Read CHAPTER II of The Happiest Time of Their Lives, free online book, by Alice Duer Miller, on

Mathilde had been wrong in telling Wayne that her mother had gone upstairs in obedience to an impulse of kindness.  She had gone to quiet a small, gnawing anxiety that had been with her all the day, a haunting, elusive, persistent impression that something was wrong between her and her husband.

All the day, as she had gone about from one thing to another, her mind had been diligently seeking in some event of the outside world an explanation of a slight obscuration of his spirit; but her heart, more egotistical, had stoutly insisted that the cause must lie in her.  Did he love her less?  Was she losing her charm for him?  Were five years the limit of a human relation like theirs?  Was she to watch the dying down of his flame, and try to shelter and fan it back to life as she had seen so many other women do?

Or was the trouble only that she had done something to wound his aloof and sensitive spirit, seldom aloof to her?  Their intimate life had never been a calm one.  Farron’s interests were concentrated, and his temperament was jealous.  A woman couldn’t, as Adelaide sometimes had occasion to say to herself, keep men from making love to her; she did not always want to.  Farron could be relentless, and she was not without a certain contemptuous obstinacy.  Yet such conflicts as these she had learned not to dread, but sometimes deliberately to precipitate, for they ended always in a deeper sense of unity, and, on her part, in a fresh sense of his supremacy.

If he had been like most of the men she knew, she would have assumed that something had gone wrong in business.  With her first husband she had always been able to read in his face as he entered the house the full history of his business day.  Sometimes she had felt that there was something insulting in the promptness of her inquiry, “Has anything gone wrong, Joe?” But Severance had never appeared to feel the insult; only as time went on, had grown more and more ready, as her interest became more and more lackadaisical, to pour out the troubles and, much more rarely, the joys of his day.  One of the things she secretly admired most about Farron was his independence of her in such matters.  No half-contemptuous question would elicit confidence from him, so that she had come to think it a great honor if by any chance he did drop her a hint as to the mood that his day’s work had occasioned.  But for the most part he was unaffected by such matters.  Newspaper attacks and business successes did not seem to reach the area where he suffered or rejoiced.  They were to be dealt with or ignored, but they could neither shadow or elate him.

So that not only egotism, but experience, bade her look to her own conduct for some explanation of the chilly little mist that had been between them for twenty-four hours.

As soon as the drawing-room door closed behind her she ran up-stairs like a girl.  There was no light in his study, and she went on into his bedroom.  He was lying on the sofa; he had taken off his coat, and his arms were clasped under his head; he was smoking a long cigar.  To find him idle was unusual.  His was not a contemplative nature; a trade journal or a detective novel were the customary solace of odd moments like this.

He did not move as she entered, but he turned his eyes slowly and seriously upon her.  His eyes were black.  He was a very dark man, with a smooth, brown skin and thick, fine hair, which clung closely to his broad, rather massive head.  He was clean shaven, so that, as Adelaide loved to remember a friend of his had once suggested, his business competitors might take note of the stern lines of his mouth and chin.

She came in quickly, and shut the door behind her, and then dropping on her knees beside him, she laid her head against his heart.  He put out his hand, touched her face, and said: 

“Take off this veil.”

The taking off of Adelaide’s veil was not a process to be accomplished ill-advisedly or lightly.  Lucie, her maid, had put it on, with much gathering together and looking into the glass over her mistress’s shoulder, and it was held in place with shining pins and hair-pins.  She lifted her head, sank back upon her heels, and raised her arms to the offending cobweb of black meshes, while her husband went on in a tone not absolutely denuded of reproach: 

“You’ve been in some time.”

“Yes,”-she stuck the first pin into the upholstery of the sofa,-“but Pringle told me Mathilde had a visitor, and I thought it was my duty to stop and be a little parental.”

“A young man?”

“Yes.  I forget his name-just like all these young men nowadays, alert and a little too much at his ease, but amusing in his way.  He said, among other things-”

But Farron, it appeared, was not exclusively interested in the words of Mathilde’s visitor; for at this instant, perceiving that his wife had disengaged herself from her veil, he sat up, caught her to him, and pressed his lips to hers.

“O Adelaide!” he said, and it seemed to her he spoke with a sort of agony.

