Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 72 out of 78
The silence, broken by the rattling of the two bills in her mother's
hands as she glanced from one to the other through her glasses, seemed
suddenly impenetrable, and the prismatic world of the girl's rapture
burst like a bubble against it. There is no explanation of the effect
outside of temperament and overwrought sensibilities. She stared across
the room at her mother, who had not heard her, and then she broke into a
storm of tears.
"Alice!" cried her mother, with that sanative anger which comes to rescue
women from the terror of any sudden shock. "What is the matter with
you?--what do you mean?" She dropped both of the provision bills to the
floor, and started toward her daughter.
"Nothing--nothing! Let me go. I want to go to my room." She tried to
reach the door beyond her mother.
"Indeed you shall not!" cried Mrs. Pasmer. "I will not have you behaving
so! What has happened to you? Tell me. You have frightened me half
out of my senses."
The girl gave up her efforts to escape, and flung herself on the sofa,
with her face in the pillow, where she continued to sob. Her mother
began to relent at the sight of her passion. As a woman and as a mother
she knew her daughter, and she knew that this passion, whatever it was,
must have vent before there could be anything intelligible between them.
She did not press her with further question, but set about making her a
little more comfortable on the sofa; she pulled the pillow straight, and
dropped a light shawl over the girl's shoulders, so that she should not
Then Mrs. Pasmer had made up her mind that Alice had met Mavering
somewhere, and that this outburst was the retarded effect of seeing him.
During the last six weeks she had assisted at many phases of feeling in
regard to him, and knew more clearly than Alice herself the meaning of
them all. She had been patient and kind, with the resources that every
woman finds in herself when it is the question of a daughter's ordeal in
an affair of the heart which she has favoured.
The storm passed as quickly as it came, and Alice sat upright casting off
the wraps. But once checked with the fact on her tongue, she found it
hard to utter it.
"What is it, Alice?--what is it?" urged her mother.
"Nothing. I--Mr. Mavering--we met--I met him at the Museum, and--we're
engaged! It's really so. It seems like raving, but it's true. He came
with me to the door; I wouldn't let him come in. Don't you believe it?
Oh, we are! indeed we are! Are you glad, mamma? You know I couldn't
have lived without him."
She trembled on the verge of another outbreak.
Mrs. Pasmer sacrificed her astonishment in the interest of sanity, and
returned quietly: "Glad, Alice! You know that I think he's the sweetest
and best fellow in the world."
"But are you sure--"
"Yes, Yes. I'm not crazy; it isn't a dream. he was there--and I met him-
-I couldn't run away--I put out my hand; I couldn't help it--I thought I
should give way; and he took it; and then--then we were engaged. I don't
know what we said: I went in to look at the 'Joan of Arc' again, and there
was no one else there. He seemed to feel just as I did. I don't know
whether either of us spoke. But we, knew we were engaged, and we began to
Mrs. Pasmer began to laugh. To her irreverent soul only the droll side of
the statement appeared.
"Don't, mamma!" pleaded Alice piteously.
"No, no; I won't. But I hope Dan Mavering will be a little more definite
about it when I'm allowed to see him. Why couldn't he have come in with
"It would have killed me. I couldn't let him see me cry, and I knew I
should break down."
"He'll have to see you cry a great many times, Alice," said her mother,
with almost unexampled seriousness.
"Yes, but not yet--not so soon. He must think I'm very gloomy, and I want
to be always bright and cheerful with him. He knows why I wouldn't let
him come in; he knew I was going to have a cry."
Mrs. Pasmer continued to laugh.
Don't, mamma!" pleaded Alice.
"No, I won't," replied her mother, as before. "I suppose he was
mystified. But now, if it's really settled between you, he'll be coming
here soon to see your papa and me."
"Well, it's very sudden," said Mrs. Pasmer. "Though I suppose these
things always seem so."
"Is it too sudden?" asked Alice, with misgiving. "It seemed so to me when
it was going on, but I couldn't stop it."
Her mother laughed at her simplicity. "No, when it begins once, nothing
can stop it. But you've really known each other a good while, and for the
last six weeks at least you've known you own mind about him pretty
clearly. It's a pity you couldn't have known it before."
"Yes, that's what he says. He says it was such a waste of time. Oh,
everything he says is perfectly fascinating!"
Her mother laughed and laughed again.
"What is it, mamma? Are you laughing at me?"
"Oh no. What an idea!"
"He couldn't seem to understand why I didn't say Yes the first time, if I
meant it." She looked down dreamily at her hands in her lap, and then she
said, with a blush and a start, "They're very queer, don't you think?"
"Yes," Alice went on musingly. "Their minds are so different. Everything
they say and do is so unexpected, and yet it seems to be just right."
Mrs. Pasmer asked herself if this single-mindedness was to go on for ever,
but she had not the heart to treat it with her natural levity. Probably
it was what charmed Mavering with the child. Mrs. Pasmer had the firm
belief that Mavering was not single-minded, and she respected him for it.
She would not spoil her daughter's perfect trust and hope by any of the
cynical suggestions of her own dark wisdom, but entered into her mood, as
such women are able to do, and flattered out of her every detail of the
morning's history. This was a feat which Mrs. Pasmer enjoyed for its own
sake, and it fully satisfied the curiosity which she naturally felt to
know all. She did not comment upon many of the particulars; she opened
her eyes a little at the notion of her daughter sitting for two or three
hours and talking with a young man in the galleries of the Museum, and she
asked if anybody they knew had come in. When she heard that there were
only strangers, and very few of them, she said nothing; and she had the
same consolation in regard to the walking back and forth in the Garden.
She was so full of potential escapades herself, so apt to let herself go
at times, that the fact of Alice's innocent self-forgetfulness rather
satisfied a need of her mother's nature; she exulted in it when she
learned that there were only nurses and children in the Garden.
"And so you think you won't take up art this winter?" she said, when, in
the process of her cross-examination, Alice had left the sofa and got as
far as the door, with her hat in her hand and her sacque on her arm.
"And the Sisters of St. James--you won't join them either?"
The girl escaped from the room.
"Alice! Alice!" her mother called after her; she came back. You haven't
told me how he happened to be there."
"Oh, that was the most amusing part of it. He had gone there to keep an
appointment with two ladies from Portland. They were to take him up in
their carriage and drive out to Cambridge, and when he saw me he forgot
all about them."
"And what became of them?"
"We don't know. Isn't it ridiculous?"
If it appeared other or more than this to Mrs. Pasmer, she did not say.
She merely said, after a moment, "Well, it was certainly devoted, Alice,"
and let her go.
Mavering came in the evening, rather excessively well dressed, and with a
hot face and cold hands. While he waited, nominally alone, in the little
drawing room for Mr. Pasmer, Alice flew in upon him for a swift embrace,
which prolonged itself till the father's step was heard outside the door,
and then she still had time to vanish by another: the affair was so nicely
adjusted that if Mavering had been in his usual mind he might have fancied
the connivance of Mrs. Pasmer.
He did not say what he had meant to say to Alice's father, but it seemed
to serve the purpose, for he emerged presently from the sound of his own
voice, unnaturally clamorous, and found Mr. Pasmer saying some very civil
things to him about his character and disposition, so far as they had been
able to observe it, and their belief and trust in him. There seemed to be
something provisional or probational intended, but Dan could not make out
what it was, and finally it proved of no practical effect. He merely
inferred that the approval of his family was respectfully expected, and he
hastened to say, "Oh, that's all right, sir." Mr. Pasmer went on with
more civilities, and lost himself in dumb conjecture as to whether
Mavering's father had been in the class before him or the class after him
in Harvard. He used his black eyebrows a good deal during the interview,
and Mavering conceived an awe of him greater than he had felt at
Campobello, yet not unmixed with the affection in which the newly accepted
lover embraces even the relations of his betrothed. From time to time Mr.
Pasmer looked about with the vague glance of a man unused to being so long
left to his own guidance; and one of these appeals seemed at last to bring
Mrs. Pasmer through the door, to the relief of both the men, for they had
improvidently despatched their business, and were getting out of talk.
Mr. Pasmer had, in fact, already asked Dan about the weather outside when
his wife appeared.
Dan did not know whether he ought to kiss her or not, but Mrs. Pasmer did
not in the abstract seem like a very kissing kind of person, and he let
himself be guided by this impression, in the absence of any fixed
principle applying to the case. She made some neat remark concerning the
probable settlement of the affair with her husband, and began to laugh and
joke about it in a manner that was very welcome to Dan; it did not seem to
him that it ought to be treated so solemnly.
But though Mrs. Pasmer laughed and joked; he was aware of her meaning
business--business in the nicest sort of a way, but business after all,
and he liked her for it. He was glad to be explicit about his hopes and
plans, and told what his circumstances were so fully that Mrs. Pasmer,
whom his frankness gratified and amused, felt obliged to say that she had
not meant to ask so much about his affairs, and he must excuse her if she
had seemed to do so. She had her own belief that Mavering would
understand, but she did not mind that. She said that, of course, till his
own family had been consulted, it must not be considered seriously--that
Mr. Pasmer insisted upon that point; and when Dan vehemently asserted the
acquiescence of his family beforehand, and urged his father's admiration
for Alice in proof, she reminded him that his mother was to be considered,
and put Mr. Pasmer's scruples forward as her own reason for obduracy. In
her husband's presence she attributed to him, with his silent assent, all
sorts of reluctances and delicate compunctions; she gave him the
importance which would have been naturally a husband's due in such an
affair, and ingratiated herself more and more with the young man. She
ignored Mr. Pasmer's withdrawal when it took place, after a certain lapse
of time, and as the moment had come for that, she began to let herself go.
