But Edith’s plan for barn conversation with Maurice fell through, because after supper, with an air of complete self-justification, he said to his hosts, “Now you must hear Eleanor sing!”
At which she protested, “Oh, Maurice, no!”
The Houghtons, however, were polite; so they all went into the studio, and, standing in the twilight, with Maurice playing her accompaniment, she sang, very simply, and with quite poignant beauty, the song of “Golden Numbers,” with its serene refrain:
“O sweet, O sweet content!”
“Lovely, my dear,” Mrs. Houghton said, and Maurice was radiant.
“Is Mr. F. your father?” Edith said, timidly; and while Eleanor was giving her maiden name, Edith’s terrified father said, in a ferocious aside, “Mary! Kill that child!” Late that night he told his wife she really must do something about Edith: “Fortunately, Eleanor is as ignorant of Dickens as of ’most everything else. I bet she never read Little Dorrit. But, for God’s sake, muzzle that daughter of yours! ... Mary, you see how he was caught?—the woman’s voice.”
“Don’t call her ’the woman’!”
“Well, vampire. Kit, what do you make of her?”
“I wish I knew what to make of her! I feel sure she is really and truly good. But, oh, Henry, she’s so mortal dull! She hasn’t a spark of humor in her.”
“’Course not. If she had, she wouldn’t have married him. But he has humor! Better warn her that a short cut to matrimonial unhappiness is not to have the same taste in jokes! Mary, maybe, her music will hold him?”
“Maybe,” said Mary Houghton, sighing.
“‘Consider the stars,’” he quoted, sarcastically; but she took the sting out of his gibe by saying, very simply:
“Yes, I try to.”
“He is good stuff,” her husband said; “straight as a string! When he came into the studio to talk things over he was as sober as if he were fifty, and hadn’t made an ass of himself. He took up the income question in a surprisingly businesslike way; then he said that of course he knew I didn’t like it—his giving up college and flying off the handle, and getting married without saying anything to me. ‘But,’ he said, ’Eleanor’s aunt is an old hell-cat;—she was going to drag Eleanor abroad, and I had to get her out of her clutches!’ ... I think,” Henry Houghton interrupted himself, “that’s one explanation of Maurice: rescuing a forlorn damsel. Well, I was perfectly direct with him; I said, ’My dear fellow, Mrs. Newbolt is not a hell-cat; and the elopement was in bad taste. Elopements are always in bad taste. But the elopement is the least important part of it. The difference in age is the serious thing.’ I got it out of him just what it is—almost twenty years. She might be his mother!—he admitted that he had had to lie about himself to get the license. I said, ’Your age is the dangerous thing, Maurice, not hers; and it’s up to you to keep