‘Do you mean,’ she said, ’that Miss Nunn seems to disguise her feelings?’
’It is supposed to be wrong—isn’t it?—for a man to ask one woman her opinion of another.’
‘I can’t be treacherous if I wished,’ Monica replied. ’I don’t feel that I understand her.’
Barfoot wondered how much intelligence he might attribute to Mrs. Widdowson. Obviously her level was much below that of Rhoda. Yet she seemed to possess delicate sensibilities, and a refinement of thought not often met with in women of her position. Seriously desiring her aid, he looked at her with a grave smile, and asked,—
‘Do you believe her capable of falling in love?’
Monica showed a painful confusion. She overcame it, however, and soon answered.
‘She would perhaps try not—not to acknowledge it to herself.’
‘When, in fact, it had happened?’
‘She thinks it so much nobler to disregard such feelings.’
’I know. She is to be an inspiring example to the women who cannot hope to marry.’ He laughed silently. ’And I suppose it is quite possible that mere shame would withhold her from taking the opposite course.’
‘I think she is very strong. But—’
He looked eagerly into her face.
’I can’t tell. I don’t really know her. A woman may be as much a mystery to another woman as she is to a man.’
’On the whole, I am glad to hear you say that. I believe it. It is only the vulgar that hold a different opinion.’
‘Shall we look at the pictures, Mr. Barfoot?’
‘Oh, I am so sorry. I have been wasting your time—’
Nervously disclaiming any such thought, Monica, rose and drew near to the canvases. They walked on together for some ten minutes, until Barfoot, who had turned to look at a passing figure, said in his ordinary voice—
‘I think that is Mr. Widdowson on the other side of the room.’
Monica looked quickly round, and saw her husband, as if occupied with the pictures, glancing in her direction.
THE CLANK OF THE CHAINS
Since Saturday evening Monica and her husband had not been on speaking terms. A visit she paid to Mildred Vesper, after her call at Miss Barfoot’s, prolonged itself so that she did not reach home until the dinner-hour was long past. On arriving, she was met with an outburst of tremendous wrath, to which she opposed a resolute and haughty silence; and since then the two had kept as much apart as possible.