THE HUT BY THE BEACH.
“And you’ll never hold up your head again! No more will any of us. The disgrace of it! the disgrace of it!”
Ruth stood in the middle of the wretched room, with her hands hanging slack and her eyes bent wearily upon her mother, who had collapsed upon a block of sawn timber, and sat there, with sack apron cast over her head, rocking her body.
“Hush, ye fool!” said old Josselin, and spat out of window. Mechanically, by habit, his dim eyes swept along the beach by the breakers’ edge. “What’s the use, any way?” he added.
“We, that always carried ourselves so high, for all our being poor! It’s God’s mercy that took your father before he could see this day. ’Twould have broken his sperrit. Your father a Josselin, and me a Pocock, with lands of my own—if right was law in this world; and now to be stripped naked and marched through the streets!”
Ruth’s eyes met the Collector’s. He stood within the doorway, and was regarding her curiously. She did not plead or protest; only, as their eyes met, a flush rose to her cheek, and he guessed rightly that the touch of shame was for her mother, not for herself. The flush deepened as old Josselin turned and said apologetically,—
“You mustn’t mind M’ria. She’s weak-minded. Always was; but sence her husband was drowned—he was my second son—she’ve lost whatever wits she had. The gal here was born about that time.” Here the old man launched into some obstetrical guesswork, using the plainest words. It embarrassed the Collector; the girl did not so much as wince.
“Poor might be stood,” moaned the woman; “but poor and shamed!” Then of a sudden, as though recollecting herself, she arose with an air of mincing gentility. “Ruth,” she said, “it’s little we can offer the gentleman, but you might get out the bread and cheese, after his being so kind to you.”
“Sit down, you dormed fool,” commanded her father-in-law. “Here, fetch your seat over to the look-out, an’ tell me if that’s a log I see floatin’. She’s wonderful good at that,” he explained, without lowering his voice, “and it’ll keep her quiet. It’s true, though, what she said about the property. Thousands of acres, if she had her rights—up this side of the Kennebee.” He jerked a thumb northwards. “The Pococks bought it off one of the Gorges, gettin’ on for a hundred years sence; and by rights, as I say, a seventh share oughter be hers. But lawyers! The law’s like a ship’s pump: pour enough in for a start, and it’ll reward ye with floods. But where’s the money to start it?”
The Collector scarcely heard him. His eyes were on Ruth’s face. He had walked briskly down from the Town Square to the Bowling Green Inn, refreshed himself, let saddle his horse, and set forth, leaving orders for his coach to follow. At the summit of the hill above Port Nassau he had overtaken the cart with the poor girl lying in it, had checked his pace to ride alongside, and so, disregarding Mr. Trask’s counsel, had brought her home. Nay, dismissing the men with a guinea apiece, he had desired them to return to Mr. Trask and report his conduct.