In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 50

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 50

CHAPTER L.


PLAYING FORFEITS.


"Here am I once more," said Mr. Scantlebray, walking into Othello Cottage with a rap at the door but without waiting for an invitation to enter. "Come back like the golden summer, but at a quicker rate. How are you all? I left you rather curtly—without having had time to pay my proper congé.

Judith and Jamie were sitting over the fire. No candle had been lighted, for, though a good many things had been brought over to Othello Cottage for their use, candles had been forgotten, and Judith did not desire to ask for more than was furnished her, certainly not to go to the Glaze for the things needed. They had a fire, but not one that blazed. It was of drift-wood, that smouldered and would not flame, and as it burned emitted a peculiar odor.

Jamie was in good spirits, he chattered and laughed, and Judith made pretence that she listened, but her mind was absent, she had cares that had demands on every faculty of her mind. Moreover, now and then her thoughts drifted off to a picture that busy fancy painted and dangled before them—of Portugal, with its woods of oranges, golden among the burnished leaves, and its vines hung with purple grapes—with its glowing sun, its blue glittering sea—and, above all, she mused on the rest from fears, the cessation from troubles which would have ensued, had there been a chance for her to accept the offer made, and to have left the Cornish coast for ever.

Looking into the glowing ashes, listening to her thoughts as they spoke, and seeming to attend to the prattle of the boy, Judith was surprised by the entry of Mr. Scantlebray.

"There—disengaged, that is capital," said the agent. "The very thing I hoped. And now we can have a talk. You have never understood that I was your sincere friend. You have turned from me and looked elsewhere, and now you suffer for it. But I am like all the best metal—strong and bright to the last; and—see I have come to you now to forewarn you, because I thought that if it came on you all at once there would be trouble and bother."

"Thank you, Mr. Scantlebray. It is true that we are not busy just now, but it does not follow that we are disposed for a talk. It is growing dark, and we shall lock up the cottage and go to bed."

"Oh, I will not detain you long. Besides I'll take the wish out of your heart for bed in one jiffy. Look here—read this. Do you know the handwriting?"

He held out a letter. Judith reluctantly took it. She had risen; she had not asked Scantlebray to take a seat.

"Yes," she said, "that is the writing of Captain Coppinger."

"A good bold hand," said the agent, "and see here is his seal with his motto, Thorough. You know that?"

"Yes—it is his seal."

"Now read it."

Judith knelt at the hearth.

"Blow, blow the fire up, my beauty," called Scantlebray to Jamie. "Don't you see that your sister wants light, and is running the risk of blinding her sweet pretty eyes." Jamie puffed vigorously and sent out sparks snapping and blinking, and brought the wood to a white glow, by which Judith was able to decipher the letter.

It was a formal order from Cruel Coppinger to Mr. Obadiah Scantlebray to remove James Trevisa that evening, after dark, from Othello Cottage to his idiot asylum, to remain there in custody till further notice. Judith remained kneeling, with her eyes on the letter, after she had read it. She was considering. It was clear to her that directly after leaving her Captain Coppinger had formed his own resolve, either impatient of waiting the six hours he had allowed her, or because he thought the alternative of the Asylum the only one that could be accepted by her, and it was one that would content himself, as the only one that avoided exposure of a scandal. But there were other asylums than that of Scantlebray, and others were presumably better managed, and those in charge less severe in their dealings. She had considered this, as she looked into the fire. But a new idea had also at the same time lightened in her mind, and she had a third alternative to propose.

She had been waiting for the moment when to go to the Glaze and see Coppinger, and just at the moment when she was about to send Jamie to bed and leave the house Scantlebray came in.

"Now then," said the agent, "what do you think of me—that I am a real friend?"

"I thank you for having told me this," answered Judith, "and now I will go to Pentyre. I beg that you will not allow my brother to be conveyed away during my absence. Wait till I return. Perhaps Captain Coppinger may not insist on the removal at once. If you are a real friend, as you profess, you will do this for me."

"I will do it willingly. That I am a real friend I have shown you by my conduct. I have come beforehand to break news to you which might have been too great and too overwhelming had it come on you suddenly. My brother and a man or two will be here in an hour. Go by all means to Captain Cruel, but," Scantlebray winked an eye, "I don't myself think you will prevail with him."

"I will thank you to remain here for half an hour with Jamie," said Judith, coldly. "And to stay all proceedings till my return. If I succeed—well. If not, then only a few minutes have been lost. I have that to say to Captain Coppinger which may, and I trust will, lead him to withdraw that order."

