“That’s true,” the father sadly assented.
“She didn’t really want to go with him to-night, I’ll say that for her, and if I had said a single word against it she wouldn’t have gone. But all at once, while she sat there trying to think how I could excuse her, she began asking me what she should wear. There’s something strange about it, Rufus. If I believed in hypnotism, I should say she had gone because he willed her to go.”
“I guess she went because she wanted to go because she’s in love with him,” said Kenton, hopelessly.
“Yes,” Mrs. Kenton agreed. “I don’t see how she can endure the sight of him. He’s handsome enough,” she added, with a woman’s subjective logic. “And there’s something fascinating about him. He’s very graceful, and he’s got a good figure.”
“He’s a hound!” said Kenton, exhaustively.
“Oh yes, he’s a hound,” she sighed, as if there could be no doubt on that point. “It don’t seem right for him to be in the same room with Ellen. But it’s for her to say. I feel more and more that we can’t interfere without doing harm. I suppose that if she were not so innocent herself she would realize what he was better. But I do think he appreciates her innocence. He shows more reverence for her than for any one else.”
“How was it his mother didn’t go?” asked Kenton.
“She had a headache, he said. But I don’t believe that. He always intended to get Ellen to go. And that’s another thing Lottie was vexed about; she says everybody is laughing at Mrs. Bittridge, and it’s mortifying to have people take her for a friend of ours.”
“If there were nothing worse than that,” said Kenton, “I guess we could live through it. Well, I don’t know how it’s going to all end.”
They sat talking sadly, but finding a certain comfort in their mutual discouragement, and in their knowledge that they were doing the best they could for their child, whose freedom they must not infringe so far as to do what was absolutely best; and the time passed not so heavily till her return. This was announced by the mounting of the elevator to their landing, and then by low, rapid pleading in a man’s voice outside. Kenton was about to open the door, when there came the formless noise of what seemed a struggle, and Ellen’s voice rose in a muffed cry: “Oh! Oh! Let me be! Go away! I hate you!” Kenton the door open, and Ellen burst in, running to hide her face in her mother’s breast, where she sobbed out, “He—he kissed me!” like a terrified child more than an insulted woman. Through the open door came the clatter of Bittridge’s feet as he ran down-stairs.
When Mrs. Kenton came from quieting the hysterical girl in her room she had the task, almost as delicate and difficult, of quieting her husband. She had kept him, by the most solemn and exhaustive entreaty, from following Bittridge downstairs and beating him with his stick, and now she was answerable to him for his forbearance. “If you don’t behave yourself, Rufus,” she had to say, “you will have some sort of stroke. After all, there’s no harm done.”