Read CHAPTER XXVIII - THE LAGOON OF VENICE of Nobody , free online book, by Susan Warner, on

Towards evening, one day late in the summer, the sun was shining, as its manner is, on that marvellous combination of domes, arches, mosaics and carvings which goes by the name of St. Mark’s at Venice.  The soft Italian sky, glowing and rich, gave a very benediction of colour; all around was the still peace of the lagoon city; only in the great square there was a gentle stir and flutter and rustle and movement; for thousands of doves were flying about, and coming down to be fed, and a crowd of varied human nature, but chiefly not belonging to the place, were watching and distributing food to the feathered multitude.  People were engaged with the doves, or with each other; few had a look to spare for the great church; nobody even glanced at the columns bearing St. Theodore and the Lion.

That is, speaking generally.  For under one of the arcades, leaning against one of the great pillars of the same, a man stood whose look by turns went to everything.  He had been standing there motionless for half an hour; and it passed to him like a minute.  Sometimes he studied that combination aforesaid, where feeling and fancy and faith have made such glorious work together; and to which, as I hinted, the Venetian evening was lending such indescribable magnificence.  His eye dwelt on details of loveliness, of which it was constantly discovering new revelations; or rested on the whole colour-glorified pile with meditative remembrance of what it had seen and done, and whence it had come.  Then with sudden transition he would give his attention to the motley crowd before him, and the soft-winged doves fluttering up and down and filling the air.  And, tiring of these, his look would go off again to the bronze lion on his place of honour in the Piazzetta, his thought probably wandering back to the time when he was set there.  The man himself was noticed by nobody.  He stood in the shade of the pillar and did not stir.  He was a gentleman evidently; one sees that by slight characteristics, which are nevertheless quite unmistakeable and not to be counterfeited.  His dress of course was the quiet, unobtrusive, and yet perfectly correct thing, which dress ought to be.  His attitude was that of a man who knew both how to move and how to be still, and did both easily; and further, the look of him betrayed the habit of travel.  This man had seen so much that he was not moved by any young curiosity; knew so much, that he could weigh and compare what he knew.  His figure was very good; his face agreeable and intelligent, with good observant grey eyes; the whole appearance striking.  But nobody noted him.

And he had noted nobody; the crowd before him was to him simply a crowd, which excited no interest except as a whole.  Until, suddenly, he caught sight of a head and shoulders in the moving throng, which started him out of his carelessness.  They were but a few yards from him, seen and lost again in the swaying mass of human beings; but though half seen he was sure he could not mistake.  He spoke out a little loud the word “Tom!”

He was not heard, and the person spoken to moved out of sight again.  The speaker, however, now left his place and plunged among the people.  Presently he had another glimpse of the head and shoulders, and was yet more sure of his man; lost sight of him anew, but, following in the direction taken by the chase, gradually won his way nearer, and at length overtook the man, who was then standing between the pillars of the Lion and St. Theodore, and looking out towards the water.

“Tom!” said his pursuer, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Philip Dillwyn!” said the other, turning.  “Philip!  Where did you come from?  What a lucky turn-up!  That I should find you here!”

“I found you, man.  Where have you come from?”

“O, from everywhere.”

“Are you alone?  Where are your people?”

“O, Julia and Lenox are gone home.  Mamma and I are here yet.  I left mamma in a pension in Switzerland, where I could not hold it out any longer; and I have been wandering about ­Florence, and Pisa, and I don’t know all ­till now I have brought up in Venice.  It is so jolly to get you!”

“What are you doing here?”


“What are you going to do?”

“Nothing.  O, I have done everything, you know.  There is nothing left to a fellow.”

“That sounds hopeless,” said Dillwyn, laughing.

“It is hopeless.  Really I don’t see, sometimes, what a fellow’s life is good for.  I believe the people who have to work for it, have after all the best time!”

“They work to live,” said the other.

“I suppose they do.”

“Therefore you are going round in a circle.  If life is worth nothing, why should one work to keep it up?”

“Well, what is it worth, Dillwyn?  Upon my word, I have never made it out satisfactorily.”

“Look here ­we cannot talk in this place.  Have you ever been to Torcello?”


“Suppose we take a gondola and go?”

“Now?  What is there?”

“An old church.”

“There are old churches all over.  The thing is to find a new one.”

