Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 26 out of 78
to a word I said; for if she had heard me she would not have had
patience with my ironical suggestions.
"Or, no; that wouldn't do, either."
"I'm glad you don't approve of the notion, on second thoughts. I
didn't like it from the beginning, and I didn't even know what it
"We could have them up to the house this evening, and introduce them
to some of our friends,--only there isn't a young man in the whole
place,--and have them stay to the charades."
"What do you think," I said, "of their having come up this morning
and tried to get rooms at our house?"
"Yes; they told me."
"And don't you call that rather forth-putting? It seems to me that
it was taking a mean advantage of my brags."
"It was perfectly innocent in them. But now, dearest, don't be
tiresome. I know that you like them as well as I do, and I will
take all your little teasing affectations for granted. The question
is, what can we do for them?"
"And the answer is, I don't in the least know. There isn't any
society life at Saratoga that I can see; and if there is, we are not
in it. How could we get any one else in? I see that's what you're
aiming at. Those public socialities at the big hotels they could
get into as well as we could; but they wouldn't be anywhere when
they got there, and they wouldn't know what to do. You know what
hollow mockeries those things are. Don't you remember that hop we
went to with the young Braceys the first summer? If those girls
hadn't waltzed with each other they wouldn't have danced a step the
"I know, I know," sighed my wife; "it was terrible. But these
people are so very unworldly that don't you think they could be
deluded into the belief that they were seeing society if we took a
little trouble? You used to be so inventive! You could think up
something now if you tried."
"My dear, a girl knows beyond all the arts of hoodwinking whether
she's having a good time, and your little scheme of passing off one
of those hotel hops for a festivity would never work in the world."
"Well, I think it is too bad! What has become of all the easy
gaiety there used to be in the world?"
"It has been starched and ironed out of it, apparently. Saratoga is
still trying to do the good old American act, with its big hotels
and its heterogeneous hops, and I don't suppose there's ever such a
thing as a society person at any of them. That wouldn't be so bad.
But the unsociety people seem to be afraid of one another. They
feel that there is something in the air--something they don't and
can't understand; something alien, that judges their old-fashioned
American impulse to be sociable, and contemns it. No; we can't do
anything for our hapless friends--I can hardly call them our
acquaintances. We must avoid them, and keep them merely as a
pensive colour in our own vivid memories of Saratoga. If we made
them have a good time, and sent them on their way rejoicing, I
confess that I should feel myself distinctly a loser. As it is,
they're a strain of melancholy poetry in my life, of music in the
minor key. I shall always associate their pathos with this hot
summer weather, and I shall think of them whenever the thermometer
registers eighty-nine. Don't you see the advantage of that? I
believe I can ultimately get some literature out of them. If I can
think of a fitting fable for them Fulkerson will feature it in Every
Other Week. He'll get out a Saratoga number, and come up here and
strike the hotels and springs for ad's."
"Well," said Mrs. March, "I wish I had never seen them; and it's all
your fault, Basil. Of course, when you played upon my sympathies so
about them, I couldn't help feeling interested in them. We are a
couple of romantic old geese, my dear."
"Not at all, or at least I'm not. I simply used these people
conjecturally to give myself an agreeable pang. I didn't want to
know anything more about them than I imagined, and I certainly
didn't dream of doing anything for them. You'll spoil everything if
you turn them from fiction into fact, and try to manipulate their
destiny. Let them alone; they will work it out for themselves."
"You know I can't let them alone now," she lamented. "I am not one
of those who can give themselves an agreeable pang with the
unhappiness of their fellow-creatures. I'm not satisfied to study
them; I want to relieve them."
She went on to praise herself to my disadvantage, as I notice wives
will with their husbands, and I did not attempt to deny her this
source of consolation. But when she ended by saying, "I believe I
shall send you alone," and explained that she had promised Mrs.
Deering we would come to their hotel for them after tea, and go with
them to hear the music at the United States and the Grand Union, I
protested. I said that I always felt too sneaking when I was
prowling round those hotels listening to their proprietary concerts,
and I was aware of looking so sneaking that I expected every moment
to be ordered off their piazzas. As for convoying a party of three
strangers about alone, I should certainly not do it.
"Not if I've a headache?"
"Not if you've a headache."
"Oh, very well, then."
"What are you two quarrelling about?" cried a gay voice behind us,
and we looked round into the laughing eyes of Miss Dale. She was
the one cottager we knew in Saratoga, but when we were with her we
felt that we knew everybody, so hospitable was the sense of world
which her kindness exhaled.
"It was Mrs. March who was quarrelling," I said. "I was only trying
to convince her that she was wrong, and of course one has to lift
one's voice. I hope I hadn't the effect of halloaing."
"Well, I merely heard you above the steam harmonicon at the
switchback," said Miss Dale. "I don't know whether you call THAT
"Oh, Miss Dale," said my wife, "we are in such a fatal--"
"Pickle," I suggested, and she instantly adopted the word in her
"--pickle with some people that Providence has thrown in our way,
and that we want to do something for"; and in a labyrinth of
parentheses that no man could have found his way into or out of, she
possessed Miss Dale of the whole romantic fact. "It was Mr. March,
of course, who first discovered them," she concluded, in plaintive
"Poor Mr. March!" cried Miss Dale. "Well, it is a pathetic case,
but it isn't the only one, if that's any comfort. Saratoga is
reeking with just such forlornities the whole summer long; but I can
quite understand how you feel about it, Mrs. March." We came to a
corner, and she said abruptly: "Excuse my interrupting your
quarrel! Not quite so LOUD, Mr. March!" and she flashed back a
mocking look at me as she skurried off down the street with
"How perfectly heartless!" cried my wife. "I certainly thought she
would suggest something--offer to do something."
"I relied upon her, too," I said; "but now I have my doubts whether
she was really going down that street till she saw that it was the
best way to escape. We're certainly in trouble, my dear, if people
avoid us in this manner."
"I am doing it entirely on Mrs. Deering's I account," said my wife
that evening after tea, as we walked down the side-street that
descended from our place to Broadway. "She has that girl on her
hands, and I know she must be at her wits' end."
"And I do it entirely on Deering's account," I retorted. "He has
both of those women on HIS hands."
We emerged into the glistening thoroughfare in front of the vast
hotels, and I was struck, as I never fail to be, with its futile and
unmeaning splendour. I think there is nothing in our dun-coloured
civilisation prettier than that habit the ladies have in Saratoga of
going out on the street after dark in their bare heads. When I
first saw them wandering about so in the glitter of the shop-windows
and the fitful glare of the electrics everywhere, I thought they
must be some of those Spanish-Americans mistaking the warm, dry air
of the Northern night for that of their own latitudes; but when I
came up with them I could hear, if I could not see, that they were
of our own race. Those flat and shapeless tones could come through
the noses of no other. The beauty and the elegance were also ours,
and the fearless trust of circumstance. They sauntered up and down
before the gaunt, high porticoes of the hotels, as much at home as
they could have been in their own houses, and in much the same dress
as if they had been receiving there. The effect is one of
incomparable cheer, and is a promise of social brilliancy which
Saratoga no more keeps than she does that of her other
characteristic aspects; say the forenoon effect of the same
thoroughfare, with the piazzas banked with the hotel guests, and the
street full of the light equipages which seem peculiar to the place
passing and repassing, in the joyous sunlight and out of it, on the
leaf-flecked street. Even the public carriages of Saratoga have a
fresh, unjaded air; and to issue from the railway station in the
midst of those buoyant top-phaetons and surreys, with their light-
limbed horses, is to be thrilled by some such insensate expectation
of pleasure as fills the heart of a boy at his first sally into the
world. I always expect to find my lost youth waiting for me around
the corner of the United States Hotel, and I accuse myself of some
fault if it disappoints me, as it always does. I can imagine what
gaudy hopes by day and by night the bright staging of the potential
drama must awaken in the breast of a young girl when she first sees
it, and how blank she must feel when the curtain goes down and there
has been no play. It was a real anguish to me when that young girl
with the Deerings welcomed my wife and me with a hopeful smile, as
if we were the dramatis personae, and now the performance must be
going to begin. I could see how much our chance acquaintance had
brightened the perspective for her, and how eagerly she had repaired
all her illusions; and I thought how much better it would have been
if she had been left to the dull and spiritless resignation in which
I had first seen her. From that there could no fall, at least, and
now she had risen from it only to sink again.
But, in fact, the whole party seemed falsely cheered by the event of
the afternoon; and in the few moments that we sat with them on their
verandah, before going to the music at the Grand Union, I could hear
the ladies laughing together, while Deering joyously unfolded to me
his plan of going home the next morning and leaving his wife and
Miss Gage behind him. "They will stay in this hotel--they might as
well--and I guess they can get along. My wife feels more acquainted
since she met Mrs. March, and I shan't feel so much like leavin' her
among strangers here I don't know when she's taken such a fancy to
any one as she has to your wife, or Miss Gage either. I guess
she'll want to ask her about the stores."
I said that I believed the fancy was mutual, and that there was
nothing my wife liked better than telling people about stores. I
added, in generalisation, that when a woman had spent all her own
money on dress, it did her quite as much good to see other women
spending theirs; and Deering said he guessed that was about so. He
gave me a push on the shoulder to make me understand how keenly he
appreciated the joke, and I perceived that we had won his heart too.
