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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 8
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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 8 Post by :LindaP Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :1635

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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 8


It was late before Ferris forgot his chagrin in sleep, and when he woke the next morning, the sun was making the solid green blinds at his window odorous of their native pine woods with its heat, and thrusting a golden spear at the heart of Don Ippolito's effigy where he had left it on the easel.

Marina brought a letter with his coffee. The letter was from Mrs. Vervain, and it entreated him to come to lunch at twelve, and then join them on an excursion, of which they had all often talked, up the Canal of the Brenta. "Don Ippolito has got his permission--think of his not being able to go to the mainland without the Patriarch's leave! and can go with us to-day. So I try to make this hasty arrangement. You _must come--it all depends upon you."

"Yes, so it seems," groaned the painter, and went.

In the garden he found Don Ippolito and Florida, at the fountain where he had himself parted with her the evening before; and he observed with a guilty relief that Don Ippolito was talking to her in the happy unconsciousness habitual with him.

Florida cast at the painter a swift glance of latent appeal and intelligence, which he refused, and in the same instant she met him with another look, as if she now saw him for the first time, and gave him her hand in greeting. It was a beautiful hand; he could not help worshipping its lovely forms, and the lily whiteness and softness of the back, the rose of the palm and finger-tips.

She idly resumed the great Venetian fan which hung from her waist by a chain. "Don Ippolito has been talking about the vitteggiatura on the Brenta in the old days," she explained.

"Oh, yes," said the painter, "they used to have merry times in the villas then, and it was worth while being a priest, or at least an abbate di casa. I should think you would sigh for a return of those good old days, Don Ippolito. Just imagine, if you were abbate di casa with some patrician family about the close of the last century, you might be the instructor, companion, and spiritual adviser of Illustrissima at the theatres, card-parties, and masquerades, all winter; and at this season, instead of going up the Brenta for a day's pleasure with us barbarous Yankees, you might be setting out with Illustrissima and all the 'Strissimi and 'Strissime, big and little, for a spring villeggiatura there. You would be going in a gilded barge, with songs and fiddles and dancing, instead of a common gondola, and you would stay a month, walking, going to parties and caffes, drinking chocolate and lemonade gaming, sonneteering, and butterflying about generally."

"It was doubtless a beautiful life," answered the priest, with simple indifference. "But I never have thought of it with regret, because I have been preoccupied with other ideas than those of social pleasures, though perhaps they were no wiser."

Florida had watched Don Ippolito's face while Ferris was speaking, and she now asked gravely, "But don't you think their life nowadays is more becoming to the clergy?"

"Why, madamigella? What harm was there in those gayeties? I suppose the bad features of the old life are exaggerated to us."

"They couldn't have been worse than the amusements of the hard-drinking, hard-riding, hard-swearing, fox-hunting English parsons about the same time," said Ferris. "Besides, the abbate di casa had a charm of his own, the charm of all _rococo things, which, whatever you may say of them, are somehow elegant and refined, or at least refer to elegance and refinement. I don't say they're ennobling, but they're fascinating. I don't respect them, but I love them. When I think about the past of Venice, I don't care so much to see any of the heroically historical things; but I should like immensely to have looked in at the Ridotto, when the place was at its gayest with wigs and masks, hoops and small-clothes, fans and rapiers, bows and courtesies, whispers and glances. I dare say I should have found Don Ippolito there in some becoming disguise."

Florida looked from the painter to the priest and back to the painter, as Ferris spoke, and then she turned a little anxiously toward the terrace, and a shadow slipped from her face as her mother came rustling down the steps, catching at her drapery and shaking it into place. The young girl hurried to meet her, lifted her arms for what promised an embrace, and with firm hands set the elder lady's bonnet straight with her forehead.

"I'm always getting it on askew," Mrs. Vervain said for greeting to Ferris. "How do you do, Don Ippolito? But I suppose you think I've kept you long enough to get it on straight for once. So I have. I _am a fuss, and I don't deny it. At my time of life, it's much harder to make yourself shipshape than it is when you're younger. I tell Florida that anybody would take _her for the _old lady, she does seem to give so little care to getting up an appearance."

"And yet she has the effect of a stylish young person in the bloom of youth," observed Ferris, with a touch of caricature.

