William Dean Howells.

Their Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsTheir Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by David Widger


By William Dean Howells

Part I.

[NOTE: Several chapter heading numerals are out of order or missing in
this 1899 edition, however the text is all present in the three volumes.


"You need the rest," said the Business End; "and your wife wants you to
go, as well as your doctor. Besides, it's your Sabbatical year, and you,
could send back a lot of stuff for the magazine."

"Is that your notion of a Sabbatical year?" asked the editor.

"No; I throw that out as a bait to your conscience. You needn't write a
line while you're gone. I wish you wouldn't for your own sake; although
every number that hasn't got you in it is a back number for me."

"That's very nice of you, Fulkerson," said the editor. "I suppose you
realize that it's nine years since we took 'Every Other Week' from

"Well, that makes it all the more Sabbatical," said Fulkerson. "The two
extra years that you've put in here, over and above the old style
Sabbatical seven, are just so much more to your credit. It was your right
to go, two years ago, and now it's your duty. Couldn't you look at it in
that light?"

"I dare say Mrs. March could," the editor assented. "I don't believe she
could be brought to regard it as a pleasure on any other terms."

"Of course not," said Fulkerson. "If you won't take a year, take three
months, and call it a Sabbatical summer; but go, anyway. You can make up
half a dozen numbers ahead, and Tom, here, knows your ways so well that
you needn't think about 'Every Other Week' from the time you start till
the time you try to bribe the customs inspector when you get back. I can
take a hack at the editing myself, if Tom's inspiration gives out, and
put a little of my advertising fire into the thing." He laid his hand on
the shoulder of the young fellow who stood smiling by, and pushed and
shook him in the liking there was between them. "Now you go, March! Mrs.
Fulkerson feels just as I do about it; we had our outing last year, and
we want Mrs. March and you to have yours. You let me go down and engage
your passage, and - "

"No, no!" the editor rebelled. "I'll think about it;" but as he turned to
the work he was so fond of and so weary of, he tried not to think of the
question again, till he closed his desk in the afternoon, and started to
walk home; the doctor had said he ought to walk, and he did so, though he
longed to ride, and looked wistfully at the passing cars.

He knew he was in a rut, as his wife often said; but if it was a rut, it
was a support too; it kept him from wobbling: She always talked as if the
flowery fields of youth lay on either side of the dusty road he had been
going so long, and he had but to step aside from it, to be among the
butterflies and buttercups again; he sometimes indulged this illusion,
himself, in a certain ironical spirit which caressed while it mocked the
notion. They had a tacit agreement that their youth, if they were ever to
find it again, was to be looked for in Europe, where they met when they
were young, and they had never been quite without the hope of going back
there, some day, for a long sojourn. They had not seen the time when they
could do so; they were dreamers, but, as they recognized, even dreaming
is not free from care; and in his dream March had been obliged to work
pretty steadily, if not too intensely. He had been forced to forego the
distinctly literary ambition with which he had started in life because he
had their common living to make, and he could not make it by writing
graceful verse, or even graceful prose. He had been many years in a
sufficiently distasteful business, and he had lost any thought of leaving
it when it left him, perhaps because his hold on it had always been
rather lax, and he had not been able to conceal that he disliked it. At
any rate, he was supplanted in his insurance agency at Boston by a
subordinate in his office, and though he was at the same time offered a
place of nominal credit in the employ of the company, he was able to
decline it in grace of a chance which united the charm of congenial work
with the solid advantage of a better salary than he had been getting for
work he hated. It was an incredible chance, but it was rendered
appreciably real by the necessity it involved that they should leave
Boston, where they had lived all their married life, where Mrs. March as
well as their children was born, and where all their tender and familiar
ties were, and come to New York, where the literary enterprise which
formed his chance was to be founded.

