“Is she much changed since you saw her last?” pursue I presently, with infantile guilelessness; “was her hair red then? some people say it used to be black!”
I raise my eyes to his face as I put this gentle query, in order the better to trace its effect; but the concern that I see in his countenance is so very much greater than any that I had intended to have summoned that I have no sooner hurled my dart than I repent me of having done it.
“Nancy!” he says, putting one hand under my chin, and stroking my hair with the other—“am I going to have a backbiting wife? Child! child! there was neither hatred nor malice in the little girl I found sitting at the top of the wall.”
I do not answer.
“Nancy,” he says again, in a voice of most thorough earnestness, “I have a favor to ask of you—I know when I put it that way, that you will not say ‘No;’ if you do not mind, I had rather you did not abuse Zephine Huntley!—for the matter of that, I had rather you did not abuse any one—it does not pay, and there is no great fun in it; but Zephine specially not.”
“Why specially?” cry I, breathing short and speaking again with a quick, raised voice. “I know that it is a bad plan abusing people, you need not tell me that, I know it as well as you do, and I never did it at home, before I married, never!—none of them ever accused me of it —I was always quite good-natured about people, quite; but why she specially? why is she to be more sacred than any one else?”
“It is an old story,” he answers, passing his hand across his forehead with what looks to me like a rather weary gesture and sighing, “I do not know why I did not tell you before—did not I ever?—no, by-the-by, I remember I never did; well, I will tell you now, and then you will understand!”
“Do not!” cry I, passionately, putting my fingers in my ears, and growing scarlet, while the tears rush in mad haste to my eyes, for I imagine that I well know what is coming. “I do not want to hear! I had rather not! I hate old stories.” He looks at me in silent dismay. “I mean,” say I, seeing that some explanation is needed, “that I know all about it!—I have heard it already! I have been told it.”
“Been told it? By whom?”
“Never mind by whom!” reply I, removing my fingers from my ears, and covering with both hot hands my hotter face. “I have been told it! I have heard it, and, what is more, I will not hear it again!”
When I rose this morning, I did not think that I should have cried before night; indeed, nothing would have seemed to me so unlikely. Cry! on the day of Roger’s first back-coming! absurd! And yet now the morning is still quite young, and I have wept abundantly. I am always rather good at crying. Tears with me do not argue any very profound depth of affliction. My tears have always been somewhat near my eyes, a fact well known to the boys, whom my pearly drops always leave as stolid and unfeeling as they found them. But the case is different with Roger. Either he is ignorant, or he has forgotten the facility with which I weep, and his distress is proportioned to his ignorance.