Then she breaks into quiet tears.
“Do you mean to say that he has had the insolence to write to you,” I cry, in a passion of indignation, forgetting for the moment Barbara’s ignorance of what has occurred, and only reminded of it by the look of wonder that, as I turn on my chair to face her, I see come into her eyes.
“Have not you been expecting him every day to write to me?” she asks, with a little wonder in her tone; “but read!” (pointing to the note, and laughing with a touch of bitterness), “you will soon see that there is no insolence here.”
I had quite as lief, in my present state of mind, touch a yard-long wriggling ground-worm, or a fat wood-louse, as paper that his fingers have pressed; but I overcome my repulsion, and unfold the note.
“DEAR MISS GREY:
“Can I do any thing for you in town? I am going-up there to-morrow, and shall thence, I think, run over to the Exhibition. I have no doubt that it is just like all the others; but not to have seen it will set one at a disadvantage with one’s fellows. I am afraid that there is no chance of your being still at Tempest when I return. I shall be most happy to undertake any commissions.
The note drops from my fingers, rolls on to my lap, and thence to the ground. I sit in stiff and stupid silence. To tell the truth, I am trying strongly to imagine how I should look and what I should say, were I as ignorant of causes as Barbara thinks me, and to look and speak accordingly.
She kneels down beside me, and softly drawing down my face, till it is on a level with hers, and our cheeks touch, says in a tone of gentle entreaty and compassion, as if I were the one to be considered—the prime sufferer:
“Do not fret about it. Nancy! it is of no—no consequence!—there is no harm done!”
I struggle to say something, but for the life of me I can frame no words.
“It was my own fancy!” she says, faltering, “I suppose my vanity misled me!”
“It is all my fault!” cry I, suddenly finding passionate words, starting up, and beginning to walk feverishly to and fro—“all!—there never was any one in all this world so blind, so ill-judging, so miserably mistaken! If it had not been for me, you never would have thought twice of him—never; and I”—(beginning to speak with weeping indistinctness) —“I thought it would be so nice to have you near me—I thought that there was nothing the matter with him, but his temper; many men are ill-tempered—nearly all. If” (tightly clinching my hands, and setting my teeth) “I had had any idea of his being the scoundrel that he is—”
“But he is not,” she interrupts quickly, wincing a little at my words; “indeed he is not! What ill have we heard from him? If you do not mind” (laying her hand with gentle entreaty on my arm), “I had rather, far rather, that you did not say any thing hard of him! I was always so glad that you and he were such friends—always—and I do not know why—there is no sense in it; but I am glad of it still.”