“But if madam will not be on board to look after Dicky, the more will he need a friend. Mr. Hanmer, will you be that friend?”
“You are choosing a rough sort of nurse-maid.”
“But will you?” She faced him, wonderful in the moonlight.
His eyes dropped. His voice stammered, “I—I will do my best, Miss Josselin.”
She held out a hand. He took it perforce in his rope-roughened paw, held it awkwardly for a moment, and released it as one lets a bird escape.
Ruth smiled. “The best of women,” ran a saying of Batty Langton’s, “if you watch ’em, are always practising; even the youngest, as a kitten plays with a leaf.”
They stood in silence, waiting for the chair to overtake them.
“Tatty, you are a heroine!”
Miss Quiney, unwinding a shawl from her head under the hall-lamp, released herself from Ruth’s embrace. Her nerve had been strained and needed a recoil.
“Maybe,” she answered snappishly. “For my part, I’d take more comfort, just now, to be called a respectable woman.”
Ruth laughed, kissed her again, and stood listening to the footsteps as they retreated down the gravelled way. Among them her ear distinguished easily the firm tread of Mr. Hanmer.
A little before noon next day word came to her room that Sir Oliver had called and desired to speak with her.
She was not unprepared. She had indeed dressed with special care in the hope of it; but she went to her glass and stood for a minute or two, touching here and there her seemly tresses.
Should she keep him waiting—keep him even a long while? . . . He deserved it. . . . But ah, no! She was under a vow never to be other than forthright with him; and the truth was, his coming filled her with joy.
“I am glad you have come!” These, in fact, were her first words as he turned to face her in the drawing-room. He had been standing by the broad window-seat, staring out on the roses.
“You guess, of course, what has brought me?” He had dressed himself with extreme care. His voice was steady, his eye clear, and only a touch of pallor told of the overnight debauch. “I am here to be forgiven.”
“Who am I, to forgive?”
“If you say that, you make it three times worse for me. Whatever you are does not touch my right to ask your pardon, or my need to be forgiven—which is absolute.”
“No,” she mused, “you are right. . . . Have you asked pardon of Tatty?”
“I have, ten minutes ago. She sent the message to you.”
“Tatty was heroic”—Ruth paused on the reminiscence with a smile—” and, if you will believe me, quite waspish when I told her so.”
“You should have refused to come. You might have known that I was drunk, or I could never have sent.”