Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 10

Mrs. Pasmer stood at the drawing-room window of this apartment, the morning after her call upon Mrs. Saintsbury, looking out on the passage of an express-wagon load of trunks through Cavendish Square, and commenting the fact with the tacit reflection that it was quite time she should be getting away from Boston too, when her daughter, who was looking out of the other window, started significantly back.

"What is it, Alice?"

"Nothing! Mr. Mavering, I think, and that friend of his——"

"Which friend? But where? Don't look! They will think we were watching them. I can't see them at all. Which way were they going?" Mrs. Pasmer dramatised a careless unconsciousness to the square, while vividly betraying this anxiety to her daughter.

Alice walked away to the furthest part of the room. "They are coming this way," she said indifferently.

Before Mrs. Pasmer had time to prepare a conditional mood, adapted either to their coming that way or going some other, she heard the janitor below in colloquy with her maid in the kitchen, and then the maid came in to ask if she should say the ladies were at home. "Oh, certainly," said Mrs. Pasmer, with a caressing politeness that anticipated the tone she meant to use with Mavering and his friend. "Were you going, Alice? Better stay. It would be awkward sending out for you. You look well enough."


The young men came in, Mavering with his nervous laugh first, and then Boardman with his twinkling black eyes, and his main-force self-possession.

"We couldn't go away as far as New London without coming to see whether you had really survived Class Day," said the former, addressing his solicitude to Mrs. Pasmer. "I tried to find out from, Mrs. Saintsbury, but she was very noncommittal." He laughed again, and shook hands with Alice, whom he now included in his inquiry.

"I'm glad she was," said Mrs. Pasmer—inwardly wondering what he meant by going to New London—"if it sent you to ask in person." She made them sit down; and she made as little as possible of the young ceremony they threw into the transaction. To be cosy, to be at ease instantly, was Mrs. Pasmer's way. "We've not only survived, we've taken a new lease of life from Class Day. I'd for gotten how charming it always was. Or perhaps it didn't use to be so charming? I don't believe they have anything like it in Europe. Is it always so brilliant?"

"I don't know," said Mavering. "I really believe it was rather a nice one."

"Oh, we were both enraptured," cried Mrs. Pasmer.

Alice added a quiet "Yes, indeed," and her mother went on—

"And we thought the Beck Hall spread was the crowning glory of the whole affair. We owe ever so much to your kindness."

"Oh, not at all," said Mavering.

"But we were talking afterward, Alice and I, about the sudden transformation of all that disheveled crew around the Tree into the imposing swells—may I say howling swells?—"

"Yes, do say 'howling,' Mrs. Pasmer!" implored the young man.

"—whom we met afterward at the spread," she concluded. "How did you manage it all? Mr. Irving in the 'Lyons Mail' was nothing to it. We thought we had walked directly over from the Tree; and there you were, all ready to receive us, in immaculate evening dress."

"It was pretty quick work," modestly admitted the young man. "Could you recognise any one in that hurly-burly round the Tree?"

"We didn't till you rose, like a statue of Victory, and began grabbing for the spoils from the heads and shoulders of your friends. Who was your pedestal?"

Mavering put his hand on his friend's broad shoulder, and gave him a playful push.

Boardman turned up his little black eyes at him, with a funny gleam in them.

"Poor Mr. Boardman!" said Mrs. Pasmer.

"It didn't hurt him a bit," said Mavering, pushing him. "He liked it."

"Of course he did," said Mrs. Pasmer, implying, in flattery of Mavering, that Boardman might be glad of the distinction; and now Boardman looked as if he were not. She began to get away in adding, "But I wonder you don't kill each other."

"Oh, we're not so easily killed," said Mavering.

"And what a fairy scene it was at the spread!" said Mrs. Pasmer, turning to Boardman. She had already talked its splendours over with Mavering the same evening. "I thought we should never get out of the Hall; but when we did get out of the window upon that tapestried platform, and down on the tennis-ground, with Turkey rugs to hide the bare spots in it—" She stopped as people do when it is better to leave the effect to the listener's imagination.

"Yes, I think it was rather nice," said Boardman.

"Nice?" repeated Mrs. Pasmer; and she looked at Mavering. "Is that the famous Harvard Indifferentism?"

"No, no, Mrs. Pasmer! It's just his personal envy. He wasn't in the spread, and of course he doesn't like to hear any one praise it. Go on!" They all laughed.

