His delusions became less terrifying; the maggots changed to a bee buzzing inside his ear, deafening him. She killed the bee by blowing cigarette smoke inside his ear and telling him it was dead. When he grew much quieter and more reasonable he asked her the time in so ordinary a voice that she thought he must be quite well. The next minute he begged her earnestly not to come near him again because her infidelities had made him loathe the sight of her.
Right back of her mind was the shaking conviction that she could not stand alone; she was longing, demanding almost, all that night, that God should come down from on high with chariots and thunderbolts to save her; she wanted Dr. Angus to tell her what to do, to persuade her that Louis was a sick man and not a bad man; next minute she wanted her father to come and thrash him to death for his wickedness. But all the time, illogically, she pitied him while she pitied herself. By accident he killed the self pity by transmuting it to a softer, more beautiful thing.
“Did I tell you the Chinks had got that little Jimmy who was on the Oriana?” he asked casually at tea-time next day.
“Who? What do you mean?” she said, starting.
“I saw him and Peters sleeping out in the Domain that wet night. I was going to sleep there too, because I was afraid to come home to you. They told me they were starving. The kiddie had got his pyjamas in a bundle. All their other baggage had gone somewhere—probably seized for rent somewhere. Serves the old fool right, spending all his tin on that little widow!”
“But where’s Jimmy?” she cried, starting up to fetch him.
“I don’t know. I gave him a shilling to get a feed, and the old chap came and had a few drinks with me. I forget what happened then. I expect the Salvation Army ’ll get the kid—if they can get him from the Chinks.”
That night she was tortured by Jimmy. Then she was tortured by all the children in all the worlds, especially those children who had no mother, and more especially those children whose fathers were chained as Mr. Peters was. She could not leave Louis while she went to search for Jimmy, whom she would have kidnapped without a second thought if she could. Next day Louis, though sane, was very ill with gastritis, and though several of Mrs. King’s lodgers went from Domain to hotel, from hotel to the police, and from the police to the Salvation Army, they could not trace Jimmy. She never saw him again; he lived in her mind, a constant torment, the epitome of victimization, gallantly loyal and valiant even in homelessness and starvation.