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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Vehement Flame By Margaret Wade Campbell Deland Characters: 42554

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

But Eleanor would not "wake up." Within an hour of her foolish outbreak she had begun to listen for his returning step. Then she went to bed and cried and cried, "He doesn't love me," she said, over and over; and once she said, "it is because I am-" But she didn't finish this; she just got up and went over to the bureau and stared into the mirror; she even lit a candle and held it close to the glass; after a while she saw what she was looking for. "Edith tried to make him notice them, that first summer at Green Hill," she thought.

At eleven she went to the window and watched, her eyes straining into the darkness. When, far down the street, a man's figure came in range, she held her breath until it walked into and out of the circling glare of the arc light-not Maurice! It was after twelve when she saw him coming-and instantly she flew back to her bed. When he entered the faintly lighted room, Eleanor was, apparently, sound asleep.


No answer.

He leaned over, saw the droop of her lip and the puffed eyelids-and drew back. Perhaps, if he had kissed her, the soft lead pencil might not have acted as Destiny; she might have melted under the forlorn story he was so eager to tell her. But her tear-stained face did not suggest a kiss.

In the morning Eleanor had what she called a "bilious headache," and when Maurice skirted the subject of the "flower," she was too physically miserable to be interested. When she was well again, the opportunity-if it was an opportunity!-was lost; her interest in Lily was not needed, because a call at the apartment house showed Maurice that Batty was forgiven. So he forgot his desire to lift the fallen, in more of those arid moments with Eleanor; reproaches-and reconciliations! Tears-and fire! But fires gradually die down under tears, no matter how one spends one's breath blowing loving words on the wet embers! Enough tears will put out any fire.

Lily, too, was shedding angry tears in those days, and they probably had their effect in cooling Batty's heart; for his unpleasantness finally culminated in his leaving her, and by October she was living in the yellow-brick apartment house alone, and very economically-yet not so economically that she did not buy hyacinth bulbs for the blue and purple glasses on her sunny window sill.

Once Maurice, remembering with vague amusement his reformatory impulse, went to see her; but he did not talk to Eleanor about the call. By this time there were days when he talked as little as possible to Eleanor about anything,-not because he was secretive-he hated secrecy! "It's next door to lying," he thought, faintly disgusted at himself,-but because she seemed to feel hurt if he was interested in anyone except herself. Maurice had passed the point which had seemed so terrible at Green Hill, where he had called his wife "silly." He never called her silly now. He merely, over and over, called himself a fool.

"I've made an ass of myself," he used to think, sorting out his cards for solitaire and looking furtively at the thin face, with its lines of wistful and faded beauty. At forty-two, a happy, busy woman, with a sound digestion, will not look faded; on the contrary, she is at her best-as far as looks are concerned! Eleanor was not happy; her digestion was uncertain; she did not go into society, and she had no real occupation, except to go every day to Mrs. O'Brien's and take Bingo for a walk. Even her practicing had been pretty much given up, for fear of disturbing the people on the floor below her.

"Why don't you have some plants around?" Maurice suggested; "they'd give you something to do! I saw a lot of hyacinths growing in glasses, once; I'll buy some bulbs for you."

"Oh, I'm one of the people flowers won't grow for," she said.

Mrs. Newbolt made a suggestion, too. "Pity you can't have Bingo to keep you company. That's what comes of boarding. I knew a woman who boarded, and she lost her teeth. Chambermaid threw 'em away. Come in and see me any evening when Maurice is out."

As Maurice was frequently out, the invitation was sometimes accepted, and it was on one of these occasions that Mrs. Newbolt, spreading out her cards on the green baize of her solitaire table with fat, beringed hands, made her suggestion:

"Eleanor, you've aged. I believe you're unhappy?"

"No, I'm not! Why should I be?"

"Well, I wouldn't blame you if you were," Mrs. Newbolt said. "'Course you'd have brought it on yourself; I could have told you what to expect! Your dear uncle Thomas used to say that, after a thing happened, I was the one to tell people that they might have expected it. You see, I made a point of bein' intelligent; of course I wasn't too intelligent. A man doesn't like that. You're gettin' gray, Eleanor. Pity you haven't children. He doesn't look very contented!-but men are men," said Mrs. Newbolt.

"He ought to be contented," Eleanor said, passionately; "I adore him!"

"You've got to interest him," her aunt said; "that's more important than adorin' him! A man can buy a certain kind of adoration, but he can't purchase interest."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Eleanor said, trembling.

