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Chapter 36

"Why, there's Dan Mavering now!" said Mrs. Brinkley, rather to herself than to her companion. "And alone!"

Dan's face showed above most of the heads and shoulders about him; it was flushed, and looked troubled and excited. He caught sight of Mrs. Brinkley, and his eyes brightened joyfully. He slipped quickly through the crowd, and bowed over her hand, while he stammered out, without giving her a chance for reply till the end: "O Mrs. Brinkley, I'm so glad to see you! I'm going—I want to ask a great favour of you, Mrs. Brinkley. I want to bring—I want to introduce some friends of mine to you—some ladies, Mrs. Brinkley; very nice people I met last summer at Portland. Their father—General Wrayne—has been building some railroads down East, and they're very nice people; but they don't know any one—any ladies—and they've been looking at the pictures ever since they came. They're very good pictures; but it isn't an exhibition!" He broke down with a laugh.

"Why, of course, Mr. Mavering; I shall be delighted," said Mrs. Brinkley, with a hospitality rendered reckless by her sympathy with the young fellow. "By all means!"

"Oh; thanks!—thank you aver so much!" said Dan. "I'll bring them to you—they'll understand!" He slipped into the crowd again.

Corey made an offer of going. Mrs. Brinkley stopped him with her fan. "No—stay, Mr. Corey. Unless you wish to go. I fancy it's the people you were talking about, and you must help me through with them."

"I ask nothing better," said the old man, unresentful of Dan's having not even seemed to see him, in his generous preoccupation. "I should like to see how you'll get on, and perhaps I can be of use."

"Of course you can—the greatest."

"But why hasn't he introduced them to his Pasmers? What? Eh? Oh!" Corey made these utterances in response to a sharper pressure of Mrs. Brinkley's fan on his arm.

Dan was opening a way through the crowd before them for two ladies, whom he now introduced. "Mrs. Frobisher, Mrs. Brinkley; and Miss Wrayne."

Mrs. Brinkley cordially gave her hand to the ladies, and said, "May I introduce Mr. Corey? Mr. Mavering, let me introduce you to Mr. Corey." The old man rose and stood with the little group.

Dan's face shone with flattered pride and joyous triumph. He bubbled out some happy incoherencies about the honour and pleasure, while at the same time he beamed with tender gratitude upon Mrs. Brinkley, who was behaving with a gracious, humorous kindliness to the aliens cast upon her mercies. Mrs. Frobisher, after a half-hour of Boston society, was not that presence of easy gaiety which crossed Dan's path on the Portland pavement the morning of his arrival from Campobello; but she was still a handsome, effective woman, of whom you would have hesitated to say whether she was showy or distinguished. Perhaps she was a little of both, with an air of command bred of supremacy in frontier garrisons; her sister was like her in the way that a young girl may be like a young matron. They blossomed alike in the genial atmosphere of Mrs. Brinkley and of Mr. Corey. He began at once to make bantering speeches with them both. The friendliness of an old man and a stout elderly woman might not have been their ideal of success at an evening party, used as they were to the unstinted homage of young captains and lieutenants, but a brief experience of Mrs. Bellingham's hospitality must have taught them humility; and when a stout, elderly gentleman, whose baldness was still trying to be blond, joined the group, the spectacle was not without its points of resemblance to a social ovation. Perhaps it was a Boston social ovation.

"Hallo, Corey!" said this stout gentleman, whom Mrs. Brinkley at once introduced as Mr. Bellingham, and whose salutation Corey returned with "Hallo, Charles!" of equal intimacy.

Mr. Bellingham caught at the name of Frobisher. "Mrs. Major Dick Frobisher?"

"Mrs. Colonel now, but Dick always," said the lady, with immediate comradery. "Do you know my husband?"

"I should think so!" said Bellingham; and a talk of common interest and mutual reminiscence sprang up between them. Bellingham graphically depicted his meeting with Colonel Frobisher the last time he was out on the Plains, and Mrs. Frobisher and Miss Wrayne discovered to their great satisfaction that he was the brother of Mrs. Stephen Blake, of Omaba, who had come out to the fort once with her husband, and captured the garrison, as they said. Mrs. Frobisher accounted for her present separation from her husband, and said she had come on for a while to be with her father and sister, who both needed more looking after than the Indians. Her father had left the army, and was building railroads.

Miss Wrayne, when she was not appealed to for confirmation or recollection by her sister, was having a lively talk with Corey and Mrs. Brinkley; she seemed to enter into their humour; and no one paid much attention to Dan Mavering. He hung upon the outskirts of the little group; proffering unrequited sympathy and applause; and at last he murmured something about having to go back to some friends, and took himself off. Mrs. Frobisher and Miss Wrayne let him go with a certain shade—the lightest, and yet evident—of not wholly satisfied pique: women know how to accept a reparation on account, and without giving a receipt in full.

Mrs. Brinkley gave him her hand with an effect of compassionate intelligence and appreciation of the sacrifice he must have made in leaving Alice. "May I congratulate you?" she murmured.

"Oh yes, indeed; thank you, Mrs. Brinkley," he gushed tremulously; and he pressed her hand hard, and clung to it, as if he would like to take her with him.

Neither of the older men noticed his going. They were both taken in their elderly way with these two handsome young women, and they professed regret—Bellingham that his mother was not there, and Corey that neither his wife nor daughters had come, whom they might otherwise have introduced. They did not offer to share their acquaintance with any one else, but they made the most of it themselves, as if knowing a good thing when they had it. Their devotion to Mrs. Frobisher and her sister heightened the curiosity of such people as noticed it, but it would be wrong to say that it moved any in that self-limited company with a strong wish to know the ladies. The time comes to every man, no matter how great a power he may be in society, when the general social opinion retires him for senility, and this time had come for Bromfield Corey. He could no longer make or mar any success; and Charles Bellingham was so notoriously amiable, so deeply compromised by his inveterate habit of liking nearly every one, that his notice could not distinguish or advantage a newcomer.

He and Corey took the ladies down to supper. Mrs. Brinkley saw them there together, and a little later she saw old Corey wander off; forgetful of Miss Wrayne. She saw Dan Mavering, but not the Pasmers, and then, when Corey forgot Miss Wrayne, she saw Dan, forlorn and bewildered looking, approach the girl, and offer her his arm for the return to the drawing-room; she took it with a bright, cold smile, making white rings of ironical deprecation around the pupils of her eyes.

"What is that poor boy doing, I wonder?" said Mrs. Brinkley to herself.

William Dean Howells