She especially approved of the idea of going abroad and confessed her
disappointment with her present experiment of America, where it appeared
there was no leisure class of men sufficiently large to satisfy the social
needs of Mr. Pasmer's nature, and she told Dan that he might expect them
in Europe before long. Perhaps they might all three meet him there. At
this he betrayed so clearly that he now intended his going to Europe
merely as a sequel to his marrying Alice, while he affected to fall in
with all Mrs. Pasmer said, that she grew fonder than ever of him for his
ardour and his futile duplicity. If it had been in Dan's mind to take
part in the rite, Mrs. Pasmer was quite ready at this point to embrace him
with motherly tenderness. Her tough little heart was really in her throat
with sympathy when she made an errand for the photograph of an English
vicarage, which they had hired the summer of the year before, and she sent
Alice back with it alone.
It seemed so long since they had met that the change in Alice did not
strike him as strange or as too rapidly operated. They met with the
fervour natural after such a separation, and she did not so much assume as
resume possession of him. It was charming to have her do it, to have her
act as if they had always been engaged, to have her try to press down the
cowlick that started capriciously across his crown, and to straighten his
necktie, and then to drop beside him on the sofa; it thrilled and awed
him; and he silently worshipped the superior composure which her sex has
in such matters. Whatever was the provisional interpretation which her
father and mother pretended to put upon the affair, she apparently had no
reservations, and they talked of their future as a thing assured. The
Dark Ages, as they agreed to call the period of despair for ever closed
that morning, had matured their love till now it was a rapture of pure
trust. They talked as if nothing could prevent its fulfilment, and they
did not even affect to consider the question of his family's liking it or
not liking it. She said that she thought his father was delightful, and
he told her that his father had taken the greatest fancy to her at the
beginning, and knew that Dan was in love with her. She asked him about
his mother, and she said just what he could have wished her to say about
his mother's sufferings, and the way she bore them. They talked about
Alice's going to see her.
"Of course your father will bring your sisters to see me first."
"Is that the way?" he asked: "You may depend upon his doing the right
thing, whatever it is."
"Well, that's the right thing," she said. "I've thought it out; and that
reminds me of a duty of ours, Dan!"
"A duty?"" he repeated, with a note of reluctance for its untimeliness.
"Yes. Can't you think what?"
"No; I didn't know there was a duty left in the world."
"It's full of them."
"Oh, don't say that, Alice!" He did not like this mood so well as that of
the morning, but his dislike was only a vague discomfort--nothing
formulated or distinct.
"Yes," she persisted; "and we must do them. You must go to those ladies
you disappointed so this morning, and apologise--explain."
Dan laughed. "Why, it wasn't such a very ironclad engagement as all that,
Alice. They said they were going to drive out to Cambridge over the
Milldam, and I said I was going out there to get some of my traps
together, and they could pick me up at the Art Museum if they liked.
Besides, how could I explain?"
She laughed consciously with him. "Of course. But," she added ruefully,
"I wish you hadn't disappointed them."
"Oh, they'll get over it. If I hadn't disappointed them, I shouldn't be
here, and I shouldn't like that. Should you?"
"No; but I wish it hadn't happened. It's a blot, and I didn't want a blot
on this day."
"Oh, well, it isn't very much of a blot, and I can easily wipe it off.
I'll tell you what, Alice! I can write to Mrs. Frobisher, when our
engagement comes out, and tell her how it was. She'll enjoy the joke, and
so will Miss Wrayne. They're jolly and easygoing; they won't mind."
"How long have you known them?"
"I met them on Class Day, and then I saw them--the day after I left
Campobello." Dan laughed a little.
"How, saw them?"
"Well, I went to a yacht race with them. I happened to meet them in the
street, and they wanted me to go; and I was all broken up, and--I Went."
"Oh!" said Alice. "The day after I--you left Campobello?"
"And I was thinking of you all that day as--And I couldn't bear to look at
anybody that day, or speak!"
"Well, the fact is, I--I was distracted, and I didn't know what I was
doing. I was desperate; I didn't care."
"How did you find out about the yacht race?"
"Boardman told me. Boardman was there."
"Did he know the ladies? Did he go too?"
"No. He was there to report the race for the Events. He went on the
"Oh!" said Alice. "Was there a large party?"
"No, no. Not very. Just ourselves, in fact. They were awfully kind.
And they made me go home to dinner with them."
"They must have been rather peculiar people," said Alice. "And I don't
see how--so soon--" She could not realise that Mavering was then a
rejected man, on whom she had voluntarily renounced all claim. A
retroactive resentment which she could not control possessed her with the
wish to punish those bold women for being agreeable to one who had since
become everything to her, though then he was ostensibly nothing.
In a vague way, Dan felt her displeasure with that passage of his history,
but no man could have fully imagined it.
"I couldn't tell half the time what I was saying or eating. I talked at
random and ate at random. I guess they thought something was wrong; they
asked me who was at Campobello."
"But you may be sure I didn't give myself away. I was awfully broken up,"
he concluded inconsequently.
She liked his being broken up, but she did not like the rest. She would
not press the question further now. She only said rather gravely, "If
it's such a short acquaintance, can you write to them in that familiar
"Oh yes! Mrs. Frobisher is one of that kind."
Alice was silent a moment before she said, "I think you'd better not
write. Let it go," she sighed.
"Yes, that's what I think," said Dan. "Better let it go. I guess it will
explain itself in the course of time. But I don't want any blots around."
He leaned over and looked her smilingly in the face.
"Oh no," she murmured; and then suddenly she caught him round the neck,
crying and sobbing. "It's only--because I wanted it to be--perfect. Oh,
I wonder if I've done right? Perhaps I oughtn't to have taken you, after
all; but I do love you--dearly, dearly! And I was so unhappy when I'd
lost you. And now I'm afraid I shall be a trial to you--nothing but a
The first tears that a young man sees a woman shed for love of him are
inexpressibly sweeter than her smiles. Dan choked with tender pride and
pity. When he found his voice, he raved out with incoherent endearments
that she only made him more and more happy by her wish to have the affair
perfect, and that he wished her always to be exacting with him, for that
would give him a chance to do something for her, and all that he desired,
as long as he lived, was to do just what she wished.
At the end of his vows and entreaties, she lifted her face radiantly, and
bent a smile upon him as sunny as that with which the sky after a summer
storm denies that there has ever been rain in the world.
"Ah! you--" He could say no more. He could not be more enraptured than
he was. He could only pass from surprise to surprise, from delight to
delight. It was her love of him which wrought these miracles. It was all
a miracle, and no part more wonderful than another. That she, who had
seemed as distant as a star, and divinely sacred from human touch, should
be there in his arms, with her head on his shoulder, where his kiss could
reach her lips, not only unforbidden, but eagerly welcome, was impossible,
and yet it was true.. But it was no more impossible and no truer, than
that a being so poised, so perfectly self-centred as she, should already
be so helplessly dependent upon him for her happiness. In the depths of
his soul he invoked awful penalties upon himself if ever he should betray
her trust, if ever he should grieve that tender heart in the slightest
thing, if from that moment he did not make his whole life a sacrifice and
He uttered some of these exalted thoughts, and they did not seem to appear
crazy to her. She said yes, they must make their separate lives offerings
to each other, and their joint lives an offering to God. The tears came
into his eyes at these words of hers: they were so beautiful and holy and
wise. He agreed that one ought always to go to church, and that now he
should never miss a service. He owned that he had been culpable in the
past. He drew her closer to him--if that were possible--and sealed his
words with a kiss.
But he could not realise his happiness then, or afterward, when he walked
the streets under the thinly misted moon of that Indian summer night.
He went down to the Events office when he left Alice, and found Boardman,
and told him that he was engaged, and tried to work Boardman up to some
sense of the greatness of the fact. Boardman shoved his fine white teeth
under his spare moustache, and made acceptable jokes, but he did not ask
indiscreet questions, and Dan's statement of the fact did not seem to give
it any more verity than it had before. He tried to get Boardman to come
and walk with him and talk it over; but Boardman said he had just been
detailed to go and work up the case of a Chinaman who had suicided a
little earlier in the evening.
"Very well, then; I'll go with you," said Mavering. "How can you live in
such a den as this?" he asked, looking about the little room before
Boardman turned down his incandescent electric. "There isn't anything big
enough to hold me but all outdoors."
In the street he linked his arm through his friend's, and said he felt
that he had a right to know all about the happy ending of the affair,
since he had been told of that miserable phase of it at Portland. But
when he came to the facts he found himself unable to give them with the
fulness he had promised. He only imparted a succinct statement as to the
where and when of the whole matter, leaving the how of it untold.
The sketch was apparently enough for Boardman. For all comment, he
reminded Mavering that he had told him at Portland it would come out all
"Yes, you did, Boardman; that's a fact," said Dan; and he conceived a
higher respect for the penetration of Boardman than he had before.
They stopped at a door in a poor court which they had somehow reached
without Mavering's privity. "Will you come in?" asked Boardman.
"Chinaman?" Then Mavering remembered. "Good heavens! no. What have I
got to do with him?"
"Both mortal," suggested the reporter.
The absurdity of this idea, though a little grisly, struck Dan as a good
joke. He hit the companionable Boardman on the shoulder, and then gave
him a little hug, and remounted his path of air, and walked off in it.
Mavering first woke in the morning with the mechanical recurrence of that
shame and grief which each day had brought him since Alice refused him.
Then with a leap of the heart came the recollection of all that had
happened yesterday. Yet lurking within his rapture was a mystery of
regret: a reasonless sense of loss, as if the old feeling had been
something he would have kept. Then this faded, and he had only the
longing to see her, to realise in her presence and with her help the fact
that she was his. An unspeakable pride filled him, and a joy in her love.
He tried to see some outward vision of his bliss in the glass; but, like
the mirror which had refused to interpret his tragedy in the Portland
restaurant, it gave back no image of his transport: his face looked as it
always did, and he and the refection laughed at each other:
He asked himself how soon he could go and see her. It was now seven
o'clock: eight would be too early, of course--it would be ridiculous; and
nine--he wondered if he might go to see her at nine. Would they have done
breakfast? Had he any right to call before ten? He was miserable at the
thought of waiting till ten: it would be three hours. He thought of
pretexts--of inviting her to go somewhere, but that was absurd, for he
could see her at home all day if he liked; of carrying her a book, but
there could be no such haste about a book; of going to ask if he had left
his cane, but why should he be in such a hurry for his cane? All at once
he thought he could take her some flowers--a bouquet to lay beside her
plate at breakfast. He dramatised himself charging the servant who should
take it from him at the door not to say who left it; but Alice would know,
of course, and they would all know; it would be very pretty. He made Mrs.
