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

In all the short, but crowded, time since Lanley had first known Mrs. Wayne he had never been otherwise than glad to see her, but now his heart sank.  It seemed to him that an abyss was about to open between them, and that all their differences of spirit, stimulating enough while they remained in the abstract, were about to be cast into concrete form.

Mathilde and Pete were so glad to see her that they said nothing, but looked at her beamingly.  Whatever Adelaide’s feelings may have been, she greeted her guest with a positive courtesy, and she was the only one who did.

Mrs. Wayne nodded to her son, smiled more formally at Mr. Lanley, and then her eyes falling upon Mathilde, she realized that she had intruded on some sort of conference.  She had a natural dread of such meetings, at which it seemed to her that the only thing which she must not do was the only thing that she knew how to do, namely, to speak her mind.  So she at once decided to withdraw.

“Your man insisted on my coming in, Mrs. Farron,” she said.  “I came to ask about Mr. Farron; but I see you are in the midst of a family discussion, and so I won’t-”

Everybody separately cried out to her to stay as she began to retreat to the door, and no one more firmly than Adelaide, who thought it as careless as Mr. Lanley thought it creditable that a mother would be willing to go away and leave the discussion of her son’s life to others.  Adelaide saw an opportunity of killing two birds.

“You are just the person for whom I have been longing, Mrs. Wayne,” she said.  “Now you have come, we can settle the whole question.”

“And just what is the question?” asked Mrs. Wayne.  She sat down, looking distressed and rather guilty.  She knew they were going to ask her what she knew about all the things that had been going on, and a hasty examination of her consciousness showed her that she knew everything, though she had avoided Pete’s full confidence.  She knew simply by knowing that any two young people who loved each other would rather marry than separate for a year.  But she was aware that this deduction, so inevitable to her, was exactly the one which would be denied by the others.  So she sat, with a nervously pleasant smile on her usually untroubled face, and waited for Adelaide to speak.  She did not have long to wait.

“You did not know, I am sure, Mrs. Wayne, that your son intended to run away with my daughter?”

All four of them stared at her, making her feel more and more guilty; and at last Lanley, unable to bear it, asked: 

“Did you know that, Mrs. Wayne?”

“Oh, dear!” said Mrs. Wayne.  “Yes.  I knew it was possible; so did you.  Pete didn’t tell me about it, though.”

“But I did tell Mrs. Farron,” said Pete.

Adelaide protested at once.

“You told me?” Then she remembered that a cloud had obscured the end of their last interview, but she did not withdraw her protest.

“You know, Mrs. Farron, you have a bad habit of not listening to what is said to you,” Wayne answered firmly.

This sort of impersonal criticism was to Adelaide the greatest impertinence, and she showed her annoyance.

“In spite of the disabilities of age, Mr. Wayne,” she said, “I find I usually can get a simple idea if clearly presented.”

“Why, how absurd that is, Wayne!” put in Mr. Lanley.  “You don’t mean to say that you told Mrs. Farron you were going to elope with her daughter, and she didn’t take in what you said?”

“And yet that is just what took place.”

Adelaide glanced at her father, as much as to say, “You see what kind of young man it is,” and then went on: 

“One fact at least I have learned only this minute-that is that the finances for this romantic trip were to be furnished by a dishonorable firm from which your son has been dismissed; or, no, resigned, isn’t it?”

The human interest attached to losing a job brought mother and son together on the instant.

“O Pete, you’ve left the firm!”

He nodded.

“O my poor boy!”

He made a gesture, indicating that this was not the time to discuss the economic situation, and Adelaide went smoothly on: 

“And now, Mrs. Wayne, the point is this.  I am considered harsh because I insist that a young man without an income who has just come near to running off with my child on money that was almost a bribe is not a person in whom I have unlimited confidence.  I ask-it seems a tolerably mild request-that they do not see each other for six months.”

“I cannot agree to that,” said Wayne decidedly.

