The Mouth of Babes
THE MOUTHS OF BABES
By Anne 'O'Hagan
MRS. CLENDENNIN and her daughter Romola had been left alone together for the few minutes traditionally allotted to the expression of the final maternal emotions. Mrs. Clendennin was embarrassed by the opportunities of the situation. She had regarded herself as Romola's intellectual and spiritual inferior for so long that she could not cast aside the restraint and diffidence engendered by such a feeling and speak with the fluent sentiment which seemed appropriate to the moment. To be sure, her lovely, unworn face lighted as she looked at her tall daughter and her eyes grew misty. But she only said:
"No one hangs a skirt as Gottschalk does. I'm so glad that you decided to have him, after all, Romola. That frock is perfect."
Mrs. Ira Wigglesworth disdained a glance toward the pier-glass in which were reflected the perfection of her costume and the serious dignity of her young good looks. She surveyed her mother dubiously, as though she hesitated before some plunge, and though she spoke of Gottschalk's handiwork, it was with a remote voice.
"It does very well," she said, "though I am still in doubt about the conditions in his work-rooms. When I come back——"
"Ah, yes!" Mrs. Clendennin murmured hastily, avoiding the serious discussion which Romola's words presaged. "And are you still determined not to tell us where you are going? Isn't it rather—rather banal—not to?"
Young Mrs. Wigglesworth assumed an expression of lofty sentiment.
"We have deferred so entirely to the wishes of our friends concerning our wedding," she said, "that our marriage has been robbed of half its solemnity. It has been a show, scarcely a sacrament. But our honeymoon is to be our own."
Mrs. Clendennin's discreet eyelids hid a gleam of mirth too kind to be mockery.
"Doubtless you'll let us know where you are in time to prevent awkwardnesses, like unannounced deaths," she remarked pleasantly. "And I'm sorry, Romola dear, that you haven't liked your wedding." Her tone was a little wistful. "It was really very pretty and the bride was a great beauty."
She smiled with tender flattery, and young Mrs. Wigglesworth, almost convicted of ungraciousness, blushed slightly.
"I know that it was a pretty wedding, mother, as weddings go," she conceded. "It is the whole social routine that Ira and I dislike; but I dare say one must conform to a certain degree."
"I'm so old-fashioned myself that I like to think of a woman's wedding day as being her loveliest memory. I'm sorry yours can't be."
"Mother," Romola interrupted suddenly, "has yours been?"
The color ran in sudden little waves beneath Mrs. Clendennin's fine skin; her eyes were startled into an expression of wide inquiry.
"Perhaps I should not have said that," Romola proceeded, with the evident purpose of saying more; but——"
"I was such a child when I was married," her mother broke in, with determined haste, "that any merry-making would have rejoiced me. I was only seventeen, you know, and I never had your character, my dear. I remember that the rectory looked lovely—it was June and a wonderful season for roses—" She stopped abruptly.
"Mother"—Romola was a little tense in voice and bearing as she rushed into the pause—"I want to speak to you about you and father and—and Mr. Goodspeed. You need not look surprised. I have seen for a long time—ever since I was fifteen or so—that—oh, that ours was not a happy home! I never said anything"—Romola's manner proclaimed a sense of her own high forbearance—"for I remembered my position. But now that I am a married woman—" Her mother's irrepressible smile made her flush and break off in her speech. "I dare say that sounds very silly to you, since I have not been two hours married. But both Ira and I are entering into marriage—differently. It isn't a selfish union for our own"—she struggled for a word and blushed furiously—"for the mere gratification of our selfish love for each other. It's a union of minds and purposes. Ira thinks that I can be of the greatest assistance to him in his work—I don't mean his law work, mother; you really needn't laugh—I mean his work of purifying politics. We think that we can do more for our times and our country together than alone. It was this conviction as much as our—our attraction for each other that brought about our engagement. And ever since then we have grown together; so that, although the ceremony which you and the world recognize as the binding one has been so recently performed—" She caught sight of the dimple close to the corner of her mother's mouth, and her pedantic fluency failed her.
