The Lady of the Aroostook
AT the hotel in Trieste, to which Lydia went with her uncle before taking the train for Venice, she found an elderly woman, who made her a courtesy, and saying something in Italian, startled her by kissing her hand.
“ It’s our Veronica,” her uncle explained; “she wants to know how she can serve you.” He gave Veronica the wraps and parcels he had been carrying. “ Your aunt thought you might need a maid.”
“ Oh, no! ” said Lydia. “ I always help myself.”
“ Ah, I dare say,” returned her uncle. " You American ladies are so — up to snuff, as you say. But your aunt thought we’d better have her with us, in any case.”
“ And she sent her all the way from Venice? ”
“Well, I never did!” said Lydia, not lightly, but with something of contemptuous severity.
Her uncle smiled, as if she had said something peculiarly acceptable to him, and asked, hesitatingly, “ When you say you never did, you know, what is the full phrase? ”
Lydia looked at him. “ Oh! I suppose I meant I never heard of such a thing.”
“ Ah, thanks, thanks! ” said her uncle. He was a tall, slender man of fiftyfive or sixty, with a straight gray mustache, and not at all the typical Englishman, but much more English - looking than if he had been. His bearing toward Lydia blended a fatherly kindness and a colonial British gallantry, such as one sees in elderly Canadian gentlemen attentive to quite young Canadian ladies at the provincial watering-places. He had an air of adventure, and of uncommon pleasure and no small astonishment in Lydia’s beauty. They were already good friends; she was at her ease with him; she treated him as if he were an old gentleman. At the station, where Veronica got into the same carriage with them, Lydia found the whole train very queer-looking, and he made her describe its difference from an American train. He said, “ Oh, yes — yes, engine,” when she mentioned the locomotive, and he apparently prized beyond its worth the word cow-catcher, a fixture which Lydia said was wanting to the European locomotive, and left it very stubby. He asked her if she would allow him to set it down; and he entered the word in his note-book, with several other idioms she had used. He said that he amused himself in picking up these things from his American friends. He wished to know what she called this and that and the other thing, and was equally pleased whether her nomenclature agreed or disagreed with his own. Where it differed, he recorded the fact, with her leave, in his book. He plied her with a thousand questions about America, with all parts of which he seemed to think her familiar; and she explained with difficulty how very little of it she had seen. He begged her not to let him bore her, and to excuse the curiosity of a Britisher, “ As I suppose you ’d call me,” he added.
Lydia lifted her long-lashed lids halfway, and answered, “ No, I should n’t call you so.”
“ Ah, yes,” he returned, “ the Americans always disown it. But I don’t mind it at all, you know. I like those native expressions.” When they stopped for refreshments he observed that one of the dishes, which was flavored to the national taste, had a pretty tall smell, and seemed disappointed by Lydia’s irresponsive blankness at a word which a countryman of hers — from Kentucky — had applied to the odor of the Venetian canals. He suffered in like measure from a like effect in her when he lamented the complications which had kept him the year before from going to America with Mrs. Erwin, when she revisited her old stamping-ground.
As they rolled along, the warm night which had fallen after the beautiful day breathed through the half-dropped window in a rich, soft air, as strange almost as the flying landscape itself. Mr. Erwin began to drowse, and at last he felL asleep; but Veronica kept her eyes vigilantly fixed upon Lydia, always smiling when she caught her glance, and offering service. At the stations, so orderly and yet so noisy, where the passengers were held in the same meek subjection as at Trieste, people got in and out of the carriage; and there were officers, at first in white coats, and after they passed the Italian frontier in blue, who stared at Lydia. One of the Italians, a handsome young hussar, spoke to her. She could not know what he said ; but when he crossed over to her side of the carnage, she rose and took her place beside Veronica, where she remained even after he left the carriage. She was sensible of growing drowsy. Then she was aware of nothing till she woke up with her head on Veronica’s shoulder, against which she had fallen, and on which she had been patiently supported for hours. “ Ecco Venezia! ” cried the old woman, pointing to a swarm of lights that seemed to float upon an expanse of sea. Lydia did not understand; she thought she was again on board the Aroostook, and that the lights she saw were the lights of the shipping in Boston harbor. The illusion passed, and left her heart sore. She issued from the glare of the station upon the quay before it, bewildered by the ghostly beauty of the scene, but shivering in the chill of the dawn, and stunned by the clamor of the gondoliers. A tortuous course in the shadow of lofty walls, more deeply darkened from time to time by the arch of a bridge, and again suddenly pierced by the brilliance of a lamp that shot its red across the gloom, or plunged it into the black water, brought them to the palace gate at which they stopped, and where, with a dramatic ceremony of sliding bolts and the reluctant yielding of broad doors on a level with the water, she passed through a marble-paved court, and up a stately marble staircase, to her uncle’s apartment. “You’re at home, now, you know,” he said, in a kindly way, and took her hand, very cold and lax, in his for welcome. She could not answer, but made haste to follow Veronica to her room, whither the old woman led the way with a candle. It was a gloomily spacious chamber, with sombre walls and a lofty ceiling with a faded splendor of gilded paneling. Some tall, old-fashioned mirrors and bureaus stood about, with rugs before them on the stone floor; in the middle of the room was a bed curtained with mosquito-netting. Carved chairs were pushed here and there against the wall. Lydia dropped into one of these, too strange and heavyhearted to go to bed in that vastness and darkness, in which her candle seemed only to burn a small round hole. She longed forlornly to be back again in her pretty state-room on the Aroostook; vanishing glimpses and echoes of the faces and voices grown so familiar in the past weeks were around her; the helpless tears ran down her cheeks.
There came a tap at her door, and her aunt’s voice called, “ Shall I come in? ” and before she could faintly consent, her aunt pushed in, and caught her in her arms, and kissed her, and broke into a twitter of welcome and compassion. “ You poor child ! Did you think I was going to let you go to sleep without seeing you, after you ’d come half round the world to see me? ” Her aunt was dark and slight like Lydia, but not so tall; she was still a very pretty woman, and she was a very effective presence now in the long white morning-gown of camel’s hair, somewhat fantastically embroidered in crimson silk, in which she drifted about before Lydia’s bewildered eyes. “Let me see how you look! Are you as handsome as ever? ” She held the candle she carried so as to throw its light full upon Lydia’s face. “ Yes! ” she sighed. “How pretty you are! And at your age you ’ll look even better by daylight! I had begun to despair of you; I thought you could n’t be all that I remembered; but you are,— you’re more! I wish I had you in Rome, instead of Venice; there would be some use in it. There’s a great deal of society there, — English society; but never mind: I’m going to take you to church with me to-morrow, — the English service; there are lots of English in Venice now, on their way south for the winter. I’m crazy to see what dresses you’ve brought; your aunt Maria has told me how she fitted you out. I’ve got two letters from her since you started, and they ’re all perfectly well, dear. Your black silk will do nicely, with bright ribbons, especially; I hope you have n’t got it spotted or anything on the way over.’’ She did not allow Lydia to answer, nor seem to expect it. “You’ve got your mother’s eyes, Lydia, but your father had those straight eyebrows: you’re very much like him. Poor Henry! And now I ’m having you got something to eat. I’m not going to risk coffee on you, for fear it will keep you awake; though you can drink it in this climate with comparative impunity. Veronica is warming you a bowl of bouillon, and that’s all you ’re to have till breakfast! ”
“Why, aunt Josephine,” said the girl, not knowing what bouillon was, and abashed by the sound of it, “I ’m not the least hungry. You ought n’t to take the trouble” —
“ You ’ll be hungry when you begin to eat. I ’m so impatient to hear about your voyage! I am going to introduce you to some very nice people, here, — English people. There are no Americans living in Venice; and the Americans in Europe are so queer ! You’ve no idea how droll our customs seem here; and I much prefer the English. Your poor uncle can never get me to ask Americans. I tell him I’m American enough, and he ’ll have to get on without others. Of course, he’s perfectly delighted to get at you. You’ve quite taken him by storm, Lydia; he’s in raptures about your looks. It’s what I told him before you came; but I could n’t believe it till I took a look at you. I could n’t have gone to sleep without it. Did Mr. Erwin talk much with you ? ”
“He was very pleasant. He talked — as long as he was awake,” replied Lydia.
“ I suppose he was trying to pick up Americanisms from you; he’s always doing it. I keep him away from Americans as much as I can; but he will get at them on the cars and at the hotels. He ’s always asking them such ridiculous questions, and I know some of them just talk nonsense to him.”
Veronica came in with a tray, and a bowl of bouillon on it; and Mrs. Erwin pulled up a light table, and slid about serving her, in her cabalistic dress, like an Oriental sorceress performing her incantations. She volubly watched Lydia while she ate her supper, and at the end she kissed her again. “Now you feel better,” she said. “I knew it would cheer you up more than any one thing. There’s nothing like something to eat when you ’re homesick. I found that out when I was off at school.”
Lydia was hardly kissed so much at home during a year as she had been since meeting Mrs. Erwin. Her aunt Maria sparely embraced her when she went and came each week from the Mill Village ; anything more than this would have come of insincerity between them; but it had been agreed that Mrs. Erwin’s demonstrations of affection, of which she had been lavish during her visit to South Bradfield, might not be so false. Lydia accepted them submissively, and she said, when Veronica returned for the tray, “ I hate to give you so much trouble. And sending her all the way to Trieste on my account,—I felt ashamed. There was n’t a thing for her to do.”
“Why, of course not!” exclaimed her aunt. “ But what did you think I was made of? Did you suppose I was going to have you come on a night-journey alone with your uncle? It would have been all over Venice; it would have been ridiculous. I sent Veronica along for a dragon.”
“ A dragon? I don’t understand,” faltered Lydia.
“ Well, you will,” said her aunt, putting the palms of her hands against Lydia’s, and so pressing forward to kiss her. “ We shall have breakfast at ten. Go to bed! ”
When Lydia came to breakfast, she found her uncle alone in the room reading Galignani’s Messenger. He put down his paper, and came forward to take her hand. “ You are all right this morning, I see, Miss Lydia" he said. “ You were quite up a stump, last night, as your countrymen say.”
At the same time hands were laid upon her shoulders from behind, and she was pulled half round, and pushed back, and held at arm’s-length. It was Mrs. Erwin, who entering after her first scanned her face, and then, with one devouring glance, seized every detail of her dress — the black silk which had already made its effect — before she kissed her. “ You are lovely, my dear! I shall spoil you, I know; but you’re worth it! What lashes you have, child! And your aunt Maria made and fitted that dress? She’s a genius! ”
“ Miss Lydia,” said Mr. Erwin, as they sat down, “ is of the fortunate age when one rises young every morning.” He looked very fresh himself with his clean-shaven chin and his striking evidence of snowy wristbands and shirtbosom. “Later in life, you can’t do that. She looks as blooming,” he added, gallantly, “ as a basket of chips, — as you say in America.”
“ Smiling,” said Lydia, mechanically correcting him.
“Ah! Is it? Smiling, — yes; thanks. It’s very good either way ; very characteristic. It would be curious to know the origin of a saying like that. I imagine it goes back to the days of the first settlers. It suggests a wood-chopping period. Is it — ah —in general use? ” he inquired.
“ Of course it is n’t, Henshaw! ” said his wife.
“You’ve been a great while out of the country, my dear,” suggested Mr. Erwin.
“Not so long as not to know that your Americanisms are enough to make one wish we had held our tongues ever since we were discovered, or had never been discovered at all. I want to ask Lydia about her voyage. I have n’t heard a word yet. Did your aunt Maria come down to Boston with you? ”
“ No, grandfather brought me.”
“ And you had good weather coming over ? Mr. Erwin told me you were not seasick.”
“ We had one bad storm, before we reached Gibraltar; but I was n’t seasick.”
“ Were the other passengers? ”
“One was.”Lydia reddened a little, and then turned somewhat paler than at first.
“ What is it, Lydia? ” her aunt subtly demanded. “ Who was the one that was sick? ”
“ Oh, a gentleman,” said Lydia.
Her aunt looked at her keenly, and for whatever reason abruptly left the subject. “Your silk,” she said, “will do very well for church, Lydia.”
“Oh, I say, now!” cried her husband, “you’re not going to make her go to church to-day! ”
“Yes, I am! There will be more people there to-day than any other time this fall. She must go.”
“But she’s tired to death,—quite tuckered, you know.”
“ Oh, I 'm rested, now,” said Lydia. “ I should n’t like to miss going to church.”
