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Title: Mehalah - A Story of the Salt Marshes
Author: Baring-Gould, S. (Sabine)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                               *MEHALAH*

                     *A STORY OF THE SALT MARSHES*


                                   BY

                          SABINE BARING-GOULD

                      AUTHOR OF ’JOHN HERRING’ &c.



                             _NEW EDITION_



                                 LONDON
                 SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE
                                  1884

                        [_All rights reserved_]



                              *CONTENTS.*

CHAPTER

      I. THE RAY
     II. THE RHYN
    III. THE SEVEN WHISTLERS
     IV. RED HALL
      V. THE DECOY
     VI. BLACK OR GOLD
    VII. LIKE A BAD PENNY
   VIII. WHERE IS HE?
     IX. IN MOURNING
      X. STRUCK COLOURS
     XI. A DUTCH AUCTION
    XII. A GILDED BALCONY
   XIII. THE FLAG FLIES
    XIV. ON THE BURNT HILL
     XV. NEW YEAR’S EVE
    XVI. IN NEW QUARTERS
   XVII. FACE TO FACE
  XVIII. IN A COBWEB
    XIX. DE PROFUNDIS
     XX. IN PROFUNDUM
    XXI. IN VAIN!
   XXII. THE LAST STRAW
  XXIII. BEFORE THE ALTAR
   XXIV. THE VIAL OF WRATH
    XXV. IN THE DARKNESS
   XXVI. THE FORGING OF THE RING
  XXVII. THE RETURN OF THE LOST
 XXVIII. TIMOTHY’S TIDINGS
   XXIX. TEMPTATION
    XXX. TO WEDDING BELLS



                               *MEHALAH:*

                    _*A STORY OF THE SALT MARSHES.*_



                              *CHAPTER I.*

                               *THE RAY.*


Between the mouths of the Blackwater and the Colne, on the east coast of
Essex, lies an extensive marshy tract veined and freckled in every part
with water.  It is a wide waste of debatable ground contested by sea and
land, subject to incessant incursions from the former, but stubbornly
maintained by the latter.  At high tide the appearance is that of a vast
surface of moss or Sargasso weed floating on the sea, with rents and
patches of shining water traversing and dappling it in all directions.
The creeks, some of considerable length and breadth, extend many miles
inland, and are arteries whence branches out a fibrous tissue of smaller
channels, flushed with water twice in the twenty-four hours.  At
noon-tides, and especially at the equinoxes, the sea asserts its royalty
over this vast region, and overflows the whole, leaving standing out of
the flood only the long island of Mersea, and the lesser islet, called
the Ray.  This latter is a hill of gravel rising from the heart of the
Marshes, crowned with ancient thorntrees, and possessing, what is denied
the mainland, an unfailing spring of purest water.  At ebb, the Ray can
only be reached from the old Roman causeway, called the Strood, over
which runs the road from Colchester to Mersea Isle, connecting formerly
the city of the Trinobantes with the station of the count of the Saxon
shore.  But even at ebb, the Ray is not approachable by land unless the
sun or east wind has parched the ooze into brick; and then the way is
long, tedious and tortuous, among bitter pools and over shining creeks.
It was perhaps because this ridge of high ground was so inaccessible, so
well protected by nature, that the ancient inhabitants had erected on it
a _rath_, or fortified camp of wooden logs, which left its name to the
place long after the timber defences had rotted away.

A more desolate region can scarce be conceived, and yet it is not
without beauty.  In summer, the thrift mantles the marshes with shot
satin, passing through all gradations of tint from maiden’s blush to
lily white. Thereafter a purple glow steals over the waste, as the sea
lavender bursts into flower, and simultaneously every creek and pool is
royally fringed with sea aster. A little later the glass-wort, that shot
up green and transparent as emerald glass in the early spring, turns to
every tinge of carmine.

When all vegetation ceases to live, and goes to sleep, the marshes are
alive and wakeful with countless wild fowl.  At all times they are
haunted with sea mews and roysten crows, in winter they teem with wild
duck and grey geese.  The stately heron loves to wade in the pools,
occasionally the whooper swan sounds his loud trumpet, and flashes a
white reflection in the still blue waters of the fleets.  The plaintive
pipe of the curlew is familiar to those who frequent these marshes, and
the barking of the brent geese as they return from their northern
breeding places is heard in November.

At the close of last century there stood on the Ray a small farmhouse
built of tarred wreckage timber, and roofed with red pan-tiles.  The
twisted thorntrees about it afforded some, but slight, shelter.  Under
the little cliff of gravel was a good beach, termed a ’hard.’

On an evening towards the close of September, a man stood in this
farmhouse by the hearth, on which burnt a piece of wreckwood, opposite
an old woman, who crouched shivering with ague in a chair on the other
side.  He was a strongly built man of about thirty-five, wearing
fisherman’s boots, a brown coat and a red plush waistcoat.  His hair was
black, raked over his brow.  His cheekbones were high; his eyes dark,
eager, intelligent, but fierce in expression.  His nose was aquiline,
and would have given a certain nobility to his countenance, had not his
huge jaws and heavy chin contributed an animal cast to his face.

He leaned on his duck-gun, and glared from under his pent-house brows
and thatch of black hair over the head of the old woman at a girl who
stood behind, leaning on the back of her mother’s chair, and who
returned his stare with a look of defiance from her brown eyes.

The girl might have been taken for a sailor boy, as she leaned over the
chairback, but for the profusion of her black hair.  She wore a blue
knitted guernsey covering body and arms, and across the breast, woven in
red wool, was the name of the vessel, ’Gloriana.’  The guernsey had been
knitted for one of the crew of a ship of this name, but had come into
the girl’s possession. On her head she wore the scarlet woven cap of a
boatman.

The one-pane window at the side of the fireplace faced the west, and the
evening sun lit her brown gipsy face, burnt in her large eyes, and made
coppery lights in her dark hair.

The old woman was shivering with the ague, and shook the chair on which
her daughter leaned; a cold sweat ran off her brow, and every now and
then she raised a white faltering hand to wipe the drops away that hung
on her eyebrows like rain on thatching.

’I did not catch the chill here,’ she said.  ’I ketched it more than
thirty years ago when I was on Mersea Isle, and it has stuck in my
marrow ever since. But there is no ague on the Ray.  This is the
healthiest place in the world, Mehalah has never caught the ague on it.
I do not wish ever to leave it, and to lay my bones elsewhere.’

’Then you will have to pay your rent punctually,’ said the man in a dry
tone, not looking at her, but at her daughter.

’Please the Lord so we shall, as we ever have done,’ answered the woman;
’but when the chill comes on me——’

’Oh, curse the chill,’ interrupted the man; ’who cares for that except
perhaps Glory yonder, who has to work for both of you.  Is it so,
Glory?’

The girl thus addressed did not answer, but folded her arms on the
chairback, and leaned her chin upon them.  She seemed at that moment
like a wary cat watching a threatening dog, and ready at a moment to
show her claws and show desperate battle, not out of malice, but in
self-defence.

’Why, but for you sitting there, sweating and jabbering, Glory would not
be bound to this lone islet, but would go out and see the world, and
taste life.  She grows here like a mushroom, she does not live.  Is it
not so, Glory?’

The girl’s face was no longer lit by the declining sun, which had glided
further north-west, but the flames of the driftwood flickered in her
large eyes that met those of the man, and the cap was still illumined by
the evening glow, a scarlet blaze against the indigo gloom.

’Have you lost your tongue, Glory?’ asked the man, impatiently striking
the bricks with the butt end of his gun.

’Why do you not speak, Mehalah?’ said the mother, turning her wan wet
face aside, to catch a glimpse of her daughter.

’I’ve answered him fifty times,’ said the girl.

’No,’ protested the old woman feebly, ’you have not spoken a word to
Master Rebow.’

’By God, she is right,’ broke in the man.  ’The little devil has a
tongue in each eye, and she has been telling me with each a thousand
times that she hates me.  Eh, Glory?’

The girl rose erect, set her teeth, and turned her face aside, and
looked out at the little window on the decaying light.

Rebow laughed aloud.

’She hated me before, and now she hates me worse, because I have become
her landlord.  I have bought the Ray for eight hundred pounds.  The Ray
is mine, I tell you.  Mistress Sharland, you will henceforth have to pay
me the rent, to me and to none other.  I am your landlord, and
Michaelmas is next week.’

’The rent shall be paid, Elijah!’ said the widow.

’The Ray is mine,’ pursued Rebow, swelling with pride.  ’I have bought
it with my own money—eight hundred pounds.  I could stubb up the trees
if I would. I could cart muck into the well and choke it if I would. I
could pull down the stables and break them up for firewood if I chose.
All here is mine, the Ray, the marshes, and the saltings,[1] the creeks,
the fleets, the farm.  That is mine,’ said he, striking the wall with
his gun, ’and that is mine,’ dashing the butt end against the hearth;
’and you are mine, and Glory is mine.’


[1] A salting is land occasionally flooded, otherwise serving as
pasturage.  A marsh is a reclaimed salting, enclosed within a sea-wall.


’That never,’ said the girl stepping forward, and confronting him with
dauntless eye and firm lips and folded arms.

’Eh!  Gloriana! have I roused you?’ exclaimed Elijah Rebow, with a flash
of exultation in his fierce eyes.  ’I said that the house and the
marshes, and the saltings are mine, I have bought them.  And your mother
and you are mine.’

’Never,’ repeated the girl.

’But I say yes.’

’We are your tenants, Elijah,’ observed the widow nervously interposing.
’Do not let Mehalah anger you. She has been reared here in solitude, and
she does not know the ways of men.  She means nothing by her manner.’

’I do,’ said the girl, ’and he knows it.’

’She is a headlong child,’ pursued the old woman, ’and when she fares to
say or do a thing, there is no staying tongue or hand.  Do not mind her,
master.’

The man paid no heed to the woman’s words, but fixed his attention on
the girl.  Neither spoke.  It was as though a war of wills was
proclaimed and begun. He sought to beat down her defences with the force
of his resolve flung at her from his dark eyes, and she parried it
dauntlessly with her pride.

’By God!’ he said at last, ’I have never seen anywhere else a girl of
your sort.  There is none elsewhere. I like you.’

’I knew it,’ said the mother with feeble triumph in her palsied voice.
’She is a right good girl at heart, true as steel, and as tough in
fibre.’

’I have bought the house and the pasture, and the marshes and the
saltings,’ said Elijah sulkily, ’and all that thereon is.  You are mine,
Glory!  You cannot escape me.  Give me your hand.’

She remained motionless, with folded arms.  He laid his heavy palm on
her shoulder.

’Give me your hand, and mine is light; I will help you.  Let me lay it
on you and it will crush you. Escape it you cannot.  This way or that.
My hand will clasp or crush.’

She did not stir.

’The wild fowl that fly here are mine, the fish that swim in the fleets
are mine,’ he went on; ’I can shoot and net them.’

’So can I, and so can anyone,’ said the girl haughtily.

’Let them try it on,’ said Elijah; ’I am not one to be trifled with, as
the world well knows.  I will bear no poaching here.  I have bought the
Ray, and the fish are mine, and the fowl are mine, and you are mine
also. Let him touch who dares.’

’The wild fowl are free for any man to shoot, the fish are free for any
man to net,’ said the girl scornfully.

’That is not my doctrine,’ answered Elijah.  ’What is on my soil and in
my waters is mine, I may do with them what I will, and so also all that
lives on my estate is mine.’  Returning with doggedness to his point,
’As you live in my house and on my land, you are mine.’

’Mother,’ said the girl, ’give him notice, and quit the Ray.’

’I could not do it, Mehalah, I could not do it,’ answered the woman.
’I’ve lived all my life on the marshes, and I cannot quit them.  But
this is a healthy spot, and not like the marshes of Dairy House where
once we were, and where I ketched the chill.’

’You cannot go till you have paid me the rent,’ said Rebow.

’That,’ answered Mehalah, ’we will do assuredly.’

’So you promise, Glory!’ said Rebow.  ’But should you fail to do it, I
could take every stick here:—That chair in which your mother shivers,
those dishes yonder, the bed you sleep in, the sprucehutch[2] in which
you keep your clothes.  I could pluck the clock, the heart of the house,
out of it.  I could tear that defiant red cap off your head.  I could
drive you both out without a cover into the whistling east wind and
biting frost.’


[2] Cypress-chest.


’I tell you, we can and we will pay.’

