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Title: A Venetian June
Author: Fuller, Anna
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Venetian June" ***

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A VENETIAN JUNE

      *      *      *      *      *      *

_By Anna Fuller_

   A Literary Courtship
   A Venetian June
   Peak and Prairie
   Pratt Portraits
   Later Pratt Portraits
   One of the Pilgrims
   Katherine Day
   A Bookful of Girls

   The Thunderhead Lady
By Anna Fuller and Brian Read

      *      *      *      *      *      *

A VENETIAN JUNE

by

ANNA FULLER

With 16 Illustrations in Color by Frederick S. Coburn



[Illustration: "May watched the yacht until it disappeared
from sight"]



New York & London
G. P. Putnam's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press

Copyright, 1896
by
G. P. Putnam's Sons

Copyright, 1913
by
G. P. Putnam's Sons

23d Printing

The Knickerbocker Press, New York



                                   To

                                  ELENA



              If from the flower of thy perfect gift
              One drop of cordial be distilled, 'tis thine.



Contents

          CHAPTER                                       PAGE

               I.--VENICE                                  3

              II.--A VENETIAN THOROUGHFARE                13

             III.--A PAIR OF POLLYS                       25

              IV.--A REVERIE                              37

               V.--THE SIGNORA                            49

              VI.--A FESTA                                65

             VII.--GATHERING POPPIES                      87

            VIII.--THE PULSE OF THE SEA                  109

              IX.--BY-WAYS OF VENICE                     129

               X.--A BENEDICTION                         145

              XI.--AT TORCELLO                           163

             XII.--A PROMOTION                           179

            XIII.--ILLUMINATIONS                         197

             XIV.--A SUMMER'S DAY                        219

              XV.--JUNE ROSES                            239

             XVI.--A SURRENDER                           253

            XVII.--THE SERENATA                          269

           XVIII.--SEARCH-LIGHTS                         285

             XIX.--"DECUS ET PRAESIDIUM"                 301



Illustrations

                                                                   PAGE

"MAY WATCHED THE YACHT UNTIL IT DISAPPEARED FROM SIGHT"  _Frontispiece_

"BETWEEN FROWNING WALLS AND LOW-ARCHED BRIDGES"                       4

"TIME-WORN PALACES, AND THE DARKLY DOUBTFUL WATER AT THEIR
   BASE"                                                              6

"ON A STONE BRIDGE, LEANING AGAINST THE IRON RAILING, STOOD A
   WOMAN IN A SULPHUR SHAWL"                                          8

"THEY WERE PASSING THE CHARMING LITTLE GOTHIC PALACE KNOWN AS
   THE HOUSE OF DESDEMONA"                                           14

"THEY HAD MOUNTED TO THE HIGH GALLERY THAT SPANS THE SPACE
   BETWEEN PILLAR AND PILLAR"                                        50

"THE GONDOLA IS THE CENTRE OF EVERYTHING; IT IS VENICE AND A
   LIVING CREATURE BESIDES"                                          72

"NOW AND THEN THEY STOPPED AT SOME DOORWAY OPENING UPON THE
   WATER, WHERE THEY LANDED"                                        138

"A COURTYARD EMBELLISHED BY AN EXQUISITE OLD STONE STAIRCASE"       140

"THE MADONNAS, UNDER THEIR IRON CANOPIES, LOOKED DOWN, SERENE
   AND BENEFICENT"                                                  142

"WHERE THE LOVELIEST OF ALL THE PARASOL MADONNAS KEEPS GUARD
   OVER THE STILL LAGOON"                                           166

"THE MORNING WAS TRULY VENETIAN, SOFT AND FAIR AS A DREAM"          170

"UNDER THE BEAUTIFUL COLONNADE OF THE CATHEDRAL"                    172

"MAY WATCHED THE WATER-LOGGED CRAFT AS IT VANISHED UNDER A
   DISTANT BRIDGE"                                                  224

"THE SERENATA"                                                      272

"IT SEEMS AS IF THE LAGOONS BELONGED TO THEM THIS EVENING"          316



I

Venice


"Si, Signore!"

The gondola stirred gently, as with a long, quiet breath, and a moment
later it had pushed its way out from among the thronging craft at the
steps of the railway quay, and was gliding with its own leisurely motion
across the sunlit expanse of the broad Canal. As the prow of the slender
black bark entered a narrow side-canal and pursued its way between
frowning walls and under low arched bridges,--as the deep resonant cry
of the gondolier rang out, and an answer came like an echo from the
hidden recesses of a mysterious watery crossway, the spirit of Venice
drew near to the three travellers, in whose minds its strange and
exquisite suggestion was received with varying susceptibility.

To Pauline Beverly, sitting enthroned among the gondola cushions, this
was the fulfilment of a dream, and she accepted it with unquestioning
delight; her sister May, at the bar of whose youthful judgment each
wonder of Europe was in turn a petitioner for approval, bestowed a far
more critical attention upon the time-worn palaces and the darkly
doubtful water at their base; while to Uncle Dan, sitting stiffly
upright upon the little one-armed chair in front of them, Venice, though
a regularly recurrent experience, was also a memory,--a memory fraught
with some sort of emotion, if one might judge by the severe indifference
which the old soldier brought to bear upon the situation.

Colonel Steele was never effusive, yet a careful observer might have
detected in his voice and manner, as he gave his orders to the
gondolier, the peculiar cut-and-dried quality which he affected when he
was afraid of being found out. Careful observers are, however, rare, and
we may be sure that on their first day in Venice his two companions had
other things to think of than the unobtrusive moods of a life-long
uncle.

Suddenly the gondola swung out again upon the Grand Canal, a little
below the Rialto bridge, and again all was light and life and movement.
Steamboats plied up and down with a great puffing and snorting and a
swashing about of the water, gondolas and smaller craft rising and
falling upon their heaving wake; heavily laden barges, propelled by long
poles whose wielders walked with bare brown feet up and down the gunwale
in the performance of their labour, progressed slowly and stolidly,
never yielding an inch in their course to the importunities of shouting
gondolier or shrieking steam-whistle. Here the light shell of a yellow
_sandolo_ shot by, there a black-hooded gondola crept in and out among
the more impetuous water-folk. Over yonder the stars-and-stripes floated
from a slim black prow, a frank, outspoken note of colour that had its
own part to play among the quieter yet richer hues of the scene. It was
like an instantaneous transition from twilight to broad day, from the
remote past to the busy present, whose children, even in Venice, must be
fed and clothed and transported from place to place.

[Illustration: "Between frowning walls and low-arched
bridges"]

"Yes, that is the Rialto," said Uncle Dan, rousing to the contemplation
of a good substantial fact. "It's everywhere in Venice. You're always
coming out upon it, especially when you have been rowing straight away
from it."

"What a pity it should be all built over on top!" said May, knitting her
smooth young brow, as if, forsooth, wrinkles did not come fast enough
without the aid of any gratuitous concern for the taste of a by-gone
century.

"But just look at the glorious arch of it underneath!" cried Pauline.
"Who cares what is on top? And besides," she declared, after a moment's
reflection, "I like it all!"

"Has Venice changed much, Uncle Dan?" asked May.

"Venice?" Uncle Dan replied. "Venice doesn't change. It's the rest of us
that do that!"--and just at that moment the gondola turned out of the
Grand Canal into another narrow, shadowy water-way. Here and there,
above the dark current, a bit of colour caught the eye; a pot of
geranium on a window-ledge; a pair of wooden shutters painted pink; a
blue apron hung out to dry. On a stone bridge, leaning against the iron
railing, stood a woman in a sulphur shawl, gazing idly at the
approaching gondola. Scarlet, pink, blue, sulphur--how these unrelated
bits of colour were blended and absorbed in the pure poetry of the
picture!

[Illustration: "Time-worn palaces, and the darkly
doubtful water at their base"]

"How wonderful it is, when things come true!" Pauline exclaimed. "Things
you have dreamed of all your life, till they have come to seem less real
than the things you never dreamed of at all! I think I must have known
that that woman in the sulphur shawl would be standing on that bridge,
gazing upon us with her great tragic eyes; so that somehow it seems as if
she might have been a mere apparition."

"I think it very likely, for I am sure she has always been there when I
have passed," said Uncle Dan, with conviction.

"I didn't see anything tragic about her eyes," May objected. "I thought
she looked rather stupid, as if she had forgotten what she came out
for."

"Which was probably the case," Uncle Dan admitted. Whence it will be
seen that Uncle Dan, gallant officer in the past and practical man of
affairs to-day, was as wax in the hands of his nieces, equally ready to
agree with each.

Yet Colonel Steele had not the appearance of a man of wax. On the
contrary, his spare, wiry figure was full of vigour, his glance was as
keen and his speech as imperative as that of the veriest martinet. He
had commanded men in his day; he had fought the stern persistent fight
of a good soldier, and if, when the great cause was won, he had hung up
his sword and sash and laid aside his uniform, he had yet never succeeded
in looking the civilian, and his military title had clung to him through
thirty years of practical life. Furthermore, if it must be admitted that
he looked somewhat older than his sixty years, that fact was not to be
accounted for by any acknowledged infirmity, unless, indeed, the stiff
leg he had brought with him from his four years' service should be
reckoned as such.

"But you like it, May?"

It was Pauline who asked, and she put the question as if she valued her
sister's opinion.

"Yes," May answered, in her most judicial manner; "I like it. As you
say, it is very much what one expected. But of course it is rather
early to judge yet."

[Illustration: "On a stone bridge, leaning against the
iron railing, stood a woman in
a sulphur shawl"]

As if to refute this cautious statement, the gondola quietly glided out
again upon the Grand Canal, in full face of a great white dome, rising
superbly from a sculptured marble octagon against a radiant sky. Sky and
dome and sculptured figure, each cast its image deep down in the tranquil
waters at its base, where, as it chanced, no passing barge or steamboat
was shivering it to fragments.

"Ah!" said Pauline, with inarticulate eloquence.

"That is the Salute," Uncle Dan remarked; while May wondered how she
liked it.

Half-a-dozen strokes of the oar brought them in among the tall,
shielding posts, close alongside the steps of the _Venezia_. As
the hotel porter handed the young ladies from the gondola, the Colonel
paused to have a word with the gondolier. The man was standing, hat in
hand, keeping the oar in gentle motion to counteract the force of the
tide, which was setting strongly seaward.

"Si, Signore!" he answered.

"Why!" May exclaimed, "I had forgotten all about the man!"



II

A Venetian Thoroughfare


"To the bankers', Vittorio."

"Si, Signore. Will the Signore go by the Grand Canal?"

"By all means. And don't hurry. There is plenty of time."

"Si, Signore! The bank will wait!"

The little jest fell as soothingly familiar upon the ear of Vittorio's
one passenger as the dip of the oar or the bell of San Giorgio Maggiore
sounding across the harmonising water spaces. And yet the Colonel was
only half aware that every word, every inflection of the little dialogue
had passed between them on just such an afternoon in May five years ago,
and again five years before that, if the truth must be told.

They were passing the charming little Gothic palace known as the House
of Desdemona, and we may be pretty sure that the two little stone girls
that keep watch there upon the corners of the balcony railing, were
reminded by these words that another lustre had slipped by since last
they heard them. If they were as observant as they should have been,
considering that they had nothing to occupy them but the use of their
eyes and ears, they must have noted the fact that while the soldierly
figure of the old gentleman had not grown a whit less erect, the many
wrinkles upon his clean-cut countenance were perceptibly deepened in the
interval. A curious effect of years, those hard-headed little images
must have thought. They could perceive no such change in one another's
countenances, though they had witnessed the passage of several centuries.
But then, the little stone girls had one marked advantage over people of
flesh and blood, for they stopped short off at the shoulders. Their
creator having made no provision for a heart in their constitutions, they
could never grow old,--any more than they could ever have been truly young.

The tide was still going out, and the gondola moved very slowly up
stream. The Colonel was silent, as he had been silent during the
passage of this particular part of the Canal once in five years since
ever so long ago. Presently the gondola, in its leisurely progress, came
opposite a pretty old palace with charming rose windows to give it
distinction. There were flower-boxes in the balcony, and other signs of
habitation, and the Colonel, quite as if he were rousing from a reverie,
and casting about for something to say, turned half-way toward the
gondolier and asked: "The Signora Daymond, is she here this season?"

[Illustration: "They were passing the charming little
Gothic palace known as the House
of Desdemona"]

"Si, Signore; and her Signor son is also in Venice."

This last statement formed a new departure, the "Signor son" having been
absent on the occasion of the Colonel's more recent visits. The
announcement excited in him a curious and quite unfounded resentment.
Indeed, so disturbing was it, not because of any inherent
objectionableness, but because of its implication of a change, that the
Colonel found himself quite thrown out of his accustomed line of
procedure. That this was the case was made manifest by the fact that he
did not adhere so far to established precedent as to wait until after
they had passed under the iron bridge before looking quite round into
Vittorio's face and asking: "All is well at the little red house? The
wife and the children?"

"All well, Signore; only the mother died last winter."

"Your wife's mother, I think it was?"

"Si, Signore; she died in February."

One less mouth to feed, the Colonel thought to himself; and perhaps the
thought was apparent to the quick perception of the gondolier, although
the _padrone_ only remarked: "An old woman she must have been."

For Vittorio's face grew wistful, and there was a tone of gentle
reproach in his voice, as he said: "We should like well to have the
mother with us again."

"Of course, of course!" the Colonel assented, eager to disclaim his
unspoken disloyalty. "And Nanni? What do you hear from him?"

"He is paying us a visit, the first in three years. He does not forget
the old life, and when the Milan doctors told him he must take a long
rest, that he needed a change, he said: 'I know it; I need to feel an
oar in my hand and the leap of the gondola under my feet.'"

"And does he row?"

"Si, Signore. He has an old tub of a gondola and he paddles about in it
all day long and is content as the king. More content, for he is doing
what he pleases, and the king,--it is said that he cannot always do as
he pleases. If he could we should be better governed."

A puzzled scowl contracted the fine open brow of the gondolier. That a
king should not do as he pleased was as puzzling as it was grievous.

"He is doing well, Nanni?"

"Si, Signore, _benissimo_; and yet he loves the gondola and the old
life."

The Colonel drew his brows together as if the statement had not given
him unmixed pleasure. "Do you think he is ever sorry for the education
and the change?" he asked.

"Sorry? Oh, no! His profession is his life. Even here when he ought to
rest, he goes again and again to the Scuola di San Marco, the great
hospital, to see the sick people and talk with the doctors. Signore,"
and Vittorio's voice sank to a stage whisper: "Nanni is writing a book.
It is about the sanitation of the houses."

The gondolier had stepped forward close behind the cushioned seat, and
was stooping, with bended knee, his head almost on a level with the
_padrone's_. Keeping the oar constantly in motion, and with an
occasional deft turn of the wrist to avoid a collision,--for the Grand
Canal was a crowded thoroughfare at this hour,--he nevertheless seemed
to have eyes only for the erect figure and the grizzled head of his old
friend.

"Our benefactor does not permit us to speak to him of what is in our
hearts," he said, in his stately Italian; and again his voice dropped,
and this time to a wonderfully melodious tone: "But the Madonna listens
to us every morning and every evening. We all remember the _padrone_,
even the _piccolo Giovanni_, whom he has never seen."

A look of comical deprecation crossed the face of the passenger, and he
said, rather abruptly: "I hope Nanni is good to the rest of you."

"Si, Signore; Nanni is a good brother; but we are many and he is not
rich. _Ecco!_ The gondola of the Signora Daymond. Will the Signore
speak with her?"

"Not to-day," the Colonel answered, hastily; and in another instant,
before the occupants of the other boat had looked in their direction,
Vittorio had stepped back to his post at the stern, and had given a
twist of the oar that sent the gondola straight across the prow of a
steamboat coming down stream.

"_Lungo!_" he shouted, as peremptorily as if the great puffing
interloper had been a tiny _sandolo_, and the big boat actually did slow
up a bit, while Vittorio swiftly rounded it, thus placing its great hull
between his own and the Signora's gondola.

"You're a good oarsman, Vittorio," the _padrone_ remarked. "I always
said that I should like to cross the ocean with you."

"I would rather the Signore stayed here," Vittorio exclaimed, while a
flashing smile lit up his handsome face; "I would rather the Signore
took a little palace and stayed here in Venice!"

Before the Signore had had time to give this time-honoured proposition
the consideration which it merited, the gondola was lying alongside the
steps at the bankers' door, and his attention was distracted by a very
ragged, but seraphically beautiful urchin, who was excitedly wriggling
his body through the railing of the adjoining ferry-landing, with a view
to pressing his services upon the foreign gentleman. His efforts were
finally successful, and when, a few minutes later, the Colonel emerged
from the doorway, he found his entry into the gondola relieved of all
supposititious perils by the application of five very brown bare toes to
the gunwale. As he placed his penny in the tattered hat of his small
preserver, he bestowed upon him a smile so benignant that all the rival
ragamuffins assembled upon the ferry-landing took heart of hope and
shouted, as one boy: "_Un soldino, Signor! Un soldino!_"

Vittorio, with a look of superb scorn, calculated to convince the
uninitiated that he himself had never been a Venetian ragamuffin, gave
three long strokes of the oar, which sent the gondola far out upon the
Canal, well beyond the reach of such importunities.

"To the hotel, Signore?"

"Yes; the young ladies will be ready to go out by this time. They are my
nieces, Vittorio."

"And is it their first visit in Venice?"

"Yes; we have spent the winter in Italy, and we left the best for the
last."

"The Signore still loves Venice?"

"Better than any spot in the world. We will take the short cut home,
Vittorio."

Then Vittorio, with the deep joy which may hide in the hearts of other
men, but never shines in full radiance upon any but an Italian face,
turned the gondola into the same narrow _rio_ through which he had rowed
his passengers from the station earlier in the day.

The Colonel had caught the flash in the dark face, and his own
countenance had assumed an answering mobility. The tension of his first
hours in Venice was apt to yield, though not usually as early as this.
But then, he had never before had the pleasure of his two precious
Pollys in anticipation. As the gondola drew near a certain stone bridge
guarded by an iron railing, the sight of a woman in a sulphur shawl,
lingering there to speak with a neighbour, gave him a reminiscent sense
of amused gratification.

Presently they came round in front of the _Venezia_, and Uncle Dan
looked up to a certain high balcony, whence his coming was hailed by a
lively flutter of handkerchiefs.

"_Ecco_, my nieces!" he remarked to Vittorio, with ill-suppressed pride
of ownership; a claim, be it observed, which the two Pollys would have
been inclined to dispute; since, according to their own faith and
practice, it was they who owned Uncle Dan!



III

A Pair of Pollys


Five minutes later Uncle Dan and his two Pollys were once more afloat, a
beatific company. Their graceful craft dipped and courtesied to the
stroke of the oar as it glided swiftly with the out-going tide, past the
gilt ball of the custom-house, past the royal gardens and the Piazzetta
and the Doge's Palace, past the red tower of San Giorgio, on and on, far
out upon the wide lagoons. Pauline, sitting beside her uncle among the
cushions of state, was so absorbed in the mere joy of this gliding,
rhythmic motion, that she scarcely paid due deference to the wonders of
the Piazzetta, past which they fared so swiftly. Yes; there were the
famous pillars of Saint and Lion, and there, beyond the Ducal Palace,
was a passing glimpse of San Marco. It was as it should be, this
delightful verification of travellers' tales; she could afford to hold
all that in reserve. But just to-day, just at this moment, she only
wanted to watch the slender prow, skimming the wonderful opaline waters,
drawing ever nearer to those mystic islands floating over yonder like a
dream within a dream. She wondered vaguely at May's vivid alertness; for
her sister, claiming the privilege of youth, was enjoying the freedom of
the gondola, perching here and there as her fancy prompted, in the ample
forward space, that nothing might escape her eager, critical attention.

"How queer of them to have put those two windows out of line!" May
exclaimed, fixing upon the water-front of the Ducal Palace a glance of
disapproval beneath which the stately old pile blushed rosy red. At
least it was at that moment that she first observed the pinkness of its
complexion. "But it's a lovely colour," she hastened to admit; "and
those columns in the second story are perfectly dear."

"They have been a good deal admired," Uncle Dan observed dryly, yet with
a friendly twinkle that flickered over into the crow's-feet which were
such an important feature of his equipment as uncle. And May, nothing
daunted, pursued her own train of thought with unflagging spirit.

"Vittorio, which way is the Lido?" she asked presently, in her crispest
Italian. She was sitting on the carpeted steps at the prow, whence she
had been regarding, with a quite impersonal interest, the swaying motion
of the supple, picturesque figure at the oar. She was not sure that she
altogether approved of the broad white straw hat, with fluttering ends
of blue ribbon, nor of the blue woollen sash with its white fringe which
waved back and forth as its wearer trod the deck; but these were minor
details, and the total effect was undeniably good.

Vittorio, accustomed to that particular kind of attention which the
tourist bestows impartially upon man or gondola, the _briccoli_ whose
clustering posts mark the channels in the lagoon, or the towers of the
mad-house rising from yonder island,--had continued his unswerving gaze
straight over the head of the Signorina. At the sound of his name his
bearing changed. Lifting his hat, he took a step forward, and, still
plying the oar with his right hand, he said: "Over yonder is Sant'
Elisabetta del Lido, where the tourists go. But the Lido reaches for
miles between us and the sea,--as the Signore will tell you," he added,
with the careful deference that the Colonel knew so well.

The familiar voice of the gondolier, striking across his meditations,
had a singular effect upon the Colonel. It made him aware that this was
a different Venice from the one which Vittorio had been wont to show
him. What had become of the pensive quality of the atmosphere, the
brooding melancholy of its impression upon him? Where, he wondered,
half-resentfully, was the dim oppression, the subtle pain he had
heretofore associated with these tranquil water spaces? What witch-work
were those girls playing with the traditions of twenty-five years? He
glanced from one to the other of their unconscious faces, each absorbed
after its own fashion. After all, it was pleasant to look upon the world
through young eyes. No fear but the old preoccupation would reassert
itself in due time. But somehow his mind declined to concern itself with
that just now, and with a half-humorous deprecation, he resumed his
contemplation of his two Pollys.

His claim to such a unique possession formed in itself an achievement
upon which the Colonel prided himself not a little. He often recalled
his chagrin when his sister Mary,--Polly as he, and he alone had called
her,--failed to give her eldest daughter her own name. How could he, a
totally inexperienced uncle, enter into satisfactory relations with a
young person encumbered with the stately cognomen of Pauline? She was
sure to be haughty and unapproachable. No wonder that she puckered up
her face in hostile protest as often as he offered her a perfunctory
salutation. He was becoming fairly afraid of the little month-old
personage, when one day, he hit upon the reassuring device of turning
Pauline, with all its conservative dignity, into Polly. If the testimony
of a gentleman and an officer was to be relied upon, their good
understanding dated from that hour. For Uncle Dan was willing to take
his oath that the very day on which the two soft, ingratiating syllables
fell upon the small pink ear, the small pink face relaxed into an
expression of kindly tolerance, blossoming out a few days later into
that ecstatic first smile which had sealed his subjugation.

Uncle Dan was perhaps not thinking of this circumstance, as he glanced
to-day at the serenely blissful young face beside him, a face which had
never in all these years begrudged him a smile. Yet such reminiscences
were not wholly foreign to his thoughts, and they doubtless lent their
own agreeable though unrecognised flavour to his meditations, as he
looked upon the Venetian lagoons through the eyes of his Pollys.

In the course of time two other little maids had come upon the
scene,--Susan and Isabella were their unsuggestive names. Married now,
both of them, Uncle Dan was wont to state, parenthetically; and indeed,
if the truth be known, he had always taken a parenthetical view of these
unexceptionable little nieces. But when his Polly had remained for seven
years without a rival in his affections, a fourth small damsel had
presented herself, and had been regarded by her parents as the logical
candidate for her mother's name. From that time forth the Colonel was
the happy possessor of two Pollys, and it would have been difficult to
say which had the more complete ascendency over him. Big Polly and
little Polly he called them, and before the little one was well out of
long clothes he had formed the project of showing his Pollys the world.

The death of his sister having occurred some years since, his
brother-in-law's second marriage, which took place after a due interval,
left Uncle Dan with a free hand to carry out his project. He could not
but feel indebted to Beverly for taking a step which rendered him
independent of daughterly ministrations, though such a proceeding ran
counter to one of the Colonel's most perverse and therefore most valued
theories. That a woman should take a second husband had long seemed to
him both natural and proper, but the reasons were obvious, to his mind
at least, why a man should be more constant. Be that as it may, however,
here they were, Uncle Dan and his Pollys, and to-day, of all days, the
Colonel was little disposed to cavil at anything.

"What good manners this man has!" Pauline remarked, as Vittorio made his
answer to the Signorina.

"Yes"; Uncle Dan replied. "He never slips up on that."

"Where does he get it?"

"A family trait. His father had it when he used to row me twenty-five
years ago, and I've no doubt his forbears were all like that. It's a
matter of race."

"A matter of race!" cried May. "Why, Uncle Dan, when that Italian in the
train the other day stared us out of countenance and we asked you to do
something about it, you told us it was the custom of the country!"

"That's only Uncle Dan's way of shirking his responsibilities," Pauline
explained. "It's lucky for you, May, that I'm getting on in life. I
don't know what you would do if you hadn't any better chaperon than
Uncle Dan."

"And yet, you don't seem so very old," May remarked, rather doubtfully,
tilting her golden head at a critical angle. "I don't believe anybody
would suspect you of being twenty-seven."

"That's a comfort," laughed Pauline, with a humorous appreciation that
was like Uncle Dan's.

Pauline Beverly had not, like her sister, a reputation for beauty, yet
she possessed undeniable charm. Her hair was of a sunny brown, and
softly undulating; her eyes were of the same shade as her hair, and
capable of a changing light, and, when she smiled, her face, soft and
pure, but not brilliant in colouring, had somehow the look of a brook
rippling over brown pebbles in a shady place, where the sunshine comes
in threads and hints, rather than in an obliterating flood of light. The
years, whose sum seemed to May so considerable, had performed their
modelling very gently, conferring upon the countenance that winning
quality which is the gift of those who habitually think more of others
than of themselves.

They were coming in past the red sentinel-tower of San Giorgio, May
still sitting on the low steps facing the stern of the gondola. As the
young girl looked past her companions, across the silvery spaces of the
lagoon, her eyes grew dreamy and far-away. So marked was the phenomenon,
that Uncle Dan was moved to exclaim: "A penny for your thoughts, Polly."

May started, for she was not often caught sentimentalising. Then, with
the directness which characterised her, she said: "I was wondering
whether one might not perhaps find a soul here in Venice."

"A soul? What kind of a soul?"

"Oh, any sort would do, I suppose. You know Signor Firenzo told me my
voice was _bellissima_, but that I hadn't any soul."

"Perhaps Signor Firenzo is a better judge of voices than of souls,"
Pauline suggested, with a confident little smile.

"A young girl like you hasn't any business with a soul," Uncle Dan
declared. "If you think you see one coming over the lagoon you had
better turn round and look at the Lion of St. Mark's. He hasn't the sign
of a soul, yet he's the best of good fellows, as anybody can see."

May promptly turned, and fixed her eyes upon the classic beast in
question.

"I didn't know that lions had such long, straight tails," she remarked.

"The wings strike me as being more out of the common," Uncle Dan
chuckled, much reassured by Polly's ready return to the judicial
attitude.

"I should almost think," said Pauline, musingly, "that a lion that had
wings and a taste for literature might perhaps have a soul after all!"



IV

A Reverie


When Vittorio was told to come for them in the evening, he had cast a
significant glance at a certain radiant white cloud, billowing in the
West, and said: "_Speriamo_"; which, in the vocabulary of the gondolier
means: "Let us hope for the best and prepare for the worst." Upon which
the cloud had gradually taken on more formidable proportions, until,
just at dusk, it burst in a torrent of rain, which swept the Grand Canal
clear of sight-seers, and sent the nightly serenaders, who usually act
as magnets to the wandering gondolas, into the hotels for refuge. A band
of them were established in the long, wide corridor of the _Venezia_,
where their strong, crude voices and their twanging strings reverberated
rather noisily.

Wondering how it must seem to have nerves young enough to sustain such
rough treatment, the Colonel abandoned his nieces to their
self-inflicted ordeal, and mounted the stairs to his own familiar
quarters. And there, as he closed the door behind him, he ceased to
speculate upon such ephemeral matters.

He had come up, ostensibly to write some letters, but instead of doing
so, he lighted a cigar, and seated himself at the window, watching the
swoop of the rain along the hurrying waters of the Canal. The tide was
coming in and the wind was with it. One gondola at the ferry was
struggling across the current, with difficulty held to its course by the
efforts of its straining oarsman. The passengers had taken refuge under
the _felze_, or gondola hood. Impatient of the slow progress of the
boat, the Colonel looked down into the hotel-garden directly beneath his
windows, which was drowned in a moist blur, that only seemed intensified
where it focused about the electric lights. Over there again, across the
Canal, stood the great Salute, showing ghostly and unreal in its massive
whiteness, half obliterated by the driving rain. It would have seemed
that the most perfunctory letter-writing might have been an improvement
upon such a prospect as that. Yet the Colonel sat on, puffing in a
desultory manner at his excellent cigar, and reflecting that another
five years had gone by.

