Part 2 out of 5
She felt as if she could not bear this process to be turned against
Pete's mother, not because it would alter the respectful love she was
prepared to offer this unknown figure, but because it might very slightly
alter her attitude toward her own mother. That was one of the
characteristics of this great emotion: all her old beliefs had to be
revised to accord with new discoveries.
This was what lay behind the shrinking of her soul as she watched her
mother dress for the visit to Mrs. Wayne. For the first time in her life
Mathilde wished that her mother was not so elaborate. Hitherto she had
always gloried in Adelaide's elegance as a part of her beauty; but now,
as she watched the ritual of ribbons and laces and perfumes and jewels,
she felt vaguely that there was in it all a covert insult to Pete's
mother, who, she knew, would not be a bit like that.
"How young you are, Mama!" she exclaimed as, the whole long process
complete, Adelaide stood holding out her hand for her gloves, like a
little girl ready for a party.
Her mother smiled.
"It's well I am," she said, "if you go on trying to get yourself involved
with young men who live up four flights of stairs. I have always avoided
even dressmakers who lived above the second story," she added wistfully.
The wistful tone was repeated when her car stopped at the Wayne door and
she stepped out.
"Are you sure this is the number, Andrews?" she asked. She and the
chauffeur looked slowly up at the house and up and down the street. They
were at one in their feeling about it. Then Adelaide gave a very gentle
little sigh and started the ascent.
The flat did not look as well by day. Though the eastern sun poured in
cheerfully, it revealed worn places on the backs of the arm-chairs and
one fearful calamity with an ink-bottle that Pete had once had on the
rug. Even Mrs. Wayne, who sprang up from behind her writing-table, had
not the saint-like mystery that her blue draperies had given her the
Though slim, and in excellent condition for thirty-nine, Adelaide could
not conceal that four flights were an exertion. Her fine nostrils were
dilated and her breath not perfectly under control as she said:
"How delightful this is!" a statement that was no more untrue than to say
good-morning on a rainy day.
Most women in Mrs. Wayne's situation would at the moment have been
acutely aware of the ink-spot. That was one of Adelaide's assets, on
which she perhaps unconsciously counted, that her mere appearance made
nine people out of ten aware of their own physical imperfections. But
Mrs. Wayne was aware of nothing but Adelaide's great beauty as she sank
into one of the armchairs with hardly a hint of exhaustion.
"Your son is a very charming person, Mrs. Wayne," she said.
Mrs. Wayne was standing by the mantelpiece, looking boyish and friendly;
but now she suddenly grew grave, as if something serious had been said.
"Pete has something more unusual than charm," she said.
"But what could be more unusual?" cried Adelaide, who wanted to add, "The
only question is, does your wretched son possess it?" But she didn't; she
asked instead, with a tone of disarming sweetness, "Shall we be perfectly
candid with each other?"
A quick gleam came into Mrs. Wayne's eyes. "Not much," she seemed to say.
She had learned to distrust nothing so much as her own candor, and her
interview with Mr. Lanley had put her specially on her guard.
"I hope you will be candid, Mrs. Farron," she said aloud, and for her
this was the depth of dissimulation.
"Well, then," said Adelaide, "you and I are in about the same position,
aren't we? We are both willing that our children should marry, and we
have no objection to offer to their choice except our own ignorance. We
both want time to judge. But how can we get time, Mrs. Wayne? If we do
not take definite action _against_ an engagement, we are giving our
consent to it. I want a little reasonable delay, but we can get delay
only by refusing to hear of an engagement. Do you see what I mean? Will
you help me by pretending to be a very stern parent, just so that these
young people may have a few months to think it over without being too
Mrs. Wayne shrank back. She liked neither diplomacy nor coercion.
"But I have really no control over Pete," she said.
"Surely, if he isn't in a position to support a wife--"
"He is, if she would live as he does."
Such an idea had never crossed Mrs. Farron's mind. She looked round her
wonderingly, and said without a trace of wilful insolence in her tone:
"Live here, you mean?"
"Yes, or somewhere like it."
Mrs. Farron looked down, and smoothed the delicate dark fur of her muff.
She hardly knew how to begin at the very beginning like this. She did not
want to hurt any one's feelings. How could she tell this childlike,
optimistic creature that to put Mathilde to living in surroundings like
these would be like exposing a naked baby on a mountaintop? It wasn't
love of luxury, at least not if luxury meant physical self-indulgence.
She could imagine suffering privations very happily in a Venetian palace
or on a tropical island. It was an esthetic, not a moral, problem; it was
a question of that profound and essential thing in the life of any woman
who was a woman--her charm. She wished to tell Mrs. Wayne that her son
wouldn't really like it, that he would hate to see Mathilde going out in
overshoes; that the background that she, Adelaide, had so expertly
provided for her child was part of the very attraction that made him want
to take her out of it. There was no use in saying that most poor mortals
were forced to get on without this magic atmosphere. They had never been
goddesses; they did not know what they were going without. But her child,
who had been, as it were, born a fairy, would miss tragically the
delicate beauty of her every-day life, would fade under the ugly monotony
But how could she say this to Mrs. Wayne, in her flat-heeled shoes and
simple, boyish shirt and that twelfth-century saint's profile, of which
so much might have been made by a clever woman?
At last she began, still smoothing her muff:
"Mrs. Wayne, I have brought up my daughter very simply. I don't at all
approve of the extravagances of these modern girls, with their own motors
and their own bills. Still, she has had a certain background. We must
admit that marriage with your son on his income alone would mean a
decrease in her material comforts."
Mrs. Wayne laughed.
"More than you know, probably."
This was candid, and Adelaide pressed on.
"Well is it wise or kind to make such a demand on a young creature when
we know marriage is difficult at the best?" she asked.
Mrs. Wayne hesitated.
"You see, I have never seen your daughter, and I don't know what her
feeling for Pete may be."
"I'll answer both questions. She has a pleasant, romantic sentiment for
Mr. Wayne--you know how one feels to one's first lover. She is a sweet,
kind, unformed little girl, not heroic. But think of your own spirited
son. Do you want this persistent, cruel responsibility for him?"
The question was an oratorical one, and Adelaide was astonished to find
that Mrs. Wayne was answering it.
"Oh, yes," she said; "I want responsibility for Pete. It's exactly what
Adelaide stared at her in horror; she seemed the most unnatural mother
in the world. She herself would fight to protect her daughter from the
passive wear and tear of poverty; but she would have died to keep a son,
if she had had one, from being driven into the active warfare of the
support of a family.
In the pause that followed there was a ring at the bell, an argument with
the servant, something that sounded like a scuffle, and then a young man
strolled into the room. He was tall and beautifully dressed,--at least
that was the first impression,--though, as a matter of fact, the clothes
were of the cheapest ready-made variety. But nothing could look cheap or
ill made on those splendid muscles. He wore a silk shirt, a flower in his
buttonhole, a gray tie in which was a pearl as big as a pea, long
patent-leather shoes with elaborate buff-colored tops; he carried a thin
stick and a pair of new gloves in one hand, but the most conspicuous
object in his dress was a brand-new, gray felt hat, with a rather wide
brim, which he wore at an angle greater than Mr. Lanky attempted even at
his jauntiest. His face was long and rather dark, and his eyes were a
bright gray blue, under dark brows. He was scowling.
He strode into the middle of the room, and stood there, with his feet
wide apart and his elbows slightly swaying. His hat was still on.
"Your servant said you couldn't see me," he said, with his back teeth set
together, a method of enunciation that seemed to be habitual.
"Didn't want to would be truer, Marty," answered Mrs. Wayne, with a
utmost good temper. "Still, as long as you're here, what do you want?"
Marty Burke didn't answer at once. He stood looking at Mrs. Wayne under
his lowering brows; he had stopped swinging his elbows, and was now very
slightly twitching his cane, as an evilly disposed cat will twitch the
end of its tail.
Mrs. Farron watched him almost breathlessly. She was a little frightened,
but the sensation was pleasurable. He was, she knew, the finest specimen
of the human animal that she had ever seen.
"What do I want?" he said at length in a deep, rich voice, shot here and
there with strange nasal tones, and here and there with the remains of a
brogue. "Well, I want that you should stop persecuting those poor kids."
"I persecuting them? Don't be absurd, Marty," answered Mrs. Wayne.
"Persecuting them; what else?" retorted Marty, fiercely. "What else is
it? They wanting to get married, and you determined to send the boy up
"I don't think we'll go over that again. I have a lady here on business."
"Oh, please don't mind me," said Mrs. Farron, settling back, and
wriggling her hands contentedly into her muff. She rather expected the
frivolous courage of her tone to draw the ire of Burke's glance upon her,
but it did not.
"Cruel is what I call it," he went on. "She wants it, and he wants it,
and her family wants it, and only you and the judge that you put up to
"Her family do not want it. Her brother--"
"Her brother agrees with me. I was talking to him yesterday."
"Oh, that's why he has a black eye, is it?" said Mrs. Wayne.
"Black eyes or blue," said Marty, with a horizontal gesture of his
hands, "her brother wants to see her married."
"Well, I don't," replied Mrs. Wayne, "at least not to this boy. I will
never give my consent to putting a child of her age in the power of a
degenerate little drunkard like that."
