Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks at the end of each file
for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making
an entire meal of them. D.W.]
A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES
By William Dean Howells
The following story was the first fruit of my New York life when I began
to live it after my quarter of a century in Cambridge and Boston, ending
in 1889; and I used my own transition to the commercial metropolis in
framing the experience which was wholly that of my supposititious
literary adventurer. He was a character whom, with his wife, I have
employed in some six or eight other stories, and whom I made as much the
hero and heroine of 'Their Wedding Journey' as the slight fable would
bear. In venturing out of my adoptive New England, where I had found
myself at home with many imaginary friends, I found it natural to ask the
company of these familiar acquaintances, but their company was not to be
had at once for the asking. When I began speaking of them as Basil and
Isabel, in the fashion of 'Their Wedding Journey,' they would not respond
with the effect of early middle age which I desired in them. They
remained wilfully, not to say woodenly, the young bridal pair of that
romance, without the promise of novel functioning. It was not till I
tried addressing them as March and Mrs. March that they stirred under my
hand with fresh impulse, and set about the work assigned them as people
in something more than their second youth.
The scene into which I had invited them to figure filled the largest
canvas I had yet allowed myself; and, though 'A Hazard of New Fortunes
was not the first story I had written with the printer at my heels, it
was the first which took its own time to prescribe its own dimensions.
I had the general design well in mind when I began to write it, but as it
advanced it compelled into its course incidents, interests,
individualities, which I had not known lay near, and it specialized and
amplified at points which I had not always meant to touch, though I
should not like to intimate anything mystical in the fact. It became,
to my thinking, the most vital of my fictions, through my quickened
interest in the life about me, at a moment of great psychological import.
We had passed through a period of strong emotioning in the direction of
the humaner economics, if I may phrase it so; the rich seemed not so much
to despise the poor, the poor did not so hopelessly repine. The solution
of the riddle of the painful earth through the dreams of Henry George,
through the dreams of Edward Bellamy, through the dreams of all the
generous visionaries of the past, seemed not impossibly far off. That
shedding of blood which is for the remission of sins had been symbolized
by the bombs and scaffolds of Chicago, and the hearts of those who felt
the wrongs bound up with our rights, the slavery implicated in our
liberty, were thrilling with griefs and hopes hitherto strange to the
average American breast. Opportunely for me there was a great street-car
strike in New York, and the story began to find its way to issues nobler
and larger than those of the love-affairs common to fiction. I was in my
fifty-second year when I took it up, and in the prime, such as it was, of
my powers. The scene which I had chosen appealed prodigiously to me, and
the action passed as nearly without my conscious agency as I ever allow
myself to think such things happen.
The opening chapters were written in a fine, old fashioned apartment
house which had once been a family house, and in an uppermost room of
which I could look from my work across the trees of the little park in
Stuyvesant Square to the towers of St. George's Church. Then later in
the spring of 1889 the unfinished novel was carried to a country house on
the Belmont border of Cambridge. There I must have written very rapidly
to have pressed it to conclusion before the summer ended. It came,
indeed, so easily from the pen that I had the misgiving which I always
have of things which do not cost me great trouble.
There is nothing in the book with which I amused myself more than the
house-hunting of the Marches when they were placing themselves in New
York; and if the contemporary reader should turn for instruction to the
pages in which their experience is detailed I assure him that he may
trust their fidelity and accuracy in the article of New York housing as
it was early in the last decade of the last century: I mean, the housing
of people of such moderate means as the Marches. In my zeal for truth I
did not distinguish between reality and actuality in this or other
matters--that is, one was as precious to me as the other. But the types
here portrayed are as true as ever they were, though the world in which
they were finding their habitat is wonderfully, almost incredibly
different. Yet it is not wholly different, for a young literary pair now
adventuring in New York might easily parallel the experience of the
Marches with their own, if not for so little money; many phases of New
York housing are better, but all are dearer. Other aspects of the
material city have undergone a transformation much more wonderful.
I find that in my book its population is once modestly spoken of as two
millions, but now in twenty years it is twice as great, and the grandeur
as well as grandiosity of its forms is doubly apparent. The transitional
public that then moped about in mildly tinkling horse-cars is now hurried
back and forth in clanging trolleys, in honking and whirring motors; the
Elevated road which was the last word of speed is undermined by the
Subway, shooting its swift shuttles through the subterranean woof of the
city's haste. From these feet let the witness infer our whole massive
Hercules, a bulk that sprawls and stretches beyond the rivers through the
tunnels piercing their beds and that towers into the skies with
innumerable tops--a Hercules blent of Briareus and Cerberus, but not so
bad a monster as it seemed then to threaten becoming.
Certain hopes of truer and better conditions on which my heart was fixed
twenty years ago are not less dear, and they are by no means touched with
despair, though they have not yet found the fulfilment which I would then
have prophesied for them. Events have not wholly played them false;
events have not halted, though they have marched with a slowness that
might affect a younger observer as marking time. They who were then
mindful of the poor have not forgotten them, and what is better the poor
have not often forgotten themselves in violences such as offered me the
material of tragedy and pathos in my story. In my quality of artist I
could not regret these, and I gratefully realize that they offered me the
opportunity of a more strenuous action, a more impressive catastrophe
than I could have achieved without them. They tended to give the whole
fable dignity and doubtless made for its success as a book. As a serial
it had crept a sluggish course before a public apparently so unmindful of
it that no rumor of its acceptance or rejection reached the writer during
the half year of its publication; but it rose in book form from that
failure and stood upon its feet and went its way to greater favor than
any book of his had yet enjoyed. I hope that my recognition of the fact
will not seem like boasting, but that the reader will regard it as a
special confidence from the author and will let it go no farther.
KITTERY POINT, MAINE, July, 1909.
A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES
"Now, you think this thing over, March, and let me know the last of next
week," said Fulkerson. He got up from the chair which he had been
sitting astride, with his face to its back, and tilting toward March on
its hind-legs, and came and rapped upon his table with his thin bamboo
stick. "What you want to do is to get out of the insurance business,
anyway. You acknowledge that yourself. You never liked it, and now it
makes you sick; in other words, it's killing you. You ain't an insurance
man by nature. You're a natural-born literary man, and you've been going
against the grain. Now, I offer you a chance to go with the grain.
I don't say you're going to make your everlasting fortune, but I'll give
you a living salary, and if the thing succeeds you'll share in its
success. We'll all share in its success. That's the beauty of it.
I tell you, March, this is the greatest idea that has been struck
since"--Fulkerson stopped and searched his mind for a fit image--"since
the creation of man."
He put his leg up over the corner of March's table and gave himself a
sharp cut on the thigh, and leaned forward to get the full effect of his
words upon his listener.
March had his hands clasped together behind his head, and he took one of
them down long enough to put his inkstand and mucilage-bottle out of
Fulkerson's way. After many years' experiment of a mustache and
whiskers, he now wore his grizzled beard full, but cropped close; it gave
him a certain grimness, corrected by the gentleness of his eyes.
"Some people don't think much of the creation of man nowadays. Why stop
at that? Why not say since the morning stars sang together?"
"No, sir; no, sir! I don't want to claim too much, and I draw the line
at the creation of man. I'm satisfied with that. But if you want to
ring the morning stars into the prospectus all right; I won't go back on
"But I don't understand why you've set your mind on me," March said.
"I haven't had, any magazine experience, you know that; and I haven't
seriously attempted to do anything in literature since I was married.
I gave up smoking and the Muse together. I suppose I could still manage
a cigar, but I don't believe I could--"
"Muse worth a cent." Fulkerson took the thought out of his mouth and put
it into his own words. "I know. Well, I don't want you to. I don't
care if you never write a line for the thing, though you needn't reject
anything of yours, if it happens to be good, on that account. And I
don't want much experience in my editor; rather not have it. You told
me, didn't you, that you used to do some newspaper work before you
"Yes; I thought my lines were permanently cast in those places once. It
was more an accident than anything else that I got into the insurance
business. I suppose I secretly hoped that if I made my living by
something utterly different, I could come more freshly to literature
proper in my leisure."
"I see; and you found the insurance business too many, for you. Well,
anyway, you've always had a hankering for the inkpots; and the fact that
you first gave me the idea of this thing shows that you've done more or
less thinking about magazines."
"Well, all right. Now don't you be troubled. I know what I want,
generally, speaking, and in this particular instance I want you. I might
get a man of more experience, but I should probably get a man of more
prejudice and self-conceit along with him, and a man with a following of
the literary hangers-on that are sure to get round an editor sooner or
later. I want to start fair, and I've found out in the syndicate
business all the men that are worth having. But they know me, and they
don't know you, and that's where we shall have the pull on them. They
won't be able to work the thing. Don't you be anxious about the
experience. I've got experience enough of my own to run a dozen editors.
What I want is an editor who has taste, and you've got it; and
conscience, and you've got it; and horse sense, and you've got that.
And I like you because you're a Western man, and I'm another. I do
cotton to a Western man when I find him off East here, holding his own
with the best of 'em, and showing 'em that he's just as much civilized as
they are. We both know what it is to have our bright home in the setting
"I think we Western men who've come East are apt to take ourselves a
little too objectively and to feel ourselves rather more representative
than we need," March remarked.
Fulkerson was delighted. "You've hit it! We do! We are!"
"And as for holding my own, I'm not very proud of what I've done in that
way; it's been very little to hold. But I know what you mean, Fulkerson,
and I've felt the same thing myself; it warmed me toward you when we
first met. I can't help suffusing a little to any man when I hear that
he was born on the other side of the Alleghanies. It's perfectly stupid.
I despise the same thing when I see it in Boston people."
Fulkerson pulled first one of his blond whiskers and then the other, and
twisted the end of each into a point, which he left to untwine itself.
He fixed March with his little eyes, which had a curious innocence in
their cunning, and tapped the desk immediately in front of him. "What I
like about you is that you're broad in your sympathies. The first time I
saw you, that night on the Quebec boat, I said to myself: 'There's a man
I want to know. There's a human being.' I was a little afraid of Mrs.
March and the children, but I felt at home with you--thoroughly
domesticated--before I passed a word with you; and when you spoke first,
and opened up with a joke over that fellow's tableful of light literature
and Indian moccasins and birch-bark toy canoes and stereoscopic views,
I knew that we were brothers-spiritual twins. I recognized the Western
style of fun, and I thought, when you said you were from Boston, that it
was some of the same. But I see now that its being a cold fact, as far
as the last fifteen or twenty years count, is just so much gain. You
know both sections, and you can make this thing go, from ocean to ocean."
"We might ring that into the prospectus, too," March suggested, with a
smile. "You might call the thing 'From Sea to Sea.' By-the-way, what
are you going to call it?"
