Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 16

XVI.

Florida swiftly me anted the terrace steps, but she stopped with her hand on the door, panting, and turned and walked slowly away to the end of the terrace, drying her eyes with dashes of her handkerchief, and ordering her hair, some coils of which had been loosened by her flight. Then she went back to the door, waited, and softly opened it, Her mother was not in the parlor where she had left her, and she passed noiselessly into her own room, where some trunks stood open and half- packed against the wall. She began to gather up the pieces of dress that lay upon the bed and chairs, and to fold them with mechanical carefulness and put them in the boxes. Her mother's voice called from the other chamber, "Is that you, Florida?"

"Yes, mother," answered the girl, but remained kneeling before one of the boxes, with that pale green robe in her hand which she had worn on the morning when Ferris had first brought Don Ippolito to see them. She smoothed its folds and looked down at it without making any motion to pack it away, and so she lingered while her mother advanced with one question after another; "What are you doing, Florida? Where are you? Why didn't you come to me?" and finally stood in the doorway. "Oh, you're packing. Do you know, Florida, I'm getting very impatient about going. I wish we could be off at once."

A tremor passed over the young girl and she started from her languid posture, and laid the dress in the trunk. "So do I, mother. I would give the world if we could go to-morrow!"

"Yes, but we can't, you see. I'm afraid we've undertaken a great deal, my dear. It's quite a weight upon my mind, already; and I don't know what it will be. If we were free, now, I should say, go to- morrow, by all means. But we couldn't arrange it with Don Ippolito on our hands."

Florida waited a moment before she replied. Then she said coldly, "Don
Ippolito is not going with us, mother."

"Not going with us? Why"-

"He is not going to America. He will not leave Venice; he is to remain a priest," said Florida, doggedly.

Mrs. Vervain sat down in the chair that stood beside the door. "Not going to America; not leave Venice; remain a priest? Florida, you astonish me! But I am not the least surprised, not the least in the world. I thought Don Ippolito would give out, all along. He is not what I should call fickle, exactly, but he is weak, or timid, rather. He is a good man, but he lacks courage, resolution. I always doubted if he would succeed in America; he is too much of a dreamer. But this, really, goes a little beyond anything. I never expected this. What did he say, Florida? How did he excuse himself?"

"I hardly know; very little. What was there to say?"

"To be sure, to be sure. Did you try to reason with him, Florida?"

"No," answered the girl, drearily.

"I am glad of that. I think you had said quite enough already. You owed it to yourself not to do so, and he might have misinterpreted it. These foreigners are very different from Americans. No doubt we should have had a time of it, if he had gone with us. It must be for the best. I'm sure it was ordered so. But all that doesn't relieve Don Ippolito from the charge of black ingratitude, and want of consideration for us. He's quite made fools of us."

"He was not to blame. It was a very great step for him. And if"….

"I know that. But he ought not to have talked of it. He ought to have known his own mind fully before speaking; that's the only safe way. Well, then, there is nothing to prevent our going to-morrow."

Florida drew a long breath, and rose to go on with the work of packing.

"Have you been crying, Florida? Well, of course, you can't help feeling sorry for such a man. There's a great deal of good in Don Ippolito, a great deal. But when you come to my age you won't cry so easily, my dear. It's very trying," said Mrs. Vervain. She sat awhile in silence before she asked: "Will he come here to-morrow morning?"

Her daughter looked at her with a glance of terrified inquiry.

"Do have your wits about you, my dear! We can't go away without saying good-by to him, and we can't go away without paying him."

"Paying him?"

"Yes, paying him-paying him for your lessons. It's always been very awkward. He hasn't been like other teachers, you know: more like a guest, or friend of the family. He never seemed to want to take the money, and of late, I've been letting it run along, because I hated so to offer it, till now, it's quite a sum. I suppose he needs it, poor fellow. And how to get it to him is the question. He may not come to- morrow, as usual, and I couldn't trust it to the padrone. We might send it to him in a draft from Paris, but I'd rather pay him before we go. Besides, it would be rather rude, going away without seeing him again." Mrs. Vervain thought a moment; then, "I'll tell you," she resumed. "If he doesn't happen to come here to-morrow morning, we can stop on our way to the station and give him the money."

Florida did not answer.

"Don't you think that would be a good plan?"

"I don't know," replied the girl in a dull way.

