Read CHAPTER XIV of Their Silver Wedding Journey‚ Part I., free online book, by William Dean Howells, on ReadCentral.com.

At dinner that day the question of ‘The Maiden Knight’ was debated among the noises and silences of the band.  Young Mrs. Leffers had brought the book to the table with her; she said she had not been able to lay it down before the last horn sounded; in fact she could have been seen reading it to her husband where he sat under the same shawl, the whole afternoon.

“Don’t you think it’s perfectly fascinating,” she asked Mrs. Adding, with her petted mouth.

“Well,” said the widow, doubtfully, “it’s nearly a week since I read it, and I’ve had time to get over the glow.”

“Oh, I could just read it forever!” the bride exclaimed.

“I like a book,” said her husband, “that takes me out of myself.  I don’t want to think when I’m reading.”

March was going to attack this ideal, but he reflected in time that Mr. Leffers had really stated his own motive in reading.  He compromised.  “Well, I like the author to do my thinking for me.”

“Yes,” said the other, “that is what I mean.”

“The question is whether ‘The Maiden Knight’ fellow does it,” said Kenby, taking duck and pease from the steward at his shoulder.

“What my wife likes in it is to see what one woman can do and be single-handed,” said March.

“No,” his wife corrected him, “what a man thinks she can.”

“I suppose,” said Mr. Triscoe, unexpectedly, “that we’re like the English in our habit of going off about a book like a train of powder.”

“If you’ll say a row of bricks,” March assented, “I’ll agree with you.  It’s certainly Anglo-Saxon to fall over one another as we do, when we get going.  It would be interesting to know just how much liking there is in the popularity of a given book.”

“It’s like the run of a song, isn’t it?” Kenby suggested.  “You can’t stand either, when it reaches a given point.”

He spoke to March and ignored Triscoe, who had hitherto ignored the rest of the table.

“It’s very curious,” March said.  “The book or the song catches a mood, or feeds a craving, and when one passes or the other is glutted ­”

“The discouraging part is,” Triscoe put in, still limiting himself to the Marches, “that it’s never a question of real taste.  The things that go down with us are so crude, so coarsely spiced; they tickle such a vulgar palate ­Now in France, for instance,” he suggested.

“Well, I don’t know,” returned the editor.  “After all, we eat a good deal of bread, and we drink more pure water than any other people.  Even when we drink it iced, I fancy it isn’t so bad as absinthe.”

The young bride looked at him gratefully, but she said, “If we can’t get ice-water in Europe, I don’t know what Mr. Leffers will do,” and the talk threatened to pass among the ladies into a comparison of American and European customs.

Burnamy could not bear to let it.  “I don’t pretend to be very well up in French literature,” he began, “but I think such a book as ’The Maiden Knight’ isn’t such a bad piece of work; people are liking a pretty well-built story when they like it.  Of course it’s sentimental, and it begs the question a good deal; but it imagines something heroic in character, and it makes the reader imagine it too.  The man who wrote that book may be a donkey half the time, but he’s a genius the other half.  By-and-by he’ll do something ­after he’s come to see that his ’Maiden Knight’ was a fool ­that I believe even you won’t be down on, Mr. March, if he paints a heroic type as powerfully as he does in this book.”

He spoke with the authority of a journalist, and though he deferred to March in the end, he deferred with authority still.  March liked him for coming to the defence of a young writer whom he had not himself learned to like yet.  “Yes,” he said, “if he has the power you say, and can keep it after he comes to his artistic consciousness!”

Mrs. Leffers, as if she thought things were going her way, smiled; Rose Adding listened with shining eyes expectantly fixed on March; his mother viewed his rapture with tender amusement.  The steward was at Kenby’s shoulder with the salad and his entreating “Bleace!” and Triscoe seemed to be questioning whether he should take any notice of Burnamy’s general disagreement.  He said at last:  “I’m afraid we haven’t the documents.  You don’t seem to have cared much for French books, and I haven’t read ’The Maiden Knight’.”  He added to March:  “But I don’t defend absinthe.  Ice-water is better.  What I object to is our indiscriminate taste both for raw whiskey ­and for milk-and-water.”

