“I can believe that,” said Diana brusquely.
“And it says much. All men are selfish, and Oliver as a youth was very far from being an exception. I find the change in him significant of much. . . . At the same time you have mixed enough in the world, dear, to know that young men will be young men, and this sort of thing happens, unfortunately.”
“If, mamma, you suppose I bear Cousin Oliver any grudge because of this child—”
“I am heartily glad to hear you say it. There should be, with us women, a Christian nicety in dealing with these—er—situations; in retrospect, at all events. A certain—disgust, shall we say?—is natural, proper, even due to our sex: I should think the worse—very far the worse—of my Diana did she not feel it. But above all things, charity! . . . And let me tell you, dear, what I could not have told at the time, but I think you are now old enough to know that such an experience is often the best cure for a man, who thereafter, should he be fortunate in finding the right woman, anchors his affections and proves the most assiduous of husbands. This may sound paradoxical to you—”
“Dear mamma”—Diana hid a smile and a little yawn together—“believe me it does not.”
“Such a man, then,” pursued Lady Caroline, faintly surprised, “is likely to be the more appreciative of any kindness shown to—er—what I may call the living consequence of his error.”
“Why not say ‘Dicky’ at once, mamma, and have done with it.”
“To Dicky, then, if you will; but I was attempting to lay down the general rule which Dicky illustrates. A little gentle notice taken of the child not only appeals to the man as womanly in itself, but delicately conveys to him that the past is, to some extent, condoned. He has sown his wild oats: he is, so to speak, range; but he is none the less grateful for some assurance—”
Lady Caroline’s discourse had whiled the way back to Sabines, to the drawing-room; and here Diana wheeled round on her with the question, sudden and straight,—
“Do you suppose that Cousin Oliver is range, as you call it?”
“My child, we have every reason to believe so.”
“Then what do you make of this?” The girl took up a small volume that lay on the top of the harpsichord, and thrust it into her mother’s hands.
“Eh? What?” Lady Caroline turned the book back uppermost and spelled out the title through her eyeglass. “’Ovid’—he’s Latin, is he not? Dear, I had no notion that you kept up your studies in that—er— tongue.”
“I do not. I have forgot what little I learned of it, and that was next to nothing. But open the book, please, at the title-page.”
“I see nothing. It has neither book-plate nor owner’s signature.” (Indeed Ruth never wrote her name in her books. She looked upon them as her lord’s, and hers only in trust.)
“The title-page, I said. You are staring at the flyleaf.”