A FEARFUL RESPONSIBILITY
AND OTHER STORIES
WILLIAM D. HOWELLS
AUTHOR OF "THE LADY OF THE AROOSTOOK," "THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY," ETC.
BOSTON JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY 1881
Copyright, 1881, BY W. D. HOWELLS.
All rights reserved.
UNIVERSITY PRESS JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.
A FEARFUL RESPONSIBILITY 1
AT THE SIGN OF THE SAVAGE 165
TONELLI'S MARRIAGE 209
A FEARFUL RESPONSIBILITY.
Every loyal American who went abroad during the first years of our great war felt bound to make himself some excuse for turning his back on his country in the hour of her trouble. But when Owen Elmore sailed, no one else seemed to think that he needed excuse. All his friends said it was the best thing for him to do; that he could have leisure and quiet over there, and would be able to go on with his work.
At the risk of giving a farcical effect to my narrative, I am obliged to confess that the work of which Elmore's friends spoke was a projected history of Venice. So many literary Americans have projected such a work that it may now fairly be regarded as a national enterprise. Elmore was too obscure to have been announced in the usual way by the newspapers as having this design; but it was well known in his town that he was collecting materials when his professorship in the small inland college with which he was connected lapsed through the enlistment of nearly all the students. The president became colonel of the college regiment; and in parting with Elmore, while their boys waited on the campus without, he had said, "Now, Elmore, you must go on with your history of Venice. Go to Venice and collect your materials on the spot. We're coming through this all right. Mr. Seward puts it at sixty days, but I'll give them six months to lay down their arms, and we shall want you back at the end of the year. Don't you have any compunctions about going. I know how you feel; but it is perfectly right for you to keep out of it. Good-by." They wrung each other's hands for the last time,—the president fell at Fort Donelson; but now Elmore followed him to the door, and when he appeared there one of the boyish captains shouted, "Three cheers for Professor Elmore!" and the president called for the tiger, and led it, whirling his cap round his head.
Elmore went back to his study, sick at heart. It grieved and vexed him that even these had not thought that he should go to the war, and that his inward struggle on that point had been idle so far as others were concerned. He had been quite earnest in the matter; he had once almost volunteered as a private soldier: he had consulted his doctor, who sternly discouraged him. He would have been truly glad of any accident that forced him into the ranks; but, as he used afterward to say, it was not his idea of soldiership to enlist for the hospital. At the distance of five hundred miles from the scene of hostilities, it was absurd to enter the Home Guard; and, after all, there were, even at first, some selfish people who went into the army, and some unselfish people who kept out of it. Elmore's bronchitis was a disorder which active service would undoubtedly have aggravated; as it was, he made a last effort to be of use to our Government as a bearer of dispatches. Failing such an appointment, he submitted to expatriation as he best could; and in Italy he fought for our cause against the English, whom he found everywhere all but in arms against us.
He sailed, in fine, with a very fair conscience. "I should be perfectly at ease," he said to his wife, as the steamer dropped smoothly down to Sandy Hook, "if I were sure that I was not glad to be getting away."
"You are not glad," she answered.
"I don't know, I don't know," he said, with the weak persistence of a man willing that his wife should persuade him against his convictions; "I wish that I felt certain of it."
"You are too sick to go to the war; nobody expected you to go."
"I know that, and I can't say that I like it. As for being too sick, perhaps it's the part of a man to go if he dies on the way to the field. It would encourage the others," he added, smiling faintly.
She ignored the tint from Voltaire in replying: "Nonsense! It would do no good at all. At any rate, it's too late now."
"Yes, it's too late now."
The sea-sickness which shortly followed formed a diversion from his accusing thoughts. Each day of the voyage removed them further, and with the preoccupations of his first days in Europe, his travel to Italy, and his preparations for a long sojourn in Venice, they had softened to a pensive sense of self-sacrifice, which took a warmer or a cooler tinge according as the news from home was good or bad.
He lost no time in going to work in the Marcian Library, and he early applied to the Austrian authorities for leave to have transcripts made in the archives. The permission was negotiated by the American consul (then a young painter of the name of Ferris), who reported a mechanical facility on the part of the authorities,—as if, he said, they were used to obliging American historians of Venice. The foreign tyranny which cast a pathetic glamour over the romantic city had certainly not appeared to grudge such publicity as Elmore wished to give her heroic memories, though it was then at its most repressive period, and formed a check upon the whole life of the place. The tears were hardly yet dry in the despairing eyes that had seen the French fleet sail away from the Lido, after Solferino, without firing a shot in behalf of Venice; but Lombardy, the Duchies, the Sicilies, had all passed to Sardinia, and the Pope alone represented the old order of native despotism in Italy. At Venice the Germans seemed tranquilly awaiting the change which should destroy their system with the rest; and in the meantime there had occurred one of those impressive pauses, as notable in the lives of nations as of men, when, after the occurrence of great events, the forces of action and endurance seem to be gathering themselves against the stress of the future. The quiet was almost consciously a truce and not a peace; and this local calm had drawn into it certain elements that picturesquely and sentimentally heightened the charm of the place. It was a refuge for many exiled potentates and pretenders; the gondolier pointed out on the Grand Canal the palaces of the Count of Chambord, the Duchess of Parma, and the Infante of Spain; and one met these fallen princes in the squares and streets, bowing with distinct courtesy to any that chose to salute them. Every evening the Piazza San Marco was filled with the white coats of the Austrian officers, promenading to the exquisite military music which has ceased there forever; the patrol clanked through the footways at all hours of the night, and the lagoon heard the cry of the sentinel from fort to fort, and from gunboat to gunboat. Through all this the demonstration of the patriots went on, silent, ceaseless, implacable, annulling every alien effort at gayety, depopulating the theatres, and desolating the ancient holidays.
There was something very fine in this, as a spectacle, Elmore said to his young wife, and he had to admire the austere self-denial of a people who would not suffer their tyrants to see them happy; but they secretly owned to each other that it was fatiguing. Soon after coming to Venice they had made some acquaintance among the Italians through Mr. Ferris, and had early learned that the condition of knowing Venetians was not to know Austrians. It was easy and natural for them to submit, theoretically. As Americans, they must respond to any impulse for freedom, and certainly they could have no sympathy with such a system as that of Austria. By whatever was sacred in our own war upon slavery, they were bound to abhor oppression in every form. But it was hard to make the application of their hatred to the amiable-looking people whom they saw everywhere around them in the quality of tyrants, especially when their Venetian friends confessed that personally they liked the Austrians. Besides, if the whole truth must be told, they found that their friendship with the Italians was not always of the most penetrating sort, though it had a superficial intensity that for a while gave the effect of lasting cordiality. The Elmores were not quite able to decide whether the pause of feeling at which they arrived was through their own defect or not. Much was to be laid to the difference of race, religion, and education; but something, they feared, to the personal vapidity of acquaintances whose meridional liveliness made them yawn, and in whose society they did not always find compensation for the sacrifices they made for it.
"But it is right," said Elmore. "It would be a sort of treason to associate with the Austrians. We owe it to the Venetians to let them see that our feelings are with them."
"Yes," said his wife pensively.
"And it is better for us, as Americans abroad, during this war, to be retired."
"Well, we are retired," said Mrs. Elmore.
"Yes, there is no doubt of that," he returned.
They laughed, and made what they could of chance American acquaintances at the caffes. Elmore had his history to occupy him, and doubtless he could not understand how heavy the time hung upon his wife's hands. They went often to the theatre, and every evening they went to the Piazza, and ate an ice at Florian's. This was certainly amusement; and routine was so pleasant to his scholarly temperament that he enjoyed merely that. He made a point of admitting his wife as much as possible into his intellectual life; he read her his notes as fast as he made them, and he consulted her upon the management of his theme, which, as his research extended, he found so vast that he was forced to decide upon a much lighter treatment than he had at first intended. He had resolved upon a history which should be presented in a series of biographical studies, and he was so much interested in this conclusion, and so charmed with the advantages of the form as they developed themselves, that he began to lose the sense of social dulness, and ceased to imagine it in his wife.
A sort of indolence of the sensibilities, in fact, enabled him to endure ennui that made her frantic, and he was often deeply bored without knowing it at the time, or without a reasoned suffering. He suffered as a child suffers, simply, almost ignorantly: it was upon reflection that his nerves began to quiver with retroactive anguish. He was also able to idealize the situation when his wife no longer even wished to do so. His fancy cast a poetry about these Venetian friends, whose conversation displayed the occasional sparkle of Ollendorff-English on a dark ground of lagoon-Italian, and whose vivid smiling and gesticulation she wearied herself in hospitable efforts to outdo. To his eyes their historic past clothed them with its interest, and the long patience of their hope and hatred under foreign rule ennobled them, while to hers they were too often only tiresome visitors, whose powers of silence and of eloquence were alike to be dreaded. It did not console her as it did her husband to reflect that they probably bored the Italians as much in their turn. When a young man, very sympathetic for literature and the Americans, spent an evening, as it seemed to her, in crying nothing but "Per Bacco!" she owned that she liked better his oppressor, who once came by chance, in the figure of a young lieutenant, and who unbuckled his wife, as he called his sword, and, putting her in a corner, sat up on a chair in the middle of the room and sang like a bird, and then told ghost-stories. The songs were out of Heine, and they reminded her of her girlish enthusiasm for German. Elmore was troubled at the lieutenant's visit, and feared it would cost them all their Italian friends; but she said boldly that she did not care; and she never even tried to believe that the life they saw in Venice was comparable to that of their little college town at home, with its teas and picnics, and simple, easy social gayeties. There she had been a power in her way; she had entertained, and had helped to make some matches: but the Venetians ate nothing, and as for young people, they never saw each other but by stealth, and their matches were made by their parents on a money-basis. She could not adapt herself to this foreign life; it puzzled her, and her husband's conformity seemed to estrange them, as far as it went. It took away her spirit, and she grew listless and dull. Even the history began to lose its interest in her eyes; she doubted if the annals of such a people as she saw about her could ever be popular.
