In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 44

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 44

CHAPTER XLIV.


THE WHIP FALLS.


For many days Judith had been as a prisoner in the house, in her room. Some one had spoken to Coppinger and had roused his suspicions, excited his jealousy. He had forbidden her visits to Polzeath; and to prevent communication between her and the Menaidas, father and son, he had removed Jamie to Pentyre Glaze.

Angry and jealous he was. Time had passed, and still he had not advanced a step, rather he had lost ground. Judith's hopes that he was not what he had been represented, were dashed. However plausible might be his story to account for the jewels, she did not believe it.

Why was Judith not submissive? Coppinger could now only conclude that she had formed an attachment for Oliver Menaida—for that young man whom she singled out, greeted with a smile, and called by his Christian name. He had heard of how she had made daily visits to the house of his father, how Oliver had been seen attending her home, and his heart foamed with rage and jealousy.

She had no desire to go anywhere, now that she was forbidden to go to Polzeath, and when she knew that she was watched. She would not descend to the hall and mix with the company often assembled there, and though she occasionally went there when Coppinger was alone, took her knitting and sat by the fire, and attempted to make conversation about ordinary matters, yet his temper, his outbursts of rancor, his impatience of every other topic save their relations to each other, and his hatred of the Menaidas, made it intolerable for her to be with him alone, and she desisted from seeking the hall. This incensed him, and he occasionally went upstairs, sought her out and insisted on her coming down. She would obey, but some outbreak would speedily drive her from his presence again.

Their relations were more strained than ever. His love for her had lost the complexion of love and had assumed that of jealousy. His tenderness and gentleness toward her had been fed by hope, and when hope died they vanished. Even that reverence for her innocence and the respect for her character that he had shown was dissipated by the stormy gusts of jealousy.

Miss Trevisa was no more a help and stay to the poor girl than she had been previously. She was soured and embittered, for her ambition to be out of the house and in Othello Cottage had been frustrated. Coppinger would not let her go till he and his wife had come to more friendly terms. On her chimney-piece were two bunches of lavender, old lavender from the rectory garden of the preceding year. They had become so dry that the seeds fell out, and they no longer exhaled scent unless pressed.

Judith stood at her chimney-piece pressing her finger on the dropped seeds, and picking them up by this means to throw them into the small fire that smouldered in the grate. At first she went on listlessly picking up a seed and casting it into the fire, actuated by her innate love of order, without much thought—rather without any thought—for her mind was engaged over the letter of Oliver and his visit the previous night outside. But after a while, while thus gathering the grains of lavender, she came to associate them with her trouble, and as she thought—"Is there any escape for me, any happiness in store?"—she picked up a seed and cast it into the fire. Then she asked: "Is there any other escape for me than to die—to die and be with dear papa again, now not in S. Enodoc Rectory garden, but in the garden of Paradise?" And again she picked up and cast away a grain. Then, as she touched her finger-tip with her tongue and applied it to another lavender seed, she said: "Or must this go on—this nightmare of wretchedness, of persecution, of weariness to death without dying, for years?" And she cast away the seed shudderingly. "Or"—and again, now without touching her finger with her tongue, as though the last thought had contaminated it—"or will he finally break and subdue me, destroy me and Jamie, soul and body?" Shivering at the thought she hardly dare to touch a seed, but forced herself to do so, raised one, and hastily shook it from her.

Thus she continued ringing the change, never formulating any scheme of happiness for herself—certainly, in her white, guileless mind, not in any way associating Oliver with happiness, save as one who might by some means effect her discharge from this bondage—but he was not linked, not woven up with any thought of the future.

The wind dickered at the casement. She had a window toward the sea; another, opposite, toward the land. Her's was a transparent chamber, and her mind had been transparent. Only now, timidly, doubtfully, not knowing herself why, did she draw a blind down over her soul, as though there were something there that she would not have all the world see, and yet which was in itself innocent. Then a new fear woke up in her, lest she should go mad. Day after day, night after night, was spent in the same revolution of distressing thought, in the same bringing up and reconsidering of old difficulties, questions concerning Coppinger, questions concerning Jamie, questions concerning her own power of endurance and resistance. Was it possible that this could go on without driving her mad?

"One thing I see," murmured she; "all steps are broken away under me on the stair, and one thing alone remains for me to cling—to one only thing—my understanding. That"—she put her hands to her head—"that is all I have left. My name is gone from me. My friends I am separated from. My brother may not be with me. My happiness is all gone. My health may break down, but to a clear understanding I must hold; if that fails me I am lost—lost indeed."

"Lost indeed!" exclaimed Coppinger, entering abruptly. He had caught her last words. He came in in white rage, blinded and forgetful in his passion, and with his hat on. There was a day when he entered the boudoir with his head covered, and Judith, without a word, by the mere force of her character shining out of her clear eyes, had made him retreat and uncover. It was not so now. She was careless whether he wore the hat or not when he entered her room. "So!" said he, in a voice that foamed out of his mouth, "letters pass between you! Letters—I have read that you sent. I stayed your messenger."

"Well," answered Judith, with such composure as she could muster. She had already passed through several stormy scenes with him, and knew that her only security lay in self-restraint. "There was naught in it that you might not read. What did I say? That my condition was fixed—that none could alter it; that is true. That my great care and sorrow of heart is for Jamie; that is true. That Oliver Menaida has been threatened; that also is true. I have heard you speak words against him of no good."

