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Chapter 23

At his father's agency in Boston he found, the next morning, a letter from him saying that he expected to be down that day, and asking Dan to meet him at the Parker House for dinner. The letter intimated the elder Mavering's expectation that his son had reached some conclusion in the matter they had talked of before he left for Campobello.

It gave Dan a shiver of self-disgust and a sick feeling of hopelessness. He was quite willing now to do whatever his father wished, but he did not see haw he could face him and own his defeat.

When they met, his father did not seem to notice his despondency, and he asked him nothing about the Pasmers, of course. That would not have been the American way. Nothing had been said between the father and son as to the special advantages of Campobello for the decision of the question pending when they saw each other last; but the son knew that the father guessed why he chose that island for the purpose; and now the elder knew that if the younger had anything to tell him he would tell it, and if he had not he would keep it. It was tacitly understood that there was no objection on the father's part to Miss Pasmer; in fact, there had been a glimmer of humorous intelligence in his eye when the son said he thought he should run down to Bar Harbour, and perhaps to Campobello, but he had said nothing to betray his consciousness.

They met in the reading-room at Parker's, and Dan said, "Hello, father," and his father answered, "Well, Dan;" and they shyly touched the hands dropped at their sides as they pressed together in the crowd. The father gave his boy a keen glance, and then took the lead into the dining-room, where he chose a corner table, and they disposed of their hats on the window-seat.

"All well at home?" asked the young fellow, as he took up the bill of fare to order the dinner. His father hated that, and always made him do it.

"Yes, yes; as usual, I believe. Minnie is off for a week at the mountains; Eunice is at home."

"Oh! How would you like some green goose, with apple-sauce, sweet-potatoes, and succotash?"

"It seems to me that was pretty good, the last time. All right, if you like it."

"I don't know that I care for anything much. I'm a little off my feed. No soup," he said, looking up at the waiter bending over him; and then he gave the order. "I think you may bring me half a dozen Blue Points, if they're good," he called after him.

"Didn't Bar Harbour agree with you—or Campobello?" asked Mr. Mavering, taking the opening offered him.

"No, not very well," said Dan; and he said no more about it, leaving his father to make his own inferences as to the kind or degree of the disagreement.

"Well, have you made up your mind?" asked the father, resting his elbows on either side of his plate, and putting his hands together softly, while he looked across them with a cheery kindness at his boy.

"Yes, I have," said Dan slowly.

"Well?"

"I don't believe I care to go into the law."

"Sure?"

"Yes."

"Well, that's all right, then. I wished you to choose freely, and I suppose you've done so."

"Oh Yes."

"I think you've chosen wisely, and I'm very glad. It's a weight off my mind. I think you'll be happier in the business than you would in the law; I think you'll enjoy it. You needn't look forward to a great deal of Ponkwasset Falls, unless you like."

"I shouldn't mind going there," said Dan listlessly.

"It won't be necessary—at first. In fact, it won't be desirable. I want you to look up the business at this end a little."

Dan gave a start. "In Boston?"

"Yes. It isn't in the shape I want to have it. I propose to open a place of our own, and to put you in charge." Something in the young man's face expressed reluctance, and his father asked kindly, "Would that be distasteful to you?"

"Oh no. It isn't the thing I object to, but I don't know that I care to be in Boston." He lifted his face and looked his father full in the eyes, but with a gaze that refused to convey anything definite. Then the father knew that the boy's love affair had gone seriously wrong.

The waiter came with the dinner, and made an interruption in which they could be naturally silent. When he had put the dinner before them, and cumbered them with superfluous service, after the fashion of his kind, he withdrew a little way, and left them to resume their talk.

"Well," said the elder lightly, as if Dan's not caring to be in Boston had no particular significance for him, "I don't know that I care to have you settle down to it immediately. I rather think I'd like to have you look about first a little. Go to New York, go to Philadelphia, and see their processes there. We can't afford to get old-fashioned in our ways. I've always been more interested by the aesthetic side of the business, but you ought to have a taste for the mechanism, from your grandfather; your mother has it."