"We had better lunch with our things on," said Mrs. Vervain, "and then there needn't be any delay in starting. I thought we would have it here," she added, as Nina and the house-servant appeared with trays of dishes and cups. "So that we can start in a real picnicky spirit. I knew you'd think it a womanish lunch, Mr. Ferris--Don Ippolito likes what we do--and so I've provided you with a chicken salad; and I'm going to ask you for a taste of it; I'm really hungry."

There was salad for all, in fact; and it was quite one o'clock before the lunch was ended, and wraps of just the right thickness and thinness were chosen, and the party were comfortably placed under the striped linen canopy of the gondola, which they had from a public station, the house-gondola being engaged that day. They rowed through the narrow canal skirting the garden out into the expanse before the Giudecca, and then struck across the lagoon towards Fusina, past the island-church of San Giorgio in Alga, whose beautiful tower has flushed and darkened in so many pictures of Venetian sunsets, and past the Austrian lagoon forts with their coronets of guns threatening every point, and the Croatian sentinels pacing to and fro on their walls. They stopped long enough at one of the customs barges to declare to the swarthy, amiable officers the innocence of their freight, and at the mouth of the Canal of the Brenta they paused before the station while a policeman came out and scanned them. He bowed to Don Ippolito's cloth, and then they began to push up the sluggish canal, shallow and overrun with weeds and mosses, into the heart of the land.

The spring, which in Venice comes in the softening air and the perpetual azure of the heavens, was renewed to their senses in all its miraculous loveliness. The garden of the Vervains had indeed confessed it in opulence of leaf and bloom, but there it seemed somehow only like a novel effect of the artifice which had been able to create a garden in that city of stone and sea. Here a vernal world suddenly opened before them, with wide-stretching fields of green under a dome of perfect blue; against its walls only the soft curves of far-off hills were traced, and near at hand the tender forms of full-foliaged trees. The long garland of vines that festoons all Italy seemed to begin in the neighboring orchards; the meadows waved their tall grasses in the sun, and broke in poppies as the sea-waves break in iridescent spray; the well-grown maize shook its gleaming blades in the light; the poplars marched in stately procession on either side of the straight, white road to Padua, till they vanished in the long perspective. The blossoms had fallen from the trees many weeks before, but the air was full of the vague sweetness of the perfect spring, which here and there gathered and defined itself as the spicy odor of the grass cut on the shore of the canal, and drying in the mellow heat of the sun.

The voyagers spoke from time to time of some peculiarity of the villas that succeeded each other along the canal. Don Ippolito knew a few of them, the gondoliers knew others; but after all, their names were nothing. These haunts of old-time splendor and idleness weary of themselves, and unable to escape, are sadder than anything in Venice, and they belonged, as far as the Americans were concerned, to a world as strange as any to which they should go in another life,--the world of a faded fashion and an alien history. Some of the villas were kept in a sort of repair; some were even maintained in the state of old; but the most showed marks of greater or less decay, and here and there one was falling to ruin. They had gardens about them, tangled and wild-grown; a population of decrepit statues in the rococo taste strolled in their walks or simpered from their gates. Two or three houses seemed to be occupied; the rest stood empty, each

"Close latticed to the brooding heat,
And silent in its dusty vines."

The pleasure-party had no fixed plan for the day further than to ascend the canal, and by and by take a carriage at some convenient village and drive to the famous Villa Pisani at Stra.

"These houses are very well," said Don Ippolito, who had visited the villa once, and with whom it had remained a memory almost as signal as that night in Padua when he wore civil dress, "but it is at Stra you see something really worthy of the royal splendor of the patricians of Venice. Royal? The villa is now one of the palaces of the ex-Emperor of Austria, who does not find it less imperial than his other palaces." Don Ippolito had celebrated the villa at Stra in this strain ever since they had spoken of going up the Brenta: now it was the magnificent conservatories and orangeries that he sang, now the vast garden with its statued walks between rows of clipt cedars and firs, now the stables with their stalls for numberless horses, now the palace itself with its frescoed halls and treasures of art and vertu. His enthusiasm for the villa at Stra had become an amiable jest with the Americans. Ferris laughed at his fresh outburst he declared himself tired of the gondola, and he asked Florida to disembark with him and walk under the trees of a pleasant street running on one side between the villas and the canal. "We are going to find something much grander than the Villa Pisani," he boasted, with a look at Don Ippolito.

