The sun was higher by some hours—high enough to be streaming brightly over the wall into the courtlage at Sheba—when Ruby awoke from a dreamless sleep. As she lifted her head from the pillow and felt the fatigue of last night yet in her limbs, she was aware also of a rich tenor voice uplifted beneath her window. Air and words were strange to her, and the voice had little in common with the world as she knew it. Its exile on that coast was almost pathetic, and it dwelt on the notes with a feeling of a warmer land.
“O south be north—
O sun be shady—
Until my lady
Shall issue forth:
Till her own mouth
Bid sun uncertain
To draw his curtain,
Bid south be south.”
She stole out of bed and went on tiptoe to the window, where she drew the blind an inch aside. The stranger’s footstep had ceased to crunch the gravel, and he stood now just beneath her, before the monthly-rose bush. Throughout the winter a blossom or two lingered in that sheltered corner; and he had drawn the nearest down to smell at it.
“O heart, her rose,
I cannot ease thee
Till she release thee
And bid unclose.
So, till day come
And she be risen,
Rest, rose, in prison
And heart be dumb!”
He snapped the stem and passed on, whistling the air of his ditty, and twirling the rose between finger and thumb.
“Men are all ninnies,” Ruby decided as she dropped the blind; “and I thank the fates that framed me female and priced me high. Heigho! but it’s a difficult world for women. Either a man thinks you an angel, and then you know him for a fool, or he sees through you and won’t marry you for worlds. If we behaved like that, men would fare badly, I reckon. Zeb loved me till the very moment I began to respect him: then he left off. If this one . . . I like his cool way of plucking my roses, though. Zeb would have waited and wanted, till the flower dropped.”
She spent longer than usual over her dressing: so that when she appeared in the parlour the two men were already seated at breakfast. The room still bore traces of last night’s frolic. The uncarpeted boards gleamed as the guests’ feet had polished them; and upon the very spot where the stranger had danced now stood the breakfast-table, piled with broken meats. This alone of all the heavier pieces of furniture had been restored to its place. As Ruby entered, the stranger broke off an earnest conversation he was holding with the farmer, and stood up to greet her. The rose lay on her plate.
“Who has robbed my rose-bush?” she asked.
“I am guilty,” he answered: “I stole it to give it back; and, not being mine, ’twas the harder to part with.”
“To my mind,” broke in Farmer Tresidder, with his mouth full of ham, “the best part o’ the feast be the over-plush. Squab pie, muggetty pie, conger pie, sweet giblet pie—such a whack of pies do try a man, to be sure. Likewise junkets an’ heavy cake be a responsibility, for if not eaten quick, they perish. But let it be mine to pass my days with a cheek o’ pork like the present instance. Ruby, my dear, the young man here wants to lave us.”