The March Family Trilogy

Author: William Dean Howells


Mrs. March fairly took Miss Triscoe in her arms to kiss her. "Do you know I felt it must be you, all the time! When did you come? Where is your father? What hotel are you staying at?"

It appeared, while Miss Triscoe was shaking hands with March, that it was last night, and her father was finishing his breakfast, and it was one of the hotels on the hill. On the way back to her father it appeared that he wished to consult March’s doctor; not that there was anything the matter.

The general himself was not much softened by the reunion with his fellow- Americans; he confided to them that his coffee was poisonous; but he seemed, standing up with the Paris-New York Chronicle folded in his hand, to have drunk it all. Was March going off on his forenoon tramp? He believed that was part of the treatment, which was probably all humbug,, though he thought of trying it, now he was there. He was told the walks were fine; he looked at Burnamy as if he had been praising them, and Burnamy said he had been wondering if March would not like to try a mountain path back to his hotel; he said, not so sincerely, that he thought Mrs. March would like it.

"I shall like your account of it," she answered. "But I’ll walk back on a level, if you please."

"Oh, yes," Miss Triscoe pleaded, "come with us!"

She played a little comedy of meaning to go back with her father so gracefully that Mrs. March herself could scarcely have told just where the girl’s real purpose of going with Burnamy began to be evident, or just how she managed to make General Triscoe beg to have the pleasure of seeing Mrs. March back to her hotel.

March went with the young people across the meadow behind the Posthof and up into the forest, which began at the base of the mountain. At first they tried to keep him in the range of their talk; but he fell behind more and more, and as the talk narrowed to themselves it was less and less possible to include him in it. When it began to concern their common appreciation of the Marches, they even tried to get out of his hearing.

"They’re so young in their thoughts," said Burnamy, "and they seem as much interested in everything as they could have been thirty years ago. They belong to a time when the world was a good deal fresher than it is now; don’t you think? I mean, in the eighteen-sixties."

"Oh, yes, I can see that."

"I don’t know why we shouldn’t be born older in each generation than people were in the last. Perhaps we are," he suggested.

"I don’t know how you mean," said the girl, keeping vigorously up with him; she let him take the jacket she threw off, but she would not have his hand at the little steeps where he wanted to give it.

"I don’t believe I can quite make it out myself. But fancy a man that began to act at twenty, quite unconsciously of course, from the past experience of the whole race—"

"He would be rather a dreadful person, wouldn’t he?"

"Rather monstrous, yes," he owned, with a laugh. "But that’s where the psychological interest would come in."

As if she did not feel the notion quite pleasant she turned from it. "I suppose you’ve been writing all sorts of things since you came here."

"Well, it hasn’t been such a great while as it’s seemed, and I’ve had Mr. Stoller’s psychological interests to look after."

"Oh, yes! Do you like him?"

"I don’t know. He’s a lump of honest selfishness. He isn’t bad. You know where to have him. He’s simple, too."

"You mean, like Mr. March?"

"I didn’t mean that; but why not? They’re not of the same generation, but Stoller isn’t modern."

"I’m very curious to see him," said the girl.

"Do you want me to introduce him?"

"You can introduce him to papa."

They stopped and looked across the curve of the mounting path, down on March, who had sunk on a way-side seat, and was mopping his forehead. He saw them, and called up: "Don’t wait for me. I’ll join you, gradually."

"I don’t want to lose you," Burnamy called back, but he kept on with Miss Triscoe. "I want to get the Hirschensprung in," he explained. "It’s the cliff where a hunted deer leaped down several hundred feet to get away from an emperor who was after him."

"Oh, yes. They have them everywhere."

"Do they? Well, anyway, there’s a noble view up there."

There was no view on the way up. The Germans’ notion of a woodland is everywhere that of a dense forest such as their barbarous tribes primevally herded in. It means the close-set stems of trees, with their tops interwoven in a roof of boughs and leaves so densely that you may walk dry through it almost as long as a German shower lasts. When the sun shines there is a pleasant greenish light in the aisles, shot here and there with the gold that trickles through. There is nothing of the accident of an American wood in these forests, which have been watched and weeded by man ever since they burst the soil. They remain nurseries, but they have the charm which no human care can alienate. The smell of their bark and their leaves, and of the moist, flowerless earth about their roots, came to March where he sat rich with the memories of his country-bred youth, and drugged all consciousness of his long life in cities since, and made him a part of nature, with dulled interests and dimmed perspectives, so that for the moment he had the enjoyment of exemption from care. There was no wild life to penetrate his isolation; no birds, not a squirrel, not an insect; an old man who had bidden him good-morning, as he came up, kept fumbling at the path with his hoe, and was less intrusive than if he had not been there.

March thought of the impassioned existence of these young people playing the inevitable comedy of hide and seek which the youth of the race has played from the beginning of time. The other invalids who haunted the forest, and passed up and down before him in fulfilment of their several prescriptions, had a thin unreality in spite of the physical bulk that prevailed among them, and they heightened the relief that the forestspirit brought him from the strenuous contact of that young drama. He had been almost painfully aware that the persons in it had met, however little they knew it, with an eagerness intensified by their brief separation, and he fancied it was the girl who had unconsciously operated their reunion in response to the young man’s longing, her will making itself electrically felt through space by that sort of wireless telegraphy which love has long employed, and science has just begun to imagine.

He would have been willing that they should get home alone, but he knew that his wife would require an account of them from him, and though he could have invented something of the kind, if it came to the worst, he was aware that it would not do for him to arrive without them. The thought goaded him from his seat, and he joined the upward procession of his fellow-sick, as it met another procession straggling downward; the ways branched in all directions, with people on them everywhere, bent upon building up in a month the health which they would spend the rest of the year in demolishing.

He came upon his charges unexpectedly at a turn of the path, and Miss Triscoe told him that he ought to have been with them for the view from the Hirschensprung. It was magnificent, she said, and she made Burnamy corroborate her praise of it, and agree with her that it was worth the climb a thousand times; he modestly accepted the credit she appeared willing to give him, of inventing the Hirschensprung.


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Chicago: William Dean Howells, "XXX.," The March Family Trilogy, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The March Family Trilogy (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed June 7, 2023,

MLA: Howells, William Dean. "XXX." The March Family Trilogy, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in The March Family Trilogy, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909, Original Sources. 7 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Howells, WD, 'XXX.' in The March Family Trilogy, ed. . cited in 1909, The March Family Trilogy, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 7 June 2023, from