Mrs. Farron listened with all her ears. She did not think herself a
prude, and only a moment before she had been accusing Mrs. Wayne of
ignorance of the world; but never in all her life had she heard such
words as were now freely exchanged between Burke and his hostess on the
subject of the degree of consent that the girl in question had given to
the advances of Burke's protege. She would have been as embarrassed as a
girl if either of the disputants had been in the least aware of her
presence. Once, she thought, Mrs. Wayne, for the sake of good manners,
was on the point of turning to her and explaining the whole situation;
but fortunately the exigencies of the dispute swept her on too fast.
Adelaide was shocked, physically rather than morally, by the nakedness of
their talk; but she did not want them to stop. She was fascinated by the
spectacle of Marty Burke in action. She recognized at once that he was a
dangerous man, not dangerous to female virtue, like all the other men to
whom she had heard the term applied, but actually dangerous to life and
property. She was not in the least afraid of him, but she knew he was a
real danger. She enjoyed the knowledge. In most ways she was a woman
timid in the face of physical danger, but she had never imagined being
afraid of another human being. That much, perhaps, her sheltered training
had done for her. "If she goes on irritating him like this he may murder
us both," she thought. What she really meant was that he might murder
Mrs. Wayne, but that, when he came to her and began to twist her neck,
she would just say, "My dear man, don't be silly!" and he would stop.
In the meantime Burke was not so angry as he was affecting to be. Like
most leaders of men, he had a strong dramatic instinct, and he had just
led Mrs. Wayne to the climax of her just violence when his manner
suddenly completely changed, and he said with the utmost good temper:
"And what do you think of my get-up, Mrs. Wayne? It's a new suit I have
on, and a boutonniere." The change was so sudden that no one answered,
and he went on, "It's clothes almost fit for a wedding that I'm wearing."
Mrs. Wayne understood him in a flash. She sprang to her feet.
"Marty Burke," she cried, "you don't mean to say you've got those two
"Not fifteen minutes ago, and I standing up with the groom." He smiled a
smile of the wildest, most piercing sweetness--a smile so free and
intense that it seemed impossible to connect it with anything but the
consciousness of a pure heart. Mrs. Farron had never seen such a smile.
"I thought I'd just drop around and give you the news," he said, and now
for the first time took off his hat, displaying his crisp, black hair and
round, pugnacious head. "Good morning, ladies." He bowed, and for an
instant his glance rested on Mrs. Farron with an admiration too frank to
be exactly offensive. He put his hat on his head, turned away, and made
his exit, whistling.
He left behind him one person at least who had thoroughly enjoyed his
triumph. To do her justice, however, Mrs. Farron was ashamed of her
sympathy, and she said gently to Mrs. Wayne:
"You think this marriage a very bad thing."
Mrs. Wayne pushed all her hair away from her temples.
"Oh, yes," she said, "it's a bad thing for the girl; but the worst is
having Marty Burke put anything over. The district is absolutely under
his thumb. I do wish, Mrs. Farron, you would get your husband to put the
fear of God into him."
"Yes; he works for your husband. He has charge of the loading and
unloading of the trucks. He's proud of his job, and it gives him power
over the laborers. He wouldn't want to lose his place. If your husband
would send for him and say--" Mrs. Wayne hastily outlined the things Mr.
Farron might say.
"He works for Vincent," Adelaide repeated. It seemed to her an absolutely
stupendous coincidence, and her imagination pictured the clash between
them--the effort of Vincent to put the fear of God into this man. Would
he be able to? Which one would win? Never before had she doubted the
superior power of her husband; now she did. "I think it would be hard to
put the fear of God into that young man," she said aloud.
"I do wish Mr. Farron would try."
"Try," thought Adelaide, "and fail?" Could she stand that? Was her
whole relation to Vincent about to be put to the test? What weapons had
he against Marty Burke? And if he had none, how stripped he would
appear in her eyes!
"Won't you ask him, Mrs. Farron?"
Adelaide recoiled. She did not want to be the one to throw her glove
among the lions.
"I don't think I understand well enough what it is you want. Why don't
you ask him yourself?" She hesitated, knowing that no opportunity for
this would offer unless she herself arranged it. "Why don't you come and
dine with us to-night, and," she added more slowly, "bring your son?"
She had made the bait very attractive, and Mrs. Wayne did not refuse.
As she drove home, Adelaide's whole being was stirred by the prospect of
that conflict between Burke and her husband, and it was not until she saw
Mathilde, pale with an hour of waiting, that she recalled the real object
of her recent visit. Not, of course, that Adelaide was more interested in
Marty Burke than in her daughter's future, but a titanic struggle fired
her imagination more than a pitiful little romance. She felt a pang of
self-reproach when she saw that Mr. Lanley had come to share the child's
vigil, that he seemed to be suffering under an anxiety almost as keen as
They did not have to question her; she threw out her hands, casting her
muff from her as she did so.
"Oh," she said, "I'm a weak, soft-hearted creature! I've asked them both
to dine tonight."
Mathilde flung herself into her mother's arms.
"O Mama, how marvelous you are!" she exclaimed.
Over her daughter's shoulder Adelaide noted her father's expression, a
stiffening of the mouth and a brightening of the eyes.
"Your grandfather disapproves of me, Mathilde," she said.
"He couldn't be so unkind," returned the girl.
"After all," said Mr. Lanley, trying to induce a slight scowl, "if we are
not going to consent to an engagement--"
"But you are," said Mathilde.
"We are not," said her mother; "but there is no reason why we should
not meet and talk it over like sensible creatures--talk it over
here"--Adelaide looked lovingly around her own subdued room--"instead
of five stories up. For really--" She stopped, running her eyebrows
together at the recollection.
"But the flat is rather--rather comfortable when you get there," said Mr.
Lanley, suddenly becoming embarrassed over his choice of an adjective.
Adelaide looked at him sharply.
"Dear Papa," she asked, "since when have you become an admirer of
painted shelves and dirty rugs? And I don't doubt," she added very
gently, "that for the same money they could have found something quite
tolerable in the country."
"Perhaps they don't want to live in the country," said Mr. Lanley, rather
sharply: "I'm sure there is nothing that you'd hate more, Adelaide."
She opened her dark eyes.
"But I don't have to choose between squalor here or--"
"Squalor!" said Mr. Lanley. "Don't be ridiculous!"
Mathilde broke in gently at this point:
"I think you must have liked Mrs. Wayne, Mama, to ask her to dine."
Adelaide saw an opportunity to exercise one of her important talents.
"Yes," she said. "She has a certain naive friendliness. Of course I don't
advocate, after fifty, dressing like an Eton boy; I always think an
elderly face above a turned-down collar--"
"Mama," broke in Mathilde, quietly, "would you mind not talking of Mrs.
Wayne like that? You know, she's Pete's mother."
Adelaide was really surprised.
"Why, my love," she answered, "I haven't said half the things I might
say. I rather thought I was sparing your feelings. After all, when you
see her, you will admit that she _does_ dress like an Eton boy."
"She didn't when I saw her," said Mr. Lanley.
Adelaide turned to her father.
"Papa, I leave it to you. Did I say anything that should have wounded
Mr. Lanley hesitated.
"It was the tone Mathilde did not like, I think."
Adelaide raised her shoulders and looked beautifully hurt.
"My tone?" she wailed.
"It hurt me," said Mathilde, laying her little hand on her heart.
Mr. Lanley smiled at her, and then, springing up, kissed her tenderly on
the forehead. He said it was time for him to be going on.
"You'll come to dinner to-night, Papa?"
Rather hastily, Mr. Lanley said no, he couldn't; he had an engagement.
But his daughter did not let him get to the door.
"What are you going to do to-night, Papa?" she asked, firmly.
"There is a governor's meeting--"
"Two in a week, Papa?"
Suddenly Mr. Lanley dropped all pretense of not coming, and said he would
be there at eight.
During the rest of the day Mathilde's heart never wholly regained its
normal beat. Not only was she to see Pete again, and see him under the
gaze of her united family, but she was to see this mother of his, whom he
loved and admired so much. She pictured her as white-haired, benignant,
brooding, the essential mother, with all her own mother's grace and charm
left out, yet with these qualities not ill replaced by others which
Mathilde sometimes dimly apprehended were lacking in her own beautiful
parent. She looked at herself in the glass. "My son's wife," was the
phrase in her mind.
On her way up-stairs to dress for dinner she tried to confide her
anxieties to her mother.
"Mama," she said, "if you had a son, how would you feel toward the girl
he wanted to marry?"
"Oh, I should think her a cat, of course," Adelaide answered; and
added an instant later, "and I should probably be able to make him
think so, too."
Mathilde sighed and went on up-stairs. Here she decided on an act of some
insubordination. She would wear her best dress that evening, the dress
which her mother considered too old for her. She did not want Pete's
mother to think he had chosen a perfect baby.
Mr. Lanley, too, was a trifle nervous during the afternoon. He tried to
say to himself that it was because the future of his darling little
Mathilde was about to be settled. He shook his head, indicating that to
settle the future of the young was a risky business; and then in a burst
of self-knowledge he suddenly admitted that what was really making him
nervous was the incident of the pier. If Mrs. Wayne referred to it, and
of course there was no possible reason why she should not refer to it,
Adelaide would never let him hear the last of it. It would be natural for
Adelaide to think it queer that he hadn't told her about it. And the
reason he hadn't told was perfectly clear: it was on that infernal pier
that he had formed such an adverse opinion of Mrs. Wayne. But of course
he did not wish to prejudice Adelaide; he wanted to leave her free to
form her own opinions, and he was glad, excessively glad, that she had
formed so favorable a one as to ask the woman to dinner. There was no
question about his being glad; he surprised his servant by whistling as
he put on his white waistcoat, and fastened the buckle rather more snugly
than usual. Self-knowledge for the moment was not on hand.
