THEIR SILVER WEDDING JOURNEY.
By William Dean Howells
"You need the rest," said the Business End; "and your wife wants you to go, as well as your doctor. Besides, it's your Sabbatical year, and you, could send back a lot of stuff for the magazine."
"Is that your notion of a Sabbatical year?" asked the editor.
"No; I throw that out as a bait to your conscience. You needn't write a line while you're gone. I wish you wouldn't for your own sake; although every number that hasn't got you in it is a back number for me."
"That's very nice of you, Fulkerson," said the editor. "I suppose you realize that it's nine years since we took 'Every Other Week' from Dryfoos?"
"Well, that makes it all the more Sabbatical," said Fulkerson. "The two extra years that you've put in here, over and above the old style Sabbatical seven, are just so much more to your credit. It was your right to go, two years ago, and now it's your duty. Couldn't you look at it in that light?"
"I dare say Mrs. March could," the editor assented. "I don't believe she could be brought to regard it as a pleasure on any other terms."
"Of course not," said Fulkerson. "If you won't take a year, take three months, and call it a Sabbatical summer; but go, anyway. You can make up half a dozen numbers ahead, and Tom, here, knows your ways so well that you needn't think about 'Every Other Week' from the time you start till the time you try to bribe the customs inspector when you get back. I can take a hack at the editing myself, if Tom's inspiration gives out, and put a little of my advertising fire into the thing." He laid his hand on the shoulder of the young fellow who stood smiling by, and pushed and shook him in the liking there was between them. "Now you go, March! Mrs. Fulkerson feels just as I do about it; we had our outing last year, and we want Mrs. March and you to have yours. You let me go down and engage your passage, and—"
"No, no!" the editor rebelled. "I'll think about it;" but as he turned to the work he was so fond of and so weary of, he tried not to think of the question again, till he closed his desk in the afternoon, and started to walk home; the doctor had said he ought to walk, and he did so, though he longed to ride, and looked wistfully at the passing cars.
He knew he was in a rut, as his wife often said; but if it was a rut, it was a support too; it kept him from wobbling: She always talked as if the flowery fields of youth lay on either side of the dusty road he had been going so long, and he had but to step aside from it, to be among the butterflies and buttercups again; he sometimes indulged this illusion, himself, in a certain ironical spirit which caressed while it mocked the notion. They had a tacit agreement that their youth, if they were ever to find it again, was to be looked for in Europe, where they met when they were young, and they had never been quite without the hope of going back there, some day, for a long sojourn. They had not seen the time when they could do so; they were dreamers, but, as they recognized, even dreaming is not free from care; and in his dream March had been obliged to work pretty steadily, if not too intensely. He had been forced to forego the distinctly literary ambition with which he had started in life because he had their common living to make, and he could not make it by writing graceful verse, or even graceful prose. He had been many years in a sufficiently distasteful business, and he had lost any thought of leaving it when it left him, perhaps because his hold on it had always been rather lax, and he had not been able to conceal that he disliked it. At any rate, he was supplanted in his insurance agency at Boston by a subordinate in his office, and though he was at the same time offered a place of nominal credit in the employ of the company, he was able to decline it in grace of a chance which united the charm of congenial work with the solid advantage of a better salary than he had been getting for work he hated. It was an incredible chance, but it was rendered appreciably real by the necessity it involved that they should leave Boston, where they had lived all their married life, where Mrs. March as well as their children was born, and where all their tender and familiar ties were, and come to New York, where the literary enterprise which formed his chance was to be founded.
It was then a magazine of a new sort, which his business partner had imagined in such leisure as the management of a newspaper syndicate afforded him, and had always thought of getting March to edit. The magazine which is also a book has since been realized elsewhere on more or less prosperous terms, but not for any long period, and 'Every Other Week' was apparently—the only periodical of the kind conditioned for survival. It was at first backed by unlimited capital, and it had the instant favor of a popular mood, which has since changed, but which did not change so soon that the magazine had not time to establish itself in a wide acceptance. It was now no longer a novelty, it was no longer in the maiden blush of its first success, but it had entered upon its second youth with the reasonable hope of many years of prosperity before it. In fact it was a very comfortable living for all concerned, and the Marches had the conditions, almost dismayingly perfect, in which they had often promised themselves to go and be young again in Europe, when they rebelled at finding themselves elderly in America. Their daughter was married, and so very much to her mother's mind that she did not worry about her, even though she lived so far away as Chicago, still a wild frontier town to her Boston imagination; and their son, as soon as he left college, had taken hold on 'Every Other Week', under his father's instruction, with a zeal and intelligence which won him Fulkerson's praise as a chip of the old block. These two liked each other, and worked into each other's hands as cordially and aptly as Fulkerson and March had ever done. It amused the father to see his son offering Fulkerson the same deference which the Business End paid to seniority in March himself; but in fact, Fulkerson's forehead was getting, as he said, more intellectual every day; and the years were pushing them all along together.
Still, March had kept on in the old rut, and one day he fell down in it. He had a long sickness, and when he was well of it, he was so slow in getting his grip of work again that he was sometimes deeply discouraged. His wife shared his depression, whether he showed or whether he hid it, and when the doctor advised his going abroad, she abetted the doctor with all the strength of a woman's hygienic intuitions. March himself willingly consented, at first; but as soon as he got strength for his work, he began to temporize and to demur. He said that he believed it would do him just as much good to go to Saratoga, where they always had such a good time, as to go to Carlsbad; and Mrs. March had been obliged several times to leave him to his own undoing; she always took him more vigorously in hand afterwards.
When he got home from the 'Every Other Week' office, the afternoon of that talk with the Business End, he wanted to laugh with his wife at Fulkerson's notion of a Sabbatical year. She did not think it was so very droll; she even urged it seriously against him, as if she had now the authority of Holy Writ for forcing him abroad; she found no relish of absurdity in the idea that it was his duty to take this rest which had been his right before.
He abandoned himself to a fancy which had been working to the surface of his thought. "We could call it our Silver Wedding Journey, and go round to all the old places, and see them in the reflected light of the past."
"Oh, we could!" she responded, passionately; and he had now the delicate responsibility of persuading her that he was joking.
He could think of nothing better than a return to Fulkerson's absurdity. "It would be our Silver Wedding Journey just as it would be my Sabbatical year—a good deal after date. But I suppose that would make it all the more silvery."
She faltered in her elation. "Didn't you say a Sabbatical year yourself?" she demanded.
"Fulkerson said it; but it was a figurative expression."
"And I suppose the Silver Wedding Journey was a figurative expression too!"
"It was a notion that tempted me; I thought you would enjoy it. Don't you suppose I should be glad too, if we could go over, and find ourselves just as we were when we first met there?"
"No; I don't believe now that you care anything about it."
"Well, it couldn't be done, anyway; so that doesn't matter."
"It could be done, if you were a mind to think so. And it would be the greatest inspiration to you. You are always longing for some chance to do original work, to get away from your editing, but you've let the time slip by without really trying to do anything; I don't call those little studies of yours in the magazine anything; and now you won't take the chance that's almost forcing itself upon you. You could write an original book of the nicest kind; mix up travel and fiction; get some love in."
"Oh, that's the stalest kind of thing!"
"Well, but you could see it from a perfectly new point of view. You could look at it as a sort of dispassionate witness, and treat it humorously—of course it is ridiculous—and do something entirely fresh."
"It wouldn't work. It would be carrying water on both shoulders. The fiction would kill the travel, the travel would kill the fiction; the love and the humor wouldn't mingle any more than oil and vinegar."
"Well, and what is better than a salad?"
"But this would be all salad-dressing, and nothing to put it on." She was silent, and he yielded to another fancy. "We might imagine coming upon our former selves over there, and travelling round with them— a wedding journey 'en partie carree'."
"Something like that. I call it a very poetical idea," she said with a sort of provisionality, as if distrusting another ambush.
"It isn't so bad," he admitted. "How young we were, in those days!"
"Too young to know what a good time we were having," she said, relaxing her doubt for the retrospect. "I don't feel as if I really saw Europe, then; I was too inexperienced, too ignorant, too simple. I would like to go, just to make sure that I had been." He was smiling again in the way he had when anything occurred to him that amused him, and she demanded, "What is it?"
"Nothing. I was wishing we could go in the consciousness of people who actually hadn't been before—carry them all through Europe, and let them see it in the old, simple-hearted American way."
She shook her head. "You couldn't! They've all been!"
"All but about sixty or seventy millions," said March.
"Well, those are just the millions you don't know, and couldn't imagine."
"I'm not so sure of that."
"And even if you could imagine them, you couldn't make them interesting. All the interesting ones have been, anyway."
"Some of the uninteresting ones too. I used, to meet some of that sort over there. I believe I would rather chance it for my pleasure with those that hadn't been."
"Then why not do it? I know you could get something out of it."
"It might be a good thing," he mused, "to take a couple who had passed their whole life here in New York, too poor and too busy ever to go; and had a perfect famine for Europe all the time. I could have them spend their Sunday afternoons going aboard the different boats, and looking up their accommodations. I could have them sail, in imagination, and discover an imaginary Europe, and give their grotesque misconceptions of it from travels and novels against a background of purely American experience. We needn't go abroad to manage that. I think it would be rather nice."
"I don't think it would be nice in the least," said Mrs. March, "and if you don't want to talk seriously, I would rather not talk at all."
