“She isn’t a leech. I ought to help her, I’ll see her myself.”
“My dear fellow, don’t be a bigger ass than you can help! You can meet what you see fit to call your responsibilities, as a few other conscientious fools have done before you; though,” he added, heavily, “I hope she won’t suck you dry! How you are going to squeeze out the money, I don’t know! I can’t help you much. But you mustn’t appear in this for a single minute. Hayes will see her, and buy her off.”
Maurice shook his head, despairingly: “Uncle Henry, she’s common; but she’s not vicious. She’s a nice little thing. I know Lily! I’ll see her. I’ll have to! I’ll tell her I’ll—I’ll help her.” No wonder poor Henry Houghton feared he would lose his bet! “I know you think I’m easy meat,” Maurice said; “but I’m not. Only,” his face was anguished, “I’ve got to be half decent.”
It was after one o’clock when the two men went upstairs, though there had been another summons over the banisters: “Maurice! Why don’t you come to bed?” When they parted at Maurice’s door, Mr. Houghton struck his ward on the shoulder and whispered, “You’re more than half decent. I’ll bet on you!” and Maurice whispered back:
“You’re white, Uncle Henry!”
He went into his room on tiptoe, but Eleanor heard him and said, sleepily, “What on earth have you been talking about?”
“Business,” Maurice told her.
“Who was your lavender-colored letter from?” Eleanor said, yawning; “I forgot to ask you. It was awfully scented!”
There was an instant’s pause; Maurice’s lips were dry;—then he said:
“From a woman... About a house. (My God! I’ve lied to her!)” he said to himself...
Mary Houghton, reading comfortably in bed, looked up at her old husband over her spectacles. “I’ve heated some cocoa, dear,” she said. “Drink it before you undress; you are worn out. What kept you downstairs until this hour?”
Mary Houghton smiled: “Might as well tell the truth.”
“Oh, Kit, it’s a horrid mess!” he groaned; “I thought that boy had got to the top of Fool Hill when he married Eleanor! But he hadn’t.”
“Can’t tell me, I suppose?”
“No. Mary, mayn’t I have a cigar? I’m really awfully used up, and—”
“Henry! You are perfectly depraved! No; you may not. Drink your cocoa, honey. And consider the stars;—they shine, even above Fool Hill. And ‘messes’ look mighty small beside the Pleiades!” Then she turned a page of her novel, and added, “Poor Eleanor.”
“I don’t know why you say ’Poor Eleanor’!”
“Because I know that Maurice isn’t sharing his ‘mess’ with her.”
“You are uncanny!” Henry Houghton said, stirring his cocoa and looking at her admiringly.
“No; merely intelligent. Henry, don’t let him have any secrets from Eleanor! Tell him to tell her. She’ll forgive him.”