‘How very fortunate,’ she began, seating herself with elaborate caution with her back to the light. ’We hardly hoped to find you at home, Miss Garston. My cousin Giles informed us how much engaged you were. We have been so interested in what Mr. Cunliffe told us about it. It is such a romantic scheme, and, as I am a very romantic person, you may be sure of my sympathy. Gladys, dear, is this not a charming room? Positively you have so altered and beautified it that I can hardly believe it is the same room. I told a friend of ours, Mrs. Saunders, that it would never suit her, as it was such a shabby little place.’
‘It is very nice,’ returned Miss Hamilton quietly. ‘I hope,’ fixing her large, beautiful eyes on me, ’that you are comfortable here? We thought perhaps you might be a little dull.’
‘I have no time to be dull,’ I returned, smiling, but Miss Darrell interrupted me.
’No, of course not; busy people are never dull. I told you so, Gladys, as we walked up the road. Depend upon it, I said, Miss Garston will hardly have a minute to give to our idle chatter. She will be wanting to get to her sick people, and wish us at Hanover. Still, as my cousin Giles said, we must do the right thing and call, though I am sure you are not a conventional person; neither am I. Oh, we are quite kindred souls here.’
I tried to receive this speech in good part, but I certainly protested inwardly against the notion that Miss Darrell and I would ever be kindred souls. I felt an instinctive repugnance to her voice; its want of tone jarred on me; and all the time she talked, her hard, bright eyes seemed to dart restlessly from Miss Hamilton to me. I felt sure that nothing could escape their scrutiny; but now and then, when one looked at her in return, she seemed to veil them most curiously under the long curling lashes.
She was rather an elegant-looking woman, but her face was decidedly plain. She had thin lips and rather a square jaw, and her sallow complexion lacked colour. One could not guess her age exactly, but she might have been three-or four-and-thirty. I heard her spoken of afterwards as a very interesting-looking person; certainly her figure was fine, and she knew how to dress herself,—a very useful art when women have no claim to beauty.
Miss Darrell’s voluble tongue seemed to touch on every subject. Miss Hamilton sat perfectly silent, and I had not a chance of addressing her. Once, when I looked at her, I could see her eyes were fixed on my darling’s picture. She was gazing at it with an air of absorbed melancholy: her lips were firmly closed, and her hands lay folded in her lap.
‘That is the picture of my twin-brother,’ I said softly, to arouse her.
To my surprise, she turned paler than ever, and her lips quivered.
‘Your twin brother, yes; and you have lost him?’ But here Miss Darrell chimed in again:
’How very interesting! What a blessing photography is, to be sure? Do you take well, Miss Garston? They make me a perfect fright. I tell my cousins that nothing on earth will induce me to try another sitting. Why should I endure such a martyrdom, if it be not to give pleasure to my friends?’