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   Chapter 20 No.20

The Vehement Flame By Margaret Wade Campbell Deland Characters: 35903

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


When Edith's Easter vacation was over, and she went back to Mercer, she was followed by a letter from Mrs. Houghton to Eleanor, explaining the plan for the school dormitory the following winter. But there was another letter, to Maurice, addressed (discreetly) to his office. It was from Henry Houghton, and it was to the effect that if any "unexpected expenses" came along, and Maurice felt strapped because of the cessation of Edith's board, he must let Mr. Houghton know; then a suggestion as to realizing on certain securities.

"That's considerate in him," Eleanor said; "but I don't know what 'unexpected expenses' we could have?"

It was a chilly April day. Maurice happened to be laid up home with a sore throat; Eleanor, searching for a cook, had stopped at his office for a lease he wanted to see, and brought back with her some mail she found on his desk.

"I knew this letter was from Mr. Houghton, so I opened it," she said, as she handed it to him. His instant and very sharp annoyance surprised her. "I wouldn't open your business letters," she defended herself; "but I didn't suppose you'd mind my seeing anything the Houghtons might write-"

"I don't like to have any of my mail opened!" he said, briefly, his eyes raking Henry Houghton's letter, and discovering (of course!) nothing in the fine, precise handwriting which was in the least betraying. ("But suppose he had said what the 'unexpected expenses' might be!")

"We shall miss Edith's board," Eleanor said; "but, oh, I'll be so glad to have her go!"

Maurice was silent. "If she lives in Medfield all the time, she'll be sure and run into Lily," he thought. "The devil's in it." He was in his bedroom, wrapped up in a blanket, shivering and hot and headachy. The chance of Edith's "running into Lily" would, of course, be even less if she were at Fern Hill, than it was now when she was going back and forth in the trolley every day; but he was so uncomfortable, physically, that he didn't think of that; and his preoccupation made him blind to Eleanor's hurt look.

"I am willing to have you read all my letters," she said.

"I'm not willing to have you read mine!" he retorted.

"Why not?" she demanded-"unless you have secrets from me."

"Oh, Eleanor, don't be an idiot!" he said, wearily.

"I believe you have secrets!" she said-and burst out crying and ran out of the room.

He called her back and apologized for his irritability; but as he got better, he forgot that he had been irritable-he had something else to think of! He must get down to the office and write to Mr. Houghton, asking him to address personal letters to a post-office box. And he made things still safer by going out to Medfield to see Lily and give her the number of the box in case she, too, had occasion to write any "personal" letters, which, indeed, she very rarely had. "I say that for her!" Maurice told himself. He hoped-as he always did when he had to go to Maple Street, that he would not see It-an It which had, of course, long before this, acquired sufficient personality to its father to be referred to as "Jacky"; a Jacky who, in his turn, had discovered sufficient personality in Maurice to call him "Mr. Gem'man"-a corruption of his mother's title for her very infrequent visitor, "the gentleman."

Jacky's "Mr. Gem'man" found the front door of the little house open, and, looking in, saw Lily in the parlor, mounted on a ladder, hanging wall paper. She stepped down, laughing, and moved her bucket of paste out of his way.

"Won't you be seated?" she said. Her rosy face was beaming with artistic satisfaction; "Ain't this paper lovely?" she demanded; "it's one of them children's papers that's all the rage now. I call it a reg'lar art gallery! Look at the pants on them rabbits! It pretty near broke me to buy it. The swells put this kind of paper in 'nurseries,' and stick their kids off in 'em; but that ain't me! I put it on the parlor! Set down, won't you?"

Maurice sat down and, very much bored, listened while Lily chattered on, with stories about Jacky:

"He says to the milkman yesterday, 'I like your shirt,' he says. And Amos-that's his name-he said, 'You can get one like it when you're grown up like me.' And Jacky, he says-oh, just as sad!-I'd rather have it now, 'cause when I grow up, maybe I'll be a lady.'"