As they sauntered along the path together, they came now and then to a stately palace like that of the Contarini, where the lions, that give their name to one branch of the family, crouch in stone before the grand portal; but most of the houses were interesting only from their unstoried possibilities to the imagination. They were generally of stucco, and glared with fresh whitewash through the foliage of their gardens. When a peasant's cottage broke their line, it gave, with its barns and straw-stacks and its beds of pot-herbs, a homely relief from the decaying gentility of the villas.

"What a pity, Miss Vervain," said the painter, "that the blessings of this world should be so unequally divided! Why should all this sketchable adversity be lavished upon the neighborhood of a city that is so rich as Venice in picturesque dilapidation? It's pretty hard on us Americans, and forces people of sensibility into exile. What wouldn't cultivated persons give for a stretch of this street in the suburbs of Boston, or of your own Providence? I suppose the New Yorkers will be setting up something of the kind one of these days, and giving it a French name--they'll call it _Aux bords du Brenta_. There was one of them carried back a gondola the other day to put on a pond in their new park. But the worst of it is, you can't take home the sentiment of these things."

"I thought it was the business of painters to send home the sentiment of them in pictures," said Florida.

Ferris talked to her in this way because it was his way of talking; it always surprised him a little that she entered into the spirit of it; he was not quite sure that she did; he sometimes thought she waited till she could seize upon a point to turn against him, and so give herself the air of having comprehended the whole. He laughed: "Oh yes, a poor little fragmentary, faded-out reproduction of their sentiment--which is 'as moonlight unto sunlight and as water unto wine,' when compared with the real thing. Suppose I made a picture of this very bit, ourselves in the foreground, looking at the garden over there where that amusing Vandal of an owner has just had his statues painted white: would our friends at home understand it? A whole history must be left unexpressed. I could only hint at an entire situation. Of course, people with a taste for olives would get the flavor; but even they would wonder that I chose such an unsuggestive bit. Why, it is just the most maddeningly suggestive thing to be found here! And if I may put it modestly, for my share in it, I think we two young Americans looking on at this supreme excess of the rococo, are the very essence of the sentiment of the scene; but what would the honored connoisseurs--the good folks who get themselves up on Ruskin and try so honestly hard to have some little ideas about art--make of us? To be sure they might justifiably praise the grace of your pose, if I were so lucky as to catch it, and your way of putting your hand under the elbow of the arm that holds your parasol,"--Florida seemed disdainfully to keep her attitude, and the painter smiled,--"but they wouldn't know what it all meant, and couldn't imagine that we were inspired by this rascally little villa to sigh longingly over the wicked past."

"Excuse me," interrupted Florida, with a touch of trouble in her proud manner, "I'm not sighing over it, for one, and I don't want it back. I'm glad that I'm American and that there is no past for me. I can't understand how you and Don Ippolito can speak so tolerantly of what no one can respect," she added, in almost an aggrieved tone.

If Miss Vervain wanted to turn the talk upon Don Ippolito, Ferris by no means did; he had had enough of that subject yesterday; he got as lightly away from it as he could.

"Oh, Don Ippolito's a pagan, I tell you; and I'm a painter, and the rococo is my weakness. I wish I could paint it, but I can't; I'm a hundred years too late. I couldn't even paint myself in the act of sentimentalizing it."

While he talked, he had been making a few lines in a small pocket sketch-book, with a furtive glance or two at Florida. When they returned to the boat, he busied himself again with the book, and presently he handed it to Mrs. Vervain.

"Why, it's Florida!" cried the lady. "How very nicely you do sketch, Mr. Ferris."

"Thanks, Mrs. Vervain; you're always flattering me."

"No, but seriously. I _wish that I had paid more attention to my drawing when I was a girl. And now, Florida--she won't touch a pencil. I wish you'd talk to her, Mr. Ferris."

"Oh, people who are pictures needn't trouble themselves to be painters," said Ferris, with a little burlesque.

Mrs. Vervain began to look at the sketch through her tubed hand; the painter made a grimace. "But you've made her too proud, Mr. Ferris. She doesn't look like that."

"Yes she does--to those unworthy of her kindness. I have taken Miss Vervain in the act of scorning the rococo, and its humble admirer, me, with it."

"I'm sure _I don't know what you mean, Mr. Ferris; but I can't think that this proud look is habitual with Florida; and I've heard people say--very good judges--that an artist oughtn't to perpetuate a temporary expression. Something like that."

"It can't be helped now, Mrs. Vervain: the sketch is irretrievably immortal. I'm sorry, but it's too late."

