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masculine practitioner, and hesitated at the name of Wayne. He thought he ought to ring the bell, but he wanted to go straight up. Some one had left the front door unlatched. He pushed it open and began the steep ascent.
She came to the door of the flat herself. She had a funny little gray shawl about her shoulders and a pen in her hand. She tried to make her voice sound very cordial as she greeted him, but he thought he caught something that sounded as if, while perfectly well disposed to him, she could n't for the life of her imagine why he had come.
"Come in," she said, "though I'm afraid it's a little cold in here. Our janitor-"
"Let me light your fire for you," he answered, and extracting a parlor-match from his pocket,-safety-matches were his bugbear, he stooped, and put the flame to the fire. As he did so he understood that it was not the mere forgetfulness of a servant that had left it unlighted, but probably a deliberate economy, and he rose crimson and unhappy.
It took him some time to recover, and during the entire time she sat in her gray shawl, looking very amiable, but plainly unable to think of anything to say.
"I saw your son in Farron's office today."
"Mr. Farron has been so kind, so wonderfully kind!"
Only a guilty conscience could have found reproach in this statement, and Lanley said:
"And I hear he is dining at my daughter's this evening."
Mrs. Wayne had had a telephone message to that effect.
"I wondered, if you were alone-" Lanley hesitated. He had of course been going to ask her to come and dine with him, but a better inspiration came to him. "I wondered if you would ask me to dine with you."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," said Mrs. Wayne, "but I can't. I have a boy coming. He's studying for the ministry, the most interesting person. He had not been sober
for three years when I took hold of him, and now he has n't touched a drop for two."
He sighed. She said she was sorry, but he could see plainly enough that any reformed, or even more any unreformed, drunkard would always far surpass him in ability to command her interest. did not belong to a generation that cleared things up with words; he would have thought it impertinent, almost ungentlemanly, to probe her attitude of mind about the scene at Adelaide's; and he would have considered himself unmanly to make any plea to her on the ground of his own suffering. One simply supported such things as best one could; it was expected of one, like tipping waiters. He had neither the vocabulary nor the habit of mind that made an impersonal exposition of an emotional difficulty possible; but even had he possessed these powers he would have retained his tradition against using them. Perhaps, if she had been his sister or his wife, he might have admitted that he had had a hard day or that every one had moments of depression; but that was not the way to talk in a lady's drawing-room. In the silence he saw her eyes steal longingly to her writing-table, deeply and hopelessly littered with papers and open books.
"I'm afraid I'm detaining you," he said. The visit had been a failure.
"Oh, not at all," she replied, and then added in a tone of more sincerity: "I do have the most terrible time with my checkbook. And," she added, as one confessing to an absurdly romantic ideal, "I was trying to balance it."
"You should not be troubled with such things," said Mr. Lanley, thinking how long it was since any one but a secretary had balanced his books.
Pete, it appeared, usually did attend to his mother's checks, but of late she had not liked to bother him, and that was just the moment the bank had chosen to notify her that she had overdrawn. "I don't see how I can be," she said, too hopeless to deny it.
"If you would allow me," said Mr.
Lanley. "I am an excellent bookkeeper."
"Oh, I should n't like to trouble you," said Mrs. Wayne, but she made it clear she would like it above everything; so Lanley put on his spectacles, drew up his chair, and squared his elbows to the job. "It has n't been balanced since-dear me! not since October," he said.
"I know; but I draw such small checks."
"But you draw a good many."
She had risen, and was standing before the fire, with her hands behind her back. Her shawl had slipped off, and she looked, in her short walking-skirt, rather like a school-girl being reprimanded for a poor exercise. She felt so when, looking up at her over his spectacles, he observed severely:
"You really must be more careful about carrying forward. Twice you have carried forward an amount from two pages back instead of-"
"That's always the way," she interrupted. "Whenever people look at my check-book they take so long scolding me about the way I do it that there's no time left for putting it right."
"I won't say another word," returned Lanley; "only it would really help you-"
"I don't want any one to do it who says my sevens are like fours," she went on. Lanley compressed his lips slightly, but contented himself by merely lengthening the tail of a seven. He said nothing more, but every time he found an error he gave a little shake of his head that went through her like a knife.
The task was a long one. The light of the winter afternoon faded, and she lit the lamps before he finished. At first he had tried not to be aware of revelations that the book made; but as he went on and he found he was obliged now and then to question her about payments and receipts, he saw that she was so utterly without any sense of privacy in the matter that his own decreased.
