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Mare Marto by Robert Herrick

I

The narrow slant of water that could be seen between the posts of the felza was rippling with little steely waves. The line of the heavy beak cut the opening between the tapering point of the Lido and the misty outline of Tre Porti. Inside the white lighthouse tower a burnished man- of-war lay at anchor, a sluggish mass like a marble wharf placed squarely in the water. From the lee came a slight swell of a harbor-boat puffing its devious course to the Lido landing. The sea-breeze had touched the locust groves of San Niccolo da Lido, and caught up the fragrance of the June blossoms, filling the air with the soft scent of a feminine city.

When the scrap of the island Sant' Elena came enough into the angle to detach itself from the green mass of the Giardino Pubblico, the prow swung softly about, flapping the little waves, and pointed in shore where a bridge crossed an inlet into the locust trees.

“You can see the Italian Alps,” Miss Barton remarked, pulling aside the felza curtains and pointing lazily to the snow masses on the blue north horizon. “That purplish other sea is the Trevisan plain, and back of it is Castelfranco—Giorgione's Castelfranco—and higher up where the blue begins to break into the first steps of the Alps is perched Asolo—Browning's Asolo. Oh! It is so sweet! a little hill town! And beyond are Bassano and Belluno, and somewhere in the mist before you get to those snow-heads is Pieve da Cadore.” Her voice dropped caressingly over the last vowels. The mere, procession of names was a lyric sent across sea to the main.

“They came over them, then, the curious ones,” the younger man of the two who lounged on cushions underneath the felza remarked, as if to prolong the theme. “To the gates of Paradise,” he continued, while his companion motioned to the gondolier. “And they broke them open, but they could never take the swag after all.”

He laughed at her puzzled look. He seemed to mock her, and his face became young in spite of the bald-looking temples and forehead, and the copperish skin that indicated years of artificial heat.

“They got some things,” the older man put in, “and they have been living off 'em ever since.”

“But they never got it,” persisted his companion, argumentatively. “Perhaps they were afraid.”

The gondola was gliding under the stone bridge, skilfully following the line of the key-stones in the arch. It passed out into a black pool at the feet of the Church of San Niccolo. The marble bishop propped up over the pediment of the door lay silently above the pool. The grove of blossoming locusts dropped white-laden branches over a decaying barca chained to the shore.

“What is 'it'?” the girl asked, slowly turning her face from the northern mountains. She seemed to carry a suggestion of abundance, of opulence; of beauty made of emphasis. “You,” the young man laughed back, enigmatically.

“They came again and again, and they longed for you, and would have carried you away by force. But their greedy arms snatched only a few jewels, a dress or two, and you they left.”

The girl caught at a cluster of locust blossoms that floated near.

“It is an allegory.”

“I'll leave Niel to untie his riddles.” Their companion lit his pipe and strode ashore. “I am off for an hour with the Adriatic. Don't bother about me if you get tired of waiting.”

He disappeared in the direction of the Lido bathing stablimento. The two gathered up cushions and rugs, and wandered into the grove. The shade was dark and cool. Beyond were the empty acres of a great fort grown up in a tangle of long grass like an abandoned pasture. Across the pool they could see the mitred bishop sleeping aloft in the sun, and near him the lesser folk in their graves beside the convent wall.

“No, I am not all that,” Miss Barton said, thoughtfully, her face bending, as if some rich, half-open rose were pondering.

He says that I am a fragment, a bit of detritus that has been washed around the world—”

“And finally lodged and crystallized in Italy.”

This mystified her again, as if she were compelled to use a medium of expression that was unfamiliar.

“Papa was consul-general, you know, first at Madrid, then in the East, and lastly merely a consul at Milan.” She fell back in relief upon a statement of fact.

“Yes, I know.”

“And mamma—she was from the South but he married her in Paris. They called me the polyglot bebe at the convent.” She confided this as lazily interesting, like the clouds, or the locusts, or the faint chatter of the Adriatic waves around the breakwater of the Lido.

