Van Bibber and the Swan Boats by Richard Harding Davis
It was very hot in the Park, and young Van Bibber, who has a good
heart and a great deal more money than good-hearted people generally
get, was cross and somnolent. He had told his groom to bring a horse
he wanted to try to the Fifty-ninth Street entrance at ten o'clock,
and the groom had not appeared. Hence Van Bibber's crossness.
He waited as long as his dignity would allow, and then turned off
into a by-lane end dropped on a bench and looked gloomily at the
Lohengrin swans with the paddle-wheel attachment that circle around
the lake. They struck him as the most idiotic inventions he had ever
seen, and he pitied, with the pity of a man who contemplates crossing
the ocean to be measured for his fall clothes, the people who could
find delight in having some one paddle them around an artificial lake.
Two little girls from the East Side, with a lunch basket, and an
older girl with her hair down her back, sat down on a bench beside him
and gazed at the swans.
The place was becoming too popular, and Van Bibber decided to move
on. But the bench on which he sat was in the shade, and the asphalt
walk leading to the street was in the sun, and his cigarette was
soothing, so he ignored the near presence of the three little girls,
and remained where he was.
"I s'pose," said one of the two little girls, in a high, public
school voice, "there's lots to see from those swan-boats that youse
can't see from the banks."
"Oh, lots," assented the girl with long hair.
"If you walked all round the lake, clear all the way round, you
could see all there is to see," said the third, "except what there's
in the middle where the island is."
"I guess it's mighty wild on that island," suggested the youngest.
"Eddie Case he took a trip around the lake on a swan-boat the other
day. He said that it was grand. He said youse could see fishes and
ducks, and that it looked just as if there were snakes and things on
"What sort of things?" asked the other one, in a hushed voice.
"Well, wild things," explained the elder, vaguely; "bears and
animals like that, that grow in wild places."
Van Bibber lit a fresh cigarette, and settled himself comfortably
and unreservedly to listen.
"My, but I'd like to take a trip just once," said the youngest,
under her breath. Then she clasped her fingers together and looked up
anxiously at the elder girl, who glanced at her with severe reproach.
"Why, Mame!" she said; "ain't you ashamed! Ain't you having a good
time 'nuff without wishing for everything you set your eyes on?"
Van Bibber wondered at this—why humans should want to ride around
on the swans in the first place, and why, if they had such a wild
desire, they should not gratify it.
"Why, it costs more'n it costs to come all the way up town in an
open car," added the elder girl, as if in answer to his unspoken
The younger girl sighed at this, and nodded her head in submission,
but blinked longingly at the big swans and the parti-colored awning
and the red seats.
"I beg your pardon," said Van Bibber, addressing himself uneasily
to the eldest girl with long hair, "but if the little girl would like
to go around in one of those things, and—and hasn't brought the
change with her, you know, I'm sure I should be very glad if she'd
allow me to send her around."
"Oh! will you?" exclaimed the little girl, with a jump, and so
sharply and in such a shrill voice that Van Bibber shuddered. But the
elder girl objected.
"I'm afraid maw wouldn't like our taking money from any one we
didn't know," she said with dignity; "but if you're going anyway and
"Oh! my, no," said Van Bibber, hurriedly. He tried to picture
himself riding around the lake behind a tin swan with three little
girls from the East Side, and a lunch basket.
"Then," said the head of the trio, "we can't go."
There was such a look of uncomplaining acceptance of this verdict
on the part of the two little girls, that Van Bibber felt
uncomfortable. He looked to the right and to the left, and then said
desperately, "Well, come along." The young man in a blue flannel
shirt, who did the paddling, smiled at Van Bibber's riding-breeches,
which were so very loose at one end and so very tight at the other,
and at his gloves and crop. But Van Bibber pretended not to care. The
three little girls placed the awful lunch basket on the front seat and
sat on the middle one, and Van Bibber cowered in the back. They were
hushed in silent ecstasy when it started, and gave little gasps of
pleasure when it careened slightly in turning. It was shady under the
awning, and the motion was pleasant enough, but Van Bibber was so
afraid some one would see him that he failed to enjoy it.
But as soon as they passed into the narrow straits and were shut in
by the bushes and were out of sight of the people, he relaxed, and
began to play the host. He pointed out the fishes among the rocks at
the edges of the pool, and the sparrows and robins bathing and
ruffling their feathers in the shallow water, and agreed with them
about the possibility of bears, and even tigers, in the wild part of
the island, although the glimpse of the gray helmet of a Park
policeman made such a supposition doubtful.
And it really seemed as though they were enjoying it more than he
ever enjoyed a trip up the Sound on a yacht or across the ocean on a
record-breaking steamship. It seemed long enough before they got back
to Van Bibber, but his guests were evidently but barely satisfied.
Still, all the goodness in his nature would not allow him to go
through that ordeal again.
He stepped out of the boat eagerly and helped out the girl with
long hair as though she had been a princess and tipped the rude young
man who had laughed at him, but who was perspiring now with the work
he had done; and then as he turned to leave the dock he came face to
face with A Girl He Knew and Her brother.
Her brother said, "How're you, Van Bibber? Been taking a trip
around the world in eighty minutes?" And added in a low voice,
"Introduce me to your young lady friends from Hester Street."
"Ah, how're you—quite a surprise!" gasped Van Bibber, while his
late guests stared admiringly at the pretty young lady in the
riding-habit, and utterly refused to move on. "Been taking ride on the
lake," stammered Van Bibber; "most exhilarating. Young friends of
mine—these young ladies never rode on lake, so I took 'em. Did you
"Oh, yes, we saw you," said Her brother, dryly, while she only
smiled at him, but so kindly and with such perfect understanding that
Van Bibber grew red with pleasure and bought three long strings of
tickets for the swans at some absurd discount, and gave each little
girl a string.
"There," said Her brother to the little ladies from Hester Street,
"now you can take trips for a week without stopping. Don't try to
smuggle in any laces, and don't forget to fee the smoking-room
The Girl He Knew said they were walking over to the stables, and
that he had better go get his other horse and join her, which was to
be his reward for taking care of the young ladies. And the three
little girls proceeded to use up the yards of tickets so industriously
that they were sunburned when they reached the tenement, and went to
bed dreaming of a big white swan, and a beautiful young gentleman in
patent-leather riding-boots and baggy breeches.