In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 20
BOUGHT AND SOLD.
Cruel Coppinger remained brooding in the place where he had been standing, and as he stood there his face darkened. He was a man of imperious will and violent passions; a man unwont to curb himself; accustomed to sweep out of his path whoever or whatever stood between him and the accomplishment of his purpose; a man who never asked himself whether that purpose were good or bad. He had succumbed, in a manner strange and surprising to himself, to the influence of Judith—a sort of witchery over him that subdued his violence and awed him into gentleness and modesty. But when her presence was withdrawn the revolt of the man's lawless nature began. Who was this who had dared to oppose her will to his a mere child of eighteen. Women were ever said to be a perverse generation, and loved to domineer over men; and man was weak to suffer it. So thinking, chafing, he had worked himself into a simmering rage when Miss Trevisa entered the hall, believing it to be empty. Seeing him, she was about to withdraw, when he shouted to her to stay.
"I beg your pardon for intruding, sir; I am in quest of my niece. Those children keep me in a whirl like a teetotum."
"Your niece is gone."
"Gone! where to?"
"Back—I suppose to that old fool, Menaida. He is meet to be a companion for her and that idiot, her brother; not I—I am to be spurned from her presence."
Miss Trevisa was surprised, but she said nothing. She knew his moods.
"Stand there, Mother Dunes!" said Coppinger, in his anger and humiliation, glad to have some one on whom he could pour out the lava that boiled up in his burning breast. "Listen to me. She has told me that we belong to different worlds—she and I—and to different races, kinds of being, and that there can be no fellowship betwixt us. Where I am she will not be. Between me and you there is a great gulf fixed—see you? and I am as Dives tormented in my flame, and she stands yonder, serene, in cold and complacent blessedness, and will not cross to me with her finger dipped in cold water to cool my tongue; and as for my coming near to her" he laughed fiercely—"that can never be."
"Did she say all that?" asked Miss Trevisa.
"She looked it; she implied it, if she did not say it in these naked words. And, what is more," shouted he, coming before Aunt Dionysia, threateningly, so that she recoiled, "it is true. When she sat there in yonder chair, and I stood here by this hearthstone, and she spoke, I knew it was true; I saw it all—the great gulf unspanned by any bridge. I knew that none could ever bridge it, and there we were, apart for ever, I in my fire burning-, she in Blessedness—indifferent."
"I am very sorry," said Miss Trevisa, "that Judith should so have misconducted herself. My brother brought her up in a manner to my mind, most improper for a young girl. He made her read Rollin's 'Ancient History,' and Blair's 'Chronological Tables,' and really upon my word, I cannot say what else."
"I do not care how it was," said Coppinger. "But here stands the gulf."
"Rollin is in sixteen octavo volumes," said Aunt Dionysia; "and they are thick also."
Coppinger strode about the room, with his hands in his deep coat pockets, his head down.
"My dear brother," continued Miss Trevisa, apologetically, "made of Judith his daily companion, told her all he thought, asked her opinion, as though she were a full-grown woman, and one whose opinion was worth having, whereas he never consulted me, never cared to talk to me about anything, and the consequence is the child has grown up without that respect for her elders and betters, and that deference for the male sex which the male sex expects. I am sure when I was a girl, and of her age, I was very different, very different indeed."
"Of that I have not the smallest doubt," sneered Coppinger. "But never mind about yourself. It is of her I am speaking. She is gone, has left me, and I cannot endure it. I cannot endure it," he repeated.
"I beg your pardon," said Aunt Dionysia, "you must excuse me saying it, Captain Coppinger, but you place me in a difficult position. I am the guardian of my niece, though, goodness knows, I never desired it, and I don't know what to think. It is very flattering and kind, and I esteem it great goodness in you to speak of Judith with such warmth, but——"
"Goodness! kindness!" exclaimed Coppinger. "I am good and kind to her! She forced me to it. I can be nothing else, and she throws me at her feet and tramples on me."
