Mehalah: a story of the salt marshes (1880)/Chapter 28
|←Chapter 27|| Mehalah: a story of the salt marshes (1880)
by , translated by Constance Garnett
"MEHALAH!" roared the wretched man, smiting at her with both his clenched fists, and nearly precipitating himself into the mud, by missing his object. "Come near, and let me beat and kill you."
"Why are you angry, Elijah?" asked the girl. "The man you betrayed to the pressgang has returned. Are you vexed at that?"
"Come near me," he shouted.
"You have gained your end, and may well be content that he is alive. You have separated us for ever; what more could you desire?"
"Where is he?"
"He would not meet you. He could not deal the punishment you deserve on a blinded man."
"You have been discussing me � the blinded man," raved Elijah. "Yes, you first blind me that I may not see, and then you meet and intrigue with your old lover, knowing I cannot watch, and pursue, and punish you."
"Go back to the house, Elijah. You are in no fit temper to speak to on this subject."
"Oh yes! go back and sit in the hall alone, whilst you are with him � your George! No, Mehalah! I tell you this. I will not be deceived. Though I be blind, I can and will see and follow you. I will sell my soul to the devil for twenty-four-hours' vision, that I may track and catch and crush your two heads together, and trample the life out of you with my iron-heeled boots. You shall never see him again. Give me back my pincers, and I will make an end of it all."
"Elijah, you must trust me. I married you in self-respect, and I shall never forget the respect I owe to myself."
"I cannot trust you," he answered, "because you are just one of those whose movements no one can calculate. I am the same. You have seen and learned my way. Who could reckon on me? I never mapped out my course, but went on as I was impelled; and so will you. But be sure of this, Mehalah! I shall not endure your desertion of me. Beware how you meet and speak to George De Witt again."
"Elijah," said the girl; "I give you only what I promised you, my obedience, never expect more. Your crooked courses are not such as can gain respect, much less regard. You say that you act on impulse, and have not mapped your course. I do not believe you. Your purpose was deliberate, your plans laid in cold blood. You have obtained some sort of control over me, but my soul is free, my heart is free, and these you shall never bring into slavery."
"I was ready half an hour ago to forgive you for having blinded me. I cannot forgive you now. You have done me a wicked wrong. You acted on impulse, without purpose, you say. I do not believe it. There was set design and cold scheming in it all. You knew t hat George De Witt was not dead, so you dashed the fire-juice into my eyes to blind them to what would take place on his reappearance."
"This is false!" exclaimed Mehalah indignantly.
"So is it false that I schemed and worked," he said. "We act on the spur of passion, and the acts link together, and make a complete chain in the end. I did at the moment what I thought must be done, and so it was brought about that you became my wife. You acted as anger and love inspired, and now I am made helpless, whilst you sport with your lover. I don't care if you die and I die, but parted we shall not be. You and I must find our heaven in each other and nowhere else. You are going after wandering lights if you expect a port away from my heart. Wrecking lights attached to asses' heads." He stamped and caught at her.
"My heart was given to George before I knew you," said Glory sadly. "We had hoped to be married this spring, and then we should have been happy, unspeakably happy. You have prevented that; but we can still love one another and be true to each other, and live in the thought and confidence of the other. He trusts me and I trust him. We shall see one another, and we shall be true, loving friends, but nothing more; nothing more is possible."
"Is this your resolve?" he asked, turning livid with anger, even his lips a dead leaden tint.
"I must love him, I cannot help it. We must see each other. But I will not be false to my oath. I will still serve you, and I will cherish you in your wretchedness and blindness."
"This will not do," he cried. "My whole nature cries out and hungers for you. Oh God!" he burst forth in an agony, "why did I not take you in my arms when the Ray house was burning, and spring with you into the flames. Then we should both have been at peace now, both in one, and happy in our unity." He strode up and down, with his head down.
"Mehalah! have you seen water poured on lime. You and I are mixing like water and lime, and we rage and smoke, but there is peace at the end, when we are infused the one into the other. The mixture must be complete some day, in this life or the next; and t hen we shall clot into one hard rock, imperishable and indivisible."
"Elijah! try to take interest in something else; think of something beside me."
"I cannot do it, Mehalah. Your care for that fool George is but a slip struck in that may root or not, that must be nursed or it will wither. Tear it up and cast it away. It is not worthy of you. George is a simple fool. A clown without a soul. There are none hereabouts with souls but you and me. Your mother has none, Mrs. De Witt has none, Abraham has none. They are bodies, ruled by bodily wants, and interpret by bodily instincts all things done by those spiritually above the m. But you understand me, and I understand you. Soul speaks to soul. The curse of God would have rested upon you, if you had married George De Witt. I have saved you from that. You have mated with your equal."
"What happiness has attended our union?" she asked bitterly.
"None," he replied, "because you oppose your will to the inevitable. We must be united entirely, and blended into one, but you resist, and so misery ensues. I am blinded and wretched, and you, you � "
"I am wretched also," she said; "but here comes someone to speak to us."
"Who is it?"
"I do not know exactly. A young man who came here one day with Phoebe Musset."
"What does he want with us? I will have no young men coming here."
The person who approached was Timothy Spark, "cousin" to Admonition Pettican. He was dressed in a new suit of mourning. He lounged along the sea-wall with his hands in his pockets.
"Your servant, master," he said to Elijah as he came up. "Your most devoted servant," he added with a bow to Mehalah, and a simper. "Charmed to see my dear and beautiful cousin so well."
"Cousin!" exclaimed Rebow, stepping back and frowning.
