[Illustration: “Then he forgot all about the steps and counting time”]
When the music stopped, and they stood, breathless and laughing, at the dressing-room door, Ruth said:
“I thought Annette told me you were just learning to dance!”
“So I am,” said Sandy; “but me heart never kept time for me before!”
When Annette joined them she looked up at Sandy and smiled.
“Poor f-fellow!” she said sympathetically. “What a perfectly horrid time you’ve had!”
THE NELSON HOME
Willowvale, the Nelson homestead, lay in the last curve of the river, just before it left the restrictions of town for the freedom of fields and meadows.
It was a quaint old house, all over honeysuckles and bow-windows and verandas, approached by an oleander-bordered walk, and sheltered by a wide circle of poplar-and oak-trees that had nodded both approval and disapproval over many generations of Nelsons.
In the dining-room, on the massive mahogany table, lunch was laid for three. Carter sat at the foot, absorbed in a newspaper, while at the head Mrs. Nelson languidly partook of her second biscuit. It was vulgar, in her estimation, for a lady to indulge in more than two biscuits at a meal.
When old Evan Nelson died six years before, he had left the bulk of his fortune to his two grandchildren, and a handsome allowance to his eldest son’s widow, with the understanding that she was to take charge of Ruth until that young lady should become of age.
Mrs. Nelson accepted the trust with becoming resignation. The prospect of guiding a wealthy and obedient young person through the social labyrinth to an eligible marriage wakened certain faculties that had long lain dormant. It was not until the wealthy and obedient young person began to develop tastes of her own that she found the burden irksome.
Nine months of the year Ruth was at boarding-school, and the remaining three she insisted upon spending in the old home at Clayton, where Carter kept his dogs and horses and spent his summers. Hitherto Mrs. Nelson had compromised with her. By adroit management she contrived to keep her, for weeks at a time, at various summer resorts, where she expected her to serve a sort of social apprenticeship which would fit her for her future career.
At nineteen Ruth developed alarming symptoms of obstinacy. Mrs. Nelson confessed tearfully to the rest of the family that it had existed in embryo for years. Instead of making the most of her first summer out of school, the foolish girl announced her intention of going to Willowvale for an indefinite stay.
It was indignation at this state of affairs that caused Mrs. Nelson to lose her appetite. Clayton was to her the limit of civilization; there was too much sunshine, too much fresh air, too much out of doors. She disliked nature in its crude state; she preferred it softened and toned down to drawing-room pitch.