Bertha accepted it all with cold impassivity; it was only a little higher gloss, a little more glitter than they had suffered in Chicago; and she was getting used to seeing men in braid and buttons "hustle" when she came near. The suite of rooms to which they were conducted looked out on Fifth Avenue, as Lucius proudly explained; and from their windows he designated some of the houses of the millionaires who receive the homage of the less rich (and of the very poor) which only nobility can command in Europe. Bertha betrayed no eager interest in these notables, but she was very deeply impressed by the far-famed Avenue, which was already thickening with the daily five-o'clock parade of carriages, auto-cars, and pedestrians.
Lucius explained this custom, and said: "If you'd like to go out I'll get a car."
"Let's do it I" she exclaimed to Haney.
"Sure! get one. These smell-wagons must have been invented for cripples like me."
Bertha took that ride in the spirit of one who never expects to do it again, and so deeply did the city print itself upon her memory that she was able to recall years afterwards a hundred of its glittering points, angles, and facets. She felt herself up-borne by money. Without Haney's bank-book she would have been merely one of those minute insects who timidly sought to cross the street, and yet philosophers marvel at the race men make for gold! So long as silken parasols and automobiles mad with pride are keenly enjoyed, so long will Americans—and all others who have them not—struggle for them; for they are not only the signs of distinction and luxury, they are delights. A private car is not merely display; it is comfort. To have a suite of rooms at the Park Palace is not all show; it makes for homely ease, cleanliness, repose. And these people riding imperiously to and fro in Fifth Avenue buy not merely diamonds, but well-cooked food, warm and shining raiment, and freedom from the scramble on the pave.
Some understanding of all this was beating home to Bertha's head and heart. She had as yet no keen desire for the glitter of wealth, but its grateful shelter, its power to defend and nurture, were qualities which had begun to make its lure almost irresistible. Haney liked the auto-car, not for its red and gold (which delighted Lucius), but for its handiness in taking him about the city. It saved him from climbing in and out of a high car door; it was swifter and safer than a carriage; therefore, he was ready to purchase its speed and convenience. He cared little for the sensation he would create in riding up to his sister's door in Brooklyn, though he chuckled mightily at the thought of what his old dad would say; and as they claimed a place among the millionaires he broke into a sly smile. "If ever a bog-trotter landed at Castle Garden, me father was wan o' them. I can remember the hat he wore. 'Twas a 'stovepipe,' sure enough. It had no rim at all at all! It was fuzzy as a cat. If he didn't have a green vest it was a wonder. He took me to see a play once just to show me how he did look. He was onto his own curves, was old dad. I hope he's livin' yet. I'd like to take him up the Avenue in this car and hear the speel he'd put up."
Bertha was in growing uneasiness, and when alone at the close of her wonderful ride through this marvellous city, so clean, so vast, so packed with stores of all things rich and beautiful, she went to her room in a blur of doubt. Now that an unspoken, half-formed resolution to free herself was in her mind, she realized that every extravagance like this ride, these gorgeous rooms, sank her deeper into helpless indebtedness to Marshall Haney. And this knowledge now took away the keen edge of her delight, making her food bitter and her pillow hot.
In the midst of her troubled thinking, Lucius knocked at the door to ask: "Will you go down to dinner or shall I have it sent up?"
"Oh no, I'll go down."
"They dress for dinner, ma'am."
" Do they ? What I wear ?"
He considered a moment. "Any light silk—semi-dress will do. I'll send a maid in to help you."
"No, I don't need a maid. They're a nuisance," she quicklv answered.
Lucius' attitude towards her was more than respectful—it was paternal; for she made no more secret of her early condition than Haney, and the colored man enjoyed serving them. He seemed perfectly happy in advising, cautioning, directing them, and was deeply impressed with their powers of adaptability—was, in truth, developing a genuine affection for them both. He was a lonely little man, Bertha had learned, with no near kin in the States, and the fact that he came from an Island in the sea made him less of a "nigger " to the Captain, who had the usual amount of prejudice against both black and red men.
The high-keyed, sumptuous dining-hall was filled with small tables exquisitely furnished, and the carpets underfoot, thick-piled and deep-toned, gave a singular solemnity to the function of eating. It was a temple raised to the glory of terrapin and "alligator pears"; and as the Captain moved slowly across the aisles, closely attended by a zealous waiter he, smiled and said to his wife: '" This is a long ways from Sibley and the Golden Eagle, Bertie, don't you think?"
"It sure is," she replied, and her laughing Hps and big pansy-purple eyes made her seem very young and very gay again.
Around her men and women in evening dress were feeding subduedly, while bevies of hawkHke waiters swooped and circled, bearing platters, tureens, and baskets of iced wine-bottles. It made the hotel at Chicago appear like a plain, old-fashioned tavern, so remote, so European, so lavish, and yet so exaggeratedly quiet, was this service. Some of the women at the tables were spangled Hke the queens of the stage; mainly they were not only gloriously gowned, but in harmony with the sumptuous beauty around them, Their adornments made Bertha feel very rural and very shy.
"I wish I was younger," the Captain said, "I'd take ye to the theatre to-night, but I'm too tired. I could go for a couple of hours, but—to miss me sleep—"
"Don't think of it," she hastened to command. "I don't want to go. I'm just about all in, myself."
"'Tis a shame, darlin', surely it is, to keep you from havin' a good time just because I am an old helpless side o' beef. 'Tis not in me heart to play dog in the manger, Bertie. If ye'd like to go, do so. Lucius will take ye."
"Nit," she curtly replied; "you rest up, and we'll go to-morrow night. We might take another turn and see the town by electric light; you could kind o' lean back in the car and take it easy."
This they did; and it was more moving, more appalling, to the girl than by day. The fury of traffic on Broadway, the crowds of people, the endless strings of brilliantly lighted street-cars, the floods of 'busses, autocars, cabs, and carriages poured in upon the girl's receptive brain a tide of perceptions of the city's wealth, power, and complexity of social life which amazed while it exalted her. The idea that she might share in all this dazzled her. "We could live here," she thought; "the Captain's income would keep us just anyway we wanted to live." But a vision of her own beautiful house under the shadow of the great peak came back to reproach her. Her horses and dogs awaited her. This tumultuous island was only a place to visit, after all.
"Do you suppose this goes on every night ?" she said to Haney, as they turned off Broadway.
"I reckon it does," he said. "How is that, Lucius?" he asked. "Is this a special performance, or does the old town do this every night?"
"In the season, yes, sir. It's the last week of the Opera, and it'll be quieter now till November."
They returned to their hotel with a sense of having touched the ultimate in civic splendor, human pride, and social complexity. New York had met most of their ideals. They were glad it was on American soil and in the nation's metropolis; but, after all, it remained alien and mysterious, of a rank with Paris and London—the gateway city of the nation, where the Old World meets and mingles with the New.