Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 46 out of 78
Beaton saw that she was nervous; he made his reflection that she was
altogether too far gone in good works for the fine arts to reach her;
he began to think how he could turn her primitive Christianity to the
account of his modern heathenism. He had no deeper design than to get
flattered back into his own favor far enough to find courage for some
sort of decisive step. In his heart he was trying to will whether he
should or should not go back to Dryfoos's house. It could not be from
the caprice that had formerly taken him; it must be from a definite
purpose; again he realized this. "Of course; you are right," he said.
"I wish I could have answered that old man differently. I fancy he was
bound up in his son, though he quarrelled with him, and crossed him. But
I couldn't do it; it wasn't possible." He said to himself that if she
said "No," now, he would be ruled by her agreement with him; and if she
disagreed with him, he would be ruled still by the chance, and would go
no more to the Dryfooses'. He found himself embarrassed to the point of
blushing when she said nothing, and left him, as it were, on his own
hands. "I should like to have given him that comfort; I fancy he hasn't
much comfort in life; but there seems no comfort in me."
He dropped his head in a fit attitude for compassion; but she poured no
pity upon it.
"There is no comfort for us in ourselves," she said. "It's hard to get
outside; but there's only despair within. When we think we have done
something for others, by some great effort, we find it's all for our own
"Yes," said Beaton. "If I could paint pictures for righteousness' sake,
I should have been glad to do Conrad Dryfoos for his father. I felt
sorry for him. Did the rest seem very much broken up? You saw them
"Not all. Miss Dryfoos was ill, her sister said. It's hard to tell how
much people suffer. His mother seemed bewildered. The younger sister is
a simple creature; she looks like him; I think she must have something of
"Not much spirit of any kind, I imagine," said Beaton. "But she's
amiably material. Did they say Miss Dryfoos was seriously ill?"
"No. I supposed she might be prostrated by her brother's death."
"Does she seem that kind of person to you, Miss Vance?" asked Beaton.
"I don't know. I haven't tried to see so much of them as I might, the
past winter. I was not sure about her when I met her; I've never seen
much of people, except in my own set, and the--very poor. I have been
afraid I didn't understand her. She may have a kind of pride that would
not let her do herself justice."
Beaton felt the unconscious dislike in the endeavor of praise. "Then she
seems to you like a person whose life--its trials, its chances--would
make more of than she is now?"
"I didn't say that. I can't judge of her at all; but where we don't
know, don't you think we ought to imagine the best?"
"Oh yes," said Beaton. "I didn't know but what I once said of them might
have prejudiced you against them. I have accused myself of it." He
always took a tone of conscientiousness, of self-censure, in talking with
Miss Vance; he could not help it.
"Oh no. And I never allowed myself to form any judgment of her. She is
very pretty, don't you think, in a kind of way?"
"She has a beautiful brunette coloring: that floury white and the
delicate pink in it. Her eyes are beautiful."
"She's graceful, too," said Beaton. "I've tried her in color; but I
didn't make it out."
"I've wondered sometimes," said Miss Vance, "whether that elusive quality
you find in some people you try to paint doesn't characterize them all
through. Miss Dryfoos might be ever so much finer and better than we
would find out in the society way that seems the only way."
"Perhaps," said Beaton, gloomily; and he went away profoundly discouraged
by this last analysis of Christine's character. The angelic
imperviousness of Miss Vance to properties of which his own wickedness
was so keenly aware in Christine might have made him laugh, if it had not
been such a serious affair with him. As it was, he smiled to think how
very differently Alma Leighton would have judged her from Miss Vance's
premises. He liked that clear vision of Alma's even when it pierced his
own disguises. Yes, that was the light he had let die out, and it might
have shone upon his path through life. Beaton never felt so poignantly
the disadvantage of having on any given occasion been wanting to his own
interests through his self-love as in this. He had no one to blame but
himself for what had happened, but he blamed Alma for what might happen
in the future because she shut out the way of retrieval and return. When
be thought of the attitude she had taken toward him, it seemed
incredible, and he was always longing to give her a final chance to
reverse her final judgment. It appeared to him that the time had come
for this now, if ever.
While we are still young we feel a kind of pride, a sort of fierce
pleasure, in any important experience, such as we have read of or heard
of in the lives of others, no matter how painful. It was this pride,
this pleasure, which Beaton now felt in realizing that the toils of fate
were about him, that between him and a future of which Christine Dryfoos
must be the genius there was nothing but the will, the mood, the fancy of
a girl who had not given him the hope that either could ever again be in
his favor. He had nothing to trust to, in fact, but his knowledge that
he had once had them all; she did not deny that; but neither did she
conceal that he had flung away his power over them, and she had told him
that they never could be his again. A man knows that he can love and
wholly cease to love, not once merely, but several times; he recognizes
the fact in regard to himself, both theoretically and practically; but in
regard to women he cherishes the superstition of the romances that love
is once for all, and forever. It was because Beaton would not believe
that Alma Leighton, being a woman, could put him out of her heart after
suffering him to steal into it, that he now hoped anything from her, and
she had been so explicit when they last spoke of that affair that he did
not hope much. He said to himself that he was going to cast himself on
her mercy, to take whatever chance of life, love, and work there was in
her having the smallest pity on him. If she would have none, then there
was but one thing he could do: marry Christine and go abroad. He did not
see how he could bring this alternative to bear upon Alma; even if she
knew what he would do in case of a final rejection, he had grounds for
fearing she would not care; but he brought it to bear upon himself, and
it nerved him to a desperate courage. He could hardly wait for evening
to come, before he went to see her; when it came, it seemed to have come
too soon. He had wrought himself thoroughly into the conviction that he
was in earnest, and that everything depended upon her answer to him, but
it was not till he found himself in her presence, and alone with her,
that he realized the truth of his conviction. Then the influences of her
grace, her gayety, her arch beauty, above all, her good sense, penetrated
his soul like a subtle intoxication, and he said to himself that he was
right; he could not live without her; these attributes of hers were what
he needed to win him, to cheer him, to charm him, to guide him. He
longed so to please her, to ingratiate himself with her, that he
attempted to be light like her in his talk, but lapsed into abysmal
absences and gloomy recesses of introspection.
"What are you laughing at?" he asked, suddenly starting from one of
"What you are thinking of."
"It's nothing to laugh at. Do you know what I'm thinking of?"
"Don't tell, if it's dreadful."
"Oh, I dare say you wouldn't think it's dreadful," he said, with
bitterness. "It's simply the case of a man who has made a fool of
himself and sees no help of retrieval in himself."
"Can any one else help a man unmake a fool of himself?" she asked, with
"Yes. In a case like this."
"Dear me! This is very interesting."
She did not ask him what the case was, but he was launched now, and he
pressed on. "I am the man who has made a fool of himself--"
"And you can help me out if you will. Alma, I wish you could see me as I
"Do you, Mr. Beacon? Perhaps I do."
"No; you don't. You formulated me in a certain way, and you won't allow
for the change that takes place in every one. You have changed; why
"Has this to do with your having made a fool of yourself?"
"Oh! Then I don't see how you have changed."
She laughed, and he too, ruefully. "You're cruel. Not but what I
deserve your mockery. But the change was not from the capacity of making
a fool of myself. I suppose I shall always do that more or less--unless
you help me. Alma! Why can't you have a little compassion? You know
that I must always love you."
"Nothing makes me doubt that like your saying it, Mr. Beaton. But now
you've broken your word--"
"You are to blame for that. You knew I couldn't keep it!"
"Yes, I'm to blame. I was wrong to let you come--after that. And so I
forgive you for speaking to me in that way again. But it's perfectly
impossible and perfectly useless for me to hear you any more on that
subject; and so-good-bye!"
She rose, and he perforce with her. "And do you mean it?" he asked.
"Forever. This is truly the last time I will ever see you if I can help
it. Oh, I feel sorry enough for you!" she said, with a glance at his
face. "I do believe you are in earnest. But it's too late now. Don't
let us talk about it any more! But we shall, if we meet, and so,--"
"And so good-bye! Well, I've nothing more to say, and I might as well
say that. I think you've been very good to me. It seems to me as if you
had been--shall I say it?--trying to give me a chance. Is that so?"
She dropped her eyes and did not answer.
"You found it was no use! Well, I thank you for trying. It's curious to
think that I once had your trust, your regard, and now I haven't it. You
don't mind my remembering that I had? It'll be some little consolation,
and I believe it will be some help. I know I can't retrieve the past
now. It is too late. It seems too preposterous--perfectly lurid--that I
could have been going to tell you what a tangle I'd got myself in, and to
ask you to help untangle me. I must choke in the infernal coil, but I'd
like to have the sweetness of your pity in it--whatever it is."
She put out her hand. "Whatever it is, I do pity you; I said that."
"Thank you." He kissed the band she gave him and went.
He had gone on some such terms before; was it now for the last time? She
believed it was. She felt in herself a satiety, a fatigue, in which his
good looks, his invented airs and poses, his real trouble, were all alike
repulsive. She did not acquit herself of the wrong of having let him
think she might yet have liked him as she once did; but she had been
honestly willing to see whether she could. It had mystified her to find
that when they first met in New York, after their summer in St. Barnaby,
she cared nothing for him; she had expected to punish him for his
neglect, and then fancy him as before, but she did not. More and more
she saw him selfish and mean, weak-willed, narrow-minded, and hard-
hearted; and aimless, with all his talent. She admired his talent in
proportion as she learned more of artists, and perceived how uncommon it
was; but she said to herself that if she were going to devote herself to
art, she would do it at first-hand. She was perfectly serene and happy
in her final rejection of Beaton; he had worn out not only her fancy, but
her sympathy, too.
This was what her mother would not believe when Alma reported the
interview to her; she would not believe it was the last time they should
meet; death itself can hardly convince us that it is the last time of
anything, of everything between ourselves and the dead. "Well, Alma,"
she said, "I hope you'll never regret what you've done."
"You may be sure I shall not regret it. If ever I'm low-spirited about
anything, I'll think of giving Mr. Beaton his freedom, and that will
cheer me up."
"And don't you expect to get married? Do you intend to be an old maid?"
demanded her mother, in the bonds of the superstition women have so long
been under to the effect that every woman must wish to get married, if
for no other purpose than to avoid being an old maid.
"Well, mamma," said Alma, "I intend being a young one for a few years
yet; and then I'll see. If I meet the right person, all well and good;
if not, not. But I shall pick and choose, as a man does; I won't merely
be picked and chosen."
