The Entire March Family Trilogy by William Dean Howells

This etext was produced by David Widger THE ENTIRE MARCH FAMILY TRILOGY By William Dean Howells CONTENTS: Their Wedding Journey The Outset A Midsummer-day’s Dream The Night Boat A Day’s Railroading The Enchanted City, and Beyond Niagara Down the St. Lawrence The Sentiment of Montreal Homeward and Home Niagara Revisited Twelve Years after Their Wedding
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  • 1871
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This etext was produced by David Widger

[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks at the end of each file for those who may wish to sample the author’s ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]


By William Dean Howells


Their Wedding Journey
The Outset
A Midsummer-day’s Dream
The Night Boat
A Day’s Railroading
The Enchanted City, and Beyond
Down the St. Lawrence
The Sentiment of Montreal
Homeward and Home
Niagara Revisited Twelve Years after Their Wedding A Hazard of New Fortunes
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Their Silver Wedding Journey
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3


By William Dean Howells



They first met in Boston, but the match was made in Europe, where they afterwards saw each other; whither, indeed, he followed her; and there the match was also broken off. Why it was broken off, and why it was renewed after a lapse of years, is part of quite a long love-story, which I do not think myself qualified to rehearse, distrusting my fitness for a sustained or involved narration; though I am persuaded that a skillful romancer could turn the courtship of Basil. and Isabel March to excellent account. Fortunately for me, however, in attempting to tell the reader of the wedding-journey of a newly married couple, no longer very young, to be sure, but still fresh in the light of their love, I shall have nothing to do but to talk of some ordinary traits of American life as these appeared to them, to speak a little of well-known and easily accessible places, to present now a bit of landscape and now a sketch of character.

They had agreed to make their wedding-journey in the simplest and quietest way, and as it did not take place at once after their marriage, but some weeks later, it had all the desired charm of privacy from the outset.

“How much better,” said Isabel, “to go now, when nobody cares whether you go or stay, than to have started off upon a wretched wedding-breakfast, all tears and trousseau, and had people wanting to see you aboard the cars. Now there will not be a suspicion of honey-moonshine about us; we shall go just like anybody else,–with a difference, dear, with a difference!” and she took Basil’s cheeks between her hands. In order to do this, she had to ran round the table; for they were at dinner, and Isabel’s aunt, with whom they had begun married life, sat substantial between them. It was rather a girlish thing for Isabel, and she added, with a conscious blush, “We are past our first youth, you know; and we shall not strike the public as bridal, shall we? My one horror in life is an evident bride.”

Basil looked at her fondly, as if he did not think her at all too old to be taken for a bride; and for my part I do not object to a woman’s being of Isabel’s age, if she is of a good heart and temper. Life must have been very unkind to her if at that age she have not won more than she has lost. It seemed to Basil that his wife was quite as fair as when they met first, eight years before; but he could not help recurring with an inextinguishable regret to the long interval of their broken engagement, which but for that fatality they might have spent together, he imagined, in just such rapture as this. The regret always haunted him, more or less; it was part of his love; the loss accounted irreparable really enriched the final gain.

“I don’t know,” he said presently, with as much gravity as a man can whose cheeks are clasped between a lady’s hands, “you don’t begin very well for a bride who wishes to keep her secret. If you behave in this way, they will put us into the ‘bridal chambers’ at all the hotels. And the cars–they’re beginning to have them on the palace-cars.”

Just then a shadow fell into the room.

“Wasn’t that thunder, Isabel?” asked her aunt, who had been contentedly surveying the tender spectacle before her. “O dear! you’ll never be able to go by the boat to-night, if it storms. It ‘s actually raining now!”

In fact, it was the beginning of that terrible storm of June, 1870. All in a moment, out of the hot sunshine of the day it burst upon us before we quite knew that it threatened, even before we had fairly noticed the clouds, and it went on from passion to passion with an inexhaustible violence. In the square upon which our friends looked out of their dining-room windows the trees whitened in the gusts, and darkened in the driving floods of the rainfall, and in some paroxysms of the tempest bent themselves in desperate submission, and then with a great shudder rent away whole branches and flung them far off upon the ground. Hail mingled with the rain, and now the few umbrellas that had braved the storm vanished, and the hurtling ice crackled upon the pavement, where the lightning played like flames burning from the earth, while the thunder roared overhead without ceasing. There was something splendidly theatrical about it all; and when a street-car, laden to the last inch of its capacity, came by, with horses that pranced and leaped under the stinging blows of the hailstones, our friends felt as if it were an effective and very naturalistic bit of pantomime contrived for their admiration. Yet as to themselves they were very sensible of a potent reality in the affair, and at intervals during the storm they debated about going at all that day, and decided to go and not to go, according to the changing complexion of the elements. Basil had said that as this was their first journey together in America, he wished to give it at the beginning as pungent a national character as possible, and that as he could imagine nothing more peculiarly American than a voyage to New York by a Fall River boat, they ought to take that route thither. So much upholstery, so much music, such variety cf company, he understood, could not be got in any other way, and it might be that they would even catch a glimpse of the inventor of the combination, who represented the very excess and extremity of a certain kind of Americanism. Isabel had eagerly consented; but these aesthetic motives were paralyzed for her by the thought of passing Point Judith in a storm, and she descended from her high intents first to the Inside Boats, without the magnificence and the orchestra, and then to the idea of going by land in a sleeping-car. Having comfortably accomplished this feat, she treated Basil’s consent as a matter of course, not because she did not regard him, but because as a woman she could not conceive of the steps to her conclusion as unknown to him, and always treated her own decisions as the product of their common reasoning. But her husband held out for the boat, and insisted that if the storm fell before seven o’clock, they could reach it at Newport by the last express; and it was this obstinacy that, in proof of Isabel’s wisdom, obliged them to wait two hours in the station before going by the land route. The storm abated at five o’clock, and though the rain continued, it seemed well by a quarter of seven to set out for the Old Colony Depot, in sight of which a sudden and vivid flash of lightning caused Isabel to seize her husband’s arm, and to implore him, “O don’t go by the boat!” On this, Basil had the incredible weakness to yield; and bade the driver take them to the Worcester Depot. It was the first swerving from the ideal in their wedding journey, but it was by no means the last; though it must be confessed that it was early to begin.

They both felt more tranquil when they were irretrievably committed by the purchase of their tickets, and when they sat down in the waiting. room of the station, with all the time between seven and nine o’clock before them. Basil would have eked out the business of checking the trunks into an affair of some length, but the baggage-master did his duty with pitiless celerity; and so Basil, in the mere excess of his disoccupation, bought an accident-insurance ticket. This employed him half a minute, and then he gave up the unequal contest, and went and took his place beside Isabel, who sat prettily wrapped in her shawl, perfectly content.

“Isn’t it charming,” she said gayly, “having to wait so long? It puts me in mind of some of those other journeys we took together. But I can’t think of those times with any patience, when we might really have had each other, and didn’t! Do you remember how long we had to wait at Chambery? and the numbers of military gentlemen that waited too, with their little waists, and their kisses when they met? and that poor married military gentleman, with the plain wife and the two children, and a tarnished uniform? He seemed to be somehow in misfortune, and his mustache hung down in such a spiritless way, while all the other military mustaches about curled and bristled with so much boldness. I think ‘salles d’attente’ everywhere are delightful, and there is such a community of interest in them all, that when I come here only to go out to Brookline, I feel myself a traveller once more,–a blessed stranger in a strange land. O dear, Basil, those were happy times after all, when we might have had each other and didn’t! And now we’re the more precious for having been so long lost.”

She drew closer and closer to him, and looked at him in a way that threatened betrayal of her bridal character.

“Isabel, you will be having your head on my shoulder, next,” said he.

“Never!” she answered fiercely, recovering her distance with a start. “But, dearest, if you do see me going to–act absurdly, you know, do stop me.”

“I’m very sorry, but I’ve got myself to stop. Besides, I didn’t undertake to preserve the incognito of this bridal party.”

If any accident of the sort dreaded had really happened, it would not have mattered so much, for as yet they were the sole occupants of the waiting room. To be sure, the ticket-seller was there, and the lady who checked packages left in her charge, but these must have seen so many endearments pass between passengers,–that a fleeting caress or so would scarcely have drawn their notice to our pair. Yet Isabel did not so much even as put her hand into her husband’s; and as Basil afterwards said, it was very good practice.

Our temporary state, whatever it is, is often mirrored in all that come near us, and our friends were fated to meet frequent parodies of their happiness from first to last on this journey. The travesty began with the very first people who entered the waiting-room after themselves, and who were a very young couple starting like themselves upon a pleasure tour, which also was evidently one of the first tours of any kind that they had made. It was of modest extent, and comprised going to New York and back; but they talked of it with a fluttered and joyful expectation as if it were a voyage to Europe. Presently there appeared a burlesque of their happiness (but with a touch of tragedy) in that kind of young man who is called by the females of his class a fellow, and two young women of that kind known to him as girls. He took a place between these, and presently began a robust flirtation with one of them. He possessed himself, after a brief struggle, of her parasol, and twirled it about, as he uttered, with a sort of tender rudeness inconceivable vapidities, such as you would expect from none but a man of the highest fashion. The girl thus courted became selfishly unconscious of everything but her own joy, and made no attempt to bring the other girl within its warmth, but left her to languish forgotten on the other side. The latter sometimes leaned forward, and tried to divert a little of the flirtation to herself, but the flirters snubbed her with short answers, and presently she gave up and sat still in the sad patience of uncourted women. In this attitude she became a burden to Isabel, who was glad when the three took themselves away, and were succeeded by a very stylish couple–from New York, she knew as well as if they had given her their address on West 999th Street. The lady was not pretty, and she was not, Isabel thought, dressed in the perfect taste of Boston; but she owned frankly to herself that the New-Yorkeress was stylish, undeniably effective. The gentleman bought a ticket for New York, and remained at the window of the office talking quite easily with the seller.

“You couldn’t do that, my poor Basil,” said Isabel, “you’d be afraid.”

“O dear, yes; I’m only too glad to get off without browbeating; though I must say that this officer looks affable enough. Really,” he added, as an acquaintance of the ticket-seller came in and nodded to him and said “Hot, to-day!” “this is very strange. I always felt as if these men had no private life, no friendships like the rest of us. On duty they seem so like sovereigns, set apart from mankind, and above us all, that it’s quite incredible they should have the common personal relations.”

At intervals of their talk and silence there came vivid flashes of lightning and quite heavy shocks of thunder, very consoling to our friends, who took them as so many compliments to their prudence in not going by the boat, and who had secret doubts of their wisdom whenever these acknowledgments were withheld. Isabel went so far as to say that she hoped nothing would happen to the boat, but I think she would cheerfully have learnt that the vessel had been obliged to put back to Newport, on account of the storm, or even that it had been driven ashore at a perfectly safe place.

People constantly came and went in the waiting-room, which was sometimes quite full, and again empty of all but themselves. In the course of their observations they formed many cordial friendships and bitter enmities upon the ground of personal appearance, or particulars of dress, with people whom they saw for half a minute upon an average; and they took such a keen interest in every one, that it would be hard to say whether they were more concerned in an old gentleman with vigorously upright iron-gray hair, who sat fronting them, and reading all the evening papers, or a young man who hurled himself through the door, bought a ticket with terrific precipitation, burst out again, and then ran down a departing train before it got out of the station: they loved the old gentleman for a certain stubborn benevolence of expression, and if they had been friends of the young man and his family for generations and felt bound if any harm befell him to go and break the news gently to his parents, their nerves could not have been more intimately wrought upon by his hazardous behavior. Still, as they had their tickets for New York, and he was going out on a merely local train,–to Brookline, I believe, they could not, even in their anxiety, repress a feeling of contempt for his unambitious destination.