No one took up the question again, and it was Kenby who spoke next.  “The doctor thinks, if this weather holds, that we shall be into Plymouth Wednesday morning.  I always like to get a professional opinion on the ship’s run.”

In the evening, as Mrs. March was putting away in her portfolio the journal-letter which she was writing to send back from Plymouth to her children, Miss Triscoe drifted to the place where she sat at their table in the dining-room by a coincidence which they both respected as casual.

“We had quite a literary dinner,” she remarked, hovering for a moment near the chair which she later sank into.  “It must have made you feel very much at home.  Or perhaps you’re so tired of it at home that you don’t talk about books.”

“We always talk shop, in some form or other,” said Mrs. March.  “My husband never tires of it.  A good many of the contributors come to us, you know.”

“It must be delightful,” said the girl.  She added as if she ought to excuse herself for neglecting an advantage that might have been hers if she had chosen, “I’m sorry one sees so little of the artistic and literary set.  But New York is such a big place.”

“New York people seem to be very fond of it,” said Mrs. March.  “Those who have always lived there.”

“We haven’t always lived there,” said the girl.  “But I think one has a good time there ­the best time a girl can have.  It’s all very well coming over for the summer; one has to spend the summer somewhere.  Are you going out for a long time?”

“Only for the summer.  First to Carlsbad.”

“Oh, yes.  I suppose we shall travel about through Germany, and then go to Paris.  We always do; my father is very fond of it.”

“You must know it very well,” said Mrs. March, aimlessly.

“I was born there, ­if that means knowing it.  I lived there ­till I was eleven years old.  We came home after my mother died.”

“Oh!” said Mrs. March.

The girl did not go further into her family history; but by one of those leaps which seem to women as logical as other progressions, she arrived at asking, “Is Mr. Burnamy one of the contributors?”

Mrs. March laughed.  “He is going to be, as soon as his poem is printed.”

“Poem?”

“Yes.  Mr. March thinks it’s very good.”

“I thought he spoke very nicely about ‘The Maiden Knight’.  And he has been very nice to papa.  You know they have the same room.”

“I think Mr. Burnamy told me,” Mrs. March said.

The girl went on.  “He had the lower berth, and he gave it up to papa; he’s done everything but turn himself out of doors.”

“I’m sure he’s been very glad,” Mrs. March ventured on Burnamy’s behalf, but very softly, lest if she breathed upon these budding confidences they should shrink and wither away.

“I always tell papa that there’s no country like America for real unselfishness; and if they’re all like that, in Chicago!” The girl stopped, and added with a laugh, “But I’m always quarrelling with papa about America.”

“We have a daughter living in Chicago,” said Mrs. March, alluringly.

But Miss Triscoe refused the bait, either because she had said all she meant, or because she had said all she would, about Chicago, which Mrs. March felt for the present to be one with Burnamy.  She gave another of her leaps.  “I don’t see why people are so anxious to get it like Europe, at home.  They say that there was a time when there were no chaperons before hoops, you know.”  She looked suggestively at Mrs. March, resting one slim hand on the table, and controlling her skirt with the other, as if she were getting ready to rise at any moment.  “When they used to sit on their steps.”

“It was very pleasant before hoops ­in every way,” said Mrs. March.  “I was young, then; and I lived in Boston, where I suppose it was always simpler than in New York.  I used to sit on our steps.  It was delightful for girls ­the freedom.”

“I wish I had lived before hoops,” said Miss Triscoe.

“Well, there must be places where it’s before hoops yet:  Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, for all I know,” Mrs. March suggested.  “And there must be people in that epoch everywhere.”

“Like that young lady who twists and turns?” said Miss Triscoe, giving first one side of her face and then the other.  “They have a good time.  I suppose if Europe came to us in one way it had to come in another.  If it came in galleries and all that sort of thing, it had to come in chaperons.  You’ll think I’m a great extremist, Mrs. March; but sometimes I wish there was more America instead of less.  I don’t believe it’s as bad as people say.  Does Mr. March,” she asked, taking hold of the chair with one hand, to secure her footing from any caprice of the sea, while she gathered her skirt more firmly into the other, as she rose, “does he think that America is going ­all wrong?”

“All wrong?  How?”