Maurice smiled perfunctorily.

"Ain't he the limit?" Lily demanded, proudly; "he's a reg'lar rascal! He stuck out his tongue at the grocer's boy, yesterday, 'cause he stepped on my pansy bed. I wish you could 'a' seen him."

Maurice swallowed a yawn. "He's fresh."

"'Course," Lily said, quickly, "I gave him a smack! He's getting a good bringing up, Mr. Curtis. I give him a cent every morning, to say his prayers."

Maurice didn't care a copper about Jacky's manners, or his morals, either; but he said, carelessly, "A kid that's fresh is a bore."

Lily frowned. When Maurice, having explained about the letter box, gave her the usual "present" she made her usual good-natured protest-but this time there was more earnestness in it, and even a little sharpness. "I don't need it; I've got three more mealers-well, one of 'em can't pay me; her husband's out of work; but she don't eat more than a canary, poor thing! I can take care of Jacky myself."

The emphasis puzzled Jacky's father for a moment. That Lily, seeing the growing perfection of her handsome, naughty little boy, was becoming uneasy lest Maurice might be moved to envy, never occurred to him. If it had, he would of course have been enormously relieved; he might even have played upon her fear of such an impossibility to induce her to move away from Mercer! As it was, after listening to the account of the pansy catastrophe, he got up to go, thankful that he had not had to lay eyes on the child, whose voice he heard from the back yard.

Lily, friendly enough in spite of that moment of resentment, went to the front door with him. She had grown rather stout in the last year or two, but she was always as shiningly clean as a rose, and her little lodging house was clean, too; she was indefatigably thorough-scrubbing and sweeping and dusting from morning to night! "It's good business," said little Lily; "and it is just honest, too, for they pay me good!" Her only unbusinesslike quality was a generous kindliness, which sometimes considered the "mealers'" purses rather than her own. She had, to be sure, small outbursts of temper, when she "smacked" Jacky, or berated her lodgers for wasting gas; but Jacky was smothered with kisses even before his howls ceased, and the lodgers were placated with cookies the very next day-but that, too, was "good business"! Her "respectability" had become a deep satisfaction to her. She occasionally referred to herself as "a perfect lady." Her feeling about "imperfect" ladies was of most virulent disapproval. But she had no more spirituality than a hen. Her face was as good-humored, and common, and pretty as ever; and she had a fund of not too refined, but always funny, stories to tell Maurice; so he liked her, after a fashion, and she liked him, after a fashion, too, although she was a little afraid of him; his bored preoccupation seemed like sternness to Lily. "Grouchiness," she called it; "probably that's why he don't take to Jacky," she thought; "well, it's lucky he don't, for he shouldn't have him!" But as Maurice, on the little porch, said good-by, she really wondered at his queerness in not taking to Jacky, who, grimy and handsome, was sitting on the ground, spooning earth into an empty lard pail.

"Come in out o' the dirt, Sweety!" Lily called to him.

Jacky rose reluctantly, then stood looking, open-mouthed, at his mother's visitor.

"Say," he remarked; "I kin swear."

"You don't say so!" said Maurice.

"I kin say 'dam,'" Jacky announced, gravely.

"You are a great linguist! Who instructed you in the noble art of profanity?"

"Huh?" said Jacky, shyly.

"Who taught you?"

"Maw," said Jacky.

Maurice roared; Lily giggled,-"My soul and body! Listen to that child! Jacky, you naughty boy, telling wrong stories. One of these days I'm going to give you a reg'lar spanking." Then she stamped her foot, for Jacky had settled down again in the dust; "Do you hear me? Come right in out of the dirt! That's one on me!" she confessed, laughing: then added, anxiously: "Say, Mr. Curtis, I do smack him when he says bad words; honest, I do! He's getting a good bringing up, though my mealers spoil him something awful. But I'd just shake his prayers out of him, if he forgot 'em."

Maurice, still laughing, said: "Well, don't become too proficient, Jacobus. Good-by," he said again. And as he said it, Eleanor, in a trolley car, glanced out of the window and saw him.

