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Chapter 13

XIII.

The whole thing was so crazy, as Bartley said, that it made no difference if they kept up the expense a few days longer. He took a hack from the depot when they arrived in Boston, and drove to the Revere House, instead of going up in the horse-car. He entered his name on the register with a flourish, "Bartley J. Hubbard and Wife, Boston," and asked for a room and fire, with laconic gruffness; but the clerk knew him at once for a country person, and when the call-boy followed him into the parlor where Marcia sat, in the tremor into which she fell whenever Bartley was out of her sight, the call-boy discerned her provinciality at a glance, and made free to say that he guessed they had better let him take their things up to their room, and come up themselves after the porter had got their fire going.

"All right," said Bartley, with hauteur; and he added, for no reason, "Be quick about it."

"Yes, sir," said the boy.

"What time is supper—dinner, I mean?"

"It's ready now, sir."

"Good. Take up the things. Come just as you are, Marcia. Let him take your cap,—no, keep it on; a good many of them come down in their bonnets."

Marcia put off her sack and gloves, and hastily repaired the ravages of travel as best she could. She would have liked to go to her room just long enough to brush her hair a little, and the fur cap made her head hot; but she was suddenly afraid of doing something that would seem countrified in Bartley's eyes, and she promptly obeyed: they had come from Portland in a parlor car, and she had been able to make a traveller's toilet before they reached Boston.

She had been at Portland several times with her father; but he stopped at a second-class hotel where he had always "put up" when alone, and she was new to the vastness of hotel mirrors and chandeliers, the glossy paint, the frescoing, the fluted pillars, the tessellated marble pavements upon which she stepped when she left the Brussels carpeting of the parlors. She clung to Bartley's arm, silently praying that she might not do anything to mortify him, and admiring everything he did with all her soul. He made a halt as they entered the glittering dining-room, and stood frowning till the head-waiter ran respectfully up to them, and ushered them with sweeping bows to a table, which they had to themselves. Bartley ordered their dinner with nonchalant ease, beginning with soup and going to black coffee with dazzling intelligence. While their waiter was gone with their order, he beckoned with one finger to another, and sent him out for a paper, which he unfolded and spread on the table, taking a toothpick into his mouth, and running the sheet over with his eyes. "I just want to see what's going on to-night," he said, without looking at Marcia.

She made a little murmur of acquiescence in her throat, but she could not speak for strangeness. She began to steal little timid glances about, and to notice the people at the other tables. In her heart she did not find the ladies so very well dressed as she had expected the Boston ladies to be; and there was no gentleman there to compare with Bartley, either in style or looks. She let her eyes finally dwell on him, wishing that he would put his paper away and say something, but afraid to ask, lest it should not be quite right: all the other gentlemen were reading papers. She was feeling lonesome and homesick, when he suddenly glanced at her and said, "How pretty you look, Marsh!"

"Do I?" she asked, with a little grateful throb, while her eyes joyfully suffused themselves.

"Pretty as a pink," he returned. "Gay,—isn't it?" he continued, with a wink that took her into his confidence again, from which his study of the newspaper had seemed to exclude her. "I'll tell you what I'm going to do: I'm going to take you to the Museum after dinner, and let you see Boucicault in the 'Colleen Bawn.'" He swept his paper off the table and unfolded his napkin in his lap, and, leaning back in his chair, began to tell her about the play. "We can walk: it's only just round the corner," he said at the end.

Marcia crept into the shelter of his talk,—he sometimes spoke rather loud,—and was submissively silent. When they got into their own room,—which had gilt lambrequin frames, and a chandelier of three burners, and a marble mantel, and marble-topped table and washstand,—and Bartley turned up the flaring gas, she quite broke down, and cried on his breast, to make sure that she had got him all back again.

"Why, Marcia!" he said. "I know just how you feel. Don't you suppose I understand as well as you do that we're a country couple? But I'm not going to give myself away; and you mustn't, either. There wasn't a woman in that room that could compare with you,—dress or looks!"

"You were splendid," she whispered, "and just like the rest! and that made me feel somehow as if I had lost you."

"I know,—I saw just how you felt; but I wasn't going to say anything for fear you'd give way right there. Come, there's plenty of time before the play begins. I call this nice! Old-fashioned, rather, in the decorations," he said, "but pretty good for its time." He had pulled up two arm-chairs in front of the glowing grate of anthracite; as he spoke, he cast his eyes about the room, and she followed his glance obediently. He had kept her hand in his, and now he held her slim finger-tips in the fist which he rested on his knee. "No; I'll tell you what, Marcia, if you want to get on in a city, there's no use being afraid of people. No use being afraid of anything, so long as we're good to each other. And you've got to believe in me right along. Don't you let anything get you on the wrong track. I believe that as long as you have faith in me, I shall deserve it; and when you don't—"

"Oh, Bartley, you know I didn't doubt you! I just got to thinking, and I was a little worked up! I suppose I'm excited."