“Really, Mr. Wayne, do you feel yourself in a position to agree or disagree?  We have never consented to your engagement.  We have never thought the marriage a suitable one, have we, Papa?”

“No,” said Mr. Lanley in a tone strangely dead.

“Why is it not suitable?” asked Mrs. Wayne, as if she really hoped that an agreement might be reached by rational discussion.

“Why?” said Adelaide, and smiled.  “Dear Mrs. Wayne, these things are rather difficult to explain.  Wouldn’t it be easier for all of us if you would just accept the statement that we think so without trying to decide whether we are right or wrong?”

“I’m afraid it must be discussed,” answered Mrs. Wayne.

Adelaide leaned back, still with her faint smile, as if defying, though very politely, any one to discuss it with her.

It was inevitable that Mrs. Wayne should turn to Mr. Lanley.

“You, too, think it unsuitable?”

He bowed gravely.

“You dislike my son?”

“Quite the contrary.”

“Then you must be able to tell me the reason.”

“I will try,” he said.  He felt like a soldier called upon to defend a lost cause.  It was his cause, he couldn’t desert it.  His daughter and his granddaughter needed his protection; but he knew he was giving up something that he valued more than his life as he began to speak.  “We feel the difference in background,” he said, “of early traditions, of judging life from the same point of view.  Such differences can be overcome by time and money-” He stopped, for she was looking at him with the same wondering interest, devoid of anger, with which he had seen her study Wilsey.  “I express myself badly,” he murmured.

Mrs. Wayne rose to her feet.

“The trouble isn’t with your expression,” she said.

“You mean that what I am trying to express is wrong?”

“It seems so to me.”

“What is wrong about it?”

She seemed to think over the possibilities for an instant, and then she shook her head.

“I don’t think I could make you understand,” she answered.  She said it very gently, but it was cruel, and he turned white under the pain, suffering all the more that she was so entirely without malice.  She turned to her son.  “I’m going, Pete.  Don’t you think you might as well come, too?”

Mathilde sprang up and caught Mrs. Wayne’s hand.

“Oh, don’t go!” she cried.  “Don’t take him away!  You know they are trying to separate us.  Oh, Mrs. Wayne, won’t you take me in?  Can’t I stay with you while we are waiting?”

At this every one focused their eyes on Mrs. Wayne.  Pete felt sorry for his mother, knowing how she hated to make a sudden decision, knowing how she hated to do anything disagreeable to those about her; but he never for an instant doubted what her decision would be.  Therefore he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw her shaking her head.

“I couldn’t do that, my dear.”


“Of course you couldn’t,” said Mr. Lanley, blowing his nose immediately after under the tremendous emotion of finding that she was not an enemy, after all.  Adelaide smiled to herself.  She was thinking, “You could and would, if I hadn’t put in that sting about his failures.”

“Why can’t you, Mother?” asked Pete.

“We’ll talk that over at home.”

“My dear boy,” said Mr. Lanley, kindly, “no one over thirty would have to ask why.”

“No parent likes to assist at the kidnapping of another parent’s child,” said Adelaide.

“Good Heavens! my mother has kidnapped so many children in her day!”

“From the wrong sort of home, I suppose,” said Lanley, in explanation, to no one, perhaps, so much as to himself.

“Am I to infer that she thinks mine the right sort?  How delightful!” said Adelaide.

“Mrs. Wayne, is it because I’m richer than Pete that you won’t take me in?” asked Mathilde, visions of bestowing her wealth in charity flitting across her mind.

The other nodded.  Wayne stared.

“Mother,” he said, “you don’t mean to say you are letting yourself be influenced by a taunt like that of Mrs. Farron’s, which she didn’t even believe herself?”

Mrs. Wayne was shocked.

“Oh, no; not that, Pete.  It isn’t that at all.  But when a girl has been brought up-”

Wayne saw it all in an instant.

