Maurice shook his head: “I’m all right. Mrs. Dale will you step in here? I want to speak to you a minute.” As Lily preceded him into the dining room, he said, quickly, to the doctor, “I want to tell her not to worry about money, you know.” To Lily—when he closed the door—he was briefly ruthless: “I’ll pay for everything. But I just want to say, if he dies—”
She screamed out, “No—no!”
“He won’t,” he said, angrily; “but if he does, you are to say his father’s dead. Do you understand? Say his name was—what did you call it?—William?”
“I don’t know. My God! what difference does it make? Call it anything! John.”
“Well, say his father was John Dale of New York, and he’s dead. Promise me!”
She promised—“Honest to God!” her face was furrowed with fright. As they went back to the doctor Maurice had a glimpse of Lily’s bedroom, where Jacky, rolled in a blanket, was vociferating that he would not be carried downstairs by the orderly.
“Oh, Sweety,” Lily entreated; “see, nice pretty gentleman! Let him carry you?”
“Won’t,” said Jacky.
At which Maurice said, decidedly: “Behave yourself, Jacobus! I’ll carry you.”
Instantly Jacky stopped crying: “You throwed away the present I give you,” he said; “but,” he conceded, “you may carry me.”
The doctor objected. “It isn’t safe—”
“Oh, let’s get it over,” Maurice said, sharply; “I shan’t see any children. It’s safe enough! Anything to stop this scene!”
The bothered doctor half consented, and Maurice lifted Jacky, very gently; as he did so, the little fellow somehow squirmed a hand out of the infolding blanket, and made a hot clutch for his father’s ear; he gripped it so firmly that, in spite of Maurice’s wincing expostulation, he pulled the big blond head over sidewise until it rested on his own little head. That burning grip held Maurice prisoner all the way downstairs; it chained him to the child until they reached the street. There the clutch relaxed, but for one poignant moment, as Maurice lifted Jacky into the ambulance, father and son looked into each other’s eyes, and Maurice said—the words suddenly tumbling from his lips:
“Now, my little Jacky, you’ll be good, won’t you?” Then the ambulance rolled softly away, and he stood on the curbstone and felt his heart swelling in his throat: “Why did I say ’my’?” As he walked home he tried to explain the possessing word away: “Of course I’d say ‘my’ to any child; it didn’t mean anything! But suppose the orderly had heard me?” Even while he thus denied the Holy Spirit within him, he was feeling again that hot, ridiculous tug on his ear. “I was the only one who could manage him,” he thought.... “Of course what I said didn’t mean anything.”