Although I had sent word that I was coming home, there was no one to welcome me when I arrived.
Aunt Bridget was out shopping, and Betsy Beauty (in the sulks with me, as I afterwards heard, for not asking her to the house-party) had run upstairs on hearing our horn, so I went direct to my father’s room.
Nessy MacLeod answered my knock, but instead of opening the door to let me in, she slid out like a cat and closed it behind her. Never had her ungainly figure, her irregular features, and her red head seemed to me so repugnant. I saw at once that she was giving herself the airs of housekeeper, and I noticed that she was wearing the bunch of keys which used to dangle from Aunt Bridget’s waist when I was a child.
“Your father is ill,” she said.
I told her I knew that, and it was one of the reasons I was there.
“Seriously ill,” she said, standing with her back to the door. “The doctor says he is to be kept perfectly quiet.”
Indignant at the effrontery of the woman who was trying to keep me out of my father’s room, I said:
“Let me pass, please.”
“S’sh! He has a temperature, and I don’t choose that anybody shall disturb him to-day.”
“Let me pass,” I repeated, and I must have pitched my voice so high that my father heard it.
“Is that Mary?” came from the other side of the door, whereupon Nessy beat a retreat, and at the next moment I was in my father’s room.
His massive and powerful head was propped up with pillows in the camp-bed which was all he ever slept on, and he was looking so ill and changed in so short a time that I was shocked, as well as ashamed at the selfishness of having thought only of myself all the morning.
But he would listen to no sympathy, protesting there was little or nothing the matter with him, that “Conrad was croaking about cancer,” but the doctor was a fool.
“What about yourself, though?” he said. “Great doings at the Castle, they’re telling me.”
I thought this a favourable opportunity to speak about my own affairs, so I began on my story again, and though I found it harder to tell now that my listener was my father, I struggled on and on, as well as I could for the emotion that was choking me.
I thought he would pity me. I expected him to be angry. Although he was showing me some of the contemptuous tenderness which he had always assumed towards my mother, yet I was his daughter, and I felt sure that he would want to leap out of bed that he might take my husband by the throat and shake him as a terrier shakes a rat. But what happened was something quite different.
Hardly had I begun when he burst out laughing.
“God bless my soul,” he cried, “you’re never going to lose your stomach over a thing like that?”
I thought he had not understood me, so I tried to speak plainer.