But the difficulty of the understanding, and, still more, a dread of being seen hovering about that quarter, checked her purpose as soon as it was formed. She returned home, and for an hour or two kept in solitude.
‘What has happened?’ asked Miss Barfoot, when they at length met.
‘Happened? Nothing that I know of.’
‘You look very strange.’
’Your imagination. I have been packing; perhaps it’s from stooping over the trunk.’
This by no means satisfied Mary, who felt that things mysterious were going on about her. But she could only wait, repeating to herself that the grand denouement decidedly was not far off.
At nine o’clock sounded the visitor’s bell. If, as she thought likely, the caller was Everard, Miss Barfoot decided that she would disregard everything but the dramatic pressure of the moment, and leave those two alone together for half an hour. Everard it was; he entered the drawing-room with an unusual air of gaiety.
‘I have been in the country all day,’ were his first words; and he went on to talk of trivial things—the doings of a Cockney excursion party that had come under his notice.
In a few minutes Mary made an excuse for absenting herself. When she was gone, Rhoda looked steadily at Barfoot, and asked—
‘Have you really been out of town?’
‘Why should you doubt it?’
’As I told you.
She averted her look. After examining her curiously, Everard came and stood before her.
’I want to ask your leave to meet you somewhere during these next three weeks. At any point on your route. We could have a day’s ramble together, and then—say good-bye.’
‘The lake country is free to you, Mr. Barfoot.’
‘But I mustn’t miss you. You will leave Seascale to-morrow week?’
’At present I think so. But I can’t restrict myself by any agreement. Holiday must be a time of liberty.’
They looked at each other—she with a carelessness which was all but defiance, he with a significant smile.
‘To-morrow week, then, perhaps we may meet again.’
Rhoda made no reply, beyond a movement of her eyebrows, as if to express indifference.
‘I won’t stay longer this evening. A pleasant journey to you!’
He shook hands, and left the room. In the hall Miss Barfoot came to meet him; they exchanged a few words, unimportant and without reference to what had passed between him and Rhoda. Nor did Rhoda speak of the matter when joined by her friend. She retired early, having settled all the arrangements for her departure by the ten o’clock express from Euston next morning.
Her luggage was to consist of one trunk and a wallet with a strap, which would serve the purposes of a man’s knapsack. Save the indispensable umbrella, she carried no impeding trifles. A new costume, suitable for shore and mountain, was packed away in the trunk; Miss Barfoot had judged of its effect, and was of opinion that it became the wearer admirably.