Miss Darrell was lying back on a velvet lounge, and welcomed us with a provoking smile.
‘I thought the threat of telling Giles would bring you in, Gladys,’ she said, laughing. ’What a foolish child you are to be so reckless of your health! Every one knows Gladys is delicate,’ she went on, turning to me; ’everything gives her cold. Giles has been obliged to forbid her attending evening service this winter: you were terribly rebellious about it, were you not, my dear? but of course Giles had his way. No one in this house ventures to disobey him.’
Miss Hamilton did not answer: she was standing looking into the fire, and her lips were set firmly as though nothing would make her unclose them.
‘Oh, do sit down,’ continued her cousin pettishly; ’it gives one such an uncomfortable feeling when a tall person stands like a statue before one.’ And as Miss Hamilton quietly seated herself, she went on, ’Don’t you think religious people are far more self-willed than worldly ones, Miss Garston? I daresay you are self-willed yourself. Gladys made as much fuss about giving up evening service as though her salvation depended on her going twice or three times a day. “What is to prevent you reading the service in your own room?” I used to say to her. “It cannot be your duty to disobey your brother and make yourself ill."’
‘The illness lay in your own imagination, Etta,’ observed Miss Hamilton coldly. ’Giles would never have found out my chest was delicate if you had not told him so.’
Miss Darrell gave her favourite little shrug, and inspected her rings.
‘See what thanks I get for my cousinly care,’ she said good-humouredly. ’I suppose, Gladys, you were vexed with me for telling him that you were working yourself to death,—that the close air of the schoolroom made your head ache, and that so much singing was too much for your strength.’
’If you please, Etta, we will talk about some other subject; my health, or want of health, will not interest Miss Garston.’ She spoke with dignity, and then, turning to me with a winning smile, ’Giles has told me about your singing. Will you be good enough to sing something to us? It would be a great pleasure: both Lady Betty and I are so fond of music.’
‘Miss Garston looks very tired, Gladys; it is almost selfish to ask her,’ observed Miss Darrell softly; and then I knew that Miss Hamilton’s request did not please her.
I had vowed to myself that no amount of pressing should induce me to sing that evening, but I could not have refused that gentle solicitation. As I unbuttoned my gloves and took my place at the grand piano, I determined that I would sing anything and everything that Miss Hamilton wished; Miss Darrell should not silence me; and with this resolve hot on me I commenced the opening bars of ‘The Lost Chord,’ and before I had finished the song Miss Hamilton had crept into the corner beside me, and remained there as motionless as though my singing had turned her into stone.