There were other things to make them melancholy in their exile. The war at home was going badly, where it was going at all. The letters now never spoke of any term to it; they expressed rather the dogged patience of the time when it seemed as if there could be no end, and indicated that the country had settled into shape about it, and was pushing forward its other affairs as if the war did not exist. Mrs. Elmore felt that the America which she had left had ceased to be. The letters were almost less a pleasure than a pain, but she always tore them open, and read them with eager unhappiness. There were miserable intervals of days and even weeks when no letters came, and when the Reuter telegrams in the Gazette of Venice dribbled their vitriolic news of Northern disaster through a few words or lines, and Galignani's long columns were filled with the hostile exultation and prophecy of the London press.
They had passed eighteen months of this sort of life in Venice when one day a letter dropped into it which sent a thousand ripples over its stagnant surface. Mrs. Elmore read it first to herself, with gasps and cries of pleasure and astonishment, which did not divert her husband from the perusal of some notes he had made the day before, and had brought to the breakfast-table with the intention of amusing her. When she flattened it out over his notes, and exacted his attention, he turned an unwilling and lack-lustre eye upon it; then he looked up at her.
"Did you expect she would come?" he asked, in ill-masked dismay.
"I don't suppose they had any idea of it at first. When Sue wrote me that Lily had been studying too hard, and had to be taken out of school, I said that I wished she could come over and pay us a visit. But I don't believe they dreamed of letting her—Sue says so—till the Mortons' coming seemed too good a chance to be lost. I am so glad of it, Owen! You know how much they have always done for me; and here is a chance now to pay a little of it back."
"What in the world shall we do with her?" he asked.
"Do? Everything! Why, Owen," she urged, with pathetic recognition of his coldness, "she is Susy Stevens's own sister!"
"Oh, yes—yes," he admitted.
"And it was Susy who brought us together!"
"Why, of course."
"And oughtn't you to be glad of the opportunity?"
"I am glad—very glad."
"It will be a relief to you instead of a care. She's such a bright, intelligent girl that we can both sympathize with your work, and you won't have to go round with me all the time, and I can matronize her myself."
"I see, I see," Elmore replied, with scarcely abated seriousness. "Perhaps, if she is coming here for her health, she won't need much matronizing."
"Oh, pshaw! She'll be well enough for that! She's overdone a little at school. I shall take good care of her, I can tell you; and I shall make her have a real good time. It's quite flattering of Susy to trust her to us, so far away, and I shall write and tell her we both think so."
"Yes," said Elmore, "it's a fearful responsibility."
There are instances of the persistence of husbands in certain moods or points of view on which even wheedling has no effect. The wise woman perceives that in these cases she must trust entirely to the softening influences of time, and as much as possible she changes the subject; or if this is impossible she may hope something from presenting a still worse aspect of the affair. Mrs. Elmore said, in lifting the letter from the table: "If she sailed the 3d in the City of Timbuctoo, she will be at Queenstown on the 12th or 13th, and we shall have a letter from her by Wednesday saying when she will be at Genoa. That's as far as the Mortons can bring her, and there's where we must meet her."
"Meet her in Genoa! How?"
"By going there for her," replied Mrs. Elmore, as if this were the simplest thing in the world. "I have never seen Genoa."
Elmore now tacitly abandoned himself to his fate. His wife continued: "I needn't take anything. Merely run on, and right back."
"When must we go?" he asked.
"I don't know yet; but we shall have a letter to-morrow. Don't worry on my account, Owen. Her coming won't be a bit of care to me. It will give me something to do and to think about, and it will be a pleasure all the time to know that it's for Susy Stevens. And I shall like the companionship."
Elmore looked at his wife in surprise, for it had not occurred to him before that with his company she could desire any other companionship. He desired none but hers, and when he was about his work he often thought of her. He supposed that at these moments she thought of him, and found society, as he did, in such thoughts. But he was not a jealous or exacting man, and he said nothing. His treatment of the approaching visit from Susy Stevens's sister had not been enthusiastic, but a spark had kindled his imagination, and it burned warmer and brighter as the days went by. He found a charm in the thought of having this fresh young life here in his charge, and of teaching the girl to live into the great and beautiful history of the city: there was still much of the school-master in him, and he intended to make her sojourn an education to her; and as a literary man he hoped for novel effects from her mind upon material which he was above all trying to set in a new light before himself.
When the time had arrived for them to go and meet Miss Mayhew at Genoa, he was more than reconciled to the necessity. But at the last moment, Mrs. Elmore had one of her old attacks. What these attacks were I find myself unable to specify, but as every lady has an old attack of some kind, I may safely leave their precise nature to conjecture. It is enough that they were of a nervous character, that they were accompanied with headache, and that they prostrated her for several days. During their continuance she required the active sympathy and constant presence of her husband, whose devotion was then exemplary, and brought up long arrears of indebtedness in that way.
"Well, what shall we do?" he asked, as he sank into a chair beside the lounge on which Mrs. Elmore lay, her eyes closed, and a slice of lemon placed on each of her throbbing temples with the effect of a new sort of blinders. "Shall I go alone for her?"
She gave his hand the kind of convulsive clutch that signified, "Impossible for you to leave me."
He reflected. "The Mortons will be pushing on to Leghorn, and somebody must meet her. How would it do for Mr. Hoskins to go?"
Mrs. Elmore responded with a clutch tantamount to "Horrors! How could you think of such a thing?"
"Well, then," he said, "the only thing we can do is to send a valet de place for her. We can send old Cazzi. He's the incarnation of respectability; five francs a day and his expenses will buy all the virtues of him. She'll come as safely with him as with me."
Mrs. Elmore had applied a vividly thoughtful pressure to her husband's hand; she now released it in token of assent, and he rose.
"But don't be gone long," she whispered.
On his way to the caffe which Cazzi frequented, Elmore fell in with the consul.
By this time a change had taken place in the consular office. Mr. Ferris, some months before, had suddenly thrown up his charge and gone home; and after the customary interval of ship-chandler, the California sculptor, Hoskins, had arrived out, with his commission in his pocket, and had set up his allegorical figure of The Pacific Slope in the room where Ferris had painted his too metaphysical conception of A Venetian Priest. Mrs. Elmore had never liked Ferris; she thought him cynical and opinionated, and she believed that he had not behaved quite well towards a young American lady,—a Miss Vervain, who had stayed awhile in Venice with her mother. She was glad to have him go; but she could not admire Mr. Hoskins, who, however good-hearted, was too hopelessly Western. He had had part of one foot shot away in the nine months' service, and walked with a limp that did him honor; and he knew as much of a consul's business as any of the authors or artists with whom it is the tradition to fill that office at Venice. Besides he was at least a fellow-American, and Elmore could not forbear telling him the trouble he was in: a young girl coming from their town in America as far as Genoa with friends, and expecting to be met there by the Elmores, with whom she was to pass some months; Mrs. Elmore utterly prostrated by one of her old attacks, and he unable to leave her, or to take her with him to Genoa; the friends with whom Miss Mayhew travelled unable to bring her to Venice; she, of course, unable to come alone. The case deepened and darkened in Elmore's view as he unfolded it.
"Why," cried the consul sympathetically, "if I could leave my post I'd go!"
"Oh, thank you!" cried Elmore eagerly, remembering his wife. "I couldn't think of letting you."
"Look here!" said the consul, taking an official letter, with the seal broken, from his pocket. "This is the first time I couldn't have left my post without distinct advantage to the public interests, since I've been here. But with this letter from Turin, telling me to be on the lookout for the Alabama, I couldn't go to Genoa even to meet a young lady. The Austrians have never recognized the rebels as belligerents: if she enters the port of Venice, all I've got to do is to require the deposit of her papers with me, and then I should like to see her get out again. I should like to capture her. Of course, I don't mean Miss Mayhew," said the consul, recognizing the double sense in which his language could be taken.
"It would be a great thing for you," said Elmore,—"a great thing."
"Yes, it would set me up in my own eyes, and stop that infernal clatter inside about going over and taking a hand again."
"Yes," Elmore assented, with a twinge of the old shame. "I didn't know you had it too."
"If I could capture the Alabama, I could afford to let the other fellows fight it out."
"I congratulate you, with all my heart," said Elmore sadly, and he walked in silence beside the consul.
"Well," said the latter, with a laugh at Elmore's pensive rapture, "I'm as much obliged to you as if I had captured her. I'll go up to the Piazza with you, and see Cazzi."
