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   Chapter 5 No.5

Julia And Her Romeo: A Chronicle Of Castle Barfield / From Schwartz" by David Christie Murray" By David Christie Murray Characters: 17209

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mrs. Jenny Rusker, who was half dead with fear of an exposé of her part in this unlucky love-affair, was additionally prostrated by the dire reversal of all her hopes by Samson Mountain's ultimatum. Mrs. Mountain, with the aid of a female servant, supported Julia upstairs, and Samson smoked on stolidly, taking no note whatever of the visitor's presence. Still in doubt of what Samson might or might not know, and fearing almost to breathe, lest any reminder of her presence should call down his wrath upon her, she listened to the tramping and the muffled noises overhead until they ceased, and then, gathering courage from his continued apathy, slipped from the room and left the house.

She got home and went to bed and passed an interminable night in tossing to and fro, and bewailing the untoward fate of the two children. Dawn came at last, though it had seemed as if it never would break again, and, for the first time for many a year, the first gleam of sunlight saw her dressed and downstairs. She felt feverous and ill, and having brewed for herself a huge jorum of tansy tea, sat down over this inspiring beverage, and tried to pull her scattered wits together and think out some way of untangling the skein of difficulty with which she had to deal. The danger was pressing, and if she had been herself the poor lovesick girl who lay a mile away, stifling her sobs lest they should reach her father's ears, and vainly calling on her lover's name, she would scarcely have been more miserable.

One thing was clear. Dick must be warned, and his journey to London postponed by some device. He might lie hidden for a day or two in Birmingham, and Julia be smuggled there and secretly married. It was no time for half measures, and whatever was done should be done quickly and decisively. At this idea, at once romantic and practical, Mrs. Jenny's spirits revived.

'Samson 'll disown Julia, I know. Her 'll never see a penny o' his money. An' I doubt as Abel Reddy 'll do the same wi' Dick. He's just as hard and bitter as th' other, on'y quieter wi' it. Well, they shan't want while I'm alive, nor after my death neither, and Dick ud make his own way with nobody's help. I'll write to him, and find somebody to take the letter. I won't go myself, at this hour o' the day.'

She concocted a letter and sealed it, and putting on her bonnet sallied out to find a messenger. Fate was so far propitious that scarce a hundred yards from her door she met Ichabod Bubb, bound for his morning's work at Perry Hall Farm. Ichabod was bent and gnarled and twisted now, stiff in all his joints and slow of movement, but his quaint visage bore the same look of uncertain and rather wistful humour which had marked it in earlier times.

'Morning, mum,' he said, with a stiff-necked nod at Mrs. Jenny.

'Good-mornin', Mr. Bubb,' said the old lady. Ichabod beamed at this sudden and unexpected ceremonial of title, and straightened his back.

'You 'm afoot early, mum.'

'Why, yes. But it's such a beautiful morning; it's a shaame to lie abed a time like this.'

'So many folks, so many ways o' thinkin',' said the ancient one; 'not as it's a sin as I often commits, nayther, 'cos why, I don't get the chance.'

'I've got a bit o' business as I want done, Mr. Bubb,' said Mrs. Busker, 'if ye don't mind earnin' a shillin'.'

'Why,' returned Ichabod, 'I don't know as I've got any, not to say rewted, objection to makin' a shillin'.'

'You're goin' to the farm?' Ichabod nodded. 'Then I want you to take this note to Mr. Richard. But mind, you must get it to him private. Nobody else must know. D'you understand?'

'I'm all theer, missus,' responded Ichabod.

'Then there's the note, an' there's the shillin'. An' if you're back in two hours you shall have a pint o' beer.' Ichabod took the note and the shilling, and clattered off with a ludicrous show of despatch, and the old lady returned to her sitting-room to await the result of his message. It came in less than the appointed time, and disappointed her terribly. Ichabod had ascertained that Dick had started half an hour before his arrival at the farm for Birmingham, and would only return to-morrow night to sleep and take away his luggage on the following morning.

