Hereupon, Herbert resumed a confused breathing. Dazed, he remained uneasy, profoundly so: and gratitude was no part of his emotion. He well understood that in conflicts such as these Florence was never susceptible to impulses of compassion; in fact, if there was warfare between them, experience had taught him to be wariest when she seemed kindest. He moved away from her, and went into another room where his condition was one of increasing mental discomfort, though he looked over the pictures in his great-uncle’s copy of “Paradise Lost.” These illustrations, by M. Gustave Dore, failed to aid in reassuring his troubled mind.
When Florence left the house, he impulsively accompanied her, maintaining a nervous silence as they walked the short distance between Uncle Joseph’s front gate and her own. There, however, he spoke.
“Look here! You don’t haf to go and believe everything that ole girl told you, do you?”
“No,” said Florence heartily. “I don’t haf to.”
“Well, look here,” he urged, helpless but to repeat. “You don’t haf to believe whatever it was she went and told you, do you?”
“What was it you think she told me, Herbert?”
“All that guff—you know. Well, whatever it was you said she told you.”
“I didn’t,” said Florence. “I didn’t say she told me anything at all.”
“Well, she did, didn’t she?”
“Why, no,” Florence replied, lightly. “She didn’t say anything to me. Only I’m glad to have your opinion of her, how she’s such a story-teller and all—if I ever want to tell her, and everything!”
But Herbert had greater alarms than this, and the greater obscured the lesser. “Look here,” he said, “if she didn’t tell you, how’d you know it then?”
“How’d I know what?”
“That—that big story about my ever writin’ I knew I had”—he gulped again—“pretty eyes.”
“Oh, about that!” Florence said, and swung the gate shut between them. “Well, I guess it’s too late to tell you to-night, Herbert; but maybe if you and that nasty little Henry Rooter do every single thing I tell you to, and do it just exackly like I tell you from this time on, why maybe—I only say ’maybe’—well, maybe I’ll tell you some day when I feel like it.”
She ran up the path and up the veranda steps, but paused before opening the front door, and called back to the waiting Herbert:
“The only person I’d ever think of tellin’ about it before I tell you would be a boy I know.” She coughed, and added as by an afterthought, “He’d just love to know all about it; I know he would. So, when I tell anybody about it I’ll only tell just you and this other boy.”
“What other boy?” Herbert demanded.
And her reply, thrilling through the darkness, left him demoralized with horror.