“I have never mentioned it to a living soul before,” said Miss Quiney, dismissing Manasseh with a wave of the hand and closing the door upon him; “but I had an eldest brother—in the Massachusetts militia—who, not to put too fine a point on it, was sadly addicted to the bottle. It shortened his days. . . . A bright young genius, of which we hoped much, and (I fear me) not all unselfishly, for our family was impoverished. But he went astray. Towards the end he would bring home his boon companions—I will say this for poor dear George, that his footsteps, at their unsteadiest, ever tended homeward; he never affected low haunts—and it fell to me as the eldest daughter of the house to keep his hospitality within bounds—”
“Dear Tatty!” Ruth stooped and kissed the plain little face, cutting short the narrative. It was strange to note how these two of diverse ages—between whom for the length of their acquaintance no dispute of mastery had arisen—now suddenly and in quick alternation, out of pure love, asserted will against will. “You shall tell me to-morrow. (I always knew that your meekness and weakness were only pretence.) But just now we must hurry.”
“Hurry, as I must repeat,” answered Miss Quiney primly, smoothing down the front of her creased grey satin skirt, “is—will be—our capital mistake. For me, I need in this weather but an additional shawl. I am ready. . . . Go to your room . . . and let me enjoin a certain deliberation even in crossing the hall. Manasseh is there, and before servants—even a negro—The white brocade if I may advise; it is fresher than the rose-coloured silk—and the hair combed a trifle higher off the brows. That, with the brocade, will correct your girlishness somewhat. Brocades are for dignity, and it is dignity we chiefly need to-night. . . . Shall I send Selina to you? No? Well, she would be persuading you to some new twist or experiment with your hair, and you are better without her. Also I shall want a last word with you when I have fetched my cloak, and Selina is better out of the way.”
Miss Quiney’s last word was a curious one. It took the form of a pearl necklace, her one possession of value, last surviving heirloom of the Quineys, of whom she was the last surviving descendant: her last tangible evidence, too, of those bygone better days. She never wore it, and it never saw the light save when she unlocked the worn jewel-case to make sure that her treasure had not been stolen.
She entered Ruth’s room with it furtively. Despite her injunction against hurry, the girl had already indued the white brocade and stood before the mirror conning herself. She wore no jewels; she owned none.
“Shut your eyes, dear,” commanded Miss Quiney, and, stealing up behind her, slipped and clasped the necklace about her throat, then fell back, admiring the reflection in the glass.
But Ruth, too, had to pause for a moment to admire. When she turned, Miss Quiney, forgetting her own injunction, had stolen in haste from the room.