‘Are his sisters very young, then? Does Miss Darrell manage the house?’
‘Yes. How could you guess that?’ looking at me in surprise. ’Gladys, Miss Hamilton, is about three-and-twenty, but she is very delicate; the younger one, Elizabeth, is two years younger; they are Hamilton’s half-sisters,—his father married twice: that accounts for a good deal.’
‘How do you mean,—accounts for a good deal, Max?’
‘Why people say that Hamilton doesn’t always get on with his sisters,’ he returned reluctantly: ’there are often misunderstandings in families,—want of harmony, and that sort of thing. Mind, I do not say it is true.’
‘But you are so often at Gladwyn, you ought to know, Max.’
’Yes, of course; and now and then I have seen Hamilton a little stern with his sisters; he is rather irritable by nature. I don’t quite understand things myself, but I have got it into my head that they would be happier without Miss Darrell; she is a splendid manager, but it puts Miss Hamilton out of her right place.’
‘But she is an invalid, you say?’
’No, not an invalid, only very delicate, and a little morbid; not quite what a girl ought to be. You could do some good there, Ursula,’ rather eagerly. ’Miss Hamilton has no friends of her own age; she is reserved,—peculiar. You might be a comfort to her; you are sympathetic, sensible, and have known trouble yourself. I should like to see you use your influence there.’
‘I will try, if you wish it, Max. And her name is Gladys?’
‘Yes, Gladys, of Gladwyn,’ he returned, with a smile, but I thought he said it with rather a singular intonation, but it had a musical sound, and I repeated it again to myself,—’Gladys, of Gladwyn.’
NEW BROOMS SWEEP CLEAN
We were interrupted just then by Mrs. Drabble, who came in for the tea-things, and, as usual, held a long colloquy with her master on sundry domestic affairs. When she had at last withdrawn, Uncle Max did not resume the subject. I was somewhat disappointed at this, and in spite of my strong antipathy to Mr. Hamilton I wanted to hear more about his sisters.
He disregarded my hints, however, and began talking to me about my work.
‘Do you know anything about the family Mr. Hamilton mentioned?’ I asked, rather eagerly.
’Oh yes; Mary Marshall’s is a very sad case; she has seven children, not one of them old enough to work for himself; and she is dying, poor creature, of consumption. Her husband is a navvy, and he is at work at Lewes; I believe he is pretty steady, and sends the greater part of his wages to his wife, but there are too many mouths to feed to allow of comforts; his old blind mother lives with them. I believe the neighbours are kind and helpful, and Peggy, the eldest child, is a sharp little creature, but you can imagine the miserable condition of such a home.’