The evening's entertainment was something that must fail before an audience which was not very kind. They were to present a burlesque of classic fable, and the parts, with their general intention, had been distributed to the different actors; but nothing had been written down, and, beyond the situations and a few points of dialogue, all had to be improvised. The costumes and properties had been invented from such things as came to hand. Sheets sculpturesquely draped the deities who took part; a fox-pelt from the hearth did duty as the leopard skin of Bacchus; a feather duster served Neptune for a trident; the lyre of Apollo was a dust-pan; a gull's breast furnished Jove with his grey beard.
The fable was adapted to modern life, and the scene had been laid in Campobello, the peculiarities of which were to be satirised throughout. The principal situation was to be a passage between Jupiter, represented by Mavering, and Juno, whom Miss Anderson personated; it was to be a scene of conjugal reproaches and reprisals, and to end in reconciliation, in which the father of the gods sacrificed himself on the altar of domestic peace by promising to bring his family to Campobello every year.
This was to be followed by a sketch of the Judgment of Paris, in which Juno and Pallas were to be personated by two young men, and Miss Anderson took the part of Venus.
The pretty drawing-room of the Trevors—young people from Albany, and cousins of Miss Anderson—was curtained off at one end for a stage, and beyond the sliding doors which divided it in half were set chairs for the spectators. People had come in whatever dress they liked; the men were mostly in morning coats; the ladies had generally made some attempt at evening toilet, but they joined in admiring Alice Pasmer's costume, and one of them said that they would let it represent them all, and express what each might have done if she would. There was not much time for their tributes; all the lamps were presently taken away and set along the floor in front of the curtain as foot-lights, leaving the company in a darkness which Mrs. Brinkley pronounced sepulchral. She made her reproaches to the master of the house, who had effected this transposition of the lamps. "I was just thinking some very pretty and valuable things about your charming cottage, Mr. Trevor: a rug on a bare floor, a trim of varnished pine, a wall with half a dozen simple etchings on it, an open fire, and a mantelpiece without bric-a-brac, how entirely satisfying it all is! And how it upbraids us for heaping up upholstery as we do in town!"
"Go on," said the host. "Those are beautiful thoughts."
"But I can't go on in the dark," retorted Mrs. Brinkley. "You can't think in the dark, much less talk! Can you, Mrs. Pasmer?" Mrs. Pasmer, with Alice next to her, sat just in front of Mrs. Brinkley.
"No," she assented; "but if I could—YOU can thick anywhere, Mrs. Brinkley—Mrs. Trevor's lovely house would inspire me to it."
"Two birds with one stone—thank you, Mrs. Pasmer, for my part of the compliment. Pick yourself up, Mr. Trevor."
"Oh, thank you, I'm all right," said Trevor, panting after the ladies' meanings, as a man must. "I suppose thinking and talking in the dark is a good deal like smoking in the dark."
"No; thinking and talking are not at all like smoking under any conditions. Why in the world should they be?"
"Oh, I can't get any fun out of a cigar unless I can see the smoke," the host explained.
"Do you follow him, Mrs. Pasmer?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Pasmer," said Trevor.
"I'll get you to tell me how you did it some time," said Mrs. Brinkley. "But your house is a gem, Mr. Trevor."
"Isn't it?" cried Trevor. "I want my wife to live here the year round." It was the Trevors' first summer in their cottage, and the experienced reader will easily recognise his mood. "But she's such a worldly spirit, she won't."
"Oh, I don't know about the year round. Do you, Mrs. Pasmer?"
"I should," said Alice, with the suddenness of youth, breaking into the talk which she had not been supposed to take any interest in.
"Is it proper to kiss a young lady's hand?" said Trevor gratefully, appealing to Mrs. Brinkley.
"It isn't very customary in the nineteenth century," said Mrs. Brinkley. "But you might kiss her fan. He might kiss her fan, mightn't he, Mrs. Pasmer?"
"Certainly. Alice, hold out your fan instantly."
The girl humoured the joke, laughing.