"So that you feel quite married enough to meet me on a common ground?" suggested that lady helpfully. "Granted, my dear. Anything is granted, my dear little goose—that you and Ira have been growing into a beatific oneness during your eight months of engagement, and that your father and I have been growing two-er and two-er for our twenty-five years of marriage! I'll admit any thing, Romola darling, if you'll only hurry. Ira will teach you something new about his nature if you keep him waiting. Oh, yes, he will; all men are on the same low plane when it comes to that question; it makes them furious."
"You are only trying to evade me," cried Romola miserably. "And I did wish so much to speak to you, not as a daughter to her mother, but as woman to woman! My father is such a wonderful man. How can you bear to neglect him for that—that commonplace idler?"
She was an almost tiresomely deliberate and conscientious young person, Romola Wigglesworth, but on rare occasions a heat stirred in her and hurried her into ill-considered utterances. She felt acutely conscious of youth and immoderation and all the unwise, hot-headed attributes she most decried, as she met her mother's level regard after this speech. Moreover, in spite of the emancipation of matrimony, she felt slightly alarmed.
"My dear Romola, as woman to woman, since you put it so, I should have nothing to say to you, except to deplore your impertinence and dismiss you for it. As a mother, to a daughter laboring under some emotional excitement, I can overlook your remarks. Your father—he is wonderful, as you say, and it has always pleased me that he has found in you some compensation for the incompatibility of our dispositions.... Ah, there is an important rap. It's you, Belinda!" as a maid of honor, breathless and as pink as her Empire frock, entered the room.
"Good gracious, Romola," cried the girl, "your good man is going about like a lion seeking whom he may devour because you have kept him so long. He's talking time-tables and feminine foibles at an awful rate. Come on! Isn't her frock a duck, Mrs. Clendennin? And isn't she a dream?"
"Run along, Romola," laughed her mother, kissing her. "And when you come back tell me if Ira is unlike all other men when he's kept waiting. Yes, Belinda, she is a very good-looking bride. If she hadn't been, she would have been terribly outshone by her maids," she added, taking the young girl's arm and going toward the stairway with her.
In the wide hall below them the bridesmaids and ushers and a few intimate, late-staying guests were gathered for the passing out of Ira Wigglesworth, Second, and his bride. There was the gleam of white marble, the winey luster of rugs, the grace of green and blossoming plants. The girls' gowns fluttered, the hidden orchestra played something as glad and light as the dance of the leaves in the sunlight of the September afternoon outside. It was a very pretty scene; it had been a very pretty wedding. For a second Rose Clendennin felt argumentatively annoyed against the captious Romola, with her theories and her solemnities. Then her eyes fell upon her husband, and she colored at the memory of her daughter's lecture. He stood at the foot of the broad stairway, a suggestion of the scholar's stoop in his shoulders. Against a background of massed laurel leaves his features showed clear cut, fine, austere—rather forbidding in their power and repression. The sun through the fanlight above the door fell upon his head and brought out all the grayness of the hair at his temples. As he looked up his expression softened, lightened, grew animated with admiration and affection. He was very fond of Romola, very proud of her. Mrs. Clendennin felt a sudden hint at the thought that he was going to miss Romola terribly!
"And how gray his hair is growing!" she said to herself, with the little habit of solicitude which years of estrangement had not overcome in her.
The last of the wedding guests had departed. The clamor of leave-taking, the roll of wheels upon the driveways, the rustle of garments had all died away. The plants had been returned to the hothouses; the flowers had been gathered, as Romola had requested, and sent to the Children's Convalescent Home in the hills. The caterer's men and the servants had restored the dining-room to its wonted aspect. Mr. and Mrs. Francis Clendennin had smiled at the last farewells, accepted the last congratulations. Then, as usual, he had departed to his study on the second floor, and she had wandered into the music-room beneath.