"Rely on me. I am a rock on which you may build," said Scantlebray. "I will do my best to entertain your brother, though, alas! I have not the abilities of Obadiah, who is a genius, and can keep folks hour by hour going from one roar of laughter into another."

No sooner was Judith gone than Scantlebray put his tongue into one side of his cheek, clicked, pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, and seated himself opposite Jamie on the stool beside the fire which had been vacated by Judith. Jamie had understood nothing of the conversation that had taken place, his name had not been mentioned, and consequently his attention had not been drawn to it away from some chestnuts he had found, or which had been given to him, that he was baking in the ashes on the hearth.

"Fond of hunting, eh?" asked Scantlebray, stretching his legs and rubbing his hands. "You are like me—like to be in at the death. What do you suppose I have in my pocket? Why, a fox with a fiery tail. Shall we run him to earth? Shall we make an end of him? Tally-ho! Tally-ho! here he is. Oh, sly Reynard, I have you by the ears." And forth from the tail-pocket of his coat Scantlebray produced a bottle of brandy. "What say you, corporal, shall we drink his blood? Bring me a couple of glasses and I'll pour out his gore."

"I haven't any," said Jamie. "Ju and I have two mugs, that is all."

"And they will do famously. Here goes—off with the mask!" and with a blow he knocked away the head and cork of the bottle. "No more running away for you, my beauty, except down our throats. Mugs! That is famous. Come, shall, we play at army and navy, and the forfeit be a drink of Reynard's blood?"

Jamie pricked up his ears; he was always ready for a game of play.

"Look here," said Scantlebray. "You are in the military, I am in the nautical line. Each must address the other by some title in accordance with the profession each professes, and the forfeit of failure is a pull at the bottle. What do you say? I will begin. Set the bottle there between us. Now then, Sergeant, they tell me your aunt has come in for a fortune. How much? What is the figure, eh?"

"I don't know," responded Jamie, and was at once caught up with "Forfeit! forfeit!"

"Oh, by Jimminy, there am I, too, in the same box. Take your swig, Commander, and pass to me."

"But what am I to call you? " asked the puzzle-headed boy.

"Mate, or captain, or boatswain, or admiral."

"I can't remember all that."

"Mate will do. Always say mate, whatever you ask or answer. Do you understand, General?"

"Yes."

"Forfeit! forfeit! You should have said 'Yes, mate.'" Mr. Scantlebray put his hands to his sides and laughed. "Oh, Jimminy! there am I again. The instructor as bad as the pupil. I'm a bad fellow as instructor, that I am, Field-Marshal. So your Aunt Dionysia has come in for some thousands of pounds—how many do you think? Have you heard?"

"I think I've heard——"

"Mate! Mate!"

"I think I've heard, Mate."

"Now, how many do you remember to have heard named? Was it five thousand? That is what I heard named—eh, Captain?"

"Oh, more than that," said Jamie, in his small mind catching at a chance of talking big, "a great lot more than that."

"What, ten thousand?"

"I dare say; yes, I think so."

"Forfeit! forfeit! pull again, Centurion."

"Yes, Mate, I'm sure."

"Ten thousand—why, at five per cent, that's a nice little sum for you and Ju to look forward to when the old hull springs a leak and goes to the bottom."

"Yes," answered Jamie, vaguely. He could not look beyond the day, moreover he did not understand the figurative speech of his comrade.

"Forfeit again, General! But I'll forgive you this time, or you'll get so drunk you'll not be able to answer me a question. Bless my legs and arms! on that pretty little sum one could afford one's self a new tie every Sunday. You will prove a beau and buck indeed some day, Captain of Thousands! And then you won't live in this little hole. By the way, I hear old Dunes Trevisa, I beg pardon, Field-Marshal Sir James, I mean your much respected aunt, Miss Trevisa, has got a charming box down by S. Austell. You'll ask me down for the shooting, won't you, Commander-in-Chief?"

"Yes, I will," answered Jamie.

"And you'll give me the best bedroom, and will have choice dinners, and the best old tawny port, eh?"

"Yes, to be sure," said the boy, flattered.

"Mate! mate! forfeit! and I suppose you'll keep a hunter?"

"I shall have two—three," said Jamie.

"And if I were you, I'd keep a pack of fox-hounds."

"I will."

"That's for the winter, and other hounds for the summer."