“ Your silk,” continued her aunt, “will be quite the thing for church.” She looked hard at the dress, as if it were not quite the thing for breakfast. Mrs. Erwin herself wore a morningdress of becoming delicacy, and an airy French cap; she had a light fall of powder on her face. “ What kind of overthing have you got? ” she asked.
“There’s a sack goes with this,” said the girl, suggestively.
“That’s nice! What is your bonnet? ”
“I haven’t any bonnet. But my best hat is nice. I could ” —
“ No one goes to church in a hat! You can’t do it. It’s simply impossible.”
“ Why, my dear,” said her husband, “ I saw some very pretty American girls in hats at church, last Sunday.”
“Yes, and everybody knew they were Americans by their hats!” retorted Mrs. Erwin.
“ I knew they were Americans by their good looks,” said Mr. Erwin, “ and what you call their stylishness.”
“ Oh, it’s all well enough for you to talk. You ’re an Englishman, and you could wear a hat, if you liked. It would be set down to character. But in an American it would be set down to greenness. If you were an American, you would have to wear a bonnet.”
“ I 'm glad, then, I ’m not an American,” said her husband. “ I don’t think I should look well in a bonnet.”
“ Oh, stuff , Henshaw ! You know what I mean. And I 'm not going to have English people thinking we ’re ignorant of the common decencies of life. Lydia shall not go to church in a hat; she had better never go. I will lend her one of my bonnets. Let me see, which one.” She gazed at Lydia in critical abstraction. “ I wear rather young bonnets,” she mused aloud, “and we ’re both rather dark. The only difficulty is I’m so much more delicate ” — She brooded upon the question in a silence, from which she burst exulting. “ The very thing! I can fuss it up in no time. It won’t take two minutes to get it ready. And you ’ll look just killing in it.” She turned grave again. “ Henshaw,” she said, “I wish you would go to church this morning! ”
“ I would do almost anything for you, Josephine; but really, you know, you oughtn’t to ask that. I was there last Sunday; I can’t go every Sunday. It’s bad enough in England; a man ought to have some relief on the Continent.”
“ Well, well. I suppose I oughtn’t to ask you,” sighed his wife, —“ especially as you ’re going with us to-night.”
“ I ’ll go to-night, with pleasure,” said Mr. Erwin. He rose when his wife and Lydia left the table, and opened the door for them with a certain courtesy he had; it struck even Lydia’s uneducated sense as something peculiarly sweet and fine, and it did not overawe her own simplicity, but seemed of kind with it.
The bonnet, when put to proof, did not turn out to be all that it was vaunted. It looked a little odd, from the first; and Mrs. Erwin, when she was herself dressed, ended by taking it off, and putting on Lydia the hat previously condemned. “ You ’re divine in that,” she said. “ And after all, you are a traveler, and I can say that some of your things were spoiled coming over, — people always get things ruined in a sea voyage,— and they ’ll think it was your bonnet.”
“I kept my things very nicely, aunt Josephine,” said Lydia conscientiously. “I don’t believe anything was hurt.”
“ Oh, well, you can’t tell till you’ve unpacked; and we ’re not responsible for what people happen to think, you know. Wait!” her aunt suddenly cried. She pulled open a drawer, and snatched two ribbons from it, which she pinned to the sides of Lydia’s hat, and tied in a bow under her chin; she caught out a lace veil, and drew that over the front of the hat, and let it hang in a loose knot behind. “ Now,” she said, pushing her up to a mirror, that she might see, “ it’s a bonnet; and I need n’t say anything! ”
They went in Mrs. Erwin’s gondola to the palace in which the English service was held, and Lydia was silent, as she looked shyly, almost fearfully, round on the visionary splendors of Venice.
Mrs. Erwin did not like to be still. “What are you thinking of, Lydia?” she asked.
“ Oh! I suppose I was thinking that the leaves were beginning to turn in the sugar orchard,” answered Lydia faithfully. “ I was thinking how still the sun would be in the pastures, there, this morning. I suppose the stillness here put me in mind of it. One of these bells has the same tone as our hell at home.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Erwin. “Everybody finds a familiar bell in Venice. There are enough of them, goodness knows. I don’t see why you call it still, with all this clashing and banging. I suppose this seems very odd to you, Lydia,” she continued, indicating the general Venetian effect. “ It ’s an old story to me, though. The great beauty of Venice is that you get more for your money here than you can anywhere else in the world. There is n’t, much society, however, and you must n’t expect to be very gay.”
“ I have never been gay,” answered Lydia.
“ Well, that ’s no reason you should n’t,” returned her aunt. “ If you were in Florence, or Rome, or even Naples, you could have a good time. There! I 'm glad your uncle did n’t hear me say that! ”
“What?” asked Lydia.
“Good time; that’s an Americanism.”
“ Is it? ”
“ Yes. He ’s perfectly delighted when he catches me in one. I try to break myself of them, but I don’t always know them myself. Sometimes I feel almost like never talking at all. But you can’t do that, you know.”
“ No,” assented Lydia.
“ And you have to talk Americanisms if you’re an American. You mustn’t think your uncle is n’t obliging, Lydia. He is. I ought n’t to have asked him to go to church, — it bores him so much. I used to feel terribly about it once, when we were first married. But things have changed very much of late years, especially with all this scientific talk. In England it’s quite different from what it used to be. Some of the best people in society are skeptics now, and that makes it quite another thing.” Lydia looked grave, but she said nothing, and her aunt added, “I wouldn’t have asked him, but I had a little headache myself.”
“ Aunt Josephine,” said Lydia, “ I'm afraid you ’re doing too much for me. Why did n’t you let me come alone? ”
“ Come alone? To church!” Mrs. Erwin addressed her in a sort of whispered shriek. “It would have been perfectly scandalous.”
“ To go to church alone? ” demanded Lydia, bewildered.
“ Yes. A young girl must n’t go anywhere alone.”
“ I ’ll explain to you, some time, Lydia; or rather, you ’ll learn for yourself. In Italy it’s very different from what it is in America.” Mrs. Erwin suddenly started up and bowed with great impressiveness, as a gondola swept towards them. The gondoliers wore shirts of blue silk, and long crimson sashes. On the cushions of the boat, beside a hideous little man who was sucking the top of an ivory-handled stick, reclined a beautiful woman, pale, with purplish rings round the large black eyes, with which, faintly smiling, she acknowledged Mrs. Erwin’s salutation, and then stared at Lydia.
“ Oh, you may look, and you may look, and you may look! ” cried Mrs. Erwin, under her breath. “ You’ve met more than your match at last! The Countess Tatocka,” she explained to Lydia. “That was her palace we passed just now, —the one with the iron balconies. Did you notice the gentleman with her? She always takes to those monsters. He ’s a Neapolitan painter, and ever so talented,— clever, that is. He’s dead in love with her, they say.”
“ Are they engaged? ” asked Lydia.
“ Engaged ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Erwin, with her shriek in dumb show. " Why, child, she ’s married! ”
“ To him ? ” demanded the girl, with a recoil.
‘‘No! To her husband.”
“To her husband?” gasped Lydia. “ And she ” —
“Why, she isn’t quite well seen, even in Venice,” Mrs. Erwin explained. “ But she’s rich, and her conversazioni are perfectly brilliant. She ’s very artistic, and she writes poetry, — Polish poetry. I wish she could hear you sing, Lydia! I know she ’ll be frantic to see you again. But I don’t see how it’s to be managed; her house is n’t one you can take a young girl to. And I can’t ask her: your uncle detests her.”
“Do you go to her house?” Lydia inquired stiffly.
“Why, as a foreigner, I can go. Of course, Lydia, you can’t be as particular about everything on the Continent as you are at home.”
The former oratory of the Palazzo Grinzclli, which served as the English chapel, was filled with travelers of both the English-speaking nationalities, as distinguishable by their dress as by their faces. Lydia’s aunt affected the English style, but some instinctive elegance betrayed her, and every Englishwoman there knew and hated her for an American, though she was a precisian in her liturgy, instant in all the responses and genuflexions. She found opportunity in the course of the lesson to make Lydia notice every one, and she gave a telegrammic biography of each person she knew, with a criticism of the costume of all the strangers, managing so skillfully that by the time the sermon began she was able to yield the text a statuesquely close attention, and might have been carved in marble where she sat as a realistic conception of Worship.
The sermon came to an end; the ritual proceeded; the hymn, with the hemming and hawing of respectable inability began, and Lydia lifted her voice with the rest. Few of the people were in their own church; some turned and stared at her; the bonnets and the back hair of those who did not look were intent upon her; the long red neck of one elderly Englishman, restrained by decorum from turning his head toward her, perspired with curiosity. Mrs. Erwin fidgeted, and dropped her eyes from the glances which fell to her for explanation of Lydia, and hurried away with her as soon as the services ended. In the hall on the water-floor of the palace, where they were kept waiting for their gondola a while, she seemed to shrink even from the small, surly greetings with which people whose thoughts are on higher things permit themselves to recognize fellow-beings of their acquaintance in coming out of church. But an old lady, who supported herself with a cane, pushed through the crowd to where they stood aloof, and, without speaking to Mrs. Erwin, put out her hand to Lydia; she had a strong, undaunted, plain face, in which was expressed the habit of doing what she liked. “ My dear,” she said, “ how wonderfully you sing! Where did you get that heavenly voice? You are an American; I see that by your beauty. Yon are Mrs. Erwin’s niece, I suppose, whom she expected. Will you come and sing to me? You must bring her, Mrs. Erwin.”
She hobbled away without waiting for an answer, and Lydia and her aunt got into their gondola. “ Oh ! How glad I am! ” cried Mrs. Erwin, in a joyful flutter. “ She’s the very tip-top of the English here; she has a whole palace, and you meet the very best people at her house. I was afraid when you were singing, Lydia, that they would think your voice was too good to be good form, — that’s an expression you must get; it means everything, — it sounded almost professional. I wanted to nudge you and make you sing a little lower, or different or something; but I couldn’t, everybody was looking so. No matter. It’s all right now. If she liked it, nobody else will dare to breathe. You can see that she’s taken a fancy to you; she’ll make a great pet of you.”
“ Who is she? ” asked Lydia, bluntly.
“ Lady Fenleigh. Such a character, — so eccentric ! But really, I suppose, very hard to live with. It must have been quite a release for poor Sir Fenleigh Fenleigh.”
“ She did n’t seem in mourning,” said Lydia. “ Has he been dead long? ”
“ Why, he isn’t dead at all! He’s what you call a grass-widower. The best soul in the world, everybody says, and very, very fond of her; but she could n’t stand it; he was too good, don’t you understand? They ’ve lived apart a great many years. She’s lived a good deal in Asia Minor, — somewhere. She likes Venice; but of course there’s no telling how long she may stay. She has another house in Florence, all ready to go and be lived in at a day’s notice. I wish I had presented you! It did go through my head; but it did n’t seem as if I could get the Blood out. It is a fearful name, Lydia; I always felt it so when I was a girl, and I was so glad to marry out of it; and it sounds so terribly American. I think you must take your mother’s name, my dear. Latham is rather flattish, but it’s worlds better than Blood.”
“ I am not ashamed of my father’s name,” said Lydia.
“ But you’ll have to change it some day, at any rate, — when you get married. ”
Lydia turned away. “ I will be called Blood till then. If Lady Fenleigh ” —
“ Yes, my dear,” promptly interrupted her aunt, “ I know that sort of independence. I used to have whole Declarations of it. But you ’ll get over that, in Europe. There was a time — just after the war — when the English quite liked our sticking up for ourselves; but that’s past now. They like us to be outlandish, but they don’t like us to be independent. How did you like the sermon? Did n’t you think we had a nicelydressed congregation? ”
“I thought the sermon very short,” answered Lydia.
“ Well, that’s the English way, and I like it. If you get in all the service, you must make the sermon short.”
Lydia did not say anything for a little while. Then she inquired, “Is the service the same at the evening meeting? ”
“ Evening meeting? ” repeated Mrs. Erwin
“ Yes, — the church to-night.”
“ Why, child, there is n’t any church to-night! What are you talking about ? ”
“Did n’t uncle — did n’t Mr. Erwin say he would go with us to-night? ”
Mrs. Erwin seemed about to laugh, and then she looked embarrassed. “ Why, Lydia,” she cried at last, “ he did n’t mean church; he meant — opera! ”
“Opera! Sunday night! Aunt Josephine, do you go to the theatre on Sabbath evening? ”
There was something appalling in the girl’s stern voice. Mrs. Erwin gathered herself tremulously together for defense. “ Why, of course, Lydia, I don’t approve of it, though I never was Orthodox. Your uncle likes to go; and if everybody’s there that you want to see, and they will give the best operas Sunday night, what are you to do? ”
Lydia said nothing, but a hard look came into her face, and she shut her lips tight.
