University of Virginia Library

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It was the last week of September, and the keeper of “Congress
hall” stood on his deserted colonnade. The dusty street of
Saratoga was asleep in the stillness of village afternoon. The
whittlings of the stage-runners at the corners, and around the
leaning posts, were fading into dingy undistinguishableness. Stiff
and dry hung the slop-cloths at the door of the livery stable, and
drearily clean was doorway and stall. “The season” was over.

“Well, Mr. B—!” said the Boniface of the great caravansary,
to a gentlemanly-looking invalid, crossing over from the
village tavern on his way to Congress spring, “this looks like the
end of it! A slimmish season, though, Mr. B—! 'Gad,
things isn't as they used to be in your time! Three months we
used to have of it, in them days, and the same people coming and
going all summer, and folks' own horses, and all the ladies drinking
champagne! And every `hop' was as good as a ball, and a
ball—when do you ever see such balls now-a-days? Why, here's
all my best wines in the cellar; and as to beauty—pooh!—they're
done coming here, anyhow, are the belles, such as belles was!

“You may say that, mine host, you may say that!” replied


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the damaged Corydon, leaning heavily on his cane,—“what—
they're all gone, now, eh—nobody at the `United States?'”

“Not a soul—and here's weather like August!—capital weather
for young ladies to walk out evenings, and, for a drive to Barheight's—nothing
like it! It's a sin, I say, to pass such weather
in the city! Why shouldn't they come to the springs in the
Indian summer, Mr. B—?”

Coming events seemed to have cast their shadows before. As
Boniface turned his eyes instinctively toward the sand hill, whose
cloud of dust was the precursor or new pilgrims to the waters,
and the sign for the black boy to ring the bell of arrival, behold,
on its summit, gleaming through the nebulous pyramid, like a
lobster through the steam of the fisherman's pot, one of the red
coaches of “the People's Line.”

And another!

And another!

And another!

Down the sandy descent came the first, while the driver's horn,
intermittent with the crack of his whip, set to bobbing every pine
cone of the adjacent wilderness.

—rut—rut—rrut!! G'lang!—Hip!”

Boniface laid his hand on the pull of the porter's bell, but the
thought flashed through his mind that he might have been dreaming—was
he awake?

And, marvel upon wonder!—a horn of arrival from the other
end of the village! And as he turned his eyes in that direction,
he saw the dingier turnouts from Lake Sacrament—extras,
wagons, every variety of rattletrap conveyance—pouring in like


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an Irish funeral on the return, and making (oh, climax more
satisfactory!) straight, all, for Congress Hall!

Events now grew precipitate—

Ladies were helped out with green veils—parasols and baskets
were handed after them—baggage was chalked and distributed—
(and parasols, baskets, and baggage, be it noted, were all of the
complexion that innkeepers love, the indefinable look which betrays
the owner's addictedness to extras)—and now there was ringing
of bells; and there were orders for the woodcocks to be dressed
with pork chemises, and for the champagne to be iced, the sherry
not—and through the arid corridors of Congress Hall floated a
delicious toilet air of cold cream and lavender—and ladies' maids
came down to press out white dresses, while the cook heated the
curling irons—and up and down the stairs flitted, with the blest
confusion of other days, boots and iced sangarees, hot water,
towels, and mint-juleps—all delightful, but all incomprehensible!
Was the summer encored, or had the Jews gone back to Jerusalem?
To the keeper of Congress Hall the restoration of the
millenium would have been a rush-light to this second advent of

Thus far we have looked through the eyes of the person
(pocket-ually speaking) most interested in the singular event we
wished to describe. Let us now (tea being over, and your
astonishment having had time to breathe) take the devil's place at
the elbow of the invalided dandy before-mentioned, and follow him
over to Congress Hall. It was a mild night, and, as I said
before (or meant to, if I did not), August having been prematurely
cut off by his raining successor, seemed up again, like
Hamlet's governor, and bent on walking out his time.

