The Entire March Family Trilogy
William Dean Howells
Part 20 out of 21
garden before the Grand-Ducal Museum, in a conference so important that
when it came on to rain, at one moment, they put up Burnamy's umbrella,
and continued to sit under it rather than interrupt the proceedings even
to let Agatha go back to the hotel and look after her father's packing.
Her own had been finished before dinner, so as to leave her the whole
afternoon for their conference, and to allow her father to remain in
undisturbed possession of his room as long as possible.
What chiefly remained to be put into the general's trunk were his coats
and trousers, hanging in the closet, and August took these down, and
carefully folded and packed them. Then, to make sure that nothing had
been forgotten, Agatha put a chair into the closet when she came in, and
stood on it to examine the shelf which stretched above the hooks.
There seemed at first to be nothing on it, and then there seemed to be
something in the further corner, which when it was tiptoed for, proved to
be a bouquet of flowers, not so faded as to seem very old; the blue satin
ribbon which they were tied up with, and which hung down half a yard, was
of entire freshness except far the dust of the shelf where it had lain.
Agatha backed out into the room with her find in her hand, and examined
it near to, and then at arm's length. August stood by with a pair of the
general's trousers lying across his outstretched hands, and as Agatha
absently looked round at him, she caught a light of intelligence in his
eyes which changed her whole psychological relation to the withered
bouquet. Till then it had been a lifeless, meaningless bunch of flowers,
which some one, for no motive, had tossed up on that dusty shelf in the
closet. At August's smile it became something else. Still she asked
lightly enough, "Was ist loss, August?"
His smile deepened and broadened. "Fur die Andere," he explained.
Agatha demanded in English, "What do you mean by feardy ondery?"
"Other lady?" August nodded, rejoicing in big success, and Agatha closed
the door into her own room, where the general had been put for the time
so as to be spared the annoyance of the packing; then she sat down with
her hands in her lap, and the bouquet in her hands. "Now, August," she
said very calmly, "I want you to tell me-ich wunsche Sie zu mir sagen--
what other lady--wass andere Dame--these flowers belonged to--diese
Blumen gehorte zu. Verstehen Sie?"
August nodded brightly, and with German carefully adjusted to Agatha's
capacity, and with now and then a word or phrase of English, he conveyed
that before she and her Herr Father had appeared, there had been in
Weimar another American Fraulein with her Frau Mother; they had not
indeed staid in that hotel, but had several times supped there with the
young Herr Bornahmee, who was occupying that room before her Herr Father.
The young Herr had been much about with these American Damen, driving and
walking with them, and sometimes dining or supping with them at their
hotel, The Elephant. August had sometimes carried notes to them from the
young Herr, and he had gone for the bouquet which the gracious Fraulein
was holding, on the morning of the day that the American Damen left by
the train for Hanover.
August was much helped and encouraged throughout by the friendly
intelligence of the gracious Fraulein, who smiled radiantly in clearing
up one dim point after another, and who now and then supplied the English
analogues which he sought in his effort to render his German more
At the end she returned to the work of packing, in which she directed
him, and sometimes assisted him with her own hands, having put the
bouquet on the mantel to leave herself free. She took it up again and
carried it into her own room, when she went with August to summon her
father back to his. She bade August say to the young Herr, if he saw
him, that she was going to sup with her father, and August gave her
message to Burnamy, whom he met on the stairs coming down as he was going
up with their tray.
Agatha usually supped with her father, but that evening Burnamy was less
able than usual to bear her absence in the hotel dining-room, and he went
up to a cafe in the town for his supper. He did not stay long, and when
he returned his heart gave a joyful lift at sight of Agatha looking out
from her balcony, as if she were looking for him. He made her a gay
flourishing bow, lifting his hat high, and she came down to meet him at
the hotel door. She had her hat on and jacket over one arm and she
joined him at once for the farewell walk he proposed in what they had
agreed to call their garden.
She moved a little ahead of him, and when they reached the place where
they always sat, she shifted her jacket to the other arm and uncovered
the hand in which she had been carrying the withered bouquet. "Here is
something I found in your closet, when I was getting papa's things out."
"Why, what is it?" he asked innocently, as he took it from her.
"A bouquet, apparently," she answered, as he drew the long ribbons
through his fingers, and looked at the flowers curiously, with his head
"Where did you get it?"
"On the shelf."
It seemed a long time before Burnamy said with a long sigh, as of final
recollection, "Oh, yes," and then he said nothing; and they did not sit
down, but stood looking at each other.
"Was it something you got for me, and forgot to give me?" she asked in a
voice which would not have misled a woman, but which did its work with
the young man.
He laughed and said, "Well, hardly! The general has been in the room
ever since you came."
"Oh, yes. Then perhaps somebody left it there before you had the room?"
Burnamy was silent again, but at last he said, "No, I flung it up there I
had forgotten all about it."
"And you wish me to forget about it, too?" Agatha asked in a gayety of
tone that still deceived him.
"It would only be fair. You made me," he rejoined, and there was
something so charming in his words and way, that she would have been glad
to do it.
But she governed herself against the temptation and said, "Women are not
good at forgetting, at least till they know what."
"Oh, I'll tell you, if you want to know," he said with a laugh, and at
the words she--sank provisionally in their accustomed seat. He sat down
beside her, but not so near as usual, and he waited so long before he
began that it seemed as if he had forgotten again. "Why, it's nothing.
Miss Etkins and her mother were here before you came, and this is a
bouquet that I meant to give her at the train when she left. But I
decided I wouldn't, and I threw it onto the shelf in the closet."
"May I ask why you thought of taking a bouquet to her at the train?"
"Well, she and her mother--I had been with them a good deal, and I
thought it would be civil."
"And why did you decide not to be civil?"
"I didn't want it to look like more than civility."
"Were they here long?"
"About a week. They left just after the Marches came."
Agatha seemed not to heed the answer she had exacted. She sat reclined
in the corner of the seat, with her head drooping. After an interval
which was long to Burnamy she began to pull at a ring on the third finger
of her left hand, absently, as if she did not know what she was doing;
but when she had got it off she held it towards Burnamy and said quietly,
"I think you had better have this again," and then she rose and moved
slowly and weakly away.
He had taken the ring mechanically from her, and he stood a moment
bewildered; then he pressed after her.
"Agatha, do you--you don't mean--"
"Yes," she said, without looking round at his face, which she knew was
close to her shoulder. "It's over. It isn't what you've done. It's
what you are. I believed in you, in spite of what you did to that man--
and your coming back when you said you wouldn't--and--But I see now that
what you did was you; it was your nature; and I can't believe in you any
"Agatha!" he implored. "You're not going to be so unjust! There was
nothing between you and me when that girl was here! I had a right to--"
"Not if you really cared for me! Do you think I would have flirted with
any one so soon, if I had cared for you as you pretended you did for me
that night in Carlsbad? Oh, I don't say you're false. But you're
"But I'm not fickle! From the first moment I saw you, I never cared for
any one but you!"
"You have strange ways of showing your devotion. Well, say you are not
fickle. Say, that I'm fickle. I am. I have changed my mind. I see
that it would never do. I leave you free to follow all the turning and
twisting of your fancy." She spoke rapidly, almost breathlessly, and she
gave him no chance to get out the words that seemed to choke him. She
began to run, but at the door of the hotel she stopped and waited till he
came stupidly up. "I have a favor to ask, Mr. Burnamy. I beg you will
not see me again, if you can help it before we go to-morrow. My father
and I are indebted to you for too many kindnesses, and you mustn't take
any more trouble on our account. August can see us off in the morning."
She nodded quickly, and was gone in-doors while he was yet struggling
with his doubt of the reality of what had all so swiftly happened.
General Triscoe was still ignorant of any change in the status to which
he had reconciled himself with so much difficulty, when he came down to
get into the omnibus for the train. Till then he had been too proud to
ask what had become of Burnamy, though he had wondered, but now he looked
about and said impatiently, "I hope that young man isn't going to keep us
Agatha was pale and worn with sleeplessness, but she said firmly, "He
isn't going, papa. I will tell you in the train. August will see to the
tickets and the baggage."
August conspired with the traeger to get them a first-class compartment
to themselves. But even with the advantages of this seclusion Agatha's
confidences to her father were not full. She told her father that her
engagement was broken for reasons that did not mean anything very wrong
in Mr. Burnamy but that convinced her they could never be happy together.
As she did not give the reasons, he found a natural difficulty in
accepting them, and there was something in the situation which appealed
strongly to his contrary-mindedness. Partly from this, partly from his
sense of injury in being obliged so soon to adjust himself to new
conditions, and partly from his comfortable feeling of security from an
engagement to which his assent had been forced, he said, "I hope you're
not making a mistake."
"Oh, no," she answered, and she attested her conviction by a burst of
sobbing that lasted well on the way to the first stop of the train.
It would have been always twice as easy to go direct from Berlin to the
Hague through Hanover; but the Marches decided to go by Frankfort and the
Rhine, because they wished to revisit the famous river, which they
remembered from their youth, and because they wished to stop at
Dusseldorf, where Heinrich Heine was born. Without this Mrs. March, who
kept her husband up to his early passion for the poet with a feeling that
she was defending him from age in it, said that their silver wedding
journey would not be complete; and he began himself to think that it
would be interesting.
They took a sleeping-car for Frankfort and they woke early as people do
in sleeping-cars everywhere. March dressed and went out for a cup of the
same coffee of which sleeping-car buffets have the awful secret in Europe
as well as America, and for a glimpse of the twilight landscape. One
gray little town, towered and steepled and red-roofed within its
mediaeval walls, looked as if it would have been warmer in something
more. There was a heavy dew, if not a light frost, over all, and in
places a pale fog began to lift from the low hills. Then the sun rose
without dispersing the cold, which was afterwards so severe in their room
at the Russischer Hof in Frankfort that in spite of the steam-radiators
they sat shivering in all their wraps till breakfast-time.
There was no steam on in the radiators, of course; when they implored the
portier for at least a lamp to warm their hands by he turned on all the
electric lights without raising the temperature in the slightest degree.
Amidst these modern comforts they were so miserable that they vowed each
other to shun, as long as they were in Germany, or at least while the
summer lasted, all hotels which were steam-heated and electric-lighted.
They heated themselves somewhat with their wrath, and over their
breakfast they relented so far as to suffer themselves a certain interest
in the troops of all arms beginning to pass the hotel. They were
fragments of the great parade, which had ended the day before, and they
were now drifting back to their several quarters of the empire. Many of
them were very picturesque, and they had for the boys and girls running
before and beside them, the charm which armies and circus processions
have for children everywhere. But their passage filled with cruel
anxiety a large old dog whom his master had left harnessed to a milk-cart
before the hotel door; from time to time he lifted up his voice, and
called to the absentee with hoarse, deep barks that almost shook him from
The day continued blue and bright and cold, and the Marches gave the
morning to a rapid survey of the city, glad that it was at least not wet.
What afterwards chiefly remained to them was the impression of an old
town as quaint almost and as Gothic as old Hamburg, and a new town,
handsome and regular, and, in the sudden arrest of some streets,
apparently overbuilt. The modern architectural taste was of course
Parisian; there is no other taste for the Germans; but in the prevailing
absence of statues there was a relief from the most oppressive
characteristic of the imperial capital which was a positive delight.
