In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 8

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII


A PATCHED PEACE.


"Look at her!" cried Coppinger, with his back against the house door, and pointing to Judith with his stick.

She was standing near the piano, with one hand on it, and was half turned toward him. She was in black, but had a white kerchief about her neck. The absence of all color in her dress heightened the lustre of her abundant and glowing hair.

Coppinger remained for a moment, pointing with a half sneer on his dark face. Mr. Menaida had nervously complied with his demand, and had removed the hat from the smuggler, and his dark hair fell about his face. That face was livid and pale; he had evidently suffered much, and now every movement was attended with pain. Not only had some of his bones been broken, but he was bruised and strained.

"Look at her!" he shouted again, in his deep commanding tones, and he fixed his fierce eyes on her and knitted his brows. She remained immovable, awaiting what he had to say. Though there was a flutter in her bosom, her hand on the piano did not shake.

"I am very sorry, Captain Coppinger," said Judith, in a low, sweet voice, in which there was but a slight tremulousness. "I profess that I believe I acted wrongly yesterday, and I repeat that I am sorry—very sorry, Captain Coppinger."

He made no reply. He lowered the stick that had been pointed at her, and leaned on it. His hand shook because he was in pain.

"I acted wrongly yesterday," continued Judith, "but I acted under provocation that, if it does not justify what I did, palliates the wrong. I can say no more that is the exact truth."

"Is that all?"

"I am sorry for what was wrong in my conduct—frankly sorry that you are hurt." "You hear her?" laughed Coppinger, bitterly. "A little chit like that to speak to me thus"—then, turning sharply on her, "Are you not afraid?"

"No, I am not afraid; why should I be?"

"Why? Ask any one in S. Enodoc any one in Cornwall who has heard my name."

"I beg your pardon. I do not want to ask any one else in S. Enodoc, any one else in Cornwall. I ask you."

"Me? You ask me why you should be afraid of me?" He paused, drew his thick brows together till they formed a band across his forehead. "I tell you that none has ever wronged me by a blade of grass or a flock of wool but has paid for it a thousand-fold. And none has ever hurt me as you have done—none has ever dared to attempt it."

"I have said that I am sorry."

"You talk like one cold as a mermaid. I do not believe in your fearlessness. Why do you lean on the piano. There, touch the wires with the very tips of your lingers, and let me hear if they give a sound—and sound they will if you tremble."

Judith exposed some of the wires by raising the top of the piano. Then she smiled, and stood with the tips of her delicate fingers just touching the chords. Coppinger listened, so did Uncle Zachie, and not a vibration could they detect.

Presently she withdrew her hand, and said, "Is not that enough? When a girl says, 'I am sorry,' I supposed the chapter was done and the book closed."

"You have strange ideas."

"I have those in which I was brought up by the best of fathers."

Coppinger thrust his stick along the floor.

"Is it due to the ideas in which you have been brought up that you are not afraid—when you have reduced me to a wreck?"

"And you?—are you afraid of the wreck that you have made?"

The dark blood sprang into and suffused his whole face. Uncle Zachie drew back against the wall and made signs to Judith not to provoke their self-invited visitor; but she was looking steadily at the Captain, and did not observe the signals. In Coppinger's presence she felt nerved to stand on the defensive, and more, to attack. A threat in his whole bearing, in his manner of addressing her, roused every energy she possessed.

"I tell you," said he, harshly, "if any man had used the word you threw at me yesterday, I would have murdered him; I would have split his skull with the handle of my crop."

"You raised your hand to do it to me," said Judith.

"No!" he exclaimed, violently. "It is false; come here, and let me see if you have the courage, the fearlessness you affect. You women are past-masters of dissembling. Come here; kneel before me and let me raise my stick over you. See; there is lead in the handle, and with one blow I can split your skull and dash the brains over the floor."

Judith remained immovable.

"I thought it—you are afraid."

She shook her head.

He let himself, with some pain, slowly into a chair.

"You are afraid. You know what to expect. Ah! I could fell you and trample on you and break your bones, as I was cast down, trampled on, and broken in my bones—yesterday by you, or through you. Are you afraid?"

