’You will have to give in, Miss Darrell. Ursula always gets her own way. How much do you want, child? You must be merciful to a poor vicar. Will that satisfy you?’ offering me a sovereign, and Miss Darrell, after a moment’s hesitation, produced the same sum from her purse.
I took her money coolly, but I would not resign the reins of the conversation any more into her hands. When Mr. Hamilton entered the room he stopped and looked at me with visible astonishment: he had never heard me so fluent before; but somehow my eloquence died a natural death after his entrance. I was still a little shy with Mr. Hamilton.
His manner was unusually genial this afternoon. I was sure he was delighted to see us both there again. He spoke to Max in a jesting tone, and then looked benignly at his cousin, who was superintending the tea-table. She certainly looked uncommonly well that day; her dress of dark maroon cashmere and velvet fitted her fine figure exquisitely; her white, well-shaped hands were, as usual, loaded with brilliant rings. She was a woman who needed ornaments: they would have looked lavish on any one else, they suited her admirably. Once I caught her looking with marked disfavour on my black serge dress: the pearl hoop that had been my mother’s keeper was my sole adornment. I daresay she thought me extremely dowdy. I once heard her say, in a pointed manner, that ’her cousin Giles liked to see his women-folk well dressed; he was very fastidious on that point, and exceedingly hard to please.’
Mr. Hamilton seemed in the best of humours. I do not think that he remarked how very quiet Max was all tea-time. He pressed us to remain to dinner, and wanted to send off a message to the vicarage; but we were neither of us to be persuaded, though Miss Darrell joined her entreaties to her cousin’s.
I was anxious to leave the house as quickly as possible, and I knew by instinct what Max’s feelings must be. I could not enjoy Mr. Hamilton’s conversation, amusing as it was. I wanted to be alone with Max; I felt I could keep silence with him no longer. But we could not get rid of Mr. Hamilton; as we rose to take our departure he coolly announced his intention of walking with us.
‘The Tylcotes have sent for me again,’ he said casually. ’I may as well walk down with you now.’ He looked at me as he spoke, but I am afraid my manner disappointed him. For once Mr. Hamilton was decidedly de trop. I am sure he must have noticed my hesitation, but it made no difference to his purpose. I had found out by this time that when Mr. Hamilton had made up his mind to do a certain thing, other people’s moods did not influence him in the least. He half smiled as he went out to put on his greatcoat, and, as though he intended to punish me for my want of courtesy, he talked to Max the whole time; not that I minded it in the least, only it was just his lordly way.
To my great relief, however, he left us as soon as we reached the vicarage, so I wished him good-night quite amiably, and of course Max walked on with me to the cottage.