Another voice breaks in:
“Thus to thoughtless mortals calling—.’”
“How you made me jump!” cry I, descending with an irritated leap to prose, and at least making the leaves say something entirely different from what they had ever been known to say before.
“Why did not you bring your sentinel, Vick?”
He—it is Musgrave, of course—has joined me, and is leaning his flat back also against the apostle, and, like me, is looking at the mist, at the red and yellow leaves—at the whole low-spirited panorama.
“She is ill,” say I, lamentably, drawing a portrait in lamp-black and Indian-ink of the whole family; “we are all ill—Barbara is ill!”
“She has got a headache.”
“And I have got a heartache,” say I, more for the sake of preserving the harmony of my sketch, and for making a pendant to Barbara, than because the phrase accurately describes my state.
“Poor me, indeed!” cry I, with emphasis, and to this day I cannot make up my mind whether the ejaculation were good grammar or no.
“I have had such bad news,” I continue, feeling, as usual, a sensible relief from the communication of my grief. “Roger is not coming back!”
“Not at all?”
The words are the same as those employed by Mrs. Huntley; but there is much more alacrity and liveliness in the tone.
“Not at all!” repeat I, scornfully, looking impatiently at him; “that is so likely, is not it?”—then “No not at all”—I continue, ironically, “he has run off with some one else—some one black!” (with a timely reminiscence of Bobby’s happy flight of imagination).
“Not till when, then?”
“Not till after Christmas,” reply I, sighing loudly, “which is almost as bad as not at all.”
“I knew that!” he says, rather petulantly; “you told me that before!”
“I told you that before?” cry I, opening my eyes, and raising my voice; “why, how could I? I only heard it myself this morning!”
“It was not you, then,” he says, composedly; “it must have been some one else!”
“It could have been no one else,” retort I, hastily. “I have told no one—no one at least from whom you could have heard it.”
“All the same, I did hear it” (with a quiet persistence); “now, who could it have been?” throwing back his head, elevating his chin, and lifting his eyes in meditation to the great depths of burning red in the beech’s heart, above him—“ah!”—(overtaking the recollection)—“I know!”
“Who?” say I, eagerly, “not that it could have been any one.”
“It was Mrs. Huntley!” he answers, with an air of matter-of-fact indifference.
I laugh with insulting triumph. “Well, that is a bad hit! What a pity that you did not fix upon some one else! I have once or twice suspected you of drawing the long bow—now I am sure of it! As it happens, I have just come from Mrs. Huntley, and she knew no more about it than the babe unborn!”