Una was silent for a moment and then her words came slowly, rather wistfully.
“Was she a friend of yours?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, a friend.”
“And did you know her for any length of time to be honorable, upright, decent?”
“Oh, yes, quite so.”
Una paused another moment and when she spoke her voice was crystal-clear.
“Then all I would like to say is that the mind that can conceive of evil in such a piece of innocent imprudence is unclean, beyond words! Is that all that you wanted to know?”
Marcia leaned back in her chair holding her breath for a moment and then broke into a peal of laughter.
“There! You see. I knew you would agree with me.”
The people in the room looked from one to the other, aware of a hidden meaning in the situation. Channing Lloyd had paused in the act of pouring out another glass of wine and stood blinking heavily. The only sound was a nervous titter from the Da Costa girl. Una looked around from face to face as though seeking those of her friends and then spoke fearlessly.
“You may not know what this hypothetical question means or its answer?” she said with a smile. “I will tell you. I was that girl. Jerry Benham, the man. The place was here. I am accustomed to going where and with whom I please.” She tossed her small head proudly, “Those who can see evil where evil doesn’t exist are welcome to their opinions. As for my friends—”
Here a chorus of protest went up, from the treble of the Da Costa girl to Laidlaw’s deep bass.
“Una—you silly child—of course no one thinks—”
“As for my friends,” she repeated, her voice slightly raised, “I will choose them by this token.”
I had not misjudged her. Her scorn of Marcia was ineffable, and I think the girl at the tea-urn had a sense of being at a disadvantage, for the idea of Una’s frank admission had never entered Marcia’s pretty intriguing head. She was hoist with her own petard and covered her confusion by a light laugh which was most unconvincing.
“Of course, Una, I didn’t mean—”
But the rest of her sentence was lost in the sudden disintegration of the party into groups, some of which followed Una to the door. Jerry had regained his senses and strode out after her.”
“I’m going with you, Una,” I heard him say.
“It isn’t necessary. I can find the way. Good-by, everybody. No, thanks, Phil.”
But Jerry went on with her and I broke through the sympathetic crowd at the doorway and followed. Like Jerry, I too had been stunned, but unlike Jerry, in the reaction I was finding a secret delight in Una’s splendid mastery of the situation. The pair were already far in advance of me, Una hurrying sedately, Jerry, his hands deep in his pockets, striding like a furious young god beside her, earnestly talking. It was not until they heard the sound of my hurrying footsteps that they stopped and turned.