“You have made yourself dreadfully hot.”
“I am hot,” the boy confessed. “I gave Piggy the slip at the foot of the hill, and I’ve run every step of the way.”
“Is he here?” Ruth glanced nervously toward a clump of elms around which the path from the entrance-gate curved into view. “But you oughtn’t to call Mr. Silk ‘Piggy,’ you know. It—it’s ungentlemanly.”
“Why, I took the name from you! You said yourself, one day, that he was a pig; and so he is. He has piggy eyes, and he eats too much, and there’s something about the back of his neck you must have noticed.”
“It’s cruel of you, Dicky, to remember and cast up what I said when I knew no better. You know how hard I am learning: in the beginning you helped me to learn.”
“Did I?” mused Dicky. “Then I wish I hadn’t, if you’re going to grow up and treat me like this. Oh, very well,” he added stoutly after a pause, “then I’m learning too, learning to be a sailor; and it’ll be first-rate practice to climb aloft to you, over the verandah. You don’t mind my spitting on my hands? It’s a way they have in the Navy.”
“Dicky, don’t be foolish! Think of Miss Quiney’s roses.” Finding him inexorable, Ruth began to parley. “I don’t want to see Mr. Silk. But if I come down to you, it will not be to play. We’ll creep off to the Well, or somewhere out of hail, and there you must let me read—or perhaps I’ll read aloud to you. Promise?”
“What’re you reading?”
Dicky pulled a face. “Well, the Bible’s English, anyway,” he said resignedly. The sound of a foreign tongue always made him feel pugnacious, and it was ever a question with him how, as a gentleman, to treat a dead language. Death was respectable, but had its own obligations; obligations which Greek and Latin somehow ignored.
The house, known as Sabines, stood high on the slope of the midmost of Boston’s three hills, in five acres of ground well set with elms. Captain Vyell had purchased the site some five years before, and had built himself a retreat away from the traffic that surged about his official residence by the waterside. Of its raucous noises very few— the rattle of a hawser maybe, or a boatswain’s whistle, or the yells of some stentorian pilot—reached to penetrate the belt of elms surrounding the house and its green garth; but the Collector had pierced this woodland with bold vistas through which the eye overlooked Boston harbour with its moving panorama of vessels, the old fort then standing where now stands the Navy Yard, and the broad waters of the Charles sweeping out to the Bay.
For eighteen months he, the master of this demesne, had not set foot within its front gate; not once since the day when on a sudden resolution he had installed Ruth Josselin here, under ward of Miss Quiney, to be visited and instructed in theology, the arts, and the sciences, by such teachers as that unparagoned spinster might, with his approval, select. In practice he left it entirely to her, and Miss Quiney’s taste in teachers was of the austerest. What nutriment (one might well have asked) could a young mind extract from the husks of doctrine and of grammar purveyed to Ruth by the Reverend Malachi Hichens, her tutor in the Holy Scriptures and in the languages of Greece and Rome?