The Wedding Journey


WHEN Bella opened her eyes she thought that she had waked in Bedlam. The white wall beside her pillow was washed in sunlight, the air was warm and close. The cabin, except for herself, was empty.

But beyond the open windows was an uproar of strange noises — men bellowing oaths and a tremendous roaring of water and the stamp of mules and horses, and through it all came a persistent whir and clacking that she could not identify.

As she lay there, dazed with sleep, and still trying to sort the noises, the door opened and Viney slipped into the cabin.

‘Good mornin’, Mis’ Willcox.’

‘ Good morning, Viney. What on earth is all the noise about?’

‘Oh, that!’ Viney cocked her head backward on her thin neck and laughed. ‘We’re in Little Falls and the captain’s out on the towpath clearing passage for us to the locks.’

As she spoke the Western Lion jerked ahead. Bella gave a startled squeak as the side bumped into another boat just opposite her head. Viney sprang to the window.

‘We done bumped the crumbiest dirty old box you ever saw,’ she said delightedly. ‘Oh Lawd, Mis’ Willcox, do come here. The captain’s getting his mad up.’

An explosion of profanity smothered all the shouting. Bella slid out of bed in her nightdress and took her place behind Viney at the window. The black girl crouched down to let her see and manipulated the curtains skillfully to screen her.

‘Lawsy! Ain’t he rarin ’!’

‘Where, Viney?’

‘On the towpath, mis’. Just bend yo’ head and look back.’

Bella looked out on a scene of hopeless confusion. The towpath had given way to a stone parapet on which towing teams were crowded so close they seemed in danger of bumping each other over into the river that, by the roaring of the water, she could tell ran just below. Right and left, boats were lined up against the stonework, waiting their turn at the scries of locks. To the left the red sides of a mill building rose close to the canal, and from its almost windowless interior issued the whirring and clacking of weaving machinery.

The packet boat was drifting slowly, losing way. The packet team stood nearly opposite Bella’s window, with the towrope lying loose over the back of a freight boat. The driver boy, whitefaced and sleepy from his early morning ride, sat sidewise on his horse and looked back. And, looking back herself, Bella saw canallers, men and women together, crowding towards two men on the towpath. One of them was the captain, one hand holding down his beard to give his remarks free passage. The other was a round-shouldered, bear-like man, who pointed towards his almost paintless boat and clamored with monotonous hoarse anger for everybody to examine the damage.

The captain’s face was flaming. Bella could not hear everything he shouted, but she could see his rage. Suddenly the crowd formed a ring about the two. Their faces looked eager. Some laughed. Some shouted for a fight.

But the freight boatman did not want a fight. He wanted damages. He repeated that. He pointed again at his boat.

’Just look there,’ he said. ‘Just look! Damn all packet boats and their damned lousy crews and their damned lousy captains.’

Behind him a woman screeched and threw her weight against his shoulders. The man lurched, tripped, and abruptly caught his balance. Bella gasped. The captain had brought him up on his feet with a solid smash to the mouth. The man stopped and spat. His spit was bloody.

A little boy who had shinnied up the bow standard of the boat next in line yelled at the top of his shrill voice: ‘Hey! Look at Georgie!’ Another little boy, who was obviously Georgie, scampered along the embankment and thrust his head between the legs of a bystander. He was wearing an undershirt and nothing else, and the sun had made his tight little buttocks red.

Bella started to laugh. But her laughter broke, for now the fight was joined. The bearish man grunted and closed in. He had tremendous forearms, and his shoulders were bunched under his red undershirt. The captain met him with hard quick blows.

Bella heard the captain’s fists strike into the man’s face. She heard it over the roar of the river, and the whir of the mill machinery, and the muttering of the clustered freight boatmen. She had never seen two men fight before. She had never seen a human being badly hurt. Now she watched the packet captain carve the man’s face. Her insides did funny things to her, but she could not look away.

The two men manœuvred very slowly, the freight boatman standing almost in one place and the captain shifting in a small circle. As the freight boatman’s body came round, Bella saw his cheeks puffed and swollen, one eye half closed, a smear of red under his nose, and a broad trickle of blood running from the broken lips down his chin.

When he faced Bella, she saw his mind groping unsteadily with an idea as plainly as if the captain had opened up the man’s brain for her inspection.

‘ Look out! ’

Viney started and looked up at her, and Bella realized that the high voice was her own.

The man leaped. His fingers were hooked for the captain’s face; but the captain had jumped back, and as the man ended his rush the captain started a swing from way back that traveled up like a scythe stroke and broke the man’s face wide open. He went down where Bella could not see him.

The captain stood over him, panting and wiping his hands on his trousers.

‘There’s your damages, you dumb hog.’

Somebody laughed. Then everybody laughed and a couple of boatmen shook the captain’s hand. The captain laughed too. He caught sight of the snarled towrope and roared at the driver boy. But now his voice was hearty and without anger, and all the freighters lent a hand in getting the packet free. Viney, giggling, whipped shut the curtains.

