In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 35

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 35

CHAPTER XXXV.


JACK O' LANTERN.


Evening closed in; Judith had been left entirely to herself. She sat in the window, looking out into the mist and watching- the failing of the light. Sometimes she opened the casement and allowed the vapor to blow in like cold steam, then became chilled, shivered, and closed it again The wind, was rising- and piped about the house, piped at her window. Judith, sitting there, tried with her hand to find the crevice through which the blast drove, and then amused herself with playing with her finger-tops on the opening's and regulating the whistle so as to form a tune. She heard frequently Coppinger's voice in conversation, sometimes in the hall, sometimes in the court-yard, but could not catch what was spoken. She listened, with childish curiosity, to the voice that was now that of her lord and husband, and endeavored to riddle out of it some answer to her questions as to what sort of a master he would prove. She could not comprehend him. She had heard stories told of him that made her deem him the worst of men, remorseless and regardless of others, yet toward her he had proved gentle and considerate. What, for instance, could be more delicate and thoughtful than his behavior to her at this very time? Feeling that she had married him with reluctance, he had kept away from her and suffered her to recover her composure without affording her additional struggle. A reaction after the strain on her nerves set in; the step she had dreaded had been taken, and she was the wife of the man she feared and did not love. The suspense of expectation was exchanged for the calmer grief of retrospect.

The fog all day had been white as wool, and she had noticed how parcels of vapor had been caught and entangled in the thorn bushes as the fog swept by, very much as sheep left flocks of their fleece in the bushes when they broke out of a field. Now that the day set, the vapor lost its whiteness and became ash gray, but it was not as dense as it had been, or rather it was compacted in places into thick masses with clear tracts between. The sea was not visible, nor the cliffs, but she could distinguish out-buildings, tufts of furze and hedges. The wind blew much stronger, and she could hear the boom of the waves against the rocks, like the throbbing of the unseen heart of the world. It was louder than it had been. The sound did not come upon the wind, for the fog that muffled all objects from sight, muffled also all sounds to the ear, but the boom came from the vibration of the land. The sea flung against the coast-line shook the rocks, and they quivered for a long distance inland, making every wall and tree quiver also, and the sound of the sea was heard not through the ears but through the soles of the feet.

Miss Trevisa came in.

"Shall I light you a pair of candles, Judith?"

"I thank you, hardly yet."

"And will you not eat?"

"Yes, presently, when supper is served."

"You will come down-stairs?"

"Yes."

"I am glad to hear that."

"Aunt, I thought you were going to Othello Cottage the day I came here."

"Captain Coppinger will not suffer me to leave at once till you have settled down to your duties as mistress of the house."

"Oh, auntie! I shall never be able to manage this large establishment."

"Why not? You managed that at the rectory."

"Yes, but it was so different."

"How so?"

"My dear papa's requirements were so simple, and so few, and there were no men about except old Balhachet, and he was a dear, good old humbug. Here, I don't know how many men there are, and who belong to the house, and who do not. They are in one day and out the next—and then Captain Coppinger is not like my own darling papa."

" No, indeed, he is not. Shall I light the candles? I have something: to show vou."

"As you will, aunt."

Miss Trevisa went into her room and fetched a light, and kindled the two candles that stood on Judith's dressing-table.

"Oh, aunt! not three candles."

"Why not? We shall need light."

"But three candles together bring ill-luck; and we have had enough already."

"Pshaw! Don't be a fool. I -want light, for I have something to show you."

She opened a small box and drew forth a brooch and earrings that flashed in the rays of the candle.

"Look, child! they are yours. Captain Coppinger has given them to you. They are diamonds. See—a butter-fly for the breast, and two little butterflies for the ears."

"Oh, auntie! not for me. I do not want them."

"This is ungracious. I daresay they cost many hundreds of pounds. They are diamonds."

Judith took the brooch and earrings in her hand; they sparkled. The diamonds were far from being brilliants, they were of good size and purest water.