Rice (you remember Rice—famous for his lemonades with a


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corrective)—Rice, having nearly ignited his forefinger with
charging wines at dinner, was out to cool on the colonnade, and
B—, not strong enough to stand about, drew a chair near the
drawing-room window, and begged the rosy barkeeper to throw
what light he could upon the multitudinous apparition. Rice
could only feed the fire of his wonder with the fuel of additional
circumstances. Coaches had been arriving from every direction till
the house was full. The departed black band had been stopped
at Albany, and sent back. There seemed no married people in
the party—at least, judging by dress and flirtation. Here and
there a belle, a little on the wane, but all most juvenescent in
gayety, and (Rice thought) handsomer girls than had been at
Congress Hall since the days of the Albany regency (the regency
of beauty), ten years ago! Indeed, it struck Rice that he had
seen the faces of these lovely girls before, though they whom he
thought they resembled had long since gone off the stage—grandmothers,
some of them, now!

Rice had been told, also, that there was an extraordinary and
overwhelming arrival of children and nurses at the Pavilion
Hotel, but he thought the report smelt rather like a jealous
figment of the Pavilioners. Odd, if true—that's all!

Mr. B— had taken his seat on the colonnade, as Shakespere
expresses it, “about cock-shut time”—twilight—and in the
darkness made visible of the rooms within, he could only distinguish
the outline of some very exquisite, and exquisitely plump
figures gliding to and fro, winged, each one, with a pair of rather
stoutish, but most attentive admirers. As the curfew hour stole
away, however, the ladies stole away with it, to dress; and at ten
o'clock the sudden outbreak of the full band in a mazurka, drew
Mr. B—'s attention to the dining-room frontage of the


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colonnade, and, moving his chair to one of the windows, the
cockles of his heart warmed to see the orchestra in its glory of
old—thirteen black Orpheuses perched on a throne of diningtables,
and the black veins on their shining temples strained to
the crack of mortality with their zealous execution. The waiters,
meantime, were lighting the tin Briareus (that spermaceti monster
so destructive to broadcloth), and the side-sconces and standlamps,
and presently a blaze of light flooded the dusty evergreens
of the facade, and nothing was wanting but some fashionable
Curtius to plunge first into the void—some adventurous Benton,
“to set the ball in motion.”

Wrapped carefully from the night-air in his cloak and belcher,
B— sat looking earnestly into the room, and to his excited
senses there seemed, about all this supplement to the summer's
gayety, a weird mysteriousness, an atmosphere of magic, which
was observable, he thought, even in the burning of the candles!
And as to Johnson, the sable leader of the band—“God's-my-life,”
as Bottom says, how like a tormented fiend writhed the
cremona betwixt his chin and white waistcoat! Such music,
from instruments so vexed, had never split the ears of the
Saratoga groundlings since the rule of St. Dominick (in whose
hands even wine sparkled to song)—no, not since the golden age
of the Springs, when that lord of harmony and the nabobs of
lower Broadway made, of Congress Hall, a paradise for the
unmarried! Was Johnson bewitched? Was Congress Hall
repossessed by the spirits of the past? If ever Mr. B—,
sitting in other years on that resounding colonnade, had felt the
magnetic atmosphere of people he knew to be up stairs, he felt it
now! If ever he had been contented, knowing that certain
bright creatures would presently glide into the visual radius of


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black Johnson, he felt contented, inexplicably, from the same
cause now—expecting, as if such music could only be their herald,
the entrance of the same bright creatures, no older, and as bright
after years of matrimony. And now and then B— pressed his
hand to his head—for he was not quite sure that he might not
be a little wandering in his mind.

But suddenly the band struck up a march! The first bar was
played through, and B— looked at the door, sighing that this
sweet hallucination—this waking dream of other days—was now
to be scattered by reality. He could have filliped that mercenary
Ethiopian on the nose for playing such music to such
falling off from the past as he now looked to see enter.

A lady crossed the threshold on a gentleman's arm.

“Ha! ha!” said B—, trying with a wild effort to laugh, and
pinching his arm into a blood blister, “come—this is too good!
Helen K—! oh, no! Not quite crazy yet, I hope—not so far
gone yet! Yet it is! I swear it is! And not changed, either!
Beautiful as ever, by all that is wonderful! Psha! I'll not be
mad! Rice!—Are you there? Why who are these coming
after her? Julia L—! Anna K—, and my friend Fanny!
The D—s! The M—s! Nay, I'm dreaming, silly fool
that I am! I'll call for a light! Waiter!! Where the devil's
the bell?”

