A PLEASANT JOURNEY
“... all that is most beauteous imaged there
In happier beauty; more pellucid streams
In ampler ether, a diviner air,
And fields invested with purpureal gleams.”
We left New Orleans that evening, and, on the second morning thereafter, we were far out on the Gulf of Mexico. The blessed north wind was gently rocking The Lone Star. I could smell the sea, and hear the beating of its great heart, as deep called unto deep. Then, raising myself in my berth, I could see the white horses chasing each other over the blue waters. The port hole being open, I had been drinking oxygen all night, and I was a new woman, fit for anything, and afraid of nothing that could come to me.
I dressed myself and the children as quickly as possible, and we went to the saloon for breakfast. Then I sent for Robert to join us, but he had breakfasted with the captain; so we ate the good meal leisurely, and then went on deck. Oh, what a joy it was! How the children ran and played in the cool, fresh breeze! How happy, and how well Robert looked! And how heavenly it was, just to lie on the mattress the captain had placed for me in a snug corner, and shut my eyes, and let the wind, and the sea, and the sun revivify and remake me. I could hear my soul laugh low within me, and, when I was a little more rested, I knew it would break into song. In the meantime, I slept, and slept, and the wind and the waves sung me some lullaby of my fathers—some ancient song of love and courage, such as I used to hear Tom Huddleston sing in the Huddleston quarter in Whitehaven. It seemed years and years ago; though, when I tried to count them, I could only make out that it might be six or seven, since I heard the gay sailor lad singing to me,
“Round the world and home again,
That is the sailor’s way.”
The Lone Star was a slow ship, and the wind was a little contrary, but we were not troubled by delay. For a short space it was good to be out of the world, and away from all its cares and obligations; we were growing younger and stronger with every hour’s respite. The passengers were few in number, and consisted mainly of a respectable party of German emigrants bound for the beautiful colony of New Braunfels. They kept to themselves, but, in the still moonlit evenings, sung the folk songs of their native land in the most delightful manner.
This pleasant journeying soon came to an end. One morning when I awoke, the ship was as still as “a painted ship upon a painted ocean.” We were lying at anchor off Galveston bar, and, after breakfast, the captain told us if we wished to land at Galveston we had better get all our trunks ready. I was in favor of our landing at Galveston. From the sea the city had a tropical and most attractive appearance. “It is a city in a garden,” I said to Robert, and he was equally pleased with its pretty white houses, and flowery beauty, for the perfume of its gardens was distinctly felt on the ship.
It was nearly noon ere our captain’s signal received any attention, then a small boat arrived, and every man in it was dressed in white linen. They held a very serious conversation with our captain, and I was sure, from his air of annoyance and perplexity, that there was some trouble to be met; and, in a few minutes, we were made aware of its nature.
“Gentlemen,” he said, to a little group of passengers, of which Robert and I were a part, “gentlemen, we are in an almighty fix. There is yellow fever in Galveston—plenty of it, already—and likely to be much more, and that’s a fact. So none of us will be allowed to land there, unless we have homes in the city, and have been made immune by a previous attack.”
The gentlemen in white then examined the passengers, and only four were permitted to land. Our case was hopeless: we were Europeans, and particularly liable to become infected, as were also the body of emigrants on board. What were we to do? There were two alternatives. We could return to New Orleans on The Lone Star for the chance of some ship going to New York, or we could continue our journey into the interior of Texas.
“How can the journey be continued?” asked Robert.
“A small steamer will be sent this afternoon,” was the answer. “It will convey all wishing to go inland up the Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg. The leader of the German emigrants tells me they will be met at Harrisburg with vehicles to carry them and their baggage to New Braunfels.”
“But we are traveling alone,” continued Robert, “and how can we proceed?”
“Where are you going to?”
“Well, then, the railway goes some distance beyond Harrisburg—a few miles—and it may yet be in service. If so, you will take it to its terminus. There the mail coach for Austin and San Antonio will call for mail, and no doubt it will have room for you. Travel is not very lively at present.”
“Do you know the days and hours when the mail coach is due at this terminus?” Robert asked.
“No, indeed!” was the smiling reply. “Bud Terry makes his own hours. But he’s sure to come along sooner or later. I did hear that Bud was down, but I don’t take any stock in that report. There’s a deal of business just now between Washington and Austin, and Bud knows his duty, and, gen’rally speaking, does it.”
