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Produced by Judith Boss


By Henry James


Four years ago - in 1874 - two young Englishmen had occasion to go to the
United States. They crossed the ocean at midsummer, and, arriving in
New York on the first day of August, were much struck with the fervid
temperature of that city. Disembarking upon the wharf, they climbed
into one of those huge high-hung coaches which convey passengers to the
hotels, and with a great deal of bouncing and bumping, took their course
through Broadway. The midsummer aspect of New York is not, perhaps, the
most favorable one; still, it is not without its picturesque and even
brilliant side. Nothing could well resemble less a typical English
street than the interminable avenue, rich in incongruities, through
which our two travelers advanced - looking out on each side of them
at the comfortable animation of the sidewalks, the high-colored,
heterogeneous architecture, the huge white marble facades glittering
in the strong, crude light, and bedizened with gilded lettering, the
multifarious awnings, banners, and streamers, the extraordinary number
of omnibuses, horsecars, and other democratic vehicles, the vendors of
cooling fluids, the white trousers and big straw hats of the policemen,
the tripping gait of the modish young persons on the pavement, the
general brightness, newness, juvenility, both of people and things. The
young men had exchanged few observations; but in crossing Union Square,
in front of the monument to Washington - in the very shadow, indeed,
projected by the image of the PATER PATRIAE - one of them remarked to
the other, "It seems a rum-looking place."

"Ah, very odd, very odd," said the other, who was the clever man of the

"Pity it's so beastly hot," resumed the first speaker after a pause.

"You know we are in a low latitude," said his friend.

"I daresay," remarked the other.

"I wonder," said the second speaker presently, "if they can give one a

"I daresay not," rejoined the other.

"Oh, I say!" cried his comrade.

This animated discussion was checked by their arrival at the hotel,
which had been recommended to them by an American gentleman whose
acquaintance they made - with whom, indeed, they became very intimate - on
the steamer, and who had proposed to accompany them to the inn and
introduce them, in a friendly way, to the proprietor. This plan,
however, had been defeated by their friend's finding that his "partner"
was awaiting him on the wharf and that his commercial associate desired
him instantly to come and give his attention to certain telegrams
received from St. Louis. But the two Englishmen, with nothing but their
national prestige and personal graces to recommend them, were very well
received at the hotel, which had an air of capacious hospitality. They
found that a bath was not unattainable, and were indeed struck with
the facilities for prolonged and reiterated immersion with which their
apartment was supplied. After bathing a good deal - more, indeed, than
they had ever done before on a single occasion - they made their way into
the dining room of the hotel, which was a spacious restaurant, with a
fountain in the middle, a great many tall plants in ornamental tubs,
and an array of French waiters. The first dinner on land, after a sea
voyage, is, under any circumstances, a delightful occasion, and there
was something particularly agreeable in the circumstances in which our
young Englishmen found themselves. They were extremely good natured
young men; they were more observant than they appeared; in a sort of
inarticulate, accidentally dissimulative fashion, they were highly
appreciative. This was, perhaps, especially the case with the elder, who
was also, as I have said, the man of talent. They sat down at a little
table, which was a very different affair from the great clattering
seesaw in the saloon of the steamer. The wide doors and windows of the
restaurant stood open, beneath large awnings, to a wide pavement, where
there were other plants in tubs, and rows of spreading trees, and beyond
which there was a large shady square, without any palings, and with
marble-paved walks. And above the vivid verdure rose other facades of
white marble and of pale chocolate-colored stone, squaring themselves
against the deep blue sky. Here, outside, in the light and the shade
and the heat, there was a great tinkling of the bells of innumerable
streetcars, and a constant strolling and shuffling and rustling of
many pedestrians, a large proportion of whom were young women in
Pompadour-looking dresses. Within, the place was cool and vaguely
lighted, with the plash of water, the odor of flowers, and the flitting
of French waiters, as I have said, upon soundless carpets.

"It's rather like Paris, you know," said the younger of our two

"It's like Paris - only more so," his companion rejoined.

"I suppose it's the French waiters," said the first speaker. "Why don't
they have French waiters in London?"

"Fancy a French waiter at a club," said his friend.

