The March Family Trilogy

Author: William Dean Howells


Between his work for Stoller and what sometimes seemed the obstructiveness of General Triscoe, Burnamy was not very much with Miss Triscoe. He was not devout, but he went every Sunday to the pretty English church on the hill, where he contributed beyond his means to the support of the English clergy on the Continent, for the sake of looking at her back hair during the service, and losing himself in the graceful lines which defined, the girl’s figure from the slant of her flowery hat to the point where the pewtop crossed her elastic waist. One happy morning the general did not come to church, and he had the fortune to walk home with her to her pension, where she lingered with him a moment, and almost made him believe she might be going to ask him to come in.

The next evening, when he was sauntering down the row of glittering shops beside the Tepl, with Mrs. March, they overtook the general and his daughter at a place where the girl was admiring some stork-scissors in the window; she said she wished she were still little, so that she could get them. They walked home with the Triscoes, and then he hurried Mrs. March back to the shop. The man had already put up his shutters, and was just closing his door, but Burnamy pushed in, and asked to look at the stork-scissors they had seen in the window. The gas was out, and the shopman lighted a very dim candle, to show them.

"I knew you wanted to get them for her, after what she said, Mrs. March," he laughed, nervously, "and you must let me lend you the money."

"Why, of course!" she answered, joyfully humoring his feint. "Shall I put my card in for the man to send home to her with them?"

"Well—no. No. Not your card—exactly. Or, yes! Yes, you must, I suppose."

They made the hushing street gay with their laughter; the next evening Miss Triscoe came upon the Marches and Burnamy where they sat after supper listening to the concert at Pupp’s, and thanked Mrs. March for the scissors. Then she and Burnamy had their laugh again, and Miss Triscoe joined them, to her father’s frowning mystification. He stared round for a table; they were all taken, and he could not refuse the interest Burnamy made with the waiters to bring them one and crowd it in. He had to ask him to sup with them, and Burnamy sat down and heard the concert through beside Miss Triscoe.

"What is so tremendously amusing in a pair of stork-scissors?" March demanded, when his wife and he were alone.

"Why, I was wanting to tell you, dearest," she began, in a tone which he felt to be wheedling, and she told the story of the scissors.

"Look here, my dear! Didn’t you promise to let this love-affair alone?"

"That was on the ship. And besides, what would you have done, I should like to know? Would you have refused to let him buy them for her?" She added, carelessly, "He wants us to go to the Kurhaus ball with him."

"Oh, does he!"

"Yes. He says he knows that she can get her father to let her go if we will chaperon them. And I promised that you would."

"That I would?"

"It will do just as well if you go. And it will be very amusing; you can see something of Carlsbad society."

"But I’m not going!" he declared. "It would interfere with my cure. The sitting up late would be bad enough, but I should get very hungry, and I should eat potato salad and sausages, and drink beer, and do all sorts of unwholesome things."

"Nonsense! The refreshments will be ’kurgemass’, of course."

"You can go yourself," he said.

A ball is not the same thing for a woman after fifty as it is before twenty, but still it has claims upon the imagination, and the novel circumstance of a ball in the Kurhaus in Carlsbad enhanced these for Mrs. March. It was the annual reunion which is given by municipal authority in the large hall above the bathrooms; it is frequented with safety and pleasure by curious strangers, and now, upon reflection, it began to have for Mrs. March the charm of duty; she believed that she could finally have made March go in her place, but she felt that she ought really to go in his, and save him from the late hours and the late supper.

"Very well, then," she said at last, "I will go."

It appeared that any civil person might go to the reunion who chose to pay two florins and a half. There must have been some sort of restriction, and the ladies of Burnamy’s party went with a good deal of amused curiosity to see what the distinctions were; but they saw none unless it was the advantages which the military had. The long hall over the bathrooms shaped itself into a space for the dancing at one end, and all the rest of it was filled with tables, which at half past eight were crowded with people, eating, drinking, and smoking. The military enjoyed the monopoly of a table next the rail dividing the dancing from the dining space. There the tight-laced Herr Hauptmanns and Herr Lieutenants sat at their sausage and beer and cigars in the intervals of the waltzes, and strengthened themselves for a foray among the gracious Fraus and Frauleins on the benches lining three sides of the dancing-space. From the gallery above many civilian spectators looked down upon the gayety, and the dress-coats of a few citizens figured among the uniforms.

As the evening wore on some ladies of greater fashion found their way to the dancing-floor, and toward ten o’clock it became rather crowded. A party of American girls showed their Paris dresses in the transatlantic versions of the waltz. At first they danced with the young men who came with them; but after a while they yielded to the custom of the place, and danced with any of the officers who asked them.

"I know it’s the custom," said Mrs. March to Miss Triscoe, who was at her side in one of the waltzes she had decided to sit out, so as not to be dancing all the time with Burnamy, "but I never can like it without an introduction."

