“We’ll hope you will not. But do as I bid you, girl. I shall be passing back along the beach in two days’ time, and will call for it.”
She resisted no longer.
“I will take it,” she said. “By that time I may have thought of words to thank your Honour.”
She curtsied again.
“Manasseh!” Captain Vyell pointed to the door. The negro opened it and stood aside majestically as she passed out and was gone.
Let moralists perpend. Ruth Josselin had knocked at that door after a sharp struggle between conscience and crying want. The poverty known to Ruth was of the extreme kind that gnaws the entrails with hunger. It had furthermore starved her childhood of religion, and her sole code of honour came to her by instinct. Yet she had knocked at the door with no thought but that the Collector’s guinea had come to her hand by mistake, and no expectancy but that the Collector would thank her and take it back. She was shy, moreover. It had cost courage.
“Honesty is the best policy.” True enough, no doubt. Yet, when all is said, but for some radical instinct of honesty, untaught, brave to conquer a more than selfish need, Ruth had never brought back her guinea. And, yet again, from that action all the rest of this story flows. When we have told it, let the moralists decide.
PARENTHETICAL—OF THE FAMILY OF VYELL.
Captain Oliver Vyell, as we have seen, set store upon pedigree: and here, as well in compliment to him as to make our story clearer, we will interrupt it with a brief account of his family and descent.
The tomb of Sir Thomas Vyell, second Baronet, at whose house of Carwithiel in Cornwall our Collector spent some years of his boyhood, may yet be seen in the church of that parish, in the family transept. It bears the coat of the Vyells (gules, a fesse raguly argent) with no less than twenty-four quarterings: for an Odo of the name had fought on the winning side at Hastings, and his descendants, settling in the West, had held estates there and been people of importance ever since.
The Wars of the Roses, to be sure, had left them under a cloud, shorn of the most of their wealth and a great part of their lands. Yet they kept themselves afloat (if this riot of metaphor may be pardoned) and their heads moderately high, until Sir William, the first Baronet, by developing certain tin mines on his estate and working them by new processes, set up the family fortunes once more.
His son, Sir Thomas, steadily bettered them. A contemporary narrative describes him as “chief of a very good Cornish family, with a very good estate. His marrying a grand-daughter of the Lord Protector (Oliver) first recommended him to King William, who at the Revolution made him Commissioner of the Excise and some years after Governor of the Post Office. . . . The Queen, by reason of his great capacity and honesty, hath continued him in the office of Postmaster. He is a gentleman of a sweet, easy, affable disposition—a handsome man, of middle stature, towards forty years old.” This was written in 1713. Sir Thomas died in 1726, of the smallpox, having issue (by his one wife, who survived him but a few years) seven sons and three daughters.