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What Katy Did Next(chapter11)

2006-08-22 19:17



  Lieutenant Worthington's leave had nearly expired. He must rejoin his ship, but he waited till the last possible moment in order to help his sister through the move to Albano, where it had been decided that Amy should go for a few days of hill air before undertaking the longer journey to Florence.

  It was a perfect morning in late March when the pale little invalid was carried in her uncle's strong arms, and placed in the carriage which was to take them to the old town on the mountain slopes which they had seen shining from far away for so many weeks past. Spring had come in her fairest shape to Italy. The Campagna had lost its brown and tawny hues and taken on a tinge of fresh colour. The olive orchards were budding thickly. Almond boughs extended their dazzling shapes across the blue sky. Arums and acanthus and ivy filled every hollow, and roses nodded from over every gate, while a carpet of violets and cyclamen and primroses stretched over the fields and freighted every wandering wind with fragrance.

  When once the Campagna with its long line of aqueducts, arches, and hoary tombs, was left behind, and the carriage slowly began to mount the gradual rises of the hill, Amy revived. With every breath of the fresher air her eyes seemed to brighten and her voice to grow stronger. She held Mabel up to look at the view, and the sound of her laugh, faint and feeble as it was, was like music to her mother's ears.

  Amy wore a droll little silk-lined cap on her head, over which a downy growth of pale-brown fuzz was gradually thickening. Already it showed a tendency to form into tiny rings, which to Amy, who had always hankered for curls, was an extreme satisfaction. Strange to say, the same thing exactly had happened to Mabel. Her hair had grown out into soft little round curls also; Uncle Ned and Katy had ransacked Rome for this baby wig, which filled and realized all Amy's hopes for her child. On the same excursion they had bought the materials for the pretty spring suit which Mabel wore, for it had been deemed necessary to sacrifice most of her wardrobe as a concession to possible fever germs. Amy admired the pearl-coloured dress and hat, the fringed jacket and little lace-trimmed parasol so much that she was quite consoled for the loss of the blue velvet costume and ermine muff which had been the pride of her heart ever since they left Paris, and whose destruction they had scarcely dared to confess to her.

  So up, up, up they climbed till the gateway of the old town was passed, and the carriage stopped before a quaint building, once the residence of the Bishop of Albano, but now known as the H?tel de la Poste. Here they alighted, and were shown up a wide and lofty staircase to their rooms, which were on the sunny side of the house, and looked across a walled garden, where roses and lemon trees grew beside old fountains guarded by sculptured lions and heathen divinities with broken noses and a scant supply of fingers and toes, to the Campagna, purple with distance, and stretching miles and miles away to where Rome sat on her seven hills, lifting high the dome of St Peter's into the illuminated air.

  Nurse Swift said that Amy must go to bed at once and have a long rest. But Amy nearly wept at the proposal, and declared that she was not a bit tired, and couldn't sleep if she went to bed ever so much. The change of air had done her good already, and she looked more like herself than for many weeks past. They compromised their dispute on a sofa, where Amy, well wrapped up, was laid, and where, in spite of her protestations, she presently fell asleep, leaving the others free to examine and arrange their new quarters.

  Such enormous rooms as they were! It was quite a journey to go from one side of them to another. The floors were of stone, with squares of carpet laid down over them, which looked absurdly small for the great spaces they were supposed to cover. The beds and tables were of the usual size, but they seemed almost like doll furniture because the chambers were so big. A quaint old paper, with an enormous pattern of banyan trees and pagodas, covered the walls, and every now and then betrayed, by an oblong of regular cracks, the existence of a hidden door, papered to look exactly like the rest of the wall.

  These mysterious doors made Katy nervous, and she never rested till she had opened every one of them and explored the places they led to. One gave access to a queer little bathroom. Another led, through a narrow dark passage, to a sort of balcony or loggia overhanging the garden. A third ended in a dusty closet with an artful chink in it from which you could peep into what had been the bishop's drawing room, but which was now turned into the dining room of the hotel. It seemed made for purposes of observation, and Katy had visions of a long line of reverend prelates with their ears glued to the chink, overhearing what was being said about them in the apartment beyond.

  The most surprising of all she did not discover till she was going to bed on the second night after their arrival, when she thought she knew all about the mysterious doors and what they led to. A little unexplained draught of wind made her candle flicker, and betrayed the existence of still another door, so cunningly hidden in the wall pattern that she had failed to notice it. She had quite a creepy feeling as she drew her dressing gown about her, took a light, and entered the narrow passage into which it opened. It was not a long passage, and ended presently in a tiny oratory. There was a little marble altar, with a kneeling step, and candlesticks and a great crucifix above. Ends of wax candles still remained in the candlesticks, and bunches of dusty paper flowers filled the vases which stood on either side of them. A faded silk cushion lay on the step. Doubtless the bishop had often knelt there. Katy felt as if she were the first person to enter the place since he went away. Her common sense told her that in a hotel bedroom, constantly occupied by strangers for years past, someone must have discovered the door and found the little oratory before her; but common sense is sometimes less satisfactory than romance. Katy liked to think that she was the first, and to `make believe' that no one else knew about it. So she did so, and invented legends about the place which Amy considered better than any fairy story.

