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Chapter 7

VII.

Staniford and Dunham drew stools to the rail, and sat down with their cigars after the captain left them. The second mate passed by, and cast a friendly glance at them; he had whimsical brown eyes that twinkled under his cap-peak, while a lurking smile played under his heavy mustache; but he did not speak. Staniford said, there was a pleasant fellow, and he should like to sketch him. He was only an amateur artist, and he had been only an amateur in life otherwise, so far; but he did not pretend to have been anything else.

"Then you're not sorry you came, Staniford?" asked Dunham, putting his hand on his friend's knee. "He characteristically assumed the responsibility, although the voyage by sailing-vessel rather than steamer was their common whim, and it had been Staniford's preference that decided them for Trieste rather than any nearer port.

"No, I'm not sorry,—if you call it come, already. I think a bit of Europe will be a very good thing for the present, or as long as I'm in this irresolute mood. If I understand it, Europe is the place for American irresolution. When I've made up my mind, I'll come home again. I still think Colorado is the thing, though I haven't abandoned California altogether; it's a question of cattle-range and sheep-ranch."

"You'll decide against both," said Dunham.

"How would you like West Virginia? They cattle-range in West Virginia, too. They may sheep-ranch, too, for all I know,—no, that's in Old Virginia. The trouble is that the Virginias, otherwise irreproachable, are not paying fields for such enterprises. They say that one is a sure thing in California, and the other is a sure thing in Colorado. They give you the figures." Staniford lit another cigar.

"But why shouldn't you stay where you are, Staniford? You've money enough left, after all."

"Yes, money enough for one. But there's something ignoble in living on a small stated income, unless you have some object in view besides living, and I haven't, you know. It's a duty I owe to the general frame of things to make more money."

"If you turned your mind to any one thing, I'm sure you'd succeed where you are," Dunham urged.

"That's just the trouble," retorted his friend. "I can't turn my mind to any one thing,—I'm too universally gifted. I paint a little, I model a little, I play a very little indeed; I can write a book notice. The ladies praise my art, and the editors keep my literature a long time before they print it. This doesn't seem the highest aim of being. I have the noble earth-hunger; I must get upon the land. That's why I've got upon the water." Staniford laughed again, and pulled comfortably at his cigar. "Now, you," he added, after a pause, in which Dunham did not reply, "you have not had losses; you still have everything comfortable about you. Du hast Alles was Menschen begehr, even to the schönsten Augen of the divine Miss Hibbard."

"Yes, Staniford, that's it. I hate your going out there all alone. Now, if you were taking some nice girl with you!" Dunham said, with a lover's fond desire that his friend should be in love, too.

"To those wilds? To a redwood shanty in California, or a turf hovel in Colorado? What nice girl would go? 'I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race.'"

"I don't like to have you take any risks of degenerating," began Dunham.

"With what you know to be my natural tendencies? Your prophetic eye prefigures my pantaloons in the tops of my boots. Well, there is time yet to turn back from the brutality of a patriarchal life. You must allow that I've taken the longest way round in going West. In Italy there are many chances; and besides, you know, I like to talk."

It seemed to be an old subject between them, and they discussed it languidly, like some abstract topic rather than a reality.

"If you only had some tie to bind you to the East, I should feel pretty safe about you," said Dunham, presently.

"I have you," answered his friend, demurely.

"Oh, I'm nothing," said Dunham, with sincerity.

"Well, I may form some tie in Italy. Art may fall in love with me, there. How would you like to have me settle in Florence, and set up a studio instead of a ranch,—choose between sculpture and painting, instead of cattle and sheep? After all, it does grind me to have lost that money! If I had only been swindled out of it, I shouldn't have cared; but when you go and make a bad thing of it yourself, with your eyes open, there's a reluctance to place the responsibility where it belongs that doesn't occur in the other case. Dunham, do you think it altogether ridiculous that I should feel there was something sacred in the money? When I remember how hard my poor old father worked to get it together, it seems wicked that I should have stupidly wasted it on the venture I did. I want to get it back; I want to make money. And so I'm going out to Italy with you, to waste more. I don't respect myself as I should if I were on a Pullman palace car, speeding westward. I'll own I like this better."

"Oh, it's all right, Staniford," said his friend. "The voyage will do you good, and you'll have time to think everything over, and start fairer when you get back."

"That girl," observed Staniford, with characteristic abruptness, "is a type that is commoner than we imagine in New England. We fair people fancy we are the only genuine Yankees. I guess that's a mistake. There must have been a good many dark Puritans. In fact, we always think of Puritans as dark, don't we?"

"I believe we do," assented Dunham. "Perhaps on account of their black clothes."

"Perhaps," said Staniford. "At any rate, I'm so tired of the blonde type in fiction that I rather like the other thing in life. Every novelist runs a blonde heroine; I wonder why. This girl has the clear Southern pallor; she's of the olive hue; and her eyes are black as sloes,—not that I know what sloes are. Did she remind you of anything in particular?"

"Yes; a little of Faed's Evangeline, as she sat in the door-way of the warehouse yesterday."

