There was dead silence.
“Unless she’s in love with him. But don’t think that, though you are in love with him, he cares for you! He does not. He cares for no one but me. He told me so.”
“Can you deny that you care for my husband?” Edith opened her lips—and closed them again. “You don’t deny it,” Eleanor said; “you can’t.” She put her head down on her arms on the table; her fifty years engulfed her. She said, in a whisper, “He doesn’t love me.”
Instantly Edith’s arms were around her. “Eleanor, dear! Don’t—don’t! He does love you—he does! I’d perfectly hate him if he didn’t! Oh, Eleanor, poor Eleanor! Don’t cry; Maurice does love you. He doesn’t care a copper for me!” The tears were running down her face. She bent and kissed Eleanor’s hands, clenched on the table, and then tried to draw the gray head against her tender young breast.
Eleanor put out frantic hands, as if to push away some suffocating pressure. Both of these women—Lily, with her car fare and her handkerchief; Edith, with her impudent “advice” to Maurice not to have secrets from his wife—pitied her! She would not be pitied by them!
“Don’t touch me!” she said, furiously; “you love my husband.”
Edith heard her own blood pounding in her ears.
“Don’t you?” said Eleanor; her face was furrowed with pain; “Don’t you?”
It was a moment of naked truth. “I have loved Maurice,” Edith said, steadily, “ever since I was a child. I always shall. I would like to love you, too, Eleanor, if you would let me. But nothing—nothing! shall ever break up my ... affection for Maurice.”
“You might as well call it love.”
Edith, rising, said, very low: “Well, I will call it love. I am not ashamed. I am not wronging you. You have no need to be jealous of me, Eleanor. He cares nothing for me.”
Eleanor struck the table with her clenched fists. “You shall never have him!” she said.
Edith turned, silently, and went up the veranda stairs and out of the house.
When Eleanor got her breath, after that crazy outbreak, she rushed up to her own room, bolted the door, fell on her knees at her bedside, and told herself in frantic gasps, that she would fight Edith Houghton! Grapple with her! Beat her away from Maurice! “I must do something—do something—”
But what? There was only one weapon with which she could vanquish Edith—Maurice’s love for his son. Jacky! She must have Jacky ...
But how could she get him?
She knew she couldn’t get him with Lily’s consent. Frantic with jealousy as she was, she recognized that! Yet, over and over, during the week that followed that hour in the garden with Edith, she said to herself, “If Maurice had Jacky, Edith would be nothing to him.” ... It was at this point that one day something made her add, “Suppose he had Lily, too?” Then he could have Jacky.