King went into the kitchen after dinner and saw this model husband, who had the faculty of making himself generally useful, holding a baby on one arm, and stirring something in a pot on the stove with the other. He looked hot but resigned. There has been so much said about the position of men in Massachusetts that the travelers were glad of this evidence that husbands are beginning to be appreciated. Under proper training they are acknowledged to be "better than girls."
It was late afternoon when they reached the quiet haven of Plymouth—a place where it is apparently always afternoon, a place of memory and reminiscences, where the whole effort of the population is to hear and to tell some old thing. As the railway ends there, there is no danger of being carried beyond, and the train slowly ceases motion, and stands still in the midst of a great and welcome silence. Peace fell upon the travelers like a garment, and although they had as much difficulty in landing their baggage as the early Pilgrims had in getting theirs ashore, the circumstance was not able to disquiet them much. It seemed natural that their trunks should go astray on some of the inextricably interlocked and branching railways, and they had no doubt that when they had made the tour of the State they would be discharged, as they finally were, into this cul-de-sac.
The Pilgrims have made so much noise in the world, and so powerfully affected the continent, that our tourists were surprised to find they had landed in such a quiet place, and that the spirit they have left behind them is one of such tranquillity. The village has a charm all its own. Many of the houses are old-fashioned and square, some with colonial doors and porches, irregularly aligned on the main street, which is arched by ancient and stately elms. In the spacious door-yards the lindens have had room and time to expand, and in the beds of bloom the flowers, if not the very ones that our grandmothers planted, are the sorts that they loved. Showing that the town has grown in sympathy with human needs and eccentricities, and is not the work of a surveyor, the streets are irregular, forming picturesque angles and open spaces.
Nothing could be imagined in greater contrast to a Western town, and a good part of the satisfaction our tourists experienced was in the absence of anything Western or "Queen Anne" in the architecture.
In the Pilgrim Hall—a stone structure with an incongruous wooden-pillared front—they came into the very presence of the early worthies, saw their portraits on the walls, sat in their chairs, admired the solidity of their shoes, and imbued themselves with the spirit of the relics of their heroic, uncomfortable lives. In the town there was nothing to disturb the serenity of mind acquired by this communion. The Puritan interdict of unseemly excitement still prevailed, and the streets were silent; the artist, who could compare it with the placidity of Holland towns, declared that he never walked in a village so silent; there was no loud talking; and even the children played without noise, like little Pilgrims. . . God bless such children, and increase their numbers! It might have been the approach of Sunday—if Sunday is still regarded in eastern Massachusetts—that caused this hush, for it was now towards sunset on Saturday, and the inhabitants were washing the fronts of the houses with the hose, showing how cleanliness is next to silence.
Possessed with the spirit of peace, our tourists, whose souls had been vexed with the passions of many watering-places, walked down Leyden Street (the first that was laid out), saw the site of the first house, and turned round Carver Street, walking lingeringly, so as not to break the spell, out upon the hill-Cole's Hill—where the dead during the first fearful winter were buried. This has been converted into a beautiful esplanade, grassed and graveled and furnished with seats, and overlooks the old wharves, some coal schooners, and shabby buildings, on one of which is a sign informing the reckless that they can obtain there clam-chowder and ice-cream, and the ugly, heavy granite canopy erected over the "Rock." No reverent person can see this rock for the first time without a thrill of excitement. It has the date of 1620 cut in it, and it is a good deal cracked and patched up, as if it had been much landed on, but there it is, and there it will remain a witness to a great historic event, unless somebody takes a notion to cart it off uptown again. It is said to rest on another rock, of which it formed a part before its unfortunate journey, and that lower rock as everybody knows, rests upon the immutable principle of self-government. The stone lies too far from the water to enable anybody to land on it now, and it is protected from vandalism by an iron grating. The sentiment of the hour was disturbed by the advent of the members of a baseball nine, who wondered why the Pilgrims did not land on the wharf, and, while thrusting their feet through the grating in a commendable desire to touch the sacred rock, expressed a doubt whether the feet of the Pilgrims were small enough to slip through the grating and land on the stone. It seems that there is nothing safe from the irreverence of American youth.
Has any other coast town besides Plymouth had the good sense and taste to utilize such an elevation by the water-side as an esplanade? It is a most charming feature of the village, and gives it what we call a foreign air. It was very lovely in the afterglow and at moonrise. Staid citizens with their families occupied the benches, groups were chatting under the spreading linden-tree at the north entrance, and young maidens in white muslin promenaded, looking seaward, as was the wont of Puritan maidens, watching a receding or coming Mayflower. But there was no loud talking, no laughter, no outbursts of merriment from the children, all ready to be transplanted to the Puritan heaven! It was high tide, and all the bay was silvery with a tinge of color from the glowing sky. The long, curved sand-spit-which was heavily wooded when the Pilgrims landed-was silvery also, and upon its northern tip glowed the white sparkle in the lighthouse like the evening-star. To the north, over the smooth pink water speckled with white sails, rose Captain Hill, in Duxbury, bearing the monument to Miles Standish. Clarke's Island (where the Pilgrims heard a sermon on the first Sunday), Saguish Point, and Gurnett Headland (showing now twin white lights) appear like a long island intersected by thin lines of blue water. The effect of these ribbons of alternate sand and water, of the lights and the ocean (or Great Bay) beyond, was exquisite.
Even the unobtrusive tavern at the rear of the esplanade, ancient, feebly lighted, and inviting, added something to the picturesqueness of the scene. The old tree by the gate—an English linden—illuminated by the street lamps and the moon, had a mysterious appearance, and the tourists were not surprised to learn that it has a romantic history. The story is that the twig or sapling from which it grew was brought over from England by a lover as a present to his mistress, that the lovers quarreled almost immediately, that the girl in a pet threw it out of the window when she sent her lover out of the door, and that another man picked it up and planted it where it now grows. The legend provokes a good many questions. One would like to know whether this was the first case of female rebellion in Massachusetts against the common-law right of a man to correct a woman with a stick not thicker than his little finger—a rebellion which has resulted in the position of man as the tourists saw him where the New Hampshire Amazon gave them a meal of victuals; and whether the girl married the man who planted the twig, and, if so, whether he did not regret that he had not kept it by him.
This is a world of illusions. By daylight, when the tide was out, the pretty silver bay of the night before was a mud flat, and the tourists, looking over it from Monument Hill, lost some of their respect for the Pilgrim sagacity in selecting a landing-place. They had ascended the hill for a nearer view of the monument, King with a reverent wish to read the name of his Mayflower ancestor on the tablet, the others in a spirit of cold, New York criticism, for they thought the structure, which is still unfinished, would look uglier near at hand than at a distance. And it does. It is a pile of granite masonry surmounted by symbolic figures.
"It is such an unsympathetic, tasteless-looking thing!" said Miss Lamont.
"Do you think it is the worst in the country?"
"I wouldn't like to say that," replied the artist, "when the competition in this direction is so lively. But just look at the drawing" (holding up his pencil with which he had intended to sketch it). "If it were quaint, now, or rude, or archaic, it might be in keeping, but bad drawing is just vulgar. I should think it had been designed by a carpenter, and executed by a stone-mason."
"Yes," said the little Lamont, who always fell in with the most abominable opinions the artist expressed; "it ought to have been made of wood, and painted and sanded."
"You will please remember," mildly suggested King, who had found the name he was in search of, "that you are trampling on my ancestral sensibilities, as might be expected of those who have no ancestors who ever landed or ever were buried anywhere in particular. I look at the commemorative spirit rather than the execution of the monument."
"So do I," retorted the girl; "and if the Pilgrims landed in such a vulgar, ostentatious spirit as this, I'm glad my name is not on the tablet."
The party were in a better mood when they had climbed up Burial Hill, back of the meeting-house, and sat down on one of the convenient benches amid the ancient gravestones, and looked upon the wide and magnificent prospect. A soft summer wind waved a little the long gray grass of the ancient resting-place, and seemed to whisper peace to the weary generation that lay there. What struggles, what heroisms, the names on the stones recalled! Here had stood the first fort of 1620, and here the watchtower of 1642, from the top of which the warder espied the lurking savage, or hailed the expected ship from England. How much of history this view recalled, and what pathos of human life these graves made real. Read the names of those buried a couple of centuries ago—captains, elders, ministers, governors, wives well beloved, children a span long, maidens in the blush of womanhood—half the tender inscriptions are illegible; the stones are broken, sunk, slanting to fall. What a pitiful attempt to keep the world mindful of the departed!
MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA, ISLES OF SHOALS
Mr. Stanhope King was not in very good spirits. Even Boston did not make him cheerful. He was half annoyed to see the artist and Miss Lamont drifting along in such laughing good-humor with the world, as if a summer holiday was just a holiday without any consequences or responsibilities. It was to him a serious affair ever since that unsatisfactory note from Miss Benson; somehow the summer had lost its sparkle. And yet was it not preposterous that a girl, just a single girl, should have the power to change for a man the aspect of a whole coast-by her presence to make it iridescent with beauty, and by her absence to take all the life out of it? And a simple girl from Ohio! She was not by any means the prettiest girl in the Newport Casino that morning, but it was her figure that he remembered, and it was the look of hurt sensibility in her eyes that stayed with him. He resented the attitude of the Casino towards her, and he hated himself for his share in it. He would write to her..... He composed letter after letter in his mind, which he did not put on paper. How many millions of letters are composed in this way! It is a favorite occupation of imaginative people; and as they say that no thoughts or mental impressions are ever lost, but are all registered—made, as it were, on a "dry-plate," to be developed hereafter—what a vast correspondence must be lying in the next world, in the Dead-letter Office there, waiting for the persons to whom it is addressed, who will all receive it and read it some day! How unpleasant and absurd it will be to read, much of it! I intend to be careful, for my part, about composing letters of this sort hereafter. Irene, I dare say, will find a great many of them from Mr. King, thought out in those days. But he mailed none of them to her. What should he say? Should he tell her that he didn't mind if her parents were what Mrs. Bartlett Glow called "impossible"? If he attempted any explanation, would it not involve the offensive supposition that his social rank was different from hers? Even if he convinced her that he recognized no caste in American society, what could remove from her mind the somewhat morbid impression that her education had put her in a false position? His love probably could not shield her from mortification in a society which, though indefinable in its limits and code, is an entity more vividly felt than the government of the United States.
"Don't you think the whole social atmosphere has changed," Miss Lamont suddenly asked, as they were running along in the train towards Manchester-by-the-Sea, "since we got north of Boston? I seem to find it so. Don't you think it's more refined, and, don't you know, sort of cultivated, and subdued, and Boston? You notice the gentlemen who get out at all these stations, to go to their country-houses, how highly civilized they look, and ineffably respectable and intellectual, all of them presidents of colleges, and substantial bank directors, and possible ambassadors, and of a social cult (isn't that the word?) uniting brains and gentle manners."
"You must have been reading the Boston newspapers; you have hit the idea prevalent in these parts, at any rate. I was, however, reminded myself of an afternoon train out of London, say into Surrey, on which you are apt to encounter about as high a type of civilized men as anywhere."
"And you think this is different from a train out of New York?" asked the artist.
"Yes. New York is more mixed. No one train has this kind of tone. You see there more of the broker type and politician type, smarter apparel and nervous manners, but, dear me, not this high moral and intellectual respectability."
"Well," said the artist, "I'm changing my mind about this country. I didn't expect so much variety. I thought that all the watering-places would be pretty much alike, and that we should see the same people everywhere. But the people are quite as varied as the scenery."
"There you touch a deep question—the refining or the vulgarizing influence of man upon nature, and the opposite. Now, did the summer Bostonians make this coast refined, or did this coast refine the Bostonians who summer here?"
"Well, this is primarily an artistic coast; I feel the influence of it; there is a refined beauty in all the lines, and residents have not vulgarized it much. But I wonder what Boston could have done for the Jersey coast?"
In the midst of this high and useless conversation they came to the Masconomo House, a sort of concession, in this region of noble villas and private parks, to the popular desire to get to the sea. It is a long, low house, with very broad passages below and above, which give lightness and cheerfulness to the interior, and each of the four corners of the entrance hall has a fireplace. The pillars of the front and back piazzas are pine stems stained, with the natural branches cut in unequal lengths, and look like the stumps for the bears to climb in the pit at Berne. Set up originally with the bark on, the worms worked underneath it in secret, at a novel sort of decoration, until the bark came off and exposed the stems most beautifully vermiculated, giving the effect of fine carving. Back of the house a meadow slopes down to a little beach in a curved bay that has rocky headlands, and is defended in part by islands of rock. The whole aspect of the place is peaceful. The hotel does not assert itself very loudly, and if occasionally transient guests appear with flash manners, they do not affect the general tone of the region.
One finds, indeed, nature and social life happily blended, the exclusiveness being rather protective than offensive. The special charm of this piece of coast is that it is bold, much broken and indented, precipices fronting the waves, promontories jutting out, high rocky points commanding extensive views, wild and picturesque, and yet softened by color and graceful shore lines, and the forest comes down to the edge of the sea. And the occupants have heightened rather than lessened this picturesqueness by adapting their villas to a certain extent to the rocks and inequalities in color and form, and by means of roads, allies, and vistas transforming the region into a lovely park.
Here, as at Newport, is cottage life, but the contrast of the two places is immense. There is here no attempt at any assembly or congregated gayety or display. One would hesitate to say that the drives here have more beauty, but they have more variety. They seem endless, through odorous pine woods and shady lanes, by private roads among beautiful villas and exquisite grounds, with evidences everywhere of wealth to be sure, but of individual taste and refinement. How sweet and cool are these winding ways in the wonderful woods, overrun with vegetation, the bayberry, the sweet-fern, the wild roses, wood-lilies, and ferns! and it is ever a fresh surprise at a turn to find one's self so near the sea, and to open out an entrancing coast view, to emerge upon a promontory and a sight of summer isles, of lighthouses, cottages, villages—Marblehead, Salem, Beverly. What a lovely coast! and how wealth and culture have set their seal on it.
It possesses essentially the same character to the north, although the shore is occasionally higher and bolder, as at the picturesque promontory of Magnolia, and Cape Ann exhibits more of the hotel and popular life. But to live in one's own cottage, to choose his calling and dining acquaintances, to make the long season contribute something to cultivation in literature, art, music—to live, in short, rather more for one's self than for society—seems the increasing tendency of the men of fortune who can afford to pay as much for an acre of rock and sand at Manchester as would build a decent house elsewhere. The tourist does not complain of this, and is grateful that individuality has expressed itself in the great variety of lovely homes, in cottages very different from those on the Jersey coast, showing more invention, and good in form and color.
There are New-Yorkers at Manchester, and Bostonians at Newport; but who was it that said New York expresses itself at Newport, and Boston at Manchester and kindred coast settlements? This may be only fancy. Where intellectual life keeps pace with the accumulation of wealth, society is likely to be more natural, simpler, less tied to artificial rules, than where wealth runs ahead. It happens that the quiet social life of Beverly, Manchester, and that region is delightful, although it is a home rather than a public life. Nowhere else at dinner and at the chance evening musicale is the foreigner more likely to meet sensible men who are good talkers, brilliant and witty women who have the gift of being entertaining, and to have the events of the day and the social and political problems more cleverly discussed. What is the good of wealth if it does not bring one back to freedom, and the ability to live naturally and to indulge the finer tastes in vacation-time?
After all, King reflected, as the party were on their way to the Isles of Shoals, what was it that had most impressed him at Manchester? Was it not an evening spent in a cottage amid the rocks, close by the water, in the company of charming people? To be sure, there were the magical reflection of the moonlight and the bay, the points of light from the cottages on the rocky shore, the hum and swell of the sea, and all the mystery of the shadowy headlands; but this was only a congenial setting for the music, the witty talk, the free play of intellectual badinage, and seriousness, and the simple human cordiality that were worth all the rest.
What a kaleidoscope it is, this summer travel, and what an entertainment, if the tourist can only keep his "impression plates" fresh to take the new scenes, and not sink into the state of chronic grumbling at hotels and minor discomforts! An interview at a ticket-office, a whirl of an hour on the rails, and to Portsmouth, anchored yet to the colonial times by a few old houses, and resisting with its respectable provincialism the encroachments of modern smartness, and the sleepy wharf in the sleepy harbor, where the little steamer is obligingly waiting for the last passenger, for the very last woman, running with a bandbox in one hand, and dragging a jerked, fretting child by the other hand, to make the hour's voyage to the Isles of Shoals.
(The shrewd reader objects to the bandbox as an anachronism: it is no longer used. If I were writing a novel, instead of a veracious chronicle, I should not have introduced it, for it is an anachronism. But I was powerless, as a mere narrator, to prevent the woman coming aboard with her bandbox. No one but a trained novelist can make a long-striding, resolute, down-East woman conform to his notions of conduct and fashion.)
If a young gentleman were in love, and the object of his adoration were beside him, he could not have chosen a lovelier day nor a prettier scene than this in which to indulge his happiness; and if he were in love, and the object absent, he could scarcely find a situation fitter to nurse his tender sentiment. Doubtless there is a stage in love when scenery of the very best quality becomes inoperative. There was a couple on board seated in front of the pilot-house, who let the steamer float along the pretty, long, landlocked harbor, past the Kittery Navy-yard, and out upon the blue sea, without taking the least notice of anything but each other. They were on a voyage of their own, Heaven help them! probably without any chart, a voyage of discovery, just as fresh and surprising as if they were the first who ever took it. It made no difference to them that there was a personally conducted excursion party on board, going, they said, to the Oceanic House on Star Island, who had out their maps and guide-books and opera-glasses, and wrung the last drop of the cost of their tickets out of every foot of the scenery. Perhaps it was to King a more sentimental journey than to anybody else, because he invoked his memory and his imagination, and as the lovely shores opened or fell away behind the steamer in ever-shifting forms of beauty, the scene was in harmony with both his hope and his longing. As to Marion and the artist, they freely appropriated and enjoyed it. So that mediaeval structure, all tower, growing out of the rock, is Stedman's Castle—just like him, to let his art spring out of nature in that way. And that is the famous Kittery Navy-yard!
"What do they do there, uncle?" asked the girl, after scanning the place in search of dry-docks and vessels and the usual accompaniments of a navy-yard.
"Oh, they make 'repairs,' principally just before an election. It is very busy then."
"What sort of repairs?"
"Why, political repairs; they call them naval in the department. They are always getting appropriations for them. I suppose that this country is better off for naval repairs than any other country in the world."
"And they are done here?"