Pasmer say some flattering things of him; and he made Alice blush
deliciously to hear them. He could not manage Mr. Pasmer very well, and
he left him out of the scene: he imagined him shaving in another room;
then he remembered his wearing a full beard.
He dressed himself as quickly as he could, and went down into the hotel
vestibule, where he had noticed people selling flowers the evening before,
but there was no one there with them now, and none of the florists' shops
on the street were open yet. He could not find anything till he went to
the Providence Depot, and the man there had to take some of his
yesterday's flowers out of the refrigerator where he kept them; he was not
sure they would be very fresh; but the heavy rosebuds had fallen open, and
they were superb. Dan took all there were, and when they had been
sprinkled with water, and wrapped in cotton batting, and tied round with
paper, it was still only quarter of eight, and he left them with the man
till he could get his breakfast at the Depot restaurant. There it had a
consoling effect of not being so early; many people were already
breakfasting, and when Dan said, with his order, "Hurry it up, please," he
knew that he was taken for a passenger just arrived or departing. By a
fantastic impulse he ordered eggs and bacon again; he felt, it a fine
derision of the past and a seal of triumph upon the present to have the
same breakfast after his acceptance as he had ordered after his rejection;
he would tell Alice about it, and it would amuse her. He imagined how he
would say it, and she would laugh; but she would be full of a ravishing
compassion for his past suffering. They were long bringing the breakfast;
when it came he despatched it so quickly that it was only half after eight
when he paid his check at the counter. He tried to be five minutes more
getting his flowers, but the man had them all ready for him, and it did
not take him ten seconds. He had said he would carry them at half-past
nine; but thinking it over on a bench in the Garden, he decided that he
had better go sooner; they might breakfast earlier, and there would be no
fun if Alice did not find the roses beside her plate: that was the whole
idea. It was not till he stood at the door of the Pasmer apartment that.
he reflected that he was not accomplishing his wish to see Alice by
leaving her those flowers; he was a fool, for now he would have to
postpone coming a little, because he had already come.
The girl who answered the bell did not understand the charge he gave her
about the roses, and he repeated his words. Some one passing through the
room beyond seemed to hesitate and pause at the sound of his voice. Could
it be Alice? Then he should see her, after all! The girl looked over her
shoulder, and said, "Mrs. Pasmer."
Mrs. Pasmer came forward, and he fell into a complicated explanation and
apology. At the end she said, "You had better give them yourself. She
will be here directly." They were in the room now, and Mrs. Pasmer made
the time pass in rapid talk; but Dan felt that he ought to apologise from
time to time. "No!" she said, letting herself go. "Stay and breakfast
with us, Mr. Mavering. We shall be so glad to have you."
At last Alice came in, and they decorously shook hands. Mrs. Pasmer
turned away a smile at their decorum. "I will see that there's a place
for you," she said, leaving them.
They were instantly in each other's arms. It seemed to him that all this
had happened because he had so strongly wished it.
"What is it, Dan?" What did you come for?" she asked.
"To see if it was really true, Alice. I couldn't believe it."
"Well--let me go--you mustn't--it's too silly. Of course it's true." She
pulled herself free. "Is my hair tumbled? You oughtn't to have come;
it's ridiculous; but I'm glad you came. I've been thinking it all over,
and I've got a great many things to say to you. But come to breakfast
She had a business-like way of treating the situation that was more
intoxicating than sentiment would have been, and gave it more actuality.
Mrs. Pasmer was alone at the table, and explained that Alice's father
never breakfasted with them, or very seldom. "Where are your flowers?"
she asked Alice.
"Flowers? What flowers?"
"That Mr. Mavering brought."
They all looked at one another. Dan ran out and brought in his roses.
"They were trying to get away in the excitement, I guess, Mrs. Pasmer; I
found them behind the door." He had flung them there, without knowing it,
when Mrs. Pasmer left him with Alice.
He expected her to join him and her mother in being amused at this, but he
was as well pleased to have her touched at his having brought them, and to
turn their gaiety off in praise of the roses. She got a vase for them,
and set it on the table. He noticed for the first time the pretty house-
dress she had on, with its barred corsage and under-skirt, and the heavy
silken rope knotted round it at the waist, and dropping in heavy tufts or
balls in front.
The breakfast was Continental in its simplicity, and Mrs. Pasmer said that
they had always kept up their Paris habit of a light breakfast, even in
London, where it was not so easy to follow foreign customs as it was in
America. She was afraid he might find it too light. Then he told all
about his morning's adventure, ending with his breakfast at the Providence
Depot. Mrs. Pasmer entered into the fun of it, but she said it was for
only once in a way, and he must not expect to be let in if he came at that
hour another morning. He said no; he understood what an extraordinary
piece of luck it was for him to be there; and he was there to be bidden to
do whatever they wished. He said so much in recognition of their
goodness, that he became abashed by it. Mrs. Pasmer sat at the head of
the table, and Alice across it from him, so far off that she seemed parted
from him by an insuperable moral distance. A warm flush seemed to rise
from his heart into his throat and stifle him. He wished to shed tears.
His eyes were wet with grateful happiness in answering Mrs. Pasmer that he
would not have any more coffee. "Then," she said, "we will go into the
drawing-room;" but she allowed him and Alice to go alone.
He was still in that illusion of awe and of distance, and he submitted to
the interposition of another table between their chairs.
"I wish to talk with you," she said, so seriously that he was frightened,
and said to himself: "Now she is going to break it off. She has thought
it over, and she finds she can't endure me."
"Well?" he said huskily.
You oughtn't to have come here, you know, this morning."
"I know it," he vaguely conceded. "But I didn't expect to get in."
"Well, now you're here, we may as well talk. You must tell your family at
"Yes; I'm going to write to them as soon as I get back to my room. I
couldn't last night."
"But you mustn't write; you must go--and prepare their minds."
"Go?" he echoed. "Oh, that isn't necessary! My father knew about it from
the beginning, and I guess they've all talked it over. Their minds are
prepared." The sense of his immeasurable superiority to any one's
opposition began to dissipate Dan's unnatural awe; at the pleading face
which Alice put on, resting one cheek against the back of one of her
clasped hands, and leaning on the table with her elbows, he began to be
teased by that silken rope round her waist.
"But you don't understand, dear," she said; and she said "dear" as if they
were old married people. "You must go to see them, and tell them; and
then some of them must come to see me--your father and sisters."
"Why, of course." His eye now became fastened to one of the fluffy silken
"And then mamma and I must go to see your mother, mustn't we?"
"It'll be very nice of you--yes. You know she can't come to you."
"Yes, that's what I thought, and--What are you looking at?" she drew
herself back from the table and followed the direction of his eye with a
woman's instinctive apprehension of disarray.
He was ashamed to tell. "Oh, nothing. I was just thinking."
"Well, I don't know. That it seems so strange any one else should have
any to do with it--my family and yours. But I suppose they must. Yes,
it's all right."
"Why, of course. If your family didn't like it--"
"It wouldn't make any difference to me," said Dan resolutely.
"It would to me," she retorted, with tender reproach. "Do you suppose it
would be pleasant to go into a family that didn't like yon? Suppose papa
and mamma didn't like you?"
"But I thought they did," said Mavering, with his mind still partly on the
rope and the fluffy ball, but keeping his eyes away.
"Yes, they do," said Alice. "But your family don't know me at all; and
your father's only seen me once. Can't you understand? I'm afraid we
don't look at it seriously enough--earnestly--and oh, I do wish to have
everything done as it should be! Sometimes, when I think of it, it makes
me tremble. I've been thinking about it all the morning, and--and--
Dan wanted to fall on his knees to her. The idea of Alice in prayer was
"I wish our life to begin with others, and not with ourselves. If we're
intrusted with so much happiness, doesn't it mean that we're to do good
with it--to give it to others as if it were money?"
The nobleness of this thought stirred Dan greatly; his eyes wandered back
to the silken rope; but now it seemed to him an emblem of voluntary
suffering and self-sacrifice, like a devotee's hempen girdle. He
perceived that the love of this angelic girl would elevate him and hallow
his whole life if he would let it. He answered her, fervently, that he
would be guided by her in this as in everything; that he knew he was
selfish, and he was afraid he was not very good; but it was not because he
had not wished to be so; it was because he had not had any incentive. He
thought how much nobler and better this was than the talk he had usually
had with girls. He said that of course he would go home and tell his
people; he saw now that it would make them happier if they could hear it
directly from him. He had only thought of writing because he could not
bear to think of letting a day pass without seeing her; but if he took the
early morning train he could get back the same night, and still have three
hours at Ponkwasset Falls, and he would go the next day, if she said so.
"Go to-day, Dan," she said, and she stretched out her hand impressively
across the table toward him. He seized it with a gush of tenderness, and
they drew together in their resolution to live for others. He said he
would go at once. But the next train did not leave till two o'clock, and
there was plenty of time. In the meanwhile it was in the accomplishment
of their high aims that they sat down on the sofa together and talked of
their future; Alice conditioned it wholly upon his people's approval of
her, which seemed wildly unnecessary to Mavering, and amused him
"Yes," she said, "I know you will think me strange in a great many things;
but I shall never keep anything from you, and I'm going to tell you that I
went to matins this morning."
"To matins?" echoed Dan. He would not quite have liked her a Catholic; he
remembered with relief that she had said she was not a Roman Catholic;
though when he came to think, he would not have cared a great deal.
Nothing could have changed her from being Alice.
"Yes, I wished to consecrate the first morning of our engagement; and I'm
always going. I determined that I would go before breakfast--that was
what made breakfast so late. Don't you like it?" she asked timidly.