She held him away from her.

“Vincent, what is it?” she asked.

“What is what?”

“Is anything wrong?”

“Between us?”

Oh, she knew that method of his, to lead her on to make definite statements about impressions of which nothing definite could be accurately said.

“No, I won’t be pinned down,” she said; “but I feel it, the way a rheumatic feels it, when the wind goes into the east.”

He continued to look at her gravely; she thought he was going to speak when a knock came at the door.  It was Pringle announcing the visit of Mr. Lanley.

Adelaide rose slowly to her feet, and, walking to her husband’s dressing-table, repinned her hat, and caught up the little stray locks which grew in deep, sharp points at the back of her head.

“You’ll come down, too?” she said.

Farron was looking about for his coat, and as he put it on he observed dryly: 

“The young man is seeing all the family.”

“Oh, he won’t mind,” she answered.  “He probably hasn’t the slightest wish to see Mathilde alone.  They both struck me as sorry when I left them; they were running down.  You can’t imagine, Vin, how little romance there is among all these young people.”

“They leave it to us,” he answered.  This was exactly in his accustomed manner, and as they went down-stairs together her heart felt lighter, though the long, black, shiny pin stuck harmlessly into the upholstery of the sofa was like a mile-stone, for afterward she remembered that her questions had gone unanswered.

Wayne was still in the drawing-room, and Mathilde, who loved her grandfather, was making a gentle fuss over him, a process which consisted largely in saying:  “O Grandfather!  Oh, you didn’t!  O Grandfather!”

Mr. Lanley, though a small man and now over sixty, had a distinct presence.  He wore excellent gray clothes of the same shade as his hair, and out of this neutrality of tint his bright, brown eyes sparkled piercingly.

He had begun life with the assumption that to be a New York Lanley was in itself enough, a comfortable creed in which many of his relations had obscurely lived and died.  But before he was graduated from Columbia College he began to doubt whether the profession of being an aristocrat in a democracy was a man’s job.  At no time in his life did he deny the value of birth and breeding; but he came to regard them as a responsibility solemn and often irritating to those who did not possess them, though he was no longer content with the current views of his family that they were a sufficient attainment in themselves.

He was graduated from college in 1873, and after a summer at the family place on the Hudson, hot, fertile, and inaccessible, which his sister Alberta was at that time occupying, he had arranged a trip round the world.  September of that year brought the great panic, and swept away many larger and solider fortunes than the Lanleys’.  Mr. Lanley decided that he must go to work, though he abandoned his traditions no further than to study law.  His ancestors, like many of the aristocrats of the early days, had allowed their opinions of fashion to influence too much their selection of real estate.  All through the late seventies, while his brothers and sisters were clinging sentimentally to brownstone fronts in Stuyvesant Square or red-brick façades in Great Jones Street, Mr. Lanley himself, unaffected by recollections of Uncle Joel’s death or grandma’s marriage, had been parting with his share in such properties, and investing along the east side of the park.

By the time he was forty he was once more a fairly rich man.  He had left the practice of law to become the president of the Peter Stuyvesant Trust Company, for which he had been counsel.  After fifteen years he had retired from this, too, and had become, what he insisted nature had always intended him to be, a gentleman of leisure.  He retained a directorship in the trust company, was a trustee of his university, and was a thorny and inquiring member of many charitable boards.

He prided himself on having emancipated himself from the ideas of his own generation.  It bored him to listen to his cousins lamenting the vulgarities of modern life, the lack of elegance in present-day English, or to hear them explain as they borrowed money from him the sort of thing a gentleman could or could not do for a living.  But on the subject of what a lady might do he still held fixed and unalterable notions; nor did he ever find it tiresome to hear his own daughter expound the axioms of this subject with a finality he had taught her in her youth.  Having freed himself from fine-gentlemanism, he had quite unconsciously fallen the more easily a prey to fine-ladyism; all his conservatism had gone into that, as a man, forced to give up his garden, might cherish one lovely potted plant.