“Nevertheless you are Venice, you are Italy, you are Pagan”—the young man iterated almost solemnly, as if a Puritan ancestry demanded this reproach. Then he rolled his body half over and straightened himself to look at her rigidly. “How did you come about? How could Council Bluffs make it?” His voice showed amusement at its own intensity. She shook her head.

“I don't know,” she said, softly.

“It doesn't seem real. They tell me so, just as they say that the marble over there comes from that blue mountain. But why bother about it? I am here——”

They drifted on in personal chat until the sunlight came in parallel lines between the leaves.

“Where is Caspar?” he said at last, reluctantly. “It's too late to get back to the Britannia for dinner.” He jumped up as if conscious of a fault.

“Oh, we'll dine here. Caspar has found some one at the stablimento and has gone off. Ask Bastian—there must be some place where we can get enough to eat.”

Lawrence hesitated as if not quite sure of the outcome of such unpremeditation. But Miss Barton questioned the gondolier. “The Buon Pesche—that will be lovely; Bastian will paddle over and order the supper. We can walk around.”

So Lawrence, as if yielding against his judgment, knelt down and picked up her wrap. “Bastian will take care of the rest,” she said, gleefully, walking on ahead through the long grass of the abandoned fort. “Be a bit of detritus, too, and enjoy the few half-hours,” she added, coaxingly, over her shoulder.

When they were seated at the table under the laurel-trees before the Buon Pesche, Lawrence threw himself into the situation, with all the robustness of a moral resolve to do the delightful and sinful thing. Just why it should be sinful to dine there out-doors in an evening light of luminous gold, with the scent of locusts eddying about, and the mirage-like show of Venice sleeping softly over beyond—was not quite clear. Perhaps because his companion seemed so careless and unfamiliar with the monitions of strenuous living; perhaps because her face was brilliant and naive—some spontaneous thing of nature, unmarked by any lines of consciousness.

Under a neighboring tree a couple were already eating, or quarrelling in staccato phrases. Lawrence thought that the man was an artist.

Miss Barton smiled at his seriousness, crossing her hands placidly on the table and leaning forward. To her companion she gleamed, as if a wood- thing, a hamadryad, had slipped out from the laurel-tree and come to dine with him in the dusk.

The woman of the inn brought a flask of thin yellow wine and placed it between them. Lawrence mutely decanted it into the glasses.

“Well?” she said, questioningly.

Her companion turned his head away to the solemn, imperial mountains, that were preparing with purple and gold for a night's oblivion.

“You are thinking of Nassau Street, New York, of the rooms divided by glass partitions, and typewriters and the bundles of documents—bah! Chained!” She sipped scornfully a drop or two from the glass.

The man flushed.

“No, not that exactly. I am thinking of the police courts, of the squalor, of taking a deposition in a cell with the filthy breathing all about. The daily jostle.” He threw his head back.

“Don't try it again,” she whispered.

“I am only over for six weeks, you know, health—”

“Yes? and there is a girl in Lowell,”—she read his mind impudently.

“Was,” he emended, with an uneasy blush.

“Poor, starved one! Here is our fish and spaghetti. To-night is a night of feast.”

The dusk grew grayer, more powderish; the mountains faded away, and the long Lido banks disappeared into lines pointed by the lights of Torcello and Murano. Sant' Elena became sea, and the evening wind from the Adriatic started in toward the city. A few sailors who had come for a glass were sitting under the arbor of the Buon Pesche smoking, with an occasional stinging word dropped nonchalantly into the dusk. Their hostess was working in the garden patch behind the house. At last the artist moved off with his companion through the grove of laurel between the great well- heads. Bastian loitered suggestively near.

So they gathered their thoughts and followed the gondolier to the bank. Miss Barton lingered by one of the well-heads to peer at the pitchy bottom.

“Here they came for fresh water, the last gift of Venice before they took sail. And sometimes a man never went farther—it was a safe kind of a grave.” She laughed unconcernedly.

