Part 6 out of 7
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
purpose of getting Mrs. Pasmer out of the room, and sitting down with his
arm around Alice's waist. When he had accomplished this it seemed
sufficient in itself, and she had to think, to struggle to recall things
beyond it, above it. He could not be made to see at such times how their
lives could be more in unison than they were. When she proposed doing
something for him which he knew was disagreeable to her, he would not let
her; and when she hinted at anything she wished him to do for her because
she knew it was disagreeable to him, he consented so promptly, so
joyously, that she perceived he could not have given the least thought to
She felt every day that they were alien in their tastes and aims; their
pleasures were not the same, and though it was sweet, though it was
charming, to have him give up so willingly all his preferences, she felt,
without knowing that the time must come when this could not be so, that it
was all wrong.
"But these very differences, these antagonisms, if you wish to call them
so," suggested Miss Cotton, in talking Alice's misgivings over with her,
"aren't they just what will draw you together more and more? Isn't it
what attracted you to each other? The very fact that you are such perfect
"Yes," the girl assented, "that's what we're taught to believe." She
meant by the novels, to which we all trust our instruction in such
matters, and her doubt doubly rankled after she had put it to silence.
She kept on writing to Dan's mother, though more and more perfunctorily;
and now Eunice and now Minnie Mavering acknowledged her letters. She knew
that they must think she was silly, but having entered by Dan's connivance
upon her folly, she was too proud to abandon it.
At last, after she had ceased to expect it, came a letter from his mother,
not a brief note, but a letter which the invalid had evidently tasked
herself to make long and full, in recognition of Alice's kindness in
writing to her so much. The girl opened it, and, after a verifying glance
at the signature, began to read it with a thrill of tender triumph, and
the fond prevision of the greater pleasure of reading it again with Dan.
But after reading it once through, she did not wait for him before reading
it again and again. She did this with bewilderment, intershot with
flashes of conviction, and then doubts of this conviction. When she could
misunderstand no longer, she rose quietly and folded the letter, and put
it carefully back into its envelope and into her writing desk, where she
sat down and wrote, in her clearest and firmest hand, this note to
"I wish to see you immediately.
Dan had learned, with a lover's keenness, to read Alice's moods in the
most colourless wording of her notes. She was rather apt to write him
notes, taking back or reaffirming the effect of something that had just
passed between them. Her note were tempered to varying degrees of heat
and cold, so fine that no one else would have felt the difference, but
sensible to him in their subtlest intention.
Perhaps a mere witness of the fact would have been alarmed by a note which
began without an address, except that on the envelope, and ended its
peremptory brevity with the writer's name signed in full. Dan read
calamity in it, and he had all the more trouble to pull himself together
to meet it because he had parted with unusual tenderness from Alice the
night before, after an evening in which it seemed to him that their ideals
had been completely reconciled.
The note came, as her notes were apt to come, while Dan was at breakfast,
which he was rather luxurious about for so young a man, and he felt
formlessly glad afterward that he had drunk his first cup of coffee before
he opened it, for it chilled the second cup, and seemed to take all
character out of the omelet.
He obeyed it, wondering what the doom menaced in it might be, but knowing
that it was doom, and leaving his breakfast half-finished, with a dull
sense of the tragedy of doing so.
He would have liked to ask for Mrs. Pasmer first, and interpose a moment
of her cheerful unreality between himself and his interview with Alice,
but he decided that he had better not do this, and they met at once, with
the width of the room between them. Her look was one that made it
impassable to the simple impulse he usually had to take her in his arms
and kiss her. But as she stood holding out a letter to him, with the
apparent intention that he should come and take it, he traversed the
intervening space and took it.
"Why, it's from mother!" he said joyously, with a glance at the
"Will you please explain it?" said Alice, and Dan began to read it.
It began with a good many excuses for not having written before, and went
on with a pretty expression of interest in Alice's letters and gratitude
for them; Mrs. Mavering assured the girl that she could not imagine what a
pleasure they had been to her. She promised herself that they should be
great friends, and she said that she looked forward eagerly to the time,
now drawing near, when Dan should bring her home to them. She said she
knew Alice would find it dull at the Falls except for him, but they would
all do their best, and she would find the place very different from what
she had seen it in the winter. Alice could make believe that she was
there just for the summer, and Mrs. Mavering hoped that before the summer
was gone she would be so sorry for a sick old woman that she would not
even wish to go with it. This part of the letter, which gave Dan away so
hopelessly, as he felt, was phrased so touchingly, that he looked up from
it with moist eyes to the hard cold judgment in the eyes of Alice.
"Will you please explain it?" she repeated.
He tried to temporise. "Explain what?"
Alice was prompt to say, "Had you promised your mother to take me home to
Dan did not answer.
"You promised my mother to go abroad. What else have you promised?" He
continued silent, and she added, "You are a faithless man." They were the
words of Romola, in the romance, to Tito; she had often admired them; and
they seemed to her equally the measure of Dan's offence.
"Here are your letters and remembrances, Mr. Mavering." Dan mechanically
received the packet she had been holding behind her; with a perverse freak
of intelligence he observed that, though much larger now, it was tied up
with the same ribbon which had fastened it when Alice returned his letters
and gifts before. "Good-bye. I wish you every happiness consistent with
She bowed coldly, and was about to leave him, as she had planned; but she
had not arranged that he should be standing in front of the door, and he
was there, with no apparent intention of moving.
"Will you allow me to pass?" she was forced to ask, however, haughtily.
"No!" he retorted, with a violence that surprised him. "I will not let
you pass till you have listened to me--till you tell me why you treat me
so. I won't stand it--I've had enough of this kind of thing."
It surprised Alice too a little, and after a moment's hesitation she said,
"I will listen to you," so much more gently than she had spoken before
that Dan relaxed his imperative tone, and began to laugh. "But," she
added, and her face clouded again, "it will be of no use. My mind is made
up this time. Why should we talk?"
Why, because mine isn't," said Dan. "What is the matter, Alice? Do you
think I would force you, or even ask you, to go home with me to live
unless you were entirely willing? It could only be a temporary
"That isn't the question," she retorted. "The question is whether you've
promised your mother one thing and me another."
"Well, I don't know about promising," said Dan, laughing a little more
uneasily, but still laughing. "As nearly as I can remember, I wasn't
consulted about the matter. Your mother proposed one thing, and my mother
"And you agreed to both. That is quite enough--quite characteristic!"
Dan flushed, and stopped laughing. "I don't know what you mean by
characteristic. The thing didn't have to be decided at once, and I didn't
suppose it would be difficult for either side to give way, if it was
judged best. I was sure my mother wouldn't insist."
"It seems very easy for your family to make sacrifices that are not likely
to be required of them."
"You mustn't criticise my mother!" cried Dan.
"I have not criticised her. You insinuate that we would be too selfish to
give up, if it were for the best."
"I do nothing of the kind, and unless you are determined to quarrel with
me you wouldn't say so."
"I don't wish a quarrel; none is necessary," said Alice coldly.
"You accuse me of being treacherous--"
"I didn't say treacherous!"
"Faithless, then. It's a mere quibble about words. I want you to take
"I can't take it back; it's the truth. Aren't you faithless, if you let
us go on thinking that you're going to Europe, and let your mother think
that we're coming home to live after we're married?"
"No! I'm simply leaving the question open!"
"Yes," said the girl--sadly, "you like to leave questions open. That's
"Well, I suppose I do till it's necessary to decide them. It saves the
needless effusion of talk," said Dan, with a laugh; and then, as people do
in a quarrel, he went back to his angry mood, and said "Besides, I
supposed you would be glad of the chance to make some sacrifice for me.
You're always asking for it."
"Thank you, Mr. Mavering," said Alice, "for reminding me of it; nothing is
sacred to you, it seems. I can't say that you have ever sought any
opportunities of self-sacrifice."
"I wasn't allowed time to do so; they were always presented."
"Thank you again, Mr. Mavering. All this is quite a revelation. I'm glad
to know how you really felt about things that you seemed so eager for."
"Alice, you know that I would do anything for you!" cried Dan, rueing his
"Yes; that's what you've repeatedly told me. I used to believe it."
"And I always believed what you said. You said at the picnic that day
that you thought I would like to live at Ponkwasset Falls if my business
"That is not the point!"
"And now you quarrel with me because my mother wishes me to do so."
Alice merely said: "I don't know why I stand here allowing you to
intimidate me in my father's house. I demand that you shall stand aside
and let me pass."
"I'll not oblige you to leave the room," said Dan. "I will go. But if I
go, you will understand that I don't come back."
"I hope that," said the girl.
"Very well. Good morning, Miss Pasmer."
She inclined her head slightly in acknowledgment of his bow, and he
whirled out of the room and down the dim narrow passageway into the arms
of Mrs. Pasmer, who had resisted as long as she could her curiosity to
know what the angry voices of himself and Alice meant.
"O Mr. Mavering, is it you?" she buzzed; and she flung aside one pretence
for another in adding, "Couldn't Alice make you stay to breakfast?"