“ Now you see, Lydia,” resumed her aunt, with an air of deductive reasoning from the premises, “ the advantage of having a bonnet on, even if it’s only a make-believe. I don’t believe a soul knew it. All those Americans had hats. You were the only American girl there with a bonnet. I’m sure that it had more than half to do with Lady Fenleigh’s speaking to you. It showed that you had been well brought up.”
“ But I never wore a bonnet to church at home,” said Lydia.
“ That has nothing to do with it, if they thought you did. And Lydia,” she continued, “I was thinking while you were singing there that I would n’t say anything at once about your coming over to cultivate your voice. That’s got to be such an American thing, now. I ’ll let it out little by little, — and after Lady Fenleigh’s quite taken you under her wing. Perhaps we may go to Milan with you, or to Naples,— there ’s a conservatory there, too; we can pull up stakes as easily as not. Well! ” said Mrs. Erwin, interrupting herself, “ I ’m glad Henshaw wasn’t by to hear that speech. He 'd have had it down among his Americanisms instantly, I don’t know whether it is an Americanism; but he puts down all the outlandish sayings he gets hold of to Americans; he has no end of English slang in his book. Everything has opened beautifully, Lydia, and I intend you shall have the best time! ” She looked fondly at her brother’s child. “ You’ve no idea how much you remind me of your poor father. You have his looks exactly. I always thought he would come out to Europe before he died. We used to be so proud of his looks at home! I can remember that, though I was the youngest, and he was ten years older than I. But I always did worship beauty. A perfect Greek, Mr. Rose-Black calls me: you’ll see him; he’s an English painter staying here; he comes a great deal.”
“ Mrs. Erwin, Mrs. Erwin! " called a lady’s voice from a gondola behind them. The accent was perfectly English, but the voice entirely Italian. “ Where are you running to? ”
“ Why, Miss Landini! ” retorted Mrs. Erwin, looking back over her shoulder. " Is that you? Where in the world are you going ? ”
“ Oh, I’ve been to pay a visit to my old English teacher. He ’s awfully ill with rheumatism ; but awfully! He can’t turn in bed. ”
“ Why, poor man! This is my niece whom I told you I was expecting! Arrived last night! We ’ve been to church!” Mrs. Erwin exclaimed each of the facts.
The Italian girl stretched her hand across the gunwales of the boats, which their respective gondoliers had brought skillfully side by side, and took Lydia’s hand.. “ I 'm glad to see you, my dear. But my God, how beautiful you Americans are! But you don’t look American, you know; you look Spanish! I shall come a great deal to see you, and practice my English.”
“ Come home with us now, Miss Landini, and have lunch,” said Mrs. Erwin.
“ No, my dear, I can't. My aunt will be raising the devil if I’m not there to drink coffee with her; and I ’ve been a great while away now. Till to-morrow! ” Miss Landini’s gondolier pushed his boat away, and rowed it up a narrow canal on the right.
“ I suppose,” Mrs. Erwin explained, “ that she ’s really her mother,—everybody says so; but she always calls her aunt. Dear knows who her father was. But she’s a very bright girl, Lydia, and you ’ll like her. Don’t you think she speaks English wonderfully for a person who’s never been out of Venice? ”
“ Why does she swear? ” asked Lyd ia, stonily.
“ Swear? Oh, I know what you mean. That’s the funniest thing about Miss Landini. Your uncle says it ’s a shame to correct her; but I do, whenever I think of it. Why , you know, such words as God and devil don’t sound at all wicked in Italian, and ladies use them quite commonly. She understands that it is n’t good form to do so in English, but when she gets excited she forgets. Well, you can’t say but what she was impressed, Lydia! ”
After lunch, various people came to call upon Mrs. Erwin. Several of them were Italians who were learning English, and they seemed to think it inoffensive to say that they were glad of the opportunity to practice the language with Lydia. They talked local gossip with her aunt, and they spoke of an approaching visit to Venice from the king; it seemed to Lydia that the king’s character was not good.
Mr. Rose-Black, the English artist, came. He gave himself the effect of being in Mrs. Erwin’s confidence, apparently without her authority, and he bestowed a share of this intimacy upon Lydia. He had the manner of a man who had been taken up by people above him, and the impudence of a talent which had not justified the expectations formed of it. He softly reproached Mrs. Erwin for running away after service before he could speak to her, and told her how much everybody had been enchanted by her niece’s singing. “ At least, they said it was your niece.”
“ Oh, yes, Mr. Rose-Black, let me introduce you to Miss ”— Lydia looked hard, even to threatening, at her aunt, and Mrs. Erwin added, “Blood.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. RoseBlack, with his picked-up politeness, “ I did n’t get the name.”
“ Blood,” said Mrs. Erwin, more distinctly.
“ Aöh!” said Mr. Rose-Black, in a cast-off accent of jaded indifferentism, just touched with displeasure. “ Yes,” he added, dreamily, to Lydia, “ it was divine, you know. You might say it needed training; but it had the naïve Sweetness we associate with your countrywomen. They ’re greatly admired in England now, you know, for their beauty. Oh, I assure you, it ’s quite the thing to admire American ladies. I want to arrange a little lunch at my studio for Mrs. Erwin and yourself; and I want you to abet me in it, Miss Blood.” Lydia stared at him, but he was not troubled. “ I’m going to ask to sketch you. Really, you know, there’s a poise — something bird-like — a sort of repose in arrest ” — He sat in a corner of the sofa, with his head fallen back, and abandoned to an absent enjoyment of Lydia’s pictorial capabilities. He was very red; his full beard, which started as straw color, changed to red when it got a little way from his face. He wore a suit of rough blue, the coat buttoned tightly about him, and he pulled a glove through his hand as he talked. He was scarcely roused from his reverie by the entrance of an Italian officer, with his hussar jacket hanging upon one shoulder, and his sward caught up in his left hand. He ran swiftly to Mrs. Erwin, and took her hand.
“ Ah, my compliments ! I come practice my English with you a little. Is it well said, a little, or do you say a small ? ”
“ A little, cavaliere,” answered Mrs. Erwin, amiably. “ But you must say a good deal, in this case.”
“ Yes, yes,—good deal. For what? ”
“ Let me introduce you to my niece, Colonel Pazzelli,” said Mrs. Erwin.
“Ah! Too much honor, too much honor! ” murmured the cavaliers. He brought his heels together with a click, and drooped towards Lydia till his head was on a level with his hips. Recovering himself, he caught up his eye-glasses, and bent them on Lydia. “ Very please, very honored, much ” — He stopped, and looked confused, and Lydia turned an angry red.
“Now, won’t you play that pretty barcarole you played the other night at Lady Fenleigh’s? ” entreated Mrs. Erwin.
Colonel Pazzelli wrenched himself from the fascination of Lydia’s presence, and lavished upon Mrs. Erwin the hoarded English of a week. “ Yes, yes; very nice, very good. With much pleasure. I thank you. Yes, I play.” He was one of those natives who in all the great Italian cities haunt English - speaking societies: they try to drink tea without grimacing, and sing for the ladies of our race, who innocently pet them, finding them so very like other women in their lady-like sweetness and softness; it is said they boast among their own countrymen of their triumphs. The cavaliere unbuckled his sword, and laying it across a chair sat down at the piano. He played not one but many barcaroles, and seemed loath to leave the instrument-
“ Now, Lydia,” said Mrs. Erwin, fondly, “ won’t you sing us something? ”
“ Do! ” called Mr. Rose-Black from the sofa, with the intonation of a spoiled first-cousin, or half-brother.
“ I don’t feel like singing to-day,” answered Lydia, immovably. Mrs. Erwin was about to urge her farther, but other people came in,— some Jewish ladies, and then a Russian, whom Lydia took at first for an American. They all came and went, but Mr. Rose-Black remained in his corner of the sofa, and never took his eyes from Lydia’s face. At last he went, and then Mr. Erwin looked in.
“ Is that beast gone ? " he asked. “ I shall be obliged to show him the door, vet, Josephine. You ought to snub him. He’s worse than his pictures. Well, you’ve had a whole raft of folks to-day, — as your countrymen say.”
“Yes, thank Heaven,” cried Mrs. Erwin, “ and they ’re all gone. I don’t want Lydia to think that I let everybody come to see me on Sunday. Thursday is my day, Lydia, but a few privileged friends understand that they can drop in Sunday afternoon.” She gave Lydia a sketch of the life and character of each of these friends. “And now I must tell you that your manner is very good, Lydia. That reserved way of yours is quite the thing for a young girl in Europe. I suppose it’s a gift; I never could get it, even when I was a girl. But you must n’t show any hauteur, even when you dislike people, and you refused to sing with rather too much aplomb. I don’t suppose it was noticed, though, — those ladies coming in at the same time. Really, I thought Mr. Rose-Black and Colonel Pazzelli were trying to outstare each other. It was certainly amusing.
I never saw such an evident case, Lydia! The poor cavaliere looked as if he had seen you somewhere in a dream, and was struggling to make it all out.”
Lydia remained impassive. Presently she said she would go to her room, and write home before dinner. When she went out Mrs. Erwin fetched a deep sigh, and threw herself upon her husband’s sympathy.
“ She ’s terribly unresponsive,” she began. “I supposed she’d be in raptures with the place, at least, but you would n’t know there was anything at all remarkable in Venice from anything she’s said. We have met ever so many interesting people to-day, — the Countess Tatocka, and Lady Fenleigh, and Miss Landini, and everybody, but I don’t really think she’s said a word about a soul. She’s too queer for anything.”
“I dare say she has n’t the experience to be astonished from,” suggested Mr. Erwin, easily. “ She ’s here as if she ’d been dropped down from her village.”
“Yes, that’s true,” considered his wife. “ But it’s hard, with Lydia’s air and style and self-possession, to realize that she is merely a village girl.”
“ She may be much more impressed than she chooses to show,” Mr. Erwin continued. " I remember a very curious essay by a French writer about your countrymen: he contended that they were characterized by a savage stoicism through their contact with the Indians.”
“ Nonsense, Henshaw! There has n't been an Indian near South Bradfield for two hundred years. And besides that, am I stoical? ”
“ I’m bound to say,” replied her husband, “ that so far as you go, you ’re a complete refutation of the theory.”
“ I hate to see a young girl so close,” fretted Mrs. Erwin. “ But perhaps,” she added, more cheerfully, “ she ’ll be the easier managed, being so passive. She does n’t seem at all willful, — that’s one comfort. ”
She went to Lydia’s room just before dinner, and found the girl with her head fallen on her arms upon the table, where she had been writing. She looked up, and faced her aunt with swollen eyes.
“Why, poor thing!” cried Mrs. Erwin. “ What is it, dear? What is it, Lydia? ” she asked, tenderly, and she pulled Lydia’s face down upon her neck.
“ Oh, nothing,” said Lydia. “ I suppose I was a little homesick; writing home made me.”
She somewhat coldly suffered Mrs. Erwin to kiss her and smooth her hair, while she began to talk with her of her grandfather and her aunt at home. “ But this is going to be home to you now,” said Mrs. Erwin, “and I’m not going to let you be sick for any other. I want you to treat me just like a mother, or an older sister. Perhaps I shan’t be the wisest mother to you in the world, but I mean to be one of the best. Come, now, bathe your eyes, my dear, and let’s go to dinner. I don’t like to keep your uncle waiting.” She did not go at once, but showed Lydia the appointments of the room, and lightly indicated what she had caused to be done, and what she had done with her own hands, to make the place pretty for her. “ And now shall I take your letter, and have your uncle post it this evening? ” She picked up the letter from the table. “ Had n't you any wax to seal it? You know they don’t generally mucilage their envelopes in Europe.”
Lydia blushed. “I left it open for you to read. I thought you ought to know what I wrote.”
Mrs. Erwin dropped her hands in front of her, with the open letter stretched between them, and looked at her niece in rapture. “Lydia,” she cried, “ one would suppose you had lived all your days in Europe! Showing me your letter, this way, — why, it’s quite like a Continental girl.”
“ I thought it was no more than right you should see what I was writing home,” said Lydia, unresponsively.
