The Lady of the Aroostook
THE foreboded storm did not come so soon as had been feared, but the beautiful weather which had lasted so long was lost in a thickened sky and a sullen sea. The weather had changed with Staniford, too. The morning after the events last celebrated, he did not respond to the glance which Lydia gave him when they met, and he hardened his heart to her surprise, and shunned being alone with her. He would not admit to himself any reason for his attitude, and he could not have explained to her the mystery that at first visibly grieved her, and then seemed merely to benumb her. But the moment came when he ceased to take a certain cruel pleasure in it, and he approached her one morning on deck, where she stood holding fast to the railing where she usually sat, and said, as if there had been no interval of estrangement between them, but still coldly, “ We have had our last walk for the present, Miss Blood. I hope you will grieve a little for my loss.”
She turned on him a look that smote him to the heart, with what he fancied its reproach and its wonder. She did not reply at once, and then she did not reply to his hinted question.
“ Mr. Staniford,”she began. It was the second time he had heard her pronounce his name; he distinctly remembered the first.
“ Well? ” he said.
“I want to speak to you about lending that book to Mr. Hicks. I ought to have asked you, first.”
“ Oh, no,” said Staniford. “It was yours.”
“ You gave it to me,” she returned.
“ Well, then, it was yours, — to keep, to lend, to throw away.”
“And you didn’t mind my lending it to him? ” she pursued. “ I ” —
She stopped, and Staniford hesitated, too. Then he said, “I didn’t dislike your lending it; I disliked his having it. I will acknowledge that.”
She looked up at him as if she were going to speak, but checked herself, and glanced away. The ship was plunging heavily, and the livid waves were racing fast before the wind. The horizon was lit with a yellow brightness in the quarter to which she turned, and a pallid gleam defined her profile. Captain Jenness was walking fretfully to and fro; he glanced now at the yellow glare, and now cast his eye aloft at the shortened sail. While Staniford stood questioning whether she meant to say anything more, or whether, having discharged her conscience of an imagined offense, she had now reached one of her final, precipitous silences. Captain Jenness suddenly approached them, and said to him, “I guess you’d better go below with Miss Blood.”
The storm that followed had its hazards, but Staniford’s consciousness was confined to its discomforts. The day came, and then the dark came, and both in due course went, and came again. Where he lay in his berth, and whirled and swung, and rose and sank, as lonely as a planetary fragment tossing in space, he hoard the noises of the life without. Amidst the straining of the ship, which was like the sharp sweep of a thunder-shower on the deck overhead, there plunged at irregular intervals the wild trample of heavily-booted feet, and now and then the voices of the crew answering the shouted orders made themselves hollowly audible. In the cabin there was talking, and sometimes even laughing. Sometimes he heard the click of knives and forks, the sardonic rattle of crockery. After the first insane feeling that somehow he must get ashore and escape from his torment, he hardened himself to it through an immense contempt, equally insane, for the stupidity of the sea, its insensate uproar, its blind and ridiculous and cruel mischievousness. Except for this delirious scorn he was a surface of perfect passivity.
Dunham, after a day of prostration, had risen, and had perhaps shortened his anguish by his resolution. He had since taken up his quarters on a locker in the cabin; he looked in now and then upon Staniford, with a cup of tea, or a suggestion of something light to eat ; once he even dared to boast of the sublimity of the ocean. Staniford stared at him with eyes of lack-lustre indifference, and waited for him to be gone. But he lingered to say, “ You would laugh to see what a sea-bird our lady is! She has n’t been sick a minute. And Hicks, you ’ll be glad to know, is behaving himself very well. Really, I don’t think we’ve done the fellow justice. I think you’ve overshadowed him, and that he ’s needed your absence to show himself to advantage.”
Staniford disdained any comment on this except a fierce “Humph!” and dismissed Dunham by turning his face to the wall. He refused to think of what he had said. He lay still and suffered indefinitely, and no longer waited for the end of the storm. There had been times when he thought with acquiescence of going to the bottom, as a probable conclusion ; now he did not expect anything. At last, one night, he felt by inexpressibly minute degrees something that seemed surcease of his misery. It might have been the end of all things, for all he cared; but as the lull deepened, he slept without knowing what it was, and when he woke in the morning he found the Aroostook at anchor in smooth water.
She was lying in the roads at Gibraltar, and before her towered the embattled rock. He crawled on deck after a while. The captain was going ashore, and liad asked such of his passengers as liked, to go with him and see the place. When Staniford appeared, Dunham was loyally refusing to leave his friend till he was fairly on foot. At sight of him they suspended their question long enough to welcome him back to animation, with the patronage with which well people hail a convalescent. Lydia looked across the estrangement of the past days with a sort of inquiry, and Hicks chose to come forward and accept a cold touch of the hand from him. Staniford saw, with languid observance, that Lydia was very fresh and bright; she was already equipped for the expedition, and could never have had any question in her mind as to going. She had on a pretty walking dress which he had not seen before, and a hat with the rim struck sharply upward behind, and her masses of dense, dull black hair pulled up and fastened somewhere on the top of her head. Her eyes shyly sparkled under the abrupt descent of the hat-brim over her forehead.
His contemptuous rejection of the character of invalid prevailed with Dunham; and he walked to another part of the ship, to cut short the talk about himself, and saw them row away.
“ Well, you’ve had a pretty tough time, they say,” said the second mate, lounging near him. “ I don’t see any fun in seasickness myself.”
“It’s a ridiculous sort of misery,” said Staniford.
“ I hope we shan’t have anything worse on board when that chap gets back. The old man thinks he can keep an eye on him.” The mate was looking after the boat.
“The captain says he hasn’t any money,” Staniford remarked carelessly. The mate went away without saying anything more, and Staniford returned to the cabin, where he beheld without abhorrence the preparations for his breakfast. But he had not a great appetite, in spite of his long fast. He found himself rather light-headed, and came on deck again after a while, and stretched himself in Hicks’s steamer chair, where Lydia usually sat in it. He fell into a dull, despairing reverie, in which he blamed himself for not having been more explicit with her. He had merely expressed his dislike of Hicks; but expressed without reasons it was a groundless dislike, which she had evidently not understood, or had not cared to heed; and since that night, now so far away, when he had spoken to her, he had done everything he could to harden her against himself. He had treated her with a stupid cruelty, which a girl like her would resent to the last; he had forced her to take refuge in the politeness of a man from whom he was trying to keep her.
His heart paused when he saw the boat returning in the afternoon without Hicks. The others reported that they had separated before dinner, and that they had not seen him since, though Captain Jenness had spent an hour trying to look him up before starting back to the ship. The captain wore a look of guilty responsibility, mingled with intense exasperation, the two combining in as much haggardness as his cheerful visage could express. “ If he’s here by six o’clock,” he said grimly, “all well and good. If not, the Aroostook sails, any way.”
Lydia crept timidly below. Staniford complexly raged to see that the anxiety about Hicks had blighted the joy of the day for her.
“ How the deuce could he get about without any money? ” he demanded of Dunham, as soon as they were alone.
Dunham vainly struggled to look him in the eye. “ Staniford,” he faltered, with much more culpability than some criminals would confess a murder, “ I lent him five dollars! ”
“ You lent him five dollars!” gasped Staniford.
“ Yes,” replied Dunham, miserably; “ he got me aside, and asked me for it. What could I do? What would you have done yourself? ”
Staniford made no answer. He walked some paces away, and then returned to where Dunham stood helpless. “ He’s lying about there dead - drunk, somewhere, I suppose. By Heaven, I could almost wish he was. He could n’t come back, then, at any rate.”
The time lagged along toward the moment appointed by the captain, and the preparations for the ship’s departure were well advanced, when a boat was seen putting out from shore with two rowers, and rapidly approaching the Aroostook. In the stern, as it drew nearer, the familiar figure of Hicks discovered itself in the act of waving a handkerchief. He scrambled up the side of the ship in excellent spirits, and gave Dunham a detailed account of his adventures since they had parted. As always happens with such scapegraces, he seemed to have had a good time, however he had spoiled the pleasure of the others. At tea, when Lydia had gone away, he clapped down a sovereign near Dunham’s plate. “ Your five dollars,” he said.
“ Why, how ” — Dunham began.
“ How did I get on without it? My dear boy, I sold my watch! A ship’s time is worth no more than a setting hen’s,—eh, captain? — and why take note of it? Besides, I always like to pay my debts promptly: there’s nothing mean about me. I ’m not going ashore again without my pocket-book, I can tell you.” He winked shamelessly at Captain Jenness. “ If you had n’t been along, Dunham, I could n’t have made a raise, I suppose. You would n’t have lent me five dollars, Captain Jenness.”
“No, I would n’t,” said the captain, bluntly.
“ And I believe you’d have sailed without me, if I had n’t got back on time. ”
‘‘I would,” said the captain, as before.
Hicks threw back his head, and laughed. Probably no human being had ever before made so free with Captain Jenness at his own table; but the captain must have felt that this contumacy was merely part of the general risk which he had taken in taking Hicks, and he contented himself with maintaining a silence that would have appalled a less audacious spirit. Hicks’s gayety, however, was not to be quelled in that way.
“ Gibraltar would n’t be a bad place to put up at for a while,” he said. “ Lots of good fellows among the officers, they say, and fun going all the while. First-class gunning in the cork woods at St. Roque. If it had n’t been for the res angusta domi, —you know what I mean, captain, — I should have let you get along with your old dug-out, as the gentleman in the water said to Noah.” His hilarity had something alarmingly knowing in it; there was a wildness in the pleasure with which he bearded the captain like that of a man in his first cups; yet he had not been drinking. He played round the captain’s knowledge of the sanative destitution in which he was making the voyage with mocking recurrence; but he took himself off to bed early, and the captain came through his trials with unimpaired temper. Dunham disappeared not long afterwards; and Staniford’s vague hope that Lydia might be going on deck to watch the lights of the town die out behind the ship as they sailed away was disappointed. The second mate made a point of lounging near him where he sat alone in their wonted place.
