Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 73 out of 78
"You may believe just half of that, Alice," cried Dan.
"Then believe the best half, or the half you like best," said Mrs.
Mavering. "There must be something good in him if you like him. Have
they welcomed you home, my dear?"
We've all made a stagger at it," said Dan, while Alice was faltering over
the words which were so slow to come.
"Don't try to answer my formal stupidities. You are welcome, and that's
enough, and more than enough of speeches. Did you have a comfortable
"Was it cold?"
"Not at all. The cars were very hot."
"Have you had any snow yet at Boston?"
"No, none at all yet."
"Now I feel that we're talking sense. I hope you found everything in your
room?" I can't look after things as I would like, and so I inquire."
"There's everything," said Alice. "We're very comfortable."
"I'm very glad. I had Dan look, he's my housekeeper; he understands me
better than my girls; he's like me, more. That's what makes us so fond of
each other; it's a kind of personal vanity. But he has his good points,
Dan has. He's very amiable, and I was too, at his age--and till I came
here. But I'm not going to tell you of his good points; I dare say you've
found them out. I'll tell you about his bad ones. He says you're very
serious. Are you?" She pressed the girl's hand, which she had kept in
hers, and regarded her keenly.
Alice dropped her eyes at the odd question. "I don't know," she faltered.
"Well, that's good. Dan's frivolous."
"Oh, sometimes--only sometimes!" he interposed.
"He's frivolous, and he's very light-minded; but he's none the worse for
"Oh, thank you," said Dan; and Alice, still puzzled, laughed
"No; I want you to understand that. He's light-hearted too, and that's a
great thing in this world. If you're serious you'll be apt to be
heavyhearted, and then you'll find Dan of use. And I hope he'll know how,
to turn your seriousness to account too. he needs something to keep him
down--to keep him from blowing away. "Yes, it's very well for people to
be opposites. Only they must understand each other, If they do that, then
they get along. Light-heartedness or heavy-heartedness comes to the same
thing if they know how to use it for each other. You see, I've got to be
a great philosopher lying here; nobody dares contradict me or interrupt me
when I'm constructing my theories, and so I get them perfect."
"I wish I could hear them all," said Alice, with sincerity that made Mrs.
Mavering laugh as light-heartedly as Dan himself, and that seemed to
suggest the nest thing to her.
"You can for the asking, almost any time. Are you a very truthful person,
my dear? Don't take the trouble to deny it if you are," she added, at
Alice's stare. "You see, I'm not at all conventional and you needn't be.
Come! tell the truth for once, at any rate. Are you habitually truthful?"
"Yes, I think I am," said Alice, still staring.
"Dan's not," said his mother quietly.
"Oh, see here, now, mother! Don't give me away!"
"He'll tell the truth in extremity, of course, and he'll tell it if it's
pleasant, always; but if you don't expect much more of him you won't be
disappointed; and you can make him of great use."
"You see where I got it, anyway, Alice," said Dan, laughing across the bed
"Yes, you got it from me: I own it. A great part of my life was made up
of making life pleasant to others by fibbing. I stopped it when I came
"Oh, not altogether, mother!" urged her son. "You mustn't be too hard on
She ignored his interruption: "You'll find Dan a great convenience with
that agreeable habit of his. You can get him to make all your verbal
excuses for you (he'll, do it beautifully), and dictate all the thousand
and one little lying notes you'll have to write; he won't mind it in the
least, and it will save you a great wear-and-tear of conscience."
"Go on, mother, go on," said Dan, with delighted eyes, that asked of Alice
if it were not all perfectly charming.
"And you can come in with your habitual truthfulness where Dan wouldn't
know what to do, poor fellow. You'll have the moral courage to come right
to the point when he would like to shillyshally, and you can be frank
while he's trying to think how to make y-e-s spell no."
"Any other little compliments, mother?" suggested Dan.
"No," said Mrs. Mavering; "that's all. I thought I'd better have it off
my mind; I knew you'd never get it off yours, and Alice had better know
the worst. It is the worst, my dear, and if I talked of him till doomsday
I couldn't say any more harm of him. I needn't tell you how sweet he is;
you know that, I'm sure; but you can't know yet how gentle and forbearing
he is, how patient, how full of kindness to every living soul, how
She lost her voice. "Oh, come now, mother," Dan protested huskily.
Alice did not say anything; she bent over, without repugnance, and
gathered the shadowy shape into her strong young arms, and kissed the
wasted face whose unearthly coolness was like the leaf of a flower against
her lips. "He never gave me a moment's trouble," said the mother, "and
I'm sure he'll make you happy. How kind of you not to be afraid of me--"
"Afraid!" cried the girl, with passionate solemnity. "I shall never feel
safe away from you!"
The door opened upon the sound of voices, and the others came in.
Mrs. Pasmer did not wait for an introduction, but with an affectation of
impulse which she felt Mrs. Mavering would penetrate and respect, she went
up to the bed and presented herself. Dan's mother smiled hospitably upon
her, and they had some playful words about their children. Mrs. Pasmer
neatly conveyed the regrets of her husband, who had hoped up to the last
moment that the heavy cold he had taken would let him come with her; and
the invalid made her guest sit down on the right hand of her bed, which
seemed to be the place of honour, while her husband took Dan's place on
the left, and admired his wife's skill in fence. At the end of her
encounter with Mrs. Pasmer she called out with her strong voice, "Why
don't you get your banjo, Molly, and play something?"
"A banjo? Oh, do!" cried Mrs. Pasmer. "It's so picturesque and
interesting! I heard that young ladies had taken it up, and I should so
like to hear it!" She had turned to Mrs. Mavering again, and she now
beamed winningly upon her.
Alice regarded the girl with a puzzled frown as she brought her banjo in
from another room and sat down with it. She relaxed the severity of her
stare a little as Molly played one wild air after another, singing some of
them with an evidence of training in her naive effectiveness. There were
some Mexican songs which she had learned in a late visit to their country,
and some Creole melodies caught up in a winter's sojourn to Louisiana.
The elder sister accompanied her on the piano, not with the hard, resolute
proficiency which one might have expected of Eunice Mavering, but with a
sympathy which was perhaps the expression of her share of the family
"Your children seem to have been everywhere," said Mrs. Pasmer, with a
sigh of flattering envy. "Oh, you're not going to stop!" she pleaded,
turning from Mrs. Mavering to Molly.
"I think Dan had better do the rheumatic uncle now," said Eunice, from the
"Oh yes! the rheumatic uncle--do," said Mrs. Pasmer. "We know the
rheumatic uncle," she added, with a glance at Alice. Dan looked at her
too, as if doubtful of her approval; and then he told in character a
Yankee story which he had worked up from the talk of his friend the
foreman. It made them all laugh.
Mrs. Pasmer was the gayest; she let herself go, and throughout the evening
she flattered right and left, and said, in her good-night to Mrs.
Mavering, that she had never imagined so delightful a time. "O Mrs.
Mavering, I don't wonder your children love their home. It's a
"She's a cat, Dan," said his mother quietly, and not without liking, when
he looked in for his goodnight kiss after the rest were gone; "a perfect
tabby. But your Alice is sublime."
"She's a little too sublime for me. But you're young, and you can stand
Dan laughed with delight. "Yes, I think I can, mother. All I ask is the
"Oh, you're very much in love, both of you; there's no doubt about that.
What I mean is that she's very high strung, very intense. She has ideals-
-any one can see that."
Dan took it all for praise. "Yes," he said eagerly, "that's what I told
you. And that will be the best thing about it for me. I have no ideals."
"Well, you must find out what hers are, and live up to them."
"Oh, there won't be any trouble about that," said Dan buoyantly.
"You must help her to find them out too." He looked puzzled. "You
mustn't expect the child to be too definite at first, nor to be always
right, even when she's full of ideals. You must be very patient with her,
"Oh, I will, mother! You know that. How could I ever be impatient with
"Very forbearing, and very kind, and indefatigably forgiving. Ask your
father how to behave."
Dan promised to do so, with a laugh at the joke. It had never occurred to
him that his father was particularly exemplary in these things, or that
his mother idolised him for what seemed to Dan simply a matter-of-course
endurance of her sick whims and freaks and moods. He broke forth into a
vehement protest of his good intentions, to which his mother did not seem
very attentive. After a while she asked--
"Is she always so silent, Dan?"
"Well, not with me, mother. Of course she was a little embarrassed; she
didn't know exactly what to say, I suppose--"
"Oh, I rather liked that. At least she isn't a rattle-pate. And we shall
get acquainted; we shall like each other. She will understand me when you
bring her home here to live with us, and--"
"Yes," said Dan, rising rather hastily, and stooping over to his mother.
"I'm not going to let you talk any more now, or we shall have to suffer
for it to-morrow night."
He got gaily away before his mother could amplify a suggestion which
spoiled a little of his pleasure in the praises--he thought they were
unqualified and enthusiastic praises--she had been heaping upon Alice. He
wished to go to bed with them all sweet and unalloyed in his thought, to
sleep, to dream upon his perfect triumph.
Mrs. Pasmer was a long time in undressing, and in calming down after the
demands which the different events of the evening had made upon her
"It has certainly been a very mixed evening, Alice," she said, as she took
the pins out of her back hair and let it fall; and she continued to talk
as she went back and forth between their rooms. "What do you think of
banjo-playing for young ladies? Isn't it rather rowdy? Decidedly rowdy,
I think. And Dan's Yankee story! I expected to see the old gentleman get
up and perform some trick."
"I suppose they do it to amuse Mrs. Mavering," said Alice, with cold
"Oh, it's quite right," tittered Mrs. Pasmer. "It would be as much as
their lives are worth if they didn't. You can see that she rules them
with a rod of iron. What a will! I'm glad you're not going to come under
her sway; I really think you couldn't be safe from her in the same
hemisphere; it's well you're going abroad at once. They're a very self-
concentrated family, don't you think--very self-satisfied? Of course
that's the danger of living off by themselves as they do: they get to
thinking there's nobody else in the world. You would simply be absorbed
by them: it's a hair-breadth escape.
"How splendidly Dan contrasts with the others! Oh, he's delightful; he's a
man of the world. Give me the world, after all! And he's so considerate
of their rustic conceit! What a house! It's perfectly baronial--and
ridiculous. In any other country it would mean something--society,
entertainments, troops of guests; but here it doesn't mean anything but
money. Not that money isn't a very good thing; I wish we had more of it.