Some sort of monument to the national victory over France there must have
been; but it must have been unusually inoffensive, for it left no record
of itself in the travellers' consciousness. They were aware of gardened
squares and avenues, bordered by stately dwellings, of dignified civic
edifices, and of a vast arid splendid railroad station, such as the state
builds even in minor European cities, but such as our paternal
corporations have not yet given us anywhere in America. They went to the
Zoological Garden, where they heard the customary Kalmucks at their
public prayers behind a high board fence; and as pilgrims from the most
plutrocratic country in the world March insisted that they must pay their
devoirs at the shrine of the Rothschilds, whose natal banking-house they
revered from the outside.
It was a pity, he said, that the Rothschilds were not on his letter of
credit; he would have been willing to pay tribute to the Genius of
Finance in the percentage on at least ten pounds. But he consoled
himself by reflecting that he did not need the money; and he consoled
Mrs. March for their failure to penetrate to the interior of the
Rothschilds' birthplace by taking her to see the house where Goethe was
born. The public is apparently much more expected there, and in the
friendly place they were no doubt much more welcome than they would have
been in the Rothschild house. Under that roof they renewed a happy
moment of Weimar, which after the lapse of a week seemed already so
remote. They wondered, as they mounted the stairs from the basement
opening into a clean little court, how Burnamy was getting on, and
whether it had yet come to that understanding between him and Agatha,
which Mrs. March, at least, had meant to be inevitable. Then they became
part of some such sight-seeing retinue as followed the custodian about in
the Goethe horse in Weimar, and of an emotion indistinguishable from that
of their fellow sight-seers. They could make sure, afterwards, of a
personal pleasure in a certain prescient classicism of the house. It
somehow recalled both the Goethe houses at Weimar, and it somehow
recalled Italy. It is a separate house of two floors above the entrance,
which opens to a little court or yard, and gives access by a decent
stairway to the living-rooms. The chief of these is a sufficiently
dignified parlor or salon, and the most important is the little chamber
in the third story where the poet first opened his eyes to the light
which he rejoiced in for so long a life, and which, dying, he implored to
be with him more. It is as large as his death-chamber in Weimar, where
he breathed this prayer, and it looks down into the Italian-looking
court, where probably he noticed the world for the first time, and
thought it a paved enclosure thirty or forty feet square. In the birth-
room they keep his puppet theatre, and the place is fairly suggestive of
his childhood; later, in his youth, he could look from the parlor windows
and see the house where his earliest love dwelt. So much remains of
Goethe in the place where he was born, and as such things go, it is not a
little. The house is that of a prosperous and well-placed citizen, and
speaks of the senatorial quality in his family which Heine says he was
fond of recalling, rather than the sartorial quality of the ancestor who,
again as Heine says, mended the Republic's breeches.
From the Goethe house, one drives by the Goethe monument to the Romer,
the famous town-hall of the old free imperial city which Frankfort once
was; and by this route the Marches drove to it, agreeing with their
coachman that he was to keep as much in the sun as possible. It was
still so cold that when they reached the Romer, and he stopped in a broad
blaze of the only means of heating that they have in Frankfort in the
summer, the travellers were loath to leave it for the chill interior,
where the German emperors were elected for so many centuries. As soon as
an emperor was chosen, in the great hall effigied round with the
portraits of his predecessors, he hurried out in the balcony, ostensibly
to show himself to the people, but really, March contended, to warm up a
little in the sun. The balcony was undergoing repairs that day, and the
travellers could not go out on it; but under the spell of the historic
interest of the beautiful old Gothic place, they lingered in the interior
till they were half-torpid with the cold. Then she abandoned to him the
joint duty of viewing the cathedral, and hurried to their carriage where
she basked in the sun till he came to her. He returned shivering, after
a half-hour's absence, and pretended that she had missed the greatest
thing in the world, but as he could never be got to say just what she had
lost, and under the closest cross-examination could not prove that this
cathedral was memorably different from hundreds of other fourteenth-
century cathedrals, she remained in a lasting content with the easier
part she had chosen. His only definite impression at the cathedral
seemed to be confined to a Bostonian of gloomily correct type, whom he
had seen doing it with his Baedeker, and not letting an object of
interest escape; and his account of her fellow-townsman reconciled Mrs.
March more and more to not having gone.
As it was warmer out-doors than in-doors at Frankfort, and as the breadth
of sunshine increased with the approach of noon they gave the rest of the
morning to driving about and ignorantly enjoying the outside of many
Gothic churches, whose names even they did not trouble themselves to
learn. They liked the river Main whenever they came to it, because it
was so lately from Wurzburg, and because it was so beautiful with its
bridges, old and new, and its boats of many patterns. They liked the
market-place in front of the Romer not only because it was full of
fascinating bargains in curious crockery and wooden-ware, but because
there was scarcely any shade at all in it. They read from their Baedeker
that until the end of the last century no Jew was suffered to enter the
marketplace, and they rejoiced to find from all appearances that the Jews
had been making up for their unjust exclusion ever since. They were
almost as numerous there as the Anglo-Saxons were everywhere else in
Frankfort. These, both of the English and American branches of the race,
prevailed in the hotel diningroom, where the Marches had a mid-day dinner
so good that it almost made amends for the steam-heating and electric-
As soon as possible after dinner they took the train for Mayence, and ran
Rhinewards through a pretty country into what seemed a milder climate.
It grew so much milder, apparently, that a lady in their compartment to
whom March offered his forward-looking seat, ordered the window down when
the guard came, without asking their leave. Then the climate proved much
colder, and Mrs. March cowered under her shawls the rest of the way, and
would not be entreated to look at the pleasant level landscape near, or
the hills far off. He proposed to put up the window as peremptorily as
it had been put down, but she stayed him with a hoarse whisper, "She may
be another Baroness!" At first he did not know what she meant, then he
remembered the lady whose claims to rank her presence had so poorly
enforced on the way to Wurzburg, and he perceived that his wife was
practising a wise forbearance with their fellow-passengers, and giving
her a chance to turn out any sort of highhote she chose. She failed to
profit by the opportunity; she remained simply a selfish, disagreeable
woman, of no more perceptible distinction than their other fellow-
passenger, a little commercial traveller from Vienna (they resolved from
his appearance and the lettering on his valise that he was no other), who
slept with a sort of passionate intensity all the way to Mayence.
The Main widened and swam fuller as they approached the Rhine, and
flooded the low-lying fields in-places with a pleasant effect under a wet
sunset. When they reached the station in Mayence they drove interminably
to the hotel they had chosen on the river-shore, through a city handsomer
and cleaner than any American city they could think of, and great part of
the way by a street of dwellings nobler, Mrs. March owned, than even
Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. It was planted, like that, with double
rows of trees, but lacked its green lawns; and at times the sign of
Weinhandlung at a corner, betrayed that there was no such restriction
against shops as keeps the Boston street so sacred. Otherwise they had
to confess once more that any inferior city of Germany is of a more
proper and dignified presence than the most parse-proud metropolis in
America. To be sure, they said, the German towns had generally a
thousand years' start; but all the same the fact galled them.
It was very bleak, though very beautiful when they stopped before their
hotel on the Rhine, where all their impalpable memories of their visit to
Mayence thirty years earlier precipitated themselves into something
tangible. There were the reaches of the storied and fabled stream with
its boats and bridges and wooded shores and islands; there were the
spires and towers and roofs of the town on either bank crowding to the
river's brink; and there within-doors was the stately portier in gold
braid, and the smiling, bowing, hand-rubbing landlord, alluring them to
his most expensive rooms, which so late in the season he would fain have
had them take. But in a little elevator, that mounted slowly, very
slowly, in the curve of the stairs, they went higher to something lower,
and the landlord retired baked, and left them to the ministrations of the
serving-men who arrived with their large and small baggage. All these
retired in turn when they asked to have a fire lighted in the stove,
without which Mrs. March would never have taken the fine stately rooms,
and sent back a pretty young girl to do it. She came indignant, not
because she had come lugging a heavy hod of coal and a great arm-load of
wood, but because her sense of fitness was outraged by the strange
"What!" she cried. "A fire in September!"
"Yes," March returned, inspired to miraculous aptness in his German by
the exigency, "yes, if September is cold."
The girl looked at him, and then, either because she thought him mad, or
liked him merry, burst into a loud laugh, and kindled the fire without a
He lighted all the reluctant gas-jets in the vast gilt chandelier, and in
less than half an hour the temperature of the place rose to at least
sixty-five Fahrenheit, with every promise of going higher. Mrs. March
made herself comfortable in a deep chair before the stove, and said she
would have her supper there; and she bade him send her just such a supper
of chicken and honey and tea as they had all had in Mayence when they
supped in her aunt's parlor there all those years ago. He wished to
compute the years, but she drove him out with an imploring cry, and he
went down to a very gusty dining-room on the ground-floor, where he found
himself alone with a young English couple and their little boy. They
were friendly, intelligent people, and would have been conversable,
apparently, but for the terrible cold of the husband, which he said he
had contracted at the manoeuvres in Hombourg. March said he was going to
Holland, and the Englishman was doubtful of the warmth which March
expected to find there. He seemed to be suffering from a suspense of
faith as to the warmth anywhere; from time to time the door of the
dining-room self-opened in a silent, ghostly fashion into the court
without, and let in a chilling draught about the legs of all, till the
little English boy got down from his place and shut it.
He alone continued cheerful, for March's spirits certainly did not rise
when some mumbling Americans came in and muttered over their meat at
another table. He hated to own it, but he had to own that wherever he
had met the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race together in Europe, the
elder had shown, by a superior chirpiness, to the disadvantage of the
younger. The cast clothes of the old-fashioned British offishness seemed
to have fallen to the American travellers who were trying to be correct
and exemplary; and he would almost rather have had back the old-style
bragging Americans whom he no longer saw. He asked of an agreeable
fellow-countryman whom he found later in the reading-room, what had
become of these; and this compatriot said he had travelled with one only
the day before, who had posed before their whole compartment in his scorn
of the German landscape, the German weather, the German government, the
German railway management, and then turned out an American of German
birth! March found his wife in great bodily comfort when he went back to
her, but in trouble of mind about a clock which she had discovered
standing on the lacquered iron top of the stove. It was a French clock,
of architectural pretensions, in the taste of the first Empire, and it
looked as if it had not been going since Napoleon occupied Mayence early
in the century. But Mrs. March now had it sorely on her conscience
where, in its danger from the heat of the stove, it rested with the
weight of the Pantheon, whose classic form it recalled. She wondered
that no one had noticed it before the fire was kindled, and she required
her husband to remove it at once from the top of the stove to the mantel
under the mirror, which was the natural habitat of such a clock. He said
nothing could be simpler, but when he lifted it, it began to fall all
apart, like a clock in the house of the Hoodoo. Its marble base
dropped-off; its pillars tottered; its pediment swayed to one side.
