‘You are putting yourself wildly in the wrong,’ Everard continued. ’By refusing to take my word you make it impossible for me to hope that we could live together as we imagined.’
The words fell upon her heart like a crushing weight. But she could not yield. Last night she had suffered in his opinion by urging what he thought a weak, womanly scruple; she had condescended to plead tenderly with him, and had won her cause. Now she would prevail in another way. If he were telling the truth, he should acknowledge that natural suspicion made it incumbent upon him to clear so strange a case of its difficulties. If he were guilty of deception, as she still believed, though willing to admit to herself that Monica might be most at fault, that there might have been no actual wrongdoing between them—he should confess with humblest penitence, and beseech pardon. Impossible to take any other attitude. Impossible to marry him with this doubt in her mind— equally out of the question to seek Monica, and humiliate herself by making inquiries on such a subject. Guilty or not, Monica would regard her with secret disdain, with woman’s malice. Were she able to believe him, that indeed would be a grand consummation of their love, an ideal union of heart and soul. Listening to him, she had tried to put faith in his indignant words. But it was useless. The incredulity she could not help must either part them for ever, or be to her an occasion of new triumph.
‘I don’t refuse to take your word,’ she said, with conscious quibbling. ’I only say that your name must be cleared from suspicion. Mr. Widdowson is sure to tell his story to other people. Why has his wife left him?’
‘I neither know nor care.’
‘You must prove to me that you are not the cause of it.’
‘I shall not make the slightest effort to do so.’
Rhoda began to move away from him. As he kept silence, she walked on in the Seascale direction. He followed at a distance of a few yards, watching her movements. When they had gone so far that five minutes more must bring them within sight of the hotel, Everard spoke.
She paused and awaited him.
’You remember that I was going to London to-morrow. It seems that I had better go and not trouble to return.’
‘That is for you to decide.’
‘For you rather.’
‘I have said all that I can say.’
’And so have I. But surely you must be unconscious how grossly you are insulting me.’
’I want only to understand what purpose Mrs. Widdowson had in going to your rooms.’
’Then why not ask her? You are friends. She would doubtless tell you the truth.’
’If she comes to me voluntarily to make an explanation, I will hear it. But I shall not ask her.’
’Your view of the fitness of things is that I should request her to wait upon you for that purpose?’