’Mr. Cunliffe is in the drawing-room, and he would like to speak to you for a moment.’ she said, in a voice that showed me how unwilling she was to bring me the message. ’I told him that you never cared to be disturbed in the morning, as you were so busy; but he was peremptory.’
‘I am never too busy to see Uncle Max: he knows that,’ I returned quickly. ‘Will you kindly allow me a few moments alone with him?’ for she was actually preparing to follow me, but after this request she retired sulkily into her own room.
I found Max standing in the middle of the room, looking anxiously towards the door: the moment it closed behind me he put a thick white envelope in my hand.
‘There it is, Ursula,’ he said nervously: ’will you give it to her as soon as possible? I have been literally on thorns the last quarter of an hour. Miss Darrell would not take any of my hints that I wished to see you: so I was obliged at last to say that I could not wait another moment, and that I must ask her to fetch you at once.’
‘Poor Max! I can imagine your feelings; but I have it safe here,’ tapping my apron pocket. ‘But you must not go just yet.’ And I beckoned him across the room to the window that overlooked a stiff prickly shrub.
He looked at me in some surprise. ‘We are alone, Ursula.’
’Yes, I know: but the walls have ears in this house: one is never safe near the conservatory: there are too many doors. Tell me, Max, how have you got on with Miss Darrell this morning?’
‘I was praying hard for patience all the time,’ he replied, half laughing. ’It was maddening to see her sitting there so cool and crisp in her yellow tea-gown—well, what garment was it?’ as I uttered a dissenting ejaculation: ’something flimsy and aesthetic. I thought her smooth sentences would never stop.’
‘Did she notice any change in your manner to her?’
’I am afraid so, for I saw her look at me quite uneasily more than once. I could not conceal that I was terribly bored. I have no wish to be discourteous to a lady, especially to one of my own church workers; but after what has passed I find it very difficult to forgive her.’
This was strong language on Max’s part. I could see that as a woman he could hardly tolerate her, but he could not bring himself to condemn her even to me. He hardly knew yet what he had to forgive: neither he nor Gladys had any real idea of the treachery that had separated them.
Max would not stay many minutes, he was so afraid of Miss Darrell coming into the room again. I did rather an imprudent thing after that. Max was going to the Maberleys’, for the colonel was seriously ill, so I begged him to go the garden way, and I kept him for a moment under the window of the turret-room.
I saw him glance up eagerly, almost hungrily, but the blinds were partially down, and there was only a white curtain flapping in the summer breeze.