She sat there now, alone in the late afternoon before the fire. She was tired, there was a wearing excitement about marrying off one's only daughter, even such a model daughter as Romola and to such an irreproachable and heaven-ordained man as Ira Wigglesworth, Second. Rose wrinkled her pretty nose.
"To change from Romola Clendennin into Mrs. Ira Wigglesworth!" she laughed. "She has no esthetic feeling, poor dear."
"Mr. Goodspeed," announced a voice at the door.
Rose turned. "Ask him to come in here," she said. "Oh, you have come in here! How nice of you, Warren, to come back and talk it over with me! Wasn't it a lovely wedding?"
"Lovely, Rose-of-the-World," he answered, sinking into the big chair opposite her. He was a large man, squarely built and, one realized, saved from middle-aged portliness only by much exercise. He was in riding clothes now, and held his crop as he leaned indolently back, surveying Rose with a half-proprietary admiration. She was very charming in her shimmering wedding finery, and his eyes, bold, tired, dark and lazy, told her so even before he stopped tugging at his dark mustache long enough to speak.
"Lovely weddin'," he drawled. "Lovely bride—point lace becomes the stately Romola. But"—he accentuated his compliment by a pause and a half inclination toward her—"you know the Latin, Rose, 'filia pulchra, mater pulchrissima,' or words to that effect."
"I have very little Latin," replied Rose, "but enough to detect so flagrant a misquotation. Will you have some tea? Then will you please ring the bell? How lazy you are, Warren!" as he attempted to reach the bell by leaning far out of the chair. "There—thank you. Now tell me why you ran away from the congratulatory hubbub so soon?"
"So that I might come back when all the others had gone—the same old reason. Rose! Also, so as to get in a ride—I had to see Walworth this afternoon, or rather a dog he has. Besides, I was hurt. It seemed to me that Romola was rather frigid in accepting my felicitations—the felicitations of an old friend who might have dandled her on his knee. What was the matter? Didn't she like my present?"
"Warren! It was much too lovely. Wherever did you pick it up? I never saw such a missal outside one of the great collections. You know, of course, that she was mad with delight. No, it's something quite different." She looked at him with laughter crowding to her eyes, curving her lips. The firelight flashing on her jeweled fingers as they busied themselves among the Sheffield and Sèvres tea things was not more sparkling. "No, Romola doesn't approve of you—of us."
"No? And did she diplomatically tell you as much?"
"She did—as woman to woman!" Rose's youthful laugh bubbled forth. She had no reputation as a wit—perhaps she knew how damning to popularity such flattering renown would be—but she occasionally revealed a touch of humorous appreciation that was delicious.
"What do you mean?" demanded Goodspeed.
Rose told him, presenting her daughter's pomposity drolly enough and yet with a sort of tender pride.
"Gad! She's a wonder. Where did she ever acquire—forgive me, Rose—her amazing lack of tact?"
"You mean her principles? My good man, all her ancestors had them. You forget that I myself am a clergyman's daughter, and that Frank's people have been serious time out of mind! Principles! Even I have not been quite without them."
"That I know to my sorrow," he answered lightly. Then a silence fell upon them. A servant entered and put fresh logs upon the fire and went out when Mrs. Clendennin, with a motion of her supple wrist, had stayed the lighting of lights and the removal of the tea things. The panes of glass grew opaquely heliotrope; the firelight painted the walls with rose and lavender. And the woman sat, looking into the fire while the man watched her, wondering a little. Her attitude was tense, her features drawn so that for the second she looked almost her age. By and bye she turned toward him and her voice, like her look, was a new one.
"To your sorrow, Warren? That is scarcely true, is it?"
"What do you mean? Of course it is true."
She smiled at him across the firelight and shook her head gently.
"Ah, no, it isn't! Come—we are so old that we are done with vanities. Confess the truth to me. Isn't it much better to have lived all these years in comfort and the moderate respect of society than to have been outcast from your home——?"
