“Is this a conference?” asked Farron.
Mrs. Wayne made it so by her reply.
“The whole question is, Are they really in love? At least, that’s my view.”
“In love!” Adelaide twisted her shoulders. “What can they know of it for another ten years? You must have some character, some knowledge to fall in love. And these babes—”
“No,” said Mr. Lanley, stoutly; “you’re all wrong, Adelaide. It’s first love that matters—Romeo and Juliet, you know. Afterward we all get hardened and world-worn and cynical and material.” He stopped short in his eloquence at the thought that Mrs. Wayne was quite obviously not hardened or world-worn or cynical or material. “By Jove!” he thought to himself, “that’s it. The woman’s spirit is as fresh as a girl’s.” He had by this time utterly forgotten what he had meant to say.
Adelaide turned to her husband.
“Do you think they are in love, Vin?”
Vincent looked at her for a second, and then he nodded two or three times.
Though no one at once recognized the fact, the engagement was settled at that moment.
It seemed obvious that Mr. Lanley should take the Waynes home in his car. Mrs. Wayne, who had prepared for walking with overshoes and with pins for her trailing skirt, did not seem too enthusiastic at the suggestion. She stood a moment on the step and looked at the sky, where Orion, like a banner, was hung across the easterly opening of the side street.
“It’s a lovely night,” she said.
It was Pete who drew her into the car. Her reluctance deprived Mr. Lanley of the delight of bestowing a benefit, but gave him a faint sense of capture.
In the drawing-room Mathilde was looking from one to the other of her natural guardians, like a well-trained puppy who wants to be fed. She wanted Pete praised. Instead, Adelaide said:
“Really, papa is growing too secretive! Do you know, Vin, he and Mrs. Wayne quarreled like mad last evening, and he never told me a word about it!”
“How do you know?”
“Oh, I heard them trying to smooth it out at dinner.”
“O Mama,” wailed Mathilde, between admiration and complaint, “you hear everything!”
“Certainly, I do,” Adelaide returned lightly. “Yes, and I heard you, too, and understood everything that you meant.”
Vincent couldn’t help smiling at his stepdaughter’s horrified look.
“What a brute you are, Adelaide!” he said.
“Oh, my dear, you’re much worse,” she retorted. “You don’t have to overhear. You just read the human heart by some black magic of your own. That’s really more cruel than my gross methods.”
“Well, Mathilde,” said Farron, “as a reader of the human heart, I want to tell you that I approve of the young man. He has a fine, delicate touch on life, which, I am inclined to think, goes only with a good deal of strength.”