Dan felt a rush of tenderness in his heart at the sound of the kind,
humbugging little voice. "No, thank you, Mrs. Pasmer, I couldn't stay,
thank you. I--I thank you very much. I--good-bye, Mrs. Pasmer." He
wrung her hand, and found his way out of the apartment door, leaving her
to clear up the mystery of his flight and his broken words as she could.
"Alice," she said, as she entered the room, where the girl had remained,
"what have you been doing now?"
"Oh, nothing," she said, with a remnant of her scorn for Dan qualifying
her tone and manner to her mother. "I've dismissed Mr. Mavering."
"Then you want him to come to lunch?" asked her mother. "I should advise
him to refuse."
"I don't think he'd accept," said Alice. Then, as Mrs. Pasmer stood in
the door, preventing her egress, as Dan had done before, she asked meekly
"Will you let me pass, mamma? My head aches."
Mrs. Pasmer, whose easy triumphs in so many difficult circumstances kept
her nearly always in good temper, let herself go, at these words, in
vexation very uncommon with her. "Indeed I shall not!" she retorted.
"And you will please sit down here and tell me what you mean by dismissing
Mr. Mavering. I'm tired of your whims and caprices."
"I can't talk," began the girl stubbornly.
"Yes, I think you can," said her mother. "At any rate, I can. Now what
is it all?"
"Perhaps this letter, will explain," said Alice, continuing to dignify her
enforced submission with a tone of unabated hauteur; and she gave her
mother Mrs. Mavering's letter, which Dan had mechanically restored to her.
Mrs. Pasmer read it, not only without indignation, but apparently without
displeasure. But, she understood perfectly what the trouble was, when she
looked up and asked, cheerfully, "Well?"
"Well!" repeated Alice, with a frown of astonishment. "Don't you see that
he's promised us one thing and her another, and that he's false to both?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Pasmer, recovering her good-humour in view of a
situation that she felt herself able to cope with. "Of course he has to
temporise, to manage a little. She's an invalid, and of course she's very
exacting. He has to humour her. How do you know he has promised her? He
hasn't promised us."
"Hasn't promised us?" Alice gasped.
"No. He's simply fallen in with what we've said. It's because he's so
sweet and yielding, and can't bear to refuse. I can understand it
"Then if he hasn't promised us, he's deceived us all the more shamefully,
for he's made us think he had."
"He hasn't me," said Mrs. Pasmer, smiling at the stormy virtue in her
daughter's face. "And what if you should go home awhile with him--for the
summer, say? It couldn't last longer, much; and it wouldn't hurt us to
wait. I suppose he hoped for something of that kind."
"Oh, it isn't that," groaned the girl, in a kind of bewilderment. "I
could have gone there with him joyfully, and lived all my days, if he'd
only been frank with me."
"Oh no, you couldn't," said her mother, with cosy security. "When it comes
to it, you don't like giving up any more than other people. It's very
hard for you to give up; he sees that--he knows it, and he doesn't really
like to ask any sort of sacrifice from you. He's afraid of you."
"Don't I know that?" demanded Alice desolately: "I've known it from the
first, and I've felt it all the time. It's all a mistake, and has been.
We never could understand each other. We're too different."
"That needn't prevent you understanding him. It needn't prevent you from
seeing how really kind and good he is--how faithful and constant he is."
"Oh, you say that--you praise him--because you like him."
"Of course I do. And can't you?"
"No. The least grain of deceit--of temporising, you call it--spoils
everything. It's over," said the girl, rising, with a sigh, from the
chair she had dropped into. "We're best apart; we could only have been
wretched and wicked together."
"What did you say to him, Alice?" asked her mother, unshaken by her
"I told him he was a faithless person."
"Then you were a cruel girl," cried Mrs. Pasmer, with sudden indignation;
"and if you were not my daughter I could be glad he had escaped you. I
don't know where you got all those silly, romantic notions of yours about
these things. You certainly didn't get them from me," she continued, with
undeniable truth, "and I don't believe you get them from your Church,
It's just as Miss Anderson said: your Church makes allowance for human
nature, but you make none."
"I shouldn't go to Julia Anderson for instruction in such matters," said
the girl, with cold resentment.
"I wish you would go to her for a little commonsense--or somebody," said
Mrs. Pasmer. "Do you know what talk this will make?"
"I don't care for the talk. It would be worse than talk to marry a man
whom I couldn't trust--who wanted to please me so much that he had to
deceive me, and was too much afraid of me to tell me the truth."
"You headstrong girl!" said her mother impartially, admiring at the same
time the girl's haughty beauty.
There was an argument in reserve in Mrs. Pasmer's mind which perhaps none
but an American mother would have hesitated to urge; but it is so wholly
our tradition to treat the important business of marriage as a romantic
episode that even she could not bring herself to insist that her daughter
should not throw away a chance so advantageous from every worldly point of
view. She could only ask, "If you break this engagement, what do you
expect to do?"
"The engagement is broken. I shall go into a sisterhood."
"You will do nothing of the kind, with my consent," said Mrs. Pasmer.
"I will have no such nonsense. Don't flatter yourself that I will. Even
if I approved of such a thing, I should think it wicked to let you do it.
You're always fancying yourself doing something very devoted, but I've
never seen you ready to give up your own will, or your own comfort even,
in the slightest degree. And Dan Mavering, if he were twice as
temporising and circuitous"--the word came to her from her talk with him--
"would be twice too good for you. I'm going to breakfast."
The difficulty in life is to bring experience to the level of expectation,
to match our real emotions in view of any great occasion with the ideal
emotions which we have taught ourselves that we ought to feel. This is
all the truer when the occasion is tragical: we surprise ourselves in a
helplessness to which the great event, death, ruin, lost love, reveals
itself slowly, and at first wears the aspect of an unbroken continuance of
what has been, or at most of another incident in the habitual sequence.
Dan Mavering came out into the bright winter morning knowing that his
engagement was broken, but feeling it so little that he could not believe
it. He failed to realise it, to seize it for a fact, and he could not let
it remain that dumb and formless wretchedness, without proportion or
dimensions, which it now seemed to be, weighing his life down. To verify
it, to begin to outlive it, he must instantly impart it, he must tell it,
he must see it with others' eyes. This was the necessity of his youth and
of his sympathy, which included himself as well as the rest of the race in
its activity. He had the usual environment of a young man who has money.
He belonged to clubs, and he had a large acquaintance among men of his own
age, who lived a life of greater leisure; or were more absorbed in
business, but whom he met constantly in society. For one reason or
another, or for no other reason than that he was Dan Mavering and liked
every one, he liked them all. He thought himself great friends with them;
he dined and lunched with them; and they knew the Pasmers, and all about
his engagement. But he did not go to any of them now, with the need he
felt to impart his calamity, to get the support of come other's credence
and opinion of it. He went to a friend whom, in the way of his world, he
met very seldom, but whom he always found, as he said, just where he had
Boardman never made any sign of suspecting that he was put on and off,
according to Dan's necessity or desire for comfort or congratulation; but
it was part of their joke that Dan's coming to him always meant something
decisive in his experiences. The reporter was at his late breakfast,
which his landlady furnished him in his room, though, as Mrs. Mash said,
she never gave meals, but a cup of coffee and an egg or two, yes.
"Well?" he said, without looking up.
"Well, I'm done for!" cried Dan.
"Again?" asked Boardman.
"Again! The other time was nothing, Boardman--I knew it wasn't anything;
but this--this is final."
"Go on," said Boardman, looking about for his individual salt-cellar,
which he found under the edge of his plate; and Mavering laid the whole
case before him. As he made no comment on it for a while, Dan was obliged
to ask him what he thought of it. "Well," he said, with the smile that
showed the evenness of his pretty teeth, "there's a kind of wild justice
in it." He admitted this, with the object of meeting Dan's views in an
"So you think I'm a faithless man too, do you?" demanded Mavering
"Not from your point of view," said Boardman, who kept on quietly eating
Mavering was too amiable not to feel Boardman's innocence of offence in
his unperturbed behaviour. "There was no faithlessness about it, and you
know it," he went on, half laughing, half crying, in his excitement, and
making Boardman the avenue of an appeal really addressed to Alice. "I was
ready to do what either side decided."
"Or both," suggested Boardman.
"Yes, or both," said Dan, boldly accepting the suggestion. "It wouldn't
have cost me a pang to give up if I'd been in the place of either."
"I guess that's what she could never understand," Boardman mused aloud.
"And I could never understand how any one could fail to see that that was
what I intended--expected: that it would all come out right of itself--
naturally." Dan was still addressing Alice in this belated reasoning.
"But to be accused of bad faith--of trying to deceive any one--"
"Pretty rough," said Boardman.
"Rough? It's more than I can stand!"
"Well, you don't seem to be asked to stand it," said Boardman, and
Mavering laughed forlornly with him at his joke, and then walked away and
looked out of Boardman's dormer-window on the roofs below, with their
dirty, smoke-stained February snow. He pulled out his handkerchief, and
wiped his face with it. When he turned round, Boardman looked keenly at
him, and asked, with an air of caution, "And so it's all up?"
"Yes, it's all up," said Dan hoarsely.
