In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 42

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Oliver Menaida was summoned to Bristol by the heads of the firm which he served, and he was there detained for ten days.

Whilst he was away, Uncle Zachie felt his solitude greatly. Had he had even Jamie with him he might have been content, but to be left completely alone was a trial to him, especially since he had become accustomed to having the young Trevisa in his house. He missed his music. Judith's playing had been to him an inexpressibly great delight. The old man for many years had gone on strumming and fumbling at music by great masters, incapable of executing it, and unwilling to hear it performed by incompetent instrumentalists. At length Judith had seated herself at his piano, and had brought into life all that wondrous world of melody and harmony which he had guessed at, believed in, yearned for, but never reached. And now that he was left without her to play to him, he felt like one deprived of a necessary of life.

But his unrest did not spring solely from a selfish motive. He was not at ease in his mind about her. Why did he not see her anymore? Why was she confined to Pentyre? Was she ill? Was she restrained there against her will from visiting her old friends? Mr. Menaida was very unhappy because of Judith. He knew that she was resolved never to acknowledge Coppinger as her real husband; she did not love him, she shrank from him. And knowing what he did—the story of the invasion of the wreck, the fight with Oliver—he felt that there was no brutality, no crime which Coppinger was not capable of committing, and he trembled for the happiness of the poor little creature who was in his hands. Weak and irresolute though Mr. Menaida was, he was peppery and impulsive when irritated, and his temper had been roused by the manner of his reception at the Glaze, when he went there to inquire after Judith.

Whilst engaged on his birds, his hand shook, so that he could not shape them aright. When he smoked his pipe, he pulled it from between his lips every moment to growl out some remark. When he sipped his grog, he could not enjoy it. He had a tender heart, and he had become warmly attached to Judith. He firmly believed in identification of the ruffian with whom Oliver had fought on the deck, and it was horrible to think that the poor child was at his mercy; and that she had no one to counsel and to help her.

At length he could endure the suspense no longer. One evening, after he had drank a good many glasses of rum and water, he jumped up, put on his hat, and went off to Pentyre, determined to insist on seeing Judith.

As he approached the house he saw that the hall windows were lighted up. He knew which was Judith's room, from what she had told him of its position. There was a light in that window also. Uncle Zachie, flushed with anger against Coppinger, and with the spirits he had drank, anxious about Judith, and resenting the way in which he had been treated, went boldly up to the front door and knocked. A maid answered his knock, and he asked to see Mrs. Coppinger. The woman hesitated, and bade him be seated in the porch. She would go and see.

Presently Miss Trevisa came, and shut the door behind her, as she emerged into the porch.

"I should like to see Mrs. Coppinger," said the old man.

"I am sorry—you cannot," answered Miss Trevisa.

"But why not?"

"This is not a fit hour at which to call."

"May I see her if I come at any other hour?"

"I cannot say."

"Why may I not see her?"

"She is unwell."

"If she is unwell, then I am very certain she would be glad to see Uncle Zachie."

"Of that I am no judge, but you cannot be admitted now."

"Name the day, the hour, when I may."

"That I am not at liberty to do."

"What ails her? Where is Jamie."

"Jamie is here in good hands."

"And Judith."

"She is in good hands."

"In good hands!" exclaimed Mr. Menaida, "I should like to see the good, clean hands worn by anyone in this house, except my dear, innocent little Judith. I must and will see her. I must know from her own lips how she is. I must see that she is happy—or at least not maltreated."

"Your words are an insult to me, her aunt, and to Captain Coppinger, her husband," said Miss Trevisa, haughtily.

"Let me have a word with Captain Coppinger."

"He is not at home."

"Not at home!—I hear a great deal of noise. There must be a number of guests in the hall. Who is entertaining them, you or Judith?"

"That is no concern of yours, Mr. Menaida."

"I do not believe that Captain Coppinger is not at home. I insist on seeing him."

"Were you to see him—you would regret it afterwards. He is not a person to receive impertinences and pass them over. You have already behaved in a most indecent manner, in encouraging my niece, to visit your house, and sit, and talk, and walk with, and call by his Christian name, that young fellow, your son."

"Oliver!" Mr. Menaida was staggered. It had never occurred to his fuddled, yet simple mind, that the intimacy that had sprung up between the young people was capable of misinterpretation. The sense that he had laid himself open to this charge made him very angry, not with himself, but with Coppinger and with Miss Trevisa.

"I'll tell you what," said the old man, "if you will not let me in I suppose you will not object to my writing a line to Judith?"

"I have received orders to allow of no communication of any kind whatsoever between my niece and you or your house."

"You have received orders—from Coppinger?" the old man flamed with anger. "Wait a bit! There is no command issued that you are not to take a message from me to your master?"

He put his hand into his pocket, pulled out a note-book, and tore out of it a page. Then, by the light from the hall window, he scribbled on it a few lines in pencil.

"Sir! You are a scoundrel. You bully your wife. You rob, and attempt to murder those who are shipwrecked. Zachary Menaida."

"There," said the old man, "that will draw him, and I shall see him, and have it out with him."