"Oh yes, sir. I think all that's very interesting," said Dan.

"Well, go to France, and see how those fellows do it. Go to London, and look up William Morris."

"Yes, that would be very nice," admitted the young fellow, beginning to catch on. "But I didn't suppose—I didn't expect to begin life with a picnic." He entered upon his sentence with a jocular buoyancy, but at the last word, which he fatally drifted upon, his voice fell. He said to himself that he was greatly changed; that, he should never be gay and bright again; there would always be this undercurrent of sadness; he had noticed the undercurrent yesterday when he was laughing and joking with those girls at Portland.

"Oh, I don't want you to buckle down at once," said his father, smiling. "If you'd decided upon the law, I should have felt that you'd better not lose time. But as you're going into the business, I don't mind your taking a year off. It won't be lost time if you keep your eyes open. I think you'd better go down into Italy and Spain. Look up the old tapestries and stamped leathers. You may get some ideas. How would you like it?"

"First-rate. I should like it," said Dan, rising on the waft of his father's suggestion, but gloomily lapsing again. Still, it was pleasing to picture himself going about through Europe with a broken heart, and he did not deny himself the consolation of the vision.

"Well, there's nobody to dislike it," said his father cheerily. He was sure now that Dan had been jilted; otherwise he would have put forth some objection to a scheme which must interrupt his lovemaking. "There's no reason why, with our resources, we shouldn't take the lead in this business."

He went on to speak more fully of his plans, and Dan listened with a nether reference of it all to Alice, but still with a surface intelligence on which nothing was lost.

"Are you going home with me to-morrow?" asked his father as they rose from the table.

"Well, perhaps not to-morrow. I've got some of my things to put together in Cambridge yet, and perhaps I'd better look after them. But I've a notion I'd better spend the winter at home, and get an idea of the manufacture before I go abroad. I might sail in January; they say it's a good month."

"Yes, there's sense in that," said his father.

"And perhaps I won't break up in Cambridge till I've been to New York and Philadelphia. What do you think? It's easier striking them from here."

"I don't know but you're right," said his father easily.

They had come out of the dining-room, and Dan stopped to get some cigarettes in the office. He looked mechanically at the theatre bills over the cigar case. "I see Irving's at the 'Boston.'"

"Oh, you don't say!" said his father. "Let's go and see him."

"If you wish it, sir," said Dan, with pensive acquiescence. All the Maverings were fond of the theatre, and made any mood the occasion or the pretext of going to the play. If they were sad, they went; if they were gay, they went. As long as Dan's mother could get out-of-doors she used to have herself carried to a box in the theatre whenever she was in town; now that she no longer left her room, she had a dominant passion for hearing about actors and acting; it was almost a work of piety in her husband and children to see them and report to her.

His father left him the next afternoon, and Dan, who had spent the day with him looking into business for the first time, with a running accompaniment of Alice in all the details, remained to uninterrupted misery. He spent the evening in his room, too wretched even for the theatre. It is true that he tried to find Boardman, but Boardman was again off on some newspaper duty; and after trying at several houses in the hope, which he knew was vain, of finding any one in town yet, he shut himself up with his thoughts. They did not differ from the thoughts of the night before, and the night before that, but they were calmer, and they portended more distinctly a life of self-abnegation and solitude from that time forth. He tested his feelings, and found that it was not hurt vanity that he was suffering from: it was really wounded affection. He did not resent Alice's cruelty; he wished that she might be happy; he could endure to see her happy.

He wrote a letter to the married one of the two ladies he had spent the day with in Portland, and thanked them for making pass pleasantly a day which he would not otherwise have known how to get through. He let a soft, mysterious melancholy pervade his letter; he hinted darkly at trouble and sorrow of which he could not definitely speak. He had the good sense to tear his letter up when he had finished it, and to send a short, sprightly note instead, saying that if Mrs. Frobisher and her sister came to Boston at the end of the month, as they had spoken of doing, they must be sure to let him know. Upon the impulse given him by this letter he went more cheerfully to bed, and fell instantly asleep.