He arrived at exactly the hour at which he always arrived, five minutes
after eight, a moment not too early to embarrass the hostess and not too
late to endanger the dinner.
No one was in the drawing-room but Mathilde and Farron. Adelaide, for one
who had been almost perfectly brought up, did sometimes commit the fault
of allowing her guests to wait for her.
"'Lo, my dear," said Mr. Lanley, kissing Mathilde. "What's that you have
on? Never saw it before. Not so becoming as the dress you were wearing
the last time I was here."
Mathilde felt that it would be almost easier to die immediately, and was
revived only when she heard Farron saying:
"Oh, don't you like this? I was just thinking I had never seen Mathilde
looking so well, in her rather more mature and subtle vein."
It was just as she wished to appear, but she glanced at her stepfather,
disturbed by her constant suspicion that he read her heart more clearly
than any one else, more clearly than she liked.
"How shockingly late they are!" said Adelaide, suddenly appearing in
the utmost splendor. She moved about, kissing her father and arranging
the chairs. "Do you know, Vin, why it is that Pringle likes to make the
room look as if it were arranged for a funeral? Why do you suppose they
"Any one who arrives after Adelaide is apt to be in wrong," observed
"Well, I think it's awfully incompetent always to be waiting for other
people," she returned, just laying her hand an instant on his shoulder to
indicate that he alone was privileged to make fun of her.
"That perhaps is what the Waynes think," he answered.
Mathilde's heart sank a little at this. She knew her mother did not like
to be kept waiting for dinner.
"When I was a young man--" began Mr. Lanley.
"It was the custom," interrupted Adelaide in exactly the same tone, "for
a hostess to be in her drawing-room at least five minutes before the hour
set for the arrival of the guests."
"Adelaide," her father pleaded, "I don't talk like that; at least
"You would, though, if you didn't have me to correct you," she retorted.
"There's the bell at last; but it always takes people like that forever
to get their wraps off."
"It's only ten minutes past eight," said Farron, and Mathilde blessed
him with a look.
Mrs. Wayne came quickly into the room, so fast that her dress floated
behind her; she was in black and very grand. No one would have supposed
that she had murmured to Pete just before the drawing-room door was
opened, "I hope they haven't run in any old relations on us."
"I'm afraid I'm late," she began.
"She always is," Pete murmured to Mathilde as he took her hand and quite
openly squeezed it, and then, before Adelaide had time for the rather
casual introduction she had planned, he himself put the hand he was
holding into his mother's. "This is my girl, Mother," he said. They
smiled at each other. Mathilde tried to say something. Mrs. Wayne stooped
and kissed her. Mr. Lanley was obviously affected. Adelaide wasn't going
to have any scene like that.
"Late?" she said, as if not an instant had passed since Mrs. Wayne's
entrance. "Oh, no, you're not late; exactly on time, I think. I'm only
just down myself. Isn't that true, Vincent?"
Vincent was studying Mrs. Wayne, and withdrew his eyes slowly. But
Adelaide's object was accomplished: no public betrothal had taken place.
Pringle announced dinner. Mr. Lanley, rather to his own surprise, found
that he was insisting on giving Mrs. Wayne his arm; he was not so angry
at her as he had supposed. He did not think her offensive or unfeminine
or half baked or socialistic or any of the things he had been saying to
himself at lengthening intervals for the last twenty-four hours.
Pete saw an opportunity, and tucked Mathilde's hand within his own arm,
nipping it closely to his heart.
The very instant they were at table Adelaide looked down the alley
between the candles, for the low, golden dish of hot-house fruit did not
obstruct her view of Vincent, and said:
"Why have you never told me about Marty Burke?"
"Who's he?" asked Mr. Lanley, quickly, for he had been trying to start a
little conversational hare of his own, just to keep the conversation away
from the water-front.
"He's a splendid young super-tough in my employ," said Vincent. "What do
you know about him, Adelaide?"
The guarded surprise in his tone stimulated her.
"Oh, I know all about him--as much, that is, as one ever can of a
stupendous natural phenomenon."
"Where did you hear of him?"
"Hear of him? I've seen him. I saw him this morning at Mrs. Wayne's. He
just dropped in while I was there and, metaphorically speaking, dragged
us about by the hair of our heads."
"Some women, I believe, confess to enjoying that sensation,"
"Yes, it's exciting," answered his wife.
"It's an easy excitement to attain."
"Oh, one wants it done in good style."
Something so stimulating that it was almost hostile flashed through the
Mathilde murmured to Pete:
"Who are they talking about?"
"A mixture of Alcibiades and _Bill Sykes_," said Adelaide, catching the
low tone, as she always did.
"He's the district leader and a very bad influence," said Mrs. Wayne.
"He's a champion middle-weight boxer," said Pete.
"He's the head of my stevedores," said Farron.
"O Mr. Farron," Mrs. Wayne exclaimed, "I do wish you would use your
influence over him."
"My influence? It consists of paying him eighty-five dollars a month and
giving him a box of cigars at Christmas."
"Don't you think you could tone him down?" pleaded Mrs. Wayne. "He does
so much harm."
"But I don't want him toned down. His value to me is his being just as he
is. He's a myth, a hero, a power on the water-front, and I employ him."
"You employ him, but do you control him?" asked Adelaide, languidly, and
yet with a certain emphasis.
Her husband glanced at her.
"What is it you want, Adelaide?" he said.
She gave a little laugh.
"Oh, I want nothing. It's Mrs. Wayne who wants you to do
something--rather difficult, too, I should imagine."
He turned gravely to their guest.
"What is it you want, Mrs. Wayne?"
Mrs. Wayne considered an instant, and as she was about to find words for
her request her son spoke:
"She'll tell you after dinner."
"Pete, I wasn't going to tell the story," his mother put in protestingly.
"You really do me injustice at times."
Adelaide, remembering the conversation of the morning, wondered whether
he did. She felt grateful to him for wishing to spare Mathilde the
hearing of such a story, and she turned to him with a caressing
graciousness in which she was extremely at her ease. Mathilde,
recognizing that her mother was pleased, though not being very clear why,
could not resist joining in their conversation; and Mrs. Wayne was thus
given an opportunity of murmuring the unfortunate Anita's story into
Adelaide, holding Pete with a flattering gaze, seeming to drink in every
word he was saying, heard Mrs. Wayne finish and heard Vincent say:
"And you think you can get it annulled if only Burke doesn't interfere?"
"Yes, if he doesn't get hold of the boy and tell him that his dignity as
a man is involved."
Adelaide withdrew her gaze from Pete and fixed it on Vincent. Was he
going to accept that challenge? She wanted him to, and yet she thought he
would be defeated, and she did not want him to be defeated. She waited
"Well, I'll see what I can do," he said. This was an acceptance.
This from Vincent meant that the matter, as far as he was concerned,
"You two plotters!" exclaimed Adelaide. "For my part, I'm on Marty
Burke's side. I hate to see wild creatures in cages."
"Dangerous to side with wild beasts," observed Vincent.
"They get the worst of it in the long run."
Adelaide dropped her eyes. It was exactly the right answer. For a moment
she felt his complete supremacy. Then another thought shot through her
mind: it was exactly the right answer if he could make it good.
In the meantime Mr. Lanley began to grow dissatisfied with the prolonged
role of spectator. He preferred danger to oblivion; and turning to Mrs.
Wayne, he said, with his politest smile:
"How are the bridges?"
"Oh, dear," she answered, "I must have been terribly tactless--to make
you so angry."
Mr. Lanley drew himself up.
"I was not angry," he said.
She looked at him with a sort of gentle wonder.
"You gave me the impression of being."
The very temperateness of the reply made him see that he had been
"Of course I was angry," he said. "What I mean is that I don't understand
why I was."
Meantime, on the opposite side of the table, Mathilde and Pete were
equally immersed, murmuring sentences of the profoundest meaning behind
faces which they felt were mask-like.
Farron looked down the table at his wife. Why, he wondered, did she want
to tease him to-night, of all nights in his life?
When they came out of the dining-room Pete said to Mathilde with the
"And what was that magazine you spoke of?"
She had spoken of no magazine, but she caught the idea, the clever,
rather wicked idea. He made her work her mind almost too fast sometimes,
but she enjoyed it.
"Wasn't it this?" she asked, with a beating heart.
They sat down on the sofa and bent their heads over it with student-like
"I haven't any idea what it is," she whispered.
"Oh, well, I suppose there's something or other in it."
"I think your mother is perfectly wonderful--wonderful."
"I love you so."
The older people took a little longer to settle down. Mr. Lanley stood on
the hearth-rug, with a cigar in his mouth and his head thrown very far
back. Adelaide sank into a chair, looking, as she often did, as if she
had just been brilliantly well posed for a photograph. Farron was
silent. Mrs. Wayne sat, as she had a bad habit of doing, on one foot. The
two groups were sufficiently separated for distinct conversations.
"Is this a conference?" asked Farron.
Mrs. Wayne made it so by her reply.
