William Dean Howells.

Their Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 online

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not see why they should not make it a pleasure-trip, too. They put
themselves in a position to be patronized by their deference, and in the
pauses of his talk with the gentleman at the head of the table, March
heard his wife abusing their inexperience to be unsparingly instructive
about European travel. He wondered whether she would be afraid to own
that it was nearly thirty years since she had crossed the ocean; though
that might seem recent to people who had never crossed at all.

They listened with respect as she boasted in what an anguish of wisdom
she had decided between the Colmannia and the Norumbia. The wife said she
did not know there was such a difference in steamers, but when Mrs. March
perfervidly assured her that there was all the difference in the world,
she submitted and said she supposed she ought to be thankful that they,
had hit upon the right one. They had telegraphed for berths and taken
what was given them; their room seemed to be very nice.

"Oh," said Mrs. March, and her husband knew that she was saying it to
reconcile them to the inevitable, "all the rooms on the Norumbia are
nice. The only difference is that if they are on the south side you have
the sun."

"I'm not sure which is the south side," said the bride. "We seem to have
been going west ever since we started, and I feel as if we should reach
home in the morning if we had a good night. Is the ocean always so smooth
as this?"

"Oh, dear, no!" said Mrs. March. "It's never so smooth as this," and she
began to be outrageously authoritative about the ocean weather. She ended
by declaring that the June passages were always good, and that if the
ship kept a southerly course they would have no fogs and no icebergs. She
looked round, and caught her husband's eye. "What is it? Have I been
bragging? Well, you understand," she added to the bride, "I've only been
over once, a great while ago, and I don't really know anything about it,"
and they laughed together. "But I talked so much with people after we
decided to go, that I feel as if I had been a hundred times."

"I know," said the other lady, with caressing intelligence. "That is just
the way with - " She stopped, and looked at the young man whom the head
steward was bringing up to take the vacant place next to March. He came
forward, stuffing his cap into the pocket of his blue serge sack, and
smiled down on the company with such happiness in his gay eyes that March
wondered what chance at this late day could have given any human creature
his content so absolute, and what calamity could be lurking round the
corner to take it out of him. The new-comer looked at March as if he knew
him, and March saw at a second glance that he was the young fellow who
had told him about the mother put off after the start. He asked him
whether there was any change in the weather yet outside, and he answered
eagerly, as if the chance to put his happiness into the mere sound of
words were a favor done him, that their ship had just spoken one of the
big Hanseatic mailboats, and she had signalled back that she had met ice;
so that they would probably keep a southerly course, and not have it
cooler till they were off the Banks.

The mother of the boy said, "I thought we must be off the Banks when I
came out of my room, but it was only the electric fan at the foot of the

"That was what I thought," said Mrs. March. "I almost sent my husband
back for my shawl!" Both the ladies laughed and liked each other for
their common experience.

The gentleman at the head of the table said, "They ought to have fans
going there by that pillar, or else close the ports. They only let in

They easily conformed to the American convention of jocosity in their
talk; it perhaps no more represents the individual mood than the
convention of dulness among other people; but it seemed to make the young
man feel at home.

"Why, do you think it's uncomfortably warm?" he asked, from what March
perceived to be a meteorology of his own. He laughed and added, "It is
pretty summerlike," as if he had not thought of it before. He talked of
the big mail-boat, and said he would like to cross on such a boat as
that, and then he glanced at the possible advantage of having your own
steam-yacht like the one which he said they had just passed, so near that
you could see what a good time the people were having on board. He began
to speak to the Marches; his talk spread to the young couple across the
table; it visited the mother on the sofa in a remark which she might
ignore without apparent rejection, and without really avoiding the boy,
it glanced off toward the father and daughter, from whom it fell, to rest
with the gentleman at the head of the table.

