Copyright
William Dean Howells.

Their Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 online

. (page 9 of 10)
Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsTheir Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 → online text (page 9 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


his wife, in order to drive handsomely about in his best clothes, with
strangers who did not exact too much knowledge from him. In his zeal to
do something he possessed himself of March's overcoat when they
dismounted at their first gallery, and let fall from its pocket his
prophylactic flask of brandy, which broke with a loud crash on the marble
floor in the presence of several masterpieces, and perfumed the whole
place. The masterpieces were some excellent works of Luke Kranach, who
seemed the only German painter worth looking at when there were any Dutch
or Italian pictures near, but the travellers forgot the name and nature
of the Kranachs, and remembered afterwards only the shattered fragments
of the brandy-flask, just how they looked on the floor, and the fumes,
how they smelt, that rose from the ruin.

It might have been a warning protest of the veracities against what they
were doing; but the madness of sight-seeing, which spoils travel, was on
them, and they delivered themselves up to it as they used in their
ignorant youth, though now they knew its futility so well. They spared
themselves nothing that they had time for, that day, and they felt
falsely guilty for their omissions, as if they really had been duties to
art and history which must be discharged, like obligations to one's maker
and one's neighbor.

They had a touch of genuine joy in the presence of the beautiful old
Rathhaus, and they were sensible of something like a genuine emotion in
passing the famous and venerable university; the very air of Leipsic is
redolent of printing and publication, which appealed to March in his
quality of editor, and they could not fail of an impression of the quiet
beauty of the town, with its regular streets of houses breaking into
suburban villas of an American sort, and intersected with many canals,
which in the intervals of the rain were eagerly navigated by pleasure
boats, and contributed to the general picturesqueness by their frequent
bridges, even during the drizzle. There seemed to be no churches to do,
and as it was a Sunday, the galleries were so early closed against them
that they were making a virtue as well as a pleasure of the famous scene
of Napoleon's first great defeat.

By a concert between their guide and driver their carriage drew up at the
little inn by the road-side, which is also a museum stocked with relics
from the battle-field, and with objects of interest relating to it. Old
muskets, old swords, old shoes and old coats, trumpets, drums,
gun-carriages, wheels, helmets, cannon balls, grape-shot, and all the
murderous rubbish which battles come to at last, with proclamations,
autographs, caricatures and likenesses of Napoleon, and effigies of all
the other generals engaged, and miniatures and jewels of their womenkind,
filled room after room, through which their owner vaunted his way, with a
loud pounding voice and a bad breath. When he wished them to enjoy some
gross British satire or clumsy German gibe at Bonaparte's expense, and
put his face close to begin the laugh, he was something so terrible that
March left the place with a profound if not a reasoned regret that the
French had not won the battle of Leipsic. He walked away musing pensively
upon the traveller's inadequacy to the ethics of history when a breath
could so sway him against his convictions; but even after he had cleansed
his lungs with some deep respirations he found himself still a
Bonapartist in the presence of that stone on the rising ground where
Napoleon sat to watch the struggle on the vast plain, and see his empire
slipping through his blood-stained fingers. It was with difficulty that
he could keep from revering the hat and coat which are sculptured on the
stone, but it was well that he succeeded, for he could not make out then
or afterwards whether the habiliments represented were really Napoleon's
or not, and they might have turned out to be Barclay de Tolly's.

While he stood trying to solve this question of clothes he was startled
by the apparition of a man climbing the little slope from the opposite
quarter, and advancing toward them. He wore the imperial crossed by the
pointed mustache once so familiar to a world much the worse for them, and
March had the shiver of a fine moment in which he fancied the Third
Napoleon rising to view the scene where the First had looked his coming
ruin in the face.

"Why, it's Miss Triscoe!" cried his wife, and before March had noticed
the approach of another figure, the elder and the younger lady had rushed
upon each other, and encountered with a kiss. At the same time the visage
of the last Emperor resolved itself into the face of General Triscoe, who
gave March his hand in a more tempered greeting.

The ladies began asking each other of their lives since their parting two
days before, and the men strolled a few paces away toward the distant
prospect of Leipsic, which at that point silhouettes itself in a noble
stretch of roofs and spires and towers against the horizon.

