Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks at the end of this file
for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making
an entire meal of them. D.W.]
THEIR SILVER WEDDING JOURNEY.
By William Dean Howells
"You need the rest," said the Business End; "and your wife wants you to
go, as well as your doctor. Besides, it's your Sabbatical year, and you,
could send back a lot of stuff for the magazine."
"Is that your notion of a Sabbatical year?" asked the editor.
"No; I throw that out as a bait to your conscience. You needn't write a
line while you're gone. I wish you wouldn't for your own sake; although
every number that hasn't got you in it is a back number for me."
"That's very nice of you, Fulkerson," said the editor. "I suppose you
realize that it's nine years since we took 'Every Other Week' from
"Well, that makes it all the more Sabbatical," said Fulkerson. "The two
extra years that you've put in here, over and above the old style
Sabbatical seven, are just so much more to your credit. It was your
right to go, two years ago, and now it's your duty. Couldn't you look at
it in that light?"
"I dare say Mrs. March could," the editor assented. "I don't believe she
could be brought to regard it as a pleasure on any other terms."
"Of course not," said Fulkerson. "If you won't take a year, take three
months, and call it a Sabbatical summer; but go, anyway. You can make up
half a dozen numbers ahead, and Tom, here, knows your ways so well that
you needn't think about 'Every Other Week' from the time you start till
the time you try to bribe the customs inspector when you get back. I can
take a hack at the editing myself, if Tom's inspiration gives out, and
put a little of my advertising fire into the thing." He laid his hand on
the shoulder of the young fellow who stood smiling by, and pushed and
shook him in the liking there was between them. "Now you go, March!
Mrs. Fulkerson feels just as I do about it; we had our outing last year,
and we want Mrs. March and you to have yours. You let me go down and
engage your passage, and--"
"No, no!" the editor rebelled. "I'll think about it;" but as he turned
to the work he was so fond of and so weary of, he tried not to think of
the question again, till he closed his desk in the afternoon, and started
to walk home; the doctor had said he ought to walk, and he did so, though
he longed to ride, and looked wistfully at the passing cars.
He knew he was in a rut, as his wife often said; but if it was a rut, it
was a support too; it kept him from wobbling: She always talked as if the
flowery fields of youth lay on either side of the dusty road he had been
going so long, and he had but to step aside from it, to be among the
butterflies and buttercups again; he sometimes indulged this illusion,
himself, in a certain ironical spirit which caressed while it mocked the
notion. They had a tacit agreement that their youth, if they were ever
to find it again, was to be looked for in Europe, where they met when
they were young, and they had never been quite without the hope of going
back there, some day, for a long sojourn. They had not seen the time
when they could do so; they were dreamers, but, as they recognized, even
dreaming is not free from care; and in his dream March had been obliged
to work pretty steadily, if not too intensely. He had been forced to
forego the distinctly literary ambition with which he had started in life
because he had their common living to make, and he could not make it by
writing graceful verse, or even graceful prose. He had been many years
in a sufficiently distasteful business, and he had lost any thought of
leaving it when it left him, perhaps because his hold on it had always
been rather lax, and he had not been able to conceal that he disliked it.
At any rate, he was supplanted in his insurance agency at Boston by a
subordinate in his office, and though he was at the same time offered a
place of nominal credit in the employ of the company, he was able to
decline it in grace of a chance which united the charm of congenial work
with the solid advantage of a better salary than he had been getting for
work he hated. It was an incredible chance, but it was rendered
appreciably real by the necessity it involved that they should leave
Boston, where they had lived all their married life, where Mrs. March as
well as their children was born, and where all their tender and familiar
ties were, and come to New York, where the literary enterprise which
formed his chance was to be founded.
It was then a magazine of a new sort, which his business partner had
imagined in such leisure as the management of a newspaper syndicate
afforded him, and had always thought of getting March to edit. The
magazine which is also a book has since been realized elsewhere on more
or less prosperous terms, but not for any long period, and 'Every Other
Week' was apparently--the only periodical of the kind conditioned for
survival. It was at first backed by unlimited capital, and it had the
instant favor of a popular mood, which has since changed, but which did
not change so soon that the magazine had not time to establish itself in
a wide acceptance. It was now no longer a novelty, it was no longer in
the maiden blush of its first success, but it had entered upon its second
youth with the reasonable hope of many years of prosperity before it. In
fact it was a very comfortable living for all concerned, and the Marches
had the conditions, almost dismayingly perfect, in which they had often
promised themselves to go and be young again in Europe, when they
rebelled at finding themselves elderly in America. Their daughter was
married, and so very much to her mother's mind that she did not worry
about her, even though she lived so far away as Chicago, still a wild
frontier town to her Boston imagination; and their son, as soon as he
left college, had taken hold on 'Every Other Week', under his father's
instruction, with a zeal and intelligence which won him Fulkerson's
praise as a chip of the old block. These two liked each other, and
worked into each other's hands as cordially and aptly as Fulkerson and
March had ever done. It amused the father to see his son offering
Fulkerson the same deference which the Business End paid to seniority in
March himself; but in fact, Fulkerson's forehead was getting, as he said,
more intellectual every day; and the years were pushing them all along
Still, March had kept on in the old rut, and one day he fell down in it.
He had a long sickness, and when he was well of it, he was so slow in
getting his grip of work again that he was sometimes deeply discouraged.
His wife shared his depression, whether he showed or whether he hid it,
and when the doctor advised his going abroad, she abetted the doctor with
all the strength of a woman's hygienic intuitions. March himself
willingly consented, at first; but as soon as he got strength for his
work, he began to temporize and to demur. He said that he believed it
would do him just as much good to go to Saratoga, where they always had
such a good time, as to go to Carlsbad; and Mrs. March had been obliged
several times to leave him to his own undoing; she always took him more
vigorously in hand afterwards.
When he got home from the 'Every Other Week' office, the afternoon of
that talk with the Business End, he wanted to laugh with his wife at
Fulkerson's notion of a Sabbatical year. She did not think it was so
very droll; she even urged it seriously against him, as if she had now
the authority of Holy Writ for forcing him abroad; she found no relish of
absurdity in the idea that it was his duty to take this rest which had
been his right before.
He abandoned himself to a fancy which had been working to the surface of
his thought. "We could call it our Silver Wedding Journey, and go round
to all the old places, and see them in the reflected light of the past."
"Oh, we could!" she responded, passionately; and he had now the delicate
responsibility of persuading her that he was joking.
He could think of nothing better than a return to Fulkerson's absurdity.
"It would be our Silver Wedding Journey just as it would be my Sabbatical
year--a good deal after date. But I suppose that would make it all the
She faltered in her elation. "Didn't you say a Sabbatical year
yourself?" she demanded.
"Fulkerson said it; but it was a figurative expression."
"And I suppose the Silver Wedding Journey was a figurative expression
"It was a notion that tempted me; I thought you would enjoy it. Don't
you suppose I should be glad too, if we could go over, and find ourselves
just as we were when we first met there?"
"No; I don't believe now that you care anything about it."
"Well, it couldn't be done, anyway; so that doesn't matter."
"It could be done, if you were a mind to think so. And it would be the
greatest inspiration to you. You are always longing for some chance to
do original work, to get away from your editing, but you've let the time
slip by without really trying to do anything; I don't call those little
studies of yours in the magazine anything; and now you won't take the
chance that's almost forcing itself upon you. You could write an
original book of the nicest kind; mix up travel and fiction; get some
"Oh, that's the stalest kind of thing!"
"Well, but you could see it from a perfectly new point of view. You
could look at it as a sort of dispassionate witness, and treat it
humorously--of course it is ridiculous--and do something entirely fresh."
"It wouldn't work. It would be carrying water on both shoulders. The
fiction would kill the travel, the travel would kill the fiction; the
love and the humor wouldn't mingle any more than oil and vinegar."
"Well, and what is better than a salad?"
"But this would be all salad-dressing, and nothing to put it on." She
was silent, and he yielded to another fancy. "We might imagine coming
upon our former selves over there, and travelling round with them--
a wedding journey 'en partie carree'."
"Something like that. I call it a very poetical idea," she said with a
sort of provisionality, as if distrusting another ambush.
"It isn't so bad," he admitted. "How young we were, in those days!"
"Too young to know what a good time we were having," she said, relaxing
her doubt for the retrospect. "I don't feel as if I really saw Europe,
then; I was too inexperienced, too ignorant, too simple. I would like to
go, just to make sure that I had been." He was smiling again in the way
he had when anything occurred to him that amused him, and she demanded,
"What is it?"
"Nothing. I was wishing we could go in the consciousness of people who
actually hadn't been before--carry them all through Europe, and let them
see it in the old, simple-hearted American way."
She shook her head. "You couldn't! They've all been!"
"All but about sixty or seventy millions," said March.
"Well, those are just the millions you don't know, and couldn't imagine."
"I'm not so sure of that."
"And even if you could imagine them, you couldn't make them interesting.
All the interesting ones have been, anyway."
"Some of the uninteresting ones too. I used, to meet some of that sort
over there. I believe I would rather chance it for my pleasure with
those that hadn't been."
"Then why not do it? I know you could get something out of it."
"It might be a good thing," he mused, "to take a couple who had passed
their whole life here in New York, too poor and too busy ever to go; and
had a perfect famine for Europe all the time. I could have them spend
their Sunday afternoons going aboard the different boats, and looking up
their accommodations. I could have them sail, in imagination, and
discover an imaginary Europe, and give their grotesque misconceptions of
it from travels and novels against a background of purely American
experience. We needn't go abroad to manage that. I think it would be
"I don't think it would be nice in the least," said Mrs. March, "and if
you don't want to talk seriously, I would rather not talk at all."
"Well, then, let's talk about our Silver Wedding Journey."
"I see. You merely want to tease and I am not in the humor for it."
She said this in a great many different ways, and then she was really
silent. He perceived that she was hurt; and he tried to win her back to
good-humor. He asked her if she would not like to go over to Hoboken and
look at one of the Hanseatic League steamers, some day; and she refused.
When he sent the next day and got a permit to see the boat; she consented
He was one of those men who live from the inside outward; he often took a
hint for his actions from his fancies; and now because he had fancied
some people going to look at steamers on Sundays, he chose the next
Sunday himself for their visit to the Hanseatic boat at Hoboken. To be
sure it was a leisure day with him, but he might have taken the afternoon
of any other day, for that matter, and it was really that invisible
thread of association which drew him.
