“No,” Ruth admitted. “Who was she?”
“It is generally admitted, I believe, to have been written as a bridal hymn for Queen Jezebel.”
“O—oh!” Ruth bit her lip, but had to laugh in spite of herself.
The first bad suggestion almost certainly came from Mr. Silk. Two or three of the company afterwards put their heads together and, comparing recollections, agreed that either Silk or Manley had started it. Beyond the alternative they could not trace it.
But the whole table, they admitted, had been to blame, and pretty damnably. To be sure they were drunk, every man Jack of them, the Collector included. The Collector, indolent by nature but capable of long stretches of work at a pinch, had been at his desk since six o’clock in the morning. The news brought by the Fish-hawk had reached him at five; and after bathing, dressing, and drinking his chocolate, he had started to write, and had been writing letters all day. The most of these were lengthy, addressed to England, to his relatives, his London lawyers, the steward at Carwithiel. . . . The Surveyor and Deputy-Collector could deal—as they usually did—with the official correspondence of the Custom House; his own Secretary had the light task of penning a score of invitations to dinner; but these letters of condolence and private business must be written by his own hand, as also a note to Governor Shirley formally announcing his accession and new title.
The Collector dined at five. He laid down his pen at four, having written for ten hours almost at a stretch, declining all food—for he hated to mix up work with eating and drinking. Before dressing for dinner he refreshed himself with another bath; but he came to table with a jaded brain and a stomach fasting beyond appetite for food; and the wine was champagne.
Miss Quiney and Ruth Josselin, seated that evening in the drawing-room at Sabines, were startled at eight o’clock or thereabouts by a knocking on the front door. Miss Quiney looked up from her tambour-work, with hand and needle suspended in mid-air, and gazed across at Ruth, who, seated at the harpsichord, had been singing softly—murmuring rather—the notes of Ben Jonson’s Charis her Triumph—
“Have you seen but a
bright Lillie grow
Before rude hands have touch’d it?”—
—but desisted at the noise and slewed her body half around, letting her fingers rest on the keys.
“Who in the world—at this hour?” demanded Miss Quiney.
A serving-maid ushered in Manasseh.
The tall black halted a little within the doorway, saluted and stood grinning respectfully, his white teeth gleaming in the candle-light.
“Yo’ pardon, ladies. His Honah sends to say he entertainin’ to-night. Plenty people drink his Honah’s health an’ long life to Sir Olivah Vyell. He wish pertick’ly Mis’ Josselin drink it. He tol’ me run, get out sedan-chair an’ fetch Mis’ Josselin along; fetch her back soon as she likes. Chairmen at de door dis moment, waitin’. I mak’ ’em run.”