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   Chapter 15 MYRA IN DISGRACE.

Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 14921

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Myra was in her bedroom, under lock and key; and this is how it had happened.

"What put it into your head to make that speech?" asked Mrs. Purchase, as she and Mr. Sam wended their way back to Hall. In form the question was addressed to her nephew; in tone, to herself.

Mr. Sam paused as if for breath, and plucking down a wisp of honeysuckle from the hedgerow, sniffed at it to gain time.

"I don't like talking about such things," he answered; "but it came into my head to do my Master's bidding: 'Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.'"

"Fiddlestick-end!" said Mrs. Purchase.

"I assure you-"

"If you don't mean to get upsides with Tom Trevarthen, I'm a Dutchman. 'Forgive your enemies' may be gospel teaching, but I never knew a Rosewarne to practise it. You're a clever fellow, nephew Sam, and that speech saved your face, as the Yankees say; but somehow I've a notion its cleverness didn't end there. I saw the schoolmistress watching you-did she put you up to it?"

"I don't mind telling you that she had interceded with me."

"I like the cut of that girl's jib," Mrs. Purchase announced after a pause. "She's good-looking, and she has pluck. But I don't take back what I said, that it's a wrong you're doing to Clem and Myra, putting them to school with all the riff-raff of the parish."

"That's the kind of objection one learns to expect from a Radical," her nephew answered drily.

"'Tis a queer thing, now," she mused, "that ever since I married 'Siah the family will have me to be a Radical; and 'tis the queerer, because ne'er one of 'ee knows what a Radical is or ought to be. S'pose I do hold that all mankind and all womankind has equal rights under the Lord-that don't mean they're all alike, do it? or that I can't tell a man from a woman, or my lord from a scavenger? D'ee reckon that we'm all-fellows-to-football aboard the Virtuous Lady, and the fo'c'sle hands mess aft?"

"They would if you were consistent," answered Mr. Sam, with positiveness.

She sighed impatiently. "There's times you make me long to wring your stiff neck. But I'll take your own consistency, as you call it. I don't notice you send that precious boy o' yourn to the Board School; and yet if 'tis good enough for Clem and Myra, 'tis good enough for any Rosewarne."

"Calvin has received a superior education. Yet I don't mind telling you that, if I find Miss Marvin competent, I propose asking her to teach him privately."

"O-oh!" Mrs. Purchase pursed up her lips and eyed him askance. "Such a nice-looking girl, too!"

Mr. Sam flushed beneath his sallow skin. He was about to command her angrily to mind her own business, when the air between the hedgerows, and even the road beneath his feet, shook with a dull and distant detonation.

"Sakes alive!" cried Mrs. Purchase. "Don't tell me that's the powder-ship, up the river!"

"It didn't come up from the river-it came from Hall!" He gripped her arm with sudden excitement; then, as she began to protest, "Don't talk, woman, but help me along! It came from Hall, I tell you!"

Master Calvin defied Myra bravely enough while she threatened, and even while she piled a little heap of gunpowder under the sycamore and ostentatiously sprinkled a train of it across the roadway. He supposed that she intended only to frighten him.

Nor would any mischief have happened had he kept his perch. The heap of gunpowder was too small to do serious damage-though he may well be excused for misdoubting this. But when Myra struck a match and challenged him for the last time, he called to her not to play the fool, and began to scramble down for dear life. In truth, for two or three minutes he had been feeling strangely giddy, and to make matters worse, was suddenly conscious of a horrible burning pain in his side.

So intolerable was the pain, that he clutched at it with one hand; and missing his hold with the other, slipped and hung dangling over the powder, supported only by the bough under the crook of his armpit. At that instant, while he struggled to recover his balance, Myra was horrified to see smoke curling about his jacket; a fiery shred of tobacco and jacket-lining dropped from his plucking fingers. She had flung away her match and was running forward-the burning stuff fell so slowly, there was almost time to catch it-when the ground at her feet leapt up with a flame and a bang, and Master Calvin thudded down upon the explosion.

She ran to him. He was not dead, for at once he began screaming at the pitch of his voice; but his features were black, his smallclothes torn, and his legs writhed in a terrifying way. His screams sank to groans as she beat out the smouldering fire in his jacket-lining; and for a while she could get no other answer from him. By and by she lost patience, and shook him by the shoulder.

"Oh, get Up for goodness' sake! I believe you're more frightened than hurt; but if you're really hurt, sit up and tell me what's the matter."

"Let me alone," groaned Calvin. "I want to die."