“ Well,” he said, “ he did come back sober. ’ ’
“ Yes,” said Staniford.
“ Next to not comin’ back at all,” the mate continued, “ I suppose it was the best thing he could do.” He lounged away. Neither his voice nor his manner had that quality of disappointment which characterizes those who have mistakenly prophesied evil. Staniford had a mind to call him back, and ask him what he meant; but he refrained, and he went to bed at last resolved to unburden himself of the whole Hicks business once for all. He felt that he had had quite enough of it, both in the abstract and in its relation to Lydia.
Hicks did not join the others at breakfast. They talked of what Lydia had seen at Gibraltar, where Staniford had been on a former voyage. Dunham had made it a matter of conscience to know all about it beforehand from his guidebooks, and had risen early that morning to correct his science by his experience in a long entry in the diary which he was keeping for Miss Hibbard. The captain had the true sea-farer’s ignorance, and was amused at the things reported by his passengers of a place where he had been ashore so often; Hicks’s absence doubtless relieved him, but he did not comment on the cabin-boy’s announcement that he was still asleep, except to order him let alone.
They were seated at their one o’clock dinner before the recluse made any sign. Then he gave note of his continued existence by bumping and thumping sounds within his state-room, as if some one were dressing there in a heavy sea.
“ Mr. Hicks seems to be taking his rough weather retrospectively,” said Staniford, with rather tremulous humor.
The door was flung open, and Hicks reeled out, staying himself by the doorknob. Even before he appeared, a reek of strong waters had preceded him. He must have been drinking all night. His face was flushed, and his eyes were bloodshot. He had no collar on; but otherwise he was accurately and even fastidiously dressed. He balanced himself by the door-knob, and measured the distance he had to make before reaching his place at the table, smiling, and waved a delicate handkerchief which he held in his hand: “ Spilt c’logne, tryin’ to scent my hie—handkerchief. Makes deuced bad smell — too much c’logne; smells — alcoholic. Thom’s, bear a hand, ’s good f’low. No? All right, go on with your waitin’. B-ic — busiuess b’fore pleasure, ’s feller says. Play it alone, I guess.”
The boy had shrunk back in dismay, and Hicks contrived to reach his place by one of those precipitate dashes with which drunken men attain a point, when the luck is with them. He looked smilingly round the circle of faces. Staniford and the captain exchanged threatening looks of intelligence, while Mr. Watterson and Dunham subordinated waited their motion. But the advantage, as in such cases, was on the side of Hicks. He knew it, with a drunkard’s subtlety, and was at his ease.
“No app’tite, friends; but thought I’d come out, keep you from feeling lonesome.” He laughed and hiccuped, and smiled upon them all. “ Well, cap’n,” he continued, “ ’covered from ’tigues day, ’sterday ? You look blooming’s usual. Thom’s, pass the — pass the — victuals lively, my son, and fetch along coffee soon. Some the friends up late, and want their coffee. Nothing like coffee, carry off ’fec’s. ” He winked to the men, all round; and then added, to Lydia: “ Sorry see you in this state — I mean, sorry see me— Can’t make it that way either; up stump on both routes. What I mean is, sorry had n’t coffee first. But you're all right — all right ! Like see anybody offer you disrespec’, ’n I ’m around. Tha’s all.”
Till he addressed her, Lydia had remained motionless, first with bewilderment, and then with open abhorrence. She could hardly have seen in South Bradfield a man who had been drinking. Even in haying, or other sharpest stress of farm-work, our farmer and his men stay themselves with nothing stronger than molasses-water, or, in extreme cases, cider with a little corn soaked in it; and the Mill Village, where she had taught school, was under the iron rule of a local vote for prohibition. She stared in stupefaction at Hicks’s heated, foolish face; she started at his wild movements, and listened with dawning intelligence to his hiccup-broken speech, with its thickened sibilants and its wandering emphasis. When he turned to her, and accompanied his words with a reassuring gesture, she recoiled, and as if breaking an ugly fascination she gave a low, shuddering cry, and looked at Staniford.
“Thomas,” he said, “Miss Blood was going to take her dessert on deck to-day. Dunham ? ”
Dunham sprang to his feet, and led her out of the cabin.
The movement met Hicks’s approval. “ Tha’s right; ’sert on deck, ’joy landscape and pudding together, — Rhine steamer style. All right. Be up there m’self soon’s I get my coffee.” He winked again with drunken sharpness. “I know wha’s what. Be up there m’self, ’n a minute.”
“ If you offer to go up,” said Staniford, in a low voice, as soon as Lydia was out of the way, “I’ll knock you down!”
“ Captain,” said Mr. Watterson, venturing, perhaps for the first time in his whole maritime history, upon a suggestion to his superior officer, “ shall I clap him in irons ? ”
“Clap him in irons !” roared Captain Jenness. “ Clap him in bed! Look here, you!” He turned to Hicks, but the latter, who had been bristling at Stanimford’s threat, now relaxed in a crowing laugh: —
“ Tha ’s right, captain. Irons no go, ’cept in case mutiny; bed perfectly legal ’t all times. Bed is good. But trouble is t’ enforce it.”
“ Where’s your bottle?” demanded the captain, rising from the seat in which a paralysis of fury had kept him hitherto. “ I want your bottle.”
“Oh, bottle’s all right! Bottle’s under pillow. Empty, — empty’s Jonah’s gourd; ’nother sea-faring party, —Jonah. S’cure the shadow ere the substance fade. Drunk all the brandy, old boy. Bottle’s a canteen; ’vantage of military port to houseless stranger. Brought the brandy on board under my coat; nobody noticed,—so glad get me back. Prodigal son’s return, — fatted calf under his coat.”
The reprobate ended his boastful confession with another burst of hiccuping, and Staniford helplessly laughed.
“ Do me proud,” said Hicks. “ Proud, I ’sure you. Gentleman, every time, Stanny. Know good thing when you see it — hear it, I mean.”
“ Look here, Hicks,” said Staniford, choosing to make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, if any good end might be gained by it. “ You know you ’re drunk, and you ’re not fit to be about. Go back to bed, that’s a good fellow; and come out again, when you ’re all right. You don’t want to do anything you ’ll be sorry for.”
“No, no! No, you don’t, Stanny. Coffee ’ll make me all right. Coffee always does. Coffee—Heaven’s lash besh gift to man. ’Scovered subse-subs’quently to grape. See? Comes after claret in course of nature. Captain doesn’t understand the ’lusion. All right, captain. Little learning dangerous thing.” He turned sharply on Mr. Watterson, who had remained inertly in his place. “ Put me in irons, hell! You put me in irons, you old Triton. Put me in irons, will you? ” His amiable mood was passing; before one could say so, it was past. He was meditating means of active offense. He gathered up the carving-knife and fork, and held them close under Mr. Watterson’s nose. “ Smell that! ” he said, and frowned as darkly as a man of so little eyebrow could.
At this senseless defiance Staniford, in spite of himself, broke into another laugh, and even Captain Jenuess grinned. Mr. Watterson sat with his head drawn as far back as possible, and with his nose wrinkled at the affront offered it. ‘ ‘ Captain,” he screamed, appealing even in this extremity to his superior, “ shall I fetch him one ? ”
“No, no!” cried Staniford, springing from his chair; “ don’t hit him! He is n’t responsible. Let’s get him into his room.”
“Fetch me one, hell?” said Hicks, rising, with dignity, and beginning to turn up his cuffs. “One! It’ll take more than one, fetch me. Stan’ up, ’f you ’re man enough.” He was squaring at Mr. Watterson, when he detected signs of strategic approach in Staniford and Captain Jenness. He gave a wild laugh, and shrank into a corner. “ No ! No. you don’t, boys,” he said.
They continued their advance, one on either side, and reinforced by Mr. Watterson hemmed him in. The drunken man has the advantage of his sober brother in never seeming to be on the alert. Hicks apparently entered into the humor of the affair. “ Sur-hic-surrender! ” he said, with a smile in his heavy eyes. He darted under the extended arms of Captain Jenness, who was leading the centre of the advance, and before either wing could touch him he was up the gangway and on the deck.
Captain Jenness indulged one of those expressions, very rare with him, which are supposed to be forgiven to good men in moments of extreme perplexity, and Mr. Watterson profited by the precedent to unburden his heart in a paraphrase of the captain’s language. Staniford’s laugh had as much cursing in it as their profanity.
He mechanically followed Hicks to the deck, prepared to renew the attempt for his capture there. But Hicks had not stopped near Dunham and Lydia. He hail gone forward on the other side of the ship, and was leaning quietly on the rail, and looking into the sea. Staniford paused irresolute for a moment, and then sat down beside Lydia, and they all tried to feign that nothing unpleasant had happened, or was still impending. But their talk had the wandering inconclusiveness which was inevitable, and the eyes of each from time to time furtively turned toward Hicks.
For half an hour he hardly changed his position. At the end of that time, they found him looking intently at them ; and presently he began to work slowly back to the waist of the ship, but kept to his own side. He was met on the way by the second mate, when nearly opposite where they sat.
“ Ain’t you pretty comfortable where you are? ” they heard the mate asking. “Guess I would n t go aft any further just yet.”
“ You're all right, Mason,” Hicks answered. “Going below — down cellar, ’s feller says; go to bed.”
