely unlike her daughter. She entered with a gentle and gliding step, peering near-sightedly about through her glasses, and laughing triumphantly when she had determined Mr. Ferris's exact position, where he stood with a smile shaping his full brown beard and glancing from his hazel eyes. She was dressed in perfect taste with reference to her matronly years, and the lingering evidences of her widowhood, and she had an unaffected naturalness of manner which even at her age of forty-eight could not be called less than charming. She spoke in a trusting, caressing tone, to which no man at least could respond unkindly.

"So very good of you, to take all this trouble, Mr. Ferris," she said, giving him a friendly hand, "and I suppose you are letting us encroach upon very valuable time. I'm quite ashamed to take it. But isn't it a heavenly day? What _I call a perfect day, just right every way; none of those disagreeable extremes. It's so unpleasant to have it too hot, for instance. I'm the greatest person for moderation, Mr. Ferris, and I carry the principle into everything; but I do think the breakfasts at these Italian hotels are too light altogether. I like our American breakfasts, don't you? I've been telling Florida I can't stand it; we really must make some arrangement. To be sure, you oughtn't to think of such a thing as eating, in a place like Venice, all poetry; but a sound mind in a sound body, _I say. We're perfectly wild over it. Don't you think it's a place that grows upon you very much, Mr. Ferris? All those associations,--it does seem too much; and the gondolas everywhere. But I'm always afraid the gondoliers cheat us; and in the stores I never feel safe a moment--not a moment. I do think the Venetians are lacking in truthfulness, a little. I don't believe they understand our American fairdealing and sincerity. I shouldn't want to do them injustice, but I really think they take advantages in bargaining. Now such a thing even as corals. Florida is extremely fond of them, and we bought a set yesterday in the Piazza, and I _know we paid too much for them. Florida," said Mrs. Vervain, for her daughter had reentered the room, and stood with some shawls and wraps upon her arm, patiently waiting for the conclusion of the elder lady's speech, "I wish you would bring down that set of corals. I'd like Mr. Ferris to give an unbiased opinion. I'm sure we were cheated."

"I don't know anything about corals, Mrs. Vervain," interposed Mr. Ferris.

"Well, but you ought to see this set for the beauty of the color; they're really exquisite. I'm sure it will gratify your artistic taste."

Miss Vervain hesitated with a look of desire to obey, and of doubt whether to force the pleasure upon Mr. Ferris. "Won't it do another time, mother?" she asked faintly; "the gondola is waiting for us."

Mrs. Vervain gave a frailish start from the chair, into which she had sunk, "Oh, do let us be off at once, then," she said; and when they stood on the landing-stairs of the hotel: "What gloomy things these gondolas are!" she added, while the gondolier with one foot on the gunwale of the boat received the ladies' shawls, and then crooked his arm for them to rest a hand on in stepping aboard; "I wonder they don't paint them some cheerful color."

"Blue, or pink, Mrs. Vervain?" asked Mr. Ferris. "I knew you were coming to that question; they all do. But we needn't have the top on at all, if it depresses your spirits. We shall be just warm enough in the open sunlight."

"Well, have it off, then. It sends the cold chills over me to look at it. What _did Byron call it?"

"Yes, it's time for. Byron, now. It was very good of you not to mention him before, Mrs. Vervain. Bat I knew he had to come. He called it a coffin clapped in a canoe."

"Exactly," said Mrs. Vervain. "I always feel as if I were going to my own funeral when I get into it; and I've certainly had enough of funerals never to want to have anything to do with another, as long as I live."

She settled herself luxuriously upon the feather-stuffed leathern cushions when the cabin was removed. Death had indeed been near her very often; father and mother had been early lost to her, and the brothers and sisters orphaned with her had faded and perished one after another, as they ripened to men and women; she had seen four of her own children die; her husband had been dead six years. All these bereavements had left her what they had found her. She had truly grieved, and, as she said, she had hardly ever been out of black since she could remember.