"Well, then, let's talk about our Silver Wedding Journey."
"I see. You merely want to tease and I am not in the humor for it."
She said this in a great many different ways, and then she was really silent. He perceived that she was hurt; and he tried to win her back to good-humor. He asked her if she would not like to go over to Hoboken and look at one of the Hanseatic League steamers, some day; and she refused. When he sent the next day and got a permit to see the boat; she consented to go.
He was one of those men who live from the inside outward; he often took a hint for his actions from his fancies; and now because he had fancied some people going to look at steamers on Sundays, he chose the next Sunday himself for their visit to the Hanseatic boat at Hoboken. To be sure it was a leisure day with him, but he might have taken the afternoon of any other day, for that matter, and it was really that invisible thread of association which drew him.
The Colmannia had been in long enough to have made her toilet for the outward voyage, and was looking her best. She was tipped and edged with shining brass, without and within, and was red-carpeted and white-painted as only a ship knows how to be. A little uniformed steward ran before the visitors, and showed them through the dim white corridors into typical state-rooms on the different decks; and then let them verify their first impression of the grandeur of the dining-saloon, and the luxury of the ladies' parlor and music-room. March made his wife observe that the tables and sofas and easy-chairs, which seemed so carelessly scattered about, were all suggestively screwed fast to the floor against rough weather; and he amused himself with the heavy German browns and greens and coppers in the decorations, which he said must have been studied in color from sausage, beer, and spinach, to the effect of those large march-panes in the roof. She laughed with him at the tastelessness of the race which they were destined to marvel at more and more; but she made him own that the stewardesses whom they saw were charmingly like serving-maids in the 'Fliegende Blatter'; when they went ashore she challenged his silence for some assent to her own conclusion that the Colmannia was perfect.
"She has only one fault," he assented. "She's a ship."
"Yes," said his wife, "and I shall want to look at the Norumbia before I decide."
Then he saw that it was only a question which steamer they should take, and not whether they should take any. He explained, at first gently and afterwards savagely, that their visit to the Colmannia was quite enough for him, and that the vessel was not built that he would be willing to cross the Atlantic in.
When a man has gone so far as that he has committed himself to the opposite course in almost so many words; and March was neither surprised nor abashed when he discovered himself, before they reached home, offering his wife many reasons why they should go to Europe. She answered to all, No, he had made her realize the horror of it so much that she was glad to give it up. She gave it up, with the best feeling; all that she would ask of him was that he should never mention Europe to her again. She could imagine how much he disliked to go, if such a ship as the Colmannia did not make him want to go.
At the bottom of his heart he knew that he had not used her very well. He had kindled her fancy with those notions of a Sabbatical year and a Silver Wedding Journey, and when she was willing to renounce both he had persisted in taking her to see the ship, only to tell her afterwards that he would not go abroad on any account. It was by a psychological juggle which some men will understand that he allowed himself the next day to get the sailings of the Norumbia from the steamship office; he also got a plan of the ship showing the most available staterooms, so that they might be able to choose between her and the Colmannia from all the facts.
From this time their decision to go was none the less explicit because so perfectly tacit.
They began to amass maps and guides. She got a Baedeker for Austria and he got a Bradshaw for the continent, which was never of the least use there, but was for the present a mine of unavailable information. He got a phrase-book, too, and tried to rub up his German. He used to read German, when he was a boy, with a young enthusiasm for its romantic poetry, and now, for the sake of Schiller and Uhland and Heine, he held imaginary conversations with a barber, a bootmaker, and a banker, and tried to taste the joy which he had not known in the language of those poets for a whole generation. He perceived, of course, that unless the barber, the bootmaker, and the banker answered him in terms which the author of the phrase-book directed them to use, he should not get on with them beyond his first question; but he did not allow this to spoil his pleasure in it. In fact, it was with a tender emotion that he realized how little the world, which had changed in everything else so greatly, had changed in its ideal of a phrase-book.
Mrs. March postponed the study of her Baedeker to the time and place for it; and addressed herself to the immediate business of ascertaining the respective merits of the Colmannia and Norumbia. She carried on her researches solely among persons of her own sex; its experiences were alone of that positive character which brings conviction, and she valued them equally at first or second hand. She heard of ladies who would not cross in any boat but the Colmannia, and who waited for months to get a room on her; she talked with ladies who said that nothing would induce them to cross in her. There were ladies who said she had twice the motion that the Norumbia had, and the vibration from her twin screws was frightful; it always was, on those twin-screw boats, and it did not affect their testimony with Mrs. March that the Norumbia was a twin-screw boat too. It was repeated to her in the third or fourth degree of hear- say that the discipline on the Colmannia was as perfect as that on the Cunarders; ladies whose friends had tried every line assured her that the table of the Norumbia was almost as good as the table of the French boats. To the best of the belief of lady witnesses still living who had friends on board, the Colmannia had once got aground, and the Norumbia had once had her bridge carried off by a tidal wave; or it might be the Colmannia; they promised to ask and let her know. Their lightest word availed with her against the most solemn assurances of their husbands, fathers, or brothers, who might be all very well on land, but in navigation were not to be trusted; they would say anything from a reckless and culpable optimism. She obliged March all the same to ask among them, but she recognized their guilty insincerity when he came home saying that one man had told him you could have played croquet on the deck of the Colmannia the whole way over when he crossed, and another that he never saw the racks on in three passages he had made in the Norumbia.
The weight of evidence was, he thought, in favor of the Norumbia, but when they went another Sunday to Hoboken, and saw the ship, Mrs. March liked her so much less than the Colmannia that she could hardly wait for Monday to come; she felt sure all the good rooms on the Colmannia would be gone before they could engage one.
From a consensus of the nerves of all the ladies left in town so late in the season, she knew that the only place on any steamer where your room ought to be was probably just where they could not get it. If you went too high, you felt the rolling terribly, and people tramping up and down on the promenade under your window kept you awake the whole night; if you went too low, you felt the engine thump, thump, thump in your head the whole way over. If you went too far forward, you got the pitching; if you went aft, on the kitchen side, you got the smell of the cooking. The only place, really, was just back of the dining-saloon on the south side of the ship; it was smooth there, and it was quiet, and you had the sun in your window all the way over. He asked her if he must take their room there or nowhere, and she answered that he must do his best, but that she would not be satisfied with any other place.
In his despair he went down to the steamer office, and took a room which one of the clerks said was the best. When he got home, it appeared from reference to the ship's plan that it was the very room his wife had wanted from the beginning, and she praised him as if he had used a wisdom beyond his sex in getting it.
He was in the enjoyment of his unmerited honor when a belated lady came with her husband for an evening call, before going into the country. At sight of the plans of steamers on the Marches' table, she expressed the greatest wonder and delight that they were going to Europe. They had supposed everybody knew it, by this time, but she said she had not heard a word of it; and she went on with some felicitations which March found rather unduly filial. In getting a little past the prime of life he did not like to be used with too great consideration of his years, and he did not think that he and his wife were so old that they need be treated as if they were going on a golden wedding journey, and heaped with all sorts of impertinent prophecies of their enjoying it so much and being so much the better for the little outing! Under his breath, he confounded this lady for her impudence; but he schooled himself to let her rejoice at their going on a Hanseatic boat, because the Germans were always so careful of you. She made her husband agree with her, and it came out that he had crossed several times on both the Colmannia and the Norumbia. He volunteered to say that the Colmannia, was a capital sea-boat; she did not have her nose under water all the time; she was steady as a rock; and the captain and the kitchen were simply out of sight; some people did call her unlucky.
"Unlucky?" Mrs. March echoed, faintly. "Why do they call her unlucky?"
"Oh, I don't know. People will say anything about any boat. You know she broke her shaft, once, and once she got caught in the ice."
Mrs. March joined him in deriding the superstition of people, and she parted gayly with this over-good young couple. As soon as they were gone, March knew that she would say: "You must change that ticket, my dear. We will go in the Norumbia."
"Suppose I can't get as good a room on the Norumbia?"
"Then we must stay."
In the morning after a night so bad that it was worse than no night at all, she said she would go to the steamship office with him and question them up about the Colmannia. The people there had never heard she was called an unlucky boat; they knew of nothing disastrous in her history. They were so frank and so full in their denials, and so kindly patient of Mrs. March's anxieties, that he saw every word was carrying conviction of their insincerity to her. At the end she asked what rooms were left on the Norumbia, and the clerk whom they had fallen to looked through his passenger list with a shaking head. He was afraid there was nothing they would like.
"But we would take anything," she entreated, and March smiled to think of his innocence in supposing for a moment that she had ever dreamed of not going.
"We merely want the best," he put in. "One flight up, no noise or dust, with sun in all the windows, and a place for fire on rainy days."
They must be used to a good deal of American joking which they do not understand, in the foreign steamship offices. The clerk turned unsmilingly to one of his superiors and asked him some question in German which March could not catch, perhaps because it formed no part of a conversation with a barber, a bootmaker or a banker. A brief drama followed, and then the clerk pointed to a room on the plan of the Norumbia and said it had just been given up, and they could have it if they decided to take it at once.
They looked, and it was in the very place of their room on the Colmannia; it was within one of being the same number. It was so providential, if it was providential at all, that they were both humbly silent a moment; even Mrs. March was silent. In this supreme moment she would not prompt her husband by a word, a glance, and it was from his own free will that he said, "We will take it."
