Whilst talking and listening, she silently defended herself against the charge of impropriety. What wrong was she committing? What matter that they were alone? Their talk was precisely what it might have been in other people’s presence. And Bevis, such a frank, good-hearted fellow, could not by any possibility fail in respect to her. The objections were all cant, and cant of the worst kind. She would not be a slave of such ignoble prejudices.
‘You haven’t made Mr. Barfoot’s acquaintance yet?’ she asked.
’No, I haven’t. There seems to have been no opportunity. Did you seriously wish me to know him?’
‘Oh, I had no wish in the matter at all.’
‘You like Mr. Barfoot?’
‘I think him very pleasant.’
’How delightful to be praised by you, Mrs. Widdowson! Now if any one speaks to you about me, when I have left England, will you find some nice word? Don’t think me foolish. I do so desire the good opinion of my friends. To know that you spoke of me as you did for Mr. Barfoot would give me a whole day of happiness.’
‘How enviable! To be so easily made happy.’
’Now let me sing you this song of mine. It isn’t very good; I haven’t composed for years. But—’
He sat down and rattled over the keys. Monica was expecting a lively air and spirited words, as in the songs she had heard at Guernsey; but this composition told of sadness and longing and the burden of a lonely heart. She thought it very beautiful, very touching. Bevis looked round to see the effect it produced upon her, and she could not meet his eyes.
’Quite a new sort of thing for me, Mrs. Widdowson. Does it strike you as so very bad?’
‘No—not at all.’
‘But you can’t honestly praise it?’ He sighed, in dejection. ’I meant to give you a copy. I made this one specially for you, and— if you will forgive me—I have taken the liberty of dedicating it to you. Songwriters do that, you know. Of course it is altogether unworthy of your acceptance—’
’No—no—indeed I am very grateful to you, Mr. Bevis. Do give it to me—as you meant to.’
‘You will have it?’ he cried delightedly. ’Now for a triumphal march!’
Whilst he played, with look corresponding to the exultant strain, Monica rose from her chair. She stood with eyes downcast and lips pressed together. When the last chord had sounded,—
’Now I must say good-bye, Mr. Bevis. I am so sorry your sisters haven’t come.’
’So am I—and yet I am not. I have enjoyed the happiest half-hour of my life.’
‘Will you give me the piece of music?’
’Let me roll it up. There; it won’t be very awkward to carry. But of course I shall see you again before the end of July? You will come some other afternoon?’
‘If Miss Bevis will let me know when she is quite sure—’
’Yes, she shall. Do you know, I don’t think I shall say a word about what has happened this afternoon. Will you allow me to keep silence about your call, Mrs. Widdowson? They would be so annoyed—and really it was a silly thing not to tell them—’