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"Oh, if you've forgotten, never mind! she cried, and she and Miss Mayhew disappeared within.
It was two hours later when he next saw them, after he had turned over the book he wished to see and had found the passage which would enable him to go on with his work for the rest of the day at home. He was fitting his key into the house-door when he happened to look up the little street toward the bridge that led into it, and there, defined against the sky on the level of the bridge, he saw Mrs. Elmore and Miss Mayhew receiving the adieux of a distinguished-looking man in the Austrian uniform. The officer had brought his heels together in the conventional manner, and, with his cap in his right hand while his left rested on the hilt of his sword and pressed it down, he was bowing from the hips. Once, twice, and he was gone.
The ladies came down the calle with rapid steps and flushed faces, and Elmore let them in. His wife whispered, as she brushed by his elbow:
"I want to speak with you instantly, Owen. Well, now!" she added, when they were alone in their own room, and she had shut the door. "What do you say now?"
"What do I say now, Celia ?" retorted Elmore, with just indignation. "It seems to me that it is for you to say something or nothing."
"Why, you brought it on us."
Elmore merely glanced at his wife, and did not speak, for this passed all force of language.
"Didn't you see me looking at you when I spoke of going out in a gondola, at breakfast ?"
"What did you suppose I meant ?" "I didn't know."
"When I was trying to make you understand that if we took a gondola we could go and come without being seen! Lily had to do her shopping. But if you chose to run off on some interpretation of your own, was I to blame, I should like to know? No, indeed! You wont get me to admit it, Owen."
Elmore continued inarticulate, but he made a low, miserable sibillation between his set teeth.
"Such presumption, such perfect audacity, I never saw in my life!" cried Mrs. Elmore, fleetly changing the subject in her own mind, and leaving her husband to follow her as he could. "It was outrageous!"
Her words were strong, but she did not really look affronted; and it is hard to tell what sort of liberty it is that affronts a woman. It seems to depend a great deal upon the person who takes the liberty.
"That was the man, I suppose," said Elmore, quietly.
"Yes, Owen," answered his wife, with beautiful candor, "it was." Seeing that he remained unaffected by her display of this virtue, she added: "Don't you think he was very handsome ? "
"I couldn't judge, at such a distance." "Well, he is perfectly splendid. And I don't want you to think he was disrespectful at all. He wasn't. He was everything that was delicate and deferential."
"Did you ask him to walk home with you?"
Mrs. Elmore remained speechless for some moments. Then she drew a long breath, and said, firmly :
"If you wont interrupt me with gratuitous insults, Owen, I will tell you all about it, and then perhaps you will be ready to do me justice. I ask nothing more." She waited for his contrition, but proceeded without it, in a somewhat meeker strain : "Lily couldn't get her things at Pazienti's, and we had to go to the Merceria for them. Then, of course, the nearest way home was through St. Mark's Square. I made Lily go on the Florian side, so as to avoid the officers who were sitting at the Quadri, and we had got through the Square and past San Moïse, as far as the Stadt Gratz. I had never thought of how the officers frequented the Stadt Gratz, but there we met a most magnificent creature, and I had just said, 'What a splendid officer!' when she gave a sort of stop and he gave a sort of stop, and bowed very low, and she whispered, 'It's my officer.' I didn't dream of his joining us, and I don't think he did, at first; but after he took a second look at Lily, it really seemed as if he couldn't help it. He asked if he might join us, and I didn't say anything."
"Didn't say anything!"
"No! How could I refuse, in so many words? And I was frightened and confused, any way. He asked if we were going to the music in the Giardini Pubblici; and I said no, that Miss Mayhew was not going into society in Venice, but was merely here for her health. That's all there is of it. Now do you blame me, Owen ?" "No."
66 Do you blame her?"
Mrs. Elmore grew still meeker under this irony. Indignation and censure she would have known how to meet; but his quiet perplexed her. She did not know what might not be coming.
"Lily scarcely spoke to him," she pursued, and I was very cold. I spoke to him in German.”
"Is German a particularly repellent tongue ?"
"No. But I was determined he should get no hold upon us. He was very polite and very respectful, as I said, but I didn't give him an atom of encouragement; I saw that he was dying to be asked to call, but I parted from him very stiffly."
Italian or German ladies. He has shown himself no gentleman."
"He didn't behave like one. One of 'our own poor boys,' as you call them, would have been as far as possible from thrusting himself upon you. He would have had too much reverence for you, too much self-respect, too much pride."
