The Development of Furlani

The Development of Furlani  (1896) 
by W. L. Alden

From The Idler, Jun 1896. Illustrations omitted.

It was certainly vexatious that Venice should be so well provided with schools and hospitals, but Miss McCartney knew that the life of a philanthropist is a difficult and disappointing one. Finally she decided to form a society among the Venetian ladies for the emancipation of their sex. It is possible that in time she would have found the desired recruit, had it not been for an unexpected incident which temporarily diverted her attention from her own to the opposite sex. Miss McCartney fell in love.




MR. McCartney was an admirable example of the effects of judicious training on the American parent. He knew no law except his daughter's will. One day she said to him, "Popper! I have made up my mind to live in Venice, so you must just get ready and we'll sail three weeks from to-day." Mr. McCartney did not show the slightest surprise. He merely said, "That's midling short notice, but if the thing's got to be of course I'll be ready in time." Accordingly he made his preparations without delay. He subscribed for two Chicago daily newspapers, and a monthly barrel of the best Chicago pork, and thus armed against famine and ennui, faced the prospect of spending the rest of his days in what ha assumed to be a semi- barbarous city, with courageous cheerfulness. Once arrived in Venice, and lodged in a Gothic palace on the Grand Canal, his spirits somewhat revived. He conceded that the architecture of the palace was not greatly inferior to that of Mr. Armour's pork-packing establishment in Chicago; and that the steamboats on the canal were proofs of unexpected civilisation on the part of the Venetians, He was even happy, when the tide was low, and the smaller canals made themselves obvious to more than one of the senses, for he declared that on such occasions he had only to shut his eyes in order to imagine that he was once more walking down the chief street of Chicago.

Miss McCartney had resigned her position as Professor of Mathematics in a Chicago High School in order to devote herself wholly to the elevation of the human race. She had once made a brief visit to Venice, and had caught sufficient glimpses of its poverty and misery to feel sure that the Venetians stood greatly in need of elevation. Besides, there was in her a vein of romance which she had never recognised, but which made Venice more fascinating to her than even the very highest kind of higher mathematics. She honestly believed that she had chosen Venice as a field of philanthropic labour, because the people needed her help, but the real truth was that the siren city had charmed her.

Miss McCartney knew a little Italian, which she spoke with a pure Chicago-accent, before she came to Venice, and as her knowledge of the language increased, she made acquaintance with several Venetian families, as well as with the members of the English colony. She read both the Venetian newspapers, and carefully followed the course of national and municipal politics. She studied, as best she could, the condition of the poorer classes, and formulated many pleasing and impossible schemes for their relief. She had nearly determined to open a free school for the children of the poor, when she discovered, not only that Venice had free schools, but that all children were compelled to attend them. Then she dreamed of establishing a small hospital, but on enquiry she found that Venice was fully provided with hospitals. It was certainly vexatious that Venice should be so well provided with schools and hospitals, but Miss McCartney knew that the life of a philanthropist is a difficult and disappointing one. Finally she decided to form a society among the Venetian ladies for the emancipation of their sex, and for that purpose, while waiting to enroll her first convert, she drew up an admirable constitution for the proposed society. It is possible that in time she would have found the desired recruit, had it not been for an unexpected incident which temporarily diverted her attention from her own to the opposite sex. Miss McCartney fell in love.

She had met the young Marchese Furlani at the house of the British consul. He was handsome, charming in his manners, and irreproachable in his morals—that is to say, from a Venetian point of view. He spoke a variety of English that was perhaps more intelligible to Miss McCartney than it would have been to an Englishwoman, for he had taken lessons from a stranded American sailor, who had undertaken to teach him the purest English at his command in exchange for a daily frugal dinner. Furlani was greatly pleased with Miss McCartney, who, although she had been a Professor of Mathematics, was still young, and by no means devoid of good looks. Her bright intelligence and her calm confidence in her own judgment were wonderfully attractive to him in their sharp contrast to the sweet insipidity of the women he had hitherto known. It was true that she was a heretic of some unknown and unintelligible kind, but he was certain that she was as good as she was intelligent. Her ignorance and disregard of the rules of Italian society never shocked him, for he knew before he met her that American girls are as free from European conventions as are the lunatics at San Clemente. So, when Miss McCartney asked him to call upon her, and a little later proposed to him to accompany her to the opera, he did not misconstrue conduct the very mention of which would have covered a Venetian young lady with blushes of shame. He saw her nearly every day, and when he learned that Mr. McCartney's practice of withdrawing from the room and leaving his daughter alone with her visitor was obligatory upon every American father, he was lost in admiration of the manners and customs of America.

