« السابقةمتابعة »
just what kind of flat we are going to look for. The sine qua nons are an elevator and steam-heat, not above the third floor to begin with. Then we must each have a room, and you must have your study and I must have my parlor ; and the two girls must each have a room. With the kitchen and dining-room, how many does that make ?”
“ I thought eight. Well, no matter. You can work in the parlor, and run into your bedroom when anybody comes; and I can sit in mine, and the girls must put up with one, if it's large and sunny, though I've always given them two at home. And the kitchen must be sunny, so they can sit in it. And the rooms must all have outside light. And the rent must not be over eight hundred for the winter. We only get a thousand for our whole house, and we must save something out of that, so as to cover the expenses of moving. Now, do you think you can remember all that?”
“ Not the half of it,” said March. “But you can; or if you forget a third of it, I can come in with my partial half, and more than make it up.”
She had brought her bonnet and sack downstairs with her, and was transferring them from the hat-rack to her person while she talked. The friendly door-boy let them into the street, and the clear October evening air inspirited her so, that as she tucked her hand under her husband's arm and began to pull him along, she said, “ If we find something right away — and we're just as likely to get the right flat soon as late; it's all a lottery — we'll go to the theatre somewhere.”
She had a moment's panic about having left the agents' permits on the table, and after remembering that she had put them into her little shopping-bag, where she kept her money (each note crushed into a round wad), and had left that on the hatrack, where it would certainly be stolen, she found it on her wrist. She did not think that very funny, but after a first im. pulse to inculpate her husband, she let him laugh, while they stopped under a lamp, and she held the permits half a yard away to read the numbers on them.
“Where are your glasses, Isabel ?”
“I would n't get off second-hand jokes, Basil,” she said; and “ Why, here!” she cried, whirling round to the door before which they had halted, “ this is the very number. Well, I do believe it's a sign!”
One of those colored men who soften the trade of janitor in many of the smaller apartment-houses in New York by the sweetness of their race, let the Marches in, or, rather, welcomed them to the possession of the premises by the bow with which he acknowledged their permit. It was a large, old mansion cut up into five or six dwellings, but it had kept some traits of its former dignity, which pleased people of their sympathetic tastes. The dark mahogany trim, of sufficiently ugly design, gave a rich gloom to the hallway, which was wide, and paved with marble ; the carpeted stairs curved aloft through a generous space.
“ There is no elevator ?” Mrs. March asked of the janitor.
He answered, “No, ma'am ; only two flights up," so winningly that she said,
“Oh!” in courteous apology, and whispered her husband as she followed lightly up, “ We'll take it, Basil, if it's like the
“ If it's like him, you mean.”
“I don't wonder they wanted to own them,” she hurriedly philosophized. “If I had such a creature, nothing but death should part us, and I should no more think of giving him his freedom!”
“No; we could n't afford it,” returned her husband.
The apartment the janitor unlocked for them, and lit up from those chandeliers and brackets of gilt brass in the form of vine bunches, leaves, and tendrils in which the early gas-fitter realized most of his conceptions of beauty, had rather more of the ugliness than the dignity of the hall. But the rooms were large, and they grouped themselves in a reminiscence of the time when they were part of a dwelling, that had its charm, its pathos, its impressiveness. Where they were cut up into smaller spaces, it had been done with the frankness with which a proud old family of fallen fortunes practises its economies. The rough pine floors showed a black border of tack-heads where carpets had been lifted and put down for generations; the white paint was yellow with age; the apartment had light at the front and at the back, and two or three rooms had glimpses of the day through small windows let into their corners; another one seemed lifting an appealing eye to heaven through a glass circle in its ceiling; the rest must darkle in perpetual twilight. Yet something pleased in it all, and Mrs. March had gone far to
adapt the different rooms to the members of her family, when she suddenly thought and for her to think was to say), “ Why, but there's no steam-heat!”
“ No, ma'am,” the janitor admitted ; “but dere's grates in most o' de rooms, and dere's furnace-heat in de halls."
“ That's true,” she adınitted ; and having placed her family in the apartments, it was hard to get them out again. “Could we manage ?” she referred to her husband.
“ Why, I should n't care for the steam-heat if – What is the rent ?” he broke off to ask the janitor.
“ Nine hundred, sir."
6 Why, of course! What could I have been thinking of ? We're looking for a furnished flat,” she explained to the jani. tor, “and this was so pleasant and home-like, that I never thought whether it was furnished or not."
She smiled upon the janitor, and he entered into the joke and chuckled so amiably at her flattering oversight on the way downstairs that she said, as she pinched her husband's arm, “ Now, if you don't give him a quarter, I'll never speak to you again, Basil ! ”
“I would have given half a dollar willingly to get you beyond his glamour,” said March when they were safely on the parement outside. “If it had n't been for my strength of character, you'd have taken an unfurnished flat without heat and with no elevator, at nine hundred a year, when you had just sworn me to steam-heat, an elevator, furniture, and eight hundred.”