“Well, no matter, even if it was right,” replied Mrs. Erwin. “It comes to the same thing. And now, as you ’ve been quite a European daughter, I’m going to be a real American mother.” She took up the wax, and sealed Lydia’s letter without looking into it. “ There! ” she said, and kissed her triumphantly.
She was very good to Lydia all through dinner, and made her talk of the simple life at home, and the village characters whom she remembered from her last summer’s visit. That amused Mr. Erwin, who several times, when his wife was turning the talk upon Lydia’s voyage over, intervened with some new question abont the life of the queer little Yankee hill-town. He said she must tell Lady Fenleigh about it, — she was fond of picking those curios; it would make any one’s social fortune who could explain such a place intelligibly in London; when they got to having typical villages of the different civilizations at the international expositions, — as no doubt they would, — somebody must really send South Bradfield over. He pleased himself vastly with this fancy, till Mrs. Erwin, who had been eying Lydia critically from time to time, as if making note of her features and complexion, said she had a white cloak, and that in Venice, where one need not dress a great deal for the opera, Lydia could wear it that night.
Lydia looked up in astonishment, but she sat passive during her aunt’s discussion of her plans. When they rose from table, she said, at her stiffest and coldest, “ Aunt Josephine, I want you to excuse me from going with you to-night. I don’t feel like going.”
“ Not feel like going! ” exclaimed her aunt in dismay. “ Why, your uncle has taken a box! ”
Lydia opposed nothing to this argument. She only said, “ I would rather not go.”
“ Oh, but you will, dear,” coaxed her aunt. “ You would enjoy it so much.”
“ I thought you understood from what I said to-day,” replied Lydia, “that I could not go. ”
“ Why, no, I did n’t! I thought you objected; but if I thought it was proper for you to go ” —
“ I should not go at home,” said Lydia, in the same immovable fashion.
“ Of course not. Every place has its customs, and in Venice it has always been the custom to go to the opera on Sunday night. ” This fact had no visible weight with Lydia, and after a pause her aunt added, “ Did n’t Paul himself say to do in Rome as the Romans do? ”
“No, aunt Josephine,” cried Lydia, indignantly, “ he did not! ”
Mrs. Erwin turned to her husband with a face of appeal, and he answered, " Really, my dear, I think you ’re mistaken. I always had the impression that the saying was — an Americanism of some sort.”
“ But it does n’t matter,” interposed Lydia, decisively. “ I could n’t go, if I did n’t think it was right, whoever said it.”
“ Oh, well,” began Mrs. Erwin, “if you would n’t mind what Paul said ” — She suddenly checked herself, and after a little silence she resumed, kindly, “ I won’t try to force you, Lydia. I did n’t realize what a very short time it is since you left home, and how you still have all those ideas. I would n’t distress you about them for the world, my dear. I want you to feel at home with me, and I ’ll make it as like home for you as I can in everything. Henshaw, I think you must go alone, this evening. I will stay with Lydia.”
“ Oh, no, no! I could n’t let you; I can’t let you! I shall not know what to do if I keep you at home. Oh, don’t leave it that way, please! I shall feel so badly about it” —
“ Why, we can both stay,” suggested Mr. Erwin, kindly.
Lydia’s lips trembled and her eyes glistened, and Mrs. Erwin said, “ I ’ll go with you, Henshaw. I ’ll be ready in half an hour. I won’t dress much.” She added this as if not to dress a great deal at the opera Sunday night might somehow be accepted as an observance of the Sabbath.
The next morning Veronica brought Lydia a little scrawl from her aunt, bidding the girl come and breakfast with her in her room at nine.
“ Well, my dear,” her aunt called to her from her pillow, when she appeared, “you find me flat enough, this morning. If there was anything wrong about going to the opera last night, I was properly punished for it. Such wretched stuff as I never heard! And instead of the new ballet that they promised, they gave an old thing that I had seen till I was sick of it. You did n’t miss much, I can tell you. How fresh and bright you do look, Lydia! ” she sighed. “Did you sleep well? Were you lonesome while we were gone? Veronica says you were reading the whole evening. Are you fond of reading? ”
“I don’t think I am, very,” said Lydia. “ It was a book that I began on the ship. It’s a novel.” She hesitated. “I was n’t reading it; I was just looking at it.”
“ What a queer child you are! I suppose you were dying to read it, and would n’t because it was Sunday. Well! ” Mrs. Erwin put her hand under her pillow, and pulled out a gossamer handkerchief, with which she delicately touched her complexion here and there, and repaired with an instinctive rearrangement of powder the envious ravages of a slight rash about her nose. “ I respect your high principles beyond anything, Lydia, and if they can only be turned in the right direction they will never be any disadvantage to you.” Veronica came in with the breakfast on a tray, and Mrs. Erwin added, “ Now, pull up that little table, and bring your chair, my dear, and let us take it easy. I like to talk while I’m breakfasting. Will you pour out my chocolate ? That’s it, in the ugly little pot with the wooden handle; the copper one’s for you, with coffee in it. I never could get that repose which seems to come perfectly natural to you. I was always inclined to be a little rowdy, my dear, and I’ve had to fight hard against it, without any help from either of my husbands; men like it; they think it’s funny. When I was first married, I was very young, and so was he; it was a real love match ; and my husband was very well off, and when I began to be delicate, nothing would do but he must come to Europe with me. How little I ever expected to outlive him!”
“ You don’t look sick now,” began Lydia.
“Ill,” said her aunt. “You must say ill. Sick is an Americanism.”
“ It’s in the Bible,” said Lydia, gravely.
“ Oh, there are a great many words in the Bible you can’t use,” returned her aunt. “ No, I don’t look ill now, and I 'm worlds better. But I could n’t live a year in any other climate, I suppose. You seem to take after your mother’s side. Well, as I was saying, the European ways did n’t come natural to me, at all. I used to have a great deal of gayety when I was a girl, and I liked beaux and attentions; and I had very free ways. I could n’t get their stiffness for years and years, and all through my widowhood it was one wretched failure with me. Do what I would, I was always violating the most essential rules, and the worst of it was that it only seemed to make me the more popular. I do believe it was nothing but my rowdiness that attracted Mr. Erwin; but I determined when I had got an Englishman I would make one bold strike for the proprieties, and have them, or die in the attempt. I determined that no Englishwoman I ever saw should outdo me in strict conformity to all the usages of European society. So I cut myself off from all the Americans, and went with nobody but the English.”
“Do you like them better?” asked Lydia, with the blunt, child-like directness that had already more than once startled her aunt.
“Like them! I detest them! If Mr. Erwin were a real Englishman, I think I should go crazy; but he’s been so little in his own country — all his life in India, nearly, and the rest on the Continent,— that he ’s quite human; and no American husband was ever more patient and indulgent; and that ’s saying a good deal. He would be glad to have nothing but Americans around; he has an enthusiasm for them, — or for what he supposes they are. Like the English! You ought to have heard them during our war; it would have made your blood boil! And then how they came crawling round after it was all over, and trying to pet us up! Ugh!”
“ If you feel so about them,” said Lydia, as before, “ why do you want to go with them so much? ”
“ My dear,” cried her aunt, “ to beat them with their own weapons on their own ground, — to show them that an American can be more European than any of them, if she chooses! And now you ’ve come here with looks and temperament and everything just to my hand. You ’re more beautiful than any English girl ever dreamt of being; you ’re very distinguished-looking; your voice is perfectly divine; and you ’re colder than an iceberg. Oh, if I only had one winter with you in Rome, I think I should die in peace! ” Mrs. Erwin paused, and drank her chocolate, which she had been letting cool in the eagerness of her discourse. “ But never mind,” she continued, “ we will do the best we can here. I’ve seen English girls going out two or three together, without protection, in Rome and Florence; but I mean that you shall be quite Italian in that respect. The Italians never go out without a chaperone of some sort, and you must never be seen without me, or your uncle, or Veronica. Now I 'll tell you how you must do at parties, and so on. You must be very retiring; you ’re that, any way; but you must always keep close to me. It doesn’t do for young people to talk much together in society; it makes scandal about a girl. If you dance, you must always hurry back to me. Dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Erwin, “I remember how, when I was a girl, I used to hang on to the young men’s arms, and promenade with them after a dance, and go out to supper with them, and flirt on the stairs, — such times! But that would n’t do here, Lydia. It would ruin a girl’s reputation; she could hardly walk arm in arm with a young man if she was engaged to him.” Lydia blushed darkly red, and then turned paler than usual, while her aunt went on. “ You might do it, perhaps, and have it set down to American eccentricity or under-breeding, but I'm not going to have that. I intend you to be just as dull and diffident in society as if you were an Italian, and more than if you were English. Your voice, of course, is a difficulty. If you sing, that will make you conspicuous, in spite of everything. But I don’t see why that can’t be turned to advantage; it’s no worse than your beauty. Yes, if you ’re so splendid-looking and so gifted, and at the same time as stupid as the rest, it’s so much clear gain. It will come easy for you to be shy with men, for I suppose you’ve hardly ever talked with any, living up there in that out-of-the way village; and your manner is very good. It’s reserved, and yet it isn’t green. The way,” continued Mrs. Erwin, “ to treat men in Europe is to behave as if they were guilty till they prove themselves innocent. All you have to do is to reverse all your American ideas. But here I am, lecturing you as if you had been just such a girl as I was, with half a dozen love affairs on her hands at once, and no end of gentlemen friends. Europe won’t be hard for you, my dear, for you haven’t got anything to unlearn. But some girls that come over! — it’s perfectly ridiculous, the trouble they get into, and the time they have getting things straight. They take it for granted that men in good society are gentlemen, — what we mean by gentlemen.”
Lydia had been letting her coffee stand, and had scarcely tasted the delicious French bread and the sweet Lombard butter of which her aunt ate so heartily. “Why, child,” said Mrs. Erwin, at last, “ where is your appetite? One would think you were the elderly invalid who had been up late. Did you find it too exciting to sit at home looking at a novel? What was it? If it’s a new story I should like to see it. But you did n’t bring a novel from South Bradfield with you! ”
“No,” said Lydia, with a husky reluctance. “One of the—passengers gave it to me.”
“ Had you many passengers? But of course not. That was what made it so delightful when I came over that way. I was newly married then, and with spirits — oh dear me! — for anything. It was one adventure, the whole way; and we got so well acquainted, it was like one family. I suppose your grandfather put you in charge of some family. I know artists sometimes come out that way, and people for their health.”
“ There was no family on our ship,” said Lydia. “ My state-room had been fixed up for the captain’s wife ” —
“ Our captain’s wife was along, too,” interposed Mrs. Erwin. “ She was such a joke with us. She had been out to Venice on a voyage before, and used to be always talking about the Du-cal Palace. And did they really turn out of their state-room for you? ”
“ She was not along,” said Lydia.
“ Not along? ” repeated Mrs. Erwin, feebly. “ Who — who were the other passengers? ”
“ There were three gentlemen,” answered Lydia.
“ Three gentlemen? Three men? Three— And you — and”— Mrs. Erwin fell back upon her pillow, and remained gazing at Lydia, with a sort of remote bewildered pity, as at perdition, not indeed beyond compassion, but far beyond help. Lydia’s color had been coming and going, but now it settled to a clear white. Mrs. Erwin commanded herself sufficiently to resume: “ And there were — there were — no other ladies? ”
“ No. ”
“ And you were ” —
“I was the only woman on board,” replied Lydia. She rose abruptly, striking the edge of the table in her movement, and setting its china and silver jarring. “ Oh, I know what you mean, aunt Josephine, but two days ago I could n’t have dreamt it! From the time the ship sailed till I reached this wicked place, there was n’t a word said nor a look looked to make me think I was n’t just as right and safe there as if I had been in my own room at home. They were never anything but kind and good to me. They never let me think that they could be my enemies, or that I must suspect them and be on the watch against them. They were Americans! I had to wait for one of your Europeans to teach me that, — for that officer who was here yesterday ” —
“ The cavaliere? Why, where ” —
“ He spoke to me in the cars, when Mr. Erwin was asleep! Had he any right to do so? ”
“ He would think he had, if he thought you were alone,”said Mrs. Erwin, plaintively. “I don’t see how we could resent it. It was simply a mistake on his part. And now you see, Lydia ” —
“ Oh, I see how my coming the way I have will seem to all these people! ” cried Lydia, with passionate despair. “ I know how it will seem to that married woman who lets a man be in love with her, and that old woman who can’t live with her husband because he’s too good and kind, and that girl who swears and does n’t know who her father is, and that impudent painter, and that officer who thinks he has the right to insult women if he finds them alone! I wonder the sea does n’t swallow up a place where even Americans go to the theatre on the Sabbath! ”
“ Lydia, Lydia! It is n’t so bad as it seems to you,” pleaded her aunt, thrown upon the defensive by the girl’s outburst. “ There are ever so many good and nice people in Venice, and I know them, too,— Italians as well as foreigners. And even amongst those you saw, Miss Landini is one of the kindest girls in the world, and she had just been to see her old teacher when we met her, — she half takes care of him; and Lady Fenleigh ’s a perfect mother to the poor; and I never was at the Countess Tatocka’s except in the most distant way, at a ball where everybody went; and is it better to let your uncle go to the opera alone, or to go with him? You told me to go with him yourself ; and they consider Sunday over, on the Continent, after morning service, any way!”
