“I wish I could; I wish I could. Oh, Auntie, Auntie!”
He caught hold of her hand, which she had laid upon his head, looked up a minute into her kind, fond face, and burst into a flood of boyish tears.
Evidently his troubles had been too much for him; he was in a state of great excitement. For some minutes his sobs were almost hysterical: then by a struggle he recovered him-self, seemed exceedingly annoyed and ashamed, took up his candle, bade them a hurried goodnight, and went to bed.
That is, he went to his room; but they heard him moving about overhead for a long while after: nor were they surprised that he refused to rise next morning, but lay most of the time with his door locked, until late in the afternoon, when he went out for a long walk, and did not return till supper, which he ate almost in silence. Then, after going up to his room, and coming down again, complaining bitterly how very cold it was, he crept in to the fireside with a book in his hand, of which Hilary noticed he scarcely read a line.
His aunts said nothing to him; they had determined not: they felt that further interference would be not only useless but dangerous.
“He will come to himself by-and by; his moods, good or bad, never last long, you know,” said Hilary, somewhat bitterly. “But, in the mean time, I think we had better just do as he says—let him alone.”
And in that sad, hopeless state they passed the last hours of that dreary Sunday—afraid either to comfort him or reason with him; afraid, above all, to blame him lest it might drive him altogether astray. That he was in a state of great misery, halt sullen, half defiant, they saw, and were scarcely surprised at it; it was very hard not to be able to open their loving hearts to him, as those of one family should always do, making every trouble a common care, and every joy a universal blessing. But in his present state of mind—the sudden obstinacy of a weak nature conscious of its weakness, and dreading control—it seemed impossible either to break upon his silence or to force his confidence.
They might have been right in this, or wrong; afterward Hilary thought the latter. Many a time she wished and wished, with a bitter regret, that instead of the quiet “Good night, Ascott!” and the one rather cold kiss on his forehead, she had flung her arms round his neck, and insisted on his telling out his whole mind to her, his nearest kinswoman, who had been half aunt and half sister to him all his life. But it was not done: she parted from him, as she did Sunday after Sunday, with a sore sick feeling of how much he might be to her, to them all, and how little he really was.
If this silence of hers was a mistake—one of those mistakes which sensitive people sometimes make—it was, like all similar errors, only too sorrowfully remembered and atoned for.