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Chapter 11

After first going to the Owen, at Campobello, the Pasmers took rooms at the Ty'n-y-Coed, which is so much gayer, even if it is not so characteristic of the old Welsh Admiral's baronial possession of the island. It is characteristic enough, and perched on its bluff overlooking the bay, or whatever the body of water is, it sees a score of pretty isles and long reaches of mainland coast, with a white marble effect of white-painted wooden Eastport, nestled in the wide lap of the shore, in apparent luxury and apparent innocence of smuggling and the manufacture of herring sardines. The waters that wrap the island in morning and evening fog temper the air of the latitude to a Newport softness in summer, with a sort of inner coolness that is peculiarly delicious, lulling the day with long calms and light breezes, and after nightfall commonly sending a stiff gale to try the stops of the hotel's gables and casements, and to make the cheerful blaze on its public hearths acceptable. Once or twice a day the Eastport ferry-boat arrives, with passengers from the southward, at a floating wharf that sinks or swims half a hundred feet on the mighty tides of the Northeast; but all night long the island is shut up to its own memories and devices. The pretty romance of the old sailor who left England to become a sort of feudal seigneur here, with a holding of the entire island, and its fisher-folk for his villeins, forms a picturesque background for the aesthetic leisure and society in the three hotels remembering him and his language in their names, and housing with a few cottages all the sojourners on the island. By day the broad hotel piazzas shelter such of the guests as prefer to let others make their excursions into the heart of the island, and around its rocky, sea-beaten borders; and at night, when the falling mists have brought the early dark, and from lighthouse to lighthouse the fog-horns moan and low to one another, the piazzas cede to the corridors and the parlours and smoking-rooms. The life does not greatly differ from other seaside hotel life on the surface, and if one were to make distinctions one would perhaps begin by saying that hotel society there has much of the tone of cottage society elsewhere, with a little more accessibility. As the reader doubtless knows, the great mass of Boston society, thoughtful of its own weight and bulk, transports itself down the North Shore scarcely further than Manchester at the furthest; but there are more courageous or more detachable spirits who venture into more distant regions. These contribute somewhat toward peopling Bar Harbour in the summer, but they scarcely characterise it in any degree; while at Campobello they settle in little daring colonies, whose self-reliance will enlist the admiration of the sympathetic observer. They do not refuse the knowledge of other colonies of other stirps and origins, and they even combine in temporary alliance with them. But, after all, Boston speaks one language, and New York another, and Washington a third, and though the several dialects have only slight differences of inflection, their moral accents render each a little difficult for the others. In fact every society is repellant of strangers in the degree that it is sufficient to itself, and is incurious concerning the rest of the world. If it has not the elements of self-satisfaction in it, if it is uninformed and new and restless, it is more hospitable than an older society which has a sense of merit founded upon historical documents, and need no longer go out of itself for comparisons of any sort, knowing that if it seeks anything better it will probably be disappointed. The natural man, the savage, is as indifferent to others as the exclusive, and those who accuse the coldness of the Bostonians, and their reluctant or repellant behaviour toward unknown people, accuse not only civilisation, but nature itself.

That love of independence which is notable in us even in our most acquiescent phases at home is perhaps what brings these cultivated and agreeable people so far away, where they can achieve a sort of sylvan urbanity without responsibility, and without that measuring of purses which attends the summer display elsewhere. At Campobello one might be poor with almost as little shame as in Cambridge if one were cultivated. Mrs. Pasmer, who seldom failed of doing just the right thing for herself, had promptly divined the advantages of Campobello for her family. She knew, by dint of a little inquiry, and from the volunteer information of enthusiasts who had been there the summer before, just who was likely to be there during the summer with which she now found herself confronted. Campobello being yet a new thing, it was not open to the objection that you were sure to meet such and such people, more or less common or disagreeable, there; whatever happened, it could be lightly handled in the retrospect as the adventure of a partial and fragmentary summer when really she hardly cared where they went.

They did not get away from Boston before the middle of July, and after the solitude they left behind them there, the Owen at first seemed very gay. But when they had once or twice compared it with the Ty'n-y-Coed, riding to and fro in the barge which formed the connecting link with the Saturday evening hops of the latter hotel, Mrs. Pasmer decided that, from Alice's point of view, they had made a mistake, and she repaired it without delay. The young people were, in fact, all at the Ty'n-y-Coed, and though she found the Owen perfectly satisfying for herself and Mr. Pasmer, she was willing to make the sacrifice of going to a new place: it was not a great sacrifice for one who had dwelt so long in tents.

