Emily drew her yet nearer to herself, and said in the stillest, most matter-of-fact tone—
“Of course you know that you are a very naughty girl, my sweet.”
“Yes,” said Barbara ruefully.
“And very silly too,” she continued; but there was something so tender and caressing in her manner, that the words sounded like anything but a reproof.
“I don’t think I am silly,” said Barbara.
“Yes, you are, if you are really making yourself miserable about an idle rumour, and nothing more.”
“But everybody says it is true. Why, one of Johnnie’s schoolfellows, who has some friends near here, told him every one was talking of it.”
“Well, my darling,” said Emily with a sigh, “but even if it is true, the better you take it, the better it will be for you; and you don’t want to make your father miserable?”
“No,” said the poor child naively; “and we’ve been so good—so very good—since we heard it. But it is so horrid to have a step-mother! I told you papa had never said anything; but he did say once to Gladys that he felt very lonely now Grand was gone. He said that he felt the loss of mamma.”
She dried her eyes and looked up as she said these words, and Emily felt a sharp pang of pity for John. He must be hard set indeed for help and love and satisfying companionship if he was choosing to suppose that he had buried such blessings as these with the wife of his youth.
“Oh!” said Barbara, with a weary sigh, “Johnnie does so hate the thought of it! He wrote us such a furious letter. What was my mother like, dear Mrs. Walker? It’s so hard that we cannot remember her.”
Emily looked down at Barbara’s dark hair and lucid blue-grey eyes, at the narrow face and pleasant rosy mouth.
“Your mother was like you—to look at,” she answered.
She felt obliged to put in those qualifying words, for Janie Mortimer had given her face to her young daughter; but the girl’s passionate feelings and yearning love, and even, as it seemed, pity for her father and herself, had all come from the other side of the house.
Barbara rose when she heard this, and stood up, as if to be better seen by her who had spoken what she took for such appreciative words, and Emily felt constrained to take the dead mother’s part, and say what it was best for her child to hear.
“Barbara, no one would have been less pleased than your mother at your all setting yourselves against this. Write and tell Johnnie so, will you, my dear?”
Barbara looked surprised.
“She was very judicious, very reasonable; it is not on her account at all that you need resent your father’s intention—if, indeed, he has such an intention.”
“But Johnnie remembers her very well,” said Barbara, not at all pleased, “and she was very sweet and very delightful, and that’s why he does resent it so much.”
“If I am to speak of her as she was, I must say that is a state of feeling she would not have approved of, or even cared about.”