“I hope so,” answered Langton, “because ’tis an open secret that I adore her.”
Sir Oliver smiled, a trifle ruefully. “Then you’ll understand how it hits a man to leave her. Maybe—for I had meant to make you paymaster in my absence—you’ll also forgive me for having changed my mind?”
“I’d have called you a damned fool if you hadn’t,” said Langton equably. “She’s your wife, hang it all: and I’ll lay you five pounds you’ll return to find her with hair dishevelled over your monstrous careless bookkeeping. My dear Noll, a woman—a good woman—is never completely happy till convinced that she, and only she, has saved the man she loves from ruin; and, what’s more, she’s a fool if she can’t prove it.”
“Nevertheless she’s a beginner; and I’ll be glad of your promise to run over from time to time. A question or two will soon discover if things are running on an even keel.”
“I shall attempt no method so coarse,” Langton assured him. “I don’t want to be ordered out of the house—must I repeat that I adore her? It may be news to you that she repays my attachment with a certain respect. . . . Should she find herself in any difficulty—and she will not—I shall be sent for and consulted. In any event, fond man, you may count on my calling.”
As they shook hands Sir Oliver asked, “Don’t you envy me, Batty?”
“Constantly and in everything,” answered Langton; “though—ass that I am—I have rather prided myself on concealing it.”
“I mean, don’t you wish that you, and not I, were sailing for England? For that matter, though, there’s nothing prevents you.”
“Oh yes—there is.”
“Use and wont, if you will; indolence, if you choose; affection for you, Noll, if you prefer it.”
“That had been an excellent reason for coming with me.”
“It may be a better one for staying. . . . Well, as you walk up St. James’s, give it my regards.”
“For so fine an intelligence Noll can be infernally crass at times,” muttered Mr. Langton to himself as he walked back to his lodgings.
He kept his promise and rode over to Eagles ten days later, to pay Ruth a visit. He found her astonishingly cheerful. The sum left by Sir Oliver for her stewardship had scared her at first. It scared her worse to discover how the heap began to drain away as through a sieve. But slowly she saw her way to stop some of the holes in that sieve. He had calculated her expenses, taking for basis the accounts of the past few months; and in the matter of entertaining, for example, she would save vast sums. . . . She foresaw herself a miser almost, to earn his praise.
“_—Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband shall safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of his life_.”
“She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’s ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household. . . . She considereth a field and buyeth it. . . . She looketh well into the ways of her household.”