While Mrs. March lamented her hard fate, and implored him to hurry it
together before any one came, he contrived to reconstruct it in its new
place. Then they both breathed freer, and returned to sit down before
the stove. But at the same moment they both saw, ineffaceably outlined
on the lacquered top, the basal form of the clock. The chambermaid would
see it in the morning; she would notice the removal of the clock, and
would make a merit of reporting its ruin by the heat to the landlord, and
in the end they would be mulcted of its value. Rather than suffer this
wrong they agreed to restore it to its place, and, let it go to
destruction upon its own terms. March painfully rebuilt it where he had
found it, and they went to bed with a bad conscience to worse dreams.
He remembered, before he slept, the hour of his youth when he was in
Mayence before, and was so care free that he had heard with impersonal
joy two young American voices speaking English in the street under his
window. One of them broke from the common talk with a gay burlesque of
pathos in the line:
"Oh heavens! she cried, my Heeding country save!"
and then with a laughing good-night these unseen, unknown spirits of
youth parted and departed. Who were they, and in what different places,
with what cares or ills, had their joyous voices grown old, or fallen
silent for evermore? It was a moonlight night, March remembered, and he
remembered how he wished he were out in it with those merry fellows.
He nursed the memory and the wonder in his dreaming thought, and he woke
early to other voices under his window. But now the voices, though
young, were many and were German, and the march of feet and the stamp of
hooves kept time with their singing. He drew his curtain and saw the
street filled with broken squads of men, some afoot and some on
horseback, some in uniform and some in civil dress with students' caps,
loosely straggling on and roaring forth that song whose words he could
not make out. At breakfast he asked the waiter what it all meant, and he
said that these were conscripts whose service had expired with the late
manoeuvres, and who were now going home. He promised March a translation
of the song, but he never gave it; and perhaps the sense of their joyful
home-going remained the more poetic with him because its utterance
March spent the rainy Sunday, on which they had fallen, in wandering
about the little city alone. His wife said she was tired and would sit
by the fire, and hear about Mayence when he came in. He went to the
cathedral, which has its renown for beauty and antiquity, and he there
added to his stock of useful information the fact that the people of
Mayence seemed very Catholic and very devout. They proved it by
preferring to any of the divine old Gothic shrines in the cathedral, an
ugly baroque altar, which was everywhere hung about with votive
offerings. A fashionably dressed young man and young girl sprinkled
themselves with holy water as reverently as if they had been old and
ragged. Some tourists strolled up and down the aisles with their red
guide-books, and studied the objects of interest. A resplendent beadle
in a cocked hat, and with along staff of authority posed before his own
ecclesiastical consciousness in blue and silver. At the high altar a
priest was saying mass, and March wondered whether his consciousness was
as wholly ecclesiastical as the beadle's, or whether somewhere in it he
felt the historical majesty, the long human consecration of the place.
He wandered at random in the town through streets German and quaint and
old, and streets French and fine and new, and got back to the river,
which he crossed on one of the several handsome bridges. The rough river
looked chill under a sky of windy clouds, and he felt out of season, both
as to the summer travel, and as to the journey he was making. The summer
of life as well as the summer of that year was past. Better return to
his own radiator in his flat on Stuyvesant Square; to the great ugly
brutal town which, if it was not home to him, was as much home to him as
to any one. A longing for New York welled up his heart, which was
perhaps really a wish to be at work again. He said he must keep this
from his wife, who seemed not very well, and whom he must try to cheer up
when he returned to the hotel.
But they had not a very joyous afternoon, and the evening was no gayer.
They said that if they had not ordered their letters sent to Dusseldorf
they believed they should push on to Holland without stopping; and March
would have liked to ask, Why not push on to America? But he forbore, and
he was afterwards glad that he had done so.
In the morning their spirits rose with the sun, though the sun got up
behind clouds as usual; and they were further animated by the imposition
which the landlord practised upon them. After a distinct and repeated
agreement as to the price of their rooms he charged them twice as much,
and then made a merit of throwing off two marks out of the twenty he had
plundered them of.
"Now I see," said Mrs. March, on their way down to the boat, "how
fortunate it was that we baked his clock. You may laugh, but I believe
we were the instruments of justice."
"Do you suppose that clock was never baked before?" asked her husband.
"The landlord has his own arrangement with justice. When he overcharges
his parting guests he says to his conscience, Well, they baked my clock."
The morning was raw, but it was something not to have it rainy; and the
clouds that hung upon the hills and hid their tops were at least as fine
as the long board signs advertising chocolate on the river banks. The
smoke rising from the chimneys of the manufactories of Mayence was not so
bad, either, when one got them in the distance a little; and March liked
the way the river swam to the stems of the trees on the low grassy
shores. It was like the Mississippi between St. Louis and Cairo in that,
and it was yellow and thick, like the Mississippi, though he thought he
remembered it blue and clear. A friendly German, of those who began to
come aboard more and more at all the landings after leaving Mayence,
assured him that be was right, and that the Rhine was unusually turbid
from the unusual rains. March had his own belief that whatever the color
of the Rhine might be the rains were not unusual, but he could not
gainsay the friendly German.
Most of the passengers at starting were English and American; but they
showed no prescience of the international affinition which has since
realized itself, in their behavior toward one another. They held
silently apart, and mingled only in the effect of one young man who kept
the Marches in perpetual question whether he was a Bostonian or an
Englishman. His look was Bostonian, but his accent was English; and was
he a Bostonian who had been in England long enough to get the accent, or
was he an Englishman who had been in Boston long enough to get the look?
He wore a belated straw hat, and a thin sack-coat; and in the rush of the
boat through the raw air they fancied him very cold, and longed to offer
him one of their superabundant wraps. At times March actually lifted a
shawl from his knees, feeling sure that the stranger was English and that
he might make so bold with him; then at some glacial glint in the young
man's eye, or at some petrific expression of his delicate face, he felt
that he was a Bostonian, and lost courage and let the shawl sink again.
March tried to forget him in the wonder of seeing the Germans begin to
eat and drink, as soon as they came on boards either from the baskets
they had brought with them, or from the boat's provision. But he
prevailed, with his smile that was like a sneer, through all the events
of the voyage; and took March's mind off the scenery with a sudden wrench
when he came unexpectedly into view after a momentary disappearance. At
the table d'hote, which was served when the landscape began to be less
interesting, the guests were expected to hand their plates across the
table to the stewards but to keep their knives and forks throughout the
different courses, and at each of these partial changes March felt the
young man's chilly eyes upon him, inculpating him for the semi-
civilization of the management. At such times he knew that he was a
The weather cleared, as they descended the river, and under a sky at last
cloudless, the Marches had moments of swift reversion to their former
Rhine journey, when they were young and the purple light of love mantled
the vineyarded hills along the shore, and flushed the castled steeps.
The scene had lost nothing of the beauty they dimly remembered; there
were certain features of it which seemed even fairer and grander than
they remembered. The town of Bingen, where everybody who knows the poem
was more or less born, was beautiful in spite of its factory chimneys,
though there were no compensating castles near it; and the castles seemed
as good as those of the theatre. Here and there some of them had been
restored and were occupied, probably by robber barons who had gone into
trade. Others were still ruinous, and there was now and then such a mere
gray snag that March, at sight of it, involuntarily put his tongue to the
broken tooth which he was keeping for the skill of the first American
For natural sublimity the Rhine scenery, as they recognized once more,
does not compare with the Hudson scenery; and they recalled one point on
the American river where the Central Road tunnels a jutting cliff, which
might very well pass for the rock of the Loreley, where she dreams
'Solo sitting by the shores of old romance.'
and the trains run in and out under her knees unheeded. "Still, still
you know," March argued, "this is the Loreley on the Rhine, and not the
Loreley on the Hudson; and I suppose that makes all the difference.
Besides, the Rhine doesn't set up to be sublime; it only means to be
storied and dreamy and romantic and it does it. And then we have really
got no Mouse Tower; we might build one, to be sure."
"Well, we have got no denkmal, either," said his wife, meaning the
national monument to the German reconquest of the Rhine, which they had
just passed, "and that is something in our favor."
"It was too far off for us to see how ugly it was," he returned.
"The denkmal at Coblenz was so near that the bronze Emperor almost rode
aboard the boat."
He could not answer such a piece of logic as that. He yielded, and began
to praise the orcharded levels which now replaced the vine-purpled slopes
of the upper river. He said they put him in mind of orchards that he had
known in his boyhood; and they, agreed that the supreme charm of travel,
after all, was not in seeing something new and strange, but in finding
something familiar and dear in the heart of the strangeness.
At Cologne they found this in the tumult of getting ashore with their
baggage and driving from the steamboat landing to the railroad station,
where they were to get their train for Dusseldorf an hour later. The
station swarmed with travellers eating and drinking and smoking; but they
escaped from it for a precious half of their golden hour, and gave the
time to the great cathedral, which was built, a thousand years ago, just
round the corner from the station, and is therefore very handy to it.
Since they saw the cathedral last it had been finished, and now under a
cloudless evening sky, it soared and swept upward like a pale flame.
Within it was a bit over-clean, a bit bare, but without it was one of the
great memories of the race, the record of a faith which wrought miracles
of beauty, at least, if not piety.
The train gave the Marches another, and last, view of it as they slowly
drew out of the city, and began to run through a level country walled
with far-off hills; past fields of buckwheat showing their stems like
coral under their black tops; past peasant houses changing their wonted
shape to taller and narrower forms; past sluggish streams from which the
mist rose and hung over the meadows, under a red sunset, glassy clear
till the manifold factory chimneys of Dusseldorf stained it with their
This industrial greeting seemed odd from the town where Heinrich Heine
was born; but when they had eaten their supper in the capital little
hotel they found there, and went out for a stroll, they found nothing to
remind them of the factories, and much to make them think of the poet.
The moon, beautiful and perfect as a stage moon, came up over the
shoulder of a church as they passed down a long street which they had all
to themselves. Everybody seemed to have gone to bed, but at a certain
corner a girl opened a window above them, and looked out at the moon.
When they returned to their hotel they found a highwalled garden facing
it, full of black depths of foliage. In the night March woke and saw the
moon standing over the garden, and silvering its leafy tops. This was
really as it should be in the town where the idolized poet of his youth
was born; the poet whom of all others he had adored, and who had once
seemed like a living friend; who had been witness of his first love, and
had helped him to speak it. His wife used to laugh at him for his Heine-
worship in those days; but she had since come to share it, and she,
even more than he, had insisted upon this pilgrimage. He thought long
thoughts of the past, as he looked into the garden across the way, with
an ache for his perished self and the dead companionship of his youth,
all ghosts together in the silvered shadow. The trees shuddered in the
night breeze, and its chill penetrated to him where he stood.
His wife called to him from her room, "What are you doing?"
"Oh, sentimentalizing," he answered boldly.
"Well, you will be sick," she said, and he crept back into bed again.