"I haven't decided yet; that's one of the things I wanted to talk with
you about. I had thought of 'The Syndicate'; but it sounds kind of dry,
and doesn't seem to cover the ground exactly. I should like something
that would express the co-operative character of the thing, but I don't
know as I can get it."
"Might call it 'The Mutual'."
"They'd think it was an insurance paper. No, that won't do. But Mutual
comes pretty near the idea. If we could get something like that, it
would pique curiosity; and then if we could get paragraphs afloat
explaining that the contributors were to be paid according to the sales,
it would be a first-rate ad."
He bent a wide, anxious, inquiring smile upon March, who suggested,
lazily: "You might call it 'The Round-Robin'. That would express the
central idea of irresponsibility. As I understand, everybody is to share
the profits and be exempt from the losses. Or, if I'm wrong, and the
reverse is true, you might call it 'The Army of Martyrs'. Come, that
sounds attractive, Fulkerson! Or what do you think of 'The Fifth Wheel'?
That would forestall the criticism that there are too many literary
periodicals already. Or, if you want to put forward the idea of complete
independence, you could call it 'The Free Lance'; or--"
"Or 'The Hog on Ice'--either stand up or fall down, you know," Fulkerson
broke in coarsely. "But we'll leave the name of the magazine till we get
the editor. I see the poison's beginning to work in you, March; and if I
had time I'd leave the result to time. But I haven't. I've got to know
inside of the next week. To come down to business with you, March, I
sha'n't start this thing unless I can get you to take hold of it."
He seemed to expect some acknowledgment, and March said, "Well, that's
very nice of you, Fulkerson."
"No, sir; no, sir! I've always liked you and wanted you ever since we met
that first night. I had this thing inchoately in my mind then, when I
was telling you about the newspaper syndicate business--beautiful vision
of a lot of literary fellows breaking loose from the bondage of
publishers and playing it alone--"
"You might call it 'The Lone Hand'; that would be attractive," March
interrupted. "The whole West would know what you meant."
Fulkerson was talking seriously, and March was listening seriously; but
they both broke off and laughed. Fulkerson got down off the table and
made some turns about the room. It was growing late; the October sun had
left the top of the tall windows; it was still clear day, but it would
soon be twilight; they had been talking a long time. Fulkerson came and
stood with his little feet wide apart, and bent his little lean, square
face on March. "See here! How much do you get out of this thing here,
"The insurance business?" March hesitated a moment and then said, with a
certain effort of reserve, "At present about three thousand." He looked
up at Fulkerson with a glance, as if he had a mind to enlarge upon the
fact, and then dropped his eyes without saying more.
Whether Fulkerson had not thought it so much or not, he said: "Well, I'll
give you thirty-five hundred. Come! And your chances in the success."
"We won't count the chances in the success. And I don't believe
thirty-five hundred would go any further in New York than three thousand
"But you don't live on three thousand here?"
"No; my wife has a little property."
"Well, she won't lose the income if you go to New York. I suppose you
pay ten or twelve hundred a year for your house here. You can get plenty
of flats in New York for the same money; and I understand you can get all
sorts of provisions for less than you pay now--three or four cents on the
This was by no means the first talk they had had about the matter; every
three or four months during the past two years the syndicate man had
dropped in upon March to air the scheme and to get his impressions of it.
This had happened so often that it had come to be a sort of joke between
them. But now Fulkerson clearly meant business, and March had a struggle
to maintain himself in a firm poise of refusal.
"I dare say it wouldn't--or it needn't-cost so very much more, but I
don't want to go to New York; or my wife doesn't. It's the same thing."
"A good deal samer," Fulkerson admitted.
March did not quite like his candor, and he went on with dignity.
"It's very natural she shouldn't. She has always lived in Boston; she's
attached to the place. Now, if you were going to start 'The Fifth Wheel'
Fulkerson slowly and sadly shook his head, but decidedly. "Wouldn't do.
You might as well say St. Louis or Cincinnati. There's only one city
that belongs to the whole country, and that's New York."
"Yes, I know," sighed March; "and Boston belongs to the Bostonians, but
they like you to make yourself at home while you're visiting."
"If you'll agree to make phrases like that, right along, and get them
into 'The Round-Robin' somehow, I'll say four thousand," said Fulkerson.
"You think it over now, March. You talk it over with Mrs. March; I know
you will, anyway; and I might as well make a virtue of advising you to do
it. Tell her I advised you to do it, and you let me know before next
Saturday what you've decided."
March shut down the rolling top of his desk in the corner of the room,
and walked Fulkerson out before him. It was so late that the last of the
chore-women who washed down the marble halls and stairs of the great
building had wrung out her floor-cloth and departed, leaving spotless
stone and a clean, damp smell in the darkening corridors behind her.
"Couldn't offer you such swell quarters in New York, March," Fulkerson
said, as he went tack-tacking down the steps with his small boot-heels.
"But I've got my eye on a little house round in West Eleventh Street that
I'm going to fit up for my bachelor's hall in the third story, and adapt
for 'The Lone Hand' in the first and second, if this thing goes through;
and I guess we'll be pretty comfortable. It's right on the Sand Strip
--no malaria of any kind."
"I don't know that I'm going to share its salubrity with you yet," March
sighed, in an obvious travail which gave Fulkerson hopes.
"Oh yes, you are," he coaxed. "Now, you talk it over with your wife.
You give her a fair, unprejudiced chance at the thing on its merits, and
I'm very much mistaken in Mrs. March if she doesn't tell you to go in and
win. We're bound to win!"
They stood on the outside steps of the vast edifice beetling like a
granite crag above them, with the stone groups of an allegory of
life-insurance foreshortened in the bas-relief overhead. March absently
lifted his eyes to it. It was suddenly strange after so many years'
familiarity, and so was the well-known street in its Saturday-evening
solitude. He asked himself, with prophetic homesickness, if it were an
omen of what was to be. But he only said, musingly: "A fortnightly. You
know that didn't work in England. The fortnightly is published once a
"It works in France," Fulkerson retorted. "The 'Revue des Deux Mondes'
is still published twice a month. I guess we can make it work in
"Going to have illustrations?"
"My dear boy! What are you giving me? Do I look like the sort of lunatic
who would start a thing in the twilight of the nineteenth century without
illustrations? Come off!"
"Ah, that complicates it! I don't know anything about art." March's look
of discouragement confessed the hold the scheme had taken upon him.
"I don't want you to!" Fulkerson retorted. "Don't you suppose I shall
have an art man?"
"And will they--the artists--work at a reduced rate, too, like the
writers, with the hopes of a share in the success?"
"Of course they will! And if I want any particular man, for a card, I'll
pay him big money besides. But I can get plenty of first-rate sketches
on my own terms. You'll see! They'll pour in!"
"Look here, Fulkerson," said March, "you'd better call this fortnightly
of yours 'The Madness o f the Half-Moon'; or 'Bedlam Broke Loose'
wouldn't be bad! Why do you throw away all your hard earnings on such a
crazy venture? Don't do it!" The kindness which March had always felt,
in spite of his wife's first misgivings and reservations, for the merry,
hopeful, slangy, energetic little creature trembled in his voice. They
had both formed a friendship for Fulkerson during the week they were
together in Quebec. When he was not working the newspapers there, he
went about with them over the familiar ground they were showing their
children, and was simply grateful for the chance, as well as very
entertaining about it all. The children liked him, too; when they got
the clew to his intention, and found that he was not quite serious in
many of the things he said, they thought he was great fun. They were
always glad when their father brought him home on the occasion of
Fulkerson's visits to Boston; and Mrs. March, though of a charier
hospitality, welcomed Fulkerson with a grateful sense of his admiration
for her husband. He had a way of treating March with deference, as an
older and abler man, and of qualifying the freedom he used toward every
one with an implication that March tolerated it voluntarily, which she
thought very sweet and even refined.
"Ah, now you're talking like a man and a brother," said Fulkerson. "Why,
March, old man, do you suppose I'd come on here and try to talk you into
this thing if I wasn't morally, if I wasn't perfectly, sure of success?
There isn't any if or and about it. I know my ground, every inch; and I
don't stand alone on it," he added, with a significance which did not
escape March. "When you've made up your mind I can give you the proof;
but I'm not at liberty now to say anything more. I tell you it's going
to be a triumphal march from the word go, with coffee and lemonade for
the procession along the whole line. All you've got to do is to fall
in." He stretched out his hand to March. "You let me know as soon as
March deferred taking his hand till he could ask, "Where are you going?"
"Parker House. Take the eleven for New York to-night."
"I thought I might walk your way." March looked at his watch. "But I
shouldn't have time. Goodbye!"
He now let Fulkerson have his hand, and they exchanged a cordial
pressure. Fulkerson started away at a quick, light pace. Half a block
off he stopped, turned round, and, seeing March still standing where he
had left him, he called back, joyously, "I've got the name!"
"Every Other Week."
"It isn't bad."
All the way up to the South End March mentally prolonged his talk with
Fulkerson, and at his door in Nankeen Square he closed the parley with a
plump refusal to go to New York on any terms. His daughter Bella was
lying in wait for him in the hall, and she threw her arms round his neck
with the exuberance of her fourteen years and with something of the
histrionic intention of her sex. He pressed on, with her clinging about
him, to the library, and, in the glow of his decision against Fulkerson,
kissed his wife, where she sat by the study lamp reading the Transcript
through her first pair of eye-glasses: it was agreed in the family that
she looked distinguished in them, or, at any rate, cultivated. She took
them off to give him a glance of question, and their son Tom looked up
from his book for a moment; he was in his last year at the high school,
and was preparing for Harvard.
"I didn't get away from the office till half-past five," March explained
to his wife's glance," and then I walked. I suppose dinner's waiting.
I'm sorry, but I won't do it any more."
At table he tried to be gay with Bella, who babbled at him with a voluble
pertness which her brother had often advised her parents to check in her,
unless they wanted her to be universally despised.
"Papa!" she shouted at last, "you're not listening!" As soon as possible
his wife told the children they might be excused. Then she asked, "What
is it, Basil?"
"What is what?" he retorted, with a specious brightness that did not
"What is on your mind?"
"How do you know there's anything?"
"Your kissing me so when you came in, for one thing."
"Don't I always kiss you when I come in?"
"Not now. I suppose it isn't necessary any more. 'Cela va sans baiser.'"
"Yes, I guess it's so; we get along without the symbolism now."
He stopped, but she knew that he had not finished.
"Is it about your business? Have they done anything more?"
"No; I'm still in the dark. I don't know whether they mean to supplant
me, or whether they ever did. But I wasn't thinking about that.