"No," said the girl, with the air of putting temptation decidedly away, "I don’t believe papa would, either."

A young officer came up, and drooped in mute supplication before her. She glanced at Mrs. March, who turned her face away; and she excused herself with the pretence that she had promised the dance, and by good fortune, Burnamy, who had been unscrupulously waltzing with a lady he did not know, came up at the moment. She rose and put her hand on his arm, and they both bowed to the officer before they whirled away. The officer looked after them with amiable admiration; then he turned to Mrs. March with a light of banter in his friendly eyes, and was unmistakably asking her to dance. She liked his ironical daring, she liked it so much that she forgot her objection to partners without introductions; she forgot her fifty-odd years; she forgot that she was a mother of grown children and even a mother-in-law; she remembered only the step of her out-dated waltz.

It seemed to be modern enough for the cheerful young officer, and they were suddenly revolving with the rest. . . A tide of long-forgotten girlhood welled up in her heart, and she laughed as she floated off on it past the astonished eyes of Miss Triscoe and Burnamy. She saw them falter, as if they had lost their step in their astonishment; then they seemed both to vanish, and her partner had released her, and was helping Miss Triscoe up from the floor; Burnamy was brushing the dust from his knees, and the citizen who had bowled them over was boisterously apologizing and incessantly bowing.

"Oh, are you hurt?" Mrs. March implored. "I’m sure you must be killed; and I did it! I don’t know, what I was thinking of!"

The girl laughed. "I’m not hurt a bit!"

They had one impulse to escape from the place, and from the sympathy and congratulation. In the dressing-room she declared again that she was all right. "How beautifully you waltz, Mrs. March!" she said, and she laughed again, and would not agree with her that she had been ridiculous. "But I’m glad those American girls didn’t see me. And I can’t be too thankful papa didn’t come!"

Mrs. March’s heart sank at the thought of what General Triscoe would think of her. "You must tell him I did it. I can never lift up my head!"

"No, I shall not. No one did it," said the girl, magnanimously. She looked down sidelong at her draperies. "I was so afraid I had torn my dress! I certainly heard something rip."

It was one of the skirts of Burnamy’s coat, which he had caught into his hand and held in place till he could escape to the men’s dressing-room, where he had it pinned up so skillfully that the damage was not suspected by the ladies. He had banged his knee abominably too; but they did not suspect that either, as he limped home on the air beside them, first to Miss Triscoe’s pension, and then to Mrs. March’s hotel.

It was quite eleven o’clock, which at Carlsbad is as late as three in the morning anywhere else, when she let herself into her room. She decided not to tell her husband, then; and even at breakfast, which they had at the Posthof, she had not got to her confession, though she had told him everything else about the ball, when the young officer with whom she had danced passed between the tables near her. He caught her eye and bowed with a smile of so much meaning that March asked, "Who’s your pretty young friend?"

"Oh, that!" she answered carelessly. "That was one of the officers at the ball," and she laughed.

"You seem to be in the joke, too," he said. "What is it?"

"Oh, something. I’ll tell you some time. Or perhaps you’ll find out."

"I’m afraid you won’t let me wait."

"No, I won’t," and now she told him. She had expected teasing, ridicule, sarcasm, anything but the psychological interest mixed with a sort of retrospective tenderness which he showed. "I wish I could have seen you; I always thought you danced well." He added: "It seems that you need a chaperon too."

The next morning, after March and General Triscoe had started off upon one of the hill climbs, the young people made her go with them for a walk up the Tepl, as far as the caf‚ of the Freundschaftsaal. In the grounds an artist in silhouettes was cutting out the likenesses of people who supposed themselves to have profiles, and they begged Mrs. March to sit for hers. It was so good that she insisted on Miss Triscoe’s sitting in turn, and then Burnamy. Then he had the inspiration to propose that they should all three sit together, and it appeared that such a group was within the scope of the silhouettist’s art; he posed them in his little bower, and while he was mounting the picture they took turns, at five kreutzers each, in listening to American tunes played by his Edison phonograph.

Mrs. March felt that all this was weakening her moral fibre; but she tried to draw the line at letting Burnamy keep the group. "Why not?" he pleaded.

"You oughtn’t to ask," she returned. "You’ve no business to have Miss Triscoe’s picture, if you must know."

"But you’re there to chaperon us!" he persisted.

He began to laugh, and they all laughed when she said, "You need a chaperon who doesn’t lose her head, in a silhouette." But it seemed useless to hold out after that, and she heard herself asking, "Shall we let him keep it, Miss Triscoe?"

Burnamy went off to his work with Stoller, carrying the silhouette with him, and she kept on with Miss Triscoe to her hotel. In turning from the gate after she parted with the girl she found herself confronted with Mrs. Adding and Rose. The ladies exclaimed at each other in an astonishment from which they had to recover before they could begin to talk, but from the first moment Mrs. March perceived that Mrs. Adding had something to say. The more freely to say it she asked Mrs. March into her hotel, which was in the same street with the pension of the Triscoes, and she let her boy go off about the exploration of Carlsbad; he promised to be back in an hour.