"No danger of a relapse?"
"What do you mean?"
"No danger of having my sympathy handed over later to Miss Pasmer for
"I guess you can speak up freely, Boardman," said Dan, "if that's what you
mean. Miss Pasmer and I are quits."
"Well, then, I'm glad of it. She wasn't the one for you. She isn't fit
What's the reason she isn't?" cried Dan. "She's the most beautiful and
noble girl in the world, and the most conscientious, and the best--if she
is unjust to me."
"No doubt of that. I'm not attacking her, and I'm not defending you."
"What are you doing then?""
"Simply saying that I don't believe you two would ever understand each
other. You haven't got the same point of view, and you couldn't make it
go. Both out of a scrape."
"I don't know what you mean by a scrape," said Dan, resenting the word
more than the idea. Boardman tacitly refused to modify or withdraw it,
and Dan said, after a sulky silence, in which he began to dramatise a
meeting with his family: "I'm going home; I can't stand it here. What's
the reason you can't come with me, Boardman?"
"Do you mean to your rooms?"
"No; to the Falls."
"Thanks. Guess not."
"Don't care about being a fifth wheel."
"Oh, pshaw, now, Boardman! Look here, you must go. I want you to go.
I--I want your support. That's it. I'm all broken up, and I couldn't
stand that three hours' pull alone. They'll be glad to see you--all of
them. Don't you suppose they'll be glad to see you? They're always glad;
and they'll understand."
"I don't believe you want me to go yourself. You just think you do."
"No. I really do want you, Boardman. I want to talk it over with you. I
do want you. I'm not fooling."
"Don't think I could get away." Yet he seemed to be pleased with the
notion of the Falls; it made him smile.
"Well, see," said Mavering disconsolately. "I'm going round to my rooms
now, and I'll be there till two o'clock; train's at 2.30." He went
towards the door, where he faced about. "And you don't think it would be
of any use?"
"Trying to--to--to make it up."
"How should I know?"
"No, no; of course you couldn't," said Dan, miserably downcast. All the
resentment which Alice's injustice had roused in him had died out; he was
suffering as helplessly and hopelessly as a child. "Well," he sighed, as
he swung out of the door.
Boardman found him seated at his writing-desk in his smoking-jacket when
he came to him, rather early, and on the desk were laid out the properties
of the little play which had come to a tragic close. There were some
small bits of jewellery, among the rest a ring of hers which Alice had
been letting him wear; a lock of her hair which he had kept, for the
greater convenience of kissing, in the original parcel, tied with crimson
ribbon; a succession of flowers which she had worn, more and more dry and
brown with age; one of her gloves, which he had found and kept from the
day they first met in Cambridge; a bunch of withered bluebells tied with
sweet-grass, whose odour filled the room, from the picnic at Campobello;
scraps of paper with her writing on them, and cards; several photographs
of her, and piles of notes and letters.
"Look here," said Dan, knowing it was Boardman without turning round,
"what am I to do about these things?"
Boardman respectfully examined them over his shoulder. "Don't know what
the usual ceremony is," he said, he ventured to add, referring to the
heaps of letters, "Seems to have been rather epistolary, doesn't she?"
"Oh, don't talk of her as if she were dead!" cried Dan. "I've been
feeling as if she were." All at once he dropped his head among these
witnesses of his loss, and sobbed.
Boardman appeared shocked, and yet somewhat amused; he made a soft low
sibilation between his teeth.
Dan lifted his head. "Boardman, if you ever give me away!"
"Oh, I don't suppose it's very hilarious," said Boardman, with vague
kindness. "Packed yet?" he asked, getting away from the subject as
something he did not feel himself fitted to deal with consecutively.
"I'm only going to take a bag," said Mavering, going to get some clothes
down from a closet where his words had a sepulchral reverberation.
"Can't I help?" asked Boardman, keeping away from the sad memorials of
Dan's love strewn about on the desk, and yet not able to keep his eyes off
them across the room.
"Well, I don't know," said Dan. He came out with his armful of coats and
trousers, and threw them on the bed. "Are you going?"
"If I could believe you wanted me to."
"Good!" cried Mavering, and the fact seemed to brighten him immediately.
"If you want to, stuff these things in, while I'm doing up these other
things." He nodded his head side-wise toward the desk.
"All right," said Boardman.
His burst of grief must have relieved Dan greatly. He set about gathering
up the relics on the desk, and getting a suitable piece of paper to wrap
them in. He rejected several pieces as inappropriate.
"I don't know what kind of paper to do these things up in," he said at
"Any special kind of paper required?" Boardman asked, pausing in the act
of folding a pair of pantaloons so as not to break the fall over the boot.
"I didn't know there was, but there seems to be," said Dan.
"Silver paper seems to be rather more for cake and that sort of thing,"
suggested Boardman. "Kind of mourning too, isn't it--silver?"
"I don't know," said Dan. "But I haven't got any silver paper."
"Newspaper wouldn't do?"
"Well, hardly, Boardman," said Dan, with sarcasm.
"Well," said Boardman, "I should have supposed that nothing could be
simpler than to send back a lot of love-letters; but the question of paper
seems insuperable. Manila paper wouldn't do either. And then comes
string. What kind of string are you going to tie it up with?"
"Well, we won't start that question till we get to it," answered Dan,
looking about. "If I could find some kind of a box--"
"Haven't you got a collar box? Be the very thing!" Boardman had gone
back to the coats and trousers, abandoning Dan to the subtler difficulties
in which he was involved.
"They've all got labels," said Mavering, getting down one marked "The
Tennyson" and another lettered "The Clarion," and looking at them with
"Don't see how you're going to send these things back at all, then. Have
to keep them, I guess." Boardman finished his task, and came back to Dan.
"I guess I've got it now," said Mavering, lifting the lid of his desk, and
taking out a large stiff envelope, in which a set of photographic views
"Seems to have been made for it," Boardman exulted, watching the envelope,
as it filled up, expand into a kind of shapely packet. Dan put the things
silently in, and sealed the parcel with his ring. Then he turned it over
to address it, but the writing of Alice's name for this purpose seemed too
much for him, in spite of Boardman's humorous support throughout.
"Oh, I can't do it," he said, falling back in his chair.
"Let me," said his friend, cheerfully ignoring his despair. He
philosophised the whole transaction, as he addressed the package, rang for
a messenger, and sent it away, telling him to call a cab for ten minutes
"Mighty good thing in life that we move by steps. Now on the stage, or in
a novel, you'd have got those things together and addressed 'em, and
despatched 'em, in just the right kind of paper, with just the right kind
of string round it, at a dash; and then you'd have had time to go up and
lean your head against something and soliloquise, or else think
unutterable things. But here you see how a merciful Providence blocks
your way all along. You've had to fight through all sort of sordid little
details to the grand tragic result of getting off Miss Pasmer's letters,
and when you reach it you don't mind it a bit."
"Don't I?" demanded Dan, in as hollow a voice as he could. "You'd joke at
a funeral, Boardman."
"I've seen some pretty cheerful funerals," said Boardman. "And it's this
principle of steps, of degrees, of having to do this little thing, and
that little thing, that keeps funerals from killing the survivors. I
suppose this is worse than a funeral--look at it in the right light. You
mourn as one without hope, don't you? Live through it too, I suppose."
He made Dan help get the rest of his things into his bag, and with one
little artifice and another prevented him from stagnating in despair. He
dissented from the idea of waiting over another day to see if Alice would
not relent when she got her letters back, and send for Dan to come and see
"Relent a good deal more when she finds you've gone out of town, if she
sends for you," he argued; and he got Dan into the cab and off to the
station, carefully making him an active partner in the whole undertaking,
even to checking his own bag.
Before he bought his own ticket he appealed once more to Dan.
"Look here! I feel like a fool going off with you on this expedition. Be
honest for once, now, Mavering, and tell me you've thought better of it,
and don't want me to go!"
"Yes--yes, I do. Oh yes, you've got to go. I I do want you. I--you make
me see things in just the right light, don't you know. That idea of yours
about little steps--it's braced me all up. Yes--"
"You're such an infernal humbug," said Boardman, "I can't tell whether you
want me or not. But I'm in for it now, and I'll go." Then he bought his
Boardman put himself in charge of Mavering, and took him into the smoking
car. It was impossible to indulge a poetic gloom there without becoming
unpleasantly conspicuous in the smoking and euchre and profanity. Some of
the men were silent and dull, but no one was apparently very unhappy, and
perhaps if Dan had dealt in absolute sincerity with himself, even he would
not have found himself wholly so. He did not feel as he had felt when
Alice rejected him. Then he was wounded to the quick through his vanity,
and now; in spite of all, in spite of the involuntary tender swaying of
his heart toward her through the mere force of habit, in spite of some
remote compunctions for his want of candour with her, he was supported by
a sense of her injustice, her hardness. Related with this was an obscure
sense of escape, of liberation, which, however he might silence and disown
it, was still there. He could not help being aware that he had long
relinquished tastes customs, purposes, ideals, to gain a peace that seemed
more and more fleeting and uncertain, and that he had submitted to others
which, now that the moment of giving pleasure by his submission was past,
he recognised as disagreeable. He felt a sort of guilt in his
enlargement; he knew, by all that he had, ever heard or read of people in
his position, that he ought to be altogether miserable; and yet this
consciousness of relief persisted. He told himself that a very tragical
thing had befallen him; that this broken engagement was the ruin of his
life and the end of his youth, and that he must live on an old and joyless
man, wise with the knowledge that comes to decrepitude and despair; he
imagined a certain look for himself, a gait, a name, that would express
this; but all the same he was aware of having got out of something. Was
it a bondage, a scrape, as Boardman called it? He thought he must be a
very light, shallow, and frivolous nature not to be utterly broken up by
"I don't know what I'm going home for," he said hoarsely to Boardman.