"I never was in colors when I was a girl," she went on, indulging many obituary memories as the gondola dipped and darted down the canal, "and I was married in my mourning for my last sister. It did seem a little too much when she went, Mr. Ferris. I was too young to feel it so much about the others, but we were nearly of the same age, and that makes a difference, don't you know. First a brother and then a sister: it was very strange how they kept going that way. I seemed to break the charm when I got married; though, to be sure, there was no brother left after Marian."

Miss Vervain heard her mother's mortuary prattle with a face from which no impatience of it could be inferred, and Mr. Ferris made no comment on what was oddly various in character and manner, for Mrs. Vervain touched upon the gloomiest facts of her history with a certain impersonal statistical interest. They were rowing across the lagoon to the Island of San Lazzaro, where for reasons of her own she intended to venerate the convent in which Byron studied the Armenian language preparatory to writing his great poem in it; if her pilgrimage had no very earnest motive, it was worthy of the fact which it was designed to honor. The lagoon was of a perfect, shining smoothness, broken by the shallows over which the ebbing tide had left the sea-weed trailed like long, disheveled hair. The fishermen, as they waded about staking their nets, or stooped to gather the small shell-fish of the shallows, showed legs as brown and tough as those of the apostles in Titian's Assumption. Here and there was a boat, with a boy or an old man asleep in the bottom of it. The gulls sailed high, white flakes against the illimitable blue of the heavens; the air, though it was of early spring, and in the shade had a salty pungency, was here almost languorously warm; in the motionless splendors and rich colors of the scene there was a melancholy before which Mrs. Vervain fell fitfully silent. Now and then Ferris briefly spoke, calling Miss Vervain's notice to this or that, and she briefly responded. As they passed the mad-house of San Servolo, a maniac standing at an open window took his black velvet skull-cap from his white hair, bowed low three times, and kissed his hand to the ladies. The Lido in front of them stretched a brown strip of sand with white villages shining out of it; on their left the Public Gardens showed a mass of hovering green; far beyond and above, the ghostlike snows of the Alpine heights haunted the misty horizon.

It was chill in the shadow of the convent when they landed at San Lazzaro, and it was cool in the parlor where they waited for the monk who was to show them through the place; but it was still and warm in the gardened court, where the bees murmured among the crocuses and hyacinths under the noonday sun. Miss Vervain stood looking out of the window upon the lagoon, while her mother drifted about the room, peering at the objects on the wall through her eyeglasses. She was praising a Chinese painting of fish on rice-paper, when a young monk entered with a cordial greeting in English for Mr. Ferris. She turned and saw them shaking hands, but at the same moment her eyeglasses abandoned her nose with a vigorous leap; she gave an amiable laugh, and groping for them over her dress, bowed at random as Mr. Ferris presented Padre Girolamo.

"I've been admiring this painting so much, Padre Girolamo," she said, with instant good-will, and taking the monk into the easy familiarity of her friendship by the tone with which she spoke his name. "Some of the brothers did it, I suppose."

"Oh no," said the monk, "it's a Chinese painting. We hung it up there because it was given to us, and was curious."

"Well, now, do you know," returned Mrs. Vervain, "I _thought it was Chinese! Their things _are_, so odd. But really, in an Armenian convent it's very misleading. I don't think you ought to leave it there; it certainly does throw people off the track," she added, subduing the expression to something very lady-like, by the winning appeal with which she used it.

"Oh, but if they put up Armenian paintings in Chinese convents?" said Mr. Ferris.

"You're joking!" cried Mrs. Vervain, looking at him with a graciously amused air. "There _are no Chinese convents. To be sure those rebels are a kind of Christians," she added thoughtfully, "but there can't be many of them left, poor things, hundreds of them executed at a time, that way. It's perfectly sickening to read of it; and you can't help it, you know. But they say they haven't really so much feeling as we have--not so nervous."

