Her incessant talk about Jacky (which might have bored Maurice just a little, if it had not touched him) gave her, in some subtle, spiritual way, a sense of approaching motherhood: she made preparations! She planned little gifts for him;—Maurice had told her of Jacky’s lively interest in benefits to come; once, she thought, “I suppose he’s too old to have one of those funny papers in his room? I saw such a pretty one to-day, little rabbits in trousers!”—For by this time she had determined that, somehow, she would get possession of him! In these maternal moments she feared no rivalry from Edith Houghton. Jacky would save her from Edith!
“Oh, Maurice! I must see him,” she said once.
“I’ll fix it so you can,” he told her. But it was two months before he was able to fix it; then “Forepaws” came to town, and the way was clear! He would take Jacky, and Eleanor should go and have a seat near by, and come up and speak to the youngster, as any admiring stranger might, and, indeed, often did, for Jacky was a striking child—his eyes blue and keen, his skin very clear, and his cheeks glowing with health. “If he goes home and tells Lily a lady spoke to him,” Maurice said, “she won’t think anything of it.”
“May I give him some candy?”
“No; he has too much of it as it is; get one of those tin horns for him. He’ll raise Cain for Lily, I suppose; but we won’t have to listen to him!” (That “we” so fed Eleanor’s starved soul, that she thought of Edith Houghton with a sort of gay contempt: “I’m not afraid of her!”)
The plan for seeing Jacky went through easily enough. “I’ll take that boy of yours to the circus,” Maurice told Lily, carelessly, one day.
“Why, that’s awful kind in you, Mr. Curtis; but ain’t you afraid somebody’ll see you luggin’ a child around?”
“Lots of men take kids to the circus—just as an excuse to go themselves.”
So Maurice and the eight-year-old Jacky, in a new sailor suit, and a face so clean that it shone, walked in among the gilded cages, felt the sawdust under their feet, smelled the wild animals, heard the yelps of the jackals, the booming roar of lions, and the screeching chatter of the monkeys. And as Jacky dragged his father from cage to cage, a yard or two behind them came Eleanor.... Now and then, over Jacky’s head, she caught Maurice’s eye; and they both smiled.
When a speechless Jacky was taken into the central tent to sit on a narrow bench, and drink pink lemonade and eat peanuts, Eleanor was quite near him. He was unconscious of her presence—unconscious of everything! except the blare of the band, the elephants, the performing dogs—especially the poor, strained performing dogs! He never spoke once; his eyes were fixed on the rings; he didn’t see his father watching him, amused and proud; still less did he see the lady who had been at his heels in the animal tent, and who now kept her mournful dark eyes on his face. When the last horse gave the last kick and trotted out through the exit, with its mysterious canvas walls, Jacky was in a daze of bliss. He sat, open-mouthed, staring at the empty, trampled sawdust.