A Pair Of Patient Lovers – William Dean Howells
The five stories contained in this volume are “A Pair of Patient Lovers”, “The Pursuit of the Piano”, “A Difficult Case”,” The Magic of a Voice” and “A Circle in the Water”. These are stories of the sort that only Mr. Howells knows how to write.
A Pair Of Patient Lovers.
Excerpt from the text:
We first met Glendenning on the Canadian boat which carries you down the rapids of the St. Lawrence from Kingston and leaves you at Montreal. When we saw a handsome young clergyman across the promenade-deck looking up from his guide-book toward us, now and again, as if in default of knowing any one else he would be very willing to know us, we decided that I must make his acquaintance. He was instantly and cordially responsive to my question whether he had ever made the trip before, and he was amiably grateful when in my quality of old habitué of the route I pointed out some characteristic features of the scenery. I showed him just where we were on the long map of the river hanging over his knee, and I added, with no great relevancy, that my wife and I were renewing the fond emotion of our first trip down the St. Lawrence in the character of bridal pair which we had spurned when it was really ours. I explained that we had left the children with my wife’s aunt, so as to render the travesty more lifelike; and when he said, “I suppose you miss them, though,” I gave him my card. He tried to find one of his own to give me in return, but he could only find a lot of other people’s cards. He wrote his name on the back of one, and handed it to me with a smile. “It won’t do for me to put ‘reverend’ before it, in my own chirography, but that’s the way I have it engraved.”
“Oh,” I said, “the cut of your coat bewrayed you,” and we had some laughing talk. But I felt the eye of Mrs. March dwelling upon me with growing impatience, till I suggested, “I should like to make you acquainted with my wife, Mr. Glendenning.”
He said, Oh, he should be so happy; and he gathered his dangling map into the book and came over with me to where Mrs. March sat; and, like the good young American husband I was in those days, I stood aside and left the whole talk to her. She interested him so much more than I could that I presently wandered away and amused myself elsewhere. When I came back, she clutched my arm and bade me not speak a word; it was the most romantic thing in the world, and she would tell me about it when we were alone, but now I must go off again; he had just gone to get a book for her which he had been speaking of, and would be back the next instant, and it would not do to let him suppose we had been discussing him.
I was sometimes disappointed in Mrs. March’s mysteries when I came up close to them; but I was always willing to take them on trust; and I submitted to the postponement of a solution in this case with more than my usual faith. She found time, before Mr. Glendenning reappeared, to ask me if I had noticed a mother and daughter on the boat, the mother evidently an invalid, and the daughter very devoted, and both decidedly ladies; and when I said, “No. Why?” she answered, “Oh, nothing,” and that she would tell me. Then she drove me away, and we did not meet till I found her in our state-room just before the terrible mid-day meal they used to give you on the Corinthian, and called dinner.
She began at once, while she did something to her hair before the morsel of mirror: “Why I wanted to know if you had noticed those people was because they are the reason of his being here.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“Of course not. But I knew it, for he asked if I had seen them, or could tell him who they were.”
“It seems to me that he made pretty good time to get so far as that.”
“I don’t say he got so far himself, but you men never know how to take steps for any one else. You can’t put two and two together. But to my mind it’s as plain as the nose on his face that he’s seen that girl somewhere and is taking this trip because she’s on board. He said he hadn’t decided to come till the last moment.”
“What wild leaps of fancy!” I said. “But the nose on his face is handsome rather than plain, and I sha’n’t be satisfied till I see him with the lady.”
“Yes, he’s quite Greek,” said Mrs. March, in assent to my opinion of his nose. “Too Greek for a clergyman, almost. But he isn’t vain of it. Those beautiful people are often quite modest, and Mr. Glendenning is very modest.”
“And I’m very hungry. If you don’t hurry your prinking, Isabel, we shall not get any dinner.”
“I’m ready,” said my wife, and she continued with her eyes still on the glass: “He’s got a church out in Ohio, somewhere; but he’s a New-Englander, and he’s quite wild to get back. He thinks those people are from Boston: I could tell in a moment if I saw them. Well, now, I am ready,” and with this she really ceased to do something to her hair, and came out into the long saloon with me where the table was set. Rows of passengers stood behind the rows of chairs, with a detaining grasp on nearly all of them. We gazed up and down in despair. Suddenly Mrs. March sped forward, and I found that Mr. Glendenning had made a sign to her from a distant point, where there were two vacant chairs for us next his own. We eagerly laid hands on them, and waited for the gong to sound for dinner. In this interval an elderly lady followed by a young girl came down the saloon toward us, and I saw signs, or rather emotions, of intelligence pass between Mr. Glendenning and Mrs. March concerning them.