The affair was easily arranged; Cazzi was made to feel by the consul's intervention that the shield of American sovereignty had been extended over the young girl whom he was to escort from Genoa, and two days later he arrived with her. Mrs. Elmore's attack now was passing off, and she was well enough to receive Miss Mayhew half-recumbent on the sofa where she had been prone till her arrival. It was pretty to see her fond greeting of the girl, and her joy in her presence as they sat down for the first long talk; and Elmore realized, even in his dreamy withdrawal, how much the bright, active spirit of his wife had suffered merely in the restriction of her English. Now it was not only English they spoke, but that American variety of the language of which I hope we shall grow less and less ashamed; and not only this, but their parlance was characterized by local turns and accents, which all came welcomely back to Mrs. Elmore, together with those still more intimate inflections which belonged to her own particular circle of friends in the little town of Patmos, N. Y. Lily Mayhew was of course not of her own set, being five or six years younger; but women, more easily than men, ignore the disparities of age between themselves and their juniors; and in Susy Stevens's absence it seemed a sort of tribute to her to establish her sister in the affection which Mrs. Elmore had so long cherished. Their friendship had been of such a thoroughly trusted sort on both sides that Mrs. Stevens (the memorably brilliant Sue Mayhew in her girlish days) had felt perfectly free to act upon Mrs. Elmore's invitation to let Lily come out to her; and here the child was, as much at home as if she had just walked into Mrs. Elmore's parlor out of her sister's house in Patmos.
They briefly dispatched the facts relating to Miss Mayhew's voyage, and her journey to Genoa, and came as quickly as they could to all those things which Mrs. Elmore was thirsting to learn about the town and its people. "Is it much changed? I suppose it is," she sighed. "The war changes everything."
"Oh, you don't notice the war much," said Miss Mayhew. "But Patmos is gay,—perfectly delightful. We've got one of the camps there now; and such times as the girls have with the officers! We have lots of fun getting up things for the Sanitary. Hops on the parade-ground at the camp, and going out to see the prisoners,—you never saw such a place."
"The prisoners?" murmured Mrs. Elmore.
"Why, yes!" cried Lily, with a gay laugh. "Didn't you know that we had a prison-camp too? Some of the Southerners look real nice. I pitied them," she added, with unabated gayety.
"Your sister wrote to me," said Mrs. Elmore; "but I couldn't realize it, I suppose, and so I forgot it."
"Yes," pursued Lily, "and Frank Halsey's in command. You would never know by the way he walks that he had a cork leg. Of course he can't dance, though, poor fellow. He's pale, and he's perfectly fascinating. So's Dick Burton, with his empty sleeve; he's one of the recruiting officers, and there's nobody so popular with the girls. You can't think how funny it is, Professor Elmore, to see the old college buildings used for barracks. Dick says it's much livelier than it was when he was a student there."
"I suppose it must be," dreamily assented the professor. "Does he find plenty of volunteers?"
"Well, you know," the young girl explained, "that the old style of volunteering is all over."
"No, I didn't know it."
"Yes. It's the bounties now that they rely upon, and they do say that it will come to the draft very soon, now. Some of the young men have gone to Canada. But everybody despises them. Oh, Mrs. Elmore, I should think you'd be so glad to have the professor off here, and honorably out of the way!"
"I'm dishonorably out of the way; I can never forgive myself for not going to the war," said Elmore.
"Why, how ridiculous!" cried Lily. "Nobody feels that way about it now! As Dick Burton says, we've come down to business. I tell you, when you see arms and legs off in every direction, and women going about in black, you don't feel that it's such a romantic thing any more. There are mighty few engagements now, Mrs. Elmore, when a regiment sets off; no presentation of revolvers in the town hall; and some of the widows have got married again; and that I don't think is right. But what can they do, poor things? You remember Tom Friar's widow, Mrs. Elmore?"
"Tom Friar's widow! Is Tom Friar dead?"
"Why, of course! One of the first. I think it was Ball's Bluff. Well, she's married. But she married his cousin, and as Dick Burton says, that isn't so bad. Isn't it awful, Mrs. Clapp's losing all her boys,—all five of them? It does seem to bear too hard on some families. And then, when you see every one of those six Armstrongs going through without a scratch!"
"I suppose," said Elmore, "that business is at a standstill. The streets must look rather dreary."
"Business at a standstill!" exclaimed Lily. "What has Sue been writing you all this time? Why, there never was such prosperity in Patmos before! Everybody is making money, and people that you wouldn't hardly speak to a year ago are giving parties and inviting the old college families. You ought to see the residences and business blocks going up all over the place. I don't suppose you would know Patmos now. You remember George Fenton, Mrs. Elmore?"
"Mr. Haskell's clerk?"
"Yes. Well, he's made a fortune out of an army contract; and he's going to marry—the engagement came out just before I left—Bella Stearns."
At these words Mrs. Elmore sat upright,—the only posture in which the fact could be imagined. "Lily!"
"Oh, I can tell you these are gay times in America," triumphed the young girl. She now put her hand to her mouth and hid a yawn.
"You're sleepy," said Mrs. Elmore. "Well, you know the way to your room. You'll find everything ready there, and I shall let you go alone. You shall commence being at home at once."
"Yes, I am sleepy," assented Lily; and she promptly said her good-nights and vanished; though a keener eye than Elmore's might have seen that her promptness had a color—or say light—of hesitation in it.
But he only walked up and down the room, after she was gone, in unheedful distress. "Gay times in America! Good heavens! Is the child utterly heartless, Celia, or is she merely obtuse?"
"She certainly isn't at all like Sue," sighed Mrs. Elmore, who had not had time to formulate Lily's defence. "But she's excited now, and a little off her balance. She'll be different to-morrow. Besides, all America seems changed, and the people with it. We shouldn't have noticed it if we had stayed there, but we feel it after this absence."
"I never realized it before, as I did from her babble! The letters have told us the same thing, but they were like the histories of other times. Camps, prisoners, barracks, mutilation, widowhood, death, sudden gains, social upheavals,—it is the old, hideous story of war come true of our day and country. It's terrible!"
"She will miss the excitement," said Mrs. Elmore. "I don't know exactly what we shall do with her. Of course, she can't expect the attentions she's been used to in Patmos, with those young men."
Elmore stopped, and stared at his wife. "What do you mean, Celia?"
"We don't go into society at all, and she doesn't speak Italian. How shall we amuse her?"
"Well, upon my word, I don't know that we're obliged to provide her amusement! Let her amuse herself. Let her take up some branch of study, or of—of—research, and get something besides 'fun' into her head, if possible." He spoke boldly, but his wife's question had unnerved him, for he had a soft heart, and liked people about him to be happy. "We can show her the objects of interest. And there are the theatres," he added.
"Yes, that is true," said Mrs. Elmore. "We can both go about with her. I will just peep in at her now, and see if she has everything she wants." She rose from her sofa and went to Lily's room, whence she did not return for nearly three quarters of an hour. By this time Elmore had got out his notes, and, in their transcription and classification, had fallen into forgetfulness of his troubles. His wife closed the door behind her, and said in a low voice, little above a whisper, as she sank very quietly into a chair, "Well, it has all come out, Owen."
"What has all come out?" he asked, looking up stupidly.
"I knew that she had something on her mind, by the way she acted. And you saw her give me that look as she went out?"
"No—no, I didn't. What look was it? She looked sleepy."
"She looked terribly, terribly excited, and as if she would like to say something to me. That was the reason I said I would let her go to her room alone."
"Of course she would have felt awfully if I had gone straight off with her. So I waited. It may never come to anything in the world, and I don't suppose it will; but it's quite enough to account for everything you saw in her."
"I didn't see anything in her,—that was the difficulty. But what is it—what is it, Celia? You know how I hate these delays."
"Why, I'm not sure that I need tell you, Owen; and yet I suppose I had better. It will be safer," said Mrs. Elmore, nursing her mystery to the last, enjoying it for its own sake, and dreading it for its effect upon her husband. "I suppose you will think your troubles are beginning pretty early," she suggested.
"Is it a trouble?"
"Well, I don't know that it is. If it comes to the very worst, I dare say that every one wouldn't call it a trouble."
Elmore threw himself back in his chair in an attitude of endurance. "What would the worst be?"
"Why, it's no use even to discuss that, for it's perfectly absurd to suppose that it could ever come to that. But the case," added Mrs. Elmore, perceiving that further delay was only further suffering for her husband, and that any fact would now probably fall far short of his apprehensions, "is simply this, and I don't know that it amounts to anything; but at Peschiera, just before the train started, she looked out of the window, and saw a splendid officer walking up and down and smoking; and before she could draw back he must have seen her, for he threw away his cigar instantly, and got into the same compartment. He talked awhile in German with an old gentleman who was there, and then he spoke in Italian with Cazzi; and afterwards, when he heard her speaking English with Cazzi, he joined in. I don't know how he came to join in at first, and she doesn't, either; but it seems that he knew some English, and he began speaking. He was very tall and handsome and distinguished-looking, and a perfect gentleman in his manners; and she says that she saw Cazzi looking rather queer, but he didn't say anything, and so she kept on talking. She told him at once that she was an American, and that she was coming here to stay with friends; and, as he was very curious about America, she told him all she could think of. It did her good to talk about home, for she had been feeling a little blue at being so far away from everybody. Now, I don't see any harm in it; do you, Owen?"
"It isn't according to the custom here; but we needn't care for that. Of course it was imprudent."
