“Thank you so much!” said Mary Houghton. “Henry, you mustn’t say things before Edith! Suppose Eleanor had known her Little Dorrit?”
“She doesn’t know anything; and she has nothing to say.”
“Well, it might be worse,” she encouraged him. “Suppose she were talkative?”
He nodded: “Yes; a dull woman is bad, and a talkative woman is bad; but a dull talkative woman is hell.”
“My dear! I’m glad Edith’s in bed. Well, I think I like her.”
But the time arrived when Mrs. Houghton was certain that she “liked” Maurice’s wife. It would have come sooner if Eleanor’s real sweetness had not been hidden by her tiresome timidity ... a thunderstorm sent her, blanched and panting, to sit huddled on her bed, shutters closed, shades drawn; she schemed not to go upstairs by herself in the dark; she was preoccupied when old Lion took them off on a slow, jogging drive, for fear of a runaway.
Everybody was aware of her nervousness. Until it bored him, Henry Houghton was touched by it;—probably there is no man who is so intelligent that the Clinging Vine makes no appeal to him. Mrs. Houghton was impatient with it. Edith, who could not understand fear in any form, tried, in her friendly little way, to reason Eleanor out of one panic or another. The servants joked among themselves at the foolishness of “Mrs. Maurice”; and the monosyllabic Johnny Bennett, when told of some of Eleanor’s scares, was bored. “Let’s play Indian,” said Johnny.
It was only Maurice who found all the scares—just as he found the silences and small jealousies—adorable! The silences meant unspeakable depths of thought; the jealousies were a sign of love. The terrors called for his protecting strength! One of the unfair irrationalities of love is that it may, at first, be attracted by the defects of the beloved, and later repelled by them. Maurice loved Eleanor for her defects. Once, when he and Edith were helping Mrs. Houghton weed her garden, he stopped grubbing, and sat down in the gold and bronze glitter of coreopsis, to expatiate upon the exquisiteness of the defects. Her wonderful mind: “She doesn’t talk, because she is always thinking; her ideas are way over my head!” Her funny timidity: “She wants me to take care of her!” Her love: “She’s—it sounds absurd!—but she’s jealous, because she’s so—well, fond of me, don’t you know, that she sort of objects to having people round. Did you ever hear of anything so absurd?”