At a time when private schools were beginning to flourish once more he had been careful to educate Adelaide entirely at home with governesses.  Every summer he took her abroad, and showed her, and talked with her about, books, pictures, and buildings; he inoculated her with such fundamentals as that a lady never wears imitation lace on her underclothes, and the past of the verb to “eat” is pronounced to rhyme with “bet.”  She spoke French and German fluently, and could read Italian.  He considered her a perfectly educated woman.  She knew nothing of business, political economy, politics, or science.  He himself had never been deeply interested in American politics, though very familiar with the lives of English statesmen.  He was a great reader of memoirs and of the novels of Disraeli and Trollope.  Of late he had taken to motoring.

He kissed his daughter and nodded-a real New York nod-to his son-in-law.

“I’ve come to tell you, Adelaide,” he began.

“Such a thing!” murmured Mathilde, shaking her golden head above the cup of tea she was making for him, making in just the way he liked; for she was a little person who remembered people’s tastes.

“I thought you’d rather hear it than read it in the papers.”

“Goodness, Papa, you talk as if you had been getting married!”

“No.”  Mr. Lanley hesitated, and looked up at her brightly.  “No; but I think I did have a proposal the other day.”

“From Mrs. Baxter?” asked Adelaide.  This was almost war.  Mrs. Baxter was a regal and possessive widow from Baltimore whose long and regular visits to Mr. Lanley had once occasioned his family some alarm, though time had now given them a certain institutional safety.

Her father was not flurried by the reference.

“No,” he said; “though she writes me, I’m glad to say, that she is coming soon.”

“You don’t tell me!” said Adelaide.  The cream of the winter season was usually the time Mrs. Baxter selected for her visit.

Her father did not notice her.

“If Mrs. Baxter should ever propose to me,” he went on thoughtfully, “I shouldn’t refuse.  I don’t think I should have the-”

“The chance?” said his daughter.

“I was going to say the fortitude.  But this,” he went on, “was an elderly cousin, who expressed a wish to come and be my housekeeper.  Perhaps matrimony was not intended.  Mathilde, my dear, how does one tell nowadays whether one is being proposed to or not?”

In this poignant and unexpected crisis Mathilde turned slowly and painfully crimson.  How did one tell?  It was a question which at the moment was anything but clear to her.

“I should always assume it in doubtful cases, sir,” said Wayne, very distinctly.  He and Mathilde did not even glance at each other.

“It wasn’t your proposal that you came to announce to us, though, was it, Papa?” said Adelaide.

“No,” answered Mr. Lanley.  “The fact is, I’ve been arrested.”


“Yes; most unjustly, most unjustly.”  His brows contracted, and then relaxed at a happy memory.  “It’s the long, low build of the car.  It looks so powerful that the police won’t give you a chance.  It was nosing through the park-”

“At about thirty miles an hour,” said Farron.

“Well, not a bit over thirty-five.  A lovely morning, no one in sight, I may have let her out a little.  All of a sudden one of these mounted fellows jumped out from the bushes along the bridle-path.  They’re a fine-looking lot, Vincent.”

Farron asked who the judge was, and, Mr. Lanley named him-named him slightly wrong, and Farron corrected him.

“I’ll get you off,” he said.

Adelaide looked up at her husband admiringly.  This was the aspect of him that she loved best.  It seemed to her like magic what Vincent could do.  Her father, she thought, took it very calmly.  What would have happened to him if she had not brought Farron into the family to rescue and protect?  The visiting boy, she noticed, was properly impressed.  She saw him give Farron quite a dog-like look as he took his departure.  To Mathilde he only bowed.  No arrangements had been made for a future meeting.  Mathilde tried to convey to him in a prolonged look that if he would wait only five minutes all would be well, that her grandfather never paid long visits; but the door closed behind him.  She became immediately overwhelmed by the fear, which had an element of desire in it, too, that her family would fall to discussing him, would question her as to how long she had known him, and why she liked him, and what they talked about, and whether she had been expecting a visit, sitting there in her best dress.  Then slowly she took in the fact that they were going to talk about nothing but Mr. Lanley’s arrest.  She marveled at the obtuseness of older people-to have stood at the red-hot center of youth and love and not even to know it!  She drew her shoulders together, feeling very lonely and strong.  As they talked, she allowed her eyes to rest first on one speaker and then on the other, as if she were following each word of the discussion.  As a matter of fact she was rehearsing with an inner voice the tone of Wayne’s voice when he had said that he loved her.

