“But now you see that it would. And I feel as if I ought to tell you—I spoke to Mr. Bennam about it, and he didn’t tell me not to—that I shouldn’t have staid, no not for anything in the wo’ld. I had to do what I did at the time, but eva since it has seemed as if I had deceived you, and I don’t want to have it seem so any longer. It isn’t because I don’t hate to tell you; I do; but I guess if it was to happen over again I couldn’t feel any different. Do you want I should tell the deck-stewahd to bring you some beef-tea?”
“I think I could relish a small portion,” said Mr. Orson, cautiously, and he said nothing more.
Clementina left him with her nerves in a flutter, and she did not come back to him until she decided that it was time to help him down to his cabin. He suffered her to do this in silence, but at the door he cleared his throat and began:
“I have reflected upon what you told me, and I have tried to regard the case from all points. I believe that I have done so, without personal feeling, and I think it my duty to say, fully and freely, that I believe you would have done perfectly right not to remain.”
“Yes,” said Clementina, “I thought you would think so.”
They parted emotionlessly to all outward effect, and when they met again it was without a sign of having passed through a crisis of sentiment. Neither referred to the matter again, but from that time the minister treated Clementina with a deference not without some shadows of tenderness such as her helplessness in Venice had apparently never inspired. She had cast out of her mind all lingering hardness toward him in telling him the hard truth, and she met his faint relentings with a grateful gladness which showed itself in her constant care of him.
This helped her a little to forget the strain of the anxiety that increased upon her as the time shortened between the last news of her lover and the next; and there was perhaps no more exaggeration in the import than in the terms of the formal acknowledgment which Mr. Orson made her as their steamer sighted Fire Island Light, and they both knew that their voyage had ended: “I may not be able to say to you in the hurry of our arrival in New York that I am obliged to you for a good many little attentions, which I should be pleased to reciprocate if opportunity offered. I do not think I am going too far in saying that they are such as a daughter might offer a parent.”
“Oh, don’t speak of it, Mr. Osson!” she protested. “I haven’t done anything that any one wouldn’t have done.”
“I presume,” said the minister, thoughtfully, as if retiring from an extreme position, “that they are such as others similarly circumstanced, might have done, but it will always be a source of satisfaction for you to reflect that you have not neglected them.”