"Oh, stuff! As if you couldn't turn up the corners of the mouth a little. Or something."

"And give her the appearance of laughing at me? Never!"

"Don Ippolito," said Mrs. Vervain, turning to the priest, who had been listening intently to all this trivial talk, "what do you think of this sketch?"

He took the book with an eager hand, and perused the sketch as if trying to read some secret there. After a minute he handed it back with a light sigh, apparently of relief, but said nothing.

"Well?" asked Mrs. Vervain.

"Oh! I ask pardon. No, it isn't my idea of madamigella. It seems to me that her likeness must be sketched in color. Those lines are true, but they need color to subdue them; they go too far, they are more than true."

"You're quite right, Don Ippolito," said Ferris.

"Then _you don't think she always has this proud look?" pursued Mrs. Vervain. The painter fancied that Florida quelled in herself a movement of impatience; he looked at her with an amused smile.

"Not always, no," answered Don Ippolito.

"Sometimes her face expresses the greatest meekness in the world."

"But not at the present moment," thought Ferris, fascinated by the stare of angry pride which the girl bent upon the unconscious priest.

"Though I confess that I should hardly know how to characterize her habitual expression," added Don Ippolito.

"Thanks," said Florida, peremptorily. "I'm tired of the subject; it isn't an important one."

"Oh yes it is, my dear," said Mrs. Vervain. "At least it's important to me, if it isn't to you; for I'm your mother, and really, if I thought you looked like this, as a general thing, to a casual observer, I should consider it a reflection upon myself." Ferris gave a provoking laugh, as she continued sweetly, "I must insist, Don Ippolito: now did you ever see Florida look so?"

The girl leaned back, and began to wave her fan slowly to and fro before her face.

"I never saw her look so with you, dear madama," said the priest with an anxious glance at Florida, who let her fan fall folded into her lap, and sat still. He went on with priestly smoothness, and a touch of something like invoked authority, such as a man might show who could dispense indulgences and inflict penances. "No one could help seeing her devotedness to you, and I have admired from the first an obedience and tenderness that I have never known equaled. In all her relations to you, madamigella has seemed to me"--

Florida started forward. "You are not asked to comment on my behavior to my mother; you are not invited to speak of my conduct at all!" she burst out with sudden violence, her visage flaming, and her blue eyes burning upon Don Ippolito, who shrank from the astonishing rudeness as from a blow in the face. "What is it to you how I treat my mother?"

She sank back again upon the cushions, and opening the fan with a clash swept it swiftly before her.

"Florida!" said her mother gravely.

Ferris turned away in cold disgust, like one who has witnessed a cruelty done to some helpless thing. Don Ippolito's speech was not fortunate at the best, but it might have come from a foreigner's misapprehension, and at the worst it was good-natured and well-meant. "The girl is a perfect brute, as I thought in the beginning," the painter said to himself. "How could I have ever thought differently? I shall have to tell Don Ippolito that I'm ashamed of her, and disclaim all responsibility. Pah! I wish I was out of this."

The pleasure of the day was dead. It could not rally from that stroke. They went on to Stra, as they had planned, but the glory of the Villa Pisani was eclipsed for Don Ippolito. He plainly did not know what to do. He did not address Florida again, whose savagery he would not probably have known how to resent if he had wished to resent it. Mrs. Vervain prattled away to him with unrelenting kindness; Ferris kept near him, and with affectionate zeal tried to make him talk of the villa, but neither the frescoes, nor the orangeries, nor the green-houses, nor the stables, nor the gardens could rouse him from the listless daze in which he moved, though Ferris found them all as wonderful as he had said. Amidst this heavy embarrassment no one seemed at ease but the author of it. She did not, to be sure, speak to Don Ippolito, but she followed her mother as usual with her assiduous cares, and she appeared tranquilly unconscious of the sarcastic civility with which Ferris rendered her any service. It was late in the afternoon when they got back to their boat and began to descend the canal towards Venice, and long before they reached Fusina the day had passed. A sunset of melancholy red, streaked with level lines of murky cloud, stretched across the flats behind them, and faintly tinged with its reflected light the eastern horizon which the towers and domes of Venice had not yet begun to break. The twilight came, and then through the overcast heavens the moon shone dim; a light blossomed here and there in the villas, distant voices called musically; a cow lowed, a dog barked; the rich, sweet breath of the vernal land mingled its odors with the sultry air of the neighboring lagoon. The wayfarers spoke little; the time hung heavy on all, no doubt; to Ferris it was a burden almost intolerable to hear the creak of the oars and the breathing of the gondoliers keeping time together. At last the boat stopped in front of the police-station in Fusina; a soldier with a sword at his side and a lantern in his hand came out and briefly parleyed with the gondoliers; they stepped ashore, and he marched them into the station before him.

