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William Dean Howells.

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promenade. The pivotal girl showed herself at the corner of the
music-room, as she had done the day before. At first she revolved there
as if she were shedding her light on some one hidden round the corner;
then she moved a few paces farther out and showed herself more obviously
alone. Clearly she was there for Burnamy to come and walk with her; Mrs.
March could see that, and she felt that Miss Triscoe saw it too. She
waited for her to dismiss him to his flirtation; but Miss Triscoe kept
chatting on, and he kept answering, and making no motion to get away.
Mrs. March began to be as sorry for her as she was ashamed for him. Then
she heard him saying, "Would you like a turn or two?" and Miss Triscoe
answering, "Why, yes, thank you," and promptly getting out of her chair
as if the pains they had both been at to get her settled in it were all
nothing.

She had the composure to say, "You can leave your shawl with me, Miss
Triscoe," and to receive her fervent, "Oh, thank you," before they sailed
off together, with inhuman indifference to the girl at the corner of the
music-room. Then she sank into a kind of triumphal collapse, from which
she roused herself to point her husband to the chair beside her when he
happened along.

He chose to be perverse about her romance. "Well, now, you had better let
them alone. Remember Kendricks." He meant one of their young friends
whose love-affair they had promoted till his happy marriage left them in
lasting doubt of what they had done. "My sympathies are all with the
pivotal girl. Hadn't she as much right to him, for the time being, or for
good and all, as Miss Triscoe?"

"That depends upon what you think of Burnamy."

"Well, I don't like to see a girl have a young man snatched away from her
just when she's made sure of him. How do you suppose she is feeling now?"

"She isn't feeling at all. She's letting her revolving light fall upon
half a dozen other young men by this time, collectively or consecutively.
All that she wants to make sure of is that they're young men - or old
ones, even."

March laughed, but not altogether at what his wife said. "I've been
having a little talk with Papa Triscoe, in the smoking-room."

"You smell like it," said his wife, not to seem too eager: "Well?"

"Well, Papa Triscoe seems to be in a pout. He doesn't think things are
going as they should in America. He hasn't been consulted, or if he has,
his opinion hasn't been acted upon."

"I think he's horrid," said Mrs. March. "Who are they?"

"I couldn't make out, and I couldn't ask. But I'll tell you what I
think."

"What?"

"That there's no chance for, Burnamy. He's taking his daughter out to
marry her to a crowned head."




XV.

It was this afternoon that the dance took place on the south promenade.
Everybody came and looked, and the circle around the waltzers was three
or four deep. Between the surrounding heads and shoulders, the hats of
the young ladies wheeling and whirling, and the faces of the men who were
wheeling and whirling them, rose and sank with the rhythm of their steps.
The space allotted to the dancing was walled to seaward with canvas, and
was prettily treated with German, and American flags: it was hard to go
wrong with flags, Miss Triscoe said, securing herself under Mrs. March's
wing.

Where they stood they could see Burnamy's face, flashing and flushing in
the dance; at the end of the first piece he came to them, and remained
talking and laughing till the music began again.

"Don't you want to try it?" he asked abruptly of Miss Triscoe.

"Isn't it rather - public?" she asked back.

Mrs. March could feel the hand which the girl had put through her arm
thrill with temptation; but Burnamy could not.

"Perhaps it is rather obvious," he said, and he made a long glide over
the deck to the feet of the pivotal girl, anticipating another young man
who was rapidly advancing from the opposite quarter. The next moment her
hat and his face showed themselves in the necessary proximity to each
other within the circle.

"How well she dances!" said Miss Triscoe.

"Do you think so? She looks as if she had been wound up and set going."

"She's very graceful," the girl persisted.

The day ended with an entertainment in the saloon for one of the marine
charities which address themselves to the hearts and pockets of
passengers on all steamers. There were recitations in English and German,
and songs from several people who had kindly consented, and ever more
piano performance. Most of those who took part were of the race gifted in
art and finance; its children excelled in the music, and its fathers
counted the gate-money during the last half of the programme, with an
audible clinking of the silver on the table before them.