"The whole question is, Are they really in love? At least, that's my
"In love!" Adelaide twisted her shoulders. "What can they know of it for
another ten years? You must have some character, some knowledge to fall
in love. And these babes--"
"No," said Mr. Lanley, stoutly; "you're all wrong, Adelaide. It's first
love that matters--_Romeo_ and _Juliet_, you know. Afterward we all get
hardened and world-worn and cynical and material." He stopped short in
his eloquence at the thought that Mrs. Wayne was quite obviously not
hardened or world-worn or cynical or material. "By Jove!" he thought to
himself, "that's it. The woman's spirit is as fresh as a girl's." He had
by this time utterly forgotten what he had meant to say.
Adelaide turned to her husband.
"Do you think they are in love, Vin?"
Vincent looked at her for a second, and then he nodded two or
Though no one at once recognized the fact, the engagement was settled at
It seemed obvious that Mr. Lanley should take the Waynes home in his car.
Mrs. Wayne, who had prepared for walking with overshoes and with pins for
her trailing skirt, did not seem too enthusiastic at the suggestion. She
stood a moment on the step and looked at the sky, where Orion, like a
banner, was hung across the easterly opening of the side street.
"It's a lovely night," she said.
It was Pete who drew her into the car. Her reluctance deprived Mr.
Lanley of the delight of bestowing a benefit, but gave him a faint sense
In the drawing-room Mathilde was looking from one to the other of her
natural guardians, like a well-trained puppy who wants to be fed. She
wanted Pete praised. Instead, Adelaide said:
"Really, papa is growing too secretive! Do you know, Vin, he and Mrs.
Wayne quarreled like mad last evening, and he never told me a word
"How do you know?"
"Oh, I heard them trying to smooth it out at dinner."
"O Mama," wailed Mathilde, between admiration and complaint, "you hear
"Certainly, I do," Adelaide returned lightly. "Yes, and I heard you, too,
and understood everything that you meant."
Vincent couldn't help smiling at his stepdaughter's horrified look.
"What a brute you are, Adelaide!" he said.
"Oh, my dear, you're much worse," she retorted. "You don't have to
overhear. You just read the human heart by some black magic of your own.
That's really more cruel than my gross methods."
"Well, Mathilde," said Farron, "as a reader of the human heart, I want to
tell you that I approve of the young man. He has a fine, delicate touch
on life, which, I am inclined to think, goes only with a good deal of
Mathilde blinked her eyes. Gratitude and delight had brought
tears to them.
"He thinks you're wonderful, Mr. Farron," she answered a little huskily.
"Better and better," answered Vincent, and he held out his hand for a
letter that Pringle was bringing to him on a tray.
"What's that?" asked Adelaide. One of the first things she had impressed
on Joe Severance was that he must never inquire about her mail; but she
always asked Farron about his.
He seemed to be thinking and didn't answer her.
Mathilde, now simply insatiable, pressed nearer to him and asked:
"And what do you think of Mrs. Wayne?"
He raised his eyes from the envelope, and answered with a certain
absence of tone:
"I thought she was an elderly wood-nymph."
Adelaide glanced over his shoulder, and, seeing that the letter had a
printed address in the corner, lost interest.
"You may shut the house, Pringle," she said.
Pringle, the last servant up, was soon heard discreetly drawing bolts and
turning out electric lights. Mathilde went straight up-stairs without
even an attempt at drawing her mother into an evening gossip. She was
aware of being tired after two nights rendered almost sleepless by her
awareness of joy. She went to her room and shut the door. Her bed was
piled high with extra covers, soft, light blankets and a down coverlet
covered with pink silk. She took a certain hygienic pride in the extent
to which she always opened her bedroom windows even when, as at present,
the night was bitterly cold. In the morning she ran, huddling on her
dressing-gown, into a heated bathroom, and when she emerged from this,
the maid had always lighted her fire, and laid her breakfast-tray close
to the blaze. To-night, when she went to open her window, she noticed
that the houses opposite had lost courage and showed only cracks. She
stood a second looking up at the stars, twinkling with tiny blue rays
through the clear air. By turning her head to the west she could look
down on the park, with its surface of bare, blurred tree-branches pierced
by rows of lights. The familiar sight suddenly seemed to her almost
intolerably beautiful. "Oh, I love him so much!" she said to herself, and
her lips actually whispered the words, "so much! so much!"
She threw the window high as a reproof of those shivers across the way,
and, jumping into bed, hastily sandwiched her small body between the warm
bedclothes. She was almost instantly asleep.
Overhead the faint, but heavy, footfall of Pringle ceased. The house was
silent; the city had become so. An occasional Madison Avenue car could be
heard ringing along the cold rails, or rhythmically bounding down hill on
a flat wheel. Once some distance away came the long, continuous complaint
of the siren of a fire-engine and the bells and gongs of its comrades;
and then a young man went past, whistling with the purest accuracy of
time and tune the air to which he had just been dancing.
At half-past five the kitchen-maid, a young Swede who feared not God,
neither regarded man, but lived in absolute subjection to the cook, to
whom, unknown to any one else, she every morning carried up breakfast,
was stealing down with a candle in her hand. Her senses were alert, for a
friend of hers had been strangled by burglars in similar circumstances,
and she had never overcome her own terror of the cold, dark house in
these early hours of a winter morning.
She went down not the back stairs, for Mr. Pringle objected that she woke
him as she passed, whereas the carpet on the front stairs was so thick
that there wasn't the least chance of waking the family. As she passed
Mrs. Farron's room she was surprised to see a fine crack of light coming
from under it. She paused, wondering if she was going to be caught, and
if she had better run back and take to the back stairs despite Pringle's
well-earned rest; and as she hesitated she heard a sob, then
another--wild, hysterical sobs. The girl looked startled and then went
on, shaking her head. What people like that had to cry about beat her.
But she was glad, because she knew such a splendid bit of news would
soften the heart of the cook when she took up her breakfast.
By five o'clock it seemed to Adelaide that a whole eternity had passed
and that another was ahead of her, that this night would never end.
When they went up-stairs, while she was brushing her hair--her hair
rewarded brushing, for it was fine and long and took a polish like
bronze--she had wandered into Vincent's room to discuss with him the
question of her father's secretiveness about Mrs. Wayne. It was not, she
explained, standing in front of his fire, that she suspected anything,
but that it was so unfriendly: it deprived one of so much legitimate
amusement if one's own family practised that kind of reserve. Her just
anger kept her from observing Farron very closely. As she talked she laid
her brush on the mantelpiece, and as she did so she knocked down the
letter that had come for him just before they went up-stairs. She
stooped, and picked it up without attention, and stood holding it; she
gesticulated a little with it as she repeated, for her own amusement
rather than for Vincent's, phrases she had caught at dinner.
The horror to Farron of seeing her standing there chattering, with that
death-dealing letter in her hand, suddenly and illogically broke down his
resolution of silence. It was cruel, and though he might have denied
himself her help, he could not endure cruelty.
"Adelaide," he said in a tone that drove every other sensation
away--"Adelaide, that letter. No, don't read it." He took it from her
and laid it on his dressing-table. "My dear love, it has very bad
news in it."
"There _has_ been something, then?"
"Yes. I have been worried about my health for some time. This letter
tells me the worst is true. Well, my dear, we did not enter matrimony
with the idea that either of us was immortal."
But that was his last effort to be superior to the crisis, to pretend
that the bitterness of death was any less to him than to any other human
creature, to conceal that he needed help, all the help that he could get.
And Adelaide gave him help. Artificial as she often was in daily
contact, in a moment like this she was splendidly, almost primitively
real. She did not conceal her own passionate despair, her conviction that
her life couldn't go on without his; she did not curb her desire to know
every detail on which his opinion and his doctor's had been founded; she
clung to him and wept, refusing to let him discuss business arrangements,
in which for some reason he seemed to find a certain respite; and yet
with it all, she gave him strength, the sense that he had an indissoluble
and loyal companion in the losing fight that lay before him.
Once she was aware of thinking: "Oh, why did he tell me to-night? Things
are so terrible by night," but it was only a second before she put such a
thought away from her. What had these nights been to him? The night when
she had found his light burning so late, and other nights when he had
probably denied himself the consolation of reading for fear of rousing
her suspicions. She did not attempt to pity or advise him, she did not
treat him as a mixture of child and idiot, as affection so often treats
illness. She simply gave him her love.
Toward morning he fell asleep in her arms, and then she stole back to
her own room. There everything was unchanged, the light still burning,
her satin slippers stepping on each other just as she had left them. She
looked at herself in the glass; she did not look so very different. A
headache had often ravaged her appearance more.
She had always thought herself a coward, she feared death with a terrible
repugnance; but now she found, to her surprise, that she would have
light-heartedly changed places with her husband. She had much more
courage to die than to watch him die--to watch Vincent die, to see him
day by day grow weak and pitiful. That was what was intolerable. If he
would only die now, to-night, or if she could! It was at this moment that
the kitchen maid had heard her sobbing.
Because there was nothing else to do, she got into bed, and lay there
staring at the electric light, which she had forgotten to put out. Toward
seven she got up and gave orders that Mr. Farron was not to be disturbed,
that the house was to be kept quiet. Strange, she thought, that he could
sleep like an exhausted child, while she, awake, was a mass of pain. Her
heart ached, her eyes burned, her very body felt sore. She arranged for
his sleep, but she wanted him to wake up; she begrudged every moment of
his absence. Alas! she thought, how long would she continue to do so?