She took a step toward him. Then Uncle Zachie waved her back, in great alarm. He caught Judith's attention, and she answered him, "I am not afraid. I gave him a word I should not have given him yesterday. I will show him that I retract it fully." Then she stepped up to Coppinger and sank on her knees before him. He raised his whip, with the loaded handle, brandishing it over her.

"Now I am here," she said, "I again ask your forgiveness, but I protest an apology is due to me."

He threw his stick away. "By heaven, it is!" Then in an altered tone, "Take it so, that I ask your forgiveness. Get up; do not kneel to me. I could not have struck you down had I willed, my arm is stiff. Perhaps you knew it."

He rose with effort to his feet again. Judith drew back to her former position by the piano, two hectic spots of flame were in her cheek, and her eyes were preternaturally bright.

Coppinger looked steadily at her for a while, then he said, "Are you ill I You look as if you were."

"I have had much to go through of late."

"True."

He remained looking at her, brooding over something in his mind. She perplexed him; he wondered at her. He could not comprehend the spirit that was in her, that sustained a delicate little frame, and made her defy him.

His eyes wandered round the room, and he signed to Uncle Zachie to give him his stick again.

"What is that?" said he, pointing to the miniature on the stand for music, where Mr. Menaida had put it, over a sheet of the music he had been playing, or attempting to play.

"It is my son, Oliver," said Uncle Zachie.

"Why is it there? Has she been looking at it? Let me see it."

Mr. Menaida hesitated, but presently handed it to the redoubted Captain, with nervous twitches in his face. "I value it highly—my only child."

Coppinger looked at it, with a curl of his lips; then handed it back to Mr. Menaida.

"Why is it here?"

"I brought it here to show it her. I am very proud of my son," said Uncle Zachie.

Coppinger was in an irritable mood, captious about trifles. Why did he ask questions about this little picture? Why look suspiciously at Judith as he did so—suspiciously and threateningly?

"Do you play on the piano? " asked Coppinger. "When the evil spirit was on Saul, David struck the harp and sent the spirit away. Let me hear how you can touch the notes. It may do me good. Heaven knows it is not often I have the leisure, or the occasion, or am in the humor for music. I would hear what you can do."

Judith looked at Uncle Zachie.

"I cannot play," she said; "that is to say, I can play, but not now, and on this piano."

But Mr. Menaida interfered and urged her to play. He was afraid of Coppinger.

She seated herself on the music-stool and considered for a moment. The miniature was again on the stand. Coppinger put out his stick and thrust it off, and it would have fallen had not Judith caught it. She gave it to Mr. Menaida, who hastily carried it into the adjoining room, where the sight of it might no longer irritate the Captain.

"What shall I play?—I mean, strum?" asked Judith, looking at Uncle Zachie. "Beethoven? No—Haydn. Here are his 'Seasons’. I can play 'Spring.'"

She had a light, but firm touch. Her father had been a man of great musical taste, and he had instructed her. But she had, moreover, the musical faculty in her, and she played with the spirit and with the understanding also. Wondrous is the power of music, passing that of fabled necromancy. It takes a man up out of his most sordid surroundings, and sets him in heavenly places. It touches fibres of the inner nature, lost, forgotten, ignored, and makes them thrill with a new life. It seals the eyes to outward sights, and unfurls new vistas full of transcendental beauty; it breathes over hot wounds and heals them; it calls to the surface springs of pure delight, and bids them gush forth in an arid desert.

It was so now, as, under the sympathetic fingers of Judith, Haydn's song of the "Spring" was sung. A May world arose in that little dingy room; the walls fell back and disclosed green woods thick with red robin and bursting bluebells, fields golden with buttercups, hawthorns clothed in flower, from which sang the blackbird, thrush, the finch, and the ouzel. The low ceiling rose and overarched as the speed-well blue vault of heaven, the close atmosphere was dispelled by a waft of crisp, pure air; shepherds piped, Boy Bluet blew his horn, and milkmaids rattled their pails and danced a ballet on the turf; and over all, down into every corner of the soul, streamed the glorious, golden sun, filling the heart with gladness.

