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   Chapter 26 MESSENGERS.

Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 16658

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

In Cornwall, they say, the cuckoo brings a gale of wind with him; and of all gales in the year this is the one most dreaded by gardeners and cidermen, for it catches the fruit trees in the height of their blossoming season, and in its short rage wrecks a whole year's promise.

Such a gale overtook the Virtuous Lady, homeward bound, in mid-Atlantic. For two days and a night she ran before it; but this of course is a seaman's phrase, and actually, fast as the wind hurled her forward, she lagged back against it until she wallowed in its wake, and her crew gave thanks and crept below to their bunks, too dog-weary to put off their sodden clothes.

The gale passed on and struck our south-western coast, devastating the orchards of Cornwall and Devon and carpeting them with unborn fruit- dulcis vit? ex-sortes. Amid this unthrifty waste and hard by, off Berry Head, the schooner One-and-All foundered and went down, not prematurely.

Foreseeing the end, her master had given orders to lower the whale-boat. The schooner might be apple-rotten, as her crew declared, but she carried a whale-boat which had inspired confidence for years and induced many a hesitating hand to sign articles; a seaworthy boat, to begin with, and by her owner's and master's care made as nearly unsinkable as might be, cork-fendered, fitted bow and stern with air tanks, well found in all her gear. Woe betide the seaman who abstracted an inch of rope from her to patch up the schooner's crazy rigging, or who left a life-belt lying loose around the deck or a rowlock unrestored to its due place after the weekly scrub-down!

The crew, then, launched the boat-half filling her in the process-and, tumbling in, pulled for the lee of the high land between Berry Head and Brixham. The master took the helm. He was steering without one backward look at the abandoned ship, when the oarsmen ceased pulling, all together, with a cry of dismay.

On the schooner's deck stood a child, waving his arms despairingly.

How he came there they could not tell, nor who he was. The master, not understanding their outcry, cursed and shouted to them to pull on. But already the starboard oars were holding water and the bowman bringing her around head-to-sea.

"Good Lord deliver us!"

The master carried a pair of binoculars, slung in a leathern case about his shoulders inside his oilskin coat.

They had been given to him by public subscription many years before, with a purse of gold, as a reward for saving life at sea. Since then he had forgotten in whisky-drinking and money-getting all the generous courage of his youth. His business for many years had been to play with human life for his own and his owner's profit, with no care but to keep on the right side of the law. The noble impulse which had earned him this testimonial was dead within him; to recover it he must have been born again. He might even, by keeping his pumps going and facing out the peril for another couple of hours, have run the One-and-All into Torbay and saved her; but he had not wanted to save her. Nevertheless, when he had run down to collect his few treasures from the cabin, these binoculars were his first and chiefest thought, for they attached him to something in his base career which had been noble. So careful was he, so fearful of facing eternity and judgment-if drown he must-without them, that, although the time was short and the danger instant, and the man by this time a coward, he had stripped off oilskin coat and pea-jacket to indue them again and button them over his treasure.

Yet either his hands were numb or the sea-water had penetrated these wraps and damped the tag of the leathern case, making it difficult to open. When at length he tugged the binoculars free and sighted them, it was to catch one glimpse, and the last, of the child waving from the bulwarks.

"Good Lord deliver us!"

A high-crested wave blotted out the schooner's hull. She seemed to sink behind it, almost to midway of her main shrouds. She would lift again into sight as that terrible wave went by-

But she did not. The wave went by, but no portion of her hull appeared. With a slow lurch forward she was gone, and the seas ran over her as though she and her iniquity had never been.

In that one glimpse through his binoculars the master, and he alone of the crew, had recognised the child-Calvin Rosewarne, his owner's son.

To their credit, the men pulled back for the spot where the One-and-All had gone down. Not till an hour's battling had taught them the hopelessness of a search hopeless from the first did they turn the boat and head again for Brixham.

The news, telegraphed from Brixham, began to spread through Troy soon after midday. Since the law allowed it, over-insurance was accepted by public opinion in the port almost as a matter of ordinary business; almost, but not quite. In his heart every citizen knew it to be damnable, and voices had been raised in public calling it damnable. Men and women who would have risked nothing to amend the law so far felt the public conscience agreeing with their own that they talked freely of Rosewarne's punishment as a judgment of God. Folks in the street canvassed the news, insensibly sinking their voices as they stared across the water at the elm trees of Hall. Behind those elms lay a house, and within that house would be sitting a man overwhelmed by God's vengeance.

In the late afternoon a messenger knocked at Hester's door with a letter. It was brought to her where she sat, with Mrs. Trevarthen, by Aunt Butson's bedside, and it said-

"I wish to speak with you this evening, if you are willing." "-S. Rosewarne."

