“If you please, father,” say I, in a very small and starved voice, “it is not the boys’, it is mine.”
“Yours, is it?” with a sudden change of tone, and return to amenity. “Oh, all right!” (Then, with a little accent of sudden jocosity)—“One of your foreign purchases, eh?”
We sit round the snowy table, in the pleasant light of the shaded lamps, eating chicken-salad, and abasing and rifling the great red pyramids of strawberries and raspberries, but talking not much. We young ones never can talk out loud before father. He has never heard our voices raised much above a whisper. I do not think he has an idea what fine, loud, Billingsgate voices his children really have. He has said grace—we always have a longer, gratefuller grace than usual on Sundays—and has risen to go.
“Now for it!” cries Bobby, wildly excited, and giving me an awful dig in the ribs with his elbow.
“Shall I get it?” asks the general, in an encouraging whisper. “Cheer up, Nancy! do not look so white! it is all right.”
He rises and fetches it, slips it quickly out of its coverings, and puts it into my hand. Father has reached the door, I run after him.
“Father!” cry I, in a choked and trembling voice. “Stop!”
He turns with the handle in his grasp, and looks at me in some surprise.
“Father!” cry I, beginning again, and holding my gift out nervously toward him, “here’s—here’s—here’s a bag!”
This is my address of presentation. I hear the boys tittering at the table behind me—a sound which, telling me how ill I am speeding, makes my confusion tenfold worse. I murmur, helplessly and indistinctly, something about his never traveling, and my knowing that fact—and having been always sure that he would hate it—and then I glance helplessly round with a wild idea of flight. But at the same moment an arm of friendly strength comes round my shoulders—a friendly voice sounds in my buzzing ears.
“James,” it says, simply and directly, “she has brought you a present, and she is afraid that you will not care about it.”
“A present!” echoes my father, the meaning of the inexplicable object which has suddenly been thrust into his grasp beginning to dawn upon him. “Oh, I see! I am sure, my dear Nancy”—with a sort of embarrassed stiffness that yet means to be gracious—“that I am extremely obliged to you, extremely; and though I regret that you should have wasted your money on me—yet—yet—I assure you, I shall always prize it very highly.”
Then he goes out rather hastily. I return to the supper-table.
“Shake hands!” cries Algy, pouring me out a glass of claret. “Now, perhaps, you have some faint idea of what I felt when I had to return thanks for the bridesmaids.”
“Nancy!” cries Bobby, holding out the fruit to which he alludes, and speaking in a wobbly, quivering voice, with a painfully literal imitation of my late address, “here’s—here’s—here’s a peach!”