“any ill news?” i demanded. “has anything happened?”
“no. how very easily alarmed you are!” he answered, removing his cloak and hanging it up against the door, towards which he again coolly pushed the mat which his entrance had deranged. he stamped the snow from his boots.
“i shall sully the purity of your floor,” said he, “but you must excuse me for once.” then he approached the fire. “i have had hard work to get here, i assure you,” he observed, as he warmed his hands over the flame. “one drift took me up to the waist; happily the snow is quite soft yet.”
“but why are you come?” i could not forbear saying.
“rather an inhospitable question to put to a visitor; but since you ask it, i answer simply to have a little talk with you; i got tired of my mute books and empty rooms. besides, since yesterday i have experienced the excitement of a person to whom a tale has been half-told, and who is impatient to hear the sequel.”
he sat down. i recalled his singular conduct of yesterday, and really i began to fear his wits were touched. if he were insane, however, his was a very cool and collected insanity: i had never seen that handsome-featured face of his look more like chiselled marble than it did just now, as he put aside his snow-wet hair from his forehead and let the firelight shine free on his pale brow and cheek as pale, where it grieved me to discover the hollow trace of care or sorrow now so plainly graved. i waited, expecting he would say something i could at least comprehend; but his hand was now at his chin, his finger on his lip: he was thinking. it struck me that his hand looked wasted like his face. a perhaps uncalled-for gush of pity came over my heart: i was moved to say —
“i wish diana or mary would come and live with you: it is too bad that you should be quite alone; and you are recklessly rash about your own health.”
“not at all,” said he: “i care for myself when necessary. i am well now. what do you see amiss in me?”
this was said with a careless, abstracted indifference, which showed that my solicitude was, at least in his opinion, wholly superfluous. i was silenced.
he still slowly moved his finger over his upper lip, and still his eye dwelt dreamily on the glowing grate; thinking it urgent to say something, i asked him presently if he felt any cold draught from the door, which was behind him.
“no, no!” he responded shortly and somewhat testily.
“well,” i reflected, “if you won’t talk, you may be still; i’ll let you alone now, and return to my book.”
so i snuffed the candle and resumed the perusal of “marmion.”