"You can't help yourself; you may be very glad if you are picked and
"What nonsense, mamma! A girl can get any man she wants, if she goes
about. it the right way. And when my 'fated fairy prince' comes along,
I shall just simply make furious love to him and grab him. Of course,
I shall make a decent pretence of talking in my sleep. I believe it's
done that way more than half the time. The fated fairy prince wouldn't
see the princess in nine cases out of ten if she didn't say something;
he would go mooning along after the maids of honor."
Mrs. Leighton tried to look unspeakable horror; but she broke down and
laughed. "Well, you are a strange girl, Alma."
"I don't know about that. But one thing I do know, mamma, and that is
that Prince Beaton isn't the F. F. P. for me. How strange you are,
mamma! Don't you think it would be perfectly disgusting to accept a
person you didn't care for, and let him go on and love you and marry you?
"Why, certainly, Alma. It's only because I know you did care for him
"And now I don't. And he didn't care for me once, and now he does. And
so we're quits."
"If I could believe--"
"You had better brace up and try, mamma; for as Mr. Fulkerson says, it's
as sure as guns. From the crown of his head to the sole of his foot,
he's loathsome to me; and he keeps getting loathsomer. Ugh! Goodnight!"
"Well, I guess she's given him the grand bounce at last," said Fulkerson
to March in one of their moments of confidence at the office. "That's
Mad's inference from appearances--and disappearances; and some little
hints from Alma Leighton."
"Well, I don't know that I have any criticisms to offer," said March.
"It may be bad for Beaton, but it's a very good thing for Miss Leighton.
Upon the whole, I believe I congratulate her."
"Well, I don't know. I always kind of hoped it would turn out the other
way. You know I always had a sneaking fondness for the fellow."
"Miss Leighton seems not to have had."
"It's a pity she hadn't. I tell you, March, it ain't so easy for a girl
to get married, here in the East, that she can afford to despise any
"Isn't that rather a low view of it?"
"It's a common-sense view. Beaton has the making of a first-rate fellow
in him. He's the raw material of a great artist and a good citizen. All
he wants is somebody to take him in hand and keep him from makin' an ass
of himself and kickin' over the traces generally, and ridin' two or three
horses bareback at once."
"It seems a simple problem, though the metaphor is rather complicated,"
said March. "But talk to Miss Leighton about it. I haven't given Beaton
the grand bounce."
He began to turn over the manuscripts on his table, and Fulkerson went
away. But March found himself thinking of the matter from time to time
during the day, and he spoke to his wife about it when he went home. She
surprised him by taking Fulkerson's view of it.
"Yes, it's a pity she couldn't have made up her mind to have him. It's
better for a woman to be married."
"I thought Paul only went so far as to say it was well. But what would
become of Miss Leighton's artistic career if she married?"
"Oh, her artistic career!" said Mrs. March, with matronly contempt of it.
"But look here!" cried her husband. "Suppose she doesn't like him?"
"How can a girl of that age tell whether she likes any one or not?"
"It seems to me you were able to tell at. that age, Isabel. But let's
examine this thing. (This thing! I believe Fulkerson is characterizing
my whole parlance, as well as your morals.) Why shouldn't we rejoice as
much at a non-marriage as a marriage? When we consider the enormous
risks people take in linking their lives together, after not half so much
thought as goes to an ordinary horse trade, I think we ought to be glad
whenever they don't do it. I believe that this popular demand for the
matrimony of others comes from our novel-reading. We get to thinking
that there is no other happiness or good-fortune in life except marriage;
and it's offered in fiction as the highest premium for virtue, courage,
beauty, learning, and saving human life. We all know it isn't. We know
that in reality marriage is dog cheap, and anybody can have it for the
asking--if he keeps asking enough people. By-and-by some fellow will
wake up and see that a first-class story can be written from the anti-
marriage point of view; and he'll begin with an engaged couple, and
devote his novel to disengaging them and rendering them separately happy
ever after in the denouement. It will make his everlasting fortune."
"Why don't you write it, Basil?" she asked. "It's a delightful idea.
You could do it splendidly."
He became fascinated with the notion. He developed it in detail; but at
the end he sighed and said: "With this 'Every Other Week' work on my
hands, of course I can't attempt a novel. But perhaps I sha'n't have it
She was instantly anxious to know what he meant, and the novel and Miss
Leighton's affair were both dropped out of their thoughts. "What do you
mean? Has Mr. Fulkerson said anything yet?"
"Not a word. He knows no more about it than I do. Dryfoos hasn't
spoken, and we're both afraid to ask him. Of course, I couldn't ask
"But it's pretty uncomfortable, to be kept hanging by the gills so, as
"Yes, we don't know what to do."
March and Fulkerson said the same to each other; and Fulkerson said that
if the old man pulled out, he did not know what would happen. He had no
capital to carry the thing on, and the very fact that the old man had
pulled out would damage it so that it would be hard to get anybody else
to put it. In the mean time Fulkerson was running Conrad's office-work,
when he ought to be looking after the outside interests of the thing; and
he could not see the day when he could get married.
"I don't know which it's worse for, March: you or me. I don't know,
under the circumstances, whether it's worse to have a family or to want
to have one. Of course--of course! We can't hurry the old man up. It
wouldn't be decent, and it would be dangerous. We got to wait."
He almost decided to draw upon Dryfoos for some money; he did not need
any, but, he said maybe the demand would act as a hint upon him. One
day, about a week after Alma's final rejection of Beaton, Dryfoos came
into March's office. Fulkerson was out, but the old man seemed not to
have tried to see him.
He put his hat on the floor by his chair, after he sat down, and looked
at March awhile with his old eyes, which had the vitreous glitter of old.
eyes stimulated to sleeplessness. Then he said, abruptly, "Mr. March,
how would you like to take this thing off my hands?"
"I don't understand, exactly," March began; but of course he understood
that Dryfoos was offering to let him have 'Every Other Week' on some
terms or other, and his heart leaped with hope.
The old man knew he understood, and so he did not explain. He said:
"I am going to Europe, to take my family there. The doctor thinks it
might do my wife some good; and I ain't very well myself, and my girls
both want to go; and so we're goin'. If you want to take this thing off
my hands, I reckon I can let you have it in 'most any shape you say.
You're all settled here in New York, and I don't suppose you want to
break up, much, at your time of life, and I've been thinkin' whether you
wouldn't like to take the thing."
The word, which Dryfoos had now used three times, made March at last
think of Fulkerson; he had been filled too full of himself to think of
any one else till he had mastered the notion of such wonderful good
fortune as seemed about falling to him. But now he did think of
Fulkerson, and with some shame and confusion; for he remembered how, when
Dryfoos had last approached him there on the business of his connection
with 'Every Other Week,' he had been very haughty with him, and told him
that he did not know him in this connection. He blushed to find how far
his thoughts had now run without encountering this obstacle of etiquette.
"Have you spoken to Mr. Fulkerson?" he asked.
"No, I hain't. It ain't a question of management. It's a question of
buying and selling. I offer the thing to you first. I reckon Fulkerson
couldn't get on very well without you."
March saw the real difference in the two cases, and he was glad to see
it, because he could act more decisively if not hampered by an obligation
to consistency. "I am gratified, of course, Mr. Dryfoos; extremely
gratified; and it's no use pretending that I shouldn't be happy beyond
bounds to get possession of 'Every Other Week.' But I don't feel quite
free to talk about it apart from Mr. Fulkerson."
"Oh, all right!" said the old man, with quick offence.
March hastened to say: "I feel bound to Mr. Fulkerson in every way. He
got me to come here, and I couldn't even seem to act without him."
He put it questioningly, and the old man answered:
"Yes, I can see that. When 'll he be in? I can wait." But he looked
"Very soon, now," said March, looking at his watch. "He was only to be
gone a moment," and while he went on to talk with Dryfoos, he wondered
why the old man should have come first to speak with him, and whether it
was from some obscure wish to make him reparation for displeasures in the
past, or from a distrust or dislike of Fulkerson. Whichever light he
looked at it in, it was flattering.
"Do you think of going abroad soon?" he asked.
"What? Yes--I don't know--I reckon. We got our passage engaged. It's
on one of them French boats. We're goin' to Paris."
"Oh! That will be interesting to the young ladies."
"Yes. I reckon we're goin' for them. 'Tain't likely my wife and me
would want to pull up stakes at our age," said the old man, sorrowfully.
"But you may find it do you good, Mr. Dryfoos," said March, with a
kindness that was real, mixed as it was with the selfish interest he now
had in the intended voyage.
"Well, maybe, maybe," sighed the old man; and he dropped his head
forward. "It don't make a great deal of difference what we do or we
don't do, for the few years left."
"I hope Mrs. Dryfoos is as well as usual," said March, finding the ground
delicate and difficult.
"Middlin', middlin'," said the old man. "My daughter Christine, she
ain't very well."
"Oh," said March. It was quite impossible for him to affect a more
explicit interest in the fact. He and Dryfoos sat silent for a few
moments, and he was vainly casting about in his thought for something
else which would tide them over the interval till Fulkerson came, when he
heard his step on the stairs.
"Hello, hello!" he said. "Meeting of the clans!" It was always a
meeting of the clans, with Fulkerson, or a field day, or an extra
session, or a regular conclave, whenever he saw people of any common
interest together. "Hain't seen you here for a good while, Mr. Dryfoos.
Did think some of running away with 'Every Other Week' one while, but
couldn't seem to work March up to the point."
He gave Dryfoos his hand, and pushed aside the papers on the corner of
March's desk, and sat down there, and went on briskly with the nonsense
he could always talk while he was waiting for another to develop any
matter of business; he told March afterward that he scented business in
the air as soon as he came into the room where he and Dryfoos were
Dryfoos seemed determined to leave the word to March, who said, after an
inquiring look at him, "Mr. Dryfoos has been proposing to let us have
'Every Other Week,' Fulkerson."
"Well, that's good; that suits yours truly; March & Fulkerson, publishers
and proprietors, won't pretend it don't, if the terms are all right."
"The terms," said the old man, "are whatever you want 'em. I haven't got
any more use for the concern--" He gulped, and stopped; they knew what
he was thinking of, and they looked down in pity. He went on: "I won't
put any more money in it; but what I've put in a'ready can stay; and you
can pay me four per cent."
He got upon his feet; and March and Fulkerson stood, too.
"Well, I call that pretty white," said Fulkerson. "It's a bargain as far
as I'm concerned. I suppose you'll want to talk it over with your wife,
"Yes; I shall," said March. "I can see that it's a great chance; but I
want to talk it over with my wife."
"Well, that's right," said the old man. "Let me hear from you tomorrow."