The Colmannia had been in long enough to have made her toilet for the
outward voyage, and was looking her best. She was tipped and edged with
shining brass, without and within, and was red-carpeted and white-painted
as only a ship knows how to be. A little uniformed steward ran before
the visitors, and showed them through the dim white corridors into
typical state-rooms on the different decks; and then let them verify
their first impression of the grandeur of the dining-saloon, and the
luxury of the ladies' parlor and music-room. March made his wife observe
that the tables and sofas and easy-chairs, which seemed so carelessly
scattered about, were all suggestively screwed fast to the floor against
rough weather; and he amused himself with the heavy German browns and
greens and coppers in the decorations, which he said must have been
studied in color from sausage, beer, and spinach, to the effect of those
large march-panes in the roof. She laughed with him at the tastelessness
of the race which they were destined to marvel at more and more; but she
made him own that the stewardesses whom they saw were charmingly like
serving-maids in the 'Fliegende Blatter'; when they went ashore she
challenged his silence for some assent to her own conclusion that the
Colmannia was perfect.
"She has only one fault," he assented. "She's a ship."
"Yes," said his wife, "and I shall want to look at the Norumbia before I
Then he saw that it was only a question which steamer they should take,
and not whether they should take any. He explained, at first gently and
afterwards savagely, that their visit to the Colmannia was quite enough
for him, and that the vessel was not built that he would be willing to
cross the Atlantic in.
When a man has gone so far as that he has committed himself to the
opposite course in almost so many words; and March was neither surprised
nor abashed when he discovered himself, before they reached home,
offering his wife many reasons why they should go to Europe. She
answered to all, No, he had made her realize the horror of it so much
that she was glad to give it up. She gave it up, with the best feeling;
all that she would ask of him was that he should never mention Europe to
her again. She could imagine how much he disliked to go, if such a ship
as the Colmannia did not make him want to go.
At the bottom of his heart he knew that he had not used her very well.
He had kindled her fancy with those notions of a Sabbatical year and a
Silver Wedding Journey, and when she was willing to renounce both he had
persisted in taking her to see the ship, only to tell her afterwards that
he would not go abroad on any account. It was by a psychological juggle
which some men will understand that he allowed himself the next day to
get the sailings of the Norumbia from the steamship office; he also got
a plan of the ship showing the most available staterooms, so that they
might be able to choose between her and the Colmannia from all the facts.
From this time their decision to go was none the less explicit because so
They began to amass maps and guides. She got a Baedeker for Austria and
he got a Bradshaw for the continent, which was never of the least use
there, but was for the present a mine of unavailable information. He got
a phrase-book, too, and tried to rub up his German. He used to read
German, when he was a boy, with a young enthusiasm for its romantic
poetry, and now, for the sake of Schiller and Uhland and Heine, he held
imaginary conversations with a barber, a bootmaker, and a banker, and
tried to taste the joy which he had not known in the language of those
poets for a whole generation. He perceived, of course, that unless the
barber, the bootmaker, and the banker answered him in terms which the
author of the phrase-book directed them to use, he should not get on with
them beyond his first question; but he did not allow this to spoil his
pleasure in it. In fact, it was with a tender emotion that he realized
how little the world, which had changed in everything else so greatly,
had changed in its ideal of a phrase-book.
Mrs. March postponed the study of her Baedeker to the time and place for
it; and addressed herself to the immediate business of ascertaining the
respective merits of the Colmannia and Norumbia. She carried on her
researches solely among persons of her own sex; its experiences were
alone of that positive character which brings conviction, and she valued
them equally at first or second hand. She heard of ladies who would not
cross in any boat but the Colmannia, and who waited for months to get a
room on her; she talked with ladies who said that nothing would induce
them to cross in her. There were ladies who said she had twice the
motion that the Norumbia had, and the vibration from her twin screws was
frightful; it always was, on those twin-screw boats, and it did not
affect their testimony with Mrs. March that the Norumbia was a twin-screw
boat too. It was repeated to her in the third or fourth degree of hear-
say that the discipline on the Colmannia was as perfect as that on the
Cunarders; ladies whose friends had tried every line assured her that the
table of the Norumbia was almost as good as the table of the French
boats. To the best of the belief of lady witnesses still living who had
friends on board, the Colmannia had once got aground, and the Norumbia
had once had her bridge carried off by a tidal wave; or it might be the
Colmannia; they promised to ask and let her know. Their lightest word
availed with her against the most solemn assurances of their husbands,
fathers, or brothers, who might be all very well on land, but in
navigation were not to be trusted; they would say anything from a
reckless and culpable optimism. She obliged March all the same to ask
among them, but she recognized their guilty insincerity when he came home
saying that one man had told him you could have played croquet on the
deck of the Colmannia the whole way over when he crossed, and another
that he never saw the racks on in three passages he had made in the
The weight of evidence was, he thought, in favor of the Norumbia, but
when they went another Sunday to Hoboken, and saw the ship, Mrs. March
liked her so much less than the Colmannia that she could hardly wait for
Monday to come; she felt sure all the good rooms on the Colmannia would
be gone before they could engage one.
From a consensus of the nerves of all the ladies left in town so late in
the season, she knew that the only place on any steamer where your room
ought to be was probably just where they could not get it. If you went
too high, you felt the rolling terribly, and people tramping up and down
on the promenade under your window kept you awake the whole night; if you
went too low, you felt the engine thump, thump, thump in your head the
whole way over. If you went too far forward, you got the pitching; if
you went aft, on the kitchen side, you got the smell of the cooking. The
only place, really, was just back of the dining-saloon on the south side
of the ship; it was smooth there, and it was quiet, and you had the sun
in your window all the way over. He asked her if he must take their room
there or nowhere, and she answered that he must do his best, but that she
would not be satisfied with any other place.
In his despair he went down to the steamer office, and took a room which
one of the clerks said was the best. When he got home, it appeared from
reference to the ship's plan that it was the very room his wife had
wanted from the beginning, and she praised him as if he had used a wisdom
beyond his sex in getting it.
He was in the enjoyment of his unmerited honor when a belated lady came
with her husband for an evening call, before going into the country. At
sight of the plans of steamers on the Marches' table, she expressed the
greatest wonder and delight that they were going to Europe. They had
supposed everybody knew it, by this time, but she said she had not heard
a word of it; and she went on with some felicitations which March found
rather unduly filial. In getting a little past the prime of life he did
not like to be used with too great consideration of his years, and he did
not think that he and his wife were so old that they need be treated as
if they were going on a golden wedding journey, and heaped with all sorts
of impertinent prophecies of their enjoying it so much and being so much
the better for the little outing! Under his breath, he confounded this
lady for her impudence; but he schooled himself to let her rejoice at
their going on a Hanseatic boat, because the Germans were always so
careful of you. She made her husband agree with her, and it came out
that he had crossed several times on both the Colmannia and the Norumbia.
He volunteered to say that the Colmannia, was a capital sea-boat; she did
not have her nose under water all the time; she was steady as a rock; and
the captain and the kitchen were simply out of sight; some people did
call her unlucky.
"Unlucky?" Mrs. March echoed, faintly. "Why do they call her unlucky?"
"Oh, I don't know. People will say anything about any boat. You know
she broke her shaft, once, and once she got caught in the ice."
Mrs. March joined him in deriding the superstition of people, and she
parted gayly with this over-good young couple. As soon as they were
gone, March knew that she would say: "You must change that ticket, my
dear. We will go in the Norumbia."
"Suppose I can't get as good a room on the Norumbia?"
"Then we must stay."
In the morning after a night so bad that it was worse than no night at
all, she said she would go to the steamship office with him and question
them up about the Colmannia. The people there had never heard she was
called an unlucky boat; they knew of nothing disastrous in her history.
They were so frank and so full in their denials, and so kindly patient of
Mrs. March's anxieties, that he saw every word was carrying conviction of
their insincerity to her. At the end she asked what rooms were left on
the Norumbia, and the clerk whom they had fallen to looked through his
passenger list with a shaking head. He was afraid there was nothing they
"But we would take anything," she entreated, and March smiled to think of
his innocence in supposing for a moment that she had ever dreamed of not
"We merely want the best," he put in. "One flight up, no noise or dust,
with sun in all the windows, and a place for fire on rainy days."
They must be used to a good deal of American joking which they do not
understand, in the foreign steamship offices. The clerk turned
unsmilingly to one of his superiors and asked him some question in German
which March could not catch, perhaps because it formed no part of a
conversation with a barber, a bootmaker or a banker. A brief drama
followed, and then the clerk pointed to a room on the plan of the
Norumbia and said it had just been given up, and they could have it if
they decided to take it at once.
They looked, and it was in the very place of their room on the Colmannia;
it was within one of being the same number. It was so providential, if
it was providential at all, that they were both humbly silent a moment;
even Mrs. March was silent. In this supreme moment she would not prompt
her husband by a word, a glance, and it was from his own free will that
he said, "We will take it."
He thought it was his free will, but perhaps one's will is never free;
and this may have been an instance of pure determinism from all the
events before it. No event that followed affected it, though the day
after they had taken their passage on the Norumbia he heard that she had
once been in the worst sort of storm in the month of August. He felt
obliged to impart the fact to his wife, but she said that it proved
nothing for or against the ship, and confounded him more by her reason
than by all her previous unreason. Reason is what a man is never
prepared for in women; perhaps because he finds it so seldom in men.
During nearly the whole month that now passed before the date of sailing
it seemed to March that in some familiar aspects New York had never been
so interesting. He had not easily reconciled himself to the place after
his many years of Boston; but he had got used to the ugly grandeur, to
the noise and the rush, and he had divined more and more the careless
good-nature and friendly indifference of the vast, sprawling, ungainly
metropolis. There were happy moments when he felt a poetry unintentional
and unconscious in it, and he thought there was no point more favorable
for the sense of this than Stuyvesant Square, where they had a flat.
Their windows looked down into its tree-tops, and across them to the
truncated towers of St. George's, and to the plain red-brick, white-
trimmed front of the Friends' Meeting House; he came and went between his
dwelling and his office through the two places that form the square, and
after dinner his wife and he had a habit of finding seats by one of the
fountains in Livingston Place, among the fathers and mothers of the
hybrid East Side children swarming there at play. The elders read their
English or Italian or German or Yiddish journals, or gossiped, or merely
sat still and stared away the day's fatigue; while the little ones raced
in and out among them, crying and laughing, quarrelling and kissing.
Sometimes a mother darted forward and caught her child from the brink of
the basin; another taught hers to walk, holding it tightly up behind by
its short skirts; another publicly nursed her baby to sleep.
While they still dreamed, but never thought, of going to Europe, the
Marches often said how European all this was; if these women had brought
their knitting or sewing it would have been quite European; but as soon
as they had decided to go, it all began to seem poignantly American. In
like manner, before the conditions of their exile changed, and they still
pined for the Old World, they contrived a very agreeable illusion of it
by dining now and then at an Austrian restaurant in Union Square; but
later when they began to be homesick for the American scenes they had not
yet left, they had a keener retrospective joy in the strictly New York
sunset they were bowed out into.
The sunsets were uncommonly characteristic that May in Union Square.
