Mrs. Mavering shot a glance of inquiry at Dan, and then let a swift inspection range over all the details of the room, and finally concentrate itself on the silk and lace of her bed, over which she passed a smoothing hand. “Mr. Boardman?” she cried, with instantly recovered amiability. “Of course she may!”
In Boston the rumour of Dan’s broken engagement was followed promptly by a denial of it; both the rumour and the denial were apparently authoritative; but it gives the effect of a little greater sagacity to distrust rumours of all kinds, and most people went to bed, after the teas and dinners and receptions and clubs at which the fact was first debated, in the self-persuasion that it was not so. The next day they found the rumour still persistent; the denial was still in the air too, but it seemed weaker; at the end of the third day it had become a question as to which broke the engagement, and why; by the end of a week it was known that Alice had broken the engagement, but the reason could not be ascertained.
This was not for want of asking, more or less direct. Pasmer, of course, went and came at his club with perfect immunity. Men are quite as curious as women, but they set business bounds to their curiosity, and do not dream of passing these. With women who have no business of their own, and can not quell themselves with the reflection that this thing or that is not their affair, there is no question so intimate that they will not put it to some other woman; perhaps it is not so intimate, or perhaps it will not seem so; at any rate, they chance it. Mrs. Pasmer was given every opportunity to explain the facts to the ladies whom she met, and if she was much afflicted by Alice’s behaviour, she had a measure of consolation in using her skill to baffle the research of her acquaintance. After each encounter of the kind she had the pleasure of reflecting that absolutely nothing more than she meant had become known. The case never became fully known through her; it was the girl herself who told it to Miss Cotton in one of those moments of confidence which are necessary to burdened minds; and it is doubtful if more than two or three people ever clearly understood it; most preferred one or other of several mistaken versions which society finally settled down to.
The paroxysm of self-doubt, almost self-accusal, in which Alice came to Miss Cotton, moved the latter to the deepest sympathy, and left her with misgivings which became an intolerable anguish to her conscience. The child was so afflicted at what she had done, not because she wished to be reconciled with her lover, but because she was afraid she had been unjust, been cruelly impatient and peremptory with him; she seemed to Miss Cotton so absolutely alone and friendless with her great trouble, she was so helpless, so hopeless, she was so anxious to do right, and so fearful she had done wrong, that Miss Cotton would not have been Miss Cotton if she had not taken her in her arms and assured her that in everything she had done she had been sublimely and nobly right, a lesson to all her sex in such matters for ever. She told her that she had always admired her, but that now she idolised her; that she felt like going down on her knees and simply worshipping her.