It was not that the father and daughter had slighted his overture, if it
was so much as that, but that they were tacitly preoccupied, or were of
some philosophy concerning their fellow-breakfasters which did not suffer
them, for the present, at least, to share in the common friendliness.
This is an attitude sometimes produced in people by a sense of just, or
even unjust, superiority; sometimes by serious trouble; sometimes by
transient annoyance. The cause was not so deep-seated but Mrs. March,
before she rose from her place, believed that she had detected a slant of
the young lady's eyes, from under her lashes, toward the young man; and
she leaped to a conclusion concerning them in a matter where all logical
steps are impertinent. She did not announce her arrival at this point
till the young man had overtaken her before she got out of the saloon,
and presented the handkerchief she had dropped under the table.

He went away with her thanks, and then she said to her husband, "Well,
he's perfectly charming, and I don't wonder she's taken with him; that
kind of cold girl would be, though I'm not sure that she is cold. She's
interesting, and you could see that he thought so, the more he looked at
her; I could see him looking at her from the very first instant; he
couldn't keep his eyes off her; she piqued his curiosity, and made him
wonder about her."

"Now, look here, Isabel! This won't do. I can stand a good deal, but I
sat between you and that young fellow, and you couldn't tell whether he
was looking at that girl or not."

"I could! I could tell by the expression of her face."

"Oh, well! If it's gone as far as that with you, I give it up. When are
you going to have them married?"

"Nonsense! I want you to find out who all those people are. How are you
going to do it?"

"Perhaps the passenger list will say," he suggested.


The list did not say of itself, but with the help of the head steward's
diagram it said that the gentleman at the head of the table was Mr. R. M.
Kenby; the father and the daughter were Mr. E. B. Triscoe and Miss
Triscoe; the bridal pair were Mr. and Mrs. Leffers; the mother and her
son were Mrs. Adding and Mr. Roswell Adding; the young man who came in
last was Mr. L. J. Burnamy. March carried the list, with these names
carefully checked and rearranged on a neat plan of the table, to his wife
in her steamer chair, and left her to make out the history and the
character of the people from it. In this sort of conjecture long
experience had taught him his futility, and he strolled up and down and
looked at the life about him with no wish to penetrate it deeply.

Long Island was now a low yellow line on the left. Some fishing-boats
flickered off the shore; they met a few sail, and left more behind; but
already, and so near one of the greatest ports of the world, the spacious
solitude of the ocean was beginning. There was no swell; the sea lay
quite flat, with a fine mesh of wrinkles on its surface, and the sun
flamed down upon it from a sky without a cloud. With the light fair wind,
there was no resistance in the sultry air, the thin, dun smoke from the
smoke-stack fell about the decks like a stifling veil.

The promenades, were as uncomfortably crowded as the sidewalk of
Fourteenth Street on a summer's day, and showed much the social average
of a New York shopping thoroughfare. Distinction is something that does
not always reveal itself at first sight on land, and at sea it is still
more retrusive. A certain democracy of looks and clothes was the most
notable thing to March in the apathetic groups and detached figures. His
criticism disabled the saloon passengers of even so much personal appeal
as he imagined in some of the second-cabin passengers whom he saw across
their barrier; they had at least the pathos of their exclusion, and he
could wonder if they felt it or envied him. At Hoboken he had seen
certain people coming on board who looked like swells; but they had now
either retired from the crowd, or they had already conformed to the
prevailing type. It was very well as a type; he was of it himself; but he
wished that beauty as well as distinction had not been so lost in it.

In fact, he no longer saw so much beauty anywhere as he once did. It
might be that he saw life more truly than when he was young, and that his
glasses were better than his eyes had been; but there were analogies that
forbade his thinking so, and he sometimes had his misgivings that the
trouble was with his glasses. He made what he could of a pretty girl who
had the air of not meaning to lose a moment from flirtation, and was
luring her fellow-passengers from under her sailor hat. She had already
attached one of them; and she was hooking out for more. She kept moving
herself from the waist up, as if she worked there on a pivot, showing now
this side and now that side of her face, and visiting the admirer she had
secured with a smile as from the lamp of a revolving light as she turned.

