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Chapter 35

XXXV.

Clementina and the Vice-Consul afterwards agreed that Mrs. Lander must have sent the will to Mr. Orson in one of those moments of suspicion when she distrusted everyone about her, or in that trouble concerning her husband's kindred which had grown upon her more and more, as a means of assuring them that they were provided for.

"But even then," the vice-consul concluded, "I don't see why she wanted this man to come out here. The only explanation is that she was a little off her base towards the last. That's the charitable supposition."

"I don't think she was herself, some of the time," Clementina assented in acceptance of the kindly construction.

The vice-consul modified his good will toward Mrs. Lander's memory so far as to say, "Well, if she'd been somebody else most of the time, it would have been an improvement."

The talk turned upon Mr. Orson, and what he would probably do. The vice-consul had found him a cheap lodging, at his request, and he seemed to have settled down at Venice either without the will or without the power to go home, but the vice-consul did not know where he ate, or what he did with himself except at the times when he came for letters. Once or twice when he looked him up he found him writing, and then the minister explained that he had promised to "correspond" for an organ of his sect in the Northwest; but he owned that there was no money in it. He was otherwise reticent and even furtive in his manner. He did not seem to go much about the city, but kept to his own room; and if he was writing of Venice it must have been chiefly from his acquaintance with the little court into which his windows looked. He affected the vice-consul as forlorn and helpless, and he pitied him and rather liked him as a fellow-victim of Mrs. Lander.

One morning Mr. Orson came to see Clementina, and after a brief passage of opinion upon the weather, he fell into an embarrassed silence from which he pulled himself at last with a visible effort. "I hardly know how to lay before you what I have to say, Miss Claxon," he began, "and I must ask you to put the best construction upon it. I have never been reduced to a similar distress before. You would naturally think that I would turn to the vice-consul, on such an occasion; but I feel, through our relation to the—to Mrs. Lander—ah—somewhat more at home with you."

He stopped, as if he wished to be asked his business, and she entreated him, "Why, what is it, Mr. Osson? Is there something I can do? There isn't anything I wouldn't!"

A gleam, watery and faint, which still could not be quite winked away, came into his small eyes. "Why, the fact is, could you—ah—advance me about five dollars?"

"Why, Mr. Orson!" she began, and he seemed to think she wished to withdraw her offer of help, for he interposed.

"I will repay it as soon as I get an expected remittance from home. I came out on the invitation of Mrs. Lander, and as her guest, and I supposed—"

"Oh, don't say a wo'd!" cried Clementina, but now that he had begun he was powerless to stop.

"I would not ask, but my landlady has pressed me for her rent—I suppose she needs it—and I have been reduced to the last copper—"

The girl whose eyes the tears of self pity so rarely visited, broke into a sob that seemed to surprise her visitor. But she checked herself as with a quick inspiration: "Have you been to breakfast?"

"Well—ah—not this morning," Mr. Orson admitted, as if to imply that having breakfasted some other morning might be supposed to serve the purpose.

She left him and ran to the door. "Maddalena, Maddalena!" she called; and Maddalena responded with a frightened voice from the direction of the kitchen:

"Vengo subito!"

She hurried out with the coffee-pot in her hand, as if she had just taken it up when Clementina called; and she halted for the whispered colloquy between them which took place before she set it down on the table already laid for breakfast; then she hurried out of the room again. She came back with a cantaloupe and grapes, and cold ham, and put them before Clementina and her guest, who both ignored the hunger with which he swept everything before him. When his famine had left nothing, he said, in decorous compliment:

"That is very good coffee, I should think the genuine berry, though I am told that they adulterate coffee a great deal in Europe."

"Do they?" asked Clementina. "I didn't know it."

She left him still sitting before the table, and came back with some bank-notes in her hand. "Are you sure you hadn't betta take moa?" she asked.

"I think that five dollars will be all that I shall require," he answered, with dignity. "I should be unwilling to accept more. I shall undoubtedly receive some remittances soon."

"Oh, I know you will," Clementina returned, and she added, "I am waiting for lettas myself; I don't think any one ought to give up."

