The evening after the funeral, while the Marches sat together talking it over, and making approaches, through its shadow, to the question of their own future, which it involved, they were startled by the twitter of the electric bell at their apartment door. It was really not so late as the children’s having gone to bed made it seem; but at nine o’clock it was too late for any probable visitor except Fulkerson. It might be he, and March was glad to postpone the impending question to his curiosity concerning the immediate business Fulkerson might have with him. He went himself to the door, and confronted there a lady deeply veiled in black and attended by a very decorous serving-woman.
“Are you alone, Mr. March—you and Mrs. March?” asked the lady, behind her veil; and, as he hesitated, she said: “You don’t know me! Miss Vance”; and she threw back her veil, showing her face wan and agitated in the dark folds. “I am very anxious to see you—to speak with you both. May I come in?”
“Why, certainly, Miss Vance,” he answered, still too much stupefied by her presence to realize it.
She promptly entered, and saying, with a glance at the hall chair by the door, “My maid can sit here?” followed him to the room where he had left his wife.
Mrs. March showed herself more capable of coping with the fact. She welcomed Miss Vance with the liking they both felt for the girl, and with the sympathy which her troubled face inspired.
“I won’t tire you with excuses for coming, Mrs. March,” she said, “for it was the only thing left for me to do; and I come at my aunt’s suggestion.” She added this as if it would help to account for her more on the conventional plane, and she had the instinctive good taste to address herself throughout to Mrs. March as much as possible, though what she had to say was mainly for March. “I don’t know how to begin—I don’t know how to speak of this terrible affair. But you know what I mean. I feel as if I had lived a whole lifetime since it happened. I don’t want you to pity me for it,” she said, forestalling a politeness from Mrs. March. “I’m the last one to be thought of, and you mustn’t mind me if I try to make you. I came to find out all of the truth that I can, and when I know just what that is I shall know what to do. I have read the inquest; it’s all burned into my brain. But I don’t care for that—for myself: you must let me say such things without minding me. I know that your husband—that Mr. March was there; I read his testimony; and I wished to ask him—to ask him—” She stopped and looked distractedly about. “But what folly! He must have said everything he knew—he had to.” Her eyes wandered to him from his wife, on whom she had kept them with instinctive tact.