He thought it was his free will, but perhaps one's will is never free; and this may have been an instance of pure determinism from all the events before it. No event that followed affected it, though the day after they had taken their passage on the Norumbia he heard that she had once been in the worst sort of storm in the month of August. He felt obliged to impart the fact to his wife, but she said that it proved nothing for or against the ship, and confounded him more by her reason than by all her previous unreason. Reason is what a man is never prepared for in women; perhaps because he finds it so seldom in men.
During nearly the whole month that now passed before the date of sailing it seemed to March that in some familiar aspects New York had never been so interesting. He had not easily reconciled himself to the place after his many years of Boston; but he had got used to the ugly grandeur, to the noise and the rush, and he had divined more and more the careless good-nature and friendly indifference of the vast, sprawling, ungainly metropolis. There were happy moments when he felt a poetry unintentional and unconscious in it, and he thought there was no point more favorable for the sense of this than Stuyvesant Square, where they had a flat. Their windows looked down into its tree-tops, and across them to the truncated towers of St. George's, and to the plain red-brick, white- trimmed front of the Friends' Meeting House; he came and went between his dwelling and his office through the two places that form the square, and after dinner his wife and he had a habit of finding seats by one of the fountains in Livingston Place, among the fathers and mothers of the hybrid East Side children swarming there at play. The elders read their English or Italian or German or Yiddish journals, or gossiped, or merely sat still and stared away the day's fatigue; while the little ones raced in and out among them, crying and laughing, quarrelling and kissing. Sometimes a mother darted forward and caught her child from the brink of the basin; another taught hers to walk, holding it tightly up behind by its short skirts; another publicly nursed her baby to sleep.
While they still dreamed, but never thought, of going to Europe, the Marches often said how European all this was; if these women had brought their knitting or sewing it would have been quite European; but as soon as they had decided to go, it all began to seem poignantly American. In like manner, before the conditions of their exile changed, and they still pined for the Old World, they contrived a very agreeable illusion of it by dining now and then at an Austrian restaurant in Union Square; but later when they began to be homesick for the American scenes they had not yet left, they had a keener retrospective joy in the strictly New York sunset they were bowed out into.
The sunsets were uncommonly characteristic that May in Union Square. They were the color of the red stripes in the American flag, and when they were seen through the delirious architecture of the Broadway side, or down the perspective of the cross-streets, where the elevated trains silhouetted themselves against their pink, they imparted a feeling of pervasive Americanism in which all impression of alien savors and civilities was lost. One evening a fire flamed up in Hoboken, and burned for hours against the west, in the lurid crimson tones of a conflagration as memorably and appealingly native as the colors of the sunset.
The weather for nearly the whole month was of a mood familiar enough in our early summer, and it was this which gave the sunsets their vitreous pink. A thrilling coolness followed a first blaze of heat, and in the long respite the thoughts almost went back to winter flannels. But at last a hot wave was telegraphed from the West, and the week before the Norumbia sailed was an anguish of burning days and breathless nights, which fused all regrets and reluctances in the hope of escape, and made the exiles of two continents long for the sea, with no care for either shore.
Their steamer was to sail early; they were up at dawn because they had scarcely lain down, and March crept out into the square for a last breath of its morning air before breakfast. He was now eager to be gone; he had broken with habit, and he wished to put all traces of the past out of sight. But this was curiously like all other early mornings in his consciousness, and he could not alienate himself from the wonted environment. He stood talking on every-day terms of idle speculation with the familiar policeman, about a stray parrot in the top of one of the trees, where it screamed and clawed at the dead branch to which it clung. Then he went carelessly indoors again as if he were secure of reading the reporter's story of it in that next day's paper which he should not see.
The sense of an inseverable continuity persisted through the breakfast, which was like other breakfasts in the place they would be leaving in summer shrouds just as they always left it at the end of June. The illusion was even heightened by the fact that their son was to be in the apartment all summer, and it would not be so much shut up as usual. The heavy trunks had been sent to the ship by express the afternoon before, and they had only themselves and their stateroom baggage to transport to Hoboken; they came down to a carriage sent from a neighboring livery- stable, and exchanged good-mornings with a driver they knew by name.
March had often fancied it a chief advantage of living in New York that you could drive to the steamer and start for Europe as if you were starting for Albany; he was in the enjoyment of this advantage now, but somehow it was not the consolation he had expected. He knew, of course, that if they had been coming from Boston, for instance, to sail in the Norumbia, they would probably have gone on board the night before, and sweltered through its heat among the strange smells and noises of the dock and wharf, instead of breakfasting at their own table, and smoothly bowling down the asphalt on to the ferryboat, and so to the very foot of the gangway at the ship's side, all in the cool of the early morning. But though he had now the cool of the early morning on these conditions, there was by no means enough of it.
The sun was already burning the life out of the air, with the threat of another day of the terrible heat that had prevailed for a week past; and that last breakfast at home had not been gay, though it had been lively, in a fashion, through Mrs. March's efforts to convince her son that she did not want him to come and see them off. Of, her daughter's coming all the way from Chicago there was no question, and she reasoned that if he did not come to say good-by on board it would be the same as if they were not going.
"Don't you want to go?" March asked with an obscure resentment.
"I don't want to seem to go," she said, with the calm of those who have logic on their side.
As she drove away with her husband she was not so sure of her satisfaction in the feint she had arranged, though when she saw the ghastly partings of people on board, she was glad she had not allowed her son to come. She kept saying this to herself, and when they climbed to the ship from the wharf, and found themselves in the crowd that choked the saloons and promenades and passages and stairways and landings, she said it more than once to her husband.
She heard weary elders pattering empty politenesses of farewell with friends who had come to see them off, as they stood withdrawn in such refuges as the ship's architecture afforded, or submitted to be pushed and twirled about by the surging throng when they got in its way. She pitied these in their affliction, which she perceived that they could not lighten or shorten, but she had no patience with the young girls, who broke into shrieks of nervous laughter at the coming of certain young men, and kept laughing and beckoning till they made the young men see them; and then stretched their hands to them and stood screaming and shouting to them across the intervening heads and shoulders. Some girls, of those whom no one had come to bid good-by, made themselves merry, or at least noisy, by rushing off to the dining-room and looking at the cards on the bouquets heaping the tables, to find whether any one had sent them flowers. Others whom young men had brought bunches of violets hid their noses in them, and dropped their fans and handkerchiefs and card-cases, and thanked the young men for picking them up. Others, had got places in the music-room, and sat there with open boxes of long- stemmed roses in their laps, and talked up into the faces of the men, with becoming lifts and slants of their eyes and chins. In the midst of the turmoil children struggled against people's feet and knees, and bewildered mothers flew at the ship's officers and battered them with questions alien to their respective functions as they amiably stifled about in their thick uniforms.
Sailors, slung over the ship's side on swinging seats, were placidly smearing it with paint at that last moment; the bulwarks were thickly set with the heads and arms of passengers who were making signs to friends on shore, or calling messages to them that lost themselves in louder noises midway. Some of the women in the steerage were crying; they were probably not going to Europe for pleasure like the first-cabin passengers, or even for their health; on the wharf below March saw the face of one young girl twisted with weeping, and he wished he had not seen it. He turned from it, and looked into the eyes of his son, who was laughing at his shoulder. He said that he had to come down with a good- by letter from his sister, which he made an excuse for following them; but he had always meant to see them off, he owned. The letter had just come with a special delivery stamp, and it warned them that she had sent another good-by letter with some flowers on board. Mrs. March scolded at them both, but with tears in her eyes, and in the renewed stress of parting which he thought he had put from him, March went on taking note, as with alien senses, of the scene before him, while they all talked on together, and repeated the nothings they had said already.
A rank odor of beet-root sugar rose from the far-branching sheds where some freight steamers of the line lay, and seemed to mingle chemically with the noise which came up from the wharf next to the Norumbia. The mass of spectators deepened and dimmed away into the shadow of the roofs, and along their front came files of carriages and trucks and carts, and discharged the arriving passengers and their baggage, and were lost in the crowd, which they penetrated like slow currents, becoming clogged and arrested from time to time, and then beginning to move again.
The passengers incessantly mounted by the canvas-draped galleries leading, fore and aft, into the ship. Bareheaded, blue-jacketed, brass- buttoned stewards dodged skillfully in and out among them with their hand-bags, holdalls, hat-boxes, and state-room trunks, and ran before them into the different depths and heights where they hid these burdens, and then ran back for more. Some of the passengers followed them and made sure that their things were put in the right places; most of them remained wedged among the earlier comers, or pushed aimlessly in and out of the doors of the promenades.
The baggage for the hold continually rose in huge blocks from the wharf, with a loud clucking of the tackle, and sank into the open maw of the ship, momently gathering herself for her long race seaward, with harsh hissings and rattlings and gurglings. There was no apparent reason why it should all or any of it end, but there came a moment when there began to be warnings that were almost threats of the end. The ship's whistle sounded, as if marking a certain interval; and Mrs. March humbly entreated, sternly commanded, her son to go ashore, or else be carried to Europe. They disputed whether that was the last signal or not; she was sure it was, and she appealed to March, who was moved against his reason. He affected to talk calmly with his son, and gave him some last charges about 'Every Other Week'.