"Why, there's Maurice!" she said; and motioned to the conductor to stop. Hunting for a cook had brought her to this impossible suburb, where Maurice, no doubt, was trying to buy or sell a house. "I'll get out and walk home with him," she thought, eagerly. But the car would not stop until the end of the second block, and when she hurried back Maurice had disappeared. He had either gone off in another direction, or else entered the house; but she could not remember which house!-those gingerbread tenements were all so much alike that it was impossible to be sure on which of the small porches she had seen her husband, and a fat, common-looking woman, and a child playing in the yard. All she could do was to wander up and down the block, looking at every front door in the hope that he would appear; as he didn't, she finally took the next car into town.

"Did you sell the house this afternoon?" she asked Maurice at dinner that night; and he, remembering how part of his afternoon had been spent, said he hadn't any particular house on the string at the moment.

"Then what took you to Medfield?" Eleanor asked, simply.

"Medfield!"

"I saw you out there this afternoon," she said; "you were talking to a woman. I supposed she was a tenant. I got off the car to walk home with you, but I wasn't sure of the house; they were all alike."

"What were you doing in Medfield?"

"Oh, Hannah has given notice; I was hunting for a cook. I heard of one out on Bell Street."

"Did you find her?"

"No," Eleanor said, sighing, "it's perfectly awful!"

"Too bad!" her husband sympathized.

In the parlor, after dinner, while Eleanor was getting out the cards for solitaire, Maurice, tingling with alarm and irritation, sat down at the piano and banged out all sorts of chords and discords. "Lily'll have to move," he was saying to himself. (Bang-Bang!) His Imagination raced with the possibilities of what would have happened if Eleanor had found the house which was "like all the other houses," and heard his "good-by" to Lily, or perhaps even caught the latest addition to Jacky's vocabulary! "The jig would have been up," he thought. (Bang-Crash!)... "She'll have to move! Suppose Eleanor took it into her head to hunt her up? She's capable of it!" (Crash!)

Eleanor's absorption in the cook she could not find kept her for nearly forty-eight hours from speculation as to what, if not office business, took Maurice to Medfield. When she did begin to speculate she said to herself, "He doesn't tell me things about his business!" Then she was stabbed again by his annoyance because she had opened the letter from Mr. Houghton; then by his secretiveness in regard to that adventure on the river with Mrs. Morton. (He had told Edith!) Then this-then that-and by and by a tiny heap of nothings, that implied reserves. He wasn't confidential. She told him everything! She never kept a thing from him! And he didn't even tell her why he was over in Medfield when no real-estate matters took him there. Why should he not tell her? And when she said that, the inevitable answer came: He didn't tell her, because he didn't want her to know! Perhaps he had friends there? No. No friends of Maurice's could live in such a locality. Well, perhaps there was some woman? Even as she said this, she was ashamed. She knew she didn't believe it. Of course there wasn't any woman!... But, at any rate, he had interests in Medfield that he did not tell her about. She hinted this to him at breakfast the next morning. She had not meant to speak of it; she knew she would be sorry if she did. Eleanor was incapable of analysis, but she was, in her pitiful way, aware that jealousy, when articulate, is almost always vulgar-perhaps because the decorums of breeding (which insist that, for the sake of others, one's own pain must be hidden) are not propped up by the reserves of pride. At any rate, she was not often publicly bitter to Maurice. This time, however, she was.

"Apparently," she said, "Maurice has acquaintances on Maple Street whom I don't know."

"The élite," Edith remarked, facetiously; "his lovely Mrs. Dale lives there."

Maurice's start was perceptible.

"Perhaps it was Mrs. Dale you went to see?" Eleanor said.

Maurice, trained in these years of furtiveness to self-control, said, "Does she live on Maple Street, Edith?"

"I guess so. The time I rescued her little boy and her flower pot, ages ago, she was going into a house on Maple Street."

