“You worried yourself about me?”
“Certainly. You don’t suppose I want my pupil to break her neck?”
“You do Madcap injustice. Why, yesterday she jumped—she almost flew— this very gate on which I am leaning.”
“The more reason—” he began, and broke off. His tone had been light, but when he spoke again it had grown graver, sincerer. “It is a fact that I worried about you, but that is not all the reason why I am here. The whole truth is more selfish. . . . Ruth, I cannot do without you.”
She put up a hand, leaning back against the gate as though giddy.
“But why?” he urged, as she made no other response. “Is it that you still doubt me—or yourself, perhaps?”
“Both,” she murmured. “It is not so easy as you pretend.” Bliss had weakened her for a while, but the weakness was passing.
“Those women have been talking to you. I can engage, whatever they said, I gave it back to ’em with interest. They sail by the next ship. . . . But what did they say?”
“They say. What say they? Let them say,” Ruth quoted, her lips smiling albeit her eyes were moist. “Does it matter what they said?”
“No; for I can guess. However the old harridan put it, you were asked to give me up; and, after all, everything turns on our answer to that. I have given you mine. What of yours?” He stepped close. “Ruth, will you give me up?”
She put out her hands as one groping, sightless, and in pain.
“Ah, you are cruel! . . . You know I cannot.”
Sir Oliver rode back to Boston that same evening. Ruth had stipulated that his promise to her folk in the beach cottage still held good; that when the three years were out, and not a day before, she would return to them and make her announcement. Meanwhile, although the coast would soon be clear of her enemies and he desired to have her near, she begged off returning to Sabines. Here at Sweetwater Farm she could ride, with the large air about her and freedom to think. It was not that she shirked books and tutors. She would turn to them again, by-and-by. But at Sweetwater she could think things out, and she had great need of thinking.
He yielded. He was passionately in love and could deny her nothing. He would ride over and pay his respects once a week.
So he took his leave, and Ruth abode with the Corderys and Miss Quiney. Disloyal though she felt it, she caught herself wishing, more than once, that her lord could have taken dear Tatty back with him to Boston.
I desire to depict Ruth Josselin here as the woman she was, not as an angel.