“Oh, it makes no difference!” retorted Lydia, wildly. “I am going away. I am going home. I have money enough to get to Trieste, and the ship is there, and Captain Jenness will take me back with him. Oh! ” she moaned. “ He has been in Europe, too, and I suppose he’s like the rest of you; and he thought because I was alone and helpless he had the right to— Oh, I see it, I see now that he never meant anything, and— Oh, oh, oh! ” She fell on her knees beside the bed, as if crushed to them by the cruel doubt that suddenly overwhelmed her, and flung out her arms on Mrs. Erwin’s coverlet, — it was of Venetian lace sewed upon silk, a choice bit from the palace of one of the ducal families,—and buried her face in it.
Her aunt rose from her pillow, and looked in wonder and trouble at the beautiful fallen head, and the fair young figure shaken with sobs. “He — who — what are you talking about, Lydia? Whom do you mean ? Did Captain Jenness ” —
“ No, no! ” wailed the girl, “ the one that gave me the book.”
“ The one that gave you the book? The book you were looking at last night? ”
“ Yes,” sobbed Lydia, with her voice muffled in the coverlet,
Mrs. Erwin lay down again with significant deliberation. Her face was still full of trouble, but of bewilderment no longer. In moments of great distress the female mind is apt to lay hold of some minor anxiety for its distraction, and to find a certain relief in it. “ Lydia,” said her aunt in a broken voice, “ I wish you would n’t cry in the coverlet: it does n’t hurt the lace, but it stains the silk.” Lydia swept her handkerchief under her face but did not lift it. Her aunt accepted the compromise. “How came he to give you the book? ”
“ Oh, I don’t know. I can’t tell. I thought it was because — because — It was almost at the very beginning. And after that he walked up and down with me every night, nearly; and he tried to be with me all he could; and he was always saying things to make me think — Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! And he tried to make me care for him! Oh, it was cruel, cruel! ”
“ You mean that he made love to you? ” asked her aunt.
“Yes — no— I don’t know. He tried to make me care for him, and to make me think he cared for me.”
“ Did he say he cared for you? Did he ” —
“ No! ”
Mrs. Erwin mused awhile before she said, “Yes, it was cruel indeed, poor child, and it was cowardly, too.”
“ Cowardly? ” Lydia lifted her face, and flashed a glance of tearful fire at her aunt. “ He is the bravest man in the world! And the most generous and high-minded! He jumped into the sea after that wicked Mr. Hicks, and saved his life, when he disliked him worse than anything!”
“ Who was Mr. Hicks?”
“ He was the one that stopped at Messina. He was the one that got some brandy at Gibraltar, and behaved so dreadfully, and wanted to fight him.”
“ Whom ? ”
“ This one. The one who gave me the book. And don’t you see that his being so good makes it all the worse? Yes; and he pretended to be glad when I told him I thought he was good, —he got me to say it!” She had her face down again in her handkerchief. “ And I suppose you think it was horrible, too, for me to take his arm, and talk and walk with him whenever he asked me! ”
“ No, not for you, Lydia,” said her aunt, gently. “ And don’t you think now,” she asked after a pause, " that he cared for you? ”
“ Oh, I did think so, — I did believe it; but now, now ” —
“ Now, what ? ”
“Now, I’m afraid that may be he was only playing with me, and putting me off; and pretending that he had something to tell me when he got to Venice, and he never meant anything by anything.”
“ Is he coming to ” — her aunt began, but Lydia broke vehemently out again.
“ If he had cared for me, why could n’t he have told me so at once, and not had me wait till he got to Venice? He knew I ” —
“ There are two ways of explaining it,” said Mrs. Erwin. “ He may have been in earnest, Lydia, and felt that he had no right to be more explicit till you were in the care of your friends. That would be the European way which you consider so bad. Under the circumstances it was impossible for him to keep any distance, and all he could do was to postpone his declaration till there could be something like good form about it. Yes, it might have been that.” She was silent, but the troubled look did not leave her face. “ I am sorry for you, Lydia,” she resumed, “ but I don’t know that I wish he was in earnest.” Lydia looked up at her in dismay. “ It might be far less embarrassing the other way, however painful. He may not be at all a suitable person.” The tears stood in Lydia’s eyes, and all her face expressed a puzzled suspense. “ Where was he from?” asked Mrs. Erwin, finally; till then she had been more interested in the lover than the man.
“ Boston,” mechanically answered Lydia.
“ What was his name? ”
“Mr. Staniford,” owned Lydia, with a blush.
Her aunt seemed dispirited at the sound. “ Yes, I know who they are,” she sighed.
“ And are n’t they nice ? Is n’t he — suitable? ” asked Lydia, tremulously.
“ Oh, poor child! He’s only too suitable. I can’t explain to you, Lydia; but at home he would n’t have looked at a girl like you. What sort of looking person is he? ”
“ He’s rather — red; and he has — light hair.”
“ It must be the family I 'm thinking of,” said Mrs. Erwin. She had lived nearly twenty years in Europe, and had seldom revisited her native city ; but at the sound of a Boston name she was all Bostonian again. She rapidly sketched the history of the family to which she imagined Staniford to belong. “ I remember his sister; I used to see her at school. She must have been five or six years younger than I; and this boy ” —
“ Why, he’s twenty-eight years old! ” interrupted Lydia.
“ How came he to tell you? ”
“ I don’t know. He said that he looked thirty-four.”
“ Yes; she was always a forward thing, too, — with her freckles,” said Mrs. Erwin, musingly, as if lost in reminiscences, not wholly pleasing, of Miss Staniford.
“ He has freckles,” admitted Lydia.
“ Yes, it’s the one,” said Mrs. Erwin. “ He could n’t have known what your family was from anything you said ? ”
“ We never talked about our families.”
“ Oh, I dare say ! You talked about yourselves ? ”
“ All the time? ”
“ Pretty nearly.”
“ And he did n’t try to find out who or what you were ? ”
“ He asked a great deal about South Brad field.”
“Of course, — that was where he thought you had always belonged.” Mrs. Erwin lay quiescent for a while, in apparent uncertainty as to how she should next attack the subject. “ How did you first meet ? ”
Lydia began with the scene on Lucas Wharf, and little by little told the whole story up to the moment of their parting at Trieste. There were lapses and pauses in the story, which her aunt was never at a loss to fill aright. At the end she said, “If it were not for his promising to come here and see you, I should say Mr. Staniford had been flirting, and as it is he may not regard it as anything more than flirtation. Of course, there was his being jealous of Mr. Dunham and Mr. Hicks, as he certainly was; and his wanting to explain about that lady at Messina,—yes, that looked peculiar; but he may not have meant anything by it. His parting so at Trieste with you, — that might be either because he was embarrassed at its having got to be such a serious thing, or because he really felt badly. Lydia,” she asked at last, “ what made you think he cared for you? ”
“I don't know,” said the girl; her voice had sunk to a husky whisper. “ I did n't believe it till he said he wanted me to be his — conscience, and tried to make me say he was good, and ” — “That’s a certain kind of man’s way of flirting. It may mean nothing at all. I could tell in an instant, if I saw him.”
“ He said he would be here this afternoon,” murmured Lydia, tremulously.
“This afternoon!” cried Mrs. Erwin. “ I must get up! ”
At her toilette she had the exaltation and fury of a champion arming for battle.
Mr. Erwin entered about the completion of her preparations, and without turning round from her glass she said, “ I want you to think of the worst thing you can, Henshaw. I don’t see how I ’m ever to lift up my head again.” As if this word had reminded her of her head, she turned it from side to side, and got the effect in the glass first of one ear-ring, and then of the other. Her husband patiently waited, and she now confronted him. “ You may as well know first as last, Henshaw, and I want you to prepare yourself for it. Nothing can be done, and you will just have to live through it. Lydia — has come over — on that ship — alone,— with three young men, — and not the shadow — not the ghost — of another woman — on board! ” Mrs. Erwin gesticulated with her hand-glass in delivering the words, in a manner at once intensely vivid and intensely solemn, yet somehow falling short of the due tragic effect. Her husband stood pulling his mustache straight down, while his wife turned again to the mirror, and put the final touches to her personal appearance with hands which she had the effect of having desperately washed of all responsibility. He stood so long in this meditative mood that she was obliged to be peremptory with his image in the glass. “ Well? ” she cried.
“ Why, my dear,” said Mr. Erwin, at last, “ they were all Americans together, you know.”
“ And what difference does that make?” demanded Mrs. Erwin, whirling from his image to the man again.
“ Why, of course, you know, it is n’t as if they were — English.” Mrs. Erwin flung down three hair-pins upon her dressing-case, and visibly despaired. “ Of course you don’t expect your countrymen ” — His wife’s appearance was here so terrible that he desisted, and resumed by saying, “ Don’t be vexed, my dear. I — I rather like it, you know. It strikes me as a genuine bit of American civilization.”
“American civilization! Oh, Henshaw! ” wailed Mrs. Erwin, “ is it possible that after all I ’ve said, and done, and lived, you still think that any one but a girl from the greenest little country place could do such a thing as that? Well, it is no use trying to enlighten English people. You like it, do you? Well, I 'm not sure that the Englishman who misunderstands American things and likes them is n’t a little worse than the Englishman who misunderstands them and dislikes them. You all misunderstand them. And would you like it, if one of the young men had been making love to Lydia ? ”
The amateur of our civilization hesitated and was serious, but he said at last, “ Why, you know, I’m not surprised. She’s so uncommonly pretty.
I — I suppose they ’re engaged ? ” he suggested.
His wife held her peace for scorn. Then she said, “ The gentleman is of a very good Boston family, and would no more think of engaging himself to a young girl without the knowledge of her friends than you would. Besides, he ’s been in Europe a great deal.”
“I wish I could meet some Americans who had n’t been in Europe,” said Mr. Erwin. “ I should like to see what you call the simon-pure American. As for the young man’s not engaging himself, it seems to me that he did n’t avail himself of his national privileges. I should certainly have done it in his place, if I ’d been an American.”
“ Well, if you ’d been an American, you would n’t,” answered his wife.
“ Why ? ”
“Because an American would have had too much delicacy.”
“ I don’t understand that.”
“ I know you don’t, Henshaw. And there’s where you show yourself an Englishman.”
“ Really,” said her husband, “you ’re beginning to crow, my dear. Come, I like that a great deal better than your cringing to the effete despotisms of the Old World, as your Fourth of July orators have it. It ’s almost impossible to get a bit of good honest bounce out of an American, nowadays, — to get him to spread himself, as you say.”
“ All that is neither here nor there, Henshaw,” said his wife. “The question is how to receive Mr. Staniford — that’s his name — when he comes. How are we to regard him? He’s coming here to see Lydia, and she thinks he’s coming to propose.”
“ Excuse me, but how does she regard him ? ”
“ Oh, there’s no question about that, poor child. She’s dead in love with him, and can’t understand why he did n’t propose on shipboard.”
“And she is n’t an Englishman, either!” exulted Mr. Erwin. “ It appears that there are Americans and Americans, and that the men of your nation have more delicacy than the women like. ”
“ Don’t be silly,” said his wife. “ Of course, women always think what they would do in such cases, if they were men; but if men did what women think they would do if they were men, the women would be disgusted.”
“ Yes. Her feeling in the matter is no guide.”
“Do you know his family? ” asked Mr. Erwin.
“ I think I do. Yes, I ’m sure I do.”
“ Are they nice people? ”
“Have n’t I told you they were a good Boston family? ”
“ Then, upon my word, I don’t see that we’ve to take any attitude at all. I don’t see that we’ve to regard him in one way or the other. It quite remains for him to make the first move.”
