‘Did he offer to go away?’
’It was really impossible. It took him more than half an hour to get here from Sloane Square.’
‘Foolish fellow! Why didn’t he take a train back at once?’
There was a peculiar brightness in Rhoda’s countenance, and Miss Barfoot had observed it from the first.
‘Did you quarrel much?’
‘Not more than was to be expected.’
‘He didn’t think of staying for my return?’
‘He left about ten o’clock.’
’Of course. Quite late enough, under the circumstances. It was very unfortunate, but I don’t suppose Everard cared much. He would enjoy the opportunity of teasing you.’
A glance told her that Everard was not alone in his enjoyment of the evening. Rhoda led the talk into other channels, but Miss Barfoot continued to reflect on what she had perceived.
A few evenings after, when Miss Barfoot had been sitting alone for an hour or two, Rhoda came to the library and took a place near her. The elder woman glanced up from her book, and saw that her friend had something special to say.
‘What is it, dear?’
’I am going to tax your good-nature, to ask you about unpleasant things.’
Miss Barfoot knew immediately what this meant. She professed readiness to answer, but had an uneasy look.
’Will you tell me in plain terms what it was that your cousin did when he disgraced himself?’
‘Must you really know?’
‘I wish to know.’
There was a pause. Miss Barfoot kept her eyes on the page open before her.
’Then I shall take the liberty of an old friend, Rhoda. Why do you wish to know?’
‘Mr. Barfoot,’ answered the other dryly, ’has been good enough to say that he is in love with me.’
Their eyes met.
’I suspected it. I felt sure it was coming. He asked you to marry him?’
‘No, he didn’t,’ replied Rhoda in purposely ambiguous phrase.
‘You wouldn’t allow him to?’
’At all events, it didn’t come to that. I should be glad if you would let me know what I asked.’
Miss Barfoot deliberated, but finally told the story of Amy Drake. Her hands supporting one knee, her head bent, Rhoda listened without comment, and, to judge from her features, without any emotion of any kind.
‘That,’ said her friend at the close, ’is the story as it was understood at the time—disgraceful to him in every particular. He knew what was said of him, and offered not a word of contradiction. But not very long ago he asked me one evening if you had been informed of this scandal. I told him that you knew he had done something which I thought very base. Everard was hurt, and thereupon he declared that neither I nor any other of his acquaintances knew the truth—that he had been maligned. He refused to say more, and what am I to believe?’
Rhoda was listening with livelier attention.