While he was dwelling upon this folly, with a sense of impersonal
pleasure in it as complete through his years as if he were already a
disembodied spirit, the pulse of the engines suddenly ceased, and he
joined the general rush to the rail, with a fantastic expectation of
seeing another distracted mother put off; but it was only the pilot
leaving the ship. He was climbing down the ladder which hung over the
boat, rising and sinking on the sea below, while the two men in her held
her from the ship's side with their oars; in the offing lay the white
steam-yacht which now replaces the picturesque pilot-sloop of other
times. The Norumbia's screws turned again under half a head of steam; the
pilot dropped from the last rung of the ladder into the boat, and caught
the bundle of letters tossed after him. Then his men let go the line that
was towing their craft, and the incident of the steamer's departure was
finally closed. It had been dramatically heightened perhaps by her final
impatience to be off at some added risks to the pilot and his men, but
not painfully so, and March smiled to think how men whose lives are all
of dangerous chances seem always to take as many of them as they can.

He heard a girl's fresh voice saying at his shoulder, "Well, now we are
off; and I suppose you're glad, papa!"

"I'm glad we're not taking the pilot on, at least," answered the elderly
man whom the girl had spoken to; and March turned to see the father and
daughter whose reticence at the breakfast table had interested him. He
wondered that he had left her out of the account in estimating the beauty
of the ship's passengers: he saw now that she was not only extremely
pretty, but as she moved away she was very graceful; she even had
distinction. He had fancied a tone of tolerance, and at the same time of
reproach in her voice, when she spoke, and a tone of defiance and not
very successful denial in her father's; and he went back with these
impressions to his wife, whom he thought he ought to tell why the ship
had stopped.

She had not noticed the ship's stopping, in her study of the passenger
list, and she did not care for the pilot's leaving; but she seemed to
think his having overheard those words of the father and daughter an
event of prime importance. With a woman's willingness to adapt the means
to the end she suggested that he should follow them up and try to
overhear something more; she only partially realized the infamy of her
suggestion when he laughed in scornful refusal.

"Of course I don't want you to eavesdrop, but I do want you to find out
about them. And about Mr. Burnamy, too. I can wait, about the others, or
manage for myself, but these are driving me to distraction. Now, will

He said he would do anything he could with honor, and at one of the
earliest turns he made on the other side of the ship he was smilingly
halted by Mr. Burnamy, who asked to be excused, and then asked if he were
not Mr. March of 'Every Other Week'; he had seen the name on the
passenger list, and felt sure it must be the editor's. He seemed so
trustfully to expect March to remember his own name as that of a writer
from whom he had accepted a short poem, yet unprinted, that the editor
feigned to do so until he really did dimly recall it. He even recalled
the short poem, and some civil words he said about it caused Burnamy to
overrun in confidences that at once touched and amused him.


Burnamy, it seemed, had taken passage on the Norumbia because he found,
when he arrived in New York the day before, that she was the first boat
out. His train was so much behind time that when he reached the office of
the Hanseatic League it was nominally shut, but he pushed in by
sufferance of the janitor, and found a berth, which had just been given
up, in one of the saloon-deck rooms. It was that or nothing; and he felt
rich enough to pay for it himself if the Bird of Prey, who had cabled him
to come out to Carlsbad as his secretary, would not stand the difference
between the price and that of the lower-deck six-in-a-room berth which he
would have taken if he had been allowed a choice.

With the three hundred dollars he had got for his book, less the price of
his passage, changed into German bank-notes and gold pieces, and safely
buttoned in the breast pocket of his waistcoat, he felt as safe from
pillage as from poverty when he came out from buying his ticket; he
covertly pressed his arm against his breast from time to time, for the
joy of feeling his money there and not from any fear of finding it gone.
He wanted to sing, he wanted to dance; he could not believe it was he, as
he rode up the lonely length of Broadway in the cable-car, between the
wild, irregular walls of the canyon which the cable-cars have all to
themselves at the end of a summer afternoon.

