“Do you recollect?”
“Do you remember?”
“Have you forgotten?”
Clearly, they have fallen upon old times. I wish—I dearly wish—that I might bite a piece out of somebody.
“I saw pale kings, and princes,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all,
They cried, ‘La Belle Dame, sans merci,’
Hath thee in thrall.”
The long penance of dinner is over at last, thank God! I may intermit my hopeless roarings, melancholy as those of any caged zoological beast. Roger and Zephine must also fain suspend their reminiscences. There being no lady of the house, I have taken upon myself to hasten the date of our departure. Before Mrs. Zephine has finished her last grape, I have swept her incontinently away into the drawing-room. But I might as well have let it alone: almost before you could say “Knife” they are after us. I suppose that when three are eager to come, and only two anxious to stay—(I acquit my old friend and his nephew of any over-hurry to rejoin us)—the three must needs get their way. Anyhow, here they all five are! I am so hot! so hot! Nothing heats one like bellowing and being miserable and a failure. I have again taken advantage of the mistressless condition of the establishment, have drawn back the window-curtains, and lifted the heavy sash. The night always soothes me. There is something so stilling in the far placidity of the high stars—in the sweet sharpness of the night winds. I have sat down on a couch in the embrasure, alone.
When the men come in, I remain alone. It does not at all surprise or much vex me. I have nothing pleasant to say to any one. Also, I think I must be almost hidden by the droop of the curtains. Roger, indeed, sent his eyes round the room on his first entry, as if searching for something or somebody. It cannot be Mrs. Huntley, who is right under his nose, and who is, indeed, saying something playful to him over the top of her black fan. For once, he does not hear her. He is still looking. Then he catches a glimpse of my skirts, and comes straight toward me. Thank God! it was me he was looking for. I feel a little throb of disused gladness, as I realize this.
“Are not you cold?” he says, perceiving the open window.
“Not I!” reply I, brusquely—“naught never comes to harm.”
“I wish you would have a shawl!” he says, as the evening wind comes, with the tartness of autumn, to his face.
“Why do not you say, ‘do, for my sake!’ as Algy once said to me, when he mistook me in the dark for Mrs. Huntley?” reply I, with a mocking laugh—“I am not sure that he did not add darling, but I will excuse that!”
At the mention of Algy, a shade crosses his face, and his eye travels to where, in the dignified solitude of a corner, my eldest brother is sitting, biting his lips, and reading “Alice Through the Looking-glass,” upside down.