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The Happiest Time of Their Lives by Alice Duer Miller

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forgive her. There was something devilish, he thought, in the way she had
contrived to shake his self-confidence at the moment of all others when
he had needed it. He could never forget a certain contemptuous curve in
her fine, clear profile or the smooth delight of her tone at some of her
own cruelties. Some day he would have it out with her when the right
moment came. Before he reached the house he had had time to sketch a
number of scenes in which she, caught extraordinarily red-handed, was
forced to listen to his exposition of the evil of such methods as hers.
He would say to her, "I remember that you once said to me, Mrs.
Farron--" Anger cut short his vision as a cloud of her phrases came back
to him, like stinging bees.

He had hoped for a minute alone with Mathilde, but as Pringle opened the
drawing-room door for him he heard the sound of laughter, and seeing that
even Mrs. Farron herself was down, he exclaimed quickly:

"What, am I late?"

Every one laughed all the more at this.

"That's just what Mr. Farron said you would say at finding that Mama was
dressed in time," exclaimed Mathilde, casting an admiring glance at her

"You'd suppose I'd never been in time for dinner before," remarked
Adelaide, giving Wayne her long hand.

"But isn't it wonderful, Pete," put in Mathilde, "how Mr. Farron is
always right?"

"Oh, I hope he isn't," said Adelaide; "for what do you think he has just
been telling me--that you'd always hate me, Pete, as long as you lived.
You see," she went on, the little knot coming in her eyebrows, "I've been
telling him all the things I said to you yesterday. They did sound rather
awful, and I think I've forgotten some of the worst."

"_I_ haven't," said Pete.

"I remember I told you you were no one."

"You said I was a perfectly nice young man."

"And that you had no business judgment."

"And that I was mixing Mathilde up with a fraud."

"And that I couldn't see any particular reason why she cared about you."

"That you only asked that your son-in-law should be a person."

"I am afraid I said something about not coming to a house where you
weren't welcome."

"I know you said something about a bribe."

At this Adelaide laughed out loud.

"I believe I did," she said. "What things one does say sometimes! There's
dinner." She rose, and tucked her hand under his arm. "Will you take me
in to dinner, Pete, or do you think I'm too despicable to be fed?"

The truth was that they were all four in such high spirits that they
could no more help playing together than four colts could help playing in
a grass field. Besides, Vincent had taunted Adelaide with her inability
ever to make it up with Wayne. She left no trick unturned.

"I don't know," she went on as they sat down at table, "that a marriage
is quite legal unless you hate your mother-in-law. I ought to give you
some opportunity to go home and say to Mrs. Wayne, 'But I'm afraid I
shall never be able to get on with Mrs. Farron.'"

"Oh, he's said that already," remarked Vincent.

"Many a time," said Pete.

Mathilde glanced a little fearfully at her mother. The talk seemed to her
amusing, but dangerous.

"Well, then, shall we have a feud, Pete?" said Adelaide in a
glass-of-wine-with-you-sir tone. "A good feud in a family can be made
very amusing."

"It would be all right for us, of course," said Pete, "but it would be
rather hard on Mathilde."

"Mathilde is a better fighter than either of you," put in Vincent.
"Adelaide has no continuity of purpose, and you, Pete, are wretchedly
kind-hearted; but Mathilde would go into it to the death."

"Oh, I don't know what you mean, Mr. Farron," exclaimed Mathilde,
tremendously flattered, and hoping he would go on. "I don't like
to fight."

"Neither did Stonewall Jackson, I believe, until they fixed bayonets."

Mathilde, dropping her eyes, saw Pete's hand lying on the table. It was
stubby, and she loved it the better for being so; it was firm and boyish
and exactly like Pete. Looking up, she caught her mother's eye, and they
both remembered. For an instant indecision flickered in Adelaide's look,
but she lacked the complete courage to add that to the list--to tell any
human being that she had said his hands were stubby; and so her eyes fell
before her daughter's.

As dinner went on the adjustment between the four became more nearly
perfect; the gaiety, directed by Adelaide, lost all sting. But even as
she talked to Pete she was only dimly aware of his existence. Her
audience was her husband. She was playing for his praise and admiration,
and before soup was over she knew she had it; she knew better than words
could tell her that he thought her the most desirable woman in the world.
Fortified by that knowledge, the pacification of a cross boy seemed to
Adelaide an inconsiderable task.

By the time they rose from table it was accomplished. As they went into
the drawing-room Adelaide was thinking that young men were really rather
geese, but, then, one wouldn't have them different if one could.

Vincent was thinking how completely attaching a nature like hers would
always be to him, since when she yielded her will to his she did it with
such complete generosity.

Mathilde was saying to herself:

"Of course I knew Pete's charm would win Mama at last, but even I did not
suppose he could do it the very first evening."

And Pete was thinking:

"A former beauty thinks she can put anything over, and in a way she can.
I feel rather friendly toward her."

The Farrons had decided while they were dressing that after dinner they
would retire to Vincent's study and give the lovers a few minutes to

Left alone, Pete and Mathilde stood looking seriously at each other, and
then at the room which only a few weeks before had witnessed their first
prolonged talk.

"I never saw your mother look a quarter as beautiful as she does this
evening," said Wayne.

"Isn't she marvelous, the way she can make up for everything when she
wants?" Mathilde answered with enthusiasm.

Pete shook his head.

"She can never make up for one thing."

"O Pete!"

"She can never give me back my first instinctive, egotistical, divine
conviction that there was every reason why you should love me. I shall
always hear her voice saying, 'But why should Mathilde love you?' And I
shall never know a good answer."

"What," cried Mathilde, "don't you know the answer to that! I do. Mama
doesn't, of course. Mama loves people for reasons outside themselves: she
loves me because I'm her child, and Grandpapa because he's her father,
and Mr. Farron because she thinks he's strong. If she didn't think him
strong, I'm not sure she'd love him. But _I_ love _you_ for being just as
you are, because you are my choice. Whatever you do or say, that can't be

The door opened, and Pringle entered with a tray in his hand, and his
eyes began darting about in search of empty coffee-cups. Mathilde and
Pete were aware of a common feeling of guilt, not that they were
concealing the cups, though there was something of that accusation in
Pringle's expression, but because the pause between them was so obvious.
So Mathilde said suddenly:

"Pringle, Mr. Wayne and I are engaged to be married."

"Indeed, Miss?" said Pringle, with a smile; and so seldom was this
phenomenon seen to take place that Wayne noted for the first time that
Pringle's teeth were false. "I'm delighted to hear it; and you, too, sir.
This is a bad world to go through alone."

"Do you approve of marriage, Pringle?" said Wayne.

The cups, revealing themselves one by one, were secured as Pringle

"In my class of life, sir, we don't give much time to considering what we
approve of and disapprove of. But young people are all alike when they're
first engaged, always wondering how it is going to turn out, and hoping
the other party won't know that they're wondering. But when you get old,
and you look back on all the mistakes and the disadvantages and the
sacrifices, you'll find that you won't be able to imagine that you could
have gone through it with any other person--in spite of her faults," he
added almost to himself.

When he was gone, Pete and Mathilde turned and kissed each other.

"When we get old--" they murmured.

They really believed that it could never happen to them.

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