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   Chapter 19 THE INTERCEDERS.

Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 18137

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The blind child awoke at the touch of his sister's hand on his shoulder, and turned drowsily in his bed.

"Eh? What's the matter?" A moment later he sat up in alarm and put out a hand as if to feel the darkness. "It isn't morning yet!"

"No; but the ground is all covered with snow, and you can't think what funny lights are dancing over it across the sky. I've been watching them for minutes and minutes."

"What sort of lights?"

"I can't tell you, because I never saw the like of them. Sometimes they're white, and sometimes they're violet, and then again green and orange. They run right across the sky like ribbons waving, and once they turned to red and lit up the snow as far as I could see."

"You've been catching your death of cold." Clem could hear her teeth chattering.

"I'm not so very cold," Myra declared bravely. "I took off the counterpane and wrapped it round me. You'll come, won't you, dear?"

Clem knew why he was summoned. Two days ago Susannah had told them of an old woman living at Market Jew who had mixed a pot of green ointment and touched her eyes with it, and ever afterwards seen the fairies. At once Myra, who was naught if not practical, had secreted Susannah's jar of cold cream (kept to preserve the children's skin from freckles) and a phial of angelica-water from the store-closet, had stirred these into a beautiful green paste, and had anointed her own eyes and Clem's with it, using incantations-

"Christ walked a little, a little

Before the sun did rise;

Christ mixed clay with spittle,

And cured a blind man's eyes;

This man, and that man,

And likewise Bartimee-

What Christ did for these poor men

I hope He'll do for me."

The charm, however, had not worked. Perhaps it needed time to operate, and the children had despaired too soon.

"Why didn't you come to me at once?" demanded Clem.

"I didn't dare." Myra trembled now, on the verge of putting her hopes to the touch. Though these were but pisky-lights, what bliss if Clem should behold them! "Besides, I saw a light across the yard in Archelaus Libby's garret. I believe he is awake there, with his telescope, and he can't have tried the ointment. You won't be terribly disappointed, dear, if-"

He slid out of bed and took her hand.

He was a brave boy; and when she led him to her window and he saw nothing, his first thought was for her disappointment, to soothe it as well as he might.

"Tell me about it," he whispered, nestling down on the window-seat and drawing her head close to his shoulder; for after the pause that destroyed hope she had broken down, her body shaking with muffled sobs, woeful to feel and to hear. Outside, the Northern Lights-the 'merry-dancers'-yet flickered over the snowy roof-ridges and the snowy uplands beyond.

"I am going to dress," she announced, as the gust of sobbing spent itself. "If Archelaus Libby is awake, he will tell us what it means."

"Take me with you."

Though prepared to go alone, she had hoped he would ask this, being-to confess the truth-more than half afraid of the dark landing and passages below. The two dressed themselves and crept downstairs. In the hall, remembering their former expedition, Myra felt the bolt of the front door cautiously; but this time it was shut. They stole down the side-passage to the kitchen, where a fire burned all night in the great chimney-place on a bed of white wood ashes. Kneeling in the faint glow of it they drew on and laced their boots, then unlatched the kitchen window and dropped out upon the snow.

Archelaus Libby had been given a garret over the cider house, where he slept or studied in a perpetual odour of dried russet apples and Spanish onions. He was awake and dressed, and welcomed the children gaily by the light of a tallow candle. His simple mind found nothing to wonder at in this nocturnal visit. Was not the Aurora Borealis performing in all its splendour? Then naturally the whole world must be awake with him and excited.

He showed Myra its wonders through the telescope, discoursing on them with glee.

"But what does it mean ?" she asked.

He told her how it was caused, and how a clever man had once made a toy with a bright lamp, a globe sprinkled with ground glass, and the vapour of a sponge pressed on hot iron, repeating the phenomenon on a tiny scale. "We will try it ourselves to-morrow," he promised.

The ribbons of light were playing hide-and-seek behind a distant wooded hill, now and again so vividly that its outline stood up clear against them.

"That will be the moors above Damelioc," said Archelaus. "If you watch through the glass, you will see the monument there-the one on the battle-field, you know. I saw it, just now, plain as plain. And once I thought I saw the taller monument, over Bodmin." "That's where they've put Uncle Vro in gaol."

"I was thinking of him just now, Miss Myra. It will be cold for him to-night over there in his cell."

"I wonder if Lady Killiow knows," said Myra musingly.

"They were talking about it in the kitchen to-night," said Archelaus, "and all agreed that she knew naught about it. Miss Susannah was saying that Peter Benny had been across here, bold as a lion, this afternoon, and spoke up to your uncle about it. Their voices were so loud that from the great parlour she heard every word; and Mr. Benny was threatening to tell Lady Killiow what he was doing in her name, and, what's more, to write up to his brother and get the whole story in the London papers."

"But has he told her?"

Clem caught his sister suddenly by the arm. The child was shaking from head to foot. "Peter Benny has not told her! Come away, Myra, and leave Archelaus to his telescope. I want you, back at the house!"

"Why, whatever has taken you?" she asked, believing him ill. Having wished Archelaus good-night and hurried Clem down the garret stairs, she repeated her question anxiously. "Come back to bed, Clem; you're shaking like a leaf!"