"Why do you talk like that?" he reproved her soothingly. "The world that we live in is not a hard one. It doesn't send people to Coventry for divorce nowadays. And if you had—Ah, Rose!"—old recollections seemed to thrill in his voice, old fires to burn in his eyes, bent upon her in the gloom—"if you had run away with me as I begged, there would have been no exile. There would have been only——"
"There would have been exile," she interrupted him. "Do you think I could have borne it to come back here—branded like that—back here, to run the risk of meeting my husband, to be denied intercourse with my child? No, there would have been exile. I'm not hard enough or not big enough, if you choose to call it that, to have faced down the world. And how you would have grown to hate me in that banishment! I should have nagged you to the murder point——"
"I should have adored you always—as I have done."
"You would have wanted your clubs and your stock farm, your busy idleness, the men you know and like. You would have grown to hate me, keeping you from them. And I should have gone about with my eyes sharp for slights, and should have imagined them where there was none, maybe. And I should have feared the end of your love, watched for it, pounced upon it—hastened it! Oh, it would have been dreadful!"
He looked at her, puzzled, but he made the relevant answer with the proper air of sullenness.
"You never loved me or you could not talk like this."
"Do you know," she replied swiftly, "I think you are right?"
He sat suddenly erect and stared at her. "Now, heaven deliver me from women!" he cried piously. "They are too much for me. You—a self-respecting young wife—allowed me to fall in love with you. You reached the state where you permitted me to speak to you, unrebuked, of an elopement. You refused to go away with me only on high maternal grounds—hearing the child cough croupily as she came in with her nurse, or something of that sort. Don't you remember that afternoon. Rose? It was——"
"Seventeen years ago." Rose dreamily supplied him with the date. "Romola was seven."
"Then," he pursued, "you send me away—do it with every appearance of exalted misery. When I return after two years, as mad about you as ever, my dear, as mad about you as ever, you don't even try to repress your pleasure. You've changed, of course; you are not the same fiery, miserable, exuberant, frivolous, sweet, impulsive creature that you have been; you're a woman of the world, mistress of all the arts and accomplishments, mistress of yourself. And you let me come back to you— oh, as a friend, of course; but what a friendship it has been, Rose!"
"Your typical woman of the world, with her possession of all the arts and graces and her self-possession, is allowed one such friendship nowadays," she reminded him sweetly.
"Oh, so I have been merely the badge of position all these years? Women are certainly the devil! May I smoke?"
He lit a cigarette and took an angry puff or two before he spoke again.
"Do you mind telling me what emotions you have been entertaining?" he demanded finally.
"No, I don't mind. I think that at first—when it happened—I was lonely and hurt, and I was vain, vain, vain! I wanted love and friendship, and I simply yearned for flattery. But I didn't differentiate much in those days, and I dare say that if Romola hadn't come in that afternoon with her croupy cough, I might have gone. I was so angry with Frank that I ached to make him suffer."
"And since I have come back? Have I been only the tame cat permitted a charming woman as evidence that she is still charming?"
"Ah, you know that isn't so." The caressing cadences of Rose's voice were matchless. "I have wanted a friend as much as ever, and I dare say I have had about the same greed of flattery. I have taken honest comfort in our real friendliness, and I'm afraid I've taken a wicked pride in the false appearance of conquest!"
"How about me?" He spoke roughly.
"My dear Warren, my conscience doesn't hurt me much about you. You've enjoyed the renown of our perpetual flirtation, and it hasn't debarred you from— Oh, don't protest! Why shouldn't you have had your minor emotions—or your major ones? As for me, I know I've had a double charm for you. In the first place, I'm the woman you didn't have a chance to weary of; I denied what you thought you wanted, and for men like you that is a powerful attraction. And later it's been the comfort of an old, agreeable habit."
"Oh! So that's how you reason. I'm one of the men held by the unattainable?"
"Not by the unattainable, perhaps. That would soon seem sour grapes to you, I think. But by the unattained. And since we've grown older—tell me the truth, hasn't it been a mere pleasant habit, this one of a half-sentimental friendship? I've shown you my heart as well as I could—I'm not a psychologist like Romola. I haven't hidden its littleness and meanness from you. So tell me the truth!"
