“Come along, young man!” Maurice said; “do you want to stay here all night?”
“I’m going to be a circus rider,” said Jacky, solemnly.
It was then that the “lady” spoke to him—her voice broke twice: “Well, little boy, did you like the circus?” the lady said. She was so pale that Maurice put his hand on her arm.
“Better sit down, Nelly,” he said, kindly, under his breath.
She shook her head. “No ... Jacky, don’t you want to tell me your name?”
“But you know my name,” said Jacky, with a bored look.
Maurice gave her a warning glance, and she tried to cover her blunder: “I heard your father—I mean this gentleman—call you ‘Jacky,’” she explained—panting, for Maurice’s quick frown frightened her. “Here’s a present for you,” she said.
“Present!” said Jacky—and made a joyous grab at the horn, which he immediately put to his lips; but before it could emit its ear-piercing screech, Maurice struck it down.
“Where are your manners? Say ‘Thank you’ to the lady.”
Jacky sighed, but murmured, “’Ank you.”
Eleanor, her chin trembling, said: “May I kiss him?”
“’Course,” Maurice said, huskily.
She bent down and kissed him with trembling lips—“Ach!—you make me all wet,” Jacky said, frowning at her tears on his rosy cheek.
Later, as Maurice pulled his reluctant son out on to the pavement, he was so moved that he almost forgot that she was still the old Eleanor; he didn’t even listen to his little boy’s passionate assertion that he would be a flying-trapeze man. As he walked along beside his wife to put her on the car he spoke with great tenderness:
“I’ll leave him at Lily’s, and then I’ll come right home, dear, and we’ll talk things over.”
When he and his son got back to Maple Street, Jacky was blowing that infernal horn so that the whole neighborhood was aware of his ecstasy. Lily, waiting for them at the gate, put her hands over her ears.
“My soul and body! For the land’s sake, stop! Who give you that horrid thing?”
“An old lady,” said Jacky—and blew a shattering screech on Eleanor’s horn.
From the day of the circus, Jacky became, to Eleanor, not a symbol of Maurice’s unfaithfulness, but a hope for the future. The thought of his mother was only the scar of a wound, which Maurice, in some single slashing moment, had made in her heart. She was crippled by it, of course. But the wound had healed so she could forget the scar—because Maurice had never loved Lily, never found her “interesting,” never wanted to wander about with her, in a dark garden, and talk
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing
And cabbages—and kings ...
To be sure the scar ached dully once in a while; but Eleanor knew that if she could get possession of Jacky she would be protected against other wounds—wounds which would never heal! She said to herself that Maurice would never think of Edith Houghton if he had Jacky! But how should she get Jacky?