We joined the ladies, and I thought that my sufferings for her
authorised me to attach myself more especially to Miss Gage, and to
find out all I could about her. We walked ahead of the others, and
I was aware of her making believe that it was quite the same as if
she were going to the music with a young man. Not that she seemed
disposed to trifle with my grey hairs; I quickly saw that this would
not be in character with her; but some sort of illusion was
essential to her youth, and she could not help rejuvenating me.
This was quite like the goddess she looked, I reflected, but
otherwise she was not formidably divine; and, in fact, I suppose the
goddesses were, after all, only nice girls at heart. This one, at
any rate, I decided, was a very nice girl when she was not sulking;
and she was so brightened by her little adventure, which was really
no adventure, that I could not believe I had ever seen her sulking.
The hotel people did not keep us from going into the court of the
hotel, as I was afraid they might, and we all easily found places.
In the pauses of the music I pointed out such notables and
characters as I saw about us, and tried to possess her of as much of
the Saratoga world as I knew. It was largely there in that bold
evidence it loves, and in that social solitude to which the Saratoga
of the hotels condemns the denizens of her world. I do not mean
that the Saratoga crowd is at all a fast-looking crowd. There are
sporting people and gamblers; but the great mass of the frequenters
are plain, honest Americans, out upon a holiday from all parts of
the country, and of an innocence too inveterate to have grasped the
fact that there is no fashion in Saratoga now but the fashion of the
ladies' dresses. These, I must say, are of the newest and
prettiest; the dressing of the women always strikes me there. My
companion was eager to recognise the splendours which she had heard
of, and I pointed out an old lady by the door, who sat there
displaying upon her vast person an assortment of gems and jewels
which she seemed as personally indifferent to as if she were a show-
window, and I was glad to have the girl shrink from the spectacle in
a kind of mute alarm. I tried to make her share my pleasure in a
group of Cubans--fat father, fat mother, fat daughter--who came down
the walk toward us in the halo of tropical tradition; but she had
not the taste for olives, and I saw that I failed to persuade her of
the aesthetic value of this alien element among us. She apparently
could do almost as little with some old figures of bygone beaus
spectrally revisiting the hotel haunts of their youth; but she was
charmed with the sylvan loveliness of that incomparable court. It
is, in fact, a park of the tall, slim Saratoga trees enclosed by the
quadrangle of the hotel, exquisitely kept, and with its acres of
greensward now showing their colour vividly in the light of the
electrics, which shone from all sides on the fountain flashing and
plashing in the midst. I said that here was that union of the
sylvan and the urban which was always the dream of art, and which
formed the delicate charm of pastoral poetry; and although I do not
think she quite grasped the notion, I saw that she had a pleasure in
the visible fact, and that was much better. Besides, she listened
very respectfully, and with no signs of being bored.
In the wait between the two parts of the concert I invited her to
walk around the court with me, and under the approving eye of Mrs.
March we made this expedition. It seemed to me that I could not do
a wiser thing, both for the satisfaction of my own curiosity and for
the gratification of the autobiographical passion we all feel, than
to lead her on to speak of herself. But she had little or nothing
to say of herself, and what she said of other things was marked by a
straightforward good sense, if not a wide intelligence. I think we
make a mistake when we suppose that a beautiful woman must always be
vain or conscious.
I fancy that a beauty is quite as often a solid and sensible person,
with no inordinate wish to be worshipped, and this young lady struck
me as wholly unspoiled by flattery. I decided that she was not the
type that would take the fancy of De Witt Point, and that she had
grown up without local attention for that reason, or possibly
because a certain coldness in her overawed the free spirit of rustic
love-making. No doubt she knew that she was beautiful, and I began
to think that it was not so much disappointment at finding Saratoga
as indifferent as De Witt Point which gave her the effect of disgust
I had first noted in her the night before. That might rather have
come from the sense of feeling herself a helpless burden on her
friends, and from that young longing for companionship which is as
far as may be from the desire of conquest, of triumph. Finding her
now so gratefully content with the poor efforts to amuse her which
an old fellow like me could make, I perceived that the society of
other girls would suffice to make Saratoga quite another thing for
her, and I cast about in my mind to contrive this somehow.
I confess that I liked her better and better, and before the evening
was out I had quite transferred my compassion from the Deerings to
her. It WAS forlorn and dreary for her to be attached to this good
couple, whose interests were primarily in each other, and who had
not the first of those arts which could provide her with other
company. She willingly told about their journey to Saratoga, and
her story did not differ materially from the account Deering had
already given me; but even the outward form of adventure had fallen
from their experience since they had come to Saratoga. They had
formed the habit of Congress Park by accident; but they had not been
to the lake, or the races, or the House of Pansa, or Mount M'Gregor,
or Hilton Park, or even the outlying springs. It was the first time
they had been inside of the Grand Union. "Then you have never seen
the parlour?" I asked; and after the concert I boldly led the way
into the parlour, and lavished its magnificence upon them as if I
had been the host, or one of the hotel guests at the very least. I
enjoyed the breathlessness of the Deerings so much, as we walked up
and down the vast drawing-rooms accompanied by our images in the
mirrors, that I insisted upon sitting down with them all upon some
of the richest pieces of furniture; and I was so flown with my
success as cicerone that I made them come with me to the United
States. I showed them through the parlours there, and then led them
through to the inner verandah, which commanded another wooded court
like that of the Grand Union. I tried to make them feel the
statelier sentiment of the older hotel, and to stir their
imaginations with a picture of the old times, when the Southern
planters used to throng the place, and all that was gay and
brilliant in fashionable society was to be seen there some time
during the summer. I think that I failed in this, but apparently I
succeeded in giving them an evening of dazzling splendour.
"Well, sir, this has been a great treat," said Mr. Deering, when he
bade us goodbye as well as good-night; he was going early in the
The ladies murmured their gratitude, Mrs. Deering with an emotion
that suited her thanks, and Miss Gage with a touch of something
daughterly toward me that I thought pretty.
"Well, what DID you make of her, my dear?" Mrs. March demanded the
instant she was beyond their hearing. "I must say, you didn't spare
yourself in the cause; you did bravely. What is she like?"
"Really, I don't know," I answered, after a moment's reflection. "I
should say she was almost purely potential. She's not so much this
or that kind of girl; she's merely a radiant image of girlhood."
"Now, your chicquing it, you're faking it," said Mrs. March,
borrowing the verbs severally from the art editor and the publisher
of Every Other Week. "You have got to tell me just how much and how
little there really is of her before I go any further with them. Is
"No--no; I shouldn't say stupid exactly. She is--what shall I say?-
-extremely plain-minded. I suppose the goddesses were plain-minded.
I'm a little puzzled by her attitude toward her own beauty. She
doesn't live her beauty any more than a poet lives his poetry or a
painter his painting; though I've no doubt she knows her gift is
hers just as they do."
"I think I understand. You mean she isn't conscious."
"No. Conscious isn't quite the word," I said fastidiously. "Isn't
there some word that says less, or more, in the same direction?"
"No, there isn't; and I shall think you don't mean anything at all
if you keep on. Now, tell me how she really impressed you. Does
she know anything? Has she read anything? Has she any ideas?"
"Really, I can't say whether they were ideas or not. She knew what
Every Other Week was; she had read the stories in it; but I'm not
sure she valued it at its true worth. She is very plain-minded."
"Don't keep repeating that! What do you mean by plain-minded?"
"Well, honest, single, common-sense, coherent, arithmetical."
"Horrors! Do you mean that she is MANNISH?"
"No, not mannish. And yet she gave me the notion that, when it came
to companionship, she would be just as well satisfied with a lot of
girls as young men."
Mrs. March pulled her hand out of my arm, and stopped short under
one of those tall Saratoga shade-trees to dramatise her inference.
"Then she is the slyest of all possible pusses! Did she give you
the notion that she would be just as well satisfied with you as with
a young man!"
"She couldn't deceive me so far as THAT, my dear."
"Very well; I shall take her in hand myself to-morrow, and find out
what she really is."
Mrs. March went shopping the next forenoon with what was left of the
Deering party; Deering had taken the early train north, and she
seemed to have found the ladies livelier without him. She formed
the impression from their more joyous behaviour that he kept his
wife from spending as much money as she would naturally have done,
and that, while he was not perhaps exactly selfish, he was forgetful
of her youth, of the difference in years between them, and of her
capacity for pleasures which he could not care for. She said that
Mrs. Deering and Miss Gage now acted like two girls together, and,
if anything, Miss Gage seemed the elder of the two.
"And what did you decide about her?" I inquired.
"Well, I helped her buy a hat and a jacket at one of those nice
shops just below the hotel where they're stopping, and we've started
an evening dress for her. She can't wear that white duck morning,
noon, and night."
"But her character--her nature?"
"Oh! Well, she is rather plain-minded, as you call it. I think she
shows out her real feelings too much for a woman."
"Why do you prefer dissimulation in your sex, my dear?"
"I don't call it dissimulation. But of course a girl ought to hide
her feelings. Don't you think it would have been better for her not
to have looked so obviously out of humour when you first saw her the
"She wouldn't have interested me so much, then, and she probably
wouldn't have had your acquaintance now."
"Oh, I don't mean to say that even that kind of girl won't get on,
if she gives her mind to it; but I think I should prefer a little
less plain-mindedness, as you call it, if I were a man."
I did not know exactly what to say to this, and I let Mrs. March go
"It's so in the smallest thing. If you're choosing a thing for her,
and she likes another, she lets you feel it at once. I don't mean
that she's rude about it, but she seems to set herself so square
across the way, and you come up with a kind of bump against her. I
don't think that's very feminine. That's what I mean by mannish.
