“To tell you the truth,” said Mrs. Harry, pretending to study the jump, “I looked at you because I could not help it. You are an extraordinarily beautiful woman.”
“Thank you,” answered Ruth. “But about ‘Captain Harry,’ as we call him? I suppose he, as next of kin, is most concerned of all?”
“He did not tell me about you, if that is what you mean; or rather he told me nothing until I questioned him. Then he owned that there was such a person, and that he had seen you. But he does not even know of this visit; he imagines that Lady Caroline is taking me for a pleasure trip, just to view the country.”
Ruth turned towards the house. “You will tell him, of course,” she said gravely, “when you return to the ship.”
“I—I suppose I shall,” confessed Mrs. Harry, and added, “There’s one thing. You may suppose that, as his wife, I am as much concerned as any—perhaps more than these others. But I don’t want you to think that I suggested hunting you up.”
“I do not think anything of the sort. In fact I am sure you did not.”
Ruth had a mind to ask “Who, then, had brought them?” but refrained. She had guessed, and pretty surely.
“Well,” she said with half a laugh, “you have been good and given me time to recover. It’s heavy odds, you see, and—and I have not been trained for it, exactly. But I feel better. Shall we go back and face them?”
“One moment, again!” Mrs. Harry’s kindly face hung out signals of distress. “It’s heavy odds, as you say. Everything’s against you. But the Lord knows I’m a well-meaning woman, and I’d hate to be unjust. If only I could be sure—if only you would tell me—”
Ruth stood still and faced her.
“Look in my eyes.”
Mrs. Harry looked and was convinced. “But you love him,” she murmured; “and he—”
“Ah, ma’am,” said Ruth, “I answer you one question, and you would ask me another!”
She walked back to the verandah.
“I understand,” she said, “that Lady Caroline wishes a word with me.”
With a slight bow she led the way through a low window that opened upon the Corderys’ best parlour, through that apartment, and across a passage to the door of a smaller room lined with shelves—formerly a stillroom or store-chamber for home-made wines, cordials, preserves, but now converted into a boudoir for her use. Its one window looked out upon the farmyard, now in shadow, and a farther doorway led to the dairy. It stood open, and beyond it the eye travelled down a vista of cool slate flags and polished cream-pans.
On the threshold Ruth stood aside to let Lady Caroline enter; followed, and closed the door; stepped across and closed the door of the dairy. Lady Caroline meanwhile found a seat, and, lifting her eyeglass, studied at long range the library disposed upon the store shelves.