Yet with her suffering came a wonderful ease, an ability to deal with the
details of life. When at eight o'clock her maid came in and, pulling the
curtains, exclaimed with Gallic candor, "Oh, comme madame a mauvaise mine
ce matin!" she smiled at her with unusual gentleness. Later, when
Mathilde came down at her accustomed hour, and lying across the foot of
her mother's bed, began to read her scraps of the morning paper, Adelaide
felt a rush of tenderness for the child, who was so unaware of the
hideous bargain life really was. Surprising as it was, she found she
could talk more easily than usual and with a more undivided attention,
though everything they said was trivial enough.
Then suddenly her heart stood still, for the door opened, and Vincent, in
his dressing-gown, came in. He had evidently had his bath, for his hair
was wet and shiny. Thank God! he showed no signs of defeat!
"Oh," cried Mathilde, jumping up, "I thought Mr. Farron had gone
down-town ages ago."
"He overslept," said Adelaide.
"I had an excellent night," he answered, and she knew he looked at her to
discover that she had not.
"I'll go," said Mathilde; but with unusual sharpness they both turned to
her and said simultaneously, "No, no; stay." They knew no better than she
did why they were so eager to keep her.
"Are you going down-town, Vin?" Adelaide asked, and her voice shook a
little on the question; she was so eager that he should not institute any
change in his routine so soon.
"Of course," he answered.
They looked at each other, yet their look said nothing in particular.
Presently he said:
"I wonder if I might have breakfast in here. I'll go and shave if you'll
order it; and don't let Mathilde go. I have something to say to her."
When he was gone, Mathilde went and stood at the window, looking out, and
tying knots in the window-shade's cord. It was a trick Adelaide had
always objected to, and she was quite surprised to hear herself saying
now, just as usual:
"Mathilde, don't tie knots in that cord."
Mathilde threw it from her as one whose mind was engaged on higher
"You know," she observed, "I believe I'm only just beginning to
appreciate Mr. Farron. He's so wise. I see what you meant about his being
strong, and he's so clever. He knows just what you're thinking all the
time. Isn't it nice that he likes Pete? Did he say anything more about
him after you went up-stairs? I mean, he really does like him, doesn't
he? He doesn't say that just to please me?"
Presently Vincent came back fully dressed and sat down to his breakfast.
Oddly enough, there was a spirit of real gaiety in the air.
"What was it you were going to say to me?" Mathilde asked greedily.
Farron looked at her blankly. Adelaide knew that he had quite forgotten
the phrase, but he concealed the fact by not allowing the least
illumination of his expression as he remembered.
"Oh, yes," he said. "I wish to correct myself. I told you that Mrs.
Wayne was an elderly wood-nymph; but I was wrong. Of course the truth is
that she's a very young witch."
Mathilde laughed, but not whole-heartedly. She had already identified
herself so much with the Waynes that she could not take them quite in
this tone of impersonality.
Farron threw down his napkin, stood up, pulled down his waistcoat.
"I must be off," he said. He went and kissed his wife. Both had to nerve
themselves for that.
She held his arm in both her hands, feeling it solid, real, and as
hard as iron.
"You'll be up-town early?"
"I've a busy day."
"I'll telephone." She loved him for refusing to yield to her just at this
moment of all moments. Some men, she thought, would have hidden their own
self-pity under the excuse of the necessity of being kind to her.
She was to lunch out with a few critical contemporaries. She was
horrified when she looked at herself by morning light. Her skin had an
ivory hue, and there were many fine wrinkles about her eyes. She began to
repair these damages with the utmost frankness, talking meantime to
Mathilde and the maid. She swept her whole face with a white lotion,
rouged lightly, but to her very eyelids, touched a red pencil to her
lips, all with discretion. The result was satisfactory. The improvement
in her appearance made her feel braver. She couldn't have faced these
people--she did not know whether to think of them as intimate enemies or
hostile friends--if she had been looking anything but her best.
But they were just what she needed; they would be hard and amusing and
keep her at some tension. She thought rather crossly that she could not
sit through a meal at home and listen to Mathilde rambling on about love
and Mr. Farron.
She was inexcusably late, and they had sat down to luncheon--three men
and two women--by the time she arrived. They had all been, or had wanted
to go, to an auction sale of _objets d'art_ that had taken place the
night before. They were discussing it, praising their own purchases, and
decrying the value of everybody else's when Adelaide came in.
"Oh, Adelaide," said her hostess, "we were just wondering what you paid
originally for your tapestry."
"The one in the hall?"
"No, the one with the Turk in it."
"I haven't an idea,--" Adelaide was distinctly languid,--"I got it from
"Wouldn't you know she'd say that?" exclaimed one of the women. "Not that
I deny it's true; only, you know, Adelaide, whenever you do want to throw
a veil over one of your pieces, you always call on the prestige of your
Adelaide raised her eyebrows.
"Really," she answered, "there isn't anything so very conspicuous about
having had a grandfather."
"No," her hostess echoed, "even I, so well and favorably known for my
vulgarity--even _I_ had a grandfather."
"But he wasn't a connoisseur in tapestries, Minnie darling."
"No, but he was in pigs, the dear vulgarian."
"True vulgarity," said one of the men, "vulgarity in the best sense, I
mean, should betray no consciousness of its own existence. Only thus can
it be really great."
"Oh, Minnie's vulgarity is just artificial, assumed because she found it
worked so well."
"Surely you accord her some natural talent along those lines."
"I suspect her secret mind is refined."
"Oh, that's not fair. Vulgar is as vulgar does."
Adelaide stood up, pushing back her chair. She found them utterly
intolerable. Besides, as they talked she had suddenly seen clearly that
she must herself speak to Vincent's doctor without an instant's delay. "I
have to telephone, Minnie," she said, and swept out of the room. She
"Not one of the perfect lady's golden days, I should say," said one of
the men, raising his eyebrows. "I wonder what's gone wrong?"
"Can Vincent have been straying from the straight and narrow?"
"Something wrong. I could tell by her looks."
"Ah, my dear, I'm afraid her looks is what's wrong."
Adelaide meantime was in her motor on her way to the doctor's office. He
had given up his sacred lunch-hour in response to her imperious demand
and to his own intense pity for her sorrow.
He did not know her, but he had had her pointed out to him, and though
he recognized the unreason of such an attitude, he was aware that her
great beauty dramatized her suffering, so that his pity for her was
He was a young man, with a finely cut face and a blond complexion. His
pity was visible, quivering a little under his mask of impassivity.
Adelaide's first thought on seeing him was, "Good Heavens! another man to
be emotionally calmed before I can get at the truth!" She had to be
tactful, to let him see that she was not going to make a scene. She knew
that he felt it himself, but she was not grateful to him. What business
had he to feel it? His feeling was an added burden, and she felt that she
had enough to carry.
He did not make the mistake, however, of expressing his sympathy
verbally. His answers were as cold and clear as she could wish. She
questioned him on the chances of an operation. He could not reduce his
judgment to a mathematical one; he was inclined to advocate an operation
on psychological grounds, he said.
"It keeps up the patient's courage to know something is being done." He
added, "That will be your work, Mrs. Farron, to keep his courage up."
Most women like to know they had their part to play, but Adelaide shook
her head quickly.
"I would so much rather go through it myself!" she cried.
"Naturally, naturally," he agreed, without getting the full passion
of her cry.
She stood up.
"Oh," she said, "if it could only be kill or cure!"
He glanced at her.
"We have hardly reached that point yet," he answered.
She went away dissatisfied. He had answered every question, he had even
encouraged her to hope a little more than her interpretation of what
Vincent said had allowed her; but as she drove away she knew he had
failed her. For she had gone to him in order to have Vincent presented to
her as a hero, as a man who had looked upon the face of death without a
quiver. Instead, he had been presented to her as a patient, just one of
the long procession that passed through that office. The doctor had said
nothing to contradict the heroic picture, but he had said nothing to
contribute to it. And surely, if Farron had stood out in his calmness and
courage above all other men, the doctor would have mentioned it, couldn't
have helped doing so; he certainly would not have spent so much time in
telling her how she was to guard and encourage him. To the doctor he was
only a patient, a pitiful human being, a victim of mortality. Was that
what he was going to become in her eyes, too?
At four she drove down-town to his office. He came out with another man;
they stood a moment on the steps talking and smiling. Then he drew his
friend to the car window and introduced him to Adelaide. The man took
off his hat.
"I was just telling your husband, Mrs. Farron, that I've been looking at
offices in this building. By the spring he and I will be neighbors."
Adelaide just shut her eyes, and did not open them again until Vincent
had got in beside her and she felt his arm about her shoulder.
"My poor darling!" he said. "What you need is to go home and get some
sleep." It was said in his old, cherishing tone, and she, leaning back,
with her head against the point of his shoulder, felt that, black as it
was, life for the first time since the night before had assumed its
normal aspect again.
The morning after their drive up-town Vincent told his wife that all
his arrangements were made to go to the hospital that night, and to be
operated upon the next day. She reproached him for having made his
decision without consulting her, but she loved him for his proud
Somehow this second day under the shadow of death was less terrible than
the first. Vincent stayed up-town, and was very natural and very busy. He
saw a few people,--men who owed him money, his lawyer, his partner,--but
most of the time he and Adelaide sat together in his study, as they had
sat on many other holidays. He insisted on going alone to the hospital,
although she was to be in the building during the operation.