But now you see how very little it can do by itself. You looked very
well, Alice, and behaved with great dignity; perhaps too much. You ought
to enter a little more into the spirit of things, even if you don't
respect them. That oldest girl isn't particularly pleased, I fancy,
though it doesn't matter really."
Alice replied to her mother from time to time with absent Yeses and Noes;
she sat by the window looking out on the hillside lawn before the house;
the moon had risen, and poured a flood of snowy light over it, in which
the cold statues dimly shone, and the firs, in clumps and singly,
blackened with an inky solidity. Beyond wandered the hills, their bare
pasturage broken here and there by blotches of woodland.
After her mother had gone to bed she turned her light down and resumed her
seat by the window, pressing her hot forehead against the pane, and losing
all sense of the scene without in the whirl of her thoughts.
After this, evening of gay welcome in Dan's family, and those moments of
tenderness with him, her heart was troubled. She now realised her
engagement as something exterior to herself and her own family, and
confronted for the first time its responsibilities, its ties, and its
claims. It was not enough to be everything to Dan; she could not be that
unless she were something to his family. She did not realise this
vividly, but with the remoteness which all verities except those of
sensation have for youth.
Her uneasiness was full of exultation, of triumph; she knew she had been
admired by Dan's family, and she experienced the sweetness of having
pleased them for his sake; his happy eyes shone before her; but she was
touched in her self-love by what her mother had coarsely characterised in
them. They had regarded her liking them as a matter of course; his mother
had ignored her even in pretending to decry Dan to her. But again this
was very remote, very momentary. It was no nearer, no more lasting on the
surface of her happiness, than the flying whiff's of thin cloud that
chased across the moon and lost themselves in the vast blue around it.
People came to the first of Mrs. James Bellingham's receptions with the
expectation of pleasure which the earlier receptions of the season awaken
even in the oldest and wisest. But they tried to dissemble their
eagerness in a fashionable tardiness. "We get later and later," said Mrs.
Brinkley to John Munt, as she sat watching the slow gathering of the
crowd. By half-past eleven it had not yet hidden Mrs. Bellingham, where
she stood near the middle of the room, from the pleasant corner they had
found after accidentally arriving together. Mr. Brinkley had not come; he
said he might not be too old for receptions, but he was too good; in
either case he preferred to stay at home. "We used to come at nine
o'clock, and now we come at I'm getting into a quotation from Mother
Goose, I think."
"I thought it was Browning," said Munt, with his witticism manner.
Neither he nor Mrs. Brinkley was particularly glad to be together, but at
Mrs. James Bellingham's it was well not to fling any companionship away
till you were sure of something else. Besides, Mrs. Brinkley was indolent
and good-natured, and Munt was active and good-natured, and they were well
fitted to get on for ten or fifteen minutes. While they talked she kept
an eye out for other acquaintance, and he stood alert to escape at the
first chance. "How is it we are here so early--or rather you are?" she
"Oh, I don't know," said Munt, accepting the implication of his superior
fashion with pleasure. "I never mind being among the first. It's rather
interesting to see people come in--don't you think?"
"That depends a good deal on the people. I don't find a great variety in
their smirks and smiles to Mrs. Bellingham; I seem to be doing them all
myself. And there's a monotony about their apprehension and helplessness
when they're turned adrift that's altogether too much like my own. No,
Mr. Munt, I can't agree with you that it's interesting to see people come
in. It's altogether too autobiographical. What else have you to
"I'm afraid I'm at the end of my string," said Munt. "I suppose we shall
see the Pasmers and young Mavering here to-night."
Mrs. Brinkley turned and looked sharply at him.
"You've heard of the engagement?" he asked.
"No, decidedly, I haven't. And after his flight from Campobello it's the
last thing I expected to hear of. When did it come out?"
"Only within a few days. They've been keeping it rather quiet. Mrs.
Pasmer told me herself."
Mrs. Brinkley gave herself a moment for reflection. "Well, if he can
stand it, I suppose I can."
"That isn't exactly what people are saying to Mrs. Pasmer, Mrs. Brinkley,"
suggested Munt, with his humorous manner.
"I dare say they're trying to make her believe that her daughter is
sacrificed. That's the way. But she knows better."
"There's no doubt but she's informed herself. She put me through my
catechism about the Maverings the day of the picnic down there."
"Do you know them?"
"Bridge Mavering and I were at Harvard together."
"Tell me about them." Mrs. Brinkley listened to Munt's praises of his old
friend with an attention superficially divided with the people to whom she
bowed and smiled. The room was filling up. "Well," she said at the end,
"he's a sweet young fellow. I hope he likes his Pasmers."
"I guess there's no doubt about his liking one of them--the principal
"Yes, if she is the principal one." There was an implication in
everything she said that Dan Mavering had been hoodwinked by Mrs. Pasmer.
Mature ladies always like to imply something of the sort in these cases.
They like to ignore the prime agency of youth and love, and pretend that
marriage is a game that parents play at with us, as if we were in an old
comedy; it is a tradition. "Will he take her home to live?"
"No. I heard that they're all going abroad--for a year, or two at least."
"Ah! I thought so," cried Mrs. Brinkley. She looked up with whimsical
pleasure in the uncertainty of an old gentleman who is staring hard at her
through his glasses. "Well," she said with a pleasant sharpness, "do you
make me out?"
"As nearly as my belief in your wisdom will allow," said the old
gentleman, as distinctly as his long white moustache and an apparent
absence of teeth behind it would let him. John Munt had eagerly abandoned
the seat he was keeping at Mrs. Brinkley's side, and had launched himself
into the thickening crowd. The old gentleman, who was lank and tall,
folded himself down into it, He continued as tranquilly as if seated quite
alone with Mrs. Brinkley, and not minding that his voice, with the senile
crow in it, made itself heard by others. "I'm always surprised to find
sensible people at these things of Jane's. They're most extraordinary
things. Jane's idea of society is to turn a herd of human beings loose in
her house, and see what will come of it. She has no more sense of
hospitality or responsibility than the Elements or Divine Providence. You
may come here and have a good time--if you can get it; she won't object;
or you may die of solitude and inanition; she'd never know it. I don't
know but it's rather sublime in her. It's like the indifference of fate;
but it's rather rough on those who don't understand it. She likes to see
her rooms filled with pretty dresses, but she has no social instincts and
no social inspiration whatever. She lights and heats and feeds her
guests, and then she leaves them to themselves. She's a kind woman--Jane
is a very good-natured woman, and I really think she'd be grieved if she
thought any one went away unhappy, but she does nothing to make them at
home in her house--absolutely nothing."
"Perhaps she does all they deserve for them. I don't know that any one
acquires merit by coming to an evening party; and it's impossible to be
personally hospitable to everybody in such a crowd."
Yes, I've sometimes taken that view of it. And yet if you ask a stranger
to your house, you establish a tacit understanding with him that you won't
forget him after you have him there. I like to go about and note the
mystification of strangers who've come here with some notion of a little
attention. It's delightfully poignant; I suffer with them; it's a cheap
luxury of woe; I follow them through all the turns and windings of their
experience. Of course the theory is that, being turned loose here with
the rest, they may speak to anybody; but the fact is, they can't.
Sometimes I should like to hail some of these unfriended spirits, but I
haven't the courage. I'm not individually bashful, but I have a thousand
years of Anglo-Saxon civilisation behind me. There ought to be policemen,
to show strangers about and be kind to them. I've just seen two pretty
women cast away in a corner, and clinging to a small water-colour on the
wall with a show of interest that would melt a heart of stone. Why do you
come, Mrs. Brinkley? I should like to know. You're not obliged to."
"No," said Mrs. Brinkley, lowering her voice instinctively, as if to bring
his down. "I suppose I come from force of habit I've been coming a long
time, you know. Why do you come?"
"Because I can't sleep. If I could sleep, I should be at home in bed." A
weariness came into his thin face and dim eyes that was pathetic, and
passed into a whimsical sarcasm. "I'm not one of the great leisure class,
you know, that voluntarily turns night into day. Do you know what I go
about saying now?"
"Something amusing, I suppose."
"You'd better not be so sure of that. I've discovered a fact, or rather
I've formulated an old one. I've always been troubled how to classify
people here, there are so many exceptions; and I've ended by broadly
generalising them as women and men."
Mrs. Brinkley was certainly amused at this. "It seems to me that there
you've been anticipated by nature--not to mention art."
"Oh, not in my particular view. The women in America represent the
aristocracy which exists everywhere else in both sexes. You are born to
the patrician leisure; you have the accomplishments and the clothes and
manners and ideals; and we men are a natural commonalty, born to business,
to newspapers, to cigars, and horses. This natural female aristocracy of
ours establishes the forms, usages, places, and times of society. The
epicene aristocracies of other countries turn night into day in their
social pleasures, and our noblesse sympathetically follows their example.
You ladies, who can lie till noon next day, come to Jane's reception at
eleven o'clock, and you drag along with you a herd of us brokers, bankers,
merchants, lawyers, and doctors, who must be at our offices and counting-
rooms before nine in the morning. The hours of us work-people are
regulated by the wholesome industries of the great democracy which we're a
part of; and the hours of our wives and daughters by the deleterious
pleasures of the Old World aristocracy. That's the reason we're not all
at home in bed."
"I thought you were not at home in bed because you couldn't sleep."
"I know it. And you've no idea how horrible a bed is that you can't sleep
in." The old man's voice broke in a tremor. "Ah, it's a bed of torture!
I spend many a wicked hour in mine, envying St. Lawrence his gridiron.
But what do you think of my theory?"
"It's a very pretty theory. My only objection to it is that it's too
flattering. You know I rather prefer to abuse my sex; and to be set up as
a natural aristocracy--I don't know that I can quite agree to that, even
to account satisfactorily for being at your sister-in-law's reception."
"You're too modest, Mrs. Brinkley."
"No, really. There ought to be some men among us--men without morrows.
Now, why don't you and my husband set an example to your sex? Why don't
you relax your severe sense of duty? Why need you insist upon being at
your offices every morning at nine? Why don't you fling off these habits
of lifelong industry, and be gracefully indolent in the interest of the
Bromfield Corey looked round at her with a smile of relish for her satire.
Her husband was a notoriously lazy man, who had chosen to live
restrictedly upon an inherited property rather than increase it by the
"Do you think we could get Andy Pasmer to join us?"
