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Chapter 12

XII

In his room Colville was devouring as best he might the chagrin with which he had come away from Palazzo Pinti, while he packed his trunk for departure. Now that the thing was over, the worst was past. Again he observed that his emotions had no longer the continuity that the emotions of his youth possessed. As he remembered, a painful or pleasant impression used to last indefinitely; but here he was with this humiliating affair hot in his mind, shrugging his shoulders with a sense of relief, almost a sense of escape. Does the soul really wear out with the body? The question flitted across his mind as he took down a pair of trousers, and noticed that they were considerably frayed about the feet; he determined to give them to Paolo, and this reminded him to ring for Paolo, and send word to the office that he was going to take the evening train for Rome.

He went on packing, and putting away with the different garments the unpleasant thoughts that he knew he should be sure to unpack with them in Rome; but they would then have less poignancy.

For the present he was doing the best he could, and he was not making any sort of pretences. When his trunk was locked he kindled himself a fire, and sat down before it to think of Imogene. He began with her, but presently it seemed to be Mrs. Bowen that he was thinking of; then he knew he was dropping off to sleep by the manner in which their two ideas mixed. The fatigues and excitements of the week had been great, but he would not give way; it was too disgraceful.

Some one rapped at his door. He called out "Avanti!" and he would have been less surprised to see either of those ladies than Paolo with the account he had ordered to be made out. It was a long, pendulous, minutely itemed affair, such as the traveller's recklessness in candles and firewood comes to in the books of the Continental landlord, and it almost swept the floor when its volume was unrolled. But it was not the sum-total that dismayed Colville when he glanced at the final figure; that, indeed, was not so very great, with all the items; it was the conviction, suddenly flashing upon him, that he had not money enough by him to pay it. His watch, held close to the fire, told him that it was five o'clock; the banks had been closed an hour, and this was Saturday afternoon.

The squalid accident had all the effect of intention, as he viewed it from without himself, and considered that the money ought to have been the first thing in his thoughts after he determined to go away. He must get the money somehow, and be off to Rome by the seven o'clock train. A whimsical suggestion, which was so good a bit of irony that it made him smile, flashed across him: he might borrow it of Mrs. Bowen. She was, in fact, the only person in Florence with whom he was at all on borrowing terms, and a sad sense of the sweetness of her lost friendship followed upon the antic notion. No; for once he could not go to Mrs. Bowen. He recollected now the many pleasant talks they had had together, confidential in virtue of their old acquaintance, and harmlessly intimate in many things. He recalled how, when he was feeling dull from the Florentine air, she had told him to take a little quinine, and he had found immediate advantage in it. These memories did strike him as grotesque or ludicrous; he only felt their pathos. He was ashamed even to seem in anywise recreant further. If she should ever hear that he had lingered for thirty-six hours in Florence after he had told her he was going away, what could she think but that he had repented his decision? He determined to go down to the office of the hotel, and see if he could not make some arrangement with the landlord. It would be extremely distasteful, but his ample letter of credit would be at least a voucher of his final ability to pay. As a desperate resort he could go and try to get the money of Mr. Waters.

He put on his coat and hat, and opened the door to some one who was just in act to knock at it, and whom he struck against in the obscurity.

"I beg your pardon," said the visitor.

"Mr. Waters! Is it possible?" cried Colville, feeling something fateful in the chance. "I was just going to see you."

"I'm fortunate in meeting you, then. Shall we go to my room?" he asked, at a hesitation in Colville's manner.

"No, no," said the latter; "come in here." He led the way back into his room, and struck a match to light the candles on his chimney. Their dim rays fell upon the disorder his packing had left. "You must excuse the look of things," he said. "The fact is, I'm just going away. I'm going to Rome at seven o'clock."

"Isn't this rather sudden?" asked the minister, with less excitement than the fact might perhaps have been expected to create in a friend. "I thought you intended to pass the winter in Florence."

"Yes, I did—sit down, please—but I find myself obliged to cut my stay short. Won't you take off your coat?" he asked, taking off his own.

"Thank you; I've formed the habit of keeping it on indoors," said Mr. Waters. "And I oughtn't to stay long, if you're to be off so soon."

Colville gave a very uncomfortable laugh. "Why, the fact is, I'm not off so very soon unless you help me."

"Ah?" returned the old gentleman, with polite interest.

"Yes, I find myself in the absurd position of a man who has reckoned without his host. I have made all my plans for going, and have had my hotel bill sent to me in pursuance of that idea, and now I discover that I not only haven't money enough to pay it and get to Rome, but I haven't much more than half enough to pay it. I have credit galore," he said, trying to give the situation a touch of liveliness, "but the bank is shut."

Mr. Waters listened to the statement with a silence concerning which Colville was obliged to form his conjectures. "That is unfortunate," he said sympathetically, but not encouragingly.

Colville pushed on desperately. "It is, unless you can help me, Mr. Waters. I want you to lend me fifty dollars for as many hours."

Mr. Waters shook his head with a compassionate smile. "I haven't fifty francs in cash. You are welcome to what there is. I'm very forgetful about money matters, and haven't been to the bankers."

"Oh, don't excuse yourself to me, unless you wish to embitter my shame. must try to run my face with the landlord," said Colville.