"The only truth which impresses me at this moment," he answered brutally, "is that it is easy to be irreproachable when one is heartless. The propriety of the bloodless woman— Oh, it is a beautiful thing! And I thought——"
"Don't go on while you are so angry," she advised him. Then, musingly, she continued: "Is it not strange that women can face facts so much more valiantly than men? Men are the romantic, the sentimental sex, women the practical."
He glowered at her across the dusk. Then gradually his frown passed and a smile lit up his face. One never could be angry long with Rose.
"Rose," he said, "how on earth have you managed to escape a reputation for awe-inspiring cleverness—such a neat, relentless, unimpassioned little dissector as you are!"
"Isn't that quite the cleverest thing to do?"
"Quite! You are marvelous. And Romola wanted to talk to you as woman to woman—Romola to you!" His laughter rang through the room.
"Ah, you are here!" said a voice from the doorway. "I didn't see you in the dusk. How are you, Goodspeed? Am I too late for a cup of tea, Rose?"
"Of course not," Rose assured her husband politely. "Will you ring for the lights, Frank? I can't see to make it."
She was very grateful to him for coming in. She divined his purpose well enough; he had somehow always managed to shield her from publishing her folly to the servants by prolonged twilight tête-à-têtes and the like. And beyond her appreciation of that gentle, unobtrusive protection, she was glad tonight to have the period put to her conversation with Warren Goodspeed. In her heart there were mingled mirth and the little hurt of a small vanity.
"He quite forgot," she was saying to herself, "how he swore that evening by all his gods that he would win me if we had to wait a thousand years for my maternal duties to Romola to be done. And I—I was actually afraid he had come to stir up those ashes according to his oath!" She laughed aloud.
"What's the joke?" asked Goodspeed, and Francis Clendennin looked at her inquiringly.
"Oh, a little snub that fate and time and another person have combined to give me. Cream, lemon, rum—how do you take your tea, Frank? You've given me so few chances to learn!"
"By Jove, women are funny!" reflected Goodspeed, mounting his horse a few minutes later. "How she has it in for Frank! Her voice sounded more resentful over his not coming down to tea often than over my—what did she call 'em?—minor emotions—major emotions!"
"I must go and change for dinner," said Rose finally. "You remember Cousin Nora and Will and Edward are coming over to help us forget that Romola is gone?"
"Don't go yet, Rose. There is plenty of time. I want to speak to you.
Rose's heart, the well-trained organ that had pumped the blood so evenly and so tranquilly through her arteries these many years past, grew muffled in its beating. It had been a long, long time since Frank had "wanted to speak to her." What tempestuous scenes she had forced upon him in the unwise days of her early marriage, when she had been in a constant turmoil of rebellion against his work, against his aversion to the gaieties she loved, against the inventions which she believed to be her rivals— her supplanters!
She waited for him to go on. The fluency with which she had controlled the conversation with Goodspeed, the directness with which she had led it to the outcome desired by her, were gone. She watched her husband. The lamplight fell upon his austere face, his remote eyes, his graying hair. He seemed in no hurry to begin, and the pause fretted her to nervousness. Surely he was not going to take her to task for her appearance of flirtation? Years and years had passed since he had seemed to concern himself about that. Finally the silence grew unbearable
"What is it, Frank?" She hated herself for the unexpected timidity of her tone. He brought his gaze back to her from the blackness beyond the windows. It seemed to her that there was a slight quiver of pain across the impassivity of his face.
"It isn't easy to say, Rose," he began. "But it must be said. What do you wish to do? What arrangement can we make, now that Romola has left us?"
"Arrangement?" echoed Rose stupidly.
"Yes. Of course I realize that you have borne with things as they have been all these years for our daughter's sake." How tenderly he spoke the word "daughter"—the words "our daughter"! Rose's heart in its muffled beating took an irregular measure. "And now," he went on, "that the necessity is past, now that she has her own home, her own life, what shall we do about rearranging ours?"
