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

Early the next morning, in Mrs. Baxter’s parlance,-that is to say, some little time before the sun had reached the meridian,-she was ringing Adelaide’s door-bell, while she minutely observed the curtains, the door-mat, the ivy plants in the vestibule, and the brightness of the brass knobs on the railing.  In this she had a double motive:  what was evil she would criticize, what was good she would copy.

Adelaide was sitting with her husband when her visitor’s name was brought up.  Since she had discovered that she was to be nothing but a sort of super-nurse to him, she found herself expert at rendering such service.  She had brought in his favorite flowers, chosen a book for his bedside, and now sat gossiping beside him, not bringing him, as she said to herself, any of her real troubles; that would not be good for him.  How extraordinarily easy it was to conceal, she thought.  She heard her own tones, as gay and intimate as ever, as satisfactory to Vincent; and yet all the time her mind was working apart on her anxieties about Mathilde-anxieties with which, of course, one couldn’t bother a poor sick creature.  She smoothed his pillow with the utmost tenderness.

“Oh, Pringle,” she said, in answer to his announcement that Mrs. Baxter was down-stairs, “you haven’t let her in?”

“She’s in the drawing-room, Madam.”  And Pringle added as a clear indication of what he considered her duty, “She came in Mr. Lanley’s motor.”

“Of course she did.  Well, say I’ll be down,” and as Pringle went away with this encouraging intelligence, Adelaide sank even farther back in her chair and looked at her husband.  “What I am called upon to sacrifice to other people’s love affairs!  The Waynes and Mrs. Baxter-I never have time for my own friends.  I don’t mind Mrs. Baxter when you’re well, and I can have a dinner; I ask all the stupid people together to whom I owe parties, and she is so pleased with them, and thinks they represent the most brilliant New York circle; but to have to go down and actually talk to her, isn’t that hard, Vin?”

“Hard on me,” said Farron.

“Oh, I shall come back-exhausted.”

“By what you have given out?”

“No, but by her intense intimacy.  You have no idea how well she knows me.  It’s Adelaide this and Adelaide that and ’the last time you stayed with me in Baltimore.’  You know, Vin, I never stayed with her but once, and that only because she found me in the hotel and kidnapped me.  However,”-Adelaide stood up with determination,-“one good thing is, I have begun to have an effect on my father.  He does not like her any more.  He was distinctly bored at the prospect of her visit this time.  He did not resent it at all when I called her an upholstered old lady.  I really think,” she added, with modest justice, “that I am rather good at poisoning people’s minds against their undesirable friends.”  She paused, debating how long it would take her to separate Mathilde from the Wayne boy; and recalling that this was no topic for an invalid, she smiled at him and went down-stairs.

“My dear Adelaide!” said Mrs. Baxter, enveloping her in a powdery caress.

“How wonderfully you’re looking, Mrs. Baxter,” said Adelaide, choosing her adverb with intention.

“Now tell me, dear,” said Mrs. Baxter, with a wave of a gloved hand, “what are those Italian embroideries?”

“Those?” Adelaide lifted her eyebrows.  “Ah, you’re in fun!  A collector like you!  Surely you know what those are.”

“No,” answered Mrs. Baxter, firmly, though she wished she had selected something else to comment on.

“Oh, they are the Villanelli embroideries,” said Adelaide, carelessly, very much as if she had said they were the Raphael cartoons, so that Mrs. Baxter was forced to reply in an awestruck tone: 

“You don’t tell me!  Are they, really?”

Adelaide nodded brightly.  She had not actually made up the name.  It was that of an obscure little palace where she had bought the hangings, and if Mrs. Baxter had had the courage to acknowledge ignorance, Adelaide would have told the truth.  As it was, she recognized that by methods such as this she could retain absolute control over people like Mrs. Baxter.

The lady from Baltimore decided on a more general scope.

“Ah, your room!” she said.  “Do you know whose it always reminds me of-that lovely salon of Madame de Liantour’s?”

“What, of poor little Henrietta’s!” cried Adelaide, and she laid her hand appealingly for an instant on Mrs. Baxter’s knee.  “That’s a cruel thing to say.  All her good things, you know, were sold years ago.  Everything she has is a reproduction.  Am I really like her?”

Getting out of this as best she could on a vague statement about atmosphere and sunshine and charm, Mrs. Baxter took refuge in inquiries about Vincent’s health, “your charming child,” and “your dear father.”

“You know more about my dear father than I do,” returned Adelaide, sweetly.  It was Mrs. Baxter’s cue.

“I did not feel last evening that I knew anything about him at all.  He is in a new phase, almost a new personality.  Tell me, who is this Mrs. Wayne?”

“Mrs. Wayne?” Mrs. Baxter must have felt herself revenged by the complete surprise of Adelaide’s tone.

