by William Dean Howells
From his place on the floor of the Hemenway Gymnasium Mr. Elbridge G. Mavering looked on at the Class Day gaiety with the advantage which his stature, gave him over most people there. Hundreds of these were pretty girls, in a great variety of charming costumes, such as the eclecticism of modern fashion permits, and all sorts of ingenious compromises between walking dress and ball dress. It struck him that the young men on whose arms they hung, in promenading around the long oval within the crowd of stationary spectators, were very much younger than students used to be, whether they wore the dress-coats of the Seniors or the cut-away of the Juniors and Sophomores; and the young girls themselves did not look so old as he remembered them in his day. There vas a band playing somewhere, and the galleries were well filled with spectators seated at their ease, and intent on the party-coloured turmoil of the floor, where from time to time the younger promenaders broke away from the ranks into a waltz, and after some turns drifted back, smiling and controlling their quick breath, and resumed their promenade. The place was intensely light, in the candour of a summer day which had no reserves; and the brilliancy was not broken by the simple decorations. Ropes of wild laurel twisted up the pine posts of the aisles, and swung in festoons overhead; masses of tropical plants in pots were set along between the posts on one side of the room; and on the other were the lunch tables, where a great many people were standing about, eating chicken and salmon salads, or strawberries and ice-cream, and drinking claret-cup. From the whole rose that blended odour of viands, of flowers, of stuff's, of toilet perfumes, which is the characteristic expression of, all social festivities, and which exhilarates or depresses—according as one is new or old to it.
Elbridge Mavering kept looking at the faces of the young men as if he expected to see a certain one; then he turned his eyes patiently upon. the faces around him. He had been introduced to a good many persons, but he had come to that time of life when an introduction; unless charged with some special interest, only adds the pain of doubt to the wearisome encounter of unfamiliar people; and he had unconsciously put on the severity of a man who finds himself without acquaintance where others are meeting friends, when a small man, with a neatly trimmed reddish-grey beard and prominent eyes, stepped in front of him, and saluted him with the "Hello, Mavering!" of a contemporary.
His face, after a moment of question, relaxed into joyful recognition. "Why, John Munt! is that you?" he said, and he took into his large moist palm the dry little hand of his friend, while they both broke out into the incoherencies of people meeting after a long time. Mr. Mavering spoke in it voice soft yet firm, and with a certain thickness of tongue; which gave a boyish charm to his slow, utterance, and Mr. Munt used the sort of bronchial snuffle sometimes cultivated among us as a chest tone. But they were cut short in their intersecting questions and exclamations by the presence of the lady who detached herself from Mr. Munt's arm as if to leave him the freer for his hand-shaking.
"Oh!" he said, suddenly recurring to her; "let me introduce you to Mrs. Pasmer, Mr. Mavering," and the latter made a bow that creased his waistcoat at about the height of Mrs. Pasmer's pretty little nose.
His waistcoat had the curve which waistcoats often describe at his age; and his heavy shoulders were thrown well back to balance this curve. His coat hung carelessly open; the Panama hat in his hand suggested a certain habitual informality of dress, but his smoothly shaven large handsome face, with its jaws slowly ruminant upon nothing, intimated the consequence of a man accustomed to supremacy in a subordinate place.
Mrs. Pasmer looked up to acknowledge the introduction with a sort of pseudo-respectfulness which it would be hard otherwise to describe. Whether she divined or not that she was in the presence of a magnate of some sort, she was rather superfluously demure in the first two or three things she said, and was all sympathy and interest in the meeting of these old friends. They declared that they had not seen each other for twenty years, or, at any rate, not since '59. She listened while they disputed about the exact date, and looked from time to time at Mr. Munt, as if for some explanation of Mr. Mavering; but Munt himself, when she saw him last, had only just begun to commend himself to society, which had since so fully accepted him, and she had so suddenly, the moment before, found her self hand in glove with him that she might well have appealed to a third person for some explanation of Munt. But she was not a woman to be troubled much by this momentary mystification, and she was not embarrassed at all when Munt said, as if it had all been pre- arranged, "Well, now, Mrs. Pasmer, if you'll let me leave you with Mr. Mavering a moment, I'll go off and bring that unnatural child to you; no use dragging you round through this crowd longer."
He made a gesture intended, in the American manner, to be at once polite and jocose, and was gone, leaving Mrs. Pasmer a little surprised, and Mr. Mavering in some misgiving, which he tried to overcome pressing his jaws together two or three times without speaking. She had no trouble in getting in the first remark. "Isn't all this charming, Mr. Mavering?" She spoke in a deep low voice, with a caressing manner, and stood looking up, at Mr. Mavering with one shoulder shrugged and the other drooped, and a tasteful composition of her fan and hands and handkerchief at her waist.
"Yes, ma'am, it is," said Mr. Mavering. He seemed to say ma'am to her with a public or official accent, which sent Mrs. Primer's mind fluttering forth to poise briefly at such conjectures as, "Congressman from a country district? judge of the Common Pleas? bank president? railroad superintendent? leading physician in a large town?— no, Mr. Munt said Mister," and then to return to her pretty blue eyes, and to centre there in that pseudo-respectful attention under the arch of her neat brows and her soberly crinkled grey-threaded brown hair and her very appropriate bonnet. A bonnet, she said, was much more than half the battle after forty, and it was now quite after forty with Mrs. Pasmer; but she was very well dressed otherwise. Mr. Mavering went on to say, with a deliberation that seemed an element of his unknown dignity, whatever it might be, "A number of the young fellows together can give a much finer spread, and make more of the day, in a place like this, than we used to do in our rooms."
"Ah, then you're a Harvard man too!" said Mrs. Primer to herself, with surprise, which she kept to herself, and she said to Mavering: "Oh yes, indeed! It's altogether better. Aren't they nice looking fellows?" she said, putting up her glass to look at the promenaders.
"Yes," Mr. Mavering assented. "I suppose," he added, out of the consciousness of his own relation to the affair—"I suppose you've a son somewhere here?"
"Oh dear, no!" cried Mrs. Primer, with a mingling, superhuman, but for her of ironical deprecation and derision. "Only a daughter, Mr. Mavering."
At this feat of Mrs. Pasmer's, Mr. Mavering looked at her with question as to her precise intention, and ended by repeating, hopelessly, "Only a daughter?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Pasmer, with a sigh of the same irony, "only a poor, despised young girl, Mr. Mavering."
"You speak," said Mr. Mavering, beginning to catch on a little, "as if it were a misfortune," and his, dignity broke up into a smile that had its queer fascination.
"Why, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Pasmer.
"Well, I shouldn't have thought so."
"Then you don't believe that all that old-fashioned chivalry and devotion have gone out? You don't think the young men are all spoiled nowadays, and expect the young ladies to offer them attentions?"
"No," said Mr. Mavering slowly, as if recovering from the shock of the novel ideas. "Do you?"
"Oh, I'm such a stranger in Boston—I've lived abroad so long—that I don't know. One hears all kinds of things. But I'm so glad you're not one of those—pessimists!"
"Well," said Mr. Mavering, still thoughtfully, "I don't know that I can speak by the card exactly. I can't say how it is now. I haven't been at a Class Day spread since my own Class Day; I haven't even been at Commencement more than once or twice. But in my time here we didn't expect the young ladies to show us attentions; at any rate, we didn't wait for them to do it. We were very glad, to be asked to meet them, and we thought it an honour if the young ladies would let us talk or dance with them, or take them to picnics. I don't think that any of them could complain of want of attention."
"Yes," said Mrs. Pasmer, "that's what I preached, that's what I prophesied, when I brought my daughter home from Europe. I told her that a girl's life in America was one long triumph; but they say now that girls have more attention in London even than in Cambridge. One hears such dreadful things!"
"Like what?" asked Mr. Mavering, with the unserious interest which Mrs. Primer made most people feel in her talk.
"Oh; it's too vast a subject. But they tell you about charming girls moping the whole evening through at Boston parties, with no young men to talk with, and sitting from the beginning to the end of an assembly and not going on the floor once. They say that unless a girl fairly throws herself at the young men's heads she isn't noticed. It's this terrible disproportion of the sexes that's at the root of it, I suppose; it reverses everything. There aren't enough young men to go half round, and they know it, and take advantage of it. I suppose it began in the war."
He laughed, and, "I should think," he said, laying hold of a single idea out of several which she had presented, "that there would always be enough young men in Cambridge to go round."
Mrs. Pasmer gave a little cry. "In Cambridge!"
"Yes; when I was in college our superiority was entirely numerical."
"But that's all passed long ago, from what I hear," retorted Mrs. Pasmer. "I know very well that it used to be thought a great advantage for a girl to be brought up in Cambridge, because it gave her independence and ease of manner to have so many young men attentive to her. But they say the students all go into Boston now, and if the Cambridge girls want to meet them, they have to go there too. Oh, I assure you that, from what I hear, they've changed all that since our time, Mr. Mavering."
Mrs. Pasmer was certainly letting herself go a little more than she would have approved of in another. The result was apparent in the jocosity of this heavy Mr. Mavering's reply.
"Well, then, I'm glad that I was of our time, and not of this wicked generation. But I presume that unnatural supremacy of the young men is brought low, so to speak, after marriage?"