The preacher ignored the appeal which was in her tone rather than her words, and went on to explain at length the circumstances of his having come to Europe so unprovided against chances. When he wished to excuse his imprudence, she cried out, "Oh, don't say a wo'd! It's just like my own fatha," and she told him some things of her home which apparently did not interest him very much. He had a kind of dull, cold self-absorption in which he was indeed so little like her father that only her kindness for the lonely man could have justified her in thinking there was any resemblance.

She did not see him again for a week, and meantime she did not tell the vice-consul of what had happened. But an anxiety for the minister began to mingle with her anxieties for herself; she constantly wondered why she did not hear from her lover, and she occasionally wondered whether Mr. Orson were not falling into want again. She had decided to betray his condition to the vice-consul, when he came, bringing the money she had lent him. He had received a remittance from an unexpected source; and he hoped she would excuse his delay in repaying her loan. She wished not to take the money, at least till he was quite sure he should not want it, but he insisted.

"I have enough to keep me, now, till I hear from other sources, with the means for returning home. I see no object in continuing here, under the circumstances."

In the relief which she felt for him Clementina's heart throbbed with a pain which was all for herself. Why should she wait any longer either? For that instant she abandoned the hope which had kept her up so long; a wave of homesickness overwhelmed her.

"I should like to go back, too," she said. "I don't see why I'm staying."

"Mr. Osson, why can't you let me"—she was going to say—"go home with you?" But she really said what was also in her heart, "Why can't you let me give you the money to go home? It is all Mrs. Landa's money, anyway."

"There is certainly that view of the matter," he assented with a promptness that might have suggested a lurking grudge for the vice-consul's decision that she ought to keep the money Mrs. Lander had given her.

But Clementina urged unsuspiciously: "Oh, yes, indeed! And I shall feel better if you take it. I only wish I could go home, too!"

The minister was silent while he was revolving, with whatever scruple or reluctance, a compromise suitable to the occasion. Then he said, "Why should we not return together?"

"Would you take me?" she entreated.

"That should be as you wished. I am not much acquainted with the usages in such matters, but I presume that it would be entirely practicable. We could ask the vice-consul."

"Yes—"

"He must have had considerable experience in cases of the kind. Would your friends meet you in New York, or—"

"I don't know," said Clementina with a pang for the thought of a meeting she had sometimes fancied there, when her lover had come out for her, and her father had been told to come and receive them. "No," she sighed, "the'e wouldn't be time to let them know. But it wouldn't make any difference. I could get home from New Yo'k alone," she added, listlessly. Her spirits had fallen again. She saw that she could not leave Venice till she had heard in some sort from the letter she had written. "Perhaps it couldn't be done, after all. But I will see Mr. Bennam about it, Mr. Osson; and I know he will want you to have that much of the money. He will be coming he'e, soon."

He rose upon what he must have thought her hint, and said, "I should not wish to have him swayed against his judgment."

The vice-consul came not long after the minister had left her, and she began upon what she wished to do for him.

The vice-consul was against it. "I would rather lend him the money out of my own pocket. How are you going to get along yourself, if you let him have so much?"

She did not answer at once. Then she said, hopelessly, "I've a great mind to go home with him. I don't believe there's any use waiting here any longa." The vice-consul could not say anything to this. She added, "Yes, I believe I will go home. We we'e talking about it, the other day, and he is willing to let me go with him."

"I should think he would be," the vice-consul retorted in his indignation for her. "Did you offer to pay for his passage?"

"Yes," she owned, "I did," and again the vice-consul could say nothing. "If I went, it wouldn't make any difference whether it took it all or not. I should have plenty to get home from New York with."

"Well," the vice-consul assented, dryly, "it's for you to say."

"I know you don't want me to do it!"

"Well, I shall miss you," he answered, evasively.

"And I shall miss you, too, Mr. Bennam. Don't you believe it? But if I don't take this chance to get home, I don't know when I shall eva have anotha. And there isn't any use waiting—no, there isn't!"

The vice-consul laughed at the sort of imperative despair in her tone. "How are you going? Which way, I mean."