Some people now interrupted their leave-taking; but the arriving passengers only arrived more rapidly at the gang-ways; the bulks of baggage swung more swiftly into the air. A bell rang, and there rose women's cries, "Oh, that is the shore-bell!" and men's protests, "It is only the first bell! "More and more began to descend the gangways, fore and aft, and soon outnumbered those who were coming aboard.
March tried not to be nervous about his son's lingering; he was ashamed of his anxiety; but he said in a low voice, "Better be off, Tom."
His mother now said she did not care if Tom were really carried to Europe; and at last he said, Well, he guessed he must go ashore, as if there had been no question of that before; and then she clung to him and would not let him go; but she acquired merit with herself at last by pushing him into the gangway with her own hands: he nodded and waved his hat from its foot, and mixed with the crowd.
Presently there was hardly any one coming aboard, and the sailors began to undo the lashings of the gangways from the ship's side; files of men on the wharf laid hold of their rails; the stewards guarding their approach looked up for the signal to come aboard; and in vivid pantomime forbade some belated leavetakers to ascend. These stood aside, exchanging bows and grins with the friends whom they could not reach; they all tried to make one another hear some last words. The moment came when the saloon gangway was detached; then it was pulled ashore, and the section of the bulwarks opening to it was locked, not to be unlocked on this side of the world. An indefinable impulse communicated itself to the steamer: while it still seemed motionless it moved. The thick spread of faces on the wharf, which had looked at times like some sort of strange flowers in a level field, broke into a universal tremor, and the air above them was filled with hats and handkerchiefs, as if with the flight of birds rising from the field.
The Marches tried to make out their son's face; they believed that they did; but they decided that they had not seen him, and his mother said that she was glad; it would only have made it harder to bear, though she was glad he had come over to say good-by it had seemed so unnatural that he should not, when everybody else was saying good-by.
On the wharf color was now taking the place of form; the scene ceased to have the effect of an instantaneous photograph; it was like an impressionistic study. As the ship swung free of the shed and got into the stream, the shore lost reality. Up to a certain moment, all was still New York, all was even Hoboken; then amidst the grotesque and monstrous shows of the architecture on either shore March felt himself at sea and on the way to Europe.
The fact was accented by the trouble people were already making with the deck-steward about their steamer chairs, which they all wanted put in the best places, and March, with a certain heart-ache, was involuntarily verifying the instant in which he ceased to be of his native shores, while still in full sight of them, when he suddenly reverted to them, and as it were landed on them again in an incident that held him breathless. A man, bareheaded, and with his arms flung wildly abroad, came flying down the promenade from the steerage. "Capitan! Capitan! There is a woman!" he shouted in nondescript English. "She must go hout! She must go hout!" Some vital fact imparted itself to the ship's command and seemed to penetrate to the ship's heart; she stopped, as if with a sort of majestic relenting. A tug panted to her side, and lifted a ladder to it; the bareheaded man, and a woman gripping a baby in her arms, sprawled safely down its rungs to the deck of the tug, and the steamer moved seaward again.
"What is it? Oh, what is it?" his wife demanded of March's share of their common ignorance. A young fellow passing stopped, as if arrested by the tragic note in her voice, and explained that the woman had left three little children locked up in her tenement while she came to bid some friends on board good-by.
He passed on, and Mrs. March said, "What a charming face he had!" even before she began to wreak upon that wretched mother the overwrought sympathy which makes good women desire the punishment of people who have escaped danger. She would not hear any excuse for her. "Her children oughtn't to have been out of her mind for an instant."
"Don't you want to send back a line to ours by the pilot?" March asked.
She started from him. "Oh, was I really beginning to forget them?"
In the saloon where people were scattered about writing pilot's letters she made him join her in an impassioned epistle of farewell, which once more left none of the nothings unsaid that they had many times reiterated. She would not let him put the stamp on, for fear it would not stick, and she had an agonizing moment of doubt whether it ought not to be a German stamp; she was not pacified till the steward in charge of the mail decided.
"I shouldn't have forgiven myself," March said, "if we hadn't let Tom know that twenty minutes after he left us we were still alive and well."
"It's to Bella, too," she reasoned.
He found her making their state-room look homelike with their familiar things when he came with their daughter's steamer letter and the flowers and fruit she had sent. She said, Very well, they would all keep, and went on with her unpacking. He asked her if she did not think these home things made it rather ghastly, and she said if he kept on in that way she should certainly go back on the pilot-boat. He perceived that her nerves were spent. He had resisted the impulse to an ill-timed joke about the life-preservers under their berths when the sound of the breakfast-horn, wavering first in the distance, found its way nearer and clearer down their corridor.
In one of the many visits to the steamship office which his wife's anxieties obliged him to make, March had discussed the question of seats in the dining-saloon. At first he had his ambition for the captain's table, but they convinced him more easily than he afterwards convinced Mrs. March that the captain's table had become a superstition of the past, and conferred no special honor. It proved in the event that the captain of the Norumbia had the good feeling to dine in a lower saloon among the passengers who paid least for their rooms. But while the Marches were still in their ignorance of this, they decided to get what adventure they could out of letting the head steward put them where he liked, and they came in to breakfast with a careless curiosity to see what he had done for them.
There seemed scarcely a vacant place in the huge saloon; through the oval openings in the centre they looked down into the lower saloon and up into the music-room, as thickly thronged with breakfasters. The tables were brightened with the bouquets and the floral designs of ships, anchors, harps, and doves sent to the lady passengers, and at one time the Marches thought they were going to be put before a steam-yacht realized to the last detail in blue and white violets. The ports of the saloon were open, and showed the level sea; the ship rode with no motion except the tremor from her screws. The sound of talking and laughing rose with the clatter of knives and forks and the clash of crockery; the homely smell of the coffee and steak and fish mixed with the spice of the roses and carnations; the stewards ran hither and thither, and a young foolish joy of travel welled up in the elderly hearts of the pair. When the head steward turned out the swivel-chairs where they were to sit they both made an inclination toward the people already at table, as if it had been a company at some far-forgotten table d'hote in the later sixties. The head steward seemed to understand as well as speak English, but the table-stewards had only an effect of English, which they eked out with "Bleace!" for all occasions of inquiry, apology, or reassurance, as the equivalent of their native "Bitte!" Otherwise there was no reason to suppose that they did not speak German, which was the language of a good half of the passengers. The stewards looked English, however, in conformity to what seems the ideal of every kind of foreign seafaring people, and that went a good way toward making them intelligible.
March, to whom his wife mainly left their obeisance, made it so tentative that if it should meet no response he could feel that it had been nothing more than a forward stoop, such as was natural in sitting down. He need not really have taken this precaution; those whose eyes he caught more or less nodded in return.
A nice-looking boy of thirteen or fourteen, who had the place on the left of the lady in the sofa seat under the port, bowed with almost magisterial gravity, and made the lady on the sofa smile, as if she were his mother and understood him. March decided that she had been some time a widow; and he easily divined that the young couple on her right had been so little time husband and wife that they would rather not have it known. Next them was a young lady whom he did not at first think so good-looking as she proved later to be, though she had at once a pretty nose, with a slight upward slant at the point, long eyes under fallen lashes, a straight forehead, not too high, and a mouth which perhaps the exigencies of breakfasting did not allow all its characteristic charm. She had what Mrs. March thought interesting hair, of a dull black, roughly rolled away from her forehead and temples in a fashion not particularly becoming to her, and she had the air of not looking so well as she might if she had chosen. The elderly man on her right, it was easy to see, was her father; they had a family likeness, though his fair hair, now ashen with age, was so different from hers. He wore his beard cut in the fashion of the Second Empire, with a Louis Napoleonic mustache, imperial, and chin tuft; his neat head was cropt close; and there was something Gallic in its effect and something remotely military: he had blue eyes, really less severe than he meant, though be frowned a good deal, and managed them with glances of a staccato quickness, as if challenging a potential disagreement with his opinions.
The gentleman on his right, who sat at the head of the table, was of the humorous, subironical American expression, and a smile at the corner of his kindly mouth, under an iron-gray full beard cut short, at once questioned and tolerated the new-comers as he glanced at them. He responded to March's bow almost as decidedly as the nice boy, whose mother he confronted at the other end of the table, and with his comely bulk formed an interesting contrast to her vivid slightness. She was brilliantly dark, behind the gleam of the gold-rimmed glasses perched on her pretty nose.
If the talk had been general before the Marches came, it did not at once renew itself in that form. Nothing was said while they were having their first struggle with the table-stewards, who repeated the order as if to show how fully they had misunderstood it. The gentleman at the head of the table intervened at last, and then, "I'm obliged to you," March said, for your German. I left mine in a phrase-book in my other coat pocket."
"Oh, I wasn't speaking German," said the other. "It was merely their kind of English."
The company were in the excitement of a novel situation which disposes people to acquaintance, and this exchange of small pleasantries made every one laugh, except the father and daughter; but they had the effect of being tacitly amused.
The mother of the nice boy said to Mrs. March, "You may not get what you ordered, but it will be good."
"Even if you don't know what it is!" said the young bride, and then blushed, as if she had been too bold.
Mrs. March liked the blush and the young bride for it, and she asked, "Have you ever been on one of these German boats before? They seem very comfortable."
"Oh, dear, no! we've never been on any boat before." She made a little petted mouth of deprecation, and added, simple-heartedly, "My husband was going out on business, and he thought he might as well take me along."
