Part 4 out of 21
the stage. He would not have detracted anything from the commonness and
cheapness of the 'mise en scene', for that, he reflected drowsily and
confusedly, helped to give it an air of fact and make it like an episode
of fiction. But above all, he was pleased with the natural eventlessness
of the whole adventure, which was in perfect agreement with his taste;
and just as his reveries began to lose shape in dreams, he was aware of
an absurd pride in the fact that all this could have happened to him in
our commonplace time and hemisphere. "Why," he thought, "if I were a
student in Alcala, what better could I have asked?" And as at last his
soul swung out from its moorings and lapsed down the broad slowly
circling tides out in the sea of sleep, he was conscious of one subtle
touch of compassion for those poor strollers,--a pity so delicate and
fine and tender that it hardly seemed his own but rather a sense of the
compassion that pities the whole world.
X. HOMEWARD AND HOME.
The travellers all met at breakfast and duly discussed the adventures of
the night; and for the rest, the forenoon passed rapidly and slowly with
Basil and Isabel, as regret to leave Quebec, or the natural impatience of
travellers to be off, overcame them. Isabel spent part of it in
shopping, for she had found some small sums of money and certain odd
corners in her trunks still unappropriated, and the handsome stores on
the Rue Fabrique were very tempting. She said she would just go in and
look; and the wise reader imagines the result. As she knelt over her
boxes, trying so to distribute her purchases as to make them look as if
they were old,--old things of hers, which she had brought all the way
round from Boston with her,--a fleeting touch of conscience stayed her
"Basil," she said, "perhaps we'd better declare some of these things.
What's the duty on those?" she asked, pointing to certain articles.
"I don't know. About a hundred per cent. ad valorem."
"C'est a dire--?"
"As much as they cost."
"O then, dearest," responded Isabel indignantly, "it can't be wrong to
smuggle! I won't declare a thread!"
"That's very well for you, whom they won't ask. But what if they ask me
whether there's anything to declare?"
Isabel looked at her husband and hesitated. Then she replied in terms
that I am proud to record in honor of American womanhood: "You mustn't
fib about--it, Basil" (heroically); "I couldn't respect you if you did,"
(tenderly); "but" (with decision) "you must slip out of it some way!"
The ladies of the Ellison party, to whom she put the case in the parlor,
agreed with her perfectly. They also had done a little shopping in
Quebec, and they meant to do more at Montreal before they returned to the
States. Mrs. Ellison was disposed to look upon Isabel's compunctions as
a kind of treason to the sex, to be forgiven only because so quickly
The Ellisons were going up the Saguenay before coming on to Boston, and
urged our friends hard to go with them. "No, that must be for another
time," said Isabel. "Mr. March has to be home by a certain day; and we
shall just get back in season." Then she made them promise to spend a
day with her in Boston, and the Colonel coming to say that he had a
carriage at the door for their excursion to Lorette, the two parties bade
good-by with affection and many explicit hopes of meeting soon again.
"What do you think of them, dearest?" demanded Isabel, as she sallied
out with Basil for a final look at Quebec.
"The young lady is the nicest; and the other is well enough, too. She is
a good deal like you, but with the sense of humor left out. You've only
enough to save you."
"Well, her husband is jolly enough for both of them. He's funnier than
you, Basil, and he hasn't any of your little languid airs and
affectations. I don't know but I'm a bit disappointed in my choice,
darling; but I dare say I shall work out of it. In fact, I don't know
but the Colonel is a little too jolly. This drolling everything is
rather fatiguing." And having begun, they did not stop till they had
taken their friends to pieces. Dismayed, then, they hastily
reconstructed them, and said that they were among the pleasantest people
they ever knew, and they were really very sorry to part with them, and
they should do everything to make them have a good time in Boston.
They were sauntering towards Durham Terrace where they leaned long upon
the iron parapet and blest themselves with the beauty of the prospect.
A tender haze hung upon the landscape and subdued it till the scene was
as a dream before them. As in a dream the river lay, and dream-like the
shipping moved or rested on its deep, broad bosom. Far off stretched the
happy fields with their dim white villages; farther still the mellow
heights melted into the low hovering heaven. The tinned roofs of the
Lower Town twinkled in the morning sun; around them on every hand, on
that Monday forenoon when the States were stirring from ocean to ocean in
feverish industry, drowsed the gray city within her walls; from the flag-
staff of the citadel hung the red banner of Saint George in sleep.
Their hearts were strangely and deeply moved. It seemed to them that
they looked upon the last stronghold of the Past, and that afar off to
the southward they could hear the marching hosts of the invading Present;
and as no young and loving soul can relinquish old things without a pang,
they sighed a long mute farewell to Quebec.
Next summer they would come again, yes; but, ah me' every one knows what
next summer is!
Part of the burlesque troupe rode down in the omnibus to the Grand Trunk
Ferry with them, and were good-natured to the last, having shaken hands
all round with the waiters, chambermaids, and porters of the hotel. The
young fellow with the bad amiable face came in a calash, and refused to
overpay the driver with a gay decision that made him Basil's envy till he
saw his tribulation in getting the troupe's luggage checked. There were
forty pieces, and it always remained a mystery, considering the small
amount of clothing necessary to those people on the stage, what could
have filled their trunks. The young man and the two English blondes of
American birth found places in the same car with our tourists, and
enlivened the journey with their frolics. When the young man pretended
to fall asleep, they wrapped his golden curly head in a shawl, and vexed
him with many thumps and thrusts, till he bought a brief truce with a
handful of almonds; and the ladies having no other way to eat them, one
of them saucily snatched off her shoe, and cracked them hammerwise with
the heel. It was all so pleasant that it ought to have been all right;
and in their merry world of outlawry perhaps things are not so bad as we
like to think them.
The country into which the train plunges as soon as Quebec is out of
sight is very stupidly savage, and our friends had little else to do but
to watch the gambols of the players, till they came to the river St.
