They went silently through the untrimmed garden, full of the pale-coloured flowers of spring. A spider had spread her web over the front door. The sight of this conveyed a sense of desolation to Ruth's heart; she thought it was possible the state-entrance had never been used since her father's dead body had been borne forth, and without speaking a word, she turned abruptly away, and went round the house to another door. Mr. Bellingham followed without questioning, little understanding her feelings, but full of admiration for the varying expression called out upon her face.
The old woman had not yet returned from church, or from the weekly gossip or neighbourly tea which succeeded. The husband sat in the kitchen, spelling the psalms for the day in his Prayer-book, and reading the words out aloud--a habit he had acquired from the double solitude of his life, for he was deaf. He did not hear the quiet entrance of the pair, and they were struck with the sort of ghostly echo which seems to haunt half-furnished and uninhabited houses. The verses he was reading were the following:--
"Why art thou so vexed, O my soul: and why art thou so disquieted within me?
"O put thy trust in God: for I will yet thank him, which is the help of my countenance, and my God."
And when he had finished he shut the book, and sighed with the satisfaction of having done his duty. The words of holy trust, though, perhaps, they were not fully understood, carried a faithful peace down into the depths of his soul. As he looked up, he saw the young couple standing in the middle of the floor. He pushed his iron-rimmed spectacles. on to his forehead, and rose to greet the daughter of his old master and ever-honoured mistress.
"God bless thee, lass! God bless thee! My old eyes are glad to see thee again."
Ruth sprang forward to shake the horny hand stretched forward in the action of blessing. She pressed it between both of hers, as she rapidly poured out questions. Mr. Bellingham was not altogether comfortable at seeing one whom he had already begun to appropriate as his own, so tenderly familiar with a hard-featured, meanly-dressed day-labourer. He sauntered to the window, and looked out into the grass-grown farmyard; but he could not help overhearing some of the conversation, which seemed to him carried on too much in the tone of equality. "And who's yon?" asked the old labourer at last. "Is he your sweetheart? Your missis's son, I reckon. He's a spruce young chap, anyhow."
Mr. Bellingham's "blood of all the Howards" rose and tingled about his ears, so that he could not hear Ruth's answer. It began by "Hush, Thomas; pray hush!" but how it went on he did not catch. The idea of his being Mrs. Mason's son! It was really too ridiculous; but, like most things which are "too ridiculous," it made him very angry. He was hardly himself again when Ruth shyly came to the window-recess and asked him if he would like to see the house-place, into which the front-door entered; many people thought it very pretty, she said, half-timidly, for his face had unconsciously assumed a hard and haughty expression, which he could not instantly soften down. He followed her, however; but before he left the kitchen he saw the old man standing, looking at Ruth's companion with a strange, grave air of dissatisfaction.
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