The young Englishman started a little, as if he could not fancy it. "In
Paris I'm very apt to dine at a place where there's an English waiter.
Don't you know what's-his-name's, close to the thingumbob? They always
set an English waiter at me. I suppose they think I can't speak French."

"Well, you can't." And the elder of the young Englishmen unfolded his

His companion took no notice whatever of this declaration. "I say,"
he resumed in a moment, "I suppose we must learn to speak American. I
suppose we must take lessons."

"I can't understand them," said the clever man.

"What the deuce is HE saying?" asked his comrade, appealing from the
French waiter.

"He is recommending some soft-shell crabs," said the clever man.

And so, in desultory observation of the idiosyncrasies of the new
society in which they found themselves, the young Englishmen proceeded
to dine - going in largely, as the phrase is, for cooling draughts and
dishes, of which their attendant offered them a very long list. After
dinner they went out and slowly walked about the neighboring streets.
The early dusk of waning summer was coming on, but the heat was still
very great. The pavements were hot even to the stout boot soles of the
British travelers, and the trees along the curbstone emitted strange
exotic odors. The young men wandered through the adjoining square - that
queer place without palings, and with marble walks arranged in black
and white lozenges. There were a great many benches, crowded with
shabby-looking people, and the travelers remarked, very justly, that it
was not much like Belgrave Square. On one side was an enormous hotel,
lifting up into the hot darkness an immense array of open, brightly
lighted windows. At the base of this populous structure was an eternal
jangle of horsecars, and all round it, in the upper dusk, was a sinister
hum of mosquitoes. The ground floor of the hotel seemed to be a huge
transparent cage, flinging a wide glare of gaslight into the street,
of which it formed a sort of public adjunct, absorbing and emitting
the passersby promiscuously. The young Englishmen went in with everyone
else, from curiosity, and saw a couple of hundred men sitting on divans
along a great marble-paved corridor, with their legs stretched out,
together with several dozen more standing in a queue, as at the ticket
office of a railway station, before a brilliantly illuminated counter
of vast extent. These latter persons, who carried portmanteaus in their
hands, had a dejected, exhausted look; their garments were not very
fresh, and they seemed to be rendering some mysterious tribute to a
magnificent young man with a waxed mustache, and a shirtfront adorned
with diamond buttons, who every now and then dropped an absent glance
over their multitudinous patience. They were American citizens doing
homage to a hotel clerk.

"I'm glad he didn't tell us to go there," said one of our Englishmen,
alluding to their friend on the steamer, who had told them so many
things. They walked up the Fifth Avenue, where, for instance, he had
told them that all the first families lived. But the first families were
out of town, and our young travelers had only the satisfaction of seeing
some of the second - or perhaps even the third - taking the evening air
upon balconies and high flights of doorsteps, in the streets which
radiate from the more ornamental thoroughfare. They went a little way
down one of these side streets, and they saw young ladies in white
dresses - charming-looking persons - seated in graceful attitudes on the
chocolate-colored steps. In one or two places these young ladies were
conversing across the street with other young ladies seated in similar
postures and costumes in front of the opposite houses, and in the warm
night air their colloquial tones sounded strange in the ears of
the young Englishmen. One of our friends, nevertheless - the younger
one - intimated that he felt a disposition to interrupt a few of these
soft familiarities; but his companion observed, pertinently enough, that
he had better be careful. "We must not begin with making mistakes," said
his companion.

"But he told us, you know - he told us," urged the young man, alluding
again to the friend on the steamer.

"Never mind what he told us!" answered his comrade, who, if he had
greater talents, was also apparently more of a moralist.

