A Hazard of New Fortunes, V1
by William Dean Howells
The following story was the first fruit of my New York life when I
began to live it after my quarter of a century in Cambridge and
Boston, ending in 1889; and I used my own transition to the commercial
metropolis in framing the experience which was wholly that of my
supposititious literary adventurer. He was a character whom, with his
wife, I have employed in some six or eight other stories, and whom I
made as much the hero and heroine of 'Their Wedding Journey' as the
slight fable would bear. In venturing out of my adoptive New England,
where I had found myself at home with many imaginary friends, I found
it natural to ask the company of these familiar acquaintances, but
their company was not to be had at once for the asking. When I began
speaking of them as Basil and Isabel, in the fashion of 'Their Wedding
Journey,' they would not respond with the effect of early middle age
which I desired in them. They remained wilfully, not to say woodenly,
the young bridal pair of that romance, without the promise of novel
functioning. It was not till I tried addressing them as March and
Mrs. March that they stirred under my hand with fresh impulse, and set
about the work assigned them as people in something more than their
The scene into which I had invited them to figure filled the
largest canvas I had yet allowed myself; and, though 'A Hazard of New
Fortunes was not the first story I had written with the printer at my
heels, it was the first which took its own time to prescribe its own
dimensions. I had the general design well in mind when I began to
write it, but as it advanced it compelled into its course incidents,
interests, individualities, which I had not known lay near, and it
specialized and amplified at points which I had not always meant to
touch, though I should not like to intimate anything mystical in the
fact. It became, to my thinking, the most vital of my fictions,
through my quickened interest in the life about me, at a moment of
great psychological import. We had passed through a period of strong
emotioning in the direction of the humaner economics, if I may phrase
it so; the rich seemed not so much to despise the poor, the poor did
not so hopelessly repine. The solution of the riddle of the painful
earth through the dreams of Henry George, through the dreams of Edward
Bellamy, through the dreams of all the generous visionaries of the
past, seemed not impossibly far off. That shedding of blood which is
for the remission of sins had been symbolized by the bombs and
scaffolds of Chicago, and the hearts of those who felt the wrongs
bound up with our rights, the slavery implicated in our liberty, were
thrilling with griefs and hopes hitherto strange to the average
American breast. Opportunely for me there was a great street-car
strike in New York, and the story began to find its way to issues
nobler and larger than those of the love-affairs common to fiction. I
was in my fifty-second year when I took it up, and in the prime, such
as it was, of my powers. The scene which I had chosen appealed
prodigiously to me, and the action passed as nearly without my
conscious agency as I ever allow myself to think such things happen.
The opening chapters were written in a fine, old fashioned
apartment house which had once been a family house, and in an
uppermost room of which I could look from my work across the trees of
the little park in Stuyvesant Square to the towers of St. George's
Church. Then later in the spring of 1889 the unfinished novel was
carried to a country house on the Belmont border of Cambridge. There
I must have written very rapidly to have pressed it to conclusion
before the summer ended. It came, indeed, so easily from the pen that
I had the misgiving which I always have of things which do not cost me
There is nothing in the book with which I amused myself more than
the house-hunting of the Marches when they were placing themselves in
New York; and if the contemporary reader should turn for instruction
to the pages in which their experience is detailed I assure him that
he may trust their fidelity and accuracy in the article of New York
housing as it was early in the last decade of the last century: I
mean, the housing of people of such moderate means as the Marches. In
my zeal for truth I did not distinguish between reality and actuality
in this or other matters--that is, one was as precious to me as the
other. But the types here portrayed are as true as ever they were,
though the world in which they were finding their habitat is
wonderfully, almost incredibly different. Yet it is not wholly
different, for a young literary pair now adventuring in New York might
easily parallel the experience of the Marches with their own, if not
for so little money; many phases of New York housing are better, but
all are dearer. Other aspects of the material city have undergone a
transformation much more wonderful. I find that in my book its
population is once modestly spoken of as two millions, but now in
twenty years it is twice as great, and the grandeur as well as
grandiosity of its forms is doubly apparent. The transitional public
that then moped about in mildly tinkling horse-cars is now hurried
back and forth in clanging trolleys, in honking and whirring motors;
the Elevated road which was the last word of speed is undermined by
the Subway, shooting its swift shuttles through the subterranean woof
of the city's haste. From these feet let the witness infer our whole
massive Hercules, a bulk that sprawls and stretches beyond the rivers
through the tunnels piercing their beds and that towers into the skies
with innumerable tops--a Hercules blent of Briareus and Cerberus, but
not so bad a monster as it seemed then to threaten becoming.
Certain hopes of truer and better conditions on which my heart was
fixed twenty years ago are not less dear, and they are by no means
touched with despair, though they have not yet found the fulfilment
which I would then have prophesied for them. Events have not wholly
played them false; events have not halted, though they have marched
with a slowness that might affect a younger observer as marking time.
They who were then mindful of the poor have not forgotten them, and
what is better the poor have not often forgotten themselves in
violences such as offered me the material of tragedy and pathos in my
story. In my quality of artist I could not regret these, and I
gratefully realize that they offered me the opportunity of a more
strenuous action, a more impressive catastrophe than I could have
achieved without them. They tended to give the whole fable dignity
and doubtless made for its success as a book. As a serial it had
crept a sluggish course before a public apparently so unmindful of it
that no rumor of its acceptance or rejection reached the writer during
the half year of its publication; but it rose in book form from that
failure and stood upon its feet and went its way to greater favor than
any book of his had yet enjoyed. I hope that my recognition of the
fact will not seem like boasting, but that the reader will regard it
as a special confidence from the author and will let it go no farther.
KITTERY POINT, MAINE, July, 1909.
A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES
"Now, you think this thing over, March, and let me know the last of
next week," said Fulkerson. He got up from the chair which he had
been sitting astride, with his face to its back, and tilting toward
March on its hind-legs, and came and rapped upon his table with his
thin bamboo stick. "What you want to do is to get out of the
insurance business, anyway. You acknowledge that yourself. You never
liked it, and now it makes you sick; in other words, it's killing you.
You ain't an insurance man by nature. You're a natural-born literary
man, and you've been going against the grain. Now, I offer you a
chance to go with the grain. I don't say you're going to make your
everlasting fortune, but I'll give you a living salary, and if the
thing succeeds you'll share in its success. We'll all share in its
success. That's the beauty of it. I tell you, March, this is the
greatest idea that has been struck since"--Fulkerson stopped and
searched his mind for a fit image--"since the creation of man."
He put his leg up over the corner of March's table and gave himself
a sharp cut on the thigh, and leaned forward to get the full effect of
his words upon his listener.
March had his hands clasped together behind his head, and he took
one of them down long enough to put his inkstand and mucilage-bottle
out of Fulkerson's way. After many years' experiment of a mustache
and whiskers, he now wore his grizzled beard full, but cropped close;
it gave him a certain grimness, corrected by the gentleness of his
"Some people don't think much of the creation of man nowadays. Why
stop at that? Why not say since the morning stars sang together?"
"No, sir; no, sir! I don't want to claim too much, and I draw the
line at the creation of man. I'm satisfied with that. But if you
want to ring the morning stars into the prospectus all right; I won't
go back on you."
"But I don't understand why you've set your mind on me," March
said. "I haven't had, any magazine experience, you know that; and I
haven't seriously attempted to do anything in literature since I was
married. I gave up smoking and the Muse together. I suppose I could
still manage a cigar, but I don't believe I could--"
"Muse worth a cent." Fulkerson took the thought out of his mouth
and put it into his own words. "I know. Well, I don't want you to.
I don't care if you never write a line for the thing, though you
needn't reject anything of yours, if it happens to be good, on that
account. And I don't want much experience in my editor; rather not
have it. You told me, didn't you, that you used to do some newspaper
work before you settled down?"
"Yes; I thought my lines were permanently cast in those places
once. It was more an accident than anything else that I got into the
insurance business. I suppose I secretly hoped that if I made my
living by something utterly different, I could come more freshly to
literature proper in my leisure."
"I see; and you found the insurance business too many, for you.
Well, anyway, you've always had a hankering for the inkpots; and the
fact that you first gave me the idea of this thing shows that you've
done more or less thinking about magazines."
"Well, all right. Now don't you be troubled. I know what I want,
generally, speaking, and in this particular instance I want you. I
might get a man of more experience, but I should probably get a man of
more prejudice and self-conceit along with him, and a man with a
following of the literary hangers-on that are sure to get round an
editor sooner or later. I want to start fair, and I've found out in
the syndicate business all the men that are worth having. But they
know me, and they don't know you, and that's where we shall have the
pull on them. They won't be able to work the thing. Don't you be
anxious about the experience. I've got experience enough of my own to
run a dozen editors. What I want is an editor who has taste, and
you've got it; and conscience, and you've got it; and horse sense, and
you've got that. And I like you because you're a Western man, and I'm
another. I do cotton to a Western man when I find him off East here,
holding his own with the best of 'em, and showing 'em that he's just
as much civilized as they are. We both know what it is to have our
bright home in the setting sun; heigh?"
"I think we Western men who've come East are apt to take ourselves
a little too objectively and to feel ourselves rather more
representative than we need," March remarked.
Fulkerson was delighted. "You've hit it! We do! We are!"
"And as for holding my own, I'm not very proud of what I've done in
that way; it's been very little to hold. But I know what you mean,
Fulkerson, and I've felt the same thing myself; it warmed me toward
you when we first met. I can't help suffusing a little to any man
when I hear that he was born on the other side of the Alleghanies.
It's perfectly stupid. I despise the same thing when I see it in
Fulkerson pulled first one of his blond whiskers and then the
other, and twisted the end of each into a point, which he left to
untwine itself. He fixed March with his little eyes, which had a
curious innocence in their cunning, and tapped the desk immediately in
front of him. "What I like about you is that you're broad in your
sympathies. The first time I saw you, that night on the Quebec boat,
I said to myself : 'There's a man I want to know. There's a human
being.' I was a little afraid of Mrs. March and the children, but I
felt at home with you--thoroughly domesticated--before I passed a word
with you; and when you spoke first, and opened up with a joke over
that fellow's tableful of light literature and Indian moccasins and
birch-bark toy canoes and stereoscopic views, I knew that we were
brothers-spiritual twins. I recognized the Western style of fun, and
I thought, when you said you were from Boston, that it was some of the
same. But I see now that its being a cold fact, as far as the last
fifteen or twenty years count, is just so much gain. You know both
sections, and you can make this thing go, from ocean to ocean."
"We might ring that into the prospectus, too," March suggested,
with a smile. "You might call the thing 'From Sea to Sea.'
By-the-way, what are you going to call it?"
"I haven't decided yet; that's one of the things I wanted to talk
with you about. I had thought of 'The Syndicate'; but it sounds kind
of dry, and doesn't seem to cover the ground exactly. I should like
something that would express the co-operative character of the thing,
but I don't know as I can get it."
"Might call it 'The Mutual'."
"They'd think it was an insurance paper. No, that won't do. But
Mutual comes pretty near the idea. If we could get something like
that, it would pique curiosity; and then if we could get paragraphs
afloat explaining that the contributors were to be paid according to
the sales, it would be a first-rate ad."
He bent a wide, anxious, inquiring smile upon March, who suggested,
lazily: "You might call it 'The Round-Robin'. That would express the
central idea of irresponsibility. As I understand, everybody is to
share the profits and be exempt from the losses. Or, if I'm wrong,
and the reverse is true, you might call it 'The Army of Martyrs'.
Come, that sounds attractive, Fulkerson! Or what do you think of
'The Fifth Wheel'? That would forestall the criticism that there are
too many literary periodicals already. Or, if you want to put forward
the idea of complete independence, you could call it 'The Free Lance';
"Or 'The Hog on Ice'--either stand up or fall down, you know,"
Fulkerson broke in coarsely. "But we'll leave the name of the
magazine till we get the editor. I see the poison's beginning to work
in you, March; and if I had time I'd leave the result to time. But I
haven't. I've got to know inside of the next week. To come down to
business with you, March, I sha'n't start this thing unless I can get
you to take hold of it."
He seemed to expect some acknowledgment, and March said, "Well,
that's very nice of you, Fulkerson."
"No, sir; no, sir! I've always liked you and wanted you ever since
we met that first night. I had this thing inchoately in my mind then,
when I was telling you about the newspaper syndicate
business--beautiful vision of a lot of literary fellows breaking loose
from the bondage of publishers and playing it alone--"
"You might call it 'The Lone Hand'; that would be attractive,"
March interrupted. "The whole West would know what you meant."
Fulkerson was talking seriously, and March was listening seriously;
but they both broke off and laughed. Fulkerson got down off the table
and made some turns about the room. It was growing late; the October
sun had left the top of the tall windows; it was still clear day, but
it would soon be twilight; they had been talking a long time.
Fulkerson came and stood with his little feet wide apart, and bent
his little lean, square face on March. "See here! How much do you get
out of this thing here, anyway?"
"The insurance business?" March hesitated a moment and then said,
with a certain effort of reserve, "At present about three thousand."
He looked up at Fulkerson with a glance, as if he had a mind to
enlarge upon the fact, and then dropped his eyes without saying more.
Whether Fulkerson had not thought it so much or not, he said:
"Well, I'll give you thirty-five hundred. Come! And your chances in
"We won't count the chances in the success. And I don't believe
thirty-five hundred would go any further in New York than three
thousand in Boston."
"But you don't live on three thousand here?"
"No; my wife has a little property."
"Well, she won't lose the income if you go to New York. I suppose
you pay ten or twelve hundred a year for your house here. You can get
plenty of flats in New York for the same money; and I understand you
can get all sorts of provisions for less than you pay now--three or
four cents on the pound. Come!"
This was by no means the first talk they had had about the matter;
every three or four months during the past two years the syndicate man
had dropped in upon March to air the scheme and to get his impressions
of it. This had happened so often that it had come to be a sort of
joke between them. But now Fulkerson clearly meant business, and
March had a struggle to maintain himself in a firm poise of refusal.
"I dare say it wouldn't--or it needn't-cost so very much more, but
I don't want to go to New York; or my wife doesn't. It's the same
"A good deal samer," Fulkerson admitted.
March did not quite like his candor, and he went on with dignity.
"It's very natural she shouldn't. She has always lived in Boston;
she's attached to the place. Now, if you were going to start 'The
Fifth Wheel' in Boston--"
Fulkerson slowly and sadly shook his head, but decidedly.
"Wouldn't do. You might as well say St. Louis or Cincinnati. There's
only one city that belongs to the whole country, and that's New York."
"Yes, I know," sighed March; "and Boston belongs to the Bostonians,
but they like you to make yourself at home while you're visiting."
"If you'll agree to make phrases like that, right along, and get
them into 'The Round-Robin' somehow, I'll say four thousand," said
Fulkerson. "You think it over now, March. You talk it over with Mrs.
March; I know you will, anyway; and I might as well make a virtue of
advising you to do it. Tell her I advised you to do it, and you let
me know before next Saturday what you've decided."
March shut down the rolling top of his desk in the corner of the
room, and walked Fulkerson out before him. It was so late that the
last of the chore-women who washed down the marble halls and stairs of
the great building had wrung out her floor-cloth and departed, leaving
spotless stone and a clean, damp smell in the darkening corridors
"Couldn't offer you such swell quarters in New York, March,"
Fulkerson said, as he went tack-tacking down the steps with his small
boot-heels. "But I've got my eye on a little house round in West
Eleventh Street that I'm going to fit up for my bachelor's hall in the
third story, and adapt for 'The Lone Hand' in the first and second, if
this thing goes through; and I guess we'll be pretty comfortable.
It's right on the Sand Strip --no malaria of any kind."
"I don't know that I'm going to share its salubrity with you yet,"
March sighed, in an obvious travail which gave Fulkerson hopes.
"Oh yes, you are," he coaxed. "Now, you talk it over with your
wife. You give her a fair, unprejudiced chance at the thing on its
merits, and I'm very much mistaken in Mrs. March if she doesn't tell
you to go in and win. We're bound to win!"
They stood on the outside steps of the vast edifice beetling like a
granite crag above them, with the stone groups of an allegory of
life-insurance foreshortened in the bas-relief overhead. March
absently lifted his eyes to it. It was suddenly strange after so many
years' familiarity, and so was the well-known street in its
Saturday-evening solitude. He asked himself, with prophetic
homesickness, if it were an omen of what was to be. But he only said,
musingly: "A fortnightly. You know that didn't work in England. The
fortnightly is published once a month now."
"It works in France," Fulkerson retorted. "The 'Revue des Deux
Mondes' is still published twice a month. I guess we can make it work
in America--with illustrations."
"Going to have illustrations?"
"My dear boy! What are you giving me? Do I look like the sort of
lunatic who would start a thing in the twilight of the nineteenth
century without illustrations? Come off!"
"Ah, that complicates it! I don't know anything about art."
March's look of discouragement confessed the hold the scheme had
taken upon him.
"I don't want you to!" Fulkerson retorted. "Don't you suppose I
shall have an art man?"
"And will they--the artists--work at a reduced rate, too, like the
writers, with the hopes of a share in the success?"
"Of course they will! And if I want any particular man, for a
card, I'll pay him big money besides. But I can get plenty of
first-rate sketches on my own terms. You'll see! They'll pour in!"
"Look here, Fulkerson," said March, "you'd better call this
fortnightly of yours 'The Madness o f the Half-Moon'; or 'Bedlam Broke
Loose' wouldn't be bad! Why do you throw away all your hard earnings
on such a crazy venture? Don't do it!" The kindness which March had
always felt, in spite of his wife's first misgivings and reservations,
for the merry, hopeful, slangy, energetic little creature trembled in
his voice. They had both formed a friendship for Fulkerson during the
week they were together in Quebec. When he was not working the
newspapers there, he went about with them over the familiar ground
they were showing their children, and was simply grateful for the
chance, as well as very entertaining about it all. The children liked
him, too; when they got the clew to his intention, and found that he
was not quite serious in many of the things he said, they thought he
was great fun. They were always glad when their father brought him
home on the occasion of Fulkerson's visits to Boston; and Mrs. March,
though of a charier hospitality, welcomed Fulkerson with a grateful
sense of his admiration for her husband. He had a way of treating
March with deference, as an older and abler man, and of qualifying the
freedom he used toward every one with an implication that March
tolerated it voluntarily, which she thought very sweet and even
"Ah, now you're talking like a man and a brother," said Fulkerson.
"Why, March, old man, do you suppose I'd come on here and try to talk
you into this thing if I wasn't morally, if I wasn't perfectly, sure
of success? There isn't any if or and about it. I know my ground,
every inch; and I don't stand alone on it," he added, with a
significance which did not escape March. "When you've made up your
mind I can give you the proof; but I'm not at liberty now to say
anything more. I tell you it's going to be a triumphal march from the
word go, with coffee and lemonade for the procession along the whole
line. All you've got to do is to fall in." He stretched out his hand
to March. "You let me know as soon as you can."