"I knew it! I knew it!" cried her husband. "Don't you suppose I understand you?"

They talked a long time together, and made each other loving promises of patience. They confessed their faults, and pledged each other that they would try hard to overcome them. They wished to be good; they both felt they had much to retrieve; but they had no concealments, and they knew that was the best way to begin the future, of which they did their best to conceive seriously. Bartley told her his plans about getting some newspaper work till he could complete his law studies. He meant to settle down to practice in Boston. "You have to wait longer for it than you would in a country place; but when you get it, it's worth while." He asked Marcia whether she would look up his friend Halleck if she were in his place; but he did not give her time to decide. "I guess I won't do it. Not just yet, at any rate. He might suppose that I wanted something of him. I'll call on him when I don't need his help."

Perhaps, if they had not planned to go to the theatre, they would have staid where they were, for they were tired, and it was very cosey. But when they were once in the street, they were glad they had come out. Bowdoin Square and Court Street and Tremont Row were a glitter of gas-lights, and those shops, with their placarded bargains, dazzled Marcia.

"Is it one of the principal streets?" she asked Bartley.

He gave the laugh of a veteran habitué of Boston. "Tremont Row? No. Wait till I show you Washington Street to-morrow. There's the Museum," he said, pointing to the long row of globed lights on the façade of the building. "Here we are in Scollay Square. There's Hanover Street; there's Cornhill; Court crooks down that way; there's Pemberton Square."

His familiarity with these names estranged him to her again; she clung the closer to his arm, and caught her breath nervously as they turned in with the crowd that was climbing the stairs to the box-office of the theatre. Bartley left her a moment, while he pushed his way up to the little window and bought the tickets. "First-rate seats," he said, coming back to her, and taking her hand under his arm again, "and a great piece of luck. They were just returned for sale by the man in front of me, or I should have had to take something 'way up in the gallery. There's a regular jam. These are right in the centre of the parquet."

Marcia did not know what the parquet was; she heard its name with the certainty that but for Bartley she should not be equal to it. All her village pride was quelled; she had only enough self-control to act upon Bartley's instructions not to give herself away by any conviction of rusticity. They passed in through the long, colonnaded vestibule, with its paintings, and plaster casts, and rows of birds and animals in glass cases on either side, and she gave scarcely a glance at any of those objects, endeared by association, if not by intrinsic beauty, to the Boston play-goer. Gulliver, with the Liliputians swarming upon him; the painty-necked ostriches and pelicans; the mummied mermaid under a glass bell; the governors' portraits; the stuffed elephant; Washington crossing the Delaware; Cleopatra applying the asp; Sir William Pepperell, at full length, on canvas; and the pagan months and seasons in plaster,—if all these are, indeed, the subjects,—were dim phantasmagoria amid which she and Bartley moved scarcely more real. The usher, in his dress-coat, ran up the aisle to take their checks, and led them down to their seats; half a dozen elegant people stood to let them into their places; the theatre was filled with faces. At Portland, where she saw the "Lady of Lyons," with her father, three-quarters of the house was empty.

Bartley only had time to lean over and whisper, "The place is packed with Beacon Street swells,—it's a regular field night,"—when the bell tinkled and the curtain rose.

As the play went on, the rich jacqueminot-red flamed into her cheeks, and burnt there a steady blaze to the end. The people about her laughed and clapped, and at times they seemed to be crying. But Marcia sat through every part as stoical as a savage, making no sign, except for the flaming color in her cheeks, of interest or intelligence. Bartley talked of the play all the way home, but she said nothing, and in their own room he asked: "Didn't you really like it? Were you disappointed? I haven't been able to get a word out of you about it. Didn't you like Boucicault?"

"I didn't know which he was," she answered, with impassioned exaltation. "I didn't care for him. I only thought of that poor girl, and her husband who despised her—"

She stopped. Bartley looked at her a moment, and then caught her to him and fell a-laughing over her, till it seemed as if he never would end. "And you thought—you thought," he cried, trying to get his breath,—"you thought you were Eily, and I was Hardress Cregan! Oh, I see, I see!" He went on making a mock and a burlesque of her tragical hallucination till she laughed with him at last. When he put his hand up to turn out the gas, he began his joking afresh. "The real thing for Hardress to do," he said, fumbling for the key, "is to blow it out. That's what Hardress usually does when he comes up from the rural districts with Eily on their bridal tour. That finishes off Eily, without troubling Danny Mann. The only drawback is that it finishes off Hardress, too: they're both found suffocated in the morning."

William Dean Howells