The Waterworks Part 8
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"No, by God, I' m trying to tell you. We knew no such thing. Can you call the things he did, sane. Sanity is a term about as useful as, virtue. Will you give me a clinical definition of virtue? This wine in my glass is a damn good wine, a virtuous wine, virtuously, winy. It exemplifies the best behavior of wine. It is a good and sane and virtuous wine!"
"You went up there - to the waterworks."
"What was your impression?"
"My impression? He had machines there we had never seen before, that he' d invented. Apparatus for the transfusion of blood. We are just coming round to knowing how to do that. Apparatus to measure brain activity. Diagnostic uses of fluid drawn from the spine, He operated on those men. He cut away their malignant organs and connected them to machines which performed the work of those organs. He' d devised a method to distinguish different types of human blood, he transplanted bone marrow to arrest malignancies of the blood. Not everything, There was a lot of foolishness, drifts into metaphysical nonsense, cosmetic therapies, He had so many things going on for those old men, he couldn' t always have known which was working and which was not. No, it was not all triumph, The last things in the notebooks, he was doing animal experiments, I think, actually trying to transfer a heart from one animal to another."
"Did you burn his notebooks? You did, didn' t you?"
"You asked for my impressions. I sat down on a bench in that indoor park of his and, I couldn' t be sure that I wouldn' t have willingly committed myself to his, genius. To have one of those women minister to me, to my every need, in that pastoral, scientific heaven, to live there in a kind of dumb, mindless happiness in the belief that I was being rejuvenated for, eternal life. I sat there in that conservatory, in that quiet, civilized, well ordered, industrial paradise - I' ll tell you what it reminded me of, the very quiet, pleasant railroad-station cafe of a small European city - and thought, yes, if I had the courage, I would do just what they did, those old scoundrels. I would do just what they did."
I said: "Dr Sartorius extracted the blood, the bone marrow, the glandular matter, of children, to continue the lives of these elderly, fatally ill men."
"... who gave him their fortunes in hopes of, denying their own mortality."
"Children died in their place."
"Never by his hand."
"Not from any of his procedures. Either he took them after an accidental death or, if he worked with living, donors, as he did subsequently those who died, died of fear. Of an undetectable, infirmity in their spirits of the, survival instinct. Physically, the children' s health was never impaired. That' s what he said. And it' s a matter of record, how well they cared for them in the Home for Little Wanderers."
Dr Hamilton' s eyes were bloodshot and baleful.'' You tell me, McIlvaine, since you' re feeling so righteous. What we did worked out, didn' t it? Civilization was avenged, was it not?" He sat hunched over in all his bulk, resting his elbows on the table, his arms bulging in their sleeves, his hands crossed at the wrist. "I believe you' re something of a historian. You remember the doctors riots, when the mob chased those Columbia medical students and wanted to lynch them for dissecting cadavers in their anatomy classes?"
"That was a hundred years ago."
"You' re not telling me we' re that much further along, are you?"
I' M FULLY aware that you may think what I' ve been telling you is no more than an elaborate rendition of my own, insanity. That' s reasonable enough. I' m an old man now and I have to acknowledge that reality slips, like the cogs in a wheel, Names, faces, even of those dose to you, become strange, beautifully strange, and the commonest sight, the street you live on, appears to you one sunny morning as the monumental intention of men who are no longer available to explain it, Even words have a different sound, and things you knew you relearn with wonder before you realize you knew them well enough once to take no notice of them. When we' re young we can' t anticipate that what is so matter-of-factly there for us in life is just what we' ll have to struggle to hold on to as we grow older, And time estranges us from the belief we are all given - the pious and the blasphemous alike-that we are born to live in pleasure or pain, happiness or despair, but always in great moral consequence.
