“That was very good of you. And I—thank you for your kindness to my brother. I shall not forget it. And I wish to beg your pardon.”
“What for?” asked Jeff, bluntly.
“For blaming you when you didn’t come back for the dance.”
If Bessie had meant nothing but what was fitting to the moment some inherent lightness of nature played her false. But even the histrionic touch which she could not keep out of her voice, her manner, another sort of man might have found merely pathetic.
Jeff laughed with subtle intelligence. “Were you very hard on me?”
“Very,” she answered in kind, forgetting her brother and the whole terrible situation.
“Tell me what you thought of me,” he said, and he came a little nearer to her, looking very handsome and very strong. “I should like to know.”
“I said I should never speak to you again.”
“And you kept your word,” said Jeff. “Well, that’s all right. Good-night-or good-morning, whichever it is.” He took her hand, which she could not withdraw, or feigned to herself that she could not withdraw, and looked at her with a silent laugh, and a hardy, sceptical glance that she felt take in every detail of her prettiness, her plainness. Then he turned and went out, and she ran quickly and locked the door upon him.
Bessie crept up to her room, where she spent the rest of the night in her chair, amid a tumult of emotion which she would have called thinking. She asked herself the most searching questions, but she got no very candid answers to them, and she decided that she must see the whole fact with some other’s eyes before she could know what she had meant or what she had done.
When she let the daylight into her room, it showed her a face in her mirror that bore no trace of conflicting anxieties. Her complexion favored this effect of inward calm; it was always thick; and her eyes seemed to her all the brighter for their vigils.
A smile, even, hovered on her mouth as she sat down at the breakfast-table, in the pretty negligee she had worn all night, and poured out Miss Lynde’s coffee for her.
“That’s always very becoming to you, Bessie,” said her aunt. “It’s the nicest breakfast gown you have.”
“Do you think so?” Bessie looked down at it, first on one side and then on the other, as a woman always does when her dress is spoken of.
“Mr. Alan said he would have his breakfast in his room, miss,” murmured the butler, in husky respectfulness, as he returned to Bessie from carrying Miss Lynde’s cup to her. “He don’t want anything but a little toast and coffee.”
She perceived that the words were meant to make it easy for her to ask: “Isn’t he very well, Andrew?”
“About as usual, miss,” said Andrew, a thought more sepulchral than before. “He’s going on—about as usual.”