  Before he left them Lieutenant Worthington had a talk with his sister in the garden. She rather forced this talk upon him, for various things were in her heart about which she longed for explanation; but he yielded so easily to her wiles that it was evident he was not averse to the idea.

  `Come, Polly, don't beat about the bush any longer,' he said at last, amused and a little irritated at her half-hints and little feminine finesses. `I know what you want to ask, and as there's no use making a secret of it, I will take my turn in asking. Have I any chance, do you think?'

  `Any chance! - about Katy, do you mean? Oh, Ned, you make me so happy!'

  `Yes; about her, of course.'

  `I don't see why you should say “of course”,' remarked his sister, with the perversity of her sex, `when it's only five or six weeks ago that I was lying awake at night for fear you were being gobbled up by that Lilly Page.'

  There was a little risk of it,' replied her brother seriously. `She's awfully pretty and she dances beautifully, and the other fellows were all wild about her, and - well, you know yourself how such things go. I can't see now what it was that I fancied so much about her; I don't suppose I could have told exactly at the time; but I can tell without the smallest trouble what it is in - the other.'

  `In Katy? I should think so,' cried Mrs Ashe emphatically. `The two are no more to be compared than - than - well, bread and sillabub! You can live on one and you can't live on the other.'

  `Come, now, Miss Page isn't so bad as that. She is a nice girl enough, and a pretty girl too - prettier than Katy;

  I'm not so far gone that I can't see that. But we won't talk about her; she's not in the present question at all. Very likely she'd have had nothing to say to me in any case. I was only one out of a dozen, and she never gave me reason to suppose that she cared more for me than the rest. Let us talk about this friend of yours. Have I any chance at all, do you think, Polly?'

  `Ned, you are the dearest boy! I would rather have Katy for a sister than anyone else I know. She's so nice all through - so true and sweet and satisfactory.'

  `She is all that and more; she's a woman to tie to for life, to be perfectly sure of always. She would make a splendid wife for any man. I'm not half good enough for her; but the question is - and you haven't answered it yet, Polly - what's my chance?'

  `I don't know,' said his sister slowly.

  `Then I must ask her myself, and I shall do so today.'

  `I don't know,' repeated Mrs Ashe. `She is a woman, therefore to be won, and I don't think there is anyone ahead of you. That is the best hope I have to offer, Ned. Katy never talks of such things, and though she's so frank, I can't guess whether or not she ever thinks about them. She likes you, however, I am sure of that. But, Ned, it will not be wise to say anything to her yet.'

  `Not say anything! Why not?'

  `No. Recollect that it is only a little while since she looked upon you as the admirer of another girl, and a girl she doesn't like very much, though they are cousins. You must give her time to get over that impression. Wait awhile; that's my advice, Ned.'

  `I'll wait any time if only she will say yes in the end. But it's hard to go away without a word of hope, and it's more like a man to speak out, it seems to me.'

  `It's too soon,' persisted his sister. `You don't want her to think you a fickle fellow, falling in love with a fresh girl every time you go into port, and falling out again when the ship sails. Sailors have a bad reputation for that sort of thing. No woman cares to win a man like that.'

  `Great Scott! I should think not! Do you mean to say that is the way my conduct appears to her, Polly?'

  `No, I don't mean just that. But wait, dear Ned, I am sure it is better.'

  Fortified by this sage counsel, Lieutenant Worthington went away next morning, without saying anything to Katy in words, though perhaps eyes and tones may have been less discreet. He made them promise that someone should send a letter every day about Amy, and as Mrs Ashe frequently devolved the writing of these bulletins upon Katy, and the replies came in the shape of long letters, Katy found herself conducting a pretty regular correspondence without quite intending it. Ned Worthington wrote particularly nice letters. He had the knack, more often found in women than men, of giving a picture with a few graphic touches, and indicating what was droll or what was characteristic with a single happy phrase. His letters grew to be one of Katy's pleasures, and sometimes, as Mrs Ashe watched the colour deepen in her cheeks while she read, her heart would bound hopefully within her. Bud she was a wise woman in her way, and she wanted Katy for a sister very much, so she never said a word or looked a look to startle or surprise her, but left the thing to work itself out, which is the best course always in love affairs.