The husband seemed to feel himself brought in by this, and said he did not see why they should not make it a pleasure-trip, too. They put themselves in a position to be patronized by their deference, and in the pauses of his talk with the gentleman at the head of the table, March heard his wife abusing their inexperience to be unsparingly instructive about European travel. He wondered whether she would be afraid to own that it was nearly thirty years since she had crossed the ocean; though that might seem recent to people who had never crossed at all.
They listened with respect as she boasted in what an anguish of wisdom she had decided between the Colmannia and the Norumbia. The wife said she did not know there was such a difference in steamers, but when Mrs. March perfervidly assured her that there was all the difference in the world, she submitted and said she supposed she ought to be thankful that they, had hit upon the right one. They had telegraphed for berths and taken what was given them; their room seemed to be very nice.
"Oh," said Mrs. March, and her husband knew that she was saying it to reconcile them to the inevitable, "all the rooms on the Norumbia are nice. The only difference is that if they are on the south side you have the sun."
"I'm not sure which is the south side," said the bride. "We seem to have been going west ever since we started, and I feel as if we should reach home in the morning if we had a good night. Is the ocean always so smooth as this?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said Mrs. March. "It's never so smooth as this," and she began to be outrageously authoritative about the ocean weather. She ended by declaring that the June passages were always good, and that if the ship kept a southerly course they would have no fogs and no icebergs. She looked round, and caught her husband's eye. "What is it? Have I been bragging? Well, you understand," she added to the bride, "I've only been over once, a great while ago, and I don't really know anything about it," and they laughed together. "But I talked so much with people after we decided to go, that I feel as if I had been a hundred times."
"I know," said the other lady, with caressing intelligence. "That is just the way with—" She stopped, and looked at the young man whom the head steward was bringing up to take the vacant place next to March. He came forward, stuffing his cap into the pocket of his blue serge sack, and smiled down on the company with such happiness in his gay eyes that March wondered what chance at this late day could have given any human creature his content so absolute, and what calamity could be lurking round the corner to take it out of him. The new-comer looked at March as if he knew him, and March saw at a second glance that he was the young fellow who had told him about the mother put off after the start. He asked him whether there was any change in the weather yet outside, and he answered eagerly, as if the chance to put his happiness into the mere sound of words were a favor done him, that their ship had just spoken one of the big Hanseatic mailboats, and she had signalled back that she had met ice; so that they would probably keep a southerly course, and not have it cooler till they were off the Banks.
The mother of the boy said, "I thought we must be off the Banks when I came out of my room, but it was only the electric fan at the foot of the stairs."
"That was what I thought," said Mrs. March. "I almost sent my husband back for my shawl!" Both the ladies laughed and liked each other for their common experience.
The gentleman at the head of the table said, "They ought to have fans going there by that pillar, or else close the ports. They only let in heat."
They easily conformed to the American convention of jocosity in their talk; it perhaps no more represents the individual mood than the convention of dulness among other people; but it seemed to make the young man feel at home.
"Why, do you think it's uncomfortably warm?" he asked, from what March perceived to be a meteorology of his own. He laughed and added, "It is pretty summerlike," as if he had not thought of it before. He talked of the big mail-boat, and said he would like to cross on such a boat as that, and then he glanced at the possible advantage of having your own steam-yacht like the one which he said they had just passed, so near that you could see what a good time the people were having on board. He began to speak to the Marches; his talk spread to the young couple across the table; it visited the mother on the sofa in a remark which she might ignore without apparent rejection, and without really avoiding the boy, it glanced off toward the father and daughter, from whom it fell, to rest with the gentleman at the head of the table.
It was not that the father and daughter had slighted his overture, if it was so much as that, but that they were tacitly preoccupied, or were of some philosophy concerning their fellow-breakfasters which did not suffer them, for the present, at least, to share in the common friendliness. This is an attitude sometimes produced in people by a sense of just, or even unjust, superiority; sometimes by serious trouble; sometimes by transient annoyance. The cause was not so deep-seated but Mrs. March, before she rose from her place, believed that she had detected a slant of the young lady's eyes, from under her lashes, toward the young man; and she leaped to a conclusion concerning them in a matter where all logical steps are impertinent. She did not announce her arrival at this point till the young man had overtaken her before she got out of the saloon, and presented the handkerchief she had dropped under the table.
He went away with her thanks, and then she said to her husband, "Well, he's perfectly charming, and I don't wonder she's taken with him; that kind of cold girl would be, though I'm not sure that she is cold. She's interesting, and you could see that he thought so, the more he looked at her; I could see him looking at her from the very first instant; he couldn't keep his eyes off her; she piqued his curiosity, and made him wonder about her."
"Now, look here, Isabel! This won't do. I can stand a good deal, but I sat between you and that young fellow, and you couldn't tell whether he was looking at that girl or not."
"I could! I could tell by the expression of her face."
"Oh, well! If it's gone as far as that with you, I give it up. When are you going to have them married?"
"Nonsense! I want you to find out who all those people are. How are you going to do it?"
"Perhaps the passenger list will say," he suggested.
The list did not say of itself, but with the help of the head steward's diagram it said that the gentleman at the head of the table was Mr. R. M. Kenby; the father and the daughter were Mr. E. B. Triscoe and Miss Triscoe; the bridal pair were Mr. and Mrs. Leffers; the mother and her son were Mrs. Adding and Mr. Roswell Adding; the young man who came in last was Mr. L. J. Burnamy. March carried the list, with these names carefully checked and rearranged on a neat plan of the table, to his wife in her steamer chair, and left her to make out the history and the character of the people from it. In this sort of conjecture long experience had taught him his futility, and he strolled up and down and looked at the life about him with no wish to penetrate it deeply.
Long Island was now a low yellow line on the left. Some fishing-boats flickered off the shore; they met a few sail, and left more behind; but already, and so near one of the greatest ports of the world, the spacious solitude of the ocean was beginning. There was no swell; the sea lay quite flat, with a fine mesh of wrinkles on its surface, and the sun flamed down upon it from a sky without a cloud. With the light fair wind, there was no resistance in the sultry air, the thin, dun smoke from the smoke-stack fell about the decks like a stifling veil.
The promenades, were as uncomfortably crowded as the sidewalk of Fourteenth Street on a summer's day, and showed much the social average of a New York shopping thoroughfare. Distinction is something that does not always reveal itself at first sight on land, and at sea it is still more retrusive. A certain democracy of looks and clothes was the most notable thing to March in the apathetic groups and detached figures. His criticism disabled the saloon passengers of even so much personal appeal as he imagined in some of the second-cabin passengers whom he saw across their barrier; they had at least the pathos of their exclusion, and he could wonder if they felt it or envied him. At Hoboken he had seen certain people coming on board who looked like swells; but they had now either retired from the crowd, or they had already conformed to the prevailing type. It was very well as a type; he was of it himself; but he wished that beauty as well as distinction had not been so lost in it.
In fact, he no longer saw so much beauty anywhere as he once did. It might be that he saw life more truly than when he was young, and that his glasses were better than his eyes had been; but there were analogies that forbade his thinking so, and he sometimes had his misgivings that the trouble was with his glasses. He made what he could of a pretty girl who had the air of not meaning to lose a moment from flirtation, and was luring her fellow-passengers from under her sailor hat. She had already attached one of them; and she was hooking out for more. She kept moving herself from the waist up, as if she worked there on a pivot, showing now this side and now that side of her face, and visiting the admirer she had secured with a smile as from the lamp of a revolving light as she turned.
While he was dwelling upon this folly, with a sense of impersonal pleasure in it as complete through his years as if he were already a disembodied spirit, the pulse of the engines suddenly ceased, and he joined the general rush to the rail, with a fantastic expectation of seeing another distracted mother put off; but it was only the pilot leaving the ship. He was climbing down the ladder which hung over the boat, rising and sinking on the sea below, while the two men in her held her from the ship's side with their oars; in the offing lay the white steam-yacht which now replaces the picturesque pilot-sloop of other times. The Norumbia's screws turned again under half a head of steam; the pilot dropped from the last rung of the ladder into the boat, and caught the bundle of letters tossed after him. Then his men let go the line that was towing their craft, and the incident of the steamer's departure was finally closed. It had been dramatically heightened perhaps by her final impatience to be off at some added risks to the pilot and his men, but not painfully so, and March smiled to think how men whose lives are all of dangerous chances seem always to take as many of them as they can.
He heard a girl's fresh voice saying at his shoulder, "Well, now we are off; and I suppose you're glad, papa!"
"I'm glad we're not taking the pilot on, at least," answered the elderly man whom the girl had spoken to; and March turned to see the father and daughter whose reticence at the breakfast table had interested him. He wondered that he had left her out of the account in estimating the beauty of the ship's passengers: he saw now that she was not only extremely pretty, but as she moved away she was very graceful; she even had distinction. He had fancied a tone of tolerance, and at the same time of reproach in her voice, when she spoke, and a tone of defiance and not very successful denial in her father's; and he went back with these impressions to his wife, whom he thought he ought to tell why the ship had stopped.
She had not noticed the ship's stopping, in her study of the passenger list, and she did not care for the pilot's leaving; but she seemed to think his having overheard those words of the father and daughter an event of prime importance. With a woman's willingness to adapt the means to the end she suggested that he should follow them up and try to overhear something more; she only partially realized the infamy of her suggestion when he laughed in scornful refusal.