"Fiddlesticks-'want to die'! Come along to the pump and wash yourself."

"You're a wicked girl! You tried to kill me!"

"I didn't. I wanted to frighten you, and-and I'm sorry; but you fired the powder yourself with your nasty pipe, and you've burnt a hole in your pocket. You'd best come along and get washed and changed before your father catches you. It looks to me you've lost one of your eyebrows, but the other one's so pale I daresay 'twon't be noticed. Or I might give you a pair with a piece of burnt cork."

It was while she stood considering this that Mr. Sam and her aunt made their appearance round the corner of the road.

"Whatever in the round world have you children been doin'?" panted Mrs. Purchase, and wound up with a gasp at sight of Calvin's face.

"I believe I'm going to die!" The boy began to writhe again.

"What has happened?" his father demanded, with a shake in the voice, stooping to lift him.

"She-she tried to kill me!" Calvin pointed at her with vindictive finger, and at once clasped both hands over his stomach.

"I did not," retorted Myra.

"Ask her who brought the powder and laid a train right under me! Ask her what she's doing with that box of matches!"

"Is that true?" Mr. Sam demanded again, straightening himself up and fixing a terrible stare on Myra.

The girl's face hardened. "Yes, I brought the powder." She pointed to the flask lying in the roadway.

"You dare to tell me that you did this deliberately?"

"I never did it at all."

"Yes, she did!" almost screamed the boy. "She put the powder here; she owns up to it."

Myra shrugged her shoulders and turned away. "Very well; he's telling a nasty fib, but you can believe him if you like."

"Stop a minute, miss." Mr. Sam strode across to her. "You don't get off in that fashion, I promise you!"

She looked up at him sidewise, under lowered brows. "Are you going to beat me?" she asked quietly.

The question took Mr. Sam aback. "You deserve a whipping if ever a girl did," he answered, after a second or two. "First, it seems, you almost succeed in killing your cousin, and then you tell a falsehood about it."

"I have told you the truth. I put the powder there. As for meaning to kill him, that's nonsense, and he knows it. I didn't even mean to hurt him, though he deserves it."

"Deserves it!" echoed Mr. Sam.

"Yes, for

robbing Clem."

"Sam-Sam!" Mrs. Purchase thrust herself between them. "What's the matter? Don't go for to hurt the child!"

"What-what does she mean, then?" He had stretched out a hand to grip Myra by the shoulder, but fell back with a yellow face.

"Tom Trevarthen told me." Myra pointed from father to son. "He says you're no better than a pair of robbers."

"Myra," said her aunt quietly, "go to your room at once. On your own confession you have done wickedly, and must be punished."

"Very well, Aunt Hannah."

"I must attend to Calvin first; but I will come to you by and by. Until then you are not to leave your room. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Aunt Hannah."

She turned and walked towards the house.

"And now," said Mrs. Purchase, after a glance at Mr. Sam's face, "let's see what bones are broken."

She bent over Calvin, but looked up almost immediately, as Mr. Sam uttered a sharp exclamation.

"What's this?" he asked, stooping to pick up a briar pipe.

Master Calvin blinked, and turned his head aside from Mrs. Purchase's curious gaze.

"I think it belongs to Tom Trevarthen," he mumbled.

"How on the airth did Tom Trevarthen come to drop a pipe here, and walk off 'ithout troubling to pick it up? If 'twas a hairpin, now," said Mrs. Purchase, not very lucidly, "one could understand it."

"I-I'm going to be ill," wailed the wretched Calvin, with a spasmodic heave of the shoulders.

"Well," his aunt commented grimly after a moment, "you told the truth that time, anyway."

Having conveyed him to the house and put him, with Susannah's help, to bed, Aunt Hannah went off to Myra's room, but descended after a few minutes in search of Mr. Sam, whom she found pacing the garden walk.

"Well?" he asked.

"I've told her the punishment-bread and water, and to keep her room all day. She says nothing against it, and I think she's sorry about the powder; but I can get no sense into her until her mind's set at rest about Clem."

"What about him?"

"Why, the poor child's left behind at the school."

"Is that all? Miss Marvin will bring him home, no doubt."

"So I told her. But it seems she don't trust Miss Marvin-hates her, in fact."

"The child must be crazed."

"Couldn't you send Peter Benny?"

"Oh, certainly, if you wish it." Mr. Sam went indoors to the counting-house, where Mr. Benny jumped up from his desk in alarm at sight of the bandages.

"Mercy on us, sir-you have met with an accident?"

"A trifle. Are you busy just now?"