Francis, whose wandering loveliness the road follows through an infinite
series of soft and beautiful landscapes, and finds everywhere glassing in
its smooth current the elms and willows of its gentle shores. At one
place, where its calm broke into foamy rapids, there was a huge saw mill,
covering the stream with logs and refuse, and the banks with whole cities
of lumber; which also they accepted as no mean elements of the
picturesque. They clung the most tenderly to traces of the peasant life
they were leaving. When some French boys came aboard with wild
raspberries to sell in little birch-bark canoes, they thrilled with
pleasure, and bought them, but sighed then, and said, "What thing
characteristic of the local life will they sell us in Maine when we get
there? A section of pie poetically wrapt in a broad leaf of the squash-
vine, or pop-corn in its native tissue-paper, and advertising the new
Dollar Store in Portland?" They saw the quaintness vanish from the farm-
houses; first the dormer-windows, then the curve of the steep roof, then
the steep roof itself. By and by they came to a store with a Grecian
portico and four square pine pillars. They shuddered and looked no more.
The guiltily dreaded examination of baggage at Island Pond took place at
nine o'clock, without costing them a cent of duty or a pang of
conscience. At that charming station the trunks are piled higgledy-
piggledy into a room beside the track, where a few inspectors with
stifling lamps of smoky kerosene await the passengers. There are no
porters to arrange the baggage, and each lady and gentleman digs out his
box, and opens it before the lordly inspector, who stirs up its contents
with an unpleasant hand and passes it. He makes you feel that you are
once more in the land of official insolence, and that, whatever you are
collectively, you are nothing personally. Isabel, who had sent her
husband upon this business with quaking meekness of heart, experienced
the bold indignation of virtue at his account of the way people were made
their own baggage-smashers, and would not be amused when he painted the
vile terrors of each husband as he tremblingly unlocked his wife's store
The morning light showed them the broad elmy meadows of western-looking
Maine; and the Grand Trunk brought them, of course, an hour behind time
into Portland. All breakfastless they hurried aboard the Boston train on
the Eastern Road, and all along that line (which is built to show how
uninteresting the earth can be when she is 'ennuyee' of both sea and
land), Basil's life became a struggle to construct a meal from the
fragmentary opportunities of twenty different stations where they stopped
five minutes for refreshments. At one place he achieved two cups of
shameless chickory, at another three sardines, at a third a dessert of
"Home again, home again, from a foreign shore!"
they softly sang as the successive courses of this feast were disposed
The drouth and heat, which they had briefly escaped during their sojourn
in Canada, brooded sovereign upon the tiresome landscape. The red
granite rocks were as if red-hot; the banks of the deep cuts were like
ash heaps; over the fields danced the sultry atmosphere; they fancied
that they almost heard the grasshoppers sing above the rattle of the
train. When they reached Boston at last, they were dustier than most of
us would like to be a hundred years hence. The whole city was equally
dusty; and they found the trees in the square before their own door gray
with dust. The bit of Virginia-creeper planted under the window hung
shriveled upon its trellis.
But Isabel's aunt met them with a refreshing shower of tears and kisses
in the hall, throwing a solid arm about each of them. "O you dears!"
the good soul cried, "you don't know how anxious I've been about you; so
many accidents happening all the time. I've never read the 'Evening
Transcript' till the next morning, for fear I should find your names
among the killed and wounded."
"O aunty, you're too good, always!" whimpered Isabel; and neither of the
women took note of Basil, who said, "Yes, it 's probably the only thing
that preserved our lives."
The little tinge of discontent, which had colored their sentiment of
return faded now in the kindly light of home. Their holiday was over,
to be sure, but their bliss had but began; they had entered upon that
long life of holidays which is happy marriage. By the time dinner was
ended they were both enthusiastic at having got back, and taking their
aunt between them walked up and down the parlor with their arms round her
massive waist, and talked out the gladness of their souls.
Then Basil said he really must run down to the office that afternoon, and
he issued all aglow upon the street. He was so full of having been long
away and of having just returned, that he unconsciously tried to impart
his mood to Boston, and the dusty composure of the street and houses, as
he strode along, bewildered him. He longed for some familiar face to
welcome him, and in the horse-car into which he stepped he was charmed to
see an acquaintance. This was a man for whom ordinarily he cared
nothing, and whom he would perhaps rather have gone out upon the platform
to avoid than have spoken to; but now he plunged at him with effusion,
and wrung his hand, smiling from ear to ear.
The other remained coldly unaffected, after a first start of surprise at
his cordiality, and then reviled the dust and heat. "But I'm going to
take a little run down to Newport, to-morrow, for a week," he said. "By
the way, you look as if you needed a little change. Aren't you going
anywhere this summer?"
"So you see, my dear," observed Basil, when he had recounted the fact to
Isabel at tea, "our travels are incommunicably our own. We had best say
nothing about our little jaunt to other people, and they won't know we've
been gone. Even if we tried, we couldn't make our wedding-journey
She gave him a great kiss of recompense and consolation. "Who wants it,"
she demanded, "to be Their Wedding Journey?"
NIAGARA REVISITED, TWELVE YEARS AFTER THEIR WEDDING JOURNEY.
Life had not used them ill in this time, and the fairish treatment they
had received was not wholly unmerited. The twelve years past had made
them older, as the years must in passing. Basil was now forty-two, and
his moustache was well sprinkled with gray. Isabel was thirty-nine, and
the parting of her hair had thinned and retreated; but she managed to
give it an effect of youthful abundance by combing it low down upon her
forehead, and roughing it there with a wet brush. By gaslight she was
still very pretty; she believed that she looked more interesting, and she
thought Basil's gray moustache distinguished. He had grown stouter; he
filled his double-breasted frock coat compactly, and from time to time he
had the buttons set forward; his hands were rounded up on the backs, and
he no longer wore his old number of gloves by two sizes; no amount of
powder or manipulation from the young lady in the shop would induce them
to go on. But this did not matter much now, for he seldom wore gloves at
all. He was glad that the fashion suffered him to spare in that
direction, for he was obliged to look somewhat carefully after the out-
goes. The insurance business was not what it had been, and though Basil
had comfortably established himself in it, he had not made money. He
sometimes thought that he might have done quite as well if he had gone
into literature; but it was now too late. They had not a very large
family: they had a boy of eleven, who took after his father, and a girl
of nine, who took after the boy; but with the American feeling that their
children must have the best of everything, they made it an expensive
family, and they spent nearly all Basil earned.