It was then a magazine of a new sort, which his business partner had
imagined in such leisure as the management of a newspaper syndicate
afforded him, and had always thought of getting March to edit. The
magazine which is also a book has since been realized elsewhere on more
or less prosperous terms, but not for any long period, and 'Every Other
Week' was apparently - the only periodical of the kind conditioned for
survival. It was at first backed by unlimited capital, and it had the
instant favor of a popular mood, which has since changed, but which did
not change so soon that the magazine had not time to establish itself in
a wide acceptance. It was now no longer a novelty, it was no longer in
the maiden blush of its first success, but it had entered upon its second
youth with the reasonable hope of many years of prosperity before it. In
fact it was a very comfortable living for all concerned, and the Marches
had the conditions, almost dismayingly perfect, in which they had often
promised themselves to go and be young again in Europe, when they
rebelled at finding themselves elderly in America. Their daughter was
married, and so very much to her mother's mind that she did not worry
about her, even though she lived so far away as Chicago, still a wild
frontier town to her Boston imagination; and their son, as soon as he
left college, had taken hold on 'Every Other Week', under his father's
instruction, with a zeal and intelligence which won him Fulkerson's
praise as a chip of the old block. These two liked each other, and worked
into each other's hands as cordially and aptly as Fulkerson and March had
ever done. It amused the father to see his son offering Fulkerson the
same deference which the Business End paid to seniority in March himself;
but in fact, Fulkerson's forehead was getting, as he said, more
intellectual every day; and the years were pushing them all along

Still, March had kept on in the old rut, and one day he fell down in it.
He had a long sickness, and when he was well of it, he was so slow in
getting his grip of work again that he was sometimes deeply discouraged.
His wife shared his depression, whether he showed or whether he hid it,
and when the doctor advised his going abroad, she abetted the doctor with
all the strength of a woman's hygienic intuitions. March himself
willingly consented, at first; but as soon as he got strength for his
work, he began to temporize and to demur. He said that he believed it
would do him just as much good to go to Saratoga, where they always had
such a good time, as to go to Carlsbad; and Mrs. March had been obliged
several times to leave him to his own undoing; she always took him more
vigorously in hand afterwards.


When he got home from the 'Every Other Week' office, the afternoon of
that talk with the Business End, he wanted to laugh with his wife at
Fulkerson's notion of a Sabbatical year. She did not think it was so very
droll; she even urged it seriously against him, as if she had now the
authority of Holy Writ for forcing him abroad; she found no relish of
absurdity in the idea that it was his duty to take this rest which had
been his right before.

He abandoned himself to a fancy which had been working to the surface of
his thought. "We could call it our Silver Wedding Journey, and go round
to all the old places, and see them in the reflected light of the past."

"Oh, we could!" she responded, passionately; and he had now the delicate
responsibility of persuading her that he was joking.

He could think of nothing better than a return to Fulkerson's absurdity.
"It would be our Silver Wedding Journey just as it would be my Sabbatical
year - a good deal after date. But I suppose that would make it all the
more silvery."

She faltered in her elation. "Didn't you say a Sabbatical year yourself?"
she demanded.

"Fulkerson said it; but it was a figurative expression."

"And I suppose the Silver Wedding Journey was a figurative expression

"It was a notion that tempted me; I thought you would enjoy it. Don't you
suppose I should be glad too, if we could go over, and find ourselves
just as we were when we first met there?"

"No; I don't believe now that you care anything about it."

"Well, it couldn't be done, anyway; so that doesn't matter."

"It could be done, if you were a mind to think so. And it would be the
greatest inspiration to you. You are always longing for some chance to do
original work, to get away from your editing, but you've let the time
slip by without really trying to do anything; I don't call those little
studies of yours in the magazine anything; and now you won't take the
chance that's almost forcing itself upon you. You could write an original
book of the nicest kind; mix up travel and fiction; get some love in."

"Oh, that's the stalest kind of thing!"

"Well, but you could see it from a perfectly new point of view. You could
look at it as a sort of dispassionate witness, and treat it
humorously - of course it is ridiculous - and do something entirely fresh."

"It wouldn't work. It would be carrying water on both shoulders. The
fiction would kill the travel, the travel would kill the fiction; the
love and the humor wouldn't mingle any more than oil and vinegar."

