For months she revolved countless schemes to persuade Lily to resign him; schemes so futile that Maurice, listening to them every night when he got home from the office, was touched, of course; but by and by he was also a little uneasy. He had told her where Lily lived, then regretted it, for once she walked up and down before the house on Maple Street for an hour, hoping to see “the woman,” but failing, because Lily and Jacky happened to be in town that afternoon.
“I have a great mind to steal him for you!” she said, telling Maurice of her fruitless effort.
He protested, too disturbed at her mere presence on Lily’s street to notice her attempt at a joke. “If Lily should imagine that we were interested in Jacky, she’d run!” he explained; “it’s dangerous, Nelly, really. You mustn’t go near her!”
She promised she wouldn’t; but every day of that Mercer winter of low-hanging smoke and damp chilliness, she longed to get possession of the child—first to make Maurice happy; then with the craving, driving, elemental desire for maternity; and then for self-protection,—Jacky would vanquish Edith!
So she brooded: a child!
“If I could only get him, it wouldn’t be ’just us’!” ... “A boy’s clothes are not as pretty as a girl’s, but a little rough suit would be awfully attractive.... I’d give him music lessons.... We could go out to our field in June. And he would take off his shoes and stockings and wade!” How foolish Edith’s grown-up childishness of wading looked, compared to the scene which she visualized—a little, handsome boy, standing in the shallow rippling water, bareheaded, probably; the sunshine sifting down through the locust blossoms and touching that thatch of yellow hair, and glinting into those blue eyes. “He would call me ’Mamma’!” Then she hummed to herself, “‘O Spring!’ Oh, I must have him!” Her hope became such an obsession that its irrationality did not strike her. It was so in her mind that she even spoke of it once to Mrs. Houghton. “I know you know?” she said; “Maurice told me he told you.”
Mary Houghton said, hesitatingly, “I think I know what you mean.”
This was in March. Mrs. Houghton and Edith were in town for a few days’ shopping, and of course they meant to see Eleanor. “I’ll go to the dressmaker’s,” Edith had told her mother, “and then I’ll corral Maurice, and we’ll drop in on Mrs. Newbolt, and then I’ll meet you at Eleanor’s. I don’t hanker for a long call on Eleanor.” Edith’s gayly candid face hardened.
So it was that Mrs. Houghton had arrived ahead of her girl, and the two older women were alone before a little smoldering fire in the library. Eleanor had left her tea tray to go across the room and give little helpless Bingo a lump of sugar. “He only eats what I give him,” she said; “dear old Bingo! I think he actually suffers, he’s so jealous.” Then, pouring Mrs. Houghton’s tea, she suddenly spoke: “I know you—know?” When Mary Houghton said, gravely, yes, she “knew,” Eleanor said, “Oh, Mrs. Houghton, Maurice and I are nearer to each other than we ever were before!”