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   Chapter 7 THE HEIRS OF HALL.

Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 25196

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


They landed and clambered into the spring-cart.

"Nothing wrong at home, I hope?" called Tom Trevarthen from the quay's edge, as he pushed off to scull back to the raft.

"Oh, this is Susannah's nonsense, you may be sure!" called back Myra. "I suppose she carried her tales to grandfather, and he packed you off after us, Jim Tregay? Well, you needn't look so glum about it. Aunt Hannah gave us leave, and told Tom to look after us, and we've had a heavenly day, so Susannah may scold till she's tired."

"Hold the reins for a moment, Miss Myra, if you please." Jim left the mare's head and walked down the quay, holding up his hand to delay the young sailor, who slewed his boat round, and brought her alongside again. The pair were whispering together. Myra heard a sharp exclamation, and in a moment Tom Trevarthen was sculling away for dear life. Jim ran back, jumped into the cart, and took the reins.

"But what is he shouting?" asked Myra, as the mare's hoofs struck and slid on the cobbles and the cart seemed to spring forward beneath her. She clutched her brother as they swayed past mooring-posts, barrels, coils of rope, and with a wild lurch around the tollman's house at the quay-head, breasted the steep village street. "What's he shouting?" she demanded again.

Jim made no answer, but, letting the reins lie loose, flicked Actress smartly with the whip. Even a child could tell that no horse ought to be put at a hill in this fashion. Faces appeared at cottage doors-faces Myra had never seen in her life-gazing with a look she could not understand. All the faces, too, seemed to wear this look.

"What has happened?"

At the top of the hill, on a smoother road, the mare settled down to a steady gallop. Jim Tregay turned himself half-about in his seat.

"From battle and murder and from sudden death-good Lord, deliver us!"

"Oh, Jim, be kind and tell us!"

"Your grandfather, missy-the old maister! They found 'en in the counting-house this mornin' dead as a nail!"

Myra, with an arm about Clem and her disengaged hand gripping the light rail of the cart, strove to fix her mind, to bring her brain to work upon Jim's words. But they seemed to spin past her with the hedgerows and the rushing wind in her ears. A terrible blow had fallen. Why could she not feel it? Why did she sit idly wondering, when even a dumb creature like Actress seemed to understand and put forth all her fleetness?

"Who sent you for us? Susannah?"

"Susannah's no better than a daft woman. Peter Benny sent me. He took down the news to Mrs. Purchase, and she told him where you was gone. He called out the horse-boat and packed me across the ferry instanter."

Myra gazed along the ridge of the mare's back to her heaving shoulders.

"Clem!" she whispered.

"Yes," said the boy slowly, "I am trying to understand. Why are we going so fast?"

So he too found it difficult. In truth their grandfather had stood outside their lives, a stern, towering shadow from the touch of which they crept away to nestle in each other's love. Because his presence brooded indoors they had never felt happy of the house. Because he seldom set foot in the garden they had made the garden their playground, their real nursery; the garden, and on wet days the barn, the hay-lofts, the apple-lofts, any Alsatia beyond the rules, where they could run free and lift their voices. He had never been unkind, but merely neglectful, unsmiling, coldly deterrent, unapproachable. They knew, of course, that he was great, that grown men and women stood in awe of him.

When at length Jim Tregay reined up in the roadway above the ferry, they found a vehicle at a stand there, with a rough-coated grey horse in a lather of sweat; and peering over the wall from her perch in the spring-cart, Myra spied Mr. Benny on the slipway below, in converse with a tall, black-coated man who held by the hand a black-coated boy. As a child, she naturally let her gaze rest longer on the boy than on the man; but by and by, as she led Clem down the slipway, she found herself staring at the two with almost equal distaste.

Little Mr. Benny ran up the slipway to meet the children. His eyes were red, and it was with difficulty that he controlled his voice.

"My dears," he began, taking Myra by the hand and clasping it between his palms, "my poor dears, a blow indeed! a terrible blow! Your uncle-dear me, I believe you have never met! Let me present you to your uncle, Mr. Samuel, and your cousin, Master Calvin Rosewarne. These are the children, Mr. Samuel-Miss Myra and Master Clem-and, as I was saying, I sent a trap to fetch them home with all speed."