A curious thing, he was thinking to himself, how inevitably he found
himself in Venice once in five years. It was not in his plan to do so.
He would have been just as ready to return after an interval of two
years, or of three; but, for one reason or another, he never seemed able
to arrange his affairs to that end until the fifth year had come round.
Somebody was sure to die and leave him executor of his will; or this or
that charity of which he was treasurer made a point of getting into a
tight place. To-morrow was the twenty-ninth of the month;--to-morrow
always was the twenty-ninth on his first arrival in Venice. Yet that,
too, was the merest accident, as he assured himself with some heat. None
of these things was premeditated.

He should call upon her to-morrow,--certainly. It would be a downright
discourtesy to wait until they had met by chance. He wondered if she
were expecting him. Probably not; she had other things to think of,
especially now that her son was with her.

It would be a pleasure to see her,--her beautiful, friendly eyes, that
enchanting smile, that wonderful turn of the head. As though she could
ever have cared for a battered old wreck like him! And yet he knew, with
an indubitable knowledge, that he should ask her again. And the answer
would be the same as it had been twenty-five years ago, when she was but
a three-years' widow.

He had been hasty, he had not sufficiently respected her past. He should
have waited. And yet, when he came again, after five years, perhaps
that, too, was an error of judgment. Perhaps his coming, after so long
an interval, caused the revival of old memories, caused a shock which
might have been avoided if he had ventured sooner. And then, when another
five years had passed, he had begun to age. A man who has seen field
service has not the staying powers of other men. That London doctor knew
all about it in a moment. Yes, he had already begun to age, fifteen years
ago. And now!

The Colonel relighted his cigar, which had gone out. How the rain kept
at it! He could hear the swish of it on the wall of the house across the
garden. Even Venice could be dreary.

He had never seen her anywhere else. He did not ask himself why he had
refrained from seeking her out in her own home, not five hundred miles
from his own,--why he had always come to her here in Venice, where all
her married life had been spent. After all, a man does what he must. And
to-morrow he should ask her again! He did not wish to, he did not even
intend to. He could resolve not to, here, in cold blood, with the
disheartening rain blotting out the rose-bushes down below, and a
disheartening conviction of failure blotting out his nerve and courage.
But to-morrow she would rise to meet him, in her own gracious way; he
should touch her beautiful, firm hand, where a single jewel shone. He
thought if he could ever see another ring upon that hand, one which,
having no significance of its own, might weaken the significance of that
diamond, now grown old-fashioned in its low setting, there might be a
chance for him. But, no; there would be but the one ring, and there
would be no chance for him;--and yet he should ask her!

There was another gondola struggling across the Canal. Why should anyone
be out in such weather? It must be a lover, or some such sanguine person,
bent, as like as not, upon a fruitless errand. The Colonel had but scant
sympathy with lovers; they so rarely had any discrimination.

Yes, she would come forward, with extended hand, to meet him. He wondered
whether the streak of grey on the right temple would have widened
appreciably. Perhaps it would have spread itself, like a fine white film
of lace, over the abundant hair. It would probably be very becoming. That
was another curious thing; every time he saw her she had grown more
beautiful. The years that had dealt so harshly with him had touched her
only to an added grace and tenderness; experience had drawn only noble
lines upon her face, and there was an ever-increasing warmth and
graciousness of countenance which was infinitely finer than the bloom of
youth. People made a great deal of youth, but really, when you came to
think of it, what a meagre, paltry thing it was! A man hardly began to
live before he was thirty-five!

"Uncle Dan, may we come in?"

The door flew open, and two young persons, with all the disabilities of
youth upon their heads, came rustling in upon the old bachelor's
misanthropic reverie. Instantly the atmosphere had changed.

"It was very good fun," May remarked, as she perched upon the arm of her
uncle's chair. "They shrieked _Margherita_ and _Santa Lucia_ and a lot
of opera airs, till we thought we should lose our tympanums, and so we
came away."

"We were in quite as much danger of losing our manners," Pauline
interposed. "We sat next a delicious English girl, pretty as a picture
and unresponsive as a statue, and we simply dragged her into
conversation. She took us for English and was terribly shocked to find
we were Americans, and not even Canadians at that. 'You don't mean to
say that you come from the States!' she cried, quite forgetting that she
was a statue. And then May got wicked, as she always does when her
patriotism is touched."

"Nonsense!" May broke in; "it isn't patriotism; it's self-respect."

"And how did you work off your self-respect?" asked Uncle Dan, deeply
interested.

"I told her I thought it was very strange that English people should
mistake us. That we never mistook them; we knew at a glance a person
from the Isles. She rose to it like a tennis-ball, and asked what isles
I referred to. 'Why, the British Isles,' I answered, innocently. And
then she looked mystified, and Pauline discovered that the noise was
very fatiguing, and we came away."

For half-an-hour Uncle Dan listened, highly diverted, to the chatter of
the girls, and it never once occurred to him to remember the meagreness
and paltriness of their condition. After they had left him, he turned to
the window, feeling that the dreariness without and within was a very
transitory and inconsequent thing. And lo! a change had come. The influx
of youth would appear to have put to flight other clouds than those of a
morbid mind. The rain had altogether ceased. He could see the roses
gleaming moistly in the circles of electric light. The serenaders were
just pushing away in their big barge, with coloured lanterns swaying in
the breeze. They were beginning to sing, and their voices sounded sweet
and melodious in the open air. Above the Salute the clouds were breaking
away, and there were stars gleaming in the deep blue clearing.

"Have you seen the stars, Uncle Dan?" came Pauline's voice through the
key-hole. "We're going to have a glorious day to-morrow!"



V

The Signora


They had been spending an hour among the wonderful glooms and gleams of
St. Mark's, and now they had mounted to the high gallery that spans the
space between pillar and pillar. The Colonel had looked twice at his
watch, for he had an appointment with himself, so to speak, and he
proposed to leave the girls to the study of the gold mosaics which they
seemed inclined to take seriously. For the moment they were leaning upon
the stone balustrade, looking down into the great dim spaces of the
church.

"I wish I knew whether it was really good," said May, lifting her golden
head in deprecation of a possibly misguided admiration. "It is so
beautiful that I'm dreadfully afraid it is meretricious."

"It is really good," said a voice close at hand. "I think we may set our
minds at rest about that."

The voice was its own passport and no one thought of taking the remark
amiss. Uncle Dan who had been consulting his watch for the third time,
looked up with a twinkle of good understanding, which the appearance of
the speaker justified. The young man was possessed of a good figure and
a good face, as well as of a good voice.

Somewhat startled, the girls turned and discovered that they had been
obstructing the narrow passage.

"Oh, I beg your pardon!" they both cried, as they retreated into an
angle of the gallery. "You couldn't pass us by."

"I didn't particularly want to," the stranger replied, quite at his
ease. "This is one of the best points of view," and it was much to his
credit that he did not give the obvious turn to his remark by looking at
the two girls as he made it, for neither the beauty of the youthful
sceptic nor the quiet distinction of her sister was likely to have been
lost upon a man of his stamp. That they were sisters, unlike as they
were, could not have escaped the most casual observer.

[Illustration: "They had mounted to the high gallery
that spans the space between
pillar and pillar"]

"Then you know what is good," May remarked, in perfect good faith.

"I know this is good," he answered; "and I am sure it is much too good
to be interrupted."

He was at the disadvantage of holding his hat in his hand, in deference
to place, so that he was unable to indicate a deference to persons by
lifting it. Yet he took his leave with so good a manner that the Colonel
was moved to detain him. As the stranger made his way past him, the
elder man remarked: "It must be worth while to be up on architecture in
this part of the world."

"It's worth while to be up on architecture in any part of the world,"
the young man replied. "Where there is nothing to see there is all the
more to do."

He paused a moment, as if St. Mark's were really more interesting than
his own opinions. Then: "Have you travelled much in our own West?" he
asked.

"No," was the Colonel's unblushing admission; for he was a New
Englander of the New Englanders and valued his own limitations.

"There's good work going on out there; it's a great field."

"But surely you are not a Westerner!" the Colonel protested.

"No; but I sometimes wish I were. It's the thing to be."

There was no challenge in his voice, yet Colonel Steele was half
inclined to take umbrage at the unprejudiced statement of fact. The
ease, however, with which the young man again indicated a courteous
leave-taking without the aid of a hat disarmed criticism, and as the
Colonel watched the slowly retreating figure, he willingly accorded to
the heresy the indulgence due to youthful vagaries. To be sure, he could
not remember that an exaggerated estimate of the Great West had ever
been a vagary of his own youth. But then, he supposed that the West had
made advances since his day!

A glance at his watch changed the direction of his thoughts, and a few
minutes later Vittorio was rowing him swiftly, with the tide, up the
Grand Canal. Just as the noon gun roared out from the base of San
Giorgio, the Colonel rang the bell of the Palazzo Darino.

She was sitting, the lady of his evening reverie, the lady of a
life-long reverie, one might as truly say, just as he had hoped to find
her, alone and disengaged. Two or three open letters lay upon the table
beside her, but they lay there meekly, as if they knew that they must
bide their time.

"Ah! Colonel Steele!"

She spoke his name as no one else had ever done, somehow as if it were a
title of nobility, and as she came forward to meet him, the soft rustle
of her garments filled him with content. He took the extended hand, and,
bending above it, he noted the diamond, in its low, old-fashioned
setting, gleaming there alone.

"I am glad you are faithful to Venice," she said. "I hoped you might
come this year."

"And you still come every year?"

"Yes."

The white film had spread just as he had anticipated. He could see how
complete it was, as she seated herself in the full light of the open
window. The Colonel had sometimes been startled to find how his
premonitions in regard to her had come true. One year he had said to
himself: she will be paler than usual; I wonder if she has been ill. And
he had found that she had been ill, and there was a fragility and pallor
about her that seemed to him quite heart-breaking. Again he had said to
himself: she will be wearing crape as in the old times; I wonder why.
And when he had come to her she had told him of her mother's death a few
months previous. So to-day he had known of that lace-like whiteness of
the beautiful head, and of a certain deepening of the depression of the
cheek and chin, which had not been there five years ago.

"Yes," she was saying. "I don't find Venice anywhere else, and so I come
over every year. Happily, I like the voyage."

The Colonel did not like the voyage but that was a painful fact which he
had never felt called upon to admit.

"This year I have my boy with me," she added. "That is a great pleasure."

"And I have my nieces," he replied, deterred by a curious jealousy from
pursuing the subject of the boy.

"How delightful! That is, I suppose you find it so, since you have
brought them."

"Oh, yes; it makes quite a different thing of travelling. We came over
in October. We have been wintering in Rome."

He wondered how he should put it this time. Five words usually
sufficed,--five words that meant so much to him, and so little, so
intolerably little to her.

"I am glad you have young people with you," she said. "We need them more
and more as we grow older."

"Well, that depends," the Colonel demurred, too loyal to his Pollys,
even here and now, to allow them to be regarded generically. "There are
not many girls I should want to have on my hands. I think the Pollys are
rather exceptional."

"What did you say the name was?"

"Polly--Polly Beverly."

"And what is the other one's name?"

"Same name. They are both Pollys. I named them myself," he added, with a
quite unforeseen revival of that agreeable self-satisfaction which he
never could conceal in this connection.

And then, to his own surprise, he found himself entering with much gusto
upon the story of their christening. By the time he had finished, he
felt quite toned up and invigorated.

"Tell me some more about them," she begged.

She was leaning back in her seat, serenely receptive. The Colonel,
sitting opposite to her in the straight-backed chair such as he always
chose, noted, with a curiously disengaged pleasure, the wonderful
opaline quality of the impression she made. The soft grey folds of her
dress, the still more softened grey of the hair, and the deep grey of
the beautiful eyes,--none of these quiet shades was dull and fixed. A
delicate play of light and shadow made them vital, as the grey of the
lagoons is vital, when there are clouds before the sun, and a strange,
mystic luminousness traverses their tranquil spaces. She had always
reminded him of the lagoons. The association only seemed to make each
more exquisite and apart. And now, as he told her about his Pollys, it
was with very much the same sense of perfect gratification with which
he had taken them out upon the water the day before. There was also the
same singular absence of the old, familiar pain and oppression.

"What are they interested in?" she asked, and there could be no doubt in
the Colonel's mind that she really cared to know.

"Well; they are interested in pretty much everything, though in a
different way. For instance, they are making short work of Italian. They
speak better than I do, after all these years," he declared with
delighted self-depreciation, "though perhaps that's not much to brag of.
One of them has got the accent and the other the grammar, so they pull
very well together. Then the younger one can sing like a bird."

The Colonel was warming to his subject, and the Signora, as he liked to
call her, did not interrupt.

"She has been studying with Firenzo in Rome. He says she's got a tip-top
voice and plenty of execution. Sketches, too,--not particularly well,
though. Her things look right enough, but somehow they don't say much.
Firenzo thinks that's the trouble with her singing. Good voice, you
know, but it doesn't speak. Young, I suppose! That's it; eh?"

"Twenty years old, you say? Yes, I should call that young! And the other
one? Tell me about her."

"Well, Polly hasn't much ambition. Nice contralto voice, not much
cultivated. Rather a contralto little woman, don't you know? The kind
that somehow warms the cockles of your heart. Lots of character, too.
There's nothing weak about Polly. You'll like her."

"I'm sure I shall. And what has she been about all these years?
Twenty-seven, did you say?"

"Well, family matters mostly. They've kept her pretty busy. She's the
eldest, you know. She has married off three of them already."

"Three sisters?"

"No; two sisters and a father. There's nobody left now, but these two."

It was all very like that trip on the lagoons yesterday; only, in the
one case, he had seen the lagoons through the eyes of his Pollys, while
to-day he seemed to be seeing his Pollys through the eyes of the woman
he loved. And he found that gracious sharing of his interest a balm to
the old wound, and he was soothed and beguiled into a strange new
acquiescence. It would come again, the importunate trouble. He should,
in a very few minutes, bring down upon himself that gentle refusal, more
poignant in its kindness than scorn or misprision would have been.

As he sat there touching upon one characteristic and another of his
Pollys, in the direct, soldierly fashion that cuts through ordinary
modes of speech, clean and incisive as a sword-point, he vaguely felt
that this was only a postponement, a respite. It could not last, this
extraordinary, unaccountable resignation. He was not sure that he should
approve of it if it did. But, meantime, he had not told her how the
girls had enjoyed riding on the Campagna, and how they had followed the
hunt one day, and not a bone broken! Nor how they had got to know their
way about Rome like a book and how--really, the subject was quite
inexhaustible!

The sun was shining like mad upon the palaces opposite, and as he
looked across the flower-boxes in the window, he felt quite in sympathy
with this high noon of light and color. A steamboat shrieked beneath the
window, and the discordant sound hardly seemed an intrusion. And then,
suddenly, taking him quite at unawares, a firm step resounded upon the
hard, smooth conglomerate of the broad passage-way, and--"Here is Geof!"
his mother announced. "You would hardly know him, Colonel!"

The Colonel rose to his feet and turned toward the door, guiltily
conscious that he had evaded the subject of Geof. As his eye fell upon
the lithe, vigorous figure coming toward him, he recognised the fact
that evasion was no longer possible. An instant later he had recognised
the young architect of Western proclivities whom he had taken such a
liking to an hour ago.

"So you are Geof!" the Colonel exclaimed. "I might have known it, too,
though I had quite forgotten that you were grown up."

"And you are Colonel Steele! Why, this is great! You used to be
first-rate to me when I was a little chap. Were those your daughters in
the gallery?"

"No, my nieces," said the Colonel, and his spirits went up like a cork.
He knew the Signora was great friends with her son, but she evidently
understood where to draw the line!

"And I may bring them to see you, Signora?"

"The sooner the better. Why not this afternoon? We can have tea early
and get a couple of hours on the lagoon in the pretty light. I'm afraid
you have an engagement, haven't you, Geof?"

"Oh, I don't mind throwing Kenwick over. He'll keep," and the young man
stepped to the other window and flung it open.

Geoffry Daymond went down to the door with his mother's old friend, but
he had the tact not to offer him a hand across the plank to the gondola;
an act of forbearance which was not lost upon the Colonel.

"Not a bit like his mother," the Colonel was saying to himself. "Not a
bit. Wonder if he takes after his father. The kind of man that would
stick in a woman's memory, I should say."

And then, just as the gondola was passing the house where the little
stone girls keep their uncomprehending outlook upon the world, a sharp
pang took him, followed by a strange--was it a disloyal?--sense of
relief, and he exclaimed, under his breath, "I never asked her!"



VI

A Festa


"You didn't tell us what a beauty Mrs. Daymond was, Uncle Dan," said
May, as they sat at dinner that evening.

They had a small table to themselves, close by one of the long glass
doors opening out into the garden. It was a warm evening, and sweet,
vagrant perfumes came straying in at the open door, and in the momentary
hush which sometimes falls upon the noisiest _table d'hôte_, pretty
plashing sounds could be heard in the Canal beyond the garden.

"Not a very easy thing to do," said Uncle Dan, setting down his glass of
claret, with a wry face. He felt sure that the wine had been kept on
ice. Ugh!

"Have you known her a long time?"

"Yes, Polly; since before you were born."

"What an age!" cried May. "And you never told us a word about her!"

"Fact is," Uncle Dan explained, "I haven't seen her more than once in
five or six years, and then only over here. You'll find people don't
want to hear about your travels."

Really quite an ingenious turn, the Colonel flattered himself,--to
account for the passion of a life-time as an incident of travel! He was
so exhilarated over this feat that he was emboldened to pursue the
subject. Besides, big Polly had not spoken, and he could not suffer any
tribute to the lady of his allegiance to go by default.

"What did you think of her, Polly?" he asked.

"I can only say," Pauline declared, with an earnestness of conviction
that was even more expressive than her sister's encomiums, "that if she
had not invited us girls to go in her gondola it would have spoiled the
afternoon."

"But the son is very nice; didn't you think so?" asked May, seized, in
her turn, with the spirit of investigation. "He didn't even seem
conceited, which clever people usually are."

"Yes, indeed! he is very nice; how did you like him, Uncle Dan?"

"Geof?" Uncle Dan repeated, rather absently; "How did I like Geof? Oh, I
should say he was turning out very well. But I thought you girls had the
best of it"; whence it may be gathered that Mrs. Daymond had not only
borrowed the two girls, but had offered her son as compensation to the
Colonel.

"How pretty the two gondolas will look going about together when we get
our new flags," said May. "It will be a regular little flotilla."

"Aren't you expecting a good deal of Mrs. Daymond?" Pauline demurred.

"Why of course we shall go about together. She said she hoped to see a
great deal of us while we were here."

The Colonel emptied his claret-glass, while a sense of warmth and
well-being stole through his veins, that made him think he must have
been mistaken about that ice.

"Are you going to fly the Stars and Stripes?" he asked. He had never
considered the prow of a gondola a very fitting situation for the flag
he had fought for,--but perhaps the Pollys knew best.

"No, indeed," said May. "We are going to have something ever so much
prettier than that."

"Ah, Polly! There's nothing prettier than the Stars and Stripes," the
Colonel protested.

"May means more original," said Pauline. "She has had one of her happy
thoughts."

"You see, Uncle Dan," May explained, "there are such a lot of national
flags on the gondolas, and it seems so stupid not to have something
different. So Mr. Daymond and I have concocted quite a new scheme,--or
rather the idea was mine and he is going to paint them. We are going to
have a sea-horse painted on red bunting, in tawny colors, golds and
browns; and Mr. Daymond thinks he shall make one for their gondola on a
dark blue ground. Shan't you feel proud to sail the Venetian lagoons
with a sea-horse at the mast-head?"

"Proud as a peacock! And the young man is going to paint it for you?"

"Yes; isn't that good of him? And shan't we look pretty?"

"Never saw the time you didn't," Uncle Dan was tempted to say. But he
flattered himself that he never spoiled his nieces, and so he remarked
instead, with his most crafty grimace: "No, you'll probably look like
frights"; which, if the girls had not been quite case-hardened against
his thinly disguised compliments, might have had just the disastrous
effect he wished to avoid.

Truth to tell, they were neither of them very susceptible to flattery,
for neither of them was in the least self-centred. Even May, who was far
from sharing her sister's mellow warmth of interest in other
people,--even May, with all the crudities and shortcomings of youth
still in the ascendant, was too much occupied with her rapidly acquired
views of the phenomena about her, to pay much attention to the perhaps
equally interesting phenomenon of her own personality. The impression
left upon the two girls by their half hour's talk with Geoffry Daymond
was characteristic of each. May approved of him because he had been
interested in her ideas; and Pauline liked him because he had been
interested in her sister.

Whatever the young man's impressions may have been, it may as well be
stated at once, that in the course of that tea-drinking he made up his
mind that his mother really had a right to expect him to stay with her
for the next week or two, and that he should tell Oliver Kenwick
to-morrow, that he would have to get somebody else for that tramp
through the Titian country. What did he care about the Titian country
anyway? Here was Titian himself here in Venice, and lots besides. He
would pitch into those flags to-morrow. That was really a very happy
thought of the talkative one. He wondered if the quiet one would say
more if she got a chance; she did not look stupid. And that reflection
had struck him as so preposterous, that he had almost interrupted her
sister in her expression of opinion on the subject of the famous bronze
chargers that seem always on the point of plunging down from the front
of San Marco into the Piazza, to the destruction of the babies and
pigeons there assembled, to ask: "Miss Beverly what do you like best in
Venice?"

"The gondola," said Pauline, after an instant's reflection--a little
pause which proved to be one of her idiosyncrasies.

"The gondola?" he repeated, doubtfully. "The gondola isn't very much by
itself."

"But the gondola never is by itself. It's the centre of everything. It's
all Venice and a living creature besides--something like a person's
heart. Of course I don't mean the gondolas on the souvenir spoons!" she
added, with the little ripple, that was so much prettier than a definite
smile. Decidedly, Miss Beverly was not stupid.

"You row, of course?" May had considered her question to be quite in
line with the conversation. "Is it very difficult?"

"Not after you get the knack. That is, the forward oar gets going after
a while. I rather think you would have to begin almost in long clothes
as these gondoliers do to get anything like their skill in really
handling the boat."

And now, in reply to Uncle Dan's artful substitute for a compliment, one
of the prospective frights remarked: "Mr. Daymond says they have a
lighter oar that he used to row with when he was a boy. He is going to
get it out for us to-morrow, and then we must all learn to row."

"I think I should prefer to learn by observation," Uncle Dan demurred,
as he pulled his stiff leg out from under the table. Upon which, dinner
being over, the girls went off in search of their wraps, while the
Colonel stepped out between the glass doors, and strolled down to the
bottom of the garden, where the water lapped the stone parapet.

The dusk had gathered and the stars were coming out. The water was
dotted with gondola-lights that twinkled here and there, like detached
will-o'-the wisps, the black hulls of the boats not being clearly
distinguishable in the shadow. Every gondola was out, excepting the few
unlucky ones that were detained for ferry service; for there was to be a
_festa_ this evening, and the _forestieri_,--by which pretty woodsy name
the tourist is designated in the most poetic of tongues,--could be
counted upon to pay fancy prices.

The Colonel, secure in his possession of Vittorio, took no part in the
bargaining that was going on at the hotel steps, a few yards away, and
all along the line of the garden wall. He was standing beside the iron
railing, pulling at a contemplative cigar, and listening, with
considerable relish, to the wrangling of the gondoliers, when he heard
a voice just under the wall, saying: "_Buona sera_, Signore! It's
Nanni."

[Illustration: "The gondola is the centre of everything;
it is Venice and a living creature besides"]

The Colonel had not observed that one of the shadowy barks had glided
close in under the wall at his feet.

"Why, Nanni!" he exclaimed; and reaching down over the railing he
clasped a strong brown hand.

The man was standing at the stern of the gondola, steadying the oar with
one hand. He had flung his hat to the floor of the boat, and as he stood
there, bare-headed, the garden lights shining full upon his upturned
face, he made a striking picture. His hair was absolutely black, and his
face was of the pure Italian type, very dark, and cast in noble lines.
About the mouth and eyes, a touch of austere melancholy was discernible,
even now, in the animation of the moment. He was like his brother, though
his face lacked the sunlit quality which was his brother's chief charm of
countenance. On the other hand, the intelligence of his brother's face
was here developed into something higher and more serious,--higher and
sadder, the Colonel thought, in the moment's pause that followed. He had
not seen this protégé of his for ten years, and the years had left their
impress upon him.

"Vittorio has met with a slight accident," Nanni was saying. "He has
twisted his wrist, and if he rows this evening it will get worse. Will
the Signore permit me to act as substitute?"

The Signore looked disturbed.

"I don't know, Nanni, how that would work," he said. "My nieces, you
know. I'm afraid they would find you out."

"No fear of that, Signore. I'm as good a gondolier as ever I was, and I
can hold my tongue."

The Colonel looked at him critically. To the initiated, there was a good
deal both in the man's speech and bearing to rouse suspicion. A subtle
difference that would hardly be defined as superiority; was it not
rather something contradictory, not quite homogeneous, and in so far
disadvantageous? The Colonel was not addicted to careful analysis of his
impressions, and he felt himself cornered.

"I hope you won't misunderstand me, Nanni," he said, apologetically.
"I'm immensely proud of you;--it isn't that. But,--well, it's not my
way to talk about things. I suppose it's crochety, but somehow, I like
to keep things separate, you know. If you talk about a thing it usually
spoils it."

It did not once occur to the Colonel that the man of education, and
presumably of some social standing, would feel any aversion to a
temporary relinquishment of these advantages. To the _padrone_, the
skilled physician who owed to him his education, was still, first and
foremost, the son of his old gondolier, in whom, when a bright boy of
fifteen, a week in hospital with a broken arm had aroused a consuming
ambition to be a doctor. The education, the profession, seemed to the
Colonel--perhaps because it was primarily due to him,--accidental and
extraneous. Fundamentally he was still the gondolier's son, the member
of a caste too imperative and enduring in character to yield to
circumstances.

And the really noteworthy feature of the situation was the fact that the
gondolier's son fully shared the view of the _padrone_. Once in Venice,
among his own people, Giovanni Scuro felt as thoroughly at home in the
character of gondolier, as if he had never learned the meaning of the
word science. Hence he could answer, with perfect sincerity: "Si,
Signore; I understand. But you may trust me. And you will go out with me
this evening?"

"Why, yes; I suppose we had better," said the Colonel, somewhat
reassured.

"And to-morrow, if Vittorio is not able to row? Of course that is as the
Signore wishes. Another gondolier can be had to-morrow for the asking;
but to-night, the prices are appalling. They have no consciences, these
men."

"We'll see how it works to-night. Ah! there are my nieces. We will meet
you at the door. And, by the way, Nanni, have you picked up any
English?"

"No, Signore; only French."

As the gondola came up to the landing the party stepped aboard as
quickly as might be, to clear the way for others who were waiting their
turn, and it occurred to Uncle Dan that the girls might, after all, not
notice the new man at the oar. But he had reckoned without May's
observant eyes. The moment the boat was free of the crowd, she turned
sharp about and looked at the _gondolier_.

"Why, Uncle Dan," she cried. "We've got a new man! Did you know it?"

"Yes; Vittorio has twisted his hand, and his brother has come to take
his place."

"His brother? Oh, yes; he does look like him. We were lucky to get him,
were we not?"

"What a pity Vittorio should have hurt his hand!" said Pauline. "I hope
it's nothing serious. He was such a nice man."

"No," said the Colonel, incautiously. "His brother says it's nothing
serious."

"But he can't know much about it," Pauline urged. "Don't you think he
ought to see a doctor?"

"I rather think he will, to-morrow, unless it's all right again."

"If it's a sprain he can't be too careful with it," she insisted.

"What is Italian for sprain?" asked May. "I want to tell the man to have
a doctor."

"I'm sure I don't know," said Uncle Dan, trembling for his guilty
secret. "I'll tell him."

"How can you tell him, if you don't know how?" May argued. Then, turning
abruptly, and glancing up into the intent, forward-looking face, just
visible in the uncertain lights of the Canal: "Hasn't your brother seen
a doctor?" she asked.

"Si, Signorina," Nanni replied, without an instant's hesitation.

"And what does he think is the trouble?"

"A slight sprain," said Nanni; "he hopes it is nothing serious!"

"That was very sensible of you," said May; "to send for a doctor at
once. There, Uncle Dan, now we know the Italian for sprain. I believe in
always trying to say everything!" in which startling statement the young
girl admitted more than she had intended.

They were just passing the Palazzo Darino, where a gondola lurked in the
shadow.

"We shall hardly see them in the crowd," Uncle Dan remarked. "What's
your idea, Nanni? Think you can keep us out of the jam?"

"Si, Signore; I know a place where they won't crowd us."

"What a funny name that is for a man," May exclaimed.

"It's short for Giovanni. I got in the way of calling him that when he
was a little shaver and used to row me about with his father."

The Canal was twinkling with gondola lights, and as they approached the
broad arch of the Rialto the crowd became greater, obliging them to
pause now and then, while the dip of multitudinous oars made itself
heard, a delicious undertone to the shouts and execrations of excited
gondoliers. Presently, however, they had cleared the bridge, and a few
strokes of the oar brought them into a quiet little haven formed by two
big boats moored alongside the fish-market. As they came to a stop they
could already hear the music floating round the great bend of the Canal.
The hulls of the two fishing-boats loomed tall and dark at either end of
the gondola, while the rays of a lamp in the arcade over yonder fell
athwart the yellow-brown sail of one of them, reefed loosely about the
mast. There were a good many people on the quay, but they were a quiet
gathering. The more aggressive members of the Venetian populace are
pretty sure to get afloat on such an occasion, and a dozen different
kinds of irresponsible craft were being propelled, with more or less
skill, and a distracting absence of etiquette, among the decorous
gondolas, whose long-suffering masters shouted themselves hoarse in
their efforts to enforce the conventional rules of the highway.

