“I needn’t say that I’m entirely pleased with the way matters have gone, Harriet,” said Richard, when she had seated herself on the opposite side of his big, flat desk, and locking her white hands on the shining surface, had fixed her magnificent eyes on him. “Nina seems in fine shape, and I have never seen my mother better. You seem to have a genius for managing the Carters. Ward, of course, is the real problem now—I wish the boy might have made his degree; but it wasn’t to be expected perhaps. He’s clever, but his heart wasn’t in it; he never made the slightest effort to get through. I’m seriously considering this offer from Gardiner; he’s got to take his boy out to Nevada for his health. Ward wants to go, and would very probably like it when he got there. Gardiner’s brother is a magnificent fellow, ‘P. J.,’ they call him; he and his cattle are known all over that part of the country. He’s got two or three pretty girls—I hope Ward will try it, anyhow! So that leaves Nina, who is safe enough with you, and my mother, who seems perfectly well and happy. Meanwhile, while you’ve been gone, we’ve gotten the Brazilian company well started, so that I shall have a little more freedom than I’ve had for years.”
“You look as if you needed it,” Harriet observed.
“You look wonderful,” Richard returned, simply. “Wonderful! Is that a new gown?”
“Well, I had it made last November just before I went away. Mrs. Carter gave me the material a year ago.” Harriet glanced down at herself and smiled.
“You might wear pearls—or something—with it,” Richard said. “Do you like pearls?”
It was astonishing to see the colour come up in her dusky skin; her eyes met his almost pleadingly.
“Why—I never thought!” she said, in some confusion.
“I suppose a man may ask his wife if she likes pearls?” Richard said, impelled by some feeling he did not define. He had leaned back in his chair, and half-closed his eyes, as he studied her.
“Oh—please!” Harriet said in an agony. She gave a horrified glance about, but the library was closed and silent. “Someone might hear you!” she whispered. And a moment later she rose to her feet, and eyed him quietly. “Was that all, Mr. Carter?” she asked. It was Richard’s turn to look a trifle confused.
“That’s all—my dear!” he said, obediently. The term made her flush again. He was still smiling when she closed the door.
It was the gayest spring that Harriet had ever known at Crownlands, for even at her best, Isabelle had been socially an individualist, devoting herself to one man at a time, and to nobody else, and the whole family had necessarily accepted Isabelle’s attitude. Richard had been too busy to notice or protest, the old lady helpless, and Nina a child.