Miss Triscoe was with her father, and Mrs. March was herself chaperoned
by Mr. Burnamy: her husband had refused to come to the entertainment. She
hoped to leave Burnamy and Miss Triscoe together before the evening
ended; but Miss Triscoe merely stopped with her father, in quitting the
saloon, to laugh at some features of the entertainment, as people who
take no part in such things do; Burnamy stood up to exchange some
unimpassioned words with her, and then they said good-night.

The next morning, at five o'clock, the Norumbia came to anchor in the
pretty harbor of Plymouth. In the cool early light the town lay distinct
along the shore, quaint with its small English houses, and stately with
come public edifices of unknown function on the uplands; a country-seat
of aristocratic aspect showed itself on one of the heights; on another
the tower of a country church peered over the tree-tops; there were lines
of fortifications, as peaceful, at their distance, as the stone walls
dividing the green fields. The very iron-clads in the harbor close at
hand contributed to the amiable gayety of the scene under the pale blue
English sky, already broken with clouds from which the flush of the
sunrise had not quite faded. The breath of the land came freshly out over
the water; one could almost smell the grass and the leaves. Gulls wheeled
and darted over the crisp water; the tones of the English voices on the
tender were pleasant to the ear, as it fussed and scuffled to the ship's
side. A few score of the passengers left her; with their baggage they
formed picturesque groups on the tender's deck, and they set out for the
shore waving their hands and their handkerchiefs to the friends they left
clustering along the rail of the Norumbia. Mr. and Mrs. Leffers bade
March farewell, in the final fondness inspired by his having coffee with
them before they left the ship; they said they hated to leave.

The stop had roused everybody, and the breakfast tables were promptly
filled, except such as the passengers landing at Plymouth had vacated;
these were stripped of their cloths, and the remaining commensals placed
at others. The seats of the Lefferses were given to March's old Ohio
friend and his wife. He tried to engage them in the tally which began to
be general in the excitement of having touched land; but they shyly held
aloof.

Some English newspapers had come aboard from the tug, and there was the
usual good-natured adjustment of the American self-satisfaction, among
those who had seen them, to the ever-surprising fact that our continent
is apparently of no interest to Europe. There were some meagre New York
stock-market quotations in the papers; a paragraph in fine print
announced the lynching of a negro in Alabama; another recorded a
coal-mining strike in Pennsylvania.

"I always have to get used to it over again," said Kenby. "This is the
twentieth time I have been across, and I'm just as much astonished as I
was the first, to find out that they don't want to know anything about us
here."

"Oh," said March, "curiosity and the weather both come from the west. San
Francisco wants to know about Denver, Denver about Chicago, Chicago about
New York, and New York about London; but curiosity never travels the
other way any more than a hot wave or a cold wave."

"Ah, but London doesn't care a rap about Vienna," said Kenby.

"Well, some pressures give out before they reach the coast, on our own
side. It isn't an infallible analogy."

Triscoe was fiercely chewing a morsel, as if in haste to take part in the
discussion. He gulped it, and broke out. "Why should they care about us,
anyway?"

March lightly ventured, "Oh, men and brothers, you know."

"That isn't sufficient ground. The Chinese are men and brothers; so are
the South-Americans and Central-Africans, and Hawaiians; but we're not
impatient for the latest news about them. It's civilization that
interests civilization."

"I hope that fact doesn't leave us out in the cold with the barbarians?"
Burnamy put in, with a smile.

"Do you think we are civilized?" retorted the other.

"We have that superstition in Chicago," said Burnamy. He added, still
smiling, "About the New-Yorkers, I mean."

"You're more superstitious in Chicago than I supposed. New York is an
anarchy, tempered by vigilance committees."

"Oh, I don't think you can say that," Kenby cheerfully protested, "since
the Reformers came in. Look at our streets!"

"Yes, our streets are clean, for the time being, and when we look at them
we think we have made a clean sweep in our manners and morals. But how
long do you think it will be before Tammany will be in the saddle again?"

"Oh, never in the world!" said the optimistic head of the table.

"I wish I had your faith; or I should if I didn't feel that it is one of
the things that help to establish Tammanys with us. You will see our
Tammany in power after the next election." Kenby laughed in a
large-hearted incredulity; and his laugh was like fuel to the other's
flame. "New York is politically a mediaeval Italian republic, and it's
morally a frontier mining-town. Socially it's - " He stopped as if he
could not say what.