"Well, if you don't, I'm sure I can't tell you," Mrs. Newbolt said, despairingly; but she made one more attempt: "My dear father used to say that the finest tribute a man could put on his wife's tombstone would be, 'She was interestin' to live with.' So I tell you, Eleanor, if you want to hold that boy, make him laugh!" She was so much in earnest that for a few minutes she actually stopped talking!

Eleanor could not make Maurice laugh-she never made anybody laugh! But for a while she did "hold him"-because he was a gallant youngster, making the best of his bargain. That he had begun to know it was a bad bargain did not lessen his regret for his wife's childlessness, which he knew made her unhappy, nor his pity for her physical forlornness-which he blamed largely on himself: "She almost died that night on the mountain, to save my life!"

But he had ceased to be touched by her reiterated longing for children; he was even a little bored by it. And he was very much bored by her reproaches, her faint tempers and their following ardors of repentant love-bitternesses, and cloying sweetnesses! Yet, in spite of these things, the boarding-house marriage survived the lengthening of the fifty-four minutes of ecstasy into three years. But it might not have survived its own third winter had it not been that Maurice's unfaithfulness enforced his faithfulness. For by spring that squabble about lead pencils, which had turned his careless steps toward the bridge, had turned his life so far from Eleanor's that he had been untrue to her.

He had not meant to be untrue; nothing had been farther from his mind or purpose. But there came a bitter Sunday afternoon in March ...

Eleanor, saying he did not "understand her," cried about something-afterward Maurice was not sure just what-perhaps it was a question from one of the other boarders about the early 'eighties, and she felt herself insulted; "As if I could remember!" she told Maurice; but whatever it was, he had tried to comfort her by joking about it. Then she had reproached him for his unkindness-to most crying wives a joke is unkind. Then she had said that he was tired of her! At which he took refuge in silence-and she cried out that he acknowledged it!

"You can't deny it! You're tired of me because I'm older than you!"

And he said, between his teeth, "If you were old enough to have any sense, I wouldn't be tired of you."

She gave a cry; then stood, the back of her hand against her lips, her eyes wide with terror.

Maurice threw down a book he had been trying to read, got up, plunged into his overcoat, pulled his hat down over his eyes, and, without a word, walked out of the room. A moment later the front door banged behind him. Eleanor, alone, stood perfectly still; she had said foolish things like that many times; she rather liked to say them! But she had not believed them; now, her own words were a boomerang,-they seemed to strike her in the face! He was tired of her. Instantly she was alert! What must she do? She sat down, tense with thought; first of all, she must be sweet to him; she mustn't be cross; then she must try (Mrs. Newbolt had told her so!) to "entertain" him. "I'll read things, and talk to him the way Mrs. Davis does!" She must sew on his buttons, and scold poor old O'Brien.... With just this same silent determination she had hurried to act that night on the mountain!

But while she was sitting there in their cheerless room, planning and planning!-Maurice was out, wandering about in the gray afternoon. It had begun to snow, in a fitful, irritating way-little gritty pellets that blew into his face. He had nowhere to go-four o'clock is a dead time to drop in on people! He had nothing to do, and nothing to think of-except the foolish, middle-aged woman, stating, in their dreary third-floor front, an undeniable fact-he was tired of her! Walking aimlessly about in the cold, he said to himself, dully, "Why was I such an idiot as to marry her?" He was old enough to curse himself for his folly, but he was young enough to suffer, agonies of mortification, and to pity himself, too; pity himself for the mere physical discomfort of his life: the boarding-house table, with its uninteresting food; the worn shirt cuff which was scratching his wrist; and he pitied himself for his spiritual discomfort-when Eleanor called him "darling" at the dinner table, or exhibited her jealousy before people! "They're sorry for me-confound 'em!" he thought.... Yet how trivial the cuff was, or even-yes, even the impertinence which was "sorry" for him!-how unimportant, when compared to a ring of braided grass, and the smell of locust blossoms, and a lovely voice, rising and falling:

"O Spring!"

"Oh, damn!" he said to himself, feeling the scrape of worn linen on the back of his hand. Then he fell into certain moody imaginings with which that winter he frequently and harmlessly amused himself. He used to call these flights of fancy "fool thoughts"; but they were at least an outlet to his smoldering irritation, "Suppose I should kick over the traces some day?" his thoughts would run; and again, "Suppose I should be in a theater fire, and 'disappear,' and never come back, and she'd think I was dead," "Suppose there should be a war, and I should enlist," ... and so forth, and so forth. "Fool thoughts," of course!-but Maurice is not the only man upon whom a jealous woman has thrust such thoughts, or who has found solace in the impossible! So, now, wandering about in the cold, he amused himself by imagining various ways of "kicking over the traces"; then, suddenly, it occurred to him that he wanted something to eat. "By George!" he thought, "I'll get that girl, Lily, and we'll go and have a good dinner!"

