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April Hopes   By: (1837-1920)

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by William Dean Howells


From his place on the floor of the Hemenway Gymnasium Mr. Elbridge G. Mavering looked on at the Class Day gaiety with the advantage which his stature, gave him over most people there. Hundreds of these were pretty girls, in a great variety of charming costumes, such as the eclecticism of modern fashion permits, and all sorts of ingenious compromises between walking dress and ball dress. It struck him that the young men on whose arms they hung, in promenading around the long oval within the crowd of stationary spectators, were very much younger than students used to be, whether they wore the dress coats of the Seniors or the cut away of the Juniors and Sophomores; and the young girls themselves did not look so old as he remembered them in his day. There was a band playing somewhere, and the galleries were well filled with spectators seated at their ease, and intent on the party coloured turmoil of the floor, where from time to time the younger promenaders broke away from the ranks into a waltz, and after some turns drifted back, smiling and controlling their quick breath, and resumed their promenade. The place was intensely light, in the candour of a summer day which had no reserves; and the brilliancy was not broken by the simple decorations. Ropes of wild laurel twisted up the pine posts of the aisles, and swung in festoons overhead; masses of tropical plants in pots were set along between the posts on one side of the room; and on the other were the lunch tables, where a great many people were standing about, eating chicken and salmon salads, or strawberries and ice cream, and drinking claret cup. From the whole rose that blended odour of viands, of flowers, of stuff's, of toilet perfumes, which is the characteristic expression of, all social festivities, and which exhilarates or depresses according as one is new or old to it.

Elbridge Mavering kept looking at the faces of the young men as if he expected to see a certain one; then he turned his eyes patiently upon. the faces around him. He had been introduced to a good many persons, but he had come to that time of life when an introduction; unless charged with some special interest, only adds the pain of doubt to the wearisome encounter of unfamiliar people; and he had unconsciously put on the severity of a man who finds himself without acquaintance where others are meeting friends, when a small man, with a neatly trimmed reddish grey beard and prominent eyes, stepped in front of him, and saluted him with the "Hello, Mavering!" of a contemporary.

His face, after a moment of question, relaxed into joyful recognition. "Why, John Munt! is that you?" he said, and he took into his large moist palm the dry little hand of his friend, while they both broke out into the incoherencies of people meeting after a long time. Mr. Mavering spoke in it voice soft yet firm, and with a certain thickness of tongue; which gave a boyish charm to his slow, utterance, and Mr. Munt used the sort of bronchial snuffle sometimes cultivated among us as a chest tone. But they were cut short in their intersecting questions and exclamations by the presence of the lady who detached herself from Mr. Munt's arm as if to leave him the freer for his hand shaking.

"Oh!" he said, suddenly recurring to her; "let me introduce you to Mrs. Pasmer, Mr. Mavering," and the latter made a bow that creased his waistcoat at about the height of Mrs. Pasmer's pretty little nose.

His waistcoat had the curve which waistcoats often describe at his age; and his heavy shoulders were thrown well back to balance this curve. His coat hung carelessly open; the Panama hat in his hand suggested a certain habitual informality of dress, but his smoothly shaven large handsome face, with its jaws slowly ruminant upon nothing, intimated the consequence of a man accustomed to supremacy in a subordinate place.

Mrs. Pasmer looked up to acknowledge the introduction with a sort of pseudo respectfulness which it would be hard otherwise to describe... Continue reading book >>

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