Read CHAPTER XII of Their Pilgrimage , free online book, by Charles Dudley Warner, on ReadCentral.com.

LAKE GEORGE, AND SARATOGA AGAIN

The intimacy between Mrs. Bartlett Glow and Irene increased as the days went by. The woman of society was always devising plans for Irene’s entertainment, and winning her confidence by a thousand evidences of interest and affection. Pleased as King was with this at first, he began to be annoyed at a devotion to which he could have no objection except that it often came between him and the enjoyment of the girl’s society alone; and latterly he had noticed that her manner was more grave when they were together, and that a little something of reserve mingled with her tenderness.

They made an excursion one day to Lake George a poetical pilgrimage that recalled to some of the party (which included some New Orleans friends) the romance of early days. To the Bensons and the artist it was all new, and to King it was seen for the first time in the transforming atmosphere of love. To men of sentiment its beauties will never be exhausted; but to the elderly and perhaps rheumatic tourist the draughty steamboats do not always bring back the remembered delight of youth. There is no pleasanter place in the North for a summer residence, but there is a certain element of monotony and weariness inseparable from an excursion: travelers have been known to yawn even on the Rhine. It was a gray day, the country began to show the approach of autumn, and the view from the landing at Caldwell’s, the head of the lake, was never more pleasing. In the marshes the cat-tails and the faint flush of color on the alders and soft maples gave a character to the low shore, and the gentle rise of the hills from the water’s edge combined to make a sweet and peaceful landscape.

The tourists find the steamer waiting for them at the end of the rail, and if they are indifferent to the war romances of the place, as most of them are, they hurry on without a glance at the sites of the famous old forts St. George and William Henry. Yet the head of the lake might well detain them a few hours though they do not care for the scalping Indians and their sometime allies the French or the English. On the east side the lake is wooded to the shore, and the jutting points and charming bays make a pleasant outline to the eye. Crosbyside is the ideal of a summer retreat, nestled in foliage on a pretty point, with its great trees on a sloping lawn, boathouses and innumerable row and sail boats, and a lovely view, over the blue waters, of a fine range of hills. Caldwell itself, on the west side, is a pretty tree-planted village in a break in the hills, and a point above it shaded with great pines is a favorite rendezvous for pleasure parties, who leave the ground strewn with egg-shells and newspapers. The Fort William Henry Hotel was formerly the chief resort on the lake. It is a long, handsome structure, with broad piazzas, and low evergreens and flowers planted in front. The view from it, under the great pines, of the lake and the northern purple hills, is lovely. But the tide of travel passes it by, and the few people who were there seemed lonesome. It is always so. Fashion demands novelty; one class of summer boarders and tourists drives out another, and the people who want to be sentimental at this end of the lake now pass it with a call, perhaps a sigh for the past, and go on to fresh pastures where their own society is encamped.

Lake George has changed very much within ten years; hotels and great boarding-houses line the shores; but the marked difference is in the increase of cottage life. As our tourists sailed down the lake they were surprised by the number of pretty villas with red roofs peeping out from the trees, and the occupation of every island and headland by gay and often fantastic summer residences. King had heard this lake compared with Como and Maggiore, and as a patriot he endeavored to think that its wild and sylvan loveliness was more pleasing than the romantic beauty of the Italian lakes. But the effort failed. In this climate it is impossible that Horicon should ever be like Como. Pretty hills and forests and temporary summer structures cannot have the poetic or the substantial interest of the ancient villages and towns clinging to the hills, the old stone houses, the vines, the ruins, the atmosphere of a long civilization. They do the lovely Horicon no service who provoke such comparisons.

The lake has a character of its own. As the traveler sails north and approaches the middle of the lake, the gems of green islands multiply, the mountains rise higher, and shouldering up in the sky seem to bar a further advance; toward sunset the hills, which are stately but lovely, a silent assembly of round and sharp peaks, with long, graceful slopes, take on exquisite colors, violet, bronze, and green, and now and again a bold rocky bluff shines like a ruby in the ruddy light. Just at dusk the steamer landed midway in the lake at Green Island, where the scenery is the boldest and most romantic; from the landing a park-like lawn, planted with big trees, slopes up to a picturesque hotel. Lights twinkled from many a cottage window and from boats in the bay, and strains of music saluted the travelers. It was an enchanting scene.

