She had, he thought, every virtue that a mother could have, and she combined them with a gaiety of spirit that made her take her virtues as if they were the most delightful amusements. It was of this gaiety that he had first thought until Mathilde had pointed out to him that there was tragedy in the situation. “What will your mother do without you?” the girl kept saying. There was indeed nothing in his mother’s life that could fill the vacancy he would leave. She had few intimate relationships. For all her devotion to her drunkards, he was the only personal happiness in her life.
He went into the kitchen in search of her. This was evidently one of their servant’s uncounted hours. While he was making himself some tea he heard his mother’s key in the door. He called to her, and she appeared.
“Why my hat, Mother dear?” he asked gently as he kissed her.
Mrs. Wayne smiled absently, and put up her hand to the soft felt hat she was wearing.
“I just went out to post some letters,” she said, as if this were a complete explanation; then she removed a mackintosh that she happened to have on, though the day was fine. She was then seen to be wearing a dark skirt and a neat plain shirt that was open at the throat. Though no longer young, she somehow suggested a boy—a boy rather overtrained; she was far more boyish than Wayne. She had a certain queer beauty, too; not beauty of Adelaide’s type, of structure and coloring and elegance, but beauty of expression. Life itself had written some fine lines of humor and resolve upon her face, and her blue-gray eyes seemed actually to flare with hope and intention. Her hair was of that light-brown shade in which plentiful gray made little change of shade; it was wound in a knot at the back of her head and gave her trouble. She was always pushing it up and repinning it into place, as if it were too heavy for her small head.
“I wonder if there’s anything to eat in the house,” her son said.
“I wonder.” They moved together toward the ice-box.
“Mother,” said Pete, “that piece of pie has been in the ice-box at least three days. Let’s throw it away.”
She took the saucer thoughtfully.
“I like it so much,” she said.
“Then why don’t you eat it?”
“It’s not good for me.” She let Wayne take the saucer. “What do you know?” she asked.
She had adopted slang as she adopted most labor-saving devices.
“Well, I do know something new,” said Wayne. He sat down on the kitchen table and poured out his tea. “New as the garden of Eden. I’m in love.”
“O Pete!” his mother cried, and the purest, most conventional maternal agony was in the tone. For an instant, crushed and terrified, she looked at him; and then something gay and impish appeared in her eyes, and she asked with a grin:
“Is it some one perfectly awful?”
“I’m afraid you’ll think so. She’s a sheltered, young, luxurious child, with birth, breeding, and money, everything you hate most.”