"Of course," Mrs. Elmore admitted. "The officer was very polite; and when he found that she was from America, it turned out that he was a great sympathizer with the North, and that he had a brother in our army. Don't you think that was nice?"
"Probably some mere soldier of fortune, with no heart in the cause," said Elmore.
"And very likely he has no brother there, as I told Lily. He told her he was coming to Padua; but when they reached Padua, he came right on to Venice. That shows you couldn't place any dependence upon what he said. He said he expected to be put under arrest for it; but he didn't care,—he was coming. Do you believe they'll put him under arrest?"
"I don't know—I don't know," said Elmore, in a voice of grief and apprehension, which might well have seemed anxiety for the officer's liberty.
"I told her it was one of his jokes. He was very funny, and kept her laughing the whole way, with his broken English and his witty little remarks. She says he's just dying to go to America. Who do you suppose it can be, Owen?"
"How should I know? We've no acquaintance among the Austrians," groaned Elmore.
"That's what I told Lily. She's no idea of the state of things here, and she was quite horrified. But she says he was a perfect gentleman in everything. He belongs to the engineer corps,—that's one of the highest branches of the service, he told her,—and he gave her his card."
"Gave her his card!"
Mrs. Elmore had it in the hand which she had been keeping in her pocket, and she now suddenly produced it; and Elmore read the name and address of Ernst von Ehrhardt, Captain of the Royal-Imperial Engineers, Peschiera. "She says she knows he wanted hers, but she didn't offer to give it to him; and he didn't ask her where she was going, or anything."
"He knew that he could get her address from Cazzi for ten soldi as soon as her back was turned," said Elmore cynically. "What then?"
"Why, he said—and this is the only really bold thing he did do—that he must see her again, and that he should stay over a day in Venice in hopes of meeting her at the theatre or somewhere."
"It's a piece of high-handed impudence!" cried Elmore. "Now, Celia, you see what these people are! Do you wonder that the Italians hate them?"
"You've often said they only hate their system."
"The Austrians are part of their system. He thinks he can take any liberty with us because he is an Austrian officer! Lily must not stir out of the house to-morrow."
"She will be too tired to do so," said Mrs. Elmore.
"And if he molests us further, I will appeal to the consul." Elmore began to walk up and down the room again.
"Well, I don't know whether you could call it molesting, exactly," suggested Mrs. Elmore.
"What do you mean, Celia? Do you suppose that she—she—encouraged this officer?"
"Owen! It was all in the simplicity and innocence of her heart!"
"Well, then, that she wishes to see him again?"
"Certainly not! But that's no reason why we should be rude about it."
"Rude about it? How? Is simply avoiding him rudeness? Is proposing to protect ourselves from his impertinence rudeness?"
"No. And if you can't see the matter for yourself, Owen, I don't know how any one is to make you."
"Why, Celia, one would think that you approved of this man's behavior,—that you wished her to meet him again! You understand what the consequences would be if we received this officer. You know how all the Venetians would drop us, and we should have no acquaintances here outside of the army."
"Who has asked you to receive him, Owen? And as for the Italians dropping us, that doesn't frighten me. But what could he do if he did meet her again? She needn't look at him. She says he is very intelligent, and that he has read a great many English books, though he doesn't speak it very well, and that he knows more about the war than she does. But of course she won't go out to-morrow. All that I hate is that we should seem to be frightened into staying at home."
"She needn't stay in on his account. You said she would be too tired to go out."
"I see by the scattering way you talk, Owen, that your mind isn't on the subject, and that you're anxious to get back to your work. I won't keep you."
"Celia, Celia! Be fair, now!" cried Elmore. "You know very well that I'm only too deeply interested in this matter, and that I'm not likely to get back to my work to-night, at least. What is it you wish me to do?"
Mrs. Elmore considered a while. "I don't wish you to do anything," she returned placably. "Of course, you're perfectly right in not choosing to let an acquaintance begun in that way go any further. We shouldn't at home, and we sha'n't here. But I don't wish you to think that Lily has been imprudent, under the circumstances. She doesn't know that it was anything out of the way, but she happened to do the best that any one could. Of course, it was very exciting and very romantic; girls like such things, and there's no reason they shouldn't. We must manage," added Mrs. Elmore, "so that she shall see that we appreciate her conduct, and trust in her entirely. I wouldn't do anything to wound her pride or self-confidence. I would rather send her out alone to-morrow."
"Of course," said Elmore.
"And if I were with her when she met him, I believe I should leave it entirely to her how to behave."
"Well," said Elmore, "you're not likely to be put to the test. He'll hardly force his way into the house, and she isn't going out."
"No," said Mrs. Elmore. She added, after a silence, "I'm trying to think whether I've ever seen him in Venice; he's here often. But there are so many tall officers with fair complexions and English beards. I should like to know how he looks! She said he was very aristocratic-looking."
"Yes, it's a fine type," said Elmore. "They're all nobles, I believe."
"But after all, they're no better looking than our boys, who come up out of nothing."
"Ours are Americans," said Elmore.
"And they are the best husbands, as I told Lily."
Elmore looked at his wife, as she turned dreamily to leave the room; but since the conversation had taken this impersonal turn he would not say anything to change its complexion. A conjecture vaguely taking shape in his mind resolved itself to nothing again, and left him with only the ache of something unascertained.
In the morning Lily came to breakfast as blooming as a rose. The sense of her simple, fresh, wholesome loveliness might have pierced even the indifference of a man to whom there was but one pretty woman in the world, and who had lived since their marriage as if his wife had absorbed her whole sex into herself: this deep, unconscious constancy was a noble trait in him, but it is not so rare in men as women would have us believe. For Elmore, Miss Mayhew merely pervaded the place in her finer way, as the flowers on the table did, as the sweet butter, the new eggs, and the morning's French bread did; he looked at her with a perfectly serene ignorance of her piquant face, her beautiful eyes and abundant hair, and her trim, straight figure. But his wife exulted in every particular of her charm, and was as generously glad of it as if it were her own; as women are when they are sure that the charm of others has no designs. The ladies twittered and laughed together, and as he was a man without small talk, he soon dropped out of the conversation into a reverie, from which he found himself presently extracted by a question from his wife.
"We had better go in a gondola, hadn't we, Owen?" She seemed to be, as she put this, trying to look something into him. He, on his part, tried his best to make out her meaning, but failed.
He simply asked, "Where? Are you going out?"
"Yes. Lily has some shopping she must do. I think we can get it at Pazienti's in San Polo."
Again she tried to pierce him with her meaning. It seemed to him a sudden advance from the position she had taken the night before in regard to Miss Mayhew's not going out; but he could not understand his wife's look, and he feared to misinterpret if he opposed her going. He decided that she wished him for some reason to oppose the gondola, so he said, "I think you'd better walk, if Lily isn't too tired."
"Oh, I'm not tired at all!" she cried.
"I can go with you, in that direction, on my way to the library," he added.
"Well, that will be very nice," said Mrs. Elmore, discontinuing her look, and leaving her husband with an uneasy sense of wantonly assumed responsibility.
"She can step into the Frari a moment, and see those tombs," he said. "I think it will amuse her."
Lily broke into a laugh. "Is that the way you amuse yourselves in Venice?" she asked; and Mrs. Elmore hastened to reassure her.
"That's the way Mr. Elmore amuses himself. You know his history makes every bit of the past fascinating to him."
"Oh, yes, that history! Everybody is looking out for that," said Lily.
"Is it possible," said Elmore, with a pensive sarcasm in which an agreeable sense of flattery lurked, "that people still remember me and my history?"
"Yes, indeed!" cried Miss Mayhew. "Frank Halsey was talking about it the night before I left. He couldn't seem to understand why I should be coming to you at Venice, because he said it was a history of Florence you were writing. It isn't, is it? You must be getting pretty near the end of it, Professor Elmore."
"I'm getting pretty near the beginning," said Elmore sadly.
"It must be hard writing histories; they're so awfully hard to read," said Lily innocently. "Does it interest you?" she asked, with unaffected compassion.
"Yes," he said, "far more than it will ever interest anybody else."
"Oh, I don't believe that!" she cried sweetly, seizing the occasion to get in a little compliment.
Mrs. Elmore sat silent, while things were thus going against Miss Mayhew, and perhaps she was then meditating the stroke by which she restored the balance to her own favor as soon as she saw her husband alone after breakfast. "Well, Owen," she said, "you've done it now."
"Done what?" he demanded.
"Oh, nothing, perhaps!" she answered, while she got on her things for the walk with unusual gayety; and, with the consciousness of unknown guilt depressing him, he followed the ladies upon their errand, subdued, distraught, but gradually forgetting his sin, as he forgot everything but his history. His wife hated to see him so miserable, and whispered at the shop-door where they parted, "Don't be troubled, Owen! I didn't mean anything."
"Oh, if you've forgotten, never mind!" she cried; and she and Miss Mayhew disappeared within.
It was two hours later when he next saw them, after he had turned over the book he wished to see, and had found the passage which would enable him to go on with his work for the rest of the day at home. He was fitting his key into the house-door when he happened to look up the little street toward the bridge that led into it, and there, defined against the sky on the level of the bridge, he saw Mrs. Elmore and Miss Mayhew receiving the adieux of a distinguished-looking man in the Austrian uniform. The officer had brought his heels together in the conventional manner, and with his cap in his right hand, while his left rested on the hilt of his sword, and pressed it down, he was bowing from the hips. Once, twice, and he was gone.
