He stopped on the bridge and looked down into the water—black and swift and smooth between floating cakes of ice. Now and then a star glimmered on a slipping ripple; on the iron bridge farther up the river a row of lights were strung like a necklace across the empty darkness.... Somewhere, in the maze of streets at one end of the bridge, was Eleanor, lying in bed with a desperate headache. Somewhere, in the maze of streets at the other end of the bridge, was Lily, taking “his” little Jacky to the hospital. Somewhere, on one of the hillsides beyond Medfield, was Edith in the schoolhouse. And Eleanor was loving him and trusting him; and Lily was “blessing him” (so she had told him) for his goodness; and Edith was “betting on him”! ... “I wonder if anybody was ever as rotten as I am?” Maurice pondered.
Then he forgot his “rottenness,” and smiled. “He obeyed me! Lily couldn’t do a thing with him; what did he mean about the ‘present’? I believe it was that old cigar! He must have seen me pitch it into the gutter. He wanted me to carry him; wouldn’t look at that orderly! What made him grab my ear?”
When Maurice said that, down, down, under his rage at Lily, under his fear of exposure, under his nauseating disgust at himself—something stirred, something fluttered. The tremor of a moral conception:
“What a grip!”
After a tornado comes quietness; again the sun shines, and birds sing, and many small things look up, unhurt. It was incredible to Maurice, eating his breakfast the next morning, reading his paper, opening his letters, and glancing at a pale Eleanor, heavy-eyed and silent, that his world was still the same world that it had been before he had picked up the sealed telegram on the hall table. He asked Eleanor how she felt; told her to take care of herself; said he’d not be at home to dinner, and went off to his office.... He was safe! Those two minutes in the dining room of Lily’s flat, while the white-jacketed orderly was trying to persuade the protesting Jacky to let him carry him downstairs, had removed any immediate alarm; Lily had promised not to communicate with Jacky’s father.
So Maurice, walking to the office, told himself that everything was all right—but “a close call!” Then he thought of Jacky, who, at his command, had so instantly “behaved himself”; and of that grip on his ear; and again that pang of something he did not recognize made him swallow hard. “Poor little beggar!” he thought: “I wonder how he is? I wonder if he’ll pull through?” He hoped he would. “Tough on Lily, if anything happens.” But his anxiety—though he did not know it—was not entirely on Lily’s account. For the first time in the child’s life, Maurice was aware of Jacky as a possession. The tornado of the night before—the anger and fear and pity—had plowed down below the surface