He went out, and Fulkerson began to dance round the room. He caught
March about his stalwart girth and tried to make him waltz; the office-
boy came to the door and looked on with approval.
"Come, come, you idiot!" said March, rooting himself to the carpet.
"It's just throwing the thing into our mouths," said Fulkerson. "The
wedding will be this day week. No cards! Teedle-lumpty-diddle! Teedle-
lumpty-dee! What do you suppose he means by it, March ?" he asked,
bringing himself soberly up, of a sudden. "What is his little game? Or
is he crazy? It don't seem like the Dryfoos of my previous
"I suppose," March suggested, "that he's got money enough, so that he
don't care for this--"
"Pshaw! You're a poet! Don't you know that the more money that kind of
man has got, the more he cares for money? It's some fancy of his--like
having Lindau's funeral at his house--By Jings, March, I believe you're
"Oh, now! Don't you be a poet, Fulkerson!"
"I do! He seemed to take a kind of shine to you from the day you
wouldn't turn off old Lindau; he did, indeed. It kind of shook him up.
It made him think you had something in you. He was deceived by
appearances. Look here! I'm going round to see Mrs. March with you,
and explain the thing to her. I know Mrs. March! She wouldn't believe
you knew what you were going in for. She has a great respect for your
mind, but she don't think you've got any sense. Heigh?"
"All right," said March, glad of the notion; and it was really a comfort
to have Fulkerson with him to develop all the points; and it was
delightful to see how clearly and quickly she seized them; it made March
proud of her. She was only angry that they had lost any time in coming
to submit so plain a case to her.
Mr. Dryfoos might change his mind in the night, and then everything would
be lost. They must go to him instantly, and tell him that they accepted;
they must telegraph him.
"Might as well send a district messenger; he'd get there next week," said
Fulkerson. "No, no! It 'll all keep till to-morrow, and be the better
for it. If he's got this fancy for March, as I say, he ain't agoing to
change it in a single night. People don't change their fancies for March
in a lifetime. Heigh?"
When Fulkerson turned up very early at the office next morning, as March
did, he was less strenuous about Dryfoos's fancy for March. It was as if
Miss Woodburn might have blown cold upon that theory, as something unjust
to his own merit, for which she would naturally be more jealous than he.
March told him what he had forgotten to tell him the day before, though
he had been trying, all through their excited talk, to get it in, that
the Dryfooses were going abroad.
"Oh, ho!" cried Fulkerson. "That's the milk in the cocoanut, is it?
Well, I thought there must be something."
But this fact had not changed Mrs. March at all in her conviction that it
was Mr. Dryfoos's fancy for her husband which had moved him to make him
this extraordinary offer, and she reminded him that it had first been
made to him, without regard to Fulkerson. "And perhaps," she went on,
"Mr. Dryfoos has been changed---softened; and doesn't find money all in
all any more. He's had enough to change him, poor old man!"
"Does anything from without change us?" her husband mused aloud. "We're
brought up to think so by the novelists, who really have the charge of
people's thinking, nowadays. But I doubt it, especially if the thing
outside is some great event, something cataclysmal, like this tremendous
sorrow of Dryfoos's."
"Then what is it that changes us?" demanded his wife, almost angry with
him for his heresy.
"Well, it won't do to say, the Holy Spirit indwelling. That would sound
like cant at this day. But the old fellows that used to say that had
some glimpses of the truth. They knew that it is the still, small voice
that the soul heeds, not the deafening blasts of doom. I suppose I
should have to say that we didn't change at all. We develop. There's
the making of several characters in each of us; we are each several
characters, and sometimes this character has the lead in us, and
sometimes that. From what Fulkerson has told me of Dryfoos, I should say
he had always had the potentiality of better things in him than he has
ever been yet; and perhaps the time has come for the good to have its
chance. The growth in one direction has stopped; it's begun in another;
that's all. The man hasn't been changed by his son's death; it stunned,
it benumbed him; but it couldn't change him. It was an event, like any
other, and it had to happen as much as his being born. It was forecast
from the beginning of time, and was as entirely an effect of his coming
into the world--"
"Basil! Basil!" cried his wife. "This is fatalism!"
"Then you think," he said, "that a sparrow falls to the ground without
the will of God?" and he laughed provokingly. But he went on more
soberly: "I don't know what it all means Isabel though I believe it means
good. What did Christ himself say? That if one rose from the dead it
would not avail. And yet we are always looking for the miraculous!
I believe that unhappy old man truly grieves for his son, whom he treated
cruelly without the final intention of cruelty, for he loved him and
wished to be proud of him; but I don't think his death has changed him,
any more than the smallest event in the chain of events remotely working
through his nature from the beginning. But why do you think he's changed
at all? Because he offers to sell me Every Other Week on easy terms?
He says himself that he has no further use for the thing; and he knows
perfectly well that he couldn't get his money out of it now, without an
enormous shrinkage. He couldn't appear at this late day as the owner,
and sell it to anybody but Fulkerson and me for a fifth of what it's cost
him. He can sell it to us for all it's cost him; and four per cent. is
no bad interest on his money till we can pay it back. It's a good thing
for us; but we have to ask whether Dryfoos has done us the good, or
whether it's the blessing of Heaven. If it's merely the blessing of
Heaven, I don't propose being grateful for it."
March laughed again, and his wife said, "It's disgusting."
"It's business," he assented. "Business is business; but I don't say it
isn't disgusting. Lindau had a low opinion of it."
"I think that with all his faults Mr. Dryfoos is a better man than
Lindau," she proclaimed.
"Well, he's certainly able to offer us a better thing in 'Every Other
Week,'" said March.
She knew he was enamoured of the literary finish of his cynicism, and
that at heart he was as humbly and truly grateful as she was for the
good-fortune opening to them.
Beaton was at his best when he parted for the last time with Alma
Leighton, for he saw then that what had happened to him was the necessary
consequence of what he had been, if not what he had done. Afterward he
lost this clear vision; he began to deny the fact; he drew upon his
knowledge of life, and in arguing himself into a different frame of mind
he alleged the case of different people who had done and been much worse
things than he, and yet no such disagreeable consequence had befallen
them. Then he saw that it was all the work of blind chance, and he said
to himself that it was this that made him desperate, and willing to call
evil his good, and to take his own wherever he could find it. There was
a great deal that was literary and factitious and tawdry in the mood in
which he went to see Christine Dryfoos, the night when the Marches sat
talking their prospects over; and nothing that was decided in his
purpose. He knew what the drift of his mind was, but he had always
preferred to let chance determine his events, and now since chance had
played him such an ill turn with Alma, he left it the whole
responsibility. Not in terms, but in effect, this was his thought as he
walked on up-town to pay the first of the visits which Dryfoos had
practically invited him to resume. He had an insolent satisfaction in
having delayed it so long; if he was going back he was going back on his
own conditions, and these were to be as hard and humiliating as he could
make them. But this intention again was inchoate, floating, the stuff of
an intention, rather than intention; an expression of temperament
He had been expected before that. Christine had got out of Mela that her
father had been at Beaton's studio; and then she had gone at the old man
and got from him every smallest fact of the interview there. She had
flung back in his teeth the good-will toward herself with which he had
gone to Beaton. She was furious with shame and resentment; she told him
he had made bad worse, that he had made a fool of himself to no end; she
spared neither his age nor his grief-broken spirit, in which his will
could not rise against hers. She filled the house with her rage,
screaming it out upon him; but when her fury was once spent, she began to
have some hopes from what her father had done. She no longer kept her
bed; every evening she dressed herself in the dress Beaton admired the
most, and sat up till a certain hour to receive him. She had fixed a day
in her own mind before which, if he came, she would forgive him all he
had made her suffer: the mortification, the suspense, the despair.
Beyond this, she had the purpose of making her father go to Europe; she
felt that she could no longer live in America, with the double disgrace
that had been put upon her.
Beaton rang, and while the servant was coming the insolent caprice seized
him to ask for the young ladies instead of the old man, as he had
supposed of course he should do. The maid who answered the bell, in the
place of the reluctant Irishman of other days, had all his hesitation in
admitting that the young ladies were at home.
He found Mela in the drawing-room. At sight of him she looked scared;
but she seemed to be reassured by his calm. He asked if he was not to
have the pleasure of seeing Miss Dryfoos, too; and Mela said she reckoned
the girl had gone up-stairs to tell her. Mela was in black, and Beaton
noted how well the solid sable became her rich red-blonde beauty; he
wondered what the effect would be with Christine.
But she, when she appeared, was not in mourning. He fancied that she
wore the lustrous black silk, with the breadths of white Venetian lace
about the neck which he had praised, because he praised it. Her cheeks
burned with a Jacqueminot crimson; what should be white in her face was
chalky white. She carried a plumed ostrich fan, black and soft, and
after giving him her hand, sat down and waved it to and fro slowly, as he
remembered her doing the night they first met. She had no ideas, except
such as related intimately to herself, and she had no gabble, like Mela;
and she let him talk. It was past the day when she promised herself she
would forgive him; but as he talked on she felt all her passion for him
revive, and the conflict of desires, the desire to hate, the desire to
love, made a dizzying whirl in her brain. She looked at him, half
doubting whether he was really there or not. He had never looked so
handsome, with his dreamy eyes floating under his heavy overhanging hair,
and his pointed brown beard defined against his lustrous shirtfront. His
mellowly modulated, mysterious voice lulled her; when Mela made an errand
out of the room, and Beaton crossed to her and sat down by her, she
"Are you cold?" he asked, and she felt the cruel mockery and exultant
consciousness of power in his tone, as perhaps a wild thing feels
captivity in the voice of its keeper. But now, she said she would still
forgive him if he asked her.
Mela came back, and the talk fell again to the former level; but Beaton
had not said anything that really meant what she wished, and she saw that
he intended to say nothing. Her heart began to burn like a fire in her
"You been tellun' him about our goun' to Europe?" Mela asked.
"No," said Christine, briefly, and looking at the fan spread out on her
Beaton asked when; and then he rose, and said if it was so soon, he
supposed he should not see them again, unless he saw them in Paris; he
might very likely run over during the summer. He said to himself that he
had given it a fair trial with Christine, and he could not make it go.
Christine rose, with a kind of gasp; and mechanically followed him to the
door of the drawing-room; Mela came, too; and while he was putting on his
overcoat, she gurgled and bubbled in good-humor with all the world.
Christine stood looking at him, and thinking how still handsomer he was
in his overcoat; and that fire burned fiercer in her. She felt him more
than life to her and knew him lost, and the frenzy, that makes a woman
kill the man she loves, or fling vitriol to destroy the beauty she cannot
have for all hers, possessed her lawless soul. He gave his hand to Mela,
and said, in his wind-harp stop, "Good-bye."