“ Well, that’s a pious idea,” said the mate. “You couldn’t do better than that. I ’ll lend you a hand.”
“ Don’t care ’f I do,” responded Hicks, taking the mate’s proffered arm. But he really seemed to need it very little; he walked perfectly well, and he did not look across at the others again.
At the head of the gangway he encountered Captain Jenness and Mr. Watterson, who had completed the perquisition they had remained to make in his state-room. Mr. Watterson came up empty-handed; but the captain bore the canteen in which the common enemy had been so artfully conveyed on board. He walked, darkly scowling, to the rail, and flung the canteen into the sea. Hicks, who had saluted his appearance with a glare as savage as his own, yielded to his whimsical sense of the futility of this vengeance. He gave his fleering, drunken laugh: “ Good old boy, Captain Jenness. Means well—means well. But lacks — lacks — forecast. Pounds of cure, but no prevention. Not much on bite, but death on bark. Hell ? ” He waggled his hand offensively at the captain, and disappeared, loosely floundering down the cabin stairs, holding hard by the hand-rail, and fumbling round with his foot for the steps before he put it down.
“ As soon as he’s in his room, Mr. Watterson, you lock him in.” The captain handed his officer a key, and walked away forward, with a hang-dog look on his kindly face, which he kept averted from his passengers.
The sound of Hicks’s descent had hardly ceased when clapping and knocking noises were heard again, and the face of the troublesome little wretch reappeared. He waved Mr. Watterson aside with his left hand, and in default of specific orders the latter allowed him to mount to the deck again. Hicks stayed himself a moment, and lurched to where Staniford and Dunham sat with Lydia.
“ What I wish say Miss Blood, is,” he began, — “what I wish say is, peculiar circumstances make no difference with man if man’s gentleman. What I say is, everybody’spec’s— What I say is, circumstances don’t alter cases; lady’s a lady — What I want do is beg you fellows’ pardon — beg her pardon—if anything I said that firs’ morning”—
“ Go away ! ” cried Stamford, beginning to whiten round the nostrils. “ Hold your tongue! ”
Hicks fell back a pace, and looked at him with the odd effect of now seeing him for the first time. “ What you want? ” he asked. “ What you mean? Slingin’ criticism ever since you came on this ship! What you mean by it? Heh? What you mean?”
Staniford rose, and Lydia gave a start. He cast an angry look at her. “ Do you think I’d hurt him? ” he demanded.
Hicks went on: “ Sorry, very sorry, ’larm a lady, — specially lady we all respec’. But this particular affair. Touch — touches my honor. You said,”he continued, “ ’f I came on deck, you'd knock me down. Why don’t you do it? Wha ’s the matter with you? Sling criticism ever since you been on ship, and ’fraid do it! ’Fraid, you hear? ’F-ic — ’fraid, I say.” Staniford slowly walked away forward, and Hicks followed him, threatening him with word and gesture. Now and then Staniford thrust Hicks aside, and addressed him some expostulation, and Hicks laughed and submitted. Then, after a silent excursion to the other side of the ship, he would return and renew his one-sided quarrel. Staniford seemed to forbid the interference of the crew, and alternately soothed and baffled his tedious adversary, who could still be heard accusing him of slinging criticism, and challenging him to combat. He leaned with his back to the rail, and now looked quietly into Hicks’s crazy face, when the latter paused in front of him, and now looked down with a worried, wearied air. At last he crossed to the other side, and began to come aft again.
“Mr. Dunham!” cried Lydia, starting up. “ I know what Mr. Staniford wants to do. He wants to keep him away from me. Let me go down to the cabin. I can’t walk; please help me!” Her eyes were full of tears, and the hand trembled that she laid on Dunham’s arm, but she controlled her voice.
He softly repressed her, while he intently watched Staniford. “ No, no! ”
“ But he can’t bear it much longer,” she pleaded. “ And if he should ” —
“ Staniford would never strike him,” said Dunham, calmly. “ Don’t be afraid. Look! He’s coming back with him; he’s trying to get him below; they’ll shut him up there. That ’s the only chance. Sit down, please.” She dropped into her seat, hid her eyes for an instant, and then fixed them again on the two young men.
Hicks had got between Staniford and the rail. He seized him by the arm, and, pulling him round, suddenly struck at him. It was too much for his wavering balance: his feet shot from under him, and he went backwards in a crooked whirl and tumble, over the vessel’s side.
Staniford uttered a cry of disgust and rage. “ Oh, you little brute! ” he shouted, and with what seemed a single gesture he flung off his coat and the low shoes he wore, and leaped over the railing after him.
The cry of “ Man overboard! ” rang round the ship, and Captain Jenness’s order, “ Lower a boat, Mr. Mason,” came, quick as it was, after the second mate and two of the men were already in the boat, and she was sliding from her davits.
When the boat touched the water, two heads had appeared above the surface terribly far away. “ Hold on, for God’s sake! We ’ll be there in a second.”
“ All right! ” Staniford’s voice called back. “ Be quick.” The heads rose and sank with the undulation of the water. The swift boat appeared to crawl.
By the time it reached the place where they had been seen, the heads disappeared, and the men in the boat seemed to be rowing blindly about. The mate stood upright. Suddenly he dropped and clutched at something over the boat’s side. The people on the ship could see three hands on her gunwale; a figure was pulled up into the boat, and proved to be Hicks; then Staniford, seizing the gunwale with both hands, swung himself in.
A shout went up from the ship, and Staniford waved his hand. Lydia waited where she hung upon the rail, clutching it hard with her hands, till the boat was along-side. Then from white she turned fire-red, and ran below and locked herself in her room.
Dunham followed Staniford to their room, and he helped him off with his wet clothes. He tried to say something ideally fit in recognition of his heroic act, and he articulated some bald commonplaces of praise, and shook Stamford’s clammy hand. “ Yes,” said the latter, submitting; “but the difficulty about a thing of this sort is that you don’t know whether you haven’t been an ass. It has been pawed over so much by the romancers that you don’t feel like a hero in real life, but a hero of fiction. I’ve a notion that Hicks and I looked rather ridiculous going over the ship’s side; I know we did, coming back. No man can reveal his greatness of soul in wet clothes. Did Miss Blood laugh? ”
“Staniford!” said Dunham, in an accent of reproach. " You do her great injustice. She felt what you had done in the way you would wish, — if you cared.”
“ What did she say? ” asked Staniford, quickly.
“Nothing. But” —
“ That ’s an easy way of expressing one’s admiration of heroic behavior. I hope she’ll stick to that line. I hope she won’t feel it at all necessary to say anything in recognition of my prowess; it would be extremely embarrassing. I’ve got Hicks back again, but I could n’t stand any gratitude for it. Not that I ’m ashamed of the performance. Perhaps if it had been anybody but Hicks, I should have waited for them to lower a boat. But Hicks had peculiar claims. You could n’t let a man you disliked so much welter round a great while. Where is the poor old fellow? Is he clothed and in his right mind again? ”
“He seemed to be sober enough,” said Dunham, “ when he came on board; but I don’t think he’s out yet.”
“ We must let Thomas in to gather up this bathing-suit,” observed Staniford. “ What a Newportish flavor it gives the place! ” He was excited, and in great gayety of spirits.
He and Dunham went out into the cabin, where they found Captain Jenness pacing to and fro. “ Well, sir,” he said, taking Staniford’s hand, and crossing his right with his left, so as to include Dunham in his congratulations, “you ought to have been a sailor!” Then he added, as if the unqualified praise might seem fulsome, “ But if you’d been a sailor, you would n’t have tried a thing like that. You’d have had more sense. The chances were ten to one against you.”
Staniford laughed. “ Was it so bad as that? I shall begin to respect myself.”
The captain did not answer, but his iron grip closed hard upon Staniford’s hand, and he frowned in keen inspection of Hicks, who at that moment came out of his state-room, looking pale and quite sobered. Captain Jenness surveyed him from head to foot, and then from foot to head, and pausing at the level of his eyes he said, still holding Staniford by the hand: “ The trouble with a man aboard ship is that he can’t turn a blackguard out-of-doors just when he likes. The Aroostook puts in at Messina. You ’ll be treated well till we get there, and then if I find you on my vessel five minutes after she comes to anchor, I ’ll heave you overboard, and I ’ll take care that nobody jumps after you. Do you hear? And you won’t find me doing any such fool kindness as I did when I took you on board, soon again.”
“ Oh, I say, Captain Jenness,” began Staniford.
“ lie’s all right,” interrupted Hicks. “I’m a blackguard; I know it; and I don’t think I was worth fishing up. But you’ve done it, and I must n’t go back on you, I suppose.” He lifted his poor, weak, bad little face, and looked Staniford in the eyes with a pathos that belied the slang of bis speech. The latter released his hand from Captain Jenness and gave it to Hicks, who wrung it, as he kept looking him in the eyes, while his lips twitched pitifully, like a child’s. The captain gave a quick snort either of disgust or of sympathy, and turned abruptly about and bundled himself up out of the cabin.
“I say!” exclaimed Staniford, “a cup of coffee would n’t be bad, would it? Let’s have some coffee, Thomas, about as quick as the cook can make it,” he added, as the boy came out from his state-room with a lump of wet clothes in his hands. “ You wanted some coffee a little while ago,” he said to Hicks, who hung his head at the joke.
For the rest of the day Staniford was the hero of the ship. The men looked at him from a distance, and talked of him together. Mr. Watterson hung about whenever Captain Jenness drew near him, as if in the hope of overhearing some acceptable expression in which lie could second his superior officer. Failing this, and being driven to despair, “ Find the water pretty cold, sir? ” he asked at last; and after that seemed to feel that he had discharged his duty as well as might be under the extraordinary circumstances.
