“I ought to tell you something though,” he went on gravely and hesitated.
“Yes, Dicky! What is it?”
“Well, I don’t quite know what it means, and I don’t like to ask any one else. Perhaps you can tell me. . . . I wouldn’t ask it if it weren’t that I’d hate to take you in; or if I could find out any other way.”
“But what is it, dear?”
“Something against me. I can’t tell what, though I’ve looked at myself again and again in the glass, trying.” He met her eyes bravely, with an effort. “Ruth, dear—what is a bastard?”
Ruth sat still. Her palms were folded, one upon another, over the book on her knees.
“But what is it?” he pleaded.
“It means,” she said quietly, “a child whose father and mother are not married—not properly married.”
A pause followed—a long pause—and the tumbling cascade sounded louder and louder in Ruth’s ears, while Dicky considered.
“Do you think,” he asked at length “that papa was not properly married to my mother?”
“No, dear—no. And even if that were so, what difference could it make to my loving you?”
“It wouldn’t make any! Sure?”
“But it might make a difference to papa,” he persisted, “if ever papa had another child—like Abraham, you know—” Here he jumped to his feet, for she had risen of a sudden. “Why, what is the matter?”
She held out a hand. There were many dragon-flies by the fall, and for the moment he guessed that one of them had stung her.
“Dicky,” she said. “Whatever happens, you and I will be friends always.”
“Always,” he echoed, taking her hand and ready to search for the mark of the sting. But her eyes were fastened on the water bubbling from the well head.
A branch creaked aloft, and to the right of the well head the hickory bushes rustled and parted.
“So here are the truants!” exclaimed a voice. “Good-morning, Miss Josselin!”
The Reverend Nahum Silk, B.A., sometime of St. Alban’s Hall, Oxford, had first arrived in America as a missioner seeking a sphere of labour in General Oglethorpe’s new colony of Georgia. He was then (1733-4) a young man, newly admitted to priest’s orders, and undergoing what he took to be a crisis of the soul. Sensual natures, such as his, not uncommonly suffer in youth a combustion of religious sentiment. The fervour is short-lived, the flame is expelled by its own blast, and leaves a house swept and garnished, inviting devils.