"We have nothing left to wish for now," said Ferris, breaking into an ironical laugh.

"What does it all mean?" asked Mrs. Vervain.

"I think I had better go see."

"We will go with you," said Mrs. Vervain.

"Pazienza!" replied Ferris.

The ladies rose; but Don Ippolito remained seated. "Aren't you going too, Don Ippolito?" asked Mrs. Vervain.

"Thanks, madama; but I prefer to stay here."

Lamentable cries and shrieks, as if the prisoners had immediately been put to the torture, came from the station as Ferris opened the door. A lamp of petroleum lighted the scene, and shone upon the figures of two fishermen, who bewailed themselves unintelligibly in the vibrant accents of Chiozza, and from time to time advanced upon the gondoliers, and shook their heads and beat their breasts at them, A few police-guards reclined upon benches about the room, and surveyed the spectacle with mild impassibility.

Ferris politely asked one of them the cause of the detention.

"Why, you see, signore," answered the guard amiably, "these honest men accuse your gondoliers of having stolen a rope out of their boat at Dolo."

"It was my blood, you know!" howled the elder of the fishermen, tossing his arms wildly abroad, "it was my own heart," he cried, letting the last vowel die away and rise again in mournful refrain, while he stared tragically into Ferris's face.

"What _is the matter?" asked Mrs. Vervain, putting up her glasses, and trying with graceful futility to focus the melodrama.

"Nothing," said Ferris; "our gondoliers have had the heart's blood of this respectable Dervish; that is to say, they have stolen a rope belonging to him."

"_Our gondoliers! I don't believe it. They've no right to keep us here all night. Tell them you're the American consul."

"I'd rather not try my dignity on these underlings, Mrs. Vervain; there's no American squadron here that I could order to bombard Fusina, if they didn't mind me. But I'll see what I can do further in quality of courteous foreigner. Can you perhaps tell me how long you will be obliged to detain us here?" he asked of the guard again.

"I am very sorry to detain you at all, signore. But what can I do? The commissary is unhappily absent. He may be here soon."

The guard renewed his apathetic contemplation of the gondoliers, who did not speak a word; the windy lamentation of the fishermen rose and fell fitfully. Presently they went out of doors and poured forth their wrongs to the moon.

The room was close, and with some trouble Ferris persuaded Mrs. Vervain to return to the gondola, Florida seconding his arguments with gentle good sense.

It seemed a long time till the commissary came, but his coming instantly simplified the situation. Perhaps because he had never been able to befriend a consul in trouble before, he befriended Ferris to the utmost. He had met him with rather a browbeating air; but after a glance at his card, he gave a kind of roar of deprecation and apology. He had the ladies and Don Ippolito in out of the gondola, and led them to an upper chamber, where he made them all repose their honored persons upon his sofas. He ordered up his housekeeper to make them coffee, which he served with his own hands, excusing its hurried feebleness, and he stood by, rubbing his palms together and smiling, while they refreshed themselves.

"They need never tell me again that the Austrians are tyrants," said Mrs. Vervain in undertone to the consul.

It was not easy for Ferris to remind his host of the malefactors; but he brought himself to this ungraciousness. The commissary begged pardon, and asked him to accompany him below, where he confronted the accused and the accusers. The tragedy was acted over again with blood-curdling effectiveness by the Chiozzotti; the gondoliers maintaining the calm of conscious innocence.

Ferris felt outraged by the trumped-up charge against them.

"Listen, you others the prisoners," said the commissary. "Your padrone is anxious to return to Venice, and I wish to inflict no further displeasures upon him. Restore their rope to these honest men, and go about your business."

The injured gondoliers spoke in low tones together; then one of them shrugged his shoulders and went out. He came back in a moment and laid a rope before the commissary.

"Is that the rope?" he asked. "We found it floating down the canal, and picked it up that we might give it to the rightful owner. But now I wish to heaven we had let it sink to the bottom of the sea."

"Oh, a beautiful story!" wailed the Chiozzoti. They flung themselves upon the rope, and lugged it off to their boat; and the gondoliers went out, too.

