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Chapter 6

The party went to half a dozen spreads, some of which were on a scale of public grandeur approaching that of the Gymnasium, and others of a subdued elegance befitting the more private hospitalities in the students' rooms. Mrs. Pasmer was very much interested in these rooms, whose luxurious appointments testified to the advance of riches and of the taste to apply them since she used to visit students' rooms in far-off Class Days. The deep window nooks and easy-chairs upholstered in the leather that seems sacred alike to the seats and the shelves of libraries; the aesthetic bookcases, low and topped with bric-a-brac; the etchings and prints on the walls, which the elder Mavering went up to look at with a mystifying air of understanding such things; the foils crossed over the chimney, and the mantel with its pipes, and its photographs of theatrical celebrities tilted about over it—spoke of conditions mostly foreign to Mrs. Pasmer's memories of Harvard. The photographed celebrities seemed to be chosen chiefly for their beauty, and for as much of their beauty as possible, Mrs. Pasmer perceived, with an obscure misgiving of the sort which an older generation always likes to feel concerning the younger, but with a tolerance, too, which was personal to herself; it was to be considered that the massive thought and honest amiability of Salvini's face, and the deep and spiritualized power of Booth's, varied the effect of these companies of posturing nymphs.

At many places she either met old friends with whom she clamoured over the wonder of their encounter there, or was made acquainted with new people by the Saintsburys. She kept a mother's eye on her daughter, to whom young Mavering presented everybody within hail or reach, and whom she could see, whenever she looked at her, a radiant centre of admiration. She could hear her talk sometimes, and she said to herself that really Alice was coming out; she had never heard her say so many good things before; she did not know it was in her. She was very glad then that she had let her wear that dress; it was certainly distinguished, and the girl carried it off, to her mother's amusement, with the air of a superb lady of the period from which it dated. She thought what a simple child Alice really was, all the time those other children, the Seniors, were stealing their glances of bold or timid worship at her, and doubtless thinking her a brilliant woman of the world. But there could be no mistake that she was a success.

Part of her triumph was of course due to Mrs. Saintsbury; whose chaperonage; Mrs. Pasmer could see, was everywhere of effect. But it was also largely due to the vigilant politeness of young Mavering, who seemed bent on making her have good time, and who let no chance slip him. Mrs. Pasmer felt his kindness truly; and she did not feel it the less because she knew that there was but one thing that could, at his frankly selfish age, make a young fellow wish to make a girl have a good time; except for that reason he must be bending the whole soul of egotistic youth to making some other girl have a good time. But all the same, it gave her pause when some one to whom she was introduced spoke to her of her friends the Maverings, as if they were friends of the oldest standing instead of acquaintances of very recent accident. She did not think of disclaiming the intimacy, but "Really I shall die of these Maverings," she said to herself, "unless I find out something about them pretty soon."

"I'm not going to take you to the Omicron spread, Mrs. Pasmer," said young Mavering, coming up to her with such an effect of sympathetic devotion that she had to ask herself, "Are they my friends, the Maverings?" "The Saintsburys have been there already, and it is a little too common." The tone of superiority gave Mrs. Pasmer courage. "They're good fellows; and all that, but I want you to see the best. I suppose it will get back to giving the spreads all in the fellows' rooms again. It's a good deal pleasanter, don't you think?"

"Oh yes, indeed," assented Mrs. Pasmer, though she had really been thinking the private spreads were not nearly so amusing as the large spread she had seen at the Gymnasium. She had also wondered where all Mr. Mavering's relations and friends were, and the people who had social claims on him, that he could be giving up his Class Day in this reckless fashion to strangers. Alice would account for a good deal, but she would not account for everything. Mrs. Pasmer would have been willing to take him from others, but if he were so anomalous as to have no one to be taken from, of course it lessened his value as a trophy. These things went in and out of her mind, with a final resolution to get a full explanation from Mrs. Saintsbury, while she stood and smiled her winning assent up into the young man's handsome face.

Mrs. Saintsbury, caught sight of them, and as if suddenly reminded of a forgotten duty, rushed vividly upon him.

"Mr. Mavering, I shall not let you stay with us another minute. You must go to your room now and get ready. You ought to have a little rest."

He broke out in his laugh. "Do you think I want to go and lie down awhile, like a lady before a party?"

"I'm sure you'd be the stronger for it," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "But go, upon any theory. Don't you see there isn't a Senior left?"

He would not look round. "They've gone to other spreads," he said. "But now I'll tell you: it is pretty, near time, and if you'll take me to my room, I'll go."

"You're a spoiled boy," said Mrs. Saintsbury.

"But I want Mrs. Pasmer to see the room of a real student—a reading man, and all that—and we'll come, to humour you."

"Well, come upon any theory," said young Mavering.

His father, and Professor Saintsbury, who had been instructed by his wife not to lose sight of her, were at hand, and they crossed to that old hall which keeps its favour with the students in spite of the rivalry of the newer dormitories—it would be hard to say why.