All this was very uncertain consolation, and Robert looked at me in bewildered anxiety. I had a singular satisfaction in the affair. It had been taken out of our hands. We were shut up to one road, and, unless we were willing to go back, and gaze after our life and work and will sailed by, we must take it. If we refused, I did not dare to search through what hopeless, desultory ways our path might lie; for so it happeneth to those who fear to follow the one road open to them.
“You see, Robert,” I said with a smile, “there is nothing left for us to do, but to go to Harrisburg. Have we sufficient money to return to New York?”
“Is it safe to return to New Orleans?”
“No; and the captain says he will not go back to New Orleans. He is going to Pensacola.”
“Where is that?”
“In Florida, I think.”
I did not then know where Florida was, but knew that it was an aggravating thing to question an anxious, undecided man about trifles, not relevant, so I checked my desire for information and remarked cheerfully, “Then, dear, it is Harrisburg. That far is certain. When we reach Harrisburg, the way will open, that also is certain. One of the German women emigrants told me, that there would be a number of wagons waiting for them at Harrisburg. If we can do no better, they will let us travel with them.”
So we waited for the boat to take us to Harrisburg. It did not arrive until late in the afternoon. Then, with a little effort to be merry over our adventures, we were transferred to the small, very narrow steamer, that was to take us up the Buffalo Bayou. And, as soon as I was on her deck, I threw off all care and responsibility. I felt that we were in charge of some power, who knew all about our affairs, and who was quite able to manage them—especially as we were not.
That sail up the Buffalo Bayou was well worth while. No one taking it in those early days can ever forget it. Certainly it is part of my everlasting remembrances. We reached the Bayou shortly before dark, at least it was light enough to see the famous plain of San Jacinto, on which Houston and his eight hundred gentlemen, wiped out the Spanish army under Santa Anna, and gave to the American settlers in Texas that religious and civic liberty which was their right. I noticed that the captain bared his head as he passed it, and, during the evening, he told me the gallant, stirring story, which I have retold in my novel, “Remember the Alamo.” It made a wonderful impression on me, and I thought how grand it would be to live among men who had at least once in their lives scorned the mean god Mammon, and, for the faith of their fathers, and the civil liberty without which life was of no value, offered themselves willingly for their God and their country.
“We are going to live among heroes,” I said; “and, O Robert, after a life among weavers and traders, will not that be a great experience?”
Robert, who had been listening to the same story, answered, “I suppose it may, Milly, but there are heroes at the loom and at the counter both. I have known them.”
Then we were actually in the dense shadows of the Buffalo Bayou, and no one felt like talking. It was a narrow, very narrow, still, black water. A thick growth of trees on both banks of it met above our heads, and shut out all light, but that from the pine flambeaus, burning not only on board, but at intervals along the shore, showing us, with lurid, smoky lights, that we were forging our way through a water full of alligators. Their ugly black eyes dotted it, and they lay along the banks of the stream, barking at us, as we passed. It was the most unearthly sail the imagination can picture, in no way made more human by the half-clothed negroes managing the flaming torches, and the hot, heavy atmosphere, sickly with the scent of magnolias.
Landing at Harrisburg, we found there was fever in every house. Under the very roof which sheltered us from the poisonous night air, a man was dying of the vomìto. Though he was at the other end of the long building, we could only too distinctly hear the awful struggle of the suffering soul to escape from its tortured body. I know not how it was, but I had not then the slightest fear of the sickness. The children slept soundly, and Robert and I sat by them, talking in whispers, and praying silently for the poor soul crying out in its piteous extremity. Soon after midnight a dreadful silence stole through the house, and we fell asleep. For I knew, and was sure, that the agony of the strong man was over; that
“Pale from the Passion of Death,
Cold from the cold, dark River,
Staggering blind with Death,
With trembling steps yet fleet,
Over the stones of darkness,
He had stumbled to His feet.
For day and night Christ standeth,
Scanning each soul as it landeth,
With a face that hath once been dead,
With a mouth which once did cry
From that River in agony,—
‘The waters go over my head.’”
In the morning we were awakened by a pale, sorrowful woman, barefooted, and in the simplest garment, bringing us fresh water, some biscuits just out of the oven and a cup of tea. But she brought us neither milk or butter. “They hev been in the way of it all night,” she said; “they’re full of death. Sure!”