"I saw Maurice in Medfield on Thursday," said Eleanor; "and he doesn't seem to want to say what he was doing there!"

"I am perfectly willing to tell you what I was doing," he retorted; "I went from our office to see the woman who rents the house."

Eleanor's slow mind accepted this entirely true and successfully false remark with only the wonder of wounded love. "Why didn't he say that at first?" she thought; "why does he hide things from me?"

Maurice, however, made sure of that "hiding." Eleanor's attack upon him frightened him so badly that that very afternoon, after office hours (Eleanor being safe in bed with a headache), he went to see Lily. Her astonishment at another visit so soon was obvious; she was still further astonished when he told her why he had come. He hated to tell her. To speak of Eleanor offended his taste-but it had to be done. So, stammering, he began-but broke off:

"Send that child away!"

"Run out in the yard, Sweety," Lily commanded.

"Won't," said Jacky.

"Clear out!" Maurice said, sharply, and Jacky obeyed like a shot-but paused on the porch to turn the ferociously clanging doorbell round and round and round. "Well," Maurice began, "I'll tell you what's happened... Lily! Make him stop!"

"Say, now, Jacky, stop," Lily called; but Jacky, seized apparently with a new idea, had already stopped, and was running out on to the pavement.

So again Maurice began his story. Lily's instant and sympathetic understanding was very reassuring. He even caught himself, under the comfort of her quick co-operation, ranging himself with her, and saying "we." "We've got to guard against anything happening, you know."

"Oh, my soul and body, yes!" Lily agreed; "it would be too bad, and no sense, either; you and me just acquaintances. 'Course I'll move, Mr. Curtis. But, there! I hate to leave my garden-and I've just papered this room! And I don't know where to go, either," she ended, with a worried look.

"How would you like to go to New York?" he said, eagerly.

She shook her head: "I've got a lot of friends in this neighborhood. But there's a two-family house on Ash Street-"

"Say," said Jacky, in the hall; "I got-"

"Oh, but you must leave Medfield!" he protested; "she"-that "she" made him wince-"she may try to hunt you up."

"She can't. She don't know my name."

Maurice felt as if privacy were being pulled away from his soul, as skin might be flayed from living flesh. "But you see," he began, huskily, "there's a-a girl who lives with us; and she-she mentioned your name." Then, cringing, he told her about Edith.

Lily looked blankly puzzled; then she remembered; "Why, yes, sure enough! It was right at the gate-oh, as much as four years ago; I slipped, and she grabbed Jacky. Yes; it comes back to me; she told me she seen me the time we got ducked. 'Course, I gave her the glassy eye, and said I didn't remember the gentleman in the boat with her. And she caught on that I lived here? Well, now, ain't the world small?"

"Damned small," Maurice said, dryly.

"Say," said Jacky, from the doorway, "I got a-"

"Well, she-I mean this young lady-told my-ah, wife that you lived on Maple Street, and-" He was stammering with angry embarrassment; Lily gave a cluck of dismay. "Confound it!" said Maurice; "what'll we do?"

"Now, don't you worry!" Lily said, cheerfully. "If she ever speaks to me again, I'll say, 'Why, you have the advantage of me!'"

Her mincing politeness made him laugh, in spite of his irritation. "I think you'd like it in New York?" he urged.

Lily's amber eyes were full of sympathy-but she was firm: "I wouldn't live in New York for anything!"

"Mr. Gem'man," said Jacky, sidling crabwise into the room to the shelter of his mother's skirt; "I-"

"Say, now, Sweety, be quiet! No, Mr. Curtis; I only go into real good society, and I've always heard that New York ladies ain't what they should be. And, besides, I want a garden for Jacky. I'll tell you what I'll do! I'll take the top flat in that house on Ash Street. It has three little rooms I could let. There's a widow lady's been asking me to go in on it with her; it has a garden back of it Jacky could play in-last summer there was a reg'lar hedge of golden glow inside the fence! Mr. Curtis, you'd 'a' laughed! He pinched an orange off a hand-cart yesterday, just as cute! 'Course I gave him a good slap, and paid the man; but I had to laugh, he was so smart. And he's got going now, on God-since I've been paying him to say his prayers. Well, I suppose I'll have to be going to church one of these days," she said, resignedly. "The questions he asks about God are something fierce! I don't know how to answer 'em. Cr

azy to know what God eats-I told him bad boys."

