I had a moment’s intuition and acted on it impulsively. “She feels it too, perhaps, but wishes to face it by herself—and get over it?”
My sister bowed her head, and the gesture made me realize of a sudden how grave and solemn our talk had grown, as though some portentous thing were under discussion. It had come of itself—indefinite as a gradual change of temperature. Yet neither of us knew its nature, for apparently neither of us could state it plainly. Nothing happened, even in our words.
“That was my impression,” she said, “—that if she yields to it she encourages it. And a habit forms so easily. Just think,” she added with a faint smile that was the first sign of lightness she had yet betrayed, “what a nuisance it would be—everywhere—if everybody was afraid of being alone—like that.”
I snatched readily at the chance. We laughed a little, though it was a quiet kind of laughter that seemed wrong. I took her arm and led her towards the door.
“Disastrous, in fact,” I agreed.
She raised her voice to its normal pitch again, as I had done. “No doubt it will pass,” she said, “now that you have come. Of course, it’s chiefly my imagination.” Her tone was lighter, though nothing could convince me that the matter itself was light—just then. “And in any case,” tightening her grip on my arm as we passed into the bright enormous corridor and caught sight of Mrs. Franklyn waiting in the cheerless hall below, “I’m very glad you’re here, Bill, and Mabel, I know, is too.”
“If it doesn’t pass,” I just had time to whisper with a feeble attempt at jollity, “I’ll come at night and snore outside your door. After that you’ll be so glad to get rid of me that you won’t mind being alone.”
“That’s a bargain,” said Frances.
I shook my hostess by the hand, made a banal remark about the long interval since last we met, and walked behind them into the great dining room, dimly lit by candles, wondering in my heart how long my sister and I should stay, and why in the world we had ever left our cozy little flat to enter this desolation of riches and false luxury at all. The unsightly picture of the late Samuel Franklyn, Esq., stared down upon me from the farther end of the room above the mighty mantelpiece.
He looked, I thought, like some pompous Heavenly Butler who denied to all the world, and to us in particular, the right of entry without presentation cards signed by his hand as proof that we belonged to his own exclusive set. The majority, to his deep grief, and in spite of all his prayers on their behalf, must burn and “perish everlastingly.”
With the instinct of the healthy bachelor I always try to make myself a nest in the place I live in, be it for long or short. Whether visiting, in lodging-house, or in hotel, the first essential is this nest—one’s own things built into the walls as a bird builds in its feathers. It may look desolate and uncomfortable enough to others, because the central detail is neither bed nor wardrobe, sofa nor armchair, but a good solid writing-table that does not wriggle, and that has wide elbowroom.