Somehow in her thoughts of him on the other side of the Atlantic, in her demesne of Eagles where they had walked together as lovers, she had not separated her memories of him so sharply. Now, suddenly, with a sense of having been cheated, she saw Oliver Vyell as two separate men. The one had possessed her; she had merely married the other.
With the blank sense of having been cheated mingled a sense that she herself was the cheat. The tablet accused her of it, confronting her with words which, all too sharply, she remembered as of her own composing. “After a tedious and painful Illness, sustained with the Patience and resignation becoming to a Christian.” Why to a Christian more than to another? Was it not mere manliness to bear (as, to do him justice, he had borne) ill-health with fortitude, and face dissolution with courage? How had she ever come to utter coin that rang with so false and cheap a note? She felt shame of it. The taint of its falsehood seemed to blend and become one with a general odour of humbug, sickly, infectious, insinuating itself, stealing along the darkened Gothic aisles. Since nothing is surer than death, nothing can be corrupter than mortality deceiving itself. . . . The west door of the Abbey stood open. Ruth, striving to collect her thoughts, saw the sunlight beyond it spread broad upon the city’s famous piazza. Sounds, too, were wafted in through the doorway, penetrating the hush, distracting her; rumble of workday traffic, voices of vendors in distant streets; among these—asserting itself quietly, yet steadily, regularly as a beat in music—a footfall on the pavement outside. . . . She knew the footfall. She distinguished it from every other. Scores of times in the watches of the night she had lain and listened to it, hearing it in imagination only, echoed from memory, yet distinct upon the ear as the tramp of an actual foot, manly and booted; hearing it always with a sense of helplessness, as though with that certain deliberate tread marched her fate upon her, inexorably nearing. This once again—she told herself—it must be in fancy that she heard it. For how should he be in Bath?
She stepped quickly out through the porchway to assure herself. She stood there a moment, while her eyes accustomed themselves to the sunlight, and Captain Hanmer came towards her from the shadow of the colonnade by the great Pump-room. He carried his left arm in a sling, and with his right hand lifted his hat, but awkwardly.
“I had heard of your promotion,” she said after they had exchanged greetings, “and of your wound, and I dare say you will let me congratulate you on both, since the same gallantry earned them. . . . But what brings you to Bath? . . . To drink the waters, I suppose, and help your convalescence.”
“They have a great reputation,” he answered gravely; “but I have never heard it claimed that they can extract a ball or the splinters from a shattered forearm. The surgeons did the one, and time must do the other, if it will be so kind. . . . No, I am in Bath because my mother lives here. It is my native city, in fact.”