They were already as completely cut off from local associations and sympathies as if they were a thousand miles and many months away from Boston. They enjoyed the lonely flaring of the gas-jets as a gust of wind drew through the station; they shared the gloom and isolation of a man who took a seat in the darkest corner of the room, and sat there with folded arms, the genius of absence. In the patronizing spirit of travellers in a foreign country they noted and approved the vases of cut- flowers in the booth of the lady who checked packages, and the pots of ivy in her windows. “These poor Bostonians,” they said; “have some love of the beautiful in their rugged natures.”

But after all was said and thought, it was only eight o’clock, and they still had an hour to wait.

Basil grew restless, and Isabel said, with a subtile interpretation of his uneasiness, “I don’t want anything to eat, Basil, but I think I know the weaknesses of men; and you had better go and pass the next half-hour over a plate of something indigestible.”

This was said ‘con stizza’, the least little suggestion of it; but Basil rose with shameful alacrity. “Darling, if it’s your wish–“

“It’s my fate, Basil,” said Isabel.

“I’ll go,” he exclaimed, “because it isn’t bridal, and will help us to pass for old married people.”

“No, no, Basil, be honest; fibbing isn’t your forte: I wonder you went into the insurance business; you ought to have been a lawyer. Go because you like eating, and are hungry, perhaps, or think you may be so before we get to New York.

“I shall amuse myself well enough here!”

I suppose it is always a little shocking and grievous to a wife when she recognizes a rival in butchers’-meat and the vegetables of the season. With her slender relishes for pastry and confectionery and her dainty habits of lunching, she cannot reconcile with the idea (of) her husband’s capacity for breakfasting, dining, supping, and hot meals at all hours of the day and night–as they write it on the sign-boards of barbaric eating-houses. But isabel would have only herself to blame if she had not perceived this trait of Basil’s before marriage. She recurred now, as his figure disappeared down the station, to memorable instances of his appetite in their European travels during their first engagement. “Yes, he ate terribly at Susa, when I was too full of the notion of getting into Italy to care for bouillon and cold roast chicken. At Rome I thought I must break with him on account of the wild-boar; and at Heidelberg, the sausage and the ham!–how could he, in my presence? But I took him with all his faults,–and was glad to get him,” she added, ending her meditation with a little burst of candor; and she did not even think of Basil’s appetite when he reappeared.

With the thronging of many sorts of people, in parties and singly, into the waiting room, they became once again mere observers of their kind, more or less critical in temper, until the crowd grew so that individual traits were merged in the character of multitude. Even then, they could catch glimpses of faces so sweet or fine that they made themselves felt like moments of repose in the tumult, and here and there was something so grotesque in dress of manner that it showed distinct from the rest. The ticket-seller’s stamp clicked incessantly as he sold tickets to all points South and West: to New York, Philadelphia, Charleston; to New Orleans, Chicago, Omaha; to St. Paul, Duluth, St. Louis; and it would not have been hard to find in that anxious bustle, that unsmiling eagerness, an image of the whole busy affair of life. It was not a particularly sane spectacle, that impatience to be off to some place that lay not only in the distance, but also in the future–to which no line of road carries you with absolute certainty across an interval of time full of every imaginable chance and influence. It is easy enough to buy a ticket to Cincinnati, but it is somewhat harder to arrive there. Say that all goes well, is it exactly you who arrive?

In the midst of the disquiet there entered at last an old woman, so very infirm that she had to be upheld on either hand by her husband and the hackman who had brought them, while a young girl went before with shawls and pillows which she arranged upon the seat. There the invalid lay down, and turned towards the crowd a white, suffering face, which was yet so heavenly meek and peaceful that it comforted whoever looked at it.

In spirit our happy friends bowed themselves before it and owned that there was something better than happiness in it.

“What is it like, Isabel?”

“O, I don’t know, darling,” she said; but she thought, “Perhaps it is like some blessed sorrow that takes us out of this prison of a world, and sets us free of our every-day hates and desires, our aims, our fears. ourselves. Maybe a long and mortal sickness might come to wear such a face in one of us two, and the other could see it, and not regret the poor mask of youth and pretty looks that had fallen away.”

She rose and went over to the sick woman, on whose face beamed a tender smile, as Isabel spoke to her. A chord thrilled in two lives hitherto unknown to each other; but what was said Basil would not ask when the invalid had taken Isabel’s hand between her own, as for adieu, and she came back to his side with swimming eyes. Perhaps his wife could have given no good reason for her emotion, if he had asked it. But it made her very sweet and dear to him; and I suppose that when a tolerably unselfish man is once secure of a woman’s love, he is ordinarily more affected by her compassion and tenderness for other objects than by her feelings towards himself. He likes well enough to think, “She loves me,” but still better, “How kind and good she is!”

They lost sight of the invalid in the hurry of getting places on the cars, and they never saw her again. The man at the wicket-gate leading to the train had thrown it up, and the people were pressing furiously through as if their lives hung upon the chance of instant passage. Basil had secured his ticket for the sleeping-car, and so he and Isabel stood aside and watched the tumult. When the rash was over they passed through, and as they walked up and down the platform beside the train, “I was thinking,” said Isabel, “after I spoke to that poor old lady, of what Clara Williams says: that she wonders the happiest women in the world can look each other in the face without bursting into tears, their happiness is so unreasonable, and so built upon and hedged about with misery. She declares that there’s nothing so sad to her as a bride, unless it’s a young mother, or a little girl growing up in the innocent gayety of her heart. She wonders they can live through it.”

“Clara is very much of a reformer, and would make an end of all of us men, I suppose,–except her father, who supports her in the leisure that enables her to do her deep thinking. She little knows what we poor fellows have to suffer, and how often we break down in business hours, and sob upon one another’s necks. Did that old lady talk to you in the same strain?”

“O no! she spoke very calmly of her sickness, and said she had lived a blessed life. Perhaps it was that made me shed those few small tears. She seemed a very religious person.”

“Yes,” said Basil, “it is almost a pity that religion is going out. But then you are to have the franchise.”

“All aboard!”

This warning cry saved him from whatever heresy he might have been about to utter; and presently the train carried them out into the gas-sprinkled darkness, with an ever-growing speed that soon left the city lamps far behind. It is a phenomenon whose commonness alone prevents it from being most impressive, that departure of the night-express. The two hundred miles it is to travel stretch before it, traced by those slender clews, to lose which is ruin, and about which hang so many dangers. The draw bridges that gape upon the way, the trains that stand smoking and steaming on the track, the rail that has borne the wear so long that it must soon snap under it, the deep cut where the overhanging mass of rock trembles to its fall, the obstruction that a pitiless malice may have placed in your path,–you think of these after the journey is done, but they seldom haunt your fancy while it lasts. The knowledge of your helplessness in any circumstances is so perfect that it begets a sense of irresponsibility, almost of security; and as you drowse upon the pallet of the sleeping car, and feel yourself hurled forward through the obscurity, you are almost thankful that you can do nothing, for it is upon this condition only that you can endure it; and some such condition as this, I suppose, accounts for many heroic facts in the world. To the fantastic mood which possesses you equally, sleeping or waking, the stoppages of the train have a weird character; and Worcester, Springfield, New Haven, and Stamford are rather points in dream-land than well-known towns of New England. As the train stops you drowse if you have been waking, and wake if you have been in a doze; but in any case you are aware of the locomotive hissing and coughing beyond the station, of flaring gas-jets, of clattering feet of passengers getting on and off; then of some one, conductor or station-master, walking the whole length of the train; and then you are aware of an insane satisfaction in renewed flight through the darkness. You think hazily of the folk in their beds in the town left behind, who stir uneasily at the sound of your train’s departing whistle; and so all is a blank vigil or a blank slumber.

By daylight Basil and Isabel found themselves at opposite ends of the car, struggling severally with the problem of the morning’s toilet. When the combat was ended, they were surprised at the decency of their appearance, and Isabel said, “I think I’m presentable to an early Broadway public, and I’ve a fancy for not going to a hotel. Lucy will be expecting us out there before noon; and we can pass the time pleasantly enough for a few hours just wandering about.”

She was a woman who loved any cheap defiance of custom, and she had an agreeable sense of adventure in what she proposed. Besides, she felt that nothing could be more in the unconventional spirit in which they meant to make their whole journey than a stroll about New York at half- past six in the morning.

“Delightful!” answered Basil, who was always charmed with these small originalities. “You look well enough for an evening party; and besides, you won’t meet one of your own critical class on Broadway at this hour. We will breakfast at one of those gilded metropolitan restaurants, and then go round to Leonard’s, who will be able to give us just three unhurried seconds. After that we’ll push on out to his place.”

At that early hour there were not many people astir on the wide avenue down which our friends strolled when they left the station; but in the aspect of those they saw there was something that told of a greater heat than they had yet known in Boston, and they were sensible of having reached a more southern latitude. The air, though freshened by the over- night’s storm, still wanted the briskness and sparkle and pungency of the Boston air, which is as delicious in summer as it is terrible in winter; and the faces that showed themselves were sodden from the yesterday’s heat and perspiration. A corner-grocer, seated in a sort of fierce despondency upon a keg near his shop door, had lightly equipped himself for the struggle of the day in the battered armor of the day before, and in a pair of roomy pantaloons, and a baggy shirt of neutral tint–perhaps he had made a vow not to change it whilst the siege of the hot weather lasted,–now confronted the advancing sunlight, before which the long shadows of the buildings were slowly retiring. A marketing mother of a family paused at a provision-store, and looking weakly in at the white- aproned butcher among his meats and flies, passes without an effort to purchase. Hurried and wearied shop-girls tripped by in the draperies that betrayed their sad necessity to be both fine and shabby; from a boarding-house door issued briskly one of those cool young New Yorkers whom no circumstances can oppress: breezy-coated, white-livened, clean, with a good cigar in the mouth, a light cane caught upon the elbow of one of the arms holding up the paper from which the morning’s news is snatched, whilst the person sways lightly with the walk; in the street- cars that slowly tinkled up and down were rows of people with baskets between their legs and papers before their faces; and all showed by some peculiarity of air or dress the excess of heat which they had already borne, and to which they seemed to look forward, and gave by the scantiness of their number a vivid impression of the uncounted thousands within doors prolonging, before the day’s terror began, the oblivion of sleep.

As they turned into one of the numerical streets to cross to Broadway, and found themselves in a yet deeper seclusion, Basil-began to utter in a musing tone:
“A city against the world’s gray Prime, Lost in some desert, far from Time, Where noiseless Ages gliding through, Have only sifted sands and dew,
Yet still a marble head of man Lying on all the haunted plan;
The passions of the human heart Beating the marble breast of Art, Were not more lone to one who first Upon its giant silence burst,
Than this strange quiet, where the tide Of life, upheaved on either aide, Hangs trembling, ready soon to beat With human waves the Morning Street.”

“How lovely!” said Isabel, swiftly catching at her skirt, and deftly escaping contact with one of a long row of ash-barrels posted sentinel- like on the edge of the pavement. “Whose is it, Basil?”

“Ah! a poet’s,” answered her husband, “a man of whom we shall one day any of us be glad to say that we liked him before he was famous. What a nebulous sweetness the first lines have, and what a clear, cool light of day-break in the last!”

“You could have been as good a poet as that, Basil,” said the ever- personal and concretely-speaking Isabel, who could not look at a mountain without thinking what Basil might have done in that way, if he had tried.