’But should you not be able at any time, I warn you what to expect.
I’ve a fancy for that jersey you wear with "Gloriana" right across the
breast.  I’ll pull it off and draw it on myself.’  He ground his teeth.
’I will have it, if only to wrap me in, in my grave.  I will cross my
arms over it, as you do now, and set my teeth, and not a devil in hell
shall tear it off me.’

’I tell you we will pay.’

’Let me alone, let me talk.  This is better than money.  I will rip the
tiling off the roof and fling it down between the rafters, if you refuse
to stir; I will cast it at your mother and you, Glory.  The red cap will
not protect your skull from a tile, will it?  And yet you say, I am not
your master.  You do not belong to me, as do the marshes and the
saltings, and the wild duck.’

’I tell you we will pay,’ repeated the girl passionately, as she
wrenched her shoulder from his iron grip.

’You don’t belong to me!’ jeered Elijah.  Then slapping the arm of the
widow’s chair, and pointing over his shoulder at Mehalah, he said
scornfully: ’She says she does not belong to me, as though she believed
it.  But she does, and you do, and so does that chair, and the log that
smoulders on the hearth, and the very hearth itself, with its heat, the
hungry ever-devouring belly of the house.  I’ve bought the Ray and all
that is on it for eight hundred pounds.  I saw it on the paper, it
stands in writing and may not be broke through. Lawyers’ scripture binds
and looses as Bible scripture. I will stick to my rights, to every
thread and breath of them.  She is mine.’

’But, Elijah, be reasonable,’ said the widow, lifting her hand
appealingly.  The fit of ague was passing away.  ’We are in a Christian
land.  We are not slaves to be bought and sold like cattle.’

’If you cannot pay the rent, I can take everything from you.  I can
throw you out of this chair down on those bricks.  I can take the crock
and all the meat in it.  I can take the bed on which you sleep.  I can
take the clothes off your back.’  Turning suddenly round on the girl he
glared, ’I will rip the jersey off her, and wear it till I rot.  I will
pull the red cap off her head and lay it on my heart to keep it warm.
None shall say me nay.  Tell me, mistress, what are you, what is she,
without house and bed and clothing?  I will take her gun, I will swamp
her boat.  I will trample down your garden.  I will drive you both down
with my dogs upon the saltings at the spring tide, at the full of moon.
You shall not shelter here, on my island, if you will not pay.  I tell
you, I have bought the Ray.  I gave for it eight hundred pounds.’

’But Elijah,’ protested the old woman, ’do not be so angry.  We are sure
to pay.’

’We will pay him, mother, and then he cannot open his mouth against us.’
At that moment the door flew open, and two men entered, one young, the
other old.

’There is the money,’ said the girl, as the latter laid a canvas bag on
the table.

’We’ve sold the sheep—at least Abraham has,’ said the young man
joyously, as he held out his hand. ’Sold them well, too, Glory!’

The girl’s entire face was transformed.  The cloud that had hung over it
cleared, the hard eyes softened, and a kindly light beamed from them.
The set lips became flexible and smiled.  Elijah saw and noted the
change, and his brow grew darker, his eye more threatening.

Mehalah strode forward, and held out her hand to clasp that offered her.
Elijah swung his musket suddenly about, and unless she had hastily
recoiled, the barrel would have struck, perhaps broken, her wrist.

’You refused my hand,’ he said, ’although you are mine.  I bought the
Ray for eight hundred pounds.’  Then turning to the young man with
sullenness, he asked, ’George De Witt, what brings you here?’

’Why, cousin, I’ve a right to be here as well as you.’

’No, you have not.  I have bought the Ray, and no man sets foot on this
island against my will.’

The young man laughed good-humouredly.

’You won’t keep me off your property then, Elijah, so long as Glory is
here?’

Elijah made a motion as though he would speak angrily, but restrained
himself with an effort.  He said nothing, but his eyes followed every
movement of Mehalah Sharland.  She turned to him with an exultant
splendour in her face, and pointing to the canvas bag on the table,
said, ’There is the money.  Will you take the rent at once, or wait till
it is due?’

’It is not due till next Thursday.’

’We do not pay for a few weeks.  Three weeks’ grace we have been
hitherto allowed.’

’I give no grace.’

’Then take your money at once.’

’I will not touch it till it is due.  I will take it next Thursday.  You
will bring it me then to Red Hall.’

’Is the boat all right where I left her?’ asked the young man.

’Yes, George!’ answered the girl, ’she is on the hard where you anchored
her this morning.  What have you been getting in Colchester to-day?’

’I have bought some groceries for mother,’ he said, ’and there is a
present with me for you.  But that I will not give up till by-and-bye.
You will help me to thrust the boat off, will you not, Glory?’

’She is afloat now.  However, I will come presently, I must give Abraham
first his supper.’

’Thank ye,’ said the old man.  ’George de Witt and me stopped at the
Rose and had a bite.  I must go at once after the cows.  You’ll excuse
me.’  He went out.

’Will you stay and sup with us, George?’ asked the widow.  ’There is
something in the pot will be ready directly.’

’Thank you all the same,’ he replied, ’I want to be back as soon as I
can, the night will be dark; besides, you and Glory have company.’  Then
turning to Rebow he added:

’So you have bought the Ray.’

’I have.’

’Then Glory and her mother are your tenants.’

’They are mine.’

’I hope they will find you an easy landlord.’

’I reckon they will not,’ said Elijah shortly.

’Come along, Glory!’ he called, abandoning the topic and the uncongenial
speaker, and turning to the girl.  ’Help me with my boat.’

’Don’t be gone for long, Mehalah!’ said her mother.

’I shall be back directly.’

Elijah Rebow kept his mouth closed.  His face was as though cast in
iron, but a living fire smouldered within and broke out through the
eye-sockets, as lava will lie hard and cold, a rocky crust with a fiery
fluid core within that at intervals glares out at fissures. He did not
utter a word, but he watched Glory go out with De Witt, and then a grim
smile curdled his rugged cheeks.  He seated himself opposite the widow,
and spread his great hands over the fire.  He was pondering. The shadow
of his strongly featured face and expanded hands was cast on the
opposite wall; as the flame flickered, the shadow hands seemed to open
and shut, to stretch and grasp.

The gold had died out of the sky and only a pearly twilight crept in at
the window, the evening heaven seen through the pane was soft and cool
in tone as the tints of the Glaucus gull.  The old woman remained
silent.  She was afraid of the new landlord.  She had long known him,
longer known of him, she had never liked him, and she liked less to have
him now in a place of power over her.

Presently Rebow rose, slowly, from his seat, and laying aside his gun
said, ’I too have brought a present, but not for Glory.  She must know
nothing of this, it is for you.  I put the keg outside the door under
the whitethorn.  I knew a drop of spirits was good for the ague.  We get
spirits cheap, or I would not give you any.’  He was unable to do a
gracious act without marring its merit by an ungracious word.  ’I will
fetch it in.  May it comfort you in the chills.’

He went out of the house and returned with a little keg under his arm.
’Where is it to go?’ he asked.

’Oh, Master Rebow! this is good of you, and I am thankful.  My ague does
pull me down sorely.’

’Damn your ague, who cares about it!’ he said surlily.  ’Where is the
keg to go?’

’Let me roll it in,’ said the old woman, jumping up. ’There are better
cellars and storeplaces here than anywhere between this and Tiptree
Heath.’

’Saving mine at Red Hall, and those at Salcot Rising Sun,’ interjected
the man.

’You see, Rebow, in times gone by, a great many smuggled goods were
stowed away here; but much does not come this way now,’ with a sigh.

’It goes to Red Hall instead,’ said Rebow.  ’Ah! if you were there, your
life would be a merry one. There! take the keg.  I have had trouble
enough bringing it here.  You stow it away where you like, yourself; and
draw me a glass, I am dry.’

He flung himself in the chair again, and let the old woman take up and
hug the keg, and carry it off to some secure hiding-place where in days
gone by many much larger barrels of brandy and wine had been stored
away.  She soon returned.

’I have not tapped this,’ she said.  ’The liquor will be muddy.  I have
drawn a little from the other that you gave me.’

Elijah took the glass from her hand and tossed it off. He was chuckling
to himself.

’You will say a word for me to Glory.’

’Rely on me, Elijah.  None has been so good to me as you.  None has
given me anything for my chill but you.  But Mehalah will find it out, I
reckon; she suspects already.’

He paid no heed to her words.

’So she is not mine, nor the house, nor the marshes, nor the saltings,
nor the fish and fowl!’ he muttered derisively to himself.

’I paid eight hundred pounds for the Ray and all that therein is,’ he
continued, ’let alone what I paid the lawyer.’  He rubbed his hands.
Then he rose again, and took his gun.

’I’m off,’ he said, and strode to the door.

At the same moment Mehalah appeared at it, her face clear and smiling.
She looked handsomer than ever.

’Well!’ snarled Rebow, arresting her, ’what did he give you?’

’That is no concern of yours,’ answered the girl, and she tried to pass.
He put his fowling piece across the door and barred the way.

’What did he give you?’ he asked in his dogged manner.

’I might refuse to answer,’ she said carelessly, ’but I do not mind your
knowing; the whole Ray and Mersea, and the world outside may know.
This!’  She produced an Indian red silk kerchief, which she flung over
her shoulders and knotted under her chin.  With her rich complexion,
hazel eyes, dark hair and scarlet cap, lit by the red fire flames, she
looked a gipsy, and splendid in her beauty.  Rebow dropped his gun,
thrust her aside with a sort of mad fury, and flung himself out of the
door.

’He is gone at last!’ said the girl with a gay laugh.

Rebow put his head in again.  His lips were drawn back and his white
teeth glistened.

’You will pay the rent next Thursday.  I give no grace.’

Then he shut the door and was gone.



                             *CHAPTER II.*

                              *THE RHYN.*


’Mother,’ said Mehalah, ’are you better now?’

’Yes, the fit is off me, but I am left terribly weak.’

’Mother, will you give me the medal?’

’What?  Your grandmother’s charm?  You cannot want it!’

’It brings luck, and saves from sudden death.  I wish to give it to
George.’

’No, Mehalah!  This will not do.  You must keep it yourself.’

’It is mine, is it not?’

’No, child; it is promised you, but it is not yours yet.  You shall have
it some future day.’

’I want it at once, that I may give it to George. He has made me a
present of this red kerchief for my neck, and he has given me many
another remembrance, but I have made him no return.  I have nothing that
I can give him save that medal.  Let me have it.’

’It must not go out of the family, Mehalah.’

’It will not.  You know what is between George and me.’

The old woman hesitated and excused herself, but was so much in the
habit of yielding to her daughter, that she was unable in this matter to
maintain her opposition.  She submitted reluctantly, and crept out of
the room to fetch the article demanded of her.

When she returned, she found Mehalah standing before the fire with her
back to the embers, and her hands knitted behind her, looking at the
floor, lost in thought.

’There it is,’ grumbled the old woman.  ’But I don’t like to part with
it; and it must not go out of the family.  Keep it yourself, Mehalah,
and give it away to none.’

The girl took the coin.  It was a large silver token, the size of a
crown, bearing on the face a figure of Mars in armour, with shield and
brandished sword, between the zodiacal signs of the Ram and the
Scorpion.

The reverse was gilt, and represented a square divided into
five-and-twenty smaller squares, each containing a number, so that the
sum in each row, taken either vertically or horizontally, was
sixty-five.  The medal was undoubtedly foreign.  Theophrastus
Paracelsus, in his ’Archidoxa,’ published in the year 1572, describes
some such talisman, gives instructions for its casting, and says: ’This
seal or token gives him who carries it about him strength and security
and victory in all battles, protection in all perils.  It enables him to
overcome his enemies and counteract their plots.’

The medal held by the girl belonged to the sixteenth century.  Neither
she nor her mother had ever heard of Paracelsus, and knew nothing of his
’Archidoxa.’  The figures on the face passed their comprehension.  The
mystery of the square on the reverse had never been discovered by them.
They knew only that the token was a charm, and that family tradition
held it to secure the wearer against sudden death by violence.

A hole was drilled through the piece, and a strong silver ring inserted.
A broad silk riband of faded blue passed through the ring, so that the
medal might be worn about the neck.  For a few moments Mehalah studied
the mysterious figures by the fire-light, then flung the riband round
her neck, and hid the coin and its perplexing symbols in her bosom.

’I must light a candle,’ she said; then she stopped by the table on her
way across the room, and took up the glass upon it.

’Mother,’ she said sharply; ’who has been drinking here?’

