Robert Tronge 29

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

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." "Why?" "I don't know why. I dare say he is happy."