Mrs. Primer let herself go a little further. "Oh, give us an equal chance," she laughed, "and we can always take care of ourselves, and something more. They say," she added, "that the young married women now have all the attention that girls could wish."
"H'm!" said Mr. Mavering, frowning. "I think I should be tempted to box my boy's ears if I saw him paying another man's wife attention."
"What a Roman father!" cried Mrs. Pasmer, greatly amused, and letting herself go a little further yet. She said to herself that she really must find out who this remarkable Mr. Mavering was, and she cast her eye over the hall for some glimpse of the absent Munt, whose arm she meant to take, and whose ear she meant to fill with questions. But she did not see him, and something else suggested itself. "He probably wouldn't let you see him, or if he did, you wouldn't know it."
"How not know it?"
Mrs. Primer did not answer. "One hears such dreadful things. What do you say—or you'll think I'm a terrible gossip—"
"Oh no;" said Mr: Mavering, impatient for the dreadful thing, whatever it was.
Mrs. Primer resumed: "—to the young married women meeting last winter just after a lot of pretty girls had came out, and magnanimously resolving to give the Buds a chance in society?"
"Yes, the Rose-buds—the debutantes; it's an odious little word, but everybody uses it. Don't you think that's a strange state of things for America? But I can't believe all those things," said Mrs. Pasmer, flinging off the shadow of this lurid social condition. "Isn't this a pretty scene?"
"Yes, it is," Mr. Mavering admitted, withdrawing his mind gradually from a consideration of Mrs. Pasmer's awful instances. "Yes!" he added, in final self-possession. "The young fellows certainly do things in a great deal better style nowadays than we used to."
"Oh yes, indeed! And all those pretty girls do seem to be having such a good time!"
"Yes; they don't have the despised and rejected appearance that you'd like to have one believe."
"Not in the least!" Mrs. Pasmer readily consented. "They look radiantly happy. It shows that you can't trust anything that people say to you." She abandoned the ground she had just been taking without apparent shame for her inconsistency. "I fancy it's pretty much as it's always been: if a girl is attractive, the young men find it out."
"Perhaps," said Mr: Mavering, unbending with dignity, "the young married women have held another meeting, and resolved to give the Buds one more chance."
"Oh, there are some pretty mature Roses here," said Mrs. Pasmer, laughing evasively. "But I suppose Class Day can never be taken from the young girls."
"I hope not," said Mr. Mavering. His wandering eye fell upon some young men bringing refreshments across the nave toward them, and he was reminded to ask Mrs. Pasmer, "Will you have something to eat?" He had himself had a good deal to eat, before he took up his position at the advantageous point where John Munt had found him.
"Why, yes, thank you," said Mrs. Pasmer. "I ought to say, 'An ice, please,' but I'm really hungry, and—"
"I'll get you some of the salad," said Mr. Mavering, with the increased liking a man feels for a woman when she owns to an appetite. "Sit down here," he added, and he caught a vacant chair toward her. When he turned about from doing so, he confronted a young gentleman coming up to Mrs. Pasmer with a young lady on his arm, and making a very low bow of relinquishment.
The men looked smilingly at each other without saying anything; and the younger took in due form the introduction which the young lady gave him.
"My mother, Mr. Mavering."
"Mr. Mavering!" cried Mrs. Pasmer, in a pure astonishment, before she had time to colour it with a polite variety of more conventional emotions. She glanced at the two men, and gave a little "Oh?" of inquiry and resignation, and then said, demurely, "Let me introduce you to Mr. Mavering, Alice," while the young fellow laughed nervously, and pulled out his handkerchief, partly to hide the play of his laughter, and partly to wipe away the perspiration which a great deal more laughing had already gathered on his forehead. He had a vein that showed prominently down its centre, and large, mobile, girlish blue eyes under good brows, an arched nose, and rather a long face and narrow chin. He had beautiful white teeth; as he laughed these were seen set in a jaw that contracted very much toward the front. He was tall and slim, and he wore with elegance the evening dress which Class Day custom prescribes for the Seniors; in his button-hole he had a club button.
"I shall not have to ask an introduction to Mr. Mavering; and you've robbed me of the pleasure of giving him one to you, Mrs. Pasmer," he said.
She heard the young man in the course of a swift review of what she had said to his father, and with a formless resentment of the father's not having told her he had a son there; but she answered with the flattering sympathy she had the use of, "Oh, but you won't miss one pleasure out of so many to-day, Mr. Mavering; and think of the little dramatic surprise!"
"Oh, perfect," he said, with another laugh. "I told Miss Pasmer as we came up."
"Oh, then you were in the surprise, Alice!" said Mrs. Pasmer, searching her daughter's eyes for confession or denial of this little community of interest. The girl smiled slightly upon the young man, but not disapprovingly, and made no other answer to her mother, who went on: "Where in the world have you been? Did Mr. Munt find you? Who told you where I was? Did you see me? How did you know I was here? Was there ever anything so droll?" She did not mean her questions to be answered, or at least not then; for, while her daughter continued to smile rather more absently, and young Mavering broke out continuously in his nervous laugh, and his father stood regarding him with visible satisfaction, she hummed on, turning to the young man: "But I'm quite appalled at Alice's having monopolised even for a few minutes a whole Senior—and probably an official Senior at that," she said, with a glance at the pink and white club button in his coat lapel, "and I can't let you stay another instant, Mr. Mavering. I know very well how many demands you have upon you and you must go back directly to your sisters and your cousins and your aunts, and all the rest of them; you must indeed."
"Oh no! Don't drive me away, Mrs. Pasmer," pleaded the young man, laughing violently, and then wiping his face. "I assure you that I've no encumbrances of any kind here except my father, and he seems to have been taking very good care of himself." They all laughed at this, and the young fellow hurried on: "Don't be alarmed at my button; it only means a love of personal decoration, if that's where you got the notion of my being an official Senior. This isn't my spread; I shall hope to welcome you at Beck Hall after the Tree; and I wish you'd let me be of use to you. Wouldn't you like to go round to some of the smaller spreads? I think it would amuse you. And have you got tickets to the Tree, to see us make fools of ourselves? It's worth seeing, Mrs. Pasmer, I assure you."
He rattled on very rapidly but with such a frankness in his urgency, such amiable kindliness, that Mrs. Pasmer could not feel that it was pushing. She looked at her daughter, but she stood as passive in the transaction as the elder Mavering. She was taller than her mother, and as she waited, her supple figure described that fine lateral curve which one sees in some Louis Quinze portraits; this effect was enhanced by the fashion of her dress of pale sage green, with a wide stripe or sash of white dropping down the front, from her delicate waist. The same simple combination of colours was carried up into her hat, which surmounted darker hair than Mrs. Pasmer's, and a complexion of wholesome pallor; her eyes were grey and grave, with black brows, and her face, which was rather narrow, had a pleasing irregularity in the sharp jut of the nose; in profile the parting of the red lips showed well back into the cheek,
"I don't know," said Mrs. Pasmer, in her own behalf; and she added in his, "about letting you take so much trouble," so smoothly that it would have been quite impossible to detect the point of union in the two utterances.
"Well, don't call it names, anyway, Mrs. Pasmer," pleaded the young man. "I thought it was nothing but a pleasure and a privilege—"
"The fact is," she explained, neither consenting nor refusing, "that we were expecting to meet some friends who had tickets for us"—young Mavering's face fell—" and I can't imagine what's happened."
"Oh, let's hope something dreadful," he cried.
Perhaps you know them," she delayed further. "Professor Saintsbury!"
"Well, rather! Why, they were here about an hour ago—both of them. They must have been looking for you."
"Yes; we were to meet them here. We waited to come out with other friends, and I was afraid we were late." Mrs. Pasmer's face expressed a tempered disappointment, and she looked at her daughter for indications of her wishes in the circumstances; seeing in her eye a willingness to accept young Mavering's invitation, she hesitated more decidedly than she had yet done, for she was, other things being equal, quite willing to accept it herself. But other things were not equal, and the whole situation was very odd. All that she knew of Mr. Mavering the elder was that he was the old friend of John Munt, and she knew far too little of John Munt, except that he seemed to go everywhere, and to be welcome, not to feel that his introduction was hardly a warrant for what looked like an impending intimacy. She did not dislike Mr. Mavering; he was evidently a country person of great self-respect, and no doubt of entire respectability. He seemed very intelligent, too. He was a Harvard man; he had rather a cultivated manner, or else naturally a clever way of saying things. But all that was really nothing, if she knew no more about him, and she certainly did not. If she could only have asked her daughter who it was that presented young Mavering to her, that might have formed some clew, but there was no earthly chance of asking this, and, besides, it was probably one of those haphazard introductions that people give on such occasions. Young Mavering's behaviour gave her still greater question: his self-possession, his entire absence of anxiety; or any expectation of rebuff or snub, might be the ease of unimpeachable social acceptance, or it might be merely adventurous effrontery; only something ingenuous and good in the young fellow's handsome face forbade this conclusion. That his face was so handsome was another of the complications. She recalled, in the dreamlike swiftness with which all these things passed through her mind, what her friends had said to Alice about her being sure to meet her fate on Class Day, and she looked at her again to see if she had met it.
"Well, mamma?" said the girl, smiling at her mother's look.