General Triscoe seemed no better satisfied with Germany than he had been
on first stepping ashore at Cuxhaven. He might still have been in a pout
with his own country, but as yet he had not made up with any other; and
he said, "What a pity Napoleon didn't thrash the whole dunderheaded lot!
His empire would have been a blessing to them, and they would have had
some chance of being civilized under the French. All this unification of
nationalities is the great humbug of the century. Every stupid race
thinks it's happy because it's united, and civilization has been set back
a hundred years by the wars that were fought to bring the unions about;
and more wars will have to be fought to keep them up. What a farce it is!
What's become of the nationality of the Danes in Schleswig-Holstein, or
the French in the Rhine Provinces, or the Italians in Savoy?"

March had thought something like this himself, but to have it put by
General Triscoe made it offensive. "I don't know. Isn't it rather
quarrelling with the course of human events to oppose accomplished facts?
The unifications were bound to be, just as the separations before them
were. And so far they have made for peace, in Europe at least, and peace
is civilization. Perhaps after a great many ages people will come
together through their real interests, the human interests; but at
present it seems as if nothing but a romantic sentiment of patriotism can
unite them. By-and-by they may find that there is nothing in it."

"Perhaps," said the general, discontentedly. "I don't see much promise of
any kind in the future."

"Well, I don't know. When you think of the solid militarism of Germany,
you seem remanded to the most hopeless moment of the Roman Empire; you
think nothing can break such a force; but my guide says that even in
Leipsic the Socialists outnumber all the other parties, and the army is
the great field of the Socialist propaganda. The army itself may be
shaped into the means of democracy - even of peace."

"You're very optimistic," said Triscoe, curtly. "As I read the signs, we
are not far from universal war. In less than a year we shall make the
break ourselves in a war with Spain." He looked very fierce as he
prophesied, and he dotted March over with his staccato glances.

"Well, I'll allow that if Tammany comes in this year, we shall have war
with Spain. You can't ask more than that, General Triscoe?"

Mrs. March and Miss Triscoe had not said a word of the 'battle of
Leipsic', or of the impersonal interests which it suggested to the men.
For all these, they might still have been sitting in their steamer chairs
on the promenade of the Norumbia at a period which seemed now of
geological remoteness. The girl accounted for not being in Dresden by her
father's having decided not to go through Berlin but to come by way of
Leipsic, which he thought they had better see; they had come without
stopping in Hamburg. They had not enjoyed Leipsic much; it had rained the
whole day before, and they had not gone out. She asked when Mrs. March
was going on to Carlsbad, and Mrs. March answered, the next morning; her
husband wished to begin his cure at once.

Then Miss Triscoe pensively wondered if Carlsbad would do her father any
good; and Mrs. March discreetly inquired General Triscoe's symptoms.

"Oh, he hasn't any. But I know he can't be well - with his gloomy
opinions."

"They may come from his liver," said Mrs. March. "Nearly everything of
that kind does. I know that Mr. March has been terribly depressed at
times, and the doctor said it was nothing but his liver; and Carlsbad is
the great place for that, you know."

"Perhaps I can get papa to run over some day, if he doesn't like Dresden.
It isn't very far, is it?"

They referred to Mrs. March's Baedeker together, and found that it was
five hours.

"Yes, that is what I thought," said Miss Triscoe, with a carelessness
which convinced Mrs. March she had looked up the fact already.

"If you decide to come, you must let us get rooms for you at our hotel.
We're going to Pupp's; most of the English and Americans go to the hotels
on the Hill, but Pupp's is in the thick of it in the lower town; and it's
very gay, Mr. Kenby says; he's been there often. Mr. Burnamy is to get
our rooms."

"I don't suppose I can get papa to go," said Miss Triscoe, so insincerely
that Mrs. March was sure she had talked over the different routes; to
Carlsbad with Burnamy - probably on the way from Cuxhaven. She looked up
from digging the point of her umbrella in the ground. "You didn't meet
him here this morning?"

Mrs. March governed herself to a calm which she respected in asking, "Has
Mr. Burnamy been here?"