They had sat up late, talking in a glad excitement. But he woke early,
as an elderly man is apt to do after broken slumbers, and left his wife
still sleeping. He was not so eager for the poetic interests of the town
as he had been the night before; he even deferred his curiosity for
Heine's birth-house to the instructive conference which he had with his
waiter at breakfast. After all, was not it more important to know
something of the actual life of a simple common class of men than to
indulge a faded fancy for the memory of a genius, which no amount of
associations could feed again to its former bloom? The waiter said he
was a Nuremberger, and had learned English in London where he had served
a year for nothing. Afterwards, when he could speak three languages he
got a pound a week, which seemed low for so many, though not so low as
the one mark a day which he now received in Dusseldorf; in Berlin he paid
the hotel two marks a day. March confided to him his secret trouble as
to tips, and they tried vainly to enlighten each other as to what a just
He went to his banker's, and when he came back he found his wife with her
breakfast eaten, and so eager for the exploration of Heine's birthplace
that she heard with indifference of his failure to get any letters. It
was too soon to expect them, she said, and then she showed him her plan,
which she had been working out ever since she woke. It contained every
place which Heine had mentioned, and she was determined not one should
escape them. She examined him sharply upon his condition, accusing him
of having taken cold when he got up in the night, and acquitting him with
difficulty. She herself was perfectly well, but a little fagged, and
they must have a carriage.
They set out in a lordly two-spanner, which took up half the little
Bolkerstrasse where Heine was born, when they stopped across the way from
his birthhouse, so that she might first take it all in from the outside
before they entered it. It is a simple street, and not the cleanest of
the streets in a town where most of them are rather dirty. Below the
houses are shops, and the first story of Heine's house is a butcher shop,
with sides of pork and mutton hanging in the windows; above, where the
Heine family must once have lived, a gold-beater and a frame-maker
displayed their signs.
But did the Heine family really once live there? The house looked so
fresh and new that in spite of the tablet in its front affirming it the
poet's birthplace, they doubted; and they were not reassured by the
people who half halted as they passed, and stared at the strangers, so
anomalously interested in the place. They dismounted, and crossed to the
butcher shop where the provision man corroborated the tablet, but could
not understand their wish to go up stairs. He did not try to prevent
them, however, and they climbed to the first floor above, where a placard
on the door declared it private and implored them not to knock. Was this
the outcome of the inmate's despair from the intrusion of other pilgrims
who had wised to see the Heine dwelling-rooms? They durst not knock and
ask so much, and they sadly descended to the ground-floor, where they
found a butcher boy of much greater apparent intelligence than the
butcher himself, who told them that the building in front was as new as
it looked, and the house where Heine was really born was the old house in
the rear. He showed them this house, across a little court patched with
mangy grass and lilac-bushes; and when they wished to visit it he led the
way. The place was strewn both underfoot and overhead with feathers; it
had once been all a garden out to the street, the boy said, but from
these feathers, as well as the odor which prevailed, and the anxious
behavior of a few hens left in the high coop at one side, it was plain
that what remained of the garden was now a chicken slaughteryard. There
was one well-grown tree, and the boy said it was of the poet's time; but
when he let them into the house, he became vague as to the room where
Heine was born; it was certain only that it was somewhere upstairs and
that it could not be seen. The room where they stood was the frame-
maker's shop, and they bought of him a small frame for a memorial. They
bought of the butcher's boy, not so commercially, a branch of lilac; and
they came away, thinking how much amused Heine himself would have been
with their visit; how sadly, how merrily he would have mocked at their
effort to revere his birthplace.
They were too old if not too wise to be daunted by their defeat, and they
drove next to the old court garden beside the Rhine where the poet says
he used to play with the little Veronika, and probably did not. At any
rate, the garden is gone; the Schloss was burned down long ago; and
nothing remains but a detached tower in which the good Elector Jan
Wilhelm, of Heine's time, amused himself with his many mechanical
inventions. The tower seemed to be in process of demolition, but an
intelligent workman who came down out of it, was interested in the
strangers' curiosity, and directed them to a place behind the Historical
Museum where they could find a bit of the old garden. It consisted of
two or three low trees, and under them the statue of the Elector by which
Heine sat with the little Veronika, if he really did. Afresh gale
blowing through the trees stirred the bushes that backed the statue, but
not the laurel wreathing the Elector's head, and meeting in a neat point
over his forehead. The laurel wreath is stone, like the rest of the
Elector, who stands there smirking in marble ermine and armor, and
resting his baton on the nose of a very small lion, who, in the
exigencies of foreshortening, obligingly goes to nothing but a tail under
the Elector's robe.
This was a prince who loved himself in effigy so much that he raised an
equestrian statue to his own renown in the market-place, though he
modestly refused the credit of it, and ascribed its erection to the
affection of his subjects. You see him therein a full-bottomed wig,
mounted on a rampant charger with a tail as big round as a barrel, and
heavy enough to keep him from coming down on his fore legs as long as he
likes to hold them up. It was to this horse's back that Heine clambered
when a small boy, to see the French take formal possession of Dusseldorf;
and he clung to the waist of the bronze Elector, who had just abdicated,
while the burgomaster made a long speech, from the balcony of the
Rathhaus, and the Electoral arms were taken down from its doorway.
The Rathhaus is a salad-dressing of German gothic and French rococo as to
its architectural style, and is charming in its way, but the Marches were
in the market-place for the sake of that moment of Heine's boyhood. They
felt that he might have been the boy who stopped as he ran before them,
and smacked the stomach of a large pumpkin lying at the feet of an old
market-woman, and then dashed away before she could frame a protest
against the indignity. From this incident they philosophized that the
boys of Dusseldorf are as mischievous at the end of the century as they
were at the beginning; and they felt the fascination that such a
bounteous, unkempt old marketplace must have for the boys of any period.
There were magnificent vegetables of all sorts in it, and if the fruits
were meagre that was the fault of the rainy summer, perhaps. The market-
place was very dirty, and so was the narrow street leading down from it
to the Rhine, which ran swift as a mountain torrent along a slatternly
quay. A bridge of boats crossing the stream shook in the rapid current,
and a long procession of market carts passed slowly over, while a cluster
of scows waited in picturesque patience for the draw to open.
They saw what a beautiful town that was for a boy to grow up in, and how
many privileges it offered, how many dangers, how many chances for
hairbreadth escapes. They chose that Heine must often have rushed
shrieking joyfully down that foul alley to the Rhine with other boys; and
they easily found a leaf-strewn stretch of the sluggish Dussel, in the
Public Garden, where his playmate, the little Wilhelm, lost his life and
saved the kitten's. They were not so sure of the avenue through which
the poet saw the Emperor Napoleon come riding on his small white horse
when he took possession of the Elector's dominions. But if it was that
where the statue of the Kaiser Wilhelm I. comes riding on a horse led by
two Victories, both poet and hero are avenged there on the accomplished
fact. Defeated and humiliated France triumphs in the badness of that
foolish denkmal (one of the worst in all denkmal-ridden Germany), and the
memory of the singer whom the Hohenzollern family pride forbids honor in
his native place, is immortal in its presence.
On the way back to their hotel, March made some reflections upon the open
neglect, throughout Germany, of the greatest German lyrist, by which the
poet might have profited if he had been present. He contended that it
was not altogether an effect of Hohenzollern pride, which could not
suffer a joke or two from the arch-humorist; but that Heine had said
things of Germany herself which Germans might well have found
unpardonable. He concluded that it would not do to be perfectly frank
with one's own country. Though, to be sure, there would always be the
question whether the Jew-born Heine had even a step-fatherland in the
Germany he loved so tenderly and mocked so pitilessly. He had to own
that if he were a negro poet he would not feel bound to measure terms in
speaking of America, and he would not feel that his fame was in her
Upon the whole he blamed Heine less than Germany and he accused her of
taking a shabby revenge, in trying to forget him; in the heat of his
resentment that there should be no record of Heine in the city where he
was born, March came near ignoring himself the fact that the poet
Freiligrath was also born there. As for the famous Dusseldorf school of
painting, which once filled the world with the worst art, he rejoiced
that it was now so dead, and he grudged the glance which the beauty of
the new Art Academy extorted from him. It is in the French taste, and is
so far a monument to the continuance in one sort of that French
supremacy, of which in another sort another denkmal celebrates the
overthrow. Dusseldorf is not content with the denkmal of the Kaiser on
horseback, with the two Victories for grooms; there is a second, which
the Marches found when they strolled out again late in the afternoon. It
is in the lovely park which lies in the heart of the city, and they felt
in its presence the only emotion of sympathy which the many patriotic
monuments of Germany awakened in them. It had dignity and repose, which
these never had elsewhere; but it was perhaps not so much for the dying
warrior and the pitying lion of the sculpture that their hearts were
moved as for the gentle and mournful humanity of the inscription, which
dropped into equivalent English verse in March's note-book:
Fame was enough for the Victors, and glory and verdurous laurel;
Tears by their mothers wept founded this image of stone.
To this they could forgive the vaunting record, on the reverse, of the
German soldiers who died heroes in the war with France, the war with
Austria, and even the war with poor little Denmark!
The morning had been bright and warm, and it was just that the afternoon
should be dim and cold, with a pale sun looking through a September mist,
which seemed to deepen the seclusion and silence of the forest reaches;
for the park was really a forest of the German sort, as parks are apt to
be in Germany. But it was beautiful, and they strayed through it, and
sometimes sat down on the benches in its damp shadows, and said how much
seemed to be done in Germany for the people's comfort and pleasure. In
what was their own explicitly, as well as what was tacitly theirs, they
were not so restricted as we were at home, and especially the children
seemed made fondly and lovingly free of all public things. The Marches
met troops of them in the forest, as they strolled slowly back by the
winding Dussel to the gardened avenue leading to the park, and they found
them everywhere gay and joyful. But their elders seemed subdued, and
were silent. The strangers heard no sound of laughter in the streets of
Dusseldorf, and they saw no smiling except on the part of a very old
couple, whose meeting they witnessed and who grinned and cackled at each
other like two children as they shook hands. Perhaps they were indeed
children of that sad second childhood which one would rather not blossom
In America, life is yet a joke with us, even when it is grotesque and
shameful, as it so often is; for we think we can make it right when we
choose. But there is no joking in Germany, between the first and second
childhoods, unless behind closed doors. Even there, people do not joke
above their breath about kings and emperors. If they joke about them in
print, they take out their laugh in jail, for the press laws are severely
enforced, and the prisons are full of able editors, serious as well as
comic. Lese-majesty is a crime that searches sinners out in every walk
of life, and it is said that in family jars a husband sometimes has the
last word of his wife by accusing her of blaspheming the sovereign, and
so having her silenced for three months at least behind penitential bars.
"Think," said March, "how simply I could adjust any differences of
opinion between us in Dusseldorf."
"Don't!" his wife implored with a burst of feeling which surprised him.
"I want to go home!"
They had been talking over their day, and planning their journey to
Holland for the morrow, when it came to this outburst from her in the
last half-hour before bed which they sat prolonging beside their stove.
"What! And not go to Holland? What is to become of my after-cure?"
"Oh, it's too late for that, now. We've used up the month running about,
and tiring ourselves to death. I should like to rest a week--to get into
my berth on the Norumbia and rest!"
"I guess the September gales would have something to say about that."
"I would risk the September gales."
In the morning March came home from his bankers gay with the day's
provisional sunshine in his heart, and joyously expectant of his wife's
pleasure in the letters he was bringing. There was one from each of
their children, and there was one from Fulkerson, which March opened and
read on the street, so as to intercept any unpleasant news there might be
in them; there were two letters for Mrs. March which he knew without
opening were from Miss Triscoe and Mrs. Adding respectively; Mrs.