Miss McCartney, liked the Marchese from the first. His education was extremely limited, and his capacity for reasoning was not much better than than of a child, but he was so simple, sincere, kindly, and honest that he won her regard in spite of his deficiencies. She looked on him as an overgrown child; and while his prattle amused her, she fancied that she was exerting an elevating influence upon him. It had never occurred to her that he could be in love with her, but when he suddenly asked her to marry him, she unexpectedly discovered that he was a dear boy, and that she was sincerely attached to him.

Furlani asked Miss McCartney to be his wife purely because he loved her, or fancied that he did. His own income was just sufficient for his daily wants, and he knew from the way in which the McCartneys lived that Miss McCartney's dower would be a very modest one. He had no doubt that the combination of their resources would enable them to live much as he had been accustomed to live, and perhaps with a little more comfort; and he felt sure that he would prefer Miss McCartney with a very small dowry to another American girl with a great fortune. All this he told her in his frank way, assuring her that if she "would husband herself with him he would make her happy, b'gosh!"

Miss McCartney, brought face to face with the idea of marriage, was at first astonished beyond measure; and then, looking at the matter from the philosophic point of view, asked herself "Why not?" At all events, she would not instantly come to a decision, but would think over Furlani's proposal, and see if her acceptance of it would not open the way for her to elevate not only her husband, but also his fellow-countrymen. So she smilingly told the Marchese that, while he must not think that there was any probability that she would marry him, she would of course treat his proposal with respect, and would give him a final answer on the morrow. In the course of the next twenty-four hours she had decided that she liked Furlani; that as his wife she would have opportunities for exerting an elevating influence on Venetian society that would otherwise be beyond her reach; and that she could fill her former friends and acquaintances with awe and admiration by signing herself "marchioness"—though this consideration was, as she said to herself, quite unworthy of attention. Her chief objection to marrying Furlani was that he had neither occupation nor aim in life. However, she was sure that he had noble possibilities within him, and perhaps it was her duty to develop them. The result of her careful study of the question was that when Furlani came for his answer, she told him that she would marry him at the end of the year, if, during that time, he had proved that he was something more than an idle boy.

Furlani gladly accepted these terms, and conscientiously strove to meet Miss McCartney's requirements. She set herself to the task of convincing him that his life had hitherto been unworthy of a man, but her success was slow. Furlani cheerfully told her the exact truth about himself—that is, up to a certain point. He explained to her that he dressed himself, that he ate sparingly, and drank with still greater moderation; that he spent a certain number of hours daily at the café; that he walked in the Piazza at certain fixed hours, and that he nightly went to the theatre. "I spend very little money," he said. "I have no vices that a young man should not have, and my confessor thinks a darned sight of me. What more can my dearest angel desire?"

"Do you never read anything, or improve your mind in any way?" asked Miss McCartney.

"Oh, yes! I improve him very often. I read the Gil Blas, and the Fanfulla, and your English Dellynoose. I think everyone should improve his mind."

"I am afraid the Fanfulla and the Gil Blas do not do you much good," returned Miss McCartney. "Can't you see, Carlo, that you are wasting your life, and doing nothing for the benefit of your fellow-creatures?"

"And there, dear one! you are mistaken. I went to a benefit last night. It was of our prima ballerina at the Rossini, and I took four tickets, b'gosh."

"I don't mean that sort of benefit," said Miss McCartney. "I mean that you do nothing to make mankind wiser and better. Why, for instance, do you not take part in politics, and become a Deputy?"

"I do not care for the politic," replied the young man. "There are many who like him and will manage affairs. Besides, it costs a good deal of money to be a Deputy, and I have none. We cannot all be Deputies. Otherwise the Chamber would be what you call a blasted bear-garden."

"I call it nothing of the sort, Carlo! and I do wish you would not use those expressions, such as blasted and that other horrid word. They are very improper."

"I learned them from my teacher," said Furlani, humbly, "but I will try to forget them."

"Have you ever thought of going into the army?" pursued the girl. "I don't like armies, still, if I were a man, I would rather be an officer than to be nothing."

"I am too old to go to the military school. Besides, I am too tall to look well in a uniform. My legs are too thin. Perhaps you have observed those legs. I am quite ashamed of them. But then, one must take the legs that the Madonna sends."

"Can't you go into some kind of business?" continued Miss McCartney, hurriedly. "In my country a young man like you would either have a profession, or he would go into a broker's office, or travel for some mercantile house. At any rate he would do something to make himself independent. Is there no business here in Venice that you could learn?"