"Well, and what is better than a salad?"

"But this would be all salad-dressing, and nothing to put it on." She was
silent, and he yielded to another fancy. "We might imagine coming upon
our former selves over there, and travelling round with them - a wedding
journey 'en partie carree'."

"Something like that. I call it a very poetical idea," she said with a
sort of provisionality, as if distrusting another ambush.

"It isn't so bad," he admitted. "How young we were, in those days!"

"Too young to know what a good time we were having," she said, relaxing
her doubt for the retrospect. "I don't feel as if I really saw Europe,
then; I was too inexperienced, too ignorant, too simple. I would like to
go, just to make sure that I had been." He was smiling again in the way
he had when anything occurred to him that amused him, and she demanded,
"What is it?"

"Nothing. I was wishing we could go in the consciousness of people who
actually hadn't been before - carry them all through Europe, and let them
see it in the old, simple-hearted American way."

She shook her head. "You couldn't! They've all been!"

"All but about sixty or seventy millions," said March.

"Well, those are just the millions you don't know, and couldn't imagine."

"I'm not so sure of that."

"And even if you could imagine them, you couldn't make them interesting.
All the interesting ones have been, anyway."

"Some of the uninteresting ones too. I used, to meet some of that sort
over there. I believe I would rather chance it for my pleasure with those
that hadn't been."

"Then why not do it? I know you could get something out of it."

"It might be a good thing," he mused, "to take a couple who had passed
their whole life here in New York, too poor and too busy ever to go; and
had a perfect famine for Europe all the time. I could have them spend
their Sunday afternoons going aboard the different boats, and looking up
their accommodations. I could have them sail, in imagination, and
discover an imaginary Europe, and give their grotesque misconceptions of
it from travels and novels against a background of purely American
experience. We needn't go abroad to manage that. I think it would be
rather nice."

"I don't think it would be nice in the least," said Mrs. March, "and if
you don't want to talk seriously, I would rather not talk at all."

"Well, then, let's talk about our Silver Wedding Journey."

"I see. You merely want to tease and I am not in the humor for it."

She said this in a great many different ways, and then she was really
silent. He perceived that she was hurt; and he tried to win her back to
good-humor. He asked her if she would not like to go over to Hoboken and
look at one of the Hanseatic League steamers, some day; and she refused.
When he sent the next day and got a permit to see the boat; she consented
to go.


He was one of those men who live from the inside outward; he often took a
hint for his actions from his fancies; and now because he had fancied
some people going to look at steamers on Sundays, he chose the next
Sunday himself for their visit to the Hanseatic boat at Hoboken. To be
sure it was a leisure day with him, but he might have taken the afternoon
of any other day, for that matter, and it was really that invisible
thread of association which drew him.

The Colmannia had been in long enough to have made her toilet for the
outward voyage, and was looking her best. She was tipped and edged with
shining brass, without and within, and was red-carpeted and white-painted
as only a ship knows how to be. A little uniformed steward ran before the
visitors, and showed them through the dim white corridors into typical
state-rooms on the different decks; and then let them verify their first
impression of the grandeur of the dining-saloon, and the luxury of the
ladies' parlor and music-room. March made his wife observe that the
tables and sofas and easy-chairs, which seemed so carelessly scattered
about, were all suggestively screwed fast to the floor against rough
weather; and he amused himself with the heavy German browns and greens
and coppers in the decorations, which he said must have been studied in
color from sausage, beer, and spinach, to the effect of those large
march-panes in the roof. She laughed with him at the tastelessness of the
race which they were destined to marvel at more and more; but she made
him own that the stewardesses whom they saw were charmingly like
serving-maids in the 'Fliegende Blatter'; when they went ashore she
challenged his silence for some assent to her own conclusion that the
Colmannia was perfect.

"She has only one fault," he assented. "She's a ship."

