We have sat down. I am not facing her. With a complexion that serves one such ill turns as mine does, one is not over-fond of facing people. I am beside her. For a moment we are both silent.
“Well,” say I, presently, with an unintentional tartness in my tone, “why do not you begin? I am waiting to hear all about it! Begin!”
So Barbara begins.
“I am afraid,” she says, smiling all the while, but growing as red as the bunch of late roses in my breast, “that I looked horribly pleased! One ought to look as if one did not care, ought not one?”
“Ought one?” say I, with interest, then beginning to laugh vociferously. “At least you were not as bad as the old maid who late in life received a very wealthy offer, and was so much elated by it that she took off all her clothes, and kicked her bonnet round the room!”
“No, I was not quite so bad as that.”
“And how did he do it?” pursue I, inquisitively. “Did he write or speak”
“And what did he say? How did he word it? Ah!”—(with a sigh)—“I suppose you will not tell me that?”
She has abandoned her chair, and has fallen on her knees before me, hiding her face in my lap. Delicious waves of color, like the petals of a pink sweet-pea, are racing over her cheeks and throat.
“Was ever any one known to tell it?” she says, indistinctly.
“Yes,” reply I, “I was. I told you what Roger said, word for word—all of you!”
“Did you?”—(with an accent of astonished incredulity).
“Yes,” say I, “do not you remember? I promised I would before I went into the drawing-room that day, and, when I came out, I wanted the boys to let me off, but they would not.”
“I wish,” say I, a little impatiently, “that you would look up! Why need you mind if you are rather red? What do I matter? and so—and so— you are pleased!”
She has raised her head as I bid her, and on her face there is a sort of scorn at the poverty and inadequacy of the expression, and yet she replaces it with no other; only the sapphire of her eyes is dimmed and made more tender by rising tears.
Clearly we were never meant to be joyful, we humans! In any bliss greater than our wont, we can only hang out, to demonstrate our felicity, the sign and standard of woe.
“Nancy!”—(taking my hand, and looking at me with wistful earnestness)— “do you think it can last? Did ever any one feel as I do for long?”
“I do not know—how can I tell?” reply I, discomfortably, as I absently eye the two halves of my paper-knife, which, after having given one or two warning cracks, has now snapped in the middle. Then Roger enters, and our talk ends.