Chapter 2 – A Forward Movement

Louisa May Alcott2016年11月04日'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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As travellers like to give their own impressions of a journey,
though every inch of the way may have been described a half a
dozen times before, I add some of the notes made by the way,
hoping that they will amuse the reader, and convince the
skeptical that such a being as Nurse Periwinkle does exist, that
she really did go to Washington, and that these Sketches are not

New York Train – Seven P.M. – Spinning along to take the boat at New
London. Very comfortable; much gingerbread, and Mrs. C.’s fine
pear, which deserves honorable mention, because my first
loneliness was comforted by it, and pleasant recollections of
both kindly sender and bearer. Look much at Dr. H.’s paper of
directions – put my tickets in every conceivable place, that they
may be get-at-able, and finish by losing them entirely. Suffer
agonies till a compassionate neighbor pokes them out of a crack
with his pen-knife. Put them in the inmost corner of my purse,
that in the deepest recesses of my pocket, pile a collection of
miscellaneous articles atop, and pin up the whole.
Just get composed, feeling that I’ve done my best to keep them
safely, when the Conductor appears, and I’m forced to rout them
all out again, exposing my precautions, and getting into a
flutter at keeping the man waiting. Finally, fasten them on the
seat before me, and keep one eye steadily upon the yellow
torments, till I forget all about them, in chat with the
gentleman who shares my seat. Having heard complaints of the
absurd way in which American women become images of petrified
propriety, if addressed by strangers, when traveling alone, the
inborn perversity of my nature causes me to assume an entirely
opposite style of deportment; and, finding my companion hails
from Little Athens, is acquainted with several of my three
hundred and sixty-five cousins, and in every way a respectable
and respectful member of society, I put my bashfulness in my
pocket, and plunge into a long conversation on the war, the
weather, music, Carlyle, skating, genius, hoops, and the
immortality of the soul.

Ten P.M. – Very sleepy. Nothing to be seen outside, but darkness
made visible; nothing inside but every variety of bunch into
which the human form can be twisted, rolled, or "massed," as Miss
Prescott says of her jewels. Every man’s legs sprawl drowsily,
every woman’s head (but mine,) nods, till it finally settles on
somebody’s shoulder, a new proof of the truth of the everlasting
oak and vine simile; children fret; lovers whisper; old folks
snore, and somebody privately imbibes brandy, when the lamps go
out. The penetrating perfume rouses the multitude, causing some
to start up, like war horses at the smell of powder. When the
lamps are relighted, every one laughs, sniffs, and looks
inquiringly at his neighbor – every one but a stout gentleman, who,
with well-gloved hands folded upon his broad-cloth rotundity,
sleeps on impressively. Had he been innocent, he would
have waked up; for, to slumber in that babe-like manner, with a
car full of giggling, staring, sniffing humanity, was simply
preposterous. Public suspicion was down upon him at once. I doubt
if the appearance of a flat black bottle with a label would have
settled the matter more effectually than did the over dignified
and profound repose of this short-sighted being. His moral neck-
cloth, virtuous boots, and pious attitude availed him nothing,
and it was well he kept his eyes shut, for "Humbug!" twinkled at
him from every window-pane, brass nail and human eye around him.

Eleven P.M. – In the boat "City of Boston," escorted thither by my
car acquaintance, and deposited in the cabin. Trying to look as
if the greater portion of my life had been passed on board boats,
but painfully conscious that I don’t know the first thing; so sit
bolt upright, and stare about me till I hear one lady say to
another – "We must secure our berths at once;" whereupon I dart at
one, and, while leisurely taking off my cloak, wait to discover
what the second move may be. Several ladies draw the curtains
that hang in a semi-circle before each nest – instantly I whisk
mine smartly together, and then peep out to see what next.
Gradually, on hooks above the blue and yellow drapery, appear the
coats and bonnets of my neighbors, while their boots and shoes,
in every imaginable attitude, assert themselves below, as if
their owners had committed suicide in a body. A violent creaking,
scrambling, and fussing, causes the fact that people are going
regularly to bed to dawn upon my mind. Of course they are; and so
am I – but pause at the seventh pin, remembering that, as I was
born to be drowned, an eligible opportunity now presents itself;
and, having twice escaped a watery grave, the third immersion
will certainly extinguish my vital spark. The boat is
new, but if it ever intends to blow up, spring a leak, catch
afire, or be run into, it will do the deed to-night, because I’m
here to fulfill my destiny. With tragic calmness I resign myself,
replace my pins, lash my purse and papers together, with my
handkerchief, examine the saving circumference of my hoop, and
look about me for any means of deliverance when the moist moment
shall arrive; for I’ve no intention of folding my hands and
bubbling to death without an energetic splashing first. Barrels,
hen-coops, portable settees, and life-preservers do not adorn the
cabin, as they should; and, roving wildly to and fro, my eye sees
no ray of hope till it falls upon a plump old lady, devoutly
reading in the cabin Bible, and a voluminous night-cap. I
remember that, at the swimming school, fat girls always floated
best, and in an instant my plan is laid. At the first alarm I
firmly attach myself to the plump lady, and cling to her through
fire and water; for I feel that my old enemy, the cramp, will
seize me by the foot, if I attempt to swim; and, though I can
hardly expect to reach Jersey City with myself and my baggage in
as good condition as I hoped, I might manage to get picked up by
holding to my fat friend; if not it will be a comfort to feel
that I’ve made an effort and shall die in good society. Poor dear
woman! how little she dreamed, as she read and rocked, with her
cap in a high state of starch, and her feet comfortably cooking
at the register, what fell designs were hovering about her, and
how intently a small but determined eye watched her, till it
suddenly closed.