"What has pride to do with such things, my dear? I think he acted very naturally. He acted upon impulse. I'm sure you're always crying out against the restraints and conventionalities between young people, over here; and now, when a European does do a simple, unaffected thing
Elmore made a gesture of impatience. "This fellow has presumed upon your being Americans-on your ignorance of the customs here to take a liberty that he would not have dreamed of taking with
"Now, there you are very much mistaken, Owen. That's what I thought when Lily first told me about his speaking to her in the cars, and I was very much prejudiced against him; but when I saw him to-day, I must say I felt that I had been wrong. He is a gentleman; but he is desperate." Oh, indeed!"
"Yes," said Mrs. Elmore, shrinking a little under her husband's sarcastic tone. "Why, Owen," she pleaded, "can't you see anything romantic in it?"
"I see nothing but a vulgar impertinence in it. I see it from his stand-point as an adventure, to be bragged of and laughed over at the mess-table and the caffè. I'm going to put a stop to it."
Mrs. Elmore looked daunted and a little bewildered. "Well, Owen," she said, “I put the affair entirely in your hands."
Elmore never could decide upon just what theory his wife had acted; he had to rest upon the fact, already known to him, of her perfect truth and conscientiousness, and his perception that even in a good woman the passion for maneuvering and intrigue may approach the point at which men commit forgery. He now saw her quelled and submissive: but he was by no means sure that she looked at the affair as he did, or that she voluntarily acquiesced.
"All that I ask is that you wont do anything that you'll regret afterward. And as for putting a stop to it, I fancy it's put a stop to already. He's going back to Peschiera this afternoon, and that'll probably be the last of him.”
Very well," said Elmore," if that is the last of him, I ask nothing better. I certainly have no wish to take any steps in the matter."
But he went out of the house very unhappy and greatly perplexed. He thought at first of going to the Stadt Gratz, where Captain Ehrhardt was probably staying for the tap of Vienna beer peculiar to that hostelry, and of inquiring him out, and requesting him to discontinue his attentions; but this course, upon reflection, was less high-handed than comported with his present mood, and he turned aside to seek advice of his consul. He found Mr. Hoskins in the best humor for backing his quarrel. He had just received a second dispatch from Turin, stating that the rumor of the approaching visit of the Alabama was unfounded; and he was thus left with a
force of unexpended belligerence on his hands which he was glad to contribute to the defense of Mr. Elmore's family from the pursuit of this Austrian officer.
"This is a very simple affair, Mr. Elmore," he usually said "Elmore," but in his haughty frame of mind, he naturally threw something more of state into their intercourse," a very simple affair, fortunately. All that I have to do is to call on the military governor, and state the facts of the case, and this fellow will get his orders quietly and definitively. This war has sapped our influence in Europe, there's no doubt of it; but I think it's a pity if an American family living in this city can't be safe from molestation; and if it can't, I want to know the reason why."
This language was very acceptable to Elmore, and he thanked the consul. At the same time he felt his own resentment moderated, and he said:
"I'm willing to let the matter rest, if he goes away this afternoon."
"Oh, of course," Hoskins assented, "if he clears out, that's the end of it. I'll look in to-morrow, and see how you're getting along."
"Don't-don't give them the impression that I've-profited by your kindness," suggested Elmore, at parting.
"You haven't, yet. I only hope you may have the chance."
"Thank you; I don't think I do." Elmore took a long walk, and returned home tranquilized and clarified as to the situation. Since it could be terminated without difficulty and without scandal, in the way Hoskins had explained, he was not unwilling to see a certain poetry in it. He could not repress a degree of sympathy with the bold young fellow who had overstepped the conventional proprieties in the ardor of a romantic impulse, and he could see how this very boldness, while it had a terror, would have a charm for a young girl. There was no necessity, except for the purpose of holding Mrs. Elmore in check, to look at it in an ugly light. Perhaps the officer had. inferred from Lily's innocent frankness of manner that this sort of approach was permissible with Americans, and was not amusing himself with the adventure, but was in love in earnest. Elmore could allow himElmore could allow himself this view of a case which he had so completely in his own hands; and he was sensible of a sort of pleasure in the novel responsibility thrown upon him. Few men at his age were called upon to stand in the
place of a parent to a young girl, to intervene in her affairs, and to decide who was and who was not a proper person to pretend to her acquaintance.