There were scarcely any young girls at the Owen, and no young men, of course. Even at the Ty'n-y-Coed, where young girls abounded, it would not be right to pretend that there were young men enough. Nowhere, perhaps, except at Bar Harbour, is the long-lost balance of the sexes trimmed in New England; and even there the observer, abstractly delighting in the young girls and their dresses at that grand love-exchange of Rodick's, must question whether the adjustment is perfectly accurate.

At Campobello there were not more than half enough young men, and there was not enough flirtation to affect the prevailing social mood of the place: an unfevered, expectationless tranquillity, in which to-day is like yesterday, and to-morrow cannot be different. It is a quiet of light reading, and slowly, brokenly murmured, contented gossip for the ladies, of old newspapers and old stories and luxuriously meditated cigars for the men, with occasional combinations for a steam-launch cruise among the eddies and islands of the nearer waters, or a voyage further off in the Bay of Fundy to the Grand Menan, and a return for the late dinner which marks the high civilisation of Campobello, and then an evening of more reading and gossip and cigars, while the night wind whistles outside, and the brawl and crash of the balls among the tenpins comes softened from the distant alleys. There are pleasant walks, which people seldom take, in many directions, and there are drives and bridle-paths all through the dense, sad, Northern woods which still savagely clothe the greater part of the island to its further shores, where there are shelves and plateaus of rock incomparable for picnicking.

One need ask nothing better, in fact, than to stroll down the sylvan road that leads to the Owen, past the little fishing-village with its sheds for curing herring; and the pale blue smoke and appetising savour escaping from them; and past the little chapel with which the old Admiral attested his love of the Established rite. On this road you may sometimes meet a little English bishop from the Provinces, in his apron and knee-breeches; and there is a certain bridge over a narrow estuary, where in the shallow land-locked pools of the deeply ebbing tide you may throw stones at sculpin, and witness the admirable indifference of those fish to human cruelty and folly. In the middle distance you will see a group of herring weirs, which with their coronals of tufted saplings form the very most picturesque aspect of any fishing industry. You may, now and then find an artist at this point, who, crouched over his easel, or hers, seems to agree with you about the village and the weirs.

But Alice Pasmer cared little more for such things than her mother did, and Mrs. Pasmer regarded Nature in all her aspects simply as an adjunct of society, or an occasional feature of the entourage. The girl had no such worldly feeling about it, but she found slight sympathy in the moods of earth and sky with her peculiar temperament. This temperament, whose recondite origin had almost wholly broken up Mrs. Pasmer's faith in heredity, was like other temperaments, not always in evidence, and Alice was variously regarded as cold, of shy, or proud, or insipid, by the various other temperaments brought in contact with her own. She was apt to be liked because she was as careful of others as she was of herself, and she never was childishly greedy about such admiration as she won, as girls often are, perhaps because she did not care for it. Up to this time it is doubtful if her heart had been touched even by the fancies that shake the surface of the soul of youth, and perhaps it was for this reason that her seriousness at first fretted Mrs. Pasmer with a vague anxiety for her future.

Mrs. Pasmer herself remained inalienably Unitarian, but she was aware of the prodigious-growth which the Church had been making in society, and when Alice showed her inclination for it, she felt that it was not at all as if she had developed a taste for orthodoxy; when finally it did not seem likely to go too far, it amused Mrs. Pasmer that her daughter should have taken so intensely to the Anglican rite.

In the hotel it attached to her by a common interest several of the ladies who had seen her earnestly responsive at the little Owen chapel—ladies left to that affectional solitude which awaits long widowhood through the death or marriage of children; and other ladies, younger, but yet beginning to grow old with touching courage. Alice was especially a favourite with the three or four who represented their class and condition at the Ty'n-y Coed, and who read the best books read there, and had the gentlest manners. There was a tacit agreement among these ladies, who could not help seeing the difference in the temperaments of the mother and daughter, that Mrs. Pasmer did not understand Alice; but probably there were very few people except herself whom Mrs. Pasmer did not understand quite well. She understood these ladies and their compassion for Alice, and she did not in the least resent it. She was willing that people should like Alice for any reason they chose, if they did not go too far. With her little flutter of futile deceits, her irreverence for every form of human worth and her trust in a providence which had seldom failed her, she smiled at the cult of Alice's friends, as she did at the girl's seriousness, which also she felt herself able to keep from going too far.