“O no, I couldn’t, dear. It’s very difficult being any poet at all, though it’s easy to be like one. But I’ve done with it; I broke with the Muse the day you accepted me. She came into my office, looking so shabby,–not unlike one of those poor shop-girls; and as I was very well dressed from having just been to see you, why, you know, I felt the difference. ‘Well, my dear?’ said I, not quite liking the look of reproach she was giving me. ‘You are groins to leave me,’ she answered sadly. ‘Well, yes; I suppose I must. You see the insurance business is very absorbing; and besides, it has a bad appearance, your coming about so in office hours, and in those clothes.’ ‘O,’ she moaned out, ‘you used to welcome me at all times, out in the country, and thought me prettily dressed.’ ‘Yes, yes; but this is Boston; and Boston makes a great difference in one’s ideas; and I’m going to be married, too. Come, I don’t want to seem ungrateful; we have had many pleasant times together, I own it; and I’ve no objections to your being present at Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays, but really I must draw the line there.’ She gave me a look that made my heart ache, and went straight to my desk and took out of a pigeon hole a lot of papers,–odes upon your cruelty, Isabel; songs to you; sonnets,–the sonnet, a mighty poor one, I’d made the day before,–and threw them all into the grate. Then she turned to me again, signed adieu with mute lips, and passed out. I could hear the bottom wire of the poor thing’s hoop-skirt clicking against each step of the stairway, as she went slowly and heavily down to the street.” “O don’t–don’t, Basil,” said his wife, “it seems like something wrong. I think you ought to have been ashamed.”

“Ashamed! I was heart broken. But it had to come to that. As I got hopeful about you, the Muse became a sad bore; and more than once I found myself smiling at her when her back was turned. The Muse doesn’t like being laughed at any more than another woman would, and she would have left me shortly. No, I couldn’t be a poet like our Morning-Street friend. But see! the human wave is beginning to sprinkle the pavement with cooks and second-girls.”

They were frowzy serving-maids and silent; each swept down her own door steps and the pavement in front of her own house, and then knocked her broom on the curbstone and vanished into the house, on which the hand of change had already fallen. It was no longer a street solely devoted to the domestic gods, but had been invaded at more than one point by the bustling deities of business in such streets the irregular, inspired doctors and doctresses come first with inordinate door-plates, then a milliner filling the parlor window with new bonnets; here even a publisher had hung his sign beside a door, through which the feet of young ladies used to trip, and the feet of little children to patter. Here and there stood groups of dwellings unmolested as yet outwardly; but even these had a certain careworn and guilty air, as if they knew themselves to be cheapish boarding-houses or furnished lodgings for gentlemen, and were trying to hide it. To these belonged the frowzy serving-women; to these the rows of ash-barrels, in which the decrepit children and mothers of the streets were clawing for bits of coal.

By the time Basil and Isabel reached Broadway there were already some omnibuses beginning their long day’s travel up and down the handsome, tiresome length of that avenue; but for the most part it was empty. There was, of course, a hurry of foot-passengers upon the sidewalks, but these were sparse and uncharacteristic, for New York proper was still fast asleep. The waiter at the restaurant into which our friends stepped was so well aware of this, and so perfectly assured they were not of the city, that he could not forbear a little patronage of them, which they did not resent. He brought Basil what he had ordered in barbaric abundance, and charged for it with barbaric splendor. It is all but impossible not to wish to stand well with your waiter: I have myself been often treated with conspicuous rudeness by the tribe, yet I have never been able to withhold the ‘douceur’ that marked me for a gentleman in their eyes, and entitled me to their dishonorable esteem. Basil was not superior to this folly, and left the waster with the conviction that, if he was not a New Yorker, he was a high-bred man of the world at any rate.

Vexed by a sense of his own pitifulness, this man of the world continued his pilgrimage down Broadway, which even in that desert state was full of a certain interest. Troops of laborers straggled along the pavements, each with his dinner-pail in hand; and in many places the eternal building up and pulling down was already going on; carts were struggling up the slopes of vast cellars, with loads of distracting rubbish; here stood the half-demolished walls of a house, with a sad variety of wall- paper showing in the different rooms; there clinked the trowel upon the brick, yonder the hammer on the stone; overhead swung and threatened the marble block that the derrick was lifting to its place. As yet these forces of demolition and construction had the business of the street almost to themselves.

“Why, how shabby the street is!” said Isabel, at last. When I landed, after being abroad, I remember that Broadway impressed me with its splendor.”

“Ah I but you were merely coming from Europe then; and now you arrive from Burton, and are contrasting this poor Broadway with Washington Street. Don’t be hard upon it, Isabel; every street can’t be a Boston street, you know,” said Basil. Isabel, herself a Bostonian of great intensity both by birth and conviction, believed her husband the only man able to have thoroughly baffled the malignity of the stars in causing him to be born out of Boston; yet he sometimes trifled with his hardly achieved triumph, and even showed an indifference to it, with an insincerity of which there can be no doubt whatever.

“O stuff!” she retorted, “as if I had any of that silly local pride! Though you know well enough that Boston is the best place in the world. But Basil! I suppose Broadway strikes us as so fine, on coming ashore from Europe, because we hardly expect anything of America then.”

“Well, I don’t know. Perhaps the street has some positive grandeur of its own, though it needs a multitude of people in it to bring out its best effects. I’ll allow its disheartening shabbiness and meanness in many ways; but to stand in front of Grace Church, on a clear day,–a day of late September, say,–and look down the swarming length of Broadway, on the movement and the numbers, while the Niagara roar swelled and swelled from those human rapids, was always like strong new wine to me. I don’t think the world affords such another sight; and for one moment, at such times, I’d have been willing to be an Irish councilman, that I might have some right to the pride I felt in the capital of the Irish Republic. What a fine thing it must be for each victim of six centuries of oppression to reflect that he owns at least a dozen Americans, and that, with his fellows, he rules a hundred helpless millionaires!”

Like all daughters of a free country, Isabel knew nothing about politics, and she felt that she was getting into deep water; she answered buoyantly, but she was glad to make her weariness the occasion of hailing a stage, and changing the conversation. The farther down town they went the busier the street grew; and about the Astor House, where they alighted, there was already a bustle that nothing but a fire could have created at the same hour in Boston. A little farther on the steeple of Trinity rose high into the scorching sunlight, while below, in the shadow that was darker than it was cool, slumbered the old graves among their flowers.

“How still they lie!” mused the happy wife, peering through the iron fence in passing.

“Yes, their wedding-journeys are ended, poor things!” said Basil; and through both their minds flashed the wonder if they should ever come to something like that; but it appeared so impossible that they both smiled at the absurdity.

“It’s too early yet for Leonard,” continued Basil; “what a pity the church-yard is locked up. We could spend the time so delightfully in it. But, never mind; let us go down to the Battery,–it ‘s not a very pleasant place, but it’s near, and it’s historical, and it’s open,–where these drowsy friends of ours used to take the air when they were in the fashion, and had some occasion for the element in its freshness. You can imagine–it’s cheap–how they used to see Mr. Burr and Mr. Hamilton down there.”

All places that fashion has once loved and abandoned are very melancholy; but of all such places, I think the Battery is the most forlorn. Are there some sickly locust-trees there that cast a tremulous and decrepit shade upon the mangy grass-plots? I believe so, but I do not make sure; I am certain only of the mangy grass-plots, or rather the spaces between the paths, thinly overgrown with some kind of refuse and opprobrious weed, a stunted and pauper vegetation proper solely to the New York Battery. At that hour of the summer morning when our friends, with the aimlessness of strangers who are waiting to do something else, saw the ancient promenade, a few scant and hungry-eyed little boys and girls were wandering over this weedy growth, not playing, but moving listlessly to and fro, fantastic in the wild inaptness of their costumes. One of these little creatures wore, with an odd involuntary jauntiness, the cast-off best drew of some happier child, a gay little garment cut low in the neck and short in the sleeves, which gave her the grotesque effect of having been at a party the night before. Presently came two jaded women, a mother and a grandmother, that appeared, when they had crawled out of their beds, to have put on only so much clothing as the law compelled. They abandoned themselves upon the green stuff, whatever it was, and, with their lean hands clasped outside their knees, sat and stared, silent and hopeless, at the eastern sky, at the heart of the terrible furnace, into which in those days the world seemed cast to be burnt up, while the child which the younger woman had brought with her feebly wailed unheeded at her side. On one side of these women were the shameless houses out of which they might have crept, and which somehow suggested riotous maritime dissipation; on the other side were those houses in which had once dwelt rich and famous folk, but which were now dropping down the boarding-house scale through various un-homelike occupations to final dishonor and despair. Down nearer the water, and not far from the castle that was once a playhouse and is now the depot of emigration, stood certain express-wagons, and about these lounged a few hard-looking men. Beyond laughed and danced the fresh blue water of the bay, dotted with sails and smokestacks.

“Well,” said Basil, “I think if I could choose, I should like to be a friendless German boy, setting foot for the first time on this happy continent. Fancy his rapture on beholding this lovely spot, and these charming American faces! What a smiling aspect life in the New World must wear to his young eyes, and how his heart must leap within him!”

“Yes, Basil; it’s all very pleasing, and thank yon for bringing me. But if you don’t think of any other New York delights to show me, do let us go and sit in Leonard’s office till he comes, and then get out into the country as soon as possible.”

Basil defended himself against the imputation that he had been trying to show New York to his wife, or that he had any thought but of whiling away the long morning hours, until it should be time to go to Leonard. He protested that a knowledge of Europe made New York the most uninteresting town in America, and that it was the last place in the world where he should think of amusing himself or any one else; and then they both upbraided the city’s bigness and dullness with an enjoyment that none but Bostonians can know. They particularly derided the notion of New York’s being loved by any one. It was immense, it was grand in some ways, parts of it were exceedingly handsome; but it was too vast, too coarse, too restless. They could imagine its being liked by a successful young man of business, or by a rich young girl, ignorant of life and with not too nice a taste in her pleasures; but that it should be dear to any poet or scholar, or any woman of wisdom and refinement, that they could not imagine. They could not think of any one’s loving New York as Dante loved Florence, or as Madame de Stael loved Paris, or as Johnson loved black, homely, home-like London. And as they twittered their little dispraises, the giant Mother of Commerce was growing more and more conscious of herself, waking from her night’s sleep and becoming aware of her fleets and trains, and the myriad hands and wheels that throughout the whole sea and land move for her, and do her will even while she sleeps. All about the wedding-journeyers swelled the deep tide of life back from its night-long ebb. Broadway had filled her length with people; not yet the most characteristic New York crowd, but the not less interesting multitude of strangers arrived by the early boats and trams, and that easily distinguishable class of lately New-Yorkized people from other places, about whom in the metropolis still hung the provincial traditions of early rising; and over all, from moment to moment, the eager, audacious, well-dressed, proper life of the mighty city was beginning to prevail,–though this was not so notable where Basil and Isabel had paused at a certain window. It was the office of one of the English steamers, and he was saying, “It was by this line I sailed, you know,”–and she was interrupting him with, “When who could have dreamed that you would ever be telling me of it here?” So the old marvel was wondered over anew, till it filled the world in which there was room for nothing but the strangeness that they should have loved each other so long and not made it known, that they should ever have uttered it, and that, being uttered, it should be so much more and better than ever could have been dreamed. The broken engagement was a fable of disaster that only made their present fortune more prosperous. The city ceased about them, and they walked on up the street, the first man and first woman in the garden of the new-made earth. As they were both very conscious people, they recognized in themselves some sense of this, and presently drolled it away, in the opulence of a time when every moment brought some beautiful dream, and the soul could be prodigal of its bliss.

“I think if I had the naming of the animals over again, this morning, I shouldn’t call snakes ‘snakes’; should you, Eve?” laughed Basil in intricate acknowledgment of his happiness.

“O no, Adam; we’d look out all the most graceful euphemisms in the newspapers, and we wouldn’t hurt the feelings of a spider.”