"I am sure I will, and wear a red coat."

"Famous! but there I spare you this time you forfeited again."

"No, I won't be spared," protested the boy.

"As for a wretched little hole like this Othello Cottage——" said Scantlebray. "But, by the bye, you have never shown me over the house. How many rooms are there in it, Generalissimo of His Majesty's Forces?"

"There's my bedroom there," said Jamie.

"Yes; and that door leads to your sister's?"

"Yes. And there's the kitchen."

"And up-stairs?"

"There's no up-stairs."

"Now, you are very clever—clever. By Ginger, you must be to be Commander-in-chief; but 'pon my word, I can't believe that. No up-stairs. There must be up-stairs."

"No, there's not."

"But by Jimminy! with such a roof as this house has got, and a little round window in the gable. There must be an up-stairs."

"No there's not."

"How do you make that out?"

"Because there are no stairs at all." Then Jamie jumped up, but rolled on one side, the brandy he had drunk had made him unsteady. "I'll show you mate—mate—yes, mate. There three times now will do for times I haven't said it. There—in my room. The floor is rolling; it won't stay steady. There are cramps in the wall, no stairs, and so you get up to where it all is."

"All what is?"

"Forfeit, forfeit!" shouted Jamie. "Say general or something military. I don't know. Ju won't let me go up there; but there's tobacco, for one thing."

"Where's a candle, Corporal?"

"There is none. We have no light but the fire." Then Jamie dropped back on his stool, unable to keep his legs.

"I am more provident than you. I have a lantern outside, unlighted, as I thought I might need it on my return. The nights close in very fast and very dark now, eh, Commander?"

Mr. Scantlebray went outside the cottage, looked about him, specially directing his eyes toward the Glaze. Then he chuckled and said:

"Sent Miss Judith on a wild-goose chase, have I? Ah ha! Captain Coppinger, I'll have a little entertainment for you to-night. The preventives will snatch your goods at Porthleze or Constantine, and here—behind your back—I'll attend to your store of tobacco and whatever else I may find."

Then he returned and going to the fire extracted the candle from the lantern and lighted it at a burning log.

"Halloa, Captain of thousands! Going to sleep? There's the bottle. You must make up forfeits. You've been dishonest I fear and not paid half. That door did you say?"

But Jamie was past understanding a question, and Mr. Scantlebray could find out for himself now what he wanted to know. That this house had been used by Coppinger as a store for some of the smuggled cargoes he had long suspected, but he had never been able to obtain any evidence which would justify the coastguard in applying to the justices for a search-warrant. Now he would be able to look about it at his leisure, while Judith was absent. He did not suppose Coppinger was at the Glaze. He assumed that an attempt would be made, as the clerk of St. Enodoc had informed him, to land the cargo of the Black Prince to the west of the estuary of the Camel, and he supposed that Coppinger would be there to superintend. He had used the letter sent to his brother to induce the girl to go to Pentyre, and so leave the cottage clear for him to search it.

Now, holding the candle, he entered the bedroom of Jamie, and soon perceived the cramps the boy had spoken of that served in place of stairs. Above was a door into the attic, whitewashed over, like the walls. Mr. Scantlebray climbed, thrust open the door and crept into the garret.

"Ah, ha!" said the valuer. "So, so, Captain! I have come on one of your lairs at last. And I reckon I will make it warm for you. But, by Ginger, it is a pity I can't remove some of what is here."

He prowled about in the roomy loft, searching every corner. There were a few small kegs of spirit, but the stores were mostly of tobacco.

In about ten minutes Mr. Scantlebray reappeared in the room where was Jamie. He was without his candle. The poor boy, overcome by what he had drunk, had fallen on the floor and was in a tipsy sleep.

Scantlebray went to him.

"Come along with me," he said. "Come, there is no time to be lost. Come, you fool!"

He shook him, but Jamie would not be roused, he kicked and struck out with his fists.

"You won't come? I'll make you."

Then Scantlebray caught the boy by the shoulders to drag him to the door. The child began to struggle and resist.

"Oh! I'm not concerned for you, fool," said Scantlebray. "If you like to stay and take your chance—my brother will be here to carry you off presently. Will you come?"

Scantlebray caught the boy by the feet and tried to drag him, but Jamie clung to the table-legs.

Scantlebray uttered an oath—"Stay, you fool, and be smothered! The world will get on very well without you."

And he strode forth from the cottage.