“Yes, she dined at the house last evening.  Apparently it was to have been a tete-a-tete dinner, but my arrival changed it to a partie carree.”  She talked on about Wilsey and the conversation of the evening, but it made little difference what she said, for her full idea had reached Adelaide from the start, and had gathered to itself in an instant a hundred confirmatory memories.  Like a picture, she saw before her Mrs. Wayne’s sitting-room, with the ink-spots on the rug.  Who would not wish to exchange that for Mr. Lanley’s series of fresh, beautiful rooms?  Suddenly she gave her attention back to Mrs. Baxter, who was saying: 

“I assure you, when we were alone I was prepared for a formal announcement.”

It was not safe to be the bearer of ill tidings to Adelaide.

“An announcement?” she said wonderingly.  “Oh, no, Mrs. Baxter, my father will never marry again.  There have always been rumors, and you can’t imagine how he and I have laughed over them together.”

As the indisputable subject of such rumors in past times, Mrs. Baxter fitted a little arrow in her bow.

“In the past,” she said, “women of suitable age have not perhaps been willing to consider the question, but this lady seems to me distinctly willing.”

“More than willingness on the lady’s part has been needed,” answered Adelaide, and then Pringle’s ample form appeared in the doorway.  “There’s a man from the office here, Madam, asking to see Mr. Farron.”

“Mr. Farron can see no one.”  A sudden light flashed upon her.  “What is his name, Pringle?”

“Burke, Madam.”

“Oh, let him come in.”  Adelaide turned to Mrs. Baxter.  “I will show you,” she said, “one of the finest sights you ever saw.”  The next instant Marty was in the room.  Not so gorgeous as in his wedding-attire, he was still an exceedingly fine young animal.  He was not so magnificently defiant as before, but he scowled at his unaccustomed surroundings under his dark brows.

“It’s Mr. Farron I wanted to see,” he said, a soft roll to his r’s.  At Mrs. Wayne’s Adelaide had suffered from being out of her own surroundings, but here she was on her own field, and she meant to make Burke feel it.  She was leaning with her elbow on the back of the sofa, and now she slipped her bright rings down her slim fingers and shook them back again as she looked up at Burke and spoke to him as she would have done to a servant.

“Mr. Farron cannot see you.”

Cleverer people than Burke had struggled vainly against the poison of inferiority which this tone instilled into their minds.

“That’s what they keep telling me down-town.  I never knew him sick before.”


“It wouldn’t take five minutes.”

“Mr. Farron is too weak to see you.”

Marty made a strange grating sound in his throat, and Adelaide asked like a queen bending from the throne: 

“What seems to be the matter, Burke?”

“Why,”-Burke turned upon her the flare of his light, fierce eyes,-“they have it on me on the dock that as soon as he comes back he means to bounce me.”

“To bounce you,” repeated Adelaide, and she almost smiled as she thought of that poor exhausted figure up-stairs.

“I don’t care if he does or not,” Marty went on.  “I’m not so damned stuck on the job.  There’s others.”

“There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far,” murmured Adelaide.

Again he scowled, feeling the approach of something hostile to him.

“What’s that?” he asked, surmising that she was insulting him.

“I said I supposed you could get a better job if you tried.”

He did not like this tone either.

“Well, whether I could or not,” he said, “this is no way.  I’m losing my hold of my men.”

“Oh, I can’t imagine your doing that, Burke.”

He turned on her to see if she were really daring to laugh at him, and met an eye as steady as his own.

“I guess I’m wasting my time here,” he said, and something intimated that some one would pay for that expenditure.

“Shall I take a message to Mr. Farron for you?” said Adelaide.

He nodded.

“Yes.  Tell him that if I’m to go, I’ll go to-day.”

“I see.”  She rose slowly, as if in response to a vague, amusing caprice.  “Just that.  If you go, you’ll go to-day.”

For the first time Burke, regaining his self-confidence, saw that she was not an enemy, but an appreciative spectator, and his face broke up in a smile, queer, crooked, wrinkled, but brilliant.

“I guess you’ll get it about right,” he said, and no compliment had ever pleased Adelaide half so much.

“I think so,” she confidently answered, and then at the door she turned.  “Oh, Mrs. Baxter,” she said, “this is Marty Burke, a very important person.”

Importance, especially Adelaide Farron’s idea of importance, was a category for which Mrs. Baxter had the highest esteem, so almost against her will she looked at Burke, and found him looking her over with such a shrewd eye that she looked away, and then looked back again to find that his gaze was still upon her.  He had made his living since he was a child by his faculty for sizing people up, and at his first glimpse of Mrs. Baxter’s shifting glance he had sized her up; so that now, when she remarked with an amiability at once ponderous and shaky that it was a very fine day, he replied in exactly the same tone, “It is that,” and began to walk about the room looking at the pictures.  Presently a low, but sweet, whistle broke from his lips.  He made her feel uncommonly uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that she was driven to conversation.

“Are you fond of pictures, Burke?” she asked.  He just looked at her over his shoulder without answering.  She began to wish that Adelaide would come back.