  Little Amy's improvement at Albano was something remarkable. Mrs Swift watched over her like a lynx. Her vigilance never relaxed. Amy was made to eat and sleep and walk and rest with the regularity of a machine, and this exact system, combined with the good air, worked like a charm. The little one gained hour by hour. They could absolutely see her growing fat, her mother declared. Fevers, when they do not kill, operate sometimes as spring bonfires do in gardens, burning up all the refuse and leaving the soil free for the growth of fairer things, and Amy promised in time to be only the better and stronger for her hard experience.

  She had gained so much before the time came to start for Florence that they scarcely dreaded the journey, but it proved worse than their expectations. They had not been able to secure a carriage to themselves, and were obliged to share their compartment with two English ladies, and three Roman Catholic priests, one old, the others young. The older priest seemed to be a person of some consequence, for quite a number of people came to see him off, and knelt for his blessing devoutly as the train moved away. The younger ones Katy guessed to be seminary students under his charge. Her chief amusement through the long dusty journey was in watching the terrible time that one of these young men was having with his hat. It was a large three-cornered black affair, with sharp angles and excessively stiff, and a perpetual struggle seemed to be going on between it and its owner, who was evidently unhappy when it was on his head, and still more unhappy when it was anywhere else. If he perched it on his knees it was sure to slide away from him and fall with a thump on the floor, whereupon he would pick it up, blushing furiously as he did so. Then he would lay it on the seat when the train stopped at a station, and jump out with an air of relief; but he invariably forgot, and sat down upon it when he returned, and sprang up with a look of horror at the loud crackle it made. Then he would tuck it into the baggage rack overhead, from which it would presently descend, generally into the lab of one of the staid English ladies, who would hand it back to him with an air of deep offence, remarking to her companion:

  `I never knew anything like it. Fancy! That makes four times that hat has fallen on me. The young man is a fidget! He's the most fidgety creature I ever saw in my life.'

  The young seminariat did not understand a word she said, but the tone needed no interpreter, and set him to blushing more painfully than ever. Altogether, the hat was never off his mind for a moment. Katy could see that he was thinking about it, even when he was thumbing his breviary and pretending to read.

  At last the train, steaming down the valley of the Arno, revealed fair Florence sitting among olive-clad hills, with Giotti's beautiful belltower, and the great, many-coloured, soft-hued cathedral, and the square tower of the old Palace, and the quaint bridges over the river, looking exactly as they do in the photographs; and Katy would have felt delighted, in spite of dust and fatigue, had not Amy looked so worn out and exhausted. They were seriously troubled by her, and for the moment could think of nothing else. Happily the fatigue did no permanent harm, and a day or two of rest made her all right again. By good fortune, a nice little apartment in the modern quarter of the city had been vacated by its winter occupants the very day of their arrival, and Mrs Ashe secured it for a month, with all its conveniences and advantages, including a maid named Maria, who had been servant to the just departed tenants.

  Maria was a very tall woman, at least six feet two, and had a splendid contralto voice, which she occasionally exercised while busy over her pots and pans. It was so remarkable to hear these grand arias and recitatives proceeding from a kitchen some eight feet square, that Katy was at great pains to satisfy her curiosity about it. By aid of the dictionary and much persistent questioning, she made out that Maria in her youth had received a partial training for the opera, but it was decided that she was too big and heavy for the stage, and the poor `giantess', as Amy named her, had been forced to abandon her career, and gradually had sunk to the position of a maid-of-all-work. Katy suspected that heaviness of mind as well as of body must have stood in her way, for Maria, though a good-natured giantess, was by no means quick of intelligence.

  `I do think that the manner in which people over here can make homes for themselves at five minutes' notice is perfectly delightful,' cried Katy, at the end of their first day's housekeeping. `I wish we could do the same in America. How cosy it looks here already!'

  It was indeed cosy. Their new domain consisted of a parlour in a comer, furnished in bright yellow brocade, with windows to south and west, a nice little dining room, three bedrooms, with dimity-curtained beds, a square entrance hall, lighted at night by a tall slender brass lamp whose double wicks were fed with olive-oil, and the aforesaid tiny kitchen, behind which was a sleeping cubby-hole, quite too small to be a good fit for the giantess. The rooms were full of conveniences - easy chairs, sofas, plenty of bureaus and dressing-tables, and corner fireplaces like Franklin stoves, in which fires burned on cool days. The fires were made of pine cones, cakes of pressed sawdust exactly like Boston brown bread cut into slices, and a few sticks of wood thriftily adjusted, for fuel is worth its weight in gold in Florence. Katy's was the smallest of the bedrooms, but she liked it best of all for the reason that its one big window opened on to an iron balcony, over which grew a Banksia rose vine with a stem as thick as her wrist. It was covered just now with masses of tiny white blossoms, whose fragrance was inexpressibly delicious and made every breath drawn in their neighbourhood a delight. The sun streamed in on all sides of the little apartment, which filled a narrowing angle at the union of three streets, and from one window and another, glimpses could be caught of the distant heights about the city - San Miniato in one direction, Bello Sguardo in another, and for the third the long olive-hung ascent of Fiesole, crowned by its grey cathedral towers.