She walked by the side of the young friar as he led the way to such parts of the convent as are open to visitors, and Mr. Ferris came after with her daughter, who, he fancied, met his attempts at talk with sudden and more than usual hauteur. "What a fool!" he said to himself. "Is she afraid I shall be wanting to make love to her?" and he followed in rather a sulky silence the course of Mrs. Vervain and her guide. The library, the chapel, and the museum called out her friendliest praises, and in the last she praised the mummy on show there at the expense of one she had seen in New York; but when Padre Girolamo pointed out the desk in the refectory from which one of the brothers read while the rest were eating, she took him to task. "Oh, but I can't think that's at all good for the digestion, you know,--using the brain that way whilst you're at table. I really hope you don't listen too attentively; it would be better for you in the long run, even in a religious point of view. But now--Byron! You _must show me his cell!" The monk deprecated the non-existence of such a cell, and glanced in perplexity at Mr. Ferris, who came to his relief. "You couldn't have seen his cell, if he'd had one, Mrs. Vervain. They don't admit ladies to the cloister."

"What nonsense!" answered Mrs. Vervain, apparently regarding this as another of Mr. Ferris's pleasantries; but Padre Girolamo silently confirmed his statement, and she briskly assailed the rule as a disrespect to the sex, which reflected even upon the Virgin, the object, as he was forced to allow, of their high veneration. He smiled patiently, and confessed that Mrs. Vervain had all the reasons on her side. At the polyglot printing-office, where she handsomely bought every kind of Armenian book and pamphlet, and thus repaid in the only way possible the trouble their visit had given, he did not offer to take leave of them, but after speaking with Ferris, of whom he seemed an old friend, he led them through the garden environing the convent, to a little pavilion perched on the wall that defends the island from the tides of the lagoon. A lay-brother presently followed them, bearing a tray with coffee, toasted rusk, and a jar of that conserve of rose-leaves which is the convent's delicate hospitality to favored guests. Mrs. Vervain cried out over the poetic confection when Padre Girolamo told her what it was, and her daughter suffered herself to express a guarded pleasure. The amiable matron brushed the crumbs of the _baicolo from her lap when the lunch was ended, and fitting on her glasses leaned forward for a better look at the monk's black-bearded face. "I'm perfectly delighted," she said. "You must be very happy here. I suppose you are."

"Yes," answered the monk rapturously; "so happy that I should be content never to leave San Lazzaro. I came here when I was very young, and the greater part of my life has been passed on this little island. It is my home--my country."

"Do you never go away?"

"Oh yes; sometimes to Constantinople, sometimes to London and Paris."

"And you've never been to America yet? Well now, I'll tell you; you ought to go. You would like it, I know, and our people would give you a very cordial reception."

"Reception?" The monk appealed once more to Ferris with a look.

Ferris broke into a laugh. "I don't believe Padre Girolamo would come in quality of distinguished foreigner, Mrs. Vervain, and I don't think he'd know what to do with one of our cordial receptions."

"Well, he ought to go to America, any way. He can't really know anything about us till he's been there. Just think how ignorant the English are of our country! You _will come, won't you? I should be delighted to welcome you at my house in Providence. Rhode Island is a small State, but there's a great deal of wealth there, and very good society in Providence. It's quite New-Yorky, you know," said Mrs. Vervain expressively. She rose as she spoke, and led the way back to the gondola. She told Padre Girolamo that they were to be some weeks in Venice, and made him promise to breakfast with them at their hotel. She smiled and nodded to him after the boat had pushed off, and kept him bowing on the landing-stairs.

"What a lovely place, and what a perfectly heavenly morning you _have given us, Mr. Ferris I We never can thank you enough for it. And now, do you know what I'm thinking of? Perhaps you can help me. It was Byron's studying there put me in mind of it. How soon do the mosquitoes come?"

"About the end of June," responded Ferris mechanically, staring with helpless mystification at Mrs. Vervain.