Mrs. Pasmer thought she must have been keeping young Mavering waiting a long time for his answer. "Why, of course, Alice. But I really don't know what to do about the Saintsburys." This was not in the least true, but it instantly seemed so to Mrs. Pasmer, as a plausible excuse will when we make it.
"Why, I'll tell you what, Mrs. Pasmer," said young Mavering, with a cordial unsuspicion that both won and reassured her, "we'll be sure to find them at some of the spreads. Let me be of that much use, anyway; you must."
"We really oughtn't to let you," said Mrs. Pasmer, making a last effort to cling to her reluctance, but feeling it fail, with a sensation that was not disagreeable. She could not help being pleased with the pleasure that she saw in her daughter's face.
Young Mavering's was radiant. "I'll be back in just half a minute," he said, and he took a gay leave of them in running to speak to another student at the opposite end of the hall.
"You must allow me to get you something to eat first, Mrs. Pasmer," said the elder Mavering.
"Oh no, thank you," Mrs. Pasmer began. But she changed her mind and said, "Or, yes; I will, Mr. Mavering: a very little salad, please." She had really forgotten her hunger, as a woman will in the presence of any social interest; but she suddenly thought his going would give her a chance for two words with her daughter, and so she sent him. As he creaked heavily across the smooth floor of the nave; "Alice," she whispered, "I don't know exactly what I've done: Who introduced this young Mr. Mavering to you?"
"Yes; he came for me; he said you sent him. He introduced Mr. Mavering, and he was very polite. Mr. Mavering said we ought to go up into the gallery and see how it looked; and Mr. Munt said he'd been up, and Mr. Mavering promised to bring me back to him, but he was not there when we got back. Mr. Mavering got me some ice cream first, and then he found you for me."
"Really," said Mrs. Pasmer to herself, "the combat thickens!" To her daughter she said, "He's very handsome."
"He laughs too much," said the daughter. Her mother recognised her uncandour with a glance. "But he waltzes well," added the girl.
"Waltzes?" echoed the mother. "Did you waltz with him, Alice?"
"Everybody else was dancing. He asked me for a turn or two, and of course I did it. What difference?"
"Oh, none—none. Only—I didn't see you."
"Perhaps you weren't looking."
"Yes, I was looking all the time."
"What do you mean, mamma?"
"Well," said Mrs. Pasmer, in a final despair, "we don't know anything about them."
"We're the only people here who don't, then," said her daughter. "The ladies were bowing right left to him all the time, and he kept asking if I knew this one and that one, and all I could say was that some of them were distant cousins, but I wasn't acquainted with them. I would think he'd wonder who we were."
"Yes," said the mother thoughtfully.
"There! he's laughing with that other student. But don't look!"
Mrs. Pasmer saw well enough out of the corner of her eye the joking that went on between Mavering and his friend, and it did not displease her to think that it probably referred to Alice. While the young man came hurrying back to them she glanced at the girl standing near her with a keenly critical inspection, from which she was able to exclude all maternal partiality, and justly decided that she was one of the most effective girls in the place. That costume of hers was perfect. Mrs. Pasmer wished now that she could have compared it more carefully with other costumes; she had noticed some very pretty ones; and a feeling of vexation that Alice should have prevented this by being away so long just when the crowd was densest qualified her satisfaction. The people were going very fast now. The line of the oval in the nave was broken into groups of lingering talkers, who were conspicuous to each other, and Mrs. Pasmer felt that she and her daughter were conspicuous to all the rest where they stood apart, with the two Maverings converging upon them from different points, the son nodding and laughing to friends of both sexes as he came, the father wholly absorbed in not spilling the glass of claret punch which he carried in one hand, and not falling down on the slippery floor with the plate of salad which he bore in the other. She had thoughts of feigning unconsciousness; she would have had no scruple in practising this or any other social stratagem, for though she kept a conscience in regard to certain matters—what she considered essentials— she lived a thousand little lies every day, and taught her daughter by precept and example to do the same. You must seem to be looking one way when you were really looking another; you must say this when you meant that; you must act as if you were thinking one thing when you were thinking something quite different; and all to no end, for, as she constantly said, people always know perfectly well what you were about, whichever way you looked or whatever you said, or no matter how well you acted the part of thinking what you did not think. Now, although she seemed not to look, she saw all that has been described at a glance, and at another she saw young Mavering slide easily up to his father and relieve him of the plate and glass, with a laugh as pleasant and a show of teeth as dazzling as he bestowed upon any of the ladies he had passed. She owned to her recondite heart that she liked this in young Mavering, though at the same time she asked herself what motive he really had in being so polite to his father before people. But she had no time to decide; she had only time to pack the question hurriedly away for future consideration, when young Mavering arrived at her elbow, and she turned with a little "Oh!" of surprise so perfectly acted that it gave her the greatest pleasure.
"I don't think my father would have got here alive with these things," said young Mavering. "Did you see how I came to his rescue?"
Mrs. Pasmer instantly threw away all pretext of not having seen. "Oh yes! my heart was in my mouth when you bore down upon him, Mr. Mavering. It was a beautiful instance of filial devotion."
"Well, do sit down now, Mrs. Pasmer, and take it comfortably," said the young fellow; and he got her one of the many empty chairs, and would not give her the things, which he put in another, till she sat down and let him spread a napkin over her lap.
"Really," she said, "I feel as if I were stopping all the wheels of Class Day. Am I keeping them from closing the Gymnasium, Mr. Mavering?"
"Not quite," said the young man, with one of his laughs. "I don't believe they will turn us out, and I'll see that they don't lock us in. Don't hurry, Mrs. Pasmer. I'm only sorry you hadn't something sooner."
"Oh, your father proposed getting me something a good while ago."
"Did he? Then I wonder you haven't had it. He's usually on time."
"You're both very energetic, I think," said Mrs. Pasmer.
"He's the father of his son," said the young fellow, assuming the merit with a bow of burlesque modesty.
It went to Mrs. Pasmer's heart. "Let's hope he'll never forget that," she said, in an enjoyment of the excitement and the salad that was beginning to leave her question of these Maverings a light, diaphanous cloud on the verge of the horizon.
The elder Mavering had been trying, without success, to think of something to say to Miss Pasmer, he had twice cleared his throat for that purpose. But this comedy between his son and the young lady's mother seemed so much lighter and brighter than anything he could have said, that he said nothing, and looked on with his mouth set in its queer smile, while the girl listened with the gravity of a daughter who sees that her mother is losing her head. Mrs. Pasmer buzzed on in her badinage with the young man, and allowed him to go for a cup of coffee before she rose from her chair, and shook out her skirts with an air of pleasant expectation of whatever should come next.
He came back without it. "The coffee urn has dried up here, Mrs. Pasmer. But you can get some at the other spreads; they'd be inconsolable if you didn't take something everywhere."
They all started toward the door, but the elder Mavering said, holding back a little, "Dan, I think I'll go and see—"
"Oh no, you mustn't, father," cried the young man, laying his hand with caressing entreaty on his father's coat sleeve. "I don't want you to go anywhere till you've seen Professor Saintsbury. We shall be sure to meet him at some of the spreads. I want you to have that talk with him—" He corrected himself for the instant's deflection from the interests of his guest, and added, "I want you to help me hunt him up for Mrs. Pasmer. Now, Mrs. Pasmer, you're not to think it's the least trouble, or anything but a boon, much less say it," he cried, turning to the deprecation in Mrs. Pasmer's face. He turned away from it to acknowledge the smiles and bows of people going out of the place, and he returned their salutations with charming heartiness.
In the vestibule they met the friends they were going in search of.
"With Mr. Mavering, of course!" exclaimed Mrs. Saintsbury: "I might have known it." Mrs. Pasmer would have given anything she could think of to be able to ask why her friend might have known it; but for the present they could only fall upon each other with flashes of self-accusal and explanation, and rejoicing for their deferred and now accomplished meeting. The Professor stood by with the satirical smile with which men witness the effusion of women. Young Mavering, after sharing the ladies' excitement fully with them, rewarded himself by an exclusive moment with Miss Pasmer.
"You must get Mrs. Pasmer to let me show you all of Class Day that a Senior can. I didn't know what a perfect serpent's tooth it was to be one before. Mrs. Saintsbury," he broke off, "have you got tickets for the Tree? Ah, she doesn't hear me!"
Mrs. Saintsbury was just then saying to the elder Mavering, "I'm so glad you decided to come today. It would have been a shame if none of you were here." She made a feint of dropping her voice, with a glance at Dan Mavering. "He's such a nice boy," which made him laugh, and cry out—
"Oh, now? Don't poison my father's mind, Mrs. Saintsbury."
"Oh, some one would be sure to tell him," retorted the Professor's wife, "and he'd better hear it from a friend."
The young fellow laughed again, and then he shook hands with some ladies going out, and asked were they going so soon, from an abstract hospitality, apparently, for he was not one of the hosts; and so turned once more to Miss Pasmer. "We must get away from here, or the afternoon will get away from us, and leave us nothing to show for it. Suppose we make a start, Miss Pasmer?"
