“I didn’t know,” he returned, “but that in view of the circumstances—all the circumstances—you might be intending to defer your departure to some later steamer.”
“No, no, no! I must go, now. I couldn’t wait a day, an hour, a minute after the first chance of going. You don’t know what you are saying! He might die if I told him I was not coming; and then what should I do?” This was what Clementina said to herself; but what she said to Mr. Orson, with an inspiration from her terror at his suggestion was, “Don’t you think a little chicken broth would do you good, Mr. Osson? I don’t believe but what it would.”
A wistful gleam came into the preacher’s eyes. “It might,” he admitted, and then she knew what must be his malady. She sent Maddalena to a trattoria for the soup, and she did not leave him, even after she had seen its effect upon him. It was not hard to persuade him that he had better come home with her; and she had him there, tucked away with his few poor belongings, in the most comfortable room the padrone could imagine, when the vice-consul came in the evening.
“He says he thinks he can go, now,” she ended, when she had told the vice-consul. “And I know he can. It wasn’t anything but poor living.”
“It looks more like no living,” said the vice-consul. “Why didn’t the old fool let some one know that he was short of money?” He went on with a partial transfer of his contempt of the preacher to her, “I suppose if he’d been sick instead of hungry, you’d have waited over till the next steamer for him.”
She cast down her eyes. “I don’t know what you’ll think of me. I should have been sorry for him, and I should have wanted to stay.” She lifted her eyes and looked the vice-consul defiantly in the face. “But he hadn’t the fust claim on me, and I should have gone—I couldn’t, have helped it!—I should have gone, if he had been dying!”
“Well, you’ve got more horse-sense,” said the vice-consul, “than any ten men I ever saw,” and he testified his admiration of her by putting his arms round her, where she stood before him, and kissing her. “Don’t you mind,” he explained. “If my youngest girl had lived, she would have been about your age.”
“Oh, it’s all right, Mr. Bennam,” said Clementina.
When the time came for them to leave Venice, Mr. Orson was even eager to go. The vice-consul would have gone with them in contempt of the official responsibilities which he felt to be such a thankless burden, but there was really no need of his going, and he and Clementina treated the question with the matter-of-fact impartiality which they liked in each other. He saw her off at the station where Maddalena had come to take the train for Florence in token of her devotion to the signorina, whom she would not outstay in Venice. She wept long and loud upon Clementina’s neck, so that even Clementina was once moved to put her handkerchief to her tearless eyes.