Even in the rococo vestibule of the yellow-brick apartment house, while he pressed the bell below Miss Lily Dale's letter box, he began to feel a glow of comfort; and when Lily let him into her little parlor, all clean and vulgar and warm, and fragrant with blossoming bulbs, and gave him a greeting that was almost childlike in its laughing pleasure, his sense of physical well-being was a sort of hitting back at Eleanor.

"Oh," said little Lily, "my! Ain't you cold! Why, your hand's just like ice!"

He let her help him off with his coat, and push him into what had been the vanished Batty's chair; then she saw that his feet were wet, and insisted (to his horror) on unlacing his boots and making him put on a pair of slippers.

"But I was going to take you out to dinner," he remonstrated.

She said: "Oh no! It's cold. I'll cook something for you, and we'll have our dinner right by that fire."

"Can you cook?" he said, with admiring astonishment.

"You bet I can!" she said; "I'll give you a good supper: you just wait!" In her pretty, laughing face was very honest friendliness. "I 'ain't forgot that time you handed it out to Batty! He had a bruise on his chin for a week!"

"A steak!" he exclaimed, watching her preparations in the tiny closet of a kitchen that opened into her parlor.

She nodded: "Ain't it luck to have it in the house? A friend of mine gave it to me this afternoon; her father's a butcher; and he's got a dandy shop on the next block; an' Annie run in with it, an' she says" (Lily was greasing her broiler), "'there,' she says, 'is a present for you!'"

Maurice insisted upon helping, and was told where to get the dishes and what to put on the table, and that if he opened that closet he'd see the beer. "I got just one bottle," she said, chuckling; "Batty stocked up. When he lit out, that was all he left behind him."

"Seen him lately?" Maurice asked.

Lily's face changed. "I 'ain't seen-anyone, since November," she said; "I'm a saleslady at Marston's. But I'll have to get out of this flat when Batty's lease runs out. He took it by the year. He was going to 'settle down,' and 'have a home,'-you know the talk? So he took it for the year. Well, he said I could stay till June. So I'm staying. There! It's done!" She put the sizzling steak on a platter and pressed butter and pepper and salt into it with an energetic knife and fork. "I bet," she said, "you wouldn't get a better steak than this at the Mercer House!"

"I bet I wouldn't get one as good," he assured her.

As he ate his extremely well-cooked steak, and drank a cup of extremely well-made coffee, and reflected that the pretty, amber-eyed woman who, after the manner of her kind, had already dropped into the friendliness of a nickname, and who waited on him with a sweet deftness, was a reformed character, owing, no doubt, to his own efforts, Maurice, comfortable in mind and body, felt the intense pleasure of punishing Eleanor by his mere presence in Lily's rooms. For, if she could know where he was!... "Gosh!" said Maurice. But of course she never would know. He wouldn't think of telling her where he had spent his evening; which shows how far they had drifted apart since that night when he had come home in his shirt sleeves, and been so eager to tell her how he had given his coat to the "poor thing"!

No; if he told Eleanor of Lily, now, there would be no sympathy for a girl who was really trying to keep straight; no impulse to do any "uplift" work! For that matter, Lily could do something in the way of uplift for Eleanor! ... Look at this tidy, gay little room, and the well-cooked steak, and the bulbs on the window sill! He strolled over and looked at the row of purple hyacinth glasses, full now of threadlike roots and topped with swelling buds. "You're quite a gardener," he said.

"Well, there!" said Lily; "if I hadn't but ten cents, I'd spend five for a flower!"

After they had washed the dishes together she made him comfortable in the big chair, and even put a blossoming hyacinth on the table beside him, so he could smell it now and then. Then she sat down on a hassock at his feet, with her back to the fire, and, flecking off the ashes of her cigarette over her shoulder, she talked a friendly trickle of funny stories; Maurice, smoking, too, thought how comfortable he was, and how pleasant it was to have a girl like Lily to talk to. Once or twice he laughed uproariously at some giggling joke. "She has lots of fun in her," he reflected; "and she's a bully cook; and her hair is mighty pretty.... Say, Lily, don't you want to trim my cuff? It's scratching me to death."

"You bet I do!" Lily said, and got her little shiny scissors and trimmed the broken edge of a worn-out cuff that Eleanor had never noticed.