"The lights!" stammered the child. "I saw them."

"You saw them!" Myra echoed slowly.

"Yes, yes-over Bodmin and over Damelioc. How far is it to Damelioc?"

"Four or five miles maybe. But, Clem, you don't mean-" She stared into his face by the wan light of the Aurora reflected from the snow. Reading his resolve, she became practical at once. "Stay here and don't stir," she commanded, "while I creep back to the larder and forage."

Dawn overtook them at the lodge-gates of Damelioc; a still dawn, with a clear, steel-blue sky and the promise of a crisp, bright day. It had been freezing all night, and was freezing still; the snow as yet lay like a fine powder, and so impetuously had they hurried, hand in hand, that along the uplands they scarcely felt the edge of the windless air. But here in the valley bottom, under the trees beside the stream, they passed into a different atmosphere, and shivered. Here, too, for the first half-mile-road and sward being covered alike with snow-Myra had much ado to steer, and would certainly have missed her way but for the black tumbling stream on her right. She knew that the drive ran roughly parallel with it, and never more than a few paces distant from its brink. Twice in her life she had journeyed with her grandmother in high June to Lady Killiow's rose-show, and she remembered being allowed to kneel on the cushions of the 'car' and wonder at the miniature bridges and cascades. By keeping close beside the water she could not go wrong.

They halted by a bridge below the lake where the woods divided to right and left at the foot of the great home-park. A cold fog lay over the water and the reedy islands where the wild duck and moorhens were just beginning to stir, but above it a glint or two of sunshine touched the wintry boughs, and while it grew and ran along them and lit up their snowy upper surfaces as with diamonds, a full morning beam smote on the fa?ade of the house itself, high above the slope, uplifted above the fog as it were a heavenly palace raised upon a base of cloud.

Daunted by the vision, Myra glanced at Clem. His face was lifted towards the sunlight.

"The house!" she whispered. "Oh, Clem, it's ever so much grander than I remembered!" She began to describe it to him, while they divided and munched the crusts she had fetched from Susannah's bread-pan.

"If her palace is as fine as that," said Clem, with great cheerfulness, "she must be a very great lady, and can easily do what we want."

They took hands again and mounted the curving drive to the terrace and the cavernous porte-cochère, where hung a bell-pull so huge that Myra had to clasp it in both hands and drag upon it with all her weight. Far in the bowels of the house a bell clanged, deep and hollow-voiced as for a funeral.

A footman answered it-a young giant in blue livery and powder. Flinging wide the vast door, he stared down upon the visitors, and his Olympian haughtiness gave way to a broad grin.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" said the footman.

"You may be jiggered or not," answered Myra,

with sudden aplomb (a moment before, she had been ready to run), "but we wish to see Lady Killiow. Will you announce us, please?"

Two hours later, when the sun had risen above the trees, Sir George Dinham came riding up through Damelioc Park. He too came to right a wrong, having given his promise to Mr. Benny overnight. He rode slowly, pondering. On his way he noted the footprints of two children on the snow, except by them untrodden; marked how they wandered off here and there toward the stream, but ever returned, regained the way, and held on for Damelioc. He wondered what they might mean.

Lady Killiow received him in her morning-room. She wore a bonnet and a long cloak of sables, and was obviously dressed for a drive. She rose from before her writing-table, where she was sealing a letter.

"I interrupt you?" said Sir George as they shook hands, and glancing out of the window he had a glimpse of the heads of a pair of restless bays. Unheard by him-the snow lying six inches deep before the porch-Lady Killiow's carriage had come round from the stables a minute after his arrival.

"But if I guess your errand," she said, "I was merely about to forestall it. I am driving to Bodmin."

"You knew nothing, then, of this poor old creature's case?" "My friend, I hope that you too have only just discovered it, or you would have warned me."

"I heard of it last night for the first time. Rosewarne alone is responsible for the prosecution?"

"He only." She nodded towards the letter on the writing-table. "I have asked him to attend here when I return, and explain himself. Meanwhile-"

"But what can you do?"

"The poor soul is in prison."

"That is where I came to offer my help. The Assizes are not over. The same judge who committed him has been delayed there for three days by a nisi prius suit-an endless West Cornwall will case."

"You did not suppose, surely, that this was happening with any consent of mine?"

"No," Sir George answered slowly, "I did not. But do you know, Lady Killiow, that, without any consent of ours, you and I have nearly been in litigation over this same wretched ferry?" He smiled at her surprise. "Oh, yes, I could help the Radicals to make out a very good case against us!"

"I learned to trust my old steward. It seems that I have carried over my trust too carelessly to this son of his, and with the less excuse because I dislike the man. The fact is, I am getting old."

"May I say humbly that you defend yourself before a far worse sinner in these matters? And may I say, too, that your care for Damelioc and its tenantry has always been quoted in my hearing as exemplary?"

"I am not defending myself. I have been to blame, though," she added with a twinkle, "I do not propose to confess this to my steward. I have been bitterly to blame, and my first business at Bodmin will be to ask this old man's pardon."

"And after?"