“Oh, yes, I see.  We’ll talk of that later.”

But Adelaide had seen, too.

“No; do go on, Mrs. Wayne.  You don’t approve of the way my daughter has been brought up.”

“I don’t think she has been brought up to be a poor man’s wife.”

“No.  I own I did not have that particular destiny in mind.”

“And when I heard you assuming just now that every one was always concerned about money, and when I realized that the girl must have been brought up in that atmosphere and belief-”

“I see.  You thought she was not quite the right wife for your son?”

“But I would try so hard,” said Mathilde.  “I would learn; I-”

“Mathilde,” interrupted her mother, “when a lady tells you you are not good enough for her son, you must not protest.”

“Come, come, Adelaide, there is no use in being disagreeable,” said Mr. Lanley.

“Disagreeable!” returned his daughter.  “Mrs. Wayne and I are entirely agreed.  She thinks her son too good for my daughter, and I think my daughter too good for her son.  Really, there seems nothing more to be said.  Good-by, Mr. Wayne.”  She held out her long, white hand to him.  Mrs. Wayne was trying to make her position clearer to Mathilde, but Pete thought this an undesirable moment for such an attempt.

Partly as an assertion of his rights, partly because she looked so young and helpless, he stopped and kissed her.

“I’ll come and see you about half-past ten tomorrow morning,” he said very clearly, so that every one could hear.  Adelaide looked blank; she was thinking that on Pringle she could absolutely depend.  Wayne saw his mother and Lanley bow to each other, and the next moment he had contrived to get her out of the house.

Mathilde rushed away to her own room, and Adelaide and her father were left alone.  She turned to him with one of her rare caresses.

“Dear Papa,” she said, “what a comfort you are to me!  What should I do without you?  You’ll never desert me, will you?” And she put her head on his shoulder.  He patted her with an absent-minded rhythm, and then he said, as if he were answering some secret train of thought: 

“I don’t see what else I could have done.”

“You couldn’t have done anything else,” replied his daughter, still nestling against him.  “But Mrs. Baxter had frightened me with her account of your sentimental admiration for Mrs. Wayne, and I thought you might want to make yourself agreeable to her at the expense of my poor child.”

She felt his shoulder heave with a longer breath.

“I can’t imagine putting anything before Mathilde’s happiness,” he said, and after a pause he added:  “I really must go home.  Mrs. Baxter will think me a neglectful host.”

“Don’t you want to bring her to dine here to-night?  I’ll try and get some one to meet her.  Let me see.  She thinks Mr. Wilsey-”

“Oh, I can’t stand Wilsey,” answered her father, crossly.

“Well, I’ll think of some one to sacrifice on the altar of your friendship.  I certainly don’t want to dine alone with Mathilde.  And, by the way, Papa, I haven’t mentioned any of this to Vincent.”

He thought it was admirable of her to bear her anxieties alone so as to spare her sick husband.

“Poor girl!” he said.  “You’ve had a tot of trouble lately.”

In the meantime Wayne and his mother walked slowly home.

“I suppose you’re furious at me, Pete,” she said.

“Not a bit,” he answered.  “For a moment, when I saw what you were going to say, I was terrified.  But no amount of tact would have made Mrs. Farron feel differently, and I think they might as well know what we really think and feel.  I was only sorry if it hurt Mathilde.”

“Oh dear, it’s so hard to be truthful!” exclaimed his mother.  He laughed, for he wished she sometimes found it harder; and she went on: 

“Poor little Mathilde!  You know I wouldn’t hurt her if I could help it.  It’s not her fault.  But what a terrible system it is, and how money does blind people!  They can’t see you at all as you are, and yet if you had fifty thousand dollars a year, they’d be more aware of your good points than I am.  They can’t see that you have resolution and charm and a sense of honor.  They don’t see the person, they just see the lack of income.”

Pete smiled.

“A person is all Mrs. Farron says she asks for her daughter.”