As if they had been talking of nothing but dress before, Mrs. Erwin asked: “ Do you think I look better in this black mexicaine, or would you wear your écru ? ”
“I think you look very well in this. But why— He is n’t going to propose to you, I hope? ”
“ I must have on something decent to receive him in. What time does the train from Trieste get in? ”
“ At three o’clock.”
“ It’s one, now. There’s plenty of time, but there is n’t any too much. I ’ll go and get Lydia ready. Or perhaps you ’ll tap on her door, Henshaw, and send her here. Of course, this is the end of her voice, — if it is the end.”
“ It’s the end of having an extraordinarily pretty girl in the house. I don’t at all like it, you know, — having her whisked away in this manner.”
Mrs. Erwin refused to let her mind wander from the main point. " He 'll be round as soon as he can, after he arrives. I shall expect him by four, at the latest.”
” I fancy he ’ll stop for his dinner before he comes,” said Mr. Erwin.
“ Not at all,” retorted his wife, haughtily. And with his going out of the room, she set her face in a resolute cheerfulness for the task of heartening Lydia when she should appear; but it only expressed misgiving when the girl came in with her yachting-dress on. “ Why, Lydia, shall you wear that? ”
Lydia swept her dress with a downward glance. “ I thought I would wear it. I thought he — I should seem — more natural in it. I wore it all the time on the ship, except Sundays. He said—he liked it the best.”
Mrs. Erwin shook her head. “ It would n’t do. Everything must be on a new basis now, He might like it; but it would be too romantic, would n’t it, don’t you think ? ” She shook her head still, but less decisively. " Better wear your silk. Don’t you think you’d better wear your silk? This is very pretty, and the dark blue does become you, awfully. Still, I don’t know— I don’t know, either! A great many English wear those careless things in the house. Well, wear it, Lydia! Yon do look perfectly killing in it. I’ll tell you: your uncle was going to ask you to go out in his boat; he’s got one he rows himself, and this is a boating costume; and you know you could time yourselves so as to get back just right, and you could come in with this on ” —
Lydia turned pale. “ Ought n’t I — ought n’t I — to be here? ” she faltered.
Her aunt laughed gayly. “ Why, he ’ll ask for me, Lydia.”
“For you?” asked Lydia, doubtfully.
“ Yes. And I can easily keep him till you get back. If you ’re here by four ” —
“The train,” said Lydia, “arrives at three.”
“ How did you know? ” asked her aunt, keenly.
Lydia’s eyelids fell even lower than their wont. “ I looked it out in that railroad guide in the parlor.”
Her aunt kissed her. “And you’ve thought the whole thing out, dear, have n’t you? I ’m glad to see you so happy about it.”
“ Yes,” said the girl, with a fluttering breath, “ I have thought it out, and I believe him. I”— She tried to say something more, but could not.
Mrs. Erwin rang the bell, and sent for her husband. “ He knows about it, Lydia,” she said. “ He’s just as much interested as we are, dear, but yon need n’t be worried. He’s a perfect post for not showing a thing if you don’t want him to. He’s really quite superhuman, in that, — equal to a woman. You can talk Americanisms with him. If we sat here staring at each other till four o’clock, — he must go to his hotel before he comes here; and I say four at the earliest; and it’s much more likely to be five or six, or perhaps evening, —I should die! ”
Mr. Erwin’s rowing was the wonder of all Venice. There was every reason why he should fall overboard at each stroke, as he stood to propel the boat in the gondolier fashion, except that be never yet had done so. It was sometimes his fortune to be caught on the shallows by the falling tide; but on that day he safely explored the lagoons, and returned promptly at four o’clock to the palace.
His wife was standing on the balcony looking out for them, and she smiled radiantly down into Lydia’s anxiously lifted face. But when she met the girl at the head of the staircase in the great hall, she embraced her, and said, with the same gay smile, “ He has n’t come yet, dear, and of course he won’t come till after dinner. If I had n’t been as silly as you are, Lydia, I never should have let you expect him sooner. He ’ll want to go to his hotel; and no matter how impatient he is, he’ll want to dress, and be a little ceremonious about his call. You know we ’re strangers to him, whatever you are.”
“Yes,” said Lydia, mechanically. She was going to sit down, as she was; of her own motion she would not have stirred from the place till he came, or it was certain he would not come; but her aunt would not permit the despair into which she saw her sinking.
She laughed resolutely, and said, “ I think we must give up the little sentimentality of meeting him in that dress, now. Go and change it, Lydia. Put on your silk, — or wait: let me go with you. I want to try some little effects with your complexion. We 've experimented with the simple and familiar, and now we ’ll see what can be done in the way of the magnificent and unexpected. I ’m going to astonish the young man with a Venetian beauty; you know you look Italian, Lydia.”
“ Yes, he said so,” answered Lydia.
“ Did he? That shows he has an eye, and he’ll appreciate what we are going to do. ”
She took Lydia to her own room, for the greater convenience of her experiments, and from that moment she did not allow her to be alone; she scarcely allowed her to be silent; she made her talk, she kept her in movement. At dinner she permitted no lapse. “ Henshaw,” she said, “ Lydia has been telling me about a storm they had just before they reached Gibraltar. I wish you would tell her of the typhoon you were in when you first went out to India.” Her husband obeyed; and then, recurring to the days of his long civil employment in India, he told stories of tigerhunts, and of the Sepoy mutiny. Mrs. Erwin would not let them sit very long at table. After dinner she asked Lydia to sing, and she suffered her to sing all the American songs her uncle asked for. At eight o’clock, she said, with a knowing little look at Lydia, which included a sub-wink for her husband, “ You may go to Florian’s alone, this evening, Henshaw. Lydia and I are going to stay at home, and talk South Bradfield gossip. I’ve hardly had a moment with her, yet.” But when he was gone, she took Lydia to her own room again, and showed her all her jewelry, and passed the time in making changes in the girl’s toilette.
It was like the heroic endeavor of the arctic voyager who feels the deadly chill in his own veins, and keeps himself alive by rousing his comrade from the torpor stealing over him. They saw in each other’s eyes that if they yielded a moment to the doubt in their hearts they were lost.
At ten o’clock Mrs. Erwin said abruptly, “Go to bed, Lydia!” Then the girl broke down, and abandoned herself in a storm of tears. “Don’t cry, dear, don’t cry,” pleaded her aunt. “ He will be here in the morning, I know he will, he has been delayed.”
“ No, he’s not coining,” said Lydia, through her sobs.
“ Something has happened,” urged Mrs. Erwin.
“ No,” said Lydia, as before. Her tears ceased as suddenly as they had come. She lifted her head, and drying her eyes looked into her aunt’s face. “ Are you ashamed of me? ” she asked, hoarsely.
“ Ashamed of you ? Oh, poor child ” —
“ I can’t pretend anything. If I had never told you about it at all, I could have kept it back till I died. Now — But you will never hear me speak of it again. It’s over.” She took up her candle, and stiffly suffering the compassionate embrace with which her aunt clung to her, she walked across the great hall in the vain splendor in which she had been adorned, and shut the door behind her.
Dunham lay in a stupor for twentyfour hours, and after that he was delirious, with dim intervals of reason in which they kept him from talking, till one morning he woke and looked up at Staniford with a perfectly clear eye, and said, as if resuming the conversation, “ I struck my head on a pile of chains.”
“ Yes,” replied Staniford, with a wan smile, “ and you’ve been out of it pretty near ever since. You must n’t talk.”
“Oh, I ’m all right,” said Dunham. “ I know about my being hurt. I shall be cautions. Have you written to Miss Hibbard? I hope you have n’t! ”
“ Yes, I have,” replied Staniford. “But I haven’t sent the letter,” he added, in answer to Dunham’s look of distress. “ I thought you were going to pull through, in spite of the doctor,— he ’s wanted to bleed you, and I could hardly keep his lancet out of you, — and so I wrote, mentioning the accident and announcing your complete restoration. The letter merely needs dating and sealing. I ’ll look it up and have it posted.” He began a search in the pockets of his coat, and then went to his portfolio.
“ What day is this? ” asked Dunham.
“Friday,” replied Staniford, rummaging his desk.
“ Have you been in Venice?”
“ Look here, Dunham ! If you begin in that way, I can’t talk to you. It shows that you ’re still out of your head. How could I have been in Venice? ”
“ But Miss Blood; the Aroostook” —
“ Miss Blood went to Venice with her uncle last Saturday. The Aroostook is here in Trieste. The captain has just gone away. He ’s stood watch and watch with me, while you were off on business.”
“But. did n’t you go to Venice on Monday ? ”
“ Well, hardly,” answered Staniford.
“No, you stayed with me, — I see,” said Dunham.
“ Of course, I wrote to her at once,” said Staniford, huskily, “ and explained the matter as well as I could without making an ado about it. But now you stop, Dunham. If you excite yourself, there ’ll be the deuce to pay again.”
“I’m not excited,” said Dunham, “but I can’t help thinking how disappointed— But of course you’ve heard from her? ”
“ Well, there’s hardly time, yet,” said Staniford, evasively.
“ Why, yes, there is. Perhaps your letter miscarried.”
“Don’t!” cried Staniford, in a hollow under-voice, which he broke through to add, “ Go to sleep, now, Dunham, or keep quiet, somehow.”
Dunham was silent for a while, and Staniford continued his search, which he ended by taking the portfolio by one corner, and shaking its contents out on the table. “ I don’t seem to find it; but I’ve put it away somewhere. I ’ll get it.” He went to another coat that hung on the back of a chair, and fumbled in its pockets. “ Hollo! Here are those letters they brought me from the paste restanle Saturday night, — Murray’s, and Stanton’s, and that bore Farrington’s. I forgot all about them.” He ran the unopened letters over in his hand. “Ah, here’s my familiar scrawl” — He stopped suddenly, and walked away to the window, where he stood with his back to Dunham.
“ Staniford! What is it? ”
“ It’s—it’s my letter to her,” said Staniford, without looking round.
“ Your letter to Miss Blood—not gone?” Staniford, with his face still from him, silently nodded. “ Oh! ” moaned Dunham, in self-forgetful compassion. “How could it have happened? ”
“ I see perfectly well,” said the other, quietly, but he looked round at Dunham with a face that was haggard. “ I sent it out to be posted by the portier, and he got it mixed up with these letters for me, and brought it back.”
The young men were both silent, but the tears stood in Dunham’s eyes. “ If it had n’t been for me, it would n’t have happened,” be said.
“No,” gently retorted Staniford, “if it had n’t been for me, it would n’t have happened. I made you come on from Messina with me, when you wanted to go straight to Rome; if I’d had any sense, I should have spoken fully to her before we parted; and it was I who sent you to see if she were on the steamer, when you fell and hurt yourself. I know who ’s to blame, Dunham. What day did I tell you this was? ”
“ A week! And I told her to expect me Monday afternoon. A week without a word or a sign of any kind! Well, I might as well take passage in the Aroostook, and go back to Boston again.”
“Why, no!” cried Dunham, “you must take the first train to Venice. Don't lose an instant. You can explain everything as soon as you see her.”
Staniford shook his head. “ If all her life had been different, if she were a woman of the world, it would be different; she would know how to account for some little misgivings on my part; but as it is she would n’t know how to account for even the appearance of them. What she must have suffered all this week—I can’t think of it!” He sat down and turned his face away. Presently he sprang up again. “But I’m going, Dunham. I guess you won’t die now; but you may die if you like. I would go over your dead body! ”
“Now you are talking sense,” said Dunham.
Staniford did not listen; he had got out his railroad guide and was studying it. “No; there are only those two trains a day. The seven o’clock has gone; and the next starts at ten tonight. Great heavens! I could walk it sooner! Dunham,” he asked, “do you think I’d better telegraph?”
“ What would you say? ”
“Say that there’s been a mistake; that a letter miscarried; that I’ll be there in the morning; that ” —
“ Would n’t that be taking her anxiety a little too much for granted? ”
“ Yes, that’s true. Well, you ’ve got your wits about you now, Dunham,” cried Staniford, with illogical bitterness. “ Very probably,” he added, gloomily, “ she does n’t care anything for me, after all.”
“ That’s a good frame of mind to go in,” said Dunham.
“ Why is it? ” demanded Staniford. “ Did I ever presume upon any supposed interest in her? ”
“You did at first,” replied Dunham.
Staniford flushed angrily. But you cannot quarrel with a man lying helpless on his back; besides, what Dunham said was true.