"I really do not want to have them. Persuade Captain Coppinger to return them to the jeweller, it is far too costly a gift for me, far—far—I should be happier without them." Then, suddenly—"I do not know that they have been bought? Oh, Aunt Dunes, tell me truly. Have they been bought? I think jewellers always send out their goods in leather cases, and there is none such for these. And see—this earring—the gold is bent, as if pulled out of shape. I am sure they have not been bought. Take them back again, I pray you."

"You little fool!" said Miss Trevisa, angrily. "I will do nothing of the kind. If you refuse them then take them back yourself. Captain Coppinger performs a generous and kind act that costs him much money, and you throw his gift in his face, you insult him. Insult him yourself with your suspicions and refusals—you have already behaved to him outrageously. I will do nothing for you that you ask. Your father put on me a task that is hateful, and I wish I were clear of it."

Then she bounced out of the room, leaving her candle burning along with the other two.

A moment later she came back hastily and closed Judith's shutters.

"Oh, leave them open," pleaded Judith. "I shall like to see how the night goes—if the fog clears away." "No—I will not," answered Miss Trevisa, roughly. "And mind you. These shutters remain shut, or your candles go out. Your window commands the sea, and the light of your window must not show."

"Why not?"

"Because should the fog lift, it would be seen by vessels."

"Why should they not see it?"

"You are a fool. Obey, and ask no questions."

Miss Trevisa put up the bar and then retired with her candle, leaving Judith to her own thoughts, with the diamonds on the table before her.

And her thoughts were reproachful of herself. She was ungracious and perhaps unjust. Her husband had sent her a present of rare value, and she was disposed to reject it, and charge him with not having come by the diamonds honestly. They were not new from a jeweller, but what of that? Could he afford to buy her a set at the price of some hundreds of pounds? And because he had not obtained them from a jeweller, did it follow that he had taken them unlawfully? He might have picked them up on the shore, or have bought them from a man who had. He might have obtained them at a sale in the neighborhood. They might be family jewels, that had belonged to his mother, and he was showing her the highest honor a man could show a woman in asking her to wear the ornaments that had belonged to his mother.

He had exhibited to her a store-room full of beautiful things, but these might be legitimately his, brought from foreign countries by his ship the Black Prince. It was possible that they were not contraband articles.

Judith opened her door and went down-stairs. In the hall she found Coppinger with two or three men, but the moment he saw her he started up, came to meet her, and drew her aside into a parlor, then went back into the hall and fetched candles. A fire was burning in this room, ready for her, should she condescend to use it.

"I hope I have not interrupted you," she said, timidly.

"An agreeable interruption. At any time you have only to show yourself and I will at once come to you, and never ask to be dismissed." She knew that this was no empty compliment, that he meant it from the depth of his heart, and was sorry that she could not respond to an affection so deep and so sincere.

"You have been very good to me—more good than I deserve," she said, standing by the fire with lowered eyes, "I must thank you now for a splendid and beautiful present, and I really do not know how to find words in which fittingly to acknowledge it."

"You cannot thank and gratify me better than by wearing what I have given you."

"But when? Surely not on an ordinary evening?"

"No—certainly. The Rector has been up this afternoon and desired to see you, he is hot on a scheme for a public ball to be given at Wadebridge for the restoration of his church, and he has asked that you will be a patroness."

"I—oh—I!—after my father's death?"

"That was in the late spring, and now it is the early winter, besides, now you are a married lady and was not the digging out and restoring of the church your father's strong desire?"

"Yes—but he would never have had a ball for such a purpose."

"The money must be raised somehow. So I promised for you. You could not well refuse—he was impatient to be off to Wadebridge and secure the assembly rooms."

"But—Captain Coppinger——"

"Captain Coppinger?"

Judith colored. "I beg your pardon—I forgot. And now—I do not recollect what I was going to say. It matters nothing. If you wish me to go I will go. If you wish me to wear diamond butterflies I will wear them."

"I thank you." He held out his hands to her.

She drew back slightly and folded her palms as though praying. "I will do much to please you, but do not press me too greatly. I am strange in this house, strange in my new situation; give me time to breathe and look round and recover my confidence. Besides, we are only half-married so far."

