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Chapter 14

XIV.

The next day, after breakfast, while they stood together before the parlor fire, Bartley proposed one plan after another for spending the day. Marcia rejected them all, with perfectly recovered self-composure.

"Then what shall we do?" he asked, at last.

"Oh, I don't know," she answered, rather absently. She added, after an interval, smoothing the warm front of her dress, and putting her foot on the fender, "What did those theatre-tickets cost?"

"Two dollars," he replied carelessly. "Why?"

Marcia gasped. "Two dollars! Oh, Bartley, we couldn't afford it!"

"It seems we did."

"And here,—how much are we paying here?"

"That room, with fire," said Bartley, stretching himself, "is seven dollars a day—"

"We mustn't stay another instant!" said Marcia, all a woman's terror of spending money on anything but dress, all a wife's conservative instinct, rising within her. "How much have you got left?"

Bartley took out his pocket-book and counted over the bills in it. "A hundred and twenty dollars."

"Why, what has become of it all? We had a hundred and sixty!"

"Well, our railroad tickets were nineteen, the sleeping-car was three, the parlor-car was three, the theatre was two, the hack was fifty cents, and we'll have to put down the other two and a half to refreshments."

Marcia listened in dismay. At the end she drew a long breath. "Well, we must go away from here as soon as possible,—that I know. We'll go out and find some boarding-place. That's the first thing."

"Oh, now, Marcia, you're not going to be so severe as that, are you?" pleaded Bartley. "A few dollars, more or less, are not going to keep us out of the poorhouse. I just want to stay here three days: that will leave us a clean hundred, and we can start fair." He was half joking, but she was wholly serious.

"No, Bartley! Not another hour,—not another minute! Come!" She took his arm and bent it up into a crook, where she put her hand, and pulled him toward the door.

"Well, after all," he said, "it will be some fun looking up a room."

There was no one else in the parlor; in going to the door they took some waltzing steps together.

While she dressed to go out, he looked up places where rooms were let with or without board, in the newspaper. "There don't seem to be a great many," he said meditatively, bending over the open sheet. But he cut out half a dozen advertisements with his editorial scissors, and they started upon their search.

They climbed those pleasant old up-hill streets that converge to the State House, and looked into the houses on the quiet Places that stretch from one thoroughfare to another. They had decided that they would be content with two small rooms, one for a chamber, and the other for a parlor, where they could have a fire. They found exactly what they wanted in the first house where they applied, one flight up, with sunny windows, looking down the street; but it made Marcia's blood run cold when the landlady said that the price was thirty dollars a week. At another place the rooms were only twenty; the position was as good, and the carpet and furniture prettier. This was still too dear, but it seemed comparatively reasonable till it appeared that this was the price without board.

"I think we should prefer rooms with board, shouldn't we?" asked Bartley, with a sly look at Marcia.

The prices were of all degrees of exorbitance, and they varied for no reason from house to house; one landlady had been accustomed to take more and another less, but never little enough for Marcia, who overruled Bartley again and again when he wished to close with some small abatement of terms. She declared now that they must put up with one room, and they must not care what floor it was on. But the cheapest room with board was fourteen dollars a week, and Marcia had fixed her ideal at ten: even that was too high for them.

"The best way will be to go back to the Revere House, at seven dollars a day," said Bartley. He had lately been leaving the transaction of the business entirely to Marcia, who had rapidly acquired alertness and decision in it.

She could not respond to his joke. "What is there left?" she asked.

"There isn't anything left," he said. "We've got to the end."

They stood on the edge of the pavement and looked up and down the street, and then, by a common impulse, they looked at the house opposite, where a placard in the window advertised, "Apartments to Let—to Gentlemen only."

"It would be of no use asking there," murmured Marcia, in sad abstraction.

"Well, let's go over and try," said her husband. "They can't do more than turn us out of doors."

"I know it won't be of any use," Marcia sighed, as people do when they hope to gain something by forbidding themselves hope. But she helplessly followed, and stood at the foot of the door-steps while he ran up and rang.

