Mr. Trask glanced at him quickly.
“—Upon my honour as a gentleman I have not, neither do I desire it . . . Sir, twice in this half-mile you have prompted me to ask, What, here on this meadow, prevents my killing you? Wait; I know your answer. You are a courageous man and would say that as a magistrate you have schooled yourself to accept risks and to despise threats. Yes,” Sir Oliver admitted with a laugh, “you are an infernally hard nut to crack, and somehow I cannot help liking you for it. Are you spending the night yonder, by-the-bye?” He nodded towards the village.
“No, sir. I propose returning this evening to Port Nassau.”
“Then it is idle to invite you to my wedding. I am to be married at nine o’clock to-morrow.”
Mr. Trask eyed him for a moment or two. Then his gaze wandered ahead to the river, where already the ferrymen had caught sight of them and were pushing the horse-boat across with long sweeps; and beyond the river to a small wooden-spired church, roofed with mossy shingles that even at this distance showed green in the slant sunlight.
“Yonder?” he asked.
“Ay: you would have been welcome.”
“I will attend,” said Mr. Trask. “A friend of mine—a farmer—will lodge me for the night. A hospitable man, who has made the offer a score of times. After so many refusals I am glad of an excuse for accepting.”
“I stipulate that you keep the excuse a secret from him. It is to be quite private. That,” said Sir Oliver, turning in saddle for a look behind him, “is one of my reasons for outriding my fellow-traveller.”
“Ay . . . To-morrow, maybe, you’ll admit to having misjudged us.”
“Maybe,” Mr. Trask conceded. “I shall at any rate thank God, provisionally. He is merciful. But I have difficulty in believing that any good can come of it.”
RUTH’S WEDDING DAY.
She had left it all to him, receiving his instructions by letter. It was to be quite private, as he had told Mr. Trask. She would ride down to the village in her customary grey habit, as though on an early errand of shopping. He would lodge overnight at the Ferry Inn, and be awaiting her by the chancel step. Afterwards—ah, that was her secret! In this, their first stage in married life, he had promised—reversing the marriage vow—to obey.
Happiness bubbled within her like a spring; overshadowed by a little awe, but not to be held down. Almost at the last moment she must take Mrs. Strongtharm into her confidence. She could not help it.
“Granny,” she whispered. (They were great friends.) “I am to be married to-morrow.”
“Sakes!” exclaimed Mrs. Strongtharm, peering at her, misdoubting that she jested.
But Ruth’s face told its own tale. “May I?” asked the elder woman, and her arm went about the girl’s waist. “God bless ye, dear, and send ye a long family! Who’s the gentleman? Not him as came an’ took the rooms for ye? He said you was a near relation o’ his. . . . Well, never mind! The trick’s as old as Abram.”