The arrangements for Staniford’s journey were quickly made,— so quickly that when he had seen the doctor, and had been down to the Aroostook and engaged Captain Jenness to come and take his place with Dunham for the next two nights, he had twelve hours on his hands before the train for Venice would leave, and he started at last with but one clear perception, — that at the soonest it must be twelve hours more before he could see her.
He had seemed intolerably slow in arriving on the train, but once arrived in Venice he wished that he had come by the steamboat, which would not be in for three hours yet. In despair he went to bed, considering that after he had tossed there till he could endure it no longer, he would still have the resource of getting up, which he would not have unless he went to bed. When he lay down, he found himself drowsy; and while he wondered at this, he fell asleep, and dreamed a strange dream, so terrible that he woke himself by groaning in spirit, a thing which, as he reflected, he had never done before. The sun was piercing the crevice between his shutters, and a glance at his watch showed him that it was eleven o’clock.
The shadow of his dream projected itself into his waking mood, and steeped it in a gloom which he could not escape. He rose and dressed, and meagrely breakfasted. Without knowing how he came there, he stood announced in Mrs. Erwin’s parlor, and waited for her to receive him.
His card was brought in to her where she lay in bed. After supporting Lydia through the first sharp shock of disappointment, she had yielded to the prolonged strain, and the girl was now taking care of her. She gave a hysterical laugh as she read the name on the card Veronica brought, and crushing it in her hand, “ He’s come! ” she cried.
“ I will not see him! ” said Lydia instantly.
“No,” assented her aunt. “ It would n’t be at all the thing. Besides, he’s asked for me. Your uncle might see him, but he’s out of the way ; of course he would be out of the way. Now, let me see! ” The excitement inspired her ; she rose in bed, and called for the pretty sack in which she ordinarily breakfasted, and took a look at herself in a hand-glass that lay on the bed. Lydia did not move; she scarcely seemed to breathe; but a swift pulse in her neck beat visibly. “ If it would be decent to keep him waiting so long, I could dress, and see him myself. I ’m well enough.” Mrs. Erwin again reflected. “ Well,” she said at last, “you must see him, Lydia.”
“ I " — began the girl.
“Yes, you. Some one must. It will be all right. On second thought, I believe I should send you, even if I were quite ready to go myself. This affair has been carried on so far on the American plan, and I think I shall let you finish it without my interference. Yes, as your uncle said when I told him, you ’re all Americans together; and you are. Mr. Staniford has come to see you, though he asks for me. That’s perfectly proper; but I can’t see him, and I want you to excuse me to him.”
“ What would you— what must I ” — Lydia began again.
“No, Lydia,” interrupted her aunt. “ I won’t tell you a thing. I might have advised you when you first came ; but now, I— Well, I think I’ve lived too long in Europe to be of use in such a case, and I won’t have anything to do with it. I won’t tell yon how to meet him, or what to say ; but oh, child,” — here the woman’s love of loving triumphed in her breast, —“ I wish I was in your place! Go!”
Lydia slowly rose, breathless.
“ Lydia !” cried her aunt. “Look at me ! ” Lydia turned her head. “ Are you going to be hard with him ? ”
“I don’t know what he’s coming for,” said Lydia, dishonestly.
“ But if he’s coming for what you hope ? ”
“ I don’t hope for anything.”
“ But you did. Don’t be severe. You ’re terrible when you’re severe.”
“ I will be just.”
“ Oh, no, you must n’t, my dear. It won’t do at all to be just with men, poor fellows. Kiss me, Lydia!” She pulled her down, and kissed her. When the girl had got as far as the door, “ Lydia, Lydia! ” she called after her. Lydia turned. “ Do you realize what dress you’ve got on?” Lydia looked down at her robe; it was the blue flannel yachting-suit of the Aroostook, which she had put on for convenience in taking care of her aunt. “ Is n’t it too ridiculous? ” Mrs. Erwin meant to praise the coincidence, not to blame the dress. Lydia smiled faintly for answer, and the next moment she stood at the parlor door.
Staniford, at her entrance, turned from looking out of the window and saw her as in his dream, with her hand behind her, pushing the door to; but the face with which she looked at him was not like the dead, sad face of his dream. It was thrillingly alive, and all passions were blent in it,—love, doubt, reproach, indignation; the tears stood in her eyes, but a fire burnt through the tears. With his first headlong impulse to console, explain, deplore, came a thought that struck him silent at sight of her. He remembered, as he had not till then remembered, in his wild longing and fearing, that there had not yet been anything explicit between them; that there was no engagement; and that upon the face of things, at least, he had no right to offer her more than some formal expression of regret for not having been able to keep his promise to come sooner. While this stupefying thought gradually filled his whole sense to the exclusion of all else, he stood looking at her with a dumb and helpless appeal, inexpressively stunned and wretched. He felt the life die out of his face and leave it blank, and when at last she spoke, he knew that it was in pity of him, or contempt of him. “ Mrs. Erwin is not well,” she said, “ and she wished me ” —
But he broke in upon her: “ Oh, don’t talk to me of Mrs. Erwin! It was you I wanted to see. Are you well? Are you alive? Do you ”— He stopped as precipitately as he began; and after another hopeless pause, he went on piteously: “I don’t know where to begin. I ought to have been here five days ago. I don’t know what you think of me, or whether you have thought of me at all; and before I can ask I must tell you why I wanted to come then, and why I come now, and why I think I must have come back from the dead to see you. You are all the world to me, and have been ever since I saw you. It seems a ridiculously unnecessary thing to say, I have been looking and acting and living it so long; but I say it, because I choose to have you know it, whether you ever cared for me or not. I thought I was coming here to explain why I had not come sooner, but I need n’t do that unless — unless” — He looked at her where she still stood aloof, and he added: “ Oh, answer me something, for pity’s sake! Don’t send me away without a word. There have been times when you would n’t have done that! ”
“ Oh, I did care for you ! ” she broke out. “ You know I did ” —
He was instantly across the room beside her. “ Yes, yes, I know it! ” But she shrank away.
“ You tried to make me believe you cared for me, by everything you could do. And I did believe you then; and yes, I believed you afterwards, when I did n’t know what to believe. You were the one true thing in the world to me. But it seems that you did n’t believe it yourself.”
“That I didn’t believe it myself? That I — I don’t know what you mean. ”
“You took a week to think it over! Well, I have had the week, too, and I have thought it over, too. You have come too late.”
“ Too late? You don’t, you can’t, mean— Listen to me, Lydia; I want to tell you ” —
“ No, there ’s nothing you can tell me that would change me. I know it, I understand it all.”
“ But you don’t understand what kept me.”
“ I don’t wish to know what made you break your word. I don’t care to know. I could n’t go back and feel as I did to you! Oh, that’s gone! It is n’t that you did n’t come — that you made me wait and suffer; but you knew how it would be with me after I got here, and all the things I should find out, and how I should feel ! And you stayed away! I don’t know whether I can forgive you, even; oh, I ’m afraid I don’t; but I can never care for you again. Nothing but a case of life and death ” —
“ It was a case of life and death! ”
Lydia stopped in her reproaches, and looked at him with wistful doubt, changing to a tender fear.
“Oh, have yon been hurt? Have you been sick ? ” she pleaded, in a breaking voice, and made some unconscious movement towards him. He put out his hand, and would have caught one of hers, but she clasped them in each other.
“ No, not I, — Dunham ” —
“ Oh! ” said Lydia, as if this were not at all enough.
“ He fell and struck his head, the night you left. I thought he would die.” Staniford reported his own diagnosis, not the doctor’s ; but he was perhaps in the right to do this. “ I had made him go down to the wharf with me ; I wanted to see you again, before you started, and I thought we might find you on the boat.” He could see her face relenting; her hands released each other. “ He was delirious till yesterday. I could n’t leave him.”
“ Oh, why did n’t you write to me ? ” She ignored Dunham as completely as if he had never lived. “ You knew that I ” — Her lips trembled, and her breast rose.
“ I did write ” —
“ But how — I never got it.”
“ No,— it was not posted, through a cruel blunder. And then I thought— I got to thinking that you did n’t care ” —
“Oh!” said the girl. “ Could you doubt me ? ”
“You doubted me.” said Staniford, seizing his advantage. “ I brought the letter with me to prove my truth.” She did not look at him, but she took the letter, and ran it greedily into her pocket. “ It’s well I did so, since you don’t believe my word.”
“Oh, yes,—yes, I know it,” she said; “ I never doubted it! ” Staniford stood bemazed, though he knew enough to take the hands she yielded him; but she suddenly caught them away again, and set them against his breast. ” I was very wrong to suspect you ever; I’m sorry I did; but there’s something else. I don’t know how to say what I want to say. But it must be said.”
“ Is it something disagreeable ? ” asked Staniford lightly.
” It’s right,” answered Lydia, unsmilingly.
“ Oh, well, don't say it! ” he pleaded; “ or don’t say it now, — not till you ’ve forgiven me for the anxiety I’ve caused you; not till you’ve praised me for trying to do what I thought the right thing. You can’t imagine how hard it was for one who has n’t the habit! ”
“I do praise you for it. There’s nothing to forgive you; but I can’t let you care for me unless I know — unless ” — She stopped, and then, ‘‘Mr. Staniford,” she began firmly, “ since I came here, I’ve been learning some things that I did n’t know before. They have changed the whole world to me, and it can never be the same again.”
” I’m sorry for that; but if they have n't changed you, the world may go.”
“ No, not if we ’re to live in it,” answered the girl, with the soberer wisdom women keep at such times. “ It will have to be known how we met. What will people say? They will laugh.”
“ I don’t think they will in my presence,” said Staniford, with swelling nostrils. “ They may use their pleasure elsewhere. ”
” And I should n’t care for their laughing, either,” said Lydia. “ But oh, why did you come? ”
“ Why did I come? ”
“ Was it because you felt bound by anything that ’s happened, and you would n't let me bear the laugh alone?
I 'm not afraid for myself. I shall never blame you. You can go perfectly free.”
“ But I don’t want to go free! ”
Lydia looked at him with piercing earnestness. “ Do you think I’m proud? ” she asked,
“ Yes, I think you are,” replied Staniford, vaguely.
“It is 'nt for myself that I should be proud with other people. But I would rather die than bring ridicule upon any one I — upon you.”
“ I can believe that,” said Staniford, devoutly, and patiently reverencing the delay of her scruples.
“ And if — and ” — Her lips trembled, but she steadied her trembling voice. “ If they laughed at you, and thought of me in a slighting way because ” — Staniford gave a sort of roar of grief and pain to know how her heart must have been wrung before she could come to this. “ You were all so good that you did n't let me think there was anything strange about it” —
” Oh, good heavens! We only did what it was our precious and sacred privilege to do! We were all of one mind about it from the first. But don’t torture yourself about it, my darling. It’s over, now; it’s past — no, it’s present, and it will always be, forever, the dearest and best thing in life. Lydia, do you believe that I love you ? ”
“ Oh, I must! ”
“ And don’t you believe that I’m telling you the truth when I say that I would n’t, for all the world can give or take, change anything that’s been? ”
” Yes, I do believe you. Oh, I have n’t said at all what I wanted to say! There was a great deal that I ought to say. I can’t seem to recollect it.”
He smiled to see her grieving at this surcease of her memory to her conscience. " Well, you shall have a whole lifetime to recall it in.”
“ No, I must try to speak now. And you must tell me the truth now, no matter what it costs either of us.” She laid her hands upon his extended arms, and grasped them intensely. “ There ’s something else. I want to ask you what you thought when you found me alone on that ship with all of you.” If she had stopped at this point, Stainford’s cause might have been lost, but she went on: “ I want to know whether you were ever ashamed of me, or despised me for it; whether you ever felt that because I was helpless and friendless there, you had the right to think less of me than if you had first met me here in this house.”
It was still a terrible question, but it offered a loop-bole of escape, which Staniford was swift to seize. Let those who will justify the answer with which he smiled into her solemn eyes: “ I will leave you to say.” A generous uncandor like this goes as far with a magnanimous and serious-hearted woman as perhaps anything else.
“Oh, I knew it, I knew it!” cried Lydia. And then, as he caught her to him at last, " Oh—oh — are you sure it’s right ? ”
“ I have no doubt of it,” answered Staniford. Nor had he any question of the strategy by which he triumphed in this crucial test. He may have thought that there were always explanations that had to be made afterwards, or he may have believed that he had expiated in what he had done and suffered for her any slight which he had felt; possibly, he considered that she had asked more than she had a right to do. It is certain that he said with every appearance of sincerity, “ It began the moment I saw you on the wharf, there, and when I came to know my mind I kept it from you only till I could tell you here. But now I wish I had n’t! Life is too short for such a week as this.”
