“But Nancy herself had better see yo’,” Miss Augusta said disappearing. Bert waited, his heart thundering. Murmuring and tears came from some remote region. Then quietly and slowly Nancy, in new black, came in. And Bert knew that to the end of the world, as long as he should breathe, life would mean Nancy’s life to him; and the world was only Nancy.
They sat down on the slippery horsehair, and talked softly and quickly. Ticket—train—telegrams—the little money that was necessary—he advised her about them all. He called her “Nancy” to-day, for the first time. He remembered afterward that she had called him nothing. She went to get Mrs. Venable, after a while, and later Sis’ Sally Anne drew him aside and told him to make Nancy drink her good hot tea. She drank it, at his command. Clark Belknap came that evening; others came—all too late. Before the first of them, Bert had taken her to the train, had made her as comfortable as he could, had sat beside her, with her soft gloved hand tight in his, murmuring to her that she had so much to be thankful for—no pain, no illness, no real age. But she had left him, she said, her lip trembling and her eyes brimming again. He reminded her of her pretty, dependent step-mother, of the two little half-brothers who were just waiting for Nancy to come and straighten everything out.
“Yes—I’ve got to keep up for them!” she said, smiling bravely. And in a tense undertone she added, “You’re wonderful to me!”
“And will you have some supper—just to break the evening?”
“I had tea.” She leaned back, and shut her eyes. “I couldn’t— eat!” she whispered pitifully. His response was to put his clean, folded handkerchief into her hand, and at that she opened the wet eyes, and smiled at him shakily.
“Just some soup—or a salad,” he urged. “Will you promise me, Nancy?”
“I promise you I’ll try,” she said in parting.
Walking home with his head in a whirl, Bert said to himself: “This is the second of October. I’ll give her six months. On the second of April I’ll ask her.”
However, he asked her on Christmas night, after the Venables’ wonderful Christmas dinner, when they all talked of the Civil War as if it were yesterday, and when old laces, old jet and coral jewelry, and frail old silk gowns were much in evidence. They were sitting about the coal fire in the back drawing-room, when Nancy and Bert chanced to be alone. Mrs. Venables had gone to brew some punch, with Sis’ Sally Anne’s help. The other young men of the party were assisting them, Augusta had gone to the telephone.
Bert always remembered the hour. The room was warm, fragrant of spicy evergreen. There was a Rogers group on the marble mantle, and two Dresden china candlesticks that reflected themselves in the watery dimness of the mirror above. Nancy, slender and exquisite, was in unrelieved, lacy black; her hair was as softly black as her gown. Her white hands were locked in her lap. Something had reminded her of old Christmases, and she had told Bert of running in to her mother’s room, early in the chilly morning, to shout “Christmas Gift!”