“Thank you,” Noel said.
“Who’s this?” Emmanuel said sharply.
“My sister,” I said. “She lives in Chicago with her husband and baby girl.”
“And who’s this husband of hers?”
“George Talbot,” I said. “He’s an editor for the Chicago Tribune.”
Emmanuel snorted, “Newspaper man,” but as he could find nothing more objectionable than that, he didn’t comment more.
Still downcast, Caleb drank from his goblet of milk. Noel said to him, “I’ll bring you back something interesting, and maybe in the summer I can take you with me and we’ll go to a baseball game at Wrigley Field.”
Caleb nodded, not even the prospect of baseball cheering him, and Noel looked at me, troubled. I patted Caleb’s shoulder and he gave a brave, tiny smile.
After Mrs. Bell had taken Caleb to put him to bed, Noel said to me, “I would have told you earlier but I just found out I’m needed this afternoon. One of my colleagues was supposed to present this particular report but his wife is ill and he asked me to take his place.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I’ll keep him busy during the day, and hopefully he won’t miss you too much.”
Noel huffed, with a tiny smile of his own. “I’ll ask Mrs. Bell to sleep in his room, if problems start up again. But he hasn’t gotten up in the night for almost a week now, so I think that particular crisis has passed.” He added after a moment, almost shy, “I hope Mary Kate won’t mind me visiting. I thought I might take them out to dinner, if they can come.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine with it,” I said gently. “She liked you.”
He ducked his head at that. “Well. Thanks. Good night, Malcolm.”
“Noel,” I said before he could retreat to the library, “when you get back, let’s take Caleb to lunch in the city. I think we all could use the outing.”
He looked at me a moment, his lips pressed together, and then he nodded and left me to go into the library. I longed to join him, truly, but instead I went up to my room to write my letter at my writing desk. As much as I craved his company, I thought it was better to deny myself than to only want more than he was willing to give.
I mailed the letter to Mary Kate the next day, and before dawn on a wet Wednesday morning Willie took Noel to the train station. Despite the early hour, Caleb watched the car leave from the nursery window, and he was listless for the rest of the day, reluctant to play, study, or even draw.