"Of course I don't want you to eavesdrop, but I do want you to find out about them. And about Mr. Burnamy, too. I can wait, about the others, or manage for myself, but these are driving me to distraction. Now, will you?"
He said he would do anything he could with honor, and at one of the earliest turns he made on the other side of the ship he was smilingly halted by Mr. Burnamy, who asked to be excused, and then asked if he were not Mr. March of 'Every Other Week'; he had seen the name on the passenger list, and felt sure it must be the editor's. He seemed so trustfully to expect March to remember his own name as that of a writer from whom he had accepted a short poem, yet unprinted, that the editor feigned to do so until he really did dimly recall it. He even recalled the short poem, and some civil words he said about it caused Burnamy to overrun in confidences that at once touched and amused him.
Burnamy, it seemed, had taken passage on the Norumbia because he found, when he arrived in New York the day before, that she was the first boat out. His train was so much behind time that when he reached the office of the Hanseatic League it was nominally shut, but he pushed in by sufferance of the janitor, and found a berth, which had just been given up, in one of the saloon-deck rooms. It was that or nothing; and he felt rich enough to pay for it himself if the Bird of Prey, who had cabled him to come out to Carlsbad as his secretary, would not stand the difference between the price and that of the lower-deck six-in-a-room berth which he would have taken if he had been allowed a choice.
With the three hundred dollars he had got for his book, less the price of his passage, changed into German bank-notes and gold pieces, and safely buttoned in the breast pocket of his waistcoat, he felt as safe from pillage as from poverty when he came out from buying his ticket; he covertly pressed his arm against his breast from time to time, for the joy of feeling his money there and not from any fear of finding it gone. He wanted to sing, he wanted to dance; he could not believe it was he, as he rode up the lonely length of Broadway in the cable-car, between the wild, irregular walls of the canyon which the cable-cars have all to themselves at the end of a summer afternoon.
He went and dined, and he thought he dined well, at a Spanish-American restaurant, for fifty cents, with a half-bottle of California claret included. When he came back to Broadway he was aware that it was stiflingly hot in the pinkish twilight, but he took a cable-car again in lack of other pastime, and the motion served the purpose of a breeze, which he made the most of by keeping his hat off. It did not really matter to him whether it was hot or cool; he was imparadised in weather which had nothing to do with the temperature. Partly because he was born to such weather, in the gayety of soul which amused some people with him, and partly because the world was behaving as he had always expected, he was opulently content with the present moment. But he thought very tolerantly of the future, and he confirmed himself in the decision he had already made, to stick to Chicago when he came back to America. New York was very well, and he had no sentiment about Chicago; but he had got a foothold there; he had done better with an Eastern publisher, he believed, by hailing from the West, and he did not believe it would hurt him with the Eastern public to keep on hailing from the West.
He was glad of a chance to see Europe, but he did not mean to come home so dazzled as to see nothing else against the American sky. He fancied, for he really knew nothing, that it was the light of Europe, not its glare that he wanted, and he wanted it chiefly on his material, so as to see it more and more objectively. It was his power of detachment from this that had enabled him to do his sketches in the paper with such charm as to lure a cash proposition from a publisher when he put them together for a book, but he believed that his business faculty had much to do with his success; and he was as proud of that as of the book itself. Perhaps he was not so very proud of the book; he was at least not vain of it; he could, detach himself from his art as well as his material.
Like all literary temperaments he was of a certain hardness, in spite of the susceptibilities that could be used to give coloring to his work. He knew this well enough, but he believed that there were depths of unprofessional tenderness in his nature. He was good to his mother, and he sent her money, and wrote to her in the little Indiana town where he had left her when he came to Chicago. After he got that invitation from the Bird of Prey, he explored his heart for some affection that he had not felt for him before, and he found a wish that his employer should not know it was he who had invented that nickname for him. He promptly avowed this in the newspaper office which formed one of the eyries of the Bird of Prey, and made the fellows promise not to give him away. He failed to move their imagination when he brought up as a reason for softening toward him that he was from Burnamy's own part of Indiana, and was a benefactor of Tippecanoe University, from which Burnamy was graduated. But they, relished the cynicism of his attempt; and they were glad of his good luck, which he was getting square and not rhomboid, as most people seem to get their luck. They liked him, and some of them liked him for his clean young life as well as for his cleverness. His life was known to be as clean as a girl's, and he looked like a girl with his sweet eyes, though he had rather more chin than most girls.
The conductor came to reverse his seat, and Burnamy told him he guessed he would ride back with him as far as the cars to the Hoboken Ferry, if the conductor would put him off at the right place. It was nearly nine o'clock, and he thought he might as well be going over to the ship, where he had decided to pass the night. After he found her, and went on board, he was glad he had not gone sooner. A queasy odor of drainage stole up from the waters of the dock, and mixed with the rank, gross sweetness of the bags of beet-root sugar from the freight-steamers; there was a coming and going of carts and trucks on the wharf, and on the ship a rattling of chains and a clucking of pulleys, with sudden outbreaks and then sudden silences of trampling sea-boots. Burnamy looked into the dining-saloon and the music-room, with the notion of trying for some naps there; then he went to his state-room. His room-mate, whoever he was to be, had not come; and he kicked off his shoes and threw off his coat and tumbled into his berth.
He meant to rest awhile, and then get up and spend the night in receiving impressions. He could not think of any one who had done the facts of the eve of sailing on an Atlantic liner. He thought he would use the material first in a letter to the paper and afterwards in a poem; but he found himself unable to grasp the notion of its essential relation to the choice between chicken croquettes and sweetbreads as entrees of the restaurant dinner where he had been offered neither; he knew that he had begun to dream, and that he must get up. He was just going to get up, when he woke to a sense of freshness in the air, penetrating from the new day outside. He looked at his watch and found it was quarter past six; he glanced round the state-room and saw that he had passed the night alone in it. Then he splashed himself hastily at the basin next his berth, and jumped into his clothes, and went on deck, anxious to lose no feature or emotion of the ship's departure.
When she was fairly off he returned to his room to change the thick coat he had put on at the instigation of the early morning air. His room-mate was still absent, but he was now represented by his state-room baggage, and Burnamy tried to infer him from it. He perceived a social quality in his dress-coat case, capacious gladstone, hat-box, rug, umbrella, and sole-leather steamer trunk which he could not attribute to his own equipment. The things were not so new as his; they had an effect of polite experience, with a foreign registry and customs label on them here and there. They had been chosen with both taste and knowledge, and Burnamy would have said that they were certainly English things, if it had not been for the initials U. S. A. which followed the name of E. B. Triscoe on the end of the steamer trunk showing itself under the foot of the lower berth.
The lower berth had fallen to Burnamy through the default of the passenger whose ticket he had got at the last hour; the clerk in the steamer office had been careful to impress him with this advantage, and he now imagined a trespass on his property. But he reassured himself by a glance at his ticket, and went out to watch the ship's passage down the stream and through the Narrows. After breakfast he came to his room again, to see what could be done from his valise to make him look better in the eyes of a girl whom he had seen across the table; of course he professed a much more general purpose. He blamed himself for not having got at least a pair of the white tennis-shoes which so many of the passengers were wearing; his russet shoes had turned shabby on his feet; but there was a, pair of enamelled leather boots in his bag which he thought might do.
His room was in the group of cabins on the upper deck; he had already missed his way to it once by mistaking the corridor which it opened into; and he was not sure that he was not blundering again when he peered down the narrow passage where he supposed it was. A lady was standing at an open state-room door, resting her hands against the jambs and leaning forward with her head within and talking to some one there. Before he could draw back and try another corridor he heard her say: "Perhaps he's some young man, and wouldn't care."
Burnamy could not make out the answer that came from within. The lady spoke again in a tone of reluctant assent, "No, I don't suppose you could; but if he understood, perhaps he would offer."
She drew her head out of the room, stepping back a pace, and lingering a moment at the threshold. She looked round over her shoulder and discovered Burnamy, where he stood hesitating at the head of the passage. She ebbed before him, and then flowed round him in her instant escape; with some murmured incoherencies about speaking to her father, she vanished in a corridor on the other side of the ship, while he stood staring into the doorway of his room.
He had seen that she was the young lady for whom he had come to put on his enamelled shoes, and he saw that the person within was the elderly gentleman who had sat next her at breakfast. He begged his pardon, as he entered, and said he hoped he should not disturb him. "I'm afraid I left my things all over the place, when I got up this morning."
The other entreated him not to mention it and went on taking from his hand-bag a variety of toilet appliances which the sight of made Burnamy vow to keep his own simple combs and brushes shut in his valise all the way over. "You slept on board, then," he suggested, arresting himself with a pair of low shoes in his hand; he decided to put them in a certain pocket of his steamer bag.
"Oh, yes," Burnamy laughed, nervously: "I came near oversleeping, and getting off to sea without knowing it; and I rushed out to save myself, and so—"
He began to gather up his belongings while he followed the movements of Mr. Triscoe with a wistful eye. He would have liked to offer his lower berth to this senior of his, when he saw him arranging to take possession of the upper; but he did not quite know how to manage it. He noticed that as the other moved about he limped slightly, unless it were rather a weary easing of his person from one limb to the other. He stooped to pull his trunk out from under the berth, and Burnamy sprang to help him.
"Let me get that out for you!" He caught it up and put it on the sofa under the port. "Is that where you want it?"
