And yet, even at the time she made it, Ruth little dreamt how deeply her confession both galled and revolted her husband. He forgave her very kindly in the end, and that satisfied her lean imagination. Perhaps there was not much to forgive. There was enough, at all events, to trouble Erskine (to whom the best excuse there was for her was the least likely to suggest itself); but the matter soon ceased to trouble Erskine’s wife, because his smile was as good-tempered as before. He seemed, indeed, to think no more about it. When Ruth would speak confidentially of her hopes and wishes for Tiny (as though Erskine had been in her confidence all the time), he would chat the matter over with interest, which was the next best thing to sympathy. He had to do this oftener than he liked during the next twenty-four hours; for Ruth really thought that excessive candor now was a more or less adequate atonement for an excessive reserve in the past. Moreover, she genuinely enjoyed talking openly at last of the matter which had concerned her so long and so severely in secret.
“Don’t you think he means it?” she asked her husband several times.
“I am afraid he thinks he does,” was one of Holland’s answers.
“That’s your way of admitting it,” rejoined Ruth, who could bear his repudiation of her desires for the sake of his assent to her opinion, which Erskine was too honest to withhold. “Of course he means it. Have you noticed how he watches her?”
“I have noticed it once or twice.”
“And did you see him watching his mother, the night we dined there, to see what impression Tiny made upon her?”
“So you spotted that!” Erskine said curiously, not having given his wife the credit for such acute perception. “Well, I own that I did, too; and that was worse than his watching Tiny. This is a youth with a well-known weakness for his mamma. She has probably more influence over him than any other body in the world. I am prepared to bet that it was she, and she alone, who whistled him back from Australia. Now though she did it partly by her singing — which, by the way, was rather cheap for our Tiny — there’s no doubt at all about the impression Tiny has made upon Lady Dromard; and that’s the worst of it.”
“The worst of it! as if he was beneath her!” said Ruth mockingly. “Or is it that you think her too terribly beneath him?”
“Tiny,” said Erskine, shaking his head, “is beneath no man that I have yet come across.”
“Then what can you have against it? Is it that you think she will grow so grand that we shall see no more of her! If so, it shows how much you know of our Tiny. Or do you think him too high and mighty to be honest and true? I don’t profess to know much about it,” continued Ruth scornfully, being stung to eloquence by his perversity, “but I should have said an honest man and his love might be found in a castle, sometimes, as well as in a cottage!”
“‘Hearts just as pure and fair may beat in Belgrave Square as in the lowly air of Seven Dials,’” quoted Erskine, with a laugh. “I grant all that; but if you want to know, my point is that Tiny would be thrown away on Belgrave Square! She is far too funny and fresh, and unlike most of us, to thrive in that fine soil; she would need to be clipped and pruned and trimmed in the image of other people. And that would spoil her. Whatever else she may be, she’s more or less original as she stands. She’s not a copy now; but she will have to become one in Belgrave Square.”
“She will have to become one!” cried Ruth, jumping at the change of mood. “Then you think that Tiny means it, too?”
“I am afraid she means to marry him,” said Erskine, with a sigh. “I have visions of our Tiny ours no more, but my Lady Manister, and Countess Dromard in due course.”
So delighted was Ruth with his opinion on this point that his other opinions had no power to annoy her; and in her joy she told him once more, and with much impulsive feeling, how sorry she was for having kept him in the dark so willfully and so long. She called him an angel of good temper and forbearance, and undertook to reward his generosity by never hiding another thing from him in her life. And she would never, never vex him again, she said — so earnestly that he thought she meant it, as indeed she thought herself, for half a minute.
“But you mean to go to the match tomorrow?” he asked her wistfully.
“Oh, we must — if it’s fine. It’s the last match of the week; besides, Herbert’s going to play.”
This was an argument, and Erskine said no more. The chances are that he would have said no more in any case. The following afternoon Ruth drove with Tiny to the match, and with a particularly light heart, because she had not heard another word against the plan. Her one remaining anxiety was lest it might rain before they got to the cricket field.
For the day was one of those dull ones of early autumn when there is little wind, a gray sky, and more than a chance of rain; but none had fallen during the morning, which reduced the chance; while the clouds were high, and occasionally parted by faint rays of sunshine. The ground was so beautiful in itself that it was the greater pity there was no more sun, since, without it, well-kept turf and tall trees are like a sweet face saddened. The trees were the fine elms of that country, and they flanked two sides of the ground; but one missed their shadows, and the foliage had a dingy, lack-luster look in the tame light. On the third side a ha-ha formed a natural “boundary,” and the red, spreading house stood aloof on the fourth, giving a touch of welcome warmth to a picture whose highest lights were the white flannels of the players and the canvas tents. The tents were many, and admirably arranged; but one beneath the elms had a side on the ground to itself; and thither drove Mrs. Holland, alighting rather nervously as a groom came promptly to the pony’s head, because this was the ladies’ tent.