They were the color of the red stripes in the American flag, and when
they were seen through the delirious architecture of the Broadway side,
or down the perspective of the cross-streets, where the elevated trains
silhouetted themselves against their pink, they imparted a feeling of
pervasive Americanism in which all impression of alien savors and
civilities was lost. One evening a fire flamed up in Hoboken, and burned
for hours against the west, in the lurid crimson tones of a conflagration
as memorably and appealingly native as the colors of the sunset.
The weather for nearly the whole month was of a mood familiar enough in
our early summer, and it was this which gave the sunsets their vitreous
pink. A thrilling coolness followed a first blaze of heat, and in the
long respite the thoughts almost went back to winter flannels. But at
last a hot wave was telegraphed from the West, and the week before the
Norumbia sailed was an anguish of burning days and breathless nights,
which fused all regrets and reluctances in the hope of escape, and made
the exiles of two continents long for the sea, with no care for either
Their steamer was to sail early; they were up at dawn because they had
scarcely lain down, and March crept out into the square for a last breath
of its morning air before breakfast. He was now eager to be gone; he had
broken with habit, and he wished to put all traces of the past out of
sight. But this was curiously like all other early mornings in his
consciousness, and he could not alienate himself from the wonted
environment. He stood talking on every-day terms of idle speculation
with the familiar policeman, about a stray parrot in the top of one of
the trees, where it screamed and clawed at the dead branch to which it
clung. Then he went carelessly indoors again as if he were secure of
reading the reporter's story of it in that next day's paper which he
should not see.
The sense of an inseverable continuity persisted through the breakfast,
which was like other breakfasts in the place they would be leaving in
summer shrouds just as they always left it at the end of June. The
illusion was even heightened by the fact that their son was to be in the
apartment all summer, and it would not be so much shut up as usual. The
heavy trunks had been sent to the ship by express the afternoon before,
and they had only themselves and their stateroom baggage to transport to
Hoboken; they came down to a carriage sent from a neighboring livery-
stable, and exchanged good-mornings with a driver they knew by name.
March had often fancied it a chief advantage of living in New York that
you could drive to the steamer and start for Europe as if you were
starting for Albany; he was in the enjoyment of this advantage now, but
somehow it was not the consolation he had expected. He knew, of course,
that if they had been coming from Boston, for instance, to sail in the
Norumbia, they would probably have gone on board the night before, and
sweltered through its heat among the strange smells and noises of the
dock and wharf, instead of breakfasting at their own table, and smoothly
bowling down the asphalt on to the ferryboat, and so to the very foot of
the gangway at the ship's side, all in the cool of the early morning.
But though he had now the cool of the early morning on these conditions,
there was by no means enough of it.
The sun was already burning the life out of the air, with the threat of
another day of the terrible heat that had prevailed for a week past; and
that last breakfast at home had not been gay, though it had been lively,
in a fashion, through Mrs. March's efforts to convince her son that she
did not want him to come and see them off. Of, her daughter's coming all
the way from Chicago there was no question, and she reasoned that if he
did not come to say good-by on board it would be the same as if they were
"Don't you want to go?" March asked with an obscure resentment.
"I don't want to seem to go," she said, with the calm of those who have
logic on their side.
As she drove away with her husband she was not so sure of her
satisfaction in the feint she had arranged, though when she saw the
ghastly partings of people on board, she was glad she had not allowed her
son to come. She kept saying this to herself, and when they climbed to
the ship from the wharf, and found themselves in the crowd that choked
the saloons and promenades and passages and stairways and landings, she
said it more than once to her husband.
She heard weary elders pattering empty politenesses of farewell with
friends who had come to see them off, as they stood withdrawn in such
refuges as the ship's architecture afforded, or submitted to be pushed
and twirled about by the surging throng when they got in its way. She
pitied these in their affliction, which she perceived that they could not
lighten or shorten, but she had no patience with the young girls, who
broke into shrieks of nervous laughter at the coming of certain young
men, and kept laughing and beckoning till they made the young men see
them; and then stretched their hands to them and stood screaming and
shouting to them across the intervening heads and shoulders. Some girls,
of those whom no one had come to bid good-by, made themselves merry,
or at least noisy, by rushing off to the dining-room and looking at the
cards on the bouquets heaping the tables, to find whether any one had
sent them flowers. Others whom young men had brought bunches of violets
hid their noses in them, and dropped their fans and handkerchiefs and
card-cases, and thanked the young men for picking them up. Others, had
got places in the music-room, and sat there with open boxes of long-
stemmed roses in their laps, and talked up into the faces of the men,
with becoming lifts and slants of their eyes and chins. In the midst of
the turmoil children struggled against people's feet and knees, and
bewildered mothers flew at the ship's officers and battered them with
questions alien to their respective functions as they amiably stifled
about in their thick uniforms.
Sailors, slung over the ship's side on swinging seats, were placidly
smearing it with paint at that last moment; the bulwarks were thickly set
with the heads and arms of passengers who were making signs to friends on
shore, or calling messages to them that lost themselves in louder noises
midway. Some of the women in the steerage were crying; they were
probably not going to Europe for pleasure like the first-cabin
passengers, or even for their health; on the wharf below March saw the
face of one young girl twisted with weeping, and he wished he had not
seen it. He turned from it, and looked into the eyes of his son, who was
laughing at his shoulder. He said that he had to come down with a good-
by letter from his sister, which he made an excuse for following them;
but he had always meant to see them off, he owned. The letter had just
come with a special delivery stamp, and it warned them that she had sent
another good-by letter with some flowers on board. Mrs. March scolded at
them both, but with tears in her eyes, and in the renewed stress of
parting which he thought he had put from him, March went on taking note,
as with alien senses, of the scene before him, while they all talked on
together, and repeated the nothings they had said already.
A rank odor of beet-root sugar rose from the far-branching sheds where
some freight steamers of the line lay, and seemed to mingle chemically
with the noise which came up from the wharf next to the Norumbia. The
mass of spectators deepened and dimmed away into the shadow of the roofs,
and along their front came files of carriages and trucks and carts, and
discharged the arriving passengers and their baggage, and were lost in
the crowd, which they penetrated like slow currents, becoming clogged and
arrested from time to time, and then beginning to move again.
The passengers incessantly mounted by the canvas-draped galleries
leading, fore and aft, into the ship. Bareheaded, blue-jacketed, brass-
buttoned stewards dodged skillfully in and out among them with their
hand-bags, holdalls, hat-boxes, and state-room trunks, and ran before
them into the different depths and heights where they hid these burdens,
and then ran back for more. Some of the passengers followed them and
made sure that their things were put in the right places; most of them
remained wedged among the earlier comers, or pushed aimlessly in and out
of the doors of the promenades.
The baggage for the hold continually rose in huge blocks from the wharf,
with a loud clucking of the tackle, and sank into the open maw of the
ship, momently gathering herself for her long race seaward, with harsh
hissings and rattlings and gurglings. There was no apparent reason why
it should all or any of it end, but there came a moment when there began
to be warnings that were almost threats of the end. The ship's whistle
sounded, as if marking a certain interval; and Mrs. March humbly
entreated, sternly commanded, her son to go ashore, or else be carried to
Europe. They disputed whether that was the last signal or not; she was
sure it was, and she appealed to March, who was moved against his reason.
He affected to talk calmly with his son, and gave him some last charges
about 'Every Other Week'.
Some people now interrupted their leave-taking; but the arriving
passengers only arrived more rapidly at the gang-ways; the bulks of
baggage swung more swiftly into the air. A bell rang, and there rose
women's cries, "Oh, that is the shore-bell!" and men's protests, "It is
only the first bell! "More and more began to descend the gangways, fore
and aft, and soon outnumbered those who were coming aboard.
March tried not to be nervous about his son's lingering; he was ashamed
of his anxiety; but he said in a low voice, "Better be off, Tom."
His mother now said she did not care if Tom were really carried to
Europe; and at last he said, Well, he guessed he must go ashore, as if
there had been no question of that before; and then she clung to him and
would not let him go; but she acquired merit with herself at last by
pushing him into the gangway with her own hands: he nodded and waved his
hat from its foot, and mixed with the crowd.
Presently there was hardly any one coming aboard, and the sailors began
to undo the lashings of the gangways from the ship's side; files of men
on the wharf laid hold of their rails; the stewards guarding their
approach looked up for the signal to come aboard; and in vivid pantomime
forbade some belated leavetakers to ascend. These stood aside,
exchanging bows and grins with the friends whom they could not reach;
they all tried to make one another hear some last words. The moment came
when the saloon gangway was detached; then it was pulled ashore, and the
section of the bulwarks opening to it was locked, not to be unlocked on
this side of the world. An indefinable impulse communicated itself to
the steamer: while it still seemed motionless it moved. The thick spread
of faces on the wharf, which had looked at times like some sort of
strange flowers in a level field, broke into a universal tremor, and the
air above them was filled with hats and handkerchiefs, as if with the
flight of birds rising from the field.
The Marches tried to make out their son's face; they believed that they
did; but they decided that they had not seen him, and his mother said
that she was glad; it would only have made it harder to bear, though she
was glad he had come over to say good-by it had seemed so unnatural that
he should not, when everybody else was saying good-by.
On the wharf color was now taking the place of form; the scene ceased to
have the effect of an instantaneous photograph; it was like an
impressionistic study. As the ship swung free of the shed and got into
the stream, the shore lost reality. Up to a certain moment, all was
still New York, all was even Hoboken; then amidst the grotesque and
monstrous shows of the architecture on either shore March felt himself at
sea and on the way to Europe.
The fact was accented by the trouble people were already making with the
deck-steward about their steamer chairs, which they all wanted put in the
best places, and March, with a certain heart-ache, was involuntarily
verifying the instant in which he ceased to be of his native shores,
while still in full sight of them, when he suddenly reverted to them, and
as it were landed on them again in an incident that held him breathless.
A man, bareheaded, and with his arms flung wildly abroad, came flying
down the promenade from the steerage. "Capitan! Capitan! There is a
woman!" he shouted in nondescript English. "She must go hout! She must
go hout!" Some vital fact imparted itself to the ship's command and
seemed to penetrate to the ship's heart; she stopped, as if with a sort
of majestic relenting. A tug panted to her side, and lifted a ladder to
it; the bareheaded man, and a woman gripping a baby in her arms, sprawled
safely down its rungs to the deck of the tug, and the steamer moved
"What is it? Oh, what is it?" his wife demanded of March's share of
their common ignorance. A young fellow passing stopped, as if arrested
by the tragic note in her voice, and explained that the woman had left
three little children locked up in her tenement while she came to bid
some friends on board good-by.
He passed on, and Mrs. March said, "What a charming face he had!" even
before she began to wreak upon that wretched mother the overwrought
sympathy which makes good women desire the punishment of people who have
escaped danger. She would not hear any excuse for her. "Her children
oughtn't to have been out of her mind for an instant."
