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Chapter 5

"With Mr. Mavering, of course!" exclaimed Mrs. Saintsbury: "I might have known it." Mrs. Pasmer would have given anything she could think of to be able to ask why her friend might have known it; but for the present they could only fall upon each other with flashes of self-accusal and explanation, and rejoicing for their deferred and now accomplished meeting. The Professor stood by with the satirical smile with which men witness the effusion of women. Young Mavering, after sharing the ladies' excitement fully with them, rewarded himself by an exclusive moment with Miss Pasmer.

"You must get Mrs. Pasmer to let me show you all of Class Day that a Senior can. I didn't know what a perfect serpent's tooth it was to be one before. Mrs. Saintsbury," he broke off, "have you got tickets for the Tree? Ah, she doesn't hear me!"

Mrs. Saintsbury was just then saying to the elder Mavering, "I'm so glad you decided to come today. It would have been a shame if none of you were here." She made a feint of dropping her voice, with a glance at Dan Mavering. "He's such a nice boy," which made him laugh, and cry out—

"Oh, now? Don't poison my father's mind, Mrs. Saintsbury."

"Oh, some one would be sure to tell him," retorted the Professor's wife, "and he'd better hear it from a friend."

The young fellow laughed again, and then he shook hands with some ladies going out, and asked were they going so soon, from an abstract hospitality, apparently, for he was not one of the hosts; and so turned once more to Miss Pasmer. "We must get away from here, or the afternoon will get away from us, and leave us nothing to show for it. Suppose we make a start, Miss Pasmer?"

He led the way with her out of the vestibule, banked round with pots of palm and fern, and down the steps into the glare of the Cambridge sunshine, blown full, as is the case on Class Day, of fine Cambridge dust, which had drawn a delicate grey veil over the grass of the Gymnasium lawn, and mounted in light clouds from the wheels powdering it finer and finer in the street. Along the sidewalks dusty hacks and carriages were ranged, and others were driving up to let people dismount at the entrances to the college yard. Within the temporary picket-fences, secluding a part of the grounds for the students and their friends, were seen stretching from dormitory to dormitory long lines of Chinese lanterns, to be lit after nightfall, swung between the elms. Groups of ladies came and went, nearly always under the escort of some student; the caterers' carts, disburdened of their ice-creams and salads, were withdrawn under the shade in the street, and their drivers lounged or drowsed upon the seats; now and then a black waiter, brilliant as a bobolink in his white jacket and apron, appeared on some errand; the large, mild Cambridge policemen kept the entrances to the yard with a benevolent vigilance which was not harsh with the little Irish children coming up from the Marsh in their best to enjoy the sight of other people's pleasure.

"Isn't it a perfect Class Day?" cried young Mavering, as he crossed Kirkland Street with Miss Pasmer, and glanced down its vaulted perspective of elms, through which the sunlight broke, and lay in the road in pools and washes as far as the eye reached. "Did you ever see anything bluer than the sky to-day? I feel as if we'd ordered the weather, with the rest of the things, and I had some credit for it as host. Do make it a little compliment, Miss Pasmer; I assure you I'll be very modest about it."

"Ah, I think it's fully up to the occasion," said the girl, catching the spirit of his amiable satisfaction. "Is it the usual Class Day weather?"

"You spoil everything by asking that," cried the young man; "it obliges me to make a confession—it's always good weather on Class Day. There haven't been more than a dozen bad Class Days in the century. But you'll admit that there can't have been a better Class Day than this?"

"Oh yes; it's certainly the pleasantest Class Day I've seen;" said the girl; and now when Mavering laughed she laughed too.

"Thank you so much for saying that! I hope it will pass off in unclouded brilliancy; it will, if I can make it. Why, hallo! They're on the other side of the street yet, and looking about as if they were lost."

He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket, and waved it at the others of their party.

They caught sight of it, and came hurrying over through the dust.

Mrs. Saintsbury said, apparently as the sum of her consultations with Mrs. Pasmer: "The Tree is to be at half-past five; and after we've seen a few spreads, I'm going to take the ladies hone for a little rest."

"Oh no; don't do that," pleaded the young man. After making this protest he seemed not to have anything to say immediately in support of it. He merely added: "This is Miss Pasmer's first Class Day, and I want her to see it all."

"But you'll have to leave us very soon to get yourself ready for the Tree," suggested the Professor's lady, with a motherly prevision.

"I shall want just fifteen minutes for that."

"I know, better, Mr. Mavering," said Mrs. Saintsbury, with finality. "You will want a good three-quarters of an hour to make yourself as disreputable as you'll look at the Tree; and you'll have to take time for counsel and meditation. You may stay with us just half an hour, and then we shall part inexorably. I've seen a great many more Class Days than you have, and I know what they are in their demands upon the Seniors."

"Oh; well! Then we won't think about the time," said the young man, starting on with Miss Pasmer.

"Well, don't undertake too much," said the lady. She came last in the little procession, with the elder Mavering, and her husband and Mrs Pasmer preceded her.

"What?" young Mavering called back, with his smiling face over his shoulder.

"She says not to bite off more than you can chew," the professor answered for her.

Mavering broke into a conscious laugh, but full of delight, and with his handkerchief to his face had almost missed the greeting of some ladies who bowed to him. He had to turn round to acknowledge it, and he was saluting and returning salutations pretty well all along the line of their progress.

"I'm afraid you'll think I'm everybody's friend but my own, Miss Pasmer, but I assure you all this is purely accidental. I don't know so many people, after all; only all that I do know seem to be here this morning."

