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 in his clean-shaven chin, and his striking evidence of snowy wristbands and shirt-bosom. "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! It is? 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 isn't, Henshaw!" said his wife.
"You've been a great while out of the country, my dear," suggested
"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 haven'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 wasn'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," answered 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 shouldn'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 morning-dress 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 needn't say _any_thing!"
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 bell 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 isn't much society, however, and you mustn't expect to be very gay."
"I have never been gay," said Lydia.
"Well, that's no reason you shouldn't be," 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 didn't hear me say that!"
"What?" asked Lydia.
"Good time; that's an Americanism."
"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 isn't obliging, Lydia. He is. I oughtn'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 didn'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, astounded.
"Yes. A young girl mustn't go _any_where alone."
"I'll explain to you, sometime, 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 isn'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 Grinzelli, 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. You 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 to 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 has 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."
"She didn't seem in mourning," said Lydia. "Has he been dead long?"
"Why, he isn't dead at all! He is what you call a grass-widower. The best soul in the world, everybody says, and very, very fond of her; but she couldn't stand it; he was too good, don't you understand? They've lived apart a great many years. She's lived a great 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 didn'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
"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? Didn't you think we had a nicely-dressed congregation?"
"I thought the sermon was 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 asked,
"Is the service the same at the evening meeting?"
"Evening meeting?" repeated Mrs. Erwin.
"Yes,—the church to-night."
"Why, child, there isn't any church to-night! What are you talking about?"
"Didn't uncle—didn'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 didn'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 wouldn'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; and 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
"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 tomorrow!" 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 Lydia, 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 isn'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. Rose-Black, with his picked-up politeness, "I didn'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 movement—" 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 sword 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 cavaliere. 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 pale and 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 further, 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, yet, Josephine. You ought to snub him. He's worse than his pictures. Well, you've had a whole raft of folks today,—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 mustn'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 before 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 wouldn'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 hasn'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 hasn'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 doesn'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. "Hadn'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, 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 about the life of the queer little Yankee hill-town. He said she must tell Lady Fenleigh about it,—she was fond of picking up 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 didn't! I knew 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, "Didn'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 doesn't matter," interposed Lydia decisively. "I couldn't go, if I didn't think it was right, whoever said it."
"Oh, well," began Mrs. Erwin, "if you wouldn'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 didn't realize what a very short time it is since you left home, and how you still have all those ideas. I wouldn'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 couldn'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.