I get up and look at myself in the glass. Assuredly I shall have to take some severe measures with my countenance before it falls under my sister’s gaze. Small sympathy and smaller joy is there in it now—it wears only a lantern-jawed, lack-lustre despondency. I practise a galvanized smile, and say out loud, as if in dialogue with some interlocutor:
“Yes, delightful!—I am so pleased!” but there is more mirth in the enforced grin of an unfleshed skull than in mine.
That will never take in Barbara. I try again—once, twice—each time with less prosperity than the last. Then I give it up. I must trust to Providence.
As the time for her coming draws nigh, I fall to thinking of the different occasions since my marriage, on which I have watched for expected comings from this window—have searched that bend in the drive with impatient eyes—and of the disappointment to which, on the two occasions that rise most prominently before my mind’s eye, I became a prey.
Well, I am to be subject to no disappointment—if it would be a disappointment—to-day.
Almost before I expect her—almost before she is due—she is here in the room with me, and we are looking at one another. I, indeed, am staring at her with a black and stupid surprise.
“Good Heavens!” say I, bluntly; “what have you been doing to yourself? how happy you look!”
I have always known theoretically that happiness was becoming; and I have always thought Barbara most fair.
“Fairer than Rachel by the palmy
Fairer than Ruth among the fields of corn,
Fair as the angel that said, ‘Hail!’ she seemed,”
but now_, what a lovely brightness, like that of clouds remembering the gone sun, shines all about her! What a radiant laughter in her eyes! What a splendid carnation on her cheeks! (How glad I am that I did not tell!)
“Do I?” she says, softly, and hiding her face, with the action of a shy child, on my shoulders. “I dare say.”
“Good Heavens!” repeat I, again, with more accentuation than before, and with my usual happy command and variety of ejaculation.
“And you?” she says, lifting her face, and speaking with a joyful confidence of anticipation in her innocent eyes, “and you? you are pleased too, are not you?”
“Of course,” reply I, quickly calling to my aid the galvanized smile and the unnatural tone in which I have been perfecting myself all the forenoon, “delighted! I never was so pleased in my life. I told you so in my letters, did not I?”
A look of nameless disappointment crosses her features for a moment.
“Yes,” she says, “I know! but I want you to tell me again. I thought that you—would have such a—such a great deal to say about it.”
“So I have!” reply I, uncomfortably, fiddling uneasily with a paper-knife that I have picked up, and trying how much ill-usage it will bear without snapping, “an immensity! but you see it is—it is difficult to begin, is not it? and you know I never was good at expressing myself, was I?”