'And you come to me w' a message like that, y' ode gone-off!' said the exasperated old woman. 'You might ha' caught him up i' the time as you've wasted comin' back here.'

'Caught him up,' said Ichabod, with a glance at his legs. 'Yis, likely, like a cow might ketch a race-hoss. I'm a gay fine figure, missus, to ketch up the best walker i' the country-side.'

Mrs. Jenny was a woman, and therefore to offer her reason as an antidote to unreasoning anger was merely to heap fuel on flame.

'Ah!' she said, reasonably enraged with the whole masculine half of her species,' you're like the rest on 'em.'

'Then I'm sorry for the rest on 'em,' said Ichabod, 'whoever they may be.' Here Mrs. Jenny shut the door upon him, leaving him in the street, and retired to her sitting-room. But with beer to be gained by boldness, Ichabod was leonine in courage. He knocked, and the summons brought the old lady to the door again. Ichabod spoke no word, but writhed his twisted features into a grin which expressed at once humorous deprecation and expectancy, and rabbed the back of his veiny hand across his bristly lips.

'Go round to the brewus,' said Mrs. Jenny; 'you'll find the maid there. It's all you're fit for, ye guzzlin' old idiot.'

Ichabod retired, elate.

'Her tongue's a stinger; but, Lord bless thee, Ichabod, her bark's a long sight worse than her bite. An' her beer's main good.'

Mrs. Jenny, meanwhile, retired to the sitting-room, and there sat immersed in gloom. Things looked black for her young protégés, and fate was against them. With that curious interest in familiar trifles which comes with any fit of hopelessness or despondency, she sat looking at the furniture of the room and the pictures which decorated the walls. Among these latter was a work of her own hands, her masterpiece, a reproduction in coloured wool of a German engraving of the last scene of Romeo and Juliet. There was a pea-green Capulet paralytically embracing a sky-blue Montague in the foreground, with a dissolving view of impossibly-constructed servitors of both houses and the County Paris, with six strongly accented bridges to his nose and a worsted tear upon his cheek, in the background. Under this production was worked in white, upon a black ground, the legend which Mrs. Rusker mournfully repeated as she gazed on it-

'For never was a story of more woe,

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo';

and as she spoke the words an inspiration flashed into her mind. She had her plan.

The new-born idea so possessed her that she could not sit or rest. It drove her out, as the gad-fly drove lo, to devious wanderings in the neighbouring lanes, and as she walked and walked, finding some little ease in the unusual and incessant exercise, she drew nearer and nearer to the Mountain Farm. As she paused on a little eminence and looked towards it, the distant church bell struck clear across the intervening fields, proclaiming nine o'clock.

'Thank the Lord,' said the old woman. 'I can go now. I dussent go too early. They might suspect.'

She made straight for the house, and found Mrs. Mountain alone. Samson was afield, and in answer to Mrs. Busker's inquiries regarding Julia, Mrs. Mountain tearfully informed her that the poor girl was too ill to come downstairs, and had not eaten a crumb of the tempting breakfast prepared and sent to her room for her. Mrs. Mountain was voluble in condemnation of her husband's lack of wit in his announcement of the matrimonial scheme he had formed for the girl, and Mrs. Jenny was fluent and honest in sympathy. Might she see the girl? Julia was fond of her, and her counsels might bring some comfort. Mrs. Mountain yielded a ready assent, and the old lady went up to the girl's room, and entering on the languid summons which followed her knock, saw Julia seated at the window, listless, dejected, and tearful The tears flowed even more freely at the sight of her, and the girl sobbed on her old friend's breast in full abandonment to the first great grief of her life.

'My dear,' said Mrs. Jenny, when this gush of sorrow was over, 'take a bit o' heart. Things is rarely as bad as they seem; an' there's help at hand always if we on'y know where to look for it.'

There was more meaning, to Julia's thinking, in the tone in which this commonplace condolence was delivered than in the wor

ds themselves. Mrs. Rusker's manner was big with mystery.