He led the way with her out of the vestibule, banked round with pots of palm and fern, and down the steps into the glare of the Cambridge sunshine, blown full, as is the case on Class Day, of fine Cambridge dust, which had drawn a delicate grey veil over the grass of the Gymnasium lawn, and mounted in light clouds from the wheels powdering it finer and finer in the street. Along the sidewalks dusty hacks and carriages were ranged, and others were driving up to let people dismount at the entrances to the college yard. Within the temporary picket- fences, secluding a part of the grounds for the students and their friends, were seen stretching from dormitory to dormitory long lines of Chinese lanterns, to be lit after nightfall, swung between the elms. Groups of ladies came and went, nearly always under the escort of some student; the caterers' carts, disburdened of their ice-creams and salads, were withdrawn under the shade in the street, and their drivers lounged or drowsed upon the seats; now and then a black waiter, brilliant as a bobolink in his white jacket and apron, appeared on some errand; the large, mild Cambridge policemen kept the entrances to the yard with a benevolent vigilance which was not harsh with the little Irish children coming up from the Marsh in their best to enjoy the sight of other people's pleasure.
"Isn't it a perfect Class Day?" cried young Mavering, as he crossed Kirkland Street with Miss Pasmer, and glanced down its vaulted perspective of elms, through which the sunlight broke, and lay in the road in pools and washes as far as the eye reached. "Did you ever see anything bluer than the sky to-day? I feel as if we'd ordered the weather, with the rest of the things, and I had some credit for it as host. Do make it a little compliment, Miss Pasmer; I assure you I'll be very modest about it."
"Ah, I think it's fully up to the occasion," said the girl, catching the spirit of his amiable satisfaction. "Is it the usual Class Day weather?"
"You spoil everything by asking that," cried the young man; "it obliges me to make a confession—it's always good weather on Class Day. There haven't been more than a dozen bad Class Days in the century. But you'll admit that there can't have been a better Class Day than this?"
"Oh yes; it's certainly the pleasantest Class Day I've seen;" said the girl; and now when Mavering laughed she laughed too.
"Thank you so much for saying that! I hope it will pass off in unclouded brilliancy; it will, if I can make it. Why, hallo! They're on the other side of the street yet, and looking about as if they were lost."
He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket, and waved it at the others of their party.
They caught sight of it, and came hurrying over through the dust.
Mrs. Saintsbury said, apparently as the sum of her consultations with Mrs. Pasmer: "The Tree is to be at half-past five; and after we've seen a few spreads, I'm going to take the ladies hone for a little rest."
"Oh no; don't do that," pleaded the young man. After making this protest he seemed not to have anything to say immediately in support of it. He merely added: "This is Miss Pasmer's first Class Day, and I want her to see it all."
"But you'll have to leave us very soon to get yourself ready for the Tree" suggested the Professor's lady, with a motherly prevision.
"I shall want just fifteen minutes for that."
"I know, better, Mr. Mavering," said Mrs. Saintsbury, with finality. "You will want a good three-quarters of an hour to make yourself as disreputable as you'll look at the Tree; and you'll have to take time for counsel and meditation. You may stay with us just half an hour, and then we shall part inexorably. I've seen a great many more Class Days than you have, and I know what they are in their demands upon the Seniors."
"Oh; well! Then we won't think about the time," said the young man, starting on with Miss Pasmer.
"Well, don't undertake too much," said the lady. She came last in the little procession, with the elder Mavering, and her husband and Mrs Pasmer preceded her.
"What?" young Mavering called back, with his smiling face over his shoulder.
"She says not to bite off more than you can chew," the professor answered for her.
Mavering broke into a conscious laugh, but full of delight, and with his handkerchief to his face had almost missed the greeting of some ladies who bowed to him. He had to turn round to acknowledge it, and he was saluting and returning salutations pretty well all along the line of their progress.
"I'm afraid you'll think I'm everybody's friend but my own, Miss Pasmer, but I assure you all this is purely accidental. I don't know so many people, after all; only all that I do know seem to be here this morning."
"I don't think it's a thing to be sorry for," said the girl. "I wish we knew more people. It's rather forlorn—"
"Oh, will you let me introduce some of the fellows to you? They'll be so glad."
"If you'll tell them how forlorn I said I was," said the girl, with a smile.
"Oh, no, no, no! I understand that. And I assure you that I didn't suppose—But of course!" he arrested himself in the superfluous reassurance he was offering, "All that goes without saying. Only there are some of the fellows coming back to the law school, and if you'll allow me—"
"We shall be very happy indeed, Mr. Mavering," said Mrs. Pasmer, behind him.
"Oh, thank you ever so much, Mrs. Pasmer." This was occasion for another burst of laughter with him. He seemed filled with the intoxication of youth, whose spirit was in the bright air of the day and radiant in the young faces everywhere. The paths intersecting one another between the different dormitories under the drooping elms were thronged with people coming and going in pairs and groups; and the academic fete, the prettiest flower of our tough old Puritan stem, had that charm, at once sylvan and elegant, which enraptures in the pictured fables of the Renaissance. It falls at that moment of the year when the old university town, often so commonplace and sometimes so ugly, becomes briefly and almost pathetically beautiful under the leafage of her hovering elms and in, the perfume of her syringas, and bathed in this joyful tide of youth that overflows her heart. She seems fit then to be the home of the poets who have loved her and sung her, and the regret of any friend of the humanities who has left her.
"Alice," said Mrs. Pasmer, leaning forward a little to speak to her daughter, and ignoring a remark of the Professor's, "did you ever see so many pretty costumes?"
"Never," said the girl, with equal intensity.
"Well, it makes you feel that you have got a country, after all," sighed Mrs. Pasmer, in a sort of apostrophe to her European self. "You see splendid dressing abroad, but it's mostly upon old people who ought to be sick and ashamed of their pomps and vanities. But here it's the young girls who dress; and how lovely they are! I thought they were charming in the Gymnasium, but I see you must get them out-of-doors to have the full effect. Mr. Mavering, are they always so prettily dressed on Class Day?"
"Well, I'm beginning to feel as if it wouldn't be exactly modest for me to say so, whatever I think. You'd better ask Mrs. Saintsbury; she pretends to know all about it."
"No, I'm bound to say they're not," said the Professor's wife candidly. "Your daughter," she added, in a low tone for all to hear, "decides that question."
"I'm so glad you said that, Mrs. Saintsbury," said the young man. He looked at the girl; who blushed with a pleasure that seemed to thrill to the last fibre of her pretty costume.
She could not say anything, but her mother asked, with an effort at self- denial: "Do you think so really? It's one of those London things. They have so much taste there now," she added yielding to her own pride in the dress.
"Yes; I supposed it must be," said Mrs. Saintsbury, "We used to come in muslins and tremendous hoops—don't you remember?"
"Did you look like your photographs?" asked young Mavering, over his shoulder.
"Yes; but we didn't know it then," said the Professor's wife.
"Neither did we," said the Professor. "We supposed that there had never been anything equal to those hoops and white muslins."
"Thank you, my dear," said his wife, tapping him between the shoulders with her fan. "Now don't go any further."
"Do you mean about our first meeting here on Class Day?" asked her husband.
"They'll think so now," said Mrs. Saintsbury patiently, with a playful threat of consequences in her tone.
"When I first saw the present Mrs. Saintsbury," pursued the Professor—it was his joking way, of describing her, as if there had been several other Mrs. Saintsburys—"she was dancing on the green here."
"Ah, they don't dance on the green any more, I hear," sighed Mrs. Pasmer.
"No, they don't," said the other lady; "and I think it's just as well. It was always a ridiculous affectation of simplicity."
"It must have been rather public," said young Mavering, in a low voice, to Miss Pasmer.
"It doesn't seem as if it could ever have been in character quite," she answered.
"We're a thoroughly indoors people," said the Professor. "And it seems as if we hadn't really begun to get well as a race till we had come in out of the weather."
"How can you say that on a day like this?" cried Mrs. Pasmer. "I didn't suppose any one could be so unromantic."
"Don't flatter him," cried his wife.
"Does he consider that a compliment?"
"Not personally," he answered: "But it's the first duty of a Professor of Comparative Literature to be unromantic."
"I don't understand," faltered Mrs. Pasmer.
"He will be happy to explain, at the greatest possible length," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "But you shan't spoil our pleasure now, John."
They all laughed, and the Professor looked proud of the wit at his expense; the American husband is so, and the public attitude of the American husband and wife toward each other is apt to be amiably satirical; their relation seems never to have lost its novelty, or to lack droll and surprising contrasts for them.
Besides these passages with her husband, Mrs. Saintsbury kept up a full flow of talk with the elder Mavering, which Mrs. Pasmer did her best to overhear, for it related largely to his son, whom, it seemed, from the father's expressions, the Saintsburys had been especially kind to.
No, I assure you, "Mrs. Pasmer heard her protest, "Mr. Saintsbury has, been very much interested in him. I hope he has not put any troublesome ideas into his head. Of course he's very much interested in literature, from his point of view, and he's glad to find any of the young men interested in it, and that's apt to make him overdo matters a little."
"Dan wished me to talk with him, and I shall certainly be glad to do so," said the father, but in a tone which conveyed to Mrs. Pasmer the impression that though he was always open to conviction, his mind was made up on this point, whatever it was.
