She laughed. Her eyes sparkled already at the thought of learning to be a horsewoman.
“I will do without tutors.” She spread her arms wide, as with a swimmer’s motion, and he could not but note the grace of it. The palms, turned outward and slightly downward, had an eloquence, too, which he interpreted.
“I have mewed you here too long. You sigh for liberty.”
She nodded, drawing a long breath. “I come from the sea-beach, remember.”
“Say but the word, and instead of the mountain, the beach shall be yours.”
“No. I have never seen a mountain. It will have the sound of waters, too—of its own cataracts. And on the plain I shall learn to gallop, and feel the wind rushing past me. These things, and a few books, and Tatty—” Here she broke off, on a sudden thought. “My lord, there is a question I have put to myself many times, and have promised myself to put to you. Why does Tatty never talk to me about God and religion and such things?”
He did not answer at once.
She went on: “It cannot only be because you do not believe in them. For Tatty is very religious, and brave as a lion; she would never be silent against her conscience.”
“How do you know that I don’t believe in them?”
She laughed. “Does my lord truly suppose me so dull of wit? or will he fence with my question instead of answering it?”
“The truth is, then,” he confessed, “that before she saw you I thought fit to tell Miss Quiney what you had suffered—”
“She has known it from the first? I wondered sometimes. But oh, the dear deceit of her!”
“—And seeing that this same religion had caused your sufferings, I asked her to deal gently with you. She would not promise more than to wait and choose her own time. But Tatty, as you call her, is an honourable woman.”
Ruth stretched out her hands.
“Ah, you were good—you were good! . . . If only my heart were a glass, and you might see how goodness becomes you!”
He took her hands this time, and laying one over another, kissed the back of the uppermost, but yet so respectfully that Miss Quiney, entering the room just then, supposed him to be merely taking a ceremonious leave.
For a few minutes he lingered out his call, hat and walking-cane in hand, talking pleasantly of his last night’s guests, and with a smile that assumed his pardon to be granted. Incidentally Ruth learned how it had happened that a chair stood empty for her by Mr. Langton’s side. It appeared that Governor Shirley himself had called, earlier in the evening, to offer his felicitations; and finding the seat on Sir Oliver’s right occupied by a toper who either would not or could not make room, he had with some tact taken a chair at the far end of the table and vis-a-vis with his host, protesting that he chose it as the better vantage-ground for delivering a small speech. His speech, too, had been neat, happy in phrase, and not devoid of good feeling. Having delivered it, he had slipped away early, on an excuse of official business.