She rose at once, silently, with a glance at her two companions. They had not spoken since close upon an hour. When first the news came the old woman on the bed had raised herself upon her elbow, struggled a moment for utterance, and burst into a pa?n of triumphant hatred, horrible to hear. Mrs. Trevarthen sat like one stunned. "Hush 'ee, Sarah! Hush 'ee, that's a good soul!" she murmured once and again in feeble protest. At length Hester, unable to endure it longer, had risen, taken the invalid by one shoulder and forced her gently back upon the pillow.

"Tell me to go," she said, "and I will leave you and not return. But to more of this I will not listen. I believed you an ill-used woman; but you are far less wronged than wicked if you can rejoice in the death of a child."

Since then the invalid had lain quiet, staring up at the ceiling. She did not know-nor did Mrs. Trevarthen know-whose letter Hester held in her hand. But now, as Hester moved towards the door, a weak voice from the bed entreated her-

"You won't leave me! I didn't mean that about the child-I didn't, really!"

"She didn't mean it," echoed Mrs. Trevarthen.

"I know-I know," said Hester, and stretched out both arms in sudden weariness, almost despair. "But oh! why in this world of burdens can we not cast away hate, the worst and wilfullest?"

It seemed to her that in her own mind during these few weeks a light had been steadily growing, illuminating many things she had been wont to puzzle over or habitually to pass by as teasing and obscure. She saw the whole world constructed on one purpose, that all living creatures should love and help one another to be happy. Even such a man as Rosewarne found a place in it, as one to be pitied because he erred against this light. Yes, and even the death of this child had a place in the scheme, since, calling for pity, it called for one of the divinest exercises of love. She marvelled, as she crossed in the ferry-boat, why the passengers, one and all, discussed it as a direct visitation upon Rosewarne, as though Rosewarne had offended against some agreement in which they and God Almighty stood together, and they had left the fellow in God's hands with a confidence which yet allowed them room to admire the dramatic neatness of His methods. She longed to tell them that they were all mistaken, and her eyes sought old Daddo's, who alone took no part in this talk. But old Daddo pulled his stroke without seeming to listen, his brow puckered a little, his eyes bent on the boat's wake abstractedly as though he communed with an inward vision.

At the front door of Hall Susannah met her, white and


"I heard that he'd sent for you." Susannah sank her voice almost to a whisper. "He's in the counting-house. You be'n't afeard?"

"Why should I be afraid?"

"I don't know. He's that strange. For months now he've a-been strange; but for two days he've a-sat there, wi'out food or drink, and the door locked most of the time. Not for worlds would I step into that room alone."

"For two days?"

"Ever since he opened the poor child's letter; for a letter there was, though the Lord knows what was in it. You're sure you be'n't afeard?"

Hester stepped past her and through the great parlour, and tapped gently on the counting-house door. Her knock was answered by the sound of a key turning in the lock, and Rosewarne opened to her.

At the moment she could not see his face, for a lamp on the writing-table behind silhouetted him in black shadow. Her eyes wandered over the room's disarray, and all her senses quailed together in its exhausted atmosphere.

He closed the door, but did not lock it again, motioned her to a chair, and dropped heavily into his accustomed seat by the writing-table, where for a while his fingers played nervously with the scattered papers. Now by the lamplight she noted the extreme greyness of his face and the hard brilliance of his eyes, usually so dull and fish-like.

"I am much obliged to you for coming," he began in a level, almost business-like tone, but without looking up. "There are some questions I want to ask. You have heard the news, of course?"

"Everyone has heard. I am sorry-so sorry! It is terrible."

"Thank you," said he, with a slight inclination of the head, as though acknowledging some remark of small and ordinary politeness. "Perhaps you would like to see this?" He picked up a crumpled sheet of notepaper, smoothed out the creases, and handed it to her. Taking it, she read this, written in a childish, ill-formed hand-

"Dear Father,-When this reaches you I shall be at sea. I hope you won't mind very much, as it runs in the family, and some of those that done it have turned out best. I don't get any good staying at home. I love you and you love me, but nobody else does, and nobody understands. I thought Miss Marvin understood, but she went away and forgot. Never mind, it will be all right when I am a man. I will come back, for you mustn't think I don't love you." "-Your affect. son,"

"C. Rosewarne."

As Hester looked up she found Mr. Samuel's eyes fixed on her for the first time, and fixed on her curiously.

"You don't approve, perhaps, of cousins marrying?" he asked slowly.

Was the man mad, as Susannah had hinted?

"I-I don't understand you, Mr. Rosewarne."