For all of that, I' ve had this same apartment in Gramercy Park for many years now and I' m known to people in the neighborhood as a sane and responsible citizen, if sometimes difficult or cranky. I' m not unduly modest, certainly insofar as I' ve lived much of my life in the satisfaction of the results I' ve had from the insecure trade of newspapering. If I were crazy, wouldn' t I want something? It seems to me madness is a kind of importuning, a clutching at the sleeve. I seriously question the value of this account to my madness, if it is that, since I require nothing of anyone who will hear it. I need nothing and ask for nothing. My only worry, my only worry, is that I' ve given myself so completely to the narrative that very little of my life is left for whatever else I might intend for it, and that it' s really an uncanny feeling - when the story ends, I will end. Now by way of coming round to the end, I' ll say here that when Sartorius was remanded, for life, to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane, I felt a peculiar sort of injustice had been done, that the man deserved a trial. Of course some of my reasoning was self-serving: If there had been a public record, I would have had corroboration for my exclusive, although I was by this time thinking even more ambitiously of not merely breaking the news but telling the whole story within the pages of a book. Let the daily papers cover the trial and I would be able to amplify it with everything l knew, in all its detail, from the beginning. The papers would provide my preamble. But beyond that, to undertake the ritual by which we could, acknowledge ourselves, for what we were. I' ll grant you, perhaps it is sentimentalism to think a society is capable of being spiritually chastened, in some self educative way, of pulling itself up just one, rung, toward moral enlightenment. That we would, as a kind of municipal congregation, drop to our knees and gather our children to us. What really happens is that we shunt off our evil, embody it in, our defendants and turn away. Still, I had these uncharacteristic sentiments, to the point of wondering if l had been cast, myself, into some mental state of-God help me-sympathy for Sartorius, an echo of Martin Pemberton' s.
I also found myself in an unlikely alliance with Dr Grimshaw, who went about trying to muster up public support for a court proceeding. He was not interested in ritual edification. He wanted the man to hang. The difficulty was, Sartorius was by now a condemned inmate in a mental asylum. That was his identity, that was who he was, and it seemed to have the effect of erasing everything else about him. Such people are without a past, so, definitive is their present circumstance. The whole thing had been wrapped up very quietly, cooperatively. The doctors and the Municipals and the district attorney' s office had all agreed, though for their own reasons, that the resolution should be this, quite unconstitutional resolution. Even to those others who heard the story, or part of the story, it seemed incidental to the political fireworks: Tweed' s right arm, the comptroller, Connolly, had offered to cooperate with the public inquiry. Other Ring members had fled the country. And a grand jury had been empaneled to hear evidence and draw up indictments.
I will say here that the esteemed Captain Donne was in this matter a disappointment to me. He was by now situated back behind his desk at the Mulberry Street headquarters, and receiving petitioners with his hands folded before him on the desk, and his long face lowered between the flying points of his shoulders. I joined our friend Grimshaw in appealing to him to side with us filing for a writ of habeas corpus, that would be the beginning of a legitimate legal process. He would not do it.
"I think justice has been done," he said.
"How, sir," said Grimshaw, "if the man is left alive to do more murdering evil?"
"Have you ever been to Blackwell' s Island, Reverend?"
"I have not."
"What we have done may be unconstitutional, it is not due process, but it is all the justice you could wish for." I said: "Except that the rights of the society are scanted." Donne said: "If you have a trial, he will have to be heard. Any lawyer would see that the only hope of a defense would be in taking his testimony. He could argue in his perversity that our interruption of his work cost the lives of his patients. And our proofs, you know, are largely circumstantial. At the least his ideas will be heard, his, genius will be on view. I can' t think that would be of any benefit to a Christian society," he said, turning his gaze on Grimshaw.
You will not hear from me that Edmund Donne had his limits. Perhaps he felt, after all, that the rights of society had been honored, that from the blundering ad hoc constituency of our frail selves, somehow, by hook or by crook, we had managed to rid our city of this, horror. We had worked it out. There was a degree of satisfaction to be taken. A young man' s life had been saved. A family had been restored to itself. And in the course of things Donne had found a face to look upon that he had loved once before, or was newly in discovery of, but, in either event, was in hopes of seeing every day and night for the rest of his life. So I will not say Donne did not appreciate the depth of the conspiracy-that it was not only a concordance of wealth, and government, and science but a profound, derangement of the' natural order of fathers and sons. There was a more fathomless threat there than to Christianity, that left my eyes blasted to peer into it. I went across to Blackwell' s Island one day from the pier at Fifty-ninth Street. The ferry was no more than an open boat fitted up with side wheels and powered by a small coal-fired steam engine mounted on the deck. It barely kept its course against the powerful scalloping currents of the East River. The weather was raw-this was November, when the chill winds huddle you in your coat and give clear, icy indication of the age of your bones. I should also say, in abhorrence of suspense, that I think now, if I wasn' t the only person to visit Sartorius, I was certainly the last before his murder at the hands of a colleague in criminal insanity a few days later.