"No, I can't encourage you with that idea. You must get on without Mr.
Pasmer; he's going back to Europe with his son-in-law."
"Do you mean that their girl's married?"
"No-engaged. It's just out."
"Well, I must say Mrs. Pasmer has made use of her time." He too liked to
imply that it was all an effect of her manoeuvring, and that the young
people had nothing to do with it; this survival from European fiction dies
hard. "Who is the young man?"
Mrs. Brinkley gave him an account of Dan Mavering as she had seen him at
Campobello, and of his family as she just heard of them. "Mr. Munt was
telling me about them as you came up."
"Why, was that John Munt?"
"Yes; didn't you know him?"
"No," said Corey sadly. "I don't know anybody nowadays. I seem to be
going to pieces every way. I don't call sixty-nine such a very great
"Not at all!" cried Mrs. Brinkley. "I'm fifty-four myself, and Brinkley's
"But I feel a thousand years old. I don't see people, and when I do I
don't know 'em. My head's in a cloud." He let it hang heavily; then he
lifted it, and said: "He's a nice, comfortable fellow, Munt is. Why
didn't he stop and talk a bit?"
"Well, Munt's modest, you know; and I suppose he thought he might be the
third that makes company a crowd. Besides, nobody stops and talks a bit
at these things. They're afraid of boring or being bored."
"Yes, they're all in as unnatural a mood as if they were posing for a
photograph. I wonder who invented this sort of thing? Do you know," said
the old man, "that I think it's rather worse with us than with any other
people? We're a simple, sincere folk, domestic in our instincts, not
gregarious or frivolous in any way; and when we're wrenched away from our
firesides, and packed in our best clothes into Jane's gilded saloons, we
feel vindictive; we feel wicked. When the Boston being abandons himself--
or herself--to fashion, she suffers a depravation into something quite
lurid. She has a bad conscience, and she hardens her heart with talk
that's tremendously cynical. It's amusing," said Corey, staring round him
purblindly at the groups and files of people surging and eddying past the
corner where he sat with Mrs. Brinkley.
"No; it's shocking," said his companion. "At any rate, you mustn't say
such things, even if you think them. I can't let you go too far, you
know. These young people think it heavenly, here."
She took with him the tone that elderly people use with those older than
themselves who have begun to break; there were authority and patronage in
it. At the bottom of her heart she thought that Bromfield Corey should
not have been allowed to come; but she determined to keep him safe and
harmless as far as she could.
From time to time the crowd was a stationary mass in front of them; then
it dissolved and flowed away, to gather anew; there were moments when the
floor near them was quite vacant; then it was inundated again with silken
trains. From another part of the house came the sound of music, and most
of the young people who passed went two and two, as if they were partners
in the dance, and had come out of the ball-room between dances. There was
a good deal of nervous talk, politely subdued among them; but it was not
the note of unearthly rapture which Mrs. Brinkley's conventional claim had
implied; it was self-interested, eager, anxious; and was probably not
different from the voice of good society anywhere.
"Why, there's Dan Mavering now!" said Mrs. Brinkley, rather to herself
than to her companion. "And alone!"
Dan's face showed above most of the heads and shoulders about him; it was
flushed, and looked troubled and excited. He caught sight of Mrs.
Brinkley, and his eyes brightened joyfully. He slipped quickly through
the crowd, and bowed over her hand, while he stammered out, without giving
her a chance for reply till the end: "O Mrs. Brinkley, I'm so glad to see
you! I'm going--I want to ask a great favour of you, Mrs. Brinkley. I
want to bring--I want to introduce some friends of mine to you--some
ladies, Mrs. Brinkley; very nice people I met last summer at Portland.
Their father--General Wrayne--has been building some railroads down East,
and they're very nice people; but they don't know any one--any ladies--and
they've been looking at the pictures ever since they came. They're very
good pictures; but it isn't an exhibition!" He broke down with a laugh.
"Why, of course, Mr. Mavering; I shall be delighted," said Mrs. Brinkley,
with a hospitality rendered reckless by her sympathy with the young
fellow. "By all means!"
"Oh; thanks!--thank you aver so much!" said Dan. "I'll bring them to you
--they'll understand!" He slipped into the crowd again.
Corey made an offer of going. Mrs. Brinkley stopped him with her fan.
"No--stay, Mr. Corey. Unless you wish to go. I fancy it's the people you
were talking about, and you must help me through with them."
"I ask nothing better," said the old man, unresentful of Dan's having not
even seemed to see him, in his generous preoccupation. "I should like to
see how you'll get on, and perhaps I can be of use."
"Of course you can--the greatest."
"But why hasn't he introduced them to his Pasmers? What? Eh? Oh!"
Corey made these utterances in response to a sharper pressure of Mrs.
Brinkley's fan on his arm.
Dan was opening a way through the crowd before them for two ladies, whom
he now introduced. "Mrs. Frobisher, Mrs. Brinkley; and Miss Wrayne."
Mrs. Brinkley cordially gave her hand to the ladies, and said, "May I
introduce Mr. Corey? Mr. Mavering, let me introduce you to Mr. Corey."
The old man rose and stood with the little group.
Dan's face shone with flattered pride and joyous triumph. He bubbled out
some happy incoherencies about the honour and pleasure, while at the same
time he beamed with tender gratitude upon Mrs. Brinkley, who was behaving
with a gracious, humorous kindliness to the aliens cast upon her mercies.
Mrs. Frobisher, after a half-hour of Boston society, was not that presence
of easy gaiety which crossed Dan's path on the Portland pavement the
morning of his arrival from Campobello; but she was still a handsome,
effective woman, of whom you would have hesitated to say whether she was
showy or distinguished. Perhaps she was a little of both, with an air of
command bred of supremacy in frontier garrisons; her sister was like her
in the way that a young girl may be like a young matron. They blossomed
alike in the genial atmosphere of Mrs. Brinkley and of Mr. Corey. He
began at once to make bantering speeches with them both. The friendliness
of an old man and a stout elderly woman might not have been their ideal of
success at an evening party, used as they were to the unstinted homage of
young captains and lieutenants, but a brief experience of Mrs.
Bellingham's hospitality must have taught them humility; and when a stout,
elderly gentleman, whose baldness was still trying to be blond, joined the
group, the spectacle was not without its points of resemblance to a social
ovation. Perhaps it was a Boston social ovation.
"Hallo, Corey!" said this stout gentleman, whom Mrs. Brinkley at once
introduced as Mr. Bellingham, and whose salutation Corey returned with
"Hallo, Charles!" of equal intimacy.
Mr. Bellingham caught at the name of Frobisher. "Mrs. Major Dick
"Mrs. Colonel now, but Dick always," said the lady, with immediate
comradery. "Do you know my husband?"
"I should think so!" said Bellingham; and a talk of common interest and
mutual reminiscence sprang up between them. Bellingham graphically
depicted his meeting with Colonel Frobisher the last time he was out on
the Plains, and Mrs. Frobisher and Miss Wrayne discovered to their great
satisfaction that he was the brother of Mrs. Stephen Blake, of Omaba, who
had come out to the fort once with her husband, and captured the garrison,
as they said. Mrs. Frobisher accounted for her present separation from
her husband, and said she had come on for a while to be with her father
and sister, who both needed more looking after than the Indians. Her
father had left the army, and was building railroads.
Miss Wrayne, when she was not appealed to for confirmation or recollection
by her sister, was having a lively talk with Corey and Mrs. Brinkley; she
seemed to enter into their humour; and no one paid much attention to Dan
Mavering. He hung upon the outskirts of the little group; proffering
unrequited sympathy and applause; and at last he murmured something about
having to go back to some friends, and took himself off. Mrs. Frobisher
and Miss Wrayne let him go with a certain shade--the lightest, and yet
evident--of not wholly satisfied pique: women know how to accept a
reparation on account, and without giving a receipt in full.
Mrs. Brinkley gave him her hand with an effect of compassionate
intelligence and appreciation of the sacrifice he must have made in
leaving Alice. "May I congratulate you?" she murmured.
"Oh yes, indeed; thank you, Mrs. Brinkley," he gushed tremulously; and he
pressed her hand hard, and clung to it, as if he would like to take her
Neither of the older men noticed his going. They were both taken in their
elderly way with these two handsome young women, and they professed regret
--Bellingham that his mother was not there, and Corey that neither his
wife nor daughters had come, whom they might otherwise have introduced.
They did not offer to share their acquaintance with any one else, but they
made the most of it themselves, as if knowing a good thing when they had
it. Their devotion to Mrs. Frobisher and her sister heightened the
curiosity of such people as noticed it, but it would be wrong to say that
it moved any in that self-limited company with a strong wish to know the
ladies. The time comes to every man, no matter how great a power he may
be in society, when the general social opinion retires him for senility,
and this time had come for Bromfield Corey. He could no longer make or
mar any success; and Charles Bellingham was so notoriously amiable, so
deeply compromised by his inveterate habit of liking nearly every one,
that his notice could not distinguish or advantage a newcomer.
He and Corey took the ladies down to supper. Mrs. Brinkley saw them there
together, and a little later she saw old Corey wander off; forgetful of
Miss Wrayne. She saw Dan Mavering, but not the Pasmers, and then, when
Corey forgot Miss Wrayne, she saw Dan, forlorn and bewildered looking,
approach the girl, and offer her his arm for the return to the drawing-
room; she took it with a bright, cold smile, making white rings of
ironical deprecation around the pupils of her eyes.
"What is that poor boy doing, I wonder?" said Mrs. Brinkley to herself.
The next morning Dan Mavering knocked at Boardman's door before the
reporter was up. This might have been any time before one o'clock, but it
was really at half-past nine. Boardman wanted to know who was there, and
when Mavering had said it was he, Boardman seemed to ponder the fact
awhile before Mavering heard him getting out of bed and coming barefooted
to the door. He unlocked it, and got back into bed; then he called out,
"Come in," and Mavering pushed the door open impatiently. But he stood
blank and silent, looking helplessly at his friend. A strong glare of
winter light came in through the naked sash--for Boardman apparently not
only did not close his window-blinds, but did not pull down his curtains,
when he went to bed--and shone upon his gay, shrewd face where he lay,
showing his pop-corn teeth in a smile at Mavering.
"Prefer to stand?" he asked by and by, after Mavering had remained
standing in silence, with no signs of proposing to sit down or speak.
