There was a start, a rush of blood to the head and face, and then he reflected how impossible it was that she should be there, in New York, and at the opera, too.
The shawl arranged, Aunt Betsy took her seat and turned her face fully toward him, while Wilford seized Katy’s glass and leveled it at her. He was not mistaken. It was Aunt Betsy Barlow, and Wilford felt the perspiration oozing out beneath his hair and about his lips, as he remembered the letter he had burned, wishing now that he had answered it, and so, perhaps, have kept her from his door. For she was coming there, nay, possibly had come, since his departure from home, and learning his whereabouts, had followed on to the Academy of Music, leaving her baggage where he should stumble over it on entering the hall.
Such was the fearful picture conjured up by Wilford’s imagination, as he stood watching poor Aunt Betsy, a dark cloud on his brow and fierce anger at his heart, that she should thus presume to worry and annoy him.
“If she spies us she will be finding her way up here; there’s no piece of effrontery of which that class is not capable,” he thought, wondering next who the vulgar-looking girl and gauche youth were who were with her.
“Country cousins, of whom I have never heard, no doubt,” and he ground his teeth together as with his next breath he suggested going home, carrying out his suggestion and hurrying both Helen and Katy to the carriage as if some horrible dragon had been on their track.
There was no baggage in the hall, there had been no woman there, and Wilford’s fears for a time subsided, but growing strong again about the time he knew the opera was out, while the sound of wheels coming toward his door was sufficient to make his heart stop beating and every hair prickle at its roots.
But Aunt Betsy did not come except in Wilford’s dreams, which she haunted the entire night, so that the morning found him tired, moody, and cross. That day they entertained a select dinner party, and as this was something in which Katy rather excelled, while Helen’s presence, instead of detracting from, would add greatly to the eclat of the affair, Wilford had anticipated it with no small degree of complacency. But now, alas! there was a phantom at his side—a skeleton of horror, wearing Aunt Betsy’s guise; and if it had been possible he would have given the dinner up. But it was too late for that; the guests were bidden, the arrangements made, and there was nothing now for him but to abide the consequences.
“She shall at least stay in her room, if I have to lock her in,” he thought, as he went down to his office without even kissing Katy or bidding her good-by.
But business that day had no interest for him, and in a listless, absent way he sat watching the passers-by and glancing at his door as if he expected the first assault to be made there. Then as the day wore on, and he felt sure that what he so much dreaded had really come to pass, that the baggage expected last night had certainly arrived by this time and spread itself over his house, he could endure the suspense no longer, and startled Mark with the announcement that he was going home, and should not return again that day.