"Don't you want to send back a line to ours by the pilot?" March asked.
She started from him. "Oh, was I really beginning to forget them?"
In the saloon where people were scattered about writing pilot's letters
she made him join her in an impassioned epistle of farewell, which once
more left none of the nothings unsaid that they had many times
reiterated. She would not let him put the stamp on, for fear it would
not stick, and she had an agonizing moment of doubt whether it ought not
to be a German stamp; she was not pacified till the steward in charge of
the mail decided.
"I shouldn't have forgiven myself," March said, "if we hadn't let Tom
know that twenty minutes after he left us we were still alive and well."
"It's to Bella, too," she reasoned.
He found her making their state-room look homelike with their familiar
things when he came with their daughter's steamer letter and the flowers
and fruit she had sent. She said, Very well, they would all keep, and
went on with her unpacking. He asked her if she did not think these home
things made it rather ghastly, and she said if he kept on in that way she
should certainly go back on the pilot-boat. He perceived that her nerves
were spent. He had resisted the impulse to an ill-timed joke about the
life-preservers under their berths when the sound of the breakfast-horn,
wavering first in the distance, found its way nearer and clearer down
In one of the many visits to the steamship office which his wife's
anxieties obliged him to make, March had discussed the question of seats
in the dining-saloon. At first he had his ambition for the captain's
table, but they convinced him more easily than he afterwards convinced
Mrs. March that the captain's table had become a superstition of the
past, and conferred no special honor. It proved in the event that the
captain of the Norumbia had the good feeling to dine in a lower saloon
among the passengers who paid least for their rooms. But while the
Marches were still in their ignorance of this, they decided to get what
adventure they could out of letting the head steward put them where he
liked, and they came in to breakfast with a careless curiosity to see
what he had done for them.
There seemed scarcely a vacant place in the huge saloon; through the oval
openings in the centre they looked down into the lower saloon and up into
the music-room, as thickly thronged with breakfasters. The tables were
brightened with the bouquets and the floral designs of ships, anchors,
harps, and doves sent to the lady passengers, and at one time the Marches
thought they were going to be put before a steam-yacht realized to the
last detail in blue and white violets. The ports of the saloon were
open, and showed the level sea; the ship rode with no motion except the
tremor from her screws. The sound of talking and laughing rose with the
clatter of knives and forks and the clash of crockery; the homely smell
of the coffee and steak and fish mixed with the spice of the roses and
carnations; the stewards ran hither and thither, and a young foolish joy
of travel welled up in the elderly hearts of the pair. When the head
steward turned out the swivel-chairs where they were to sit they both
made an inclination toward the people already at table, as if it had been
a company at some far-forgotten table d'hote in the later sixties. The
head steward seemed to understand as well as speak English, but the
table-stewards had only an effect of English, which they eked out with
"Bleace!" for all occasions of inquiry, apology, or reassurance, as the
equivalent of their native "Bitte!" Otherwise there was no reason to
suppose that they did not speak German, which was the language of a good
half of the passengers. The stewards looked English, however, in
conformity to what seems the ideal of every kind of foreign seafaring
people, and that went a good way toward making them intelligible.
March, to whom his wife mainly left their obeisance, made it so tentative
that if it should meet no response he could feel that it had been nothing
more than a forward stoop, such as was natural in sitting down. He need
not really have taken this precaution; those whose eyes he caught more or
less nodded in return.
A nice-looking boy of thirteen or fourteen, who had the place on the left
of the lady in the sofa seat under the port, bowed with almost
magisterial gravity, and made the lady on the sofa smile, as if she were
his mother and understood him. March decided that she had been some time
a widow; and he easily divined that the young couple on her right had
been so little time husband and wife that they would rather not have it
known. Next them was a young lady whom he did not at first think so
good-looking as she proved later to be, though she had at once a pretty
nose, with a slight upward slant at the point, long eyes under fallen
lashes, a straight forehead, not too high, and a mouth which perhaps the
exigencies of breakfasting did not allow all its characteristic charm.
She had what Mrs. March thought interesting hair, of a dull black,
roughly rolled away from her forehead and temples in a fashion not
particularly becoming to her, and she had the air of not looking so well
as she might if she had chosen. The elderly man on her right, it was
easy to see, was her father; they had a family likeness, though his fair
hair, now ashen with age, was so different from hers. He wore his beard
cut in the fashion of the Second Empire, with a Louis Napoleonic
mustache, imperial, and chin tuft; his neat head was cropt close; and
there was something Gallic in its effect and something remotely military:
he had blue eyes, really less severe than he meant, though be frowned a
good deal, and managed them with glances of a staccato quickness, as if
challenging a potential disagreement with his opinions.
The gentleman on his right, who sat at the head of the table, was of the
humorous, subironical American expression, and a smile at the corner of
his kindly mouth, under an iron-gray full beard cut short, at once
questioned and tolerated the new-comers as he glanced at them. He
responded to March's bow almost as decidedly as the nice boy, whose
mother he confronted at the other end of the table, and with his comely
bulk formed an interesting contrast to her vivid slightness. She was
brilliantly dark, behind the gleam of the gold-rimmed glasses perched on
her pretty nose.
If the talk had been general before the Marches came, it did not at once
renew itself in that form. Nothing was said while they were having their
first struggle with the table-stewards, who repeated the order as if to
show how fully they had misunderstood it. The gentleman at the head of
the table intervened at last, and then, "I'm obliged to you," March said,
for your German. I left mine in a phrase-book in my other coat pocket."
"Oh, I wasn't speaking German," said the other. "It was merely their kind
The company were in the excitement of a novel situation which disposes
people to acquaintance, and this exchange of small pleasantries made
every one laugh, except the father and daughter; but they had the effect
of being tacitly amused.
The mother of the nice boy said to Mrs. March, "You may not get what you
ordered, but it will be good."
"Even if you don't know what it is!" said the young bride, and then
blushed, as if she had been too bold.
Mrs. March liked the blush and the young bride for it, and she asked,
"Have you ever been on one of these German boats before? They seem very
"Oh, dear, no! we've never been on any boat before." She made a little
petted mouth of deprecation, and added, simple-heartedly, "My husband was
going out on business, and he thought he might as well take me along."
The husband seemed to feel himself brought in by this, and said he did
not see why they should not make it a pleasure-trip, too. They put
themselves in a position to be patronized by their deference, and in the
pauses of his talk with the gentleman at the head of the table, March
heard his wife abusing their inexperience to be unsparingly instructive
about European travel. He wondered whether she would be afraid to own
that it was nearly thirty years since she had crossed the ocean; though
that might seem recent to people who had never crossed at all.
They listened with respect as she boasted in what an anguish of wisdom
she had decided between the Colmannia and the Norumbia. The wife said
she did not know there was such a difference in steamers, but when Mrs.
March perfervidly assured her that there was all the difference in the
world, she submitted and said she supposed she ought to be thankful that
they, had hit upon the right one. They had telegraphed for berths and
taken what was given them; their room seemed to be very nice.
"Oh," said Mrs. March, and her husband knew that she was saying it to
reconcile them to the inevitable, "all the rooms on the Norumbia are
nice. The only difference is that if they are on the south side you have
"I'm not sure which is the south side," said the bride. "We seem to have
been going west ever since we started, and I feel as if we should reach
home in the morning if we had a good night. Is the ocean always so
smooth as this?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said Mrs. March. "It's never so smooth as this," and she
began to be outrageously authoritative about the ocean weather. She
ended by declaring that the June passages were always good, and that if
the ship kept a southerly course they would have no fogs and no icebergs.
She looked round, and caught her husband's eye. "What is it? Have I
been bragging? Well, you understand," she added to the bride, "I've only
been over once, a great while ago, and I don't really know anything about
it," and they laughed together. "But I talked so much with people after
we decided to go, that I feel as if I had been a hundred times."
"I know," said the other lady, with caressing intelligence. "That is
just the way with--" She stopped, and looked at the young man whom the
head steward was bringing up to take the vacant place next to March. He
came forward, stuffing his cap into the pocket of his blue serge sack,
and smiled down on the company with such happiness in his gay eyes that
March wondered what chance at this late day could have given any human
creature his content so absolute, and what calamity could be lurking
round the corner to take it out of him. The new-comer looked at March as
if he knew him, and March saw at a second glance that he was the young
fellow who had told him about the mother put off after the start. He
asked him whether there was any change in the weather yet outside, and he
answered eagerly, as if the chance to put his happiness into the mere
sound of words were a favor done him, that their ship had just spoken one
of the big Hanseatic mailboats, and she had signalled back that she had
met ice; so that they would probably keep a southerly course, and not
have it cooler till they were off the Banks.
The mother of the boy said, "I thought we must be off the Banks when I
came out of my room, but it was only the electric fan at the foot of the
"That was what I thought," said Mrs. March. "I almost sent my husband
back for my shawl!" Both the ladies laughed and liked each other for
their common experience.
The gentleman at the head of the table said, "They ought to have fans
going there by that pillar, or else close the ports. They only let in
They easily conformed to the American convention of jocosity in their
talk; it perhaps no more represents the individual mood than the
convention of dulness among other people; but it seemed to make the young
man feel at home.
"Why, do you think it's uncomfortably warm?" he asked, from what March
perceived to be a meteorology of his own. He laughed and added, "It is
pretty summerlike," as if he had not thought of it before. He talked of
the big mail-boat, and said he would like to cross on such a boat as
that, and then he glanced at the possible advantage of having your own
steam-yacht like the one which he said they had just passed, so near that
you could see what a good time the people were having on board. He began
to speak to the Marches; his talk spread to the young couple across the
table; it visited the mother on the sofa in a remark which she might
ignore without apparent rejection, and without really avoiding the boy,
it glanced off toward the father and daughter, from whom it fell, to rest
with the gentleman at the head of the table.
It was not that the father and daughter had slighted his overture, if it
was so much as that, but that they were tacitly preoccupied, or were of
some philosophy concerning their fellow-breakfasters which did not suffer
them, for the present, at least, to share in the common friendliness.
This is an attitude sometimes produced in people by a sense of just, or
even unjust, superiority; sometimes by serious trouble; sometimes by
transient annoyance. The cause was not so deep-seated but Mrs. March,
before she rose from her place, believed that she had detected a slant of
the young lady's eyes, from under her lashes, toward the young man; and
she leaped to a conclusion concerning them in a matter where all logical
steps are impertinent. She did not announce her arrival at this point
till the young man had overtaken her before she got out of the saloon,
and presented the handkerchief she had dropped under the table.
