In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 31
AMONG THE SAND-HEAPS.
Coppinger held her in his arms, shook her hair out that it streamed over his arm, and looked into her up-turned face. "Indeed you are light, lighter than when I bore you in my arms before; and you are thin and white, and the eyes, how red. You have been crying. What! this spirit, strong as a steel spring, so subdued that it gives way to weeping!"
Judith's eyes were closed against the strong light from the sky above, and against the sight of his face bent over hers, and the fire glint of his eyes, dark as a thundercloud and as charged with lightnings. And now there was a flashing of fire from them, of love and pride and admiration. The strong man trembled beneath his burden in the vehemence of his emotion. The boiling and paining of his heart within him, as he held the frail child in his arms, and knew she was to be his own, his own wholly, in a short space. It was for the moment to him as though all earth and sea and heaven were dissolved with nebulous chaos, and the only life—the only pulses in the universe—were in him and the little creature he held to his breast. He looked into her face, down on her as Vesuvius must have looked down on lovely, marble, white Pompeii, with its gilded roofs and incense-scented temples, and restrained itself, as long as restrain its molten heart it could, before it poured forth its fires and consumed the pearly city lying in its arms.
He looked at her closed eyelids with the long golden lashes resting on the dark sunken dip beneath, at the delicate mouth drawn as with pain, at the white temples in which slowly throbbed the blue veins, at the profusion of red-gold hair streaming over his arm and almost touching the ground.
She knew that his eyes—on fire—were on her, and she dared not meet them, for there would be a shrinking from him, no responsive leap of flame from hers.
"Shall I carry you about like this?" he asked. "I could and I would, to the world's end, and leap with you thence into the unfathomed abyss."
Her head, leaning back on his arm, with the gold rain falling from it, exposed her long and delicate throat of exquisite purity of tint and beauty of modelling, and as it lay a little tuft of pink tamarisk blossom, brushed off in her lap into his arms, and then caught in the light edging of her dress, at the neck.
"And you come to me of your own will?" he said.
Then Judith slightly turned her head to avoid his eyes, and said, "I have come—it was unavoidable. Let me down, that we may speak together."
He obeyed with reluctance. Then, standing before him, she bound up and fastened her hair.
"Look!" said he, and threw open his collar. A ribbon was tied about his throat. "Do you see this?" He loosed the band and held it to her. One delicate line of gold ran along the silk, fastened to it by threads at intervals. "Your own hair. The one left with me when you first heard me speak of my heart's wish, and you disdained me and went your way. You left me that one hair, and that one hair I have kept wound round my neck ever since, and it has seemed to me that I might still have caught my goldfish, my saucy goldfish that swam away from my hook at first."
Judith said calmly "Let us walk together somewhere—to St. Enodoc, to my father's grave, and there, over that sand-heap we will settle what must be settled."
"I will go with you where you will. You are my Queen, I your subject—it is my place to obey."
"The subject has sometimes risen and destroyed the Queen; it has been so in France."
"Yes, when the subject has been too hardly treated, too down-trodden, not allowed to look on and adore the Queen."
"And," said Judith further, "let us walk in silence, allow me the little space between here and my father's grave to collect my thoughts, bear with me for that short distance."
"As you will. I am your slave, as I have told you, and you my mistress have but to command."
"Yes, but the slave sometimes becomes the master, and then is all the more tyrannous because of his former servitude."
So they walked together, yet apart, from Polzeath to St. Enodoc, neither speaking, and it might have been a mourner's walk at a funeral. She held her head down, and did not raise her eyes from the ground, but he continued to gaze on her with a glow of triumph and exultation in his face.
They reached at length the deserted church, sunken in the sands; it had a hole broken in the wall under the eaves in the south, rudely barricaded, through which the sacred building might be entered for such functions as a marriage, or the first part of the funeral office that must be performed in a church.
The roof was of pale gray slate, much broken, folding over the rafters like the skins on the ribs of an old horse past work. The church-yard was covered with plain sand. Gravestones were in process of being buried like those whom they commemorated. Some peeped above the sand, with a fat cherub's head peering above the surface. Others stood high on the land side, but were banked up by sand toward the sea. Here the church-yard surface was smooth, there it was tossed with undulations, according as the sand had been swept over portions tenanted by the poor who were uncommemorated with head-stones, or over those where the well-to-do lay with their titles and virtues registered above them.