"No; they are done in the department. Here is where the voters are. You see, we have a political navy. It costs about as much as those navies that have ships and guns, but it is more in accord with the peaceful spirit of the age. Did you never hear of the leading case of 'repairs' of a government vessel here at Kittery? The 'repairs' were all done here, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire; the vessel lay all the time at Portsmouth, Virginia. How should the department know that there were two places of the same name? It usually intends to have 'repairs' and the vessel in the same navy-yard."
The steamer was gliding along over smooth water towards the seven blessed isles, which lay there in the sun, masses of rock set in a sea sparkling with diamond points. There were two pretty girls in the pilot-house, and the artist thought their presence there accounted for the serene voyage, for the masts of a wrecked schooner rising out of the shallows to the north reminded him that this is a dangerous coast. But he said the passengers would have a greater sense of security if the usual placard (for the benefit of the captain) was put up: "No flirting with the girl at the wheel."
At a distance nothing could be more barren than these islands, which Captain John Smith and their native poet have enveloped in a halo of romance, and it was not until the steamer was close to it that any landing-place was visible on Appledore, the largest of the group.
The boat turned into a pretty little harbor among the rocks, and the settlement was discovered: a long, low, old-fashioned hotel with piazzas, and a few cottages, perched on the ledges, the door-yards of which were perfectly ablaze with patches of flowers, masses of red, yellow, purple-poppies, marigolds, nasturtiums, bachelor's-buttons, lovely splashes of color against the gray lichen-covered rock. At the landing is an interior miniature harbor, walled in, and safe for children to paddle about and sail on in tiny boats. The islands offer scarcely any other opportunity for bathing, unless one dare take a plunge off the rocks.
Talk of the kaleidoscope! At a turn of the wrist, as it were, the elements of society had taken a perfectly novel shape here. Was it only a matter of grouping and setting, or were these people different from all others the tourists had seen? There was a lively scene in the hotel corridor, the spacious office with its long counters and post-office, when the noon mail was opened and the letters called out. So many pretty girls, with pet dogs of all degrees of ugliness (dear little objects of affection overflowing and otherwise running to waste—one of the most pathetic sights in this sad world), jaunty suits with a nautical cut, for boating and rock-climbing, family groups, so much animation and excitement over the receipt of letters, so much well-bred chaffing and friendliness, such an air of refinement and "style," but withal so homelike. These people were "guests" of the proprietors, who nevertheless felt a sort of proprietorship themselves in the little island, and were very much like a company together at sea. For living on this island is not unlike being on shipboard at sea, except that this rock does not heave about in a nauseous way.
Mr. King discovered by the register that the Bensons had been here (of all places in the world, he thought this would be the ideal one for a few days with her), and Miss Lamont had a letter from Irene, which she did not offer to read.
"They didn't stay long," she said, as Mr. King seemed to expect some information out of the letter, "and they have gone on to Bar Harbor. I should like to stop here a week; wouldn't you?"
"Ye-e-s," trying to recall the mood he was in before he looked at the register; "but—but" (thinking of the words "gone on to Bar Harbor") "it is a place, after all, that you can see in a short time—go all over it in half a day."
"But you want to sit about on the rocks, and look at the sea, and dream."
"I can't dream on an island-not on a small island. It's too cooped up; you get a feeling of being a prisoner."
"I suppose you wish 'that little isle had wings, and you and I within its shady—'"
"There's one thing I will not stand, Miss Lamont, and that's Moore."
"Come, let's go to Star Island."
The party went in the tug Pinafore, which led a restless, fussy life, puffing about among these islands, making the circuit of Appledore at fixed hours, and acting commonly as a ferry. Star Island is smaller than Appledore and more barren, but it has the big hotel (and a different class of guests from those on Appledore), and several monuments of romantic interest. There is the ancient stone church, rebuilt some time in this century; there are some gravestones; there is a monument to Captain John Smith, the only one existing anywhere to that interesting adventurer—a triangular shaft, with a long inscription that could not have been more eulogistic if he had composed it himself. There is something pathetic in this lonely monument when we recall Smith's own touching allusion to this naked rock, on which he probably landed when he once coasted along this part of New England, as being his sole possession in the world at the end of his adventurous career:
"No lot for me but Smith's Isles, which are an array of barren rocks, the most overgrown with shrubs and sharpe whins you can hardly pass them; without either grasse or wood, but three or foure short shrubby old cedars."
Every tourist goes to the south end of Star Island, and climbs down on the face of the precipice to the "Chair," a niche where a school-teacher used to sit as long ago as 1848. She was sitting there one day when a wave came up and washed her away into the ocean. She disappeared. But she who loses her life shall save it. That one thoughtless act of hers did more for her reputation than years of faithful teaching, than all her beauty, grace, and attractions. Her "Chair" is a point of pilgrimage. The tourist looks at it, guesses at its height above the water, regards the hungry sea with aversion, re-enacts the drama in his imagination, sits in the chair, has his wife sit in it, has his boy and girl sit in it together, wonders what the teacher's name was, stops at the hotel and asks the photograph girl, who does not know, and the proprietor, who says it's in a book somewhere, and finally learns that it was Underhill, and straightway forgets it when he leaves the island.
What a delicious place it is, this Appledore, when the elements favor! The party were lodged in a little cottage, whence they overlooked the hotel and the little harbor, and could see all the life of the place, looking over the bank of flowers that draped the rocks of the door-yard. How charming was the miniature pond, with the children sailing round and round, and the girls in pretty costumes bathing, and sunlight lying so warm upon the greenish-gray rocks! But the night, following the glorious after-glow, the red sky, all the level sea, and the little harbor burnished gold, the rocks purple—oh! the night, when the moon came! Oh, Irene! Great heavens! why will this world fall into such a sentimental fit, when all the sweetness and the light of it are away at Bar Harbor!
Love and moonlight, and the soft lapse of the waves and singing? Yes, there are girls down by the landing with a banjo, and young men singing the songs of love, the modern songs of love dashed with college slang. The banjo suggests a little fastness; and this new generation carries off its sentiment with some bravado and a mocking tone. Presently the tug Pinafore glides up to the landing, the engineer flings open the furnace door, and the glowing fire illumines the interior, brings out forms and faces, and deepens the heavy shadows outside. It is like a cavern scene in the opera. A party of ladies in white come down to cross to Star. Some of these insist upon climbing up to the narrow deck, to sit on the roof and enjoy the moonlight and the cinders. Girls like to do these things, which are more unconventional than hazardous, at watering-places.
What a wonderful effect it is, the masses of rock, water, sky, the night, all details lost in simple lines and forms! On the piazza of the cottage is a group of ladies and gentlemen in poses more or less graceful; one lady is in a hammock; on one side is the moonlight, on the other come gleams from the curtained windows touching here and there a white shoulder, or lighting a lovely head; the vines running up on strings and half enclosing the piazza make an exquisite tracery against the sky, and cast delicate shadow patterns on the floor; all the time music within, the piano, the violin, and the sweet waves of a woman's voice singing the songs of Schubert, floating out upon the night. A soft wind blows out of the west.
The northern part of Appledore Island is an interesting place to wander. There are no trees, but the plateau is far from barren. The gray rocks crop out among bayberry and huckleberry bushes, and the wild rose, very large and brilliant in color, fairly illuminates the landscape, massing its great bushes. Amid the chaotic desert of broken rocks farther south are little valleys of deep green grass, gay with roses. On the savage precipices at the end one may sit in view of an extensive sweep of coast with a few hills, and of other rocky islands, sails, and ocean-going steamers. Here are many nooks and hidden corners to dream in and make love in, the soft sea air being favorable to that soft-hearted occupation.
One could easily get attached to the place, if duty and Irene did not call elsewhere. Those who dwell here the year round find most satisfaction when the summer guests have gone and they are alone with freaky nature. "Yes," said the woman in charge of one of the cottages," I've lived here the year round for sixteen years, and I like it. After we get fixed up comfortable for winter, kill a critter, have pigs, and make my own sassengers, then there ain't any neighbors comin' in, and that's what I like."
The attraction of Bar Harbor is in the union of mountain and sea; the mountains rise in granite majesty right out of the ocean. The traveler expects to find a repetition of Mount Athos rising six thousand feet out of the AEgean.
The Bar-Harborers made a mistake in killing—if they did kill—the stranger who arrived at this resort from the mainland, and said it would be an excellent sea-and-mountain place if there were any mountains or any sea in sight. Instead, if they had taken him in a row-boat and pulled him out through the islands, far enough, he would have had a glimpse of the ocean, and if then he had been taken by the cog-railway seventeen hundred feet to the top of Green Mountain, he would not only have found himself on firm, rising ground, but he would have been obliged to confess that, with his feet upon a solid mountain of granite, he saw innumerable islands and, at a distance, a considerable quantity of ocean. He would have repented his hasty speech. In two days he would have been a partisan of the place, and in a week he would have been an owner of real estate there.
There is undeniably a public opinion in Bar Harbor in favor of it, and the visitor would better coincide with it. He is anxiously asked at every turn how he likes it, and if he does not like it he is an object of compassion. Countless numbers of people who do not own a foot of land there are devotees of the place. Any number of certificates to its qualities could be obtained, as to a patent medicine, and they would all read pretty much alike, after the well-known formula: "The first bottle I took did, me no good, after the second I was worse, after the third I improved, after the twelfth I walked fifty miles in one day; and now I never do without it, I take never less than fifty bottles a year." So it would be: "At first I felt just as you do, shut-in place, foggy, stayed only two days. Only came back again to accompany friends, stayed a week, foggy, didn't like it. Can't tell how I happened to come back again, stayed a month, and I tell you, there is no place like it in America. Spend all my summers here."