The party went to half a dozen spreads, some of which were on a scale of public grandeur approaching that of the Gymnasium, and others of a subdued elegance befitting the more private hospitalities in the students' rooms. Mrs. Pasmer was very much interested in these rooms, whose luxurious appointments testified to the advance of riches and of the taste to apply them since she used to visit students' rooms in far- off Class Days. The deep window nooks and easy-chairs upholstered in the leather that seems sacred alike to the seats and the shelves of libraries; the aesthetic bookcases, low and topped with bric-a-brac; the etchings and prints on the walls, which the elder Mavering went up to look at with a mystifying air of understanding such things; the foils crossed over the chimney, and the mantel with its pipes, and its photographs of theatrical celebrities tilted about over it—spoke of conditions mostly foreign to Mrs. Pasmer's memories of Harvard. The photographed celebrities seemed to be chosen chiefly for their beauty, and for as much of their beauty as possible, Mrs. Pasmer perceived, with an obscure misgiving of the sort which an older generation always likes to feel concerning the younger, but with a tolerance, too, which was personal to herself; it was to be considered that the massive thought and honest amiability of Salvini's face, and the deep and spiritualized power of Booth's, varied the effect of these companies of posturing nymphs.
At many places she either met old friends with whom she clamoured over the wonder of their encounter there, or was made acquainted with new people by the Saintsburys. She kept a mother's eye on her daughter, to whom young Mavering presented everybody within hail or reach, and whom she could see, whenever she looked at her, a radiant centre of admiration. She could hear her talk sometimes, and she said to herself that really Alice was coming out; she had never heard her say so many good things before; she did not know it was in her. She vas very glad then that she had let her wear that dress; it was certainly distinguished, and the girl carried it off, to her mother's amusement, with the air of a superb lady of the period from which it dated. She thought what a simple child Alice really was, all the time those other children, the Seniors, were stealing their glances of bold or timid worship at her, and doubtless thinking her a brilliant woman of the world. But there could be no mistake that she was a success.
Part of her triumph was of course due to Mrs. Saintsbury; whose chaperonage; Mrs. Pasmer could see, was everywhere of effect. But it was also largely due to the vigilant politeness of young Mavering, who seemed bent on making her have good time, and who let no chance slip him. Mrs. Pasmer felt his kindness truly; and she did not feel it the less because she knew that there was but one thing that could, at his frankly selfish age, make a young fellow wish to make a girl have a good time; except for that reason he must be bending the whole soul of egotistic youth to making some other girl have a good time. But all the same, it gave her pause when some one to whom she was introduced spoke to her of her friends the Maverings, as if they were friends of the oldest standing instead of acquaintances of very recent accident. She did not think of disclaiming the intimacy, but "Really I shall die of these Maverings," she said to herself, "unless I find out something about them pretty soon."
"I'm not going to take you to the Omicron spread, Mrs. Pasmer," said young Mavering, coming up to her with such an effect of sympathetic devotion that she had to ask herself, "Are they my friends, the Maverings?" "The Saintsburys have been there already, and it is a little too common." The tone of superiority gave Mrs. Pasmer courage. "They're good fellows; and all that, but I want you to see the best. I suppose it will get back to giving the spreads all in the fellows' rooms again. It's a good deal pleasanter, don't you think?"
"Oh yes, indeed," assented Mrs. Pasmer, though she had really been thinking the private spreads were not nearly so amusing as the large spread she had seen at the Gymnasium. She had also wondered where all Mr. Mavering's relations and friends were, and the people who had social claims on him, that he could be giving up his Class Day in this reckless fashion to strangers. Alice would account for a good deal, but she would not account for everything. Mrs. Pasmer would have been willing to take him from others, but if he were so anomalous as to have no one to be taken from, of course it lessened his value as a trophy. These things went in and out of her mind, with a final resolution to get a full explanation from Mrs. Saintsbury, while she stood and smiled her winning assent up into the young man's handsome face.
Mrs. Saintsbury, caught sight of them, and as if suddenly reminded of a forgotten duty, rushed vividly upon him.
"Mr. Mavering, I shall not let you stay with us another minute. You must go to your room now and get ready. You ought to have a little rest."
He broke out in his laugh. "Do you think I want to go and lie down awhile, like a lady before a party?"
"I'm sure you'd be the stronger for it," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "But go, upon any theory. Don't you see there isn't a Senior left?"
He would not look round. "They've gone to other spreads," he said. "But now I'll tell you: it is pretty, near time, and if you'll take me to my room, I'll go."
"You're a spoiled boy," said Mrs. Saintsbury.
"But I want Mrs. Pasmer to see the room of a real student—a reading man, and all that—and we'll come, to humour you."
"Well, come upon any theory," said young Mavering.
His father, and Professor Saintsbury, who had been instructed by his wife not to lose sight of her, were at hand, and they crossed to that old hall which keeps its favour with the students in spite of the rivalry of the newer dormitories—it would be hard to say why.
Mrs. Pasmer willingly assented to its being much better, out of pure complaisance, though the ceilings were low and the windows small, and it did not seem to her that the Franklin stove and the aesthetic papering and painting of young Mavering's room brought it up to the level of those others that she had seen. But with her habit of saying some friendly lying thing, no matter what her impressions were, she exclaimed; "Oh, how cosy!" and glad of the word, she went about from one to another, asking, "Isn't this cosy?"
Mrs. Saintsbury said: "It's supposed to be the cell of a recluse; but it is cosy—yes."
"It looks as if some hermit had been using it as a store-room," said her husband; for there were odds and ends of furniture and clothes and boxes and handbags scattered about the floor.
"I forgot all about them when I asked you," cried Mavering, laughing out his delight. "They belong to some fellows that are giving spreads in their rooms, and I let them put them in here."
"Do you commonly let people put things in your room that they want to get rid off?" asked Mrs. Pasmer.
"Well, not when I'm expecting company."
"He couldn't refuse even then, if they pressed the matter," said Mrs. Saintsbury, lecturing upon him to her friend.
"I'm afraid you're too amiable altogether, Mr. Mavering. I'm sure you let people impose upon you," said the other lady. "You have been letting us impose upon you."
"Ah! now that proves you're all wrong, Mrs. Pasmer."
"It proves that you know how to say things very prettily."
"Oh, thank you. I know when I'm having a good time, and I do my best to enjoy it." He ended with the nervous laugh which seemed habitual with him.
"He, does laugh a good deal;" thought Mrs. Pasmer, surveying him with smiling steadiness. "I suppose it tires Alice. Some of his teeth are filled at the sides. That vein in his forehead—they say that means genius." She said to him: "I hope you know when others are having a good time too, Mr. Mavering? You ought to have that reward."
They both looked at Alice. "Oh, I should be so happy to think you hadn't been bored with it all, Mrs: Pasmer," he returned;—with-deep feeling.
Alice was looking at one of the sketches which were pretty plentifully pinned about the wall, and apparently seeing it and apparently listening to what Professor Saintsbury was saying; but her mother believed from a tremor of the ribbons on her hat that she was conscious of nothing but young Mavering's gaze and the sound of his voice.
"We've been delighted, simply enchanted," said Mrs. Pasmer. And she thought; "Now if Alice were to turn round just as she stands, he could see all the best points of her face. I wonder what she really thinks of him? What is it you have there; Alice?" she asked aloud.
The girl turned her face over her shoulder so exactly in the way her mother wished that Mrs. Pasmer could scarcely repress a cry of joy. "A sketch of Mr. Mavering's."
"Oh, how very interesting!" said Mrs. Pasmer. "Do you sketch, Mr. Mavering? But of course." She pressed forward, and studied the sketch inattentively. "How very, very good!" she buzzed deep in her throat, while, with a glance at her daughter, she thought, "How impassive Alice is! But she behaves with great dignity. Yes. Perhaps that's best. And are you going to be an artist?" she asked of Mavering.
"Not if it can be prevented," he answered, laughing again.
"But his laugh is very pleasant," reflected Mrs. Pasmer. "Does Alice dislike it so much?" She repeated aloud, "If it can be prevented?"
"They think I might spoil a great lawyer in the attempt."
"Oh, I see. And are you going to be a lawyer? But to be a great painter! And America has so few of them." She knew quite well that she was talking nonsense, but she was aware, through her own indifference to the topic that he was not minding what she said, but was trying to bring himself into talk with Alice again. The girl persistently listened to Professor Saintsbury.
"Is she punishing him for something?" her mother asked herself. "What can it be for. Does she think he's a little too pushing? Perhaps, he is a little pushing." She reflected, with an inward sigh, that she would know whether he was if she only knew more about him.
He did the honours of his room very simply and nicely, and he said it was pretty rough to think this was the last of it. After which he faltered, and something occurred to Mrs Saintsbury.
"Why, we're keeping you! It's time for you to dress for the Tree. John"—she reproached her husband—"how could you let us do it?"
"Far be it from me to hurry ladies out of other people's houses— especially ladies who have put themselves in charge of other people."
"No, don't hurry," pleaded Mavering; "there's plenty of time."
"How much time?" asked Mrs. Saintsbury.
He looked at his watch. "Well, a good quarter of an hour."
"And I was to have taken Mrs. Pasmer and Alice home for a little rest before the Tree!" cried Mrs Saintsbury. "And now we must go at once, or we shall get no sort of places."