As he put out his hand to Christine, she pushed it aside with a scream of
rage; she flashed at him, and with both hands made a feline pass at the
face he bent toward her. He sprang back, and after an instant of
stupefaction he pulled open the door behind him and ran out into the
"Well, Christine Dryfoos!" said Mela, "Sprang at him like a wild-cat!"
"I, don't care," Christine shrieked. "I'll tear his eyes out!" She flew
up-stairs to her own room, and left the burden of the explanation to
Mela, who did it justice.
Beaton found himself, he did not know how, in his studio, reeking with
perspiration and breathless. He must almost have run. He struck a match
with a shaking hand, and looked at his face in the glass. He expected to
see the bleeding marks of her nails on his cheeks, but he could see
nothing. He grovelled inwardly; it was all so low and coarse and vulgar;
it was all so just and apt to his deserts.
There was a pistol among the dusty bric-a-brac on the mantel which he had
kept loaded to fire at a cat in the area. He took it and sat looking
into the muzzle, wishing it might go off by accident and kill him.
It slipped through his hand and struck the floor, and there was a report;
he sprang into the air, feeling that he had been shot. But he found
himself still alive, with only a burning line along his cheek, such as
one of Christine's finger-nails might have left.
He laughed with cynical recognition of the fact that he had got his
punishment in the right way, and that his case was not to be dignified
The Marches, with Fulkerson, went to see the Dryfooses off on the French
steamer. There was no longer any business obligation on them to be
civil, and there was greater kindness for that reason in the attention
they offered. 'Every Other Week' had been made over to the joint
ownership of March and Fulkerson, and the details arranged with a
hardness on Dryfoos's side which certainly left Mrs. March with a sense
of his incomplete regeneration. Yet when she saw him there on the
steamer, she pitied him; he looked wearied and bewildered; even his wife,
with her twitching head, and her prophecies of evil, croaked hoarsely
out, while she clung to Mrs. March's hand where they sat together till
the leave-takers were ordered ashore, was less pathetic. Mela was
looking after both of them, and trying to cheer them in a joyful
excitement. "I tell 'em it's goun' to add ten years to both their
lives," she said. "The voyage 'll do their healths good; and then, we're
gittun' away from that miser'ble pack o' servants that was eatun' us up,
there in New York. I hate the place!" she said, as if they had already
left it. "Yes, Mrs. Mandel's goun', too," she added, following the
direction of Mrs. March's eyes where they noted Mrs. Mandel, speaking to
Christine on the other side of the cabin. "Her and Christine had a kind
of a spat, and she was goun' to leave, but here only the other day,
Christine offered to make it up with her, and now they're as thick as
thieves. Well, I reckon we couldn't very well 'a' got along without her.
She's about the only one that speaks French in this family."
Mrs. March's eyes still dwelt upon Christine's face; it was full of a
furtive wildness. She seemed to be keeping a watch to prevent herself
from looking as if she were looking for some one. "Do you know," Mrs.
March said to her husband as they jingled along homeward in the
Christopher Street bob-tail car, "I thought she was in love with that
detestable Mr. Beaton of yours at one time; and that he was amusing
himself with her."
"I can bear a good deal, Isabel," said March, "but I wish you wouldn't
attribute Beaton to me. He's the invention of that Mr. Fulkerson of
"Well, at any rate, I hope, now, you'll both get rid of him, in the
reforms you're going to carry out."
These reforms were for a greater economy in the management of 'Every
Other Week;' but in their very nature they could not include the
suppression of Beaton. He had always shown himself capable and loyal to
the interests of the magazine, and both the new owners were glad to keep
him. He was glad to stay, though he made a gruff pretence of
indifference, when they came to look over the new arrangement with him.
In his heart he knew that he was a fraud; but at least he could say to
himself with truth that he had not now the shame of taking Dryfoos's
March and Fulkerson retrenched at several points where it had seemed
indispensable to spend, as long as they were not spending their own:
that was only human. Fulkerson absorbed Conrad's department into his,
and March found that he could dispense with Kendricks in the place of
assistant which he had lately filled since Fulkerson had decided that
March was overworked. They reduced the number of illustrated articles,
and they systematized the payment of contributors strictly according to
the sales of each number, on their original plan of co-operation: they
had got to paying rather lavishly for material without reference to the
Fulkerson took a little time to get married, and went on his wedding
journey out to Niagara, and down the St. Lawrence to Quebec over the line
of travel that the Marches had taken on their wedding journey. He had
the pleasure of going from Montreal to Quebec on the same boat on which
he first met March.
They have continued very good friends, and their wives are almost without
the rivalry that usually embitters the wives of partners. At first Mrs.
March did not like Mrs. Fulkerson's speaking of her husband as the Ownah,
and March as the Edito'; but it appeared that this was only a convenient
method of recognizing the predominant quality in each, and was meant
neither to affirm nor to deny anything. Colonel Woodburn offered as his
contribution to the celebration of the copartnership, which Fulkerson
could not be prevented from dedicating with a little dinner, the story of
Fulkerson's magnanimous behavior in regard to Dryfoos at that crucial
moment when it was a question whether he should give up Dryfoos or give
up March. Fulkerson winced at it; but Mrs. March told her husband that
now, whatever happened, she should never have any misgivings of Fulkerson
again; and she asked him if he did not think he ought to apologize to him
for the doubts with which he had once inspired her. March said that he
did not think so.
The Fulkersons spent the summer at a seaside hotel in easy reach of the
city; but they returned early to Mrs. Leighton's, with whom they are to
board till spring, when they are going to fit up Fulkerson's bachelor
apartment for housekeeping. Mrs. March, with her Boston scruple, thinks
it will be odd, living over the 'Every Other Week' offices; but there
will be a separate street entrance to the apartment; and besides, in New
York you may do anything.
The future of the Leightons promises no immediate change. Kendricks goes
there a good deal to see the Fulkersons, and Mrs. Fulkerson says he comes
to see Alma. He has seemed taken with her ever since he first met her at
Dryfoos's, the day of Lindau's funeral, and though Fulkerson objects to
dating a fancy of that kind from an occasion of that kind, he justly
argues with March that there can be no harm in it, and that we are liable
to be struck by lightning any time. In the mean while there is no proof
that Alma returns Kendricks's interest, if he feels any. She has got a
little bit of color into the fall exhibition; but the fall exhibition is
never so good as the spring exhibition. Wetmore is rather sorry she has
succeeded in this, though he promoted her success. He says her real hope
is in black and white, and it is a pity for her to lose sight of her
original aim of drawing for illustration.
News has come from Paris of the engagement of Christine Dryfoos. There
the Dryfooses met with the success denied them in New York; many American
plutocrats must await their apotheosis in Europe, where society has them,
as it were, in a translation. Shortly after their arrival they were
celebrated in the news papers as the first millionaire American family of
natural-gas extraction who had arrived in the capital of civilization;
and at a French watering-place Christine encountered her fate--a nobleman
full of present debts and of duels in the past. Fulkerson says the old
man can manage the debtor, and Christine can look out for the duellist.
"They say those fellows generally whip their wives. He'd better not try
it with Christine, I reckon, unless he's practised with a panther."
One day, shortly after their return to town in the autumn from the brief
summer outing they permitted themselves, the Marches met Margaret Vance.
At first they did not know her in the dress of the sisterhood which she
wore; but she smiled joyfully, almost gayly, on seeing them, and though
she hurried by with the sister who accompanied her, and did not stay to
speak, they felt that the peace that passeth understanding had looked at
them from her eyes.
"Well, she is at rest, there can't be any doubt of that," he said, as he
glanced round at the drifting black robe which followed her free, nun-
"Yes, now she can do all the good she likes," sighed his wife.
"I wonder--I wonder if she ever told his father about her talk with poor
Conrad that day he was shot?"
"I don't know. I don't care. In any event, it would be right. She did
nothing wrong. If she unwittingly sent him to his death, she sent him to
die for God's sake, for man's sake."
"Yes--yes. But still--"
"Well, we must trust that look of hers."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Affected absence of mind
Be good, sweet man, and let who will be clever
Comfort of the critical attitude
Conscience weakens to the need that isn't
Death is an exile that no remorse and no love can reach
Death is peace and pardon
Did not idealize him, but in the highest effect she realized him
Does any one deserve happiness
Does anything from without change us?
Europe, where society has them, as it were, in a translation
Favorite stock of his go up and go down under the betting
Hemmed round with this eternal darkness of death
Love of justice hurry them into sympathy with violence
Married for no other purpose than to avoid being an old maid
Nervous woes of comfortable people
Novelists, who really have the charge of people's thinking
People that have convictions are difficult
Rejoice as much at a non-marriage as a marriage
Respect for your mind, but she don't think you've got any sense
Superstition of the romances that love is once for all
Superstition that having and shining is the chief good
To do whatever one likes is finally to do nothing that one likes
Took the world as she found it, and made the best of it
What we can be if we must
When you look it--live it
Would sacrifice his best friend to a phrase
[NOTE: Several chapter heading numerals are out of order or missing in this
1899 edition, however the text is all present in the three volumes. D.W.]
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
THEIR SILVER WEDDING JOURNEY.
By William Dean Howells
"You need the rest," said the Business End; "and your wife wants you to
go, as well as your doctor. Besides, it's your Sabbatical year, and you,
could send back a lot of stuff for the magazine."
"Is that your notion of a Sabbatical year?" asked the editor.
"No; I throw that out as a bait to your conscience. You needn't write a
line while you're gone. I wish you wouldn't for your own sake; although
every number that hasn't got you in it is a back number for me."
"That's very nice of you, Fulkerson," said the editor. "I suppose you
realize that it's nine years since we took 'Every Other Week' from
"Well, that makes it all the more Sabbatical," said Fulkerson. "The two
extra years that you've put in here, over and above the old style
Sabbatical seven, are just so much more to your credit. It was your
right to go, two years ago, and now it's your duty. Couldn't you look at
it in that light?"
"I dare say Mrs. March could," the editor assented. "I don't believe she
could be brought to regard it as a pleasure on any other terms."
"Of course not," said Fulkerson. "If you won't take a year, take three
months, and call it a Sabbatical summer; but go, anyway. You can make up
half a dozen numbers ahead, and Tom, here, knows your ways so well that
you needn't think about 'Every Other Week' from the time you start till
the time you try to bribe the customs inspector when you get back. I can
take a hack at the editing myself, if Tom's inspiration gives out, and
put a little of my advertising fire into the thing." He laid his hand on
the shoulder of the young fellow who stood smiling by, and pushed and
shook him in the liking there was between them. "Now you go, March!
