‘No, I suppose not,’ with a sigh; ’her faith has suffered shipwreck; but you must try to win her back to peace. Oh, you have much to do at Gladwyn, as well as other places. I want you to feel at home with us, Miss Garston. Some of us have our faults, we want knowing; but you must try and like us better, and then you will not find us ungrateful.’
He stopped rather abruptly, as though he expected an answer, but I only stammered out that he was very kind, and that I hoped when Gladys returned from Bournemouth that I should often see her.
‘Oh, to be sure,’ he returned hastily. ’I forgot that her absence would make a difference. You do not like poor Etta: I have noticed that. Well, perhaps she is a little fussy and managing; but she is a kind-hearted creature, and very good to us all. I do not know what I should have done without her; my sisters do not understand me, they are never at their ease with me. I feel this a trouble; I want to be good to them; but there always seems a barrier that one cannot break down. I suppose,’ with intense bitterness, ’they lay the blame of that poor boy’s death at my door, as though I would not give my right hand to have him back again.’
‘Oh no, Mr. Hamilton,’ I exclaimed, shocked to hear him speak in this way, ’things are not so bad as that. I know Gladys would be more to you if she could.’ But he turned upon me almost fiercely.
‘Do not tell me that,’ he said harshly, ’for I cannot believe you. Gladys cared more for Eric’s little finger than the whole of us put together; she looks upon me as his destroyer, as a hard taskmaster who oppressed him and drove him out of his home. Oh, you want to contradict me; you would tell me how gentle Gladys is, and how submissive. No, she is never angry, but her looks and words are cold as this frozen snow; she has not kissed me of her own accord since Eric left us. I sometimes think it is painful for her to live under my roof.’
‘Well, what now?’ in the same repellent tone.
’You are wrong; you are unjust. Gladys does not feel like that; she has tried to forgive you in her heart for any past mistake; she sees you regret much that has passed, and she is no longer bitter against you. I wish you would believe this. I wish you could understand that she, too, longs to break down the barrier. Perhaps I ought not to say it, but I think Miss Darrell keeps you apart from your sisters.’
‘What, Etta!’ in an astonished tone. ’Why, she is always making excuses for Gladys’s coldness. Come, Miss Garston, I cannot have you misunderstand my poor little cousin in this way. You have no idea how faithful and devoted she is. She has actually refused a most advantageous offer of marriage to remain with us. She told me this in confidence; the girls do not know it: perhaps I ought not to have repeated it; but you undervalue Etta. Few women would sacrifice themselves so entirely for their belongings.’