“He will come earlier to-morrow to make up for it”—she says, in a low voice, more to herself than to me—“yes”—(clasping her hands lightly in her lap, while the firelight plays upon the lovely mildness of her happy face, and repeating the words softly)—“yes, he will come earlier to-morrow!”
I cannot bear it. I rise up abruptly, trundling poor Vick, to whom this reverse is quite unexpected, down on the carpet, and rushing out of the room.
* * * * *
It is evening now—late evening, drawing toward bedtime. I am sitting with my back to the light, and have asked for a shade for the lamp, on the plea that the wind has cut my eyes—but, in spite of my precautions, I am well aware that the disfigurement of my face is still unmistakably evident to the most casual eye; and, from the anxious care with which Barbara looks away from me, when she addresses me, I can perceive that she has observed it, as, indeed, how could she fail to do? If Tou Tou were here, she would overwhelm me with officious questions—would stare me crazy, but Barbara averts her eyes, and asks nothing.
We have been sitting in perfect silence for a long while; no noise but the click of Barbara’s knitting-pins, the low flutter of the fire-flame, and the sort of suppressed choked inward bark, with which Vick attacks a phantom tomcat in her dreams.
Suddenly I speak.
“Barbara!” say I, with a hard, forced laugh, “I am going to ask you a silly question: tell me, did you ever observe—has it ever struck you that there was something rather—rather offensive in my manner to men?”
Her knitting drops into her lap. Her blue eyes open wide, like dog-violets in the sun; she is obliged to look at me now.
“Offensive!” she echoes, with an accent of the most utter surprise and mystification. “Good Heavens, no! What has come to the child? Oh!”— (with a little look of dawning intelligence)—“I see! You mean, do not you smite them too much? Are not you sometimes a little too hard upon them?”
“No,” say I, gravely; “I did not mean that.”
She looks at me for explanation, but I can give none. More silence.
Vick is either in hot pursuit of, or hot flight from, the tomcat; all her four legs are quivering and kicking in a mimic gallop.
“Do you remember,” say I, again speaking, and again prefacing my words by an uneasy laugh, “how the boys at home used always to laugh at me, because I never knew how to flirt, nor had any pretty ways? Do you think”—(speaking slowly and hesitatingly)—“that boys—one’s brothers, I mean—would be good judges of that sort of thing?”
“As good as any one else’s brothers, I suppose,” she says, with a low laugh, but still looking puzzled; “but why do you ask?”
“I do not know,” reply I, trying to speak carelessly; “it came into my head.”