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Chapter 20

XX.

The few days that yet remained of their voyage were falling in the latter half of September, and Staniford tried to make the young girl see the surpassing loveliness of that season under Italian skies; the fierceness of the summer is then past, and at night, when chiefly they inspected the firmament, the heaven has begun to assume something of the intense blue it wears in winter. She said yes, it was very beautiful, but she could not see that the days were finer, or the skies bluer, than those of September at home; and he laughed at her loyalty to the American weather. "Don't you think so, too?" she asked, as if it pained her that he should like Italian weather better.

"Oh, yes,—yes," he said. Then he turned the talk on her, as he did whenever he could. "I like your meteorological patriotism. If I were a woman, I should stand by America in everything."

"Don't you as a man?" she pursued, still anxiously.

"Oh, certainly," he answered. "But women owe our continent a double debt of fidelity. It's the Paradise of women, it's their Promised Land, where they've been led up out of the Egyptian bondage of Europe. It's the home of their freedom. It is recognized in America that women have consciences and souls."

Lydia looked very grave. "Is it—is it so different with women in
Europe?" she faltered.

"Very," he replied, and glanced at her half-laughingly, half-tenderly.

After a while, "I wish you would tell me," she said, "just what you mean. I wish you would tell me what is the difference."

"Oh, it's a long story. I will tell you—when we get to Venice." The well-worn jest served its purpose again; she laughed, and he continued: "By the way, just when will that be? The captain says that if this wind holds we shall be in Trieste by Friday afternoon. I suppose your friends will meet you there on Saturday, and that you'll go back with them to Venice at once."

"Yes," assented Lydia.

"Well, if I should come on Monday, would that be too soon?"

"Oh, no!" she answered. He wondered if she had been vaguely hoping that he might go directly on with her to Venice. They were together all day, now, and the long talks went on from early morning, when they met before breakfast on deck, until late at night, when they parted there, with blushed and laughed good-nights. Sometimes the trust she put upon his unspoken promises was terrible; it seemed to condemn his reticence as fantastic and hazardous. With her, at least, it was clear that this love was the first; her living and loving were one. He longed to testify the devotion which he felt, to leave it unmistakable and safe past accident; he thought of making his will, in which he should give her everything, and declare her supremely dear; he could only rid himself of this by drawing up the paper in writing, and then he easily tore it in pieces.

They drew nearer together, not only in their talk about each other, but in what they said of different people in their relation to themselves. But Staniford's pleasure in the metaphysics of reciprocal appreciation, his wonder at the quickness with which she divined characters he painfully analyzed, was not greater than his joy in the pretty hitch of the shoulder with which she tucked her handkerchief into the back pocket of her sack, or the picturesqueness with, which she sat facing him, and leant upon the rail, with her elbow wrapped in her shawl, and the fringe gathered in the hand which propped her cheek. He scribbled his sketch-book full of her contours and poses, which sometimes he caught unawares, and which sometimes she sat for him to draw. One day, as they sat occupied in this, "I wonder," he said, "if you have anything of my feeling, nowadays. It seems to me as if the world had gone on a pleasure excursion, without taking me along, and I was enjoying myself very much at home."

"Why, yes," she said, joyously; "do you have that feeling, too?"

"I wonder what it is makes us feel so," he ventured.

"Perhaps," she returned, "the long voyage."

"I shall hate to have the world come back, I believe," he said, reverting to the original figure. "Shall you?"

"You know I don't know much about it," she answered, in lithe evasion, for which she more than atoned with a conscious look and one of her dark blushes. Yet he chose, with a curious cruelty, to try how far she was his.

"How odd it would be," he said, "if we never should have a chance to talk up this voyage of ours when it is over!"

She started, in a way that made his heart smite him. "Why, you said you—" And then she caught herself, and struggled pitifully for the self-possession she had lost. She turned her head away; his pulse bounded.

"Did you think I wouldn't? I am living for that." He took the hand that lay in her lap; she seemed to try to free it, but she had not the strength or will; she could only keep her face turned from him.

William Dean Howells

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