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   Chapter 27 No.27

The Vehement Flame By Margaret Wade Campbell Deland Characters: 7446

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Walking home that night, with Mrs. Houghton's "tell Eleanor" ringing in his ears, Maurice imagined a "confession," and he, too, used Mr. Houghton's words, "'there will be an explosion!' But I'll gamble on it; I'll tell her. I promised Mrs. Houghton I would," Then, very anxiously, he tried to decide how he should do it; "I must choose just the right moment," he thought.

When, three months later, the moment came, he hardly recognized it. He had been playing squash and had given his knee a nasty wrench; the ensuing synovitis meant an irritable fortnight of sitting at home near the telephone, with his leg up, fussing about office work. And when he was not fussing he would look at Eleanor and say to himself, "How can I tell her?" Then he would think of his boy developing into a little joyous liar-and thief! The five cents that purchased the jew's-harp, instead of going into the missionary box, was intensely annoying to him. "But the lying is the worst. I can stand anything but lying!" the poor lying father thought. It was then that Eleanor caught his eye, a half-scared, appraising, entreating eye-and stood still, looking down at him.

"Maurice, you want something? What is it?"

"Oh, Nelly!" he said; "I want-" And the thing tumbled from his lips in six words: "I want you to forgive me."

Eleanor put her hand to her throat; then she said, "I know, Maurice."

Silence tingled between them. Maurice said, "You know?"

She nodded. He was too stunned to ask how she knew; he only said, "I've been a hound."

Instantly, as though some locked and bolted door had been forced, her heart was open to him. "Maurice! I can bear it-if only you don't lie to me!"

"I have lied," he said; "but I can't go on lying any more! It's been hell. Of course you'll never forgive me."

Instantly she was on her knees beside him, and her lips trembled against his cheek; but she was silent. She was agonizing, not for herself, but for him; he had suffered. And when that thought came, Love rose like a wave and swept jealousy away! It was impossible for her to speak. Over in his basket old Bingo growled.

"It was years ago," he said, very low; "I haven't-had anything to do with her since; but-"

She said, gasping, "Do you ... love her still?"

"Good God! no; I never loved her."

"Then," she said, "I don't mind."

His arms went about her, his head dropped on her shoulder. The little dog, unnoticed, barked angrily. For a few minutes neither of them could speak. To him, the unexpectedness of forgiveness was an absolute shock. Eleanor, her cheek against his hair, wept. Happy tears! Then she whispered:

"There is ... a child?"

He nodded speechlessly.

"Maurice, I will love it-"

He was too overcome to speak. Here she was, this irritating, foolish, faithful woman, coming, with outstretched, forgiving arms-to rescue him from his long deceit!

"I have known it," she said, "for nearly two years."

"And you never spoke of it!"

"I couldn't."

"I want to tell you everything, Eleanor. It was-that Dale woman."

She pressed very close to him: "I know."

He wondered swiftly how she knew, but he did not stop to ask; his words rushed out; it was as if the jab of a lancet had opened a hidden wound: "I never cared a copper for her. Never! But-it happened. I was angry about something, and,-Oh, I'm not excusing myself. There isn't any excuse! But I met her, and somehow-Oh, Eleanor!"

"Maurice, ... what does she call you?"

"Call me? What do you mean?"

"What name?"

"Why, 'Mr. Curtis,' of course."

"Not 'Maurice'? Oh-I'm so glad! Go on."

"Well, I never saw her again until she wrote to me about ... this child. Eleanor! I tried to tell you. Do you remember? O

ne night in the boarding house-the night of the eclipse? I thought you'd never forgive me, but I tried to tell you ... Oh, Star, you are wonderful!"

It was an amazing moment; he said to himself: "Mrs. Houghton was right. Edith was right. How I have misjudged her!" He went on, Eleanor still kneeling beside him, sometimes holding his hand to her lips, sometimes pressing her wet cheek against his; once her graying hair fell softly across his eyes ... "Then," he said, "then ... the baby was born."

"Oh, we had no children!"

His arms comforted her. "I didn't care. I have never cared. I hated the idea of children, because of ... this child."

"Is his name Jacky?"

"That's what she called him. I never really noticed him, until winter before last; then I kind of-" He paused, then rushed on; it was to be Truth henceforward between them! "I sort of-got fond of him." He waited, holding his breath; but there was no "explosion"! She just pressed his hand against her breast.

"Yes, Maurice?"

"He was sick and she sent for me-"

"I know. That's how I knew. The telegram came, and I-Oh," she interrupted herself, "I wasn't prying!" She was like a dog, shrinking before an expected blow.

The fright in her face went to his heart; what a brute he must have been to have made her so afraid of him!

"It was all right to open it! I'm glad you opened it. Well, he was pretty sick, and I had to get him into the hospital; and after that I began to get sort of-interested in him. But now I'm worried to death, because-" Then he told why he was worried; he told her almost with passion!... "For he's an awfully fine little chap! But she's ruining him." It was amazing how he was able to pour himself out to her! His anxiety about Jacky, his irritation at Lily-yet his appreciation of Lily; he wouldn't go back on Lily! "She wasn't bad-ever. Just unmoral."

"I understand."

"Oh, Eleanor, to be able to talk to you, and tell you!" So he went on telling her: he told her of his faint, shy pride in his little son; told her a funny speech, and she laughed. Told her Jacky had seen a rainbow in the gutter and said it was "handsome." "He really notices Beauty!" Told her of Lily's indignation at the Sunday-school teacher, and his own effort to make Jacky tell the truth, "I have a tremendous influence over him. He'll do anything for me; only, I see him so seldom that I can't counteract poor old Lily's influence. She hasn't any idea of our way of looking at things."

"You must counteract her! You must see him all the time."

"Eleanor," he said, "I have never known you!"

He tried to lift her and hold her in his arms, but she was terrified about his knee.

"No! Don't move! You'll hurt your knee. Maurice, can't I see him?"

"What! Do you really want to?" he said, amazed "Eleanor, you are wonderful!"

That whole evening was entire bliss-as much to Maurice as to Eleanor; to him, it was escape from the bog of secrecy in which, soiled with self-disgust, he had walked for nearly nine years; and with the clean sense of touching the bedrock of Truth was an upspringing hope for his little boy, who "noticed Beauty"! He would be able to see Jacky, and train him, and gain his affection, and make a man of him. He had a sudden vision of companionship. "He'll be in business with me." But that made him smile at himself. "Well, we'll go to ball games, anyway!"

To Eleanor, the evening was a mountain peak; from the sun-smitten heights of a forgiveness that knew itself to be Love, and forgot that it forgave, she looked out, and saw-not that grave where Truth and Pride were buried, but a new heaven and a new earth; Maurice's complete devotion. And his child,-whom she could love.

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