The ladies came down the calle with rapid steps and flushed faces, and Elmore let them in. His wife whispered as she brushed by his elbow, "I want to speak with you instantly, Owen. Well, now!" she added, when they were alone in their own room and she had shut the door, "what do you say now?"
"What do I say now, Celia?" retorted Elmore, with just indignation. "It seems to me that it is for you to say something—or nothing."
"Why, you brought it on us."
Elmore merely glanced at his wife, and did not speak, for this passed all force of language.
"Didn't you see me looking at you when I spoke of going out in a gondola, at breakfast?"
"What did you suppose I meant?"
"I didn't know."
"When I was trying to make you understand that if we took a gondola we could go and come without being seen! Lily had to do her shopping. But if you chose to run off on some interpretation of your own, was I to blame, I should like to know? No, indeed! You won't get me to admit it, Owen."
Elmore continued inarticulate, but he made a low, miserable sibillation between his set teeth.
"Such presumption, such perfect audacity I never saw in my life!" cried Mrs. Elmore, fleetly changing the subject in her own mind, and leaving her husband to follow her as he could. "It was outrageous!" Her words were strong, but she did not really look affronted; and it is hard to tell what sort of liberty it is that affronts a woman. It seems to depend a great deal upon the person who takes the liberty.
"That was the man, I suppose," said Elmore quietly.
"Yes, Owen," answered his wife, with beautiful candor, "it was." Seeing that he remained unaffected by her display of this virtue, she added, "Don't you think he was very handsome?"
"I couldn't judge, at such a distance."
"Well, he is perfectly splendid. And I don't want you to think he was disrespectful at all. He wasn't. He was everything that was delicate and deferential."
"Did you ask him to walk home with you?"
Mrs. Elmore remained speechless for some moments. Then she drew a long breath, and said firmly: "If you won't interrupt me with gratuitous insults, Owen, I will tell you all about it, and then perhaps you will be ready to do me justice. I ask nothing more." She waited for his contrition, but proceeded without it, in a somewhat meeker strain: "Lily couldn't get her things at Pazienti's, and we had to go to the Merceria for them. Then of course the nearest way home was through St. Mark's Square. I made Lily go on the Florian side, so as to avoid the officers who were sitting at the Quadri, and we had got through the square and past San Moise, as far as the Stadt Gratz. I had never thought of how the officers frequented the Stadt Gratz, but there we met a most magnificent creature, and I had just said, 'What a splendid officer!' when she gave a sort of stop and he gave a sort of stop, and bowed very low, and she whispered, 'It's my officer.' I didn't dream of his joining us, and I don't think he did, at first; but after he took a second look at Lily, it really seemed as if he couldn't help it. He asked if he might join us, and I didn't say anything."
"Didn't say anything!"
"No! How could I refuse, in so many words? And I was frightened and confused, any way. He asked if we were going to the music in the Giardini Pubblici; and I said No, that Miss Mayhew was not going into society in Venice, but was merely here for her health. That's all there is of it. Now do you blame me, Owen?"
"Do you blame her?"
"Well, I don't see how he was to blame."
"The transaction was a little irregular, but it was highly creditable to all parties concerned."
Mrs. Elmore grew still meeker under this irony. Indignation and censure she would have known how to meet; but his quiet perplexed her: she did not know what might not be coming. "Lily scarcely spoke to him," she pursued, "and I was very cold. I spoke to him in German."
"Is German a particularly repellent tongue?"
"No. But I was determined he should get no hold upon us. He was very polite and very respectful, as I said, but I didn't give him an atom of encouragement; I saw that he was dying to be asked to call, but I parted from him very stiffly."
"Is it possible?"
"Owen, what is there so wrong about it all? He's clearly fascinated with her; and as the matter stood, he had no hope of seeing her or speaking with her except on the street. Perhaps he didn't know it was wrong,—or didn't realize it."
"I dare say."
"What else could the poor fellow have done? There he was! He had stayed over a day, and laid himself open to arrest, on the bare chance—one in a hundred—of seeing Lily; and when he did see her, what was he to do?"
"Obviously, to join her and walk home with her."
"You are too bad, Owen! Suppose it had been one of our own poor boys? He looked like an American."
"He didn't behave like one. One of 'our own poor boys,' as you call them, would have been as far as possible from thrusting himself upon you. He would have had too much reverence for you, too much self-respect, too much pride."
"What has pride to do with such things, my dear? I think he acted very naturally. He acted upon impulse. I'm sure you're always crying out against the restraints and conventionalities between young people, over here; and now, when a European does do a simple, unaffected thing—"
Elmore made a gesture of impatience. "This fellow has presumed upon your being Americans—on your ignorance of the customs here—to take a liberty that he would not have dreamed of taking with Italian or German ladies. He has shown himself no gentleman."
"Now there you are very much mistaken, Owen. That's what I thought when Lily first told me about his speaking to her in the cars, and I was very much prejudiced against him; but when I saw him to-day, I must say that I felt that I had been wrong. He is a gentleman; but—he is desperate."
"Yes," said Mrs. Elmore, shrinking a little under her husband's sarcastic tone. "Why, Owen," she pleaded, "can't you see anything romantic in it?"
"I see nothing but a vulgar impertinence in it. I see it from his standpoint as an adventure, to be bragged of and laughed over at the mess-table and the caffe. I'm going to put a stop to it."
Mrs. Elmore looked daunted and a little bewildered. "Well, Owen," she said, "I put the affair entirely in your hands."
Elmore never could decide upon just what theory his wife had acted; he had to rest upon the fact, already known to him, of her perfect truth and conscientiousness, and his perception that even in a good woman the passion for manoeuvring and intrigue may approach the point at which men commit forgery. He now saw her quelled and submissive; but he was by no means sure that she looked at the affair as he did, or that she voluntarily acquiesced.
"All that I ask is that you won't do anything that you'll regret afterward. And as for putting a stop to it, I fancy it's put a stop to already. He's going back to Peschiera this afternoon, and that'll probably be the last of him."
"Very well," said Elmore, "if that is the last of him, I ask nothing better. I certainly have no wish to take any steps in the matter."
But he went out of the house very unhappy and greatly perplexed. He thought at first of going to the Stadt Gratz, where Captain Ehrhardt was probably staying for the tap of Vienna beer peculiar to that hostelry, and of inquiring him out, and requesting him to discontinue his attentions; but this course, upon reflection, was less high-handed than comported with his present mood, and he turned aside to seek advice of his consul. He found Mr. Hoskins in the best humor for backing his quarrel. He had just received a second dispatch from Turin, stating that the rumor of the approaching visit of the Alabama was unfounded; and he was thus left with a force of unexpended belligerence on his hands which he was glad to contribute to the defence of Mr. Elmore's family from the pursuit of this Austrian officer.
"This is a very simple affair, Mr. Elmore,"—he usually said "Elmore," but in his haughty frame of mind, he naturally threw something more of state into their intercourse,—"a very simple affair, fortunately. All that I have to do is to call on the military governor, and state the facts of the case, and this fellow will get his orders quietly and definitively. This war has sapped our influence in Europe,—there's no doubt of it; but I think it's a pity if an American family living in this city can't be safe from molestation; and if it can't, I want to know the reason why."
This language was very acceptable to Elmore, and he thanked the consul. At the same time he felt his own resentment moderated, and he said, "I'm willing to let the matter rest if he goes away this afternoon."
"Oh, of course," Hoskins assented, "if he clears out, that's the end of it. I'll look in to-morrow, and see how you're getting along."
"Don't—don't give them the impression that I've—profited by your kindness," suggested Elmore at parting.
"You haven't yet. I only hope you may have the chance."
"Thank you; I don't think I do."
Elmore took a long walk, and returned home tranquillized and clarified as to the situation. Since it could be terminated without difficulty and without scandal in the way Hoskins had explained, he was not unwilling to see a certain poetry in it. He could not repress a degree of sympathy with the bold young fellow who had overstepped the conventional proprieties in the ardor of a romantic impulse, and he could see how this very boldness, while it had a terror, would have a charm for a young girl. There was no necessity, except for the purpose of holding Mrs. Elmore in check, to look at it in an ugly light. Perhaps the officer had inferred from Lily's innocent frankness of manner that this sort of approach was permissible with Americans, and was not amusing himself with the adventure, but was in love in earnest. Elmore could allow himself this view of a case which he had so completely in his own hands; and he was sensible of a sort of pleasure in the novel responsibility thrown upon him. Few men at his age were called upon to stand in the place of a parent to a young girl, to intervene in her affairs, and to decide who was and who was not a proper person to pretend to her acquaintance.
Feeling so secure in his right, he rebelled against the restraint he had proposed to himself, and at dinner he invited the ladies to go to the opera with him. He chose to show himself in public with them, and to check any impression that they were without due protection. As usual, the pit was full of officers, and between the acts they all rose, as usual, and faced the boxes, which they perused through their lorgnettes till the bell rang for the curtain to rise. But Mrs. Elmore, having touched his arm to attract his notice, instructed him, by a slow turning of her head, that Captain Ehrhardt was not there. After that he undoubtedly breathed freer, and, in the relaxation from his sense of bravado, he enjoyed the last acts of the opera more than the first. Miss Mayhew showed no disappointment; and she bore herself with so much grace and dignity, and yet so evidently impressed every one with her beauty, that he was proud of having her in charge. He began himself to see that she was pretty.
