'And I wouldn't, Tom,' he said, with a little hesitation, 'I wouldn't have a shadow on her happy face, or an uneasy thought in her gentle heart, for all the wealth and honours of the universe!' Really John was uncommonly kind; extraordinarily kind. If he had been her father, Tom said, he could not have taken a greater interest in her.
But although Tom and his sister were extremely conversational, they were less lively, and less cheerful, than usual. Tom had no idea that this originated with Ruth, but took it for granted that he was rather dull himself. In truth he was; for the lightest cloud upon the Heaven of her quiet mind, cast its shadow upon Tom.
And there was a cloud on little Ruth that evening. Yes, indeed. When Tom was looking in another direction, her bright eyes, stealing on towards his face, would sparkle still more brightly than their custom was, and then grow dim. When Tom was silent, looking out upon the summer weather, she would sometimes make a hasty movement, as if she were about to throw herself upon his neck; then check the impulse, and when he looked round, show a laughing face, and speak to him very merrily; when she had anything to give Tom, or had any excuse for coming near him, she would flutter about him, and lay her bashful hand upon his shoulder, and not be willing to withdraw it; and would show by all such means that there was something on her heart which in her great love she longed to say to him, but had not the courage to utter.
So they were sitting, she with her work before her, but not working, and Tom with his book beside him, but not reading, when Martin knocked at the door. Anticipating who it was, Tom went to open it; and he and Martin came back into the room together. Tom looked surprised, for in answer to his cordial greeting Martin had hardly spoken a word.
Ruth also saw that there was something strange in the manner of their visitor, and raised her eyes inquiringly to Tom's face, as if she were seeking an explanation there. Tom shook his head, and made the same mute appeal to Martin.
Martin did not sit down but walked up to the window, and stood there looking out. He turned round after a few moments to speak, but hastily averted his head again, without doing so.
'What has happened, Martin?' Tom anxiously inquired. 'My dear fellow, what bad news do you bring?'
'Oh, Tom!' replied Martin, in a tone of deep reproach. 'To hear you feign that interest in anything that happens to me, hurts me even more than your ungenerous dealing.'
'My ungenerous dealing! Martin! My--' Tom could say no more.
'How could you, Tom, how could you suffer me to thank you so fervently and sincerely for your friendship; and not tell me, like a man, that you had deserted me! Was it true, Tom! Was it honest! Was it worthy of what you used to be--of what I am sure you used to be-- to tempt me, when you had turned against me, into pouring out my heart! Oh, Tom!'
His tone was one of such strong injury and yet of so much grief for the loss of a friend he had trusted in--it expressed such high past love for Tom, and so much sorrow and compassion for his supposed unworthiness--that Tom, for a moment, put his hand before his face, and had no more power of justifying himself, than if he had been a monster of deceit and falsehood.
'I protest, as I must die,' said Martin, 'that I grieve over the loss of what I thought you; and have no anger in the recollection of my own injuries. It is only at such a time, and after such a discovery, that we know the full measure of our old regard for the subject of it. I swear, little as I showed it--little as I know I showed it--that when I had the least consideration for you, Tom, I loved you like a brother.'
Tom was composed by this time, and might have been the Spirit of Truth, in a homely dress--it very often wears a homely dress, thank God!--when he replied to him.
'Martin,' he said, 'I don't know what is in your mind, or who has abused it, or by what extraordinary means. But the means are false. There is no truth whatever in the impression under which you labour. It is a delusion from first to last; and I warn you that you will deeply regret the wrong you do me.