He felt her small, warm fingers on his hand, and had a sense of comfort that made him almost forget Eleanor. "It would serve her right if I took Lily on," he thought. But he had not the remotest intention of taking Lily on! He only played with the idea, because the impossible reality would serve Eleanor right.

It was a month or two later, on the rebound of another dreariness with Eleanor, that the reality came, and he did "take Lily on." When he did so, no one could have been more astonished-under his dismay and horror-than Maurice.

Unless it was Lily? She had been so certain that he had no ulterior purpose, and so completely satisfied with her own way of living, that her rather snuggling friendliness with him was as honest as a boy's. Her surprise at her own mistake showed how genuine her intention of straightness really was. When he came, once or twice to see her, he called her Lily, and she called him "Curt," and they joked together like two playfellows,-except when he was too gloomy to joke. But it was his gloominess that made her feel sure there was nothing but friendliness in his calls. She was not curious about him; she knew he was married, but she never guessed that his preoccupation-during the spring Maurice was very preoccupied with his own wretchedness and given to those cynical fancies about "theater fires";-was due to the fact that he and his wife didn't get along. She merely supposed that, like most of her "gentlemen friends," "Curt" didn't talk about his wife. But, unlike the gentlemen of her world he was, apparently, a husband whose acquaintance with her had its limits. So they were both astonished....

But when Maurice discovered that such acquaintance had also its risks, the shock was agonizing. He was overwhelmed with disgust and shame. Once, at his desk, brooding over what had happened, his whipping instinct of truthfulness roused a sudden, frantic impulse in him to go home and confess to Eleanor, and ask her to forgive him. She never would, of course! No woman would; Eleanor least of all. But oh, if he only could tell her! As he couldn't, remorse, with no outlet of words, smoldered on his consciousness, as some hidden and infected wound might smolder in his flesh. Yet he knew there would be no further unfaithfulness. He would never, he told himself, see Lily again! That was easy! He was done with all "Lilys." If he could only shed the self-knowledge which he was unable to share with Eleanor, as easily as he could shed Lily, how thankful he would be! If he could but forget Lily by keeping away from her! But of course he could not forget. And with memory, and its redeeming pain of shame, was also the stabbing mortification of knowing that he had made a fool of himself, again! First Eleanor; then-Lily. Sometimes, with this realization of his idiocy, he would feel an almost physical nausea. It was so horrible to him, that when, a month later, the anniversary which marked his first folly came around again, he made an excuse of having to be away on business. It seemed to Maurice that to go out to their field, with this loathsome secrecy (which was, of course, an inarticulate lie) buried in his soul, would be like carrying actual corruption in his hands! So he went out of town on some trumped-up engagement, and Eleanor, left to herself, took little pining Bingo for a walk. In a lonely; place in the park, holding the dog on her knee, she looked into his passionately loving liquid eyes and wiped her own; eyes on his silky ears....

Those were aging months for Maurice; and though, of course, the poignancy of shame lessened after a while, it left its imprint on his face, as well as on his mind. They speculated about it at the office: "'G. Washington's' got a grouch on," one clerk said; "probably told the truth and lost a transfer! Let's give him another hatchet."

And the friendly people at the boarding house noticed the change in him. He had almost nothing to say, now, at dinner-no more jokes with the school-teacher, no more eager talks with the gray-haired woman....

"Has she forbidden conversation, do you suppose?" Miss Moore asked, giggling; but the widow said, soberly, that she was afraid Mr. Curtis was troubled about something. Mrs. Newbolt saw that there was something wrong with him, and talked of it to Eleanor, without a pause, for an hour. And of course Eleanor felt a difference in him; all day long, in the loneliness of their third-floor front, under the gaze of Daniel Webster, she brooded over it. Even while she was reading magazines and plodding through newspaper editorials on public questions she had never heard of, so that she could find things to talk about to him, she was thinking of the change, and asking herself what she had done-or left undone-to cause it? She also asked him:

"Maurice! Something bothers you! I'm not enough for you. What is the matter?"

He said, shortly, "Nothing."

At which she retreated into the silence of hurt feelings. Once, she knelt down, her face hidden on the grimy bed-spread, and prayed: "God, please give us a child-that will make him happy. And show me what to do to please him! Show me! Oh, show me! I'll do anything!" And who can say that her prayer was not answered? For certainly an idea did spring into her mind: those tiresome people downstairs-he liked to talk to them;-to Miss Moore, who giggled, and tried, Eleanor thought, to seem learned; and to the elderly woman who told stories. How could he enjoy talking to them when he could talk to her? But he did. So, suppose

she tried to be more sociable with them? "I might invite Mrs. Davis to come up to our room some evening-and I would sing for her? ... But not Miss Moore; she is too silly, with her jokes!" Her mind strained to find ways to be friendly with these people he seemed to like. And circumstances helped her....

