“Come away, Julia,” said Mrs. Gregory. “The young gentleman is getting flippant again, and we leave him.”
The ladies, after gracious expressions concerning the pleasure of their stroll, descended the steps at the north end of High Walk, where the parapet stops, and turned inland from the water through a little street. I watched them until they went out of my sight round a corner; but the two silent, leisurely figures, moving in their black and their veils along an empty highway, come back to me often in the pictures of my thoughts; come back most often, indeed, as the human part of what my memory sees when it turns to look at Kings Port. For, first, it sees the blue frame of quiet sunny water, and the white town within its frame beneath the clear, untainted air; and then it sees the high-slanted roofs, red with their old corrugated tiles, and the tops of leafy enclosures dipping below sight among quaint and huddled quadrangles; and, next, the quiet houses standing in their separate grounds, their narrow ends to the street and their long, two-storied galleries open to the south, but their hushed windows closed as if against the prying, restless Present that must not look in and disturb the motionless memories which sit brooding behind these shutters; and between all these silent mansions lie the narrow streets, the quiet, empty streets, along which, as my memory watches them, pass the two ladies silently, in their black and their veils, moving between high, mellow-colored garden walls over whose tops look the oleanders, the climbing roses, and all the taller flowers of the gardens.
And if Mrs. Gregory and Mrs. Weguelin seemed to me at moments as narrow as those streets, they also seemed to me as lovely as those serene gardens; and if I had smiled at their prejudices, I had loved their innocence, their deep innocence, of the poisoned age which has succeeded their own; and if I had wondered this day at their powers for cruelty, I wondered the next day at the glimpse I had of their kindness. For during a pelting cold rainstorm, as I sat and shivered in a Royal Street car, waiting for it to start upon its north-bound course, the house-door opposite which we stood at the end of the track opened, and Mrs. Weguelin’s head appeared, nodding to the conductor as she sent her black servant out with hot coffee for him! He took off his hat, and smiled, and thanked her; and when we had started and I, the sole passenger in the chilly car, asked him about this, he said with native pride: “The ladies always watches out for us conductors in stormy weather, sir. That’s Mistress Weguelin St. Michael, one of our finest.” And then he gave me careful directions how to find a shop that I was seeking.
Think of this happening in New York! Think of the aristocracy of that metropolis warming up with coffee the—but why think of it, or of a New York conductor answering your questions with careful directions! It is not New York’s fault, it is merely New York’s misfortune: New York is in a hurry; and a world of haste cannot be a world either of courtesy or of kindness. But we have progress, progress, instead; and that is a tremendous consolation.