He went and dined, and he thought he dined well, at a Spanish-American
restaurant, for fifty cents, with a half-bottle of California claret
included. When he came back to Broadway he was aware that it was
stiflingly hot in the pinkish twilight, but he took a cable-car again in
lack of other pastime, and the motion served the purpose of a breeze,
which he made the most of by keeping his hat off. It did not really
matter to him whether it was hot or cool; he was imparadised in weather
which had nothing to do with the temperature. Partly because he was born
to such weather, in the gayety of soul which amused some people with him,
and partly because the world was behaving as he had always expected, he
was opulently content with the present moment. But he thought very
tolerantly of the future, and he confirmed himself in the decision he had
already made, to stick to Chicago when he came back to America. New York
was very well, and he had no sentiment about Chicago; but he had got a
foothold there; he had done better with an Eastern publisher, he
believed, by hailing from the West, and he did not believe it would hurt
him with the Eastern public to keep on hailing from the West.

He was glad of a chance to see Europe, but he did not mean to come home
so dazzled as to see nothing else against the American sky. He fancied,
for he really knew nothing, that it was the light of Europe, not its
glare that he wanted, and he wanted it chiefly on his material, so as to
see it more and more objectively. It was his power of detachment from
this that had enabled him to do his sketches in the paper with such charm
as to lure a cash proposition from a publisher when he put them together
for a book, but he believed that his business faculty had much to do with
his success; and he was as proud of that as of the book itself. Perhaps
he was not so very proud of the book; he was at least not vain of it; he
could, detach himself from his art as well as his material.

Like all literary temperaments he was of a certain hardness, in spite of
the susceptibilities that could be used to give coloring to his work. He
knew this well enough, but he believed that there were depths of
unprofessional tenderness in his nature. He was good to his mother, and
he sent her money, and wrote to her in the little Indiana town where he
had left her when he came to Chicago. After he got that invitation from
the Bird of Prey, he explored his heart for some affection that he had
not felt for him before, and he found a wish that his employer should not
know it was he who had invented that nickname for him. He promptly avowed
this in the newspaper office which formed one of the eyries of the Bird
of Prey, and made the fellows promise not to give him away. He failed to
move their imagination when he brought up as a reason for softening
toward him that he was from Burnamy's own part of Indiana, and was a
benefactor of Tippecanoe University, from which Burnamy was graduated.
But they, relished the cynicism of his attempt; and they were glad of his
good luck, which he was getting square and not rhomboid, as most people
seem to get their luck. They liked him, and some of them liked him for
his clean young life as well as for his cleverness. His life was known to
be as clean as a girl's, and he looked like a girl with his sweet eyes,
though he had rather more chin than most girls.

The conductor came to reverse his seat, and Burnamy told him he guessed
he would ride back with him as far as the cars to the Hoboken Ferry, if
the conductor would put him off at the right place. It was nearly nine
o'clock, and he thought he might as well be going over to the ship, where
he had decided to pass the night. After he found her, and went on board,
he was glad he had not gone sooner. A queasy odor of drainage stole up
from the waters of the dock, and mixed with the rank, gross sweetness of
the bags of beet-root sugar from the freight-steamers; there was a coming
and going of carts and trucks on the wharf, and on the ship a rattling of
chains and a clucking of pulleys, with sudden outbreaks and then sudden
silences of trampling sea-boots. Burnamy looked into the dining-saloon
and the music-room, with the notion of trying for some naps there; then
he went to his state-room. His room-mate, whoever he was to be, had not
come; and he kicked off his shoes and threw off his coat and tumbled into
his berth.

He meant to rest awhile, and then get up and spend the night in receiving
impressions. He could not think of any one who had done the facts of the
eve of sailing on an Atlantic liner. He thought he would use the material
first in a letter to the paper and afterwards in a poem; but he found
himself unable to grasp the notion of its essential relation to the
choice between chicken croquettes and sweetbreads as entrees of the
restaurant dinner where he had been offered neither; he knew that he had
begun to dream, and that he must get up. He was just going to get up,
when he woke to a sense of freshness in the air, penetrating from the new
day outside. He looked at his watch and found it was quarter past six; he
glanced round the state-room and saw that he had passed the night alone
in it. Then he splashed himself hastily at the basin next his berth, and
jumped into his clothes, and went on deck, anxious to lose no feature or
emotion of the ship's departure.