'Now, my darlin', I know you 'm a brave gal, and can act accordin' when there's rayson for it. I've got a plan as 'll save you yet, if on'y you've got the courage.'

Julia's clasped hands and eager look encouraged her to proceed.

'My dear, you remember Romeo and Juliet? You remember how Juliet got the sleepin' draught an' took it? 'Julia's look was one of wonder, pure and simple, now. 'That's my plan, my dear, an' the Dudley Divil can do it for us, if on'y you'll ha' the courage to tek it. Not as I mean as you need be buried afore Dick comes to you. We shouldn't go as far as that. But I'll get the stuff, an' it'll send you to sleep, an' they'll think as you're dead, an' then I'll tell 'em how you an' Dick loved each other so's you couldn't bear to part wi' him, an' the fear of it's killed you. That'll soften their hard hearts, my dear. Old Reddy knows all about it-that's why he's sendin' Dick away to London an' I'll get him fetched back to see the last o' you, an' I'll mek your father an' his father shaake hands, an' then you'll come to, an' after that what can they do but marry you to Dick, an' forget all that rubbidge about the brook, an' live in peace together, as decent folk should do.'

Julia's reception of this brilliant scheme, which Mrs. Rusker developed with a volubility which left no opportunity for detailed objection, was to fall back in her chair and begin to cry anew at the sheer hopeless absurdity of it.

'What's the matter wi' the wench?' demanded Mrs. Rusker, almost sternly. 'Come, come,' she continued, her brief anger fading at the sight of Julia's distress, 'have a bit o' sperrit. Now, will you try it? Spake the word, an' I'll goo to the Divil this minute.'

This wholesale self-abandonment in the cause of love produced no effect on Julia, except to frighten her. Mrs. Rusker argued and reasoned, but finding her fears too obdurate to be moved by any such means, left the house in dudgeon, whereat poor Julia only cried the more. But Mrs. Rusker's confidence in her plan was unshaken, and her persistency unchecked. She would save the silly girl against her will, since it must be so, and half an hour after she had crossed the Mountain threshold she was in her trap, en route for the dwelling of the wizard.

She found that celebrity alone, and opened fire on him at once.

'Ruffis, I want thy help, an' I'm willin' to pay fur it.' The necromancer's fishy eye brightened. Things were going poorly with him, the rising generation followed newer lights unevident in his earlier days, and his visitors were mostly of Mrs. Rusker's age, and were getting fewer day by day.

'My skill's at your service, ma'am, such as it is,' he answered, with gravity.

'I want some'at as 'd send a body to sleep-mek 'em sleep for a long time, wi'out hurtin' 'em. Can you doit?'

'Why, yis; I could do that much, I think.' His tone and manner intimated vaguely how much more he could have done, and his disappointment at the facility of his task. 'But,' he added prudently, 'it's a job as ain't s' easy as you might fancy.'

Mrs. Busker laid a sovereign on the table.

'Wilt do it for that?' she asked.

The wizard stole a look at her. She was obviously very much in earnest.

'The hingredients,' he said, 'is hard to find, and harder to mix in doo perportions.'

'I must have it now, and at once,' said Mrs. Busker.

'That,' said Rufus, 'ain't possible.' Mrs. Jenny laid a second piece of gold beside the first 'It's a dangerous bisness, missus,' he went on. 'Theer's noofangled laws about. 'Twas only last wik as that young upstart, Doctor Hodges, comes an' threatens me with persecution as a rogue an' vagabond, a-obtainin' money under false pertences for practisin' my lawful an' necessary art. Why, it ain't so long since I cured his mother o' the rheumatiz, as is more nor he can dew, wi' all his drugs, an' the pestle an' mortar o'er his door.'

'You ought to know as you're safe wi' me, Rufus,' said Mrs. Rusker. 'Who should I tell? Why, I should tell o' myself tew, at that raate; an' is that likely?'