"Very well; then there's no reason why we shouldn't stay in Venice till that time. We are both very fond of the place, and we'd quite concluded, this morning, to stop here till the mosquitoes came. You know, Mr. Ferris, my daughter had to leave school much earlier than she ought, for my health has obliged me to travel a great deal since I lost my husband; and I must have her with me, for we're all that there is of us; we haven't a chick or a child that's related to us anywhere. But wherever we stop, even for a few weeks, I contrive to get her some kind of instruction. I feel the need of it so much in my own case; for to tell you the truth, Mr. Ferris, I married too young. I suppose I should do the same thing over again if it was to be done over; but don't you see, my mind wasn't properly formed; and then following my husband about from pillar to post, and my first baby born when I was nineteen-- well, it wasn't education, at any rate, whatever else it was; and I've determined that Florida, though we are such a pair of wanderers, shall not have my regrets. I got teachers for her in England,--the English are not anything like so disagreeable at home as they are in traveling, and we stayed there two years,--and I did in France, and I did in Germany. And now, Italian. Here we are in Italy, and I think we ought to improve the time. Florida knows a good deal of Italian already, for her music teacher in France was an Italian, and he taught her the language as well as music. What she wants now, I should say, is to perfect her accent and get facility. I think she ought to have some one come every day and read and converse an hour or two with her."

Mrs. Vervain leaned back in her seat, and looked at Ferris, who said, feeling that the matter was referred to him, "I think--without presuming to say what Miss Vervain's need of instruction is--that your idea is a very good one." He mused in silence his wonder that so much addlepatedness as was at once observable in Mrs. Vervain should exist along with so much common-sense. "It's certainly very good in the abstract," he added, with a glance at the daughter, as if the sense must be hers. She did not meet his glance at once, but with an impatient recognition of the heat that was now great for the warmth with which she was dressed, she pushed her sleeve from her wrist, showing its delicious whiteness, and letting her fingers trail through the cool water; she dried them on her handkerchief, and then bent her eyes full upon him as if challenging him to think this unlady-like.

"No, clearly the sense does not come from her," said Ferris to himself; it is impossible to think well of the mind of a girl who treats one with tacit contempt.

"Yes," resumed Mrs. Vervain, "it's certainly very good in the abstract. But oh dear me! you've no idea of the difficulties in the way. I may speak frankly with you, Mr. Ferris, for you are here as the representative of the country, and you naturally sympathize with the difficulties of Americans abroad; the teachers will fall in love with their pupils."

"Mother!" began Miss Vervain; and then she checked herself.

Ferris gave a vengeful laugh. "Really, Mrs. Vervain, though I sympathize with you in my official capacity, I must own that as a man and a brother, I can't help feeling a little sorry for those poor fellows, too."

"To be sure, they are to be pitied, of course, and _I feel for them; I did when I was a girl; for the same thing used to happen then. I don't know why Florida should be subjected to such embarrassments, too. It does seem sometimes as if it were something in the blood. They all get the idea that you have money, you know."

"Then I should say that it might be something in the pocket," suggested Ferris with a look at Miss Vervain, in whose silent suffering, as he imagined it, he found a malicious consolation for her scorn.

"Well, whatever it is," replied Mrs. Vervain, "it's too vexatious. Of course, going to new places, that way, as we're always doing, and only going to stay for a limited time, perhaps, you can't pick and choose. And even when you _do get an elderly teacher, they're as bad as any. It really is too trying. Now, when I was talking with that nice monk of yours at the convent, there, I couldn't help thinking how perfectly delightful it would be if Florida could have _him for a teacher. Why couldn't she? He told me that he would come to take breakfast or lunch with us, but not dinner, for he always had to be at the convent before nightfall. Well, he might come to give the lessons sometime in the middle of the day."

"You couldn't manage it, Mrs. Vervain, I know you couldn't," answered Ferris earnestly. "I'm sure the Armenians never do anything of the kind. They're all very busy men, engaged in ecclesiastical or literary work, and they couldn't give the time."

"Why not? There was Byron."

"But Byron went to them, and he studied Armenian, not Italian, with them. Padre Girolamo speaks perfect Italian, for all that I can see; but I doubt if he'd undertake to impart the native accent, which is what you want. In fact, the scheme is altogether impracticable."

"Well," said Mrs. Vervain; "I'm exceedingly sorry. I had quite set my heart on it. I never took such a fancy to any one in such a short time before."

"It seemed to be a case of love at first sight on both sides," said Ferris. "Padre Girolamo doesn't shower those syruped rose-leaves indiscriminately upon visitors."

