Their Pilgrimage by Charles Dudley Warner THEIR PILGRIMAGE I FORTRESS MONROE When Irene looked out of her stateroom window early in the morning of the twentieth of March, there was a softness and luminous quality in the horizon clouds that prophesied spring. The steamboat, which had left Baltimore and an arctic temperature the night before, was drawing near the wharf at Fortress Monroe, and the passengers, most of whom were seeking a mild climate, were crowding the guards, eagerly scanning the long facade of the Hygeia Hotel. "It looks more like a conservatory than a hotel," said Irene to her father, as she joined him. "I expect that's about what it is. All those long corridors above and below enclosed in glass are to protect the hothouse plants of New York and Boston, who call it a Winter Resort, and I guess there's considerable winter in it." "But how charming it is--the soft sea air, the low capes yonder, the sails in the opening shining in the haze, and the peaceful old fort! I think it's just enchanting." "I suppose it is. Get a thousand people crowded into one hotel under glass, and let 'em buzz around--that seems to be the present notion of enjoyment. I guess your mother'll like it." And she did. Mrs. Benson, who appeared at the moment, a little flurried with her hasty toilet, a stout, matronly person, rather overdressed for traveling, exclaimed: "What a homelike looking place! I do hope the Stimpsons are here!" "No doubt the Stimpsons are on hand," said Mr. Benson. "Catch them not knowing what's the right thing to do in March! They know just as well as you do that the Reynoldses and the Van Peagrims are here." The crowd of passengers, alert to register and secure rooms, hurried up the windy wharf. The interior of the hotel kept the promise of the outside for comfort. Behind the glass-defended verandas, in the spacious office and general lounging-room, sea-coal fires glowed in the wide grates, tables were heaped with newspapers and the illustrated pamphlets in which railways and hotels set forth the advantages of leaving home; luxurious chairs invited the lazy and the tired, and the hotel-bureau, telegraph-office, railway-office, and post-office showed the new-comer that even in this resort he was still in the centre of activity and uneasiness. The Bensons, who had fortunately secured rooms a month in advance, sat quietly waiting while the crowd filed before the register, and took its fate from the courteous autocrat behind the counter. "No room," was the nearly uniform answer, and the travelers had the satisfaction of writing their names and going their way in search of entertainment. "We've eight hundred people stowed away," said the clerk, "and not a spot left for a hen to roost." At the end of the file Irene noticed a gentleman, clad in a perfectly- fitting rough traveling suit, with the inevitable crocodile hand-bag and tightly-rolled umbrella, who made no effort to enroll ahead of any one else, but having procured some letters from the post-office clerk, patiently waited till the rest were turned away, and then put down his name. He might as well have written it in his hat. The deliberation of the man, who appeared to be an old traveler, though probably not more than thirty years of age, attracted Irene's attention, and she could not help hearing the dialogue that followed. "What can you do for me?" "Nothing," said the clerk. "Can't you stow me away anywhere? It is Saturday, and very inconvenient for me to go any farther." "Cannot help that. We haven't an inch of room." "Well, where can I go?" "You can go to Baltimore. You can go to Washington; or you can go to Richmond this afternoon. You can go anywhere." "Couldn't I," said the stranger, with the same deliberation--"wouldn't you let me go to Charleston?" "Why," said the clerk, a little surprised, but disposed to accommodate-- "why, yes, you can go to Charleston. If you take at once the boat you have just left, I guess you can catch the train at Norfolk." As the traveler turned and called a porter to reship his baggage, he was met by a lady, who greeted him with the cordiality of an old acquaintance and a volley of questions. "Why, Mr. King, this is good luck. When did you come? have you a good room? What, no, not going?" Mr. King explained that he had been a resident of Hampton Roads just fifteen minutes, and that, having had a pretty good view of the place, he was then making his way out of the door to Charleston, without any breakfast, because there was no room in the inn. "Oh, that never'll do. That cannot be permitted," said his engaging friend, with an air of determination. "Besides, I want you to go with us on an excursion today up the James and help me chaperon a lot of young ladies. No, you cannot go away." And before Mr. Stanhope King--for that was the name the traveler had inscribed on the register--knew exactly what had happened, by some mysterious power which women can exercise even in a hotel, when they choose, he found himself in possession