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Chapter 10

We had undertaken rather a queer affair but it was not so queer after all, when Miss Gage was fairly settled with us. There were other young girls in that pleasant house who had only one another's protection and the general safety of the social atmosphere. We could not conceal from ourselves, of course, that we had done a rather romantic thing, and, in the light of Europe, which we had more or less upon our actions, rather an absurd thing; but it was a comfort to find that Miss Gage thought it neither romantic nor absurd. She took the affair with an apparent ignorance of anything unusual in it—with so much ignorance, indeed, that Mrs. March had her occasional question whether she was duly impressed with what was being done for her. Whether this was so or not, it is certain that she was as docile and as biddable as need be. She did not always ask what she should do; that would not have been in the tradition of village independence; but she always did what she was told, and did not vary from her instructions a hair's-breadth. I do not suppose she always knew why she might do this and might not do that; and I do not suppose that young girls often understand the reasons of the proprieties. They are told that they must, and that they must not, and this in an astonishing degree suffices them if they are nice girls.

Of course there was pretty constant question of Kendricks in the management of Miss Gage's amusement, for that was really what our enterprise resolved itself into. He showed from the first the sweetest disposition to forward all our plans in regard to her, and, in fact, he even anticipated our wishes. I do not mean to give the notion that he behaved from an interested motive in going to the station the morning Mrs. Deering left, and getting her ticket for her, and checking her baggage, and posting her in the changes she would have to make. This was something I ought to have thought of myself, but I did not think of it, and I am willing that he should have all the credit.

I know that he did it out of the lovely generosity of nature which always took me in him. Miss Gage was there with her, and she remained to be consoled after Mrs. Deering departed. They came straight to us from the train, and then, when he had consigned Miss Gage to Mrs. March's care, he offered to go and see that her things were transferred from her hotel to ours; they were all ready, she said, and the bill was paid.

He did not come back that day, and, in fact, he delicately waited for some sign from us that his help was wanted. But when he did come he had formulated Saratoga very completely, and had a better conception of doing it than I had, after my repeated sojourns.

We went very early in our explorations to the House of Pansa, which you find in very much better repair at Saratoga than you do at Pompeii, and we contrived to pass a whole afternoon there. My wife and I had been there before more than once; but it always pleasantly recalled our wander-years, when we first met in Europe, and we suffered round after those young things with a patience which I hope will not be forgotten at the day of judgment. When we came to a seat we sat down, and let them go off by themselves; but my recollection is that there is not much furniture in the House of Pansa that you can sit down on, and for the most part we all kept together.

Kendricks and I thought alike about the Pompeian house as a model of something that might be done in the way of a seaside cottage in our own country, and we talked up a little paper that might be done for Every Other Week, with pretty architectural drawings, giving an account of our imaginary realisation of the notion.

"Have somebody," he said, "visit people who had been boring him to come down, or up, or out, and see them, and find them in a Pompeian house, with the sea in front and a blue-green grove of low pines behind. Might have a thread of story, but mostly talk about how they came to do it, and how delightfully livable they found it. You could work it up with some architect, who would help you to 'keep off the grass' in the way of technical blunders. With all this tendency to the classic in public architecture, I don't see why the Pompeian villa shouldn't be the next word for summer cottages."

"Well, we'll see what Fulkerson says. He may see an ad. in it.
Would you like to do it?"

"Why not do it yourself? Nobody else could do it so well."

"Thanks for the taffy; but the idea was yours."

"I'll do it," said Kendricks after a moment, "if you won't."

"We'll see."

Miss Gage stared, and Mrs. March said -

"I didn't suppose the House of Pansa would lead to shop with you two."

"You never can tell which way copy lies," I returned; and I asked the girl, "What should YOU think, Miss Gage, of a little paper with a thread of story, but mostly talk, on a supposititious Pompeian cottage?"

"I don't believe I understand," said she, far too remote from our literary interests, as I saw, to be ashamed of her ignorance.

"There!" I said to Kendricks. "Do you think the general public would?"

"Miss Gage isn't the general public," said my wife, who had followed the course of my thought; her tone implied that Miss Gage was wiser and better.