Mrs. Fulkerson feels just as I do about it; we had our outing last year,
and we want Mrs. March and you to have yours. You let me go down and
engage your passage, and--"
"No, no!" the editor rebelled. "I'll think about it;" but as he turned
to the work he was so fond of and so weary of, he tried not to think of
the question again, till he closed his desk in the afternoon, and started
to walk home; the doctor had said he ought to walk, and he did so, though
he longed to ride, and looked wistfully at the passing cars.
He knew he was in a rut, as his wife often said; but if it was a rut, it
was a support too; it kept him from wobbling: She always talked as if the
flowery fields of youth lay on either side of the dusty road he had been
going so long, and he had but to step aside from it, to be among the
butterflies and buttercups again; he sometimes indulged this illusion,
himself, in a certain ironical spirit which caressed while it mocked the
notion. They had a tacit agreement that their youth, if they were ever
to find it again, was to be looked for in Europe, where they met when
they were young, and they had never been quite without the hope of going
back there, some day, for a long sojourn. They had not seen the time
when they could do so; they were dreamers, but, as they recognized, even
dreaming is not free from care; and in his dream March had been obliged
to work pretty steadily, if not too intensely. He had been forced to
forego the distinctly literary ambition with which he had started in life
because he had their common living to make, and he could not make it by
writing graceful verse, or even graceful prose. He had been many years
in a sufficiently distasteful business, and he had lost any thought of
leaving it when it left him, perhaps because his hold on it had always
been rather lax, and he had not been able to conceal that he disliked it.
At any rate, he was supplanted in his insurance agency at Boston by a
subordinate in his office, and though he was at the same time offered a
place of nominal credit in the employ of the company, he was able to
decline it in grace of a chance which united the charm of congenial work
with the solid advantage of a better salary than he had been getting for
work he hated. It was an incredible chance, but it was rendered
appreciably real by the necessity it involved that they should leave
Boston, where they had lived all their married life, where Mrs. March as
well as their children was born, and where all their tender and familiar
ties were, and come to New York, where the literary enterprise which
formed his chance was to be founded.
It was then a magazine of a new sort, which his business partner had
imagined in such leisure as the management of a newspaper syndicate
afforded him, and had always thought of getting March to edit. The
magazine which is also a book has since been realized elsewhere on more
or less prosperous terms, but not for any long period, and 'Every Other
Week' was apparently--the only periodical of the kind conditioned for
survival. It was at first backed by unlimited capital, and it had the
instant favor of a popular mood, which has since changed, but which did
not change so soon that the magazine had not time to establish itself in
a wide acceptance. It was now no longer a novelty, it was no longer in
the maiden blush of its first success, but it had entered upon its second
youth with the reasonable hope of many years of prosperity before it. In
fact it was a very comfortable living for all concerned, and the Marches
had the conditions, almost dismayingly perfect, in which they had often
promised themselves to go and be young again in Europe, when they
rebelled at finding themselves elderly in America. Their daughter was
married, and so very much to her mother's mind that she did not worry
about her, even though she lived so far away as Chicago, still a wild
frontier town to her Boston imagination; and their son, as soon as he
left college, had taken hold on 'Every Other Week', under his father's
instruction, with a zeal and intelligence which won him Fulkerson's
praise as a chip of the old block. These two liked each other, and
worked into each other's hands as cordially and aptly as Fulkerson and
March had ever done. It amused the father to see his son offering
Fulkerson the same deference which the Business End paid to seniority in
March himself; but in fact, Fulkerson's forehead was getting, as he said,
more intellectual every day; and the years were pushing them all along
Still, March had kept on in the old rut, and one day he fell down in it.
He had a long sickness, and when he was well of it, he was so slow in
getting his grip of work again that he was sometimes deeply discouraged.
His wife shared his depression, whether he showed or whether he hid it,
and when the doctor advised his going abroad, she abetted the doctor with
all the strength of a woman's hygienic intuitions. March himself
willingly consented, at first; but as soon as he got strength for his
work, he began to temporize and to demur. He said that he believed it
would do him just as much good to go to Saratoga, where they always had
such a good time, as to go to Carlsbad; and Mrs. March had been obliged
several times to leave him to his own undoing; she always took him more
vigorously in hand afterwards.
When he got home from the 'Every Other Week' office, the afternoon of
that talk with the Business End, he wanted to laugh with his wife at
Fulkerson's notion of a Sabbatical year. She did not think it was so
very droll; she even urged it seriously against him, as if she had now
the authority of Holy Writ for forcing him abroad; she found no relish of
absurdity in the idea that it was his duty to take this rest which had
been his right before.
He abandoned himself to a fancy which had been working to the surface of
his thought. "We could call it our Silver Wedding Journey, and go round
to all the old places, and see them in the reflected light of the past."
"Oh, we could!" she responded, passionately; and he had now the delicate
responsibility of persuading her that he was joking.
He could think of nothing better than a return to Fulkerson's absurdity.
"It would be our Silver Wedding Journey just as it would be my Sabbatical
year--a good deal after date. But I suppose that would make it all the
She faltered in her elation. "Didn't you say a Sabbatical year
yourself?" she demanded.
"Fulkerson said it; but it was a figurative expression."
"And I suppose the Silver Wedding Journey was a figurative expression
"It was a notion that tempted me; I thought you would enjoy it. Don't
you suppose I should be glad too, if we could go over, and find ourselves
just as we were when we first met there?"
"No; I don't believe now that you care anything about it."
"Well, it couldn't be done, anyway; so that doesn't matter."
"It could be done, if you were a mind to think so. And it would be the
greatest inspiration to you. You are always longing for some chance to
do original work, to get away from your editing, but you've let the time
slip by without really trying to do anything; I don't call those little
studies of yours in the magazine anything; and now you won't take the
chance that's almost forcing itself upon you. You could write an
original book of the nicest kind; mix up travel and fiction; get some
"Oh, that's the stalest kind of thing!"
"Well, but you could see it from a perfectly new point of view. You
could look at it as a sort of dispassionate witness, and treat it
humorously--of course it is ridiculous--and do something entirely fresh."
"It wouldn't work. It would be carrying water on both shoulders. The
fiction would kill the travel, the travel would kill the fiction; the
love and the humor wouldn't mingle any more than oil and vinegar."
"Well, and what is better than a salad?"
"But this would be all salad-dressing, and nothing to put it on." She
was silent, and he yielded to another fancy. "We might imagine coming
upon our former selves over there, and travelling round with them--
a wedding journey 'en partie carree'."
"Something like that. I call it a very poetical idea," she said with a
sort of provisionality, as if distrusting another ambush.
"It isn't so bad," he admitted. "How young we were, in those days!"
"Too young to know what a good time we were having," she said, relaxing
her doubt for the retrospect. "I don't feel as if I really saw Europe,
then; I was too inexperienced, too ignorant, too simple. I would like to
go, just to make sure that I had been." He was smiling again in the way
he had when anything occurred to him that amused him, and she demanded,
"What is it?"
"Nothing. I was wishing we could go in the consciousness of people who
actually hadn't been before--carry them all through Europe, and let them
see it in the old, simple-hearted American way."
She shook her head. "You couldn't! They've all been!"
"All but about sixty or seventy millions," said March.
"Well, those are just the millions you don't know, and couldn't imagine."
"I'm not so sure of that."
"And even if you could imagine them, you couldn't make them interesting.
All the interesting ones have been, anyway."
"Some of the uninteresting ones too. I used, to meet some of that sort
over there. I believe I would rather chance it for my pleasure with
those that hadn't been."
"Then why not do it? I know you could get something out of it."
"It might be a good thing," he mused, "to take a couple who had passed
their whole life here in New York, too poor and too busy ever to go; and
had a perfect famine for Europe all the time. I could have them spend
their Sunday afternoons going aboard the different boats, and looking up
their accommodations. I could have them sail, in imagination, and
discover an imaginary Europe, and give their grotesque misconceptions of
it from travels and novels against a background of purely American
experience. We needn't go abroad to manage that. I think it would be
"I don't think it would be nice in the least," said Mrs. March, "and if
you don't want to talk seriously, I would rather not talk at all."
"Well, then, let's talk about our Silver Wedding Journey."
"I see. You merely want to tease and I am not in the humor for it."
She said this in a great many different ways, and then she was really
silent. He perceived that she was hurt; and he tried to win her back to
good-humor. He asked her if she would not like to go over to Hoboken and
look at one of the Hanseatic League steamers, some day; and she refused.
When he sent the next day and got a permit to see the boat; she consented
He was one of those men who live from the inside outward; he often took a
hint for his actions from his fancies; and now because he had fancied
some people going to look at steamers on Sundays, he chose the next
Sunday himself for their visit to the Hanseatic boat at Hoboken. To be
sure it was a leisure day with him, but he might have taken the afternoon
of any other day, for that matter, and it was really that invisible
thread of association which drew him.
The Colmannia had been in long enough to have made her toilet for the
outward voyage, and was looking her best. She was tipped and edged with
shining brass, without and within, and was red-carpeted and white-painted
as only a ship knows how to be. A little uniformed steward ran before
the visitors, and showed them through the dim white corridors into
typical state-rooms on the different decks; and then let them verify
their first impression of the grandeur of the dining-saloon, and the
luxury of the ladies' parlor and music-room. March made his wife observe
that the tables and sofas and easy-chairs, which seemed so carelessly
scattered about, were all suggestively screwed fast to the floor against
rough weather; and he amused himself with the heavy German browns and
greens and coppers in the decorations, which he said must have been
studied in color from sausage, beer, and spinach, to the effect of those
large march-panes in the roof. She laughed with him at the tastelessness
of the race which they were destined to marvel at more and more; but she
made him own that the stewardesses whom they saw were charmingly like
serving-maids in the 'Fliegende Blatter'; when they went ashore she
challenged his silence for some assent to her own conclusion that the
Colmannia was perfect.
"She has only one fault," he assented. "She's a ship."
"Yes," said his wife, "and I shall want to look at the Norumbia before I
Then he saw that it was only a question which steamer they should take,
and not whether they should take any. He explained, at first gently and
afterwards savagely, that their visit to the Colmannia was quite enough
for him, and that the vessel was not built that he would be willing to
cross the Atlantic in.