In the civil and satirical parley which followed, no one answered another, but young Mavering bore as full a part as the elder ladies, and only his father and Alice were silent: his guests got themselves out of his room. They met at the threshold a young fellow, short and dark and stout, in an old tennis suit. He fell back at sight of them, and took off his hat to Mrs. Saintsbury.
"Why, Mr. Boardman!"
"Don't be bashful, Boardman?" young Mavering called out. "Come in and show them how I shall look in five minutes."
Mr. Boardman took his introductions with a sort of main-force self- possession, and then said, "You'll have to look it in less than five minutes now, Mavering. You're come for."
"What? Are they ready?"
"We must fly," panted Mrs. Saintsbury, without waiting for the answer, which was lost in the incoherencies of all sorts of au revoirs called after and called back.
"That is one thing," said Mrs. Saintsbury, looking swiftly round to see that the elder Mavering was not within hearing, as she hurried ahead with Mrs. Pasmer, "that I can't stand in Dan Mavering. Why couldn't he have warned us that it was getting near the time? Why should he have gone on pretending that there was no hurry? It isn't insincerity exactly, but it isn't candour; no, it's uncandid. Oh, I suppose it's the artistic temperament—never coming straight to the point."
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Pasmer eagerly.
"I'll tell you sometime." She looked round and halted a little for Alice, who was walking detached and neglected by the preoccupation of the two elderly men. "I'm afraid you're tired," she said to the girl.
"Of course not, on Class Day. But I hope we shall get seats. What weather!"
The sun had not been oppressive at any time during the day, though the crowded building had been close and warm, and now it lay like a painted light on the grass and paths over which they passed to the entrance of the grounds around the Tree. Holden Chapel, which enclosed the space on the right as they went in, shed back the sun from its brick-red flank, rising unrelieved in its venerable ugliness by any touch of the festive preparations; but to their left and diagonally across from them high stagings supported tiers of seats along the equally unlovely red bulks of Hollis and of Harvard. These seats, and the windows in the stories above them, were densely packed with people, mostly young girls dressed in a thousand enchanting shades and colours, and bonneted and hatted to the last effect of fashion. They were like vast terraces of flowers to the swift glance, and here and there some brilliant parasol, spread to catch the sun on the higher ranks, was like a flaunting poppy, rising to the light and lolling out above the blooms of lower stature. But the parasols were few, for the two halls flung wide curtains of shade over the greater part of the spectators, and across to the foot of the chapel, while a piece of the carpentry whose simplicity seems part of the Class Day tradition shut out the glare and the uninvited public, striving to penetrate the enclosure next the street. In front of this yellow pine wall; with its ranks of benches, stood the Class Day Tree, girded at ten or fifteen feet from the ground with a wide band of flowers.
Mrs. Pasmer and her friends found themselves so late that if some gentlemen who knew Professor Saintsbury had not given up their places they could have got no seats. But this happened, and the three ladies had harmoniously blended their hues with those of the others in that bank of bloom, and the gentlemen had somehow made away with their obstructiveness in different crouching and stooping postures at their feet, when the Junior Class filed into the green enclosure amidst the 'rahs of their friends; and sank in long ranks on the grass beside the chapel. Then the Sophomores appeared, and were received with cheers by the Juniors, with whom they joined, as soon as they were placed, in heaping ignominy upon the freshmen. The Seniors came last, grotesque in the variety of their old clothes, and a fierce uproar of 'rahs and yells met them from the students squatted upon the grass as they loosely grouped themselves in front of the Tree; the men of the younger classes formed in three rings, and began circling in different directions around them.
Mrs. Pasmer bent across Mrs. Saintsbury to her daughter: "Can you make out Mr. Mavering among them, Alice?"
"No. Hush, mamma!" pleaded the girl.
With the subsidence of the tumult in the other classes, the Seniors had broken from the stoical silence they kept through it, and were now with an equally serious clamour applauding the first of a long list of personages, beginning with the President, and ranging through their favourites in the Faculty down to Billy the Postman. The leader who invited them to this expression of good feeling exacted the full tale of nine cheers for each person he named, and before he reached the last the 'rahs came in gasps from their dry throats.
In the midst of the tumult the marshal flung his hat at the elm; then the rush upon the tree took place, and the scramble for the flowers. The first who swarmed up the trunk were promptly plucked down by the legs and flung upon the ground, as if to form a base there for the operations of the rest; who surged and built themselves up around the elm in an irregular mass. From time to time some one appeared clambering over heads and shoulders to make a desperate lunge and snatch at the flowers, and then fall back into the fluctuant heap again. Yells, cries, and clappings of hands came from the other students, and the spectators in the, seats, involuntarily dying away almost to silence as some stronger or wilfuler aspirant held his own on the heads and shoulders of the others, or was stayed there by his friends among them till he could make sure of a handful of the flowers. A rush was made upon him when be reached the ground; if he could keep his flowers from the hands that snatched at them, he staggered away with the fragments. The wreath began to show wide patches of the bark under it; the surging and struggling crowd below grew less dense; here and there one struggled out of it and walked slowly about, panting pitiably.
"Oh, I wonder they don't kill each other!" cried Mrs. Pasmer. "Isn't it terrible?" She would not have missed it on any account; but she liked to get all she could out of her emotions.
"They never get hurt," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "Oh, look! There's Dan Mavering!"
The crowd at the foot of the tree had closed densely, and a wilder roar went up from all the students. A tall, slim young fellow, lifted on the shoulders of the mass below, and staying himself with one hand against the tree, rapidly stripped away the remnants of the wreath, and flung them into the crowd under him. A single tuft remained; the crowd was melting away under him in a scramble for the fallen flowers; he made a crooked leap, caught the tuft, and tumbled with it headlong.
"Oh!" breathed the ladies on the Benches, with a general suspiration lost in the 'rahs and clappings, as Mavering reappeared with the bunch of flowers in his hand. He looked dizzily about, as if not sure, of his course; then his face, flushed and heated, with the hair pulled over the eyes, brightened with recognition, and he advanced upon Mrs. Saintsbury's party with rapid paces, each of which Mrs. Pasmer commentated with inward conjecture.
"Is he bringing the flowers to Alice? Isn't it altogether too conspicuous? Has he really the right to do it? What will people think? Will he give them to me for her, or will he hand them directly to her? Which should I prefer him to do? I wonder if I know?"
When she looked up with the air of surprise mixed with deprecation and ironical disclaimer which she had prepared while these things were passing through her mind, young Mavering had reached them, and had paused in a moment's hesitation before his father. With a bow of affectionate burlesque, from which he lifted his face to break into laughter at the look in all their eyes, he handed the tattered nosegay to his father.
"Oh, how delightful! how delicate! how perfect!" Mrs. Pasmer confided to herself.
"I think this must be for you, Mrs. Pasmer," said the elder Mavering, offering her the bouquet, with a grave smile at his son's whim.
"Oh no, indeed!" said Mrs. Pasmer. "For Mrs. Saintsbury, of course."
She gave it to her, and Mrs. Saintsbury at once transferred it to Miss Pasmer.
"They wished me to pass this to you, Alice;" and at this consummation Dan Mavering broke into another happy laugh.
"Mrs. Saintsbury, you always do the right thing at once," he cried.
"That's more than I can say of you, Mr. Mavering," she retorted.
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Mavering!" said the girl, receiving the flowers. It was as if she had been too intent upon them and him to have noticed the little comedy that had conveyed them to her.
As soon after Class Day as Mrs. Pasmer's complaisant sense of the decencies would let her, she went out from Boston to call on Mrs. Saintsbury in Cambridge, and thank her for her kindness to Alice and herself. "She will know well enough what I come for," she said to herself, and she felt it the more important to ignore Mrs. Saintsbury's penetration by every polite futility; this was due to them both: and she did not go till the second day after.
Mrs. Saintsbury came down into the darkened, syringa-scented library to find her, and give her a fan.
"You still live, Jenny," she said, kissing her gaily.
They called each other by their girl names, as is rather the custom in Boston with ladies who are in the same set, whether they are great friends or not. In the more changeful society of Cambridge, where so many new people are constantly coming and going in connection with the college, it is not so much the custom; but Mrs. Saintsbury was Boston born, as well as Mrs. Pasmer, and was Cantabrigian by marriage—though this is not saying that she was not also thoroughly so by convincement and usage she now rarely went into Boston society.
"Yes, Etta—just. But I wasn't sure of it," said Mrs. Pasmer, "when I woke yesterday. I was a mere aching jelly!"
"Oh; I don't think she had any physical consciousness. She was a mere rapturous memory!"
"She did have a good time, didn't she?" said Mrs. Saintsbury, in a generous retrospect. "I think she was on her feet every moment in the evening. It kept me from getting tired, to watch her."
"I was afraid you'd be quite worn out. I'd no idea it was so late. It must have been nearly half past seven before we got away from the Beck Hall spread, and then by the time we had walked round the college grounds—how extremely pretty the lanterns were, and how charming the whole effect was!—it must have been nine before the dancing began. Well, we owe it all to you, Etta."
"I don't know what you mean by owing. I'm always glad of an excuse for Class Day. And it was Dan Mavering who really managed the affair."
"He was very kind," said Mrs. Pasmer, with a feeling which was chiefly gratitude to her friend for bringing in his name so soon. Now that it had been spoken, she felt it decorous to throw aside the outer integument of pretense, which if it could have been entirely exfoliated would have caused Mrs. Pasmer morally to disappear, like an onion stripped of its successive laminae.
