In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 40

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 40

CHAPTER XL.


THE DIAMOND BUTTERFLY.


Poor little fool! Shrewd in maintaining her conflict with Cruel Coppinger—always on the defensive, ever on guard, she was sliding unconsciously, without the smallest suspicion of danger, into a state that must eventually make her position more desperate and intolerable. In her inexperience she had never supposed that her own heart could be a traitor within the city walls. She took pleasure in the society of Oliver, and thought no wrong in so doing. She liked him, and would have reproached herself had she not done so.

Her relations with Coppinger remained strained. He was a good deal from home; indeed, he went on a cruise in his vessel, the Black Prince, and was absent for a month. He hoped that in his absence she might come to a better mind. They met, when he was at home, at meals; at other times not at all. He went his way, she went hers. Whether the agitation of men's minds relative to the loss of the merchantman, and the rumors concerning the manner of its loss, had made Captain Cruel think it were well for him to absent himself for a while, till they had blown away, or whether he thought that his business required his attention elsewhere, or that by being away from home his wife might be the readier to welcome him, and come out of her vantage castle, and lay down her arms, cannot be said for certain; probably all these motives combined to induce him to leave Pentyre for five or six weeks.

While he was away Judith was lighter in heart. He returned shortly before Christmas, and was glad to see her more like her old self, with cheeks rounder, less livid, eyes less sunken, less like those of a hunted beast, and with a step that had resumed its elasticity. But he did not find her more disposed to receive him with affection as a husband. He thought that probably some change in the monotony of life at Pentyre might be of advantage, and he somewhat eagerly entered into the scheme for the ball at Wadebridge. She had been kept to books and to the society of her father too much, in days gone by, and had become whimsical and prudish. She must learn some of the enjoyments of life, and then she would cling to the man who opened to her a new sphere of happiness.

"Judith," said he, "we will certainly go to this ball. It will be a pleasant one. As it is for a charitable purpose, all the neighborhood will be there. Squire Humphrey Prideaux of Prideaux Place, the Matthews of Roscarrock, the Molesworths of Pencarrow, and every one worth knowing in the country round for twelve miles. But you will be the queen of the ball."

Judith at first thought of appearing at the dance in her simplest evening dress; she was shy and did not desire to attract attention. Her own position was anomalous, because that of Coppinger was anomalous. He passed as a gentleman in a part of the country not very exacting that the highest culture should prevail in the upper region of society. He had means, and he owned a small estate. But no one knew whence he came, or what was the real source whence he derived his income. Suspicion attached to him as engaged in both smuggling and wrecking, neither of which were regarded as professions consonant with gentility. The result of this uncertainty relative to Coppinger was that he was not received into the best society. The gentlemen knew him and greeted him in the hunting-field, and would dine with him at his house. The ladies, of course, had never been invited, because he was an unmarried man. The gentlemen probably had dealings with him about which they said nothing to their wives. It is certain that the Bodmin wine-merchant grumbled that the great houses of the north of Cornwall did not patronize him as they ought, and that no wine-merchant was ever able to pick up a subsistence at Wadebridge. Yet the country gentry were by no means given to temperance, and their cellars were being continually refilled

It was not their interest to be on bad terms with Coppinger, one must conjecture, for they went somewhat out of their way to be civil to him.

Coppinger knew this, and thought that now he was married an opportunity had come in this charity ball for the introduction of Judith to society, and that to the best society, and he trusted to her merits and beauty, and to his own influence with the gentlemen, to obtain for her admission to the houses of the neighborhood. As the daughter of the Rev. Peter Trevisa, who had been universally respected, not only as a gentleman and a scholar, but also as a representative of an ancient Cornish family of untold antiquity, she had a perfect right to be received into the highest society of Cornwall, but her father had been a reserved and poor man. He did not himself care for associating with fox-hunting and sporting squires, nor would he accept invitations when he was unable to return them. Consequently Judith had gone about very little when at St. Enodoc rectory. Moreover, she had been but a child, and was known only by name to those who lived in the neighborhood. She was personally acquainted with none of the county people.

Captain Cruel had small doubt but that, the ice once broken, Judith would make friends, and would be warmly received. The neighborhood was scantily peppered over with county family-seats, and the families found the winters tedious, and were glad of any accession to their acquaintance, and of another house opened to them for entertainment.

If Judith were received well, and found distraction from her morbid and fantastic thoughts, then she would be grateful to him—so thought Coppinger—grateful for having brought her into a more cheerful and bright condition of life than that in which she had been reared. Following thereon, her aversion for him, or shyness toward him, would give way.

And Judith—what were her thoughts? Her mind was a little fluttered, she had to consider what to wear. At first she would go simply clad, then her aunt insisted that, as a bride, she must appear in suitable garb, that in which she had been married, not that with the two sleeves for one side, which had been laid by. Then the question of the jewellery arose. Judith did not wish to wear it, but yielded to her aunt's advice. Miss Trevisa represented to her that, having the diamonds, she ought to wear them, and that not to wear them would hurt and offend Captain Coppinger, who had given them to her. This she was reluctant to do. However, she consented to oblige and humor him in such a small matter.