“She does not know a person when she sees one.”

“She knew one when she married Farron.”

Mrs. Wayne sniffed.

“Perhaps he married her,” she replied.

Her son thought this likely, but he did not answer, for she had given him an idea-to see Farron.  Farron would at least understand the situation.  His mother approved of the suggestion.

“Of course he’s not Mathilde’s father.”

“He’s not a snob.”

They had reached the house, and Pete was fishing in his pocket for his keys.

“Do you think Mr. Lanley is a snob?” he asked.

As usual Mrs. Wayne evaded the direct answer.

“I got an unfavorable impression of him this afternoon.”

“For failing to see that I was a king among men?”

“For backing up every stupid thing his daughter said.”

“Loyalty is a fine quality.”

“Justice is better,” answered his mother.

“Oh, well, he’s old,” said Wayne, dismissing the whole subject.

They walked up their four flights in silence, and then Wayne remembered to ask something that had been in his mind several times.

“By the way, Mother, how did you happen to come to the Farrons at all?”

She laughed rather self-consciously.

“I hoped perhaps Mr. Farron might be well enough to see me a moment about Marty.  The truth is, Pete, Mr. Farron is the real person in that whole family.”

That evening he wrote Farron a note, asking him to see him the next morning at half-past ten about “this trouble of which, of course, Mrs. Farron has told you.”  He added a request that he would tell Pringle of his intention in case he could give the interview, because Mrs. Farron had been quite frank in saying that she would give orders not to let him in.

Farron received this note with his breakfast.  Adelaide was not there.  He had had no hint from her of any crisis.  He had not come down to dinner the evening before to meet Mrs. Baxter and the useful people asked to entertain her, but he had seen Mathilde’s tear-stained face, and in a few minutes with his father-in-law had encountered one or two evident evasions.  Only Adelaide had been unfathomable.

After he had read the letter and thought over the situation, he sent for Pringle, and gave orders that when Mr. Wayne came he would see him.

Pringle did not exactly make an objection, but stated a fact when he replied that Mrs. Farron had given orders that Mr. Wayne was not to be allowed to see Miss Severance.

“Exactly,” said Farron.  “Show him here.”  Here was his own study.

As it happened, Adelaide was sitting with him, making very good invalid’s talk, when Pringle announced, “Mr. Wayne.”

“Pringle, I told you-” Adelaide began, but her husband cut her short.

“He has an appointment with me, Adelaide.”

“You don’t understand, Vin.  You mustn’t see him.”

Wayne was by this time in the room.

“But I wish to see him, my dear Adelaide, and,” Farron added, “I wish to see him alone.”

“No,” she answered, with a good deal of excitement; “that you cannot.  This is my affair, Vincent-the affair of my child.”

He looked at her for a second, and then opening the door into his bedroom, he said to Wayne: 

“Will you come in here?” The door was closed behind the two men.

Wayne was not a coward, although he had dreaded his interview with Adelaide; it was his very respect for Farron that kept him from feeling even nervous.

“Perhaps I ought not to have asked you to see me,” he began.

“I’m very glad to see you,” answered Farron.  “Sit down, and tell me the story as you see it from the beginning.”

It was a comfort to tell the story at last to an expert.  Wayne, who had been trying for twenty-four hours to explain what underwriting meant, what were the responsibilities of brokers in such matters, what was the function of such a report as his, felt as if he had suddenly groped his way out of a fog as he talked, with hardly an interruption but a nod or a lightening eye from Farron.  He spoke of Benson.  “I know the man,” said Farron; of Honaton, “He was in my office once.”  Wayne told how Mathilde, and then he himself, had tried to inform Mrs. Farron of the definiteness of their plans to be married.

“How long has this been going on?” Farron asked.

“At least ten days.”

Farron nodded.  Then Wayne told of the discovery of the proof at the printer’s and his hurried meeting in the park to tell Mathilde.  Here Farron stopped him suddenly.