Fulkerson has been to see me again."
"Fulkerson?" She brightened at the name, and March smiled, too.
"Why didn't you bring him to dinner?"
"I wanted to talk with you. Then you do like him?"
"What has that got to do with it, Basil?"
"Nothing! nothing! That is, he was boring away about that scheme of his
again. He's got it into definite shape at last."
March outlined it for her, and his wife seized its main features with the
intuitive sense of affairs which makes women such good business-men when
they will let it.
"It sounds perfectly crazy," she said, finally. "But it mayn't be. The
only thing I didn't like about Mr. Fulkerson was his always wanting to
chance things. But what have you got to do with it?"
"What have I got to do with it?" March toyed with the delay the question
gave him; then he said, with a sort of deprecatory laugh: "It seems that
Fulkerson has had his eye on me ever since we met that night on the
Quebec boat. I opened up pretty freely to him, as you do to a man you
never expect to see again, and when I found he was in that newspaper
syndicate business I told him about my early literary ambitions--"
"You can't say that I ever discouraged them, Basil," his wife put in.
"I should have been willing, any time, to give up everything for them."
"Well, he says that I first suggested this brilliant idea to him.
Perhaps I did; I don't remember. When he told me about his supplying
literature to newspapers for simultaneous publication, he says I asked:
'Why not apply the principle of co-operation to a magazine, and run it in
the interest of the contributors?' and that set him to thinking, and he
thought out his plan of a periodical which should pay authors and artists
a low price outright for their work and give them a chance of the profits
in the way of a percentage. After all, it isn't so very different from
the chances an author takes when he publishes a book. And Fulkerson
thinks that the novelty of the thing would pique public curiosity, if it
didn't arouse public sympathy. And the long and short of it is, Isabel,
that he wants me to help edit it."
"To edit it?" His wife caught her breath, and she took a little time to
realize the fact, while she stared hard at her husband to make sure he
was not joking.
"Yes. He says he owes it all to me; that I invented the idea--the germ
His wife had now realized the fact, at least in a degree that excluded
trifling with it. "That is very honorable of Mr. Fulkerson; and if he
owes it to you, it was the least he could do." Having recognized her
husband's claim to the honor done him, she began to kindle with a sense
of the honor itself and the value of the opportunity. "It's a very high
compliment to you, Basil--a very high compliment. And you could give up
this wretched insurance business that you've always hated so, and that's
making you so unhappy now that you think they're going to take it from
you. Give it up and take Mr. Fulkerson's offer! It's a perfect
interposition, coming just at this time! Why, do it! Mercy!" she
suddenly arrested herself, "he wouldn't expect you to get along on the
possible profits?" Her face expressed the awfulness of the notion.
March smiled reassuringly, and waited to give himself the pleasure of the
sensation he meant to give her. "If I'll make striking phrases for it
and edit it, too, he'll give me four thousand dollars."
He leaned back in his chair, and stuck his hands deep into his pockets,
and watched his wife's face, luminous with the emotions that flashed
through her mind-doubt, joy, anxiety.
"Basil! You don't mean it! Why, take it! Take it instantly! Oh, what
a thing to happen! Oh, what luck! But you deserve it, if you first
suggested it. What an escape, what a triumph over all those hateful
insurance people! Oh, Basil, I'm afraid he'll change his mind! You ought
to have accepted on the spot. You might have known I would approve, and
you could so easily have taken it back if I didn't. Telegraph him now!
Run right out with the despatch--Or we can send Tom!"
In these imperatives of Mrs. March's there was always much of the
conditional. She meant that he should do what she said, if it were
entirely right; and she never meant to be considered as having urged him.
"And suppose his enterprise went wrong?" her husband suggested.
"It won't go wrong. Hasn't he made a success of his syndicate?"
"He says so--yes."
"Very well, then, it stands to reason that he'll succeed in this, too.
He wouldn't undertake it if he didn't know it would succeed; he must have
"It will take a great deal to get such a thing going; and even if he's
got an Angel behind him--"
She caught at the word--"An Angel?"
"It's what the theatrical people call a financial backer. He dropped a
hint of something of that kind."
"Of course, he's got an Angel," said his wife, promptly adopting the
word. "And even if he hadn't, still, Basil, I should be willing to have
you risk it. The risk isn't so great, is it? We shouldn't be ruined if
it failed altogether. With our stocks we have two thousand a year,
anyway, and we could pinch through on that till you got into some other
business afterward, especially if we'd saved something out of your salary
while it lasted. Basil, I want you to try it! I know it will give you a
new lease of life to have a congenial occupation." March laughed, but
his wife persisted. "I'm all for your trying it, Basil; indeed I am.
If it's an experiment, you can give it up."
"It can give me up, too."
"Oh, nonsense! I guess there's not much fear of that. Now, I want you to
telegraph Mr. Fulkerson, so that he'll find the despatch waiting for him
when he gets to New York. I'll take the whole responsibility, Basil, and
I'll risk all the consequences."
March's face had sobered more and more as she followed one hopeful burst
with another, and now it expressed a positive pain. But he forced a
smile and said: "There's a little condition attached. Where did you
suppose it was to be published?"
"Why, in Boston, of course. Where else should it be published?"
She looked at him for the intention of his question so searchingly that
he quite gave up the attempt to be gay about it. "No," he said, gravely,
"it's to be published in New York."
She fell back in her chair. "In New York?" She leaned forward over the
table toward him, as if to make sure that she heard aright, and said,
with all the keen reproach that he could have expected: "In New York,
Basil! Oh, how could you have let me go on?"
He had a sufficiently rueful face in owning: "I oughtn't to have done it,
but I got started wrong. I couldn't help putting the best foot, forward
at first--or as long as the whole thing was in the air. I didn't know
that you would take so much to the general enterprise, or else I should
have mentioned the New York condition at once; but, of course, that puts
an end to it."
"Oh, of course," she assented, sadly. "We COULDN'T go to New York."
"No, I know that," he said; and with this a perverse desire to tempt her
to the impossibility awoke in him, though he was really quite cold about
the affair himself now. "Fulkerson thought we could get a nice flat in
New York for about what the interest and taxes came to here, and
provisions are cheaper. But I should rather not experiment at my time of
life. If I could have been caught younger, I might have been inured to
New York, but I don't believe I could stand it now."
"How I hate to have you talk that way, Basil! You are young enough to
try anything--anywhere; but you know I don't like New York. I don't
approve of it. It's so big, and so hideous! Of course I shouldn't mind
that; but I've always lived in Boston, and the children were born and
have all their friendships and associations here." She added, with the
helplessness that discredited her good sense and did her injustice,
"I have just got them both into the Friday afternoon class at Papanti's,
and you know how difficult that is."
March could not fail to take advantage of an occasion like this.
"Well, that alone ought to settle it. Under the circumstances, it would
be flying in the face of Providence to leave Boston. The mere fact of a
brilliant opening like that offered me on 'The Microbe,' and the halcyon
future which Fulkerson promises if we'll come to New York, is as dust in
the balance against the advantages of the Friday afternoon class."
"Basil," she appealed, solemnly, "have I ever interfered with your
"I never had any for you to interfere with, my dear."
"Basil! Haven't I always had faith in you? And don't you suppose that
if I thought it would really be for your advancement I would go to New
York or anywhere with you?"
"No, my dear, I don't," he teased. "If it would be for my salvation,
yes, perhaps; but not short of that; and I should have to prove by a
cloud of witnesses that it would. I don't blame you. I wasn't born in
Boston, but I understand how you feel. And really, my dear," he added,
without irony, "I never seriously thought of asking you to go to New
York. I was dazzled by Fulkerson's offer, I'll own that; but his choice
of me as editor sapped my confidence in him."
"I don't like to hear you say that, Basil," she entreated.
"Well, of course there were mitigating circumstances. I could see that
Fulkerson meant to keep the whip-hand himself, and that was reassuring.
And, besides, if the Reciprocity Life should happen not to want my
services any longer, it wouldn't be quite like giving up a certainty;
though, as a matter of business, I let Fulkerson get that impression; I
felt rather sneaking to do it. But if the worst comes to the worst, I
can look about for something to do in Boston; and, anyhow, people don't
starve on two thousand a year, though it's convenient to have five. The
fact is, I'm too old to change so radically. If you don't like my saying
that, then you are, Isabel, and so are the children. I've no right to
take them from the home we've made, and to change the whole course of
their lives, unless I can assure them of something, and I can't assure
them of anything. Boston is big enough for us, and it's certainly
prettier than New York. I always feel a little proud of hailing from
Boston; my pleasure in the place mounts the farther I get away from it.
But I do appreciate it, my dear; I've no more desire to leave it than you
have. You may be sure that if you don't want to take the children out of
the Friday afternoon class, I don't want to leave my library here, and
all the ways I've got set in. We'll keep on. Very likely the company
won't supplant me, and if it does, and Watkins gets the place, he'll give
me a subordinate position of some sort. Cheer up, Isabel! I have put
Satan and his angel, Fulkerson, behind me, and it's all right. Let's go
in to the children."
He came round the table to Isabel, where she sat in a growing
distraction, and lifted her by the waist from her chair.
She sighed deeply. "Shall we tell the children about it?"
"No. What's the use, now?"
"There wouldn't be any," she assented. When they entered the family
room, where the boy and girl sat on either side of the lamp working out
the lessons for Monday which they had left over from the day before, she
asked, "Children, how would you like to live in New York?"
Bella made haste to get in her word first. "And give up the Friday
afternoon class?" she wailed.
Tom growled from his book, without lifting his eyes: "I shouldn't want to
go to Columbia. They haven't got any dormitories, and you have to board
round anywhere. Are you going to New York?" He now deigned to look up
at his father.
"No, Tom. You and Bella have decided me against it. Your perspective
shows the affair in its true proportions. I had an offer to go to New
York, but I've refused it."
March's irony fell harmless from the children's preoccupation with their
own affairs, but he knew that his wife felt it, and this added to the
bitterness which prompted it. He blamed her for letting her provincial
narrowness prevent his accepting Fulkerson's offer quite as much as if he
had otherwise entirely wished to accept it. His world, like most worlds,
had been superficially a disappointment. He was no richer than at the
beginning, though in marrying he had given up some tastes, some
preferences, some aspirations, in the hope of indulging them later, with
larger means and larger leisure. His wife had not urged him to do it; in
fact, her pride, as she said, was in his fitness for the life he had
renounced; but she had acquiesced, and they had been very happy together.
That is to say, they made up their quarrels or ignored them.