That was the month of the great eclipse. For a week Miss Ladd's boarders had talked about it, exchanging among themselves much newspaper astronomical misinformation-which the learned Miss Moore good-naturedly corrected. It was her suggestion that the household should make a night of it: "Let's all go up on the roof and see the show!" So the friendly gayety was planned-a supper in the basement dining room at half past eleven-ginger ale! ice cream! chocolate! Then an adjournment en masse to the top of the house. Of course Miss Moore, engineering the affair, invited the Curtises, confident of a refusal-and an acceptance;-both of which, indeed, she secured; but, to her astonishment, it was Mr. Curtis who declined, and his wife who accepted.

"It's a bore," Maurice told Eleanor, listlessly.

She looked worried: "Oh, I am so sorry! I told them at luncheon that we would come. I thought you'd enjoy it" (Her acceptance, which had been a real sacrifice to her, was a bomb to the other boarders. "What has happened?" they said to each other, blankly. "She'll be an awful wet blanket," some one said, frowning; and some one else said, "She's accepted because she won't let him out at night, alone!")

When the heterogeneous household gathered in the dining room, and corks popped and jokes were made, Eleanor and Maurice were there; he, watching the other people eat and drink and saying almost nothing; she, talking nervously and trying hard to be slangy about astronomy. Once he looked at her with faint interest-for she was so evidently "trying"! At midnight they all toiled up four flights of stairs from the basement to the garret, where, with proper squeamishness on the part of the ladies, and much gallantry of pushing and pulling on the part of the gentlemen, and all sorts of awkwardnesses and displaying of legs, they climbed a ladder and got out through the scuttle on to the flat roof. Then came the calculating of minutes, and facetiousness as to other people's watches and directions as to what one might expect to see. "It'll look like a bite out of a cookie, when it begins," the bond salesman said; and Miss Ladd tittered, and said what the ladies wanted to see was the man in the moon!

Maurice, intolerably irked, had moved across to the parapet and was staring out over the city. Below him spread the dim expanse of roofs and chimneys, with here and there the twinkle of light in an attic window. Leaning on the coping and looking down, he thought of the humanity under the dark roofs: a horizontal humanity-everybody asleep! The ugly fancy came to him that if that sleeping layer of bodies could be stirred up, there would be instantly a squirming mass of loathsome thoughts-maggots of lust, and shame, and jealousy, and fear. "My God! we're a nasty lot," he thought.

"Look!" a voice said at his shoulder. He sighed, impatiently-and looked. Above him soared the abyss of space, velvet black, pricked faintly here and there by stars; and, riding high-eternal and serene-the Moon.

He heard Miss Moore say, "It's beginning." ... And the solemn curve of the Shadow touched the great disk. No one spoke: they stood-a handful of little human creatures, staring up into immensity; specks of consciousness on a whirling ball that was rushing forever into the void, and, as it rushed, its shadow, sweeping soundless through the emptiness of Space, touched the watching Moon ... and the broad plaque, silver gilt, lessened-lessened. To half. To a quarter. To a glistening line. Then coppery darkness.

No one spoke. The flow of universes seemed to sweep personality out upon eternal tides. Yet, strangely, Maurice felt a sudden uprush of personality! ... Little he was-oh, infinitely little; too little, of course, to be known by the Power that could do this-spread out the heavens, and rule the deeps of Space; and yet he felt, somehow, near to the Power. "It's what they call God, I suppose?" he said. It flashed into his mind that he had said almost exactly the same thing that day in the field (when he was a fool), of the fire of joy in his breast: he had said that Happiness was God! And some people thought this stupendous Energy could know-us? Absurd! "Might as well say a man could know an ant." Yet, just because Inconceivable Greatness was great, mightn't it know Inconceivable Littleness? "The smaller I am-the nastier, the meaner, the more contemptible-the greater It would have to be to know me? To say I was too little for It to know about, would be to set a limit to Its greatness." How foolish Reason looks, limping along behind such an intuition-Intuition, running and leaping, and praising God! Maurice's reason strained to follow Intuition: "If It knows about me, It could help me, ... because It holds the stars. Why! It could fix things-with Eleanor!" Looking up into the gulf, his tiny misery suddenly fell away. "It would just prove Its greatness, to help me!" While he groped thus for God among the stars, the order of rushing worlds brought light, just as it had brought darkness: first a gleam; then a curving thread; then a silver sickle; then, magnificently! a shield of light-and the moon's unaltered face looked down at them. Maurice had an overwhelming impulse to drop his weakness into endless, ageless, limitless Power; his glimmer of self-knowledge, into enormous All-Knowledge; his secrecy into Truth. An impulse to be done with silences. "God knows; so Eleanor shall know." The idea of telling the truth was to Maurice-slipping and sinking into bottomless lying-like taking hold upon the great steadinesses of the sky....