March deferred taking his hand till he could ask, "Where are you
"Parker House. Take the eleven for New York to-night."
"I thought I might walk your way." March looked at his watch.
"But I shouldn't have time. Goodbye!"
He now let Fulkerson have his hand, and they exchanged a cordial
pressure. Fulkerson started away at a quick, light pace. Half a
block off he stopped, turned round, and, seeing March still standing
where he had left him, he called back, joyously, "I've got the name!"
"Every Other Week."
"It isn't bad."
All the way up to the South End March mentally prolonged his talk
with Fulkerson, and at his door in Nankeen Square he closed the parley
with a plump refusal to go to New York on any terms. His daughter
Bella was lying in wait for him in the hall, and she threw her arms
round his neck with the exuberance of her fourteen years and with
something of the histrionic intention of her sex. He pressed on, with
her clinging about him, to the library, and, in the glow of his
decision against Fulkerson, kissed his wife, where she sat by the
study lamp reading the Transcript through her first pair of
eye-glasses: it was agreed in the family that she looked distinguished
in them, or, at any rate, cultivated. She took them off to give him a
glance of question, and their son Tom looked up from his book for a
moment; he was in his last year at the high school, and was preparing
"I didn't get away from the office till half-past five," March
explained to his wife's glance," and then I walked. I suppose
dinner's waiting. I'm sorry, but I won't do it any more."
At table he tried to be gay with Bella, who babbled at him with a
voluble pertness which her brother had often advised her parents to
check in her, unless they wanted her to be universally despised.
"Papa!" she shouted at last, "you're not listening!" As soon as
possible his wife told the children they might be excused. Then she
asked, "What is it, Basil?"
"What is what?" he retorted, with a specious brightness that did
"What is on your mind?"
"How do you know there's anything?"
"Your kissing me so when you came in, for one thing."
"Don't I always kiss you when I come in?"
"Not now. I suppose it isn't necessary any more. 'Cela va sans
"Yes, I guess it's so; we get along without the symbolism now." He
stopped, but she knew that he had not finished.
"Is it about your business? Have they done anything more?"
"No; I'm still in the dark. I don't know whether they mean to
supplant me, or whether they ever did. But I wasn't thinking about
that. Fulkerson has been to see me again."
"Fulkerson?" She brightened at the name, and March smiled, too.
"Why didn't you bring him to dinner?"
"I wanted to talk with you. Then you do like him?"
"What has that got to do with it, Basil?"
"Nothing! nothing! That is, he was boring away about that scheme of
his again. He's got it into definite shape at last."
March outlined it for her, and his wife seized its main features
with the intuitive sense of affairs which makes women such good
business-men when they will let it.
"It sounds perfectly crazy," she said, finally. " But it mayn't
be. The only thing I didn't like about Mr. Fulkerson was his always
wanting to chance things. But what have you got to do with it?"
"What have I got to do with it?" March toyed with the delay the
question gave him; then he said, with a sort of deprecatory laugh: "It
seems that Fulkerson has had his eye on me ever since we met that
night on the Quebec boat. I opened up pretty freely to him, as you do
to a man you never expect to see again, and when I found he was in
that newspaper syndicate business I told him about my early literary
"You can't say that I ever discouraged them, Basil," his wife put
in. "I should have been willing, any time, to give up everything for
"Well, he says that I first suggested this brilliant idea to him.
Perhaps I did; I don't remember. When he told me about his supplying
literature to newspapers for simultaneous publication, he says I
asked: 'Why not apply the principle of co-operation to a magazine, and
run it in the interest of the contributors?' and that set him to
thinking, and he thought out his plan of a periodical which should pay
authors and artists a low price outright for their work and give them
a chance of the profits in the way of a percentage. After all, it
isn't so very different from the chances an author takes when he
publishes a book. And Fulkerson thinks that the novelty of the thing
would pique public curiosity, if it didn't arouse public sympathy.
And the long and short of it is, Isabel, that he wants me to help
"To edit it?" His wife caught her breath, and she took a little
time to realize the fact, while she stared hard at her husband to make
sure he was not joking.
"Yes. He says he owes it all to me; that I invented the idea--the
germ -- the microbe."
His wife had now realized the fact, at least in a degree that
excluded trifling with it. "That is very honorable of Mr. Fulkerson ;
and if he owes it to you, it was the least he could do." Having
recognized her husband's claim to the honor done him, she began to
kindle with a sense of the honor itself and the value of the
opportunity. "It's a very high compliment to you, Basil--a very high
compliment. And you could give up this wretched insurance business
that you've always hated so, and that's making you so unhappy now that
you think they're going to take it from you. Give it up and take Mr.
Fulkerson's offer! It's a perfect interposition, coming just at this
time! Why, do it! Mercy!" she suddenly arrested herself, "he
wouldn't expect you to get along on the possible profits?" Her face
expressed the awfulness of the notion.
March smiled reassuringly, and waited to give himself the pleasure
of the sensation he meant to give her. "If I'll make striking phrases
for it and edit it, too, he'll give me four thousand dollars."
He leaned back in his chair, and stuck his hands deep into his
pockets, and watched his wife's face, luminous with the emotions that
flashed through her mind-doubt, joy, anxiety.
"Basil! You don't mean it! Why, take it! Take it instantly! Oh,
what a thing to happen! Oh, what luck! But you deserve it, if you
first suggested it. What an escape, what a triumph over all those
hateful insurance people! Oh, Basil, I'm afraid he'll change his
mind! You ought to have accepted on the spot. You might have known I
would approve, and you could so easily have taken it back if I didn't.
Telegraph him now! Run right out with the despatch--Or we can send
In these imperatives of Mrs. March's there was always much of the
conditional. She meant that he should do what she said, if it were
entirely right; and she never meant to be considered as having urged
"And suppose his enterprise went wrong?" her husband suggested.
"It won't go wrong. Hasn't he made a success of his syndicate?"
"He says so--yes."
"Very well, then, it stands to reason that he'll succeed in this,
too. He wouldn't undertake it if he didn't know it would succeed; he
must have capital."
"It will take a great deal to get such a thing going; and even if
he's got an Angel behind him--"
She caught at the word--"An Angel?"
"It's what the theatrical people call a financial backer. He
dropped a hint of something of that kind."
"Of course, he's got an Angel," said his wife, promptly adopting
the word. "And even if he hadn't, still, Basil, I should be willing
to have you risk it. The risk isn't so great, is it? We shouldn't be
ruined if it failed altogether. With our stocks we have two thousand
a year, anyway, and we could pinch through on that till you got into
some other business afterward, especially if we'd saved something out
of your salary while it lasted. Basil, I want you to try it! I know
it will give you a new lease of life to have a congenial occupation."
March laughed, but his wife persisted. "I'm all for your trying it,
Basil; indeed I am. If it's an experiment, you can give it up."
"It can give me up, too."
"Oh, nonsense! I guess there's not much fear of that. Now, I want
you to telegraph Mr. Fulkerson, so that he'll find the despatch
waiting for him when he gets to New York. I'll take the whole
responsibility, Basil, and I'll risk all the consequences."
March's face had sobered more and more as she followed one hopeful
burst with another, and now it expressed a positive pain. But he
forced a smile and said: "There's a little condition attached. Where
did you suppose it was to be published?"
"Why, in Boston, of course. Where else should it be published?"
She looked at him for the intention of his question so searchingly
that he quite gave up the attempt to be gay about it. "No," he said,
gravely, "it's to be published in New York."
She fell back in her chair. "In New York?" She leaned forward
over the table toward him, as if to make sure that she heard aright,
and said, with all the keen reproach that he could have expected: "In
New York, Basil! Oh, how could you have let me go on?"
He had a sufficiently rueful face in owning: "I oughtn't to have
done it, but I got started wrong. I couldn't help putting the best
foot, forward at first--or as long as the whole thing was in the air.
I didn't know that you would take so much to the general enterprise,
or else I should have mentioned the New York condition at once; but,
of course, that puts an end to it."
"Oh, of course," she assented, sadly. "We COULDN'T go to New
"No, I know that," he said; and with this a perverse desire to
tempt her to the impossibility awoke in him, though he was really
quite cold about the affair himself now. "Fulkerson thought we could
get a nice flat in New York for about what the interest and taxes came
to here, and provisions are cheaper. But I should rather not
experiment at my time of life. If I could have been caught younger, I
might have been inured to New York, but I don't believe I could stand
"How I hate to have you talk that way, Basil! You are young enough
to try anything--anywhere; but you know I don't like New York. I
don't approve of it. It's so big, and so hideous! Of course I
shouldn't mind that; but I've always lived in Boston, and the children
were born and have all their friendships and associations here." She
added, with the helplessness that discredited her good sense and did
her injustice, "I have just got them both into the Friday afternoon
class at Papanti's, and you know how difficult that is."
March could not fail to take advantage of an occasion like this.
"Well, that alone ought to settle it. Under the circumstances, it
would be flying in the face of Providence to leave Boston. The mere
fact of a brilliant opening like that offered me on 'The Microbe,' and
the halcyon future which Fulkerson promises if we'll come to New York,
is as dust in the balance against the advantages of the Friday
"Basil," she appealed, solemnly, "have I ever interfered with your
"I never had any for you to interfere with, my dear."
"Basil! Haven't I always had faith in you? And don't you suppose
that if I thought it would really be for your advancement I would go
to New York or anywhere with you?"
"No, my dear, I don't," he teased. "If it would be for my
salvation, yes, perhaps; but not short of that; and I should have to
prove by a cloud of witnesses that it would. I don't blame you. I
wasn't born in Boston, but I understand how you feel. And really, my
dear," he added, without irony, "I never seriously thought of asking
you to go to New York. I was dazzled by Fulkerson's offer, I'll own
that; but his choice of me as editor sapped my confidence in him."
"I don't like to hear you say that, Basil," she entreated.
"Well, of course there were mitigating circumstances. I could see
that Fulkerson meant to keep the whip-hand himself, and that was
reassuring. And, besides, if the Reciprocity Life should happen not to
want my services any longer, it wouldn't be quite like giving up a
certainty; though, as a matter of business, I let Fulkerson get that
impression; I felt rather sneaking to do it. But if the worst comes
to the worst, I can look about for something to do in Boston; and,
anyhow, people don't starve on two thousand a year, though it's
convenient to have five. The fact is, I'm too old to change so
radically. If you don't like my saying that, then you are, Isabel,
and so are the children. I've no right to take them from the home
we've made, and to change the whole course of their lives, unless I
can assure them of something, and I can't assure them of anything.
Boston is big enough for us, and it's certainly prettier than New
York. I always feel a little proud of hailing from Boston; my
pleasure in the place mounts the farther I get away from it. But I do
appreciate it, my dear; I've no more desire to leave it than you have.
You may be sure that if you don't want to take the children out of
the Friday afternoon class, I don't want to leave my library here, and
all the ways I've got set in. We'll keep on. Very likely the company
won't supplant me, and if it does, and Watkins gets the place, he'll
give me a subordinate position of some sort. Cheer up, Isabel! I have
put Satan and his angel, Fulkerson, behind me, and it's all right.
Let's go in to the children."
He came round the table to Isabel, where she sat in a growing
distraction, and lifted her by the waist from her chair.
She sighed deeply. "Shall we tell the children about it?"
"No. What's the use, now?"
"There wouldn't be any," she assented. When they entered the
family room, where the boy and girl sat on either side of the lamp
working out the lessons for Monday which they had left over from the
day before, she asked, "Children, how would you like to live in New
Bella made haste to get in her word first. "And give up the Friday
afternoon class?" she wailed.
Tom growled from his book, without lifting his eyes: "I shouldn't
want to go to Columbia. They haven't got any dormitories, and you
have to board round anywhere. Are you going to New York?" He now
deigned to look up at his father.
"No, Tom. You and Bella have decided me against it. Your
perspective shows the affair in its true proportions. I had an offer
to go to New York, but I've refused it."
March's irony fell harmless from the children's preoccupation with
their own affairs, but he knew that his wife felt it, and this added
to the bitterness which prompted it. He blamed her for letting her
provincial narrowness prevent his accepting Fulkerson's offer quite as
much as if he had otherwise entirely wished to accept it. His world,
like most worlds, had been superficially a disappointment. He was no
richer than at the beginning, though in marrying he had given up some
tastes, some preferences, some aspirations, in the hope of indulging
them later, with larger means and larger leisure. His wife had not
urged him to do it; in fact, her pride, as she said, was in his
fitness for the life he had renounced; but she had acquiesced, and
they had been very happy together. That is to say, they made up their
quarrels or ignored them.
They often accused each other of being selfish and indifferent, but
she knew that he would always sacrifice himself for her and the
children; and he, on his part, with many gibes and mockeries, wholly
trusted in her. They had grown practically tolerant of each other's
disagreeable traits; and the danger that really threatened them was
that they should grow too well satisfied with themselves, if not with
each other. They were not sentimental, they were rather
matter-of-fact in their motives; but they had both a sort of humorous
fondness for sentimentality. They liked to play with the romantic,
from the safe vantage-ground of their real practicality, and to divine
the poetry of the commonplace. Their peculiar point of view separated
them from most other people, with whom their means of self-comparison
were not so good since their marriage as before. Then they had
travelled and seen much of the world, and they had formed tastes which
they had not always been able to indulge, but of which they felt that
the possession reflected distinction on them. It enabled them to look
down upon those who were without such tastes; but they were not
ill-natured, and so they did not look down so much with contempt as
with amusement. In their unfashionable neighborhood they had the fame
of being not exclusive precisely, but very much wrapped up in
themselves and their children.
Mrs. March was reputed to be very cultivated, and Mr. March even
more so, among the simpler folk around them. Their house had some
good pictures, which her aunt had brought home from Europe in more
affluent days, and it abounded in books on which he spent more than he
ought. They had beautified it in every way, and had unconsciously
taken credit to them selves for it. They felt, with a glow almost of
virtue, how perfectly it fitted their lives and their children's, and
they believed that somehow it expressed their characters--that it was
like them. They went out very little; she remained shut up in its
refinement, working the good of her own; and he went to his business,
and hurried back to forget it, and dream his dream of intellectual
achievement in the flattering atmosphere of her sympathy. He could
not conceal from himself that his divided life was somewhat like
Charles Lamb's, and there were times when, as he had expressed to
Fulkerson, he believed that its division was favorable to the
freshness of his interest in literature. It certainly kept it a high
privilege,a sacred refuge. Now and then he wrote something,and got it
printed after long delays, and when they met on the St. Lawrence
Fulkerson had some of March's verses in his pocket-book, which he had
cut out of astray newspaper and carried about for years, because they
pleased his fancy so much; they formed an immediate bond of union
between the men when their authorship was traced and owned, and this
gave a pretty color of romance to their acquaintance. But, for the
most part, March was satisfied to read. He was proud of reading
critically, and he kept in the current of literary interests and
controversies. It all seemed to him, and to his wife at second-hand,
very meritorious; he could not help contrasting his life and its inner
elegance with that of other men who had no such resources. He thought
that he was not arrogant about it, because he did full justice to the
good qualities of those other people; he congratulated himself upon
the democratic instincts which enabled him to do this; and neither he
nor his wife supposed that they were selfish persons. On the
contrary, they were very sympathetic; there was no good cause that
they did not wish well; they had a generous scorn of all kinds of
narrow-heartedness; if it had ever come into their way to sacrifice
themselves for others, they thought they would have done so, but they
never asked why it had not come in their way. They were very gentle
and kind, even when most elusive; and they taught their children to
loathe all manner of social cruelty. March was of so watchful a
conscience in some respects that he denied himself the pensive
pleasure of lapsing into the melancholy of unfulfilled aspirations;
but he did not see that, if he had abandoned them, it had been for
what he held dearer; generally he felt as if he had turned from them
with a high, altruistic aim. The practical expression of his life was
that it was enough to provide well for his family; to have cultivated
tastes, and to gratify them to the extent of his means; to be rather
distinguished, even in the simplification of his desires. He
believed, and his wife believed, that if the time ever came when he
really wished to make a sacrifice to the fulfilment of the aspirations
so long postponed, she would be ready to join with heart and hand.
When he went to her room from his library, where she left him the
whole evening with the children, he found her before the glass
thoughtfully removing the first dismantling pin from her back hair.
"I can't help feeling," she grieved into the mirror, "that it's I
who keep you from accepting that offer. I know it is! I could go
West with you, or into a new country--anywhere; but New York terrifies
me. I don't like New York, I never did; it disheartens and distracts
me; I can't find myself in it; I shouldn't know how to shop. I know
I'm foolish and narrow and provincial," she went on, "but I could
never have any inner quiet in New York; I couldn't live in the spirit
there. I suppose people do. It can't, be that all these millions--'
"Oh, not so bad as that!" March interposed, laughing. "There
aren't quite two."
"I thought there were four or five. Well, no matter. You see what
I am, Basil. I'm terribly limited. I couldn't make my sympathies go
round two million people; I should be wretched. I suppose I'm
standing in the way of your highest interest, but I can't help it. We
took each other for better or worse, and you must try to bear with
me--" She broke off and began to cry.
"Stop it!" shouted March. "I tell you I never cared anything for
Fulkerson's scheme or entertained it seriously, and I shouldn't if
he'd proposed to carry it out in Boston." This was not quite true,
but in the retrospect it seemed sufficiently so for the purposes of
argument. "Don't say another word about it. The thing's over now, and
I don't want to think of it any more. We couldn't change its nature
if we talked all night. But I want you to understand that it isn't
your limitations that are in the way. It's mine. I shouldn't have
the courage to take such a place; I don't think I'm fit for it, and
that's the long and short of it."
"Oh, you don't know how it hurts me to have you say that, Basil."
The next morning, as they sat together at breakfast, without the
children, whom they let lie late on Sunday, Mrs. March said to her
husband, silent over his fish-balls and baked beans: "We will go to
New York. I've decided it."
"Well, it takes two to decide that," March retorted. "We are not
going to New York."
"Yes, we are. I've thought it out. Now, listen."
"Oh, I'm willing to listen," he consented, airily.
"You've always wanted to get out of the insurance business, and now
with that fear of being turned out which you have you mustn't neglect
this offer. I suppose it has its risks, but it's a risk keeping on as
we are; and perhaps you will make a great success of it. I do want
you to try, Basil. If I could once feel that you had fairly seen what
you could do in literature, I should die happy."
"Not immediately after, I hope," he suggested, taking the second
cup of coffee she had been pouring out for him. "And Boston?"
