The air was delicious, the summer heat tempered by cool breezes that seemed to come straight from the sea. Gladys lay back luxuriously among the cushions, watching the flicker of green leaves over our heads, or the soft shadows that lurked in the distant meadows, or admiring the picturesque groups of cattle under some wide-spreading tree.
We had nearly reached Pemberley, the white roofs of the cottages were gleaming through a belt of firs, when I at last caught sight of Max. He was half hidden by some blackberry-bushes. I think he was sitting on a stile resting himself; but when he heard the carriage-wheels he came slowly towards us and put up his hand as a sign that Atkinson should pull up.
I shall never forget the sudden illumination that lit up Gladys’s face when she saw him: a lovely colour tinged her cheeks as their eyes met, and she put out her little gray-gloved hand to touch his. I opened the carriage door and slipped down into the road.
‘The horses can stand in the shade a little while, Atkinson,’ I said carelessly: ’I want to get some of those poppies, if the stile be not very high.’ I knew he would be watching me and looking after Whitefoot, who was often a little fidgety, and would take the vicar’s appearance on the Pemberley road as a matter of course.
I was a long time gathering those poppies. Once I peeped through the hedge. I could see two heads very close together. Max’s arms were on the carriage; the little gray-gloved hands were not to be seen; the sunshine was shining on Gladys’s fair hair and Max’s beard. Were they speaking at all? Could Atkinson have heard one of those low tones? And then I went on with my poppies.
It was more than a quarter of an hour when I climbed over the stile again, laden with scarlet poppies and pale-coloured convolvuli. Gladys saw me first. ‘Here is Ursula,’ I heard her say; and Max moved away reluctantly.
‘I do not see why we should not drive you back to Heathfield, Max,’ I remarked coolly; and, as neither of them had any objection to raise, we soon made room for Max.
There was very little said by any of us during the drive home; only Gladys pressed my hand in token of gratitude; her eyes were shining with happiness. As Max looked at the pale, sweet face opposite to him his heart must have swelled with pride and joy: nothing could come between those two now; henceforth they would belong to each other for time and eternity.
Max asked us to put him down at the Three Firs; he had to call at ’The Gowans,’ he said. ‘In two or three days—I cannot wait longer,’ he said, in a meaning tone, as he bade good-bye to Gladys. She blushed and smiled in answer.
‘What does Max mean?’ I asked, as we left him behind us in the road.
‘It is only that he wishes to speak to Giles,’ she returned shyly. ’I asked him to wait a day or two until I felt better; but he does not wish to delay it; he says Giles has always wanted it so, but that he has long lost hope about it.’