William Dean Howells.

Their Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 online

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he had not known that there was a bath-steward. "Shall I get him for

"No; no. Our bedroom-steward will send him, I dare say, thank you."

Mr. Triscoe had got his trunk open, and Burnamy had no longer an excuse
for lingering. In his defeat concerning the bath-steward, as he felt it
to be, he had not the courage, now, to offer the lower berth. He went
away, forgetting to change his shoes; but he came back, and as soon as he
got the enamelled shoes on, and shut the shabby russet pair in his bag,
he said, abruptly: "Mr. Triscoe, I wish you'd take the lower berth. I got
it at the eleventh hour by some fellow's giving it up, and it isn't as if
I'd bargained for it a month ago."

The elder man gave him one of his staccato glances in which Burnamy
fancied suspicion and even resentment. But he said, after the moment of
reflection which he gave himself, "Why, thank you, if you don't mind,

"Not at all!" cried the young man. "I should like the upper berth better.
We'll, have the steward change the sheets."

"Oh, I'll see that he does that," said Mr. Triscoe. "I couldn't allow you
to take any trouble about it." He now looked as if he wished Burnamy
would go, and leave him to his domestic arrangements.


In telling about himself Burnamy touched only upon the points which he
believed would take his listener's intelligent fancy, and he stopped so
long before he had tired him that March said he would like to introduce
him to his wife. He saw in the agreeable young fellow an image of his own
youth, with some differences which, he was willing to own, were to the
young fellow's advantage. But they were both from the middle West; in
their native accent and their local tradition they were the same; they
were the same in their aspirations; they were of one blood in their
literary impulse to externate their thoughts and emotions.

Burnamy answered, with a glance at his enamelled shoes, that he would be
delighted, and when her husband brought him up to her, Mrs. March said
she was always glad to meet the contributors to the magazine, and asked
him whether he knew Mr. Kendricks, who was her favorite. Without giving
him time to reply to a question that seemed to depress him, she said that
she had a son who must be nearly his own age, and whom his father had
left in charge of 'Every Other Week' for the few months they were to be
gone; that they had a daughter married and living in Chicago. She made
him sit down by her in March's chair, and before he left them March heard
him magnanimously asking whether Mr. Kendricks was going to do something
more for the magazine soon. He sauntered away and did not know how
quickly Burnamy left this question to say, with the laugh and blush which
became him in her eyes:

"Mrs. March, there is something I should like to tell you about, if you
will let me."

"Why, certainly, Mr. Burnamy," she began, but she saw that he did not
wish her to continue.

"Because," he went on, "it's a little matter that I shouldn't like to go
wrong in."

He told her of his having overheard what Miss Triscoe had said to her
father, and his belief that she was talking about the lower berth. He
said he would have wished to offer it, of course, but now he was afraid
they might think he had overheard them and felt obliged to do it.

"I see," said Mrs. March, and she added, thoughtfully, "She looks like
rather a proud girl."

"Yes," the young fellow sighed.

"She is very charming," she continued, thoughtfully, but not so

"Well," Burnamy owned, "that is certainly one of the complications," and
they laughed together.

She stopped herself after saying, "I see what you mean," and suggested,
"I think I should be guided by circumstances. It needn't be done at once,
I suppose."

"Well," Burnamy began, and then he broke out, with a laugh of
embarrassment, "I've done it already."

"Oh! Then it wasn't my advice, exactly, that you wanted."


"And how did he take it?"

"He said he should be glad to make the exchange if I really didn't mind."
Burnamy had risen restlessly, and she did not ask him to stay. She merely

"Oh, well, I'm glad it turned out so nicely."

"I'm so glad you think it was the thing to do." He managed to laugh
again, but he could not hide from her that he was not feeling altogether
satisfied. "Would you like me to send Mr. March, if I see him?" he asked,
as if he did not know on what other terms to get away.

"Do, please!" she entreated, and it seemed to her that he had hardly left
her when her husband came up. "Why, where in the world did he find you so

"Did you send him for me? I was just hanging round for him to go." March
sank into the chair at her side. "Well, is he going to marry her?"

