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