“Not at all; I understood perfectly!” Harriet assumed an air of abstraction, of pleasant unconcern. Her red lips were firm, and closed firmly after the brief answer. The smoky blue eyes regarded Madame Carter with innocent expectancy. The girl was amazingly handsome, thought the old lady reluctantly.
“Of course, if Mrs. Carter can spare you, and considers it suitable, you will be there!” said Madame Carter, amiably, mounting the first stair.
“Surely!” Harriet said, with a murderous impulse. She watched the erect, splendid old figure ascending. What was there about this old lady that could put her, and indeed almost any one else who chanced to be marked by her dislike, into a helpless fury of anger? “If I were once safely married to Ward,” the girl said to herself, “if—”
It was a tremendous “if,” of course. There were a great many things now that might turn the scales one way or another. Richard’s attitude was supremely important. He might feel that his son was taking a wise, a desirable step. He might feel that to have the boy settled was to lift just one care from the many that burdened his shoulders. On the other hand, was it more probable that this untimely announcement, with its accompanying merry-making and rejoicing, would utterly exasperate and antagonize him? Harriet fancied him asking, with weary politeness, just what their plans were? Did Ward propose to finish college? Had he formed any idea of the means by which he should earn his living? He had his uncle’s legacy, of course, the larger part of it. Did the young people propose to begin with that?
Harriet perfectly understood Richard’s attitude to the average son of the average wealthy family. She had heard his caustic comments upon them often enough. He had earned his own education; he showed for Isabelle’s spoiling of her son the patience of helplessness. To make a man of Ward, in his father’s estimation, would have meant a readjustment of their entire scheme of living and thinking. It was simpler, pleasanter, to sacrifice Ward to the general comfort, especially as he, Richard, was very busy, and as there was always a possibility that the women were right, and would make a man of him anyway. Harriet’s keen eyes saw, if Isabelle’s did not, that Ward had been steadily gaining in his father’s good graces for the last year or two. His cheerful, casual manner masked no weakness, every muscle in the young, big body was hard from tennis and baseball. If there were sins of self-indulgence, natural to youth and money and charm, Ward never brought them home with him. Lately he had begun to talk of getting out of college at Christmas time, and “getting started.” His father watched him, Harriet saw, almost wistfully. Was the lad really becoming a man, in a world of men?
“The probability is that he will favour our engagement,” Harriet reflected. But this was no time to risk the chance of crossing him. She must wait. She must choose the lesser risk of Nina making mischief with old Madame Carter; the contingency was there, but it was a remote contingency.