"Why, yes," the other assented. "You're very good," and as he took out his key to unlock the trunk he relented a little farther to the intimacies of the situation. "Have you arranged with the bath-steward yet? It's such a full boat."
"No, I haven't," said Burnamy, as if he had tried and failed; till then he had not known that there was a bath-steward. "Shall I get him for you?"
"No; no. Our bedroom-steward will send him, I dare say, thank you."
Mr. Triscoe had got his trunk open, and Burnamy had no longer an excuse for lingering. In his defeat concerning the bath-steward, as he felt it to be, he had not the courage, now, to offer the lower berth. He went away, forgetting to change his shoes; but he came back, and as soon as he got the enamelled shoes on, and shut the shabby russet pair in his bag, he said, abruptly: "Mr. Triscoe, I wish you'd take the lower berth. I got it at the eleventh hour by some fellow's giving it up, and it isn't as if I'd bargained for it a month ago."
The elder man gave him one of his staccato glances in which Burnamy fancied suspicion and even resentment. But he said, after the moment of reflection which he gave himself, "Why, thank you, if you don't mind, really."
"Not at all!" cried the young man. "I should like the upper berth better. We'll, have the steward change the sheets."
"Oh, I'll see that he does that," said Mr. Triscoe. "I couldn't allow you to take any trouble about it." He now looked as if he wished Burnamy would go, and leave him to his domestic arrangements.
In telling about himself Burnamy touched only upon the points which he believed would take his listener's intelligent fancy, and he stopped so long before he had tired him that March said he would like to introduce him to his wife. He saw in the agreeable young fellow an image of his own youth, with some differences which, he was willing to own, were to the young fellow's advantage. But they were both from the middle West; in their native accent and their local tradition they were the same; they were the same in their aspirations; they were of one blood in their literary impulse to externate their thoughts and emotions.
Burnamy answered, with a glance at his enamelled shoes, that he would be delighted, and when her husband brought him up to her, Mrs. March said she was always glad to meet the contributors to the magazine, and asked him whether he knew Mr. Kendricks, who was her favorite. Without giving him time to reply to a question that seemed to depress him, she said that she had a son who must be nearly his own age, and whom his father had left in charge of 'Every Other Week' for the few months they were to be gone; that they had a daughter married and living in Chicago. She made him sit down by her in March's chair, and before he left them March heard him magnanimously asking whether Mr. Kendricks was going to do something more for the magazine soon. He sauntered away and did not know how quickly Burnamy left this question to say, with the laugh and blush which became him in her eyes:
"Mrs. March, there is something I should like to tell you about, if you will let me."
"Why, certainly, Mr. Burnamy," she began, but she saw that he did not wish her to continue.
"Because," he went on, "it's a little matter that I shouldn't like to go wrong in."
He told her of his having overheard what Miss Triscoe had said to her father, and his belief that she was talking about the lower berth. He said he would have wished to offer it, of course, but now he was afraid they might think he had overheard them and felt obliged to do it.
"I see," said Mrs. March, and she added, thoughtfully, "She looks like rather a proud girl."
"Yes," the young fellow sighed.
"She is very charming," she continued, thoughtfully, but not so judicially.
"Well," Burnamy owned, "that is certainly one of the complications," and they laughed together.
She stopped herself after saying, "I see what you mean," and suggested, "I think I should be guided by circumstances. It needn't be done at once, I suppose."
"Well," Burnamy began, and then he broke out, with a laugh of embarrassment, "I've done it already."
"Oh! Then it wasn't my advice, exactly, that you wanted."
"And how did he take it?"
"He said he should be glad to make the exchange if I really didn't mind." Burnamy had risen restlessly, and she did not ask him to stay. She merely said:
"Oh, well, I'm glad it turned out so nicely."
"I'm so glad you think it was the thing to do." He managed to laugh again, but he could not hide from her that he was not feeling altogether satisfied. "Would you like me to send Mr. March, if I see him?" he asked, as if he did not know on what other terms to get away.
"Do, please!" she entreated, and it seemed to her that he had hardly left her when her husband came up. "Why, where in the world did he find you so soon?"
"Did you send him for me? I was just hanging round for him to go." March sank into the chair at her side. "Well, is he going to marry her?"
"Oh, you may laugh! But there is something very exciting!" She told him what had happened, and of her belief that Burnamy's handsome behavior had somehow not been met in kind.
March gave himself the pleasure of an immense laugh. "It seems to me that this Mr. Burnamy of yours wanted a little more gratitude than he was entitled to. Why shouldn't he have offered him the lower berth? And why shouldn't the old gentleman have taken it just as he did? Did you want him to make a counteroffer of his daughter's hand? If he does, I hope Mr. Burnamy won't come for your advice till after he's accepted her."
"He wasn't very candid. I hoped you would speak about that. Don't you think it was rather natural, though?"
"For him, very likely. But I think you would call it sinuous in some one you hadn't taken a fancy to."
"No, no. I wish to be just. I don't see how he could have come straight at it. And he did own up at last." She asked him what Burnamy had done for the magazine, and he could remember nothing but that one small poem, yet unprinted; he was rather vague about its value, but said it had temperament.
"He has temperament, too," she commented, and she had made him tell her everything he knew, or could be forced to imagine about Burnamy, before she let the talk turn to other things.
The life of the promenade had already settled into seafaring form; the steamer chairs were full, and people were reading or dozing in them with an effect of long habit. Those who would be walking up and down had begun their walks; some had begun going in and out of the smoking-room; ladies who were easily affected by the motion were lying down in the music-room. Groups of both sexes were standing at intervals along the rail, and the promenaders were obliged to double on a briefer course or work slowly round them. Shuffleboard parties at one point and ring-toss parties at another were forming among the young people. It was as lively and it was as dull as it would be two thousand miles at sea. It was not the least cooler, yet; but if you sat still you did not suffer.
In the prompt monotony the time was already passing swiftly. The deck- steward seemed hardly to have been round with tea and bouillon, and he had not yet gathered up all the empty cups, when the horn for lunch sounded. It was the youngest of the table-stewards who gave the summons to meals; and whenever the pretty boy appeared with his bugle, funny passengers gathered round him to make him laugh, and stop him from winding it. His part of the joke was to fulfill his duty with gravity, and only to give way to a smile of triumph as he walked off.
At lunch, in the faded excitement of their first meeting, the people at the Marches' table did not renew the premature intimacy of their breakfast talk. Mrs. March went to lie down in her berth afterwards, and March went on deck without her. He began to walk to and from the barrier between the first and second cabin promenades; lingering near it, and musing pensively, for some of the people beyond it looked as intelligent and as socially acceptable, even to their clothes, as their pecuniary betters of the saloon.
There were two women, a mother and daughter, whom he fancied to be teachers, by their looks, going out for a little rest, or perhaps for a little further study to fit them more perfectly for their work. They gazed wistfully across at him whenever he came up to the barrier; and he feigned a conversation with them and tried to convince them that the stamp of inferiority which their poverty put upon them was just, or if not just, then inevitable. He argued with them that the sort of barrier which here prevented their being friends with him, if they wished it, ran invisibly through society everywhere but he felt ashamed before their kind, patient, intelligent faces, and found himself wishing to excuse the fact he was defending. Was it any worse, he asked them, than their not being invited to the entertainments of people in upper Fifth Avenue? He made them own that if they were let across that barrier the whole second cabin would have a logical right to follow; and they were silenced. But they continued to gape at him with their sincere, gentle eyes whenever he returned to the barrier in his walk, till he could bear it no longer, and strolled off toward the steerage.
There was more reason why the passengers there should be penned into a little space of their own in the sort of pit made by the narrowing deck at the bow. They seemed to be all foreigners, and if any had made their fortunes in our country they were hiding their prosperity in the return to their own. They could hardly have come to us more shabby and squalid than they were going away; but he thought their average less apathetic than that of the saloon passengers, as he leaned over the rail and looked down at them. Some one had brought out an electric battery, and the lumpish boys and slattern girls were shouting and laughing as they writhed with the current. A young mother seated flat on the deck, with her bare feet stuck out, inattentively nursed her babe, while she laughed and shouted with the rest; a man with his head tied in a shawl walked about the pen and smiled grotesquely with the well side of his toothache- swollen face. The owner of the battery carried it away, and a group of little children, with blue eyes and yellow hair, gathered in the space he had left, and looked up at a passenger near March who was eating some plums and cherries which he had brought from the luncheon table. He began to throw the fruit down to them, and the children scrambled for it.
An elderly man, with a thin, grave, aquiline face, said, "I shouldn't want a child of mine down there."
"No," March responded, "it isn't quite what one would choose for one's own. It's astonishing, though, how we reconcile ourselves to it in the case of others."
"I suppose it's something we'll have to get used to on the other side," suggested the stranger.
"Well," answered March, "you have some opportunities to get used to it on this side, if you happen to live in New York," and he went on to speak of the raggedness which often penetrated the frontier of comfort where he lived in Stuyvesant Square, and which seemed as glad of alms in food or money as this poverty of the steerage.
The other listened restively like a man whose ideals are disturbed. "I don't believe I should like to live in New York, much," he said, and March fancied that he wished to be asked where he did live. It appeared that he lived in Ohio, and he named his town; he did not brag of it, but he said it suited him. He added that he had never expected to go to Europe, but that he had begun to run down lately, and his doctor thought he had better go out and try Carlsbad.