She had wept till she had no tears left, and the worst was over. “He is gone,” she added. “Jim, he’s gone! Eat a mouthful and get away. It isn’t safe here—and you be strangers, too.”
We did as she advised, and found a queer little empty train ready to start for a terminus some twenty miles further inland. Here there was a rude shanty of unpainted wood, the last station of a line only just being built; but, to our great delight, we found a large coach drawn by four horses waiting for us. It was driven by a Mexican, beautifully dressed in black velvet, adorned with silver lace and silver buttons. Moreover, he had the manners of a Spanish grandee, and his way of addressing us as Señor and Señorita, and the nonchalant skill with which he managed those four wild mustangs, were things to see and to never forget. He asked me to take the box seat beside him, but Robert insisted on my going inside with the children. He did not believe in the safety of our charioteer.
But never again in this life, never, never again, shall I have such a glorious ride. For to one coming from the old world at that time, Texas was a new world. That afternoon, after mounting a steep hill, and then thundering down it at lightning speed, the horses were allowed to rest and draw breath for ten minutes. Then I got out of the coach, and was transported by the wonderful beauty and majesty of the scene before me. The flowery prairie rolled away magnificently to the far-off horizon, here and there jumping into hills, over which marched myriads of red cattle. Masses of wild honeysuckle scented the air for miles and miles, and a fresh odor of earth and clover, mixed with the perfume of wild flowers, was the joy we breathed. But, best of all was the clear, sweet atmosphere. It went to the heart like wine. It made us laugh, it made us sing, and I never heard on any other spot of earth such melodious fluting as the winds of Texas made all around us.
Surely it was the giants of the unflooded world, who cleared off and leveled these boundless plains as a dwelling place for liberty. Looking back to that charmed drive over them, I thank God, even as I write, that I was then permitted to see earth as it may be, when He shall make “His tabernacle with men.” And I remember this hour that, when I could find no words fit to express the delight with which my heart was filled, that wonderful Old Book that is the interpreter of all human feeling came to my help, and I touched Robert’s arm, as we stood together, and said, “How beautiful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” I have no doubt it is much changed now, settled and improved; but it lives in my memory green and sweet as the fields of Paradise, with the fresh wild winds gurgling melodiously through all its lovely spaces.
The moon was full that night, and we took advantage of the light and the cool breezes to go as far as the horses were able. I think it must have been eight o’clock, when we stopped at a planter’s house standing on the edge of a creek or bayou. The moonlight sifted down on its white walls, its slender pillars, and flowering vines, and there was a little company of men and women sitting on a broad piazza. Late as it was, we were served with a good meal, and a large, cool bedroom. I went to rest with the children, as soon as I had eaten, but Robert sat till midnight with the men, smoking and talking on the moonlit piazza.
The children were soon asleep; then I lifted the window shade and looked out. I saw before me a long avenue of sweet gum and chinquâpin, magnolia, and tulip trees, and all through them were the whitewashed cabins of the negro slaves. Some of the women were sewing, though, for the most part, men and women were huddled in little ebony squads, around the doors of their quarters. They were talking softly in their abbreviated patois, or humming their sad minor melodies, while the moon far up in the zenith—calm, bright, worshipful—cast a softened radiance which gave sufficient light for young eyes either to sew, or to read. The living picture filled me with melancholy, and I went in dreams to some lonely desolate place, where all was sand and silence.
We were off early in the morning, and our road lay through pine woods; a very primitive road, as yet, and a very hard one on both travelers and horses; however, horses are not expected to be particular about roads in Texas. At one o’clock we stopped, and spread the lunch brought with us on the ground; some negroes, who were cutting down trees, brought us fresh water and attended to our horses. One of these negroes, a young black Hercules, whose soul Nature had forgotten to make bond, took me a few yards into the wood to show me the fairest picture—a little natural clearing with a pretty piece of water in the center, and, standing all round it, motionless as statues, a flock of white cranes! Speaking of the circumstance afterwards, a passenger who had joined us that morning, and who was also going to Austin, told me, that the home of the crane is on the Texas prairies. He said nothing could traverse the prairies without being challenged by their tocsin shout of Kewrrook! Kewrrook! Kewrrook! which he likened to a pistol shot in the rare air. Furthermore, that the Comanche and Apache hated the note, which gave both man and beast warning that they were on the murder path. Strange sights and sounds these guardians of the prairies must see and hear, as with slow and stately tread, they pace their rounds, as much a part of the prairie as the ostrich is of the desert; for when the deer have fled to the timber, and the buffalo gone west, and the wolves are on their trail, the cranes still flock on the prairies.