"Do you mean," cried the naked woman in Rose, divested of all the garments of cultivated indifference, of bland acceptance of things as they were, "do you mean that you wish to—to separate from me?"
To save her soul, to save what had been dearer to her than her soul, her pride, she could not keep the strident note of anger, of dread, of outrage, from her voice. He gave her a surprised glance.
"I should not have put it so," he said.
"But that is what you mean?"
"My dear Rose, for years we have had no life in common. We have preserved a home for Romola. I have thought that you would welcome the chance to escape from what I fear has been a bondage to you—though you will admit that I have tried to make it an easy one."
"Do you wish," said Rose leadenly, "that we should merely separate or that we should be divorced?"
"I am trying to find out what you wish."
"Have I expressed any desire for a change?"
"Your entire existence has been a protest against what has been."
"How has it been? Have I not kept your houses, received your friends, respected your name?"
"My dear Rose, let us not exasperate each other. You found out my utter uncongeniality before we had been married a year. We lived a fearful life, you pulling one way and I another, for years, until your hatred of me and my ways grew to be indifference, and until I learned some philosophy. But we have lived a worse one since—or so I have found it. Now you have a chance to end it. You are young yet and—forgive me the personality—you are a very fascinating woman. You will perhaps wish to make up in your later years for what you missed in your early youth——"
Her face was aflame.
"You mean that I may wish to marry again?"
"Do you imply anything in particular by that?"
Why, why was she growing so hurt, so angry, so perturbed, so like the tumultuous girl he had married? Why could she not continue to feel analytical and faintly amused as she had felt with Warren Goodspeed?
"I am neither blind, deaf nor a complete fool," he answered her last spoken question. "Your intimacy with Goodspeed has come very near to a scandal—don't misunderstand me! I know that it has been technically innocent—even more than that. Otherwise I should have ended it, of course. But"—the sternness that had been in his look and voice when he spoke of Goodspeed vanished—"I'm tired. Rose. I've been anticipating this moment and this talk ever since young Wigglesworth first came to me about Romola. I have worn my mind out in thought. I have no energy left to dress the thing becomingly, so you'll forgive blunt, ugly speaking. If you and Goodspeed are in love with each other and want to marry—it can be arranged."
"And you'll be free to invent more electric propellers and automatic signals." She spoke with a childish spitefulness and inadequacy of which she was ashamed even as she spoke. He looked about the luxurious room, at the piano which a great artist had decorated for her, at the harpsichord which a French queen had played, at one or two of the paintings on the wall—and he smiled.
"Don't quarrel with the inventions, my dear. They've added a good deal to your comfort. And if I can give you up to—to anyone—you won't grudge me my poor solace!"
Rose sat very still, spots of angry color in her cheeks, angry, wounded brightness in her eyes. No man cared for herl She was growing old, she was losing her power—she, the assured, the charming! Her old adorer, her long admirer, had forgotten the resolves of his early ardor, had accepted with the most perfunctory resentment the position assigned him of a harmless custom. And now her husband was for repudiating her, for turning her politely over to the next bidder.
"It seems to me that you can give me up very easily," she said bitterly. And as she spoke she wondered why she felt none of the conversational ease, the ability to direct, to dissect, to play with ideas, that she had felt so pleasantly in her other talk.
"You withdrew yourself from me so long ago that it is nonsense now for you to talk of my giving you up." He spoke with slow repression, but there was an undertone of excitement in his very control. Suddenly she began to laugh hysterically.
"What is it, Rose?"
"Nothing," she half gasped, "except that it is queer not to have anyone want you! And—perhaps Romola will take me in. She disapproves of me frightfully, to be sure, and I should hate being there—there'll be endless committee meetings!"
Francis Clendennin's breath came a little hard.
