“Didn’t know but I could help you do youa dressin’,” she began, and then at sight of the dim figure she broke off: “Why, Clem! What’s the matte? Ah’ you asleep? Ah’ you sick? It’s half an hour of the time and”—
“I’m not going,” Clementina answered, and she did not move.
“Not goin’! Why the land o’—”
“Oh, I can’t go, Mrs. Atwell. Don’t ask me! Tell Mrs. Milray, please!”
“I will, when I got something to tell,” said Mrs. Atwell. “Now, you just say what’s happened, Clementina Claxon! “Clementina suffered the woful truth to be drawn from her. “But you don’t know whether it’s so or not,” the landlady protested.
“Yes, yes, I do! It was the fast thing I thought of, and the chef wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t believe it.”
“That’s just what he would done,” cried Mrs. Atwell. “And I’ll give him such a goin’ ova, for his teasin’, as he ain’t had in one while. He just said it to tease. What you goin’ to say to Mrs. Milray?”
“Oh, tell her I’m not a bit well, Mrs. Atwell! My head does ache, truly.”
“Why, listen,” said Mrs. Atwell, recklessly. “If you believe he done it —and he no business to—why don’t you just go to the dance, in ’em, and then give ’em back to him after it’s ova? It would suv him right.”
Clementina listened for a moment of temptation, and then shook her head. “It wouldn’t do, Mrs. Atwell; you know it wouldn’t,” she said, and Mrs. Atwell had too little faith in her suggestion to make it prevail. She went away to carry Clementina’s message to Mrs. Milray, and her task was greatly eased by the increasing difficulty Mrs. Milray had begun to find, since the way was perfectly smoothed for her, in imagining the management of Clementina at the dance: neither child nor woman, neither servant nor lady, how was she to be carried successfully through it, without sorrow to herself or offence to others? In proportion to the relief she felt, Mrs. Milray protested her irreconcilable grief; but when the simpler Mrs. Atwell proposed her going and reasoning with Clementina, she said, No, no; better let her alone, if she felt as she did; and perhaps after all she was right.
Clementina listened to the music of the dance, till the last note was played; and she heard the gay shouts and laughter of the dancers as they issued from the ball room and began to disperse about the halls and verandas, and presently to call good night to one another. Then she lighted her lamp, and put the slippers back into the box and wrapped it up in the nice paper it had come in, and tied it with the notched ribbon. She thought how she had meant to put the slippers away so, after the dance, when she had danced her fill in them, and how differently she was doing it all now. She wrote the clerk’s .name on the parcel, and then she took the box, and descended to the office with it. There seemed to be nobody there, but at the noise of her step Fane came round the case of letter-boxes, and advanced to meet her at the long desk.