She lifted her head and gazed around. For minutes her closed eyeballs had been pressed down upon her arms, and the sunlight played tricks with her vision. Strange hues of scarlet and violet danced on the sky and around the fringes of the elms.
But he was there! Yes, beyond all doubting it was he. . . .
He had ridden in through the gateway on his favourite Bayard, and with a led horse at his side. He was calling, in that easy masterful voice of his, for one of the Cordery lads to take the pair to stable. Lemuel came running.
In the act of dismounting he caught sight of her and paused to lift his hat. But before dismissing the horses to stable he looked them over, as a good master should.
He was coming towards her. . . . Three paces away he halted, and his smile changed to a frown.
“You are in trouble?”
“It has passed. I am happy now; and you are welcome, my lord.”
She gave him her hand. He detained it.
“Who has annoyed you? Those women?”
She shook her head. “You might make a better guess, for you must have met him on the way. Mr. Silk was here a while ago.”
“And he—he asked me to marry him.”
“The hound! But I don’t understand. Silk here? I see the game; he must have played escort to those infernal women. . . . Somehow I hadn’t suspected it, and Lady Caroline kept that cat in the bag when I surprised her at Natchett an hour ago. I wonder why?”
Ruth had a shrewd guess; but, fearing violence, forbore to tell it.
He went on: “But what puzzles me more is, how I missed meeting him.”
In truth the explanation was simple enough. Mr. Silk, turning the corner of the lane, where it bent sharply around Farmer Cordery’s wood-stacks, had chanced to spy Sir Oliver on a rise of the road to the eastward, and had edged aside and taken cover behind the stacks. He was now making for Natchett at his best speed.
“A while ago, you say? How long ago? The thief cannot have gone far—” Sir Oliver looked behind him. Clearly he had a mind to call for his horse again and to pursue.
But Ruth put out a hand. “He is not worth my lord’s anger.”
For a moment he stood undecided, then broke into a
“Was he riding?”
“He was on horseback, to be more exact.”
“Then he’ll find it a stony long way back to Boston.” He laughed again. “You see, I’ve been worrying myself, off and on, about that trick of Madcap’s—I’ll be sworn she came within an ace of crossing her legs that day. I’d a mind to ride over and bring you Forester—he’s a soberer horse, and can be trusted at timber. I’d resolved on it, in short, even before my brother Harry happened to blurt out the secret of Lady Caroline’s little expedition. Soon as I heard that, I put George the groom on Forester, and came in chase. . . . I find her ladyship at Natchett, and after some straight talking I put George in charge of the conspirators, with instructions to drive them home. They chose to say nothing of Silk, and I didn’t guess; so now the rogue must either leg it back or gall himself on a waggon-horse.”