It was evidently the woman of the house who came to the door and shrewdly scanned them.

"I see you have apartments to let," said Bartley.

"Well, yes," admitted the woman, as if she considered it useless to deny it, "I have."

"I should like to look at them," returned Bartley, with promptness. "Come, Marcia." And, reinforced by her, he invaded the premises before the landlady had time to repel him. "I'll tell you what we want," he continued, turning into the little reception-room at the side of the door, "and if you haven't got it, there's no need to trouble you. We want a fair-sized room, anywhere between the cellar-floor and the roof, with a bed and a stove and a table in it, that sha'n't cost us more than ten dollars a week, with board."

"Set down," said the landlady, herself setting the example by sinking into the rocking-chair behind her and beginning to rock while she made a brief study of the intruders. "Want it for yourselves?"

"Yes," said Bartley.

"Well," returned the landlady, "I always have preferred single gentlemen."

"I inferred as much from a remark which you made in your front window," said Bartley, indicating the placard.

The landlady smiled. They were certainly a very pretty-appearing young couple, and the gentleman was evidently up-and-coming. Mrs. Nash liked Bartley, as most people of her grade did, at once. "It's always be'n my exper'ence," she explained, with the lazily rhythmical drawl in which most half-bred New-Englanders speak, "that I seemed to get along rather better with gentlemen. They give less trouble—as a general rule," she added, with a glance at Marcia, as if she did not deny that there were exceptions, and Marcia might be a striking one.

Bartley seized his advantage. "Well, my wife hasn't been married long enough to be unreasonable. I guess you'd get along."

They both laughed, and Marcia, blushing, joined them.

"Well, I thought when you first come up the steps you hadn't been married—well, not a great while," said the landlady.

"No," said Bartley. "It seems a good while to my wife; but we were only married day before yesterday."

"The land!" cried Mrs. Nash.

"Bartley!" whispered Marcia, in soft upbraiding.

"What? Well, say last week, then. We were married last week, and we've come to Boston to seek our fortune."

His wit overjoyed Mrs. Nash. "You'll find Boston an awful hard place to get along," she said, shaking her head with a warning smile.

"I shouldn't think so, by the price Boston people ask for their rooms," returned Bartley. "If I had rooms to let, I should get along pretty easily."

This again delighted the landlady. "I guess you aint goin' to get out of spirits, anyway," she said. "Well," she continued, "I have got a room 't I guess would suit you. Unexpectedly vacated." She seemed to recur to the language of an advertisement in these words, which she pronounced as if reading them. "It's pretty high up," she said, with another warning shake of the head.

"Stairs to get to it?" asked Bartley.

"Plenty of stairs."

"Well, when a place is pretty high up, I like to have plenty of stairs to get to it. I guess we'll see it, Marcia." He rose.

"Well, I'll just go up and see if it's fit to be seen, first," said the landlady.

"Oh, Bartley!" said Marcia, when she had left them alone, "how could you joke so about our just being married!"

"Well, I saw she wanted awfully to ask. And anybody can tell by looking at us, anyway. We can't keep that to ourselves, any more than we can our greenness. Besides, it's money in our pockets; she'll take something off our board for it, you'll see. Now, will you manage the bargaining from this on? I stepped forward because the rooms were for gentlemen only."

"I guess I'd better," said Marcia.

"All right; then I'll take a back seat from this out."

"Oh, I do hope it won't be too much!" sighed the young wife. "I'm so tired, looking."

"You can come right along up," the landlady called down through the oval spire formed by the ascending hand-rail of the stairs.

They found her in a broad, low room, whose ceiling sloped with the roof, and had the pleasant irregularity of the angles and recessions of two dormer windows. The room was clean and cosey; there was a table, and a stove that could be used open or shut; Marcia squeezed Bartley's arm to signify that it would do perfectly—if only the price would suit.

