"Dearest Ruth, I must go; there is not an instant to be lost. Promise me to take some tea, for you are shivering all over, and deadly pale with the fright that abominable woman has given you. I must go; I shall be back in half an hour--and then no more partings, darling.
He kissed her pale cold face, and went away. The room whirled round before Ruth; it was a dream--a strange, varying, shifting dream--with the old home of her childhood for one scene, with the terror of Mrs. Mason's unexpected appearance for another; and then, strangest, dizziest, happiest of all, there was the consciousness of his love, who was all the world to her, and the remembrance of the tender words, which still kept up their low soft echo in her heart.
Her head ached so much that she could hardly see; even the dusky twilight was a dazzling glare to her poor eyes; and when the daughter of the house brought in the sharp light of the candles, preparatory for tea, Ruth hid her face in the sofa pillows with a low exclamation of pain.
"Does your head ache, miss?" asked the girl, in a gentle, sympathising voice. "Let me make you some tea, miss, it will do you good. Many's the time poor mother's headaches were cured by good strong tea."
Ruth murmured acquiescence; the young girl (about Ruth's own age, but who was the mistress of the little establishment owing to her mother's death) made tea, and brought Ruth a cup to the sofa where she lay. Ruth was feverish and thirsty, and eagerly drank it off, although she could not touch the bread and butter which the girl offered her. She felt better and fresher, though she was still faint and weak.
"Thank you," said Ruth. "Don't let me keep you, perhaps you are busy. You have been very kind, and the tea has done me a great deal of good."
The girl left the room. Ruth became as hot as she had previously been cold, and went and opened the window, and leant out into the still, sweet, evening air, The bush of sweet-brier underneath the window scented the place, and the delicious fragrance reminded her of her old home. I think scents affect and quicken the memory more than either sights or sound; for Ruth had instantly before her eyes the little garden beneath the window of her mother's room with the old man leaning on his stick watching her, just as he had done not three hours before on that very afternoon.
"Dear old Thomas! he and Mary would take me in, I think; they would love me all the more if I were cast off. And Mr. Bellingham would, perhaps, not be so very long away; and he would know where to find me if I stayed at Milham Grange. Oh, would it not be better to go to them? I wonder if he would be very sorry! I could not bear to make him sorry, so kind as he has been to me; but I do believe it would be better to go to them, and ask their advice, at any rate. He would follow me there; and I could talk over what I had better do, with the three best friends I have in the world--the only friends I have.