“I see,” said Maurice. “Where’s the first man?”
“I don’t know. I was only sixteen.”
“Damn him!” Maurice said, sympathetically. He was so moved that he ordered more ice cream; then it occurred to him that he ought to let her know that he was entirely a philanthropist. “My wife and I’ll help you,” he said.
“Oh ... you’re married? You’re real young!” she commented.
“I’m no chicken. My wife and I think exactly alike about these things. Of course she’s not a prude. She understands life, just as I do. And she’d love to be a real friend to you. She’ll put you on your feet, and think none the worse of you. Tell me about yourself,” he urged, intimately; he felt some deep satisfaction stir within him, which he supposed was his recognition of a moral purpose. But she drew back into her own reserves.
“They always ask that,” she thought; and the momentary reality she had shown hardened into the easy lying of her business: she told this or that—the cruel father of fiction, who tried to drive her into marriage with the rich old man; the wicked lover who destroyed trusting innocence; the inevitable facilis descensus—Batty at last. And now the ice-cream parlor in this dirty street, with the clear-eyed, handsome, amused young man, who had forgotten his own anger in the impulse, so frequent in the very young and very upright man, to “save” some little creature of the gutter! As for Maurice, he said to himself, “She’s a sweet little thing; and not really bad.”
He was right there: Lily was not bad; she was as far from sin as she was from virtue—just a little, unmoral, very amiable animal.
As for Maurice, he continued to discuss her future of rectitude and honor—his imagination reaching in a bound amazing heights. Why not be a trained nurse?—and have a hospital of her own, and gather about her, as assistants, girls who—“well, had had a tough time of it,” he said, delicately. As he talked, fatigue at the boredom of his highly moral sentiments crept into her face. She swallowed an occasional yawn, and murmured to most of his statements, “Is that so?” She was sleepy, and wished he would stop talking....
“Guess I’ll be going along,” she said, good-naturedly.
“I’ll come and see you to-morrow,” Maurice said, impassioned with the idea of saving her; “then I’ll tell you what my wife will do for you.”
They went out together and walked toward Lily’s rooms; but somehow they both fell silent. Lily was again afraid of Batty, and Maurice’s exhilaration had begun to ebb; there came into his mind the bleak remembrance of the overturned table and Eleanor’s sobs....
At the door of the apartment house where Lily lived, she said, nervously, “I’d ask you to come in, but he—”
“Oh, I understand; I’ve no desire to meet the gentleman! What time will I come to-morrow, when he’s not around?”
She reflected, uneasily: “Well, I ain’t sure—”