Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 34 out of 78
"People don't change in a day, or a year," Westover went on, "or two or
three years, even. Sometimes I doubt if they ever change."
"Well, all that I thought," Whitwell urged, faintly, against the hard
scepticism of a man ordinarily so yielding, "is 't there must be a moral
government of the universe somewheres, and if a bad feller is to get
along and prosper hand over hand, that way, don't it look kind of as if--"
"There wasn't any moral government of the universe? Not the way I see
it," said Westover. "A tree brings forth of its kind. As a man sows he
reaps. It's dead sure, pitilessly sure. Jeff Durgin sowed success, in a
certain way, and he's reaping it. He once said to me, when I tried to
waken his conscience, that he should get where he was trying to go if he
was strong enough, and being good had nothing to do with it. I believe
now he was right. But he was wrong too, as such a man always is. That
kind of tree bears Dead Sea apples, after all. He sowed evil, and he
must reap evil. He may never know it, but he will reap what he has sown.
The dreadful thing is that others must share in his harvest. What do you
Whitwell scratched his head. "Well, sir, there's something in what you
say, I guess. But here! What's the use of thinkin' a man can't change?
Wa'n't there ever anything in that old idee of a change of heart? What
do you s'pose made Jeff let up on that feller that Jombateeste see him
have down, that day, in my Clearin'? What Jeff would natch'ly done would
b'en to shake the life out of him; but he didn't; he let him up, and he
let him go. What's the reason that wa'n't the beginnin' of a new life
"We don't know all the ins and outs of that business," said Westover,
after a moment. "I've puzzled over it a good deal. The man was the
brother of that girl that Jeff had jilted in Boston. I've found out that
much. I don't know just the size and shape of the trouble between them,
but Jeff may have felt that he had got even with his enemy before that
day. Or he may have felt that if he was going in for full satisfaction,
there was Jombateeste looking on."
"That's true," said Whitwell, greatly daunted. After a while he took
refuge in the reflection, "Well, he's a comical devil."
Westover said, in a sort of absence: "Perhaps we're all broken shafts,
here. Perhaps that old hypothesis of another life, a world where there
is room enough and time enough for all the beginnings of this to complete
"Well, now you're shoutin'," said Whitwell. "And if plantchette--"
Westover rose. "Why, a'n't you goin' to wait and see Cynthy? I'm
expectin' her along every minute now; she's just gone down to Harvard
Square. She'll be awfully put out when she knows you've be'n here."
"I'll come out again soon," said Westover. "Tell her--"
" Well, you must see your picture, anyway. We've got it in the parlor.
I don't know what she'll say to me, keepin' you here in the settin'-room
all the time."
Whitwell led him into the little dark front hall, and into the parlor,
less dim than it should have been because the afternoon sun was burning
full upon its shutters. The portrait hung over the mantel, in a bad
light, but the painter could feel everything in it that he could not see.
"Yes, it had that look in it."
"Well, she ha'n't took wing yet, I'm thankful to think," said Whitwell,
and he spoke from his own large mind to the sympathy of an old friend who
he felt could almost share his feelings as a father.
When Westover turned out of the baking little street where the Whitwells
lived into an elm-shaded stretch of North Avenue, he took off his hat and
strolled bareheaded along in the cooler air. He was disappointed not to
have seen Cynthia, and yet he found himself hurrying away after his
failure, with a sense of escape, or at least of respite.
What he had come to say, to do, was the effect of long experience and
much meditation. The time had arrived when he could no longer feign to
himself that his feelings toward the girl were not those of a lover, but
he had his modest fears that she could never imagine him in that
character, and that if he should ask her to do so he should shock and
grieve her, and inflict upon himself an incurable wound.
During this last absence of his he had let his fancy dwell constantly
upon her, until life seemed worth having only if she would share it with
him. He was an artist, and he had always been a bohemian, but at heart
he was philistine and bourgeois. His ideal was a settlement, a fixed
habitation, a stated existence, a home where he could work constantly in
an air of affection, and unselfishly do his part to make his home happy.
It was a very simple-hearted ambition, and I do not quite know how to
keep it from appearing commonplace and almost sordid; but such as it was,
I must confess that it was his. He had not married his model, because he
was mainly a landscapist, perhaps; and he had not married any of his
pupils, because he had not been in love with them, charming and good and
lovely as he had thought some of them; and of late he had realized more
and more why his fancy had not turned in their direction. He perceived
that it was already fixed, and possibly had long been fixed.
He did not blink the fact that there were many disparities, and that
there would be certain disadvantages which could never be quite overcome.
The fact had been brought rather strenuously home to him by his interview
with Cynthia's father. He perceived, as indeed he had always known, that
with a certain imaginative lift in his thinking and feeling, Whitwell was
irreparably rustic, that he was and always must be practically Yankee.
Westover was not a Yankee, and he did not love or honor the type, though
its struggles against itself touched and amused him. It made him a
little sick to hear how Whitwell had profited by Durgin's necessity,
and had taken advantage of him with conscientious and self-applausive
rapacity, while he admired his prosperity, and tried to account for it by
doubt of its injustice. For a moment this seemed to him worse than
Durgin's conscientious toughness, which was the antithesis of Whitwell's
remorseless self-interest. For the moment this claimed Cynthia of its
kind, and Westover beheld her rustic and Yankee of her father's type.
If she was not that now, she would grow into that through the lapse from
the personal to the ancestral which we all undergo in the process of the
The sight of her face as he had pictured it, and of the soul which be had
imagined for it, restored him to a better sense of her, but he felt the
need of escaping from the suggestion of her father's presence, and taking
further thought. Perhaps he should never again reach the point that he
was aware of deflecting from now; he filled his lungs with long breaths,
which he exhaled in sighs of relief. It might have been a mistake on the
spiritual as well as the worldly side; it would certainly not have
promoted his career; it might have impeded it. These misgivings flitted
over the surface of thought that more profoundly was occupied with a
question of other things. In the time since he had seen her last it
might very well be that a young and pretty girl had met some one who had
taken her fancy; and he could not be sure that her fancy had ever been
his, even if this had not happened. He had no proof at all that she had
ever cared or could care for him except gratefully, respectfully, almost
reverentially, with that mingling of filial and maternal anxiety which
had hitherto been the warmest expression of her regard. He tried to
reason it out, and could not. He suddenly found himself bitterly
disappointed that he had missed seeing her, for if they had met, he would
have known by this time what to think, what to hope. He felt old--
he felt fully thirty-six years old--as he passed his hand over his crown,
whose gossamer growth opposed so little resistance to his touch. He had
begun to lose his hair early, but till then he had not much regretted his
baldness. He entered into a little question of their comparative ages,
which led him to the conclusion that Cynthia must now be about twenty-
Almost at the same moment he saw her coming up the walk toward him from
far down the avenue. For a reason, or rather a motive, of his own he
pretended to himself that it was not she, but he knew instantly that it
was, and he put on his hat. He could see that she did not know him, and
it was a pretty thing to witness the recognition dawn on her. When it
had its full effect, he was aware of a flutter, a pause in her whole
figure before she came on toward him, and he hurried his steps for the
charm of her beautiful blushing face.
It was the spiritual effect of figure and face that he had carried in his
thought ever since he had arrived at that one-sided intimacy through his
study of her for the picture he had just seen. He had often had to ask
himself whether he had really perceived or only imagined the character he
had translated into it; but here, for the moment at least, was what he
had seen. He hurried forward and joyfully took the hand she gave him.
He thought he should speak of that at once, but it was not possible, of
course. There had to come first the unheeded questions and answers about
each other's health, and many other commonplaces. He turned and walked
home with her, and at the gate of the little ugly house she asked him if
he would not come in and take tea with them.
Her father talked with him while she got the tea, and when it was ready
her brother came in from his walk home out of Old Cambridge and helped
her put it on the table. He had grown much taller than Westover, and he
was very ecclesiastical in his manner; more so than he would be,
probably, if he ever be came a bishop, Westover decided. Jombateeste, in
an interval of suspended work at the brick yard, was paying a visit to
his people in Canada, and Westover did not see him.
All the time while they sat at table and talked together Westover
realized more and more that for him, at least, the separation of the last
two years had put that space between them which alone made it possible
for them to approach each other on new ground. A kind of horror, of
repulsion, for her engagement to Jeff Durgin had ceased from his sense of
her; it was as if she had been unhappily married, and the man, who had
been unworthy and unkind, was like a ghost who could never come to
trouble his joy. He was more her contemporary, he found, than formerly;
she had grown a great deal in the past two years, and a certain
affliction which her father's fixity had given him concerning her passed
in the assurance of change which she herself gave him.
She had changed her world, and grown to it, but her nature had not
changed. Even her look had not changed, and he told her how he had seen
his picture in her at the moment of their meeting in the street. They
all went in to verify his impression from the painting. "Yes, that is
the way you looked."
"It seems to me that is the way I felt," she asserted.
Frank went about the house-work, and left her to their guest. When
Whitwell came back from the post-office, where he said he would only be
gone a minute, he did not rejoin Westover and Cynthia in the parlor.
The parlor door was shut; he had risked his fate, and they were talking
it over. Cynthia was not sure; she was sure of nothing but that there
was no one in the world she cared for so much; but she was not sure that
was enough. She did not pretend that she was surprised; she owned that
she had sometimes expected it; she blamed herself for not expecting it
Westover said that he did not blame her for not knowing her mind; he had
been fifteen years learning his own fully. He asked her to take all the
time she wished. If she could not make sure after all, he should always
be sure that she was wise and good. She told him everything there was to
tell of her breaking with Jeff, and he thought the last episode a supreme
proof of her wisdom and goodness.
After a certain time they went for a walk in the warm summer moonlight
under the elms, where they had met on the avenue.
"I suppose," she said, as they drew near her door again, "that people
don't often talk it over as we've done."
"We only know from the novels," he answered. "Perhaps people do, oftener
than is ever known. I don't see why they shouldn't."
"I've never wished to be sure of you so much as since you've wished to be
sure of yourself."
"And I've never been so sure as since you were willing to let me," said
"I am glad of that. Try to think of me, if that will help my cause, as
some one you might have always known in this way. We don't really know
each other yet. I'm a great deal older than you, but still I'm not so
"Oh, I don't care for that. All I want to be certain of is that the
feeling I have is really--the feeling."
"I know, dear," said Westover, and his heart surged toward her in his
tenderness for her simple conscience, her wise question. "Take time.
Don't hurry. Forget what I've said--or no; that's absurd! Think of it;
but don't let anything but the truth persuade you. Now, good-night,
"Mr. Westover" he reproached her.
She stood thinking, as if the question were crucial. Then she said,
firmly, "I should always have to call you Mr. Westover."
"Oh, well," he returned, "if that's all!"