"Is it possible that you would wish that I should make myself a darned tradesman?" asked Furlani, with his big eyes full of wonder.

"Hush!" cried the girl, "Never let me hear you use that word again."

"I beg your pardon," said the Marchese. "I forgot that it was improper. I should have said 'damned tradesman.' I will be careful always to say damned, after this. I remember now that my teacher told me that 'darned' was a corruption of damned."

"Worse and worse!" wailed Miss McCartney. "Dear! dear! what a wretch the man who taught you must have been. Now do try to remember that all those words are bad, and must not be used. I have told you so over and over, but you still keep on using them."

"I am sorry that I do not please you," said Furtani. "I know that you are right. Upon you there are no——Ah! I have forgotten the word. What is it that is never upon you?"

"I'm sure I haven't the slightest idea what you mean," said the girl. "So far as I know I have nothing on that I ought not to wear."

"Now I come to remember him," cried Furlani triumphantly, "it is of flies that I should speak. There are no flies on you. That is why I always know that what you say is true."

Miss McCartney sighed. Furlani's English tried her sorely at times, but after all it was a small matter compared with his inability to comprehend that he was wasting his life. She felt that it would be absurd for her, an earnest woman, wholly devoted to philanthropic work, to marry him; and yet she found him thoroughly loveable. Morally and mentally he was little more than a child, but he had a child's charming sincerity and sunny cheerfulness, and she never for a moment doubted that he truly loved her. She sat gazing at him sadly for a moment, and the answering tears rose to the young man's eyes.

"I know, dear one!" he said, "that I am of the most worthless, but I promise you that I will try to do something as you desire. I will work with my head, and perhaps I shall find out how to make myself such as you wish me to be. I will what you call hustle around without delay. This very night I will hell around among my friends, and perhaps some one of them will have an idea."

The next day Furlani presented himself earlier than usual at Miss McCartney's drawing-room, and his face beamed with excitement and happiness. "At last," he cried, "I have done something, and I know you will be pleased, and perhaps even a little proud of your poor friend. Behold!" And he drew from his pocket a thick package of bank-notes, and laid them with a bow on Miss McCartney's lap.

"What in the world does all this money mean?" she asked. "Where did you get it, and why do you bring it to me?"

"There are nearly fifteen thousand francs," cried Furlani. "I won him all at baccarat last night. It is very nice to have all that money, but if you are pleased, that is worth a thousand times more."

"My dear Carlo!" said Miss McCartney solemnly, "don't you know that it is very wrong to gamble?"

"Oh, yes!" replied Furlani. "It is very wrong if you lose. I had a brother who always lost, and yet he would always play until at last he had no more money, and we were all very much ashamed of him, and told him that he was a cussed fool. But it is not wrong to play if you win. That is a very different thing. For myself I never lose more than I can spare. Yes! I disapprove very much of play, except for those who have the happiness to win."

"Carlo! Carlo!" cried the girl, sadly. "Can I never instil any sort of principle into you! You must promise me never to gamble again. I don't expect to make you understand how wrong it is, but you must promise me this, if you love me."

"I will promise you anything. Only be patient with me. I have no other wish but to please you. I will even become a blooming tradesman if you insist upon it, but I kind of guess you won't."

"Can't you find the man from whom you won this money and give it back to him?" asked Miss McCartney.

"But if I were to do that everyone would say that I was a lunatic," replied the wondering Furlani. "I need not tell you that I won the money fairly. If you wish me to give it away, it would be better to give it to the poor, for the man from whom I won it is very rich. Besides, he was only a Frenchman who was passing through Venice, and by this time he is far away." Furlani was sincerely anxious to shape his conduct in all things by Miss McCartney's wishes, but it was really too absurd, this suggestion that he should return his lawful gains. His fleeting Frenchman was invented on the spur of the moment, and he was greatly relieved to find that Miss McCartney accepted his transparent fib without the slightest question.

"Very well, then!" she said. "If the money can't be returned it must be kept, but I trust it is the last that you will ever win at the gaming-table."

She arose, and walked up and down the room. Furlani regarded her with admiration. "She was now thinking," so he said to himself, and he regarded that process with awe. He too, would learn to think, and who knows what great things might come of it?

