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Their Pilgrimage   By: (1829-1900)

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By Charles Dudley Warner


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... Continue reading book >>

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