"Well, even Mr. Boardman will admit," said Mrs. Pasmer; "that nothing could have been prettier than that pavilion at the bottom of the lawn, and the little tables scattered about over it, and all those charming young creatures under that lovely evening sky."

"Ah! Even Boardman can't deny that. We did have the nicest crowd; didn't we?"

"Well," said Mrs. Pasmer, playfully checking herself in a ready adhesion, "that depends a good deal upon where Mr. Boardman's spread was."

"Thank you," said Boardman.

"He wasn't spreading anywhere," cried his friend. "Except himself—he was spreading himself everywhere."

"Then I think I should prefer to remain neutral," said Mrs. Pasmer, with a mock prudence which pleased the young men. In the midst of the pleasure the was giving and feeling she was all the time aware that her daughter had contributed but one remark to the conversation, and that she must be seeming very stiff and cold. She wondered what that meant, and whether she disliked this little Mr. Boardman, or whether she was again trying to punish Mr. Mavering for something, and, if so, what it was. Had he offended her in some way the other day? At any rate, she had no right to show it. She longed for some chance to scold the girl, and tell her that it would not do, and make her talk. Mr. Mavering was merely a friendly acquaintance, and there could be no question of anything personal. She forgot that between young people the social affair is always trembling to the personal affair.

In the little pause which these reflections gave her mother, the girl struck in, with the coolness that always astonished Mrs. Pasmer, and as if she had been merely waiting till some phase of the talk interested her.

"Are many of the students going to the race?" she asked Boardman.

"Yes; nearly everybody. That is—"

"The race?" queried Mrs. Pasmer.

"Yes, at New London," Mavering broke in. "Don't you know? The University race—Harvard and Yale."

"Oh—oh yes," cried Mrs. Pasmer, wondering how her daughter should know about the race, and she not. "Had they talked it over together on Class Day?" she asked herself. She felt herself, in spite of her efforts to keep even with them; left behind and left out, as later age must be distanced and excluded by youth. "Are you gentlemen going to row?" she asked Mavering.

"No; they've ruled the tubs out this time; and we should send anything else to the bottom."

Mrs. Pasmer perceived that he was joking, but also that they were not of the crew; and she said that if that was the case the should not go.

"Oh, don't let that keep you away! Aren't you going? I hoped you were going," continued the young man, speaking with his eyes on Mrs. Pasmer, but with his mind, as she could see by his eyes, on her daughter.

"No, no."

"Oh, do go, Mrs. Pasmer!" he urged: "I wish you'd go along to chaperon us."

Mrs. Pasmer accepted the notion with amusement. "I should think you might look after each other. At any rate, I think I must trust you to Mr. Boardman this time."

"Yes; but he's going on business," persisted Mavering, as if for the pleasure he found in fencing with the air, "and he can't look after me."

"On business?" said Mrs. Pasmer, dropping her outspread fan on her lap, incredulously.

"Yes; he's going into journalism—he's gone into it," laughed Mavering; "and he's going down to report the race for the 'Events'."

"Really!" asked Mrs. Pasmer, with a glance at Boardman, whose droll embarrassment did not contradict his friend's words. "How splendid!" she cried. "I had, heard that a great many Harvard men were taking up journalism. I'm so glad of it! It will do everything to elevate its tone."

Boardman seemed to suffer under these expectations a little, and he stole a glance of comical menace at his friend.

"Yes," said Mavering; "you'll see a very different tone about the fires, and the fights, and the distressing accidents, in the 'Events' after this."

"What does he mean?" she asked Boardman, giving him unavoidably the advantage of the caressing manner which was in her mind for Mavering.

"Well, you see," said Boardman, "we have to begin pretty low down."

"Oh, but all departments of our press need reforming, don't they?" she inquired consolingly. "One hears such shocking things about our papers abroad. I'm sure that the more Harvard men go into them the better. And how splendid it is to have them going into politics the way they are! They're going into politics too, aren't they?" She looked from one young man to the other with an idea that she was perhaps shooting rather wild, and an amiable willingness to be laughed at if she were. "Why don't you go into politics, Mr. Mavering?"

"Well, the fact is—"

"So many of the young University men do in England," said Mrs. Pasmer, fortifying her position.

"Well, you see, they haven't got such a complete machine in England—"

"Oh yes, that dreadful machine!" sighed Mrs. Pasmer, who had heard of it, but did not know in the least what it was.

"Do you think the Harvard crew will beat this time?" Alice asked of Boardman.