The night arrived, and Judith was dressed for the ball. Never before had Coppinger seen her in evening costume, and his face beamed with pride as he looked on her in her white silk dress, with ornaments of white satiny bugles in sprigs edging throat and sleeves, and forming a rich belt about the waist. She wore the diamond butterfly in her bosom, and the two earrings to match. A little color was in her delicately pure cheeks, brought there by excitement. She had never been at a ball before, and with an innocent, childish simplicity she wondered what Oliver Menaida would think of her in her ball-dress.

Judith and Coppinger arrived somewhat late, and most of those who had taken tickets were already there. Sir William and Lady Molesworth were there, and the half-brother of Sir William, John Molesworth, rector of St. Breock, and his wife, the daughter of Sir John S. Aubyn. With the baronet and his lady had come a friend, staying with them at Pencarrow, and Lady Knighton, wife of an Indian judge. The Matthews were there; the Tremaynes came all the way from Heligan, as owning property in St. Enodoc, and so, in duty bound to support the charity; the Prideauxs were there from Place; and many, if not all, of the gentry of various degrees who resided within twelve to fifteen miles of Wadebridge were also there.

The room was not one of any interest, it was long, had a good floor, which is the main thing considered by dancers, a gallery at one end for the instrumentalists, and a draught which circulated round the walls, and cut the throats of the old ladies who acted as wall fruit. There was, however, a room to which they could adjourn to play cards. And many of the dowagers and old maids had brought with them little silver linked purses in which was as much money as they had made up their minds to lose that evening.

The dowager Lady Molesworth in a red turban was talking to Lady Knighton, a lady who had been pretty, but whose complexion had been spoiled by Indian suns, and to her Sir William was offering a cup of tea.

"You see," said Lady Knighton, "how tremulous my hand is. I have been like this for some years—indeed ever since I was in this neighborhood before."

"I did not know you had honored us with a visit on a previous occasion," said Sir William.

"It was very different from the present, I can assure you," answered the lady. "Now it is voluntarily—then it was much the contrary. Now I have come among very dear and kind friends, then—I fell among thieves."

"Indeed!"

"It was on my return from India," said Lady Knighton. "Look at my hand!" She held forth her arm, and showed how it shook as with palsy. "This hand was firm then. I even played several games of spellikins on board ship on the voyage home, and, Sir William, I won invariably, so steady was my hold of the crook, so evenly did I raise each of the little sticks. But ever since then I have had this nervous tremor that makes me dread holding anything."

"But how came it about?" asked the baronet.

"I will tell you, but—who is that just entered the room?" she pointed with trembling finger.

Judith had come in along with Captain Coppinger, and stood near the door, the light of the wax candles twinkling in her bugles, glancing in flashes from her radiant hair. She was looking about her, and her bosom heaved, she sought Oliver, and he was near at hand. A flush of pleasure sprang into her cheeks as she caught his eye, and held out her hand.

"I demand my dance!" said he.

"No, not the first, Oliver," she answered.

Coppinger's brows knit.

"Who is this?" he asked.

"Oh! do you not know? Mr. Menaida's son, Mr. Oliver."

The two men's eyes met, their irises contracted.

"I think we have met before," said Oliver.

"That is possible," answered Captain Cruel, contemptuously, looking in another direction.

"When we met I knew you without your knowing me," pursued the young man, in a voice that shook with anger. He had recognized the tone of the voice that had spoken on the wreck.

"Of that I, neither, have any doubt as to its possibility. I do not recollect every Jack I encounter."

A moment after an idea struck him, and he turned his head sharply, fixed his eyes on young Menaida, and said, "Where did we meet?"

"'Encounter’ was your word."

"Very well—encounter?"

"On Doom Bar."

Coppinger's color changed. A sinister flicker came into his sombre eyes.

"Then," said he slowly, in low vibrating tones, "we shall meet again."

"Certainly, we shall meet again, and conclude our—I use your term—'encounter.'"

Judith did not hear the conversation. She had been pounced upon by Mr. Desiderius Mules.

"Now—positively I must walk through a quadrille with you," said the rector. "This is all my affair; it all springs from me, I arranged everything. I beat up patrons and patronesses. I stirred up the neighborhood. It all turns as a wheel about me as the axle. Come along, the band is beginning to play. You shall positively walk through a quadrille with me." Mr. Mules was not the man to be put on one side, not one to accept a refusal; he carried off the bride to the head of the room and set her in one square.

"Look at the decorations," said Mr. Mules, "I designed them. I hope you will like the supper. I drew up the menu. I chose the wines, and I know they are good. The candles I got at wholesale price—because for a charity. What beautiful diamonds you are wearing. They are not paste, I suppose?"

"I believe not."

