Central Park


2. An Accident

A stylish victoria sped along, spick and span, with its glistening harness and its jingling steel chains, with its stalwart pair of iron-gray steppers and with two men on the box, correct and impassive. Suddenly, as it passed close to the walk at the end of the Terrace, the coachman drew up sharply, pulling his horses back on their haunches and swearing inaudibly at the plump Irishwoman who had dropped her basket of fruit just in time to rescue one of her children from being run over.

"It's more careful ye ought to be!" cried the mother, as she stood again on the walk with her daughter clasped to her waist.

"We are very sorry, indeed," said the lady in the victoria, leaning forward. "It was an accident."

"An accident, was it?" returned the Irishwoman. "An' it's an accident, then, ye wouldn't like if it was yer own children ye were runnin' over like that."

The childless couple in the carriage looked at each other for a moment only; and then the husband said, swiftly, "Drive on, John!"

He was a man of fifty, spare in frame and round-shouldered; he had a keen glance, and a weary smile came and went on his lips, not hidden by his sparse gray moustache. His wife was a woman of perhaps thirty, tall, dark, with passionate eyes and a full figure.

She was still leaning forward, clinching the side of the carriage as it turned northward and rolled along by the side of the Lake. Her voice showed that her excitement had not subsided, as she faced her husband again and said: "John is getting very careless. That is the third time this week he has nearly run over a child!"

"He has not quite run over one yet. It will be time enough to discharge him when he does," her husband answered, calmly. "That little girl there is none the worse for her fright. She seemed a pretty little thing, and she has been saved to grow up in a tenement-house and to go to the devil ten years from now. So her mother has cause to be thankful."

His wife looked at him indignantly. "I suppose," she said, "you mean that it is a pity that John didn't run over the child and kill her."

"I didn't mean that exactly," he responded. "But perhaps it is true enough. Death is not the worst thing in this world, you know."

"You are always talking of dying," returned his young wife, impatiently. "I wonder you don't commit suicide."

"I have thought of it," he answered, looking at her with a tolerant smile. "But life amuses me still--I have so much curiosity, you know. But I might do it, if I were sure I could have the privilege of coming back to see what you will be up to when I'm gone."

She looked straight before her and made no answer, keeping her lips firmly compressed.

There was a touch of tenderness in his tone as he went on, a curious cynical tenderness, quite characteristic of him. "Don't let some rascal marry you for my money. That would annoy me, I confess. And yet, I don't know why I should suggest the possibility of such a thing, for you will be a most fascinating widow."

She gazed ahead steadily and said nothing, but she had joined her hands together, and her fingers kept moving.

"Still," he continued, "I'm afraid I'm good for ten years more. We're a hardy stock, you know. My father lived to be eighty, and he was fifty when I was born. Besides, you take such good care of me always."

He held out his hand to her, and she took it and clasped it tight in both of hers, while the tears brimmed her eyes.

"But perhaps you are letting me stay out too long this afternoon," he said. "It is balmy, I know, but I'm getting tired already."

"John," she cried, hastily, "you may turn now, and go home."

"I don't want you to lose this lovely September afternoon," her husband declared. "Take me home, and come back to the Park here for an hour, while I have a nap, if I can."

Just then there was a break in the stream of vehicles, and the coachman took advantage of it and turned the horses' heads southward. In five minutes the victoria swerved to the westward, leaving the Lake behind, and making for the Riverside Drive.

The Lake was gay with boats. Black gondolas with white canopies and brilliant American flags were propelled adroitly by their standing boat-men. Light canoes were paddled briskly in and out of the bays and channels, where the ducks and swans swam lazily about. Young fellows in their shirt-sleeves tugged inexpertly at the oars of row-boats laden down with young women. By regular and easy strokes the Park watermen rowed the capacious barges, with their striped awnings, in the prescribed course around the Lake. The oars flashed in the flickering sunlight, and the sunshine gilded the prows of the distant canoes as they shot across the vista. The yellow leaves of the maples high on the bank over the opposite shore fluttered loosely away on the doubtful breeze, and at last fell languidly into the water. To the west a towering apartment-house lifted itself aloft over the edge of the Park, and seemed to shorten the space between. To the east the gilded dome of a new synagogue rose over the tree-tops. Above all was the blue concave of the calm and illimitable sky.