“You take my advice and pin him to it. The sooner the better—eh, darling?”
Ruth rose wearily. “I see the pot boiling,” she said with a glance at the fireplace, “and I have been on horseback since seven o’clock. Mother, won’t you give me food, at least? I am hungry as a hunter.”
—But this was very nearly a fib. She had been hungry enough, half an hour ago. Now her throat worked in disgust—not at the hovel and its poverty; for these were dear—but at the thought that thus for three years her dearest had been thinking of her. It had been the home of infinite mutual tolerance, of some affection—an affection not patent perhaps—and for years it had been all she owned. Now it lived on, but was poisoned; the atmosphere of the humble place was poisoned, and through her.
“Food?”—her mother rose. “Food be sure, and a bed, deary: for you’ll be sleeping here, of course?”
“No. I go on to Port Nassau; and thence in a few days to a lodging up in the back country.”
“Such a mare as she’s ridin’ too!” put in the old man.
“I wouldn’ put up at Port Nassau, if I was you,” said her mother pausing as she made ready to lift the pot-handle. “They won’t know what you’ve told us, and they’ll cast up the old shame on you.”
“M’ria ha’n’t talked so sensible for days,” said the old man. “Joy must ha’ steadied her. . . . Clams, is it? Clams, I hope.”
The meal over, Ruth took leave of them, reproaching herself for her haste, though troubled to have delayed the grooms so long.
She mounted and rode forward thoughtfully.
The grooms did not wear the Vyell white and scarlet, but a sober livery of dark blue. Between more serious thoughts Ruth wondered if any one in Port Nassau would recognise her.
The hostess of the Bowling Green did not, but came to the door and dropped curtsies to her, as to a grand lady. She startled Ruth, however, by respectfully asking her name.
Ruth, who had forgotten to provide against this, had a happy inspiration.
“I am Miss Ruth,” she said.
The landlady desired to be informed how to spell it. “For,” said she, “I keep a list of all the quality that honour the Bowling Green.”
Ruth signed it boldly in the book presented, and ordered supper to be brought to her room; also a fire to be lit. She was given the same room in which she had knelt to pull off Oliver Vyell’s boots.
Whilst supper was preparing, in a panic lest she should be recognised she tied her hair high and wound it with a rope of pearls—her lover’s first gift to her. In her dress she could make little change. The waggon following in her wake would be due to-morrow with her boxes; but for to-night she must rely on the few necessaries of toilet the grooms had brought, packed in small hold-alls at their saddle bows.
Her fears proved to be idle. The meal was served by a small maid, upon whom she once or twice looked curiously. She wondered if the landlady scolded her often.