You always know where to find her."
I don't know why this criticism should have amused me so much, but I
began to laugh quite uncontrollably, and I laughed on and on. Mrs.
March kept her temper with me admirably. When I was quiet again,
she said -
"Mrs. Deering is a person that wins your heart at once; she has that
appealing quality. You can see that she's cowed by her husband,
though he means to be kind to her; and yet you may be sure she gets
round him, and has her own way all the time. I know it was her idea
to have him go home and leave them here, and of course she made him
think it was his. She saw that as long as he was here, and anxious
to get back to his 'stock,' there was no hope of giving Miss Gage
the sort of chance she came for, and so she determined to manage it.
At the same time, you can see that she is true as steel, and would
abhor anything like deceit worse than the pest."
"I see; and that is why you dislike Miss Gage?"
"Dislike her? No, I don't dislike her; but she is disappointing.
If she were a plain girl her plain-mindedness would be all right; it
would be amusing; she would turn it to account and make it seem
humorous. But it doesn't seem to go with her beauty; it takes away
from that--I don't know how to express it exactly."
"You mean that she has no charm."
"No; I don't mean that at all. She has a great deal of charm of a
certain kind, but it's a very peculiar kind. After all, the truth
is the truth, Basil, isn't it?"
"It is sometimes, my dear," I assented.
"And the truth has its charm, even when it's too blunt."
"Ah, I'm not so sure of that."
"Yes--yes, it has. You mustn't say so, Basil, or I shall lose all
my faith in you. If I couldn't trust you, I don't know what I
"What are you after now, Isabel?"
"I am not after anything. I want you to go round to all the hotels
and see if there is not some young man you know at one of them.
There surely must be."
"Would one young man be enough?"
"If he were attentive enough, he would be. One young man is as good
as a thousand if the girl is the right kind."
"But you have just been implying that Miss Gage is cold and selfish
and greedy. Shall I go round exploring hotel registers for a victim
to such a divinity as that?"
"No; you needn't go till I have had a talk with her. I am not sure
she is worth it; I am not sure that I want to do a single thing for
The next day, after another forenoon's shopping with her friends,
Mrs. March announced: "Well, now, it has all come out, Basil, and I
wonder you didn't get the secret at once from your Mr. Deering.
Have you been supposing that Miss Gage was a poor girl whom the
Deerings had done the favour of bringing with them?"
"Why, what of it?" I asked provisionally.
"She is very well off. Her father is not only the president, as
they call it, of the village, but he's the president of the bank."
"Yes; I told you that Deering told me so--"
"But he is very queer. He has kept her very close from the other
young people, and Mrs. Deering is the only girl friend she's ever
had, and she's grown up without having been anywhere without him.
They had to plead with him to let her come with them--or Mrs.
Deering had,--but when he once consented, he consented handsomely.
He gave her a lot of money, and told them he wanted her to have the
best time that money could buy; and of course you can understand how
such a man would think that money would buy a good time anywhere.
But the Deerings didn't know how to go about it. She confessed as
much when we were talking the girl over. I could see that she stood
in awe of her somehow from the beginning, and that she felt more
than the usual responsibility for her. That was the reason she was
so eager to get her husband off home; as long as he was with them
she would have to work everything through him, and that would be
double labour, because he is so hopelessly villaginous, don't you
know, that he never could rise to the conception of anything else.
He took them to a cheap, second-class hotel, and he was afraid to go
with them anywhere because he never was sure that it was the right
thing to do; and he was too proud to ask, and they had to keep
prodding him all the time."
"Oh, I dare say you think so; but if you knew how it wounded a
woman's self-respect you would feel differently; or you wouldn't,
rather. But now, thank goodness; they've got him off their hands,
and they can begin to breathe freely. That is, Mrs. Deering could,
if she hadn't her heart in her mouth all the time, wondering what
she can do for the girl, and bullying herself with the notion that
she is to blame if she doesn't have a good time. You can understand
just how it was with them always. Mrs. Deering is one of those meek
little things that a great, splendid, lonely creature like Miss Gage
would take to in a small place, and perfectly crush under the weight
of her confidence; and she would want to make her husband live up to
her ideal of the girl, and would be miserable because he wouldn't or
"I believe the good Deering didn't even think her handsome."
"That's it. And he thought anything that was good enough for his
wife was good enough for Miss Gage, and he'd be stubborn about doing
things on her account, even to please his wife."
"Such conduct is imaginable of the good Deering. I don't think he
"Nor she him. Mrs. Deering helplessly hinted as much. She said he
didn't like to have her worrying so much about Miss Gage's not
having a good time, and she couldn't make him feel as she did about
it, and she was half glad for his own sake that he had to go home."
"Did she say that?"
"Not exactly; but you could see that she meant it. Do you think it
would do for them to change from their hotel, and go to the Grand
Union or the States or Congress Hall?"
"Have you been putting them up to that, Isabel?"
"I knew you would suspect me, and I wouldn't have asked for your
opinion if I had cared anything for it, really. What would be the
harm of their doing it?"
"None whatever, if you really want my worthless opinion. But what
could they do there?"
"They could see something if they couldn't do anything, and as soon
as Miss Gage has got her new gowns I'm going to tell them you
thought they could do it. It was their own idea, at any rate."
"Mrs. Deering's. She has the courage of a--I don't know what. She
sees that it's a desperate case, and she wouldn't stop at anything."
"Now that her husband has gone home."
"Well, which hotel shall they go to?"
"Oh, that requires reflection."
"Very well, then, when you've reflected I want you to go to the
hotel you've chosen, and introduce yourself to the clerk, and tell
him your wife has two friends coming, and you want something very
pleasant for them. Tell him all about yourself and Every Other
"He'll think I want them deadheaded."
"No matter, if your conscience is clear; and don't be so shamefully
modest as you always are, but speak up boldly. Now, will you?
Promise me you will!"
"I will try, as the good little boy says. But, Isabel, we don't
know these people except from their own account."
"And that is quite enough."
"It will be quite enough for the hotel-keeper if they run their
board. I shall have to pay it."
"Now, Basil dear, don't be disgusting, and go and do as you're bid."
It was amusing, but it was perfectly safe, and there was no reason
why I should not engage rooms for the ladies at another hotel. I
had not the least question of them, and I had failed to worry my
wife with a pretended doubt. So I decided that I would go up at
once and inquire at the Grand Union. I chose this hotel because,
though it lacked the fine flower of the more ancient respectability
and the legendary charm of the States, it was so spectacular that it
would be in itself a perpetual excitement for those ladies, and
would form an effect of society which, with some help from us, might
very well deceive them. This was what I said to myself, though in
my heart I knew better. Whatever Mrs. Deering might think, that
girl was not going to be taken in with any such simple device, and I
must count upon the daily chances in the place to afford her the
good time she had come for.
As I mounted the steps to the portico of the Grand Union with my
head down, and lost in a calculation of these chances, I heard my
name gaily called, and I looked up to see young Kendricks, formerly
of our staff on Every Other Week, and still a frequent contributor,
and a great favourite of my wife's and my own. My heart gave a
great joyful bound at sight of him.
"My dear boy, when in the world did you come?"
"This morning by the steamboat train, and I am never, never going
"You like it, then?"
"Like it! It's the most delightful thing in the universe. Why, I'm
simply wild about it, Mr. March. I go round saying to myself, Why
have I thrown away my life? Why have I never come to Saratoga
before? It's simply supreme, and it's American down to the ground.
Yes; that's what makes it so delightful. No other people could have
invented it, and it doesn't try to be anything but what we made it."
"I'm so glad you look at it in that way. WE like it. We discovered
it three or four years ago, and we never let a summer slip, if we
can help it, without coming here for a week or a month. The place,"
I enlarged, "has the charm of ruin, though it's in such obvious
repair; it has a past; it's so completely gone by in a society
sense. The cottage life here hasn't killed the hotel life, as it
has at Newport and Bar Harbour; but the ideal of cottage life
everywhere else has made hotel life at Saratoga ungenteel. The
hotels are full, but at the same time they are society solitudes."
"How gay it is!" said the young fellow, as he gazed with a pensive
smile into the street, where all those festive vehicles were coming
and going, dappled by the leaf-shadows from the tall trees overhead.
"What air! what a sky!" The one was indeed sparkling, and the other
without a cloud, for it had rained in the night, and it seemed as if
the weather could never be hot and close again.
I forgot how I had been sweltering about, and said: "Yes; it is a
Saratoga day. It's supposed that the sparkle of the air comes from
the healthful gases thrown off by the springs. Some people say the
springs are doctored; that's what makes their gases so healthful."
"Why, anything might happen here," Kendricks mused, unheedful of me.
"What a scene! what a stage! Why has nobody done a story about
Saratoga?" he asked, with a literary turn I knew his thoughts would
be taking. All Gerald Kendricks's thoughts were of literature, but
sometimes they were not of immediate literary effect, though that
was never for long.
"Because," I suggested, "one probably couldn't get his young lady
characters to come here if they were at all in society. But of
course there must be charming presences here accidentally. Some
young girl, say, might come here from a country place, expecting to
see social gaiety--"
"Ah, but that would be too heart-breaking!"
"Not at all. Not if she met some young fellow accidentally--don't
"It would be difficult to manage; and hasn't it been done?"
