‘Lawrence has gone without me,’ he replied. ’I had a headache, and so I sent an excuse; but, as it got better, I thought I would come up and see how you were getting on.’
‘A headache, Uncle Max!’ looking at him rather anxiously, for I had never heard him complain of any ailment before. I had been dissatisfied with his appearance ever since I had come to Heathfield; he had looked worn and thin for some time, but to-night he looked wretched.
‘Oh, it is nothing,’ he returned quickly. ’Miss Hamilton, I hardly expected to find you here with Ursula. I thought you were all going to the Maberleys’.’
‘Etta and Giles have gone,’ she replied quietly. ’I ought not to be here, as Lady Betty is alone at Gladwyn; but Miss Garston persuaded me to remain; but it is getting late. I must be going,’ rising as she spoke.
‘There is not the slightest need for you to hurry,’ observed Max; ’it is not so very late, and I will walk up with you to Gladwyn.’
‘Indeed, I hope you will do nothing of the kind,’ she said hurriedly. ’Miss Garston, will you please tell him that there is no need, no need at all? indeed, I would much rather not.’
Miss Hamilton had lost all her repose of manner; she looked as nervous and shy as any school-girl when Max announced his intention of escorting her; and yet how could any gentleman have allowed her to go down those dark roads alone?
Perhaps Max thought she was unreasonable, for there was a touch of satire in his voice as he answered her:
’I certainly owe it to my conscience to see you safe home. What would Hamilton say if I allowed you to go alone?—Ursula,’ turning to me with an odd look, ’it is a fine starlight night; suppose you put on your hat,—a run will do you good,—and relieve Miss Hamilton’s mind.’
‘Yes, do come,’ observed Miss Hamilton, in a relieved voice; but, as she spoke, her lovely eyes seemed appealing to him, and begging him not to be angry with her; but he frowned slightly, and turned aside and took up a book. How was it those two contrived to misunderstand each other so often? Max looked even more hurt than he had done at Gladwyn.
I was not surprised to find that when I left the room Miss Hamilton followed me, but I was hardly prepared to hear her say in a troubled voice,—
’Oh, how unfortunate I am! I would not have had this happen for worlds. Etta will—oh, what am I saying?—I am afraid Mr. Cunliffe is offended with me because I did not wish him to go home with me—but,’ a little proudly and resentfully, ’he is too old a friend to misunderstand me, so he need not have said that.’
‘I think Uncle Max is not well to-night,’ I replied soothingly. ’I never heard him speak in that tone before; he is always so careful not to hurt people’s feelings.’
‘Yes, I know,’ stifling a sigh; ’it is more my fault than his; he is looking wretchedly ill; and—and I think he is a little offended with me about other things; it is impossible to explain, and so he misjudges me.’