( Originally Published 1896 )
Kenwick stood, the next morning, on the deck of the beautiful pleasure-boat for whose splendors 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 con-template.
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 pleas-ant 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 them-selves, 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 en-chanting 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 dis-appeared 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 did n'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 vigor 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 I" 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 of 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 did n'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 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 did n't want to wear them, in all this heat, and I could n'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."