“Perhaps you came out of the locusts and took a hand in pitching the bodies in.”

The woman shivered.

“No! no! I only brought them here.”

Bastian turned the prow into the current, heading to weather Sant' Elena. Lawrence took an oar silently. He liked the rush on the forward stroke, the lingering recovery. The evening puffs were cool. They slid on past a ghostly full-rigged ship from the north, abandoned at the point of Sant' Elena, until the black mass of trees in the Giardino Pubblico loomed up. A little off the other quarter the lights from the island of San Lazzaro gleamed and faded. It was so very silent on the waste of waters!

“Come.”

Lawrence looked back at his companion; she was holding her hat idly, huddled limply on the cushions.

“Come,” she said again, adding mockingly——

“If you are so ferocious, we shall get there too soon.”

Lawrence gave up his oar and lay down at her feet. Bastian's sweep dipped daintily in and out; the good current was doing his work. They drifted silently on near Venice. The halo of light above the squares grew brighter. San Giorgio Maggiore appeared suddenly off the quarter.

Miss Barton signed to the gondolier to wait. They were outside the city wash; the notes of the band in San Marco came at intervals; the water slipped noiselessly around the channels, and fire-fly lights from the gondolas twinkled on the Grand Canal. San Giorgio was asleep.

Miss Barton's head was leaning forward, her eyes brooding over the black outlines, her ears sensuously absorbing the gurgle of the currents. A big market boat from Palestrina winged past them, sliding over the oily water. Several silent figures were standing in the stern.

Lawrence looked up; her eyes seemed lit with little candles placed behind. Her face gleamed, and one arm slipped from her wrap to the cushion by his side.

“Bella Venezia,” he murmured.

She smiled, enveloping him, mastering him, taking him as a child with her ample powers.

“You will never go back to 'that'!”

Her arm by his side filled out the thought.

“Never,” he heard himself say as on a stage, and the dusky lights from that radiant face seemed very near.

“Because——”

“Because I am——”

“Sh,” she laid her fingers lightly on his forehead. “There is no thine and mine.”

Bastian dipped his sweep once more. San Giorgio's austere facade went out into the black night. One cold ripple of Adriatic wind stirred the felza curtains.

II

The garden on the Giudecca was a long narrow strip on the seaward side, blossoming profusely with flowers. A low vine-covered villino slanted along the canal; beyond, there was a cow-house where a boy was feeding some glossy cows. The garden was full of the morning sun.

Lawrence could see her from the open door, a white figure, loitering in a bed of purple tulips. Her dark hair was loosely knotted up; stray wisps fell about her ears.

Lawrence closed the door that opened from the canal and walked softly through the plats of lilies and tulips. Miss Barton glanced up.

“Ecco! il cavaliere!”

“Didn't you expect me!” he asked, clumsily, revealing one potent reason for his appearance.

She smiled for an answer.

“Last night,” he began again, explanatorily. Her eyes followed his lips and interrupted him.

“What do you think of our place?” She had turned away as if to direct his speech into indifferent channels.

He looked about bewildered.

“I can't think anything; I feel it; it's one mass of sense.”

“Exactly. We found it, papa and I, one day two years ago when we were paddling around the Giudecca. One is so much at home here. At night you can see the lights along the Lido, and all the campaniles over there in Venice. Then the Redentore sweeps up so grandly—”

Lawrence slapped a bending tulip.

“Yes, the world lies far away.”

“And you are afraid to lose sight of it,” she turned on him swiftly. And she added, before he could find defence, “You have come to redeem your words, to tell me that you love me desperately; that you want to make an engagement; and some day marry me and go over there to live?”

She laughed.

“Well?”

“Caspar would do that.”

“And Severance has something to offer,” Lawrence remarked, bluntly.

“Half a million.”

She began to walk slowly across the little grass-plot over to the Lido side. Here the oily swell was gurgling in the stone embankment.

She was like a plant flowering in the garden—a plant, part lily, part hyacinth.

