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I bade Marietta good-night and went up to my room to write a letter. When I had finished it I decided that the hour was too late for work, and I opened the window and looked out. The clouds had drifted away and the sky was splendid with stars; there was no sound except the soft noise of water lapping the sides of the anchored ships and the eerie cry of some gondolier making his way along the narrow canal by the Ogni Santi. I wanted to go out on the balcony, but being afraid of disturbing my neighbor, I contented myself with a chair at the window, lit a cigarette, and sat for a long time defying the mosquitoes and watching the great yellow moon that rose above the Redentore.
Suddenly the deep silence was broken by a peculiar and quite unmistakable sound; somewhere near me a woman was sobbing. The sound seemed to come from the balcony: I peered out, but could see no one. It continued, desperate, convulsive, and mixed with broken words. I felt a chill about my heart, and stepped out on to the balcony. There I saw that my neighbor's window was half open; the sound certainly came from her room.
The idea of any one alone with some heavy trouble in a strange place depressed me, yet even then I could not help thinking that a woman who neglected to fasten her window when it opened on a balcony to which other persons had access must be either strangely ignorant or deplorably careless. Probably she had been dead tired with her journey, but at any rate it was fortunate that she was under the I wing of the excellent Marietta! stood for some moments irresolute, whilst the sobbing continued, wondering whether I should inform the padrona that her newly arrived guest was ill, or whether it would be more kind to make a noise on the balcony and trust that the unknown would shut
her window and sleep away her grief. Whilst I was still hesitating, chance decided my difficulty; a strayed reveller came along the Zattere singing at the top of his voice, and seeing me on the balcony took off his hat with a flourish and shouted good-night. I responded, and next moment I heard the sound of a window being hastily closed. went into my room, and waited for some time in fear that the sobbing would begin again, but weariness or the knowledge of my proximity had evidently stifled it. There was absolute silence in Cà Loredan.
When I awoke next morning the sunshine was flooding my room. I lay for some time drowsily wondering if the events of the night had, after all, been merely the fiction of a dream, and hoping, if they had really happened, that the strange Lordessa had been the victim of no worse a plague than a mosquito or a nightmare. Then, as I became wide awake I heard another unusual sound, which arose, apparently, from the balcony outside my window; the air seemed actually to be thrilling with the song of birds. On the Zattere such melodies were rare,-rare, indeed, was any kind of bird, possibly owing to the existence of a huge and hungry army of vagabond cats. It was true that Marco kept a disreputable old crow in a cage, but I was quite certain that this morose fowl was not the author of the trills and roulades that were being executed so ably outside; he had a single note and it sounded like a curse. Having dressed, I looked out of the window and perceived at the far end of the balcony a large cage which contained half a dozen canaries, each of them singing with the energy of a prima donna in her greatest scene. Their triumphant music attracted the attention of the passers-by; there was a group of chil
dren below which, after being periodically ordered off the face of the earth by the officious Marco and Todaro, withdrew a short distance and then reassembled in exactly the same formation as at first; Marietta came out into the street and gazed with rapture at the musicians, and Marco's old crow, whose wicker cage hung on a nail near the front door, emitted a loud squawk of disgust at frequent intervals. I decided that the canaries belonged to the strange Lordessa, and that the strange Lordessa was an old maid.
She had already gone out, I was informed when I went downstairs. Apparently she had been seized with a desire to visit the office of the unromantic but indispensable Mr. Cook, and disdaining a gondola, had set off to walk there. I inferred from this that she was no stranger to Venice or had a bump of locality; otherwise, even with a map, she would almost certainly lose her way in the labyrinth of streets between the Campo San Vitale and the Piazza San Marco. I asked Zorzio why he had not advised her to go by steamboat: Zorzio, it seemed, had attempted to do this, but his English, according to Marietta, was quite incomprehensible to the Signorina, who, for her part, spoke a dialect which completely baffled Zorzio. The latter great linguist, finding mere words of no avail, took to gesture, and by drawing elaborate pictures of steamboats in the air and making strange sounds representative of their puffing had apparently frightened the poor Lordessa out of the house. The episode seemed to have caused Marietta some annoyance; she remarked that to expect forestieri to speak Italian was, by the body of Bacchus, no habit of hers, but an Englishwoman should at least be able to converse in English.
