CROSSING THE RIVER
Max waited for me to speak, but I had no words ready for the occasion. My silence seemed to perplex him.
‘You have heard everything now, Ursula.’
’Yes, I suppose so. I am very sorry for you, Max; you have suffered cruelly. And this only happened last year?’
’It is very strange,—very mysterious. I do not seem to understand it. I cannot find the clue to all this.’
‘There is no clue needed,’ he returned impatiently. ’Miss Hamilton is in love with her cousin, and is sorry for my disappointment.’
‘I do not believe it,’ I replied bluntly. And yet, as I said this, Gladys’s conduct seemed to me perfectly inexplicable. It was just possible that Max’s statement, after all, might be correct,—that she did not love him well enough to marry him: and this would account for her nervousness and constraint in his presence: a sensitive girl like Gladys would never be at her ease under such circumstances. But she had promised not to withdraw her friendship: why had she then given up her work and made herself a stranger to his dearest interest? I had seen her struggle with herself when he had begged her to resume her class. A brightness had come to her eyes, her manner had become warm and animated, as though the stirring of new life were in her veins, and then she had refused him very gently, and a certain dimness and blight had crept over her. I had wondered then at her.
No, I could not bring myself to believe that she was indifferent to Max. He was so good, so worthy of her. And yet—and yet, do we women always choose the best? Perhaps, as Max said, she knew him too well for him to influence her fancy. Captain Hamilton’s scars and medals might cast a glamour over her. Gladys was very impulsive and enthusiastic; perhaps Max was too quiet and gentle to take her heart by storm.
I had plenty of time for these reflections, for Max sat moodily silent after my blunt remark, but at last he said,—
’I am afraid I believe it, Ursula, and that is more to the purpose. Miss Darrell has dispelled my last hope.’
‘You mean that Captain Hamilton’s return speaks badly for your chances?’
‘I have no chances,’ very gloomily. ’I am out of the running. Miss Hamilton’s message—for I suppose it was a message—was my final answer. She did not wish me to speak to her again.’
‘Are you sure that she sent that message?’
‘Am I sure that I am sitting here?’ he answered, rather irritably. ’What have you got in your head, Ursula, my dear? You must not let personal dislike influence your better judgment. Perhaps Miss Darrell is not to my taste; I think her sometimes officious and wanting in delicacy; but I do not doubt her for a moment.’
‘That is a pity,’ I returned drily, ’for she is certainly not true; but all you men swear by her.’ For I felt—heaven forgive me!—almost a hatred of this woman, unreasonable as it seemed; but women have these instincts sometimes, and Max had warned me against Miss Darrell from the first.