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Boldest man is commonly a little behind a timid woman
Could not imagine the summer life of the place
Crimson which stained the tops and steeps of snow
Errors of a weak man, which were usually the basest
Exchanging inaudible banalities
He might walk home with her if he would not seem to do so
He's the same kind of a man that he was a boy
Hollow hilarities which people use to mask their indifference
I suppose they must feel it
If one must, it ought to be champagne
Intent upon some point in the future
No two men see the same star
Picture which, he said to himself, no one would believe in
Quiet but rather dull look of people slightly deaf
Stupefied by a life of unalloyed prosperity and propriety
To be exemplary is as dangerous as to be complimentary
W'at you want letter for? Always same thing
Want something hard, don't you know; but I want it to be easy
With all her insight, to have very little artistic sense
World made up of two kinds of people
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE LANDLORD AT LIONS HEAD:
Boldest man is commonly a little behind a timid woman
Could not imagine the summer life of the place
Crimson which stained the tops and steeps of snow
Crimson torch of a maple, kindled before its time
Disposition to use his friends
Errors of a weak man, which were usually the basest
Exchanging inaudible banalities
Fear of asking too much and the folly of asking too little
Government is best which governs least
He might walk home with her if he would not seem to do so
He's the same kind of a man that he was a boy
Hollow hilarities which people use to mask their indifference
Honesty is difficult
I don't ever want to take the whip-hand
I suppose they must feel it
I sha'n't forget this very soon
If one must, it ought to be champagne
Insensate pride that mothers have in their children's faults
Intent upon some point in the future
Iron forks had two prongs
Joyful shame of children who have escaped punishment
Man that could be your friend if he didn't like you
Married Man: after the first start-off he don't try
No two men see the same star
Nothing in the way of sport, as people commonly understand it
People whom we think unequal to their good fortune
Picture which, he said to himself, no one would believe in
Quiet but rather dull look of people slightly deaf
Society interested in a woman's past, not her future
Stupefied by a life of unalloyed prosperity and propriety
The great trouble is for the man to be honest with her
To be exemplary is as dangerous as to be complimentary
W'at you want letter for? Always same thing
Want something hard, don't you know; but I want it to be easy
We're company enough for ourselves
With all her insight, to have very little artistic sense
Women talked their follies and men acted theirs
World made up of two kinds of people
World seems to always come out at the same hole it went in at
THE ENTIRE MARCH FAMILY TRILOGY
By William Dean Howells
Their Wedding Journey
A Midsummer-day's Dream
The Night Boat
A Day's Railroading
The Enchanted City, and Beyond
Down the St. Lawrence
The Sentiment of Montreal
Homeward and Home
Niagara Revisited Twelve Years after Their Wedding
A Hazard of New Fortunes
Their Silver Wedding Journey
THEIR WEDDING JOURNEY
By William Dean Howells
I. THE OUTSET
They first met in Boston, but the match was made in Europe, where they
afterwards saw each other; whither, indeed, he followed her; and there
the match was also broken off. Why it was broken off, and why it was
renewed after a lapse of years, is part of quite a long love-story, which
I do not think myself qualified to rehearse, distrusting my fitness for a
sustained or involved narration; though I am persuaded that a skillful
romancer could turn the courtship of Basil. and Isabel March to
excellent account. Fortunately for me, however, in attempting to tell
the reader of the wedding-journey of a newly married couple, no longer
very young, to be sure, but still fresh in the light of their love, I
shall have nothing to do but to talk of some ordinary traits of American
life as these appeared to them, to speak a little of well-known and
easily accessible places, to present now a bit of landscape and now a
sketch of character.
They had agreed to make their wedding-journey in the simplest and
quietest way, and as it did not take place at once after their marriage,
but some weeks later, it had all the desired charm of privacy from the
"How much better," said Isabel, "to go now, when nobody cares whether you
go or stay, than to have started off upon a wretched wedding-breakfast,
all tears and trousseau, and had people wanting to see you aboard the
cars. Now there will not be a suspicion of honey-moonshine about us; we
shall go just like anybody else,--with a difference, dear, with a
difference!" and she took Basil's cheeks between her hands. In order to
do this, she had to ran round the table; for they were at dinner, and
Isabel's aunt, with whom they had begun married life, sat substantial
between them. It was rather a girlish thing for Isabel, and she added,
with a conscious blush, "We are past our first youth, you know; and we
shall not strike the public as bridal, shall we? My one horror in life
is an evident bride."
Basil looked at her fondly, as if he did not think her at all too old to
be taken for a bride; and for my part I do not object to a woman's being
of Isabel's age, if she is of a good heart and temper. Life must have
been very unkind to her if at that age she have not won more than she has
lost. It seemed to Basil that his wife was quite as fair as when they
met first, eight years before; but he could not help recurring with an
inextinguishable regret to the long interval of their broken engagement,
which but for that fatality they might have spent together, he imagined,
in just such rapture as this. The regret always haunted him, more or
less; it was part of his love; the loss accounted irreparable really
enriched the final gain.
"I don't know," he said presently, with as much gravity as a man can
whose cheeks are clasped between a lady's hands, "you don't begin very
well for a bride who wishes to keep her secret. If you behave in this
way, they will put us into the 'bridal chambers' at all the hotels. And
the cars--they're beginning to have them on the palace-cars."
Just then a shadow fell into the room.
"Wasn't that thunder, Isabel?" asked her aunt, who had been contentedly
surveying the tender spectacle before her. "O dear! you'll never be able
to go by the boat to-night, if it storms. It 's actually raining now!"
In fact, it was the beginning of that terrible storm of June, 1870. All
in a moment, out of the hot sunshine of the day it burst upon us before
we quite knew that it threatened, even before we had fairly noticed the
clouds, and it went on from passion to passion with an inexhaustible
violence. In the square upon which our friends looked out of their
dining-room windows the trees whitened in the gusts, and darkened in the
driving floods of the rainfall, and in some paroxysms of the tempest bent
themselves in desperate submission, and then with a great shudder rent
away whole branches and flung them far off upon the ground. Hail mingled
with the rain, and now the few umbrellas that had braved the storm
vanished, and the hurtling ice crackled upon the pavement, where the
lightning played like flames burning from the earth, while the thunder
roared overhead without ceasing. There was something splendidly
theatrical about it all; and when a street-car, laden to the last inch of
its capacity, came by, with horses that pranced and leaped under the
stinging blows of the hailstones, our friends felt as if it were an
effective and very naturalistic bit of pantomime contrived for their
admiration. Yet as to themselves they were very sensible of a potent
reality in the affair, and at intervals during the storm they debated
about going at all that day, and decided to go and not to go, according
to the changing complexion of the elements. Basil had said that as this
was their first journey together in America, he wished to give it at the
beginning as pungent a national character as possible, and that as he
could imagine nothing more peculiarly American than a voyage to New York
by a Fall River boat, they ought to take that route thither. So much
upholstery, so much music, such variety cf company, he understood, could
not be got in any other way, and it might be that they would even catch a
glimpse of the inventor of the combination, who represented the very
excess and extremity of a certain kind of Americanism. Isabel had
eagerly consented; but these aesthetic motives were paralyzed for her by
the thought of passing Point Judith in a storm, and she descended from
her high intents first to the Inside Boats, without the magnificence and
the orchestra, and then to the idea of going by land in a sleeping-car.
Having comfortably accomplished this feat, she treated Basil's consent as
a matter of course, not because she did not regard him, but because as a
woman she could not conceive of the steps to her conclusion as unknown to
him, and always treated her own decisions as the product of their common
reasoning. But her husband held out for the boat, and insisted that if
the storm fell before seven o'clock, they could reach it at Newport by
the last express; and it was this obstinacy that, in proof of Isabel's
wisdom, obliged them to wait two hours in the station before going by the
land route. The storm abated at five o'clock, and though the rain
continued, it seemed well by a quarter of seven to set out for the Old
Colony Depot, in sight of which a sudden and vivid flash of lightning
caused Isabel to seize her husband's arm, and to implore him, "O don't go
by the boat!" On this, Basil had the incredible weakness to yield; and
bade the driver take them to the Worcester Depot. It was the first
swerving from the ideal in their wedding journey, but it was by no means
the last; though it must be confessed that it was early to begin.
They both felt more tranquil when they were irretrievably committed by
the purchase of their tickets, and when they sat down in the waiting.
room of the station, with all the time between seven and nine o'clock
before them. Basil would have eked out the business of checking the
trunks into an affair of some length, but the baggage-master did his duty
with pitiless celerity; and so Basil, in the mere excess of his
disoccupation, bought an accident-insurance ticket. This employed him
half a minute, and then he gave up the unequal contest, and went and took
his place beside Isabel, who sat prettily wrapped in her shawl, perfectly
"Isn't it charming," she said gayly, "having to wait so long? It puts me
in mind of some of those other journeys we took together. But I can't
think of those times with any patience, when we might really have had
each other, and didn't! Do you remember how long we had to wait at
Chambery? and the numbers of military gentlemen that waited too, with
their little waists, and their kisses when they met? and that poor
married military gentleman, with the plain wife and the two children, and
a tarnished uniform? He seemed to be somehow in misfortune, and his
mustache hung down in such a spiritless way, while all the other military
mustaches about curled and bristled with so much boldness. I think
'salles d'attente' everywhere are delightful, and there is such a
community of interest in them all, that when I come here only to go out
to Brookline, I feel myself a traveller once more,--a blessed stranger in
a strange land. O dear, Basil, those were happy times after all, when we
might have had each other and didn't! And now we're the more precious
for having been so long lost."
She drew closer and closer to him, and looked at him in a way that
threatened betrayal of her bridal character.
"Isabel, you will be having your head on my shoulder, next," said he.
"Never!" she answered fiercely, recovering her distance with a start.
"But, dearest, if you do see me going to--act absurdly, you know, do stop
"I'm very sorry, but I've got myself to stop. Besides, I didn't
undertake to preserve the incognito of this bridal party."
If any accident of the sort dreaded had really happened, it would not
have mattered so much, for as yet they were the sole occupants of the
waiting room. To be sure, the ticket-seller was there, and the lady who
checked packages left in her charge, but these must have seen so many
endearments pass between passengers,--that a fleeting caress or so would
scarcely have drawn their notice to our pair. Yet Isabel did not so much
even as put her hand into her husband's; and as Basil afterwards said, it
was very good practice.
Our temporary state, whatever it is, is often mirrored in all that come
near us, and our friends were fated to meet frequent parodies of their
happiness from first to last on this journey. The travesty began with
the very first people who entered the waiting-room after themselves,
and who were a very young couple starting like themselves upon a pleasure
tour, which also was evidently one of the first tours of any kind that
they had made. It was of modest extent, and comprised going to New York
and back; but they talked of it with a fluttered and joyful expectation
as if it were a voyage to Europe. Presently there appeared a burlesque
of their happiness (but with a touch of tragedy) in that kind of young
man who is called by the females of his class a fellow, and two young
women of that kind known to him as girls. He took a place between these,
and presently began a robust flirtation with one of them. He possessed
himself, after a brief struggle, of her parasol, and twirled it about,
as he uttered, with a sort of tender rudeness inconceivable vapidities,
such as you would expect from none but a man of the highest fashion.
The girl thus courted became selfishly unconscious of everything but her
own joy, and made no attempt to bring the other girl within its warmth,
but left her to languish forgotten on the other side. The latter
sometimes leaned forward, and tried to divert a little of the flirtation
to herself, but the flirters snubbed her with short answers, and
presently she gave up and sat still in the sad patience of uncourted
women. In this attitude she became a burden to Isabel, who was glad when
the three took themselves away, and were succeeded by a very stylish
couple--from New York, she knew as well as if they had given her their
address on West 999th Street. The lady was not pretty, and she was not,
Isabel thought, dressed in the perfect taste of Boston; but she owned
frankly to herself that the New-Yorkeress was stylish, undeniably
effective. The gentleman bought a ticket for New York, and remained at
the window of the office talking quite easily with the seller.
"You couldn't do that, my poor Basil," said Isabel, "you'd be afraid."
"O dear, yes; I'm only too glad to get off without browbeating; though I
must say that this officer looks affable enough. Really," he added, as
an acquaintance of the ticket-seller came in and nodded to him and said
"Hot, to-day!" "this is very strange. I always felt as if these men had
no private life, no friendships like the rest of us. On duty they seem
so like sovereigns, set apart from mankind, and above us all, that it's
quite incredible they should have the common personal relations."
