‘Do you think I am in the mood for joking?’ he said, at last. ’Have you ever heard me jest on such subjects, Miss Garston? I thought we agreed on that point.’
‘Do you mean you are serious?’
’Then in that case will you kindly explain to me why you think I am to be congratulated?’
He looked uncomfortable. ’I have understood that you and Mr. Tudor were engaged, or, at least, likely to become so. Do you mean,’ as my astonished face seemed to open room for doubt, ’that it is not true?—that Etta deceived me there?’
‘Miss Darrell!’ scornfully; then, controlling my strong indignation with an effort, I said, more quietly, ’I think that we ought to beg Mr. Tudor’s pardon for dragging in his name in this way: he would hardly thank us. If I am not mistaken, he is in love with my cousin Jocelyn.’
’Impossible! What a credulous fool I have been to believe her! Your cousin Jocelyn,—do you mean Miss Jill?’
‘Yes,’ I returned, smiling, for a sense of renewed happiness was stealing over me. ’The foolish fellow is always following me about to talk of her. I do believe he is honestly in love with her. He saved her life, and that makes it all the worse.’
‘All the better, you mean,’ regarding me gravely. That fixed, serious look made me rather confused.
‘Would you mind telling me, Mr. Hamilton,’ I interposed hurriedly, ’what put this absurd idea into your head?’
‘It was Etta,’ he returned, in a low voice. ’It was that night when you had been singing to us, and she came home unexpectedly.’
‘Yes, yes, I remember’; but I could not meet his eyes.
’She told me when we got home that Mr. Tudor was in love with you, and that she believed you were engaged, or that, at least, there was an understanding between you; and she added that if I did not believe her I might watch for myself, and I should see that you were always together.’
‘Well?’ rather impatiently.
’I will beg your pardon afterwards for following Etta’s advice, but I did watch, and it was not long before I came round to her opinion.’
’Wait a moment before you get angry with me again. I never saw you in a passion before’; but I knew he was laughing at me. ’Etta was certainly right in one thing: I seemed always finding you together.’
’That was because I often met Mr. Tudor in the village, and he turned back and walked with me a little; but we always talked of Jill.’
‘How could I know that?’ in rather an injured voice. ’Were you talking of Miss Jocelyn in the vicarage kitchen-garden that evening?’
‘Probably,’ was my cool reply; for how could I remember all the subjects of our conversation?
’And when you went to Hyde Park Gate, you were together then,—Leah saw you,—and—’ But I could bear no more.
’How could I know that I should be watched and spied upon, and all my innocent actions misrepresented?’ I exclaimed indignantly. ’It was not fair, Mr. Hamilton. I could not have believed it of you, that you should listen to such things against me. That boy, too!’