He went away with her thanks, and then she said to her husband, "Well,
he's perfectly charming, and I don't wonder she's taken with him; that
kind of cold girl would be, though I'm not sure that she is cold. She's
interesting, and you could see that he thought so, the more he looked at
her; I could see him looking at her from the very first instant; he
couldn't keep his eyes off her; she piqued his curiosity, and made him
wonder about her."
"Now, look here, Isabel! This won't do. I can stand a good deal, but I
sat between you and that young fellow, and you couldn't tell whether he
was looking at that girl or not."
"I could! I could tell by the expression of her face."
"Oh, well! If it's gone as far as that with you, I give it up. When are
you going to have them married?"
"Nonsense! I want you to find out who all those people are. How are you
going to do it?"
"Perhaps the passenger list will say," he suggested.
The list did not say of itself, but with the help of the head steward's
diagram it said that the gentleman at the head of the table was Mr. R.
M. Kenby; the father and the daughter were Mr. E. B. Triscoe and Miss
Triscoe; the bridal pair were Mr. and Mrs. Leffers; the mother and her
son were Mrs. Adding and Mr. Roswell Adding; the young man who came in
last was Mr. L. J. Burnamy. March carried the list, with these names
carefully checked and rearranged on a neat plan of the table, to his wife
in her steamer chair, and left her to make out the history and the
character of the people from it. In this sort of conjecture long
experience had taught him his futility, and he strolled up and down and
looked at the life about him with no wish to penetrate it deeply.
Long Island was now a low yellow line on the left. Some fishing-boats
flickered off the shore; they met a few sail, and left more behind; but
already, and so near one of the greatest ports of the world, the spacious
solitude of the ocean was beginning. There was no swell; the sea lay
quite flat, with a fine mesh of wrinkles on its surface, and the sun
flamed down upon it from a sky without a cloud. With the light fair
wind, there was no resistance in the sultry air, the thin, dun smoke from
the smoke-stack fell about the decks like a stifling veil.
The promenades, were as uncomfortably crowded as the sidewalk of
Fourteenth Street on a summer's day, and showed much the social average
of a New York shopping thoroughfare. Distinction is something that does
not always reveal itself at first sight on land, and at sea it is still
more retrusive. A certain democracy of looks and clothes was the most
notable thing to March in the apathetic groups and detached figures. His
criticism disabled the saloon passengers of even so much personal appeal
as he imagined in some of the second-cabin passengers whom he saw across
their barrier; they had at least the pathos of their exclusion, and he
could wonder if they felt it or envied him. At Hoboken he had seen
certain people coming on board who looked like swells; but they had now
either retired from the crowd, or they had already conformed to the
prevailing type. It was very well as a type; he was of it himself; but
he wished that beauty as well as distinction had not been so lost in it.
In fact, he no longer saw so much beauty anywhere as he once did. It
might be that he saw life more truly than when he was young, and that his
glasses were better than his eyes had been; but there were analogies that
forbade his thinking so, and he sometimes had his misgivings that the
trouble was with his glasses. He made what he could of a pretty girl who
had the air of not meaning to lose a moment from flirtation, and was
luring her fellow-passengers from under her sailor hat. She had already
attached one of them; and she was hooking out for more. She kept moving
herself from the waist up, as if she worked there on a pivot, showing now
this side and now that side of her face, and visiting the admirer she had
secured with a smile as from the lamp of a revolving light as she turned.
While he was dwelling upon this folly, with a sense of impersonal
pleasure in it as complete through his years as if he were already a
disembodied spirit, the pulse of the engines suddenly ceased, and he
joined the general rush to the rail, with a fantastic expectation of
seeing another distracted mother put off; but it was only the pilot
leaving the ship. He was climbing down the ladder which hung over the
boat, rising and sinking on the sea below, while the two men in her held
her from the ship's side with their oars; in the offing lay the white
steam-yacht which now replaces the picturesque pilot-sloop of other
times. The Norumbia's screws turned again under half a head of steam;
the pilot dropped from the last rung of the ladder into the boat, and
caught the bundle of letters tossed after him. Then his men let go the
line that was towing their craft, and the incident of the steamer's
departure was finally closed. It had been dramatically heightened
perhaps by her final impatience to be off at some added risks to the
pilot and his men, but not painfully so, and March smiled to think how
men whose lives are all of dangerous chances seem always to take as many
of them as they can.
He heard a girl's fresh voice saying at his shoulder, "Well, now we are
off; and I suppose you're glad, papa!"
"I'm glad we're not taking the pilot on, at least," answered the elderly
man whom the girl had spoken to; and March turned to see the father and
daughter whose reticence at the breakfast table had interested him. He
wondered that he had left her out of the account in estimating the beauty
of the ship's passengers: he saw now that she was not only extremely
pretty, but as she moved away she was very graceful; she even had
distinction. He had fancied a tone of tolerance, and at the same time of
reproach in her voice, when she spoke, and a tone of defiance and not
very successful denial in her father's; and he went back with these
impressions to his wife, whom he thought he ought to tell why the ship
She had not noticed the ship's stopping, in her study of the passenger
list, and she did not care for the pilot's leaving; but she seemed to
think his having overheard those words of the father and daughter an
event of prime importance. With a woman's willingness to adapt the means
to the end she suggested that he should follow them up and try to
overhear something more; she only partially realized the infamy of her
suggestion when he laughed in scornful refusal.
"Of course I don't want you to eavesdrop, but I do want you to find out
about them. And about Mr. Burnamy, too. I can wait, about the others,
or manage for myself, but these are driving me to distraction. Now, will
He said he would do anything he could with honor, and at one of the
earliest turns he made on the other side of the ship he was smilingly
halted by Mr. Burnamy, who asked to be excused, and then asked if he were
not Mr. March of 'Every Other Week'; he had seen the name on the
passenger list, and felt sure it must be the editor's. He seemed so
trustfully to expect March to remember his own name as that of a writer
from whom he had accepted a short poem, yet unprinted, that the editor
feigned to do so until he really did dimly recall it. He even recalled
the short poem, and some civil words he said about it caused Burnamy to
overrun in confidences that at once touched and amused him.
Burnamy, it seemed, had taken passage on the Norumbia because he found,
when he arrived in New York the day before, that she was the first boat
out. His train was so much behind time that when he reached the office
of the Hanseatic League it was nominally shut, but he pushed in by
sufferance of the janitor, and found a berth, which had just been given
up, in one of the saloon-deck rooms. It was that or nothing; and he felt
rich enough to pay for it himself if the Bird of Prey, who had cabled him
to come out to Carlsbad as his secretary, would not stand the difference
between the price and that of the lower-deck six-in-a-room berth which he
would have taken if he had been allowed a choice.
With the three hundred dollars he had got for his book, less the price of
his passage, changed into German bank-notes and gold pieces, and safely
buttoned in the breast pocket of his waistcoat, he felt as safe from
pillage as from poverty when he came out from buying his ticket; he
covertly pressed his arm against his breast from time to time, for the
joy of feeling his money there and not from any fear of finding it gone.
He wanted to sing, he wanted to dance; he could not believe it was he,
as he rode up the lonely length of Broadway in the cable-car, between the
wild, irregular walls of the canyon which the cable-cars have all to
themselves at the end of a summer afternoon.
He went and dined, and he thought he dined well, at a Spanish-American
restaurant, for fifty cents, with a half-bottle of California claret
included. When he came back to Broadway he was aware that it was
stiflingly hot in the pinkish twilight, but he took a cable-car again in
lack of other pastime, and the motion served the purpose of a breeze,
which he made the most of by keeping his hat off. It did not really
matter to him whether it was hot or cool; he was imparadised in weather
which had nothing to do with the temperature. Partly because he was born
to such weather, in the gayety of soul which amused some people with him,
and partly because the world was behaving as he had always expected, he
was opulently content with the present moment. But he thought very
tolerantly of the future, and he confirmed himself in the decision he had
already made, to stick to Chicago when he came back to America. New York
was very well, and he had no sentiment about Chicago; but he had got a
foothold there; he had done better with an Eastern publisher, he
believed, by hailing from the West, and he did not believe it would hurt
him with the Eastern public to keep on hailing from the West.
He was glad of a chance to see Europe, but he did not mean to come home
so dazzled as to see nothing else against the American sky. He fancied,
for he really knew nothing, that it was the light of Europe, not its
glare that he wanted, and he wanted it chiefly on his material, so as to
see it more and more objectively. It was his power of detachment from
this that had enabled him to do his sketches in the paper with such charm
as to lure a cash proposition from a publisher when he put them together
for a book, but he believed that his business faculty had much to do with
his success; and he was as proud of that as of the book itself. Perhaps
he was not so very proud of the book; he was at least not vain of it; he
could, detach himself from his art as well as his material.
Like all literary temperaments he was of a certain hardness, in spite of
the susceptibilities that could be used to give coloring to his work.
He knew this well enough, but he believed that there were depths of
unprofessional tenderness in his nature. He was good to his mother, and
he sent her money, and wrote to her in the little Indiana town where he
had left her when he came to Chicago. After he got that invitation from
the Bird of Prey, he explored his heart for some affection that he had
not felt for him before, and he found a wish that his employer should not
know it was he who had invented that nickname for him. He promptly
avowed this in the newspaper office which formed one of the eyries of the
Bird of Prey, and made the fellows promise not to give him away. He
failed to move their imagination when he brought up as a reason for
softening toward him that he was from Burnamy's own part of Indiana, and
was a benefactor of Tippecanoe University, from which Burnamy was
graduated. But they, relished the cynicism of his attempt; and they were
glad of his good luck, which he was getting square and not rhomboid, as
most people seem to get their luck. They liked him, and some of them
liked him for his clean young life as well as for his cleverness. His
life was known to be as clean as a girl's, and he looked like a girl with
his sweet eyes, though he had rather more chin than most girls.
The conductor came to reverse his seat, and Burnamy told him he guessed
he would ride back with him as far as the cars to the Hoboken Ferry, if
the conductor would put him off at the right place. It was nearly nine
o'clock, and he thought he might as well be going over to the ship, where
he had decided to pass the night. After he found her, and went on board,
he was glad he had not gone sooner. A queasy odor of drainage stole up
from the waters of the dock, and mixed with the rank, gross sweetness of
the bags of beet-root sugar from the freight-steamers; there was a coming
and going of carts and trucks on the wharf, and on the ship a rattling of
chains and a clucking of pulleys, with sudden outbreaks and then sudden
silences of trampling sea-boots. Burnamy looked into the dining-saloon
and the music-room, with the notion of trying for some naps there; then
he went to his state-room. His room-mate, whoever he was to be, had not
come; and he kicked off his shoes and threw off his coat and tumbled into
He meant to rest awhile, and then get up and spend the night in receiving
impressions. He could not think of any one who had done the facts of the
eve of sailing on an Atlantic liner. He thought he would use the
material first in a letter to the paper and afterwards in a poem; but he
found himself unable to grasp the notion of its essential relation to the
choice between chicken croquettes and sweetbreads as entrees of the
restaurant dinner where he had been offered neither; he knew that he had
begun to dream, and that he must get up. He was just going to get up,
when he woke to a sense of freshness in the air, penetrating from the new
day outside. He looked at his watch and found it was quarter past six;
he glanced round the state-room and saw that he had passed the night
alone in it. Then he splashed himself hastily at the basin next his
berth, and jumped into his clothes, and went on deck, anxious to lose no
feature or emotion of the ship's departure.