"Kind of a rest, I suppose," suggested his friend.
"Yes, I guess that's it," said Dan. "I'm tired."
It seemed to him that this was rather fine; it was a fatigue of the soul
that he was to rest from. He remembered the apostrophic close of a novel
in which the heroine dies after much emotional suffering. "Quiet, quiet
heart!" he repeated to himself. Yes, he too had died to hope, to love, to
As they drew near their journey's end he said, "I don't know how I'm going
to break it to them."
"Oh, probably break itself," said Boardman. "These things usually do."
"Yes, of course," Dan assented.
"Know from your looks that something's up. Or you might let me go ahead a
little and prepare them."
Dan laughed. "It was awfully good of you to come, Boardman. I don't know
what I should have done without you."
"Nothing I like more than these little trips. Brightens you up to sere
the misery of others; makes you feel that you're on peculiarly good terms
with Providence. Haven't enjoyed myself so much since that day in
Portland." Boardman's eyes twinkled.
"Yes," said Dan, with a deep sigh, "it's a pity it hadn't ended there."
"Oh, I don't know. You won't have to go through with it again. Something
that had to come, wasn't it? Never been satisfied if you hadn't tried it.
Kind of aching void before, and now you've got enough."
"Yes, I've got enough," said Dan, "if that's all."
When they got out of the train at Ponkwasset Falls, and the conductor and
the brakeman, who knew Dan as his father's son, and treated him with the
distinction due a representative of an interest valued by the road, had
bidden him a respectfully intimate good-night, and he began to climb the
hill to his father's house, he recurred to the difficulty before him in
breaking the news to his family. "I wish I could have it over in a flash.
I wish I'd thought to telegraph it to them."
"Wouldn't have done," said Boardman. "It would have given 'em time to
formulate questions and conjectures, and now the astonishment will take
their breath away till you can get your second wind, and then--you'll be
"You think so?" asked Dan submissively.
"Know so. You see, if you could have had it over in a flash, it would
have knocked you flat. But now you've taken all the little steps, and
you've got a lot more to take, and you're all braced up. See? You're
like rock, now--adamant." Dan laughed in forlorn perception of Boardman's
affectionate irony. "Little steps are the thing. You'll have to go in
now and meet your family, and pass the time of day with each one, and talk
about the weather, and account for my being along, and ask how they all
are; and by the time you've had dinner, and got settled with your legs out
in front of the fire, you'll be just in the mood for it. Enjoy telling
them all about it."
"Don't, Boardman," pleaded Dan. "Boardy, I believe if I could get in and
up to my room without anybody's seeing me, I'd let you tell them. There
don't seem to be anybody about, and I think we could manage it."
"It wouldn't work," said Boardman. "Got to do it yourself."
"Well, then, wait a minute," said Dan desperately; and Boardman knew that
he was to stay outside while Dan reconnoitred the interior. Dan opened
one door after another till he stood within the hot brilliantly lighted
hall. Eunice Mavering was coming down the stairs, hooded and wrapped for
a walk on the long verandahs before supper.
"Dan!" she cried.
"It's all up, Eunice," he said at once, as if she had asked him about it.
"My engagement's off."
"Oh, I'm so glad!" She descended upon him with outstretched arms, but
stopped herself before she reached him. "It's a hoax. What do you mean?
Do you really mean it, Dan?"
"I guess I mean it. But don't--Hold on! Where's Minnie?"
Eunice turned, and ran back upstairs. "Minnie! Min!" she called on her
way. "Dan's engagement's off."
"I don't believe it!" answered Minnie's voice joyously, from within some
room. It was followed by her presence, with successive inquiries. "How
do you know? Did you get a letter? When did it happen? Oh, isn't it too
Minnie was also dressed for the verandah promenade, which they always took
when the snow was too deep. She caught sight of her brother as she came
down. "Why, Dan's here! Dan, I've been thinking about you all day." She
kissed him, which Eunice was now reminded to do too.
"Yes, it's true, Minnie," said Dan gravely. "I came up to tell you. It
don't seem to distress you much."
"Dan!" said his sister reproachfully. "You know I didn't mean to say
anything I only felt so glad to have you back again."
"I understand, Minnie--I don't dame you. It's all right. How's mother?"
Father up from the works yet? I'm going to my room."
"Indeed you're not!" cried Eunice, with elder sisterly authority. "You
shall tell us about it first."
"Oh no! Let him go, Eunice!" pleaded Minnie, "Poor Dan! And I don't
think we ought to go to walk when--"
Dan's eyes dimmed, and his voice weakened a little at her sympathy. "Yes,
go. I'm tired--that's all. There isn't anything to tell you, hardly.
"Why, he's pale!" cried Minnie. "Eunice!"
"Oh, it's just the heat in here." Dan really felt a little sick and faint
with it, but he was not sorry to seem affected by the day's strain upon
The girls began to take off their wraps. "Don't. I'll go with you.
Boardman's out there."
"Boardman! What nonsense!" exclaimed Eunice.
"He'll like to hear your opinion of it," Dan began; but his sister pulled
the doors open, and ran out to see if he really meant that too.
Whether Boardman had heard her, or had discreetly withdrawn out of earshot
at the first sound of voices, she could not tell, but she found him some
distance away from the snow-box on the piazza. "Dan's just managed to
tell us you were here," she said, giving him her hand. "I'm glad to see
you. Do come in."
"Come along as a sort of Job's comforter," Boardman explained, as he
followed her in; and he had the silly look that the man who feels himself
superfluous must wear.
"Then you know about it?" said Eunice, while Minnie Mavering and he were
"Yes, Boardman knows; he can tell you about it," said Dan, from the hall
chair he had dropped into. He rose and made his way to the stairs, with
the effect of leaving the whole thing to them.
His sisters ran after him, and got him upstairs and into his room, with
Boardman's semi-satirical connivance, and Eunice put up the window, while
Minnie went to get some cologne to wet his forehead. Their efforts were
so successful that he revived sufficiently to drive them out of his room,
and make them go and show Boardman to his.
"You know the way, Mr. Boardman," said Eunice, going before him, while
Minnie followed timorously, but curious for what he should say. She
lingered on the threshold, while her sister went in and pulled the
electric apparatus which lighted the gas-burners. "I suppose Dan didn't
break it?" she said, turning sharply upon him.
"No; and I don't think he was to blame," said Boardman, inferring her
"Oh, I'm quite sure of that," said Eunice, rejecting what she had asked
for. "You'll find everything, Mr. Boardman. It was kind of you to come
with Dan. Supper's at seven."
"How severe you were with him!" murmured Minnie, following her away.
"Severe with Dan?"
"No--with Mr. Boardman."
"What nonsense! I had to be. I couldn't let him defend Dan to me.
Couple of silly boys!"
After a moment Minnie said, "I don't think he's silly."
"Well, Dan is, then, to bring him at such a time. But I suppose he felt
that he couldn't get here without him. What a boy! Think of such a child
being engaged! I hope we shan't hear any more of such nonsense for one
while again--at least till Dan's got his growth."
They went down into the library, where, in their excitement, they sat down
with most of their outdoor things on.
Minnie had the soft contrary-mindedness of gentle natures. "I should like
to know how you would have had Dan bear it," she said rebelliously.
"How? Like a man. Or like a woman. How do you suppose Miss Pasmer's
bearing it? Do you suppose she's got some friend to help her?"
"If she's broken it, she doesn't need any one," urged Minnie.
"Well," said Eunice, with her high scorn of Dan unabated, "I never could
have liked that girl, but I certainly begin to respect her. I think I
could have got on with her--now that it's no use. I declare," she broke
off, "we're sitting here sweltering to death! What are we keeping our
things on for?" She began to tear hers violently off and to fling them on
chairs, scolding, and laughing at the same time with Minnie, at their
A heavy step sounded on the verandah without.
"There's father!" she cried vividly, jumping to her feet and running to
the door, while Minnie, in a nervous bewilderment, ran off upstairs to her
room. Eunice flung the door open. "Well, father, we've got Dan back
again." And at a look of quiet question in his eye she hurried on: "His
engagement's broken, and he's come up here to tell us, and brought Mr.
Boardman along to help."
"Where is he?" asked the father, with his ruminant quiet, pulling off
first one sleeve of his overcoat, and pausing for Eunice's answer before
he pulled off the other.