By bedtime - in their impatience to taste of a terrestrial couch again
our seafarers went to bed early - it was still insufferably hot, and
the buzz of the mosquitoes at the open windows might have passed for an
audible crepitation of the temperature. "We can't stand this, you know,"
the young Englishmen said to each other; and they tossed about all night
more boisterously than they had tossed upon the Atlantic billows. On the
morrow, their first thought was that they would re-embark that day for
England; and then it occured to them that they might find an asylum
nearer at hand. The cave of Aeolus became their ideal of comfort, and
they wondered where the Americans went when they wished to cool
off. They had not the least idea, and they determined to apply for
information to Mr. J. L. Westgate. This was the name inscribed in a bold
hand on the back of a letter carefully preserved in the pocketbook of
our junior traveler. Beneath the address, in the left-hand corner of the
envelope, were the words, "Introducing Lord Lambeth and Percy Beaumont,
Esq." The letter had been given to the two Englishmen by a good friend
of theirs in London, who had been in America two years previously, and
had singled out Mr. J. L. Westgate from the many friends he had left
there as the consignee, as it were, of his compatriots. "He is a capital
fellow," the Englishman in London had said, "and he has got an awfully
pretty wife. He's tremendously hospitable - he will do everything in the
world for you; and as he knows everyone over there, it is quite needless
I should give you any other introduction. He will make you see everyone;
trust to him for putting you into circulation. He has got a tremendously
pretty wife." It was natural that in the hour of tribulation Lord
Lambeth and Mr. Percy Beaumont should have bethought themselves of a
gentleman whose attractions had been thus vividly depicted; all the more
so that he lived in the Fifth Avenue, and that the Fifth Avenue, as they
had ascertained the night before, was contiguous to their hotel. "Ten
to one he'll be out of town," said Percy Beaumont; "but we can at least
find out where he has gone, and we can immediately start in pursuit. He
can't possibly have gone to a hotter place, you know."

"Oh, there's only one hotter place," said Lord Lambeth, "and I hope he
hasn't gone there."

They strolled along the shady side of the street to the number
indicated upon the precious letter. The house presented an imposing
chocolate-colored expanse, relieved by facings and window cornices of
florid sculpture, and by a couple of dusty rose trees which clambered
over the balconies and the portico. This last-mentioned feature was
approached by a monumental flight of steps.

"Rather better than a London house," said Lord Lambeth, looking down
from this altitude, after they had rung the bell.

"It depends upon what London house you mean," replied his companion.
"You have a tremendous chance to get wet between the house door and your

"Well," said Lord Lambeth, glancing at the burning heavens, "I 'guess'
it doesn't rain so much here!"

The door was opened by a long Negro in a white jacket, who grinned
familiarly when Lord Lambeth asked for Mr. Westgate.

"He ain't at home, sah; he's downtown at his o'fice."

"Oh, at his office?" said the visitors. "And when will he be at home?"

"Well, sah, when he goes out dis way in de mo'ning, he ain't liable to
come home all day."

This was discouraging; but the address of Mr. Westgate's office was
freely imparted by the intelligent black and was taken down by Percy
Beaumont in his pocketbook. The two gentlemen then returned, languidly,
to their hotel, and sent for a hackney coach, and in this commodious
vehicle they rolled comfortably downtown. They measured the whole length
of Broadway again and found it a path of fire; and then, deflecting to
the left, they were deposited by their conductor before a fresh,
light, ornamental structure, ten stories high, in a street crowded with
keen-faced, light-limbed young men, who were running about very quickly
and stopping each other eagerly at corners and in doorways. Passing into
this brilliant building, they were introduced by one of the keen-faced
young men - he was a charming fellow, in wonderful cream-colored garments
and a hat with a blue ribbon, who had evidently perceived them to be
aliens and helpless - to a very snug hydraulic elevator, in which they
took their place with many other persons, and which, shooting upward
in its vertical socket, presently projected them into the seventh
horizontal compartment of the edifice. Here, after brief delay, they
found themselves face to face with the friend of their friend in London.
His office was composed of several different rooms, and they waited very
silently in one of them after they had sent in their letter and their
cards. The letter was not one which it would take Mr. Westgate very long
to read, but he came out to speak to them more instantly than they could
have expected; he had evidently jumped up from his work. He was a tall,
lean personage and was dressed all in fresh white linen; he had a thin,
sharp, familiar face, with an expression that was at one and the same
time sociable and businesslike, a quick, intelligent eye, and a large
brown mustache, which concealed his mouth and made his chin, beneath it,
look small. Lord Lambeth thought he looked tremendously clever.

"How do you do, Lord Lambeth - how do you do, sir?" he said, holding the
open letter in his hand. "I'm very glad to see you; I hope you're very
well. You had better come in here; I think it's cooler," and he led
the way into another room, where there were law books and papers, and
windows wide open beneath striped awning. Just opposite one of the
windows, on a line with his eyes, Lord Lambeth observed the weathervane
of a church steeple. The uproar of the street sounded infinitely far
below, and Lord Lambeth felt very high in the air. "I say it's cooler,"
pursued their host, "but everything is relative. How do you stand the

"I can't say we like it," said Lord Lambeth; "but Beaumont likes it
better than I."

