“Said what, my darling?”
“That you are glad that Fanny is going abroad.”
“Nonsense! Why should I be glad?”
“Are you sorry, then?”
If I had but followed my impulse then, and said frankly that I was, and why I was! But Mrs. Sloman was coming through the little hall: I heard her step. Small time for explanation, no time for reproaches. And I could not leave Bessie, on that morning of all others, hurt or angry, or only half convinced.
“No, I am not sorry,” I said, pulling down a branch of honeysuckle, and making a loop of it to draw around her neck. “It is nothing, either way.”
“Then say after me if it is nothing—feel as I feel for one minute, won’t you?”
“Say, after me, then, word for word, ’I am glad, very glad, that Fanny Meyrick is to sail in October. I would not have her stay on this side for worlds!”
And like a fool, a baby, I said it, word for word, from those sweet smiling lips: “I am glad, very glad, that Fanny Meyrick is to sail in October. I would not have her stay on this side for worlds!”
The next day was Sunday, and I was on duty at an early hour, prepared to walk with Bessie to church. My darling was peculiar among women in this: her church-going dress was sober-suited; like a little gray nun, almost, she came down to me that morning. Her dress, of some soft gray stuff, fell around her in the simplest folds, a knot of brown ribbon at her throat, and in her hat a gray gull’s wing.
I had praised the Italian women for the simplicity of their church-attire: their black dresses and lace veils make a picturesque contrast with the gorgeous ceremonials of the high altar. But there was something in this quiet toilet, so fresh and simple and girl-like, that struck me as the one touch of grace that the American woman can give to the best even of foreign taste. Not the dramatic abnegation indicated by the black dress, but the quiet harmony of a life atune.
Mrs. Sloman was ready even before Bessie came down. She was a great invalid, although her prim and rigid countenance forbore any expression save of severity. She had no pathos about her, not a touch. Whatever her bodily sufferings may have been—and Bessie dimly hinted that they were severe to agony at times—they were resolutely shut within her chamber door; and when she came out in the early morning, her cold brown hair drawn smoothly over those impassive cheeks, she looked like a lady abbess—as cold, as unyielding and as hard.
There was small sympathy between the aunt and niece, but a great deal of painstaking duty on the one side, and on the other the habit of affection which young girls have for the faces they have always known.