People began to talk; Maurice did not hear them. Miss Ladd made a joke; Miss Moore said something about "light miles"; the old, sad, clever woman said, "The firmament showeth his handiwork,"-and instantly, as though her words were a signal-a voice, as silvery as the moon, broke the midnight with a swelling note:

"The spacious firmament on high,

With all the blue ethereal sky ..."

A shock of attention ran through the watchers on the roof: Eleanor, standing with her hands clasped lightly in front of her, her head thrown back, her eyes lifted to the unplumbed deeps, was singing:

"The moon takes up the wondrous tale And nightly to the listening earth Repeats the story of her birth; Whilst all the stars that round her burn, And all the planets in their turn-"

A window was thrown open in a dark garret below, and some one, unseen, listened. Down in the street, two passers-by paused, and looked up. No one spoke. The voice soared on-and ended:

"Forever singing as they shine...."

Maurice came to her side and caught her hand. There was a long sigh from the little group. For several minutes no one spoke. Miss Moore wiped her eyes; the baseball fan said, huskily, "My mother used to sing that"; the widow touched Eleanor's shoulder. "My-my husband loved it," she said, and her voice broke.

The garret window slammed down; the two people in the street vanished in the darkness. The little party on the roof melted away; they climbed through the scuttle, forgetting to joke, but saying to each other, in lowered voices: "Would you have believed it?" "How wonderful!" And to Eleanor, rather humbly: "It was beautiful, Mrs. Curtis!"

In their own room, Maurice took his wife in his arms and kissed her. "I am going to tell her," he said to himself, calmly. The overwhelming grandeur of the heavens had washed him clean of fear, clean even of shame, and left him impassioned with Beauty and Law, which two are Truth. "I will tell her," he said.

Eleanor had sung without self-consciousness; but now, when they were back again in their room-so stifling after those spaces between the worlds!-self-consciousness flooded in: "I suppose it was queer?" she said.

"It was perfect," Maurice said; he was very pale.

"I wanted to do something that they would like, and I thought they might like a hymn? Some of them said they did. But if you liked it, that is all I want."

"I loved it." His heart was pounding in his throat.... "Eleanor" (he could hardly see that terrible path among the stars, but he stumbled upward), "Eleanor, I'm not good enough for you."

"Not good enough? For me?" She laughed at such absurdity. He was sitting down, his elbow on his knee, his head in his hand. She came and knelt beside him. "If you are only happy! I did it to make you happy."

She heard him catch his breath. "How much do you love me?" he said.

(Oh, how long it was since he had talked that way-asking the sweet, unanswerable question of happy love!-how long since he had spoken with so much precious foolishness!) "How much? Why, Maurice, I love you so that sometimes, when I see you talking to other people-even these tiresome people here in the house, I could just die! I want you all to myself! I-I guess I feel about you the way Bingo feels about me," she said, trying to joke-but there were tears in her eyes.

"I'm not always ... what I ought to be," he said; "I am not-" (the path was very dim)-"awfully good. I-"

"I suppose I'm naturally jealous," she confessed; "I could die for you, Maurice; but I couldn't share your little finger! Do you remember, on our wedding day, you made me promise to be jealous? Well, I am." She laughed-and he was dumb. There, on the roof, Truth seemed as inevitable as Law. It did not seem inevitable now. He had lost his way among the stars. He could not find words to begin his story. But words overflowed on Eleanor's lips!... "Sometimes I get to thinking about myself-I am older than you, you know, a little. Not that it matters, really; but when I see you with other people, and you seem to enjoy talking to them-it nearly kills me! And you do like to talk to them. You even like to talk to-Edith, who is rude to me!" Her words poured out sobbingly: "Why, why am I not enough for you? You are enough for me!"

He was silent.

"And ... and ... and we haven't a baby," she said in a whisper, and dropped her face on his knee.

