During the drive home we none of us hardly speak. Roger and I are gloomily silent, Barbara sympathetically so. Barbara has the happiest knack of being in tune with every mood; she never jostles with untimely mirth against any sadness. I think she sees that my wounds are yet too fresh and raw to bear the gentlest handling, so she only pours upon them the balm of her tender silence. There is none of the recognized and allowed selfishness of a betrothed pair about Barbara. Sometimes I almost forget that she is engaged, so little does she ever bring herself into the foreground; and yet, if it were not for us, I think that to-day she could well find in her heart to be mirthful.
After all is said and done, I still love Barbara. However much the rest of my life has turned to Dead Sea apples, I still love Barbara; and, what is more, I shall always love her now. Is not she to live at only a stone’s-throw from me? I do not think that I am of a very gushing nature generally, but as I think these thoughts I take hold of her slight hand, and give it a long squeeze. Somehow the action consoles me.
Two more days pass. It is morning again, and I am sitting in my boudoir, doing nothing (I never seem to myself to do any thing now), and listlessly thinking how yellow the great horse-chestnut in the garden is turning, and how kindly and becomingly Death handles all leaves and flowers, so different from the bitter spite with which he makes havoc of us, when Roger enters. It surprises me, as it is the first time that he has done it since our return.
We are on the formalest terms now; perhaps so best; and, if we have to address each other, do it in the shortest little icy phrases. When we are obliged to meet, as at dinner, etc., we both talk resolutely to Barbara. He does not look icy now; disturbed rather, and anxious. He has an open note in his hand.
“Nancy,” he says, coming quickly up to me, “did you know that Algy was at Laurel Cottage?”.
“Not I!” I answer, tartly. “He does not favor me with his plans; tiresome boy. He is more bother than he is worth.”
“Hush!” he says, hastily yet gently. “Do not say any thing against him; you will be sorry if you do. He is ill”
“Ill!” repeat I, in a tone of consternation, for among us it is a new word, and its novelty is awful. “What is the matter with him?”
Then, without waiting for an answer, I snatch the note from his hand. I do not know to this day whether he meant me to read it or not, but I think he did, and glance hastily through it. I am well into it before I realize that it is from my rival.
“MY DEAR ROGER