“Kit,” he said, “this is a ‘condition and not a theory’; the woman was—was common, you know. Maurice doesn’t owe her anything; he has paid the piper ten times over! Any further payment, like ruining his career by ‘making an honest woman’ of her,—granting an explosion and then Eleanor’s divorcing him,—would be not only wrong, but ridiculous; which is worse! Maurice is an able fellow; I rather expect to see him go in for politics one of these days. Imagine this ‘Lily’ at the head of his table! Or even imagine her as a fireside companion!”
“It would be terrible,” she admitted—her voice trembled—“but Jacky’s life is more important than Maurice’s dinner table. And fireside happiness is less important than the meeting of an obligation! Henry, Maurice made a bad woman Jacky’s mother; he owes her nothing. But do you mean to say that you don’t think he owes the child a decent father?”
“My darling,” Henry Houghton said, tenderly, “you are really a little crazy. You are like your stars, you so ’steadfastly pursue your shining,’ that you fail to see that, in this dark world of men, there has to be compromise. If this impossible situation should arise—which God forbid!—if the explosion should come, and Eleanor should leave him, of course Maurice wouldn’t marry the woman! I should consider him a candidate for an insane asylum if he thought of such a thing. He would simply do what he could for the boy, and that would be the end of it.”
“Oh,” she said, “don’t you see? It would be the beginning of it!—The beginning of an evil influence in the world; a bad little boy, growing into a bad man—and his own father permitting it! But,” she ended, with a sudden uplifted look, “the ‘situation,’ as you call it, won’t arise; Eleanor will prevent it! Eleanor will save Jacky.”
Walking home that night, with Mrs. Houghton’s “tell Eleanor” ringing in his ears, Maurice imagined a “confession,” and he, too, used Mr. Houghton’s words, “‘there will be an explosion!’ But I’ll gamble on it; I’ll tell her. I promised Mrs. Houghton I would,” Then, very anxiously, he tried to decide how he should do it; “I must choose just the right moment,” he thought.
When, three months later, the moment came, he hardly recognized it. He had been playing squash and had given his knee a nasty wrench; the ensuing synovitis meant an irritable fortnight of sitting at home near the telephone, with his leg up, fussing about office work. And when he was not fussing he would look at Eleanor and say to himself, “How can I tell her?” Then he would think of his boy developing into a little joyous liar—and thief! The five cents that purchased the jew’s-harp, instead of going into the missionary box, was intensely annoying to him. “But the lying is the worst. I can stand anything but lying!” the poor lying father thought. It was then that Eleanor caught his eye, a half-scared, appraising, entreating eye—and stood still, looking down at him.