The second mate, during the course of the afternoon, contrived to pass near Staniford. “ Why, there wa’ n’t no need of your doing it,” he said, in a bated tone. “ I could ha’ had him out with the boat, soon enough.”
Staniford treasured up these meagre expressions of the general approbation, and would not have had them different. From this time, within the narrow bounds that brought them all necessarily together in some sort, Hicks abolished himself as nearly as possible. He chose often to join the second mate at meals, which Mr. Mason, in accordance with the discipline of the ship, look apart both from the crew and his superior officers. Mason treated the voluntary outcast with a sort of sarcastic compassion, as a man whose fallen state was not without its points as a joke to the indifferent observer, and yet might appeal to the pity of one who knew such eases through the misery they inflicted. Staniford heard him telling Hicks about his brother-inlaw, and dwelling upon the peculiar relief which the appearance of his name in the mortality list gave all concerned in him. Hicks seemed to listen in apathetic patience and acquiescence; and Staniford thought that he enjoyed, as much as he could enjoy anything, the second officer’s frankness. For his own part, he found that having made hold to keep this man in the world he had assumed a curious responsibility towards him. It became his business to show him that he was not shunned by his fellow-creatures, to hearten and cheer him up. It was heavy work. Hicks with his joke was sometimes odious company, but he was also sometimes amusing; without it, he was of a terribly dull conversation. He accepted Staniford’s friendliness too meekly for good comradery; he let it add, apparently, to his burden of gratitude, rather than lessen it. Staniford smoked with him, and told him stories; he walked up and down with him, and made a point of parading their good understanding, but his spirits seemed to sink the lower. “Deuce take him!" mused his benefactor; “he’s in love with her!” But he had the satisfaction, such as it was, of now seeing that if he was in love he was quite without hope. Lydia had never relented in her abhorrence of Hicks since the day of his disgrace. There seemed no scorn in her condemnation, but neither was there any mercy. In her simple life she had kept unsophisticated the severe morality of a child, and it was this that judged him, that found him unpardonable and outlawed him. He had never ventured to speak to her since that day, and Staniford never saw her look at him except when Hicks was not looking, and then with a repulsion which was very curious. Staniford could have pitied him, and might have interceded so far as to set him nearer right in her eyes; but he felt that she avoided him, too; there were no more walks on the deck, no more readings in the cabin; the checker - board, which professed to be the History of England, In 2 Vols., remained a closed book. The good companionship of a former time, in which they had so often seemed like brothers and sister, was gone. “ Hicks has smashed our Happy Family,” Staniford said to Dunham, with little pleasure in his joke. “ Upon my word, I think I had better have left him in the water.” Lydia kept a great deal in her own room; sometimes when Staniford came down into the cabin he found her there, talking with Thomas of little things that amuse children; sometimes when he went on deck in the evening she would be there in her accustomed seat, and the second mate, with face and figure half averted, and staying himself by one hand on the shrouds, would be telling her something to which she listened with lifted chin and attentive eyes. The mate would go away when Staniford appeared, but that did not at all help matters, for then Lydia went too. At table she said very little; she had the effect of placing herself more and more under the protection of the captain. The golden age, when they had all laughed and jested so freely and fearlessly together, under her pretty sovereignty, was past, and they seemed far dispersed in a common exile. Staniford imagined she grew pale and thin; he asked Dunham if he did not see it, but Dunham had not observed. “I think matters have taken a very desirable shape, socially,” he said. “ Miss Blood will reach her friends as fancy-free as she left home.”
“ Yes,” Staniford assented vaguely; “ that’s the great object.”
After a while Dunham asked, “ She’s never said anything to you about your rescuing Hicks? ”
“Rescuing? What rescuing? They’d have had him out in another minute, any way,” said Staniford, fretfully. Then he brooded angrily upon the subject: “ But I can tell you what: considering all the circumstances, she might very well have said something. It looks obtuse, or it looks hard. She must have known that it all came about through my trying to keep him away from her.”
“ Oh, yes; she knew that,” said Dunham; " she spoke of it at the time. But I thought ” —
“ Oh, she did! Then I think that it would be very little if she recognized the mere fact that something had happened.”
“ Why, you said you hoped she would n’t. You said it would be embarrassing. You ’re hard to please, Staniford.”
“ I should n’t choose to have her speak for my pleasure,” Staniford returned. “ But it argues a dullness and coldness in her ” —
“ I don’t believe she ’s dull; I don't believe she’s cold,” said Dunham, warmly.
“ What do you believe she is? ”
“Pshaw!” said Staniford.
The eve of their arrival at Messina, he discharged one more duty by telling Hicks that he had better come on to Trieste with them. “ Captain Jenness asked me to speak to you about it,” he said. “ He feels a little awkward, and thought I could open the matter better.”
“ The captain’s all right,” answered Hicks, with unruffled humility, “but I’d rather stop at Messina. I ’m going to get home as soon as I can, — strike a bee-line.”
“ Look here! ” said Stanifords laying his hand on his shoulder. “ How are you going to manage for money? ”
“Monte di Pietà,” replied Hicks. “ I’ve been there before. Used to have most of my things in the care of the state when I was studying medicine in Paris. I 've got a lot of rings and trinkets that ‘ll carry me through, with what’s left of my watch.”
“ Are you sure? ”
“ Because you can draw on me, if you ’re going to be short.”
“Thanks,” said Hicks. “There’s something I should like to ask you,” he added, after a moment. “ I see as well as you do that Miss Blood is n't the same as she was before. I want to know — I can’t always be sure afterwards — whether I did or said anything out of the way in her presence.”
“You were drunk,” said Staniford, frankly, “ but beyond that you were irreproachable, as regarded Miss Blood. You were even exemplary.”
“Yes, I know,” said Hicks, with a joyless laugh. “ Sometimes it takes that turn. I don’t think I could stand it if I had shown her any disrespect. She’s a lady,—a perfect lady; she’s the best girl I ever saw.”
“ Hicks,” said Staniford, presently, “ I have n’t bored you in regard to that little foible of yours. Are n’t you going to try to do something about it? ”
“ I'm going home to get them to shut me up somewhere,” answered Hicks. “ But I doubt if anything can be done. I’ve studied the thing; I’m a doctor, — or I would be if I were not a drunkard, — and I’ve diagnosed the case pretty thoroughly. For three months or four months, now, I shall be all right. After that I shall go to the bad for a few weeks; and I ’ll have to scramble back the best way I can. Nobody can help me. That was the mistake this last time. I should n’t have wanted anything at Gibraltar if I could have had my spree out at Boston. But I let them take me before it was over, and ship me off. I thought I’d try it. Well, it was like a burning fire every minute, all the way. I thought I should die. I tried to get something from the sailors; I tried to steal Gabriel’s cooking-wine. When I got that brandy at Gibraltar I was wild. Talk about heroism! I tell you it was superhuman, keeping that canteen corked till night! I was in hopes I could get through it, — sleep it off, — and nobody be any the wiser. But it would n’t work. O Lord, Lord, Lord!”
Hicks was as common a soul as could well be. His conception of life was vulgar, and his experience of it was probably vulgar. He possessed a good mind enough, with abundance of that humorous brightness which may hereafter be found the most national quality of the Americans; but his ideals were pitiful, and the language of his heart was a drolling slang. Yet his doom lifted him above his low conditions, and made him tragic; his despair gave him the dignity of a mysterious expiation, and set him apart with all those who suffer beyond human help. Without deceiving himself as to the quality of the man, Staniford felt awed by the darkness of his fate.
“ Can’t you try somehow to stand up against it, and fight it off? You ’re so young yet, it can’t " —
The wretched creature burst into tears. “Oh, try, —try! You don’t know what you ’re talking about. Don’t you suppose I’ve had reasons for trying? If you could see how my mother looks when I come out of one of my drunks, — and my father, poor old man! It’s no use; I tell you it’s no use. I shall go just so long, and then I shall want it, arid will have it, unless they shut me up for life. My God, I wish I was dead! Well!” He rose from the place where they had been sitting together, and held out his hand to Staniford. “ I ’m going to be off in the morning before you ’re out, and I ’ll say good-by now. I want you to keep this chair, and give it to Miss flood, for me, when you get to Trieste.”
“ I will, Hicks,” said Staniford, gently.
“I want her to know that I was ashamed of myself. I think she ’ll like to know it.”
“ I will say anything to her that you wish,” replied Staniford.
“ There’s nothing else. If ever you see a man with my complaint fall overboard again, think twice before you jump after him.”
He wrung Staniford’s hand, and went below, leaving him with a dull remorse that he should ever have hated Hicks, and that he could not quite like him even now.
But he did his duty by him to the last. He rose at dawn, and was on deck when Hicks went over the side into the boat which was to row him to the steamer for Naples, lying at anchor not far off. He presently returned, to Staniford’s surprise, and scrambled up to the deck of the Aroostook. “ The steamer sails to-night,” he said, “ and perhaps I could n’t raise the money by that time. I wish you ’d lend me ten napoleons. I ’ll send ’em to you from London. There’s my father’s address: I’m going to telegraph to him.” He handed Staniford a card, and the latter went below for the coins. “ Thanks,” said Hicks, when he reappeared with them. “ Send ’em to you where? ”
“Care Blumenthals’, Venice. I’m going to be there some weeks.”
In the gray morning light the lurid color of tragedy had faded out of Hicks. He was merely a baddish-looking young fellow whom Staniford had lent ten napoleons that he might not see again. Staniford watched the steamer uneasily, both from the Aroostook and from the shore, where he strolled languidly about with Dunham part of the day. When she sailed in the evening, he felt that Hicks’s absence was worth twice the money.