The genius of Philadelphia again claims the gratitude of the tourist, for the Sagamore Hotel is one of the most delightful hostelries in the world. A peculiar, interesting building, rambling up the slope on different levels, so contrived that all the rooms are outside, and having a delightful irregularity, as if the house had been a growth. Naturally a hotel so dainty in its service and furniture, and so refined, was crowded to its utmost capacity. The artist could find nothing to complain of in the morning except that the incandescent electric light in his chamber went out suddenly at midnight and left him in blank darkness in the most exciting crisis of a novel. Green Island is perhaps a mile long. A bridge connects it with the mainland, and besides the hotel it has a couple of picturesque stone and timber cottages. At the north end are the remains of the English intrenchments of 1755 signs of war and hate which kindly nature has almost obliterated with sturdy trees. With the natural beauty of the island art has little interfered; near the hotel is the most stately grove of white birches anywhere to be seen, and their silvery sheen, with occasional patches of sedge, and the tender sort of foliage that Corot liked to paint, gives an exceptional refinement to the landscape. One needs, indeed, to be toned up by the glimpses, under the trees, over the blue water, of the wooded craggy hills, with their shelf-like ledges, which are full of strength and character. The charm of the place is due to this combination of loveliness and granitic strength.

Irene long remembered the sail of that morning, seated in the bow of the steamer with King, through scenes of ever-changing beauty, as the boat wound about the headlands and made its calls, now on one side and now on the other, at the pretty landings and decorated hotels. On every hand was the gayety of summer life a striped tent on a rocky point with a platform erected for dancing, a miniature bark but on an island, and a rustic arched bridge to the mainland, gaudy little hotels with winding paths along the shore, and at all the landings groups of pretty girls and college lads in boating costume. It was wonderful how much these holiday makers were willing to do for the entertainment of the passing travelers. A favorite pastime in this peaceful region was the broom drill, and its execution gave an operatic character to the voyage. When the steamer approaches, a band of young ladies in military ranks, clad in light marching costume, each with a broom in place of a musket, descend to the landing and delight the spectators with their warlike manoeuvres. The march in the broom-drill is two steps forward and one step back, a mode of progression that conveys the notion of a pleasing indecision of purpose, which is foreign to the character of these handsome Amazons, who are quite able to hold the wharf against all comers. This act of war in fancy, dress, with its two steps forward and one back, and the singing of a song, is one of the most fatal to the masculine peace of mind in the whole history of carnage.

Mrs. Bartlett Glow, to be sure, thought it would be out of place at the Casino; but even she had to admit that the American girl who would bewitch the foreigner with her one, two, and one, and her flourish of broom on Lake George, was capable of freezing his ardor by her cool good-breeding at Newport.

There was not much more to be done at Saratoga. Mrs. Benson had tried every spring in the valley, and thus anticipated a remedy, as Mr. Benson said, for any possible “complaint” that might visit her in the future. Mr. Benson himself said that he thought it was time for him to move to a new piazza, as he had worn out half the chairs at the Grand Union. The Bartlett-Glows were already due at Richfield; in fact, Penelope was impatient to go, now that she had persuaded the Bensons to accompany her; and the artist, who had been for some time grumbling that there was nothing left in Saratoga to draw except corks, reminded King of his agreement at Bar Harbor, and the necessity he felt for rural retirement after having been dragged all over the continent.