"Everything has been done, my dear fellow. Or, you might suppose a
young lady who comes on here with her father, a veteran politician,
delegate to the Republican or Democratic convention--all the
conventions meet in Saratoga,--and some ardent young delegate falls
in love with her. That would be new ground. There you would have
the political novel, which they wonder every now and then some of us
don't write." The smile faded from Kendricks's lips, and I laughed.
"Well, then, there's nothing for it but the Social Science Congress.
Have a brilliant professor win the heart of a lovely sister-in-law
of another member by a paper he reads before the Congress. No?
You're difficult. Are you stopping here?"
"Yes; are you?"
"I try to give myself the air of it when I am feeling very proud.
But really, we live at a most charming little hotel on a back
street, out of the whirl and rush that we should prefer to be in if
we could afford it." He said it must be delightful, and he made the
proper inquiries about Mrs. March. Kendricks never forgot the
gentleman in the artist, and he was as true to the convenances as if
they had been principles. That was what made Mrs. March like his
stories so much more than the stories of some people who wrote
better. He said he would drop in during the afternoon, and I went
indoors on the pretext of buying a newspaper. Then, without
engaging rooms for Mrs. Deering and Miss Gage, I hurried home.
"Well, did you get the rooms?" asked my wife as soon as she saw me.
She did not quite call it across the street to me as I came up from
where she sat on the piazza.
"No, I didn't," I said boldly, if somewhat breathlessly.
"Why didn't you? You ought to have gone to the States if they were
full at the Grand Union."
"They were not full, unless Kendricks got their last room."
"Do you mean that HE was there? Mr. Kendricks? If you are hoaxing
"I am not, my dear; indeed I'm not," said I, beginning to laugh, and
this made her doubt me the more.
"Because if you are I shall simply never forgive you. And I'm in
earnest this time," she replied.
"Why should I want to hoax you about such a vital thing as that.
Couldn't Kendricks come to Saratoga as well as we? He's here
looking up the ground of a story I should think from what he said."
"No matter what he's here for; he's here, and that's enough. I
never knew of anything so perfectly providential. Did you TELL him,
Basil? Did you dare?"
"Tell him what?"
"You know; about Miss Gage."
"Well, I came very near it. I dangled the fact before his eyes
once, but I caught it away again in time. He never saw it. I
thought I'd better let you tell him."
"Is he coming here to see us?"
"He asked if he might."
"He's always nice. I don't know that I shall ask him to do anything
for them, after all; I'm not sure that she's worth it. I wish some
commoner person had happened along. Kendricks is too precious. I
shall have to think about it; and don't you tease me, Basil, will
"I don't know. If I'm not allowed to have any voice in the matter,
I'm afraid I shall take it out in teasing. I don't see why Miss
Gage isn't quite as good as Kendricks. I believe she's taller, and
though he's pretty good-looking, I prefer her style of beauty. I
dare say his family is better, but I fancy she's richer; and his
family isn't good beyond New York city, and her money will go
anywhere. It's a pretty even thing."
"Good gracious, Basil! you talk as if it were a question of
"And you THINK it is."
"Now I see that you're bent upon teasing, and we won't talk any
more, please. What time did he say he would call?"
"If I mayn't talk, I can't tell."
"You may talk that much."
"Well, then, he didn't say."
"Basil," said my wife, after a moment, "if you could be serious, I
should like very much to talk with you. I know that you're excited
by meeting Mr. Kendricks, and I know what you thought the instant
you saw him. But, indeed, it won't do, my dear. It's more than
we've any right to ask, and I shall not ask it, and I shall not let
you. She is a stiff, awkward village person, and I don't believe
she's amiable or intelligent; and to let a graceful, refined,
superior man like Mr. Kendricks throw away his time upon her would
be wicked, simply wicked. Let those people manage for themselves
from this out. Of course you mustn't get them rooms at the Grand
Union now, for he'd be seeing us there with them, and feel bound to
pay her attention. You must try for them at the States, since the
matter's been spoken of, or at Congress Hall. But there's no hurry.
We must have time to think whether we shall use Mr. Kendricks with
them. I suppose it will do no harm to introduce him. If he stays
we can't very well avoid it; and I confess I should like to see how
she impresses him! Of course we shall introduce him! But I insist
I shall just do it merely as one human being to another; and don't
you come in with any of your romantic nonsense, Basil, about her
social disappointment. Just how much did you give the situation
I told as well as I could remember. "Well, that's nothing. He'll
never think of it, and you mustn't hint anything of the kind again."
I promised devoutly, and she went on -
"It wouldn't be nice--it wouldn't be delicate to let him into the
conspiracy. That must be entirely our affair, don't you see? And I
don't want you to take a single step without me. I don't want you
even to discuss her with him. Will you? Because that will tempt
That afternoon Kendricks came promptly to call, like the little
gentleman he was, and he was more satisfactory about Saratoga than
he had been in the morning even. Mrs. March catechised him, and she
didn't leave an emotion of his unsearched by her vivid sympathy.
She ended by saying -
"You must write a story about Saratoga. And I have got just the
heroine for you."
I started, but she ignored my start.
Kendricks laughed, delighted, and asked, "Is she pretty?"
"Must a heroine be pretty?"
"She had better be. Otherwise she will have to be tremendously
clever and say all sorts of brilliant things, and that puts a great
burden on the author. If you proclaim boldly at the start that
she's a beauty, the illustrator has got to look after her, and the
author has a comparative sinecure."
Mrs. March thought a moment, and then she said: "Well, she is a
beauty. I don't want to make it too hard for you."
"When shall I see her?" Kendricks demanded, and he feigned an
"Well, that depends upon how you behave, Mr. Kendricks. If you are
very, very good, perhaps I may let you see her this evening. We
will take you to call upon her."
"Is it possible? Do you mean business? Then she is--in society?"
"MR. Kendricks!" cried Mrs. March, with burlesque severity. "Do you
think that I would offer you a heroine who was NOT in society? You
forget that I am from Boston!"
"Of course, of course! I understand that any heroine of your
acquaintance must be in society. But I thought--I didn't know--but
for the moment--Saratoga seems to be so tremendously mixed; and Mr.
March says there is no society here: But if she is from Boston--"
"I didn't say she was from Boston, Mr. Kendricks."
"Oh, I beg your pardon!"
"She is from De Witt Point," said Mrs. March, and she apparently
enjoyed his confusion, no less than my bewilderment at the course
she was taking.
I was not going to be left behind, though, and I said: "I
discovered this heroine myself, Kendricks, and if there is to be any
"I am going to do it. Mrs. March would never have cared anything
about her if it hadn't been for me. I can't let her impose on you.
This heroine is no more in society than she is from Boston. That is
the trouble with her. She has come here for society, and she can't
"Oh, that was what you were hinting at this morning," said
Kendricks. "I thought it a pure figment of the imagination."
"One doesn't imagine such things as that, my dear fellow. One
imagines a heroine coming here, and having the most magnificent kind
of social career--lawn-parties, lunches, teas, dinners, picnics,
hops--and going back to De Witt Point with a dozen offers of
marriage. That's the kind of work the imagination does. But this
simple and appealing situation--this beautiful young girl, with her
poor little illusions, her secret hopes half hidden from herself,
her ignorant past, her visionary future--"
"Now, _I_ am going to tell you all about her, Mr. Kendricks," Mrs.
March broke in upon me, with defiance in her eye; and she flung out
the whole fact with a rapidity of utterance that would have left far
behind any attempt of mine. But I made no attempt to compete with
her; I contented myself with a sarcastic silence which I could see
daunted her a little at last.
"And all that we've done, my dear fellow"--I took in irony the word
she left to me--"is to load ourselves up with these two impossible
people, to go their security to destiny, and answer for their having
a good time. We're in luck."
"Why, I don't know," said Kendricks, and I could see that his fancy
was beginning to play with the situation; "I don't see why it isn't
a charming scheme."
"Of course it is," cried Mrs. March, taking a little heart from his
"We can't make out yet whether the girl is interesting," I put in
"That is what YOU say," said my wife. "She is very shy, and of
course she wouldn't show out her real nature to you. I found her
"Now, Isabel!" I protested.
"She is fascinating," the perverse woman persisted. "She has a
Kendricks laughed and I jeered at this complex characterisation.
"You make me impatient to judge for myself," he said.
"Will you go with me to call upon them this evening?" asked Mrs.
"I shall be delighted. And you can count upon me to aid and abet
you in your generous conspiracy, Mrs. March, to the best of my
ability. There's nothing I should like better than to help you--"
"Throw 'dust in her beautiful eyes,'" I quoted.
"Not at all," said my wife. "But to spread a beatific haze over
everything, so that as long as she stays in Saratoga she shall see
life rose-colour. Of course you may say that it's a kind of
"Not at all!" cried the young fellow in his turn. "We will make it
reality. Then there will be no harm in it."
"What a jesuitical casuist! You had better read what Cardinal
Newman says in his Apologia about lying, young man."
Neither of them minded me, for just then there was a stir of drapery
round the corner of the piazza from where we were sitting, and the
next moment Mrs. Deering and Miss Gage showed themselves.
"We were just talking of you," said Mrs. March. "May I present our
friend Mr. Kendricks, Mrs. Deering? And Miss Gage?"
