Their Silver Wedding Journey— Volume 2

Contents:
Author: William Dean Howells

XXVI.

They found Burnamy expecting them at the station in Carlsbad, and she scolded him like a mother for taking the trouble to meet them, while she kept back for the present any sign of knowing that he had staid over a day with the Triscoes in Leipsic. He was as affectionately glad to see her and her husband as she could have wished, but she would have liked it better if he had owned up at once about Leipsic. He did not, and it seemed to her that he was holding her at arm’s-length in his answers about his employer. He would not say how he liked his work, or how he liked Mr. Stoller; he merely said that they were at Pupp’s together, and that he had got in a good day’s work already; and since he would say no more, she contented herself with that.

The long drive from the station to the hotel was by streets that wound down the hill-side like those of an Italian mountain town, between gay stuccoed houses, of Southern rather than of Northern architecture; and the impression of a Latin country was heightened at a turn of the road which brought into view a colossal crucifix planted against a curtain of dark green foliage on the brow of one of the wooded heights that surrounded Carlsbad. When they reached the level of the Tepl, the hillfed torrent that brawls through the little city under pretty bridges within walls of solid masonry, they found themselves in almost the only vehicle on a brilliant promenade thronged with a cosmopolitan world. Germans in every manner of misfit; Polish Jews in long black gabardines, with tight corkscrew curls on their temples under their black velvet derbys; Austrian officers in tight corsets; Greek priests in flowing robes and brimless high hats; Russians in caftans and Cossacks in Astrakhan caps, accented the more homogeneous masses of western Europeans, in which it would have been hard to say which were English, French or Italians. Among the vividly dressed ladies, some were imaginably Parisian from their chic costumes, but they might easily have been Hungarians or Levantines of taste; some Americans, who might have passed unknown in the perfection of their dress, gave their nationality away in the flat wooden tones of their voices, which made themselves heard above the low hum of talk and the whisper of the innumerable feet.

The omnibus worked its way at a slow walk among the promenaders going and coming between the rows of pollard locusts on one side and the bright walls of the houses on the other. Under the trees were tables, served by pretty bareheaded girls who ran to and from the restaurants across the way. On both sides flashed and glittered the little shops full of silver, glass, jewelry, terracotta figurines, wood-carvings, and all the idle frippery of watering-place traffic: they suggested Paris, and they suggested Saratoga, and then they were of Carlsbad and of no place else in the world, as the crowd which might have been that of other cities at certain moments could only have been of Carlsbad in its habitual effect.

"Do you like it?" asked Burnamy, as if he owned the place, and Mrs. March saw how simple-hearted he was in his reticence, after all. She was ready to bless him when they reached the hotel and found that his interest had got them the only rooms left in the house. This satisfied in her the passion for size which is at the bottom of every American heart, and which perhaps above all else marks us the youngest of the peoples. We pride ourselves on the bigness of our own things, but we are not ungenerous, and when we go to Europe and find things bigger than ours, we are magnanimously happy in them. Pupp’s, in its altogether different way, was larger than any hotel at Saratoga or at Niagara; and when Burnamy told her that it sometimes fed fifteen thousand people a day in the height of the season, she was personally proud of it.

She waited with him in the rotunda of the hotel, while the secretary led March off to look at the rooms reserved for them, and Burnamy hospitably turned the revolving octagonal case in the centre of the rotunda where the names of the guests were put up. They were of all nations, but there were so many New Yorkers whose names ended in berg, and thal, and stern, and baum that she seemed to be gazing upon a cyclorama of the signs on Broadway. A large man of unmistakable American make, but with so little that was of New England or New York in his presence that she might not at once have thought him American, lounged toward them with a quill toothpick in the corner of his mouth. He had a jealous blue eye, into which he seemed trying to put a friendly light; his straight mouth stretched into an involuntary smile above his tawny chin-beard, and he wore his soft hat so far back from his high forehead (it showed to the crown when he took his hat off) that he had the effect of being uncovered.

At his approach Burnamy turned, and with a flush said: "Oh! Let me introduce Mr. Stoller, Mrs. March."

Stoller took his toothpick out of his mouth and bowed; then he seemed to remember, and took off his hat. "You see Jews enough, here to make you feel at home?" he asked; and he added: "Well, we got some of ’em in Chicago, too, I guess. This young man"—he twisted his head toward Burnamy" found you easy enough?"

"It was very good of him to meet us," Mrs. March began. "We didn’t expect—"

"Oh, that’s all right," said Stoller, putting his toothpick back, and his hat on. "We’d got through for the day; my doctor won’t let me work all I want to, here. Your husband’s going to take the cure, they tell me. Well, he wants to go to a good doctor, first. You can’t go and drink these waters hit or miss. I found that out before I came."

"Oh, no!" said Mrs. March, and she wished to explain how they had been advised; but he said to Burnamy:

"I sha’n’t want you again till ten to-morrow morning. Don’t let me interrupt you," he added patronizingly to Mrs. March. He put his hand up toward his hat, and sauntered away out of the door.

Burnamy did not speak; and she only asked at last, to relieve the silence, "Is Mr. Stoller an American?"

"Why, I suppose so," he answered, with an uneasy laugh. "His people were German emigrants who settled in Southern Indiana. That makes him as much American as any of us, doesn’t it?"