He wore the gray beltless robe they dressed them in. His eyes were sharp and clear black behind the incongruous pince-nez affixed to the bridge of his nose. . . but his head was shaved, he was beardless, and in this freezing catacombs his legs were bare, so that I was put in mind of some, garden creature, something hairless, and all eyes. I saw him through a meshwork screen bolted, floor to ceiling, to iron bars. He sat quite still on a bench in a constantly moving, muttering, moaning, outraged population of maniacs, some in restraining jackets, others in shackles. They kept these people not in rooms but in what seemed to be a succession of hall wards with high clerestory windows and vaulted ceilings finished in ochered brick. The great volumes of space above the inmates mixed their screeches and shouts and cries of despair into a cathedral of prayerful sound. But it was an institution, you see, and so he seemed quite comfortable in it, this doctor who had run field hospitals and operating rooms and institutes of his own design. He sat and watched, Even had I not known who he was, my eyes would have fixed on him because he was the only one not moving, not shuffling about, or pacing an imaginary cell, not lifting his eyes to heave~, not twitching, shrugging, or giggling or dribbling over himself, not lying on the floor and waving his arms like a swimmer, not hideously laughing, not endlessly crying.
A large fire hose was mounted on the wall in the narrow corridor in which I stood. The asylum smell was pungent-from the ammonia wash that was periodically sent over the floors and walls. The guard, who had led me here, rapped his club on the bars to get Sartorius' s attention. What was unsettling about our subsequent exchange was the doctor' s unfaltering poise. He asked me why I had come. I found myself ridiculously flattered that he had recognized me. I said: "I would like if possible to give you your day in court."
That would only be hypocrisy. I respect the self-interest behind this expedient," he said, indicating the hall. "It is more in character with the society. Besides, I don' t intend to remain separate from these people. I intend, as soon as I understand them, to share their ritual, so that a month from now, if you return, you will find me indistinguishable from everyone else here." "To what purpose?"
"I have no other means of experiment than my person."
"What sort of experiment?"
He didn' t answer. Behind the close mesh he was crosshatched, like a steel-point etching. He turned his back and folded his arms, so that we were looking at all the madmen together, he from the inside, I from the corridor. "You see the profusion?" he said. "Nature reaching out everywhere, endlessly rooting, making more of itself than it needs, profligate, supremely wasteful, and, of course, inured to the agonies of its, specimens. Always willing to transform, to experiment, to propose itself into a new shape, a new way of being, a new mind."
"I intend to write about the, experiment just concluded," I said.
"As you wish," he said. "But it will not be possible for a long time."
"Until you have the voice for it. And that will only be when your city is ready to hear you."
I said: "I' m glad I had some small part in halting your work.
Do you have anything to say about that?"
He shrugged. "It' s past."
"Yet I don' t think you mow my name."
"It' s of no use to me."
"Did you know that we found the body of Augustus Pemberton?"
"He could not have survived for long."
"How did people come to know of your work? It was kept secret. How did a sick and dying Augustus Pemberton hear of it?" "I am not the one to ask. They are all in communication, these men of the city. It was through the city. Mr Simmons is well placed. He had heard, I suppose."
"Simmons is dead as well-did you know that?"
"I think I did. He was a capable fellow. He approached me on behalf of Pemberton. I was impressed with him. At that point I was in need of administrative assistance. The city trustees suggested him as someone who could provide it."
"Do you regret his death? Do you regret the deaths of your colleagues - Wrangel, certainly, who served under you in the war?" "I won' t speak of this."
