‘But all the same you will judge,’ he replied moodily. ’Oh, I know how you good women cling together: you know nothing of a man’s nature; you cannot estimate his difficulties; because he has not got your sweet nature, because he cannot bear insolence patiently—Oh,’ with an abruptness that was almost rude but for the concealed pain in his voice, ’I am not going to excuse myself to you: why should I? I have only to account to my Maker and my own conscience,’ And he was actually walking off in the darkness, for we were now in sight of the parlour window, but I called him back so earnestly that he could not refuse to obey.
’Mr. Hamilton, pray do not leave me like this; it makes me unhappy. Do you know it is Christmas Eve?’
‘Well, what of that?’ with a short laugh.
’People ought not to quarrel and be disagreeable to each other on Christmas Eve.’
’I am afraid, Miss Garston, that I do feel intensely disagreeable this evening.’
’Yes, but you must try and forgive me all the same. I could not quite help myself; but indeed I do not mean to judge you or any one, and I should like you to shake hands.’
‘There, then,’ with a decidedly hearty grasp; and then, without releasing me, ‘So you don’t think so very badly of me, after all?’
‘I am very sorry for you,’ was my prudent answer; ’I think you have had a great deal to bear. Good-night, Mr. Hamilton.’
’Wait a minute; you have not answered my question. You must not have it all your own way. I repeat, has Mrs. Maberley given you a very bad impression of my character?’
’Certainly not; oh, she spoke most kindly; I should not have been afraid if you had heard the whole of our conversation.’
‘I wish I had heard it.’
’She made me feel very sorry for you all. Oh, what trouble there is in the world, Mr. Hamilton! It does seem so blind and foolish to sit in judgment on other people! how can we know their trials and temptations?’
’That is spoken like a sensible woman. Try to keep a good opinion of us, Miss Garston: we shall be the better for your friendship. Well, so we are friends again, and this little misunderstanding is healed: so much the better; I should hate to quarrel with you. Now run in out of the cold.’
I hastened to obey him, but he stood at the gate until I had entered the house; his voice and manner had quite changed during the last few minutes, and had become strangely gentle, reminding me of his sister Gladys’s voice. What a singular man he was!—and yet I felt sorry for him. ‘I wonder if he is really to blame!’ I thought, as I opened the parlour door.
The lamp was alight; the fire burnt ruddily; Tinker was stretched on the rug as usual, but something else was on the rug too.
A girlish figure in a dark tweed gown was huddled up before the grate; a head, with short thick locks of hair tossing roughly on her neck, turned quickly at my entrance.