"Lily, I don't think-Thunder and guns!" said Maurice, leaping to his feet and rubbing his ankle; "Lily, call him off! The little wretch put his teeth into me!"

Lily, horrified, slapped her son, who explained, bawling, "Well, b-b-but he didn't let on he heard me tellin' him that I-"

"I felt you," Maurice said, laughing; "Gosh, Lily! He's cut his eyeteeth-I'll say that for him!" He poked Jacky with the toe of his boot, good-naturedly: "Don't howl, Jacobus. Sorry I hurt your feelings. Lily, what I was going to say was, I don't believe that Ash Street place is what you want?"

"Yes, it is. The widow lady is a dressmaker, and she has three children. We were talking about it only yesterday. Her father's feeble-minded, poor old man! I take him in some doughnuts whenever I fry 'em. Mr. Curtis, don't worry; I'll fix it, somehow! And until I get moved, I won't answer the bell here. Look! I'll give you a key, and you can come in without ringing if you want to."

"No-no! I don't want a key! I wouldn't take a key for a million dollars!"

Lily's quick flush showed how innocent her offer had been. "I suppose that doesn't sound very high toned-to offer a gentleman a key? But I'll tell you! I ain't giving any door keys to my house. Jacky ain't ever going to feel funny about his mother," she said, sharply.

It was on the tip of Maurice's tongue to say, "Nor about his father!" but he was silent. It was the first time his mind had articulated his paternity, and the mere word made him dumb with disgust. Lily, however, was her kind little self again, full of promises to "clear out," and reassurances that "she" would never get on to it.

It was then that the grimness of the situation for Maurice lightened for a ridiculous moment. Jacky, breathing very hard, peered from behind his mother, and stretched out to Maurice an extremely dirty, tightly clenched fist. "I got a-a pre-present for you," he explained, panting. Maurice, in a great hurry to get away, paused to put out his hand, in which his son placed, very gently, a slimy, half-smoked cigar. "Found it," Jacky said, in a stertorous whisper, "in the gutter."

It was impossible not to laugh, and Maurice swallowed his impatience long enough to say, "Jacobus, you overwhelm me!" Then he took his departure, holding the gift between a reluctant thumb and finger. "Funny little beggar," he said to himself, and pitched the stub into the gutter from which Jacky had salvaged it; he didn't look back to see his son hanging over the palings, watching the fate of his present with stricken eyes... So it was that, when the day came that Eleanor did actually begin to search for what was hidden, Maple Street was empty of possibilities; Lily had flitted away into the secrecy of the two-family house on Ash Street.

It was nearly three months before the search began. Edith had gone home, Mrs. Newbolt was at the sea-shore, and Maurice was in and out-away for two or three days at a time on office business, and when at home absent almost every evening with some of those youthful acquaintances who seemed ignorant of Eleanor's existence. So there were long hours when, except for her little old dog, she was entirely alone-alone, to brood over Maurice's queer look when she had accused him of having an "acquaintance on Maple Street"; and by and by she said, "I'll find out who it is!" Yet she had moments of trying to tear from her mind the idea of any concealment, because the mere suspicion was an insult to Maurice! She had occasional high moments of saying, "I won't think he has secrets from me; I'll trust him." But still, because suspicion is the diversion of an empty mind, she played with it, as one might play with a dagger, careful only not to let it touch the quick of belief. After a while she deluded herself into thinking that, to exonerate Maurice, she must prove the suspicion false! It was only fair to him to do that. So she must find the woman whom she had seen on the porch with him. If she wasn't Mrs. Dale, that would "prove" that everything was all right, and that Maurice's presence there only meant that he was attending to office business; nothing to be jealous about in that! And if the woman was Mrs. Dale? Eleanor's throat contracted so sharply that she gasped. But again and again she put off the search for the exonerating proof-for she was ashamed of herself, "I'll do it to-morrow." ... "I'll do it next week."