And as poor B— insisting on finding himself in bed, reached
out his hand to find the bell-pull, one of the waiters of Congress
Hall came to his summons. The gentleman wanted nothing, and
the waiter thought he had cried out in his nap; and rather embarrassed
to explain his wants, but still unconvinced of his freedom
from dream-land, B— drew his hat over his eyes, and his cloak


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around him, and screwed up his courage to look again into the
enchanted ball-room.

The quadrilles were formed, and the lady at the head of the
first set was spreading her skirts for the first avant-deux. She
was a tall woman, superbly handsome, and moved with the grace
of a frigate at sea with a nine-knot breeze. Eyes capable of taking
in lodgers (hearts, that is to say) of any and every calibre and
quality, a bust for a Cornelia, a shape all love and lightness, and
a smile like a temptation of Eblis—there she was—and there
were fifty like her—not like her, exactly, either, but of her constellation—belles,
every one of them, who will be remembered by
old men, and used for the disparagement of degenerated younglings—splendid
women of Mr. B—'s time, and of the palmy
time of Congress Hall—

“The past—the past—the past!”

Out on your staring and unsheltered lantern of brick—Your
“United States Hotel,” stiff, modern, and promiscuous! Who
ever passed a comfortable hour in its glaring cross-lights, or
breathed a gentle sentiment in its unsubdued air and townish
open-to-dustiness! What is it to the leafy dimness, the cool
shadows, the perpetual and pensive demi-jour—what to the ten
thousand associations—of Congress Hall! Who has not lost a
heart (or two) on the boards of that primitive wilderness of a
colonnade! Whose first adorations, whose sighs, hopes, strategies,
and flirtations, are not ground into that warped and slipper-polished
floor, like heartache and avarice into the bricks of Wall
street! Lord bless you, madam! don't desert old Congress Hall!
We have done going to the Springs—(we)—and wouldn't go
there again for anything, but a good price for a pang—(that is,


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except to see such a sight as we are describing)—but we can not
bear, in our midsummer flit through the Astor, to see charming
girls bound for Saratoga, and hear no talk of Congress Hall!
What! no lounge on those proposal sofas—no pluck at the bright
green leaves of those luxuriant creepers while listening to “the
voice of the charmer”—no dawdle on the steps to the spring
(mamma gone on before)—no hunting for that glow-worm in the
shrubbery by the music-room—no swing—no billiards—no morning
gossips with the few privileged beaux admitted to the upstairs
entry, ladies' wing?
“I'd sooner be set quick i' the earth,
And bowled to death with turnips,”
than assist or mingle in such ungrateful forgetfulness of pleasureland!
But what do we with a digression in a ghost-story?

The ball went on. Champagne of the “exploded” color (pink)
was freely circulated between the dances—(rosy wine suited to
the bright days when all things were tinted rose)—and wit, exploded,
too, in these leaden times, went round with the wine; and
as a glass of the bright vintage was handed up to old Johnson,
B— stretched his neck over the window-sill in an agony of expectation,
confident that the black ghost, if ghost he were, would
fail to recognize the leaders of fashion, as he was wont of old, and
to bow respectfully to them before drinking in their presence.
Oh, murder! not he! Down went his black poll to the music-stand,
and up, and down again, and at every dip, the white roller
of that unctuous eye was brought to bear upon some well-remembered
star of the ascendant! He saw them as B— did! He
was not playing to an unrecognized company of late-comers to


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Saratoga—anybodies from any place! He, the unimaginative
African, believed evidently that they were there in flesh—Helen,
the glorious, and all her fair troop of contemporaries!—and that
with them had come back their old lovers, the gay and gallant
Lotharios of the time of Johnson's first blushing honors of
renown! The big drops of agonized horror and incredulity rolled
off the forehead of Mr. B—!

But suddenly the waiters radiated to the side-doors, and with
the celestial felicity of star-rising and morning breaking, a walta
was found playing in the ears of the revellers! Perfect, yet when
it did begin! Waltzed every brain and vein, waltzed every swimming
eye within the reach of its magic vibrations! Gently away
floated couple after couple, and as they circled round to his point of
observation, B— could have called every waltzer by name—
but his heart was in his throat, but his eyeballs were hot with
the stony immovableness of his long gazing.