"He came on with Mr. and Mrs. Eltwin, when we did, and they all decided
to stop over a day. They left on the twelve-o'clock train to-day."

Mrs. March perceived that the girl had decided not to let the facts
betray themselves by chance, and she treated them as of no significance.

"No, we didn't see him," she said, carelessly.

The two men came walking slowly towards them, and Miss Triscoe said,
"We're going to Dresden this evening, but I hope we shall meet somewhere,
Mrs. March."

"Oh, people never lose sight of each other in Europe; they can't; it's so
little!"

"Agatha," said the girl's father, "Mr. March tells me that the museum
over there is worth seeing."

"Well," the girl assented, and she took a winning leave of the Marches,
and moved gracefully away with her father.

"I should have thought it was Agnes," said Mrs. March, following them
with her eyes before she turned upon her husband. "Did he tell you
Burnamy had been here? Well, he has! He has just gone on to Carlsbad. He
made, those poor old Eltwins stop over with him, so he could be with
her."

"Did she say that?"

"No, but of course he did."

"Then it's all settled?"

"No, it isn't settled. It's at the most interesting point."

"Well, don't read ahead. You always want to look at the last page."

"You were trying to look at the last page yourself," she retorted, and
she would have liked to punish him for his complex dishonesty toward the
affair; but upon the whole she kept her temper with him, and she made him
agree that Miss Triscoe's getting her father to Carlsbad was only a
question of time.

They parted heart's-friends with their ineffectual guide, who was
affectionately grateful for the few marks they gave him, at the hotel
door; and they were in just the mood to hear men singing in a farther
room when they went down to supper. The waiter, much distracted from
their own service by his duties to it, told them it was the breakfast
party of students which they had heard beginning there about noon. The
revellers had now been some six hours at table, and he said they might
not rise before midnight; they had just got to the toasts, which were
apparently set to music.

The students of right remained a vivid color in the impression of the
university town. They pervaded the place, and decorated it with their
fantastic personal taste in coats and trousers, as well as their corps
caps of green, white, red, and blue, but above all blue. They were not
easily distinguishable from the bicyclers who were holding one of the
dull festivals of their kind in Leipsic that day, and perhaps they were
sometimes both students and bicyclers. As bicyclers they kept about in
the rain, which they seemed not to mind; so far from being disheartened,
they had spirits enough to take one another by the waist at times and
waltz in the square before the hotel. At one moment of the holiday some
chiefs among them drove away in carriages; at supper a winner of prizes
sat covered with badges and medals; another who went by the hotel
streamed with ribbons; and an elderly man at his side was bespattered
with small knots and ends of them, as if he had been in an explosion of
ribbons somewhere. It seemed all to be as exciting for them, and it was
as tedious for the witnesses, as any gala of students and bicyclers at
home.

Mrs. March remained with an unrequited curiosity concerning their
different colors and different caps, and she tried to make her husband
find out what they severally meant; he pretended a superior interest in
the nature of a people who had such a passion for uniforms that they were
not content with its gratification in their immense army, but indulged it
in every pleasure and employment of civil life. He estimated, perhaps not
very accurately, that only one man out of ten in Germany wore citizens'
dress; and of all functionaries he found that the dogs of the
women-and-dog teams alone had no distinctive dress; even the women had
their peasant costume.

There was an industrial fair open at Leipsic which they went out of the
city to see after supper, along with a throng of Leipsickers, whom an
hour's interval of fine weather tempted forth on the trolley; and with
the help of a little corporal, who took a fee for his service with the
eagerness of a civilian, they got wheeled chairs, and renewed their
associations with the great Chicago Fair in seeing the exposition from
them. This was not, March said, quite the same as being drawn by a
woman-and-dog team, which would have been the right means of doing a
German fair; but it was something to have his chair pushed by a slender
young girl, whose stalwart brother applied his strength to the chair of
the lighter traveller; and it was fit that the girl should reckon the
common hire, while the man took the common tip. They made haste to leave
the useful aspects of the fair, and had themselves trundled away to the
Colonial Exhibit, where they vaguely expected something like the
agreeable corruptions of the Midway Plaisance. The idea of her colonial
progress with which Germany is trying to affect the home-keeping
imagination of her people was illustrated by an encampment of savages
from her Central-African possessions. They were getting their supper at
the moment the Marches saw them, and were crouching, half naked, around
the fires under the kettles, and shivering from the cold, but they were
not very characteristic of the imperial expansion, unless perhaps when an
old man in a red blanket suddenly sprang up with a knife in his hand and
began to chase a boy round the camp. The boy was lighter-footed, and
easily outran the sage, who tripped at times on his blanket. None of the
other Central Africans seemed to care for the race, and without waiting
for the event, the American spectators ordered themselves trundled away
to another idle feature of the fair, where they hoped to amuse themselves
with the image of Old Leipsic.

