“Won’t you ask him, Mrs. Farron?”
Adelaide recoiled. She did not want to be the one to throw her glove among the lions.
“I don’t think I understand well enough what it is you want. Why don’t you ask him yourself?” She hesitated, knowing that no opportunity for this would offer unless she herself arranged it. “Why don’t you come and dine with us to-night, and,” she added more slowly, “bring your son?”
She had made the bait very attractive, and Mrs. Wayne did not refuse.
As she drove home, Adelaide’s whole being was stirred by the prospect of that conflict between Burke and her husband, and it was not until she saw Mathilde, pale with an hour of waiting, that she recalled the real object of her recent visit. Not, of course, that Adelaide was more interested in Marty Burke than in her daughter’s future, but a titanic struggle fired her imagination more than a pitiful little romance. She felt a pang of self-reproach when she saw that Mr. Lanley had come to share the child’s vigil, that he seemed to be suffering under an anxiety almost as keen as Mathilde’s.
They did not have to question her; she threw out her hands, casting her muff from her as she did so.
“Oh,” she said, “I’m a weak, soft-hearted creature! I’ve asked them both to dine tonight.”
Mathilde flung herself into her mother’s arms.
“O Mama, how marvelous you are!” she exclaimed.
Over her daughter’s shoulder Adelaide noted her father’s expression, a stiffening of the mouth and a brightening of the eyes.
“Your grandfather disapproves of me, Mathilde,” she said.
“He couldn’t be so unkind,” returned the girl.
“After all,” said Mr. Lanley, trying to induce a slight scowl, “if we are not going to consent to an engagement—”
“But you are,” said Mathilde.
“We are not,” said her mother; “but there is no reason why we should not meet and talk it over like sensible creatures—talk it over here”—Adelaide looked lovingly around her own subdued room—“instead of five stories up. For really—” She stopped, running her eyebrows together at the recollection.
“But the flat is rather—rather comfortable when you get there,” said Mr. Lanley, suddenly becoming embarrassed over his choice of an adjective.
Adelaide looked at him sharply.
“Dear Papa,” she asked, “since when have you become an admirer of painted shelves and dirty rugs? And I don’t doubt,” she added very gently, “that for the same money they could have found something quite tolerable in the country.”
“Perhaps they don’t want to live in the country,” said Mr. Lanley, rather sharply: “I’m sure there is nothing that you’d hate more, Adelaide.”
She opened her dark eyes.
“But I don’t have to choose between squalor here or—”
“Squalor!” said Mr. Lanley. “Don’t be ridiculous!”