"Carlo," said Miss McCartney suddenly, "you must and shall make a man of yourself, but you can never do it here in Venice. I am awfully sorry that you gambled, but now that you have the money, and cannot return it, you shall take it and go to America. There you will learn what life ought to be to a young man. I will give you letters to my friends, who will show you how our young men live. Very likely you will find some opening in business there, and in that case I will come to America and marry you. If you return at the end of the year, you will find me waiting for you here, and by that time you will have learned far more than I can ever hope to teach you, and will have become a man whom I can respect as well as love."

Furlani's handsome face fell. "Dearest!" he said, "you know that I could never live away from you and from Venice. And yet you ask me to go and live a year in that most barbarous of lands. But you shall see how I love you. If you insist upon it, I will go at once. I am your slave, b'gosh! You are my angel, my saint, my holy terror on wooden wheels!" Miss McCartney cast a hurried glance at the closed door, and then, to Furlani's immense astonishment, kissed him. It was not, on the whole, a very skilful kiss, for it alighted on the tip of his ear. Still, it should be said, by way of excuse, that a Professor of Mathematics is not expected to be an expert in kissing, and that Miss McCartney had never before kissed any man except her father.

"Go, and come back to me the noble, earnest man that I am certain you can become," cried the girl; "you are a dear boy, and I am now sure that I love you, but I must be able to look up to you. Make this journey for me, and I promise that when you return, whether you have learned much or little, I will marry you."

Furlani knew that Miss McCartney was inflexible in her determinations.

She had decided that he must go to America, and there was nothing for him to do but to go. He had an unspeakable dread of leaving Venice, but he was honestly anxious to transform himself into the new and as yet incomprehensible sort of person that Miss McCartney wished him to be. So with many tears he bade her farewell, and early in October sailed for New York, having his affianced to resume her temporarily neglected work of elevating the Venetian women.

During his first month in America he wrote almost daily. It was easy to see that he was horribly home-sick, but Miss McCartney fancied that she could detect in his letters signs that his moral nature was awakening, and that he was beginning to understand that he had a loftier mission in life than that of lounging in the Piazza. His English improved rapidly, and he completely dropped those pecularities of expression which had so shocked her. But after a time Miss McCartney became uneasy. A certain worldliness seemed to be creeping into his letters that was wholly foreign to the nature of the frank, childish boy whom she had sent away from Venice. Doubts as to the wisdom of her course began to trouble her. what if her efforts to develop Furlani's moral nature should end in making him a sordid, money-getting Philistine, like too many of her fellow-countrymen? With the first days of spring there came a letter which told her how well the young Venetian had learned the lessons that America had to teach him. It was long, and began with many protestations of the writer's undying love for his "angelic guide." Then it continued as follows:

"I have tried to look at affairs as your Americans look at them. I asked many Americans what a young man like myself, well born, but without money or the means of making money, ought to do, and they all told me that he ought to marry a rich lady. At first I did not like their advice, for I had wished to marry only you. But after a little I saw that they were right, and that to marry wisely is the only business for such a one as I. So I am to be married to a young lady who has a dowry of five hundred thousand francs, and she will come with me to Venice. She is a good one, and I like her very much, but I shall never love anyone but you. I hope, dear one, that you will think I have done wisely. Now that I am to be rich, I will become a Deputy, and you shall be proud of me. In four weeks more I will be at your feet, and you shall tell me that I have done right, and that you love me."

"Popper!" said Miss McCartney, after she had read her letter, "I guess you had better pack up your things at once. We are going to Germany to-morrow, for I must improve my German."

"Ain't this pretty middling sudden?" asked Mr. McCartney. "I thought you calculated to do some reforming among the women here?"

"I'm tired of Venice," replied the girl. "So just you pack up like a dear old Popper. I don't think the climate here suits me very well."

"I'll do exactly as you say," said the father. "Of course it ain't any of my business, but won't young Furrlanny be a little put out if he comes back and finds you are gone?"

Miss McCartney kissed her father, and he saw that there were tears in her eyes, so, like the well-trained father that he was, he decided that he had better make no further mention of Furlani's name. Together with his daughter he left Venice at once, and Miss McCartney vanished completely and for ever from the knowledge of her astounded lover. He is still living luxuriously on the money of his rich wife, but he cannot understand why the woman who took such pains to develop his moral nature deserted him just when he had, as he imagined, made himself the sort of man whom she would respect. He talked the matter over with all his friends, and they unanimously agreed that Miss McCartney, like all Anglo-Saxons, was quite mad, and that Furlani was fortunate in losing her. But he could never take precisely that view, and there were times when he sincerely wished that he had never gone to America, but had remained in Venice, the poor, but faithful lover of his "angelic guide."

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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