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Chapter 7

"That is one thing," said Mrs. Saintsbury, looking swiftly round to see that the elder Mavering was not within hearing, as she hurried ahead with Mrs. Pasmer, "that I can't stand in Dan Mavering. Why couldn't he have warned us that it was getting near the time? Why should he have gone on pretending that there was no hurry? It isn't insincerity exactly, but it isn't candour; no, it's uncandid. Oh, I suppose it's the artistic temperament—never coming straight to the point."

"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Pasmer eagerly.

"I'll tell you sometime." She looked round and halted a little for Alice, who was walking detached and neglected by the preoccupation of the two elderly men. "I'm afraid you're tired," she said to the girl.

"Oh no."

"Of course not, on Class Day. But I hope we shall get seats. What weather!"

The sun had not been oppressive at any time during the day, though the crowded building had been close and warm, and now it lay like a painted light on the grass and paths over which they passed to the entrance of the grounds around the Tree. Holden Chapel, which enclosed the space on the right as they went in, shed back the sun from its brick-red flank, rising unrelieved in its venerable ugliness by any touch of the festive preparations; but to their left and diagonally across from them high stagings supported tiers of seats along the equally unlovely red bulks of Hollis and of Harvard. These seats, and the windows in the stories above them, were densely packed with people, mostly young girls dressed in a thousand enchanting shades and colours, and bonneted and hatted to the last effect of fashion. They were like vast terraces of flowers to the swift glance, and here and there some brilliant parasol, spread to catch the sun on the higher ranks, was like a flaunting poppy, rising to the light and lolling out above the blooms of lower stature. But the parasols were few, for the two halls flung wide curtains of shade over the greater part of the spectators, and across to the foot of the chapel, while a piece of the carpentry whose simplicity seems part of the Class Day tradition shut out the glare and the uninvited public, striving to penetrate the enclosure next the street. In front of this yellow pine wall; with its ranks of benches, stood the Class Day Tree, girded at ten or fifteen feet from the ground with a wide band of flowers.

Mrs. Pasmer and her friends found themselves so late that if some gentlemen who knew Professor Saintsbury had not given up their places they could have got no seats. But this happened, and the three ladies had harmoniously blended their hues with those of the others in that bank of bloom, and the gentlemen had somehow made away with their obstructiveness in different crouching and stooping postures at their feet, when the Junior Class filed into the green enclosure amidst the 'rahs of their friends; and sank in long ranks on the grass beside the chapel. Then the Sophomores appeared, and were received with cheers by the Juniors, with whom they joined, as soon as they were placed, in heaping ignominy upon the freshmen. The Seniors came last, grotesque in the variety of their old clothes, and a fierce uproar of 'rahs and yells met them from the students squatted upon the grass as they loosely grouped themselves in front of the Tree; the men of the younger classes formed in three rings, and began circling in different directions around them.

Mrs. Pasmer bent across Mrs. Saintsbury to her daughter: "Can you make out Mr. Mavering among them, Alice?"

"No. Hush, mamma!" pleaded the girl.

With the subsidence of the tumult in the other classes, the Seniors had broken from the stoical silence they kept through it, and were now with an equally serious clamour applauding the first of a long list of personages, beginning with the President, and ranging through their favourites in the Faculty down to Billy the Postman. The leader who invited them to this expression of good feeling exacted the full tale of nine cheers for each person he named, and before he reached the last the 'rahs came in gasps from their dry throats.

In the midst of the tumult the marshal flung his hat at the elm; then the rush upon the tree took place, and the scramble for the flowers. The first who swarmed up the trunk were promptly plucked down by the legs and flung upon the ground, as if to form a base there for the operations of the rest; who surged and built themselves up around the elm in an irregular mass. From time to time some one appeared clambering over heads and shoulders to make a desperate lunge and snatch at the flowers, and then fall back into the fluctuant heap again. Yells, cries, and clappings of hands came from the other students, and the spectators in the seats, involuntarily dying away almost to silence as some stronger or wilfuler aspirant held his own on the heads and shoulders of the others, or was stayed there by his friends among them till he could make sure of a handful of the flowers. A rush was made upon him when he reached the ground; if he could keep his flowers from the hands that snatched at them, he staggered away with the fragments. The wreath began to show wide patches of the bark under it; the surging and struggling crowd below grew less dense; here and there one struggled out of it and walked slowly about, panting pitiably.

"Oh, I wonder they don't kill each other!" cried Mrs. Pasmer. "Isn't it terrible?" She would not have missed it on any account; but she liked to get all she could out of her emotions.

"They never get hurt," said Mrs. Saintsbury. "Oh, look! There's Dan Mavering!"

The crowd at the foot of the tree had closed densely, and a wilder roar went up from all the students. A tall, slim young fellow, lifted on the shoulders of the mass below, and staying himself with one hand against the tree, rapidly stripped away the remnants of the wreath, and flung them into the crowd under him. A single tuft remained; the crowd was melting away under him in a scramble for the fallen flowers; he made a crooked leap, caught the tuft, and tumbled with it headlong.

"Oh!" breathed the ladies on the Benches, with a general suspiration lost in the 'rahs and clappings, as Mavering reappeared with the bunch of flowers in his hand. He looked dizzily about, as if not sure, of his course; then his face, flushed and heated, with the hair pulled over the eyes, brightened with recognition, and he advanced upon Mrs. Saintsbury's party with rapid paces, each of which Mrs. Pasmer commentated with inward conjecture.

"Is he bringing the flowers to Alice? Isn't it altogether too conspicuous? Has he really the right to do it? What will people think? Will he give them to me for her, or will he hand them directly to her? Which should I prefer him to do? I wonder if I know?"

When she looked up with the air of surprise mixed with deprecation and ironical disclaimer which she had prepared while these things were passing through her mind, young Mavering had reached them, and had paused in a moment's hesitation before his father. With a bow of affectionate burlesque, from which he lifted his face to break into laughter at the look in all their eyes, he handed the tattered nosegay to his father.

"Oh, how delightful! how delicate! how perfect!" Mrs. Pasmer confided to herself.

"I think this must be for you, Mrs. Pasmer," said the elder Mavering, offering her the bouquet, with a grave smile at his son's whim.

"Oh no, indeed!" said Mrs. Pasmer. "For Mrs. Saintsbury, of course."

She gave it to her, and Mrs. Saintsbury at once transferred it to Miss Pasmer.

"They wished me to pass this to you, Alice;" and at this consummation Dan Mavering broke into another happy laugh.

"Mrs. Saintsbury, you always do the right thing at once," he cried.

"That's more than I can say of you, Mr. Mavering," she retorted.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Mavering!" said the girl, receiving the flowers. It was as if she had been too intent upon them and him to have noticed the little comedy that had conveyed them to her.

William Dean Howells