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It was characteristic of Mrs. Wayne that, still absorbed by her own convictions, she did not notice the insult of hearing ladies and gentlemen described to her as if they were beings wholly alien to her experience; but the tone of his speech startled her, and she woke, like a person coming out of a trance, to all the harm she had done. "I may be old-fashioned--" he began and then threw the phrase from him; it was thus that Alberta, his sister, began her most offensive pronouncements. "It has always appeared to me that we shelter our more favored women as we shelter our planted trees, so that they may attain a stronger maturity." "But do they, are they--are sheltered women the strongest in a crisis?" Fiend in human shape, he thought, she was making him question his bringing up of Adelaide. He would not bear that. His foot stole out to the self-starter. For the few minutes that remained of the interview she tried to undo her work, but the injury was too deep. His life was too near its end for criticism to be anything but destructive; having no time to collect new treasure, he simply could not listen to her suggestion that those he most valued were imitation. He hated her for holding such opinion. Her soft tones, her eager concessions, her flattering sentences, could now make no impression upon a man whom half an hour before they would have completely won. He bade her a cold good night, hardly more than bent his head, the chauffeur took the heavy coat from her, and the car had wheeled away before she was well inside her own doorway. Pete's brown head was visible over the banisters. "Hello, Mother!" he said. "Did the old boy kidnap you?" Mrs. Wayne came up slowly, stumbling over her long, blue draperies in her weariness and depression. "Oh, Pete, my darling," she said, "I think I've spoiled everything." His heart stood still. He knew better than most people that his mother could either make or mar. "They won't hear of it?" She nodded distractedly. "I do make such a mess of things sometimes!" He put his arm about her. "So you do, Mother," he said; "but then think how magnificently you sometimes pull them out again." CHAPTER V Mr. Lanley had not reported the result of his interview immediately. He told himself that it was too late; but it was only a quarter before eleven when he was back safe in his own library, feeling somehow not so safe as usual. He felt attacked, insulted; and yet he also felt vivified and encouraged. He felt as he might have felt if some one, unbidden, had cut a vista on the Lanley estates, first outraged in his sense of property, but afterward delighted with the widened view and the fresher breeze. It was awkward, though, that he didn't want Adelaide to go into details as to his visit; he did not think that the expedition to the pier could be given the judicial, grandfatherly tone that he wanted to give. So he did not communicate at all with his daughter that night. The next morning about nine, however, when she was sitting up in bed, with her tray on her knees, and on her feet a white satin coverlet sown as thickly with bright little flowers as the Milky Way with stars, her last words to Vincent, who was standing by the fire, with his newspaper folded in his hands, ready to go down-town, were interrupted, as they nearly always were, by the burr of the telephone. She took it up from the table by her bed, and as she did so she fixed her eyes on her husband and looked steadily at him all the time that central was making the connection; she was trying to answer that unsolved problem as to whether or not a mist hung between them. Then she got her connection. "Yes, Papa; it is Adelaide." "Yes?" "Did she appear like a lady?" "A lady?" "You don't know what I mean by that? Why, Papa!" "Well, did she appear respectable?" "How cross you are to me!" "I'm glad to hear it. You did not sound cheerful." She hung up the receiver and turned to Vincent, making eyes of surprise. "Really, papa is too strange. Why should he be cross to me because he has had an unsatisfactory interview with the Wayne boy's mother? I never wanted him to go, anyhow, Vin. I wanted to send _you_." "It would probably be better for you to go yourself." He left the room as if he had said nothing remarkable. But it was remarkable, in Adelaide's experience, that he should avoid any responsibility, and even more so that he should shift it to her shoulders. For an instant she faced the possibility, the most terrible of any that had occurred to her, that the balance was changing between them; that she, so willing to be led, was to be forced to guide. She had seen it happen so often between married couples--the weight of character begin on one side of the scale, and then slowly the beam would shift. Once it had happened to her. Was it to happen again? No, she told herself; never with Farron. He would command or die, lead her or leave her. Mathilde knocked at her door, as she did every morning as soon as her stepfather had gone down town. She had had an earlier account of Mr. Lanley's interview. It had read: "DEAREST GIRL: "The great discussion did not go very well, apparently. The opinion prevails at the moment that no engagement can be allowed to exist between us. I feel as if they were all meeting to discuss whether or not the sun is to rise to-morrow morning. You and I, my love, have special information that it will." After this it needed no courage to go down and hear her mother's account of the interview. Adelaide was still in bed, but one long, pointed fingertip, pressed continuously upon the dangling bell, a summons that had long since lost its poignancy for the temperamental Lucie, indicated that she was about to get up. "My dear," she said in answer to Mathilde's question, "your grandfather's principal interest seems to be to tell me nothing at all, and he has been wonderfully successful. I can get nothing from him, so I'm going myself." The girl's heart sank at hearing this. Her mother saw things clearly and definitely, and had a talent for expressing her impressions in unforgetable words. Mathilde could still remember with a pang certain books, poems, pictures, and even people whose charms her mother had destroyed in one poisonous phrase. Adelaide was too careful of her personal dignity to indulge in mimicry, but she had a way of catching and repeating the exact phrasing of some foolish sentence that was almost better--or worse--than mimicry. Mathilde remembered a governess, a kind and patient person of whom Adelaide had greatly wearied, who had a habit of beginning many observations, "It may strike you as strange, but I am the sort of person who--" Mathilde was present at luncheon one day when Adelaide was repeating one of these sentences. "It may strike you as strange, but I like to feel myself in good health." Mathilde resented the laughter that followed, and sprang to her governess's defense, yet sickeningly soon she came to see the innocent egotism that directed the choice of the phrase.