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Chapter 18

XVIII.

After all, it was rather a simple-hearted thing of Westover to have either hoped or feared very much for the Vostrands. Society, in the sense of good society, can always take care of itself, and does so perfectly. In the case of Mrs. Vostrand some ladies who liked Westover and wished to be civil to him asked her and her daughter to other afternoon teas, shook hands with them at their coming, and said, when they went, they were sorry they must be going so soon. In the crowds people recognized them now and then, both of those who had met them at Westover's studio, and of those who had met them at Florence and Lausanne. But if these were merely people of fashion they were readily, rid of the Vostrands, whom the dullest among them quickly perceived not to be of their own sort, somehow. Many of the ladies of Westover's class made Genevieve promise to let them paint her; and her beauty and her grace availed for several large dances at the houses of more daring spirits, where the daughters made a duty of getting partners for her, and discharged it conscientiously. But there never was an approach to more intimate hospitalities, and toward the end of February, when good society in Boston goes southward to indulge a Lenten grief at Old Point Comfort, Genevieve had so many vacant afternoons and evenings at her disposal that she could not have truthfully pleaded a previous engagement to the invitations Jeff Durgin made her. They were chiefly for the theatre, and Westover saw him with her and her mother at different plays; he wondered how Jeff had caught on to the notion of asking Mrs. Vostrand to come with them.

Jeff's introductions at Westover's tea had not been many, and they had not availed him at all. He had been asked to no Boston houses, and when other students, whom he knew, were going in to dances, the whole winter he was socially as quiet, but for the Vostrands, as at the Mid-year Examinations. Westover could not resent the neglect of society in his case, and he could not find that he quite regretted it; but he thought it characteristically nice of Mrs. Vostrand to make as much of the friendless fellow as she fitly could. He had no doubt but her tact would be equal to his management in every way, and that she could easily see to it that he did not become embarrassing to her daughter or herself.

One day, after the east wind had ceased to blow the breath of the ice-fields of Labrador against the New England coast, and the buds on the trees along the mall between the lawns of the avenue were venturing forth in a hardy experiment of the Boston May, Mrs. Vostrand asked Westover if she had told him that Mr. Vostrand was actually coming on to Boston. He rejoiced with her in this prospect, and he reciprocated the wish which she said Mr. Vostrand had always had for a meeting with himself.

A fortnight later, when the leaves had so far inured themselves to the weather as to have fully expanded, she announced another letter from Mr. Vostrand, saying that, after all, he should not be able to come to Boston, but hoped to be in New York before she sailed.

"Sailed!" cried Westover.

"Why, yes! Didn't you know we were going to sail in June? I thought I had told you!"

"No—"

"Why, yes. We must go out to poor Checco, now; Mr. Vostrand insists upon that. If ever we are a united family again, Mr. Westover—if Mr. Vostrand can arrange his business, when Checco is ready to enter Harvard—I mean to take a house in Boston. I'm sure I should be contented to live nowhere else in America. The place has quite bewitched me—dear old, sober, charming Boston! I'm sure I should like to live here all the rest of my life. But why in the world do people go out of town so early? Those houses over there have been shut for a whole month past!"

They were sitting at Mrs. Vostrand's window looking out on the avenue, where the pale globular electrics were swimming like jelly-fish in the clear evening air, and above the ranks of low trees the houses on the other side were close-shuttered from basement to attic.

Westover answered: "Some go because they have such pleasant houses at the shore, and some because they want to dodge their taxes."

"To dodge their taxes?" she repeated, and he had to explain how if people were in their country-houses before the 1st of May they would not have to pay the high personal tax of the city; and she said that she would write that to Mr. Vostrand; it would be another point in favor of Boston. Women, she declared, would never have thought of such a thing; she denounced them as culpably ignorant of so many matters that concerned them, especially legal matters. "And you think," she asked, "that Mr. Durgin will be a good lawyer? That he will-distinguish himself?"

Westover thought it rather a short-cut to Jeff from the things they had been talking of, but if she wished to speak of him he had no reason to oppose her wish. "I've heard it's all changed a good deal. There are still distinguished lawyers, and lawyers who get on, but they don't distinguish themselves in the old way so much, and they get on best by becoming counsel for some powerful corporation."

"And you think he has talent?" she pursued. "For that, I mean."

"Oh, I don't know," said Westover. "I think he has a good head. He can do what he likes within certain limits, and the limits are not all on the side I used to fancy. He baffles me. But of late I fancy you've seen rather more of him than I have."

"I have urged him to go more to you. But," said Mrs. Vostrand, with a burst of frankness, "he thinks you don't like him."

"He's wrong," said Westover. "But I might dislike him very much."

"I see what you mean," said Mrs. Vostrand, "and I'm glad you've been so frank with me. I've been so interested in Mr. Durgin, so interested! Isn't he very young?"

The question seemed a bit of indirection to Westover. But he answered directly enough. "He's rather old for a Sophomore, I believe. He's twenty-two."

"And Genevieve is twenty. Mr. Westover, may I trust you with something?"

"With everything, I hope, Mrs. Vostrand."

"It's about Genevieve. Her father is so opposed to her making a foreign marriage. It seems to be his one great dread. And, of course, she's very much exposed to it, living abroad so much with me, and I feel doubly bound on that account to respect her father's opinions, or even prejudices. Before we left Florence—in fact, last winter—there was a most delightful young officer wished to marry her. I don't know that she cared anything for him, though he was everything that I could have wished: handsome, brilliant, accomplished, good family; everything but rich, and that was what Mr. Vostrand objected to; or, rather, he objected to putting up, as he called it, the sum that Captain Grassi would have had to deposit with the government before he was allowed to marry. You know how it is with the poor fellows in the army, there; I don't understand the process exactly, but the sum is something like sixty thousand francs, I believe; and poor Gigi hadn't it: I always called him Gigi, but his name is Count Luigi de' Popolani Grassi; and he is descended from one of the old republican families of Florence. He is so nice! Mr. Vostrand was opposed to him from the beginning, and as soon as he heard of the sixty thousand francs, he utterly refused. He called it buying a son-in-law, but I don't see why he need have looked at it in that light. However, it was broken off, and we left Florence—more for poor Gigi's sake than for Genevieve's, I must say. He was quite heart-broken; I pitied him."

Her voice had a tender fall in the closing words, and Westover could fancy how sweet she would make her compassion to the young man. She began several sentences aimlessly, and he suggested, to supply the broken thread of her discourse rather than to offer consolation, while her eyes seemed to wander with her mind, and ranged the avenue up and down: "Those foreign marriages are not always successful."

"No, they are not," she assented. "But don't you think they're better with Italians than with Germans, for instance."

"I don't suppose the Italians expect their wives to black their boots, but I've heard that they beat them, sometimes."

"In exaggerated cases, perhaps they do," Mrs. Vostrand admitted. "And, of course," she added, thoughtfully, "there is nothing like a purely American marriage for happiness."

Westover wondered how she really regarded her own marriage, but she never betrayed any consciousness of its variance from the type.

William Dean Howells