The door opened, and Miss Barfoot came in. She glanced from one to the other, and without speaking gave her hand to Everard.
‘How is your patient?’ he asked.
’A little better, I think. It is nothing dangerous. Here’s a letter from your brother Tom. Perhaps I had better read it at once; there may be news you would like to hear.’
She sat down and broke the envelope. Whilst she was reading the letter to herself, Rhoda quietly left the room.
‘Yes, there is news,’ said Miss Barfoot presently, ’and of a disagreeable kind. A few weeks ago—before writing, that is—he was thrown off a horse and had a rib fractured.’
‘Oh? How is he going on?’
’Getting right again, he says. And they are coming back to England; his wife’s consumptive symptoms have disappeared, of course, and she is very impatient to leave Madeira. It is to be hoped she will allow poor Tom time to get his rib set. Probably that consideration doesn’t weigh much with her. He says that he is writing to you by the same mail.’
‘Poor old fellow!’ said Everard, with feeling. ’Does he complain about his wife?’
’He never has done till now, but there’s a sentence here that reads doubtfully. “Muriel,” he says, “has been terribly upset about my accident. I can’t persuade her that I didn’t get thrown on purpose; yet I assure you I didn’t."’
’If old Tom becomes ironical, he must be hard driven. I have no great longing to meet Mrs. Thomas.’
’She’s a silly and a vulgar woman. But I told him that in plain terms before he married. It says much for his good nature that he remains so friendly with me. Read the letter, Everard.’
He did so.
’H’m—very kind things about me. Good old Tom! Why don’t I marry? Well, now, one would have thought that his own experience—’
Miss Barfoot began to talk about something else. Before very long Rhoda came back, and in the conversation that followed it was mentioned that she would leave for her holiday in two days.
‘I have been reading about Cheddar,’ exclaimed Everard, with animation. ’There’s a flower grows among the rocks called the Cheddar pink. Do you know it?’
‘Oh, very well,’ Rhoda answered. ‘I’ll bring you some specimens.’
‘Will you? That’s very kind.’
‘Bring me a genuine pound or two of the cheese, Rhoda,’ requested Miss Barfoot gaily.
’I will. What they sell in the shops there is all sham, Mr. Barfoot—like so much else in this world.’
’I care nothing about the cheese. That’s all very well for a matter-of-fact person like cousin Mary, but I have a strong vein of poetry; you must have noticed it?’
When they shook hands,—
‘You will really bring me the flowers?’ Everard said in a voice sensibly softened.
‘I will make a note of it,’ was the reassuring answer.