At intervals of their talk and silence there came vivid flashes of
lightning and quite heavy shocks of thunder, very consoling to our
friends, who took them as so many compliments to their prudence in not
going by the boat, and who had secret doubts of their wisdom whenever
these acknowledgments were withheld. Isabel went so far as to say that
she hoped nothing would happen to the boat, but I think she would
cheerfully have learnt that the vessel had been obliged to put back to
Newport, on account of the storm, or even that it had been driven ashore
at a perfectly safe place.
People constantly came and went in the waiting-room, which was sometimes
quite full, and again empty of all but themselves. In the course of
their observations they formed many cordial friendships and bitter
enmities upon the ground of personal appearance, or particulars of dress,
with people whom they saw for half a minute upon an average; and they
took such a keen interest in every one, that it would be hard to say
whether they were more concerned in an old gentleman with vigorously
upright iron-gray hair, who sat fronting them, and reading all the
evening papers, or a young man who hurled himself through the door,
bought a ticket with terrific precipitation, burst out again, and then
ran down a departing train before it got out of the station: they loved
the old gentleman for a certain stubborn benevolence of expression, and
if they had been friends of the young man and his family for generations
and felt bound if any harm befell him to go and break the news gently to
his parents, their nerves could not have been more intimately wrought
upon by his hazardous behavior. Still, as they had their tickets for New
York, and he was going out on a merely local train,--to Brookline, I
believe, they could not, even in their anxiety, repress a feeling of
contempt for his unambitious destination.
They were already as completely cut off from local associations and
sympathies as if they were a thousand miles and many months away from
Boston. They enjoyed the lonely flaring of the gas-jets as a gust of
wind drew through the station; they shared the gloom and isolation of a
man who took a seat in the darkest corner of the room, and sat there with
folded arms, the genius of absence. In the patronizing spirit of
travellers in a foreign country they noted and approved the vases of cut-
flowers in the booth of the lady who checked packages, and the pots of
ivy in her windows. "These poor Bostonians," they said; "have some love
of the beautiful in their rugged natures."
But after all was said and thought, it was only eight o'clock, and they
still had an hour to wait.
Basil grew restless, and Isabel said, with a subtile interpretation of
his uneasiness, "I don't want anything to eat, Basil, but I think I know
the weaknesses of men; and you had better go and pass the next half-hour
over a plate of something indigestible."
This was said 'con stizza', the least little suggestion of it; but Basil
rose with shameful alacrity. "Darling, if it's your wish--"
"It's my fate, Basil," said Isabel.
"I'll go," he exclaimed, "because it isn't bridal, and will help us to
pass for old married people."
"No, no, Basil, be honest; fibbing isn't your forte: I wonder you went
into the insurance business; you ought to have been a lawyer. Go because
you like eating, and are hungry, perhaps, or think you may be so before
we get to New York.
"I shall amuse myself well enough here!"
I suppose it is always a little shocking and grievous to a wife when she
recognizes a rival in butchers'-meat and the vegetables of the season.
With her slender relishes for pastry and confectionery and her dainty
habits of lunching, she cannot reconcile with the idea (of) her husband's
capacity for breakfasting, dining, supping, and hot meals at all hours of
the day and night--as they write it on the sign-boards of barbaric
eating-houses. But isabel would have only herself to blame if she had
not perceived this trait of Basil's before marriage. She recurred now,
as his figure disappeared down the station, to memorable instances of his
appetite in their European travels during their first engagement. "Yes,
he ate terribly at Susa, when I was too full of the notion of getting
into Italy to care for bouillon and cold roast chicken. At Rome I
thought I must break with him on account of the wild-boar; and at
Heidelberg, the sausage and the ham!--how could he, in my presence? But
I took him with all his faults,--and was glad to get him," she added,
ending her meditation with a little burst of candor; and she did not even
think of Basil's appetite when he reappeared.
With the thronging of many sorts of people, in parties and singly, into
the waiting room, they became once again mere observers of their kind,
more or less critical in temper, until the crowd grew so that individual
traits were merged in the character of multitude. Even then, they could
catch glimpses of faces so sweet or fine that they made themselves felt
like moments of repose in the tumult, and here and there was something so
grotesque in dress of manner that it showed distinct from the rest. The
ticket-seller's stamp clicked incessantly as he sold tickets to all
points South and West: to New York, Philadelphia, Charleston; to New
Orleans, Chicago, Omaha; to St. Paul, Duluth, St. Louis; and it would not
have been hard to find in that anxious bustle, that unsmiling eagerness,
an image of the whole busy affair of life. It was not a particularly
sane spectacle, that impatience to be off to some place that lay not only
in the distance, but also in the future--to which no line of road carries
you with absolute certainty across an interval of time full of every
imaginable chance and influence. It is easy enough to buy a ticket to
Cincinnati, but it is somewhat harder to arrive there. Say that all goes
well, is it exactly you who arrive?
In the midst of the disquiet there entered at last an old woman, so very
infirm that she had to be upheld on either hand by her husband and the
hackman who had brought them, while a young girl went before with shawls
and pillows which she arranged upon the seat. There the invalid lay
down, and turned towards the crowd a white, suffering face, which was yet
so heavenly meek and peaceful that it comforted whoever looked at it.
In spirit our happy friends bowed themselves before it and owned that
there was something better than happiness in it.
"What is it like, Isabel?"
"O, I don't know, darling," she said; but she thought, "Perhaps it is
like some blessed sorrow that takes us out of this prison of a world,
and sets us free of our every-day hates and desires, our aims, our fears.
ourselves. Maybe a long and mortal sickness might come to wear such a
face in one of us two, and the other could see it, and not regret the
poor mask of youth and pretty looks that had fallen away."
She rose and went over to the sick woman, on whose face beamed a tender
smile, as Isabel spoke to her. A chord thrilled in two lives hitherto
unknown to each other; but what was said Basil would not ask when the
invalid had taken Isabel's hand between her own, as for adieu, and she
came back to his side with swimming eyes. Perhaps his wife could have
given no good reason for her emotion, if he had asked it. But it made
her very sweet and dear to him; and I suppose that when a tolerably
unselfish man is once secure of a woman's love, he is ordinarily more
affected by her compassion and tenderness for other objects than by her
feelings towards himself. He likes well enough to think, "She loves me,"
but still better, "How kind and good she is!"
They lost sight of the invalid in the hurry of getting places on the
cars, and they never saw her again. The man at the wicket-gate leading
to the train had thrown it up, and the people were pressing furiously
through as if their lives hung upon the chance of instant passage. Basil
had secured his ticket for the sleeping-car, and so he and Isabel stood
aside and watched the tumult. When the rash was over they passed
through, and as they walked up and down the platform beside the train,
"I was thinking," said Isabel, "after I spoke to that poor old lady, of
what Clara Williams says: that she wonders the happiest women in the
world can look each other in the face without bursting into tears, their
happiness is so unreasonable, and so built upon and hedged about with
misery. She declares that there's nothing so sad to her as a bride,
unless it's a young mother, or a little girl growing up in the innocent
gayety of her heart. She wonders they can live through it."
"Clara is very much of a reformer, and would make an end of all of us
men, I suppose,--except her father, who supports her in the leisure that
enables her to do her deep thinking. She little knows what we poor
fellows have to suffer, and how often we break down in business hours,
and sob upon one another's necks. Did that old lady talk to you in the
"O no! she spoke very calmly of her sickness, and said she had lived a
blessed life. Perhaps it was that made me shed those few small tears.
She seemed a very religious person."
"Yes," said Basil, "it is almost a pity that religion is going out. But
then you are to have the franchise."
This warning cry saved him from whatever heresy he might have been about
to utter; and presently the train carried them out into the gas-sprinkled
darkness, with an ever-growing speed that soon left the city lamps far
behind. It is a phenomenon whose commonness alone prevents it from being
most impressive, that departure of the night-express. The two hundred
miles it is to travel stretch before it, traced by those slender clews,
to lose which is ruin, and about which hang so many dangers. The draw
bridges that gape upon the way, the trains that stand smoking and
steaming on the track, the rail that has borne the wear so long that it
must soon snap under it, the deep cut where the overhanging mass of rock
trembles to its fall, the obstruction that a pitiless malice may have
placed in your path,--you think of these after the journey is done, but
they seldom haunt your fancy while it lasts. The knowledge of your
helplessness in any circumstances is so perfect that it begets a sense of
irresponsibility, almost of security; and as you drowse upon the pallet
of the sleeping car, and feel yourself hurled forward through the
obscurity, you are almost thankful that you can do nothing, for it is
upon this condition only that you can endure it; and some such condition
as this, I suppose, accounts for many heroic facts in the world. To the
fantastic mood which possesses you equally, sleeping or waking, the
stoppages of the train have a weird character; and Worcester,
Springfield, New Haven, and Stamford are rather points in dream-land than
well-known towns of New England. As the train stops you drowse if you
have been waking, and wake if you have been in a doze; but in any case
you are aware of the locomotive hissing and coughing beyond the station,
of flaring gas-jets, of clattering feet of passengers getting on and off;
then of some one, conductor or station-master, walking the whole length
of the train; and then you are aware of an insane satisfaction in renewed
flight through the darkness. You think hazily of the folk in their beds
in the town left behind, who stir uneasily at the sound of your train's
departing whistle; and so all is a blank vigil or a blank slumber.
By daylight Basil and Isabel found themselves at opposite ends of the
car, struggling severally with the problem of the morning's toilet. When
the combat was ended, they were surprised at the decency of their
appearance, and Isabel said, "I think I'm presentable to an early
Broadway public, and I've a fancy for not going to a hotel. Lucy will be
expecting us out there before noon; and we can pass the time pleasantly
enough for a few hours just wandering about."
She was a woman who loved any cheap defiance of custom, and she had an
agreeable sense of adventure in what she proposed. Besides, she felt
that nothing could be more in the unconventional spirit in which they
meant to make their whole journey than a stroll about New York at half-
past six in the morning.
"Delightful!" answered Basil, who was always charmed with these small
originalities. "You look well enough for an evening party; and besides,
you won't meet one of your own critical class on Broadway at this hour.
We will breakfast at one of those gilded metropolitan restaurants, and
then go round to Leonard's, who will be able to give us just three
unhurried seconds. After that we'll push on out to his place."
At that early hour there were not many people astir on the wide avenue
down which our friends strolled when they left the station; but in the
aspect of those they saw there was something that told of a greater heat
than they had yet known in Boston, and they were sensible of having
reached a more southern latitude. The air, though freshened by the over-
night's storm, still wanted the briskness and sparkle and pungency of the
Boston air, which is as delicious in summer as it is terrible in winter;
and the faces that showed themselves were sodden from the yesterday's
heat and perspiration. A corner-grocer, seated in a sort of fierce
despondency upon a keg near his shop door, had lightly equipped himself
for the struggle of the day in the battered armor of the day before, and
in a pair of roomy pantaloons, and a baggy shirt of neutral tint--perhaps
he had made a vow not to change it whilst the siege of the hot weather
lasted,--now confronted the advancing sunlight, before which the long
shadows of the buildings were slowly retiring. A marketing mother of a
family paused at a provision-store, and looking weakly in at the white-
aproned butcher among his meats and flies, passes without an effort to
purchase. Hurried and wearied shop-girls tripped by in the draperies
that betrayed their sad necessity to be both fine and shabby; from a
boarding-house door issued briskly one of those cool young New Yorkers
whom no circumstances can oppress: breezy-coated, white-livened, clean,
with a good cigar in the mouth, a light cane caught upon the elbow of one
of the arms holding up the paper from which the morning's news is
snatched, whilst the person sways lightly with the walk; in the street-
cars that slowly tinkled up and down were rows of people with baskets
between their legs and papers before their faces; and all showed by some
peculiarity of air or dress the excess of heat which they had already
borne, and to which they seemed to look forward, and gave by the
scantiness of their number a vivid impression of the uncounted thousands
within doors prolonging, before the day's terror began, the oblivion of
As they turned into one of the numerical streets to cross to Broadway,
and found themselves in a yet deeper seclusion, Basil-began to utter in a
"A city against the world's gray Prime,
Lost in some desert, far from Time,
Where noiseless Ages gliding through,
Have only sifted sands and dew,
Yet still a marble head of man
Lying on all the haunted plan;
The passions of the human heart
Beating the marble breast of Art,
Were not more lone to one who first
Upon its giant silence burst,
Than this strange quiet, where the tide
Of life, upheaved on either aide,
Hangs trembling, ready soon to beat
With human waves the Morning Street."
