“I knew this letter was from Mr. Houghton, so I opened it,” she said, as she handed it to him. His instant and very sharp annoyance surprised her. “I wouldn’t open your business letters,” she defended herself; “but I didn’t suppose you’d mind my seeing anything the Houghtons might write—”
“I don’t like to have any of my mail opened!” he said, briefly, his eyes raking Henry Houghton’s letter, and discovering (of course!) nothing in the fine, precise handwriting which was in the least betraying. ("But suppose he had said what the ‘unexpected expenses’ might be!”)
“We shall miss Edith’s board,” Eleanor said; “but, oh, I’ll be so glad to have her go!”
Maurice was silent. “If she lives in Medfield all the time, she’ll be sure and run into Lily,” he thought. “The devil’s in it.” He was in his bedroom, wrapped up in a blanket, shivering and hot and headachy. The chance of Edith’s “running into Lily” would, of course, be even less if she were at Fern Hill, than it was now when she was going back and forth in the trolley every day; but he was so uncomfortable, physically, that he didn’t think of that; and his preoccupation made him blind to Eleanor’s hurt look.
“I am willing to have you read all my letters,” she said.
“I’m not willing to have you read mine!” he retorted.
“Why not?” she demanded—“unless you have secrets from me.”
“Oh, Eleanor, don’t be an idiot!” he said, wearily.
“I believe you have secrets!” she said—and burst out crying and ran out of the room.
He called her back and apologized for his irritability; but as he got better, he forgot that he had been irritable—he had something else to think of! He must get down to the office and write to Mr. Houghton, asking him to address personal letters to a post-office box. And he made things still safer by going out to Medfield to see Lily and give her the number of the box in case she, too, had occasion to write any “personal” letters, which, indeed, she very rarely had. “I say that for her!” Maurice told himself. He hoped—as he always did when he had to go to Maple Street, that he would not see It—an It which had, of course, long before this, acquired sufficient personality to its father to be referred to as “Jacky”; a Jacky who, in his turn, had discovered sufficient personality in Maurice to call him “Mr. Gem’man”—a corruption of his mother’s title for her very infrequent visitor, “the gentleman.”
Jacky’s “Mr. Gem’man” found the front door of the little house open, and, looking in, saw Lily in the parlor, mounted on a ladder, hanging wall paper. She stepped down, laughing, and moved her bucket of paste out of his way.
“Won’t you be seated?” she said. Her rosy face was beaming with artistic satisfaction; “Ain’t this paper lovely?” she demanded; “it’s one of them children’s papers that’s all the rage now. I call it a reg’lar art gallery! Look at the pants on them rabbits! It pretty near broke me to buy it. The swells put this kind of paper in ‘nurseries,’ and stick their kids off in ’em; but that ain’t me! I put it on the parlor! Set down, won’t you?”