"We needn't make a complete break. We can keep this place for the
present, anyway; we could let it for the winter, and come back in the
summer next year. It would be change enough from New York."
"Fulkerson and I hadn't got as far as to talk of a vacation."
"No matter. The children and I could come. And if you didn't like
New York, or the enterprise failed, you could get into something in
Boston again; and we have enough to live on till you did. Yes, Basil,
"I can see by the way your chin trembles that nothing could stop
you. You may go to New York if you wish, Isabel, but I shall stay
"Be serious, Basil. I'm in earnest."
"Serious? If I were any more serious I should shed tears. Come,
my dear, I know what you mean, and if I had my heart set on this
thing-- Fulkerson always calls it 'this thing' I would cheerfully
accept any sacrifice you could make to it. But I'd rather not offer
you up on a shrine I don't feel any particular faith in. I'm very
comfortable where I am; that is, I know just where the pinch comes,
and if it comes harder, why, I've got used to bearing that kind of
pinch. I'm too old to change pinches."
"Now, that does decide me."
"It decides me, too."
"I will take all the responsibility, Basil," she pleaded.
"Oh yes; but you'll hand it back to me as soon as you've carried
your point with it. There's nothing mean about you, Isabel, where
responsibility is concerned. No; if I do this thing--Fulkerson again?
I can't get away from 'this thing'; it's ominous--I must do it because
I want to do it, and not because you wish that you wanted me to do it.
I understand your position, Isabel, and that you're really acting from
a generous impulse, but there's nothing so precarious at our time of
life as a generous impulse. When we were younger we could stand it;
we could give way to it and take the consequences. But now we can't
bear it. We must act from cold reason even in the ardor of
"Oh, as if you did that!" his wife retorted.
"Is that any cause why you shouldn't?" She could not say that it
was, and he went on triumphantly:
"No, I won't take you away from the only safe place on the planet
and plunge you into the most perilous, and then have you say in your
revulsion of feeling that you were all against it from the first, and
you gave way because you saw I had my heart set on it." He supposed
he was treating the matter humorously, but in this sort of banter
between husband and wife there is always much more than the joking.
March had seen some pretty feminine inconsistencies and trepidations
which once charmed him in his wife hardening into traits of middle-age
which were very like those of less interesting older women. The sight
moved him with a kind of pathos, but he felt the result hindering and
She now retorted that if he did not choose to take her at her word
be need not, but that whatever he did she should have nothing to
reproach herself with; and, at least, he could not say that she had
trapped him into anything.
"What do you mean by trapping?" he demanded.
"I don't know what you call it," she answered; "but when you get me
to commit myself to a thing by leaving out the most essential point, I
call it trapping."
"I wonder you stop at trapping, if you think I got you to favor
Fulkerson's scheme and then sprung New York on you. I don't suppose
you do, though. But I guess we won't talk about it any more."
He went out for a long walk, and she went to her room. They
lunched silently together in the presence of their children, who knew
that they had been quarrelling, but were easily indifferent to the
fact, as children get to be in such cases; nature defends their youth,
and the unhappiness which they behold does not infect them. In the
evening, after the boy and girl had gone to bed, the father and mother
resumed their talk. He would have liked to take it up at the point
from which it wandered into hostilities, for he felt it lamentable
that a matter which so seriously concerned them should be confused in
the fumes of senseless anger; and he was willing to make a tacit
acknowledgment of his own error by recurring to the question, but she
would not be content with this, and he had to concede explicitly to
her weakness that she really meant it when she had asked him to accept
Fulkerson's offer. He said he knew that; and he began soberly to talk
over their prospects in the event of their going to New York.
"Oh, I see you are going!" she twitted.
"I'm going to stay," he answered, "and let them turn me out of my
agency here," and in this bitterness their talk ended.
His wife made no attempt to renew their talk before March went to
his business in the morning, and they parted in dry offence. Their
experience was that these things always came right of themselves at
last, and they usually let them. He knew that she had really tried to
consent to a thing that was repugnant to her, and in his heart he gave
her more credit for the effort than he had allowed her openly. She
knew that she had made it with the reservation he accused her of, and
that he had a right to feel sore at what she could not help. But he
left her to brood over his ingratitude, and she suffered him to go
heavy and unfriended to meet the chances of the day. He said to
himself that if she had assented cordially to the conditions of
Fulkerson's offer, he would have had the courage to take all the other
risks himself, and would have had the satisfaction of resigning his
place. As it was, he must wait till he was removed; and he figured
with bitter pleasure the pain she would feel when he came home some
day and told her he had been supplanted, after it was too late to
close with Fulkerson.
He found a letter on his desk from the secretary, "Dictated," in
typewriting, which briefly informed him that Mr. Hubbell, the
Inspector of Agencies, would be in Boston on Wednesday, and would call
at his office during the forenoon. The letter was not different in
tone from many that he had formerly received; but the visit announced
was out of the usual order, and March believed he read his fate in it.
During the eighteen years of his connection with it--first as a
subordinate in the Boston office, and finally as its general agent
there--he had seen a good many changes in the Reciprocity; presidents,
vice-presidents, actuaries, and general agents had come and gone, but
there had always seemed to be a recognition of his efficiency, or at
least sufficiency, and there had never been any manner of trouble, no
question of accounts, no apparent dissatisfaction with his management,
until latterly, when there had begun to come from headquarters some
suggestions of enterprise in certain ways, which gave him his first
suspicions of his clerk Watkins's willingness to succeed him; they
embodied some of Watkins's ideas. The things proposed seemed to March
undignified, and even vulgar; he had never thought himself wanting in
energy, though probably he had left the business to take its own
course in the old lines more than he realized. Things had always gone
so smoothly that he had sometimes fancied a peculiar regard for him in
the management, which he had the weakness to attribute to an
appreciation of what he occasionally did in literature, though in
saner moments he felt how impossible this was. Beyond a reference
from Mr. Hubbell to some piece of March's which had happened to meet
his eye, no one in the management ever gave a sign of consciousness
that their service was adorned by an obscure literary man; and Mr.
Hubbell himself had the effect of regarding the excursions of March's
pen as a sort of joke, and of winking at them; as he might have winked
if once in a way he had found him a little the gayer for dining.
March wore through the day gloomily, but he had it on his
conscience not to show any resentment toward Watkins, whom he
suspected of wishing to supplant him, and even of working to do so.
Through this self-denial he reached a better mind concerning his
wife. He determined not to make her suffer needlessly, if the worst
came to the worst; she would suffer enough, at the best, and till the
worst came he would spare her, and not say anything about the letter
he had got.
But when they met, her first glance divined that something had
happened, and her first question frustrated his generous intention.
He had to tell her about the letter. She would not allow that it had
any significance, but she wished him to make an end of his anxieties
and forestall whatever it might portend by resigning his place at
once. She said she was quite ready to go to New York; she had been
thinking it all over, and now she really wanted to go. He answered,
soberly, that he had thought it over, too; and he did not wish to
leave Boston, where he had lived so long, or try a new way of life if
he could help it. He insisted that he was quite selfish in this; in
their concessions their quarrel vanished; they agreed that whatever
happened would be for the best; and the next day be went to his office
fortified for any event.
His destiny, if tragical, presented itself with an aspect which he
might have found comic if it had been another's destiny. Mr. Hubbell
brought March's removal, softened in the guise of a promotion. The
management at New York, it appeared, had acted upon a suggestion of
Mr. Hubbell's, and now authorized him to offer March the editorship of
the monthly paper published in the interest of the company; his office
would include the authorship of circulars and leaflets in behalf of
life-insurance, and would give play to the literary talent which Mr.
Hubbell had brought to the attention of the management; his salary
would be nearly as much as at present, but the work would not take his
whole time, and in a place like New York he could get a great deal of
outside writing, which they would not object to his doing.
Mr. Hubbell seemed so sure of his acceptance of a place in every
way congenial to a man of literary tastes that March was afterward
sorry he dismissed the proposition with obvious irony, and had
needlessly hurt Hubbell's feelings; but Mrs. March had no such
regrets. She was only afraid that he had not made his rejection
contemptuous enough. "And now," she said, "telegraph Mr. Fulkerson,
and we will go at once."
"I suppose I could still get Watkins's former place," March
"Never!" she retorted. "Telegraph instantly!"
They were only afraid now that Fulkerson might have changed his
mind, and they had a wretched day in which they heard nothing from
him. It ended with his answering March's telegram in person. They
were so glad of his coming, and so touched by his satisfaction with
his bargain, that they laid all the facts of the case before him. He
entered fully into March's sense of the joke latent in Mr. Hubbell's
proposition, and he tried to make Mrs. March believe that he shared
her resentment of the indignity offered her husband.
March made a show of willingness to release him in view of the
changed situation, saying that he held him to nothing. Fulkerson
laughed, and asked him how soon he thought he could come on to New
York. He refused to reopen the question of March's fitness with him;
he said they, had gone into that thoroughly, but he recurred to it
with Mrs. March, and confirmed her belief in his good sense on all
points. She had been from the first moment defiantly confident of her
husband's ability, but till she had talked the matter over with
Fulkerson she was secretly not sure of it; or, at least, she was not
sure that March was not right in distrusting himself. When she
clearly understood, now, what Fulkerson intended, she had no longer a
doubt. He explained how the enterprise differed from others, and how
he needed for its direction a man who combined general business
experience and business ideas with a love for the thing and a natural
aptness for it. He did not want a young man, and yet he wanted
youth--its freshness, its zest--such as March would feel in a thing he
could put his whole heart into. He would not run in ruts, like an old
fellow who had got hackneyed; he would not have any hobbies; he would
not have any friends or any enemies. Besides, he would have to meet
people, and March was a man that people took to; she knew that
herself; he had a kind of charm. The editorial management was going
to be kept in the background, as far as the public was concerned; the
public was to suppose that the thing ran itself. Fulkerson did not
care for a great literary reputation in his editor--he implied that
March had a very pretty little one. At the same time the relations
between the contributors and the management were to be much more,
intimate than usual. Fulkerson felt his personal disqualification for
working the thing socially, and he counted upon Mr. March for that;
that was to say, he counted upon Mrs. March.
She protested he must not count upon her; but it by no means
disabled Fulkerson's judgment in her view that March really seemed
more than anything else a fancy of his. He had been a fancy of hers;
and the sort of affectionate respect with which Fulkerson spoke of him
laid forever some doubt she had of the fineness of Fulkerson's manners
and reconciled her to the graphic slanginess of his speech.
The affair was now irretrievable, but she gave her approval to it
as superbly as if it were submitted in its inception. Only, Mr.
Fulkerson must not suppose she should ever like New York. She would
not deceive him on that point. She never should like it. She did not
conceal, either, that she did not like taking the children out of the
Friday afternoon class; and she did not believe that Tom would ever be
reconciled to going to Columbia. She took courage from Fulkerson's
suggestion that it was possible for Tom to come to Harvard even from
New York; and she heaped him with questions concerning the
domiciliation of the family in that city. He tried to know something
about the matter, and he succeeded in seeming interested in points
necessarily indifferent to him.
In the uprooting and transplanting of their home that followed,
Mrs. March often trembled before distant problems and possible
contingencies, but she was never troubled by present difficulties.
She kept up with tireless energy; and in the moments of dejection and
misgiving which harassed her husband she remained dauntless, and put
heart into him when he had lost it altogether.
She arranged to leave the children in the house with the servants,
while she went on with March to look up a dwelling of some sort in New
York. It made him sick to think of it; and, when it came to the point,
he would rather have given up the whole enterprise. She had to nerve
him to it, to represent more than once that now they had no choice but
to make this experiment. Every detail of parting was anguish to him.
He got consolation out of the notion of letting the house furnished
for the winter; that implied their return to it, but it cost him pangs
of the keenest misery to advertise it; and, when a tenant was actually
found, it was all he could do to give him the lease. He tried his
wife's love and patience as a man must to whom the future is easy in
the mass but terrible as it translates itself piecemeal into the
present. He experienced remorse in the presence of inanimate things
he was going to leave as if they had sensibly reproached him, and an
anticipative homesickness that seemed to stop his heart. Again and
again his wife had to make him reflect that his depression was not
prophetic. She convinced him of what he already knew, and persuaded
him against his knowledge that he could be keeping an eye out for
something to take hold of in Boston if they could not stand New York.
She ended by telling him that it was too bad to make her comfort him
in a trial that was really so much more a trial to her. She had to
support him in a last access of despair on their way to the Albany
depot the morning they started to New York; but when the final details
had been dealt with, the tickets bought, the trunks checked, and the
handbags hung up in their car, and the future had massed itself again
at a safe distance and was seven hours and two hundred miles away, his
spirits began to rise and hers to sink. He would have been willing to
celebrate the taste, the domestic refinement, of the ladies'
waiting-room in the depot, where they had spent a quarter of an hour
before the train started. He said he did not believe there was
another station in the world where mahogany rocking-chairs were
provided; that the dull-red warmth of the walls was as cozy as an
evening lamp, and that he always hoped to see a fire kindled on that
vast hearth and under that aesthetic mantel, but he supposed now he
never should. He said it was all very different from that tunnel, the
old Albany depot, where they had waited the morning they went to New
York when they were starting on their wedding journey.
"The morning, Basil!" cried his wife. "We went at night; and we
were going to take the boat, but it stormed so!" She gave him a
glance of such reproach that he could not answer anything, and now she
asked him whether he supposed their cook and second girl would be
contented with one of those dark holes where they put girls to sleep
in New York flats, and what she should do if Margaret, especially,
left her. He ventured to suggest that Margaret would probably like
the city; but, if she left, there were plenty of other girls to be had
in New York. She replied that there were none she could trust, and
that she knew Margaret would not stay. He asked her why she took her,
then--why she did not give her up at once; and she answered that it
would be inhuman to give her up just in the edge of the winter. She
had promised to keep her; and Margaret was pleased with the notion of
going to New York, where she had a cousin.
"Then perhaps she'll be pleased with the notion of staying," he
"Oh, much you know about it!" she retorted; and, in view of the
hypothetical difficulty and his want of sympathy, she fell into a
gloom, from which she roused herself at last by declaring that, if
there was nothing else in the flat they took, there should be a light
kitchen and a bright, sunny bedroom for Margaret. He expressed the
belief that they could easily find such a flat as that, and she
denounced his fatal optimism, which buoyed him up in the absence of an
undertaking and let him drop into the depths of despair in its
He owned this defect of temperament, but he said that it
compensated the opposite in her character. "I suppose that's one of
the chief uses of marriage; people supplement one another, and form a
pretty fair sort of human being together. The only drawback to the
theory is that unmarried people seem each as complete and whole as a
She refused to be amused; she turned her face to the window and put
her handkerchief up under her veil.
It was not till the dining-car was attached to their train that
they were both able to escape for an hour into the care-free mood of
their earlier travels, when they were so easily taken out of
themselves. The time had been when they could have found enough in
the conjectural fortunes and characters of their fellow-passengers to
occupy them. This phase of their youth had lasted long, and the world
was still full of novelty and interest for them; but it required all
the charm of the dining-car now to lay the anxieties that beset them.
It was so potent for the moment, however, that they could take an
objective view at their sitting cozily down there together, as if they
had only themselves in the world. They wondered what the children
were doing, the children who possessed them so intensely when present,
and now, by a fantastic operation of absence, seemed almost
non-existents. They tried to be homesick for them, but failed; they
recognized with comfortable self-abhorrence that this was terrible,
but owned a fascination in being alone; at the same time, they could
not imagine how people felt who never had any children. They
contrasted the luxury of dining that way, with every advantage except
a band of music, and the old way of rushing out to snatch a fearful
joy at the lunch-counters of the Worcesier and Springfield and New
Haven stations. They had not gone often to New York since their
wedding journey, but they had gone often enough to have noted the
change from the lunch-counter to the lunch-basket brought in the
train, from which you could subsist with more ease and dignity, but
seemed destined to a superabundance of pickles, whatever you ordered.
They thought well of themselves now that they could be both
critical and tolerant of flavors not very sharply distinguished from
one another in their dinner, and they lingered over their coffee and
watched the autumn landscape through the windows.
"Not quite so loud a pattern of calico this year," he said, with
patronizing forbearance toward the painted woodlands whirling by. "Do
you see how the foreground next the train rushes from us and the
background keeps ahead of us, while the middle distance seems
stationary? I don't think I ever noticed that effect before. There
ought to be something literary in it: retreating past and advancing
future and deceitfully permanent present--something like that?"
His wife brushed some crumbs from her lap before rising. "Yes.
You mustn't waste any of these ideas now."
"Oh no; it would be money out of Fulkerson's pocket."
They went to a quiet hotel far down-town, and took a small
apartment which they thought they could easily afford for the day or
two they need spend in looking up a furnished flat. They were used to
staying at this hotel when they came on for a little outing in New
York, after some rigid winter in Boston, at the time of the spring
exhibitions. They were remembered there from year to year; the
colored call-boys, who never seemed to get any older, smiled upon
them, and the clerk called March by name even before he registered.
He asked if Mrs. March were with him, and said then he supposed they
would want their usual quarters; and in a moment they were
domesticated in a far interior that seemed to have been waiting for
them in a clean, quiet, patient disoccupation ever since they left it
two years before. The little parlor, with its gilt paper and ebonized
furniture, was the lightest of the rooms, but it was not very light at
noonday without the gas, which the bell-boy now flared up for them.
The uproar of the city came to it in a soothing murmur, and they took
possession of its peace and comfort with open celebration. After all,
they agreed, there was no place in the world so delightful as a hotel
apartment like that; the boasted charms of home were nothing to it;
and then the magic of its being always there, ready for any one, every
one, just as if it were for some one alone: it was like the experience
of an Arabian Nights hero come true for all the race.
"Oh, why can't we always stay here, just we two!" Mrs. March sighed
to her husband, as he came out of his room rubbing his face red with
the towel, while she studied a new arrangement of her bonnet and
handbag on the mantel.
"And ignore the past? I'm willing. I've no doubt that the
children could get on perfectly well without us, and could find some
lot in the scheme of Providence that would really be just as well for
"Yes; or could contrive somehow never to have existed. I should
insist upon that. If they are, don't you see that we couldn't wish
them not to be?"
"Oh yes; I see your point; it's simply incontrovertible."
She laughed and said: "Well, at any rate, if we can't find a flat
to suit us we can all crowd into these three rooms somehow, for the
winter, and then browse about for meals. By the week we could get
them much cheaper; and we could save on the eating, as they do in
Europe. Or on something else."
"Something else, probably," said March. "But we won't take this
apartment till the ideal furnished flat winks out altogether. We
shall not have any trouble. We can easily find some one who is going
South for the winter and will be glad to give up their flat 'to the
right party' at a nominal rent. That's my notion. That's what the
Evanses did one winter when they came on here in February. All but
the nominality of the rent."