They had waited to see Leonard, in order that they might learn better how to find his house in the country; and now, when they came in upon him at nine o’clock, he welcomed them with all his friendly heart. He rose from the pile of morning’s letters to which he had but just sat down; he placed them the easiest chairs; he made a feint of its not being a busy hour with him, and would have had them look upon his office, which was still damp and odorous from the porter’s broom, as a kind of down-town parlor; but after they had briefly accounted to his amazement for their appearance then and there, and Isabel had boasted of the original fashion in which they had that morning seen New York, they took pity on him, and bade him adieu till evening.

They crossed from Broadway to the noisome street by the ferry, and in a little while had taken their places in the train on the other side of the water.

“Don’t tell me, Basil,” said Isabel, “that Leonard travels fifty miles every day by rail going to and from his work!”

“I must, dearest, if I would be truthful.”

“Then, darling, there are worse things in this world than living up at the South End, aren’t there?” And in agreement upon Boston as a place of the greatest natural advantages, as well as all acquirable merits, with after talk that need not be recorded, they arrived in the best humor at the little country station near which the Leonards dwelt.

I must inevitably follow Mrs. Isabel thither, though I do it at the cost of the reader, who suspects the excitements which a long description of the movement would delay. The ladies were very old friends, and they had not met since Isabel’s return from Europe and renewal of her engagement. Upon the news of this, Mrs. Leonard had swallowed with surprising ease all that she had said in blame of Basil’s conduct during the rupture, and exacted a promise from her friend that she should pay her the first visit after their marriage. And now that they had come together, their only talk; was of husbands, whom they viewed in every light to which husbands could be turned, and still found an inexhaustible novelty in the theme. Mrs. Leonard beheld in her friend’s joy the sweet reflection of her own honeymoon, and Isabel was pleased to look upon the prosperous marriage of the former as the image of her future. Thus, with immense profit and comfort, they reassured one another by every question and answer, and in their weak content lapsed far behind the representative women of our age, when husbands are at best a necessary evil, and the relation of wives to them is known to be one of pitiable subjection. When these two pretty, fogies put their heads of false hair together, they were as silly and benighted as their great-grandmothers could have been in the same circumstances, and, as I say, shamefully encouraged each other, in their absurdity. The absurdity appeared too good and blessed to be true. “Do you really suppose, Basil,” Isabel would say to her oppressor, after having given him some elegant extract from the last conversation upon husbands, “that we shall get on as smoothly as the Leonards when we have been married ten years? Lucy says that things go more hitchily the first year than ever they do afterwards, and that people love each other better and better just because they’ve got used to it. Well, our bliss does seem a little crude and garish compared with their happiness; and yet”–she put up both her palms against his, and gave a vehement little push–“there is something agreeable about it, even at this stage of the proceedings.”

“Isabel,” said her husband, with severity, “this is bridal!”

“No matter! I only want to seem an old married woman to the general public. But the application of it is that you must be careful not to contradict me, or cross me in anything, so that we can be like the Leonards very much sooner than they became so. The great object is not to have any hitchiness; and you know you ARE provoking–at times.”

They both educated themselves for continued and tranquil happiness by the example and precept of their friends; and the time passed swiftly in the pleasant learning, and in the novelty of the life led by the Leonards. This indeed merits a closer study than can be given here, for it is the life led by vast numbers of prosperous New Yorkers who love both the excitement of the city and the repose of the country, and who aspire to unite the enjoyment of both in their daily existence. The suburbs of the metropolis stretch landward fifty miles in every direction; and everywhere are handsome villas like Leonard’s, inhabited by men like himself, whom strict study of the time-table enables to spend all their working hours in the city and all their smoking and sleeping hours in the country.

The home and the neighborhood of the Leonards put on their best looks for our bridal pair, and they were charmed. They all enjoyed the visit, said guests and hosts, they were all sorry to have it come to an end; yet they all resigned themselves to this conclusion. Practically, it had no other result than to detain the travellers into the very heart of the hot weather. In that weather it was easy to do anything that did not require an active effort, and resignation was so natural with the mercury at ninety, that I aan not sure but there was something sinful in it.

They had given up their cherished purpose of going to Albany by the day boat, which was represented to them in every impossible phase. It would be dreadfully crowded, and whenever it stopped the heat would be insupportable. Besides it would bring them to Albany at an hour when they must either spend the night there, or push on to Niagara by the night train. “You had better go by the evening boat. It will be light almost till you reach West Point, and you’ll see all the best scenery. Then you can get a good night’s rest, and start fresh in the morning.” So they were counseled, and they assented, as they would have done if they had been advised: “You had better go by the morning boat. It’s deliciously cool, travelling; you see the whole of the river, you reach Albany for supper, and you push through to Niagara that night and are done with it.”

They took leave of Leonard at breakfast and of his wife at noon, and fifteen minutes later they were rushing from the heat of the country into the heat of the city, where some affairs and pleasures were to employ them till the evening boat should start.

Their spirits were low, for the terrible spell of the great heat brooded upon them. All abroad burned the fierce white light of the sun, in which not only the earth seemed to parch and thirst, but the very air withered, and was faint and thin to the troubled respiration. Their train was full of people who had come long journeys from broiling cities of the West, and who were dusty and ashen and reeking in the slumbers at which some of them still vainly caught. On every one lay an awful languor. Here and there stirred a fan, like the broken wing of a dying bird; now and then a sweltering young mother shifted her hot baby from one arm to another; after every station the desperate conductor swung through the long aisle and punched the ticket, which each passenger seemed to yield him with a tacit malediction; a suffering child hung about the empty tank, which could only gasp out a cindery drop or two of ice-water. The wind buffeted faintly at the windows; when the door was opened, the clatter of the rails struck through and through the car like a demoniac yell.

Yet when they arrived at the station by the ferry-side, they seemed to have entered its stifling darkness from fresh and vigorous atmosphere, so close and dead and mined with the carbonic breath of the locomotives was the air of the place. The thin old wooden walls that shut out the glare of the sun transmitted an intensified warmth; the roof seemed to hover lower and lower, and in its coal-smoked, raftery hollow to generate a heat deadlier than that poured upon it from the skies.

In a convenient place in the station hung a thermometer, before which every passenger, on going aboard the ferry-boat, paused as at a shrine, and mutely paid his devotions. At the altar of this fetich our friends also paused, and saw that the mercury was above ninety, and exulting with the pride that savages take in the cruel might of their idols, bowed their souls to the great god Heat.

On the boat they found a place where the breath of the sea struck cool across their faces, and made them forget the thermometer for the brief time of the transit. But presently they drew near that strange, irregular row of wooden buildings and jutting piers which skirts the river on the New York aide, and before the boat’s motion ceased the air grew thick and warm again, and tainted with the foulness of the street on which the buildings front. Upon this the boat’s passengers issued, passing up through a gangway, on one side of which a throng of return- passengers was pent by a gate of iron barn, like a herd of wild animals. They were streaming with perspiration, and, according to their different temperaments, had faces of deep crimson or deadly pallor.

“Now the question is, my dear,” said Basil when, free of the press, they lingered for a moment in the shade outside, “whether we had better walk up to Broadway, at an immediate sacrifice of fibre, and get a stage there, or take one of these cars here, and be landed a little nearer, with half the exertion. By this route we shall have sights end smells which the other can’t offer us, but whichever we take we shall be sorry.”

“Then I say take this,” decided Isabel. “I want to be sorry upon the easiest possible terms, this weather.”

They hailed the first car that passed, and got into it. Well for them both if she could have exercised this philosophy with regard to the whole day’s business, or if she could have given up her plans for it, with the same resignation she had practiced in regard to the day boat! It seems to me a proof of the small advance our race has made in true wisdom, that we find it so hard to give up doing anything we have meant to do. It matters very little whether the affair is one of enjoyment or of business, we feel the same bitter need of pursuing it to the end. The mere fact of intention gives it a flavor of duty, and dutiolatry, as one may call the devotion, has passed so deeply into our life that we have scarcely a sense any more of the sweetness of even a neglected pleasure. We will not taste the fine, guilty rapture of a deliberate dereliction; the gentle sin of omission is all but blotted from the calendar of our crimes. If I had been Columbus, I should have thought twice before setting sail, when I was quite ready to do so; and as for Plymouth Rock, I should have sternly resisted the blandishments of those twin sirens, Starvation and Cold, who beckoned the Puritans shoreward, and as soon as ever I came in sight of their granite perch should have turned back to England. But it is now too late to repair these errors, and so, on one of the hottest days of last year, behold my obdurate bridal pair, in a Tenth or Twentieth Avenue horse-car, setting forth upon the fulfillment of a series of intentions, any of which had wiselier been left unaccomplished. Isabel had said they would call upon certain people in Fiftieth Street, and then shop slowly down, ice-creaming and staging and variously cooling and calming by the way, until they reached the ticket- office on Broadway, whence they could indefinitely betake themselves to the steamboat an hour or two before her departure. She felt that they had yielded sufficiently to circumstances and conditions already on this journey, and she was resolved that the present half-day in New York should be the half-day of her original design.

It was not the most advisable thing, as I have allowed, but it was inevitable, and it afforded them a spectacle which is by no means wanting in sublimity, and which is certainly unique,–the spectacle of that great city on a hot day, defiant of the elements, and prospering on with every form of labor, and at a terrible cost of life. The man carrying the hod to the top of the walls that rankly grow and grow as from his life’s blood, will only lay down his load when he feels the mortal glare of the sun blaze in upon heart and brain; the plethoric millionaire for whom he toils will plot and plan in his office till he swoons at the desk; the trembling beast must stagger forward while the flame-faced tormentor on the box has strength to lash him on; in all those vast palaces of commerce there are ceaseless sale and purchase, packing and unpacking, lifting up and laying down, arriving and departing loads; in thousands of shops is the unspared and unsparing weariness of selling; in the street, filled by the hurry and suffering of tens of thousands, is the weariness of buying.

Their afternoon’s experience was something that Basil and Isabel could, when it was past, look upon only as a kind of vision, magnificent at times, and at other times full of indignity and pain. They seemed to have dreamed of a long horse-car pilgrimage through that squalid street by the river-side, where presently they came to a market, opening upon the view hideous vistas of carnage, and then into a wide avenue, with processions of cars like their own coming and going up and down the centre of a foolish and useless breadth, which made even the tall buildings (rising gauntly up among the older houses of one or two stories) on either hand look low, and let in the sun to bake the dust that the hot breaths of wind caught up and gent swirling into the shabby shops. Here they dreamed of the eternal demolition and construction of the city, and farther on of vacant lots full of granite boulders, clambered over by goats. In their dream they had fellow-passengers, whose sufferings made them odious and whom they were glad to leave behind when they alighted from the car, and running out of the blaze of the avenue, quenched themselves in the shade of the cross-street. A little strip of shadow lay along the row of brown-stone fronts, but there were intervals where the vacant lots cast no shadow. With great bestowal of thought they studied hopelessly how to avoid these spaces as if they had been difficult torrents or vast expanses of desert sand; they crept slowly along till they came to such a place, and dashed swiftly across it, and then, fainter than before, moved on. They seemed now and then to stand at doors, and to be told that people were out and again that they were in; and they had a sense of cool dark parlors, and the airy rustling of light-muslined ladies, of chat and of fans and ice-water, and then they came forth again; and evermore

“The day increased from heat to heat”

At last they were aware of an end of their visits, and of a purpose to go down town again, and of seeking the nearest car by endless blocks of brown-stone fronts, which with their eternal brownstone flights of steps, and their handsome, intolerable uniformity, oppressed them like a procession of houses trying to pass a given point and never getting by. Upon these streets there was, seldom a soul to be seen, so that when their ringing at a door had evoked answer, it had startled them with a vague, sad surprise. In the distance on either hand they could see cars and carts and wagons toiling up and down the avenues, and on the next intersecting pavement sometimes a laborer with his jacket slung across his shoulder, or a dog that had plainly made up his mind to go mad. Up to the time of their getting into one of those phantasmal cars for the return down-townwards they had kept up a show of talk in their wretched dream; they had spoken of other hot days that they had known elsewhere; and they had wondered that the tragical character of heat had been so little recognized. They said that the daily New York murder might even at that moment be somewhere taking place; and that no murder of the whole homicidal year could have such proper circumstance; they morbidly wondered what that day’s murder would be, and in what swarming tenement- house, or den of the assassin streets by the river-sides,–if indeed it did not befall in some such high, close-shuttered, handsome dwelling as those they passed, in whose twilight it would be so easy to strike down the master and leave him undiscovered and unmourned by the family ignorantly absent at the mountains or the seaside. They conjectured of the horror of midsummer battles, and pictured the anguish of shipwrecked men upon a tropical coast, and the grimy misery of stevedores unloading shiny cargoes of anthracite coal at city docks. But now at last, as they took seats opposite one another in the crowded car, they seemed to have drifted infinite distances and long epochs asunder. They looked. hopelessly across the intervening gulf, and mutely questioned when it was and from what far city they or some remote ancestors of theirs had set forth upon a wedding journey. They bade each other a tacit farewell, and with patient, pathetic faces awaited the end of the world.