"Well, it won't last," Mr. Westgate very cheerfully declared; "nothing
unpleasant lasts over here. It was very hot when Captain Littledale was
here; he did nothing but drink sherry cobblers. He expressed some doubt
in his letter whether I will remember him - as if I didn't remember
making six sherry cobblers for him one day in about twenty minutes. I
hope you left him well, two years having elapsed since then."

"Oh, yes, he's all right," said Lord Lambeth.

"I am always very glad to see your countrymen," Mr. Westgate pursued. "I
thought it would be time some of you should be coming along. A friend
of mine was saying to me only a day or two ago, 'It's time for the
watermelons and the Englishmen."

"The Englishmen and the watermelons just now are about the same thing,"
Percy Beaumont observed, wiping his dripping forehead.

"Ah, well, we'll put you on ice, as we do the melons. You must go down
to Newport."

"We'll go anywhere," said Lord Lambeth.

"Yes, you want to go to Newport; that's what you want to do," Mr.
Westgate affirmed. "But let's see - when did you get here?"

"Only yesterday," said Percy Beaumont.

"Ah, yes, by the Russia. Where are you staying?"

"At the Hanover, I think they call it."

"Pretty comfortable?" inquired Mr. Westgate.

"It seems a capital place, but I can't say we like the gnats," said Lord

Mr. Westgate stared and laughed. "Oh, no, of course you don't like the
gnats. We shall expect you to like a good many things over here, but we
shan't insist upon your liking the gnats; though certainly you'll admit
that, as gnats, they are fine, eh? But you oughtn't to remain in the

"So we think," said Lord Lambeth. "If you would kindly suggest
something - "

"Suggest something, my dear sir?" and Mr. Westgate looked at him,
narrowing his eyelids. "Open your mouth and shut your eyes! Leave it to
me, and I'll put you through. It's a matter of national pride with
me that all Englishmen should have a good time; and as I have had
considerable practice, I have learned to minister to their wants. I
find they generally want the right thing. So just please to consider
yourselves my property; and if anyone should try to appropriate you,
please to say, 'Hands off; too late for the market.' But let's see,"
continued the American, in his slow, humorous voice, with a distinctness
of utterance which appeared to his visitors to be part of a humorous
intention - a strangely leisurely, speculative voice for a man evidently
so busy and, as they felt, so professional - "let's see; are you going to
make something of a stay, Lord Lambeth?"

"Oh, dear, no," said the young Englishman; "my cousin was coming over
on some business, so I just came across, at an hour's notice, for the

"Is it your first visit to the United States?"

"Oh, dear, yes."

"I was obliged to come on some business," said Percy Beaumont, "and I
brought Lambeth along."

"And YOU have been here before, sir?"

"Never - never."

"I thought, from your referring to business - " said Mr. Westgate.

"Oh, you see I'm by way of being a barrister," Percy Beaumont answered.
"I know some people that think of bringing a suit against one of your
railways, and they asked me to come over and take measures accordingly."

"What's your railroad?" he asked.

"The Tennessee Central."

The American tilted back his chair a little and poised it an instant.
"Well, I'm sorry you want to attack one of our institutions," he said,
smiling. "But I guess you had better enjoy yourself FIRST!"

"I'm certainly rather afraid I can't work in this weather," the young
barrister confessed.

"Leave that to the natives," said Mr. Westgate. "Leave the Tennessee
Central to me, Mr. Beaumont. Some day we'll talk it over, and I guess I
can make it square. But I didn't know you Englishmen ever did any work,
in the upper classes."

"Oh, we do a lot of work; don't we, Lambeth?" asked Percy Beaumont.

"I must certainly be at home by the 19th of September," said the younger
Englishman, irrelevantly but gently.

"For the shooting, eh? or is it the hunting, or the fishing?" inquired
his entertainer.

"Oh, I must be in Scotland," said Lord Lambeth, blushing a little.

"Well, then," rejoined Mr. Westgate, "you had better amuse yourself
first, also. You must go down and see Mrs. Westgate."

