“Yes, that’s true,” she agreed tranquilly.
He didn’t go in. He was coming back at nine o’clock and he wanted to keep himself fresh and new for the thing he must say then.
“When you’re safe inside, just show yourself in that window.”
“All right. Good-by, dads, dads, dads, dads.”
He waited in the dark street until she appeared, all warm and glowing, in the window above and kissed her fingers out into the night.
They were waiting. Marion sat behind the coffee service in a dignified black dinner dress that just faintly suggested mourning. Lincoln was walking up and down with the animation of one who had already been talking. They were as anxious as he was to get into the question. He opened it almost immediately:
“I suppose you know what I want to see you about–why I really came to Paris.”
Marion played with the black stars on her necklace and frowned.
“I’m awfully anxious to have a home,” he continued.”And I’m awfully anxious to have Honoria in it. I appreciate your taking in Honoria for her mother’s sake, but things have changed now”–he hesitated and then continued more forcibly–”changed radically with me, and I want to ask you to reconsider the matter. It would be silly for me to deny that about three years ago I was acting badly–”
Marion looked up at him with hard eyes.
“–but all that’s over. As I told you, I haven’t had more than a drink a day for over a year, and I take that drink deliberately, so that the idea of alcohol won’t get too big in my imagination. You see the idea?”
“No,” said Marion succinctly.
“It’s a sort of stunt I set myself. It keeps the matter in proportion.”
“I get you,” said Lincoln.”You don’t want to admit it’s got any attraction for you.”
“Something like that. Sometimes I forget and don’t take it. But I try to take it. Anyhow, I couldn’t afford to drink in my position. The people I represent are more than satisfied with what I’ve done, and I’m bringing my sister over from Burlington to keep house for me, and I want awfully to have Honoria too. You know that even when her mother and I weren’t getting along well we never let anything that happened touch Honoria. I know she’s fond of me and I know I’m able to take care of her and–well, there you are. How do you feel about it?”
He knew that now he would have to take a beating. It would last an hour or two hours, and it would be difficult, but if he modulated his inevitable resentment to the chastened attitude of the reformed sinner, he might win his point in the end.
Keep your temper, he told himself. You don’t want to be justified. You want Honoria.
Lincoln spoke first: “We’ve been talking it over ever since we got your letter last month. We’re happy to have Honoria here. She’s a dear little thing, and we’re glad to be able to help her, but of course that isn’t the question–”
Marion interrupted suddenly.”How long are you going to stay sober, Charlie?” she asked.
“Permanently, I hope.”
“How can anybody count on that?”
“You know I never did drink heavily until I gave up business and came over here with nothing to do. Then Helen and I began to run around with–”
“Please leave Helen out of it. I can’t bear to hear you talk about her like that.”
He stared at her grimly; he had never been certain how fond of each other the sisters were in life.
“My drinking only lasted about a year and a half–from the time we came over until I–collapsed.”
“It was time enough.”
“It was time enough,” he agreed.
“My duty is entirely to Helen,” she said.”I try to think what she would have wanted me to do. Frankly, from the night you did that terrible thing you haven’t really existed for me. I can’t help that. She was my sister.”
“When she was dying she asked me to look out for Honoria. If you hadn’t been in a sanitarium then, it might have helped matters.”
He had no answer.
“I’ll never in my life be able to forget the morning when Helen knocked at my door, soaked to the skin and shivering, and said you’d locked her out.”