“Edith,” he said, “that—that dispatch: I’ve got to see somebody on business. Awfully sorry to take you out to Fern Hill before supper, but I’m afraid I’ve got to rush off—”
“’Course! But don’t bother to take me home. I can go by myself.”
“No. It’s all right. I have time; but I’ve got to go right off. I hate to drag you away before supper—”
“That’s of no consequence!” she said, but she gave Maurice a swift look. What was the matter with him? His forehead, under that thatch of light hair, was so lined, and his lips were set in such a harsh line, that he looked actually old! Edith sobered into real anxiety. “I wish,” she said, “that you wouldn’t go out to Fern Hill; you’ll have to come all the way back to town for your appointment!”
He said, “No: the—the appointment is on that side of the river.” On the trolley there was no more conversation than there might have been if Eleanor had been present. At Edith’s door he said, “’Night—”
But as he turned away, she called to him, “Maurice!” Then ran down the steps and put her hand on his arm: “Maurice, look here; is there anything I can do? You’re bothered!”
He gave a grunt of laughter. “To be exact, Edith, I’m damned bothered. I’ve been several kinds of a fool.”
“You haven’t! And it wouldn’t make any difference if you had. Maurice, you’re a perfect lamb! I won’t have you call yourself names! Why”—her eyes were passionate with tenderness, but she laughed—“I used to call you ‘Sir Walter Raleigh,’ you know, because you’re great, simply great! Maurice, I bet on you every time! Do tell me what’s the matter? Maybe I can help. Father says I have lots of sense.”
Maurice shook his head. “You do have sense! I wish I had half as much. No, Skeezics; there’s nothing anybody can do. I pay as I go. But you’re the dearest girl on earth!”
She caught at his hand, flung her arm around his shoulder, and kissed him: “You are the dearest boy on earth!” Before he could get his breath to reply, she flew into the house—flew upstairs—flew into her own room, and banged the door shut. “Maurice is unhappy!” she said. The tears started, and she stamped her foot. “I can’t bear it! Old darling Maurice—what makes him unhappy? I could kill anybody that hurts Maurice!” She began to take off her hat, her fingers trembling—then stopped and frowned: “I believe Eleanor’s been nasty to him? I’d like to choke her!” Suddenly her cheeks burned; she stood still, and caught her lower lip between her teeth; “I don’t care! I’m glad I did it. I—I’d do it again! ... Darling old Maurice!”
When Jacky’s father—with that honest young kiss warm upon his cheek—reached the little “two-family” house, he saw the red sign on the door: Scarlet Fever.
“He’s got it,” he thought, fiercely; “but why in hell did she send for me?—and a telegram!—to the house! She’s mad.” He was panting with anger as he pressed the button at Lily’s door; “I’ll tell her I’ll never see her again, long as I live!” Furious words were on the tip of his tongue; then she opened the door, and he was dumb.