When a man has gone so far as that he has committed himself to the
opposite course in almost so many words; and March was neither surprised
nor abashed when he discovered himself, before they reached home,
offering his wife many reasons why they should go to Europe. She
answered to all, No, he had made her realize the horror of it so much
that she was glad to give it up. She gave it up, with the best feeling;
all that she would ask of him was that he should never mention Europe to
her again. She could imagine how much he disliked to go, if such a ship
as the Colmannia did not make him want to go.
At the bottom of his heart he knew that he had not used her very well.
He had kindled her fancy with those notions of a Sabbatical year and a
Silver Wedding Journey, and when she was willing to renounce both he had
persisted in taking her to see the ship, only to tell her afterwards that
he would not go abroad on any account. It was by a psychological juggle
which some men will understand that he allowed himself the next day to
get the sailings of the Norumbia from the steamship office; he also got
a plan of the ship showing the most available staterooms, so that they
might be able to choose between her and the Colmannia from all the facts.
From this time their decision to go was none the less explicit because so
They began to amass maps and guides. She got a Baedeker for Austria and
he got a Bradshaw for the continent, which was never of the least use
there, but was for the present a mine of unavailable information. He got
a phrase-book, too, and tried to rub up his German. He used to read
German, when he was a boy, with a young enthusiasm for its romantic
poetry, and now, for the sake of Schiller and Uhland and Heine, he held
imaginary conversations with a barber, a bootmaker, and a banker, and
tried to taste the joy which he had not known in the language of those
poets for a whole generation. He perceived, of course, that unless the
barber, the bootmaker, and the banker answered him in terms which the
author of the phrase-book directed them to use, he should not get on with
them beyond his first question; but he did not allow this to spoil his
pleasure in it. In fact, it was with a tender emotion that he realized
how little the world, which had changed in everything else so greatly,
had changed in its ideal of a phrase-book.
Mrs. March postponed the study of her Baedeker to the time and place for
it; and addressed herself to the immediate business of ascertaining the
respective merits of the Colmannia and Norumbia. She carried on her
researches solely among persons of her own sex; its experiences were
alone of that positive character which brings conviction, and she valued
them equally at first or second hand. She heard of ladies who would not
cross in any boat but the Colmannia, and who waited for months to get a
room on her; she talked with ladies who said that nothing would induce
them to cross in her. There were ladies who said she had twice the
motion that the Norumbia had, and the vibration from her twin screws was
frightful; it always was, on those twin-screw boats, and it did not
affect their testimony with Mrs. March that the Norumbia was a twin-screw
boat too. It was repeated to her in the third or fourth degree of hear-
say that the discipline on the Colmannia was as perfect as that on the
Cunarders; ladies whose friends had tried every line assured her that the
table of the Norumbia was almost as good as the table of the French
boats. To the best of the belief of lady witnesses still living who had
friends on board, the Colmannia had once got aground, and the Norumbia
had once had her bridge carried off by a tidal wave; or it might be the
Colmannia; they promised to ask and let her know. Their lightest word
availed with her against the most solemn assurances of their husbands,
fathers, or brothers, who might be all very well on land, but in
navigation were not to be trusted; they would say anything from a
reckless and culpable optimism. She obliged March all the same to ask
among them, but she recognized their guilty insincerity when he came home
saying that one man had told him you could have played croquet on the
deck of the Colmannia the whole way over when he crossed, and another
that he never saw the racks on in three passages he had made in the
The weight of evidence was, he thought, in favor of the Norumbia, but
when they went another Sunday to Hoboken, and saw the ship, Mrs. March
liked her so much less than the Colmannia that she could hardly wait for
Monday to come; she felt sure all the good rooms on the Colmannia would
be gone before they could engage one.
From a consensus of the nerves of all the ladies left in town so late in
the season, she knew that the only place on any steamer where your room
ought to be was probably just where they could not get it. If you went
too high, you felt the rolling terribly, and people tramping up and down
on the promenade under your window kept you awake the whole night; if you
went too low, you felt the engine thump, thump, thump in your head the
whole way over. If you went too far forward, you got the pitching; if
you went aft, on the kitchen side, you got the smell of the cooking. The
only place, really, was just back of the dining-saloon on the south side
of the ship; it was smooth there, and it was quiet, and you had the sun
in your window all the way over. He asked her if he must take their room
there or nowhere, and she answered that he must do his best, but that she
would not be satisfied with any other place.
In his despair he went down to the steamer office, and took a room which
one of the clerks said was the best. When he got home, it appeared from
reference to the ship's plan that it was the very room his wife had
wanted from the beginning, and she praised him as if he had used a wisdom
beyond his sex in getting it.
He was in the enjoyment of his unmerited honor when a belated lady came
with her husband for an evening call, before going into the country. At
sight of the plans of steamers on the Marches' table, she expressed the
greatest wonder and delight that they were going to Europe. They had
supposed everybody knew it, by this time, but she said she had not heard
a word of it; and she went on with some felicitations which March found
rather unduly filial. In getting a little past the prime of life he did
not like to be used with too great consideration of his years, and he did
not think that he and his wife were so old that they need be treated as
if they were going on a golden wedding journey, and heaped with all sorts
of impertinent prophecies of their enjoying it so much and being so much
the better for the little outing! Under his breath, he confounded this
lady for her impudence; but he schooled himself to let her rejoice at
their going on a Hanseatic boat, because the Germans were always so
careful of you. She made her husband agree with her, and it came out
that he had crossed several times on both the Colmannia and the Norumbia.
He volunteered to say that the Colmannia, was a capital sea-boat; she did
not have her nose under water all the time; she was steady as a rock; and
the captain and the kitchen were simply out of sight; some people did
call her unlucky.
"Unlucky?" Mrs. March echoed, faintly. "Why do they call her unlucky?"
"Oh, I don't know. People will say anything about any boat. You know
she broke her shaft, once, and once she got caught in the ice."
Mrs. March joined him in deriding the superstition of people, and she
parted gayly with this over-good young couple. As soon as they were
gone, March knew that she would say: "You must change that ticket, my
dear. We will go in the Norumbia."
"Suppose I can't get as good a room on the Norumbia?"
"Then we must stay."
In the morning after a night so bad that it was worse than no night at
all, she said she would go to the steamship office with him and question
them up about the Colmannia. The people there had never heard she was
called an unlucky boat; they knew of nothing disastrous in her history.
They were so frank and so full in their denials, and so kindly patient of
Mrs. March's anxieties, that he saw every word was carrying conviction of
their insincerity to her. At the end she asked what rooms were left on
the Norumbia, and the clerk whom they had fallen to looked through his
passenger list with a shaking head. He was afraid there was nothing they
"But we would take anything," she entreated, and March smiled to think of
his innocence in supposing for a moment that she had ever dreamed of not
"We merely want the best," he put in. "One flight up, no noise or dust,
with sun in all the windows, and a place for fire on rainy days."
They must be used to a good deal of American joking which they do not
understand, in the foreign steamship offices. The clerk turned
unsmilingly to one of his superiors and asked him some question in German
which March could not catch, perhaps because it formed no part of a
conversation with a barber, a bootmaker or a banker. A brief drama
followed, and then the clerk pointed to a room on the plan of the
Norumbia and said it had just been given up, and they could have it if
they decided to take it at once.
They looked, and it was in the very place of their room on the Colmannia;
it was within one of being the same number. It was so providential, if
it was providential at all, that they were both humbly silent a moment;
even Mrs. March was silent. In this supreme moment she would not prompt
her husband by a word, a glance, and it was from his own free will that
he said, "We will take it."
He thought it was his free will, but perhaps one's will is never free;
and this may have been an instance of pure determinism from all the
events before it. No event that followed affected it, though the day
after they had taken their passage on the Norumbia he heard that she had
once been in the worst sort of storm in the month of August. He felt
obliged to impart the fact to his wife, but she said that it proved
nothing for or against the ship, and confounded him more by her reason
than by all her previous unreason. Reason is what a man is never
prepared for in women; perhaps because he finds it so seldom in men.
During nearly the whole month that now passed before the date of sailing
it seemed to March that in some familiar aspects New York had never been
so interesting. He had not easily reconciled himself to the place after
his many years of Boston; but he had got used to the ugly grandeur, to
the noise and the rush, and he had divined more and more the careless
good-nature and friendly indifference of the vast, sprawling, ungainly
metropolis. There were happy moments when he felt a poetry unintentional
and unconscious in it, and he thought there was no point more favorable
for the sense of this than Stuyvesant Square, where they had a flat.
Their windows looked down into its tree-tops, and across them to the
truncated towers of St. George's, and to the plain red-brick, white-
trimmed front of the Friends' Meeting House; he came and went between his
dwelling and his office through the two places that form the square, and
after dinner his wife and he had a habit of finding seats by one of the
fountains in Livingston Place, among the fathers and mothers of the
hybrid East Side children swarming there at play. The elders read their
English or Italian or German or Yiddish journals, or gossiped, or merely
sat still and stared away the day's fatigue; while the little ones raced
in and out among them, crying and laughing, quarrelling and kissing.
Sometimes a mother darted forward and caught her child from the brink of
the basin; another taught hers to walk, holding it tightly up behind by
its short skirts; another publicly nursed her baby to sleep.
While they still dreamed, but never thought, of going to Europe, the
Marches often said how European all this was; if these women had brought
their knitting or sewing it would have been quite European; but as soon
as they had decided to go, it all began to seem poignantly American. In
like manner, before the conditions of their exile changed, and they still
pined for the Old World, they contrived a very agreeable illusion of it
by dining now and then at an Austrian restaurant in Union Square; but
later when they began to be homesick for the American scenes they had not
yet left, they had a keener retrospective joy in the strictly New York
sunset they were bowed out into.
The sunsets were uncommonly characteristic that May in Union Square.
They were the color of the red stripes in the American flag, and when
they were seen through the delirious architecture of the Broadway side,
or down the perspective of the cross-streets, where the elevated trains
silhouetted themselves against their pink, they imparted a feeling of
pervasive Americanism in which all impression of alien savors and
civilities was lost. One evening a fire flamed up in Hoboken, and burned
for hours against the west, in the lurid crimson tones of a conflagration
as memorably and appealingly native as the colors of the sunset.
