“Your father was very anxious that I should supplant this young jowter—”
“O Lord! I never said it.”
“Allow me,” said the stranger, without deigning to look round, “to carry on this courtship in my own way. Your father, young woman, desired—it was none of my suggestion—that I should insinuate myself into your good graces. I will not conceal from you my plain opinion of your father’s judgment in these matters. I think him a fool.”
“Name o’ thunder!”
“Farmer, if you interrupt again I must ask you to get out. Young woman, kindly listen while I make you a formal proposition of marriage. My name, I have told you, is Zebedee Minards. I was born by London Docks, but have neither home nor people. I have travelled by land and sea; slept on silk and straw; drunk wine and the salt water; fought, gambled, made love, begged my bread; in all, lost much and found much, in many countries. I am tossed on this coast, where I find you, and find also a man in my name having hold over you. I think I want to marry you. Will you give up this other man?”
He pursed up his lips again. With that sense of trifles which is sharpest when the world suddenly becomes too big for a human being, Ruby had a curiosity to know what he was whistling. And this worried her even while, after a minute’s silence, she stammered out—
“I—I gave him up—last night.”
“Very good. Now listen again. In an hour’s time I walk to Porthlooe. There I shall take the van to catch the Plymouth coach. In any case, I must spend till Saturday in Plymouth. It depends on you whether I come back at the end of that time. You are going to cry: keep the tears back till you have answered me. Will you marry me?”
She put out a hand to steady herself, and opened her lips. She felt the room spinning, and wanted to cry out for mercy. But her mouth made no sound.
“Will you marry me?”
As the word came, she sank down in a chair, bent her head on the table, and burst into a storm of tears.
“The devil’s in it!” shouted her father, and bounced out of the room.
No sooner had the door slammed behind him than the stranger’s face became transfigured.
He stood up and laid a hand softly on the girl’s head.
She did not look up. Her shoulders were shaken by one great sob after another.
He took the two hands gently from her face, and forced her to look at him. His eyes were alight with the most beautiful smile.
“For pity’s sake,” she cried out, “don’t look at me like that. You’ve looked me through and through—you understand me. Don’t lie with your eyes, as you’re lying now.”
“My dear girl, yes—I understand you. But you’re wrong. I lied to get you: I’m not lying now.”
“I think you must be Satan himself.”