When she was fairly off he returned to his room to change the thick coat
he had put on at the instigation of the early morning air. His room-mate
was still absent, but he was now represented by his state-room baggage,
and Burnamy tried to infer him from it. He perceived a social quality in
his dress-coat case, capacious gladstone, hat-box, rug, umbrella, and
sole-leather steamer trunk which he could not attribute to his own
equipment. The things were not so new as his; they had an effect of
polite experience, with a foreign registry and customs label on them here
and there. They had been chosen with both taste and knowledge, and
Burnamy would have said that they were certainly English things, if it
had not been for the initials U. S. A. which followed the name of E. B.
Triscoe on the end of the steamer trunk showing itself under the foot of
the lower berth.
The lower berth had fallen to Burnamy through the default of the
passenger whose ticket he had got at the last hour; the clerk in the
steamer office had been careful to impress him with this advantage, and
he now imagined a trespass on his property. But he reassured himself by
a glance at his ticket, and went out to watch the ship's passage down the
stream and through the Narrows. After breakfast he came to his room
again, to see what could be done from his valise to make him look better
in the eyes of a girl whom he had seen across the table; of course he
professed a much more general purpose. He blamed himself for not having
got at least a pair of the white tennis-shoes which so many of the
passengers were wearing; his russet shoes had turned shabby on his feet;
but there was a, pair of enamelled leather boots in his bag which he
thought might do.
His room was in the group of cabins on the upper deck; he had already
missed his way to it once by mistaking the corridor which it opened into;
and he was not sure that he was not blundering again when he peered down
the narrow passage where he supposed it was. A lady was standing at an
open state-room door, resting her hands against the jambs and leaning
forward with her head within and talking to some one there. Before he
could draw back and try another corridor he heard her say: "Perhaps he's
some young man, and wouldn't care."
Burnamy could not make out the answer that came from within. The lady
spoke again in a tone of reluctant assent, "No, I don't suppose you
could; but if he understood, perhaps he would offer."
She drew her head out of the room, stepping back a pace, and lingering a
moment at the threshold. She looked round over her shoulder and
discovered Burnamy, where he stood hesitating at the head of the passage.
She ebbed before him, and then flowed round him in her instant escape;
with some murmured incoherencies about speaking to her father, she
vanished in a corridor on the other side of the ship, while he stood
staring into the doorway of his room.
He had seen that she was the young lady for whom he had come to put on
his enamelled shoes, and he saw that the person within was the elderly
gentleman who had sat next her at breakfast. He begged his pardon, as he
entered, and said he hoped he should not disturb him. "I'm afraid I left
my things all over the place, when I got up this morning."
The other entreated him not to mention it and went on taking from his
hand-bag a variety of toilet appliances which the sight of made Burnamy
vow to keep his own simple combs and brushes shut in his valise all the
way over. "You slept on board, then," he suggested, arresting himself
with a pair of low shoes in his hand; he decided to put them in a certain
pocket of his steamer bag.
"Oh, yes," Burnamy laughed, nervously: "I came near oversleeping, and
getting off to sea without knowing it; and I rushed out to save myself,
He began to gather up his belongings while he followed the movements of
Mr. Triscoe with a wistful eye. He would have liked to offer his lower
berth to this senior of his, when he saw him arranging to take possession
of the upper; but he did not quite know how to manage it. He noticed
that as the other moved about he limped slightly, unless it were rather a
weary easing of his person from one limb to the other. He stooped to
pull his trunk out from under the berth, and Burnamy sprang to help him.
"Let me get that out for you!" He caught it up and put it on the sofa
under the port. "Is that where you want it?"
"Why, yes," the other assented. "You're very good," and as he took out
his key to unlock the trunk he relented a little farther to the
intimacies of the situation. "Have you arranged with the bath-steward
yet? It's such a full boat."
"No, I haven't," said Burnamy, as if he had tried and failed; till then
he had not known that there was a bath-steward. "Shall I get him for
"No; no. Our bedroom-steward will send him, I dare say, thank you."
Mr. Triscoe had got his trunk open, and Burnamy had no longer an excuse
for lingering. In his defeat concerning the bath-steward, as he felt it
to be, he had not the courage, now, to offer the lower berth. He went
away, forgetting to change his shoes; but he came back, and as soon as he
got the enamelled shoes on, and shut the shabby russet pair in his bag,
he said, abruptly: "Mr. Triscoe, I wish you'd take the lower berth. I
got it at the eleventh hour by some fellow's giving it up, and it isn't
as if I'd bargained for it a month ago."
The elder man gave him one of his staccato glances in which Burnamy
fancied suspicion and even resentment. But he said, after the moment of
reflection which he gave himself, "Why, thank you, if you don't mind,
"Not at all!" cried the young man. "I should like the upper berth
better. We'll, have the steward change the sheets."
"Oh, I'll see that he does that," said Mr. Triscoe. "I couldn't allow
you to take any trouble about it." He now looked as if he wished Burnamy
would go, and leave him to his domestic arrangements.
In telling about himself Burnamy touched only upon the points which he
believed would take his listener's intelligent fancy, and he stopped so
long before he had tired him that March said he would like to introduce
him to his wife. He saw in the agreeable young fellow an image of his
own youth, with some differences which, he was willing to own, were to
the young fellow's advantage. But they were both from the middle West;
in their native accent and their local tradition they were the same; they
were the same in their aspirations; they were of one blood in their
literary impulse to externate their thoughts and emotions.
Burnamy answered, with a glance at his enamelled shoes, that he would be
delighted, and when her husband brought him up to her, Mrs. March said
she was always glad to meet the contributors to the magazine, and asked
him whether he knew Mr. Kendricks, who was her favorite. Without giving
him time to reply to a question that seemed to depress him, she said that
she had a son who must be nearly his own age, and whom his father had
left in charge of 'Every Other Week' for the few months they were to be
gone; that they had a daughter married and living in Chicago. She made
him sit down by her in March's chair, and before he left them March heard
him magnanimously asking whether Mr. Kendricks was going to do something
more for the magazine soon. He sauntered away and did not know how
quickly Burnamy left this question to say, with the laugh and blush which
became him in her eyes:
"Mrs. March, there is something I should like to tell you about, if you
will let me."
"Why, certainly, Mr. Burnamy," she began, but she saw that he did not
wish her to continue.
"Because," he went on, "it's a little matter that I shouldn't like to go
He told her of his having overheard what Miss Triscoe had said to her
father, and his belief that she was talking about the lower berth. He
said he would have wished to offer it, of course, but now he was afraid
they might think he had overheard them and felt obliged to do it.
"I see," said Mrs. March, and she added, thoughtfully, "She looks like
rather a proud girl."
"Yes," the young fellow sighed.
"She is very charming," she continued, thoughtfully, but not so
"Well," Burnamy owned, "that is certainly one of the complications," and
they laughed together.
She stopped herself after saying, "I see what you mean," and suggested,
"I think I should be guided by circumstances. It needn't be done at
once, I suppose."
"Well," Burnamy began, and then he broke out, with a laugh of
embarrassment, "I've done it already."
"Oh! Then it wasn't my advice, exactly, that you wanted."
"And how did he take it?"
"He said he should be glad to make the exchange if I really didn't mind."
Burnamy had risen restlessly, and she did not ask him to stay. She
"Oh, well, I'm glad it turned out so nicely."
"I'm so glad you think it was the thing to do." He managed to laugh
again, but he could not hide from her that he was not feeling altogether
satisfied. "Would you like me to send Mr. March, if I see him?" he
asked, as if he did not know on what other terms to get away.
"Do, please!" she entreated, and it seemed to her that he had hardly left
her when her husband came up. "Why, where in the world did he find you
"Did you send him for me? I was just hanging round for him to go." March
sank into the chair at her side. "Well, is he going to marry her?"
"Oh, you may laugh! But there is something very exciting!" She told him
what had happened, and of her belief that Burnamy's handsome behavior had
somehow not been met in kind.
March gave himself the pleasure of an immense laugh. "It seems to me
that this Mr. Burnamy of yours wanted a little more gratitude than he was
entitled to. Why shouldn't he have offered him the lower berth? And why
shouldn't the old gentleman have taken it just as he did? Did you want
him to make a counteroffer of his daughter's hand? If he does, I hope
Mr. Burnamy won't come for your advice till after he's accepted her."
"He wasn't very candid. I hoped you would speak about that. Don't you
think it was rather natural, though?"
"For him, very likely. But I think you would call it sinuous in some one
you hadn't taken a fancy to."
"No, no. I wish to be just. I don't see how he could have come straight
at it. And he did own up at last." She asked him what Burnamy had done
for the magazine, and he could remember nothing but that one small poem,
yet unprinted; he was rather vague about its value, but said it had
"He has temperament, too," she commented, and she had made him tell her
everything he knew, or could be forced to imagine about Burnamy, before
she let the talk turn to other things.
The life of the promenade had already settled into seafaring form; the
steamer chairs were full, and people were reading or dozing in them with
an effect of long habit. Those who would be walking up and down had
begun their walks; some had begun going in and out of the smoking-room;
ladies who were easily affected by the motion were lying down in the
music-room. Groups of both sexes were standing at intervals along the
rail, and the promenaders were obliged to double on a briefer course or
work slowly round them. Shuffleboard parties at one point and ring-toss
parties at another were forming among the young people. It was as lively
and it was as dull as it would be two thousand miles at sea. It was not
the least cooler, yet; but if you sat still you did not suffer.
In the prompt monotony the time was already passing swiftly. The deck-
steward seemed hardly to have been round with tea and bouillon, and he
had not yet gathered up all the empty cups, when the horn for lunch
sounded. It was the youngest of the table-stewards who gave the summons
to meals; and whenever the pretty boy appeared with his bugle, funny
passengers gathered round him to make him laugh, and stop him from
winding it. His part of the joke was to fulfill his duty with gravity,
and only to give way to a smile of triumph as he walked off.
At lunch, in the faded excitement of their first meeting, the people at
the Marches' table did not renew the premature intimacy of their
breakfast talk. Mrs. March went to lie down in her berth afterwards, and
March went on deck without her. He began to walk to and from the barrier
between the first and second cabin promenades; lingering near it, and
musing pensively, for some of the people beyond it looked as intelligent
and as socially acceptable, even to their clothes, as their pecuniary
betters of the saloon.