"Thanks," returned Mrs. Vervain; "it's very good of you to say so, Mr. Ferris, and it's very gratifying, all round; but don't you see, it doesn't serve the present purpose. What teachers do you know of?"

She had been by marriage so long in the service of the United States that she still regarded its agents as part of her own domestic economy. Consuls she everywhere employed as functionaries specially appointed to look after the interests of American ladies traveling without protection. In the week which had passed since her arrival in Venice, there had been no day on which she did not appeal to Ferris for help or sympathy or advice. She took amiable possession of him at once, and she had established an amusing sort of intimacy with him, to which the haughty trepidations of her daughter set certain bounds, but in which the demand that he should find her a suitable Italian teacher seemed trivially matter of course.

"Yes. I know several teachers," he said, after thinking awhile; "but they're all open to the objection of being human; and besides, they all do things in a set kind of way, and I'm afraid they wouldn't enter into the spirit of any scheme of instruction that departed very widely from Ollendorff." He paused, and Mrs. Vervain gave a sketch of the different professional masters whom she had employed in the various countries of her sojourn, and a disquisition upon their several lives and characters, fortifying her statements by reference of doubtful points to her daughter. This occupied some time, and Ferris listened to it all with an abstracted air. At last he said, with a smile, "There was an Italian priest came to see me this morning, who astonished me by knowing English--with a brogue that he'd learned from an English priest straight from Dublin; perhaps _he might do, Mrs. Vervain? He's professionally pledged, you know, not to give the kind of annoyance you've suffered from in teachers. He would do as well as Padre Girolamo, I suppose."

"Do you really? Are you in earnest?"

"Well, no, I believe I'm not. I haven't the least idea he would do. He belongs to the church militant. He came to me with the model of a breech-loading cannon he's invented, and he wanted a passport to go to America, so that he might offer his cannon to our government."

"How curious!" said Mrs. Vervain, and her daughter looked frankly into Ferris's face. "But I know; it's one of your jokes."

"You overpraise me, Mrs. Vervain. If I could make such jokes as that priest was, I should set up for a humorist at once. He had the touch of pathos that they say all true pieces of humor ought to have," he went on instinctively addressing himself to Miss Vervain, who did not repulse him. "He made me melancholy; and his face haunts me. I should like to paint him. Priests are generally such a snuffy, common lot. And I dare say," he concluded, "he's sufficiently commonplace, too, though he didn't look it. Spare your romance, Miss Vervain."

The young lady blushed resentfully. "I see as little romance as joke in it," she said.

"It was a cannon," returned Ferris, without taking any notice of her, and with a sort of absent laugh, "that would make it very lively for the Southerners--if they had it. Poor fellow! I suppose he came with high hopes of me, and expected me to receive his invention with eloquent praises. I've no doubt he figured himself furnished not only with a passport, but with a letter from me to President Lincoln, and foresaw his own triumphal entry into Washington, and his honorable interviews with the admiring generals of the Union forces, to whom he should display his wonderful cannon. Too bad; isn't it?"

"And why didn't you give him the passport and the letter?" asked Mrs. Vervain.

"Oh, that's a state secret," returned Ferris.

"And you think he won't do for our purpose?"

"I don't indeed."

"Well, I'm not so sure of it. Tell me something more about him."

"I don't know anything more about him. Besides, there isn't time."

The gondola had already entered the canal, and was swiftly approaching the hotel.

"Oh yes, there is," pleaded Mrs. Vervain, laying her hand on his arm. "I want you to come in and dine with us. We dine early."

"Thank you, I can't. Affairs of the nation, you know. Rebel privateer on the canal of the Brenta."

"Really?" Mrs. Vervain leaned towards Ferris for sharper scrutiny of his face. Her glasses sprang from her nose, and precipitated themselves into his bosom.

