Eleanor took this somewhat roundabout advice very well. “The only thing in the world I want,” she said, simply, “is to make him happy.”
They went back to the house in silence. But that night Eleanor paused in putting some last things into her trunk, and, going over to Maurice, kissed his thick hair. “Maurice,” she said, “are you happy?”
“You bet I am!”
“You haven’t said so once to-day.”
“I haven’t said I’m alive,” he said, grinning. “Oh, Star, won’t it be wonderful when we can go away from the whole caboodle of ’em, and just be by ourselves?”
“That’s what I want!” she said; “just to be alone with you. I wish we could live on a desert island!...”
Down in the studio, Mr. Houghton, smoking up to the fire limit a cigar grudgingly permitted by his wife ("It’s your eighth to-day,” she reproached him), Henry Houghton, listening to his Mary’s account of the talk in the orchard, told her what he thought of her: “May you be forgiven! Your intentions are doubtless excellent, but your truthfulness leaves something to be desired: ‘Years won’t make any difference’? Mary! Mary!”
But she defended herself: “I mean, ‘years’ can’t kill love—the highest love—the love that grows out of, and then outgrows, the senses! The body may be just an old glove—shabby, maybe; but if the hand inside the glove is alive, what real difference does the shabbiness make? If Eleanor’s mind doesn’t get rheumatic, and if she will forget herself!—they’ll be all right. But if she thinks of herself—” Mary Houghton sighed; her husband ended her sentence for her:
“She’ll upset the whole kettle of fish?”
“What I’m afraid of,” she said, with a troubled look, “is that you are right:—she’s inclined to be jealous, I saw her frown when he was playing checkers with Edith. I wanted to tell her, but didn’t dare to, that jealousy is as amusing to people who don’t feel it, as it is undignified in people who do.”
“My darling, you are a brute,” said Mr. Houghton; “I have long suspected it, in re tobacco. As for Eleanor, I would never have such cruel thoughts! I belong to the gentler sex. I would merely refer her to Mr. F.’s aunt.”
They reached Mercer in the rainy October dusk. It was cold and raw, and a bleak wind blew up the river, which, with its shifting film of oil, bent like a brown arm about the grimy, noisy town. The old hotel, with its Doric columns grimed with years of smoky river fogs, was dark, and smelled of soot; and the manners of the waiters and chambermaids would have set Eleanor’s teeth on edge, except that she was so absorbed in the thrill of being back under the roof which had sheltered them in those first days of bliss.
“Do you remember?” she said, significantly.
Maurice, looking after suitcases and hand bags, said, absently, “Remember what?” She told him “what” and he said: “Yes. Where do you want this trunk put, Eleanor?”