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Chapter 31

An engagement must always be a little incredible at first to the families of the betrothed, and especially to the family of the young man; in the girl's, the mother, at least, will have a more realising sense of the situation. If there are elder sisters who have been accustomed to regard their brother as very young, he will seem all the younger because in such a matter he has treated himself as if he were a man; and Eunice Mavering said, after seeing the Pasmers, "Well, Dan, it's all well enough, I suppose, but it seems too ridiculous."

"What's ridiculous about it, I should like to know?" he demanded.

"Oh, I don't know. Who'll look after you when you're married? Oh, I forgot Ma'am Pasmer!"

"I guess we shall be able to look after ourselves," said Dan; a little sulkily.

"Yes, if you'll be allowed to," insinuated his sister.

They spoke at the end of a talk in which he had fretted at the reticence of both his sister and his father concerning the Pasmers, whom they had just been to see. He was vexed with his father, because he felt that he had been influenced by Eunice, and had somehow gone back on him. He was vexed and he was grieved because his father had left them at the door of the hotel without saying anything in praise of Alice, beyond the generalities that would not carry favour with Eunice; and he was depressed with a certain sense of Alice's father and mother, which seemed to have imparted itself to him from the others, and to be the Mavering opinion of them. He could no longer see Mrs. Pasmer harmless if trivial, and good-hearted if inveterately scheming; he could not see the dignity and refinement which he had believed in Mr. Pasmer; they had both suffered a sort of shrinkage or collapse, from which he could not rehabilitate them. But this would have been nothing if his sister's and his father's eyes, through which he seemed to have been looking, had not shown him Alice in a light in which she appeared strange and queer almost to eccentricity. He was hurt at this effect from their want of sympathy, his pride was touched, and he said to himself that he should not fish for Eunice's praise; but he found himself saying, without surprise, "I suppose you will do what you can to prejudice mother and Min."

"Isn't that a little previous?" asked Eunice. "Have I said anything against Miss Pasmer?"

"You haven't because you couldn't," said Dan, with foolish bitterness.

"Oh, I don't know about that. She's a human being, I suppose—at least that was the impression I got from her parentage."

"What have you got to say against her parents?" demanded Dan savagely.

"Oh, nothing. I didn't come down to Boston to denounce the Pasmer family."

"I suppose you didn't like their being in a flat; you'd have liked to find them in a house on Commonwealth Avenue or Beacon Street."

"I'll own I'm a snob," said Eunice, with maddening meekness. "So's father."

"They are connected with the best families in the city, and they are in the best society. They do what they please, and they live where they like. They have been so long in Europe that they don't care for those silly distinctions. But what you say doesn't harm them. It's simply disgraceful to you; that's all," said Dan furiously.

"I'm glad it's no worse, Dan," said his sister, with a tranquil smile. "And if you'll stop prancing up and down the room, and take a seat, and behave yourself in a Christian manner, I'll talk with you; and if you don't, I won't. Do you suppose I'm going to be bullied into liking them?"

"You can like them or not, as you please," said Dan sullenly; but he sat down, and waited decently for his sister to speak. "But you can't abuse them—at least in my presence."

"I didn't know men lost their heads as well as their hearts," said Eunice. "Perhaps it's only an exchange, though, and it's Miss Pasmer's head." Dan started, but did not say anything, and Eunice smoothly continued: "No, I don't believe it is. She looked like a sensible girl, and she talked sensibly. I should think she had a very good head. She has good manners, and she's extremely pretty, and very graceful. I'm surprised she should be in love with such a simpleton."

"Oh, go on! Abuse me as much as you like," said Dan. He was at once soothed by her praise of Alice.

"No, it isn't necessary to go on; the case is a little too obvious. But I think she will do very well. I hope you're not marrying the whole family, though. I suppose that it's always a question of which shall be scooped up. They will want to scoop you up, and we shall want to scoop her up. I dare say Ma'am Pasmer has her little plan; what is it?"