There was as yet no monument erected over the grave of the Reverend Peter Trevisa, sometime rector of St. Enodoc. The mound had been turfed over and bound down with withes. The loving hands of his daughter had planted some of the old favorite flowers from the long walk at the rectory above where he lay, but they had not as yet taken to the soil, the sand ill agreed with them, and the season of the year when their translation had taken place dissatisfied them, and they looked forlorn, drooping, and doubted whether they would make the struggle to live.
Below the church lay the mouths of the Camel, blue between sand-hills, with the Doom Bar, a long and treacherous band of shifting sands in the midst.
On reaching the graveyard Judith signed to Captain Coppinger to seat himself on a flat tombstone on the south side of her father's grave, and she herself leaned against the headstone that marked her mother's tomb.
"I think we should come to a thorough understanding," she said, with composure, "that you may not expect of me what I cannot give, and know the reason why I give you anything. You call me Goldfish. Why?"
"Because of your golden hair."
"No—that was not what sprung the idea in your brain, it was something I said to you, that you and I stood to each other in the relation of bird of prey to fish, belonging to distinct modes of life and manner of thinking, and that we could never be to one another in any other relation than that, the falcon and his prey, the flame and its fuel, the wreckers and the wrecked."
Coppinger started up and became red as blood.
"These are strange words," he said.
"It is the same that I said before."
"Then why have you given yourself to me?"
"I have resigned myself to you. as I cannot help myself any more than the fish can that is pounced on by the sea-bird, or the fuel that is enveloped by the flame, or the ship that is boarded by the wrecker."
She looked at him steadily; he was quivering with excitement, anger, and disappointment.
"It is quite right that you should know what to expect, and make no more demands on me that I am capable of answering. You cannot ask of me that I should become like you, and I do not entertain the foolish thought that you could be brought to be like me—to see through my eyes, feel with my heart. My dead father lies between us now, and he will ever be between us—he a man of pure life, noble aspirations, a man of books, of high principle, fearing God and loving men. What he was he tried to make me. Imperfectly, faultily, I follow him, but though unable to be like him, I strive after what he showed me should be my ideal."
"You are a child. You will be a woman, and new thoughts will come to you."
"Will they be good and honorable and contented thoughts? Shall I find those in your house?"
Coppinger did not reply, his brows were drawn together and his face became dark.
"Why," then, have you promised to come to me?"
"Because of Jamie."
He uttered an oath, and with his hands clenched the upper stone of the tomb.
"I have promised my aunt that I will accept you, if you will suffer my poor brother to live where I live, and suffer me to be his protector. He is helpless and must have someone to think and watch for him. My aunt would have sent him to Mr. Obadiah Scantlebray's asylum, and that would have been fatal to him. To save him from that I said that I would be yours, on the condition that my home should be his home. I have passed my word to my aunt, and I will not go from it, but that does not mean that I have changed my belief that we are unfitted for each other, because we belong to different orders of being."
"This is cold comfort."
"It is cold as ice, but it is all that I have to give to you. I wish to put everything plainly before you now, that there may be no misapprehension later, and you may be asking of me what I cannot give, and be angry at not receiving what I never promised to surrender."
"So! I am only accepted for the sake of that boy, Jamie."
"It is painful for me to say what I do—as painful as it must be for you to hear it, but I cannot help myself. I wish to put all boldly and hardly before you before an irrevocable step is taken such as might make us both wretched. I take you for Jamie's sake. Were his happiness, his well-being not in the scale, I would not take you. I would remain free."
"That is plain enough," exclaimed Coppinger, setting his teeth, and he broke off a piece of the tombstone on which he was half sitting.
