Then they were silent again. A distant measure of ragtime floated up from the lobby; once, as a heavy team passed down in the street, the chandelier swayed, and little lights flickered among the faintly clicking prisms. Mrs. Houghton looked at him—and looked away. Maurice was thirty-one; his face was patient and melancholy; the old crinkling laughter rarely made gay wrinkles about his eyes, yet wrinkles were there, and his lips were cynical. Suddenly, he turned and struck his hand on hers:
“I’ll do it,” he said....
Late that night Henry Houghton, listening to his Mary’s story of this talk, looked almost frightened. “Mary, it’s an awful risk—Eleanor will never stand up to it!”
“I think she will.”
“My dear, when it comes to children, you—with your stars!—get down to the elemental straighter than I do; I know that! And I admit that it is terrible for Maurice’s child to be scrapped, as he will be if he is brought up by this impossible person. But as for Eleanor’s helping Maurice to save him from the scrap heap, you overlook the fact that to tell a jealous woman that she has cause for jealousy is about as safe as to take a lighted match into a powder magazine. There’ll be an explosion.”
“Well,” she said, “suppose there is?”
“Good heavens, Mary! Do you realize what that means? She’ll leave him!”
“I don’t believe she will,” his wife said, “but if she does, he can at least see all he wants of the boy. He seems to be an unusually bright child.”
Her husband nodded. “Yes; Nature isn’t shocked at illegitimacy; and God doesn’t penalize it.”
“But you do,” she said, quickly, “when you won’t admit that Jacky is the crux of the whole thing! It isn’t poor Maurice who ought to be considered, nor that sad, tragic old Eleanor; nor the dreadful person in Medfield. But just that little child—whom Maurice has brought into the world.”
“Do you mean,” her husband said, aghast, “that if Eleanor saw fit to divorce him, you think he should marry this ‘Lily,’ so that he could get the child?”
She did shrink at that. “Well—” she hesitated.
He saw his advantage, and followed it: “He couldn’t get complete possession in any other way! Unless he were legally the father, the woman could, at any minute, carry off this—what did you say his name was?—Jacky?—to Kamchatka, if she wanted to! Or she might very well marry somebody else; that kind do. Then Maurice wouldn’t have any finger in the pie! No; really to get control of the child, he’d have to marry her, which, as you yourself admit, is impossible.”
“I don’t admit it.”
“Mary! You must be reasonable; you know it would be shocking! So why not keep things as they are? Why run the risk of an explosion, by confessing to Eleanor?”
Mary Houghton pondered, silently.