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

Mr. Lanley was ruffled as he left his daughter’s drawing-room.

“As if I had wanted her to marry at eighteen,” he said to himself; and he took his hat crossly from Pringle and set it hard on his head at the slight angle which he preferred.  Then reflecting that Pringle was not in any way involved, he unbent slightly, and said something that sounded like: 

“Haryer, Pringle?”

Pringle, despite his stalwart masculine appearance, had in speaking a surprisingly high, squeaky voice.

“I keep my health, thank you, sir,” he said.  “Anna has been somewhat ailing.”  Anna was his wife, to whom he usually referred as “Mrs. Pringle”; but he made an exception in speaking to Mr. Lanley, for she had once been the Lanleys’ kitchen-maid.  “Your car, sir?”

No, Mr. Lanley was walking-walking, indeed, more quickly than usual under the stimulus of annoyance.

Nothing had ever happened that made him suffer as he had suffered through his daughter’s divorce.  Divorce was one of the modern ideas which he had imagined he had accepted.  As a lawyer he had expressed himself as willing always to take the lady’s side; but in the cases which he actually took he liked to believe that the wife was perfect and the husband inexcusable.  He could not comfort himself with any such belief in his daughter’s case.

Adelaide’s conduct had been, as far as he could see, irreproachable; but, then, so had Severance’s.  This was what had made the gossip, almost the scandal, of the thing.  Even his sister Alberta had whispered to him that if Severance had been unfaithful to Adelaide-But poor Severance had not been unfaithful; he had not even become indifferent.  He loved his wife, he said, as much as on the day he married her.  He was extremely unhappy.  Mr. Lanley grew to dread the visits of his huge, blond son-in-law, who used actually to sob in the library, and ask for explanations of something which Mr. Lanley had never been able to understand.

And how obstinate Adelaide had been!  She, who had been such a docile girl, and then for many years so completely under the thumb of her splendid-looking husband, had suddenly become utterly intractable.  She would listen to no reason and brook no delay.  She had been willing enough to explain; she had explained repeatedly, but the trouble was he could not understand the explanation.  She did not love her husband any more, she said.  Mr. Lanley pointed out to her that this was no legal grounds for a divorce.

“Yes, but I look down upon him,” she went on.

“On poor Joe?” her father had asked innocently, and had then discovered that this was the wrong thing to say.  She had burst out, “Poor Joe! poor Joe!” That was the way every one considered him.  Was it her fault if he excited pity and contempt instead of love and respect?  Her love, she intimated, had been of a peculiarly eternal sort; Severance himself was to blame for its extinction.  Mr. Lanley discovered that in some way she considered the intemperance of Severance’s habits to be involved.  But this was absurd.  It was true that for a year or two Severance had taken to drinking rather more than was wise; but, Mr. Lanley had thought at the time, the poor young man had not needed any artificial stimulant in the days when Adelaide had fully and constantly admired him.  He had seen Severance come home several times not exactly drunk, but rather more boyishly boastful and hilarious than usual.  Even Mr. Lanley, a naturally temperate man, had not found Joe repellent in the circumstances.  Afterward he had been thankful for this weakness:  it gave him the only foundation on which he could build a case not for the courts, of course, but for the world.  Unfortunately, however, Severance had pulled up before there was any question of divorce.

That was another confusing fact.  Adelaide had managed him so beautifully.  Her father had not known her wonderful powers until he saw the skill and patience with which she had dealt with Joe Severance’s drinking.  Joe himself was eager to own that he owed his cure entirely to her.  Mr. Lanley had been proud of her; she had turned out, he thought, just what a woman ought to be; and then, on top of it, she had come to him one day and announced that she would never live with Joe again.

“But why not?” he had asked.

“Because I don’t love him,” she had said.

Then Mr. Lanley knew how little his acceptance of the idea of divorce in general had reconciled him to the idea of the divorce of his own daughter-a Lanley-Mrs. Adelaide Lanley, Mrs. Adelaide Severance.  His sense of fitness was shocked, though he pleaded with her first on the ground of duty, and then under the threat of scandal.  With her beauty and Severance’s popularity, for from his college days he had been extremely popular with men, the divorce excited uncommon interest.  Severance’s unconcealed grief, a rather large circle of devoted friends in whom he confided, and the fact that Adelaide had to go to Nevada to get her divorce, led most people to believe that she had simply found some one she liked better.  Mr. Lanley would have believed it himself, but he couldn’t.  Farron had not appeared until she had been divorced for several years.