When they alighted, they took their way up through one of the streets of the great wholesale businesses, to Broadway. On this street was a throng of trucks and wagons lading and unlading; bales and boxes rose and sank by pulleys overhead; the footway was a labyrinth of packages of every shape and size: there was no flagging of the pitiless energy that moved all forward, no sign of how heavy a weight lay on it, save in the reeking faces of its helpless instruments. But when the wedding-journeyers emerged upon Broadway, the other passages and incidents of their dream faded before the superior fantasticality of the spectacle. It was four o’clock, the deadliest hour of the deadly summer day. The spiritless air seemed to have a quality of blackness in it, as if filled with the gloom of low-hovering wings. One half the street lay in shadow, and one half in sun; but the sunshine itself was dim, as if a heat greater than its own had smitten it with languor. Little gusts of sick, warm wind blew across the great avenue at the corners of the intersecting streets. In the upward distance, at which the journeyers looked, the loftier roofs and steeples lifted themselves dim out of the livid atmosphere, and far up and down the length of the street swept a stream of tormented life. All sorts of wheeled things thronged it, conspicuous among which rolled and jarred the gaudily painted Stages, with quivering horses driven each by a man who sat in the shade of a branching white umbrella, and suffered with a moody truculence of aspect, and as if he harbored the bitterness of death in his heart for the crowding passengers within, when one of them pulled the strap about his legs, and summoned him to halt. Most of the foot-passengers kept to the shady side, and to the unaccustomed eyes of the strangers they were not less in number than at any other time, though there were fewer women among them. Indomitably resolute of soul, they held their course with the swift pace of custom, and only here and there they showed the effect of the heat. One man, collarless, with waistcoat unbuttoned, and hat set far back from his forehead, waved a fan before his death-white flabby face, and set down one foot after the other with the heaviness of a somnambulist. Another, as they passed him, was saying huskily to the friend at his side, “I can’t stand this much longer. My hands tingle as if they had gone to sleep; my heart–” But still the multitude hurried on, passing, repassing, encountering, evading, vanishing into shop-doors and emerging from them, dispersing down the side streets, and swarming out of them. It was a scene that possessed the beholder with singular fascination, and in its effect of universal lunacy, it might well have seemed the last phase of a world presently to be destroyed. They who were in it but not of it, as they fancied, though there was no reason for this,–looked on it amazed, and at last their own errands being accomplished, and themselves so far cured of the madness of purpose, they cried with one voice, that it was a hideous sight, and strove to take refuge from it in the nearest place where the soda-fountain sparkled.

It was a vain desire. At the front door of the apothecary’s hung a thermometer, and as they entered they heard the next comer cry out with a maniacal pride in the affliction laid upon mankind, “Ninety-seven degrees!” Behind them at the door there poured in a ceaseless stream of people, each pausing at the shrine of heat; before he tossed off the hissing draught that two pale, close-clipped boys served them from either side of the fountain. Then in the order of their coming they issued through another door upon the side street, each, as he disappeared, turning his face half round, and casting a casual glance upon a little group near another counter. The group was of a very patient, half- frightened, half-puzzled looking gentleman who sat perfectly still on a stool, and of a lady who stood beside him, rubbing all over his head a handkerchief full of pounded ice, and easing one hand with the other when the first became tired. Basil drank his soda and paused to look upon this group, which he felt would commend itself to realistic sculpture as eminently characteristic of the local life, and as “The Sunstroke” would sell enormously in the hot season. “Better take a little more of that,” the apothecary said, looking up from his prescription, and, as the organized sympathy of the seemingly indifferent crowd, smiling very kindly at his patient, who thereupon tasted something in the glass he held. “Do you still feel like fainting?” asked the humane authority. “Slightly, now and then,” answered the other, “but I’m hanging on hard to the bottom curve of that icicled S on your soda-fountain, and I feel that I’m all right as long as I can see that. The people get rather hazy, occasionally, and have no features to speak of. But I don’t know that I look very impressive myself,” he added in the jesting mood which seems the natural condition of Americans in the face of all embarrassments.

“O, you’ll do!” the apothecary answered, with a laugh; but he said, in answer to an anxious question from the lady, “He mustn’t be moved for an hour yet,” and gayly pestled away at a prescription, while she resumed her office of grinding the pounded ice round and round upon her husband’s skull. Isabel offered her the commiseration of friendly words, and of looks kinder yet, and then seeing that they could do nothing, she and Basil fell into the endless procession, and passed out of the side door. “What a shocking thing!” she whispered. “Did you see how all the people looked, one after another, so indifferently at that couple, and evidently forgot them the next instant? It was dreadful. I shouldn’t like to have you sun-struck in New York.”

“That’s very considerate of you; but place for place, if any accident must happen to me among strangers, I think I should prefer to have it in New York. The biggest place is always the kindest as well as the cruelest place. Amongst the thousands of spectators the good Samaritan as well as the Levite would be sure to be. As for a sun-stroke, it requires peculiar gifts. But if you compel me to a choice in the matter, then I say, give me the busiest part of Broadway for a sun-stroke. There is such experience of calamity there that you could hardly fall the first victim to any misfortune. Probably the gentleman at the apothecary’s was merely exhausted by the heat, and ran in there for revival. The apothecary has a case of the kind on his hands every blazing afternoon, and knows just what to do. The crowd may be a little ‘ennuye’ of sun- strokes, and to that degree indifferent, but they most likely know that they can only do harm by an expression of sympathy, and so they delegate their pity as they have delegated their helpfulness to the proper authority, and go about their business. If a man was overcome in the middle of a village street, the blundering country druggist wouldn’t know what to do, and the tender-hearted people would crowd about so that no breath of air could reach the victim.”

“May be so, dear,” said the wife, pensively; but if anything did happen to you in New York, I should like to have the spectators look as if they saw a human being in trouble. Perhaps I’m a little exacting.”

“I think you are. Nothing is so hard as to understand that there are human beings in this world besides one’s self and one’s set. But let us be selfishly thankful that it isn’t you and I there in the apothecary’s shop, as it might very well be; and let us get to the boat as soon as we can, and end this horrible midsummer-day’s dream. We must have a carriage,” he added with tardy wisdom, hailing an empty hack, “as we ought to have had all day; though I’m not sorry, now the worst’s over, to have seen the worst.”


There is little proportion about either pain or pleasure: a headache darkens the universe while it lasts, a cup of tea really lightens the spirit bereft of all reasonable consolations. Therefore I do not think it trivial or untrue to say that there is for the moment nothing more satisfactory in life than to have bought your ticket on the night boat up the Hudson and secured your state-room key an hour or two before departure, and some time even before the pressure at the clerk’s office has begun. In the transaction with this castellated baron, you have of course been treated with haughtiness, but not with ferocity, and your self-respect swells with a sense of having escaped positive insult; your key clicks cheerfully in your pocket against its gutta-percha number, and you walk up and down the gorgeously carpeted, single-columned, two-story cabin, amid a multitude of plush sofas and chairs, a glitter of glass, and a tinkle of prismatic chandeliers overhead, unawed even by the aristocratic gloom of the yellow waiters. Your own stateroom as you enter it from time to time is an ever-new surprise of splendors, a magnificent effect of amplitude, of mahogany bedstead, of lace curtains, and of marble topped wash-stand. In the mere wantonness of an unalloyed prosperity you say to the saffron nobleman nearest your door, “Bring me a pitcher of ice-water, quick, please!” and you do not find the half-hour that he is gone very long.

If the ordinary wayfarer experiences so much pleasure from these things, then imagine the infinite comfort of our wedding-journeyers, transported from Broadway on that pitiless afternoon to the shelter and the quiet of that absurdly palatial steamboat. It was not yet crowded, and by the river-side there was almost a freshness in the air. They disposed of their troubling bags and packages; they complimented the ridiculous princeliness of their stateroom, and then they betook themselves to the sheltered space aft of the saloon, where they sat down for the tranquiller observance of the wharf and whatever should come to be seen by them. Like all people who have just escaped with their lives from some menacing calamity, they were very philosophical in spirit; and having got aboard of their own motion, and being neither of them apparently the worse for the ordeal they had passed through, were of a light, conversational temper.

“What an amusingly superb affair!” Basil cried as they glanced through an open window down the long vista of the saloon. “Good heavens! Isabel, does it take all this to get us plain republicans to Albany in comfort and safety, or are we really a nation of princes in disguise? Well, I shall never be satisfied with less hereafter,” he added. “I am spoilt for ordinary paint and upholstery from this hour; I am a ruinous spendthrift, and a humble three-story swell-front up at the South End is no longer the place for me. Dearest,

‘Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,’

never to leave this Aladdin’s-palace-like steamboat, but spend our lives in perpetual trips up and down the Hudson.”

To which not very costly banter Isabel responded in kind, and rapidly sketched the life they could lead aboard. Since they could not help it, they mocked the public provision which, leaving no interval between disgraceful squalor and ludicrous splendor, accommodates our democratic ‘menage’ to the taste of the richest and most extravagant plebeian amongst us. He, unhappily, minds danger and oppression as little as he minds money, so long as he has a spectacle and a sensation, and it is this ruthless imbecile who will have lace curtains to the steamboat berth into which he gets with his pantaloons on, and out of which he may be blown by an exploding boiler at any moment; it is he who will have for supper that overgrown and shapeless dinner in the lower saloon, and will not let any one else buy tea or toast for a less sum than he pays for his surfeit; it is he who perpetuates the insolence of the clerk and the reluctance of the waiters; it is he, in fact, who now comes out of the saloon, with his womenkind, and takes chairs under the awning where Basil and Isabel sit. Personally, he is not so bad; he is good-looking, like all of us; he is better dressed than most of us; he behaves himself quietly, if not easily; and no lord so loathes a scene. Next year he is going to Europe, where he will not show to so much advantage as here; but for the present it would be hard to say in what way he is vulgar, and perhaps vulgarity is not so common a thing after all.

It was something besides the river that made the air so much more sufferable than it had been. Over the city, since our friends had come aboard the boat, a black cloud had gathered and now hung low upon it, while the wind from the face of the water took the dust in the neighboring streets, and frolicked it about the house-tops, and in the faces of the arriving passengers, who, as the moment of departure drew near, appeared in constantly increasing numbers and in greater variety, with not only the trepidation of going upon them, but also with the electrical excitement people feel before a tempest.