The narrowness of their means, as well as their household cares, had kept
them from taking many long journeys. They passed their winters in
Boston, and their summers on the South Shore, cheaper than the North
Shore, and near enough for Basil to go up and down every day for
business; but they promised themselves that some day they would revisit
certain points on their wedding journey, and perhaps somewhere find their
lost second-youth on the track. It was not that they cared to be young,
but they wished the children to see them as they used to be when they
thought themselves very old; and one lovely afternoon in June they
started for Niagara.
It had been very hot for several days, but that morning the east wind
came in, and crisped the air till it seemed to rustle like tinsel, and
the sky was as sincerely and solidly blue as if it had been chromoed.
They felt that they were really looking up into the roof of the world,
when they glanced at it; but when an old gentleman hastily kissed a young
woman, and commended her to the conductor as being one who was going all
the way to San Francisco alone, and then risked his life by stepping off
the moving train, the vastness of the great American fact began to affect
Isabel disagreeably. "Is n't it too big, Basil?" she pleaded, peering
timidly out of the little municipal consciousness in which she had been
so long housed.--In that seclusion she had suffered certain original
tendencies to increase upon her; her nerves were more sensitive and
electrical; her apprehensions had multiplied quite beyond the ratio of
the dangers that beset her; and Basil had counted upon a tonic effect of
the change the journey would make in their daily lives. She looked
ruefully out of the window at the familiar suburbs whisking out of sight,
and the continental immensity that advanced devouringly upon her. But
they had the best section in the very centre of the sleeping-car,
--she drew what consolation she could from the fact,--and the children's
premature demand for lunch helped her to forget her anxieties; they began
to be hungry as soon as the train started. She found that she had not
put up sandwiches enough; and when she told Basil that he would have to
get out somewhere and buy some cold chicken, he asked her what in the
world had become of that whole ham she had had boiled. It seemed to him,
he said, that there was enough of it to subsist them to Niagara and back;
and he went on as some men do, while Somerville vanished, and even Tufts
College, which assails the Bostonian vision from every point of the
compass, was shut out by the curve at the foot of the Belmont hills.
They had chosen the Hoosac Tunnel route to Niagara, because, as Basil
said, their experience of travel had never yet included a very long
tunnel, and it would be a signal fact by which the children would always
remember the journey, if nothing else remarkable happened to impress it
upon them. Indeed, they were so much concerned in it that they began to
ask when they should come to this tunnel, even before they began to ask
for lunch; and the long time before they reached it was not perceptibly
shortened by Tom's quarter-hourly consultations of his father's watch.
It scarcely seemed to Basil and Isabel that their fellow-passengers were
so interesting as their fellow passengers used to be in their former days
of travel. They were soberly dressed, and were all of a middle-aged
sobriety of deportment, from which nothing salient offered itself for
conjecture or speculation; and there was little within the car to take
their minds from the brilliant young world that flashed and sang by them
outside. The belated spring had ripened, with its frequent rains, into
the perfection of early summer; the grass was thicker and the foliage
denser than they had ever seen it before; and when they had run out into
the hills beyond Fitchburg, they saw the laurel in bloom. It was
everywhere in the woods, lurking like drifts among the underbrush, and
overflowing the tops, and stealing down the hollows, of the railroad
embankments; a snow of blossom flushed with a mist of pink. Its shy,
wild beauty ceased whenever the train stopped, but the orioles made up
for its absence with their singing in the village trees about the
stations; and though Fitchburg and Ayer's Junction and Athol are not
names that invoke historical or romantic associations, the hearts of
Basil and Isabel began to stir with the joy of travel before they had
passed these points. At the first Basil got out to buy the cold chicken
which had been commanded, and he recognized in the keeper of the railroad
restaurant their former conductor, who had been warned by the spirits
never to travel without a flower of some sort carried between his lips,
and who had preserved his own life and the lives of his passengers for
many years by this simple device. His presence lent the sponge cake and
rhubarb pie and baked beans a supernatural interest, and reconciled Basil
to the toughness of the athletic bird which the mystical ex-partner of
fate had sold him; he justly reflected that if he had heard the story of
the restaurateur's superstition in a foreign land, or another time, he
would have found in it a certain poetry. It was this willingness to find
poetry in things around them that kept his life and Isabel's fresh, and
they taught their children the secret of their elixir. To be sure, it
was only a genre poetry, but it was such as has always inspired English
art and song; and now the whole family enjoyed, as if it had been a
passage from Goldsmith or Wordsworth, the flying sentiment of the
railroad side. There was a simple interior at one place,--a small
shanty, showing through the open door a cook stove surmounted by the
evening coffee-pot, with a lazy cat outstretched upon the floor in the
middle distance, and an old woman standing just outside the threshold to
see the train go by,--which had an unrivaled value till they came to a
superannuated car on a siding in the woods, in which the railroad workmen
boarded--some were lounging on the platform and at the open windows,
while others were "washing up" for supper, and the whole scene was full
of holiday ease and sylvan comradery that went to the hearts of the
sympathetic spectators. Basil had lately been reading aloud the
delightful history of Rudder Grange, and the children, who had made their
secret vows never to live in anything but an old canal-boat when they
grew up, owned that there were fascinating possibilities in a worn-out
The lovely Deerfield Valley began to open on either hand, with smooth
stretches of the quiet river, and breadths of grassy intervale and
tableland; the elms grouped themselves like the trees of a park; here and
there the nearer hills broke away, and revealed long, deep, chasmed
hollows, full of golden light and delicious shadow. There were people
rowing on the water; and every pretty town had some touch of
picturesqueness or pastoral charm to offer: at Greenfield, there were
children playing in the new-mown hay along the railroad embankment; at
Shelburne Falls, there was a game of cricket going on (among the English
operatives of the cutlery works, as Basil boldly asserted). They looked
down from their car-window on a young lady swinging in a hammock, in her
door-yard, and on an old gentleman hoeing his potatoes; a group of girls
waved their handkerchiefs to the passing train, and a boy paused in
weeding a garden-bed,--and probably denied that he had paused, later.
In the mean time the golden haze along the mountain side changed to a
clear, pearly lustre, and the quiet evening possessed the quiet
landscape. They confessed to each other that it was all as sweet and
beautiful as it used to be; and in fact they had seen palaces, in other
days, which did not give them the pleasure they found in a woodcutter's
shanty, losing itself among the shadows in a solitude of the hills.
