Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
to get started!
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 2

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 2
    Previous Chapter

    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
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 2
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Louisa May Alcott essay and need some advice, post your Louisa May Alcott essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?