  It was astonishing how easily everything fell into a pattern in the little establishment. Every morning at six the English baker left two small sweet brown loaves and a dozen rolls at the door. Then followed the dairyman with a supply of tiny leaf-shaped pats of freshly-churned butter, a big flask of milk, and two small bottles of thick cream, with a twist of vine leaf in each by way of a cork. Next came a contadino with a flask of red Chianti wine, a film of oil floating on top to keep it sweet. People in Florence must dak wine, whether they like it or not, because the lime-impregnated water is unsafe for use without some admixture.

  Dinner came from a trattoria, in a tin box, with a pan of coals inside to keep it warm; the box was carried on a man's head. It was furnished at a fixed price per day - a soup, two dishes of meat, two vegetables, and a sweet dish, and the supply was so generous as always to leave something toward next day's luncheon. Salad, fruit, and fresh eggs Maria bought for them in the old market. From the confectioner's came loaves of pane santo, a sort of light cake made with arrowroot instead of flour, and sometimes, by way of treat, a square of pan forte da Siena, compounded of honey, almonds, and chocolate - a mixture as pernicious as it is delicious, and which might take a medal anywhere for the sure production of nightmares.

  Amy soon learned to know the shops from which these delicacies came. She had her favourites, too, among the strolling merchants who sold oranges and those little sweet native figs dried in the sun without sugar, which are among the specialities of Florence. They, in their turn, learned to know her and to watch for the appearance of her little capped head and Mabel's blond wig at the window, lingering about till she came, and advertising their wares with musical modulations, so appealing that Amy was always running to Katy, who acted as housekeeper, to beg her to please buy this or that, `because it is my old man, and he wants me to so much'.

  `But, chicken, we have plenty of figs for today.'

  `No matter. Get some more, please do. I'll eat them all.'

  And Amy was as good as her word. Her convalescent appetite for one so small was something prodigious.

  There was another branch of shopping in which they all took equal delight. The beauty and the cheapness of the Florence flowers are a continual surprise to a stranger. Every morning after breakfast an old man came creaking up the two long flights of stairs which led to Mrs Ashe's apartment, tapped at the door, and, as soon as it opened, inserted a shabby elbow and a large flat basket full of flowers. Such flowers! Great masses of scarlet and cream-coloured tulips, and white and gold narcissi, knots of roses of all shades, carnations, heavy-headed trails of wisteria, wild hyacinths, violets, deep crimson and orange ranunculus, giglios, or wild irises - the Florence emblem, so deeply purple as to be almost black - anemones, spring-beauties, faintly tinted wood-blooms tied in large loose nosegays, ivy, fruit blossoms - everything that can be thought of that is fair and sweet. These enticing wares the old man would tip out on the table. Mrs Ashe and Katy would select what they wanted, and then the process of bargaining would begin, without which no sale is complete in Italy. The old man would name an enormous price, five times as much as he hoped to get. Katy would offer a very small one, considerably less than she expected to give. The old man would dance with dismay, wring his hands, assure them that he should die of hunger, and all his family with him, if he took less than the price named; he would then come down half a franc in his demand. So it would go on for five minutes, ten, sometimes for a quarter of an hour, the old man's price gradually descending, and Katy's terms very slowly going up, a cent or two at a time. Next the giantess would mingle in the fray. She would bounce out of her kitchen, berate the flower vendor, snatch up his flowers, declare that they smelt badly, and fling them down again, pouring out all the while a voluble tirade of reproaches and revilings, and looking so enormous in her excitement that Katy wondered that the old man dared to answer her at all. Finally, there would be a sudden lull. The old man would shrug his shoulders, and, remarking that he and his wife and his aged grandmother must go without bread that day since it was the signora's will, would take the money offered and depart, leaving such a mass of flowers behind him that Katy would begin to think that they had paid an unfair price for them and to feel a little rueful, till she observed that the old man was absolutely dancing downstairs with rapture over the good bargain he had made, and that Maria was black with indignation over the extravagance of her ladies!

  The Americani are a nation of spendthrifts,' she would mutter to herself, as she quickened the charcoal in her droll-little range by fanning it with a palm-leaf fan. `They squander money like water. Well, all the better for us Italians!' she would say with a shrug of her shoulders.

