A tall grave man, who had entered unnoticed, walked past the line of guests and up to his captain. He too wore a suit of blue with scarlet facings, and carried a short sword or hanger at his belt. He stood stiffly, awaiting command. The candle-light showed, beneath his right cheek bone, the cicatrix of a recent wound.
But Captain Harry, slewing round to him, was for the moment bereft of speech. His gaze had happened, for the first time, on little Miss Quiney.
“Eh?” he stammered, recovering himself. “Your pardon, ma’am. I wasn’t aware that a lady—” Here his eyes, travelling to the end of the table, were arrested by the vision of Ruth Josselin. “Wh-e-ew!” he whistled, under his breath.
“Sir Oliver—” Batty Langton stood up.
“Hey?” The name gave Captain Harry yet another shock. He spun about again upon his brother. “‘Sir Oliver’? Whats he saying?”
“You’ve not heard?” said the Collector, gripping his words slowly, one by one. “No, of course you’ve not. Harry, our uncle is dead.”
There was a pause. “Poor old boy!” he muttered. “Used to be kind to us, Noll, after his lights. If it hadn’t been for his womenkind.”
“They’re coming across to visit me, damn ’em!”
“What? Aunt Carrie and Di’? . . . Good Lord!”
“They’re on the seas at this moment—may be here within the week.”
“Good Lord!” Captain Harry repeated, and
his eyes wandered again to Ruth
Josselin. “Awkward, hey? . . . But I say, Noll—you really are Sir
Oliver! Dear lad, I give you joy, and with all my heart. . . .
Gad, here’s a piece of news for Sally!”
Again he came to a doubtful halt, and again with his eyes on Ruth Josselin. He was not a quick-witted man, outside of his calling, nor a man apt to think evil; but he had been married a month, and this had been long enough to teach him that women and men judge by different standards.
“Sir Oliver,” repeated Langton, “Miss Josselin craves your leave to retire.”
“Yes, dear”—Miss Quiney launched an approving nod towards her—“I was about to suggest it, with Sir Oliver’s leave. The hour is late, and by the time the sedan-chair returns for me—”
“There is no reason, Tatty, why we should not return together,” said Ruth quietly. “The night is fine; and, with Manasseh for escort, I can walk beside your chair.”
“Pardon me, ladies,” put in Mr. Silk. “Once in the upper town, you may be safe enough; but down here by the quay the sh—sailors—I know ’em— it’s my buishness. ’Low me—join the eshcort.”