An hour later the major strolled into the sitting-room, his arm through Jack’s.
“Grand old place, is it not?” he said, turning to me. “Full of historic interest. Of co’se the damnable oligarchy has stripped us, but”—
Here Aunt Rachel flopped in—her slippers, I mean; the sound was distinctly audible.
“All right, Rachel. Come, gentlemen!”
When we were all seated, the major leaned back in his chair, toyed with his knife a moment, and said with an air of great deliberation:—
“Gentlemen, when I was in New York I discovered that the fashionable dish of the day was a po’ter-house steak. So when I knew you were coming, I wired my agent in Baltimo’ to go to Lexington market and to send me down on ice the best steak he could buy fo’ money. It is now befo’ you.
“Jack, shall I cut you a piece of the tenderloin?”
It was in the smoking-room of a Cunarder two days out. The evening had been spent in telling stories, the fresh-air passengers crowding the doorways to listen, the habitual loungers and card-players abandoning their books and games.
When my turn came,—mine was a story of Venice, a story of the old palace of the Barbarozzi,—I noticed in one corner of the room a man seated alone wrapped in a light shawl, who had listened intently as he smoked, but who took no part in the general talk. He attracted my attention from his likeness to my friend Vereschagin the painter; his broad, white forehead, finely wrought features, clear, honest, penetrating eye, flowing mustache and beard streaked with gray,—all strongly suggestive of that distinguished Russian. I love Vereschagin, and so, unconsciously, and by mental association, perhaps, I was drawn to this stranger. Seeing my eye fixed constantly upon him, he threw off his shawl, and crossed the room.
“Pardon me, but your story about the Barbarozzi brought to my mind so many delightful recollections that I cannot help thanking you. I know that old palace,—knew it thirty years ago,—and I know that cortile, and although I have not had the good fortune to run across either your gondolier, Espero, or his sweetheart, Mariana, I have known a dozen others as romantic and delightful. The air is stifling here. Shall we have our coffee outside on the deck?”
When we were seated, he continued, “And so you are going to Venice to paint?”
“Yes; and you?”
“Me? Oh, to the Engadine to rest. American life is so exhausting that I must have these three months of quiet to make the other nine possible.”
The talk drifted into the many curious adventures befalling a man in his journeyings up and down the world, most of them suggested by the queer stories of the night. When coffee had been served, he lighted another cigar, held the match until it burned itself out,—the yellow flame lighting up his handsome face,—looked out over the broad expanse of tranquil sea, with its great highway of silver leading up to the full moon dominating the night, and said as if in deep thought:—