The old woman pretended not to hear the question, and began to poke the
fire.

’Mother, has Elijah Rebow been drinking spirits out of this glass?’

’To be sure, Mehalah, he did just take a drop.’

’Whence did he get it?’

’Don’t you think it probable that such a man as he, out much on the
marshes, should carry a bottle about with him?  Most men go provided
against the chill who can afford to do so.’

’Mother,’ said the girl impatiently, ’you are deceiving me.  I know he
got the spirits here, and that you have had them here for some time.  I
insist on being told how you came by them.’

The old woman made feeble and futile attempts to evade answering her
daughter directly; but was at last forced to confess that on two
occasions, of which this evening was one, Elijah Rebow had brought her a
small keg of rum.

’You do not grudge it me, Mehalah, do you?  It does me good when I am
low after my fits.’

’I do not grudge it you,’ answered the girl; ’but I do not choose you
should receive favours from that man.  He has to-day been threatening
us, and yet secretly he is making you presents.  Why does he come here?’
She looked full in her mother’s face.  ’Why does he give you these
spirits?  He, a man who never did a good action but asked a return in
fourfold measure.  I promise you, mother, if he brings here any more,
that I will stave in the cask and let the liquor you so value waste
away.’

The widow made piteous protest, but her daughter remained firm.

’Now,’ said the girl, ’this point is settled between us.  Be sure I will
not go back from my word.  I will in nothing be behoven to the man I
abhor.  Now let me count the money.’  She caught up the bag, then put it
down again.  She lit a candle at the hearth, drew her chair to the
table, seated herself at it, untied the string knotted about the neck of
the pouch, and poured the contents upon the board.

She sprang to her feet with a cry; she stood as though petrified, with
one hand to her head, the other holding the bag.  Her eyes, wide open
with dismay, were fixed on the little heap she had emptied on the
table—a heap of shot, great and small, some penny-pieces, and a few
bullets.

’What is the matter with you, Mehalah?  What has happened?’

The girl was speechless.  The old woman moved to the table and looked.

’What is this, Mehalah?’

’Look here!  Lead, not gold.’

’There has been a mistake,’ said the widow, nervously, ’call Abraham; he
has given you the wrong sack.’

’There has been no mistake.  This is the right bag. He had no other.  We
have been robbed.’

The old woman was about to put her hand on the heap, but Mehalah
arrested it.

’Do not touch anything here,’ she said, ’let all remain as it is till I
bring Abraham.  I must ascertain who has robbed us.’

She leaned her elbows on the table; she platted her fingers over her
brow, and sat thinking.  What could have become of the money?  Where
could it have been withdrawn?  Who could have been the thief?

Abraham Dowsing, the shepherd, was a simple surly old man, honest but
not intelligent, selfish but trustworthy.  He was a fair specimen of the
East Saxon peasant, a man of small reasoning power, moving like a
machine, very slow, muddy in mind, only slightly advanced in the scale
of beings above the dumb beasts; with instinct just awaking into
intelligence, but not sufficiently awake to know its powers; more
unhappy and helpless than the brute, for instinct is exhausted in the
transformation process; not happy as a man, for he is encumbered with
the new gift, not illumined and assisted by it.  He is distrustful of
its power, inapt to appreciate it, detesting the exercise of it.

On the fidelity of Abraham Dowsing, Mehalah felt assured she might rely.
He was guiltless of the abstraction.  She relied on him to sell the
sheep to the best advantage, for, like everyone of low mental
organisation, he was grasping and keen to drive a bargain. But when he
had the money she knew that less confidence could be reposed on him.  He
could think of but one thing at a time, and if he fell into company, his
mind would be occupied by his jug of beer, his bread and cheese, or his
companion.  He would not have attention at command for anything beside.

The rustic brain has neither agility nor flexibility. It cannot shift
its focus nor change its point of sight. The educated mind will peer
through a needlehole in a sheet of paper, and see through it the entire
horizon and all the sky.  The uncultured mind perceives nothing but a
hole, a hole everywhere without bottom, to be recoiled from, not
sounded.  When the oyster spat falls on mud in a tidal estuary, it gets
buried in mud deeper with every tide, two films each twenty-four hours,
and becomes a fossil if it becomes anything.  Mind in the rustic is like
oyster spat, unformed, the protoplasm of mind but not mind itself,
daily, annually deeper buried in the mud of coarse routine.  It never
thinks, it scarce lives, and dies in unconsciousness that it ever
possessed life.

Mehalah sat considering, her mother by her, with anxious eyes fastened
on her daughter’s face.

The money must have been abstracted either in Colchester or on the way
home.  The old man had said that he stopped and tarried at the Rose inn
on the way.  Had the theft been there committed?  Who had been his
associates in that tavern?

’Mother,’ said Mehalah suddenly, ’has the canvas bag been on the table
untouched since Abraham brought it here?’

’To be sure it has.’

’You have been in the room, in your seat all the while?’

’Of course I have.  There was no one here but Rebow.  You do not suspect
him, do you?’

Mehalah shook her head.

’No, I have no reason to do so.  You were here all the while?’

’Yes.’

Mehalah dropped her brow again on her hands. What was to be done?  It
was in vain to question Abraham.  His thick and addled brain would
baffle enquiry.  Like a savage, the peasant when questioned will
equivocate, and rather than speak the truth invent a lie from a dim fear
lest the truth should hurt him. The lie is to him what his shell is to
the snail, his place of natural refuge; he retreats to it not only from
danger, but from observation.

He does not desire to mislead the querist, but to baffle observation.
He accumulates deception, equivocation, falsehood about him just as he
allows dirt to clot his person, for his own warmth and comfort, not to
offend others.

The girl stood up.

’Mother, I must go after George De Witt at once. He was with Abraham on
the road home, and he will tell us the truth.  It is of no use
questioning the old man, he will grow suspicious, and think we are
accusing him.  The tide is at flood, I shall be able to catch George on
the Mersea hard.’

’Take the lanthorn with you.’

’I will.  The evening is becoming dark, and there will be ebb as I come
back.  I must land in the saltings.’

Mehalah unhung a lanthorn from the ceiling and kindled a candle end in
it, at the light upon the table. She opened the drawer of the table and
took out a pistol.  She looked at the priming, and then thrust it
through a leather belt she wore under her guernsey.

On that coast, haunted by smugglers and other lawless characters, a girl
might well go armed.  By the roadside to Colchester where cross ways
met, was growing an oak that had been planted as an acorn in the mouth
of a pirate of Rowhedge, not many years before, who had there been hung
in chains for men murdered and maids carried off.  Nearly every man
carried a gun in hopes of bringing home wild fowl, and when Mehalah was
in her boat, she usually took her gun with her for the same purpose.
But men bore firearms not only for the sake of bringing home game;
self-protection demanded it.

At this period, the mouth of the Blackwater was a great centre of the
smuggling trade; the number and intricacy of the channels made it a safe
harbour for those who lived on contraband traffic.  It was easy for
those who knew the creeks to elude the revenue boats, and every farm and
tavern was ready to give cellarage to run goods and harbour to
smugglers.

Between Mersea and the Blackwater were several flat holms or islands,
some under water at high-tides, others only just standing above it, and
between these the winding waterways formed a labyrinth in which it was
easy to evade pursuit and entangle the pursuers. The traffic was
therefore here carried on with an audacity and openness scarce
paralleled elsewhere. Although there was a coastguard station at the
mouth of the estuary, on Mersea ’Hard,’ yet goods were run even in open
day under the very eyes of the revenue men.  Each public-house on the
island and on the mainland near a creek obtained its entire supply of
wine and spirits from contraband vessels.  Whether the coastguard were
bought to shut their eyes or were baffled by the adroitness of the
smugglers, cannot be said, but certain it was, that the taverns found no
difficulty in obtaining their supplies as often and as abundant as they
desired.

The villages of Virley and Salcot were the chief landing-places, and
there horses and donkeys were kept in large numbers for the conveyance
of the spirits, wine, tobacco and silk to Tiptree Heath, the scene of
Boadicaea’s great battle with the legions of Suetonius, which was the
emporium of the trade.  There a constant fair or auction of contraband
articles went on, and thence they were distributed to Maldon,
Colchester, Chelmsford, and even London.  Tiptree Heath was a permanent
camping ground of gipsies, and squatters ran up there rude hovels; these
were all engaged in the distribution of the goods brought from the sea.

But though the taverns were able to supply themselves with illicit
spirits, unchecked, the coastguard were ready to arrest and detain run
goods not destined for their cellars.  Deeds of violence were not rare,
and many a revenue officer fell a victim to his zeal.  On Sunken Island
off Mersea, the story went, that a whole boat’s crew were found with
their throats cut; they were transported thence to the churchyard, there
buried, and their boat turned keel upwards over them.

The gipsies were thought to pursue over-conscientious and successful
officers on the mainland, and remove them with a bullet should they
escape the smugglers on the water.

The whole population of this region was more or less mixed up with, and
interested in, this illicit traffic, and with defiance of the officers
of the law, from the parson who allowed his nag and cart to be taken
from his stable at night, left unbolted for the purpose, and received a
keg now and then as repayment, to the vagabonds who dealt at the door
far inland in silks and tobacco obtained free of duty on the coast.

What was rare elsewhere was by no means uncommon here, gipsies
intermarried with the people, and settled on the coast.  The life of
adventure, danger, and impermanence was sufficiently attractive to them
to induce them to abandon for it their roving habits; perhaps the
difference of life was not so marked as to make the change distasteful.
Thus a strain of wild, restless, law-defying gipsy blood entered the
veins of the Essex marshland populations, and galvanised into new life
the sluggish and slimy liquid that trickled through the East Saxon
arteries.  Adventurers from the Low Countries, from France, even from
Italy and Spain—originally smugglers, settled on the coast, generally as
publicans, in league with the owners of the contraband vessels, married
and left issue.  There were neither landed gentry nor resident
incumbents in this district, to civilise and restrain.  The land was
held by yeomen farmers, and by squatters who had seized on and enclosed
waste land, no man saying them nay.  At the revocation of the Edict of
Nantes a large number of Huguenot French families had settled in the
’Hundreds’ and the marshes, and for full a century in several of the
churches divine service was performed alternately in French and English.
To the energy of these colonists perhaps are due the long-extended
sea-walls enclosing vast tracts of pasture from the tide.

Those Huguenots not only infused their Gallic blood into the veins of
the people, but also their Puritanic bitterness and Calvinistic
partiality for Old Testament names.  Thus the most frequent Christian
names met with are those of patriarchs, prophets and Judaic kings, and
the sire-names are foreign, often greatly corrupted.

Yet, in spite of this infusion of strange ichor from all sides, the
agricultural peasant on the land remains unaltered, stamped out of the
old unleavened dough of Saxon stolidity, forming a class apart from that
of the farmers and that of the seamen, in intelligence, temperament, and
gravitation.  All he has derived from the French element which has
washed about him has been a nasal twang in his pronunciation of English.
Yet his dogged adherence to one letter, which was jeopardised by the
Gallic invasion, has reacted, and imposed on the invaders, and the _v_
is universally replaced on the Essex coast by a _w_.

In the plaster and oak cottages away from the sea, by stagnant pools,
the hatching places of clouds of mosquitos, whence rises with the night
the haunting spirit of tertian ague, the hag that rides on, and takes
the life out of the sturdiest men and women, and shakes and wastes the
vital nerves of the children, live the old East Saxon slow moving, never
thinking, day labourers. In the tarred wreck-timber cabins by the sea
just above the reach of the tide, beside the shingle beach, swarms a
yeasty, turbulent, race of mixed-breeds, engaged in the fishery and in
the contraband trade.

Mehalah went to the boat.  It was floating.  She placed the lanthorn in
the bows, cast loose, and began to row.  She would need the light on her
return, perhaps, as with the falling tide she would be unable to reach
the landing-place under the farmhouse, and be forced to anchor at the
end of the island, and walk home across the saltings.  To cross these
without a light on a dark night is not safe even to one knowing the lie
of the land.

A little light still lingered in the sky.  There was a yellow grey glow
in the west over the Bradwell shore. Its fringe of trees, and old barn
chapel standing across the walls of the buried city Othona, stood sombre
against the light, as though dabbed in pitch on a faded golden ground.
The water was still, as no wind was blowing, and it reflected the sky
and the stars that stole out, with such distinctness that the boat
seemed to be swimming in the sky, among black tatters of clouds, these
being the streaks of land that broke the horizon and the reflection.