The tunnel, after this, was a gross and material sensation; but they
joined the children in trying to hold and keep it, and Basil let the boy
time it by his watch. "Now," said Tom, when five minutes were gone,
"we are under the very centre of the mountain." But the tunnel was like
all accomplished facts, all hopes fulfilled, valueless to the soul, and
scarcely appreciable to the sense; and the children emerged at North
Adams with but a mean opinion of that great feat of engineering. Basil
drew a pretty moral from their experience. "If you rode upon a comet you
would be disappointed. Take my advice, and never ride upon a comet. I
shouldn't object to your riding on a little meteor,--you would n't expect
much of that; but I warn you against comets; they are as bad as tunnels."
The children thought this moral was a joke at their expense, and as they
were a little sleepy they permitted themselves the luxury of feeling
trifled with. But they woke, refreshed and encouraged, from slumbers
that had evidently been unbroken, though they both protested that they
had not slept a wink the whole night, and gave themselves up to wonder at
the interminable levels of Western New York over which the train was
running. The longing to come to an edge, somewhere, that the New England
traveler experiences on this plain, was inarticulate with the children;
but it breathed in the sigh with which Isabel welcomed even the
architectural inequalities of a city into which they drew in the early
morning. This city showed to their weary eyes a noble stretch of river,
from the waters of which lofty piles of buildings rose abruptly; and
Isabel, being left to guess where they were, could think of no other
place so picturesque as Rochester.
"Yes," said her husband; "it is our own Enchanted City. I wonder if that
unstinted hospitality is still dispensed by the good head waiter at the
hotel where we stopped, to bridal parties who have passed the ordeal of
the haughty hotel clerk. I wonder what has become of that hotel clerk.
Has he fallen, through pride, to some lower level, or has he bowed his
arrogant spirit to the demands of advancing civilization, and realized
that he is the servant, and not the master, of the public? I think I've
noticed, since his time, a growing kindness in hotel clerks; or perhaps I
have become of a more impressive presence; they certainly unbend to me a
little more. I should like to go up to our hotel, and try myself on our
old enemy, if he is still there. I can fancy how his shirt front has
expanded in these twelve years past; he has grown a little bald, after
the fashion of middle-aged hotel clerks, but he parts his hair very much
on one side, and brushes it squarely across his forehead to hide his
loss; the forefinger that he touches that little snapbell with, when he
doesn't look at you, must be very pudgy now. Come, let us get out and
breakfast at, Rochester; they will give us broiled whitefish; and we can
show the children where Sam Patch jumped over Genesee Falls, and--"
"No, no, Basil," cried his wife. "It would be sacrilege! All that is
sacred to those dear young days of ours; and I wouldn't think of trying
to repeat it. Our own ghosts would rise up in that dining-room to
reproach us for our intrusion! Oh, perhaps we have done a wicked thing
in coming this journey! We ought to have left the past alone; we shall
only mar our memories of all these beautiful places. Do you suppose
Buffalo can be as poetical as it was then? Buffalo! The name does n't
invite the Muse very much. Perhaps it never was very poetical! Oh,
Basil, dear, I'm afraid we have only come to find out that we were
mistaken about everything! Let's leave Rochester alone, at any rate!"
I'm not troubled! We won't disturb our dream of Rochester; but I don't
despair of Buffalo. I'm sure that Buffalo will be all that our fancy
ever painted it. I believe in Buffalo."
"Well, well," murmured Isabel, "I hope you're right;" and she put some
things together for leaving their car at Buffalo, while they were still
two hours away.
When they reached a place where the land mated its level with the level
of the lake, they ran into a wilderness of railroad cars, in a world
where life seemed to be operated solely by locomotives and their helpless
minions. The bellowing and bleating trains were arriving in every
direction, not only along the ground floor of the plain, but stately
stretches of trestle-work, which curved and extended across the plain,
carried them to and fro overhead. The travelers owned that this railroad
suburb had its own impressiveness, and they said that the trestle-work
was as noble in effect as the lines of aqueduct that stalk across the
Roman Campagna. Perhaps this was because they had not seen the Campagna
or its aqueducts for a great while; but they were so glad to find
themselves in the spirit of their former journey again that they were
amiable to everything. When the children first caught sight of the
lake's delicious blue, and cried out that it was lovelier than the sea,
they felt quite a local pride in their preference. It was what Isabel
had said twelve years before, on first beholding the lake.
But they did not really see the lake till they had taken the train for
Niagara Falls, after breakfasting in the depot, where the children, used
to the severe native or the patronizing Irish ministrations of Boston
restaurants and hotels, reveled for the first time in the affectionate
devotion of a black waiter. There was already a ridiculous abundance and
variety on the table; but this waiter brought them strawberries and again
strawberries, and repeated plates of griddle cakes with maple syrup; and
he hung over the back of first one chair and then another with an
unselfish joy in the appetites of the breakfasters which gave Basil
renewed hopes of his race. "Such rapture in serving argues a largeness
of nature which will be recognized hereafter," he said, feeling about in
his waistcoat pocket for a quarter. It seemed a pity to render the
waiter's zeal retroactively interested, but in view of the fact that he
possibly expected the quarter, there was nothing else to do; and by a
mysterious stroke of gratitude the waiter delivered them into the hands
of a friend, who took another quarter from them for carrying their bags
and wraps to the train. This second retainer approved their admiration
of the aesthetic forms and colors of the depot colonnade; and being asked
if that were the depot whose roof had fallen in some years before,
proudly replied that it was.
"There were a great many killed, were n't there?" asked Basil, with
sympathetic satisfaction in the disaster. The porter seemed humiliated;
he confessed the mortifying truth that the loss of life was small, but he
recovered a just self-respect in adding, "If the roof had fallen in five
minutes sooner, it would have killed about three hundred people."
Basil had promised the children a sight of the Rapids before they reached
the Falls, and they held him rigidly accountable from the moment they
entered the train, and began to run out of the city between the river and
the canal. He attempted a diversion with the canal boats, and tried to
bring forward the subject of Rudder Grange in that connection. They said
that the canal boats were splendid, but they were looking for the Rapids
now; and they declined to be interested in a window in one of the boats,
which Basil said was just like the window that the Rudder Granger and the
boarder had popped Pomona out of when they took her for a burglar.