"Well, to tell you the truth—"

"Oh, but you must never believe him when he begins that way!" cried Mavering. "To be sure they will beat. And you ought to be there to see it. Now, why won't you come, Mrs. Pasmer?" he pleaded, turning to her mother.

"Oh, I'm afraid we must be getting away from Boston by that time. It's very tiresome, but there seems to be nobody left; and one can't stay quite alone, even if you're sick of moving about. Have you ever been—we think of going there—to Campobello?"

"No; but I hear that it's charming, there. I had a friend who was there last year, and he said it was charming. The only trouble is it's so far. You're pretty well on the way to Europe when you get there. You know it's all hotel life?"

"Yes. It's quite a new place, isn't it?"

"Well, it's been opened up several years. And they say it isn't like the hotel life anywhere else; it's charming. And there's the very nicest class of people."

"Very nice Philadelphia people, I hear," said Mrs. Pasmer; "and Baltimore. Don't you think it's well;" she asked deferentially, and under correction, if she were hazarding too much, "to see somebody besides Boston people sometimes—if they're nice? That seems to be one of the great advantages of living abroad."

"Oh, I think there are nice people everywhere," said the young man, with the bold expansion of youth.

"Yes," sighed Mrs. Pasmer. "We saw two such delightful young people coming in and out of the hotel in Rome. We were sure they were English. And they were from Chicago! But there are not many Western people at Campobello, are there?"

"I really don't know," said Mavering. "How is it, Boardman? Do many of your people go there?"

"You know you do make it so frightfully expensive with your money," said Mrs. Pasmer, explaining with a prompt effect of having known all along that Boardman was from the West, "You drive us poor people all away."

"I don't think my money would do it," said Boardman quietly.

"Oh, you wait till you're a Syndicate Correspondent," said, Mavering, putting his hand on his friend's shoulder, and rising by aid of it. He left Mrs. Pasmer to fill the chasm that had so suddenly yawned between her and Boardman; and while she tumbled into every sort of flowery friendliness and compliment, telling him she should look out for his account of the race with the greatest interest, and expressing the hope that he would get as far as Campobello during the summer, Mavering found some minutes for talk with Alice. He was graver with her—far graver than with her mother—not only because she was a more serious nature, but because they were both young, and youth is not free with youth except by slow and cautious degrees. In that little space of time they talked of pictures, 'a propos' of some on the wall, and of books, because of those on the table.

"Oh yes," said Mrs. Pasmer when they paused, and she felt that her piece of difficult engineering had been quite successful, "Mrs. Saintsbury was telling me what a wonderful connoisseur of etchings your father is."

"I believe he does know something about them," said the young man modestly.

"And he's gone back already?"

"Oh yes. He never stays long away from my mother. I shall be going home myself as soon as I get back from the race."

"And shall you spend the summer there?"

"Part of it. I always like to do that."

"Perhaps when you get away you'll come as far as Campobello—with Mr. Boardman," she added.

"Has Boardman promised to go?" laughed Mavering. "He will promise anything. Well, I'll come to Campobello if you'll come to New London. Do come, Mrs. Pasmer!"

The mother stood watching the two young men from the window as they made their way across the square together. She had now, for some reason; no apparent scruple in being seen to do so.

"How ridiculous that stout little Mr. Boardman is with him!" said Mrs. Pasmer. "He hardly comes up to his shoulder. Why in the world should he have brought him?"

"I thought he was very pleasant," said the girl.

"Yes, yes, of course. And I suppose he'd have felt that it was rather pointed coming alone."


"Young men are so queer! Did you like that kind of collar he had on?"

"I didn't notice it."

"So very, very high."

"I suppose he has rather a long neck."

"Well, what did you think of his urging us to go to the race? Do you think he meant it? Do you think he intended it for an invitation?"

"I don't think he meant anything; or, if he did, I think he didn't know what."

"Yes," said Mrs. Pasmer vaguely; "that must be what Mrs. Saintsbury meant by the artistic temperament."

"I like people to be sincere, and not to say things they don't mean, or don't know whether they mean or not," said Alice.

"Yes, of course, that's the best way," admitted Mrs. Pasmer. "It's the only way," she added, as if it were her own invariable practice. Then she added further, "I wonder what he did mean?"

She began to yawn, for after her simulation of vivid interest in them the visit of the young men had fatigued her. In the midst of her yawn her daughter went out of the room, with an impatient gesture, and she suspended the yawn long enough to smile, and then finished it.

William Dean Howells