Gulls were screaming, and curlew uttered their mournful cry.  Mehalah
rowed swiftly down the Rhyn, as the channel was called that divided the
Ray from the mainland, and that led to the ’hard’ by the Rose inn, and
formed the highway by which it drew its supplies, and from which every
farm in the parish of Peldon carried its casks of strong liquor.  To the
west extended a vast marsh from which the tide was excluded by a dyke
many miles in length.  Against the northern horizon rose the hill of
Wigborough crowned by a church and a great tumulus, and some trees that
served as landmarks to the vessels entering the Blackwater.  In ancient
days the hill had been a beacon station, and it was reconverted to this
purpose in time of war.  A man was placed by order of Government in the
tower, to light a crescet on the summit, in answer to a similar beacon
at Mersea, in the event of a hostile fleet being seen in the offing.

Now and then the boat—it was a flat-bottomed punt—hissed among the
asters, as Mehalah shot over tracts usually dry, but now submerged; she
skirted next a bed of bulrushes.  These reeds are only patient of
occasional flushes with salt water, and where they grow it is at the
opening of a land drain, or mark a fresh spring. Suddenly as she was
cutting the flood, the punt was jarred and arrested.  She looked round.
A boat was across her bows.  It had shot out of the rushes and stopped
her.

’Whither are you going, Glory?’

The voice was that of Elijah Rebow, the last man Mehalah wished to meet
at night, when alone on the water.

’That is my affair, not yours,’ she answered.  ’I am in haste, let me
pass.’

’I will not.  I will not be treated like this, Glory. I have shot you a
couple of curlew, and here they are.’

He flung the birds into her boat.  Mehalah threw them back again.

’Let it be an understood thing between us, Elijah, that we will accept
none of your presents.  You have brought my mother a keg of rum, and I
have sworn to beat in the head of the next you give her.  She will take
nothing from you.’

’There you are mistaken, Glory; she will take as much as I will give
her.  You mean that you will not. I understand your pride, Glory! and I
love you for it.’

’I care nothing for your love or your hate.  We are naught to each
other.’

’Yes we are, I am your landlord.  We shall see how that sentiment of
yours will stand next Thursday.’

’What do you mean?’ asked Mehalah hastily.

’What do I mean?  Why, I suppose I am intelligible enough in what I say
for you to understand me without explanation.  When you come to pay the
rent to me next Thursday, you will not be able to say we are naught to
each other.  Why! you will have to pay me for every privilege of life
you enjoy, for the house you occupy, for the marshes that feed your cow
and swell its udder with milk, for the saltings on which your sheep
fatten and grow their wool.’

The brave girl’s heart failed for a moment.  She had not the money.
What would Elijah say and do when he discovered that she and her mother
were defaulters?  However, she put a bold face on the matter now, and
thrusting off the boat with her oar, she said impatiently, ’You are
causing me to waste precious time.  I must be back before the water is
out of the fleets.’

’Whither are you going?’ again asked Rebow, and again he drove his boat
athwart her bows.  ’It is not safe for a young girl like you to be about
on the water after nightfall with ruffians of all sorts poaching on my
saltings and up and down my creeks.’

’I am going to Mersea City,’ said Mehalah.

’You are going to George De Witt.’

’What if I am?  That is no concern of yours.’

’He is my cousin.’

’I wish he were a cousin very far removed from you.’

’Oh Glory! you are jesting.’  He caught the side of the punt with his
hand, for she made an effort to push past him.  ’I shall not detain you
long.  Take these curlew.  They are plump birds; your mother will relish
them.  Take them, and be damned to your pride.  I shot them for you.’

’I will not have them, Elijah.’

’Then I will not either,’ and he flung the dead birds into the water.

She seized the opportunity, and dipping her oars in the tide, strained
at them, and shot away.  She heard him curse, for his boat had grounded
and he could not follow.

She laughed in reply.

In twenty minutes Mehalah ran her punt on Mersea beach.  Here a little
above high-water mark stood a cluster of wooden houses and an old inn,
pretentiously called the ’City,’ a hive of smugglers.  On the shore,
somewhat east, and away from the city, lay a dismasted vessel, fastened
upright by chains, the keel sunk in the shingle.  She had been carried
to this point at spring flood and stranded, and was touched, not lifted
by the ordinary tides.  Mehalah’s punt, drawing no draught, floated
under the side of this vessel, and she caught the ladder by which access
was obtained to the deck.

’Who is there?’ asked George De Witt, looking over the side.

’I am come after you, George,’ answered Mehalah.

’Why, Glory! what is the matter?’

’There is something very serious the matter.  You must come back with me
at once to the Ray.’

’Is your mother ill?’

’Worse than that.’

’Dead?’

’No, no! nothing of that sort.  She is all right. But I cannot explain
the circumstances now.  Come at once and with me.’

’I will get the boat out directly.’

’Never mind the boat.  Come in the punt with me. You cannot return by
water to-night.  The ebb will prevent that.  You will be obliged to go
round by the Strood.  Tell your mother not to expect you.’

’But what is the matter, Glory?’

’I will tell you when we are afloat.’

’I shall be back directly, but I do not know how the old woman will take
it.’  He swung himself down into the cabin, and announced to his mother
that he was going to the Ray, and would return on foot by the Strood.

A gurgle of objurgations rose from the hatchway, and followed the young
man as he made his escape.

’I wouldn’t have done it for another,’ said he; ’the old lady is put
out, and will not forgive me.  It will be bad walking by the Strood,
Glory!  Can’t you put me across to the Fresh Marsh?’

’If there is water enough I will do so.  Be quick now.  There is no time
to spare.’

He came down the ladder and stepped into the punt.

’Give me the oars, Glory.  You sit in the stern and take the lanthorn.’

’It is in the bows.’

’I know that.  But can you not understand, Glory, that when I am rowing,
I like to see you.  Hold the lanthorn so that I may get a peep of your
face now and then.’

’Do not be foolish, George,’ said Mehalah.  However, she did as he
asked, and the yellow dull light fell on her face, red handkerchief and
cap.

’You look like a witch,’ laughed De Witt.

’I will steer, row as hard as you can, George,’ said the girl; then
abruptly she exclaimed, ’I have something for you.  Take it now, and
look at it afterwards.’

She drew the medal from her bosom, and passing the riband over her head,
leaned forward, and tossed the loop across his shoulders.

’Don’t upset the boat, Glory!  Sit still; a punt is an unsteady vessel,
and won’t bear dancing in.  What is it that you have given me?’

’A keepsake.’

’I shall always keep it, Glory, for the sake of the girl I love best in
the world.  Now tell me; am I to row up Mersea channel or the Rhyn?’

’There is water enough in the Rhyn, though we shall not be able to reach
our hard.  You row on, and do not trouble yourself about the direction,
I will steer. We shall land on the Saltings.  That is why I have brought
the lanthorn with me.’

’What are you doing with the light?’

’I must put it behind me.  With the blaze in my eyes I cannot see where
to steer.’  She did as she said.

’Now tell me, Glory, what you have hung round my neck.’

’It is a medal, George.’

’Whatever it be, it comes from you, and is worth more than gold.’

’It is worth a great deal.  It is a certain charm.’

’Indeed!’

’It preserves him who wears it from death by violence.’

At the word a flash shot out of the rushes, and a bullet whizzed past
the stern.

George De Witt paused on his oars, startled, confounded.

’The bullet was meant for you or me,’ said Mehalah in a low voice.  ’Had
the lanthorn been in the bows and not in the stern it would have struck
you.’

Then she sprang up and held the lanthorn aloft, above her head.

’Coward, whoever you are, skulking in the reeds. Show a light, if you
are a man.  Show a light as I do. and give me a mark in return.’

’For heaven’s sake, Glory, put out the candle,’ exclaimed De Witt in
agitation.

’Coward! show a light, that I may have a shot at you,’ she cried again,
without noticing what George said.  In his alarm for her and for
himself, he raised his oar and dashed the lanthorn out of her hand.  It
fell, and went out in the water.

Mehalah drew her pistol from her belt, and cocked it. She was standing,
without trembling, immovable in the punt, her eye fixed unflinching on
the reeds.

’George,’ she said, ’dip the oars.  Don’t let her float away.’

He hesitated.

Presently a slight click was audible, then a feeble flash, as from flint
struck with steel in the pitch blackness of the shore.

Then a small red spark burned steadily.

Not a sound, save the ripple of the retreating tide.

Mehalah’s pistol was levelled at the spark.  She fired, and the spark
disappeared.

She and George held their breath.

’I have hit,’ she said.  ’Now run the punt in where the light was
visible.’

’No, Glory; this will not do.  I am not going to run you and myself into
fresh danger.’  He struck out.

’George, you are rowing away!  Give me the oars.  I will find out who it
was that fired at us.’

’This is foolhardiness,’ he said, but obeyed.  A couple of strokes ran
the punt among the reeds. Nothing was to be seen or heard.  The night
was dark on the water, it was black as ink among the rushes. Several
times De Witt stayed his hand and listened, but there was not a sound
save the gurgle of the water, and the song of the night wind among the
tassels and harsh leaves of the bulrushes.

’She is aground,’ said De Witt.

’We must back into the channel, and push on to the Ray,’ said Mehalah.

The young man jumped into the water among the roots of the reeds, and
drew the punt out till she floated; then he stepped in and resumed the
oars.

’Hist!’ whispered De Witt.

Both heard the click of a lock.

’Down!’ he whispered, and threw himself in the bottom of the punt.

Another flash, report, and a bullet struck and splintered the bulwark.

De Witt rose, resumed the oars, and rowed lustily.

Mehalah had not stirred.  She had remained erect in the stern and never
flinched.

’Coward!’ she cried in a voice full of wrath and scorn, ’I defy you to
death, be you who you may!’



                             *CHAPTER III.*

                         *THE SEVEN WHISTLERS.*


The examination of old Abraham before George De Witt did not lead to any
satisfactory result.  The young man was unable to throw light on the
mystery. He had not been with the shepherd all the while since the sale
of the sheep; nor had he seen the money. Abraham had indeed told him the
sum for which he had parted with the flock, and in so doing had chinked
the bag significantly.  George thought it was impossible for the shot
and pennypieces that had been found in the pouch to have produced the
metallic sound he had heard.  Abraham had informed him of the sale in
Colchester.  Then they had separated, and the shepherd had left the town
before De Witt.

The young man had overtaken him at the public-house called the Red Lion
at Abberton, half-way between Colchester and his destination.  He was
drinking a mug of beer with some seafaring men; and they proceeded
thence together.  But at the Rose, another tavern a few miles further,
they had stopped for a glass and something to eat.  But even there De
Witt had not been with the old man all the while, for the landlord had
called him out to look at a contrivance he had in his punt for putting a
false keel on her; with a bar, after a fashion he had seen among the
South Sea Islanders when he was a sailor.

The discussion of this daring innovation had lasted some time, and when
De Witt returned to the tavern, he found Abraham dozing, if not fast
asleep, with his head on the table, and his money bag in his hand.

’It is clear enough,’ said the widow, ’that the money was stolen either
at the Lion or at the Rose.’

’I brought the money safe here,’ said Abraham sullenly.  ’It is of no
use your asking questions, and troubling my head about what I did here
and there.  I was at the Woolpack at Colchester, at the Lion at
Abberton, and lastly at the Rose.  But I tell you I brought the money
here all safe, and laid it there on that table every penny.’

’How can you be sure of that, Abraham?’

’I say I know it.’

’But Abraham, what grounds have you for such assurance?  Did you count
the money at the Rose?’

’I don’t care what you may ask or say.  I brought the money here.  If
you have lost it, or it has been bewitched since then, I am not to
blame.’

’Abraham, it must have been stolen on the road. There was no one here to
take the money.’

’That is nothing to me.  I say I laid the money all right there!’  He
pointed to the table.

’You may go, Abraham,’ said Mehalah.

’Do you charge me with taking the money?’ the old man asked with moody
temper.

’Of course not,’ answered the girl.  ’We did not suspect you for one
moment.’

’Then whom do you lay it on?’

’We suspect some one whom you met at one of the taverns.’

’I tell you,’ he said with an oath, ’I brought the money here.’

’You cannot prove it,’ said De Witt; ’if you have any reasons for saying
this, let us hear them.’

’I have no reasons,’ answered the shepherd, ’but I know the truth all
the same.  I never have reasons, I do not want to have them, when I know
a fact.’

