“And will there be nobody at the Farm to help me,” she asked, a trifle dismayed.
“The farmer—his name is Cordery—rides, after a fashion. But he knows nothing of a side-saddle, if indeed he has ever seen one.”
“Then to trot, canter, and gallop I must teach myself,” she thought; for among the close plantations of Sabines there was room for neither. “If I experiment here, they will find me hanging like Absalom from a bough.” But aloud she said nothing of her tremors.
“Dicky sits a horse remarkably well for his age,” said Sir Oliver after a pause. “I had some thought to pack him off holidaying with you. But the puppy has taken to the water like a spaniel. He went off to the Venus yesterday, and it seems that on board of her he struck up, there and then, a close friendship with Harry’s lieutenant, a Mr. Hanmer; and now he can talk of nothing but rigging and running-gear. He’s crazed for a cruise and a hammock. Also it would seem that he used his time to win the affections of Madam Harry; which argues that his true calling is not the Navy, after all, but diplomacy.”
Ruth sighed inaudibly. Dicky’s companionship would have been delightful. But she knew the child’s craze, and would not claim him, to mar his bliss—though she well knew that at a word from her he would renounce it.
“Diplomacy?” she echoed.
“Well,” said Sir Oliver, looking straight before him. “Sally—my brother insists on calling her Sally—appears to have her head fixed well on her shoulders: she looks—as you must not forget to look— straight between the horse’s ears. But your young bride is apt to be the greatest prude in the world. And Dicky, you see—”
Her hand weighed on the rein and brought the mare to a halt.
“Tell me about Dicky?”
“About Dicky?” he repeated.
“About his mother, then.”
“She is dead,” he answered, staring at the mare’s glossy shoulder and smoothing it. His brows were bent in a frown.
“Yes . . . he told me that, in the coach, on our way from Port Nassau. It was the first thing he told me when he awoke. We had been rolling along the beach for hours in the dark; and I remember how, almost at the end of the beach, it grew light inside the coach and he opened his eyes. . . .”
She did not relate that the child had awaked in her arms.
“It was the first thing Dicky told me,” she repeated; “and the only thing about—her. I think it must be the only thing he knows about her.”
“Probably; for she died when he was born and—well, as the child grew up, it was not easy to explain to him. Other folks, no doubt—the servants and suchlike—were either afraid to tell or left it to me as my business. And I am an indolent parent.” He paused and added, “To be quite honest, I dare say I distasted the job and shirked it.”
“You did wrongly then,” murmured Ruth, and her eyes were moist. “Dicky started with a great hole in his life, and you left it unfilled. Often, being lonely, he must have needed to know something of his mother. You should have told him all that was good; and that was not little, I think, if you had loved her?”