“I will fetch your bonnet,” said Queen Bee, who was standing at the top of the stairs, wisely refraining from expressing her astonishment at seeing her cousin in the hall.
And before Henrietta had time to object, the bonnet was on her head, a shawl thrown round her, Beatrice had drawn her arm within hers, and had opened the sashed door into the garden.
It was a regular April day, with all the brilliancy and clearness of the sunshine that comes between showers, the white clouds hung in huge soft masses on the blue sky, the leaves of the evergreens were glistening with drops of rain, the birds sang sweetly in the shrubs around. Henrietta’s burning eyes felt refreshed, and though she sighed heavily, she could not help admiring, but Beatrice was surprised that the first thing she began to say was an earnest inquiry after Aunt Geoffrey, and a warm expression of gratitude towards her.
Then the conversation died away again, and they completed their two turns in silence; but Henrietta’s heart began to fail her when she thought of going in without having her to greet. She lingered and could hardly resolve to go, but at length she entered, walked up the stairs, gave her shawl and bonnet to Beatrice, and tapped at Fred’s door.
“Is that you?” was his eager answer, and as she entered he came forward to meet her. “Poor Henrietta!” was all he said, as she put her arm round his neck and kissed him, and then leaning on her he returned to his sofa, made her sit by him, and showed all sorts of kind solicitude for her comfort. She had cried so much that she felt as if she could cry no longer, but she reproached herself excessively for having left him to himself so long, when all he wanted was to comfort her; and she tried to make some apology.
“I am sorry I did not come sooner, Fred.”
“O, it is of no use to talk about it,” said Fred, playing with her long curls as she sat on a footstool close to him, just as she used to do in times long gone by. “You are come now, and that is all I want. Have you been out? I thought I heard the garden door just before you came in.”
“Yes, I took two turns with Queen Bee. How bright and sunny it is. And how are you this morning, Freddy?”
“O, pretty well I think,” said he, sighing, as if he cared little about the matter. “I wanted to show you this, Henrietta.” And he took up a book where he had marked a passage for her. She saw several paper marks in some other books, and perceived with shame that he had been reading yesterday, and choosing out what might comfort her, his selfish sister, as she could not help feeling herself.
And here was the first great point gained, though there was still much for Henrietta to learn. It was the first time she had ever been conscious of her own selfishness, or perhaps more justly, of her proneness to make all give way to her own feeling of the moment.