Lanley still cherished an affection for Severance, who had very soon married again, a local belle in the Massachusetts manufacturing town where he now lived.  She was said to resemble Adelaide.

No, Mr. Lanley could not see that he had had anything to reproach himself with in regard to his daughter’s first marriage.  They had been young, of course; all the better.  He had known the Severances for years; and Joe was handsome, hard working, had rowed on his crew, and every one spoke well of him.  Certainly they had been in love-more in love than he liked to see two people, at least when one of them was his own daughter.  He had suggested their waiting a year or two, but no one had backed him up.  The Severances had been eager for the marriage, naturally.  Mr. Lanley could still see the young couple as they turned from the altar, young, beautiful, and confident.

He had missed his daughter terribly, not only her physical presence in the house, but the exercise of his influence over her, which in old times had been perhaps a trifle autocratic.  He had hated being told what Joe thought and said; yet he could hardly object to her docility.  That was the way he had brought her up.  He did not reckon pliancy in a woman as a weakness; or if he had had any temptation to do so, it had vanished in the period when Joe Severance had taken to drink.  In that crisis Adelaide had been anything but weak.  Every one had been so grateful to her,-he and Joe and the Severances,-and then immediately afterward the crash came.

Women!  Mr. Lanley shook his head, still moving briskly northward with that quick jaunty walk of his.  And this second marriage-what about that?  They seemed happy.  Farron was a fine fellow, but not, it seemed to him, so attractive to a woman as Severance.  Could he hold a woman like Adelaide?  He wasn’t a man to stand any nonsense, though, and Mr. Lanley nodded; then, as it were, withdrew the nod on remembering that poor Joe had not wanted to stand any nonsense either.  What in similar circumstances could Farron do?  Adelaide always resented his asking how things were going, but how could he help being anxious?  How could any one rest content on a hillside who had once been blown up by a volcano?

He might not have been any more content if he had stayed to dinner at his son-in-law’s, as he had been asked to do.  The Farrons were alone.  Mathilde was going to a dinner, with a dance after.  She came into the dining-room to say good night and to promise to be home early, not to stay and dance.  She was not allowed two parties on successive nights, not because her health was anything but robust, but rather because her mother considered her too young for such vulgar excess.

When she had gone, Farron observed: 

“That child has a will of iron.”

“Vincent!” said his wife.  “She does everything I suggest to her.”

“Her will just now is to please you in everything.  Wait until she rebels.”

“But women don’t rebel against the people they love.  I don’t have to tell you that, do I?  I never have to manoeuver the child, never have to coax or charm her to do what I want.”

He smiled at her across the table.

“You have great faith in those methods, haven’t you?”

“They work, Vin.”

He nodded as if no one knew that better than he.

Soon after dinner he went up-stairs to write some letters.  She followed him about ten o’clock.  She came and leaned one hand on his shoulder and one on his desk.

“Still working?” she said.  She had been aware of no desire to see what he was writing, but she was instantly aware that his blotting-paper had fallen across the sheet, that the sheet was not a piece of note-paper, but one of a large pad on which he had been apparently making notes.

Her diamond bracelet had slipped down her wrist and lay upon the blotting-paper; he slowly and carefully pushed it up her slim, round arm until it once more clung in place.

“I’ve nearly finished,” he said; and to her ears there was some under sound of pain or of constraint in his tone.

A little later he strolled, still dressed, into her room.  She was already in bed, and he came and sat on the foot of the bed, with one foot tucked under him and his arms folded.

Her mind during the interval had been exclusively occupied with the position of that piece of blotting-paper.  Could it be there was some other woman whose ghost-like presence she was just beginning to feel haunting their relation?  The impersonality of Vincent’s manner was an armor against such attacks, but this armor, as Adelaide knew, was more apparent than real.  If one could get beyond that, one was at the very heart of the man.  If some fortuitous circumstance had brought a sudden accidental intimacy between him and another woman-What woman loving strength and power could resist the sight of Vincent in action, Vincent as she saw him?