He tried to lift her, but his soul was sinking within him; dropping down-down from the awful heights. Yet still he caught at Truth! "Dear, don't! As for people, I may talk to them; I may even-even be with them, or seem to like them, and-and do things, that-I don't love anybody but you, Eleanor; but I-I-"

It was a final clutch at the Hand that holds the stars. But his entreating voice broke, for she was kissing his confession from his lips. Those last words-"I don't love anybody but you"-folded her in complete content! "Dear," she said, "that's all I want-that you don't love anybody but me." She laid her wet cheek against his in silence.

What could he do but be silent, too? What could he do but choke down the confessing, redeeming words that were on his lips? So he did choke them down, turning his back on the clean freedom of Truth; and the burden of his squalid secret, which he had been ready to throw away forever, was again packed like some corroding thing in his soul....

When, late in August, he and Eleanor went to Green Hill for a few days vacation, the effect of this repression was marked. There were wrinkles on his forehead under the thatch of his blond hair; his blue eyes were dulled, and he was taciturn to the point of rudeness-except to Eleanor. He was very polite to Eleanor. He never, now, amused himself by imagining how he could disappear if he had the luck to be in a theater fire. He knew that because he had enslaved himself to a lie, he had lost the right even to dream freedom. So there were no more "fool thoughts" as to how a man might "kick over the traces." There was nothing for him to do, now (he said), but "play the game." The Houghtons were uneasily aware of a difference in him; and Edith, fifteen now, felt that he had changed, and had fits of shyness with him. "He's like he was that night on the river," she told herself, "when he gave the lady his coat." She sighed when she said this, and it occurred to her that she would be a missionary. "I won't get married," she thought; "I'll go and nurse lepers. He's exactly like Sir Walter Raleigh."

But of course she had moments of forgetting the lepers-moments when she came down to the level of people like Johnny Bennett. When this happened, she thought that, instead of going to the South Seas, she would become a tennis star and figure in international tournaments; even Johnny admitted that she served well-for a girl. One day she confessed this ambition to Maurice, but he immediately beat her so badly that she became her old childlike, grumpy self, and said Johnny was nicer for singles; which enabled Maurice to turn her loose on John and go off alone to climb the mountain. He had a dreary fancy for looking at the camp, and living over again those days when he was still young-and a fool, of course; but not so great a fool as now, with Lily living in a little flat in Mercer. Batty's lease had expired, and she had moved into a cheaper, but still ornate, apartment house on the other side of the river. Well! Lily had floated into his life as meaninglessly as a mote floats into a streak of light, and then floated out again. He hadn't seen her since-since that time in May.

"Ass-ass!" he said to himself. "If Eleanor knew," he thought, "there'd be a bust-up in two minutes." He even smiled grimly to think of that evening of the eclipse when, shaken by the awful beauty of eternal order, he had, for just one high moment, dreamed that he, too, could attain the orderliness of Truth-and tell Eleanor. "Idiot!" he said, contemptuously. Probably Maurice touched his lowest level when he said that; for to be ashamed of an aspiration, to be contemptuous of emotion, is to sin against the Holy Ghost.

When Maurice reached the camp he stood for a while looking about him. The shack had not wintered well: the door sagged on a broken hinge, and the stovepipe had blown over and lay rusting on the roof. In the blackened circle of stones were some charred logs, which made him think of the camp fire on that night of Eleanor's courage and love and terror. He even reverted to those first excuses for her: "She nearly killed herself for me. Nervous prostration, Doctor Bennett said. I suppose a woman never gets over that. Poor Eleanor!" he said, softening; "it would kill her ... if she knew." He sat down and looked off across the valley ... "What am I going to do?" he said to himself. "I can't make her happy; I'd like to, but you can't reason with her any more than if she was a child. Edith has ten times her sense! How absurd she is about Edith. Lord! what would she do if she knew about Lily!"

He reflected, playing with the mere horror of the thought, upon just how complete the "bust-up" would be if she knew! He realized that he had undeserved good luck with Lily; she hadn't fastened herself on him. She was decent about that; if she'd been a different sort, he might have had a nasty time. But Lily was a sport-he'd say that for her; she hadn't clawed at him! And she had protested that she didn't want any money, and wouldn't take it! And she hadn't taken it. He had made some occasional presents, but nothing of any value. He had given her nothing, hardly even a thought (except the thought that he was an ass), since last May. Thinking of her now, he had another of those pangs of shame which had stabbed him so at first, but to which of late he had grown callous. The shame of having been the one-after all his goody-goody talk!-to pull her off the track; still, she was straight again now. He was quite sure of that. "You can tell when they're straight," he thought, heavily. Perhaps, in the winter, he would send her some flowers. He thought of the bulbs on the window sill of Lily's parlor, and tried to remember a verse; something about-about-what was it?