"Oh no," said Mr. Waters gently. "Is there such haste as all that?"

"Yes, I must go at once."

"I don't like to have you apply to a stranger," said the old man, with fatherly kindness. "Can't you remain over till Monday? I had a little excursion to propose."

"No, I can't possibly stay; I must go to-night," cried Colville.

The minister rose. "Then I really mustn't detain you, I suppose. Good-bye." He offered his hand. Colville took it, but could not let it go at once. "I would like extremely to tell you why I'm leaving Florence in such haste. But I don't see what good it would do, for I don't want you to persuade me to stay."

The old gentleman looked at him with friendly interest.

"The fact is," Colville proceeded, as if he had been encouraged to do so, "I have had the misfortune—yes, I'm afraid I've had the fault—to make myself very displeasing to Mrs. Bowen, and in such a way that the very least I can do is to take myself off as far and as soon as I conveniently can."

"Yes?" said Mr. Waters, with the cheerful note of incredulity in his voice with which one is apt to respond to others' confession of extremity. "Is it so bad as that? I've just seen Mrs. Bowen, and she told me you were going."

"Oh," said Colville, with disagreeable sensation, "perhaps she told you why I was going."

"No," answered Mr. Waters; "she didn't do that." Colville imagined a consciousness in him, which perhaps did not exist. "She didn't allude to the subject further than to state the fact, when I mentioned that I was coming to see you."

Colville had dropped his hand. "She was very forbearing," he said, with bitterness that might well have been incomprehensible to Mr. Waters upon any theory but one.

"Perhaps," he suggested, "you are precipitate; perhaps you have mistaken; perhaps you have been hasty. These things are often the result of impulse in women. I have often wondered how they could make up their minds; I believe they certainly ought to be allowed to change them at least once."

Colville turned very red. "What in the world do you mean? Do you imagine that I have been offering myself to Mrs. Bowen?"

"Wasn't it that which you wished to—which you said you would like to tell me?"

Colville was suddenly silent, on the verge of a self-derisive laugh. When he spoke, he said gently: "No; it wasn't that. I never thought of offering myself to her. We have always been very good friends. But now I'm afraid we can't be friends any more—at least we can't be acquaintances."

"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Waters. He waited a while as if for Colville to say more, but the latter remained silent, and the old man gave his hand again in farewell. "I must really be going. I hope you won't think me intrusive in my mistaken conjecture?"

"Oh no."

"It was what I supposed you had been telling me——"

"I understand. You mustn't be troubled," said Colville, though he had to own to himself that it seemed superfluous to make this request of Mr. Waters, who was taking the affair with all the serenity of age concerning matters of sentiment. "I wish you were going to Rome with me," he added, to disembarrass the moment of parting.

"Thank you. But I shall not go to Rome for some years. Shall you come back on your way in the spring?"

"No, I shall not come to Florence again," said Colville sadly.

"Ah, I'm sorry. Good-bye, my dear young friend. It's been a great pleasure to know you." Colville walked down to the door of the hotel with his visitor and parted with him there. As he turned back he met the landlord, who asked him if he would have the omnibus for the station. The landlord bowed smilingly, after his kind, and rubbed his hands. He said he hoped Colville was pleased with his hotel, and ran to his desk in the little office to get some cards for him, so that he might recommend it accurately to American families.

Colville looked absently at the cards. "The fact is," he said, to the little bowing, smiling man; "I don't know but I shall be obliged to postpone my going till Monday." He smiled too, trying to give the fact a jocose effect, and added, "I find myself out of money, and I've no means of paying your bill till I can see my bankers."

After all his heroic intention, this was as near as he could come to asking the landlord to let him send the money from Rome.

The little man set his head on one side.

"Oh, well, occupy the room until Monday, then," he cried hospitably. "It is quite at your disposition. You will not want the omnibus?"

"No, I shall not want the omnibus," said Colville, with a laugh, doubtless not perfectly intelligible to the landlord, who respectfully joined him in it.

He did not mean to stop that night without writing to Mrs. Bowen, and assuring her that though an accident had kept him in Florence till Monday, she need not be afraid of seeing him again. But he could not go back to his room yet; he wandered about the town, trying to pick himself up from the ruin into which he had fallen again, and wondering with a sort of alien compassion what was to become of his aimless, empty existence. As he passed through the Piazza San Marco he had half a mind to pick a pebble from the gardened margin of the fountain there and toss it against the Rev. Mr. Waters's window, and when he put his skull-cap out, to ask that optimistic agnostic what a man had best do with a life that had ceased to interest him. But, for the time being, he got rid of himself as he best could by going to the opera. They professed to give Rigoletto, but it was all Mrs. Bowen and Imogene Graham to Colville.

It was so late when he got back to his hotel that the outer gate was shut, and he had to wake up the poor little porter, as on that night when he returned from Madame Uccelli's. The porter was again equal to his duty, and contrived to light a new candle to show him the way to his room. The repetition, almost mechanical, of this small chicane made Colville smile, and this apparently encouraged the porter to ask, as if he supposed him to have been in society somewhere—

"You have amused yourself this evening?

"Oh, very much."

"I am glad. There is a letter for you.'

"A letter! Where?"

"I sent it to your room. It came just before midnight."

William Dean Howells

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