“I have got a whole sheaf of letters and papers from her husband for her,” pursues Roger, apparently calmly, and utterly unaware of my discomfiture, “and I do not want to keep her out of them longer than I can help.”
Still I make no rejoinder. My fingers stray idly up and down the glass; but it is no longer a giddy waltz that they are executing—if it is a tune at all, it is some little dirge.
“What has happened to you, Nancy?” says Roger, presently, becoming aware of my silence, rising and following me; “what are you doing—catching flies?”
“No,” reply I, with an acrid smartness, “not I! I leave that to Mrs. Zephine.”
Once again he regards me with that look of unfeigned surprise, tinged with a little pain which yesterday I detected on his face. When I look at him, when my eyes rest on the brave and open honesty of his, my ugly, nipping doubts disappear.
“Do not go,” say I, standing on tiptoe, so that my hands may reach his neck, and clasp it, speaking in my most beguiling half-whisper; “why should you fetch and carry for her? let John or William take her letters. Are you so sure” (with an irresistible sneer) “that she is in such a hurry for them?—stay with me this one first day!—do, please —Roger.”
It is the first time in all my history that I have succeeded in delivering myself of his Christian name to his face—frequently as I have fired it off in dialogues with myself, behind his back. It shoots out now with the loud suddenness of a mismanaged soda-water cork.
“Roger!” he repeats, in an accent of keen pleasure, catching me to his heart; “what! I am Roger after all, am I? The ‘general’ has gone to glory at last, has he?—thank God!”
“I will ring and tell John at once,” say I, with subtile amiability, disengaging myself from his arms, and walking quickly toward the bell.
“Stay!” he says, putting his hand on me in detention, before I have made two steps; “you must not! it is no use! John will not do, or William either: it is a matter of business. I have” (sighing) “to go through many of these papers with her.”
“Yes, I; why is that so surprising?”
“What possible concern is it of yours?” ask I, throwing the reins on the neck of my indignation, and urging that willing steed to a sharp gallop, crimsoning as I speak, and raising my voice, as has ever been our immemorial wont in home-broils. “For my part, I never saw any good come of people putting their fingers into their neighbors’ pies!”
“Not even if those neighbors are the oldest friends they have in the world?” he says, gently, yet eying with some wonder—perhaps apprehension, for odd things frighten men—the small scarlet scold who stands swelling with ruffled feathers, and angry eyes, winking to keep the tears out of them, before him.
“I thought father was the oldest friend you had in the world!” say I, with a jealous tartness; “you always used to tell us so.”