If of thy store there be

But left two loaves,

Sell one, and with the dole

Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul."

He laughed; Lily, feeding her "soul"! "Well, she has more 'soul,' with her flower pots and her good cooking, than some women who wouldn't touch her with a ten-foot pole! Still, I'm done with her!" he thought. But he had no purpose of "uplift"; the desire to reform Lily had evaporated. "Queer; I don't care a hoot," he told himself, watching with lazy eyes the smoke from his pipe drift blue between himself and the valley drowsing in the heat. "I'd like to see the little thing do well for herself-but really I don't give a damn." His moral listlessness, in view of the acuteness of that first remorse, and especially of that moment among the stars, when he had stretched out hands passionately eager for the agonizing sacrament of confession, faintly surprised him. How could he have been so wrought up about it? He looked off over the valley-saw the steely sickle of the river; saw a cloud shadow touch the shoulder of a mountain and move down across the gracious bosom of its forests. Below him, chestnuts twinkled and shimmered in the sun, and there were dusky stretches of hemlocks, then open pastures, vividly green from the August rains.... "It ought to be set to music," he thought; the violins would give the flicker of the leaves-"and the harps would outline the river. Eleanor's voice is lovely ... she looks fifty. How," he pondered, interested in the mechanics of it, "did she ever get me into that wagon?" Then, again, he was sorry for her, and said, "Poor girl!" Then he was sorry for himself. He knew that he was tired to death of Eleanor-tired of her moods and her lovemaking. He was not angry with her; he did not hate her;-he had injured her too much to hate her; he was simply unutterably tired of her-what he did hate, was this business of lugging a secret around! "I feel," he said to himself, "like a dog that's killed a hen, and had the carcass tied around his neck." His face twitched with disgust at his own simile. But as for Eleanor, he had been contemptibly mean to her, and, "By God!" he said to himself, "at least I'll play the game. I'll treat her as well as I can. Other fools have married jealous women, and put up with them. But, good Lord!" he thought, with honest perplexity, "can't the women see how they push you into the very thing they are afraid of, because they bore you so infernally? If I look at a woman, Eleanor's on her ear.... Queer," he pondered; "she's good. Look how kind she is to old O'Brien's lame child. And she can sing." He hummed to himself a lovely Lilting line of one of Eleanor's songs. "Confound it! why did I meet Lily? Eleanor is a million times too good for me...."

Far off he heard a sound and, frowning, looked toward the road: yes; somebody was coming! "Can't a man get a minute to himself?" Maurice thought, despairingly. It was the mild-eyed and spectacled Johnny Bennett, and behind him, Edith, panting and perspiring, and smiling broadly.

"Hello!" she called out, in cheerful gasps; "thought we'd come up and walk home with you!"

"'Lo," Maurice said.

The boy and girl achieving the rocky knoll on which Maurice was sitting, his hands locked about his knees, his eyes angry and ashamed, staring over the treetops, sat down beside him. Johnny pulled out his pipe, and Edith took off her hat and fanned herself. "Mother and Eleanor went for a ride. I thought I'd rather come up here."

"Um-" Maurice said.

"Two letters for you," she said. "Eleanor told me to bring 'em up. Might be business."

As she handed them to him, his eye caught the address on one of them, and a little cold tingle suddenly ran down his spine. Lily had never written to him, but some instinct warned him that that cramped handwriting on the narrow lavender envelope, forwarded from the office, could only be hers. A whiff of perfumery made him sure. He had a pang of fright. At what? He could not have said; but even before he opened the purple envelope he knew the taste of fear in his mouth....

Sitting there on the mountain, looking down into the misty serenities of the sun-drenched valley, with the smoke of Johnny Bennett's pipe in his nostrils, and the friendly Edith beside him, he tore open the scented envelope, and as his eyes fell on the first lines it seemed as if the spreading world below rose up and hit him in the face:

DEAR FRIEND CURT,-I don't know what you'll say. I hope you won't be mad. I'm going to have a baby. It's yours....

Maurice could not see the page, a wave of nausea swamped even his horror; he swallowed-swallowed-swallowed. Edith heard him gasp, and looked at him, much interested.

"What's the matter with your hands?" Edith inquired. "Johnny! Look at his hands!"

Maurice's fingers, smoothing out the purple sheet, were shaking so that the paper rustled. He did not hear her. Then he read the whole thing through to its laconic end:

It's yours-honest to God. Can you help me a little? Sorry to trouble you on your vacation.

Your friend,


"What is the matter with your hands?" Edith said, very much interested.

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