There were two women, a mother and daughter, whom he fancied to be
teachers, by their looks, going out for a little rest, or perhaps for a
little further study to fit them more perfectly for their work. They
gazed wistfully across at him whenever he came up to the barrier; and he
feigned a conversation with them and tried to convince them that the
stamp of inferiority which their poverty put upon them was just, or if
not just, then inevitable. He argued with them that the sort of barrier
which here prevented their being friends with him, if they wished it, ran
invisibly through society everywhere but he felt ashamed before their
kind, patient, intelligent faces, and found himself wishing to excuse the
fact he was defending. Was it any worse, he asked them, than their not
being invited to the entertainments of people in upper Fifth Avenue? He
made them own that if they were let across that barrier the whole second
cabin would have a logical right to follow; and they were silenced. But
they continued to gape at him with their sincere, gentle eyes whenever he
returned to the barrier in his walk, till he could bear it no longer, and
strolled off toward the steerage.
There was more reason why the passengers there should be penned into a
little space of their own in the sort of pit made by the narrowing deck
at the bow. They seemed to be all foreigners, and if any had made their
fortunes in our country they were hiding their prosperity in the return
to their own. They could hardly have come to us more shabby and squalid
than they were going away; but he thought their average less apathetic
than that of the saloon passengers, as he leaned over the rail and looked
down at them. Some one had brought out an electric battery, and the
lumpish boys and slattern girls were shouting and laughing as they
writhed with the current. A young mother seated flat on the deck, with
her bare feet stuck out, inattentively nursed her babe, while she laughed
and shouted with the rest; a man with his head tied in a shawl walked
about the pen and smiled grotesquely with the well side of his toothache-
swollen face. The owner of the battery carried it away, and a group of
little children, with blue eyes and yellow hair, gathered in the space he
had left, and looked up at a passenger near March who was eating some
plums and cherries which he had brought from the luncheon table. He
began to throw the fruit down to them, and the children scrambled for it.
An elderly man, with a thin, grave, aquiline face, said, "I shouldn't
want a child of mine down there."
"No," March responded, "it isn't quite what one would choose for one's
own. It's astonishing, though, how we reconcile ourselves to it in the
case of others."
"I suppose it's something we'll have to get used to on the other side,"
suggested the stranger.
"Well," answered March, "you have some opportunities to get used to it on
this side, if you happen to live in New York," and he went on to speak of
the raggedness which often penetrated the frontier of comfort where he
lived in Stuyvesant Square, and which seemed as glad of alms in food or
money as this poverty of the steerage.
The other listened restively like a man whose ideals are disturbed.
"I don't believe I should like to live in New York, much," he said, and
March fancied that he wished to be asked where he did live. It appeared
that he lived in Ohio, and he named his town; he did not brag of it, but
he said it suited him. He added that he had never expected to go to
Europe, but that he had begun to run down lately, and his doctor thought
he had better go out and try Carlsbad.
March said, to invite his further confidence, that this was exactly his
own case. The Ohio man met the overture from a common invalidism as if
it detracted from his own distinction; and he turned to speak of the
difficulty, he had in arranging his affairs for leaving home. His heart
opened a little with the word, and he said how comfortable he and his
wife were in their house, and how much they both hated to shut it up.
When March offered him his card, he said he had none of his own with him,
but that his name was Eltwin. He betrayed a simple wish to have March
realize the local importance he had left behind him; and it was not hard
to comply; March saw a Grand Army button in the lapel of his coat, and he
knew that he was in the presence of a veteran.
He tried to guess his rank; in telling his wife about him, when he went
down to find her just before dinner, but he ended with a certain sense of
affliction. "There are too many elderly invalids on this ship. I knock
against people of my own age everywhere. Why aren't your youthful lovers
more in evidence, my dear? I don't believe they are lovers, and I begin
to doubt if they're young even."
"It wasn't very satisfactory at lunch, certainly," she owned. "But I
know it will be different at dinner." She was putting herself together
after a nap that had made up for the lost sleep of the night before.
"I want you to look very nice, dear. Shall you dress for dinner?" she
asked her husband's image in the state-room glass which she was
"I shall dress in my pea-jacket and sea-boots," it answered.
"I have heard that they always dress for dinner on the big Cunard and
White Star boats, when it's good weather," she went on, placidly.
"I shouldn't want those people to think you were not up in the
They both knew that she meant the reticent father and daughter, and March
flung out, "I shouldn't want them to think you weren't. There's such a
thing as overdoing."
She attacked him at another point. "What has annoyed you? What else
have you been doing?"
"Nothing. I've been reading most of the afternoon."
"The Maiden Knight?"
This was the book which nearly everybody had brought on board. It was
just out, and had caught an instant favor, which swelled later to a tidal
wave. It depicted a heroic girl in every trying circumstance of
mediaeval life, and gratified the perennial passion of both sexes for
historical romance, while it flattered woman's instinct of superiority by
the celebration of her unintermitted triumphs, ending in a preposterous
and wholly superfluous self-sacrifice.
March laughed for pleasure in her guess, and she pursued, "I suppose you
didn't waste time looking if anybody had brought the last copy of 'Every
"Yes, I did; and I found the one you had left in your steamer chair--for
advertising purposes, probably."
"Mr. Burnamy has another," she said. "I saw it sticking out of his
pocket this morning."
"Oh, yes. He told me he had got it on the train from Chicago to see if
it had his poem in it. He's an ingenuous soul--in some ways."
"Well, that is the very reason why you ought to find out whether the men
are going to dress, and let him know. He would never think of it
"Neither would I," said her husband.
"Very well, if you wish to spoil his chance at the outset," she sighed.
She did not quite know whether to be glad or not that the men were all in
sacks and cutaways at dinner; it saved her, from shame for her husband
and Mr. Burnamy; but it put her in the wrong. Every one talked; even the
father and daughter talked with each other, and at one moment Mrs. March
could not be quite sure that the daughter had not looked at her when she
spoke. She could not be mistaken in the remark which the father
addressed to Burnamy, though it led to nothing.
The dinner was uncommonly good, as the first dinner out is apt to be; and
it went gayly on from soup to fruit, which was of the American abundance
and variety, and as yet not of the veteran freshness imparted by the ice-
closet. Everybody was eating it, when by a common consciousness they
were aware of alien witnesses. They looked up as by a single impulse,
and saw at the port the gaunt face of a steerage passenger staring down
upon their luxury; he held on his arm a child that shared his regard with
yet hungrier eyes. A boy's nose showed itself as if tiptoed to the
height of the man's elbow; a young girl peered over his other arm.
The passengers glanced at one another; the two table-stewards, with their
napkins in their hands, smiled vaguely, and made some indefinite
The bachelor at the head of the table broke the spell. "I'm glad it
didn't begin with the Little Neck clams!"
"Probably they only let those people come for the dessert," March
The widow now followed the direction of the other eyes; and looked up
over her shoulder; she gave a little cry, and shrank down. The young
bride made her petted mouth, in appeal to the company; her husband looked
severe, as if he were going to do something, but refrained, not to make a
scene. The reticent father threw one of his staccato glances at the
port, and Mrs. March was sure that she saw the daughter steal a look at
The young fellow laughed. "I don't suppose there's anything to be done
about it, unless we pass out a plate."
Mr. Kenby shook his head. "It wouldn't do. We might send for the
captain. Or the chief steward."
The faces at the port vanished. At other ports profiles passed and
repassed, as if the steerage passengers had their promenade under them,
but they paused no more.
The Marches went up to their steamer chairs, and from her exasperated
nerves Mrs. March denounced the arrangement of the ship which had made
such a cruel thing possible.
"Oh," he mocked, "they had probably had a good substantial meal of their
own, and the scene of our banquet was of the quality of a picture, a
purely aesthetic treat. But supposing it wasn't, we're doing something
like it every day and every moment of our lives. The Norumbia is a piece
of the whole world's civilization set afloat, and passing from shore to
shore with unchanged classes, and conditions. A ship's merely a small
stage, where we're brought to close quarters with the daily drama of
"Well, then," she protested, "I don't like being brought to close
quarters with the daily drama of humanity, as you call it. And I don't
believe that the large English ships are built so that the steerage
passengers can stare in at the saloon windows while one is eating; and
I'm sorry we came on the Norumbia."
"Ah, you think the Norumbia doesn't hide anything," he began, and he was
going to speak of the men in the furnace pits of the steamer, how they
fed the fires in a welding heat, and as if they had perished in it crept
out on the forecastle like blanched phantasms of toil; but she interposed
"If there's anything worse, for pity's sake don't tell me," she
entreated, and he forebore.
He sat thinking how once the world had not seemed to have even death in
it, and then how as he had grown older death had come into it more and
more, and suffering was lurking everywhere, and could hardly be kept out
of sight. He wondered if that young Burnamy now saw the world as he used
to see it, a place for making verse and making love, and full of beauty
of all kinds waiting to be fitted with phrases. He had lived a happy
life; Burnamy would be lucky if he should live one half as happy; and yet
if he could show him his whole happy life, just as it had truly been,
must not the young man shrink from such a picture of his future?
"Say something," said his wife. "What are you thinking about?"
"Oh, Burnamy," he answered, honestly enough.
"I was thinking about the children," she said. "I am glad Bella didn't
try to come from Chicago to see us off; it would have been too silly; she
is getting to be very sensible. I hope Tom won't take the covers off the
furniture when he has the fellows in to see him."
"Well, I want him to get all the comfort he can out of the place, even if
the moths eat up every stick of furniture."
"Yes, so do I. And of course you're wishing that you were there with
him!" March laughed guiltily. "Well, perhaps it was a crazy thing for
us to start off alone for Europe, at our age."
"Nothing of the kind," he retorted in the necessity he perceived for
staying her drooping spirits. "I wouldn't be anywhere else on any
account. Isn't it perfectly delicious? It puts me in mind of that night
on the Lake Ontario boat, when we were starting for Montreal. There was
the same sort of red sunset, and the air wasn't a bit softer than this."
He spoke of a night on their wedding-journey when they were sill new
enough from Europe to be comparing everything at home with things there.
"Well, perhaps we shall get into the spirit of it again," she said, and
they talked a long time of the past.
All the mechanical noises were muffled in the dull air, and the wash of
the ship's course through the waveless sea made itself pleasantly heard.
In the offing a steamer homeward bound swam smoothly by, so close that
her lights outlined her to the eye; she sent up some signal rockets that
soared against the purple heaven in green and crimson, and spoke to the
Norumbia in the mysterious mute phrases of ships that meet in the dark.
Mrs. March wondered what had become of Burnamy; the promenades were much
freer now than they had been since the ship sailed; when she rose to go
below, she caught sight of Burnamy walking the deck transversely with
some lady. She clutched her husband's arm and stayed him in rich
"Do you suppose he can have got her to walking with him already?"
