The March Family Trilogy

Author: William Dean Howells


At the same moment Burnamy bowed himself out of the box where he had been sitting with the ladies during the absence of the gentlemen. He had knocked at the door almost as soon as they disappeared, and if he did not fully share the consternation which his presence caused, he looked so frightened that Mrs. March reserved the censure which the sight of him inspired, and in default of other inspiration treated his coming simply as a surprise. She shook hands with him, and then she asked him to sit down, and listened to his explanation that he had come back to Carlsbad to write up the birthnight festivities, on an order from the Paris-New York Chronicle; that he had seen them in the box and had ventured to took in. He was pale, and so discomposed that the heart of justice was softened more and more in Mrs. March’s breast, and she left him to the talk that sprang up, by an admirable effect of tact in the young lady, between him and Miss Triscoe.

After all, she decided, there was nothing criminal in his being in Carlsbad, and possibly in the last analysis there was nothing so very wicked in his being in her box. One might say that it was not very nice of him after he had gone away under such a cloud; but on the other hand it was nice, though in a different way, if he longed so much to see Miss Triscoe that he could not help coming. It was altogether in his favor that he was so agitated, though he was momently becoming less agitated; the young people were beginning to laugh at the notion of Mr. March and General Triscoe going behind the scenes. Burnamy said he envied them the chance; and added, not very relevantly, that he had come from Baireuth, where he had seen the last of the Wagner performances. He said he was going back to Baireuth, but not to Ansbach again, where he had finished looking up that Kaspar Hauser business. He seemed to think Mrs. March would know about it, and she could not help saying; Oh, yes, Mr. March was so much interested. She wondered if she ought to tell him about his handkerchief; but she remembered in time that she had left it in Miss Triscoe’s keeping. She wondered if the girl realized how handsome he was. He was extremely handsome, in his black evening dress, with his Tuxedo, and the pallor of his face repeated in his expanse of shirt front.

At the bell for the rising of the curtain he rose too, and took their offered hands. In offering hers Mrs. March asked if he would not stay and speak with Mr. March and the general; and now for the first time he recognized anything clandestine in his visit. He laughed nervously, and said, "No, thank you!" and shut himself out.

"We must tell them," said Mrs. March, rather interrogatively, and she was glad that the girl answered with a note of indignation.

"Why, certainly, Mrs. March."

They could not tell them at once, for the second act had begun when March and the general came back; and after the opera was over and they got out into the crowded street there was no chance, for the general was obliged to offer his arm to Mrs. March, while her husband followed with his daughter.

The facades of the theatre and of the hotels were outlined with thickly set little lamps, which beaded the arches of the bridges spanning the Tepl, and lighted the casements and portals of the shops. High above all, against the curtain of black woodland on the mountain where its skeleton had been growing for days, glittered the colossal effigy of the doubleheaded eagle of Austria, crowned with the tiara of the Holy Roman Empire; in the reflected splendor of its myriad lamps the pale Christ looked down from the mountain opposite upon the surging multitudes in the streets and on the bridges.

They were most amiable multitudes, March thought, and they responded docilely to the entreaties of the policemen who stood on the steps of the bridges, and divided their encountering currents with patient appeals of "Bitte schon! Bitte schon!" He laughed to think of a New York cop saying "Please prettily! Please prettily!" to a New York crowd which he wished to have go this way or that, and then he burned with shame to think how far our manners were from civilization, wherever our heads and hearts might be, when he heard a voice at his elbow:

"A punch with a club would start some of these fellows along quicker."

It was Stoller, and March turned from him to lose his disgust in the sudden terror of perceiving that Miss Triscoe was no longer at his side. Neither could he see his wife and General Triscoe, and he began to push frantically about in the crowd looking for the girl. He had an interminable five or ten minutes in his vain search, and he was going to call out to her by name, when Burnamy saved him from the hopeless absurdity by elbowing his way to him with Miss. Triscoe on his arm.

"Here she is, Mr. March," he said, as if there were nothing strange in his having been there to find her; in fact he had followed them all from the theatre, and at the moment he saw the party separated, and Miss Triscoe carried off helpless in the human stream, had plunged in and rescued her. Before March could formulate any question in his bewilderment, Burnamy was gone again; the girl offered no explanation for him, and March had not yet decided to ask any when he caught sight of his wife and General Triscoe standing tiptoe in a doorway and craning their necks upward and forward to scan the crowd in search of him and his charge. Then he looked round at her and opened his lips to express the astonishment that filled him, when be was aware of an ominous shining of her eyes and trembling of her hand on his arm.

She pressed his arm nervously, and he understood her to beg him to forbear at once all question of her and all comment on Burnamy’s presence to her father.

It would not have been just the time for either. Not only Mrs. March was with the general, but Mrs. Adding also; she had called to them from that place, where she was safe with Rose when she saw them eddying about in the crowd. The general was still, expressing a gratitude which became more pressing the more it was disclaimed; he said casually at sight of his daughter, "Ah; you’ve found us, have you?" and went on talking to Mrs. Adding, who nodded to them laughingly, and asked, "Did you see me beckoning?"

"Look here, my dear!" March said to his wife as soon as they parted from the rest, the general gallantly promising that his daughter and he would see Mrs. Adding safe to her hotel, and were making their way slowly home alone. "Did you know that Burnamy was in Carlsbad?"

"He’s going away on the twelve-o’clock train tonight," she answered, firmly.

"What has that got to do with it? Where did you see him?"

"In the box, while you were behind the scenes."

She told him all about it, and he listened in silent endeavor for the ground of censure from which a sense of his own guilt forced him. She asked suddenly, "Where did you see him?" and he told her in turn.

He added severely, "Her father ought to know. Why didn’t you tell him?"

"Why didn’t you?" she retorted with great reason.

"Because I didn’t think he was just in the humor for it." He began to laugh as he sketched their encounter with the gendarme, but she did not seem to think it amusing; and he became serious again. "Besides, I was afraid she was going to blubber, any way."

"She wouldn’t have blubbered, as you call it. I don’t know why you need be so disgusting! It would have given her just the moral support she needed. Now she will have to tell him herself, and he will blame us. You ought to have spoken; you could have done it easily and naturally when you came up with her. You will have yourself to thank for all the trouble that comes of it, now, my dear."

He shouted in admiration of her skill in shifting the blame on him. "All right! I should have had to stand it, even if you hadn’t behaved with angelic wisdom."

"Why," she said, after reflection, "I don’t see what either of us has done. We didn’t get Burnamy to come here, or connive at his presence in any way."

"Oh! Make Triscoe believe that! He knows you’ve done all you could to help the affair on."

"Well, what if I have? He began making up to Mrs. Adding himself as soon as he saw her, to-night. She looked very pretty."

"Well, thank Heaven! we’re off to-morrow morning, and I hope we’ve seen the last of them. They’ve done what they could to spoil my cure, but I’m not going to have them spoil my aftercure."


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Chicago: William Dean Howells, "XLIII.," 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 3, 2023,

MLA: Howells, William Dean. "XLIII." 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. 3 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Howells, WD, 'XLIII.' in The March Family Trilogy, ed. . cited in 1909, The March Family Trilogy, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 June 2023, from