Mavering glanced at the only chair in the room: Boardman's clothes dripped
and dangled over it. "Throw 'em on the bed," he said, following
"I'll take the bed myself," said Mavering; and he sat down on the side of
it, and was again suggestively silent.
Boardman moved his head on the pillow, as he watched Mavering's face, with
the agreeable sense of personal security which we all feel in viewing
trouble from the outside: "You seem balled up about something."
Mavering sighed heavily. "Balled up? It's no word for it. Boardman, I'm
done for. Yesterday I was the happiest fellow in the world, and now--Yes,
it's all over with me, and it's my own fault, as usual. Look; at that!"
He jerked Boardman a note which he had been holding fast in his band, and
got up and went to look himself at the wide range of chimney-pots and
slated roofs which Boardman's dormer-window commanded.
"Want me to read it?" Boardman asked; and Mavering nodded without glancing
round. It dispersed through the air of Boardman's room, as he unfolded
it, a thin, elect perfume, like a feminine presence, refined and strict;
and Boardman involuntarily passed his hand over his rumpled hair, as if to
make himself a little more personable before reading the letter.
"DEAR MR. MAVERING,--I enclose the ring you gave me the other day, and I
release you from the promise you gave with it. I am convinced that you
wronged yourself in offering either without your whole heart, and I care
too much for your happiness to let you persist in your sacrifice.
"In begging that you will not uselessly attempt to see me, but that you
will consider this note final, I know you will do me the justice not to
attribute an ungenerous motive to me. I shall rejoice to hear of any good
that may befall you; and I shall try not to envy any one through whom it
comes.--Yours sincerely," "ALICE PASMER."
"P.S.--I say nothing of circumstances or of persons; I feel that any
comment of mine upon them would be idle."
Mavering looked up at the sound Boardman made in refolding the letter.
Boardman grinned, with sparkling eyes. "Pretty neat," he said.
"Pretty infernally neat," roared Mavering.
"Do you suppose she means business?"
"Of course she means business. Why shouldn't she?"
"I don't know. Why should she?"
"Well, I'll tell you, Boardman. I suppose I shall have to tell you if I'm
going to get any good out of you; but it's a dose." He came away from
the window, and swept Boardman's clothes off the chair preparatory to
Boardman lifted his head nervously from the pillow.
"Oh; I'll put them on the bed, if you're so punctilious!" cried Mavering.
"I don't mind the clothes," said Boardman. "I thought I heard my watch
knock on the floor in my vest pocket. Just take it out, will you, and see
if you've stopped it?"
"Oh, confound your old Waterbury! All the world's stopped; why shouldn't
your watch stop too?" Mavering tugged it out of the pocket, and then
shoved it back disdainfully. "You couldn't stop that thing with anything
short of a sledgehammer; it's rattling away like a mowing-machine. You
know those Portland women--those ladies I spent the day with when you were
down there at the regatta--the day I came from Campobello--Mrs. Frobisher
and her sister?" He agglutinated one query to another till he saw a light
of intelligence dawn in Boardman's eye. "Well, they're at the bottom of
it, I suppose. I was introduced to them on Class Day, and I ought to have
shown them some attention there; but the moment I saw Alice--Miss Pasmer--
I forgot all about 'em. But they didn't seem to have noticed it much, and
I made it all right with 'em that day at Portland; and they came up in the
fall, and I made an appointment with them to drive out to Cambridge and
show them the place. They were to take me up at the Art Museum; but that
was the day I met Miss Pasmer, and I--I forgot about those women again."
Boardman was one of those who seldom laugh; but his grin expressed all
the malicious enjoyment he felt. He said nothing in the impressive
silence which Mavering let follow at this point.
"Oh, you think it was funny?" cried Mavering. "I thought it was funny
too; but Alice herself opened my eyes to what I'd done, and I always
intended to make it all right with them when I got the chance. I supposed
she wished me too."
Boardman grinned afresh.
"She told me I must; though she seemed to dislike my having been with them
the day after she'd thrown me over. But if"--Mavering interrupted himself
to say, as the grin widened on Boardman's face--"if you think it was any
case of vulgar jealousy, you're very much mistaken, Boardman. She isn't
capable of it, and she was so magnanimous about it that I made up my mind
to do all I could to retrieve myself. I felt that it was my duty to her.
Well, last night at Mrs. Jim Bellingham's reception--"
A look of professional interest replaced the derision in Boardman's eyes.
"Any particular occasion for the reception? Given in honour of anybody?"
"I'll contribute to your society notes some other time, Boardman," said
Mavering haughtily. "I'm speaking to a friend, not an interviewer. Well,
whom should I see after the first waltz--I'd been dancing with Alice, and
we were taking a turn through the drawing-room, and she hanging on my arm,
and I knew everybody saw how it was, and I was feeling well--whom should I
see but these women. They were in a corner by themselves, looking at a
picture, and trying to look as if they were doing it voluntarily. But I
could see at a glance that they didn't know anybody; and I knew they had
better be in the heart of the Sahara without acquaintances than where they
were; and when they bowed forlornly across the room to me, my heart was in
my mouth, I felt so sorry for them; and I told Alice who they were; and I
supposed she'd want to rush right over to them with me--"
"And did she rush?" asked Boardman, filling up a pause which Mavering made
in wiping his face.
"How infernally hot you have it in here!" He went to the window and threw
it up; and then did not sit down again, but continued to walk back and
forth as he talked. "She didn't seem to know who they were at first, and
when I made her understand she hung back, and said, 'Those showy things?'
and I must say I think she was wrong; they were dressed as quietly as
nine-tenths of the people there; only they are rather large, handsome
women. I said I thought we ought to go and speak to them, they seemed
stranded there; but she didn't seem to see it; and, when I persisted, she
said, 'Well, you go if you think best; but take me to mamma.' And I
supposed it was all right; and I told Mrs. Pasmer I'd be back in a minute,
and then I went off to those women. And after I'd talked with them a
while I saw Mrs. Brinkley sitting with old Bromfield Corey in another
corner, and I got them across and introduced them; after I'd explained to
Mrs. Brinkley who they were; and they began to have a good time, and I--
"Just so," said Boardman.
"I thought I hadn't been gone any while at all from Alice; but the weather
had changed by the time I had got back. Alice was pretty serious, and she
was engaged two or three dances deep; and I could see her looking over the
fellows' shoulders, as she went round and round, pretty pale. I hung
about till she was free; but then she couldn't dance with me; she said her
head ached, and she made her mother take her home before supper; and I
mooned round like my own ghost a while, and then I went home. And as if
that wasn't enough, I could see by the looks of those other women--old
Corey forgot Miss Wrayne in the supper-room, and I had to take her back--
that I hadn't made it right with them, even; they were as hard and smooth
as glass. I'd ruined myself, and ruined myself for nothing."
Mavering flung Boardman's chair over, and seated himself on its rungs.
"I went to bed, and waited for the next thing to happen. I found my
thunderbolt waiting for me when I woke up. I didn't know what it was
going to be, but when I felt a ring through the envelope of that note I
knew what it was. I mind-read that note before I opened it."
"Give it to the Society for Psychical Research," suggested Boardman.
"Been to breakfast?"
"Breakfast!" echoed Mavering. "Well, now, Boardman, what use do you
suppose I've got for breakfast under the circumstances?"
"Well, not very much; but your story's made me pretty hungry. Would you
mind turning your back, or going out and sitting on the top step of the
stairs' landing, or something, while I get up and dress?"
"Oh, I can go, if you want to get rid of me," said Mavering, with
unresentful sadness. "But I hoped you might have something to suggest,
"Well, I've suggested two things, and you don't like either. Why not go
round and ask to see the old lady?"
"Well, I thought of that. But I didn't like to mention it, for fear you'd
sit on it. When would you go?"
"Well, about as quick as I could get there. It's early for a call, but
it's a peculiar occasion, and it'll show your interest in the thing. You
can't very well let it cool on your hands, unless you mean to accept the
"What do you mean?" demanded Mavering, getting up and standing over
Boardman. "Do you think I could accept the situation, as you call it, and
"You did once," said Boardman. "You couldn't, unless you could fix it up
with Mrs. Frobisher's sister."
Mavering blushed. "It was a different thing altogether then. I could
have broken off then, but I tell you it would kill me now. I've got in
too deep. My whole life's set on that girl. You can't understand,
Boardman, because you've never been there; but I couldn't give her up."
"All right. Better go and see the old lady without loss of time; or the
old man, if you prefer."
Mavering sat down on the edge of the bed again. "Look here, Boardman,
what do you mean?"
"By being so confoundedly heartless. Did you suppose that I wanted to pay
those women any attention last night from an interested motive?"
"Seems to have been Miss Pasmer's impression."
"Well, you're mistaken. She had no such impression. She would have too
much self-respect, too much pride--magnanimity. She would know that after
such a girl as she is I couldn't think of any other woman; the thing is
"That's the theory."
"Theory? It's the practice!"
"There's no exception in my case. No, sir! I tell you this thing is for
all time--for eternity. It makes me or it mars me, once for all. She may
listen to me or she may not listen, but as long as she lives there's no
other woman alive for me."
"Better go and tell her so. You're wasting your arguments on me."
"Because I'm convinced already. Because people always marry their first
and only loves. Because people never marry twice for love. Because I've
never seen you hit before, and I know you never could be again. Now go
and convince Miss Pasmer. She'll believe you, because she'll know that
she can never care for any one but you, and you naturally can't care for
anybody but her. It's a perfectly clear case. All you've got to do is to
set it before her."
"If I were you, I wouldn't try to work that cynical racket, Boardman,"
said Mavering. He rose, but he sighed drearily, and regarded Boardman's
grin with lack-lustre absence. But he went away without saying anything
more; and walked mechanically toward the Cavendish. As he rang at the
door of Mrs. Pasmer's apartments he recalled another early visit he had
paid there; he thought how joyful and exuberant he was then, and how
crushed and desperate now. He was not without youthful satisfaction in
the disparity of his different moods; it seemed to stamp him as a man of
large and varied experience.
Mrs. Pasmer was genuinely surprised to see Mavering, and he pursued his
advantage--if it was an advantage--by coming directly to the point. He
took it for granted that she knew all about the matter, and he threw
himself upon her mercy without delay.
