“We don’t want to do it in a sneaky way, Mama.”
“I know. You want to have your own way and to have every one approve of you, too. Is that it?”
Mathilde’s lips trembled.
“O Mama,” she cried, “you are so different from what you used to be!”
“One changes,” she said. “One’s life changes.” She had meant this sentence to end the interview, but when she saw the girl still standing before her, she said to herself that it made little difference that she hadn’t heard the plans of the Wayne boy, since Mathilde, her own tractable daughter, was still within her power. She moved into the corner of the sofa. “Sit down, dear,” she said, and when Mathilde had obeyed with an almost imperceptible shrinking in her attitude, Adelaide went on, with a sort of serious ease of manner:
“I’ve never been a particularly flattering mother, have I? Never thought you were perfect just because you were mine? Well, I hope you’ll pay the more attention to what I have to say. You are remarkable. You are going to be one of the most attractive women that ever was. Years ago old Count Bartiani—do you remember him, at Lucerne?”
“The one who used scent and used to look so long at me?”
“Yes, he was old and rather horrid, but he knew what he was talking about. He said then you would be the most attractive woman in Europe. I heard the same thing from all my friends, and it’s true. You have something rare and perfect—–”
These were great words. Mathilde, accustomed all her life to receive information from her mother, received this; and for the first time felt the egotism of her beauty awake, a sense of her own importance the more vivid because she had always been humble-minded. She did not look at her mother; she sat up very straight and stared as if at new fields before her, while a faint smile flickered at the corners of her mouth—a smile of an awakening sense of power.
“What you have,” Adelaide went on, “ought to bring great happiness, great position, great love; and how can I let you throw yourself away at eighteen on a commonplace boy with a glib tongue and a high opinion of himself? Don’t tell me that it will make you happy. That would be the worst of all, if you turned out to be so limited that you were satisfied,—that would be a living death. O my darling, I give you my word that if you will give up this idea, ten years from now, when you see this boy, still glib, still vain, and perhaps a little fat, you will actually shudder when you think how near he came to cutting you off from the wonderful, full life that you were entitled to.” And then, as if she could not hope to better this, Adelaide sprang up, and left the girl alone.
Mathilde rose, too, and looked at herself in the glass. She was stirred, she was changed, she was awakened, but awakened to something her mother had not counted on. Almost too gentle, too humble, too reasonable, as she had always been, the drop of egotism which her mother had succeeded in instilling into her nature served to solidify her will, to inspire her with a needed power of aggression.