“What happened to him?”
“Uncle Harry shipped him off to England. This was from Carolina, where he sailed in with all the four vessels in convoy. And now, guess! He has refitted there, and is sailing around for Boston, and papa has promised to ask him to take me for a cruise, to see if he can make a sailor of me!”
“But that won’t be for years.”
“Oh yes, it will. You can join the Navy at any age. They ship you on as a cabin-boy, or sometimes as the Captain’s servant; and papa says that for the first cruise Uncle Harry’s wife will look after me.”
“But”—Ruth opened beautiful eyes of astonishment. “Your Uncle Harry is not married? Why, more than once you have told me that you would never take a wife when you grew up, but be like your uncle and live only for sailing a ship and fighting.”
“He is, though. It happened at Carolina, whilst the Venus was refitting; and I believe her father is Governor there, or something of the sort, but I didn’t read that part of the letter very carefully. There was a lot of silly talk in it, quite different from the fighting. I remember, though, he said he was coming around here for his honeymoon; and I’m glad, on the whole.”
“On the whole? When you’ve dreamed, all this while, of seeing your uncle and growing up to be like him!”
“I mean that on the whole I’m glad he is married. It—it shows the two things can go together after all; and, Ruth—”
She turned in some wonderment as his voice faltered, and wondered more at sight of his young face. It was crimson.
“No, please! I want you not to look,” he entreated. “I want you to turn your face away and listen . . . Ruth,” he blurted, “I love you better than anybody in the whole world!”
“—and I think you’re the loveliest person that ever was—besides being the best.”
“It’s lovely of you, at any rate, to think so.” Ruth, forgetting his command, turned her eyes again on Dicky, and they were dewy. For indeed she loved him and his boyish chivalrous ways. Had he not been her friend from the first, taking her in perfect trust, and in the hour that had branded her and in her dreams seared her yet? Often, yet, in the mid-watches of the night she started out of sleep and lay quivering along her exquisite body from head to heel, while the awful writing awoke and crawled and ate again, etching itself upon her flesh.
“But—but it made me miserable!” choked Dicky.
“Because I wanted to grow up and marry you,” he managed to say defiantly. “And the two things didn’t seem to fit at all. I couldn’t make them fit. But of course,” he went on in a cheerfuller voice, the worst of his confession over, “if Uncle Harry can be married, why shouldn’t we?”
She bent her head low over the book. Calf-love is absurd, but so honest, so serious; and like all other sweet natural foolishness should be sacred to the pure of heart.