He read her some of the poems. Then he talked to her of his college days and friends. The minutes passed very swiftly. There was just then no world for him outside of that old orchard with its falling blossoms and its shadows and its crooning winds.
Once, when he told her the story of some college pranks wherein the endless feuds of freshmen and sophomores figured, she clapped her hands together according to her habit, and laughed aloud—a clear, musical, silvery peal. It fell on Eric’s ear with a shock of surprise. He thought it strange that she could laugh like that when she could not speak. Wherein lay the defect that closed for her the gates of speech? Was it possible that it could be removed?
“Kilmeny,” he said gravely after a moment’s reflection, during which he had looked up as she sat with the ruddy sunlight falling through the lilac branches on her bare, silky head like a shower of red jewels, “do you mind if I ask you something about your inability to speak? Will it hurt you to talk of the matter with me?”
She shook her head.
“Oh, no,” she wrote, “I do not mind at all. Of course I am sorry I cannot speak, but I am quite used to the thought and it never hurts me at all.”
“Then, Kilmeny, tell me this. Do you know why it is that you are unable to speak, when all your other faculties are so perfect?”
“No, I do not know at all why I cannot speak. I asked mother once and she told me it was a judgment on her for a great sin she had committed, and she looked so strangely that I was frightened, and I never spoke of it to her or anyone else again.”
“Were you ever taken to a doctor to have your tongue and organs of speech examined?”
“No. I remember when I was a very little girl that Uncle Thomas wanted to take me to a doctor in Charlottetown and see if anything could be done for me, but mother would not let him. She said it would be no use. And I do not think Uncle Thomas thought it would be, either.”
“You can laugh very naturally. Can you make any other sound?”
“Yes, sometimes. When I am pleased or frightened I have made little cries. But it is only when I am not thinking of it at all that I can do that. If I try to make a sound I cannot do it at all.”
This seemed to Eric more mysterious than ever.
“Do you ever try to speak—to utter words?” he persisted.
“Oh yes, very often. All the time I am saying the words in my head, just as I hear other people saying them, but I never can make my tongue say them. Do not look so sorry, my friend. I am very happy and I do not mind so very much not being able to speak—only sometimes when I have so many thoughts and it seems so slow to write them out, some of them get away from me. I must play to you again. You look too sober.”
She laughed again, picked up her violin, and played a tinkling, roguish little melody as if she were trying to tease him, looking at Eric over her violin with luminous eyes that dared him to be merry.