"You spoil those children, Basil," said his wife, as they clambered over
him, and clamored for the Rapids.
"At present I'm giving them an object-lesson in patience and self-denial;
they are experiencing the fact that they can't have the Rapids till they
get to them, and probably they'll be disappointed in them when they
In fact, they valued the Rapids very little more than the Hoosac Tunnel,
when they came in sight of them, at last; and Basil had some question in
his own mind whether the Rapids had not dwindled since his former visit.
He did not breathe this doubt to Isabel, however, and she arrived at the
Falls with unabated expectations. They were going to spend only half a
day there; and they turned into the station, away from the phalanx of
omnibuses, when they dismounted from their train. They seemed, as
before, to be the only passengers who had arrived, and they found an
abundant choice of carriages waiting in the street, outside the station.
The Niagara hackman may once have been a predatory and very rampant
animal, but public opinion, long expressed through the public prints, has
reduced him to silence and meekness. Apparently, he may not so much as
beckon with his whip to the arriving wayfarer; it is certain that he
cannot cross the pavement to the station door; and Basil, inviting one of
them to negotiation, was himself required by the attendant policeman to
step out to the curbstone, and complete his transaction there. It was an
impressive illustration of the power of a free press, but upon the whole
Basil found the effect melancholy; it had the saddening quality which
inheres in every sort of perfection. The hackman, reduced to entire
order, appealed to his compassion, and he had not the heart to beat him
down from his moderate first demand, as perhaps he ought to have done.
They drove directly to the cataract, and found themselves in the pretty
grove beside the American Fall, and in the air whose dampness was as
familiar as if they had breathed it all their childhood. It was full now
of the fragrance of some sort of wild blossom; and again they had that
old, entrancing sense of the mingled awfulness and loveliness of the
great spectacle. This sylvan perfume, the gayety of the sunshine, the
mildness of the breeze that stirred the leaves overhead, and the bird-
singing that made itself heard amid the roar of the rapids and the solemn
incessant plunge of the cataract, moved their hearts, and made them
children with the boy and girl, who stood rapt for a moment and then
broke into joyful wonder. They could sympathize with the ardor with
which Tom longed to tempt fate at the brink of the river, and over the
tops of the parapets which have been built along the edge of the
precipice, and they equally entered into the terror with which Bella
screamed at his suicidal zeal. They joined her in restraining him; they
reduced him to a beggarly account of half a dozen stones, flung into the
Rapids at not less than ten paces from the brink; and they would not let
him toss the smallest pebble over the parapet, though he laughed to scorn
the notion that anybody should be hurt by them below.
It seemed to them that the triviality of man in the surroundings of the
Falls had increased with the lapse of time. There were more booths and
bazaars, and more colored feather fans with whole birds spitted in the
centres; and there was an offensive array of blue and green and yellow
glasses on the shore, through which you were expected to look at the
Falls gratis. They missed the simple dignity of the blanching Indian
maids, who used to squat about on the grass, with their laps full of
moccasins and pin-cushions. But, as of old, the photographer came out of
his saloon, and invited them to pose for a family group; representing
that the light and the spray were singularly propitious, and that
everything in nature invited them to be taken. Basil put him off gently,
for the sake of the time when he had refused to be photographed in a
bridal group, and took refuge from him in the long low building from
which you descend to the foot of the cataract.
The grove beside the American Fall has been inclosed, and named Prospect
Park, by a company which exacts half a dollar for admittance, and then
makes you free of all its wonders and conveniences, for which you once
had to pay severally. This is well enough; but formerly you could refuse
to go down the inclined tramway, and now you cannot, without feeling that
you have failed to get your money's worth. It was in this illogical
spirit of economy that Basil invited his family to the descent; but
Isabel shook her head. "No, you go with the children," she said, "and I
will stay, here, till you get back;" her agonized countenance added,
"and pray for you;" and Basil took his children on either side of him,
and rumbled down the, terrible descent with much of the excitement that
attends travel in an open horse-car. When he stepped out of the car he
felt that increase of courage which comes to every man after safely
passing through danger. He resolved to brave the mists and slippery-
stones at the foot of the Fall; and he would have plunged at once into
this fresh peril, if he had not been prevented by the Prospect Park
Company. This ingenious association has built a large tunnel-like shed
quite to the water's edge, so that you cannot view the cataract as you
once could, at a reasonable remoteness, but must emerge from the building
into a storm of spray. The roof of the tunnel is painted with a lively
effect in party-colored stripes, and is lettered "The Shadow of the
Rock," so that you take it at first to be an appeal to your aesthetic
sense; but the real object of the company is not apparent till you put
your head out into the tempest, when you agree with the nearest guide--
and one is always very near--that you had better have an oil-skin dress,
as Basil did. He told the guide that he did not wish to go under the
Fall, and the guide confidentially admitted that there was no fun in
that, any way; and in the mean time he equipped him and his children for
their foray into the mist. When they issued forth, under their friend's
leadership, Basil felt that, with his children clinging to each hand, he
looked like some sort of animal with its young, and, though not unsocial
by nature, he was glad to be among strangers for the time. They climbed
hither and thither over the rocks, and lifted their streaming faces for
the views which the guide pointed out; and in a rift of the spray they
really caught one glorious glimpse of the whole sweep of the Fall. The
next instant the spray swirled back, and they were glad to turn for a
sight of the rainbow, lying in a circle on the rocks as quietly and
naturally as if that had been the habit of rainbows ever since the flood.
This was all there was to be done, and they streamed back into the
tunnel, where they disrobed in the face of a menacing placard, which
announced that the hire of a guide and a dress for going under the Fall
was one dollar.
