“What did you want it for?” cry I, curiously, pricking my ears, and for a moment forgetting my private troubles in the hope of a forthcoming anecdote.
“Ah! would not you like to know?” he says, playfully, but he does not explain: instead, he goes on: “Even granting that it is so, do you think it would be very manly to let a fine estate run to ruin, because one was too lazy to look after it? Do you think it would be quite honest— quite fair to those that will come after us?”
“Those that will come after us!” cry I, scornfully, making a face for the third and last time this morning. “And who are they, pray? Some sixteenth cousin of yours, I suppose?”
“Nancy,” he says, gravely, but in a tone whose gentleness takes all harshness from the words, “you are talking nonsense, and you know as well as I do that you are!”
Then I know that I may as well be silent. After a pause:
“And when,” say I, in as lamentable a voice as King Darius sent down among the lions in search of Daniel—“how soon, I mean, are we to set off?”
“We!” he cries, a sudden light springing into his eyes, and an accent of keen pleasure into his voice. “Do you mean to say that you thought of coming too?”
I look up in surprise.
“Do not wives generally go with their husbands?”
“But would you like to come?” he asks, seizing my hands, and pressing them with such unconscious eagerness, that my wedding-ring makes a red print in its neighborfinger.
O friends, I wish to Heaven that I had told a lie! It would have been, I am sure, one of the cases in which a lie would have been justifiable— nay, praiseworthy, too. But, standing there, under the truth of his eyes, I have to be true, too.
“Like!” say I, evasively, casting down my eyes, and fiddling uneasily with one of the buttons of his coat, “it is hardly a question of ‘like,’ is it? I do not imagine that you like it much yourself?—one cannot always be thinking of what one likes.”
The pressure of his fingers on mine slackens; and, though, thanks to my wedding-ring, it was painful, I am sorry. After a minute:
“But you have not,” say I, trying to speak in a tone of light and airy cheerfulness, “answered my question yet—how soon we must set off? You know what a woman always thinks of first—her clothes, and I must be seeing to my packing.”
“The sooner the better,” he answers, with a preoccupied look. “Not later than ten days hence!”
Again my jaw falls. He has altogether loosed my hands now, and resumed his walk. I sit down by the table, lean my elbows on it, and push my fingers through my hair in most dejected musing. Polly has been dressing himself; turning his head over his shoulder, and arranging his feathers with his aquiline nose. He has finished now, and has just given vent, in a matter-of-fact, unemotional voice, to an awful oath! There is the sound of brisk feet on the sunny gravel outside. Bobby’s face looks in at the window—broad, sunburnt, and laughing.