To-day, however, the tent was not formidably full, as it had been when the girls had watched the cricket from it earlier in the week; this was only the Saturday’s match. Ruth looked in vain for Lady Dromard, but received a cold greeting from her daughter, Lady Mary, upon whom the guinea stamp was disagreeably fresh and sharp. The sight of Mrs. Willoughby and her friend Mrs. Foster–Simpson on a front seat was a relief at the moment (the sight of anything to nod to is a relief sometimes); but Ruth was discreet enough to sit down behind these ladies, not beside them. She congratulated herself on her presence of mind when she heard the tone and character of some of their comments on the game. It would have done Ruth no good to be seen at the side of loud Mrs. Foster–Simpson or of loquacious Mrs. Willoughby, and it might have done Tiny grave harm. Mrs. Willoughby’s husband, who had good-naturedly become eleventh man at the eleventh hour, was conspicuous in the field from his black trousers, clerical wide-awake, and shirt-sleeves of gray flannel. “I hope you admire him,” said his wife over her shoulder to Ruth; “I tell him he might as well take a funeral in flannels!”
“Or dine in his surplice,” added her friend Mrs. Foster–Simpson in a voice that carried to the back of the tent.
“I just do admire Mr. Willoughby,” Ruth said softly; “he has a soul above appearances.”
“You’re not his wife,” replied the lady who was.
“You may thank your stars!” shouted her too familiar friend.
Little Mrs. Holland turned to her sister and speculated aloud as to the state of the game, but her tone was an example to the ladies in front, who nevertheless did not lower theirs to supply the gratuitous information that the Mundham players had been fielding all day.
“They’re getting the worst of it,” declared Mrs. Willoughby, perhaps prematurely.
“Do them good,” her friend said viciously, but with the soft pedal down for once. “There would have been no holding them. That young Dromard, now — it will take it out of him. He wants it taking out of him!”
Mr. Stanley Dromard, who had been scoring heavily all the week, happened to be in the deep field close to the tent. Ruth nudged her sister, and they moved further along their row in order to avoid the bonnets in front.
“Horrid people!” whispered Ruth.
“That’s the earl by the canvas screen,” answered Tiny. “I should like to send him a new straw hat!”
“Hush!” whispered Ruth in terror. “You’re as bad as they are. Tell me, do you see Herbert?”
“Yes, there he is, all by himself. There’s a man out.”
“Is there? How tired they seem! That’s Lord Manister sprawling on the grass. What a boy he looks! You wouldn’t think he was anybody in particular, would you?”
“I should hope not, indeed, on the cricket field!”
“I only meant he looked rather nice.”
“Certainly he looks nicer in flannels than in anything else; his tailor has less to do with it.”
The patience of Ruth was inexhaustible. She watched the game until another wicket fell. Then it was her admiration for the scene that escaped in more whispers.
“Isn’t it a lovely place, Tiny?”
“Oh, it’s all that.”
“I’ve never seen one to touch it, and I have seen two or three, you know, since we were married. But the house is the best part of it all. I would give anything to live in a house like that — wouldn’t you?”
“I? My immortal soul!”
And Tiny sighed, but Ruth, looking round quickly, saw laughter in her eyes, and said no more. Tiny was very trying. Was she half in earnest, or wholly in jest? Ruth could never tell; and now, while she wondered, a lady who knew her sat down on her right. Ruth was glad enough to shake hands and talk, and not sorry in this case to be seen doing so, while at the moment it was a very human pleasure to her to leave Tiny to take care of herself. And that was a thing at which Tiny may be said to have excelled, so far as one saw, and no further. The attacks of most tongues she was capable of repelling with distinction; against those of her own thoughts she made ever the feeblest resistance; and at this stage of Christina’s career her own thoughts were a swarm of flies upon a wound in her heart. That was the truth — and no one suspected it.
During the next quarter of an hour the innings came to an end, and the fielders trooped over to the group of tents at another side of the ground. Tiny hoped that one of them would have the good taste to come to the ladies’ tent and talk to her; an Eton boy would do very well; Herbert would be better than nobody: but she hoped in vain. On her right Ruth had turned her back, and was quite taken up with the lady with whom she was not sorry to be seen in conversation. The chairs on her left were all empty; and those flies were fighting for her heart. It was the rustle of silk disturbed them in the end; and Lady Dromard who sat down in the empty chair on Tiny’s left.
“I am so glad to see you both,” said the countess as though she meant it; and she leant over to shake hands with Ruth, whose back was now turned upon her new found friend. Not so much was said to the pair in front, though those ladies had something to say for themselves. Lady Dromard gave them very small change in smiles, but made the conversation general for a minute or two, with that graceful tact at which, perhaps, she was, in a manner, a professional. With equal facility she dropped them from her talk one after another, much as the last wickets had fallen in the match, and until only Tiny was left in. For the countess had come there expressly to talk to Miss Luttrell, as she herself stated with charming directness.
“I was afraid you were feeling dull; though really you deserve to, Miss Luttrell.”
“I was,” said Tiny honestly; “but I don’t know what I have done to deserve to, Lady Dromard.”
“It’s the last match, and a poor one, which nobody cares anything about. You should have come earlier in the week.”
“We were here on Wednesday afternoon.”
“But why not oftener? My second son made ninety-three on Thursday. I do wish you had seen that!”