This was so faithfully studied from the past in its narrow streets and
Gothic houses that it was almost as picturesque as the present epoch in
the old streets of Hamburg. A drama had just begun to be represented on a
platform of the public square in front of a fourteenth-century
beer-house, with people talking from the windows round, and revellers in
the costume of the period drinking beer and eating sausages at tables in
the open air. Their eating and drinking were genuine, and in the midst of
it a real rain began, to pour down upon them, without affecting them any
more than if they had been Germans of the nineteenth century. But it
drove the Americans to a shelter from which they could not see the play,
and when it held up, they made their way back to their hotel.

Their car was full of returning pleasurers, some of whom were happy
beyond the sober wont of the fatherland. The conductor took a special
interest in his tipsy passengers, trying to keep them in order, and
genially entreating them to be quiet when they were too obstreperous.
From time to time he got some of them off, and then, when he remounted
the car, he appealed to the remaining passengers for their sympathy with
an innocent smile, which the Americans, still strange to the unjoyous
physiognomy of the German Empire, failed to value at its rare worth.

Before he slept that night March tried to assemble from the experiences
and impressions of the day some facts which he would not be ashamed of as
a serious observer of life in Leipsic, and he remembered that their guide
had said house-rent was very low. He generalized from the guide's content
with his fee that the Germans were not very rapacious; and he became
quite irrelevantly aware that in Germany no man's clothes fitted him, or
seemed expected to fit him; that the women dressed somewhat better, and
were rather pretty sometimes, and that they had feet as large as the kind
hearts of the Germans of every age and sex. He was able to note, rather
more freshly, that with all their kindness the Germans were a very
nervous people, if not irritable, and at the least cause gave way to an
agitation, which indeed quickly passed, but was violent while it lasted.
Several times that day he had seen encounters between the portier and
guests at the hotel which promised violence, but which ended peacefully
as soon as some simple question of train-time was solved. The encounters
always left the portier purple and perspiring, as any agitation must with
a man so tight in his livery. He bemoaned himself after one of them as
the victim of an unhappy calling, in which he could take no exercise. "It
is a life of excitements, but not of movements," he explained to March;
and when he learned where he was going, he regretted that he could not go
to Carlsbad too. "For sugar?" he asked, as if there were overmuch of it
in his own make.

March felt the tribute, but he had to say, "No; liver."

"Ah!" said the portier, with the air of failing to get on common ground
with him.




XXV.

The next morning was so fine that it would have been a fine morning in
America. Its beauty was scarcely sullied, even subjectively, by the
telegram which the portier sent after the Marches from the hotel, saying
that their missing trunk had not yet been found, and their spirits were
as light as the gay little clouds which blew about in the sky, when their
train drew out in the sunshine, brilliant on the charming landscape all
the way to Carlsbad. A fatherly 'traeger' had done his best to get them
the worst places in a non-smoking compartment, but had succeeded so
poorly that they were very comfortable, with no companions but a mother
and daughter, who spoke German in soft low tones together. Their
compartment was pervaded by tobacco fumes from the smokers, but as these
were twice as many as the non-smokers, it was only fair, and after March
had got a window open it did not matter, really.

He asked leave of the strangers in his German, and they consented in
theirs; but he could not master the secret of the window-catch, and the
elder lady said in English, "Let me show you," and came to his help.