The breast of the black cloud was now zigzagged from moment to moment by lightning, and claps of deafening thunder broke from it. At last the long endurance of the day was spent, and out of its convulsion burst floods of rain, again and again sweeping the promenade-deck where the people sat, and driving them disconsolate into the saloon. The air was darkened as by night, and with many regrets for the vanishing prospect, mingled with a sense of relief from the heat, our friends felt the boat tremble away from her moorings and set forth upon her trip.

“Ah! if we had only taken the day boat!” moaned Isabel. “Now, we shall see nothing of the river landscape, and we shall never be able to put ourselves down when we long for Europe, by declaring that the scenery of the Hudson is much finer than that of the Rhine.”

Yet they resolved, this indomitably good-natured couple, that they would be just even to the elements, which had by no means been generous to them; and they owned that if so noble a storm had celebrated their departure upon some storied river from some more romantic port than New York, they would have thought it an admirable thing. Even whilst they contented themselves, the storm passed, and left a veiled and humid sky overhead, that gave a charming softness to the scene on which their eyes fell when they came out of the saloon again, and took their places with a largely increased companionship on the deck.

They had already reached that part of the river where the uplands begin, and their course was between stately walls of rocky steepness, or wooded slopes, or grassy hollows, the scene forever losing and taking grand and lovely shape. Wreaths of mist hung about the tops of the loftier headlands, and long shadows draped their sides. As the night grew, lights twinkled from a lonely house here and there in the valleys; a swarm of lamps showed a town where it lay upon the lap or at the foot of the hills. Behind them stretched the great gray river, haunted with many sails; now a group of canal-boats grappled together, and having an air of coziness in their adventure upon this strange current out of their own sluggish waters, drifted out of sight; and now a smaller and slower steamer, making a laborious show of keeping up was passed, and reluctantly fell behind; along the water’s edge rattled and hooted the frequent trains. They could not tell at any time what part of the river they were on, and they could not, if they would, have made its beauty a matter of conscientious observation; but all the more, therefore, they deeply enjoyed it without reference to time or place. They felt some natural pain when they thought that they might unwittingly pass the scenes that Irving has made part of the common dream-land, and they would fair have seen the lighted windows of the house out of which a cheerful ray has penetrated to so many hearts; but being sure of nothing, as they were, they had the comfort of finding the Tappan Zee in every expanse of the river, and of discovering Sunny-Side on every pleasant slope. By virtue of this helplessness, the Hudson, without ceasing to be the Hudson, became from moment to moment all fair and stately streams upon which they had voyaged or read of voyaging, from the Nile to the Mississippi. There is no other travel like river travel; it is the perfection of movement, and one might well desire never to arrive at one’s destination. The abundance of room, the free, pure air, the constant delight of the eyes in the changing landscape, the soft tremor of the boat, so steady upon her keel, the variety of the little world on board,–all form a charm which no good heart in a sound body can resist. So, whilst the twilight held, well content, in contiguous chairs, they purred in flattery of their kindly fate, imagining different pleasures, certainly, but none greater, and tasting to its subtlest flavor the happiness conscious of itself.

Their own satisfaction, indeed, was so interesting to them in this objective light, that they had little desire to turn from its contemplation to the people around them; and when at last they did so, it was still with lingering glances of self-recognition and enjoyment. They divined rightly that one of the main conditions of their present felicity was the fact that they had seen so much of time and of the world, that they had no longer any desire to take beholding eyes, or to make any sort of impressive figure, and they understood that their prosperous love accounted as much as years and travel for this result. If they had had a loftier opinion of themselves, their indifference to others might have made them offensive; but with their modest estimate of their own value in the world, they could have all the comfort of self-sufficiency, without its vulgarity.

“O yes!” said Basil, in answer to some apostrophe to their bliss from Isabel, “it’s the greatest imaginable satisfaction to have lived past certain things. I always knew that I was not a very handsome or otherwise captivating person, but I can remember years–now blessedly remote–when I never could see a young girl without hoping she would mistake me for something of that sort. I couldn’t help desiring that some fascination of mine, which had escaped my own analysis, would have an effect upon her. I dare say all young men are so. I used to live for the possible interest I might inspire in your sex, Isabel. They controlled my movements, my attitudes; they forbade me repose; and yet I believe I was no ass, but a tolerably sensible fellow. Blessed be marriage, I am free at last! All the loveliness that exists outside of you, dearest,–and it ‘s mighty little,–is mere pageant to me; and I thank Heaven that I can meet the most stylish girl now upon the broad level of our common humanity. Besides, it seems to me that our experience of life has quieted us in many other ways. What a luxury it is to sit here, and reflect that we do not want any of these people to suppose us rich, or distinguished, or beautiful, or well dressed, and do not care to show off in any sort of way before them!”

This content was heightened, no doubt, by a just sense of their contrast to the group of people nearest there,–a young man of the second or third quality–and two young girls. The eldest of these was carrying on a vivacious flirtation with the young man, who was apparently an acquaintance of brief standing; the other was scarcely more than a child, and sat somewhat abashed at the sparkle of the colloquy. They were conjecturally sisters going home from some visit, and not skilled in the world, but of a certain repute in their country neighborhood for beauty and wit. The young man presently gave himself out as one who, in pursuit of trade for the dry-goods house he represented, had travelled many thousands of miles in all parts of the country. The encounter was visibly that kind of adventure which both would treasure up for future celebration to their different friends; and it had a brilliancy and interest which they could not even now consent to keep to themselves. They talked to each other and at all the company within hearing, and exchanged curt speeches which had for them all the sensation of repartee.

Young Man. They say that beauty unadorned is adorned the most.

Young Woman (bridling, and twitching her head from side to side, in the high excitement of the dialogue). Flattery is out of place.

Young Man. Well, never mind. If you don’t believe me, you ask your mother when you get home.

(Titter from the younger sister.)

Young Woman (scornfully). Umph! my mother has no control over me!

Young Man. Nobody else has, either, I should gay. (Admiringly.)

Young Woman. Yes, you’ve told the truth for once, for a wonder. I’m able to take care of myself,–perfectly. (Almost hoarse with a sense of sarcastic performance.)

Young Man. “Whole team and big dog under the wagon,” as they say out West.

Young Woman. Better a big dog than a puppy, any day.

Giggles and horror from the younger sister, sensation in the young man, and so much rapture in the young woman that she drops the key of her state-room from her hand. They both stoop, and a jocose scuffle for it ensues, after which the talk takes an autobiographical turn on the part of the young man, and drops into an unintelligible murmur. “Ah! poor Real Life, which I love, can I make others share the delight I find in thy foolish and insipid face?”

Not far from this group sat two Hebrews, one young and the other old, talking of some business out of which the latter had retired. The younger had been asked his opinion upon some point, and he was expanding with a flattered consciousness of the elder’s perception of his importance, and toadying to him with the pleasure which all young men feel in winning the favor of seniors in their vocation. “Well, as I was a-say’n’, Isaac don’t seem to haf no natcheral pent for the glothing business. Man gomes in and wands a goat,”–he seemed to be speaking of a garment and not a domestic animal,–“Isaac’ll zell him the goat he wands him to puy, and he’ll make him believe it ‘a the goat he was a lookin’ for. Well, now, that’s well enough as far as it goes; but you know and I know, Mr. Rosenthal, that that ‘s no way to do business. A man gan’t zugzeed that goes upon that brincible. Id’s wrong. Id’s easy enough to make a man puy the goat you want him to, if he wands a goat, but the thing is to make him puy the goat that you wand to zell when he don’t wand no goat at all. You’ve asked me what I thought and I’ve dold you. Isaac’ll never zugzeed in the redail glothing-business in the world!”

“Well,” sighed the elder, who filled his armchair quite full, and quivered with a comfortable jelly-like tremor in it, at every pulsation of the engine, “I was afraid of something of the kind. As you say, Benjamin, he don’t seem to have no pent for it. And yet I proughd him up to the business; I drained him to it, myself.”

Besides these talkers, there were scattered singly, or grouped about in twos and threes and fours, the various people one encounters on a Hudson River boat, who are on the whole different from the passengers on other rivers, though they all have features in common. There was that man of the sudden gains, who has already been typified; and there was also the smoother rich man of inherited wealth, from whom you can somehow know the former so readily. They were each attended by their several retinues of womankind, the daughters all much alike, but the mothers somewhat different. They were going to Saratoga, where perhaps the exigencies of fashion would bring them acquainted, and where the blue blood of a quarter of a century would be kind to the yesterday’s fluid of warmer hue. There was something pleasanter in the face of the hereditary aristocrat, but not so strong, nor, altogether, so admirable; particularly if you reflected that he really represented nothing in the world, no great culture, no political influence, no civic aspiration, not even a pecuniary force, nothing but a social set, an alien club-life, a tradition of dining. We live in a true fairy land after all, where the hoarded treasure turns to a heap of dry leaves. The almighty dollar defeats itself, and finally buys nothing that a man cares to have. The very highest pleasure that such an American’s money can purchase is exile, and to this rich man doubtless Europe is a twice-told tale. Let us clap our empty pockets, dearest reader, and be glad.

We can be as glad, apparently, and with the same reason as the poorly dressed young man standing near beside the guard, whose face Basil and Isabel chose to fancy that of a poet, and concerning whom, they romanced that he was going home, wherever his home was, with the manuscript of a rejected book in his pocket. They imagined him no great things of a poet, to be sure, but his pensive face claimed delicate feeling for him, and a graceful, sombre fancy, and they conjectured unconsciously caught flavors of Tennyson and Browning in his verse, with a moderner tint from Morris: for was it not a story out of mythology, with gods and heroes of the nineteenth century, that he was now carrying back from New York with him? Basil sketched from the colors of his own long-accepted disappointments a moving little picture of this poor imagined poet’s adventures; with what kindness and unkindness he had been put to shame by publishers, and how, descending from his high, hopes of a book, he had tried to sell to the magazines some of the shorter pieces out of the “And other Poems” which were to have filled up the volume. “He’s going back rather stunned and bewildered; but it’s something to have tasted the city, and its bitter may turn to sweet on his palate, at last, till he finds himself longing for the tumult that he abhors now. Poor fellow! one compassionate cut-throat of a publisher even asked him to lunch, being struck, as we are, with something fine in his face. I hope he’s got somebody who believes in him, at home. Otherwise he’d be more comfortable, for the present, if he went over the railing there.”

So the play of which they were both actors and spectators went on about them. Like all passages of life, it seemed now a grotesque mystery, with a bluntly enforced moral, now a farce of the broadest, now a latent tragedy folded in the disguises of comedy. All the elements, indeed, of either were at work there, and this was but one brief scene of the immense complex drama which was to proceed so variously in such different times and places, and to have its denouement only in eternity. The contrasts were sharp: each group had its travesty in some other; the talk of one seemed the rude burlesque, the bitter satire of the next; but of all these parodies none was so terribly effective as the two women, who sat in the midst of the company, yet were somehow distinct from the rest. One wore the deepest black of widowhood, the other was dressed in bridal white, and they were both alike awful in their mockery of guiltless sorrow and guiltless joy. They were not old, but the soul of youth was dead in their pretty, lamentable faces, and ruin ancient as sin looked from their eyes; their talk and laughter seemed the echo of an innumerable multitude of the lost haunting the world in every land and time, each solitary forever, yet all bound together in the unity of an imperishable slavery and shame.

What a stale effect! What hackneyed characters! Let us be glad the night drops her curtain upon the cheap spectacle, and shuts these with the other actors from our view.

Within the cabin, through which Basil and Isabel now slowly moved, there were numbers of people lounging about on the sofas, in various attitudes of talk or vacancy; and at the tables there were others reading “Lothair,” a new book in the remote epoch of which I write, and a very fashionable book indeed. There was in the air that odor of paint and carpet which prevails on steamboats; the glass drops of the chandeliers ticked softly against each other, as the vessel shook with her respiration, like a comfortable sleeper, and imparted a delicious feeling of coziness and security to our travellers.