The genesis of Bar Harbor is curious and instructive. For many years, like other settlements on Mount Desert Island; it had been frequented by people who have more fondness for nature than they have money, and who were willing to put up with wretched accommodations, and enjoyed a mild sort of "roughing it." But some society people in New York, who have the reputation of setting the mode, chanced to go there; they declared in favor of it; and instantly, by an occult law which governs fashionable life, Bar Harbor became the fashion. Everybody could see its preeminent attractions. The word was passed along by the Boudoir Telephone from Boston to New Orleans, and soon it was a matter of necessity for a debutante, or a woman of fashion, or a man of the world, or a blase boy, to show themselves there during the season. It became the scene of summer romances; the student of manners went there to study the "American girl." The notion spread that it was the finest sanitarium on the continent for flirtations; and as trade is said to follow the flag, so in this case real-estate speculation rioted in the wake of beauty and fashion.
There is no doubt that the "American girl" is there, as she is at divers other sea-and-land resorts; but the present peculiarity of this watering-place is that the American young man is there also. Some philosophers have tried to account for this coincidence by assuming that the American girl is the attraction to the young man. But this seems to me a misunderstanding of the spirit of this generation. Why are young men quoted as "scarce" in other resorts swarming with sweet girls, maidens who have learned the art of being agreeable, and interesting widows in the vanishing shades of an attractive and consolable grief? No. Is it not rather the cold, luminous truth that the American girl found out that Bar Harbor, without her presence, was for certain reasons, such as unconventionality, a bracing air, opportunity for boating, etc., agreeable to the young man? But why do elderly people go there? This question must have been suggested by a foreigner, who is ignorant that in a republic it is the young ones who know what is best for the elders.
Our tourists passed a weary, hot day on the coast railway of Maine. Notwithstanding the high temperature, the country seemed cheerless, the sunlight to fall less genially than in more fertile regions to the south, upon a landscape stripped of its forests, naked, and unpicturesque. Why should the little white houses of the prosperous little villages on the line of the rail seem cold and suggest winter, and the land seem scrimped and without an atmosphere? It chanced so, for everybody knows that it is a lovely coast. The artist said it was the Maine Law. But that could not be, for the only drunken man encountered on their tour they saw at the Bangor Station, where beer was furtively sold.
They were plunged into a cold bath on the steamer in the half-hour's sail from the end of the rail to Bar Harbor. The wind was fresh, white-caps enlivened the scene, the spray dashed over the huge pile of baggage on the bow, the passengers shivered, and could little enjoy the islands and the picturesque shore, but fixed eyes of hope upon the electric lights which showed above the headlands, and marked the site of the hotels and the town in the hidden harbor. Spits of rain dashed in their faces, and in some discomfort they came to the wharf, which was alive with vehicles and tooters for the hotels. In short, with its lights and noise, it had every appearance of being an important place, and when our party, holding on to their seats in a buckboard, were whirled at a gallop up to Rodick's, and ushered into a spacious office swarming with people, they realized that they were entering upon a lively if somewhat haphazard life. The first confused impression was of a bewildering number of slim, pretty girls, nonchalant young fellows in lawn-tennis suits, and indefinite opportunities in the halls and parlors and wide piazzas for promenade and flirtations.
Rodick's is a sort of big boarding-house, hesitating whether to be a hotel or not, no bells in the rooms, no bills of fare (or rarely one), no wine-list, a go-as-you-please, help-yourself sort of place, which is popular because it has its own character, and everybody drifts into it first or last. Some say it is an acquired taste; that people do not take to it at first. The big office is a sort of assembly-room, where new arrivals are scanned and discovered, and it is unblushingly called the "fish-pond" by the young ladies who daily angle there. Of the unconventional ways of the establishment Mr. King had an illustration when he attempted to get some washing done. Having read a notice that the hotel had no laundry, he was told, on applying at the office, that if he would bring his things down there they would try to send them out for him. Not being accustomed to carrying about soiled clothes, he declined this proposal, and consulted a chambermaid. She told him that ladies came to the house every day for the washing, and that she would speak to one of them. No result following this, after a day King consulted the proprietor, and asked him point blank, as a friend, what course he would pursue if he were under the necessity of having washing done in that region. The proprietor said that Mr. King's wants should be attended to at once. Another day passed without action, when the chambermaid was again applied to. "There's a lady just come in to the hall I guess will do it."
"Is she trustworthy?"
"Don't know, she washes for the woman in the room next to you." And the lady was at last secured.
Somebody said that those who were accustomed to luxury at home liked Rodick's, and that those who were not grumbled. And it was true that fashion for the moment elected to be pleased with unconventionality, finding a great zest in freedom, and making a joke of every inconvenience. Society will make its own rules, and although there are several other large hotels, and good houses as watering-place hotels go, and cottage-life here as elsewhere is drawing away its skirts from hotel life, society understood why a person might elect to stay at Rodick's. Bar Harbor has one of the most dainty and refined little hotels in the world-the Malvern. Any one can stay there who is worth two millions of dollars, or can produce a certificate from the Recorder of New York that he is a direct descendant of Hendrick Hudson or Diedrich Knickerbocker. It is needless to say that it was built by a Philadelphian—that is to say one born with a genius for hotel-keeping. But though a guest at the Malvern might not eat with a friend at Rodick's, he will meet him as a man of the world on friendly terms.
Bar Harbor was indeed an interesting society study. Except in some of the cottages, it might be said that society was on a lark. With all the manners of the world and the freemasonry of fashionable life, it had elected to be unconventional. The young ladies liked to appear in nautical and lawn-tennis toilet, carried so far that one might refer to the "cut of their jib," and their minds were not much given to any elaborate dressing for evening. As to the young gentlemen, if there were any dress-coats on the island, they took pains not to display them, but delighted in appearing in the evening promenade, and even in the ballroom, in the nondescript suits that made them so conspicuous in the morning, the favorite being a dress of stripes, with striped jockey cap to match, that did not suggest the penitentiary uniform, because in state-prisons the stripes run round. This neglige costume was adhered to even in the ballroom. To be sure, the ballroom was little frequented, only an adventurous couple now and then gliding over the floor, and affording scant amusement to the throng gathered on the piazza and about the open windows. Mrs. Montrose, a stately dame of the old school, whose standard was the court in the days of Calhoun, Clay, and Webster, disapproved of this laxity, and when a couple of young fellows in striped array one evening whirled round the room together, with brier-wood pipes in their mouths, she was scandalized. If the young ladies shared her sentiments they made no resolute protests, remembering perhaps the scarcity of young men elsewhere, and thinking that it is better to be loved by a lawn-tennis suit than not to be loved at all. The daughters of Mrs. Montrose thought they should draw the line on the brier-wood pipe.
Dancing, however, is not the leading occupation at Bar Harbor, it is rather neglected. A cynic said that the chief occupation was to wait at the "fishpond" for new arrivals—the young ladies angling while their mothers and chaperons—how shall we say it to complete the figure?—held the bait. It is true that they did talk in fisherman's lingo about this, asked each other if they had a nibble or a bite, or boasted that they had hauled one in, or complained that it was a poor day for fishing. But this was all chaff, born of youthful spirits and the air of the place. If the young men took airs upon themselves under the impression they were in much demand, they might have had their combs cut if they had heard how they were weighed and dissected and imitated, and taken off as to their peculiarities, and known, most of them, by sobriquets characteristic of their appearance or pretentions. There was one young man from the West, who would have been flattered with the appellation of "dude," so attractive in the fit of his clothes, the manner in which he walked and used his cane and his eyeglass, that Mr. King wanted very much to get him and bring him away in a cage. He had no doubt that he was a favorite with every circle and wanted in every group, and the young ladies did seem to get a great deal of entertainment out of him. He was not like the young man in the Scriptures except that he was credited with having great possessions.
No, the principal occupation at Bar Harbor was not fishing in the house. It was outdoor exercise, incessant activity in driving, walking, boating, rowing and sailing—bowling, tennis, and flirtation. There was always an excursion somewhere, by land or sea, watermelon parties, races in the harbor in which the girls took part, drives in buckboards which they organized—indeed, the canoe and the buckboard were in constant demand. In all this there was a pleasing freedom—of course under proper chaperonage. And such delightful chaperons as they were, their business being to promote and not to hinder the intercourse of the sexes!
This activity, this desire to row and walk and drive and to become acquainted, was all due to the air. It has a peculiar quality. Even the skeptic has to admit this. It composes his nerves to sleep, it stimulates to unwonted exertion. The fanatics of the place declare that the fogs are not damp as at other resorts on the coast. Fashion can make even a fog dry. But the air is delicious. In this latitude, and by reason of the hills, the atmosphere is pure and elastic and stimulating, and it is softened by the presence of the sea. This union gives a charming effect. It is better than the Maine Law. The air being like wine, one does not need stimulants. If one is addicted to them and is afraid to trust the air, he is put to the trouble of sneaking into masked places, and becoming a party to petty subterfuges for evading the law. And the wretched man adds to the misdemeanor of this evasion the moral crime of consuming bad liquor.