"Like it!" he said. "I'm going with you:"
"Oh no!" she turned upon him. "That wouldn't do." She became grave
again. "I'm glad you approve of it, for I should feel that there was
something wanting to our happiness. If marriage is a sacrament, why
shouldn't an engagement be?"
"It is," said Dan, and he felt that it was holy; till then he had never
realised that marriage was a sacrament, though he had often heard the
At the end of an hour they took a tender leave of each other, hastened by
the sound of Mrs. Pasmer's voice without. Alice escaped from one door
before her mother entered by the other. Dan remained, trying to look
unconcerned, but he was sensible of succeeding so poorly that he thought
he had better offer his hand to Mrs. Pasmer at once. He told her that he
was going up to Ponkwasset Falls at two o'clock, and asked her to please
remember him to Mr. Pasmer.
She said she would, and asked him if he were to be gone long.
"Oh no; just overnight--till I can tell them what's happened." He felt it
a comfort to be trivial with Mrs. Pasmer, after bracing up to Alice's
ideals. "I suppose they'll have to know."
"What an exemplary son!" said Mrs. Pasmer. "Yes, I suppose they will."
"I supposed it would be enough if I wrote, but Alice thinks I'd better
report in person."
"I think you had, indeed! And it will be a good thing for you both to
have the time for clarifying your ideas. Did she tell you she had been at
matins this morning?" A light of laughter trembled in Mrs. Pasmer's eyes,
and Mavering could not keep a responsive gleam out of his own. In an
instant the dedication of his engagement by morning prayer ceased to be a
high and solemn thought, and became deliciously amusing; and this laughing
Alice over with her mother did more to realise the fact that she was his
than anything else had yet done.
In that dark passage outside he felt two arms go tenderly round his neck;
and a soft shape strain itself to his heart. "I know you have been
laughing about me. But you may. I'm yours now, even to laugh at, if you
"You are mine to fall down and worship," he vowed, with an instant
revulsion of feeling.
Alice didn't say anything; he felt her hand fumbling about his coat lapel.
"Where is your breast pocket?" she asked; and he took hold of her hand,
which left a carte-de-visite-shaped something in his.
"It isn't very good," she murmured, as well as she could, with her lips
against his cheek, "but I thought you'd like to show them some proof of my
existence. I shall have none of yours while you're gone."
"O Alice! you think of everything!"
His heart was pierced by the soft reproach implied in her words; he had
not thought to ask her for her photograph, but she had thought to give it;
she must have felt it strange that he had not asked for it, and she had
meant to slip it in his pocket and let him find it there. But even his
pang of self-upbraiding was a part of his transport. He seemed to float
down the stairs; his mind was in a delirious whirl. "I shall go mad," he
said to himself in the excess of his joy--"I shall die!"
The parting scene with Alice persisted in Mavering's thought far on the
way to Ponkwasset Falls. He now succeeded in saying everything to her:
how deeply he felt her giving him her photograph to cheer him in his
separation from her; how much he appreciated her forethought in providing
him with some answer when his mother and sisters should ask him about her
looks. He took out the picture, and pretended to the other passengers to
be looking very closely at it, and so managed to kiss it. He told her
that now he understood what love really was; how powerful; how it did
conquer everything; that it had changed him and made him already a better
man. He made her refuse all merit in the work.
When he began to formulate the facts for communication to his family, love
did not seem so potent; he found himself ashamed of his passion, or at
least unwilling to let it be its own excuse even; he had a wish to give it
almost any other appearance. Until he came in sight of the station and
the Works, it had not seemed possible for any one to object to Alice. He
had been going home as a matter of form to receive the adhesion of his
family. But now he was forced to see that she might be considered
critically, even reluctantly. This would only be because his family did
not understand how perfect Alice was; but they might not understand.
With his father there would be no difficulty. His father had seen Alice
and admired her; he would be all right. Dan found himself hoping this
rather anxiously, as if from the instinctive need of his father's support
with his mother and sisters. He stopped at the Works when he left the
train, and found his father in his private office beyond the book-keeper's
picket-fence, which he penetrated, with a nod to the accountant.
"Hello, Dan!" said his father, looking up; and "Hello, father!" said Dan.
Being alone, the father and son not only shook hands, but kissed each
other, as they used to do in meeting after an absence when Dan was
He had closed his father's door with his left hand in giving his right,
and now he said at once, "Father, I've come home to tell you that I'm
engaged to be married."
Dan had prearranged his father's behaviour at this announcement, but he
now perceived that he would have to modify the scene if it were to
represent the facts. His father did not brighten all over and demand,
"Miss Pasmer, of course?" he contrived to hide whatever start the news had
given him, and was some time in asking, with his soft lisp, "Isn't that
rather sudden, Dan?"
"Well, not for me," said Dan, laughing uneasily. It's--you know her,
"Oh yes," said his father, certainly not with displeasure, and yet not
"I've had ever since Class Day to think it over, and it--came to a climax
"And then you stopped thinking," said his father--to gain time, it
appeared to Dan.
"Yes, sir," said Dan. "I haven't thought since."
"Well," said his father, with an amusement which was not unfriendly. He
added, after a moment, "But I thought that had been broken off," and Dan's
instinct penetrated to the lurking fact that his father must have talked
the rupture over with his mother, and not wholly regretted it.
"There was a kind of--hitch at one time," he admitted; "but it's all right
"Well, well," said his father, "this is great news--great news," and he
seemed to be shaping himself to the new posture of affairs, while giving
it a conditional recognition. "She's a beautiful creature."
"Isn't she?" cried Dan, with a little break in his voice, for he had found
his father's manner rather trying. "And she's good too. I assure you
that she is--she is simply perfect every way."
"Well," said the elder Mavering, rising and pulling down the rolling top
of his desk, "I'm glad to hear it, for your sake, Dan. Have you been up
at the house yet?"
"No; I'm just off the train."
"How is her mother--how is Mrs. Pasmer? All well?"
"Yes, sir," said Dan; "they're all very well. You don't know Mr. Pasmer,
I believe, sir, do you?"
"Not since college. What sort of person is he?"
"He's very refined and quiet. Very handsome. Very courteous. Very nice
"Ah! that's good," said Elbridge Mavering, with the effect of not having
been very attentive to his son's answer.
They walked up the long slope of the hillside on which the house stood,
overlooking the valley where the Works were, and fronting the plateau
across the river where the village of operatives' houses was scattered.
The paling light of what had been a very red sunset flushed them, and
brought out the picturesqueness which the architect, who designed them for
a particular effect in the view from the owner's mansion, had intended.
A good carriage road followed the easiest line of ascent towards this
edifice, and reached a gateway. Within it began to describe a curve
bordered with asphalted footways to the broad verandah of the house, and
then descended again to the gate. The grounds enclosed were planted with
deciduous shrubs, which had now mostly dropped their leaves, and clumps of
firs darkening in the evening light with the gleam of some garden statues
shivering about the lawn next the house. The breeze grew colder and
stiffer as the father and son mounted toward the mansion which Dan used to
believe was like a chateau, with its Mansard-roof and dormer windows and
chimneys. It now blocked its space sharply out of the thin pink of the
western sky, and its lights sparkled with a wintry keenness which had
often thrilled Dan when he climbed the hill from the station in former
homecomings. Their brilliancy gave him a strange sinking of the heart for
no reason. He and his father had kept up a sort of desultory talk about
Alice, and he could not have said that his father had seemed indifferent;
he had touched the affair only too acquiescently; it was painfully like
everything else. When they came in full sight of the house, Dan left the
subject, as he realised presently, from a reasonless fear of being
"It seems much later here, sir, than it does in Boston," he said, glancing
round at the maples, which stood ragged, with half their leaves blown from
"Yes; we're in the hills, and we're further north," answered his father.
Dan had seen his sister on the verandah, pausing at sight of him, and
puzzled to make out who was with her father. He had an impulse to hail
her with a shout, but he could not. In his last walk with her he had told
her that he should never marry, and they had planned to live together. It
was a joke; but now he felt as if he had come to rob her of something, and
he walked soberly on with his father.
"Why, Dan, you good-for-nothing fellow!" she called out when he came near
enough to be unmistakable, and ran down the steps to kiss him. "What in
the world are you doing here? When did you come? Why didn't you hollo,
instead of letting me stand here guessing? You're not sick, are you?"
The father got himself indoors unnoticed in the excitement of the
brother's arrival. This would have been the best moment for Dan to tell
his sister of his engagement; he knew it, but he parried her curiosity
about his coming; and then his sister Eunice came out, and he could not
speak. They all went together into the house flaming with naphtha gas,
and with the steam heat already on, and Dan said he would take his bag to
his room, and then come down again. He knew that he had left them to
think that there was something very mysterious in his coming, and while he
washed away the grime of his journey he was planning how to appear
perfectly natural when he should get back to his sisters. He recollected
that he had not asked either them or his father how his mother was, but it
was certainly not because his mind was not full of her. Alice now seemed
very remote from him, further even than his gun, or his boyish collection
of moths and butterflies, on which his eye fell in roving about his room.
For a bitter instant it seemed to him as if they were all alike toys, and
in a sudden despair he asked himself what had become of his happiness. It
was scarcely half a day since he had parted in transport from Alice.
He made pretexts to keep from returning at once to his sisters, and it was
nearly half an hour before he went down to them. By that time his father
was with them in the library, and they were waiting tea for him.
A family of rich people in the country, apart from intellectual interests,
is apt to gormandise; and the Maverings always sat down to a luxurious
table, which was most abundant and tempting at the meal they called tea,
when the invention of the Portuguese man-cook was taxed to supply the
demands of appetites at once eager and fastidious. They prolonged the
meal as much as possible in winter, and Dan used to like to get home just
in time for tea when he came up from Harvard; it was always very jolly,
and he brought a boy's hunger to its abundance. The dining-room, full of
shining light, and treated from the low-down grate, was a pleasant place.