They counted up Clementina's debts and assets, and they found that if she took the next steamer from Genoa, which was to sail in four days, she would have enough to pay her own way and Mr. Orson's to New York, and still have some thirty dollars over, for her expenses home to Middlemount. They allowed for a second cabin-passage, which the vice-consul said was perfectly good on the Genoa steamers. He rather urged the gentility and comfort of the second cabin-passage, but his reasons in favor of it were wasted upon Clementina's indifference; she wished to get home, now, and she did not care how. She asked the vice-consul to see the minister for her, and if he were ready and willing, to telegraph for their tickets. He transacted the business so promptly that he was able to tell her when he came in the evening that everything was in train. He excused his coming; he said that now she was going so soon, he wanted to see all he could of her. He offered no excuse when he came the next morning; but he said he had got a letter for her and thought she might want to have it at once.

He took it out of his hat and gave it to her. It was addressed in Hinkle's writing; her answer had come at last; she stood trembling with it in her hand.

The vice-consul smiled. "Is that the one?"

"Yes," she whispered back.

"All right." He took his hat, and set it on the back of his head before he left her without other salutation.

Then Clementina opened her letter. It was in a woman's hand, and the writer made haste to explain at the beginning that she was George W. Hinkle's sister, and that she was writing for him; for though he was now out of danger, he was still very weak, and they had all been anxious about him. A month before, he had been hurt in a railroad collision, and had come home from the West, where the accident happened, suffering mainly from shock, as his doctor thought; he had taken to his bed at once, and had not risen from it since. He had been out of his head a great part of the time, and had been forbidden everything that could distress or excite him. His sister said that she was writing for him now as soon as he had seen Clementina's letter; it had been forwarded from one address to another, and had at last found him there at his home in Ohio. He wished to say that he would come out for Clementina as soon as he was allowed to undertake the journey, and in the meantime she must let him know constantly where she was. The letter closed with a few words of love in his own handwriting.

Clementina rose from reading it, and put on her hat in a bewildered impulse to go to him at once; she knew, in spite of all the cautions and reserves of the letter that he must still be very sick. When she came out of her daze she found that she could only go to the vice-consul. She put the letter in his hands to let it explain itself. "You'll undastand, now," she said. "What shall I do?"

When he had read it, he smiled and answered, "I guess I understood pretty well before, though I wasn't posted on names. Well, I suppose you'll want to layout most of your capital on cables, now?"

"Yes," she laughed, and then she suddenly lamented, "Why didn't they telegraph?"

"Well, I guess he hadn't the head for it," said the vice-consul, "and the rest wouldn't think of it. They wouldn't, in the country."

Clementina laughed again; in joyous recognition of the fact, "No, my fatha wouldn't, eitha!"

The vice-consul reached for his hat, and he led the way to Clementina's gondola at his garden gate, in greater haste than she. At the telegraph office he framed a dispatch which for expansive fullness and precision was apparently unexampled in the experience of the clerk who took it and spelt over its English with them. It asked an answer in the vice-consul's care, and, "I'll tell you what, Miss Claxon," he said with a husky weakness in his voice, "I wish you'd let this be my treat."

She understood. "Do you really, Mr. Bennam?"

"I do indeed."

"Well, then, I will," she said, but when he wished to include in his treat the dispatch she sent home to her father announcing her coming, she would not let him.

He looked at his watch, as they rowed away. "It's eight o'clock here, now, and it will reach Ohio about six hours earlier; but you can't expect an answer tonight, you know."

"No"—She had expected it though, he could see that.

"But whenever it comes, I'll bring it right round to you. Now it's all going to be straight, don't you be afraid, and you're going home the quickest way you can get there. I've been looking up the sailings, and this Genoa boat will get you to New York about as soon as any could from Liverpool. Besides there's always a chance of missing connections and losing time between here and England. I should stick to the Genoa boat."

"Oh I shall," said Clementina, far less fidgetted than he. She was, in fact, resting securely again in the faith which had never really deserted her, and had only seemed for a little time to waver from her when her hope went. Now that she had telegraphed, her heart was at peace, and she even laughed as she answered the anxious vice-consul.

William Dean Howells