I was rather surprised at this beginning; but without waiting for any answer, she went on.
‘What is this Mr. Cunliffe tells me?’ she asked, fixing her blue eyes on my face with marked interest. ’You are going to carry out your old scheme, Ursula, about nursing poor people and singing to them. He tells me you have chosen Heathfield for your future home, and that he is to find you lodgings. Sit down, dear, and tell me all about it,’ she went on eagerly. ‘I thought you had given up all that when—when—’ but here she stopped and her lips trembled; of course she meant when Charlie died, but she rarely spoke his name. I would not let her see my astonishment,—she had never seemed so sisterly before,—but I took the seat close to her and talked to her as openly as though she were Jill or Uncle Max; now and then I paused, and we could hear Colonel Ferguson’s deep voice: he was evidently turning over the pages of Sara’s music.
‘Go on, Ursula; I like to hear it,’ Lesbia would say when I hesitated; she was not looking at me, but at the fire, with her cheek supported against her hand.
‘What do you think of it?’ I asked, presently, when I had finished and we had both been silent a few minutes listening to one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words that Sara was playing very nicely.
‘What do I think of it?’ she replied, and her voice startled me, it was so full of pain. ’Oh, Ursula, I think you are to be envied! If I could only come with you and work too!—but there is mother, she could not do without me, and so we must just go on in the same old way.’
I was so shocked at the hopelessness of her tone, so taken aback at her words, that I could not answer her for a moment: it seemed inconceivable to me that she could be saying such things. Poor pretty Lesbia, whom Charlie had loved and whom I considered a mere fragile butterfly. She was quite pale now, and her eyes filled suddenly with tears.
’You do not believe me, Ursula; no, I was right—you never understood me. I often told dear Charlie so. You think, because I laugh and dance and do as other girls do, that I have forgotten—that I do not suffer. Do you think I shall ever find any one so good and kind in this world again? Oh, you are hard on me, and I am so miserable, so unhappy, without Charlie. And I am not like you: I cannot work myself into forgetfulness; I must stop with mother and do as she bids me, and she says it is my duty to be gay.’
I was so ashamed of myself, of my mean injustice, that I was very nearly crying myself as I asked her pardon.
‘Why do you say that?’ she returned, almost pettishly, only she looked so miserable. ’I have nothing to forgive. I only want you to be good to me and not think the worst, for I’m really fond of you, Ursula, only you are so reserved and cold with me,’
‘My poor dear,’ I returned, taking the pretty face between my hands and kissing it. ’I will never be unkind to you again. Forgive me if I have misunderstood you: for Charlie’s sake I want to love you.’ And then she put her head down on my shoulder and cried a little, and bemoaned herself for being so unhappy; and all the time I comforted her my guilty conscience owned that Uncle Max was right.