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

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 independence.

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 being left.

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 separation.

“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 have lived.”

“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 to himself: 

“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 couldn’t come.”

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 enjoyed this.”

“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 grandfather with-”

“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-” Mathilde began.

“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 très fort,” she said, with that absolute neutrality of accent that sounds in Anglo-Saxon ears almost like a complaint.

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 anesthetic.

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, dominating self.

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 perfectly grave.

“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?”

Adelaide laughed.

“You know very little of Mr. Farron,” she said, “if you think he worries over trifles.”

“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.