"He's up in his room, resting from the effort." She laughed nervously,
and her father made no comment. He took off his articles, and then went
creaking upstairs to Dan's room. But at the door he paused, with his hand
on the knob, and turned away to his own room without entering.
Dan must have heard him; in a few minutes he came to him.
"Well, Dan," said his father, shaking hands.
"I suppose Eunice has told you? Well, I want to tell you why it
There was something in his father that always steadied Dan and kept him to
the point. He now put the whole case fairly and squarely, and his candour
and openness seemed to him to react and characterise his conduct
throughout. He did not realise that this was not so till his father said
at the close, with mild justice, "You were to blame for letting the thing
run on so at loose ends."
"Yes, of course," said Dan, seeing that he was. "But there was no
intention of deceiving any one of bad faith--"
"Of course not."
"I thought it could be easily arranged whenever it came to the point."
"If you'd been older, you wouldn't have thought that. You had women to
deal with on both sides. But if it's all over, I'm not sorry. I always
admired Miss Pasmer, but I've been more and more afraid you were not
suited to each other. Your mother doesn't know you're here?"
"No, sir, I suppose not. Do you think it will distress her?"
"How did your sisters take it?"
Dan gave a rueful laugh. "It seemed to be rather a popular move with
"I will see your mother first," said the father.
He left them when they went into the library after supper, and a little
later Dan and Eunice left Boardman in charge of Minnie there.
He looked after their unannounced withdrawal in comic consciousness.
"It's no use pretending that I'm not a pretty large plurality here," he
said to Minnie.
"Oh, I'm so glad you came!" she cried, with a kindness which was as real
as if it had been more sincere.
"Do you think mother will feel it much?" asked Dan anxiously, as he went
upstairs with Eunice.
"Well, she'll hate to lose a correspondent--such a regular one," said
Eunice, and the affair being so far beyond any other comment, she laughed
the rest of the way to their mother's room.
The whole family had in some degree that foible which affects people who
lead isolated lives; they come to think that they are the only people who
have their virtues; they exaggerate these, and they conceive a kindness
even for the qualities which are not their virtues. Mrs. Mavering's life
was secluded again from the family seclusion, and their peculiarities were
intensified in her. Besides, she had some very marked peculiarities of
her own, and these were also intensified by the solitude to which she was
necessarily left so much. She meditated a great deal upon the character
of her children, and she liked to analyse and censure it both in her own
mind and openly in their presence. She was very trenchant and definite in
these estimates of them; she liked to ticket them, and then ticket them
anew. She explored their ancestral history on both sides for the origin
of their traits, and there were times when she reduced them in formula to
mere congeries of inherited characteristics. If Eunice was self-willed
and despotic, she was just like her grandmother Mavering; if Minnie was
all sentiment and gentle stubbornness, it was because two aunts of hers,
one on either side, were exactly so; if Dan loved pleasure and beauty, and
was sinuous and uncertain in so many ways, and yet was so kind and
faithful and good, as well as shilly-shallying and undecided, it was
because her mother, and her mother's father, had these qualities in the
When she took her children to pieces before their faces, she was sharp and
admonitory enough with them. She warned them to what their characters
would bring them to if they did not look out; but perhaps because she
beheld them so hopelessly the present effect of the accumulated tendencies
of the family past, she was tender and forgiving to their actions. The
mother came in there, and superseded the student of heredity: she found
excuse for them in the perversity of circumstance, in the peculiar
hardship of the case, in the malignant misbehaviour of others.
As Dan entered, with the precedence his father and sister yielded him as
the principal actor in the scene which must follow, she lifted herself
vigorously in bed, and propped herself on the elbow of one arm while she
stretched the other towards him.
"I'm glad of it, Dan!" she called, at the moment he opened the door, and
as he came toward her she continued, with the amazing velocity of
utterance peculiar to nervous sufferers of her sex: "I know all about it,
and I don't blame you a bit! And I don't blame her! Poor helpless young
things! But it's a perfect mercy it's all over; it's the greatest
deliverance I ever heard of! You'd have been eaten up alive. I saw it,
and I knew it from the very first moment, and I've lived in fear and
trembling for you. You could have got on well enough if you'd been left
to yourselves, but that you couldn't have been nor hope to be as long as
you breathed, from the meddling and the machinations and the malice of
that unscrupulous and unconscionable old Cat!"
By the time Mrs. Mavering had hissed out the last word she had her arm
round her boy's neck and was clutching him, safe and sound after his
peril, to her breast; and between her kissing and crying she repeated her
accusals and denunciations with violent volubility.
Dan could not have replied to them in that effusion of gratitude and
tenderness he felt for his mother's partisanship; and when she went on in
almost the very terms of his self-defence, and told him that he had done
as he had because it was easy for him to yield, and he could not imagine a
Cat who would put her daughter up to entrapping him into a promise that
she knew must break his mother's heart, he found her so right on the main
point that he could not help some question of Mrs. Pasmer in his soul.
Could she really have been at the bottom of it all? She was very sly, and
she might be very false, and it was certainly she who had first proposed
their going abroad together. It looked as if it might be as his mother
said, and at any rate it was no time to dispute her, and he did not say a
word in behalf of Mrs. Pasmer, whom she continued to rend in a thousand
pieces and scatter to the winds till she had to stop breathless.
"Yes! it's quite as I expected! She did everything she could to trap you
into it. She fairly flung that poor girl at you. She laid her plans so
that you couldn't say no--she understood your character from the start!--
and then, when it came out by accident, and she saw that she had older
heads to deal with, and you were not going to be quite at her mercy, she
dropped the mask in an instant, and made Alice break with you. Oh, I
could see through her from the beginning! And the next time, Dan, I
advise you, as you never suspect anybody yourself, to consult with
somebody who doesn't take people for what they seem, and not to let
yourself be flattered out of your sensor, even if you see your father is."
Mrs. Mavering dropped back on her pillow, and her husband smiled patiently
at their daughter.
Dan saw his patient smile and understood it; and the injustice which his
father bore made him finally unwilling to let another remain under it.
Hard as it was to oppose his mother in anything when she was praising him
so sweetly and comforting him in the moment of his need, he pulled himself
together to protest: "No, no, mother! I don't think Mrs. Pasmer was to
blame; I don't believe she had anything to do with it. She's always stood
"Oh, I've no doubt she's made you think so, Dan," said his mother, with
unabated fondness for him; "and you think so because you're so simple and
good, and never suspect evil of any one. It's this hideous optimism
that's killing everything--"
A certain note in the invalid's falling voice seemed to warn her hearers
of an impending change that could do no one good. Eunice rose hastily and
interrupted: "Mother, Mr. Boardman's here. He came up with Dan. May
Minnie come in with him?"
Mrs. Mavering shot a glance of inquiry at Dan, and then let a swift
inspection range over all the details of the room, and finally concentrate
itself on the silk and lace of her bed, over which she passed a smoothing
hand. "Mr. Boardman?" she cried, with instantly recovered amiability. "Of
course she may!"
In Boston the rumour of Dan's broken engagement was followed promptly by a
denial of it; both the rumour and the denial were apparently
authoritative; but it gives the effect of a little greater sagacity to
distrust rumours of all kinds, and most people went to bed, after the teas
and dinners and receptions and clubs at which the fact was first debated,
in the self-persuasion that it was not so. The next day they found the
rumour still persistent; the denial was still in the air too, but it
seemed weaker; at the end of the third day it had become a question as to
which broke the engagement, and why; by the end of a week it was known
that Alice had broken the engagement, but the reason could not be
This was not for want of asking, more or less direct. Pasmer, of course,
went and came at his club with perfect immunity. Men are quite as curious
as women, but they set business bounds to their curiosity, and do not
dream of passing these. With women who have no business of their own, and
can not quell themselves with the reflection that this thing or that is
not their affair, there is no question so intimate that they will not put
it to some other woman; perhaps it is not so intimate, or perhaps it will
not seem so; at any rate, they chance it. Mrs. Pasmer was given every
opportunity to explain the facts to the ladies whom she met, and if she
was much afflicted by Alice's behaviour, she had a measure of consolation
in using her skill to baffle the research of her acquaintance. After each
encounter of the kind she had the pleasure of reflecting that absolutely
nothing more than she meant had become known. The case never became fully
known through her; it was the girl herself who told it to Miss Cotton in
one of those moments of confidence which are necessary to burdened minds;
and it is doubtful if more than two or three people ever clearly
understood it; most preferred one or other of several mistaken versions
which society finally settled down to.
The paroxysm of self-doubt, almost self-accusal, in which Alice came to
Miss Cotton, moved the latter to the deepest sympathy, and left her with
misgivings which became an intolerable anguish to her conscience. The
child was so afflicted at what she had done, not because she wished to be
reconciled with her lover, but because she was afraid she had been unjust,
been cruelly impatient and peremptory with him; she seemed to Miss Cotton
so absolutely alone and friendless with her great trouble, she was so
helpless, so hopeless, she was so anxious to do right, and so fearful she
had done wrong, that Miss Cotton would not have been Miss Cotton if she
had not taken her in her arms and assured her that in everything she had
done she had been sublimely and nobly right, a lesson to all her sex in
such matters for ever. She told her that she had always admired her, but
that now she idolised her; that she felt like going down on her knees and
simply worshipping her.