He had never thought of her as being particularly poor, not at least in the sense of worrying over every bill, but now when he saw the small margin between
the amounts paid in and the amounts paid out, when he noticed how large a proportion of what she had she spent in free gifts and not in living expenses, he found himself facing something he could not tolerate. He put his pen down carefully in the crease of the book, and rose to his feet.
"Mrs. Wayne," he said, "I must tell you something."
"You 're going to say, after all, that my sevens are like fours."
"I'm going to say something worsemore inexcusable. I'm going to tell you how much I want you to honor me by becoming my wife."
She pronounced only one syllable. She said, "Oh!" as crowds say it when a rocket goes off.
"I suppose you think it ridiculous in a man of my age to speak of love, but it's not ridiculous, by Heaven! It 's tragic. I should n't have presumed, though, to mention the subject to you, only it is intolerable to me to think of your lacking anything when I have so much. I can't explain why this knowledge gave me courage. I know that you care nothing for luxuries and money, less than any one I know; but the fact that you have n't everything that you ought to have makes me suffer so much that I hope you will at least listen to me."
"But you know it does n't make me suffer a bit," said Mrs. Wayne.
"To know you at all has been such a happiness that I am shocked at my own presumption in asking for your companionship for the rest of my life, and if in addition to that I could take care of you, share with you-"
No one ever presented a proposition to Mrs. Wayne without finding her willing to consider it, an open-mindedness that often led her into the consideration of absurdities. And now the sacred cupidity of the reformer did for an instant leap up within her. All the distressed persons, all the tottering causes in which she was interested, seemed to parade before her eyes. Then, too, the childish streak in her character made her remember how
amusing it would be to be Adelaide Farron's mother-in-law, and Peter's grandmother by marriage. Nor was she at all indifferent to the flattery of the offer or the touching reserves of her suitor's nature.
"I should think you would be so lonely!" he said gently.
"I am often. I miss not having any one to talk over the little things that"she laughed "I probably would n't talk over if I had some one. But even with Pete I am lonely. I want to be first with some one again."
"You will always be first with me."
Like the veriest coquette, she instantly decided to take all and give nothing-to take his interest, his devotion, his loyalty, all of the first degree, and give him in return a divided interest, a loyalty too much infected by humor to be complete, and a devotion in which several causes and Pete took precedence. She did not do this in She did not do this in ignorance. On the contrary, she knew just how it would be; that he would wait and she be late, that he would adjust himself and she remain unchanged, that he would give and give and she would never remember that it would be kind some day to ask. Yet it did not seem to her an unfair bargain, and perhaps she was right. "I could n't marry you," she said. could n't change. All your pretty things and the way you live-it would be like a cage to me. I like my life the way it is; but yours"Do you think I would ask Wilsey to dinner every night or try to mold you to be like Mrs. Baxter?"
"You'd have a hard time. I never could have married again. I'd make you a poor wife, but I 'm a wonderful friend."
"Your friendship would be more happiness than I had any right to hope for," he answered, and then added in a less satisfied tone: "But friendship is so uncertain. You don't make any announcements to your friends or vows to each other, unless you 're at an age when you
cut your initials in the bark of a tree. That's what I'd like to do. I suppose you think I'm an old fool."
"Two of us," said Mrs. Wayne, and wiped her eyes. She cried easily, and had never felt the least shame about it.
It was a strange compact-strange at least for her, considering that only a few hours before she had thought of him as a friendly, but narrow-minded, old stranger. Something weak and malleable in her nature made her enter lightly into the compact, although all the time she knew that something more deeply serious and responsible would never allow her to break it. A faint regret for even an atom of lost freedom, a vein of caution and candor, made her say:
"I'm so afraid you 'll find me unsatisfactory. Every one has, even Pete."
"I think I shall ask less than any one," he answered.
The answer pleased her strangely.
Presently a ring came at the hall-a telegram. The expected guest was detained at the seminary. Lanley watched with agonized attention. She appeared to be delighted.
"Now you'll stay to dine," she said. "I can't remember what there is for dinner." "Now, that's not friendly at the start," said he, "to think I care so much."
"Well, you 're not like a theological student."