We were among the pines all afternoon, and in the gloaming came to a much larger settlement than I had hitherto seen. If I remember rightly, it was called Bastrop. With a great rush and clatter we drove to a large house or hotel, and found good food and comfortable rooms, and many signs of drawing near to civilization. One of these signs was a release from the continuous meal of bacon. Throughout our journey there had been myriads of cattle around us, but nothing except bacon to eat—hundreds of thousands of milk cows, but rarely, indeed, either milk, butter, or cheese on the table. Here we found a fine roast of beef, and some venison steaks, both deliciously cooked; also young corn ears and early squash. I returned thanks for these things with all my heart, for a good meal and a good book deserve not only a blessing, but a thanksgiving.
After we had eaten I went with the children to the room assigned us, and was hearing their evening prayers when a woman softly entered. She respected the duty that engaged me, and sat down almost noiselessly.
“I’m kind of lonesome,” she said, when I turned to her. “Mollie is away, and I wanted to see your little girls. They are mighty pretty, well-behaved young ones, and they do mind what you say to them! Sure!”
I was pleased with her remarks, and I put Lilly in her out-stretched arms, and, though the child was very weary, she behaved beautifully, and fell asleep in them.
“My children were sot on their own way from the jump,” she continued, “so contrary-minded that their hair grew upward, instead o’ downward. That’s a fact! Look at my Jack’s hair in the morning, and you’ll see it stands straight up. And babies are hard to raise in Texas; you don’t like to put them out o’ their way, it might be the death o’ them, for you can never call your child your own in Texas, until it has passed its second year.”
“And by that time they have got used to having their own way,” I commented.
“So they have, and they will scream you blind and deaf, until they get it. But you are feared to lose them. I’ve lost five outen my seven. That is so. I’ve only Jack and Mollie left, but they keep me considering day and night. They are not bad; they are real good, only they are sot on havin’ what is not good for them. And, nat’rally, I know what is best, or else the Great Master above us has made a mistake in sending them to me. That’s how I look at it.”
By the time this sentence was finished, Lilly was so fast asleep that I lifted her from my visitor’s arms, and laid her upon the bed beside her sister. Then we continued the conversation about the natural inclination of all children to have their own way, until I was quite convinced the children of my companion had kept up a guerrilla fight with her, from their birth until the present hour.
“There’s Mollie,” she continued, “smart and pert as a cricket, and nothing would do her but a New York school. Her father was alive, then, and I asked him to interfere; what he said was, ‘Let her go to New York. I don’t see from the samples of New York women sent us, that they are a picayune cleverer than ours are, but, if Mollie wants to go, she’s going. I can back her with all the gold she needs.’ That’s the way her father interfered. He just let her go to aggravate and contradict me. His hair stood straight up. I have told Mollie ever since she put shoes on never to marry a man whose hair grows up, but I’ll just bet she does that same thing, even if she goes all the way to New York to find him.”
“Then she went to New York, I suppose?”
“Yes, she went, and she stayed more than two years, and got what they call a diploma. Mollie is always drawing people’s attention to it, but it kind o’ shames me. It looks like there was somebody better than Mollie that thought they could give her a character, or a certif’cate that she had done about right while at school. Now Mollie is as good a girl as breathes, and as smart as girls can be made, and there’s nobody better than Mollie on this planet, and I just can’t bear this certif’cate business. How would you like it?”
I made this matter clearer to her, and she said, “I wish you had come here ’fore Jake died. This same thing bothered him above a bit, and he used to say if any man thought his Mollie needed a certif’cate of doing well, he would tell him Mollie was the best woman God ever made, and, if he contradicted, he’d bore a few holes into him. I reckon he would have done it! Sure! But he took ill and died suddent one night, just after Mollie came home. I miss Jake whiles, though he left me well-to-do, and a full sorrow is easier borne than an empty one.”
“What do you call well-to-do?” I asked.
“Jake had twelve thousand horned cattle, and a herd of eight hundred horses, land enough for horses and cattle to get lost in, and a very comfortable lump of spizerinctum in New Orleans Bank.”
“Spizerinctum!” I ejaculated.
She nodded, and explained in one better known word, “specie.”
“Then Mollie is rich?”