They often accused each other of being selfish and indifferent, but she
knew that he would always sacrifice himself for her and the children;
and he, on his part, with many gibes and mockeries, wholly trusted in
her. They had grown practically tolerant of each other's disagreeable
traits; and the danger that really threatened them was that they should
grow too well satisfied with themselves, if not with each other. They
were not sentimental, they were rather matter-of-fact in their motives;
but they had both a sort of humorous fondness for sentimentality. They
liked to play with the romantic, from the safe vantage-ground of their
real practicality, and to divine the poetry of the commonplace. Their
peculiar point of view separated them from most other people, with whom
their means of self-comparison were not so good since their marriage as
before. Then they had travelled and seen much of the world, and they had
formed tastes which they had not always been able to indulge, but of
which they felt that the possession reflected distinction on them. It
enabled them to look down upon those who were without such tastes; but
they were not ill-natured, and so they did not look down so much with
contempt as with amusement. In their unfashionable neighborhood they had
the fame of being not exclusive precisely, but very much wrapped up in
themselves and their children.
Mrs. March was reputed to be very cultivated, and Mr. March even more so,
among the simpler folk around them. Their house had some good pictures,
which her aunt had brought home from Europe in more affluent days, and it
abounded in books on which he spent more than he ought. They had
beautified it in every way, and had unconsciously taken credit to them
selves for it. They felt, with a glow almost of virtue, how perfectly it
fitted their lives and their children's, and they believed that somehow
it expressed their characters--that it was like them. They went out very
little; she remained shut up in its refinement, working the good of her
own; and he went to his business, and hurried back to forget it, and
dream his dream of intellectual achievement in the flattering atmosphere
of her sympathy. He could not conceal from himself that his divided life
was somewhat like Charles Lamb's, and there were times when, as he had
expressed to Fulkerson, he believed that its division was favorable to
the freshness of his interest in literature. It certainly kept it a high
privilege, a sacred refuge. Now and then he wrote something, and got it
printed after long delays, and when they met on the St. Lawrence
Fulkerson had some of March's verses in his pocket-book, which he had cut
out of astray newspaper and carried about for years, because they pleased
his fancy so much; they formed an immediate bond of union between the men
when their authorship was traced and owned, and this gave a pretty color
of romance to their acquaintance. But, for the most part, March was
satisfied to read. He was proud of reading critically, and he kept in
the current of literary interests and controversies. It all seemed to
him, and to his wife at second-hand, very meritorious; he could not help
contrasting his life and its inner elegance with that of other men who
had no such resources. He thought that he was not arrogant about it,
because he did full justice to the good qualities of those other people;
he congratulated himself upon the democratic instincts which enabled him
to do this; and neither he nor his wife supposed that they were selfish
persons. On the contrary, they were very sympathetic; there was no good
cause that they did not wish well; they had a generous scorn of all kinds
of narrow-heartedness; if it had ever come into their way to sacrifice
themselves for others, they thought they would have done so, but they
never asked why it had not come in their way. They were very gentle and
kind, even when most elusive; and they taught their children to loathe
all manner of social cruelty. March was of so watchful a conscience in
some respects that he denied himself the pensive pleasure of lapsing into
the melancholy of unfulfilled aspirations; but he did not see that, if he
had abandoned them, it had been for what he held dearer; generally he
felt as if he had turned from them with a high, altruistic aim. The
practical expression of his life was that it was enough to provide well
for his family; to have cultivated tastes, and to gratify them to the
extent of his means; to be rather distinguished, even in the
simplification of his desires. He believed, and his wife believed, that
if the time ever came when he really wished to make a sacrifice to the
fulfilment of the aspirations so long postponed, she would be ready to
join with heart and hand.
When he went to her room from his library, where she left him the whole
evening with the children, he found her before the glass thoughtfully
removing the first dismantling pin from her back hair.
"I can't help feeling," she grieved into the mirror, "that it's I who
keep you from accepting that offer. I know it is! I could go West with
you, or into a new country--anywhere; but New York terrifies me. I don't
like New York, I never did; it disheartens and distracts me; I can't find
myself in it; I shouldn't know how to shop. I know I'm foolish and
narrow and provincial," she went on, "but I could never have any inner
quiet in New York; I couldn't live in the spirit there. I suppose people
do. It can't, be that all these millions--'
"Oh, not so bad as that!" March interposed, laughing. "There aren't
"I thought there were four or five. Well, no matter. You see what I am,
Basil. I'm terribly limited. I couldn't make my sympathies go round two
million people; I should be wretched. I suppose I'm standing in the way
of your highest interest, but I can't help it. We took each other for
better or worse, and you must try to bear with me--" She broke off and
began to cry.
"Stop it!" shouted March. "I tell you I never cared anything for
Fulkerson's scheme or entertained it seriously, and I shouldn't if he'd
proposed to carry it out in Boston." This was not quite true, but in the
retrospect it seemed sufficiently so for the purposes of argument.
"Don't say another word about it. The thing's over now, and I don't want
to think of it any more. We couldn't change its nature if we talked all
night. But I want you to understand that it isn't your limitations that
are in the way. It's mine. I shouldn't have the courage to take such a
place; I don't think I'm fit for it, and that's the long and short of
"Oh, you don't know how it hurts me to have you say that, Basil."
The next morning, as they sat together at breakfast, without the
children, whom they let lie late on Sunday, Mrs. March said to her
husband, silent over his fish-balls and baked beans: "We will go to New
York. I've decided it."
"Well, it takes two to decide that," March retorted. "We are not going
to New York."
"Yes, we are. I've thought it out. Now, listen."
"Oh, I'm willing to listen," he consented, airily.
"You've always wanted to get out of the insurance business, and now with
that fear of being turned out which you have you mustn't neglect this
offer. I suppose it has its risks, but it's a risk keeping on as we are;
and perhaps you will make a great success of it. I do want you to try,
Basil. If I could once feel that you had fairly seen what you could do
in literature, I should die happy."
"Not immediately after, I hope," he suggested, taking the second cup of
coffee she had been pouring out for him. "And Boston?"
"We needn't make a complete break. We can keep this place for the
present, anyway; we could let it for the winter, and come back in the
summer next year. It would be change enough from New York."
"Fulkerson and I hadn't got as far as to talk of a vacation."
"No matter. The children and I could come. And if you didn't like New
York, or the enterprise failed, you could get into something in Boston
again; and we have enough to live on till you did. Yes, Basil, I'm
"I can see by the way your chin trembles that nothing could stop you.
You may go to New York if you wish, Isabel, but I shall stay here."
"Be serious, Basil. I'm in earnest."
"Serious? If I were any more serious I should shed tears. Come, my
dear, I know what you mean, and if I had my heart set on this thing--
Fulkerson always calls it 'this thing' I would cheerfully accept any
sacrifice you could make to it. But I'd rather not offer you up on a
shrine I don't feel any particular faith in. I'm very comfortable where
I am; that is, I know just where the pinch comes, and if it comes harder,
why, I've got used to bearing that kind of pinch. I'm too old to change
"Now, that does decide me."
"It decides me, too."
"I will take all the responsibility, Basil," she pleaded.
"Oh yes; but you'll hand it back to me as soon as you've carried your
point with it. There's nothing mean about you, Isabel, where
responsibility is concerned. No; if I do this thing--Fulkerson again?
I can't get away from 'this thing'; it's ominous--I must do it because I
want to do it, and not because you wish that you wanted me to do it.
I understand your position, Isabel, and that you're really acting from a
generous impulse, but there's nothing so precarious at our time of life
as a generous impulse. When we were younger we could stand it; we could
give way to it and take the consequences. But now we can't bear it. We
must act from cold reason even in the ardor of self-sacrifice."
"Oh, as if you did that!" his wife retorted.
"Is that any cause why you shouldn't?" She could not say that it was,
and he went on triumphantly:
"No, I won't take you away from the only safe place on the planet and
plunge you into the most perilous, and then have you say in your
revulsion of feeling that you were all against it from the first, and you
gave way because you saw I had my heart set on it." He supposed he was
treating the matter humorously, but in this sort of banter between
husband and wife there is always much more than the joking. March had
seen some pretty feminine inconsistencies and trepidations which once
charmed him in his wife hardening into traits of middle-age which were
very like those of less interesting older women. The sight moved him
with a kind of pathos, but he felt the result hindering and vexatious.
She now retorted that if he did not choose to take her at her word be
need not, but that whatever he did she should have nothing to reproach
herself with; and, at least, he could not say that she had trapped him
"What do you mean by trapping?" he demanded.
"I don't know what you call it," she answered; "but when you get me to
commit myself to a thing by leaving out the most essential point, I call
"I wonder you stop at trapping, if you think I got you to favor
Fulkerson's scheme and then sprung New York on you. I don't suppose you
do, though. But I guess we won't talk about it any more."
He went out for a long walk, and she went to her room. They lunched
silently together in the presence of their children, who knew that they
had been quarrelling, but were easily indifferent to the fact, as
children get to be in such cases; nature defends their youth, and the
unhappiness which they behold does not infect them. In the evening,
after the boy and girl had gone to bed, the father and mother resumed
their talk. He would have liked to take it up at the point from which it
wandered into hostilities, for he felt it lamentable that a matter which
so seriously concerned them should be confused in the fumes of senseless
anger; and he was willing to make a tacit acknowledgment of his own error
by recurring to the question, but she would not be content with this,
and he had to concede explicitly to her weakness that she really meant it
when she had asked him to accept Fulkerson's offer. He said he knew
that; and he began soberly to talk over their prospects in the event of
their going to New York.
"Oh, I see you are going!" she twitted.
"I'm going to stay," he answered, "and let them turn me out of my agency
here," and in this bitterness their talk ended.
His wife made no attempt to renew their talk before March went to his
business in the morning, and they parted in dry offence. Their
experience was that these things always came right of themselves at last,
and they usually let them. He knew that she had really tried to consent
to a thing that was repugnant to her, and in his heart he gave her more
credit for the effort than he had allowed her openly. She knew that she
had made it with the reservation he accused her of, and that he had a
right to feel sore at what she could not help. But he left her to brood
over his ingratitude, and she suffered him to go heavy and unfriended to
meet the chances of the day. He said to himself that if she had assented
cordially to the conditions of Fulkerson's offer, he would have had the
courage to take all the other risks himself, and would have had the
satisfaction of resigning his place. As it was, he must wait till he was
removed; and he figured with bitter pleasure the pain she would feel when
he came home some day and told her he had been supplanted, after it was
too late to close with Fulkerson.