A few hours later they struggled awake at the sharp sound of the pilot’s bell signaling the engineer to slow the boat. There was a moment of perfect silence; then all the drops of the chandeliers in the saloon clashed musically together; then fell another silence; and at last came wild cries for help, strongly qualified with blasphemies and curses. “Send out a boat!” “There was a woman aboard that steamboat!” “Lower your boats!” “Run a craft right down, with your big boat!” “Send out a boat and pick up the crew! “The cries rose and sank, and finally ceased; through the lattice of the state-room window some lights shone faintly on the water at a distance.

“Wait here, Isabel!” said her husband. “We’ve run down a boat. We don’t seem hurt; but I’ll go see. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Isabel had emerged into a world of dishabille, a world wildly unbuttoned and unlaced, where it was the fashion for ladies to wear their hair down their backs, and to walk about in their stockings, and to speak to each other without introduction. The place with which she had felt so familiar a little while before was now utterly estranged. There was no motion of the boat, and in the momentary suspense a quiet prevailed, in which those grotesque shapes of disarray crept noiselessly round whispering panic-stricken conjectures. There was no rushing to and fro, nor tumult of any kind, and there was not a man to be seen, for apparently they had all gone like Basil to learn the extent of the calamity. A mist of sleep involved the whole, and it was such a topsy- turvy world that it would have seemed only another dream-land, but that it was marked for reality by one signal fact. With the rest appeared the woman in bridal white and the woman in widow’s black, and there, amidst the fright that made all others friends, and for aught that most knew, in the presence of death itself, these two moved together shunned and friendless.

Somehow, even before Basil returned, it had become known to Isabel and the rest that their own steamer had suffered no harm, but that she had struck and sunk another convoying a flotilla of canal boats, from which those alarming cries and curses had come. The steamer was now lying by for the small boats she had sent out to pick up the crew of the sunken vessel.

“Why, I only heard a little tinkling of the chandeliers,” said one of the ladies. “Is it such a very alight matter to run down another boat and sink it?”

She appealed indirectly to Basil, who answered lightly, “I don’t think you ladies ought to have been disturbed at all. In running over a common tow-boat on a perfectly clear night like this there should have been no noise and no perceptible jar. They manage better on the Mississippi, and both boats often go down without waking the lightest sleeper on board.”

The ladies, perhaps from a deficient sense of humor, listened with undisguised displeasure to this speech. It dispersed them, in fact; some turned away to bivouac for the rest of the night upon the arm-chairs and sofas, while others returned to their rooms. With the latter went Isabel. “Lock me in, Basil,” she said, with a bold meekness, “and if anything more happens don’t wake me till the last moment.” It was hard to part from him, but she felt that his vigil would somehow be useful to the boat, and she confidingly fell into a sleep that lasted till daylight.

Meantime, her husband, on whom she had tacitly devolved so great a responsibility, went forward to the promenade in front of the saloon, in hopes of learning something more of the catastrophe from the people whom he had already found gathered there.

A large part of the passengers were still there, seated or standing about in earnest colloquy. They were in that mood which follows great excitement, and in which the feeblest-minded are sure to lead the talk. At such times one feels that a sensible frame of mind is unsympathetic, and if expressed, unpopular, or perhaps not quite safe; and Basil, warned by his fate with the ladies, listened gravely to the voice of the common imbecility and incoherence.

The principal speaker was a tall person, wearing a silk travelling-cap. He had a face of stupid benignity and a self-satisfied smirk; and he was formally trying to put at his ease, and hopelessly confusing the loutish youth before him. “You say you saw the whole accident, and you’re probably the only passenger that did see it. You’ll be the most important witness at the trial,” he added, as if there would ever be any trial about it. “Now, how did the tow-boat hit us?”

“Well, she came bows on.”

“Ah! bows on,” repeated the other, with great satisfaction; and a little murmur of “Bows on!” ran round the listening circle.

“That is,” added the witness, “it seemed as if we struck her amidships, and cut her in two, and sunk her.”

“Just so,” continued the examiner, accepting the explanation, “bows on. Now I want to ask if you saw our captain or any of the crew about?”

“Not a soul,” said the witness, with the solemnity of a man already on oath.

“That’ll do,” exclaimed the other. “This gentleman’s experience coincides exactly with my own. I didn’t see the collision, but I did see the cloud of steam from the sinking boat, and I saw her go down. There wasn’t an officer to be found anywhere on board our boat. I looked about for the captain and the mate myself, and couldn’t find either of them high or low.”

“The officers ought all to have been sitting here on the promenade deck,” suggested one ironical spirit in the crowd, but no one noticed him.

The gentleman in the silk travelling-cap now took a chair, and a number of sympathetic listeners drew their chairs about him, and then began an interchange of experience, in which each related to the last particular all that he felt, thought, and said, and, if married, what his wife felt, thought, and said, at the moment of the calamity. They turned the disaster over and over in their talk, and rolled it under their tongues. Then they reverted to former accidents in which they had been concerned; and the silk-capped gentleman told, to the common admiration, of a fearful escape of his, on the Erie Road, from being thrown down a steep embankment fifty feet high by a piece of rock that had fallen on the track. “Now just see, gentlemen, what a little thing, humanly speaking, life depends upon. If that old woman had been able to sleep, and hadn’t sent that boy down to warn the train, we should have run into the rock and been dashed to pieces. The passengers made up a purse for the boy, and I wrote a full account of it to the papers.”

“Well,” said one of the group, a man in a hard hat, “I never lie down on a steamboat or a railroad train. I want to be ready for whatever happens.”

The others looked at this speaker with interest, as one who had invented a safe method of travel.

“I happened to be up to-night, but I almost always undress and go to bed, just as if I were in my own house,” said the gentleman of the silk cap.

“I don’t say your way isn’t the best, but that’s my way.”

The champions of the rival systems debated their merits with suavity and mutual respect, but they met with scornful silence a compromising spirit who held that it was better to throw off your coat and boots, but keep your pantaloons on. Meanwhile, the steamer was hanging idle upon the current, against which it now and then stirred a careless wheel, still waiting for the return of the small boats. Thin gray clouds, through rifts of which a star sparkled keenly here and there, veiled the heavens; shadowy bluffs loomed up on either hand; in a hollow on the left twinkled a drowsy little town; a beautiful stillness lay on all.

After an hour’s interval a shout was heard from far down the river; then later the plash of oars; then a cry hailing the approaching boats, and the answer, “All safe!” Presently the boats had come alongside, and the passengers crowded down to the guard to learn the details of the search. Basil heard a hollow, moaning, gurgling sound, regular as that of the machinery, for some note of which he mistook it. “Clear the gangway there!” shouted a gruff voice; “man scalded here!” And a burden was carried by from which fluttered, with its terrible regularity, that utterance of mortal anguish.

Basil went again to the forward promenade, and sat down to see the morning come.

The boat swiftly ascended the current, and presently the steeper shores were left behind and the banks fell away in long upward sloping fields, with farm-houses and with stacks of harvest dimly visible in the generous expanses. By and by they passed a fisherman drawing his nets, and bending from his boat, there near Albany, N. Y., in the picturesque immortal attitudes of Raphael’s Galilean fisherman; and now a flush mounted the pale face of the east, and through the dewy coolness of the dawn there came, more to the sight than any other sense, a vague menace of heat. But as yet the air was deliciously fresh and sweet, and Basil bathed his weariness in it, thinking with a certain luxurious compassion of the scalded man, and how he was to fare that day. This poor wretch seemed of another order of beings, as the calamitous always seem to the happy, and Basil’s pity was quite an abstraction; which, again, amused and shocked him, and he asked his heart of bliss to consider of sorrow a little more earnestly as the lot of all men, and not merely of an alien creature here and there. He dutifully tried to imagine another issue to the disaster of the night, and to realize himself suddenly bereft of her who so filled his life. He bade his soul remember that, in the security of sleep, Death had passed them both so close that his presence might well have chilled their dreams, as the iceberg that grazes the ship in the night freezes all the air about it. But it was quite idle: where love was, life only was; and sense and spirit alike put aside the burden that he would have laid upon them; his revery reflected with delicious caprice the looks, the tones, the movements that he loved, and bore him far away from the sad images that he had invited to mirror themselves in it.


Happiness has commonly a good appetite; and the thought of the fortunately ended adventures of the night, the fresh morning air, and the content of their own hearts, gifted our friends, by the time the boat reached Albany, with a wholesome hunger, so that they debated with spirit the question of breakfast and the best place of breakfasting in a city which neither of them knew, save in the most fugitive and sketchy way.

They decided at last, in view of the early departure of the train, and the probability that they would be more hurried at a hotel, to breakfast at the station, and thither they went and took places at one of the many tables within, where they seemed to have been expected only by the flies. The waitress plainly had not looked for them, and for a time found their presence so incredible that she would not acknowledge the rattling that Basil was obliged to make on his glass. Then it appeared that the cook would not believe in them, and he did not send them, till they were quite faint, the peppery and muddy draught which impudently affected to be coffee, the oily slices of fugacious potatoes slipping about in their shallow dish and skillfully evading pursuit, the pieces of beef that simulated steak, the hot, greasy biscuit, steaming evilly up into the face when opened, and then soddening into masses of condensed dyspepsia.

The wedding-journeyers looked at each other with eyes of sad amaze. They bowed themselves for a moment to the viands, and then by an equal impulse refrained. They were sufficiently young, they were happy, they were hungry; nature is great and strong, but art is greater, and before these triumphs of the cook at the Albany depot appetite succumbed. By a terrible tour de force they swallowed the fierce and turbid liquor in their cups, and then speculated fantastically upon the character and history of the materials of that breakfast.

Presently Isabel paused, played a little with her knife, and, after a moment. looked up at her husband with an arch regard and said: “I was just thinking of a small station somewhere in the South of France where our train once stopped for breakfast. I remember the freshness and brightness of everything on the little tables,–the plates, the napkins, the gleaming half-bottles of wine. They seemed to have been preparing that breakfast for us from the beginning of time, and we were hardly seated before they served us with great cups of ‘caffe-au-lait’, and the sweetest rolls and butter; then a delicate cutlet, with an unspeakable gravy, and potatoes,–such potatoes! Dear me, how little I ate of it! I wish, for once, I’d had your appetite, Basil; I do indeed.”

She ended with a heartless laugh, in which, despite the tragical contrast her words had suggested, Basil finally joined. So much amazement had probably never been got before out of the misery inflicted in that place; but their lightness did not at all commend them. The waitress had not liked it from the first, and had served them with reluctance; and the proprietor did not like it, and kept his eye upon them as if he believed them about to escape without payment. Here, then, they had enforced a great fact of travelling,–that people who serve the public are kindly and pleasant in proportion as they serve it well. The unjust and the inefficient have always that consciousness of evil which will not let a man forgive his victim, or like him to be cheerful.

