He saw that his absence had given his guests an instant of freer criticism, for they were tucking away smiles as he entered.
“A very unusual type, is she not, our friend, Mrs. Wayne?” said Wilsey.
“A little bit of a reformer, I’m afraid,” said Mrs. Baxter.
“Don’t be too hard on her,” answered Lanley.
“Oh, very charming, very charming,” put in Wilsey, feeling, perhaps, that Mrs. Baxter had been severe; “but the poor lady’s mind is evidently seething with a good many undigested ideas.”
“You should have pointed out the flaws in her reasoning, Wilsey,” said his host.
“Argue with a woman, Lanley!” Mr. Wilsey held up his hand in protest. “No, no, I never argue with a woman. They take it so personally.”
“I think we had an example of that this evening,” said Mrs. Baxter.
“Yes, indeed,” the lawyer went on. “See how the dear lady missed the point, and became so illogical and excited under our little discussion.”
“Funny,” said Lanley. “I got just the opposite impression.”
“I thought it was you who missed the point, Wilsey.”
He saw how deeply he had betrayed himself as the others exchanged a startled glance. It was Mrs. Baxter who thought of the correct reply.
“Were there any points?” she asked.
Wilsey shook his finger.
“Ah, don’t be cruel!” he said, and held out his hand to say good night; but Lanley was smoking, with his head tilted up and his eyes on the ceiling. What he was thinking was, “It isn’t good for an old man to get as angry as I am.”
“Good night, Lanley; a delightful evening.”
Mr. Lanley’s chin came down.
“Oh, good night, Wilsey; glad you found it so.”
When he was gone, Mrs. Baxter observed that he was a most agreeable companion.
“So witty, so amiable, and, for a leader at the bar, he has an extraordinarily light touch.”
Mr. Lanley had resumed his position on the hearth-rug and his contemplation of the ceiling.
“Wilsey’s not a leader at the bar,” he said, with open crossness.
He showed no disposition to sit and chat over the events of the evening.
Early the next morning, in Mrs. Baxter’s parlance,—that is to say, some little time before the sun had reached the meridian,—she was ringing Adelaide’s door-bell, while she minutely observed the curtains, the door-mat, the ivy plants in the vestibule, and the brightness of the brass knobs on the railing. In this she had a double motive: what was evil she would criticize, what was good she would copy.