Another change in the music! Spirits of bedevilment! could
not that waltz have been spared! Boniface stood waltzing his
head from shoulder to shoulder—Rice twirled the head chamber-maid
in the entry—the black and white boys spun round on the
colonnade—the wall-flowers in the ball-room crowded their chairs
to the wall—the candles flared embracingly—ghosts or no ghosts,
dream or hallucination, B— could endure no more! He flung
off his cloak and hat, and jumped in at the window. The divine
Emily C— had that moment risen from tying her shoe. With
a nod to her partner, and a smile to herself, B— encircled her
round waist, and away he flew like Ariel, light on the toe, but his
face pallid and wild, and his emaciated legs playing like sticks in
his unfilled trousers. Twice he made the circuit of the room,
exciting apparently less surprise than pleasure by his sudden appearance;


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then, with a wavering halt, and his hand laid tremulously
to his forehead, he flew at the hall-door at a tangent, and
rushing through servants and spectators, dashed across the portico,
and disappeared in the darkness! A fortnight's brain-fever
deprived him of the opportunity of repeating this remarkable
flourish, and his subsequent sanity was established through some
critical hazard.

There was some inquiry at supper about “old B—,” but
the lady who waltzed with him knew as little of his coming and
going as the managers; and, by one belle, who had been at some
trouble in other days to quench his ardor, it was solemnly believed
to be his persevering apparition.

The next day there was a drive and dinner at Barheight's, and
back in time for ball and supper; and the day after there was a
most hilarious and memorable fishing-party to Saratoga lake, and
all back again in high force for the ball and supper; and so like
a long gala-day, like a short summer carnival, all frolic, sped the
week away. Boniface, by the third day, had rallied his recollections,
and with many a scrape and compliment, he renewed his
acquaintance with the belles and beaux of a brighter period of
beauty and gallantry. And if there was any mystery remaining
in the old functionary's mind as to the identity and miracle of
their presence and reunion, it was on the one point of the ladies'
unfaded loveliness—for, saving a half inch aggregation in the
waist, which was rather an improvement than otherwise, and a
little more fulness in the bust, which was a most embellishing difference,
the ten years that had gone over them had made no mark
on the lady portion of his guests; and as to the gentlemen—but
that is neither here nor there. They were “men of mark,”


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young or old, and their wear and tear is, as Flute says, “a thing
of naught.”

It was revealed by the keeper of the Pavilion, after the departure
of the late-come revellers of Congress Hall, that there had
been constant and secret visitations by the belles of the latter sojourn,
to the numerous infantine lodgers of the former. Such a
troop of babies and boys, and all so lovely, had seldom gladdened
even the eyes of angels, out of the cherubic choir (let alone the
Saratoga Pavilion), and though, in their white dresses and rosebuds,
the belles afore spoken of looked like beautiful elder sisters
to those motherless younglings, yet when they came in, mothers
confessed, on the morning of departure, openly to superintend
the preparations for travel, they had so put off the untroubled
maiden look from their countenances, and so put on the indescribable
growing-old-iness of married life in their dress, that, to
the eye of an observer, they might well have passed for the mothers
of the girls they had themselves seemed to be, the day before,

Who devised, planned, and brought about, this practical comment
on the needlessness of the American haste to be old, we are
not at liberty to mention. The reader will have surmised, however,
that it was some one who had observed the more enduring
quality of beauty in other lands, and on returning to his own,
looked in vain for those who, by every law of nature, should be
still embellishing the society of which he had left them the budding
flower and ornament. To get them together again, only
with their contemporaries, in one of their familiar haunts of pleasure—to
suggest the exclusion of everything but youthfulness in
dress, amusement, and occupation—to bring to meet them their
old admirers, married like themselves, but entering the field once


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more for their smiles against their rejuvenescent husbands—to
array them as belles again, and see whether it was any falling off
in beauty or the power of pleasing which had driven them from
their prominent places in social life—this was the obvious best
way of doing his immediate circle of friends the service his feelings
exacted of him; the only way, indeed, of convincing these
bright creatures that they had far anticipated the fading hour of
bloom and youthfulness. Pensez-y!