It was a scorching, windy July day when she took her first defiling step and "did it." There had been a breakfast-table discussion of a vacation at Green Hill, the usual invitation having been received.

"Do go," Maurice had urged. "I'll do what I did last year-hang around here, and go to the ball games, and come up to Green Hill for Sundays." He was acutely anxious to have her go.

She was silent. "Why does he want to be alone?" she thought; "why-unless he goes over to Medfield?" Then, in sudden decision, she said to herself, "I will find out why, to-day!" But she was afraid that Maurice would, somehow, guess what she was going to do; so, to throw him quite off the track, she told him that Donny O'Brien was sick again; "I must go and see him this morning," she said.

Maurice, reading the sports page of the morning paper, said, "Too bad!" and went on reading. He had no interest in his wife's movements; the two-family house on Ash Street was beyond her range!

An hour later, Eleanor, giving Bingo a cooky to console him for being left at home, started out into the blazing heat, saying to herself: "I'll recognize her the minute I see her. Of course I know she isn't the Dale woman, but I want to prove that she isn't!"

Her plan was to ring the bell at every one of the gingerbread houses on that block on Maple Street, and ask if Mrs. Dale lived there? If she was not to be found, that would prove that Maurice had not gone to see her. If she was found, why, then-well, then Eleanor would say that she had heard that the house was in the market? If Mrs. Dale said it was not, that would show that it wasn't "office business" which had brought Maurice to that porch!

On Maple Street the heat blazed up from the untidy pavement, and a harsh wind was whirling little spirals of dust up and down the dry gutter. Eleanor's heart was beating so smotheringly that when her first ring was answered she could scarcely speak: "Does Mrs. Dale live here?"

"No," said the girl who opened the door, "there ain't nobody by that name livin' here."

And at the next door: "Mrs. Dale? No. This is Mrs. Mahoney's house."

It was at the sixth house, where some dusty pansies were drying up under the little bay window, that a woman whose red, soapy hands had just left the wash tub, said:

"Some folks with that name lived here before I took the house. But they moved away. She was real nice; used to give candy to the children round here. She was a widow lady. She told me her husband's name was Joseph. Was it her you was looking for?"

"I don't know her husband's name," Eleanor said.

"Her baby had measles when mine did," the woman went on; "I lived across the street, then. But I took a fancy to the house, because she'd papered the parlor so handsome, so I moved in the first of May, when she got out."

A little cold, prickling thrill ran down Eleanor's back. She had told herself that "Maurice had a secret"; but she had not really believed that the secret was about Mrs. Dale. She had been sure, in the bottom of her heart, that she would be able to "prove" that the woman he had been talking to that day was not Mrs. Dale.

Now, she had proved-that she was.

Eleanor swayed a little, and put her hand out to clutch at the porch railing. The woman exclaimed:

"Come in and sit down! I'll get you a glass of water."

Eleanor followed her into the kitchen and sat down on a wooden chair. She was silent, but she whitened slowly. The mistress of the house, scared at her pallor, ran to draw a tumbler of water from the faucet in the sink; she held it to Eleanor's lips, apologizing for her wet hands:

"I was tryin' to get my wash out.... Where do you feel bad?"

"It's so hot, that's all," Eleanor said, faintly: "I-I'm not ill-thank you very much." She tried to smile, but the ruthless glare of sunshine through the open kitchen door showed her face strained, as if in physical suffering.

"I'm awfully sorry I can't tell you where Mrs. Dale lives," the woman said, sympathetically. "Was she a friend of yours?" Eleanor shook her head. "There! I'll tell you who maybe could tell you-the doctor. He took care of her baby. Doctor Nelson-"

"Nelson!"