"Oh, you may laugh! But there is something very exciting!" She told him
what had happened, and of her belief that Burnamy's handsome behavior had
somehow not been met in kind.

March gave himself the pleasure of an immense laugh. "It seems to me that
this Mr. Burnamy of yours wanted a little more gratitude than he was
entitled to. Why shouldn't he have offered him the lower berth? And why
shouldn't the old gentleman have taken it just as he did? Did you want
him to make a counteroffer of his daughter's hand? If he does, I hope Mr.
Burnamy won't come for your advice till after he's accepted her."

"He wasn't very candid. I hoped you would speak about that. Don't you
think it was rather natural, though?"

"For him, very likely. But I think you would call it sinuous in some one
you hadn't taken a fancy to."

"No, no. I wish to be just. I don't see how he could have come straight
at it. And he did own up at last." She asked him what Burnamy had done
for the magazine, and he could remember nothing but that one small poem,
yet unprinted; he was rather vague about its value, but said it had

"He has temperament, too," she commented, and she had made him tell her
everything he knew, or could be forced to imagine about Burnamy, before
she let the talk turn to other things.

The life of the promenade had already settled into seafaring form; the
steamer chairs were full, and people were reading or dozing in them with
an effect of long habit. Those who would be walking up and down had begun
their walks; some had begun going in and out of the smoking-room; ladies
who were easily affected by the motion were lying down in the music-room.
Groups of both sexes were standing at intervals along the rail, and the
promenaders were obliged to double on a briefer course or work slowly
round them. Shuffleboard parties at one point and ring-toss parties at
another were forming among the young people. It was as lively and it was
as dull as it would be two thousand miles at sea. It was not the least
cooler, yet; but if you sat still you did not suffer.

In the prompt monotony the time was already passing swiftly. The
deck-steward seemed hardly to have been round with tea and bouillon, and
he had not yet gathered up all the empty cups, when the horn for lunch
sounded. It was the youngest of the table-stewards who gave the summons
to meals; and whenever the pretty boy appeared with his bugle, funny
passengers gathered round him to make him laugh, and stop him from
winding it. His part of the joke was to fulfill his duty with gravity,
and only to give way to a smile of triumph as he walked off.


At lunch, in the faded excitement of their first meeting, the people at
the Marches' table did not renew the premature intimacy of their
breakfast talk. Mrs. March went to lie down in her berth afterwards, and
March went on deck without her. He began to walk to and from the barrier
between the first and second cabin promenades; lingering near it, and
musing pensively, for some of the people beyond it looked as intelligent
and as socially acceptable, even to their clothes, as their pecuniary
betters of the saloon.

There were two women, a mother and daughter, whom he fancied to be
teachers, by their looks, going out for a little rest, or perhaps for a
little further study to fit them more perfectly for their work. They
gazed wistfully across at him whenever he came up to the barrier; and he
feigned a conversation with them and tried to convince them that the
stamp of inferiority which their poverty put upon them was just, or if
not just, then inevitable. He argued with them that the sort of barrier
which here prevented their being friends with him, if they wished it, ran
invisibly through society everywhere but he felt ashamed before their
kind, patient, intelligent faces, and found himself wishing to excuse the
fact he was defending. Was it any worse, he asked them, than their not
being invited to the entertainments of people in upper Fifth Avenue? He
made them own that if they were let across that barrier the whole second
cabin would have a logical right to follow; and they were silenced. But
they continued to gape at him with their sincere, gentle eyes whenever he
returned to the barrier in his walk, till he could bear it no longer, and
strolled off toward the steerage.

There was more reason why the passengers there should be penned into a
little space of their own in the sort of pit made by the narrowing deck
at the bow. They seemed to be all foreigners, and if any had made their
fortunes in our country they were hiding their prosperity in the return
to their own. They could hardly have come to us more shabby and squalid
than they were going away; but he thought their average less apathetic
than that of the saloon passengers, as he leaned over the rail and looked
down at them. Some one had brought out an electric battery, and the
lumpish boys and slattern girls were shouting and laughing as they
writhed with the current. A young mother seated flat on the deck, with
her bare feet stuck out, inattentively nursed her babe, while she laughed
and shouted with the rest; a man with his head tied in a shawl walked
about the pen and smiled grotesquely with the well side of his
toothache-swollen face. The owner of the battery carried it away, and a
group of little children, with blue eyes and yellow hair, gathered in the
space he had left, and looked up at a passenger near March who was eating
some plums and cherries which he had brought from the luncheon table. He
began to throw the fruit down to them, and the children scrambled for it.