The next day was Sunday, and in going to church they missed a call from Hoskins, whom Elmore felt bound to visit the following morning on his way to the library, and inform of his belief that the enemy had quitted Venice, and that the whole affair was probably at an end. He was strengthened in this opinion by Mrs. Elmore's fear that she might have been colder than she supposed; she hoped that she had not hurt the poor young fellow's feelings; and now that he was gone, and safely out of the way, Elmore hoped so too.
On his return from the library, his wife met him with an air of mystery before which his heart sank. "Owen," she said, "Lily has a letter."
"Not bad news from home, Celia!"
"No; a letter which she wishes to show you. It has just come. As I don't wish to influence you, I would rather not be present." Mrs. Elmore slipped out of the room, and Miss Mayhew glided gravely in, holding an open note in her hand, and looking into Elmore's eyes with a certain unfathomable candor, of which she had the secret.
"Here," she said, "is a letter which I think you ought to see at once, Professor Elmore"; and she gave him the note with an air of unconcern, which he afterward recalled without being able to determine whether it was real indifference or only the calm resulting from the transfer of the whole responsibility to him. She stood looking at him while he read:
In this evening I am just arrived from Venise, 4 hours afterwards I have had the fortune to see you and to speake with you—and to favorite me of your gentil acquaintanceship at rail-away. I never forgeet the moments I have seen you. Your pretty and nice figure had attached my heard so much, that I deserted in the hopiness to see you at Venise. And I was so lukely to speak with you cut too short, and in the possibility to understand all. I wished to go also in this Sonday to Venise, but I am sory that I cannot, beaucause I must feeled now the consequences of the desertation. Pray Miss to agree the assurance of my lov, and perhaps I will be so lukely to receive a notice from you Miss if I can hop a little (hapiness) sympathie. Tres humble
E. VON EHRHARDT.
Elmore was not destitute of the national sense of humor; but he read this letter not only without amusement in its English, but with intense bitterness and renewed alarm. It appeared to him that the willingness of the ladies to put the affair in his hands had not strongly manifested itself till it had quite passed their own control, and had become a most embarrassing difficulty,—when, in fact, it was no longer a merit in them to confide it to him. In the resentment of that moment, his suspicions even accused his wife of desiring, from idle curiosity and sentiment, the accidental meeting which had resulted in this fresh aggression.
"Why did you show me this letter?" he asked harshly.
"Mrs. Elmore told me to do so," Lily answered.
"Did you wish me to see it?"
"I don't suppose I wished you to see it: I thought you ought to see it."
Elmore felt himself relenting a little. "What do you want done about it?" he asked more gently.
"That is what I wished you to tell me," replied the girl.
"I can't tell you what you wish me to do, but I can tell you this, Miss Mayhew: this man's behavior is totally irregular. He would not think of writing to an Italian or German girl in this way. If he desired to—to—pay attention to her, he would write to her father."
"Yes, that's what Mrs. Elmore said. She said she supposed he must think it was the American way."
"Mrs. Elmore," began her husband; but he arrested himself there, and said, "Very well. I want to know what I am to do. I want your full and explicit authority before I act. We will dismiss the fact of irregularity. We will suppose that it is fit and becoming for a gentleman who has twice met a young lady by accident—or once by accident, and once by his own insistence—to write to her. Do you wish to continue the correspondence?"
Elmore looked into the eyes which dwelt full upon him, and, though they were clear as the windows of heaven, he hesitated. "I must do what you say, no matter what you mean, you know?"
"I mean what I say."
"Perhaps," he suggested, "you would prefer to return him this letter with a few lines on your card."
"No. I should like him to know that I have shown it to you. I should think it a liberty for an American to write to me in that way after such a short acquaintance, and I don't see why I should tolerate it from a foreigner, though I suppose their customs are different."
"Then you wish me to write to him?"
"And make an end of the matter, once for all?"
"Very well, then." Elmore sat down at once, and wrote:—
SIR,—Miss Mayhew has handed me your note of yesterday, and begs me to express her very great surprise that you should have ventured to address her. She desires me also to add that you will consider at an end whatever acquaintance you suppose yourself to have formed with her.
Your obedient servant, OWEN ELMORE.
He handed the note to Lily. "Yes, that will do," she said, in a low, steady voice. She drew a deep breath, and, laying the letter softly down, went out of the room into Mrs. Elmore's.
Elmore had not had time to kindle his sealing-wax when his wife appeared swiftly upon the scene.
"I want to see what you have written, Owen," she said.
"Don't talk to me, Celia," he replied, thrusting the wax into the candle-light. "You have put this affair entirely in my hands, and Lily approves of what I have written. I am sick of the thing, and I don't want any more talk about it."
"I must see it," said Mrs. Elmore, with finality, and possessed herself of the note. She ran it through, and then flung it on the table and dropped into a chair, while the tears started to her eyes. "What a cold, cutting, merciless letter!" she cried.
"I hope he will think so," said Elmore, gathering it up from the table, and sealing it securely in its envelope.
"You're not going to send it!" exclaimed his wife.
"Yes, I am."
"I didn't suppose you could be so heartless."
"Very well, then, I won't send it," said Elmore. "I put the affair in your hands. What are you going to do about it?"
"On the contrary, I'm perfectly serious. I don't see why you shouldn't manage the business. The gentleman is an acquaintance of yours. I don't know him." Elmore rose and put his hands in his pockets. "What do you intend to do? Do you like this clandestine sort of thing to go on? I dare say the fellow only wishes to amuse himself by a flirtation with a pretty American. But the question is whether you wish him to do so. I'm willing to lay his conduct to a misunderstanding of our customs, and to suppose that he thinks this is the way Americans do. I take the matter at its best: he speaks to Lily on the train without an introduction; he joins you in your walk without invitation; he writes to her without leave, and proposes to get up a correspondence. It is all perfectly right and proper, and will appear so to Lily's friends when they hear of it. But I'm curious to know how you're going to manage the sequel. Do you wish the affair to go on, and how long do you wish it to go on?"
"You know very well that I don't wish it to go on."
"Then you wish it broken off?"
"Of course I do."
"I think there is such a thing as acting kindly and considerately. I don't see anything in Captain Ehrhardt's conduct that calls for savage treatment," said Mrs. Elmore.
"You would like to have him stopped, but stopped gradually. Well, I don't wish to be savage, either, and I will act upon any suggestion of yours. I want Lily's people to feel that we managed not only wisely but humanely in checking a man who was resolved to force his acquaintance upon her."
Mrs. Elmore thought a long while. Then she said: "Why, of course, Owen, you're right about it. There is no other way. There couldn't be any kindness in checking him gradually. But I wish," she added sorrowfully, "that he had not been such a complete goose; and then we could have done something with him."
"I am obliged to him for the perfection which you regret, my dear. If he had been less complete, he would have been much harder to manage."
"Well," said Mrs. Elmore, rising, "I shall always say that he meant well. But send the letter."
Her husband did not wait for a second bidding. He carried it himself to the general post-office that there might be no mistake and no delay about it; and a man who believed that he had a feeling and tender heart experienced a barbarous joy in the infliction of this pitiless snub. I do not say that it would not have been different if he had trusted at all in the sincerity of Captain Ehrhardt's passion; but he was glad to discredit it. A misgiving to the other effect would have complicated the matter. But now he was perfectly free to disembarrass himself of a trouble which had so seriously threatened his peace. He was responsible to Miss Mayhew's family, and Mrs. Elmore herself could not say, then or afterward, that there was any other way open to him. I will not contend that his motives were wholly unselfish. No doubt a sense of personal annoyance, of offended decorum, of wounded respectability, qualified the zeal for Miss Mayhew's good which prompted him. He was still a young and inexperienced man, confronted with a strange perplexity: he did the best he could, and I suppose it was the best that could be done. At any rate, he had no regrets, and he went cheerfully about the work of interesting Miss Mayhew in the monuments and memories of the city.
Since the decisive blow had been struck, the ladies seemed to share his relief. The pursuit of Captain Ehrhardt, while it flattered, might well have alarmed, and the loss of a not unpleasant excitement was made good by a sense of perfect security. Whatever repining Miss Mayhew indulged was secret, or confided solely to Mrs. Elmore. To Elmore himself she appeared in better spirits than at first, or at least in a more equable frame of mind. To be sure, he did not notice very particularly. He took her to the places and told her the things that she ought to be interested in, and he conceived a better opinion of her mind from the quick intelligence with which she entered into his own feelings in regard to them, though he never could see any evidence of the over-study for which she had been taken from school. He made her, like Mrs. Elmore, the partner of his historical researches; he read his notes to both of them now; and when his wife was prevented from accompanying him, he went with Lily alone to visit the scenes of such events as his researches concerned, and to fill his mind with the local color which he believed would give life and character to his studies of the past. They also went often to the theatre; and, though Lily could not understand the plays, she professed to be entertained, and she had a grateful appreciation of all his efforts in her behalf that amply repaid him. He grew fond of her society; he took a childish pleasure in having people in the streets turn and glance at the handsome girl by his side, of whose beauty and stylishness he became aware through the admiration looked over the shoulders of the Austrians, and openly spoken by the Italian populace. It did not occur to him that she might not enjoy the growth of their acquaintance in equal degree, that she fatigued herself with the appreciation of the memorable and the beautiful, and that she found these long rambles rather dull. He was a man of little conversation; and, unless Mrs. Elmore was of the company, Miss Mayhew pursued his pleasures for the most part in silence. One evening, at the end of the week, his wife asked, "Why do you always take Lily through the Piazza on the side farthest from where the officers sit? Are you afraid of her meeting Captain Ehrhardt?"