’Did you shake the bag and make the money chink on the way?’

’I will not answer any more questions.  If you suspect me to be the
thief, say so to my face, and don’t go ferriting and trapping to ketch
me, and then go and lay it on me before a magistrate.’

’You had better go, Abraham.  No one disputes your perfect honesty,’
said Mehalah.

’But I will not go, if anyone suspects me.’

’We do not suspect you.’

’Then why do you ask questions?  Who asks questions who don’t want to
lay a wickedness on one?’

’Go off to bed, Abraham,’ said widow Sharland. ’We have met with a
dreadful loss, and the Almighty knows how we are to come out of it.’

The old man went forth grumbling imprecations on himself if he answered
any more questions.

’Well,’ asked Mehalah of De Witt, when the shepherd was gone, ’what do
you think has become of the money?’

’I suppose he was robbed at one of the taverns.  I see no other possible
way of accounting for the loss. The bag was not touched on the table
from the moment Abraham set it down till you opened it.’

’No.  My mother was here all the time.  There was no one else in the
room but Elijah Rebow.’

’He is out of the question,’ said De Witt.

’Besides, my mother never left her seat whilst he was here.  Did you,
mother?’

The old woman shook her head.

’What are we to do?’ she asked; ’we have no money now for the rent; and
that must be paid next Thursday.’

’Have you none at all?’

’None but a trifle which we need for purchases against the winter.
There was more in the bag than was needed for the rent, and how we shall
struggle through the winter without it, heaven alone can tell.’

’You have no more sheep to sell?’

’None but ewes, which cannot be parted with.’

’Nor a cow?’

’It would be impossible for us to spare her.’

’Then I will lend you the money,’ said George.  ’I have something laid
by, and you shall have what you need for the rent out of it.  Mehalah
will repay me some day.’

’I will, George!  I will!’ said the girl vehemently, and her eyes
filled.  She took the two hands of her lover in her own, and looked him
full in the face.  Her eyes expressed the depth of her gratitude which
her tongue could not utter.

’Now that is settled,’ said De Witt, ’let us talk of something else.’

’Come along, George,’ said Mehalah, hastily, interrupting him.  ’If you
want to be put across on Fresh Marsh, you must not stay talking here any
longer.’

’All right, Glory!  I am ready to go with you, anywhere, to the world’s
end.’

As she drew him outside, she whispered, ’I was afraid of your speaking
about the two shots to-night. I do not wish my mother to hear of that;
it would alarm her.’

’But I want to talk to you about them,’ said De Witt.  ’Have you any
notion who it was that fired at us?’

’Have you?’ asked Mehalah, evading an answer.

’I have a sort of a notion.’

’So have I.  As I was going down the Rhyn to fetch you, I was stopped by
Elijah Rebow.’

’Well, what did he want?’

’He wanted me to take some curlew he had shot; but that was not all, he
tried to prevent my going on. He said that I ought not to be on the
water at night alone.’

’He was right.  He knew a thing or two.’

’He did not like my going to Mersea—to you.’

’I dare say not.  He knew what was in the wind.’

’What do you mean, George?’

’He tried to prevent your going on?’

’Yes, he did, more than once.’

’Then he is in it.  I don’t like Elijah, but I did not think so badly of
him as that.’

’What do you mean, George?’

As they talked they walked down the meadow to the saltings.  They were
obliged to go slowly and cautiously.  The tide had fallen rapidly, and
left the pools brimming.  Every runnel was full of water racing out with
the rush of a mill stream.  ’You see, Glory, the new captain of the
coastguard has been giving a deal of trouble lately.  He has noticed the
single-flashing from the Leather Bottle at the city, and has guessed or
found out the key; so he has been down there flashing false signals with
a lanthorn.  By this means he has brought some of the smugglers very
neatly into traps he has laid for them.  They are as mad as devils, they
swear he is taking an unfair advantage of them, and that they will have
his life for it.  That is what I have heard whispered; and I hear a
great many things.’

’Oh, George! have you not warned him?’

’I! my dear Glory! what can I do?  He knows he is in danger as well as
I.  It is a battle between them, and it don’t do for a third party to
step between. That is what we have done to-night, and near got knocked
over for doing it.  Captain Macpherson is about, night and day.  There
never was a fellow more wide awake, at least not on this station.  What
do you think he did the other day?  A vessel came in, and he overhauled
her, but found nothing; he sought for some barrels drawn along attached
behind her, below water level, but couldn’t find them.  As he was
leaving, he just looked up at the tackling.  "Halloo!" said he to the
captain, "your cordage is begun to untwist, suppose I have your old
ropes and give you new?"  He sent a man aloft, and all the ropes were
made of twisted tobacco.  Now, as you may suppose, the smugglers don’t
much like such a man.’

’But, George, he would hardly go about at night with a lanthorn in his
boat.’

’That is what he does—only it is a dark lanthorn, and with it he flashes
his signals.  That is what makes the men so mad.  It is not my doctrine
to shoot a man who does his duty.  If a man is a smuggler let him do his
duty as one.  If he is a coastguard, let him do his duty by the
revenue.’

’But, George! if he were out watching for smugglers, he would not have
carried his light openly.’

’He might have thought all was safe in the Rhyn.’

’Then again,’ pursued Mehalah, ’I spoke, and there was a second shot
after that.’

’Whoever was there waiting for the captain may have thought you were a
boy.  I do not believe the shot was at you, but at me.’

’But I held the light up.  It would have been seen that I was a woman.’

’Not a bit.  All seen would be your cap and jersey, which are such as
sailor boys wear.’

Mehalah shook her head thoughtfully and somewhat doubtfully, and paced
by the side of De Witt. She did not speak for some time.  She was not
satisfied with his explanation, but she could not state her reasons for
dissatisfaction.

Presently she said, ’Do you think that it was Rebow who fired?’

’No, of course I do not.  He knew you were out, and with a light; and he
knows your voice.’

’But you said he was in the plot.’

’I said that I supposed he knew about it; he knew that there were men
out in punts waiting for the captain, he probably knew that there was
some fellow lurking in the Rhyn; but I did not say that he would shoot
the captain.  I do not for a moment suppose he would.  He is not greatly
affected by his vigilance. He gets something out of the trade, but not
enough to be of importance to him.  A man of his means would not think
it worth his while to shoot an officer.’

’Then you conjecture that he warned me, and went home.’

’That is most likely, I would have done the same; nay more, I would not
have let you go on, if I knew there were fellows about this night with
guns on the lookout.  He did not dare to speak plainly what he knew, but
he gave you a broad hint, and his best advice, and I admire and respect
him for it.’

’You and Rebow are cousins?’

’His father’s sister is my mother.  The land and money all went to
Elijah’s father who is now dead, and is now in Elijah’s hands.  My
mother got nothing.  The family were angry with her for marrying off the
land on to the water.  But you see at Red Hall she had lived, so to
speak, half in and half out of the sea; she took to one element as
readily as to the other.’

’I can trace little resemblance in your features, but something in your
voice.’

’Now, Glory!’ said the young man, ’here is the boat.  How fast the tide
ebbs here!  She is already dry, and we must shove her down over the
grass and mud till she floats.  You step in, I will run her along.’

The wind had risen, and was wailing over the marshes, sighing among the
harsh herbage, the sea-lavender, sovereign wood, and wild asparagus.
Not a cloud was visible.  The sky was absolutely unblurred and thick
besprint with stars.  Jupiter burned in the south, and cast a streak of
silver over the ebbing waters.

The young people stood silent by each other for a moment, and their
hearts beat fast.  Other matters had broken in on and troubled the
pleasant current of their love; but now the thought of these was swept
aside, and their hearts rose and stretched towards each other.  They had
known each other for many years, and the friendship of childhood had
insensibly ripened in their hearts to love.

’I have not properly thanked you, George, for the promise of help in our
trouble.’

’Nor I, Mehalah, for the medal you have given me.’

’Promise me, George, to wear it ever.  It saved your life to-night, I
doubt not.’

’What!  Does it save from death?’

’From sudden death,’ answered Mehalah.  ’I told you so before, in the
boat.’

’I forgot about it, Glory.’

’I will tell you now all about it, my friend.  The charm belonged to my
mother’s mother.  She, as I daresay you have heard, was a gipsy.  My
grandfather fell in love with her and married her.  He was a well-to-do
man, owning a bit of land of his own; but he would go to law with a
neighbour and lost it, and it went to the lawyer.  Well, my grandmother
brought the charm with her, and it has been in the family ever since.
It had been in the gipsy family of my grandmother time out of mind, and
was lent about when any of the men went on dangerous missions.  No one
who wears it can die a sudden death from violence—that is’—Mehalah
qualified the assertion, ’on land.’

’It does not preserve one on the water then?’ said George, with an
incredulous laugh.

’I won’t say that.  It surely did so to-night.  It saves from shot and
stab.’

’Not from drowning?’

’I think not.’

’I must get a child’s caul, and then I shall be immortal.’

’Don’t joke, George,’ said Mehalah gravely.  ’What I say is true.’

’Glory!’ said De Witt, ’I always thought you looked like a gipsy with
your dark skin and large brown eyes, and now from your own lips comes
the confession that you are one.’

’There is none of the blood in my mother,’ said she, ’she is like an
ordinary Christian.  I fancy it jumps a generation.’

’Well, then, you dear gipsy, here is my hand.  Tell my fortune.’

’I cannot do that.  But I have given you a gipsy charm against evil men
and accidents.’

’Hark!’

Out of the clear heaven was heard plaintive whistles, loud, high up,
inexpressibly weird and sad, ’Ewe! ewe! ewe!’  They burst shrilly on the
ears, then became fainter, then burst forth again, then faded away.  It
was as though spirits were passing in the heavens wailing about a
brother sprite that had flickered into nothingness.

’The curlew are in flight.  What is the matter, Mehalah?’

The girl was shivering.

’Are you cold!’

’George! those are the Seven Whistlers.’

’They are the long-beaked curlew going south.’

’They are the Seven Whistlers, and they mean death or deathlike woe.
For God’s sake, George,’ she threw her arms round him, ’swear, swear to
me, never to lay aside the medal I have given you, but to wear it night
and day.’

’There!  Glory, I swear it.’



                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                              *RED HALL.*


The rent-paying day was bright and breezy.  The tide was up in the
morning, and Mehalah and her mother in a boat with sail and jib and
spritsail flew before a north-east wind down the Mersea Channel, and
doubling Sunken Island, entered the creek which leads to Salcot and
Virley, two villages divided only by a tidal stream, and connected by a
bridge.

The water danced and sparkled, multitudes of birds were on the wing, now
dipping in the wavelets, now rising and shaking off the glittering
drops.  A high sea-wall hid the reclaimed land on their left.  Behind it
rose the gaunt black structure of a windmill used for pumping the water
out of the dykes in the marsh.  It was working now, the great black arms
revolving in the breeze, and the pump creaking as if the engine groaned
remonstrances at being called to toil on such a bright day.  A little
further appeared a tiled roof above the wall.

’There is Red Hall,’ said Mehalah, as she ran the boat ashore and threw
out the anchor.  ’I have brought the stool, mother,’ she added, and
helped the old woman to land dry-footed.  The sails were furled, and
then Mehalah and her mother climbed the wall and descended into the
pastures.  These were of considerable extent, reclaimed saltings, but of
so old a date that the brine was gone from the soil, and they furnished
the best feed for cattle anywhere round.  Several stagnant canals or
ditches intersected the flat tract and broke it into islands, but they
hung together by the thread of sea-wall, and the windmill drained the
ditches into the sea.

In the midst of the pasture stood a tall red-brick house.  There was not
a tree near it.  It rose from the flat like a tower.  The basement
consisted of cellars above ground, and there were arched entrances to
these from the two ends.  They were lighted by two small round windows
about four feet from the ground.  A flight of brick stairs built over an
arch led from a paved platform to the door of the house, which stood
some six feet above the level of the marsh.  The house had perhaps been
thus erected in view of a flood overleaping the walls, and converting
the house for a while into an island, or as a preventive to the
inhabitants against ague. The sea-walls had been so well kept that no
tide had poured over them, and the vaults beneath served partly as
cellars, and being extensive, were employed with the connivance of the
owner as a storeplace for run spirits.  The house was indeed very
conveniently situated for contraband trade.  A ’fleet’ or tidal creek on
either side of the marsh allowed of approach or escape by the one when
the other was watched.  Nor was this all. The marsh itself was
penetrated by three or four ramifications of the two main channels, to
these the sea-wall accommodated itself instead of striking across them,
and there was water-way across the whole marsh, so that if a boat were
lifted over the bank on one side, it could be rowed across, again
lifted, and enter the other channel, before a pursuing boat would have
time to return to and double the spit of land that divided the fleets.
The windmill which stood on this spit was in no favour with the
coastguard, for it was thought to act the double purpose of pump and
observatory.  The channel south of these marshes, called the Tollesbury
Fleet, was so full of banks and islets as to be difficult to navigate,
and more than once a revenue boat had got entangled and grounded there,
when in pursuit of a smuggled cargo, which the officers had every reason
to believe was at that time being landed on the Red Hall marshes, and
carted into Salcot and Virley with the farmer’s horses.