"I don't think it's a thing to be sorry for," said the girl. "I wish we knew more people. It's rather forlorn—"

"Oh, will you let me introduce some of the fellows to you? They'll be so glad."

"If you'll tell them how forlorn I said I was," said the girl, with a smile.

"Oh, no, no, no! I understand that. And I assure you that I didn't suppose—But of course!" he arrested himself in the superfluous reassurance he was offering, "All that goes without saying. Only there are some of the fellows coming back to the law school, and if you'll allow me—"

"We shall be very happy indeed, Mr. Mavering," said Mrs. Pasmer, behind him.

"Oh, thank you ever so much, Mrs. Pasmer." This was occasion for another burst of laughter with him. He seemed filled with the intoxication of youth, whose spirit was in the bright air of the day and radiant in the young faces everywhere. The paths intersecting one another between the different dormitories under the drooping elms were thronged with people coming and going in pairs and groups; and the academic fete, the prettiest flower of our tough old Puritan stem, had that charm, at once sylvan and elegant, which enraptures in the pictured fables of the Renaissance. It falls at that moment of the year when the old university town, often so commonplace and sometimes so ugly, becomes briefly and almost pathetically beautiful under the leafage of her hovering elms and in, the perfume of her syringas, and bathed in this joyful tide of youth that overflows her heart. She seems fit then to be the home of the poets who have loved her and sung her, and the regret of any friend of the humanities who has left her.

"Alice," said Mrs. Pasmer, leaning forward a little to speak to her daughter, and ignoring a remark of the Professor's, "did you ever see so many pretty costumes?"

"Never," said the girl, with equal intensity.

"Well, it makes you feel that you have got a country, after all," sighed Mrs. Pasmer, in a sort of apostrophe to her European self. "You see splendid dressing abroad, but it's mostly upon old people who ought to be sick and ashamed of their pomps and vanities. But here it's the young girls who dress; and how lovely they are! I thought they were charming in the Gymnasium, but I see you must get them out-of-doors to have the full effect. Mr. Mavering, are they always so prettily dressed on Class Day?"

"Well, I'm beginning to feel as if it wouldn't be exactly modest for me to say so, whatever I think. You'd better ask Mrs. Saintsbury; she pretends to know all about it."

"No, I'm bound to say they're not," said the Professor's wife candidly. "Your daughter," she added, in a low tone for all to hear, "decides that question."

"I'm so glad you said that, Mrs. Saintsbury," said the young man. He looked at the girl; who blushed with a pleasure that seemed to thrill to the last fibre of her pretty costume.

She could not say anything, but her mother asked, with an effort at self-denial: "Do you think so really? It's one of those London things. They have so much taste there now," she added yielding to her own pride in the dress.

"Yes; I supposed it must be," said Mrs. Saintsbury, "We used to come in muslins and tremendous hoops—don't you remember?"

"Did you look like your photographs?" asked young Mavering, over his shoulder.

"Yes; but we didn't know it then," said the Professor's wife.

"Neither did we," said the Professor. "We supposed that there had never been anything equal to those hoops and white muslins."

"Thank you, my dear," said his wife, tapping him between the shoulders with her fan. "Now don't go any further."

"Do you mean about our first meeting here on Class Day?" asked her husband.

"They'll think so now," said Mrs. Saintsbury patiently, with a playful threat of consequences in her tone.

"When I first saw the present Mrs. Saintsbury," pursued the Professor—it was his joking way, of describing her, as if there had been several other Mrs. Saintsburys—"she was dancing on the green here."

"Ah, they don't dance on the green any more, I hear," sighed Mrs. Pasmer.

"No, they don't," said the other lady; "and I think it's just as well. It was always a ridiculous affectation of simplicity."

"It must have been rather public," said young Mavering, in a low voice, to Miss Pasmer.

"It doesn't seem as if it could ever have been in character quite," she answered.

"We're a thoroughly indoors people," said the Professor. "And it seems as if we hadn't really begun to get well as a race till we had come in out of the weather."

"How can you say that on a day like this?" cried Mrs. Pasmer. "I didn't suppose any one could be so unromantic."

"Don't flatter him," cried his wife.

"Does he consider that a compliment?"

"Not personally," he answered: "But it's the first duty of a Professor of Comparative Literature to be unromantic."

"I don't understand," faltered Mrs. Pasmer.

"He will be happy to explain, at the greatest possible length," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "But you shan't spoil our pleasure now, John."

They all laughed, and the Professor looked proud of the wit at his expense; the American husband is so, and the public attitude of the American husband and wife toward each other is apt to be amiably satirical; their relation seems never to have lost its novelty, or to lack droll and surprising contrasts for them.

Besides these passages with her husband, Mrs. Saintsbury kept up a full flow of talk with the elder Mavering, which Mrs. Pasmer did her best to overhear, for it related largely to his son, whom, it seemed, from the father's expressions, the Saintsburys had been especially kind to.

"No, I assure you," Mrs. Pasmer heard her protest, "Mr. Saintsbury has, been very much interested in him. I hope he has not put any troublesome ideas into his head. Of course he's very much interested in literature, from his point of view, and he's glad to find any of the young men interested in it, and that's apt to make him overdo matters a little."

"Dan wished me to talk with him, and I shall certainly be glad to do so," said the father, but in a tone which conveyed to Mrs. Pasmer the impression that though he was always open to conviction, his mind was made up on this point, whatever it was.

William Dean Howells