"Mrs. Pasmer, you must help me about this business with Alice," he broke
out at once. "I don't know what to make of it; but I know I can explain
it. Of course," he added, smiling ruefully, "the two statements don't
hang together; but what I mean is that if I can find out what the trouble
is, I can make it all right, because there's nothing wrong about it; don't
Mrs. Pasmer tried to keep the mystification out of her eye; but she could
not even succeed in seeming to do so, which she would have liked almost as
"Don't you know what I mean?" asked Dan.
Mrs. Pasmer chanced it. "That Alice was a little out of sorts last
night?" she queried leadingly.
"Yes," said Mavering fervently. "And about her--her writing to me."
"Writing to you?" Mrs. Pasmer was going to ask, when Dan gave her the
"I don't know whether I ought to show it, but I must. I must have your
help, and I can't, unless you understand the case."
Mrs. Pasmer had begun to read the note. It explained what the girl
herself had refused to give any satisfactory reason for--her early
retirement from the reception, her mysterious disappearance into her own
room on reaching home, and her resolute silence on the way. Mrs. Pasmer
had known that there must be some trouble with Dan, and she had suspected
that Alice was vexed with him on account of those women; but it was beyond
her cheerful imagination that she should go to such lengths in her
resentment. She could conceive of her wishing to punish him, to retaliate
her suffering on him; but to renounce him for it was another thing; and
she did not attribute to her daughter any other motive than she would have
felt herself. It was always this way with Mrs. Pasmer: she followed her
daughter accurately up to a certain point; beyond that she did not believe
the girl knew herself what she meant; and perhaps she was not altogether
wrong. Girlhood is often a turmoil of wild impulses, ignorant
exaltations, mistaken ideals, which really represent no intelligent
purpose, and come from disordered nerves, ill-advised reading, and the
erroneous perspective of inexperience. Mrs. Pasmer felt this, and she was
tempted to break into a laugh over Alice's heroics; but she preferred to
keep a serious countenance, partly because she did not feel the least
seriously. She was instantly resolved not to let this letter accomplish
anything more than Dan's temporary abasement, and she would have preferred
to shorten this to the briefest moment possible. She liked him, and she
was convinced that Alice could never do better, if half so well. She
would now have preferred to treat him with familiar confidence, to tell
him that she had no idea of Alice's writing him that nonsensical letter,
and he was not to pay the least attention to it; for of course it meant
nothing; but another principle of her complex nature came into play, and
she silently folded the note and returned it to Dan, trembling before her.
"Well?" he quavered.
"Well," returned Mrs. Pasmer judicially, while she enjoyed his tremor,
whose needlessness inwardly amused her--"well, of course, Alice was--"
"Annoyed, I know. And it was all my fault--or my misfortune. But I
assure you, Mrs. Pasmer, that I thought I was doing something that would
please her--in the highest and noblest way. Now don't you know I did?"
Mrs. Pasmer again wished to laugh, but in the face of Dan's tragedy she
had to forbear. She contented herself with saying: "Of course. But
perhaps it wasn't the best time for pleasing her just in that way."
"It was then or never. I can see now--why, I could see all the time--just
how it might look; but I supposed Alice wouldn't care for that, and if I
hadn't tried to make some reparation then to Mrs. Frobisher and her
sister, I never could. Don't you see?"
"Yes, certainly. But--"
"And Alice herself told me to go and look after them," interposed
Mavering. He suppressed, a little uncandidly, the fact of her first
"But you know it was the first time you had been out together?"
"And naturally she would wish to have you a good deal to herself, or at
least not seeming to run after other people."
"Yes, yes; I know that."
"And no one ever likes to be taken at their word in a thing like that."
"I ought to have thought of that, but I didn't. I wish I had gone to you
first, Mrs. Pasmer. Somehow it seems to me as if I were very young and
inexperienced; I didn't use to feel so. I wish you were always on hand to
advise me, Mrs. Pasmer." Dan hung his head, and his face, usually so gay,
was blotted with gloom.
"Will you take my advice now?" asked Mrs. Pasmer.
"Indeed I will!" cried the young fellow, lifting his head. "What is it?"
"See Alice about this."
Dan jumped to his feet, and the sunshine broke out over his face again.
"Mrs. Pasmer, I promised to take your advice, and I'll do it. I will see
her. But how? Where? Let me have your advice on that point too."
They began to laugh together, and Dan was at once inexpressibly happy.
Those two light natures thoroughly comprehended each other.
Mrs. Pasmer had proposed his seeing Alice with due seriousness, but now
she had a longing to let herself go; she felt all the pleasure that other
people felt in doing Dan Mavering a pleasure, and something more, because
he was so perfectly intelligible to her. She let herself go.
"You might stay to breakfast."
"Mrs. Pasmer, I will--I will do that too. I'm awfully hungry, and I put
myself in your hands."
"Let me see," said Mrs. Pasmer thoughtfully, "how it can be contrived."
"Yes;" said Mavering, ready for a panic. "How? She wouldn't stand a
"No; I had thought of that."
"No behind-a-screen or next-room business?"
"No," said Mrs. Pasmer, with a light sigh. "Alice is peculiar. I'm
afraid she wouldn't like it."
"Isn't there any little ruse she would like?"
"I can't think of any. Perhaps I'd better go and tell her you're here and
wish to see her."
"Do you think you'd better?" asked Dan doubtfully. "Perhaps she won't
"She will come," said Mrs. Pasmer confidently.
She did not say that she thought Alice would be curious to know why he had
come, and that she was too just to condemn him unheard.
But she was right about the main point. Alice came, and Dan could see
with his own weary eyes that she had not slept either.
She stopped just inside the portiere, and waited for him to speak. But he
could not, though a smile from his sense of the absurdity of their
seriousness hovered about his lips. His first impulse was to rush upon
her and catch her in his arms, and perhaps this might have been well, but
the moment for it passed, and then it became impossible.
"Well?" she said at last, lifting her head, and looking at him with
impassioned solemnity. "You wished to see me? I hoped you wouldn't. It
would have spared me something. But perhaps I had no right to your
"Alice, how can you say such things to me?" asked the young fellow, deeply
She responded to his tone. "I'm sorry if it wounds you. But I only mean
what I say."
"You've a right to my forbearance, and not only that, but to my--my life;
to everything that I am," cried Dan, in a quiver of tenderness at the
sight of her and the sound of her voice. "Alice, why did you write me
that letter?--why did you send me back my ring?"
"Because," she said, looking him seriously in the face--"because I wished
you to be free, to be happy."
"Well, you've gone the wrong way about it. I can never be free from you;
I never can be happy without you."
"I did it for your good, then, which ought to be above your happiness.
Don't think I acted hastily. I thought it over all night long. I didn't
"Neither did I," interposed Dan.
"And I saw that I had no claim to you; that you never could be truly happy
"I'll take the chances," he interrupted. "Alice, you don't suppose I
cared for those women any more than the ground under your feet, do you? I
don't suppose I should ever have given them a second thought if you hadn't
seemed to feel so badly about my neglecting them; and I thought you'd be
pleased to have me try to make it up to them if I could."
"I know your motive was good--the noblest. Don't think that I did you
injustice, or that I was vexed because you went away with them."
"You sent me."
"Yes; and now I give you up to them altogether. It was a mistake, a
crime, for me to think we could he anything to each other when our love
began with a wrong to some one else."
"With a wrong to some one else?"
"You neglected them on Class Day after you saw me."
"Why, of course I did. How could I help it?"
A flush of pleasure came into the girl's pale face; but she banished it,
and continued gravely, "Then at Portland you were with them all day."
"You'd given me up--you'd thrown me over, Alice," he pleaded.
"I know that; I don't blame you. But you made them believe that you were
very much interested in them."
"I don't know what I did. I was perfectly desperate."
"Yes; it was my fault. And then, when they came to meet you at the
Museum, I had made you forget them; I'd made you wound them and insult
them again. No. I've thought it all out, and we never could be happy.
Don't think that I do it from any resentful motive."
"Alice? how could I think that?--Of you!"
"I have tried--prayed--to be purified from that, and I believe that I have
"You never had a selfish thought."
"And I have come to see that you were perfectly right in what you did last
night. At first I was wounded."
"Oh, did I wound you, Alice?" he grieved.
"But afterward I could see that you belonged to them, and not me, and--and
I give you up to them. Yes, freely, fully."
Alice stood there, beautiful, pathetic, austere; and Dan had halted in the
spot to which he had advanced, when her eye forbade him to approach
nearer. He did not mean to joke, and it was in despair that he cried out:
"But which, Alice? There are two of them."
"Two?" she repeated vaguely.
"Yes; Mrs. Frobisher and Miss Wrayne. You can't give me up to both of
"Both?" she repeated again. She could not condescend to specify; it would
be ridiculous, and as it was, she felt her dignity hopelessly shaken. The
tears came into her eyes.
"Yes. And neither of them wants me--they haven't got any use for me.
Mrs. Frobisher is married already, and Miss Wrayne took the trouble last
night to let me feel that, so far as she was concerned, I hadn't made it
all right, and couldn't. I thought I had rather a cold parting with you,
Alice, but it was quite tropical to what you left me to." A faint smile,
mingled with a blush of relenting, stole into her face, and he hurried on.
"I don't suppose I tried very hard to thaw her out. I wasn't much
interested. If you must give me up, you must give me up to some one else,
for they don't want me, and I don't want them." Alice's head dropped
lover, and he could come nearer now without her seeming to know it. "But
why need you give me up? There's really no occasion for it, I assure
"I wished," she explained, "to show you that I loved you for something
above yourself and myself--far above either--"
She stopped and dropped the hand which she had raised to fend him off; and
he profited by the little pause she made to take her in his arms without
seeming to do so. "Well," he said, "I don't believe I was formed to be
loved on a very high plane. But I'm not too proud to be loved for my own
sake; and I don't think there's anything above you, Alice."
"Oh yes, there is! I don't deserve to be happy, and that's the reason why
I'm not allowed to be happy in any noble way. I can't bear to give you
up; you know I can't; but you ought to give me up--indeed you ought. I
have ideals, but I can't live up to them. You ought to go. You ought to
leave me." She accented each little sentence by vividly pressing herself
to his heart, and he had the wisdom or the instinct to treat their
reconciliation as nothing settled, but merely provisional in its nature.
"Well, we'll see about that. I don't want to go till after breakfast,
anyway; your mother says I may stay, and I'm awfully hungry. If I see
anything particularly base in you, perhaps I sha'n't come back to lunch."