The house was built completely of brick, the windows were of moulded
brick, mullions and drip stone, and the roof was of tile.  How the name
of Red Hall came to be given it, was obvious at a glance.

Round the house was a yard paved with brick, and a moat filled with
rushes and weed.  There were a few low outhouses, stable, cowsheds,
bakehouse, forming a yard at the back, and into that descended the stair
from the kitchen-door over a flying arch, like that in front.

Perhaps the principal impression produced by the aspect of Red Hall on
the visitor was its solitariness. The horizon was bounded by sea wall;
only when the door was reached, which was on a level with the top of the
mound, were the glittering expanse of sea, the creeks, and the woods on
Mersea Island and the mainland visible.  Mehalah and her mother had
never been at Red Hall before, and though they were pretty familiar with
the loneliness of the marshes, the utter isolation of this tall gaunt
house impressed them.  The thorn-trees at the Ray gave their farm an
aspect of snugness compared with this.  From the Ray, village-church
towers and cultivated acres were visible, but so long as they were in
the pasture near the Hall, nothing was to be seen save a flat tract of
grass land intersected with lines of bulrush, and bounded by a mound.

Several cows and horses were in the pasture, but no human being was
visible.  Mehalah and her mother hesitated before ascending the stair.

’This is the queerest place for a Christian to live in I ever saw,’ said
the widow.  ’Look there, Mehalah, there is a date on the door, sixteen
hundred and thirty-six.  Go up and knock.’

’Do you see that little window in the sea face of the house, mother?’

’Yes.  There is none but it.’

’I can tell you what that is for.  It is to signal from with a light.’

’I don’t doubt it.  Go on.’

Mehalah slowly ascended the stair; it was without a balustrade.  She
struck against the door.  The door was of strong plank thickly covered
with nails, and the date of which the widow had spoken was made with
nail-heads at the top.

Her knock met with no response, so she thrust the door open and entered,
followed by her mother.

The room she stepped into was large and low.  It was lighted by but one
window to the south, fitted with lead lattice.  The floor was of brick,
for the cellarage was vaulted and supported a solid basement.  There was
no ceiling, and the oak rafters were black with age and smoke.  The only
ornaments decorating the walls were guns and pistols, some of curious
foreign make.

The fire-place was large; on the oak lintel was cut deep the
inscription:—

                   ’WHEN I HOLD (1636) I HOLD FAST.’


Mehalah had scarce time to notice all this, when a trap-door she had not
observed in the floor flew up, and the head, then the shoulders, and
finally the entire body, of Elijah Rebow emerged from the basement.
Without taking notice of his tenants, he leisurely ran a stout iron bolt
through a staple, making fast the trap at the top, then he did the same
with a bolt at the bottom.

At the time, this conduct struck Mehalah as singular. It was as though
Rebow were barring a door from within lest he should be broken in on
from the cellar.

Elijah slowly drew a leather armchair over the trap-door, and seated
himself in it.  The hole through which he had ascended was near the
fire-place, and now that he sat over it he occupied the ingle nook.

’Well, Glory!’ said he suddenly, addressing Mehalah. ’So you have _not_
brought the rent.  You have come with your old mother to blubber and beg
compassion and delay.  I know it all.  It is of no use.  Tears don’t
move me, I have no pity, and I grant no delay. I want my money.  Every
man does.  He wants his money when it’s due.  I calculated on it, I’ve a
debt which I shall wipe off with it, so there; now no excuses, I tell
you they won’t do.  Sheer off.’

’Master Rebow—’ began the widow.

’You may save your speech,’ said Elijah, cutting her short.  ’Faugh!
when I’ve been down there.’—he pointed with his thumb towards the
cellar—’I need a smoke.’  He drew forth a clay pipe and tobacco-box and
leisurely filled the bowl.  Whilst he was lighting his pipe at the
hearth, where an old pile was smouldering, and emitting an odour like
gunpowder, Mehalah drew a purse from her pocket and counted the amount
of the rent on the table.  Rebow did not observe her.  He was engaged in
making his pipe draw, and the table was behind the chair.

’Well!’ said he, blowing a puff of smoke, and chuckling, ’I fancy you
are in a pretty predicament.  Read that over the fire, cut yonder, do
you see?  "When I hold, I hold fast."  I didn’t cut that, but my
fore-elders did, and we all do that.  Why, George De Witt’s mother
thought to have had some pickings out of the marsh, she did, but my
father got hold of it, and he held fast.  He did not let go a penny; no,
not a farthing.  It is a family characteristic.  It is a family
pleasure.  We take a pride in it.  I don’t care what it is, whether it
is a bit of land, or a piece of coin, or a girl, it is all the same, and
I think you’ll find it is so with me.  Eh!  Glory!  When I hold, I hold
fast.’  He turned in his chair and leered at her.

’There, there,’ said she, ’lay hold of your rent, and hold fast till
death.  We want none of it.’

’What is that?’ exclaimed Rebow, starting out of his seat, ’What money
is that?’

’The rent,’ said Mehalah; she stood erect beside the table in her
haughty beauty, and laughed at the surprised and angry expression that
clouded Rebow’s countenance.

’I won’t take it.  You have stolen it.’

’Master Rebow,’ put in the widow, ’the money is yours; it is the rent,
not a penny short.’

’Where did you get the money?’ he asked with a curse.

’You bid me bring the money on rent-day, and there it is,’ said Mehalah.
’But now I will ask a question, and I insist on an answer.’

’Oh! you insist, do you?’

’I insist on an answer,’ repeated the girl.  ’How did you come to think
we were without money?’

’Suppose I don’t choose to answer.’

’If you don’t—’ she began, then hesitated.

’I will tell you,’ he said, sulkily.  ’Abraham Dowsing, your shepherd,
isn’t dumb, I believe.  He talks, he does, and has pretty well spread
the news all round the country how he was robbed of his money at the
Rose.’

’Abraham has never said anything of the sort.  He denies that he was
robbed.’

’Then he says he is accused of being robbed, which is the same.  I
suppose the story is true.’

’It is quite true, Master Rebow,’ answered the widow. ’It was a terrible
loss to us.  We had sold all the sheep we could sell.’

’Oh! a terrible loss, indeed!’ scoffed the man. ’You are so flush of
money, that a loss of ten or fifteen, or may be twenty pounds is nought
to you.  You have your little store in one of those cupboards in every
corner of the old house, and you put your hand in, and take out what you
like.  You call yourself poor, do you, and think nothing of a loss like
this?’

’We are very poor,’ said the widow; ’Heaven knows we have a hard battle
to fight to make both ends meet, and to pay our rent.’

’I don’t believe it.  You are telling me lies.’

He took the coin, and counted it; his dark brow grew blacker; and he
ground his teeth.  Once he raised his wolfish eyes and glared on
Mehalah.  ’That guinea is bad,’ he said, and he threw it on the floor.

’It rings like a good one,’ answered the girl, ’pick it up and give it
to me.  I will let you have another in its place.’

’Oh ho! your pocket is lined with guineas, is it? I will raise the rent
of the Ray.  I thought as much, the land is fatter than mine on this
marsh.  You get the place dirt cheap.  I’ll raise the rent ten pounds.
I’ll raise it twenty.’

’Master Rebow!’ pleaded the widow, ’the Ray won’t allow us to pay it.’

’Do not put yourself out, mother,’ said Mehalah, ’we have a lease of
twenty-one years; and there are seven more years to run, before Rebow
can do what he threatens.’

’Oh, you are clever, you are, Glory! cursed clever. Now look here,
Mistress Sharland, I’m going to have a rasher, and it’s about dinner
time, stop and bite with me; and that girl there, she shall bite too.
You can’t be back till evening, and you’ll be perished with hunger.’

’Thank you, master,’ answered the widow eagerly.

’And I’ll give you a sup of the very primest brandy.’

’Mother, we must return at once.  The tide will ebb, and we shall not be
able to get away.’

’That’s a lie,’ said Elijah angrily, ’as you’ve got here, you can get
away.  There’s plenty of water in the fleet, and will be for three
hours.  I knew you’d come and so I got some rashers all ready on the
pan; there they be.’

’You’re very kind,’ observed the widow.

’A landlord is bound to give his tenantry a dinner on rent-day,’ said
Rebow, with an ugly laugh which displayed his great teeth.  ’It’s
Michaelmas, but I have no goose.  I keep plenty on the marshes.  They do
well here, and they pay well too.’

’I will have a witness that I have paid the rent,’ said Mehalah.  ’Call
one of your men.’

’Go and call one yourself.  I am going to fry the rashers.’

’That guinea is still on the floor,’ said Mehalah.

’I have refused it.  Pick it up, and give me another.’

’I will not pick it up; and I will not give you another till you have
convinced me that the coin is bad.’

’Then let it lie.’

’Where are your men?’

’I don’t know, go and find them.  They’re at their dinner now.  I dare
say near the pump.’

Mehalah left the house, but before she descended the steps, she looked
over the flat.  There was a sort of shed for cattle half a mile off, and
she thought she saw some one moving there.  She went at once in that
direction.

Scarce was she gone when Elijah beckoned the widow to draw over a chair
to the fire.

’You cook the wittles,’ said he; ’I’m my own cook in general, but when a
woman is here, why, I’m fain to let her take the job off my hands.’

The old woman obeyed with as much activity as she was mistress of.
Whilst thus engaged, Elijah walked to the door, opened it, and looked
out.

’She’s going as straight as a wild duck,’ he said, and laughed; ’she is
a damned fine girl.  Listen to me, mistress, that daughter of yours,
Glory, is too good-looking to be mewed up on the Ray.  You should marry
her, and then settle yourself comfortably down for the rest of your days
in your son-in-law’s house.’

’Ah!  Master Rebow, she is poor, she is, and now young men look out for
money.’

’You don’t want a very young man for such as she. Why, she is as wild as
a gipsy, and needs a firm hand to keep her.  He that has hold of her
should hold fast.’

The widow shook her head.  ’We don’t see many folks on the Ray.  She
will have to marry a fellow on the water.’

’No, she won’t,’ said Rebow angrily.  ’Damn her, she shall marry a
farmer, who owns land and marshes, and saltings, and housen, and takes
rents, and don’t mind to drop some eight hundred pound on a bit of a
farm that takes his fancy.’

’Such men are not easy to be got.’

’No, there you are right, mistress; but when you find one, why——’ he
drew his pipe over the inscription on the fireplace.  ’I’m the man, and
now you hold me, hold fast.’

’You, master!’

’Aye, I.  I like the girl.  By God!  I _will_ have Glory.  She was born
for me.  There is not another girl I have seen that I would give an
oystershell for, but she—she—she makes my blood run like melted lead,
and my heart here gnaws and burns in my breast like a fiery rat.  I tell
you I _will_ have her.  I _will_.’

’If it only rested with me,’ moaned the widow.

’Look here,’ said Rebow.  ’Lay that pan on one side and follow me.  I’ll
show you over the house.’  He caught her by the wrist, and dragged her
from room to room, and up the stairs.  When he had brought her back to
the principal apartment in which they had been sitting, he chuckled with
pride.  ’Ain’t it a good house? It’s twenty times better than the Ray.
It is more comfortable, and there are more rooms.  And all these marshes
and meadows are mine, and I have also some cornfields in Virley, on the
mainland.  And then the Ray is mine, with the saltings and all
thereon;—I bought it for eight hundred pounds.’

’We are very much honoured,’ said the widow, ’but you do not consider
how poor Mehalah is; she has nothing.’

Elijah laughed.  ’Not so very poor neither, I fancy. You lost the price
of your sheep, and yet you had money in store wherewith to pay the
rent.’

’Indeed, indeed we had not.’

’Where then did you get the money?’

’It was lent us.’