Uncle Zachie had been standing at the door leading into his workshop, hesitating whether to remain, with a pish! and a pshaw! or to fly away beyond hearing. But he was arrested, then drawn lightly, irresistibly, step by step, toward the piano, and he noiselessly sank upon a chair, with his eyes fixed on Judith's fingers as they danced over the keys. His features assumed a more refined character as he listened; the water rose into his eyes, his lips quivered, and when, before reaching the end of the piece, Judith faltered and stopped, he laid his hand on her wrist and said: "My—dear you play, you do not strum. Play when you will—never can it be too long, too much for me. It may steady my hand, it may dispel the chill and the damp better than—but never mind—never mind."

Why had Judith failed to accomplish the piece? Whilst engaged on the notes she had felt that the searching, beaming eyes of the smuggler were on her, fixed with fierce intensity. She could meet them, looking straight at him, without shrinking, and without confusion, but to be searched by them whilst off her guard, her attention engaged on her music, was what she could not endure.

Coppinger made no remark on what he had heard, but his face gave token that the music had not swept across him without stirring and softening his hard nature.

"How long is she to be here—with you?" he asked, turning to Uncle Zachie.

"Captain, I cannot tell. She and her brother had to leave the rectory. They could not remain in that house alone. Mrs. Trevisa asked me to lodge them here, and I consented. I knew their father."

"She did not ask me. I would have taken them in."

"Perhaps she was diffident of doing that," said Uncle Zachie. "But really, on my word, it is no inconvenience to me. I have room in this house, and my maid, Jump, has not enough to do to attend on me."

"When you are tired of them send them to me."

" I am not likely to be tired of Judith, now that I have heard her play."

"Judith—is that her name?"

"Yes—Judith."

"Judith!" he repeated, and thrust his stick along the floor, meditatively. "Judith!" Then, after a pause, with his eyes on the ground, "Why did not your aunt speak to me? Why does she not love you?—she does not, I know. Why did she not go to see you when your father was alive? Why did you not come to the Glaze?"

"My dear papa did not wish me to go to your house," said Judith, answering one of his many questions, the last, and perhaps the easiest to reply to.

"Why not?" he glanced up at her, then down on the floor again.

"Papa was not very pleased with Aunt Dunes—it was no fault on either side, only a misunderstanding," said Judith.

"Why did he not let you come to my house to salute your aunt?"

Judith hesitated. He again looked up at her searchingly.

"If you really must know the truth. Captain Coppinger, papa thought your house was hardly one to which to send two children—it was said to harbor such wild folk."

"And he did not know how fiercely and successfully you could defend yourself against wild folk," said Coppinger, with a harsh laugh. "It is we wild men that must fear you, for you dash us about and bruise and break us when displeased with our ways. We are not so bad at the Glaze as we are painted, not by a half—here is my hand on it."

Judith was still seated on the music-stool, her hands resting in her lap. Coppinger came toward her, walking stiffly, and extending his palm.

She looked down in her lap. What did this fierce, strange man, mean?

"Will you give me your hand?" he asked. "Is there peace between us?"

She was doubtful what to say. He remained, awaiting her answer.

"I really do not know what reply to make," she said, after awhile. "Of course, so far as I am concerned, it is peace. I have myself no quarrel with you, and you are good enough to say that you forgive me."

"Then why not peace?"

Again she let him wait before answering. She was uneasy and unhappy. She wanted neither his goodwill nor his hostility.

"In all that affects me, I bear you no ill-will," she said, in a low, tremulous voice; "but in that you were a grief to my dear, dear father, discouraging his heart, I cannot be forgetful, and so full of charity as to blot it out as though it had not been."

"Then let it be a patched peace—a peace with evasions and reservations. Better that than none. Give me your hand."

"On that understanding," said Judith, and laid her hand in his. His iron fingers closed round it, and he drew her up from the stool on which she sat, drew her forward near the window, and thrust her in front of him. Then he raised her hand, held it by the wrist, and looked at it.

"It is very small, very weak," he said, musingly.

Then there rushed over her mind the recollection of her last conversation with her father. He, too, had taken and looked at her hand, and had made the same remark.

Coppinger lowered her hand and his, and, looking at her, said:

"You are very wonderful to me."

"I—why so?"

He did not answer, but let go his hold of her, and turned away to the door.

Judith saw that he was leaving, and she hastened to bring him his stick, and she opened the door for him.

"I thank you," he said, turned, pointed his stick at her, and added, "It is peace—though a patched one."