Bella was shaking, not from horror of what she had watched, but from sheer excitement. Viney exclaimed delightedly as she poured water in the washroom, ‘Did n’ the captain jes’ natchally lay him out?’

‘Hurry, Viney.’

‘ Yes, Mis’ Willcox. The water’s ready for you. It’s spring water.’

The water was icy cold against Bella’s cheeks.

‘What time is it, Viney?’

‘Most half-pas’ seven, Mis’ Willcox.’ Viney had the giggles again. ‘They was starting breakfas’ when we came in here. But I reckon Mistah Willcox been awaiting you.’


In the saloon the beds had been put up for the day; the long tables had been set, and at one end the uncleared dishes of the other passengers were still in place. Bella realized that she was very late.

Mrs. Neilson was sitting in the library with an open prayer book on her knees and a newspaper in her hands. There was no one else. When Bella said goodmorning to her, she replied as if nothing out of the way had taken place. She said it seemed to be really quite a tolerably pleasant day.

Bella agreed cordially. Did Mrs. Neilson know where everybody was? ‘No,’ said Mrs. Neilson. She really could n’t say. They had gone on deck some time ago and that lazy steward had disappeared. The service on this boat was terrible.

It was quite obvious that Mrs. Neilson knew exactly what had taken place. Bella thought it more than likely she had been peering through the bull’s-eye window.

She said, ‘I think I’ll run on deck and see where my husband is.’

‘I should n’t do that,’ said Mrs. Neilson, turning for support to Mr. Neilson, who just then came down.

‘Good morning, Mrs. Willcox,’ he said. ‘No, I most certainly should advise against your going on deck. There’s been — ah — a rather unpleasant contretemps.’

‘I’d say it was a damn good fight, myself.’ Mrs. Cashdollar blundered down behind the minister and patted her hair with satisfaction. ‘Oh, hello, dearie. Too bad you missed it. A boatman tried to block us from the lock. The captain had to beat him up.’

‘I saw it through the window,’ Bella said before she thought. She heard Mrs. Neilson’s instant sibilant disapproval.

But Mrs. Cashdollar said heartily, ‘Did you, dearie? I need whiskey. Excitement’s bad for me this early. Steward! Where in Halifax is that steward?’ He appeared tardily. ‘Leave those dirty dishes, young man, and fetch me a whiskey. A small one. Don’t put water in it.’

She took the glass into the library and sat down opposite Mrs. Neilson, tilted her head, and let the whiskey slide.

‘A drop in the bucket,’ she remarked. ‘Well, well. So you were watching from the cabin window, dearie? Did you see that big bezabor kiss the captain’s hand?’ she said to Bella. ‘Oh, here’s your young man. He’s been waiting breakfast for you. You’d better sit down quick.’ She gave Roger a full smile.

Roger stood stiffly at the foot of the steps, listening to Mrs. Cashdollar’s remarks and looking at Bella. Bella wanted to giggle. ‘I didn’t know he could look down his nose like that,’ she thought, and went up to him. It would n’t do to kiss him, but she would like to. Instead, she slipped her hand in his arm and said, ‘It was sweet of you to wait for me.’

They sat down at the far end of the table. Opening her peach, Bella wondered whether he would always look down his nose before breakfast and asked him how he had slept.

‘Not much,’ he said.

‘I slept beautifully,’ she said. ‘I did n’t expect to, though.’

Roger said he was glad. His voice was perfunctory. He was peeling his peach slowly and carefully with his strong hands. ‘He’s so neat,’ she thought. ‘Look at the mess I’ve made of mine.’ She felt how improper she was and she wanted to giggle again. She could n’t help thinking what fun it would be to ask him if he did n’t think the captain’s fight had been glorious.

But he said suddenly, ‘Too bad about that fuss. The captain had to do it, but I was afraid it might upset you.’

She said, which was true, ‘I was just waking up.’ He could set that against Mrs. Cashdollar’s remarks if he wanted to. But she noticed with relief that by the time he had eaten one egg he was no longer looking down his nose.

‘I must see that breakfast is on time in our house,’ she said to herself. ‘Always!


The Little Falls packet dock was situated above the locks and close to the entrance of the feeder aqueduct. The Western Lion tied up there for five minutes to take on two passengers, a Mr. and Mrs. Ransom. They had descended from a smart carriage and pair and booked passage for Syracuse. Mrs. Ransom brought an atmosphere of refinement into the saloon, and Bella instinctively classed them both as gentlefolk with Roger, Mr. Atterbury, and herself.

