“But no, I mustn’t think of that,” Harriet said, sternly. “It would be even different if he loved me. But he made that very clear! He made that extremely clear! And the fact is this: that I marry a divorced man the week he is free, a man who does not love me, but who can give me an establishment! No—no—no—everything I’ve tried for all my life counts for very little if I can do that!”
She heard a stirring in the bedroom.
“What time is it, Rosa?” she called, suddenly aware of weakness and fatigue.
“My goodness, how you frightened me, Miss Field! It’s just noon.”
“Do you happen to know if Mr. Carter is still downstairs?”
“Yes’m, he is; he’s expecting Mr. Fox to come!”
Harriet smoothed her tumbled hair, and went slowly downstairs.
“But I love him!” she said, suddenly standing still on the landing, to look out at the softly falling snow with brimming eyes. “I love him with all my soul!”
A moment later she knocked at the library door, opened it in answer to his call, and went in, closing it behind her.
There was trouble at Linda’s house; trouble so terrible that Harriet’s unexpected arrival caused no comment, caused no more than a weary flicker of Linda’s heavy eyes. Pip, the adored first-born son, lay dangerously ill, and the whole household moved on tiptoe, heartsick with dread. Fred, a white and unshaven Fred, was home in the cold gray midday; the telephone was muted, the hall door stood ajar, the maid was red-eyed. Harriet, entering with a cheerful call hushed suddenly on her lips, kissed her brother-in-law while her eyes anxiously questioned him, and put a heartening arm about Josephine, who came out in a kitchen apron, and wept pitifully on her aunt’s shoulder.
It was diphtheria, very bad, Fred stated lifelessly. Linda hardly left the room; they were afraid for her, too, “if anything happened.” “If anything happened!” Harriet thought she had heard the phrase a hundred times before the dreadful night came. The sympathetic neighbours whispered it, the doctor said it gravely, the nurse muttered it in the kitchen, and the little sisters, clinging together, faltered it with trembling lips. The invalid was isolated on the upper floor; Harriet only waited to get into a thin gown before noiselessly mounting to the sick room. Linda, sitting beside the haggard little feverish boy, looked at her sister apathetically, the nurse was glad to whisper directions and slip away,
A bitter winter afternoon was waning, but the air in Pip’s room was warm, and there was the order and silence of recognized crisis. The swollen little mouth moved, the heavy eyes; Linda bent above the child.
“What is it, my darling? Mother is right here—”