"Oh, don't say that, Miss Cotton!" pleaded Alice, pulling away from her
embrace, but still clinging to her with her tremulous, cold little hands.
"I can't bear it! I'm wicked and hard you don't know how bad I am; and
I'm afraid of being weak, of doing more harm yet. Oh, I wronged him
cruelly in ever letting him get engaged to me! But now what you've said
will support me. If you think I've done right--It must seem strange to
you that I should come to you with my trouble instead of my mother; but
I've been to her, and--and we think alike on so few subjects, don't you
"Yes, yes; I know, dear!" said Miss Cotton, in the tender folly of her
heart, with the satisfaction which every woman feels in being more
sufficient to another in trouble than her natural comforters.
"And I wanted to know how you saw it; and now, if you feel as you say, I
can never doubt myself again."
She tempested out of Miss Cotton's house, all tearful under the veil she
had pulled down, and as she shut the door of her coupe, Miss Cotton's
heart jumped into her throat with an impulse to run after her, to recall
her, to recant, to modify everything.
From that moment Miss Cotton's trouble began, and it became a torment that
mounted and gave her no peace till she imparted it. She said to herself
that she should suffer to the utmost in this matter, and if she spoke to
any one, it must not be to same one who had agreed with her about Alice,
but to some hard, skeptical nature, some one who would look at it from a
totally different point of view, and would punish her for her error, if
she had committed an error, in supporting and consoling Alice. All the
time she was thinking of Mrs. Brinkley; Mrs. Brinkley had come into her
mind at once; but it was only after repeated struggles that she could get
the strength to go to her.
Mrs. Brinkley, sacredly pledged to secrecy, listened with a sufficiently
dismaying air to the story which Miss Cotton told her in the extremity of
her fear and doubt.
"Well," she said at the end, "have you written to Mr. Mavering?"
"Written to Mr. Mavering?" gasped Miss Cotton.
"Yes--to tell him she wants him back."
"Wants him back?" Miss Cotton echoed again.
"That's what she came to you for."
"Oh, Mrs. Brinkley!" moaned Miss Cotton, and she stared at her in mute
Mrs. Brinkley laughed. "I don't say she knew that she came for that; but
there's no doubt that she did; and she went away bitterly disappointed
with your consolation and support. She didn't want anything of the kind--
you may comfort yourself with that reflection, Miss Cotton."
"Mrs. Brinkley," said Miss Cotton, with a severity which ought to have
been extremely effective from so mild a person, "do you mean to accuse
that poor child of dissimulation--of deceit--in such--a--a--"
"No!" shouted Mrs. Brinkley; "she didn't know what she was doing any more
than you did; and she went home perfectly heart-broken; and I hope she'll
stay so, for the good of all parties concerned."
Miss Cotton was so bewildered by Mrs. Brinkley's interpretation of Alice's
latent motives that she let the truculent hostility of her aspiration pass
unheeded. She looked helplessly about, and seemed faint, so that Mrs.
Brinkley, without appearing to notice her state, interposed the question
of a little sherry. When it had been brought, and Miss Cotton had sipped
the glass that trembled in one hand while her emotion shattered a biscuit
with the other, Mrs. Brinkley went on: "I'm glad the engagement is broken,
and I hope it will never be mended. If what you tell me of her reason for
breaking it is true--"
"Oh, I feel so guilty for telling you! I'd no right to! Please never
speak of it!" pleaded Miss Cotton.
"Then I feel more than ever that it was all a mistake, and that to help it
on again would be a--crime."
Miss Cotton gave a small jump at the word, as if she had already committed
the crime: she had longed to do it.
"Yes; I mean to say that they are better parted than plighted. If matches
are made in heaven, I believe some of them are unmade there too. They're
not adapted to each other; there's too great a disparity."
"You mean," began Miss Cotton, from her prepossession of Alice's
superiority, "that she's altogether his inferior, intellectually and
"Oh, I can't admit that!" cried Miss Cotton, glad to have Mrs. Brinkley go
too far, and plucking up courage from her excess.
"Intellectually and morally," repeated Mrs. Brinkley, with the mounting
conviction which ladies seem to get from mere persistence. "I saw that
girl at Campobello; I watched her."
"I never felt that you did her justice!" cried Miss Cotton, with the
valour of a hen-sparrow. "There was an antipathy."
"There certainly wasn't a sympathy, I'm happy to say," retorted Mrs.
Brinkley. "I know her, and I know her family, root and branch. The
Pasmers are the dullest and most selfish people in the world."
"Oh, I don't think that's her character," said Miss Cotton, ruffling her
"Neither do I. She has no fixed character. No girl has. Nobody has. We
all have twenty different characters--more characters than gowns--and we
put them on and take them off just as often for different occasions. I
know you think each person is permanently this or that; but my experience
is that half the time they're the other thing."
"Then why," said Miss Cotton, winking hard, as some weak people do when
they thick they are making a point, "do you say that Alice is dull and
"I don't--not always, or not simply so. That's the character of the
Pasmer blood, but it's crossed with twenty different currents in her; and
from some body that the Pasmer dulness and selfishness must have driven
mad she got a crazy streak of piety; and that's got mixed up in her again
with a nonsensical ideal of duty; and everything she does she not only
thinks is right, but she thinks it's religious, and she thinks it's
"If you'd seen her, if you'd heard her, this morning," said Miss Cotton,
"you wouldn't say that, Mrs. Brinkley."
Mrs. Brinkley refused this with an impatient gesture. "It isn't what she
is now, or seems to be, or thinks she is. It's what she's going to
finally harden into--what's going to be her prevailing character. Now Dan
Mavering has just the faults that will make such a girl think her own
defects are virtues, because they're so different. I tell you Alice
Pasmer has neither the head nor the heart to appreciate the goodness, the
loveliness, of a fellow like Dan Mavering."
"I think she feels his sweetness fully," urged Miss Cotton. "But she
couldn't endure his uncertainty. With her the truth is first of all
"Then she's a little goose. If she had the sense to know it, she would
know that he might delay and temporise and beat about the bush, but he
would be true when it was necessary. I haven't the least doubt in the
world but that poor fellow was going on in perfect security, because he
felt that it would be so easy for him to give up, and supposed it would be
just as easy for her. I don't suppose he had a misgiving, and it must
have come upon him like a thunder-clap."
"Don't you think," timidly suggested Miss Cotton, "that truth is the first
essential in marriage?"
"Of course it is. And if this girl was worthy of Dan Mavering, if she
were capable of loving him or anybody else unselfishly, she would have
felt his truth even if she couldn't have seen it. I believe this minute
that that manoeuvring, humbugging mother of hers is a better woman, a
kinder woman, than she is."
"Alice says her mother took his part," said Miss Cotton, with a sigh.
"She took your view of it."
"She's a sensible woman. But I hope she won't be able to get him into her
toils again," continued Mrs. Brinkley, recurring to the conventional
estimate of Mrs. Pasmer.
"I can't help feeling--believing--that they'll come together somehow
still," murmured Miss Cotton. It seemed to her that she had all along
wished this; and she tried to remember if what she had said to comfort
Alice might be construed as adverse to a reconciliation.
"I hope they won't, then," said Mrs. Brinkley, "for they couldn't help
being unhappy together, with their temperaments. There's one thing, Miss
Cotton, that's more essential in marriage than Miss Pasmer's instantaneous
honesty, and that's patience."
"Patience with wrong?" demanded Miss Cotton.
"Yes, even with wrong; but I meant patience with each other. Marriage is
a perpetual pardon, concession, surrender; it's an everlasting giving up;
that's the divine thing about it; and that's just what Miss Passer could
never conceive of, because she is self-righteous and conceited and
unyielding. She would make him miserable."
Miss Cotton rose in a bewilderment which did not permit her to go at once.
There was something in her mind which she wished to urge, but she could
not make it out, though she fingered in vague generalities. When she got
a block away from the house it suddenly came to her. Love! If they loved
each other, would not all be well with them? She would have liked to run
back and put that question to Mrs. Brinkley; but just then she met
Brinkley lumbering heavily homeward; she heard his hard breathing from the
exertion of bowing to her as he passed.
His wife met him in the hall, and went up to kiss him. He smelt
abominably of tobacco smoke.
"Hullo!" said her husband. "What are you after?"
"Nothing," said his wife, enjoying his joke. "Come in here; I want to
tell you how I have just sat upon Miss Cotton."
The relations between Dan and his father had always been kindly and
trustful; they now became, in a degree that touched and flattered the
young fellow, confidential. With the rest of the family there soon ceased
to be any reference to his engagement; his sisters were glad, each in her
way, to have him back again; and, whatever they may have said between
themselves, they said nothing to him about Alice. His mother appeared to
have finished with the matter the first night; she had her theory, and she
did it justice; and when Mrs. Mavering had once done a thing justice, she
did not bring it up again unless somebody disputed it. But nobody had
defended Mrs. Pasmer after Dan's feeble protest in her behalf; Mrs.
