She gave her mother a final kiss and went gaily all the way to the door this time, pausing for her postscript with her hand on the knob. “Oh, the one that caught me looking in the window, mamma, the youngest one—”
“Did he speak of it?” Mrs. Vertrees asked, apprehensively.
“No. He didn’t speak at all, that I saw, to any one. I didn’t meet him. But he isn’t insane, I’m sure; or if he is, he has long intervals when he’s not. Mr. James Sheridan mentioned that he lived at home when he was ‘well enough’; and it may be he’s only an invalid. He looks dreadfully ill, but he has pleasant eyes, and it struck me that if—if one were in the Sheridan family”—she laughed a little ruefully—“he might be interesting to talk to sometimes, when there was too much stocks and bonds. I didn’t see him after dinner.”
“There must be something wrong with him,” said Mrs. Vertrees. “They’d have introduced him if there wasn’t.”
“I don’t know. He’s been ill so much and away so much—sometimes people like that just don’t seem to ‘count’ in a family. His father spoke of sending him back to a machine-shop or some sort; I suppose he meant when the poor thing gets better. I glanced at him just then, when Mr. Sheridan mentioned him, and he happened to be looking straight at me; and he was pathetic-looking enough before that, but the most tragic change came over him. He seemed just to die, right there at the table!”
“You mean when his father spoke of sending him to the shop place?”
“Mr. Sheridan must be very unfeeling.”
“No,” said Mary, thoughtfully, “I don’t think he is; but he might be uncomprehending, and certainly he’s the kind of man to do anything he once sets out to do. But I wish I hadn’t been looking at that poor boy just then! I’m afraid I’ll keep remembering—”
“I wouldn’t.” Mrs. Vertrees smiled faintly, and in her smile there was the remotest ghost of a genteel roguishness. “I’d keep my mind on pleasanter things, Mary.”
Mary laughed and nodded. “Yes, indeed! Plenty pleasant enough, and probably, if all were known, too good—even for me!”
And when she had gone Mrs. Vertrees drew a long breath, as if a burden were off her mind, and, smiling, began to undress in a gentle reverie.
Edith, glancing casually into the “ready-made” library, stopped abruptly, seeing Bibbs there alone. He was standing before the pearl-framed and golden-lettered poem, musingly inspecting it. He read it:
I will forget the things that sting:
The lashing look, the barbed word.
I know the very hands that fling
The stones at me had never stirred
To anger but for their own scars.
They’ve suffered so, that’s why they strike.
I’ll keep my heart among the stars
Where none shall hunt it out. Oh, like
These wounded ones I must not be,
For, wounded, I might strike in turn!
So, none shall hurt me. Far and free
Where my heart flies no one shall learn.