“Leave us?” echoed Ruby, pricking her finger deep in the act of pinning the stranger’s rose in her bosom.
“You hear, young man. That’s the tone o’ speech signifyin’ ’damn it all!’ among women. And so say I, wi’ all these vittles cryin’ out to be ate.”
“These brisk days,” began the stranger quietly, “are not to be let slip. I have no wife, no kin, no friends, no fortune—or only the pound or two sewn in my belt. The rest has been lost to me these three days and lies with the Sentinel, five fathoms deep in your cove below. It is time for me to begin the world anew.”
“But how about that notion o’ mine?”
“We beat about the bush, I think,” answered the other, pushing back his chair a bit and turning towards Ruby. “My dear young lady, your father has been begging me to stay—chiefly, no doubt, out of goodwill, but partly also that I may set him in the way to work this newly found wealth of his. I am sorry, but I must refuse.”
“Why?” murmured the girl, taking courage to look at him.
“You oblige me to be brutal.” His look was bent on her. He sat facing the window, and the light, as he leant sidewise, struck into the iris of his eyes and turned them blood-red in their depths. She had seen the same in dogs’ eyes, but never before in a man’s: and it sent a small shiver through her.
“Briefly,” he went on, “I can stay on one condition only—that I marry you.”
She rose from her seat and stood, grasping the back rail of the chair.
“Don’t be alarmed. I merely state the condition, but of course it’s awkward: you’re already bound. Your father (who, I must say, honours me with considerable trust, seeing that he knows nothing about me) was good enough to suggest that your affection for this young fish-jowter was a transient fancy—”
“Father—” began the girl, rather for the sake of hearing her own voice than because she knew what to say.
Farmer Tresidder groaned. “Young man, where’s your gumption? You’m makin’ a mess o’t—an’ I thought ’ee so very clever.”
“Really,” pursued the stranger imperturbably, without lifting his eyes from Ruby, “I don’t know which to admire most, your father’s head or his heart; his head, I think, on the whole. So much hospitality, paternal solicitude, and commercial prudence was surely never packed into one scheme.”
He broke off for a minute and, still looking at her, began to drum with his finger-tips on the cloth. His mouth was pursed up as if silently whistling an air. Ruby could neither move nor speak. The spell upon her was much like that which had lain on Young Zeb, the night before, during the hornpipe. She felt weak as a child in the presence of this man, or rather as one recovering from a long illness. He seemed to fill the room, speaking words as if they were living things, as if he were taking the world to bits and re-arranging it before her eyes. She divined the passion behind these words, and she longed to get a sight of it, to catch an echo of the voice that had sung beneath her window, an hour before. But when he resumed, it was in the same bloodless and contemptuous tone.