The man in black shook hands with the children gloomily. Myra noted that his whiskers were black and straggling, and that, though his upper lip was long, it did not hide his prominent yellow teeth. As for the boy, he shook hands as if Under protest, and fell at once to staring hard at Clem. He had a pasty-white face, which looked the unhealthier for being surmounted by a natty velveteen cap with a patent-leather up-and-down peak, and he wore a black overcoat, like a minister's, knickerbockers, grey woollen stockings, and spring-side boots, the tags of which he had neglected to turn in.

"You sent for them?" asked Mr. Samuel sourly as he shook hands, turning a fishy eye upon Mr. Benny. "Why did you send for them?"

"Eh?" stammered Mr. Benny. "Their poor grandfather, Mr. Samuel! I could not have forgiven myself. It was, after telegraphing to you, my first thought."

"I can't see with what object you sent for them," persisted Mr. Samuel, and pulled at his ragged whiskers. "Were they-er-away on a visit? staying with friends? If so, I should have thought they were much better left till after the funeral."

He shifted his gaze from Mr. Benny and fixed it on Myra, who flushed hotly. What right had this Mr. Samuel to be interfering and taking charge?

"We were not staying with friends," she answered, "or paying any visit. Clem and I have never slept away from home in our lives. We have been across the bay with the rafts-that's all; and Aunt Hannah gave Us leave."

He ignored her display of temper. "You've been let run wild, you two, I daresay," he replied, in a tone almost rallying. "I guess you have had matters pretty much your own way."

Poor Myra! This was the first whole holiday she and Clem had ever taken. But how could she tell him? She gulped down her tears-she was glad he had turned away without perceiving them-clutched Clem's hand in silence, and followed down to the boat, which Uncle Vro was bringing alongside.

As the party settled themselves in the sternsheets Master Calvin fixed his pale, gooseberry-coloured eyes on hers.

"You needn't show temper," he said slowly, with the air of a young ruminant animal.

"I'm not showing temper!" Myra retorted in a tone which certainly belied her.

"Yes, you are; and you've told a fib, which only makes things worse." He smiled complacently at having beaten her in argument, and Myra thought she had never met such an insufferable boy in her life.

He transferred his unblinking stare to Clem, and for half a minute took stock of him silently. "Is he blind," he asked aloud, "or only pretending?"

Myra's face flamed now. A little more, and she had boxed his ears; but she checked herself and, caressing the back of Clem's hand, answered with grave irony, "He was blind, up to a minute ago; but now, since seeing you, he prefers to be pretending."

Master Calvin considered this for almost a minute. "That's rude," he announced at length decisively.

But meanwhile other passengers in the boat had found time to get themselves at loggerheads.

"Your servant, Master Samuel!" began old Nicky affably, as he fell to his oars. "I hope I see 'ee well, though 'tis a sad wind that blows 'ee here. Ay, there's a prophet gone this day from Israel!"

Mr. Samuel frowned. "Good-evening," he answered coldly, and added, with an effort to be polite, "I seem to know your face, too."

"He-he!" Uncle Nicky leaned on his oars with a senile chuckle. "Know my face, dost-a? Ought to, be sure, for I be the same Nicholas Vro that ferried 'ee back and forth in the old days afore your father's stomach soured against 'ee. Dostn't-a mind that evening I put 'ee across with your trunks for the last time? 'Never take on, Master Sam,' said I- for all the parish knew and talked of your differences-'give the old man time, and you'll be coming home for the Christmas holidays as welcome as flowers in May.' 'Not me,' says you; 'my father's is a house o' wrath, and there's no place for me.' A mort o' tide-water have runned up an' down since you spoke they words; but here be I, Nicholas Vro, takin' 'ee back home as I promised. Many times I've a-pictered 'ee, hearing you was grown prosperous and a married man and had took up with religion. I won't say that years have bettered your appearance; 'tisn't their way. But I'd ha' picked out your face in a crowd-or your cheeld's, for that matter. He features you wonderful."

"I remember you now," said Mr. Sam. "You haven't grown any less talkative in all these years." He turned to Mr. Benny. "Your telegram was sent off at nine-forty-five. Was that as early as possible?"