  `But, Maria, it was only sixteen cents that we paid, and look at those flowers! There are at least half a bushel of them.'

  `Sixteen cents for garbage like that! The signorina would better let me make her bargains for her. Già! Già! No Italian lady would have paid more than eleven sous for such useless roba. It is evident that the signorina's countrymen eat gold when at home, they think so little of casting it away!'

  Altogether, what with the comfort and quiet of this little home, the numberless delightful things that there were to do and to see, and Viessieux's great library, from which they could draw books at will to make the doing and seeing more intelligible, the month at Florence passed only too quickly, and was one of the times to which they afterward looked back with most pleasure. Amy grew steadily stronger, and the freedom from anxiety about her after their long strain of apprehension was restful and healing beyond expression to both mind and body.

  Their very last excursion of all, and one of the pleasantest, was to the old amphitheatre at Fiesole, and it was while they sat there in the soft glow of the late afternoon tying into bunches the violets which they had gathered from under walls whose foundations pre-date Rome itself, that a cheery call sounded from above, and an unexpected surprise descended upon them in the shape of Lieutenant Worthington, who, having secured another fifteen days' furlough, had come to take his sister on to Venice.

  `I didn't write you that I had applied for leave,' he explained, `because there seemed so little chance of my getting off again so soon, but as luck had it, Carruthers, whose turn it was, sprained his ankle and was laid up, and the commodore let us exchange. I made all the capital I could out of Amy's fever, but upon my word, I felt like a humbug when I came upon her and Mrs Swift in the Cascine just now, as I was hunting for you. How she has picked up! I should never have known her for the same child.'

  `Yes, she seems perfectly well again, and as strong as before she had the fever, though that dear old Goody Swift is just as careful of her as ever. She would not let us bring her here this afternoon, for fear we should stay out till the dew fell. Ned, it is perfectly delightful that you were able to come. It makes going to Venice seem quite a different thing, doesn't it Katy?'

  `I don't want it to seem quite different, because going to Venice was always one of my dreams,' replied Katy, with a little laugh.

  `I hope at least it doesn't make it seem less pleasant,' said Mr Worthington, as his sister stopped to pick a violet.

  `No, indeed, I am glad,' said Katy. `We shall all be seeing it for the first time, too, shall we not? I think you said you had never been there.' She spoke simply and frankly, but she was conscious of an odd shyness.

  `I simply couldn't stand it any longer,' Ned Worthington confided to his sister when they were alone. `My head is so full of her that I can't attend to my work, and it came to me all of a sudden that this might be my last chance. You'll be getting north before long, you know, to Switzerland and so on, where I cannot follow you. So I made a clean breast of it to the commodore, and the good old fellow, who has a soft spot in his heart for a love story, behaved like a brick, and made it all straight for me to come away.

  Mrs Ashe did not join in these commendations of the commodore; her attention was fixed on another part of her brother's discourse.

  `Then you won't be able to come to me again? I shan't see you again after this!' she exclaimed. `Dear me! I never realized that before. What shall I do without you?'

  `You will have Miss Carr. She is a host in herself,' suggested Ned Worthington. His sister shook her head.

  `Katy is a jewel,' she remarked presently, `but somehow one wants a man to call upon. I shall feel lost without you, Ned.'

  The month's housekeeping wound up that night with a `thick tea' in honour of Lieutenant Worthington's arrival, which taxed all the resources of the little establishment. Maria was sent out hastily to buy pan forte da Siena and vino d'Asti, and fresh eggs for an omelette, and chickens' breasts smothered in cream from the restaurant, and artichokes for a salad, and flowers to garnish all. The guest ate and praised and admired; Amy and Mabel sat on his knee and explained everything to him, and they were all very happy together. Their merriment was so infectious that it extended to the poor giantess, who had been very pensive all day at the prospect of losing her good place, and who now raised her voice in the grand aria from Orfeo, and made the kitchen ring with the passionate demand, `Che faro senza, Eurydice?' The splendid notes, full of fire and lamentation, rang out across saucepans as effectively as if they had been footlights, and Katy, rising softly, opened the kitchen door a little way that they might not lose a sound.

  The next day brought them to Venice. It was a moment', indeed, as Katy seated herself for the first time in a gondola, and looked from beneath its black hood at the palace walls on the Grand Canal, past which they were gliding. Some were creamy and white and black, some orange-tawny, others of a dull, delicious ruddy colour, half-pink, half-red; but all, in build and ornament, were unlike palaces elsewhere. High on the prow before her stood the gondolier, his form defined in dark outline against the sky, as he swayed and bent to his long oar, raising his head now and again to give a wild musical cry, as warning to other approaching gondolas. It was all like a dream. Ned Worthington sat beside her, looking more at the changes in her expressive face than at the palaces. Venice was as new to him as to Katy, but she was also a new feature in his life, and even more interesting than Venice.