"Your mother had an only sister-an elder sister-who went out to Dominica, and there married a common soldier. Did you know this?"

"I knew that my mother had a sister, and that there had been some disgrace. My father never spoke of it, and my mother died when I was very young; but in some way-as children do-I came to know."

"I thought you might know more, but it does not matter now. My father was that common soldier, and the disgrace did not lie in her marrying him. Before the marriage-I have a copy here of the entry in the register-a child was born. Yes, stare at me well, Cousin Hester, stare at me, your cousin, though born in bastardy!"

His eyes seemed to force her backward, and she leaned back, clasping the arms of her chair.

"I learnt this a short while before my father died. I had only his word for it-he gave me no particulars; but I have hunted them up, and he told me the truth. Knowing them, I concealed them for the sake of the child that was drowned to-day; otherwise, the estate being entailed, his inheritance would have passed to Clem, and he and I were interlopers. Are you one of those who believe that God has punished me by drowning my son? You have better grounds than the rest for believing it."

"No," said Hester, after a long pause, remembering what thoughts had been in her mind as she crossed the ferry.

"Why not?"

"The child had done no evil. God is just, or God does not exist. He must have had some other purpose than to punish you."

"You are right. He may have used that purpose to afflict me yet the more-though I don't believe it; but my true punishment-my worse punishment-began long before. Cousin, cousin, you see clearly! How often might you have helped me during these months I have been in hell! Can you think how a man feels who is afraid of himself? No, you cannot; but I say to you there is no worse hell, and through that hell I have been walking since the day I went near to killing Clem. You saved me that once, and then you turned and left me. I wanted you- no, not to marry me! When a man fears himself he thinks no more of affection. I wanted you, I craved for you, to save me-to save me again and again, and as often as the madness mastered me. A word from you would have made me docile as a child. I should have done you no hurt. On your walks and about your lodging at night I have dogged you for that word, afraid to show myself, afraid to knock and demand it. By this time I had discovered you were my cousin. 'Blood is thicker than water'-over and over I told myself this. 'Sooner or later,' I said, 'the voice in our blood will whisper to her, and she will turn and help my need.' But you never turned, and why? Because you were in love, and if fear is selfish, love is selfish too!"

He paused for breath, eyeing her with a gloomy, bitter smile. "Oh, there's no harm in my knowing your secret," he went on. "I'm past hating Tom Trevarthen, and past all jealousy. All I ever asked was that he should spare you to help me-a cup of cold water for a tongue in hell; I didn't want your love. But that's where the selfishness of love comes in. It can't spare even what it doesn't need for itself. It wants the whole world to be happy; but when the unhappy cry to it, it doesn't hear."

Hester stood up, her eyes brimming. "You are right," she said, "I did not hear. I never guessed at all. Tell me now that I can help."

"It is too late," he answered. "I no longer want your help."

"Surely to-day, if ever, you need your neighbours' pity and their prayers?"

He laughed aloud. "That shows how little you understand! You and my precious neighbours think of me as brooding here, mourning for my lost boy. I tell you I am glad-yes, glad! This is no part of God's punishment! It was the future I feared: He has taken it from me. I can suffer at ease now, knowing the end. See now, I have confessed to you the wrong I did that blind child, and the confession has eased me. I could not have confessed it yesterday-the burden of living grows lighter, you perceive. I don't repent; it doesn't seem to me that I have any use for repentance. If what I have done deserves punishment in another world, I must suffer it; but I know it cannot be half what I have suffered of late. No, cousin, I need you no longer. There is no sting to rankle, now that hope-hope for my boy-has gone. I can rest quiet now, with my own damnation."

She put out a hand, protesting, but he turned from her-they were standing face to face-and opening the door, stood aside to let her pass.

"I thank you for coming," he said gravely. "What I have told you-about the inheritance, I mean-will be no secret after the next few days."

She halted and looked at him inquiringly. "It will be a secret safe with me," she said. Her eyes still searched his.

For the second time he laughed. "The children will be home in a few days; I wait here till then. That is all I meant."

In the dusk by the ferry-slip old Daddo stood ready to push off. Hester was the only passenger, for it was Saturday, and on Saturdays, at this hour, all the traffic flowed away from the town, returning from market to the country.

Her eyes were red, and it may be that old Daddo noted this, for midway across, and without any warning, he rested on his oars, scanning her earnestly.

"You have been calling on Rosewarne, miss?-making so bold."

She nodded.

"I see'd you looking t'ards me just now as we crossed. I see'd you glance up as they, in their foolishness, was reckoning they knew the mind o' God. Tell me, miss, how he bears it?"

"He bears it; but without hope, for his trouble goes deeper."

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