"I can say 'yes' to that, Mr. Samuel. Of course I had to begin by quieting the servants-they were scared out of their wits, and it took me some time to coax them out of their alarm. Then, taking boat, I rowed down to the post-office, stopping only at the barque yonder, to break the news to Mrs. Purchase. She put on her bonnet at once and was rowed ashore. 'Twas from her, too, I learned the whereabouts of Miss Myra and Master Clem; for up at the house they could not be found, and this had thrown Miss Susannah into worse hysterics-she could only imagine some new disaster. At first I was minded to send a boat after them, but by this time the rafts were a good two miles beyond the harbour, and Mrs. Purchase said, 'No, they can do no good, poor dears; let them have their few hours' pleasure.' From the barque I pulled straight to the post-office, and sent off the telegram, and-dear me, yes-at the same time I posted a letter. I had found it, ready stamped, lying on the floor by my poor master's feet. It must have dropped from his hand; no doubt he had just finished writing it when the end came."

"But why such a hurry to post it?"

"It was marked 'Private and Immediate.'"

"For whom?"

Mr. Benny hesitated. "You will excuse me, Mr. Samuel."-

"Confidential?"

"As a matter of fact, sir, when Mr. Rosewarne marked his letters so I made it a rule never to read the address. But this one-coming upon it as I did-I couldn't help."-

"You prefer to keep the address to yourself?"

"With your leave, sir."

Mr. Samuel eyed him sharply. "Quite right!" he said curtly, with a glance at Uncle Vro; but the old man was not listening.

"Lord! and I mind his second marriage!" he muttered. "A proper lady she was, from up Tamar-way. He brought her home across water, and that's unlucky, they say; but he never minded luck. Firm as a nail he ever was, and put me in mind of the nail in Isaiah: 'As a nail in a sure place I will fasten him, and they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father's house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons.' But the offspring and the issue, my dears," he went on, addressing Clem and Myra, "was but your poor mother. Well-a-well, weak or strong, we go in our time!"

As they landed and climbed the hill, Mr. Sam spoke with Peter Benny aside.

"They may ask about that letter at the inquest. You have thought of the inquest, of course?"

"If they do, I must answer them."

"So far as you know, there was nothing in it to cause strong emotion- nothing to account-?"

"Dear me, no," answered Mr. Benny, staring at him in mild astonishment; "so far as I know, nothing whatever."

After packing Susannah off to her room with a Bible and a smelling-bottle, Mrs. Purchase had set herself to reduce the household to order. "'Tisn't in nature to think of death," confessed Martha the dairy-girl, "when you'm worrited from pillar to post by a woman in creaky boots."

Above and beside her creaky boots Aunt Hannah had a cheerful, incurable habit of slamming every door she passed through. It came, she would explain, of living on shipboard where cabin was divided from cabin either by a simple curtain or by sliding panels. Be this is it may, she kept the house of mourning re

-echoing that day "like a labouring ship with a cargo of tinware," to quote Martha again, whose speech derived many forcible idioms from her father, the mate of a coaster.

Nevertheless-and although it appeared to induce a steady breeze through the house, rising to a moderate gale when meals were toward-Aunt Hannah's presence acted like a tonic on all. She presented to Mr. Sam a weather-ruddied cheek, receiving his kiss on what, in so round a face as hers, might pass for the point of the jaw. In saluting Master Calvin she had perforce to take the offensive, and did so with equal aplomb. After a rapid survey of some three seconds she picked off his velveteen cap and kissed him accurately in the centre of the forehead.

"I meant to do it on the top of his head," she informed Myra later, "but the ghastly child was smothered in bear's-grease. Lord knows that, as 'twas, I very nearly slipped in my thumb and kissed that, as I've heard tell that folks do in the witness-box."

Myra did not understand the allusion; but from the first she divined that her aunt misliked Master Calvin and found that mislike consolatory.

"As for these two," the good lady announced, indicating brother and sister, "I allow to myself they'll be best out of the way till the funeral. I've been through the clothes-press, and put up their night-clothes and a few odd items in a hand-bag. 'Siah will be here at eight-thirty sharp, to take 'em aboard with him. For my part, I reckon to sleep here to-night and look after things till that fool Susannah comes to her senses. And as for you, Peter Benny, you'll stay supper, I hope, for there's supper ready and waiting to be dished-a roast leg of lamb, with green peas. It puts me in mind of Easter Day," she added inconsequently. "You may remember, Sam, that your poor father always stickled for a roast leg of lamb at Easter. He was a good Christian to that extent, I thank the Lord!"

"And I thank you, ma'am," protested Mr. Benny, "but I couldn't touch a morsel-indeed I couldn't, though you offer it so kindly."

