’And what did happen? I shall be glad to hear—if you feel at liberty to tell me.’
After a pause, Everard began the narrative. But he did not see fit to give it with all the detail which Mary had learnt from her friend. He spoke of the excursion to Wastwater, and of the subsequent meeting on the shore.
‘The end of it was that Miss Nunn consented to marry me.’
‘That comes as a surprise?’
‘Please go on.’
’Well, we arranged everything. Rhoda was to stay till the fifteen days were over, and the marriage would have been there. But then arrived your letter, and we quarrelled about it. I wasn’t disposed to beg and pray for justice. I told Rhoda that her wish for evidence was an insult, that I would take no step to understand Mrs. Widdowson’s behaviour. Rhoda was illogical, I think. She did not refuse to take my word, but she wouldn’t marry me until the thing was cleared up. I told her that she must investigate it for herself, and so we parted in no very good temper.’
Miss Barfoot smiled and mused. Her duty, she now felt convinced, was to abstain from any sort of meddling. These two people must settle their affairs as they chose. To interfere was to incur an enormous responsibility. For what she had already done in that way Mary reproved herself.
‘Now I want to ask you a plain question,’ Everard resumed. ’That letter you wrote to me at Ostend—did it represent Rhoda’s mind as well as your own?’
‘It’s quite impossible for me to say. I didn’t know Rhoda’s mind.’
’Well, perhaps that is a satisfactory answer. It implies, no doubt, that she was still resolved not to concede the point on which I insisted. But since then? Has she come to a decision?’
It was necessary to prevaricate. Mary knew of the interview between Miss Nunn and Mrs. Widdowson, knew its result; but she would not hint at this.
‘I have no means of judging how she regards you, Everard.’
‘It is possible she even thinks me a liar?’
‘I understood you to say that she never refused to believe you.’
He made a movement of impatience.
‘Plainly—you will tell me nothing?’
‘I have nothing to tell.’
’Then I suppose I must see Rhoda. Perhaps she will refuse to admit me?’
‘I can’t say. But if she does her meaning would be unmistakable.’
’Cousin Mary’—he looked at her and laughed—’I think you will be very glad if she does refuse.’
She seemed about to reply with some pleasantry, but checked herself, and spoke in a serious voice.
’No. I have no such feeling. Whatever you both agree upon will satisfy me. So come by all means if you wish. I can have nothing to do with it. You had better write and ask her if she will see you, I should think.’
Barfoot rose from his seat, and Mary was glad to be released so quickly from a disagreeable situation. For her own part she had no need to put indiscreet questions; Everard’s manner acquainted her quite sufficiently with what was going on in his thoughts. However, he had still something to say.