The weather for nearly the whole month was of a mood familiar enough in
our early summer, and it was this which gave the sunsets their vitreous
pink. A thrilling coolness followed a first blaze of heat, and in the
long respite the thoughts almost went back to winter flannels. But at
last a hot wave was telegraphed from the West, and the week before the
Norumbia sailed was an anguish of burning days and breathless nights,
which fused all regrets and reluctances in the hope of escape, and made
the exiles of two continents long for the sea, with no care for either
Their steamer was to sail early; they were up at dawn because they had
scarcely lain down, and March crept out into the square for a last breath
of its morning air before breakfast. He was now eager to be gone; he had
broken with habit, and he wished to put all traces of the past out of
sight. But this was curiously like all other early mornings in his
consciousness, and he could not alienate himself from the wonted
environment. He stood talking on every-day terms of idle speculation
with the familiar policeman, about a stray parrot in the top of one of
the trees, where it screamed and clawed at the dead branch to which it
clung. Then he went carelessly indoors again as if he were secure of
reading the reporter's story of it in that next day's paper which he
should not see.
The sense of an inseverable continuity persisted through the breakfast,
which was like other breakfasts in the place they would be leaving in
summer shrouds just as they always left it at the end of June. The
illusion was even heightened by the fact that their son was to be in the
apartment all summer, and it would not be so much shut up as usual. The
heavy trunks had been sent to the ship by express the afternoon before,
and they had only themselves and their stateroom baggage to transport to
Hoboken; they came down to a carriage sent from a neighboring livery-
stable, and exchanged good-mornings with a driver they knew by name.
March had often fancied it a chief advantage of living in New York that
you could drive to the steamer and start for Europe as if you were
starting for Albany; he was in the enjoyment of this advantage now, but
somehow it was not the consolation he had expected. He knew, of course,
that if they had been coming from Boston, for instance, to sail in the
Norumbia, they would probably have gone on board the night before, and
sweltered through its heat among the strange smells and noises of the
dock and wharf, instead of breakfasting at their own table, and smoothly
bowling down the asphalt on to the ferryboat, and so to the very foot of
the gangway at the ship's side, all in the cool of the early morning.
But though he had now the cool of the early morning on these conditions,
there was by no means enough of it.
The sun was already burning the life out of the air, with the threat of
another day of the terrible heat that had prevailed for a week past; and
that last breakfast at home had not been gay, though it had been lively,
in a fashion, through Mrs. March's efforts to convince her son that she
did not want him to come and see them off. Of, her daughter's coming all
the way from Chicago there was no question, and she reasoned that if he
did not come to say good-by on board it would be the same as if they were
"Don't you want to go?" March asked with an obscure resentment.
"I don't want to seem to go," she said, with the calm of those who have
logic on their side.
As she drove away with her husband she was not so sure of her
satisfaction in the feint she had arranged, though when she saw the
ghastly partings of people on board, she was glad she had not allowed her
son to come. She kept saying this to herself, and when they climbed to
the ship from the wharf, and found themselves in the crowd that choked
the saloons and promenades and passages and stairways and landings, she
said it more than once to her husband.
She heard weary elders pattering empty politenesses of farewell with
friends who had come to see them off, as they stood withdrawn in such
refuges as the ship's architecture afforded, or submitted to be pushed
and twirled about by the surging throng when they got in its way. She
pitied these in their affliction, which she perceived that they could not
lighten or shorten, but she had no patience with the young girls, who
broke into shrieks of nervous laughter at the coming of certain young
men, and kept laughing and beckoning till they made the young men see
them; and then stretched their hands to them and stood screaming and
shouting to them across the intervening heads and shoulders. Some girls,
of those whom no one had come to bid good-by, made themselves merry,
or at least noisy, by rushing off to the dining-room and looking at the
cards on the bouquets heaping the tables, to find whether any one had
sent them flowers. Others whom young men had brought bunches of violets
hid their noses in them, and dropped their fans and handkerchiefs and
card-cases, and thanked the young men for picking them up. Others, had
got places in the music-room, and sat there with open boxes of long-
stemmed roses in their laps, and talked up into the faces of the men,
with becoming lifts and slants of their eyes and chins. In the midst of
the turmoil children struggled against people's feet and knees, and
bewildered mothers flew at the ship's officers and battered them with
questions alien to their respective functions as they amiably stifled
about in their thick uniforms.
Sailors, slung over the ship's side on swinging seats, were placidly
smearing it with paint at that last moment; the bulwarks were thickly set
with the heads and arms of passengers who were making signs to friends on
shore, or calling messages to them that lost themselves in louder noises
midway. Some of the women in the steerage were crying; they were
probably not going to Europe for pleasure like the first-cabin
passengers, or even for their health; on the wharf below March saw the
face of one young girl twisted with weeping, and he wished he had not
seen it. He turned from it, and looked into the eyes of his son, who was
laughing at his shoulder. He said that he had to come down with a good-
by letter from his sister, which he made an excuse for following them;
but he had always meant to see them off, he owned. The letter had just
come with a special delivery stamp, and it warned them that she had sent
another good-by letter with some flowers on board. Mrs. March scolded at
them both, but with tears in her eyes, and in the renewed stress of
parting which he thought he had put from him, March went on taking note,
as with alien senses, of the scene before him, while they all talked on
together, and repeated the nothings they had said already.
A rank odor of beet-root sugar rose from the far-branching sheds where
some freight steamers of the line lay, and seemed to mingle chemically
with the noise which came up from the wharf next to the Norumbia. The
mass of spectators deepened and dimmed away into the shadow of the roofs,
and along their front came files of carriages and trucks and carts, and
discharged the arriving passengers and their baggage, and were lost in
the crowd, which they penetrated like slow currents, becoming clogged and
arrested from time to time, and then beginning to move again.
The passengers incessantly mounted by the canvas-draped galleries
leading, fore and aft, into the ship. Bareheaded, blue-jacketed, brass-
buttoned stewards dodged skillfully in and out among them with their
hand-bags, holdalls, hat-boxes, and state-room trunks, and ran before
them into the different depths and heights where they hid these burdens,
and then ran back for more. Some of the passengers followed them and
made sure that their things were put in the right places; most of them
remained wedged among the earlier comers, or pushed aimlessly in and out
of the doors of the promenades.
The baggage for the hold continually rose in huge blocks from the wharf,
with a loud clucking of the tackle, and sank into the open maw of the
ship, momently gathering herself for her long race seaward, with harsh
hissings and rattlings and gurglings. There was no apparent reason why
it should all or any of it end, but there came a moment when there began
to be warnings that were almost threats of the end. The ship's whistle
sounded, as if marking a certain interval; and Mrs. March humbly
entreated, sternly commanded, her son to go ashore, or else be carried to
Europe. They disputed whether that was the last signal or not; she was
sure it was, and she appealed to March, who was moved against his reason.
He affected to talk calmly with his son, and gave him some last charges
about 'Every Other Week'.
Some people now interrupted their leave-taking; but the arriving
passengers only arrived more rapidly at the gang-ways; the bulks of
baggage swung more swiftly into the air. A bell rang, and there rose
women's cries, "Oh, that is the shore-bell!" and men's protests, "It is
only the first bell! "More and more began to descend the gangways, fore
and aft, and soon outnumbered those who were coming aboard.
March tried not to be nervous about his son's lingering; he was ashamed
of his anxiety; but he said in a low voice, "Better be off, Tom."
His mother now said she did not care if Tom were really carried to
Europe; and at last he said, Well, he guessed he must go ashore, as if
there had been no question of that before; and then she clung to him and
would not let him go; but she acquired merit with herself at last by
pushing him into the gangway with her own hands: he nodded and waved his
hat from its foot, and mixed with the crowd.
Presently there was hardly any one coming aboard, and the sailors began
to undo the lashings of the gangways from the ship's side; files of men
on the wharf laid hold of their rails; the stewards guarding their
approach looked up for the signal to come aboard; and in vivid pantomime
forbade some belated leavetakers to ascend. These stood aside,
exchanging bows and grins with the friends whom they could not reach;
they all tried to make one another hear some last words. The moment came
when the saloon gangway was detached; then it was pulled ashore, and the
section of the bulwarks opening to it was locked, not to be unlocked on
this side of the world. An indefinable impulse communicated itself to
the steamer: while it still seemed motionless it moved. The thick spread
of faces on the wharf, which had looked at times like some sort of
strange flowers in a level field, broke into a universal tremor, and the
air above them was filled with hats and handkerchiefs, as if with the
flight of birds rising from the field.
The Marches tried to make out their son's face; they believed that they
did; but they decided that they had not seen him, and his mother said
that she was glad; it would only have made it harder to bear, though she
was glad he had come over to say good-by it had seemed so unnatural that
he should not, when everybody else was saying good-by.
On the wharf color was now taking the place of form; the scene ceased to
have the effect of an instantaneous photograph; it was like an
impressionistic study. As the ship swung free of the shed and got into
the stream, the shore lost reality. Up to a certain moment, all was
still New York, all was even Hoboken; then amidst the grotesque and
monstrous shows of the architecture on either shore March felt himself at
sea and on the way to Europe.
The fact was accented by the trouble people were already making with the
deck-steward about their steamer chairs, which they all wanted put in the
best places, and March, with a certain heart-ache, was involuntarily
verifying the instant in which he ceased to be of his native shores,
while still in full sight of them, when he suddenly reverted to them, and
as it were landed on them again in an incident that held him breathless.
A man, bareheaded, and with his arms flung wildly abroad, came flying
down the promenade from the steerage. "Capitan! Capitan! There is a
woman!" he shouted in nondescript English. "She must go hout! She must
go hout!" Some vital fact imparted itself to the ship's command and
seemed to penetrate to the ship's heart; she stopped, as if with a sort
of majestic relenting. A tug panted to her side, and lifted a ladder to
it; the bareheaded man, and a woman gripping a baby in her arms, sprawled
safely down its rungs to the deck of the tug, and the steamer moved
"What is it? Oh, what is it?" his wife demanded of March's share of
their common ignorance. A young fellow passing stopped, as if arrested
by the tragic note in her voice, and explained that the woman had left
three little children locked up in her tenement while she came to bid
some friends on board good-by.
He passed on, and Mrs. March said, "What a charming face he had!" even
before she began to wreak upon that wretched mother the overwrought
sympathy which makes good women desire the punishment of people who have
escaped danger. She would not hear any excuse for her. "Her children
oughtn't to have been out of her mind for an instant."
"Don't you want to send back a line to ours by the pilot?" March asked.
She started from him. "Oh, was I really beginning to forget them?"
In the saloon where people were scattered about writing pilot's letters
she made him join her in an impassioned epistle of farewell, which once
more left none of the nothings unsaid that they had many times
reiterated. She would not let him put the stamp on, for fear it would
not stick, and she had an agonizing moment of doubt whether it ought not
to be a German stamp; she was not pacified till the steward in charge of
the mail decided.
"I shouldn't have forgiven myself," March said, "if we hadn't let Tom
know that twenty minutes after he left us we were still alive and well."
