“And then?” said I, after a pause.
“Then Peter went to sea again; and, by-and-by, my father died, blessing us both, and thanking Deborah for all she had been to him; and, of course, our circumstances were changed; and, instead of living at the rectory, and keeping three maids and a man, we had to come to this small house, and be content with a servant-of-all-work; but, as Deborah used to say, we have always lived genteelly, even if circumstances have compelled us to simplicity. Poor Deborah!”
“And Mr Peter?” asked I.
“Oh, there was some great war in India—I forget what they call it--and we have never heard of Peter since then. I believe he is dead myself; and it sometimes fidgets me that we have never put on mourning for him. And then again, when I sit by myself, and all the house is still, I think I hear his step coming up the street, and my heart begins to flutter and beat; but the sound always goes past—and Peter never comes.
“That’s Martha back? No! I’ll go, my dear; I can always find my way in the dark, you know. And a blow of fresh air at the door will do my head good, and it’s rather got a trick of aching.”
So she pattered off. I had lighted the candle, to give the room a cheerful appearance against her return.
“Was it Martha?” asked I.
“Yes. And I am rather uncomfortable, for I heard such a strange noise, just as I was opening the door.”
“Where?’ I asked, for her eyes were round with affright.
“In the street—just outside—it sounded like” —
“Talking?” I put in, as she hesitated a little.
“No! kissing” —
One morning, as Miss Matty and I sat at our work—it was before twelve o’clock, and Miss Matty had not changed the cap with yellow ribbons that had been Miss Jenkyns’s best, and which Miss Matty was now wearing out in private, putting on the one made in imitation of Mrs Jamieson’s at all times when she expected to be seen—Martha came up, and asked if Miss Betty Barker might speak to her mistress. Miss Matty assented, and quickly disappeared to change the yellow ribbons, while Miss Barker came upstairs; but, as she had forgotten her spectacles, and was rather flurried by the unusual time of the visit, I was not surprised to see her return with one cap on the top of the other. She was quite unconscious of it herself, and looked at us, with bland satisfaction. Nor do I think Miss Barker perceived it; for, putting aside the little circumstance that she was not so young as she had been, she was very much absorbed in her errand, which she delivered herself of with an oppressive modesty that found vent in endless apologies.