"Yes, and we could pay a very good rent and still save something on
letting our house. You can settle yourselves in a hundred different
ways in New York, that is one merit of the place. But if everything
else fails, we can come back to this. I want you to take the refusal
of it, Basil. And we'll commence looking this very evening as soon as
we've had dinner. I cut a lot of things out of the Herald as we came
on. See here!"
She took a long strip of paper out of her hand-bag with minute
advertisements pinned transversely upon it, and forming the effect of
some glittering nondescript vertebrate.
"Looks something like the sea-serpent," said March, drying his
hands on the towel, while he glanced up and down the list. "But we
sha'n't have any trouble. I've no doubt there are half a dozen things
there that will do. You haven't gone up-town? Because we must be
near the 'Every Other Week' office."
"No; but I wish Mr. Fulkerson hadn't called it that! It always
makes one think of 'jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam
to-day,' in 'Through the Looking-Glass.' They're all in this region."
They were still at their table, beside a low window, where some
sort of never-blooming shrub symmetrically balanced itself in a large
pot, with a leaf to the right and a leaf to the left and a spear up
the middle, when Fulkerson came stepping square-footedly over the
thick dining-room carpet. He wagged in the air a gay hand of
salutation at sight of them, and of repression when they offered to
rise to meet him; then, with an apparent simultaneity of action he
gave a hand to each, pulled up a chair from the next table, put his
hat and stick on the floor beside it, and seated himself.
"Well, you've burned your ships behind you, sure enough," he said,
beaming his satisfaction upon them from eyes and teeth.
"The ships are burned," said March, " though I'm not sure we alone
did it. But here we are, looking for shelter, and a little anxious
about the disposition of the natives."
"Oh, they're an awful peaceable lot," said Fulkerson. "I've been
round among the caciques a little, and I think I've got two or three
places that will just suit you, Mrs. March. How did you leave the
"Oh, how kind of you! Very well, and very proud to be left in
charge of the smoking wrecks."
Fulkerson naturally paid no attention to what she said, being but
secondarily interested in the children at the best. "Here are some
things right in this neighborhood, within gunshot of the office, and
if you want you can go and look at them to-night; the agents gave me
houses where the people would be in."
"We will go and look at them instantly," said Mrs. March. "Or, as
soon as you've had coffee with us."
"Never do," Fulkerson replied. He gathered up his hat and stick.
"Just rushed in to say Hello, and got to run right away again. I
tell you, March, things are humming. I'm after those fellows with a
sharp stick all the while to keep them from loafing on my house, and
at the same time I'm just bubbling over with ideas about 'The Lone
Hand--wish we could call it that!--that I want to talk up with you."
"Well, come to breakfast," said Mrs. March, cordially.
"No; the ideas will keep till you've secured your lodge in this
vast wilderness. Good-bye."
"You're as nice as you can be, Mr. Fulkerson," she said, "to keep
us in mind when you have so much to occupy you."
"I wouldn't have anything to occupy me if I hadn't kept you in
mind, Mrs. March," said Fulkerson, going off upon as good a speech as
he could apparently hope to make.
"Why, Basil," said Mrs. March, when he was gone, "he's charming!.
But now we mustn't lose an instant. Let's see where the places are."
She ran over the half-dozen agents' permits. "Capital-first-rate-the
very thing-every one. Well, I consider ourselves settled! We can go
back to the children to-morrow if we like, though I rather think I
should like to stay over another day and get a little rested for the
final pulling up that's got to come. But this simplifies everything
enormously, and Mr. Fulkerson is as thoughtful and as sweet as he can
be. I know you will get on well with him. He has such a good heart.
And his attitude toward you, Basil, is beautiful always--so
respectful; or not that so much as appreciative. Yes,
appreciative--that's the word; I must always keep that in mind."
"It's quite important to do so," said March.
"Yes," she assented, seriously, "and we must not forget just what
kind of flat we are going to look for. The 'sine qua nons' are an
elevator and steam heat, not above the third floor, to begin with.
Then we must each have a room, and you must have your study and I
must have my parlor; and the two girls must each have a room. With
the kitchen and dining room, how many does that make?"
"I thought eight. Well, no matter. You can work in the parlor,
and run into your bedroom when anybody comes; and I can sit in mine,
and the girls must put up with one, if it's large and sunny, though
I've always given them two at home. And the kitchen must be sunny, so
they can sit in it. And the rooms must all have outside light. Aud
the rent must not be over eight hundred for the winter. We only get a
thousand for our whole house, and we must save something out of that,
so as to cover the expenses of moving. Now, do you think you can
remember all that?"
"Not the half of it," said March. "But you can; or if you forget a
third of it, I can come in with my partial half and more than make it
She had brought her bonnet and sacque down-stairs with her, and was
transferring them from the hatrack to her person while she talked.
The friendly door-boy let them into the street, and the clear October
evening air brightened her so that as she tucked her hand under her
husband's arm and began to pull him along she said, "If we find
something right away-- and we're just as likely to get the right flat
soon as late; it's all a lottery--well go to the theatre somewhere."
She had a moment's panic about having left the agents' permits on
the table, and after remembering that she had put them into her little
shopping-bag, where she kept her money (each note crushed into a round
wad), and had heft it on the hat-rack, where it would certainly be
stolen, she found it on her wrist. She did not think that very funny;
but after a first impulse to inculpate her husband, she let him laugh,
while they stopped under a lamp and she held the permits half a yard
away to read the numbers on them.
"Where are your glasses, Isabel?"
"On the mantel in our room, of course."
"Then you ought to have brought a pair of tongs."
"I wouldn't get off second-hand jokes, Basil," she said; and "Why,
here!" she cried, whirling round to the door before which they had
halted, "this is the very number. Well, I do believe it's a sign!"
One of those colored men who soften the trade of janitor in many of
the smaller apartment-houses in New York by the sweetness of their
race let the Marches in, or, rather, welcomed them to the possession
of the premises by the bow with which he acknowledged their permit.
It was a large, old mansion cut up into five or six dwellings, but it
had kept some traits of its former dignity, which pleased people of
their sympathetic tastes. The dark-mahogany trim, of sufficiently
ugly design, gave a rich gloom to the hallway, which was wide and
paved with marble; the carpeted stairs curved aloft through a generous
"There is no elevator?" Mrs. March asked of the janitor.
He answered, "No, ma'am; only two flights up," so winningly that
"Oh!" in courteous apology, and whispered to her husband, as she
followed lightly up, "We'll take it, Basil, if it's like the rest."
"If it's like him, you mean."
"I don't wonder they wanted to own them," she hurriedly
philosophized. "If I had such a creature, nothing but death should
part us, and I should no more think of giving him his freedom!"
"No; we couldn't afford it," returned her husband.
The apartment which the janitor unlocked for them, and lit up from
those chandeliers and brackets of gilt brass in the form of vine
bunches, leaves, and tendrils in which the early gas-fitter realized
most of his conceptions of beauty, had rather more of the ugliness
than the dignity of the hall. But the rooms were large, and they
grouped themselves in a reminiscence of the time when they were part
of a dwelling that had its charm, its pathos, its impressiveness.
Where they were cut up into smaller spaces, it had been done with the
frankness with which a proud old family of fallen fortunes practises
its economies. The rough pine ~ floors showed a black border of
tack-heads where carpets had been lifted and put down for generations;
the white paint was yellow with age; the apartment had light at the
front and at the back, and two or three rooms had glimpses of the day
through small windows let into their corners; another one seemed
lifting an appealing eye to heaven through a glass circle in its
ceiling; the rest must darkle in perpetual twilight. Yet something
pleased in it all, and Mrs. March had gone far to adapt the different
rooms to the members of her family, when she suddenly thought (and for
her to think was to say), "Why, but there's no steam heat!"
"No, ma'am," the janitor admitted; "but dere's grates in most o' de
rooms, and dere's furnace heat in de halls."
"That's true," she admitted, and, having placed her family in the
apartments, it was hard to get them out again. "Could we manage?"
she referred to her husband.
"Why, I shouldn't care for the steam heat if--What is the rent?"
he broke off to ask the janitor.
"Nine hundred, sir."
March concluded to his wife, "If it were furnished."
"Why, of course! What could I have been thinking of? We're
looking for a furnished flat," she explained to the janitor, "and this
was so pleasant and homelike that I never thought whether it was
furnished or not."
She smiled upon the janitor, and he entered into the joke and
chuckled so amiably at her flattering oversight on the way down-stairs
that she said, as she pinched her husband's arm, "Now, if you don't
give him a quarter I'll never speak to you again, Basil!"
"I would have given half a dollar willingly to get you beyond his
glamour," said March, when they were safely on the pavement outside."
If it hadn't been for my strength of character, you'd have taken an
unfurnished flat without heat and with no elevator, at nine hundred a
year, when you had just sworn me to steam heat, an elevator,
furniture, and eight hundred."
"Yes! How could I have lost my head so completely?" she said, with
a lenient amusement in her aberration which she was not always able to
feel in her husband's.
"The next time a colored janitor opens the door to us, I'll tell
him the apartment doesn't suit at the threshold. It's the only way to
manage you, Isabel."
"It's true. I am in love with the whole race. I never saw one of
them that didn't have perfectly angelic manners. I think we shall all
be black in heaven--that is, black-souled."
"That isn't the usual theory," said March.
"Well, perhaps not," she assented. "Where are we going now? Oh
yes, to the Xenophon!"
She pulled him gayly along again, and after they had walked a block
down and half a block over they stood before the apartment-house of
that name, which was cut on the gas-lamps on either side of the
heavily spiked, aesthetic-hinged black door. The titter of an
electric-bell brought a large, fat Buttons, with a stage effect of
being dressed to look small, who said he would call the janitor, and
they waited in the dimly splendid, copper-colored interior, admiring
the whorls and waves into which the wallpaint was combed, till the
janitor came in his gold-banded cap, like a Continental porker. When
they said they would like to see Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment, he
owned his inability to cope with the affair, and said he must send for
the superintendent; he was either in the Herodotus or the Thucydides,
and would be there in a minute. The Buttons brought him--a Yankee of
browbeating presence in plain clothes-- almost before they had time to
exchange a frightened whisper in recognition of the fact that there
could be no doubt of the steam heat and elevator in this case. Half
stifled in the one, they mounted in the other eight stories, while
they tried to keep their self-respect under the gaze of the
superintendent, which they felt was classing and assessing them with
unfriendly accuracy. They could not, and they faltered abashed at the
threshold of Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment, while the
superintendent lit the gas in the gangway that he called a private
hall, and in the drawing-room and the succession of chambers
stretching rearward to the kitchen. Everything had, been done by the
architect to save space, and everything, to waste it by Mrs. Grosvenor
Green. She had conformed to a law for the necessity of turning round
in each room, and had folding-beds in the chambers, but there her
subordination had ended, and wherever you might have turned round she
had put a gimcrack so that you would knock it over if you did turn.
The place was rather pretty and even imposing at first glance, and it
took several joint ballots for March and his wife to make sure that
with the kitchen there were only six rooms. At every door hung a
portiere from large rings on a brass rod; every shelf and
dressing-case and mantel was littered with gimcracks, and the corners
of the tiny rooms were curtained off, and behind these portieres
swarmed more gimcracks. The front of the upright piano had what March
called a short-skirted portiere on it, and the top was covered with
vases, with dragon candlesticks and with Jap fans, which also expanded
themselves bat wise on the walls between the etchings and the water
colors. The floors were covered with filling, and then rugs and then
skins; the easy -chairs all had tidies, Armenian and Turkish and
Persian; the lounges and sofas had embroidered cushions hidden under
The radiator was concealed by a Jap screen, and over the top of
this some Arab scarfs were flung. There was a superabundance of
clocks. China pugs guarded the hearth; a brass sunflower smiled from
the top of either andiron, and a brass peacock spread its tail before
them inside a high filigree fender; on one side was a coalhod in
'repousse' brass, and on the other a wrought iron wood-basket. Some
red Japanese bird-kites were stuck about in the necks of spelter
vases, a crimson Jap umbrella hung opened beneath the chandelier, and
each globe had a shade of yellow silk.
March, when he had recovered his self-command a little in the
presence of the agglomeration, comforted himself by calling the
bric-a-brac Jamescracks, as if this was their full name.
The disrespect he was able to show the whole apartment by means of
this joke strengthened him to say boldly to the superintendent that it
was altogether too small; then he asked carelessly what the rent was.
"Two hundred and fifty."
The Marches gave a start, and looked at each other.
"Don't you think we could make it do?" she asked him, and he could
see that she had mentally saved five hundred dollars as the difference
between the rent of their house and that of this flat. "It has some
very pretty features, and we could manage to squeeze in, couldn't we?"
"You won't find another furnished flat like it for no two-fifty a
month in the whole city," the superintendent put in.
They exchanged glances again, and March said, carelessly, "It's too
"There's a vacant flat in the Herodotus for eighteen hundred a
year, and one in the Thucydides for fifteen," the superintendent
suggested, clicking his keys together as they sank down in the
elevator; "seven rooms and bath."
"Thank you," said March; "we're looking for a furnished flat."
They felt that the superintendent parted from them with repressed
"Oh, Basil, do you think we really made him think it was the
smallness and not the dearness?"
" No, but we saved our self-respect in the attempt; and that's a
"Of course, I wouldn't have taken it, anyway, with only six rooms,
and so high up. But what prices! Now, we must be very circumspect
about the next place."
It was a janitress, large, fat, with her arms wound up in her
apron, who received them there. Mrs. March gave her a succinct but
perfect statement of their needs. She failed to grasp the nature of
them, or feigned to do so. She shook her head, and said that her son
would show them the flat. There was a radiator visible in the narrow
hall, and Isabel tacitly compromised on steam heat without an
elevator, as the flat was only one flight up. When the son appeared
from below with a small kerosene hand-lamp, it appeared that the flat
was unfurnished, but there was no stopping him till he had shown it in
all its impossibility. When they got safely away from it and into the
street March said: "Well, have you had enough for to-night, Isabel?
Shall we go to the theatre now?"
"Not on any account. I want to see the whole list of flats that
Mr. Fulkerson thought would be the very thing for us." She laughed,
but with a certain bitterness.
"You'll be calling him my Mr. Fulkerson next, Isabel."
The fourth address was a furnished flat without a kitchen, in a
house with a general restaurant. The fifth was a furnished house. At
the sixth a pathetic widow and her pretty daughter wanted to take a
family to board, and would give them a private table at a rate which
the Marches would have thought low in Boston.
Mrs. March came away tingling with compassion for their evident
anxiety, and this pity naturally soured into a sense of injury.
"Well, I must say I have completely lost confidence in Mr.
Fulkerson's judgment. Anything more utterly different from what I
told him we wanted I couldn't imagine. If he doesn't manage any better
about his business than he has done about this, it will be a perfect
"Well, well, let's hope he'll be more circumspect about that," her
husband returned, with ironical propitiation. "But I don't think it's
Fulkerson's fault altogether. Perhaps it's the house-agents'.
They're a very illusory generation. There seems to be something in
the human habitation that corrupts the natures of those who deal in
it, to buy or sell it, to hire or let it. You go to an agent and tell
him what kind of a house you want. He has no such house, and he sends
you to look at something altogether different, upon the
well-ascertained principle that if you can't get what you want you
will take what you can get. You don't suppose the 'party' that took
our house in Boston was looking for any such house? He was looking
for a totally different kind of house in another part of the town."
"I don't believe that!" his wife broke in.
"Well, no matter. But see what a scandalous rent you asked for
"We didn't get much more than half; and, besides, the agent told me
to ask fourteen hundred."
"Oh, I'm not blaming you, Isabel. I'm only analyzing the
house-agent and exonerating Fulkerson."
"Well, I don't believe he told them just what we wanted; and, at
any rate, I'm done with agents. Tomorrow I'm going entirely by
Mrs. March took the vertebrate with her to the Vienna Coffee-House,
where they went to breakfast next morning. She made March buy her the
Herald and the World, and she added to its spiny convolutions from
them. She read the new advertisements aloud with ardor and with faith
to believe that the apartments described in them were every one
truthfully represented, and that any one of them was richly responsive
to their needs. "Elegant, light, large, single and outside flats"
were offered with "all improvements--bath, ice-box, etc."--for
twenty-five to thirty dollars a month. The cheapness was amazing.
The Wagram, the Esmeralda, the Jacinth, advertised them for forty
dollars and sixty dollars, "with steam heat and elevator," rent free
till November. Others, attractive from their air of conscientious
scruple, announced "first-class flats; good order; reasonable rents."
The Helena asked the reader if she had seen the "cabinet finish,
hard-wood floors, and frescoed ceilings" of its fifty-dollar flats;
the Asteroid affirmed that such apartments, with "six light rooms and
bath, porcelain wash-tubs, electric bells, and hall-boy," as it
offered for seventy-five dollars were unapproached by competition.
There was a sameness in the jargon which tended to confusion. Mrs.
March got several flats on her list which promised neither steam heat
nor elevators; she forgot herself so far as to include two or three as
remote from the down-town region of her choice as Harlem. But after
she had rejected these the nondescript vertebrate was still voluminous
enough to sustain her buoyant hopes.
The waiter, who remembered them from year to year, had put them at
a window giving a pretty good section of Broadway, and before they set
out on their search they had a moment of reminiscence. They recalled
the Broadway of five, of ten, of twenty years ago, swelling and
roaring with a tide of gayly painted omnibuses and of picturesque
traffic that the horsecars have now banished from it. The grind of
their wheels and the clash of their harsh bells imperfectly fill the
silence that the omnibuses have left, and the eye misses the
tumultuous perspective of former times.
They went out and stood for a moment before Grace Church, and
looked down the stately thoroughfare, and found it no longer
impressive, no longer characteristic. It is still Broadway in name,
but now it is like any other street. You do not now take your life in
your hand when you attempt to cross it; the Broadway policeman who
supported the elbow of timorous beauty in the hollow of his
cotton-gloved palm and guided its little fearful boots over the
crossing, while he arrested the billowy omnibuses on either side with
an imperious glance, is gone, and all that certain processional,
barbaric gayety of the place is gone.
"Palmyra, Baalbec, Timour of the Desert," said March, voicing their
common feeling of the change.
They turned and went into the beautiful church, and found
themselves in time for the matin service. Rapt far from New York, if
not from earth, in the dim richness of the painted light, the hallowed
music took them with solemn ecstasy; the aerial, aspiring Gothic forms
seemed to lift them heavenward. They came out, reluctant, into the
dazzle and bustle of the street, with a feeling that they were too
good for it, which they confessed to each other with whimsical
"But no matter how consecrated we feel now," he said, "we mustn't
forget that we went into the church for precisely the same reason that
we went to the Vienna Caf‚ for breakfast--to gratify an aesthetic
sense, to renew the faded pleasure of travel for a moment, to get back
into the Europe of our youth. It was a purely Pagan impulse, Isabel,
and we'd better own it."