"Oh, no! I consider the Ehrhardt business settled. But you know the Italians never walk on the officers' side."
"You are not an Italian. What do you gain by flattering them up? I should think you might suppose a young girl had some curiosity."
"I do; and I do everything I can to gratify her curiosity. I went to San Pietro di Castello to-day, to show her where the Brides of Venice were stolen."
"The oldest and dirtiest part of the city! What could the child care for the Brides of Venice? Now be reasonable, Owen!"
"It's a romantic story. I thought girls liked such things,—about getting married."
"And that's the reason you took her yesterday to show her the Bucentaur that the doges wedded the Adriatic in! Well, what was your idea in going with her to the Cemetery of San Michele?"
"I thought she would be interested. I had never been there before myself, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to verify a passage I was at work on. We always show people the cemetery at home."
"That was considerate. And why did you go to Canarregio on Wednesday?"
"I wished her to see the statue of Sior Antonio Rioba; you know it was the Venetian Pasquino in the Revolution of '48—"
"And the Campo di Giustizia, where the executions used to take place."
"And—and—the house of Tintoretto," faltered Elmore.
"Delicious! She cares so much for Tintoretto! And you've been with her to the Jewish burying-ground at the Lido, and the Spanish synagogue in the Ghetto, and the fish-market at the Rialto, and you've shown her the house of Othello and the house of Desdemona, and the prisons in the ducal palace; and three nights you've taken us to the Piazza as soon as the Austrian band stopped playing, and all the interesting promenading was over, and those stuffy old Italians began to come to the caffes. Well, I can tell you that's no way to amuse a young girl. We must do something for her, or she will die. She has come here from a country where girls have always had the best time in the world, and where the times are livelier now than they ever were, with all this excitement of the war going on; and here she is dropped down in the midst of this absolute deadness: no calls, no picnics, no parties, no dances—nothing! We must do something for her."
"Shall we give her a ball?" asked Elmore, looking round the pretty little apartment.
"There's nothing going on among the Italians. But you might get us invited to the German Casino."
"I dare say. But I will not do that."
"Then we could go to the Luogotenenza, to the receptions. Mr. Hoskins could call with us, and they would send us cards."
"That would make us simply odious to the Venetians, and our house would be thronged with officers. What I've seen of them doesn't make me particularly anxious for the honor of their further acquaintance."
"Well, I don't ask you to do any of these things," said Mrs. Elmore, who had, in fact, mentioned them with the intention of insisting upon an abated claim. "But I think you might go and dine at one of the hotels—at the Danieli—instead of that Italian restaurant; and then Lily could see somebody at the table d'hote, and not simply perish of despair."
"I—I didn't suppose it was so bad as that," said Elmore.
"Why, of course, she hasn't said anything,—she's far too well-bred for that; but I can tell from my own feelings how she must suffer. I have you, Owen," she said tenderly, "but Lily has nobody. She has gone through this Ehrhardt business so well that I think we ought to do all we can to divert her mind."
"Well, now, Celia, you see the difficulty of our position,—the nature of the responsibility we have assumed. How are we possibly, here in Venice, to divert the mind of a young lady fresh from the parties and picnics of Patmos?"
"We can go and dine at the Danieli," replied Mrs. Elmore.
"Very well, let us go, then. But she will learn no Italian there. She will hear nothing but English from the travellers and bad French from the waiters; while at our restaurant—"
"Pshaw!" cried Mrs. Elmore, "what does Lily care for Italian? I'm sure I never want to hear another word of it."
At this desperate admission, Elmore quite gave way; he went to the Danieli the next morning, and arranged to begin dining there that day. There is no denying that Miss Mayhew showed an enthusiasm in prospect of the change that even the sight of the pillar to which Foscarini was hanged head downwards for treason to the Republic had not evoked. She made herself look very pretty, and she was visibly an impression at the table d'hote when she sat down there. Elmore had found places opposite an elderly lady and quite a young gentleman, of English speech, but of not very English effect otherwise, who bowed to Lily in acknowledgment of some former meeting. The old lady said, "So you've reached Venice at last? I'm very pleased, for your sake," as if at some point of the progress thither she had been privy to anxieties of Lily about arriving at her destination; and, in fact, they had been in the same hotels at Marseilles and Genoa. The young gentleman said nothing, but he looked at Lily throughout the dinner, and seemed to take his eyes from her only when she glanced at him; then he dropped his gaze to his neglected plate and blushed. When they left the table, he made haste to join the Elmores in the reading-room, where he contrived, with creditable skill, to get Lily apart from them for the examination of an illustrated newspaper, at which neither of them looked; they remained chatting and laughing over it in entire irrelevancy till the elderly lady rose and said, "Herbert, Herbert! I am ready to go now," upon which he did not seem at all so, but went submissively.
"Who are those people, Lily?" asked Mrs. Elmore, as they walked towards Florian's for their after-dinner coffee. The Austrian band was playing in the centre of the Piazza, and the tall, blond German officers promenaded back and forth with dark Hungarian women, who looked each like a princess of her race. The lights glittered upon them, and on the brilliant groups spread fan-wise out into the Piazza before the caffes; the scene seemed to shake and waver in the splendor, like something painted.
"Oh, their name is Andersen, or something like that; and they're from Helgoland, or some such place. I saw them first in Paris, but we didn't speak till we got to Marseilles. That's his aunt; they're English subjects, someway; and he's got an appointment in the civil service—I think he called it—in India, and he doesn't want to go; and I told him he ought to go to America. That's what I tell all these Europeans."
"It's the best advice for them," said Mrs. Elmore.
"They don't seem in any great haste to act upon it," laughed Miss Mayhew. "Who was the red-faced young man that seemed to know you, and stared so?"
"That's an English artist who is staying here. He has a curious name,—Rose-Black; and he is the most impudent and pushing man in the world. I wouldn't introduce him, because I saw he was just dying for it."
Miss Mayhew laughed, as she laughed at everything, not because she was amused, but because she was happy; this childlike gayety of heart was great part of her charm.
Elmore had quieted his scruples as a good Venetian by coming inside of the caffe while the band played, instead of sitting outside with the bad patriots; but he put the ladies next the window, and so they were not altogether sacrificed to his sympathy with the dimostrazione.
The next morning Elmore was called from his bed—at no very early hour, it must be owned, but at least before a nine o'clock breakfast—to see a gentleman who was waiting in the parlor. He dressed hurriedly, with a thousand exciting speculations in his mind, and found Mr. Rose-Black looking from the balcony window. "You have a pleasant position here," he said easily, as he turned about to meet Elmore's look of indignant demand. "I've come to ask all about our friends the Andersens."
"I don't know anything about them," answered Elmore. "I never saw them before."
"Aoeh!" said the painter. Elmore had not invited him to sit down, but now he dropped into a chair, with the air of asking Elmore to explain himself. "The young lady of your party seemed to know them. How uncommonly pretty all your American young girls are! But I'm told they fade very soon. I should like to make up a picnic party with you all for the Lido."
"Thank you," replied Elmore stiffly. "Miss Mayhew has seen the Lido."
"Aoeh! That's her name. It's a pretty name." He looked through the open door into the dining-room, where the table was set for breakfast, with the usual water-goblet at each plate. "I see you have beer for breakfast. There's nothing so nice, you know. Would you—would you mind giving me a glahs?"
Through an undefined sense of the duties of hospitality, Elmore was surprised by this impudence into sending out to the next caffe for a pitcher of beer. Rose-Black poured himself out one glass and another till he had emptied the pitcher, conversing affably meanwhile with his silent host.
"Why didn't you turn him out of doors?" demanded Mrs. Elmore, as soon as the painter's departure allowed her to slip from the closed door behind which she had been imprisoned in her room.
"I did everything but that," replied her husband, whom this interview had saddened more than it had angered.
"You sent out for beer for him!"
"I didn't know but it might make him sick. Really, the thing is incredible. I think the man is cracked."
"He is an Englishman, and he thinks he can take any kind of liberty with us because we are Americans."
"That seems to be the prevalent impression among all the European nationalities," said Elmore. "Let's drop him for the present, and try to be more brutal in the future."
Mrs. Elmore, so far from dropping him, turned to Lily, who entered at that moment, and recounted the extraordinary adventure of the morning, which scarcely needed the embellishment of her fancy; it was not really a gallon of beer, but a quart, that Mr. Rose-Black had drunk. She enlarged upon previous aggressions of his, and said finally that they had to thank Mr. Ferris for his acquaintance.
"Ferris couldn't help himself," said Elmore. "He apologized to me afterward. The man got him into a corner. But he warned us about him as soon he could. And Rose-Black would have made our acquaintance, any way. I believe he's crazy."
"I don't see how that helps the matter."
"It helps to explain it," concluded Elmore, with a sigh. "We can't refer everything to our being American lambs, and his being a ravening European wolf."
"Of course he came round to find out about Lily," said Mrs. Elmore. "The Andersens were a mere blind."