Mrs. Ransom said good-morning all round with a gracious lack of discrimination that Mrs. Neilson seemed to find nettling. Sire immediately asked whether Mrs. Ransom had enjoyed breakfast yet, and, finding she had, asked if she could help her to select a bed. Mrs. Ransom thanked her kindly, but replied that, as she felt rather fatigued, she would prefer to sit in the shady corner of the library to wait until Mr. Ransom came down. She retired behind the North American Review. Mrs. Neilson forced a smile. But she made a remark to Mrs. Cashdollar which seemed to amuse that lady very much. It was obvious that Mrs. Neilson had tried to put herself and Mrs. Ransom in a separate class, that she had failed in her first attempt, and that she did n’t like it at all.

On deck, Bella found the air warm but bracing. A west wind was sweeping down the valley carrying clouds that drew their shadows over the steep flanks of the hills. Sheep drifted on the upland pastures. Men were reaping in the river flats, while behind them the bent forms of women bound the sheaves and set the shocks in files. There seemed to be movement over all the earth, as though the wind had wakened every living thing.

As Bella walked up and down between Roger and Mr. Atterbury, she was made conscious again of the delightful ease of packet traveling. There was no jolting, no dust, no smell of horses. The motion of the boat was unwavering; it went so steadily that the towing team and the long curving towrope lost their visible relation to the journey. The narrow bright blue ribbon of the canal was like a scroll, unwinding west along the valley, the boat a picture painted on it, herself and Roger portraits of a bridal pair.

The ribbons down the sides of Bella’s dove-gray traveling dress fluttered gayly, and the silk covering of her parasol snapped like a pigeon’s wings. Though she sauntered with demureness back and forth along the fifty feet of deck, she longed to jump ashore, to lift her skirts and run a race with the packet, with Roger, with the wind.

A hawk, its wings two swords against the sky, roused envy in her. He needed no boat to take his way across the earth. As she lifted her eyes to follow the keen flight, the wind blew her bonnet ribbons over her lips, and under cover of untangling them she kissed her fingers.

Mr. Atterbury’s alert eyes caught the gesture. She saw him smile, and she glanced hastily at Roger. But Roger was watching the country, not the sky. And she cried to him, ‘Look, Roger. The hawk.’

She did not need to point; he had good eyes. He found the bird at once.

‘He’d make a long shot.’

Bella said, ‘I would n’t want him shot. I wish I were him.’


‘To fly, Roger.’

‘Where would you fly to?’

‘Away. Anywhere. It would n’t matter. Only fly.’

She looked so eager.

‘Away from me?’ he asked, grinning.

‘Yes. If you loved me you’d grow your own wings.’

She said it lightly, but she was annoyed. She did not want to be made fun of by Roger. Mr. Atterbury understood what she meant. She could tell that by the way he looked at her. He too was smiling, but his smile was to himself.

Roger said, ‘ Look at your hawk now. Do you still like him?’

He pointed. The hawk had bounded a hundred feet, breast to the wind, his wings like tempered steel. He was keeping an exact spot in the blue. His wings fluttered, lightly touching the wind. Then they slid back and his body, a gray arrow, stooped to the river’s edge.

‘Watch,’ said Roger.

A thin metallic scream issued from the grass. A moment later they saw the hawk rise again, thrusting steadily with his wings, his legs straight down, and a brown shape swinging in his talons.

But Bella did not care about a dead water rat. Her eyes followed the magnificent towering climb, up and up, until the hawk had gained the level of the highest hill. Against the sky she could not see the bird move, but his shape dwindled until it was a speck.

Bella’s glance swung challengingly round on Roger. She had forgotten Mr. Atterbury. She had forgotten everyone but herself and Roger, earth-bound, moving four miles an hour, on their pitiful twelve-by-fifty feet of packet deck. He was still grinning at her.

‘I thought you hated rats,’ he said.

The steersman, leaning idly against the rudder stick, stared between them with a blank face.

‘Let’s stop talking about him,’ Bella said.



‘Low bridge.’

Bella turned on her heel, and the wind met her lips as she faced westward.

The team, a gray led by a black, were trotting into the arched shadow. The white timbers framed a circle of blue — blue sky and blue water in which they were reflected. The horses passed out of sight beyond the abutment timbers, then returned to the frame at the end of the towrope, treading above their own reflections, with the driver boy’s jacket a scarlet bud against a line of willows.

Bella was by herself. She had been cross with Roger. She would n’t talk to him. He would n’t even get angry, and after ten minutes of it he had left her, going below.

She glanced quickly fore and aft. She did not want to go down on the steersman’s deck. Mr. Jason was standing there, confabulating with the steersman in an offhand voice.

Bella knew that she was involved in their conversation. Both of them had been amused when Roger stalked down into the saloon. The steersman looked red in the face when she met his eye; but Mr. Jason stared right back. Then his eyes embarked on a tour of inspection of her person, speculative, probing, vulgar.

But the bridge timbers were looming over the boat’s course.

‘I don’t care what they think,’ she said to herself.