"A good deal better, probably," answered Lanley, with a gruffness that only partly hid his happiness. There was no real cloud in his sky. If Mrs. Wayne had accepted his offer of marriage, by this time he would have begun to think of the horror of telling Adelaide and Mathilde and his own servants. Now he thought of nothing but the agreeable evening before him, one of many.
When Pete came in to dress, Lanley was just in the act of drawing the last neat double lines for his balance. He had been delayed by the fact that Mrs. Wayne had been talking to him almost continuously since his return to figuring. She was in high spirits, for even saints are stimulated by a respectful adoration.
RECOGNIZING the neat back of Mr. Lanley's gray head, Pete's first idea was that he must have come to induce Mrs. Wayne to conspire with him against the marriage; but he abandoned this notion on seeing his occupation.
"Hullo, Mr. Lanley," he said, stooping to kiss his mother with the casual affection of the domesticated male. "You have my job."
"It is a great pleasure to be of any service," said Mr. Lanley.
"It was in a terrible state, it seems, Pete," said his mother.
"She makes her fours just like sevens, does n't she?" observed Pete.
"I did not notice the similarity," replied Mr. Lanley. He glanced at Mrs. Wayne, however, and enjoyed his denial. almost as much as he had enjoyed the discovery that the Wilsey ancestor had not been a Signer. He felt that somehow, owing to his late-nineteenth-century tact, the breach between him and Pete had been healed.
"Mr. Lanley is going to stay and dine with me," said Mrs. Wayne.
Pete looked a little grave, but his next sentence explained the cause of his anxiety. "Would n't you like me to go out and get something to eat, Mother?"
"No, no," answered his mother, firmly. "This time there really is something in the house quite good. I don't remember what it is."
And then Pete, who felt he had done his duty, went off to dress. Soon, however, his voice called from an adjoining
"Has n't that woman sent back any of my collars, Mother dear?"
"O Pete, her daughter got out of the reformatory only yesterday," Mrs. Wayne replied. Lanley saw that the Wayne housekeeping was immensely complicated by crime. "I believe I am the only person in your employ not a criminal," he said, closing the books. "These balance now." "Have I anything left?"
"Only about a hundred and fifty."
She brightened at this.
"Oh, come," she said, "that's not so bad. I could n't have been so terribly overdrawn, after all."
"You ought not to overdraw at all," said Mr. Lanley, severely. "It's not fair to the bank."
"Well, I never mean to," she replied, as if no one could ask more than that.
Presently she left him to go and dress. for dinner. He felt extraordinarily at home, left alone like this among her belongings. He wandered about looking at the photographs-photographs of Pete as a child, a photograph of an old white. house with wistaria-vines on it; a picture of her looking very much as she did now, with Pete as a little boy, in a sailor suit, leaning against her; and then a little. photograph of her as a girl not much older than Mathilde, he thought-a girl who looked a little frightened and awkward, as girls so often looked, and yet to whom the French photographer-for it was taken in the Place de la Madeleine-had somehow contrived to give a Parisian air. He had never thought of her in Paris. He took the picture up; it was dated May, 1884. He thought back carefully. Yes, he had been in Paris himself that spring, a man of thirty-three or so, feeling as old almost as he did to-day, a widower with his little girl. If only they might have met then, he and that serious, starry-eyed girl in the photograph!
Hearing Pete coming, he set the photograph back in its place, and, sitting down, picked up the first paper within reach.
"Good night, sir," said Pete from the doorway.
"Good night, my dear boy. Good luck!" They shook hands.
"Funny old duck," Pete thought as he went down-stairs whistling, "sitting there so contentedly reading "The Harvard Lampoon.' Wonder what he thinks of it."
He did not wonder long, though, for more interesting subjects of consideration were at hand. What reception would he meet at the Farrons? What arrangements would be made, what assumptions per
mitted? But even more immediate than this was the problem how he could contrive to greet Mrs. Farron? He was
shocked to find how little he had been able to 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 stepfather."
"You'd suppose I'd never been in time for dinner before," remarked Adelaide, giving Wayne her long hand.
"But is n't it wonderful, Pete," put in Mathilde, "how Mr. Farron is always right?"
"Oh, I hope he is n'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 have n't," said Pete.
"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 could n't see any particular reason why she cared about you."
"That you only asked that your sonin-law should be a person."
"I am afraid I said something about not coming to a house where you were n'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 motherin-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-winewith-you-sir tone. "A good feud in at 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