The young men did not come back to the ship at night, but went to a hotel, for the greater convenience of seeing the city. They had talked of offering to show Lydia about, but their talk had not ended in anything. Vexed with himself to be vexed at such a thing, Staniford at the bottom of his heart had a soreness which the constant sight of her irritated. It was in vain that he said there was no occasion, perhaps no opportunity, for her to speak, yet he was hurt that she seemed to have seen nothing uncommon in his risking his own life for that of a man like Hicks. He had set the action low enough in his own speech; but he knew that it was not ignoble, and it puzzled him that it should be so passed over. She had not even said a word of congratulation upon his own escape. It might be that she did not know how, or did not think it was her place to speak. She was curiously estranged. He felt as if he had been away, and she had grown from a young girl into womanhood during his absence. This fantastic conceit was strongest when he met her with Captain Jenness one day. He had found friends at the hotel, as one always does in Italy, if one’s world is at all wide,—some young ladies, and a lady, now married, with whom he had once violently flirted. She was willing that he should envy her husband. That amused him in his embittered mood ; he let her drive him about; and they met Lydia and the captain, walking together. Staniford started up from his lounging ease, as if her limpid gaze had searched his conscience, and bowed with an air which did not escape his companion.
“ Ah! Who’s that? ” she asked, with the boldness which she made pass for eccentricity.
“ A lady of my acquaintance,” said Staniford, at his laziest again.
“A lady?” sail the other, with an inflection that she saw hurt. “ Why the marine animal, then? She bowed very prettily; she blushed prettily, too.”
“She’s a very pretty girl,” replied Staniford.
“Charming! But why blush?”
“I ’ve heard that there are ladies who blush for nothing.”
“ Is she Italian ? ”
“ Yes, —in voice.”
“Oh, an American prima donna!” Staniford did not answer. “ Who is she? Where is she from? ”
“ South Bradfield, Mass.” Staniford’s eyes twinkled at her pursuit, which he did not trouble himself to turn aside, but baffled by mere impenetrability.
The party at the hotel suggested that the young men should leave their ship and go on with them to Naples; Dunham was tempted; but Staniford overruled him, and at the end of four days they went back to the Aroostook. They said it was like getting home, but in fact they felt the change from the airy heights and breadths of the hotel to the small cabin and the closets in which they slept; it was not so great alleviation as Captain Jenness seemed to think that one of them could now have Hicks’s state-room. But Dunham took everything sweetly, as his habit was; and, after all, they were meeting their hardships voluntarily. Some of the ladies came with them in the boat which rowed them to the Aroostook; the name made them laugh; that lady who wished Staniford to regret her waved him her handkerchief as the boat rowed away again. She had with difficulty been kept from coming on board by the refusal of the others to come with her. She had contrived to associate herself with him again in the minds of the others, and this, perhaps, was all that she desired. But the sense of her frivolity — her not so much vacant-mindedness as vacantheartedness — was like a stain, and he painted in Lydia’s face when they first met the reproach which was in his own breast.
Her greeting, however, was frank and cordial; it was a real welcome. Staniford wondered if it were not more frank and cordial than he quite liked, and whether she was merely relieved by Hicks’s absence, or had freed herself from that certain subjection in which she had hitherto been to himself.
Yet it was charming to see her again as she had been in the happiest moments of the past, and to feel that, Hicks being out of her world, her trust of everybody in it was perfect once more. She treated that interval of coldness and diffidence as all women know how to treat a thing which they wish not to have been; and Staniford, a man on whom no pleasing art of her sex was ever lost, admired and gratefully accepted the effect of this. He fell luxuriously into the old habits again. They had still almost the time of a steamer’s voyage to Europe before them; it was as if they were newly setting sail from America. The first night after they left Messina Staniford found her in her old place in the waist of the ship, and sat down beside her there, and talked; the next night she did not come; the third she came, and he asked her to walk with him. The elastic touch of her hand on his arm, the rhythmic movement of her steps beside him, were things that seemed always to have been. She told him of what she had seen and done in Messina. This glimpse of Italy had vividly animated her; she had apparently found a world within herself as well as without.
With a suddenly depressing sense of loss, Staniford had a prevision of splendor in her, when she should have wholly blossomed out in that fervid air of art and beauty; he would fain have kept her still a wilding rosebud of the New England wayside. He hated the officers who should wonder at her when she first came into the Square of St. Mark with her aunt and uncle.
Her talk about Messina went on; he was thinking of her, and not of her talk; but he saw that she was not going to refer to their encounter. “ You make me jealous of the objects of interest in Messina,” he said. “ You seem to remember seeing everything but me, there.”
She stopped abruptly. “ Yes,” she said, after a deep breath, “I saw you there;” and she did not offer to go on again.
“ Where were you going, that morning? ”
“ Oh, to the cathedral. Captain Jenness left me there, and I looked all through it till he came back from the consulate.”
“ Left you there alone! " cried Staniford .
“ Yes; I told him I should not feel lonely, and I should not stir out of it till he came back. I took one of those little pine chairs and sat down, when I got tired, and looked at the people coming to worship, and the strangers with their guide-books.”
“ Did any of them look at you? ”
“ They stared a good deal. It seems to be the custom in Europe; but I told Captain Jenness I should probably have to go about by myself in Venice, as my aunt’s an invalid, and I had better get used to it.”
She paused, and seemed to be referring the point to Staniford.
“ Yes, — oh, yes,” he said.
“ Captain Jenness said it was their way, over here,” she resumed; “but he guessed I had as much right in a church as anybody. ”
“ The captain’s common sense is infallible,” answered Staniford. He was ashamed to know that the beautiful young girl was as improperly alone in church as she would have been in a café, and he began to hate the European world for the fact. It seemed better to him that the Aroostook should put about and sail back to Boston with her, as she was, — better that she should be going to her aunt in South Bradfield than to her aunt in Venice. “ We shall soon be at our journey’s end, now,” he said, after a while.
“ Yes; the captain thinks in about eight days, if we have good weather.”
“ Shall you be sorry? ”
“ Oh, I like the sea very well.”
“ But the new life you are coming to, — doesn’t that alarm you sometimes?”
“ Yes, it does,” she admitted, with a kind of reluctance.
“ So much that you would like to turn back from it?”
“Oh, no!” she answered quickly. Of course not, Staniford thought; nothing could be worse than going back to South Bradfield. “ I keep thinking about it,” she added. “You say Venice is such a very strange place. Is it any use my having seen Messina? ”
“ Oh, all Italian cities have something in common.”
“I presume,” she went on, “that after I get there everything will become natural. But I don’t like to look forward. It—scares me. I can’t form any idea of it.”
“ You need n’t be afraid,” said Staniford. “It’s only more beautiful than anything you can imagine.”
“Yes —yes; I know,” Lydia answered.
“And do you really dread getting there?”
“ Yes, I dread it,” she said.
“Why,” returned Staniford lightly, “so do I; but it’s for a different reason, I 'm afraid. I should like such a voyage as this to go on forever. Now and then I think it will; it seems always to have gone on. Can you remember when it began? ”
“ A great while ago,” she answered, humoring his fantasy, “but I can remember.” She paused a long while. “I don’t know,” she said at last, “ whether I can make yon understand just how I feel. But it seems to me as if I had died, and this long voyage was a kind of dream that I was going to wake up from in another world. I often used to think, when I was a little girl, that when I got to heaven it would be lonesome — I don’t know whether I can express it. You say that Italy — that Venice — is so beautiful; but if I don’t know any one there”— She stopped, as if she had gone too far.
“ But you do know somebody there,” said Staniford. “ Your aunt ” —
“ Yes,” said the girl, and looked away.
“ But the people in this long dream, — you ’re going to let some of them appear to you there,” he suggested.
“ Oh, yes,” she said, reflecting his lighter humor, “I shall want to see them, or I shall not know f am the same person, and I must be sure of myself, at least. ”
“ And you wouldn’t like to go back to earth — to South Bradfield again? ” he asked presently.
“ No,” she answered. “ All that seems over forever. I could n’t go back there and be what I was. I could have stayed there, but I could n’t go back.”
Staniford laughed. “ I see that it is n’t the other world that’s got hold of you! It’s this world! I don’t believe you’ll be unhappy in Italy. But it’s pleasant to think you ’ve been so contented on the Aroostook that you hate to leave it. I don’t believe there’s a man on the ship that would n’t feel personally flattered to know that you liked being here. Even that poor fellow who parted from us at Messina was anxious that you should think as kindly of him as you could. He knew that he had behaved in a way to shock you, and he was very sorry. He left a message with me for you. He thought you would like to know that he was ashamed of himself.”
“ I pitied him,” said Lydia succinctly. It was the first time that she had referred to Hicks, and Staniford found it in character for her to limit herself to this sparse comment. Evidently, her compassion was a religious duty. Staniford’s generosity came easy to him.
“ I feel bound to say that Hicks was not a bad fellow. I disliked him immensely, and I ought to do him justice, now he ’s gone. He deserved all your pity. He ’s a doomed man; his vice is irreparable; I suppose it’s inherited; he can’t resist it.” Lydia did not say anything: women do not generalize in these matters; perhaps they cannot pity the faults of those they do not love. Staniford only forgave Hicks the more. “ I can’t say that up to the last moment I thought him anything but a poor, common little creature; and yet I certainly did feel a greater kindness for him after — what I — after what has happened. He left something more than a message for you, Miss Blood; he left his steamer chair yonder, for you.”
