Following the servant, Mr. Hanmer—so runs his report—enters the great drawing-room to find Miss Quiney stretched on the sofa, her face buried in cushions, and Mrs. Harry standing erect and confronting two ladies of forbidding aspect.
“In brief,” concluded Mr. Hanmer, “she sent me for you.”
“To confront them with her? I wonder what their business can be. . . .” With a glance at his side face she added, “I think you have not told me all.”
“No,” he confessed haltingly; “that’s true enough. In—in fact Mrs. Harry first employed me to show them to the door.”
“And—on the way?”
“They said—what?—quoting whom?”
“A Mr. Silk. But again—ma’am, I am awkward at lying. I cannot manage it.”
“I like you the better for it.”
“I did not believe—”
“Yet you might have believed. . . . And suppose that it were true, sir?”
He shook visibly. “I pray God to protect you,” he managed to stammer.
Her face was white, but she answered him steadily. “I believe you to be a good man. . . . I will go to them. Where is Dicky?” She glanced back along the alley.
“Dicky will stand where I have told him to stand: for hours unless I release him.”
“Is that your naval code? And can a mere child stand by it so proudly? Oh,” cried she, fixing on him a look he remembered all his days, “would to God I had been born a man!”
Yet fearlessly as any man she entered the great drawing-room. Miss Quiney still lay collapsed on her sofa. Mrs. Harry bent over her, but faced about.
“Mr. Hanmer managed, then, to discover you? Two women have called. . . . I thought it better, their errand being what it was, to show them out.”
“I can guess it, perhaps,” Ruth caught her up with a wan smile. “They managed to talk with him before he gave them their dismissal.”
“Forgive me. I had not thought them capable—”
“There is nothing to forgive,” Ruth assured her. “They probably told the truth, and the fault is mine.”
Miss Quiney, incredulous, slowly raised her face from the cushions and stared.
“Yes,” repeated Ruth, “the fault is entirely mine.”
“But—but,” stammered Mrs. Harry. Ruth had turned away towards the window, and the honest wife stared after her, against the light. “But he will make it all right when he returns.” She started, of a sudden. Cunningly as Ruth had dressed herself, Mrs. Harry’s eyes guessed the truth. “You have written to him?”
“He guesses, at least?”
“Then you are writing to him? There is enough time.”
Their eyes met. Ruth’s asked, “And if I do not, will you?” Mrs. Harry’s met them for a few seconds and were abased.
No words passed between these two. “And as for my Tatty,” said Ruth lightly, stepping to the sofa, “she is not to write. I command her.”