And still there was the same shade between me and my darling.
"So, Dame Trot," observed my guardian, shutting up his book one night when we were all three together, "so Woodcourt has restored Caddy Jellyby to the full enjoyment of life again?"
"Yes," I said; "and to be repaid by such gratitude as hers is to be made rich, guardian."
"I wish it was," he returned, "with all my heart."
So did I too, for that matter. I said so.
"Aye! We would make him as rich as a Jew if we knew how. Would we not, little woman?"
I laughed as I worked and replied that I was not sure about that, for it might spoil him, and he might not be so useful, and there might be many who could ill spare him. As Miss Flite, and Caddy herself, and many others.
"True," said my guardian. "I had forgotten that. But we would agree to make him rich enough to live, I suppose? Rich enough to work with tolerable peace of mind? Rich enough to have his own happy home and his own household gods — and household goddess, too, perhaps?"
That was quite another thing, I said. We must all agree in that.
"To be sure," said my guardian. "All of us. I have a great regard for Woodcourt, a high esteem for him; and I have been sounding him delicately about his plans. It is difficult to offer aid to an independent man with that just kind of pride which he possesses. And yet I would be glad to do it if I might or if I knew how. He seems half inclined for another voyage. But that appears like casting such a man away."
"It might open a new world to him," said I.
"So it might, little woman," my guardian assented. "I doubt if he expects much of the old world. Do you know I have fancied that he sometimes feels some particular disappointment or misfortune encountered in it. You never heard of anything of that sort?"
I shook my head.
"Humph," said my guardian. "I am mistaken, I dare say." As there was a little pause here, which I thought, for my dear girl's satisfaction, had better be filled up, I hummed an air as I worked which was a favourite with my guardian.
"And do you think Mr. Woodcourt will make another voyage?" I asked him when I had hummed it quietly all through.
"I don't quite know what to think, my dear, but I should say it was likely at present that he will give a long trip to another country."
"I am sure he will take the best wishes of all our hearts with him wherever he goes," said I; "and though they are not riches, he will never be the poorer for them, guardian, at least."
"Never, little woman," he replied.
I was sitting in my usual place, which was now beside my guardian's chair. That had not been my usual place before the letter, but it was now. I looked up to Ada, who was sitting opposite, and I saw, as she looked at me, that her eyes were filled with tears and that tears were falling down her face. I felt that I had only to be placid and merry once for all to undeceive my dear and set her loving heart at rest. I really was so, and I had nothing to do but to be myself.
So I made my sweet girl lean upon my shoulder — how little thinking what was heavy on her mind! — and I said she was not quite well, and put my arm about her, and took her upstairs. When we were in our own room, and when she might perhaps have told me what I was so unprepared to hear, I gave her no encouragement to confide in me; I never thought she stood in need of it.
"Oh, my dear good Esther," said Ada, "if I could only make up my mind to speak to you and my cousin John when you are together!"
"Why, my love!" I remonstrated. "Ada, why should you not speak to us!"
Ada only dropped her head and pressed me closer to her heart.
"You surely don't forget, my beauty," said I, smiling, "what quiet, old-fashioned people we are and how I have settled down to be the discreetest of dames? You don't forget how happily and peacefully my life is all marked out for me, and by whom? I am certain that you don't forget by what a noble character, Ada. That can never be."
"No, never, Esther."
"Why then, my dear," said I, "there can be nothing amiss — and why should you not speak to us?"
"Nothing amiss, Esther?" returned Ada. "Oh, when I think of all these years, and of his fatherly care and kindness, and of the old relations among us, and of you, what shall I do, what shall I do!"
I looked at my child in some wonder, but I thought it better not to answer otherwise than by cheering her, and so I turned off into many little recollections of our life together and prevented her from saying more. When she lay down to sleep, and not before, I returned to my guardian to say good night, and then I came back to Ada and sat near her for a little while.
She was asleep, and I thought as I looked at her that she was a little changed. I had thought so more than once lately. I could not decide, even looking at her while she was unconscious, how she was changed, but something in the familiar beauty of her face looked different to me. My guardian's old hopes of her and Richard arose sorrowfully in my mind, and I said to myself, "She has been anxious about him," and I wondered how that love would end.
When I had come home from Caddy's while she was ill, I had often found Ada at work, and she had always put her work away, and I had never known what it was. Some of it now lay in a drawer near her, which was not quite closed. I did not open the drawer, but I still rather wondered what the work could he, for it was evidently nothing for herself.
And I noticed as I kissed my dear that she lay with one hand under her pillow so that it was hidden.
How much less amiable I must have been than they thought me, how much less amiable than I thought myself, to be so preoccupied with my own cheerfulness and contentment as to think that it only rested with me to put my dear girl right and set her mind at peace!
But I lay down, self-deceived, in that belief. And I awoke in it next day to find that there was still the same shade between me and my darling.