"Everybody" was at Bar Harbor, or would be there in course of the season. Mrs. Cortlandt was there, and Mrs. Pendragon of New Orleans, one of the most brilliant, amiable, and charming of women. I remember her as far back as the seventies. A young man like Mr. King, if he could be called young, could not have a safer and more sympathetic social adviser. Why are not all handsome women cordial, good-tempered, and well-bred! And there were the Ashleys—clever mother and three daughters, au-fait girls, racy and witty talkers; I forget whether they were last from Paris, Washington, or San Francisco. Family motto: "Don't be dull." All the Van Dams from New York, and the Sleiderheifers and Mulligrubs of New Jersey, were there for the season, some of them in cottages. These families are intimate, even connected by marriage, with the Bayardiers of South Carolina and the Lontoons of Louisiana. The girls are handsome, dashing women, without much information, but rattling talkers, and so exclusive! and the young men, with a Piccadilly air, fancy that they belong to the "Prince of Wales set," you know. There is a good deal of monarchical simplicity in our heterogeneous society.
Mrs. Cortlandt was quite in her element here as director-general of expeditions and promoter of social activity. "I have been expecting you," she was kind enough to say to Mr. King the morning after his arrival. "Kitty Van Sanford spied you last night, and exclaimed, 'There, now, is a real reinforcement!" You see that you are mortgaged already."
"It's very kind of you to expect me. Is there anybody else here I know?"
"Several hundreds, I should say. If you cannot find friends here, you are a subject for an orphan-asylum. And you have not seen anybody?"
"Well, I was late at breakfast."
"And you have not looked on the register?"
"Yes, I did run my eye over the register."
"And you are standing right before me and trying to look as if you did not know that Irene Benson is in the house. I didn't think, Mr. King, it had gone that far-indeed I didn't. You know I'm in a manner responsible for it. And I heard all about you at Newport. She's a heart of gold, that girl."
"Did she—did Miss Benson say anything about Newport?"
"Oh, I didn't know but she might have mentioned how she liked it."
"I don't think she liked it as much as her mother did. Mrs. Benson talks of nothing else. Irene said nothing special to me. I don't know what she may have said to Mr. Meigs," this wily woman added, in the most natural manner.
"Who is Mr. Meigs?"
"Mr. Alfred Meigs, Boston. He is a rich widower, about forty—the most fascinating age for a widower, you know. I think he is conceited, but he is really a most entertaining man; has traveled all over the world —Egypt, Persia—lived in Japan, prides himself a little on never having been in Colorado or Florida."
"What does he do?"
"Do? He drives Miss Benson to Otter Cliffs, and out on the Cornice Road, about seven days in the week, and gets up sailing-parties and all that in the intervals."
"I mean his occupation."
"Isn't that occupation enough? Well, he has a library and a little archaeological museum, and prints monographs on art now and then. If he were a New-Yorker, you know, he would have a yacht instead of a library. There they are now."
A carriage with a pair of spirited horses stood at the bottom of the steps on the entrance side. Mrs. Cortlandt and King turned the corner of the piazza and walked that way. On the back seat were Mrs. Benson and Mrs. Simpkins. The gentleman holding the reins was just helping Irene to the high seat in front. Mr. King was running down the long flight of steps. Mrs. Benson saw him, bowed most cordially, and called his name. Irene, turning quickly, also bowed—he thought there was a flush on her face. The gentleman, in the act of starting the horses, raised his hat. King was delighted to notice that he was bald. He had a round head, snugly-trimmed beard slightly dashed with gray, was short and a trifle stout—King thought dumpy. "I suppose women like that kind of man," he said to Mrs. Cortlandt when the carriage was out of sight.
Why not? He has perfect manners; he knows the world—that is a great point, I can tell you, in the imagination of a girl; he is rich; and he is no end obliging."
"How long has he been here?"
"Several days. They happened to come up from the Isles of Shoals together. He is somehow related to the Simpkinses. There! I've wasted time enough on you. I must go and see Mrs. Pendragon about a watermelon party to Jordan Pond. You'll see, I'll arrange something."
King had no idea what a watermelon party was, but he was pleased to think that it was just the sort of thing that Mr. Meigs would shine in. He said to himself that he hated dilettante snobs. His bitter reflections were interrupted by the appearance of Miss Lamont and the artist, and with them Mr. Benson. The men shook hands with downright heartiness. Here is a genuine man, King was thinking.
"Yes. We are still at it," he said, with his humorous air of resignation. "I tell my wife that I'm beginning to understand how old Christian felt going through Vanity Fair. We ought to be pretty near the Heavenly Gates by this time. I reckoned she thought they opened into Newport. She said I ought to be ashamed to ridicule the Bible. I had to have my joke. It's queer how different the world looks to women."
"And how does it look to men?" asked Miss Lamont.
"Well, my dear young lady, it looks like a good deal of fuss, and tolerably large bills."
"But what does it matter about the bills if you enjoy yourself?"
"That's just it. Folks work harder to enjoy themselves than at anything else I know. Half of them spend more money than they can afford to, and keep under the harrow all the time, just because they see others spend money."
"I saw your wife and daughter driving away just now," said King, shifting the conversation to a more interesting topic.
"Yes. They have gone to take a ride over what they call here the Cornneechy. It's a pretty enough road along the bay, but Irene says it's about as much like the road in Europe they name it from as Green Mountain is like Mount Blanck. Our folks seem possessed to stick a foreign name on to everything. And the road round through the scrub to Eagle Lake they call Norway. If Norway is like that, it's pretty short of timber. If there hadn't been so much lumbering here, I should like it better. There is hardly a decent pine-tree left. Mr. Meigs—they have gone riding with Mr. Meigs—says the Maine government ought to have a Maine law that amounts to something—one that will protect the forests, and start up some trees on the coast."
"Is Mr. Meigs in the lumber business?" asked King.
"Only for scenery, I guess. He is great on scenery. He's a Boston man. I tell the women that he is what I call a bric-er-brac man. But you come to set right down with him, away from women, and he talks just as sensible as anybody. He is shrewd enough. It beats all how men are with men and with women."
Mr. Benson was capable of going on in this way all day. But the artist proposed a walk up to Newport, and Mr. King getting Mrs. Pendragon to accompany them, the party set out. It is a very agreeable climb up Newport, and not difficult; but if the sun is out, one feels, after scrambling over the rocks and walking home by the dusty road, like taking a long pull at a cup of shandygaff. The mountain is a solid mass of granite, bare on top, and commands a noble view of islands and ocean, of the gorge separating it from Green Mountain, and of that respectable hill. For this reason, because it is some two or three hundred feet lower than Green Mountain, and includes that scarred eminence in its view, it is the most picturesque and pleasing elevation on the island. It also has the recommendation of being nearer to the sea than its sister mountain. On the south side, by a long slope, it comes nearly to the water, and the longing that the visitor to Bar Harbor has to see the ocean is moderately gratified. The prospect is at once noble and poetic.
Mrs. Pendragon informed Mr. King that he and Miss Lamont and Mr. Forbes were included in the watermelon party that was to start that afternoon at five o'clock. The plan was for the party to go in buckboards to Eagle Lake, cross that in the steamer, scramble on foot over the "carry" to Jordan Pond, take row-boats to the foot of that, and find at a farmhouse there the watermelons and other refreshments, which would be sent by the shorter road, and then all return by moonlight in the buckboards.
This plan was carried out. Mrs. Cortlandt, Mrs. Pendragon, and Mrs. Simpkins were to go as chaperons, and Mr. Meigs had been invited by Mrs. Cortlandt, King learned to his disgust, also to act as a chaperon. All the proprieties are observed at Bar Harbor. Half a dozen long buckboards were loaded with their merry freight. At the last Mrs. Pendragon pleaded a headache, and could not go. Mr. King was wandering about among the buckboards to find an eligible seat. He was not put in good humor by finding that Mr. Meigs had ensconced himself beside Irene, and he was about crowding in with the Ashley girls—not a bad fate—when word was passed down the line from Mrs. Cortlandt, who was the autocrat of the expedition, that Mr. Meigs was to come back and take a seat with Mrs. Simpkins in the buckboard with the watermelons. She could not walk around the "carry"; she must go by the direct road, and of course she couldn't go alone. There was no help for it, and Mr. Meigs, looking as cheerful as an undertaker in a healthy season, got down from his seat and trudged back. Thus two chaperons were disposed of at a stroke, and the young men all said that they hated to assume so much responsibility. Mr. King didn't need prompting in this emergency; the wagons were already moving, and before Irene knew exactly what had happened, Mr. King was begging her pardon for the change, and seating himself beside her. And he was thinking, "What a confoundedly clever woman Mrs. Cortlandt is!"
There is an informality about a buckboard that communicates itself at once to conduct. The exhilaration of the long spring-board, the necessity of holding on to something or somebody to prevent being tossed overboard, put occupants in a larkish mood that they might never attain in an ordinary vehicle. All this was favorable to King, and it relieved Irene from an embarrassment she might have felt in meeting him under ordinary circumstances. And King had the tact to treat himself and their meeting merely as accidents.
"The American youth seem to have invented a novel way of disposing of chaperons," he said. "To send them in one direction and the party chaperoned in another is certainly original."
"I'm not sure the chaperons like it. And I doubt if it is proper to pack them off by themselves, especially when one is a widow and the other is a widower."
"It's a case of chaperon eat chaperon. I hope your friend didn't mind it. I had nearly despaired of finding a seat."
"Mr. Meigs? He did not say he liked it, but he is the most obliging of men."
"I suppose you have pretty well seen the island?"
