He was actually leaving me at the gate without a word except ’Good-night, Ursula,’ but I laid my hand on his arm.
‘You must come in, Max. I want to speak to you.’
‘Not to-night, my dear,’ he returned hurriedly. ’I have business letters to write before dinner.’
‘They must wait, then,’ I replied decidedly, ’for I certainly do not intend to let you leave me just yet. Don’t be stubborn, Max, for you know I always get my own way. Come in. I want to tell you why Gladys never writes to her brother.’ And he followed me into the house without a word.
MAX OPENS HIS HEART
But I did not at once join Max in the parlour, though he was evidently expecting me to do so: instead of that, I ran upstairs to take off my walking-things. It would be better to leave him alone a few minutes. When I returned he was leaning back in the easy-chair, with his hands clasped behind his head, evidently absorbed in thought. I was struck by his expression: it was that of a man who was nerving himself to bear some great trouble; there was a quiet, hopeless look on his face that touched me exceedingly. I took the chair opposite him, and waited for him to speak. He did not change his attitude when he saw me, but he looked at me gravely, and said, ‘Well, Ursula?’ but there was no interest in his tone.
Of course I knew what he meant, but I let that pass, and something seemed to choke my voice as I tried to answer him:
’Never mind that now: we will come to that presently. I want to tell you that I know it now, Max. I guessed a little of it before, but now I am sure of it.’
I had roused him effectually. A sort of dusky red came to his face as he sat up and looked at me. He did not ask me what I meant: we understood each other in a moment. He only sighed heavily, and said, ’I have never told you anything, Ursula, have I?’ but his manner testified no displeasure. He would never have spoken a word to me of his own accord, and yet my sympathy would be a relief to him. I knew Max’s nature so well: he was a shy, reticent man; he could not speak easily of his own feelings unless the ice were broken for him.
‘Max,’ I pleaded, and the tears came into my eyes, ’if my dear mother were living you would have told her all without reserve.’
’I should not have needed to tell her: she would have guessed it, Ursula. Poor Emmie! I never could keep anything from her. I have often told you you are like her: you reminded me of her this afternoon.’
’Then you must make me your confidante in her stead. Do not refuse me again, Max: I have asked this before. In spite of our strange relationship, we are still like brother and sister. You know how quickly I guessed Charlie’s secret: surely you can speak to me, who am her friend, of your affection for Gladys.’