Sleep got the better of fear to such an extent that my boots
appeared to gape, and my bonnet nodded on its peg, before I gave
in. Having piled my cloak, bag, rubbers, books and umbrella on
the lower shelf, I drowsily swarmed onto the upper one, tumbling
down a few times, and excoriating the knobby portions
of my frame in the act. A very brief nap on the upper roost was
enough to set me gasping as if a dozen feather beds and the whole
boat were laid over me. Out I turned; and after a series of
convulsions, which caused my neighbor to ask if I wanted the
stewardess, I managed to get my luggage up and myself down. But
even in the lower berth, my rest was not unbroken, for various
articles kept dropping off the little shelf at the bottom of the
bed, and every time I flew up, thinking my hour had come, I
bumped my head severely against the little shelf at the top,
evidently put there for that express purpose. At last, after
listening to the swash of the waves outside, wondering if the
machinery usually creaked in that way, and watching a knot-hole
in the side of my berth, sure that death would creep in there as
soon as I took my eye from it, I dropped asleep, and dreamed of

Five A.M. – On deck, trying to wake up and enjoy an east wind and a
morning fog, and a twilight sort of view of something on the
shore. Rapidly achieve my purpose, and do enjoy every moment, as
we go rushing through the Sound, with steamboats passing up and
down, lights dancing on the shore, mist wreaths slowly furling
off, and a pale pink sky above us, as the sun comes up.

Seven A.M. – In the cars, at Jersey City. Much fuss with tickets,
which one man scribbles over, another snips, and a third "makes
note on." Partake of refreshment, in the gloom of a very large
and dirty depot. Think that my sandwiches would be more relishing
without so strong a flavor of napkin, and my gingerbread more
easy of consumption if it had not been pulverized by being sat
upon. People act as if early traveling didn’t agree with them.
Children scream and scamper; men smoke and growl; women shiver
and fret; porters swear; great truck horses pace up
and down with loads of baggage; and every one seems to get into
the wrong car, and come tumbling out again. One man, with three
children, a dog, a bird-cage, and several bundles, puts himself
and his possessions into every possible place where a man, three
children, dog, bird-cage and bundles could be got, and is
satisfied with none of them. I follow their movements, with an
interest that is really exhausting, and, as they vanish, hope for
rest, but don’t get it. A strong-minded woman, with a tumbler in
her hand, and no cloak or shawl on, comes rushing through the
car, talking loudly to a small porter, who lugs a folding bed
after her, and looks as if life were a burden to him.

"You promised to have it ready. It is not ready. It must be a car
with a water jar, the windows must be shut, the fire must be kept
up, the blinds must be down. No, this won’t do. I shall go
through the whole train, and suit myself, for you promised to
have it ready. It is not ready," &c., all through again, like a
hand-organ. She haunted the cars, the depot, the office and
baggage-room, with her bed, her tumbler, and her tongue, till the
train started; and a sense of fervent gratitude filled my soul,
when I found that she and her unknown invalid were not to share
our car.

Philadelphia. – An old place, full of Dutch women, in "bellus top"
bonnets, selling vegetables, in long, open markets. Every one
seems to be scrubbing their white steps. All the houses look like
tidy jails, with their outside shutters. Several have crape on
the door-handles, and many have flags flying from roof or
balcony. Few men appear, and the women seem to do the business,
which, perhaps, accounts for its being so well done. Pass fine
buildings, but don’t know what they are. Would like to stop and
see my native city; for, having left it at the tender
age of two, my recollections are not vivid.