The landlady stood in the middle of the floor and lectured: "Now, there! I get five dollars a week for this room; and I gen'ly let it to two gentlemen. It's just been vacated by two gentlemen unexpectedly; and it's hard to get gentlemen at this time the year; and that's the reason I thought of takin' you. As I say, I don't much like ladies for inmates, and so I put in the window 'for gentlemen only.' But it's no use bein' too particular; I can't have the room layin' empty on my hands. If it suits you, you can have it for four dollars. It's high up, and there's no use tryin' to deny it. But there aint such another view as them winders commands anywheres. You can see the harbor, and pretty much the whole coast."

"Anything extra for the view?" said Bartley, glancing out.

"No, I throw that in."

"Does the price include gas and fire?" asked Marcia, sharpened as to all details by previous interviews.

"It includes the gas, but it don't include the fire," said the landlady, firmly. "And it's pretty low at that, as you've found out, I guess."

"Yes, it is low," said Marcia. "Bartley, I think we'd better take it."

She looked at him timidly, as if she were afraid he might not think it good enough; she did not think it good enough for him, but she felt that they must make their money go as far as possible.

"All right!" he said. "Then it's a bargain."

"And how much more will the board be?"

"Well, there," the landlady said, with candor, "I don't know as I can meet your views. I don't ever give board. But there's plenty of houses right on the street here where you can get day-board from four dollars a week up."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Marcia; "and that would make it twelve dollars!"

"Why, the dear suz, child!" exclaimed the landlady, "you didn't expect to get it for less?"

"We must," said Marcia.

"Then you'll have to go to a mechanics' boardin'-house."

"I suppose we shall," she returned, dejectedly. Bartley whistled.

"Look here," said the landlady, "aint you from Down East, some'eres?"

Marcia started, as if the woman had recognized them. "Yes." she said.

"Well, now," said Mrs. Nash, "I'm from down Maine way myself, and I'll tell you what I should do, if I was in your place. You don't want much of anything tor breakfast or tea; you can boil you an egg on the stove here, and you can make your own tea or coffee; and if I was you, I'd go out for my dinners to an eatin'-house. I heard some my lodgers tellin' how they done. Well, I heard the very gentlemen that occupied this room sayin' how they used to go to an eatin'-house, and one 'd order one thing, and another another, and then they'd halve it between 'em, and make out a first-rate meal for about a quarter apiece. Plenty of places now where they give you a cut o'lamb or rib-beef for a shillin', and they bring you bread and butter and potato with it; an' it's always enough for two. That's what they said. I haint never tried it myself; but as long as you haint got anybody but yourselves to care for, there aint any reason why you shouldn't."

They looked at each other.

"Well," added the landlady for a final touch, "say fire. That stove won't burn a great deal, anyway."

"All right," said Bartley, "we'll take the room—for a month, at least."

Mrs. Nash looked a little embarrassed. If she had made some concession to the liking she had conceived for this pretty young couple, she could not risk everything. "I always have to get the first week in advance—where there ain't no reference," she suggested.

"Of course," said Bartley, and he took out his pocket-book, which he had a boyish satisfaction in letting her see was well filled. "Now, Marcia," he continued, looking at his watch, "I'll just run over to the hotel, and give up our room before they get us in for dinner."

Marcia accepted Mrs. Nash's invitation to come and sit with her till the chill was off the room; and she borrowed a pen and paper of her to write home. The note she sent was brief: she was not going to seem to ask anything of her father. But she was going to do what was right; she told him where she was, and she sent her love to her mother. She would not speak of her things; he might send them or not, as he chose; but she knew he would. This was the spirit of her letter, and her training had not taught her to soften and sweeten her phrase; but no doubt the old man, who was like her, would understand that she felt no compunction for what she had done, and that she loved him though she still defied him.

Bartley did not ask her what her letter was when she demanded a stamp of him on his return; but he knew. He inquired of Mrs. Nash where these cheap eating-houses were to be found, and he posted the letter in the first box they came to, merely saying, "I hope you haven't been asking any favors, Marsh?"

"No, indeed."

"Because I couldn't stand that."

