In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 7

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No sleep visited Judith's eyes that night till the first streaks of dawn appeared, though she was weary, and her frail body and over-exerted brain needed the refreshment of sleep. But sleep she could not, for cares were gathering upon her.

She had often heard her father, when speaking of Mr. Menaida, lament that he was not a little more self-controlled in his drinking. It was not that the old fellow ever became inebriated, but that he hankered after the bottle, and was wont to take a nip continually to strengthen his nerves, steady his hand, or clear his brain. There was ever ready some excuse satisfactory to his own conscience; and it was due to these incessant applications to the bottle that his hand shook, his eyes became watery, and his nose red. It was a danger Judith must guard against, lest this trick should be picked up by the childish Jamie, always apt to imitate what he should not, and acquire habits easily gained, hardly broken, that were harmful to himself. Uncle Zachie, in his good-nature, would lead the boy after him into the same habits that marred his own life.

This was one thought that worked like a mole all night in Judith's brain; but she had other troubles as well to keep her awake. She was alarmed at the consequences of her conduct in the lane. She wondered whether Coppinger were more seriously hurt than had at first appeared. She asked herself whether she had not acted wrongly when she acted inconsiderately, whether in her precipitation to protect herself she had not misjudged Coppinger, whether, if he had attempted to strike her, it would not have been a lesser evil to receive the blow, than to ward it off in such a manner as to break his bones. Knowing by report the character of the man, she feared that she had incurred his deadly animosity. He could not, that she could see, hurt herself in the execution of his resentment, but he might turn her aunt out of his house. That she had affronted her aunt she was aware; Mrs. Trevisa's manner in parting with her had shown that with sufficient plainness.

A strange jumble of sounds on the piano startled Judith. Her first thought and fear were that her brother had gone to the instrument, and was amusing himself on the keys. But on listening attentively she was aware that there was sufficient sequence in the notes to make it certain that the performer was a musician, though lacking in facility of execution. She descended the stairs and entered the little sitting-room. Uncle Zachie was seated on the music-stool, and was endeavoring to play a sonata of Beethoven that was vastly beyond the capacity of his stiff-jointed fingers. Whenever he made a false note he uttered a little grunt and screwed up his eyes, endeavored to play the bar again, and perhaps accomplish it only to break down in the next.

Judith did not venture to interrupt him. She took up some knitting, and seated herself near the piano, where he might see her without her disturbing him. He raised his brows, grunted, floundered into false harmony, and exclaimed, "Bless me! how badly they do print music nowadays. Who, without the miraculous powers of a prophet, could tell that B should be natural?" Then, turning his head over his shoulder, addressed Judith,

"Good-morning, missie. Are you fond of music?"

"Yes, sir, very."

"So you think. Everyone says he or she is fond of music, because that person can hammer out a psalm tune or play the 'Rogue's March.' I hate to hear those who call themselves musical strum on a piano. They can't feel, they only execute."

"But they can play their notes correctly," said Judith, and then flushed with vexation at having made this pointed and cutting remark. But it did not cause Mr. Menaida to wince.

"What of that? I give not a thank-you for mere literal music-reading. Call Jump, set 'Shakespeare' before her, and she will hammer out a scene—correctly as to words; but where is the sense? Where the life? You must play with the spirit and play with the standing also, as you must read with the spirit and read with the understanding also. It is the same thing with bird-stuffing. Any fool can ram tow into a skin and thrust wires into the neck, but what is the result? You must stuff birds with the spirit and stuff with the understanding also—or it is naught."

"I suppose it is the same with everything one does—one must do it heartily and intelligently."

"Exactly! Now you should see my boy, Oliver. Have you ever met him?"

"I think I have; but, to be truthful, I do not recollect him, sir."

"I will bring you his likeness—in miniature. It is in the next room." Up jumped Mr. Menaida, and ran through the opening in the wall, and returned in another moment with the portrait, and gave it into Judith's hands.

"A fine fellow is Oliver! Look at his nose how straight it is. Not like mine—that is a pump-handle. He got his good looks from his mother, not from me. Ah!" He reseated himself at the piano, and ran—incorrectly—over a scale. "It is all the pleasure I have in life, to think of my boy, and to look at his picture, and read his letters, and drink the port he sends me first-rate stuff. He writes admirable letters, and never a month passes but I receive one. It would come expensive if he wrote direct, so his letter is enclosed in the business papers sent to the house at Bristol, and they forward it to me. You shall read his last—out loud. It will give me a pleasure to hear it read by you."

"If I read properly, Mr. Menaida—with the spirit and with the understanding."

"Exactly! But you could not fail to do that looking at the cheerful face in the miniature, and reading his words—pleasant and bright as himself. Pity you have not seen him; well, that makes something to live for. He has dark hair and blue eyes—not often met together, and when associated, very refreshing. Wait! I'll go after the letter: only, bless my soul! where is it? What coat did I have on when I read it? I'll call Jump. She may remember. Wait! do you recall this?"

He stumbled over something on the keys which might have been anything.

"It is Haydn. I will tell you what I think: Mozart I delight in as a companion; Beethoven I revere as a master; but Haydn I love as a friend. You were about to say something?"

Judith had set an elbow on the piano and put her hand to her head, her fingers through the hair, and was looking into Uncle Zachie's face with an earnestness he could not mistake. She did desire to say something to him; but if she waited till he gave her an opportunity she might wait a long time. He jumped from one subject to another with alacrity, and with rapid forgetfulness of what he was last speaking about.

"Oh, sir, I am so very, very grateful to you for having received us into your snug little house——"

"You like it? Well, I only pay seven pounds for it. Cheap, is it not? Two cottages—laborers' cottages—thrown together. Well, I might go farther and fare worse."