She ran forward swiftly and looked over. At the sound of her footfall Mr. Atterbury’s hat appeared. He touched the brim with his fingers. Seeing that she was going to jump, he pointed to what she had missed in the darkness last night, a small ladder leading from the corner of the saloon deck to the catwalk. She had just time to step over, step down, meeting his fingers with hers, and step round the corner of the ladies’ cabin to the deck. The bridge shadows swept over her with the cool echoing sound of water lapping against wood. Mr. Jason’s sudden laugh sounded obscene. She flushed, bit her lip, and said to Mr. Atterbury, ‘I don’t like that man.’

‘Nor I,’ said Mr. Atterbury. ‘But when you travel in this country you must make up your mind to put up with his genus. They are regrettably plentiful.’

‘ I suppose so,’ Bella said. ‘ But I don’t like him at all. What do you suppose he does?’

‘Land speculator, probably.’


Mr. Atterbury elaborated: ‘He probably runs or works for a company that buys up tracts of poor land and advertises them in the East, — or, better yet, in Europe, — selling them sight unseen to credulous poor souls.’

The steward had set out some chairs on the deck. Bella and Mr. Atterbury seated themselves.

‘I hope you don’t object to my segar, Mrs. Willcox.’

‘No, not at all. I love the smell of fine tobacco.’

She leaned a little forward, letting her wrists lie on her knees. Pulling smoothly at his segar, Mr. Atterbury appreciatively studied her. She had a pliant, graceful back, and slim, youthful arms. The dove-gray dress, fitting snugly, was particularly becoming. Her leghorn bonnet, with its demure Quakerish crown and the visor decked with most un-Quakerish ribbons, was drawn low on her brown hair. Even in the shadow of it her small face was bright with her resentment of Mr. Jason. ‘Spunky,’ Mr. Atterbury said to himself, seeing the little pucker of her brow. She looked delicious when she frowned. Her lower lip became sullen; she did not seem quite so indecently young and innocent to be a married woman. He sighed. Parents, he thought, had no business letting their daughters marry out of sheltered households at Bella Willcox’s age; but he thought indulgently of them, also, knowing that it was this youthful innocence that made her so delightful a study for an old man. It was n’t the world she was making acquaintance of—that would come later; it was herself.

He sighed again. She was trying to make easy conversation. She wanted to appear mature. Well, it was only fair to let her gain confidence. She would need it, poor pretty child, he thought. It seemed a pity that all her awakening fire should be wasted on a young man who quite obviously could not appreciate what was taking place.

‘Yes, Mrs. Willcox,’ he said, rousing his tongue. ‘I suppose I have traveled about a good deal. I probably bored you and your husband half to death last evening. But old men become garrulous, you know.’

‘Oh, no indeed, Mr. Atterbury. I never listened to anyone so interesting.’

‘You flatter me, my dear. I get fits of running on sometimes, and hardly know what I ’m saying.’

She glanced at his shrewd eyes.

‘I don’t believe that. But I wish you’d run on some more, anyway. You said something last night about being held up on the highroad by the queerest man you’d ever met. I was dying to know who he was.’

‘Were you?’ He smiled. ‘I’ll wager you forgot all about him ten seconds after you left the saloon.’

She blushed, and then annoyance at acting so youthfully made her blush deeper.

‘If I did,’ she said, smiling back at him, ‘I did n’t forget it for keeps, did I?’

Her honesty delighted him.

Must for that, I’ll tell you. The highwayman was a Mr. St. Clair of the very finest Virginia stock. The highroad would have served much better as a bridle path than as a stage road. I was on my way from Nashville in Tennessee to Memphis. I was a good deal younger then, and no doubt I was singing a song, or filling my head with thoughts of the company I had parted with in Nashville, which was very pleasant, though I’ve never had opportunity to renew it. I dare say I was n’t paying much attention to the road.’

Mr. Atterbury’s eyes rested kindly on Bella’s face; but he did not seem to see her, and she thought, ‘Maybe I’m making him remember some other woman.’

‘I had — it sounds preposterous — eleven hundred dollars in a belt around my waist, the result of a lucky investment in Nashville. But I was a chuckleheaded boy in those days and thought I could take care of myself anywhere. I got a jolt when my horse reared; and when I got him in hand I found I was looking right into the business end of a horse pistol.

‘He was very handsomely dressed,’ continued Mr. Atterbury, drawing smoothly on his segar, ‘for a man in those lonely districts. He was cleanshaven, and I saw at a glance that he was a gentleman. But I was badly rattled, and I lifted my hands at once.’

Mr. Atterbury laughed so infectiously at the recollection that Bella could not help joining in.

‘Did he rob you?’ she asked.

‘Technically. But not of my money. He robbed me of an evening’s conversation. He never gave me a chance to say a word until he had ridden me ahead of him for a mile or so down a narrow bypath. Then he said, “Now, sir, we’re safe from interference and we’d better come to an understanding.” I looked back over my shoulder and thought it was all up. He still had the pistol aimed square at me, and he had a devilishly steady hand. He said, “May I enquire your name, sir?” I told him, and he bowed over his horse’s withers. “Reginald St. Clair, sir, of Magnolia Grove, Hardeman County.” So I bowed. And he said, “I am obliged to disconvenience you, Mr. Atterbury. I’m a lonely man, and I am forced to collect company as I am able. If you’ll resume your ride, we’ve only a mile to go, sir.”’