  They seemed to float on pleasures for the next ten days. Their arrival had been happily timed to coincide with a great popular festival, which for nearly a week kept Venice in a state of continual brilliant gala. All the days were spent on the water, only landing now and then to look at some famous building or picture, or to eat ices in the Piazza with the lovely fade of St Mark's before them. Dining or sleeping seemed a sheer waste of time! The evenings were spent on the water too, for every night, immediately after sunset, a beautiful drifting pageant started from the front of the Doge's Palace to make the tour of the Grand Canal, and our friends always took a part in it. In its centre went a barge hung with embroideries, and filled with orange trees and musicians. This was surrounded by a great convoy of skiffs and gondolas bearing coloured lanterns and streamers and gay awnings, and managed by gondoliers in picturesque uniforms. All these floated and shifted and swept on together with a sort of rhythmic undulation, as if keeping time to the music, while across their path dazzling showers and arches of coloured fire poured from the palace fronts and the hotels. Every movement of the fairy flotilla was repeated in the illuminated water, with every torch tip and scarlet lantern and flake of green or rosy fire. Above it all the bright full moon looked down as if surprised. It was magically beautiful in effect. Katy felt as if her previous sober ideas about life and things had melted away. For the moment the world was turned topsy-turvy. There was nothing hard or real or sordid left in it; it was just a fairy tale, and she was in the middle of it as she had longed to be in her childhood. She was the princess, encircled by delights, as when she and Clover and Elsie played in `Paradise' - only, this was better. And, dear me! who was this prince who seemed to belong to the story and to grow more important to it everyday?

  Fairy tales must come to an end. Katy's last chapter closed with a sudden turnover of the leaf, when towards the end of this happy fortnight, Mrs Ashe came into her room with the face of one who has unpleasant news to communicate.

  `Katy,'she began, `should you be awfully disappointed, should you consider me a perfect wretch, if I went home now instead of in the autumn?'

  Katy was too much astonished to reply.

  `I am grown such a coward. I am so knocked up and weakened by what I suffered in Rome, that I find I cannot face the idea of going on to Germany and Switzerland alone, without Ned to take care of me. You are a perfect angel, dear, and I know that you would do all you could to make it easy for me, but I am such a fool that I do not dare. I think my nerves must have given way,' she continued half tearfully, `but the very idea of shifting for myself for five months longer makes me so miserably homesick that I cannot endure it. I dare say I shall repent afterward, and I tell myself now how silly it is, but it's no use I shall never know another easy moment till I have Amy safe again in America and under your father's care.

  `I find,' she continued, after another little pause, `that we can go down with Ned to Genoa and' take a steamer there which will carry us straight to New York without any stops. I hate to disappoint you dreadfully, Katy, but I have almost decided to do it. Shall you mind very much? Can you ever forgive me?' She was fairly crying now.

  Katy had to swallow hard before she could answer, for the sense of disappointment was so sharp, and with all her efforts there was almost a sob in her voice as she said:

  `Why, yes, indeed, dear Polly, there is nothing to forgive. You are perfectly right to go home if you feel so.' Then with another swallow she added, `You have given me the loveliest six months' treat that ever was, and I should be a greedy girl indeed if I found fault because it is cut off a little sooner than we expected.'

  `You are so dear and good not to be vexed,' said her friend, embracing her. `It makes me feel doubly sorry about disappointing you. Indeed I wouldn't if I could help it, but I simply can't. I must go home. Perhaps we'll come back some day when Amy is grown up, or safely married to somebody who will take good care of her!'

  This distant prospect was but a poor consolation for the immediate disappointment. The more Katy thought about it the sorrier did she feel. It was not only losing the chance - very likely the only one she would ever have - of seeing Switzerland and Germany; it was all sorts of other little things besides. They must go home in a strange ship with a captain they did not know, instead of in the Spartacus, as they had planned; they should land in New York, where no one would be waiting for them, and not have the fun of sailing into Boston Bay and seeing Rose on the wharf, where she had promised to be. Further more, they must pass the hot summer in Burnet instead of in the cool Alpine valleys, and Polly's house was let till October. She and Amy would have to shift for them selves elsewhere. Perhaps they would not be in Burnet at all. Oh, dear, what a pity it was! What a dreadful pity!