“Oh, in politics, don’t you know.  And government, and all that.  And bribing.  And the lower classes having everything their own way.  And the horrid newspapers.  And everything getting so expensive; and no regard for family, or anything of that kind.”

Mrs. March thought she saw what Miss Triscoe meant, but she answered, still cautiously, “I don’t believe he does always.  Though there are times when he is very much disgusted.  Then he says that he is getting too old ­and we always quarrel about that ­to see things as they really are.  He says that if the world had been going the way that people over fifty have always thought it was going, it would have gone to smash in the time of the anthropoidal apes.”

“Oh, yes:  Darwin,” said Miss Triscoe, vaguely.  “Well, I’m glad he doesn’t give it up.  I didn’t know but I was holding out just because I had argued so much, and was doing it out of ­opposition.  Goodnight!” She called her salutation gayly over her shoulder, and Mrs. March watched her gliding out of the saloon with a graceful tilt to humor the slight roll of the ship, and a little lurch to correct it, once or twice, and wondered if Burnamy was afraid of her; it seemed to her that if she were a young man she should not be afraid of Miss Triscoe.

The next morning, just after she had arranged herself in her steamer chair, he approached her, bowing and smiling, with the first of his many bows and smiles for the day, and at the same time Miss Triscoe came toward her from the opposite direction.  She nodded brightly to him, and he gave her a bow and smile too; he always had so many of them to spare.

“Here is your chair!” Mrs. March called to her, drawing the shawl out of the chair next her own.  “Mr. March is wandering about the ship somewhere.”

“I’ll keep it for him,” said Miss Triscoe, and as Burnamy offered to take the shawl that hung in the hollow of her arm, she let it slip into his hand with an “Oh; thank you,” which seemed also a permission for him to wrap it about her in the chair.

He stood talking before the ladies, but he looked up and down the promenade.  The pivotal girl showed herself at the corner of the music-room, as she had done the day before.  At first she revolved there as if she were shedding her light on some one hidden round the corner; then she moved a few paces farther out and showed herself more obviously alone.  Clearly she was there for Burnamy to come and walk with her; Mrs. March could see that, and she felt that Miss Triscoe saw it too.  She waited for her to dismiss him to his flirtation; but Miss Triscoe kept chatting on, and he kept answering, and making no motion to get away.  Mrs. March began to be as sorry for her as she was ashamed for him.  Then she heard him saying, “Would you like a turn or two?” and Miss Triscoe answering, “Why, yes, thank you,” and promptly getting out of her chair as if the pains they had both been at to get her settled in it were all nothing.

She had the composure to say, “You can leave your shawl with me, Miss Triscoe,” and to receive her fervent, “Oh, thank you,” before they sailed off together, with inhuman indifference to the girl at the corner of the music-room.  Then she sank into a kind of triumphal collapse, from which she roused herself to point her husband to the chair beside her when he happened along.

He chose to be perverse about her romance.  “Well, now, you had better let them alone.  Remember Kendricks.”  He meant one of their young friends whose love-affair they had promoted till his happy marriage left them in lasting doubt of what they had done.  “My sympathies are all with the pivotal girl.  Hadn’t she as much right to him, for the time being, or for good and all, as Miss Triscoe?”

“That depends upon what you think of Burnamy.”

“Well, I don’t like to see a girl have a young man snatched away from her just when she’s made sure of him.  How do you suppose she is feeling now?”

“She isn’t feeling at all.  She’s letting her revolving light fall upon half a dozen other young men by this time, collectively or consecutively.  All that she wants to make sure of is that they’re young men ­or old ones, even.”

March laughed, but not altogether at what his wife said.  “I’ve been having a little talk with Papa Triscoe, in the smoking-room.”

“You smell like it,” said his wife, not to seem too eager:  “Well?”

“Well, Papa Triscoe seems to be in a pout.  He doesn’t think things are going as they should in America.  He hasn’t been consulted, or if he has, his opinion hasn’t been acted upon.”

“I think he’s horrid,” said Mrs. March.  “Who are they?”

“I couldn’t make out, and I couldn’t ask.  But I’ll tell you what I think.”

“What?”

“That there’s no chance for, Burnamy.  He’s taking his daughter out to marry her to a crowned head.”