"I will make good my words."

"I wrote, and hoped to save him from a danger, and you from a crime."

Coppinger laughed. "I have sent on the letter. Let him take what precautions he will. I will chastise him. No man ever crossed me yet but was brought to bite the dust."

"He has not harmed you, Captain Coppinger."

"He! Can I endure that you should call him by his Christian name, while I am but Captain Coppinger? That you should seek him out, laugh, and talk, and flirt with him——"

"Captain Coppinger!"

"Yes," raged he, "always Captain Coppinger, or Captain Cruel, and he is dear Oliver! sweet Oliver!" He well-nigh suffocated in his fury.

Judith drew herself up and folded her arms. She had in one hand a sprig of lavender from which she had been shaking the over-ripe grains. She turned deadly white.

"Give me up his letter. Your's was an answer!"

"I will give it to you," answered Judith, and she went to her workbox, raised the lid, then the little tray containing reels, and from beneath it extracted a crumpled scrap of paper. She handed it calmly, haughtily to Coppinger, then folded her arms again, one hand still holding the bunch of lavender.

The letter was short. Coppinger's hand shook with passion so that he could hardly hold it with sufficient steadiness to read it. It ran as follows:

"I must know your wishes, dear Judith. Do you intend to remain in that den of wreckers and cut-throats? or do you desire that your friends should bestir themselves to obtain your release? Tell us, in one word, what to do, or rather what are your wishes, and we will do what we can."

"Well!" said Coppinger, looking up. "And your answer is to the point—you wish to stay."

"I did not answer thus. I said—leave me."

"And never intended that he should leave you," raged Coppinger. He came close up to her with his eyes glittering, his nostrils distended and snorting and his hands clinched.

Judith loosened her arms, and with her right hand swept a space before her with the bunch of lavender. He should not approach her within arm's length; the lavender marked the limit beyond which he might not draw near.

"Now, hear me!" said Coppinger. "I have been too indulgent. I have humored you as a spoilt child. Because you willed this or that, I have submitted. But the time for humoring is over. I can endure this suspense no longer. Either you are my wife or you are not. I will suffer no trifling over this any longer. You have as it were put your lips to mine, and then sharply drawn them away and now offer them to another."

"Silence!" exclaimed Judith. "You insult me."

"You insult and outrage me!" said Coppinger, "when you run from your home to chatter with and walk with this Oliver, and never deign to speak to me. When he is your dear Oliver, and I am only Captain Coppinger; when you have smiles for him you have black looks for me. Is not that insulting, galling, stinging, maddening?"

Judith was silent. Her throat swelled. There was some truth in what he said; but, in the sight of heaven, she was guiltless of ever having thought of wrong, of having supposed for a moment that what she had allowed herself had not been harmless.

"You are silent," said Coppinger. "Now hearken! With this moment I turn over the page of humoring your fancies and yielding to your follies. I have never pressed you to sign that register—I have trusted to your good sense and good feeling. You cannot go back. Even if you desire it, you cannot undo what has been done. Mine you are, mine you shall be—mine wholly and always. Do you hear?"

"Yes."

"And agree?"

"No."

He was silent a moment, with clinched teeth and hands looking at her, with eyes that smote her, as though they were bullets.

"Very well," said he. "Your answer is no."

"My answer is no, so help me God."

"Very well," said he, between his teeth. "Then we open a new chapter."

"What chapter is that?"

"It is that of compulsion. That of solicitation is closed."

"You cannot, whilst I have my senses. What!" She saw that he had a great riding-whip in his hand. "What—the old story again? You will strike me?"

"No—not you. I will lash you into submission—through Jamie."

She uttered a cry, dropped the lavender, that became scattered before her, and held up her hands in mute entreaty.

"I owe him chastisement. I have owed it him for many a day—and to-day above all—as a go-between."

Judith could not speak. She remained as one frozen—in one attitude, in one spot, speechless. She could not stir, she could not utter a word of entreaty, as Coppinger left the room.

In another minute a loud and shrill cry reached her ears from the court into which one of her windows looked. She knew the cry. It was that of her twin brother, and it thrilled through her heart, quivered in every nerve of her whole frame.

She could hear what followed; but she could not stir. She was rooted by her feet to the floor, but she writhed there. It was as though every blow dealt the boy outside fell on her: she bent, she quivered, her lips parted, but cry she could not, the sweat rolled off her brow; she beat with her hands in the air. Now she thrilled up with uplifted arms, on tip-toe, then sank—it was like a flame flickering in a socket before it expires: it dances, it curls, it shoots up in a tongue, it sinks into a bead of light, it rolls on one side, it sways to the other, it leaps from the wick high into the air, and drops again. It was so with Judith—every stroke dealt, every scream of the tortured boy, every toss of his suffering frame, was repeated in her room, by her—in supreme, unspeaking anguish, too intense for sound to issue from her contracted throat.

Then all was still, and Judith had sunk to her knees on the scattered lavender, extending her arms, clasping her hands, spreading them again, again beating her palms together, in a vague, unconscious way, as if in breathing she could not gain breath enough without this expansion and stretching forth of her arms.

But, all at once, before her stood Coppinger, the whip in his hands.

"Well! what now is your answer?"

She breathed fast for some moments, laboring for expression. Then she reared herself up and tried to speak, but could not. Before her, threshed out on the floor, were the lavender seeds. They lay thick in a film over the boards in one place. She put her finger among them and drew No.