Edith was willing enough to be quiet; “But,” she added, practically, “would you mind giving me the fifty cents now, Maurice? You always tear off to Eleanor the minute you get home, and I’m afraid you’ll forget it.”
He put his hand in his pocket and produced the half dollar. “Anything to keep you still!” he said.
“You don’t mind if I talk to Johnny?”
He didn’t answer; at that moment he was not aware of her existence, still less Johnny’s, for a frightful thought had stabbed him: Suppose it wasn’t blackmail? Suppose Lily had told the truth? Suppose “it” was his? “She can’t prove it—she can’t prove it!” he said, aloud.
“Prove what? Who can’t?” Edith said, interested.
Maurice didn’t hear her. Suddenly he felt too sick to follow his own thought, and go to the bottom of things; he was afraid to touch the bottom! He made a desperate effort to keep on the surface of his terror by saying: “It’s all Eleanor’s fault. Damnation! Her idiotic jealousy drove me out of the house that Sunday afternoon!”
At this moment Johnny Bennett and Edith broke into shrieks of laughter. “Say, Maurice,” Johnny began—
“Can’t you children be quiet for five minutes?” Maurice said. Johnny whistled and, behind his spectacles, made big eyes at Edith. “What’s he got on his little chest?” Johnny inquired. But Maurice was deaf to sarcasm.... “It all goes back to Eleanor!”
Under the chatter of the other two, it was easier to say this than to say, “Is Lily telling the truth?” It was easier to hate Eleanor than to think about Lily. And, hating, he said again, aloud, the single agonized word.
Edith stood stock-still with amazement; she could not believe her ears. Maurice had said—? As for Maurice, his head bent as if he were walking in a high wind he strode on, leaving her in the road staring after him.
“Johnny!” said Edith; “did you hear?”
“That’s nothing,” Johnny said; “I say it often, when mother ain’t round. At least I say the first part.”
“Oh, Johnny!” Edith said, dismayed.
To Maurice, rushing on alone, the relief of hating Eleanor was lost in the uprush of that ghastly possibility: “If it is mine?”
Something in him struggled to say: “If it is, why, then, I must—But it isn’t!” Maurice was, for the moment, a horribly scared boy; his instinct was to run to cover at any cost. He forgot Edith, coming home by herself after Johnny should turn in at his own gate; he was conscious only of his need to be alone to think this thing out and decide what he must do. There was no possible privacy in the house. “If I go up to our room,” he thought, frantically, “Eleanor’ll burst in on me, and then she’ll get on to it that there’s something the matter!” Suddenly he remembered the chicken coop. “It’s late. Edith won’t be coming in.” So he skulked around behind the house and the stable,