At sight of the young man, so well dressed and good-looking, who
bowed so prettily to her, and then bustled to place chairs for them,
a certain cloud seemed to lift from Miss Gage's beautiful face, and
to be at least partly broken on Mrs. Deering's visage. I began to
talk to the girl, and she answered in good spirits, and with more
apparent interest in my conversation than she had yet shown, while
Kendricks very properly devoted himself to the other ladies. Both
his eyes were on them, but I felt that he had a third somehow upon
her, and that the smallest fact of her beauty and grace was not lost
upon him. I knew that her rich, tender voice was doing its work,
too, through the commonplaces she vouchsafed to me. There was a
moment when I saw him lift a questioning eyebrow upon Mrs. March,
and saw her answer with a fleeting frown of affirmation. I cannot
tell just how it was that, before he left us, his chair was on the
other side of Miss Gage's, and I was eliminated from the dialogue.
He did not stay too long. There was another tableau of him on foot,
taking leave of Mrs. March, with a high hand-shake, which had then
lately come in, and which I saw the girl note, and then bowing to
her and to Mrs. Deering.
"Don't forget," my wife called after him, with a ready invention not
lost on his quick intelligence, "that you're going to the concert
with us after tea. Eight o'clock, remember."
"You may be sure I shall remember THAT," he returned gaily.
The countenances of the ladies fell instantly when he was gone.
"Mrs. March," said Mrs. Deering, with a nervous tremor, "did Mr.
March get us those rooms at the Grand Union?"
"No--no," my wife began, and she made a little pause, as if to
gather plausibility. "The Grand Union was very full, and he thought
that at the States--"
"Because," said Mrs. Deering, "I don't know as we shall trouble him,
after all. Mr. Deering isn't very well, and I guess we have got to
"GO HOME!" Mrs. March echoed, and her voice was a tone-scene of a
toppling hope and a widespread desolation. "Why, you mustn't!"
"We must, I guess. It had begun to be very pleasant, and--I guess I
have got to go. I can't feel easy about him."
"Why, of course," Mrs. March now assented, and she waved her fan
thoughtfully before her face. I knew what she was thinking of, and
I looked at Miss Gage, who had involuntarily taken the pose and
expression of the moment when I first saw her at the kiosk in
Congress Park. "And Miss Gage?"
"Oh yes; I must go too," said the girl wistfully, forlornly. She
had tears in her voice, tears of despair and vexation, I should have
"That's too bad," said Mrs. March, and, as she did not offer any
solution of the matter, I thought it rather heartless of her to go
on and rub it in. "And we were just planning some things we could
"It can't be helped now," returned the girl.
"But we shall see you again before you go?" Mrs. March asked of
"Well, I don't know," said the girl, with a look at Mrs. Deering,
who now said -
"I guess so. We'll let you know when we're going." And they got
away rather stiffly.
"Why in the world, my dear," I asked, "if you weren't going to
promote their stay, need you prolong the agony of their
"Did you feel that about it too? Well, I wanted to ask you first if
you thought it would do."
"You know; get her a room here. Because if we do we shall have her
literally on our hands as long as we are here. We shall have to
have the whole care and responsibility of her, and I wanted you to
feel just what you were going in for. You know very well I can't do
things by halves, and that if I undertake to chaperon this girl I
shall chaperon her--"
"To the bitter end. Yes; I understand the conditions of your
uncompromising conscience. But I don't believe it will be any such
killing matter. There are other semi-detached girls in the house;
she could go round with them."
We talked on, and, as sometimes happens, we convinced each other so
thoroughly that she came to my ground and I went to hers. Then it
was easier for us to come together, and after making me go to the
clerk and find out that he had a vacant room, Mrs. March agreed with
me that it would not do at all to have Miss Gage stay with us; the
fact that there was a vacant room seemed to settle the question.
We were still congratulating ourselves on our escape when Mrs.
Deering suddenly reappeared round our corner of the verandah. She
was alone, and she looked excited.
"Oh, it isn't anything," she said in answer to the alarm that showed
itself in Mrs. March's face at sight of her. "I hope you won't
think it's too presuming, Mrs. March, and I want you to believe that
it's something I have thought of by myself, and that Julia wouldn't
have let me come if she had dreamed of such a thing. I do hate so
to take her back with me, now that she's begun to have a good time,
and I was wondering--wondering whether it would be asking too much
if I tried to get her a room here. I shouldn't exactly like to
leave her in the hotel alone, though I suppose it would be perfectly
proper; but Mr. Deering found out when he was trying to get rooms
before that there were some young ladies staying by themselves here,
and I didn't want to ask the clerk for a room unless you felt just
right about it."
"Why, of course, Mrs. Deering. It's a public house, like any other,
and you have as much right--"
"But I didn't want you to think that I would do it without asking
you, and if it is going to be the least bit of trouble to you." The
poor thing while she talked stood leaning anxiously over toward Mrs.
March, who had risen, and pressing the points of her fingers
"It won't, Mrs. Deering. It will be nothing but pleasure. Why,
certainly. I shall be delighted to have Miss Gage here, and
anything that Mr. March and I can do--Why, we had just been talking
of it, and Mr. March has this minute got back from seeing the clerk,
and she can have a very nice room. We had been intending to speak
to you about it as soon as we saw you."
I do not know whether this was quite true or not, but I was glad
Mrs. March said it, from the effect it had upon Mrs. Deering. Tears
of relief came into her eyes, and she said: "Then I can go home in
the morning. I was going to stay on a day or two longer, on Julia's
account, but I didn't feel just right about Mr. Deering, and now I
won't have to."
There followed a flutter of polite offers and refusals,
acknowledgments and disavowals, and an understanding that I would
arrange it all, and that we would come to Mrs. Deering's hotel after
supper and see Miss Gage about the when and the how of her coming to
"Well, Isabel," I said, after it was all over, and Mrs. Deering had
vanished in a mist of happy tears, "I suppose this is what you call
perfectly providential. Do you really believe that Miss Gage didn't
send her back?"
"I know she didn't. But I know that she HAD to do it just the same
as if Miss Gage had driven her at the point of the bayonet."
I laughed at this tragical image. "Can she be such a terror?"
"She is an ideal. And Mrs. Deering is as afraid as death of her.
Of course she has to live up to her. It's probably been the
struggle of her life, and I can quite imagine her letting her
husband die before she would take Miss Gage back, unless she went
"I don't believe I can imagine so much as that exactly, but I can
imagine her being afraid of Miss Gage's taking it out of her
somehow. Now she will take it out of us. I hope you realise that
you've done it now, my dear. To be sure, you will have all your
life to repent of your rashness."
"I shall never repent," Mrs. March retorted hardily. "It was the
right thing, the only thing. We couldn't have let that poor
creature stay on, when she was so anxious to get back to her
"And I confess, Basil, that I feel a little pity for that poor girl,
too. It would have been cruel, it would have been fairly wicked, to
let her go home so soon, and especially now."
"Oh! And I suppose that by ESPECIALLY NOW, you mean Kendricks," I
said, and I laughed mockingly, as the novelists say. "How sick I am
of this stale old love-business between young people! We ought to
know better--we're old enough; at least YOU are."
She seemed not to feel the gibe. "Why, Basil," she asked dreamily,
"haven't you any romance left in you?"
"Romance? Bah! It's the most ridiculous unreality in the world.
If you had so much sympathy for that stupid girl, in that poor woman
in her anxiety about her disappointment, why hadn't you a little for
her sick husband? But a husband is nothing--when you have got him."
"I did sympathise with her."
"You didn't say so."
"Well, she is only his second wife, and I don't suppose it's
anything serious. Didn't I really say anything to her?"
"Not a word. It is curious," I went on, "how we let this idiotic
love-passion absorb us to the very last. It is wholly unimportant
who marries who, or whether anybody marries at all. And yet we no
sooner have the making of a love-affair within reach than we revert
to the folly of our own youth, and abandon ourselves to it as if it
were one of the great interests of life."
"Who is talking about love? It isn't a question of that. It's a
question of making a girl have a pleasant time for a few days; and
what is the harm of it? Girls have a dull enough time at the very
best. My heart aches for them, and I shall never let a chance slip
to help them, I don't care what you say."
"Now, Isabel," I returned, "don't you be a humbug. This is a
perfectly plain case, and you are going in for a very risky affair
with your eyes open. You shall not pretend you're not."
"Very well, then, if I am going into it with my eyes open, I shall
look out that nothing happens."
"And you think prevision will avail! I wish," I said, "that instead
of coming home that night and telling you about this girl, I had
confined my sentimentalising to that young French-Canadian mother,
and her dirty little boy who ate the pea-nut shells. I've no doubt
it was really a more tragical case. They looked dreadfully poor and
squalid. Why couldn't I have amused my idle fancy with their
fortunes--the sort of husband and father they had, their shabby
home, the struggle of their life? That is the appeal that a genuine
person listens to. Nothing does more to stamp me a poseur than the
fact that I preferred to bemoan myself for a sulky girl who seemed
not to be having a good time."
There was truth in my joking, but the truth did not save me; it lost
me rather. "Yes," said my wife; "it was your fault. I should never
have seen anything in her if it had not been for you. It was your
coming back and working me up about her that began the whole thing,
and now if anything goes wrong you will have yourself to thank for
She seized the opportunity of my having jestingly taken up this load
to buckle it on me tight and fast, clasping it here, tying it there,
and giving a final pull to the knots that left me scarcely the power
to draw my breath, much less the breath to protest. I was forced to
hear her say again that all her concern from the beginning was for
Mrs. Deering, and that now, if she had offered to do something for
Miss Gage, it was not because she cared anything for her, but
because she cared everything for Mrs. Deering, who could never lift
up her head again at De Witt Point if she went back so completely
defeated in all the purposes she had in asking Miss Gage to come
with her to Saratoga.
