She looked up; but the stars were gone, faded out into daylight. He pushed his horse half a pace ahead, and glanced sideways at her face. Tears shone yet in her eyes, and his own, as he quickly averted them, fell on a tall mullein growing by the roadside. Big drops of dew adhered upon its woolly leaves and twinkled in the sunshine; and by contrast he knew the colour of her eyes—that they were violet and of the night—their dew distilled out of such violet darkness as had been the quality of one or two Mediterranean nights that lingered among his memories of the Grand Tour. More and more this girl surprised him with graces foreign to this colonial soil, graces supposed by him to be classical and lost, the appanage of goddesses.
Like a goddess now she lifted an arm and pointed west, as he had pointed east. Ahead of them, to the right of the road, rose a tall hill, wooded at the base, broken at the summit by craggy terraces. Two large birds wheeled and hovered above it, high in the blue, fronting the sunlight.
“Eagles, by Jove!” cried Sir Oliver.
Ruth drew a breath and watched them. She had never before seen an eagle.
“Will they have their nest in the cliffs?” she asked.
“Perhaps. . . . No, more likely they come from Wachusett; more likely still, from the mountains beyond. They are here seeking food.”
“They do not appear to be seeking food,” she said after a pause during which she watched their ambits of flight circling and intersecting “See the nearest one mounting, and the other lifting on a wider curve to meet him above. One would say they followed some pattern, like folks dancing.”
“Some act of homage to the sun,” he suggested. “They have come down to the sea to meet him—they look over the Atlantic from aloft there—and perform in his honour. Who knows?”
Across Ruth’s inner vision there flashed a memory of Mr. Hichens, black-suited and bald, bending over his Hebrew Bible and expounding a passage of Job: “Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place. . . .”
To herself she said: “If it be so, the eagle’s faith is mine; my lord’s also, perchance, if he but knew it.”
Aloud she asked, “Why are the noblest, birds and beasts, so few and solitary?”
Sir Oliver laughed. “You may include man. The answer is the same, and simple: the strong of the earth feed on the weak, and it takes all the weaklings to make blood for the few.”
She mused; but when she spoke again it was not to dispute with him. “You say they look over the sea from aloft there. Might we have sight of it from the top of the hill?”
“Perhaps. There is plenty of time to make sure before the coach overtakes us—though I warn you it will be risky.”
“I am not afraid.”
They cantered off gaily, plunged into the woods and breasted the slope, Sir Oliver leading and threading his way through the undergrowth. By-and-by they came to the bed of a torrent and followed it up, the horses picking their steps upon the flat boulders between which the water trickled. Some of these boulders were slimed and slippery, and twice Sir Oliver reached out a hand and hauled the mare firmly on to her quarters.