"I don't know," she returned. "I think we reduce ourselves to the
bare bones too much. I wish we didn't always recognize the facts as
we do. Sometimes I should like to blink them. I should like to think
I was devouter than I am, and younger and prettier."
"Better not; you couldn't keep it up. Honesty is the best policy
even in such things."
"No; I don't like it, Basil. I should rather wait till the last
day for some of my motives to come to the top. I know they're always
mixed, but do let me give them the benefit of a doubt sometimes."
"Well, well, have it your own way, my dear. But I prefer not to
lay up so many disagreeable surprises for myself at that time."
She would not consent. "I know I am a good deal younger than I
was. I feel quite in the mood of that morning when we walked down
Broadway on our wedding journey. Don't you?"
"Oh yes. But I know I'm not younger; I'm only prettier."
She laughed for pleasure in his joke, and also for unconscious joy
in the gay New York weather, in which there was no 'arriere pensee' of
the east wind. They had crossed Broadway, and were walking over to
Washington Square, in the region of which they now hoped to place
themselves. The 'primo tenore' statue of Garibaldi had already taken
possession of the place in the name of Latin progress, and they met
Italian faces, French faces, Spanish faces, as they strolled over the
asphalt walks, under the thinning shadows of the autumn-stricken
sycamores. They met the familiar picturesque raggedness of Southern
Europe with the old kindly illusion that somehow it existed for their
appreciation, and that it found adequate compensation for poverty in
this. March thought he sufficiently expressed his tacit sympathy in
sitting down on one of the iron benches with his wife and letting a
little Neapolitan put a superfluous shine on his boots, while their
desultory comment wandered with equal esteem to the old-fashioned
American respectability which keeps the north side of the square in
vast mansions of red brick, and the international shabbiness which has
invaded the southern border, and broken it up into lodging-houses,
shops, beer-gardens, and studios.
They noticed the sign of an apartment to let on the north side, and
as soon as the little bootblack could be bought off they went over to
look at it. The janitor met them at the door and examined them. Then
he said, as if still in doubt, "It has ten rooms, and the rent is
twenty- eight hundred dollars."
"It wouldn't do, then," March replied, and left him to divide the
responsibility between the paucity of the rooms and the enormity of
the rent as he best might. But their self-love had received a wound,
and they questioned each other what it was in their appearance made
him doubt their ability to pay so much.
"Of course, we don't look like New-Yorkers," sighed Mrs. March,
"and we've walked through the Square. That might be as if we had
walked along the Park Street mall in the Common before we came out on
Beacon. Do you suppose he could have seen you getting your boots
blacked in that way?"
"It's useless to ask," said March. "But I never can recover from
"Oh, pshaw! You know you hate such things as badly as I do. It
was very impertinent of him."
"Let us go back and 'ecraser l'infame' by paying him a year's rent
in advance and taking immediate possession. Nothing else can soothe
my wounded feelings. You were not having your boots blacked: why
shouldn't he have supposed you were a New-Yorker, and I a country
"They always know. Don't you remember Mrs. Williams's going to a
Fifth Avenue milliner in a Worth dress, and the woman's asking her
instantly what hotel she should send her hat to?"
"Yes; these things drive one to despair. I don't wonder the bodies
of so many genteel strangers are found in the waters around New York.
Shall we try the south side, my dear? or had we better go back to
our rooms and rest awhile?"
Mrs. March had out the vertebrate, and was consulting one of its
glittering ribs and glancing up from it at a house before which they
stood. "Yes, it's the number; but do they call this being ready
October first?" The little area in front of the basement was heaped
with a mixture of mortar, bricks, laths, and shavings from the
interior; the brownstone steps to the front door were similarly
bestrewn; the doorway showed the half-open, rough pine carpenter's
sketch of an unfinished house; the sashless windows of every story
showed the activity of workmen within; the clatter of hammers and the
hiss of saws came out to them from every opening.
"They may call it October first," said March, "because it's too
late to contradict them. But they'd better not call it December first
in my presence; I'll let them say January first, at a pinch."
"We will go in and look at it, anyway," said his wife; and he
admired how, when she was once within, she began provisionally to
settle the family in each of the several floors with the female
instinct for domiciliation which never failed her. She had the help
of the landlord, who was present to urge forward the workmen
apparently; he lent a hopeful fancy to the solution of all her
questions. To get her from under his influence March had to represent
that the place was damp from undried plastering, and that if she
stayed she would probably be down with that New York pneumonia which
visiting Bostonians are always dying of. Once safely on the pavement
outside, she realized that the apartment was not only unfinished, but
unfurnished, and had neither steam heat nor elevator. "But I thought
we had better look at everything," she explained.
"Yes, but not take everything. If I hadn't pulled you away from
there by main force you'd have not only died of New York pneumonia on
the spot, but you'd have had us all settled there before we knew what
we were about."
"Well, that's what I can't help, Basil. It's the only way I can
realize whether it will do for us. I have to dramatize the whole
She got a deal of pleasure as well as excitement out of this, and
he had to own that the process of setting up housekeeping in so many
different places was not only entertaining, but tended, through
association with their first beginnings in housekeeping, to restore
the image of their early married days and to make them young again.
It went on all day, and continued far into the night, until it was
too late to go to the theatre, too late to do anything but tumble into
bed and simultaneously fall asleep. They groaned over their
reiterated disappointments, but they could not deny that the interest
was unfailing, and that they got a great deal of fun out of it all.
Nothing could abate Mrs. March's faith in her advertisements. One of
them sent her to a flat of ten rooms which promised to be the solution
of all their difficulties; it proved to be over a livery-stable, a
liquor store, and a milliner's shop, none of the first fashion.
Another led them far into old Greenwich Village to an
apartment-house, which she refused to enter behind a small girl with a
loaf of bread under one arm and a quart can of milk under the other.
In their search they were obliged, as March complained, to the
acquisition of useless information in a degree unequalled in their
experience. They came to excel in the sad knowledge of the line at
which respectability distinguishes itself from shabbiness. Flattering
advertisements took them to numbers of huge apartment-houses chiefly
distinguishable from tenement-houses by the absence of fire-escapes on
their facades, till Mrs. March refused to stop at any door where there
were more than six bell-ratchets and speaking-tubes on either hand.
Before the middle of the afternoon she decided against ratchets
altogether, and confined herself to knobs, neatly set in the
door-trim. Her husband was still sunk in the superstition that you can
live anywhere you like in New York, and he would have paused at some
places where her quicker eye caught the fatal sign of "Modes" in the
ground-floor windows. She found that there was an east and west line
beyond which they could not go if they wished to keep their
self-respect, and that within the region to which they had restricted
themselves there was a choice of streets. At first all the New York
streets looked to them ill-paved, dirty, and repulsive; the general
infamy imparted itself in their casual impression to streets in no
wise guilty. But they began to notice that some streets were quiet
and clean, and, though never so quiet and clean as Boston streets,
that they wore an air of encouraging reform, and suggested a future of
greater and greater domesticity. Whole blocks of these downtown
cross-streets seemed to have been redeemed from decay, and even in the
midst of squalor a dwelling here and there had been seized, painted a
dull red as to its brick-work, and a glossy black as to its wood-work,
and with a bright brass bell-pull and door-knob and a large brass
plate for its key-hole escutcheon, had been endowed with an effect of
purity and pride which removed its shabby neighborhood far from it.
Some of these houses were quite small, and imaginably within their
means; but, as March said, some body seemed always to be living there
himself, and the fact that none of them was to rent kept Mrs. March
true to her ideal of a fiat. Nothing prevented its realization so
much as its difference from the New York ideal of a flat, which was
inflexibly seven rooms and a bath. One or two rooms might be at the
front, the rest crooked and cornered backward through in creasing and
then decreasing darkness till they reached a light bedroom or kitchen
at the rear. It might be the one or the other, but it was always the
seventh room with the bath; or if, as sometimes happened, it was the
eighth, it was so after having counted the bath as one; in this case
the janitor said you always counted the bath as one. If the flats
were advertised as having "all light rooms," he explained that any
room with a window giving into the open air of a court or shaft was
counted a light room.
The Marches tried to make out why it was that these flats were go
much more repulsive than the apartments which everyone lived in
abroad; but they could only do so upon the supposition that in their
European days they were too young, too happy, too full of the future,
to notice whether rooms were inside or outside, light or dark, big or
little, high or low. "Now we're imprisoned in the present," he said,
"and we have to make the worst of it."
In their despair he had an inspiration, which she declared worthy
of him: it was to take two small flats, of four or five rooms and a
bath, and live in both. They tried this in a great many places, but
they never could get two flats of the kind on the same floor where
there was steam heat and an elevator. At one place they almost did
it. They had resigned themselves to the humility of the neighborhood,
to the prevalence of modistes and livery-stablemen (they seem to
consort much in New York), to the garbage in the gutters and the
litter of paper in the streets, to the faltering slats in the
surrounding window-shutters and the crumbled brownstone steps and
sills, when it turned out that one of the apartments had been taken
between two visits they made. Then the only combination left open to
them was of a ground-floor flat to the right and a third-floor flat to
Still they kept this inspiration in reserve for use at the first
opportunity. In the mean time there were several flats which they
thought they could almost make do: notably one where they could get an
extra servant's room in the basement four flights down, and another
where they could get it in the roof five flights up. At the first the
janitor was respectful and enthusiastic; at the second he had an
effect of ironical pessimism. When they trembled on the verge of
taking his apartment, he pointed out a spot in the kalsomining of the
parlor ceiling, and gratuitously said, Now such a thing as that he
should not agree to put in shape unless they took the apartment for a
term of years. The apartment was unfurnished, and they recurred to the
fact that they wanted a furnished apartment, and made their escape.
This saved them in several other extremities; but short of extremity
they could not keep their different requirements in mind, and were
always about to decide without regard to some one of them.
They went to several places twice without intending: once to that
old- fashioned house with the pleasant colored janitor, and wandered
all over the apartment again with a haunting sense of familiarity, and
then recognized the janitor and laughed; and to that house with the
pathetic widow and the pretty daughter who wished to take them to
board. They stayed to excuse their blunder, and easily came by the
fact that the mother had taken the house that the girl might have a
home while she was in New York studying art, and they hoped to pay
their way by taking boarders. Her daughter was at her class now, the
mother concluded; and they encouraged her to believe that it could
only be a few days till the rest of her scheme was realized.
"I dare say we could be perfectly comfortable there," March
suggested when they had got away. "Now if we were truly humane we
would modify our desires to meet their needs and end this sickening
search, wouldn't we?"
"Yes, but we're not truly humane," his wife answered, "or at least
not in that sense. You know you hate boarding; and if we went there I
should have them on my sympathies the whole time."
"I see. And then you would take it out of me."
"Then I should take it out of you. And if you are going to be so
weak, Basil, and let every little thing work upon you in that way,
you'd better not come to New York. You'll see enough misery here."
"Well, don't take that superior tone with me, as if I were a child
that had its mind set on an undesirable toy, Isabel."
"Ah, don't you suppose it's because you are such a child in some
respects that I like you, dear?" she demanded, without relenting.
"But I don't find so much misery in New York. I don't suppose
there's any more suffering here to the population than there is in the
country. And they're so gay about it all. I think the outward aspect
of the place and the hilarity of the sky and air must get into the
people's blood. The weather is simply unapproachable; and I don't care
if it is the ugliest place in the world, as you say. I suppose it is.
It shrieks and yells with ugliness here and there but it never loses
its spirits. That widow is from the country. When she's been a year
in New York she'll be as gay--as gay as an L road." He celebrated a
satisfaction they both had in the L roads. "They kill the streets and
avenues, but at least they partially hide them, and that is some
comfort; and they do triumph over their prostrate forms with a savage
exultation that is intoxicating. Those bends in the L that you get in
the corner of Washington Square, or just below the Cooper
Institute--they're the gayest things in the world. Perfectly
atrocious, of course, but incomparably picturesque! And the whole
city is so," said March, "or else the L would never have got built
here. New York may be splendidly gay or squalidly gay; but, prince or
pauper, it's gay always."
"Yes, gay is the word," she admitted, with a sigh. "But frantic.
I can't get used to it. They forget death, Basil; they forget death
in New York."
"Well, I don't know that I've ever found much advantage in
"Don't say such a thing, dearest."
He could see that she had got to the end of her nervous strength
for the present, and he proposed that they should take the Elevated
road as far as it would carry them into the country, and shake off
their nightmare of flat-hunting for an hour or two; but her conscience
would not let her. She convicted him of levity equal to that of the
New-Yorkers in proposing such a thing; and they dragged through the
day. She was too tired to care for dinner, and in the night she had a
dream from which she woke herself with a cry that roused him, too. It
was something about the children at first, whom they had talked of
wistfully before falling asleep, and then it was of a hideous thing
with two square eyes and a series of sections growing darker and then
lighter, till the tail of the monstrous articulate was quite luminous
again. She shuddered at the vague description she was able to give;
but he asked, "Did it offer to bite you?"
"No. That was the most frightful thing about it; it had no mouth."
March laughed. "Why, my dear, it was nothing but a harmless New
York flat--seven rooms and a bath."
"I really believe it was," she consented, recognizing an
architectural resemblance, and she fell asleep again, and woke renewed
for the work before them.
Their house-hunting no longer had novelty, but it still had
interest; and they varied their day by taking a coupe, by renouncing
advertisements, and by reverting to agents. Some of these induced
them to consider the idea of furnished houses; and Mrs. March learned
tolerance for Fulkerson by accepting permits to visit flats and houses
which had none of the qualifications she desired in either, and were
as far beyond her means as they were out of the region to which she
had geographically restricted herself. They looked at three-thousand
and four-thousand dollar apartments, and rejected them for one reason
or another which had nothing to do with the rent; the higher the rent
was, the more critical they were of the slippery inlaid floors and the
arrangement of the richly decorated rooms. They never knew whether
they had deceived the janitor or not; as they came in a coupe, they
hoped they had.
They drove accidentally through one street that seemed gayer in the
perspective than an L road. The fire-escapes, with their light iron
balconies and ladders of iron, decorated the lofty house fronts; the
roadway and sidewalks and door-steps swarmed with children; women's
heads seemed to show at every window. In the basements, over which
flights of high stone steps led to the tenements, were green-grocers'
shops abounding in cabbages, and provision stores running chiefly to
bacon and sausages, and cobblers' and tinners' shops, and the like, in
proportion to the small needs of a poor neighborhood. Ash barrels
lined the sidewalks, and garbage heaps filled the gutters; teams of
all trades stood idly about; a peddler of cheap fruit urged his cart
through the street, and mixed his cry with the joyous screams and
shouts of the children and the scolding and gossiping voices of the
women; the burly blue bulk of a policeman defined itself at the
corner; a drunkard zigzagged down the sidewalk toward him. It was not
the abode of the extremest poverty, but of a poverty as hopeless as
any in the world, transmitting itself from generation to generation,
and establishing conditions of permanency to which human life adjusts
itself as it does to those of some incurable disease, like leprosy.
The time had been when the Marches would have taken a purely
aesthetic view of the facts as they glimpsed them in this street of
tenement- houses; when they would have contented themselves with
saying that it was as picturesque as a street in Naples or Florence,
and with wondering why nobody came to paint it; they would have
thought they were sufficiently serious about it in blaming the artists
for their failure to appreciate it, and going abroad for the
picturesque when they had it here under their noses. It was to the
nose that the street made one of its strongest appeals, and Mrs. March
pulled up her window of the coupe. "Why does he take us through such a
disgusting street?" she demanded, with an exasperation of which her
husband divined the origin.
"This driver may be a philanthropist in disguise," he answered,
with dreamy irony, "and may want us to think about the people who are
not merely carried through this street in a coupe, but have to spend
their whole lives in it, winter and summer, with no hopes of driving
out of it, except in a hearse. I must say they don't seem to mind it.
I haven't seen a jollier crowd anywhere in New York. They seem to
have forgotten death a little more completely than any of their
fellow-citizens, Isabel. And I wonder what they think of us, making
this gorgeous progress through their midst. I suppose they think
we're rich, and hate us--if they hate rich people; they don't look as
if they hated anybody. Should we be as patient as they are with their
discomfort? I don't believe there's steam heat or an elevator in the
whole block. Seven rooms and a bath would be more than the largest
and genteelest family would know what to do with. They wouldn't know
what to do with the bath, anyway."
His monologue seemed to interest his wife apart from the satirical
point it had for themselves. "You ought to get Mr. Fulkerson to let
you work some of these New York sights up for Every Other Week, Basil;
you could do them very nicely."
"Yes; I've thought of that. But don't let's leave the personal
ground. Doesn't it make you feel rather small and otherwise unworthy
when you see the kind of street these fellow-beings of yours live in,
and then think how particular you are about locality and the number of
bellpulls? I don't see even ratchets and speaking-tubes at these
doors." He craned his neck out of the window for a better look, and
the children of discomfort cheered him, out of sheer good feeling and
high spirits. "I didn't know I was so popular. Perhaps it's a
recognition of my humane sentiments."
"Oh, it's very easy to have humane sentiments, and to satirize
ourselves for wanting eight rooms and a bath in a good neighborhood,
when we see how these wretched creatures live," said his wife. "But
if we shared all we have with them, and then settled down among them,
what good would it do?"
"Not the least in the world. It might help us for the moment, but
it wouldn't keep the wolf from their doors for a week; and then they
would go on just as before, only they wouldn't be on such good terms
with the wolf. The only way for them is to keep up an unbroken
intimacy with the wolf; then they can manage him somehow. I don't
know how, and I'm afraid I don't want to. Wouldn't you like to have
this fellow drive us round among the halls of pride somewhere for a
little while? Fifth Avenue or Madison, up-town?"
"No; we've no time to waste. I've got a place near Third Avenue,
on a nice cross street, and I want him to take us there." It proved
that she had several addresses near together, and it seemed best to
dismiss their coupe and do the rest of their afternoon's work on foot.
It came to nothing; she was not humbled in the least by what she had
seen in the tenement-house street; she yielded no point in her ideal
of a flat, and the flats persistently refused to lend themselves to
it. She lost all patience with them.
