‘Thank you.’ He pulled off his gloves. The pained, troubled look which he had met in Miss Watson’s face seemed a reproach, and he regretted not having followed his own idea, and invited the young lady to meet him at Mr. Grandly’s office. He glanced nervously from one lady to the other.
‘I hope you have had a pleasant journey, Mr. Price,’ said Mrs. Bentley. ’The country is looking very beautiful just at present. Do you know this part of the country?’ Mrs. Bentley’s words were very welcome, and Hubert replied eagerly—
’No; I do not know the country at all well. I have been very little out of London for some years, but I hope now to see more of the country. This is a beautiful place.’
At that moment he met Mrs. Bentley’s eyes, and, feeling that he was touching on delicate ground, he stopped speaking. When he turned his head, he met Miss Watson’s great sad eyes, which seemed to absorb the entire face, fixed upon him. They expressed such depth of pathetic appeal that he trembled with apprehension, and the instinct in him was to beg for pardon. But it became suddenly necessary to say something, and, speaking at random, his head full of whirling words, he said—
’Of course nothing could be more sad than my poor uncle’s death,—so unexpected... Having lived so long together, you must have——’ Then it was Hubert’s turn to look appealingly at Miss Watson; but her great eyes seemed to say, ‘Go on, go on; heap cruelty on cruelty!’ Then he plunged desperately, hoping to retrieve his mistakes. ’He died about a month ago. Mr. Grandly told me I should still find you here, so I thought——’
The intensity of his emotion perhaps caused Hubert to accentuate his words, so that they conveyed a meaning different from that which he intended. Certainly his hesitations were capable of misinterpretation, and Miss Watson said, her voice trembling,—
’Of course we know we have no right here, we are intruding; but we are making preparations.... I daresay that to-morrow we shall be able to——’
‘Oh, I beg pardon, Miss Watson; let me assure you ... I am sorry if——’
Taking a little handkerchief out of her black dress, Emily covered her face in her thin, tiny hands. She sobbed aloud, and ran out of the room. Hubert turned to Mrs. Bentley, his face full of consternation.
’I am very sorry, but she did not give me time to speak. Will you go and fetch her, Mrs. Bentley? I want to tell her I hope she will never leave Ashwood. ... I believe she thinks that I came down here to ask her to leave as soon as possible. It is really quite awful that she should think such a thing.’
’She is an exceedingly sensitive girl, and is now a little overwrought. The events of the last month have proved too much for her.’
’Mr. Grandly informed me that it was Mr. Burnett’s intention to add a codicil to his will, leaving Miss Watson three hundred a year. This money I am prepared to give her, and I’m quite sure she is welcome to stay here as long as she pleases. Indeed, she will do me a great favour by remaining. Please go and tell her. I cannot bear to see a girl cry; to hear her sob like that is quite terrible.’