"I think it's a place where you have a very nice time, papa," said his
daughter, and Burnamy smiled with her; not because he knew anything about
it.

Her father went on as if he had not heard her. "It's as vulgar and crude
as money can make it. Nothing counts but money, and as soon as there's
enough, it counts for everything. In less than a year you'll have Tammany
in power; it won't be more than a year till you'll have it in society."

"Oh no! Oh no!" came from Kenby. He did not care much for society, but he
vaguely respected it as the stronghold of the proprieties and the
amenities.

"Isn't society a good place for Tammany to be in?" asked March in the
pause Triscoe let follow upon Kenby's laugh.

"There's no reason why it shouldn't be. Society is as bad as all the rest
of it. And what New York is, politically, morally, and socially, the
whole country wishes to be and tries to be."

There was that measure of truth in the words which silences; no one could
find just the terms of refutation.

"Well," said Kenby at last, "it's a good thing there are so many lines to
Europe. We've still got the right to emigrate."

"Yes, but even there we don't escape the abuse of our infamous newspapers
for exercising a man's right to live where he chooses. And there is no
country in Europe - except Turkey, or Spain - that isn't a better home for
an honest man than the United States."

The Ohioan had once before cleared his throat as if he were going to
speak. Now, he leaned far enough forward to catch Triscoe's eye, and
said, slowly and distinctly: "I don't know just what reason you have to
feel as you do about the country. I feel differently about it
myself - perhaps because I fought for it."

At first, the others were glad of this arrogance; it even seemed an
answer; but Burnamy saw Miss Triscoe's cheek, flush, and then he doubted
its validity.

Triscoe nervously crushed a biscuit in his hand, as if to expend a
violent impulse upon it. He said, coldly, "I was speaking from that
stand-point."

The Ohioan shrank back in his seat, and March felt sorry for him, though
he had put himself in the wrong. His old hand trembled beside his plate,
and his head shook, while his lips formed silent words; and his shy wife
was sharing his pain and shame.

Kenby began to talk about the stop which the Norumbia was to make at
Cherbourg, and about what hour the next day they should all be in
Cuxhaven. Miss Triscoe said they had never come on the Hanseatic Line
before, and asked several questions. Her father did not speak again, and
after a little while he rose without waiting for her to make the move
from table; he had punctiliously deferred to her hitherto. Eltwin rose at
the same time, and March feared that he might be going to provoke another
defeat, in some way.

Eltwin lifted his voice, and said, trying to catch Triscoe's eye, "I
think I ought to beg your pardon, sir. I do beg your pardon."

March perceived that Eltwin wished to make the offer of his reparation as
distinct as his aggression had been; and now he quaked for Triscoe, whose
daughter he saw glance apprehensively at her father as she swayed aside
to let the two men come together.

"That is all right, Colonel - "

"Major," Eltwin conscientiously interposed.

"Major," Triscoe bowed; and he put out his hand and grasped the hand
which had been tremulously rising toward him. "There can't be any doubt
of what we did, no matter what we've got."

"No, no!" said the other, eagerly. "That was what I meant, sir. I don't
think as you do; but I believe that a man who helped to save the country
has a right to think what he pleases about it."

Triscoe said, "That is all right, my dear sir. May I ask your regiment?"

The Marches let the old fellows walk away together, followed by the wife
of the one and the daughter of the other. They saw the young girl making
some graceful overtures of speech to the elder woman as they went.

"That was rather fine, my dear," said Mrs. March.

"Well, I don't know. It was a little too dramatic, wasn't it? It wasn't
what I should have expected of real life."

"Oh, you spoil everything! If that's the spirit you're going through
Europe in!"

"It isn't. As soon as I touch European soil I shall reform."




XVI.

