In such a matter Mr. Pasmer was naturally nothing; he could not be less than he was at other times, but he was not more; and it was Mrs. Pasmer who shared fully with her daughter the momentary interest which the engagement gave Alice with all her kindred. They believed, of course, that they recognised in it an effect of her skill in managing; they agreed to suppose that she had got Mavering for Alice, and to ignore the beauty and passion of youth as factors in the case. The closest of the kindred, with the romantic delicacy of Americans in such things, approached the question of Dan’s position and prospects, and heard with satisfaction the good accounts which Mrs. Pasmer was able to give of his father’s prosperity. There had always been more or less apprehension among them of a time when a family subscription would be necessary for Bob Pasmer, and in the relief which the new situation gave them some of them tried to remember having known Dan’s father in College, but it finally came to their guessing that they must have heard John Munt speak of him.
Mrs. Pasmer had a supreme control in the affair. She believed with the rest—so deeply is this delusion seated—that she had made the match; but knowing herself to have used no dishonest magic in the process, she was able to enjoy it with a clean conscience. She grew fonder of Dan; they understood each other; she was his refuge from Alice’s ideals, and helped him laugh off his perplexity with them. They were none the less sincere because they were not in the least frank with each other. She let Dan beat about the bush to his heart’s content, and waited for him at the point which she knew he was coming to, with an unconsciousness which he knew was factitious; neither of them got tired of this, or failed freshly to admire the other’s strategy.
It cannot be pretended that Alice was quite pleased with the way her friends took her engagement, or rather the way in which they spoke of Dan. It seemed to her that she alone, or she chiefly, ought to feel that sweetness and loveliness of which every one told her, as if she could not have known it. If he was sweet and lovely to every one, how was he different to her except in degree? Ought he not to be different in kind? She put the case to Miss Cotton, whom it puzzled, while she assured Alice that he was different in kind to her, though he might not seem so; the very fact that he was different in degree proved that he was different in kind. This logic sufficed for the moment of its expression, but it did not prevent Alice from putting the case to Dan himself. At one of those little times when she sat beside him alone and rearranged his necktie, or played with his watch chain, or passed a critical hand over his cowlick, she asked him if he did not think they ought to have an ideal in their engagement. “What ideal?” he asked. He thought it was all solid ideal through and through. “Oh,” she said, “be more and more to each other.” He said he did not see how that could be; if there was anything more of him, she was welcome to it, but he rather thought she had it all. She explained that she meant being less to others; and he asked her to explain that.