“Sirs,” she said, “allow me to make a proposition; it is this, that not one of us breathe a word elsewhere of what has happened tonight. For heaven’s sake say nothing, keep all dark, and on this understanding,” she stooped forward and daintily raised her own glass, “I also pledge his Majesty over the sea.”
But Mr. Ives did not recover his spirits that night: presentiments of evil haunted him, misgivings that he had not done wisely by his darling. When the small hours of the morning struck he still lay awake, tossing restlessly to and fro.
The days passed on, and now all the world lay under a pall of white snow. Under their dazzling mantle gleamed the dark prickly leaves of the holly-trees with abundance of scarlet berries. Here and there a little robin-redbreast hopped to and fro, chiefly gathering round the latticed windows of the parsonage, where morning and evening Betty fed hundreds of feathered pensioners.
Sportsmen cursed the hard weather, the idle horses restlessly moved in their stalls, and the hounds dreamed dreams to pass away the long hours.
Betty was never idle. She made it her pride that when she left home as a bride all should be found in order in her father’s home. Mistress Mary took much interest in it herself, and joined her in mending and marking and sorting fine household linen that had need of much care.
Betty’s own clothes were in course of manufacture, not many but rich, as should become the Lady of Belton; above all, her wedding-gown of dove-coloured and silver brocade, all trimmed with strings and strings of orient pearls which John Johnstone had brought her one day.
He gave her many jewels but she loved the pearls best, for they were his first gift, and destined, he said, for that day of days that was to make her his own forever.
Almost every day as the time passed on, he brought her a new gift. Once it was a pretty little dog, another day a ring of large rubies.
“My Betty herself is a ruby,” he said, when he placed this on her hand. “A brave stone rich in colour, strong, unchanging, and the most precious of gems.”
Then there was nothing for it, but that she and her father should come to Belton to look over Betty’s future home, suggest improvements, and choose among Mr. Johnstone’s many fine horses one to be trained for his bride’s special use. She was a bold fearless rider, looking beautiful on horseback, and she had scorned his proposal to buy her a gentle lady’s horse, expressing her wish to be allowed to ride his hunters. With one or two exceptions John offered her the choice.
It was a brilliant frosty day on which the invitation was accepted. Mr. Ives laughingly included Mary Jones in the little party, asserting that two and two would be a fairer division of company.
Mary bridled and blushed and threw a tender glance at him from behind her fan, and the parson thought to himself that after all he was not old yet.