Mathilde had been told, and inexperienced in disaster, she had felt
convinced that the outcome couldn't be fatal, yet despite her conviction
that people did not really die, she was aware of a shyness and
awkwardness in the tragic situation.
Mr. Lanley had been told, and his attitude was just the opposite. To
him it seemed absolutely certain that Farron would die,--every one
did,--but he had for some time been aware of a growing hardness on his
part toward the death of other people, as if he were thus preparing
himself for his own.
"Poor Vincent!" he said to himself. "Hard luck at his age, when an old
man like me is left." But this was not quite honest. In his heart he
felt there was nothing unnatural in Vincent's being taken or in his
As usual in a crisis, Adelaide's behavior was perfect. She contrived to
make her husband feel every instant the depth, the strength, the passion
of her love for him without allowing it to add to the weight he was
already carrying. Alone together, he and she had flashes of real gaiety,
sometimes not very far from tears.
To Mathilde the brisk naturalness of her mother's manner was a source of
comfort. All the day the girl suffered from a sense of strangeness and
isolation, and a fear of doing or saying something unsuitable--something
either too special or too every-day. She longed to evince sympathy for
Mr. Farron, but was afraid that, if she did, it would be like intimating
that he was as good as dead. She was caught between the negative danger
of seeming indifferent and the positive one of being tactless.
As soon as Vincent had left the house, Adelaide's thought turned to her
daughter. He had gone about six o'clock. He and she had been sitting by
his study fire when Pringle announced that the motor was waiting. Vincent
got up quietly, and so did she. They stood with their arms about each
other, as if they meant never to forget the sense of that contact; and
then without any protest they went down-stairs together.
In the hall he had shaken hands with Mr. Lanley and had kissed Mathilde,
who, do what she would, couldn't help choking a little. All this time
Adelaide stood on the stairs, very erect, with one hand on the stair-rail
and one on the wall, not only her eyes, but her whole face, radiating an
uplifted peace. So angelic and majestic did she seem that Mathilde,
looking up at her, would hardly have been surprised if she had floated
out into space from her vantage-ground on the staircase.
Then Farron lit a last cigar, gave a quick, steady glance at his wife,
and went out. The front door ended the incident as sharply as a shot
would have done.
It was then that Mathilde expected to see her mother break down. Under
all her sympathy there was a faint human curiosity as to how people
contrived to live through such crises. If Pete were on the brink of
death, she thought that she would go mad: but, then, she and Pete were
not a middle-aged married couple; they were young, and new to love.
They all went into the drawing-room, Adelaide the calmest of the three.
"I wonder," she said, "if you two would mind dining a little earlier than
usual. I might sleep if I could get to bed early, and I must be at the
hospital before eight."
Mr. Lanley agreed a little more quickly than it was his habit to speak.
"O Mama, I think you're so marvelous!" said Mathilde, and touched at her
own words, she burst into tears. Her mother put her arm about her, and
Mr. Lanley patted her shoulder--his sovereign care.
"There, there, my dear," he murmured, "you must not cry. You know Vincent
has a very good chance, a very good chance."
The assumption that he hadn't was just the one Mathilde did not want to
appear to make. Her mother saw this and said gently:
"She's overstrained, that's all."
The girl wiped her eyes.
"I'm ashamed, when you are so calm and wonderful."
"I'm not wonderful," said her mother. "I have no wish to cry. I'm beyond
it. Other people's trouble often makes us behave more emotionally than
our own. If it were your Pete, I should be in tears." She smiled, and
looked across the girl's head at Mr. Lanley. "She would like to see him,
Papa. Telephone Pete Wayne, will you, and ask him to come and see her
this evening? You'll be here, won't you?"
Mr. Lanley nodded without cordiality; he did not approve of encouraging
the affair unnecessarily.
"How kind you are, Mama!" exclaimed Mathilde, almost inaudibly. It was
just what she wanted, just what she had been wanting all day, to see her
own man, to assure herself, since death was seen to be hot on the trail
of all mortals, that he and she were not wasting their brief time in
"We might take a turn in the motor," said Mr. Lanley, thinking that Mrs.
Wayne might enjoy that.
"It would do you both good."
"And leave you alone, Mama?"
"It's what I really want, dear."
The plan did not fulfil itself quite as Mr. Lanley had imagined. Mrs.
Wayne was out at some sort of meeting. They waited a moment for Pete.
Mathilde fixed her eyes on the lighted doorway, and said to herself that
in a few seconds the thing of all others that she desired would
happen--he would come through it. And almost at once he did, looking
particularly young and alive; so that, as he jumped in beside her on the
back seat, both her hands went out and caught his arm and clung to him.
Her realization of mortality had been so acute that she felt as if he had
been restored to her from the dead. She told him the horrors of the day.
Particularly, she wanted to share with him her gratitude for her mother's
almost magic kindness.
"I wanted you so much, Pete," she whispered; "but I thought it would be
heartless even to suggest my having wishes at such a time. And then for
her to think of it herself--"
"It means they are not really going to oppose our marriage."
They talked about their marriage and the twenty or thirty years of joy
which they might reasonably hope to snatch from life.
"Think of it," he said--"twenty or thirty years, longer than either of us
"If I could have five years, even one year, with you, I think I could
bear to die; but not now, Pete."
In the meantime Mr. Lanley, alone on the front seat, for he had left
his chauffeur at home, was driving north along the Hudson and saying
"Sixty-four. Well, I may be able to knock out ten or twelve pretty
satisfactory years. On the other hand, might die to-morrow; hope I
don't, though. As long as I can drive a car and everything goes well
with Adelaide and this child, I'd be content to live my full time--and a
little bit more. Not many men are healthier than I am. Poor Vincent! A
good deal more to live for than I have, most people would say; but I
don't know that he enjoys it any more than I do." Turning his head a
little, he shouted over his shoulder to Pete, "Sorry your mother
Mathilde made a hasty effort to withdraw her hands; but Wayne, more
practical, understanding better the limits put upon a driver, held
them tightly as he answered in a civil tone: "Yes, she would have
"She must come some other time," shouted Mr. Lanley, and reflected that
it was not always necessary to bring the young people with you.
"You know, he could not possibly have turned enough to see," Pete
whispered reprovingly to Mathilde.
"I suppose not; and yet it seemed so queer to be talking to my
"You must try and adapt yourself to your environment," he returned, and
put his arm about her.
The cold of the last few days had given place to a thaw. The melting ice
in the river was streaked in strange curves, and the bare trees along the
straight heights of the Palisades were blurred by a faint bluish mist,
out of which white lights and yellow ones peered like eyes.
"Doesn't it seem cruel to be so happy when Mama and poor Mr. Farron--"
"It's the only lesson to learn," he answered--"to be happy while we are
young and together."
About ten o'clock Mr. Lanley left her at home, and she tiptoed up-stairs
and hardly dared to draw breath as she undressed for fear she might wake
her unhappy mother on the floor below her.
She had resolved to wake early, to breakfast with her mother, to ask to
be allowed to accompany her to the hospital; but it was nine o'clock when
she was awakened by her maid's coming in with her breakfast and the
announcement not only that Mrs. Farron had been gone for more than an
hour, but that there had already been good news from the hospital.
"Il parait que monsieur est tres fort," she said, with that absolute
neutrality of accent that sounds in Anglo-Saxon ears almost like a
Adelaide had been in no need of companionship. She was perfectly able
to go through her day. It seemed as if her soul, with a soul's
capacity for suffering, had suddenly withdrawn from her body, had
retreated into some unknown fortress, and left in its place a hard,
trivial, practical intelligence which tossed off plan after plan for
the future detail of life. As she drove from her house to the hospital
she arranged how she would apportion the household in case of a
prolonged illness, where she would put the nurses. Nor was she less
clear as to what should be done in case of Vincent's death. The whole
thing unrolled before her like a panorama.
At the hospital, after a little delay, she was guided to Vincent's own
room, recently deserted. A nurse came to tell her that all was going
well; Mr. Farron had had a good night, and was taking the anesthetic
nicely. Adelaide found the young woman's manner offensively encouraging,
and received the news with an insolent reserve.
"That girl is too wildly, spiritually bright," she said to herself. But
no manner would have pleased her.
Left alone, she sat down in a rocking-chair near the window. Vincent's
bag stood in the corner, his brushes were on the dressing-table, his tie
hung on the electric light. Immortal trifles, she thought, that might be
in existence for years.
She began poignantly to regret that she had not insisted on seeing him
again that morning. She had thought only of what was easiest for him. She
ought to have thought of herself, of what would make it possible for her
to go on living without him. If she could have seen him again, he might
have given her some precept, some master word, by which she could have
guided her life. She would have welcomed something imprisoning and safe.
It was cruel of him, she thought, to toss her out like this, rudderless
and alone. She wondered what he would have given her as a commandment,
and remembered suddenly the apocryphal last words which Vincent was fond
of attributing to George Washington, "Never trust a nigger with a gun."
She found herself smiling over them. Vincent was more likely to have
quoted the apparition's advice to Macbeth: "Be bloody, bold, and
resolute." That would have been his motto for himself, but not for her.
What was the principle by which he infallibly guided her?
How could he have left her so spiritually unprovided for? She felt
imposed upon, deserted. The busily planning little mind that had suddenly
taken possession of her could not help her in the larger aspects of her
existence. It would be much simpler, she thought, to die than to attempt
life again without Vincent.
