The girl’s eyes moistened. For a moment she saw herself reflected from the glass in a blur. Then through the blur the necklace took shape, point by point of light, pearl by pearl, until the whole chain grew definite in the parting of the bodice, resting on the rise of her young bosom.
Yes, and the girl saw that it was good.
A string of words danced upon her brain, as though the mirrored pearls reflected them.
She shall be brought unto the King . . . the virgins that be her fellows shall bear her company.
SIR OLIVER’S HEALTH.
“De lady is here, yo’ Honah!”
Manasseh announced it from the doorway and stood aside. Of the company four had already succumbed and slid from their chairs. The others staggered to their feet, Sir Oliver as promptly as any. With a face unnaturally white he leaned forward, clutching the edge of the long oval table, and stared between the silver candelabra down the broken ranks of his guests—Mr. Silk, purple of face as his patron was pale; Ned Manley, maundering the tag of a chorus; Captain St. Maur, Captain Goodacre, and Ensign Lumley, British officers captured by the French at Fort Chanseau and released to live at Boston on parole until the war should end; Mr. Fynes, the Collector’s Secretary; Mr. Bythesea, Deputy-Collector; young Shem Hacksteed and young Denzil Baynes, sons of wealthy New Englanders, astray for the while, and sowing their wild oats in a society openly scornful of New England traditions.
Batty Langton’s was the chair nearest the door, and Batty Langton was the one moderately sober man of the company. He had not heard, in time to interfere, the proposal to send for Ruth: it had started somewhere at the Collector’s end of the table. But trifler though he was, he thought it cruel to the girl—a damnable shame—and pulled himself together to prevent what mischief he might. At the same time he felt curious to see her, curious to learn if these many months of seclusion had fulfilled the Collector’s wager that Ruth Josselin would grow to be the loveliest woman in America. At Manasseh’s announcement he faced about, and, with a gasp, clutched at the back of his chair.
In the doorway stood little Miss Quiney. It was so ludicrous a disappointment that for the moment no one found speech. Langton heard Goodacre, behind him, catch his breath upon a wondering “O—oh!” and felt the shock run down the table along the unsteady ranks. At the far end a voice—Mr. Silk’s—cackled and burst into unseemly laughter.
Langton swung round. “Mr. Fynes,” he called sharply, “oblige me, please, by silencing that clergyman—with a napkin in his mouth, if necessary.”
He turned again to Miss Quiney. “Madam,” he said, offering his arm, “let me lead you to a seat by Sir Oliver.”
The little lady accepted with a curtsy. A faint flush showed upon either cheek bone, and in her eyes could be read the light of battle. It commanded his admiration the more that her small arm trembled against his sleeve. “The courage of it,” he murmured; “and Miss Quiney of all women!”