‘What is the use of such questions?’
’I ask for a distinct purpose. You can’t regard me with any respect?’
’To tell you the truth, Everard, I know nothing about you. I have no wish to revive disagreeable memories, and I think it quite possible that you may be worthy of respect.’
’So far so good. Now, in justice, please answer me another question. How have you spoken of me to Miss Nunn?’
‘How can it matter?’
‘It matters a good deal. Have you told her any scandal about me?’
‘Yes, I have.’
Everard looked at her with surprise.
‘I spoke to Miss Nunn about you,’ she continued, ’before I thought of your coming here. Frankly, I used you as an illustration of the evils I abominate.’
‘You are a courageous and plain-spoken woman, cousin Mary,’ said Everard, laughing a little. ’Couldn’t you have found some other example?’
There was no reply.
‘So,’ he proceeded, ‘Miss Nunn regards me as a proved scoundrel?’
’I never told her the story. I made known the general grounds of my dissatisfaction with you, that was all.’
’Come, that’s something. I’m glad you didn’t amuse her with that unedifying bit of fiction.’
‘Yes, fiction,’ said Everard bluntly. ’I am not going into details; the thing’s over and done with, and I chose my course at the time. But it’s as well to let you know that my behaviour was grossly misrepresented. In using me to point a moral you were grievously astray. I shall say no more. Ii you can believe me, do; if you can’t, dismiss the matter from your mind.’
There followed a silence of some moments. Then, with a perfectly calm manner, Miss Barfoot began to speak of a new subject. Everard followed her lead. He did not stay much longer, and on leaving asked to be remembered to Miss Nunn.
A week later he again found his cousin alone. He now felt sure that Miss Nunn was keeping out of his way. Her parting from him in the gardens had been decidedly abrupt, and possibly it signified more serious offence than at the time he attributed to her. It was so difficult to be sure of anything in regard to Miss Nunn. If another woman had acted thus he would have judged it coquetry. But perhaps Rhoda was quite incapable of anything of that kind. Perhaps she took herself so very seriously that the mere suspicion of banter in his talk had moved her to grave resentment. Or again, she might be half ashamed to meet him after confessing her disagreement with Miss Barfoot; on recovery from ill-temper (unmistakable ill-temper it was), she had seen her behaviour in an embarrassing light. Between these various conjectures he wavered whilst talking with Mary. But he did not so much as mention Miss Nunn’s name.