She went to the window and looked out at the roofs of neighboring
houses, a disordered conglomeration of water-tanks and skylights and
chimney-pots. Then nearer, almost under her feet, she looked into a
courtyard of the hospital and saw a pale, emaciated man in a wheel-chair.
She drew back as if it were something indecent. Would Vincent ever become
like that? she thought. If so, she would rather he died now under the
A little while later the nurse came in, and said almost sternly that Dr.
Crew had sent her to tell Mrs. Farron that the conditions seemed
extremely favorable, and that all immediate danger was over.
"You mean," said Adelaide, fiercely, "that Mr. Farron will live?"
"I certainly inferred that to be the doctor's meaning," answered the
nurse. "But here is the assistant, Dr. Withers."
Dr. Withers, bringing with him an intolerable smell of disinfectants and
chloroform, hurried in, with his hair mussed from the haste with which he
had removed his operating-garments. He had small, bright, brown eyes,
with little lines about them that seemed to suggest humor, but actually
indicated that he buoyed up his life not by exaltation of himself, but by
half-laughing depreciation of every one else.
"I thought you'd be glad to know, Mrs. Farron," he said, "that any danger
that may have existed is now over. Your husband--"
"That _may_ have existed," cried Adelaide. "Do you mean to say there
hasn't been any real danger?"
The young doctor's eyes twinkled.
"An operation even in the best hands is always a danger," he replied.
"But you mean there was no other?" Adelaide asked, aware of a growing
coldness about her hands and feet.
Withers looked as just as Aristides.
"It was probably wise to operate," he said. "Your husband ought to be up
and about in three weeks."
Everything grew black and rotatory before Adelaide's eyes, and she sank
slowly forward into the young doctor's arms.
As he laid her on the bed, he glanced whimsically at the nurse and
shook his head.
But she made no response, an omission which may not have meant loyalty to
Dr. Crew so much as unwillingness to support Dr. Withers.
Adelaide returned to consciousness only in time to be hurried away to
make room for Vincent. His long, limp figure was carried past her in the
corridor. She was told that in a few hours she might see him. But she
wasn't, as a matter of fact, very eager to see him. The knowledge that he
was to live, the lifting of the weight of dread, was enough. The maternal
strain did not mingle with her love for him; she saw no possible reward,
no increased sense of possession, in his illness. On the contrary, she
wanted him to stride back in one day from death to his old powerful,
She grew to hate the hospital routine, the fixed hours, the regulated
food. "These rules, these hovering women," she exclaimed, "these
trays--they make me think of the nursery." But what she really hated was
Vincent's submission to it all. In her heart she would have been glad to
see him breaking the rules, defying the doctors, and bullying his nurses.
Before long a strong, silent antagonism grew up between her and the
bright-eyed, cheerful nurse, Miss Gregory. It irritated Adelaide to gain
access to her husband through other people's consent; it irritated her to
see the girl's understanding of the case, and her competent arrangements
for her patient's comfort. If Vincent had showed any disposition to
revolt, Adelaide would have pleaded with him to submit; but as it was,
she watched his docility with a scornful eye.
"That girl rules you with a rod of iron," she said one day. But even then
Vincent did not rouse himself.
"She knows her business," he said admiringly.
To any other invalid Adelaide could have been a soothing visitor, could
have adapted the quick turns of her mind to the relaxed attention of
the sick; but, honestly enough, there seemed to her an impertinence,
almost an insult, in treating Vincent in such a way. The result was
that her visits were exhausting, and she knew it. And yet, she said to
herself, he was ill, not insane; how could she conceal from him the
happenings of every day? Vincent would be the last person to be
grateful to her for that.
She saw him one day grow pale; his eyes began to close. She had made up
her mind to leave him when Miss Gregory came in, and with a quicker eye
and a more active habit of mind, said at once:
"I think Mr. Farron has had enough excitement for one day."
Adelaide smiled up at the girl almost insolently.
"Is a visit from a wife an excitement?" she asked. Miss Gregory was
"The greatest," she said.
Adelaide yielded to her own irritation.
"Well," she said, "I shan't stay much longer."
"It would be better if you went now, I think, Mrs. Farron."
Adelaide looked at Vincent. It was silly of him, she thought, to pretend
he didn't hear. She bent over him.
"Your nurse is driving me away from you, dearest," she murmured.
He opened his eyes and took her hand.
"Come back to-morrow early--as early as you can," he said.
She never remembered his siding against her before, and she swept out
into the hallway, saying to herself that it was childish to be annoyed at
the whims of an invalid.
Miss Gregory had followed her.
"Mrs. Farron," she said, "do you mind my suggesting that for the present
it would be better not to talk to Mr. Farron about anything that might
worry him, even trifles?"
"You know very little of Mr. Farron," she said, "if you think he worries
"Any one worries over trifles when he is in a nervous state."
Adelaide passed by without answering, passed by as if she had not heard.
The suggestion of Vincent nervously worrying over trifles was one of the
most repellent pictures that had ever been presented to her imagination.
The firm for which Wayne worked was young and small--Benson & Honaton.
They made a specialty of circularization in connection with the bond
issues in which they were interested, and Wayne had charge of their
"literature," as they described it. He often felt, after he had finished
a report, that his work deserved the title. A certain number of people in
Wall Street disapproved of the firm's methods. Sometimes Pete thought
this was because, for a young firm, they had succeeded too quickly to
please the more deliberate; but sometimes in darker moments he thought
there might be some justice in the idea.
During the weeks that Farron was in the hospital Pete, despite his
constant availability to Mathilde, had been at work on his report on a
coal property in Pennsylvania. He was extremely pleased with the
thoroughness with which he had done the job. His report was not
favorable. The day after it was finished, a little after three, he
received word that the firm wanted to see him. He was always annoyed with
himself that these messages caused his heart to beat a trifle faster. He
couldn't help associating them with former hours with his head-master or
in the dean's office. Only he had respected his head-master and even the
dean, whereas he was not at all sure he respected Mr. Benson and he was
quite sure he did not respect Mr. Honaton.
He rose slowly from his desk, exchanging with the office boy who brought
the message a long, severe look, under which something very comic lurked,
though neither knew what.
"And don't miss J.B.'s socks," said the boy.
Mr. Honaton--J.B.--was considered in his office a very beautiful dresser,
as indeed in some ways he was. He was a tall young man, built like a
greyhound, with a small, pointed head, a long waist, and a very long
throat, from which, however, the strongest, loudest voice could issue
when he so desired. This was his priceless asset. He was the board
member, and generally admitted to be an excellent broker. It always
seemed to Pete that he was a broker exactly as a beaver is a
dam-builder, because nature had adapted him to that task. But outside of
this one instinctive capacity he had no sense whatsoever. He rarely
appeared in the office. He was met at the Broad Street entrance of the
exchange at one minute to ten by a boy with the morning's orders, and
sometimes he came in for a few minutes after the closing; but usually by
three-fifteen he had disappeared from financial circles, and was
understood to be relaxing in the higher social spheres to which he
belonged. So when Pete, entering Mr. Benson's private office, saw Honaton
leaning against the window-frame, with his hat-brim held against his
thigh exactly like a fashion-plate, he knew that something of importance
must be pending.
Benson, the senior member, was a very different person. He looked like a
fat, white, pugnacious cat. His hair, which had turned white early, had a
tendency to grow in a bang; his arms were short--so short that when he
put his hands on the arms of his swing-chair he hardly bent his elbows.
He had them there now as Pete entered, and was swinging through short
arcs in rather a nervous rhythm. He was of Irish parentage, and was
understood to have political influence.
"Wayne," said Benson, "how would you like to go to China?"
And Honaton repeated portentously, "China," as if Benson might have made
a mistake in the name of the country if he had not been at his elbow to
"Well," he said, "I have nothing against China."
Benson outlined the situation quickly. The firm had acquired property in
China not entirely through their own choice, and they wanted a thorough,
clear report on it; they knew of no one--_no one_, Benson emphasized--who
could do that as impartially and as well as Wayne. They would pay him a
good sum and his expenses. It would take him a year, perhaps a year and a
half. They named the figure. It was one that made marriage possible. They
talked of the situation and the property and the demand for copper until
Honaton began to look at his watch, a flat platinum watch, perfectly
plain, you might have thought, until you caught a glimpse of a narrow
line of brilliants along its almost imperceptible rim. His usual working
day was over in half an hour.
"And when I come back, Mr. Benson?" said Wayne.
"Your place will be open for you here."
There was a pause.
"Well, what do you say?" said Honaton.
"I feel very grateful for the offer," said Pete, "but of course I can't
give you an answer now."
"Why not, why not?" returned Honaton, who felt that he had given up half
an hour for nothing if the thing couldn't be settled on the spot; and
even Benson, Wayne noticed, began to glower.
"You could probably give us as good an answer to-day as to-morrow,"
Nothing roused Pete's spirit like feeling a tremor in his own soul, and
so he now answered with great firmness:
"I cannot give you an answer to-day _or_ to-morrow."
"It's all off, then, all off," said Honaton, moving to the door.
"When do the Chinese boats sail, Mr. Honaton?" said Pete, with the
innocence of manner that an employee should use when putting his superior
in a hole.
"I don't see what difference that makes to you, Wayne, if you're not
taking them," said Honaton, as if he were triumphantly concealing the
fact that he didn't know.