"Why, Florida, if you think from anything Don Ippolito said that he would rather not see us again-that it would be painful to him-why, we could ask Mr. Ferris to hand him the money."

"Oh no, no, no, mother!" cried Florida, hiding her face, "that would be too horribly indelicate!"

"Well, perhaps it wouldn't be quite good taste," said Mrs. Vervain
perturbedly, "but you needn't express yourself so violently, my dear.
It's not a matter of life and death. I'm sure I don't know what to do.
We must stop at Don Ippolito's house, I suppose. Don't you think so?"

"Yes," faintly assented the daughter.

Mrs. Vervain yawned. "Well I can't think anything more about it to- night; I'm too stupid. But that's the way we shall do. Will you help me to bed, my dear? I shall be good for nothing to-morrow."

She went on talking of Don Ippolito's change of purpose till her head touched the pillow, from which she suddenly lifted it again, and called out to her daughter, who had passed into the next room: "But Mr. Ferris--why didn't he come back with you?"

"Come back with me?"

"Why yes, child. I sent him out to call you, just before you came in. This Don Ippolito business put him quite out of my head. Didn't you see him? … Oh! What's that?"

"Nothing: I dropped my candle."

"You're sure you didn't set anything on fire?"

"No! It went dead out."

"Light it again, and do look. Now is everything right?"

"Yes."

"It's queer he didn't come back to say he couldn't find you.
What do you suppose became of him?"

"I don't know, mother."

"It's very perplexing. I wish Mr. Ferris were not so odd. It quite borders on affectation. I don't know what to make of it. We must send word to him the very first thing to-morrow morning, that we're going, and ask him to come to see us."

Florida made no reply. She sat staring at the black space of the door- way into her mother's room. Mrs. Vervain did not speak again. After a while her daughter softly entered her chamber, shading the candle with her hand; and seeing that she slept, softly withdrew, closed the door, and went about the work of packing again. When it was all done, she flung herself upon her bed and hid her face in the pillow.

* * * * *

The next morning was spent in bestowing those interminable last touches which the packing of ladies' baggage demands, and in taking leave with largess (in which Mrs. Vervain shone) of all the people in the house and out of it, who had so much as touched a hat to the Vervains during their sojourn. The whole was not a vast sum; nor did the sundry extortions of the padrone come to much, though the honest man racked his brain to invent injuries to his apartments and furniture. Being unmurmuringly paid, he gave way to his real goodwill for his tenants in many little useful offices. At the end he persisted in sending them to the station in his own gondola and could with difficulty be kept from going with them.

Mrs. Vervain had early sent a message to Ferris, but word came back a first and a second time that he was not at home, and the forenoon wore away and he had not appeared. A certain indignation sustained her till the gondola pushed out into the canal, and then it yielded to an intolerable regret that she should not see him.

"I can't go without saying good-by to Mr. Ferris, Florida," she said at last, "and it's no use asking me. He may have been wanting a little in politeness, but he's been so good all along; and we owe him too much not to make an effort to thank him before we go. We really must stop a moment at his house."

Florida, who had regarded her mother's efforts to summon Ferris to them with passive coldness, turned a look of agony upon her. But in a moment she bade the gondolier stop at the consulate, and dropping her veil over her face, fell back in the shadow of the tenda-curtains.

Mrs. Vervain sentimentalized their departure a little, but her daughter made no comment on the scene they were leaving.

The gondolier rang at Ferris's door and returned with the answer that he was not at home.

Mrs. Vervain gave way to despair. "Oh dear, oh dear! This is too bad!
What shall we do?"

"We'll lose the train, mother, if we loiter in this way," said Florida.

"Well, wait. I must leave a message at least." "How could you be away," she wrote on her card, "when we called to say good-by? We've changed our plans and we're going to-day. I shall write you a nice scolding letter from Verona-we're going over the Brenner-for your behavior last night. Who will keep you straight when I'm gone? You've been very, very kind. Florida joins me in a thousand thanks, regrets, and good-byes."

"There, I haven't said anything, after all," she fretted, with tears in her eyes.

The gondolier carried the card again to the door, where Ferris's servant let down a basket by a string and fished it up.

"If Don Ippolito shouldn't be in," said Mrs. Vervain, as the boat moved on again, "I don't know what I shall do with this money. It will be awkward beyond anything."

