“I don’t accuse you of any thing,” she retorted. “I am only speaking of what I observe. You needn’t think you can deceive me about the least thing, ever. Your face is a perfect tell-tale of your thoughts, always.”
Poor Stephen groaned inwardly. Too well he knew his inability to control his unfortunate face.
“Mother!” he exclaimed with almost vehemence of tone, “mother! do not carry this thing too far. I do not in the least understand what you are driving at about Mrs. Philbrick, nor why you show these capricious changes of feeling towards her. I think you have treated her so to-day that she will never darken your doors again. I never should, if I were in her place.”
“Very well, I hope she never will, if her presence is to produce such an effect on you. It is enough to turn her head to see that she has such power over a man like you. She is a very vain woman, anyway,—vain of her power over people, I think.”
Stephen could bear no more. With a half-smothered ejaculation of “O mother!” he left the room.
And thus the old year went out and the new year came in for Mercy Philbrick and Stephen White,—the old year in which they had been nothing, and the new year in which they were to be every thing to each other.
The next morning, while Stephen was dressing, he slowly reviewed the events of the previous day, and took several resolutions. If Mrs. White could have had the faintest conception of what was passing in her son’s mind, while he sat opposite to her at breakfast, so unusually cheerful and talkative, she would have been very unhappy. But she, too, had had a season of reflection this morning, and was much absorbed in her own plans. She heartily regretted having shown so much ill-feeling in regard to Mercy; and she had resolved to atone for it in some way, if she could. Above all, she had resolved, if possible, to banish from Stephen’s mind the idea that she was jealous of Mercy or hostile towards her. She had common sense enough to see that to allow him to recognize this feeling on her part was to drive him at once into a course of manoeuvring and concealment. She flattered herself that it was with a wholly natural and easy air that she began her plan of operations by remarking,—
“Mrs. Philbrick seems to be very fond of her mother, does she not, Stephen?”
“Yes, very,” answered Stephen, indifferently.
“Mrs. Carr is quite an old woman. She must have been old when Mrs. Philbrick was born. I don’t think Mrs. Philbrick can be more than twenty, do you?”
“I am sure I don’t know. I never thought anything about her age,” replied Stephen, still more indifferently. “I’m no judge of women’s ages.”
“Well, I’m sure she isn’t more than twenty, if she is that,” said Mrs. White; “and she really is a very pretty woman, Steve. I’ll grant you that.”