The commissary turned to Ferris with an amiable smile. "I am sorry that those rogues should escape," said the American.

"Oh," said the Italian, "they are poor fellows it is a little matter; I am glad to have served you."

He took leave of his involuntary guests with effusion, following them with a lantern to the gondola.

Mrs. Vervain, to whom Ferris gave an account of this trial as they set out again on their long-hindered return, had no mind save for the magical effect of his consular quality upon the commissary, and accused him of a vain and culpable modesty.

"Ah," said the diplomatist, "there's nothing like knowing just when to produce your dignity. There are some officials who know too little,--like those guards; and there are some who know too much,--like the commissary's superiors. But he is just in that golden mean of ignorance where he supposes a consul is a person of importance."

Mrs. Vervain disputed this, and Ferris submitted in silence. Presently, as they skirted the shore to get their bearings for the route across the lagoon, a fierce voice in Venetian shouted from the darkness, "Indrio, indrio!" (Back, back!) and a gleam of the moon through the pale, watery clouds revealed the figure of a gendarme on the nearest point of land. The gondoliers bent to their oars, and sent the boat swiftly out into the lagoon.

"There, for example, is a person who would be quite insensible to my greatness, even if I had the consular seal in my pocket. To him we are possible smugglers; (Footnote: Under the Austrians, Venice was a free port but everything carried there to the mainland was liable to duty.) and I must say," he continued, taking out his watch, and staring hard at it, "that if I were a disinterested person, and heard his suspicion met with the explanation that we were a little party out here for pleasure at half past twelve P. M., I should say he was right. At any rate we won't engage him in controversy. Quick, quick!" he added to the gondoliers, glancing at the receding shore, and then at the first of the lagoon forts which they were approaching. A dim shape moved along the top of the wall, and seemed to linger and scrutinize them. As they drew nearer, the challenge, "_Wer da?_" rang out.

The gondoliers eagerly answered with the one word of German known to their craft, "_Freunde_," and struggled to urge the boat forward; the oar of the gondolier in front slipped from the high rowlock, and fell out of his hand into the water. The gondola lurched, and then suddenly ran aground on the shallow. The sentry halted, dropped his gun from his shoulder, and ordered them to go on, while the gondoliers clamored back in the high key of fear, and one of them screamed out to his passengers to do something, saying that, a few weeks before, a sentinel had fired upon a fisherman and killed him.

"What's that he's talking about?" demanded Mrs. Vervain. "If we don't get on, it will be that man's duty to fire on us; he has no choice," she said, nerved and interested by the presence of this danger.

The gondoliers leaped into the water and tried to push the boat off. It would not move, and without warning, Don Ippolito, who had sat silent since they left Fusina, stepped over the side of the gondola, and thrusting an oar under its bottom lifted it free of the shallow.

"Oh, how very unnecessary!" cried Mrs. Vervain, as the priest and the gondoliers clambered back into the boat. "He will take his death of cold."

"It's ridiculous," said Ferris. "You ought to have told these worthless rascals what to do, Don Ippolito. You've got yourself wet for nothing. It's too bad!"

"It's nothing," said Don Ippolito, taking his seat on the little prow deck, and quietly dripping where the water would not incommode the others.

"Oh, here!" cried Mrs. Vervain, gathering some shawls together, "make him wrap those about him. He'll die, I know he will--with that reeking skirt of his. If you must go into the water, I wish you had worn your abbate's dress. How _could you, Don Ippolito?"

The gondoliers set their oars, but before they had given a stroke, they were arrested by a sharp "Halt!" from the fort. Another figure had joined the sentry, and stood looking at them.

"Well," said Ferris, "_now what, I wonder? That's an officer. If I had a little German about me, I might state the situation to him."

He felt a light touch on his arm. "I can speak German," said Florida timidly.

"Then you had better speak it now," said Ferris.

She rose to her feet, and in a steady voice briefly explained the whole affair. The figures listened motionless; then the last comer politely replied, begging her to be in no uneasiness, made her a shadowy salute, and vanished. The sentry resumed his walk, and took no further notice of them.

"Brava!" said Ferris, while Mrs. Vervain babbled her satisfaction, "I will buy a German Ollendorff to-morrow. The language is indispensable to a pleasure excursion in the lagoon."