Trevor pressed his lips to the perfumed sticks. "I will tell Mrs. Trevor," he said, "and that will decide her."
"It will decide her not to come here at all next year if you tell her all."
"He never tells me all," said Mrs. Trevor, catching so much of the talk as she came in from some hospitable cares in the dining-room. "They're incapable of it. What has he been doing now?"
"Nothing. Or I will tell you when we are alone, Mrs. Trevor," said Mrs. Brinkley, with burlesque sympathy. "We oughtn't to have a scene on both sides of the foot-lights."
A boyish face, all excitement, was thrust out between the curtains forming the proscenium of the little theatre. "All ready, Mrs. Trevor?"
"Yes, all ready, Jim."
He dashed the curtains apart, and marred the effect of his own disappearance from the scene by tripping over the long legs of Jove, stretched out to the front, where he sat on Mrs. Trevor's richest rug, propped with sofa cushions on either hand.
"So perish all the impious race of titans, enemies of the gods!" said Mavering solemnly, as the boy fell sprawling. "Pick the earth-born giant up, Vulcan, my son."
The boy was very small for his age; every one saw that the accident had not been premeditated, and when Vulcan appeared, with an exaggerated limp, and carried the boy off, a burst of laughter went up from the company.
It did not matter what the play was to have been after that; it all turned upon the accident. Juno came on, and began to reproach Jupiter for his carelessness. "I've sent Mercury upstairs for the aynica; but he says it's no use: that boy won't be able to pass ball for a week. How often have I told you not to sit with your feet out that way! I knew you'd hurt somebody."
"I didn't have my feet out," retorted Jupiter. "Besides," he added, with dignity, and a burlesque of marital special pleading which every wife and husband recognised, "I always sit with my feet out so, and I always will, so long as I've the spirit of a god."
"Isn't he delicious?" buzzed Mrs. Pasmer, leaning backward to whisper to Mrs. Brinkley; it was not that she thought what Dan had just said was so very fanny, but people are immoderately applausive of amateur dramatics, and she was feeling very fond of the young fellow.
The improvisation went wildly and adventurously on, and the curtains dropped together amidst the facile acclaim of the audience:
"It's very well for Jupiter that he happened to think of the curtain," said Mrs. Brinkley. "They couldn't have kept it up at that level much longer."
"Oh, do you think so?" softly murmured Mrs. Pasmer. "It seemed as if they could have kept it up all night if they liked."
"I doubt it. Mr. Trevor," said Mrs. Brinkley to the host, who had come up for her congratulations, "do you always have such brilliant performances?"
"Well, we have so far," he answered modestly; and Mrs. Brinkley laughed with him. This was the first entertainment at Trevor cottage.
"'Sh!" went up all round them, and Mrs. Trevor called across the room, in a reproachful whisper loud enough for every one to hear, "My dear!—enjoying yourself!" while Mavering stood between the parted curtains waiting for the attention of the company.
"On account of an accident to the call-boy and the mental exhaustion of some of the deities, the next piece will be omitted, and the performance will begin with the one after. While the audience is waiting, Mercury will go round and take up a collection for the victim of the recent accident, who will probably be indisposed for life. The collector will be accompanied by a policeman, and may be safely trusted."
He disappeared behind the curtain with a pas and r swirl of his draperies like the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, and the audience again abandoned itself to applause.
"How very witty he is!" said Miss Cotton, who sat near John Munt. "Don't you think he's really witty?"
"Yes," Munt assented critically. "But you should have known his father."
"Oh, do you know his father?"
"I was in college with him."
"Oh, do tell me about him, and all Mr. Mavering's family. We're so interested, you know, on account of—Isn't it pretty to have that little love idyl going on here? I wonder—I've been wondering all the time—what she thinks of all this. Do you suppose she quite likes it? His costume is so very remarkable!" Miss Cotton, in the absence of any lady of her intimate circle, was appealing confidentially to John Munt.
"Why, do you think there's anything serious between them?" he asked, dropping his head forward as people do in church when they wish to whisper to some one in the same pew.