"We have driven about a good deal. We have seen Southwest Harbor, and Somes's Sound and Schooner Head, and the Ovens and Otter Cliffs—there's no end of things to see; it needs a month. I suppose you have been up Green Mountain?"
"No. I sent Mr. Forbes."
"You ought to go. It saves buying a map. Yes, I like the place immensely. You mustn't judge of the variety here by the table at Rodick's. I don't suppose there's a place on the coast that compares with it in interest; I mean variety of effects and natural beauty. If the writers wouldn't exaggerate so, talk about 'the sublimity of the mountains challenging the eternal grandeur of the sea'!"
"Don't use such strong language there on the back seat," cried Miss Lamont. "This is a pleasure party. Mr. Van Dusen wants to know why Maud S. is like a salamander?"
"He is not to be gratified, Marion. If it is conundrums, I shall get out and walk."
Before the conundrum was guessed, the volatile Van Dusen broke out into, "Here's a how d'e do!" One of the Ashley girls in the next wagon caught up the word with, "Here's a state of things!" and the two buckboards went rattling down the hill to Eagle Lake in a "Mikado" chorus.
"The Mikado troupe seems to have got over here in advance of Sullivan," said Mr. King to Irene. "I happened to see the first representation."
"Oh, half these people were in London last spring. They give you the impression that they just run over to the States occasionally. Mr. Van Dusen says he keeps his apartments in whatever street it is off Piccadilly, it's so much more convenient."
On the steamer crossing the lake, King hoped for an opportunity to make an explanation to Irene. But when the opportunity came he found it very difficult to tell what it was he wanted to explain, and so blundered on in commonplaces.
"You like Bar Harbor so well," he said, "that I suppose your father will be buying a cottage here?"
"Hardly. Mr. Meigs" (King thought there was too much Meigs in the conversation) "said that he had once thought of doing so, but he likes the place too well for that. He prefers to come here voluntarily. The trouble about owning a cottage at a watering-place is that it makes a duty of a pleasure. You can always rent, father says. He has noticed that usually when a person gets comfortably established in a summer cottage he wants to rent it."
"And you like it better than Newport?"
"On some accounts—the air, you know, and—"
"I want to tell you," he said breaking in most illogically—"I want to tell you, Miss Benson, that it was all a wretched mistake at Newport that morning. I don't suppose you care, but I'm afraid you are not quite just to me."
"I don't think I was unjust." The girl's voice was low, and she spoke slowly. "You couldn't help it. We can't any of us help it. We cannot make the world over, you know." And she looked up at him with a faint little smile.
"But you didn't understand. I didn't care for any of those people. It was just an accident. Won't you believe me? I do not ask much. But I cannot have you think I'm a coward."
"I never did, Mr. King. Perhaps you do not see what society is as I do. People think they can face it when they cannot. I can't say what I mean, and I think we'd better not talk about it."
The boat was landing; and the party streamed up into the woods, and with jest and laughter and feigned anxiety about danger and assistance, picked its way over the rough, stony path. It was such a scramble as young ladies enjoy, especially if they are city bred, for it seems to them an achievement of more magnitude than to the country lasses who see nothing uncommon or heroic in following a cow-path. And the young men like it because it brings out the trusting, dependent, clinging nature of girls. King wished it had been five miles long instead of a mile and a half. It gave him an opportunity to show his helpful, considerate spirit. It was necessary to take her hand to help her over the bad spots, and either the bad spots increased as they went on, or Irene was deceived about it. What makes a path of this sort so perilous to a woman's heart? Is it because it is an excuse for doing what she longs to do? Taking her hand recalled the day on the rocks at Narragansett, and the nervous clutch of her little fingers, when the footing failed, sent a delicious thrill through her lover. King thought himself quite in love with Forbes—there was the warmest affection between the two—but when he hauled the artist up a Catskill cliff there wasn't the least of this sort of a thrill in the grip of hands. Perhaps if women had the ballot in their hands all this nervous fluid would disappear out of the world.
At Jordan Pond boats were waiting. It is a pretty fresh-water pond between high sloping hills, and twin peaks at the north end give it even picturesqueness. There are a good many trout in it—at least that is the supposition, for the visitors very seldom get them out. When the boats with their chattering passengers had pushed out into the lake and accomplished a third of the voyage, they were met by a skiff containing the faithful chaperons Mrs. Simpkins and Mr. Meigs. They hailed, but Mr. King, who was rowing his boat, did not slacken speed. "Are you much tired, Miss Benson?" shouted Mr. Meigs. King didn't like this assumption of protection. "I've brought you a shawl."
"Hang his paternal impudence!" growled King, under his breath, as he threw himself back with a jerk on the oars that nearly sent Irene over the stern of the boat.
Evidently the boat-load, of which the Ashley girls and Mr. Van Dusen were a part, had taken the sense of this little comedy, for immediately they struck up:
"For he is going to marry Yum-Yum— Yum-Yum! For he is going to marry Yum-Yum— Yum-Yum!"
This pleasantry passed entirely over the head of Irene, who had not heard the "Mikado," but King accepted it as a good omen, and forgave its impudence. It set Mr. Meigs thinking that he had a rival.
At the landing, however, Mr. Meigs was on hand to help Irene out, and a presentation of Mr. King followed. Mr. Meigs was polite even to cordiality, and thanked him for taking such good care of her. Men will make such blunders sometimes.
"Oh, we are old friends," she said carelessly.
Mr. Meigs tried to mend matters by saying that he had promised Mrs. Benson, you know, to look after her. There was that in Irene's manner that said she was not to be appropriated without leave. But the consciousness that her look betrayed this softened her at once towards Mr. Meigs, and decidedly improved his chances for the evening. The philosopher says that women are cruelest when they set out to be kind.
The supper was an 'al fresco' affair, the party being seated about on rocks and logs and shawls spread upon the grass near the farmer's house. The scene was a very pretty one, at least the artist thought so, and Miss Lamont said it was lovely, and the Ashley girls declared it was just divine. There was no reason why King should not enjoy the chaff and merriment and the sunset light which touched the group, except that the one woman he cared to serve was enveloped in the attentions of Mr. Meigs. The drive home in the moonlight was the best part of the excursion, or it would have been if there had not been a general change of seats ordered, altogether, as Mr. King thought, for the accommodation of the Boston man. It nettled him that Irene let herself fall to the escort of Mr. Meigs, for women can always arrange these things if they choose, and he had only a melancholy satisfaction in the college songs and conundrums that enlivened the festive buckboard in which he was a passenger. Not that he did not join in the hilarity, but it seemed only a poor imitation of pleasure. Alas, that the tone of one woman's voice, the touch of her hand, the glance of her eye, should outweigh the world!
Somehow, with all the opportunities, the suit of our friend did not advance beyond a certain point. Irene was always cordial, always friendly, but he tried in vain to ascertain whether the middle-aged man from Boston had touched her imagination. There was a boating party the next evening in Frenchman's Bay, and King had the pleasure of pulling Miss Benson and Miss Lamont out seaward under the dark, frowning cliffs until they felt the ocean swell, and then of making the circuit of Porcupine Island. It was an enchanting night, full of mystery. The rock face of the Porcupine glistened white in the moonlight as if it were encrusted with salt, the waves beat in a continuous roar against its base, which is honeycombed by the action of the water, and when the boat glided into its shadow it loomed up vast and wonderful. Seaward were the harbor lights, the phosphorescent glisten of the waves, the dim forms of other islands; all about in the bay row-boats darted in and out of the moonlight, voices were heard calling from boat to boat, songs floated over the water, and the huge Portland steamer came plunging in out of the night, a blazing, trembling monster. Not much was said in the boat, but the impression of such a night goes far in the romance of real life.
Perhaps it was this impression that made her assent readily to a walk next morning with Mr. King along the bay. The shore is nearly all occupied by private cottages, with little lawns running down to the granite edge of the water. It is a favorite place for strolling; couples establish themselves with books and umbrellas on the rocks, children are dabbling in the coves, sails enliven the bay, row-boats dart about, the cawing of crows is heard in the still air. Irene declared that the scene was idyllic. The girl was in a most gracious humor, and opened her life more to King than she had ever done before. By such confidences usually women invite avowals, and as the two paced along, King felt the moment approach when there would be the most natural chance in the world for him to tell this woman what she was to him; at the next turn in the shore, by that rock, surely the moment would come. What is this airy nothing by which women protect themselves in such emergencies, by a question, by a tone, an invisible strong barrier that the most impetuous dare not attempt to break?
King felt the subtle restraint which he could not define or explain. And before he could speak she said: "We are going away tomorrow." "We? And who are we?" "Oh, the Simpkinses and our whole family, and Mr. Meigs." "And where?"
"Mr. Meigs has persuaded mother into the wildest scheme. It is nothing less than to leap from, here across all the intervening States to the White Sulphur Springs in Virginia. Father falls into the notion because he wants to see more of the Southerners, Mrs. Simpkins and her daughter are crazy to go, and Mr. Meigs says he has been trying to get there all his life, and in August the season is at its height. It was all arranged before I was consulted, but I confess I rather like it. It will be a change."
"Yes, I should think it would be delightful," King replied, rather absent-mindedly. "It's a long journey, a very long journey. I should think it would be too long a journey for Mr. Meigs—at his time of life."
It was not a fortunate remark, and still it might be; for who could tell whether Irene would not be flattered by this declaration of his jealousy of Mr. Meigs. But she passed it over as not serious, with the remark that the going did not seem to be beyond the strength of her father.