On the last day Mr. Glow took King and Forbes off to the races, and Penelope and the Bensons drove to the lake. King never could tell why he consented to this arrangement, but he knew in a vague way that it is useless to attempt to resist feminine power, that shapes our destiny in spite of all our rough-hewing of its outlines. He had become very uneasy at the friendship between Irene and Penelope, but he could give no reason for his suspicion, for it was the most natural thing in the world for his cousin to be interested in the girl who was about to come into the family. It seemed also natural that Penelope should be attracted by her nobility of nature. He did not know till afterwards that it was this very nobility and unselfishness which Penelope saw could be turned to account for her own purposes. Mrs. Bartlett Glow herself would have said that she was very much attached to Irene, and this would have been true; she would have said also that she pitied her, and this would have been true; but she was a woman whose world was bounded by her own social order, and she had no doubt in her own mind that she was loyal to the best prospects of her cousin, and, what was of more importance, that she was protecting her little world from a misalliance when she preferred Imogene Cypher to Irene Benson. In fact, the Bensons in her set were simply an unthinkable element. It disturbed the established order of things. If any one thinks meanly of Penelope for counting upon the heroism of Irene to effect her unhappiness, let him reflect of how little consequence is the temporary happiness of one or two individuals compared with the peace and comfort of a whole social order. And she might also well make herself believe that she was consulting the best interests of Irene in keeping her out of a position where she might be subject to so many humiliations. She was capable of crying over the social adventures of the heroine of a love story, and taking sides with her against the world, but as to the actual world itself, her practical philosophy taught her that it was much better always, even at the cost of a little heartache in youth, to go with the stream than against it.

The lake at Saratoga is the most picturesque feature of the region, and would alone make the fortune of any other watering-place. It is always a surprise to the stranger, who has bowled along the broad drive of five miles through a pleasing but not striking landscape, to come suddenly, when he alights at the hotel, upon what seems to be a “fault,” a sunken valley, and to look down a precipitous, grassy, tree-planted slope upon a lake sparkling at the bottom and reflecting the enclosing steep shores. It is like an aqua-marine gem countersunk in the green landscape. Many an hour had Irene and Stanhope passed in dreamy contemplation of it. They had sailed down the lake in the little steamer, they had whimsically speculated about this and that couple who took their ices or juleps under the trees or on the piazza of the hotel, and the spot had for them a thousand tender associations. It was here that Stanhope had told her very fully the uneventful story of his life, and it was here that she had grown into full sympathy with his aspirations for the future.

It was of all this that Irene thought as she sat talking that day with Penelope on a bench at the foot of the hill by the steamboat landing. It was this very future that the woman of the world was using to raise in the mind of Irene a morbid sense of her duty. Skillfully with this was insinuated the notion of the false and contemptible social pride and exclusiveness of Stanhope’s relations, which Mrs. Bartlett Glow represented as implacable while she condemned it as absurd. There was not a word of opposition to the union of Irene and Stanhope: Penelope was not such a bungler as to make that mistake. It was not her cue to definitely suggest a sacrifice for the welfare of her cousin. If she let Irene perceive that she admired the courage in her that could face all these adverse social conditions that were conjured up before her, Irene could never say that Penelope had expressed anything of the sort. Her manner was affectionate, almost caressing; she declared that she felt a sisterly interest in her. This was genuine enough. I am not sure that Mrs. Bartlett Glow did not sometimes waver in her purpose when she was in the immediate influence of the girl’s genuine charm, and felt how sincere she was. She even went so far as to wish to herself that Irene had been born in her own world.

It was not at all unnatural that Irene should have been charmed by Penelope, and that the latter should gradually have established an influence over her. She was certainly kind-hearted, amiable, bright, engaging. I think all those who have known her at Newport, or in her New York home, regard her as one of the most charming women in the world. Nor is she artificial, except as society requires her to be, and if she regards the conventions of her own set as the most important things in life, therein she does not differ from hosts of excellent wives and mothers. Irene, being utterly candid herself, never suspected that Penelope had at all exaggerated the family and social obstacles, nor did it occur to her to doubt Penelope’s affection for her. But she was not blind. Being a woman, she comprehended perfectly the indirection of a woman’s approaches, and knew well enough by this time that Penelope, whatever her personal leanings, must feel with her family in regard to this engagement. And that she, who was apparently her friend, and who had Stanhope’s welfare so much at heart, did so feel was an added reason why Irene was drifting towards a purpose of self-sacrifice. When she was with Stanhope such a sacrifice seemed as impossible as it would be cruel, but when she was with Mrs. Bartlett Glow, or alone, the subject took another aspect. There is nothing more attractive to a noble woman of tender heart than a duty the performance of which will make her suffer. A false notion of duty has to account for much of the misery in life.

It was under this impression that Irene passed the last evening at Saratoga with Stanhope on the piazza of the hotel an evening that the latter long remembered as giving him the sweetest and the most contradictory and perplexing glimpses of a woman’s heart.