"How lovely!" said Isabel, swiftly catching at her skirt, and deftly
escaping contact with one of a long row of ash-barrels posted sentinel-
like on the edge of the pavement. "Whose is it, Basil?"
"Ah! a poet's," answered her husband, "a man of whom we shall one day any
of us be glad to say that we liked him before he was famous. What a
nebulous sweetness the first lines have, and what a clear, cool light of
day-break in the last!"
"You could have been as good a poet as that, Basil," said the ever-
personal and concretely-speaking Isabel, who could not look at a mountain
without thinking what Basil might have done in that way, if he had tried.
"O no, I couldn't, dear. It's very difficult being any poet at all,
though it's easy to be like one. But I've done with it; I broke with the
Muse the day you accepted me. She came into my office, looking so
shabby,--not unlike one of those poor shop-girls; and as I was very well
dressed from having just been to see you, why, you know, I felt the
difference. 'Well, my dear?' said I, not quite liking the look of
reproach she was giving me. 'You are groins to leave me,' she answered
sadly. 'Well, yes; I suppose I must. You see the insurance business is
very absorbing; and besides, it has a bad appearance, your coming about
so in office hours, and in those clothes.' 'O,' she moaned out, 'you used
to welcome me at all times, out in the country, and thought me prettily
dressed.' 'Yes, yes; but this is Boston; and Boston makes a great
difference in one's ideas; and I'm going to be married, too. Come, I
don't want to seem ungrateful; we have had many pleasant times together,
I own it; and I've no objections to your being present at Christmas and
Thanksgiving and birthdays, but really I must draw the line there.' She
gave me a look that made my heart ache, and went straight to my desk and
took out of a pigeon hole a lot of papers,--odes upon your cruelty,
Isabel; songs to you; sonnets,--the sonnet, a mighty poor one, I'd made
the day before,--and threw them all into the grate. Then she turned to
me again, signed adieu with mute lips, and passed out. I could hear the
bottom wire of the poor thing's hoop-skirt clicking against each step of
the stairway, as she went slowly and heavily down to the street."
"O don't--don't, Basil," said his wife, "it seems like something wrong.
I think you ought to have been ashamed."
"Ashamed! I was heart broken. But it had to come to that. As I got
hopeful about you, the Muse became a sad bore; and more than once I found
myself smiling at her when her back was turned. The Muse doesn't like
being laughed at any more than another woman would, and she would have
left me shortly. No, I couldn't be a poet like our Morning-Street
friend. But see! the human wave is beginning to sprinkle the pavement
with cooks and second-girls."
They were frowzy serving-maids and silent; each swept down her own door
steps and the pavement in front of her own house, and then knocked her
broom on the curbstone and vanished into the house, on which the hand of
change had already fallen. It was no longer a street solely devoted to
the domestic gods, but had been invaded at more than one point by the
bustling deities of business in such streets the irregular, inspired
doctors and doctresses come first with inordinate door-plates, then a
milliner filling the parlor window with new bonnets; here even a
publisher had hung his sign beside a door, through which the feet of
young ladies used to trip, and the feet of little children to patter.
Here and there stood groups of dwellings unmolested as yet outwardly;
but even these had a certain careworn and guilty air, as if they knew
themselves to be cheapish boarding-houses or furnished lodgings for
gentlemen, and were trying to hide it. To these belonged the frowzy
serving-women; to these the rows of ash-barrels, in which the decrepit
children and mothers of the streets were clawing for bits of coal.
By the time Basil and Isabel reached Broadway there were already some
omnibuses beginning their long day's travel up and down the handsome,
tiresome length of that avenue; but for the most part it was empty.
There was, of course, a hurry of foot-passengers upon the sidewalks, but
these were sparse and uncharacteristic, for New York proper was still
fast asleep. The waiter at the restaurant into which our friends stepped
was so well aware of this, and so perfectly assured they were not of the
city, that he could not forbear a little patronage of them, which they
did not resent. He brought Basil what he had ordered in barbaric
abundance, and charged for it with barbaric splendor. It is all but
impossible not to wish to stand well with your waiter: I have myself been
often treated with conspicuous rudeness by the tribe, yet I have never
been able to withhold the 'douceur' that marked me for a gentleman in
their eyes, and entitled me to their dishonorable esteem. Basil was not
superior to this folly, and left the waster with the conviction that, if
he was not a New Yorker, he was a high-bred man of the world at any rate.
Vexed by a sense of his own pitifulness, this man of the world continued
his pilgrimage down Broadway, which even in that desert state was full of
a certain interest. Troops of laborers straggled along the pavements,
each with his dinner-pail in hand; and in many places the eternal
building up and pulling down was already going on; carts were struggling
up the slopes of vast cellars, with loads of distracting rubbish; here
stood the half-demolished walls of a house, with a sad variety of wall-
paper showing in the different rooms; there clinked the trowel upon the
brick, yonder the hammer on the stone; overhead swung and threatened the
marble block that the derrick was lifting to its place. As yet these
forces of demolition and construction had the business of the street
almost to themselves.
"Why, how shabby the street is!" said Isabel, at last. When I landed,
after being abroad, I remember that Broadway impressed me with its
"Ah I but you were merely coming from Europe then; and now you arrive
from Burton, and are contrasting this poor Broadway with Washington
Street. Don't be hard upon it, Isabel; every street can't be a Boston
street, you know," said Basil. Isabel, herself a Bostonian of great
intensity both by birth and conviction, believed her husband the only man
able to have thoroughly baffled the malignity of the stars in causing him
to be born out of Boston; yet he sometimes trifled with his hardly
achieved triumph, and even showed an indifference to it, with an
insincerity of which there can be no doubt whatever.
"O stuff!" she retorted, "as if I had any of that silly local pride!
Though you know well enough that Boston is the best place in the world.
But Basil! I suppose Broadway strikes us as so fine, on coming ashore
from Europe, because we hardly expect anything of America then."
"Well, I don't know. Perhaps the street has some positive grandeur of
its own, though it needs a multitude of people in it to bring out its
best effects. I'll allow its disheartening shabbiness and meanness in
many ways; but to stand in front of Grace Church, on a clear day,--a day
of late September, say,--and look down the swarming length of Broadway,
on the movement and the numbers, while the Niagara roar swelled and
swelled from those human rapids, was always like strong new wine to me.
I don't think the world affords such another sight; and for one moment,
at such times, I'd have been willing to be an Irish councilman, that I
might have some right to the pride I felt in the capital of the Irish
Republic. What a fine thing it must be for each victim of six centuries
of oppression to reflect that he owns at least a dozen Americans, and
that, with his fellows, he rules a hundred helpless millionaires!"
Like all daughters of a free country, Isabel knew nothing about politics,
and she felt that she was getting into deep water; she answered
buoyantly, but she was glad to make her weariness the occasion of hailing
a stage, and changing the conversation. The farther down town they went
the busier the street grew; and about the Astor House, where they
alighted, there was already a bustle that nothing but a fire could have
created at the same hour in Boston. A little farther on the steeple of
Trinity rose high into the scorching sunlight, while below, in the shadow
that was darker than it was cool, slumbered the old graves among their
"How still they lie!" mused the happy wife, peering through the iron
fence in passing.
"Yes, their wedding-journeys are ended, poor things!" said Basil; and
through both their minds flashed the wonder if they should ever come to
something like that; but it appeared so impossible that they both smiled
at the absurdity.
"It's too early yet for Leonard," continued Basil; "what a pity the
church-yard is locked up. We could spend the time so delightfully in it.
But, never mind; let us go down to the Battery,--it 's not a very
pleasant place, but it's near, and it's historical, and it's open,--where
these drowsy friends of ours used to take the air when they were in the
fashion, and had some occasion for the element in its freshness. You can
imagine--it's cheap--how they used to see Mr. Burr and Mr. Hamilton down
All places that fashion has once loved and abandoned are very melancholy;
but of all such places, I think the Battery is the most forlorn. Are
there some sickly locust-trees there that cast a tremulous and decrepit
shade upon the mangy grass-plots? I believe so, but I do not make sure;
I am certain only of the mangy grass-plots, or rather the spaces between
the paths, thinly overgrown with some kind of refuse and opprobrious
weed, a stunted and pauper vegetation proper solely to the New York
Battery. At that hour of the summer morning when our friends, with the
aimlessness of strangers who are waiting to do something else, saw the
ancient promenade, a few scant and hungry-eyed little boys and girls were
wandering over this weedy growth, not playing, but moving listlessly to
and fro, fantastic in the wild inaptness of their costumes. One of these
little creatures wore, with an odd involuntary jauntiness, the cast-off
best drew of some happier child, a gay little garment cut low in the neck
and short in the sleeves, which gave her the grotesque effect of having
been at a party the night before. Presently came two jaded women,
a mother and a grandmother, that appeared, when they had crawled out of
their beds, to have put on only so much clothing as the law compelled.
They abandoned themselves upon the green stuff, whatever it was, and,
with their lean hands clasped outside their knees, sat and stared, silent
and hopeless, at the eastern sky, at the heart of the terrible furnace,
into which in those days the world seemed cast to be burnt up, while the
child which the younger woman had brought with her feebly wailed unheeded
at her side. On one side of these women were the shameless houses out of
which they might have crept, and which somehow suggested riotous maritime
dissipation; on the other side were those houses in which had once dwelt
rich and famous folk, but which were now dropping down the boarding-house
scale through various un-homelike occupations to final dishonor and
despair. Down nearer the water, and not far from the castle that was
once a playhouse and is now the depot of emigration, stood certain
express-wagons, and about these lounged a few hard-looking men. Beyond
laughed and danced the fresh blue water of the bay, dotted with sails and
"Well," said Basil, "I think if I could choose, I should like to be a
friendless German boy, setting foot for the first time on this happy
continent. Fancy his rapture on beholding this lovely spot, and these
charming American faces! What a smiling aspect life in the New World
must wear to his young eyes, and how his heart must leap within him!"
"Yes, Basil; it's all very pleasing, and thank yon for bringing me. But
if you don't think of any other New York delights to show me, do let us
go and sit in Leonard's office till he comes, and then get out into the
country as soon as possible."
