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A Hazard of New Fortunes — Complete by Howells

Supposed to have been induced by unavailing flat hunting


"Well,

then," said Mrs. March, "let's look at houses."

He had been denouncing the flat in the abstract, and he had not expected this concrete result. But he said, "We will look at houses, then."

X.

Nothing mystifies a man more than a woman's aberrations from some point at which he, supposes her fixed as a star. In these unfurnished houses, without steam or elevator, March followed his wife about with patient wonder. She rather liked the worst of them best: but she made him go down into the cellars and look at the furnaces; she exacted from him a rigid inquest of the plumbing. She followed him into one of the cellars by the fitful glare of successively lighted matches, and they enjoyed a moment in which the anomaly of their presence there on that errand, so remote from all the facts of their long-established life in Boston, realized itself for them.

"Think how easily we might have been murdered and nobody been any the wiser!" she said when they were comfortably outdoors again.

"Yes, or made way with ourselves in an access of emotional insanity, supposed to have been induced by unavailing flat-hunting," he suggested. She fell in with the notion. "I'm beginning to feel crazy. But I don't want you to lose your head, Basil. And I don't want you to sentimentalize any of the things

you see in New York. I think you were disposed to do it in that street we drove through. I don't believe there's any real suffering--not real suffering--among those people; that is, it would be suffering from our point of view, but they've been used to it all their lives, and they don't feel their' discomfort so much."

"Of course, I understand that, and I don't propose to sentimentalize them. I think when people get used to a bad state of things they had better stick to it; in fact, they don't usually like a better state so well, and I shall keep that firmly in mind."

She laughed with him, and they walked along the L bestridden avenue, exhilarated by their escape from murder and suicide in that cellar, toward the nearest cross town track, which they meant to take home to their hotel. "Now to-night we will go to the theatre," she said, "and get this whole house business out of our minds, and be perfectly fresh for a new start in the morning." Suddenly she clutched his arm. "Why, did you see that man?" and she signed with her head toward a decently dressed person who walked beside them, next the gutter, stooping over as if to examine it, and half halting at times.

"No. What?"

"Why, I saw him pick up a dirty bit of cracker from the pavement and cram it into his mouth and eat it down as if he were famished. And look! he's actually hunting for more in those garbage heaps!"

This was what the decent-looking man with the hard hands and broken nails of a workman was doing-like a hungry dog. They kept up with him, in the fascination of the sight, to the next corner, where he turned down the side street still searching the gutter.

They walked on a few paces. Then March said, "I must go after him," and left his wife standing.

"Are you in want--hungry?" he asked the man.

The man said he could not speak English, Monsieur.


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