Mrs. Bellingham was for a moment surprised at the white apparition which seemed to rise out of the ground. But her quick, proud mind understood it all in an instant. This was the girl, then, whose profligacy had led her son astray; had raised up barriers in the way of her favourite scheme of his marriage with Miss Duncombe; nay, this was the real cause of his illness, his mortal danger at this present time, and of her bitter, keen anxiety. If, under any circumstances, Mrs. Bellingham could have been guilty of the ill-breeding of not answering a question, it was now; and for a moment she was tempted to pass on in silence. Ruth could not wait; she spoke again--
"For the love of God, madam, speak! How is he? Will he live?"
If she did not answer her, she thought the creature was desperate enough to force her way into his room. So she spoke--
"He has slept well: he is better."
"Oh! my God, I thank thee," murmured Ruth, sinking back against the wall.
It was too much to hear this wretched girl thanking God for her son's life; as if, in fact, she had any lot or part in him. And to dare to speak to the Almighty on her son's behalf! Mrs. Bellingham looked at her with cold, contemptuous eyes, whose glances were like ice-bolts, and made Ruth shiver up away from them.
"Young woman, if you have any propriety or decency left, I trust that you will not dare to force yourself into his room."
She stood for a moment as if awaiting an answer, and half expecting it to be a defiance. But she did not understand Ruth. She did not imagine the faithful trustfulness of her heart. Ruth believed that, if Mr. Bellingham was alive and likely to live, all was well. When he wanted her, he would send for her, ask for her, yearn for her, till every one would yield before his steadfast will. At present she imagined that he was probably too weak to care or know who was about him; and though it would have been an infinite delight to her to hover and brood around him, yet it was of him she thought and not of herself. She gently drew herself on one side to make way for Mrs. Bellingham to pass.