The gondola slipped from the Canalazzo into the network of the smaller canals, where the dense shadows were as old as the palaces that cast them and stopped at the landing of a narrow quay. The gondolier dismounted and rang at Don Ippolito's door. There was no response; he rang again and again. At last from a window of the uppermost story the head of the priest himself peered out. The gondolier touched his hat and said, "It is the ladies who ask for you, Don Ippolito."

It was a minute before the door opened, and the priest, bare-headed and blinking in the strong light, came with a stupefied air across the quay to the landing-steps.

"Well, Don Ippolito!" cried Mrs. Vervain, rising and giving him her hand, which she first waved at the trunks and bags piled up in the vacant space in the front of the boat, "what do you think of this? We are really going, immediately; we can change our minds too; and I don't think it would have been too much," she added with a friendly smile, "if we had gone without saying good-by to you. What in the world does it all mean, your giving up that grand project of yours so suddenly?"

She sat down again, that she might talk more at her ease, and seemed thoroughly happy to have Don Ippolito before her again.

"It finally appeared best, madama," he said quietly, after a quick, keen glance at Florida, who did not lift her veil.

"Well, perhaps you're partly right. But I can't help thinking that you with your talent would have succeeded in America. Inventors do get on there, in the most surprising way. There's the Screw Company of Providence. It's such a simple thing; and now the shares are worth eight hundred. Are you well to-day, Don Ippolito?"

"Quite well, madama."

"I thought you looked rather pale. But I believe you're always a little pale. You mustn't work too hard. We shall miss you a great deal, Don Ippolito."

"Thanks, madama."

"Yes, we shall be quite lost without you. And I wanted to say this to you, Don Ippolito, that if ever you change your mind again, and conclude to come to America, you must write to me, and let me help you just as I had intended to do."

The priest shivered, as if cold, and gave another look at Florida's veiled face.

"You are too good," he said.

"Yes, I really think I am," replied Mrs. Vervain, playfully. "Considering that you were going to let me leave Venice without even trying to say good-by to me, I think I'm very good indeed."

Mrs. Vervain's mood became overcast, and her eyes filled with tears: "I hope you're sorry to have us going, Don Ippolito, for you know how very highly I prize your acquaintance. It was rather cruel of you, I think."

She seemed not to remember that he could not have known of their change of plan. Don Ippolito looked imploringly into her face, and made a touching gesture of deprecation, but did not speak.

"I'm really afraid you're not well, and I think it's too bad of us to be going," resumed Mrs. Vervain; "but it can't be helped now: we are all packed, don't you see. But I want to ask one favor of you, Don Ippolito; and that is," said Mrs. Vervain, covertly taking a little rouleau from her pocket, "that you'll leave these inventions of yours for a while, and give yourself a vacation. You need rest of mind. Go into the country, somewhere, do. That's what's preying upon you. But we must really be off, now. Shake hands with Florida-I'm going to be the last to part with you," she said, with a tearful smile.

Don Ippolito and Florida extended their hands. Neither spoke, and as she sank back upon the seat from which she had half risen, she drew more closely the folds of the veil which she had not lifted from her face.

Mrs. Vervain gave a little sob as Don Ippolito took her hand and kissed it; and she had some difficulty in leaving with him the rouleau, which she tried artfully to press into his palm. "Good-by, good-by," she said, "don't drop it," and attempted to close his fingers over it.

But he let it lie carelessly in his open hand, as the gondola moved off, and there it still lay as he stood watching the boat slip under a bridge at the next corner, and disappear. While he stood there gazing at the empty arch, a man of a wild and savage aspect approached. It was said that this man's brain had been turned by the death of his brother, who was betrayed to the Austrians after the revolution of '48, by his wife's confessor. He advanced with swift strides, and at the moment he reached Don Ippolito's side he suddenly turned his face upon him and cursed him through his clenched teeth: "Dog of a priest!"

Don Ippolito, as if his whole race had renounced him in the maniac's words, uttered a desolate cry, and hiding his face in his hands, tottered into his house.

The rouleau had dropped from his palm; it rolled down the shelving marble of the quay, and slipped into the water.

The young beggar who had held Mrs. Vervain's gondola to the shore while she talked, looked up and down the deserted quay, and at the doors and windows. Then he began to take off his clothes for a bath.

William Dean Howells

Sorry, no summary available yet.