“All right, mother,” he said.
He went to his room with another disturbance added to the many that disquieted him. Just as certainly as if his mother had put it into words he knew she had selected this Lightener girl to be Mrs. Bonbright Foote VII—and the mother of Bonbright Foote VIII.
“Confound it,” he said, “it’s started already. ... Dam Bonbright Foote VIII!”
Bonbright dressed with a consciousness that he was to be on exhibition. He wondered if the girl had done the same; if she, too, knew why she was there and that it was her duty to make a favorable impression on him, as it was his duty to attract her. It was embarrassing. For a young man of twenty-three to realize that his family expects him to make himself alluring to a desirable future wife whom he has never seen is not calculated to soothe his nerves or mantle him with calmness. He felt silly.
However, here he was, and there she would be. There was nothing for it but to put his best foot forward, now he was caught for the event, but he vowed it would require more than ordinary skill to entrap him for another similar occasion. It seemed to him at the moment that the main object of his life thenceforward would be, as he expressed it, “to duck” Miss Lightener.
When he went down the guests had arrived. His mother presented him, using proudly her formula for such meetings, “Our son.” Somehow it always made him feel like an inanimate object of virtue—as if she had said “our Rembrandt,” or, “our Chippendale sideboard.”
Mrs. Lightener did not impress him. Here was a quiet, motherly personality, a personality to grow upon one through months and years. At first meeting she seemed only a gray-haired, shy, silent sort of person, not to be spoken of by herself as Mrs. Lightener, but in the reflected rays of her husband, as Malcolm Lightener’s wife.
But Malcolm Lightener—he dominated the room as the Laocoon group would dominate a ten by twelve “parlor.” His size was only a minor element in that impression. True, he was as great in bulk as Bonbright and his father rolled in one, towering inches above them, and they were tall men. It was the jagged, dynamic, granite personality of him that jutted out to meet one almost with physical impact. You were conscious of meeting a force before you became conscious of meeting a man. And yet, when you came to study his face you found it wonderfully human-even with a trace of granite humor in it.
Bonbright was really curious to meet this man, whose story had reached him even in Harvard University. Here was a man who, in ten years of such dogged determination as affected one almost with awe, had turned a vision into concrete reality. In a day when the only mechanical vehicles upon our streets were trolley cars, he had seen those streets thronged with “horseless carriages.” He had seen streets packed from curb to curb with endless moving processions of them. He had seen the nation abandon its legs and take to motor-driven wheels. This had been his vision, and he had made it reality.