But now his spirits failed to rise with the physical cheer; he was almost
bashfully silent; he sat cowed in the presence of his sisters, and
careworn in the place where he used to be so gay and bold. They were
waiting to have him begin about himself, as he always did when he had been
away, and were ready to sympathise with his egotism, whatever new turn it
took. He mystified them by asking about them and their affairs, and by
dealing in futile generalities, instead of launching out with any business
that he happened at the time to be full of. But he did not attend to
their answers to his questions; he was absent-minded, and only knew that
his face was flushed, and that he was obviously ill at ease.
His younger sister turned from him impatiently at last. "Father, what is
the matter with Dan?"
Her bold recognition of their common constraint broke it down. Dan looked
at his father with helpless consent, and his father said quietly, "He
tells me he's engaged."
"What nonsense!" said his sister Eunice.
"Why, Dan!" cried Minnie; and he felt a reproach in her words which the
words did not express. A silence followed, in which the father along went
on with his supper. The girls sat staring at Dan with incredulous eyes.
He became suddenly angry.
"I don't know what's so very extraordinary about it, or why there should
be such a pother," he began; and he knew that he was insolently ignoring
abundant reasons for pother, if there had been any pother. "Yes, I'm
He expected now that they would believe him, and ask whom he was engaged
to; but apparently they were still unable to realise it. He was obliged
to go on. "I'm engaged to Miss Pasmer."
"To Miss Pasmer!" repeated Eunice.
"But I thought--" Minnie began, and then stopped.
Dan commanded his temper by a strong effort, and condescended to explain.
"There was a misunderstanding, but it's all right now; I only met her
yesterday, and--it's all right." He had to keep on ignoring what had
passed between him and his sisters during the month he spent at home after
his return from Campobello. He did not wish to do so; he would have been
glad to laugh over that epoch of ill-concealed heart-break with them; but
the way they had taken the fact of his engagement made it impossible. He
was forced to keep them at a distance; they forced him. "I'm glad," he
added bitterly, "that the news seems to be so agreeable to my family.
Thank you for your cordial congratulations." He swallowed a large cup of
tea, and kept looking down.
"How silly!" said Eunice, who was much the oldest of the three. "Did you
expect us to fall upon your neck before we could believe it wasn't a hoax
"A hoax!" Dan burst out.
"I suppose," said Minnie, with mock meekness, "that if we're to be
devoured, it's no use saying we didn't roil the brook. I'm sure I
congratulate you, Dan, with all my heart," she added, with a trembling
"I congratulate Miss Pasmer," said Eunice, "on securing such a very
When Eunice first became a young lady she was so much older than Dan that
in his mother's absence she sometimes authorised herself to box his ears,
till she was finally overthrown in battle by the growing boy. She still
felt herself so much his tutelary genius that she could not let the idea
of his engagement awe her, or keep her from giving him a needed lesson.
Dan jumped to his feet, and passionately threw his napkin on his chair.
"There, that will do, Eunice!" interposed the father. "Sit down, Dan, and
don't be an ass, if you are engaged. Do you expect to come up here with a
bombshell in your pocket, and explode it among us without causing any
commotion? We all desire your happiness, and we are glad if you think
you've found it, but we want to have time to realise it. We had only
adjusted our minds to the apparent fact that you hadn't found it when you
were here before." His father began very severely, but when he ended with
this recognition of what they had all blinked till then, they laughed
"My pillow isn't dry yet, with the tears I shed for you, Dan," said Minnie
"I shall have to countermand my mourning," said Eunice, "and wear louder
colours than ever. Unless," she added, "Miss Pasmer changes her mind
This divination of the past gave them all a chance for another laugh, and
Dan's sisters began to reconcile themselves to the fact of his engagement,
if not to Miss Pasmer. In what was abstractly so disagreeable there was
the comfort that they could joke about his happiness; they had not felt
free to make light of his misery when he was at home before. They began
to ask all the questions they could think of as to how and when, and they
assimilated the fact more and more in acquiring these particulars and
making a mock of them and him.
"Of course you haven't got her photograph," suggested Eunice. "You know
we've never had the pleasure of meeting the young lady yet."
"Yes," Dan owned, blushing, "I have. She thought I might like to show it
to mother: But it isn't--"
"A very good one--they never are," said Minnie.
"And it was taken several years ago--they always are," said Eunice.
"And she doesn't photograph well, anyway."
"And this one was just after a long fit of sickness."
Dan drew it out of his pocket, after some fumbling for it, while he
tolerated their gibes.
Eunice put her nose to it. "I hope it's your cigarettes it smells of,"
"Yes; she doesn't use the weed," answered Dan.
"Oh, I didn't mean that, exactly," returned his sister, holding the
picture off at arm's length, and viewing it critically with contracted
Dan could not help laughing. "I don't think it's been near any other
cigar-case," he answered tranquilly.
Minnie looked at it very near to, covering all but the face with her hand.
"Dan, she's lovely!" she cried, and Dan's heart leaped into his throat As
he gratefully met his sister's eyes.
"You'll like her, Min."
Eunice took the photograph from her for a second scrutiny. "She's
certainly very stylish. Rather a beak of a nose, and a little too bird--
like on the whole. But she isn't so bad. Is it like her?" she asked with
a glance at her father.
"I might say--after looking," he replied.
"True! I didn't know but Dan had shown it to you as soon as you met. He
seemed to be in such a hurry to let us all know."
The father said, "I don't think it flatters her," and he looked at it more
carefully. "Not much of her mother there?" he suggested to Dan.
"No, sir; she's more like her father."
"Well, after all this excitement, I believe I'll have another cup of tea,
and take something to eat, if Miss Pasmer's photograph doesn't object,"
said Eunice, and she replenished her cup and plate.
"What coloured hair and eyes has she, Dan?" asked Minnie.
He had to think so as to be exact. "Well, you might say they were black,
her eyebrows are so dark. But I believe they're a sort of greyish-blue."
"Not an uncommon colour for eyes," said Eunice, "but rather peculiar for
They got to making fun of the picture, and Dan told them about Alice and
her family; the father left them at the table, and then came back with
word from Dan's mother that she was ready to see him.
By eight o'clock in the evening the pain with which every day began for
Mrs. Mavering was lulled, and her jarred nerves were stayed by the opiates
till she fell asleep about midnight. In this interval the family gathered
into her room, and brought her their news and the cheer of their health.
The girls chattered on one side of her bed, and their father sat with his
newspaper on the other, and read aloud the passages which he thought would
interest her, while she lay propped among her pillows, brilliantly eager
for the world opening this glimpse of itself to her shining eyes. That
was on her good nights, when the drugs did their work, but there were
times when they failed, and the day's agony prolonged itself through the
evening, and the sleep won at last was a heavy stupor. Then the
sufferer's temper gave way under the stress; she became the torment she
suffered, and tore the hearts she loved. Most of all, she afflicted the
man who had been so faithful to her misery, and maddened him to reprisals,
of which he afterward abjectly repented. Her tongue was sharpened by
pain, and pitilessly skilled to inculpate and to punish; it pierced and
burned like fire but when a good day came again she made it up to the
victims by the angelic sweetness and sanity which they felt was her real
self; the cruelty was only the mask of her suffering.
When she was better they brought to her room anybody who was staying with
them, and she liked them to be jolly in the spacious chamber. The
pleasantest things of the house were assembled, and all its comforts
concentrated, in the place which she and they knew she should quit but
once. It was made gay with flowers and pictures; it was the salon for
those fortunate hours when she became the lightest and blithest of the
company in it, and made the youngest guest forget that there was sickness
or pain in the world by the spirit with which she ignored her own. Her
laugh became young again; she joked; she entered into what they were doing
and reading and thinking, and sent them away full of the sympathy which in
this mood of hers she had for every mood in others. Girls sighed out
their wonder and envy to her daughters when they left her; the young men
whom she captivated with her divination of their passions or ambitions
went away celebrating her supernatural knowledge of human nature. The
next evening after some night of rare and happy excitement, the family saw
her nurse carrying the pictures and flowers and vases out of her room, in
sign of her renunciation of them all, and assembled silently, shrinkingly,
in her chamber, to take each their portion of her anguish, of the blame
and the penalty. The household adjusted itself to her humours, for she
was supreme in it.
When Dan used to come home from Harvard she put on a pretty cap for him,
and distinguished him as company by certain laces hiding her wasted frame,
and giving their pathetic coquetry to her transparent wrists. He was her
favourite, and the girls acknowledged him so, and made their fun of her
for spoiling him. He found out as he grew up that her broken health dated
from his birth, and at first this deeply affected him; but his young life
soon lost the keenness of the impression, and he loved his mother because
she loved him, and not because she had been dying for him so many years.
As he now came into her room, and the waiting-woman went out of it with
her usual, "Well, Mr. Dan!" the tenderness which filled him at sight of
his mother was mixed with that sense of guilt which had tormented him at
times ever since he met his sisters. He was going to take himself from
her; he realised that.
"Well, Dan!" she called, so gaily that he said to himself, "No, father
hasn't told her anything about it," and was instantly able to answer her
as cheerfully, "Well, mother!"
He bent over her to kiss her, and the odour of the clean linen mingling
with that of the opium, and the cologne with which she had tried to banish
its scent, opened to him one of those vast reaches of associations which
perfumes can unlock, and he saw her lying there through those years of
pain, as many as half his life, and suddenly the tears gushed into his
eyes, and he fell on his knees, and hid his face in the bed-clothes and
She kept smoothing his head, which shook under her thin hand, and saying,
"Poor Dan! poor Dan!" but did not question him. He knew that she knew
what he had come to tell her, and that his tears, which had not been meant
for that, had made interest with her for him and his cause, and that she
was already on his side.
He tried boyishly to dignify the situation when he lifted his face, and he
said, "I didn't mean to come boohooing to you in this way, and I'm ashamed
"I know, Dan; but you've been wrought up, and I don't wonder. You mustn't
mind your father and your sisters. Of course, they're rather surprised,
and they don't like your taking yourself from them--we, none of us do."
