The ladies finished their tea, and the butler came and took the cups away. Miss Lynde remained silent in her chair at her end of the library-table, and by-and-by Bessie got a book and began to read. When her aunt woke up it was half past nine. “Was that Alan coming in?” she asked.
“I don’t think he’s been out,” said the girl. “It isn’t late enough for him to come in—or early enough.”
“I believe I’ll go to bed,” Miss Lynde returned. “I feel rather drowsy.”
Bessie did not smile at a comedy which was apt to be repeated every evening that she and her aunt spent at home together; they parted for the night with the decencies of family affection, and Bessie delivered the elder lady over to her maid. Then the girl sank down again, and lay musing in her deep chair before the fire with her book shut on her thumb. She looked rather old and worn in her reverie; her face lost the air of gay banter which, after the beauty of her queer eyes and her vivid mouth, was its charm. The eyes were rather dull now, and the mouth was a little withered.
She was waiting for her brother to come down, as he was apt to do if he was in the house, after their aunt went to bed, to smoke a cigar in the library. He was in his house shoes when he shuffled into the room, but her ear had detected his presence before a hiccough announced it. She did not look up, but let him make several failures to light his cigar, and damn the matches under his breath, before she pushed the drop-light to him in silent suggestion. As he leaned over her chair-back to reach its chimney with his cigar in his mouth, she said, “You’re all right, Alan.”
He waited till he got round to his aunt’s easy-chair and dropped into it before he answered, “So are you, Bess.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” said the girl, “as I should be if you were still scolding me. I knew that he was a jay, well enough, and I’d just seen him behaving very like a cad to Mrs. Bevidge.”
“Then I don’t understand how you came to be with him.”
“Oh yes, you do, Alan. You mustn’t be logical! You might as well say you can’t understand how you came to be more serious than sober.” The brother laughed helplessly. “It was the excitement.”
“But you can’t give way to that sort of thing, Bess,” said her brother, with the gravity of a man feeling the consequences of his own errors.
“I know I can’t, but I do,” she returned. “I know it’s bad for me, if it isn’t for other people. Come! I’ll swear off if you will!”