"And, Mr. Menaida, I venture to ask you another favor, which, if you will grant me, you will lay me under an eternal obligation."

"You may command me, my dear."

"It is only this: not to let Jamie have anything stronger than a glass of cider. I do not mind his having that; but a boy like him does not need what is, no doubt, wanted by you who are getting old. I am so afraid of the habit growing on him of looking for and liking what is too strong for him. He is such a child, so easily led, and so unable to control himself. It may be a fancy, a prejudice of mine"—she passed her nervous hand over her face—"I do hope I am not offending you, dear Mr. Menaida; but I know Jamie so well, and I know how carefully he must be watched and checked. If it be a silly fancy of mine—and perhaps it is only a silly fancy—yet," she put on a pleading tone, "you will humor me in this, will you not, Mr. Menaida?"

"Bless my soul! you have only to express a wish and I will fulfil it. For myself, you must know, I am a little weak; I feel a chill when the wind turns north or east, and am always relaxed when it is in the south or west; that forces me to take something just to save me from serious inconvenience, you understand."

"Oh quite, sir."

"And then—confound it!—I am goaded on to work when disinclined. Why, there's a letter come to me now from Plymouth—a naturalist there, asking for more birds; and what can I do? I slave, I am at it all day, half the night; I have no time to eat or sleep. I was not born to stuff birds. I take it as an amusement, a pastime, and it is converted into a toil. I must brace up my exhausted frame; it is necessary to my health, you understand?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Menaida. And you really will humor my childish whim?"

"Certainly, you may rely on me."

"That is one thing I wanted to say. Yon see, sir, we have but just come into your house, and already, last night, Jamie was tempted to disobey me, and take what I thought unadvisable, so—I have been turning it over and over in my head—I thought I would like to come to a clear understanding with you, Mr. Menaida. It seems ungracious in me, but you must pity me. I have now all responsibility for Jamie on my head, and I have to do what my conscience tells me I should do; only, I pray you, do not take offence at what I have said."

"Fudge! my dear; you are right, I dare say."

"And now that I have your promise—I have that, have I not?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Now I want your opinion, if you will kindly give it me. I have no father, no mother, to go to for advice; and so I venture to appeal to you—it is about Captain Coppinger."

"Captain Coppinger!" repeated Uncle Zachie, screwing up his brows and mouth. "Umph! He is a bold man who can give help against Captain Coppinger, and a strong man as well as bold. How has he wronged you?"

"Oh! he has not wronged me. It is I who have hurt him."

"You—you?" Uncle Zachie laughed. "A little creature such as you could not hurt Captain Cruel!"

"But, indeed, I have; I have thrown him down and broken his arms and some of his bones."

"You!" Uncle Zachie's face of astonishment and dismay was so comical that Judith, in spite of her anxiety and exhaustion, smiled; but the smile was without brightness.

"And pray, how in the name of wonder did you do that? Upon my word, you will deserve the thanks of the Preventive men. They have no love for him; they have old scores they would gladly wipe off with a broken arm, or, better still, a cracked skull. And pray how did you do this? With the flour-roller?"

"No, sir, I will tell you the whole story."

Then, in its true sequence, with great clearness, she related the entire narrative of events. She told how her father, even with his last breath, had spoken of Coppinger as the man who had troubled his life by marring his work; how that the Captain had entered the parsonage without ceremony when her dear father was lying dead up-stairs, and how he had called there boisterously for Aunt Dionysia because he wanted something of her. She told the old man how that her own feelings had been wrought, by this affront, into anger against Coppinger. Then she related the incident in the lane, and how that, when he raised his arm against her, she had dashed the buttons into his face, frightened his horse, and so produced an accident that might have cost the Captain his life.

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Mr. Menaida, "and what do you want? Is it an assault? I will run to my law-books and find out; I don't know that it can quite be made out a case of misadventure."

"It is not that, sir."

"Then what do you want?"

"I have been racking my head to think what I ought to do under the circumstances. There can be no doubt that I aggravated him. I was very angry, both because he had been a trouble to my darling papa, and then because he had been so insolent as to enter our house and shout for Aunt Dunes; but there was something more—he had tried to beat Jamie, and it was my father's day of burial. All that roused a bad spirit in me, and I did say very bad words to him—words a man of metal would not bear from even a child, and I suppose I really did lash him to madness, and he would have struck me—but perhaps not, he might have thought better of it. I provoked him, and then I brought about what happened. I have been considering what I ought to do. If I remain here and take no notice, then he will think me very unfeeling, and that I do not care that I have hurt him in mind and body. It came into my head last night that I would ask aunt to apologize to him for what I had done, or, better still, should aunt not come here to-day, which is very likely, that I might walk with Jamie to Pentyre and inquire how Captain Coppinger is, and send in word by my aunt that I am sorry—very sorry."

"Upon my soul, I don't know what to say. I could not have done this to Coppinger myself for a good deal of money. I think if I had, I would get out of the place as quickly as possible, while he was crippled by his broken bones. But then, you are a girl, and he may take it better from you than from me. Well—yes; I think it would be advisable to allay his anger if you can. Upon my word, you have put yourself into a difficult position. I'll go and look at my law-books, just for my own satisfaction."

A heavy blow on the door, and without waiting for a response and invitation to enter, it was thrown open, and there entered Cruel Coppinger, his arm bandaged, tied in splints, and bound to his body, with his heavy walking-stick brandished by the uninjured hand. He stood for a moment glowering in, searching the room with his keen eyes till they rested on Judith. Then he made an attempt to raise his hand to his head, but ineffectually.

"Curse it!" said he, "I cannot do it; don't tear it off my head with your eyes, girl. Here, you Menaida, come here and take my hat off. Come instantly, or she—she will do—the devil knows what she will not do to me."

He turned, and with his stick beat the door back, that it slammed behind him.