I did not observe that this wave of compassion carried Mrs. March so
far as to leave her stranded with Mrs. Deering that evening when we
called with Kendricks, and asked her and Miss Gage to go with us to
the Congress Park concert. Mrs. Deering said that she had to pack,
that she did not feel just exactly like going; and my tender heart
ached with a knowledge of her distress. Miss Gage made a faint,
false pretence of refusing to come with us, too; but Mrs. Deering
urged her to go, and put on the new dress, which had just come home,
so that Mrs. March could see it. The girl came back looking
radiant, divine, and--"Will it do?" she palpitated under my wife's
"Do? It will OUTdo! I never saw anything like it!" The
connoisseur patted it a little this way and a little that. "It is a
dream! Did the hat come too?"
It appeared that the hat had come too. Miss Gage rematerialised
with it on, after a moment's evanescence, and looked at my wife with
the expression of being something impersonal with a hat on.
"Simply, there is nothing to say!" cried Mrs. March. The girl put
up her hands to it. "Good gracious! You mustn't take it off! Your
costume is perfect for the concert."
"Is it, really?" asked the girl joyfully; and she seemed to find
this the first fitting moment to say, for sole recognition of our
self-sacrifice, "I'm much obliged to you, Mr. March, for getting me
I begged her not to speak of it, and turned an ironical eye upon my
wife; but she was lost in admiration of the hat.
"Yes," she sighed; "it's much better than the one I wanted you to
get at first." And she afterward explained that the girl seemed to
have a perfect instinct for what went with her style.
Kendricks kept himself discreetly in the background, and, with his
unfailing right feeling, was talking to Mrs. Deering, in spite of
her not paying much attention to him. I must own that I too was
absorbed in the spectacle of Miss Gage.
She went off with us, and did not say another word to Mrs. Deering
about helping her to pack. Perhaps this was best, though it seemed
heartless; it may not have been so heartless as it seemed. I dare
say it would have been more suffering to the woman if the girl had
missed this chance.
We had undertaken rather a queer affair but it was not so queer
after all, when Miss Gage was fairly settled with us. There were
other young girls in that pleasant house who had only one another's
protection and the general safety of the social atmosphere. We
could not conceal from ourselves, of course, that we had done a
rather romantic thing, and, in the light of Europe, which we had
more or less upon our actions, rather an absurd thing; but it was a
comfort to find that Miss Gage thought it neither romantic nor
absurd. She took the affair with an apparent ignorance of anything
unusual in it--with so much ignorance, indeed, that Mrs. March had
her occasional question whether she was duly impressed with what was
being done for her. Whether this was so or not, it is certain that
she was as docile and as biddable as need be. She did not always
ask what she should do; that would not have been in the tradition of
village independence; but she always did what she was told, and did
not vary from her instructions a hair's-breadth. I do not suppose
she always knew why she might do this and might not do that; and I
do not suppose that young girls often understand the reasons of the
proprieties. They are told that they must, and that they must not,
and this in an astonishing degree suffices them if they are nice
Of course there was pretty constant question of Kendricks in the
management of Miss Gage's amusement, for that was really what our
enterprise resolved itself into. He showed from the first the
sweetest disposition to forward all our plans in regard to her, and,
in fact, he even anticipated our wishes. I do not mean to give the
notion that he behaved from an interested motive in going to the
station the morning Mrs. Deering left, and getting her ticket for
her, and checking her baggage, and posting her in the changes she
would have to make. This was something I ought to have thought of
myself, but I did not think of it, and I am willing that he should
have all the credit.
I know that he did it out of the lovely generosity of nature which
always took me in him. Miss Gage was there with her, and she
remained to be consoled after Mrs. Deering departed. They came
straight to us from the train, and then, when he had consigned Miss
Gage to Mrs. March's care, he offered to go and see that her things
were transferred from her hotel to ours; they were all ready, she
said, and the bill was paid.
He did not come back that day, and, in fact, he delicately waited
for some sign from us that his help was wanted. But when he did
come he had formulated Saratoga very completely, and had a better
conception of doing it than I had, after my repeated sojourns.
We went very early in our explorations to the House of Pansa, which
you find in very much better repair at Saratoga than you do at
Pompeii, and we contrived to pass a whole afternoon there. My wife
and I had been there before more than once; but it always pleasantly
recalled our wander-years, when we first met in Europe, and we
suffered round after those young things with a patience which I hope
will not be forgotten at the day of judgment. When we came to a
seat we sat down, and let them go off by themselves; but my
recollection is that there is not much furniture in the House of
Pansa that you can sit down on, and for the most part we all kept
Kendricks and I thought alike about the Pompeian house as a model of
something that might be done in the way of a seaside cottage in our
own country, and we talked up a little paper that might be done for
Every Other Week, with pretty architectural drawings, giving an
account of our imaginary realisation of the notion.
"Have somebody," he said, "visit people who had been boring him to
come down, or up, or out, and see them, and find them in a Pompeian
house, with the sea in front and a blue-green grove of low pines
behind. Might have a thread of story, but mostly talk about how
they came to do it, and how delightfully livable they found it. You
could work it up with some architect, who would help you to 'keep
off the grass' in the way of technical blunders. With all this
tendency to the classic in public architecture, I don't see why the
Pompeian villa shouldn't be the next word for summer cottages."
"Well, we'll see what Fulkerson says. He may see an ad. in it.
Would you like to do it?"
"Why not do it yourself? Nobody else could do it so well."
"Thanks for the taffy; but the idea was yours."
"I'll do it," said Kendricks after a moment, "if you won't."
Miss Gage stared, and Mrs. March said -
"I didn't suppose the House of Pansa would lead to shop with you
"You never can tell which way copy lies," I returned; and I asked
the girl, "What should YOU think, Miss Gage, of a little paper with
a thread of story, but mostly talk, on a supposititious Pompeian
"I don't believe I understand," said she, far too remote from our
literary interests, as I saw, to be ashamed of her ignorance.
"There!" I said to Kendricks. "Do you think the general public
"Miss Gage isn't the general public," said my wife, who had followed
the course of my thought; her tone implied that Miss Gage was wiser
"Would you allow yourself to be drawn," I asked, "dreamily issuing
from an aisle of the pine grove as the tutelary goddess of a
The girl cast a bewildered glance at my wife, who said, "You needn't
pay any attention to him, Miss Gage. He has an idea that he is
making a joke."
We felt that we had done enough for one afternoon, when we had done
the House of Pansa, and I proposed that we should go and sit down in
Congress Park and listen to the Troy band. I was not without the
hope that it would play "Washington Post."
My wife contrived that we should fall in behind the young people as
we went, and she asked, "What DO you suppose she made of it all?"
"Probably she thought it was the house of Sancho Panza."
"No; she hasn't read enough to be so ignorant even as that. It's
astonishing how much she doesn't know. What can her home life have
"Philistine to the last degree. We people who are near to
literature have no conception how far from it most people are. The
immense majority of 'homes,' as the newspapers call them, have no
books in them except the Bible and a semi-religious volume or two--
things you never see out of such 'homes'--and the State business
directory. I was astonished when it came out that she knew about
Every Other Week. It must have been by accident. The sordidness of
her home life must be something unimaginable. The daughter of a
village capitalist, who's put together his money dollar by dollar,
as they do in such places, from the necessities and follies of his
neighbours, and has half the farmers of the region by the throat
through his mortgages--I don't think that she's 'one to be desired'
any more than 'the daughter of a hundred earls,' if so much."
"She doesn't seem sordid herself."
"Oh, the taint doesn't show itself at once--
'If nature put not forth her power
About the opening of the flower,
Who is it that would live an hour?'
and she is a flower, beautiful, exquisite"
"Yes, and she had a mother as well as this father of hers. Why
shouldn't she be like her mother?"
I laughed. "That is true! I wonder why we always leave the mother
out of the count when we sum up the hereditary tendencies? I
suppose the mother is as much a parent as the father."
"Quite. And there is no reason why this girl shouldn't have her
"We don't actually KNOW anything against her father's nature yet," I
suggested; "but if her mother lived a starved and stunted life with
him, it may account for that effect of disappointed greed which I
fancied in her when I first saw her."
"I don't call it greed in a young girl to want to see something of
"What do you call it?"
Kendricks and the girl were stopping at the gate of the pavilion,
and looking round at us. "Ah, he's got enough for one day! He's
going to leave her to us now."
When we came up he said, "I'm going to run off a moment; I'm going
up to the book-store there," and he pointed toward one that had
spread across the sidewalk just below the Congress Hall verandah,
with banks and shelves of novels, and a cry of bargains in them on
signs sticking up from their rows. "I want to see if they have the
Last Days of Pompeii."
"We will find the ladies inside the park," I said. "I will go with
"Mr. March wants to see if they have the last number of Every Other
Week," my wife mocked after us. This was, indeed, commonly a foible
of mine. I had newly become one of the owners of the periodical as
well as the editor, and I was all the time looking out for it at the
news-stands and book-stores, and judging their enterprise by its
presence or absence. But this time I had another motive, though I
did not allege it.
"I suppose it's for Miss Gage?" I ventured to say, by way of
prefacing what I wished to say. "Kendricks, I'm afraid we're
abusing your good nature. I know you're up here to look about, and
you're letting us use all your time. You mustn't do it. Women have
no conscience about these things, and you can't expect a woman who
has a young lady on her hands to spare you. I give you the hint.
Don't count upon Mrs. March in this matter."
