“I couldn’t marry you,” she said. “I couldn’t change. All your pretty things and the way you live—it would be like a cage to me. I like my life the way it is; but yours—”
“Do you think I would ask Wilsey to dinner every night or try to mold you to be like Mrs. Baxter?”
“You’d have a hard time. I never could have married again. I’d make you a poor wife, but I’m a wonderful friend.”
“Your friendship would be more happiness than I had any right to hope for,” and then he added in a less satisfied tone: “But friendship is so uncertain. You don’t make any announcements to your friends or vows to each other, unless you’re at an age when you cut your initials in the bark of a tree. That’s what I’d like to do. I suppose you think I’m an old fool.”
“Two of us,” said Mrs. Wayne, and wiped her eyes. She cried easily, and had never felt the least shame about it.
It was a strange compact—strange at least for her, considering that only a few hours before she had thought of him as a friendly, but narrow-minded, old stranger. Something weak and malleable in her nature made her enter lightly into the compact, although all the time she knew that something more deeply serious and responsible would never allow her to break it. A faint regret for even an atom of lost freedom, a vein of caution and candor, made her say:
“I’m so afraid you’ll find me unsatisfactory. Every one has, even Pete.”
“I think I shall ask less than any one,” he returned.
The answer pleased her strangely.
Presently a ring came at the bell—a telegram. The expected guest was detained at the seminary. Lanley watched with agonized attention. She appeared to be delighted.
“Now you’ll stay to dine,” she said. “I can’t remember what there is for dinner.”
“Now, that’s not friendly at the start,” said he, “to think I care so much.”
“Well, you’re not like a theological student.”
“A good deal better, probably,” answered Lanley, with a gruffness that only partly hid his happiness. There was no real cloud in his sky. If Mrs. Wayne had accepted his offer of marriage, by this time he would have begun to think of the horror of telling Adelaide and Mathilde and his own servants. Now he thought of nothing but the agreeable evening before him, one of many.
When Pete came in to dress, Lanley was just in the act of drawing the last neat double lines for his balance. He had been delayed by the fact that Mrs. Wayne had been talking to him almost continuously since his return to figuring. She was in high spirits, for even saints are stimulated by a respectful adoration.
Recognizing the neat back of Mr. Lanley’s gray head, Pete’s first idea was that he must have come to induce Mrs. Wayne to conspire with him against the marriage; but he abandoned this notion on seeing his occupation.