At this stage of his reflections he usually pulled himself up short, uncomfortably conscious of his disloyalty. Harriet, he knew, was wholly loyal to him, proud of him, thinking him all that any woman could reasonably expect a husband to be—a gentleman of old family, well set up physically, and indeed good-looking, chivalrous to his wife, devoted to his children, temperate in his habits, upright and honourable. She did not even criticise his natural indolence, which, rather than lack of brains or opportunity, kept his law practice and his earnings too small for the needs of his growing family; but Harriet preferred to do without money rather than have her husband be a vulgar "hustler," like a "Yankee upstart."
It was this same indolence of Walter's, rather than want of force of character, which led him to stand by passively and see his sister-in-law constantly imposed upon, as he distinctly felt that she was, though he realized that Margaret herself, dear, sweet girl, never seemed conscious of it. Her unexpected outburst at dinner to-night had shocked and hurt him to the quick. He was sure that something really outrageous on Harriet's part must have caused it. Yet rather than "raise a row" with Harriet, he acquiesced in her decision to leave Margaret at home. It must be said in justice to him that had his astute wife not kept him in ignorance of their have taken a stand in the matter. Harriet, carefully calculating the limit of his easy forbearance, knew better than to tell him of that invitation; and she could safely count upon Margaret not to put her in the wrong with Walter.
Margaret, meantime, locked in her room, had quickly got over her outbreak of weeping and was now sitting upright upon her bed, resolutely facing her quandary.
It was Harriet's assumption of authority, with its implication of her own subservient position, that was opening Margaret's eyes this evening to the real nature of her position in her sister's household.
"Suppose I went straight to her just now, all dressed for the theatre, and told her in an off-hand, careless, artistic manner that I couldn't possibly break my engagement with Aunt Virginia!"