An elderly man, with a thin, grave, aquiline face, said, "I shouldn't
want a child of mine down there."

"No," March responded, "it isn't quite what one would choose for one's
own. It's astonishing, though, how we reconcile ourselves to it in the
case of others."

"I suppose it's something we'll have to get used to on the other side,"
suggested the stranger.

"Well," answered March, "you have some opportunities to get used to it on
this side, if you happen to live in New York," and he went on to speak of
the raggedness which often penetrated the frontier of comfort where he
lived in Stuyvesant Square, and which seemed as glad of alms in food or
money as this poverty of the steerage.

The other listened restively like a man whose ideals are disturbed. "I
don't believe I should like to live in New York, much," he said, and
March fancied that he wished to be asked where he did live. It appeared
that he lived in Ohio, and he named his town; he did not brag of it, but
he said it suited him. He added that he had never expected to go to
Europe, but that he had begun to run down lately, and his doctor thought
he had better go out and try Carlsbad.

March said, to invite his further confidence, that this was exactly his
own case. The Ohio man met the overture from a common invalidism as if it
detracted from his own distinction; and he turned to speak of the
difficulty, he had in arranging his affairs for leaving home. His heart
opened a little with the word, and he said how comfortable he and his
wife were in their house, and how much they both hated to shut it up.
When March offered him his card, he said he had none of his own with him,
but that his name was Eltwin. He betrayed a simple wish to have March
realize the local importance he had left behind him; and it was not hard
to comply; March saw a Grand Army button in the lapel of his coat, and he
knew that he was in the presence of a veteran.

He tried to guess his rank; in telling his wife about him, when he went
down to find her just before dinner, but he ended with a certain sense of
affliction. "There are too many elderly invalids on this ship. I knock
against people of my own age everywhere. Why aren't your youthful lovers
more in evidence, my dear? I don't believe they are lovers, and I begin
to doubt if they're young even."

"It wasn't very satisfactory at lunch, certainly," she owned. "But I know
it will be different at dinner." She was putting herself together after a
nap that had made up for the lost sleep of the night before. "I want you
to look very nice, dear. Shall you dress for dinner?" she asked her
husband's image in the state-room glass which she was preoccupying.

"I shall dress in my pea-jacket and sea-boots," it answered.

"I have heard that they always dress for dinner on the big Cunard and
White Star boats, when it's good weather," she went on, placidly. "I
shouldn't want those people to think you were not up in the convenances."

They both knew that she meant the reticent father and daughter, and March
flung out, "I shouldn't want them to think you weren't. There's such a
thing as overdoing."

She attacked him at another point. "What has annoyed you? What else have
you been doing?"

"Nothing. I've been reading most of the afternoon."

"The Maiden Knight?"

This was the book which nearly everybody had brought on board. It was
just out, and had caught an instant favor, which swelled later to a tidal
wave. It depicted a heroic girl in every trying circumstance of mediaeval
life, and gratified the perennial passion of both sexes for historical
romance, while it flattered woman's instinct of superiority by the
celebration of her unintermitted triumphs, ending in a preposterous and
wholly superfluous self-sacrifice.

March laughed for pleasure in her guess, and she pursued, "I suppose you
didn't waste time looking if anybody had brought the last copy of 'Every
Other Week'?"

"Yes, I did; and I found the one you had left in your steamer chair - for
advertising purposes, probably."

"Mr. Burnamy has another," she said. "I saw it sticking out of his pocket
this morning."

"Oh, yes. He told me he had got it on the train from Chicago to see if it
had his poem in it. He's an ingenuous soul - in some ways."