’Lent you, who by?’ asked Elijah sharply.

’George De Witt was so good——’

Elijah uttered a horrible curse.

’Tell me,’ he said furiously, coming up close to the old woman and
scowling at her—into her eyes.  ’Answer me without a lie; why, by what
right did De Witt lend, or give you, the money?  What claim had you on
him?’

’Well, Elijah, I must tell you.  Mehalah——’

’Here I am,’ said the girl throwing open the door. ’Why am I the subject
of your talk?’  A couple of shepherds followed her.

’Look here,’ she said, counting the coin; ’there is a guinea on the
floor.  Pick it up and try it, if it be good.’

’That’s all right,’ said one of the men, ringing the coin and then
trying it between his teeth.

’This is the sum due for our half-year’s rent,’ she went on.  ’Is it not
so, Master Rebow?  Is not this the sum in full?’

He sullenly gave an affirmative.

’You see that I pay this over to him.  I don’t want a written receipt.
I pay before witnesses.’

Rebow signed to the men to leave, and then with knitted brow collected
the money and put it in his pocket.  The widow went on with the frying
of the bacon.

’Come along with me, mother, to the boat.  We cannot stay to eat.’

’You shall eat with me.  You have come for the first time under my roof
to-day, and you shall not go from under it without a bite.’

’I have no appetite.’

’But I have,’ said the widow testily.  ’I don’t see why you are in such
a hurry, Mehalah; and what is more, I don’t see why you should behave so
unpolitely to Master Rebow when he fares to be so civil.’

’Eat then, if you will, mother,’ said Mehalah; ’but I cannot.  I have no
hunger,’ after a pause, firmly, ’I will not.’

’Oh, you have a will indeed,’ remarked Rebow with a growl.  ’A will it
would be a pleasure to break, and I’ll do it.’

The bacon was fried, and the widow proceeded to dish it up.  There was a
rack in the next room, as Elijah told her, with plates in it, and there
were knives and forks in the drawer.

Whilst the old woman was getting the necessary articles, Rebow was
silent, seated in his leather chair, his elbows on his knees, with the
pipe in one hand, and his head turned on one side, watching Mehalah out
of his fierce, crafty eyes.  The girl had seated herself on a chair
against the wall, as far away from him as possible. Her arms were folded
over her breast, and her head was bent, to avoid encountering his
glance.  She was angry with her mother for staying to eat with the man
whom she hated.

During this quiet—neither speaking—a curious grating noise reached her
ear, and then a clank like that of a chain.  She could not quite make
out whence the noise came.  It was some little while before it
sufficiently attracted her attention to make her consider about it; and
before she had formed any conclusion, her mother returned, and spread
the table, and placed the meat on a dish.

’I’ll go and fetch the liquor,’ said Rebow, and went away.  Whilst he
was absent, again the sound met the girl’s ears.  Neither she nor her
mother had spoken, but now she said, ’Listen, mother, what is that
sound?’

The old woman stood still for a moment, and then proceeded with her
task.

’It is nothing,’ she said indifferently, ’the sound comes up from below
the floor.  I reckon Master Rebow has cows fastened there.’

’By a chain,’ added Mehalah, and dismissed the matter from her mind; the
explanation satisfied her.

Rebow returned the next moment with a bottle.

’This is prime spirit, this is,’ said he.  ’You can’t drink water here,
it gives the fever.  You must add spirits to it to make it harmless.’

’You have no beautiful spring here, as we have on the Ray,’ observed the
widow.

’Not likely to have,’ answered the surly landlord. ’Now sit down and
eat.  Come, Glory.’

She did not move.

’Come, Mehalah, draw up your chair,’ said her mother.

’I am not going to eat,’ she answered resolutely.

’You shall,’ shouted Elijah, rising impetuously, and thrusting his chair
back.  ’You are insulting me in my own house if you refuse to eat with
me.’

’I have no appetite.’

’You will not eat, I heard you say so.  I know the devilry of your
heart.  You will not, but I will?  In his rage he stamped on the
trap-door that he had uncovered, when removing the chair.  Instantly a
prolonged, hideous howl rose from the depths and rang through the room.
Mistress Sharland started back aghast.  Mehalah raised her head, and the
colour left her cheek.

’Oh ho!’ roared Elijah.  ’You will join in also, will you?’  He drew the
bolts passionately back.

’Look here,’ he cried to Mehalah.  ’Come here!’

Involuntarily she obeyed, and looked down.  She saw into a vault feebly
illuminated by daylight through one of the circular windows she had
noticed on approaching the house.  There she saw looking up, directly
under the trap, a face so horrible in its dirt and madness that she
recoiled.

’She won’t eat, she won’t bite with me,’ shouted Rebow, ’then neither
shall her mother eat, nor will I. You shall have the whole.’  He caught
up the dish, and threw down the rashers.  The man below snapped, and
caught like a wild beast, and uttered a growl of satisfaction.

Rebow flung the door back into its place, and rebolted it.  Then he
placed his chair in its former position, and looked composedly from the
widow to Mehalah and seemed to draw pleasure from their fear.

’My brother,’ he explained.  ’Been mad from a child.  A good job for me,
as he was the elder.  Now I have him in keeping, and the land and the
house and the money are mine.  What I hold, I hold fast.  Amen.’



                              *CHAPTER V.*

                              *THE DECOY.*


There was commotion on the beach at Mersea City.

A man-of-war, a schooner, lay off the entrance to the Blackwater, and
was signalling with bunting to the coastguard ship, permanently anchored
off the island, which was replying.  War had been declared with France
some time, but as yet had not interfered with the smuggling trade, which
was carried on with the Low Countries.  Cruisers in the Channel had made
it precarious work along the South Coast, and this had rather stimulated
the activity of contraband traffic on the East.  It was therefore with
no little uneasiness that a war ship was observed standing off the
Mersea flats. Why was she there?  Was a man-of-war to cruise about the
mouth of the Colne and Blackwater continually? What was the purport of
the correspondence carried on between the schooner and the coastguard?
Such were the queries put about among those gathered on the shingle.

They were not long left in doubt, for a boat manned by coastguards left
the revenue vessel and ran ashore; the captain sprang out, and went up
the beach to his cottage, followed by a couple of the crew.  The eager
islanders crowded round the remainder, and asked the news.

The captain was appointed to the command of the schooner, the
’Salamander,’ which had come from the Downs under the charge of the
first lieutenant, to pick him up.  The destiny of the ’Salamander’ was,
of course, unknown.

Captain Macpherson was a keen, canny Scot, small and dapper; as he
pushed through the cluster of men in fishing jerseys and wading boots he
gave them a nod and a word, ’You ought to be serving your country
instead of robbing her, ye loons.  Why don’t you volunteer like men,
there’s more money to be made by prizes than by running spirits.’

’That won’t do, captain,’ said Jim Morrell, an old fisherman.  ’We know
better than that.  There’s the oysters.’

’Oysters!’ exclaimed the captain; ’there’ll be no time for eating
oysters now, and no money to pay for them neither.  Come along with me,
some of you shore crabs.  I promise you better sport than sneaking about
the creeks.  We’ll have at Johnny Crapaud with gun and cutlass.’

Then he entered his cottage, which was near the shore, to say farewell
to his wife.

’If there’s mischief to be done, that chap will do it,’ was the general
observation, when his back was turned.

Attention was all at once distracted by a young woman in a tall taxcart
who was endeavouring to urge her horse along the road, but the animal,
conscious of having an inexperienced hand on the rein, backed, and
jibbed, and played a number of tricks, to her great dismay.

’Oh, do please some of you men lead him along. I daresay he will go if
his head be turned east, but he is frightened by seeing so many of you.’

’Where are you going, Phoebe?’ asked old Morrell.

’I’m only going to Waldegraves,’ she answered. ’Oh, bother the creature!
there he goes again!’ as the horse danced impatiently, and swung round.

’De Witt!’ she cried in an imploring tone, ’do hold his head.  It is a
shame of you men not to help a poor girl.’

George at once went to the rescue.

’Lead him on, De Witt, please, till we are away from the beach.’

The young man good-naturedly held the bit, and the horse obeyed without
attempting resistance.

’There’s a donkey on the lawn by Elm Tree Cottage,’ said the girl; ’she
brays whenever a horse passes, and I’m mortal afeared lest she scare
this beast, and he runs away with me.  If he do so, I can’t hold him in,
my wrists are so weak.’

’Why, Phoebe,’ said De Witt, ’what are you driving for?  Waldegraves is
not more than a mile and a half off, and you might have walked the
distance well enough.’

’I’ve sprained my ankle, and I can’t walk.  I must go to Waldegraves, I
have a message there to my aunt, so Isaac Mead lent me the horse.’

’If you can’t drive, you may do worse than sprain your ankle, you may
break your neck.’

’That is what I am afraid of, George.  The boy was to have driven me,
but he is so excited, I suppose, about the man-of-war coming in, that he
has run off. There! take care!’

’Can’t you go on now?’ asked De Witt, letting go the bridle.
Immediately the horse began to jib and rear.

’You are lugging at his mouth fit to break his jaw, Phoebe.  No wonder
the beast won’t go.’

’Am I, George?  It is the fright.  I don’t understand the horse.  O
dear!  O dear!  I shall never get to Waldegraves by myself.’

’Let the horse go, but don’t job his mouth in that way.’

’There he is turning round.  He will go home again.  O George! save me.’

’You are pulling him round, of course he will turn if you drag at the
rein.’

’I don’t understand horses,’ burst forth Phoebe, and she threw the reins
down.  ’George, there’s a good, dear fellow, jump in beside me.  There’s
room for two, quite cosy.  Drive me to Waldegraves.  I shall never
forget your goodness.’  She put her two hands together, and looked
piteously in the young man’s face.

Phoebe Musset was a very good-looking girl, fair with bright blue eyes,
and yellow hair, much more delicately made than most of the girls in the
place. Moreover, she dressed above them.  She was a village coquette,
accustomed to being made much of, and of showing her caprices.  Her
father owned the store at the city where groceries and drapery were
sold, and was esteemed a well-to-do man.  He farmed a little land.
Phoebe was his only child, and she was allowed to do pretty much as she
liked.  Her father and mother were hard-working people, but Phoebe’s
small hands were ever unsoiled, for they were ever unemployed.  She
neither milked the cows nor weighed the sugar. She liked indeed to be in
the shop, to gossip with anyone who came in, and perhaps the only goods
she condescended to sell was tobacco to the young sailors, from whom she
might calculate on a word of flattery and a lovelorn look.  She was
always well and becomingly dressed.  Now, in a chip bonnet trimmed with
blue riband, and tied under the chin, with a white lace-edged kerchief
over her shoulders, covering her bosom, she was irresistible.  So at
least De Witt found her, for he was obliged to climb the gig, seat
himself beside her, and assume the reins.

’I am not much of a steersman in a craft like this,’ said George
laughing, ’but my hand is stronger than yours, and I can save you from
wreck.’

Phoebe looked slyly round, and her great blue eyes peeped timidly up in
the fisherman’s face.  ’Thank you so much, George.  I shall never, never
forget your great kindness.’

’There’s nothing in it,’ said the blunt fisherman; ’I’d do the same for
any girl.’

’I know how polite you are,’ continued Phoebe; then putting her hand on
the reins, ’I don’t think you need drive quite so fast, George; I don’t
want to get the horse hot, or Isaac will scold.’

’A jog trot like this will hurt no horse.’

’Perhaps you want to get back.  I am sorry I have taken you away.  Of
course you have pressing business. No doubt you want to get to the Ray.’
A little twinkling sly look up accompanied this speech.  De Witt waxed
red.

’I’m in no hurry, myself,’ he said.

’How delightful, George, nor am I.’

The young man could not resist stealing a glance at the little figure
beside him, so neat, so trim, so fresh. He was a humble fellow, and
never dreamed himself to be on a level with such a refined damsel.
Glory was the girl for him, rough and ready, who could row a boat, and
wade in the mud.  He loved Glory.  She was a sturdy girl, a splendid
girl, he said to himself.  Phoebe was altogether different, she belonged
to another sphere, he could but look and admire—and worship perhaps. She
dazzled him, but he could not love her.  She was none of his sort, he
said to himself.

’A penny for your thoughts!’ said Phoebe roguishly. He coloured.  ’I
know what you were thinking of. You were thinking of me.’

De Witt’s colour deepened.  ’I was sure it was so. Now I insist on
knowing what you were thinking of me.’