“And you do not want me,” she began, softly, less to him than to herself. “I don't fit in. You cannot take me up and put me aside, at your will. You would be mine.”

“Good!”

“It should have been different. We should never have met. They should have made you a saint, or a priest, or a pastor for the bleeding world. You are a trifle late; half a century ago, you could have given your soul to God, quite easily, and not bothered about one woman.”

“Yes, I agree, but that was settled by the way the world has ground,” the young man sighed. “Why should it bother you, my fooling with the forlorn and wretched—the others? Any more than I mind your dealings with men?”

They turned about and crossed the dozen paces to the Redentore wall where lay a blade of dark shade.

“You could flirt with the multitude? Yes, I should object,” she looked at him slowly, “I couldn't understand it.”

He threw his head back as if to look beyond Venice.

“The maimed in body and spirit,” he muttered.

“They call you; I call you; you——”

“I was starved,” he pleaded, “I love flesh and glory, too.”

She laughed unconcernedly.

“Oh, no. I think not. You are trying to very hard. You think you are enjoying your wine and your figs and the sun; but you say a prayer.”

Her words taunted him. The vines on the villino swayed in the sun.

“Come, we will go out to the water, and I will master your doubt.”

They stood silent, looking at each other, half curiously. At length she uttered what was common to their minds.

“Marry the world; it woos you. Love me and leave me; love another and leave her. The world, that is your mistress.”

“And the world incarnate, that is you. The world, breathing, living, loving, the world a passion of delight.”

Their hands touched for a moment. Then she said, hastily:

“Too late! There is Caspar. I forgot we were to go to Burano. Will you join us?”

A figure in white ducks was coming toward them. His cordial smile seemed to include a comment—a mental note of some hint he must give. “In stalks the world of time and place,” the young man muttered. “No, I will not go with you.”

He helped her into the waiting gondola. She settled back upon the cushions, stretched one languid arm in farewell. He could feel the smile with which she swept Caspar Severance, the women at work in the rio over their kettles, the sun-bright stretch of waters—all impartially.

He lay down in the shade of the Redentore wall. Eight weeks ago there had been a dizzy hour, a fainting scene in a crowded court-room, a consultation with a doctor, the conventional prescription, a fortnight of movement—then this. He had cursed that combination of nerve and tissue; equally he cursed this. One word to his gondolier and in two hours he could be on the train for Milan, Paris, London—then indefinite years of turning about in the crowd, of jostling and being jostled. But he lay still while the sun crept over him.

She was so unreal, once apart from her presence, like an evanescent mirage on the horizon of the mind. He told himself that he had seen her, heard her voice; that her eyes had been close to his, that she had touched him; that there had been moments when she stood with the flowers of the garden.

He shook the drowsy sun from his limbs and went away, closing the door softly on the empty garden. Venice, too, was a shadow made between water and sun. The boat slipped in across the Zattere, in and out of cool water alleys, under church windows and palings of furtive gardens, until he came to the plashings of the waves on the marble steps along the Grand Canal. Empty! that, too, was empty from side to side between cool palace facades, the length of its expressive curve. From silence and emptiness into silence the gondola pushed. Someone to incarnate this empty, vacuous world! Memory troubled itself with a face, and eyes, and hair, and a voice that mocked the little goings up and down of men.

III

In the afternoon Lawrence and Severance were dawdling over coffee in the Piazza. A strident band sent up voluminous notes that boomed back and forth between the palace and the stone arches of the procurate.

“And Burano?” Lawrence suggested, idly. The older man nodded.

“We lunched there—convent—Miss Barton bought lace.”

He broke the pause by adding, negligently:

“I think I shall marry her.”

Lawrence smoked; he could see the blue water about San Giorgio.

“Marry her,” he repeated, vaguely. “You are engaged?”

Severance nodded.

The young man reached out a bony hand. One had but to wait to still the problems of life. They strolled across the piazza.

“When do you leave?” Severance inquired.

“To-night,” almost slipped from the young man's lips. He was murmuring to himself. “I have played with Venice and lost. I must return to my busy village.”

