Ralph did his best to fall in with the humour of the day, and told a good story or two in his slow voice—among them one of his mother exercising her gift of impressive silence towards a tiresome chatterbox of a man, with such effect that the conversationalist’s words died on his lips, after the third or fourth pause made for applause and comment. He told the story well, and Lady Torridon seemed to move among them, her skirts dragging majestically on the grass, and her steady, sombre face looking down on them all beneath half-closed languid eye-lids.
“He has never been near us again,” said Ralph, “but he never fails to ask after my mother’s distressing illness when I meet him in town.”
He was a little astonished at himself as he talked, for he was not accustomed to take such pains to please, but he was conscious that though he looked round at the faces, and addressed himself to More, he was really watching for the effect on the girl who sat behind. He was aware of every movement that she made; he knew when she tossed the ring on the little sleeping brown body of the dog that had barked at him earlier in the day, and set to work upon another. She slipped that on her finger when she had done, and turned her hand this way and that, her fingers bent back, a ruby catching the light as she did so, looking at the effect of the green circle against the whiteness. But he never looked at her again, except once when she asked him some question, and then he looked her straight in her black eyes as he answered.
A bell sounded out at last again from the tower, and startled him. He got up quickly.
“I am ashamed,” he said smiling, “how dare I stay so long? It is your kindness, Mr. More.”
“Nay, nay,” said Sir Thomas, rising too and stretching himself. “You have helped us to lose another day in the pleasantest manner possible—you must come again, Mr. Torridon.”
He walked down with Ralph to the garden steps, and stood by him talking, while the wherry that had been hailed from the other side made its way across.
“Beatrice is like one of my own daughters,” he said, “and I cannot give her better praise than that. She is always here, and always as you saw her today. I think she is one of the strongest spirits I know. What did you think of her, Mr. Torridon?”
“She did not talk much,” said Ralph.
“She talks when she has aught to say,” went on More, “and otherwise is silent. It is a good rule, sir; I would I observed it myself.”
“Who is she?” asked Ralph.
“She is the daughter of a friend I had, and she lives just now with my wife’s sisters, Nan and Fan. She is often in town with one of them. I am astonished you have not met her before.”
The wherry slid up to the steps and the man in his great boots slipped over the side to steady it.
“Now is the time to begin your philosophy,” said More as Ralph stepped in, “and a Socrates is ready. Talk it over, Mr. Torridon.”