"Am I right in supposing you feel morality is, atavistic?" He was silent for a good minute. I heard in the meantime the Blackwell' s Island birdhouse symphony of shrieks, cries, caterwaulings, trills, shouts, and pealing laughter. Then he spoke along the following lines: "I believe all life is contingent, from the first autonomous springings of the organism itself, to the accidents of its changing form. This is what we know of our biological history, that it is accidental, beginning from an arbitrary circumstance. So, we must rid ourselves of our poetic, conceits. We have now the periodic table of elements to think of, but as the crudest beginnings of our understanding of what is invisible in the composed life forms. We have the work of the descriptive naturalists, looking always for organizing principles-that this creature is like that creature, that they exist in groups or families-which begins to simplify the seemingly unending diversity of vitalities upon the earth. But this is merely to picture our own limits as perceptive beings. The unifying morphology of living thing~ may be nothing more distinguished than what we are lately identifying as the cell, something that can be seen only with a microscope. And when we have the structure and function of this, it will still be a journey to the truth. The truth is so deep inside, so interior, it operates-if that can be said to be the verb-in total blindness, in the total disregard of a recognizable world that would give us comfort, or in which we might find beauty or the hand of God-a point where life arcs into its first sentient glimmerings, from clashes of inanimate things so small as not to be even things, but where entity is very hot or very cold and gaseous and flaming and senseless and unalive, and quite, mindless, as it is in black space. Philosophy poses the right questions. But it lacks the requisite diction for the answers. Only Science can find the diction for answers."
"It is only a matter of the right diction?"
"Finally, yes, we will find the language, the formulae, or perhaps the numeration, to match God."
"And God himself cannot be relied upon for the answers?"
"Not as God is now composed."
Not as God is now composed. I should say in those days the interview was not a defined journalistic form It would not come into being, as such, for a few more years not until the telephone made people more accessible to reporters and we could take statements routinely without having to run all over the city for them. So I doubt if, as I questioned Sartorius and he answered, I thought I was practicing a particular form of journalism, but I did know enough to write down as much as I could remember of this, interview as soon as I was out of there. Everything I could hear in that din, at any rate.
By contrast now I' ll tell you something I remember verbatim because I was able to read it and commit it to memory - it was too tasty to do otherwise, I' ve recited it at parties over the years . .. the deposition of, a Cuban provincial, a fisherman named Merced, taken by Ensign Forebaugh, of the U.S. Navy, who commanded the river gunboat Daniel Webster. They were chasing Bill Tweed through the Cuban jungle, you see, Tweed had escaped from jail and had fled to Cuba.
This is in translation of course: "I see him wading ashore, a white man of girth, with an unkempt beard, and clothes all tom. On a rope he pulls his pirogue up on the bank. He slaps at the mosquitoes and hops about. He has no paddle or provisions, no shoes, but from his pocket he removes a wet and wrinkled green American dollar and asks for a drink. I give him water. In his eyes writhe the snakes of desperation. He takes the name of the Lord in vain. What kind of country is this, I said a drink, you ignorant black person of no ancestry. I do not countenance his bad behavior and go to my house and make my children stay inside. He sits out on the sand all day and we hear him wail from time to time and it is clear to my wife he is a poor afflicted soul. She is a gentler spirit than I, and after crossing herself, she brings him some fish and rice and beans and her good flatbread. In his ragged pants he finds another wet dollar which he presents to her. Every time we tend to him he produces another wet dollar. The man is not a Christian. And what besides will I do with such worthless currency? He says, You know who I am? He shows interest in our birds. He sees the egret on the bank, he sees the parrots in the trees, and the white sandbirds and diving little big-headed birds who fish in the river, and the red-blue birds who hang by their beaks on the blossoms to drink, and these are of great interest to him, because he strides back and forth, calling to them their cries, though badly, tweet, tweet, he says, over and over, I am tweet, which has no meaning, but then he is clearly crazy. He is impoverished of language but with grand ideas. Of the egret he says in his city they are worn as hats by women of sport. I do not wish my wife to hear this and send her inside. Oh yes, he says, my city is the city of God. And these women are beautiful who wear the hats of birds. And he tells mad stories. That in this city of his god, they make burning gas explosions to light up the darkness of night so the ladies with the hats of birds may walk there and call out to men their birdcalls. And they have burning wheels that do the work of men, and pull vast weights of cargo on silver paths without the need of oxen or mules, and others to cut the crops, and weave the cloth, and sew like tailors, all of these burning wheels. And the houses are not like mine, of poles and thatch, but of a substance harder than stone that is made out of fire. And with this substance they build houses high as mountains and bridges to cross rivers. He is a wonderful madman, and he says he is the god of this city where there is no darkness and the women wear birds. He speaks in such a manner. My children play around him and I have no fear because he sees them and laughs and does tricks for them and then he cries, he so loves children. He gives them a wrinkled dollar too. So he is a poor madman. He says he is going to Santiago and then across the sea. Before he leaves he produces another dollar, which he throws on the water, and he waves from his pirogue as he drifts away downstream, which of course is not the way to Santiago!