  Then, the first shock of surprise and discomfiture over, other ideas asserted themselves, and as she realized that in three weeks more, or four at the longest, she was to see Papa and Clover and all her dear people at home, she began to feel so very glad that she could hardly wait for the time to come. After all there was nothing in Europe quite so good as that.

  `No, I'm not sorry,' she told herself. `I am glad. Poor Polly! It's no wonder she feels nervous after all she has gone through. I hope I wasn't cross to her! And it will be very nice to have Lieutenant Worthington to take care of us as far as Genoa.

  The next three days were full of work. There was no more floating in gondolas, except in the way of business. All the shopping which they had put off must be done, and the trunks packed for the voyage. Everyone recollected last errands and commissions; there was continual corning and going and confusion, and Amy, wild with excitement, popping up every other moment in the midst of it all, to demand of everybody if they were not glad that they were going back to America.

  Katy had never yet bought her gift for old Mrs Redding. She had waited, thinking continually that she should see something more tempting still in the next place they went to, but now, with the sense that there were to be no more `next places', she resolved to wait no longer, and with a hundred francs in her pocket, set forth to choose something from among the many tempting things for sale in the Piazza. A bracelet of old Roman coins had caught her fancy one day in a bric-à-brac shop, and she walked straight towards it, only pausing by the way to buy a pale blue iridescent pitcher at Salviate's for Cecy Slack, and see it carefully rolled in seaweed and soft paper.

  The price of the bracelet was a little more than she expected, and quite a long process of bargaining was necessary to reduce it to the sum she had to spend. She had just succeeded, and was counting out the money, when Mrs Ashe and her brother appeared, having spied her from the opposite side of the Piazza, where they were choosing last photographs at Naga's. Katy showed her purchase and explained that it was a present, `for of course I should never walk out in cold blood and buy a bracelet for myself,' she said, with a laugh.

  `This is a fascinating little shop,' said Mrs Ashe. `I wonder what is the price of that queer old chatelaine with the bottles hanging from it.'

  The price was high, but Mrs Ashe was now tolerably conversant with shopping Italian, which consists chiefly of a few words repeated many times over, and it lowered rapidly under the influence of her troppo's and e molto caro's, accompanied with telling little shrugs and looks of surprise. In the end she bought it for less than two-thirds of what had been originally asked for it. As she put the parcel in her pocket, her brother said:

  `If you have done your shopping now, Polly, can't you come out for a last row?'

  `Katy may, but I can't,' replied Mrs Ashe. `The man promised to bring me gloves at six o'clock, and I must be there to pay for them. Take her down to the Lido, Ned. It's an exquisite evening for the water, and the sunset promises to be delicious. You can take the time, can't you, Katy?'

  Katy could.

  Mrs Ashe turned to leave them, but suddenly stopped short.

  `Katy, look! Isn't that a picture?'

  The `picture' was Amy, who had come to the Piazza with Mrs Swift, to feed the doves of St Mark's, which was one of her favourite amusements. These pretty birds are the pets of all Venice, and so accustomed to being fondled and made much of by strangers that they are perfectly tame. Amy, when her mother caught sight of her, was sitting on the marble pavement, with one on her shoulder, two perched on the edge of her lap, which was full of crumbs, and a flight of others circling round her head. She was looking up and calling them in soft tones. The sunlight caught the little downy curls on her head and made them glitter. The flying doves lit on the pavement, and crowded round her, their pearl and grey and rose-tinted and white feathers, their scarlet feet and gold-ringed eyes, making a shifting confusion of colours, as they hopped and fluttered and cooed about the little maid, unstartled even by her clear laughter. Close by stood Nurse Swift, observant and grimly pleased. The mother looked on with happy tears in her eyes. `Oh, Katy, think what she was a few weeks ago, and look at her now! Can I ever be thankful enough?' She squeezed Katy's hand convulsively and walked away, turning her head now and then for another glance at Amy and the doves, while Ned and Katy silently crossed to the landing and got into a gondola. It was the perfection of a Venice evening, with silver waves lapsing and lulling under a rose and opal sky, and the sense that it was their last row on those enchanted waters made every moment seem doubly precious. I cannot tell you exactly what it was that Ned Worthington said to Katy during that row, or why it took so long to say it that they did not get in till after the sun was set, and the stars had come out to peep at their bright, glinting faces reflected in the Grand Canal. In fact, no one can tell, for no one overheard, except Giacomo, the brown yellow-jacketed gondolier, and as he did not understand a word of English he could not repeat the conversation. Venetian boatmen, however, know pretty well what it means when a gentleman and lady, both young, find so much to say in low tones to each other under the gondola hood, and are so long about giving the order to return and Giacomo, deeply sympathetic, rowed as softly and made himself as imperceptible as he could - a display of tact which merited the big silver piece with which Lieutenant Worthington `crossed his palm' on landing.

