The March Family Trilogy

Author: William Dean Howells


He had forgotten Kenby in these aesthetic interests, but he remembered him again when he called a carriage, and ordered it driven to their hotel. It was the hour of the German mid-day table d’hote, and they would be sure to meet him there. The question now was how March should own his presence in time to prevent his wife from showing her ignorance of it to Kenby himself, and he was still turning the question hopelessly over in his mind when the sight of the hotel seemed to remind her of a fact which she announced.

"Now, my dear, I am tired to death, and I am not going to sit through a long table d’hote. I want you to send me up a simple beefsteak and a cup of tea to our rooms; and I don’t want you to come near for hours; because I intend to take a whole afternoon nap. You can keep all the maps and plans, and guides, and you had better go and see what the Volksfest is like; it will give you some notion of the part the people are really taking in all this official celebration, and you know I don’t care. Don’t come up after dinner to see how I am getting along; I shall get along; and if you should happen to wake me after I had dropped off—"

Kenby had seen them arrive from where he sat at the reading-room window, waiting for the dinner hour, and had meant to rush out and greet Mrs. March as they passed up the corridor. But she looked so tired that he had decided to spare her till she came down to dinner; and as he sat with March at their soup, he asked if she were not well.

March explained, and he provisionally invented some regrets from her that she should not see Kenby till supper.

Kenby ordered a bottle of one of the famous Wurzburg wines for their mutual consolation in her absence, and in the friendliness which its promoted they agreed to spend the afternoon together. No man is so inveterate a husband as not to take kindly an occasional release to bachelor companionship, and before the dinner was over they agreed that they would go to the Volksfest, and get some notion of the popular life and amusements of Wurzburg, which was one of the few places where Kenby had never been before; and they agreed that they would walk.

Their way was partly up the quay of the Main, past a barrack full of soldiers. They met detachments of soldiers everywhere, infantry, artillery, cavalry.

"This is going to be a great show," Kenby said, meaning the manoeuvres, and he added, as if now he had kept away from the subject long enough and had a right to recur to it, at least indirectly, "I should like to have Rose see it, and get his impressions."

"I’ve an idea he wouldn’t approve of it. His mother says his mind is turning more and more to philanthropy."

Kenby could not forego such a chance to speak of Mrs. Adding. "It’s one of the prettiest things to see how she understands Rose. It’s charming to see them together. She wouldn’t have half the attraction without him."

"Oh, yes," March assented. He had often wondered how a man wishing to marry a widow managed with the idea of her children by another marriage; but if Kenby was honest; it was much simpler than he had supposed. He could not say this to him, however, and in a certain embarrassment he had with the conjecture in his presence he attempted a diversion. "We’re promised something at the Volksfest which will be a great novelty to us as Americans. Our driver told us this morning that one of the houses there was built entirely of wood."

When they reached the grounds of the Volksfest, this civil feature of the great military event at hand, which the Marches had found largely set forth in the programme of the parade, did not fully keep the glowing promises made for it; in fact it could not easily have done so. It was in a pleasant neighborhood of new villas such as form the modern quarter of every German city, and the Volksfest was even more unfinished than its environment. It was not yet enclosed by the fence which was to hide its wonders from the non-paying public, but March and Kenby went in through an archway where the gate-money was as effectually collected from them as if they were barred every other entrance.

The wooden building was easily distinguishable from the other edifices because these were tents and booths still less substantial. They did not make out its function, but of the others four sheltered merry-go-rounds, four were beer-gardens, four were restaurants, and the rest were devoted to amusements of the usual country-fair type. Apparently they had little attraction for country people. The Americans met few peasants in the grounds, and neither at the Edison kinematograph, where they refreshed their patriotism with some scenes of their native life, nor at the little theatre where they saw the sports of the arena revived, in the wrestle of a woman with a bear, did any of the people except tradesmen and artisans seem to be taking part in the festival expression of the popular pleasure.

The woman, who finally threw the bear, whether by slight, or by main strength, or by a previous understanding with him, was a slender creature, pathetically small and not altogether plain; and March as they walked away lapsed into a pensive muse upon her strange employ. He wondered how she came to take it up, and whether she began with the bear when they were both very young, and she could easily throw him.

"Well, women have a great deal more strength than we suppose," Kenby began with a philosophical air that gave March the hope of some rational conversation. Then his eye glazed with a far-off look, and a doting smile came into his face. "When we went through the Dresden gallery together, Rose and I were perfectly used up at the end of an hour, but his mother kept on as long as there was anything to see, and came away as fresh as a peach."

Then March saw that it was useless to expect anything different from him, and he let him talk on about Mrs. Adding all the rest of the way back to the hotel. Kenby seemed only to have begun when they reached the door, and wanted to continue the subject in the reading-room.

March pleaded his wish to find how his wife had got through the afternoon, and he escaped to her. He would have told her now that Kenby was in the house, but he was really so sick of the fact himself that he could not speak of it at once, and he let her go on celebrating all she had seen from the window since she had waked from her long nap. She said she could never be glad enough that they had come just at that time. Soldiers had been going by the whole afternoon, and that made it so feudal.

Yes," he assented. "But aren’t you coming up to the station with me to see the Prince-Regent arrive? He’s due at seven, you know."

"I declare I had forgotten all about it. No, I’m not equal to it. You must go; you can tell me everything; be sure to notice how the Princess Maria looks; the last of the Stuarts, you know; and some people consider her the rightful Queen of England; and I’ll have the supper ordered, and we can go down as soon as you’ve got back."


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Chicago: William Dean Howells, "LIV.," The March Family Trilogy, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The March Family Trilogy (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed August 21, 2019,

MLA: Howells, William Dean. "LIV." 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. 21 Aug. 2019.

Harvard: Howells, WD, 'LIV.' in The March Family Trilogy, ed. . cited in 1909, The March Family Trilogy, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from