"It's to Bella, too," she reasoned.
He found her making their state-room look homelike with their familiar
things when he came with their daughter's steamer letter and the flowers
and fruit she had sent. She said, Very well, they would all keep, and
went on with her unpacking. He asked her if she did not think these home
things made it rather ghastly, and she said if he kept on in that way she
should certainly go back on the pilot-boat. He perceived that her nerves
were spent. He had resisted the impulse to an ill-timed joke about the
life-preservers under their berths when the sound of the breakfast-horn,
wavering first in the distance, found its way nearer and clearer down
In one of the many visits to the steamship office which his wife's
anxieties obliged him to make, March had discussed the question of seats
in the dining-saloon. At first he had his ambition for the captain's
table, but they convinced him more easily than he afterwards convinced
Mrs. March that the captain's table had become a superstition of the
past, and conferred no special honor. It proved in the event that the
captain of the Norumbia had the good feeling to dine in a lower saloon
among the passengers who paid least for their rooms. But while the
Marches were still in their ignorance of this, they decided to get what
adventure they could out of letting the head steward put them where he
liked, and they came in to breakfast with a careless curiosity to see
what he had done for them.
There seemed scarcely a vacant place in the huge saloon; through the oval
openings in the centre they looked down into the lower saloon and up into
the music-room, as thickly thronged with breakfasters. The tables were
brightened with the bouquets and the floral designs of ships, anchors,
harps, and doves sent to the lady passengers, and at one time the Marches
thought they were going to be put before a steam-yacht realized to the
last detail in blue and white violets. The ports of the saloon were
open, and showed the level sea; the ship rode with no motion except the
tremor from her screws. The sound of talking and laughing rose with the
clatter of knives and forks and the clash of crockery; the homely smell
of the coffee and steak and fish mixed with the spice of the roses and
carnations; the stewards ran hither and thither, and a young foolish joy
of travel welled up in the elderly hearts of the pair. When the head
steward turned out the swivel-chairs where they were to sit they both
made an inclination toward the people already at table, as if it had been
a company at some far-forgotten table d'hote in the later sixties. The
head steward seemed to understand as well as speak English, but the
table-stewards had only an effect of English, which they eked out with
"Bleace!" for all occasions of inquiry, apology, or reassurance, as the
equivalent of their native "Bitte!" Otherwise there was no reason to
suppose that they did not speak German, which was the language of a good
half of the passengers. The stewards looked English, however, in
conformity to what seems the ideal of every kind of foreign seafaring
people, and that went a good way toward making them intelligible.
March, to whom his wife mainly left their obeisance, made it so tentative
that if it should meet no response he could feel that it had been nothing
more than a forward stoop, such as was natural in sitting down. He need
not really have taken this precaution; those whose eyes he caught more or
less nodded in return.
A nice-looking boy of thirteen or fourteen, who had the place on the left
of the lady in the sofa seat under the port, bowed with almost
magisterial gravity, and made the lady on the sofa smile, as if she were
his mother and understood him. March decided that she had been some time
a widow; and he easily divined that the young couple on her right had
been so little time husband and wife that they would rather not have it
known. Next them was a young lady whom he did not at first think so
good-looking as she proved later to be, though she had at once a pretty
nose, with a slight upward slant at the point, long eyes under fallen
lashes, a straight forehead, not too high, and a mouth which perhaps the
exigencies of breakfasting did not allow all its characteristic charm.
She had what Mrs. March thought interesting hair, of a dull black,
roughly rolled away from her forehead and temples in a fashion not
particularly becoming to her, and she had the air of not looking so well
as she might if she had chosen. The elderly man on her right, it was
easy to see, was her father; they had a family likeness, though his fair
hair, now ashen with age, was so different from hers. He wore his beard
cut in the fashion of the Second Empire, with a Louis Napoleonic
mustache, imperial, and chin tuft; his neat head was cropt close; and
there was something Gallic in its effect and something remotely military:
he had blue eyes, really less severe than he meant, though be frowned a
good deal, and managed them with glances of a staccato quickness, as if
challenging a potential disagreement with his opinions.
The gentleman on his right, who sat at the head of the table, was of the
humorous, subironical American expression, and a smile at the corner of
his kindly mouth, under an iron-gray full beard cut short, at once
questioned and tolerated the new-comers as he glanced at them. He
responded to March's bow almost as decidedly as the nice boy, whose
mother he confronted at the other end of the table, and with his comely
bulk formed an interesting contrast to her vivid slightness. She was
brilliantly dark, behind the gleam of the gold-rimmed glasses perched on
her pretty nose.
If the talk had been general before the Marches came, it did not at once
renew itself in that form. Nothing was said while they were having their
first struggle with the table-stewards, who repeated the order as if to
show how fully they had misunderstood it. The gentleman at the head of
the table intervened at last, and then, "I'm obliged to you," March said,
for your German. I left mine in a phrase-book in my other coat pocket."
"Oh, I wasn't speaking German," said the other. "It was merely their kind
The company were in the excitement of a novel situation which disposes
people to acquaintance, and this exchange of small pleasantries made
every one laugh, except the father and daughter; but they had the effect
of being tacitly amused.
The mother of the nice boy said to Mrs. March, "You may not get what you
ordered, but it will be good."
"Even if you don't know what it is!" said the young bride, and then
blushed, as if she had been too bold.
Mrs. March liked the blush and the young bride for it, and she asked,
"Have you ever been on one of these German boats before? They seem very
"Oh, dear, no! we've never been on any boat before." She made a little
petted mouth of deprecation, and added, simple-heartedly, "My husband was
going out on business, and he thought he might as well take me along."
The husband seemed to feel himself brought in by this, and said he did
not see why they should not make it a pleasure-trip, too. They put
themselves in a position to be patronized by their deference, and in the
pauses of his talk with the gentleman at the head of the table, March
heard his wife abusing their inexperience to be unsparingly instructive
about European travel. He wondered whether she would be afraid to own
that it was nearly thirty years since she had crossed the ocean; though
that might seem recent to people who had never crossed at all.
They listened with respect as she boasted in what an anguish of wisdom
she had decided between the Colmannia and the Norumbia. The wife said
she did not know there was such a difference in steamers, but when Mrs.
March perfervidly assured her that there was all the difference in the
world, she submitted and said she supposed she ought to be thankful that
they, had hit upon the right one. They had telegraphed for berths and
taken what was given them; their room seemed to be very nice.
"Oh," said Mrs. March, and her husband knew that she was saying it to
reconcile them to the inevitable, "all the rooms on the Norumbia are
nice. The only difference is that if they are on the south side you have
"I'm not sure which is the south side," said the bride. "We seem to have
been going west ever since we started, and I feel as if we should reach
home in the morning if we had a good night. Is the ocean always so
smooth as this?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said Mrs. March. "It's never so smooth as this," and she
began to be outrageously authoritative about the ocean weather. She
ended by declaring that the June passages were always good, and that if
the ship kept a southerly course they would have no fogs and no icebergs.
She looked round, and caught her husband's eye. "What is it? Have I
been bragging? Well, you understand," she added to the bride, "I've only
been over once, a great while ago, and I don't really know anything about
it," and they laughed together. "But I talked so much with people after
we decided to go, that I feel as if I had been a hundred times."
"I know," said the other lady, with caressing intelligence. "That is
just the way with--" She stopped, and looked at the young man whom the
head steward was bringing up to take the vacant place next to March. He
came forward, stuffing his cap into the pocket of his blue serge sack,
and smiled down on the company with such happiness in his gay eyes that
March wondered what chance at this late day could have given any human
creature his content so absolute, and what calamity could be lurking
round the corner to take it out of him. The new-comer looked at March as
if he knew him, and March saw at a second glance that he was the young
fellow who had told him about the mother put off after the start. He
asked him whether there was any change in the weather yet outside, and he
answered eagerly, as if the chance to put his happiness into the mere
sound of words were a favor done him, that their ship had just spoken one
of the big Hanseatic mailboats, and she had signalled back that she had
met ice; so that they would probably keep a southerly course, and not
have it cooler till they were off the Banks.
The mother of the boy said, "I thought we must be off the Banks when I
came out of my room, but it was only the electric fan at the foot of the
"That was what I thought," said Mrs. March. "I almost sent my husband
back for my shawl!" Both the ladies laughed and liked each other for
their common experience.
The gentleman at the head of the table said, "They ought to have fans
going there by that pillar, or else close the ports. They only let in
They easily conformed to the American convention of jocosity in their
talk; it perhaps no more represents the individual mood than the
convention of dulness among other people; but it seemed to make the young
man feel at home.
"Why, do you think it's uncomfortably warm?" he asked, from what March
perceived to be a meteorology of his own. He laughed and added, "It is
pretty summerlike," as if he had not thought of it before. He talked of
the big mail-boat, and said he would like to cross on such a boat as
that, and then he glanced at the possible advantage of having your own
steam-yacht like the one which he said they had just passed, so near that
you could see what a good time the people were having on board. He began
to speak to the Marches; his talk spread to the young couple across the
table; it visited the mother on the sofa in a remark which she might
ignore without apparent rejection, and without really avoiding the boy,
it glanced off toward the father and daughter, from whom it fell, to rest
with the gentleman at the head of the table.
It was not that the father and daughter had slighted his overture, if it
was so much as that, but that they were tacitly preoccupied, or were of
some philosophy concerning their fellow-breakfasters which did not suffer
them, for the present, at least, to share in the common friendliness.
This is an attitude sometimes produced in people by a sense of just, or
even unjust, superiority; sometimes by serious trouble; sometimes by
transient annoyance. The cause was not so deep-seated but Mrs. March,
before she rose from her place, believed that she had detected a slant of
the young lady's eyes, from under her lashes, toward the young man; and
she leaped to a conclusion concerning them in a matter where all logical
steps are impertinent. She did not announce her arrival at this point
till the young man had overtaken her before she got out of the saloon,
and presented the handkerchief she had dropped under the table.
He went away with her thanks, and then she said to her husband, "Well,
he's perfectly charming, and I don't wonder she's taken with him; that
kind of cold girl would be, though I'm not sure that she is cold. She's
interesting, and you could see that he thought so, the more he looked at
her; I could see him looking at her from the very first instant; he
couldn't keep his eyes off her; she piqued his curiosity, and made him
wonder about her."
"Now, look here, Isabel! This won't do. I can stand a good deal, but I
sat between you and that young fellow, and you couldn't tell whether he
was looking at that girl or not."
"I could! I could tell by the expression of her face."
"Oh, well! If it's gone as far as that with you, I give it up. When are
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