"Yes," said his wife, "and I shall want to look at the Norumbia before I

Then he saw that it was only a question which steamer they should take,
and not whether they should take any. He explained, at first gently and
afterwards savagely, that their visit to the Colmannia was quite enough
for him, and that the vessel was not built that he would be willing to
cross the Atlantic in.

When a man has gone so far as that he has committed himself to the
opposite course in almost so many words; and March was neither surprised
nor abashed when he discovered himself, before they reached home,
offering his wife many reasons why they should go to Europe. She answered
to all, No, he had made her realize the horror of it so much that she was
glad to give it up. She gave it up, with the best feeling; all that she
would ask of him was that he should never mention Europe to her again.
She could imagine how much he disliked to go, if such a ship as the
Colmannia did not make him want to go.

At the bottom of his heart he knew that he had not used her very well. He
had kindled her fancy with those notions of a Sabbatical year and a
Silver Wedding Journey, and when she was willing to renounce both he had
persisted in taking her to see the ship, only to tell her afterwards that
he would not go abroad on any account. It was by a psychological juggle
which some men will understand that he allowed himself the next day to
get the sailings of the Norumbia from the steamship office; he also got a
plan of the ship showing the most available staterooms, so that they
might be able to choose between her and the Colmannia from all the facts.


From this time their decision to go was none the less explicit because so
perfectly tacit.

They began to amass maps and guides. She got a Baedeker for Austria and
he got a Bradshaw for the continent, which was never of the least use
there, but was for the present a mine of unavailable information. He got
a phrase-book, too, and tried to rub up his German. He used to read
German, when he was a boy, with a young enthusiasm for its romantic
poetry, and now, for the sake of Schiller and Uhland and Heine, he held
imaginary conversations with a barber, a bootmaker, and a banker, and
tried to taste the joy which he had not known in the language of those
poets for a whole generation. He perceived, of course, that unless the
barber, the bootmaker, and the banker answered him in terms which the
author of the phrase-book directed them to use, he should not get on with
them beyond his first question; but he did not allow this to spoil his
pleasure in it. In fact, it was with a tender emotion that he realized
how little the world, which had changed in everything else so greatly,
had changed in its ideal of a phrase-book.

Mrs. March postponed the study of her Baedeker to the time and place for
it; and addressed herself to the immediate business of ascertaining the
respective merits of the Colmannia and Norumbia. She carried on her
researches solely among persons of her own sex; its experiences were
alone of that positive character which brings conviction, and she valued
them equally at first or second hand. She heard of ladies who would not
cross in any boat but the Colmannia, and who waited for months to get a
room on her; she talked with ladies who said that nothing would induce
them to cross in her. There were ladies who said she had twice the motion
that the Norumbia had, and the vibration from her twin screws was
frightful; it always was, on those twin-screw boats, and it did not
affect their testimony with Mrs. March that the Norumbia was a twin-screw
boat too. It was repeated to her in the third or fourth degree of
hear-say that the discipline on the Colmannia was as perfect as that on
the Cunarders; ladies whose friends had tried every line assured her that
the table of the Norumbia was almost as good as the table of the French
boats. To the best of the belief of lady witnesses still living who had
friends on board, the Colmannia had once got aground, and the Norumbia
had once had her bridge carried off by a tidal wave; or it might be the
Colmannia; they promised to ask and let her know. Their lightest word
availed with her against the most solemn assurances of their husbands,
fathers, or brothers, who might be all very well on land, but in
navigation were not to be trusted; they would say anything from a
reckless and culpable optimism. She obliged March all the same to ask
among them, but she recognized their guilty insincerity when he came home
saying that one man had told him you could have played croquet on the
deck of the Colmannia the whole way over when he crossed, and another
that he never saw the racks on in three passages he had made in the

The weight of evidence was, he thought, in favor of the Norumbia, but
when they went another Sunday to Hoboken, and saw the ship, Mrs. March
liked her so much less than the Colmannia that she could hardly wait for
Monday to come; she felt sure all the good rooms on the Colmannia would
be gone before they could engage one.

