For the moment her passions were like clouds in thunder weather, mounting against the wind; and in the small tumult of them she let jealousy dart its last lightning tongue.
“I am not learned in these matters, my lord. But I have heard that man must make a deity of something. The worse sort of unbeliever, they say, lives in the present and burns incense to himself. The better sort, having no future to believe in, idolises his past.”
“Margaret is dead,” he repeated. “I am no sentimentalist.”
She bent her head. To herself she whispered. “He may not idolise his past, yet he cannot escape from it.” . . . And her thoughts might have travelled farther, but she had put the mare to a walk again and just then her ears caught an unaccustomed sound, or confusion of sounds.
At the end of the alley she reined up, wide-eyed.
A narrow gateway here gave access to what had yesterday been a sloping paddock where Miss Quiney grazed a couple of cows. To-day the cows had vanished and given way to a small army of labourers. Broad strips of turf had vanished also and the brown loam was moving downhill in scores of wheel-barrows, to build up the slope to a level.
Sir Oliver marked her amazement and answered it with an easy laugh.
“The time is short, you see, and already we have wasted half an hour of it unprofitably. . . . These fellows appear to be working well.”
She gazed at the moving gangs as one who, having come by surprise upon a hive of bees, stands still and cons the small creatures at work.
“But what is the meaning of it?”
“The meaning? Why, that for this week I am your riding-master, and that by to-morrow you will have a passable riding-school.”
This happened on a Thursday. On the following Wednesday, a while before day-break, he met her on horseback by the gate of Sabines, and they rode forth side by side, ahead of the coach wherein Miss Quiney sat piled about with baggage, clutching in one hand a copy of Baxter’s Saint’s Everlasting Rest and with the other the ring of a canary-cage. (It was Dicky’s canary, and his first love-offering. Yesterday had been Ruth’s birthday—her eighteenth—and under conduct of Manasseh he had visited Sabines to wish her “many happy returns” and to say good-bye.)
Sir Oliver would escort the travellers for twelve miles on their way, to a point where the inland road broke into cart-tracks, and the tracks diverged across a country newly disafforested and strewn with jagged stumps among which the heavy vehicle could by no means be hauled. Here Farmer Cordery was to be in waiting with his light tilt-covered wagon.