"We should be so happy, if you would kindly tell us the train," said
Percy Beaumont.

"It isn't a train - it's a boat."

"Oh, I see. And what is the name of - a - the - a - town?"

"It isn't a town," said Mr. Westgate, laughing. "It's a - well, what
shall I call it? It's a watering place. In short, it's Newport. You'll
see what it is. It's cool; that's the principal thing. You will greatly
oblige me by going down there and putting yourself into the hands of
Mrs. Westgate. It isn't perhaps for me to say it, but you couldn't be in
better hands. Also in those of her sister, who is staying with her. She
is very fond of Englishmen. She thinks there is nothing like them."

"Mrs. Westgate or - a - her sister?" asked Percy Beaumont modestly, yet in
the tone of an inquiring traveler.

"Oh, I mean my wife," said Mr. Westgate. "I don't suppose my
sister-in-law knows much about them. She has always led a very quiet
life; she has lived in Boston."

Percy Beaumont listened with interest. "That, I believe," he said, "is
the most - a - intellectual town?"

"I believe it is very intellectual. I don't go there much," responded
his host.

"I say, we ought to go there," said Lord Lambeth to his companion.

"Oh, Lord Lambeth, wait till the great heat is over," Mr. Westgate
interposed. "Boston in this weather would be very trying; it's not the
temperature for intellectual exertion. At Boston, you know, you have to
pass an examination at the city limits; and when you come away they give
you a kind of degree."

Lord Lambeth stared, blushing a little; and Percy Beaumont stared a
little also - but only with his fine natural complexion - glancing aside
after a moment to see that his companion was not looking too credulous,
for he had heard a great deal of American humor. "I daresay it is very
jolly," said the younger gentleman.

"I daresay it is," said Mr. Westgate. "Only I must impress upon you that
at present - tomorrow morning, at an early hour - you will be expected at
Newport. We have a house there; half the people in New York go there for
the summer. I am not sure that at this very moment my wife can take you
in; she has got a lot of people staying with her; I don't know who they
all are; only she may have no room. But you can begin with the hotel,
and meanwhile you can live at my house. In that way - simply sleeping
at the hotel - you will find it tolerable. For the rest, you must make
yourself at home at my place. You mustn't be shy, you know; if you are
only here for a month that will be a great waste of time. Mrs. Westgate
won't neglect you, and you had better not try to resist her. I know
something about that. I expect you'll find some pretty girls on the
premises. I shall write to my wife by this afternoon's mail, and
tomorrow morning she and Miss Alden will look out for you. Just walk
right in and make yourself comfortable. Your steamer leaves from this
part of the city, and I will immediately send out and get you a cabin.
Then, at half past four o'clock, just call for me here, and I will go
with you and put you on board. It's a big boat; you might get lost. A
few days hence, at the end of the week, I will come down to Newport and
see how you are getting on."

The two young Englishmen inaugurated the policy of not resisting Mrs.
Westgate by submitting, with great docility and thankfulness, to her
husband. He was evidently a very good fellow, and he made an impression
upon his visitors; his hospitality seemed to recommend itself
consciously - with a friendly wink, as it were - as if it hinted,
judicially, that you could not possibly make a better bargain. Lord
Lambeth and his cousin left their entertainer to his labors and returned
to their hotel, where they spent three or four hours in their respective
shower baths. Percy Beaumont had suggested that they ought to see
something of the town; but "Oh, damn the town!" his noble kinsman had
rejoined. They returned to Mr. Westgate's office in a carriage, with
their luggage, very punctually; but it must be reluctantly recorded
that, this time, he kept them waiting so long that they felt themselves
missing the steamer, and were deterred only by an amiable modesty from
dispensing with his attendance and starting on a hasty scramble to the
wharf. But when at last he appeared, and the carriage plunged into the
purlieus of Broadway, they jolted and jostled to such good purpose that
they reached the huge white vessel while the bell for departure was
still ringing and the absorption of passengers still active. It was
indeed, as Mr. Westgate had said, a big boat, and his leadership in the
innumerable and interminable corridors and cabins, with which he seemed
perfectly acquainted, and of which anyone and everyone appeared to have

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Online LibraryHenry JamesAn International Episode → online text (page 1 of 7)