"Would you allow yourself to be drawn," I asked, "dreamily issuing from an aisle of the pine grove as the tutelary goddess of a Pompeian cottage?"

The girl cast a bewildered glance at my wife, who said, "You needn't pay any attention to him, Miss Gage. He has an idea that he is making a joke."

We felt that we had done enough for one afternoon, when we had done the House of Pansa, and I proposed that we should go and sit down in Congress Park and listen to the Troy band. I was not without the hope that it would play "Washington Post."

My wife contrived that we should fall in behind the young people as we went, and she asked, "What DO you suppose she made of it all?"

"Probably she thought it was the house of Sancho Panza."

"No; she hasn't read enough to be so ignorant even as that. It's astonishing how much she doesn't know. What can her home life have been like?"

"Philistine to the last degree. We people who are near to literature have no conception how far from it most people are. The immense majority of 'homes,' as the newspapers call them, have no books in them except the Bible and a semi-religious volume or two— things you never see out of such 'homes'—and the State business directory. I was astonished when it came out that she knew about Every Other Week. It must have been by accident. The sordidness of her home life must be something unimaginable. The daughter of a village capitalist, who's put together his money dollar by dollar, as they do in such places, from the necessities and follies of his neighbours, and has half the farmers of the region by the throat through his mortgages—I don't think that she's 'one to be desired' any more than 'the daughter of a hundred earls,' if so much."

"She doesn't seem sordid herself."

"Oh, the taint doesn't show itself at once—

'If nature put not forth her power
About the opening of the flower,
Who is it that would live an hour?'

and she is a flower, beautiful, exquisite"

"Yes, and she had a mother as well as this father of hers. Why shouldn't she be like her mother?"

I laughed. "That is true! I wonder why we always leave the mother out of the count when we sum up the hereditary tendencies? I suppose the mother is as much a parent as the father."

"Quite. And there is no reason why this girl shouldn't have her mother's nature."

"We don't actually KNOW anything against her father's nature yet," I suggested; "but if her mother lived a starved and stunted life with him, it may account for that effect of disappointed greed which I fancied in her when I first saw her."

"I don't call it greed in a young girl to want to see something of the world."

"What do you call it?"

Kendricks and the girl were stopping at the gate of the pavilion, and looking round at us. "Ah, he's got enough for one day! He's going to leave her to us now."

When we came up he said, "I'm going to run off a moment; I'm going up to the book-store there," and he pointed toward one that had spread across the sidewalk just below the Congress Hall verandah, with banks and shelves of novels, and a cry of bargains in them on signs sticking up from their rows. "I want to see if they have the Last Days of Pompeii."

"We will find the ladies inside the park," I said. "I will go with you—"

"Mr. March wants to see if they have the last number of Every Other Week," my wife mocked after us. This was, indeed, commonly a foible of mine. I had newly become one of the owners of the periodical as well as the editor, and I was all the time looking out for it at the news-stands and book-stores, and judging their enterprise by its presence or absence. But this time I had another motive, though I did not allege it.

"I suppose it's for Miss Gage?" I ventured to say, by way of prefacing what I wished to say. "Kendricks, I'm afraid we're abusing your good nature. I know you're up here to look about, and you're letting us use all your time. You mustn't do it. Women have no conscience about these things, and you can't expect a woman who has a young lady on her hands to spare you. I give you the hint. Don't count upon Mrs. March in this matter."

"Oh, I think you are very good to allow me to bother round," said the young fellow, with that indefatigable politeness of his. He added vaguely, "It's very interesting."

"Seeing it through such a fresh mind?" I suggested. "Well, I'll own that I don't think you could have found a much fresher one. Has she read the Last Days of Pompeii?"

"She thought she had at first, but it was the Fall of Granada."

"How delightful! Don't you wish we could read books with that utterly unliterary sense of them?"

"Don't you think women generally do?" he asked evasively.

"I daresay they do at De Witt Point."

He did not answer; I saw that he was not willing to talk the young lady over, and I could not help praising his taste to myself at the cost of my own. His delicacy forbade him the indulgence which my own protested against in vain. He showed his taste again in buying a cheap copy of the book, which he meant to give her, and of course he had to be all the more attentive to her because of my deprecating his self-devotion.

William Dean Howells

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