Adding's, from the postmarks, seemed to have been following them about
for some time.
"They're all right at home," he said. "Do see what those people have
"I believe," she said, taking a knife from the breakfast tray beside her
bed to cut the envelopes, "that you've really cared more about them all
along than I have."
"No, I've only been anxious to be done with them."
She got the letters open, and holding one of them up in each hand she
read them impartially and simultaneously; then she flung them both down,
and turned her face into her pillow with an impulse of her inalienable
girlishness. "Well, it is too silly."
March felt authorized to take them up and read them consecutively; when
he had done, so he did not differ from his wife. In one case, Agatha had
written to her dear Mrs. March that she and Burnamy had just that evening
become engaged; Mrs. Adding, on her part owned a farther step, and
announced her marriage to Mr. Kenby. Following immemorial usage in such
matters Kenby had added a postscript affirming his happiness in unsparing
terms, and in Agatha's letter there was an avowal of like effect from
Burnamy. Agatha hinted her belief that her father would soon come to
regard Burnamy as she did; and Mrs. Adding professed a certain
humiliation in having realized that, after all her misgiving about him,
Rose seemed rather relieved than otherwise, as if he were glad to have
her off his hands.
"Well," said March, "with these troublesome affairs settled, I don't see
what there is to keep us in Europe any longer, unless it's the consensus
of opinion in Tom, Bella, and Fulkerson, that we ought to stay the
"Stay the winter!" Mrs. March rose from her pillow, and clutched the
home letters to her from the abeyance in which they had fallen on the
coverlet while she was dealing with the others. "What do you mean?"
"It seems to have been prompted by a hint you let drop, which Tom has
passed to Bella and Fulkerson."
"Oh, but that was before we left Carlsbad!" she protested, while she
devoured the letters with her eyes, and continued to denounce the
absurdity of the writers. Her son and daughter both urged that now their
father and mother were over there, they had better stay as long as they
enjoyed it, and that they certainly ought not to come home without going
to Italy, where they had first met, and revisiting the places which they
had seen together when they were young engaged people: without that their
silver wedding journey would not be complete. Her son said that
everything was going well with 'Every Other Week', and both himself and
Mr. Fulkerson thought his father ought to spend the winter in Italy, and
get a thorough rest. "Make a job of it, March," Fulkerson wrote, "and
have a Sabbatical year while you're at it. You may not get another."
"Well, I can tell them," said Mrs. March indignantly, "we shall not do
anything of the kind."
"Then you didn't mean it?"
"Mean it!" She stopped herself with a look at her husband, and asked
gently, "Do you want to stay?"
"Well, I don't know," he answered vaguely. The fact was, he was sick of
travel and of leisure; he was longing to be at home and at work again.
But if there was to be any self-sacrifice which could be had, as it were,
at a bargain; which could be fairly divided between them, and leave him
the self and her the sacrifice, he was too experienced a husband not to
see the advantage of it, or to refuse the merit. "I thought you wished
"Yes," she sighed, "I did. It has been very, very pleasant, and, if
anything, I have over-enjoyed myself. We have gone romping through it
like two young people, haven't we?"
"You have," he assented. "I have always felt the weight of my years in
getting the baggage registered; they have made the baggage weigh more
"And I've forgotten mine. Yes, I have. But the years haven't forgotten
me, Basil, and now I remember them. I'm tired. It doesn't seem as if I
could ever get up. But I dare say it's only a mood; it may be only a
cold; and if you wish to stay, why--we will think it over."
"No, we won't, my dear," he said, with a generous shame for his hypocrisy
if not with a pure generosity. "I've got all the good out of it that
there was in it, for me, and I shouldn't go home any better six months
hence than I should now. Italy will keep for another time, and so, for
the matter of that, will Holland."
"No, no!" she interposed. "We won't give up Holland, whatever we do.
I couldn't go home feeling that I had kept you out of your after-cure;
and when we get there, no doubt the sea air will bring me up so that I
shall want to go to Italy, too, again. Though it seems so far off, now!
But go and see when the afternoon train for the Hague leaves, and I shall
be ready. My mind's quite made up on that point."
"What a bundle of energy!" said her husband laughing down at her.
He went and asked about the train to the Hague, but only to satisfy a
superficial conscience; for now he knew that they were both of one mind
about going home. He also looked up the trains for London, and found
that they could get there by way of Ostend in fourteen hours. Then he
went back to the banker's, and with the help of the Paris-New York
Chronicle which he found there, he got the sailings of the first steamers
home. After that he strolled about the streets for a last impression of
Dusseldorf, but it was rather blurred by the constantly recurring pull of
his thoughts toward America, and he ended by turning abruptly at a
certain corner, and going to his hotel.
He found his wife dressed, but fallen again on her bed, beside which her
breakfast stood still untasted; her smile responded wanly to his
brightness. "I'm not well, my dear," she said. "I don't believe I could
get off to the Hague this afternoon."
"Could you to Liverpool?" he returned.
"To Liverpool?" she gasped. "What do you mean?"
"Merely that the Cupania is sailing on the twentieth, and I've
telegraphed to know if we can get a room. I'm afraid it won't be a good
one, but she's the first boat out, and--"
"No, indeed, we won't go to Liverpool, and we will never go home till
you've had your after-cure in Holland." She was very firm in this, but
she added, "We will stay another night, here, and go to the Hague
tomorrow. Sit down, and let us talk it over. Where were we?"
She lay down on the sofa, and he put a shawl over her. "We were just
starting for Liverpool."
"No, no we weren't! Don't say such things, dearest! I want you to help
me sum it all, up. You think it's been a success, don't you?"
"As a cure?"
"No, as a silver wedding journey?"
"I do think we've had a good time. I never expected to enjoy myself so
much again in the world. I didn't suppose I should ever take so much
interest in anything. It shows that when we choose to get out of our rut
we shall always find life as fresh and delightful as ever. There is
nothing to prevent our coming any year, now that Tom's shown himself so
capable, and having another silver wedding journey. I don't like to
think of it's being confined to Germany quite."
"Oh, I don't know. We can always talk of it as our German-Silver Wedding
"That's true. But nobody would understand nowadays what you meant by
German-silver; it's perfectly gone out. How ugly it was! A sort of
greasy yellowish stuff, always getting worn through; I believe it was
made worn through. Aunt Mary had a castor of it, that I can remember
when I was a child; it went into the kitchen long before I grew up.
Would a joke like that console you for the loss of Italy?"
"It would go far to do it. And as a German-Silver Wedding Journey, it's
certainly been very complete."
"What do you mean?"
"It's given us a representative variety of German cities. First we had
Hamburg, you know, a great modern commercial centre."
"Yes! Go on!"
"Then we had Leipsic, the academic."
"Then Carlsbad, the supreme type of a German health resort; then
Nuremberg, the mediaeval; then Anspach, the extinct princely capital;
then Wurzburg, the ecclesiastical rococo; then Weimar, for the literature
of a great epoch; then imperial Berlin; then Frankfort, the memory of the
old free city; then Dusseldorf, the centre of the most poignant personal
interest in the world--I don't see how we could have done better, if we'd
planned it all, and not acted from successive impulses."
"It's been grand; it's been perfect! As German-Silver Wedding Journey
it's perfect--it seems as if it had been ordered! But I will never let
you give up Holland! No, we will go this afternoon, and when I get to
Schevleningen, I'll go to bed, and stay there, till you've completed your
"Do you think that will be wildly gay for the convalescent?"
She suddenly began to cry. "Oh, dearest, what shall we do? I feel
perfectly broken down. I'm afraid I'm going to be sick--and away from
home! How could you ever let me overdo, so?" She put her handkerchief to
her eyes, and turned her face into the sofa pillow.
This was rather hard upon him, whom her vivid energy and inextinguishable
interest had not permitted a moment's respite from pleasure since they
left Carlsbad. But he had been married, too long not to understand that
her blame of him was only a form of self-reproach for her own self-
forgetfulness. She had not remembered that she was no longer young till
she had come to what he saw was a nervous collapse. The fact had its
pathos and its poetry which no one could have felt more keenly than he.
If it also had its inconvenience and its danger he realized these too.
"Isabel," he said, "we are going home."
"Very well, then it will be your doing."
"Quite. Do you think you could stand it as far as Cologne? We get the
sleeping-car there, and you can lie down the rest of the way to Ostend."
"This afternoon? Why I'm perfectly strong; it's merely my nerves that
are gone." She sat up, and wiped her eyes. "But Basil! If you're doing
this for me--"
"I'm doing it for myself," said March, as he went out of the room.
She stood the journey perfectly well, and in the passage to Dover she
suffered so little from the rough weather that she was an example to many
robust matrons who filled the ladies' cabin with the noise of their
anguish during the night. She would have insisted upon taking the first
train up to London, if March had not represented that this would not
expedite the sailing of the Cupania, and that she might as well stay the
forenoon at the convenient railway hotel, and rest. It was not quite his
ideal of repose that the first people they saw in the coffee-room when
they went to breakfast should be Kenby and Rose Adding, who were having
their tea and toast and eggs together in the greatest apparent good-
fellowship. He saw his wife shrink back involuntarily from the
encounter, but this was only to gather force for it; and the next moment
she was upon them in all the joy of the surprise. Then March allowed
himself to be as glad as the others both seemed, and he shook hands with
Kenby while his wife kissed Rose; and they all talked at once. In the
confusion of tongues it was presently intelligible that Mrs. Kenby was
going to be down in a few minutes; and Kenby took March into his
confidence with a smile which was, almost a wink in explaining that he
knew how it was with the ladies. He said that Rose and he usually got
down to breakfast first, and when he had listened inattentively to Mrs.
March's apology for being on her way home, he told her that she was lucky
not to have gone to Schevleningen, where she and March would have frozen
to death. He said that they were going to spend September at a little
place on the English coast, near by, where he had been the day before
with Rose to look at lodgings, and where you could bathe all through the
month. He was not surprised that the Marches were going home, and said,
Well, that was their original plan, wasn't it?
Mrs. Kenby, appearing upon this, pretended to know better, after the
outburst of joyful greeting with the Marches; and intelligently reminded
Kenby that he knew the Marches had intended to pass the winter in Paris.
She was looking extremely pretty, but she wished only to make them see
how well Rose was looking, and she put her arm round his shoulders as she
spoke, Schevleningen had done wonders for him, but it was fearfully cold
there, and now they were expecting everything from Westgate, where she
advised March to come, too, for his after-cure: she recollected in time
to say, She forgot they were on their way home. She added that she did
not know when she should return; she was merely a passenger, now; she
left everything to the men of the family. She had, in fact, the air of
having thrown off every responsibility, but in supremacy, not submission.
