His eyes stung;—the simplicity of the word was like a flower tossed into the black depths of his repentance! “Yes, dear,” he said, gently; “I’m ‘sorry.’ But no amount of ‘sorrow’ can alter consequences, Edith.”
“Oh,” she said, turning to the other two, “don’t you want Maurice ever to be happy?”
“I want him to be good,” said her mother.
“I can’t be happy, Edith,” Maurice told her; “don’t you see?”
She looked straight in his eyes, her own eyes terror-stricken. ... They would drive him away from her! “You shall be happy,” she said.
They saw only each other, now.
“No,” Maurice said; “it’s just as your father says; I have no right to drag any girl into the kind of life I’ve got to live. I’ll have to see Lily a good deal, so as to keep in with her—and be able to look after Jacky. Personal happiness is all over for me.”
She caught at his arm; “It isn’t! Maurice, don’t listen to them!” Then she turned and stood in front of him, as though to put her young breast between him and that tender, menacing parental love. “Oh, mother—oh, father! I do love you; I don’t want to do anything you don’t approve of;—but Maurice comes first. If he asks me to marry him, I will.”
Under his breath Maurice said, “Edith!”
“My darling,” Henry Houghton said, “consider: people are bound to know all about this. The publicity will be a very painful embarrassment—”
Edith broke in, “As if that matters!”
“But the serious thing,” her father went on, “Is that this woman will be a millstone around his neck—”
“She shall be around my neck, too!” she said. There was a breathless moment; then Truth, nobly naked, spoke: “Maurice, duty is the first thing in the world;—not happiness. If you thought it was your duty to marry Lily, I wouldn’t say a word. You would never know that I cared. Never! I’d just stand by, and help you. I’d live in the same house with her, if it would help you! But—” her voice shook; “you don’t think it’s your duty. You know it isn’t! You know that it would make things worse for Jacky,—not better, as Eleanor wanted them to be. So why shouldn’t you be happy? Oh, it’s artificial, to refuse to be happy!” Before he could speak, she added, quite simply, the sudden tears bright in her eyes, “I know you love me.”
He looked at the father and mother: “You wouldn’t have me lie to her, would you?—even to save her from herself! ... Of course I love you, Edith,—more than anything on earth,—but I have no right—”
“You have a right,” she said.
“I want you,” he said, “God knows, it would mean life to me! But—”
“Then take me,” she said.
Mrs. Houghton came and put her arms around her girl and kissed her. “Take her, Maurice,” she said, quietly. Then she looked at her husband: “Dear,” she said, and smiled—a little mistily; “wisdom will not die with us! The children must do what they think is right ... Even if it is wrong.” She had considered the stars.