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   Chapter 14 No.14

The Vehement Flame By Margaret Wade Campbell Deland Characters: 7329

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Edith's first winter in Mercer went pretty well; she was not fussy about what she had to eat; "I can always stoke on bread and butter," she said, cheerfully; and she was patient with the aging Bingo's yapping jealousies; "The smaller a dog is, the more jealous he is!" she said, with good-humored contempt; and she didn't mind Eleanor's speechlessness. "I talk!" Edith said. But Maurice?... "I love him next to father and mother," Edith thought; but, all the same, she didn't know what to make of Maurice! He had very little to say to her-which made her feel annoyingly young, and made him seem so old and stern that sometimes she could hardly realize that he was the Maurice of the henhouse, and the camp, and the squabbles. Instead, he was the Maurice of that night on the river, the "Sir Walter Raleigh" Maurice! Once in a while she was quite shy with him. "He's awfully handsome," she thought, and her eyes dreamed. "What a clod Johnny is, compared to him!" ... As for Eleanor, Edith, being as unobservant as most sixteen-year-old girls, saw only the lovely dark eyes and the beautiful brow under the ripple of soft black hair, Eleanor's sterile silences did not trouble her, and she never knew that the traces of tears meant a helpless consciousness that dinner had been a failure. The fact was, she never noticed Eleanor's looks! She merely thought Maurice's wife was old, and didn't "get much fun out of life-she just plays on the piano!" Edith thought. Pain of mind or body was, to Edith-as probably it ought to be to Youth-unintelligible; so she had no sympathy. In fact, being sixteen, she had still the hard heart of a child.

It may have been the remembrance of Sir Walter Raleigh that made her, one night, burst into reminiscent questions:

"Maurice! Do you remember the time that boat upset, and that girl-all painted, you know-flopped around in the water?"

Maurice said, briefly, why, yes; he believed he remembered.

"I remember that girl, too," Eleanor said; "Maurice told me about her."

"Well, what do you suppose?" Edith said; "I saw her to-day."

Maurice, pushing back his chair, got up and went into the little room opening into the dining room, which they called the library. At his desk, his pen in his hand, his jaw set, he sat listening-listening! What in hell would she say next? What she said was harmless enough:

"Yes, I saw her. I was walking home, and on Maple Street who should I see going into a house but this woman! She was lugging a flower pot, and a baby. And,-now, isn't this funny?-she sort of stumbled at the gate, right by me! And I grabbed her, and kept the child from falling; and I said-" In the library Maurice's face was white-"I said, 'Why, I saw you once-you're Miss Dale. Your boat upset,' And she said, 'You have the advantage of me.' Of course she isn't a lady, you know."

Eleanor smiled, and called significantly to her husband, "Edith says your rescued friend isn't a 'lady,' Maurice!" He didn't answer, and she added to Edith, "No; she certainly isn't a lady! Darling," she called again; "do you suppose she's got married?"

To which he answered, "Where did I put those sheets of blotting paper, Eleanor?"

"Oh yes, she's married," Edith said, scraping her plate; "she told me her name was Mrs. Henry Dale. She couldn't seem to remember Maurice giving her his coat, which I thought was rather funny in her, 'cause Maurice is so handsome you'd think she'd remember him. And I said he was 'Mr. Curtis,' and she said she'd never heard the name. I got to talking to her," ("I bet you did," Maurice thought, despairingly); "and she told me that 'Jacky' had had the measles, and been awfully s

ick, but he was all well now, and she'd taken him into Mercer to get him a cap." ("What's Lily mean by bringing the Thing into town!" Jacky's father was saying through set teeth.) "She was perfectly bursting with pride about him," Edith went on; "said he was 'a reg'lar rascal'! Isn't it queer that I should meet her, after all these years?"

When Eleanor went into the library to hunt for the blotting paper, she, too, commented on the queerness of Edith's stumbling on the lady who wasn't a lady. "How small the world is!" said Eleanor. "Why, Maurice, here's the paper! Right before you!"

"Oh," said Maurice, "yes; thank you." He was saying to himself, "I might have known this kind of thing would happen!" He was consumed with anxiety to ask Edith some questions, but of course he had to be silent. To show even the slightest interest was impossible-and Edith volunteered no further information, for that night Eleanor took occasion to intimate to her that "Mrs. Dale" must not be referred to. "You can't speak of that kind of person, you know."

"Why not?" Edith said.

"Well, she isn't-nice. She wasn't married. And Edith, it really isn't good taste to tell a man, right to his face, that he's handsome! I don't think any man likes flattery."

"You mean because I said Maurice was handsome? I didn't say it to his face-he was in the library. And it isn't flattery to tell the truth. He is! As for Mrs. Dale, she is married; this little Jacky was her baby! She said so. He had the bluest eyes! I never saw such blue eyes-except Maurice's. 'Course she's not a lady; but I don't see what right you have to say she isn't nice."

Eleanor, laughing, threw up despairing hands; "Edith, don't you know anything?"

"I know everything," Edith said, affronted; "I'm sixteen. Of course I know what you mean; but Mrs. Dale isn't-that. And," Edith ended, on the spur of the moment, "and I'm going to see her sometime!" The under dog always appealed to Edith Houghton, and when Eleanor left her, appalled by her failure to instill proprieties into her, Edith was distinctly hot. "I'm not going to see her!" she told herself. "I wouldn't think of such a thing. But I won't listen to Eleanor abusing her."

As for Eleanor, she confided her alarm to Maurice. "She mustn't go to see that woman!"

His instant horrified agreement was a satisfaction to her: "Of course not!"

"She won't listen to me," Eleanor complained; "you'll have to tell her she mustn't."

"I will," he said, grimly.

And the very next day he did. He happened (as it seemed) to start for his office just as Edith started for school, so they walked along together.

"Edith," he said, the moment they were clear of his own doorway and Eleanor's ears; "that Mrs. Dale; I'd keep away from her, if I were you."

"Goodness!" said Edith; "did you suppose I was going to fall into her arms? Why should I have anything to do with her?"

"Eleanor said you said-"

"Oh, I just said that because Eleanor was down on her, and that made me mad. I couldn't go and see her, if I was dying to-'cause I don't know where she lives-unless it was that house she was going into? Do you know, Maurice?"

"Great Scott! How should I know where she lives?"

"'Course not," said Edith.

But it was many days before Maurice's alarm quieted down sufficiently to let him drift back into the furtive security of knowing that neither Edith nor Eleanor could, by any possibility, get on Lily's track. "And, besides, Lily's too good a sport to give anything away. Pretty neat in her to 'forget' that coat! But she ought to be careful not to forget her husband's name!-it seems to be Henry, now."

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