Dan would have liked to turn it alt off into a joke, now that the worst
was apparently over; but Alice freed herself from him, and held him off
with her hand set against his breast. "Does mamma know about it?" she
"Well, she knows there's been some misunderstanding," said Dan, with a
laugh that was anxious, in view of the clouds possibly gathering again.
"Well, I can't say exactly." He would not say that he did not know, but
he felt that he could truly say that he could not say.
She dropped her hand, and consented to be deceived. Dan caught her again
to his breast; but he had an odd, vague sense of doing it carefully, of
using a little of the caution with which one seizes the stem of a rose
between the thorns.
"I can bear to be ridiculous with you," she whispered, with an implication
which he understood.
"You haven't been ridiculous, dearest," he said; and his tension gave way
in a convulsive laugh, which partially expressed his feeling of restored
security, and partly his amusement in realising how the situation would
have pleased Mrs. Pasmer if she could have known it.
Mrs. Pasmer was seated behind her coffee biggin at the breakfast-table
when he came into the room with Alice, and she lifted an eye from its
glass bulb long enough to catch his flying glance of exultation and
admonition. Then, while she regarded the chemical struggle in the bulb,
with the rapt eye of a magician reading fate in his crystal ball, she
questioned herself how much she should know, and how much she should
ignore. It was a great moment for Mrs. Pasmer, full of delicious choice.
"Do you understand this process, Mr. Mavering?" she said, glancing up at
him warily for farther instruction.
"I've seen it done," said Dan, "but I never knew how it was managed. I
always thought it was going to blow up; but it seemed to me that if you
were good and true and very meek, and had a conscience void of offence, it
"Yes, that's what it seems to depend upon," said Mrs. Pasmer, keeping her
eye on the bulb. She dodged suddenly forward, and put out the spirit-
lamp. "Now have your coffee!" she cried, with a great air of relief. "You
must need it by this time," she said with a low cynical laugh--" both of
"Did you always make coffee with a biggin in France, Mrs. Pasmer?" asked
Dan; and he laughed out the last burden that lurked in his heart.
Mrs. Pasmer joined him. "No, Mr. Mavering. In France you don't need a
biggin. I set mine up when we went to England."
Alice looked darkly from one of these light spirits to the other, and then
they all shrieked together.
They went on talking volubly from that, and they talked as far away from
what they were thinking about as possible. They talked of Europe, and
Mrs. Pasmer said where they would live and what they would do when they
all got back there together. Dan abetted her, and said that they must
cross in June. Mrs. Pasmer said that she thought June was a good month.
He asked if it were not the month of the marriages too, and she answered
that he must ask Alice about that. Alice blushed and laughed her sweet
reluctant laugh, and said she did not know; she had never been married.
It was silly, but it was delicious; it made them really one family. Deep
in his consciousness a compunction pierced and teased Dan. But he said to
himself that it was all a joke about their European plans, or else his
people would consent to it if he really wished it.
A period of entire harmony and tenderness followed the episode which
seemed to threaten the lovers with the loss of each other. Mavering
forbore to make Alice feel that in attempting a sacrifice which consulted
only his good and ignored his happiness, and then failing in it so
promptly, she had played rather a silly part. After one or two tentative
jokes in that direction he found the ground unsafe, and with the instinct
which served him in place of more premeditated piety he withdrew, and was
able to treat the affair with something like religious awe. He was
obliged, in fact, to steady Alice's own faith in it, and to keep her from
falling under dangerous self-condemnation in that and other excesses of
uninstructed self-devotion. This brought no fatigue to his robust
affection, whatever it might have done to a heart more tried in such
exercises. Love acquaints youth with many things in character and
temperament which are none the less interesting because it never explains
them; and Dan was of such a make that its revelations of Alice were
charming to him because they were novel. He had thought her a person of
such serene and flawless wisdom that it was rather a relief to find her
subject to gusts of imprudence, to unexpected passions and resentments, to
foibles and errors, like other people. Her power of cold reticence; which
she could employ at will, was something that fascinated him almost as much
as that habit of impulsive concession which seemed to came neither from
her will nor her reason. He was a person himself who was so eager to give
other people pleasure that he quivered with impatience to see them happy
through his words or acts; he could not bear to think that any one to whom
he was speaking was not perfectly comfortable in regard to him; and it was
for this reason perhaps that he admired a girl who could prescribe herself
a line of social conduct, and follow it out regardless of individual
pangs--who could act from ideals and principles, and not from emotions and
sympathies. He knew that she had the emotions and sympathies, for there
were times when she lavished them on him; and that she could seem without
them was another proof of that depth of nature which he liked to imagine
had first attracted him to her. Dan Mavering had never been able to snub
any one in his life; it gave him a great respect for Alice that it seemed
not to cost her an effort or a regret, and it charmed him to think that
her severity was part of the unconscious sham which imposed her upon the
world for a person of inflexible design and invariable constancy to it.
He was not long in seeing that she shared this illusion, if it was an
illusion, and that perhaps the only person besides himself who was in the
joke was her mother. Mrs. Pasmer and he grew more and more into each
other's confidence in talking Alice over, and he admired the intrepidity
of this lady, who was not afraid of her daughter even in the girl's most
topping moments of self-abasement. For his own part, these moods of hers
never failed to cause him confusion and anxiety. They commonly intimated
themselves parenthetically in the midst of some blissful talk they were
having, and overcast his clear sky with retrospective ideals of conduct or
presentimental plans for contingencies that might never occur. He found
himself suddenly under condemnation for not having reproved her at a given
time when she forced him to admit she had seemed unkind or cold to others;
she made him promise that even at the risk of alienating her affections he
would make up for her deficiencies of behaviour in such matters whenever
he noticed them. She now praised him for what he had done for Mrs.
Frobisher and her sister at Mrs. Bellingham's reception; she said it was
generous, heroic. But Mavering rested satisfied with his achievement in
that instance, and did not attempt anything else of the kind. He did not
reason from cause to effect in regard to it: a man's love is such that
while it lasts he cannot project its object far enough from him to judge
it reasonable or unreasonable; but Dan's instincts had been disciplined
and his perceptions sharpened by that experience. Besides, in bidding him
take this impartial and even admonitory course toward her, she stipulated
that they should maintain to the world a perfect harmony of conduct which
should be an outward image of the union of their lives. She said that
anything less than a continued self-sacrifice of one to the other was not
worthy of the name of love, and that she should not be happy unless he
required this of her. She said that they ought each to find out what was
the most distasteful thing which they could mutually require, and then do
it; she asked him to try to think what she most hated, and let her do that
for him; as for her, she only asked to ask nothing of him.
Mavering could not worship enough this nobility of soul in her, and he
celebrated it to Boardman with the passionate need of imparting his
rapture which a lover feel. Boardman acquiesced in silence, with a glance
of reserved sarcasm, or contented himself with laconic satire of his
friend's general condition, and avoided any comment that might
specifically apply to the points Dan made. Alice allowed him to have this
confidant, and did not demand of him a report of all he said to Boardman.
A main fact of their love, she said, must be their utter faith in each
other. She had her own confidante, and the disparity of years between her
and Miss Cotton counted for nothing in the friendship which their exchange
of trust and sympathy cemented. Miss Cotton, in the freshness of her
sympathy and the ideality of her inexperience, was in fact younger than
Alice, at whose feet, in the things of soul and character, she loved to
sit. She never said to her what she believed: that a girl of her
exemplary principles, a nature conscious of such noble ideals, so superior
to other girls, who in her place would be given up to the happiness of the
moment, and indifferent to the sense of duty to herself and to others, was
sacrificed to a person of Mavering's gay, bright nature and trivial
conception of life. She did not deny his sweetness; that was perhaps the
one saving thing about him; and she confessed that he simply adored Alice;
that counted for everything, and it was everything in his favour that he
could appreciate such a girl. She hoped, she prayed, that Alice might
never realise how little depth he had; that she might go through life and
never suspect it. If she did so, then they might be happy together to the
end, or at least Alice might never know she was unhappy.
Miss Cotton never said these things in so many words; it is doubtful if
she ever said them in any form of words; with her sensitive anxiety not to
do injustice to any one, she took Dan's part against those who viewed the
engagement as she allowed it to appear only to her secret heart. She
defended him the more eagerly because she felt that it was for Alice's
sake, and that everything must be done to keep her from knowing how people
looked at the affair, even to changing people's minds. She said to all
who spoke to her of it that of course Alice was superior to him, but he
was devoted to her, and he would grow into an equality with her. He was
naturally very refined, she said, and, if he was not a very serious
person, he was amiable beyond anything. She alleged many little incidents
of their acquaintance at Campobello in proof of her theory that he had an
instinctive appreciation of Alice, and she was sure that no one could
value her nobleness of character more than he. She had seen them a good
deal together since their engagement, and it was beautiful to see his
manner with her. They were opposites, but she counted a good deal upon
that very difference in their temperaments to draw them to each other.
It was an easy matter to see Dan and Alice together. Their engagement
came out in the usual way: it had been announced to a few of their nearest
friends, and intelligence of it soon spread from their own set through
society generally; it had been published in the Sunday papers while it was
still in the tender condition of a rumour, and had been denied by some of
their acquaintance and believed by all.
The Pasmer cousinship had been just in the performance of the duties of
blood toward Alice since the return of her family from Europe, and now did
what was proper in the circumstances. All who were connected with her
called upon her and congratulated her; they knew Dan, the younger of them,
much better than they knew her; and though he had shrunk from the nebulous
bulk of social potentiality which every young man is to that much smaller
nucleus to which definite betrothal reduces him, they could be perfectly
sincere in calling him the sweetest fellow that ever was, and too lovely
In such a matter Mr. Pasmer was naturally nothing; he could not be less
than he was at other times, but he was not more; and it was Mrs. Pasmer
who shared fully with her daughter the momentary interest which the
engagement gave Alice with all her kindred. They believed, of course,
that they recognised in it an effect of her skill in managing; they agreed
to suppose that she had got Mavering for Alice, and to ignore the beauty
and passion of youth as factors in the case. The closest of the kindred,
with the romantic delicacy of Americans in such things, approached the
question of Dan's position and prospects, and heard with satisfaction the
good accounts which Mrs. Pasmer was able to give of his father's
prosperity. There had always been more or less apprehension among them of
a time when a family subscription would be necessary for Bob Pasmer, and
in the relief which the new situation gave them some of them tried to
remember having known Dan's father in College, but it finally came to
their guessing that they must have heard John Munt speak of him.
