’I am greatly mistaken if that isn’t my cousin Everard’s writing. I thought so. He is in London.’
Rhoda made no remark.
‘Pray read it,’ said the other, handing her friend the epistle after she had gone through it.
The handwriting was remarkably bold, but careful. Punctuation was strictly attended to, and in places a word had been obliterated with a circular scrawl which left it still legible.
’DEAR COUSIN MARY,—I hear that you are still active in an original way, and that civilization is more and more indebted to you. Since my arrival in London a few weeks ago, I have several times been on the point of calling at your house, but scruples withheld me. Our last interview was not quite friendly on your side, you will remember, and perhaps your failure to write to me means continued displeasure; in that case I might be rejected at your door, which I shouldn’t like, for I am troubled with a foolish sense of personal dignity. I have taken a flat, and mean to stay in London for at least half a year. Please let me know whether I may see you. Indeed I should like to. Nature meant us for good friends, but prejudice came between us. Just a line, either of welcome or “get thee behind me!” In spite of your censures, I always was, and still am, affectionately yours,
Rhoda perused the sheet very attentively.
‘An impudent letter,’ said Miss Barfoot. ‘Just like him.’
‘Where does he appear from?’
’Japan, I suppose. “But prejudice came between us.” I like that! Moral conviction is always prejudice in the eyes of these advanced young men. Of course he must come. I am anxious to see what time has made of him.’
‘Was it really moral censure that kept you from writing to him?’ inquired Rhoda, with a smile.
’Decidedly. I didn’t approve of him at all, as I have frequently told you.’
‘But I gather that he hasn’t changed much.’
‘Not in theories,’ replied Miss Barfoot. ’That isn’t to be expected. He is far too stubborn. But in mode of life he may possibly be more tolerable.’
‘After two or three years in Japan,’ rejoined Rhoda, with a slight raising of the eyebrows.
’He is about three-and-thirty, and before he left England I think he showed possibilities of future wisdom. Of course I disapprove of him, arid, if necessary, shall let him understand that quite as plainly as before. But there’s no harm in seeing if he has learnt to behave himself.’
Everard Barfoot received an invitation to dine. It was promptly accepted, and on the evening of the appointment he arrived at half-past seven. His cousin sat alone in the drawing-room. At his entrance she regarded him with keen but friendly scrutiny.