“Richer than rights be, for Jake left her half of all he had, and the other half he left to me.”
“And Jack?” I asked.
“He left Jack nothing. Jack and his father were not comfortable together. They never had the same notion about anything. They had contradicted each other for twenty years, and in course they could not agree concerning money. I have heard them toss a dime between them for an hour, and then fling it to the devil; that is, where no man could find it. But Jack is real good. He is, sure! As I say, he will contradict, but he’s as straight a man as lives, between here and anywhere; and he would not let a mortal touch a hair of my head, if it was to wrong me. No, ma’am, he would make any man forever silent, who said no to his Mammy’s yes. Come, and I will show you my parlor.”
I did not like to refuse the invitation, and I did not like to leave the children, but, after being assured of their perfect safety, I felt some curiosity about a Texan parlor. So I went with her through an adjoining room, where a number of men were sitting at a table playing cards—very tall, wiry men, with prominent features, long hair, and a fierce, determined expression on their thin, sallow faces. They did not even glance at us as we walked past them, but I saw the gleam of ornamented knife handles in their belts, and was pretty certain that revolvers kept them company and that derringers lay handy, either in breast or hip pockets. Yet they sat still and speechless, holding some little bits of paper in their long, strong hands. There were two candles on the table, but the rest of the room was in semi-darkness, and the strange gathering in that patch of gloomy light made a picture I have never forgotten. If it had been a painted picture, its gloom and its suggestions of quarrel and bloodshed, might have labeled it, “A Scene in Hades.”
Out of this room we went into the parlor. The first object I saw was a handsome grand square piano. “It is Mollie’s!” said Mollie’s mother, “and she can make it talk, you may just bet on that.” The walls were adorned with pictures of Mollie’s drawing, and the upholstered chairs and sofa shielded by crochet lace of Mollie’s handiwork. I was expected to be astonished at this display of wealth and culture, and I tried to make good this expectation. Indeed I really felt a great respect for the girl who had lifted herself so far above her surroundings. I asked where she was, and said I should like to see her, and was told she was in New Orleans, and that her brother Jack was going in a few days to bring her home.
“Jack’s powerful fond of his sister,” she continued; “he thinks all creation of Mollie. I am feared he will never find a man good enough to marry her. He has run two young fellows off the place, who he thought were sneaking ’round after her. He is going to Orleans in a few days. I wish she had been home. She would have fancied you.”
I said I was sorry she was in New Orleans, but I did not mention yellow fever’s presence in that city. All nature and all humanity hates the carrier of bad news. It is the feet of those that bring glad tidings that are blessed and beautiful upon the mountains.
The next morning we were called early, but found quite a number of people at the plentiful breakfast-table—some were going with us to Austin, others were boarders belonging to the place. My kind hostess had saved seats beside herself for us, and I noticed that Robert nodded and spoke familiarly to a handsome youth assisting her to serve the meal. Of course it was Jack. I knew instinctively it was Jack, though he was amiable looking, and wore his pale yellow hair parted down the middle of his head.
At first I thought his mother had been romancing about his “sot, determined ways, and quarrelsome temper,” but, towards the end of the meal, I noticed him lift his steel-gray eyes, and look at a man who was noisily relating one of his own adventures. Nothing more was necessary, not only to confirm all his mother had said, but to rouse the imagination concerning the likelihoods and probabilities a man with such passionate eyes could summon. For, if the eyes are the windows of the soul, I saw a soul of tremendous will and temper looking through them. However, he was polite, and even kind to us, and I left a message with him for his sister Mollie; then Mollie’s mother put into my hands something good for luncheon, because, she said, there was no nooning place, and it would be four o’clock, as like as not, before we reached Austin. “And I hope that is the end of your journeying,” she added, “for to go further is to fare worse. You keep that fact in your mind. Maybe I’ll be up to see you some day. I want Jack in the legislature. He is the very man to get on there, considering the way it is put up at present.”
As we talked we were standing just within the store door, waiting for the coach, and though it was so early a number of sallow, long-haired, fiercely whiskered men were stalking up and down, the tinkle of their great bell spurs, the ring of coins on the counter, and the kindly tones of my companion’s voice chiming softly together. Even at this moment I seem to be trying to disentangle them, until the whole is lost in the clatter of the coach, and the beating of the horses’ feet upon the hard road. So we left the hospitable lady with many kind words and wishes. At last she kissed the children, and I, remembering my own mother, kissed her; for about a good woman, who has taken the sacrament of maternity, there is the odor and sense of sacrifice. We may touch her lips, and do her honor, and be sure that we are honoring ourselves in the homely rite.
