“I am sorry to trouble you, but will you please fetch Mr. Silk’s horse? He must return at once.”
When they were gone she turned to him.
“I am sorry to dismiss you thus, sir, after the—the honour you have done me; the more sorry because you will never understand.”
Indeed—his scare having passed—he was genuinely surprised, indignant.
“I understand this much,” he answered coarsely, “that I’ve offered to make you an honest woman, but you prefer to be—” The word was on his tongue-tip, but hung fire there.
She had turned her back on him, and stood with her arms resting for support on the upper rail of the gate. She heard him walk away towards the stable-yard. . . . By-and-by she heard him ride off—heard the click of the gate behind him. A while after this she listened, and then bowed her face upon her arms.
The minutes passed, and still she leaned there. At long intervals, when a sob would not be repressed, her shoulders heaved and fell. But it was characteristic of Ruth Josselin throughout her life that she hated to indulge in distress, even when alone. As a child she had been stoical; but since the day of her ordeal in Port Nassau she had not once wept in self-pity. She had taught herself to regard all self-pity as shameful.
She made no sound. The morning heat had increased, and across it the small morning noises of the farm were borne drowsily—the repeated strokes of a hatchet in the backyard, where young Lemuel split logs; the voice of Mrs. Cordery, also in the backyard, calling the poultry for their meal of Indian corn; the opening and shutting of windows as rooms were redded and dusted; lastly, Miss Quiney’s tentative touch on the spinet. Sir Oliver in his lordly way had sent a spinet by cart from Boston; and Tatty, long since outstripped by her pupil, had a trick of picking out passages from the more difficult pieces of music and “sampling” them as she innocently termed it—a few chords now and again, but melodies for the most part, note by note hesitatingly attempted with one finger.
For a while these noises fell on Ruth’s ear unheeded. Then something like a miracle happened.
Of a sudden either the noises ceased or she no longer heard them. It was as if a hush had descended on the farmstead; a hush of expectancy. Still leaning on the gate, she felt it operate within her—an instantaneous calm at first, soothing away the spirit’s anguish as though it were ointment delicately laid on a bodily wound. Not an ache, even, left for reminder! but healing peace at a stroke, and in the hush of it small thrills awaking, stirring, soft ripples scarcely perceptible, stealing, hesitating, until overtaken by reinforcements of bliss and urged in a flood, bathing her soul.
He was near! He must be here, close at hand!