"You will ask of me love, honor, and obedience. I will do my best to love you—like you I do now, for you have been kind and good to me, and I can never forget what you have done for me. But it is a long leap from liking to loving, still I will try my best, and if I fail it will not be for lack of effort. Honor is another matter. That lies in your own power to give. If you behave as a good and worthy man to your fellows, and justly toward me, of course I shall honor you. I must honor what is deserving of honor, and where I honor there I may come to love. I cannot love where I do not honor, so perhaps I may say that my heart is in your hands, and that if those hands are clean and righteous in their dealings it may become yours some time. As to obedience—that you shall command. That I will render to you frankly and fully in all things lawful."
"You offer me an orange from which all the juice has been squeezed, a nut without a kernel."
"I offer you all I have to offer. Is it worth your while having this?"
"Yes!" said he angrily, starting up, "I will have what I can and wring the rest out of you, when once you are mine."
"You never will wring anything out of me. I give what I may, but nothing will I yield to force."
He looked at her sullenly and said, "A child in years with an old head and a stony heart."
"I have always lived with my father, and so have come to think like one that is old," said Judith, "and now, alone in the world, I must think with ripened wits."
"I do not want that precocious, wise soul, if that be the kernel. I will have the shell—the glorious shell. Keep your wisdom and righteousness and piety for yourself. I do not value them a rush. But your love I will have."
"I have told you there is but one way by which that may be won. But indeed, Captain Coppinger, you have made a great mistake in thinking of me. I am not suited to you to make you happy and content; any more than you are suited to me. Look out for some girl more fit to be your mate."
"Of what sort? Come, tell me!" said Coppinger scornfully.
"A fine, well-built girl, dark-haired, dark-eyed,with cheeks like apricots, lively in mood, with nimble tongue, good-natured, not bookish, not caring for brush or piano, but who can take a rough word and return it; who will not wince at an oath, and shrink away at coarse words flung about where she is. All these things you know very well must be encountered by your wife, in your house. Did you ever read 'Hamlet,' Captain Coppinger?"
He made no answer, he was plucking at the slab-cover of the tomb and grinding his heels into the sand.
"In 'Hamlet,' we read of a king poisoned by his queen, who dipped the juice of cursed hebenon into his ears, and it curdled all his blood. It is the same with the sort of language that is found in your house when your seamen are there. I cannot endure it, it curdles my heart—choose a girl who is indifferent."
"You shall not be subjected to it," said Coppinger, "and as to the girl you have sketched—I care not for her—such as you describe are to be found thick as whortleberries on a moor. Do you not know that man seeks in marriage not his counterpart but his contrast? It is because you are in all things different from me that I love you."
"Then will naught that I have said make you desist?"
"I have told you that I take you only so as to be able to make a home for Jamie."
"And that I do not love you and hardly think I can ever."
"And still you will have me?"
"And that by taking me you wreck my life—spoil my happiness."
He raised his head, then dropped it again and said, "Yes."
She remained silent, also looking on the ground. Presently she raised her head and said: "I gave you a chance, and you have cast it from you. I am sorry."
"A chance? "What chance?"
"The chance of taking a first step up the ladder in my esteem."
"I do not understand you."
"Therefore I am sorry."
"What is your meaning?"
"Captain Coppinger," said Judith, firmly, looking straight into his dark face and flickering eyes, "I am very, very sorry. When I told you that I accepted your offer only because I could not help myself, because I was a poor, feeble orphan, with a great responsibility laid on me, the charge of my unfortunate brother; that I only accepted you for his sake when I told you that I did not love you, that our characters, our feelings were so different that it would be misery to me to become your wife; —that it would be the ruin of my life, then—had you been a man of generous soul, you would have said—I will not force myself upon you, but I will do one thing for you, assist you in protecting Jamie from the evil that menaces him. Had you said that I would have honored you, and as I said just now, where I honor, there I may love. But you could not think such a thought, no such generous feeling stirred you. You held me to my bond."
"I hold you to your bond," exclaimed Coppinger, in loud rage. "I hold you, indeed. Even though you can neither love nor honor me, you shall be mine. You likened me to a bird of prey that must have its prey or die, to a fire—and that must have its fuel—to a wrecker, and he must have his wreck, I care not. I will have you as mine, whether you love me or not."
"So be it, then," said Judith, sadly. "You had your opportunity and have put it from you. We understand each other. The slave is master—and a tyrant."