"He must be released, and at once. Can this be done by withdrawing the suit? or must there be delays?"

"He must purge his offence, I fear, unless you can persuade the judge to reconsider it. If I can help you in this, I would beg for the privilege."

"Thank you, my friend. I was on the point of asking what you offer. You had best leave your horse here and take a seat in my carriage."

"But," said Sir George, as she moved to the door, "you have not yet told me how you learned the news-who was beforehand with me."

"You shall see." She crossed the corridor, and softly opening a door, invited him to look within. There, in the lofty panelled breakfast-room, at a table reflected as a small white island in a sea of polished floor, sat Myra and Clem replete and laughing, unembarrassed by the splendid footman who waited on them, and reckless that the huge bunch of grapes at which they pulled was of December's growing.

Sir George laughed too as he looked. "But, good heavens!" said he, remembering the footprints on the drive, "they must have left home before daylight!"

"They started in the dead of night, so far as I can gather. Eh? What is it?" she asked, turning upon another footman, who had come briskly down the corridor and halted behind her, obviously with a message.

"Mr. Rosewarne, my lady. He has just come in by way of the stables. He has seen the carriage waiting, but asks me to say that he will not detain your ladyship a minute."

"He has come for the children, no doubt. Very well; I will see him in the morning-room." As the man held open the door for her she motioned to Sir George to precede her. "I shall defer discussing Mr. Rosewarne's conduct with him. For the moment we have to deal with its results, and you may wish to ask him some questions."

Mr. Sam never committed himself to horseback, but employed a light gig for his journeys to and from Damelioc. The cold drive having reddened his ears and lent a touch of blue to his nose, his appearance this morning was more than usually unprepossessing.

"I will not detain your ladyship," he began, repeating the message he had sent by the footman. "Ah, Sir George Dinham? Your servant, Sir George! My first and chief business was to recover my runaways, whom your ladyship has so kindly looked after."

"You know why they came?" asked Lady Killiow.

"To tell the truth, I have not yet had an opportunity to question them. Some freak of the girl's, I should guess. The young teacher to whom I give house-room informs me that they were excited last night by an appearance of the Northern Lights-a very fine display, he tells me. I regret that, being asleep, I missed it. He suggested that the pair had set out to explore the phenomenon; and that, very likely, is the explanation-more especially as their footprints led me due northward. My housekeeper tells me that Myra-the elder child-firmly believes a pot of gold to be buried at the foot of every rainbow. A singular pair, my lady! and my late father scarcely improved matters by allowing them to run wild."

"You are mistaken, Mr. Rosewarne. Undoubtedly they followed the Northern Lights; but their purpose you Will hardly guess. It was to intercede for an old man of eighty, whom, it appears, I have been cruel enough to lock up in prison."

Mr. Sam's face expressed annoyance and something more.

"I sincerely trust, my lady, they have not succeeded in distressing you."

"I suppose I may thank Heaven, sir, that they at least succeeded so far."

Her tone completely puzzled Mr. Sam, who detected the displeasure beneath it, but in all honesty could not decide whether she blamed him or the children.

"A painful business, my lady. The poor man was past his work-a nuisance to himself and to others. These last scenes of our poor mortality- often, as it seems to us (could we be the judges), so unduly protracted-But some steps had to be taken. The ferry was becoming a scandal. I felt called upon to act, and to act firmly. If I may use the expression, your ladyship's feelings in the matter would naturally be those which do honour to your ladyship's sex; they would be, shall I say-er-"

"Why not say 'womanly,' Mr. Rosewarne?"

"Ha, precisely-womanly. I did my best to spare them."

"We will talk of that later. Just now, you will please instruct us how best to release the poor man, and at once. May I remind you that the horses are taking cold?"

"The horses?" Mr. Sam stared from Lady Killiow to Sir George. "Her ladyship doesn't tell me that she was actually proposing to drive to Bodmin?"

"I start within five minutes."

"But it is useless!"


"The man is dead."

"Mr. Rosewarne-"

Mr. Sam drew a telegram from his pocket. "I received this as I was leaving home. The governor of the prison very kindly communicated with me as soon as the office opened. The prisoner-as I heard from the policeman who escorted him-collapsed almost as soon as they admitted him. I telegraphed at once to the governor, assuring him of my interest in the case and requesting information. This is his reply: 'Vro died three-thirty this morning. Doctor supposes senile decay.' It was considerate of him to make this addition, for it will satisfy your ladyship that we acted, though unwillingly, with the plainest possible justification. The man was hopelessly past his work."

Sir George, who had been staring out of window, wheeled about abruptly, lifted his head, and gazed at Mr. Sam for some twenty seconds with a wondering interest. Then he turned to Lady Killiow.

"Shall I send back the carriage?"

"Thank you," she said; and he went out, with a glance at her face which silently expressed many things.

"Mr. Rosewarne," she began, when they were alone, "if I began to say what I think of this business, a person of your instincts would at once fall to supposing that I shifted the blame on to your shoulders, which is just the last thing in the world I mean to do. But precisely because I am guilty, and precisely because I accept responsibility for my steward's actions, a steward who conceals his actions is of no use to me. You are dismissed."

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