Central Park


1. Peaceful Afternnon

It was the last Sunday in September, and the blue sky arched above the Park, clear, cloudless, unfathomable. The afternoon sun was hot, and high overhead. Now and then a wandering breeze came without warning and lingered only for a moment, fluttering the broad leaves of the aquatic plants in the fountain below the Terrace. At the Casino, on the hill above the Mall, men and women were eating and drinking, some of them inside the dingy and sprawling building, and some of them out-doors at little tables set in curving lines under the gayly colored awnings, which covered the broad walk bending away from the door of the restaurant. From the bandstand in the thick of the throng below came the brassy staccato of a cornet, rendering "The Last Rose of Summer." Even the Ramble was full of people; and the young couples, seeking sequestered nooks under the russet trees, were often forced to share their benches with strangers. Beneath the reddening maples lonely men lounged on the grass by themselves, or sat solitary and silent in the midst of chattering family groups.

The crowd was cosmopolitan and unhurried. For the most part it was good-natured and well-to-do. There was not a beggar to be seen; there was no appealing poverty. Fathers of families there were in abundance, well-fed and well-clad, with their wives and with their sons' wives and with their sons' children. Maids in black dresses and white aprons pushed baby-carriages. Young girls in groups of three and four giggled and gossiped. Young men in couples leaned over the bridge of the Lake, smoking and exchanging opinions. There was a general air of prosperity gladly displaying itself in the sunshine; the misery and the want and the despair of the great city were left behind and thrust out of mind.


Two or three yards after a portly German with a little boy holding each of his hands while a third son still younger rode ahead astride of his father's solid cane, there came two slim Japanese gentlemen, small and sallow, in their neatly cut coats and trousers. A knot of laughing mulatto-girls followed, arm in arm; they, too, seemed ill-dressed in the accepted costume of civilization, especially when contrasted with half a dozen Italians who passed slowly, looking about them with curious glances; the men in worn olive velveteens and with gold rings in their ears, the women with bright colors in their skirts and with embroidery on their neckerchiefs. Where the foot-path touched the carriage-drive there stood a plain but comfortably plump Irishwoman, perhaps thirty years of age; she had a baby in her arms, and a little girl of scant three held fast to her patched calico dress; with her left hand she was proffering a basket containing apples, bananas, and grapes; two other children, both under six, played about her skirts; and two more, a boy and a girl, kept within sight of her--the girl, about ten years old, having a basket of her own filled with thin round brown cakes; and the boy, certainly not yet thirteen, holding out a wooden box packed with rolls of lozenges, put up in red and yellow and green papers. Now and again the mother or one of the children made a sale to a pedestrian on his way to the music. The younger children watched, with noisy glee, the light leaps of a gray squirrel bounding along over the grass behind the path and balancing himself with his horizontal tail.

The broad carriage-drive was as crowded as any of the foot-paths. Bicyclists in white sweaters and black stockings toiled along in groups of three and four, bent forward over the bars of their machines. Politicians with cigars in the corners of their mouths held in impatient trotters. Park omnibuses heavily laden with women and children drew up for an instant before the Terrace, and then went on again to skirt the Lake. Old-fashioned and shabby landaus lumbered along with strangers from the hotels. Now and then there came in sight a hansom cab with a young couple framed in the front of it, or a jolting dog-cart, on the high seat of which a British-looking young man was driving tandem. Here and there were other private carriages--coupés and phaetons, for the most part, with once and again a four-in-hand coach rumbling heavily on the firmly packed road.