"To my knowledge, you've not eaten enough to-day to keep a mouse alive. Well, if you won't, you won't; but I've been through the garden, and there's a dish of strawberries to take home to your wife."

Mrs. Purchase could not know-good soul-that in removing the two children to shipboard, to spare them the ugly preparations for the funeral, she was connecting their grandfather's death in their minds for ever with the most delightful holiday in life. Yet so it was. Punctually at half-past eight Mr. Purchase appeared and escorted them on board the Virtuous Lady; and so, out-tired with their long day, drugged and drowsed by strong salt air and sunshine and the swift homeward drive, they came at nightfall, and as knights and princesses come in fairy tales, to the palace of enchantment. As they drew close, its walls towered up terribly and overhung them, lightless, forbidding; but far aloft the riding-lamp flamed like a star, and Myra clapped her hands as she reached the deck and peered down into a marvellous doll's-house fitted with couches, muslin blinds, and brass-locked cupboards that twinkled in the lamplight. There was a stateroom, too, with a half-drawn red curtain in place of a door, and beyond the curtain a glimpse of two beds, one above the other, with white sheets turned back and ready for the sleepers-at once like and deliciously unlike the beds at home. The children, having unpacked their bag and undressed, knelt down side by side as usual in their white night-rails. But Myra could not pray, although she repeated the words with Clem. Her eyes wandered among marvels. The lower bed (assigned to Clem by reason of his blindness) was not only a bed but a chest of drawers.

"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,

Look upon a little child;

Pity my simplicity."-

Her fingers felt and tried the brass handles. Yes, a real chest of drawers! And the washstand folded up in a box, and in place of a chair was a rack with netting in which to lay their garments for the night! "God bless dear Clem, and grandfather."-What was she saying? Their grandfather was dead, and praying for dead people was wicked. Susannah had once caught her praying for her mother, and had told her that it was wicked, with a decisiveness that closed all argument. None the less she had prayed for her mother since then-once or twice, perhaps half a dozen times-though slily and in a terror of being punished tor it and sent to hell. "And Susannah, and Martha, and Elizabeth Jane,"-this was the housemaid-"and Peter Benny, and Jim Tregay, and all kind friends and relations,"-including Uncle Sam and that odious boy of his? Well, they might go down in the list; but she wouldn't pretend to like them.

"Ready, my dears?" asked Uncle Purchase from outside. "Sing out when you're in bed, and I'll come and dowse the lights."

He did so, and stood for a moment hesitating, scarcely visible in the faint radiance cast through the doorway by the lamp in his own cabin. Maybe the proper thing would be to give them a kiss apiece? He could not be sure, being a childless man. He ended by saying good-night so gruffly that Myra fancied he must be in a bad temper.

"Clem!" she whispered, after lying still for a while, staring into darkness. "Clem!"

But Clem was already sound asleep.

She sighed and turned on her pillow. She had wanted to discuss with him a thought that vexed her. Did folks love one another when they grew up? And, if so, how did they manage it, seeing that so few grownups had anything lovable about them? Clem and she, of course, would go on loving each other always; but that was different. When one grown-up person died, were the others really sorry? No one seemed sorry for her grandfather-no one-except, perhaps, Peter Benny….

For two days the children lived an enchanted life, interrupted only by a visit to Miss de Gruchy, the dressmaker across the water, and by a miserable two hours in which they were supposed to entertain their Cousin Calvin, who had been sent to play with them. The boy-he was about a year older than Myra-greeted them with an air of high importance.

"I've seen the corp!" he announced in an ogreish whisper.

Myra had the sense to guess that if she gave any sign of horror he would only show off the more and tease her. She met him, therefore, on his own ground.

"Well, you needn't think we want to, because we don't!"

"Oh, they'll show it to you before they screw it down. But I saw it first!"

For the next forty-eight hours this awful possibility darkened her delight. For it was a possibility. Grown people did such monstrous unaccountable things, there was no saying what they might not be up to next. And here, for once, was an ordeal Clem could not share with her. He was blind. Alone, if it must be, she must endure it.