"How so?"

"I have not signed the register."

"No, but that shall be done to morrow."

"Yes, to-morrow—but that gives me breathing time. You will be patient and forbearing with me." She put forward her hands folded and he put his outside them and pressed them. The flicker of the fire lent a little color to her cheeks and surrounded her head with an aureole of spun gold.

"Judith, I will do anything you ask. I love you with all my soul, past speaking. I am your slave. But do not hold me too long in chains, do not tread me too ruthlessly under foot."

"Give me time," she pleaded.

"I will give you a little time," he answered.

Then she withdrew her hands from between his and sped up stairs, leaving him looking into the fire with troubled face.

When she returned to her room the candles were still burning, and the diamonds lay on the dressing-table where she had left them. She took the brooch and earrings to return them to their box, and then noticed for the first time that they were wrapped in paper, not in cotton-wool. She tapped at her aunt's door, and entering asked if she had any cotton-wool that she could spare her.

"No. I have not. What do you want it for?"

"For the jewelry. It cannot have come from a shop, as it was wrapped in paper only."

"It will take no hurt Wrap it in paper again."

"I had rather not, auntie. Besides, I have some cotton-wool in my work-box."

"Then use it."

"But my work-box has not been brought here. It is at Mr. Menaida's."

"You can fetch it to-morrow."

"But I am lost without my needles and thread. Besides, I do not like to leave my work-box about. I will go for it. The walk will do me good."

"Nonsense, it is falling dark."

"I will get Uncle Zachie to walk back with me. I must have my work-box. Besides, the fresh air will do me good, and the fog has lifted."

"As you will, then."

So Judith put on her cloak and drew a hood over her head and went back to Polzeath. She knew the way perfectly, there was no danger, night had not closed in. It would be a pleasure to her to see the old bird-stuffer's face again, and she wanted to find Jamie. She had not seen him nor heard his voice, and she supposed he must be at Polzeath.

On her arrival at the double cottage, the old fellow was delighted to see her, and to see that she had recovered from the distress and faintness of the morning sufficiently to be able to walk back to his house from her new home. Her first question was after Jamie. Uncle Zachie told her that Jamie had breakfasted at his table, but he had gone away in the afternoon and he had seen no more of him. The fire was lighted, and Uncle Zachie insisted on Judith sitting by it with him and talking over the events of the day, and on telling him that she was content with her position, reconciled to the change of her state.

She sat longer with him than she had intended, listening to his disconnected chatter, and then nothing would suffice him but she must sit at the piano and play through his favorite pieces.

"Remember, Judith, it is the last time I shall have you here to give me this pleasure."

She could not refuse him his request, especially as he was to walk back to Pentyre with her. Thus time passed, and it was with alarm and self-reproach that she started up on hearing the clock strike the half-past, and learned that it was half-past nine, and not half-past eight, as she supposed.

As she now insisted on departing, Mr. Menaida put on his hat.

"Shall we take a light?" he asked, and then said: "No, we had better not. On such a night as this a moving light is dangerous."

"How can it be dangerous?" asked Judith.

"Not to us, my dear child, but to ships at sea. A stationary light might serve as a warning, but a moving light misleads. The captain of a vessel, if he has lost his bearings, as is like enough in the fog, as soon as the mist rises, would see a light gliding along and think it was that of a vessel at sea, and so make in the direction of the light in the belief that there was open water, and so run directly on his destruction."

"Oh, no, no, Uncle, we will not take a light."

Mr. Menaida and Judith went out together, she with her workbox under her arm, he with his stick, and her hand resting on his arm. The night was dark, very dark, but the way led for the most part over down, and there was just sufficient light in the sky for the road to be distinguishable. It would be in the lane, between the walls and where overhung by thorns, that the darkness would be most profound. The wind was blowing strongly and the sound of the breakers came on it now, for the cloud had lifted off land and sea, though still hanging low. Very dense overhead it could not be, or no light would have pierced the vaporous canopy.

Uncle Zachie and Judith walked on talking together, and she felt cheered by his presence, when all at once she stopped, pressed his arm, and said:

"Oh, do look, uncle! What is that light?"