Dan started at this touch on the quick, but he controlled himself, and said, with dignity, "I have my own plans."

"Well, you know what mother's are," returned Eunice easily. "You seem so cheerful that I suppose yours are quite the same, and you're just keeping them for a surprise." She laughed provokingly, and Dan burst forth again—

"You seem to live to give people pain. You take a fiendish delight in torturing others. But if you think you can influence me in the slightest degree, you're very much mistaken."

"Well, well, there! It sha'n't be teased any more, so it sha'n't! It shall have its own way, it shall, and nobody shall say a word against its little girly's mother." Eunice rose from her chair, and patted Dan on the head as she passed to the adjoining room. He caught her hand, and flung it violently away; she shrieked with delight in his childish resentment, and left him sulking. She was gone two or three minutes, and when she came back it was in quite a different mood, as often happens with women in a little lapse of time.

"Dan, I think Miss Pasmer is a beautiful girl, and I know we shall all like her, if you don't set us against her by your arrogance. Of course we don't know anything about her yet, and you don't, really; but she seems a very lovable little thing, and if she's rather silent and undemonstrative, why, she'll be all the better for you: you've got demonstration enough for twenty. And I think the family are well enough. Mrs. Pasmer is thoroughly harmless; and Mr. Pasmer is a most dignified personage; his eyebrows alone are worth the price of admission." Dan could not help smiling. "All that there is about it is, you mustn't expect to drive people into raptures about them, and expect them to go grovelling round on their knees because you do."

"Oh, I know I'm an infernal idiot," said Dan, yielding to the mingled sarcasm and flattery. "It's because I'm so anxious; and you all seem so confoundedly provisional about it. Eunice, what do you suppose father really thinks?"

Eunice seemed tempted to a relapse into her teasing, but she did not yield. "Oh, father's all right—from your point of view. He's been ridiculous from the first; perhaps that's the reason he doesn't feel obliged to expatiate and expand a great deal at present."

"Do you think so?" cried Dan, instantly adopting her as an ally.

"Well, if I sad so, oughtn't it to be enough?"

"It depends upon what else you say. Look here, now, Eunice!" Dan said, with a laughing mixture of fun and earnest, "what are you going to say to mother? It's no use, being disagreeable, is it? Of course, I don't contend for ideal perfection anywhere, and I don't expect it. But there isn't anything experimental about this thing, and don't you think we had better all make the best of it?"

"That sounds very impartial."

"It is impartial. I'm a purely disinterested spectator."

"Oh, quite."

"And don't you suppose I understand Mr. and Mrs. Pasmer quite as well as you do? All I say is that Alice is simply the noblest girl that ever breathed, and—"

"Now you're talking sense, Dan!"

"Well, what are you going to say when you get home, Eunice? Come!"

"That we had better make the best of it."

"And what else?"

"That you're hopelessly infatuated; and that she will twist you round her finger."

"Well?"

"But that you've had your own way so much, it will do you good to have somebody else's a while."

"I guess you're pretty solid," said Dan, after thinking it over for a moment. "I don't believe you're going to make it hard for me, and I know you can make it just what you please. But I want you to be frank with mother. Of course I wish you felt about the whole affair just as I do, but if you're right on the main question, I don't care for the rest. I'd rather mother would know just how you feel about it," said Dan, with a sigh for the honesty which he felt to be not immediately attainable in his own case.

"Well, I'll see what can be done," Eunice finally assented.

Whatever her feelings were in regard to the matter, she must have satisfied herself that the situation was not to be changed by her disliking it, and she began to talk so sympathetically with Dan that she soon had the whole story of his love out of him. They laughed a good deal together at it, but it convinced her that he had not been hoodwinked into the engagement. It is always the belief of a young man's family, especially his mother and sisters, that unfair means have been used to win him, if the family of his betrothed are unknown to them; and it was a relief, if not exactly a comfort, for Eunice Mavering to find that Alice was as great a simpleton as Dan, and perhaps a sincerer simpleton.

William Dean Howells