Ellen looked up and gave him a look that cut him short in his glad note. The lifting of her eyelids was like the rise of the curtain upon some scene of tragedy which was all the more impressive because it seemed somehow mixed with shame. This poor girl, whom he had pitied as an invalid, was a sufferer from some spiritual blight more pathetic than broken health. He pulled his mind away from the conjecture that tempted it and went on: “One of the advantages of going over the fourth or fifth time is that you’re relieved from a discoverer’s duties to Europe. I’ve got absolutely nothing before me now, but at first I had to examine every object of interest on the Continent, and form an opinion about thousands of objects that had no interest for me. I hope Miss Kenton will take warning from me.”
He had not addressed Ellen directly, and her father answered: “We have no definite plans as yet, but we don’t mean to overwork ourselves even if we’ve come for a rest. I don’t know,” he added, “but we had better spend our summer in England. It’s easier getting about where you know the language.”
The judge seemed to refer his ideas to Breckon for criticism, and the young man felt authorized to say, “Oh, so many of them know the language everywhere now, that it’s easy getting about in any country.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” the judge vaguely deferred.
“Which,” Ellen demanded of the young man with a nervous suddenness, “do you think is the most interesting country?”
He found himself answering with equal promptness, “Oh, Italy, of course.”
“Can we go to Italy, poppa?” asked the girl.
“I shouldn’t advise you to go there at once” Breckon intervened, smiling. “You’d find it Pretty hot there now. Florence, or Rome, or Naples”—you can’t think of them.”
“We have it pretty hot in Central Ohio,” said the judge, with latent pride in his home climate, “What sort of place is Holland?”
“Oh, delightful! And the boat goes right on to Rotterdam, you know.”
“Yes. We had arranged to leave it at Boulogne,” but we could change. “Do you think your mother would like Holland?” The judge turned to his daughter.
“I think she would like Italy better. She’s read more about it,” said the girl.
“Rise of the Dutch Republic,” her father suggested.
“Yes, I know. But she’s read more about Italy!”
“Oh, well,” Breckon yielded, “the Italian lakes wouldn’t be impossible. And you might find Venice fairly comfortable.”
“We could go to Italy, then,” said the judge to his daughter, “if your mother prefers.”
Breckon found the simplicity of this charming, and he tasted a yet finer pleasure in the duplicity; for he divined that the father was seeking only to let his daughter have her way in pretending to yield to her mother’s preference.
It was plain that the family’s life centred, as it ought, about this sad, sick girl, the heart of whose mystery he perceived, on reflection, he had not the wish to pluck out. He might come to know it, but he would not try to know it; if it offered itself he might even try not to know it. He had sometimes found it more helpful with trouble to be ignorant of its cause.