“Mary, things have come to a pretty pass, when you snoop around and count up my cigars! I will smoke!” But he withdrew an empty hand from his cigar box, and said, sighing, “I wish I could tell you about Maurice; Kit; but I can’t betray his confidence.”
“If I guessed, you wouldn’t betray anything?”
“Well, no. But—”
“I guessed it a good while ago. Some foolishness about a woman, of course. Or—or badness?” she ended, sadly.
He nodded. “I wish I was asleep whenever I think of it! Mary, there are some pretty steep grades on Fool Hill, and he’s had hard climbing.... It’s ancient history now; but I can’t go into it.”
“Of course not. Oh, my poor Maurice! Does Eleanor know?”
“Heavens, no! It wouldn’t do.”
“Honey, the unforgivable thing, to a woman, is not the sin, but the deceit. And, besides, Eleanor loves him enough to forgive him. She would die for him, I really believe!”
“Yet the green-eyed monster looks out of her eyes if he plays checkers with Edith! My darling,” said Henry Houghton, “as I have before remarked, your ignorance on this one subject is colossal. Women can’t stand truth.”
“It’s a provision of nature, then, that all men are liars?” she inquired, sweetly; “Henry, the loss of Edith’s board won’t trouble Maurice much, will it?”
“Not as much, of course, now that he has all his money; but he has to scratch gravel to make four ends meet,” Henry Houghton said.
“Four ends!” she said; “oh, is it as bad as that? He has to support—somebody?”
He said, “Yes; so long as you have guessed. Mary, I really must have a smoke.”
“Why am I so weak-minded as to give in to you!” she sighed; then handed him the cigar box, and scratched a match for him; he held her wrist—the sputtering match in her fingers—lighted the cigar, blew out the match, and kissed her hand.
“You are a snooper and a porcupine about tobacco; but otherwise quite a nice woman,” he said.
When Edith’s Easter vacation was over, and she went back to Mercer, she was followed by a letter from Mrs. Houghton to Eleanor, explaining the plan for the school dormitory the following winter. But there was another letter, to Maurice, addressed (discreetly) to his office. It was from Henry Houghton, and it was to the effect that if any “unexpected expenses” came along, and Maurice felt strapped because of the cessation of Edith’s board, he must let Mr. Houghton know; then a suggestion as to realizing on certain securities.
“That’s considerate in him,” Eleanor said; “but I don’t know what ‘unexpected expenses’ we could have?”
It was a chilly April day. Maurice happened to be laid up home with a sore throat; Eleanor, searching for a cook, had stopped at his office for a lease he wanted to see, and brought back with her some mail she found on his desk.