“What was it kept you from going through with it just the same?”

“You’re the first person who has asked me that,” answered Pete.

“Perhaps you did not even think of such a thing?”

“No one could help thinking of it who saw her there-”

“And you didn’t do it?”

“It wasn’t consideration for her family that held me back.”

“What was it?”

Pete found a moral scruple was a difficult motive to avow.

“It was Mathilde herself.  That would not have been treating her as an equal.”

“You intend always to treat her as an equal?”

Wayne was ashamed to find how difficult it was to answer truthfully.  The tone of the question gave him no clue to the speaker’s own thoughts.

“Yes, I do,” he said; and then blurted out hastily, “Don’t you believe in treating a woman as an equal?”

“I believe in treating her exactly as she wants to be treated.”

“But every one wants to be treated as an equal, if they’re any good.”  Farron smiled, showing those blue-white teeth for an instant, and Wayne, feeling he was not quite doing himself justice, added, “I call that just ordinary respect, you know, and I could not love any one I didn’t respect.  Could you?”

The question was, or Farron chose to consider it, a purely rhetorical one.

“I suppose,” he observed, “that they are to be counted the most fortunate who love and respect at the same time.”

“Of course,” said Wayne.

Farron nodded.

“And yet perhaps they miss a good deal.”

“I don’t know what they miss,” answered Wayne, to whom the sentiment was as shocking as anything not understood can be.

“No; I’m sure you don’t,” answered his future stepfather-in-law.  “Go on with your story.”

Wayne went on, but not as rapidly as he had expected.  Farron kept him a long time on the interview of the afternoon before, and particularly on Mrs. Farron’s part, just the point Wayne did not want to discuss for fear of betraying the bitterness he felt toward her.  But again and again Farron made him quote her words wherever he could remember them; and then, as if this had not been clear enough, he asked: 

“You think my wife has definitely made up her mind against the marriage?”


“Irrevocably?” Farron questioned more as if it were the sound of the word than the meaning that he was doubting.

“Ah, you’ve been rather out of it lately, sir,” said Wayne.  “You haven’t followed, perhaps, all that’s been going on.”

“Perhaps not.”

Wayne felt he must be candid.

“If it is your idea that your wife’s opposition could be changed, I’m afraid I must tell you, Mr. Farron-” He paused, meeting a quick, sudden look; then Farron turned his head, and stared, with folded arms, out of the window.  Wayne had plenty of time to wonder what he was going to say.  What he did say was surprising.

“I think you are an honest man, and I should be glad to have you working for me.  I could make you one of my secretaries, with a salary of six thousand dollars.”

In the shock Pete heard himself saying the first thing that came into his head: 

“That’s a large salary, sir.”

“Some people would say large enough to marry on.”

Wayne drew back.

“Don’t you think you ought to consult Mrs. Farron before you offer it to me?” he asked hesitatingly.

“Don’t carry honesty too far.  No, I don’t consult my wife about my office appointments.”

“It isn’t honesty; but I couldn’t stand having you change your mind when-”

“When my wife tells me to?  I promise you not to do that.”

Wayne found that the interview was over, although he had not been able to express his gratitude.

“I know what you are feeling,” said Farron.  “Good-by.”

“I can’t understand why you are doing it, Mr. Farron; but-”

“It needn’t matter to you.  Good-by.”

With a sensation that in another instant he might be out of the house, Wayne metaphorically caught at the door-post.

“I must see Mathilde before I go,” he said.

Farron shook his head.

“No, not to-day.”

“She’s terribly afraid I am going to be moved by insults to desert her,” Wayne urged.

“I’ll see she understands.  I’ll send for you in a day or two; then it will be all right.”  They shook hands.  He was glad Farron showed him out through the corridor and not through the study, where, he knew, Mrs. Farron was still waiting like a fine, sleek cat at a rat-hole.