“ For me? ” demanded Lydia. Staniford felt her thrill and grow rigid upon his arm, with refusal. “ I will not have it. He had no right to do so. He — he — was dreadful! I will give it to you!” she said, suddenly. “ He ought to have given it to you. You did everything for him; you saved his life.”
It was clear that she did not sentimentalize Hicks’s case; and Staniford had some doubt as to the value she set upon what he had done, even now she had recognized it.
He said, “I think you overestimate my service to him, possibly. I dare say the boat could have picked him up in good time.”
“ Yes, that’s what the captain and Mr. Watterson and Mr. Mason all said,” assented Lydia.
Staniford was nettled. He would have preferred a devoted belief that but for him Hicks must have perished. Besides, what she said still gave no clue to her feeling in regard to himself. He was obliged to go on, but he went on as indifferently as he could. “However, it was hardly a question for me at the time whether he could have been got out without my help. If I had thought about it at all — which I did n’t — I suppose I should have thought that it would n’t do to take any chances.”
“ Oh, no,” said Lydia, simply, “ you could n’t have done anything less than you did.”
In his heart Staniford had often thought that he could have done very much less than jump overboard after Hicks, and could very properly have left him to the ordinary life-saving apparatus of the ship. But if he had been putting the matter to some lady in society who was aggressively praising him for his action, he would have said just what Lydia had said for him, — that he could not have done anything less. He might have said it, however, in such a way that the lady would have pursued his feigned retreat from her praises with still fonder applause; whereas this girl seemed to think there was nothing else to be said. He began to stand in awe of her heroic simplicity. If she drew every-day breath in that lofty air, what could she really think of him, who preferred on principle the atmosphere of the valley? But it was very possible. “Do you know, Miss Blood,” he said gravely, “ that you pay me a very high compliment? ”
“ How? ” she asked.
“ You rate my maximum as my mean temperature.” He felt that she listened inquiringly. “I don’t think I’m habitually up to a thing of that kind,” he explained.
“Oh, no,” she assented, quietly; “but when he struck at you so, you had to do everything.”
“ Ah, you have the pitiless Puritan conscience that takes the life out of us all! ” cried Staniford, with sudden bitterness. Lydia seemed startled, almost shocked, and her hand trembled on his arm, as if she had a mind to take it away. “ I was a long time laboring up to that point. I suppose you are always there!”
“ I don’t understand,” she said, turning her head round with the slow motion of her beauty, and looking him full in the face.
“I can’t explain now. I will, by and by, —when we get to Venice,” he added, with quick lightness.
“You put off everything till we get to Venice,” she said, doubtfully.
“ I beg your pardon. It was you who did it the last time.”
“Was it?” She laughed. “So it was! I was thinking it was you.”
It consoled him a little that she should have confused them in her thought, in this way. “ What was it you were to tell me in Venice? ” he asked.
“ I can’t think, now.”
“ Very likely something of yourself — or myself. A third person might say our conversational range was limited.”
“ Do you think it is very egotistical ? ” she asked, in the gay tone which gave him relief from the sense of oppressive elevation of mind in her.
“ It is in me, — not in you. ”
“ But I don’t see the difference.”
“ I will explain some time.”
“ When we get to Venice? ”
They both laughed. It was very nonsensical; but nonsense is sometimes enough.
When they were serious again, “ Tell me,” he said, “ what you thought of that lady in Messina, the other day.”
She did not affect not to know whom he meant. She merely said, “ I only saw her a moment.”
“ But you thought something. If we only see people a second we form some opinion of them.”
“She is very fine - appearing,” said Lydia.
Staniford smiled at the countrified phrase; he had observed that when she spoke her mind she used an instinctive good language; when she would not speak it, she fell into the phraseology of the people with whom she had lived. “ I see you don’t wish to say, because you think she is a friend of mine. But you can speak out freely. We were not friends; we were enemies, if anything.”
Staniford’s meaning was clear enough to himself; but Lydia paused, as if in doubt whether he was jesting or not, before she asked, “ Why were you riding with her then? ”
“ I was driving with her,” he replied, “ I suppose, because she asked me.”
“ Asked you! ” cried the girl; and he perceived her moral recoil both from himself and from a woman who could be so unseemly. He thought how delicious that lady would have found it if she could have known that a girl placed like Lydia was shocked at her behavior. But he was not amused. He was touched by the simple self-respect that would not let her suffer from what was not wrong in itself, but that made her shrink from a voluntary semblance of unwomanliness. It endeared her not only to his pity, but to that sense which in every man consecrates womanhood, and waits for some woman to be better than all her sex. Again he felt the pang he had remotely known before. What would she do with these ideals of hers in that depraved Old World, — so long past trouble for its sins as to have got a sort of sweetness and innocence in them, — where her facts would be utterly irreconcilable with her ideals, and equally incomprehensible ?
They walked up and down a few turns without speaking again of that lady. He knew that she grew momently more constrained toward him; that the pleasure of the time was spoiled for her; that she had lost her trust in him ; and this half amused, half afflicted him. It did not surprise him when, at their third approach to the cabin gangway, she withdrew her hand from his arm and said, stiffly, “ I think I will go down.” But she did not go at once. She lingered, and after a certain hesitation she said, without looking at him, “I did n’t express what I wanted to, about Mr. Hicks, and — what you did. It is what I thought you would do.”
“ Thanks,” said Staniford, with sincere humility. He understood how she had had this in her mind, and how she would not withhold justice from him because he had fallen in her esteem; how rather she would be the more resolute to do him justice for that reason.
He could see that she avoided being alone with him the next day, but he took it for a sign of relenting, perhaps helpless relenting, that she was in her usual place on deck at night. He went to her, and, “ I see that you have n’t forgiven me,” he said.
“ Forgiven you? ” she echoed.
“Yes,” he said, “for letting that lady ask me to drive with her.”
“ I never said ” — she began.
“ Oh, no! But I knew it, all the same. It was not such a very wicked thing, as those things go. But I liked your not liking it. Will you let me say something to you? ”
“ Yes,” she answered, rather breathlessly.
“ You must think it’s rather an odd thing to say, as I ask leave. It is; and I hardly know how to say it. I want to tell you that I’ve made bold to depend a great deal upon your good opinion for my peace of mind, of late, and that I can’t well do without it now.”
She stole the quickest of her bird-like glances at him, but did not speak; and though she seemed, to his anxious fancy, poising for flight, she remained, and merely looked away, like the bird that will not or cannot fly.
“ You don’t resent my making you my outer conscience, do you, and my knowing that you ’re not quite pleased with me? ”
She looked down and away with one of those turns of the head, so precious when one who beholds them is young, and caught at the fringe of her shawl. “ I have no right,” she began.
“ Oh, I give you the right! ” he cried, with passionate urgence. “ You have the right. Judge me! ” She only looked more grave, and he hurried on. “ It was no great harm of her to ask me; that’s common enough; but it was harm of me to go if I did n’t quite respect her, — if I thought her silly, and was willing to be amused with her. One has n’t any right to do that. I saw this when I saw you.” She still hung her head, and looked away. “ I want you to tell me something,” he pursued. “ Do you remember once — the second time we talked together — that you said Dunham was in earnest, and you would n’t answer when I asked you about myself? Do you remember? ”
“ Yes,” said the girl.
“I didn’t care, then. I care very much now. You don’t think me — you think I can be in earnest when I will, don’t you? And that I can regret — that I really wish ” — He took the hand that played with the shawl-fringe, but she softly drew it away.
“ Ah, I see! ” he said. ” You can’t believe in me. You don’t believe that I can be a good man — like Dunham! ”
She answered in the same breathless murmur, " I think you are good.” Her averted face drooped lower.
“ I will tell you all about it, some day! ” he cried, with joyful vehemence.
“ Will you let me? ”
“ Yes,” she answered, with the swift expulsion of breath that sometimes comes with tears. She rose quickly and turned away. He did not try to keep her from leaving him. His heart beat tumultuously; his brain seemed in a whirl. It all meant nothing, or it meant everything.
“ What is the matter with Miss Blood?” asked Dunham, who joined him at this moment. " I just spoke to her at the foot of the gangway stairs, and she wouldn’t answer me.”
“ Oh, I don’t know about Miss Blood
— I don't know what’s the matter,” said Staniford. “ Look here, Dunham; I want to talk with you — I want to tell you something — I want you to advise me
— I — There’s only one thing that can explain it, that can excuse it. There’s only one thing that can justify all that I’ve done and said, and that can not only justify it, but can make it sacredly and eternally right, — right for her and right for me. Yes, it’s reason for all, and for a thousand times more. It makes it fair for me to have let her see that I thought her beautiful and charming, that I delighted to be with her, that I — Dunham,” cried Staniford, “ I’m in love! ”
Dunham started at the burst in which these ravings ended. “ Staniford,” he faltered, with grave regret, " I hope not! ”
“You hope not ? You — you — What do you mean? How else can I free myself from the self-reproach of having trifled with her, of ” —
Dunham shook his head compassionately. ” You can’t do it that way. Your only safety is to fight it to the death,— to run from it.”
“But if I don’t choose to fight it?” shouted Staniford, — " if I don’t choose to run from it? If I ” —
“ For Heaven’s sake, hush! The whole ship will hear you, and you ought n’t to breathe it in the desert. I saw how it was going! I dreaded it; I knew it; and I longed to speak. I’m to blame for not speaking! ”
“I should like to know whatwould have authorized you to speak ? " demanded Staniford, haughtily.
