In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 9

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX.


C. C.


Days ensued, not of rest to body, but of relaxation to mind. Judith's overstrained nerves had now given them a period of numbness, a sleep of sensibility with occasional turnings and wakenings, in which they recovered their strength. She and Jamie were settled into their rooms at Mr. Menaida's, and the hours were spent in going to and from the rectory removing their little treasures to the new home—if a temporary place of lodging could be called a home—and in arranging them there.

There were a good many farewells to be taken, and Judith marvelled sometimes at the insensibility with which she said them—farewells to a thousand nooks and corners of the house and garden, the shrubbery, and the glebe farm, all endeared by happy recollections, now having their brightness dashed with rain.

To Judith this was a first revelation of the mutability of things on earth. Hitherto, as a child, with a child's eyes and a child's confidence, she had regarded the rectory, the glebe, the contents of the house, the flowers in the garden, as belonging inalienably to her father and brother and herself. They belonged to them together. There was nothing that was her father's that did not belong to Jamie and to her, nothing of her brother's or her own that was not likewise the property of papa. There was no mine or thine in that little family of love—save only a few birthday presents given from one to the other, and these only special property by a playful concession. But now the dear father was gone, and every right seemed to dissolve. From the moment that he leaned back against the brick, lichen-stained wall, and sighed—and was dead, house and land had been snatched from them. And though the contents of the rectory, the books, and the furniture, and the china belonged to them, it was but for a little while; these things must be parted with also, turned into silver.

Not because the money was needed, but because Judith had no settled home, and no prospect of one. Therefore she must not encumber herself with many belongings. For a little while she would lodge with Mr. Menaida, but she could not live there forever; she must remove elsewhere, and she must consider, in the first place, that there was not room in Uncle Zachie's cottage for accumulations of furniture, and that, in the next place, she would probably have to part with them on her next remove, even if she did retain them for a while.

If these things were to be parted with, it would be advisable to part with them at once. But to this determination Judith could not bring herself at first. Though she had put aside, to be kept, things too sacred to her, too much part of her past life, to be allowed to go into the sale, after a few days she relinquished even these. Those six delightful old colored prints, in frames, of a fox-hunt—how Jamie had laughed at them, and followed the incidents in them, and never wearied of them—must they go—perhaps for a song? It must be so. That work-table of her mother's, of dark rosewood, with a crimson bag beneath it to contain wools and silks, one of the few remembrances she had of that mother whom she but dimly recalled—must that go?—what, and all those skeins in it of colored floss silk, and the piece of embroidery half finished? the work of her mother, broken off by death—that also? It must be so. And that rusty leather chair in which papa had sat, with one golden-headed child on each knee cuddled into his breast, with the flaps of his coat drawn over their heads, which listened to the tick-tick of his great watch, and to the tale of Little Snowflake, or Gracieuse and Percinet?—must that go also? It must be so.

Every day showed to Judith some fresh link that had to be broken. She could not bear to think that the mother's work-table should be contended for at a vulgar auction, and struck down to a blousy farmer's wife; that her father's chair should go to some village inn to be occupied by sots. She would rather have seen them destroyed; but to destroy them would not be right.

After a while she longed for the sale; she desired to have it over, that an entirely new page of life might be opened, and her thoughts might not be carried back to the past by everything she saw.

Of Coppinger nothing further was seen. Nor did Aunt Dionysia appear at the rectory to superintend the assortment of the furniture, nor at Mr. Menaida's to inquire into the welfare of her nephew and niece. To Judith it was a relief not to have her aunt in the parsonage while she was there; that hard voice and unsympathetic manner would have kept her nerves on the quiver. It was best as it was, that she should have time, by herself, with no interference from any one, to select what was to be kept and put away what was to be sold; to put away gently, with her own trembling hand, and with eyes full of tears, the old black gown and the Oxford hood that papa had worn in church, and to burn his old sermons and bundles of letters, unread and uncommented on by Aunt Dunes.

