“At six o’clock, on a March evening?” said Maurice. He put his hands in his pockets and began to walk up and down. Mrs. Houghton had nothing more to say; the room was so silent that the dining-room door opened a furtive crack—then closed quickly! Mrs. Houghton began to talk about Maurice’s journey, and Maurice asked whether Eleanor could be taken home the next day—at which the dining-room door opened broadly, and Mrs. Newbolt said:
“If you ask me, I’d say ‘no’! If you want to know what I think, I think she’s got a temperature! And she oughtn’t to stir out of this house till it’s normal.”
“Mrs. Newbolt,” said Maurice, pausing in his tramping up and down the room; “why did Eleanor go out to Medfield?”
“Perhaps she was lookin’ for a cook! I—I think I’ll go to bed!” said Mrs. Newbolt—and almost ran out of the room.
Maurice looked down at Mrs. Houghton, and laughed, grimly: “You might as well tell me?”
“My dear fellow, we have nothing to tell! We don’t know anything—except that Eleanor has added to her cold, and is very nervous,” She paused; could she give him an idea of the extent of Eleanor’s “nervousness,” and yet not tell him what they all felt sure of? “Why, Maurice,” she said; “just to show you how hysterical Eleanor is, she told me—” Mrs. Houghton dropped her voice, and looked toward the dining-room door; but Mrs. Newbolt’s ponderous step made itself heard overhead. “She said—Oh, Maurice, this is too foolish to repeat; but it just shows how Eleanor loves you. She implied that she didn’t want to get well, so that you could—could get the little boy, by marrying his mother!”
Maurice sat down and stared at her, open-mouthed. “Marry? I, marry Lily?” He actually gasped under the impact of a perfectly new idea; then he said, very softly, “Good God.”
Mrs. Houghton nodded. “Her one thought,” she said (praying that, without breaking her word to Eleanor, and betraying what was so terribly Eleanor’s own affair, she might make Maurice’s heart so ready for the pathos that he would not be repelled by the folly), “her one desire is that you should have your little boy.”
Maurice walked over to the fireplace and kicked two charred pieces of wood together between the fire irons. In the crash of Mary Houghton’s calm words, the rhythm of the wheels was permanently silenced.
It was about four o’clock the next morning that the change came: Eleanor had a violent chill.
“I thought we were out of the woods,” the doctor said, frowning; “but I guess I was too previous. There’s a spot in the left lung, Mr. Curtis.”