He had wafers in his pocket-book. He wetted and sealed the note. Then he considered that he had not said enough, so he opened the page again, and added: "I shall tell all the world what I know about you." Then he fastened the note again, and directed it. But as it suddenly occurred to him that Captain Coppinger might refuse to open the letter, he added on the outside, "The contents I know by heart, and shall proclaim them on the house-tops." He thrust the note into Miss Trevisa's hand, and turned his back on the house, and walked home snorting and muttering. On reaching Polzeath, however, he had cooled, and thought that possibly he had done a very foolish thing, and that most certainty he had in no way helped himself to what he desired, to see Judith again. Moreover, with a qualm, he became aware that Oliver, on his return from Bristol, would in all probability greatly disapprove of this fiery outburst of temper. To what would it lead? Could he fight Captain Coppinger? If it came to that, he was ready. With all his faults Mr. Menaida was no coward.

On entering his house he found Oliver there, just arrived from Camelford. He at once told him what he had done. Oliver did not reproach him; he merely said, "A declaration of war, father! and a declaration before we are quite prepared."

"Well—I suppose so. I could not help myself. I was so incensed."

"The thing we have to consider," said Oliver, "is what Judith wishes, and how it is to be carried out. Some communication must be opened with her. If she desires to leave the house of that fellow, we must get her away. If, however, she elects to remain, our hands are tied: we can do nothing."

"It is very unfortunate that Jamie is no longer here; we could have sent her a letter through him."

"He has been removed to prevent anything of the sort taking place."

Then Oliver started up. "I will go and reconnoitre, myself."

"No," said the father. "Leave all to me. You must on no account meddle in this matter."

"Why not?"

"Because"—the old man coughed. " Do you not understand—you are a young man."

Oliver colored, and said no more. He had not great confidence in his father's being able to do anything effectual for Judith. The step he had recently taken was injudicious and dangerous, and could further the end in view in no way.

He said no more to old Mr. Menaida, but he resolved to act himself, in spite of the remonstrance made and the objection raised by his father. No sooner was the elder man gone to bed, than he sallied forth and took the direction of Pentyre. It was a moonlight night. Clouds indeed rolled over the sky, and for awhile obscured the moon, but a moment after it flared forth again. A little snow had fallen and frosted the ground, making everything unburied by the white flakes to seem inky black. A cold wind whistled mournfully over the country. Oliver walked on, not feeling the cold, so glowing were his thoughts, and came within sight of the Glaze. His father had informed him that there were guests in the hall; but when he approached the house, he could see no lights from the windows. Indeed, the whole house was dark, as though everyone in it were asleep, or it were an uninhabited ruin. That most of the windows had shutters he was aware, and that these might be shut so as to exclude the chance of any ray issuing he also knew. He could not therefore conclude that all the household had retired for the night.

The moon was near its full. It hung high aloft in an almost cloudless sky. The air was comparatively still—still it never is on that coast, nor is it ever unthrilled by sound. Now, above the throb of the ocean, could be heard the shrill clatter and cry of the gulls. They were not asleep; they were about, fishing or quarrelling in the silver light.

Oliver rather wondered at the house being so hushed—wondered that the guests were all dismissed. He knew in which wing of the mansion was Judith's room, and also which was Judith's window. The pure white light shone on the face of the house and glittered in the window-panes.

As Oliver looked, thinking and wondering-, he saw the casement opened, and Judith appeared at it, leaned with her elbow on the sill, and rested her face in her hand, looking up at the moon. The light air just lifted her fine hair. Oliver noticed how delicately pale and fragile she seemed—white as a gull, fragile as porcelain. He would not disturb her for a moment or two; he stood watching, with an oppression on his heart, and with a film forming over his eyes. Could nothing be done for the little creature? She was moped up in her room. She was imprisoned in this house, and she was wasting, dying in confinement.

And now he stole noiselessly nearer. There was an old cattle-shed adjoining the house, that had lost its roof. Coppinger concerned himself little about agriculture, and the shed that had once housed cows had been suffered to fall to ruin, the slates had been blown off, then the rain had wetted and rotted the rafters, and finally the decayed rafters had fallen with their remaining load of slates, leaving the walls alone standing.

Up one of the sides of this ruinous shed Oliver climbed, and then mounted to the gable, whence he could speak to Judith. But she must have heard him, and been alarmed, for she hastily closed the casement. Oliver, however, did not abandon his purpose. He broke off particles of mortar from the gable of the cow-house and threw them cautiously against the window. No notice was taken of the first or the second particle that dickered against a pane; but at the third a shadow appeared at the window, as though Judith had come to the casement to look out. Oliver was convinced that he could be seen, as he was on the very summit of the gable, and he raised his hands and arms to ensure attention.

Suddenly the shadow was withdrawn. Then hastily he drew forth a scrap of paper, on which he had written a few words before he left his father's house, in the hopes of obtaining a chance of passing it to Judith, through Jamie, or by bribing a servant. This he now wrapped round a bit of stone and fastened it with a thread. Next moment the casement was opened and the shadow reappeared.

"Back!" whispered Oliver, sufficiently loud to be heard, and he dexterously threw the stone and the letter through the open window.

Next moment the casement was shut and the curtains were drawn.

He waited for full a quarter of an hour but no answer was returned.