They waited till Burnamy and his companion came in sight again. She was
tilting forward, and turning from the waist, now to him and now from him.
"No; it's that pivotal girl," said March; and his wife said, "Well, I'm
glad he won't be put down by them."
In the music-room sat the people she meant, and at the instant she passed
on down the stairs, the daughter was saying to the father, "I don't see
why you didn't tell me sooner, papa."
"It was such an unimportant matter that I didn't think to mention it.
He offered it, and I took it; that was all. What difference could it
have made to you?"
"None. But one doesn't like to do any one an injustice."
"I didn't know you were thinking anything about it."
"No, of course not."
The voyage of the Norumbia was one of those which passengers say they
have never seen anything like, though for the first two or three days out
neither the doctor nor the deck-steward could be got, to prophesy when
the ship would be in. There was only a day or two when it could really
be called rough, and the sea-sickness was confined to those who seemed
wilful sufferers; they lay on the cushioned benching around the stairs-
landing, and subsisted on biscuit and beef tea without qualifying the
monotonous well-being of the other passengers, who passed without
The second morning there was rain, and the air freshened, but the leaden
sea lay level as before. The sun shone in the afternoon; with the sunset
the fog came thick and white; the ship lowed dismally through the night;
from the dense folds of the mist answering noises called back to her.
Just before dark two men in a dory shouted up to her close under her
bows, and then melted out of sight; when the dark fell the lights of
fishing-schooners were seen, and their bells pealed; once loud cries from
a vessel near at hand made themselves heard. Some people in the dining-
saloon sang hymns; the smoking-room was dense with cigar fumes, and the
card-players dealt their hands in an atmosphere emulous of the fog
The Norumbia was off the Banks, and the second day of fog was cold as if
icebergs were haunting the opaque pallor around her. In the ranks of
steamer chairs people lay like mummies in their dense wrappings; in the
music-room the little children of travel discussed the different lines of
steamers on which they had crossed, and babes of five and seven disputed
about the motion on the Cunarders and White Stars; their nurses tried in
vain to still them in behalf of older passengers trying to write letters
By the next morning the ship had run out of the fog; and people who could
keep their feet said they were glad of the greater motion which they
found beyond the Banks. They now talked of the heat of the first days
out, and how much they had suffered; some who had passed the night on
board before sailing tried to impart a sense of their misery in trying to
A day or two later a storm struck the ship, and the sailors stretched
canvas along the weather promenade and put up a sheathing of boards
across the bow end to keep off the rain. Yet a day or two more and the
sea had fallen again and there was dancing on the widest space of the lee
The little events of the sea outside the steamer offered themselves in
their poor variety. Once a ship in the offing, with all its square sails
set, lifted them like three white towers from the deep. On the rim of
the ocean the length of some westward liner blocked itself out against
the horizon, and swiftly trailed its smoke out of sight. A few tramp
steamers, lounging and lunging through the trough of the sea, were
overtaken and left behind; an old brigantine passed so close that her
rusty iron sides showed plain, and one could discern the faces of the
people on board.
The steamer was oftenest without the sign of any life beyond her. One
day a small bird beat the air with its little wings, under the roof of
the promenade, and then flittered from sight over the surface, of the
waste; a school of porpoises, stiff and wooden in their rise, plunged
clumsily from wave to wave. The deep itself had sometimes the unreality,
the artificiality of the canvas sea of the theatre. Commonly it was
livid and cold in color; but there was a morning when it was delicately
misted, and where the mist left it clear, it was blue and exquisitely
iridescent under the pale sun; the wrinkled waves were finely pitted by
the falling spray. These were rare moments; mostly, when it was not like
painted canvas, is was hard like black rock, with surfaces of smooth
cleavage. Where it met the sky it lay flat and motionless, or in the
rougher weather carved itself along the horizon in successions of surges.
If the sun rose clear, it was overcast in a few hours; then the clouds
broke and let a little sunshine through, to close again before the dim
evening thickened over the waters. Sometimes the moon looked through the
ragged curtain of vapors; one night it seemed to shine till morning, and
shook a path of quicksilver from the horizon to the ship. Through every
change, after she had left the fog behind, the steamer drove on with the
pulse of her engines (that stopped no more than a man's heart stops) in a
course which had nothing to mark it but the spread of the furrows from
her sides, and the wake that foamed from her stern to the western verge
of the sea.
The life of the ship, like the life of the sea, was a sodden monotony,
with certain events which were part of the monotony. In the morning the
little steward's bugle called the passengers from their dreams, and half
an hour later called them to their breakfast, after such as chose had
been served with coffee by their bedroom-stewards. Then they went on
deck, where they read, or dozed in their chairs, or walked up and down,
or stood in the way of those who were walking; or played shuffleboard and
ring-toss; or smoked, and drank whiskey and aerated waters over their
cards and papers in the smoking-room; or wrote letters in the saloon or
the music-room. At eleven o'clock they spoiled their appetites for lunch
with tea or bouillon to the music of a band of second-cabin stewards; at
one, a single blast of the bugle called them to lunch, where they glutted
themselves to the torpor from which they afterwards drowsed in their
berths or chairs. They did the same things in the afternoon that they
had done in the forenoon; and at four o'clock the deck-stewards came
round with their cups and saucers, and their plates of sandwiches, again
to the music of the band. There were two bugle-calls for dinner, and
after dinner some went early to bed, and some sat up late and had grills
and toast. At twelve the lights were put out in the saloons and the
There were various smells which stored themselves up in the consciousness
to remain lastingly relative to certain moments and places: a whiff of
whiskey and tobacco that exhaled from the door of the smoking-room; the
odor of oil and steam rising from the open skylights over the engine-
room; the scent of stale bread about the doors of the dining-saloon.
The life was like the life at a sea-side hotel, only more monotonous.
The walking was limited; the talk was the tentative talk of people aware
that there was no refuge if they got tired of one another. The flirting
itself, such as there was of it, must be carried on in the glare of the
pervasive publicity; it must be crude and bold, or not be at all.
There seemed to be very little of it. There were not many young people
on board of saloon quality, and these were mostly girls. The young men
were mainly of the smoking-room sort; they seldom risked themselves among
the steamer chairs. It was gayer in the second cabin, and gayer yet in
the steerage, where robuster emotions were operated by the accordion.
The passengers there danced to its music; they sang to it and laughed to
it unabashed under the eyes of the first-cabin witnesses clustered along
the rail above the pit where they took their rude pleasures.
With March it came to his spending many hours of each long, swift day in
his berth with a book under the convenient electric light. He was safe
there from the acquaintances which constantly formed themselves only to
fall into disintegration, and cling to him afterwards as inorganic
particles of weather-guessing, and smoking-room gossip about the ship's
In the earliest hours of the voyage he thought that he saw some faces of
the great world, the world of wealth and fashion; but these afterward
vanished, and left him to wonder where they hid themselves. He did not
meet them even in going to and from his meals; he could only imagine them
served in those palatial state-rooms whose interiors the stewards now and
then rather obtruded upon the public. There were people whom he
encountered in the promenades when he got up for the sunrise, and whom he
never saw at other times; at midnight he met men prowling in the dark
whom he never met by day. But none of these were people of the great
world. Before six o'clock they were sometimes second-cabin passengers,
whose barrier was then lifted for a little while to give them the freedom
of the saloon promenade.
From time to time he thought he would look up his Ohioan, and revive from
a closer study of him his interest in the rare American who had never
been to Europe. But he kept with his elderly wife, who had the effect of
withholding him from March's advances. Young Mr. and Mrs. Leffers threw
off more and more their disguise of a long-married pair, and became
frankly bride and groom. They seldom talked with any one else, except at
table; they walked up and down together, smiling into each others faces;
they sat side by side in their steamer chairs; one shawl covered them
both, and there was reason to believe that they were holding each other's
hands under it.
Mrs. Adding often took the chair beside Mrs. March when her husband was
straying about the ship or reading in his berth; and the two ladies must
have exchanged autobiographies, for Mrs. March was able to tell him just
how long Mrs. Adding had been a widow, what her husband died of, and what
had been done to save him; how she was now perfectly wrapt up in her boy,
and was taking him abroad, with some notion of going to Switzerland,
after the summer's travel, and settling down with him at school there.
She and Mrs. March became great friends; and Rose, as his mother called
him, attached himself reverently to March, not only as a celebrity of the
first grade in his quality of editor of 'Every Other Week', but as a sage
of wisdom and goodness, with whom he must not lose the chance of counsel
upon almost every hypothesis and exigency of life.
March could not bring himself to place Burnamy quite where he belonged in
contemporary literature, when Rose put him very high in virtue of the
poem which he heard Burnamy was going to have printed in 'Every Other
Week', and of the book which he was going to have published; and he let
the boy bring to the young fellow the flattery which can come to any
author but once, in the first request for his autograph that Burnamy
confessed to have had. They were so near in age, though they were ten
years apart, that Rose stood much more in awe of Burnamy than of others
much more his seniors. He was often in the company of Kenby, whom he
valued next to March as a person acquainted with men; he consulted March
upon Kenby's practice of always taking up the language of the country he
visited, if it were only for a fortnight; and he conceived a higher
opinion of him from March's approval.
Burnamy was most with Mrs. March, who made him talk about himself when he
supposed he was talking about literature, in the hope that she could get
him to talk about the Triscoes; but she listened in vain as he poured
out-his soul in theories of literary art, and in histories of what he had
written and what he meant to write. When he passed them where they sat
together, March heard the young fellow's perpetually recurring I, I, I,
my, my, my, me, me, me; and smiled to think how she was suffering under
the drip-drip of his innocent egotism.
She bore in a sort of scientific patience his attentions to the pivotal
girl, and Miss Triscoe's indifference to him, in which a less penetrating
scrutiny could have detected no change from meal to meal. It was only at
table that she could see them together, or that she could note any break
in the reserve of the father and daughter. The signs of this were so
fine that when she reported them March laughed in scornful incredulity.
But at breakfast the third day out, the Triscoes, with the authority of
people accustomed to social consideration, suddenly turned to the
Marches, and began to make themselves agreeable; the father spoke to
March of 'Every Other Week', which he seemed to know of in its relation
to him; and the young girl addressed herself to Mrs. March's motherly
sense not the less acceptably because indirectly. She spoke of going out
with her father for an indefinite time, as if it were rather his wish
than hers, and she made some inquiries about places in Germany; they had
never been in Germany. They had some idea of Dresden; but the idea of
Dresden with its American colony seemed rather tiresome; and did Mrs.
March know anything about Weimar?
Mrs. March was obliged to say that she knew nothing about anyplace in
Germany; and she explained perhaps too fully where and why she was going
with her husband. She fancied a Boston note in that scorn for the