Mrs. Pasmer willingly assented to its being much better, out of pure complaisance, though the ceilings were low and the windows small, and it did not seem to her that the Franklin stove and the aesthetic papering and painting of young Mavering's room brought it up to the level of those others that she had seen. But with her habit of saying some friendly lying thing, no matter what her impressions were, she exclaimed; "Oh, how cosy!" and glad of the word, she went about from one to another, asking, "Isn't this cosy?"

Mrs. Saintsbury said: "It's supposed to be the cell of a recluse; but it is cosy—yes."

"It looks as if some hermit had been using it as a store-room," said her husband; for there were odds and ends of furniture and clothes and boxes and handbags scattered about the floor.

"I forgot all about them when I asked you," cried Mavering, laughing out his delight. "They belong to some fellows that are giving spreads in their rooms, and I let them put them in here."

"Do you commonly let people put things in your room that they want to get rid off?" asked Mrs. Pasmer.

"Well, not when I'm expecting company."

"He couldn't refuse even then, if they pressed the matter," said Mrs. Saintsbury, lecturing upon him to her friend.

"I'm afraid you're too amiable altogether, Mr. Mavering. I'm sure you let people impose upon you," said the other lady. "You have been letting us impose upon you."

"Ah! now that proves you're all wrong, Mrs. Pasmer."

"It proves that you know how to say things very prettily."

"Oh, thank you. I know when I'm having a good time, and I do my best to enjoy it." He ended with the nervous laugh which seemed habitual with him.

"He, does laugh a good deal;" thought Mrs. Pasmer, surveying him with smiling steadiness. "I suppose it tires Alice. Some of his teeth are filled at the sides. That vein in his forehead—they say that means genius." She said to him: "I hope you know when others are having a good time too, Mr. Mavering? You ought to have that reward."

They both looked at Alice. "Oh, I should be so happy to think you hadn't been bored with it all, Mrs. Pasmer," he returned;—with-deep feeling.

Alice was looking at one of the sketches which were pretty plentifully pinned about the wall, and apparently seeing it and apparently listening to what Professor Saintsbury was saying; but her mother believed from a tremor of the ribbons on her hat that she was conscious of nothing but young Mavering's gaze and the sound of his voice.

"We've been delighted, simply enchanted," said Mrs. Pasmer. And she thought; "Now if Alice were to turn round just as she stands, he could see all the best points of her face. I wonder what she really thinks of him? What is it you have there; Alice?" she asked aloud.

The girl turned her face over her shoulder so exactly in the way her mother wished that Mrs. Pasmer could scarcely repress a cry of joy. "A sketch of Mr. Mavering's."

"Oh, how very interesting!" said Mrs. Pasmer. "Do you sketch, Mr. Mavering? But of course." She pressed forward, and studied the sketch inattentively. "How very, very good!" she buzzed deep in her throat, while, with a glance at her daughter, she thought, "How impassive Alice is! But she behaves with great dignity. Yes. Perhaps that's best. And are you going to be an artist?" she asked of Mavering.

"Not if it can be prevented," he answered, laughing again.

"But his laugh is very pleasant," reflected Mrs. Pasmer. "Does Alice dislike it so much?" She repeated aloud, "If it can be prevented?"

"They think I might spoil a great lawyer in the attempt."

"Oh, I see. And are you going to be a lawyer? But to be a great painter! And America has so few of them." She knew quite well that she was talking nonsense, but she was aware, through her own indifference to the topic that he was not minding what she said, but was trying to bring himself into talk with Alice again. The girl persistently listened to Professor Saintsbury.

"Is she punishing him for something?" her mother asked herself. "What can it be for. Does she think he's a little too pushing? Perhaps, he is a little pushing." She reflected, with an inward sigh, that she would know whether he was if she only knew more about him.

He did the honours of his room very simply and nicely, and he said it was pretty rough to think this was the last of it. After which he faltered, and something occurred to Mrs Saintsbury.

"Why, we're keeping you! It's time for you to dress for the Tree. John"—she reproached her husband—"how could you let us do it?"

"Far be it from me to hurry ladies out of other people's houses—especially ladies who have put themselves in charge of other people."

"No, don't hurry," pleaded Mavering; "there's plenty of time."

"How much time?" asked Mrs. Saintsbury.

He looked at his watch. "Well, a good quarter of an hour."

"And I was to have taken Mrs. Pasmer and Alice home for a little rest before the Tree!" cried Mrs Saintsbury. "And now we must go at once, or we shall get no sort of places."

In the civil and satirical parley which followed, no one answered another, but young Mavering bore as full a part as the elder ladies, and only his father and Alice were silent: his guests got themselves out of his room. They met at the threshold a young fellow, short and dark and stout, in an old tennis suit. He fell back at sight of them, and took off his hat to Mrs. Saintsbury.

"Why, Mr. Boardman!"

"Don't be bashful, Boardman?" young Mavering called out. "Come in and show them how I shall look in five minutes."

Mr. Boardman took his introductions with a sort of main-force self-possession, and then said, "You'll have to look it in less than five minutes now, Mavering. You're come for."

"What? Are they ready?"

"We must fly," panted Mrs. Saintsbury, without waiting for the answer, which was lost in the incoherencies of all sorts of au revoirs called after and called back.

William Dean Howells