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Homeward and Home
THE TRAVELLERS all met at breakfast and duly discussed the adventures of the night; and for the rest, the forenoon passed rapidly and slowly with Basil and Isabel, as regret to leave Quebec, or the natural impatience of travellers to be off; overcame them. Isabel spent part of it in shopping, for she had found some small sums of money and certain odd corners in her trunks still unappropriated, and the handsome stores on the Rue Fabrique were very tempting. She said she would just go in and look; and the wise reader imagines the result. As she knelt over her boxes, trying so to distribute her purchases as to make them look as if they were old, old things of hers, which she had brought all the way round from Boston with her, a fleeting touch of conscience stayed her hand.
"Basil," she said, "perhaps we'd better declare some of these things. What's the duty on those?" she asked, pointing to certain articles.
"I don't know. About a hundred per cent ad valorem."
"C'est a' dire--?"
"As much as they cost."
"Oh, then, dearest," responded Isabel, indignantly, "it can't be wrong to smuggle! I won't declare a thread!"
"That's very well for you, whom they won't ask. But what if they ask me whether there's anything to declare?"
Isabel looked at her husband and hesitated. Then she replied in terms that I am proud to record in honor of American womanhood: "You mustn't fib about it, Basil" (heroically), "I couldn't respect you if you did" (tenderly); "but" (with decision) "you must slip out of it some way!"
The ladies of the Ellison party, to whom she put the case in the parlor, agreed with her perfectly. They also had done a little shopping in Quebec, and they meant to do more at Montreal before they returned to the States. Mrs. Ellison was disposed to look upon Isabel's compunctions as a kind of treason to the sex, to be forgiven only because so quickly repented.
The Ellisons were going up the Saguenay before coming on to Boston, and urged our friends hard to go with them. "No, that must be for another time," said Isabel. "Mr. March has to be home by a certain day; and we shall just get back in season." Then she made them promise to spend a day with her in Boston, and the Colonel coming to say that he had a carriage at the door for their excursion to Lorette, the two parties bade good by with affection and many explicit hopes of meeting soon again.
"What do you think of them, dearest?" demanded Isabel, as she sallied out with Basil for a final look at Quebec.
"The young lady is the nicest; and the other is well enough, too. She is a good deal like you, but with the sense of humor left out. You've only enough to save you."
"Well, her husband is jolly enough for both of them. He's funnier than you, Basil, and he hasn't any of your little languid airs and affectations. I don't know but I'm a bit disappointed in my choice, darling; but I dare say I shall work out of it. In fact, I don't know but the Colonel is a little too jolly. This drolling everything is rather fatiguing." And having begun, they did not stop till they had taken their friends to pieces. Dismayed then, they hastily reconstructed them, and said that they were among the pleasantest people they ever knew, and they were really very sorry to part with them, and they should do everything to make them have a good time in Boston.
They were sauntering towards Durham Terrace, where they leaned long upon the iron parapet and blest themselves with the beauty of the prospect. A tender haze hung upon the landscape and subdued it till the scene was as a dream before them. As in a dream the river lay, and dream-like the shipping moved or rested on its deep, broad bosom. Far off stretched the happy fields with their dim white villages; further still the mellow heights melted into the low hovering heaven. The tinned roofs of the Lower Town twinkled in the morning sun; around them on every hand, on that Monday forenoon when the States were stirring from ocean to ocean in feverish industry, drowsed the gray city within her walls; from the flag-staff of the citadel hung the red banner of Saint George in sleep.
Their hearts were strangely and deeply moved. It seemed to them that they looked upon the last stronghold of the Past, and that afar off to the southward they could hear the marching hosts of the invading Present; and as no young and loving soul can relinquish old things without a pang, they sighed a long, mute farewell to Quebec.
Next summer they would come again, yes; but, ah me! every one knows what next summer is!
Part of the burlesque troupe rode down in the omnibus to the Grand Trunk Ferry with them, and were good-natured to the last, having shaken hands all round with the waiters, chambermaids, and porters of the hotel. The young fellow with the bad amiable face came in a calash, and refused to overpay the driver with a gay decision that made him Basil's envy till he saw his tribulation in getting the troupe's luggage checked. There were forty pieces, and it always remained a mystery, considering the small amount of clothing necessary to those people on the stage, what could have filled their trunks. The young man and the two English blondes of American birth found places in the same car with our tourists, and enlivened the journey with their frolics. When the young man pretended to fall asleep, they wrapped his golden curly head in a shawl, and vexed him with many thumps and thrusts, till he bought a brief truce with a handful of almonds; and the ladies having no other way to eat them, one of them saucily snatched off her shoe, and cracked them hammer-wise with the heel. It was all so pleasant that it ought to have been all right; and in their merry world of outlawry perhaps things are not so bad as we like to think them.