Mrs. Pasmer had a supreme control in the affair. She believed with the
rest--so deeply is this delusion seated--that she had made the match; but
knowing herself to have used no dishonest magic in the process, she was
able to enjoy it with a clean conscience. She grew fonder of Dan; they
understood each other; she was his refuge from Alice's ideals, and helped
him laugh off his perplexity with them. They were none the less sincere
because they were not in the least frank with each other. She let Dan
beat about the bush to his heart's content, and waited for him at the
point which she knew he was coming to, with an unconsciousness which he
knew was factitious; neither of them got tired of this, or failed freshly
to admire the other's strategy.
It cannot be pretended that Alice was quite pleased with the way her
friends took her engagement, or rather the way in which they spoke of Dan.
It seemed to her that she alone, or she chiefly, ought to feel that
sweetness and loveliness of which every one told her, as if she could not
have known it. If he was sweet and lovely to every one, how was he
different to her except in degree? Ought he not to be different in kind?
She put the case to Miss Cotton, whom it puzzled, while she assured Alice
that he was different in kind to her, though he might not seem so; the
very fact that he was different in degree proved that he was different in
kind. This logic sufficed for the moment of its expression, but it did
not prevent Alice from putting the case to Dan himself. At one of those
little times when she sat beside him alone and rearranged his necktie, or
played with his watch chain, or passed a critical hand over his cowlick,
she asked him if he did not think they ought to have an ideal in their
engagement. "What ideal?" he asked. He thought it was all solid ideal
through and through. "Oh," she said, "be more and more to each other."
He said he did not see how that could be; if there was anything more of
him, she was welcome to it, but he rather thought she had it all. She
explained that she meant being less to others; and he asked her to explain
"Well, when we're anywhere together, don't you think we ought to show how
different we are to each other from what we are to any one else."
Dan laughed. "I'm afraid we do, Alice; I always supposed one ought to
hide that little preference as much as possible. You don't want me to be
dangling after you every moment?"
"No-o-o. But not--dangle after others."
Dan sighed a little--a little impatiently. "Do I dangle after others?"
"Of course not. But show that we're thoroughly united in all our tastes
and feelings, and--like and dislike the same persons."
"I don't think that will be difficult," said Dan.
She was silent a moment, and then she said; "You don't like to have me
bring up such things?"
"Oh yes, I do. I wish to be and do just what you wish."
"But I can see, I can understand, that you would sooner pass the time
without talking of them. You like to be perfectly happy, and not to have
any cares when--when you're with me this way?"
"Well, yes, I suppose I do," said Dan, laughing again. "I suppose I
rather do like to keep pleasure and duty apart. But there's nothing you
can wish, Alice, that isn't a pleasure to me."
"I'm very different," said the girl. "I can't be at peace unless I know
that I have a right to be so. But now, after this, I'm going to do your
way. If it's your way, it'll be the right way--for me." She looked
sublimely resolved, with a grand lift of the eyes, and Dan caught her to
him in a rapture, breaking into laughter.
"Oh, don't! Mine's a bad way--the worst kind of a way," he cried.
"It makes everybody like you, and mine makes nobody like me."
"It makes me like you, and that's quite enough. I don't want other people
to like you!"
"Yes, that's what I mean!" cried Alice; and now she flung herself on his
neck, and the tears came. "Do you suppose it can be very pleasant to have
everybody talking of you as if everybody loved you as much--as much as I
do?" She clutched him tighter and sobbed.
"O Alice! Alice! Alice! Nobody could ever be what you are to me!" He
soothed and comforted her with endearing words and touches; but before he
could have believed her half consoled she pulled away from him, and asked,
with shining eyes, "Do you think Mr. Boardman is a good influence in your
"Boardman!" cried Mavering, in astonishment. "Why, I thought you liked
"I do; and I respect him very much. But that isn't the question. Don't
you think we ought to ask ourselves how others influence us?"
"Well, I don't see much of Boardy nowadays; but I like to drop down and
touch earth in Boardy once in a while--I'm in the air so much. Board has
more common-sense, more solid chunk-wisdom, than anybody I know. He's
kept me from making a fool of myself more times--"
"Wasn't he with you that day with--with those women in Portland?"
Dan winced a little, and then laughed. "No, he wasn't. That was the
trouble. Boardman was off on the press boat. I thought I told you. But
if you object to Boardman--"
"I don't. You mustn't think I object to people when I ask you about them.
All that I wished was that you should think yourself what sort of
influence he was. I think he's a very good influence."
"He's a splendid fellow, Boardman is, Alice!" cried Dan. "You ought to
have seen how he fought his way through college on such a little money,
and never skulked or felt mean. He wasn't appreciated for it; the men
don't notice these things much; but he didn't want to have it noticed;
always acted as if it was neither here nor there; and now I guess he sends
out home whatever he has left after keeping soul and body together every
He spoke, perhaps, with too great an effect of relief. Alice listened, as
it seemed, to his tone rather than his words, and said absently--
"Yes, that's grand. But I don't want you to act as if you were afraid of
me in such things."
" Afraid?" Dan echoed.
"I don't mean actually afraid, but as if you thought I couldn't be
reasonable; as if you supposed I didn't expect you to make mistakes or to
"Yes, I know you're very reasonable, and you're more patient with me than
I deserve; I know all that, and it's only my wish to come up to your
standard, I suppose, that gives me that apprehensive appearance."
"That was what vexed me with you there at Campobello, when you--asked me--"
"Yes, I know."
"You ought to have understood me better. You ought to know now that I
don't wish you to do anything on my account, but because it's something we
owe to others."
"Oh, excuse me! I'd much rather do it for you," cried Dan; but Alice
looked so grave, so hurt, that he hastened on: "How in the world does it
concern others whether we are devoted or not, whether we're harmonious and
two-souls-with-but-a-single-thought, and all that?" He could not help
being light about it.
"How?" Alice repeated. "Won't it give them an idea of what--what--of how
much--how truly--if we care for each other--how people ought to care? We
don't do it for ourselves. That would be selfish and disgusting. We do
it because it's something that we owe to the idea of being engaged--of
having devoted our lives to each other, and would show--would teach--"
"Oh yes! I know what you mean," said Dan, and he gave way in a sputtering
laugh. "But they wouldn't understand. They'd only think we were spoons
on each other; and if they noticed that I cooled off toward people I'd
liked, and warmed up toward those you liked, they'd say you made me."
"Should you care?" asked Alice sublimely, withdrawing a little from his
"Oh no! only on your account," he answered, checking his laugh.
"You needn't on my account," she returned. "If we sacrifice some little
preferences to each other, isn't that right? I shall be glad to sacrifice
all of mine to you. Isn't our--marriage to be full of such sacrifices? I
expect to give up everything to you." She looked at him with a sad
He began to laugh again. "Oh no, Alice! Don't do that! I couldn't stand
it. I want some little chance at the renunciations myself."
She withdrew still further from his side, and said, with a cold anger,
"It's that detestable Mrs. Brinkley."
"Mrs. Brinkley!" shouted Dan.
"Yes; with her pessimism. I have heard her talk. She influences you.
Nothing is sacred to her. It was she who took up with those army women
"Well, Alice, I must say you can give things as ugly names as the next
one. I haven't seen Mrs. Brinkley the whole winter, except in your
company. But she has more sense than all the other women I know."
"Oh, thank you!"
"You know I don't mean you," he pushed on. "And she isn't a pessimist.
She's very kindhearted, and that night she was very polite and good to
those army women, as you call them, when you had refused to say a word or
do anything for them."
"I knew it had been rankling in your mind all along," said the girl "I
expected it to coma out sooner or later. And you talk about renunciation!
You never forget nor forgive the slightest thing. But I don't ask your
"No. You are as hard as iron. You have that pleasant outside manner that
makes people think you're very gentle and yielding, but all the time
you're like adamant. I would rather die than ask your forgiveness for
anything, and you'd rather let me than give it."
"Well, then, I ask your forgiveness, Alice, and I'm sure you won't let me
die without it."
They regarded each other a moment. Then the tenderness gushed up in their
hearts, a passionate tide, and swept them into each other's arms.
"O Dan," she cried, "how sweet you are! how good! how lovely! Oh, how
wonderful it is! I wanted to hate you, but I couldn't. I couldn't do
anything but love you. Yes, now I understand what love is, and how it can
do everything, and last for ever."
Mavering came to lunch the next day, and had a word with Mrs. Pasmer
before Alice came in. Mr. Pasmer usually lunched at the club.
"We don't see much of Mrs. Saintsbury nowadays," he suggested.
"No; it's a great way to Cambridge," said Mrs. Pasmer, stifling, in a
little sigh of apparent regret for the separation, the curiosity she felt
as to Dan's motive in mentioning Mrs. Saintsbury. She was very patient
with him when he went on.
"Yes, it is a great way. And a strange thing about it is that when you're
living here it's a good deal further from Boston to Cambridge than it is
from Cambridge to Boston."
"Yes," said Mrs. Pasmer; "every one notices that."
Dan sat absently silent for a time before he said, "Yes, I guess I must go
out and see Mrs. Saintsbury."
"Yes, you ought. She's very fond of you. You and Alice ought both to
"Does Mrs. Saintsbury like me?" asked Dan. "Well, she's awfully nice.
Don't you think she's awfully fond of formulating people?"
"Oh, everybody in Cambridge does that. They don't gossip; they merely
accumulate materials for the formulation of character."
"And they get there just the same!" cried Dan. "Mrs. Saintsbury used to
think she had got me down pretty fine," he suggested.
"Yes!" said Mrs. Pasmer, with an indifference which they both knew she did
"Yes. She used to accuse me of preferring to tack, even in a fair wind."
He looked inquiringly at Mrs. Pasmer; and she said, "How ridiculous!"
"Yes, it was. Well, I suppose I am rather circuitous about some things."
"Oh, not at all!"
"And I suppose I'm rather a trial to Alice in that way."
He looked at Mrs. Pasmer again, and she said: "I don't believe you are,
in the least. You can't tell what is trying to a girl."
"No," said Dan pensively, "I can't." Mrs. Pasmer tried to render the
interest in her face less vivid. "I can't tell where she's going to bring
up. Talk about tacking!"
"Do you mean the abstract girl; or Alice?"
"Oh, the abstract girl," said Dan, and they laughed together. "You think
Alice is very straightforward, don't you?"