He found a letter on his desk from the secretary, "Dictated," in
typewriting, which briefly informed him that Mr. Hubbell, the Inspector
of Agencies, would be in Boston on Wednesday, and would call at his
office during the forenoon. The letter was not different in tone from
many that he had formerly received; but the visit announced was out of
the usual order, and March believed he read his fate in it. During the
eighteen years of his connection with it--first as a subordinate in the
Boston office, and finally as its general agent there--he had seen a good
many changes in the Reciprocity; presidents, vice-presidents, actuaries,
and general agents had come and gone, but there had always seemed to be a
recognition of his efficiency, or at least sufficiency, and there had
never been any manner of trouble, no question of accounts, no apparent
dissatisfaction with his management, until latterly, when there had begun
to come from headquarters some suggestions of enterprise in certain ways,
which gave him his first suspicions of his clerk Watkins's willingness to
succeed him; they embodied some of Watkins's ideas. The things proposed
seemed to March undignified, and even vulgar; he had never thought
himself wanting in energy, though probably he had left the business to
take its own course in the old lines more than he realized. Things had
always gone so smoothly that he had sometimes fancied a peculiar regard
for him in the management, which he had the weakness to attribute to an
appreciation of what he occasionally did in literature, though in saner
moments he felt how impossible this was. Beyond a reference from Mr.
Hubbell to some piece of March's which had happened to meet his eye, no
one in the management ever gave a sign of consciousness that their
service was adorned by an obscure literary man; and Mr. Hubbell himself
had the effect of regarding the excursions of March's pen as a sort of
joke, and of winking at them; as he might have winked if once in a way he
had found him a little the gayer for dining.
March wore through the day gloomily, but he had it on his conscience not
to show any resentment toward Watkins, whom he suspected of wishing to
supplant him, and even of working to do so. Through this self-denial he
reached a better mind concerning his wife. He determined not to make her
suffer needlessly, if the worst came to the worst; she would suffer
enough, at the best, and till the worst came he would spare her, and not
say anything about the letter he had got.
But when they met, her first glance divined that something had happened,
and her first question frustrated his generous intention. He had to tell
her about the letter. She would not allow that it had any significance,
but she wished him to make an end of his anxieties and forestall whatever
it might portend by resigning his place at once. She said she was quite
ready to go to New York; she had been thinking it all over, and now she
really wanted to go. He answered, soberly, that he had thought it over,
too; and he did not wish to leave Boston, where he had lived so long, or
try a new way of life if he could help it. He insisted that he was quite
selfish in this; in their concessions their quarrel vanished; they agreed
that whatever happened would be for the best; and the next day be went to
his office fortified for any event.
His destiny, if tragical, presented itself with an aspect which he might
have found comic if it had been another's destiny. Mr. Hubbell brought
March's removal, softened in the guise of a promotion. The management at
New York, it appeared, had acted upon a suggestion of Mr. Hubbell's, and
now authorized him to offer March the editorship of the monthly paper
published in the interest of the company; his office would include the
authorship of circulars and leaflets in behalf of life-insurance, and
would give play to the literary talent which Mr. Hubbell had brought to
the attention of the management; his salary would be nearly as much as at
present, but the work would not take his whole time, and in a place like
New York he could get a great deal of outside writing, which they would
not object to his doing.
Mr. Hubbell seemed so sure of his acceptance of a place in every way
congenial to a man of literary tastes that March was afterward sorry he
dismissed the proposition with obvious irony, and had needlessly hurt
Hubbell's feelings; but Mrs. March had no such regrets. She was only
afraid that he had not made his rejection contemptuous enough.
"And now," she said, "telegraph Mr. Fulkerson, and we will go at once."
"I suppose I could still get Watkins's former place," March suggested.
"Never!" she retorted. "Telegraph instantly!"
They were only afraid now that Fulkerson might have changed his mind, and
they had a wretched day in which they heard nothing from him. It ended
with his answering March's telegram in person. They were so glad of his
coming, and so touched by his satisfaction with his bargain, that they
laid all the facts of the case before him. He entered fully into March's
sense of the joke latent in Mr. Hubbell's proposition, and he tried to
make Mrs. March believe that he shared her resentment of the indignity
offered her husband.
March made a show of willingness to release him in view of the changed
situation, saying that he held him to nothing. Fulkerson laughed, and
asked him how soon he thought he could come on to New York. He refused
to reopen the question of March's fitness with him; he said they, had
gone into that thoroughly, but he recurred to it with Mrs. March, and
confirmed her belief in his good sense on all points. She had been from
the first moment defiantly confident of her husband's ability, but till
she had talked the matter over with Fulkerson she was secretly not sure
of it; or, at least, she was not sure that March was not right in
distrusting himself. When she clearly understood, now, what Fulkerson
intended, she had no longer a doubt. He explained how the enterprise
differed from others, and how he needed for its direction a man who
combined general business experience and business ideas with a love for
the thing and a natural aptness for it. He did not want a young man, and
yet he wanted youth--its freshness, its zest--such as March would feel in
a thing he could put his whole heart into. He would not run in ruts,
like an old fellow who had got hackneyed; he would not have any hobbies;
he would not have any friends or any enemies. Besides, he would have to
meet people, and March was a man that people took to; she knew that
herself; he had a kind of charm. The editorial management was going to
be kept in the background, as far as the public was concerned; the public
was to suppose that the thing ran itself. Fulkerson did not care for a
great literary reputation in his editor--he implied that March had a very
pretty little one. At the same time the relations between the
contributors and the management were to be much more, intimate than
usual. Fulkerson felt his personal disqualification for working the
thing socially, and he counted upon Mr. March for that; that was to say,
he counted upon Mrs. March.
She protested he must not count upon her; but it by no means disabled
Fulkerson's judgment in her view that March really seemed more than
anything else a fancy of his. He had been a fancy of hers; and the sort
of affectionate respect with which Fulkerson spoke of him laid forever
some doubt she had of the fineness of Fulkerson's manners and reconciled
her to the graphic slanginess of his speech.
The affair was now irretrievable, but she gave her approval to it as
superbly as if it were submitted in its inception. Only, Mr. Fulkerson
must not suppose she should ever like New York. She would not deceive
him on that point. She never should like it. She did not conceal,
either, that she did not like taking the children out of the Friday
afternoon class; and she did not believe that Tom would ever be
reconciled to going to Columbia. She took courage from Fulkerson's
suggestion that it was possible for Tom to come to Harvard even from New
York; and she heaped him with questions concerning the domiciliation of
the family in that city. He tried to know something about the matter,
and he succeeded in seeming interested in points necessarily indifferent
In the uprooting and transplanting of their home that followed, Mrs.
March often trembled before distant problems and possible contingencies,
but she was never troubled by present difficulties. She kept up with
tireless energy; and in the moments of dejection and misgiving which
harassed her husband she remained dauntless, and put heart into him when
he had lost it altogether.
She arranged to leave the children in the house with the servants, while
she went on with March to look up a dwelling of some sort in New York.
It made him sick to think of it; and, when it came to the point, he would
rather have given up the whole enterprise. She had to nerve him to it,
to represent more than once that now they had no choice but to make this
experiment. Every detail of parting was anguish to him. He got
consolation out of the notion of letting the house furnished for the
winter; that implied their return to it, but it cost him pangs of the
keenest misery to advertise it; and, when a tenant was actually found, it
was all he could do to give him the lease. He tried his wife's love and
patience as a man must to whom the future is easy in the mass but
terrible as it translates itself piecemeal into the present. He
experienced remorse in the presence of inanimate things he was going to
leave as if they had sensibly reproached him, and an anticipative
homesickness that seemed to stop his heart. Again and again his wife had
to make him reflect that his depression was not prophetic. She convinced
him of what he already knew, and persuaded him against his knowledge that
he could be keeping an eye out for something to take hold of in Boston if
they could not stand New York. She ended by telling him that it was too
bad to make her comfort him in a trial that was really so much more a
trial to her. She had to support him in a last access of despair on
their way to the Albany depot the morning they started to New York; but
when the final details had been dealt with, the tickets bought, the
trunks checked, and the handbags hung up in their car, and the future had
massed itself again at a safe distance and was seven hours and two
hundred miles away, his spirits began to rise and hers to sink. He would
have been willing to celebrate the taste, the domestic refinement, of the
ladies' waiting-room in the depot, where they had spent a quarter of an
hour before the train started. He said he did not believe there was
another station in the world where mahogany rocking-chairs were provided;
that the dull-red warmth of the walls was as cozy as an evening lamp, and
that he always hoped to see a fire kindled on that vast hearth and under
that aesthetic mantel, but he supposed now he never should. He said it
was all very different from that tunnel, the old Albany depot, where they
had waited the morning they went to New York when they were starting on
their wedding journey.
"The morning, Basil!" cried his wife. "We went at night; and we were
going to take the boat, but it stormed so!" She gave him a glance of
such reproach that he could not answer anything, and now she asked him
whether he supposed their cook and second girl would be contented with
one of those dark holes where they put girls to sleep in New York flats,
and what she should do if Margaret, especially, left her. He ventured to
suggest that Margaret would probably like the city; but, if she left,
there were plenty of other girls to be had in New York. She replied that
there were none she could trust, and that she knew Margaret would not
stay. He asked her why she took her, then--why she did not give her up
at once; and she answered that it would be inhuman to give her up just in
the edge of the winter. She had promised to keep her; and Margaret was
pleased with the notion of going to New York, where she had a cousin.
"Then perhaps she'll be pleased with the notion of staying," he said.
"Oh, much you know about it!" she retorted; and, in view of the
hypothetical difficulty and his want of sympathy, she fell into a gloom,
from which she roused herself at last by declaring that, if there was
nothing else in the flat they took, there should be a light kitchen and a
bright, sunny bedroom for Margaret. He expressed the belief that they
could easily find such a flat as that, and she denounced his fatal
optimism, which buoyed him up in the absence of an undertaking and let
him drop into the depths of despair in its presence.
He owned this defect of temperament, but he said that it compensated the
opposite in her character. "I suppose that's one of the chief uses of
marriage; people supplement one another, and form a pretty fair sort of
human being together. The only drawback to the theory is that unmarried
people seem each as complete and whole as a married pair."
She refused to be amused; she turned her face to the window and put her
handkerchief up under her veil.
