’There were those who liked to teach others, and plenty of them, but she was one who minded her own business and kept her own recipes. If Miss Darrell wanted a custard made she was willing to do it for her and welcome, but she wanted no gossiping prying cooks about her kitchen.’
As I knew Max’s peculiarity, I was somewhat surprised when, long before the appointed time, Mrs. Barton came up and told me that Mr. Cunliffe was in the parlour. I had commenced my toilet in rather a leisurely fashion, but now I made haste to join him, and ran downstairs as quickly as possible, carrying my fur-lined cloak over my arm.
‘You look very nice, my dear,’ he said, in quite fatherly fashion. ’Have I ever seen that gown before?’
The gown in point had been given to me by Lesbia, and had been made in Paris: it was one of those thin black materials that make up into a charming demi-toilette, and was a favourite gown with me.
I always remember the speech Lesbia made as she showed it to me. ’When you put on this gown, Ursula, you must think of the poor little woman who hoped to have been your sister.’ This was one of the pretty little speeches that she often made. Poor dear Lesbia! she always did things so gracefully. In Charlie’s lifetime I had thought her cold and frivolous, for she had not then folded up her butterfly wings; but even then she was always doing kind little things.
It was a dark night, neither moon nor stars to be seen, and after we had passed the church the darkness seemed to envelop us, and I could barely distinguish the path. Max seemed quite oblivious of this fact, for he would persist in pointing out invisible objects of interest. I was told of the wide stretch of country that lay on the right, and how freshly the soft breezes blew over the downs.
‘There is the asylum, Ursula,’ he observed cheerfully, waving his hand towards the black outline. ’Now we are passing Colonel Maberley’s house, and here is Gladwyn. I wish you could have seen it by daylight.’
I wished so too, for on entering the shrubbery the darkness seemed to swallow us up bodily, and the heavy oak door might have belonged to a prison. The sharp clang of the bell made me shiver, and Dante’s lines came into my mind rather inopportunely, ’All ye who enter here, leave hope behind.’ But as soon as the door opened the scene was changed like magic; the long hall was deliciously warm and light: it looked almost like a corridor, with its dark marble figures holding sconces, and small carved tables between them.
‘I will wait for you here, Ursula,’ whispered Uncle Max; and I went off in charge of the same maid that I had seen before. Lady Betty had called her Leah, and as I followed her upstairs I thought of that tender-eyed Leah who had been an unloved wife.
Leah was very civil, but I thought her manner bordered on familiarity: perhaps she had lived long in the family, and was treated more as a friend than a servant. She was an exceedingly plain young woman, and her light eyes had a curious lack of expression in them, and yet, like Miss Darrell’s, they seemed able to see everything.