“I said ‘provisionally.’” It was Mr. Trask’s voice, speaking at his elbow. “Nay, man, don’t strike me; since you meant business, ’tis yourself you should strike for a fool. You were a fool to invite me; but she was scared before ever she caught sight of me—by that buck-parson of yours, I guess.”
He had fetched Bayard, had mounted, and was after her. He pulled rein at her lodgings. Yes, Mr. Strongtharm had seen her go by. The old fellow did not guess what was amiss; as how should he? “It’s cruel for the mare’s hoofs,” he commented, “forcing her that pace on the hard road. She rides well, s’ far as ridin’ goes; but the best womankind on horseback has neither bowels nor understandin’.”
He pointed towards Soldiers’ Gap. “She rides there most days,” he said; “but it can’t be far. There’s no Christian road for a horse, once you’re past the second fall.”
Oliver Vyell struck spur and followed. Already he had the decency to curse himself, but not yet could he understand his transgressing.
“Your atheism”—Mr. Trask had said it—“makes you dull in spiritual understanding.”
Sceptics are of two orders, and religious disputants gain a potential advantage, but miss truth, by confusing them. Oliver Vyell was dull, and his dullness had betrayed him, precisely because his reason was so lucid and logical that it shut out those half-tones in which abide all men’s, all women’s, tenderest feelings. He knew that Ruth had no more faith than he in Christian dogma; no faith at all in what a minister’s intervention could do to sanctify marriage. He had inferred that she must consider the tying of the knot by Mr. Silk, if not as a fair jest, at least as a gentle mockery, the humour of which he and she would afterwards taste together. Why had she not pleaded against rite of any kind? . . . Besides, the dog had once insulted her with a proposal. Sir Oliver never allowed Mr. Silk to guess that he had surprised his secret; and Mr. Silk, tortuous himself in all ways, could not begin to be on terms with a candid soul such as Ruth’s, craving in all things to be open where it loves. Sir Oliver had supposed it a pretty lesson to put on a calm, negligent face, and command the parson, who dared not disobey, to perform the ceremony. Mr. Silk had cringed.
Likewise, when inviting Mr. Trask to the nuptials, he had looked on him but as a witness to his triumph. The very man who had sentenced her to degradation—was there not dramatic triumph in summoning him to behold her exalted?
For behind all this reasoning, of course, and below all his real passion for her, lay the poisonous, proud, Whig sense of superiority, the conviction that, desirable though she was, his choice exalted her. Would not ten thousand women—would not a hundred thousand—have counted it heaven to stand in her place?
Yet she had earnestly begged off the rite which to every one of these women would have meant everything. This puzzled him.