The next morning he came upon a passage in the newspaper which seemed to suggest a cause for Miss Barfoot’s indisposition. It was the report of an inquest. A girl named Bella Royston had poisoned herself. She was living alone, without occupation, and received visits only from one lady. This lady, her name Miss Barfoot, had been supplying her with money, and had just found her a situation in a house of business; but the girl appeared to have gone through troubles which had so disturbed her mind that she could not make the effort required of her. She left a few lines addressed to her benefactress, just saying that she chose death rather than the struggle to recover her position.
It was Saturday. He decided to call in the afternoon and see whether Mary had recovered.
Again a disappointment. Miss Barfoot was better, and had been away since breakfast; Miss Nunn was also absent.
Everard sauntered about the neighbourhood, and presently found himself in the gardens of Chelsea Hospital. It was a warm afternoon, and so still that he heard the fall of yellow leaves as he walked hither and thither along the alleys. His failure to obtain an interview with Miss Nunn annoyed him; but for her presence in the house he would not have got into this habit of going there. As far as ever from harbouring any serious thoughts concerning Rhoda, he felt himself impelled along the way which he had jokingly indicated in talk with Micklethwaite; he was tempted to make love to her as an interesting pastime, to observe how so strong-minded a woman would conduct herself under such circumstances. Had she or not a vein of sentiment in her character? Was it impossible to move her as other women are moved? Meditating thus, he looked up and saw the subject of his thoughts. She was seated a few yards away, and seemingly had not yet become aware of him, her eyes were on the ground, and troubled reverie appeared in her countenance.
’I have just called at the house, Miss Nunn. How is my cousin to-day?’
She had looked up only a moment before he spoke, and seemed vexed at being thus discovered.
‘I believe Miss Barfoot is quite well,’ she answered coldly, as they shook hands.
‘But yesterday she was not so.’
‘A headache, or something of the kind.’
He was astonished. Rhoda spoke with a cold indifference. She has risen, and showed her wish to move from the spot.
’She had to attend an inquest yesterday. Perhaps it rather upset her?’
‘Yes, I think it did.’
Unable to adapt himself at once to this singular mood of Rhoda’s, but resolved not to let her go before he had tried to learn the cause of it, he walked along by her side. In this part of the gardens there were only a few nursemaids and children; it would have been a capital place and time for improving his intimacy with the remarkable woman. But possibly she was determined to be rid of him. A contest between his will and hers would be an amusement decidedly to his taste.