"Will they make you pay a dollar for each of us, papa?" asked Tom,
"Oh, pooh, no!" returned Basil; "we have n't been under the Fall." But
he sought out the proprietor with a trembling heart. The proprietor was
a man of severely logical mind; he said that the charge would be three
dollars, for they had had the use of the dresses and the guide just the
same as if they had gone under the Fall; and he refused to recognize
anything misleading in the dressing-room placard: In fine, he left Basil
without a leg to stand upon. It was not so much the three dollars as the
sense of having been swindled that vexed him; and he instantly resolved
not to share his annoyance with Isabel. Why, indeed, should he put that
burden upon her? If she were none the wiser, she would be none the
poorer; and he ought to be willing to deny himself her sympathy for the
sake of sparing her needless pain.
He met her at the top of the inclined tramway with a face of exemplary
unconsciousness, and he listened with her to the tale their coachman
told, as they sat in a pretty arbor looking out on the Rapids, of a
Frenchman and his wife. This Frenchman had returned, one morning, from a
stroll on Goat Island, and reported with much apparent concern that his
wife had fallen into the water, and been carried over the Fall. It was
so natural for a man to grieve for the loss of his wife, under the
peculiar circumstances, that every one condoled with the widower; but
when a few days later, her body was found, and the distracted husband
refused to come back from New York to her funeral, there was a general
regret that he had not been arrested. A flash of conviction illumed the
whole fact to Basil's guilty consciousness: this unhappy Frenchman had
paid a dollar for the use of an oil-skin suit at the foot of the Fall,
and had been ashamed to confess the swindle to his wife, till, in a
moment of remorse and madness, he shouted the fact into her ear, and then
Basil looked at the mother of his children, and registered a vow that if
he got away from Niagara without being forced to a similar excess he
would confess his guilt to Isabel at the very first act of spendthrift
profusion she committed. The guide pointed out the rock in the Rapids to
which Avery had clung for twenty-four hours before he was carried over
the Falls, and to the morbid fancy of the deceitful husband Isabel's
bonnet ribbons seemed to flutter from the pointed reef. He could endure
the pretty arbor no longer. "Come, children!" he cried, with a wild,
unnatural gayety; "let us go to Goat Island, and see the Bridge to the
Three Sisters, that your mother was afraid to walk back on after she had
"For shame, Basil!" retorted Isabel. "You know it was you who were
afraid of that bridge."
The children, who knew the story by heart, laughed with their father at
the monstrous pretension; and his simulated hilarity only increased upon
paying a toll of two dollars at the Goat Island bridge.
"What extortion!" cried Isabel, with an indignation that secretly
unnerved him. He trembled upon the verge of confession; but he had
finally the moral force to resist. He suffered her to compute the cost
of their stay at Niagara without allowing those three dollars to enter
into her calculation; he even began to think what justificative
extravagance he could tempt her to. He suggested the purchase of local
bric-a-brac; he asked her if she would not like to dine at the
International, for old times' sake. But she answered, with disheartening
virtue, that they must not think of such a thing, after what they had
spent already. Nothing, perhaps, marked the confirmed husband in Basil
more than these hidden fears and reluctances.
In the mean time Isabel ignorantly abandoned herself to the charm of the
place, which she found unimpaired, in spite of the reported ravages of
improvement about Niagara. Goat Island was still the sylvan solitude of
twelve years ago, haunted by even fewer nymphs and dryads than of old.
The air was full of the perfume that scented it at Prospect Park; the
leaves showered them with shade and sun, as they drove along. "If it
were not for the children here," she said, "I should think that our first
drive on Goat Island had never ended."
She sighed a little, and Basil leaned forward and took her hand in his.
"It never has ended; it's the same drive; only we are younger now, and
enjoy it more." It always touched him when Isabel was sentimental about
the past, for the years had tended to make her rather more seriously
maternal towards him than towards the other children; and he recognized
that these fond reminiscences were the expression of the girlhood still
lurking deep within her heart.
She shook her head. "No, but I'm willing the children should be young in
our place. It's only fair they should have their turn."
She remained in the carriage, while Basil visited the various points of
view on Luna Island with the boy and girl. A boy is probably of
considerable interest to himself, and a man looks back at his own boyhood
with some pathos. But in his actuality a boy has very little to commend
him to the toleration of other human beings. Tom was very well, as boys
go; but now his contribution to the common enjoyment was to venture as
near as possible to all perilous edges; to throw stones into the water,
and to make as if to throw them over precipices on the people below; to
pepper his father with questions, and to collect cumbrous mementos of the
vegetable and mineral kingdoms. He kept the carriage waiting a good five
minutes, while he could cut his initials on a band-rail. "You can come
back and see 'em on your bridal tower," said the driver. Isabel gave a
little start, as if she had almost thought of something she was trying to
They occasionally met ladies driving, and sometimes they encountered a
couple making a tour of the island on foot. But none of these people
were young, and Basil reported that the Three Sisters were inhabited only
by persons of like maturity; even a group of people who were eating lunch
to the music of the shouting Rapids, on the outer edge of the last
Sister, were no younger, apparently.
Isabel did not get out of the carriage to verify his report; she
preferred to refute his story of her former panic on those islands by
remaining serenely seated while he visited them. She thus lost a superb
novelty which nature has lately added to the wonders of this Fall, in
that place at the edge of the great Horse Shoe where the rock has fallen
and left a peculiarly shaped chasm: through this the spray leaps up from
below, and flashes a hundred feet into the air, in rocket-like jets and
points, and then breaks and dissolves away in the pyrotechnic curves of a
perpetual Fourth of July. Basil said something like this in celebrating
the display, with the purpose of rendering her loss more poignant;
but she replied, with tranquil piety, that she would rather keep her
Niagara unchanged; and she declared that, as she understood him, there
must be something rather cheap and conscious in the new feature. She
approved, however, of the change that had removed that foolish little
Terrapin Tower from the brink on which it stood, and she confessed that
she could have enjoyed a little variety in the stories the driver told
them of the Indian burial-ground on the island: they were exactly the
stories she and Basil had heard twelve years before, and the ill-starred
goats, from which the island took its name, perished once more in his
Under the influence of his romances our travelers began to find the whole
scene hackneyed; and they were glad to part from him a little sooner than
they had bargained to do. They strolled about the anomalous village on
foot, and once more marveled at the paucity of travel and the enormity of
the local preparation. Surely the hotels are nowhere else in the world
so large! Could there ever have been visitors enough at Niagara to fill
them? They were built so big for some good reason, no doubt; but it is
no more apparent than why all these magnificent equipages are waiting
about the empty streets for the people who never come to hire them.