“You prefer the new ones?”

“Just for the rarity,” said Tom, smiling.

“I do not believe you have studied the old ones yet.  Do you know the mosaics in St. Mark’s?”

“I never study mosaics.”

“And I’ll wager you have not seen the Tintorets in the Palace of the Doges?”

“There are Tintorets all over!” said Tom, shrugging his shoulders wearily.

“Then have you seen Murano?”

“The glass-works, yes.”

“I do not mean the glass-works.  Come along ­anywhere in a gondola will do, such an evening as this; and we can talk comfortably.  You need not look at anything.”

They entered a gondola, and were presently gliding smoothly over the coloured waters of the lagoon; shining with richer sky reflections than any mortal painter could put on canvas.  Not long in silence.

“Where have you been, Tom, all this while?”

“I told you, everywhere!” said Tom, with another shrug of his shoulders.  “The one thing one comes abroad for, you know, is to run away from the winter; so we have been doing that, as long as there was any winter to run from, and since then we have been running away from the summer.  Let me see ­we came over in November, didn’t we? or December; we went to Rome as fast as we could.  There was very good society in Rome last winter.  Then, as spring came on, we coasted down to Naples and Palermo.  We staid at Palermo a while.  From there we went back to England; and from England we came to Switzerland.  And there we have been till I couldn’t stand Switzerland any longer; and I bolted.”

“Palermo isn’t a bad place to spend a while in.”

“No; ­but Sicily is stupid generally.  It’s all ridiculous, Philip. 
Except for the name of the thing, one can get just as good nearer home. 
I could get better sport at Appledore last summer, than in any place
I’ve been at in Europe.”

“Ah!  Appledore,” said Philip slowly, and dipping his hand in the water.  “I surmise the society also was good there?”

“Would have been,” Tom returned discontentedly, “if there had not been a little too much of it.”

“Too much of it!”

“Yes.  I couldn’t stir without two or three at my heels.  It’s very kind, you know; but it rather hampers a fellow.”

“Miss Lothrop was there, wasn’t she?”

“Of course she was!  That made all the trouble.”

“And all the sport too; hey, Tom?  Things usually are two-sided in this world.”

“She made no trouble.  It was my mother and sister.  They were so awfully afraid of her.  And they drilled George in; so among them they were too many for me.  But I think Appledore is the nicest place I know.”

“You might buy one of the islands ­a little money would do it ­build a lodge, and have your Europe always at hand; when the winter is gone, as you say.  Even the winter you might manage to live through, if you could secure the right sort of society.  Hey, Tom?  Isn’t that an idea?  I wonder it never occurred to you.  I think one might bid defiance to the world, if one were settled at the Isles of Shoals.”

“Yes,” said Tom, with something very like a groan.  “If one hadn’t a mother and sister.”

“You are heathenish!”

“I’m not, at all!” returned Tom passionately.  “See here, Philip.  There is one thing goes before mother and sister; and that you know.  It’s a man’s wife.  And I’ve seen my wife, and I can’t get her.”

“Why?” said Dillwyri dryly.  He was hanging over the side of the gondola, and looking attentively at the play of colour in the water; which reflecting the sky in still splendour where it lay quiet, broke up in ripples under the gondolier’s oar, and seemed to scatter diamonds and amethysts and topazes in fairy-like prodigality all around.

“I’ve told you!” said Tom fretfully.

“Yes, but I do not comprehend.  Does not the lady in question like Appledore as well as you do?”

“She likes Appledore well enough.  I do not know how well she likes me.  I never had a chance to find out.  I don’t think she dislikes me, though,” said Tom meditatively.

“It is not too late to find out yet,” Philip said, with even more dryness in his tone.

“O, isn’t it, though!” said Tom.  “I’m tied up from ever asking her now.  I’m engaged to another woman.”

“Tom!” said the other, suddenly straightening himself up.

“Don’t shout at a fellow!  What could I do?  They wouldn’t let me have what I wanted; and now they’re quite pleased, and Julia has gone home.  She has done her work.  O, I am making an excellent match.  ’An old family, and three hundred thousand dollars,’ as my mother says.  That’s all one wants, you know.”

“Who is the lady?”

