‘Oh, Mr. Eric, and you never considered how Gladys would suffer!’
’Yes, that was my only trouble; but I thought they would turn her against me in time. I was nearly mad, I tell you: but for Phil Power I believe I should have been desperate; but he stuck to me, and was always telling me that a man can live down anything. Indeed, but for Phil and his pretty little wife I should have starved, for I had no notion of helping myself, and would not have begged for a job to save my life, for I could not forget I was a gentleman. But Phil got me work at his governor’s. So I turned house-painter, and rather liked my employment. I used to tell myself that it was better than old Armstrong’s office. Why, I make two pounds a week now when we are in full work,’ finished the poor lad proudly.
My heart was yearning over him, he was so boyish and weak and impulsive; but I would not spare him. I told him that it was cowardly of him to hide himself,—that it would have been braver and nobler to have lived his life openly. ‘Why not have let your brother know what you were doing?’ I continued. ’For years this shadow has been over his home. He has believed you dead. He has even feared self-destruction. This fear has embittered his life and made him a hard, unhappy man.’
‘Do you mean Giles has suffered like that?’ he exclaimed; and his gray eyes grew misty.
’Yes, in spite of all your sins against him, he has loved you dearly; and Gladys—’ But he put up his hand, as though he could hear no more.
’Yes, I know, poor darling; but I have often seen her, often been near her; but I heard her laugh, and thought she was happy and had forgotten me. How long is it since Leah confessed, Miss—Miss—’ And here he laughed a little nervously. ’I do not know who you are, and yet you must be a friend.’
’I am Ursula Garston, a very close friend of your sister Gladys, and I have been nursing her in this last illness.’
‘What! has she been ill?’ he asked anxiously. And when I had given him full particulars he questioned me again about Leah’s confession, and I had to repeat all I could remember of her words.
‘Then I was not cleared when you spoke to me at Hyde Park Gate?’ he returned, with a relieved air. ’So it did not matter my giving you the slip. You frightened me horribly, Miss Garston, I can tell you that. I saw those advertisements, too, to Jack Poynter, and I was very near leaving the country; but I am glad I held on, as Phil advised,’ drawing a long breath as he spoke.
‘AT LAST, URSULA, AT LAST!’
We were interrupted at this moment by the landlady’s voice calling to Eric from the bottom of the stairs.
’Jack,—I say, Jack, what has become of the steak I promised to cook for you? I’ll be bound Jenny has eaten it.’
Eric gave a short laugh and went out into the passage, and I heard him say, in rather a low voice,—