When I assured Uncle Max with a smiling face that things were well with me, his only answer was to take my chin in his hand and turn my face quietly to the light.
’Are you quite sure you are speaking the truth? You look rather thin; and why are your eyes so serious, little she bear?’
‘It is such hot weather,’ I returned, wincing under his kindly scrutiny. ’And we—that is, I have had anxious work lately. I wrote to you about poor Janet Coombe. It is a miracle that she has pulled through this illness.’
’Yes, indeed: I met Hamilton just now on his way to her, and he declared her recovery was owing to your nursing; but we will take that with a grain of salt, Ursula: we both know how devoted Hamilton is to his patients.’
‘He has saved her life,’ was my reply, and for a moment my eyes grew dim at the remembrance of the untiring patience with which he had watched beside the poor girl. It was in the sick-room that I first learned to know him,—when metaphorically I sat at his feet, and he taught me lessons of patience and tenderness that I should never forget until my life’s end.
When we had talked about this a little while, Max asked me rather abruptly when Captain Hamilton was expected. The question startled me, for I had almost forgotten his existence.
‘I do not know,’ I returned uneasily, for I was afraid Max would think I had been remiss. ’Lady Betty is away, and I have only seen Gladys twice since my return, and each time I forgot to ask her.’
‘Only twice, and you have been at home more than three weeks,’ observed Max, in a dissatisfied voice.
‘I have been so engaged,’ I replied quickly, ’and you know how seldom Gladys comes to the cottage. Max, do you know you have been here a quarter of an hour, and I have never congratulated you on your good fortune! I was so glad to hear Mrs. Trevor left you that money.’
‘I did not need it,’ he returned, rather gloomily. ’I had quite sufficient for my own wants. I do not think that I am particularly mercenary, Ursula: the books and antiquities were more to my taste.’
Max was certainly not in the best of spirits, but I did all I could to cheer him. I told him of Gladys’s improved looks, and how much her change had benefited her, but he listened rather silently. I saw he was bent on learning Captain Hamilton’s movements, and reproached myself that I had not questioned Gladys. I was determined that I would speak to her about her cousin the next time we met.
Max went away soon after this; he was rather tired with his journey, he said; but the next morning I received a note from him asking me to dine with him the following evening, as he had seen so little of me lately, and he wanted to hear all about the wedding.
Of course I was too glad to accept this invitation,—I always liked to go to the vicarage,—and this evening proved especially pleasant.