At these honest words Dan tried to become honest too. At least he dropped
his pretence of dignity, and became as a little child in his simple greed
for sympathy. "But it isn't necessarily that; is it, mother?"
"Yes, it's all that, Dan; and it's all right, because it's that. We don't
like it, but our not liking it has nothing to do with its being right or
"I supposed that father would have been pleased, anyway; for he has seen
her, and--and. Of course the girls haven't, but I think they might have
trusted my judgment a little. I'm not quite a fool."
His mother smiled. "Oh, it isn't a question of the wisdom of your choice;
it's the unexpectedness. We all saw that you were very unhappy when you
were here before, and we supposed it had gone wrong."
"It had, mother," said Dan. "She refused me at Campobello. But it was a
misunderstanding, and as soon as we met--"
"I knew you had met again, and what you had come home for, and I told your
father so, when he came to say you were here."
"Did you, mother?" he asked, charmed at her having guessed that.
"Yes. She must be a good girl to send you straight home to tell us."
"You knew I wouldn't have thought of that myself," said Dan joyously. "I
wanted to write; I thought that would do just as well. I hated to leave
her, but she made me come. She is the best, and the wisest, and the most
unselfish--O mother, I can't tell you about her! You must see her. You
can't realise her till you see her, mother. You'll like each other, I'm
sure of that. You're just alike." It seemed to Dan that they were
"Then perhaps we sha'n't," suggested his mother. "Let me see her
"How did you know I had it? If it hadn't been for her, I shouldn't have
brought any. She put it into my pocket just as I was leaving. She said
you would all want to see what she looked like."
He had taken it out of his pocket, and he held it, smiling fondly upon it.
Alice seemed to smile back at him. He had lost her in the reluctance of
his father and sisters; and now his mother--it was his mother who had
given her to him again. He thought how tenderly he loved his mother.
When he could yield her the photograph, she looked long and silently at
it. "She has a great deal of character, Dan."
"There you've hit it, mother! I'd rather you would have said that than
anything else. But don't you think she's beautiful? She's the gentlest
creature, when you come to know her! I was awfully afraid of her at
first. I thought she was very haughty. But she isn't at all. She's
really very self-depreciatory; she thinks she isn't good enough for me.
You ought to hear her talk, mother, as I have. She's full of the noblest
ideals--of being of some use in the world, of being self-devoted, and--all
that kind of thing. And you can see that she's capable of it. Her aunt's
in a Protestant sisterhood," he said, with a solemnity which did not seem
to communicate itself to his mother, for Mrs. Mavering smiled. Dan smiled
too, and said: "But I can't tell you about Alice, mother. She's perfect."
His heart overflowed with proud delight in her, and he was fool enough to
add, "She's so affectionate!"
His mother kept herself from laughing. "I dare say she is, Dan--with
you." Then she hid all but her eyes with the photograph, and gave way.
"What a donkey!" said Dan, meaning himself. "If I go on, I shall disgust
you with her. What I mean is that she isn't at all proud, as I used to
think she was."
"No girl is, under the circumstances. She has all she can do to be proud
"Do you think so, mother?" he said, enraptured with the notion. "I've
done my best--or my worst--not to give her any reason to be so."
"She doesn't 'want any--the less the better. You silly boy! Don't you
suppose she wants to make you out of whole cloth just as you do with her?
She doesn't want any facts to start with; they'd be in the way. Well,
now, I can make out, with your help, what the young lady is; but what are
the father and mother? They're rather important in these cases."
"Oh, they're the nicest kind of people," said Dan, in optimistic
generalisation. "You'd like Mrs. Pasmer. She's awfully nice."
"Do you say that because you think I wouldn't?" asked his mother. "Isn't
she rather sly and hum-bugging?"
"Well, yes, she is, to a certain extent," Dan admitted, with a laugh.
"But she doesn't mean any harm by it. She's extremely kind-hearted."
"To you? I dare say. And Mr. Pasmer is rather under her thumb?"
"Well, yes, you might say thumb," Dan consented, feeling it useless to
defend the Pasmers against this analysis.
"We won't say heel," returned his mother; "we're too polite. And your
father says he had the reputation in college of being one of the most
selfish fellows in the world. He's never done anything since but lose
most of his money. He's been absolutely idle and useless all his days."
She turned her vivid blue eyes suddenly upon her son's.
Dan winced. "You know how hard father is upon people who haven't done
anything. It's a mania of his. Of course Mr. Pasmer doesn't show to
advantage where there's no--no leisure class."
Dan was going to say, "He's very amiable, though," but he was afraid of
his mother's retorting, "To you?" and he held his peace, looking
Whether his mother took pity on him or not, her next sally was consoling.
"But your Alice may not take after either of them. Her father is the
worst of his breed, it seems; the rest are useful people, from what your
father knows, and there's a great deal to be hoped for collaterally. She
had an uncle in college at the same time who was everything that her
father was not."
"One of her aunts is in one of those Protestant religious houses in
England," repeated Dan.
"Oh!" said his mother shortly, "I don't know that I like that
particularly. But probably she isn't useless there. Is Alice very
"Well, I suppose," said Dan, with a smile for the devotions that came into
his thought, "she's what would be called 'Piscopal pious."
Mrs. Mavering referred to the photograph, which she still held in her
hand. "Well, she's pure and good, at any rate. I suppose you look
forward to a long engagement?"
Dan was somewhat taken aback at a supposition so very contrary to what was
in his mind. "Well, I don't know. Why?"
"It might be said that you are very young. How old is Agnes--Alice, I
"Twenty-one. But now, look here, mother! It's no use considering such a
thing in the abstract, is it?"
"No," said his mother, with a smile for what might be coming.
"This is the way I've been viewing it; I may say it's the way Alice has
been viewing it--or Mrs. Pasmer, rather."
"Decidedly Mrs. Pasmer, rather. Better be honest, Dan."
"I'll do my best. I was thinking, hoping, that is, that as I'm going
right into the business--have gone into it already, in fact--and could
begin life at once, that perhaps there wouldn't be much sense in waiting a
"That's all. That is, if you and father are agreed." He reflected upon
this provision, and added, with a laugh of confusion and pleasure: "It
seems to be so very much more of a family affair than I used to think it
"You thought it concerned just you and her?" said his mother, with arch
"Poor fellow! She knew better than that, you may be sure. At any rate,
her mother did."
"What Mrs. Pasmer doesn't know isn't probably worth knowing," said Dan,
with an amused sense of her omniscience.
"I thought so," sighed his mother, smiling too. "And now you begin to
find out that it concerns the families in all their branches on both
"Oh, if it stopped at the families and their ramifications! But it seems
to take in society and the general public."
"So it does--more than you can realise. You can't get married to yourself
alone, as young people think; and if you don't marry happily, you sin
against the peace and comfort of the whole community."
"Yes, that's what I'm chiefly looking out for now. I don't want any of
those people in Central Africa to suffer. That's the reason I want to
marry Alice at the earliest opportunity. But I suppose there'll have to
be a Mavering embassy to the high contracting powers of the other part
"Your father and one of the girls had better go down."
"And invite Mr. and Mrs. Pasmer and their daughter to come up here."
"All on probation?"
"Oh no. If you're pleased, Dan--"
I am, mother--measurably." They both laughed at this mild way of putting
"Why, then it's to be supposed that we're all pleased. You needn't bring
the whole Pasmer family home to live with you, if you do marry them all."
"No," said Dan, and suddenly be became very distraught. It flashed
through him that his mother was expecting him to come home with Alice to
live, and that she would not be at all pleased with his scheme of a
European sojourn, which Mrs. Pasmer had so cordially adopted. He was
amazed that he had not thought of that, but he refused to see any
difficulty which his happiness could not cope with.
"No, there's that view of it," he said jollily; and he buried his
momentary anxiety out of sight, and, as it were, danced upon its grave.
Nevertheless, he had a desire to get quickly away from the spot. "I hope
the Mavering embassy won't be a great while getting ready to go," he said.
"Of course it's all right; but I shouldn't want an appearance of
reluctance exactly, you know, mother; and if there should be much of an
interval between my getting back and their coming on, don't you know, why,
the cat might let herself out of the bag."
"What cat?" asked his mother demurely.
"Well, you know, you haven't received my engagement with unmingled
enthusiasm, and--and I suppose they would find it out from me--from my
manner; and--and I wish they'd come along pretty soon, mother."
"Poor boy! I'm afraid the cat got out of the bag when Mrs. Pasmer came to
the years of discretion. But you sha'n't be left a prey to her. They
shall go back with you. Ring the bell, and let's talk it over with them
Dan joyfully obeyed. He could see that his mother was all on fire with
interest in his affair, and that the idea of somehow circumventing Mrs.
Pasmer by prompt action was fascinating her.
His sisters came up at once, and his father followed a moment later. They
all took their cue from the mother's gaiety, and began talking and
laughing, except the father, who sat looking on with a smile at their
lively spirits and the jokes of which Dan became the victim. Each family
has its own fantastic medium, in which it gets affairs to relieve them of
their concrete seriousness, and the Maverings now did this with Dan's
engagement, and played with it as an airy abstraction. They debated the
character of the embassy which was to be sent down to Boston on their
behalf, and it was decided that Eunice had better go with her father, as
representing more fully the age and respectability of the family: at first
glance the Pasmers would take her for Dan's mother, and this would be a
"And if I like the ridiculous little chit," said Eunice, "I think I shall
let Dan marry her at once. I see no reason why he shouldn't and I
couldn't stand a long engagement; I should break it off."
"I guess there are others who will have something to say about that,"
retorted the younger sister. "I've always wanted a long engagement in
this family, and as there seems to be no chance for it with the ladies, I
wish to make the most of Dan's. I always like it where the hero gets sick
and the heroine nurses him. I want Dan to get sick, and have Alice come
here and take care of him."
"No; this marriage must take place at once. What do you say, father?"