Basil defended himself against the imputation that he had been trying to
show New York to his wife, or that he had any thought but of whiling away
the long morning hours, until it should be time to go to Leonard. He
protested that a knowledge of Europe made New York the most uninteresting
town in America, and that it was the last place in the world where he
should think of amusing himself or any one else; and then they both
upbraided the city's bigness and dullness with an enjoyment that none but
Bostonians can know. They particularly derided the notion of New York's
being loved by any one. It was immense, it was grand in some ways, parts
of it were exceedingly handsome; but it was too vast, too coarse, too
restless. They could imagine its being liked by a successful young man
of business, or by a rich young girl, ignorant of life and with not too
nice a taste in her pleasures; but that it should be dear to any poet or
scholar, or any woman of wisdom and refinement, that they could not
imagine. They could not think of any one's loving New York as Dante
loved Florence, or as Madame de Stael loved Paris, or as Johnson loved
black, homely, home-like London. And as they twittered their little
dispraises, the giant Mother of Commerce was growing more and more
conscious of herself, waking from her night's sleep and becoming aware of
her fleets and trains, and the myriad hands and wheels that throughout
the whole sea and land move for her, and do her will even while she
sleeps. All about the wedding-journeyers swelled the deep tide of life
back from its night-long ebb. Broadway had filled her length with
people; not yet the most characteristic New York crowd, but the not less
interesting multitude of strangers arrived by the early boats and trams,
and that easily distinguishable class of lately New-Yorkized people from
other places, about whom in the metropolis still hung the provincial
traditions of early rising; and over all, from moment to moment, the
eager, audacious, well-dressed, proper life of the mighty city was
beginning to prevail,--though this was not so notable where Basil and
Isabel had paused at a certain window. It was the office of one of the
English steamers, and he was saying, "It was by this line I sailed, you
know,"--and she was interrupting him with, "When who could have dreamed
that you would ever be telling me of it here?" So the old marvel was
wondered over anew, till it filled the world in which there was room for
nothing but the strangeness that they should have loved each other so
long and not made it known, that they should ever have uttered it, and
that, being uttered, it should be so much more and better than ever could
have been dreamed. The broken engagement was a fable of disaster that
only made their present fortune more prosperous. The city ceased about
them, and they walked on up the street, the first man and first woman in
the garden of the new-made earth. As they were both very conscious
people, they recognized in themselves some sense of this, and presently
drolled it away, in the opulence of a time when every moment brought some
beautiful dream, and the soul could be prodigal of its bliss.
"I think if I had the naming of the animals over again, this morning, I
shouldn't call snakes 'snakes'; should you, Eve?" laughed Basil in
intricate acknowledgment of his happiness.
"O no, Adam; we'd look out all the most graceful euphemisms in the
newspapers, and we wouldn't hurt the feelings of a spider."
II. MIDSUMMER-DAY'S DREAM.
They had waited to see Leonard, in order that they might learn better how
to find his house in the country; and now, when they came in upon him at
nine o'clock, he welcomed them with all his friendly heart. He rose from
the pile of morning's letters to which he had but just sat down; he
placed them the easiest chairs; he made a feint of its not being a busy
hour with him, and would have had them look upon his office, which was
still damp and odorous from the porter's broom, as a kind of down-town
parlor; but after they had briefly accounted to his amazement for their
appearance then and there, and Isabel had boasted of the original fashion
in which they had that morning seen New York, they took pity on him, and
bade him adieu till evening.
They crossed from Broadway to the noisome street by the ferry, and in a
little while had taken their places in the train on the other side of the
"Don't tell me, Basil," said Isabel, "that Leonard travels fifty miles
every day by rail going to and from his work!"
"I must, dearest, if I would be truthful."
"Then, darling, there are worse things in this world than living up at
the South End, aren't there?" And in agreement upon Boston as a place of
the greatest natural advantages, as well as all acquirable merits, with
after talk that need not be recorded, they arrived in the best humor at
the little country station near which the Leonards dwelt.
I must inevitably follow Mrs. Isabel thither, though I do it at the cost
of the reader, who suspects the excitements which a long description of
the movement would delay. The ladies were very old friends, and they had
not met since Isabel's return from Europe and renewal of her engagement.
Upon the news of this, Mrs. Leonard had swallowed with surprising ease
all that she had said in blame of Basil's conduct during the rupture,
and exacted a promise from her friend that she should pay her the first
visit after their marriage. And now that they had come together, their
only talk; was of husbands, whom they viewed in every light to which
husbands could be turned, and still found an inexhaustible novelty in the
theme. Mrs. Leonard beheld in her friend's joy the sweet reflection of
her own honeymoon, and Isabel was pleased to look upon the prosperous
marriage of the former as the image of her future. Thus, with immense
profit and comfort, they reassured one another by every question and
answer, and in their weak content lapsed far behind the representative
women of our age, when husbands are at best a necessary evil, and the
relation of wives to them is known to be one of pitiable subjection.
When these two pretty, fogies put their heads of false hair together,
they were as silly and benighted as their great-grandmothers could have
been in the same circumstances, and, as I say, shamefully encouraged each
other, in their absurdity. The absurdity appeared too good and blessed
to be true. "Do you really suppose, Basil," Isabel would say to her
oppressor, after having given him some elegant extract from the last
conversation upon husbands, "that we shall get on as smoothly as the
Leonards when we have been married ten years? Lucy says that things go
more hitchily the first year than ever they do afterwards, and that
people love each other better and better just because they've got used to
it. Well, our bliss does seem a little crude and garish compared with
their happiness; and yet"--she put up both her palms against his, and
gave a vehement little push--"there is something agreeable about it, even
at this stage of the proceedings."
"Isabel," said her husband, with severity, "this is bridal!"
"No matter! I only want to seem an old married woman to the general
public. But the application of it is that you must be careful not to
contradict me, or cross me in anything, so that we can be like the
Leonards very much sooner than they became so. The great object is not
to have any hitchiness; and you know you ARE provoking--at times."
They both educated themselves for continued and tranquil happiness by the
example and precept of their friends; and the time passed swiftly in the
pleasant learning, and in the novelty of the life led by the Leonards.
This indeed merits a closer study than can be given here, for it is the
life led by vast numbers of prosperous New Yorkers who love both the
excitement of the city and the repose of the country, and who aspire to
unite the enjoyment of both in their daily existence. The suburbs of the
metropolis stretch landward fifty miles in every direction; and
everywhere are handsome villas like Leonard's, inhabited by men like
himself, whom strict study of the time-table enables to spend all their
working hours in the city and all their smoking and sleeping hours in the
The home and the neighborhood of the Leonards put on their best looks for
our bridal pair, and they were charmed. They all enjoyed the visit, said
guests and hosts, they were all sorry to have it come to an end; yet they
all resigned themselves to this conclusion. Practically, it had no other
result than to detain the travellers into the very heart of the hot
weather. In that weather it was easy to do anything that did not require
an active effort, and resignation was so natural with the mercury at
ninety, that I aan not sure but there was something sinful in it.
They had given up their cherished purpose of going to Albany by the day
boat, which was represented to them in every impossible phase. It would
be dreadfully crowded, and whenever it stopped the heat would be
insupportable. Besides it would bring them to Albany at an hour when
they must either spend the night there, or push on to Niagara by the
night train. "You had better go by the evening boat. It will be light
almost till you reach West Point, and you'll see all the best scenery.
Then you can get a good night's rest, and start fresh in the morning."
So they were counseled, and they assented, as they would have done if
they had been advised: "You had better go by the morning boat. It's
deliciously cool, travelling; you see the whole of the river, you reach
Albany for supper, and you push through to Niagara that night and are
done with it."
They took leave of Leonard at breakfast and of his wife at noon, and
fifteen minutes later they were rushing from the heat of the country into
the heat of the city, where some affairs and pleasures were to employ
them till the evening boat should start.
Their spirits were low, for the terrible spell of the great heat brooded
upon them. All abroad burned the fierce white light of the sun, in which
not only the earth seemed to parch and thirst, but the very air withered,
and was faint and thin to the troubled respiration. Their train was full
of people who had come long journeys from broiling cities of the West,
and who were dusty and ashen and reeking in the slumbers at which some of
them still vainly caught. On every one lay an awful languor. Here and
there stirred a fan, like the broken wing of a dying bird; now and then a
sweltering young mother shifted her hot baby from one arm to another;
after every station the desperate conductor swung through the long aisle
and punched the ticket, which each passenger seemed to yield him with a
tacit malediction; a suffering child hung about the empty tank, which
could only gasp out a cindery drop or two of ice-water. The wind
buffeted faintly at the windows; when the door was opened, the clatter of
the rails struck through and through the car like a demoniac yell.
Yet when they arrived at the station by the ferry-side, they seemed to
have entered its stifling darkness from fresh and vigorous atmosphere, so
close and dead and mined with the carbonic breath of the locomotives was
the air of the place. The thin old wooden walls that shut out the glare
of the sun transmitted an intensified warmth; the roof seemed to hover
lower and lower, and in its coal-smoked, raftery hollow to generate a
heat deadlier than that poured upon it from the skies.
In a convenient place in the station hung a thermometer, before which
every passenger, on going aboard the ferry-boat, paused as at a shrine,
and mutely paid his devotions. At the altar of this fetich our friends
also paused, and saw that the mercury was above ninety, and exulting with
the pride that savages take in the cruel might of their idols, bowed
their souls to the great god Heat.
On the boat they found a place where the breath of the sea struck cool
across their faces, and made them forget the thermometer for the brief
time of the transit. But presently they drew near that strange,
irregular row of wooden buildings and jutting piers which skirts the
river on the New York aide, and before the boat's motion ceased the air
grew thick and warm again, and tainted with the foulness of the street on
which the buildings front. Upon this the boat's passengers issued,
passing up through a gangway, on one side of which a throng of return-
passengers was pent by a gate of iron barn, like a herd of wild animals.
They were streaming with perspiration, and, according to their different
temperaments, had faces of deep crimson or deadly pallor.
"Now the question is, my dear," said Basil when, free of the press, they
lingered for a moment in the shade outside, "whether we had better walk
up to Broadway, at an immediate sacrifice of fibre, and get a stage
there, or take one of these cars here, and be landed a little nearer,
with half the exertion. By this route we shall have sights end smells
which the other can't offer us, but whichever we take we shall be sorry."
"Then I say take this," decided Isabel. "I want to be sorry upon the
easiest possible terms, this weather."
They hailed the first car that passed, and got into it. Well for them
both if she could have exercised this philosophy with regard to the whole
day's business, or if she could have given up her plans for it, with the
same resignation she had practiced in regard to the day boat! It seems
to me a proof of the small advance our race has made in true wisdom, that
we find it so hard to give up doing anything we have meant to do. It
matters very little whether the affair is one of enjoyment or of
business, we feel the same bitter need of pursuing it to the end. The
mere fact of intention gives it a flavor of duty, and dutiolatry, as one
may call the devotion, has passed so deeply into our life that we have
scarcely a sense any more of the sweetness of even a neglected pleasure.
We will not taste the fine, guilty rapture of a deliberate dereliction;
the gentle sin of omission is all but blotted from the calendar of our
crimes. If I had been Columbus, I should have thought twice before
setting sail, when I was quite ready to do so; and as for Plymouth Rock,
I should have sternly resisted the blandishments of those twin sirens,
Starvation and Cold, who beckoned the Puritans shoreward, and as soon as
ever I came in sight of their granite perch should have turned back to
England. But it is now too late to repair these errors, and so, on one
of the hottest days of last year, behold my obdurate bridal pair, in a
Tenth or Twentieth Avenue horse-car, setting forth upon the fulfillment
of a series of intentions, any of which had wiselier been left
unaccomplished. Isabel had said they would call upon certain people in
Fiftieth Street, and then shop slowly down, ice-creaming and staging and
variously cooling and calming by the way, until they reached the ticket-
office on Broadway, whence they could indefinitely betake themselves to
the steamboat an hour or two before her departure. She felt that they
had yielded sufficiently to circumstances and conditions already on this
journey, and she was resolved that the present half-day in New York
should be the half-day of her original design.
