“Yes! with pleasure! when you like!” I answer heartily, and I neither mumble nor stutter, nor do I feel any disposition to drop my eyes. I like to look at him. For the rest of dinner I am absolutely mute, I make only one other remark, and that is a request to one of the footmen to give me some water. The evening passes. It is but a short one—at least, as regards the company of the gentlemen, for they sit late; father’s port, I am told, not being to be lightly left for any female frippery. I retire to the school-room, and regale my brethren with lively representations of father’s unexampled benignity. I also resume with Algy the argument about tongs, at the very point where I had dropped it. It lasts till prayer-time; and its monotony is relieved by personalities. The devil in the boys is fairly quiescent to-night, and our evening devotions pass over with tolerable peace; the only contretemps being that the Brat, having fallen asleep, remains on his knees when “Amen” raises the rest of the company from theirs, and has to be privily and heavily kicked to save him from discovery and ruin. Having administered the regulation embrace to father, and heartily kissed mother—not but what I shall see her again; she always comes, as she came when we were little, to kiss us in bed—I turn to find Sir Roger holding open the swing-door for us.
“Are you quite sure about it to-night?” I, say, stretching out my hand to him to bid him good-night. “Ours on the right—yours on the left —do you see?”
“Yours on the right—mine on the left,” he repeats. “Yes—I see—I shall make no more mistakes—unless I make one on purpose.”
“Do not come without telling us beforehand!” I cry, earnestly. “I mean really: if you hold a vague threat of paying us a visit over our heads, you will keep us in a state of unnatural tidiness for days.”
I make a move toward retiring, but he still has hold of my hand.
“And about our walk?”
The others—boys and girls—have passed us: the servants have melted out of sight; so has mother; father is speaking to the butler in the passage—we are alone.
“Yes? what about it?” I ask, my eyes calmly resting on his.
“You will not forget it?”
“Not I!” reply I, lightly. “I want to hear the end of the anecdote about father’s nose! I cannot get over the idea of him in a stiff white petticoat: I thought of it at dinner, whenever I looked at him!”
At the mention of father, his face falls a little.
“Nancy,” he says, abruptly, taking possession of my other hand also, “why did you answer your father so shortly to-day? Why did you look so scared when he tried to joke with you?”
“Ah, why?” reply I, laughing awkwardly.
“You are not afraid of him, surely?”
“Oh, no—not at all!”
“Why do you speak in that sneering voice? It is not your own voice; I have known you only twenty-four hours, and yet I can tell that.”