"He's the hospital doctor now. Why don't you ask him?"

"Thank you," said Eleanor vaguely. She rose, saying she felt better and was much obliged. Then she went out on to the porch, and down the broken steps to the windy scorching street.

She was certain: Maurice had gone to Medfield to see Mrs. Dale...

Why?

She was quite calm, so calm that she found herself thinking that she had forgotten to get an yeast cake for Mary. "I'll get it as I go home," she thought. But as she stood waiting for the car it occurred to her that she had better think things out before she went home. Better not see Maurice until she had decided just how she should tell him that there was no use having secrets from her! That she knew he was seeing Mrs. Dale! Then he would have to tell her why he was seeing her... There could be only one reason... For a moment she was suffocated by that "reason"! She let the returning car pass, and signaled the one going out into the country; she would go, she told herself, to the end of the route, and by that time she would know what to do. The car was crowded, but a kindly faced young woman rose and offered her a seat. Eleanor declined it, although her knees were trembling.

"Oh, do take it!" the woman urged, pleasantly, and Eleanor could not resist sinking into it.

"You are very kind," she said, smiling faintly.

The woman smiled, too, and said, "Well, I always think what I'd like anyone to do for my mother, if she couldn't get a seat in a car! I guess you're about her age."

Eleanor hardly heard her; she sat staring out of the window-staring at that same landscape on which she and Maurice had gazed in the unseeing ecstasy of their fifty-four minutes of married life! "He said we would come back in fifty years-not by ourselves." As she said that, a thought stabbed her! There was a child that day, in the yard!

When she saw that the car was approaching the end of the route, she thought of the locust tree, and the blossoming grass, and the whispering river. "I'll go there, and think," she said.

"All out!" said the conductor; and she rose and walked, stumbling once or twice, and with one hand outstretched, as if-in the dazzling July day-she had to feel her way in an enveloping darkness. She went down the country road, where the bordering weeds were white with dust, toward that field of young love, and clover, and blue sky.

When she reached the river, curving around the meadow, brown and shallow in the midsummer droughts, she saw that the big locust was long past blossoming, but some elderberry bushes, in full bloom, made the air heavy with acrid perfume; the grass, starred by daisies, and with here and there a clump of black-eyed Susans, was ready for mowing, and was tugging at its anchoring roots, blowing, and bending, and rippling in the wind, just as it had that other day!... "And I sat right here, by the tree," she said, "and he lay there-I remember the exact place. And he took my hand-"

Her mind whirled like a merry-go-round: "Well, I knew he was hiding something. I wish I had seen Doctor Nelson, and asked him where she lives. I wonder if he's the Mortons' friend?... If I don't get that yeast cake to Mary before lunch, she can't set the rolls.... Edith saw her with a child five years ago. Why"-her mind stumbled still farther back-"why, the very day Edith arrived in Mercer, Maurice had been looking at some house in Medfield, where the tenant had a sick child. That was why he was late in meeting Mrs. Houghton!... The child had measles. I wish I had gone to see Doctor Nelson! Then I would have known.... I can get some rolls at the bakery, and Mary needn't set them for dinner. I sang 'O Spring.'" She put her hands over her face, but there were no tears. "He kissed the earth, he was so happy. When did he stop being happy? What made him stop?... I wonder if there are any snakes here?-Oh, I must think what to do!" Again her mind flew off at so violent a tangent that she felt dizzy. "I didn't tell Mary what to have for dinner.... He gave her his coat, that time when the boat upset.... She was all painted, he said so." She picked three strands of grass and began to braid them together: "He did that; he made the ring, and put it over my wedding ring." Mechanically she opened her pocketbook, and took out the little envelope, shabby now, with years of being carried there. She lifted the flap, and looked at the crumbling circle. Then she put it back again, carefully, and went on with her toilsome thinking: "I'll tell him I know that he went to see the Dale woman. ... He said we had been married fifty-four minutes. It's eight years and one month. He thinks I'm old. Well, I am. That woman in the car thought I was her mother's age, and she must have been thirty! Why did he stop loving me? He hates Mary's cooking. He said Edith could make soup out of a paving stone and a blade of grass. Edith is rude to me about music, and he doesn't mind! How vulgar girls are, nowadays. Oh-I hate her!... Mary'll give notice if I say anything about her soup."