Her father sat, enjoying the talk, at the foot of the bed, with a tendency
to doze. "You might ask Dan," he said, with a lazy cast of his eye toward
"Dan has nothing to do with it."
"Dan shall not be consulted."
The two girls stormed upon their father with their different reasons.
"Now I will tell you Girls, be still!" their mother broke in. "Listen
to me: I have an idea."
"Listen to her: she has an idea!" echoed Eunice, in recitative.
"Will you be quiet?" demanded the mother.
"We will be du-u-mb!"
When they became so, at the verge of their mother's patience, of which
they knew the limits, she went on: "I think Dan had better get married at
"But what does Dan say?"
"I will--make the sacrifice," said Dan meekly.
"Noble boy! That's exactly what Washington said to his mother when she
asked him not to go to sea," said Minnie.
"And then he went into the militia, and made it all right with himself
that way," said Eunice. "Dan can't play his filial piety on this family.
Go on, mother."
"I want him to bring his wife home, and live with us," continued his
"In the L part!" cried Minnie, clasping her hands in rapture. "I've
always said what a perfect little apartment it was by itself."
"Well, don't say it again, then," returned her sister. "Always is often
enough. Well, in the L part Go on, mother! Don't ask where you were,
when it's so exciting."
"I don't care whether it's in the L part or not. There's plenty of room
in the great barn of a place everywhere."
"But what about his taking care of the business in Boston?" suggested
Eunice, looking at her father.
"There's no hurry about that."
"And about the excursion to aesthetic centres abroad?" Minnie added.
"That could be managed," said her father, with the same ironical smile.
The mother and the girls went on wildly planning Dan's future for him. It
was all in a strain of extravagant burlesque. But he could not take his
part in it with his usual zest. He laughed and joked too, but at the
bottom of his heart was an uneasy remembrance of the different future he
had talked over with Mrs. Pasmer so confidently. But he said to himself
buoyantly at last that it would come out all right. His mother would give
in, or else Alice could reconcile her mother to whatever seemed really
He parted from his mother with fond gaiety. His sisters came out of the
room with him.
"I'm perfectly sore with laughing," said Minnie. "It seems like old
times--doesn't it, Dan?--such a gale with mother."
An engagement must always be a little incredible at first to the families
of the betrothed, and especially to the family of the young man; in the
girl's, the mother, at least, will have a more realising sense of the
situation. If there are elder sisters who have been accustomed to regard
their brother as very young, he will seem all the younger because in such
a matter he has treated himself as if he were a man; and Eunice Mavering
said, after seeing the Pasmers, "Well, Dan, it's all well enough, I
suppose, but it seems too ridiculous."
"What's ridiculous about it, I should like to know?" he demanded.
"Oh, I don't know. Who'll look after you when you're married? Oh, I
forgot Ma'am Pasmer!"
"I guess we shall be able to look after ourselves," said Dan; a little
"Yes, if you'll be allowed to," insinuated his sister.
They spoke at the end of a talk in which he had fretted at the reticence
of both his sister and his father concerning the Pasmers, whom they had
just been to see. He was vexed with his father, because he felt that he
had been influenced by Eunice, and had somehow gone back on him. He was
vexed and he was grieved because his father had left them at the door of
the hotel without saying anything in praise of Alice, beyond the
generalities that would not carry favour with Eunice; and he was depressed
with a certain sense of Alice's father and mother, which seemed to have
imparted itself to him from the others, and to be the Mavering opinion of
them. He could no longer see Mrs. Pasmer harmless if trivial, and good-
hearted if inveterately scheming; he could not see the dignity and
refinement which he had believed in Mr. Pasmer; they had both suffered a
sort of shrinkage or collapse, from which he could not rehabilitate them.
But this would have been nothing if his sister's and his father's eyes,
through which he seemed to have been looking, had not shown him Alice in a
light in which she appeared strange and queer almost to eccentricity. He
was hurt at this effect from their want of sympathy, his pride was
touched, and he said to himself that he should not fish for Eunice's
praise; but he found himself saying, without surprise, "I suppose you will
do what you can to prejudice mother and Min."
"Isn't that a little previous?" asked Eunice. "Have I said anything
against Miss Pasmer?"
"You haven't because you couldn't," said Dan, with foolish bitterness.
"Oh, I don't know about that. She's a human being, I suppose--at least
that was the impression I got from her parentage."
"What have you got to say against her parents?" demanded Dan savagely.
"Oh, nothing. I didn't come down to Boston to denounce the Pasmer
"I suppose you didn't like their being in a flat; you'd have liked to find
them in a house on Commonwealth Avenue or Beacon Street."
"I'll own I'm a snob," said Eunice, with maddening meekness. "So's
"They are connected with the best families in the city, and they are in
the best society. They do what they please, and they live where they
like. They have been so long in Europe that they don't care for those
silly distinctions. But what you say doesn't harm them. It's simply
disgraceful to you; that's all," said Dan furiously.
"I'm glad it's no worse, Dan," said his sister, with a tranquil smile.
"And if you'll stop prancing up and down the room, and take a seat, and
behave yourself in a Christian manner, I'll talk with you; and if you
don't, I won't. Do you suppose I'm going to be bullied into liking them?"
"You can like them or not, as you please," said Dan sullenly; but he sat
down, and waited decently for his sister to speak. "But you can't abuse
them--at least in my presence."
"I didn't know men lost their heads as well as their hearts," said Eunice.
"Perhaps it's only an exchange, though, and it's Miss Pasmer's head." Dan
started, but did not say anything, and Eunice smoothly continued: "No, I
don't believe it is. She looked like a sensible girl, and she talked
sensibly. I should think she had a very good head. She has good manners,
and she's extremely pretty, and very graceful. I'm surprised she should
be in love with such a simpleton."
"Oh, go on! Abuse me as much as you like," said Dan. He was at once
soothed by her praise of Alice.
"No, it isn't necessary to go on; the case is a little too obvious. But I
think she will do very well. I hope you're not marrying the whole family,
though. I suppose that it's always a question of which shall be scooped
up. They will want to scoop you up, and we shall want to scoop her up. I
dare say Ma'am Pasmer has her little plan; what is it?"
Dan started at this touch on the quick, but he controlled himself, and
said, with dignity, "I have my own plans."
"Well, you know what mother's are," returned Eunice easily. "You seem so
cheerful that I suppose yours are quite the same, and you're just keeping
them for a surprise." She laughed provokingly, and Dan burst forth again--
"You seem to live to give people pain. You take a fiendish delight in
torturing others. But if you think you can influence me in the slightest
degree, you're very much mistaken."
"Well, well, there! It sha'n't be teased any more, so it sha'n't! It
shall have its own way, it shall, and nobody shall say a word against its
little girly's mother." Eunice rose from her chair, and patted Dan on the
head as she passed to the adjoining room. He caught her hand, and flung
it violently away; she shrieked with delight in his childish resentment,
and left him sulking. She was gone two or three minutes, and when she
came back it was in quite a different mood, as often happens with women in
a little lapse of time.
"Dan, I think Miss Pasmer is a beautiful girl, and I know we shall all
like her, if you don't set us against her by your arrogance. Of course we
don't know anything about her yet, and you don't, really; but she seems a
very lovable little thing, and if she's rather silent and undemonstrative,
why, she'll be all the better for you: you've got demonstration enough for
twenty. And I think the family are well enough. Mrs. Pasmer is
thoroughly harmless; and Mr. Pasmer is a most dignified personage; his
eyebrows alone are worth the price of admission." Dan could not help
smiling. "All that there is about it is, you mustn't expect to drive
people into raptures about them, and expect them to go grovelling round on
their knees because you do."
"Oh, I know I'm an infernal idiot," said Dan, yielding to the mingled
sarcasm and flattery. "It's because I'm so anxious; and you all seem so
confoundedly provisional about it. Eunice, what do you suppose father
Eunice seemed tempted to a relapse into her teasing, but she did not
yield. "Oh, father's all right--from your point of view. He's been
ridiculous from the first; perhaps that's the reason he doesn't feel
obliged to expatiate and expand a great deal at present."
"Do you think so?" cried Dan, instantly adopting her as an ally.
"Well, if I sad so, oughtn't it to be enough?"
"It depends upon what else you say. Look here, now, Eunice!" Dan said,
with a laughing mixture of fun and earnest, "what are you going to say to
mother? It's no use, being disagreeable, is it? Of course, I don't
contend for ideal perfection anywhere, and I don't expect it. But there
isn't anything experimental about this thing, and don't you think we had
better all make the best of it?"
"That sounds very impartial."
"It is impartial. I'm a purely disinterested spectator."
"And don't you suppose I understand Mr. and Mrs. Pasmer quite as well as
you do? All I say is that Alice is simply the noblest girl that ever
"Now you're talking sense, Dan!"
"Well, what are you going to say when you get home, Eunice? Come!"
"That we had better make the best of it."
"And what else?"
"That you're hopelessly infatuated; and that she will twist you round her
"But that you've had your own way so much, it will do you good to have
somebody else's a while."
"I guess you're pretty solid," said Dan, after thinking it over for a
moment. "I don't believe you're going to make it hard for me, and I know
you can make it just what you please. But I want you to be frank with
mother. Of course I wish you felt about the whole affair just as I do,
but if you're right on the main question, I don't care for the rest. I'd
rather mother would know just how you feel about it," said Dan, with a
sigh for the honesty which he felt to be not immediately attainable in his
"Well, I'll see what can be done," Eunice finally assented.
Whatever her feelings were in regard to the matter, she must have
satisfied herself that the situation was not to be changed by her
disliking it, and she began to talk so sympathetically with Dan that she
soon had the whole story of his love out of him. They laughed a good deal
together at it, but it convinced her that he had not been hoodwinked into
the engagement. It is always the belief of a young man's family,
especially his mother and sisters, that unfair means have been used to win
him, if the family of his betrothed are unknown to them; and it was a
relief, if not exactly a comfort, for Eunice Mavering to find that Alice
was as great a simpleton as Dan, and perhaps a sincerer simpleton.
