I saw him shrink a little at that, and his honest brown eyes were full of pain.
‘My affection for Gladys,’ he repeated, in a low voice. ’You are very frank, Ursula; but somehow I do not seem to mind it. I never care for Miss Darrell to speak to me on the subject, although she has been so kind; in fact, no one could have been kinder. We can only act up to our own natures: it is certainly not her fault, but only my misfortune, that her sympathy jars on me.’
Max’s words gave me acute pain.
‘Surely you have not chosen Miss Darrell for your confidante, Max?’
‘I have chosen no one,’ he returned, with gentle rebuke at my vehemence. ’Circumstances made Miss Darrell acquainted with my unlucky attachment. She did all she could to help me, and out of common gratitude I could not refuse to listen to her well-meant efforts to comfort me.’
I remained silent from sheer dismay. Things were far worse than I had imagined. I began to lose hope from the moment I heard Miss Darrell had been mixed up in the affair; the thought sickened me. I could hardly bear to hear Max speak; and yet how was I to help him unless he made me acquainted with the real state of the case?
‘I suppose I had better tell you all from the beginning,’ he said, rather dejectedly; ’that is, as far as I know myself, for I can hardly tell you when I began to love Gladys. I call her Gladys to myself,’ with a faint smile, ’and it comes naturally to me. I ought to have said Miss Hamilton.’
‘But not to me, Max,’ I returned eagerly.
’What does it matter what I call her? She will never take the only name I want to give her!’ was the melancholy reply to this. ’I only know one thing, Ursula, that for three years—ay, and longer than that—she has been the one woman in the world to me, and that as long as she and I live no other woman shall ever cross the threshold of the vicarage as its mistress.’
‘Has it gone so deep as that, my poor Max?’
‘Yes,’ he returned briefly. ’But we need not enter into that part of the subject; a man had best keep his own counsel in such matters. I want to tell you bare facts, Ursula; we may as well leave feelings alone. If you can help me to understand one or two points that are still misty to my comprehension, you will do me good service.’
‘I will try my very best for you both.’
’Thank you, but we cannot both be helped in the same way; our paths do not lie together. Miss Hamilton has refused to become my wife.’
‘Oh, Max! not refused, surely.’ This was another blow,—that he should have tried and failed,—that Gladys with her own lips should have refused him; but perhaps he had written to her, and there was some misunderstanding; but when I hinted this to Max he shook his head.