She did not feel safe until the coffin had been actually packed in the hearse and the long procession started. To her dismay, they had parted her from Clem. He rode in the first coach beside Aunt Hannah and vis-a-vis with her Uncle Samuel and Cousin Calvin; she in the second with Mr. Purchase, Peter Benny, and Mr. Tulse the lawyer, a large-headed, pallid man, with a strong, clean-shaven face and an air of having attended so many funerals that he paid this one no particular attention. His careless gentility obviously impressed Mr. Purchase, who mopped his forehead at half-minute intervals and as frequently remarked that the day was hot even for the time of year. Mr. Benny was solicitous to know if Mr. Tulse preferred the window up or down. Mr. Tulse preferred it down, and took snuff in such profusion that by and by Myra could not distinguish the floating particles from the dust which entered from the roadway, stirred up by the feet of the crowd backing to let the carriages pass. Myra had never seen, never dreamed of, such a crowd. It lined both sides of the road almost to the church gate-and from Hall to the church was a good mile and a half; lines of freemasons with their aprons, lines of foresters in green sashes, lines of coastguards, of fishermen in blue jerseys crossed with the black-and-white mourning ribbons of the local Benevolent Club; here and there groups of staring children, some holding tightly by their mothers' hands; here and there a belated gig, quartering to give way or falling back to take up its place in the rear of the line. The sun beat down on the roof of the coach drawing a powerful odour of camphor from its cushions. For years after the scent of camphor recalled all the moving pageant and the figure of Mr. Tulse seated in face of her and abstractedly taking snuff. But at the time, and until they drew up at the churchyard gate, she was wondering why the ships in the harbour had dressed themselves in gay bunting. The flags were all half-masted, of course; but she had not observed this, nor, if she had, would she have known the meaning of it.

In the great family pew she found herself by Clem's side, listening to the lesson, of which a few words and sentences somehow remained in her memory; and again, as they trooped out, Clem's hand was in hers. But to the ceremony she paid little attention. The grave had been dug hard by the south-east corner of the churchyard, close by a hedge of thorn, on the farther side of which the ground fell steeply to a narrow coombe. The bright sun, sinking behind the battlements of the church tower, flung their shadow so that a part cut across the parson's dazzling surplice, while a part fell and continued the pattern on the hillside across the valley. And while the parson recited high over the tower a lark sang.

Someone asked her if she wished to look down on the coffin in its bed. She shrank away, fearing for the moment that the trick of which she had stood in dread for two days was to be played on her now at the last.

But the mysterious doings of her elders were not yet at an end, for no sooner had they reached home again than she and Clem were hustled into the parlour, to find Mr. Tulse seated at the head of the long table with a paper in his hand, and Mr. Samuel in a chair by the empty fireplace with Cousin Calvin beside him. Aunt Hannah disposed herself between the two children with her back to a window, and Uncle Purchase, having closed the door with extraordinary caution, dropped upon the edge of a chair and sat as if ready to jump up at call and expel any intruder.

Mr. Tulse glanced around with that quiet, well-bred air of his which seemed to take everything for granted. Having satisfied himself that all were assembled, he cleared his throat and began to read. His manner and intonation suggested family prayers; and Myra, not doubting that this must be some kind of postscript to the burial service for the private consolation of the family, let her mind wander. The word 'testament' in the first sentence seemed to make this certain, and the sentence or two that followed had a polysyllabic vagueness which by habit she connected with the offices of religion. The strained look on Aunt Hannah's face drew her attention away from Mr. Tulse and his recital. Her ear had been caught, too, by a low whining sound in the next room. By and by she heard him speak her own name-hers and Clem's together-and glanced around nervously. She had a particular dislike of being prayed for by name. It made her blush and gave her a curious sinking sensation in the pit of the stomach. Her eyes, as it happened, came to rest on her Uncle Samuel's, who withdrew his gaze at once and stared into the fireplace.

A moment later Mr. Tulse brought his reading to an end. There was a pause, broken by someone's pushing hack a chair. She gazed around inquiringly, thinking that this perhaps might be a signal for all to kneel.

Her aunt had risen, and stood for a moment with twitching face, challenging a look from Mr. Samuel, who continued to stare at the shavings in the fireplace.

Whatever Mrs. Purchase had on her lips to say to him, she controlled herself. But she turned upon Myra and Clem, and her eyes filled.

"My poor dears!" she said, stretching out both hands. "My poor, poor dears!"

Myra thought it passing strange that, if she and Clem were to be pitied for losing their grandfather, Aunt Hannah should have waited till now. She paid, however, little heed to this, but ran past her aunt's outstretched arms to the door of the counting-house. Within, on the rug beside the empty chair, weak with voluntary starvation, lay stretched the little greyhound, and whined for her master.

BOOK II.

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