"I remember when we were reading here three years ago, we had a week of just such weather as this; but Howard and Johnson were capital whist-players, and Wilbraham not bad, so we got through the days famously. Can you play ecarte, Ruth, or picquet?"
"No, sir; I have sometimes played at beggar-my-neighbour," answered Ruth humbly, regretting her own deficiencies.
He murmured impatiently, and there was silence for another half-hour. Then he sprang up, and rang the bell violently. "Ask Mrs. Morgan for a pack of cards. Ruthie, I'll teach you ecarte," said he.
But Ruth was stupid, not so good as a dummy, he said; and it was no fun betting against himself. So the cards were flung across the table--on the floor--anywhere. Ruth picked them up. As she rose, she sighed a little with the depression of spirits consequent upon her own want of power to amuse and occupy him she loved.
"You're pale, love!" said he, half repenting of his anger at her blunders over the cards. "Go out before dinner; you know you don't mind this cursed weather; and see that you come home full of adventures to relate. Come, little blockhead! give me a kiss, and begone."
She left the room with a feeling of relief; for if he were dull without her, she should not feel responsible, and unhappy at her own stupidity. The open air, that kind of soothing balm which gentle mother Nature offers to us all in our seasons of depression, relieved her. The rain had ceased, though every leaf and blade was loaded with trembling glittering drops. Ruth went down to the circular dale, into which the brown foaming mountain river fell and made a deep pool, and, after resting there for a while, ran on between broken rocks down to the valley below. The water-fall was magnificent, as she had anticipated; she longed to extend her walk to the other side of the stream, so she sought the stepping-stones, the usual crossing-place, which were overshadowed by trees, a few yards from the pool. The waters ran high and rapidly, as busy as life, between the pieces of grey rock; but Ruth had no fear, and went lightly and steadily on. About the middle, however, there was a great gap; either one of the stones was so covered with water as to be invisible, or it had been washed lower down; at any rate, the spring from stone to stone was long, and Ruth hesitated for a moment before taking it. The sound of rushing waters was in her ears to the exclusion of every other noise; her eyes were on the current running swiftly below her feet; and thus she was startled to see a figure close before her on one of the stones, and to hear a voice offering help.
She looked up and saw a man, who was apparently long past middle life, and of the stature of a dwarf; a second glance accounted for the low height of the speaker, for then she saw he was deformed. As the consciousness of this infirmity came into her mind, it must have told itself in her softened eyes; for a faint flush of colour came into the pale face of the deformed gentleman, as he repeated his words--
"The water is very rapid; will you take my hand? perhaps I can help you."