“I can't tell,” he said.

Severance daintily stepped into a gondola. “La Giudecca.”

Lawrence turned into the swarming alleys leading to the Rialto.

Streams of Venetians were eddying about the cul-de-sacs and enclosed squares, hurrying over the bridges of the canals, turning in and out of the calles, or coming to rest at the church doors. Lawrence drifted tranquilly on. He had slipped a cable; he was free and ready for the open sea. Following at random any turning that offered, he came out suddenly upon Verocchio's black horseman against the black sky. The San Zanipolo square was deserted; the cavernous San Zanipolo tenanted by tombs. Stone figures, seated, a-horse, lying carved in death, started out from the silent walls.

“Condottieri,” the man muttered, “great robbers who saw and took! Briseghella, Mocenigo, Leonardo Loredan, Vittore Capello.” He rolled the powerful names under his breath. “They are right—Take, enjoy; then die.” And he saw a hill sleeping sweetly in the mountains, where the sun rested on its going down, and a villino with two old trees where the court seemed ever silent. In the stealthy, passing hours she came and sat in the sun, and was. And the two remembered, looking on the valley road, that somewhere lay in the past a procession of storms and mornings and nights which was called the world, and a procession of people which was called life. But she looked at him and smiled.

Outside in the square the transparent dusk of Venice settled down. In the broad canal of the Misericordia a faint plash and drip from a passing gondola; then, in a moment, as the boat rounded into the rio, a resounding “Stai”; again silence and the robber in bronze.

IV

He waited for a sign from the Giudecca. He told himself that Theodosia Barton was not done with him yet, nor he with her.

The tourist-stream, turning northward from Rome and Florence, met in Venice a new stream of Germans. The paved passage beside the hotel garden was alive with a cosmopolitan picnic party. Lawrence lingered and watched; perhaps when the current set strongly to the north again, it would carry him along with it.

He had not seen Caspar Severance. Each day of delay made it more awkward to meet him, made the confession of disappointment more obvious, he reflected. Each day it was easier to put out to the lagoons for a still dream, and return when the Adriatic breeze was winding into the heated calles. Over there, in the heavy-scented garden on the Giudecca, lined against a purplish sea, she was resting; she had given free warning for him to go, but she was there——.

“She holds me here in the Mare Morto, where the sea-weeds wind about and bind.”

And he believed that he should meet her somewhere in the dead lagoon, out yonder around the city, in the enveloping gloom of the waters which held the pearl of Venice.

So each afternoon his gondola crept out from the Fondamenta del Zattere into the ruffling waters of the Giudecca canal, and edged around the deserted Campo di Marte. There the gondolier labored in the viscous sea- grass.

One day, from far behind, came the plash of an oar in the channel. As the narrow hull swept past, he saw a hand gather in the felza curtains, and a woman kneel to his side.

“So Bastian takes you always to the dead sea,” she tossed aboard.

“Bastian might convoy other forestieri,” Lawrence defended.

“Really? here to the laguna morta?” and as his gondola slid into the channel, she added:

“I knew you were in Venice; you could not go without—another time.”

“What would that bring?” he questioned her with his eyes.

“How should I know?” she answered, evasively. “Come with me out to the San Giorgio in Alga. It is the loneliest place in Venice!”

Lawrence sat at her feet. The gondola moved on between the sea-weed banks. Away off by Chioggia, filmy gray clouds grew over the horizon.

“Rain.”

She shook her head. “For the others, landward. Those opalescent clouds streaking the sky are merely the undertone of Venice; they are always here.”

“The note of sadness,” he suggested.

“You thought to have ended with me.”

She rested her head on her hands and looked at him. He preferred to have her mention Caspar Severance.

“Whenever I was beyond your eyes, you were not quite sure. You went back to your hotel and wondered. The wine was over strong for your temperate nerves, and there was so much to do elsewhere!” she mocked him.

“After all, I was a fragment. And you judged in your wise new-world fashion that fragments were—useless.”