A week later, in fulfilment of the arrangement made by Mrs. Pasmer and
Eunice Mavering, Alice and her mother returned the formal visit of Dan's
While Alice stood before the mirror in one of the sumptuously furnished
rooms assigned them, arranging a ribbon for the effect upon Dan's mother
after dinner, and regarding its relation to her serious beauty, Mrs.
Pasmer came out of her chamber adjoining, and began to inspect the formal
splendour of the place.
"What a perfect man's house!" she said, peering about. "You can see that
everything has been done to order. They have their own taste; they're
artistic enough for that--or the father is--and they've given orders to
have things done so and so, and the New York upholsterer has come up and
taken the measure of the rooms and done it. But it isn't like New York,
and it isn't individual. The whole house is just like those girls'
tailor-made costumes in character. They were made in New York, but they
don't wear them with the New York style; there's no more atmosphere about
them than if they were young men dressed up. There isn't a thing lacking
in the house here; there's an awful completeness; but even the ornaments
seem laid on, like the hot and cold water. I never saw a handsomer, more
uninviting room than that drawing room. I suppose the etching will come
some time after supper. What do you think of it all, Alice?"
"Oh, I don't know. They must be very rich," said the girl indifferently.
"You can't tell. Country people of a certain kind are apt to put
everything on their backs and their walls and floors. Of course such a
house here doesn't mean what it would in town." She examined the texture
of the carpet more critically, and the curtains; she had no shame about a
curiosity that made her daughter shrink.
"Don't, mamma!" pleaded the girl. "What if they should come?"
"They won't come," said Mrs. Pasmer; and her notice being called to Alice,
she made her take off the ribbon. "You're better without it."
"I'm so nervous I don't know what I'm doing," said Alice, removing it,
with a whimper.
"Well, I can't have you breaking down!" cried her mother warningly: she
really wished to shake her, as a culmination of her own conflicting
emotions. "Alice, stop this instant! Stop it, I say!"
"But if I don't like her?" whimpered Alice.
"You're not going to marry her. Now stop! Here, bathe your eyes; they're
all red. Though I don't know that it matters. Yes, they'll expect you to
have been crying," said Mrs. Pasmer, seeing the situation more and more
clearly. "It's perfectly natural." But she took some cologne on a
handkerchief, and recomposed Alice's countenance for her. "There, the
colour becomes you, and I never saw your eyes look so bright."
There was a pathos in their brilliancy which of course betrayed her to the
Mavering girls. It softened Eunice, and encouraged Minnie, who had been a
little afraid of the Pasmers. They both kissed Alice with sisterly
affection. Their father merely saw how handsome she looked, and Dan's
heart seemed to melt in his breast with tenderness.
In recognition of the different habits of their guests, they had dinner
instead of tea. The Portuguese cook had outdone himself, and course
followed course in triumphal succession. Mrs. Pasmer praised it all with
a sincerity that took away a little of the zest she felt in making
Everything about the table was perfect, but in a man's fashion, like the
rest of the house. It lacked the atmospheric charm, the otherwise
indefinable grace, which a woman's taste gives. It was in fact Elbridge
Mavering's taste which had characterised the whole; the daughters simply
accepted and approved.
"Yes," said Eunice, "we haven't much else to do; so we eat. And Joe does
his best to spoil us."
"Joe's the cook. All Portuguese cooks are Joe."
"How very amusing!" said Mrs. Pasmer. "You must let me speak of your
grapes. I never saw anything so--well!--except your roses."
"There you touched father in two tender spots. He cultivates both."
"Really? Alice, did you ever see anything like these roses?"
Alice looked away from Dan a moment, and blushed to find that she had been
looking so long at him.
"Ah, I have," said Mavering gallantly.
"Does he often do it?" asked Mrs. Pasmer, in an obvious aside to Eunice.
Dan answered for him. "He never had such a chance before."
Between coffee, which they drank at table, and tea, which they were to
take in Mrs. Mavering's room, they acted upon a suggestion from Eunice
that her father should show Mrs. Pasmer his rose-house. At one end of the
dining-room was a little apse of glass full of flowering plants growing
out of the ground, and with a delicate fountain tinkling in their midst.
Dan ran before the rest, and opened two glass doors in the further side of
this half-bubble, and at the same time with a touch flashed up a
succession of brilliant lights in some space beyond, from which there
gushed in a wave of hothouse fragrance, warm, heavy, humid. It was a
pretty little effect for guests new to the house, and was part of Elbridge
Mavering's pleasure in this feature of his place. Mrs. Pasmer responded
with generous sympathy, for if she really liked anything with her whole
heart, it was an effect, and she traversed the half-bubble by its pebbled
path, showering praises right and left with a fulness and accuracy that
missed no detail, while Alice followed silently, her hand in Minnie
Mavering's, and cold with suppressed excitement. The rose-house was
divided by a wall, pierced with frequent doorways, over which the trees
were trained and the roses hung; and on either side were ranks of rare and
costly kinds, weighed down with bud and bloom. The air was thick with
their breath and the pungent odours of the rich soil from which they grew,
and the glass roof was misted with the mingled exhalations.
Mr. Mavering walked beside Alice, modestly explaining the difficulties of
rose culture, and his method of dealing with the red spider. He had a
stout knife in his hand, and he cropped long, heavy-laden stems of roses
from the walls and the beds, casually giving her their different names,
and laying them along his arm in a massive sheaf.
Mrs. Pasmer and Eunice had gone forward with Dan, and were waiting for
them at the thither end of the rose-house.
"Alice! just imagine: the grapery is beyond this," cried the girl's
"It's a cold grapery," said Mr. Mavering. "I hope you'll see it to-
"Oh, why not to-night?" shouted Dan.
"Because it's a cold grapery," said Eunice; "and after this rose-house,
it's an Arctic grapery. You're crazy, Dan."
"Well, I want Alice to see it anyway," he persisted wilfully. "There's
nothing like a cold grapery by starlight. I'll get some wraps." They all
knew that he wished to be alone with her a moment, and the three women,
consenting with their hearts, protested with their tongues, following him
in his flight with their chorus, and greeting his return. He muffled her
to the chin in a fur-lined overcoat, which he had laid hands on the first
thing; and her mother, still protesting, helped to tie a scarf over her
hair so as not to disarrange it. "Here," he pointed, "we can run through
it, and it's worth seeing. Better come," he said to the others as he
opened the door, and hurried Alice down the path under the keen sparkle of
the crystal roof, blotched with the leaves and bunches of the vines.
Coming out of the dense, sensuous, vaporous air of the rose-house into
this clear, thin atmosphere, delicately penetrated with the fragrance,
pure and cold, of the fruit, it was as if they had entered another world.
His arm crept round her in the odorous obscurity.
"Look up! See the stars through the vines! But when she lifted her face
he bent his upon it for a wild kiss.
"Don't! don't!" she murmured. "I want to think; I don't know what I'm
"Neither do I. I feel as if I were a blessed ghost."
Perhaps it is only in these ecstasies of the senses that the soul ever
reaches self-consciousness on earth; and it seems to be only the man-soul
which finds itself even in this abandon. The woman-soul has always
something else to think of.
"What shall we do," said the girl, "if we--Oh, I dread to meet your
mother! Is she like either of your sisters?"
"No," he cried joyously; "she's like me. If you're not afraid of me, and
you don't seem to be--"
"You're all I have--you're all I have in the world. Do you think she'll
like me? Oh, do you love me, Dan?"
"You darling! you divine--" The rest was a mad embrace. "If you're not
afraid of me, you won't mind mother. I wanted you here alone for just a
last word, to tell you you needn't be afraid; to tell you to--But I
needn't tell you how to act. You mustn't treat her as an invalid--you
must treat her like any one else; that's what she likes. But you'll know
what's best, Alice. Be yourself, and she'll like you well enough. I'm
When she entered Mrs. Mavering's room Alice first saw the pictures, the
bric-a-brac, the flowers, the dazzle of lights, and then the invalid
propped among her pillows, and vividly expectant of her. She seemed all
eager eyes to the girl, aware next of the strong resemblance to Dan in her
features, and of the careful toilet the sick woman had made for her. To
youth all forms of suffering are abhorrent, and Alice had to hide a
repugnance at sight of this spectre of what had once been a pretty woman.
Through the egotism with which so many years of flattering subjection in
her little world had armed her, Mrs. Mavering probably did not feel the
girl's shrinking, or, if she did, took it for the natural embarrassment
which she would feel. She had satisfied herself that she was looking her
best, and that her cap and the lace jacket she wore were very becoming,
and softened her worst points; the hangings of her bed and the richly
embroidered crimson silk coverlet were part of the coquetry of her
costume, from which habit had taken all sense of ghastliness; she was
proud of them, and she was not aware of the scent of drugs that insisted
through the odour of the flowers.
She lifted herself on her elbow as Dan approached with Alice, and the girl
felt as if an intense light had been thrown upon her from head to foot in
the moment of searching scrutiny that followed. The invalid's set look
broke into a smile, and she put out her hand, neither hot nor cold, but of
a dry neutral, spiritual temperature, and pulled Alice down and kissed
"Why, child, your hand's like ice!" she exclaimed without preamble. "We
used to say that came from a warm heart."
"I guess it comes from a cold grapery in this case, mother," said Dan,
with his laugh. "I've just been running Alice through it. And perhaps a
"Excitement?" echoed his mother. "Cold grapery, I dare say, and very
silly of you, Dan; but there's no occasion for excitement, as if we were
strangers. Sit down in that chair, my dear. And, Dan, you go round to
the other side of the bed; I want Alice all to myself. I saw your
photograph a week ago, and I've thought about you for ages since, and
wondered whether you would approve of your old friend."
"Oh yes," whispered the girl, suppressing a tremor; and Dan's eyes were
suffused with grateful tears at his mother's graciousness.
Alice's reticence seemed to please the invalid. "I hope you'll like all
your old friends here; you've begun with the worst among us, but perhaps
you like him the best because he is the worst; I do."
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