‘You must not say that! I cannot part with you, Ursula!’ she exclaimed vehemently. ‘If you go, you must take me with you.’ And it was some time before she would let herself be laughed out of her anxious thoughts.
When I revolved all these things in my mind,—her prolonged delicacy and painful sensitiveness, her aversion to her cousin, and her evident dread of the future,—I felt that the time had come to seek a more complete understanding on a point that still perplexed me: I must come to the bottom of this singular change in her manner to Max. I must know without doubt and reserve the real state of her feeling with regard to him and her cousin Claude. If, as I had grown to think during these weeks of illness, one of these two men, and not Eric, was the chief cause of her melancholy, I must know which of these two had so agitated her young life. But in my own mind I never doubted which it was.
This was the difficult task I had set myself, and I felt that it would not be easy to approach the subject. Gladys was exceedingly reserved, even with me; it had cost her an effort to speak to me of Eric, and she had never once mentioned her cousin Captain Hamilton’s name.
A woman like Gladys would be extremely reticent on the subject of lovers: the deeper her feelings, the more she would conceal them. Unlike other girls, I never heard her speak in the light jesting way with which others mention a love-affair. She once told me that she considered it far too sacred and serious to be used as a topic of general conversation. ’People do not know what they are talking about when they say such things,’ she said, in a moved voice: ’there is no reverence, and little reticence, nowadays. Girls talk of falling in love, or men felling in love with them, as lightly as they would speak of going to a ball. They do not consider the responsibility, the awfulness, of such an election, being chosen out of a whole worldful of women to be the light and life of a man’s home. Oh, it hurts me to hear some girls talk!’ she finished, with a slight shudder.
Knowing the purity and uprightness of this girl’s nature, I confess I hesitated long in intruding myself into that inner sanctuary that she guarded so carefully; but for Max’s sake—poor Max, who grew more tired-looking and haggard every day—I felt it would be cruel to hesitate longer.
So one evening, when we were sitting quietly together enjoying the cool evening air, I took Gladys’s thin hand in mine and asked her if she felt well enough for me to talk to her about something that had long troubled me, and that I feared speaking to her about, dreading lest I should displease her. I thought she looked a little apprehensive at my seriousness, but she replied very sweetly, and the tears came into her beautiful eyes as she spoke, that nothing I could say or do could displease her; that I was so true a friend to her that it would be impossible for her to take offence.