“Nonsense!” said Mary Houghton, comfortably; “she’s a perfect child, and so is he.”
Curiously enough, though Edith’s mother did not recognize what was going on between “the children,” Eleanor did. When she came back to Mercer, a week later, she overflowed about it to Maurice. “Calf love!” she summed it up.
“She didn’t look down on that kind of love seven years ago,” he thought, cynically. But he didn’t say so; no matter what his thoughts were, he was always kind to Eleanor. Lily, over in Medfield; Lily, in the small, secret house; Lily, with the good-looking little boy—blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked, blond-haired!—the squalid memory of Lily, said to him, over and over: “You are a confounded liar; so the least you can do is to be decent to Eleanor.”
So he was kind.
“I couldn’t bear myself,” he used to think, “if I wasn’t—but, O Lord!”
That “O Lord!” was his summing up of a growing and demoralizing sense of the worthlessness and unreality of life. Like Solomon (and all the rest of us, who see the universe as a mirror for ourselves!) he appraised humanity at his valuation of himself. He didn’t use Solomon’s six words, but the eight of his generation were just as exact—“The whole blooming outfit is a rotten lie! If,” he reflected, “deceit isn’t on my ‘Lily’ line, it is on a thousand other lines.” From the small cowardices of appreciations and admirations which one did not really feel, up through the bread-and-butter necessities of business, on into the ridiculousness of what is called “Democracy” or “Liberty”—on, even, into those emotional evasions of logic and reason labeled “Religion”—all lies—all lies! he told himself. “And I,” he used to think, looking back on seven years of marriage, “I am the most accomplished liar of the whole shootin’ match!... If they get off that G. Washington gag on me any more at the office, somebody’ll get their head punched.”
All the same, even if he did say, “O Lord!” he was carefully kind to his boring wife.
But when Edith (suddenly grown up, it seemed to Maurice) came back for the fall term, he said “O Lord!” less frequently. The world began to seem to him a less rotten place. “Nice to have you round again, Skeezics!” he told her; and Eleanor, listening, went up to her room, and sat with her fingers pressed hard on her eyes. “It’s dreadful to have her around! How can I get rid of her?” she thought. Very often now the flame of jealousy flared up; it scorched her whenever she recognized Edith’s “brains,” whenever she noticed some gay fearlessness, or easy capability; whenever she watched the girl’s high-handed treatment of Maurice: criticizing him! Telling him he was mean because he was always saying he “couldn’t afford things”! Declaring that she wished he would stop his everlasting practicing—and apparently