Kenton was unable to make any formal response, and, in fact, he was so preoccupied with the question whether the fellow was more a fool or a fraud that he made no answer at all, beyond a few inarticulate grumblings of assent. These sufficed for Bittridge, apparently, for he went on contentedly: “Whenever I’ve been tempted to go a little wild, the thought of how mother would feel has kept me on the track like nothing else would. No, judge, there isn’t anything in this world like a good mother, except the right kind of a wife.”
Kenton rose, and said he believed he must go upstairs. Bittridge said, “All right; I’ll see you later, judge,” and swung easily off to advise with the clerk as to the best theatre.
Kenton was so unhappy that he could not wait for his wife to come to him in their own room; he broke in upon her and Ellen in the parlor, and at his coming the girl flitted out, in the noiseless fashion which of late had made her father feel something ghostlike in her. He was afraid she was growing to dislike him, and trying to avoid him, and now he presented himself quite humbly before his wife, as if he had done wrong in coming. He began with a sort of apology for interrupting, but his wife said it was all right, and she added, “We were not talking about anything in particular.” She was silent, and then she added again: “Sometimes I think Ellen hasn’t very fine perceptions, after all. She doesn’t seem to feel about people as I supposed she would.”
“You mean that she doesn’t feel as you would suppose about those people?”
Mrs. Kenton answered, obliquely. “She thinks it’s a beautiful thing in him to be so devoted to his mother.”
“Humph! And what does she think of his mother?”
“She thinks she has very pretty hair.”
Mrs. Kenton looked gravely down at the work she had in her hands, and Kenton did not know what to make of it all. He decided that his wife must feel, as he did, a doubt of the child’s sincerity, with sense of her evasiveness more tolerant than his own. Yet he knew that if it came to a question of forcing Ellen to do what was best for her, or forbidding her to do what was worst, his wife would have all the strength for the work, and he none. He asked her, hopelessly enough, “Do you think she still cares for him?”