Just ahead was a tiny patch of earth, rimmed close to the edge by ruined walls. The current running landward drew them about the corner, under the madonna's hand, and the gondola came to rest beside the lichens and lizards of a crumbling wharf.

“No,” she continued, “I shall not let you go so easily.” One hand fell beside his arm, figuratively indicating her thought.

“And I shall carry you off,” he responded, slowly. “It lies between you— and all, everything.”

The gondolier had gone ashore. Silence had swallowed him up.

“All, myself and the others; effort, variety—for the man who loves you, there is but one act in life.”

“Splendid!” Her lips parted as if savoring his words.

His voice went on, low, strained to plunge his words into her heart.

“You are the woman, the curious thing that God made to stir life. You would draw all activities to you, and through you nothing may pass. Like the dead sea of grass you encompass the end of desire. You have been with me from my manhood, the fata morgana that laughed at my love of other creatures. I must meet you, I knew, face to face!”

His lips closed.

“Go on!”

“I have met you,” he added, sullenly, “and should I turn away, I should not forget you. You will go with me, and I shall hunger for you and hate you, and you will make it over, my life, to fill the hollow of your hand.”

“To fill the hollow of my hand,” she repeated softly, as if not understanding.

“You will mould it and pat it and caress it, until it fits. You will never reason about it, nor doubt, nor talk; the tide flows underneath into the laguna morta, and never wholly flows out. God has painted in man's mind the possible; and he has painted the delusions, the impossible—and that is woman?”

“Impossible,” she murmured. “Oh, no, not that!”

Her eyes compelled him; her hand dropped to his hand. Venice sank into a gray blot in the lagoon. The water was waveless like a deep night.

“Possible for a moment,” he added, dreamily, “possible as the unsung lyric. Possible as the light of worlds behind the sun and moon. Possible as the mysteries of God that the angels whisper——”

“The only possible,” again her eyes flamed; the dark hair gleamed black above the white face.

“And that is enough for us forever!”

V

The heavy door of the Casa Lesca swung in, admitting Lawrence to a damp stone-flagged room. At the farther end it opened on a little cortile, where gnarled rose-bushes were in bloom. A broken Venus, presiding over a dusty fountain, made the centre of the cortile, and there a strapping girl from the campagna was busy trimming the stalks of a bunch of roses. The signorina had not arrived; Lawrence lounged against the gunwale of a gondola, which lay on one side of the court.

A pretentious iron gate led from the cortile to the farm, where the running vines stretched from olive-stump to trellis, weaving a mat of undulating green. It was so quiet, here in the rear of the palace, that one could almost hear the hum of the air swimming over the broad vine leaves.

Lawrence, at first alert, then drowsy, reclined in the shade, and watched the girl. From time to time she threw him a soft word of Venetian. Then, gathering her roses, she shook them in his face and tripped up the stairs to the palace above.

He had made the appointment without intention, but he came to fulfil it in a tumult of energy.

She must choose and he arrange—for that future which troubled his mind. But the heated emptiness of the June afternoon soothed his will. He saw that whatever she bade, that he would do. Still here, while he was alone, before her presence came to rule, he plotted little things. When he was left with himself he wondered about it; no, he did not want her, did not want it! His life was over there, beyond her, and she must bend to that conception. People, women, anyone, this piece of beauty and sense, were merely episodic. The sum was made from all, and greater than all.

The door groaned, and he turned to meet her, shivering in the damp passage. She gathered a wrap about her shoulders.

“Caspar would not go,” she explained, appealingly.

“Which one is to go?” the young man began. She sank down on a bench and turned her head wearily to the vineyard. Over the swaying tendrils of the vine, a dark line, a blue slab of salt water, made the horizon.

“Should I know?” her face said, mutely.

“He thinks you should,” she spoke, calmly. “He has been talking two hours about you, your future, your brilliant performances——”

“That detained you!”

“He is plotting to make you a great man. You belong to the world, he said, and, the world would have you. They need you to plan and exhort, I believe.”