Presently one of the gondolas glided in alongside the Colonel's, and
almost before their respective occupants could recognise one another the
gunwales of the two boats had been securely lashed together.

"We're just in time," said Geoffry. "We could see the reflection of the
lights around the bend, when we were in midstream. Ah, there it comes!"

As he spoke, a brilliant, variegated light fell upon the mass of
gondolas a few rods up the Canal, and a moment later the huge structure
of red, white, and green lamps, came drifting down-stream. It
represented a great temple with dome-like roof topped by a crown of
lights, glittering against the dark background of the night. As it drew
nearer, the throng of boats in its path thinned a little, and broken
reflections of the gleaming lights danced between the gondolas, and
sparkled in the oar-drops.

"What do you think of the architecture of it?" May asked, in her fresh
young voice, that seemed to dissipate illusion, like a ray of plain
daylight let in upon a stage scene.

Daymond laughed.

"I don't perceive any," he said. "Do you?"

"Well, I don't know; I supposed it was meant for a building."

"Oh, no!" said Pauline. "It's meant for a dream. Don't wake us up, May!
See; they're stopping in front of the Ca' Doro."

The movement of the great barge had been so slow, that it had halted
almost unawares in front of the beautiful palace, and straightway a rosy
bengal light lit up the carvings of the fairy-like façade with a magical
effect. The band, lurking melodramatically under the gleaming arches of
the barge, struck up a prelude, and presently a soprano voice rose high
and strong above the wind and stringed instruments, ringing superbly out
across the water. The fantastic impression of the scene was so strong
that it seemed as if the visible brilliance of the shining lights had
entered into the voice itself, giving it a weird and uncanny splendour.
The vast floating audience listened, motionless and silent, until the
last note went out like a light suddenly extinguished. Then, after a
gust of hand-clapping had subsided, the glittering barge moved forward
once more, the dip of a hundred oars plashing softly in its wake.

When the mass of the attendant flotilla had passed the mouth of their
little haven, the two friendly gondolas glided out amid-stream, in time
to see the crown of light lowered within the dome, for the passage under
the bridge. The reflections played upon the face of the arch until the
massive granite seemed hardly more real than the fairy-like temple of
light itself; and then suddenly, the flickering colours vanished from
the face of the bridge, and were shining upon the broad under-span of
the arch. An instant later it was past and over, and May and Geoffry
were comparing impressions with great earnestness on her part and
undisguised relish on his.

"How pretty the light must be on the Virgin and the Angel on the other
side of the bridge," said Pauline.

"Yes," Mrs. Daymond answered; "I was thinking of that."

Then came a mysterious gliding of the two gondolas, Indian-file, down
dark, narrow canals, where were glimpses, through low passage-ways into
dimly lighted squares. On one of the bridges, as they passed beneath it,
a hollow footstep sounded, and as they looked back they could see a
cloaked figure leaning upon the stone parapet. Now and then a chance
gas-lamp cast upon the wall beside them the shadow of the gondolier's
swaying figure, vanishing then in the black water like a stealthy
suicide. Pauline looked round once or twice, involuntarily, to make sure
that the man was still there, and once May said: "Nanni, could we get
past if we were to meet any one?"

"Si, Signorina," the grave voice made answer; and Uncle Dan felt
agreeably confirmed in his impression that Nanni was to be trusted.

Nearly two hours later, the girls were awakened from their first sleep
by the soft plashing sound of myriad oars. In a moment they were
standing on the balcony in their pretty cashmere wrappers, leaning on
the cushions of the stone balustrade. On came the gleaming colours of
Italy, not a single light extinguished during the long, slow passage
down the Canal; nor did the floating escort seem diminished by so much
as a single boat.

A crimson bengal light was flushing the face of the Salute, as the
luminous apparition halted before it, and a burst of music rose from the
barge. Over yonder, beyond the long, low line of the Giudecca, a pensive
old moon was coming up, slow and mist-obscured, as if reluctant to rise
upon a world so well able to dispense with its light.

"The old moon always goes to your heart," said Pauline.

"Yes; but it will be young again in a week or two," May observed,
consolingly; and at that instant an emerald light struck full upon the
white façade of San Giorgio, and straightway the poor old moon was
consigned to the oblivion it clearly coveted.



VII

Gathering Poppies


"This is Vittorio's gondola, is it not, Nanni?" asked May, who had an
eye for details and had instantly identified the boat.

"Si, Signorina."

They had spent the morning sight-seeing, and now they were, according to
Uncle Dan, having their reward, coasting along the outer shore of the
Giudecca, in the heavenly afternoon light. The Colonel much preferred
the easy social conditions of the gondola to the restraint, not to say
chill, of church and chapel, where a man must not wear his hat nor speak
above a whisper.

May was sitting, as she liked to do, in the little gondola chair, whence
she commanded every point of the compass; a position which had the
further advantage of facilitating communication with the gondolier.

"Why don't you use your own gondola?" she persisted.

For an instant Uncle Dan's loyalty wavered, and he wondered whether
Polly were not perhaps a trifle forward for so young a girl. He had not
been struck by it before, and even now he would have challenged such a
heresy in another; but, really,--

"Because this is the better gondola," Nanni replied, in the grave,
impersonal tone which was in such marked contrast with his brother's
eager alacrity.

"I wish Vittorio would get well," May exclaimed, impatiently; "this man
isn't half as nice."

"Don't you think so?" Pauline queried. "He is a perfect gondolier."

"Yes; but he is so unapproachable. One could never get confidential with
him; one would never ask him about his wife and children, and think how
delighted Vittorio was to tell us about each individual _bambino_!"

"It would not be of much use to ask him," Uncle Dan interposed hastily.
"For he hasn't any."

"I have an idea he is poor," said Pauline. "Even poorer than the rest of
them. I wonder what is the reason."

"So do I," said May. "Nanni, is your gondola a very old one?"

"Si, Signorina; very old."

"What a pity! It must be very bad for you. Which is your ferry?"

"I don't belong to any."

"But I thought every gondolier belonged to a ferry."

There was no reply.

"Isn't that so?" May insisted.

"Si, Signorina, but I am no longer a gondolier."

"Why, what are you?"

At this juncture Uncle Dan felt it imperatively necessary to interpose
again.

"That's San Clemente," he observed, indicating an island half-a-mile
away, composed, apparently, of red brick and window-glass.

"How lovely!" May exclaimed; and the indiscriminating response betrayed
inattention.

"What are you?" she asked again.

"I do not live in Venice, Signorina; my home is in Milan."

"In Milan? What do you do there?"

"I am attached to a hospital."

There was something peculiarly provocative of curiosity in the laconic
replies of the man. May wondered whether his reticence was due to
modesty or to moroseness. Perhaps she could find out.

"What do you do at the hospital?" she asked.

For the first time his eyes met hers directly, as he said, with
something almost like a challenge in his voice: "I am one of its servants,
Signorina."

Yes, May thought, it was moroseness; he was unhappy, and no wonder.

"What a pity!" she cried, with very genuine compassion in her voice. "It
can't be half so nice as being a gondolier."

But Nanni was again intent upon his work, rowing with long, steady
strokes, his eyes fixed upon the course of the gondola.

"Do you like it as well?" she asked, with a quite inexplicable sense of
temerity. She felt herself on the verge of being overawed by the stately
reticence of this hospital servant.

"It is my work," said Nanni, in a gentler tone. "A man's work is his
life."

"But if you had a good gondola and a place at a _traghetto_, wouldn't
you rather come back to Venice?"

"No, Signorina; I love my work."

"Polly, you ought to have been a lawyer," Uncle Dan remarked, highly
amused at the insuccess of her catechising, which he by this time
perceived to be harmless.

They had turned in to one of the canals of the Giudecca, that great
crescent island whose curve follows the southern line of the city, as
the outer arc of a rainbow follows the inner. Not a breath stirred the
water of the canal, upon which theirs was the only moving craft. Moored
close to the low, brick coping of the quay, which bordered one side of
the _rio_, were two or three fishing-boats, their broad hulls black,
their rudder arms rudely carved and gaily decorated. Here, a gorgeous
red sail hung loose in the still air; there, a voluminous brown net,
bordered with rings and bobbers, was stretched between two stout masts,
drying in the sun. Curious great bulging baskets, dingy brown in colour
and shaped like giant sea-urchins, depended from the gunwales, half
immersed in water, the mortal remains of small, crab-like creatures
sticking to their sides. All this picturesqueness, and more besides, was
reflected in the placid water. On the one hand was the quay, with its
irregular row of houses done in delicious sun-baked colours, in front of
which women in sulphur shawls and children in variegated rags were
sunning themselves and passing the time of day. On the other side, a
tumble-down wall of brick, that once was red, rose out of the water in
such formless dilapidation that one could not tell where the reality
merged into the reflection; while masses of verdure from a hidden garden
tossed their heads above it, or tumbled over it as if enchanted to get a
glimpse of themselves in the dark, cool water below. A wooden bridge
spanned the canal, glassed perfectly in the still water, and somebody's
wash, hung out to dry at one end of the rustic railing, blended acceptably
in the quaint harmony of the picture.

Nanni had been rowing slowly, and just there, perceiving that the
attention of his passengers was arrested, he stayed his oar. A bird,
hidden somewhere among the foliage, in the garden, chose that moment for
making a melodious observation to his mate, while a somewhat timid and
tentative baby-voice from the quay lisped: "_Un soldino_," not with any
business intention but merely by way of practice. The whole thing was so
incredibly pretty that there was nothing to be said about it, and for a
number of seconds no one spoke.

Then May exclaimed: "I'm so afraid somebody will say something!" upon
which the others laughed, and instantly the oar was put in motion again,
the gondola gliding forward under the bridge and past other ruinous,
verdure-crowned walls.

"What a shame this man should not be a gondolier," May cried, returning
to the charge, with unabated interest. "It does seem as if we might
perhaps do something about it."

She glanced up at the grave face, half inclined to press the subject
further. The man was gazing straight over the prow of the gondola, not
more intent than his brother often was, yet the young girl felt abashed
and deterred from her purpose. If it were Vittorio, she told herself,
she might be sure that the dark features would break into a flashing
smile when she spoke to him. But this man could not be depended upon to
look pleased at any casual notice bestowed upon him. She wondered why;
she wondered why he was so different. Had he always been like that, or
was it his life of exile and servitude? Nothing could convince her that
he really liked his work in the hospital, far away from his beautiful
Venice. There was some mystery about it, and she hated to be baffled.

"Yes, I always like poking about in the Giudecca," Uncle Dan was saying.
"It's chock full of pretty bits, and then you keep coming out on the
lagoon again, and like as not there are marsh-birds or people wading
about after shell-fish. There's always something going on on the
lagoons."

"Why, I should have said that the lagoon was the quietest place in the
world," Pauline remarked.

"It is," Uncle Dan admitted. "That's why you are so sure to notice any
little thing that happens to be going on!"

Meanwhile the gondolier had unconsciously suited his action to their
word, and they had come out upon the lagoon again, and now they were
skirting the pretty green Giudecca shore, where scarlet poppies stood
bright and motionless in the still sunshine.

"Oh, I want some of those poppies," cried May. "Nanni, could we go
ashore and get some of those flowers? How do you call them?"

"They are _papaveri_, Signorina," he answered; "I will get you some."

"But I want to get them myself."

"That would not be possible, Signorina; it is difficult to land."

He rowed slowly for a few seconds more, and then he backed water and
brought the gondola in toward the shore which rose several feet above
the water and was formed of loose earth and stones. May, forced to admit
that she could not herself land, seated herself on the gondola steps
whence she could watch the proceedings. The gondola was creeping closer
and closer to the shore, sidling in, for it was only here and there that
the water was deep enough to carry the boat. Presently Nanni laid the
blade of the oar flat upon the grass and so drew the boat gently in.
Then, still keeping his hold upon the shore with the blade of the oar,
he laid the other end across the stern, and, assuring himself that the
balance was perfect, he found a foothold in the loose earth, and, with
one long step, gained the top of the embankment. The gondola gave
somewhat beneath his foot, and the stern rose as it righted itself, but
the oar-blade did not yield its curiously tenacious hold.

"How nice of him, not to tell us to sit still," May exclaimed. "One does
like to be treated like an intelligent being!"

She watched the tall figure moving here and there, stooping to pick
half-a-dozen blossoms, giving an occasional glance at the gondola
meanwhile, to make sure that all was well. Presently the figure
disappeared in the hollow.

"One feels quite abandoned," Pauline remarked. "What would become of us
if the boat were to glide off?"

"We could wade ashore," May suggested. "It doesn't appear to be more
than a foot deep anywhere."

"I rather think Nanni would have to do the wading," said Uncle Dan.

The tide was going out, slipping so quietly to the sea that here, at
this remote anchorage, the receding of the water was imperceptible. The
marsh had not yet begun to prick through the sinking tide, and as the
eye wandered across the wide, unbroken stretches of the lagoon, it
seemed like a vast sea of glass. The day was so clear and so still that
the distant spires of Malamocco and Poveglia were mirrored in the
lagoon. To the young eyes of the girls, the twin pictures, against their
respective backgrounds of sky and water, were as clear-cut as an etching
held in the hand.

"Are those real islands, Uncle Dan?" asked Pauline.

But before Uncle Dan could make a fitting rejoinder, May exclaimed: "Oh,
look at the poppies!" and all eyes were turned to the shore.

Nanni had suddenly appeared, close above them, a perfect glory of
scarlet poppies in his hand. The sun shone full upon them, till they
fairly blazed with colour against the background of his dark figure. He
dropped on one knee, reaching down to place the flowers in the
Signorina's outstretched hand, and as she looked up brightly to thank
him, the two figures, with their sharply contrasted colouring, made a
startlingly pretty picture in the exquisite setting of water and sky.

"_Lungo!_"

The voice rang out musically, as most sounds do, across the water, and,
turning, May saw another gondola coming up astern. The curve of the
shore had hidden it from view until that moment.

"Do stay just as you are for a minute," cried the same voice, descending
to English. "We are out after effects, and we want those poppies."

"Of course you do," said May, "but you can't have them."

"Yes, we can, if you'll only hold them in your hand and let us pilfer
with our brushes. You won't lose a single poppy and we shall have them
all."

"If you had any artistic sense you would rather have those tilting about
on the shore," said May; "but if you prefer an indiscriminate mass of
colour you are welcome."

Geoffry Daymond's companion meanwhile was paying his respects to Pauline
and the Colonel, who were old acquaintances.

"May, you have never met Mr. Kenwick, I think," said Pauline.

"Oh, yes, I have," May declared; "but it was ages ago and he never would
take any notice of me."

"Do let me make up for it now," Kenwick begged, rapidly setting his
palette, by way of elucidating his request.

"How long ago is ages ago?" asked Daymond.

"Four years ago last winter," was the unhesitating reply. "It was when I
was fifteen and Mr. Kenwick used to come to see my sisters."

"My memory does not go back as far as that," said Kenwick. "I'm a child
of the hour."

He was a man well on in the thirties, who looked as if he had lived
hard; and since there was nothing in his chosen calling to account for
such an impression, the observer was led to seek its origin in the realm
of speculation. He had, to be sure, painted several good pictures, but
that was ten years ago. Since then he had lived on his reputation,
materially reinforced by a not inconsiderable income. As Pauline watched
his face, it struck her that his smile, which she had always objected
to, had grown positively glittering in its intensity. Uncle Dan, for his
part, thought the young man seemed amusing, but he wished he had not
happened to be old Stephen Kenwick's grandson.

"Then we may have you?" Geoffry was asking.

"I thought it was the poppies you wanted," said May, suspiciously.

"It is! it is!" cried Kenwick with fervour.

"But you make such a pretty setting," Daymond explained; "your dress,
you know, and the general colour-scheme."

"What fun to be a colour-scheme," cried May. "Uncle Dan, do you think I
might be a colour-scheme?"

"I don't know that you can help it," was Uncle Dan's rejoinder, intended
to express a proper resignation, but betraying, quite unconsciously, an
appreciation of more than the pale blue gown as a background.

Then Nanni, having returned to his post, was directed to row out a
little from shore, and presently the two artists were at work, rapidly
sketching in the bright figure with the slim black prow for a foil, and
the silvery reaches of the lagoon beyond.

Uncle Dan was sitting in the chair where he could watch the faces of the
young men. There was something in Kenwick's manner that antagonised him;
it was, somehow, too appreciative.

"I make a condition," the Colonel exclaimed abruptly, in his voice of
martinet. "If there's a likeness the sketch is forfeited."

"I'm safe," Geoffry laughed. "I never got a likeness in my life."

"I will be as evasive as possible," said Kenwick, somewhat nettled; "but
it's rather late to impose conditions."

"Am I holding the poppies right?" asked May, after what seemed to her a
long interval of silence. "I'm afraid they will begin to droop pretty
soon."

"The poppies are all right," Geoffry assured her.

"Does that mean the rest of it isn't? I posed for the girls in a studio
once, and they said I did it very well."

"Girls usually pose well," Kenwick observed; upon which May concluded,
most illogically, that he was conceited.

Pauline, meanwhile, had not turned toward the other gondola which lay
astern of theirs. She was watching her sister and wishing she could
sketch. She thought, if she could, she would rather do her as she
received the poppies from the hands of the gondolier. She had one of her
prettiest looks then, and the little touch of action was more
characteristic. There was something conventional, and therefore not
quite natural in this passive pose; May was not in the habit of sitting
still to be looked at.

"Would you like to see, Miss Beverly?"

The other gondola had glided up close alongside, and Daymond held out
his sketch. Faithful to his bond, and to his professed disabilities, he
had scarcely hinted at the face, but the pose was charmingly successful,
and the scheme of colour was all he had promised. Bright as the poppies
were, and well as they were indicated, without being individualised, in
the sketchy handling, the really high light of the picture was caught in
the golden hair, which gleamed against the silvery blending of water
and sky, and was thrown into still brighter relief by the graceful black
prow curving beyond it, but a little off the line.

"It is lovely," said Pauline, as she handed it to May.

"How pretty!" cried May; and then, recovering her presence of mind: "I
don't see how you got such a good red."

Uncle Dan, meanwhile, was examining Kenwick's sketch.

"How the devil did you get that likeness?" he exclaimed, forgetting, for
an instant, the condition he had made.

"Then the thing is forfeited," Kenwick remarked.

"That's a fact," the Colonel answered, turning up on the artist a glance
of quick distrust. "What's to be done about it?"

"That is for you to say," Kenwick replied. "The sketch is yours."

The Colonel's face flushed. He had a very lively appreciation of a
graceful act, and he was really delighted with the picture.

"Why, bless my soul!" he cried; "that's a present worth having! Eh,
Polly?"

"Indeed it is!" Pauline agreed, cordially, taking the picture from her
uncle's hand and studying it attentively.

"All the same," she said, as they were rowing towards home, half-an-hour
later; "I should much rather have had Mr. Daymond's sketch. It is not a
likeness, yet there's twice as much of May in it."

"Do you think so?" May queried, doubtfully. "Seems to me he didn't give
me any nose."

"Oh, yes, he did; there was a little dot that did very well for a nose.
And, besides, there isn't very much of you in your nose."

"I wish you had told me that my hat was tipped up on one side," May
continued, reproachfully. She was examining Kenwick's sketch with much
interest.

"It would have spoiled it if it hadn't been; your hair wouldn't have
showed half as well."

"Perhaps not; and the hair does look pretty," May admitted. "Do you
remember how pretty Mamma's hair was, Uncle Dan?"

"Of course I do. It was prettier than yours," the Colonel declared,
cheerfully perjuring his soul in the cause of discipline.

"So I thought," said May. "There's always something better than ours. I
wonder how it would seem to have anything really superlative."

As the gondola came up to the steps of the _Venezia_, May turned, and
looking back at the gondolier, said: "The _papaveri_ are beautiful,
Nanni."

She was delighted with her acquisition of a new word, and still more so
with the flash of pleasure her thanks called forth.

"No, he is not morose," she assured herself, as she stood on the
balcony, a few minutes later, and watched the gondola gliding away in
the golden afternoon light. The man was rowing slowly, against the tide,
but presently the long, slim boat, with the long, slim figure at the
stern, rounded the bend of the Canal and vanished.



VIII

The Pulse of the Sea


By the end of another week the life in Venice had come to seem the only
life in the world, and even May admitted that there was something
mythical about wheels and tram-ways and such prosaic devices for getting
about on dry land. Both she and Pauline had acquired some little skill
with the forward oar, for, as Uncle Dan justly observed, now that they
sometimes succeeded in keeping the oar in the row-lock for twenty
consecutive strokes, they were really very little hindrance to the
progress of the boat! May declared that no person of a practical turn
would ever take naturally to so unpractical an arrangement as that
short-lipped makeshift, designed to eject an oar at the first stroke.
Geoffry Daymond agreed with her in this, as in most of her opinions. He
declared in confidence to his mother that her views must either be
accepted or flatly contradicted, for they possessed no atmosphere, and
they consequently afforded no debatable ground.

Kenwick, on the other hand, very rarely saw fit to agree with the
positive young person who looked so pretty when she was crossed, or with
any one else, for the matter of that. He told May that she would row
better if she were not so wool-gathering, merely for the pleasure of
hearing her scornful disclaimer; and when Pauline pointed out that she
was herself the wool-gatherer, although her oar was quite as tractable
as her sister's, he assured her that she was as much a child of the
fleeting hour as himself.

It was Kenwick's method to talk to people about themselves, with a
judicious linking together of his own peculiarities and theirs. He
imagined that that sort of thing lent a piquancy to conversation. The
aim of Oliver Kenwick's life was to be effective; his art had suffered
from it, and even in social matters he sometimes had the misfortune to
overshoot the mark.

"Uncle Dan," Pauline had asked, one day, after an hour spent in
Kenwick's society, "what is the reason Mr. Kenwick makes so little
impression?"

"Because he doesn't tally," May put in.

"Well," said Uncle Dan, scowling perplexedly; "I don't quite make him
out. But we've always had a feeling in our family that some of the
Kenwicks were not quite our own kind";--an expression of opinion on
Uncle Dan's part which owed its careful moderation to the fact that he
had accepted and still treasured the poppy sketch. For there was one
thing that the Colonel deferred to even more than to his prejudices, and
that was his sense of obligation.

He therefore submitted, with a very good grace, to seeing a good deal of
the young man, and if it occasionally irked him to have Stephen Kenwick's
grandson about, he found his account in the spirit and ease with which
his two Pollys dealt with the situation.

Kenwick, of course, attached himself ostensibly to the Daymond party. He
seemed to bear Geof no grudge because of his defection in the matter of
the tramp among the Dolomites, which he himself, indeed, had appeared
ready enough to relinquish. Without any preconcerted plan it usually
happened that the two gondolas fell in with each other in the course of
the afternoon, an arrangement which was much facilitated by the
brilliant-hued banners floating at the respective prows.

"There's the flag-ship over by San Servolo," Geof would exclaim, seizing
an oar and giving immediate chase; or they would cruise about in an
aimless way until Kenwick dropped the remark that the Colonel had said
something about a trip to Murano that day.

The casual nature of Kenwick's allusions to the Colonel's party afforded
Geof no little amusement. His pleasure in Oliver's society had always
partaken somewhat of the admiring sentiment a plain man entertains for a
clever comedian. Being himself incapable of dissimulation, even in a
good cause, he was the more disposed to condone any harmless exercise of
a gift which he could never hope to acquire.

"I'm afraid they won't catch up with us any more, now that we have two
oars," said May, one afternoon, as the red banner sped swiftly past the
Riva, bound for the Porto del Lido. The day was bright and warm, and the
pretty linen awning with its crimson lining was spread above their
heads, somewhat obstructing their view. "I wish I could see whether they
were coming," she added, with outspoken solicitude. "It's so much more
fun to be a flotilla!"

"I think they will find us," said Pauline, smiling to herself, as if she
had pleasant thoughts. She would trust Geoffry Daymond to overtake them.
Pauline was no matchmaker, but, as she told herself, it was the sort of
thing that was always happening in the family, and Geof's liking for May
was as obvious as it was natural.

"Do you think, Vittorio, that we can really go out on the Adriatic?" May
asked.

Vittorio had been at the forward oar for a day or two, and to-morrow his
brother was to be dismissed and he was to return to his post.

"Hardly out upon the Adriatic," he said, and, turning, he laid his oar
flat across between the two gunwales and balanced himself upon it in
order to look under the flaps of the awning into the face of the
Signorina. Vittorio was of a pre-eminently social disposition, and he
liked to be in visible touch with his listeners. It was indeed
refreshing to see his handsome face and brilliant smile once more. It
quite flashed in upon them, being in full sunshine, as they looked out
upon it from their shady covert.

"The new break-water runs out a very long distance into the open sea on
either side," he explained; "and we shall hardly get to the end of it.
But we can see over it, and there will be the bright sails such as the
Signorina likes."

"How nice he is!" said May; "Now the other one would have said: 'No,
Signorina,' and that would have been the end of it."

Yet, even as she spoke, a quick compunction seized her. She had never
been able to rid her mind of a disquieting conviction that all was not
well with this grave, taciturn being, whose personality was not less
haunting than his bearing was unobtrusive. She did not remember that she
had ever before felt so much concern for an indifferent person, and,
being of an active temperament, she could not be content with a passive
solicitude. It seemed to her that something must be done about it, and
that it devolved upon her to solve the problem. Perhaps if she were to
offer to give the man a gondola he would admit that he was miserable in
that dreary hospital, and that he longed for the free life of the
lagoons. The project appealed, indeed, so strongly, both to her
imagination and to her judgment, that she had already made a mental
readjustment of her finances to that end. There was a certain white silk
trimmed with pale green _miroir_ velvet that she had once dreamed of,
which had somehow transformed itself in her mind into a slim black bark,
fitted out in the most approved style with cushions and sea-horses, and
tufted cords.

"I ought to be willing to dance in my tennis dress the rest of my days,"
she told herself; "for the sake of changing the whole course of a poor
man's life!"

"_Lungo!_"

The familiar call took her quite by surprise, and looking out from under
the awning, she espied the Daymond sea-horse on its blue ground, already
close upon them. Geof was at the oar and Kenwick was sitting beside Mrs.
Daymond.

"What do you say to our making an exchange of prisoners, Colonel
Steele?" asked Mrs. Daymond. "You shall have one of my young men if you
will give me one of your girls."

"Oh, may I come to you?" Pauline begged, mindful of her little
air-castle;--for the Colonel always managed, when he could, to get
Geoffry into his own boat, and the young man was already engaged in an
animated conversation with her sister.

"Do come," said Mrs. Daymond. "And Mr. Kenwick, I shall have to give you
up, for I can't spare an oar."

"Doesn't Mr. Kenwick row?" asked May, lifting a pair of satirical
eye-brows.

"Not for other people," Kenwick laughed. "I keep my strength for
paddling my own canoe." And, having seen Pauline safely established
beside Mrs. Daymond, he stepped into the Colonel's boat, quite
unconscious of the scarcity of encouragement he had received.

The Colonel welcomed him the more hospitably perhaps, for a
consciousness of having been somewhat remiss at the outset. He need have
had no misgivings, however, for Kenwick was so happily constituted as to
consider a slight to himself quite inconceivable.

"It was very sweet of you to come to us," said Mrs. Daymond, as the
gondolas glided away from each other. "We particularly wanted you this
afternoon."

"I am glad of that," said Pauline, with one of her still smiles that
seemed to give out as much warmth as brightness.

They had passed the island of Santa Elena, and were upon the broad path
of the sea-going vessels, which was deserted to-day, save for one yellow
sail, yet a long way off, that stood out in full sunshine against the
quiet northern sky. The tide was coming in, though not yet strongly, and
they were avoiding the current by keeping in toward the shore of the
Lido.

Geof was rowing, with power and precision, as his habit was. It struck
Pauline that he would have been a capital gondolier; and then she
remembered that when he got her Uncle Dan talking about the war the other
day,--a feat, by the way, which few succeeded in accomplishing,--she had
thought to herself, what a superb soldier he would have made. Presently
her eye wandered from the rhythmically swaying figure at the oar to the
wide reaches of the seaward path, where the yellow sail showed, clear
and remote as a golden bugle-note, its reflection dropping like an echo,
far, far down into the depths. The other gondola had fallen back a few
lengths, as was apt to be the case.

"Did you ever wonder why your men give us the right of way?" Mrs.
Daymond asked. Her voice fell in so naturally with the dip of the oars
and the lapping of the tide against the prow, that Pauline suddenly
became aware of those pleasant sounds, which had escaped her notice till
then.

"I should suppose of course your gondola ought to go first," she
answered.

"Oh, no," Mrs. Daymond laughed; "it is not out of deference to me. It is
only because Pietro is an old man, and they don't like to hurry him.
Isn't that a pretty trait?"

"Yes, indeed! Is Pietro very old?"

"He is sixty-four. He rows as well as ever, only he hasn't quite the
endurance he used to have. He was my husband's gondolier."

"And you have had him all these years?"

"Yes; since before Geof was born. Geof is twenty-nine," she added
thoughtfully; "just the age of his father when we first met. He is like
his father, only happier."

"Happier?" Pauline repeated, wonderingly.

"Yes; my husband had peculiar sorrows."

They were close upon the bright sail now, and they found that it was
striped with red and tipped with purple. The slight breeze had dropped
and the sail hung loose, glowing in the sunshine as the boat floated
homeward with the tide. Two men lay asleep in the shadow of the sail,
and the man at the rudder had let his pipe go out. As the gondola came
alongside the boat, a small yellow dog sprang up and barked sharply at
them, his body, from tip to tail, violently agitated with the whirr of
the internal machinery. The helmsman, thus roused, pulled out a match
and lighted his pipe; the sunshine was so bright that the light of the
match was obliterated. Mrs. Daymond and Pauline watched the little drama
rather absently.