“It don’t matter, you know, when you have heard her qualifications.  It’s Miss Dulcimer ­one of the Philadelphia Dulcimers.  Of course one couldn’t make a better bargain for oneself.  And I’m as fond of her as I can be; in fact, I was afraid I was getting too fond.  So I ran away, as I told you, to think over my happiness at leisure, and moderate my feelings.”

“Tom, Tom, I never heard you bitter before,” said his friend, regarding him with real concern.

“Because I never was bitter before.  O, I shall be all right now.  I haven’t had a soul on whom I could pour out my mind, till this hour.  I know you’re as safe as a mine.  It does me good to talk to you.  I tell you, I shall be all right.  I’m a very happy bridegroom expectant.  You know, if the Caruthers have plenty of money, the Dulcimers have twice as much.  Money’s really everything.”

“Have you any idea how this news will touch Miss ­the other lady you were talking about?”

“I suppose it won’t touch her at all.  She’s different; that’s one reason why I liked her.  She would not care a farthing for me because I’m a Caruthers, or because I have money; not a brass farthing!  She is the realest person I ever saw.  She would go about Appledore from morning to night in the greatest state of delight you ever saw anybody; where my sister, for instance, would see nothing but rocks and weeds, Lois would have her hands full of what Julia would call trash, and what to her was better than if the fairies had done it.  Things pulled out of the shingle and mud, ­I can just see her, ­and flowers, and stones, and shells.  What she would make of this now! ­But you couldn’t set that girl down anywhere, I believe, that she wouldn’t find something to make her feel rich.  She’s a richer woman this minute, than my Dulcimer with her thousands.  And she’s got good blood in her too, Philip.  I learned that from Mrs. Wishart.  She has the blood of ever so many of the old Pilgrims in her veins; and that is good descent, Philip?”

“They think so in New England.”

“Well, they are right, I am ready to believe.  Anyhow, I don’t care ­”

He broke off, and there was a silence of some minutes’ length.  The gondola swam along over the quiet water, under the magnificent sky; the reflected colours glanced upon two faces, grave and self-absorbed.

“Old boy,” said Philip at length, “I hardly think you are right.”

“Right in what?  I am right in all I have told you.”

“I meant, right in your proposed plan of action.  You may say it is none of my business.”

“I shall not say it, though.  What’s the wrong you mean?”

“It seems to me Miss Dulcimer would not feel obliged to you, if she knew all.”

“She doesn’t feel obliged to me at all,” said Tom.  “She gives a good as she gets.”

“No better?”

“What do you mean?”

“Pardon me, Tom; but you have been frank with me.  By your own account, she will get very little.”

“All she wants.  I’ll give her a local habitation and a name.”

“I am sure you are unjust.”

“Not at all.  That is all half the girls want; all they try for.  She’s very content.  O, I’m very good to her when we are together; and I mean to be.  You needn’t look at me,” said Tom, trying to laugh.  “Three-quarters of all the marriages that are made are on the same pattern.  Why, Phil, what do the men and women of this world live for?  What’s the purpose in all I’ve been doing since I left college?  What’s the good of floating round in the world as I have been doing all summer and winter here this year? and at home it is different only in the manner of it.  People live for nothing, and don’t enjoy life.  I don’t know at this minute a single man or woman, of our sort, you know, that enjoys life; except that one.  And she isn’t our sort.  She has no money, and no society, and no Europe to wander round in!  O, they would say they enjoy life; but their way shows they don’t.”

“Enjoyment is not the first thing,” Philip said thoughtfully.

“O, isn’t it!  It’s what we’re all after, anyhow; you’ll allow that.”

“Perhaps that is the way we miss it.”

“So Dulcimer and I are all right, you see,” pursued Tom, without heeding this remark.  “We shall be a very happy couple.  All the world will have us at their houses, and we shall have all the world at ours.  There won’t be room left for any thing but happiness; and that’ll squeeze in anywhere, you know.  It’s like chips floating round on the surface of a whirlpool ­they fly round and round splendidly ­till they get sucked in.”

“Tom!” cried his companion.  “What has come to you?  Your life is not so different now from what it has always been; ­and I have always known you for a light-hearted fellow.  I can’t have you take this tone.”

Tom was silent, biting the ends of his moustache in a nervous way, which bespoke a good deal of mental excitement; Philip feared, of mental trouble.

“If a friend may ask, how came you to do what is so unsatisfactory to you?” he said at length.

