“Boil her in oil!” yelled Johnny.
Eleanor turned around and crept back to the stairs; she caught at the newel post, and stood, gasping; then, somehow, she climbed up to her room. There, lifting Bingo into his basket, she sank on her bed, groping blindly for the damp handkerchief to put across her forehead. “Mary will give notice,” she said. After a while, as the throbbing grew less acute, she said, “He’s their age.” Bingo, crawling out of his basket, scrabbled up on to the bed; she felt his little loving cold nose against her face.
“What a kid Johnny Bennett is!” Maurice told Eleanor. He was detailing to her, while he was scrubbing the stickiness of the kitchen festivities off his hands, what had happened downstairs. “But do you know, I believe he’s soft on Edith! How old is he?”
“He’s nearly nineteen. Children, both of them.”
“Nineteen?” Maurice said, astounded. Nineteen! Johnny? “Why, I was nineteen, when—” He paused. She was silent. Suddenly Maurice felt pity. He had run the gamut of many emotions in the last four years—love, and fright, and repentance, and agonies of shame, and sometimes anger; but he had never touched pity. It stabbed him now, and its dagger blade was sawtoothed with remorse. He looked at his wife, lying there with closed eyes, her pillow damp where the wet handkerchief had slipped from her temples, and her beautiful mouth sagging with pain. “Oh, I must be nice to her, poor thing!” he thought. Aloud he said, “Poor Eleanor!”
Instantly her dark eyes opened in startled joy; his tenderness lifted her into indifference to that throbbing in her temples. “I don’t mind anything,” she said, “if you love me.”
“Can’t I do something for your head?”
“Just kiss me, darling,” she said.
He kissed her, for he was sorry for her. But he was thinking of himself. “I was Johnny Bennett’s age, when ... And I wanted to kiss her! My God! I may have to keep up this kissing business for—for forty years!” And whenever he was kissing her, he would have to think how he was deceiving her; he would have to think of Lily. Yes; he had been a “kid,” like Johnny! How could she have done it! Pity sharpened into anger: How could she have taken advantage of a boy? Well; he had had his fling. To be sure, he was paying for it now, not only in anxiety about money, but in shame, and furtiveness, and the corroding consciousness of being a liar, and in the complete shipwreck of every purpose and ambition that a young man ought to have. “And that day, in the field, I called it love!” He would have been amused at the cynical memory, if he had not been so bitter. “Love? Rot! Still, I ought to be kinder to her;—but I can’t bear to look at her. She’s an old woman.”
Eleanor put out her hot, trembling hand and groped for his. “Good night, darling,” she said; “my head’s better.”