"Oh, I don't say the flats are in the right of it," said her
husband, when she denounced their stupid inadequacy to the purposes of
a Christian home. "But I'm not so sure that we are, either. I've
been thinking about that home business ever since my sensibilities
were dragged--in a coupe--through that tenement-house street. Of
course, no child born and brought up in such a place as that could
have any conception of home. But that's because those poor people
can't give character to their habitations. They have to take what
they can get. But people like us-- that is, of our means--do give
character to the average flat. It's made to meet their tastes, or
their supposed tastes; and so it's made for social show, not for
family life at all. Think of a baby in a flat! It's a contradiction
in terms; the flat is the negation of motherhood. The flat means
society life; that is, the pretence of social life. It's made to give
artificial people a society basis on a little money--too much money,
of course, for what they get. So the cost of the building is put into
marble halls and idiotic decoration of all kinds. I don't. object to
the conveniences, but none of these flats has a living-room. They have
drawing-rooms to foster social pretence, and they have dining- rooms
and bedrooms; but they have no room where the family can all come
together and feel the sweetness of being a family. The bedrooms are
black-holes mostly, with a sinful waste of space in each. If it were
not for the marble halls, and the decorations, and the foolishly
expensive finish, the houses could be built round a court, and the
flats could be shaped something like a Pompeiian house, with small
sleeping-closets-- only lit from the outside--and the rest of the
floor thrown into two or three large cheerful halls, where all the
family life could go on, and society could be transacted
unpretentiously. Why, those tenements are better and humaner than
those flats! There the whole family lives in the kitchen, and has its
consciousness of being; but the flat abolishes the family
consciousness. It's confinement without coziness; it's cluttered
without being snug. You couldn't keep a self-respecting cat in a
flat; you couldn't go down cellar to get cider. No! the Anglo-Saxon
home, as we know it in the Anglo-Saxon house, is simply impossible in
the Franco- American flat, not because it's humble, but because it's
"Well, then," said Mrs. March, "let's look at houses."
He had been denouncing the flat in the abstract, and he had not
expected this concrete result. But he said, "We will look at houses,
Nothing mystifies a man more than a woman's aberrations from some
point at which he, supposes her fixed as a star. In these unfurnished
houses, without steam or elevator, March followed his wife about with
patient wonder. She rather liked the worst of them best: but she made
him go down into the cellars and look at the furnaces; she exacted
from him a rigid inquest of the plumbing. She followed him into one
of the cellars by the fitful glare of successively lighted matches,
and they enjoyed a moment in which the anomaly of their presence there
on that errand, so remote from all the facts of their long-established
life in Boston, realized itself for them.
"Think how easily we might have been murdered and nobody been any
the wiser!" she said when they were comfortably outdoors again.
"Yes, or made way with ourselves in an access of emotional
insanity, supposed to have been induced by unavailing flat-hunting,"
he suggested. She fell in with the notion. "I'm beginning to feel
crazy. But I don't want you to lose your head, Basil. And I don't
want you to sentimentalize any of the things you see in New York. I
think you were disposed to do it in that street we drove through. I
don't believe there's any real suffering--not real suffering--among
those people; that is, it would be suffering from our point of view,
but they've been used to it all their lives, and they don't feel
their' discomfort so much."
"Of course, I understand that, and I don't propose to
sentimentalize them. I think when people get used to a bad state of
things they had better stick to it; in fact, they don't usually like a
better state so well, and I shall keep that firmly in mind."
She laughed with him, and they walked along the L bestridden
avenue, exhilarated by their escape from murder and suicide in that
cellar, toward the nearest cross town track, which they meant to take
home to their hotel. "Now to-night we will go to the theatre," she
said, "and get this whole house business out of our minds, and be
perfectly fresh for a new start in the morning." Suddenly she
clutched his arm. "Why, did you see that man?" and she signed with
her head toward a decently dressed person who walked beside them, next
the gutter, stooping over as if to examine it, and half halting at
"Why, I saw him pick up a dirty bit of cracker from the pavement
and cram it into his mouth and eat it down as if he were famished.
And look! he's actually hunting for more in those garbage heaps!"
This was what the decent-looking man with the hard hands and broken
nails of a workman was doing-like a hungry dog. They kept up with
him, in the fascination of the sight, to the next corner, where he
turned down the side street still searching the gutter.
They walked on a few paces. Then March said, "I must go after
him," and left his wife standing.
"Are you in want--hungry?" he asked the man.
The man said he could not speak English, Monsieur.
March asked his question in French.
The man shrugged a pitiful, desperate shrug, "Mais, Monsieur--"
March put a coin in his hand, and then suddenly the man's face
twisted up; he caught the hand of this alms-giver in both of his and
clung to it. "Monsieur! Monsieur!" he gasped, and the tears rained
down his face.
His benefactor pulled himself away, shocked and ashamed, as one is
by such a chance, and got back to his wife, and the man lapsed back
into the mystery of misery out of which he had emerged.
March felt it laid upon him to console his wife for what had
happened. "Of course, we might live here for years and not see another
case like that; and, of course, there are twenty places where he could
have gone for help if he had known where to find them."
"Ah, but it's the possibility of his needing the help so badly as
that," she answered. "That's what I can't bear, and I shall not come
to a place where such things are possible, and we may as well stop our
house-hunting here at once."
"Yes? And what part of Christendom will you live in? Such things
are possible everywhere in our conditions."
"Then we must change the conditions--"
"Oh no; we must go to the theatre and forget them. We can stop at
Brentano's for our tickets as we pass through Union Square."
"I am not going to the theatre, Basil. I am going home to Boston
to- night. You can stay and find a flat."
He convinced her of the absurdity of her position, and even of its
selfishness; but she said that her mind was quite made up irrespective
of what had happened, that she had been away from the children long
enough; that she ought to be at home to finish up the work of leaving
it. The word brought a sigh. "Ah, I don't know why we should see
nothing but sad and ugly things now. When we were young--"
"Younger," he put in. "We're still young."
"That's what we pretend, but we know better. But I was thinking
how pretty and pleasant things used to be turning up all the time on
our travels in the old days. Why, when we were in New York here on
our wedding journey the place didn't seem half so dirty as it does
now, and none of these dismal things happened."
"It was a good deal dirtier," he answered; "and I fancy worse in
every way-hungrier, raggeder, more wretchedly housed. But that wasn't
the period of life for us to notice it. Don't you remember, when we
started to Niagara the last time, how everybody seemed middle-aged and
commonplace; and when we got there there were no evident brides;
nothing but elderly married people?"
"At least they weren't starving," she rebelled.
"No, you don't starve in parlor-cars and first-class hotels; but if
you step out of them you run your chance of seeing those who do, if
you're getting on pretty well in the forties. If it's the unhappy who
see unhappiness, think what misery must be revealed to people who pass
their lives in the really squalid tenement-house streets--I don't mean
picturesque avenues like that we passed through."
"But we are not unhappy," she protested, bringing the talk back to
the personal base again, as women must to get any good out of talk.
"We're really no unhappier than we were when we were young."
"We're more serious."
"Well, I hate it; and I wish you wouldn't be so serious, if that's
what it brings us to."
"I will be trivial from this on," said March. "Shall we go to the
Hole in the Ground to-night?"
"I am going to Boston."
"It's much the same thing. How do you like that for triviality?
It's a little blasphemous, I'll allow."
"It's very silly," she said.
At the hotel they found a letter from the agent who had sent them
the permit to see Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment. He wrote that she
had heard they were pleased with her apartment, and that she thought
she could make the terms to suit. She had taken her passage for
Europe, and was very anxious to let the flat before she sailed. She
would call that evening at seven.
"Mrs. Grosvenor Green!" said Mrs. March. "Which of the ten
thousand flats is it, Basil?"
"The gimcrackery," he answered. "In the Xenophon, you know."
"Well, she may save herself the trouble. I shall not see her. Or
yes-- I must. I couldn't go away without seeing what sort of creature
could have planned that fly-away flat. She must be a perfect--"
"Parachute," March suggested.
"No! anybody so light as that couldn't come down."
"Well, toy balloon."
"Toy balloon will do for the present," Mrs. March admitted. "But I
feel that naught but herself can be her parallel for volatility."
When Mrs. Grosvenor-Green's card came up they both descended to the
hotel parlor, which March said looked like the saloon of a Moorish
day-boat; not that he knew of any such craft, but the decorations were
so Saracenic and the architecture so Hudson Riverish. They found
there on the grand central divan a large lady whose vast smoothness,
placidity, and plumpness set at defiance all their preconceptions of
Mrs. Grosvenor Green, so that Mrs. March distinctly paused with her
card in her hand before venturing even tentatively to address her.
Then she was astonished at the low, calm voice in which Mrs. Green
acknowledged herself, and slowly proceeded to apologize for calling.
It was not quite true that she had taken her passage for Europe, but
she hoped soon to do so, and she confessed that in the mean time she
was anxious to let her flat. She was a little worn out with the care
of housekeeping-- Mrs. March breathed, "Oh yes!" in the sigh with
which ladies recognize one another's martyrdom--and Mrs. Green had
business abroad, and she was going to pursue her art studies in Paris;
she drew in Mr. Ilcomb's class now, but the instruction was so much
better in Paris; and as the superintendent seemed to think the price
was the only objection, she had ventured to call.
"Then we didn't deceive him in the least," thought Mrs. March,
while she answered, sweetly: "No; we were only afraid that it would be
too small for our family. We require a good many rooms." She could
not forego the opportunity of saying, "My husband is coming to New
York to take charge of a literary periodical, and he will have to have
a room to write in," which made Mrs. Green bow to March, and made
March look sheepish. "But we did think the apartment very charming",
(It was architecturally charming, she protested to her conscience),"
and we should have been so glad if we could have got into it." She
followed this with some account of their house-hunting, amid soft
murmurs of sympathy from Mrs. Green, who said that she had been
through all that, and that if she could have shown her apartment to
them she felt sure that she could have explained it so that they would
have seen its capabilities better, Mrs. March assented to this, and
Mrs. Green added that if they found nothing exactly suitable she would
be glad to have them look at it again; and then Mrs. March said that
she was going back to Boston herself, but she was leaving Mr. March to
continue the search; and she had no doubt he would be only too glad to
see the apartment by daylight. "But if you take it, Basil," she
warned him, when they were alone, "I shall simply renounce you. I
wouldn't live in that junk-shop if you gave it to me. But who would
have thought she was that kind of looking person? Though of course I
might have known if I had stopped to think once. It's because the
place doesn't express her at all that it's so unlike her. It couldn't
be like anybody, or anything that flies in the air, or creeps upon the
earth, or swims in the waters under the earth. I wonder where in the
world she's from; she's no New-Yorker; even we can see that; and she's
not quite a country person, either; she seems like a person from some
large town, where she's been an aesthetic authority. And she can't
find good enough art instruction in New York, and has to go to Paris
for it! Well, it's pathetic, after all, Basil. I can't help feeling
sorry for a person who mistakes herself to that extent."
"I can't help feeling sorry for the husband of a person who
mistakes herself to that extent. What is Mr. Grosvenor Green going to
do in Paris while she's working her way into the Salon?"
"Well, you keep away from her apartment, Basil; that's all I've got
to say to you. And yet I do like some things about her."
"I like everything about her but her apartment," said March.
"I like her going to be out of the country," said his wife. "We
shouldn't be overlooked. And the place was prettily shaped, you can't
deny it. And there was an elevator and steam heat. And the location
is very convenient. And there was a hall-boy to bring up cards. The
halls and stairs were kept very clean and nice. But it wouldn't do.
I could put you a folding bed in the room where you wrote, and we
could even have one in the parlor"
"Behind a portiere? I couldn't stand any more portieres!"
"And we could squeeze the two girls into one room, or perhaps only
bring Margaret, and put out the whole of the wash. Basil!" she almost
shrieked, "it isn't to be thought of!"
He retorted, " I'm not thinking of it, my dear."
Fulkerson came in just before they started for Mrs. March's train,
to find out what had become of them, he said, and to see whether they
had got anything to live in yet.
"Not a thing," she said. "And I'm just going back to Boston, and
leaving Mr. March here to do anything he pleases about it. He has
"But freedom brings responsibility, you know, Fulkerson, and it's
the same as if I'd no choice. I'm staying behind because I'm left,
not because I expect to do anything."
"Is that so?" asked Fulkerson. "Well, we must see what can be
done. I supposed you would be all settled by this time, or I should
have humped myself to find you something. None of those places I gave
you amounts to anything?"
"As much as forty thousand others we've looked at," said Mrs.
March. "Yes, one of them does amount to something. It comes so near
being what we want that I've given Mr. March particular instructions
not to go near it."
She told him about Mrs. Grosvenor Green and her flats, and at the
end he said:
"Well, well, we must look out for that. I'll keep an eye on him,
Mrs. March, and see that he doesn't do anything rash, and I won't
leave him till he's found just the right thing. It exists, of course;
it must in a city of eighteen hundred thousand people, and the only
question is where to find it. You leave him to me, Mrs. March; I'll
watch out for him."
Fulkerson showed some signs of going to the station when he found
they were not driving, but she bade him a peremptory good-bye at the
"He's very nice, Basil, and his way with you is perfectly charming.
It's very sweet to see how really fond of you he is. But I didn't
want him stringing along with us up to Forty-second Street and
spoiling our last moments together."
At Third Avenue they took the Elevated for which she confessed an
infatuation. She declared it the most ideal way of getting about in
the world, and was not ashamed when he reminded her of how she used to
say that nothing under the sun could induce her to travel on it. She
now said that the night transit was even more interesting than the
day, and that the fleeing intimacy you formed with people in second
and third floor interiors, while all the usual street life went on
underneath, had a domestic intensity mixed with a perfect repose that
was the last effect of good society with all its security and
exclusiveness. He said it was better than the theatre, of which it
reminded him, to see those people through their windows: a family
party of work-folk at a late tea, some of the men in their
shirt-sleeves; a woman sewing by a lamp; a mother laying her child in
its cradle; a man with his head fallen on his hands upon a table; a
girl and her lover leaning over the window-sill together. What
suggestion! what drama? what infinite interest! At the Forty-second
Street station they stopped a minute on the bridge that crosses the
track to the branch road for the Central Depot, and looked up and down
the long stretch of the Elevated to north and south. The track that
found and lost itself a thousand times in the flare and tremor of the
innumerable lights; the moony sheen of the electrics mixing with the
reddish points and blots of gas far and near; the architectural shapes
of houses and churches and towers, rescued by the obscurity from all
that was ignoble in them, and the coming and going of the trains
marking the stations with vivider or fainter plumes of flame-shot
steam-formed an incomparable perspective. They often talked afterward
of the superb spectacle, which in a city full of painters nightly
works its unrecorded miracles; and they were just to the Arachne roof
spun in iron over the cross street on which they ran to the depot; but
for the present they were mostly inarticulate before it. They had
another moment of rich silence when they paused in the gallery that
leads from the Elevated station to the waiting-rooms in the Central
Depot and looked down upon the great night trains lying on the tracks
dim under the rain of gas-lights that starred without dispersing the
vast darkness of the place. What forces, what fates, slept in these
bulks which would soon be hurling themselves north and south and west
through the night! Now they waited there like fabled monsters of Arab
story ready for the magician's touch, tractable, reckless,
will-less--organized lifelessness full of a strange semblance of life.
The Marches admired the impressive sight with a thrill of patriotic
pride in the fact that the whole world perhaps could not afford just
the like. Then they hurried down to the ticket-offices, and he got her
a lower berth in the Boston sleeper, and went with her to the car.
They made the most of the fact that her berth was in the very middle
of the car; and she promised to write as soon as she reached home.
She promised also that, having seen the limitations of New York in
respect to flats, she would not be hard on him if he took something
not quite ideal. Only he must remember that it was not to be above
Twentieth Street nor below Washington Square; it must not be higher
than the third floor; it must have an elevator, steam heat, hail-boys,
and a pleasant janitor. These were essentials; if he could not get
them, then they must do without. But he must get them.
Mrs. March was one of those wives who exact a more rigid adherence
to their ideals from their husbands than from themselves. Early in
their married life she had taken charge of him in all matters which
she considered practical. She did not include the business of
bread-winning in these; that was an affair that might safely be left
to his absent- minded, dreamy inefficiency, and she did not interfere
with him there. But in such things as rehanging the pictures, deciding
on a summer boarding-place, taking a seaside cottage, repapering
rooms, choosing seats at the theatre, seeing what the children ate
when she was not at table, shutting the cat out at night, keeping run
of calls and invitations, and seeing if the furnace was dampered, he
had failed her so often that she felt she could not leave him the
slightest discretion in regard to a flat. Her total distrust of his
judgment in the matters cited and others like them consisted with the
greatest admiration of his mind and respect for his character. She
often said that if he would only bring these to bear in such
exigencies he would be simply perfect; but she had long given up his
ever doing so. She subjected him, therefore, to an iron code, but
after proclaiming it she was apt to abandon him to the native
lawlessness of his temperament. She expected him in this event to do
as he pleased, and she resigned herself to it with considerable
comfort in holding him accountable. He learned to expect this, and
after suffering keenly from her disappointment with whatever he did he
waited patiently till she forgot her grievance and began to extract
what consolation lurks in the irreparable. She would almost admit at
moments that what he had done was a very good thing, but she reserved
the right to return in full force to her original condemnation of it;
and she accumulated each act of independent volition in witness and
warning against him. Their mass oppressed but never deterred him. He
expected to do the wrong thing when left to his own devices, and he
did it without any apparent recollection of his former misdeeds and
their consequences. There was a good deal of comedy in it all, and
He now experienced a certain expansion, such as husbands of his
kind will imagine, on going back to his hotel alone. It was, perhaps,
a revulsion from the pain of parting; and he toyed with the idea of
Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment, which, in its preposterous
unsuitability, had a strange attraction. He felt that he could take
it with less risk than anything else they had seen, but he said he
would look at all the other places in town first. He really spent the
greater part of the next day in hunting up the owner of an apartment
that had neither steam heat nor an elevator, but was otherwise
perfect, and trying to get him to take less than the agent asked. By
a curious psychical operation he was able, in the transaction, to work
himself into quite a passionate desire for the apartment, while he
held the Grosvenor Green apartment in the background of his mind as
something that he could return to as altogether more suitable. He
conducted some simultaneous negotiation for a furnished house, which
enhanced still more the desirability of the Grosvenor Green apartment.
Toward evening he went off at a tangent far up-town, so as to be able
to tell his wife how utterly preposterous the best there would be as
compared even with this ridiculous Grosvenor Green gimcrackery. It is
hard to report the processes of his sophistication; perhaps this,
again, may best be left to the marital imagination.
He rang at the last of these up-town apartments as it was falling
dusk, and it was long before the janitor appeared. Then the man was
very surly, and said if he looked at the flat now he would say it was
too dark, like all the rest. His reluctance irritated March in
proportion to his insincerity in proposing to look at it at all. He
knew he did not mean to take it under any circumstances; that he was
going to use his inspection of it in dishonest justification of his
disobedience to his wife; but he put on an air of offended dignity.
