'You will be a friend to me, won't you?'
'I hope so. But the idea of my being a friend to you seems too absurd, though.'
'O, I am such a mite of a thing, and you are so womanly and handsome. You seem to have resolution and power enough to crush me. I shrink into nothing by the side of your presence even.'
'I am a neglected creature, my dear, unacquainted with all accomplishments, sensitively conscious that I have everything to learn, and deeply ashamed to own my ignorance.'
'And yet you acknowledge everything to me!' said Rosa.
'My pretty one, can I help it? There is a fascination in you.'
'O! is there though?' pouted Rosa, half in jest and half in earnest. 'What a pity Master Eddy doesn't feel it more!'
Of course her relations towards that young gentleman had been already imparted in Minor Canon Corner.
'Why, surely he must love you with all his heart!' cried Helena, with an earnestness that threatened to blaze into ferocity if he didn't.
'Eh? O, well, I suppose he does,' said Rosa, pouting again; 'I am sure I have no right to say he doesn't. Perhaps it's my fault. Perhaps I am not as nice to him as I ought to be. I don't think I am. But it IS so ridiculous!'
Helena's eyes demanded what was.
'WE are,' said Rosa, answering as if she had spoken. 'We are such a ridiculous couple. And we are always quarrelling.'
'Because we both know we are ridiculous, my dear!' Rosa gave that answer as if it were the most conclusive answer in the world.
Helena's masterful look was intent upon her face for a few moments, and then she impulsively put out both her hands and said:
'You will be my friend and help me?'
'Indeed, my dear, I will,' replied Rosa, in a tone of affectionate childishness that went straight and true to her heart; 'I will be as good a friend as such a mite of a thing can be to such a noble creature as you. And be a friend to me, please; I don't understand myself: and I want a friend who can understand me, very much indeed.'
Helena Landless kissed her, and retaining both her hands said:
'Who is Mr. Jasper?'
Rosa turned aside her head in answering: 'Eddy's uncle, and my music-master.'
'You do not love him?'
'Ugh!' She put her hands up to her face, and shook with fear or horror.
'You know that he loves you?'
'O, don't, don't, don't!' cried Rosa, dropping on her knees, and clinging to her new resource. 'Don't tell me of it! He terrifies me. He haunts my thoughts, like a dreadful ghost. I feel that I am never safe from him. I feel as if he could pass in through the wall when he is spoken of.' She actually did look round, as if she dreaded to see him standing in the shadow behind her.
'Try to tell me more about it, darling.'
'Yes, I will, I will. Because you are so strong. But hold me the while, and stay with me afterwards.'
'My child! You speak as if he had threatened you in some dark way.'
'He has never spoken to me about--that. Never.'
'What has he done?'
'He has made a slave of me with his looks. He has forced me to understand him, without his saying a word; and he has forced me to keep silence, without his uttering a threat. When I play, he never moves his eyes from my hands. When I sing, he never moves his eyes from my lips. When he corrects me, and strikes a note, or a chord, or plays a passage, he himself is in the sounds, whispering that he pursues me as a lover, and commanding me to keep his secret. I avoid his eyes, but he forces me to see them without looking at them. Even when a glaze comes over them (which is sometimes the case), and he seems to wander away into a frightful sort of dream in which he threatens most, he obliges me to know it, and to know that he is sitting close at my side, more terrible to me than ever.'
'What is this imagined threatening, pretty one? What is threatened?'
'I don't know. I have never even dared to think or wonder what it is.'
'And was this all, to-night?'
'This was all; except that to-night when he watched my lips so closely as I was singing, besides feeling terrified I felt ashamed and passionately hurt.