And the last thing I remember, he says, in his city of God they have learned the secret of eternal life, and when he returns to it he will be anointed to live forever.
And he waves and once more says he is the bird calling tweet, tweet, except now this bird is roaring like a beast and we hear him roaring even after he disappears from sight down there where the river turns. He was a wonderful madman.
FINALLY, after all, I have been talking about our city. Sartorius' s head was one day smashed against the asylum stone floor with such force-the strength of his attacker the strength that is given only to maniac rage - that the skull caved in like an eggshell and the brain, there is no other word for it, ran. The precise nature of his offense was never determined, perhaps the attempt to treat, but he, like all his artwork of immortal dead men, was forever stilled. He was buried in the potter' s field on Hart Island, which is in the Sound, off the shore of the Bronx.
Augustus Pemberton was buried on the sward at Ravenwood where he had died. This required the permission of the absentee owners, a commercial firm that bought and sold real estate, and was the idea of his widow, Sarah, who was able to feel as no one else could the pitiable nature of her husband' s brutally selfish life. Eustace Simmons was committed to a public grave in Rockland County. Like Sartorius, he apparently had no living relatives. Nor did the loyal, ox like Wrangel. One way or another, these were all single, unrelated men, as were Donne, and Martin Pemberton, and I, for that matter.
I don' t know whether the cast-off families of the mortuary fellowship were ever informed, or where the old men were buried or, indeed, if any of the collected funds they had contributed for their eternal welfare were ever recovered.
The footlocker that had killed Simmons held a fortune something in the neighborhood of one and a half million dollars. This was presented to Sarah Pemberton as her due-please don' t be shocked-with no over exacting concern for the laws of probate. That winter I was a guest at two weddings held within a week of each other. Martin Pemberton and Emily Tisdale were married, by their preference, in the open air, on the garden terrace of the Tisdale home on Lafayette Place. Dr Grimshaw who, in the course of these events, seemed to have simplified his spiritual life into a steady and perpetual disapproval of everyone and everything on earth, conducted the ceremony with his little neat nose red from the cold and with a bead of clear liquid hanging from its tip. The bride, typical of her practical nature, wore a white satin gown with a lace shawl about the shoulders, very simple in its lines, with no undue embellishments, and the simplest of veils, which lay like a celestial white leaf over her hair. Real remnant leaves from the earth, in orange and yellow and brown, blew about our feet, and the only music was the wind coming off the dormant garden. As Grimshaw read the service in his high thin voice, I saw from behind how the bride held the arm of her groom, from elbow to clasped hand, and tight to her side, to prop him up, or herself, or perhaps both of them. They were matched in height and in youth and in the history of their childhood lives, a perfect match, and consecrated in the appropriate place, overlooking their small walled park, hidden from the city, which is the way nature hopes to survive in New York.
I was circumspect in my examination of the bride' s figure, though angered by what I imagined were the similar longings of the large wheezing fellow who stood beside me, even though, in what I supposed was a capitulation of sorts, he had brought as a wedding present the portrait of Emily he had painted for himself. When the bride said her "I do," her voice cracking in her joy; my heart, I like to think, was broken forever.