"If you don't wish to show the apartment," he said, "I don't care to
The man groaned, for he was heavy, and no doubt dreaded the stairs.
He scratched a match on his thigh, and led the way up. March was
sorry for him, and he put his fingers on a quarter in his
waistcoat-pocket to give him at parting. At the same time, be had to
trump up an objection to the flat. This was easy, for it was
advertised as containing ten rooms, and he found the number eked out
with the bath-room and two large closets. "It's light enough," said
March, "but I don't see how you make out ten rooms"
"There's ten rooms," said the man, deigning no proof.
March took his fingers off the quarter, and went down-stairs and
out of the door without another word. It would be wrong, it would be
impossible, to give the man anything after such insolence. He
reflected, with shame, that it was also cheaper to punish than forgive
He returned to his hotel prepared for any desperate measure, and
convinced now that the Grosvenor Green apartment was not merely the
only thing left for him, but was, on its own merits, the best thing in
Fulkerson was waiting for him in the reading-room, and it gave
March the curious thrill with which a man closes with temptation when
he said: "Look here! Why don't you take that woman's flat in the
Xenophon? She's been at the agents again, and they've been at me.
She likes your look-- or Mrs. March's--and I guess you can have it at
a pretty heavy discount from the original price. I'm authorized to
say you can have it for one seventy-five a month, and I don't believe
it would be safe for you to offer one fifty."
March shook his head, and dropped a mask of virtuous rejection over
his corrupt acquiescence. "It's too small for us--we couldn't squeeze
"Why, look here!" Fulkerson persisted. "How many rooms do you
"I've got to have a place to work--"
"Of course! And you've got to have it at the Fifth Wheel office."
"I hadn't thought of that," March began. "I suppose I could do my
work at the office, as there's not much writing--"
"Why, of course you can't do your work at home. You just come
round with me now, and look at that again."
"No; I can't do it."
"I--I've got to dine."
"All right," said Fulkerson. "Dine with me. I want to take you
round to a little Italian place that I know."
One may trace the successive steps of March's descent in this
simple matter with the same edification that would attend the study of
the self- delusions and obfuscations of a man tempted to crime. The
process is probably not at all different, and to the philosophical
mind the kind of result is unimportant; the process is everything.
Fulkerson led him down one block and half across another to the
steps of a small dwelling-house, transformed, like many others, into a
restaurant of the Latin ideal, with little or no structural change
from the pattern of the lower middle-class New York home. There were
the corroded brownstone steps, the mean little front door, and the
cramped entry with its narrow stairs by which ladies could go up to a
dining-room appointed for them on the second floor; the parlors on the
first were set about with tables, where men smoked cigarettes between
the courses, and a single waiter ran swiftly to and fro with plates
and dishes, and, exchanged unintelligible outcries with a cook beyond
a slide in the back parlor. He rushed at the new-comers, brushed the
soiled table-cloth before them with a towel on his arm, covered its
worst stains with a napkin, and brought them, in their order, the
vermicelli soup, the fried fish, the cheese-strewn spaghetti, the veal
cutlets, the tepid roast fowl and salad, and the wizened pear and
coffee which form the dinner at such places.
"Ah, this is nice!" said Fulkerson, after the laying of the
charitable napkin, and he began to recognize acquaintances, some of
whom he described to March as young literary men and artists with whom
they should probably have to do; others were simply frequenters of the
place, and were of all nationalities and religions apparently--at
least, several were Hebrews and Cubans. "You get a pretty good slice
of New York here," he said, "all except the frosting on top. That you
won't find much at Maroni's, though you will occasionally. I don't
mean the ladies ever, of course." The ladies present seemed harmless
and reputable-looking people enough, but certainly they were not of
the first fashion, and, except in a few instances, not Americans.
"It's like cutting straight down through a fruitcake," Fulkerson went
on, "or a mince-pie, when you don't know who made the pie; you get a
little of everything." He ordered a small flask of Chianti with the
dinner, and it came in its pretty wicker jacket. March smiled upon it
with tender reminiscence, and Fulkerson laughed. "Lights you up a
little. I brought old Dryfoos here one day, and he thought it was
sweet-oil; that's the kind of bottle they used to have it in at the
"Yes, I remember now; but I'd totally forgotten it," said March.
"How far back that goes! Who's Dryfoos?"
"Dryfoos?" Fulkerson, still smiling, tore off a piece of the
half-yard of French loaf which had been supplied them, with two pale,
thin disks of butter, and fed it into himself. "Old Dryfoos? Well,
of course! I call him old, but he ain't so very. About fifty, or
"No," said March, "that isn't very old--or not so old as it used to
"Well, I suppose you've got to know about him, anyway," said
Fulkerson, thoughtfully. "And I've been wondering just how I should
tell you. Can't always make out exactly how much of a Bostonian you
really are! Ever been out in the natural-gas country?"
"No," said March. "I've had a good deal of curiosity about it, but
I've never been able to get away except in summer, and then we always
preferred to go over the old ground, out to Niagara and back through
Canada, the route we took on our wedding journey. The children like
it as much as we do."
"Yes, yes," said Fulkerson. "Well, the natural-gas country is
worth seeing. I don't mean the Pittsburg gas-fields, but out in
Northern Ohio and Indiana around Moffitt--that's the place in the
heart of the gas region that they've been booming so. Yes, you ought
to see that country. If you haven't been West for a good many years,
you haven't got any idea how old the country looks. You remember how
the fields used to be all full of stumps?"
"I should think so."
"Well, you won't see any stumps now. All that country out around
Moffitt is just as smooth as a checker-board, and looks as old as
England. You know how we used to burn the stumps out; and then
somebody invented a stump-extractor, and we pulled them out with a
yoke of oxen. Now they just touch 'em off with a little dynamite, and
they've got a cellar dug and filled up with kindling ready for
housekeeping whenever you want it. Only they haven't got any use for
kindling in that country--all gas. I rode along on the cars through
those level black fields at corn- planting time, and every once in a
while I'd come to a place with a piece of ragged old stove-pipe
stickin' up out of the ground, and blazing away like forty, and a
fellow ploughing all round it and not minding it any more than if it
was spring violets. Horses didn't notice it, either. Well, they've
always known about the gas out there; they say there are places in the
woods where it's been burning ever since the country was settled.
"But when you come in sight of Moffitt--my, oh, my! Well, you come
in smell of it about as soon. That gas out there ain't odorless, like
the Pittsburg gas, and so it's perfectly safe; but the smell isn't
bad--about as bad as the finest kind of benzine. Well, the first
thing that strikes you when you come to Moffitt is the notion that
there has been a good warm, growing rain, and the town's come up
overnight. That's in the suburbs, the annexes, and additions. But it
ain't shabby--no shanty-farm business; nice brick and frame houses,
some of 'em Queen Anne style, and all of 'em looking as if they had
come to stay. And when you drive up from the depot you think
everybody's moving. Everything seems to be piled into the street; old
houses made over, and new ones going up everywhere. You know the kind
of street Main Street always used to be in our section--half
plank-road and turnpike, and the rest mud-hole, and a lot of stores
and doggeries strung along with false fronts a story higher than the
back, and here and there a decent building with the gable end to the
public; and a court-house and jail and two taverns and three or four
churches. Well, they're all there in Moffitt yet, but architecture
has struck it hard, and they've got a lot of new buildings that
needn't be ashamed of themselves anywhere; the new court-house is as
big as St. Peter's, and the Grand Opera-house is in the highest style
of the art. You can't buy a lot on that street for much less than you
can buy a lot in New York--or you couldn't when the boom was on; I saw
the place just when the boom was in its prime. l went out there to
work the newspapers in the syndicate business, and I got one of their
men to write me a real bright, snappy account of the gas; and they
just took me in their arms and showed me everything. Well, it was
wonderful, and it was beautiful, too! To see a whole community
stirred up like that was--just like a big boy, all hope and high
spirits, and no discount on the remotest future; nothing but perpetual
boom to the end of time--I tell you it warmed your blood. Why, there
were some things about it that made you think what a nice kind of
world this would be if people ever took hold together, instead of each
fellow fighting it out on his own hook, and devil take the hindmost.
They made up their minds at Moffitt that if they wanted their town to
grow they'd got to keep their gas public property. So they extended
their corporation line so as to take in pretty much the whole gas
region round there; and then the city took possession of every well
that was put down, and held it for the common good. Anybody that's a
mind to come to Moffitt and start any kind of manufacture can have all
the gas he wants free; and for fifteen dollars a year you can have all
the gas you want to heat and light your private house. The people
hold on to it for themselves, and, as I say, it's a grand sight to see
a whole community hanging together and working for the good of all,
instead of splitting up into as many different cut-throats as there
are able-bodied citizens. See that fellow?" Fulkerson broke off, and
indicated with a twirl of his head a short, dark, foreign-looking man
going out of the door. "They say that fellow's a Socialist. I think
it's a shame they're allowed to come here. If they don't like the way
we manage our affairs let 'em stay at home," Fulkerson continued.
"They do a lot of mischief, shooting off their mouths round here. I
believe in free speech and all that; but I'd like to see these fellows
shut up in jail and left to jaw one another to death. We don't want
any of their poison."
March did not notice the vanishing Socialist. He was watching,
with a teasing sense of familiarity, a tall, shabbily dressed, elderly
man, who had just come in. He had the aquiline profile uncommon among
Germans, and yet March recognized him at once as German. His long,
soft beard and mustache had once been fair, and they kept some tone of
their yellow in the gray to which they had turned. His eyes were
full, and his lips and chin shaped the beard to the noble outline
which shows in the beards the Italian masters liked to paint for their
Last Suppers. His carriage was erect and soldierly, and March
presently saw that he had lost his left hand. He took his place at a
table where the overworked waiter found time to cut up his meat and
put everything in easy reach of his right hand.
"Well," Fulkerson resumed, "they took me round everywhere in
Moffitt, and showed me their big wells--lit 'em up for a private view,
and let me hear them purr with the soft accents of a mass-meeting of
locomotives. Why, when they let one of these wells loose in a meadow
that they'd piped it into temporarily, it drove the flame away forty
feet from the mouth of the pipe and blew it over half an acre of
ground. They say when they let one of their big wells burn away all
winter before they had learned how to control it, that well kept up a
little summer all around it; the grass stayed green, and the flowers
bloomed all through the winter. I don't know whether it's so or not.
But I can believe anything of natural gas. My! but it was beautiful
when they turned on the full force of that well and shot a roman
candle into the gas--that's the way they light it--and a plume of fire
about twenty feet wide and seventy-five feet high, all red and yellow
and violet, jumped into the sky, and that big roar shook the ground
under your feet! You felt like saying:
'Don't trouble yourself; I'm perfectly convinced. I believe in
Moffitt.' We-e-e-ll!" drawled Fulkerson, with a long breath, "that's
where I met old Dryfoos."
"Oh yes!--Dryfoos," said March. He observed that the waiter had
brought the old one-handed German a towering glass of beer.
"Yes," Fulkerson laughed. "We've got round to Dryfoos again. I
thought I could cut a long story short, but I seem to be cutting a
short story long. If you're not in a hurry, though--"
"Not in the least. Go on as long as you like."
"I met him there in the office of a real-estate man--speculator, of
course; everybody was, in Moffitt; but a first-rate fellow, and
public- spirited as all get-out; and when Dryfoos left he told me
about him. Dryfoos was an old Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, about three
or four miles out of Moffitt, and he'd lived there pretty much all his
life; father was one of the first settlers. Everybody knew he had the
right stuff in him, but he was slower than molasses in January, like
those Pennsylvania Dutch. He'd got together the largest and
handsomest farm anywhere around there; and he was making money on it,
just like he was in some business somewhere; he was a very intelligent
man; he took the papers and kept himself posted; but he was awfully
old-fashioned in his ideas. He hung on to the doctrines as well as
the dollars of the dads; it was a real thing with him. Well, when the
boom began to come he hated it awfully, and he fought it. He used to
write communications to the weekly newspaper in Moffitt--they've got
three dailies there now--and throw cold water on the boom. He
couldn't catch on no way. It made him sick to hear the clack that
went on about the gas the whole while, and that stirred up the
neighborhood and got into his family. Whenever he'd hear of a man
that had been offered a big price for his land and was going to sell
out and move into town, he'd go and labor with him and try to talk him
out of it, and tell him how long his fifteen or twenty thousand would
last him to live on, and shake the Standard Oil Company before him,
and try to make him believe it wouldn't be five years before the
Standard owned the whole region.
"Of course, he couldn't do anything with them. When a man's
offered a big price for his farm, he don't care whether it's by a
secret emissary from the Standard Oil or not; he's going to sell and
get the better of the other fellow if he can. Dryfoos couldn't keep
the boom out of has own family even. His wife was with him. She
thought whatever he said and did was just as right as if it had been
thundered down from Sinai. But the young folks were sceptical,
especially the girls that had been away to school. The boy that had
been kept at home because he couldn't be spared from helping his
father manage the farm was more like him, but they contrived to stir
the boy up--with the hot end of the boom, too. So when a fellow came
along one day and offered old Dryfoos a cool hundred thousand for his
farm, it was all up with Dryfoos. He'd 'a' liked to 'a' kept the
offer to himself and not done anything about it, but his vanity
wouldn't let him do that; and when he let it out in his family the
girls outvoted him. They just made him sell.
"He wouldn't sell all. He kept about eighty acres that was off in
some piece by itself, but the three hundred that had the old brick
house on it, and the big barn--that went, and Dryfoos bought him a
place in Moffitt and moved into town to live on the interest of his
money. Just What he had scolded and ridiculed everybody else for
doing. Well, they say that at first he seemed like he would go crazy.
He hadn't anything to do. He took a fancy to that land-agent, and he
used to go and set in his office and ask him what he should do. 'I
hain't got any horses, I hain't got any cows, I hain't got any pigs, I
hain't got any chickens. I hain't got anything to do from sun-up to
sun-down.' The fellow said the tears used to run down the old
fellow's cheeks, and if he hadn't been so busy himself he believed he
should 'a' cried, too. But most o' people thought old Dryfoos was
down in the mouth because he hadn't asked more for his farm, when he
wanted to buy it back and found they held it at a hundred and fifty
thousand. People couldn't believe he was just homesick and heartsick
for the old place. Well, perhaps he was sorry he hadn't asked more;
that's human nature, too.
"After a while something happened. That land-agent used to tell
Dryfoos to get out to Europe with his money and see life a little, or
go and live in Washington, where he could be somebody; but Dryfoos
wouldn't, and he kept listening to the talk there, and all of a sudden
he caught on. He came into that fellow's one day with a plan for
cutting up the eighty acres he'd kept into town lots; and he'd got it
all plotted out so-well, and had so many practical ideas about it,
that the fellow was astonished. He went right in with him, as far as
Dryfoos would let him, and glad of the chance; and they were working
the thing for all it was worth when I struck Moffitt. Old Dryfoos
wanted me to go out and see the Dryfoos Hendry Addition--guess he
thought maybe I'd write it up; and he drove me out there himself.
Well, it was funny to see a town made: streets driven through; two
rows of shadetrees, hard and soft, planted; cellars dug and houses put
up-regular Queen Anne style, too, with stained glass-all at once.
Dryfoos apologized for the streets because they were hand-made; said
they expected their street-making machine Tuesday, and then they
intended to push things."
Fulkerson enjoyed the effect of his picture on March for a moment,
and then went on: "He was mighty intelligent, too, and he questioned
me up about my business as sharp as I ever was questioned; seemed to
kind of strike his fancy; I guess he wanted to find out if there was
any money in it. He was making money, hand over hand, then; and he
never stopped speculating and improving till he'd scraped together
three or four hundred thousand dollars, they said a million, but they
like round numbers at Moffitt , and I guess half a million would lay
over it comfortably and leave a few thousands to spare, probably.
Then he came on to New York."
Fulkerson struck a match against the ribbed side of the porcelain
cup that held the matches in the centre of the table, and lit a
cigarette, which he began to smoke, throwing his head back with a
leisurely effect, as if he had got to the end of at least as much of
his story as he meant to tell without prompting.
March asked him the desired question. "What in the world for?"
Fulkerson took out his cigarette and said, with a smile: "To spend
his money, and get his daughters into the old Knickerbocker society.
Maybe he thought they were all the same kind of Dutch."
"And has he succeeded?"
"Well, they're not social leaders yet. But it's only a question of
time --generation or two--especially if time's money, and if Every
Other Week is the success it's bound to be."
"You don't mean to say, Fulkerson," said March, with a
half-doubting, half-daunted laugh, "that he's your Angel?"
"That's what I mean to say," returned Fulkerson. "I ran onto him
in Broadway one day last summer. If you ever saw anybody in your
life; you're sure to meet him in Broadway again, sooner or later.
That's the philosophy of the bunco business; country people from the
same neighborhood are sure to run up against each other the first time
they come to New York. I put out my hand, and I said, 'Isn't this Mr.
Dryfoos from Moffitt?' He didn't seem to have any use for my hand; he
let me keep it, and he squared those old lips of his till his imperial
stuck straight out. Ever see Bernhardt in 'L'Etrangere'? Well, the
American husband is old Dryfoos all over; no mustache; and hay-colored
chin- whiskers cut slanting froze the corners of his mouth. He cocked
his little gray eyes at me, and says he: 'Yes, young man; my name is
Dryfoos, and I'm from Moffitt. But I don't want no present of
Longfellow's Works, illustrated; and I don't want to taste no fine
teas; but I know a policeman that does; and if you're the son of my
old friend Squire Strohfeldt, you'd better get out.' 'Well, then,'
said I, 'how would you like to go into the newspaper syndicate
business?' He gave another look at me, and then he burst out
laughing, and he grabbed my hand, and he just froze to it. I never
saw anybody so glad.
"Well, the long and the short of it was that I asked him round here
to Maroni's to dinner; and before we broke up for the night we had
settled the financial side of the plan that's brought you to New York.
I can see,'t said Fulkerson, who had kept his eyes fast on March's
face, "that you don't more than half like the idea of Dryfoos. It
ought to give you more confidence in the thing than you ever had. You
needn't be afraid," he added, with some feeling, "that I talked
Dryfoos into the thing for my own advantage."
"Oh, my dear Fulkerson!" March protested, all the more fervently
because he was really a little guilty.