At noon we stopped on the banks of a great river. There were large troughs here, full of water, and a couple of negroes sitting on the grass and playing cards. Evidently they were waiting for our arrival, for, as the coach approached them, they stepped quickly to the heads of the horses, unharnessed, fed, and watered them, while we had the hour to eat our lunch and rest. I looked around, but saw no house; yet there was a very large one, belonging to a sugar planter, hidden away among the trees; and, just as we were preparing to go forward, I saw a negro lad running with frantic speed towards a closed gate near the troughs. I walked towards this gate and watched his approach. He was spent of breath, and could hardly speak, but, after a mouthful of water, he gasped out,
“How—long—’fore Chris’mas, Missis?”
I told him, and then asked, “Why do you want to know?”
“I’se gwine home at Chris’mas!” he cried. “I ain’t ’long to dese people—I’se only hired to them.” These last remarks he uttered with all the childish scorn and dislike imaginable, and then sobbed out once more, “I’se gwine home at Chris’mas!”
“Where is your home?” I asked.
“In Austin,” he answered. “There’s people in Austin—there’s Mammy and Mass’r Tom, and Miss Mary, in Austin. I want to go home. I don’t ’long here!”
“Whom do you belong to?” I asked.
He told me, and then I had to hurry away, but I carried with me the piteous face of that unhappy child, peering through the gate palings, with no hope in his heart but Christmas, and Christmas five months away.
The last twenty miles of our drive gave no indications that we were approaching the capital of the state. On the banks of the creeks there were sheep and cattle ranches, and here and there rough farm houses, but the country was uncultivated, open prairie, or cedar covered hills. People now going to Austin will reach the beautiful city by the railway, and I have no doubt it has chosen the ugliest entrance it could find. But we had almost an idyllic introduction to what was then one of the loveliest dwelling-places of men in the whole world. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon that we came to the Colorado River, and our horses walked leisurely across its clear, limpid waters. Then we mounted a hill, and a scene of unwritable beauty was before us on every side. Other portions of Texas are lovely as Paradise, but nowhere had I ever seen such exquisite and picturesque arrangement of wood and mountains, grassy stretches, and silvery waters, and crowned hills. From every mouth, there was an instant and spontaneous cry of delight.
The city was built on hills, surrounded by a rampart of higher hills, crowned with the evergreen cedar, and the shining waters of the Colorado wound in and out among these hills, and then swept grandly round the southern part of the city. For a minute or two Señor Tomas—as if compelled by his own innate love of what was picturesque—drew reins on the top of the hill on which there stood a little church. It was painted a pale pink color, and did not look inconsistent. It must have been full of the perfume of the China berry trees, and it stood at the gate of the town like a visible prayer. I have no doubt it has been replaced by a much grander structure, but there must be many living yet, who remember, with me, those happy Sabbaths when we went up together to the little pink church on the hill, and served the Lord with gladness, and came before His presence with a song.
For that short pause I must always thank Señor Tomas Sandobel, though it may have been neither prayer nor a sense of beauty that was his compelling motive. For I noticed, that as soon as the horses were full breathed he gathered up the reins tightly, and, with a peculiarly exciting cry, began his descent at the highest possible speed to the main avenue. Fortunately it was but a transient trial. In a few minutes we stopped at the Smith Hotel, a rather large wooden building standing on Congress Avenue and Pecan Street, I think. Under the wooden awning in front of the building there were a number of men sitting in tilted-up chairs, and, as Señor Tomas stopped the coach, a pleasant-looking gentleman was opening the door. He lifted Mary and Lilly out in his arms, and then, removing his hat with his left hand, offered me his right hand to assist in my descent. It was just such a kind, respectful greeting as an English landlord of that time would have given his coming guests, and it went straight to my heart. Robert asked him if we could have rooms, and he said he would show us the best he had in a few minutes.
He had a pleasant word for every passenger, and a few directions to give, then he lifted Lilly in his arms, and we followed him to a large, low room, directly above the entrance. It was spotlessly clean, and, though the floors were bare, they were scrubbed until they looked like ivory. The chairs were of unpainted wood, and their seats of rawhide—not at all handsome—but very comfortable; and the large bed looked so white and cool it made me drowsy.