“So you come to tell me—”

“Let us go out to the garden.” She laid her hand reprovingly on his arm. “We can see the pictures later.”

She took his arm and directed him down the arched walk between the vines, toward the purple sea.

“I did not realize that—that you were a little Ulysses. He warned me!”

“Indeed!”

“That you would love and worship at any wayside shrine; that the spirit of devotion was not in you.”

“And you believed?”

She nodded.

“It seemed so. I have thought so. Once a few feet away and you are wondering!”

The young man was guiltily silent.

“And I am merely a wayside chapel, good for an idle prayer.”

“Make it perpetual.”

Her arm was heavy.

“Caspar wants you—away. He will try to arrange it. Perhaps you will yield, and I shall lose.”

“You mean he will make them recall me.”

She said nothing.

“You can end it now.” He stopped and raised her arm. They stood for a moment, revolving the matter; a gardener came down the path. “You will get the message tonight,” she said, gloomily. “Go! The message will say 'come,' and you will obey.”

Lawrence turned.

“Shall we see the pictures?”

The peasant girl admitted them to the hall, and opened, here and there, a long shutter. The vast hall, in the form of a Latin cross, revealed a dusky line of frescoes.

“Veronese,” she murmured. Lawrence turned to the open window that looked across the water to the piazza. Beneath, beside the quay, a green-painted Greek ship was unloading grain. Some panting, half-naked men were shovelling the oats.

“We might go,” he said; “Caspar is probably waiting for his report. You can tell him that he has won.”

Suddenly he felt her very near him.

“No, not that way!”

“You are good to—love,” she added deliberatively, placing her hands lightly on his heart.

“You do not care enough; ah! that is sad, sad. Caspar, or denial, or God— nothing would stand if you cared, more than you care for the little people and things. See, I can take you now. I can say you are mine. I can make you love—as another may again. But love me, now, as if no other minute could ever follow.”

She sighed the words.

“Here I am, to be loved. Let us settle nothing. Let us have this minute for a few kisses.”

The hall filled with dusk. The girl came back again. Suddenly a bell began ringing.

“Caspar,” she said. “Stay here; I will go.”

“We will go together.”

“No,” she waved him back. “You will get the message. Caspar is right. You are not for any woman for always.”

“Go,” he flung out, angrily.

The great doors of the hall had rattled to, leaving him alone half will- less. He started and then returned to the balcony over the fondamenta. In the half-light he could see her stepping into a waiting gondola, and certain words came floating up clearly as if said to him——

“To-morrow evening, the Contessa Montelli, at nine.” But she seemed to be speaking to her companion. The gondola shot out into the broad canal.

VI

The long June day, Lawrence sat with the yellow cablegram before his eyes. The message had come, indeed, and the way had been cleared. Eleven—the train for Paris! passed; then, two, and now it was dusk again.

Had she meant those words for him? So carelessly flung back. That he would prove.

       * * * * *

“The signorina awaits you.” The man pointed to the garden, and turned back with his smoking lamp up the broad staircase that clung to one side of the court. Across the strip of garden lay a bar of moonlight on the grass.

She was standing over the open well-head at the farther end where the grass grew in rank tufts. The gloomy wall of the palace cast a shadow that reached to the well. Just as he entered, a church-clock across the rio struck the hour on a cracked bell.

“My friend has gone in—she is afraid of the night air,” Miss Barton explained. “Perhaps she is afraid of ghosts,” she added, as the young man stood silent by her side. “An old doge killed his wife and her children here, some centuries ago. They say the woman walks. Are you afraid?”

“Of only one ghost——”

“Not yet a ghost!” Indeed, her warm, breathing self threw a spirit of life into the moonlight and gainsaid his idle words.

“I have come for you,” he said, a little peremptorily. “To do it I have lost my engagement with life.”

“So the message came. You refused, and now you look for a reward. A man must be paid!”

“I tried to keep the other engagement and could not!”