'It's dangerous, missus,' repeated the wizard.

'Well, if yo' won't, I must try them as wull,' said Mrs. Jenny, rising and taking up the coins.

'I didn't say as I wouldn't,' returned Rufus. 'Theer's no call to be so uppish But if I tek a chance like that I expect to be paid for it.'

'Two pound ud mek it wuth your while to do more than that.'

'I'll dew it,' said the wizard. 'Give us the money?'

'Wheer's the stuff?'

'Why, it ain't made yet. D'you think as I can percure a precious hessence like that all of a minute?'

'Then mek it, an' I'll gie you the money.'

'Gi' me a pound in advance, an' I'll bring it to you.' And on that understanding the bargain was made, and the time fixed for the delivery of the potion. The intervening time was filled in by the astute wizard journeying to a neighbouring town and procuring from a chemist a sleeping draught, which he paid for out of Mrs. Busker's sovereign. He turned up at Laburnum Cottage at the stipulated hour, handed over the draught (having previously washed off the chemist's label), received his second sovereign, and departed.

Mrs. Rusker, with the fateful bottle in the bosom of her dress, betook herself again to Mountain Farm. Her unfeigned interest in the patient, and the intimacy she had so long enjoyed with the whole family, made the house almost as free to her as was her own, and when she took possession of Julia in the capacity of nurse she was made welcome, and the poor girl's other attendants hoped much from her ministration. Julia was undoubtedly very ill, so ill that even Samson Mountain forbore to force her to descend to the parlour in which Mr. Tom Raybould nervously awaited her coming, and where, on Samson's return from his daughter's chamber, the pair sat and drank their beer together in miserable silence, broken by spasmodic attempts at conversation regarding crops and politics. The doctor had been called in, and, knowing nothing of the grief which was the poor girl's only ailment, had been too puzzled by the symptoms of her malady to be of any great service. She was feverish, excited, with a furred tongue and a hot skin. He had prescribed a mild tonic and departed. Mrs. Jenny, intent on the execution of her plan, gained solitary charge of her patient by telling Mrs. Mountain that her attendance on her daughter had already told upon her, and advising a few hours' rest.

'I don't feel very well,' Mrs. Mountain confessed. 'Not a wink o' sleep have I had iver since Samson came home last night. Nor him nayther, for the matter o' that, though he tried to desave me by snorin', whinever I spoke to him; an' as for any sympathy-well, you know him aforetime, Jenny-I might as well talk to that theer poker.'

Then Jenny was fluent in condolence, and at last got the old lady out of the room.

'When did you take your medicine last, my dear?' she asked the patient 'Ain't it time as you had another drop?'

'It doesn't do me any good,' said the patient fretfully. She knew better herself what was wrong with her than anybody else could guess, and only longed passionately to be alone and free to think and cry over her lost love and broken hopes.

'Why, my dear, you've on'y took one dose yit,' said Machiavel. 'You must give it time. I'll pour you out another.' Her back was towards the patient as she clattered about among the glasses on the table with a shaking hand. She poured out the wizard's potion, the phial clinking against the edge of the glass like a castanet, and her heart beating so that she almost feared Julia would hear it The girl at first pettishly refused the draught, but Mrs. Jenny, in her guilty agitation, made short work of her objections, and poured it down her throat almost by main force.

'Maids must do as their elders bid 'em,' she said, as she returned the glass to its place.

'It doesn't taste the same,' moaned the patient

'You're like all th' other sick folk I iver nursed. As fall o' fancies as you can stick,' said Mrs. Jenny. 'Lie quiet, and try an' go to sleep.'

The girl lay silent, and Mrs. Jenny, more than half wishing the whole business had never been begun, sat and listened to her breathing. She stirred and sighed once or twice, but after a while lay so utterly still that the old lady ventured to approach the bed. Julia's face was almost as white as her pillow, and her breath was so light that it hardly stirred the coverlet above her bosom.

'It's a-workin,' said Mrs. Rusker.

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