The introduction of Mr. Meigs in the guise of an accepted family friend and traveling companion chilled King and cast a gloom over the landscape. Afterwards he knew that he ought to have dashed in and scattered this encompassing network of Meigs, disregarded the girl's fence of reserve, and avowed his love. More women are won by a single charge at the right moment than by a whole campaign of strategy.
On the way back to the hotel he was absorbed in thought, and he burst into the room where Forbes was touching up one of his sketches, with a fully-formed plan. "Old fellow, what do you say to going to Virginia?"
Forbes put in a few deliberate touches, moving his head from side to side, and with aggravating slowness said, "What do you want to go to Virginia for?"
"Why White Sulphur, of course; the most characteristic watering-place in America. See the whole Southern life there in August; and there's the Natural Bridge."
"I've seen pictures of the Natural Bridge. I don't know as I care much" (still contemplating the sketch from different points of view, and softly whistling) "for the whole of Southern life."
"See here, Forbes, you must have some deep design to make you take that attitude."
"Deep design!" replied Forbes, facing round. "I'll be hanged if I see what you are driving at. I thought it was Saratoga and Richfield, and mild things of that sort."
"And the little Lamont. I know we talked of going there with her and her uncle; but we can go there afterwards. I tell you what I'll do: I'll go to Richfield, and stay till snow comes, if you will take a dip with me down into Virginia first. You ought to do it for your art. It's something new, picturesque—negroes, Southern belles, old-time manners. You cannot afford to neglect it."
"I don't see the fun of being yanked all over the United States in the middle of August."
"You want shaking up. You've been drawing seashores with one figure in them till your pictures all look like—well, like Lamont and water."
"That's better," Forbes retorted, "than Benson and gruel."
And the two got into a huff. The artist took his sketch-book and went outdoors, and King went to his room to study the guide-books and the map of Virginia. The result was that when the friends met for dinner, King said:
"I thought you might do it for me, old boy."
And Forbes replied: "Why didn't you say so? I don't care a rap where I go. But it's Richfield afterwards."
NATURAL BRIDGE, WHITE SULFUR
What occurred at the parting between the artist and the little Lamont at Bar Harbor I never knew. There was that good comradeship between the two, that frank enjoyment of each other's society, without any sentimental nonsense, so often seen between two young people in America, which may end in a friendship of a summer, or extend to the cordial esteem of a lifetime, or result in marriage. I always liked the girl; she had such a sunny temper, such a flow of originality in her mental attitude towards people and things without being a wit or a critic, and so much piquancy in all her little ways. She would take to matrimony, I should say, like a duck to water, with unruffled plumage, but as a wife she would never be commonplace, or anything but engaging, and, as the saying is, she could make almost any man happy. And, if unmarried, what a delightful sister-in-law she would be, especially a deceased wife's sister!
I never imagined that she was capable of a great passion, as was Irene Benson, who under a serene exterior was moved by tides of deep feeling, subject to moods, and full of aspirations and longings which she herself only dimly knew the meaning of. With Irene marriage would be either supreme happiness or extreme wretchedness, no half-way acceptance of a conventional life. With such a woman life is a failure, either tragic or pathetic, without a great passion given and returned. It is fortunate, considering the chances that make unions in society, that for most men and women the "grand passion" is neither necessary nor possible. I did not share King's prejudice against Mr. Meigs. He seemed to me, as the world goes, a 'bon parti,' cultivated by travel and reading, well-bred, entertaining, amiable, possessed of an ample fortune, the ideal husband in the eyes of a prudent mother. But I used to think that if Irene, attracted by his many admirable qualities, should become his wife, and that if afterwards the Prince should appear and waken the slumbering woman's heart in her, what a tragedy would ensue. I can imagine their placid existence if the Prince should not appear, and I can well believe that Irene and Stanhope would have many a tumultuous passage in the passionate symphony of their lives. But, great heavens, is the ideal marriage a Holland!
If Marion had shed any tears overnight, say on account of a little lonesomeness because her friend was speeding away from her southward, there were no traces of them when she met her uncle at the breakfast-table, as bright and chatty as usual, and in as high spirits as one can maintain with the Rodick coffee.
What a world of shifting scenes it is! Forbes had picked up his traps and gone off with his unreasonable companion like a soldier. The day after, when he looked out of the window of his sleeping-compartment at half-past four, he saw the red sky of morning, and against it the spires of Philadelphia.
At ten o'clock the two friends were breakfasting comfortably in the car, and running along down the Cumberland Valley. What a contrast was this rich country, warm with color and suggestive of abundance, to the pale and scrimped coast land of Maine denuded of its trees! By afternoon they were far down the east valley of the Shenandoah, between the Blue Ridge and the Massanutten range, in a country broken, picturesque, fertile, so attractive that they wondered there were so few villages on the route, and only now and then a cheap shanty in sight; and crossing the divide to the waters of the James, at sundown, in the midst of a splendid effect of mountains and clouds in a thunderstorm, they came to Natural Bridge station, where a coach awaited them.
This was old ground to King, who had been telling the artist that the two natural objects east of the Rocky Mountains that he thought entitled to the epithet "sublime" were Niagara Falls and the Natural Bridge; and as for scenery, he did not know of any more noble and refined than this region of the Blue Ridge. Take away the Bridge altogether, which is a mere freak, and the place would still possess, he said, a charm unique. Since the enlargement of hotel facilities and the conversion of this princely domain into a grand park, it has become a favorite summer resort. The gorge of the Bridge is a botanical storehouse, greater variety of evergreens cannot be found together anywhere else in the country, and the hills are still clad with stately forests. In opening drives, and cutting roads and vistas to give views, the proprietor has shown a skill and taste in dealing with natural resources, both in regard to form and the development of contrasts of color in foliage, which are rare in landscape gardening on this side of the Atlantic. Here is the highest part of the Blue Ridge, and from the gentle summit of Mount Jefferson the spectator has in view a hundred miles of this remarkable range, this ribbed mountain structure, which always wears a mantle of beauty, changeable purple and violet.
After supper there was an illumination of the cascade, and the ancient gnarled arbor-vita: trees that lean over it-perhaps the largest known specimens of this species-of the gorge and the Bridge. Nature is apt to be belittled by this sort of display, but the noble dignity of the vast arch of stone was superior to this trifling, and even had a sort of mystery added to its imposing grandeur. It is true that the flaming bonfires and the colored lights and the tiny figures of men and women standing in the gorge within the depth of the arch made the scene theatrical, but it was strange and weird and awful, like the fantasy of a Walpurgis' Night or a midnight revel in Faust.
The presence of the colored brother in force distinguished this from provincial resorts at the North, even those that employ this color as servants. The flavor of Old Virginia is unmistakable, and life drops into an easy-going pace under this influence. What fine manners, to be sure! The waiters in the diningroom, in white ties and dress-coats, move on springs, starting even to walk with a complicated use of all the muscles of the body, as if in response to the twang of a banjo; they do nothing without excessive motion and flourish. The gestures and good-humored vitality expended in changing plates would become the leader of an orchestra. Many of them, besides, have the expression of class-leaders—of a worldly sort. There were the aristocratic chambermaid and porter, who had the air of never having waited on any but the first families. And what clever flatterers and readers of human nature! They can tell in a moment whether a man will be complimented by the remark, "I tuk you for a Richmond gemman, never shod have know'd you was from de Norf," or whether it is best to say, "We depen's on de gemmen frum de Norf; folks down hyer never gives noflin; is too pore." But to a Richmond man it is always, "The Yankee is mighty keerful of his money; we depen's on the old sort, marse." A fine specimen of the "Richmond darkey" of the old school-polite, flattering, with a venerable head of gray wool, was the bartender, who mixed his juleps with a flourish as if keeping time to music. "Haven't I waited on you befo', sah? At Capon Springs? Sorry, sah, but tho't I knowed you when you come in. Sorry, but glad to know you now, sah. If that julep don't suit you, sah, throw it in my face."
A friendly, restful, family sort of place, with music, a little mild dancing, mostly performed by children, in the pavilion, driving and riding-in short, peace in the midst of noble scenery. No display of fashion, the artist soon discovered, and he said he longed to give the pretty girls some instruction in the art of dress. Forbes was a missionary of "style." It hurt his sense of the fitness of things to see women without it. He used to say that an ill-dressed woman would spoil the finest landscape. For such a man, with an artistic feeling so sensitive, the White Sulphur Springs is a natural goal. And he and his friend hastened thither with as much speed as the Virginia railways, whose time-tables are carefully adjusted to miss all connections, permit.
"What do you think of a place," he wrote Miss Lamont—the girl read me a portion of his lively letter that summer at Saratoga—"into which you come by a belated train at half-past eleven at night, find friends waiting up for you in evening costume, are taken to a champagne supper at twelve, get to your quarters at one, and have your baggage delivered to you at two o'clock in the morning?" The friends were lodged in "Paradise Row"—a whimsical name given to one of the quarters assigned to single gentlemen. Put into these single-room barracks, which were neat but exceedingly primitive in their accommodations, by hilarious negro attendants who appeared to regard life as one prolonged lark, and who avowed that there was no time of day or night when a mint-julep or any other necessary of life would not be forthcoming at a moment's warning, the beginning of their sojourn at "The White" took on an air of adventure, and the two strangers had the impression of having dropped into a garrison somewhere on the frontier. But when King stepped out upon the gallery, in the fresh summer morning, the scene that met his eyes was one of such peaceful dignity, and so different from any in his experience, that he was aware that he had come upon an original development of watering-place life.