When she was fairly off he returned to his room to change the thick coat
he had put on at the instigation of the early morning air. His room-mate
was still absent, but he was now represented by his state-room baggage,
and Burnamy tried to infer him from it. He perceived a social quality in
his dress-coat case, capacious gladstone, hat-box, rug, umbrella, and
sole-leather steamer trunk which he could not attribute to his own
equipment. The things were not so new as his; they had an effect of
polite experience, with a foreign registry and customs label on them here
and there. They had been chosen with both taste and knowledge, and
Burnamy would have said that they were certainly English things, if it
had not been for the initials U. S. A. which followed the name of E. B.
Triscoe on the end of the steamer trunk showing itself under the foot of
the lower berth.

The lower berth had fallen to Burnamy through the default of the
passenger whose ticket he had got at the last hour; the clerk in the
steamer office had been careful to impress him with this advantage, and
he now imagined a trespass on his property. But he reassured himself by a
glance at his ticket, and went out to watch the ship's passage down the
stream and through the Narrows. After breakfast he came to his room
again, to see what could be done from his valise to make him look better
in the eyes of a girl whom he had seen across the table; of course he
professed a much more general purpose. He blamed himself for not having
got at least a pair of the white tennis-shoes which so many of the
passengers were wearing; his russet shoes had turned shabby on his feet;
but there was a, pair of enamelled leather boots in his bag which he
thought might do.

His room was in the group of cabins on the upper deck; he had already
missed his way to it once by mistaking the corridor which it opened into;
and he was not sure that he was not blundering again when he peered down
the narrow passage where he supposed it was. A lady was standing at an
open state-room door, resting her hands against the jambs and leaning
forward with her head within and talking to some one there. Before he
could draw back and try another corridor he heard her say: "Perhaps he's
some young man, and wouldn't care."

Burnamy could not make out the answer that came from within. The lady
spoke again in a tone of reluctant assent, "No, I don't suppose you
could; but if he understood, perhaps he would offer."

She drew her head out of the room, stepping back a pace, and lingering a
moment at the threshold. She looked round over her shoulder and
discovered Burnamy, where he stood hesitating at the head of the passage.
She ebbed before him, and then flowed round him in her instant escape;
with some murmured incoherencies about speaking to her father, she
vanished in a corridor on the other side of the ship, while he stood
staring into the doorway of his room.

He had seen that she was the young lady for whom he had come to put on
his enamelled shoes, and he saw that the person within was the elderly
gentleman who had sat next her at breakfast. He begged his pardon, as he
entered, and said he hoped he should not disturb him. "I'm afraid I left
my things all over the place, when I got up this morning."

The other entreated him not to mention it and went on taking from his
hand-bag a variety of toilet appliances which the sight of made Burnamy
vow to keep his own simple combs and brushes shut in his valise all the
way over. "You slept on board, then," he suggested, arresting himself
with a pair of low shoes in his hand; he decided to put them in a certain
pocket of his steamer bag.

"Oh, yes," Burnamy laughed, nervously: "I came near oversleeping, and
getting off to sea without knowing it; and I rushed out to save myself,
and so - "

He began to gather up his belongings while he followed the movements of
Mr. Triscoe with a wistful eye. He would have liked to offer his lower
berth to this senior of his, when he saw him arranging to take possession
of the upper; but he did not quite know how to manage it. He noticed that
as the other moved about he limped slightly, unless it were rather a
weary easing of his person from one limb to the other. He stooped to pull
his trunk out from under the berth, and Burnamy sprang to help him.

"Let me get that out for you!" He caught it up and put it on the sofa
under the port. "Is that where you want it?"

"Why, yes," the other assented. "You're very good," and as he took out
his key to unlock the trunk he relented a little farther to the
intimacies of the situation. "Have you arranged with the bath-steward
yet? It's such a full boat."

"No, I haven't," said Burnamy, as if he had tried and failed; till then

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Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsTheir Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 → online text (page 3 of 10)