"There are more sails," Geof remarked, nodding his head toward the mouth
of the port, where brilliant bits of colour hovered like butterflies in
the sun. Pauline did not say how pretty they were, but Geof, stooping to
look under the awning into her face, did not feel that she was
unresponsive. He had discovered before this that she had other means of
expression than audible speech.

They had come about the end of the Lido, and were following the line of
the break-water, and presently Mrs. Daymond broke the silence:

"My husband was a Southern Unionist," she said. "The war was an
inevitable tragedy to him."

Pauline felt instinctively that it was not often that Mrs. Daymond spoke
in this way of her husband to one who had not known him. She listened
with a sense of being singled out for a great honour.

"He would have given his life for his country," Mrs. Daymond was saying:
"He would have given his life for the Union,--but he was bound hand and
foot, and he came away."

They were far, far out now, still rowing toward the open sea. As Mrs.
Daymond paused, they could hear the voice of the Colonel, speaking to
Vittorio, in his peculiar Italian, only a shade less English than his
own tongue.

"And your husband came to Venice?"

"Yes; it was here that we met. He had been gathering material in many
places for a history of Venice, and he had come; here to write. We spent
three years here, summer and winter. He was fond of rough weather, and
we get plenty of that here. And he was fond of work."

She paused again, watching the measured stroke of her son's oar.

"One summer we went into the Tyrol for a few weeks, and while we were
away there was a fire, and all my husband's notes and manuscripts were
burnt."

"Burnt?" Pauline repeated, with a catch of consternation in her voice.

There was not a trace of bitterness in the speaker's face; on the
contrary, its usual clear serenity seemed touched to something higher
and deeper.

"Then it was," she said, "that my husband had his great opportunity. He
began his work again from the beginning. His courage did not flag for a
single instant."

"He was a brave soldier after all," said Pauline.

"Yes; and he fell on the field. There was a terrible epidemic of fever,
and he went about among the people doing them inestimable service in
many ways. I could not go with him because of Geof, and,--I saw the end
from the beginning. As I was saying, Pietro used to row us as long ago
as that. He has carried Geof in his arms many a time. Ah! Now we feel
the swell!"

As she spoke, the long, slow roll of the sea lifted their light bark
like a piece of drift-wood upon its sweeping crest, letting it sink
again in a strange and solemn rhythm. The actual rise and fall of the
water was so slight that it was scarcely apparent to the eye; yet it had
the reach and significance of an elemental force, and the gondola rose
and sank with a certain tremor, foreign to its usual graceful motion.

"Perhaps we had better turn back, Geof," said Mrs. Daymond.

"Very well; but not until Miss Beverly has seen the sails outside."

Pauline went forward and stood upon the upper step, steadying herself by
the oarsman's proffered shoulder. The motion seemed stronger, now that
she was on her feet.

"Hold harder," said Geof; "you won't enjoy it if you don't feel safe.
There! That's right."

Over the line of the jetty was the deep blue Adriatic, sweeping to the
horizon, its nearer reaches dotted with brilliant sails, shining in
every shade of red and yellow and ruddy brown. The long, outer shore of
the Lido, stretching far away to the tower of Malamocco, was edged with
white, as the gentle curve of the waves broke with a toss of spray upon
the sand.

"You like it?" Geof inquired, looking up into her face.

"It's as pretty as a tune," she said. "A tune with a lot of harmony to
make it really sing. Do you know what I mean?"

"Perfectly," he answered.

Then, as she stepped down and went back to her seat: "I'm going home as
passenger," he announced. "We shall have the tide with us and Pietro
won't need my help."

"That's right," said Mrs. Daymond. "We want you over here."

The sun had got low enough to shine in under the flaps of the awning,
and Geof lifted the canvas from its iron rods, and handed it over to
Pietro, who stowed it away, rods and all, in the stern of the gondola.
The world seemed to open up immensely bright and big, and the sky struck
them with the force of a revelation.

"There, I call this grand!" Geof cried, taking possession of the chair.
"I've been feeling like an outcast or a galley-slave, or some such
unlucky wretch, labouring away at the oar, with you two having the pick
of everything inside."

"You seemed depressed!" his mother said, with amused appreciation of his
lament.

They had turned toward home, and were just coming up with the Colonel's
gondola. The men were resting on their oars, while the passengers stood
up to survey the view beyond the jetty.

"You didn't come out far enough to get the swell," said Pauline.

"Yes, we did," May answered. "But we didn't like it; so we came back."

"Miss May was pretty badly frightened," Kenwick observed, with his most
brilliant smile.

"Nonsense!" cried May; "I was no more frightened than anybody else! But
I didn't like it. It felt so horribly big, and made us seem so little."

"And you were perfectly right, Polly," said Uncle Dan, placing his hand
upon the small, gloveless one that lay on his arm. "The sea is no place
for a gondola. I am sure Mrs. Daymond agrees with us."

"I think we both sympathize with May," she answered, glancing with
interest at the charming young face, which was not quite clear of a
certain puzzled disturbance.

Half-an-hour later they rounded the end of the Lido and came in full
sight of the city, its domes and towers grouping themselves in ever
changing perspective against the western sky. They overtook two or three
of the brilliant sails they had passed on their outward way, still
drifting city-ward with the tide. The men had taken to their oars and
were helping the boats along.

As they drew near the poor, denuded island of Santa Elena, where only
the vine-grown Abbey remains, of all its ancient loveliness, a cascade
of lark-notes came pouring down from the sky. They strained their eyes
to catch a glimpse of the birds, lost to sight in the dazzling ether,
and as they looked, one tiny creature, with wings outspread, came
singing down to earth.

The gondolas were nearing home, when Geof asked abruptly: "How did you
like it, Miss Beverly,--being caught in the ocean swell?"

"I agree with May that it was rather solemn and awful," she answered;
and then, with a slightly deepening colour: "but--I liked it."



IX

By-ways of Venice


"I say, Geof; isn't that Colonel Steele's gondola over there?"

"Why, yes!" Geof cried, with mock surprise; "how clever of you to see
it! And, I say, Oliver, don't you think that looks a little like the
tower of San Giorgio? Red, you know; rather marked, eh?"

The two young men were coming home from an early sketching-bout, as was
evident from a glance at the gondola, which was distinctly in undress.
Old Pietro knew better than to carry his best cushions and brasses on
such occasions; nor did he display the long, black broadcloth,--the
_strassino_--which gives such distinction to a gondola, falling in ample
folds from the carved back of the seat, and hiding the rougher finish of
the stern. Under the awning, on the very rusty and dilapidated
cushions, sat Kenwick, and beside him, face up, was an oil-sketch of a
half-grown boy, sitting at the prow of a fishing-boat, dangling his bare
brown legs over the water, which gave back a broken reflection of the
bony members. A red sail, standing out in full sunshine, furnished the
background to the figure, but somehow, the interest centred in the thin
legs, which the boy himself was regarding with studious approval. The
legs were so extremely well drawn that one did not wonder at their
owner's satisfaction in them.

"Pity you can't paint as well as you can chaff," the artist observed,
glancing from his own clever sketch to his friend's block, which was
leaning, face inward, against the side of the boat.

Geof was lolling on the steps, his legs somewhat entangled among the
easels, paint-boxes, and the like that cumbered the floor of the boat,
one arm resting on the deck of the prow. Like many athletic men, he had
a gift for looking outrageously lazy. At Kenwick's retort, he turned
from the contemplation of San Giorgio, knocked the ashes out of his
pipe, and folding his hands behind his head, bestowed an amiable grin
upon his astute friend. He wondered just why Kenwick found it worth
while to dissemble.

"The best thing _you_ ever did was that poppy sketch," he remarked,
regarding his companion with half-closed, indolent eyes. "But then, you
haven't often the wit to choose such a good subject. I wish you were not
so confoundedly afraid of doing anything pretty."

"My dear fellow," Kenwick retorted, "you may be a very decent architect,
but I'll be hanged if you have the first inkling of what art means."

From which interchange of amenities, the average listener might not have
inferred, what was nevertheless true, that the two men had a high
opinion of each other's talents. Happily, there was no one to be misled,
for Pietro, with all his advantages, had not yet mastered a word of
English. The only feature of the situation intelligible to him, was,
that Kenwick, too, discarded his pipe at this juncture, and the
gondolier was, accordingly, obliged to stow away his own half-finished
cigarette,--4th quality,--in the cavernous recesses of the stern. He
had been counting upon smoking it out before arriving at the Palazzo
Darino, though he had scented danger from the moment his eye fell upon
Vittorio's gondola. A gondolier, however, is early schooled to study any
whim rather than his own, and presently Pietro observed, rather than
inquired: "To San Giorgio, Signore?"

"_Sicuro!_"

The red banner was hanging limp in the lee of the island, the prow of
the boat being tied to a ring in the masonry, while Vittorio sat at the
forward end, holding her off, lest a passing steamboat or outward bound
coaster should drive her against the wall. Under the awning was a
glimpse of light draperies, and, as Pietro's gondola drew near, the
young men could hear a fresh, girlish voice reading aloud.

"We're not in visiting trim," Geof called, gathering himself together,
as they came up; "but we must know what you are improving your minds
upon."

"We are reading Ruskin," May replied, in her most edifying tone of
voice.

"Oh, _St. Mark's Rest_," said Kenwick. "You're getting enlightened about
the pillars."

"It's very interesting," Pauline declared. "You know he tells us to have
our gondola moored over here, and read what he has to say. Doesn't
everybody do it?"

"Well, I don't think you'll ever find San Giorgio fringed with
gondolas," Kenwick mocked; "but I'm sure it shows a beautiful spirit in
those who do come. I recognize Miss May's docility."

"You are quite right," said May, with dignity. "It was I who proposed
it. Do you read Ruskin, Mr. Daymond?"

"Of course I do. One would be lost without him, here in Venice."

"We almost got lost with him the other day," she rejoined. "We poked
about in the rain in search of a San Giorgio on the wall of a house, who
was described as 'vigorous in disciplined career of accustomed conquest.'
We found the right bridge, with an unpronounceable name, and we turned
and looked back, just as we were bid, and never a San Giorgio did we
find. Imagine our disappointment when a shop-keeper told us that San
Giorgio was _partito_!"

"He was probably _partito_ on his 'career of accustomed conquest,'"
Pauline observed. "Is that what you two artists have been about?"

"We have been making a couple of daubs and abusing each other," said
Geof.

"Yes," Kenwick declared; "Daymond spends his time washing in sails and
clouds and watery wastes, and won't take the trouble to draw a figure."

"Oh, well," said Daymond, philosophically, "I know that if I should ever
want to exhibit, which Heaven forbid! Kenwick could well afford to put
in the figures at ten francs the dozen. I don't suppose you mind being
interrupted," he added, tentatively.

"No, indeed," said May. "Our scene was in need of figures, too. Even
Uncle Dan failed us. He hates to be read to, and he wouldn't come and
moor."

"Besides," said Pauline; "he wanted to go and sit at Florian's and watch
the children feeding the pigeons. He says he shouldn't grow old if he
lived in Venice."

"He had better, then," said Daymond. "Venice is very becoming to old
things. Don't you want to come and see some of those Madonnas we were
telling you about, with parasols over their heads?"

"Good," May agreed, promptly giving Ruskin the go-by. "And why don't you
come in our gondola? You don't want all that clutter going about with
you."

"I'm afraid if we don't go home and brush up, we shall have the
appearance of a clutter in your boat," said Geof.

"Speak for yourself," Kenwick protested. He flattered himself that he
was as well dressed in painting rig as under any other circumstances;
and quite right he was, too. For Oliver Kenwick had no mannish contempt
for appearances. He could not have done justice to the ragged shirt and
begrimed legs of a model, if he had been wearing such a superannuated
coat as Geoffry Daymond elected to paint in. Yet, as the two men stepped
into Vittorio's gondola, it was he of the shabby apparel who seemed to
give character to the group, while Oliver Kenwick would have made very
little impression, if he had chosen to refrain from conversation. This
he rarely did, however, and he lost no time in engaging May's attention.

"It's a pity we haven't time this morning to row out to St. George in
the Seaweed," he said. "There's a Madonna there, on the angle of the
wall, that's worth seeing. When we do go, you will have to guess whom it
is like."

"Probably Pauline," May ventured. "One keeps seeing her in the Madonnas
and saints."

"No, it's not your sister," said Kenwick, with unmistakable meaning.

"You don't mean me!" May exclaimed. "No mortal artist could make a
Madonna of me!"

"This may not have been done by a mortal artist. At any rate nobody
knows who did it. But it's a lovely thing"; and Kenwick paused, with a
view to doing full justice to the implication.

"Have you never painted Pietro?" Pauline was asking, as she watched the
striking figure of the old gondolier, rowing homeward. He had rescued
his cigarette, which he was smoking, with a dandified air, as he made
leisurely progress across the basin. Pietro had been a handsome young
blade in his day, and there were moments when he recalled the fact.

"Oh, no; I'm not up to that kind of thing," Geof answered; "you know I
don't pretend to paint. My business is with bricks and mortar. It's only
when I'm loafing that I dabble in colours."

"Yet I liked your sketch of my sister, particularly."

"You don't mean it," Geof exclaimed; "why, that's worth knowing!"

He looked thoughtfully at the graceful young creature in question, once
more engaged in animated conversation. She was pretty,--no doubt of
it,--preposterously pretty! The colouring of face and head was delicious,
and there was nothing slip-shod about the modelling, either. All bright
and clear and significant. She made him think of a perfectly cut jewel.
It was rather odd that it should have been possible to hit off anything
so definite, so almost matter-of-fact, in a mere sketch.

"I suppose it was because I didn't try for too much," he said aloud.
"The sketch was only a hint."

As he turned his eyes from May's face to that of her sister, it was
hardly more than a glance he bestowed upon the latter. He was impressed
with the fact that it was impossible to subject the nevertheless
perfectly unconscious countenance, whose eyes met his so frankly, to the
candid scrutiny he had given her sister.

"I'm afraid I shouldn't succeed as well with you," he remarked.

"I wouldn't try, if I were you," Pauline laughed; "I can't get even a
photograph that my friends will accept. Have you any good portrait of
your mother?"

"No; Kenwick tried her two years ago, but it wasn't a go."

"Of course not."

"Why, of course not?"

"Yes; why, of course not?" Kenwick demanded. The sound of his name had
naturally attracted his attention, and, quite as naturally he was piqued
by what he heard.

Pauline hesitated a moment, not disconcerted, but reflecting.

"Perhaps only because you're not an old master," she said; "Mrs.
Daymond ought to have been painted three or four hundred years ago."

[Illustration: "Now and then they stopped at some
doorway opening upon the water,
where they landed"]

"And whom should you have chosen to do it?" Geoffry asked. It struck him
that this was quite his own view, only he had never thought it out before.

"Let me think," said Pauline. "Not any of the great Venetians. They were
too,--well, too gorgeous."

"Raphael?" May suggested.

"No, not Raphael. Ah! Now I know! Sodoma could have done it."

"That's true," said Geoffry. "It ought to have been Sodoma." Then, "I
believe you feel about my mother something as I do," he added, as May
and Kenwick entered upon a lively discussion of their views upon the
Sienese painter, in which they seemed able to discover nothing in common
beyond a great decision of opinion.

The gondola was making its way down narrow canals, whose placid water
found the loveliest Gothic windows and hanging balconies to reflect, and
under innumerable bridges, each more delectable than the last. Now and
then they stopped at some doorway opening upon the water, where they
landed, and, passing through a ware-room golden with heaps of polenta,
or dusky with bronzes and wrought iron, they came out into a court-yard
embellished by an exquisite old stone staircase, with quaint carved
balustrade and leisurely landings, where beauteous dames of by-gone
centuries may have paused, as they descended, decked in rich brocades
and costly jewels. Or again, an antique well-head, half-concealed by
tools and lumber, kept its legend in faithful bronze or marble. The
Madonnas, under their iron canopies looked down, serene and beneficent,
standing, here, above a little frequented court; there, over the gateway
of an old palace. There was one which Pauline was the first to espy, as
they approached it under the arch of a bridge. The figure was upon the
angle of a wall, glassed just where two canals met at her feet. Above
her head was a square canopy, over the edge of which delicate green
vines and tendrils waved, while in and out among them, tiny birds
fluttered and chirped.

[Illustration: "A court-yard embellished by an
exquisite old stone staircase"]

As Vittorio rested on his oar, Kenwick took pains to assure May that
there were no longer any lights burned before these Madonnas, and
Vittorio was called upon to account for the omission. While he eagerly
claimed that the Madonna at his ferry was never left without a light,
between sundown and sunrise;--_mai, mai!_--Pauline replied to a remark
that Geoffry had made an hour previous.

"The feeling one has about your mother," she said, "almost makes a
Catholic of one. You can see how natural it is for these poor fellows to
worship the Madonna, and how much better it must make them."

"It is humanizing," Geoffry admitted. "There's no doubt of it"; and
thereupon it struck him, for the first time, that there was a look of
his mother in Pauline Beverly's face. Perhaps that accounted for
something that had perplexed him of late.

[Illustration: "The Madonnas, under their iron canopies,
looked down, serene and beneficent"]



X

A Benediction


The thing that had perplexed Geoffry Daymond was nothing less
inexplicable than the persistency with which the face of Pauline Beverly
had come to insinuate itself into his thoughts. When in her society, to
be sure, he was not aware of regarding her with an exclusive interest.
Indeed it was, more particularly, May who amused and occupied him, as
often as Kenwick gave her the chance. The individuality of that
surprisingly pretty young person was so sharp-cut and incisive that it
fixed attention. It not infrequently happened that everybody present
desisted from conversation, merely for the pleasure of a placid
contemplation of her mental processes. These were simple, and to the
point, and usually played about visible objects. The vital matter with
May, in each and every experience, was to formulate a judgment and to
compare it with that of other people. If others differed from her, all
the better. Opposition is a sharpener of the wits; and she found Kenwick
invaluable in his character of universal sceptic.

No one but Uncle Dan ever really took her down, and that he did so
neatly, that she was never seriously disconcerted by it. Had it been
otherwise, Uncle Dan would have held his peace, for he prized the
exuberance and unconsciousness of her egotism, which he recognized as
the all too fleeting prerogative of youth, and he would not, for worlds,
have really checked it.

When she informed him that the heroic age was past, and that this was a
mercantile era, the old soldier, remembering the '60's, told her she had
better look up era in the dictionary. When she announced, with all the
zest of discovery, that Titian could not draw, it was Uncle Dan who
observed that he could paint pretty well, which was the main thing.

Yes; she caught the attention, as the most distinct sound, the most
obvious sight is pretty sure to do, when people are taking life easily,
and seeking only amusement, and she was so refreshingly unconscious
that one could look and listen one's fill, and no harm done.

Yet Geoffry Daymond discovered that when he was making believe paint
pictures, in the first freshness of early morning, or when he was
smoking his after-dinner cigar, in the lingering June twilight, the face
that interfered with the one occupation and lent charm to the other, was
not framed in golden hair, nor animated with the lively and bird-like
intelligence which he found so amusing. And not only was it Pauline
Beverly's face, with its softly blending colours, and its quiet,
indwelling light, that floated before his mental vision, but he found
that he remembered her words and even the tones of her voice, when the
gay and occasionally witty talk of the others had gone the way of mortal
breath. He somehow came to associate certain inflections of her voice
with the sweet sounds that make the undertone of Venetian life; the
plash of the oar, the cooing of doves about the Salute, the bells of
Murano, softened in the distance, the sound of the surf beating outside
the Lido of a still evening, when one floats far out on the lagoon, and
the familiar, every-day world seems farther away than those other
worlds, shining overhead. He speculated a good deal over this new
preoccupation, and more still over the sense of passive content that had
come to be associated with it.

For Geof was of an active temperament and possessed of but scant talent
for repose. This was his first real vacation in seven years, yet, in
spite of his good resolve to idle away a month in Venice for his
mother's sake, he had been on the point of finding an outlet for his
surplus energies in that tramp in the Cadore, when,--just what was it
that had deterred him from carrying out the plan? He believed, at the
time, that it was merely the prospect of better acquaintance with the
prettiest and brightest girl it had yet been vouchsafed him to meet. As
he had since heard May remark,--for having once adopted an opinion, she
was fond of testing it in more than one direction,--it is such a comfort
to get hold of anything superlative! He was not aware that the elder
sister, who certainly could not claim a single superlative quality, had
played any part at all in that first impression; yet the thought of her
had gradually come to be the hourly companion of his solitude. And now,
for the first time in his life he found himself luxuriating, not only in
solitude, but in idleness.

When he had been making a desultory sketch, away out toward Malamocco,
or in among the _vignoli_ in the northern lagoon, pausing perhaps, for a
good five minutes, between grassy banks, to listen to the whistle of the
blackbird in the hedge, he felt no imperative call to seize an oar and
double the rate of speed on the homeward way. On the contrary, he found
it a perfectly congenial occupation to lounge among the cushions of the
gondola and let Pietro row him home at his own leisurely rate, while the
two good comrades had a meditative smoke.

It was because Geof was aware that this state of things was abnormal,
that he found it perplexing, and because, much as he enjoyed the
experience itself, he did not relish the sense of having somewhat lost
his bearings, that he was glad to seize upon the clue which he had got
hold of there at the foot of the stone Madonna. Miss Beverly was like
his mother; that was all there was about it. Such a resemblance as that
would make any face linger agreeably in his thoughts.

It had got to be the middle of June, when parish processions are the
order of the day. They were rowing up the Grand Canal, one Sunday
afternoon, Geof and his mother, on their way to the _festa_, which was
timed for the latter part of the day. Pietro and the gondola were in
gala costume, snow-white as to Pietro, and, as to the gondola, the new
brussels carpet of dark blue, to match Pietro's sash and hat-ribbon and
the sea-horse banner floating at the bow. As they passed under the
Rialto, and swung round the great bend of the Canal, Geof observed, in
an unconsciously weighty tone: "Mother, I have made a discovery."

"And that is?"

"Miss Beverly looks like you."

At this simple statement of fact, the face of Geof's listener underwent
one of those subtle changes of expression which the Colonel, in an
inspired moment, had likened to the play of light upon the waters of the
lagoon. For, being gifted with intuition, unhampered by the more
laborious processes of the manly intellect, Mrs. Daymond instantly
perceived that Geof had confessed more than he was himself aware.

She did not reply at once; to her, too, appeared the face of Pauline
Beverly, as unlike her own, she thought, as well might be, and
infinitely more attractive to her for that. Yes, there was only one
thing that could possibly make them seem alike to Geof. She glanced at
the face beside her, so sound, so vigorous, so magnanimous, as it seemed
to her partial eyes. He was gazing straight ahead, with the direct look
that his mother liked. He did not seem impatient for an answer; he had
rather the appearance of being pleasantly absorbed in his own thoughts.
It had evidently never once occurred to him to consider, in this
connection, how often he had declared that he should never lose his
heart until he had found a girl who was like his mother.

For a moment she was tempted to remind him of it,--but only for a
moment. For Geof's mother was not the woman to take unfair advantage of
a defenceless position, even where her own son was concerned. So she
only said, after an interval of silence that Geof had scarcely noticed:
"I am glad you think us alike, for I have never met a young girl who was
as sympathetic to me as Pauline Beverly."

"Sympathetic! That's it; that hits her off exactly!" Geof declared; and
then, with an accession of spirits which rendered him suddenly
loquacious, "And I say, Mother!" he exclaimed, "what a jolly old boy the
Colonel is! I just wish you could have heard him fire up the other day,
when Kenwick got off one of his cynicisms at the expense of Abraham
Lincoln. Tell you what, the sparks flew! Oliver was up a tree like a
cat!--Hullo! There's the flag-ship!" he interrupted his flow of words to
announce, as they came in sight of San Geremia.

The procession, or the component parts of it, not yet reduced to order,
was just issuing from the church; priests and choristers in their gay
vestments, huge candles, flaring bravely in the face of the sun,
brilliant banners and gaudy images, all in a confused mass, and the
people crowding on the flagged _campo_ before the church. Vittorio's
gondola was disappearing down the broad Canareggio Canal, and Pietro
needed no bidding to follow after. The crowd of boats of every kind,
gondolas, sandolos, barchettas, batteias, and the score of floating
things that only your true Venetian knows by name, became so closely
packed in the more restricted limits of the Canareggio, that it was
impossible for Pietro to get near the sea-horse on the red ground,
floating so conspicuous, yet so aggravatingly unapproachable a few rods
ahead. He did succeed, however, in forcing a passage after it, and he
made his way to the three-arched bridge which spans the Canareggio, and
under which he passed to a good point of view. Here they were obliged to
tie to a totally uninteresting gondola, with the width of the closely
packed canal between their own and the Colonel's boat. They had been
carried somewhat farther along the canal than the others, but Pietro
managed to turn his long bark about so that his _padroni_ should face
the bridge, which brought Vittorio's gondola also in their line of
vision, and there were friendly wavings of hats and parasols between the
two.

Presently the procession drew near, and crossed the bridge, banners
waving, candles flaming, priests intoning. The band struck up, and the
voices of the priests were drowned in the songs of the choristers.

The quay, on either hand, was crowded with people in gala dress, and
from every window, the whole length of the canal, bright flags and
stuffs depended, shawls and variegated quilts, table-cloths, and rugs,
whatever would take on a festal air in the sunshine. Beautiful silken
banners, too, waved from lines that spanned the canal, high above the
heads of the floating populace, their painted Saints and Madonnas shot
luminously through by the level rays of the sun.

As the procession passed on down the quay, and the high priest drew
near, bearing the Host under its embroidered canopy, the throngs on the
_fondamenta_ dropped on their knees to catch the scattered blessing,
rising again, an instant later, one group after another, which gave to
the line of figures an undulating motion, as of a long, sinuous body,
coiling and uncoiling.

The pleasure of Vittorio's passengers was not a little heightened by the
proximity of Nanni's old gondola, which lay only one boat's width
removed from their own, and was filled to overflowing with the wives and
children of his two gondolier brothers. The Signorinas were by this time
on terms of intimacy with Vittorio's family, their chief pet among the
children being the smallest boy, always spoken of by his adoring parents
as the _piccolo Giovanni_. "Pickle Johnny," Uncle Dan called him, and,
being a specialist in names, the Colonel had no sooner invented one for
this small and rather obstreperous manikin, than he took him into his
particular favour.

The attention of the girls, meanwhile, was pretty evenly divided between
the moving show upon the quay and the quite as active contingent in
Nanni's gondola. Indeed there were about as many babies in the one as in
the other, for it is a pretty and childlike fancy of the Venetians to
dress up their children as saints and angels, and lead them, with a
becoming reverence, not all untouched by vanity, in the wake of the holy
men. Here were small Franciscans in their brown cowls, tiny St. Johns,
clad in sheepskins and armed with crosses, little queens of heaven in
trailing garments of blue tarleton, and toddling white angels, with
spangled wings and hair tightly crimped.

As the last of these heavenly apparitions disappeared down a dark alley,
"Pickle Johnny" set up a howl of disappointment, which his mother tried
in vain to suppress. In vain did his father scowl upon him over the
heads of his passengers in a semblance of terrible wrath, in vain did
his uncle produce a row-lock for his delectation; "Pickle Johnny"
mourned the loss of the last baby angel and would not be comforted.

May was looking on with an amusement that was not without relish, when,
chancing to glance at the harassed face of Nanni, the most conspicuous
victim of "Pickle Johnny's" ill-judged exhibition of feeling, she
experienced a sudden change of mood, and came instantly to the rescue.

"Let me take the _bambino_," she begged. "I can make him good."

The mother, a stout, comely woman in a plain black gown, demurred
decorously, but was glad enough to yield, and Nanni, taking the child in
his arms, stepped across the intervening gondola, to which his own was
tied, and deposited his wondering burden in the arms of the Signorina
who stood up to receive it. As he did so, that flash of grateful
recognition which he was so chary of, crossed his grave face. Then,
before "Pickle Johnny" could decide upon any definite line of action,
the Signorina made haste to divert his mind by surrendering to him the
cluster of silver trinkets which dangled from her belt. Pencil and
penknife, scent-bottle, glove-buttoner, and, best of all, a tiny mirror,
in which he viewed his still tearful countenance with undisguised
satisfaction.

Uncle Dan looked on indulgently, and Pietro's passengers, over the way,
found the scene worthy of attention, as did others of the floating
audience. The golden head, bent over the swarthy little cherub, was a
sight that would have attracted Oliver Kenwick's notice, for example,
even if he had had no personal interest in the chief actor. He was with
some New York friends, in a gondola three or four boat-lengths away, and
so absorbed was he in the little drama, that, when a remark was
addressed to him that called for a retort, his gift of repartee quite
failed him.

Presently the sound of wind instruments again made itself heard, and
again the procession emerged from the narrow by-ways where the blessing
had been plentifully strewn, and moved up the quay toward the
three-arched bridge. By this time the poor little saints and angels were
pretty tired and draggled. The small St. John, in a very bad temper, was
banging about him with his cross, while the queen of heaven, reduced to
tears of anguished fatigue, had been picked up in the strong arms of her
father, where she was on the point of dropping asleep. "Pickle Johnny,"
too, was getting fretful again, having exhausted the charms of
scent-bottle and toy looking-glass, and May was beginning to repent of
her bargain.

"Give him to me," said Pauline. "He is sleepy, poor little tot!"