"Allow me," he said, with burlesque politeness, withdrawing them from the recesses of his waistcoat and gravely presenting them. Miss Vervain burst into a helpless laugh; then she turned toward her mother with a kind of indignant tenderness, and gently arranged her shawl so that it should not drop off when she rose to leave the gondola. She did not look again at Ferris, who resisted Mrs. Vervain's entreaties to remain, and took leave as soon as the gondola landed.

The ladies went to their room, where Florida lifted from the table a vase of divers-colored hyacinths, and stepping out upon the balcony flung the flowers into the canal. As she put down the empty vase, the lingering perfume of the banished flowers haunted the air of the room.

"Why, Florida," said her mother, "those were the flowers that Mr. Ferris gave you. Did you fancy they had begun to decay? The smell of hyacinths when they're a little old is dreadful. But I can't imagine a gentleman's giving you flowers that were at all old."

"Oh, mother, don't speak to me!" cried Miss Vervain, passionately, clasping her hands to her face.

"Now I see that I've been saying something to vex you, my darling," and seating herself beside the young girl on the sofa, she fondly took down her hands. "Do tell me what it was. Was it about your teachers falling in love with you? You know they did, Florida: Pestachiavi and Schulze, both; and that horrid old Fleuron."

"Did you think I liked any better on that account to have you talk it over with a stranger?" asked Florida, still angrily.

"That's true, my dear," said Mrs. Vervain, penitently. "But if it worried you, why didn't you do something to stop me? Give me a hint, or just a little knock, somewhere?"

"No, mother; I'd rather not. Then you'd have come out with the whole thing, to prove that you were right. It's better to let it go," said Florida with a fierce laugh, half sob. "But it's strange that you can't remember how such things torment me."

"I suppose it's my weak health, dear," answered the mother. "I didn't use to be so. But now I don't really seem to have the strength to be sensible. I know it's silly as well as you. The talk just seems to keep going on of itself,--slipping out, slipping out. But you needn't mind. Mr. Ferris won't think you could ever have done anything out of the way. I'm sure you don't act with _him as if you'd ever encouraged anybody. I think you're too haughty with him, Florida. And now, his flowers."

"He's detestable. He's conceited and presuming beyond all endurance. I don't care what he thinks of me. But it's his manner towards you that I can't tolerate."

"I suppose it's rather free," said Mrs. Vervain. "But then you know, my dear, I shall be soon getting to be an old lady; and besides, I always feel as if consuls were a kind of one of the family. He's been very obliging since we came; I don't know what we should have done without him. And I don't object to a little ease of manner in the gentlemen; I never did."

"He makes fun of you," cried Florida: "and there at the convent,", she said, bursting into angry tears, "he kept exchanging glances with that monk as if he.... He's insulting, and I hate him!"

"Do you mean that he thought your mother ridiculous, Florida?" asked Mrs. Vervain gravely. "You must have misunderstood his looks; indeed you must. I can't imagine why he should. I remember that I talked particularly well during our whole visit; my mind was active, for I felt unusually strong, and I was interested in everything. It's nothing but a fancy of yours; or your prejudice, Florida. But it's odd, now I've sat down for a moment, how worn out I feel. And thirsty."

Mrs. Vervain fitted on her glasses, but even then felt uncertainly about for the empty vase on the table before her.

"It isn't a goblet, mother," said Florida; "I'll get you some water."

"Do; and then throw a shawl over me. I'm sleepy, and a nap before dinner will do me good. I don't see why I'm so drowsy of late. I suppose it's getting into the sea air here at Venice; though it's mountain air that makes you drowsy. But you're quite mistaken about Mr. Ferris. He isn't capable of anything really rude. Besides, there wouldn't have been any sense in it."

The young girl brought the water and then knelt beside the sofa, on which she arranged the pillows under her mother, and covered her with soft wraps. She laid her cheek against the thinner face. "Don't mind anything I've said, mother; let's talk of something else."

The mother drew some loose threads of the daughter's hair through her slender fingers, but said little more, and presently fell into a deep slumber. Florida gently lifted her head away, and remained kneeling before the sofa, looking into the sleeping face with an expression of strenuous, compassionate devotion, mixed with a vague alarm and self-pity, and a certain wondering anxiety.

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