The country into which the train plunges as soon as Quebec is out of sight is very stupidly savage, and our friends had little else to do but to watch the gambols of the players, till they came to the river St. Francis, whose wandering loveliness the road follows through an infinite series of soft and beautiful landscapes, and finds everywhere glassing in its smooth current the elms and willows of its gentle shores. At one place, where its calm broke into foamy rapids, there was a huge saw-mill, covering the stream with logs and refuse, and the banks with whole cities of lumber; which also they accepted as no mean elements of the picturesque. They clung the most tenderly to traces of the peasant life they were leaving. When some French boys came aboard with wild raspberries to sell in little birch-bark canoes, they thrilled with pleasure, and bought them, but sighed then, and said, "What thing characteristic of the local life will they sell us in Maine when we get there? A section of pie poetically wrapt in a broad leafofthe squash-vine, or pop-corn in its native tissue-paper, and advertising the new Dollar Store in Portland?" They saw the quaintness vanish from the farm-houses; first the dormer-windows, then the curve of the steep roof, then the steep roof itself. By and by they came to a store with a Grecian portico and four square pine pillars. They shuddered and looked no more.
The guiltily dreaded examination of baggage at Island Pond took place at nine o'clock, without costing them a cent of duty or a pang of conscience. At that charming station the trunks are piled higgledy-piggledy into a room beside the track, where a few inspectors with stifling lamps of smoky kerosene await the passengers. There are no porters to arrange the baggage, and each lady and gentleman digs out his box, and opens it before the lordly inspector, who stirs up its contents with an unpleasant hand and passes it. He makes you feel that you are once more in the land of official insolence, and that, whatever you are collecfively, you are nothing personally. Isabel, who had sent her husband upon this business with quaking meekness of heart, experienced the bold indignation of virtue at his account of the way people were made their own baggage-smashers, and would not be amused when he painted the vile terrors of each husband as he tremblingly unlocked his wife's store of contraband.
The morning light showed them the broad elmy meadows of western-looking Maine; and the Grand Trunk brought them, of course, an hour behind time into Portland. All breakfastless they hurried aboard the Boston train on the Eastern Road, and all along that line (which is built to show how uninteresting the earth can be when she is ennuyeé of both sea and land), Basil's life became a struggle to construct a meal from the fragmentary opportunities of twenty different stations where they stopped five minutes for refreshments. At one place he achieved two cups of shameless chickory, at another three sardines, at a third a dessert of elderly bananas.
"Home again, home again, from a foreign shore,"
they softly sang as the successive courses of this feast were disposed of.The drouth and heat, which they had briefly escaped during their sojourn in Canada, brooded sovereign upon the tiresome landscape. The red granite rocks were as if red-hot; the banks of the deep cuts were like ash-heaps; over the fields danced the sultry atmosphere; they fancied that they almost heard the grasshoppers sing above the rattle of the train. When they reached Boston at last, they were dustier than most of us would like to be a hundred years hence. The whole city was equally dusty; and they found the trees in the square before their own door gray with dust. The bit of Virginia-creeper planted under the window hung shrivelled upon its trellis.
But Isabel's aunt met them with a refreshing shower of tears and kisses in the hall, throwing a solid arm about each of th em. "Oh, you dears!" the good soul cried, "you don't know how anxious I've been about you; so many accidents happening all the time. I've never read the 'Evening Transcript' till the next morning, for fear I should find your names among the killed and wounded."
"Oh, aunty, you're too good, always!" whimpered Isabel; and neither of the women took note of Basil, who said, "Yes, it's probably the only thing that preserved our lives."
The little tinge of discontent, which had colored their sentiment of return faded now in the kindly light of home. Their holiday was over, to be sure, but their bliss had but begun; they had entered upon that long life of holidays which is happy marriage. By the time dinner was ended they were both enthusiastic at having got back, and taking their aunt between them walked up and down the parlor with their arms round her massive waist, and talked out the gladness of their souls.
Then Basil said he really must run down to the office that afternoon, and he issued all aglow upon the street. He was so full of having been long away and of having just returned, that he unconsciously tried to impart his mood to Boston, and the dusty composure of the street and houses, as he strode along, bewildered him. He longed for some familiar face to welcome him, and in the horse-car into which he stepped he was charmed to see an acquaintance. This was a man for whom ordinarily he cared nothing, and whom he would perhaps rather have gone out upon the platform to avoid than have spoken to; but now he plunged at him with effusion, and wrung his hand, smiling from ear to ear.
The other remained coldly unaffected, after a first start of surprise at his cordiality, and then reviled the dust and heat. "But I'm going to take a little run down to Newport, to-morrow, for a week," he said. "By the way, you look as if you needed a little change. Aren't you going anywhere this summer?"
"So you see, my dear," observed Basil, when he had recounted the fact to Isabel at tea, "our travels are incommunicably our own. We had best say nothing about our little jaunt to other people, and they won't know we've been gone. Even if we tried, we couldn't make our wedding-journey theirs."
She gave him a great kiss of recompense and consolation. "Who wants it," she demanded, "to be Their Wedding Journey?"