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Chapter 29

XXIX.

In the time of provisional quiet that followed for Clementina, she was held from the remorses and misgivings that had troubled her before Hinkle came. She still thought that she had let Dr. Welwright go away believing that she had not cared enough for the offer which had surprised her so much, and she blamed herself for not telling him how doubly bound she was to Gregory; though when she tried to put her sense of this in words to herself she could not make out that she was any more bound to him than she had been before they met in Florence, unless she wished to be so. Yet somehow in this time of respite, neither the regret for Dr. Welwright nor the question of Gregory persisted very strongly, and there were whole days when she realized before she slept that she had not thought of either.

She was in full favor again with Mrs. Lander, whom there was no one to embitter in her jealous affection. Hinkle formed their whole social world, and Mrs. Lander made the most of him. She was always having him to the dinners which her landlord served her from a restaurant in her apartment, and taking him out with Clementina in her gondola. He came into a kind of authority with them both which was as involuntary with him as with them, and was like an effect of his constant wish to be doing something for them.

One morning when they were all going out in Mrs. Lander's gondola, she sent Clementina back three times to their rooms for outer garments of differing density. When she brought the last Mrs. Lander frowned.

"This won't do. I've got to have something else—something lighter and warma."

"I can't go back any moa, Mrs. Landa," cried the girl, from the exasperation of her own nerves.

"Then I will go back myself," said Mrs. Lander with dignity, "and we sha'n't need the gondoler any more this mo'ning," she added, "unless you and Mr. Hinkle wants to ride."

She got ponderously out of the boat with the help of the gondolier's elbow, and marched into the house again, while Clementina followed her. She did not offer to help her up the stairs; Hinkle had to do it, and he met the girl slowly coming up as he returned from delivering Mrs. Lander over to Maddalena.

"She's all right, now," he ventured to say, tentatively.

"Is she?" Clementina coldly answered.

In spite of her repellent air, he persisted, "She's a pretty sick woman, isn't she?"

"The docta doesn't say."

"Well, I think it would be safe to act on that supposition. Miss Clementina—I think she wants to see you."

"I'm going to her directly."

Hinkle paused, rather daunted. "She wants me to go for the doctor."

"She's always wanting the docta." Clementina lifted her eyes and looked very coldly at him.

"If I were you I'd go up right away," he said, boldly.

She felt that she ought to resent his interference, but the mild entreaty of his pale blue eyes, or the elder-brotherly injunction of his smile, forbade her. "Did she ask for me?"

"No."

"I'll go to her," she said, and she kept herself from smiling at the long sigh of relief he gave as she passed him on the stairs.

Mrs. Lander began as soon as she entered her room, "Well, I was just wonderin' if you was goin' to leave me here all day alone, while you staid down the'e, carryin' on with that simpleton. I don't know what's got into the men."

"Mr. Hinkle has gone for the docta," said Clementina, trying to get into her voice the kindness she was trying to feel.

"Well, if I have one of my attacks, now, you'll have yourself to thank for it."

By the time Dr. Tradonico appeared Mrs. Lander was so much better that in her revulsion of feeling she was all day rather tryingly affectionate in her indirect appeals for Clementina's sympathy.

"I don't want you should mind what I say, when I a'n't feelin' just right," she began that evening, after she had gone to bed, and Clementina sat looking out of the open window, on the moonlit lagoon.

"Oh, no," the girl answered, wearily.

Mrs. Lander humbled herself farther. "I'm real sorry I plagued you so, to-day, and I know Mr. Hinkle thought I was dreadful, but I couldn't help it. I should like to talk with you, Clementina, about something that's worryin' me, if you a'n't busy."

"I'm not busy, now, Mrs. Lander," said Clementina, a little coldly, and relaxing the clasp of her hands; to knit her fingers together had been her sole business, and she put even this away.

She did not come nearer the bed, and Mrs. Lander was obliged to speak without the advantage of noting the effect of her words upon her in her face. "It's like this: What am I agoin' to do for them relations of Mr. Landa's out in Michigan?"

"I don't know. What relations?"

"I told you about 'em: the only ones he's got: his half-sista's children. He neva saw 'em, and he neva wanted to; but they're his kin, and it was his money. It don't seem right to pass 'em ova. Do you think it would yourself, Clementina?"

"Why, of cou'se not, Mrs. Lander. It wouldn't be right at all."

Mrs. Lander looked relieved, and she said, as if a little surprised, "I'm glad you feel that way; I should feel just so, myself. I mean to do by you just what I always said I should. I sha'n't forget you, but whe'e the'e's so much I got to thinkin' the'e'd ought to some of it go to his folks, whetha he ca'ed for 'em or not. It's worried me some, and I guess if anything it's that that's made me wo'se lately."

"Why by Mrs. Landa," said the girl, "Why don't you give it all to them?"

