Mrs. March was less interested in this figure of speech than in the personal aspects involved. “Then you think Mr. Fulkerson has deceived you?”
“Oh no!” said her husband, laughing. “But I think he has deceived himself, perhaps.”
“How?” she pursued.
“He may have thought he was using Dryfoos, when Dryfoos was using him, and he may have supposed he was not afraid of him when he was very much so. His courage hadn’t been put to the test, and courage is a matter of proof, like proficiency on the fiddle, you know: you can’t tell whether you’ve got it till you try.”
“Nonsense! Do you mean that he would ever sacrifice you to Mr. Dryfoos?”
“I hope he may not be tempted. But I’d rather be taking the chances with Fulkerson alone than with Fulkerson and Dryfoos to back him. Dryfoos seems, somehow, to take the poetry and the pleasure out of the thing.”
Mrs. March was a long time silent. Then she began, “Well, my dear, I never wanted to come to New York—”
“Neither did I,” March promptly put in.
“But now that we’re here,” she went on, “I’m not going to have you letting every little thing discourage you. I don’t see what there was in Mr. Dryfoos’s manner to give you any anxiety. He’s just a common, stupid, inarticulate country person, and he didn’t know how to express himself, as I said in the beginning, and that’s the reason he didn’t say anything.”
“Well, I don’t deny you’re right about it.”
“It’s dreadful,” his wife continued, “to be mixed up with such a man and his family, but I don’t believe he’ll ever meddle with your management, and, till he does, all you need do is to have as little to do with him as possible, and go quietly on your own way.”
“Oh, I shall go on quietly enough,” said March. “I hope I sha’n’t begin going stealthily.”
“Well, my dear,” said Mrs. March, “just let me know when you’re tempted to do that. If ever you sacrifice the smallest grain of your honesty or your self-respect to Mr. Dryfoos, or anybody else, I will simply renounce you.”
“In view of that I’m rather glad the management of ‘Every Other Week’ involves tastes and not convictions,” said March.
That night Dryfoos was wakened from his after-dinner nap by the sound of gay talk and nervous giggling in the drawing-room. The talk, which was Christine’s, and the giggling, which was Mela’s, were intershot with the heavier tones of a man’s voice; and Dryfoos lay awhile on the leathern lounge in his library, trying to make out whether he knew the voice. His wife sat in a deep chair before the fire, with her eyes on his face, waiting for him to wake.
“Who is that out there?” he asked, without opening his eyes.
“Indeed, indeed, I don’t know, Jacob,” his wife answered. “I reckon it’s just some visitor of the girls’.”