of a room, and was gayly breakfasting with a merry party at a little round table in the dining- room. "He appears to know everybody," was Mrs. Benson's comment to Irene, as she observed his greeting of one and another as the guests tardily came down to breakfast. "Anyway, he's a genteel-looking party. I wonder if he belongs to Sotor, King and Co., of New York?" "Oh, mother," began Irene, with a quick glance at the people at the next table; and then, "if he is a genteel party, very likely he's a drummer. The drummers know everybody." And Irene confined her attention strictly to her breakfast, and never looked up, although Mrs. Benson kept prattling away about the young man's appearance, wondering if his eyes were dark blue or only dark gray, and why he didn't part his hair exactly in the middle and done with it, and a full, close beard was becoming, and he had a good, frank face anyway, and why didn't the Stimpsons come down; and, "Oh, there's the Van Peagrims," and Mrs. Benson bowed sweetly and repeatedly to somebody across the room. To an angel, or even to that approach to an angel in this world, a person who has satisfied his appetite, the spectacle of a crowd of people feeding together in a large room must be a little humiliating. The fact is that no animal appears at its best in this necessary occupation. But a hotel breakfast-room is not without interest. The very way in which people enter the room is a revelation of character. Mr. King, who was put in good humor by falling on his feet, as it were, in such agreeable company, amused himself by studying the guests as they entered. There was the portly, florid man, who "swelled" in, patronizing the entire room, followed by a meek little wife and three timid children. There was the broad, dowager woman, preceded by a meek, shrinking little man, whose whole appearance was an apology. There was a modest young couple who looked exceedingly self-conscious and happy, and another couple, not quite so young, who were not conscious of anybody, the gentleman giving a curt order to the waiter, and falling at once to reading a newspaper, while his wife took a listless attitude, which seemed to have become second nature. There were two very tall, very graceful, very high-bred girls in semi-mourning, accompanied by a nice lad in tight clothes, a model of propriety and slender physical resources, who perfectly reflected the gracious elevation of his sisters. There was a preponderance of women, as is apt to be the case in such resorts. A fact explicable not on the theory that women are more delicate than men, but that American men are too busy to take this sort of relaxation, and that the care of an establishment, with the demands of society and the worry of servants, so draw upon the nervous energy of women that they are glad to escape occasionally to the irresponsibility of hotel life. Mr. King noticed that many of the women had the unmistakable air of familiarity with this sort of life, both in the dining-room and at the office, and were not nearly so timid as some of the men. And this was very observable in the case of the girls, who were chaperoning their mothers-- shrinking women who seemed a little confused by the bustle, and a little awed by the machinery of the great caravansary. At length Mr. King's eye fell upon the Benson group. Usually it is unfortunate that a young lady should be observed for the first time at table. The act of eating is apt to be disenchanting. It needs considerable infatuation and perhaps true love on the part of a young man to make him see anything agreeable in this performance. However attractive a girl may be, the man may be sure that he is not in love if his admiration cannot stand this test. It is saying a great deal for Irene that she did stand this test even under the observation of a stranger, and that she handled her fork, not to put too fine a point upon it, in a manner to make the fastidious Mr. King desirous to see more of her. I am aware that this is a very unromantic view to take of one of the sweetest subjects in life, and I am free to confess that I should prefer that Mr. King should first have seen Irene leaning on the balustrade of the gallery, with a rose in her hand, gazing out over the sea with "that far-away look in her eyes." It would have made it much easier for all of us. But it is better to tell the truth, and let the girl appear in the heroic attitude of being superior to her circumstances. Presently Mr. King said to his friend, Mrs. Cortlandt, "Who is that clever-looking, graceful girl over there?" "That," said Mrs. Cortlandt, looking intently in the direction indicated --"why, so it is; that's just the thing," and without another word she darted across the room, and Mr. King saw her in animated conversation with the young lady. Returning with satisfaction expressed in her face, she continued, "Yes, she'll join our party--without her mother. How lucky you saw her!"
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