"It seems to me that I don't see so many strangers here as I used," Basil
had suggested to their driver.
"Oh, they have n't commenced coming yet," he replied, with hardy
cheerfulness, and pretended that they were plenty enough in July and
They went to dine at the modest restaurant of a colored man, who
advertised a table d'hote dinner on a board at his door; and they put
their misgivings to him, which seemed to grieve him, and he contended
that Niagara was as prosperous and as much resorted to as ever. In fact,
they observed that their regret for the supposed decline of the Falls as
a summer resort was nowhere popular in the village, and they desisted in
their offers of sympathy, after their rebuff from the restaurateur.
Basil got his family away to the station after dinner, and left them
there, while he walked down the village street, for a closer inspection
of the hotels. At the door of the largest a pair of children sported in
the solitude, as fearlessly as the birds on Selkirk's island; looking
into the hotel, he saw a few porters and call-boys seated in statuesque
repose against the wall, while the clerk pined in dreamless inactivity
behind the register; some deserted ladies flitted through the door of the
parlor at the side. He recalled the evening of his former visit, when he
and Isabel had met the Ellisons in that parlor, and it seemed, in the
retrospect, a scene of the wildest gayety. He turned for consolation
into the barber's shop, where he found himself the only customer, and no
busy sound of "Next" greeted his ear. But the barber, like all the rest,
said that Niagara was not unusually empty; and he came out feeling
bewildered and defrauded. Surely the agent of the boats which descend
the Rapids of the St. Lawrence must be frank, if Basil went to him and
pretended that he was going to buy a ticket. But a glance at the agent's
sign showed Basil that the agent, with his brave jollity of manner and
his impressive "Good-morning," had passed away from the deceits of
travel, and that he was now inherited by his widow, who in turn was
absent, and temporarily represented by their son. The boy, in supplying
Basil with an advertisement of the line, made a specious show of haste,
as if there were a long queue of tourists waiting behind him to be served
with tickets. Perhaps there was, indeed, a spectral line there, but
Basil was the only tourist present in the flesh, and he shivered in his
isolation, and fled with the advertisement in his hand. Isabel met him
at the door of the station with a frightened face.
"Basil," she cried, "I have found out what the trouble is! Where are the
He took her outstretched hands in his, and passing one of them through
his arm walked with her apart from the children, who were examining at
the news-man's booth the moccasins and the birchbark bric-a-brac of the
Irish aborigines, and the cups and vases of Niagara spar imported from
"My dear," he said, "there are no brides; everybody was married twelve
years ago, and the brides are middle-aged mothers of families now, and
don't come to Niagara if they are wise."
"Yes," she desolately asserted, "that is so! Something has been hanging
over me ever since we came, and suddenly I realized that it was the
absence of the brides. But--but--down at the hotels--Didn't you see
anything bridal there? When the omnibuses arrived, was there no burst of
minstrelsy? Was there--"
She could not go on, but sank nervelessly into the nearest seat.
"Perhaps," said Basil, dreamily regarding the contest of Tom and Bella
for a newly-purchased paper of sour cherries, and helplessly forecasting
in his remoter mind the probable consequences, "there were both brides
and minstrelsy at the hotel, if I had only had the eyes to see and the
ears to hear. In this world, my dear, we are always of our own time,
and we live amid contemporary things. I daresay there were middle-aged
people at Niagara when we were here before, but we did not meet them, nor
they us. I daresay that the place is now swarming with bridal couples,
and it is because they are invisible and inaudible to us that it seems
such a howling wilderness. But the hotel clerks and the restaurateurs
and the hackmen know them, and that is the reason why they receive with
surprise and even offense our sympathy for their loneliness. Do you
suppose, Isabel, that if you were to lay your head on my shoulder, in a
bridal manner, it would do anything to bring us en rapport with that lost
bridal world again?"
Isabel caught away her hand. "Basil," she cried, "it would be
disgusting! I wouldn't do it for the world--not even for that world.
I saw one middle-aged couple on Goat Island, while you were down at the
Cave of the Winds, or somewhere, with the children. They were sitting on
some steps, he a step below her, and he seemed to want to put his head on
her knee; but I gazed at him sternly, and he didn't dare. We should look
like them, if we yielded to any outburst of affection. Don't you think
we should look like them?"
"I don't know," said Basil. "You are certainly a little wrinkled, my
"And you are very fat, Basil."
They glanced at each other with a flash of resentment, and then they both
laughed. "We couldn't look young if we quarreled a week," he said.
"We had better content ourselves with feeling young, as I hope we shall
do if we live to be ninety. It will be the loss of others if they don't
see our bloom upon us. Shall I get you a paper of cherries, Isabel? The
children seem to be enjoying them."
Isabel sprang upon her offspring with a cry of despair. "Oh, what shall
I do? Now we shall not have a wink of sleep with them to-night. Where
is that nux?" She hunted for the medicine in her bag, and the children
submitted; for they had eaten all the cherries, and they took their
medicine without a murmur. "I wonder at your letting them eat the sour
things, Basil," said their mother, when the children bad run off to the
"I wonder that you left me to see what they were doing," promptly
retorted their father.
"It was your nonsense about the brides," said Isabel; "and I think this
has been a lesson to us. Don't let them get anything else to eat,
"They are safe; they have no more money. They are frugally confining
themselves to the admiration of the Japanese bows and arrows yonder. Why
have our Indians taken to making Japanese bows and arrows?"
Isabel despised the small pleasantry. "Then you saw nobody at the
hotel?" she asked.
"Not even the Ellisons," said Basil.
"Ah, yes," said Isabel; "that was where we met them. How long ago it
seems! And poor little Kitty! I wonder what has become of them? But
I'm glad they're not here. That's what makes you realize your age:
meeting the same people in the same place a great while after, and seeing
how old--they've grown. I don't think I could bear to see Kitty Ellison
again. I'm glad she did n't come to visit us in Boston, though, after
what happened, she could n't, poor thing! I wonder if she 's ever
regretted her breaking with him in the way she did. It's a very painful
thing to think of,--such an inconclusive conclusion; it always seemed as
if they ought to meet again, somewhere."