Florida made no reply, but devoted herself to restoring her mother to that state of defense against the discomforts of the time and place, which the common agitation had impaired. She seemed to have no sense of the presence of any one else. Don Ippolito did not speak again save to protect himself from the anxieties and reproaches of Mrs. Vervain, renewed and reiterated at intervals. She drowsed after a while, and whenever she woke she thought they had just touched her own landing. By fits it was cloudy and moonlight; they began to meet peasants' boats going to the Rialto market; at last, they entered the Canal of the Zattere, then they slipped into a narrow way, and presently stopped at Mrs. Vervain's gate; this time she had not expected it. Don Ippolito gave her his hand, and entered the garden with her, while Ferris lingered behind with Florida, helping her put together the wraps strewn about the gondola.

"Wait!" she commanded, as they moved up the garden walk. "I want to speak with you about Don Ippolito. What shall I do to him for my rudeness? You _must tell me--you _shall_," she said in a fierce whisper, gripping the arm which Ferris had given to help her up the landing-stairs. "You are--older than I am!"

"Thanks. I was afraid you were going to say wiser. I should think your own sense of justice, your own sense of"--

"Decency. Say it, say it!" cried the girl passionately; "it was indecent, indecent--that was it!"

--"would tell you what to do," concluded the painter dryly.

She flung away the arm to which she had been clinging, and ran to where the priest stood with her mother at the foot of the terrace stairs. "Don Ippolito," she cried, "I want to tell you that I am sorry; I want to ask your pardon--how can you ever forgive me?--for what I said."

She instinctively stretched her hand towards him.

"Oh!" said the priest, with an indescribable long, trembling sigh. He caught her hand in his held it tight, and then pressed it for an instant against his breast.

Ferris made a little start forward.

"Now, that's right, Florida," said her mother, as the four stood in the pale, estranging moonlight. "I'm sure Don Ippolito can't cherish any resentment. If he does, he must come in and wash it out with a glass of wine--that's a good old fashion. I want you to have the wine at any rate, Don Ippolito; it'll keep you from taking cold. You really must."

"Thanks, madama; I cannot lose more time, now; I must go home at once. Good night."

Before Mrs. Vervain could frame a protest, or lay hold of him, he bowed and hurried out of the land-gate.

"How perfectly absurd for him to get into the water in that way," she said, looking mechanically in the direction in which he had vanished.

"Well, Mrs. Vervain, it isn't best to be too grateful to people," said Ferris, "but I think we must allow that if we were in any danger, sticking there in the mud, Don Ippolito got us out of it by putting his shoulder to the oar."

"Of course," assented Mrs. Vervain.

"In fact," continued Ferris, "I suppose we may say that, under Providence, we probably owe our lives to Don Ippolito's self-sacrifice and Miss Vervain's knowledge of German. At any rate, it's what I shall always maintain."

"Mother, don't you think you had better go in?" asked Florida, gently. Her gentleness ignored the presence, the existence of Ferris. "I'm afraid you will be sick after all this fatigue."

"There, Mrs. Vervain, it'll be no use offering _me a glass of wine. I'm sent away, you see," said Ferris. "And Miss Vervain is quite right. Good night."

"Oh--_good night, Mr. Ferris," said Mrs. Vervain, giving her hand. "Thank you so much."

Florida did not look towards him. She gathered her mother's shawl about her shoulders for the twentieth time that day, and softly urged her in doors, while Ferris let himself out into the campo.

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A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 12 A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 12

A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 12
CHAPTER XIIThe day was one of those which can come to the world only in early June at Venice. The heaven was without a cloud, but a blue haze made mystery of the horizon where the lagoon and sky met unseen. The breath of the sea bathed in freshness the city at whose feet her tides sparkled and slept. The great square of St. Mark was transformed from a mart, from a _salon_, to a temple. The shops under the colonnades that inclose it upon three sides were shut; the caffes, before which the circles of idle coffee-drinkers and sherbet-eaters ordinarily

A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 7 A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 7

A Foregone Conclusion - Chapter 7
CHAPTER VIIFerris stood cleaning his palette, after Don Ippolito was gone, scraping the colors together with his knife and neatly buttering them on the palette's edge, while he wondered what the priest meant by pumping him in that way. Nothing, he supposed, and yet it was odd. Of course she had a bad temper.... He put on his hat and coat and strolled vaguely forth, and in an hour or two came by a roundabout course to the gondola station nearest his own house. There he stopped, and after an absent contemplation of the boats, from which the gondoliers were clamoring