That was not the first time General Triscoe had silenced question of his
opinions with the argument he had used upon Eltwin, though he was seldom
able to use it so aptly. He always found that people suffered, his belief
in our national degeneration much more readily when they knew that he had
left a diplomatic position in Europe (he had gone abroad as secretary of
a minor legation) to come home and fight for the Union. Some millions of
other men had gone into the war from the varied motives which impelled
men at that time; but he was aware that he had distinction, as a man of
property and a man of family, in doing so. His family had improved as
time passed, and it was now so old that back of his grandfather it was
lost in antiquity. This ancestor had retired from the sea and become a
merchant in his native Rhode Island port, where his son established
himself as a physician, and married the daughter of a former slave-trader
whose social position was the highest in the place; Triscoe liked to
mention his maternal grandfather when he wished a listener to realize
just how anomalous his part in a war against slavery was; it heightened
the effect of his pose.

He fought gallantly through the war, and he was brevetted
Brigadier-General at the close. With this honor, and with the wound which
caused an almost imperceptible limp in his gait, he won the heart of a
rich New York girl, and her father set him up in a business, which was
not long in going to pieces in his hands. Then the young couple went to
live in Paris, where their daughter was born, and where the mother died
when the child was ten years old. A little later his father-in-law died,
and Triscoe returned to New York, where he found the fortune which his
daughter had inherited was much less than he somehow thought he had a
right to expect.

The income from her fortune was enough to live on, and he did not go back
to Paris, where, in fact, things were not so much to his mind under the
Republic as they had been under the Second Empire. He was still willing
to do something for his country, however, and he allowed his name to be
used on a citizen's ticket in his district; but his provision-man was
sent to Congress instead. Then he retired to Rhode Island and attempted
to convert his shore property into a watering-place; but after being
attractively plotted and laid out with streets and sidewalks, it allured
no one to build on it except the birds and the chipmonks, and he came
back to New York, where his daughter had remained in school.

One of her maternal aunts made her a coming-out tea, after she left
school; and she entered upon a series of dinners, dances, theatre
parties, and receptions of all kinds; but the tide of fairy gold pouring
through her fingers left no engagement-ring on them. She had no duties,
but she seldom got out of humor with her pleasures; she had some odd
tastes of her own, and in a society where none but the most serious books
were ever seriously mentioned she was rather fond of good ones, and had
romantic ideas of a life that she vaguely called bohemian. Her character
was never tested by anything more trying than the fear that her father
might take her abroad to live; he had taken her abroad several times for
the summer.

The dreaded trial did not approach for several years after she had ceased
to be a bud; and then it came when her father was again willing to serve
his country in diplomacy, either at the Hague, or at Brussels, or even at
Berne. Reasons of political geography prevented his appointment anywhere,
but General Triscoe having arranged his affairs for going abroad on the
mission he had expected, decided to go without it. He was really very fit
for both of the offices he had sought, and so far as a man can deserve
public place by public service, he had deserved it. His pessimism was
uncommonly well grounded, and if it did not go very deep, it might well
have reached the bottom of his nature.

His daughter had begun to divine him at the early age when parents
suppose themselves still to be mysteries to their children. She did not
think it necessary ever to explain him to others; perhaps she would not
have found it possible; and now after she parted from Mrs. Eltwin and
went to sit down beside Mrs. March she did not refer to her father. She
said how sweet she had found the old lady from Ohio; and what sort of
place did Mrs. March suppose it was where Mrs. Eltwin lived? They seemed
to have everything there, like any place. She had wanted to ask Mrs.
Eltwin if they sat on their steps; but she had not quite dared.

Burnamy came by, slowly, and at Mrs. March's suggestion he took one of
the chairs on her other side, to help her and Miss Triscoe look at the
Channel Islands and watch the approach of the steamer to Cherbourg, where
the Norumbia was to land again. The young people talked across Mrs. March
to each other, and said how charming the islands were, in their
gray-green insubstantiality, with valleys furrowing them far inward, like
airy clefts in low banks of clouds. It seemed all the nicer not to know
just which was which; but when the ship drew nearer to Cherbourg, he
suggested that they could see better by going round to the other side of
the ship. Miss Triscoe, as at the other times when she had gone off with
Burnamy, marked her allegiance, to Mrs. March by leaving a wrap with her.

Every one was restless in breaking with the old life at sea. There had
been an equal unrest when the ship first sailed; people had first come
aboard in the demoralization of severing their ties with home, and they
shrank from forming others. Then the charm of the idle, eventless life
grew upon them, and united them in a fond reluctance from the inevitable
end.