Marcia had never dined in a restaurant, and she was somewhat bewildered by the one into which they turned. There was a great show of roast, and steak, and fish, and game, and squash and cranberry-pie in the window, and at the door a tack was driven through a mass of bills of fare, two of which Bartley plucked off as they entered, with a knowing air, and then threw on the floor when he found the same thing on the table. The table had a marble top, and a silver-plated castor in the centre. The plates were laid with a coarse red doily in a cocked hat on each, and a thinly plated knife and fork crossed beneath it; the plates were thick and heavy; the handle as well as the blade of the knife was metal, and silvered. Besides the castor, there was a bottle of Leicestershire sauce on the table, and salt in what Marcia thought a pepper-box; the marble was of an unctuous translucence in places, and showed the course of the cleansing napkin on its smeared surface. The place was hot, and full of confused smells of cooking; all the tables were crowded, so that they found places with difficulty, and pale, plain girls, of the Provincial and Irish-American type, in fashionable bangs and pull-backs, went about taking the orders, which they wailed out toward a semicircular hole opening upon a counter at the farther end of the room; there they received the dishes ordered, and hurried with them to the customers, before whom they laid them with a noisy clacking of the heavy crockery. A great many of the people seemed to be taking hulled corn and milk; baked beans formed another favorite dish, and squash-pie was in large request. Marcia was not critical; roast turkey for Bartley and stewed chicken for herself, with cranberry-pie for both, seemed to her a very good and sufficient dinner, and better than they ought to have had. She asked Bartley if this were anything like Parker's; he had always talked to her about Parker's.

"Well, Marcia," he said, folding up his doily, which does not betray use like the indiscreet white napkin, "I'll just take you round and show you the outside of Parker's, and some day we'll go there and get dinner."

He not only showed her Parker's, but the City Hall; they walked down School Street, and through Washington as far as Boylston: and Bartley pointed out the Old South, and brought Marcia home by the Common, where they stopped to see the boys coasting under the care of the police, between two long lines of spectators.

"The State House," said Bartley, with easy command of the facts, and, pointing in the several directions; "Beacon Street; Public Garden; Back Bay."

She came home to Mrs. Nash joyfully admiring the city, but admiring still more her husband's masterly knowledge of it.

Mrs. Nash was one of those people who partake intimately of the importance of the place in which they live; to whom it is sufficient splendor and prosperity to be a Bostonian, or New-Yorker, or Chicagoan, and who experience a delicious self-flattery in the celebration of the municipal grandeur. In his degree, Bartley was of this sort, and he exchanged compliments of Boston with Mrs. Nash, till they grew into warm favor with each other.

After a while, he said he must go up-stairs and do some writing; and then he casually dropped the fact that he was an editor, and that he had come to Boston to get an engagement on a newspaper; he implied that he had come to take one.

"Well," said Mrs. Nash, smoothing the back of the cat, which she had in her lap, "I guess there ain't anything like our Boston papers. And they say this new one—the 'Daily Events'—is goin' to take the lead. You acquainted any with our Boston editors?"

Bartley hemmed. "Well—I know the proprietor of the Events."

"Ah, yes: Mr. Witherby. Well, they say he's got the money. I hear my lodgers talkin' about that paper consid'able. I haven't ever seen it."

Bartley now went up-stairs; he had an idea in his head. Marcia remained with Mrs. Nash a few moments. "He's been in Boston before," she said, with proud satisfaction; "he visited here when he was in college."

"Law, is he college-bred?" cried Mrs. Nash. "Well, I thought he looked 'most too wide-awake for that. He aint a bit offish. He seems re'l practical. What you hurryin' off so for?" she asked, as Marcia rose, and stood poised on the threshold, in act to follow her husband. "Why don't you set here with me, while he's at his writin'? You'll just keep talkin to him and takin' his mind off, the whole while. You stay here!" she commanded hospitably. "You'll just be in the way, up there."

This was a novel conception to Marcia, but its good sense struck her. "Well, I will," she said. "I'll run up a minute to leave my things, and then I'll come back."