During the next three weeks he bent himself faithfully to the schemes of work his father had outlined for him. He visited New York and Philadelphia, and looked into the business and the processes there; and he returned to Ponkwasset Falls to report and compare his facts intelligently with those which he now examined in his father's manufactory for the first time. He began to understand how his father, who was a man of intellectual and artistic interests, should be fond of the work.

He spent a good deal of time with his mother, and read to her, and got upon better terms with her than they usually were. They were very much alike, and she objected to him that he was too light and frivolous. He sat with his sisters, and took an interest in their pursuits. He drove them about with his father's sorrels, and resumed something of the old relations with them which the selfish years of his college life had broken off. As yet he could not speak of Campobello or of what had happened there; and his mother and sisters, whatever they thought, made no more allusion to it than his father had done.

They mercifully took it for granted that matters must have gone wrong there, or else he would speak about them, for there had been some gay banter among them concerning the objects of his expedition before he left home. They had heard of the heroine of his Class Day, and they had their doubts of her, such as girls have of their brothers' heroines. They were not inconsolably sorry to have her prove unkind; and their mother found in the probable event another proof of their father's total want of discernment where women were concerned, for the elder Mavering had come home from Class Day about as much smitten with this mysterious Miss Pasmer as Dan was. She talked it over indignantly with her daughters; they were glad of Dan's escape, but they were incensed with the girl who could let him escape, and they inculpated her in a high degree of heartless flirtation. They knew how sweet Dan was, and they believed him most sincere and good. He had been brilliantly popular in college, and he was as bright as he could be. What was it she chose not to like in him? They vexed themselves with asking how or in what way she thought herself better. They would not have had her love Dan, but they were hot against her for not loving him.

They did not question him, but they tried in every way to find out how much he was hurt, and they watched him in every word and look for signs of change to better or worse, with a growing belief that he was not very much hurt.

It could not be said that in three weeks he forgot Alice, or had begun to forget her; but he had begun to reconcile himself to his fate, as people do in their bereavements by death. His consciousness habituated itself to the facts as something irretrievable. He no longer framed in his mind situations in which the past was restored. He knew that he should never love again, but he had moments, and more and more of them, in which he experienced that life had objects besides love. There were times when he tingled with all the anguish of the first moment of his rejection, when he stopped in whatever he was doing, or stood stock-still, as a man does when arrested by a physical pang, breathless, waiting. There were other times when he went about steeped in gloom so black that all the world darkened with it, and some mornings when he woke he wished that the night had lasted for ever, and felt as if the daylight had uncovered his misery and his shame to every one. He never knew when he should have these moods, and he thought he should have them as long as he lived. He thought this would be something rather fine. He had still other moods, in which he saw an old man with a grey moustache, like Colonel Newcome, meeting a beautiful white-haired lady; the man had never married, and he had not seen this lady for fifty years. He bent over, and kissed her hand.

"You idiot!" said Mavering to himself. Throughout he kept a good appetite. In fact, after that first morning in Portland, he had been hungry three times a day with perfect regularity. He lost the idea of being sick; he had not even a furred tongue. He fell asleep pretty early, and he slept through the night without a break. He had to laugh a great deal with his mother and sisters, since he could not very well mope without expecting them to ask why, and he did not wish to say why. But there were some laughs which he really enjoyed with the Yankee foreman of the works, who was a droll, after a common American pattern, and said things that were killingly funny, especially about women, of whom his opinions were sarcastic.

Dan Mavering suffered, but not solidly. His suffering was short, and crossed with many gleams of respite and even joy. His disappointment made him really unhappy, but not wholly so; it was a genuine sorrow, but a sorrow to which he began to resign himself even in the monotony of Ponkwasset Falls, and which admitted the thought of Mrs. Frobisher's sister by the time business called him to Boston.

William Dean Howells