It was not till the dining-car was attached to their train that they were
both able to escape for an hour into the care-free mood of their earlier
travels, when they were so easily taken out of themselves. The time had
been when they could have found enough in the conjectural fortunes and
characters of their fellow-passengers to occupy them. This phase of
their youth had lasted long, and the world was still full of novelty and
interest for them; but it required all the charm of the dining-car now to
lay the anxieties that beset them. It was so potent for the moment,
however, that they could take an objective view at their sitting cozily
down there together, as if they had only themselves in the world. They
wondered what the children were doing, the children who possessed them so
intensely when present, and now, by a fantastic operation of absence,
seemed almost non-existents. They tried to be homesick for them, but
failed; they recognized with comfortable self-abhorrence that this was
terrible, but owned a fascination in being alone; at the same time, they
could not imagine how people felt who never had any children. They
contrasted the luxury of dining that way, with every advantage except a
band of music, and the old way of rushing out to snatch a fearful joy at
the lunch-counters of the Worcesier and Springfield and New Haven
stations. They had not gone often to New York since their wedding
journey, but they had gone often enough to have noted the change from the
lunch-counter to the lunch-basket brought in the train, from which you
could subsist with more ease and dignity, but seemed destined to a
superabundance of pickles, whatever you ordered.
They thought well of themselves now that they could be both critical and
tolerant of flavors not very sharply distinguished from one another in
their dinner, and they lingered over their coffee and watched the autumn
landscape through the windows.
"Not quite so loud a pattern of calico this year," he said, with
patronizing forbearance toward the painted woodlands whirling by.
"Do you see how the foreground next the train rushes from us and the
background keeps ahead of us, while the middle distance seems stationary?
I don't think I ever noticed that effect before. There ought to be
something literary in it: retreating past and advancing future and
deceitfully permanent present--something like that?"
His wife brushed some crumbs from her lap before rising. "Yes. You
mustn't waste any of these ideas now."
"Oh no; it would be money out of Fulkerson's pocket."
They went to a quiet hotel far down-town, and took a small apartment
which they thought they could easily afford for the day or two they need
spend in looking up a furnished flat. They were used to staying at this
hotel when they came on for a little outing in New York, after some rigid
winter in Boston, at the time of the spring exhibitions. They were
remembered there from year to year; the colored call-boys, who never
seemed to get any older, smiled upon them, and the clerk called March by
name even before he registered. He asked if Mrs. March were with him,
and said then he supposed they would want their usual quarters; and in a
moment they were domesticated in a far interior that seemed to have been
waiting for them in a clean, quiet, patient disoccupation ever since they
left it two years before. The little parlor, with its gilt paper and
ebonized furniture, was the lightest of the rooms, but it was not very
light at noonday without the gas, which the bell-boy now flared up for
them. The uproar of the city came to it in a soothing murmur, and they
took possession of its peace and comfort with open celebration. After
all, they agreed, there was no place in the world so delightful as a
hotel apartment like that; the boasted charms of home were nothing to it;
and then the magic of its being always there, ready for any one, every
one, just as if it were for some one alone: it was like the experience of
an Arabian Nights hero come true for all the race.
"Oh, why can't we always stay here, just we two!" Mrs. March sighed to
her husband, as he came out of his room rubbing his face red with the
towel, while she studied a new arrangement of her bonnet and handbag on
"And ignore the past? I'm willing. I've no doubt that the children
could get on perfectly well without us, and could find some lot in the
scheme of Providence that would really be just as well for them."
"Yes; or could contrive somehow never to have existed. I should insist
upon that. If they are, don't you see that we couldn't wish them not to
"Oh yes; I see your point; it's simply incontrovertible."
She laughed and said: "Well, at any rate, if we can't find a flat to suit
us we can all crowd into these three rooms somehow, for the winter, and
then browse about for meals. By the week we could get them much cheaper;
and we could save on the eating, as they do in Europe. Or on something
"Something else, probably," said March. "But we won't take this
apartment till the ideal furnished flat winks out altogether. We shall
not have any trouble. We can easily find some one who is going South for
the winter and will be glad to give up their flat 'to the right party' at
a nominal rent. That's my notion. That's what the Evanses did one
winter when they came on here in February. All but the nominality of the
"Yes, and we could pay a very good rent and still save something on
letting our house. You can settle yourselves in a hundred different ways
in New York, that is one merit of the place. But if everything else
fails, we can come back to this. I want you to take the refusal of it,
Basil. And we'll commence looking this very evening as soon as we've had
dinner. I cut a lot of things out of the Herald as we came on.
She took a long strip of paper out of her hand-bag with minute
advertisements pinned transversely upon it, and forming the effect of
some glittering nondescript vertebrate.
"Looks something like the sea-serpent," said March, drying his hands on
the towel, while he glanced up and down the list. "But we sha'n't have
any trouble. I've no doubt there are half a dozen things there that will
do. You haven't gone up-town? Because we must be near the 'Every Other
"No; but I wish Mr. Fulkerson hadn't called it that! It always makes one
think of 'jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam to-day,' in
'Through the Looking-Glass.' They're all in this region."
They were still at their table, beside a low window, where some sort of
never-blooming shrub symmetrically balanced itself in a large pot, with a
leaf to the right and a leaf to the left and a spear up the middle, when
Fulkerson came stepping square-footedly over the thick dining-room
carpet. He wagged in the air a gay hand of salutation at sight of them,
and of repression when they offered to rise to meet him; then, with an
apparent simultaneity of action he gave a hand to each, pulled up a chair
from the next table, put his hat and stick on the floor beside it, and
"Well, you've burned your ships behind you, sure enough," he said,
beaming his satisfaction upon them from eyes and teeth.
"The ships are burned," said March, "though I'm not sure we alone did
it. But here we are, looking for shelter, and a little anxious about the
disposition of the natives."
"Oh, they're an awful peaceable lot," said Fulkerson. "I've been round
among the caciques a little, and I think I've got two or three places
that will just suit you, Mrs. March. How did you leave the children?"
"Oh, how kind of you! Very well, and very proud to be left in charge of
the smoking wrecks."
Fulkerson naturally paid no attention to what she said, being but
secondarily interested in the children at the best. "Here are some
things right in this neighborhood, within gunshot of the office, and if
you want you can go and look at them to-night; the agents gave me houses
where the people would be in."
"We will go and look at them instantly," said Mrs. March. "Or, as soon
as you've had coffee with us."
"Never do," Fulkerson replied. He gathered up his hat and stick. "Just
rushed in to say Hello, and got to run right away again. I tell you,
March, things are humming. I'm after those fellows with a sharp stick
all the while to keep them from loafing on my house, and at the same time
I'm just bubbling over with ideas about 'The Lone Hand--wish we could
call it that!--that I want to talk up with you."
"Well, come to breakfast," said Mrs. March, cordially.
"No; the ideas will keep till you've secured your lodge in this vast
"You're as nice as you can be, Mr. Fulkerson," she said, "to keep us in
mind when you have so much to occupy you."
"I wouldn't have anything to occupy me if I hadn't kept you in mind, Mrs.
March," said Fulkerson, going off upon as good a speech as he could
apparently hope to make.
"Why, Basil," said Mrs. March, when he was gone, "he's charming!
But now we mustn't lose an instant. Let's see where the places are."
She ran over the half-dozen agents' permits. "Capital-first-rate-the
very thing-every one. Well, I consider ourselves settled! We can go
back to the children to-morrow if we like, though I rather think I should
like to stay over another day and get a little rested for the final
pulling up that's got to come. But this simplifies everything
enormously, and Mr. Fulkerson is as thoughtful and as sweet as he can be.
I know you will get on well with him. He has such a good heart. And his
attitude toward you, Basil, is beautiful always--so respectful; or not
that so much as appreciative. Yes, appreciative--that's the word; I must
always keep that in mind."
"It's quite important to do so," said March.
"Yes," she assented, seriously, "and we must not forget just what kind of
flat we are going to look for. The 'sine qua nons' are an elevator and
steam heat, not above the third floor, to begin with. Then we must each
have a room, and you must have your study and I must have my parlor; and
the two girls must each have a room. With the kitchen and dining room,
how many does that make?"
"I thought eight. Well, no matter. You can work in the parlor, and run
into your bedroom when anybody comes; and I can sit in mine, and the
girls must put up with one, if it's large and sunny, though I've always
given them two at home. And the kitchen must be sunny, so they can sit
in it. And the rooms must all have outside light. Aud the rent must not
be over eight hundred for the winter. We only get a thousand for our
whole house, and we must save something out of that, so as to cover the
expenses of moving. Now, do you think you can remember all that?"
"Not the half of it," said March. "But you can; or if you forget a third
of it, I can come in with my partial half and more than make it up."
She had brought her bonnet and sacque down-stairs with her, and was
transferring them from the hatrack to her person while she talked. The
friendly door-boy let them into the street, and the clear October evening
air brightened her so that as she tucked her hand under her husband's arm
and began to pull him along she said, "If we find something right away--
and we're just as likely to get the right flat soon as late; it's all a
lottery--well go to the theatre somewhere."
She had a moment's panic about having left the agents' permits on the
table, and after remembering that she had put them into her little
shopping-bag, where she kept her money (each note crushed into a round
wad), and had heft it on the hat-rack, where it would certainly be
stolen, she found it on her wrist. She did not think that very funny;
but after a first impulse to inculpate her husband, she let him laugh,
while they stopped under a lamp and she held the permits half a yard away
to read the numbers on them.
"Where are your glasses, Isabel?"
"On the mantel in our room, of course."
"Then you ought to have brought a pair of tongs."
"I wouldn't get off second-hand jokes, Basil," she said; and "Why, here!"
she cried, whirling round to the door before which they had halted, "this
is the very number. Well, I do believe it's a sign!"
One of those colored men who soften the trade of janitor in many of the
smaller apartment-houses in New York by the sweetness of their race let
the Marches in, or, rather, welcomed them to the possession of the
premises by the bow with which he acknowledged their permit. It was a
large, old mansion cut up into five or six dwellings, but it had kept
some traits of its former dignity, which pleased people of their
sympathetic tastes. The dark-mahogany trim, of sufficiently ugly design,
gave a rich gloom to the hallway, which was wide and paved with marble;
the carpeted stairs curved aloft through a generous space.
"There is no elevator?" Mrs. March asked of the janitor.
He answered, "No, ma'am; only two flights up," so winningly that she
"Oh!" in courteous apology, and whispered to her husband, as she followed
lightly up, "We'll take it, Basil, if it's like the rest."
"If it's like him, you mean."
"I don't wonder they wanted to own them," she hurriedly philosophized.
"If I had such a creature, nothing but death should part us, and I should
no more think of giving him his freedom!"
"No; we couldn't afford it," returned her husband.