"Very," said Mrs. Pasmer, looking down with a smile--"for a girl."
"Yes, that's what I mean. And don't you think the most circuitous kind of
fellow would be pretty direct compared with the straight-forwardest kind
There was a rueful defeat and bewilderment in Dan's face that made Mrs.
Pasmer laugh. "What has she been doing now?" she asked.
"Mrs. Pasmer," said Dan, "you and I are the only frank and open people I
know. Well, she began to talk last night about influence--the influence
of other people on us; and she killed off nearly all the people I like
before I knew what she was up to, and she finished with Mrs. Brinkley.
I'm glad she didn't happen to think of you, Mrs. Pasmer, or I shouldn't be
associating with you at the present moment." This idea seemed to give
Mrs. Pasmer inexpressible pleasure. Dan went on: "Do you quite see the
connection between our being entirely devoted to each other and my
dropping Mrs. Brinkley?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Pasmer. "Alice doesn't like satirical people."
"Well, of course not. But Mrs. Brinkley is such an admirer of hers."
"I dare say she tells you so."
"Oh, but she is!"
"I don't deny it," said Mrs. Pasmer. "But if Alice feels something
inimical--antipatico--in her atmosphere, it's no use talking."
"Oh no, it's no use talking, and I don't know that I want to talk." After
a pause, Mavering asked, "Mrs. Pasmer, don't you think that where two
people are going to be entirely devoted to each other, and self-
sacrificing to each other, they ought to divide, and one do all the
devotion, and the other all the self-sacrifice?"
Mrs. Pasmer was amused by the droll look in Dan's eyes. "I think they
ought to be willing to share evenly," she said.
"Yes; that's what I say--share and share alike. I'm not selfish about
those little things." He blew off a long sighing breath. "Mrs. Pasmer,
don't you think we ought to have an ideal of conduct?"
Mrs. Pasmer abandoned herself to laughter. "O Dan! Dan! You will be the
death of me."
"We will die together, then, Mrs. Pasmer. Alice will kill me." He
regarded her with a sad sympathy in his eye as she laughed and laughed
with delicious intelligence of the case. The intelligence was perfect,
from their point of view; but whether it fathomed the girl's whole
intention or aspiration is another matter. Perhaps this was not very
clear to herself. At any rate, Mavering did not go any more to see Mrs.
Brinkley, whose house he had liked to drop into. Alice went several
times, to show, she said, that she had no feeling in the matter; and Mrs.
Brinkley, when she met Dan, forbore to embarrass him with questions or
reproaches; she only praised Alice to him.
There were not many other influences that Alice cut him off from; she even
exposed him to some influences that might have been thought deleterious.
She made him go and call alone upon certain young ladies whom she
specified, and she praised several others to him, though she did not
praise them for the same things that he did. One of them was a girl to
whom Alice had taken a great fancy, such as often buds into a romantic
passion between women; she was very gentle and mild, and she had none of
that strength of will which she admired in Alice. One night there was a
sleighing party to a hotel in the suburbs, where they had dancing and then
supper. After the supper they danced "Little Sally Waters" for a finale,
instead of the Virginia Reel, and Alice would not go on the floor with
Dan; she said she disliked that dance; but she told him to dance with Miss
Langham. It became a gale of fun, and in the height of it Dan slipped and
fell with his partner. They laughed it off, with the rest, but after a
while the girl began to cry; she had received a painful bruise. All the
way home, while the others laughed and sang and chattered, Dan was
troubled about this poor girl; his anxiety became a joke with the whole
sleighful of people.
When he parted with Alice at her door, he said, "I'm afraid I hurt Miss
Langham; I feel awfully about it."
"Yes; there's no doubt of that. Good night!"
She left him to go off to his lodging, hot and tingling with indignation
at her injustice. But kindlier thoughts came to him before he slept, and
he fell asleep with a smile of tenderness for her on his lips. He could
see how he was wrong to go out with any one else when Alice said she
disliked the dance; he ought not to have taken advantage of her generosity
in appointing him a partner; it was trying for her to see him make that
ludicrous tumble, of course; and perhaps he had overdone the attentive
sympathy on the way home. It flattered him that she could not help
showing her jealousy--that is flattering, at first; and Dan was able to go
and confess all but this to Alice. She received his submission
magnanimously, and said that she was glad it had happened, because his
saying this showed that now they understood each other perfectly. Then
she fixed her eyes on his, and said, "I've just been round to see Lilly,
and she's as well as ever; it was only a nervous shock."
Whether Mavering was really indifferent to Miss Langham's condition, or
whether the education of his perceptions had gone so far that he
consciously ignored her, he answered, "That was splendid of you, Alice."
"No," she said; "it's you that are splendid; and you always are. Oh, I
wonder if I can ever be worthy of you!"
Their mutual forgiveness was very sweet to them, and they went on praising
each other. Alice suddenly broke away from this weakening exchange of
worship, and said, with that air of coming to business which he lad
learned to recognise and dread a little, "Dan, don't you think I ought to
write to your mother?"
"Write to my mother?" Why, you have written to her. You wrote as soon as
you got back, and she answered you."
"Yes; but write regularly?--Show that I think of her all the time?" When
I really think I'm going to take you from her, I seem so cruel and
"Oh, I don't look at it in that light, Alice."
"Don't joke! And when I think that we're going away to leave her, for
several years, perhaps, as soon as we're married, I can't make it seem
right. I know how she depends upon your being near her, and seeing her
every now and then; and to go off to Europe for years, perhaps--Of course
you can be of use to your father there; but do you think it's right toward
your mother? I want you to think."
Dan thought, but his thinking was mainly to the effect that he did not
know what she was driving at. Had she got any inkling of that plan of his
mother's for them to come and stay a year or two at the Falls after their
marriage? He always expected to be able to reconcile that plan with the
Pasmer plan of going at once; to his optimism the two were not really
incompatible; but he did not wish them prematurely confronted in Alice's
mind. Was this her way of letting him know that she knew what his mother
wished, and that she was willing to make the sacrifice? Or was it just
some vague longing to please him by a show of affection toward his family,
an unmeditated impulse of reparation? He had an impulse himself to be
frank with Alice, to take her at her word, and to allow that he did not
like the notion of going abroad. This was Dan's notion of being frank; he
could still reserve the fact that he had given his mother a tacit promise
to bring Alice home to live, but he postponed even this. He said: "Oh, I
guess that'll be all right, Alice. At any rate, there's no need to think
about it yet awhile. That can be arranged."
"Yes," said Alice; "but don't you think I'd better get into the habit of
writing regularly to your mother now, so that there needn't be any break
when we go abroad?" He could see now that she had no idea of giving that
plan up, and he was glad that he had not said anything. "I think," she
continued, "that I shall write to her once a week, and give her a full
account of our life from day to day; it'll be more like a diary; and then,
when we get over there, I can keep it up without any effort, and she won't
feel so much that you've gone."
She seemed to refer the plan to him, and he said it was capital. In fact,
he did like the notion of a diary; that sort of historical view would
involve less danger of precipitating a discussion of the two schemes of
life for the future. "It's awfully kind of you, Alice, to propose such a
thing, and you mustn't make it a burden. Any sort of little sketchy
record will do; mother can read between the lines, you know."
"It won't be a burden," said the girl tenderly. "I shall seem to be doing
it for your mother, but I know I shall be doing it for you. I do
everything for you. Do you think it's right?"
"Oh; it must be," said Dan, laughing. "It's so pleasant."
"Oh," said the girl gloomily; "that's what makes me doubt it."
Eunice Mavering acknowledged Alice's first letter. She said that her
mother read it aloud to them all, and had been delighted with the good
account she gave of Dan, and fascinated with all the story of their daily
doings and sayings. She wished Eunice to tell Alice how fully she
appreciated her thoughtfulness of a sick old woman, and that she was going
to write herself and thank her. But Eunice added that Alice must not be
surprised if her mother was not very prompt in this, and she sent messages
from all the family, affectionate for Alice, and polite for her father and
Alice showed Dan the letter, and he seemed to find nothing noticeable in
it. "She says your mother will write later," Alice suggested.
"Yes. You ought to feel very much complimented by that. Mother's
autographs are pretty uncommon," he said, smiling.
"Why, doesn't she write? Can't she? Does it tire her?" asked Alice.
"Oh yes, she can write, but she hates to. She gets Eunice or Minnie to
"Dan," cried Alice intensely, "why didn't you tell me?"
"Why, I thought you knew it," he explained easily. "She likes to read,
and likes to talk, but it bores her to write. I don't suppose I get more
than two or three pencil scratches from her in the course of a year. She
makes the girls write. But you needn't mind her not writing. You may be
sure she's glad of your letters."
"It makes me seem very presumptuous to be writing to her when there's no
chance of her answering," Alice grieved. "It's as if I had passed over
your sisters' heads. I ought to have written to them."
"Oh, well, you can do that now," said Dan soothingly.
"No. No, I can't do it now. It would be ridiculous." She was silent,
and presently she asked, "Is there anything else about your mother that I
ought to know?" She looked at him with a sort of impending discipline in
her eyes which he had learned to dread; it meant such a long course of
things, such a very great variety of atonement and expiation for him, that
he could not bring himself to confront it steadily.
His heart gave a feeble leap; he would have gladly told her all that was
in it, and he meant to do so at the right time, but this did not seem the
moment. "I can't say that there is," he answered coldly.
In that need of consecrating her happiness which Alice felt, she went a
great deal to church in those days. Sometimes she felt the need almost of
defence against her happiness, and a vague apprehension mixed with it.
Could it be right to let it claim her whole being, as it seemed to do?
Than was the question which she once asked Dan, and it made him laugh, and
catch her to him in a rapture that served for the time, and then left her
to more morbid doubts. Evidently he could not follow her in them; he
could not even imagine them; and while he was with her they seemed to have
no verity or value. But she talked them over very hypothetically and
impersonally with Miss Cotton, in whose sympathy they resumed all their
import, and gained something more. In the idealisation which the girl
underwent in this atmosphere all her thoughts and purposes had a
significance which she would not of herself, perhaps, have attached to
them. They discussed them and analysed them with a satisfaction in the
result which could not be represented without an effect of caricature.
They measured Alice's romance together, and evolved from it a sublimation
of responsibility, of duty, of devotion, which Alice found it impossible
to submit to Dan when he came with his simple-hearted, single-minded
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