Feeling so secure in his right, he rebelled against the restraint he had proposed to himself, and at dinner he invited the ladies to go to the opera with him. He chose to show himself in public with them, and to check any impression that they were without due protection. As usual, the pit was full of officers, and between the acts they all rose, as usual, and faced the boxes, which they perused through their lorgnettes till the bell rang for the curtain to rise. But Mrs. Elmore, having touched his arm to attract his notice, instructed him, by a slow turning of her head, that Captain Ehrhardt was not there. After that he undoubtedly breathed freer, and, in the relaxation from his sense of bravado, he enjoyed the last acts of the opera more than the first. Miss Mayhew showed no disappointment; and she bore herself with so much grace and dignity, and yet so evidently impressed every one with her beauty, that he was proud of having her in charge. He began himself to see that she was pretty.
THE next day was Sunday, and in going to church they missed a call from Hoskins, whom Elmore felt bound to visit the following morning on his way to the library, and inform of his belief that the enemy had quitted Venice, and that the whole affair was probably at an end. He was strengthened in this opinion by Mrs. Elmore's fear that she might have been colder than she supposed; she hoped that she had not hurt the poor young fellow's feelings, and now that he was gone, and safely out of the way, Elmore hoped so too.
On his return from the library, his wife met him with an air of mystery before which his heart sank.
"Owen," she said, "Lily has a letter." "Not bad news from home, Celia!" "No; a letter which she wishes to show you. It has just come. As I don't wish to influence you, I would rather not be present."
Mrs. Elmore slipped out of the room, and Miss Mayhew glided gravely in, holding an open note in her hand, and looking into Elmore's eyes with a certain unfathomable candor, of which she had the secret.
"Here," she said, "is a letter which I think you ought to see at once, Professor
Elmore;" and she gave him the note with an air of unconcern, which he afterward recalled without being able to determine whether it was real indifference or only the calm resulting from the transfer of the whole responsibility to him. She stood looking at him while he read:
"In this evening I am just arrived from Venise, 4 hours afterwards I have had the fortune to see you and to speake with you-and to favorite me of your gentil acquaintanceship at rail-away. I never forgeet the moments I have seen you. Your pretty and nice figure had attached my heard so much, that I deserted in the hopiness to see you at Venise. And I was so lukely to speak with you cut too short, and in the possibility to understand all. I wish to go also in this Sonday to Venise, but I am sory that I cannot, beaucause I must feeled now the consequences of the desertation. Pray Miss to agree the assurance of my lov, and perhaps I will be so lukely to receive a notice from you Miss if I can hop a little (hapiness) sympathie. Très humble
E. VON EHRHARDT."
Elmore was not destitute of the national sense of humor; but he read this letter not only without amusement in its English, but with intense bitterness and renewed alarm. It appeared to him that the willingness of the ladies to put the affair in his hands had not strongly manifested itself till it had quite passed their own control, and had become a most embarrassing difficulty,when, in fact, it was no longer a merit in them to confide it to him. In the resentment of that moment, his suspicions even accused his wife of desiring, from idle curiosity and sentiment, the accidental meeting which had resulted in this fresh aggression.
Why did you show me this letter ?" he asked, harshly.
She said she supposed he must think it was the American way." "Mrs. Elmore- began her husband; but he arrested himself there, and said, “Very well. I want to know what I am to do. I want your full and explicit authority before. I act. We will dismiss the fact of irregularity. We will suppose that it is fit and becoming for a gentleman who has twice met a young lady by accident-or once by accident and once by his own insistenceto write to her. Do you wish to continue the correspondence ?"
"Did you wish me to see it?"
"I don't suppose I wished you to see it; I thought you ought to see it."
Elmore felt himself relenting a little. "What do you want done about it?" he asked, more gently.
"That is what I wished you to tell me," replied the girl.
"I can't tell you what you wish me to do, but I can tell you this, Miss Mayhew: this man's behavior is totally irregular. He would not think of writing to an Italian or German girl in this way. If he desired to -to-pay attention to her, he would write to her father."
"Yes, that's what Mrs. Elmore said.
Elmore looked into the eyes which dwelt full upon him, and, though they were clear as the windows of heaven, he hesitated.
"I must do what you say, no matter what you mean, you know ?”
"I mean what I say."