The apartment which the janitor unlocked for them, and lit up from those
chandeliers and brackets of gilt brass in the form of vine bunches,
leaves, and tendrils in which the early gas-fitter realized most of his
conceptions of beauty, had rather more of the ugliness than the dignity
of the hall. But the rooms were large, and they grouped themselves in a
reminiscence of the time when they were part of a dwelling that had its
charm, its pathos, its impressiveness. Where they were cut up into
smaller spaces, it had been done with the frankness with which a proud
old family of fallen fortunes practises its economies. The rough pine-
floors showed a black border of tack-heads where carpets had been lifted
and put down for generations; the white paint was yellow with age; the
apartment had light at the front and at the back, and two or three rooms
had glimpses of the day through small windows let into their corners;
another one seemed lifting an appealing eye to heaven through a glass
circle in its ceiling; the rest must darkle in perpetual twilight. Yet
something pleased in it all, and Mrs. March had gone far to adapt the
different rooms to the members of her family, when she suddenly thought
(and for her to think was to say), "Why, but there's no steam heat!"
"No, ma'am," the janitor admitted; "but dere's grates in most o' de
rooms, and dere's furnace heat in de halls."
"That's true," she admitted, and, having placed her family in the
apartments, it was hard to get them out again. "Could we manage?" she
referred to her husband.
"Why, I shouldn't care for the steam heat if--What is the rent?" he
broke off to ask the janitor.
"Nine hundred, sir."
March concluded to his wife, "If it were furnished."
"Why, of course! What could I have been thinking of? We're looking for
a furnished flat," she explained to the janitor, "and this was so
pleasant and homelike that I never thought whether it was furnished or
She smiled upon the janitor, and he entered into the joke and chuckled so
amiably at her flattering oversight on the way down-stairs that she said,
as she pinched her husband's arm, "Now, if you don't give him a quarter
I'll never speak to you again, Basil!"
"I would have given half a dollar willingly to get you beyond his
glamour," said March, when they were safely on the pavement outside."
If it hadn't been for my strength of character, you'd have taken an
unfurnished flat without heat and with no elevator, at nine hundred a
year, when you had just sworn me to steam heat, an elevator, furniture,
and eight hundred."
"Yes! How could I have lost my head so completely?" she said, with a
lenient amusement in her aberration which she was not always able to feel
in her husband's.
"The next time a colored janitor opens the door to us, I'll tell him the
apartment doesn't suit at the threshold. It's the only way to manage
"It's true. I am in love with the whole race. I never saw one of them
that didn't have perfectly angelic manners. I think we shall all be
black in heaven--that is, black-souled."
"That isn't the usual theory," said March.
"Well, perhaps not," she assented. "Where are we going now? Oh yes, to
She pulled him gayly along again, and after they had walked a block down
and half a block over they stood before the apartment-house of that name,
which was cut on the gas-lamps on either side of the heavily spiked,
aesthetic-hinged black door. The titter of an electric-bell brought a
large, fat Buttons, with a stage effect of being dressed to look small,
who said he would call the janitor, and they waited in the dimly
splendid, copper-colored interior, admiring the whorls and waves into
which the wallpaint was combed, till the janitor came in his gold-banded
cap, like a Continental porker. When they said they would like to see
Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment, he owned his inability to cope with the
affair, and said he must send for the superintendent; he was either in
the Herodotus or the Thucydides, and would be there in a minute. The
Buttons brought him--a Yankee of browbeating presence in plain clothes--
almost before they had time to exchange a frightened whisper in
recognition of the fact that there could be no doubt of the steam heat
and elevator in this case. Half stifled in the one, they mounted in the
other eight stories, while they tried to keep their self-respect under
the gaze of the superintendent, which they felt was classing and
assessing them with unfriendly accuracy. They could not, and they
faltered abashed at the threshold of Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment,
while the superintendent lit the gas in the gangway that he called a
private hall, and in the drawing-room and the succession of chambers
stretching rearward to the kitchen. Everything had, been done by the
architect to save space, and everything, to waste it by Mrs. Grosvenor
Green. She had conformed to a law for the necessity of turning round in
each room, and had folding-beds in the chambers, but there her
subordination had ended, and wherever you might have turned round she had
put a gimcrack so that you would knock it over if you did turn. The
place was rather pretty and even imposing at first glance, and it took
several joint ballots for March and his wife to make sure that with the
kitchen there were only six rooms. At every door hung a portiere from
large rings on a brass rod; every shelf and dressing-case and mantel was
littered with gimcracks, and the corners of the tiny rooms were curtained
off, and behind these portieres swarmed more gimcracks. The front of the
upright piano had what March called a short-skirted portiere on it, and
the top was covered with vases, with dragon candlesticks and with Jap
fans, which also expanded themselves bat wise on the walls between the
etchings and the water colors. The floors were covered with filling, and
then rugs and then skins; the easy-chairs all had tidies, Armenian and
Turkish and Persian; the lounges and sofas had embroidered cushions
hidden under tidies.
The radiator was concealed by a Jap screen, and over the top of this some
Arab scarfs were flung. There was a superabundance of clocks. China
pugs guarded the hearth; a brass sunflower smiled from the top of either
andiron, and a brass peacock spread its tail before them inside a high
filigree fender; on one side was a coalhod in 'repousse' brass, and on
the other a wrought iron wood-basket. Some red Japanese bird-kites were
stuck about in the necks of spelter vases, a crimson Jap umbrella hung
opened beneath the chandelier, and each globe had a shade of yellow silk.
March, when he had recovered his self-command a little in the presence of
the agglomeration, comforted himself by calling the bric-a-brac
Jamescracks, as if this was their full name.
The disrespect he was able to show the whole apartment by means of this
joke strengthened him to say boldly to the superintendent that it was
altogether too small; then he asked carelessly what the rent was.
"Two hundred and fifty."
The Marches gave a start, and looked at each other.
"Don't you think we could make it do?" she asked him, and he could see
that she had mentally saved five hundred dollars as the difference
between the rent of their house and that of this flat. "It has some very
pretty features, and we could manage to squeeze in, couldn't we?"
"You won't find another furnished flat like it for no two-fifty a month
in the whole city," the superintendent put in.
They exchanged glances again, and March said, carelessly, "It's too
"There's a vacant flat in the Herodotus for eighteen hundred a year, and
one in the Thucydides for fifteen," the superintendent suggested,
clicking his keys together as they sank down in the elevator; "seven
rooms and bath."
"Thank you," said March; "we're looking for a furnished flat."
They felt that the superintendent parted from them with repressed
"Oh, Basil, do you think we really made him think it was the smallness
and not the dearness?"
" No, but we saved our self-respect in the attempt; and that's a great
"Of course, I wouldn't have taken it, anyway, with only six rooms, and so
high up. But what prices! Now, we must be very circumspect about the
It was a janitress, large, fat, with her arms wound up in her apron, who
received them there. Mrs. March gave her a succinct but perfect
statement of their needs. She failed to grasp the nature of them, or
feigned to do so. She shook her head, and said that her son would show
them the flat. There was a radiator visible in the narrow hall, and
Isabel tacitly compromised on steam heat without an elevator, as the flat
was only one flight up. When the son appeared from below with a small
kerosene hand-lamp, it appeared that the flat was unfurnished, but there
was no stopping him till he had shown it in all its impossibility. When
they got safely away from it and into the street March said: "Well, have
you had enough for to-night, Isabel? Shall we go to the theatre now?"
"Not on any account. I want to see the whole list of flats that Mr.
Fulkerson thought would be the very thing for us." She laughed, but with
a certain bitterness.
"You'll be calling him my Mr. Fulkerson next, Isabel."
The fourth address was a furnished flat without a kitchen, in a house
with a general restaurant. The fifth was a furnished house. At the
sixth a pathetic widow and her pretty daughter wanted to take a family to
board, and would give them a private table at a rate which the Marches
would have thought low in Boston.
Mrs. March came away tingling with compassion for their evident anxiety,
and this pity naturally soured into a sense of injury. "Well, I must say
I have completely lost confidence in Mr. Fulkerson's judgment. Anything
more utterly different from what I told him we wanted I couldn't imagine.
If he doesn't manage any better about his business than he has done about
this, it will be a perfect failure."
"Well, well, let's hope he'll be more circumspect about that," her
husband returned, with ironical propitiation. "But I don't think it's
Fulkerson's fault altogether. Perhaps it's the house-agents'. They're a
very illusory generation. There seems to be something in the human
habitation that corrupts the natures of those who deal in it, to buy or
sell it, to hire or let it. You go to an agent and tell him what kind of
a house you want. He has no such house, and he sends you to look at
something altogether different, upon the well-ascertained principle that
if you can't get what you want you will take what you can get. You don't
suppose the 'party' that took our house in Boston was looking for any
such house? He was looking for a totally different kind of house in
another part of the town."
"I don't believe that!" his wife broke in.
"Well, no matter. But see what a scandalous rent you asked for it."
"We didn't get much more than half; and, besides, the agent told me to
ask fourteen hundred."
"Oh, I'm not blaming you, Isabel. I'm only analyzing the house-agent and
"Well, I don't believe he told them just what we wanted; and, at any
rate, I'm done with agents. Tomorrow I'm going entirely by
Mrs. March took the vertebrate with her to the Vienna Coffee-House, where
they went to breakfast next morning. She made March buy her the Herald
and the World, and she added to its spiny convolutions from them. She
read the new advertisements aloud with ardor and with faith to believe
that the apartments described in them were every one truthfully
represented, and that any one of them was richly responsive to their
needs. "Elegant, light, large, single and outside flats" were offered
with "all improvements--bath, ice-box, etc."--for twenty-five to thirty
dollars a month. The cheapness was amazing. The Wagram, the Esmeralda,
the Jacinth, advertised them for forty dollars and sixty dollars, "with
steam heat and elevator," rent free till November. Others, attractive
from their air of conscientious scruple, announced "first-class flats;
good order; reasonable rents." The Helena asked the reader if she had
seen the "cabinet finish, hard-wood floors, and frescoed ceilings" of its
fifty-dollar flats; the Asteroid affirmed that such apartments, with "six
light rooms and bath, porcelain wash-tubs, electric bells, and hall-boy,"
as it offered for seventy-five dollars were unapproached by competition.
There was a sameness in the jargon which tended to confusion. Mrs. March
got several flats on her list which promised neither steam heat nor
elevators; she forgot herself so far as to include two or three as remote
from the down-town region of her choice as Harlem. But after she had
rejected these the nondescript vertebrate was still voluminous enough to
sustain her buoyant hopes.
The waiter, who remembered them from year to year, had put them at a
window giving a pretty good section of Broadway, and before they set out
on their search they had a moment of reminiscence. They recalled the
Broadway of five, of ten, of twenty years ago, swelling and roaring with
a tide of gayly painted omnibuses and of picturesque traffic that the
horsecars have now banished from it. The grind of their wheels and the
clash of their harsh bells imperfectly fill the silence that the
omnibuses have left, and the eye misses the tumultuous perspective of
They went out and stood for a moment before Grace Church, and looked down
the stately thoroughfare, and found it no longer impressive, no longer
characteristic. It is still Broadway in name, but now it is like any
other street. You do not now take your life in your hand when you
attempt to cross it; the Broadway policeman who supported the elbow of
timorous beauty in the hollow of his cotton-gloved palm and guided its
little fearful boots over the crossing, while he arrested the billowy
omnibuses on either side with an imperious glance, is gone, and all that
certain processional, barbaric gayety of the place is gone.
