“Nobody’ll come,” Eleanor said.
Maurice’s eyes narrowed: “I believe you need ’em, Nelly? I knock up against people at the office, and I know several fellows and girls outside—”
“Oh, the fellows’ sisters; but you—”
“I don’t want anybody but you!”
Maurice was silent. Two years ago, when Eleanor had said almost the same thing: she was willing to live on a desert island, with him!—it had been oil on the flames of his love; now, it puzzled him. He didn’t want to live on a desert island, with anybody! He needed more than one man “Friday,” and any women “Thursdays” who might come along were joyously welcomed. “I am a social beggar, myself,” he said; and began to whistle and fuss about, trying to bring order out of a chaos of books and photographs and sheet music. She sat watching him—the alert, vigorous figure; the keen face under the shock of blond hair; the blue eyes that crinkled so easily into laughter. Her face was thinner, and there were rings of fatigue under her dark eyes, and that little nursery in the house they had left, made a swelling sense of emptiness in her heart. ("If I see any awfully pretty nursery paper this winter, I’ll buy it, and have it ready,—in case we should have to get another house,” she thought.) “Oh, do stop whistling,” she said; “it goes through me!”
“Poor Nelly!” he said, kindly, and stopped.
The astonishing thing about the “boarding-house marriage,” is that it ever survives the strain of the woman’s idleness and the man’s discomfort! But it does, occasionally. Even this marriage survived Miss Ladd’s boarding house, for a time. At first it went smoothly enough because Maurice couldn’t blame Eleanor’s cook, and Eleanor couldn’t say that “nothing she did pleased Maurice”; so two reasons for irritability were eliminated; but a new reason appeared: Maurice’s eager interest in everything and everybody—especially everybody!—and his endless good nature, overflowed around the boarding-house table. Everyone liked him, which Eleanor entirely understood; but he liked everyone,—which she didn’t understand.
The note of this mutual liking was struck the very first night when Maurice went down into the dingy basement dining room; he and Eleanor made rather a sensation as they entered: Eleanor, handsome and silent, produced the impression of cold reserve; Maurice, amiable and talkative, gave a little shock of interest and pleasure to the fifteen or twenty people eating indifferent food about a table covered with a not very fresh cloth. Before the meal was over he had made himself agreeable to an elderly woman on his left, ventured some drollery to a pretty high-school teacher of mathematics opposite him, and given a man at the end of the table the score. When Eleanor rose, Maurice had to rise, too, though his dessert was not quite devoured; and as the couple left the room there was a murmur of pleasure: