In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 39

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 39

CHAPTER XXXIX.


A FIRST LIE.


As a faithful, as a loving wife almost, did Judith attend to Coppinger for the day or two before he was himself again. He had been bruised, that was all. The waves had driven him against the boat, and he had been struck by an oar; but the very fact that he was driven against the boat had proved his salvation, for he was drawn on board, and his own men carried him swiftly to the bank, and, finding him unable to walk, conveyed him home. On reaching home a worse blow than that of the oar had struck him, and struck him on the heart, and it was dealt him by his wife. She bade him put away from him for ever the expectation, the hope, of her becoming his in more than name.

Pain and disappointment made him irritable. He broke out into angry complaint, and Judith had much to endure. She did not answer him. She had told him her purpose, and she would neither be bullied nor cajoled to alter it.

Judith had much time to herself; she wandered through the rooms of Pentyre during the day without encountering anyone, and then strolled on the cliffs; wherever she went she carried her trouble with her, gnawing at her heart. There was no deliverance for her, and she did not turn her mind in that direction. She would remain what she was—Coppinger's half-wife, a wife without a wedding-ring, united to him by a most dubiously legal ceremony. She bore his name, she was content to do that; she must bear with his love turned to fury by disappointment. She would do that till it died away before her firm and unchangeable opposition.

"What will be said," growled Coppinger, "when it is seen that you wear no ring?"

"I will wear my mother's, and turn the stone within," answered Judith, "then it will be like our marriage, a semblance, nothing more."

She did appear next day with a ring. When the hand was closed, it looked like a plain gold wedding hoop. When she opened and turned her hand, it was apparent that within was a small brilliant. A modest ring, a very inexpensive one, that her father had given to her mother as a guard. Modest and inexpensive because his purse could afford no better; not because he would not have given her the best diamonds available, had he possessed the means to purchase them.

This ring had been removed from the dead finger of her mother, and Mr. Peter Trevisa had preserved it as a present for the daughter.

Almost every day Judith went to Polzeath to give lessons to Jamie, and to see how the boy was going on. Jamie was happy with Mr. Menaida, he liked a little desultory work, and Oliver was kind to him, took him walks, and talked to him of scenes in Portugal.

Very often, indeed, did Judith, when she arrived, find Oliver at his father's. He would sometimes sit through the lesson, often attend her back to the gate of Pentyre. His conduct toward her was deferential, tinged with pity. She could see in his eyes, read in his manner of address, that he knew her story, and grieved for her, and would do anything he could to release her from her place of torment, if he knew how. But he never spoke to her of Coppinger, never of her marriage, and the peculiar features that attended it. She often ventured on the topic of the wreck, and he saw that she was probing him to discover the truth concerning it, but he on no occasion allowed himself to say anything that could give her reason to believe her husband was the cause of the ship being lost, nor did he tell her of his own desperate conflict with the wrecker captain on board the vessel.

He was a pleasant companion, cheerful and entertaining. Having been abroad, though not having travelled widely, he could tell much about Portugal, and something about Spain. Judith's eager mind was greedy after information, and it diverted her thoughts from painful topics to hear and talk about orange and lemon groves, the vineyards, the flower-gardens, the manners and customs of the people of Portugal, to see sketches of interesting places, and of the costumes of the peasantry. What drew her to Oliver specially was, however, his consideration for Jamie, to whom he was always kind, and whom he was disposed to amuse.

The wreck of the merchantman on Doom Bar had caused a great commotion among the inhabitants of Cornwall. All the gentry, clergy, and the farmers and yeomen not immediately on the coast, felt that wrecking was not only a monstrous act of inhumanity, but was a scandal to the county, and ought to be peremptorily suppressed, and those guilty of it brought to justice. It was currently reported that the merchantman from Oporto was wilfully wrecked, and that an attempt had been made to rob and plunder the passengers and the vessel. But the evidence in support of this view was of little force. The only persons who had been found with a light on the cliffs were Mr. Menaida, whom every one respected for his integrity, and Judith, the daughter of the late rector of St. Enodoc, the most strenuous and uncompromising denouncer of wrecking. No one, however malicious, could believe either to be guilty of more than imprudence.

The evidence as to the attempt of wreckers to invade the ship, and plunder it and the passengers also broke down. One lady alone could swear that her purse had been forcibly taken from her. The Portuguese men could hardly understand English, and though she asserted that she had been asked for money, she could not say that anything had been taken from her. It was quite possible that she had misunderstood an order given her to descend into the boat.

The night had been dark, the lady who had been robbed could not swear to the identity of the man who had taken her purse, she could not even say that it was one of those who had come to the vessel, and was not one of the crew. The crew had behaved notoriously badly, some had been drunk, and it was possible that one of these fellows, flushed with spirits, had demanded and taken her money.

There were two or three St. Enodoc men arrested because found on the ship at the time, but they persisted in the declaration that, hearing signals of distress, they had kindled a light and set it in the tower window of the church as a guide to the ship-wrecked, and had gone to the vessel aground on Doom Bar, with the intention of offering every assistance in their power to the castaways. They asserted that they had found the deck in confusion. The seamen drunk and lost to discipline, the passengers helpless and frightened, and that it was only owing to them that some sort of order was brought about, or attempted. The arrival of the coastguard interfered with their efforts to be useful.

The magistrates were constrained to dismiss the case, although possessed with the moral conviction that the matter was not as the accused represented. The only person who could have given evidence that might have consigned them to prison was Oliver, and he was not called upon to give witness.

But, although the case had broken down completely, an uneasy and angry feeling prevailed. People were not convinced that the wreck was accidental, and they believed that but for the arrival of the guard, the passengers would have been robbed and the ship looted. It was true enough that a light had been exhibited from St. Enodoc tower, but that served as a guide to those who rushed upon the wreck, and was every whit as much to their advantage as to that of the shipwrecked men. For, suppose that the crew and passengers had got off in their boats, they would have made, naturally, for the light, and who could say but that a gang of ruffians was not waiting on the shore to plunder them as they landed.

The general feeling in the county was one of vexation that more prompt action had not been taken, or that the action taken had not been more successful. No man showed this feeling more fully than Mr. Scantlebray, who hunted with the coastguard for his own ends, and who had felt sanguine that in this case Coppinger would be caught.

That Coppinger was at the bottom of the attempt, which had been partly successful, few doubted, and yet there was not a shadow of proof against him. But that, according to common opinion, only showed how deep was his craft.

The state of Judith's mind was also one of unrest. She had a conviction seated in her heart that all was not right, and yet she had no sound cause for charging her husband with being a deliberate wrecker. Jamie had gone out with his ass and the lantern, that was true, but was Jamie's account of the affair to be relied on? When questioned he became confused. He never could be trusted to recall, twenty-four hours after an event, the particulars exactly as they occurred. Any suggestive queries drew him aside, and without an intent to deceive he would tell what was a lie, simply because he could not distinguish between realities and fleeting impressions. She knew that if she asked him whether Coppinger had fastened the lantern to the head of his donkey, and had bidden him drive the creature slowly up and down the inequalities of the surface of the cliffs, he would assent, and say it was so; but, then, if she were to say to him, "Now, Jamie, did not Captain Coppinger tell you on no account to show the light till you reached the shore at St. Enodoc, and then to fix it steadily," that his face would for a moment assume a vacant, then a distressed expression, and he would finally say that he believed it really was so. No reliance was to be placed on anything he said, except at the moment, and not always then. He was liable to misunderstand directions, and by a stupid perversity to act exactly contrary to the instructions given him.

Judith heard nothing of the surmises that floated in the neighborhood, but she knew enough to be uneasy. She had been somewhat reassured by Oliver Menaida; she could see no reason why he should withhold the truth from her. Was it, then, possible after all that Captain Coppinger had gone to the rescue of the wrecked people, that he had sent the light not to mislead, but to direct them aright?

It was Judith's fate—so it seemed—to be never certain whether to think the worst of Coppinger, or to hold that he had been misjudged by her. He had been badly hurt in his attempt to rescue the crew and passengers—according to Aunt Dionysia's account. If she were to believe this story, then he was deserving of respect.

Judith began to recover some of her cheerfulness, some of her freshness of looks. This was due to the abatement of her fears. Coppinger had angrily, sullenly, accepted the relation which she had assured him must subsist between them, and which could never be altered.

Aunt Dionysia was peevish and morose indeed. She had been disappointed in her hope of getting into Othello Cottage before Christmas; but she had apparently received a caution from Coppinger not to exhibit ill-will toward his wife by word or token, and she restrained herself, though with manifest effort. That sufficed Judith. She no longer looked for, cared for love from her aunt. It satisfied her if Miss Trevisa left her unmolested.

Moreover, Judith enjoyed the walk to Polzeath every day, and, somehow, the lessons to Jamie gave her an interest that she had never found in them before. Oliver was so helpful. When Jamie was stubborn, he persuaded him with a joke or a promise to laugh and put aside his ill-humor, and attack the task once more. The little gossiping talk after the lesson with Oliver, or with Oliver and his father, was a delight to her. She looked forward to it, from day to day, naturally, reasonably, for at the Glaze she had no one with whom to converse, no one with the same general interests as herself, the same knowledge of books, and pleasure in the acquisition of information.

On mountain sides there are floral zones. The rhododendron and the gentian luxuriate at a certain level, above is the zone of the blue hippatica, the soldanella, and white crocus; below is the belt of mealy primula and lilac clematis. So is it in the world of minds—they have their levels, and can only live on those levels. Transplant them to a higher or to a lower zone and they suffer, and die.

Judith found no one at Pentyre with whom she could associate with pleasure. It was only when she was at Polzeath with Uncle Zachie and Oliver that she could talk freely and feel in her element.

One day Oliver said to her, "Judith"—for, on the understanding that they were cousins, they called each other by their Christian names—"Judith! are you going to the ball at Wadebridge after Christmas?"

"Ball, Oliver, what ball?"

"That which Mr. Mules is giving for the restoration of his church."

"I do not know. I—yes, I have heard of it; but I had clean forgotten all about it. I had rather not."

"But you must, and promise me three dances, at least."

"I do not know what to say. Captain Coppinger"—she never spoke of her husband by his Christian name, never thought of him as other than Captain Coppinger. Did she think of Oliver as Mr. Menaida, junior? "Captain Coppinger has not said anything to me about it of late. I do not wish to go. My dear father's death——"

"But the dance is after Christmas. And, you know, it is for a sacred purpose. Think, every whirl you take puts a new stone on the foundations, and every setting to your partner in quadrille adds a pane of glass to the battered windows."

"I do not know," again said Judith, and became grave. Her heart fluttered. She would like to be at the ball—and dance three dances with Oliver—but would Captain Coppinger suffer her? Would he expect to dance with her all the evening? If that were so, she would not like to go. "I really do not know," again she said, clasped her hands on her knees, and sighed.

"Why that sigh, Judith?"

She looked up, dropped her eyes in confusion, and said faintly, "I do not know," and that was her first lie.