“My mother and sister!  They were so preciously afraid I should ruin myself.  Philip, I could not make head against them.  They were too much for me, and too many for me; they were all round me; they were ahead of me; I had no chance at all.  So I gave up in despair.  Women are the overpowering when they take a thing in their head!  A man’s nowhere.  I gave in, and gave up, and came away, and now ­they’re satisfied.”

“Then the affair is definitely concluded?”

“As definitely as if my head was off.”

Philip did not laugh, and there was a pause again.  The colours were fading from sky and water, and a yellow, soft moonlight began to assert her turn.  It was a change of beauty for beauty; but neither of the two young men seemed to take notice of it.

“Tom,” began the other after a time, “what you say about the way most of us live, is more or less true; and it ought not to be true.”

“Of course it is true!” said Tom.

“But it ought not to be true.”

“What are you going to do about it?  One must do as everybody else does; I suppose.”

Must one?  That is the very question.”

“What can you do else, as long as you haven’t your bread to get?”

“I believe the people who have their bread to get have the best of it.  But there must be some use in the world, I suppose, for those who are under no such necessity.  Did you ever hear that Miss ­Lothrop’s family were strictly religious?”

“No ­yes, I have,” said Tom.  “I know she is.”

“That would not have suited you.”

“Yes, it would.  Anything she did would have suited me.  I have a great respect for religion, Philip.”

“What do you mean by religion?”

“I don’t know ­what everybody means by it.  It is the care of the spiritual part of our nature, I suppose.”

“And how does that care work?”

“I don’t know,” said Tom.  “It works altar-cloths; and it seems to mean church-going, and choral music, and teaching ragged schools; and that sort of thing.  I don’t understand it; but I should never interfere with it.  It seems to suit the women particularly.”

Again there fell a pause.

“Where have you been, Dillwyn? and what brought you here again?” Tom began now.

“I came to pass the time,” the other said musingly.

“Ah!  And where have you passed it?”

“Along the shores of the Adriatic, part of the time.  At Abazzia, and Sebenico, and the islands.”

“What’s in all that?  I never heard of Abazzia.”

“The world is a large place,” said Philip absently.

“But what is Abazzia?”

“A little paradise of a place, so sheltered that it is like a nest of all lovely things.  Really; it has its own climate, through certain favouring circumstances; and it is a hidden little nook of delight.”

“Ah! ­What took you to the shores of the Adriatic, anyhow?”

“Full of interest,” said Philip.

“Pray, of what kind?”

“Every kind.  Historical, industrial, mechanical, natural, and artistic.  But I grant you, Tom, that was not why I went there.  I went there to get out of the ruts of travel and break new ground.  Like you, being a little tired of going round in a circle for ever.  And it occurs to me that man must have been made for somewhat else than such a purposeless circle.  No other creature is a burden to himself.”

“Because no other creature thinks,” said Tom.

“The power of thought can surely be no final disadvantage.”

“I don’t see what it amounts to,” Tom returned.  “A man is happy enough, I suppose, as long as he is busy thinking out some new thing ­inventing, creating, discovering, or working out his discoveries; but as soon as he has brought his invention to perfection and set it going, he is tired of it, and drives after something else.”

“You are coming to Solomon’s judgment,” said the other, leaning back upon the cushions and clasping his hands above his head, ­“what the preacher says ­’Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’”

“Well, so are you,” said Tom.

“It makes me ashamed.”

“Of what?”



“That I should have lived to be thirty-two years old, and never have done anything, or found any way to be of any good in the world!  There isn’t a butterfly of less use than I!”

“You weren’t made to be of use,” said Tom.

“Upon my word, my dear fellow, you have said the most disparaging thing, I hope, that ever was said of me!  You cannot better that statement, if you think an hour!  You mean it of me as a human being, I trust? not as an individual?  In the one case it would be indeed melancholy, but in the other it would be humiliating.  You take the race, not the personal view.  The practical view is, that what is of no use had better not be in existence.  Look here ­here we are at Murano; I had not noticed it.  Shall we land, and see things by moonlight? or go back to Venice?”

“Back, and have dinner,” said Tom.

“By way of prolonging this existence, which to you is burdensome and to me is unsatisfactory.  Where is the logic of that?”

But they went back, and had a very good dinner too.