“ Only my regard for you; only what urges me to speak now! You must fight it, Staniford, whether you choose or not. Think of yourself, — think of her! Think — you have always been my ideal of honor and truth and loyalty — think of her husband ” —
“Her husband!” gasped Staniford. “Whose husband? What the deuce — who the deuce—are you talking about, Dunham? ”
“Mrs. Rivers? That flimsy, featherheaded, empty-hearted — eyes-maker ! That frivolous, ridiculous— Pah! And did you think that I was talking of her? Did you think I was in love with her? ”
“Why,” stammered Dunham, " I supposed — I thought— At Messina, you know ” —
“ Oh! ” Staniford walked the deck’s length away. " Well, Dunham,” he said, as he came back, “you’ve spoilt a pretty scene with your rot about Mrs. Rivers. I was going to be romantic! But perhaps I 'd better say in ordinary newspaper English that I’ve just found out that I’m in love with Miss Blood.”
“With her ! " cried Dunham, springing at his hand.
“ Oh, come now! Don’t you be romantic, after knocking my chance.”
“Why, but Staniford!” said Dunham, wringing his hand with a lover’s joy in another’s love and his relief that it was not Mrs. Rivers. “ I never should have dreamt of such a thing! ”
“Why?” asked Staniford, shortly.
“ Oh, the way you talked at first, you know, and ” —
“ I suppose even people who get married have something to take back about each other,” said Staniford, rather sheepishly. “ However,” he added, with an impulse of frankness, “ I don’t know that I should have dreamt of it myself, and I don’t blame you. But it’s a fact, nevertheless.”
“Why, of course. It’s splendid! Certainly. It’s magnificent! ” There was undoubtedly a qualification, a reservation, in Dunham’s tone. He might have thought it right to bring the inequalities of the affair to Stamford’s mind. With all his effusive kindliness of heart and manner, he had a keen sense of social fitness, a nice feeling for convention. But a man does not easily suggest to another that the girl with whom he has just declared hitnself in love is his inferior. What Dunham finally did say was: “ It jumps with all your ideas — all your old talk about not caring to marry a society girl ” —
“ Society might be very glad of such a girl! ” said Staniford, stiffly.
“ Yes, yes, certainly; but I mean ” —
“ Oh, I know what you mean. It’s all right,” said Staniford. “ But it isn’t a question of marrying yet. I can’t be sure she understood me, — I’ve been so long understanding myself. And yet, she must, she must! She must believe it by this time, or else that I am the most infamous scoundrel alive. When I think how I have sought her out, and followed her up, and asked her judgment, and hung upon her words, I feel that I ought n’t to lose a moment in being explicit. I don't care for myself; she can take me or leave me, as she likes; but if she does n t understand, she mustn’t be left in suspense as to my meaning.” He seemed to be speaking to Dunham, but he was really thinking aloud, and Dunham waited for some sort of question before he spoke. “But it’s a great satisfaction to have had it out with myself. I have n't got to pretend any more that I hang about her, and look at her, and go mooning round after her, for this no-reason and that; I’ve got the best reason in the world for playing the fool, — I ’m in love!” He drew a long, deep breath. “ It simplifies matters immensely to have reached the point of acknowledging that. Why, Dunham, those four days at Messina almost killed me! They settled it. When that woman was in full fascination it made me gasp. I choked for a breath of fresh air; for a taste of spring-water; for — Lurella ! ” It was a long time since Staniford had used this name, and the sound of it made him laugh. “ It’s droll — but I always think of her as Lurella; I wish it was her name! Why, it was like heaven to see her face when I got back to the ship. Mrs. Rivers was very hot upon the scent, after we met her that day at Messina. She tried her best to get out of me who it was, and where I met her. But I flatter myself that I was equal to that emergency.”
Dunham said nothing, at once. Then, “ Staniford,” he faltered, “she got it out of me.”
“ Did you tell her who Lu— who Miss Blood was? ”
“ Yes. ”
“ And how I happened to be acquainted with her? ”
“ And that we were going on to Trieste with her? ”
“ She had it out of me before I knew,” said Dunham. “ I did n’t realize what she was after; and I did n’t realize how peculiar the situation might seem”—.
“I see nothing peculiar in the situation,” interrupted Staniford, haughtily. Then he laughed, consciously. “ Or, yes, I do; of course I do! You must know her to appreciate it, though.” He mused a while before he added: “No wonder Mrs. Rivers was determined to come aboard! I wish we had let her, — confound her! She’ll think I was ashamed of it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of! By Heaven, I should like to hear any one”— Staniford broke off, and laughed, and then bit his lip, smiling. Suddenly he burst out again, frowning: “ I won’t view it in that light. I refuse to consider it from that point of view. As far as I’m concerned, it ’s as regular as anything else in life. It ’s the same to me as if she were in her own house, and I had come there to tell her that she has my future in her hand. She’s such a lady by instinct that she’s made it all a triumph, and I thank God that I have n’t done or said anything to mar it. Even that beast of a Hicks did n’t; it ’s no merit. I’ve made love to her, — I own it; of course I have, because I was in love with her; and my fault has been that I have n’t made love to her openly, but have gone on fancying that I was studying her character, or some rubbish of that sort. But the fault is easily repaired.” He turned about, as if he were going to look for Lydia at once, and ask her to be his wife. But he halted abruptly, and sat down. “ No; that won’t do,” he said. “ That won’t do at all.” He remained thinking, and Dunham, unwilling to interrupt his reverie, moved a few paces off. “ Dunham, don’t go. I want your advice. Perhaps I don’t see it in the right light.”
“ How is it you see it, my dear fellow?” asked Dunham.
“ I don’t know whether I’ve a right to be explicit with her, here. It seems like taking an advantage. In a few days she will be with her friends ” —
“ You must wait,” said Dunham, decisively. “ You can’t speak to her before she is in their care; it would n’t be the thing. You ’re quite right about that. ”
“No, it would n’t be the thing,” groaned Staniford. “ But how is it all to go on till then?” he demanded desperately.
“ Why, just as it has before,” answered Dunham, with easy confidence.
“ But is that fair to her? ”
“ Why not? You mean to say to her at the right time all that a man can.
Till that time comes I have n’t the least doubt she understands you.”
“ Do you think so? ” asked Staniford, simply. He had suddenly grown very subject and meek to Dunham.
“ Yes,” said the other, with the superiority of a betrothed lover; “women are very quick about those things.”
“I suppose you're right,” sighed Staniford, with nothing of his wonted arrogant pretension in regard to women’s moods and minds, — “I suppose you 're right. And you would go on just as before? ”
“ I would, indeed. How could you change without making her unhappy — if she’s interested in you? ”
“ That’s true. I could imagine worse things than going on just as before. I suppose,” he added, “ that something more explicit has its charms; but a mutual understanding is very pleasant,— if it is a mutual understanding.” He looked inquiringly at Dunham.
“ Why, as to that, of course I don't know. You ought to be the best judge of that. But I don’t believe your impressions would deceive you.”
“ Yours did, once,” suggested Staniford, in suspense.
“Yes; but I was not in love with her,” explained Dunham.
“Of course,” said Staniford, with a breath of relief. “ And you think — Well, I must wait! ” he concluded, grimly. “But don’t — don’t mention this matter, Dunham, unless I do. Don’t keep an eye on me, old fellow. Or, yes, you must! You can’t help it. I want to tell you, Dunham, what makes me think she may be a not wholly uninterested spectator of my — sentiments.” He made a full statement of words and looks and tones. Dunham listened with the patience which one lover has with another.
The few days that yet remained of their voyage were falling in the latter half of September, and Staniford tried to make the young girl see the surpassing loveliness of that season under Italian skies; the fierceness of the summer is then past, and at night, when chiefly they inspected the firmament, the heaven has begun to assume something of the intense blue it wears in winter. She said yes, it was very beautiful, but she could not see that the days were finer, or the skies bluer, than those of September at home; and he laughed at her loyalty to the American weather. “ Don’t you think so, too ? ” she asked, as if it pained her that he should like Italian weather better.
“ Oh, yes, — yes,” he said. Then he turned the talk on her, as he did whenever he could. “ I like your meteorological patriotism. If I were a woman, I should stand by America in everything.”
“ Don’t you as a man? ” she pursued, still anxiously.
“ Oh, certainly,”he answered. “But women owe our continent a double debt of fidelity. It’s the Paradise of women, it’s their Promised Land, where they ‘ve been led up out of the Egyptian bondage of Europe. It’s the home of their freedom. It is recognized in America that women have consciences and souls.”
Lydia looked very grave. “ Is it — is it so different with women in Europe ? ” she faltered.
“ Very,” he replied, and glanced at her half-laughingly, half-tenderly.
After a while, “ I wish you would tell me,” she said, “just what you mean. I wish you would tell me what is the difference.”
“ Oh, it’s a long story. I will tell you — when we get to Venice.” The well-worn jest served its purpose again ; she laughed, and he continued: “ By the way, just when will that be? The captain says that if this wind holds we shall be in Trieste by Friday afternoon. I suppose your friends will meet you there on Saturday, and that you ’ll go back with them to Venice at once. ”
“ Yes,” assented Lydia.
“ Well, if Dunham and I should come on Monday, would that be too soon? ”
“ Oh, no! ” she answered. He wondered if she had been vaguely hoping that he might go directly on with her to Venice. They were together all day,
now, and the long talks went on from early morning, when they met before breakfast on deck, until late at night when they parted there, with blushed and laughed good-nights. Sometimes the trust she put upon his unspoken promises was terrible; it seemed to condemn his reticence as fantastic and hazardous. With her, at least, it was clear that this love was the first; her living and loving were one. He longed to testify the devotion which he felt, to leave it unmistakable and safe past accident; he thought of making his will, in which he should give her everything, and declare her supremely dear; he could only rid himself of this by drawing up the paper in writing, and then he easily tore it in pieces.
