The diffident passion in his voice for once destroys that vile constraint, dissipates that idiotic sense of bashfulness.
“Scores of times!” I answer, letting my head drop on his shoulder, and not taking the trouble to raise it again.
“I never used to think myself of a very nervous turn!” he says, presently, with a smile. “Nancy, you will laugh at me, but I assure you upon my honor that all the way home I have been in the most abject and deadly fright: at every puff of wind I thought we were infallibly going to the bottom: whenever the carriage rocked in the least to-day on the way down, I made up my mind we were going to smash! Little woman, what can a bit of a thing like you have done to me to make me seem so much more valuable to myself than I have ever done these eight-and-forty years?”
I think no answer to this so suitable and seemly as a dumb friction of my left cheek against the rough cloth of the shoulder on which it has reposed itself.
“Talk to me, Nancy!” he says, in a quiet half-whisper of happiness. “Let me hear the sound of your voice! I am sick of my own; I have had a glut of that all these weary eight months; tell me about them all! How are they all? how are the boys?” (with a playful smile of recollection at what used to be my one subject, the one theme on which I was wont to wax inimitably diffuse). But now, at the magic name no pleasant garrulity overcomes me; only the remembrance of my worries; of all those troubles that I mean now to transfer from my own to Roger’s broad shoulders, swoop down upon me.
I raise my head and speak with a clouded brow and a complaining tone.
“The Brat has gone back to Oxford,” I say, gloomily; “Bobby has gone to Hong-Kong, and Algy has gone to the dogs—or at least is going there as hard as he can!”
“To the dogs?” (with an accent of surprise and concern); “what do you mean? what has sent him there?”
“You had better ask Mrs. Zephine,” reply I, bitterly, thinking, with a lively exasperation, of the changed and demoralized Algy I had last seen—soured, headstrong, and unhinged.
“Zephine!” (repeating the name with an accent of thorough astonishment), “what on earth can she have to say to it?”
“Ah, what?” reply I, with oracular spite; then, overcome with remorse at the thought of the way in which I was embittering the first moments of his return, I rebury my face in his shoulder.
“I will tell you about that to-morrow,” I say; “to-day is a good day, and we will talk only of good things and of good people.”
He does not immediately answer. My remark seems to have buried him in thought. Presently he shakes off his distraction and speaks again.
“And Barbara? how is she? She has not” (beginning to laugh)—“she has not gone to the dogs, I suppose!”
“No,” say I, slowly, not thinking of what I am saying, but with my thoughts wandering off to the greatest and sorest of my afflictions, “not yet.”