“Has any one been accusing you?” she says, a little curiously, “But no! who could? You have seen no one, not even—”
“No, no!” interrupt I, shrinking from the sound of the name that I know is coming; “of course not; no one!”
The clock strikes eleven, and wakes Vick. Barbara rises, rolls up her knitting, and, going over to the fireplace, stands with one white elbow resting on the chimney-piece, and slender neck drooped, pensively gazing at the low fire.
“Do you know,” she says, with a half-confused smile, that is also tinged with a little anxiety, “I have been thinking—it is the first time for three months that he has not been here at all, either in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening!”
“Is it?” say I, slightly shivering.
“I think,” she says, with a rather embarrassed laugh, “that he must have heard you were out, and that that was why he did not come. You know I always tell you that he likes you best.”
She says it, as a joke, and yet her great eyes are looking at me with a sort of wistfulness, but neither to them nor to her words can I make any answer.
Next morning I am sitting before my looking-glass—never to me a pleasant article of furniture—having my hair dressed. I am hardly awake yet, and have not quite finished disentangling the real live disagreeables which I have to face, from the imaginary ones from which my waking has freed me. At least, in real life, I am not perpetually pursued, through dull abysses, by a man in a crape mask, from whom I am madly struggling to escape, and who is perpetually on the point of overtaking and seizing me.
It was a mistake going to sleep at all last night. It would have been far wiser and better to have kept awake. The real evils are bad enough, but the dream ones in their vivid life make me shiver even now, though the morning sun is lying in companionable patches on the floor, and the birds are loudly talking all together. Do no birds ever listen?
Distracted for a moment from my own miseries, by the noise of their soft yet sharp hubbub, I am thinking this, when a knock comes at the door, and the next moment Barbara enters. Her blond hair is tumbled about her shoulders; no white rose’s cheeks are paler than hers; in her hand she has a note. In a moment I have dismissed the maid, and we are alone.
“I want you to read this!” she says, in an even and monotonous voice, from which, by an effort whose greatness I can dimly guess, she keeps all sound of trembling.
I have risen and turned from the glass; but now my knees shake under me so much that I have to sit down again. She comes behind me, so that I may no longer see her: and putting her arms round my neck, and hiding her face in my unfinished hair, says, whisperingly:
“Do not fret about it, Nancy!—I do not mind much.”