Then suddenly she decided that she would be much happier alone in her own room.  She rose, patted her grandfather on the shoulder, and prepared to escape.  He, not wishing to be interrupted at the moment, patted her hand in return.

“Hello!” he exclaimed.  “Hands are cold, my dear.”

She caught Farron’s cool, black eyes, and surprised herself by answering: 

“Yes; but, then, they always are.”  This was quite untrue, but every one was perfectly satisfied with it.

As she left the room Mr. Lanley was saying: 

“Yes, I don’t want to go to Blackwell’s Island.  Lovely spot, of course.  My grandfather used to tell me he remembered it when the Blackwell family still lived there.  But I shouldn’t care to wear stripes-except for the pleasure of telling Alberta about it.  It would give her a year’s occupation, her suffering over my disgrace, wouldn’t it, Adelaide?”

“She’d scold me,” said Adelaide, looking beautifully martyred.  Then turning to her husband, she asked.  “Will it be very difficult, Vincent, getting papa off?” She wanted it to be difficult, she wanted him to give her material out of which she could form a picture of him as a savior; but he only shook his head and said: 

“That young man is in love with Mathilde.”

“O Vin!  Those children?”

Mr. Lanley pricked up his ears like a terrier.

“In love?” he exclaimed.  “And who is he?  Not one of the East Sussex Waynes, I hope.  Vulgar people.  They always were; began life as auctioneers in my father’s time.  Is he one of those, Adelaide?”

“I have no idea who he is, if any one,” said Adelaide.  “I never saw or heard of him before this afternoon.”

“And may I ask,” said her father, “if you intend to let your daughter become engaged to a young man of whom you know nothing whatsoever?”

Adelaide looked extremely languid, one of her methods of showing annoyance.

“Really, Papa,” she said, “the fact that he has come once to pay an afternoon visit to Mathilde does not, it seems to me, make an engagement inevitable.  My child is not absolutely repellent, you know, and a good many young men come to the house.”  Then suddenly remembering that her oracle had already spoken on this subject, she asked more humbly, “What was it made you say he was in love, Vin?”

“Just an impression,” said Farron.

Mr. Lanley had been thinking it over.

“It was not the custom in my day,” he began, and then remembering that this was one of his sister Alberta’s favorite openings, he changed the form of his sentence.  “I never allowed you to see stray young men-”

His daughter interrupted him.

“But I always saw them, Papa.  I used to let them come early in the afternoon before you came in.”

In his heart Mr. Lanley doubted that this had been a regular custom, but he knew it would be unwise to argue the point; so he started fresh.

“When a young man is attentive to a girl like Mathilde-”

“But he isn’t,” said Adelaide.  “At least not what I should have called attentive when I was a girl.”

“Your experience was not long, my dear.  You were married at Mathilde’s age.”

“You may be sure of one thing, Papa, that I don’t desire an early marriage for my daughter.”

“Very likely,” returned her father, getting up, and buttoning the last button of his coat; “but you may have noticed that we can’t always get just what we most desire for our children.”

When he had gone, Vincent looked at his wife and smiled, but smiled without approval.  She twisted her shoulders.

“Oh, I suppose so,” she said; “but I do so hate to be scolded about the way I bring up Mathilde.”

“Or about anything else, my dear.”

“I don’t hate to be scolded by you,” she returned.  “In fact, I sometimes get a sort of servile enjoyment from it.  Besides,” she went on, “as a matter of fact, I bring Mathilde up particularly well, quite unlike these wild young women I see everywhere else.  She tells me everything, and I have perfectly the power of making her hate any one I disapprove of.  But you’ll try and find out something about this young man, won’t you, Vin?”

“We’ll have a full report on him to-morrow.  Do you know what his first name is?”

“At the moment I don’t recall his last.  Oh, yes-Wayne.  I’ll ask Mathilde when we go up-stairs.”

From her own bedroom door she called up.

“Mathilde, what is the name of your young friend?”

There was a little pause before Mathilde answered that she was sorry, but she didn’t know.

Mrs. Farron turned to her husband and made a little gesture to indicate that this ignorance on the girl’s part did not bear out his theory; but she saw that he did not admit it, that he clung still to his impression.  “And Vincent’s impressions-” she said to herself as she went in to dress.