Mr. Atterbury chuckled to himself.

‘He was a fine fellow. And he had elegant manners.’

‘He did n’t touch your money, then?’ Bella asked.

‘Good heavens no, my dear. He gave me as good a dinner as I’ve ever sat down to. He had a beautiful house and a fine plantation and a plenty of slaves. But he felt that the vicinity was too lonely to bring a lady to, so he lived by himself.’ Mr. Atterbury sighed reminiscently. ‘Luckily he had no such compunctions about his cook. I enjoyed every mouthful. I slept in a four-post feather bed on lavendered sheets. In the morning he took me back to the highroad and sent me on to the next village with two of his niggers, armed, for an escort.’

‘I wish I were a man,’ Bella said, drawing a deep breath.

‘You’d make a pretty gentleman, my dear. But if you were, in bare justice to your new sex, you’d have to wish yourself a woman again.’

Bella lifted her hands and rested her chin on them.

‘If I were a man I wonder if I would like women.’

‘Pretty women,’ said Mr. Atterbury.

‘Blonde ones, I think. And I’d treat them heartlessly.’

Mr. Atterbury pulled on his segar.

‘Well, for Mr. Willcox’s sake I hope you’ll never have the opportunity to find out.’

Bella laughed.

‘Oh, Roger. He wants a girl to be small and fluffy, with lots of lacy clothes, I think.’

‘It’s a practically universal taste among men. Good ones, too.’

‘He was very stuffy this morning,’ Bella said. ‘ He did n’t seem to like anything I said.’

‘You mustn’t let it trouble you, my dear. You know it takes a good many years for a young man to discover he has n’t married a valentine in a lace envelope.’ Mr. Atterbury smiled. ‘He’s a nice young man, but I’m sure you’ll shock him a good many times.’

I shock him?

‘Yes, my dear. It’s much easier to shock men than women, I’ve found. And you see you’re a very genuine person and not at all a copybook young lady.’

Bella said ruefully, ‘I know it. My sister is different, though. She takes such pains with things. But then, it’s worth while for her. She’s lovelylooking.’

She felt a pleased little tremor take hold of her as she encountered Mr. Atterbury’s eyes. They were remarkably young for a man with white hair, she thought.

‘You know, Mr. Atterbury, I watched that fight this morning. And I was n’t shocked. I loved it!’

He nodded. ‘I’m not surprised. But it does n’t mean that your heart is any the less gentle, my dear.’

‘Mine was n’t gentle a bit.’

He seemed amused at her vehemence.

‘And yet here you are getting yourself all upset over that big husband of yours just because he teased you.’

‘I’m not upset. I don’t see why he should get stuffy just because I feel so wonderfully.’

‘My dear child, you’ve just been set free in the world.’ Mr. Atterbury’s kindly smile robbed his words of all offense. ‘But your husband has just been caught. And you see, he has no resource.’

‘Resource?’ Bella turned to him. Then she flushed. ‘I see what you mean. But that’s silly.’

‘No, it is n’t. You have n’t any idea. You’ve showed that already.’ He blew a stream of segar smoke. ‘I hate to think how I’d behave in his shoes.’

He tactfully examined the ash of his segar.

‘Oh,’ Bella said in a muffled voice. She stared forward along the canal. After a while she asked, ‘What can I do?’

‘If you want advice, I’d suggest distraction for Mr. Willcox. Maybe you could plead a headache or some indisposition this evening, and don’t let him take you on deck.’

‘The cabin’s so stuffy with Mrs. Neilson in it.’

Mr. Atterbury laughed.

‘I’ll bet it is. But lots of things are stuffy.’

‘Well, I’ll do it. Though I don’t see how it can help much.’

‘I’ll try to amuse him with other things.’

‘Could you?’

Mr. Atterbury accepted the naïve question with forbearance.

‘Backgammon — or maybe I could arrange a small game of cards.’

Bella was interested at once.

‘ Oh, Roger would like that. He loves cards. I believe he plays very well.’

‘Does he? That’s fine.’

‘It’s very kind of you.’

‘Pshaw. I’d enjoy it myself.’

‘But it is.’

‘Not at all, my dear.’

Mr. Atterbury leaned forward and laid his hand over hers.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said.

She thought nobody could have been kinder, and at lunch she was particularly nice to Roger.


Mrs. Cashdollar had brought up her bags. She stood by the steersman with Bella, watching the town draw nearer, while, level with their eyes, the feet of Roger and Mr. Atterbury walked briskly up and down the saloon deck.