It was not the most advisable thing, as I have allowed, but it was
inevitable, and it afforded them a spectacle which is by no means wanting
in sublimity, and which is certainly unique,--the spectacle of that great
city on a hot day, defiant of the elements, and prospering on with every
form of labor, and at a terrible cost of life. The man carrying the hod
to the top of the walls that rankly grow and grow as from his life's
blood, will only lay down his load when he feels the mortal glare of the
sun blaze in upon heart and brain; the plethoric millionaire for whom he
toils will plot and plan in his office till he swoons at the desk; the
trembling beast must stagger forward while the flame-faced tormentor on
the box has strength to lash him on; in all those vast palaces of
commerce there are ceaseless sale and purchase, packing and unpacking,
lifting up and laying down, arriving and departing loads; in thousands of
shops is the unspared and unsparing weariness of selling; in the street,
filled by the hurry and suffering of tens of thousands, is the weariness
Their afternoon's experience was something that Basil and Isabel could,
when it was past, look upon only as a kind of vision, magnificent at
times, and at other times full of indignity and pain. They seemed to
have dreamed of a long horse-car pilgrimage through that squalid street
by the river-side, where presently they came to a market, opening upon
the view hideous vistas of carnage, and then into a wide avenue, with
processions of cars like their own coming and going up and down the
centre of a foolish and useless breadth, which made even the tall
buildings (rising gauntly up among the older houses of one or two
stories) on either hand look low, and let in the sun to bake the dust
that the hot breaths of wind caught up and gent swirling into the shabby
shops. Here they dreamed of the eternal demolition and construction of
the city, and farther on of vacant lots full of granite boulders,
clambered over by goats. In their dream they had fellow-passengers,
whose sufferings made them odious and whom they were glad to leave behind
when they alighted from the car, and running out of the blaze of the
avenue, quenched themselves in the shade of the cross-street. A little
strip of shadow lay along the row of brown-stone fronts, but there were
intervals where the vacant lots cast no shadow. With great bestowal of
thought they studied hopelessly how to avoid these spaces as if they had
been difficult torrents or vast expanses of desert sand; they crept
slowly along till they came to such a place, and dashed swiftly across
it, and then, fainter than before, moved on. They seemed now and then to
stand at doors, and to be told that people were out and again that they
were in; and they had a sense of cool dark parlors, and the airy rustling
of light-muslined ladies, of chat and of fans and ice-water, and then
they came forth again; and evermore
"The day increased from heat to heat"
At last they were aware of an end of their visits, and of a purpose to go
down town again, and of seeking the nearest car by endless blocks of
brown-stone fronts, which with their eternal brownstone flights of steps,
and their handsome, intolerable uniformity, oppressed them like a
procession of houses trying to pass a given point and never getting by.
Upon these streets there was, seldom a soul to be seen, so that when
their ringing at a door had evoked answer, it had startled them with a
vague, sad surprise. In the distance on either hand they could see cars
and carts and wagons toiling up and down the avenues, and on the next
intersecting pavement sometimes a laborer with his jacket slung across
his shoulder, or a dog that had plainly made up his mind to go mad. Up
to the time of their getting into one of those phantasmal cars for the
return down-townwards they had kept up a show of talk in their wretched
dream; they had spoken of other hot days that they had known elsewhere;
and they had wondered that the tragical character of heat had been so
little recognized. They said that the daily New York murder might even
at that moment be somewhere taking place; and that no murder of the whole
homicidal year could have such proper circumstance; they morbidly
wondered what that day's murder would be, and in what swarming tenement-
house, or den of the assassin streets by the river-sides,--if indeed it
did not befall in some such high, close-shuttered, handsome dwelling as
those they passed, in whose twilight it would be so easy to strike down
the master and leave him undiscovered and unmourned by the family
ignorantly absent at the mountains or the seaside. They conjectured of
the horror of midsummer battles, and pictured the anguish of shipwrecked
men upon a tropical coast, and the grimy misery of stevedores unloading
shiny cargoes of anthracite coal at city docks. But now at last, as they
took seats opposite one another in the crowded car, they seemed to have
drifted infinite distances and long epochs asunder. They looked.
hopelessly across the intervening gulf, and mutely questioned when it was
and from what far city they or some remote ancestors of theirs had set
forth upon a wedding journey. They bade each other a tacit farewell, and
with patient, pathetic faces awaited the end of the world.
When they alighted, they took their way up through one of the streets of
the great wholesale businesses, to Broadway. On this street was a throng
of trucks and wagons lading and unlading; bales and boxes rose and sank
by pulleys overhead; the footway was a labyrinth of packages of every
shape and size: there was no flagging of the pitiless energy that moved
all forward, no sign of how heavy a weight lay on it, save in the reeking
faces of its helpless instruments. But when the wedding-journeyers
emerged upon Broadway, the other passages and incidents of their dream
faded before the superior fantasticality of the spectacle. It was four
o'clock, the deadliest hour of the deadly summer day. The spiritless air
seemed to have a quality of blackness in it, as if filled with the gloom
of low-hovering wings. One half the street lay in shadow, and one half
in sun; but the sunshine itself was dim, as if a heat greater than its
own had smitten it with languor. Little gusts of sick, warm wind blew
across the great avenue at the corners of the intersecting streets. In
the upward distance, at which the journeyers looked, the loftier roofs
and steeples lifted themselves dim out of the livid atmosphere, and far
up and down the length of the street swept a stream of tormented life.
All sorts of wheeled things thronged it, conspicuous among which rolled
and jarred the gaudily painted Stages, with quivering horses driven each
by a man who sat in the shade of a branching white umbrella, and suffered
with a moody truculence of aspect, and as if he harbored the bitterness
of death in his heart for the crowding passengers within, when one of
them pulled the strap about his legs, and summoned him to halt. Most of
the foot-passengers kept to the shady side, and to the unaccustomed eyes
of the strangers they were not less in number than at any other time,
though there were fewer women among them. Indomitably resolute of soul,
they held their course with the swift pace of custom, and only here and
there they showed the effect of the heat. One man, collarless, with
waistcoat unbuttoned, and hat set far back from his forehead, waved a fan
before his death-white flabby face, and set down one foot after the other
with the heaviness of a somnambulist. Another, as they passed him, was
saying huskily to the friend at his side, "I can't stand this much
longer. My hands tingle as if they had gone to sleep; my heart--"
But still the multitude hurried on, passing, repassing, encountering,
evading, vanishing into shop-doors and emerging from them, dispersing
down the side streets, and swarming out of them. It was a scene that
possessed the beholder with singular fascination, and in its effect of
universal lunacy, it might well have seemed the last phase of a world
presently to be destroyed. They who were in it but not of it, as they
fancied, though there was no reason for this,--looked on it amazed, and
at last their own errands being accomplished, and themselves so far cured
of the madness of purpose, they cried with one voice, that it was a
hideous sight, and strove to take refuge from it in the nearest place
where the soda-fountain sparkled.
It was a vain desire. At the front door of the apothecary's hung a
thermometer, and as they entered they heard the next comer cry out with a
maniacal pride in the affliction laid upon mankind, "Ninety-seven
degrees!" Behind them at the door there poured in a ceaseless stream of
people, each pausing at the shrine of heat; before he tossed off the
hissing draught that two pale, close-clipped boys served them from either
side of the fountain. Then in the order of their coming they issued
through another door upon the side street, each, as he disappeared,
turning his face half round, and casting a casual glance upon a little
group near another counter. The group was of a very patient, half-
frightened, half-puzzled looking gentleman who sat perfectly still on a
stool, and of a lady who stood beside him, rubbing all over his head a
handkerchief full of pounded ice, and easing one hand with the other when
the first became tired. Basil drank his soda and paused to look upon
this group, which he felt would commend itself to realistic sculpture as
eminently characteristic of the local life, and as "The Sunstroke" would
sell enormously in the hot season. "Better take a little more of that,"
the apothecary said, looking up from his prescription, and, as the
organized sympathy of the seemingly indifferent crowd, smiling very
kindly at his patient, who thereupon tasted something in the glass he
held. "Do you still feel like fainting?" asked the humane authority.
"Slightly, now and then," answered the other, "but I'm hanging on hard to
the bottom curve of that icicled S on your soda-fountain, and I feel that
I'm all right as long as I can see that. The people get rather hazy,
occasionally, and have no features to speak of. But I don't know that I
look very impressive myself," he added in the jesting mood which seems
the natural condition of Americans in the face of all embarrassments.
"O, you'll do!" the apothecary answered, with a laugh; but he said, in
answer to an anxious question from the lady, "He mustn't be moved for an
hour yet," and gayly pestled away at a prescription, while she resumed
her office of grinding the pounded ice round and round upon her husband's
skull. Isabel offered her the commiseration of friendly words, and of
looks kinder yet, and then seeing that they could do nothing, she and
Basil fell into the endless procession, and passed out of the side door.
"What a shocking thing!" she whispered. "Did you see how all the people
looked, one after another, so indifferently at that couple, and evidently
forgot them the next instant? It was dreadful. I shouldn't like to have
you sun-struck in New York."
"That's very considerate of you; but place for place, if any accident
must happen to me among strangers, I think I should prefer to have it in
New York. The biggest place is always the kindest as well as the
cruelest place. Amongst the thousands of spectators the good Samaritan
as well as the Levite would be sure to be. As for a sun-stroke, it
requires peculiar gifts. But if you compel me to a choice in the matter,
then I say, give me the busiest part of Broadway for a sun-stroke. There
is such experience of calamity there that you could hardly fall the first
victim to any misfortune. Probably the gentleman at the apothecary's was
merely exhausted by the heat, and ran in there for revival. The
apothecary has a case of the kind on his hands every blazing afternoon,
and knows just what to do. The crowd may be a little 'ennuye' of sun-
strokes, and to that degree indifferent, but they most likely know that
they can only do harm by an expression of sympathy, and so they delegate
their pity as they have delegated their helpfulness to the proper
authority, and go about their business. If a man was overcome in the
middle of a village street, the blundering country druggist wouldn't know
what to do, and the tender-hearted people would crowd about so that no
breath of air could reach the victim."
"May be so, dear," said the wife, pensively; but if anything did happen
to you in New York, I should like to have the spectators look as if they
saw a human being in trouble. Perhaps I'm a little exacting."
"I think you are. Nothing is so hard as to understand that there are
human beings in this world besides one's self and one's set. But let us
be selfishly thankful that it isn't you and I there in the apothecary's
shop, as it might very well be; and let us get to the boat as soon as we
can, and end this horrible midsummer-day's dream. We must have a
carriage," he added with tardy wisdom, hailing an empty hack, "as we
ought to have had all day; though I'm not sorry, now the worst's over, to
have seen the worst."
III. THE NIGHT BOAT.
There is little proportion about either pain or pleasure: a headache
darkens the universe while it lasts, a cup of tea really lightens the
spirit bereft of all reasonable consolations. Therefore I do not think
it trivial or untrue to say that there is for the moment nothing more
satisfactory in life than to have bought your ticket on the night boat up
the Hudson and secured your state-room key an hour or two before
departure, and some time even before the pressure at the clerk's office
has begun. In the transaction with this castellated baron, you have of
course been treated with haughtiness, but not with ferocity, and your
self-respect swells with a sense of having escaped positive insult; your
key clicks cheerfully in your pocket against its gutta-percha number, and
you walk up and down the gorgeously carpeted, single-columned, two-story
cabin, amid a multitude of plush sofas and chairs, a glitter of glass,
and a tinkle of prismatic chandeliers overhead, unawed even by the
aristocratic gloom of the yellow waiters. Your own stateroom as you
enter it from time to time is an ever-new surprise of splendors, a
magnificent effect of amplitude, of mahogany bedstead, of lace curtains,
and of marble topped wash-stand. In the mere wantonness of an unalloyed
prosperity you say to the saffron nobleman nearest your door, "Bring me a
pitcher of ice-water, quick, please!" and you do not find the half-hour
that he is gone very long.