“ No,” said Lydia, " you acted for the best, and you are — good.”
“ I ’ll keep that praise till I ’ve earned it,” answered Staniford.
In the Campo Santi Apostoli at Venice, there stands, a little apart from the church of that name, a chapel which has been for many years the place of worship for the Lutheran congregation. It was in this church that Staniford and Lydia were married six weeks later, before the altar under Titian’s beautiful picture of Christ breaking bread.
The wedding was private, but it was not quite a family affair. Miss Hibbard had come on with her mother from Rome, to complete Dunham’s cure, and she was there with him perfectly recovered ; he was not quite content, of course, that the marriage should not take place in the English chapel, but he was largely consoled by the candles burning on the altar. The Aroostook had been delayed by repairs which were found necessary at Trieste, and Captain Jenness was able to come over, and represent the ship at the wedding ceremony, and at the lunch which followed. He reserved till the moment of parting a supreme expression of good-will. When he had got a hand of Lydia’s and one of Staniford’s in each of his, with his wrists crossed, he said, “ Now, I ain’t one to tack round, and stand off and on a great deal, but what I want to say is just this: the Aroostook sails next week, and if you two are a mind to go back in her, the ship’s yours, as I said to Miss Blood, here, — I mean Mis’ Staniford; well, I hain’t had much time to get used to it! — when she first come aboard there at Boston. I don’t mean any pay ; I want you to go back as my guests. You can use the cabin for your parlor; and I promise you I won’t take any other passengers this time. I declare,” said Captain Jenness, lowering his voice, and now referring to Hicks for the first time since the day of his escapade, “ I did feel dreadful about that fellow! ”
“ Oh, never mind,” replied Staniford. “ If it had n’t been for Hicks perhaps I might n’t have been here.” He exchanged glances with his wife, that showed they had talked all that matter over.
The captain grew confidential. “ Mr. Mason told me he saw you lending that chap money. I hope he did n’t give you the slip? ”
“ No; it came to me here at Blumenthals’ the other day.”
“ Well, that’s right! It all worked together for good, as you say. Now you come ! ”
“ What do you say, my dear ? ” asked Staniford, on whom the poetic fitness of the captain’s proposal had wrought.
Women are never blinded by romance, however much they like it in the abstract. “ It’s coming winter. Do you think you would n’t be seasick?” returned the bride of an hour, with the practical wisdom of a matron.
Staniford laughed. “ She’s right, captain. I’m no sailor. I ’ll get home by the all-rail route as far as I can.”
Captain Jenness threw back his head and laughed too. “Good! That’s about it.” And he released their hands, so as to place one hairy paw on a shoulder of each. “You’ll get along together, I guess.”
“ But we ’re just as much obliged to you as if we went, Captain Jenness. And tell all the crew that I’m homesick for the Aroostook, and thank them all for being so kind to me; and I thank you, Captain Jenness!” Lydia looked at her husband, and then startled the captain with a kiss.
He blushed all over, but carried it off as boldly as he could, “ Well, well,” he said, “ that’s right! If you change your minds before the Aroostook sails, you let me know.”
This affair made a great deal of talk in Venice, where the common stock of leisure is so great that each person may without self - reproach devote a much larger share of attention to the interests of the others than could be given elsewhere. The decorous fictions in which Mrs. Erwin draped the singular facts of the acquaintance and courtship of Lydia and Staniford were what never ceased to astonish and amuse him, and he abetted them without scruple. He found her worldliness as innocent as the unworldliness of Lydia, and he gave Mrs. Erwin his hearty sympathy when she ingenuously owned that the effort to throw dust in the eyes of her European acquaintance was simply killing her. He found endless refreshment in the contemplation of her attitude towards her burdensome little world, and in her reasons for enslaving herself to it. He was very good friends with both of the Erwins. When he could spare the time from Lydia, he went about with her uncle in his boat, and respected his skill in rowing it without falling overboard. He could not see why any one should be so much interested in the American character and dialect as Mr. Erwin was; but he did not object, and he reflected that after all they were not what their admirer supposed them.
The Erwins came with the Stanifords as far as Paris on their way home, and afterwards joined them in California, where Staniford bought a ranch, and found occupation if not profit in its management. Once cut loose from her European ties, Mrs. Erwin experienced an incomparable repose and comfort in the life of San Francisco; it was, she declared, the life for which she had really been adapted, after all; and in the climate of Santa Barbara she found all that she had left in Italy. In that land of strange and surprising forms of every sort, her husband has been very happy in the realization of an America surpassing even his wildest dreams, and he has richly stored his note-book with philological curiosities. He hears around him the vigorous and imaginative locutions of the Pike language, in which, like the late Canon Kingsley, he finds a Scandinavian hugeness ; and pending the publication of his Hand-Book of Americanisms, he is in confident search of the miner who says “ which the same.” Like other English observers, friendly and unfriendly, he does not permit the facts to interfere with his preconceptions.
Staniford’s choice long remained a mystery to his acquaintances, and was but partially explained by Mrs. Dunham, when she came home. “ Why, I suppose he fell in love with her,” she said. “ Of course, thrown together in that way, as they were, for six weeks, it might have happened to anybody ; but James Staniford was always the most consummate flirt that breathed; and he never could see a woman, without coming up, in that metaphysical way of his, and trying to interest her in him. He was always laughing at women, but there never was a man who cared more for them. From all that I could learn from Charles, he began by making fun of her, and all at once he became perfectly infatuated with her. I don’t see why. I never could get Charles to tell me anything remarkable that she said or did. She was simply a country girl, with country ideas, ami no sort of cultivation. Why, there was nothing to her. He ’s done the wisest thing he could by taking her out to California. She never would have gone down, here. I suppose James Staniford knew that as well as any of us ; and if he finds it worth while to bury himself with her there, we’ve no reason to complain. She did sing, wonderfully; that is, her voice was perfectly divine. But of course that’s all over, now. She did n’t seem to care much for it; and she really knew so little of life that I don’t believe she could form the idea of an artistic career, or feel that it was any sacrifice to give it up. James Staniford was n’t worth any such sacrifice; but she could n’t know that, either. She was good, I suppose. She was very stiff, and she had n’t a word to say for herself. I think she was cold. To be sure, she was a beauty; I really never saw anything like it, — that pale complexion some brunettes have, with her hair growing low, and such eyes and lashes! ”
“ Perhaps the beauty had something to do with his falling in love with her,” suggested a listener. The ladies present tried to look as if this ought not to be sufficient.
“ Oh, very likely,” said Mrs. Dunham. She added, with an air of being the wreck of her former self, “But we all know what becomes of beauty after marriage.”
The mind of Lydia’s friends had been expressed in regard to her marriage, when the Stanifords, upon their arrival home from Europe, paid a visit to South Bradfield. It was in the depths of the winter following their union, and the hill country, stern and wild even in midsummer, wore an aspect of savage desolation. It was sheeted in heavy snow, through which here and there in the pastures a craggy bowlder lifted its face and frowned, and along the woods the stunted pines and hemlocks blackened against a background of leafless oaks and birches. A northwest wind cut shrill across the white wastes, and from the crests of the billowed drifts drove a scud of stinging particles in their faces, while the sun, as high as that of Italy, coldly blazed from a cloudless blue sky. Ezra Perkins, perched on the seat before them, stiff and silent as if he were frozen there, drove them from Bradfield Junction to South Bradfield in the long wagon-body set on bob-sleds, with which he replaced his Concord coach in winter. At the station he had sparingly greeted Lydia, as if she were just back from Greenfield, and in the interest of personal independence had ignored a faint motion of hers to shake hands; at her grandfather’s gate he set his passengers down without a word, and drove away, leaving Staniford to get in his trunk as he might.
“ Well, I declare,” said Miss Maria, who had taken one end of the trunk in spite of him, and was leading the way up through the path cleanly blocked out of the snow, “ that Ezra Perkins is enough to make you wish he’d stayed in Dakoty! ”
Staniford laughed, as he had laughed at everything on the way from the station, and had probably thus wounded Ezra Perkins’s susceptibilities. The village houses, separated so widely by the one long street, with each its path neatly tunneled from the roadway to the gate; the meeting-house, so much vaster than the present needs of worship, and looking blue-cold with its never - renewed single coat of white paint; the graveyard set in the midst of the village, and showing, after Ezra Perkins’s disappearance, as many signs of life as any other locality, realized in the most satisfactory degree his theories of what winter must be in such a place as South Bradfield. The burning smell of the sheet-iron stove in the parlor, with its battlemented top of filigree iron work ; the grimness of the horse-hair-covered best furniture; the care with which the old-fashioned fire-places had been walled up, and all accessible character of the period to which the house belonged had been effaced, gave him an equal pleasure. He went about with his arm around Lydia’s waist, examining these things, and yielding to the joy they caused him, when they were alone. “ Oh, ray darling,” he said, in one of these accesses of delight, “ when I think that it’s my privilege to take you away from all this, I begin to feel not so very unworthy, after all. ”
But he was very polite, as Miss Maria owned, when Mr. and Mrs. Goodlow came in during the evening, with two or three unmarried ladies of the village, and he kept them from falling into the frozen silence which habitually expresses social enjoyment in South Bradfield when strangers are present. He talked about the prospects of Italian advancement to an equal state of intellectual and moral perfection with rural New England, while Mr. Goodlow listened, rocking himself back and forth in the hair-cloth arm-chair. Deacon Latham, passing his hand continually along the stove battlements, now and then let his fingers rest on the sheet-iron till he burnt them, and then jerked them suddenly away, to put them back the next moment, in his absorbing interest. Miss Maria, amidst a murmur of admiration from the ladies, passed sponge-cake and coffee: she confessed afterwards that the evening had been so brilliant to her as to seem almost wicked; and the other ladies, who owned to having lain awake all night on her coffee, said that if they had enjoyed themselves they were properly punished for it.
When they were gone, and Lydia and Staniford had said good night, and Miss Maria, coming in from the kitchen with a hand-lamp for her father, approached the marble-topped centre-table to blow out the large lamp of pea-green glass with red woollen wick, which had shed the full radiance of a sun-burner upon the festival, she faltered at a manifest unreadiness in the old man to go to bed, though the fire was low, and they had both resumed the drooping carriage of people in going about cold houses. He looked excited, and, so far as his unpracticed visage could intimate the emotion, joyous.
“ Well, there, Maria! ” he said. “ You can’t say but what he’s a master-hand to converse, any way. I d’ know as I ever see Mr. Goodlow more struck up with any one. He looked as if every word done him good; I presume it put him in mind of meetin’s with brother ministers; I don’t suppose but what he misses it some, here. You can’t say but what he ’s a fine appearin’ young man. I d’ know as I see anything wrong in his kind of dressin’ up to the nines, as you may say. As long ’s he’s got the money, I don’t see what harm it is. It’s all worked for good, Lyddv’s going out that way; though it did seem a mysterious providence at the time.”
“ Well ! ” began Miss Maria. She paused, as if she had been hurried too far by her feelings, and ought to give them a check before proceeding. “ Well, I don’t presume you’d notice it, but she ’d got a spot on her silk, so ’t a whole breadth’s got to come out, and be let in again bottom side up. I guess there’s a pair of ’em, for carelessness.” She waited a moment before continuing: “I d’ know as I like to see a husband puttin’ his arm round his wife, even when he don’t suppose any one’s lookin’; but I d’ know hut what it’s natural, too. But it’s one comfort to see’t she ain't the least mite silly about him. He’s dreadful freckled.” Miss Maria again paused thoughtfully, while her father burnt his fingers on the stove for the last time, and took them definitively away. “ I don’t say but what he talked well enough, as far forth as talkin’ goes; Mr, Goodlow said at the door’t he did n’t know ’s he ever passed many such evenin’s since he’d been in South Bradfield, and I d’ know as I have. I presume he has his faults; we ain’t any of ns perfect; but he doos seem terribly wrapped up in Lyddy. I don’t say but what he ’ll make her a good husband, if she must have one. I don’t suppose but what people might think, as you may say, ’t she ’d made out pretty well; and if Lyddy ’s suited, I d' know as anybody else has got any call to be over particular.”
W. D. Howells.