Mavering's theory was accepted with obedience if not conviction; the whole
affair dropped, except between Dan and his father.
Dan was certainly not so gay as he used to be; he was glad to find that he
was not so gay. There had been a sort of mercy in the suddenness of the
shock; it benumbed him, and the real stress and pain came during the long
weeks that followed, when nothing occurred to vary the situation in any
manner; he did not hear a word about Alice from Boston, nor any rumour of
At first he had intended to go back with Boardman and face it out; but
there seemed no use in this, and when it came to the point he found it
impossible. Boardman went back alone, and he put Dan's things together in
his rooms at Boston and sent them to him, so that Dan remained at home.
He set about helping his father at the business with unaffected docility.
He tried not to pose, and he did his best to bear his loss and humiliation
with manly fortitude. But his whole life had not set so strongly in one
direction that it could be sharply turned aside now, and not in moments of
forgetfulness press against the barriers almost to bursting. Now and
then, when he came to himself from the wonted tendency, and remembered
that Alice and he, who had been all in all to each other, were now
nothing, the pain was so sharp, so astonishing, that he could not keep
down a groan, which he then tried to turn off with a cough, or a snatch of
song, or a whistle, looking wildly round to see if any one had noticed.
Once this happened when his father and he were walking silently home from
the works, and his father said, without touching him or showing his
sympathy except in his tone of humorously frank recognition, "Does it
still hurt a little occasionally, Dan?"
"Yes, sir, it hurts," said the son; and he turned his face aside, and
whistled through his teeth.
"Well, it's a trial, I suppose," said his father, with his gentle, soft
half-lisp. "But there are greater trials."
"How, greater?" asked Dan, with sad incredulity. "I've lost all that made
life worth living; and it's all my own fault, too."
"Yes," said his father; "I think she was a good girl."
"Good!" cried Dan; the word seemed to choke him.
"Still, I doubt if it's all your fault." Dan looked round at him. He
added, "And I think it's perhaps for the best as it is."
Dan halted, and then said, "Oh, I suppose so," with dreary resignation, as
they walked on.
"Let us go round by the paddock," said his father, "and see if Pat's put
the horses up yet. You can hardly remember your mother, before she became
an invalid, I suppose," he added, as Dan mechanically turned aside with
him from the path that led to the house into that leading to the barn.
"No; I was such a little fellow," said Dan.
"Women give up a great deal when they marry," said the elder. "It's not
strange that they exaggerate the sacrifice, and expect more in return than
it's in the nature of men to give them. I should have been sorry to have
you marry a woman of an exacting disposition."
"I'm afraid she was exacting," said Dan. "But she never asked more than
"And it's difficult to do all that's right," suggested the elder.
"I'm sure you always have, father," said the son.
The father did not respond. "I wish you could remember your mother when
she was well," he said. Presently he added, "I think it isn't best for a
woman to be too much in love with her husband."
Dan took this to himself, and he laughed harshly. "She's been able to
dissemble her love at last."
His father went on, "Women keep the romantic feeling longer than men; it
dies out of us very soon--perhaps too soon."
"You think I couldn't have come to time?" asked Dan. "Well, as it's
turned out, I won't have to."
"No man can be all a woman wishes him to be," said his father. "It's
better for the disappointment to come before it's too late."
"I was to blame," said Dan stoutly. "She was all right."
"You were to blame in the particular instance," his father answered. "But
in general the fault was in her--or her temperament. As long as the
romance lasted she might have deluded herself, and believed you were all
she imagined you; but romance can't last, even with women. I don like
your faults, and I don't want you to excuse them to yourself. I don't
like your chancing things, and leaving them to come out all right of
themselves; but I've always tried to make you children see all your
qualities in their true proportion and relation."
"Yes; I know that, sir," said Dan.
"Perhaps," continued his father, as they swung easily along, shoulder to
shoulder, "I may have gone too far in that direction because I was afraid
that you might take your mother too seriously in the other--that you might
not understand that she judged you from her nerves and not her
convictions. It's part of her malady, of her suffering, that her
inherited Puritanism clouds her judgment, and makes her see all faults as
of one size and equally damning. I wish you to know that she was not
always so, but was once able to distinguish differences in error, and to
realise that evil is of ill-will."
"Yes; I know that," said Dan. "She is now--when she feels well."
"Harm comes from many things, but evil is of the heart. I wouldn't have
you condemn yourself too severely for harm that you didn't intend--that's
remorse--that's insanity; and I wouldn't have you fall under the
condemnation of another's invalid judgment."
"Thank you, father," said Dan.
They had come up to the paddock behind the barn, and they laid their arms
on the fence while they looked over at the horses, which were still there.
The beasts, in their rough winter coats, some bedaubed with frozen clots
of the mud in which they had been rolling earlier in the afternoon, stood
motionless in the thin, keen breeze that crept over the hillside from the
March sunset, and blew their manes and tails out toward Dan and his
father. Dan's pony sent him a gleam of recognition from under his frowsy
bangs, but did not stir.
"Bunch looks like a caterpillar," he said, recalling the time when his
father had given him the pony; he was a boy then, and the pony was as much
to him, it went through his mind, as Alice had ever been. Was it all a
jest, an irony? he asked himself.
"He's getting pretty old," said his father. "Let's see: you were only
"Ten," said Dan. "We've had him thirteen years."
Some of the horses pricked up their ears at the sound of their voices.
One of them bit another's neck; the victim threw up his heels and
Pat called from the stable, "Heigh, you divils!"
"I think he'd better take them in," said Dan's father; and he continued,
as if it were all the same subject, "I hope you'll have seen something
more of the world before you fall in love the next time."
"Thank you; there won't be any next time. But do you consider the world
such a school of morals; then? I supposed it was a very bad place."
"We seem to have been all born into it," said the father. He lifted his
arms from the fence, and Dan mechanically followed him into the stable.
A warm, homely smell of hay and of horses filled the place; a lantern
glimmered, a faint blot, in the loft where Pat was pitching some hay
forward to the edge of the boards; the naphtha gas weakly flared from the
jets beside the harness-room, whence a smell of leather issued and mingled
with the other smell. The simple, earthy wholesomeness of the place
appealed to Dan and comforted him. The hay began to tumble from the loft
with a pleasant rustling sound.
His father called up to Pat, "I think you'd better take the horses in
"Yes, sir: I've got the box-stalls ready for 'em."
Dan remembered how he and Eunice used to get into the box-stall with his
pony, and play at circus with it; he stood up on the pony, and his sister
was the ring-master. The picture of his careless childhood reflected a
deeper pathos upon his troubled present, and he sighed again.
His father said, as they moved on through the barn: "Some of the best
people I've ever known were what were called worldly people. They are apt
to be sincere, and they have none of the spiritual pride, the conceit of
self-righteousness, which often comes to people who are shut up by
conscience or circumstance to the study of their own motives and actions."
"I don't think she was one of that kind," said Dan.
"Oh, I don't know that she was. But the chances of happiness, of
goodness, would be greater with a less self-centred person--for you."
"Ah, Yes! For me!" said Dan bitterly. "Because I hadn't it in me to be
frank with her. With a man like me, a woman had better be a little
scampish, too! Father, I could get over the loss; she might have died,
and I could have got over that; but I can't get over being to blame."
"I don't think I'd indulge in any remorse," said his father. "There's
nothing so useless, so depraving, as that. If you see you're wrong, it's
for your warning, not for your destruction."
Dan was not really feeling very remorseful; he had never felt that he was
much to blame; but he had an intellectual perception of the case, and he
thought that he ought to feel remorseful; it was this persuasion that he
took for an emotion. He continued to look very disconsolate.
"Come," said his father, touching his arm, "I don't want you to brood upon
these things. It can do no manner of good. I want you to go to New York
next week and look after that Lafflin process. If it's what he thinks--if
he can really cast his brass patterns without air-holes--it will
revolutionise our business. I want to get hold of him."
The Portuguese cook was standing in the basement door which they passed at
the back of the house. He saluted father and son with a glittering smile.
"Hello, Joe!" said Dan.
"Ah, Joe!" said his father; he touched his hat to the cook, who snatched
his cap off.
"What a brick you are, father!" thought Dan. His heart leaped at the
notion of getting away from Ponkwasset; he perceived how it had been
irking him to stay. "If you think I could manage it with Lafflin--"
"Oh, I think you could. He's another slippery chap."
Dan laughed for pleasure and pain at his father's joke.
In New York Dan found that Lafflin had gone to Washington to look up
something in connection with his patent. In his eagerness to get away
from home, Dan had supposed that his father meant to make a holiday for
him, and he learned with a little surprise that he was quite in earnest
about getting hold of the invention. he wrote home of Lafflin's absence;
and he got a telegram in reply ordering him to follow on to Washington.