I worked all the morning and for a part of the afternoon, whilst the canaries sang both loud and clear. At five
o'clock, when I went out for a stroll, their mistress had not returned, and when I came back to the Cà Loredan shortly after sunset I found that my earlier fears were justified; the Lordessa had lost her way as soon as she crossed the iron bridge near the Accademia and had wandered, apparently, into the dilapidated region beyond the Cannaregio. There she had revolved aimlessly for a couple of hours until she came to a church (probably the Madonna dell' Orto) and took refuge in it from the heat. After resting for some time she set forth again, and, instead of finding her way to the Grand Canal, seems to have worked across to the Arsenal, where a benevolent sentry took pity on her and sent her back to the Zattere with a small boy who knew some English as her guide. When she arrived she was on the verge of collapse, and had gone to her room at
I uttered suitably sympathetic comments on this tale of woe, as revealed by Marietta, but privately I decided that the Lordessa was a rather silly person. Nowhere in the world, certainly, is it so easy to lose one's way as in Venice, but even if one is ignorant of Italian one can always find a kindly native who will point out the proper direction. Also, lone females, in my opinion, ought to refrain from tramping feverishly round foreign cities when various other methods of locomotion are available. The Lordessa's escapade had one good result: there was no repetition of the sounds which had haunted me on the previous night. Apparently it had tired her hugely, for she kept to her room all the following day. When I inquired after her health, Marietta seemed to think that my question concerned the unknown lady's mental condition, and replied that she was molto gentile, but somewhat simple: she added that the Lordessa wrote many letters but received few.
The strange lady's experience of the Venetian labyrinth had evidently counteracted any desire that she might have previously possessed of seeing the splendors of palace or paintings; she remained all day in her room; meals were served there she lived, it seemed, on boiled eggs,-and she only went out for a short walk on the Zattere very early in the morning. For nearly a week we inhabited the same house, living within a yard or two of each other, but I did not see her once. Every morning I heard her on the balcony attending to the canaries, but on no occasion did she speak to them or encourage them to sing by whistling. Not that they needed any encouragement; the sun of Venice had intoxicated every one of the little prisoners, and they gave shrill thanks all day for its bounty-much to the detriment of my work. That any one should come to Venice in September and be content to live in a bedroom and feed canaries was quite ridiculous and almost pathetic: I could only conclude either that Miss Fane was unwell, which Marietta assured me was not the case, or that she was in trouble. If the latter conclusion was the true one, it seemed to me that her method of living was both unhealthy and depressing. I felt inclined to send her a note, saying that there were such places as St. Mark's and the Frari, the Lido and Torcello; that the most maidenly of old maids need have no fear in a gondola, and that if she wanted an escort, I was the most respectable of middle-aged Englishmen, and well known to the chaplain of the church in the Campo San Vio. The thought of her sitting all alone, day after day, got on my nerves to such an extent that my work was ruined; but her desire for privacy was so obvious that I did not dare to send a note, and it seemed that she was determined to give me no opportunity of meeting her in person. I moved my
writing-table to a window that overlooked Zorzio's backyard and strove to forget her.
The singular state of affairs continued, as I said, for nearly a week, and then, one evening when I came in late from a theatre, I heard once again the sound of weeping in her room. It continued till far in the night, and at last I told myself that this was more than common humanity could bear, and I went to sleep with my head under the bedclothes, swearing a mighty oath that I would confront the Lordessa next morning and attempt to offer her my sympathy and aid.
I rose very early and dressed hastily, for I was fearful of losing my one opportunity of a meeting. At first I had intended to go out and walk up and down the Zattere until she appeared; but second thoughts warned me that this course might startle herfor it was almost certain that she did not know me by sight,-and I decided to wait on the balcony until she came to feed the canaries. It was a long time before she appeared-probably she had only gone to sleep, poor thing, when she was utterly worn out with crying,-and when, at last, I saw her, I felt a great thrill of surprise, for she was a young girl, and I had hypnotized myself into the firm conviction that she would be an antique and angular old spinster. She came out swiftly, and without looking at the magnificent pageant of color that was glowing in the early sunshine, went straight to her foolish canaries. Apparently she had not realized that I was at the other end of the balcony.
I prepared to attract her attention, but before doing this I watched her for a moment as she stooped to feed the birds. Even my purblind masculine eye was able to perceive that she was dressed in the extreme of fashion: she wore a very tight skirt, which exposed a considerable length of dove-colored
silk stocking; the tops of her highheeled boots matched the stockings; her smartly-cut blue coat was decorated with little rows of quite superfluous buttons, and on her head was a black hat which seemed to me as large as an artist's umbrella, and was adorned, apparently, with the whole wing of a well-grown goose. In short, to the
purblind masculine eye she was overdressed--at any rate for her present environment. She reminded me painfully of the Front (I think that is the word) at Brighton.
