“I certainly never did,” his old friend said, dryly.
“Well, but”—Maurice defended his wife—“it’s because she cares about me, don’t you know? She—well, this is in confidence—she said once that she’d like to live on a desert island, just with me!”
“So would I,” said Edith. Her mother laughed:
“Tell her desert islands have to have a ’man Friday’—to say nothing of a few ’women Thursdays’!”
Eleanor was, Maurice said, like music heard far off, through mists and moonlight in a dark garden, “full of—of—what are those sweet-smelling things, that bloom only at night?” (Mary Houghton looked fatigued.) “Well, anyway, what I mean is that she isn’t like ordinary people, like me—”
“Or Johnny,” Edith broke in, earnestly.
“Johnny? Gosh! Why, Mrs. Houghton, things that don’t touch most human beings, affect her terribly. The dark, or thunderstorms, or—or anything, makes her nervous. You understand?”
Mrs. Houghton said yes, she understood, but she would leave the rest of the weeding to her assistants ... In the studio, dropping her dusty garden gloves on a fresh canvas lying on the table, she almost wept:
“Henry, it is too tragic! She is such a goose, and he is so silly about her! What shall we do?”
“I’ll tell you what not to do—spoil my new canvas! If you really want my advice:—tell Eleanor that the greatest compliment any husband can pay his wife is contained in four words: ‘You never bore me’; and that if she isn’t careful Maurice will never compliment her.”
Down in the garden, no one was aware of any tragedy. “When I go to Fern Hill,” Edith said, “I’m going to tell all the girls I know Eleanor! I’m ‘ordinary,’ too, beside her. And so is mother.”
Maurice agreed. “We are all crude, compared to her.”
Edith sighed with joy; if she had had any inclination to be contemptuous of Eleanor’s timidity, it vanished when it was pointed out to her that it was really a sign of the Bride’s infinite superiority.... So the three Houghtons accepted—one with amused pity, and the other with concern, and the third with admiration of such super-refinement,—the fact that Eleanor was a coward. Yet if she had not been a coward, something she did would not have been particularly brave, nor would it have wrung from Mary Houghton the admission: “I like her!”
The conquering incident happened in August. The hut up in the woods meant to Maurice and Edith and Johnny that eager grasping at hardship with which Age has no sympathy, but which is the very essence of Youth. Within a week of her arrival at Green Hill, Eleanor (who did not like hardship;) had been carried off for a day of eating smoky food, cooked on a camp fire, and watching cloud shadows drift across the valley and up and over the hills; she had wondered, silently, why Maurice liked this very tiring sort of thing?—and especially why he liked to have Edith go along! “A child of her age is such a nuisance,” Eleanor thought. But he did like it, all of it!—the fatigue, and the smoke, and the grubby food—and Edith!—he liked it so much that, just before the time set for their departure for Mercer—and the position in a real-estate office, which had been secured for Maurice—he said: