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Shining Ferry By Arthur Quiller-Couch Characters: 7771

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Mr. Benny, arriving next morning at the ferry to cross over to his office, opened his eyes very wide indeed to see the boat waiting by the slip and his late master, Samuel Rosewarne, standing solitary within it, holding on to a shore-ring by the boat-hook.

"But whatever has become of Daddo?" Mr. Benny's gaze, travelling round, rested for one moment of wild suspicion on the door of the 'Sailor's Return,' hard by.

"With your leave he has given up his place to me for a while," said Rosewarne slowly. "I have come to ask you that favour, Mr. Benny."

The little man stepped on board, wondering, nor till half-way across could he find speech. "It hurts me to see you doing this, sir; it does indeed. If old Nicky Vro could look down and see you so demeaning yourself, you can't think but he'd say 'twas too much."

"I did Nicky Vro an injury once, and a mortal one. But I never gave him licence to know, on earth or in heaven, what my conscience requires. It requires this, Mr. Benny; and unless you forbid it, we'll say no more."

The common opinion on both shores was that grief had turned Rosewarne's brain. He had prepared himself against laughter; but no one laughed: and though, as the news spread, curiosity brought many to the shores to see, the groups dispersed as the boat approached. Public penance is a rare thing in these days, and all found it easier to believe that the man was mad. Some read the Lord's retributive hand again in the form his madness took.

In silence he took the passengers' coppers or handed them their change. Few men had ever opened talk with Rosewarne, and none were bold enough to attempt it in the three days during which he plied the ferry.

"You left him lonely to his sinning; leave him alone now," said old Daddo, tilling his cottage-garden up the hill, to the neighbours who leaned across his fence questioning him about his share in the strange business. His advice was idle; they could not help themselves. Something in Rosewarne's face forbade speech.

On the evening of the third day he saw the signal for which he waited-the smoke of a tug rising above the low roofs on the town quay, and above the smoke the top-gallants and royals of a tall vessel pencilled against the sunset's glow. With his eyes upon the vision he rowed to shore and silently as ever took the fees of his passengers and gave them their change; then, having made fast the boat, he walked up to Mr. Benny's office.

"You have done me one service," he said. "I ask you to do me a second. The Virtuous Lady has come into port; in five minutes or less she will drop anchor. Take boat and pull to her. Tell Mrs. Purchase that I have gone up the hill to Hall, and will be waiting there; and if you can persuade her, bring her ashore in your boat."

Mr. Benny reached up for his hat.

"Say that I am waiting to speak with her alone. On no account must she bring the children."

Up in the Widows' Houses, high above the murmur of the little port, no ear caught the splash as the Virtuous Lady's anchor found and held her to home again. In Aunt Butson's room Hester sat and read aloud to her patient. The book was the Book of Proverbs, from which Aunt Butson professed that she, for her part, derived more comfort than from all the four Gospels put together. For an hour Hester read on steadily, and then, warned by the sound of regular breathing, glanced at the bed and shut the Bible.

Rising, she paused for a moment, watching the sleeper, opened and closed the door behind her gently, and bent her steps towards Mrs. Trevarthen's room, at the far end of the gallery; but on the way her eyes fell on a group of daffodils in bloom below, in the quadrangle. Two flights of stairs led up from the quadrangle, one at either end of the gallery; and stepping back to the head of that one which mounted not far from Aunt Butson's door, she descended a

nd plucked a handful of the flowers. Returning to the gallery by the other stairway, she was more than a little surprised to see Mrs. Trevarthen's door, at the head of it, almost wide open. For Mrs. Trevarthen, worn-out and weary, had left her only an hour ago under a solemn promise to go straight to bed, and Hester had been minded to arrange these flowers for her while she slept.

"Mrs. Trevarthen!" she called indignantly from the stair-head. "Mrs. Trevarthen! What did you promise me?"

A tall figure, dark against the farther window, rose from its stooping posture over the bed where Mrs. Trevarthen lay, turned, and confronted her in the doorway with a glad and wondering stare.

"Miss Marvin!"

"Tom! oh, Tom!" cried his mother's voice within. "To think I haven't told you! But you give me no time!"

A minute later, as Hester walked away along the gallery, she heard his step following.

"But why wouldn't you come in?" he demanded, and went on before she could answer, "To think of your being Matron here! But of course mother had no time to reach me with a letter."

"She gave me yours to read," said Hester mischievously; whereat Tom flushed and looked away and laughed. "Tell me," she went on. "What did she answer?"

"She? Who?"

"Why, Harriet-wasn't that her name?"

"There's no such person."

"What? Do you mean to say it was all a trick, and there's no Harriet Sands in existence?"

"You're wrong now. There is a Harriet Sands, and she belongs to Runcorn too; only she's a ship."

"A ship! And the letter you made me write-it almost made me cry, too-was that meant only for a ship?"

"No, it was not-but you're laughing at me." He turned almost savagely, and catching sight of something in her eyes, stood still. "If you only knew--do you know?"

"I wish I did-I think I do."

He caught at her hands and clasped them over the daffodils.

"If ever I'm a widow," said a panting voice a few paces away, "if ever I'm a widow (which the Lord forbid!), I'll end my days on a ground floor 'pon the flat. Companion-ladders is bad enough when you've a man to look after; but when you've put 'en away and can take your meals easy, to chase a bereaved woman up a hill like the side of a house, an' then up a flight of stairs, for five shillings a week and all found-O-oh!"

Mrs. Purchase halted at the stair-head; and it is a question which of three faces was redder.

"O-oh!" repeated Mrs. Purchase. "Here come I with news enough to upset a town, and simmin' to me here's a pair that won't value it more'n a rush. Well-a-well! Am I to go away, my dears, or wish 'ee fortune? You're a sly fellow too, Tom Trevarthen, to go and get hold of a schoolmistress, when 'tis only a little schoolin' you want to get a certificate and be master of a ship. That's the honest truth, my dear,"-she turned to Hester. "'Twas he that worked the Virtuous Lady home, and if you can teach 'en navigation to pass the board, he shall have her and you too. Do I mean it? Iss, fay, I mean it. I'm hauled ashore. 'Tis 'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant,' with Hannah Purchase."

Late that evening Clem and Myra walked hand in hand, hushed, through the unkempt garden-their garden now, though to their childish intelligence no more theirs than it had always been. They might lift their voices now and run shouting with no one to rebuke them. They understood this, yet somehow they did not put it to the proof. Home was home, and the old constraint a part of it.

Late that same evening Samuel Rosewarne passed down the streets of Plymouth and unlatched the door of a dingy house which, empty of human love, of childhood, of friendship, was yet his home and the tolerable refuge of his soul. He no longer feared himself. He could face the future. He could live out his life.


Transcriber's note:

The following corrections were made to the text.

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