Now that the beginning of the end had come, the pangs of disintegration
were felt in all the once-more-repellant particles. Burnamy and Miss
Triscoe, as they hung upon the rail, owned to each other that they hated
to have the voyage over. They had liked leaving Plymouth and being at sea
again; they wished that they need not be reminded of another debarkation
by the energy of the crane in hoisting the Cherbourg baggage from the
hold.

They approved of the picturesqueness of three French vessels of war that
passed, dragging their kraken shapes low through the level water. At
Cherbourg an emotional French tender came out to the ship, very different
in her clamorous voices and excited figures from the steady self-control
of the English tender at Plymouth; and they thought the French
fortifications much more on show than the English had been. Nothing
marked their youthful date so much to the Marches, who presently joined
them, as their failure to realize that in this peaceful sea the great
battle between the Kearsarge and the Alabama was fought. The elder couple
tried to affect their imaginations with the fact which reanimated the
spectre of a dreadful war for themselves; but they had to pass on and,
leave the young people unmoved.

Mrs. March wondered if they noticed the debarkation of the pivotal girl,
whom she saw standing on the deck of the tender, with her hands at her
waist, and giving now this side and now that side of her face to the
young men waving their hats to her from the rail of the ship. Burnamy was
not of their number, and he seemed not to know that the girl was leaving
him finally to Miss Triscoe. If Miss Triscoe knew it she did nothing the
whole of that long, last afternoon to profit by the fact. Burnamy spent a
great part of it in the chair beside Mrs. March, and he showed an
intolerable resignation to the girl's absence.

"Yes," said March, taking the place Burnamy left at last, "that terrible
patience of youth!"

"Patience? Folly! Stupidity! They ought to be together every instant! Do
they suppose that life is full of such chances? Do they think that fate
has nothing to do but - "

She stopped for a fit climax, and he suggested, "Hang round and wait on
them?"

"Yes! It's their one chance in a life-time, probably."

"Then you've quite decided that they're in love?" He sank comfortably
back, and put up his weary legs on the chair's extension with the
conviction that love had no such joy as that to offer.

"I've decided that they're intensely interested in each other."

"Then what more can we ask of them? And why do you care what they do or
don't do with their chance? Why do you wish their love well, if it's
that? Is marriage such a very certain good?"

"It isn't all that it might be, but it's all that there is. What would
our lives have been without it?" she retorted.

"Oh, we should have got on. It's such a tremendous risk that we, ought to
go round begging people to think twice, to count a hundred, or a
nonillion, before they fall in love to the marrying-point. I don't mind
their flirting; that amuses them; but marrying is a different thing. I
doubt if Papa Triscoe would take kindly to the notion of a son-in-law he
hadn't selected himself, and his daughter doesn't strike me as a young
lady who has any wisdom to throw away on a choice. She has her little
charm; her little gift of beauty, of grace, of spirit, and the other
things that go with her age and sex; but what could she do for a fellow
like Burnamy, who has his way to make, who has the ladder of fame to
climb, with an old mother at the bottom of it to look after? You wouldn't
want him to have an eye on Miss Triscoe's money, even if she had money,
and I doubt if she has much. It's all very pretty to have a girl like her
fascinated with a youth of his simple traditions; though Burnamy isn't
altogether pastoral in his ideals, and he looks forward to a place in the
very world she belongs to. I don't think it's for us to promote the
affair."

"Well, perhaps you're right," she sighed. "I will let them alone from
this out. Thank goodness, I shall not have them under my eyes very long."

"Oh, I don't think there's any harm done yet," said her husband, with a
laugh.

At dinner there seemed so little harm of the kind he meant that she
suffered from an illogical disappointment. The young people got through
the meal with no talk that seemed inductive; Burnamy left the table
first, and Miss Triscoe bore his going without apparent discouragement;
she kept on chatting with March till his wife took him away to their
chairs on deck.

There were a few more ships in sight than there were in mid-ocean; but
the late twilight thickened over the North Sea quite like the night after


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Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsTheir Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 → online text (page 6 of 10)