For about five seconds an awkward silence held the company. Their fuddled memories retained scraps of gossip concerning Ruth, her history and destiny—gossip scandalous in the main. One or two glanced at the Collector, who had resumed his seat—and his scowl.
“The more reason she should drink his health.” Again Mr. Silk was fugleman.
His voice braved it off on the silence. Ruth was raising her glass. Her eyes sought Miss Quiney’s; but Miss Quiney’s, lifted heavenward, had encountered the ceiling upon which Mr. Manley had recently depicted the hymeneals of Venus and Vulcan, not omitting Mars; and the treatment—a riot of the nude—had for the moment put the redoubtable little lady out of action.
Ruth leaned forward in her seat, lifting her glass high. It brimmed, but she spilled no drop.
“To Sir Oliver!”
CAPTAIN HARRY AND MR. HANMER.
“Guests, has he?—Out of my road, you rascal! Guests? I’ll warrant there’s none so welcome—”
A good cheery voice—a voice the curtain could not muffle—rang it down the corridor as on the note of a cornet.
The wine was at Ruth’s lip, scarcely wetting it. She lowered the glass steadily and turned half-about in her chair at the moment when, as before a whirlwind, the curtain flew wide and a stranger burst in on the run with Manasseh at his heels.
“Oliver!” The stranger drew himself up in the doorway—a well-knit figure of a man, clear of eye, bronzed of hue, clad in blue sea-cloth faced with scarlet, and wearing a short sword at the hip. “Where’s my Oliver?” he shouted. “You’ll forgive my voice, gentlemen. I’m Harry Vyell, at your service, fresh from shipboard, and not hoarse with anthems like old what-d’ye-call-him.” Running his gaze along the table, he sighted the Collector and broke into a view-halloo.
“Oliver! Brother Noll!” Captain Harry made a second run of it, caught his foot on the prostrate toper whom Langton had dragged out of Miss Quiney’s way, and fell on his brother’s neck. Recovering himself with a “damn,” he clapped his left hand on Sir Oliver’s shoulder, seized Sir Oliver’s right in his grip and started pump-handling—“as though” murmured Langton, “the room were sinking with ten feet of liquor in the hold.”
“Harry—is it Harry?” Sir Oliver stammered, and made a weak effort to rise.
“Lord! You’re drunk!” Captain Harry crowed the cheerful discovery. “Well, and I’ll join you—but in moderation, mind! Newly married man— if some one will be good enough to pass the decanter? . . . My dear fellow! . . . Cast anchor half an hour ago—got myself rowed ashore hot-foot to shake my Noll by the hand. Lord, brother, you can’t think how good it feels to be married! Sally won’t be coming ashore to-night; the hour’s too late, she says; so I’m allowed an hour’s liberty.” Here the uxorious