The sun was shining warm on the asphalt when he stepped out of the
Pennsylvania Depot with his bag in his hand, and put it into the hansom
that drove up for him. The sky overhead was of an intense blue that made
him remember the Boston sky as pale and grey; when the hansom tilted out
into the Avenue he had a joyous glimpse of the White House; of the Capitol
swimming like a balloon in the cloudless air. A keen March breeze swept
the dust before him, and through its veil the classic Treasury Building
showed like one edifice standing perfect amid ruin represented by the jag-
tooth irregularities of the business architecture along the wide street.
He had never been in Washington before, and he had a confused sense of
having got back to Rome, which he remembered from his boyish visit.
Throughout his stay he seemed to be coming up against the facade of the
Temple of Neptune; but it was the Patent Office, or the Treasury Building,
or the White House, and under the gay Southern sky this reversion to the
sensations of a happier time began at once, and made itself a lasting
relief. He felt a lift in his spirits from the first. They gave him a
room at Wormley's, where the chairs comported themselves as self-
respectfully upon two or three legs as they would have done at Boston upon
four; the cooking was excellent, and a mercenary welcome glittered from
all the kind black faces around him. After the quiet of Ponkwasset and
the rush of New York, the lazy ease of the hotel pleased him; the clack of
boots over its pavements, the clouds of tobacco smoke, the Southern and
Western accents, the spectacle of people unexpectedly encountering and
recognising each other in the office and the dining-room, all helped to
restore him to a hopefuller mood. Without asking his heart too curiously
why, he found it lighter; he felt that he was still young.
In the weather he had struck a cold wave, and the wind was bitter in the
streets, but they were full of sun; he found the grass green in sheltered
places, and in one of the Circles he plucked a blossomed spray from an
adventurous forceythia. This happened when he was walking from Wormley's
to the Arlington by a roundabout way of his own involuntary invention, and
he had the flowers in his button-hole when Lafflin was pointed out to him
in the reading room there, and he introduced himself. Lafflin had put his
hat far back on his head, and was intensely chewing a toothpick, with an
air of rapture from everything about him. He seemed a very simple soul to
Dan's inexperience of men, and the young fellow had no difficulty in
committing him to a fair conditional arrangement. He was going to stay
some days in Washington, and he promised other interviews, so that Dan
thought it best to stay too. He used a sheet of the Arlington letter-
paper in writing his father of what he had done; and then, as Lafflin had
left him, he posted his letter at the clerk's desk, and wandered out
through a corridor different from that which he had come in by. It led by
the door of the ladies parlour, and at the sound of women's voices Dan
halted. For no other reason than that such voices always irresistibly
allured him, he went in, putting on an air of having come to look for some
one. There were two or three groups of ladies receiving friends in
different parts of the room. At the window a girl's figure silhouetted
itself against the keen light, and as he advanced into the room, peering
about, it turned with a certain vividness that seemed familiar. This
young lady, whoever she was, had the advantage of Dan in seeing him with
the light on his face, and he was still in the dark about her, when she
advanced swiftly upon him, holding out her hand.
"You don't seem to know your old friends, Mr. Mavering," and the manly
tones left him no doubt.
He felt a rush of gladness, and he clasped her hand and clung to it as if
he were not going to let it go again, bubbling out incoherencies of
pleasure at meeting her. "Why, Miss Anderson! You here? What a piece
of luck! Of course I couldn't see you against the window--make you out!
But something looked familiar--and the way you turned! And when you
started toward me! I'm awfully glad! When--where are you--that is--"
Miss Anderson kept laughing with him, and bubbled back that she was very
glad too, and she was staying with her aunt in that hotel, and they had
been there a month, and didn't he think Washington was charming? But it
was too bad he had just got there with that blizzard. The weather had
been perfectly divine till the day before yesterday.
He took the spray of forceythia out of his buttonhole. "I can believe it.
I found this in one, of the squares, and I think it belongs to you." He.
offered it with a bow and a laugh, and she took it in the same humour.
"What is the language of forceythia?" she asked.
"It has none--only expressive silence, you know."
A middle-aged lady came in, and Miss Anderson said, "My aunt, Mr.
"Mr. Mavering will hardly remember me," said the lady, giving him her
hand. He protested that he should indeed, but she had really made but a
vague impression upon him at Campobello. He knew that she was there with
Miss Anderson; he had been polite to her as he was to all women; but he
had not noticed her much, and in his heart he had a slight for her, as
compared with the Boston people he was more naturally thrown with; he
certainly had not remembered that she was a little hard of hearing.
Miss Van Hook was in a steel-grey effect of dress, and, she had carried
this up into her hair, of which she worn two short vertical curls on each
She did not sit down, and Dan perceived that the ladies were going out.
In her tailor-made suit of close-fitting serge and her Paris bonnet,
carried like a crest on her pretty little head, Miss Anderson was
charming. She had a short veil that came across the base of her lively
nose, and left her mouth and chin to make the most of themselves,
unprejudiced by its irregularity.
Dan felt it a hardship to part with them, but he prepared to take himself
off. Miss Anderson asked him how long he was to be in Washington, and
said he must come to see them; they meant to stay two weeks yet, and then
they were going to Old Point Comfort; they had their rooms engaged.
He walked down to their carriage with the ladies and put them into it, and
Miss Anderson still kept him talking there.
Her aunt said: "Why shouldn't you come with us, Mr. Mavering? We're going
to Mrs. Secretary Miller's reception."
Dan gave himself a glance. "I don't know--if you want me?"
"We want you," said Miss Anderson. "Very well, then, I'll go."
He got in, and they began rolling over that smooth Washington asphalt
which makes talk in a carriage as easy as in a drawing-room. Dan kept
saying to himself, "Now she's going to bring up Campobello;" but Miss
Anderson never recurred to their former meeting, and except for the sense
of old acquaintance which was manifest in her treatment of him he might
have thought that they had never met before. She talked of Washington and
its informal delights; and of those plans which her aunt had made, like
every one who spends a month in Washington, to spend all the remaining
winters of her life there.
It seemed to Dan that Miss Anderson was avoiding Campobello on his
account; he knew from what Alice had told him that there had been much
surmise about their affair after he had left the island, and he suspected
that Miss Anderson thought the subject was painful to him. He wished to
reassure her. He asked at the first break in the talk about Washington,
"How are the Trevors?"
"Oh, quite well," she said, promptly availing herself of the opening.
"Have you seen any of our Campobello friends lately in Boston?"
"No; I've been at home for the last month--in the country." He scanned
her face to see if she knew anything of his engagement. But she seemed
honestly ignorant of everything since Campobello; she was not just the
kind of New York girl who would visit in Boston, or have friends living
there; probably she had never heard of his engagement. Somehow this
seemed to simplify matters for Dan. She did not ask specifically after
the Pasmers; but that might have been because of the sort of break in her
friendship with Alice after that night at the Trevors'; she did not ask
specifically after Mrs. Brinkley or any of the others.
At Mrs. Secretary Miller's door there was a rapid arrival and departure of
carriages, of coupes, of hansoms, and of herdics, all managed by a man in
plain livery, who opened and shut the doors, and sent the drivers off
without the intervention of a policeman; it is the genius of Washington,
which distinguishes it from every other capital, from every other city, to
make no show of formality, of any manner of constraint anywhere. People
were swarming in and out; coming and going on foot as well as by carriage.
The blandest of coloured uncles received their cards in the hall and put
them into a vast tray heaped up with pasteboard, smiling affectionately
upon them as if they had done him a favour.
"Don't you like them?" asked Dan of Miss Anderson; he meant the Southern
"I adoye them," she responded, with equal fervour. "You must study some
new types here for next summer," she added.
Dan laughed and winced too. "Yes!" Then be said solemnly, "I am not
going to Campobello next summer."
They felt into a stream of people tending toward an archway between the
drawing-rooms, where Mrs. Secretary Miller stood with two lady friends who
were helping her receive. They smiled wearily but kindly upon the crowd,
for whom the Secretary's wife had a look of impartial hospitality. She
could not have known more than one in fifty; and she met them all with
this look at first, breaking into incredulous recognition when she found a
friend. "Don't go away yet," she said cordially, to Miss Van Hook and her
niece, and she held their hands for a moment with a gentle look of relief
and appeal which included Dan. "Let me introduce you to Mrs. Tolliver and
to Miss Dixon."
These ladies said that it was not necessary in regard to Miss Anderson and
Miss Van Hook; and as the crowd pushed them on, Dan felt that they had
been received with distinction.
The crowd expressed the national variety of rich and poor, plain and
fashionable, urbane and rustic; they elbowed and shouldered each other
upon a perfect equality in a place where all were as free to come as to
the White House, and they jostled quaint groups of almond-eyed legations
in the yellows and purples of the East, who looked dreamily on as if
puzzled past all surmise by the scene. Certain young gentlemen with the
unmistakable air of being European or South American attaches found their
way about on their little feet, which the stalwart boots of the republican
masses must have imperilled; and smiled with a faint diplomatic
superiority, not visibly admitted, but all the same indisputable. Several
of these seemed to know Miss Anderson, and took her presentation of
Mavering with exaggerated effusion.
"I want to introduce you to my cousin over yonder," she said, getting rid
of a minute Brazilian under-secretary, and putting her hand on Dan's arm
to direct him: "Mrs. Justice Averill."