March said, to invite his further confidence, that this was exactly his own case. The Ohio man met the overture from a common invalidism as if it detracted from his own distinction; and he turned to speak of the difficulty, he had in arranging his affairs for leaving home. His heart opened a little with the word, and he said how comfortable he and his wife were in their house, and how much they both hated to shut it up. When March offered him his card, he said he had none of his own with him, but that his name was Eltwin. He betrayed a simple wish to have March realize the local importance he had left behind him; and it was not hard to comply; March saw a Grand Army button in the lapel of his coat, and he knew that he was in the presence of a veteran.
He tried to guess his rank; in telling his wife about him, when he went down to find her just before dinner, but he ended with a certain sense of affliction. "There are too many elderly invalids on this ship. I knock against people of my own age everywhere. Why aren't your youthful lovers more in evidence, my dear? I don't believe they are lovers, and I begin to doubt if they're young even."
"It wasn't very satisfactory at lunch, certainly," she owned. "But I know it will be different at dinner." She was putting herself together after a nap that had made up for the lost sleep of the night before. "I want you to look very nice, dear. Shall you dress for dinner?" she asked her husband's image in the state-room glass which she was preoccupying.
"I shall dress in my pea-jacket and sea-boots," it answered.
"I have heard that they always dress for dinner on the big Cunard and White Star boats, when it's good weather," she went on, placidly. "I shouldn't want those people to think you were not up in the convenances."
They both knew that she meant the reticent father and daughter, and March flung out, "I shouldn't want them to think you weren't. There's such a thing as overdoing."
She attacked him at another point. "What has annoyed you? What else have you been doing?"
"Nothing. I've been reading most of the afternoon."
"The Maiden Knight?"
This was the book which nearly everybody had brought on board. It was just out, and had caught an instant favor, which swelled later to a tidal wave. It depicted a heroic girl in every trying circumstance of mediaeval life, and gratified the perennial passion of both sexes for historical romance, while it flattered woman's instinct of superiority by the celebration of her unintermitted triumphs, ending in a preposterous and wholly superfluous self-sacrifice.
March laughed for pleasure in her guess, and she pursued, "I suppose you didn't waste time looking if anybody had brought the last copy of 'Every Other Week'?"
"Yes, I did; and I found the one you had left in your steamer chair—for advertising purposes, probably."
"Mr. Burnamy has another," she said. "I saw it sticking out of his pocket this morning."
"Oh, yes. He told me he had got it on the train from Chicago to see if it had his poem in it. He's an ingenuous soul—in some ways."
"Well, that is the very reason why you ought to find out whether the men are going to dress, and let him know. He would never think of it himself."
"Neither would I," said her husband.
"Very well, if you wish to spoil his chance at the outset," she sighed.
She did not quite know whether to be glad or not that the men were all in sacks and cutaways at dinner; it saved her, from shame for her husband and Mr. Burnamy; but it put her in the wrong. Every one talked; even the father and daughter talked with each other, and at one moment Mrs. March could not be quite sure that the daughter had not looked at her when she spoke. She could not be mistaken in the remark which the father addressed to Burnamy, though it led to nothing.
The dinner was uncommonly good, as the first dinner out is apt to be; and it went gayly on from soup to fruit, which was of the American abundance and variety, and as yet not of the veteran freshness imparted by the ice- closet. Everybody was eating it, when by a common consciousness they were aware of alien witnesses. They looked up as by a single impulse, and saw at the port the gaunt face of a steerage passenger staring down upon their luxury; he held on his arm a child that shared his regard with yet hungrier eyes. A boy's nose showed itself as if tiptoed to the height of the man's elbow; a young girl peered over his other arm.
The passengers glanced at one another; the two table-stewards, with their napkins in their hands, smiled vaguely, and made some indefinite movements.
The bachelor at the head of the table broke the spell. "I'm glad it didn't begin with the Little Neck clams!"
"Probably they only let those people come for the dessert," March suggested.
The widow now followed the direction of the other eyes; and looked up over her shoulder; she gave a little cry, and shrank down. The young bride made her petted mouth, in appeal to the company; her husband looked severe, as if he were going to do something, but refrained, not to make a scene. The reticent father threw one of his staccato glances at the port, and Mrs. March was sure that she saw the daughter steal a look at Burnamy.
The young fellow laughed. "I don't suppose there's anything to be done about it, unless we pass out a plate."
Mr. Kenby shook his head. "It wouldn't do. We might send for the captain. Or the chief steward."
The faces at the port vanished. At other ports profiles passed and repassed, as if the steerage passengers had their promenade under them, but they paused no more.
The Marches went up to their steamer chairs, and from her exasperated nerves Mrs. March denounced the arrangement of the ship which had made such a cruel thing possible.
"Oh," he mocked, "they had probably had a good substantial meal of their own, and the scene of our banquet was of the quality of a picture, a purely aesthetic treat. But supposing it wasn't, we're doing something like it every day and every moment of our lives. The Norumbia is a piece of the whole world's civilization set afloat, and passing from shore to shore with unchanged classes, and conditions. A ship's merely a small stage, where we're brought to close quarters with the daily drama of humanity."
"Well, then," she protested, "I don't like being brought to close quarters with the daily drama of humanity, as you call it. And I don't believe that the large English ships are built so that the steerage passengers can stare in at the saloon windows while one is eating; and I'm sorry we came on the Norumbia."
"Ah, you think the Norumbia doesn't hide anything," he began, and he was going to speak of the men in the furnace pits of the steamer, how they fed the fires in a welding heat, and as if they had perished in it crept out on the forecastle like blanched phantasms of toil; but she interposed in time.
"If there's anything worse, for pity's sake don't tell me," she entreated, and he forebore.
He sat thinking how once the world had not seemed to have even death in it, and then how as he had grown older death had come into it more and more, and suffering was lurking everywhere, and could hardly be kept out of sight. He wondered if that young Burnamy now saw the world as he used to see it, a place for making verse and making love, and full of beauty of all kinds waiting to be fitted with phrases. He had lived a happy life; Burnamy would be lucky if he should live one half as happy; and yet if he could show him his whole happy life, just as it had truly been, must not the young man shrink from such a picture of his future?
"Say something," said his wife. "What are you thinking about?"
"Oh, Burnamy," he answered, honestly enough.
"I was thinking about the children," she said. "I am glad Bella didn't try to come from Chicago to see us off; it would have been too silly; she is getting to be very sensible. I hope Tom won't take the covers off the furniture when he has the fellows in to see him."
"Well, I want him to get all the comfort he can out of the place, even if the moths eat up every stick of furniture."
"Yes, so do I. And of course you're wishing that you were there with him!" March laughed guiltily. "Well, perhaps it was a crazy thing for us to start off alone for Europe, at our age."
"Nothing of the kind," he retorted in the necessity he perceived for staying her drooping spirits. "I wouldn't be anywhere else on any account. Isn't it perfectly delicious? It puts me in mind of that night on the Lake Ontario boat, when we were starting for Montreal. There was the same sort of red sunset, and the air wasn't a bit softer than this."
He spoke of a night on their wedding-journey when they were sill new enough from Europe to be comparing everything at home with things there.
"Well, perhaps we shall get into the spirit of it again," she said, and they talked a long time of the past.
All the mechanical noises were muffled in the dull air, and the wash of the ship's course through the waveless sea made itself pleasantly heard. In the offing a steamer homeward bound swam smoothly by, so close that her lights outlined her to the eye; she sent up some signal rockets that soared against the purple heaven in green and crimson, and spoke to the Norumbia in the mysterious mute phrases of ships that meet in the dark.
Mrs. March wondered what had become of Burnamy; the promenades were much freer now than they had been since the ship sailed; when she rose to go below, she caught sight of Burnamy walking the deck transversely with some lady. She clutched her husband's arm and stayed him in rich conjecture.
"Do you suppose he can have got her to walking with him already?"
They waited till Burnamy and his companion came in sight again. She was tilting forward, and turning from the waist, now to him and now from him.
"No; it's that pivotal girl," said March; and his wife said, "Well, I'm glad he won't be put down by them."
In the music-room sat the people she meant, and at the instant she passed on down the stairs, the daughter was saying to the father, "I don't see why you didn't tell me sooner, papa."
"It was such an unimportant matter that I didn't think to mention it. He offered it, and I took it; that was all. What difference could it have made to you?"
"None. But one doesn't like to do any one an injustice."
"I didn't know you were thinking anything about it."
"No, of course not."
The voyage of the Norumbia was one of those which passengers say they have never seen anything like, though for the first two or three days out neither the doctor nor the deck-steward could be got, to prophesy when the ship would be in. There was only a day or two when it could really be called rough, and the sea-sickness was confined to those who seemed wilful sufferers; they lay on the cushioned benching around the stairs- landing, and subsisted on biscuit and beef tea without qualifying the monotonous well-being of the other passengers, who passed without noticing them.
The second morning there was rain, and the air freshened, but the leaden sea lay level as before. The sun shone in the afternoon; with the sunset the fog came thick and white; the ship lowed dismally through the night; from the dense folds of the mist answering noises called back to her. Just before dark two men in a dory shouted up to her close under her bows, and then melted out of sight; when the dark fell the lights of fishing-schooners were seen, and their bells pealed; once loud cries from a vessel near at hand made themselves heard. Some people in the dining- saloon sang hymns; the smoking-room was dense with cigar fumes, and the card-players dealt their hands in an atmosphere emulous of the fog without.