Sarah Pemberton was in attendance of course, radiant to be resolved in her widowhood, Donne by her side, and the elderly Lavinia Pemberton Thornhill, back from her annual general inspection of Europe. Mrs Thornhill was exactly as she had been described to me, a fussy old woman of wealth who wore an old fashioned hoop gown and a wig that didn' t sit quite straight on her head. She had a peremptory way about her, a family trait, and seemed to be satisfied only by the conversation of Emily' s father, Amos Tisdale, who was roughly her own distinguished age and thereby deserving of her attention. Of course she had not been told anything at all, and since her connection to Martin all his life had been tenuous, at best, in the great tradition of this name-only family, she kept looking at him as if trying to assure herself that he was indeed her late brother' s son.
Noah, dressed in a short pants suit with his hair combed back and his shoes shined, served as best man, a role he performed with a solemnity no greater or less than his everyday solemnity and handed the ring up in its little velvet box on the palms of both his hands to his stepbrother, and it was this moment, seeing in his hazel eyes as he glanced up at Martin the manly compact that he made with him, that secured for me the revelation of our rituals this old lapsed Scotch Presbyterian, his suppressed tears swallowed in his throat, that they are made holy truth by the children.
The ceremony done, we all got ourselves inside to the parlor quickly enough, where there were mulled wine and' cocoa and plates of wedding cake. Amos Tisdale had graciously refused to express his misgivings, and sealed his determination by bestowing upon the young couple a six months Grand Tour of Europe in the following spring. When this was announced, to congratulatory applause, Harry Wheelwright was inspired to recall to me his own trip abroad. He spoke with that reflective self assessment people are given to at weddings. "I went to Europe," he said, "to stand before the work of the Masters, and so I did, in Holland, in Spain and in Italy. I would have done better, just to drop to my knees and touch my forehead to the cold floors in front of them." "You didn' t learn anything? You were not inspired?" "Yes, I was inspired. I was inspired to run through my capital until I had left only the price of a decent second class passage home, My inspiration was to forget art, and simply paint the faces and figures of my fellow citizens-at least those who would pay me. To find the character in the eyes, the mouth, the chosen apostle - wasn' t that after all what this Rembrandt had done, this Velasquez? I would be a fellow tradesman, however obscure. I would share the intent, at least, to paint human faces unlocated, with nothing behind them, alone in the universe.
"He drank off his wine. "But you know they loved every ruffle of the collar, every line of the chin, every brown shadow in the corner, nothing was scanted, it was all light of one kind or another, and they loved light, whatever it fell on. They were helpless to do anything but render it. I knew I had that, love of light. But if it was to be called art, what I did, others could think about it, I would not, ever again. And that is what I' ve done."
I could not decide if Harry deserved my congratulations for conceding, in the history of Western Art there might have been a better painter or two, But I would have preferred listening to Harry if I had known Martin Pemberton would collar me to express his gratitude. Martin was overheard, unfortunately, and in another moment the others had gathered around, all of them apparently dedicated to embarrassing me to the utmost. My freelance said with an awful earnestness: "You saved my life, Mr McIlvaine." I found this remark almost frightening, like a confirmation of his permanent mental decline. It was the same pale fellow with thinning blond hair and penetrating gray eyes and intensity of expression, but the thought was banal. Then Emily, my dear Emily, stood on her toes and kissed my cheek, This was intolerable to me although none of them understood why, and then they all laughed because I had turned red.
"Captain Donne found your fellow," I said to her.
I looked up at Donne standing behind everyone and towering over them. Well understanding my discomfiture, he said: "Mr McIlvaine saw before anyone else that something was, amiss." Can you imagine? He used that word for everything I' ve been telling you! Amiss! "He came to see me, it was he who brought in the Municipals." "Mr McIlvaine has done us all a great, great service," Sarah Pemberton said, placing her hand on Donne' s arm and gazing at me with her Mother of God composure.
I don' t even know why I' m repeating this, so that you' ll forgive them, perhaps. The way people, the best people, must go spiraling off in the resolution of things. As if there will be no memory. No carriage coming up Broadway that will not forever be the white stage with the nodding old men in black.