Burnamy spoke with his mind on his French-Canadian grandfather, who had come down through Detroit, when their name was Bonami; but Mrs. March answered from her eight generations of New England ancestry. "Oh, for the West, yes, perhaps," and they neither of them said anything more about Stoller.

In their room, where she found March waiting for her amidst their arriving baggage, she was so full of her pent-up opinions of Burnamy’s patron that she, would scarcely speak of the view from their windows of the wooded hills up and down the Tepl. "Yes, yes; very nice, and I know I shall enjoy it ever so much. But I don’t know what you will think of that poor young Burnamy!"

"Why, what’s happened to him?"

"Happened? Stoller’s happened."

"Oh, have you seen him, already? Well?"

"Well, if you had been going to pick out that type of man, you’d have rejected him, because you’d have said he was too pat. He’s like an actor made up for a Western millionaire. Do you remember that American in ’L’Etranger’ which Bernhardt did in Boston when she first came? He, looks exactly like that, and he has the worst manners. He stood talking to me with his hat on, and a toothpick in his mouth; and he made me feel as if he had bought me, along with Burnamy, and had paid too much. If you don’t give him a setting down, Basil, I shall never speak to you; that’s all. I’m sure Burnamy is in some trouble with him; he’s got some sort of hold upon him; what it could be in such a short time, I can’t imagine; but if ever a man seemed to be, in a man’s power, he does, in his!

"Now," said March, "your pronouns have got so far beyond me that I think we’d better let it all go till after supper; perhaps I shall see Stoller myself by that time."

She had been deeply stirred by her encounter with Stoller, but she entered with impartial intensity into the fact that the elevator at Pupp’s had the characteristic of always coming up and never going down with passengers. It was locked into its closet with a solid door, and there was no bell to summon it, or any place to take it except on the ground-floor; but the stairs by which she could descend were abundant and stately; and on one landing there was the lithograph of one of the largest and ugliest hotels in New York; how ugly it was, she said she should never have known if she had not seen it there.

The dining-room was divided into the grand saloon, where they supped amid rococo sculptures and frescoes, and the glazed veranda opening by vast windows on a spread of tables without, which were already filling up for the evening concert. Around them at the different tables there were groups of faces and figures fascinating in their strangeness, with that distinction which abashes our American level in the presence of European inequality.

"How simple and unimpressive we are, Basil," she said, "beside all these people! I used to feel it in Europe when I was young, and now I’m certain that we must seem like two faded-in old village photographs. We don’t even look intellectual! I hope we look good."

"I know I do," said March. The waiter went for their supper, and they joined in guessing the different nationalities in the room. A French party was easy enough; a Spanish mother and daughter were not difficult, though whether they were not South-American remained uncertain; two elderly maiden ladies were unmistakably of central Massachusetts, and were obviously of a book-club culture that had left no leaf unturned; some Triestines gave themselves away by their Venetian accent; but a large group at a farther table were unassignable in the strange language which they clattered loudly together, with bursts of laughter. They were a family party of old and young, they were having a good time, with a freedom which she called baronial; the ladies wore white satin, or black lace, but the men were in sack-coats; she chose to attribute them, for no reason but their outlandishness, to Transylvania. March pretended to prefer a table full of Germans, who were unmistakably bourgeois, and yet of intellectual effect. He chose as his favorite a middle-aged man of learned aspect, and they both decided to think of him as the Herr Professor, but they did not imagine how perfectly the title fitted him till he drew a long comb from his waistcoat pocket and combed his hair and beard with it above the table.

The wine wrought with the Transylvanians, and they all jargoned together at once, and laughed at the jokes passing among them. One old gentleman had a peculiar fascination from the infantile innocence of his gums when he threw his head back to laugh, and showed an upper jaw toothless except for two incisors, standing guard over the chasm between. Suddenly he choked, coughed to relieve himself, hawked, held his napkin up before him, and—

"Noblesse oblige," said March, with the tone of irony which he reserved for his wife’s preoccupations with aristocracies of all sorts. "I think I prefer my Hair Professor, bourgeois, as he is."

The ladies attributively of central Massachusetts had risen from their table, and were making for the door without having paid for their supper. The head waiter ran after them; with a real delicacy for their mistake he explained that though in most places the meals were charged in the bill, it was the custom in Carlsbad to pay for them at the table; one could see that he was making their error a pleasant adventure to them which they could laugh over together, and write home about without a pang.

"And I," said Mrs. March, shamelessly abandoning the party of the aristocracy, "prefer the manners of the lower classes."

"Oh, yes," he admitted. "The only manners we have at home are black ones. But you mustn’t lose courage. Perhaps the nobility are not always so baronial."

"I don’t know whether we have manners at home," she said, "and I don’t believe I care. At least we have decencies."

"Don’t be a jingo," said her husband.

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Chicago: William Dean Howells, "XXVI.," Their Silver Wedding Journey— Volume 2, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Their Silver Wedding Journey—Volume 2 (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KES6SDQ84FQRA5Z.

MLA: Howells, William Dean. "XXVI." Their Silver Wedding Journey— Volume 2, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Their Silver Wedding Journey—Volume 2, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KES6SDQ84FQRA5Z.

Harvard: Howells, WD, 'XXVI.' in Their Silver Wedding Journey— Volume 2, ed. . cited in 1909, Their Silver Wedding Journey—Volume 2, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=KES6SDQ84FQRA5Z.