Adelaide had found her husband still accessible.  He received in silence the announcement that Burke was down-stairs.  She told the message without bias.

“He says that they have it on him on the dock that he is to be bounced.  He asked me to say this to you:  that if he is to go, he’ll go to-day.”

“What was his manner?”

Adelaide could not resist a note of enjoyment entering into her tone as she replied: 

“Insolent in the extreme.”

She was leaning against the wall at the foot of his bed, and though she was not looking at him, she felt his eyes on her.

“Adelaide,” he said, “you should not have brought me that message.”

“You mean it is bad for your health to be worried, dearest?” she asked in a tone so soft that only an expert in tones could have detected something not at all soft beneath it.  She glanced at her husband under her lashes.  Wasn’t he any more an expert in her tones?

“I mean,” he answered, “that you should have told him to go to the devil.”

“Oh, I leave that to you, Vin.”  She laughed, and added after a second’s pause, “I was only a messenger.”

“Tell him I shall be down-town next week.”

“Oh, Vin, no; not next week.”

“Tell him next week.”

“I can’t do that.”

“I thought you were only a messenger.”

“Your doctor would not hear of it.  It would be madness.”

Farron leaned over and touched his bell.  The nurse was instantly in the room, looking at Vincent, Adelaide thought, as a water-dog looks at its master when it perceives that a stick is about to be thrown into the pond.

“Miss Gregory,” said Vincent, “there’s a young man from my office down-stairs.  Will you tell him that I can’t see him to-day, but that I shall be down-town next week, and I’ll see him then?”

Miss Gregory was almost at the door before Adelaide stopped her.

“You must know that Mr. Farron cannot get down-town next week.”

“Has the doctor said not?”

Adelaide shook her head impatiently.

“I don’t suppose any one has been so insane as to ask him,” she answered.

Miss Gregory smiled temperately.

“Oh, next week is a long time off,” she said, and left the room.  Adelaide turned to her husband.

“Do you enjoy being humored?” she asked.

Farron had closed his eyes, and now opened them.

“I beg your pardon,” he said.  “I didn’t hear.”

“She knows quite well that you can’t go down-town next week.  She takes your message just to humor you.”

“She’s an excellent nurse,” said Farron.

“For babies,” Adelaide felt like answering, but she didn’t.  She said instead, “Anyhow, Burke will never accept that as an answer.”  She was surprised to hear something almost boastful in her own tone.

“Oh, I think he will.”

She waited breathlessly for some sound from down-stairs or even for the flurried reentrance of Miss Gregory.  There was a short silence, and then came the sound of the shutting of the front door.  Marty had actually gone.

Vincent did not even open his eyes when Miss Gregory returned; he did not exert himself to ask how his message had been received.  Adelaide waited an instant, and then went back to Mrs. Baxter with a strange sense of having sustained a small personal defeat.

Mrs. Baxter was so thoroughly ruffled that she was prepared to attack even the sacrosanct Adelaide.  But she was not given the chance.

“Well, how did Marty treat you?” said Adelaide.

Mrs. Baxter sniffed.

“We had not very much in common,” she returned.

“No; Marty’s a very real person.”  There was a pause.  “What became of him?  Did he go?”

“Yes, your husband’s trained nurse gave him a message, and he went away.”

“Quietly?” The note of disappointment was so plain that Mrs. Baxter asked in answer: 

“What would you have wanted him to do?”

Adelaide laughed.

“I suppose it would have been too much to expect that he would drag you and Miss Gregory about by your hair,” she said, “but I own I should have liked some little demonstration.  But perhaps,” she added more brightly, “he has gone back to wreck the docks.”

At this moment Mathilde entered the room in her hat and furs, and distracted the conversation from Burke.  Adelaide, who was fond of enunciating the belief that you could tell when people were in love by the frequency with which they wore their best clothes, noticed now how wonderfully lovely Mathilde was looking; but she noticed it quite unsuspiciously, for she was thinking, “My child is really a beauty.”

“You remember Mrs. Baxter, my dear.”

Mathilde did not remember her in the least, though she smiled sufficiently.  To her Mrs. Baxter seemed just one of many dressy old ladies who drifted across the horizon only too often.  If any one had told her that her grandfather had ever been supposed to be in danger of succumbing to charms such as these, she would have thought the notion an ugly example of grown-up pessimism.

Mrs. Baxter held her hand and patted it.

“Where does she get that lovely golden hair?” she asked.  “Not from you, does she?”

“She gets it from her father,” answered Adelaide, and her expression added, “you dreadful old goose.”

In the pause Mathilde made her escape unquestioned.  She knew even before a last pathetic glance that her mother was unutterably wearied with her visitor.  In other circumstances she would have stayed to effect a rescue, but at present she was engaged in a deed of some recklessness on her own account.  She was going to meet Pete Wayne secretly at the Metropolitan Museum.