The moon was just rising behind the little avenue, and the soft rush of summer air that met me as I stepped through the open door had the breath of a thousand flowers on it. Mr. Hamilton was shut safely in his study; I was aware of that fact, as I had heard him tell Gladys that night that he had a medical article to write that he was anxious to finish. Miss Darrell would be reading novels in the drawing-room; there was no fear of meeting any one; but some instinct—for we have no word in our human language to express the divine impetus that sways our inward promptings—induced me to take refuge in the dark asphalt path that skirted the meadow and led to Atkinson’s cottage and the kitchen-garden.
I was unhappy,—in a mood that savoured of misanthropy; my fate was growing cross-grained, enigmatical. Mr. Hamilton’s frown had struck cold to my heart; I was beginning to lose patience (to lose hope was impossible),—to ask myself why he remained silent.
’If he has anything against me,—and his manner tells me that he has,—why does he not treat me with frankness?’ I thought. ’He calls himself my friend, and yet he reposes no trust in me. He breaks my heart with his changed looks and coldness, and yet he gives me no reason for his injustice. I would not treat my enemy so, and yet all the time I feel he loves me.’ And as I paced under the dark hanging shrubs I felt there was nothing morbid or untrue in those lines, that ’to be wroth with one that we love does work like madness on the brain,’ and that I was growing angry with Mr. Hamilton.
I had just reached a dark angle where the path dips a little, when I was startled by hearing voices close to me. There was a seat screened by some laurel-bushes that went by the name of ‘Conspiracy Corner,’ dating back from the time when Gladys and Eric were children and had once hidden some fireworks among the bushes. It was there that Claude Hamilton had proposed to Lady Betty, when Gladys had found them, and the two young creatures had appealed to her to help them. The seat was so hidden and secluded by shrubs that you could pass without seeing its occupants, unless a little bit of fluttering drapery or the gleam of some gold chain or locket caught one’s eye. I remembered once being very much startled when Lady Betty popped out suddenly on me as I passed.
I was just retracing my steps, with a sense of annoyance at finding my privacy invaded, when a sentence in Leah’s voice attracted my attention:
’I tell you he was driving with them this afternoon: I heard Miss Garston tell the master so. It is no good you fretting and worrying yourself, Miss Etta, to prevent those two coming together. I’ve always warned you that the vicar cares more for her little finger than he does for all your fine airs and graces.’
I stood as though rooted to the spot, incapable of moving a step.
‘You are a cruel, false woman!’ returned another voice, which I recognised as Miss Darrell’s, though it was broken with angry sobs. ’You say that to vex me and make me wretched because you are in a bad temper. You are an ungrateful creature, Leah, after all my kindness; and it was you yourself who told me that he was getting tired of Gladys’s whims and vagaries.’