Ruth stood up. Her hand went to the edge of her bodice open below the throat.
“Must I?” she asked, turning from Manasseh to Miss Quiney. Her voice was tense.
“I—I think so, dear,” Miss Quiney answered after a pause. “It is a command, almost; and to-night naturally Captain Vyell—Sir Oliver—has a claim on our congratulations.”
“You tell me to go? . . . Oh! but let me be sure you know what you are advising.” She faced the negro again. “What guests is Sir Oliver entertaining?”
Manasseh enumerated a dozen.
“All gentlemen! So, you see!”
“Captain—Sir Oliver (bless me, how I forget! ) has an aversion from ladies’ society—Boston ladies. . . . It is not for me to criticise, but the distaste is well known.”
“And the gentlemen, Manasseh—they will have taken a great deal of wine by now?”
Manasseh spread out his hands, and again his teeth gleamed. “To be sho’, Mis’ Josselin; it is not ebery day in the yeah dat Cap’n Vyell become Sir Olivah—”
“I did not ask you,” interrupted Ruth coldly, “to excuse your errand. . . . And now, Tatty dear, do you still bid me to go?”
“On the contrary, I forbid it.”
Ruth stepped close to the little lady. Said she, standing straight before her and looking down, “It cost you some courage to say that.”
“It may cost me more to-morrow; but I am not afraid.”
“My brave Tatty! But the courage is thrown away, for I am going.”
“You do not mean this?”
“I do mean it. My master sends for me. You know what duty I owe him.”
“He is just. He will thank you to-morrow that you disobeyed.”
“I shall not disobey.”
Little Miss Quiney, looking up into her ward’s eyes, argued this point no further. “Very well,” said she. “Then I go too.” She closed her mouth firmly, squaring her jaw.
“But in the sedan there is room for one only.”
“Then I go first,” said Miss Quiney, “and the chair shall return for you. That,” she went on, falling back upon her usual pedantic speech, “presents no difficulty whatever to me. What I wear does not matter— the gentlemen will not regard it. But you must dress in what you have of the best. It—it will assist you. Being without experience, you probably have no notion how dress assists one’s self-respect.”
“I think I have some little notion,” Ruth assured her demurely.
“And while the chair is taking me and returning, you will have good time to dress. On no account are you to hurry. . . . It is essential that at no point—at no point, dear—you allow yourself to be hurried, or to show any trace of hurry.”
Ruth nodded slowly. “Yes, Tatty. I understand. But, little lioness that you are, do you? You will be alone, and for some time with these—with these—”