In the direction of the cliffs a light was distinctly visible, now rising, now falling, observing an unevenly undulating motion.

"Oh, uncle? It is too dreadful. Some foolish person is on the downs going home with a lantern, and it may lead to a dreadful error, and a wreck."

"I hope to heaven it is only what you say."

"What do you mean?"

"That it is not done wilfully."

"Wilfully!"

"Yes, with the purpose to mislead. Look. The movement of the light is exactly that of a ship on a rolling sea."

"Uncle, let us go there at once and stop it."

"I don't know, my dear; if it be done by some unprincipled ruffian he would not be stopped by us."

"It must be stopped. And, oh, think! you told me that your Oliver is coming home. Think of him."

"We will go."

Mr. Menaida was drawn along by Judith in her eagerness. They left the road to Pentyre, and struck out over the downs, keeping their eyes on the light. The distance was deceptive. It seemed to have been much nearer than they found it actually to be.

"Look! it is coming back!" exclaimed Judith.

"Yes, it is done wilfully. That is to give the appearance of a vessel tacking up Channel. Stay behind, Judith. I will go on."

"No. I will go with you. You would not find me again in the darkness if we parted."

"The light is coming this way. Stand still. It will come directly on us."

They drew up. Judith clung to Uncle Zachie's side, her heart beating with excitement, indignation, and anger.

"The lantern is fastened to an ass's head," said Uncle Zachie; "do you see how as the creature moves his head the light is swayed, and that with the rise and fall in the land it looks as though the rise and fall were on the sea. I have my stick. Stand behind me, Judith."

But a voice was heard that made her gasp and clasp the arm of Uncle Zachie the tighter.

Neither spoke.

The light approached. They could distinguish the lantern, though they could not see what bore it; only—next moment something caught the light—the ear of a donkey thrust forward.

Again a voice, that of some one urging on the ass. Judith let go Menaida's arm, sprang forward with a cry: "Jamie! Jamie! what are you doing?"

In a moment she had wrenched the lantern from the head of the ass, and the creature, startled, dashed away and disappeared in the darkness. Judith put the light under her cloak.

"Oh, Jamie! Jamie! Why have you done this? Who ever set you to this wicked task?"

"I am Jack o' Lantern," answered the boy. "Ju! now my Neddy is gone."

"Jamie, who sent you out to do this? Answer me."

"Captain Coppinger!"

Judith walked on in silence. Neither she nor Uncle Zachie spoke, only Jamie whimpered and muttered.

Suddenly they were surrounded, and a harsh voice exclaimed:

"In the king's name. We have you now—showing false lights."

Judith hastily slung the lantern from beneath her cloak, and saw that there were several men about her, and that the speaker was Mr. Scantlebray.

The latter was surprised when he recognized her.

"What!" he said, "I did not expect this—pretty quickly into your apprenticeship. What brings you here? And you, too, Menaida, old man?" "Nothing simpler," answered Uncle Zachie. "I am accompanying Mrs. Coppinger back to the Glaze."

"What, married in the morning and roving the downs at night?"

"I have been to Polzeath after my workbox—here it is," said Judith.

"Oh, you are out of your road to Pentyre—I suppose you know that," sneered Scantlebray.

"Naturally," replied Mr. Menaida. "It is dark enough for any one to stray. Why! you don't suspect me, do you, of showing false lights and endeavoring to wreck vessels! That would be too good a joke—and the offence, as I told you—capital."

Scantlebray uttered an oath and turned to the men and said: "Captain Cruel is too deep for us this time. I thought he had sent the boy out with the ass—instead he has sent his wife—a wife of a few hours, and never told her the mischief she was to do with the ]antern—hark!"

From the sea the boom of a gun.

All stood still as if rooted to the spot.

Then again the boom of a gun.

"There is a wreck!" exclaimed Scantlebray. "I thought so—and you, Mistress Orphing, you're guilty." He turned to the men. "We can make nothing of this affair with the lantern. Let us catch the sea-wolves falling on their prey."