She took him in her arms, and in thirty seconds the little tot was fast
asleep. Oliver Kenwick became once more available for social purposes.
There was nothing picturesque, nothing effective about this; it would
not have attracted attention, any more than the sight of a young mother,
holding her sleeping child.

The gondola lay with its stern toward the bridge, which the procession
was crossing, and Pauline sat facing the open lagoon, where the sunset
light already showed warm and mellow. She turned a bit in her seat, to
see the bright banners and the candle-flames cross the bridge, and
presently the high priest with his attendants had paused upon the
central arch. At the stroke of a bell the Host was lifted, and all the
populace fell upon their knees. Vittorio, in his snowy costume, knelt at
the stern of his boat, Nanni, darkly clad, inclined his head and bent
his knee, while the little children in his gondola dropped like a flock
of doves upon the floor, where they huddled together, heads down, and
eyes peering out. Old fishermen in their blue blouses, aged women,
stiff, and slow, managed somehow to get upon their knees. The Colonel
stood, hat in hand, facing the bridge, while May glanced, with bright
interest, from one picturesque figure to another, noting the fact, in
passing, that Geoffry Daymond's hat was lifted, and Oliver Kenwick's was
not.

Pauline sat with her head bent over the sleeping child. At the sound of
the third bell, which was the signal for all that multitude to cross
themselves and rise to their feet, she lifted the chubby hand, and made
the sign of the cross with it upon the little breast. She did it as
simply and naturally as if she had been the best Catholic of them all.

A moment later, "Pickle Johnny," with the blessing upon his drowsy
little person, had been handed back to his uncle, and Vittorio was
skillfully making his way out among the thronging craft toward the
lagoon, which was swimming in a golden mist.

Pietro rowed in the other direction, and there was a friendly exchange
of greetings between the passing gondolas.

"Did you see that?" Geoffry asked, as they came out upon the broad bosom
of the Grand Canal.

"Yes; I saw it, Geof," his mother answered; "I feel as if we had all
received the benediction."



XI

At Torcello


For all the questionings and probings which May Beverly applied to the
successive phenomena of the world about her, she had passed her twenty
years as light of heart and as free of real perplexities as any
fifteenth-century maiden in her turret chamber. Prosperous and sheltered
as her youth had been, she had, up to this time, apprehended scarcely
anything of the real drama of life.

Whether it was due to a seasonable and inevitable development, or to a
quickening of the imagination caused by the potent loveliness of Venice,
it was certainly true that the young girl was passing through a new and
curiously stimulating experience. Many things had been revealed to her
of late, which as yet she only half comprehended; for whereas she had
formerly had an eye only for details, she was now beginning to combine
and interpret; and having hitherto been chiefly occupied with the
surface, she was learning to divine, if not to penetrate, the depths. It
was doubtless due to this general rousing of the imagination, to which
she perhaps owed her unalterable conviction that Vittorio's brother had,
in some mysterious way, been singled out by misfortune, that the thought
of him had come to play so large a part in her consciousness.

It was quite true, as she declared, that neither she nor Pauline had
ever succeeded in attaining to the easy and spontaneous footing with him
which had been established with Vittorio from the very first. Vittorio
was both gay and communicative, and none the less a perfect servant for
that. He would row by the hour, without volunteering a remark, yet a
friendly word never failed to elicit the flashing smile and ready
response which conferred such grace upon him. A little diplomacy on the
part of the girls had effected an entrance to his house, and to his
confidence. They knew that he had married his Ninetta without a dowry
because "she pleased him," and that their eldest child had died of a
fever; that Constanza was the scholar of the family, and Giulia the
caretaker. They knew that the eldest boy was named for one of his
grandfathers, and the second for the other; that the third boy,
Vittorio, wanted to be a soldier, and that the _piccolo Giovanni_ was
going to be the best gondolier of them all. They knew why a light was
always burning, day and night, before the little image of the Madonna on
the stairs, and why the whole family had made a pious pilgrimage to the
church of San Antonio at Padua the previous year. They knew how severe
the father of Vittorio and Nanni had been to his boys; how he had, on
more than one occasion, pitched them overboard, straight into the canal,
yet how he was, nevertheless, "a just man!" They were acquainted with
Vittorio's harmlessly revolutionary views, and with his reasons for not
voting. They were familiar with his simple creed, to hope all things and
leave the rest to the Madonna. And of Nanni's experiences and beliefs
they knew nothing.

During the week when he had served them as gondolier he had never
volunteered a remark and he had given only the shortest possible
answers when addressed. Yet upon the mind of May, at least, his
personality had made a strong impression. His tall, poorly clad figure,
swaying at the oar, his sombre, almost tragic gaze, fixed straight
before him, his deep, grave voice, not more musical, but more perfectly
modulated than his brother's,--all went to form an enigma and an appeal.

Since his release from their service they had met him several times,
rowing quite by himself in his shabby old gondola. Once they had come
upon him out by St. George in the Seaweed where the loveliest of all the
parasol Madonnas keeps guard over the still lagoon. He could have had no
prosaic errand there. Was it because he loved the beauty of the scene,
the grace and poetry of the dear young mother with the child, keeping
their watch of centuries, above the old red wall where the lizards sun
themselves? Or had he gone there to say an _Ave_ as the pretty Catholic
custom is?

Another time they had encountered Nanni's boat when they were rowing out
towards San Clemente in the starlight. There were stars in the water as
in the sky, and the city was hidden behind the Giudecca, but the great
_campanile_, showing pale and mysterious in the lights of the Piazza,
sent its white shaft far down into the water of the lagoon on the hither
side of the dark Giudecca. As the shadowy gondola, with its tiny light,
came stealing over the star-strewn water, May recognized the solitary
oarsman. Something withheld her from commenting on the fact, and when, a
few seconds later, Vittorio exclaimed, "_Ecco, mio fratello!_" Uncle Dan
had remarked what quick eyes these fellows have, and that nobody else
could have recognized a man in the dark, like that. And May had said
nothing, and the fact that she had kept silence gave her a curious pang
of unwilling self-consciousness. So she began talking very fast of the
Bellini Madonnas in the church of the Redentore, whose great dome
towered black against the hovering reflection of the city lights, and of
how they were not Bellinis after all, and since experts could make such
bad blunders, whom were you to trust?

[Illustration: "Where the loveliest of all the parasol
Madonnas keeps guard over the
still lagoon"]

They had had no intercourse with Nanni since the day they had rowed out
to the Porto del Lido, and May had protested against the ocean swell.
She often thought of the sensation it had caused in her, and a curious
longing had come over her to feel once more that strange, disconcerting
thrill.

She wondered whether she should ever have a chance to speak to Nanni and
make him the offer of a gondola; she wondered if his face would flash
with pleasure and gratitude. Would he tell her why he had chosen exile
from the life and occupation he loved so well? Would he tell her
something about himself, give her the key to his strange melancholy and
reserve? She had very little hope of such a consummation, but she was
determined to make the attempt at the first opportunity.

And a few days after the Procession at the Canareggio, when he had so
gratefully handed "Pickle Johnny" over to her care, the opportunity
presented itself. For on that day the red and blue banners made the
long-anticipated trip to Torcello, that ancient cradle of Venice that
rocks on the bosom of the lagoon, miles away to the northward. An extra
oar was requisite for each gondola, and Nanni was drafted for the
occasion. Old Pietro brought with him a slender slip of a grandson, a
boy of sixteen, Angelo by name, who made up in skill and elasticity for
the robustness yet to come.

Kenwick was of the party, and in great spirits; but indeed there was not
one of them all who was not sensible of that agreeable exhilaration
which attends a propitious start. The morning was true Venetian, soft
and fair as a dream. Sweet scents were wafted over the water, and no one
thought to question whence they came. The men pulled with a will, for it
was a long trip, and all too soon they found themselves thridding their
way through low banked water-ways to the landing near the quaint old
church of Santa Fosca, their coming hailed with joy by a rapidly
recruited army of ragamuffins. Immediately upon landing, Vittorio and
Angelo were despatched to a neighbouring cottage in search of chairs and
table, and presently the party were established at their luncheon under
the beautiful colonnade of the Cathedral.

The ragamuffins, encouraged by a very ill-advised distribution of
coppers which had taken place at their first onslaught, were collecting
about the table with clamorous entreaties for _l'ultimo_. Uncle Dan had
begun it by his inability to resist the supplicating eyes of a beatific
midget who chewed the hem of her frock with the whitest of little teeth.
Kenwick, taking his cue from the Colonel, had mischievously carried out
the principle, by presenting a _soldo_ to each one of the assembly
having the slightest pretence to comeliness. Upon which the two Pollys,
unable to tolerate such cruel discrimination, had offered prompt
reparation to the feelings of the ugly ones. The consequence was, that
Vittorio and Angelo passed a lively half-hour in the rôle of sheep-dogs,
keeping the small and ravening wolves at bay while the meal was going
forward, dodging about after them among the pillars of the colonnade,
and conjuring them, with awful threats, to keep their distance, or else
they should receive _niente, niente!_

Happily the supply of food was double the legitimate demand, and while
the gondoliers returned the table and chairs the two young men amused
themselves and the rest of the company, by feeding the little beggars.
It was an engrossing sport for all concerned, and May, seeing her
opportunity, slipped away to the landing.

[Illustration: "The morning was truly Venetian, soft
and fair as a dream"]

She found the two gondolas moored a few rods down the _rio_, lying close
to the shore in the shadow of the alder bushes that leaned sociably over
the bank. Pietro was lying flat on the floor of his boat, fast asleep;
Nanni, whose gondola was the first she came to, was sitting in the bow
with a book in his hand, which he slipped into his pocket at the
approach of the Signorina. His hat was lying on the floor, and the
flickering shadows of the leaves on his face and figure made a peaceful
impression of summer and happy ease.

"Oh, Nanni; would you please hand me my sketch book?" May asked, as she
came up, and stood on the bank above him. He was already on his feet,
and he stooped for the book, which he handed to her with his curiously
inexpressive manner.

The young girl hesitated a moment, half-abashed by the stillness and the
solitude and the stately deference of this man whose life she was so
desirous of influencing. But she had too much spirit to retreat, and as
Nanni stood before her, grave and respectful, she said, in her carefully
correct, curiously unidiomatic Italian: "Nanni, I am not content to have
you go back to Milan. You were born to be a gondolier. It cannot be that
you do anything else as well, or that you like any other life, really.
Wait," she commanded, as he seemed about to interpose. "You must let me
finish. I want,--I want--" and a sudden confusion seized her; "I want to
make you a present of a gondola."

She paused and looked down upon him, with earnest, supplicating eyes.
She did so dearly long to gain her point; she was so sure, so touchingly
sure that she knew best,--and then, the face before her,--what was it
that it said? There was no grateful flash, only an increased dignity and
reserve.

"Signorina," he said, very gently, with a high-bred restraint of manner
that impressed her strangely, and increased her confusion, adding to it,
indeed, a sense of insufficiency and incompetence that she had never
before experienced: "Signorina,--you mistake me and my life. I am not at
liberty to say what would surely set your mind at rest, but,--I have no
wish to change my life, and,--I cannot accept your gift."

[Illustration: "Under the beautiful colonnade of the
Cathedral"]

She had thought to press the matter, to represent to him his own
short-sightedness, his misapprehension of his own best good; but she
found it impossible to urge her case. She felt herself confronted with a
will so much stronger than her own that she had not a word to say. She
only murmured: "I am very sorry about it," and was turning dejectedly
away, when Nanni's voice arrested her.

"Signorina," he cried, "Signorina, will you not forgive me?"

She turned, and there was a look of entreaty, a touch of real emotion in
his face which startled her.

"Why, Nanni," she said; "there is nothing to forgive. You know best."
She had not often said those three words in the easy self-confidence of
her youth. "You know best," she said. "It is I who should beg pardon for
thinking I knew."

She held out her hand to him, as naturally as she would have done to
Geoffry Daymond, and Nanni, stooping, lifted it to his lips.

The child did not know that it was the universal custom of his class;
that there was nothing else to be done when a gentlewoman extended her
hand to a gondolier. She only knew it was the first time in her life
that such a thing had happened to her, and she turned away in much
perturbation.

She found herself face to face with Geoffry Daymond, who was coming
along the bank in search of her.

"Ah, here you are," he cried gaily. "We thought we might have made a
mistake and fed you to the populace! The little brutes have eaten every
edible crumb we had, and seemed to want to try their appetites on the
table-cloth. Now we are all going up the tower of the cathedral to have
a look at things."

She wondered whether Daymond had seen that strange and rather dreadful
thing that had happened. Had she known him better, she would have been
sure that his burst of eloquence could have but one interpretation. He
had seen and wondered; two facts which must be suppressed.

As May and Geof came up the path, Kenwick, who was sitting in the stone
chair which is accredited to the ancient Attila, observed the look of
slowly subsiding emotion in the young girl's face, and a sudden pang
seized him, whether of friendly concern or of selfish annoyance, he
would have been the last to inquire. That they should have passed him
by, in his picturesque situation, without a word, thus cutting him off
from the delivery of a witticism which he had concocted for their
edification, was certainly a grievance, and as he rose to his feet,
unregarded, and followed after, it is perhaps not to be wondered at, if
the thought crossed his mind, that it might be worth while to cut Geof
out.



XII

A Promotion


Torcello offers a number of diversions besides that of camping under the
colonnade, or sitting in the chair of Attila, and May had soon found
relief from her momentary discomfiture, in the somewhat arduous exercise
of climbing to the top of the cathedral tower, and in readjusting her
mistaken notions as to the relative position of the various islands in
the northern lagoon. Venice, floating like a dream-city upon the brimming
tide, was not at all in the direction in which May had expected to find
it; indeed, so fixed was her idea of its proper whereabouts, that she was
within an ace of becoming argumentative on the subject. Her amusingly
irrational attitude gave rise to some lively sparring between herself
and Kenwick, who was at even more pains than usual to monopolise her
attention, both then and afterwards.

On their return to sea-level, it was he who pointed out to her each
detail of the antique mosaics and other mediæval quaintnesses of the
cathedral; it was he who gave her a rapid sketch of the history of the
island,--recently gleaned from guide-books;--and when, presently, the
whole party went for a stroll in a flower-strewn meadow, he took such
decided possession of her, that the two were allowed to fall back, and
discuss at their leisure one and another question of vital interest
which he brought forward.

In the intervals of conversation Kenwick, watching the straggling group
in front, found it curiously gratifying to observe that Daymond did not
seem to have much to say for himself. Kenwick had not by any means made
up his mind to cut Geof out, but the possibility of such a feat gave a
new zest to his intercourse with May. He was one of those men who, in
their admirations at least, unconsciously take their cue from others.
His judgments were not spontaneous, and the value he placed upon any
good thing was greatly enhanced by the knowledge that it was an object
of desire to other persons. Even in the pursuit of his art, he was
governed less by a spirit of praiseworthy emulation than by the
sentiment of rivalry.

Having, then, definitely conceived the idea, which had, indeed, been
hovering in his mind for some time, that Geoffry Daymond was seriously
interested in May Beverly, the situation had gained a piquancy which
Kenwick found extremely seductive. He was far too wedded to his career
of "free-lance,"--a title which he took no little pride in
appropriating,--to have regarded with equanimity that awkward
contingency which goes by the name of consequences, but he was fond of
playing with fire, as over self-confident people are apt to be. It must
also be admitted that he took a very real pleasure in the bright beauty
and alert intellect of the young student of life who carried her golden
head so high and free, and with so individual a grace.

That he could, if he would, gain an influence over this frankly
impressionable nature, he did not for a moment doubt. Indeed, he had
never doubted his ability to win the interest of any woman, and since
he had never been so ill-advised as to put his fortunes to the touch,
nothing had yet occurred to disturb his self-confidence.

To-day, as he sauntered beside May Beverly in the quiet green meadow, in
shadow for the moment, only because a cloud had floated across the
sun,--so recently, that the insects had not ceased to hum, and sweet
odours still told how herbs and flowers had been steeped in sunshine but
a moment since,--he experienced a relish of life such as had only
occasionally fallen to his share. And when, presently, the sun came out
in full force, inducing the four more taciturn strollers to retrace
their steps, Kenwick felt that blaze of light to be doubly inopportune.

A few minutes later the flotilla was again on its way, awnings spread,
and flags flying. A breeze had sprung up, and when they were free of the
Burano canals, they found the water delicately ruffled. It was the
sweetest, gayest little breeze, and in sheer exuberance of shallow
emotion, the tiny waves plashed about the prow.

May, who was sailing under the blue banner on this occasion, glanced
now and then across the water, at the figure of Nanni, rowing the
forward oar. She had not quite her usual vivacity, a fact which did not
escape the attention of Kenwick in the other boat, and one upon which he
was at liberty to put any interpretation he chose.

The tide was in their favour, and they were making such good speed that
the oarsmen petitioned for a detour among the canals of San Erasmus,
where are market-gardens and fields and hedges. It was here that Geof
had listened to the whistle of the blackbird only the other day, as his
boat lay moored to the bank, while he sketched the tiniest of little
chapels, nestling modestly in the sparse shade of two dark cypresses.
His mind recurred to that peaceful hour, as he chatted in desultory
fashion with May, but those quiet musings seemed very far away and
unreal in the clear, matter-of-fact atmosphere that that charming young
person created about her, even in her quieter moods. Still further to
deter him from sentimental reminiscences, two small curs rushed forward
on the left bank of the tranquil water pathway--barking vigorously, and
rousing to an equally noisy demonstration another pair of sentinels on
the opposite shore.

As the gondolas went their way, however, without evincing any intention
of trespassing on dry land, the dogs subsided, and in the sudden lull
that followed, other senses than that of hearing were quickened. May was
just rousing to wonder what it was that smelt so sweet, when Angelo,
unable to resist the occasion, turned, and touching his hat, remarked,
with laconic eloquence: "Strawberries"; a suggestion which was not to be
resisted.

They moored at a modest landing, in the shadow of an acacia tree, when
Geof and Angelo were promptly dispatched upon a foraging expedition, the
ambitious stripling, who had so boldly taken the initiative, beaming
broadly at the success of his venture. May stepped forward and took her
favourite seat on the gondola steps, and, as the other boat came up and
tied to theirs, Kenwick was brought face to face with her.

"Strawberries?" he repeated, in reply to the joyful announcement; "my
life is saved!" Then, in a low voice: "I have been simply starving ever
since we left Torcello," he averred.

"You have?" May exclaimed, with discouraging literalness. "I suppose it
is the breeze, or perhaps the walk in the meadows."

"Yes," Kenwick answered, and there was something so very like sincerity
in his tone, that it did convey a dim impression of what was almost a
genuine feeling; "it was the walk in the meadow!"

May laughed lightly, yet a trifle constrainedly, he pleased himself with
fancying. "You shall starve no more," she said, "for here are the
strawberries."

The two ambassadors were striding down a rural path, their hands laden
with small baskets of diminutive scarlet strawberries. At their heels
came three dogs and one cat, acting as vanguard to a woman and a young
girl, who carried blue china plates of most æsthetic homeliness. A small
and bashful boy was clinging to his mother's skirts, taking, perhaps,
his first impressions of the great world.

"_Scusi, Signorina!_"

It was Nanni, stepping across Pietro's gondola to get ashore. May looked
up and her eyes met those of the gondolier.

"_Prego_," she answered, and there was a gentle courtesy in her voice,
and a kindness in her eyes, that would have been grateful to any man. As
Nanni stepped ashore and joined his brother and old Pietro under the
trees, it may be that he blessed her for them. But he had betrayed no
pleasure, and once more a sense of the sadness of life stole like a
shadow across the young girl's spirit.

To divert her thoughts, and to have an excuse for turning her back on
Kenwick, she tried making friends with the bashful _bambino_, who had
seated himself upon the grassy bank and was gazing furtively at her
bright silk waist.

Kenwick took the little ruse kindly. He had noticed that she spoke to
Nanni in a subdued tone, and he flattered himself that he had the key to
her change of mood. He employed himself with handing plates about, while
Geof dispensed the strawberries.

It was a pretty and peaceful scene. Kenwick had stepped into Mrs.
Daymond's gondola, and was invited to take the seat beside her; Geof
stood on the shore talking with the men. Uncle Dan and Pauline, sitting
side by side, found their attention about equally divided between the
toothsome strawberries and the little drama going on between May and the
_bambino_.

May had shared her fruit with the child, and now she was amusing herself
with decorating his small, grimy toes with coppers. He was an
unsophisticated little beggar, and evidently had no intelligent interest
in the cool, round coins, which nevertheless tickled his brown toes
agreeably. He looked up and smiled, showing a row of tiny white teeth,
and with the movement all the coppers slid off into the grass.

The mother had been watching the little scene, and May had a comfortable
assurance that that wealth of _soldi_ would presently be restored to its
legitimate function in the scheme of things. She turned from her pretty
fooling, and Kenwick promptly remarked: "Are you aware that you have
sown the seeds of mendicancy in the soul of that innocent child?"

"Oh, no; those were nothing but coppers," she retorted brightly, "and I
have sown them in the grass."

They had spent half-an-hour at their picnicking, and now a new division
of the party was proposed, according to which the four young people
should row out a bit toward the Porto, leaving the elders, in Pietro's
gondola, to take the more direct way home. And so it came about that
presently the Colonel found himself, floating with the Signora down the
quiet _rio_ by which they had entered the _vignoli_. So elderly was the
aspect of the gondola with its three gray heads to one black one, that
the very dogs refrained from barking, and in the grateful hush, broken
only by the dip of the oar, and the not all unmelodious creak of
Pietro's heavy boots, the liquid note of the blackbird sounded sweet and
clear.

The reflection crossed the Colonel's mind that this was the first time,
in all these weeks, that he had been alone with the Signora. He
wondered, in a self-distrustful way, what would come of it. It was
certainly very sweet to him to have her there beside him, quite to
himself. He wondered whether it struck her that it was an intimate,
confidential sort of situation. He was sitting a little forward, as his
habit was, and as he glanced under the awning, at the pretty, rural bit
of country that bordered the canal, it was easy to include her face in
his survey from time to time.

They chatted for a while of this and that indifferent topic, but it was
clear that they were both preoccupied and they soon fell silent. The
Colonel indeed, was nervously sensible that fate was closing in about
him, and that he might, at any moment, be betrayed into a false step.
For, despite his practical, Yankee common-sense, the old soldier was
something of a fatalist, and in the one most critical relation of his
life, he had always felt himself subject to mysterious and irresistible
influences.

Presently, as they came out upon the sparkling waters of the lagoon, the
Signora spoke. There was something in her voice that caused the Colonel
to turn, at the first word, and as he looked into her face, he pleased
himself with noting a new animation, that seemed a direct reflex of the
light that played upon the waters. Had he not long ago discovered that
mystic kinship?

"Geof and I are very grateful to you," she was saying, "for bringing
those charming girls of yours to Venice."

"You like them!" he exclaimed. "I knew you would. Nice girls, both of
them. It has been a great thing for them, having you here, and Geof.
Geof's a capital fellow."

She turned upon her companion a questioning, yet on the whole a pretty
confident look. "Colonel Steele," she asked, "should you greatly mind if
one of your Pollys should find it in her heart to make my boy happy?"

"What's that?" the Colonel cried. "You don't mean?--Bless my soul, I
never thought of such a thing!"

"It seems the most natural thing in the world to me," she said. "And
yet,--supposing your Polly should fail us! I can't expect Geof to be as
irresistible to other people as he is to me." She smiled, as if she were
half in jest, yet there was real anxiety in her tone as she asked: "What
do you think about it, Colonel Steele?"

"Why; I'm sure I don't know. It's something of a shock,--that sort of
thing always is, you know. Young people do go into it so easily. Of
course Geof's a fine fellow. You mean the little one?"

"Of course," said Mrs. Daymond; for though Pauline was far from little,
she had not the height of her tall young sister.

"Of course, of course. Well, well! And you want to know what I think
about it? I think she would be a lucky girl. That would make her your
daughter, wouldn't it? Why, of course she'll say yes! Any girl would be
a fool who didn't, and Polly's no fool. I only wish you had another son
for the other one!"

"I'm afraid she won't take Geof for my sake," Mrs. Daymond said,
smiling, half sadly.

"Oh, yes, she will; I'm sure she will!" cried the Colonel. "But what I
don't understand is--Geof. To be taken with a child like Polly, when,--"
He turned sharp about, and looked into her face, and there was no
mistaking his meaning. It was almost as if he had spoken the words she
had so often heard from his lips.

A great tenderness and compunction swept over the Signora, and found
expression in her face. Her beautiful grey eyes met the impassioned
trouble of her old friend's gaze, with a gentle directness that in
itself went far toward disarming and tranquillising him.

"I sometimes think," she said, "that perhaps this is what all
our--trouble has meant, yours and mine."

There was something indescribably consoling in the community of sorrow
the words seemed to imply. He had never thought before, that his
life-long chagrin had awakened anything more than a momentary regret in
her mind, that it had been a sorrow to her as well.

They were rowing past the cypresses of San Michele, and the Colonel
lifted his hat and placed it on his knees, looking straight before him,
with the slightest possible working of the muscles of his face. The
voice he was listening to was sweet and low, the tender cadence of it
seemed to inform the words she used with a spirit not inherent in them.

"I think," she was saying, "that I should be perfectly happy if I could
know that the long misunderstanding that has caused us both so much
pain, had had a meaning as sweet and acceptable to you as it would be to
me."

The Colonel pulled out his pocket-handkerchief and wiped his forehead,
surreptitiously including his eyes in the process.

"I've been a brute," he muttered, in rather a husky voice, scowling
savagely into the crown of his hat, which he had lifted from his knees.
As if displeased with its appearance, he put it on his head, where he
planted it firmly.

She knew that she had all but won the day, and she ventured what she had
not ventured before. For it had never been her way to prate of an
impossible friendship; if she used the word she meant to honour it. And
to-day something told her that at last she held control of the
situation.

There was nothing in her voice to betray the intense exertion of will
that she was conscious of making; on the contrary, her words sounded
only wistful and entreating, as she said:

"What friends we should be!"

And because it was the first time she had made that appeal to him, and
because these weeks of pleasant, normal companionship had subtly and
surely changed their relation, the Colonel could meet her half-way, like
the gallant fellow he was.

"What friends we _shall_ be!" he cried, clasping the hand which she had
involuntarily lifted. "And we won't let it depend upon those youngsters
either!"

The gondola had entered one of the canals of the city, and presently
they passed under a bridge and came out in front of the square of San
Paolo and San Giovanni, where the superb statue of Coleoni on his
magnificent charger stands clear-cut against the sky.

"Glorious thing, that," the Colonel remarked, as he invariably did, as
often as his eye fell upon it.

"Yes," she replied; "it is the very apotheosis of success. And yet,--one
sometimes questions whether a perfectly successful man is as enviable as
he seems. What do you think about it, Colonel?"

"Signora," the Colonel answered, with a flash of feeling in his rugged
features that would have done credit to Vittorio's expressive face, "I
have had my promotion, and I envy no man!"



XIII

Illuminations


If Geoffry Daymond had known no more about Nanni than was known to May
herself, the little incident which had caused such perturbation in the
young girl's mind would not have made any special impression upon him.
The scene itself, indeed, might have lingered in his mind as one of
those charming surprises that lurk in the enchanted atmosphere of the
lagoons. The striking beauty of Nanni's countenance is the possession of
many an honest gondolier, nor would the glow of feeling which animated
the face, have been anything unprecedented in a man of his class. Old
Pietro himself, slumbering at that moment on the floor of his gondola,
often exhibited a startling power of facial expression, which fairly
transfigured his weather-worn features. No, in a simple gondolier both
beauty of face and brilliancy and depth of expression are quite in the
natural order. And if it is not often that one sees these advantages
heightened by so admirable a foil as was provided on this occasion, it
is simply because such vivid grace of the contrasting type is rare.

Geoffry's first sensation then, as he caught sight of the two figures,
was one of gratification to his artistic sense; and even when May
extended her hand, and Nanni, after the custom of the gondolier, raised
it to his lips, it did not at once strike the young man as other than
natural and fitting. In an instant, however, he recalled the fact, which
he had learned of Pietro a month previous, that this was no mere
gondolier, but a man of education and consequence in the world; a
circumstance which, undeniably, put a different face upon the matter. It
accounted too, perhaps, for the curiously appealing impression of the
man's personality. There was undoubtedly something pathetic in this son
of a line of gondoliers, reaching back farther than many a titled
family, this man with an innate love for the craft, a genuine passion
for the lagoons, placed in the artificial environment of modern
society, constrained to deal with the hard-and-fast exactions of modern
science. No wonder that there was that about him that excited the
imagination. Geof had himself felt it; his mother had spoken of it. Who
could know how powerful the appeal might be to one who had not the key
to the puzzle?

When, therefore, Geof came upon the little drama being enacted among the
alders at Torcello, with a grace and fervour which was for an instant,
but only for an instant captivating, he experienced a feeling of vague
dissatisfaction, which was much accentuated by the sight of the young
girl's evident emotion, as she turned and faced him unexpectedly.

He did a good deal of pondering in the course of that day and the next,
and, as he was quite unable to justify, or even to formulate his
anxieties, he wished that he might at least find out whether the truth
in regard to the gondolier were known to May. That might throw some
light upon the subject.

He was aware, to be sure, of the Colonel's studied secrecy in the
matter, but secrets are ticklish things at the best, and no stray hint
was likely to have been lost upon a girl of May's intelligence. He had
a notion that, if he could get a word with Nanni himself, it would be
easy to sound him on the point; a delusion that was destined to be early
dissipated.