Suddenly through this welter of anger and despair a small, confused thought struggled up; it was so unexpected that she actually gasped: He hadn't quite lied to her! "There was office business!" Some real-estate transfer must have been put through, because-"Mrs. Dale had moved"! In her relief, Eleanor burst into violent crying; he had not entirely lied! To be sure, he didn't say that the woman whom he had gone "from the office" to see, the woman who rented the house, was Mrs. Dale; in that, he had not been frank; he kept the name back-but that was only a reserve! Only a harmless secrecy. There was nothing wrong in renting a house to the Dale woman! As Eleanor said this to herself, it was as if cool water flowed over flame-licked flesh. Yes; he didn't talk to her as he did to Edith of business matters; he didn't tell her about real-estate transactions; but that didn't mean that the Dale woman was anything to him! She was crying hard, now; "He just isn't frank, that's all." She could bear that; it was cruel, but she could bear it! And it was a protection to Maurice, too; it saved him from the slur of being suspected. "Oh, I am ashamed to have suspected him!" she thought; "how dreadful in me! But I've proved that I was wrong." When she said that she knew, in a numb way, that after this she must not play with the dagger of an unbelieved suspicion. She recognized that this sort of thing may be a mental diversion-but it is dangerous. If she allowed herself to do it again, she might really be stabbed; she might lose the saving certainty that he had not lied to her-that he had only been "not frank."

Suddenly she remembered how unwilling he had been, years ago, to talk of the creature to her! She smiled faintly at his foolishness. Perhaps he didn't want to talk of her now? Men are so absurd about their wives! Her heart thrilled at such precious absurdity. As for seeing that doctor-of course she wouldn't see him! She didn't need to see him. And, anyhow, she wouldn't, for anything in the world, have him, or anybody else, suppose that she had had even a thought that Maurice wasn't-all right! "He just wasn't quite frank; that was all." ... Oh, she had been wicked to suspect him! "He would never forgive me if he knew I had thought of such a thing, He must never know it."

In the comfort of her own remorse, and the reassurance of his half frankness, she walked back to the station and waited, in the midday heat, for the returning car. Her head had begun to ache, but she said to herself that she must not disappoint little Donny. So she went, in the blazing sun, to the old washerwoman's house, climbed three flights of stairs, and found the boy in bed, flushed with worry for fear "Miss Eleanor" wasn't coming. She took the little feeble body in her arms, and sat down in the steamy kitchen by an open window, where Donny could see, on the clothes lines that stretched like gigantic spiderwebs across a narrow courtyard, shirts and drawers, flapping and kicking and bellying in the high, hot wind. She talked to him, and said that if his grandmother would hire a piano, she would give him music lessons;-and all the while her sore mind was wondering how old the mother of that woman in the car was? Then she sang to Donny-little merry, silly songs that made him smile:

"The King of France,

And forty thousand men,

Marched up a hill-"

She stopped short; Edith had thrown "The King of France" at her, that day of the picnic, when she had cringed away from the water and the slimy stones, and climbed up on the bank where she had been told to "guard the girl's shoes and stockings"! "Oh, I'll be so glad to get her and her 'brains' out of the house!" Eleanor thought. But her voice, lovely still, though fraying with the years-went on:

"Marched up a hill-

And

then

marched

down

again!"

When, with a splitting headache, she toiled home through the heat, she said to herself: "He ought to have been frank, and told me the woman was Mrs. Dale; I wouldn't have minded, for I know such a person couldn't have interested him. She had no figure, and she looked stupid. He couldn't have said she had 'brains'! That girl in the car was impertinent."

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