"Well, now what scrape are you in?" March asked when his wife came home, and began to put off her things, with signs of excitement which he could not fail to note. He was lying down after a long tramp, and he seemed very comfortable.

His question suggested something of anterior import, and she told him about the silhouettes, and the advantage the young people had taken of their power over her through their knowledge of her foolish behavior at the ball.

He said, lazily: "They seem to be working you for all you’re worth. Is that it?"

"No; there is something worse. Something’s happened which throws all that quite in the shade. Mrs. Adding is here."

"Mrs. Adding?" he repeated, with a dimness for names which she would not allow was growing on him.

"Don’t be stupid, dear! Mrs. Adding, who sat opposite Mr. Kenby on the Norumbia. The mother of the nice boy."

"Oh, yes! Well, that’s good!"

"No, it isn’t! Don’t say such a thing—till you know!" she cried, with a certain shrillness which warned him of an unfathomed seriousness in the fact. He sat up as if better to confront the mystery. "I have been at her hotel, and she has been telling me that she’s just come from Berlin, and that Mr. Kenby’s been there, and— Now I won’t have you making a joke of it, or breaking out about it, as if it were not a thing to be looked for; though of course with the others on our hands you’re not to blame for not thinking of it. But you can see yourself that she’s young and good-looking. She did speak beautifully of her son, and if it were not for him, I don’t believe she would hesitate—"

"For heaven’s sake, what are you driving at?" March broke in, and she answered him as vehemently:

"He’s asked her to marry him!"

"Kenby? Mrs. Adding?"


"Well, now, Isabel, this won’t do! They ought to be ashamed of themselves. With that morbid, sensitive boy! It’s shocking—"

"Will you listen? Or do you want me to stop?" He arrested himself at her threat, and she resumed, after giving her contempt of his turbulence time to sink in, "She refused him, of course!"

"Oh, all right, then!"

"You take it in such a way that I’ve a great mind not to tell you anything more about it."

"I know you have," he said, stretching himself out again; "but you’ll do it, all the same. You’d have been awfully disappointed if I had been calm and collected."

"She refused him," she began again, "although she respects him, because she feels that she ought to devote herself to her son. Of course she’s very young, still; she was married when she was only nineteen to a man twice her age, and she’s not thirty-five yet. I don’t think she ever cared much for her husband; and she wants you to find out something about him."

"I never heard of him. I—"

Mrs. March made a "tchck!" that would have recalled the most consequent of men from the most logical and coherent interpretation to the true intent of her words. He perceived his mistake, and said, resolutely: "Well, I won’t do it. If she’s refused him, that’s the end of it; she needn’t know anything about him, and she has no right to."

"Now I think differently," said Mrs. March, with an inductive air. "Of course she has to know about him, now." She stopped, and March turned his head and looked expectantly at her. "He said he would not consider her answer final, but would hope to see her again and— She’s afraid he may follow her— What are you looking at me so for?"

"Is he coming here?"

"Am I to blame if he is? He said he was going to write to her."

March burst into a laugh. "Well, they haven’t been beating about the bush! When I think how Miss Triscoe has been pursuing Burnamy from the first moment she set eyes on him, with the settled belief that she was running from him, and he imagines that he has been boldly following her, without the least hope from her, I can’t help admiring the simple directness of these elders."

"And if Kenby wants to talk with you, what will you say?" she cut in eagerly.

"I’ll say I don’t like the subject. What am I in Carlsbad for? I came for the cure, and I’m spending time and money on it. I might as well go and take my three cups of Felsenquelle on a full stomach as to listen to Kenby."

"I know it’s bad for you, and I wish we had never seen those people," said Mrs. March. "I don’t believe he’ll want to talk with you; but if—"

"Is Mrs. Adding in this hotel? I’m not going to have them round in my bread-trough!"

"She isn’t. She’s at one of the hotels on the hill."

"Very well, let her stay there, then. They can manage their love-affairs in their own way. The only one I care the least for is the boy."

"Yes, it is forlorn for him. But he likes Mr. Kenby, and— No, it’s horrid, and you can’t make it anything else!"

"Well, I’m not trying to." He turned his face away. "I must get my nap, now." After she thought he must have fallen asleep, he said, "The first thing you know, those old Eltwins will be coming round and telling us that they’re going to get divorced." Then he really slept.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: The March Family Trilogy

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The March Family Trilogy

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: William Dean Howells, "XXXI.," The March Family Trilogy, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The March Family Trilogy (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed March 31, 2023,

MLA: Howells, William Dean. "XXXI." 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. 31 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Howells, WD, 'XXXI.' in The March Family Trilogy, ed. . cited in 1909, The March Family Trilogy, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 31 March 2023, from