The occasion for explaining that they were Americans and accustomed to
different car windows was so tempting that Mrs. March could not forbear,
and the other ladies were affected as deeply as she could wish. Perhaps
they were the more affected because it presently appeared that they had
cousins in New York whom she knew of, and that they were acquainted with
an American family that had passed the winter in Berlin. Life likes to do
these things handsomely, and it easily turned out that this was a family
of intimate friendship with the Marches; the names, familiarly spoken,
abolished all strangeness between the travellers; and they entered into a
comparison of tastes, opinions, and experiences, from which it seemed
that the objects and interests of cultivated people in Berlin were quite
the same as those of cultivated people in New York. Each of the parties
to the discovery disclaimed any superiority for their respective
civilizations; they wished rather to ascribe a greater charm and virtue
to the alien conditions; and they acquired such merit with one another
that when the German ladies got out of the train at Franzensbad, the
mother offered Mrs. March an ingenious folding footstool which she had
admired. In fact, she left her with it clasped to her breast, and bowing
speechless toward the giver in a vain wish to express her gratitude.

"That was very pretty of her, my dear," said March. "You couldn't have
done that."

"No," she confessed; "I shouldn't have had the courage. The courage of my
emotions," she added, thoughtfully.

"Ah, that's the difference! A Berliner could do it, and a Bostonian
couldn't. Do you think it so much better to have the courage of your
convictions?"

"I don't know. It seems to me that I'm less and less certain of
everything that I used to be sure of."

He laughed, and then he said, "I was thinking how, on our wedding
journey, long ago, that Gray Sister at the Hotel Dieu in Quebec offered
you a rose."

"Well?"

"That was to your pretty youth. Now the gracious stranger gives you a
folding stool."

"To rest my poor old feet. Well, I would rather have it than a rose,
now."

"You bent toward her at just the slant you had when you took the flower
that time; I noticed it. I didn't see that you looked so very different.
To be sure the roses in your cheeks have turned into rosettes; but
rosettes are very nice, and they're much more permanent; I prefer them;
they will keep in any climate."

She suffered his mockery with an appreciative sigh. "Yes, our age
caricatures our youth, doesn't it?"

"I don't think it gets much fun out of it," he assented.

"No; but it can't help it. I used to rebel against it when it first
began. I did enjoy being young."

"You did, my dear," he said, taking her hand tenderly; she withdrew it,
because though she could bear his sympathy, her New England nature could
not bear its expression. "And so did I; and we were both young a long
time. Travelling brings the past back, don't you think? There at that
restaurant, where we stopped for dinner - "

"Yes, it was charming! Just as it used to be! With that white cloth, and
those tall shining bottles of wine, and the fruit in the centre, and the
dinner in courses, and that young waiter who spoke English, and was so
nice! I'm never going home; you may, if you like."

"You bragged to those ladies about our dining-cars; and you said that our
railroad restaurants were quite as good as the European."

"I had to do that. But I knew better; they don't begin to be."

"Perhaps not; but I've been thinking that travel is a good deal alike
everywhere. It's the expression of the common civilization of the world.
When I came out of that restaurant and ran the train down, and then found
that it didn't start for fifteen minutes, I wasn't sure whether I was at
home or abroad. And when we changed cars at Eger, and got into this train
which had been baking in the sun for us outside the station, I didn't
know but I was back in the good old Fitchburg depot. To be sure,
Wallenstein wasn't assassinated at Boston, but I forgot his murder at
Eger, and so that came to the same thing. It's these confounded fifty-odd
years. I used to recollect everything."

He had got up and was looking out of the window at the landscape, which
had not grown less amiable in growing rather more slovenly since they had
crossed the Saxon bolder into Bohemia. All the morning and early
afternoon they had run through lovely levels of harvest, where men were
cradling the wheat and women were binding it into sheaves in the narrow
fields between black spaces of forest. After they left Eger, there was
something more picturesque and less thrifty in the farming among the low
hills which they gradually mounted to uplands, where they tasted a
mountain quality in the thin pure air. The railroad stations were
shabbier; there was an indefinable touch of something Southern in the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9

Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsTheir Silver Wedding Journey — Volume 1 → online text (page 9 of 10)