‘ I always like to come up when I get to my own home town,’ Mrs. Cashdollar said. ‘It’s pretty coming into it on a canalboat.’

Utica lay ahead. Against the bright blue sky it did look inviting, with its tall buildings, some of them five stories high, its white church steeples, its glittering, gilded weather vanes.

‘Don’t it strike you pretty, Jake?’

Mrs. Cashdollar was familiar with the steersman. They had done business together once. But the steersman replied guardedly, ‘Utica is a nice enough town, Lucy; but it’s got the most consarned crowded basin on the line.’

The captain appeared on deck, roaring at the driver boy to tickle some style into the team, and the driver boy cursed and lashed with a show of zeal. The captain pulled out his watch. ‘Twenty minutes,’ he said calculatingly. ‘I ain’t going to wait for passengers. I’m out for a record. If they don’t show up they can wait or they can walk.’

‘ A record ? ’ Bella asked. ‘ Why do you want to make one?’

‘Stage lines have cut their rates,’ the captain explained. ‘We’re still under them. We throw in food on the price of the ticket. But people want speed nowadays, ma’am. By God, the Red Bird Line’s going to give it to them, too.’ He smiled patronizingly. ‘You don’t realize it, ma’am, but you’ve been traveling a dang sight better than four miles an hour.’

The canal slanted away from the river towards the heart of Utica. The packet passed a drag of four cribs of scantling chained together. The last crib had a kind of ramshackle hut on it, and three nearly naked men with poles kept fending the drag from the banks. They looked wild and partly drunk, and they cheered raucously as the packet went by.

After the Western Lion passed the lumber, though it had the canal to itself for a short way, the captain jumped up on the saloon deck and began blowing his bugle: ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and the ‘Irish Washerwoman,’and ‘Anacreon in Heaven.’ The notes soared away and the brightness of the music in the bright air pricked even the horses’ ears.

‘He’s warning the weighlock,’explained the steersman. ‘They’ll have the level ready and the gates open and hold back the freights for us.’

The Western Lion glided suddenly into the shadow of a house; the canal narrowed. A garden fence stood right upon the bank, and the thud of hoofs echoed against wood walls. The bugle notes seemed to shoot away with redoubled volume. A window opened and a maid looked forth and waved a duster. Two little black children screamed and chased the boat and did fancy steps for pennies.

Bella looked at the backs of the houses. Trees grew over the fences; she smelled blooming phlox above the stale smell of the canal water. Slanted avenues of sunlight succeeded shadows and put enchantment on the women’s dresses, so that even the incredible display Mrs. Cashdollar wore was made attractive.

‘You can get up on top now,’ the steersman said after they emerged from the shadow of another bridge. ‘It’s free from here to the packet dock.’

They mounted, Bella and Mrs. Cashdollar, the Ransoms and the Neilsons, joining Mr. Atterbury, the captain, and Roger. Mrs. Cashdollar touched Bella’s elbow. Bella started. She had been traveling in enchantment for an instant, not realizing how short a time it was since she had seen the signs and smelled the smells of people living close together along city streets; it seemed ages ago.

She turned to find Mrs. Cashdollar studying her with unaccustomed diffidence.

‘I just wanted to say, dearie, I hope you’ll be happy. You’ve got a nice boy. Stick to him tight.’

‘Thank you,’ said Bella.

The woman’s painted face looked sentimental.

Then she faced ahead.

‘It’s pretty, ain’t it?’

They were in a belt of shadow, and already the noise of the basin hung dimly before them like a drone of swarming bees. The scent from a rose garden hung in the shadow, and a clear voice of a young woman calling a child.

Then the captain again blew on his bugle. They emerged into blistering sunlight. Bella saw boats lined up along the towpath, beyond them a square building, housing the canal like a tunnel, and a group of men all staring towards the Western Lion.

The driver boy yelled backward, ‘Mind your step, George.’

‘Slog ahead,’ roared the steersman.

The packet seemed to pick up speed. The rope, now passed over the standard in the bow, remained taut. The packet swung into the middle of the canal, slowly, tensely, until, when the bows straightened, they were aimed for the weighlock like thread for a needle’s eye.

For a breathless instant Bella felt her heart constrict. Suppose they struck. But she knew they would not. The team plunged through with a deafening thunder of hoofs on the plank run. The packet slid in and out again, and the sunlight suddenly dazzled her. The steersman was nonchalantly leaning on the rudder stick. He arched a spit, then wiped his mouth, and with the gesture dropped his hand to the stick, bore on it, and the boat eased into the packet dock like a feat of magic. Handlers caught the ropes and snubbed them fast to the ties; the gang clattered down. And Mrs. Cashdollar was saying good-bye as if the whole display had been contrived expressly for her return to Utica.


Bella lay stiff on her back, her hands under her neck, her eyes closed, pretending to sleep. Mrs. Neilson, who had had more than the usual port at supper, had mercifully dropped off; but when Bella peered through her lashes she discovered Mrs. Ransom’s eyes turned meditatively in her direction.

