The visit had come to an end uneventfully for either of them; but two days after his departure from the house Mr. Pryme had been guilty of a gross piece of indiscretion. He had forgotten to observe a golden rule which should be strongly impressed upon every man and woman. The maxim should be inculcated upon the young with at least as much earnestness as the Catechism or the Ten Commandments. In homely language, it runs something in this fashion: “Say what you like, but never commit yourself to paper.”
Mr. Pryme had observed the first portion of this maxim religiously, but he had failed to pay equal regard to the latter. He had committed himself to paper in the shape of a very bulky and very passionate love-letter, which was duly delivered by the morning postman and laid at the side of Miss Miller’s plate upon the breakfast-table.
Now, Miss Miller, as it happened on that particular morning, had a very heavy influenza cold, and had stayed in bed for breakfast. When, therefore, Mrs. Miller prepared to send a small tray up to her daughter’s bedroom with her breakfast, she took up her letters also from the table to put upon it with her tea and toast. The very thick envelope of one of them first attracted her notice; then the masculine nature of the handwriting; and when, upon turning it over, she furthermore perceived a very large-sized monogram of the letters “H. P.” upon the envelope, her mind underwent a sudden revolution as to the sending of her daughter’s correspondence upstairs.
“There, that will do,” she said to the lady’s maid, “you can take up the tray; I will bring Miss Miller’s letters up to her myself after breakfast.”
After which, without more ado, she walked to the window and opened the letter. Some people might have had scruples as to such a strong measure. Mrs. Miller had none at all. Her children, she argued, were her own property and under her own care; as long as they lived under her roof, they had no right over anything that they possessed independently of their mother.
Under ordinary circumstances she would not have opened a letter addressed to any of her children; but if there was anything of a suspicious nature in their correspondence, she certainly reserved to herself the perfect right of dealing with it as she thought fit.
She opened the letter and read the first line; it ran thus:—
“My dearest darling Beatrice.” She then turned to the end of it and read the last; it was this: “Your own most devoted and loving Herbert.”
That was quite enough for Mrs. Miller; she did not want to read any more of it. She slipped the letter into her pocket, and went back to the breakfast-table and poured out the tea and coffee for her husband and her sons.
But when the family meal was over, it was with a very angry aspect that Mrs. Miller went upstairs and stood by her eldest daughter’s bedside.
“Beatrice, here is a letter which has come for you this morning, of which I must ask you an explanation.”