On the second morning following the Torcello trip, Geof was swimming in
the Adriatic, far out beyond the line of bathers, shouting and
splashing; in the shallows. There, under a dazzling sky, with a strong
wind blowing, and whitecaps careering about, he came face to face with
the subject of his speculations. The incongruity of catechising a man of
his countenance was instantly apparent.

"_Buon giorno, Signore_," said Nanni, and Daymond found himself
returning the salutation with a courtesy that was little short of
deferential. The two men had met upon a common footing,--if the watery
deep may be said to furnish one,--and Geof had found himself at a
disadvantage.

The incident did not altogether allay his friendly solicitude; on the
contrary, he was abashed and confounded at this evidence of the power of
the Italian's personality; and yet, he was more definitely conscious
than he had hitherto been, of a certain racial nobility in the man
which commanded confidence.

The wind, that had been a sportive, if somewhat riotous breeze in the
morning, gained in force as the day went on. There were few gondolas out
in the afternoon, and Geof went about on foot. He walked the length of
the wind-swept Riva degli Schiavoni, and then he struck across the city,
by narrow alleys and picturesque, out-of-the-way squares, and looked in
at certain churches for which the guide-books recommend the afternoon
light. Toward the end of the day he found his way back to the Piazza.

The great square was in holiday guise, in honour of some guest of the
city. From the three famous flag-staffs in front of San Marco the
colours of Italy were floating, rolling and unrolling upon the breeze,
in gracefully undulating folds. Men were affixing additional gas-jets to
the great candelabra, making ready for the evening illumination.

Just as Geof arrived upon the scene, a boy, with a paper of corn in each
outstretched hand, came running down the length of the Piazza, followed
by a fluttering swarm of pigeons, hundreds of them on the wing, in hot
pursuit of the flying provender. The wings made a sound of multitudinous
flapping that was singularly agreeable to the ear. Geof watched their
laughing tormenter until he stopped for breath near the base of the
_campanile_, and, in an instant, the pigeons were alighting on his arms
and shoulders, and gathering in an eager, gurgling mass about his feet.
The corn fell in a golden shower among them, and great was the jostling
and gobbling and short was the duration of that golden shower.

Geof turned in at the open door of San Marco, and found his way to one
of his favourite haunts, a certain dimly sumptuous side-chapel, where a
hint of incense always hovers, and a whispered echo, as of long-past
_aves_ and _salves_, lingers on the air. Curious carvings are there, and
bits of gleaming gold and silver, and, between the pillars, enchanting
vistas open out into the transept, or down the mosaic-laid floor of the
nave, polished smooth by the feet of generations of worshippers.

As he tarried there, the familiar sense of passive content which he had
had of late stole upon him, and he was aware that a certain face and
voice were again present with him. Why, he wondered, since it was of
other things he had been thinking all day long,--why did that face and
voice come to him? Was it merely a habit of mind, a trick of thought
engendered by this idle, aimless Venetian life? Or was it a natural
association of pure and lovely impressions?

And there, in the rich gloom of the great basilica, traced out and
accentuated, as it were, by long bars of light that made a golden
pathway down from the high western windows, a light entered into his
mind, and he knew what his mother had divined long ago.

There was no shock of surprise in the discovery, only a deep, vitalising
satisfaction. It seemed as natural, as inevitable, that he should love
Pauline Beverly, as that he should love his life. He knew that he had
loved her from the hour of their first meeting; it seemed to him that he
had loved her all his life. He was glad that the realisation of it had
come to him here in the beautiful church where he had first seen her
face. Yet, as he stood looking down the marvellous perspectives of the
great sanctuary, only dimly seen in the veiled and brooding light, he
felt that the time was past for idle musings, that it behooved him to
bestir himself, to get out into the daylight and begin to live.

He walked down the nave, and out into the gay Piazza, where he was not
surprised to find that the aspect of things had changed. The flags were
still rising and falling on the breeze, unfolding their radiant colours
to the declining sun; the deep-throated bell of the _campanile_, which
has sounded so many a summons to great deeds, was solemnly tolling the
hour; a Franciscan brother stepped across the pavement, bent doubtless
upon an errand of mercy. The young man read a new suggestion in each of
these familiar sights and sounds. He turned and looked back at San
Marco, at the outline of its clustering domes, at its carvings and
mosaics, gleaming in full sunshine. In his exalted frame of mind, all
these things seemed translated into large and significant meanings;
patriotism, philanthropy, art,--his own art, architecture. He wondered
what fine thing it would be vouchsafed him to do, to win the girl he
loved.

Geoffry Daymond was by nature modest; the accident of worldly
prosperity, of personal success, had not changed that; but he was
equally by nature determined. Though he felt that something very
tremendous would be required of him before he could enter into his
kingdom, he never for an instant doubted that he should win. And so it
happened, that, as he walked away across the Piazza, his step rang
firmer and sharper than ever, and he held his head with the air of a man
not easily daunted.

The wind did not go down with the sun, and, when evening came, Geof felt
pretty sure that he should find Pauline in the Piazza. Accordingly, he
went there in search of her; yet when he came upon her, sitting with May
and the Colonel at a little round table in front of Florian's, he found
very little to say for himself, in response to her friendly greeting. He
joined them at their after-dinner coffee, but he said he had had his
smoke, and when, presently, May expressed a laudable desire to go and
see what the moon was about, he could do no less than offer to escort
her.

"Won't you come, Miss Beverly?" he asked, but there was a constraint in
his tone, which to Pauline's mind could have but one interpretation.

"Thank you, no," she said. "I will keep Uncle Dan company. We have not
finished our coffee yet."

As they walked away, Uncle Dan looked after the two comely figures, with
a newly acquired intelligence of observation. Presently he coughed
discreetly, and asked, with a great effort at being merely
conversational: "Did it ever strike you, Polly, that young Daymond was
getting--er--attentive?"

Pauline, too, had followed them with a look of affectionate goodwill,
which deepened to a very sweet and wistful smile, as she answered: "Yes,
Uncle Dan; I think he likes May. How could he help it?"

"Now that's odd," the Colonel exclaimed. "Do you know, I had never
thought of such a thing. It was the Signora that put it into my head."

"And you are glad, are you not, Uncle Dan? You would like to have it
happen?"

"Yes, yes; of course,--for his mother's sake."

Pauline was still watching May and her companion. They had walked on,
easily distinguishable in the crowd by reason of their height, and now
they were standing a little apart, near the base of the _campanile_, in
the full light of the illumination. May was talking, her skirts and
ribbons fluttering in the breeze. Geof stood beside her listening, his
head bent slightly, with a certain chivalry of bearing which was
characteristic of him. The wind made no more impression upon his firm,
close-reefed figure, than upon the mighty shaft of the great bell-tower.

"I wish it for his own sake, Uncle Dan," Pauline said. "I do not know
any one I should be more willing to trust."

"You don't say so! Well, he's his mother's son, and that is half the
battle."

"Yes," Pauline admitted; "that is the way I felt too, at first. But now
I know him better it is for himself I like him. He is so strong, and
steady, and--good evening, Mr. Kenwick!"

"Ah, good evening! I was sure that unless you had blown away in the
course of the day, I should find you in these classic precincts. No,
thanks; I've had my coffee, or something answering remotely to that
description. What has become of your sister, Miss Beverly? She is
getting as chary of herself as an Italian pronoun."

"She was here a moment ago," Pauline replied; "she has gone with Mr.
Daymond to pay her respects to the moon."

"Really," said Kenwick, with a hint of annoyance in his manner, to
conceal which he continued talking volubly. "Now, I should have thought
you would have been the one to go moon-gazing. I should not have
associated your sister with the pale and melancholy orb."

"You are very penetrating, Mr. Kenwick. But I don't think you would find
the moon especially pale or melancholy this evening. It seemed in high
good humour as we caught a glimpse of it on our way over here."

"Mr. Kenwick's penetration is too subtle for a plain man's
comprehension," Uncle Dan observed. The persistency with which the
Colonel be-mistered Kenwick was an unmistakable sign of disapproval.

"Colonel Steele, I am guiltless of subtlety," Kenwick declared in his
most humorous manner; "I, too, am a plain man. But, if you will pardon
the platitude, we all know that there is one beauty of the sun, and
another beauty of the moon, and it would be pure affectation to ignore
the fact."

"Apropos of the heavenly bodies,--when is the _Urania_ to sail?" Pauline
asked. She feared that Kenwick might go in pursuit of Geof and May, who
had disappeared round the corner into the Piazzetta, and knowing that he
liked to talk of his millionaire friends and their steam-yacht, she
proceeded to draw him out upon the subject.

May and Geof, meanwhile, secure from interruption, thanks to Pauline's
little strategy, were strolling in the Piazzetta, now facing the
moon-lit, wind-swept lagoon, glittering beyond the pillars in a thousand
broken reflections; now studying the figures of the four porphyry
conspirators, engaged in their eternal task of mystification at the
corner of San Marco. That all attempts should have failed to settle the
character and social standing of those red-complexioned, rather
dull-witted gentlemen, who clasped one another in such undecipherable
opacity, was almost more than May could bear.

"Don't you think the archæologists are rather stupid to have given up
the riddle?" she asked, as she and her escort turned away and stepped
out again into the Piazza.

"I dare say they are," Geof laughed, "but I'm sure that those flat-nosed
fellows are much more entertaining than they would be if they had been
labelled. Jove! What a sight that is!"

He had suddenly turned and looked up at the front of San Marco, gleaming
in the brilliant illumination, like a shrine studded with precious
stones. In the concentrated light of hundreds of gas-jets, each
exquisite detail, each shining gold mosaic and lavish carving stood out
with marvellous distinctness. The golden-winged angels that mount a
mystic stairway above the great central arch, the bronze horses prancing
so harmlessly over the main portal, even the quaint bas-relief of St.
George, sitting, with such unimpeachable dignity, upon his
camp-stool,--each and all were far more clearly enunciated than ever
they are in the impartial splendour of daylight. Against the darkly
luminous, unfathomable sky, the outline of the domes showed clear-cut
and harmonious, and over yonder, above the great Palazzo, whose columns,
for that evening at least, were surely carved in ivory and wrought with
lace, a remote, half-grown moon looked wonderingly down.

"The moon is rather out of it, to-night," May observed, with the bright
crispness that gave everything she said a flavour of originality. She
had taken in the beauty of the scene with a completeness that would have
astonished her companion; not a detail had been lost upon her. Yet it
was clear that the total effect had not produced an overpowering
impression. Geof, for his part, had been really stirred by it, but he
had no intention of owning it.

"I don't think we need waste any sympathy on the moon," he replied.
"It's usually cock of the walk here in Venice."

Having thus satisfactorily disposed of that subject, the young people
turned their steps toward the clock-tower, Geof wondering resignedly why
May made no motion to rejoin her family.

"I don't think I agree with you about mysteries," she said, presently;
"I can't bear them. There's Nanni, now, the brother of our gondolier,"
she continued; and then, turning, and looking her companion full in the
face: "Can you make him out?"

"What is it about him that puzzles you?" Geof asked, returning her
glance with equal frankness.

"I don't know that I can explain it. He seems somehow--different. There
is something wrong about him. I don't think he is happy."

"And what if he is not?" said Geof tentatively. "There need be no
mystery about that. I don't suppose many men are really happy."

"You don't?" May exclaimed, in naïve surprise.

Geof, to whom happiness had come to seem almost incredible, since he had
got a glimpse of what it might be, was himself rather taken aback at his
own utterance.

"I rather think," he said, laughing uneasily, "that I only meant that
not many people are superlatively happy. As for commonplace, every-day
happiness, I suppose that depends upon temperament. Perhaps the man is
of a melancholy temperament."

"Perhaps that is it," May answered, thoughtfully; and with one accord
they turned into the quiet paved space north of San Marco, where they
stood, a few moments, looking out into the brilliant Piazza.

"I suppose it was very silly of me," May went on, laying her hand upon
the haunches of a great stone lion that crouches there, polished smooth
with the passage of centuries; "but I had a notion that he was unhappy
because he had to live in exile, a mere servant, you know, in a dreadful
hospital in Milan. And so I went and offered to give him a gondola, and
he wouldn't accept it. He was thanking me the other day, at Torcello,
when you came up. I suppose that was why he was so--melodramatic," and
she laughed a little forced laugh, and looked Geoffry straight in the
face again.

He saw her embarrassment, and understood that she had been setting him
right, and that it had cost her an effort to refer to the matter. And
so he said the kindest thing possible under the circumstances.

"If you mean his kissing your hand," he replied, with an air of
discussing a matter of no consequence, "there's nothing melodramatic in
that, at least when a gondolier does it. It is the custom of their
class. Old Pietro kisses mine and makes me feel like an ancient doge."

He could see that she was relieved.

"I wonder where the others are," she said. "Let us go and look them up.
I didn't feel like anything so fine as a doge," she added, lightly, as
they came out into the square again. "I felt like a very interfering and
foolish kind of person. I don't think I shall do anything so silly
again."

"There is nothing silly about a generous action," Geof protested,
looking with great kindness at the young girl, to whom the garment of
humility was not unbecoming. "I rather think, though, that the man is
better off than you imagine. At any rate, I'm very sure he is better off
for the goodwill you have shown him."

Then, with a return of his previous solicitude, somewhat stimulated by
a new realisation of the unusual beauty of this experimenter in
mysteries, he added:

"These Italians are impressionable fellows. They sometimes feel things
more than we cold-blooded Northerners appreciate."

"Do they?" said May, in her most matter-of-fact voice, giving Geof a
glance of quick intelligence, and putting herself instantly on the
defensive; "I should have said it was rather touch and go with their
feelings. Ah! There's Mr. Kenwick, pretending he doesn't see us!"



XIV

A Summer's Day


May had been quite correct in her surmise that Kenwick was shamming,
though this was merely based on general theories. Not only did he see
her as she emerged with Geoffry Daymond from the comparative obscurity
of the stone lion's neighbourhood, but he had been for some moments
furtively watching them both, himself lost to view in the crowd about
the band-stand. She would have been surprised indeed if she could have
guessed the effect upon the sprightly cavalier of this new evidence of
the confidential relations existing between herself and his friend; and
indeed, when a moment later he met them, with a facetious sally, it is
doubtful whether anything short of clairvoyance could have divined his
true state of mind.

For Oliver Kenwick was experiencing something as closely resembling
genuine feeling as was like to befall him in the course of his
discreetly regulated career. He had played with fire once too often, and
he had discovered, not without a slight accession of self-respect, that
he was perceptibly scorched. He had supposed his interest in May Beverly
to be purely impersonal; he had been mistaken. He had admired her in his
character of connoisseur, as a man of the world he had found amusement
and relaxation in her society. For May had the unique advantage of
combining that degree of conventionality which is admissibly essential,
with a refreshing lack of conventionality in non-essentials. She had
repeatedly surprised and stimulated him, she had never yet offended his
taste. And Kenwick was nothing if not fastidious. Her attraction had
been undeniably heightened by his imagined discovery of Geoffry
Daymond's interest in her; but quite independently of that artificial
stimulus, she did exercise a strong fascination over him.

It was not in Oliver Kenwick's scheme of life to sacrifice his
independence to any claim, even to that of his own unchastened fancies.
He would not have known himself in any other rôle than that of
free-lance, and life would indeed have lost its savour if he had been
betrayed into the purchase of an indulgence of feeling at the cost of
his self-approval. He possessed an ideal of himself which he prized and
guarded; if the ideal was a questionable one, judged by ordinary
standards, he was at least consistent in its cultivation. If, impelled
by a spirit of rivalry, if, goaded to something approaching rashness by
the contemplation of Geof's quiet, masterful way of taking possession of
the things he coveted, he resolved to retaliate where retaliation was
peculiarly palatable, this indicated no change whatever in his ultimate
intentions.

For a day or two after the little episode of the stone lion Kenwick
succeeded in cutting Geof out, as he termed it, very neatly, by the
simple device of interesting May in a certain sketch which she undertook
at his suggestion. The subject was a common enough one in Venice; a
tranquil _rio_ between ruinous walls,--here, a bit of quaint mediæval
sculpture,--there, a splash of verdure over the arch of a gateway,--a
pointed church tower in remote perspective. The clever craftsman found
no difficulty in inventing reasons why a similar combination of
advantages was not to be found elsewhere. In his own mind he was
perfectly well aware that he chose it because the proper point of view
was only to be obtained by disembarking and planting the easels on a bit
of quay that stopped abruptly in front of a deserted house. Here, in
this isolated position, the two painted together for three successive
afternoons, and Kenwick, by dint of a judicious combination of
encouragement and criticism, which he, as a practised artist had always
at command, succeeded in arousing in the young girl an enthusiasm for
the work, and an appreciation of his own mastery of his craft, which
could not but be gratifying and stimulating to him. In truth she had
never liked him so well, and, having on her part nothing to conceal, she
was as outspoken in her gratitude as in all things else.

At the end of the third afternoon May had completed the best sketch she
had ever done. Just as she was putting the finishing stroke to it, a
gondola went gliding by, an old and shabby one, and in the tall figure
at the stern she recognised Nanni. An indefinable shadow crept over the
bright elation of a moment previous, and she stopped painting.

"That old tub of your Nanni's is about ready for the crematory," Kenwick
observed, as he too began putting up his traps.

"The crematory?" she repeated, absently.

"Yes; when they are fairly on their last legs the gondolas are burnt in
the glass-factories."

May watched the water-logged craft as it vanished under a distant
bridge.

"I like that idea about the gondolas," she remarked, a few minutes
later, as Pauline and Uncle Dan, who had been taking a turn in the
Giudecca, came to pick them up. "The poor old things must be glad to
breathe their dying breath into those exquisite flasks and vases."

"What's that about dying breaths?" Uncle Dan demanded, as he handed his
niece into the gondola. "Yes; it is a happy fate to die in a good
cause," he admitted, when the matter was explained to him,--and he
wondered whether it could possibly be Kenwick who had put the child in
a sentimental mood.

"But a happier fate to serve a good cause and live," Kenwick maintained;
adding, lightly: "Miss May tells me I have taught her something, and I
desire to live long to remember it."

"You probably will," the Colonel rejoined, curtly.

"You were wishing the other day for a short life and a merry one,"
Pauline observed, as the Colonel turned to speak to Vittorio.

"Perhaps things have changed since then," Kenwick replied, in a low
voice, with so much seriousness and significance that May gave him a
quick, amused look, while Pauline experienced an unreasonable
resentment. What business had a stranger like Kenwick to be talking to
them in riddles?

And yet, the next day, when the whole party took the trip by steamer,
the long length of the lagoon to Chioggia, Pauline was shocked to find
herself almost resigned to the pretensions of the stranger as exhibited
toward May.

The morning was a glorious one, cooler and clearer than the usual
Venice June. Across the lagoon to the west, the Euganean hills stood
out, sharp-cut in their pointed outlines as if carved in stone,--as
indeed they doubtless are,--while to the northward, looking back across
the domes and spires of the receding city, could be seen the distant
snow-capped range of the Tyrolese Alps, so gracious in its undulating
curves, as to make an impression almost of warmth and tenderness.

[Illustration: "May watched the water-logged craft as
it vanished under a distant bridge"]

From the start, Kenwick had succeeded in engaging May's attention, having
resort to the same means which had already proved efficacious. At his
suggestion they had each brought a sketchbook, and, during the trip of
several hours, they jotted down desultory notes of the passing scene.
Here, a boat laden with market produce, its gay, striped sail bulging to
the breeze; there, the towers of Malamocco and Poveglia, with the pretty
vista of the channel between. Again, a rude shrine erected on piles, or a
group of boys diving off a tumble-down wharf in the distance. It was very
delightful, this monopoly of the young girl's attention. The eager interest
with which she listened to his suggestions, the quick intelligence with
which she acted upon them.

And Pauline, sitting with Geof a little apart from the others, tried in
vain to take herself to task for leaving Kenwick so entirely to his own
devices. She supposed she understood her sister too well to have any
anxiety on her account. The ready interest of May's manner was precisely
of the same sort as that with which she had listened to Nanni's
instructions in rowing, or to Vittorio's lessons in the Italian tongue.
Pauline remembered how, only the other day, Vittorio had made mention of
a _piccola bestia_ with whose name they were not familiar, and she
smiled, as she recalled May's triumph when, at last, after a laboured
description of its leading characteristics, it had dawned upon her that
the small beast with a smooth coat, a pointed nose, a long tail,
and--yes, that told the story!--_four legs_, was a mouse!

Nevertheless, though her conscience was easy with regard to her sister,
Pauline told herself, severely, that Geof was being very hardly used,
and that she, by her supineness, was as much to blame as Kenwick for
the artist's unwarrantable behaviour. To be sure, Geof betrayed no
dissatisfaction with the existing arrangement; he was far too well-bred
for that,--and really, how fine he was, in this as in everything! One
would have thought that he was deeply interested in telling her about
the great sea-wall in which nature and man have gone into partnership,
and upon the preservation of which depends the very existence of Venice.
There it stretched for miles, the long, narrow strip of sand and
masonry, and as the steamer plied the waters of the lagoon, hour after
hour, in the bright June morning, they could hear the tread of the
breakers on the beach outside, and realise something of the mighty
forces that must be resisted in time of winter storms.

"That thing almost made an engineer of me," Geof observed.

"I don't wonder," said Pauline, with ready comprehension; "it appeals to
one immensely," and Geof knew that she was in sympathy with him, that
not a word he had said, not a word he had left unsaid, had been lost
upon her.

"When I am particularly out of conceit with myself," he continued,--and
he liked to remember that there was no one else to whom he would have
talked in this strain,--"I get to thinking that perhaps it was a mistake
not to stick to that first notion. It's a fine thing to work for
defence."

"Yes," said Pauline, after the little pause he knew so well, and which
he had learned not to break in upon,--"but,--isn't it better still to
build for shelter?"

The thoughtful words, fraught with so much delicate meaning, touched him
with a sense as of home and of sweet human happiness; the friendly eyes,
turned questioningly to his, thrilled him with a yet deeper feeling. A
look came into his face which had surely never been seen there before,
but he only said, in his deep, honest voice: "You have given a new grace
to my bricks and mortar."

Then Pauline, usually so modest and so self-contained, was conscious of
a reprehensible feeling of exultation, and, by a singular association of
ideas, she found herself constrained to remember what Uncle Dan had said
to her the other evening. She glanced at him, chatting, in pleasant
good-fellowship, with the Signora, and she was glad to think that they
too were to be made happy by this beautiful and wonderful thing which
all agreed was in the air. And at this point in her meditations Pauline
became possessed of such an irresistible, and certainly most illogical
desire to give a little sob, that she rose abruptly to her feet, and
went to look at her sister's sketches.

They were nearing the end of their voyage, and, a few minutes later,
they had made the landing, and were strolling through the ancient town
in search of luncheon. They found a little inn at the edge of the water,
where they partook of omelette and native wine, served in a pretty
loggia; after which they sauntered about the place, purchasing a piece
of lace of one and another picturesque old hag, and picking up some
quaint bits of pottery in a dingy shop under the arcades. Later, having
done their duty by the sights, they chartered a big boat, propelled by
two strapping oarsmen and a couple of very splendid sails, and voyaged
peacefully down a sleepy canal, and out across a bit of quiet lagoon to
the strip of beach known as Sotto Marina. There, on the shore, they came
upon a solitary child in a red petticoat, with a small purple shawl
crossed over her funny little person. She was apparently absorbed in
watching the tiny wavelets at her feet, scarcely bestowing a glance upon
the numberless brilliant sails, scattered like a field of Roman anemones
upon the deep green of the sea.

As the strangers descended upon her, the little recluse payed them the
tribute of a fascinated stare, and they, in return, did their best to
instill into her mind the belief that they were creatures of another and
a brighter sphere. Uncle Dan presented her with a peppermint lozenge,
Mrs. Daymond held her broad, lace-trimmed parasol over the small black
head, while May gave her a glimpse of the world through each end of her
opera-glass. The child was a self-contained little person, and betrayed
no special elation over these blandishments. When the time for parting
came, Kenwick, with much ceremony, presented her with a bright piece of
nickel, as a _ricordo_ of the visit. She was something of a beauty, in
her small childish way, and he petitioned for a kiss in return. This the
little maid politely but firmly refused; her favours were evidently not
for sale.

"If you won't give me one," he said, trying not to look abashed at the
rebuff, "go and kiss the lady you love best."

They were all standing about in the bright sunshine, deriving no little
entertainment from Kenwick's discomfiture. The child took the
proposition very seriously; but, after a moment's deliberation, she
walked straight up to Pauline and lifted a small, pursed-up mouth to
her.

"If that's not just Pauline's luck!" May exclaimed, as her sister
stooped to receive the proffered salutation. "And she is the only one of
us all who hasn't paid the little wretch the slightest attention!"

"Oh, yes, she has," Geof protested, in perfect good faith. "She has been
smiling at her!" Upon which everybody laughed, and no one more heartily
than Geof, at the way his remark had turned out.

Kenwick's merriment, however, was not quite sincere. A vague mistrust
had crept over him and was working within him, subtly and surely, as the
afternoon wore on. Had he been mistaken about Geof? The thought was too
distasteful to be seriously entertained, and he rejected it summarily.
Yet it had not been without effect. His vanity had taken alarm, and the
instinct of self-preservation was roused in his mind.

Yes, he thought to himself, half-an-hour later, as they sailed before a
light wind under the gay Chioggia canvas, out toward the open sea,--yes,
he had been venturing upon deep waters, and it was time to come about.
It was, of course, sheer nonsense to suppose that Geof's taking May's
defection so easily was an indication of any real indifference on his
part. He was only too plaguey sure of himself to feel any anxiety. Geof
had always had an irritating way of taking things for granted; but, when
it came to the point, no one with eyes in his head could be really
indifferent to that superb young creature. Kenwick glanced at the
slender figure perched at the extreme prow of the boat, and straightway
he experienced an awkward wrench somewhere in the neighbourhood of that
organ to which is attributed so large a share in our emotional
embarrassments. And it was at this juncture that Kenwick had recourse to
a curious befooling of himself in which long practice had made him an
adept.

A sail was just passing, a deep red one, bearing the design of globe and
cross in crude outline of uncompromising black. As he regarded,
absently, that primitive religious symbol, there awoke within him a
certain phantom conscience, which was wont to play an effective part in
his elaborate process of self-mystification. To-day this facile monitor
hinted that if Geof did feel so sure of himself, it would hardly be the
part of a friend to press his own advantage too far. Geof was a good
fellow; he really had a great opinion of Oliver Kenwick's talent, and
did not hesitate to say so on occasion. It would never do to play him
any unhandsome tricks. The more unsuspicious he was, the more it
behooved Kenwick to guard his interests. Yes; he would withdraw in
Geof's favour, he would be hanged if he wouldn't!

And so it came about that by the time they were returning northward
again in the Venice steamer, Kenwick had worked himself up to a really
lofty pitch of self-sacrifice. He would go off in the Stickneys' yacht
with them to-morrow, by Jove he would! Luckily for him, he had left the
invitation open, not from any intention of accepting it, but simply
because he had never in his life burnt a bridge. A good principle that;
he would always stick to it.

As the lovely sunset light grew and deepened, Venice came up like a
vision out of the sea. The cloudless sky was tinged with yellow, and the
water rippled in molten gold up to the very side of the boat. He turned
to May, who chanced to be standing beside him, looking, with level gaze,
straight into the serene heart of the sky. She had certainly a softer,
gentler look than she used to wear. Would it deepen as he spoke?

"This is a charming ending to my visit here," he said, quietly.

"Ending?" May exclaimed, turning upon him that bright, straightforward
look with which she met every statement of fact. "Ending? Why, you are
not going away?"

"Yes; I am off with the Stickneys early to-morrow morning."

"In the _Urania_? You _are_ in luck! But why didn't you tell us before?"

"I couldn't bear to speak of it," he averred, and at the moment he
almost believed he was speaking the truth. "It costs me too much to go
away."

"Well, I don't wonder," May declared; "there's nothing like Venice.
Still, you live abroad half the time, and can come here whenever you
please."

"Ah, Miss May!" he exclaimed, and this time he was absolutely sincere.
"Venice will never be the same to me again."

She could not altogether misunderstand his meaning, but it was
impossible to take him very seriously, and, prompted by a not too lively
curiosity, she asked: "Then why do you go?"

"Because it would be wrong for me to stay," he replied, with a subdued,
almost convincing emphasis.

"Then of course you must go," she returned, with the youthful decision
that rarely failed her; adding, consolingly, as her eyes wandered back
to the sunset: "And I've no doubt you will enjoy the _Urania_ quite as
much as Venice."



XV

June Roses


As Kenwick stood, the next morning, on the deck of the beautiful
pleasure-boat for whose splendours he had betrayed so lively an
appreciation, he looked back across the widening distance with a sense
of regret more poignant than he was at all prepared to deal with. Even
when they were actually weighing anchor, he found himself considering
the feasibility of a retreat, and now, as the screw turned, and the water,
on whose tranquil bosom he had floated so peacefully, was churned into a
seething froth, a sickening misgiving seized him. Had he paid too high a
price to preserve the integrity of his scheme of life?--or rather,--he
hastened to correct himself,--had he made too great a sacrifice to the
claims of friendship? That was the more consoling view to take. He had
done the handsome thing and he would not flinch,--especially since he
could not now do so without making himself ridiculous.

Kenwick refrained from asking himself why he should consider Daymond's
claim paramount to his own; he was not given to searching analysis of
his own motives. The man who values his illusions soon learns the best
way of preserving them, and the illusion in question was doubly
valuable, since it bade fair, under judicious tending, to invest the
mythical Oliver Kenwick, already so dear to his imagination, with a
nimbus of romantic devotion most agreeable to contemplate.

His fellow-passengers were a talkative and somewhat egotistical company,
and he was left more completely to himself, for the first few moments
than, on ordinary occasions, he would have found quite to his mind. No
one was likely to note the persistency with which his glance returned to
one of the high, stone balconies of the Hotel _Venezia_.

There was one chance in ten that a certain tall, girlish figure might
appear there, as it had so often done in the carelessly fleeting days
that were already past and gone; there was one chance in twenty that it
might appear for his sake, that a fluttering white handkerchief might
assure him of certain pleasant things. He strained his eyes to the last
possible moment, in the hope of such a sight; but he was too mindful of
appearances even in the stress and strain of painful emotion, to take
out his opera-glass and turn it upon that point. He did, however, so far
forget himself, as to sigh profoundly, and without that guarded look to
right and left, which should always precede such an indulgence. That, in
itself, was a very marked concession to feeling.

There remained to Kenwick one consolation besides that of having behaved
handsomely to Daymond: he had left a fragrant, if not a lasting, memory
behind him. Would she not be pleased, would she not be touched, when,
presently, his roses were brought to her? She was to find them when she
came up from breakfast; his directions to the porter on that head had
been very explicit. And would not the roses, beautiful in themselves,
gain a telling significance, by reason of the message they bore? On the
reverse side of his card he had written, in his small, clear hand, the
words:

     "All June I bound the rose in sheaves."

The line seemed to him extremely well chosen; it could hardly fail to
stimulate the imagination. He, himself, felt its haunting quality, and
he had repeated it, under his breath, as he followed the gardener about,
urging him to cull his choicest roses.

As he mused upon these things, the yacht, rounding Santa Elena, steamed
away to the Porto del Lido, and he suddenly became aware that Miss
Hortense Stickney's inquisitive eyes were fixed upon him. He was
instantly on his guard.

"Well, that's the last of Venice," he exclaimed, "and I'm glad of it.
One gets tired of dawdling about on a magnified frog-pond. One begins to
long for the open sea." Miss Stickney looked gratified, and Kenwick felt
himself once more in his element.

May Beverly, meanwhile, had been frankly delighted with the roses. So
enchanting did she find them, indeed, that she had merely glanced at
the card, and had tossed it into the waste-paper basket without looking
at the reverse side.

"Just think of it, Pauline!" she had cried; "he must have been way over
to the Giudecca this very morning to get them. I wonder if the _Urania_
has sailed yet."

"Nine o'clock was the hour, was it not?" Pauline asked, taking up one of
the roses and holding it to her face. "It must be after that."

"Yes, it's too late," said May, as she stepped out upon the balcony;
"she's half-way to the Public Gardens. But I'm going to wave, all the
same."

And so it chanced, by the perversity of fate, that if Kenwick had but
risked using his opera-glass, he would not have looked in vain.

May watched the yacht until it disappeared from sight,--for she had not
before seen the graceful craft in motion,--and then she returned to the
contemplation of her roses. As she lifted them, one by one, and arranged
them deftly in a broad-mouthed Chioggia jug, she was moved to exclaim:
"I do think that was really kind of him! Do you know, Pauline, I'm
afraid we didn't like him half enough."

It was but a passing compunction, however, and the roses themselves were
not destined to receive the attention which their beauty fairly entitled
them to. It did not seem quite feasible to take them to San Giorgio
degli Schiavoni, and even had they gone, they would soon have been
forgotten in the delights which that modest little sanctuary offers. The
sunshine of four hundred years ago that glows in mellow warmth upon
Carpaccio's canvases, the vigour and the piety and the fun of that
"wayward patchwork," are more vital and more absorbing than any mortal
roses.

And if, in the morning, Kenwick's interests had been subordinated to
Art, Nature proved no less exacting in the afternoon. For then it was
that the red banner and the blue pursued together yet unexplored paths
of the northern lagoon, returning whence, the city was seen in a new
perspective, the great _campanile_ in particular, taking up a position
so contrary to all precedent, that May was half inclined to believe that
it actually did "promenade," as Vittorio so picturesquely expressed it.

The evening again was a glorious one, and again the roses were left
behind. When the Colonel and his Pollys appeared at the steps of the
_Venezia_, Vittorio greeted them with a radiant "_bellissimo!_" The moon
was all but full and not a breath of air stirred the wide reaches of the
lagoon, visible beyond San Giorgio. One of the musicians' barges was
drawn up in front of the hotel; the first song was in progress, and
gondolas from the upper canal were approaching, with soft dip of oar,
and gleaming tiny lights.

The singer was a woman. She was standing in the middle of the boat, one
hand clinging, as if for support, to the shoulder of a violinist. The
voice was high and strained; painfully strained, it seemed, to Pauline's
quick perception.

"How tired that woman's voice is!" she exclaimed. "Do let us give them
something!"

Vittorio brought the gondola close alongside the barge, but before
Pauline could make her offering, the strained voice broke, the figure
swayed heavily to one side, and the woman sank to the floor, supported
in the arms of one of the men. The big boat instantly moved away, and in
another moment, the swinging paper lanterns, illumining but faintly the
anxious group of musicians, had disappeared down a side canal.

The other gondolas had not yet come up, and Vittorio, without waiting
for orders, rowed after the retreating barge, which he overtook with a
few vigorous strokes of the oar. The men had stopped rowing, and someone
was calling for a gondola. The Colonel's boat was promptly placed at
their service.

The woman had already recovered consciousness, and was murmuring
pitifully: "_A casa, a casa!_" Her husband helped her aboard the
gondola, where Pauline took compassionate possession of her, ministering
to her in gentle, discerning wise. May, usually so fertile in resource,
found nothing to offer but her _vinaigrette_, which the patient did not
take kindly to; while Uncle Dan, with misguided zeal, administered a
severe rebuke to the unhappy husband, for allowing his wife to sing,
when she was so manifestly unequal to the effort.

"Ah, Signore," the man replied, in a tone of dull discouragement, "you
do not know poverty!" Whereupon the Colonel admitted that it was
_vero_, and, becoming very penitent indeed, began grubbing about his
person in search of paper money, and calling himself names for having
left his wallet in the pocket of his other coat.

Meanwhile, Vittorio was rowing them swiftly down narrow canals with many
windings, where the water flowed black in the shadow, and gleamed
weirdly in the light of a chance gas-lamp. The moon was not yet high
enough to look down between those close-ranged walls, but, above them,
the sky stretched, a luminous, deep blue ribbon, upon which only the
brighter stars could hold their own.

News of the mishap had outstripped the gondola. Two turns of an
alley-way, a couple of bridges, a dash across a square, and another
alley-way, had brought a messenger to the house, while the gondola was
still gliding on its tortuous way. A group of women awaited their
arrival.

"I wish we might have gone in, to see how they live," May said,
regretfully, as they pushed off, leaving the woman in the hands of her
friends.

"It's probably a very poor way of living," Uncle Dan surmised. "The kind
that makes a man feel like a scoundrel the next time he smokes a good
cigar."

"Why, you're a regular socialist, Uncle Dan," cried May. "I didn't know
that!"

"Neither did I, Polly," the Colonel replied, pulling viciously at his
moustache. "I don't so much mind being better off than other folks," he
added, thoughtfully; "but somehow, you do hate to have other folks worse
off than you!"

They were retracing their way down one of the narrowest and darkest
canals, when the warning cry,--"_premi-o!_"--echoing round an
unsuspected corner told them of an approaching gondola.

"_Ecco, mio fratello!_" Vittorio exclaimed, answering, then, with his
own sonorous call; and an instant later, the prow of his brother's
gondola came stealing out of the shadow.

As the boats passed one another, Vittorio said a few words in dialect,
which were quite unintelligible to the foreigners. Yet May felt sure
that Nanni was being sent to the house they had just left.

"Do you and Nanni know the singer?" she asked, as they came out into the
full moonlight, above the Rialto bridge.

"Si, Signorina," the gondolier replied, with prompt exactitude; "her
sister's brother-in-law was the nephew of our grandmother's niece by
marriage."

"Oh!" May gasped, rendered, for once, inarticulate, by this surprising
exhibition of genealogic lore.

They were late in coming in that evening, and, as the girls opened their
chamber door, the perfume of the roses wafted to them conveyed a
delicate hint of unmerited neglect.

"Poor things!" said Pauline; "it _was_ a shame to leave them to
themselves all day long, doing nobody any good!"

"I know it," May admitted; "it was a shame; but I didn't want to wear
them, in all this heat, and I couldn't very well sit and tend them, all
day! I know what we will do," she added, with quick decision; "we will
take them round to the poor singer in the morning. Perhaps they may give
her pleasure."

"I wonder how Mr. Kenwick would like that," queried Pauline, who, in
spite of an inborn loyalty to the absent, was not ill-pleased with the
suggestion.

"I don't believe he would mind," said May, as she plunged the beautiful
things up to their necks in the water-pitcher; "he has probably
forgotten, by this time, that he ever sent them."

And Kenwick, stretched upon the deck of the _Urania_ in the moonlight,
after the others had gone below, was, at that very moment, murmuring
softly to himself:

     "All June I bound the rose in sheaves."



XVI

A Surrender


May Beverly was not given to the study of her own countenance. She knew,
of course, that it was a creditable production of Nature, that she had
good features and pretty colouring and that her fellow-creatures, as a
rule, seemed to like her looks. Beauty had not stolen upon her unawares
as the case is with so many young girls. She had always been pretty,
with the unquestioned, outspoken prettiness of a graceful animal or a
bright-hued flower. She took it for granted, as she did those other
gifts, of health and youth, and, on the whole, she gave it very little
thought.

It was therefore the more remarkable that she should have just been
spending a good half-hour before the looking-glass. She had the room to
herself this afternoon, for Pauline had gone again to Torcello, this
time with a party of old friends who had recently made their appearance
in Venice, and whose claims upon her sister May was somewhat inclined to
question. To-day, however, their exactions fell in most opportunely with
a certain plan of her own, which had come to her in the shape of a great
inspiration. The Torcello party had started directly after luncheon and
were to return by moonlight, and, Pauline being thus satisfactorily
disposed of, there remained but one lion in the path, in the person,
namely, of Uncle Dan.

As May stood before the dressing-table, upon which were billows of
bright silk handkerchiefs, each of which had in turn suffered rejection
at her hands, she was arranging a large _fichu_ of Spanish lace upon her
head in such fashion as completely to cover her pretty hair. She tilted
her head first at one angle and then at another, scowling fiercely in
her effort to decide how great a change had been wrought in her
appearance. Whether owing to the presence of the scowl, or to the
absence of the yellow top-knot, the countenance certainly had a very
unfamiliar look, and, well pleased with the effect, she turned away and
stepped out upon the balcony.

The day was very warm, not a breath of air found its way under the
broad, striped awning that cast its grateful shadow upon the balcony;
the very water gleamed hot and desert, and the cooing of the Salute
doves had the gurgling, simmering sound of a great tea-kettle. May
leaned her arms upon the cushions of the stone balustrade and looked
down and off toward San Giorgio. How beautiful it was, even at high
noon, and how glorious it would be to-night, when the full moon came
sailing up into the twilight sky, and the cool, sweet breath of evening
was wafted over the waters! What an evening it would be! One to remember
all her life, all that long, every-day kind of life that stretched so
unendingly on into the future.

They had gone that morning, she and Pauline, to carry the roses to the
Signora Canti. They had found the poor singer weak and ill and
disheartened. The doctor had told her she must not sing for some days
yet,--surely not this evening,--and to-night was full moon, when the
tourists throng the Grand Canal, and before another full moon should
come the heat would have driven the pleasure-seekers away. "They fear
the heat, the _forestieri!_"

There was no one to take her place, the woman said. Just the chorus
singing would attract but few listeners; the other serenaders would get
all the people. This was the harvest time and it must be wasted. Ah! The
roses were _molto belle, bellissime_, Signorina,--but it was clear that
they offered little consolation for real troubles.

And, sitting there in the tiny room where the shutters were close drawn
against the morning sun,--which nevertheless pierced through a crack and
lit up, with one straight beam, the pitiful, drawn face of the poor
_cantatrice_, her great inspiration came to May. She had a voice and she
could sing. Why should she not sing for this poor woman, sing in the
moonlight and gather the gondolas about her? Oh, there would be no lack
of a soul in her singing, out there in the moonlight. Signor Firenzo
would not have lectured and entreated her in vain. She knew now what he
meant. She had been longing to sing, many an evening on the starlit
lagoons, and she had not dared.

A group of little children had come into their mother's room, and were
huddling shyly in a corner, gazing wide-eyed and silent, at the strange
ladies and the gorgeous roses, the like of which had never before found
their way there. May hardly noticed the children, so preoccupied was she
with her own thoughts, but the sight of them gave her sister courage. As
they rose to go, Pauline drew money from her pocket, and, bending over
the woman, she said, very gently: "Signora, we have never half thanked
you for your singing. May we do so now?"

The woman's eyes shone, and a pretty colour went up the pale, gaunt
cheek.

"Ah!" she said. "You have listened to my singing, and with pleasure? And
it is truly for my singing that you give me this, and not because you
are sorry for me?"

And Pauline, remembering how often the tired voice, strained to a high,
uncertain pitch, sounding across the water like a cry for succour, had
filled her with compassion, could say with truth; "Signora, your
singing has touched our hearts."

As May stood upon the balcony, gazing far out over the lagoon, her young
eyes undazzled by the intense mid-day light, she thought how sweet it
would be to see again that look of grateful pleasure upon the worn face.
Ah, she would sing! How she would sing! She would sing the heart into
those people in the gondolas; she would sing the money out of their
purses! The gondolas should gather about her till the water was black
with them. She would sing till the night rang with the sound of her
voice! A sense of power had come into her, which she had never felt
before. She should take command of those musicians, she should take
command of that mysterious, floating audience. No one would know her;
she should not know herself. For one splendid hour she should be set
free of herself.

It was the first time in her life that May Beverly had found herself
mastered by an enthusiasm. The consciousness of it suddenly seized her
and tilled her with a curious misgiving. She knelt down upon the floor
of the balcony, and, leaning her forehead against the cushion of the
balustrade, she tried to collect her thoughts, to regain her balance.

She wondered if she were very foolish, if it were a mere outbreak of
shallow vanity that ought to be suppressed. She hoped not. Of course
this thing that she wanted to do was shockingly unconventional. Anywhere
else, under any other circumstances, it would be out of character; but
here in Venice everything was different. She tried to shut out the magic
city from her thoughts,--to return to a perfectly normal state of mind.

The hour was very still, even the doves had fallen silent. For a few
seconds, as she knelt with covered eyes in her high balcony, only one
sound reached her ears; but that was the dip of an oar, the very
heart-beat of Venice. It had the intimate, penetrating power of a
whispered incantation; it touched and quickened the imagination more
than peal of bells or chant of marching priests. And as she knelt and
listened the young girl felt a scorn of the past and its limitations and
its trivial satisfactions--its petty reference of everything to a small,
personal standard. The great outer world was knocking at the door of
her heart, the world of suffering, and the world of joy, the world of
romance, and the world of real human experience.

She would sing to-night; she would let her own personality go, and be
just a human creature doing a daring, inspiring thing for the sake of
another human creature who was in need. With a sense of exultant
self-surrender she lifted her face and looked up at the Salute. Its
domes and pinnacles had been hidden by the low-hanging awning, but now,
with her eyes on a level with the balustrade, she could see the lovely
temple in all its gracious outlines.

"And I remember I used to wonder whether I liked it," she thought to
herself, with a singular feeling, as if she had been recalling a past
state of existence.

She rose to her feet and stepped inside. A pile of sheet music lay upon
the table, and she stood a few minutes beside it, turning over the
leaves and humming softly to herself. There was a rap at the door, and
Uncle Dan appeared.

At once her mood had changed. She was Polly, and here was Uncle Dan, to
be cajoled and entreated and vanquished.

"Oh, Uncle Dan!" she cried, "I thought you never were coming! I want to
talk to you."

"Why, Polly!" he exclaimed, "what are you up to? You look like a fright
in that thing!"

"Which means, you never would have known me," Polly declared
mischievously. "That's just what I wanted. Now come in like a dear and
let me talk to you. No, sit in this chair,--it's much more comfortable.
Have you had your cigar?"

"Of course I have. It's nearly an hour since luncheon."

"Don't you want another?"

"Polly! What are you driving at?"

"I only wanted to make you perfectly comfortable, so that you would
enjoy having a little chat with me."

She had seated herself in a low chair opposite him, where she could look
straight into his eyes. She pulled off the black lace and proceeded to
fold it with great care and precision. There was a look in her face,
calculated to make the old soldier call out all his reserves.

"Well, out with it, Polly!" he cried.

"It's about that poor singer, Uncle Dan; the woman we took home last
night. You remember?"

"Remember? I'm not losing my faculties, Polly!"

"Yes; of course you remember! What was I thinking of? Well, you know we
went to see her this morning, and took her those roses of Mr. Kenwick's.
Uncle Dan,--they didn't seem to meet the case!" and May looked at her
victim with the gravity of a secretary of the metropolitan board of
charities.

"That was rather hard on those particular roses," Uncle Dan observed,
with a certain grim satisfaction.

"Yes, I think it was. But,--Uncle Dan, I've thought of something much
better than roses. I'm going to sing for her!"

"Will that meet the case?" asked the Colonel, doubtfully. He too had
been wondering what could be done for the niece by marriage of
Vittorio's grandmother's--what did he say she was?

"Yes; for you see I shall be a novelty, and I sing better than she
does, and we shall take a lot of money."

"A lot of money, for singing to that woman? Polly, what are you talking
about?"

And then it was that Polly took the field, and marshalled all her
arguments, and did such valiant battle to the Colonel's dearest
prejudices and most cherished theories, that he was fairly bewildered
and demoralised.

She knew she could do it, she knew she could sing, and singing always
sounded lovely on the water. She was in splendid voice,--she had been
practising _pianissimo_, and it went like a charm. Not a soul would know
her. She was going to wear a plain black skirt and a sulphur shawl,--she
had always meant to buy a sulphur shawl,--and a lot of beads round her
neck. She was going to twist some black stuff about her hair, and then
pin the Spanish lace on in the most artistic and Italian manner.

"And you know, Uncle Dan, my hair is the most noticeable thing about me.
When that's covered up I am quite another person. And then the light
will be very dim, and so many queer colours from the swinging lanterns
that I shan't have the vestige of a complexion left!"

"But the promiscuous audience, the rough company on the barge!" the
Colonel urged, struggling but feebly against a premonition of defeat.
Already the old soldier quailed miserably before the enemy.

"They are not a rough company," Polly declared. "I asked Vittorio all
about it. He knows nearly all the men, and he says they are _galant'
uomini_. Signor Canti will be there, and he will take beautiful care of
me. Signora Canti is to have all the proceeds beyond a certain sum that
the others will agree upon."

"The thing seems pretty well settled between you and your _gallant
hominies_," growled Uncle Dan, trying to be severe.

"No; it's all settled in my own mind, but I haven't breathed a word of
it to anybody but you. And of course you have got to say yes, before I
shall take any steps!"

Superficially regarded, this seemed like a concession; but the Colonel
knew better. "You have got to say yes!" To his ears it sounded like the
fiat of inexorable fate, and he only gazed, with a look of comical
deprecation at the youthful orator who was gesticulating with the lace
_fichu_, to the destruction of its carefully laid folds.

"Polly, your father would not listen to such a thing for a moment," he
jerked out, getting very red in the face.

"But he won't have to; he never need know a word about it!" Alas, that
was a line of reasoning that struck a responsive chord.

"But Polly would never consent."

"That's the beauty of it! She's safely out of the way."

"And Mrs. Daymond,--she would be shocked, I am sure," and his fine
colour faded with consternation.

"Not if she never knows it!"

"But I shall know it," he protested, faintly. Then, gathering himself
together for a last effort:

"No, Polly, I can never consent. Never! You understand! It's useless to
talk about it!" and the Colonel got upon his feet and stepped out upon
the balcony, breathing fire and slaughter to all revolutionary schemes.
And then Polly knew that she had won the day. When Uncle Dan grew
emphatic and peremptory it was a sure sign that he was weakening.

She followed him out upon the balcony, and slipped her hand within his
arm.

"O, Uncle Dan," she said, in her most insinuating tone. "You haven't the
least idea how I shall sing! You never heard anything so fine as it will
be. I shall sing, so that all the gondolas will come gliding up to
listen. And there will be the moon sailing up the sky, and the world
will be so big and so dark that I can let my voice out without a thought
of myself, and--O Uncle Dan! say yes!"

Then a slow, intense flush mounted in the sun-burnt cheek, while a light
kindled in the eyes, set deep within the bushy eye-brows. And Uncle Dan
looked into the ardent face beside him, and, before he could stop
himself, he had exclaimed, half under his breath:

"Gad, Polly! But I should like to hear you!"



XVII

The Serenata


From the moment when the Colonel made his fatal admission, his cause was
lost and he knew it. He was too good a soldier to fight for the sake of
fighting, but he was not a little shocked at the alacrity with which he
went over to the enemy.

Yet the step was not an unprecedented one. It was not for nothing that
he had been for years the willing slave of his Pollys, that his whole
training as uncle had tended to cultivate in him the grace of obedience.
"As the twig is bent the tree inclines," and he had been the merest twig
of an uncle, if not in years, at least in experience, when he had
yielded to the sunny persuasiveness of that first faint glimmering of a
smile in the baby face of the original Polly. His subjugation, moreover,
having hitherto proved beneficial in its results, he was the more
excusable, to-day, for letting himself be swept along by the impetus of
his tyrant's will.

There was little time for reflection; indeed, as it was, a young person
of less executive ability than May could hardly have accomplished what
she brought to pass in the few hours at her disposal. She flew from the
_Venezia_ to the Signora Canti for the first unfolding of her plan, from
the almost speechless Signora to the Merceria in search of the sulphur
shawl, and thence to the Signora Canti again, attended all the while by
Uncle Dan, whose cane struck sharply on the pavement of the narrow,
reverberating alley-ways. The business was all transacted on foot, that
even Vittorio might be kept in ignorance of the great secret. Through
the good offices of the Signor Canti the barge musicians were
interviewed, and the details of the undertaking arranged. Even a small
rehearsal was brought about in the somewhat restricted quarters of the
Canti apartment, and great was May's rejoicing, to find how many of her
favourite songs were well known to the quartette of accompanists.

As the Colonel looked back upon the afternoon, he had a bewildered sense
of having taken part in a general engagement, very brilliant in
character, but with the conduct of which he, as private, had had no
concern whatever. And now it was evening, and he was floating in the
gondola out on the broad basin of St. Mark's, awaiting, with no little
trepidation, the progress of events.

No, his nieces would not be with him, he had told Vittorio. One was gone
to Torcello, and the other had an engagement for the evening,--which
Vittorio thought _peccato_. The _padrone_ proposed to float about in the
moonlight for a while, and listen to the music, and this, at least, was
_benissimo_ and commanded the gondolier's warmest approval.

Scarcely had Vittorio been thus pacified than the barge with its
dangling lanterns, beneath which the Colonel had seen his Polly safely
ensconced but a few minutes since, came floating out from a narrow
canal, and glided slowly along the Riva, past the Royal Gardens and the
Piazzetta, to the outermost of the great hotels. Sitting among the
"gallant hominies" was a figure in a sulphur shawl, with a cloud of
Spanish lace about the head, so ingeniously disposed that the features
were somewhat hidden, yet apparently with no intention of covering the
face.

"That looks like the Canti barge, Vittorio," the Colonel remarked. "Let
us go nearer and find out who is to do the singing. Do you know the
woman?"

"No, Signore. It is a stranger," Vittorio declared. "It is not a
Venetian."

"What makes you think so?"

"I do not know her face."

The sunset glow had quite faded from the sky and the great disk of the
moon hung like a luminous shield over beyond San Giorgio. Its wonderful
light, liquid and silvery as the water of the lagoons, flooded their
wide reaches, and touched with a soft splendour each sculptured façade
and arching bridge of the Riva, and the masts and hulls and loose-reefed
sails of a group of fishing boats lying close alongside the quay. Far up
the canal, a tenor voice could be heard, strong and melodious, and stray
gondolas were tending toward it.

Suddenly, more than one oar was stayed, and more than one face was
turned toward the Canti barge. The music had begun, with a familiar
Neapolitan melody, in which all the voices and instruments took part.
But high above them all rose a clear soprano, only the sweeter and the
richer for the dull rhythm of the lesser voices. One by one the receding
gondolas turned and came nearer, one bright eye gleaming at each prow,
as they stole like conspirators upon the gaily lanterned barge. And from
farther away still, from the Grand Canal and from the waters of the
Giudecca, black barks came floating, and silently joined the growing
throng. The chorus had sung twice, thrice, four times,--always the
popular airs, so familiar, yet to-night so new, by reason of the lift
and brilliancy of the leading voice.

[Illustration: "The Serenata"]

One of the men stepped across the Colonel's gondola and on from one to
another, hat in hand. "_Per la musica!_" he entreated, and a goodly
shower of nickels and coppers and fluttering _lire_ were gathered
in. But still not a gondola moved away, and later comers had to tie on
the outskirts, spreading now, fan-shaped, with twinkling eyes, far over
toward San Giorgio.

Uncle Dan fell to counting the twinkling eyes, and his heart swelled
within him. There must be close upon a hundred people here, drawn
hither, held fast, by his little Polly. There she stood, in her sulphur
shawl, unrecognisable, to be sure, but natural and self-possessed as if
she had been singing in her own parlour.

Somebody called for Gordigiani's _O Santissima Vergine_,--a favourite
song of "la Canti." The singer rose again to her feet. The low, pulsing
accompaniment sounded on the strings, and presently the voice began,
with a softly vibrating tone, different from the resonant quality which
had first attracted the listeners.

"_O Santissima Vergine Maria!_"

"I told you it was a trained voice," Uncle Dan heard someone say in a
neighbouring gondola. "I believe she's a stage singer. Just listen to
that!"

"Hush, don't talk!" the answer came. "It's the sweetest thing I ever
heard."

And in truth a delicate, penetrating pathos had come into the fresh
young voice, pleading so melodiously for the life of "_mio ben_."

"O Maria, O Maria," was the artless supplication; "I vow to give to
thee the ring my mother bought for me four years ago, and the coral
necklace, _tanto bello_!" And then, with simple fervour, the Madonna was
assured that, would she but save _il poverino_, a candle should be burned
to her every Saturday,--"_ogni Sabbato, Maria, Maria_!"

As the last note ceased, sweet and sad, on the night air, a burst of
applause went up, and, "_encore, encore_," the forestieri shouted,
"_encore_!" And other gondolas came gliding up, and the spreading fan
stretched in ever widening compass, divided now, like the pinions of a
great sable bird studded with dots of light. Then, while the flowing
moonlight brightened, and a perfumed breeze came wafted over the water
from the rose gardens of the Giudecca, the sweet voice again took up the
simple and touching strain.

After that it was an ovation,--"an ovation, I tell you," Uncle Dan would
declare, when bragging about it to the other Polly. "Why, the people
were perfectly carried off their feet! When the hat went round they
didn't know what it was they pulled out of their pockets. A ten-franc
piece seemed cheap as a copper. And all the time, Polly, standing
there, singing her heart out! It was an ovation, I tell you,--an
ovation!"

And as Polly sang on and on, light opera airs, rhythmical barcarolles,
songs of the people, with their naïve, swinging cadence, a new, exultant
sense of power seemed lifting her above her own level.

And presently an inspiration seized her, and, leaning forward, she said
to Canti: "Make them row out on the lagoon, toward the Lido; I can sing
better there."

Then the barge loosed itself from the clinging gondolas, and slowly
glided out and away. And all the gondolas followed, with the soft plash
of many oars, on and on, after the swinging lanterns and the syren
voice.

To the young girl, borne out of herself into a strange, unimagined
experience of beauty and harmony and power, into a newly awakened
sympathy, too, with each dreamer and lover and mourner whose lay she
sang, it was as if old things had passed away and all things were become
new. And presently, as they drifted on in the flooding moonlight,
leaving the lights of the city behind them, she could see the small,
low glimmer of a gondola-lamp gliding from out the mysterious spaces of
the lagoon.

At that moment Canti whispered a request that the Signorina would sing
"_Patria_," Tito Mattei's beautiful song of exile. She consented, with a
feeling of awe, as if acting in obedience to some higher compulsion. The
barge had paused, and the multitudinous plash of oars was hushed as she
began to sing:

     "_Al mio ciel m'ha tolto il fato._"
     ["Fate has torn me from my own skies."]

The vagrant gondola had come nearer, and now it was drawn close up under
the bow of the barge, just on the edge of the throng of boats. The
Signorina scarcely needed to glance at the oarsman standing in the full
light of the lanterns, to know that it was no other than the exile whose
lament it had been given her to sing. Yet, as the song ceased for a
moment, while the strings played an interlude in full, strongly
vibrating chords, she looked involuntarily toward the figure whose
identity she was already so curiously aware of. The man made a movement
forward, resting on his oar, and, as their eyes met, she knew that he,
too, had recognised her. She turned away, as the song recommenced, but
the consciousness of what she had seen was vividly present with her. He
knew her, he knew that she was singing for him, that she was singing the
song of his exile.

