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Chapter 3

"You must allow me to get you something to eat first, Mrs. Pasmer," said the elder Mavering.

"Oh no, thank you," Mrs. Pasmer began. But she changed her mind and said, "Or, yes; I will, Mr. Mavering: a very little salad, please." She had really forgotten her hunger, as a woman will in the presence of any social interest; but she suddenly thought his going would give her a chance for two words with her daughter, and so she sent him. As he creaked heavily across the smooth floor of the nave; "Alice," she whispered, "I don't know exactly what I've done: Who introduced this young Mr. Mavering to you?"

"Mr. Munt."

"Mr. Munt!"

"Yes; he came for me; he said you sent him. He introduced Mr. Mavering, and he was very polite. Mr. Mavering said we ought to go up into the gallery and see how it looked; and Mr. Munt said he'd been up, and Mr. Mavering promised to bring me back to him, but he was not there when we got back. Mr. Mavering got me some ice cream first, and then he found you for me."

"Really," said Mrs. Pasmer to herself, "the combat thickens!" To her daughter she said, "He's very handsome."

"He laughs too much," said the daughter. Her mother recognised her uncandour with a glance. "But he waltzes well," added the girl.

"Waltzes?" echoed the mother. "Did you waltz with him, Alice?"

"Everybody else was dancing. He asked me for a turn or two, and of course I did it. What difference?"

"Oh, none—none. Only—I didn't see you."

"Perhaps you weren't looking."

"Yes, I was looking all the time."

"What do you mean, mamma?"

"Well," said Mrs. Pasmer, in a final despair, "we don't know anything about them."

"We're the only people here who don't, then," said her daughter. "The ladies were bowing right left to him all the time, and he kept asking if I knew this one and that one, and all I could say was that some of them were distant cousins, but I wasn't acquainted with them. I would think he'd wonder who we were."

"Yes," said the mother thoughtfully.

"There! he's laughing with that other student. But don't look!"

Mrs. Pasmer saw well enough out of the corner of her eye the joking that went on between Mavering and his friend, and it did not displease her to think that it probably referred to Alice. While the young man came hurrying back to them she glanced at the girl standing near her with a keenly critical inspection, from which she was able to exclude all maternal partiality, and justly decided that she was one of the most effective girls in the place. That costume of hers was perfect. Mrs. Pasmer wished now that she could have compared it more carefully with other costumes; she had noticed some very pretty ones; and a feeling of vexation that Alice should have prevented this by being away so long just when the crowd was densest qualified her satisfaction. The people were going very fast now. The line of the oval in the nave was broken into groups of lingering talkers, who were conspicuous to each other, and Mrs. Pasmer felt that she and her daughter were conspicuous to all the rest where they stood apart, with the two Maverings converging upon them from different points, the son nodding and laughing to friends of both sexes as he came, the father wholly absorbed in not spilling the glass of claret punch which he carried in one hand, and not falling down on the slippery floor with the plate of salad which he bore in the other. She had thoughts of feigning unconsciousness; she would have had no scruple in practising this or any other social stratagem, for though she kept a conscience in regard to certain matters—what she considered essentials—she lived a thousand little lies every day, and taught her daughter by precept and example to do the same. You must seem to be looking one way when you were really looking another; you must say this when you meant that; you must act as if you were thinking one thing when you were thinking something quite different; and all to no end, for, as she constantly said, people always know perfectly well what you were about, whichever way you looked or whatever you said, or no matter how well you acted the part of thinking what you did not think. Now, although she seemed not to look, she saw all that has been described at a glance, and at another she saw young Mavering slide easily up to his father and relieve him of the plate and glass, with a laugh as pleasant and a show of teeth as dazzling as he bestowed upon any of the ladies he had passed. She owned to her recondite heart that she liked this in young Mavering, though at the same time she asked herself what motive he really had in being so polite to his father before people. But she had no time to decide; she had only time to pack the question hurriedly away for future consideration, when young Mavering arrived at her elbow, and she turned with a little "Oh!" of surprise so perfectly acted that it gave her the greatest pleasure.

William Dean Howells