"I am sure your sentiments, sir, are—are estimable; but, feeling as you seem to imply toward Judith, I hardly know what to say. Bless me! what a scourge to my shoulders these children are: nettles stinging and blistering my skin, and not allowing me a moment's peace!"
"I imply nothing," said Coppinger. "I speak out direct and plain what I mean. I love her. She has taken me, she turns me about, she gets my heart between her little hands and tortures it."
"Then, surely, Captain, you cannot ask me to let her be here. You are most kind to express yourself in this manner about the pert hussy, but, as she is my niece, and I am responsible for her, I must do my duty by her, and not expose her to be—talked about. Bless me!" gasped Aunt Dunes, "when I was her age I never would have put myself into such a position as to worry my aunt out of her seven senses, and bring her nigh to distraction."
"I will marry her, and make her mistress of my house and all I have," said Coppinger.
Miss Trevisa slightly courtesied, then said, "I am sure you are over-indulgent, but what is to become of me? I have no doubt it will be very comfortable and acceptable to Judith to hear this, but—what is to become of me? It would not be very delightful for me to be housekeeper here under my own niece, a pert, insolent, capricious hussy. You can see at once, Captain Coppinger, that I cannot consent to that."
The woman had the shrewdness to know that she could be useful to Coppinger, and the selfishness that induced her to make terms with him to secure her own future, and to show him that she could stand in his way till he yielded to them.
"I never asked to have these children thrust down my throat, like the fish-bone that strangled Lady Godiva—no, who was it? Earl Godiva; but I thank my stars I never waded through Rollin, and most certainly kept my hands off Blair. Of course, Captain Coppinger, it is right and proper of you to address yourself to me, as the guardian of my niece, before speaking to her."
"I have spoken to her and she spurns me."
"Naturally, because you spoke to her before addressing me on the subject. My dear brother—I will do him this justice—was very emphatic on this point. But you see, sir, my consent can never be given."
"I do not ask your consent."
"Judith will never take you without it."
"Consent or no consent," said Coppinger, "that is a secondary matter. The first is, she does not like me, whereas I—I love her. I never loved a woman before. I knew not what love was. I laughed at the fools, as I took them to be, who sold themselves into the hands of women; but now, I cannot live without her. I can think of nothing but her all day. I am in a fever, and cannot sleep at night—all because she is tormenting me."
All at once, exhausted by his passion, desperate at seeing no chance of success, angry at being flouted by a child, he threw himself into the chair, and settled his chin on his breast, and folded his arms.
"Go on," said he. "Tell me what is my way out of this."
"You cannot expect my help or my advice, Captain, so as to forward what would be most unsatisfactory to me."
"What! do you grudge her to me?"
"Not that; but, if she were here, what would become of me? Should I be turned out into the cold at my age by this red-headed hussy, to find a home for myself with strangers? Here I never would abide with her as mistress, never."
"I care naught about you."
"No, of that I am aware, to my regret, sir; but that makes it all the more necessary for me to take care for myself."
"I see," said Coppinger, "I must buy you. Is your aid worth it? Will she listen to you?"
"I can make her listen to me," said Aunt Dunes, "if it be worth my while. At my age, having roughed it, having no friends, I must think of myself and provide for the future, when I shall be too old to work."
"Name your price."
Miss Trevisa did not answer for a while; she was considering the terms she would make. To her coarse and soured mind there was nothing to scruple at in aiding Coppinger in his suit. The Trevisas were of a fine old Cornish stock, but then Judith took after her mother, the poor Scottish governess, and Aunt Dunes did not feel toward her as though she were of her own kin. The girl looked like her mother. She had no right, in Miss Trevisa's eyes, to bear the name of her father, for her father ought to have known better than stoop to marry a beggarly, outlandish governess. Not very logical reasoning, but what woman, where her feelings are engaged, does reason logically? Aunt Dunes had never loved her niece; she felt an inner repulsion, such as sprang from encountering a nature superior, purer, more refined than her own, and the mortification of being forced to admit to herself that it was so. Judith, moreover, was costing her money, and Miss Trevisa parted with her hard-earned savings as reluctantly as with her heart's blood. She begrudged the girl and her brother every penny she was forced, or believed she would be forced, to expend upon them. And was she doing the girl an injury in helping her to a marriage that would assure her a home and a comfortable income?