"Palmyra, Baalbec, Timour of the Desert," said March, voicing their
common feeling of the change.
They turned and went into the beautiful church, and found themselves in
time for the matin service. Rapt far from New York, if not from earth,
in the dim richness of the painted light, the hallowed music took them
with solemn ecstasy; the aerial, aspiring Gothic forms seemed to lift
them heavenward. They came out, reluctant, into the dazzle and bustle of
the street, with a feeling that they were too good for it, which they
confessed to each other with whimsical consciousness.
"But no matter how consecrated we feel now," he said, "we mustn't forget
that we went into the church for precisely the same reason that we went
to the Vienna Cafe for breakfast--to gratify an aesthetic sense, to renew
the faded pleasure of travel for a moment, to get back into the Europe of
our youth. It was a purely Pagan impulse, Isabel, and we'd better own
"I don't know," she returned. "I think we reduce ourselves to the bare
bones too much. I wish we didn't always recognize the facts as we do.
Sometimes I should like to blink them. I should like to think I was
devouter than I am, and younger and prettier."
"Better not; you couldn't keep it up. Honesty is the best policy even in
"No; I don't like it, Basil. I should rather wait till the last day for
some of my motives to come to the top. I know they're always mixed, but
do let me give them the benefit of a doubt sometimes."
"Well, well, have it your own way, my dear. But I prefer not to lay up
so many disagreeable surprises for myself at that time."
She would not consent. "I know I am a good deal younger than I was.
I feel quite in the mood of that morning when we walked down Broadway on
our wedding journey. Don't you?"
"Oh yes. But I know I'm not younger; I'm only prettier."
She laughed for pleasure in his joke, and also for unconscious joy in the
gay New York weather, in which there was no 'arriere pensee' of the east
wind. They had crossed Broadway, and were walking over to Washington
Square, in the region of which they now hoped to place themselves. The
'primo tenore' statue of Garibaldi had already taken possession of the
place in the name of Latin progress, and they met Italian faces, French
faces, Spanish faces, as they strolled over the asphalt walks, under the
thinning shadows of the autumn-stricken sycamores. They met the familiar
picturesque raggedness of Southern Europe with the old kindly illusion
that somehow it existed for their appreciation, and that it found
adequate compensation for poverty in this. March thought he sufficiently
expressed his tacit sympathy in sitting down on one of the iron benches
with his wife and letting a little Neapolitan put a superfluous shine on
his boots, while their desultory comment wandered with equal esteem to
the old-fashioned American respectability which keeps the north side of
the square in vast mansions of red brick, and the international
shabbiness which has invaded the southern border, and broken it up into
lodging-houses, shops, beer-gardens, and studios.
They noticed the sign of an apartment to let on the north side, and as
soon as the little bootblack could be bought off they went over to look
at it. The janitor met them at the door and examined them. Then he
said, as if still in doubt, "It has ten rooms, and the rent is twenty-
eight hundred dollars."
"It wouldn't do, then," March replied, and left him to divide the
responsibility between the paucity of the rooms and the enormity of the
rent as he best might. But their self-love had received a wound, and
they questioned each other what it was in their appearance made him doubt
their ability to pay so much.
"Of course, we don't look like New-Yorkers," sighed Mrs. March, "and
we've walked through the Square. That might be as if we had walked along
the Park Street mall in the Common before we came out on Beacon. Do you
suppose he could have seen you getting your boots blacked in that way?"
"It's useless to ask," said March. "But I never can recover from this
"Oh, pshaw! You know you hate such things as badly as I do. It was very
impertinent of him."
"Let us go back and 'ecraser l'infame' by paying him a year's rent in
advance and taking immediate possession. Nothing else can soothe my
wounded feelings. You were not having your boots blacked: why shouldn't
he have supposed you were a New-Yorker, and I a country cousin?"
"They always know. Don't you remember Mrs. Williams's going to a Fifth
Avenue milliner in a Worth dress, and the woman's asking her instantly
what hotel she should send her hat to?"
"Yes; these things drive one to despair. I don't wonder the bodies of so
many genteel strangers are found in the waters around New York. Shall we
try the south side, my dear? or had we better go back to our rooms and
Mrs. March had out the vertebrate, and was consulting one of its
glittering ribs and glancing up from it at a house before which they
stood. "Yes, it's the number; but do they call this being ready October
first?" The little area in front of the basement was heaped with a
mixture of mortar, bricks, laths, and shavings from the interior; the
brownstone steps to the front door were similarly bestrewn; the doorway
showed the half-open, rough pine carpenter's sketch of an unfinished
house; the sashless windows of every story showed the activity of workmen
within; the clatter of hammers and the hiss of saws came out to them from
"They may call it October first," said March, "because it's too late to
contradict them. But they'd better not call it December first in my
presence; I'll let them say January first, at a pinch."
"We will go in and look at it, anyway," said his wife; and he admired
how, when she was once within, she began provisionally to settle the
family in each of the several floors with the female instinct for
domiciliation which never failed her. She had the help of the landlord,
who was present to urge forward the workmen apparently; he lent a hopeful
fancy to the solution of all her questions. To get her from under his
influence March had to represent that the place was damp from undried
plastering, and that if she stayed she would probably be down with that
New York pneumonia which visiting Bostonians are always dying of. Once
safely on the pavement outside, she realized that the apartment was not
only unfinished, but unfurnished, and had neither steam heat nor
elevator. "But I thought we had better look at everything," she
"Yes, but not take everything. If I hadn't pulled you away from there by
main force you'd have not only died of New York pneumonia on the spot,
but you'd have had us all settled there before we knew what we were
"Well, that's what I can't help, Basil. It's the only way I can realize
whether it will do for us. I have to dramatize the whole thing."
She got a deal of pleasure as well as excitement out of this, and he had
to own that the process of setting up housekeeping in so many different
places was not only entertaining, but tended, through association with
their first beginnings in housekeeping, to restore the image of their
early married days and to make them young again.
It went on all day, and continued far into the night, until it was too
late to go to the theatre, too late to do anything but tumble into bed
and simultaneously fall asleep. They groaned over their reiterated
disappointments, but they could not deny that the interest was unfailing,
and that they got a great deal of fun out of it all. Nothing could abate
Mrs. March's faith in her advertisements. One of them sent her to a flat
of ten rooms which promised to be the solution of all their difficulties;
it proved to be over a livery-stable, a liquor store, and a milliner's
shop, none of the first fashion. Another led them far into old Greenwich
Village to an apartment-house, which she refused to enter behind a small
girl with a loaf of bread under one arm and a quart can of milk under the
In their search they were obliged, as March complained, to the
acquisition of useless information in a degree unequalled in their
experience. They came to excel in the sad knowledge of the line at which
respectability distinguishes itself from shabbiness. Flattering
advertisements took them to numbers of huge apartment-houses chiefly
distinguishable from tenement-houses by the absence of fire-escapes on
their facades, till Mrs. March refused to stop at any door where there
were more than six bell-ratchets and speaking-tubes on either hand.
Before the middle of the afternoon she decided against ratchets
altogether, and confined herself to knobs, neatly set in the door-trim.
Her husband was still sunk in the superstition that you can live anywhere
you like in New York, and he would have paused at some places where her
quicker eye caught the fatal sign of "Modes" in the ground-floor windows.
She found that there was an east and west line beyond which they could
not go if they wished to keep their self-respect, and that within the
region to which they had restricted themselves there was a choice of
streets. At first all the New York streets looked to them ill-paved,
dirty, and repulsive; the general infamy imparted itself in their casual
impression to streets in no wise guilty. But they began to notice that
some streets were quiet and clean, and, though never so quiet and clean
as Boston streets, that they wore an air of encouraging reform, and
suggested a future of greater and greater domesticity. Whole blocks of
these downtown cross-streets seemed to have been redeemed from decay, and
even in the midst of squalor a dwelling here and there had been seized,
painted a dull red as to its brick-work, and a glossy black as to its
wood-work, and with a bright brass bell-pull and door-knob and a large
brass plate for its key-hole escutcheon, had been endowed with an effect
of purity and pride which removed its shabby neighborhood far from it.
Some of these houses were quite small, and imaginably within their means;
but, as March said, some body seemed always to be living there himself,
and the fact that none of them was to rent kept Mrs. March true to her
ideal of a fiat. Nothing prevented its realization so much as its
difference from the New York ideal of a flat, which was inflexibly seven
rooms and a bath. One or two rooms might be at the front, the rest
crooked and cornered backward through in creasing and then decreasing
darkness till they reached a light bedroom or kitchen at the rear.
It might be the one or the other, but it was always the seventh room with
the bath; or if, as sometimes happened, it was the eighth, it was so
after having counted the bath as one; in this case the janitor said you
always counted the bath as one. If the flats were advertised as having
"all light rooms," he explained that any room with a window giving into
the open air of a court or shaft was counted a light room.
The Marches tried to make out why it was that these flats were go much
more repulsive than the apartments which everyone lived in abroad; but
they could only do so upon the supposition that in their European days
they were too young, too happy, too full of the future, to notice whether
rooms were inside or outside, light or dark, big or little, high or low.
"Now we're imprisoned in the present," he said, "and we have to make the
worst of it."
In their despair he had an inspiration, which she declared worthy of him:
it was to take two small flats, of four or five rooms and a bath, and
live in both. They tried this in a great many places, but they never
could get two flats of the kind on the same floor where there was steam
heat and an elevator. At one place they almost did it. They had
resigned themselves to the humility of the neighborhood, to the
prevalence of modistes and livery-stablemen (they seem to consort much in
New York), to the garbage in the gutters and the litter of paper in the
streets, to the faltering slats in the surrounding window-shutters and
the crumbled brownstone steps and sills, when it turned out that one of
the apartments had been taken between two visits they made. Then the
only combination left open to them was of a ground-floor flat to the
right and a third-floor flat to the left.
Still they kept this inspiration in reserve for use at the first
opportunity. In the mean time there were several flats which they
thought they could almost make do: notably one where they could get an
extra servant's room in the basement four flights down, and another where
they could get it in the roof five flights up. At the first the janitor
was respectful and enthusiastic; at the second he had an effect of
ironical pessimism. When they trembled on the verge of taking his
apartment, he pointed out a spot in the kalsomining of the parlor