Mr. Benny blushed. "I might answer in your words sir-a trifle. Indeed, I hope, sir, you will not think it a liberty; but the late Mr. Rosewarne used very kindly to allow it when no business happened to be doing."

His employer stared at him blankly.

"On birthdays and such occasions," pursued Mr. Benny. "And by the way, sir, might I ask you to favour me with the date of your birthday? Your dear father's was the 28th of May." Mr. Sam's stare lost its blankness, and became one of sharp suspicion.

"What have you to do with my birthday, pray?"

"Nothing, sir-nothing, unless it pleases you. Some of our best and greatest men, sir, as I am well aware-the late Duke of Wellington, for instance-have had a distaste for poetry; not that my verses deserve any such name."

"Oh!" said Mr. Sam, his brow clearing, "you were talking of verses? I've no objection, so long as you don't ask me to read them." He paused, as Mr. Benny's face lengthened dejectedly. "I mean no reflection on yours, Benny."

"I thank you, sir."

"Shakespeare-and I am told you can't get better poetry than Shakespeare's-doesn't please me at all. I tried him once, on a friend's recommendation, and came on a passage which I don't hesitate to call lascivious. I told my friend so, and advised him to be more careful in the reading he recommended. He was a minister of the gospel, too. I destroyed the book: one can't be too careful, with children about the house."

"I assure you, sir-"

"I don't suggest for a moment that you would be guilty of any such expressions as Shakespeare uses. We live in a different age. Still, poetry, as such, gives me no pleasure. I believe very firmly, Benny-as you may have gathered-in another world, and that we shall be held strictly to account there for all we do or say in this one."

"Yes, sir."

"If you will wait a moment, I have a note to write. You will deliver it, please, to Mrs. Trevarthen on your way home. But first I wish you to walk up to the school and fetch Master Clem."

Mr. Benny, absorbed in poetical composition, had either failed to hear the explosion at the gate, or had heard and paid no heed to it. He wondered why Master Clem should need to be fetched from school.

"And Miss Myra?" he suggested.

"Miss Myra has been sent to her room in disgrace," said Mr. Sam.

Mr. Benny asked no further questions, but pocketed the letter which Mr. Sam indited, and fetched his hat. As it happened, however, at the gate he met Hester leading Clem by the hand; and receiving the child from her, handed him over to Susannah.

"You are going home?" he asked, as he rejoined Hester at the gate. They were already warm friends.

"I am on my way. And you?"

"We'll cross the ferry together, if you'll wait a moment while I deliver a note at Mrs. Trevarthen's."

Mrs. Trevarthen was at her door. She took the note, and, before opening it, looked at Hester curiously.

"You know what's inside of it, I reckon?" she said, turning to Mr. Benny.

"Not a word."

"My eyes are bad," said Mrs. Trevarthen, who, as a matter of fact, could not read.

Mr. Benny knew this, and knew also that Mrs. Trevarthen as a rule employed Aunt Butson to write her few letters and decipher the few that came to her.

"The light's bad for the time of year," he said. "Shall I read it for you, missus?"

"No; let her read it," answered the old woman, holding out the letter to Hester. Hester took it and read-

"Madam,-This is to inform you that the rent of my cottage, at present occupied by you on a monthly tenancy at £9 per annum, will from the first of next month be raised to £15 per annum; also that the tenancy will not, after that date, carry with it a permission to let lodgings.-Yours truly, S. ROSEWARNE."

In the silence that followed Mrs. Trevarthen fixed her bright beady eyes steadily on Hester. "You've driven forth my son from me," she said at length, "and you're driving forth my lodger, and there's nobbut the almshouse left. Never a day's worry has my son Tom given to me, and never a ha'p'orth o' harm have we done to you. A foreigner you are and a stranger; the lad made me promise not to curse 'ee, and I won't. But get out of my sight, and the Lord deliver us from temptation!-Amen."

Poor Mr. Benny, who had written half a dozen enthusiastic verses on the opening of the new school, crushed them down in his pocket. He had been so proud of them, too!

They ran-

"This morning the weather was wreathèd in smiles.

And we, correspondingly gay,

Assembled together from several miles

To welcome our Opening Day."

"The children were plastic in body and mind.

Their faces and pinafores clean;

And persons scholastic, in accents refined.

With eloquence pointed the scene."

"Blest scene! as its features we fondly recall,

Come let us give thanks to the Lord!

The Parents, the Teacher, the Managers all,

Including the Clerk to the Board!"

BOOK III.

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