She found Bartley dragging the table, on which he had already laid out his writing-materials, into a good light, and she threw her arms round his neck, as if they had been a great while parted.

"Come up to kiss me good luck?" he asked, finding her lips.

"Yes, and to tell you how splendid you are, going right to work this way," she answered fondly.

"Oh, I don't believe in losing time; and I've got to strike while the iron's hot, if I'm going to write out that logging-camp business. I'll take it over to that Events man, and hit him with it, while it's fresh in his mind."

"Yes," said Marcia. "Are you going to write that out?"

"Why, I told you I was. Any objections?" He did not pay much attention to her, and he asked his question jokingly, as he went on making his preparations.

"It's hard for me to realize that people can care for such things. I thought perhaps you'd begin with something else," she suggested, hanging up her sack and hat in the closet.

"No, that's the very thing to begin with," he answered, carelessly. "What are you going to do? Want that book to read that I bought on the cars?"

"No, I'm going down to sit with Mrs. Nash while you're writing."

"Well, that's a good idea."

"You can call me when you've done."

"Done!" cried Bartley. "I sha'n't be done till this time to-morrow. I'm going to make a lot about it."

"Oh!" said his wife. "Well, I suppose the more there is, the more you will get for it. Shall you put in about those people coming to see the camp?"

"Yes, I think I can work that in so that old Witherby will like it. Something about a distinguished Boston newspaper proprietor and his refined and elegant ladies, as a sort of contrast to the rude life of the loggers."

"I thought you didn't admire them a great deal."

"Well, I didn't much. But I can work them up."

Marcia was quite ready to go; Bartley had seated himself at his table, but she still hovered about. "And are you—shall you put that Montreal woman in?"

"Yes, get it all in. She'll work up first-rate."

Marcia was silent. Then, "I shouldn't think you'd put her in," she said, "if she was so silly and disagreeable."

Bartley turned around, and saw the look on her face that he could not mistake. He rose and took her by the chin. "Look here, Marsh!" he said, "didn't you promise me you'd stop that?"

"Yes," she murmured, while the color flamed into her cheeks.

"And will you?"

"I did try—"

He looked sharply into her eyes. "Confound the Montreal woman! I won't put in a word about her. There!" He kissed Marcia, and held her in his arms and soothed her as if she had been a jealous child.

"Oh, Bartley! Oh, Bartley!" she cried. "I love you so!"

"I think it's a remark you made before," he said, and, with a final kiss and laugh, he pushed her out of the door; and she ran down stairs to Mrs. Nash again.

"Your husband ever write poetry, any?" inquired the landlady.

"No," returned Marcia; "he used to in college, but he says it don't pay."

"One my lodgers—well, she was a lady; you can't seem to get gentlemen oftentimes in the summer season, for love or money, and I was puttin' up with her,—breakin' joints, as you may say, for the time bein'—she wrote poetry; 'n' I guess she found it pretty poor pickin'. Used to write for the weekly papers, she said, 'n' the child'n's magazines. Well, she couldn't get more 'n a doll' or two, 'n' I do' know but what less, for a piece as long as that." Mrs. Nash held her hands about a foot apart. "Used to show 'em to me, and tell me about 'em. I declare I used to pity her. I used to tell her I ruther break stone for my livin'."

Marcia sat talking more than an hour to Mrs. Nash, informing herself upon the history of Mrs. Nash's past and present lodgers, and about the ways of the city, and the prices of provisions and dress-goods. The dearness of everything alarmed and even shocked her; but she came back to her faith in Bartley's ability to meet and overcome all difficulties. She grew drowsy in the close air which Mrs. Nash loved, after all her fatigues and excitements, and she said she guessed she would go up and see how Bartley was getting on. But when she stole into the room and saw him busily writing, she said, "Now I won't speak a word, Bartley," and coiled herself down under a shawl on the bed, near enough to put her hand on his shoulder if she wished, and fell asleep.

William Dean Howells