She was always ordering Kenby about; she sent him for her handkerchief,
and her rings which she had left either in the tray of her trunk, or on
the pin-cushion, or on the wash-stand or somewhere, and forbade him to
come back without them. He asked for her keys, and then with a joyful
scream she owned that she had left the door-key in the door and the whole
bunch of trunk-keys in her trunk; and Kenby treated it all as the
greatest joke; Rose, too, seemed to think that Kenby would make
everything come right, and he had lost that look of anxiety which he used
to have; at the most he showed a friendly sympathy for Kenby, for whose
sake he seemed mortified at her. He was unable to regard his mother as
the delightful joke which she appeared to Kenby, but that was merely
temperamental; and he was never distressed except when she behaved with
unreasonable caprice at Kenby's cost.
As for Kenby himself he betrayed no dissatisfaction with his fate to
March. He perhaps no longer regarded his wife as that strong character
which he had sometimes wearied March by celebrating; but she was still
the most brilliant intelligence, and her charm seemed only to have grown
with his perception of its wilful limitations. He did not want to talk
about her so much; he wanted rather to talk about Rose, his health, his
education, his nature, and what was best to do for him. The two were on
terms of a confidence and affection which perpetually amused Mrs. Kenby,
but which left the sympathetic witness nothing to desire in their
They all came to the train when the Marches started up to London, and
stood waving to them as they pulled out of the station. "Well, I can't
see but that's all right," he said as he sank back in his seat with a
sigh of relief. "I never supposed we should get out of their marriage
half so well, and I don't feel that you quite made the match either, my
She was forced to agree with him that the Kenbys seemed happy together,
and that there was nothing to fear for Rose in their happiness. He would
be as tenderly cared for by Kenby as he could have been by his mother,
and far more judiciously. She owned that she had trembled for him till
she had seen them all together; and now she should never tremble again.
"Well?" March prompted, at a certain inconclusiveness in her tone rather
than her words.
"Well, you can see that it, isn't ideal."
"Why isn't it ideal? I suppose you think that the marriage of Burnamy
and Agatha Triscoe will be ideal, with their ignorances and inexperiences
"Yes! It's the illusions: no marriage can be perfect without them, and at
their age the Kenbys can't have them."
"Kenby is a solid mass of illusion. And I believe that people can go and
get as many new illusions as they want, whenever they've lost their old
"Yes, but the new illusions won't wear so well; and in marriage you want
illusions that will last. No; you needn't talk to me. It's all very
well, but it isn't ideal."
March laughed. "Ideal! What is ideal?"
"Going home!" she said with such passion that he had not the heart to
point out that they were merely returning to their old duties, cares and
pains, with the worn-out illusion that these would be altogether
different when they took them up again.
In fulfilment of another ideal Mrs. March took straightway to her berth
when she got on board the Cupania, and to her husband's admiration she
remained there till the day before they reached New York. Her theory was
that the complete rest would do more than anything else to calm her
shaken nerves; and she did not admit into her calculations the chances of
adverse weather which March would not suggest as probable in the last
week in September. The event justified her unconscious faith. The
ship's run was of unparalled swiftness, even for the Cupania, and of
unparalled smoothness. For days the sea was as sleek as oil; the racks
were never on the tables once; the voyage was of the sort which those who
make it no more believe in at the time than those whom they afterwards
weary in boasting of it.
The ship was very full, but Mrs. March did not show the slightest
curiosity to know who her fellow-passengers were. She said that she
wished to be let perfectly alone, even by her own emotions, and for this
reason she forbade March to bring her a list of the passengers till after
they had left Queenstown lest it should be too exciting. He did not take
the trouble to look it up, therefore; and the first night out he saw no
one whom he knew at dinner; but the next morning at breakfast he found
himself to his great satisfaction at the same table with the Eltwins.
They were so much at ease with him that even Mrs. Eltwin took part in the
talk, and told him how they had spent the time of her husband's rigorous
after-cure in Switzerland, and now he was going home much better than
they had expected. She said they had rather thought of spending the
winter in Europe, but had given it up because they were both a little
homesick. March confessed that this was exactly the case with his wife
and himself; and he had to add that Mrs. March was not very well
otherwise, and he should be glad to be at home on her account. The
recurrence of the word home seemed to deepen Eltwin's habitual gloom,
and Mrs. Eltwin hastened to leave the subject of their return for inquiry
into Mrs. March's condition; her interest did not so far overcome her
shyness that she ventured to propose a visit to her; and March found that
the fact of the Eltwins' presence on board did not agitate his wife.
It seemed rather to comfort her, and she said she hoped he would see all
he could of the poor old things. She asked if he had met any one else he
knew, and he was able to tell her that there seemed to be a good many
swells on board, and this cheered her very much, though he did not know
them; she liked to be near the rose, though it was not a flower that she
really cared for.
She did not ask who the swells were, and March took no trouble to find
out. He took no trouble to get a passenger-list, and he had the more
trouble when he tried at last; the lists seemed to have all vanished, as
they have a habit of doing, after the first day; the one that he made
interest for with the head steward was a second-hand copy, and had no one
he knew in it but the Eltwins. The social solitude, however, was rather
favorable to certain other impressions. There seemed even more elderly
people than there were on the Norumbia; the human atmosphere was gray and
sober; there was nothing of the gay expansion of the outward voyage;
there was little talking or laughing among those autumnal men who were
going seriously and anxiously home, with faces fiercely set for the
coming grapple; or necks meekly bowed for the yoke. They had eaten their
cake, and it had been good, but there remained a discomfort in the
digestion. They sat about in silence, and March fancied that the flown
summer was as dreamlike to each of them as it now was to him. He hated
to be of their dreary company, but spiritually he knew that he was of it;
and he vainly turned to cheer himself with the younger passengers. Some
matrons who went about clad in furs amused him, for they must have been
unpleasantly warm in their jackets and boas; nothing but the hope of
being able to tell the customs inspector with a good conscience that the
things had been worn, would have sustained one lady draped from head to
foot in Astrakhan.
They were all getting themselves ready for the fray or the play of the
coming winter; but there seemed nothing joyous in the preparation. There
were many young girls, as there always are everywhere, but there were not
many young men, and such as there were kept to the smoking-room. There
was no sign of flirtation among them; he would have given much for a
moment of the pivotal girl, to see whether she could have brightened
those gloomy surfaces with her impartial lamp. March wished that he
could have brought some report from the outer world to cheer his wife,
as he descended to their state-room. They had taken what they could get
at the eleventh hour, and they had got no such ideal room as they had in
the Norumbia. It was, as Mrs. March graphically said, a basement room.
It was on the north side of the ship, which is a cold exposure, and if
there had been any sun it could not have got into their window, which was
half the time under water. The green waves, laced with foam, hissed as
they ran across the port; and the electric fan in the corridor moaned
like the wind in a gable.
He felt a sinking of the heart as he pushed the state-room door open, and
looked at his wife lying with her face turned to the wall; and he was
going to withdraw, thinking her asleep, when she said quietly, "Are we
"Not that I know of," he answered with a gayety he did not feel. "But
I'll ask the head steward."
She put out her hand behind her for him to take, and clutched his fingers
convulsively. "If I'm never any better, you will always remember this
happy, summer, won't you? Oh, it's been such a happy summer! It has
been one long joy, one continued triumph! But it was too late; we were
too old; and it's broken me."
The time had been when he would have attempted comfort; when he would
have tried mocking; but that time was long past; he could only pray
inwardly for some sort of diversion, but what it was to be in their
barren circumstance he was obliged to leave altogether to Providence.
He ventured, pending an answer to his prayers upon the question, "Don't
you think I'd better see the doctor, and get you some sort of tonic?"
She suddenly turned and faced him. "The doctor! Why, I'm not sick,
Basil! If you can see the purser and get our rooms changed, or do
something to stop those waves from slapping against that horrible
blinking one-eyed window, you can save my life; but no tonic is going to
She turned her face from him again, and buried it in the bedclothes,
while he looked desperately at the racing waves, and the port that seemed
to open and shut like a weary eye.
"Oh, go away!" she implored. "I shall be better presently, but if you
stand there like that--Go and see if you can't get some other room,
where I needn't feel as if I were drowning, all the way over."
He obeyed, so far as to go away at once, and having once started, he did
not stop short of the purser's office. He made an excuse of getting
greenbacks for some English bank-notes, and then he said casually that he
supposed there would be no chance of having his room on the lower deck
changed for something a little less intimate with the sea. The purser
was not there to take the humorous view, but he conceived that March
wanted something higher up, and he was able to offer him a room of those
on the promenade where he had seen swells going in and out, for six
hundred dollars. March did not blench, but said he would get his wife to
look at it with him, and then he went out somewhat dizzily to take
counsel with himself how he should put the matter to her. She would be
sure to ask what the price of the new room would be, and he debated
whether to take it and tell her some kindly lie about it, or trust to the
bracing effect of the sum named in helping restore the lost balance of
her nerves. He was not so rich that he could throw six hundred dollars
away, but there might be worse things; and he walked up and down
thinking. All at once it flashed upon him that he had better see the
doctor, anyway, and find out whether there were not some last hope in
medicine before he took the desperate step before him. He turned in half
his course, and ran into a lady who had just emerged from the door of the
promenade laden with wraps, and who dropped them all and clutched him to
save herself from falling.
"Why, Mr. March!" she shrieked.
"Miss Triscoe!" he returned, in the astonishment which he shared with her
to the extent of letting the shawls he had knocked from her hold lie
between them till she began to pick them up herself. Then he joined her
and in the relief of their common occupation they contrived to possess
each other of the reason of their presence on, the same boat. She had
sorrowed over Mrs. March's sad state, and he had grieved to hear that her
father was going home because he was not at all well, before they found
the general stretched out in his steamer-chair, and waiting with a grim
impatience for his daughter.
"But how is it you're not in the passenger-list?" he inquired of them
both, and Miss Triscoe explained that they had taken their passage at the
last moment, too late, she supposed, to get into the list. They were in
London, and had run down to Liverpool on the chance of getting berths.
Beyond this she was not definite, and there was an absence of Burnamy not
only from her company but from her conversation which mystified March
through all his selfish preoccupations with his wife. She was a girl who
had her reserves, but for a girl who had so lately and rapturously
written them of her engagement, there was a silence concerning her
betrothed that had almost positive quality. With his longing to try Miss
Triscoe upon Mrs. March's malady as a remedial agent, he had now the
desire to try Mrs. March upon Miss Triscoe's mystery as a solvent. She
stood talking to him, and refusing to sit down and be wrapped up in the
chair next her father. She said that if he were going to ask Mrs. March
to let her come to her, it would not be worth while to sit down; and he
"Did you get it?" asked his wife, without looking round, but not so
apathetically as before.
"Oh, yes. That's all right. But now, Isabel, there's something I've got
to tell you. You'd find it out, and you'd better know it at once."
She turned her face, and asked sternly, "What is it?"
Then he said, with, an almost equal severity, "Miss Triscoe is on board.
Miss Triscoe-and-her-father. She wishes to come down and see you."
Mrs. March sat up and began to twist her hair into shape. "And Burnamy?"
"There is no Burnamy physically, or so far as I can make out,
spiritually. She didn't mention him, and I talked at least five minutes
"Hand me my dressing-sack," said Mrs. March, "and poke those things on
the sofa under the berth. Shut up that wash-stand, and pull the curtain
across that hideous window. Stop! Throw those towels into your berth.