Yet with a good capacity for believing the worst of her fellow-creatures, Adelaide did not really believe in the other woman.  That, she knew, would bring a change in the fundamentals of her relationship with her husband.  This was only a barrier that left the relation itself untouched.

Before very long she began to think the situation was all in her own imagination.  He was so amused, so eager to talk.  Silent as he was apt to be with the rest of the world, with her he sometimes showed a love of gossip that enchanted her.  And now it seemed to her that he was leading her on from subject to subject through a childish dislike to going to bed.  They were actually giggling over Mr. Lanley’s adventure when a motor-brake squeaked in the silence of the night, a motor-door slammed.  For the first time Adelaide remembered her daughter.  It was after twelve o’clock.  A knock came at her door.  She wrapped her swan’s-down garment about her and went to the door.

“O Mama, have you been worried?” the girl asked.  She was standing in the narrow corridor, with her arms full of shining favors; there could be no question whatever that she had stayed for the dance.  “Are you angry?  Have I been keeping you awake?”

“I thought you would have been home an hour ago.”

“I know.  I want to tell you about it.  Mama, how lovely you look in that blue thing!  Won’t you come up-stairs with me while I undress?”

Adelaide shook her head.

“Not to-night,” she answered.

“You are angry with me,” the girl went on.  “But if you will come, I will explain.  I have something to tell you, Mama.”

Mrs. Farron’s heart stood still.  The phrase could mean only one thing.  She went up-stairs with her daughter, sent the maid away, and herself began to undo the soft, pink silk.

“It needs an extra hook,” she murmured.  “I told her it did.”

Mathilde craned her neck over her shoulder, as if she had ever been able to see the middle of her back.

“But it doesn’t show, does it?” she asked.

“It perfectly well might.”

Mathilde stepped out of her dress, and flung it over a chair.  In her short petticoat, with her ankles showing and her arms bare, she looked like a very young girl, and when she put up her hands and took the pins out of her hair, so that it fell over her shoulders, she might have been a child.

The silence began to grow awkward.  Mathilde put on her dressing-gown; it was perfectly straight, and made her look like a little white column.  A glass of milk and some biscuits were waiting for her.  She pushed a chair near her fire for her mother, and herself remained standing, with her glass of milk in her hand.

“Mama,” she said suddenly, “I suppose I’m what you’d call engaged.”

“O Mathilde! not to that boy who was here to-day?”

“Why not to him?”

“I know nothing about him.”

“I don’t know very much myself.  Yes, it’s Pete Wayne.  Pierson his name is, but every one calls him Pete.  How strange it was that I did not even know his first name when you asked me!”

A single ray pierced Mrs. Farron’s depression:  Vincent had known, Vincent’s infallibility was confirmed.  She did not know what to say.  She sat looking sadly, obliquely at the floor like a person who has been aggrieved.  She was wondering whether she should be to her daughter a comrade or a ruler, a confederate or a policeman.  Of course in all probability the thing would be better stopped.  But could this be accomplished by immediate action, or could she invite confidences and yet commit herself to nothing?

She raised her eyes.

“I do not approve of youthful marriages,” she said.

“O Mama!  And you were only eighteen yourself.”

“That is why.”

Mathilde was frightened not only by the intense bitterness of her mother’s tone, but also by the obvious fact that she was face to face with the explanation of the separation of her parents.  She had been only nine years old at the time.  She had loved her father, had found him a better playfellow than her mother, had wept bitterly at parting with him, and had missed him.  And then gradually her mother, who had before seemed like a beautiful, but remote, princess, had begun to make of her an intimate and grown-up friend, to consult her and read with her and arrange happinesses in her life, to win, to, if the truth must be told, reconquer her.  Perhaps even Adelaide would not have succeeded so easily in effacing Severance’s image had not he himself so quickly remarried.  Mathilde went several times to stay with the new household after Adelaide in secret, tearful conference with her father had been forced to consent.