"What did you mean," she asked, leaning forward, with, her face averted, "about his having the artistic temperament? Is he going to be an artist? I should hope not." She remembered without shame that she had strongly urged him to consider how much better it would be to be a painter than a lawyer, in the dearth of great American painters.
"He could be a painter if he liked—up to a certain point," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "Or he could be any one of half s dozen other things—his last craze was journalism; but you know what I mean by the artistic temperament: it's that inability to be explicit; that habit of leaving things vague and undefined, and hoping they'll somehow come out as you want them of themselves; that way of taking the line of beauty to get at what you wish to do or say, and of being very finicking about little things and lag about essentials. That's what I mean by the artistic temperament."
"Yes; that's terrible," sighed Mrs. Pasmer, with the abstractly severe yet personally pitying perception of one whose every word and act was sincere and direct. "I know just what you mean. But how does it apply to Mr. Mavering?"
"It doesn't, exactly," returned her friend. "And I'm always ashamed when I say, or even think, anything against Dan Mavering. He's sweetness itself. We've known him ever since he came to Harvard, and I must say that a more constant and lovely follow I never saw. It wasn't merely when he was a Freshman, and he had that home feeling hanging about him still that makes all the Freshmen so appreciative of anything you do for them; but all through the Sophomore and Junior years, when they're so taken up with their athletics and their societies and their college life generally that they haven't a moment for people that have been kind to them, he was just as faithful as ever."
"How nice!" cried Mrs. Pasmer.
Yes, indeed! And all the allurements of Boston society haven't taken him from us altogether. You can't imagine how much this means till you've been at home a while and seen how the students are petted and spoiled nowadays in the young society."
"Oh, I've heard of it," said Mrs. Pasmer. "And is it his versatility and brilliancy, or his amiability, that makes him such a universal favourite?"
"Universal favourite? I don't know that he's that."
"Well, popular, then."
"Oh, he's certainly very much liked. But, Jenny, there are no universal favourites in Harvard now, if there ever were: the classes are altogether too big. And it wouldn't be ability, and it wouldn't be amiability alone, that would give a man any sort of leadership."
"What in the world would it be?"
"That question, more than anything else, shows how long you've been away, Jenny. It would be family—family, with a judicious mixture of the others, and with money."
"Is it possible? But of course—I remember! Only at their age one thinks of students as being all hail-fellow-well-met with each other—"
"Yes; it's hard to realise how conventional they are—how very much worldlier than the world—till one sees it as one does in Cambridge. They pique themselves on it. And Mr. Saintsbury"—she was one of those women whom everything reminds of their husbands "says that it isn't a bad thing altogether. He says that Harvard is just like the world; and even if it's a little more so, these boys have got to live in the world, and they had better know what it is. You may not approve of the Harvard spirit, and Mr. Saintsbury doesn't sympathise with it; he only says it's the world's spirit. Harvard men—the swells—are far more exclusive than Oxford men. A student, 'comme il faut', wouldn't at all like to be supposed to know another student whom we valued for his brilliancy, unless he was popular and well known in college."
"Dear me!" cried Mrs. Pasmer. "But of course! It's perfectly natural, with young people. And it's well enough that they should begin to understand how things really are in the world early; it will save them from a great many disappointments."
"I assure you we have very little to teach Harvard men in those matters. They could give any of us points. Those who are of good family and station know how to protect themselves by reserves that the others wouldn't dare to transgress. But a merely rich man couldn't rise in their set any more than a merely gifted man. He could get on to a certain point by toadying, and some do; but he would never get to be popular, like Dan Mavering."
"And what makes him popular?—to go back to the point we started from," said Mrs. Pasmer.
"Ah, that's hard to say. It's—quality, I suppose. I don't mean social quality, exactly; but personal charm. He never had a mean thought; of course we're all full of mean thoughts, and Dan is too; but his first impulse is always generous and sweet, and at his age people act a great deal from impulse. I don't suppose he ever met a human being without wanting to make him like him, and trying to do it."
"Yes, he certainly makes you like him," sighed Mrs. Pasmer. "But I understand that he can't make people like him without family or money; and I don't understand that he's one of those 'nouveaux riches' who are giving Harvard such a reputation for extravagance nowadays."
There was an inquiring note in Mrs. Pasmer's voice; and in the syringa- scented obscurity, which protected the ladies from the expression of each other's faces, Mrs. Saintsbury gave a little laugh of intelligence, to which Mrs. Pasmer responded by a murmur of humorous enjoyment at being understood.
"Oh no! He isn't one of those. But the Maverings have plenty of money," said Mrs. Saintsbury, "and Dan's been very free with it, though not lavish. And he came here with a reputation for popularity from a very good school, and that always goes a very great way in college."
"Yes?" said Mrs. Pasmer, feeling herself getting hopelessly adrift in these unknown waters; but reposing a pious confidence in her pilot.
"Yes; if a sufficient number of his class said he was the best fellow in the world, he would be pretty sure to be chosen one of the First Ten in the 'Dickey'."
"What mysteries!" gasped Mrs. Pasmer, disposed to make fun of them, but a little overawed all the same. "What in the world is the 'Dickey'?"
"It's the society that the Freshmen are the most eager to get into. They're chosen, ten at a time, by the old members, and to be one of the first ten—the only Freshmen chosen—is something quite ineffable."
"I see." Mrs. Pasmer fanned herself, after taking a long breath. "And when he had got into the ——— "
"Then it would depend upon himself, how he spent his money, and all that, and what sort of society success he was in Boston. That has a great deal to do with it from the first. Then another thing is caution— discreetness; not saying anything censorious or critical of other men, no matter what they do. And Dan Mavering is the perfection of prudence, because he's the perfection of good-nature."
Mrs. Pasmer had apparently got all of these facts that she could digest. "And who are the Maverings?"
"Why, it's an old Boston name—"
"It's too old, isn't it? Like Pasmer. There are no Maverings in Boston that I ever heard of."
"No; the name's quite died out just here, I believe: but it's old, and it bids fair to be replated at Ponkwasset Falls."
"That's where they have their mills, or factories, or shops, or whatever institution they make wall-paper in."
"Wall-paper!" cried Mrs. Pasmer, austerely. After a moment she asked: "And is wall-paper the 'thing' now? I mean—" She tried to think of some way of modifying the commonness of her phrase, but did not. After all, it expressed her meaning.
"It isn't the extreme of fashion, of course. But it's manufacturing, and it isn't disgraceful. And the Mavering papers are very pretty, and you can live with them without becoming anaemic, or having your face twitch."
"Face twitch?" echoed Mrs. Pasmer.
"Yes; arsenical poisoning."
"Oh! Conscientious as well as aesthetic. I see. And does Mr. Mavering put his artistic temperament into them?"
"His father does. He's a very interesting man. He has the best taste in certain things—he knows more about etchings, I suppose, than any one else in Boston."
"Is it possible! And does he live at Ponkwasset Falls? It's in Rhode Island, isn't it?"
"New Hampshire. Yes; the whole family live there."
"The whole family? Are there many of them? I'd fancied, somehow, that Mr. Mavering was the only——Do tell me about them, Etta," said Mrs. Pasmer, leaning back in her chair, and fanning herself with an effect of impartial interest, to which the dim light of the room lent itself.
"He's the only son. But there are daughters, of course—very cultivated girls."
"And is he—is the elder Mr. Mavering a—I don't know what made me think so—a widower?"
"Well, no—not exactly."
"Not exactly! He's not a grass-widower, I hope?"
"No, indeed. But his wife's a helpless invalid, and always has been. He's perfectly devoted to her; and he hurried home yesterday, though he wanted very much to stay for Commencement. He's never away from her longer than he can help. She's bedridden; and you can see from the moment you enter it that it's a man's house. Daughters can't change that, you know."
"Have you been there?" asked Mrs. Pasmer, surprised that she was getting so much information, but eager for more. "Why, how long have you known them, Etta?"
"Only since Dan came to Harvard. Mr. Saintsbury took a fancy to him from the start, and the boy was so fond of him that they were always insisting upon a visit; and last summer we stopped there on our way to the mountains."
"And the sisters—do they stay there the whole year round? Are they countrified?"
"One doesn't live in the country without being countrified," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "They're rather quiet girls, though they've been about a good deal—to Europe with friends, and to New York in the winter. They're older than Dan; they're more like their father. Are you afraid of that draught at the windows?"
"Oh no; it's delicious. And he's like the mother?"
"Then it's the father who has the artistic taste—he gets that from him; and the mother who has the—"
"How extremely interesting! And so he's going to be a lawyer. Why lawyer, if he's got the talent and the temperament of an artist? Does his father wish him to be a lawyer?"
"His father wishes him to be a wall-paper maker."
"And the young man compromises on the law. I see," said Mrs. Pasmer. "And you say he's been going into Boston a great deal? Where does he go?"
The ladies entered into this social inquiry with a zest which it would be hard to make the reader share, or perhaps to feel the importance of. It is enough that it ended in the social vindication of Dan Mavering. It would not have been enough for Mrs Pasmer that he was accepted in the best Cambridge houses; she knew of old how people were accepted in Cambridge for their intellectual brilliancy or solidity, their personal worth, and all sorts of things, without consideration of the mystical something which gives vogue in Boston.
