“What? Ruth, is it? . . . Here’s news, now, for your mother, poor soul!”
“How is she? Take me to her at once, please.”
“Eh! . . . Your mother keeps well enough; though doited, o’ course— doited. Properly grown you be, too, I must say. . . . I didn’t reckernise ye comin’ on me like that. Inches ye’ve grown.”
“And you—well, you look just the same as ever; only fuller and haler.”
“Do I?” The old man gave her in the old way certain details of his health. “But I’m betterin’. Food’s a blessin’, however ye come by it.”
On a sudden, as she read his thought, the very tokens of health in his face accused her . . . and, a moment since, she had been merely glad to note them.
“Clothes too, ye’ll say? I don’t set store by clothes, meself; but a fine han’some quean they make of ye. That’s a mare, too! Cost a hundred guineas, I shouldn’t wonder. . . . Well, an’ how’s the gentleman keepin’? Turned into a lord, you told us, in one o’ your letters: that, or something o’ the sort.”
“Then at any rate you have read my letters?”
“Why, to be sure. My old eyes can’t tackle ’em; but your mother reads ‘em out, over an’ over, an’ I tell her what this an’ that means, an’ get the sense into her head somehow.”
“Take me to her.” Ruth signalled to the grooms, who came forward. They were well-trained servants, recent imports from England, and Sir Oliver had billeted them where they could hear no gossip of her history. They had kept their distance with faces absolutely impassive while their mistress kissed and chatted with this old man, and they merely touched their hats, with a “Very good, miss,” when she gave over the mare, saying she would walk up to the cottage and rest for an hour.
“Oo-oof! the dear old smell!” Ruth, before she turned, drew in a deep breath of it. There was no one near to observe and liken her, standing there with blown tresses and wind-wrapt skirt on the edge of Ocean, to the fairest among goddesses, the Sea-born.
She walked up the beach, the old man beside her.
“Ay: you reckernise the taste of it, I dessay. But you’d not come back to it, not you. . . . It must be nigh upon dinner: my belly still keeps time like a clock. M’ria shall cook us a few clams. Snuffin’ won’t bring it back like clams.” He chuckled, supposing he had made a joke.
Her mother had caught sight of them from the window where she sat as usual watching the sea. As they climbed the slope, picking their way along loosely-piled wreckwood, she opened the door and stood at first fastening a clean apron and then rubbing her palms up and down upon it, as though they were sweaty and she would dry them before she shook hands.
“That’s so, M’ria!” the old man shouted cheerfully, as his eyes made out the patch of white apron in the doorway. “It’s our Ruth, all right— come to pay us a visit!” He bawled it, at close quarters. This was his way of conveying intelligence to the crazed brain.