While she did not object to the sympathy of these ladies, whatever inspired it, she encouraged another intimacy which grew up contemporaneously with theirs, and which was frankly secular and practical, though the girl who attached herself to Alice with one of those instant passions of girlhood was also in every exterior observance a strict and diligent Churchwoman. The difference was through the difference of Boston and New York in everything: the difference between idealising and the realising tendency. The elderly and middle-aged Boston women who liked Alice had been touched by something high yet sad in the beauty of her face at church; the New York girl promptly owned that she had liked her effect the first Sunday she saw her there, and she knew in a minute she never got those things on this side; her obeisances and genuflections throughout the service, much more profound and punctilious than those of any one else there, had apparently not prevented her from making a thorough study of Alice's costume and a correct conjecture as to its authorship.

Miss Anderson, who claimed a collateral Dutch ancestry by the Van Hook, tucked in between her non-committal family name and the Julia given her in christening, was of the ordinary slender make of American girlhood, with dull blond hair, and a dull blond complexion, which would have left her face uninteresting if it had not been for the caprice of her nose in suddenly changing from the ordinary American regularity, after getting over its bridge, and turning out distinctly 'retrousse'. This gave her profile animation and character; you could not expect a girl with that nose to be either irresolute or commonplace, and for good or for ill Miss Anderson was decided and original. She carried her figure, which was no great things of a figure as to height, with vigorous erectness; she walked with long strides, knocking her skirts into fine eddies and tangles as she went; and she spoke in a bold, deep voice, with tones like a man in it, all the more amusing and fascinating because of the perfectly feminine eyes with which she looked at you, and the nervous, feminine gestures which she used while she spoke.

She took Mrs. Pasmer into her confidence with regard to Alice at an early stage of their acquaintance, which from the first had a patronising or rather protecting quality in it; if she owned herself less fine, she knew herself shrewder, and more capable of coping with actualities.

"I think she's moybid, Alice is," she said. "She isn't moybid in the usual sense of the word, but she expects more of herself and of the woyld generally than anybody's going to get out of it. She thinks she's going to get as much as she gives, and that's a great mistake, Mrs. Pasmer," she said, with that peculiar liquefaction of the canine letter which the New-Yorkers alone have the trick of, and which it would be tiresome and futile to try to represent throughout her talk.

"Oh yes, I quite agree with you," said Mrs. Pasmer, deep in her throat, and reserving deeper still her enjoyment of this early wisdom of Miss Anderson's.

"Now, even at church—she carries the same spirit into the church. She doesn't make allowance for human nature, and the church does."

"Oh, certainly!" Mrs. Pasmer agreed.

"She isn't like a person that's been brought up in the church. It's more like the old Puritan spirit.—Excuse me, Mrs. Pasmer!"

"Yes, indeed! Say anything you like about the Puritans!" said Mrs. Pasmer, delighted that, as a Bostonian, she should be thought to care for them.

"I always forget that you're a Bostonian," Miss Anderson apologized.

"Oh, thank you!" cried Mrs. Pasmer.

"I'm going to try to make her like other girls," continued Miss Anderson.

"Do," said Alice's mother, with the effect of wishing her joy of the undertaking.

"If there were a few young men about, a little over seventeen and a little under fifty, it would be easier," said Miss Anderson thoughtfully. "But how are you going to make a girl like other girls when there are no young men?"

"That's very true," said Mrs. Pasmer, with an interest which she of course did her best to make impersonal. "Do you think there will be more, later on?"

"They will have to Huey up if they are comin'," said Miss Anderson. "It's the middle of August now, and the hotel closes the second week in September."

"Yes," said Mrs. Pasmer, vaguely looking at Alice. She had just appeared over the brow of the precipice, along whose face the arrivals and departures by the ferry-boat at Campobello obliquely ascend and descend.

She came walking swiftly toward the hotel, and, for her, so excitedly that Mrs. Pasmer involuntarily rose and went to meet her at the top of the broad hotel steps.

"What is it, Alice?"

"Oh, nothing! I thought I saw Mr. Munt coming off the boat."

"Mr. Munt?"

"Yes." She would not stay for further question.

Her mother looked after her with the edge of her fan over her mouth till she disappeared in the depths of the hotel corridor; then she sat down near the steps, and chatted with some half-grown boys lounging on the balustrade, and waited for Munt to come up over the brink of the precipice. Dan Mavering came with him, running forward with a polite eagerness at sight of Mrs. Pasmer. She distributed a skillful astonishment equally between the two men she had equally expected to see, and was extremely cordial with them, not only because she was pleased with them, but because she was still more pleased with her daughter's being, after all, like other girls, when it came to essentials.

William Dean Howells