"How superb Alice was!" Mrs. Saintsbury broke off abruptly. "She has such a beautiful manner. Such repose."
"Repose! Yes," said her mother, thoughtfully. "But she's very intense. And I don't see where she gets it. Her father has repose enough, but he has no intensity; and I'm all intensity, and no repose. But I'm no more like my mother than Alice is like me."
"I think she has the Hibbins face," said Mrs. Saintsbury.
"Oh! she's got the Hibbins face," said Mrs Pasmer, with a disdain of tone which she did not at all feel; the tone was mere absent-mindedness.
She was about to revert to the question of Mavering's family, when the door-bell rang, and another visitor interrupted her talk with Mrs. Saintsbury.
Mrs. Pasmer's husband looked a great deal older than herself, and, by operation of a well-known law of compensation, he was lean and silent, while she was plump and voluble. He had thick eyebrows, which remained black after his hair and beard had become white, and which gave him an aspect of fierceness, expressive of nothing in his character. It was from him that their daughter got her height, and, as Mrs. Pasmer freely owned, her distinction.
Soon after their marriage the Pasmers had gone to live in Paris, where they remained faithful to the fortunes of the Second Empire till its fall, with intervals of return to their own country of a year or two years at a time. After the fall of the Empire they made their sojourn in England, where they lived upon the edges and surfaces of things, as Americans must in Europe everywhere, but had more permanency of feeling than they had known in France, and something like a real social status. At one time it seemed as if they might end their days there; but that which makes Americans different from all other peoples, and which finally claims their allegiance for their own land, made them wish to come back to America, and to come back to Boston. After all, their place in England was strictly inferior, and must be. They knew titles, and consorted with them, but they had none themselves, and the English constancy which kept their friends faithful to them after they had become an old story, was correlated with the English honesty which never permitted them to mistake themselves for even the lowest of the nobility. They went out last, and they did not come in first, ever.
The invitations, upon these conditions, might have gone on indefinitely, but they did not imply a future for the young girl in whom the interests of her parents centred. After being so long a little girl, she had become a great girl, and then all at once she had become a young lady. They had to ask themselves, the mother definitely and the father formlessly, whether they wished their daughter to marry an Englishman, and their hearts answered them, like true Republican hearts, Not an untitled Englishman, while they saw no prospect of her getting any other. Mrs. Pasmer philosophised the case with a clearness and a courage which gave her husband a series of twinges analogous to the toothache, for a man naturally shrinks from such bold realisations. She said Alice had the beauty of a beauty, and she had the distinction of a beauty, but she had not the principles of a beauty; there was no use pretending that she had. For this reason the Prince of Wales's set, so accessible to American loveliness with the courage of its convictions, was beyond her; and the question was whether there was money enough for a younger son, or whether, if there was, a younger son was worth it.
However this might be, there was no question but there was now less money than there had been, and a great deal less. The investments had not turned out as they promised; not only had dividends been passed, but there had been permanent shrinkages. What was once an amiable competency from the pooling of their joint resources had dwindled to a sum that needed a careful eye both to the income and the outgo. Alice's becoming a young lady had increased their expenses by the suddenly mounting cost of her dresses, and of the dresses which her mother must now buy for the different role she had to sustain in society. They began to ask themselves what it was for, and to question whether, if she could not marry a noble Englishman, Alice had not better marry a good American.
Even with Mrs. Pasmer this question was tacit, and it need not be explained to any one who knows our life that in her most worldly dreams she intended at the bottom of her heart that her daughter should marry for love. It is the rule that Americans marry for love, and the very rare exception that they marry for anything else; and if our divorce courts are so busy in spite of this fact, it is perhaps because the Americans also unmarry for love, or perhaps because love is not so sufficient in matters of the heart as has been represented in the literature of people who have not been able to give it so fair a trial. But whether it is all in all in marriage, or only a very marked essential, it is certain that Mrs. Pasmer expected her daughter's marriage to involve it. She would have shrunk from intimating anything else to her as from a gross indecency; and she could not possibly, by any finest insinuation, have made her a partner in her design for her happiness. That, so far as Alice was concerned, was a thing which was to fall to her as from heaven; for this also is part of the American plan. We are the children of the poets, the devotees of the romancers, so far as that goes; and however material and practical we are in other things, in this we are a republic of shepherds and shepherdesses, and we live in a golden age; which if it sometimes seems an age of inconvertible paper, is certainly so through no want of faith in us.
Though the Pasmers said that they ought to go home for Alice's sake, they both understood that they were going home experimentally, and not with the intention of laying their bones in their native soil, unless they liked it, or found they could afford it. Mrs. Pasmer had no illusions in regard to it. She had learned from her former visits home that it was frightfully expensive; and, during the fifteen years which they had spent chiefly abroad, she had observed the decay of that distinction which formerly attended returning sojourners from Europe. She had seen them cease gradually from the romantic reverence which once clothed them, and decline through a gathering indifference into something like slight and compassion, as people who have not been able to make their place or hold their own at home; and she had taught herself so well how to pocket the superiority natural to the Europeanised American before arriving at consciousness of this disesteem, that she paid a ready tribute to people who had always stayed at home.
In fact Mrs. Pasmer was a flatterer, and it cannot be claimed for her that she flattered adroitly always. But adroitness in flattery is not necessary for its successful use. There is no morsel of it too gross for the condor gullet and the ostrich stomach of human vanity; there is no society in which it does not give the utterer instant honour and acceptance in greater or less degree. Mrs. Pasmer, who was very good- natured, employed it because she liked it herself, and knowing how absolutely worthless it was from her own tongue, prized it from others. She could have rested perfectly safe without it in her social position, which she found unchanged by years of absence. She had not been a Hibbins for nothing, and she was not a Pasmer for nothing, though why she should have been either for something it would not be easy to say.
But while confessing the foibles of Mrs. Pasmer, it would not be fair to omit from the tale of her many virtues the final conscientiousness of her openly involuted character. Not to mention other things, she instituted and practised economies as alien to her nature as to her husband's, and in their narrowing affairs she kept him out of debt. She was prudent; she was alert; and while presenting to the world all the outward effect of a butterfly, she possessed some of the best qualities of the bee.
With his senatorial presence, his distinction of person and manner, Mr. Pasmer was inveterately selfish in that province of small personal things where his wife left him unmolested. In what related to his own comfort and convenience he was undisputed lord of himself. It was she who ordered their comings and goings, and decided in which hemisphere they should sojourn from time to time, and in what city, street, and house, but always with the understanding that the kitchen and all the domestic appointments were to her husband's mind. He was sensitive to degrees of heat and cold, and luxurious in the matter of lighting, and he had a fine nose for plumbing. If he had not occupied himself so much with these details, he was the sort of man to have thought Mrs. Pasmer, with her buzz of activities and pretences, rather a tedious little woman. He had some delicate tastes, if not refined interests, and was expensively fond of certain sorts of bric-a-brac: he spent a great deal of time in packing and unpacking it, and he had cases stored in Rome and London and Paris; it had been one of his motives in consenting to come home that he might get them out, and set up the various objects of bronze and porcelain in cabinets. He had no vices, unless absolute idleness ensuing uninterruptedly upon a remotely demonstrated unfitness for business can be called a vice. Like other people who have always been idle, he did not consider his idleness a vice. He rather plumed himself upon it, for the man who has done nothing all his life naturally looks down upon people who have done or are doing something. In Europe he had not all the advantage of this superiority which such a man has here; he was often thrown with other idle people, who had been useless for so many generations that they had almost ceased to have any consciousness of it. In their presence Pasmer felt that his uselessness had not that passive elegance which only ancestral uselessness can give; that it was positive, and to that degree vulgar.
A life like this was not one which would probably involve great passions or affections, and it would be hard to describe exactly the feeling with which he regarded his daughter. He liked her, of course, and he had naturally expected certain things of her, as a ladylike intelligence, behaviour, and appearance; but he had never shown any great tenderness for her, or even pride in her. She had never given him any displeasure, however, and he had not shared his wife's question of mind at a temporary phase of Alice's development when she showed a decided inclination for a religious life. He had apparently not observed that the girl had a pensive temperament in spite of the effect of worldly splendour which her mother contrived for her, and that this pensiveness occasionally deepened to gloom. He had certainly never seen that in a way of her own she was very romantic. Mrs. Pasmer had seen it, with amusement sometimes, and sometimes with anxiety, but always with the courage to believe that she could cope with it when it was necessary.
Whenever it was necessary she had all the moral courage she wanted; it seemed as if she could have it or not as she liked; and in coming home she had taken a flat instead of a house, though she had not talked with her friends three minutes without perceiving that the moment when flats had promised to assert their social equality with houses in Boston was past for ever. There were, of course, cases in which there could be no question of them; but for the most part they were plainly regarded as makeshifts, the resorts of people of small means, or the defiances or errors of people who had lived too much abroad. They stamped their occupants as of transitory and fluctuant character; good people might live in them, and did, as good people sometimes boarded; but they could not be regarded as forming a social base, except in rare instances. They presented peculiar difficulties in calling, and for any sort of entertainment they were too—not public, perhaps, but—evident.