"I don't believe she ever wished it."
"A man can't tell what a woman wishes."
"Well, neither can a woman," returned Basil, lightly.
His wife remained serious. "It was a very fine point,--a very little
thing to reject a man for. I felt that when I first read her letter
Basil yawned. "I don't believe I ever knew just what the point was."
"Oh yes, you did; but you forget everything. You know that they met two
Boston ladies just after they were engaged, and she believed that he did
n't introduce her because he was ashamed of her countrified appearance
"It was a pretty fine point," said Basil, and he laughed provokingly.
"He might not have meant to ignore her," answered Isabel thoughtfully;
"he might have chosen not to introduce her because he felt too proud of
her to subject her to any possible misappreciation from them. You might
have looked at it in that way."
"Why didn't you look at it in that way? You advised her against giving
him another chance. Why did you?"
"Why?" repeated Isabel, absently. "Oh, a woman does n't judge a man by
what he does, but by what he is! I knew that if she dismissed him it was
because she never really had trusted or could trust his love; and I
thought she had better not make another trial."
"Well, very possibly you were right. At any rate, you have the
consolation of knowing that it's too late to help it now."
"Yes, it's too late," said Isabel; and her thoughts went back to her
meeting with the young girl whom she had liked so much, and whose after
history had interested her so painfully. It seemed to her a hard world
that could come to nothing better than that for the girl whom she had
seen in her first glimpse of it that night. Where was she now? What had
become of her? If she had married that man, would she have been any
happier? Marriage was not the poetic dream of perfect union that a girl
imagines it; she herself had found that out. It was a state of trial,
of probation; it was an ordeal, not an ecstasy. If she and Basil had
broken each other's hearts and parted, would not the fragments of their
lives have been on a much finer, much higher plane? Had not the
commonplace, every-day experiences of marriage vulgarized them both?
To be sure, there were the children; but if they had never had the
children, she would never have missed them; and if Basil had, for
example, died just before they were married--She started from this wicked
reverie, and ran towards her husband, whose broad, honest back, with no
visible neck or shirt-collar, was turned towards her, as he stood, with
his head thrown up, studying a time-table on the wall; she passed her arm
convulsively through his, and pulled him away.
"It's time to be getting our bags out to the train, Basil! Come, Bella!
Tom, we're going!"
The children reluctantly turned from the newsman's trumpery, and they all
went out to the track, and took seats on the benches under the colonnade.
While they waited; the train for Buffalo drew in, and they remained
watching it till it started. In the last car that passed them, when it
was fairly under way, a face looked full at Isabel from one of the
windows. In that moment of astonishment she forgot to observe whether it
was sad or glad; she only saw, or believed she saw, the light of
recognition dawn into its eyes, and then it was gone.
"Basil!" she cried, "stop the train! That was Kitty Ellison!"
"Oh no, it wasn't," said Basil, easily. "It looked like her; but it
looked at least ten years older."
"Why, of course it was! We're all ten years older," returned his wife in
such indignation at his stupidity that she neglected to insist upon his
stopping the train, which was rapidly diminishing in the perspective.
He declared it was only a fancied resemblance; she contended that this
was in the neighborhood of Eriecreek, and it must be Kitty; and thus one
of their most inveterate disagreements began.
Their own train drew into the depot, and they disputed upon the fact in
question till they entered on the passage of the Suspension Bridge. Then
Basil rose and called the children to his side. On the left hand, far up
the river, the great Fall shows, with its mists at its foot and its
rainbow on its brow, as silent and still as if it were vastly painted
there; and below the bridge on the right, leap the Rapids in the narrow
gorge, like seas on a rocky shore. "Look on both sides, now," he said to
the children. "Isabel you must see this!"
Isabel had been preparing for the passage of this bridge ever since she
left Boston. "Never!" she exclaimed. She instantly closed her eyes, and
hid her face in her handkerchief. Thanks to this precaution of hers, the
train crossed the bridge in perfect safety.
ETEXT EDITORS BOOKMARKS:
All luckiest or the unluckiest, the healthiest or the sickest
All the loveliness that exists outside of you, dearest is little
Amusing world, if you do not refuse to be amused
At heart every man is a smuggler
Beautiful with the radiance of loving and being loved
Bewildering labyrinth of error
Biggest place is always the kindest as well as the cruelest
Civilly protested and consented
Coldly and inaccessibly vigilant
Collective silence which passes for sociality
Deadly summer day
Dinner unites the idea of pleasure and duty
Dog that had plainly made up his mind to go mad
Evil which will not let a man forgive his victim
Feeblest-minded are sure to lead the talk
Feeling of contempt for his unambitious destination
Feeling rather ashamed,--for he had laughed too
Glad; which considering, they ceased to be
Guilty rapture of a deliberate dereliction
Happiness built upon and hedged about with misery
Happiness is so unreasonable
Headache darkens the universe while it lasts
Heart that forgives but does not forget
Helplessness accounts for many heroic facts in the world
Helplessness begets a sense of irresponsibility
I supposed I had the pleasure of my wife's acquaintance
I want to be sorry upon the easiest possible terms
I'm not afraid--I'm awfully demoralized
Indulge safely in the pleasures of autobiography
It 's the same as a promise, your not saying you wouldn't
It had come as all such calamities come, from nothing
Jesting mood in the face of all embarrassments
Long life of holidays which is happy marriage
Married the whole mystifying world of womankind
Muddy draught which impudently affected to be coffee
Never could have an emotion without desiring to analyze it
Nothing so apt to end in mutual dislike,--except gratitude
Nothing so sad to her as a bride, unless it's a young mother
Oblivion of sleep
Only so much clothing as the law compelled
Patronizing spirit of travellers in a foreign country
Rejoice in everything that I haven't done
Seemed the last phase of a world presently to be destroyed
Self-sufficiency, without its vulgarity
So hard to give up doing anything we have meant to do
So old a world and groping still
The knowledge of your helplessness in any circumstances
There is little proportion about either pain or pleasure
They can only do harm by an expression of sympathy
Tragical character of heat
Used to having his decisions reached without his knowledge
Vexed by a sense of his own pitifulness
Voice of the common imbecility and incoherence
Weariness of buying
Willingness to find poetry in things around them
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.