Put my shoes, and your slippers into the shoe-bag on the door. Slip the
brushes into that other bag. Beat the dent out of the sofa cushion that
your head has made. Now!"
"Then--then yon will see her?"
Her voice was so terrible that he fled before it, and he returned with
Miss Triscoe in a dreamlike simultaneity. He remembered, as he led the
way into his corridor, to apologize for bringing her down into a basement
"Oh, we're in the basement, too; it was all we could get," she said in
words that ended within the state-room he opened to her. Then he went
back and took her chair and wraps beside her father.
He let the general himself lead the way up to his health, which he was
not slow in reaching, and was not quick in leaving. He reminded March of
the state he had seen him in at Wurzburg, and he said it had gone from
bad to worse with him. At Weimar he had taken to his bed and merely
escaped from it with his life. Then they had tried Schevleningen for a
week, where, he said in a tone of some injury, they had rather thought
they might find them, the Marches. The air had been poison to him, and
they had come over to England with some notion of Bournemouth; but the
doctor in London had thought not, and urged their going home. "All
Europe is damp, you know, and dark as a pocket in winter," he ended.
There had been nothing about Burnamy, and March decided that he must wait
to see his wife if he wished to know anything, when the general, who had
been silent, twisted his head towards him, and said without regard to the
context, "It was complicated, at Weimar, by that young man in the most
devilish way. Did my daughter write to Mrs. March about--Well it came
to nothing, after all; and I don't understand how, to this day. I doubt
if they do. It was some sort of quarrel, I suppose. I wasn't consulted
in the matter either way. It appears that parents are not consulted in
these trifling affairs, nowadays." He had married his daughter's mother
in open defiance of her father; but in the glare of his daughter's
wilfulness this fact had whitened into pious obedience. "I dare say I
shall be told, by-and-by, and shall be expected to approve of the
A fancy possessed March that by operation of temperamental laws General
Triscoe was no more satisfied with Burnamy's final rejection than with
his acceptance. If the engagement was ever to be renewed, it might be
another thing; but as it stood, March divined a certain favor for the
young man in the general's attitude. But the affair was altogether too
delicate for comment; the general's aristocratic frankness in dealing
with it might have gone farther if his knowledge had been greater; but in
any case March did not see how he could touch it. He could only say, He
had always liked Burnamy, himself.
He had his good qualities, the general owned. He did not profess to
understand the young men of our time; but certainly the fellow had the
instincts of a gentleman. He had nothing to say against him, unless in
that business with that man--what was his name?
"Stoller?" March prompted. "I don't excuse him in that, but I don't
blame him so much, either. If punishment means atonement, he had the
opportunity of making that right very suddenly, and if pardon means
expunction, then I don't see why that offence hasn't been pretty well
"Those things are not so simple as they used to seem," said the general,
with a seriousness beyond his wont in things that did not immediately
concern his own comfort or advantage.
In the mean time Mrs. March and Miss Triscoe were discussing another
offence of Burnamy's.
"It wasn't," said the girl, excitedly, after a plunge through all the
minor facts to the heart of the matter, "that he hadn't a perfect right
to do it, if he thought I didn't care for him. I had refused him at
Carlsbad, and I had forbidden him to speak to me about--on the subject.
But that was merely temporary, and he ought to have known it. He ought to
have known that I couldn't accept him, on the spur of the moment, that
way; and when he had come back, after going away in disgrace, before he
had done anything to justify himself. I couldn't have kept my self-
respect; and as it was I had the greatest difficulty; and he ought to
have seen it. Of course he said afterwards that he didn't see it. But
when--when I found out that SHE had been in Weimar, and all that time,
while I had been suffering in Carlsbad and Wurzburg, and longing to see
him--let him know how I was really feeling--he was flirting with that--
that girl, then I saw that he was a false nature, and I determined to put
an end to everything. And that is what I did; and I shall always think
The rest was lost in Agatha's handkerchief, which she put up to her eyes.
Mrs. March watched her from her pillow keeping the girl's unoccupied hand
in her own, and softly pressing it till the storm was past sufficiently
to allow her to be heard.
Then she said, "Men are very strange--the best of them. And from the
very fact that he was disappointed, he would be all the more apt to rush
into a flirtation with somebody else."
Miss Triscoe took down her handkerchief from a face that had certainly
not been beautified by grief. "I didn't blame him for the flirting; or
not so much. It was his keeping it from me afterwards. He ought to have
told me the very first instant we were engaged. But he didn't. He let
it go on, and if I hadn't happened on that bouquet I might never have
known anything about it. That is what I mean by--a false nature.
I wouldn't have minded his deceiving me; but to let me deceive myself--
Oh, it was too much!"
Agatha hid her face in her handkerchief again. She was perching on the
edge of the berth, and Mrs. March said, with a glance, which she did not
see, toward the sofa, "I'm afraid that's rather a hard seat for you.
"Oh, no, thank you! I'm perfectly comfortable--I like it--if you don't
Mrs. March pressed her hand for answer, and after another little delay,
sighed and said, "They are not like us, and we cannot help it. They are
"How do you mean?" Agatha unmasked again.
"They can bear to keep things better than we can, and they trust to time
to bring them right, or to come right of themselves."
"I don't think Mr. March would trust things to come right of themselves!"
said Agatha in indignant accusal of Mrs. March's sincerity.
"Ah, that's just what he would do, my dear, and has done, all along; and
I don't believe we could have lived through without it: we should have
quarrelled ourselves into the grave!"
"Yes, indeed. I don't mean that he would ever deceive me. But he would
let things go on, and hope that somehow they would come right without any
"Do you mean that he would let anybody deceive themselves?"
"I'm afraid he would--if he thought it would come right. It used to be a
terrible trial to me; and it is yet, at times when I don't remember that
he means nothing but good and kindness by it. Only the other day in
Ansbach--how long ago it seems!--he let a poor old woman give him her
son's address in Jersey City, and allowed her to believe he would look
him up when we got back and tell him we had seen her. I don't believe,
unless I keep right round after him, as we say in New England, that he'll
ever go near the man."
Agatha looked daunted, but she said, "That is a very different thing."
"It isn't a different kind of thing. And it shows what men are,--the
sweetest and best of them, that is. They are terribly apt to be
"Then you think I was all wrong?" the girl asked in a tremor.
"No, indeed! You were right, because you really expected perfection of
him. You expected the ideal. And that's what makes all the trouble, in
married life: we expect too much of each other--we each expect more of
the other than we are willing to give or can give. If I had to begin
over again, I should not expect anything at all, and then I should be
sure of being radiantly happy. But all this talking and all this writing
about love seems to turn our brains; we know that men are not perfect,
even at our craziest, because women are not, but we expect perfection of
them; and they seem to expect it of us, poor things! If we could keep on
after we are in love just as we were before we were in love, and take
nice things as favors and surprises, as we did in the beginning! But we
get more and more greedy and exacting--"
"Do you think I was too exacting in wanting him to tell me everything
after we were engaged?"
"No, I don't say that. But suppose he had put it off till you were
married?" Agatha blushed a little, but not painfully, "Would it have
been so bad? Then you might have thought that his flirting up to the
last moment in his desperation was a very good joke. You would have
understood better just how it was, and it might even have made you fonder
of him. You might have seen that he had flirted with some one else
because he was so heart-broken about you."
"Then you believe that if I could have waited till--till--but when I had
found out, don't you see I couldn't wait? It would have been all very
well if I hadn't known it till then. But as I did know it. Don't you
"Yes, that certainly complicated it," Mrs. March admitted. "But I don't
think, if he'd been a false nature, he'd have owned up as he did. You
see, he didn't try to deny it; and that's a great point gained."
"Yes, that is true," said Agatha, with conviction. "I saw that
afterwards. But you don't think, Mrs. March, that I was unjust or--or
"No, indeed! You couldn't have done differently under the circumstances.
You may be sure he felt that--he is so unselfish and generous--" Agatha
began to weep into her handkerchief again; Mrs. March caressed her hand.
"And it will certainly come right if you feel as you do."
"No," the girl protested. "He can never forgive me; it's all over,
everything is over. It would make very little difference to me, what
happened now--if the steamer broke her shaft, or anything. But if I can
only believe I wasn't unjust--"
Mrs. March assured her once more that she had behaved with absolute
impartiality; and she proved to her by a process of reasoning quite
irrefragable that it was only a question of time, with which place had
nothing to do, when she and Burnamy should come together again, and all
should be made right between them. The fact that she did not know where
he was, any more than Mrs. March herself, had nothing to do with the
result; that was a mere detail, which would settle itself. She clinched
her argument by confessing that her own engagement had been broken off,
and that it had simply renewed itself. All you had to do was to keep
willing it, and waiting. There was something very mysterious in it.
"And how long was it till--" Agatha faltered.
"Well, in our ease it was two years."
"Oh!" said the girl, but Mrs. March hastened to reassure her.
"But our case was very peculiar. I could see afterwards that it needn't
have been two months, if I had been willing to acknowledge at once that I
was in the wrong. I waited till we met."
"If I felt that I was in the wrong, I should write," said Agatha.
"I shouldn't care what he thought of my doing it."
"Yes, the great thing is to make sure that you were wrong."
They remained talking so long, that March and the general had exhausted
all the topics of common interest, and had even gone through those they
did not care for. At last the general said, "I'm afraid my daughter will
tire Mrs. March."
"Oh, I don't think she'll tire my wife. But do you want her?"
"Well, when you're going down."
"I think I'll take a turn about the deck, and start my circulation," said
March, and he did so before he went below.
He found his wife up and dressed, and waiting provisionally on the sofa.
"I thought I might as well go to lunch," she said, and then she told him
about Agatha and Burnamy, and the means she had employed to comfort and
encourage the girl. "And now, dearest, I want you to find out where
Burnamy is, and give him a hint. You will, won't you! If you could have
seen how unhappy she was!"
"I don't think I should have cared, and I'm certainly not going to
meddle. I think Burnamy has got no more than he deserved, and that he's
well rid of her. I can't imagine a broken engagement that would more
completely meet my approval. As the case stands, they have my blessing."
"Don't say that, dearest! You know you don't mean it."
"I do; and I advise you to keep your hands off. You've done all and more
than you ought to propitiate Miss Triscoe. You've offered yourself up,
and you've offered me up--"
"No, no, Basil! I merely used you as an illustration of what men were--
the best of them."