"Oh, I think you are very good to allow me to bother round," said
the young fellow, with that indefatigable politeness of his. He
added vaguely, "It's very interesting."
"Seeing it through such a fresh mind?" I suggested. "Well, I'll own
that I don't think you could have found a much fresher one. Has she
read the Last Days of Pompeii?"
"She thought she had at first, but it was the Fall of Granada."
"How delightful! Don't you wish we could read books with that
utterly unliterary sense of them?"
"Don't you think women generally do?" he asked evasively.
"I daresay they do at De Witt Point."
He did not answer; I saw that he was not willing to talk the young
lady over, and I could not help praising his taste to myself at the
cost of my own. His delicacy forbade him the indulgence which my
own protested against in vain. He showed his taste again in buying
a cheap copy of the book, which he meant to give her, and of course
he had to be all the more attentive to her because of my deprecating
In the intimacy that grew up between my wife and Miss Gage I found
myself less and less included. It seemed to me at times that I
might have gone away from Saratoga and not been seriously missed by
any one, but perhaps this was not taking sufficient account of my
value as a spectator, by whom Mrs. March could verify her own
The girl had never known a mother's care, and it was affecting to
see how willing she was to be mothered by the chance kindness of a
stranger. She probably felt more and more her ignorance of the
world as it unfolded itself to her in terms so altogether strange to
the life of De Witt Point. I was not sure that she would have been
so grateful for the efforts made for her enjoyment if they had
failed, but as the case stood she was certainly grateful; my wife
said that, and I saw it. She seemed to have written home about us
to her father, for she read my wife part of a letter from him
conveying his "respects," and asking her to thank us for him. She
came to me with the cheque it enclosed, and asked me to get it
cashed for her; it was for a handsome amount. But she continued to
go about at our cost, quite unconsciously, till one day she happened
to witness a contest of civility between Kendricks and myself as to
which should pay the carriage we were dismissing. That night she
came to Mrs. March, and, with many blushes, asked to be allowed to
pay for the past and future her full share of the expense of our
joint pleasures. She said that she had never thought of it before,
and she felt so much ashamed. She could not be consoled till she
was promised that she should be indulged for the future, and that I
should be obliged to average the outlay already made and let her pay
a fourth. When she had gained her point, Mrs. March said that she
seemed a little scared, and said, "I haven't offended you, Mrs.
March, have I? Because if it isn't right for me to pay--"
"It's quite right, my dear," said my wife, "and it's very nice of
you to think of it."
"You know," the girl explained, "I've never been out a great deal at
home even; and it's always the custom there for the gentlemen to pay
for a ride--or dance--or anything; but this is different."
Mrs March said "Yes," and, in the interest of civilisation, she did
a little missionary work. She told her that in Boston the young
ladies paid for their tickets to the Harvard assemblies, and
preferred to do it, because it left them without even a tacit
Miss Gage said she had never heard of such a thing before, but she
could see how much better it was.
I do not think she got on with the Last Days of Pompeii very
rapidly; its immediate interest was superseded by other things. But
she always had the book about with her, and I fancied that she tried
to read it in those moments of relaxation from our pleasuring when
she might better have been day-dreaming, though I dare say she did
enough of that too.
What amused me in the affair was the celerity with which it took
itself out of our hands. In an incredibly short time we had no
longer the trouble of thinking what we should do for Miss Gage; that
was provided for by the forethought of Kendricks, and our concern
was how each could make the other go with the young people on their
excursions and expeditions. We had seen and done all the things
that they were doing, and it presently bored us to chaperon them.
After a good deal of talking we arrived at a rough division of duty,
and I went with them walking and eating and drinking, and for
anything involving late hours, and Mrs. March presided at such
things as carriage exercise, concerts, and shopping.
There are not many public entertainments at Saratoga, except such as
the hotels supply; but a series of Salvation Army meetings did duty
as amusements, and there was one theatrical performance--a
performance of East Lynne entirely by people of colour. The
sentiments and incidents of the heart-breaking melodrama, as the
coloured mind interpreted them, were of very curious effect. It was
as if the version were dyed with the same pigment that darkened the
players' skins: it all came out negro. Yet they had tried to make
it white; I could perceive how they aimed not at the imitation of
our nature, but at the imitation of our convention; it was like the
play of children in that. I should have said that nothing could be
more false than the motives and emotions of the drama as the author
imagined them, but I had to own that their rendition by these
sincere souls was yet more artificial. There was nothing
traditional, nothing archaic, nothing autochthonic in their poor
art. If the scene could at any moment have resolved myself into a
walk-round, with an interspersion of spirituals, it would have had
the charm of these; it would have consoled and edified; but as it
was I have seldom been so bored. I began to make some sad
reflections, as that our American society, in its endeavour for the
effect of European society, was of no truer ideal than these
coloured comedians, and I accused myself of a final absurdity in
having come there with these young people, who, according to our
good native usage, could have come perfectly well without me. At
the end of the first act I broke into their talk with my conclusion
that we must not count the histrionic talent among the gifts of the
African race just yet. We could concede them music, I supposed, and
there seemed to be hope for them, from what they had some of them
done, in the region of the plastic arts; but apparently the stage
was not for them, and this was all the stranger because they were so
imitative. Perhaps, I said, it was an excess of self-consciousness
which prevented their giving themselves wholly to the art, and I
began to speak of the subjective and the objective, of the real and
the ideal; and whether it was that I became unintelligible as I
became metaphysical, I found Kendricks obviously not following me in
the incoherent replies he gave. Miss Gage had honestly made no
attempt to follow me. He asked, Why, didn't I think it was pretty
well done? They had enjoyed it very much, he said. I could only
stare in answer, and wonder what had become of the man's tastes or
his principles; he was either humbugging himself or he was
humbugging me. After that I left them alone, and suffered through
the rest of the play with what relief I could get from laughing when
the pathetic emotions of the drama became too poignant. I decided
that Kendricks was absorbed in the study of his companion's mind,
which must be open to his contemporaneous eye as it could never have
been to my old-sighted glasses, and I envied him the knowledge he
was gaining of that type of American girl. It suddenly came to me
that he must be finding his account in this, and I felt a little
less regret for the waste of civilities, of attentions, which
sometimes seemed to me beyond her appreciation.
I, for my part, gave myself to the study of the types about me, and
I dwelt long and luxuriously upon the vision of a florid and massive
matron in diaphanous evening dress, whom I imagined to be revisiting
the glimpses of her girlhood in the ancient watering-place, and to
be getting all the gaiety she could out of it. These are the
figures one mostly sees at Saratoga; there is very little youth of
the present day there, but the youth of the past abounds, with the
belated yellow hair and the purple moustaches, which gave a notion
of greater wickedness in a former generation.
I made my observation that the dress, even in extreme cases of
elderly prime, was very good--in the case of the women, I mean; the
men there, as everywhere with us, were mostly slovens; and I was
glad to find that the good taste and the correct fashion were
without a colour-line; there were some mulatto ladies present as
stylish as their white sisters, or step-sisters.
The most amiable of the human race is in great force at Saratoga,
where the vast hotel service is wholly in its hands, and it had
honoured the effort of the comedians that night with a full house of
their own complexion. We who were not of it showed strangely enough
in the dark mass, who let us lead the applause, however, as if
doubtful themselves where it ought to come in, and whom I found
willing even to share some misplaced laughter of mine. They formed
two-thirds of the audience on the floor, and they were a cloud in
the gallery, scarcely broken by a gleam of white.
I entertained myself with them a good deal, and I thought how much
more delightful they were in their own kindly character than in
their assumption of white character, and I tried to define my
suffering from the performance as an effect from my tormented
sympathies rather than from my offended tastes. When the long
stress was over, and we rose and stood to let the crowd get out, I
asked Miss Gage if she did not think this must be the case. I do
not suppose she was really much more experienced in the theatre than
the people on the stage, some of whom I doubted to have ever seen a
play till they took part in East Lynne. But I thought I would ask
her that in order to hear what she would say; and she said very
simply that she had seen so few plays she did not know what to think
of it, and I could see that she was abashed by the fact. Kendricks
must have seen it too, for he began at once to save her from
herself, with all his subtle generosity, and to turn her shame to
praise. My heart, which remained sufficiently cold to her, warmed
more than ever to him, and I should have liked to tell her that here
was the finest and rarest human porcelain using itself like common
clay in her behalf, and to demand whether she thought she was worth
I did not think she was, and I had a lurid moment when I was tempted
to push on and make her show herself somehow at her worst. We had
undertaken a preposterous thing in befriending her as we had done,
and our course in bringing Kendricks in was wholly unjustifiable.
How could I lead her on to some betrayal of her essential
Philistinism, and make her so impossible in his eyes that even he,
with all his sweetness and goodness, must take the first train from
Saratoga in the morning?
We had of course joined the crowd in pushing forward; people always
do, though they promise themselves to wait till the last one is out.
I got caught in a dark eddy on the first stair-landing; but I could
see them farther down, and I knew they would wait for me outside the
When I reached it at last they were nowhere to be seen; I looked up
this street and down that, but they were not in sight.
I did not afflict myself very much, nor pretend to do so. They knew
the way home, and after I had blundered about in search of them
through the lampshot darkness, I settled myself to walk back at my
leisure, comfortably sure that I should find them on the verandah
waiting for me when I reached the hotel. It was quite a thick
night, and I almost ran into a couple at a corner of our quieter
street when I had got to it out of Broadway. They seemed to be
standing and looking about, and when the man said, "He must have
thought we took the first turn," and the woman, "Yes, that must have
been the way," I recognised my estrays.