"Well, that is the very reason why you ought to find out whether the men
are going to dress, and let him know. He would never think of it

"Neither would I," said her husband.

"Very well, if you wish to spoil his chance at the outset," she sighed.

She did not quite know whether to be glad or not that the men were all in
sacks and cutaways at dinner; it saved her, from shame for her husband
and Mr. Burnamy; but it put her in the wrong. Every one talked; even the
father and daughter talked with each other, and at one moment Mrs. March
could not be quite sure that the daughter had not looked at her when she
spoke. She could not be mistaken in the remark which the father addressed
to Burnamy, though it led to nothing.


The dinner was uncommonly good, as the first dinner out is apt to be; and
it went gayly on from soup to fruit, which was of the American abundance
and variety, and as yet not of the veteran freshness imparted by the
ice-closet. Everybody was eating it, when by a common consciousness they
were aware of alien witnesses. They looked up as by a single impulse, and
saw at the port the gaunt face of a steerage passenger staring down upon
their luxury; he held on his arm a child that shared his regard with yet
hungrier eyes. A boy's nose showed itself as if tiptoed to the height of
the man's elbow; a young girl peered over his other arm.

The passengers glanced at one another; the two table-stewards, with their
napkins in their hands, smiled vaguely, and made some indefinite

The bachelor at the head of the table broke the spell. "I'm glad it
didn't begin with the Little Neck clams!"

"Probably they only let those people come for the dessert," March

The widow now followed the direction of the other eyes; and looked up
over her shoulder; she gave a little cry, and shrank down. The young
bride made her petted mouth, in appeal to the company; her husband looked
severe, as if he were going to do something, but refrained, not to make a
scene. The reticent father threw one of his staccato glances at the port,
and Mrs. March was sure that she saw the daughter steal a look at

The young fellow laughed. "I don't suppose there's anything to be done
about it, unless we pass out a plate."

Mr. Kenby shook his head. "It wouldn't do. We might send for the captain.
Or the chief steward."

The faces at the port vanished. At other ports profiles passed and
repassed, as if the steerage passengers had their promenade under them,
but they paused no more.

The Marches went up to their steamer chairs, and from her exasperated
nerves Mrs. March denounced the arrangement of the ship which had made
such a cruel thing possible.

"Oh," he mocked, "they had probably had a good substantial meal of their
own, and the scene of our banquet was of the quality of a picture, a
purely aesthetic treat. But supposing it wasn't, we're doing something
like it every day and every moment of our lives. The Norumbia is a piece
of the whole world's civilization set afloat, and passing from shore to
shore with unchanged classes, and conditions. A ship's merely a small
stage, where we're brought to close quarters with the daily drama of

"Well, then," she protested, "I don't like being brought to close
quarters with the daily drama of humanity, as you call it. And I don't
believe that the large English ships are built so that the steerage
passengers can stare in at the saloon windows while one is eating; and
I'm sorry we came on the Norumbia."

"Ah, you think the Norumbia doesn't hide anything," he began, and he was
going to speak of the men in the furnace pits of the steamer, how they
fed the fires in a welding heat, and as if they had perished in it crept
out on the forecastle like blanched phantasms of toil; but she interposed
in time.

"If there's anything worse, for pity's sake don't tell me," she
entreated, and he forebore.

He sat thinking how once the world had not seemed to have even death in
it, and then how as he had grown older death had come into it more and
more, and suffering was lurking everywhere, and could hardly be kept out
of sight. He wondered if that young Burnamy now saw the world as he used
to see it, a place for making verse and making love, and full of beauty
of all kinds waiting to be fitted with phrases. He had lived a happy
life; Burnamy would be lucky if he should live one half as happy; and yet
if he could show him his whole happy life, just as it had truly been,
must not the young man shrink from such a picture of his future?

"Say something," said his wife. "What are you thinking about?"

"Oh, Burnamy," he answered, honestly enough.

"I was thinking about the children," she said. "I am glad Bella didn't
try to come from Chicago to see us off; it would have been too silly; she
is getting to be very sensible. I hope Tom won't take the covers off the
furniture when he has the fellows in to see him."

"Well, I want him to get all the comfort he can out of the place, even if
the moths eat up every stick of furniture."