“It wasn’t my fault that I didn’t,” remarked Miss Luttrell. “I suppose things came in the way.”
“Then you are a cricketer!” exclaimed the countess. “I am glad to hear it, for I am a great cricketer myself. No, I don’t play, Miss Luttrell; only I know all about it.”
Christina candidly confessed that she was not a cricketer in any sense — that, in fact, she knew very little about cricket; and the countess, who considered how many girls would have pretended to know much, was more pleased with this answer than she would have been with an exhibition of real knowledge of the game.
“My only interest in this match, however,” explained Lady Dromard, “is in my eldest son. I do so want him to make runs! He has been dreadfully unsuccessful all the week.”
Christina was discreetly sympathetic.
“He is going in first,” murmured the countess presently in suppressed excitement. “We must watch the match.”
So they sat without speaking during the first few overs, and the silence did much for Christina, by putting her at her ease in the hour when she needed all the ease at her command. Cool as she was outwardly, in her heart she was not a little afraid of Lady Dromard, whose manner toward herself had already struck her as rather too kind and much too scrutinizing. She now entertained a perfectly private conviction that Lady Dromard either knew something about her or had her suspicions. Not that this made Christina particularly uncomfortable at the moment. The countess had eyes and wits for the game only, following it intently through a heavy field glass grown light now that Manister was batting.
It was difficult to realize that this eager, animated woman was the mother of the young fellow at the wicket, she looked so very little older than her son; or so it seemed to Tiny, who now had ample opportunity to study not only her face and figure, but her quiet, handsome bonnet and faultless dress. Even Tiny could not help admiring Lady Dromard. Suddenly, however, the hand that held the field-glass was allowed to drop, and the fine face flushed with disappointment as a round of applause burst from the field and found no echo in the tents.
“Manister is out!” exclaimed the countess. “He has only made two or three!”
“How fond she is of him,” thought the girl, still watching her companion’s face, which somehow softened Christina toward both mother and son; so that now it was with real sympathy that she remarked, “Poor Lord Manister! I am very sorry.”
Some expressions of condolence from the seats in front threw the young girl’s words into advantageous relief.
The countess said presently to Christina, “I am sorry it has turned out so dull a day; the ground looks really nice when it is fine and sunny.”
“It is a beautiful ground,” answered Tiny simply; “the trees are so splendid.”
“Ah, but you’re used to splendid trees.”
“In Australia? Well, we are and we are not, Lady Dromard. I mean to say, there are tremendous trees in some parts; in others there are none at all, you know. Up the bush, where we used to live, the trees were of very little account.”
“I thought the bush was nothing but trees,” remarked Lady Dromard; and Christina could not help smiling as she explained the comprehensive character of “the bush.”
“So you were actually brought up on a sheep farm!” said Lady Dromard, looking flatteringly at the graceful young girl.
“Yes — on a station. It was in the bush, and very much the bush,” laughed Tiny, “for we were hundreds of miles up country. But most of the trees were no higher than this tent, Lady Dromard. The homestead was in a clump of pines, and they were pretty tall, but the rest were mere scrub.”
“Then how in the world,” cried her ladyship, “did you manage to become educated? What school could you go to in a place like that?”
“We never went to school at all,” Tiny informed her confidentially. “We had a governess.”
“Ah, and she taught you to sing! I should like to meet that governess. She must be a very clever person.”
Her ladyship’s manner was delightfully blunt.
“Now, Lady Dromard, you’re laughing at me! I know nothing — I have read nothing.”
“I rejoice to hear it!” cried the countess cordially. “I assure you, Miss Luttrell, that’s a most refreshing confession in these days. Only it’s too good to be true. I don’t believe you, you know.”
Christina made no great effort to establish the truth of her statement; for some minutes longer they watched the game.
But the countess was not interested, though her younger son had gone in, and had already begun to score. “What were they?” she said at length with extreme obscurity; but Christina was polite enough not to ask her what she meant until she had put this question to herself, and while she still hesitated Lady Dromard recollected herself, appreciated the hesitation, and explained. “I mean the trees in the bush, at your farm. Were they gum trees?”
“Very few of them — there are hardly any gum trees up there.”
“Do you know that I have a young gum tree?” said Lady Dromard amusingly, as though it were a young opossum.
“No!” said Tiny incredulously.
“But I have, in the conservatory; you might have seen it the other evening.”
“How I wish I had!”
The young girl’s face wore a flush of genuine animation. Lady Dromard regarded it for a moment, and admired it very much; then she bent forward and touched Ruth on the arm.
“Mrs. Holland, will you trust your sister to me for half an hour? I want to show her something that will interest her more than the cricket.”
“Oh, Lady Dromard, I can’t think of taking you away from the match,” cried Christina, while Ruth’s eyes danced, and the bonnets in front turned round.
“My dear Miss Luttrell, it will interest me more, now that Lord Manister is out.”
“But there’s Mr. Dromard.”
“Oh, that boy! He has made more runs this week than are good for him. Miss Luttrell, am I to go alone?”
The bonnets in front knocked together.
Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:16