I thought I would not discover myself to them, but follow on, and
surprise them by arriving at our steps at the same moment they did,
and I prepared myself to hurry after them. But they seemed in no
hurry, and I had even some difficulty in accommodating my pace to
the slowness of theirs.
"Won't you take my arm, Miss Gage?" he asked as they moved on.
"It's so VERY dark," she answered, and I knew she had taken it. "I
can hardly see a step, and poor Mr. March with his glasses--I don't
know what he'll do."
"Oh, he only uses them to read with; he can see as well as we can in
"He's very young in his feelings," said the girl; "he puts me in
mind of my own father."
"He's very young in his thoughts," said Kendricks; "and that's much
more to the purpose for a magazine editor. There are very few men
of his age who keep in touch with the times as he does."
"Still, Mrs. March seems a good deal younger, don't you think? I
wonder how soon they begin to feel old?"
"Oh, not till along in the forties, I should say. It's a good deal
in temperament. I don't suppose that either of them realises yet
that they're old, and they must be nearly fifty."
"How strange it must be," said the girl, "fifty years old! Twenty
seems old enough, goodness knows."
"How should you like to be a dotard of twenty-seven?" Kendricks
asked, and she laughed at his joke.
"I don't suppose I should mind it so much if I were a man."
I had promised myself that if the talk became at all confidential I
would drop behind out of earshot; but though it was curiously
intimate for me to be put apart in the minds of these young people
on account of my years as not of the same race or fate as
themselves, there was nothing in what they said that I might not
innocently overhear, as far as they were concerned, and I listened
But they had apparently given me quite enough attention. After some
mutual laughter at what she said last, they were silent a moment,
and then he said soberly, "There's something fine in this isolation
the dark gives you, isn't there? You're as remote in it from our
own time and place as if you were wandering in interplanetary
"I suppose we ARE doing that all the time--on the earth," she
"Yes; but how hard it is to realise that we are on the earth now.
Sometimes I have a sense of it, though, when the moon breaks from
one flying cloud to another. Then it seems as if I were a passenger
on some vast, shapeless ship sailing through the air. What," he
asked, with no relevancy that I could perceive, "was the strangest
feeling YOU ever had?" I remembered asking girls such questions
when I was young, and their not apparently thinking it at all odd.
"I don't know," she returned thoughtfully. "There was one time when
I was little, and it had sleeted, and the sun came out just before
it set, and seemed to set all the woods on fire. I thought the
world was burning up."
"It must have been very weird," said Kendricks; and I thought, "Oh,
good heavens! Has he got to talking of weird things?"
"It's strange," he added, "how we all have that belief when we are
children that the world is going to burn up! I don't suppose any
child escapes it. Do you remember that poem of Thompson's--the City
of Dreadful Night man--where he describes the end of the world?"
"No, I never read it."
"Well, merely, he says when the conflagration began the little
flames looked like crocuses breaking through the sod. If it ever
happened I fancy it would be quite as simple as that. But perhaps
you don't like gloomy poetry?"
'Yes, yes, I do. It's the only kind that I care about."
"Then you hate funny poetry?"
"I think it's disgusting. Papa is always cutting it out of the
papers and wanting to send it to me, and we have the greatest
"I suppose," said Kendricks, "it expresses some moods, though."
"Oh yes; it expresses some moods; and sometimes it makes me laugh in
spite of myself, and ashamed of anything serious."
"That's always the effect of a farce with me."
"But then I'm ashamed of being ashamed afterward," said the girl.
"I suppose you go to the theatre a great deal in New York."
"It's a school of life," said Kendricks. "I mean the audience."
"I would like to go to the opera once. I am going to make papa take
me in the winter." She laughed with a gay sense of power, and he
"You seem to be great friends with your father."
"Yes, we're always together. I always went everywhere with him;
this is the first time I've been away without him. But I thought
I'd come with Mrs. Deering and see what Saratoga was like; I had
never been here."
"And is it like what you thought?"
"No. The first week we didn't do anything. Then we got acquainted
with Mr. and Mrs. March, and I began to really see something. But I
supposed it was all balls and gaiety."
"We must get up a few if you're so fond of them," Kendricks
"Oh, I don't know as I am. I never went much at home. Papa didn't
care to have me."
"Ah, do you think it was right for him to keep you all to himself?"
The girl did not answer, and they had both halted so abruptly that I
almost ran into them. "I don't quite make out where we are."
Kendricks seemed to be peering about. I plunged across the street
lest he should ask me. I heard him add, "Oh yes; I know now," and
then they pressed forward.
We were quite near our hotel, but I thought it best to walk round
the square and let them arrive first. On the way I amused myself
thinking how different the girl had shown herself to him from what
she had ever shown herself to my wife or me. She had really, this
plain-minded goddess, a vein of poetic feeling, some inner beauty of
soul answering to the outer beauty of body. She had a romantic
attachment to her father, and this shed a sort of light on both of
them, though I knew that it was not always a revelation of
When I reached the hotel I found Miss Gage at the door, and
Kendricks coming out of the office toward her.
"Oh, here he is!" she called to him at sight of me.
"Where in the world have you been?" he demanded. "I had just found
out from the clerk that you hadn't come in yet, and I was going back
for you with a searchlight."
"Oh, I wasn't so badly lost as all that," I returned. "I missed you
in the crowd at the door, but I knew you'd get home somehow, and so
I came on without you. But my aged steps are not so quick as
The words, mechanically uttered, suggested something, and I thought
that if they were in for weirdness I would give them as much
weirdness as they could ask for. "When you get along toward fifty
you'll find that the foot you've still got out of the grave doesn't
work so lively as it used. Besides, I was interested in the night
effect. It's so gloriously dark; and I had a fine sense of
isolation as I came along, as if I were altogether out of my epoch
and my environment. I felt as if the earth was a sort of Flying
Dutchman, and I was the only passenger. It was about the weirdest
sensation I ever had. It reminded me, I don't know how, exactly of
the feeling I had when I was young, and I saw the sunset one evening
through the woods after a sleet-storm."
They stared at each other as I went on, and I could see Kendricks's
fine eyes kindle with an imaginative appreciation of the literary
quality of the coincidence. But when I added, "Did you ever read a
poem about the end of the world by that City of Dreadful Night man?"
Miss Gage impulsively caught me by the coat lapel and shook me.
"Ah, it was you all the time! I knew there was somebody following
us, and I might have KNOWN who it was!"
We all gave way in a gale of laughter, and sat down on the verandah
and had our joke out in full recognition of the fact. When
Kendricks rose to go at last, I said, "We won't say anything about
this little incident to Mrs. March, hey?" And then they laughed
again as if it were the finest wit in the world, and Miss Gage bade
me a joyful good-night at the head of the stairs as she went off to
her room and I to mine.
I found Mrs. March waiting up with a book; and as soon as I shut
myself in with her she said, awfully, "What WERE you laughing so
"Laughing? Did you hear me laughing?"
"The whole house heard you, I'm afraid. You certainly ought to have
known better, Basil. It was very inconsiderate of you." And as I
saw she was going on with more of that sort of thing, to divert her
thoughts from my crime I told her the whole story. It had quite the
effect I intended up to a certain point. She even smiled a little,
as much as a woman could be expected to smile who was not originally
in the joke.
"And they had got to comparing weird experiences?" she asked.
"Yes; the staleness of the thing almost made me sick. Do you
remember when we first compared our weird experiences? But I
suppose they will go on doing it to the end of time, and it will
have as great a charm for the last man and woman as it had for Adam
and Eve when they compared THEIR weird experiences."
"And was that what you were laughing at?"
"We were laughing at the wonderful case of telepathy I put up on
Mrs. March faced her open book down on the table before her, and
looked at me with profound solemnity. "Well, then, I can tell you,
my dear, it is no laughing matter. If they have got to the weird it
is very serious; and her talking to him about her family, and his
wanting to know about her father, that's serious too--far more
serious than either of them can understand. I don't like it, Basil;
we have got a terrible affair on our hands."
"Yes, terrible. As long as he was interested in her simply from a
literary point of view, though I didn't like that either, I could
put up with it; but now that he's got to telling her about himself,
and exchanging weird experiences with her, it's another thing
altogether. Oh, I never wanted Kendricks brought into the affair at
"Come now, Isabel! Stick to the facts, please."
"No matter! It was you that discovered the girl, and then something
had to be done. I was perfectly shocked when you told me that Mr.
Kendricks was in town, because I saw at once that he would have to
be got in for it; and now we have to think what we shall do."
"Couldn't we think better in the morning?"
"No; we must think at once. I shall not sleep to-night anyhow. My
peace is gone. I shall have to watch them every instant."
"Beginning at this instant. Why not wait till you can see them?"
"Oh, you can't joke it away, my dear. If I find they are really
interested in each other I shall have to speak. I am responsible."
"The young lady," I said, more to gain time than anything else,
"seems quite capable of taking care of herself."
"That makes it all the worse. Do you think I care for her only?
It's Kendricks too that I care for. I don't know that I care for
her at all."
"Oh, then I think we may fairly leave Kendricks to his own devices;
and I'm not alarmed for Miss Gage either, though I do care for her a
"I don't understand how you can be so heartless about it, Basil,"
said Mrs. March, plaintively. "She is a young girl, and she has
never seen anything of the world, and of course if he keeps on
Back to Full Books