A singular, almost fantastical exaltation took possession of the young
girl, an exaltation such as might have possessed itself of a priestess
of old, pouring a libation to the gods in behalf of some devout
suppliant. He had known her, this mysterious, homeless being that had
come floating across the waters to hear the song of his exile. A deep,
thrilling emotion lifted her on its crest, as the long, slow, elemental
rhythm of the ocean had lifted the frail shell of the gondola, far out
at the Porto del Lido, such a life-time ago. But now she did not shrink
from it, she was not disconcerted by it. She only sang on, with growing
passion and power. Everything small and personal seemed swept away. She
felt herself a human creature, singing the needs and aspirations of
another human creature. She was alive, she had come into her birthright.
This man, whose personality had so haunted and harassed her, was no
longer an enigma; she no longer commiserated him. What mattered poverty,
suffering, exile? To be alive was enough; to have _la patria_, or any
other great and high thought in the soul was infinitely more than any mere
presence or possession.

All this was coursing through her mind, and the spirit of it was
entering into her song, with an urgency and power that gave it a really
extraordinary dramatic force. The last words

     "_Dolce patria è il cor con te,
     Dolce patria è il cor con te!_"

rang out with an impassioned brilliancy of tone that took the listeners
by storm.

As the singer sank upon her seat, not spent by the effort, but rather
absorbed with the new thoughts and emotions that were crowding upon her,
the clapping of many hands sounded to her remote and meaningless, and
she did not even notice that the solitary gondola had slipped away.

Canti feared that she was really exhausted. "It is enough, Signorina,"
he said; "we will go home."

As the barge turned, the gondolas made way for it, and then they pressed
about it again, to offer more money and more. There was no longer any
need of passing the hat.

And May felt that she had finished, that it was enough. She sat very
still, the folds of the black lace almost covering her face, as they
rowed homeward to chorus after chorus of gay songs: "_La bella,
Napoli_," "_Funicolì funicolà_," "_Margherita_." She experienced no
painful reaction; she was filled with an uplifting sense of successful
achievement. And her thoughts had turned almost immediately to the poor
Signora in whose behalf all this had been done.

They must have taken a great deal of money, May thought,--a hundred
francs,--perhaps more. Enough to purchase a long respite for the
over-worked singer. Perhaps by the time the poor thing was obliged to
sing again, she would have grown so strong and well, that her voice,
too, would be fresh and pure, and she would have the unspeakable joy of
singing because she could not help it.

May remembered the expression of the great Italian eyes, set in the
haggard face, as the woman had said to her: "The Madonna will bless you,
Signorina!" Yes, she had a soul, the poor Signora, hard-pressed and
starved, but a soul, all the same. May smiled softly to herself, almost
as Pauline might have done.

"_Funicolì funicolà!_" the chorus was singing--the coloured lanterns
were bobbing with the stroke of the oars, and all the while the young
girl was passing in review the people she knew, and wondering to
discover how many of them were possessed of souls! There was Uncle Dan
and Pauline and Mrs. Daymond, and, surely Vittorio, with his fine, manly
spirit, and his childlike faith. They all had souls, each after his
kind; they all had a comprehension of something not visible and
material. What a wonderful thing life was! She could not grasp it yet,
but somehow, in some mysterious wise, the world was changed;--not the
moon-lit world of romance alone, but the great day-lighted world, where
people suffered and rejoiced and grew strong.

And just as the barge came opposite the glittering lights of the
Piazzetta, beyond and above which the luminous shaft of the _campanile_
rose straight and white, tipped with its golden angel, the men began to
sing "_Santa Lucia_." And once more a voice rose above the others, fresh
and clear as ever:

     "_Sul mare luccica
       L'astro d'argento;
     Placida è l'onda
       Prospero il vento._"

And, as the bobbing lanterns disappeared down a black side-canal, the
ringing voice echoed still from out the darkness:

     "_Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!_"



XVIII

Search-Lights


"I should not so much mind if there should be no moon to-night," said
May, dipping her hand over the side of the boat, to feel the cool, soft
wash of the wave.

"Nothing could be lovelier than this," Pauline assented.

It was evening again and the girls had the gondola to themselves. They
were skirting the low shore of the Lido, fragrant with the breath of
new-mown hay, vocal with the chirp of crickets and the dull, rhythmic
thud of the waves upon the beach. The sky was overcast and the water was
dark, save just ahead, where the gondola light cast a pale reflection,
wavering softly from side to side, with the motion of the courtesying
prow. The twin towers of San Servolo, its massive buildings and sparse
lights, had been left behind, and now the gondola was approaching San
Lazzaro, wrapped in silence and shadow, like the good monks who pace its
quiet paths.

Neither of the girls had felt inclined to talk, yet their sense of
mutual companionship was peculiarly near and intimate. Both had been
absorbed in the memory of the same stirring scene, and though Pauline
had only viewed it from the outskirts she had divined something of the
nature of her sister's experience. She felt intuitively that it had been
more to the young girl than a gratification of vanity, or even a
revelation of her own power. And yet in their overt consideration of the
great event, they had dwelt, hitherto, more particularly upon its
practical aspects,--the reticence and courtesy of the band of musicians,
the really considerable sum of money taken, the hundred-franc piece
which had appeared in the receipts, and Uncle Dan's studied innocence in
connection therewith. The fact that May had escaped recognition had also
been regarded as cause for rejoicing.

May had been glad to find that, unknown to her, her sister had been
among the audience. Her presence seemed, in retrospective wise, to
sanction and sustain her action. If Pauline was there all was well.

As they glided tranquilly along the line of the fragrant shore, the
regular dip of the oar marking the passage of the seconds, like the
soft, lisping tick of certain pleasant old clocks, the nine-o'clock gun
roared its admonition from the deck of the "guardian of the port," and
the bells of San Lazzaro jangled sweetly on the night air. And then it
was that May roused to the need of speech.

"And you knew me at once?" she asked,--not for the first time indeed,
for that was a very vital question.

"Yes, I knew your voice, and when we came a little nearer I knew the way
you held your head."

"And you didn't mind?"

"No; I think, myself, it's rather strange that I did not. But it seemed
perfectly natural and right. I believe I took it all in from the first
moment--just how you had undertaken it for the sake of the poor Signora,
and how then you had forgotten the Signora and forgotten yourself."

They were silent again, while the gondola rounded San Lazzaro and turned
toward home.

"Do you know what I thought of while I was listening to you?" Pauline
asked, as the lights of the Riva appeared in their line of vision,
glimmering remotely on the shore and in the water. "Especially when you
were singing that glorious _Patria_? I thought of what Signor Firenzo
said about your voice, and of what you said yourself, that first day in
Venice,--about finding a soul here."

"You did?" May exclaimed; then, in a lower voice: "So did I!"

They had passed San Lazzaro, and San Servolo too was receding astern of
them before May spoke again.

"Pauline," she queried, presently, "did you see Nanni's gondola come up
from out the lagoon in front of us?"

"Yes, I saw it. How ghostly it was, with his solitary figure, and then
that tragic face of his in the light of the lanterns!"

Suddenly, as she spoke, a broad beam of white light swept the long line
of the Riva, and leapt to the point of the _campanile_, striking the
golden angel into instantaneous brilliancy.

"What's that?" cried Pauline, startled at the suddenness of the
apparition.

"It's a search-light," May answered. "See! It comes from the man-of-war
over by Sant' Elisabetta. There! Look there!"

The light had dropped from the _campanile_, and now it shone full upon
the masts and rigging of an East Indiaman lying off San Giorgio
Maggiore. Each rope and spar stood out in the intense white light,
distinct as if cased in ice.

"_La luce elettrica_," Vittorio observed, unable to suppress his pride
in this new sensation furnished for the delectation of his Signorinas.

"Pauline," said May, with grave emphasis; "Nanni knew me."

"You are sure?"

"Perfectly. I saw it in his face,--and, besides, that is all he could
have meant by his message. You didn't hear that, did you?"

"No; and he left you a message?"

"Yes; when we landed at Quattro Fontane this morning, and found Mr.
Daymond there--did you notice that he seemed to have something to say
to me?"

"Yes;--I noticed."

"He wanted to tell me that he had been walking on the beach with Nanni,
and that Nanni had gone back to Milan and had left a message for me."

"And the message?"

"The message was,--'_addio e grazie!_' Don't you see? He was thanking me
for the singing. I think he knew that I was singing for him."

The light had sprung to the tower of San Giorgio, whose straight shaft
stood out in new intensity of martial red, its golden angel gleaming
like a belated echo of the angel of the _campanile_.

"Singing for him?" Pauline repeated, yet as if she already half
understood.

"Yes, the song of exile. It was just then that he came up. I'm sure he
knew that I was thinking of him as I sang, for there was a look in his
face that I shall never forget."

"Tell me why, dear."

"Yes; I will tell you why, though it's rather a long story," May
answered, yielding to an imperative need of confession. "I can't quite
account for it all, but, up to last night, I had always felt perplexed
and disturbed about the man. He made me feel a great many things I had
never felt before. It seemed to me as if I had never before known a
single thing about--anything real,--about any human creature but myself.
And yet I suppose the very reason why this haunted me so was because I
did not understand. I felt always that there was a mystery, something I
couldn't get hold of,--and you know how I do hate a mystery."

As May forced her thoughts to take shape, she felt that it was her own
mind rather than Pauline's that was being enlightened. It was as if
Pauline must understand,--as if it were Pauline who was making things
clear to her. Yet Pauline did not say a word. She only listened, her
head inclined a bit, her eyes intent and comprehending.

"I think," May went on, "I think it must have been something really high
and fine in him that made the sordidness of it all seem so intolerable.
I suppose it is as Uncle Dan says;--these things are a matter of race. I
think Nanni must have more than his share of the family inheritance. Did
you never feel it, Pauline?"

"Yes, there was certainly something impressive about him," Pauline
admitted.

"I'm glad you thought so, too. Well, do you know, Pauline, it came to me
last night like a revelation, that I had been all wrong and morbid about
it. I remembered how he had said to me, one day when I was talking to
him about coming back to Venice: 'You mistake me and my life,
Signorina.' It did not impress me so much at the time--something drove
it out of my head;--but, suddenly, as I saw his face last night, I
seemed to understand what he meant."

They were passing near two fishing-boats moored to a cluster of piles, a
single deck-light shining clear and steady, reflected in the water like
a long yellow finger. The men had deserted the boats and were swimming
somewhere out of sight in the darkness, their voices sounding curiously
near and distinct across the water.

"I suppose it was the song that touched him," May was saying. "It is
such a beautiful song, and the moment I began singing, I felt as if it
had been written expressly for him. Pauline, he had a look such as a man
might have who was facing a great renunciation, with the spirit of a
hero. And it came to me like a flash, that a man who could look like
that need not mind where he lived, or what his service was. And when I
heard to-day that he had gone back to his work, I was not at all
surprised, and I was not even sorry for him, as I should have been
yesterday. I felt as if I understood."

May had been speaking fast, with an eager, half questioning manner, as
if everything depended upon Pauline's agreeing with her. Now she paused,
and looked into her sister's face, close beside her in the dim light.
And Pauline returned her look with one that set her heart at rest.

"I think you have discovered something very deep and true," she said,
gently. "And it is one of those things that nobody can tell us, that we
must discover for ourselves. But, May," she added, after a moment's
reflection, "I don't believe we need think of the man's work as mean or
sordid. I should think it might be a very valuable sort of service that
he renders at the hospital. Do you remember that day, the first week we
were here, when we were waiting for the sacristan at the Madonna del
Orto, and a little girl on the quay fell down and hurt her arm?"

"Yes; I remember,--and how quickly Nanni sprang ashore and picked her
up."

"Well;--do you know, May, there was something in the way he bent over
the little thing and examined her arm to see if it were really hurt,
that impressed me very much. His touch was so gentle, and there was so
much intelligence in the way he did it, that I have thought, ever since,
what a blessing it must be to have such a man about in a hospital."

"Yes," said May, thoughtfully,--"perhaps that is why he chooses that
life. That would explain a great deal. I am glad you reminded me of it,
Pauline,"--and again she reached her arm over the side of the boat, and
let the cool water slip through her fingers, watching the little ripple
they made upon the surface. "Perhaps that was what Mr. Daymond meant
when he said he had had a talk with Nanni, and he did not think that I
need have any more anxiety about him,--that he was doing the work he
could do best, and that he was happy in doing it."

"And you had told Mr. Daymond, before that, that you were disturbed
about it?" Pauline asked, with a swift, uncontrollable contraction of
the heart.

"Yes; we had a talk about Nanni the evening of the illumination.
Pauline," May exclaimed, with a sudden change of tone, "what a waste it
is that that nice fellow hasn't any sisters!"

"Who? Mr. Daymond?"

"Yes; he would make such a perfect brother. He is so dear, and good,
and--_unromantic_!"

As the words fell, crisp and incisive on the still night air, their
point and meaning piercing like finely tempered steel to Pauline's
innermost consciousness, the search-light flashed out again, striking
full upon the Salute. For a fleeting instant the glorious dome curved
white and luminous against a lowering sky, vanishing again as the light
was withdrawn. Pauline caught her breath, and the blood raced through
her veins. She was startled, she assured herself, by the suddenness of
the flash.

When she spoke, her voice was tranquil as ever, yet curiously shot
through with feeling.

"If Geoffry Daymond told you that," she said, "I think you may feel
satisfied."

"I do," May answered, noting with surprise that her sister had given
Geoffry Daymond his full name;--it was not Pauline's way. "Yes, I do,"
she repeated, "it is a great relief."

It was only for a moment that Pauline's interest in her sister's story
had wavered. She had listened, and with unerring comprehension, thanks
to which she had not been misled as another might have been.

"There comes the moon out of the clouds," she exclaimed. "Take us where
we can see the moon, Vittorio."

"Si, Signorina."

They had come opposite the Salute, and now the prow of the gondola
turned in at the narrow _rio_ that runs between the great church and the
lovely old Abbazia of San Gregorio. There were deserted gondolas and
other craft moored at one side of the little canal, and as they pushed
their way past them, the oar lapped the water with the peculiar sound it
makes in passing through a restricted passage. They glided under a low
bridge, beyond which the moon appeared, just issuing from a bank of
cloud, and, a moment later, they had floated out into the Giudecca,
among the tall black hulls of the shipping lying there at anchor.

"How good and genuine the moon looks after those search-lights!" May
exclaimed, with a sigh of satisfaction.

"Yes, but they were a wonderful sight," Pauline maintained.

"Perhaps so; but they were artificial, and one does like things to be
natural."

They had rowed the length of the Giudecca, watching the moon's
vicissitudes among the clouds, and now they had once more turned toward
home, making their way through one of the prettiest _rios_ of the
Tolentini quarter.

"I suppose," Pauline remarked, as they came out upon the Grand Canal,
"that, in a deep sense, artificial things,--of the good kind,--are just
as natural as things we have no control over. I suppose we get our
search-lights from Nature, only in a more round-about way."

"Perhaps we do," May replied; adding, with apparent irrelevance, "and
I'm not sure that I should be willing to have missed it."

       *       *       *       *       *

That same evening, in the fever ward of a Milan hospital, two figures
were standing beside a narrow cot in earnest consultation. The patient
was a child of ten. The little face had the look of many another little
fever-stricken face, but the hair that lay tossed upon the pillow was of
exceptional beauty.

"Can we save her, Signor Dottore?" It was the nun who spoke.

"We must," the doctor answered, with quiet emphasis.

He stooped and lifted in his hand one of the disordered tresses. It was
neither blonde nor auburn, but pure gold, the lovely gold that sometimes
shines in the heart of the sunset. Even the nun felt the beauty of it.

"Did you ever see such hair as that?" she asked.

He laid the tress back upon the pillow, very gently, and, looking into
the quiet eyes of the Sister, he answered:

"_Never but once._"



XIX

"Decus et Praesidium"


The search-lights of that evening's talk had betrayed more to Pauline
Beverly than the transitory trouble of her sister's mind. In vain did
she try to dwell only upon what May had told her, upon the awakening of
imagination and feeling that had been revealed in the clear depths of
that singularly limpid nature. Unlike as the sisters were, they were yet
of closely kindred fibre, and no one but Pauline could have so clearly
apprehended or so justly gauged the true significance of the experience
which the young girl herself had found so perplexing. Yet because
Pauline so well understood it, the thought of it did not wholly possess
her mind, and she could not escape an unwilling cognizance of something
deeper and far more disquieting, that she had caught a glimpse of in her
own soul.

There was nothing of the repellent reserve in Pauline's character which
makes itself evident to the chance acquaintance. If she was innately
reticent, it was in a deep, still wise, to the exclusion sometimes of
her own consciousness,--and it was this inner reticence that had been
violated.

In the succeeding hours of the night, her mind recurred many times to
that sudden vision of the Salute dome, flashing, white and luminous,
upon a shadowy background. It had been the apparition of an instant, and
yet it was so clearly imaged on her brain, even now, that every
slightest detail stood out in her memory, distinct as in the light of
day. And simultaneously with that, a search-light had flashed upon the
hidden places of her own soul, and she had had a vision which she knew
that no veil of reserve, impenetrable though it might be, could annul.
The night had fallen upon the Salute and wrapped it from sight, but was
it the less real for that?

In the first dawning light, she got up, and, throwing on a loose gown of
soft, pink cashmere, she stepped out upon the balcony to get a breath of
air. She did not look toward the Salute; something withheld her from
doing so, as if it had involved a self-betrayal which she shrank from.
She turned, instead, to the east, where, rising pale, but distinct,
against the faint rosy flush of the sky, was the tower and dome of San
Pietro di Castello. A single star still pricked through the deepening
colour, but, as she looked, it vanished. The dip of an oar, that sound
that never ceases, night nor day, on the great thoroughfare of Venice,
reached her ear, and a bird chirped in the garden. Each suggestion came
to her, isolated and delicately individualised: the star, the oar-dip,
the bird-note. She felt herself played upon, like a passive instrument,
as if a light hand had just touched one vibrating string and another,
careless of definite melody.

The colour in the east deepened to a wonderful rose, against which the
tower and dome of San Pietro stood out in purest dove-colour, and more
birds chirped, and one burst into a little gush of song. Pauline,
standing on her high balcony, wrapped in the soft cashmere whose rosy
colour seemed a reflection of the dawn, felt herself in some peculiar
sense a partaker in that exquisite awakening; and, in truth, the
surface of the water was not more sensitive to the growing wonder than
the delicately expressive face, turned still to the east. Not until the
sun had fairly risen, and swept the colour from the face of the sky, did
she look toward the Salute. There it stood, beautiful and strong and
invulnerable, but behind it were dark rain-clouds, heaped high and
threatening.

Then Pauline moved away, with a feeling of assured strength and peace.
She could not account for it, she could not have defined it; she only
felt as if she had come face to face with a great experience, whether of
joy or sorrow she could not tell,--but whatever its countenance she felt
serenely ready to meet it.

She slept a deep, peaceful sleep after that, nor did her mind misgive
her when she awoke again, to find that those threatening clouds had
taken possession of the sky, and were drenching the world with rain.

They went to the Belle Arti that morning, Pauline and May and Uncle Dan,
their faithful squire. Vittorio took them there in the hooded gondola,
himself radiant in a new "impermeable" hat and coat, which gave him the
appearance of a gigantic wet seal, swaying genially on its supple tail.

As they looked out from the shelter of the _felze_, more impermeable
than many rubber coats, May observed that it was a terrible waste of
opportunities to go about in a _felze_ with a mere uncle and sister.

"What do you take it that a _felze_ is for?" asked Uncle Dan, enchanted
with her disparaging tone.

"I suppose it was originally invented for the accommodation of lovers,"
May replied, with her familiar air of scientific investigation, which
caused Pauline to smile contentedly.

"Other kinds of conspirators are said to have found it convenient,"
Uncle Dan observed. "Thieves and cut-throats, for instance. But it
strikes me as being a very good place for an uncle, especially in
weather like this."

"And you, Pauline,--what is your vote?"

"I should think it was a very excellent place to be in with an uncle,
or----"

"Or?"

"Or anyone else one thought particularly well of," and Pauline gave her
sister an appreciative smile.

Then May, usually rather unsusceptible to such quiet demonstrations of
affection, put her hand in her sister's and said: "Pauline, you are a
good deal of a dear!" and there was a certain bright sweetness in the
young girl's face that caused Pauline to think of the dawn, and of what
a perfect hour it was,--and that there was never any hurry about the
sunrise.

They spent an hour, catalogue in hand, among the less important
pictures, while Uncle Dan amused himself with some old engravings, and
then, having earned their reward, the two girls strolled back to the
great saloons, where nothing less splendid than Tintoretto and Veronese
makes its appeal to the conscience of the sight-seer.

Pauline descended the steps to the main entrance hall, from which one
has the best view of Titian's _Assumption_. She seated herself on the
broad divan, and looked up through the arched doorway to the glorious
soaring figure, that seems, not up-borne by the floating cloud of cherubs
and angels, but rather drawing all that buoyant throng upward in its
marvellous flight. Geoffry Daymond, pausing at the top of the short flight
of steps a few minutes later, face to face with Pauline, fancied that he
discovered a subtle kinship between her countenance and the pictured one;
and then, as he turned to compare them, he unhesitatingly gave his
preference to the girl of the nineteenth century, with the rare, sylvan
face and the uplifted look. As she became aware of his approach a lovely
colour stole into her face, and there was a welcome in her eyes which she
was too sincere to deny.

"We wondered whether we should find you here this rainy morning," she
said, as he came toward her down the steps; and she spoke with such
quiet composure that a sudden leaping emotion that had stirred him was
checked midway.

"I was looking for you," he replied. "We came across the Colonel and he
told us you were here."

"We always come here when it rains, because the light is so good,"
Pauline observed, wondering that she could think of nothing better to
say.

"Yes; I know it. I passed your sister just now, standing with her back
to the world at large, studying a Tintoretto portrait."

"May really understands a good deal about pictures," Pauline remarked,
still wondering that nothing but platitudes would come to her lips. She
had left her seat, and they were moving toward the steps.

"It seems an age since I have seen you," said Geof, neglecting to reply
to her last observation, which, truth to tell, he had scarcely heard.

"It does seem a good while," she admitted. "Not since Quattro Fontane;"
and then she laughed. "That was only yesterday morning, but one doesn't
reckon time by clocks and calendars in Venice."

"If the clocks and calendars would only pay the old gentleman as little
attention as we do," Geof rejoined, "how lucky we should be!"

"I wonder whether we should really want time to stand still,--even in
Venice," said Pauline, as they passed up the steps into the room where
May had last been seen.

"That would depend," Geoffry answered, and there was that indescribable
something in his voice which she had heard more than once of late, and
which she always found extremely discomposing. The passing of that
breath of feeling was still troubling the waters of her consciousness
when, a moment later, they were met by the other three.

Mrs. Daymond came forward and took both Pauline's hands, and, straightway
it seemed to Pauline as if a bountiful beneficent power had encompassed
her round about.

"Geof," said his mother, turning to him, with the unfailing grace of
tone and gesture which was a source of perennial delight to the Colonel;
"I find that Colonel Steele's Venetian education is only half
accomplished. He does not know San Simeone. Supposing we all go and see
the old hero. It has stopped raining and the men must be longing to have
us come out again."

"I'm always ready for St. Simon," Geof declared.

"I don't see how we ever overlooked him in the books," said May. "He
sounds perfectly tremendous, with his hollow cheeks and his solemn dead
face."

"Then we are all going?" and Mrs. Daymond looked questioningly at
Pauline who had not spoken. It was as if the elder woman had divined
something of the unwonted reluctance that had possessed itself of the
young girl.

"Do you mind if I stay behind?" Pauline asked, hesitatingly; "I should
like to stay on here for a little while, and then I should be glad of
the walk home. So please take both the gondolas."

"Polly doesn't like sharp contrasts," the Colonel remarked, as he
passed, with the others, out of the gallery and down the stairs. "She
has probably got her mind going on some little private inspiration, and
she doesn't take to the idea of a dead saint."

"No more do I!" Geof announced, with a reckless inconsistency, that took
no thought of appearances; and, having seen the party safely ensconced
under the _felze_ of Pietro's gondola, he retraced his steps, his head
slightly bent, his hands clasped behind him.

The rain had ceased, and a timid relenting had stolen into the west.
Geof turned and glanced from the sky to Vittorio's gondola which still
lay moored under the shelter of the bridge.

"If I only dared!" he said to himself; and then, flinging his head back,
with a free, boyish gesture, he strode on to the entrance of the
gallery.

Pauline had returned to her seat before the great Titian. She was the
only person in the room at the moment. Geof came across the stone floor
with a ringing step which caused her to turn, in startled certainty that
it was he. There was something in the manner of his approach that
affected her like a summons, and she rose to her feet.

He came up to her and, looking straight into her face, he said: "You
must come out. The sun will be out before we know it, and one always
wants to be out-of-doors when it clears."

"Are the others waiting?" she asked.

"No; Pietro has taken them off. But I think you are right; St. Simon is
not what we want this morning. Supposing we make a call upon the
Rezzonico Madonna."

"But I was going to walk home," Pauline demurred, quite sensible of her
own futility.

"You can't. It's really very wet. Do come and take a look at the
Madonna."

She turned, with neither protest nor assent, and walked with him down
the room. She felt that she had relaxed her hold upon herself. What was
it she was yielding to? Something imperative and masterful in him, or
something still more masterful and imperative in her own soul? She did
not know, she did not consider. She walked with him down the stairs, and
out into the outer world, and she knew that she would have walked with
him across the very waters of the Canal with the unquestioning faith of
the pious little princess whom legend carries over dry-shod to her
prayers.

Pauline spoke only once, and that was when her eyes fell upon the
gondola coming to meet them.

"The _felze_!'" she exclaimed, under her breath. If Geof heard her, he
was too wise to admit that he did.

"To the Madonna of the Palazzo Rezzonico," he commanded, quite as if
Vittorio had been his own gondolier. It crossed his mind that he ought
to apologise for his presumption, but he was not in the mood for
apologies.

The _felze_ was arranged for three, the little box-seats taken out, and
the chair in place of them; Geof took the chair. And Vittorio rowed them
swiftly with the tide, up the Canal, past the tiny striped church of San
Vio, to which the pious little princess crosses, in the pretty legend,
and on, to the stern and massive Palazzo Rezzonico. The gondola turned
down the narrow _rio_ that flows beneath the poet's memorial tablet, and
a few strokes of the oar brought them to the feet of the Madonna.

Geoffry and Pauline stepped out of the _felze_ and stood looking up at
the lovely figure in its flowing garments, with hands clasped upon the
breast, and head bowed beneath its floating aureole of stars. Vittorio,
too, stood with his eyes fixed upon the benignant face, and perhaps an
_ave_ in his heart if not on his lips.

Presently Pauline said, softly: "You were right."

"I was sure you would think so. It's only once in a while that one knows
exactly what is good for one; but then,--_one knows!_"

"Did you ever notice the inscription on the pedestal?" he asked, after
a moment. "Hardly anybody ever does."

"Yes; _Decus et praesidium_," Pauline read.

"For grace and protection," Geoffry translated. "Isn't that pretty?"

They went inside the _felze_ again, without giving any directions to the
gondolier, and Vittorio, delightedly equal to the occasion, rowed on,
through intricate, winding ways, with many a challenging _sta-i!_ and
_premi-o!_ and out across the Giudecca Canal. Neither Geoffry nor
Pauline was disposed to talk, yet neither of them felt the silence
oppressive. After a while they found themselves floating far out on the
lagoon beyond San Giorgio. The steady pulse of the oar went on, and the
light grew in sky and water.

"See how clear the Euganean hills are," Pauline said, looking out
through the little window to those deep-blue pyramids, rising beyond the
wide, opaline waters.

Geof, who was again sitting in the little chair, came down on one knee,
to bring his eyes on a level with the window, and, steadying himself
with his hand on the tufted cord, looked forth and saw the first ray of
sunlight break through the clouds and gild the waiting waters. And then
he turned from that glistening light and looked into Pauline's face.

The gathering brightness of the world outside seemed only to deepen the
shadow and the sheltering privacy of the low, arching roof above their
heads; the rhythmic throb of the oar seemed to grow stronger and more
imperative; the onward impulse of it seized and mastered him. He had
meant to say so many things, to urge so many reasons, to make such
humble entreaties. But, looking into that tender, gracious face, one
thought alone possessed him, and he only said: "Pauline, I love you!"

Then a wonderful light came into the face he loved, and she answered, as
simply as a little child: "I know it, Geoffry!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"It seems as if the lagoons belonged to them, this evening, eh, Polly?"

Uncle Dan and May were standing in the balcony, watching the receding
gondola. The stars were shining clear and high,--the lagoon would be
strewn with them. Far away on the horizon, May could see a revolving
light, coming and going, coming and going. She longed to be out.

"There's the Grand Canal," she suggested modestly.

"Yes; there's the Grand Canal. But, Polly, what do you say to making a
call on the Signora?"

May turned her bright eyes to those of the old soldier, that gleamed
questioningly, almost entreatingly, under the grizzly eye-brows.

"That would be very nice," she said, suppressing a little sigh of
resignation.

"Good girl!" cried the Colonel. "And, look here, Polly, perhaps it's you
who are to be the support of my old age, after all. Who knows?" and he
cast a glance, half humorous, half reproachful, in the direction in
which the gondola had disappeared. He was not yet quite reconciled to
the trick fate had played him.

[Illustration: "It seems as if the lagoons belonged to
them this evening"]

Then May slipped her hand inside his arm, in her own confiding way, and,
looking affectionately into the seamed and seared old face, she said,
with roguish sweetness: "I tell you what, Uncle Dan! We shall have to
grow old together, you and I!"



THE END.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

   Corrections made to text:

      Page  97: changed Nannie to Nanni

      Page 139: changed Siennese to Sienese





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