I felt myself turning rather pale. ’Are you sure that Miss Darrell has been talking about me, Gladys?’
‘I have not heard her do so,’ was the somewhat disappointing reply, for I had hoped then that she had heard something. ’But I was quite as sure of the fact as though my ears convicted her. I have only circumstantial evidence again to offer you, but to my mind it is conclusive. You parted friends that evening with Giles. Correct me if I am wrong.’
’Oh no; you are quite right. Your brother and I had no word of disagreement.’
’No; he left the house radiant. When he returned, which was not for an hour,—for he and Etta were out all that time in the garden, and they sent Lady Betty in to finish her packing,—he was looking worried and miserable, and shut himself up in his study. Since then he has been in one of his taciturn, unsociable moods: nothing pleases him. He takes no notice of us. Even Etta is scolded, but she bears it good-humouredly and takes her revenge on me afterwards. A pleasant state of things, Ursula!’
‘Very,’ I returned, sighing, for I thought this piece of evidence conclusive enough.
‘Now you will be good,’ she went on, in a coaxing voice, ’and you will ask Giles, like a reasonable woman, what Etta has been saying to him?’
‘Indeed, I shall do no such thing,’ I answered. And my cheek began to flush. ’If your brother is ungenerous enough to condemn me unheard, I shall certainly not interfere with his notions of justice. Do not trouble yourself about it, Gladys. It will come right some day. And indeed it does not matter so much to me, except it keeps us apart.’
Now why, when I spoke so haughtily and disagreeably, and told this little fib, did Gladys suddenly take me in her arms and kiss me most sorrowfully and tenderly?
‘One after another!’ she sighed. ‘Oh, it is hard, Ursula!’ But I would not let her talk any more about it, for I was afraid I was breaking down and might make a goose of myself: so I spoke of Eric, and told her that I had written to Joe Muggins without success, and soon turned her thoughts into another channel.
‘I CLAIM THAT PROMISE, URSULA’
It was soon after this that Uncle Max came home.
I met Mr. Tudor in the village one morning, and he told me with great glee that they had just received a telegram telling them that he was on his way, and an hour after his arrival he came down to the cottage.
Directly I heard his ’Well, little woman, how has the world treated you in my absence?’ I felt quite cheered, and told my little fib without effort:
‘Very well indeed, thank you, Max.’
It is really a psychological puzzle to me why women who are otherwise strictly true and honourable in their dealings and abhor the very name of falsehood are much addicted to this sort of fibbing under certain circumstances; for instance, the number of white lies that I actually told at that time was something fabulous, yet the sin of hypocrisy did not lie very heavily on my soul.