They drew nearer together, not only in their talk about each other, but in what they said of different people in their relation to themselves. But Staniford’s pleasure in the metaphysics of reciprocal appreciation, his wonder at the quickness with which she divined characters he painfully analyzed, was not greater than his joy in the pretty hitch of the shoulder with which she tucked her handkerchief into the back pocket of her sack, or the picturesqueness with which she sat facing him, and leant upon the rail, with her elbow wrapped in her shawl, and the fringe gathered in the hand which propped her cheek. He scribbled his sketch-book full of her contours and poses, which sometimes he caught unawares, and which sometimes she sat for him to draw. One day, as they sat occupied in this, “ I wonder,” he said, “if you have anything of my feeling, nowadays. It seems to me as if the world had gone on a pleasure excursion, without taking me along, and I was enjoying myself very much at home.”
“ Why, yes,” she said, joyously; “ do you have that feeling, too? ”
“ I wonder what it is makes us feel so,” he ventured.
“Perhaps,” she returned, “the long voyage.”
“ I shall hate to have the world come back, I believe,” he said, reverting to the original figure. “ Shall you? ”
“ You know I don’t know much about it,” she answered, in lithe evasion, for which she more than atoned with a conscious look and one of her dark blushes. Yet he chose, with a curious cruelty, to try how far she was his.
“ How odd it would be,” he said, “ if we never should have a chance to talk up this voyage of ours when it is over! ” She started, in a way that made his heart smite him. “ Why, you said you ” — And then she caught herself, and struggled pitifully for the self-possession she had lost. She turned her head away; his pulse bounded.
“Did you think I wouldn’t? I am living for that.” He took the hand that lay in her lap; she seemed to try to free it, but she had not the strength or will; she could only keep her face turned from him.
They arrived Friday afternoon in Trieste, and Captain Jenness telegraphed his arrival to Lydia’s uncle as he went up to the consulate with his ship’s papers. The next morning the young men sent their baggage to a hotel, but they came back for a last dinner on the Aroostook. They all pretended to be very gay, but everybody was perturbed and distraught. Staniford and Dunham had paid their way handsomely with the sailors, and they had returned with remembrances in florid scarfs and jewelry for Thomas and the captain and the officers. Dunham had thought they ought to get something to give Lydia as a souvenir of their voyage; it was part of his devotion to young ladies to offer them little presents; but Staniford overruled him, and said there should be nothing of the kind. They agreed to be out of the way when her uncle came, and they said good-by after dinner. She came on deck to watch them ashore. Staniford would be the last to take leave. As he looked into her eyes, he saw brave trust of him, but he thought a sort of troubled wonder, too, as if she could not understand his reticence, and suffered from it. There was the same latent appeal and reproach in the pose in which she watched their boat row away. She stood with one hand resting on the rail, and her slim grace outlined against the sky. He waved his hand; she answered with a little languid wave of hers; then she turned away. He felt as if he had forsaken her.
The afternoon was very long. Toward night-fall he eluded Dunham, and wandered back to the ship in the hope that she might still be there. But she was gone. Already everything was changed. There was bustle and discomfort ; it seemed years since he had been there. Captain Jenness was ashore somewhere; it was the second mate who told Staniford of her uncle’s coming.
“ What sort of person was he ? ” he asked vaguely.
“Oh, well! Dum an Englishman, any way,” said Mason, in a tone of easy, sociable explanation.
The scruple to which Staniford had been holding himself for the past four or five days seemed the most incredible of follies, — the most fantastic, the most cruel. He hurried back to the hotel; when he found Dunham coining out from the table d'hôte he was wild.
“ I have been the greatest fool in the world, Dunham,” he said. “ I have let a quixotic quibble keep me from speaking when I ought to have spoken.”
Dunham looked at him in stupefaction. “ Where have you been? ” he inquired.
“ Down to the ship. I was in hopes that she might still be there. But she ’s gone.”
“ The Aroostook gone? ”
“Look here, Dunham,” cried Staniford, angrily, “ this is the second time you’ve done that! If you are merely thick-witted, much can be forgiven to your helplessness; but if you’ve a mind to joke, let me tell you you choose your time badly.”
“ I’m not joking. I don’t know what you ’re talking about. I may be thickwitted, as you say ; or you may be scatter-witted,” said Dunham, indignantly. “ What are you after, any way? ”
“ What was my reason for not being explicit with her; for going away from her without one honest, manly, downright word; for sneaking off without telling her that she was more than life to me, and that if she cared for me as I cared for her I would go on with her to Venice, and meet her people with her? ”
“ Why, I don't know,” replied Dunham, bewildered. “We agreed that there would be a sort of — that she ought to be in their care before ” —
“ Then I can tell you,” interrupted Staniford, “that we agreed upon the greatest piece of nonsense that ever was. A man can do no more than offer himself, and if he does less, after he’s tried everything to show that he’s in love with a woman, and to make her in love with him, he’s a scamp to refrain from a bad motive, and an ass to refrain from a good one. Why in the name of Heaven shouldn't I have spoken, instead of leaving her to eat her heart out in wonder at my delay, and to doubt and suspect and dread— Oh!” he shouted, in supreme self-contempt.
Dunham had nothing to urge in reply. He had fallen in with what he thought Staniford’s own mind in regard to the course he ought to take; since he had now changed his mind, there seemed never to have been any reason for that course.
“ My dear fellow,” he said, “ it is n’t too late yet to see her, I dare say. Let us go and find what time the trains leave for Venice.”
“Do you suppose I can offer myself in the salle d'attente ?” sneered Staniford. But he went with Dunham to the coffee-room, where they found the Osservatore Triestino and the time-table of the railroad. The last train left for Venice at ten, and it was now seven ; the Austrian Lloyd steamer for Venice sailed at nine.
“ Pshaw! ” said Staniford, and pushed the paper away. He sat brooding over the matter before the table on which the journals were scattered, while Dunham waited for him to speak. At last he said, “ I can’t stand it; I must see her.
I don’t know whether I told her I should come on to-morrow night or not. If she should be expecting me on Monday morning, and I should be delayed — Dunham, will you drive round with me to the Austrian Lloyd’s wharf? They may be going by the boat, and if they are they ’ll have left their hotel. We ’ll try the train later. I should like to find out if they are on board. I don’t know that I ’ll try to speak with them; very likely not.”
“I’ll go, certainly,” answered Dunham, cordially.
“I’ll have some dinner first,” said Staniford. “I’m hungry.”
It was quite dark when they drove on to the wharf at which the boat for Venice lay. When they arrived, a plan had occurred to Staniford, through the timidity which had already succeeded the boldness of his desperation. “ Dunham,” he said, “ I want you to go on board, and see if she’s there. I don’t think I could stand not finding her. Besides, if she’s cheerful and happy, perhaps I’d better not see her. You can come back and report. Confound it, vou know, I should be so conscious before that infernal uncle of hers. You understand! ”
“ Yes, yes,” returned Dunham, eager to serve Staniford in a case like this. “ I ’ll manage it.”
“ Well,” said Staniford, beginning to doubt the wisdom of either going aboard, “ do it if you think best. I don’t know ” —
“Don’t know what?” asked Dunham, pausing in the door of the fiacre.
“ Oh, nothing, nothing! I hope we ’re not making fools of ourselves.”
“You’re morbid, old fellow!” said Dunham, gayly. He disappeared in the darkness, and Staniford waited, with set teeth, till he came back. He seemed a long time gone. When he returned, he stood holding fast to the open fiacredoor, without speaking.
“ Well! ” cried Staniford, with bitter impatience.
“Well what?” Dunham asked, in a stupid voice.
“ Were they there? ”
“ I don’t know. I can’t tell.”
“Can’t tell, man? Did you go to see ? ”
“ I think so. I’m not sure.”
A heavy sense of calamity descended upon Staniford’s heart, but patience came with it. “What’s the matter, Dunham? ” he asked, getting out tremulously.
“ I don’t know. I think I’ve had a fall, somewhere. Help me in.”
Staniford got out and helped him gently to the seat, and then mounted beside him, giving the order for their return. “ Where is your hat? ” he asked, finding that Dunham was bareheaded.
“ I don’t know. It does n’t matter. Am I bleeding? ”
“ It ’s so dark, I can’t see.”
“ Put your hand here.” He carried Staniford’s hand to the back of his head.
“ There’s no blood; but you’ve had an ugly knock there.”
“ Yes, that’s it,” said Dunham. “ I remember now; I slipped and struck my head.” He lapsed away in a torpor; Staniford could learn nothing more from him.
The hurt was not what Staniford in his first anxiety had feared, but the doctor whom they called at the hotel was vague and guarded as to everything but the time and care which must be given in any event. Staniford despaired; but there was only one thing to do. He sat down beside his friend to take care of him.
His mind was a turmoil of regrets, of anxieties, of apprehensions; but he had a superficial calmness that enabled him to meet the emergencies of the case. He wrote a letter to Lydia which he somehow knew to be rightly worded, telling her of the accident. In terms which conveyed to her all that he felt, he said that he should not see her at the time he had hoped, but promised to come to Venice as soon as he could quit his friend. Then, with a deep breath, he put that affair away for the time, and seemed to turn a key upon it.
He called a waiter, and charged him to have his letter posted at once. The man said he would give it to the portier, who was sending out some other letters, He returned, ten minutes later, with a number of letters which he said the portier had found for him at the post restante. Staniford glanced at them. It was no time to read them then, and he put them into the breast pocket of his coat.
W. D. Howells.