"You don't know what you'a talkin' about," said Mrs. Lander, severely. "I guess if I give 'em five thousand or so amongst'em, it's full moa than they eve' thought of havin', and it's moa than they got any right to. Well, that's all right, then; and we don't need to talk about it any moa. Yes," she resumed, after a moment, "that's what I shall do. I hu'n't eva felt just satisfied with that last will I got made, and I guess I shall tear it up, and get the fust American lawyer that comes along to make me a new one. The prop'ty's all goin' to you, but I guess I shall leave five thousand apiece to the two families out the'e. You won't miss it, any, and I presume it's what Mr. Landa would expect I should do; though why he didn't do it himself, I can't undastand, unless it was to show his confidence in me."

She began to ask Clementina how she felt about staying in Venice all summer; she said she had got so much better there already that she believed she should be well by fall if she stayed on. She was certain that it would put her all back if she were to travel now, and in Europe, where it was so hard to know how to get to places, she did not see how they could pick out any that would suit them as well as Venice did.

Clementina agreed to it all, more or less absentmindedly, as she sat looking into the moonlight, and the day that had begun so stormily ended in kindness between them.

The next morning Mrs. Lander did not wish to go out, and she sent Clementina and Hinkle together as a proof that they were all on good terms again. She did not spare the girl this explanation in his presence, and when they were in the gondola he felt that he had to say, "I was afraid you might think I was rather meddlesome yesterday."

"Oh, no," she answered. "I was glad you did."

"Yes," he returned, "I thought you would be afterwards." He looked at her wistfully with his slanted eyes and his odd twisted smile and they both gave way in the same conscious laugh. "What I like," he explained further, "is to be understood when I've said something that doesn't mean anything, don't you? You know anybody can understand you if you really mean something; but most of the time you don't, and that's when a friend is useful. I wish you'd call on me if you're ever in that fix."

"Oh, I will, Mr. Hinkle," Clementina promised, gayly.

"Thank you," he said, and her gayety seemed to turn him graver. "Miss Clementina, might I go a little further in this direction, without danger?"

"What direction?" she added, with a flush of sudden alarm.

"Mrs. Lander."

"Why, suttainly!" she answered, in quick relief.

"I wish you'd let me do some of the worrying about her for you, while I'm here. You know I haven't got anything else to do!"

"Why, I don't believe I worry much. I'm afraid I fo'get about her when I'm not with her. That's the wo'st of it."

"No, no," he entreated, "that's the best of it. But I want to do the worrying for you even when you're with her. Will you let me?"

"Why, if you want to so very much."

"Then it's settled," he said, dismissing the subject.

But she recurred to it with a lingering compunction.

"I presume that I don't remember how sick she is because I've neva been sick at all, myself."

"Well," he returned, "You needn't be sorry for that altogether. There are worse things than being well, though sick people don't always think so. I've wasted a good deal of time the other way, though I've reformed, now."

They went on to talk about themselves; sometimes they talked about others, in excursions which were more or less perfunctory, and were merely in the way of illustration or instance. She got so far in one of these as to speak of her family, and he seemed to understand them. He asked about them all, and he said he believed in her father's unworldly theory of life. He asked her if they thought at home that she was like her father, and he added, as if it followed, "I'm the worldling of my family. I was the youngest child, and the only boy in a flock of girls. That always spoils a boy."

"Are you spoiled?" she asked.

"Well, I'm afraid they'd be surprised if I didn't come to grief somehow—all but—mother; she expects I'll be kept from harm."

"Is she religious?"

"Yes, she's a Moravian. Did you ever hear of them?" Clementina shook her head. "They're something, like the Quakers, and something like the Methodists. They don't believe in war; but they have bishops."

"And do you belong to her church?"

"No," said the young man. "I wish I did, for her sake. I don't belong to any. Do you?"

"No, I go to the Episcopal, at home. Perhaps I shall belong sometime. But I think that is something everyone must do for themselves." He looked a little alarmed at the note of severity in her voice, and she explained. "I mean that if you try to be religious for anything besides religion, it isn't being religious;—and no one else has any right to ask you to be."

"Oh, that's what I believe, too," he said, with comic relief. "I didn't know but I'd been trying to convert you without knowing it." They both laughed, and were then rather seriously silent.

He asked, after a moment, in a fresh beginning, "Have you heard from Miss Milray since you left Florence?"

"Oh, yes, didn't I tell you? She's coming here in June."

"Well, she won't have the pleasure of seeing me, then. I'm going the last of May."

"I thought you were going to stay a month!" she protested.

"That will be a month; and more, too."

"So it will," she owned.

"I'm glad it doesn't seem any longer-say a year—Miss Clementina!"

"Oh, not at all," she returned. "Miss Milray's brother and his wife are coming with her. They've been in Egypt."

"I never saw them," said Hinkle. He paused, before he added, "Well, it would seem rather crowded after they get here, I suppose," and he laughed, while Clementina said nothing.

William Dean Howells