If the ordinary wayfarer experiences so much pleasure from these things,
then imagine the infinite comfort of our wedding-journeyers, transported
from Broadway on that pitiless afternoon to the shelter and the quiet of
that absurdly palatial steamboat. It was not yet crowded, and by the
river-side there was almost a freshness in the air. They disposed of
their troubling bags and packages; they complimented the ridiculous
princeliness of their stateroom, and then they betook themselves to the
sheltered space aft of the saloon, where they sat down for the
tranquiller observance of the wharf and whatever should come to be seen
by them. Like all people who have just escaped with their lives from
some menacing calamity, they were very philosophical in spirit; and
having got aboard of their own motion, and being neither of them
apparently the worse for the ordeal they had passed through, were of a
light, conversational temper.
"What an amusingly superb affair!" Basil cried as they glanced through an
open window down the long vista of the saloon. "Good heavens! Isabel,
does it take all this to get us plain republicans to Albany in comfort
and safety, or are we really a nation of princes in disguise? Well, I
shall never be satisfied with less hereafter," he added. "I am spoilt
for ordinary paint and upholstery from this hour; I am a ruinous
spendthrift, and a humble three-story swell-front up at the South End is
no longer the place for me. Dearest,
'Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,'
never to leave this Aladdin's-palace-like steamboat, but spend our lives
in perpetual trips up and down the Hudson."
To which not very costly banter Isabel responded in kind, and rapidly
sketched the life they could lead aboard. Since they could not help it,
they mocked the public provision which, leaving no interval between
disgraceful squalor and ludicrous splendor, accommodates our democratic
'menage' to the taste of the richest and most extravagant plebeian
amongst us. He, unhappily, minds danger and oppression as little as he
minds money, so long as he has a spectacle and a sensation, and it is
this ruthless imbecile who will have lace curtains to the steamboat berth
into which he gets with his pantaloons on, and out of which he may be
blown by an exploding boiler at any moment; it is he who will have for
supper that overgrown and shapeless dinner in the lower saloon, and will
not let any one else buy tea or toast for a less sum than he pays for his
surfeit; it is he who perpetuates the insolence of the clerk and the
reluctance of the waiters; it is he, in fact, who now comes out of the
saloon, with his womenkind, and takes chairs under the awning where Basil
and Isabel sit. Personally, he is not so bad; he is good-looking, like
all of us; he is better dressed than most of us; he behaves himself
quietly, if not easily; and no lord so loathes a scene. Next year he is
going to Europe, where he will not show to so much advantage as here; but
for the present it would be hard to say in what way he is vulgar, and
perhaps vulgarity is not so common a thing after all.
It was something besides the river that made the air so much more
sufferable than it had been. Over the city, since our friends had come
aboard the boat, a black cloud had gathered and now hung low upon it,
while the wind from the face of the water took the dust in the
neighboring streets, and frolicked it about the house-tops, and in the
faces of the arriving passengers, who, as the moment of departure drew
near, appeared in constantly increasing numbers and in greater variety,
with not only the trepidation of going upon them, but also with the
electrical excitement people feel before a tempest.
The breast of the black cloud was now zigzagged from moment to moment by
lightning, and claps of deafening thunder broke from it. At last the
long endurance of the day was spent, and out of its convulsion burst
floods of rain, again and again sweeping the promenade-deck where the
people sat, and driving them disconsolate into the saloon. The air was
darkened as by night, and with many regrets for the vanishing prospect,
mingled with a sense of relief from the heat, our friends felt the boat
tremble away from her moorings and set forth upon her trip.
"Ah! if we had only taken the day boat!" moaned Isabel. "Now, we shall
see nothing of the river landscape, and we shall never be able to put
ourselves down when we long for Europe, by declaring that the scenery of
the Hudson is much finer than that of the Rhine."
Yet they resolved, this indomitably good-natured couple, that they would
be just even to the elements, which had by no means been generous to
them; and they owned that if so noble a storm had celebrated their
departure upon some storied river from some more romantic port than New
York, they would have thought it an admirable thing. Even whilst they
contented themselves, the storm passed, and left a veiled and humid sky
overhead, that gave a charming softness to the scene on which their eyes
fell when they came out of the saloon again, and took their places with a
largely increased companionship on the deck.
They had already reached that part of the river where the uplands begin,
and their course was between stately walls of rocky steepness, or wooded
slopes, or grassy hollows, the scene forever losing and taking grand and
lovely shape. Wreaths of mist hung about the tops of the loftier
headlands, and long shadows draped their sides. As the night grew,
lights twinkled from a lonely house here and there in the valleys; a
swarm of lamps showed a town where it lay upon the lap or at the foot of
the hills. Behind them stretched the great gray river, haunted with many
sails; now a group of canal-boats grappled together, and having an air of
coziness in their adventure upon this strange current out of their own
sluggish waters, drifted out of sight; and now a smaller and slower
steamer, making a laborious show of keeping up was passed, and
reluctantly fell behind; along the water's edge rattled and hooted the
frequent trains. They could not tell at any time what part of the river
they were on, and they could not, if they would, have made its beauty a
matter of conscientious observation; but all the more, therefore, they
deeply enjoyed it without reference to time or place. They felt some
natural pain when they thought that they might unwittingly pass the
scenes that Irving has made part of the common dream-land, and they would
fair have seen the lighted windows of the house out of which a cheerful
ray has penetrated to so many hearts; but being sure of nothing, as they
were, they had the comfort of finding the Tappan Zee in every expanse of
the river, and of discovering Sunny-Side on every pleasant slope. By
virtue of this helplessness, the Hudson, without ceasing to be the
Hudson, became from moment to moment all fair and stately streams upon
which they had voyaged or read of voyaging, from the Nile to the
Mississippi. There is no other travel like river travel; it is the
perfection of movement, and one might well desire never to arrive at
one's destination. The abundance of room, the free, pure air, the
constant delight of the eyes in the changing landscape, the soft tremor
of the boat, so steady upon her keel, the variety of the little world on
board,--all form a charm which no good heart in a sound body can resist.
So, whilst the twilight held, well content, in contiguous chairs, they
purred in flattery of their kindly fate, imagining different pleasures,
certainly, but none greater, and tasting to its subtlest flavor the
happiness conscious of itself.
Their own satisfaction, indeed, was so interesting to them in this
objective light, that they had little desire to turn from its
contemplation to the people around them; and when at last they did so, it
was still with lingering glances of self-recognition and enjoyment. They
divined rightly that one of the main conditions of their present felicity
was the fact that they had seen so much of time and of the world, that
they had no longer any desire to take beholding eyes, or to make any sort
of impressive figure, and they understood that their prosperous love
accounted as much as years and travel for this result. If they had had a
loftier opinion of themselves, their indifference to others might have
made them offensive; but with their modest estimate of their own value in
the world, they could have all the comfort of self-sufficiency, without
"O yes!" said Basil, in answer to some apostrophe to their bliss from
Isabel, "it's the greatest imaginable satisfaction to have lived past
certain things. I always knew that I was not a very handsome or
otherwise captivating person, but I can remember years--now blessedly
remote--when I never could see a young girl without hoping she would
mistake me for something of that sort. I couldn't help desiring that
some fascination of mine, which had escaped my own analysis, would have
an effect upon her. I dare say all young men are so. I used to live for
the possible interest I might inspire in your sex, Isabel. They
controlled my movements, my attitudes; they forbade me repose; and yet I
believe I was no ass, but a tolerably sensible fellow. Blessed be
marriage, I am free at last! All the loveliness that exists outside of
you, dearest,--and it 's mighty little,--is mere pageant to me; and I
thank Heaven that I can meet the most stylish girl now upon the broad
level of our common humanity. Besides, it seems to me that our
experience of life has quieted us in many other ways. What a luxury it
is to sit here, and reflect that we do not want any of these people to
suppose us rich, or distinguished, or beautiful, or well dressed, and do
not care to show off in any sort of way before them!"
This content was heightened, no doubt, by a just sense of their contrast
to the group of people nearest there,--a young man of the second or third
quality--and two young girls. The eldest of these was carrying on a
vivacious flirtation with the young man, who was apparently an
acquaintance of brief standing; the other was scarcely more than a child,
and sat somewhat abashed at the sparkle of the colloquy. They were
conjecturally sisters going home from some visit, and not skilled in the
world, but of a certain repute in their country neighborhood for beauty
and wit. The young man presently gave himself out as one who, in pursuit
of trade for the dry-goods house he represented, had travelled many
thousands of miles in all parts of the country. The encounter was
visibly that kind of adventure which both would treasure up for future
celebration to their different friends; and it had a brilliancy and
interest which they could not even now consent to keep to themselves.
They talked to each other and at all the company within hearing, and
exchanged curt speeches which had for them all the sensation of repartee.
Young Man. They say that beauty unadorned is adorned the most.
Young Woman (bridling, and twitching her head from side to side, in the
high excitement of the dialogue). Flattery is out of place.
Young Man. Well, never mind. If you don't believe me, you ask your
mother when you get home.
(Titter from the younger sister.)
Young Woman (scornfully). Umph! my mother has no control over me!
Young Man. Nobody else has, either, I should gay. (Admiringly.)
Young Woman. Yes, you've told the truth for once, for a wonder. I'm
able to take care of myself,--perfectly. (Almost hoarse with a sense of
Young Man. "Whole team and big dog under the wagon," as they say out
Young Woman. Better a big dog than a puppy, any day.
Giggles and horror from the younger sister, sensation in the young man,
and so much rapture in the young woman that she drops the key of her
state-room from her hand. They both stoop, and a jocose scuffle for it
ensues, after which the talk takes an autobiographical turn on the part
of the young man, and drops into an unintelligible murmur. "Ah! poor Real
Life, which I love, can I make others share the delight I find in thy
foolish and insipid face?"
Not far from this group sat two Hebrews, one young and the other old,
talking of some business out of which the latter had retired. The
younger had been asked his opinion upon some point, and he was expanding
with a flattered consciousness of the elder's perception of his
importance, and toadying to him with the pleasure which all young men
feel in winning the favor of seniors in their vocation. "Well, as I was
a-say'n', Isaac don't seem to haf no natcheral pent for the glothing
business. Man gomes in and wands a goat,"--he seemed to be speaking of a
garment and not a domestic animal,--"Isaac'll zell him the goat he wands
him to puy, and he'll make him believe it 'a the goat he was a lookin'
for. Well, now, that's well enough as far as it goes; but you know and
I know, Mr. Rosenthal, that that 's no way to do business. A man gan't
zugzeed that goes upon that brincible. Id's wrong. Id's easy enough to
make a man puy the goat you want him to, if he wands a goat, but the
thing is to make him puy the goat that you wand to zell when he don't
wand no goat at all. You've asked me what I thought and I've dold you.
Isaac'll never zugzeed in the redail glothing-business in the world!"
"Well," sighed the elder, who filled his armchair quite full, and
quivered with a comfortable jelly-like tremor in it, at every pulsation
of the engine, "I was afraid of something of the kind. As you say,
Benjamin, he don't seem to have no pent for it. And yet I proughd him up
to the business; I drained him to it, myself."