"Rose," he cried, "don't trifle! Is it true—can it be true—that you don't want that freedom I offered you? Be sure, be sure, my dear! It's your chance I'm giving you. And if you don't take it—if you don't want it"—he came close to her, standing above her—"you'll have to stay on my terms—my terms. And do you know what they are?" He caught her hands and drew her to her feet, drew her toward him, her shining, fascinated eyes on his demanding, compelling ones, her lips apart, the color burning to her temples. "Do you know?" he cried.
"Oh," she cried breathlessly, thrilled and dominated by him. "Tell me, tell me! I want to stay!"
The world was blotted out for a whirling, golden instant. Then:
"Mr. and Mrs. Brainerd and Mr. Wilson," announced the automaton at the doorway.
Three days later there alighted from the up-country train at the Deer Club station Mr. and Mrs. Francis Clendennin. Radiance enfolded both of them. She looked upon the hills, splendid in early autumn colors, with wide-eyed delight.
"Frank, it hasn't changed! They've only built a new station. Isn't it heavenly of them? How many years has it been?"
"Twenty-five years and three months," he told her, with much exactitude.
"Oh, my dear, to think that we never celebrated our silver wedding! It's dreadful. Where's the carriage?"
"I'm going inside to make some inquiries. Rose! I'm afraid I forgot to send the telegram—I was so rushed."
"What does it matter? You can telephone over, can't you?"
They opened the door of the station and entered. A young woman in an admirably tailored costume sat on a bench against the wall. Her lips were firmly compressed, her eyes fixed and brooding.
"Romola!" gasped Mrs. Clendennin.
The young woman leaped to her feet.
"Mother—father! What is it? Has anything happened?"
"How did you ever chance to come here? Where is Ira? What are you doing at the station alone?"
The look of righteous and determined wrath which had dissolved upon young Mrs. Wigglesworth's face under the shock of seeing her parents, returned. But training stood her in good stead. She answered the questions categorically.
"Ira and I came here because father had told me that you and he spent your honeymoon here. Ira, I suppose, is at the club. I am waiting for the down train to New York. I am going home."
"Explain yourself, Romola." Her father spoke gently.
"I cannot stand it! I won't!" burst forth young Mrs. Wigglesworth. "Mother, I appeal to you. We have been married only three days—there!"—irrepressible dimples deepened the corners of Rose's mouth—"and Ira has practically deserted me. That abominable man, Mr. Enright, who organizes good government clubs in the slums or something, is at the club—resting! And the civil service man—Brownell, or whatever his hateful name is! And Ira—it's a city politics conference, that's what it is! And Ira tried to excuse himself by saying that it's an important political year, with the governorship election and all that. So I am going back home until election is over. I have left him a note telling him that when he has time to think of his wife, after the polls are closed, I will return to him."
"Frank, go and telephone to Ira," commanded Rose softly. Then she turned her eyes, humid with tenderness and pity and bright with unquenchable mirth, toward her stately young daughter.
"Don't repeat your mother's mistakes, dear child, dear daughter," she said. "Don't be a petulant little girl. Be the woman you are. Be glad with all your heart that your husband's interests are large, impersonal ones, not petty, selfish, frivolous affairs. Dear, I'm not a lecturing mama. I talk to you as woman to woman"—she gave a sudden little laugh as the words struck her ears. "Come back with us, and enter your husband's life and seek no other. Look at me, Romola. I have starved my heart these many years because I would not do that. And now, though happiness beyond my deserts has come to me—it's a barren soil it has to grow in. Oh, Romola, don't be silly, like your mother. Don't be wicked, like your mother!"
Romola looked at her with a humble and bewildered air.
"Why, mother," she said, "I didn't know—I didn't guess you cared about me or—or—anything—like this. I'll do whatever you say. Only," she surveyed her father, hurrying back from the station-agent's telephone, eager and ardent, like a lover, and she spoke with a certain shrewdness, "only—your silliness and your wickedness, as you call them, don't seem to have done any irreparable harm."
Rose looked at her, her head a little on one side, with an air of delicate consideration.
"There's always the personal equation," she said softly.
"Yes," said Romola simply, unresentful of the little boast, if indeed she understood it; "and I wish you'd show me how to do my hair."