Baltimore. – A big, dirty, shippy, shiftless place, full of goats,
geese, colored people, and coal, at least the part of it I see.
Pass near the spot where the riot took place, and feel as if I
should enjoy throwing a stone at somebody, hard. Find a guard at
the ferry, the depot, and here and there, along the road. A camp
whitens one hill-side, and a cavalry training school, or whatever
it should be called, is a very interesting sight, with quantities
of horses and riders galloping, marching, leaping, and
skirmishing, over all manner of break-neck places. A party of
English people get in – the men, with sandy hair and red whiskers,
all trimmed alike, to a hair; rough grey coats, very rosy, clean
faces, and a fine, full way of speaking, which is particularly
agreeable, after our slip-shod American gabble. The two ladies
wear funny velvet fur-trimmed hoods; are done up, like compact
bundles, in tar tan shawls; and look as if bent on seeing
everything thoroughly. The devotion of one elderly John Bull to
his red-nosed spouse was really beautiful to behold. She was
plain and cross, and fussy and stupid, but J. B., Esq., read no
papers when she was awake, turned no cold shoulder when she
wished to sleep, and cheerfully said, "Yes, me dear," to every
wish or want the wife of his bosom expressed. I quite warmed to
the excellent man, and asked a question or two, as the only means
of expressing my good will. He answered very civilly, but
evidently hadn’t been used to being addressed by strange women in
public conveyances; and Mrs. B. fixed her green eyes upon me, as
if she thought me a forward hussy, or whatever is good English
for a presuming young woman. The pair left their friends before
we reached Washington; and the last I saw of them was a vision of
a large plaid lady, stalking grimly away, on the arm of
a rosy, stout gentleman, loaded with rugs, bags, and books, but
still devoted, still smiling, and waving a hearty "Fare ye well!
We’ll meet ye at Willard’s on Chusday."

Soon after their departure we had an accident; for no long
journey in America would be complete without one. A coupling iron
broke; and, after leaving the last car behind us, we waited for
it to come up, which it did, with a crash that knocked every one
forward on their faces, and caused several old ladies to screech
dismally. Hats flew off, bonnets were flattened, the stove
skipped, the lamps fell down, the water jar turned a somersault,
and the wheel just over which I sat received some damage. Of
course, it became necessary for all the men to get out, and stand
about in everybody’s way, while repairs were made; and for the
women to wrestle their heads out of the windows, asking ninety-
nine foolish questions to one sensible one. A few wise females
seized this favorable moment to better their seats, well knowing
that few men can face the wooden stare with which they regard the
former possessors of the places they have invaded.

The country through which we passed did not seem so very unlike
that which I had left, except that it was more level and less
wintry. In summer time the wide fields would have shown me new
sights, and the way-side hedges blossomed with new flowers; now,
everything was sere and sodden, and a general air of
shiftlessness prevailed, which would have caused a New England
farmer much disgust, and a strong desire to "buckle to," and
"right up" things. Dreary little houses, with chimneys built
outside, with clay and rough sticks piled crosswise, as we used
to build cob towers, stood in barren looking fields, with cow,
pig, or mule lounging about the door. We often passed colored
people, looking as if they had come out of a picture
book, or off the stage, but not at all the sort of people I’d
been accustomed to see at the North.

Wayside encampments made the fields and lanes gay with blue coats
and the glitter of buttons. Military washes flapped and fluttered
on the fences; pots were steaming in the open air; all sorts of
tableaux seen through the openings of tents, and everywhere the
boys threw up their caps and cut capers as we passed.

Washington. – It was dark when we arrived; and, but for the
presence of another friendly gentleman, I should have yielded
myself a helpless prey to the first overpowering hackman, who
insisted that I wanted to go just where I didn’t. Putting me into
the conveyance I belonged in, my escort added to the obligation
by pointing out the objects of interest which we passed in our
long drive. Though I’d often been told that Washington was a
spacious place, its visible magnitude quite took my breath away,
and of course I quoted Randolph’s expression, "a city of
magnificent distances," as I suppose every one does when they see
it. The Capitol was so like the pictures that hang opposite the
staring Father of his Country, in boarding-houses and hotels,
that it did not impress me, except to recall the time when I was
sure that Cinderella went to housekeeping in just such a place,
after she had married the inflammable Prince; though, even at
that early period, I had my doubts as to the wisdom of a match
whose foundation was of glass.

The White House was lighted up, and carriages were rolling in and
out of the great gate. I stared hard at the famous East Room, and
would have liked a peep through the crack of the door. My old
gentleman was indefatigable in his attentions, and I said,
"Splendid!" to everything he pointed out, though I suspect I
often admired the wrong place, and missed the right.
Pennsylvania Avenue, with its bustle, lights, music, and
military, made me feel as if I’d crossed the water and landed
somewhere in Carnival time. Coming to less noticeable parts of
the city, my companion fell silent, and I meditated upon the
perfection which Art had attained in America – having just passed a
bronze statue of some hero, who looked like a black Methodist
minister, in a cocked hat, above the waist, and a tipsy squire
below; while his horse stood like an opera dancer, on one leg, in
a high, but somewhat remarkable wind, which blew his mane one way
and his massive tail the other.

"Hurly-burly House, ma’am!" called a voice, startling me from my
reverie, as we stopped before a great pile of buildings, with a
flag flying before it, sentinels at the door, and a very trying
quantity of men lounging about. My heart beat rather faster than
usual, and it suddenly struck me that I was very far from home;
but I descended with dignity, wondering whether I should be
stopped for want of a countersign, and forced to pass the night
in the street. Marching boldly up the steps, I found that no form
was necessary, for the men fell back, the guard touched their
caps, a boy opened the door, and, as it closed behind me, I felt
that I was fairly started, and Nurse Periwinkle’s Mission was


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