I uttered some conventional greeting, and she turned swiftly with an exclamation of surprise. I was impressed at once by the incongruity of her clothes with the character of her face. She was pretty, with a faded, timid kind of prettiness; her eyes were large and pale; her nose was too small, and her mouth was thin and expressionless. Oddly enough, she reminded me at once of a canary-a foolish canary which had tried to disguise itself in some other bird's fine feathers. As she stood there she looked flurried, defiant, and insignificant. With a truly damnable lack of charity I concluded instantly that it was a mosquito which had made her cry.
She did not respond to my salutation, but stood looking at me, making, I could see, an obvious effort to appear self-possessed. I explained that I could not avoid imagining that she was in trouble, and that if I could be of any use to her she had only to command me. She froze at once; her mouth became hard, and she stared at me with a disdain that was rather overdone. Then she spoke in a chirping voice, and Blackwood's Magazine.
with an affected diction that was lacking in charm.
"Thank you. You were mistaken," she said. "Much obliged."
Her manner, rather than the stilted phrase, told me at once that she meant to snub me. Evidently the canary could peck. I made another effort.
"You're quite sure?" I asked.
"Positive," she replied, with a funny jerk of her head. I waited in silence for a moment, watching her. This seemed to annoy her; she turned her back on me and said in high staccato accents, "Please go away. You have no right to come here. You know that quite well."
This was definite, at any rate, and I retreated ingloriously into my room. I regretted my interference, but was too much amused to be angry. There was only one word that completely described Miss Fane: she was plainly and unmistakably a shrew. Also, she had the tart and snappish manner which is usually possessed by ill-bred persons who have no sense of humor. I decided that I disliked her heartily, and resolved that nothing on earth would induce me to speak to her again; and yet-there was something pathetic about her; that was undeniable. Her lonely life, the flaunting incongruity of her clothes, her air of a pert boardschool mistress who never forgets that she has passed an examination and is therefore superior to nine-tenths of humanity, all these peculiarities, which would have been merely irritating in England, formed a problem on the Zattere. Why was she there?
(To be continued.)
St. John Lucas.
THE AMERICAN VICE-PRESIDENCY.
No attention has been given in England, and probably very little in America, to the candidates adopted at Chicago and Baltimore for the Vice-Presidency of the United States. The post
is, indeed, one of the least satisfactory features of the American Commonwealth. John Adams was hardly exaggerating when he described it as "the most insignificant office that ever the mind of man contrived or his imagination conceived" Mr. Bryce says of its occupant that he is "aut Cæsar aut nullus," either President or nothing. As a possible President his potential power is in many ways greater than that of a European monarch. As actual Vice-President, his authority is of the most trivial character. The duties of the Vice-President begin and end with presiding over the deliberations of the Senate and giving a casting vote in the event of a tie. He has no influence, however, in directing the order of business in the Upper Chamber, no power such as the Speaker of the House of Representatives used to possess of choosing the Committees that do all the real work of legislation; he is bound to "recognize" the first Senator who rises to speak, and he has practically no controlling authority over the course of debate. He is not a member of the Cabinet, and cannot claim the right to be present at its meetings, to be consulted as to its policy, or even to be informed of its decisions. Nothing, perhaps, could paint the ineffectiveness of the Vice-Presidency more effectually than the fact that its disappearance makes no difference. For thirty-five years since its foundation the American Government has been carried on without the co-operation of the Vice-President. Either he has resigned through ill-health, or has died while in office, or has succeeded to the
Yet throughout that period the Constitution has to all appearances worked without the slightest derangement, and altogether unperturbed by the absence of one of its official heads.
So thankless and impotent a post is naturally not one to attract an aspiring politician. He simply cannot afford to retire at what may be the very crisis of his career into four years of more or less decorative obscurity. Indeed, all Americans who conceive that they stand a chance of one day reaching the highest office of all, make a rush for cover the moment the Vice-Presidential nomination comes up, and nothing will persuade them to emerge until the danger is passed and some sacrificial victim who is not themselves has been captured and bound. Ambition, self-interest, the desire to play a part in great affairs, are influences that, so far from attracting a man to the Vice-Presidency, make him deliberately a void it. An unsought nomination for the post is little more than a quiet hint to commit political suicide, a token that the days of a man's real usefulness are over, and a ceremonious interment of whatever Presidential ambitions he may be cherishing. It has other uses, too. If a man threatens to become more powerful than the party leaders approve of, there is nothing like cooping him up in the Vice-Presidency. Those were the tactics pursued with Mr. Roosevelt in 1900. The politicians needed his popularity to strengthen the Republican "ticket" and ensure Mr. McKinley's election. At the same time they wished to put him away and "sidetrack" him once and for all; and they reasonably, but, as it turned out, wrongly, calculated that his nomination as the Vice-Presidential candidate would compass both ends. There are,