Dinners With Mr. Danville
To the ever-logical Helen, love is the delusion of fools. So when her sister has the nerve to suggest that Helen has fallen in love with her neighbor, Mr. Danville, Helen sets out to prove her wrong. But Helen isn't prepared for the truth. And, as it happens, neither is Mr. Danville. More
Christmas is an inconvenient holiday for Helen Wright. Her sister Lucia always invades the household with her husband and seven children. Her stepfather insists on carrying on ridiculous traditions and her brother, Geoffrey, constantly invents new ones. The result of all this chaos is that Helen has no place to conduct her experiments in peace and worst of all, no one of good sense with whom to discuss them. During most of the year, she looks forward to a weekly dinner discussion with Mr. Danville, a friend in the neighborhood. He finds her work quite interesting and always suggests new applications or variables to expand her projects. Of course, during these dinner discussions with the family, he is not aware that the experiments they discuss are Helen’s—he believes Geoffrey to be the scientist and that the other family members just observe his work. But that does not matter. What matters is that every Christmas for the last four years, Mr. Danville has left to spend the season with his sister.
But this year, his sister comes to stay with him instead. So their dinners may continue uninterrupted during the holidays. However, when Mr. Danville arrives for his weekly appointment, he is quite distressed. His sister has reorganized all of his scientific papers and spilled ink all over his favorite rare volume of Philosophical Treatises of the Royal Society. Helen assures him that they have a copy of that same volume and that he may borrow it as long as necessary. In gratitude and relief, he takes up her hand and kisses it.
The practice of kissing has never made any sense to Helen. She has seen her sister frequently engage in such gestures of affection with her husband and could never understand why the touch of lips would be a desirable sensation. But Mr. Danville’s kiss on her hand suddenly opens her mind to a host of sensations and feelings she never knew existed.
Her sister notices the sudden change and for once, she is the one making the scientific observation. Helen is in love. Though she denies it at first, Helen realizes her regard for Mr. Danville has become quite personal. But she has no idea what to do about it. Mr. Danville sees her only as the sister of Geoffrey, the student of natural philosophy. She decides to reveal to Mr. Danville that the experiments are hers, so that his admiration for “Geoffrey’s” scientific work will be transferred to her.
Her plan misfires. Mr. Danville is somewhat horrified to find that they have duping him all these. He knows that women like his sister have no proper understanding of science so Helen must either be lying or be an unnatural sort of woman.
He tells Geoffrey that he will not be dining with them any longer. Helen is distressed at first, but then realizes that Mr. Danville only needed time to grow used to the idea.
As part of their Christmas visits, she knows they will probably see Mr. Danville in the village. Her assumption is correct, but when they pass him he pointedly ignores them. Helen is crushed. All she has to look forward to now is “Thirteenth Night” when her sister and children are gone.
While she stays home to avoid possibly meeting him at some neighborhood festivities, Mr. Danville calls to return the book he’d borrowed. Helen tells him he may keep it because she didn’t agree with one of the main papers. She realizes she needs to apologize for deceiving him for so long about the experiments.
At the Twelfth Night Dance, Lucia’s husband tells Mr. Danville he thinks it’s ridiculous to consider giving women the right to vote. Mr. Danville ends up defending women, admitting that some of them, at least have more intellectual power than he gave them credit for.
Lucia and her husband leave them alone and Mr. Danville apologizes. As Helen accepts, she takes his hand, gives it a squeeze and then brushes a kiss across his fingers, to see how he will react. His eyes widen in surprise and he is at first taken aback.
Then he gives her his other hand.
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