  Mrs Ashe had begun to look for them long before they appeared, but I think she was neither surprised nor sorry that they were so late. Katy kissed her hastily and went away at once - `to pack', she said - and Ned was equally undemonstrative, but they looked so happy, both of them, that `Polly dear' was quite satisfied and asked no questions.

  Five days later the parting came, when the Florio steamer put into the port of Genoa for passengers. It was not an easy goodbye to say. Mrs Ashe and Amy both cried, and Mabel was said to be in deep affliction also. But there were alleviations. The squadron was coming home in the autumn, and the officers would have leave to see their friends, and of course Lieutenant Worthington must come to Burnet - to visit his sister. Five months would soon go, he declared, but, for all the cheerful assurance, his face was rueful enough as he held Katy's in a long tight clasp while the little boat waited to him ashore.

  After that it was just the waiting to be got through with till they sighted Sy Hook and the Neversinks - a waiting varied with peeps at Marseilles and Gibraltar, and the sight of a whale or two and one distant iceberg. The weather was fair all the way, and the ocean smooth. Amy was never weary of lamenting her own stupidity in not having taken Maria Matilda out of confinement before they left Venice.

  `That child has hardly been out of the trunk since we started,' she said. `She hasn't seen anything except a little bit of Nice. I shall really be ashamed when the other children ask her about it. I think I shall play that she was left at boarding school and didn't come to Europe at all! Don't you think that would be the best way, Mamma?'

  `You might play that she was left in the States prison for having done something naughty,' suggested Katy, but Amy scouted this idea.

  `She never does naughty things,' she said, `because she never does anything at all. She's just stupid, poor child! It's not her fault.'

  The thirty-six hours between New York and Burnet seemed longer than all the rest of the journey put together, Katy thought. But they ended at last, as the Lake Queen swung to her moorings at the familiar wharf, where Dr Carr stood surrounded with all his boys and girls just as they had stood the previous October. Only now there were no clouds on anybody's face, and Johnnie was skipping up and down for joy instead of grief. It was a long moment while the plank was being lowered from the gangway, but the moment it was in place, Katy darted across, first ashore of all the passengers, and was in her father's arms.

  Mrs Ashe and Amy spent two or three days with them, while looking up temporary quarters elsewhere, and so long as they stayed all seemed a happy confusion of talking and embracing and explaining, and distributing of gifts. After they went away things fell into their customary train, and a certain flatness became apparent. Everything had happened that could happen. The long-talked-of European journey was over. Here was Katy at home again, months sooner than they expected, yet she looked remarkably cheerful and content! Clover could not understand it: she was likewise puzzled to account for one or two private conversations between Italy and Papa in which she had not been invited to take part, and the occasional arrival of a letter from `foreign parts' about whose contents nothing was said.

  `It seems a dreadful pity that you had to come so soon,' she said one day when they were alone in their bedroom. `It's delightful to have you, of course, but we had braced ourselves to do without you till October, and there are such a lot of delightful things that you could have been doing and seeing at this moment.'

  `Oh, yes, indeed!' replied Katy, but not at all as if she were particularly disappointed.

  `Katy Carr, I don't understand you,' persisted Clover. `Why don't you feel worse about it? Here you have lost five months of the most splendid time you ever had, and you don't seem to mind it a bit! Why, if I were in your place my heart would be perfectly broken. And you needn't have come, either; that's the worst of it. It was just a whim of Polly's. Papa says Amy might have stayed as well as not. Why aren't you sorrier, Katy?'

  `Oh, I don't know! Perhaps because I had so much as it was - enough to last all my life, I think, though I should like to go again. You can't imagine what beautiful pictures are put away in my memory.

  `I don't see that you had so awfully much,' said the aggravated Clover. `You were there only a little more than six months - for I don't count the sea - and ever so much of that time was taken up with nursing Amy. You can't have any pleasant pictures of that.'

  `Yes, I have; some.

  `Well, I should really like to know what. There you were in a dark room, frightened to death and tired to death, with only Mrs Ashe and the old nurse to keep you company. Oh, yes, that brother was there part of the time! I forgot him——'

  Clover stopped short in sudden amazement. Katy was standing with her back towards her, smoothing her hair, but her face was reflected in the glass. At Clover's words a sudden deep flush had mounted in Katy's cheeks. Deeper and deeper it burned as she became conscious of Clover's astonished gaze, till even the back of her neck was pink. Then, as if she could not bear it any longer, she put the brush down, turned, and fled out of the room, while Clover, looking after her, exclaimed in a tone of sudden comical dismay:

  `What does it mean? Oh, dear me! Is that what Katy is going to do next?'

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