"Why, yes, it seems so," murmured Miss Cotton. "His admiration is quite undisguised, isn't it?"
"A man never can tell," said Munt. "We have to leave those things to you ladies."
"Oh, every one's talking of it, I assure you. And you know his family?"
"I knew his father once rather better than anybody else."
"Yes." Munt sketched rather a flattered portrait of the elder Mavering, his ability, his goodness, his shyness, which he had always had to make such a hard fight with. Munt was sensible of an access of popularity in knowing Dan Mavering's people, and he did not spare his colours.
"Then it isn't from his father that he gets everything. He isn't in the least shy," said Miss Cotton.
"That must be the mother."
"And the mother?"
"The mother I don't know."
Miss Cotton sighed. "Sometimes I wish that he did show a little more trepidation. It would seem as if he were more alive to the great difference that there is between Alice Pasmer and other girls."
Munt laughed a man's laugh. "I guess he's pretty well alive to that, if he's in love with her."
"Oh, in a certain way, of course, but not in the highest way. Now, for instance, if he felt all her fineness as—as we do, I don't believe he'd be willing to appear before her just like that." The father of the gods wore a damask tablecloth of a pale golden hue and a classic pattern; his arms were bare, and rather absurdly white; on his feet a pair of lawn-tennis shoes had a very striking effect of sandals.
"It seems to me," Miss Cotton pursued; "that if he really appreciated her in the highest way, he would wish never to do an undignified or trivial thing in her presence."
"Oh, perhaps it's that that pleases her in him. They say we're always taken with opposites."
"Yes—do you think so?" asked Miss Cotton.
The curtains were flung apart, and the Judgment of Paris followed rather tamely upon what had gone before, though the two young fellows who did Juno and Minerva were very amusing, and the dialogue was full of hits. Some of the audience, an appreciative minority, were of opinion that Mavering and Miss Anderson surpassed themselves in it; she promised him the most beautiful and cultured wife in Greece. "That settles it," he answered. They came out arm in arm, and Paris, having put on a striped tennis coat over his short-sleeved Greek tunic, moved round among the company for their congratulations, Venus ostentatiously showing the apple she had won.
"I can haydly keep from eating it," she explained to Alice; before whom she dropped Mavering's arm. "I'm awfully hungry. It's hayd woyk."
Alice stood with her head drawn back, looking at the excited girl with a smile, in which seemed to hover somewhere a latent bitterness.
Mavering, with a flushed face and a flying tongue, was exchanging sallies with her mother, who smothered him in flatteries.
Mrs. Trevor came toward the group, and announced supper. "Mr. Paris, will you take Miss Aphrodite out?"
Miss Anderson swept a low bow of renunciation, and tacitly relinquished Mavering to Alice.
"Oh, no, no!" said Alice, shrinking back from him, with an intensification of her uncertain smile. "A mere mortal?"
"Oh, how very good!" said Mrs. Trevor.
There began to be, without any one's intending it, that sort of tacit misunderstanding which is all the worse because it can only follow upon a tacit understanding like that which had established itself between Alice and Mavering. They laughed and joked together gaily about all that went on; they were perfectly good friends; he saw that she and her mother were promptly served; he brought them salad and ice-cream and coffee himself, only waiting officially upon Miss Anderson first, and Alice thanked him, with the politest deprecation of his devotion; but if their eyes met, it was defensively, and the security between them was gone. Mavering vaguely felt the loss, without knowing how to retrieve it, and it made him go on more desperately with Miss Anderson. He laughed and joked recklessly, and Alice began to mark a more explicit displeasure with her. She made her mother go rather early.
On her part, Miss Anderson seemed to find reason for resentment in Alice's bearing toward her. As if she had said to herself that her frank loyalty had been thrown away upon a cold and unresponsive nature, and that her harmless follies in the play had been met with unjust suspicions, she began to make reprisals, she began in dead earnest to flirt with Mavering. Before the evening passed she had made him seem taken with her; but how justly she had done this, and with how much fault of his, no one could have said. There were some who did not notice it at all, but these were not people who knew Mavering, or knew Alice very well.
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