Bella did not feel like talking. She lay quiet, her nerves on stretch. She would have liked to get up, to move about the cabin, to lean out of a window. It was almost airless in the cabin — the circle of light in the lamp chimney burned blue, as if the flame found insufficient oxygen. The curtains hung limp, though every window was wide. Outside the blackness was unbroken. There were not even stars to-night.

They had passed no locks, for the packet was still on the Long Level, which extended from Frankfort to Syracuse. The Western Lion had drawn through Rome at sunset, and the captain had then said that Rome was halfway on the Level. Now they were in the blacksnake section of the canal, winding through hemlock and balsam swamps and long open bogs. Frogs made a continual bellowing that traveled with the boat, drowning all smaller sounds, until Bella felt the blood beating in her head.

She tried to make herself sleep by thinking of her family in Albany, but the scenes were blurred, and through them the faces of Roger and Mr. Atterbury kept emerging — one grinning and mocking, the other keen, and both watching her while she followed the free flight of the hawk.

After putting the washroom to rights, Viney came into the cabin. She moved with the casual stealth of a wild animal and made her bed upon the floor without a sound. She curled up on the pallet, one thin arm outstretched across the boards, the other curved across her face, her mouth opening a little for a long silent exhalation.

The boat slid onward through the rumbling of the bullfrogs. There were no bridges any more to raise the driver’s cry. There had been no lights for an hour, except one passing glow from another boat, more lonely in the darkness than the night itself.

Bella felt afraid.

She did not know why, but her mind turned suddenly towards her future. For the first time it occurred to her to wonder what living with Roger was going to be like: sharing her bed with him, feeling the beat of his heart, hearing him breathe, seeing him in the morning when he woke, having to dress and undress in his sight. A wave of nausea swept over her. She could smell the saloon again as it had been last night, heavy from the breathing of men and the deadness of Mr. L. D. Jones’s segar. She shivered and felt sweat on her forehead.

‘Don’t be a fool,’ she said to herself. ‘I wanted him. I wanted him from the beginning.’ Roger was not like that. He was very clean. He never smelled of staleness. The skin on his wrists was very white. ‘I’m going to make him happy and be happy.’ She said it with her teeth clenched.

She was thinking of a time when, as a little girl, she had been on her uncle’s farm outside the city, and she and Clorinda had stolen off to the barn mow to see one of the mares served. She had heard her uncle talking about it with one of the hands, and she and Clorinda had thought it would be enchanting to see a horse being served. They had climbed up the ladder and looked into the paddock through a crack in the hay door. They could see far out from there over the country, and they were hardly settled before they spied a little man leading a big black horse along the road. They had wondered what that horse was coming for and kept watching for the mare. They knew her very well, having often stolen carrots from the kitchen garden for her. But the little man kept leading the black horse along, and he turned with him into the paddock, and the horse had put up his crest and neighed, and it was then that the mare appeared. They brought the bay mare into the paddock.

Before that Bella had always thought of her as a fine, spirited animal, but now she seemed to have lost all courage. Clorinda had asked what was going to happen. Clorinda had been all eyes when the men put the mare into the paddock. But Bella had been sick. When she was through being sick, the mare was back in the stable, and the men were out by the gate, laughing a little. The stallion was going back down the road, by the way he had come, making play on the halter, so that the little man seemed light on his toes, like a dancer. It had been a bright sunny day with a sweeping wind. She remembered how the stallion’s mane had blown forward as he walked.

Outside a boat horn blared, and Bella lay still.

It was so near that almost immediately she heard the team on the towpath; and then the light came by. She wondered whether she had been asleep and missed the first note of the horn.

With the passage of the freight boat, silence crept into the cabin again. Then through the wall at her head she heard the dim sounds of the men’s voices. They were playing a long game.

Mr. Atterbury had made his suggestion to Roger before supper, but Roger had consulted her privately before agreeing. She was glad he had. But she pleaded a headache and said she would prefer to go to bed early. She had not realized then how hot it would be in the ladies’ cabin. She had counted on having it to herself for a while; but as soon as the other ladies had seen that Mr. Atterbury was getting up a game of cards they had followed her example, and now she was trapped.

The sound of cards irritated her with its persistence. She thought resentfully of Roger’s pleasure at the idea. He had, of course, been solicitous about her headache, and he had been attentive all through supper. But he had not suggested that fresh air would be better for a headache.

He was fond of cards. Maybe it was only fair that he should have a game — he had been submerged for so long by all her relations and the frilleries of getting married in a respectable family. But it did not seem fair either that she should have to be cooped up in this stuffy box of a cabin with two women, one of whom snored.

Mrs. Neilson was not snoring, but Bella thought it was only a matter of time before she would start.

‘I just can’t stand it if she does,’ she thought.

