“Good-morning, Miss Josselin!” Ruth started and glanced up the slope with a shiver. The voice of Mr. Silk always curdled her flesh.
“La! la!” went on Mr. Silk, nodding down admiration. “What a group to startle!—Cupid extracting a thorn from the hand of Venus—or (shall we say?) the Love god, having wounded his mother in sport, kisses the scratch to make it well. Ha, ha!”
“Shall I continue, sir?” said Ruth, recovering herself. “The pair are surprised by a satyr who crept down to the spring to bathe his aching head—”
“Hard on me, as usual!” Mr. Silk protested, climbing down the slope. “But ’tis the privilege of beauty to be cruel. As it happens, I drank moderately last night, and I come with a message from the Diana of these groves. Miss Quiney wishes to communicate to you some news I have had the honour to bring in a letter from Captain Vyell—or, as we must now call him, Sir Oliver.”
“Sir Oliver?” echoed Ruth, not understanding at all.
“The Fish-hawk arrived in harbour this morning with the English mail-bags; and the Collector has letters informing him that his uncle, Sir Thomas Vyell, is dead after a short illness—the cause, jail fever, contracted while serving at Launceston, in Cornwall, on the Grand Jury.”
“Captain Vyell succeeds?”
“To the title and, I believe, to very considerable estates. His uncle leaves no male child.”
“Dicky had not told me of this.”
“—Because,” explained the boy, “I didn’t know what it meant, and I don’t know now. Papa told me this morning that his uncle was dead, home in England; but I’d never heard of him, and it slipped out of my mind. Can titles, as you call them, be passed on like that? And if papa died, should I get one? Or would it go to Uncle Harry?”
“It would go to your uncle,” said Mr. Silk. “Now run along to the house and tell Miss Quiney that I have found the pair of you. She was getting anxious.”
Dicky hesitated. He knew that Ruth had a horror of his tutor.
“Yes, run,” she commanded, reading his glance. “We follow at once.”
The boy scrambled up the slope. Mr. Silk looked after him and chuckled.
“Dicky don’t know yet that there are two sides to a blanket.”
Getting no answer—for she had turned and was stooping to pick up her book—he went on, “Vyell had a letter, among others, from the widow, Lady Caroline; and that, between ourselves, is the cause of my errand. She writes that she is taking a trip across here, to restore her nerves, and is bringing her daughter for company. The daughter, so near as I gather, is of an age near-about Vyell’s. See?”
“I am afraid I do not.” Ruth had recovered her book and her composure. A rose-flush showed yet on either cheek, but it lay not within Mr. Silk’s competence to read so delicate a signal. “Will you explain?”
“Well”—he leered—“it did occur to me there might be some cleverness in the lady’s search after consolation. Her daughter and our Collector being cousins—eh? At any rate, that’s her first thought; to bring the girl—woman, if you prefer it—over and renew acquaintance with the heir. Must be excused if I misjudge her. Set it down to zeal for you, Miss Josselin.”