“The hop!” Mrs. Nelson so far forgot herself as to uncover one eye. “Don’t speak of that wretched affair! The idea of her going! What do you suppose your Aunt Elizabeth would say? A country dance in a public hall!”
“I only dropped in for the last few dances,” said Carter, pouring himself another glass of wine. “It was beastly hot and stupid.”
“I danced every minute the music played,” cried Ruth; “and when they played, ‘Home, Sweet Home,’ I could have begun and gone right through it again.”
“By the way,” said her brother, “didn’t I see you dancing with that Kilday boy?”
“The last dance,” said Ruth. “Why?”
“Oh, I was a little surprised, that’s all.”
Mrs. Nelson, scenting the suggestion in Carter’s voice, was instantly alert.
“Who, pray, is Kilday?”
“Oh, Kilday isn’t anybody; that’s the trouble. If he had been, he would never have stayed with that old crank Judge Hollis. The judge thinks he is appointed by Providence to control this bright particular burg. He is even attempting to regulate me of late. The next time he interferes he’ll hear from me.”
“But Kilday?” urged Mrs. Nelson, feebly persistent.
“Oh, Kilday is good enough in his place. He’s a first-class athlete, and has made a record up at the academy. But he was a peddler, you know—an Irish peddler; came here three or four years ago with a pack on his back.”
“And Ruth danced with him!” Mrs. Nelson’s words were punctuated with horror.
Ruth looked up with blazing eyes. “Yes, I danced with him; why shouldn’t I? You made me dance with Mr. Warrenton, last summer, when I told you he was drinking.”
“But, my dear child, you forget who Mr. Warrenton is. And you actually danced with a peddler!” Her voice grew faint. “My dear, this must never occur again. You are young and easily imposed upon. I will accompany you everywhere in the future. Of course you need never recognize him hereafter. The impertinence of his addressing you!”
A step sounded on the gravel outside. Ruth ran to the window and spoke to some one below. “I’ll be there as soon as I change my habit,” she called.
“Who is it?” asked her aunt, hastily arranging her disturbed locks.
Ruth paused at the door. There was a slight tremor about her lips, but her eyes flashed their first open declaration of independence.
“It’s Mr. Kilday,” she said; “we are going out on the river.”
There was an oppressive silence of ten minutes after she left, during which Carter smiled behind his paper and Mrs. Nelson gazed indignantly at the tea-pot. Then she tapped the bell.
“Rachel,” she said impressively, “go to Miss Ruth’s room and get her veil and gloves and sun-shade. Have Thomas take them to the boat-house at once.”
UNDER THE WILLOWS