She lay quite still, and little by little the darkness came in upon her through the airless windows with the clamor of the frogs. After a while she wondered whether Mrs. Ransom had gone to sleep. She opened her eyes and carefully looked through her lashes.

Mrs. Ransom was still sitting up in bed with her face turned to the open window. Her hair was loose on her shoulders. It had streaks of gray growing back from the temples, but they hardly showed across the cabin. Her absorption made her face look young.

Bella was surprised to see what a pretty nightgown Mrs. Ransom was wearing. Not at all what she would have expected — nothing like her mother’s staid garments that laced tight round the neck and had half sleeves in summer, full in winter. Mrs. Ransom’s was lowcut and edged with lace. It was cut far lower than Bella’s own. Through it her breast shone under the lamp with a clean soft line.

‘Why,’ thought Bella, ‘she looks beautiful.’

She let her eyelids droop. Mrs. Ransom had been smiling, and a sixth sense made her aware that Mrs. Ransom had been looking at her just before she opened her eyes. . . .


Through the wall she heard one of the men laugh. She was not positive, but it had sounded like Roger’s voice. It had sounded forced, though. She held her breath. The men were silent now. Then she heard the chink of silver on the table. She realized that they were playing for money.

She had never thought of their playing for money. That was not right. She had never believed that playing cards was as sinful as her family maintained, so she had not felt shocked when Mr. Atterbury made his suggestion. But this was gambling.

To her surprise she found that she was sitting straight up in bed and that Mrs. Ransom was looking across at her.

‘Can’t you sleep, either?’ Mrs. Ransom asked after a quick glance at Mrs. Neilson.

Bella could not answer.

Mrs. Ransom regarded her steadily for a minute, then slipped from bed and tiptoed across the cabin.

‘What’s the matter, my dear? Do you feel ill?’

Bella shook her head.

‘Something’s the matter.’

‘I’m afraid,’ Bella said. ‘I can’t bear it any more in here.’

‘It’s terribly close. But wait a minute.’

Mrs. Ransom went back to her bed and returned with a bottle of smelling salts.

‘Sniff this.’

Bella obeyed. But the ammonia only served to clear her head. Again she heard the terrifying chink of money.

‘Do you hear?’

Mrs. Ransom nodded, ‘They’re still playing.’

‘But they’re playing for money!’

‘Is that what’s worrying you?’

Mrs. Ransom smiled, and Bella felt better. Mrs. Ransom was n’t upset.

‘Why should n’t they play for money?’ Mrs. Ransom asked. ‘It’s theirs.’

Bella tried to laugh.

‘I guess I’ve been silly.’

‘Not quite.’

Mrs. Ransom implied nothing. Her face was thoughtful. Then she looked at Mrs. Neilson’s huddled form.

‘I’ve been dying to get out of here myself. I wonder if we could n’t.’

Bella said, ‘We could n’t go through the saloon.’

‘No, but we might get out the window.’

Her eyes had a mischievous light. She seemed like another girl to Bella.

‘Yes, let’s,’ Bella whispered, slipping from her bed.

‘Are you going to dress?’ Mrs. Ransom asked.

‘Ought n’t I?’

‘I could n’t bear the feeling of clothes to-night.’

‘But we ought to put on something.’

‘You young people are always so proper,’ said Mrs. Ransom. ‘Well, maybe we ought to wear our cloaks. We’ll have to protect ourselves from the mosquitoes, I suppose.’

She got her cloak and slipped it over her nightgown. Then she stole back to Bella. They looked down at Viney. The black girl was stretched on her pallet, one arm still outflung above her kinky hair.


She opened her eyes instantly and sat up.

‘See if you can help us through the window and pass us some blankets and two pillows without waking Mrs. Neilson.’

Viney grinned. She led the way to a side window and poked out her head.

‘Ain’ nobody on deck, Mrs. Ransom.’

Mrs. Ransom pulled up her nightdress and stuck a slippered foot over the sill. In a moment, with surprising suppleness, she was through. Bella followed. Viney handed out the pillows and blankets and looked at them enviously.

‘Don’t you want to come, Viney?’

‘Yes, Mis’. I sho’ly does. But she’d wake if I was n’t here and call the captain.’

Bella felt Mrs. Ransom take her hand.

‘The steersman won’t see us if we keep our heads down.’

Mrs. Ransom went along the catwalk on hands and knees. When Bella joined her on the bow deck, she was laughing softly.

‘The driver has n’t looked back. Once we’re wrapped up, we’ll look perfectly respectable.’

They made themselves a place between the windows with their backs to the cabin wall, as Bella and Roger had on the preceding night.

It was much cooler outside, and the sound of the frogs, strangely, did not seem so deafening. The woods looked near and black, but far back in them fireflies were carrying lanterns. The sparks moved here and there, tracing patterns, and giving the night depth.

‘I think we’ll have a thunderstorm,’ said Mrs. Ransom.

Bella nodded.

(To be concluded)