Sitting there on the mountain, looking down into the misty serenities of the sun-drenched valley, with the smoke of Johnny Bennett’s pipe in his nostrils, and the friendly Edith beside him, he tore open the scented envelope, and as his eyes fell on the first lines it seemed as if the spreading world below rose up and hit him in the face:
DEAR FRIEND CURT,—I don’t know what you’ll say. I hope you won’t be mad. I’m going to have a baby. It’s yours....
Maurice could not see the page, a wave of nausea swamped even his horror; he swallowed—swallowed—swallowed. Edith heard him gasp, and looked at him, much interested.
“What’s the matter with your hands?” Edith inquired. “Johnny! Look at his hands!”
Maurice’s fingers, smoothing out the purple sheet, were shaking so that the paper rustled. He did not hear her. Then he read the whole thing through to its laconic end:
It’s yours—honest to God. Can you help me a little? Sorry to trouble you on your vacation.
“What is the matter with your hands?” Edith said, very much interested.
When, a year after his marriage, Maurice began to awaken to Eleanor’s realities, maturity had come to him with a bound. But it was almost age that fell upon him when Lily’s realities confronted him. In the late afternoon, as he and Edith and the silent Johnny walked down the mountain, he was dizzy with terror of Lily!
She was blackmailing him.
But even as he said the word, he had an uprush of courage; he would get a lawyer, and shut her up! That’s what you do when anybody blackmails you. Perfectly simple. “A lawyer will shut her up!” It was a hideous mess, and he had no money to spend on lawyers; but it would never get out—the newspapers couldn’t get hold of it—because a lawyer would shut her up! Though, probably, he’d have to give her some money? How much would he have to give her? And how much would he have to pay the lawyer? He had a crazy vision of Lily’s attaching his salary. He imagined a dialogue with his employer: “A case of blackmail, sir.” “Don’t worry about it, Curtis; we’ll shut her up.” This brought an instant’s warm sense of safety, which as instantly vanished—and again he was walking down the road, with Edith beside him, talking, talking... Eleanor would have to know... No! She wouldn’t! He could keep it a secret. But he’d have to tell Mr. Houghton. Then Mrs. Houghton would know! Again a wave of nausea swept over him, and he shuddered; then said to himself: “No: Uncle Henry’s white. He won’t even tell her.”
Edith was asking him something; he said, “Yes,” entirely at random—and was at once involved in a snarl of other questions, and other random answers. Under his breath he thought, despairingly, “Won’t she ever stop talking! ... Edith, I’ll give you fifty cents if you’ll keep quiet.”