"Oh, Mrs. Elmore!" cried Lily in deprecation.
The bell jangled. "That is the postman," said Mrs. Elmore.
There was a home-letter for Lily, and one from Lily's sister enclosed to Mrs. Elmore. The ladies rent them open, and lost themselves in the cross-written pages; and neither of them saw the dismay with which Elmore looked at the handwriting of the envelope addressed to him. His wife vaguely knew that he had a letter, and meant to ask him for it as soon as she should have finished her own. When she glanced at him again, he was staring at the smiling face of Miss Mayhew, as she read her letter, with the wild regard of one who sees another in mortal peril, and can do nothing to avert the coming doom, but must dumbly await the catastrophe.
"What is it, Owen?" asked his wife in a low voice.
He started from his trance, and struggled to answer quietly. "I've a letter here which I suppose I'd better show to you first."
They rose and went into the next room, Miss Mayhew following them with a bright, absent look, and then dropping her eyes again to her letter.
Elmore put the note he had received into his wife's hands without a word.
SIR,—My position permitted me to take a woman. I am a soldier, but I am an engineer—operateous, and I can exercise wherever my profession in the civil life. I have seen Miss Mayhew, and I have great sympathie for she. I think I will be lukely with her, if Miss Mayhew would be of the same intention of me.
If you believe, Sir, that my open and realy proposition will not offendere Miss Mayhew, pray to handed to her this note. Pray sir to excuse me the liberty to fatigue you, and to go over with silence if you would be of another intention.
Your obedient servant, E. VON EHRHARDT.
Mrs. Elmore folded the letter carefully up and returned it to her husband. If he had perhaps dreaded some triumphant outburst from her, he ought to have been content with the thoroughly daunted look which she lifted to his, and the silence in which she suffered him to do justice to the writer.
"This is the letter of a gentleman, Celia," he said.
"Yes," she responded faintly.
"It puts another complexion on the affair entirely."
"Yes. Why did he wait a whole week?" she added.
"It is a serious matter with him. He had a right to take time for thinking it over." Elmore looked at the date of the Peschiera postmark, and then at that of Venice on the back of the envelope. "No, he wrote at once. This has been kept in the Venetian office, and probably read there by the authorities."
His wife did not heed the conjecture. "He began all wrong," she grieved. "Why couldn't he have behaved sensibly?"
"We must look at it from another point of view now," replied Elmore. "He has repaired his error by this letter."
"No, no; he hasn't."
"The question is now what to do about the changed situation. This is an offer of marriage. It comes in the proper way. It's a very sincere and manly letter. The man has counted the whole cost: he's ready to leave the army and go to America, if she says so. He's in love. How can she refuse him?"
"Perhaps she isn't in love with him," said Mrs. Elmore.
"Oh! That's true. I hadn't thought of that. Then it's very simple."
"But I don't know that she isn't," murmured Mrs. Elmore.
"Well, ask her."
"How could she tell?"
"How could she tell?"
"Yes. Do you suppose a child like that can know her own mind in an instant?"
"I should think she could."
"Well, she couldn't. She liked the excitement,—the romanticality of it; but she doesn't know any more than you or I whether she cares for him. I don't suppose marriage with anybody has ever seriously entered her head yet."
"It will have to do so now," said Elmore firmly. "There's no help for it."
"I think the American plan is much better," pouted Mrs. Elmore. "It's horrid to know that a man's in love with you, and wants to marry you, from the very start. Of course it makes you hate him."
"I dare say the American plan is better in this as in most other things. But we can't discuss abstractions, Celia. We must come down to business. What are we to do?"
"I don't know."
"We must submit the question to her."
"To that innocent, unsuspecting little thing? Never!" cried Mrs. Elmore.
"Then we must decide it, as he seems to expect we may, without reference to her," said her husband.
"No, that won't do. Let me think." Mrs. Elmore thought to so little purpose that she left the word to her husband again.
"You see we must lay the matter before her."
"Couldn't—couldn't we let him come to see us awhile? Couldn't we explain our ways to him, and allow him to pay her attentions without letting her know about this letter?"
"I'm afraid he wouldn't understand,—that we couldn't make it clear to him," said Elmore. "If we invited him to the house he would consider it as an acceptance. He wants a categorical answer, and he has a right to it. It would be no kindness to a man with his ideas to take him on probation. He has behaved honorably, and we're bound to consider him."
"Oh, I don't think he's done anything so very great," said Mrs. Elmore, with that disposition we all have to disparage those who put us in difficulties.
"He's done everything he could do," said Elmore. "Shall I speak to Miss Mayhew?"
"No, you had better let me," sighed his wife. "I suppose we must. But I think it's horrid! Everything could have gone on so nicely if he hadn't been so impatient from the beginning. Of course she won't have him now. She will be scared, and that will be the end of it."
"I think you ought to be just to him, Celia. I can't help feeling for him. He has thrown himself upon our mercy, and he has a claim to right and thoughtful treatment."
"She won't have anything to do with him. You'll see."
"I shall be very glad of that," Elmore began.
"Why should you be glad of it?" demanded his wife.
He laughed. "I think I can safely leave his case in your hands. Don't go to the other extreme. If she married a German, he would let her black his boots,—like that general in Munich."
"Who is talking of marriage?" retorted Mrs. Elmore.
"Captain Ehrhardt and I. That's what it comes to; and it can't come to anything else. I like his courage in writing English, and it's wonderful how he hammers his meaning into it. 'Lukely' isn't bad, is it? And 'my position permitted me to take a woman'—I suppose he means that he has money enough to marry on—is delicious. Upon my word, I have a good deal of sympathie for he!"
"For shame, Owen! It's wicked to make fun of his English."
"My dear, I respect him for writing in English. The whole letter is touchingly brave and fine. Confound him! I wish I had never heard of him. What does he come bothering across my path for?"
"Oh, don't feel that way about it, Owen!" cried his wife. "It's cruel."
"I don't. I wish to treat him in the most generous manner; after all, it isn't his fault. But you must allow, Celia, that it's very annoying and extremely perplexing. We can't make up Miss Mayhew's mind for her. Even if we found out that she liked him, it would be only the beginning of our troubles. We've no right to give her away in marriage, or let her involve her affections here. But be judicious, Celia."
"It's easy enough to say that!"
"I'll be back in an hour," said Elmore. "I'm going to the Square. We mustn't lose time."
As he passed out through the breakfast-room, Lily was sitting by the window with her letter in her lap, and a happy smile on her lips. When he came back she happened to be seated in the same place; she still had a letter in her lap, but she was smiling no longer; her face was turned from him as he entered, and he imagined a wistful droop in that corner of her mouth which showed on her profile.
But she rose very promptly, and with a heightened color said, "I am sorry to trouble you to answer another letter for me, Professor Elmore. I manage my correspondence at home myself, but here it seems to be different."
"It needn't be different here, Lily," said Elmore kindly. "You can answer all the letters you receive in just the way you like. We don't doubt your discretion in the least. We will abide by any decision of yours, on any point that concerns yourself."
"Thank you," replied the girl; "but in this case I think you had better write." She kept slipping Ehrhardt's letter up and down between her thumb and finger against the palm of her left hand, and delayed giving it to him, as if she wished him to say something first.
"I suppose you and Celia have talked the matter over?"
"And I hope you have determined upon the course you are going to take, quite uninfluenced?"
"Oh, quite so."
"I feel bound to tell you," said Elmore, "that this gentleman has now done everything that we could expect of him, and has fully atoned for any error he committed in making your acquaintance."
"Yes, I understand that. Mrs. Elmore thought he might have written because he saw he had gone too far, and couldn't think of any other way out of it."
"That occurred to me, too, though I didn't mention it. But we're bound to take the letter on its face, and that's open and honorable. Have you made up your mind?"
"Do you wish for delay? There is no reason for haste."
"There's no reason for delay, either," said the girl. Yet she did not give up the letter, or show any signs of intending to terminate the interview. "If I had had more experience, I should know how to act better; but I must do the best I can, without the experience. I think that even in a case like this we should try to do right, don't you?"
"Yes, above all other cases," said Elmore, with a laugh.
She flushed in recognition of her absurdity. "I mean that we oughtn't to let our feelings carry us away. I saw so many girls carried away by their feelings, when the first regiments went off, that I got a horror of it. I think it's wicked: it deceives both; and then you don't know how to break the engagement afterward."
"You're quite right, Lily," said Elmore, with a rising respect for the girl.
"Professor Elmore, can you believe that, with all the attentions I've had, I've never seriously thought of getting married as the end of it all?" she asked, looking him freely in the eyes.
"I can't understand it,—no man could, I suppose,—but I do believe it. Mrs. Elmore has often told me the same thing."
"And this—letter—it—means marriage."
"That and nothing else. The man who wrote it would consider himself cruelly wronged if you accepted his attentions without the distinct purpose of marrying him."
She drew a deep breath. "I shall have to ask you to write a refusal for me." But still she did not give him the letter.
"Have you made up your mind to that?"
"I can't make up my mind to anything else."
Elmore walked unhappily back and forth across the room. "I have seen something of international marriages since I've been in Europe," he said. "Sometimes they succeed; but generally they're wretched failures. The barriers of different race, language, education, religion,—they're terrible barriers. It's very hard for a man and woman to understand each other at the best; with these differences added, it's almost a hopeless case."