"Don't feel you have to wait, Jack, if you're in a hurry," said his
partner, and when the other had slid out of the office Benson turned to
Wayne and went on: "You wouldn't have to go until a week from Saturday.
You would have to get off then, and we should have to know in time to
find some one else in case you don't care for it."
Pete asked for three days, and presently left the office.
He had a friend, one of his mother's reformed drunkards, who as janitor
lived on the top floor of a tall building. He and his wife offered Wayne
the hospitality of their balcony, and now and then, in moments like this,
he availed himself of it. Not, indeed, that there had ever been a moment
quite like this; for he knew that he was facing the most important
decision he had ever been forced to make.
In the elevator he met the janitor's cat Susan going home after an
afternoon visit to the restaurant on the sixteenth floor. The elevator
boy loved to tell how she never made a mistake in the floor.
"Do you think she'd get off at the fifteenth or the seventeenth? Not she.
Sometimes she puts her nose out and smells at the other floors, but she
won't get off until I stop at the right one. Sometimes she has to ride up
and down three or four times before any one wants the sixteenth. Eh,
Susan?" he added in caressing tones; but Susan was watching the floors
flash past and paid no attention until, arrived at the top, she and Pete
stepped off together.
It was a cool, clear day, for the wind was from the north, but on the
southern balcony the sun was warm. Pete sat down in the kitchen-chair
set for him, tilted back, and looked out over the Statue of Liberty,
which stood like a stunted baby, to the blue Narrows. He saw one
thing clearly, and that was that he would not go if Mathilde would not
go with him.
He envied people who could make up their minds by thinking. At least
sometimes he envied them and sometimes he thought they lied. He could
only think _about_ a subject and wait for the unknown gods to bring him a
decision. And this is what he now did, with his eyes fixed on the towers
and tanks and tenements, on the pale winter sky, and, when he got up and
leaned his elbows on the parapet, on the crowds that looked like a flood
of purple insects in the streets.
He thought of Mathilde's youth and his own untried capacities for
success, of poverty and children, of the probable opposition of
Mathilde's family and of a strange, sinister, disintegrating power he
felt or suspected in Mrs. Farron. He felt that it was a terrible risk to
ask a young girl to take and that it was almost an insult to be afraid to
ask her to take it. That was what his mother had always said about these
cherished, protected creatures: they were not prepared to meet any strain
in life. He knew he would not have hesitated to ask a girl differently
brought up. Ought he to ask Mathilde or ought he not even to hesitate
about asking her? In his own future he had confidence. He had an unusual
power of getting his facts together so that they meant something. In a
small way his work was recognized. A report of his had some weight. He
felt certain that if on his return he wanted another position he could
get it unless he made a terrible fiasco in China. Should he consult any
one? He knew beforehand what they would all think about it. Mr. Lanley
would think that it was sheer impertinence to want to marry his
granddaughter on less than fifteen thousand dollars a year; Mrs. Farron
would think that there were lots of equally agreeable young men in the
world who would not take a girl to China; and his mother, whom he could
not help considering the wisest of the three, would think that Mathilde
lacked discipline and strength of will for such an adventure. And on this
he found he made up his mind. "After all," he said to himself as he put
the chair back against the wall, "everything else would be failure, and
this may be success."
It was the afternoon that Farron was brought back from the hospital, and
he and Mathilde were sure of having the drawing-room to themselves. He
told her the situation slowly and with a great deal of detail,
chronologically, introducing the Chinese trip at the very end. But she
did not at once understand.
"O Pete, you would not go away from me!" she said. "I could not
"Couldn't you? Remember that everything you say is going to be used
"Would you be willing to go, Pete?"
"Only if you will go with me."
"Oh!" she clasped her hands to her breast, shrinking back to look at
him. So that was what he had meant, this stranger whom she had known for
such a short time. As she looked she half expected that he would smile,
and say it was all a joke; but his eyes were steadily and seriously
fixed on hers. It was very queer, she thought. Their meeting, their
first kiss, their engagement, had all seemed so inevitable, so natural,
there had not been a hint of doubt or decision about it; but now all of
a sudden she found herself faced by a situation in which it was
impossible to say yes or no.
"It would be wonderful, of course," she said, after a minute, but her
tone showed she was not considering it as a possibility.
Wayne's heart sank; he saw that he had thought it possible that he would
not allow her to go, but that he had never seriously faced the chance of
"Mathilde," he said, "it's far and sudden, and we shall be poor, and I
can't promise that I shall succeed more than other fellows; and yet
against all that--"
She looked at him.
"You don't think I care for those things? I don't care if you succeed or
fail, or live all your life in Siam."
"What is it, then?"
"Pete, it's my mother. She would never consent."
Wayne was aware of this, but, then, as he pointed out to Mathilde with
great care, Mrs. Farron could not bear for her daughter the pain of
"Separation!" cried the girl, "But you just said you would not go if
I did not."
"If you put your mother before me, mayn't I put my profession
"My dear, don't speak in that tone."
"Why, Mathilde," he said, and he sprang up and stood looking down at her
from a little distance, "this is the real test. We have thought we loved
"Thought!" she interrupted.
"But to get engaged with no immediate prospect of marriage, with all
our families and friends grouped about, that doesn't mean such a
lot, does it?"
"It does to me," she answered almost proudly.
"Now, one of us has to sacrifice something. I want to go on this
expedition. I want to succeed. That may be egotism or legitimate
ambition. I don't know, but I want to go. I think I mean to go. Ought
I to give it up because you are afraid of your mother?"
"It's love, not fear, Pete."
"You love me, too, you say."
"I feel an obligation to her."
"And, good Heavens! do you feel none to me?"
"No, no. I love you too much to feel an obligation to you."
"But you love your mother _and_ feel an obligation to her. Why, Mathilde,
that feeling of obligation _is_ love--love in its most serious form.
That's what you don't feel for me. That's why you won't go."
"I haven't said I wouldn't go."
"You never even thought of going."
"I have, I do. But how can I help hesitating? You must know I want to
"I see very little sign of it," he murmured. The interview had not gone
as he intended. He had not meant, he never imagined, that he would
attempt to urge and coerce her; but her very detachment seemed to set a
fire burning within him.
"I think," he said with an effort to sound friendly, "that I had better
go and let you think this over by yourself."
He was actually moving to the door when she sprang up and put her arms
"Weren't you even going to kiss me, Pete?"
He stooped, and touched her cheek with his lips.
"Do you call that a kiss?"
"O Mathilde, do you think any kiss will change the facts?" he answered,
and was gone.
As soon as he had left her the desire for tears left her, too. She felt
calm and more herself, more an isolated, independent human being than
ever before in her life. She thought of all the things she ought to have
said to Pete. The reason why she felt no obligation to him was that she
was one with him. She was prepared to sacrifice him exactly as she was,
or ought to be, willing to sacrifice herself; whereas her mother--it
seemed as if her mother's power surrounded her in every direction, as
solid as the ancients believed the dome of heaven.
Pringle appeared in the doorway in his eternal hunt for the tea-things.
"May I take the tray, miss?" he said.
She nodded, hardly glancing at the untouched tea-table. Pringle, as he
bent over it, observed that it was nice to have Mr. Farron back.
Mathilde remembered that she, too, had once been interested in her
"Where's my mother, Pringle?"
"Mrs. Farron's in her room, I think, miss, and Mr. Lanley's with her."
Lanley had stopped as usual to ask after his son-in-law. He found his
daughter writing letters in her room. He thought her looking cross, but
in deference to her recent anxieties he called it, even in his own mind,
"Vincent is doing very well, I believe," she answered in response to his
question. "He ought to be. He is in charge of two lovely young creatures
hardly Mathilde's age who have already taken complete control of the
"You've seen him, of course."
"For a few minutes; they allow me a few minutes. They communicate by
secret signals when they think I have stayed long enough."
Mr. Lanley never knew how to treat this mood of his daughter's, which
seemed to him as unreasonable as if it were emotional, and yet as cold as
if it were logic itself. He changed the subject and said boldly:
"Mrs. Baxter is coming to-morrow."
Adelaide's eyes faintly flashed.
"Oh, wouldn't you know it!" she murmured. "Just at the most inconvenient
time--inconvenient for me, I mean. Really, lovers are the only people you
can depend on. I wish I had a lover."
"Adelaide," said her father with some sternness, "even in fun you should
not say such a thing. If Mathilde heard you--"
"Mathilde is the person who made me see it. Her boy is here all the
time, trying to think of something to please her. And who have I?
Vincent has his nurses; and you have your old upholstered lady. I can't
help wishing I had a lover. They are the only people who, as the Wayne
boy would say, 'stick around.' But don't worry, Papa, I have a loyal
nature." She was interrupted by a knock at the door, and a nurse--the
same who had been too encouraging to please her at the hospital--put in
her head and said brightly:
"You may see Mr. Farron now, Mrs. Farron."
Adelaide turned to her father and made a little bow.
"See how I am favored," she said, and left him.
Nothing of this mood was apparent when she entered her husband's room,
though she noticed that the arrangement of the furniture had been
changed, and, what she disliked even more, that they had brushed his hair
in a new way. This, with his pallor and thinness, made him look strange
to her. She bent over, and laid her cheek to his almost motionless lips.
"Well, dear," she said, "have you seen the church-warden part they have
given your hair?"
He shook his head impatiently, and she saw, she had made the mistake of
trying to give the tone to an interview in which she was not the leading