"Yes, so do I. And of course you're wishing that you were there with
him!" March laughed guiltily. "Well, perhaps it was a crazy thing for us
to start off alone for Europe, at our age."

"Nothing of the kind," he retorted in the necessity he perceived for
staying her drooping spirits. "I wouldn't be anywhere else on any
account. Isn't it perfectly delicious? It puts me in mind of that night
on the Lake Ontario boat, when we were starting for Montreal. There was
the same sort of red sunset, and the air wasn't a bit softer than this."

He spoke of a night on their wedding-journey when they were sill new
enough from Europe to be comparing everything at home with things there.

"Well, perhaps we shall get into the spirit of it again," she said, and
they talked a long time of the past.

All the mechanical noises were muffled in the dull air, and the wash of
the ship's course through the waveless sea made itself pleasantly heard.
In the offing a steamer homeward bound swam smoothly by, so close that
her lights outlined her to the eye; she sent up some signal rockets that
soared against the purple heaven in green and crimson, and spoke to the
Norumbia in the mysterious mute phrases of ships that meet in the dark.

Mrs. March wondered what had become of Burnamy; the promenades were much
freer now than they had been since the ship sailed; when she rose to go
below, she caught sight of Burnamy walking the deck transversely with
some lady. She clutched her husband's arm and stayed him in rich

"Do you suppose he can have got her to walking with him already?"

They waited till Burnamy and his companion came in sight again. She was
tilting forward, and turning from the waist, now to him and now from him.

"No; it's that pivotal girl," said March; and his wife said, "Well, I'm
glad he won't be put down by them."

In the music-room sat the people she meant, and at the instant she passed
on down the stairs, the daughter was saying to the father, "I don't see
why you didn't tell me sooner, papa."

"It was such an unimportant matter that I didn't think to mention it. He
offered it, and I took it; that was all. What difference could it have
made to you?"

"None. But one doesn't like to do any one an injustice."

"I didn't know you were thinking anything about it."

"No, of course not."


The voyage of the Norumbia was one of those which passengers say they
have never seen anything like, though for the first two or three days out
neither the doctor nor the deck-steward could be got, to prophesy when
the ship would be in. There was only a day or two when it could really be
called rough, and the sea-sickness was confined to those who seemed
wilful sufferers; they lay on the cushioned benching around the
stairs-landing, and subsisted on biscuit and beef tea without qualifying
the monotonous well-being of the other passengers, who passed without
noticing them.

The second morning there was rain, and the air freshened, but the leaden
sea lay level as before. The sun shone in the afternoon; with the sunset
the fog came thick and white; the ship lowed dismally through the night;
from the dense folds of the mist answering noises called back to her.
Just before dark two men in a dory shouted up to her close under her
bows, and then melted out of sight; when the dark fell the lights of
fishing-schooners were seen, and their bells pealed; once loud cries from
a vessel near at hand made themselves heard. Some people in the
dining-saloon sang hymns; the smoking-room was dense with cigar fumes,
and the card-players dealt their hands in an atmosphere emulous of the
fog without.

The Norumbia was off the Banks, and the second day of fog was cold as if
icebergs were haunting the opaque pallor around her. In the ranks of
steamer chairs people lay like mummies in their dense wrappings; in the
music-room the little children of travel discussed the different lines of
steamers on which they had crossed, and babes of five and seven disputed
about the motion on the Cunarders and White Stars; their nurses tried in
vain to still them in behalf of older passengers trying to write letters

By the next morning the ship had run out of the fog; and people who could
keep their feet said they were glad of the greater motion which they
found beyond the Banks. They now talked of the heat of the first days
out, and how much they had suffered; some who had passed the night on
board before sailing tried to impart a sense of their misery in trying to

A day or two later a storm struck the ship, and the sailors stretched
canvas along the weather promenade and put up a sheathing of boards
across the bow end to keep off the rain. Yet a day or two more and the
sea had fallen again and there was dancing on the widest space of the lee

The little events of the sea outside the steamer offered themselves in

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Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsTheir Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 → online text (page 4 of 10)