“Willingly, Mr. Silk—if your zeal for me did not outrun my understanding.”
“Yet you’re clever. But you won’t persuade me you don’t see the difficulty. . . . Er—how shall I put it? The Collector—we’ll have to get used to calling him Sir Oliver—is as cool under fire as any man this side of the Atlantic; fire of criticism, I mean. There’s a limit though. He despises Colonial opinion—that’s his pose; takes pride in despising it, encouraged by Langton. But England? his family?—that’s another matter. An aunt—and that aunt an earl’s daughter—If you’ll believe me, Miss Josselin, I’m a man of family and know the sort. They’re incredible. And the younger lady, if I may remind you, called Diana; which—er—may warn us that she, too, is particular about these things.” Here Mr. Silk, having at length found his retort upon her similitude of the satyr, licked his lips.
Ruth drew up and stood tapping her foot. “May I beg to be told exactly what has happened, sir?”
“What has happened? What has happened is that Vyell is placing Sabines at the disposal of his aunt and cousin for so long as they may honour Boston with their presence. He sends the Quiney word to pack and hold herself in readiness for a flitting. Whither? I cannot say; nor can he yet have found the temporary nest for you. But doubtless you will hear in due course. May I offer you my arm?”
“I thank you, no. Indeed we will part here, unless you have further business in the house—and I gather that your errand there is discharged. . . . One question—Captain Vyell sent his message by a letter, which Miss Quiney no doubt will show to me. Did he further commission you with a verbal one? You had better,” she added quietly, “be particular about telling me the truth; for I may question him, and for a discovered falsehood he is capable of beating you.”
“What I have said,” stammered the clergyman, “was—er—entirely on my own responsibility. I—I conceived you would find it sympathetic— helpful perhaps. Believe me, Miss Josselin, I have considerable feeling for you and your—er—position.”
“I thank you.” She dismissed him with a gentle curtsy. “I feel almost sure you have been doing your best.”
She turned and walked slowly back to the house. Once within the front door and out of his sight, she was tempted to rush across the hall and up the stairs to her own room. She was indeed gathering up her skirts for the run, when in the hall she almost collided with the Reverend Malachi Hichens, who stood there with his nose buried in a vase of roses, while behind his back his hands interwove themselves and pulled each at the other’s bony knuckles.
“Ah!” He faced about with a stiff bow, and a glance up at the tall clock. “You are late this morning, Miss Josselin. But I dare say my good brother Silk has been detaining you in talk?”