Clementina smiled discreetly. “They have their faults like everybody else, I presume.”
“Ah, that’s a regular Yankee word: presume,” said Hinkle. “Our teacher, my first one, always said presume. She was from your State, too.”
In the time of provisional quiet that followed for Clementina, she was held from the remorses and misgivings that had troubled her before Hinkle came. She still thought that she had let Dr. Welwright go away believing that she had not cared enough for the offer which had surprised her so much, and she blamed herself for not telling him how doubly bound she was to Gregory; though when she tried to put her sense of this in words to herself she could not make out that she was any more bound to him than she had been before they met in Florence, unless she wished to be so. Yet somehow in this time of respite, neither the regret for Dr. Welwright nor the question of Gregory persisted very strongly, and there were whole days when she realized before she slept that she had not thought of either.
She was in full favor again with Mrs. Lander, whom there was no one to embitter in her jealous affection. Hinkle formed their whole social world, and Mrs. Lander made the most of him. She was always having him to the dinners which her landlord served her from a restaurant in her apartment, and taking him out with Clementina in her gondola. He came into a kind of authority with them both which was as involuntary with him as with them, and was like an effect of his constant wish to be doing something for them.
One morning when they were all going out in Mrs. Lander’s gondola, she sent Clementina back three times to their rooms for outer garments of differing density. When she brought the last Mrs. Lander frowned.
“This won’t do. I’ve got to have something else—something lighter and warma.”
“I can’t go back any moa, Mrs. Landa,” cried the girl, from the exasperation of her own nerves.
“Then I will go back myself,” said Mrs. Lander with dignity, “and we sha’n’t need the gondoler any more this mo’ning,” she added, “unless you and Mr. Hinkle wants to ride.”
She got ponderously out of the boat with the help of the gondolier’s elbow, and marched into the house again, while Clementina followed her. She did not offer to help her up the stairs; Hinkle had to do it, and he met the girl slowly coming up as he returned from delivering Mrs. Lander over to Maddalena.
“She’s all right, now,” he ventured to say, tentatively.
“Is she?” Clementina coldly answered.
In spite of her repellent air, he persisted, “She’s a pretty sick woman, isn’t she?”
“The docta doesn’t say.”
“Well, I think it would be safe to act on that supposition. Miss Clementina—I think she wants to see you.”
“I’m going to her directly.”
Hinkle paused, rather daunted. “She wants me to go for the doctor.”