“She was only forty when she married him,” Mary Houghton said; “that isn’t old at all! And I have always been sorry for her.” She looked up over her spectacles at the tense young figure by the window, outlined against the yellow sunset; saw those clenched hands, heard the impetuous voice break on a word,—and forgot Eleanor in a more intimate anxiety: “Of course,” she said, “such a difference in age as there is between Maurice and Eleanor is a pity. But Maurice is devoted to her, and with reason. She has been generous when he has been unkind. I happen to know that.”
“Maurice couldn’t be unkind!”
Her mother ignored this. “And remember another thing, Edith: It isn’t years that decide whether a marriage is a failure. One of the happiest marriages I ever knew was between a woman of fifty and a man of thirty. You see—” she paused, and took off her spectacles, and tapped the arm of her chair, thoughtfully: “You see, Edith, you don’t understand. You are so appallingly young! You think Love speaks only through the senses. My dear, Love’s highest speech is in the Spirit; the language of the senses is only it’s pretty, stammering, divine baby-talk!” Edith was silent. Her mother went on: “Yes, it isn’t age that decides things. It’s selfishness or unselfishness. At present Eleanor is extraordinarily unselfish, so I believe they may yet be very happy.”
“Oh, I hope so, of course,” Edith said—and put up a furtive finger to wipe first one cheek, and then the other.... “Poor Maurice!” she said.
When Maurice got back to the firelit library, he said, filling his pipe with rather elaborate attention, and trying to speak with good-natured carelessness, “I’m afraid Edith thought you didn’t want her, Nelly.” He was sorry the next moment that he had said even as much as that: Eleanor was breathing quickly, and her dark, sad eyes were hard with anger.
“I don’t,” she said
Maurice said, sharply, “You have never liked her!”
“Why should I like her? She talks to you incessantly. And now, she looks at you; here—before me! Looks at you.”
“Eleanor, what on earth—”
“Oh, I saw her, when you were talking over there by the window; I watched her. She looked at you! I am not blind. I understand what it means when a girl looks at a man that way. And now she’s planning to be in Mercer for three months? Well, that’s simply to be near you. She’d like to live in the same house with you, I suppose! If it wasn’t for me, she’d be in love with you—perhaps she is, anyhow? Yes, I think she is.” There was a sick silence. “And, perhaps,” she said, with a gasp, “you are in love with her?”