"Exactly. I wish the picture were more of a picture; but I don't know that it matters. She's more of a picture."

"'Pretty as a bird,' the captain said."

"Bird isn't bad. But the bird is in her manner. There's something tranquilly alert in her manner that's like a bird; like a bird that lingers on its perch, looking at you over its shoulder, if you come up behind. That trick of the heavily lifted, half lifted eyelids,—I wonder if it's a trick. The long lashes can't be; she can't make them curl up at the edges. Blood,—Lurella Blood. And she wants to know." Staniford's voice fell thoughtful.

"She's more slender than Faed's Evangeline. Faed painted rather too fat a sufferer on that tombstone. Lurella Blood has a very pretty figure. Lurella. Why Lurella?"

"Oh, come, Staniford!" cried Dunham. "It isn't fair to call the girl by that jingle without some ground for it."

"I'm sure her name's Lurella, for she wanted to know. Besides, there's as much sense in it as there is in any name. It sounds very well. Lurella. It is mere prejudice that condemns the novel collocation of syllables."

"I wonder what she's thinking of now,—what's passing in her mind," mused Dunham aloud.

"You want to know, too, do you?" mocked his friend. "I'll tell you what: processions of young men so long that they are an hour getting by a given point. That's what's passing in every girl's mind —when she's thinking. It's perfectly right. Processsions of young girls are similarly passing in our stately and spacious intellects. It's the chief business of the youth of one sex to think of the youth of the other sex."

"Oh, yes, I know," assented Dunham; "and I believe in it, too—"

"Of course you do, you wicked wretch, you abandoned Lovelace, you bruiser of ladies' hearts! You hope the procession is composed entirely of yourself. What would the divine Hibbard say to your goings-on?"

"Oh, don't, Staniford! It isn't fair," pleaded Dunham, with the flattered laugh which the best of men give when falsely attainted of gallantry. "I was wondering whether she was feeling homesick, or strange, or—"

"I will go below and ask her," said Staniford. "I know she will tell me the exact truth. They always do. Or if you will take a guess of mine instead of her word for it, I will hazard the surmise that she is not at all homesick. What has a pretty young girl to regret in such a life as she has left? It's the most arid and joyless existence under the sun. She has never known anything like society. In the country with us, the social side must always have been somewhat paralyzed, but there are monumental evidences of pleasures in other days that are quite extinct now. You see big dusty ball-rooms in the old taverns: ball-rooms that have had no dancing in them for half a century, and where they give you a bed sometimes. There used to be academies, too, in the hill towns, where they furnished a rude but serviceable article of real learning, and where the local octogenarian remembers seeing something famous in the way of theatricals on examination-day; but neither his children nor his grandchildren have seen the like. There's a decay of the religious sentiment, and the church is no longer a social centre, with merry meetings among the tombstones between the morning and the afternoon service. Superficial humanitarianism of one kind or another has killed the good old orthodoxy, as the railroads have killed the turnpikes and the country taverns; and the common schools have killed the academies. Why, I don't suppose this girl ever saw anything livelier than a township cattle show, or a Sunday-school picnic, in her life. They don't pay visits in the country except at rare intervals, and their evening parties, when they have any, are something to strike you dead with pity. They used to clear away the corn-husks and pumpkins on the barn floor, and dance by the light of tin lanterns. At least, that's the traditional thing. The actual thing is sitting around four sides of the room, giggling, whispering, looking at photograph albums, and coaxing somebody to play on the piano. The banquet is passed in the form of apples and water. I have assisted at some rural festivals where the apples were omitted. Upon the whole, I wonder our country people don't all go mad. They do go mad, a great many of them, and manage to get a little glimpse of society in the insane asylums." Staniford ended his tirade with a laugh, in which he vented his humorous sense and his fundamental pity of the conditions he had caricatured.

"But how," demanded Dunham, breaking rebelliously from the silence in which he had listened, "do you account for her good manner?"

"She probably was born with a genius for it. Some people are born with a genius for one thing, and some with a genius for another. I, for example, am an artistic genius, forced to be an amateur by the delusive possession of early wealth, and now burning with a creative instinct in the direction of the sheep or cattle business; you have the gift of universal optimism; Lurella Blood has the genius of good society. Give that girl a winter among nice people in Boston, and you would never know that she was not born on Beacon Hill."

"Oh, I doubt that," said Dunham.

"You doubt it? Pessimist!"

"But you implied just now that she had no sensibility," pursued
Dunham.

"So I did!" cried Staniford, cheerfully. "Social genius and sensibility are two very different things; the cynic might contend they were incompatible, but I won't insist so far. I dare say she may regret the natal spot; most of us have a dumb, brutish attachment to the cari luoghi; but if she knows anything, she hates its surroundings, and must be glad to get out into the world. I should like mightily to know how the world strikes her, as far as she's gone. But I doubt if she's one to betray her own counsel in any way. She looks deep, Lurella does." Staniford laughed again at the pain which his insistence upon the name brought into Dunham's face.

William Dean Howells

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