I sighed as I looked at Charlie’s picture. Her eyes followed my glance, and I saw again that tremulous motion of her hands.
‘Yes, I know,’ she said hurriedly; but her beautiful eyes were full of tears. ’I have always been so sorry for you. You must feel so lonely without him.’
The intense sympathy with which she said these few words seemed to break down my reserve. In a moment I had forgotten that we were strangers, as I told her about my love for Charlie, and the dear old life at the rectory.
It was impossible to doubt the interest with which she listened to me. If I paused for an instant, she begged me very gently to tell her more about myself; she was so sorry for me; but it did her good to hear me.
When I spoke of the life at Hyde Park Gate, and told her how little I was fitted for that sort of existence, she put down her shielding hand, and looked at me with strange wistfulness.
’No, you are too real, too much in earnest, to be satisfied with that sort of life. Mr. Cunliffe used to tell us so. And I seemed to understand it all before I saw you. I always felt as though I knew you, even before we met. I hope,’ hesitating a little, ’that we shall see a great deal of you. I know Giles wishes it.’
’You cannot come here too often, Miss Hamilton. It will always be such a pleasure to me to see you.’
‘Oh, I did not mean that,’ she returned nervously. ’I may not be able to come here,—that is, not alone; there are reasons, and you must not expect me; but I hope you will come to Gladwyn whenever you have an hour to spare. Giles said so the other day. I think he meant you to be friends with us. You must not mind,’ getting still more nervous, ’if Etta is a little odd sometimes. Her moods vary, and she does not always make people feel as though they were welcome; but it is only her manner, so you must not mind it.’
‘Oh no; I shall hope to come and see you and Lady Betty some time.’
‘And,’ she went on hurriedly, ’if there is anything that I can do to help you, I hope you will tell me so. Perhaps I cannot visit the people; but there are other things,—needlework, or a little money. Oh, I have so much spare time, and it will be such a pleasure.’
‘Oh yes; you shall help me,’ I returned cheerfully, for she was looking so extremely nervous that I wanted to reassure her; but we were prevented from saying any more on this subject, for just then we heard the click of the little gate, and the next moment Uncle Max walked into the room.
‘WHY NOT TRUST ME, MAX?’
Max looked very discomposed when he saw Miss Hamilton; he shook hands with her gravely, and sat down without saying a word. I wondered if it were my fancy, or if Miss Hamilton had really grown perceptibly paler since his entrance.
‘What does this mean, Uncle Max?’ I asked gaily, for this sort of oppressive silence did not suit me at all. ’I understood that you and Mr. Tudor were dining at the Glynns’ to-night.’