“Ah, to be sure—” Lady Caroline turned a leaf. “Is this what you mean?” She held up a loose sheet of paper covered with writing.
The elder lady found the range of her eyeglass and conned—in silence and without well grasping its purport—the following effusion:—
Other maids make Love a foeman,
Lie in ambush to defeat him;
I alone will step to meet him
Valiant, his accepted woman.
Equal, consort in his car,
Ride I to his royal war.
of his bow and targe,
Yet who toyed with lovers’ quarrels,
Envy me my braver laurels!
Lord! thy shield of shadow large
Lift above me, shout the charge!
“I make nothing of it,” owned Lady Caroline. “It appears to be poetry of a sort—probably some translation from the Latin author.”
“You note, at least, that the handwriting is a woman’s?”
“H’m, yes,” Lady Caroline agreed.
“Dear, you speak in riddles.”
“It is a riddle,” said Diana. “Take the first letter of each line, and read them down, in order.”
“O, L, I, V, E, R V, Y, E, L, L,” spelled Lady Caroline, and lowered her eyeglass. “My dear, as you say, this cannot be a mere coincidence.”
“Did I say that?” asked Diana.
“But who can it be, or have been? . . . That Dance woman, perhaps? She was infatuated enough.”
“It was not she,” said Diana positively.
“Somebody can tell us. . . . That Mr. Silk, for instance.”
“Ah, you too think of him?”
“As a clergyman—and to some extent a boon companion of Oliver’s—he would be likely to know—”
“—And to tell? You are quite right, mamma: I have asked him.”
Ruth Josselin came down from the mountain to the stream-side, where, by a hickory bush under a knoll, her mare Madcap stood at tether. Slipping behind the bush—though no living soul was near to spy on her— she slid off her short skirt and indued a longer one more suitable for riding; rolled the discarded garment into a bundle which she strapped behind the saddle; untethered the mare, and mounted.
At her feet the plain stretched for miles, carpeted for the most part with short sweet turf and dotted in the distance with cattle, red in the sunlight that overlooked the mountain’s shoulder. These were Farmer Cordery’s cattle, and they browsed within easy radius of a clump of elms clustered about Sweetwater Farm. Some four miles beyond, on the far edge of the plain, a very similar clump of elms hid another farm, Natchett by name, in like manner outposted with cattle; and these were the only habitations of men within the ring of the horizon.