In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 43
THE SECOND TIME.
No sooner had Oliver thrown the stone with note tied round it into Judith's room through the window, than he descended from a position which he esteemed too conspicuous should anyone happen to be about in the night near the house. He ensconced himself beneath the cow-shed wall in the shadow, where concealed, but was ready should the casement open to step forth and show himself.
He had not been there many minutes before he heard steps and voices, one of which he immediately recognized as that of Cruel Coppinger. Oliver had not been sufficiently long in the neighborhood to know the men in it by their voices, but looking round the corner of the wall he saw two figures against the horizon, one with hands in his pockets, and by the general slouch, he thought that he recognized the sexton of S. Enodoc.
"The Black Prince will be in before long," said Coppinger. "I mean next week or fortnight, and I must have the goods shored here, this time. She will stand off Porth-leze, and mind you get information conveyed to the captain of the coastguard that she will run her cargo there. Remember that. We must have a clear coast here. The stores are empty and must be refilled."
"Yes, your honor."
"You have furnished him with the key to the signals?"
"And from Porth-leze there are to be signals to the Black Prince to come on here—but so that they may be read the other way—you understand?"
"And what do they give you every time you carry them a bit of information?"
"A munificent government payment! and what did they give you for the false code of signals?"
"Half a crown."
"Then here is half a guinea—and a crown for every lie you impose on them."
Then Coppinger and the sexton went further. As soon as Oliver thought he could escape unobserved he withdrew and returned to Polzeath.
Next day he had a talk with his father.
"I have had opinions, in Bristol," said he, relative to the position of Judith."
"Well—and what did they say?"
"One said one thing and one another. I stated the case of her marriage, its incompletion, the unsigned register, and one opinion was that nevertheless she was Mrs. Coppinger. But another opinion was that, in consequence of the incompleteness of the marriage, it was none—she was Miss Trevisa. Father, before I went to the barristers and obtained their opinions, I was as wise as I am now, for I knew then, what I know now, that she is either Mrs. Coppinger, or else that she is Miss Trevisa."
"I could have told you as much."
"It seems to me—but I may be uncharitable," said Oliver, grimly, "that the opinion given was this way or that way according as I showed myself interested for the legality or against the legality of the marriage. Both of those to whom I applied regarded the case as interesting and deserving of being thrashed out in a court of law, and gave their opinions so as to induce me to embark in a suit. You understand what I mean, father? When I seemed urgent that the marriage should be pronounced none at all, then the verdict of the consulting barrister was that it was no marriage at all, and very good reasons he was able to produce to show that. But when I let it be supposed that my object was to get this marriage established against certain parties keenly interested in disputing it, I got an opinion that it was a good and legal marriage, and very good reasons were produced to sustain this conclusion."
"I could have told you as much—and this has cost you money?"
"And left you without any satisfaction?"
"No satisfaction is to be got out of law—that is why I took to stuffing birds."
"What is that noise at the door?" asked Oliver.
"There is some one trying to come in, and fumbling at the hasp," said his father.
Oliver went to the door and opened it—to find Jamie there, trembling, white, and apparently about to faint. He could not speak, but he held out a note to Oliver.
"What is the matter with you?" asked the young man.
The boy, however, did not answer, but ran to Mr. Menaida, and crouched behind him.
"He has been frightened," said the old man. "Leave him alone. He will come round presently and I will give him a drop of spirits to rouse him up. What letter is that?"
Oliver looked at the little note given him. It had been sealed, but torn open afterward. It was addressed to him, and across the address was written in bold, coarse letters with a pencil, "Seen and passed. C. C." Oliver opened the letter and read as follows:
"I pray you leave me. Do not trouble yourself about me. Nothing can now be done for me. My great concern is for Jamie. But I entreat you to be very cautious about yourself where you go. You are in danger. Your life is threatened, and you do not know it. I must not explain myself, but I warn you. Go out of the country—that would be best. Go back to Portugal. I shall not be at ease in my mind till I know that you are gone, and gone unhurt. My dear love to Mr. Menaida—Judith."
The hand that had written this letter had shaken, the letters were hastily and imperfectly formed. Was this the hand of Judith who had taught Jamie caligraphy, had written out his copies as neatly and beautifully as copper-plate?
Judith had sent him this answer by her brother, and Jamie had been stopped, forced to deliver up the missive, which Coppinger had opened and read. Oliver did not for a moment doubt whence the danger sprang with which he was menaced. Coppinger had suffered the warning to be conveyed to him with contemptuous indifference—it was as though he had scored across the letter—"Be forewarned, take what precautions you will—you shall not escape me."
The first challenge had come from old Menaida, but Coppinger passed over that as undeserving of attention, but he proclaimed his readiness to cross swords with the young man. And Oliver could not deny that he had given occasion for this. Without counting the cost, without considering the risk; nay, further, without weighing the right and wrong in the matter, Oliver had allowed himself to slip into terms of some familiarity with Judith, harmless enough were she unmarried, but hardly calculated to be so regarded by a husband. They had come to consider each other as cousins, or they had pretended so to consider each other, so as to justify a half-affectionate, half-intimate association, and before he was aware of it Oliver had lost his heart. He could not and he would not regard Judith as the wife of Coppinger, because he knew that she absolutely refused to be so regarded by him, by herself, by his father, though by appearing at the ball with Coppinger, by living in his house, she allowed the world to so consider her. Was she his wife? He could not suppose it when she had refused to conclude the marriage ceremony, when there was no documentary evidence for the marriage. Let the question be mooted in a court of law; what could the witnesses say, but that she had fainted, and that all the latter portion of the ceremony had been performed over her when unconscious, and that on her recovery of her faculties she had resolutely persisted in resistance to the affixing of her signature to the register.