The White Sulphur has been for the better part of a century, as everybody knows, the typical Southern resort, the rendezvous of all that was most characteristic in the society of the whole South, the meeting-place of its politicians, the haunt of its belles, the arena of gayety, intrigue, and fashion. If tradition is to be believed, here in years gone by were concocted the measures that were subsequently deployed for the government of the country at Washington, here historic matches were made, here beauty had triumphs that were the talk of a generation, here hearts were broken at a ball and mended in Lovers' Walk, and here fortunes were nightly lost and won. It must have been in its material conditions a primitive place in the days of its greatest fame. Visitors came to it in their carriages and unwieldy four-horse chariots, attended by troops of servants, making slow but most enjoyable pilgrimages over the mountain roads, journeys that lasted a week or a fortnight, and were every day enlivened by jovial adventure. They came for the season. They were all of one social order, and needed no introduction; those from Virginia were all related to each other, and though life there was somewhat in the nature of a picnic, it had its very well-defined and ceremonious code of etiquette. In the memory of its old habitues it was at once the freest and the most aristocratic assembly in the world. The hotel was small and its arrangements primitive; a good many of the visitors had their own cottages, and the rows of these cheap structures took their names from their occupants. The Southern presidents, the senators, and statesmen, the rich planters, lived in cottages which still have an historic interest in their memory. But cottage life was never the exclusive affair that it is elsewhere; the society was one body, and the hotel was the centre.
Time has greatly changed the White Sulphur; doubtless in its physical aspect it never was so beautiful and attractive as it is today, but all the modern improvements have not destroyed the character of the resort, which possesses a great many of its primitive and old-time peculiarities. Briefly the White is an elevated and charming mountain region, so cool, in fact, especially at night, that the "season" is practically limited to July and August, although I am not sure but a quiet person, who likes invigorating air, and has no daughters to marry off, would find it equally attractive in September and October, when the autumn foliage is in its glory. In a green rolling interval, planted with noble trees and flanked by moderate hills, stands the vast white caravansary, having wide galleries and big pillars running round three sides. The front and two sides are elevated, the galleries being reached by flights of steps, and affording room underneath for the large billiard and bar-rooms. From the hotel the ground slopes down to the spring, which is surmounted by a round canopy on white columns, and below is an opening across the stream to the race-track, the servants' quarters, and a fine view of receding hills. Three sides of this charming park are enclosed by the cottages and cabins, which back against the hills, and are more or less embowered in trees. Most of these cottages are built in blocks and rows, some single rooms, others large enough to accommodate a family, but all reached by flights of steps, all with verandas, and most of them connected by galleries. Occasionally the forest trees have been left, and the galleries built around them. Included in the premises are two churches, a gambling-house, a couple of country stores, and a post-office. There are none of the shops common at watering-places for the sale of fancy articles, and, strange to say, flowers are not systematically cultivated, and very few are ever to be had. The hotel has a vast dining-room, besides the minor eating-rooms for children and nurses, a large ballroom, and a drawing-room of imposing dimensions. Hotel and cottages together, it is said, can lodge fifteen hundred guests.
The natural beauty of the place is very great, and fortunately there is not much smart and fantastic architecture to interfere with it. I cannot say whether the knowledge that Irene was in one of the cottages affected King's judgment, but that morning, when he strolled to the upper part of the grounds before breakfast, he thought he had never beheld a scene of more beauty and dignity, as he looked over the mass of hotel buildings, upon the park set with a wonderful variety of dark green foliage, upon the elevated rows of galleried cottages marked by colonial simplicity, and the soft contour of the hills, which satisfy the eye in their delicate blending of every shade of green and brown. And after an acquaintance of a couple of weeks the place seemed to him ravishingly beautiful.
King was always raving about the White Sulphur after he came North, and one never could tell how much his judgment was colored by his peculiar experiences there. It was my impression that if he had spent those two weeks on a barren rock in the ocean, with only one fair spirit for his minister, he would have sworn that it was the most lovely spot on the face of the earth. He always declared that it was the most friendly, cordial society at this resort in the country. At breakfast he knew scarcely any one in the vast dining-room, except the New Orleans and Richmond friends with whom he had a seat at table. But their acquaintance sufficed to establish his position. Before dinner-time he knew half a hundred; in the evening his introductions had run up into the hundreds, and he felt that he had potential friends in every Southern city; and before the week was over there was not one of the thousand guests he did not know or might not know. At his table he heard Irene spoken of and her beauty commented on. Two or three days had been enough to give her a reputation in a society that is exceedingly sensitive to beauty. The men were all ready to do her homage, and the women took her into favor as soon as they saw that Mr. Meigs, whose social position was perfectly well known, was of her party. The society of the White Sulphur seems perfectly easy of access, but the ineligible will find that it is able, like that of Washington, to protect itself. It was not without a little shock that King heard the good points, the style, the physical perfections, of Irene so fully commented on, and not without some alarm that he heard predicted for her a very successful career as a belle.
Coming out from breakfast, the Benson party were encountered on the gallery, and introductions followed. It was a trying five minutes for King, who felt as guilty, as if the White Sulphur were private property into which he had intruded without an invitation. There was in the civility of Mr. Meigs no sign of an invitation. Mrs. Benson said she was never so surprised in her life, and the surprise seemed not exactly an agreeable one, but Mr. Benson looked a great deal more pleased than astonished. The slight flush in Irene's face as she greeted him might have been wholly due to the unexpectedness of the meeting. Some of the gentlemen lounged off to the office region for politics and cigars, the elderly ladies took seats upon the gallery, and the rest of the party strolled down to the benches under the trees.
"So Miss Benson was expecting you!" said Mrs. Farquhar, who was walking with King. It is enough to mention Mrs. Farquhar's name to an habitue of the Springs. It is not so many years ago since she was a reigning belle, and as noted for her wit and sparkling raillery as for her beauty. She was still a very handsome woman, whose original cleverness had been cultivated by a considerable experience of social life in this country as well as in London and Paris.
"Was she? I'm sure I never told her I was coming here."
"No, simple man. You were with her at Bar Harbor, and I suppose she never mentioned to you that she was coming here?"
"But why did you think she expected me?"
"You men are too aggravatingly stupid. I never saw astonishment better feigned. I dare say it imposed upon that other admirer of hers also. Well, I like her, and I'm going to be good to her." This meant a good deal. Mrs. Farquhar was related to everybody in Virginia—that is, everybody who was anybody before the war—and she could count at that moment seventy-five cousins, some of them first and some of them double-first cousins, at the White Sulphur. Mrs. Farquhar's remark meant that all these cousins and all their friends the South over would stand by Miss Benson socially from that moment.
The morning german had just begun in the ballroom. The gallery was thronged with spectators, clustering like bees about the large windows, and the notes of the band came floating out over the lawn, bringing to the groups there the lulling impression that life is all a summer holiday.
"And they say she is from Ohio. It is right odd, isn't it? but two or three of the prettiest women here are from that State. There is Mrs. Martin, sweet as a jacqueminot. I'd introduce you if her husband were here. Ohio! Well, we get used to it. I should have known the father and mother were corn-fed. I suppose you prefer the corn-feds to the Confeds. But there's homespun and homespun. You see those under the trees yonder? Georgia homespun! Perhaps you don't see the difference. I do."
"I suppose you mean provincial."
"Oh, dear, no. I'm provincial. It is the most difficult thing to be in these leveling days. But I am not going to interest you in myself. I am too unselfish. Your Miss Benson is a fine girl, and it does not matter about her parents. Since you Yankees upset everything by the war, it is really of no importance who one's mother is. But, mind, this is not my opinion. I'm trying to adjust myself. You have no idea how reconstructed I am."
And with this Mrs. Farquhar went over to Miss Benson, and chatted for a few moments, making herself particularly agreeable to Mr. Meigs, and actually carried that gentleman off to the spring, and then as an escort to her cottage, shaking her fan as she went away at Mr. King and Irene, and saying, "It is a waste of time for you youngsters not to be in the german."
The german was just ended, and the participants were grouping themselves on the gallery to be photographed, the usual custom for perpetuating the memory of these exercises, which only take place every other morning. And since something must be done, as there are only six nights for dancing in the week, on the off mornings there are champagne and fruit parties on the lawn.
It was not about the german, however, that King was thinking. He was once more beside the woman he loved, and all the influences of summer and the very spirit of this resort were in his favor. If I cannot win her here, he was saying to himself, the Meigs is in it. They talked about the journey, about Luray, where she had been, and about the Bridge, and the abnormal gayety of the Springs.
"The people are all so friendly," she said, "and strive so much to put the stranger at his ease, and putting themselves out lest time hang heavy on one's hands. They seem somehow responsible."
"Yes," said King, "the place is unique in that respect. I suppose it is partly owing to the concentration of the company in and around the hotel."
"But the sole object appears to me to be agreeable, and make a real social life. At other like places nobody seems to care what becomes of anybody else."
"Doubtless the cordiality and good feeling are spontaneous, though something is due to manner, and a habit of expressing the feeling that arises. Still, I do not expect to find any watering-place a paradise. This must be vastly different from any other if it is not full of cliques and gossip and envy underneath. But we do not go to a summer resort to philosophize. A market is a market, you know."