I couldn’t [Lily wrote] go back to that woman who turned me out when Jacky was sick: so I got me a little house on Maple Street—way down at the far end from where I was before, so you needn’t worry about anybody seeing me. My rent’s higher, but there’s a swell church on the next street. I meant to move, anyway, because I found out that there was a regular huzzy living in the next house on Ash Street, painted to beat the band! And I don’t want Jacky to see that kind. I’ve got five mealers. But eggs is something fierce. I am writing these few lines to say Jacky’s well, and I hope they find you in good health. It was real nice in you to fix that up at the hospital for me. I hope you’ll come and see us one of these days.
P.S.—Of course I’m sorry for her poor old father.
Reading this, Maurice said to himself that it would be decent to go and see Lily; which meant, though he didn’t know it, that he wanted to see Jacky. He wasn’t aware of anything in the remotest degree like affection for the child; he just had this inarticulate purpose of seeing him, which took the form of saying that it would be “decent” to inquire about him. However, he did not yield to this formless wish until June. Then, on that very afternoon when Mrs. Newbolt had been so shatteringly frank to Eleanor, he walked down to the “far end of Maple Street.” And as he walked, he suddenly remembered that it was “The Day”! “Great Scott! I forgot it!” he thought. “Funny, Eleanor didn’t remind me. Maybe she’s forgotten, too?” But he frowned at the bad taste of such an errand on such a day, and would have turned back—but at that moment he saw what (with an eagerness of which he was not conscious!) he had been looking for—a tow-headed boy, who, pulling a reluctant dog along by a string tied around his neck, was following a hand organ. And Maurice forgot his wedding anniversary!
He freed the half-choked puppy, and told his son what he thought. But Jacky, glaring up at the big man who interfered with his joys, told his father what he thought:
“If I was seven years old, I’d lick the tar out of you! But I’m six, going on seven.”
Maurice, looking down on this miniature self, was, to his astonishment, quite diverted. “You need a licking yourself, young man! Is your mother at home?”
Jacky wouldn’t answer.
Maurice took a quarter out of his pocket and held it up. “Know what that is?”
Jacky, advancing slowly, looked at the coin, but made no response.
“Come back to the house and find your mother, and I’ll give it to you.”
Jacky, keeping at a displeased distance behind the visitor, followed him to his own gate, then darted into the house, yelled, “Maw!” returned, and held out his hand.
Maurice gave him the quarter and went into the parlor, where the south window was full of plants, and the sunshine was all a green fragrance of rose geraniums. When a shiningly clean, smiling Lily appeared—evidently from the kitchen, for she was carrying a plate of hot gingerbread—she found Maurice sitting down, his hands in his pockets, his long legs stretched out in front of him, baiting Jacky with questions, and chuckling at the courageous impudence of the youngster.