"Well, of course not! I didn't mean you were. But I just happened
to tell him what I wanted to go into when I could see my way to it,
and he caught on of his own accord. The fact is," said Fulkerson, "I
guess I'd better make a clean breast of it, now I'm at it, Dryfoos
wanted to get something for that boy of his to do. He's in railroads
himself, and he's in mines and other things, and he keeps busy, and he
can't bear to have his boy hanging round the house doing nothing, like
as if he was a girl. I told him that the great object of a rich man
was to get his son into just that fix, but he couldn't seem to see it,
and the boy hated it himself. He's got a good head, and he wanted to
study for the ministry when they were all living together out on the
farm; but his father had the old-fashioned ideas about that. You know
they used to think that any sort of stuff was good enough to make a
preacher out of; but they wanted the good timber for business; and so
the old man wouldn't let him. You'll see the fellow; you'll like him;
he's no fool, I can tell you; and he's going to be our publisher,
nominally at first and actually when I've taught him the ropes a
Fulkerson stopped and looked at March, whom he saw lapsing into a
serious silence. Doubtless he divined his uneasiness with the facts
that had been given him to digest. He pulled out his watch and
glanced at it. "See here, how would you like to go up to Forty-sixth
street with me, and drop in on old Dryfoos? Now's your chance. He's
going West tomorrow, and won't be back for a month or so. They'll all
be glad to see you, and you'll understand things better when you've
seen him and his family. I can't explain."
March reflected a moment. Then he said, with a wisdom that
surprised him, for he would have liked to yield to the impulse of his
curiosity: "Perhaps we'd better wait till Mrs. March comes down, and
let things take the usual course. The Dryfoos ladies will want to
call on her as the last-comer, and if I treated myself 'en garcon'
now, and paid the first visit, it might complicate matters."
"Well, perhaps you're right," said Fulkerson. "I don't know much
about these things, and I don't believe Ma Dryfoos does, either." He
was on his legs lighting another cigarette. "I suppose the girls are
getting themselves up in etiquette, though. Well, then, let's have a
look at the 'Every Other Week' building, and then, if you like your
quarters there, you can go round and close for Mrs. Green's flat."
March's dormant allegiance to his wife's wishes had been roused by
his decision in favor of good social usage. "I don't think I shall
take the flat," he said.
"Well, don't reject it without giving it another look, anyway.
He helped March on with his light overcoat, and the little stir
they made for their departure caught the notice of the old German; he
looked up from his beer at them. March was more than ever impressed
with something familiar in his face. In compensation for his prudence
in regard to the Dryfooses he now indulged an impulse. He stepped
across to where the old man sat, with his bald head shining like ivory
under the gas-jet, and his fine patriarchal length of bearded mask
taking picturesque lights and shadows, and put out his hand to him.
"Lindau! Isn't this Mr. Lindau?"
The old man lifted himself slowly to his feet with mechanical
politeness, and cautiously took March's hand. "Yes, my name is
Lindau," he said, slowly, while he scanned March's face. Then he
broke into a long cry. "Ah-h-h-h-h, my dear poy! my gong friendt!
my-my--Idt is Passil Marge, not zo? Ah, ha, ha, ha! How gladt I am to
zee you! Why, I am gladt! And you rememberdt me? You remember
Schiller, and Goethe, and Uhland? And Indianapolis? You still lif in
Indianapolis? It sheers my hardt to zee you. But you are lidtle
oldt, too? Tventy-five years makes a difference. Ah, I am gladt!
Dell me, idt is Passil Marge, not zo?"
He looked anxiously into March's face, with a gentle smile of mixed
hope and doubt, and March said: "As sure as it's Berthold Lindau, and
I guess it's you. And you remember the old times? You were as much
of a boy as I was, Lindau. Are you living in New York? Do you
recollect how you tried to teach me to fence? I don't know how to
this day, Lindau. How good you were, and how patient! Do you remember
how we used to sit up in the little parlor back of your
printing-office, and read Die Rauber and Die Theilung der Erde and Die
Glocke? And Mrs. Lindau? Is she with--"
"Deadt--deadt long ago. Right after I got home from the
war--tventy years ago. But tell me, you are married? Children? Yes!
Goodt! And how oldt are you now?"
"It makes me seventeen to see you, Lindau, but I've got a son
nearly as old."
"Ah, ha, ha! Goodt! And where do you lif?"
"Well, I'm just coming to live in New York," March said, looking
over at Fulkerson, who had been watching his interview with the
perfunctory smile of sympathy that people put on at the meeting of old
friends. "I want to introduce you to my friend Mr. Fulkerson. He and
I are going into a literary enterprise here."
"Ah! zo?" said the old man, with polite interest. He took
Fulkerson's proffered hand, and they all stood talking a few moments
Then Fulkerson said, with another look at his watch, "Well, March,
we're keeping Mr. Lindau from his dinner."
"Dinner!" cried the old man. "Idt's better than breadt and meadt
to see Mr. Marge!"
"I must be going, anyway," said March. " But I must see you again
soon, Lindau. Where do you live? I want a long talk."
"And I. You will find me here at dinner-time." said the old man.
"It is the best place"; and March fancied him reluctant to give
To cover his consciousness he answered, gayly: "Then, it's 'auf
wiedersehen' with us. Well!"
"Also!" The old man took his hand, and made a mechanical movement
with his mutilated arm, as if he would have taken it in a double
clasp. He laughed at himself. "I wanted to gif you the other handt,
too, but I gafe it to your gountry a goodt while ago."
To my country?" asked March, with a sense of pain, and yet
lightly, as if it were a joke of the old man's. "Your country, too,
The old man turned very grave, and said, almost coldly, "What
gountry hass a poor man got, Mr. Marge?"
"Well, you ought to have a share in the one you helped to save for
us rich men, Lindau," March returned, still humoring the joke.
The old man smiled sadly, but made no answer as he sat down again.
"Seems to be a little soured," said Fulkerson, as they went down
the steps. He was one of those Americans whose habitual conception of
life is unalloyed prosperity. When any experience or observation of
his went counter to it he suffered--something like physical pain. He
eagerly shrugged away the impression left upon his buoyancy by Lindau,
and added to March's continued silence, "What did I tell you about
meeting every man in New York that you ever knew before?"
I never expected to meat Lindau in the world again," said March,
more to himself than to Fulkerson. "I had an impression that he had
been killed in the war. I almost wish he had been."
"Oh, hello, now!" cried Fulkerson.
March laughed, but went on soberly: "He was a man predestined to
adversity, though. When I first knew him out in Indianapolis he was
starving along with a sick wife and a sick newspaper. It was before
the Germans had come over to the Republicans generally, but Lindau was
fighting the anti-slavery battle just as naturally at Indianapolis in
1858 as he fought behind the barricades at Berlin in 1848. And yet he
was always such a gentle soul! And so generous! He taught me German
for the love of it; he wouldn't spoil his pleasure by taking a cent
from me; he seemed to get enough out of my being young and
enthusiastic, and out of prophesying great things for me. I wonder
what the poor old fellow is doing here, with that one hand of his?"
"Not amassing a very 'handsome pittance,' I guess, as Artemus Ward
would say," said Fulkerson, getting back some of his lightness.
"There are lots of two-handed fellows in New York that are not doing
much better, I guess. Maybe he gets some writing on the German
"I hope so. He's one of the most accomplished men! He used to be
a splendid musician--pianist--and knows eight or ten languages."
"Well, it's astonishing," said Fulkerson, "how much lumber those
Germans can carry around in their heads all their lives, and never
work it up into anything. It's a pity they couldn't do the acquiring,
and let out the use of their learning to a few bright Americans. We
could make things hum, if we could arrange 'em that way."
He talked on, unheeded by March, who went along half-consciously
tormented by his lightness in the pensive memories the meeting with
Lindau had called up. Was this all that sweet, unselfish nature could
come to? What a homeless old age at that meagre Italian table d'hote,
with that tall glass of beer for a half-hour's oblivion! That shabby
dress, that pathetic mutilation! He must have a pension, twelve
dollars a month, or eighteen, from a grateful country. But what else
did he eke out with?
"Well, here we are," said Fulkerson, cheerily. He ran up the steps
before March, and opened the carpenter's temporary valve in the door
frame, and led the way into a darkness smelling sweetly of unpainted
wood-work and newly dried plaster; their feat slipped on shavings and
grated on sand. He scratched a match, and found a candle, and then
walked about up and down stairs, and lectured on the advantages of the
place. He had fitted up bachelor apartments for himself in the house,
and said that he was going to have a flat to let on the top floor. "I
didn't offer it to you because I supposed you'd be too proud to live
over your shop; and it's too small, anyway; only five rooms."
"Yes, that's too small," said March, shirking the other point.
"Well, then, here's the room I intend for your office," said
Fulkerson, showing him into a large back parlor one flight up.
"You'll have it quiet from the street noises here, and you can be at
home or not, as you please. There'll be a boy on the stairs to find
out. Now, you see, this makes the Grosvenor Green flat practicable,
if you want it."
March felt the forces of fate closing about him and pushing him to
a decision. He feebly fought them off till he could have another look
at the flat. Then, baked and subdued still more by the unexpected
presence of Mrs. Grosvenor Green herself, who was occupying it so as
to be able to show it effectively, he took it. He was aware more than
ever of its absurdities; he knew that his wife would never cease to
hate it; but he had suffered one of those eclipses of the imagination
to which men of his temperament are subject, and into which he could
see no future for his desires. He felt a comfort in irretrievably
committing himself, and exchanging the burden of indecision for the
burden of responsibility.
"I don't know," said Fulkerson, as they walked back to his hotel
together, "but you might fix it up with that lone widow and her pretty
daughter to take part of their house here." He seemed to be reminded
of it by the fact of passing the house, and March looked up at its
dark front. He could not have told exactly why be felt a pang of
remorse at the sight, and doubtless it was more regret for having
taken the Grosvenor Green flat than for not having taken the widow's
rooms. Still, he could not forget her wistfulness when his wife and
he were looking at them, and her disappointment when they decided
against them. He had toyed, in, his after-talk to Mrs. March, with a
sort of hypothetical obligation they had to modify their plans so as
to meet the widow's want of just such a family as theirs; they had
both said what a blessing it would be to her, and what a pity they
could not do it; but they had decided very distinctly that they could
not. Now it seemed to him that they might; and he asked himself
whether he had not actually departed as much from their ideal as if he
had taken board with the widow. Suddenly it seemed to him that his
wife asked him this, too.
"I reckon," said Fulkerson, "that she could have arranged to give
you your meals in your rooms, and it would have come to about the same
thing as housekeeping."
"No sort of boarding can be the same as house-keeping," said March.
"I want my little girl to have the run of a kitchen, and I want the
whole family to have the moral effect of housekeeping. It's
demoralizing to board, in every way; it isn't a home, if anybody else
takes the care of it off your hands."
"Well, I suppose so," Fulkerson assented; but March's words had a
hollow ring to himself, and in his own mind he began to retaliate his
dissatisfaction upon Fulkerson.
He parted from him on the usual terms outwardly, but he felt
obscurely abused by Fulkerson in regard to the Dryfooses, father and
son. He did not know but Fulkerson had taken an advantage of him in
allowing him to commit himself to their enterprise with out fully and
frankly telling him who and what his backer was; he perceived that
with young Dryfoos as the publisher and Fulkerson as the general
director of the paper there might be very little play for his own
ideas of its conduct. Perhaps it was the hurt to his vanity involved
by the recognition of this fact that made him forget how little choice
he really had in the matter, and how, since he had not accepted the
offer to edit the insurance paper, nothing remained for him but to
close with Fulkerson. In this moment of suspicion and resentment he
accused Fulkerson of hastening his decision in regard to the Grosvenor
Green apartment; he now refused to consider it a decision, and said to
himself that if he felt disposed to do so he would send Mrs. Green a
note reversing it in the morning. But he put it all off till morning
with his clothes, when he went to bed, he put off even thinking what
his wife would say; he cast Fulkerson and his constructive treachery
out of his mind, too, and invited into it some pensive reveries of the
past, when he still stood at the parting of the ways, and could take
this path or that. In his middle life this was not possible; he must
follow the path chosen long, ago, wherever, it led. He was not master
of himself, as he once seemed, but the servant of those he loved; if
he could do what he liked, perhaps he might renounce this whole New
York enterprise, and go off somewhere out of the reach of care; but he
could not do what he liked, that was very clear. In the pathos of
this conviction he dwelt compassionately upon the thought of poor old
Lindau; he resolved to make him accept a handsome sum of money--more
than he could spare, something that he would feel the loss of--in
payment of the lessons in German and fencing given so long ago. At
the usual rate for such lessons, his debt, with interest for
twenty-odd years, would run very far into the hundreds. Too far, he
perceived, for his wife's joyous approval; he determined not to add
the interest; or he believed that Lindau would refuse the interest; he
put a fine speech in his mouth, making him do so; and after that he
got Lindau employment on 'Every Other Week,' and took care of him till
Through all his melancholy and munificence he was aware of sordid
anxieties for having taken the Grosvenor Green apartment. These began
to assume visible, tangible shapes as he drowsed, and to became
personal entities, from which he woke, with little starts, to a
realization of their true nature, and then suddenly fell fast asleep.
In the accomplishment of the events which his reverie played with,
there was much that retroactively stamped it with prophecy, but much
also that was better than he forboded. He found that with regard to
the Grosvenor Green apartment he had not allowed for his wife's
willingness to get any sort of roof over her head again after the
removal from their old home, or for the alleviations that grow up
through mere custom. The practical workings of the apartment were not
so bad; it had its good points, and after the first sensation of
oppression in it they began to feel the convenience of its
arrangement. They were at that time of life when people first turn to
their children's opinion with deference, and, in the loss of keenness
in their own likes and dislikes, consult the young preferences which
are still so sensitive. It went far to reconcile Mrs. March to the
apartment that her children were pleased with its novelty; when this
wore off for them, she had herself begun to find it much more easily
manageable than a house. After she had put away several barrels of
gimcracks, and folded up screens and rugs and skins, and carried them
all off to the little dark store-room which the flat developed, she
perceived at once a roominess and coziness in it unsuspected before.
Then, when people began to call, she had a pleasure, a superiority, in
saying that it was a furnished apartment, and in disclaiming all
responsibility for the upholstery and decoration. If March was by,
she always explained that it was Mr. March's fancy, and amiably
laughed it off with her callers as a mannish eccentricity. Nobody
really seemed to think it otherwise than pretty; and this again was a
triumph for Mrs. March, because it showed how inferior the New York
taste was to the Boston taste in such matters.
March submitted silently to his punishment, and laughed with her
before company at his own eccentricity. She had been so preoccupied
with the adjustment of the family to its new quarters and
circumstances that the time passed for laying his misgivings, if they
were misgivings, about Fulkerson before her, and when an occasion came
for expressing them they had themselves passed in the anxieties of
getting forward the first number of 'Every Other Week.' He kept these
from her, too, and the business that brought them to New York had
apparently dropped into abeyance before the questions of domestic
economy that presented and absented themselves. March knew his wife
to be a woman of good mind and in perfect sympathy with him, but he
understood the limitations of her perspective; and if he was not too
wise, he was too experienced to intrude upon it any affairs of his
till her own were reduced to the right order and proportion. It would
have been folly to talk to her of Fulkerson's conjecturable uncandor
while she was in doubt whether her cook would like the kitchen, or her
two servants would consent to room together; and till it was decided
what school Tom should go to, and whether Bella should have lessons at
home or not, the relation which March was to bear to the Dryfooses, as
owner and publisher, was not to be discussed with his wife. He might
drag it in, but he was aware that with her mind distracted by more
immediate interests he could not get from her that judgment, that
reasoned divination, which he relied upon so much. She would try, she
would do her best, but the result would be a view clouded and
discolored by the effort she must make.
He put the whole matter by, and gave himself to the details of the
work before him. In this he found not only escape, but reassurance,
for it became more and more apparent that whatever was nominally the
structure of the business, a man of his qualifications and his
instincts could not have an insignificant place in it. He had also
the consolation of liking his work, and of getting an instant grasp of
it that grew constantly firmer and closer. The joy of knowing that he
had not made a mistake was great. In giving rein to ambitions long
forborne he seemed to get back to the youth when he had indulged them
first; and after half a lifetime passed in pursuits alien to his
nature, he was feeling the serene happiness of being mated through his
work to his early love. From the outside the spectacle might have had
its pathos, and it is not easy to justify such an experiment as he had
made at his time of life, except upon the ground where he rested from
its consideration--the ground of necessity.
His work was more in his thoughts than himself, however; and as the
time for the publication of the first number of his periodical came
nearer, his cares all centred upon it. Without fixing any date,
Fulkerson had announced it, and pushed his announcements with the
shameless vigor of a born advertiser. He worked his interest with the
press to the utmost, and paragraphs of a variety that did credit to
his ingenuity were afloat everywhere. Some of them were speciously
unfavorable in tone; they criticised and even ridiculed the principles
on which the new departure in literary journalism was based. Others
defended it; others yet denied that this rumored principle was really
the principle. All contributed to make talk. All proceeded from the
same fertile invention.
March observed with a degree of mortification that the talk was
very little of it in the New York press; there the references to the
novel enterprise were slight and cold. But Fulkerson said: "Don't
mind that, old man. It's the whole country that makes or breaks a
thing like this; New York has very little to do with it. Now if it
were a play, it would be different. New York does make or break a
play; but it doesn't make or break a book; it doesn't make or break a
magazine. The great mass of the readers are outside of New York, and
the rural districts are what we have got to go for. They don't read
much in New York; they write, and talk about what they've written.
Don't you worry."
The rumor of Fulkerson's connection with the enterprise accompanied
many of the paragraphs, and he was able to stay March's thirst for
employment by turning over to him from day to day heaps of the
manuscripts which began to pour in from his old syndicate writers, as
well as from adventurous volunteers all over the country. With these
in hand March began practically to plan the first number, and to
concrete a general scheme from the material and the experience they
furnished. They had intended to issue the first number with the new
year, and if it had been an affair of literature alone, it would have
been very easy; but it was the art leg they limped on, as Fulkerson
phrased it. They had not merely to deal with the question of specific
illustrations for this article or that, but to decide the whole
character of their illustrations, and first of all to get a design for
a cover which should both ensnare the heedless and captivate the
fastidious. These things did not come properly within March's
province--that had been clearly understood--and for a while Fulkerson
tried to run the art leg himself. The phrase was again his, but it
was simpler to make the phrase than to run the leg. The difficult
generation, at once stiff-backed and slippery, with which he had to do
in this endeavor, reduced even so buoyant an optimist to despair, and
after wasting some valuable weeks in trying to work the artists
himself, he determined to get an artist to work them. But what
artist? It could not be a man with fixed reputation and a following:
he would be too costly, and would have too many enemies among his
brethren, even if he would consent to undertake the job. Fulkerson
had a man in mind, an artist, too, who would have been the very thing
if he had been the thing at all. He had talent enough, and his sort of
talent would reach round the whole situation, but, as Fulkerson said,
he was as many kinds of an ass as he was kinds of an artist.