With respect to Judith's feelings toward himself Oliver was ignorant. She had taken pleasure in his society, because he had made himself agreeable to her, and his company was a relief to her after the solitude of Pentyre and the association there with persons with whom she was wholly out of sympathy.
His quarrel with Coppinger had shifted ground. At first he had resolved, should occasion offer, to conclude with him the contest begun on the wreck, and to chastise him for his conduct on that night. Now, he thought little of that cause of resentment, he desired to punish him for having been the occasion of so much misery to Judith. He could not now drive from his head the scene of the girl's wan face at the window, looking up at the moon.
Oliver would shrink from doing anything dishonorable, but it did not seem to him that there could be aught wrong and unbecoming a gentleman in endeavoring to snatch this hapless child from the claws of the wild beast that had struck it down.
"No, father," said he hastily, as the old fellow was pouring out a pretty strong dose of his great specific and about to administer it to Jamie, "no father, it is not that the boy wants; and remember how strongly Judith objects to his being given spirits."
"Dear, dear!" exclaimed Uncle Zachie, "to be sure she does, and she made me promise not to give him any. But this is an exceptional case."
"Let him come to me, I will soothe him. The child is frightened, or stay, get him to help you with that kittiwake. Jamie, father can't get the bird to look natural; his head does not seem to me to be right. Did you ever see a kittiwake turn his neck in that fashion? I wish you would put your fingers to the throat, and bend it about, and set the wadding where it ought to be. Father and I can't agree about it."
"It is wrong," said Jamie. "Look, this is the way." His mind was diverted. Always volatile, always ready to be turned from one thing to another, Oliver had succeeded in interesting him, and had made him forget for a moment the terrors that had shaken him.
After Jamie had been in the house for half an hour, Oliver advised him to return to the Glaze. He would give him no message, verbal or written. But the thought of having to return renewed the poor child's fears, and Oliver could hardly allay them by promising to accompany him part of the way.
Oliver was careful not to speak to him on the subject of his alarm, but he gathered from his disjointed talk that Judith had given him the note and impressed on him that it was to be delivered as secretly as possible; that Coppinger had intercepted him, and suspecting something, had threatened and frightened him into divulging the truth. Then Captain Cruel had read the letter, scored over it some words in pencil, given it back to him, and ordered him to fulfil his commission, to deliver the note.
"Look you here, Jamie," was Mr. Menaida's parting injunction to the lad as he left the house, "there's no reason for you to be idle when at Pentyre. You can make friends with some of the men and get birds shot. I don't advise your having a gun, you are not careful enough. But if they shoot birds you may amuse your leisure in skinning them, and I gave Judith arsenic for you. She keeps it in her workbox, and will let you have sufficient for your purpose as you need it. I would not give it to you, as it might be dangerous in your hands as a gun. It is a deadly poison, and with carelessness you might kill a man. But go to Judith when you have a skin ready to dress and she will see that you have sufficient for the dressing. There, good-by, and bring me some skins shortly."
Oliver accompanied the boy as far as the gate that led into the lane between the walls enclosing the fields of the Pentyre estate. Jamie pressed him to come farther, but this the young man would not do. He bade the poor lad farewell, bid him divert himself as his father had advised, with bird stuffing, and remained at the gate watching him depart. The boy's face and feebleness touched and stirred the heart of Oliver. The face reminded him so strongly of his twin sister, but it was the shadow, the pale shadow of Judith only, without the intelligence, the character, and the force. And the helplessness of the child, his desolation, his condition of nervous alarm roused the young man's pity. He was startled by a shot, that struck his gray hat simultaneously with the report.
In a moment he sprang over the hedge in the direction whence the smoke rose, and came upon Cruel Coppinger with a gun.
"Oh, you!" said the latter, with a sneer, "I thought I was shooting a rabbit."
"This is the second time," said Oliver.
"The first," was Coppinger's correction.
"Not so—the second time you have levelled at me. The first was on the wreck when I struck up your hand."
Coppinger shrugged his shoulders. "It is immaterial. The third time is lucky, folks say."
The two men looked at each other with hostility.
"Your father has insulted me," said Coppinger. "Are you ready to take up his cause? I will not fight an old fool."
"I am ready to take up his cause, mine also, and that of—— " Oliver checked himself.
"And that of whom?" asked Coppinger, white with rage, and in a quivering voice.
"The cause of my father and mine own will suffice," said Oliver.
"And when shall we meet?" asked Captain Cruel, leaning on his gun and glaring at his young antagonist over it.
"When and where suits me," answered Oliver, coldly.
"And when and where may that be?"
"When and where!—when and where I can come suddenly on you as you came on me upon the wreck. With such as you—one does not observe the ordinary rules."
"Very well," shouted Coppinger. "When and where suits you, and when and where suits me—that is, whenever we meet again—we meet finally."
Then each turned and strode away.