Our friends, however, did not heat themselves over the fact. There was already such heat from without, even at eight o’clock in the morning, that they chose to be as cool as possible in mind, and they placidly took their places in the train, which had been made up for departure. They had deliberately rejected the notion of a drawing-room car as affording a less varied prospect of humanity, and as being less in the spirit of ordinary American travel. Now, in reward, they found themselves quite comfortable in the common passenger-car, and disposed to view the scenery, into which they struck an hour after leaving the city, with much complacency. There was sufficient draught through the open window to make the heat tolerable, and the great brooding warmth gave to the landscape the charm which it alone can impart. It is a landscape that I greatly love for its mild beauty and tranquil picturesqueness, and it is in honor of our friends that I say they enjoyed it. There are nowhere any considerable hills, but everywhere generous slopes and pleasant hollows and the wide meadows of a grazing country, with the pretty brown Mohawk River rippling down through all, and at frequent intervals the life of the canal, now near, now far away, with the lazy boats that seem not to stir, and the horses that the train passes with a whirl, and, leaves slowly stepping forward and swiftly slipping backward. There are farms that had once, or still have, the romance to them of being Dutch farms,–if there is any romance in that,–and one conjectures a Dutch thrift in their waving grass and grain. Spaces of woodland here and there dapple the slopes, and the cozy red farm-houses repose by the side of their capacious red barns. Truly, there is no ground on which to defend the idleness, and yet as the train strives furiously onward amid these scenes of fertility and abundance, I like in fancy to loiter behind it, and to saunter at will up and down the landscape. I stop at the farm-yard gates, and sit upon the porches or thresholds, and am served with cups of buttermilk by old Dutch ladies who have done their morning’s work and have leisure to be knitting or sewing; or if there are no old ladies, with decent caps upon their gray hair, then I do not complain if the drink is brought me by some red-cheeked, comely young girl, out of Washington Irving’s pages, with no cap on her golden braids, who mirrors my diffidence, and takes an attitude of pretty awkwardness while she waits till I have done drinking. In the same easily contented spirit as I lounge through the barn-yard, if I find the old hens gone about their family affairs, I do not mind a meadow-lark’s singing in the top of the elm-tree beside the pump. In these excursions the watch-dogs know me for a harmless person, and will not open their eyes as they lie coiled up in the sun before the gate. At all the places, I have the people keep bees, and, in the garden full of worthy pot-herbs, such idlers in the vegetable world as hollyhocks and larkspurs and four-o’clocks, near a great bed in which the asparagus has gone to sleep for the season with a dream of delicate spray hanging over it. I walk unmolested through the farmer’s tall grass, and ride with him upon the perilous seat of his voluble mowing-machine, and learn to my heart’s content that his name begins with Van, and that his family has owned that farm ever since the days of the Patroon; which I dare say is not true. Then I fall asleep in a corner of the hayfield, and wake up on the tow-path of the canal beside that wonderfully lean horse, whose bones you cannot count only, because they are so many. He never wakes up, but, with a faltering under-lip and half-shut eyes, hobbles stiffly on, unconscious of his anatomical interest. The captain hospitably asks me on board, with a twist of the rudder swinging the stern of the boat up to the path, so that I can step on. She is laden with flour from the valley of the Genesee, and may have started on her voyage shortly after the canal was made. She is succinctly manned by the captain, the driver, and the cook, a fiery- haired lady of imperfect temper; and the cabin, which I explore, is plainly furnished with a cook-stove and a flask of whiskey. Nothing but profane language is allowed on board; and so, in a life of wicked jollity and ease, we glide imperceptibly down the canal, unvexed by the far-off future of arrival.

Such, I say, are my own unambitious mental pastimes, but I am aware that less superficial spirits could not be satisfied with them, and I can not pretend that my wedding-journeyers were so.

They cast an absurd poetry over the landscape; they invited themselves to be reminded of passages of European travel by it; and they placed villas and castles and palaces upon all the eligible building-sites. Ashamed of these devices, presently, Basil patriotically tried to reconstruct the Dutch and Indian past of the Mohawk Valley, but here he was foiled by the immense ignorance of his wife, who, as a true American woman, knew nothing of the history of her own country, and less than nothing of the barbarous regions beyond the borders of her native province. She proved a bewildering labyrinth of error concerning the events which Basil mentioned; and she had never even heard of the massacres by the French and Indians at Schenectady, which he in his boyhood had known so vividly that he was scalped every night in his dreams, and woke up in the morning expecting to see marks of the tomahawk on the head-board. So, failing at last to extract any sentiment from the scenes without, they turned their faces from the window, and looked about them for amusement within the car.

It was in all respects an ordinary carful of human beings, and it was perhaps the more worthy to be studied on that account. As in literature the true artist will shun the use even of real events if they are of an improbable character, so the sincere observer of man will not desire to look upon the heroic or occasional phases, but will seek him in his habitual moods of vacancy and tiresomeness. To me, at any rate, he is at such times very precious; and I never perceive him to be so much a man and a brother as when I feel the pressure of his vast, natural, unaffected dullness. Then I am able to enter confidently into his life and inhabit there, to think his shallow and feeble thoughts, to be moved by his dumb, stupid desires, to be dimly illumined by his stinted inspirations, to share his foolish prejudices, to practice his obtuse selfishness. Yes, it is a very amusing world, if you do not refuse to be amused; and our friends were very willing to be entertained. They delighted in the precise, thick-fingered old ladies who bought sweet apples of the boys come aboard with baskets, and who were so long in finding the right change, that our travellers, leaping in thought with the boys from the moving train, felt that they did so at the peril of their lives. Then they were interested in people who went out and found their friends waiting for them, or else did not find them, and wandered disconsolately up and down before the country stations, carpet-bag in hand; in women who came aboard, and were awkwardly shaken hands with or sheepishly kissed by those who hastily got seats for them, and placed their bags or their babies in their laps, and turned for a nod at the door; in young ladies who were seen to places by young men the latter seemed not to care if the train did go off with them, and then threw up their windows and talked with girl-friends, on the platform without, till the train began to move, and at last turned with gleaming eyes and moist red lips, and panted hard in the excitement of thinking about it, and could not calm themselves to the dull level of the travel around them; in the conductor, coldly and inaccessibly vigilant, as he went his rounds, reaching blindly for the tickets with one hand while he bent his head from time, to time, and listened with a faint, sarcastic smile to the questions of passengers who supposed they were going to get some information out of him; in the trainboy, who passed through on his many errands with prize candies, gum-drops, pop-corn, papers and magazines, and distributed books and the police journals with a blind impartiality, or a prodigious ignorance, or a supernatural perception of character in those who received them.

A through train from East to West presents some peculiar features as well as the traits common to all railway travel; and our friends decided that this was not a very well-dressed company, and would contrast with the people on an express-train between Boston and New York to no better advantage than these would show beside the average passengers between London and Paris. And it seems true that on a westering’ line, the blacking fades gradually from the boots, the hat softens and sinks, the coat loses its rigor of cut, and the whole person lounges into increasing informality of costume. I speak of the undressful sex alone: woman, wherever she is, appears in the last attainable effects of fashion, which are now all but telegraphic and universal. But most of the passengers here were men, and they mere plainly of the free-and easy West rather than the dapper East. They wore faces thoughtful with the problem of buying cheap and selling dear, and they could be known by their silence from the loquacious, acquaintance-making way-travellers. In these, the mere coming aboard seemed to beget an aggressively confidential mood. Perhaps they clutched recklessly at any means of relieving their ennui; or they felt that they might here indulge safely in the pleasures of autobiography, so dear to all of us; or else, in view of the many possible catastrophes, they desired to leave some little memory of themselves behind. At any rate, whenever the train stopped, the wedding- journeyers caught fragments of the personal histories of their fellow- passengers which had been rehearsing to those that sat next the narrators. It was no more than fair that these should somewhat magnify themselves, and put the best complexion on their actions and the worst upon their sufferings; that they should all appear the luckiest or the unluckiest, the healthiest or the sickest, people that ever were, and should all have made or lost the most money. There was a prevailing desire among them to make out that they came from or were going to same very large place; and our friends fancied an actual mortification in the face of a modest gentleman who got out at Penelope (or some other insignificant classical station, in the ancient Greek and Roman part of New York State), after having listened to the life of a somewhat rustic- looking person who had described himself as belonging near New York City.

Basil also found diversion in the tender couples, who publicly comported themselves as if in a sylvan solitude, and, as it had been on the bank of some umbrageous stream, far from the ken of envious or unsympathetic eyes, reclined upon each other’s shoulders and slept; but Isabel declared that this behavior was perfectly indecent. She granted, of course, that they were foolish, innocent people, who meant no offense, and did not feel guilty of an impropriety, but she said that this sort of thing was a national reproach. If it were merely rustic lovers, she should not care so much; but you saw people who ought to know better, well-dressed, stylish people, flaunting their devotion in the face of the world, and going to sleep on each other’s shoulders on every railroad train. It was outrageous, it was scandalous, it was really infamous. Before she would allow herself to do such a thing she would–well, she hardly knew what she would not do; she would have a divorce, at any rate. She wondered that Basil could laugh at it; and he would make her hate him if he kept on.

From the seat behind their own they were now made listeners to the history of a ten weeks’ typhoid fever, from the moment when the narrator noticed that he had not felt very well for a day or two back, and all at once a kind of shiver took him, till he lay fourteen days perfectly insensible, and could eat nothing but a little pounded ice–and his wife- -a small woman, too–used to lift him back and forth between the bed and sofa like a feather, and the neighbors did not know half the time whether he was dead or alive. This history, from which not the smallest particular or the least significant symptom of the case was omitted, occupied an hour in recital, and was told, as it seemed, for the entertainment of one who had been five minutes before it began a stranger to the historian.

At last the train came to a stand, and Isabel wailed forth in accents of desperation the words, “O, disgusting!” The monotony of the narrative in the seat behind, fatally combining with the heat of the day, had lulled her into slumbers from which she awoke at the stopping of the train, to find her head resting tenderly upon her husband’s shoulder.

She confronted his merriment with eves of mournful rebuke; but as she could not find him, or the harshest construction, in the least to blame, she was silent.

“Never mind, dear, never mind,” he coaxed, “you were really not responsible. It was fatigue, destiny, the spite of fortune,–whatever you like. In the case of the others, whom you despise so justly, I dare say it is sheer, disgraceful affection. But see that ravishing placard, swinging from the roof: ‘This train stops twenty minutes for dinner at Utica.’ In a few minutes more we shall be at Utica. If they have anything edible there, it shall never contract my powers. I could dine at the Albany station, even.”

In a little while they found themselves in an airy, comfortable dining- room, eating a dinner, which it seemed to them France in the flush of her prosperity need not have blushed to serve; for if it wanted a little in the last graces of art, it redeemed itself in abundance, variety, and wholesomeness. At the elbow of every famishing passenger stood a beneficent coal-black glossy fairy, in a white linen apron and jacket, serving him with that alacrity and kindliness and grace which make the negro waiter the master, not the slave of his calling, which disenthrall it of servility, and constitute him your eager host, not your menial, for the moment. From table to table passed a calming influence in the person of the proprietor, who, as he took his richly earned money, checked the rising fears of the guests by repeated proclamations that there was plenty of time, and that he would give them due warning before the train started. Those who had flocked out of the cars, to prey with beak and claw, as the vulture-like fashion is, upon everything in reach, remained to eat like Christians; and even a poor, scantily-Englished Frenchman, who wasted half his time in trying to ask how long the cars stopped and in looking at his watch, made a good dinner in spite of himself.

“O Basil, Basil!” cried Isabel, when the train was again in motion, “have we really dined once more? It seems too good to be true. Cleanliness, plenty, wholesomeness, civility! Yes, as you say, they cannot be civil where they are not just; honesty and courtesy go together; and wherever they give you outrageous things to eat, they add indigestible insults. Basil, dear, don’t be jealous; I shall never meet him again; but I’m in love with that black waiter at our table. I never saw such perfect manners, such a winning and affectionate politeness. He made me feel that every mouthful I ate was a personal favor to him. What a complete gentleman. There ought never to be a white waiter. None but negroes are able to render their service a pleasure and distinction to you.”

So they prattled on, doing, in their eagerness to be satisfied, a homage perhaps beyond its desert to the good dinner and the decent service of it. But here they erred in the right direction, and I find nothing more admirable in their behavior throughout a wedding journey which certainly had its trials, than their willingness to make the very heat of whatever would suffer itself to be made anything at all of. They celebrated its pleasures with magnanimous excess, they passed over its griefs with a