Besides these talkers, there were scattered singly, or grouped about in
twos and threes and fours, the various people one encounters on a Hudson
River boat, who are on the whole different from the passengers on other
rivers, though they all have features in common. There was that man of
the sudden gains, who has already been typified; and there was also the
smoother rich man of inherited wealth, from whom you can somehow know the
former so readily. They were each attended by their several retinues of
womankind, the daughters all much alike, but the mothers somewhat
different. They were going to Saratoga, where perhaps the exigencies of
fashion would bring them acquainted, and where the blue blood of a
quarter of a century would be kind to the yesterday's fluid of warmer
hue. There was something pleasanter in the face of the hereditary
aristocrat, but not so strong, nor, altogether, so admirable;
particularly if you reflected that he really represented nothing in
the world, no great culture, no political influence, no civic aspiration,
not even a pecuniary force, nothing but a social set, an alien club-life,
a tradition of dining. We live in a true fairy land after all, where the
hoarded treasure turns to a heap of dry leaves. The almighty dollar
defeats itself, and finally buys nothing that a man cares to have. The
very highest pleasure that such an American's money can purchase is
exile, and to this rich man doubtless Europe is a twice-told tale. Let
us clap our empty pockets, dearest reader, and be glad.
We can be as glad, apparently, and with the same reason as the poorly
dressed young man standing near beside the guard, whose face Basil and
Isabel chose to fancy that of a poet, and concerning whom, they romanced
that he was going home, wherever his home was, with the manuscript of a
rejected book in his pocket. They imagined him no great things of a
poet, to be sure, but his pensive face claimed delicate feeling for him,
and a graceful, sombre fancy, and they conjectured unconsciously caught
flavors of Tennyson and Browning in his verse, with a moderner tint from
Morris: for was it not a story out of mythology, with gods and heroes of
the nineteenth century, that he was now carrying back from New York with
him? Basil sketched from the colors of his own long-accepted
disappointments a moving little picture of this poor imagined poet's
adventures; with what kindness and unkindness he had been put to shame by
publishers, and how, descending from his high, hopes of a book, he had
tried to sell to the magazines some of the shorter pieces out of the "And
other Poems" which were to have filled up the volume. "He's going back
rather stunned and bewildered; but it's something to have tasted the
city, and its bitter may turn to sweet on his palate, at last, till he
finds himself longing for the tumult that he abhors now. Poor fellow!
one compassionate cut-throat of a publisher even asked him to lunch,
being struck, as we are, with something fine in his face. I hope he's
got somebody who believes in him, at home. Otherwise he'd be more
comfortable, for the present, if he went over the railing there."
So the play of which they were both actors and spectators went on about
them. Like all passages of life, it seemed now a grotesque mystery, with
a bluntly enforced moral, now a farce of the broadest, now a latent
tragedy folded in the disguises of comedy. All the elements, indeed, of
either were at work there, and this was but one brief scene of the
immense complex drama which was to proceed so variously in such different
times and places, and to have its denouement only in eternity. The
contrasts were sharp: each group had its travesty in some other; the talk
of one seemed the rude burlesque, the bitter satire of the next; but of
all these parodies none was so terribly effective as the two women, who
sat in the midst of the company, yet were somehow distinct from the rest.
One wore the deepest black of widowhood, the other was dressed in bridal
white, and they were both alike awful in their mockery of guiltless
sorrow and guiltless joy. They were not old, but the soul of youth was
dead in their pretty, lamentable faces, and ruin ancient as sin looked
from their eyes; their talk and laughter seemed the echo of an
innumerable multitude of the lost haunting the world in every land and
time, each solitary forever, yet all bound together in the unity of an
imperishable slavery and shame.
What a stale effect! What hackneyed characters! Let us be glad the
night drops her curtain upon the cheap spectacle, and shuts these with
the other actors from our view.
Within the cabin, through which Basil and Isabel now slowly moved, there
were numbers of people lounging about on the sofas, in various attitudes
of talk or vacancy; and at the tables there were others reading
"Lothair," a new book in the remote epoch of which I write, and a very
fashionable book indeed. There was in the air that odor of paint and
carpet which prevails on steamboats; the glass drops of the chandeliers
ticked softly against each other, as the vessel shook with her
respiration, like a comfortable sleeper, and imparted a delicious feeling
of coziness and security to our travellers.
A few hours later they struggled awake at the sharp sound of the pilot's
bell signaling the engineer to slow the boat. There was a moment of
perfect silence; then all the drops of the chandeliers in the saloon
clashed musically together; then fell another silence; and at last came
wild cries for help, strongly qualified with blasphemies and curses.
"Send out a boat!" "There was a woman aboard that steamboat!" "Lower
your boats!" "Run a craft right down, with your big boat!" "Send out a
boat and pick up the crew! "The cries rose and sank, and finally ceased;
through the lattice of the state-room window some lights shone faintly on
the water at a distance.
"Wait here, Isabel!" said her husband. "We've run down a boat. We don't
seem hurt; but I'll go see. I'll be back in a minute."
Isabel had emerged into a world of dishabille, a world wildly unbuttoned
and unlaced, where it was the fashion for ladies to wear their hair down
their backs, and to walk about in their stockings, and to speak to each
other without introduction. The place with which she had felt so
familiar a little while before was now utterly estranged. There was no
motion of the boat, and in the momentary suspense a quiet prevailed, in
which those grotesque shapes of disarray crept noiselessly round
whispering panic-stricken conjectures. There was no rushing to and fro,
nor tumult of any kind, and there was not a man to be seen, for
apparently they had all gone like Basil to learn the extent of the
calamity. A mist of sleep involved the whole, and it was such a topsy-
turvy world that it would have seemed only another dream-land, but that
it was marked for reality by one signal fact. With the rest appeared the
woman in bridal white and the woman in widow's black, and there, amidst
the fright that made all others friends, and for aught that most knew, in
the presence of death itself, these two moved together shunned and
Somehow, even before Basil returned, it had become known to Isabel and
the rest that their own steamer had suffered no harm, but that she had
struck and sunk another convoying a flotilla of canal boats, from which
those alarming cries and curses had come. The steamer was now lying by
for the small boats she had sent out to pick up the crew of the sunken
"Why, I only heard a little tinkling of the chandeliers," said one of the
ladies. "Is it such a very alight matter to run down another boat and
She appealed indirectly to Basil, who answered lightly, "I don't think
you ladies ought to have been disturbed at all. In running over a common
tow-boat on a perfectly clear night like this there should have been no
noise and no perceptible jar. They manage better on the Mississippi, and
both boats often go down without waking the lightest sleeper on board."
The ladies, perhaps from a deficient sense of humor, listened with
undisguised displeasure to this speech. It dispersed them, in fact; some
turned away to bivouac for the rest of the night upon the arm-chairs and
sofas, while others returned to their rooms. With the latter went
Isabel. "Lock me in, Basil," she said, with a bold meekness, "and if
anything more happens don't wake me till the last moment." It was hard
to part from him, but she felt that his vigil would somehow be useful to
the boat, and she confidingly fell into a sleep that lasted till
Meantime, her husband, on whom she had tacitly devolved so great a
responsibility, went forward to the promenade in front of the saloon, in
hopes of learning something more of the catastrophe from the people whom
he had already found gathered there.
A large part of the passengers were still there, seated or standing about
in earnest colloquy. They were in that mood which follows great
excitement, and in which the feeblest-minded are sure to lead the talk.
At such times one feels that a sensible frame of mind is unsympathetic,
and if expressed, unpopular, or perhaps not quite safe; and Basil, warned
by his fate with the ladies, listened gravely to the voice of the common
imbecility and incoherence.
The principal speaker was a tall person, wearing a silk travelling-cap.
He had a face of stupid benignity and a self-satisfied smirk; and he was
formally trying to put at his ease, and hopelessly confusing the loutish
youth before him. "You say you saw the whole accident, and you're
probably the only passenger that did see it. You'll be the most
important witness at the trial," he added, as if there would ever be any
trial about it. "Now, how did the tow-boat hit us?"
"Well, she came bows on."
"Ah! bows on," repeated the other, with great satisfaction; and a little
murmur of "Bows on!" ran round the listening circle.
"That is," added the witness, "it seemed as if we struck her amidships,
and cut her in two, and sunk her."
"Just so," continued the examiner, accepting the explanation, "bows on.
Now I want to ask if you saw our captain or any of the crew about?"
"Not a soul," said the witness, with the solemnity of a man already on
"That'll do," exclaimed the other. "This gentleman's experience
coincides exactly with my own. I didn't see the collision, but I did see
the cloud of steam from the sinking boat, and I saw her go down. There
wasn't an officer to be found anywhere on board our boat. I looked about
for the captain and the mate myself, and couldn't find either of them
high or low."
"The officers ought all to have been sitting here on the promenade deck,"
suggested one ironical spirit in the crowd, but no one noticed him.
The gentleman in the silk travelling-cap now took a chair, and a number
of sympathetic listeners drew their chairs about him, and then began an
interchange of experience, in which each related to the last particular
all that he felt, thought, and said, and, if married, what his wife felt,
thought, and said, at the moment of the calamity. They turned the
disaster over and over in their talk, and rolled it under their tongues.
Then they reverted to former accidents in which they had been concerned;
and the silk-capped gentleman told, to the common admiration, of a
fearful escape of his, on the Erie Road, from being thrown down a steep
embankment fifty feet high by a piece of rock that had fallen on the
track. "Now just see, gentlemen, what a little thing, humanly speaking,
life depends upon. If that old woman had been able to sleep, and hadn't
sent that boy down to warn the train, we should have run into the rock
and been dashed to pieces. The passengers made up a purse for the boy,
and I wrote a full account of it to the papers."
"Well," said one of the group, a man in a hard hat, "I never lie down on
a steamboat or a railroad train. I want to be ready for whatever
The others looked at this speaker with interest, as one who had invented
a safe method of travel.
"I happened to be up to-night, but I almost always undress and go to bed,
just as if I were in my own house," said the gentleman of the silk cap.
"I don't say your way isn't the best, but that's my way."
The champions of the rival systems debated their merits with suavity and
mutual respect, but they met with scornful silence a compromising spirit
who held that it was better to throw off your coat and boots, but keep
your pantaloons on. Meanwhile, the steamer was hanging idle upon the
current, against which it now and then stirred a careless wheel, still
waiting for the return of the small boats. Thin gray clouds, through
rifts of which a star sparkled keenly here and there, veiled the heavens;
shadowy bluffs loomed up on either hand; in a hollow on the left twinkled
a drowsy little town; a beautiful stillness lay on all.
After an hour's interval a shout was heard from far down the river;
then later the plash of oars; then a cry hailing the approaching boats,
and the answer, "All safe!" Presently the boats had come alongside, and
the passengers crowded down to the guard to learn the details of the
search. Basil heard a hollow, moaning, gurgling sound, regular as that
of the machinery, for some note of which he mistook it. "Clear the
gangway there!" shouted a gruff voice; "man scalded here!" And a burden
was carried by from which fluttered, with its terrible regularity, that
utterance of mortal anguish.
Basil went again to the forward promenade, and sat down to see the
The boat swiftly ascended the current, and presently the steeper shores
were left behind and the banks fell away in long upward sloping fields,
with farm-houses and with stacks of harvest dimly visible in the generous
expanses. By and by they passed a fisherman drawing his nets, and
bending from his boat, there near Albany, N. Y., in the picturesque
immortal attitudes of Raphael's Galilean fisherman; and now a flush
mounted the pale face of the east, and through the dewy coolness of the
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