But an unerring instinct told me that the sound of Max’s voice would be a strong cordial to the invalid, it was so long since she had heard or seen him. As we sauntered under the oak-trees I knew Gladys would be watching us.
On my return to the room I found her sitting bolt upright in her arm-chair, grasping the arms; there were two spots of colour on her cheeks; she looked nervous and excited.
’I saw you walking with him, Ursula; he looked up, but I am glad he could not see me. Did—did he send me any message?’ in a faltering voice.
‘Yes, he sent you this.’ And I placed the thick packet on her lap. ’Miss Hamilton,’—yes, it was her own name: he had written it. I saw her look at it, first incredulously, then with dawning hope in her eyes; but before her trembling hands could break the old-fashioned seal with which he had sealed it I had noiselessly left the room.
DOWN THE PEMBERLEY ROAD
Three-quarters of an hour had elapsed before I ventured into the room again; but at the first sound of my footsteps Gladys looked up, and called to me in a voice changed and broken with happiness.
‘Ursula, dear Ursula, come here.’ And as I knelt down beside her and put my arms round her she laid her cheek against my shoulder: it was wet with tears.
’Ursula, I am so happy. Do you know that he loves me, that he has loved me all through these years? You must not see what he says; it is only for my eyes; it is too sweet and sacred to be repeated; but I never dreamt that any one could care for me like that.’
I kissed her without speaking; there seemed a lump in my throat just then. I did not often repine, but the yearning sense of pain was strong on me. When would this cruel silence between me and Giles be broken? But Gladys, wrapt in her own blissful thoughts, did not notice my emotion.
’He says that there is much that he can only tell me by word of mouth, and that he dare not trust to a letter explanations for his silence, and much that I shall have to tell him in return; for we shall need each other’s help in making everything clear.
’He seems to reproach himself bitterly, and asks my pardon over and over again for misunderstanding me so. He says my giving up my work was the first blow to his hopes, and then he had been told that I cared for my cousin Claude. He believed until this morning that I was in love with him; and it was your going to him—oh, my darling! how good you have been to me and him!—that gave him courage to write this letter, Ursula.’ And here she cried a little. ’Was it Etta who told him this falsehood about, Claude? How could she he so wicked and cruel?’
‘Do not think about her to-day, my dearest,’ I returned soothingly. ’Her punishment will be great some day. We will not sit in judgment on her just now. She cannot touch your happiness again, thank heaven!’