In these days Judith did not think much of Coppinger. Uncle Zachie informed her that he was worse, he was confined to his bed, he had done himself harm by coming over to Polzeath the day after his accident, and the doctor had ordered him not to stir from Pentyre Glaze for some time—not till his bones were set. Nothing was known of the occasion of Coppinger's injuries, so Uncle Zachie said; it was reported in the place that he had been thrown from his horse. Judith entreated the old man not to enlighten the ignorance of the public; she was convinced that naught would transpire through Jamie, who could not tell a story intelligibly; and Miss Dionysia Trevisa was not likely to publish what she knew.

Judith had a pleasant little chamber at Mr. Menaida's; it was small, low, plastered against the roof, the rafters showing, and whitewashed like the walls and ceiling. The light entered from a dormer in the roof, a low window glazed with diamond quarries set in lead that clickered incessantly in the wind. It faced the south, and let the sun flow in. A scrap of carpet was on the floor, and white curtains to the window. In this chamber Judith ranged such of her goods as she had resolved on retaining, either as indispensable, or as being too dear to her to part with unnecessarily, and which, as being of small size, she might keep without difficulty.

Her father's old travelling trunk, covered with hide with the hair on, and his initials in brass nails—a trunk he had taken with him to college—was there, thrust against the wall; it contained her clothes. Suspended above it was her little bookcase, with the shelves laden with "The Travels of Rolando," Dr. Aitkin's "Evenings at Home," Magnal's "Questions," a French Dictionary, "Paul and Virginia," and a few other works such as were the delight of children from ninety to a hundred years ago.

Books for children were rare in those days, and such as were produced were read and re-read till they were woven into the very fibre of the mind, never more to be extricated and cast aside. Now it is otherwise. A child reads a story-book every week, and each new story-book effaces the impression produced by the book that went before. The result of much reading is the same as the result of no reading—the production of a blank.

How Judith and Jamie had sat together perched up in a sycamore, in what they called their nest, and had revelled in the adventures of Rolando, she reading aloud, he listening a little, then lapsing into observation of the birds that flew and hopped about, or the insects that spun and crept, or dropped on silky lines, or fluttered humming about the nest, then returned to attention to the book again! Rolando would remain through life the friend and companian of Judith. She could not part with the four-volumed, red-leather-backed book.

For the first day or two Jamie had accompanied his sister to the rectory, and had somewhat incommoded her by his restlessness and his mischief, but on the third day, and thenceforth, he no longer attended her. He had made fast friends with Uncle Zachie. He was amused with watching the process of bird-stuffing, and the old man made use of the boy by giving him tow to pick to pieces and wires to straighten.

Mr. Menaida was pleased to have some one by him in his workshop to whom he could talk. It was unimportant to him whether the listener followed the thread of his conversation or not, so long as he was a listener. Mr. Menaida, in his solitude, had been wont to talk to himself, to grumble to himself at the impatience of his customers, to lament to himself the excess of work that pressed upon him and deprived him of time for relaxation. He was wont to criticise, to himself, his success or want of success in the setting up of a bird. It was far more satisfactory to him to be able to address all these remarks to a second party.

He was, moreover, surprised to find how keen and just had been Jamie's observation of birds, their ways, their attitudes. Judith was delighted to think that Jamie had discovered talent of some sort, and he had, so Uncle Zachie assured her, that imitative ability which is often found to exist alongside with low intellectual power, and this enabled him to assist Mr. Menaida in giving a natural posture to his birds.

It flattered the boy to find that he was appreciated, that he was consulted, and asked to assist in a kind of work that exacted nothing of his mind.