"Certainly, certainly," said Timothy. "I am cousin to Admonition wife, or rather let me say widow of the late lamented Charles Pettican and he was first cousin to Mrs. Sharland, so my pretty cousin Mehalah will not, I am sure, deny the relationship. Let me offer you an arm." He wedged his way between Rebow and Glory.
"First cousin once and a half removed," he said. "Drop the fractions and say cousin, broadly. Certainly, certainly so. Is it not so, my dear?" In an undertone and aside to Mehalah, "I have a word to say in your ear, Cousin Mehalah. But I forget, where is my memory going? Glory is the name you go by among relatives and friends. Come along, Glory. Lean on my arm. The blind gentleman is a little unsteady on his pins and can't keep up with us He will be more comfortable taking his airing slowly by himself. He is in a serious mood, perhaps pious."
"Say what you have to say at once," said Elijah surlily. "I must hear it. What did you say about late Charles Pettican?"
"The poor gentleman is deceased," said Timothy; "and his disconsolate widow is drinking down her grief in hot toddy."
"Mr. Charles Pettican dead!" exclaimed Mehalah with grief.
"Dead as Nebuchadnezar," replied Timothy; "rather rapid at the last; the paralysis attacked his vitals, and then it was all over with him in a snap. Fortunately, he had made his will. I flatter myself that my influence prevailed, and he made a will not in favour of Admonition. We put our heads together. Admonition gets only a hundred pounds. My friend Charles has handsomely remembered me � and all the bulk of his property he has bequeathed to my good cousin here, Glory. Admonition brought it on herself and cannot recover from the shock and mortification and I left her at Wyvenhoe, venting it in language not flattering to the late lamented. She has got her deserts. I saw that she was carrying it on a little too far for the endurance of Charles, so I had a talk with him on the matter, and offered to help him in the management of his affairs for a trifling salary, and he was good enough to see how advantageous it would be to him to have me as a friend and adviser; so we put our heads together and then Admonition tried to bundle me out of the house, and much to her surprise learned that I was as securely installed therein as herself. I was private secretary and accountant to Charles, and cousin Admonition had to knuckle under then. Curiously enough, she picked up another cousin about that time, one I had never heard of before in my life, and she wanted to bring him into the house in my place; I did not allow that game to be played. I kept my berth, and Admonition was in a pretty temper about it, you may be sure. How Charles chuckled! He enjoyed it. Upon my word I believe he chuckles in his grave to think how he has done Admonition in the end."
"What has he left Mehalah?" asked Rebow surlily.
"I suspect about two hundred and fifty to three hundred pounds a year, a nice little fortune, and dropping in very unexpectedly, I presume. I am executor, and shall have the choicest pleasure in explaining all to my sweet cousin. Is it not near about your dinner-time?"
"Then I don't mind picking a bone and drinking a glass with you. The drive is long from Wyvenhoe. You happen perhaps to have a spare room in the house?"
No answer was given to this question.
"Because I have brought over my little traps. I thought it best. We can talk over matters, and I will show you what the amount of property is that Charles has left. I have the will with me; it is not yet proved. I shall do that shortly."
"There's an inn at Salcott. The 'Rising Sun.' You can go there. We do not take in strangers."
"Certainly, certainly! only you see," touching Elijah knowingly in the ribs, "I'm not a stranger, but a cousin, you understand, a cousin, and ready to make myself agreeable to one" with a bow to Mehalah, "and useful to the other," with a tap on Rebow's arm.
"You can settle all you have to say on business in an hour if you stick to it, and then you can be gone," said Elijah in ill temper, withdrawing his arm from the familiar touch.
"Certainly, certainly," said Timothy. "I thought I might just settle in here, and I would make myself a most invaluable member of the family. You, old gentleman, with your affliction, want an overlooker to the farm, and who could serve your purpose better than myself? I could devote my time to your affairs � "
"I don't want you." exclaimed Rebow angrily. "Why have you come here, you meddling puppy? I know you and your ways. You got into Pettican's house hanging on to the skirts of his wife, and then made mischief between man and wife; and now you come here to play the same game; you come because I am blind and helpless, and sneaking behind my Glory; you want to steal in to play the fool with her and set us one against the other. We want none of you here. Be off with you. As for the matter of Mehalah's inheritance, the lawyers shall communicate with us, and between you and her. I will not have you set your foot inside my house."
"Stay," said Glory. "I must know if this be really true. Am I really inheritor of such a fortune?"
"I have the will in my pocket."
"Show it me."
Timothy produced the document and read it to Elijah and Mehalah. Both drew near.
"Let me see it!" said Rebow vehemently, and grasped at the paper with nervous hand.
"My good friend," remarked Timothy patronisingly; "the state of your eyes will prevent your being able to read it."
"I must feel it then."
He grasped it fiercely and in a moment tore it with his hands, and then, biting the fragments, rent it further and further.
"For heaven's sake!" exclaimed the young man in dismay.
"Ha! Glory! Did you think I would let you get a fortune of your own, to emancipate you from me?"
He dashed the tatters about him.
"You mad fool!" exclaimed Timothy Spark. "Do you suppose that by such a scurvy trick as this you will despoil my pretty cousin of her money, and perhaps of her liberty?"
"I have done it," shouted Rebow wrathfully. "You cannot make the will whole. I have chewed and swallowed portions, and others the winds have taken into the sea."
"Indeed!" said Timothy. "Do you suppose that this is the original? Of course not. The original will is left with Morrell the lawyer, and this is but a transcript."
Rebow gnashed his teeth.
"It seems to me," said Timothy, "that after all I shall be called upon to step in between husband and wife, and to protect my pretty dark-eyed, rosy-lipped cousin. I am sure you have a spare room where I can have a shake -down."