As the months went by the little Ruth twined herself in every fiber about that lonely mother’s heart, till she was loved with a love that was pain. So jealously guarded, too, that never once had the father’s eyes fallen upon her, not even by chance. In vain he sent appeals just to look on his little daughter; he would ask no more. He was refused, and the baby’s nurse did not dare transgress.
By-and-by Ruth was old enough to understand; and then she wanted to know who her papa was, and why he never came home as Masie Morrow’s did. At this her mother would be terrified, and clasping her treasure close, would tell her she must never ask about her papa; he was a dreadful man.
“Like Jack, the Giant-killer, mumzie?”
“Oh, my dearie, he is a great deal worse.”
Again Ruth said; “I know, mumzie, my papa is a great black thing like the pictures on the circus papers!”
So it came to pass that Miss Ruth fell to thinking about her father till it got to be a sort of mania with her—wondering and wondering what it all meant. Her life was secluded, but she was fondly attached to her grandparents and to a number of friends who were received at the house, while her mother was most tenderly enshrined in the faithful little heart.
The mother had a comfortable income, and provided her little girl with the best masters. She was a quaint, white-faced, solemn-eyed creature, as she had been from the first. She said “old” things, her black nurse declared, and she knew her little “missy” was under a spell. If so, the spell was tempered by an almost idolatrous love on the mother’s part.
When she was getting to be a romping big girl, she had just as queer ways; too old for a child, though the sober, owl-like look began to soften to an earnest expression, which on occasions verged upon a twinkle in the deep blue eyes. Distant friends were now writing letters of inquiry, and her father’s relatives persistently urged Mrs. Barrett to send the child to them for a visit. At last she took Ruth and went; she would not trust her out of her sight. She was a pale, pretty, gentle-looking woman, with a will of iron. It was to Judge Barrett’s sister, Mrs. Stanton, in a neighboring town, that they came. They were afraid to mention his name, or hint at a possible reconciliation; but they managed to make the young Ruth very much in love with her new aunt, and merry, pretty cousins.
Meanwhile her father had gone from bad to worse, a confirmed drunkard, though rarely too far gone to make an eloquent stump-speech when occasion required. So popular was he that he had the sympathy of the community in his domestic estrangement. Some said his wife was too hard and unforgiving; all agreed that he should have been permitted to see his child.
Ruth was seventeen years old and had long since exerted her filial influence to the extent of going to her aunt, Mrs. Stanton, whenever she wished. She had come to be quite a sensation in her father’s native village, his hosts of friends readily tracing a likeness to himself. She was a sweet, rather wilful maiden, not exactly pretty, but very refined and attractive.