“Yes! How could I have lost my head so completely ?" she said, with a lenient amusement in her aberration which she was not always able to feel in her husband's.
“ The next time a colored janitor opens the door to us, I'll tell him the apartment does n't suit at the threshold. It's the only way to manage you, Isabel.”
“It's true. I am in love with the whole race. I never saw one of them that did n't have perfectly angelic manners. I think we shall all be black in heaven – that is, black-souled.”
“ That is n't the usual theory,” said March.
“Well, perhaps not,” she assented. “Where are we going now? Oh yes, to the Xenophon!”
She pulled him gayly along again, and after they had walked a block down and half a block over, they stood before the apart
ment-house of that name, which was cut on the gas lamps on either side of the heavily spiked, æsthetic-hinged black door. The titter of an electric bell brought a large, fat Buttons, with a stage effect of being dressed to look small, who said he would call the janitor, and they waited in the dimly splendid, coppercolored interior, admiring the whorls and waves into which the wall-paint was combed, till the janitor came in his gold-banded cap, like a continental portier. When they said they would like to see Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment he owned his inability to cope with the affair, and said he must send for the Superintendent; he was either in the Herodotus or the Thucydides, and would be there in a minute. The Buttons brought him — a Yankee of brow beating presence in plain clothes — almost before they had time to exchange a frightened whisper in recognition of the fact that there could be no doubt of the steam-heat and elevator in this case. Half stified in the one, they mounted in the other eight stories, while they tried to keep their selfrespect under the gaze of the Superintendent, which they felt was classing and assessing them with unfriendly accuracy. They could not, and they faltered abashed at the threshold of Mrs. Grosvenor Green's apartment, while the Superintendent lit the gas in the gangway that he called a private hall, and in the drawing-room and the succession of chambers stretching rearward to the kitchen. Everything had been done by the architect to save space, and everything to waste it by Mrs. Grosvenor Green. She had conformed to a law for the necessity of turning round in each room, and had folding-beds in the chambers; but there her subordination had ended, and wherever you might have turned round she had put a gimcrack so that you would knock it over if you did turn. The place was rather pretty and even imposing at first glance, and it took several joint ballots for March and his wife to make sure that with the kitchen there were only six rooms. At every door hung a portière from large rings on a brass rod; every shelf and dressingcase and mantel was littered with gimcracks, and the corners of the tiny rooms were curtained off, and behind these portières swarmed more gimcracks. The front of the upright piano had what March called a short-skirted portière on it, and the top was covered with vases, with dragon candlesticks, and with Jap fans, which also expanded themselves bat-wise on the walls between the etchings and the water-colors. The floors were covered with filling, and then rugs, and then skins; the easy-chairs all had tidies, Armenian and Turkish and Persian ; the lounges and sofas had embroidered cushions hidden under tidies. The radiator was concealed by a Jap screen, and over the top of this some Arab scarfs were flung. There was a superabundance of clocks. China pugs guarded the hearth; a brass sunflower smiled from the top of either andiron, and a brass peacock spread its tail before them inside a high filigree fender; on one side was a coal-hod in repoussé brass, and on the other a wrought-iron wood-basket. Some red Japanese bird-kites were stuck about in the necks of spelter vases, a crimson Jap umbrella hung opened beneath the chandelier, and each globe had a shade of yellow silk.
March, when he had recovered his self-command a little in the presence of the agglomeration, comforted himself by calling the bric-à-brac Jamescracks, as if this was their full name.
The disrespect he was able to show the whole apartment by means of this joke strengthened him to say boldly to the Superintendent that it was altogether too small; then he asked carelessly what the rent was.
6 Two hundred and fifty.”
“ Don't you think we could make it do?" she asked him, and he could see that she had mentally saved five hundred dollars as the difference between the rent of their house and that of this flat. “It has some very pretty features, and we could manage to squeeze in, could n't we?”
“ You won't find another furnished flat like it for no two fifty a month in the whole city,” the Superintendent put in.
They exchanged glances again, and March said carelessly, “ It's too small.”
“There's a vacant flat in the Herodotus for eighteen hundred a year, and one in the Thucydides for fifteen,” the Superintendent suggested, clicking his keys together as they sank down in the elevator; “seven rooms and a bath.”
“ Thank you,” said March, “ we're looking for a furnished flat."
They felt that the Superintendent parted from them with repressed sarcasm.
“O Basil, do you think we really made him think it was the smallness and not the dearness ?”
“No, but we saved our self-respect in the attempt; and that's a great deal.”