The older of these ladies was a tall, handsome matron, who bore her fifty years with a native severity qualified by a certain air of wonder at a world which I could well fancy had not always taken her at her own estimate of her personal and social importance. She had the effect of challenging you to do less, as she advanced slowly between the wall of state-rooms and the backs of the people gripping their chairs, and eyed them with a sort of imperious surprise that they should have left no place for her. So at least I read her glance, while I read in that of the young lady coming after, and showing her beauty first over this shoulder and then over that of her mother, chiefly a present amusement, behind which lay a character of perhaps equal pride, if not equal hardness. She was very beautiful, in the dark style which I cannot help thinking has fallen into unmerited abeyance; and as she passed us I could see that she was very graceful. She was dressed in a lady’s acceptance of the fashions of that day, which would be thought so grotesque in this. I have heard contemporaneous young girls laugh at the mere notion of hoops, but in 1870 we thought hoops extremely becoming; and this young lady knew how to hold hers a little on one side so as to give herself room in the narrow avenue, and not betray more than the discreetest hint of a white stocking. I believe the stockings are black now.
They both got by us, and I could see Mr. Glendenning following them with longing but irresolute eyes, until they turned, a long way down the saloon, as if to come toward us again. Then he hurried to meet them, and as he addressed himself first to one and then to the other, I knew him to be offering them his chair. So did my wife, and she said, “You must give up your place too, Basil,” and I said I would if she wished to see me starve on the spot. But of course I went and joined Glendenning in his entreaties that they would deprive us of our chances of dinner (I knew what the second table was on the Corinthian); and I must say that the elder lady accepted my chair in the spirit which my secret grudge deserved. She made me feel as if I ought to have offered it when they first passed us; but it was some satisfaction to learn afterwards that she gave Mrs. March, for her ready sacrifice of me, as bad a half-hour as she ever had. She sat next to my wife, and the young lady took Glendenning’s place, and as soon as we had left them she began trying to find out from Mrs. March who he was, and what his relation to us was. The girl tried to check her at first, and then seemed to give it up, and devoted herself to being rather more amiable than she otherwise might have been, my wife thought, in compensation for the severity of her mother’s scrutiny. Her mother appeared disposed to hold Mrs. March responsible for knowing little or nothing about Mr. Glendenning.
“He seems to be an Episcopal clergyman,” she said, in a haughty summing up. “From his name I should have supposed he was Scotch and a Presbyterian.” She began to patronize the trip we were making, and to abuse it; she said that she did not see what could have induced them to undertake it; but one had to get back from Niagara somehow, and they had been told at the hotel there that the boats were very comfortable. She had never been more uncomfortable in her life; as for the rapids, they made her ill, and they were obviously so dangerous that she should not even look at them again. Then, from having done all the talking and most of the eating, she fell quite silent, and gave her daughter a chance to speak to my wife. She had hitherto spoken only to her mother, but now she asked Mrs. March if she had ever been down the St. Lawrence before.
When my wife explained, and asked her whether she was enjoying it, she answered with a rapture that was quite astonishing, in reference to her mother’s expressions of disgust: “Oh, immensely! Every instant of it,” and she went on to expatiate on its peculiar charm in terms so intelligent and sympathetic that Mrs. March confessed it had been part of our wedding journey, and that this was the reason why we were now taking the trip.
The young lady did not seem to care so much for this, and when she thanked my wife in leaving the table with her mother, and begged her to thank the gentlemen who had so kindly given up their places, she made no overture to further acquaintance. In fact, we had been so simply and merely made use of that, although we were rather meek people, we decided to avoid our beneficiaries for the rest of the day; and Mr. Glendenning, who could not, as a clergyman, indulge even a just resentment, could as little refuse us his sympathy. He laughed at some hints of my wife’s experience, which she dropped before she left us to pick up a meal from the lukewarm leavings of the Corinthian’s dinner, if we could. She said she was going forward to get a good place on the bow, and would keep two camp-stools for us, which she could assure us no one would get away from her.
We were somewhat surprised then to find her seated by the rail with the younger lady of the two whom she meant to avoid if she meant anything by what she said. She was laughing and talking on quite easy terms with her apparently, and “There!” she triumphed as we came up, “I’ve kept your camp-stools for you,” and she showed them at her side, where she was holding her hand on them. “You had better put them here.”
The girl had stiffened a little at our approach, as I could see, but a young girl’s stiffness is always rather amusing than otherwise, and I did not mind it. Neither, that I could see, did Mr. Glendenning, and it soon passed. It seemed that she had left her mother lying down in her state-room, where she justly imagined that if she did not see the rapids she should suffer less alarm from them; the young lady had come frankly to the side of Mrs. March as soon as she saw her, and asked if she might sit with her. She now talked to me for a decent space of time, and then presently, without my knowing how, she was talking to Mr. Glendenning, and they were comparing notes of Niagara; he was saying that he thought he had seen her at the Cataract House, and she was owning that she and her mother had at least stopped at that hotel.