I can' t tell you how deeply I abhor our custom of steadfast carrying on, in the manner of people of our sort. The women are mostly responsible for that. In the obituaries we speak of survivors. "Mr Pemberton is survived by, "I want you to understand the devastation, I felt was in that parlor, among Augustus Pemberton' s survivors, if I could feel it in myself, like a bit of indissoluble ash on the tongue. Nevertheless I made some cheerful remark about the future. The young couple would, be abroad for a year. I told Martin that when he returned I expected to have an assignment for him. I had gotten a new job, you see, as assistant city editor on the Sun. He said with a wan smile: "I will be willing and able."
And I think finally that's why I never wrote up the story, not because it would not be heard but because it was his, his patrimony, for a writer the story is his patrimony, and he might, someday come into it, my freelance. My freelance. I did go to the other wedding, on the Sunday following, in the afternoon, at St. James Episcopal on Laight Street. We were in the December of the year. It had snowed in the interval, leaving the entire city white and then in brilliant sunlight the air had warmed, and then turned bitter cold, coating everything in an icy glaze.
The wedding party was augmented by a number of policemen in uniform, as well as Grimshaw parishioners who had elected to stay after the service to see who was getting married. In their sight of the bride they were well rewarded, Sarah being a creature of uncompromised grace, regal in a pale blue gown, that matched her eyes. She did not seem ever, that I remember, to hurry, and now coming down the aisle on Martin' s arm, to the soft measures of the organ, she seemed to flow, this great beauty, surely one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, the wide full mouth in a smile, the unveiled head slightly tilted.
Donne stood in terror at the altar. Before him, uncharacteristically elevated, was the Reverend Grimshaw in his best laundered white robes fringed in purple and black velvet, his chin raised, his determinedly cheerful gaze on the empty balcony at the rear of the nave. An acolyte beside him held forth a standing brass cross like a spear. Perhaps the Reverend was thinking of the first time this woman had married, a far grander occasion, when it was a far different church, filled with the names of the city, and the only policemen were on guard outside.
So there, with the organ playing, and the roof beams of St James in a kind of perpetual dusk, though the winter light came planing through the clerestory windows, and the stained glass Deposition behind the altar glowed with the colors of the sun, was God as he is presently composed.
And Donne and Sarah were married. I did not stay long afterward, The reception was in the parsonage, with a red punch from a cut glass bowl, and cocoa and the small round cakes with pink icing that were then very fashionable, not really my native kind of revel. Sarah Pemberton Donne told me they had found a house on West Eleventh Street, a red brick with french windows with wrought iron balconies and a front yard with a tree in it and a wide granite stoop, a quiet street with all the houses set back and little traffic, though Noah would have to change schools. Donne curved himself downward to shake my hand and admitted to what I had heard around town, that he had been approached by reformist elements in the Republican party who had it in mind, if all went well in the elections, to offer him the post of Police Commissioner with a mandate to clean up the Municipals.
I remember how still the city was that afternoon as I walked uptown from the church. It was brilliantly sunny and terribly cold and the streets were empty. The footing was treacherous. Everything was thickly glazed horsecars were frozen to their rails, as were the locomotives on their elevated railway of ice, the masts and sheets of the ships in the docks were ensheathed in ice floes lay in the viscous river, the iron fronts on Broadway seemed in the sun to be burning in ice, the trees on the side streets were of crystal.
Of course it was Sunday, the day of rest. But my illusion was that the city had frozen in time. All our mills and foundries and presses were still, our lathes and our boilers, our steam engines and pulleys and pumps and forges. Our stores were shut, our carriage works and iron works and sewing machine and type writer manufacturers, our telegraph stations our exchanges, our carpentries, our electroplaters, our stone yards and lumber yards, our abattoirs and fish markets, our hosiery mills and garment shops, our smithies and stables, our manufacturers of tool dies and turbines and steam dredges and railroad cars and horse collars, our gunsmiths and silversmiths, our stove works and tin ware stampers, our coopers and clockmakers and ships' chandlers, our brickworks our makers of inks and paper mills, our book publishers our mowers and harvesters and sowers and reapers, all still, unmoving; stricken, as if the entire city of New York would be forever encased and frozen, aglitter and godstunned.
And let me leave you with that illusion though in reality we would soon be driving ourselves up Broadway in the new year of Our Lord, 1872.
The Waterworks Part 8
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The Waterworks Part 8 summary
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