“I shall make you forget it, as if it were some silly boyish dream.” She began to walk over the moonlit grass. “I was waiting for that—sacrifice. For if you desire me, you must leave the other engagements, always.”

“I know it.”

“I lie in the laguna morta, and the dead are under me, and the living are caught in my sea-weed.” She laughed.

“Now, we have several long hours of moonlight. Shall we stay here?”

The young man shivered.

“No, the Lady Dogessa might disturb us. Let us go out toward Murano.”

“Are you really—alive and mine, not Severance's?” he threw out, recklessly.

She stopped and smiled.

“First you tell me that I disturb your plans; then you want to know if I am preoccupied. You would like to have me as an 'extra' in the subscription.”

As they came out on the flags by the gondola, another boat was pushing a black prow into the rio from the Misericordia canal. It came up to the water-steps where the two stood. Caspar Severance stepped out.

“Caspar!” Miss Barton laughed.

“They told me you were here for dinner,” he explained. He was in evening clothes, a Roman cloak hanging from his shoulders. He looked, standing on the steps below the other two, like an impertinent intrusion.

“Lawrence! I thought you were on your way home.”

Lawrence shook his head. All three were silent, wondering who would dare to open the final theme.

“The Signora Contessa had a headache,” Miss Barton began, nonchalantly.

Severance glanced skeptically at the young American by her side.

“So you fetched il dottore americano? Well, Giovanni is waiting to carry us home.”

Miss Barton stepped forward slowly, as if to enter the last gondola whose prow was nuzzling by the steps.

Lawrence took her hand and motioned to his gondola.

“Miss Barton——”

Severance smiled, placidly.

“You will miss the midnight train.”

The young man halted a moment, and Miss Barton's arm slipped into his fingers.

“Perhaps,” he muttered.

“The night will be cool for you,” Severance turned to the woman. She wavered a moment.

“You will miss more than the midnight train,” Severance added to the young fellow, in a low voice.

Lawrence knelt beside his gondola. He glanced up into the face of the woman above him. “Will you come?” he murmured. She gathered up her dress and stepped firmly into the boat. Severance, left alone on the fondamenta, watched the two. Then he turned back to his gondola. The two boats floated out silently into the Misericordia Canal.

“To the Cimeterio,” Miss Barton said. “To the Canale Grande,” Severance motioned.

The two men raised their hats.

       * * * * *

For a few moments the man and the woman sat without words, until the gondola cleared the Fondamenta Nuova, and they were well out in the sea of moonlight. Ahead of them lay the stucco walls of the Cimeterio, glowing softly in the white light. Some dark spots were moving out from the city mass to their right, heading for the silent island.

“There goes the conclusion,” Lawrence nodded to the funeral boats.

“But between us and them lies a space of years—life.”

“Who decided?”

“You looked. It was decided.”

The city detached itself insensibly from them, lying black behind. A light wind came down from Treviso, touching the white waves.

“You are thinking that back there, up the Grand Canal, lie fame and accomplishment. You are thinking that now you have your fata morgana—nothing else. You are already preparing a grave for her in your mind!”

Lawrence took her head in his hands. “Never,” he shot out the word. “Never—you are mine; I have come all these ocean miles to find you. I have come for an accounting with the vision that troubles man.” Her face drew nearer.

“I am Venice, you said. I am set in the mare morto. I am built on the sea- weed. But from me you shall not go. You came over the mountains for this.”

The man sighed. Some ultimate conception of life seemed to outline itself on the whitish walls of the Cimeterio—a question of sex. The man would go questioning visions. The woman was held by one.

“Caspar Severance will find his way, and will play your game for you,” she went on coaxingly. “But this,” her eyes were near him, “ this is a moment of life. You have chosen. There is no mine and thine.”

One by one the campaniles of Venice loomed, dark pillars in the white sky. And all around toward Mestre and Treviso and Torcello; to San Pietro di Castello and the grim walls of the arsenal, the mare morto heaved gently and sighed.

CHICAGO, January, 1897.

 
 
 

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