Suddenly, her fingers trembling, she began to take off her shoes and stockings. She would do what Edith did! ... It was a tremor of aspiration!—an effort to develop in herself a quality he liked in Edith. She went, barefooted, with wincing cautiousness, and with Bingo stepping gingerly along beside her, across the mowed grass; then, haltingly, down the bank to the sandy edge of the river; there, while the little dog looked up at her anxiously, she dipped a white, uncertain foot into the water—and as she hesitated to essay the yielding mud, and the slimy things under the stones, she heard the returning splash of wading feet. A minute later the three youngsters appeared, Edith’s skirts now very well above the danger line of wetness, and the two men offering eager guiding hands, which were entirely disdained! Then as, from under the leaning trees, they rounded the bend, there came an astonished chorus:
"Why, look at Eleanor!"
“Your skirt’s in the water,” Edith warned her; “hitch it up, and ’come on in—the water’s fine!’”
She shook her head, and turned to climb up the bank.
“‘The King of France,’” Edith quoted, satirically, “’marched down a hill, and then marched up again!’”
Eleanor was silent. When the three began to put on their shoes and stockings, Eleanor, putting on her own, her skirt wet and drabbled about her ankles, heard Maurice and Johnny offering to tie Edith’s shoestrings—a task which Edith, with condescending giggles, permitted. Both of the boys—for Maurice seemed suddenly as much of a boy as Johnny!—went on their knees to tie, and re-tie, the brown ribbons, Maurice with gleeful and ridiculous deference.
“Want me to tie your shoestrings for you, Nelly?” he said over his shoulder.
“I am capable of tying my own, thank you,” she said, so icily that the three playfellows looked at one another and Maurice, reddening sharply, said:
“Give us a song, Nelly!” But she sitting with clenched hands and tensely silent, shook her head. She was too wounded to speak. For the rest of the poor little picnic, with its gathering up of fragments and burning paper napkins—the conversation was labored and conscious.
On the trolley going home, Edith was the only one who tried to talk; Eleanor, holding Bingo in her lap, was dumb; and Johnny—hunting about for an excuse to “get away from the whole blamed outfit!” only said “M-m” now and then. But Maurice said nothing at all. After all, what can a man say when his wife has made a fool of herself?
“Even Lily would have had more sense!” he thought.
That dismal festivity of the meadow marked the time when Maurice began to live in his own house only from a sense of duty ... and because Edith was there! A fact which Eleanor’s aunt recognized almost as soon as Eleanor did; so, with her usual candor, Mrs. Newbolt took occasion to point things out to her niece. She had bidden Eleanor come to dinner, and Eleanor had said she would—“if Maurice happened to be going out.”