"And I can't observe," he continued, "that any one else has been
considered in the matter. Is Miss Triscoe the sole sufferer by Burnamy's
flirtation? What is the matter with a little compassion for the pivotal
"Now, you know you're not serious," said his wife; and though he would
not admit this, he could not be seriously sorry for the new interest
which she took in the affair. There was no longer any question of
changing their state-room. Under the tonic influence of the excitement
she did not go back to her berth after lunch, and she was up later after
dinner than he could have advised. She was absorbed in Agatha, but in
her liberation from her hypochondria, she began also to make a
comparative study of the American swells, in the light of her late
experience with the German highhotes. It is true that none of the swells
gave her the opportunity of examining them at close range, as the
highhotes had done. They kept to their, state-rooms mostly, where, after
he thought she could bear it, March told her how near he had come to
making her their equal by an outlay of six hundred dollars. She now
shuddered at the thought; but she contended that in their magnificent
exclusiveness they could give points to European princes; and that this
showed again how when Americans did try to do a thing, they beat the
world. Agatha Triscoe knew who they were, but she did not know them;
they belonged to another kind of set; she spoke of them as "rich people,"
and she seemed content to keep away from them with Mrs. March and with
the shy, silent old wife of Major Eltwin, to whom March sometimes found
He never found her father talking with Major Eltwin. General Triscoe had
his own friends in the smoking-room, where he held forth in a certain
corner on the chances of the approaching election in New York, and mocked
their incredulity when he prophesied the success of Tammany and the
return of the King. March himself much preferred Major Eltwin to the
general and his friends; he lived back in the talk of the Ohioan into his
own younger years in Indiana, and he was amused and touched to find how
much the mid-Western life seemed still the same as he had known. The
conditions had changed, but not so much as they had changed in the East
and the farther West. The picture that the major drew of them in his own
region was alluring; it made March homesick; though he knew that he
should never go back to his native section. There was the comfort of
kind in the major; and he had a vein of philosophy, spare but sweet,
which March liked; he liked also the meekness which had come through
sorrow upon a spirit which had once been proud.
They had both the elderly man's habit of early rising, and they usually
found themselves together waiting impatiently for the cup of coffee,
ingenuously bad, which they served on the Cupania not earlier than half
past six, in strict observance of a rule of the line discouraging to
people of their habits. March admired the vileness of the decoction,
which he said could not be got anywhere out of the British Empire, and he
asked Eltwin the first morning if he had noticed how instantly on the
Channel boat they had dropped to it and to the sour, heavy, sodden
British bread, from the spirited and airy Continental tradition of coffee
The major confessed that he was no great hand to notice such things, and
he said he supposed that if the line had never lost a passenger, and got
you to New York in six days it had a right to feed you as it pleased; he
surmised that if they could get their airing outside before they took
their coffee, it would give the coffee a chance to taste better; and this
was what they afterwards did. They met, well buttoned and well mined up,
on the promenade when it was yet so early that they were not at once sure
of each other in the twilight, and watched the morning planets pale east
and west before the sun rose. Sometimes there were no paling planets and
no rising sun, and a black sea, ridged with white, tossed under a low
dark sky with dim rifts.
One morning, they saw the sun rise with a serenity and majesty which it
rarely has outside of the theatre. The dawn began over that sea which
was like the rumpled canvas imitations of the sea on the stage, under
long mauve clouds bathed in solemn light. Above these, in the pale
tender sky, two silver stars hung, and the steamer's smoke drifted across
them like a thin dusky veil. To the right a bank of dun cloud began to
burn crimson, and to burn brighter till it was like a low hill-side full
of gorgeous rugosities fleeced with a dense dwarfish growth of autumnal
shrubs. The whole eastern heaven softened and flushed through diaphanous
mists; the west remained a livid mystery. The eastern masses and flakes
of cloud began to kindle keenly; but the stars shone clearly, and then
one star, till the tawny pink hid it. All the zenith reddened, but still
the sun did not show except in the color of the brilliant clouds. At
last the lurid horizon began to burn like a flame-shot smoke, and a
fiercely bright disc edge pierced its level, and swiftly defined itself
as the sun's orb.
Many thoughts went through March's mind; some of them were sad, but in
some there was a touch of hopefulness. It might have been that beauty
which consoled him for his years; somehow he felt himself, if no longer
young, a part of the young immortal frame of things. His state was
indefinable, but he longed to hint at it to his companion.
"Yes," said Eltwin, with a long deep sigh. "I feel as if I could walk
out through that brightness and find her. I reckon that such hopes
wouldn't be allowed to lie to us; that so many ages of men couldn't have
fooled themselves so. I'm glad I've seen this." He was silent and they
both remained watching the rising sun till they could not bear its
splendor. "Now," said the major, "it must be time for that mud, as you
call it." Over their coffee and crackers at the end of the table which
they had to themselves, he resumed. "I was thinking all the time--
we seem to think half a dozen things at once, and this was one of them--
about a piece of business I've got to settle when I reach home; and
perhaps you can advise me about it; you're an editor. I've got a
newspaper on my hands; I reckon it would be a pretty good thing, if it
had a chance; but I don't know what to do with it: I got it in trade with
a fellow who has to go West for his lungs, but he's staying till I get
back. What's become of that young chap--what's his name?--that went out
"Burnamy?" prompted March, rather breathlessly.
"Yes. Couldn't he take hold of it? I rather liked him. He's smart,
"Very," said March. "But I don't know where he is. I don't know that he
would go into the country--. But he might, if--"
They entered provisionally into the case, and for argument's sake
supposed that Burnamy would take hold of the major's paper if he could be
got at. It really looked to March like a good chance for him, on
Eltwin's showing; but he was not confident of Burnamy's turning up very
soon, and he gave the major a pretty clear notion why, by entering into
the young fellow's history for the last three months.
"Isn't it the very irony of fate?" he said to his wife when he found her
in their room with a cup of the same mud he had been drinking, and
reported the facts to her.
"Irony?" she said, with all the excitement he could have imagined or
desired. "Nothing of the kind. It's a leading, if ever there was one.
It will be the easiest thing in the world to find Burnamy. And out there
she can sit on her steps!"
He slowly groped his way to her meaning, through the hypothesis of
Burnamy's reconciliation and marriage with Agatha Triscoe, and their
settlement in Major Eltwin's town under social conditions that implied a
habit of spending the summer evenings on their front porch. While he was
doing this she showered him with questions and conjectures and
requisitions in which nothing but the impossibility of going ashore saved
him from the instant devotion of all his energies to a world-wide,
inquiry into Burnamy's whereabouts.
The next morning he was up before Major Eltwin got out, and found the
second-cabin passengers free of the first-cabin promenade at an hour when
their superiors were not using it. As he watched these inferiors,
decent-looking, well-clad men and women, enjoying their privilege with a
furtive air, and with stolen glances at him, he asked himself in what
sort he was their superior, till the inquiry grew painful. Then he rose
from his chair, and made his way to the place where the material barrier
between them was lifted, and interested himself in a few of them who
seemed too proud to avail themselves of his society on the terms made.
A figure seized his attention with a sudden fascination of conjecture and
rejection: the figure of a tall young man who came out on the promenade
and without looking round, walked swiftly away to the bow of the ship,
and stood there, looking down at the water in an attitude which was
bewilderingly familiar. His movement, his posture, his dress, even, was
that of Burnamy, and March, after a first flush of pleasure, felt a
sickening repulsion in the notion of his presence. It would have been
such a cheap performance on the part of life, which has all sorts of
chances at command, and need not descend to the poor tricks of second-
rate fiction; and he accused Burnamy of a complicity in the bad taste of
the affair, though he realized, when he reflected, that if it were really
Burnamy he must have sailed in as much unconsciousness of the Triscoes as
he himself had done. He had probably got out of money and had hurried
home while he had still enough to pay the second-cabin fare on the first
boat back. Clearly he was not to blame, but life was to blame for such a
shabby device; and March felt this so keenly that he wished to turn from
the situation, and have nothing to do with it. He kept moving toward
him, drawn by the fatal attraction, and at a few paces' distance the
young man whirled about and showed him the face of a stranger.
March made some witless remark on the rapid course of the ship as it cut
its way through the water of the bow; the stranger answered with a strong
Lancashire accent; and in the talk which followed, he said he was going
out to see the cotton-mills at Fall River and New Bedford, and he seemed
hopeful of some advice or information from March; then he said he must go
and try to get his Missus out; March understood him to mean his wife, and
he hurried down to his own, to whom he related his hair-breadth escape
"I don't call it an escape at all!" she declared. "I call it the
greatest possible misfortune. If it had been Burnamy we could have
brought them together at once, just when she has seen so clearly that she
was in the wrong, and is feeling all broken up. There wouldn't have been
any difficulty about his being in the second-cabin. We could have
contrived to have them meet somehow. If the worst came to the worst you
could have lent him money to pay the difference, and got him into the
"I could have taken that six-hundred-dollar room for him," said March,
"and then he could have eaten with the swells."
She answered that now he was teasing; that he was fundamentally incapable
of taking anything seriously; and in the end he retired before the
stewardess bringing her first coffee, with a well-merited feeling that if
it had not been for his triviality the young Lancashireman would really
have been Burnamy.
Except for the first day and night out from Queenstown, when the ship
rolled and pitched with straining and squeaking noises, and a thumping of
the lifted screws, there was no rough weather, and at last the ocean was
livid and oily, with a long swell, on which she swayed with no
perceptible motion save from her machinery.
Most of the seamanship seemed to be done after dark, or in those early
hours when March found the stewards cleaning the stairs, and the sailors
scouring the promenades. He made little acquaintance with his fellow-
passengers. One morning he almost spoke with an old Quaker lady whom he
joined in looking at the Niagara flood which poured from the churning
screws; but he did not quite get the words out. On the contrary he
talked freely with an American who, bred horses on a farm near Boulogne,
and was going home to the Horse Show; he had been thirty-five years out
of the country, but he had preserved his Yankee accent in all its purity,
and was the most typical-looking American on board. Now and then March
walked up and down with a blond Mexican whom he found of the usual well-
ordered Latin intelligence, but rather flavorless; at times he sat beside
a nice Jew, who talked agreeably, but only about business; and he
philosophized the race as so tiresome often because it seemed so often
without philosophy. He made desperate attempts at times to interest
himself in the pool-selling in the smoking-room where the betting on the
ship's wonderful run was continual.
He thought that people talked less and less as they drew nearer home; but
on the last day out there was a sudden expansion, and some whom he had
not spoken with voluntarily addressed him. The sweet, soft air was like
midsummer the water rippled gently, without a swell, blue under the clear
sky, and the ship left a wide track that was silver in the sun. There
were more sail; the first and second class baggage was got up and piled
along the steerage deck.
Some people dressed a little more than usual for the last dinner which
was earlier than usual, so as to be out of the way against the arrival
which had been variously predicted at from five to seven-thirty. An
indescribable nervousness culminated with the appearance of the customs
officers on board, who spread their papers on cleared spaces of the
dining-tables, and summoned the passengers to declare that they had
nothing to declare, as a preliminary to being searched like thieves at
This ceremony proceeded while the Cupania made her way up the Narrows,
and into the North River, where the flare of lights from the crazy steeps
and cliffs of architecture on the New York shore seemed a persistence of
the last Fourth of July pyrotechnics. March blushed for the grotesque
splendor of the spectacle, and was confounded to find some Englishmen
admiring it, till he remembered that aesthetics were not the strong point
of our race. His wife sat hand in hand with Miss Triscoe, and from time
to time made him count the pieces of small baggage in the keeping of
their steward; while General Triscoe held aloof in a sarcastic calm.
The steamer groped into her dock; the gangways were lifted to her side;
the passengers fumbled and stumbled down their incline, and at the bottom
the Marches found themselves respectively in the arms of their son and
daughter. They all began talking at once, and ignoring and trying to
remember the Triscoes to whom the young Marches were presented. Bella
did her best to be polite to Agatha, and Tom offered to get an inspector
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