Aunt Dionysia knew well enough that things went on in Pentyre Glaze that were not to be justified, that Coppinger's mode of life was not one calculated to make a girl of Judith's temperament happy, but—"Hoity-toity!" said Miss Trevisa to herself, "if girls marry, they must take men as they find them. Beggars must not be choosers. You must not look a gift horse in the mouth. No trout can be eaten apart from its bones, nor a rose plucked that is free from thorns." She herself had accommodated herself to the ways of the house, to the moods and manners of Coppinger; and if she could do that, so could a mongrel Trevisa. What was good enough for herself was over-good for Judith.
She had been saddled with these children, much against her wishes, and if she shifted the saddle to the shoulders of one willing to bear it, why not? She had duties to perform to her own self as well as to those thrust on her by the dead hand of that weak, that inconsiderate brother of hers, Peter Trevisa.
Would her brother have approved of her forwarding this union? That was a question that did not trouble her much. Peter did what he thought best for his daughter when he was alive, stuffing her head with Rollin and Blair, and now that he was gone, she must do the best she could for her, and here was a chance offered that she would be a fool not to snap at.
Nor did she concern herself greatly whether Judith's happiness were at stake. Hoity-toity! girls' happiness! They are bound to make themselves happy when they find themselves. The world was not made to fit them, but they to accommodate themselves to the places in which they found themselves in the world.
Miss Trevisa had for some days seen the direction matters were taking, she had seen clearly enough the infatuation—yes, infatuation she said it was—that had possessed Coppinger. What he could see in the girl passed her wits to discover. To her, Judith, was an odious little minx—very like her mother. Miss Trevisa, therefore, had had time to weigh the advantages and the disadvantages that might spring to her, should Coppinger persist in his suit and succeed; and she had considered whether it would be worth her while to help or to hinder his suit.
"You put things," said Aunt Dionysia, "in a blunt and a discourteous manner, such as might offend a lady of delicacy, like myself, who am in delicacy a perfect guava jelly; but, Captain, I know your ways, as I ought to, having been an inmate of this house for many years. It is no case of buying and selling, as you insinuate, but the case is plainly this: I know the advantage it will be to my niece to be comfortably provided for. She and Jamie have between them but about a thousand pounds, a sum to starve, and not to live, upon. They have no home and no relative in the world but myself, who am incapable of giving them a home and of doing anything for them except at an excruciating sacrifice. If Judith be found, through your offer, a home, then Jamie also is provided for."
He said nothing to this, but moved his feet impatiently. She went on: "The boy must be provided for. And if Judith become your wife, not only will it be proper for you to see that he is so, but Judith will give neither you nor me our natural rest until the boy is comfortable and happy."
"Confound the boy!"
"It is all very well to say that, but he who would have anything to say to Judith must reckon to have to consider Jamie also. They are inseparable. Now, I assume that by Judith's marriage Jamie is cared for. But how about myself? Is every one to lie in clover and I in stubble? Am I to rack my brains to find a home for my nephew and niece, only that I may be thrust out myself? To find for them places at your table, that I may be deprived of a crust and a bone under it? If no one else will consider me, I must consider myself. I am the last representative of an ancient and honorable family—" She saw Coppinger move his hand, and thought he expressed dissent. She added hastily, "As to Judith and Jamie, they take after their Scotch mother. I do not reckon them as Trevisas."
"Come—tell me what you want," said Coppinger, impatiently.
"I want to be secure for my old age, that I do not spend it in the poor-house."
"What do you ask?"
"Give me an annuity of fifty pounds for my life, and Othello Cottage that is on your land."
"You ask enough."
"You will never get Judith without granting me that."
"Well—get Judith to be mine, and you shall have it."
"Will you swear to it?"
"And give me—I desire that—the promise in writing."
"You shall have it."
"Then I will help you."
"Leave that to me. I am her guardian."
"But not of her heart?"
"Leave her to me. You shall win her."