“Yes!” say I, beginning to laugh violently, but quite uncomfortably; “are you surprised? you know I always told you that if you half shut your eyes, and looked at me from a great way off, I really was not so bad-looking.”
“You have distanced the Begums!” cries the young fellow, joining in my mirth, but with a good deal more enjoyment than I can boast.
“So I have!” I answer; and my sense of the ludicrous overcoming all other considerations, I begin to giggle with a good-will.
“Let us look at you, Nancy!” says the Brat, taking hold of me by both arms, and bringing the minute impertinence of his face into close neighborhood to mine. “I begin to think that there must be more in you than we have yet discovered! we never looked upon you as one of our most favorable specimens, did we?”
“Do not you remember old Aunt Williams?” reply I, merrily; “how she used to say I was not pretty, my dears, but I was a pleasant little devil!’ perhaps I am a pleasant little devil!”
“Poor—dear—old fellow!” says Barbara, in an accent of the profoundest, delicatest, womanliest pity, “how sorry I am for him! Nancy, how will you break it to him most kindly? I am afraid he will be sadly hurt! will you speak to him, or do it by letter?”
Barbara has risen. We are all standing up, more or less; it is impossible to sit through such news; Barbara’s garden-hat is in her hand. The warm and mellow sun that is making Africa’s dreary expanse in the map on the wall, one broad fine sheet, is enkindling, too, the silk of her hair, the flower-petals of her cheeks, the blue compassion of her eyes. My pretty, tall Barbara! Let them say what they like, I am sure that somewhere—somewhere—you are pretty now!
“If you write,” says Algy, still laughing, but with more moderation, “I should advise you to depute me to make a fair copy of the letter; else, from the extreme ambiguity of your handwriting, he will most likely mistake your drift, and imagine that you are saying yes.”
“How do you know that I am not going to say yes?” I ask, abruptly.
Rivers of additional scarlet are racing to my cheeks, over my forehead— in among the roots of my hair—all around and about my throat, but I stand, looking the assembled multitude full in the face, fairly, well, and boldly.
“Listen!” I continue, holding up my right hand in deprecation, “let me speak!—do not interrupt me!—Bobby, I know that he was at school with father—Algy, I know that he is forty-seven—all of you, I know that his hair is gray, and that there are crows’-feet about his eyes—but still— but still—”
“Do you mean to say that you are in love with him?” breaks in Bobby, impressively.
Instances of enamored humanity have been rare in Bobby’s experience. With the exception of Toothless Jack, he has never had a near and familiar view of an authentic specimen. I therefore see him now regarding me with a reverent interest, not unmixed with awe.