She had not blenched, even then. She had not blenched since. And she never would blench. In spite of his gorgeous position and his unique reputation, in spite of her well-concealed but notorious pride in him, he still went in fear of that ageless woman, whose undaunted eye always told him that he was still the lad Denry, and her inferior in moral force. The curve of her thin lips seemed ever to be warning him that with her pretensions were quite useless, and that she saw through him and through him to the innermost grottoes of his poor human depravity.
He caught her eye guiltily.
“Behold the Alderman!” she murmured with grimness.
That was all. But the three words took thirty years off his back, snatched the half-crown cigar out of his hand and reduced him again to the raw, hungry boy of Brougham Street. And he knew that he had sinned gravely in not coming upstairs very much earlier.
“Is that you, father?” called the high voice of Robert from the back of the screen.
He had to admit to his son that it was he.
The infant lay on his back in Maisie’s bed, while his mother sat lightly on the edge of nurse’s bed near by.
“Well, you’re a nice chap!” said Edward Henry, avoiding Nellie’s glance, but trying to face his son as one innocent man may face another—and not perfectly succeeding. He never could feel like a real father, somehow.
“My temperature’s above normal,” announced Robert, proudly, and then added with regret, “but not much!”
There was the clinical thermometer—instrument which Edward Henry despised and detested as being an inciter of illnesses—in a glass of water on the table between the two beds.
“Father!” Robert began again.
“Well, Robert?” said Edward Henry, cheerfully. He was glad that the child was in one of his rare loquacious moods, because the chatter not only proved that the dog had done no serious damage—it also eased the silent strain between himself and Nellie.
“Why did you play the Funeral March, father?” asked Robert, and the question fell into the tranquillity of the room rather like a bomb that had not quite decided whether or not to burst.
For the second time that evening Edward Henry was dashed.
“Have you been meddling with my music rolls?”
“No, father. I only read the labels.”
This child simply read everything.
“How did you know I was playing a funeral march?” Edward Henry demanded.
“Oh, I didn’t tell him!” Nellie put in, excusing herself before she was accused. She smiled benignly, as an angel-woman, capable of forgiving all. But there were moments when Edward Henry hated moral superiority and Christian meekness in a wife. Moreover, Nellie somewhat spoiled her own effect by adding, with an artificial continuation of the smile, “You needn’t look at me!”
Edward Henry considered the remark otiose. Though he had indeed ventured to look at her, he had not looked at her in the manner which she implied.