“This room is delightful, Robert,” I said. “I hope Mr. Smith can spare it.” Then a sudden thought came to me, and I continued, “The children! We must have a room for them that opens into our room.”
Mr. Smith smiled benignly. “We can do better for you than that, Madame,” he said; “there is a trundle bed, you know.”
“A trundle bed!” I repeated. “What is that?”
Then he stooped and drew from under the bed a very low bedstead, and showed me that it had a good spring and mattress, and clean, soft linen; and I was astonished and delighted. I thought I had never seen any contrivance equal to it for convenience and comfort, and I told Robert that I must have trundle beds under all our large beds when we furnished. And both men smiled broadly at my enthusiasm.
So we took the room, and my little trunk was brought to me, and I began to bathe and dress and make ready for dinner, which I was told would be at six promptly. A Chinese gong summoned us to the meal—a gong in the hands of a negro boy, whose face shone with delight in the noise he was making. But his grinning and gesticulating brought a laughing company into the dining-room. There was nothing in this room but what was absolutely necessary. The floor was bare but clean, the chairs of a plain wooden variety, and the china, glass, and damask very suitable to the room. The only extravagance about the service was an arrangement like an East India punka above the whole length of the table—a movable wood frame, hung with clean towels, and kept in motion by two negro boys. It certainly made the room cool, and prevented the intrusion of a single fly.
The dinner itself was excellent, though the courses were left to every one’s taste and capacity. There was roast beef, and chicken pie, bear meat, and antelope steaks, and I noticed that some old men who ate bear meat ate honey with it, so I resolved to try the luxury some day when I was quite alone. I did so, and found it very good, but an old Texan told me, that the most aristocratic dainty of the Spanish Texan was bear’s paws preserved in Madeira wine, and a little brandy. The paws then look like walnuts, but are said to excel any tidbit known to epicures. I am sorry that I never had an opportunity of verifying this statement by personal experience. The dessert to our dinner is not worth naming; it was a pudding of some kind, but the majority left it alone, and seemed very well contented with the bowl of delicious clabber and fresh milk. There were no liquors of any kind on the table, but plenty of tea and coffee, and I do not think any one ate their dinner without drinking their tea at the same time. I took kindly to the custom, and have never quite resigned it, except under medical advice, which I follow with that desultory reluctance usually given to ordinances with which we are not quite satisfied.
After dinner the children were eager to go to the trundle bed, and their delight with it would have made any looker-on believe the little ungrateful ones had never had a decent bed in all their lives before. It was so “nice,” so “soft,” so “easy to get into,” so “cool,” so “sleepy.” I felt almost angry at their unreasonable pleasure in this very ordinary convenience, and was quite “short” with the offenders before they found the “sleepy” part of their new bed. Then I sat down at the open window and began to think. Very quickly I discovered that I had been guilty in the same kind. Had I not been lauding this bit of Texas as an outskirt of Paradise all afternoon? No one could have supposed I had lived in Kendal, and Penrith, wandered in the laurel woods of Windermere, and walked the storied streets of Edinburgh. I smiled contemptuously at my raw enthusiasm, and felt as if my native land had been wronged by it.
So I began to write a poem to Mother England, and had got the three first lines to my satisfaction, when Robert entered the room. He was smoking a huge cigar, and the odor of it was strange and unpleasant. But he was as pleased about his cigar as the children about their trundle bed, and I listened rather coolly to his praises of the men he had been talking with. “A new kind of humanity, Milly,” he said. “I never saw men like them. I think I will go and talk to them an hour or two longer.”
And, when I looked into his buoyant, happy face, and remembered that he would have to live and work with this new kind of humanity, I understood at once the necessity of sympathy and agreement. I told him that I felt inclined to write poetry, and would doubtless go to sleep about the sixth line, “so go, and talk, and enjoy yourself, Robert, dear,” I added. “I am glad you have such good company.”
“Better company there could not be, Milly,” and, with these words, he kissed me, and ran lightly down stairs. Did I write any more poetry? No, I went to sleep. But I have not yet forgotten two lines of the poem to Mother England I began that night, and have never yet finished,
My heart is like a weaning child,
That never can be weaned:
I did not dream at that date of a time when Robert Bonner would pay me ten dollars every week for a poem, and that for a period of nearly fifteen years. When that time arrived, I had outgrown the longing and the need—I had been adopted by New York.
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