"Yet good old paste is just as iridescent as real diamonds. Where did you get them? Are they family jewels? I have heard that the Trevisas were great people at one time. Well, so were the Mules. We are really De Moels. We came in with the Conqueror. That is why I have such a remarkable Christian name. Desiderius is the French Désiré, and a Norman Christian name. Look at the wreaths of laurel and holly. How do you like them?"

"The decorations are charming."

"I am so pleased that you have come," pursued Mr. Mules. "It is your first appearance in public as Mrs. Captain Coppinger. I have been horribly uncomfortable about—you remember what. I have been afraid I had put my foot into it, and might get into hot water. But now you have come here, it is all right; it shows me that you are coming round to a sensible view, and that to-morrow you will be at the rectory and sign the register. If inconvenient, I will run up with it under my arm to the Glaze. At what time am I likely to catch you both in? The witnesses, Miss Trevisa and Mr. Menaida, one can always get at. Perhaps you will speak to your aunt and see that she is on the spot, and I'll take the old fellow on my way home."

"Mr. Mules, we will not talk of that now."

"Come! you must see, and be introduced to, Lady Molesworth."

In the meanwhile Lady Knighton was telling her story to a party round her.

"I was returning with my two children from India; it is now some years ago. It is so sad, in the case of Indians, either the parents must part from their children, or the mother must take her children to England and be parted from her husband. I brought my little ones back to be with my husband's sister, who kindly undertook to see to them. We encountered a terrible gale as we approached this coast; do you recollect the loss of the Andromeda?"

"Perfectly," answered Sir William Molesworth; "were you in that?"

"Yes, to my cost. One of my darlings so suffered from the exposure that she died. But, really, I do not think it was the wreck of the vessel which was worst. It was not that, not that alone, which brought this nervous tremor on me."

"I remember that case," said Sir William. "It was a very bad one, and disgraceful to our county. We have recently had an ugly story of a wreck on Doom Bar, with suspicion of evil practices; but nothing could be proved, nothing brought home to anyone. In the case of the Andromeda there was something of the same sort."

"Yes, indeed, there were evil practices. I was robbed."

"You! surely, Lady Knighton, it was not of you that the story was told?"

"If you mean the story of the diamonds, it was," answered the Indian lady. "We had to leave the wreck, and carry all our portable valuables with us. I had a set of jewellery of Indian work, given me by Sir James—well, he was only plain Mr. Knighton then. It was rather quaint in design: there was a brooch representing a butterfly, and two emeralds formed the——"

"Excuse me one moment, Lady Knighton," said Sir William. "Here comes the new rector of St. Enodoc, with the bride, to introduce her to my wife. I am ashamed to say we have not made her acquaintance before."

"Bride! what—his bride?"

"Oh, no; the bride of a certain Captain Coppinger, who lives near here."

"She is pretty, very pretty; but how delicate!"

Suddenly Lady Knighton sprang to her feet, with an exclamation so shrill and startling that the dancers ceased, and the conductor of the band, thinking an accident had occurred, with his baton stopped the music. All attention was drawn to Lady Knighton, who, erect, trembling from head to foot, stood pointing with shaking finger to Judith.

"See! see! My jewels, that were torn from me! Look!" She lifted the hair, worn low over her cheeks, and displayed one ear; the lobe was torn away.

No one stirred in the ball-room; no one spoke. The fiddler stood with bow suspended over the strings, the flutist with fingers on all stops. Every eye was fixed on Judith. It was still in that room as though a ghost had passed through in winding-sheet. In this hush, Lady Knighton approached Judith, pointing still with trembling hand.

"I demand, whence comes that brooch? Where—from whom did you get those earrings? They are mine; given me in India by my husband. They are Indian work, and not to be mistaken. They were plucked from me one awful night of wreck by a monster in human form, who came to our vessel, as we sought to leave it, and robbed us of our treasures. Answer me—who gave you those jewels?"

Judith was speechless. The lights in the room died to feeble stars. The floor rolled like a sea under her feet; the ceiling was coming down on her.

She heard whispers, murmurs—a humming as of a swarm of bees approaching ready to settle on her and sting her. She looked round her. Every one had withdrawn from her. Mr. Desiderius Mules had released her arm, and stood back. She tried to speak, but could not. Should she make the confession which would incriminate her husband?

Then she heard a man's deep voice, heard a step on the floor. In a moment an arm was round her, sustaining her, as she tottered.

"I gave her the jewels. I, Curll Coppinger, of Pentyre. If you ask where I got them—I will tell you. I bought them of Willy Mann, the pedlar. I will give you any further information you require to-morrow. Make room; my wife is frightened."

Then, holding her, looking haughtily, threateningly, from side to side, Coppinger helped Judith along—the whole length of the ball-room—between rows of astonished, open-eyed, mute dancers. Near the door was a knot of gentlemen. They sprang apart, and Coppinger conveyed Judith through the door, out of the light, down the stairs, into the open air.