‘What nonsense has that girl been talking?’ he said, rather irritated. ’I always tell her that tongue of hers will lead her into trouble; I know she talked plenty of rubbish that night. When she said it was a pity that you and Gladys were always chattering secrets, I told her that though you were not a Methuselah, you were hardly the sort of person to indulge in that sort of sentimentality, that I could answer for your good sense in that, and that Etta need not be so hard on a pretty young girl like Gladys. That was not accusing you of want of steadiness.’
‘No, thank you. I am so glad that I know what you really said.’
’Indeed, I was not aware that my good or bad opinion mattered to Miss Garston: you have certainly never given me the impression that you mind very much what I say or think.’
Was Mr. Hamilton cross? He looked quite moody all at once; his face wore that hard disagreeable look that I so disliked. He had been so pleasant in his manners ever since that evening at Gladwyn that I was rather sorry that this agreeable state of things should be disturbed. He was evidently not to blame for Miss Darrell’s misrepresentations, so I hastened with much policy to throw oil on the troubled waters.
’I do not know why you should say that. It ought not to be a matter of indifference what people think of us.’
’Ought it not? Would you like to know my opinion of you after nearly a month of acquaintance? Let me warn you, I have entirely changed my opinion since our stormy interview in Cunliffe’s study.’
I do not know what there was in Mr. Hamilton’s look and manner that made me say hastily,—
’Oh no, I would rather not know, and I hope you will not tell me. I am quite sure you do not misconstrue my motives now.’
‘You may be quite sure of that,’ rather grimly, as though my last speech displeased him. ’It is difficult not to think you older than you are, you are so terribly sensible and matter-of-fact. How can Gladys get on with you, I wonder? Do you put a moral extinguisher on all her romance?’
‘I am not quite so matter-of-fact as you make out, Mr. Hamilton.’
He shot an odd sort of glance at me. ’When you sing, one can believe that; there is nothing prosaic in a nestful of larks. Poor Phoebe, I do believe you are doing her good: she looks far more human already. By the bye, when are you coming to sing to us again? I told Etta that I was engaged on Thursday, and she declared it was our only free day until Christmas.’
‘I shall be too busy to come till after then,’ I replied quietly, for I did not wish him to think that I was ready to jump at any invitation to Gladwyn. He seemed rather disconcerted at my coldness.
’Why, it is more than ten days to Christmas! I hope you do not mean to be stiff and unneighbourly, Miss Garston. I am afraid,’ with a decidedly quizzical look, ‘that pride is a serious defect of yours.’