The amused mockery in his voice gave her courage.
“For one thing, I’m going to tell you that people—gossip—that there are—are——”
“Rumours?” he asked in pretended anxiety.
“Yes.... About you and—of course they are silly and contemptible; but what’s the use of being attentive enough to a woman—careless enough to give colour to them?”
After an interval he said: “Perhaps you’ll tell me who beside myself these rumours concern?”
“You know, don’t you?”
“There might be several,” he said coolly. “Who is it?”
For a moment a tiny flash of anger made her cheeks hot. Then she said:
“You know perfectly well it’s Rosalie. I think we have become good enough comrades for me to use a man’s privilege——”
“Men wouldn’t permit themselves that sort of privilege,” he said, laughing.
“Aren’t men frank with their friends?” she demanded hotly.
“About as frank as women.”
“I thought—” She hesitated, tingling with the old desire to hurt him, flick him in the raw, make him wince in his exasperating complacency. Then, “I’ve said it anyhow. I’m trying to show an interest in you—as you asked me to do——”
He turned in the darkness, caught her hand:
“You dear little thing,” he whispered, laughing.
During the week the guests at Roya-Neh were left very much to their own devices. Nobody was asked to do anything; there were several good enough horses at their disposal, two motor cars, a power-boat, canoes, rods, and tennis courts and golf links. The chances are they wanted sea-bathing. Inland guests usually do.
Scott Seagrave, however, concerned himself little about his guests. All day long he moused about his new estate, field-glasses dangling, cap on the back of his head, pockets bulging with untidy odds and ends until the increasing carelessness of his attire and manners moved Kathleen Severn to protest.
“I don’t know what is the matter with you, Scott,” she said. “You were always such a fastidious boy—even dandified. Doesn’t anybody ever cut your hair? Doesn’t somebody keep your clothes in order?”
“Yes, but I tear ’em again,” he replied, carefully examining a small dark-red newt which he held in the palm of one hand. “I say, Kathleen, look at this little creature. I was messing about under the ledges along Hurryon Brook, and found this amphibious gentleman occupying the ground-floor apartment of a flat stone.”
Kathleen craned her dainty neck over the shoulder of his ragged shooting coat.
“He’s red enough to be poisonous, isn’t he? Oh, do be careful!”
“It’s only a young newt. Take him in your hand; he’s cool and clammy and rather agreeable.”
“Scott, I won’t touch him!”