From a consensus of the nerves of all the ladies left in town so late in
the season, she knew that the only place on any steamer where your room
ought to be was probably just where they could not get it. If you went
too high, you felt the rolling terribly, and people tramping up and down
on the promenade under your window kept you awake the whole night; if you
went too low, you felt the engine thump, thump, thump in your head the
whole way over. If you went too far forward, you got the pitching; if you
went aft, on the kitchen side, you got the smell of the cooking. The only
place, really, was just back of the dining-saloon on the south side of
the ship; it was smooth there, and it was quiet, and you had the sun in
your window all the way over. He asked her if he must take their room
there or nowhere, and she answered that he must do his best, but that she
would not be satisfied with any other place.

In his despair he went down to the steamer office, and took a room which
one of the clerks said was the best. When he got home, it appeared from
reference to the ship's plan that it was the very room his wife had
wanted from the beginning, and she praised him as if he had used a wisdom
beyond his sex in getting it.

He was in the enjoyment of his unmerited honor when a belated lady came
with her husband for an evening call, before going into the country. At
sight of the plans of steamers on the Marches' table, she expressed the
greatest wonder and delight that they were going to Europe. They had
supposed everybody knew it, by this time, but she said she had not heard
a word of it; and she went on with some felicitations which March found
rather unduly filial. In getting a little past the prime of life he did
not like to be used with too great consideration of his years, and he did
not think that he and his wife were so old that they need be treated as
if they were going on a golden wedding journey, and heaped with all sorts
of impertinent prophecies of their enjoying it so much and being so much
the better for the little outing! Under his breath, he confounded this
lady for her impudence; but he schooled himself to let her rejoice at
their going on a Hanseatic boat, because the Germans were always so
careful of you. She made her husband agree with her, and it came out that
he had crossed several times on both the Colmannia and the Norumbia. He
volunteered to say that the Colmannia, was a capital sea-boat; she did
not have her nose under water all the time; she was steady as a rock; and
the captain and the kitchen were simply out of sight; some people did
call her unlucky.

"Unlucky?" Mrs. March echoed, faintly. "Why do they call her unlucky?"

"Oh, I don't know. People will say anything about any boat. You know she
broke her shaft, once, and once she got caught in the ice."

Mrs. March joined him in deriding the superstition of people, and she
parted gayly with this over-good young couple. As soon as they were gone,
March knew that she would say: "You must change that ticket, my dear. We
will go in the Norumbia."

"Suppose I can't get as good a room on the Norumbia?"

"Then we must stay."

In the morning after a night so bad that it was worse than no night at
all, she said she would go to the steamship office with him and question
them up about the Colmannia. The people there had never heard she was
called an unlucky boat; they knew of nothing disastrous in her history.
They were so frank and so full in their denials, and so kindly patient of
Mrs. March's anxieties, that he saw every word was carrying conviction of
their insincerity to her. At the end she asked what rooms were left on
the Norumbia, and the clerk whom they had fallen to looked through his
passenger list with a shaking head. He was afraid there was nothing they
would like.

"But we would take anything," she entreated, and March smiled to think of
his innocence in supposing for a moment that she had ever dreamed of not

"We merely want the best," he put in. "One flight up, no noise or dust,
with sun in all the windows, and a place for fire on rainy days."

They must be used to a good deal of American joking which they do not
understand, in the foreign steamship offices. The clerk turned
unsmilingly to one of his superiors and asked him some question in German
which March could not catch, perhaps because it formed no part of a
conversation with a barber, a bootmaker or a banker. A brief drama
followed, and then the clerk pointed to a room on the plan of the
Norumbia and said it had just been given up, and they could have it if
they decided to take it at once.

They looked, and it was in the very place of their room on the Colmannia;
it was within one of being the same number. It was so providential, if it
was providential at all, that they were both humbly silent a moment; even
Mrs. March was silent. In this supreme moment she would not prompt her
husband by a word, a glance, and it was from his own free will that he

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsTheir Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 → online text (page 1 of 10)