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Chapter 27

XXVII.

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 down with her mother from Dresden, 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 hadn't been for Hicks perhaps I mightn'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 didn'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 wouldn'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 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 unfailingly astonished and amused 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 uses his pronouns cockney-wise. 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 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, and 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 didn'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 not worth any such sacrifice; but she couldn't know that either. She was good, I suppose. She was very stiff, and she hadn'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, each with 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 horsehair- 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 round Lydia's waist, examining these things, and yielding to the joy they caused him, when they were alone. "Oh, my 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, Lyddy'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's 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 but 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 didn'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 us perfect; but he does 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."

THE END.
William Dean Howells

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