To Mathilde these visits had been an unacknowledged torture.  She never knew quite what to mention and what to leave untouched.  There was always a constraint between the three of them.  Her father, when alone with her, would question her, with strange, eager pauses, as to how her mother looked.  Her mother’s successor, whom she could not really like, would question her more searchingly, more embarrassingly, with an ill-concealed note of jealousy in every word.  Even at twelve years Mathilde was shocked by the strain of hatred in her father’s new wife, who seemed to reproach her for fashion and fineness and fastidiousness, qualities of which the girl was utterly unaware.  She could have loved her little half-brother when he appeared upon the scene, but Mrs. Severance did not encourage the bond, and gradually Mathilde’s visits to her father ceased.

As a child she had been curious about the reasons for the parting, but as she grew older it had seemed mere loyalty to accept the fact without asking why; she had perhaps not wanted to know why.  But now, she saw, she was to hear.

“Mathilde, do you still love your father?”

“I think I do, Mama.  I feel very sorry for him.”


“I don’t know why.  I dare say he is happy.”

“I dare say he is, poor Joe.”  Adelaide paused.  “Well, my dear, that was the reason of our parting.  One can pity a son or a brother, but not a husband.  Weakness kills love.  A woman cannot be the leader, the guide, and keep any romance.  O Mathilde, I never want you to feel the humiliation of finding yourself stronger than the man you love.  That is why I left your father, and my justification is his present happiness.  This inferior little person he has married, she does as well.  Any one would have done as well.”

Mathilde was puzzled by her mother’s evident conviction that the explanation was complete.  She asked after a moment: 

“But what was it that made you think at first that you did love him, Mama?”

“Just what makes you think you love this boy-youth, flattery, desire to love.  He was magnificently handsome, your father.  I saw him admired by other men, apparently a master; I was too young to judge, my dear.  You shan’t be allowed to make that mistake; you shall have time to consider.”

Mathilde smiled.

“I don’t want time,” she said.

“I did not know I did.”

“I don’t think I feel about love as you do,” said the girl, slowly.

“Every woman does.”

Mathilde shook her head.

“It’s just Pete as he is that I love.  I don’t care which of us leads.”

“But you will.”

The girl had not yet reached a point where she could describe the very essence of her passion; she had to let this go.  After a moment she said: 

“I see now why you chose Mr. Farron.”

“You mean you have never seen before?”

“Not so clearly.”

Mrs. Farron bit her lips.  To have missed understanding this seemed a sufficient proof of immaturity.  She rose.

“Well, my darling,” she said in a tone of extreme reasonableness, “we shall decide nothing to-night.  I know nothing against Mr. Wayne.  He may be just the right person.  We must see more of him.  Do you know anything about his family?”

Mathilde shook her head.  “He lives alone with his mother.  His father is dead.  She’s very good and interested in drunkards.”

“In drunkards?” Mrs. Farron just shut her eyes a second.

“She has a mission that reforms them.”

“Is that his profession, too?”

“Oh, no.  He’s in Wall Street-quite a good firm.  O Mama, don’t sigh like that!  We know we can’t be married at once.  We are reasonable.  You think not, because this has all happened so suddenly; but great things do happen suddenly.  We love each other.  That’s all I wanted to tell you.”

“Love!” Adelaide looked at the little person before her, tried to recall the fading image of the young man, and then thought of the dominating figure in her own life.  “My dear, you have no idea what love is.”

She took no notice of the queer, steady look the girl gave her in return.  She went down-stairs.  She had been gone more than an hour, and she knew that Vincent would have been long since asleep.  He had, and prided himself on having, a great capacity for sleep.  She tiptoed past his door, stole into her own room, and then, glancing in the direction of his, was startled to see that a light was burning.  She went in; he was reading, and once again, as his eyes turned toward her, she thought she saw the same tragic appeal that she had felt that afternoon in his kiss.  Trembling, she threw herself down beside him, clasping him to her.

“O Vincent! oh, my dear!” she whispered, and began to cry.  He did not ask her why she was crying; she wished that he would; his silence admitted that he knew of some adequate reason.

“I feel that there is something wrong,” she sobbed, “something terribly wrong.”

“Nothing could go wrong between you and me, my darling,” he answered.  His tone comforted, his touch was a comfort.  Perhaps she was a coward, she said to herself, but she questioned him no further.