"SIR: Miss Mayhew has handed me your note of yesterday, and begs me to express her very great surprise that you should have ventured to address her. She desires me also to add that you will con"Mrs. Elmore told me to do so," Lily sider at an end whatever acquaintance you suppose answered. yourself to have formed with her.
"Your obedient servant,
"Perhaps," he suggested, "you would prefer to return him this letter with a few lines on your card.”
"No. I should like him to know that I have shown it to you. I should think it a liberty for an American to write to me in that way after such a short acquaintance, and I don't see why I should tolerate it from a foreigner, though I suppose their customs are different."
"Then you wish me to write to him ? " "Yes."
"And make an end of the matter, once for all ?"
"Very well, then."
Elmore sat down at once, and wrote:
He handed the note to Lily. "Yes, that will do," she said, in a low, steady voice. She drew a deep breath, and, laying the letter softly down, went out of the room into Mrs. Elmore's.
Elmore had not had time to kindle his sealing-wax when his wife appeared swiftly upon the scene.
"I want to see what you have written, Owen," she said.
"Don't talk to me, Celia," he replied, thrusting the wax into the candle-light. "You have put this affair entirely in my hands, and Lily approves of what I have
written. I am sick of the thing, and I people to feel that we managed not only don't want any more talk about it." wisely but humanely in checking a man who was resolved to force his acquaintance upon her."
"I must see it," said Mrs. Elmore, with finality, and possessed herself of the note. She ran it through, and then flung it on the table and herself into a chair, while the tears started to her eyes. "What a cold, cutting, merciless letter!" she cried.
"I hope he will think so," said Elmore, gathering it up from the table, and sealing it securely in its envelope.
"You're not going to send it!" exclaimed his wife.
"Yes, I am."
"I didn't suppose you could be so heartless."
"Very well, then, I wont send it," said Elmore; "I put the affair into your hands. What are you going to do about it ? "
"On the contrary, I'm perfectly serious. I don't see why you shouldn't manage the business. The gentleman is an acquaintance of yours. I don't know him." Elmore rose and put his hands in his pockets. "What do you intend to do? Do you like this clandestine sort of thing to go on? dare say the fellow only wishes to amuse himself by a flirtation with a pretty American. But the question is whether you wish him to do so. I'm willing to lay his conduct to a misunderstanding of our customs, and to suppose that he thinks this is the way Americans do. I take the matter at its best he speaks to Lily on the train without an introduction; he joins you in your walk without invitation; he writes to her without leave, and proposes to get up a correspondence. It is all perfectly right and proper, and will appear so to Lily's friends when they hear of it. But I'm curious to know how you're going to manage the sequel. Do you wish the affair to go on, and how long do you wish it to go on ?"
Mrs. Elmore thought a long while. Then she said:
"Why, of course, Owen, you're right about it. There is no other way. There couldn't be any kindness in checking him gradually. But I wish," she added sorrowfully, "that he had not been such a complete goose; and then we could have done something with him.”
"I am obliged to him for the perfection which you regret, my dear. If he had been less complete, he would have been much harder to manage."
"Well," said Mrs. Elmore, rising, "I shall always say that he meant well. But send the letter."
Her husband did not wait for a second bidding. He carried it himself to the general post-office that there might be no mistake and no delay about it; and a man who believed that he had a feeling and tender heart experienced a barbarous joy in the infliction of this pitiless snub. I do not say that it would not have been different if he had trusted at all in the sincerity of Captain Ehrhardt's passion; but he was glad to discredit it. A misgiving to the other effect would have complicated the matter. But now he was perfectly free to disembarrass himself of a trouble which had so seriously threatened his peace. He was responsible to Miss Mayhew's family, and Mrs. Elmore herself could not say, then or afterward, that there was any other way open to him. I will not contend that his motives were wholly unselfish. No doubt a sense of personal annoyance, of offended decorum, of wounded respectability, qualified the zeal for Miss Mayhew's good which prompted him. He was still a young and inexperienced man, confronted with a strange perplexity; he did the best he could, and I suppose it was the best that could be done. At any rate, he had no regrets, and he went even gayly about the work of interesting Miss Mayhew in the monuments and memories of the city.
Since the decisive blow had been struck, the ladies seemed to share his relief. The pursuit of Captain Ehrhardt, while it flattered, might well have alarmed, and the loss of a not unpleasant excitement was made good by a sense of perfect security. Whatever repining Miss Mayhew indulged was secret, or confided solely to Mrs. El