“Johnny doesn’t like music,” said Edith; “well, I don’t, either. But I guess he’ll come. He likes food.”
Edith effaced herself a good deal in the few days that, her mother stayed on in Mercer to launch her at Fern Hill; effaced herself, indeed, so much that Maurice, full of preoccupations of his own, was hardly aware of her presence!... He had had a scared note from Lily:
Doctor Nelson says he’s awful sick, and I’ve got to have a nurse. I don’t like to, because I can’t bear to have anybody do for him but me, and she charges so much. Makes me tired to see her all fussed up in white dresses—I suppose it’s her laundry I’m paying for! That little girl he caught it from ought to be sent to a Reformatory. I’m afraid my new mealer’ll go, if she thinks there’s anything catching in the house. I hate to ask you—
The scented, lavender-colored envelope was on Maurice’s desk at the office the morning after Mrs. Houghton and Edith arrived. When he had read it, and torn it into minute scraps, Maurice had something else to think of than Edith! He knew Lily wouldn’t want to leave “her” baby to go out and cash a money order, and checks were dangerous; so he must take that trip to Medfield again. “Well,” said Maurice—pulled and jerked out to Maple Street on the leash of an ineradicable sense of decency—“the devil is getting his money’s worth out of me!”
He entered No. 16 without turning the clanging bell, for the door was ajar. Lily was in the entry, talking to the doctor, who gave Mrs. Dale’s “friend” a rather keen look. “Oh, Mr. Curtis, he’s awful sick!” Lily said; she was haggard with fright.
Maurice, swearing to himself for having arrived at that particular moment, said, coldly, “Too bad.”
“Oh, we’ll pull him through,” the doctor said, with a kind look at Lily. She caught his hand and kissed it, and burst out crying. The two men looked at each other—one amused, the other shrinking with disgust at his own moral squalor. Then from the floor above came a whimpering cry, and Lily, calling passionately, “Yes, Sweety! Maw’s coming!” flew upstairs.
“I’ll look in this evening,” Doctor Nelson said, and took himself off, rubbing the back of his hand on his trousers. “I wonder if there’s any funny business there?” he reflected. But he thought no more about it until weeks afterward, when he happened, one day, in the bank, to stand before Maurice, waiting his turn at the teller’s window. He said, “Hello!” and Maurice said, “Hello!” and added that it was a cold day. The fact that Maurice said not a word about that recovering little patient in Medfield made the doctor’s mind revert to the possibilities he had recognized in Lily’s entry.
“Yet he looks too decent for that sort of thing,” the doctor thought; “well, it’s a rum world.” Then Maurice took his turn at the window, and Doctor Nelson put his notes in his pocket, and the two men nodded to each other, and said, “By,” and went their separate ways.