I did not afflict myself very much, nor pretend to do so. They knew the way home, and after I had blundered about in search of them through the lampshot darkness, I settled myself to walk back at my leisure, comfortably sure that I should find them on the verandah waiting for me when I reached the hotel. It was quite a thick night, and I almost ran into a couple at a corner of our quieter street when I had got to it out of Broadway. They seemed to be standing and looking about, and when the man said, "He must have thought we took the first turn," and the woman, "Yes, that must have been the way," I recognised my estrays.
I thought I would not discover myself to them, but follow on, and surprise them by arriving at our steps at the same moment they did, and I prepared myself to hurry after them. But they seemed in no hurry, and I had even some difficulty in accommodating my pace to the slowness of theirs.
"Won't you take my arm, Miss Gage?" he asked as they moved on.
"It's so VERY dark," she answered, and I knew she had taken it. "I can hardly see a step, and poor Mr. March with his glasses—I don't know what he'll do."
"Oh, he only uses them to read with; he can see as well as we can in the dark."
"He's very young in his feelings," said the girl; "he puts me in mind of my own father."
"He's very young in his thoughts," said Kendricks; "and that's much more to the purpose for a magazine editor. There are very few men of his age who keep in touch with the times as he does."
"Still, Mrs. March seems a good deal younger, don't you think? I wonder how soon they begin to feel old?"
"Oh, not till along in the forties, I should say. It's a good deal in temperament. I don't suppose that either of them realises yet that they're old, and they must be nearly fifty."
"How strange it must be," said the girl, "fifty years old! Twenty seems old enough, goodness knows."
"How should you like to be a dotard of twenty-seven?" Kendricks asked, and she laughed at his joke.
"I don't suppose I should mind it so much if I were a man."
I had promised myself that if the talk became at all confidential I would drop behind out of earshot; but though it was curiously intimate for me to be put apart in the minds of these young people on account of my years as not of the same race or fate as themselves, there was nothing in what they said that I might not innocently overhear, as far as they were concerned, and I listened on.
But they had apparently given me quite enough attention. After some mutual laughter at what she said last, they were silent a moment, and then he said soberly, "There's something fine in this isolation the dark gives you, isn't there? You're as remote in it from our own time and place as if you were wandering in interplanetary space."
"I suppose we ARE doing that all the time—on the earth," she suggested.
"Yes; but how hard it is to realise that we are on the earth now. Sometimes I have a sense of it, though, when the moon breaks from one flying cloud to another. Then it seems as if I were a passenger on some vast, shapeless ship sailing through the air. What," he asked, with no relevancy that I could perceive, "was the strangest feeling YOU ever had?" I remembered asking girls such questions when I was young, and their not apparently thinking it at all odd.
"I don't know," she returned thoughtfully. "There was one time when I was little, and it had sleeted, and the sun came out just before it set, and seemed to set all the woods on fire. I thought the world was burning up."
"It must have been very weird," said Kendricks; and I thought, "Oh, good heavens! Has he got to talking of weird things?"
"It's strange," he added, "how we all have that belief when we are children that the world is going to burn up! I don't suppose any child escapes it. Do you remember that poem of Thompson's—the City of Dreadful Night man—where he describes the end of the world?"
"No, I never read it."
"Well, merely, he says when the conflagration began the little flames looked like crocuses breaking through the sod. If it ever happened I fancy it would be quite as simple as that. But perhaps you don't like gloomy poetry?"
'Yes, yes, I do. It's the only kind that I care about."
"Then you hate funny poetry?"
"I think it's disgusting. Papa is always cutting it out of the papers and wanting to send it to me, and we have the greatest TIMES!"
"I suppose," said Kendricks, "it expresses some moods, though."
"Oh yes; it expresses some moods; and sometimes it makes me laugh in spite of myself, and ashamed of anything serious."
"That's always the effect of a farce with me."
"But then I'm ashamed of being ashamed afterward," said the girl.
"I suppose you go to the theatre a great deal in New York."
"It's a school of life," said Kendricks. "I mean the audience."
"I would like to go to the opera once. I am going to make papa take me in the winter." She laughed with a gay sense of power, and he said -
"You seem to be great friends with your father."
"Yes, we're always together. I always went everywhere with him; this is the first time I've been away without him. But I thought I'd come with Mrs. Deering and see what Saratoga was like; I had never been here."
"And is it like what you thought?"
"No. The first week we didn't do anything. Then we got acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. March, and I began to really see something. But I supposed it was all balls and gaiety."
"We must get up a few if you're so fond of them," Kendricks playfully suggested.
"Oh, I don't know as I am. I never went much at home. Papa didn't care to have me."
"Ah, do you think it was right for him to keep you all to himself?" The girl did not answer, and they had both halted so abruptly that I almost ran into them. "I don't quite make out where we are." Kendricks seemed to be peering about. I plunged across the street lest he should ask me. I heard him add, "Oh yes; I know now," and then they pressed forward.
We were quite near our hotel, but I thought it best to walk round the square and let them arrive first. On the way I amused myself thinking how different the girl had shown herself to him from what she had ever shown herself to my wife or me. She had really, this plain-minded goddess, a vein of poetic feeling, some inner beauty of soul answering to the outer beauty of body. She had a romantic attachment to her father, and this shed a sort of light on both of them, though I knew that it was not always a revelation of character.