“I think,” she said, “that I’d better go back a few weeks, Mrs. Boyer, and tell you a story, if you have time to listen.”
“If it is disagreeable—”
“Not at all. It is about Peter Byrne and myself, and—some others. It is really about Peter. Mrs. Boyer, will you come very quietly across the hall?”
Mrs. Boyer, expecting Heaven knows what, rose with celerity. Harmony led the way to Jimmy’s door and opened it. He was still asleep, a wasted small figure on the narrow bed. Beside him the mice frolicked in their cage, the sentry kept guard over Peter’s shameless letters from the Tyrol, the strawberry babies wriggled in their cotton.
“We are not going to have him very long,” said Harmony softly. “Peter is making him happy for a little while.”
Back in the salon of Maria Theresa she told the whole story. Mrs. Boyer found it very affecting. Harmony sat beside her on a stool and she kept her hand on the girl’s shoulder. When the narrative reached Anna’s going away, however, she took it away. From that point on she sat uncompromisingly rigid and listened.
“Then you mean to say,” she exploded when Harmony had finished, “that you intend to stay on here, just the two of you?”
“Bah! What has the child to do with it?”
“We will find some one to take Anna’s place.”
“I doubt it. And until you do?”
“There is nothing wicked in what we are doing. Don’t you see, Mrs. Boyer, I can’t leave the boy.”
“Since Peter is so altruistic, let him hire a nurse.”
Bad as things were, Harmony smiled.
“A nurse!” she said. “Why, do you realize that he is keeping three people now on what is starvation for one?”
“Then he’s a fool!” Mrs. Boyer rose in majesty. “I’m not going to leave you here.”
“I’m sorry. You must see—”
“I see nothing but a girl deliberately putting herself in a compromising portion and worse.”
“Get your things on. I guess Dr. Boyer and I can look after you until we can send you home.”
“I am not going home—yet,” said poor Harmony, biting her lip to steady it.
Back and forth waged the battle, Mrs. Boyer assailing, Harmony offering little defense but standing firm on her refusal to go as long as Peter would let her remain.
“It means so much to me,” she ventured, goaded. “And I earn my lodging and board. I work hard and—I make him comfortable. It costs him very little and I give him something in exchange. All men are not alike. If the sort you have known are—are different—”
This was unfortunate. Mrs. Boyer stiffened. She ceased offensive tactics, and retired grimly into the dignity of her high calling of virtuous wife and mother. She washed her hands of Harmony and Peter. She tied on her veil with shaking hands, and prepared to leave Harmony to her fate.