When Uncle Zachie was tired of his task, which was every ten minutes or quarter of an hour, and that was the extreme limit to which he could continue regular work, he lit his pipe, left his bench, and sat in his armchair. Then Jamie also left his tow-picking or wire-punching, and listened, or seemed to listen, to Mr. Menaida's talk. When the old man had finished his pipe, and, with a sigh, went back to his task, Jamie was tired of hearing him talk, and was glad to resume his work. Thus the two desultory creatures suited each other admirably, and became attached friends.

"Jamie! what is the meaning of this?" asked Judith, with a start and a rush of blood to her heart.

She had returned in the twilight from the parsonage. There was something in the look of her brother, something in his manner that was unusual.

"Jamie! What have you been taking? Who gave it you?"

She caught the boy by the arm. Distress and shame were in her face, in the tones of her voice.

Mr. Menaida grunted.

"I'm sorry, but it can't be helped really it can't," said he, apologetically. "But Captain Coppinger has sent me down a present of a keg of cognac—real cognac, splendid, amber-like—and, you know, it was uncommonly kind. He never did it before. So there was no avoidance; we had to tap it and taste it, and give a sup to the fellow who brought us the keg, and drink the health of the Captain. One could not be churlish; and, naturally, I could not abstain from letting Jamie try the spirit. Perfectly pure—quite wholesome—first-rate quality. Upon my word, he had not more than a fly could dip his legs in and feel the bottom; but he is unaccustomed to anything stronger than cider, and this is stronger than I supposed."

"Mr. Menaida, you promised me——"

"Bless me! There are contingencies, you know. I never for a moment thought that Captain Coppinger would show me such a favor, would have such courtesy. But, upon my honor, I think it is your doing, my dear! You shook hands and made peace with him, and he has sent this in token of the cessation of hostilities and the ratification of the agreement."

"Mr. Menaida, I trusted you. I did believe, when you passed your word to me, that you would hold to it."

"Now—there, don't take it in that way. Jamie, you rascal, hop off to bed. He'll be right as a trivet to-morrow morning, I stake my reputation on that. There, there, I will help him up-stairs."

Judith suffered Mr. Menaida to do as he proposed. When he had left the room with Jamie, who was reluctant to go, and struggled to remain, she seated herself on the sofa, and covering her face with her hands burst into tears. Whom could she trust? No one.

Had she been alone in the world she would have been more confident of the future, been able to look forward with a good courage; but she had to carry Jamie with her, who must be defended from himself, and from the weak good-nature of those he was with.

When Uncle Zachie came down-stairs he slunk into his workroom and was very quiet. No lamp or candle was lighted, and it was too dark for him to continue his employment on the birds. What was he doing? Nothing. He was ashamed of himself, and keeping out of Judith's way.

But Judith would not let him escape so easily; she went to him, as he avoided her, and found him seated in a corner turning his pipe about. He had been afraid of striking a light, lest he should call her attention to his presence.

"Oh, my dear, come in here into the workshop to me! This is an honor, an unexpected pleasure. Jamie and I have been drudging like slaves all day, and we're fagged—fagged to the ends of our fingers and toes."

"Mr. Menaida, I am sorry to say it, but if such a thing happens again as has taken place this evening, Jamie and I must leave your house. I thank you with an overflowing heart for your goodness to us; but I must consider Jamie above everything else, and I must see that he be not exposed to temptation."

"Where will you take him?"

"I cannot tell; but I must shield him."

"There, there, not a word! It shall never happen again. Now let by-gones be by-gones, and play me something of Beethoven, while I sit here and listen in the twilight."

"No, Mr. Menaida, I cannot. I have not the spirit to do it. I can think only of Jamie."

"So you punish me!"

" Take it so. I am sorry; but I cannot do otherwise."

"Now, look here! Bless my soul! I had almost forgotten it. Here is a note for you, from the Captain, I believe." He went to the chimney-piece and took down a scrap of paper, folded and sealed.

Judith looked at it and went to the window, broke the seal, and opened the paper. She read—


"Why do you not come and see me? You do not care for what you have done. They call me cruel; but you are that.—C. C."