’Why,’ answered George with a clumsy effort at gallantry, ’I thought
what a beauty you were.’

’Oh, George, not when compared with Mehalah.’

De Witt fidgeted in his seat.

’Mehalah is quite of another kind, you see, Miss.’

’I’m no Miss, if you please.  Call me Phoebe.  It is snugger.’

’She’s more—’ he puzzled his head for an explanation of his meaning.
’She is more boaty than you are—’

’Phoebe.’

’Than you are,’ with hesitation, ’Phoebe.’

’I know;—strides about like a man, smokes and swears, and chews
tobacco.’

’No, no, you mistake me, M——.’

’Phoebe.’

’You mistake me, Phoebe.’

’I have often wondered, George, what attracted you to Mehalah.  To be
sure, it will be a very convenient thing for you to have a wife who can
swab the deck, and tar the boat and calk her.  But then I should have
fancied a man would have liked something different from a—sort of a
man-woman—a jack tar or Ben Brace in petticoats, to sit by his fireside,
and to take to his heart. But of course it is not for me to speak on
such matters, only I somehow can’t help thinking about you, George, and
it worries me so, I lie awake at nights, and wonder and wonder, whether
you will be happy.  She has the temper of a tom cat, I’m told.  She
blazes up like gunpowder.’

De Witt fidgeted yet more uneasily.  He did not like this conversation.

’Then she is half a gipsy.  So you mayn’t be troubled with her long.
She’ll keep with you as long as she likes, and then up with her pack, on
with her wading boots.  Yo heave hoy! and away she goes.’

De Witt, in his irritation, gave the horse a stinging switch across the
flank, and he started forward.  A little white hand was laid, not now on
the reins, but on his hand.

’I’m so sorry, George my friend; after your kindness, I have teased you
unmercifully, but I can’t help it. When I think of Mehalah in her wading
boots and jersey and cap, it makes me laugh—and yet when I think of her
and you together, I’m ashamed to say I feel as if I could cry.  George!’
she suddenly ejaculated.

’Yes, Miss!’

’Phoebe, not Miss, please.’

’I wasn’t going to say Miss.’

’What were you going to say?’

’Why, mate, yes, mate!  I get into the habit of it at sea,’ he
apologised.

’I like it.  Call me mate.  We are on a cruise together, now, you and I,
and I trust myself entirely in your hands, captain.’

’What was it you fared to ask, mate, when you called "George"?’

’Oh, this.  The wind is cold, and I want my cloak and hood, they are
down somewhere behind the seat in the cart.  If I take the reins will
you lean over and get them?’

’You won’t upset the trap?’

’No.’  He brought up the cloak and adjusted it round Phoebe’s shoulders,
and drew the hood over her bonnet, she would have it to cover her head.

’Doesn’t it make me a fright?’ she asked, looking into his face.

’Nothing can do that,’ he answered readily.

’Well, push it back again, I feel as if it made me one, and that is as
bad.  There now.  Thank you, mate! Take the reins again.’

’Halloo! we are in the wrong road.  We have turned towards the Strood.’

’Dear me! so we have.  That is the horse’s doing. I let him go where he
liked, and he went down the turn. I did not notice it.  All I thought of
was holding up his head lest he should stumble.’

De Witt endeavoured to turn the horse.

’Oh don’t, don’t attempt it!’ exclaimed Phoebe. ’The lane is so narrow,
that we shall be upset.  Better drive on, and round by the Barrow Farm,
there is not half-a-mile difference.’

’A good mile, mate.  However, if you wish it.’

’I do wish it.  This is a pleasant drive, is it not, George?’

’Very pleasant,’ he said, and to himself added, ’too pleasant.’

So they chatted on till they reached the farm called Waldegraves, and
there Phoebe alighted.

’I shall not be long,’ she said, at the door, turning and giving him a
look which might mean a great deal or nothing, according to the
character of the woman who cast it.

When she came up she said, ’There, George, I cut my business as short as
possible.  Now what do you say to showing me the Decoy?  I have never
seen it, but I have heard a great deal of it, and I cannot understand
how it is contrived.’

’It is close here,’ said De Witt.

’I know it is, the little stream in this dip feeds it. Will you show me
the Decoy?’

’But your foot—Phoebe.  You have sprained your ankle.’

’If I may lean on your arm I think I can limp down there.  It is not
very far.’

’And then what about the horse?’

’Oh! the boy here will hold it, or put it up in the stable.  Run and
call him, George.’

’I could drive you down there, I think, at least within a few yards of
the place, and if we take the boy he can hold the horse by the gate.’

’I had rather hobble down on your arm, George.’

’Then come along, mate.’

The Decoy was a sheet of water covering perhaps an acre and a half in
the midst of a wood.  The clay that had been dug out for its
construction had been heaped up, forming a little hill crowned by a
group of willows. No one who has seen this ill-used tree in its
mutilated condition, cut down to a stump which bristles with fresh
withes, has any idea what a stately and beautiful tree it is when
allowed to grow naturally.  The old untrimmed willow is one of the
noblest of our native trees.  It may be seen thus in well-timbered parts
of Suffolk, and occasionally in Essex.  The pond was fringed with
rushes, except at the horns, where the nets and screens stood for the
trapping of the birds.  From the mound above the distant sea was
visible, through a gap in the old elm trees that stood below the pool.
In that gap was visible the war-schooner, lying as near shore as
possible.  George De Witt stood looking at it.  The sea was glittering
like silver, and the hull of the vessel was dark against the shining
belt.  A boat with a sail was approaching her.

’That is curious,’ observed George.  ’I could swear to yon boat.  I know
her red sail.  She belongs to my cousin Elijah Rebow.  But he can have
nought to do with the schooner.’

Phoebe was impatient with anything save herself attracting the attention
of the young fisherman.  She drew him from the mound, and made him
explain to her the use of the rush-platted screens, the arched and
funnel-shaped net, and the manner in which the decoy ducks were trained
to lead the wild birds to their destruction.

’They are very silly birds to be led like that,’ said she.

’They little dream whither and to what they are being drawn,’ said De
Witt.

’I suppose some little ducks are dreadfully enticing,’ said Phoebe, with
a saucy look and a twinkle of the blue eyes.  ’Look here, George, my
bonnet-strings are untied, and my hands are quite unable to manage a
bow, unless I am before a glass.  Do you think you could tie them for
me?’

’Put up your chin, then,’ said De Witt with a sigh. He knew he was a
victim; he was going against his conscience.  He tried to think of
Mehalah, but could not with those blue eyes looking so confidingly into
his. He put his finger under her chin and raised it.  He was looking
full into that sweet saucy face.

’What sort of a knot?  I can tie only sailor’s knots.’

’Oh George! something like a true lover’s knot.’

Was it possible to resist, with those damask cheeks, those red lips, and
those pleading eyes so close, so completely in his power?  George did
not resist.  He stooped and kissed the wicked lips, and cheeks, and
eyes.

Phoebe drew away her face at once, and hid it.  He took her arm and led
her away.  She turned her head from him, and did not speak.

He felt that the little figure at his side was shaken with some
hysterical movement, and felt frightened.

’I have offended you, I am very sorry.  I could not help it.  Your lips
did tempt me so; and you looked up at me just as if you were saying,
"Kiss me!"  I could not help it.  You are crying.  I have offended you.’

’No, I am laughing.  Oh, George!  Oh, George!’

They walked back to the farm without speaking. De Witt was ashamed of
himself, yet felt he was under a spell which he could not break.  A
rough fisher lad flattered by a girl he had looked on as his superior,
and beyond his approach, now found himself the object of her advances;
the situation was more than his rude virtue could withstand.  He knew
that this was a short dream of delight, which would pass, and leave no
substance, but whilst under the charm of the dream, he could not cry out
nor move a finger to arouse himself to real life.

Neither spoke for a few minutes.  But, at last, George De Witt turned,
and looking with a puzzled face at Phoebe Musset said, ’You asked me on
our way to Waldegraves what I was thinking about, and offered me a penny
for my thoughts.  Now I wonder what you are lost in a brown study about,
and I will give you four farthings for what is passing in your little
golden head.’

’You must not ask me, George—dear George.’

’Oh mate, you must tell me.’

’I dare not.  I shall be so ashamed.’

’Then look aside when you speak.’

’No, I can’t do that.  I must look you full in the face; and do you look
me in the face too.  George, I was thinking—Why did you not come and
talk to me, before you went courting that gipsy girl, Mehalah.  Are you
not sorry now that you are tied to her?’

His eyes fell.  He could not speak.



                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                            *BLACK OR GOLD.*


When De Witt drove up to the ’City’ with Phoebe Musset, the first person
he saw on the beach was the last person that, under present
circumstances, he wished to see—Mehalah Sharland.  Phoebe perceived her
at once, and rejoiced at the opportunity that offered to profit by it.

For a long time Phoebe had been envious of the reputation as a beauty
possessed by Mehalah.  Her energy, determination and courage made her
highly esteemed among the fishermen, and the expressions of admiration
lavished on her handsome face and generous character had roused all the
venom in Phoebe’s nature. She desired to reign as queen paramount of
beauty, and, like Elizabeth, could endure no rival.  George De Witt was
the best built and most pleasant faced of all the Mersea youths, and he
had hitherto held aloof from her and paid his homage to the rival queen.
This had awakened Phoebe’s jealousy.  She had no real regard, no warm
affection for the young fisherman; she thought him handsome, and was
glad to flirt with him, but he had made no serious impression on her
heart, for Phoebe had not a heart on which any deep impression could be
made.  She had laid herself out to attract and entangle him from love of
power, and desire to humble Mehalah. She did not know whether any actual
engagement existed between George and Glory, probably she did not care.
If there were, so much the better, it would render her victory more
piquant and complete.

She would trifle with the young man for a few weeks or a month, till he
had broken with her rival, and then she would keep him or cast him off
as suited her caprice.  By taking him up, she would sting other admirers
into more fiery pursuit, blow the smouldering embers into flaming
jealousy, and thus flatter her vanity and assure her supremacy.  The
social laws of rural life are the same as those in higher walks, but
unglossed and undisguised.  In the realm of nature it is the female who
pursues and captures, not captivates, the male. As in Eden, so in this
degenerate paradise, it is Eve who walks Adam, at first in wide, then in
gradually contracting circles, about the forbidden tree, till she has
brought him to take the unwholesome morsel.  The male bird blazes in
gorgeous plumage and swims alone on the glassy pool, but the sky is
speckled with sombre feathered females who disturb his repose, drive him
into a corner and force him to divide his worms, and drudge for them in
collecting twigs and dabbing mud about their nest.  The male glow-worm
browses on the dewy blades by his moony lamp; it is the lack-light
female that buzzes about him, coming out of obscurity, obscure herself,
flattering and fettering him and extinguishing his lamp.

Where culture prevails, the sexes change their habits with ostentation,
but remain the same in proclivities behind disguise.  The male is
supposed to pursue the female he seeks as his mate, to hover round her;
and she is supposed to coyly retire, and start from his advances.  But
her modesty is as unreal as the _nolo episcopari_ of a simoniacal
bishop-elect.  Bashfulness is a product of education, a mask made by
art.  The cultured damsel hunts not openly, but like a poacher, in the
dark.  Eve put off modesty when she put on fig-leaves; in the simplicity
of the country, her daughters walk without either.  The female gives
chase to the male as a matter of course, as systematically and
unblushingly in rustic life, as in the other grades of brute existence.
The mother adorns her daughter for the war-path with paint and feathers,
and sends her forth with a blessing and a smile to fulfil the first duty
of woman, and the meed of praise is hers when she returns with a
masculine heart, yet hot and mangled, at her belt.

The Early Church set apart one day in seven for rest; the Christian
pagans set it apart for the exercise of the man hunt.  The Stuart
bishops published a book on Sunday amusements, and allowed of Sabbath
hunting. They followed, and did not lead opinion.  It is the coursing
day of days when marriage-wanting maids are in full cry and scent of all
marriageable men.

A village girl who does not walk about her boy is an outlaw to the
commonwealth, a renegade to her sex.  A lover is held to be of as much
necessity as an umbrella, a maiden must not go out without either.  If
she cannot attract one by her charms, she must retain him with a fee.
Rural morality moreover allows her to change the beau on her arm as
often as the riband in her cap, but not to be seen about, at least on
Sunday, devoid of either.

Phoebe Musset intended some day to marry, but had not made up her mind
whom to choose, and when to alter her condition.  She would have liked a
well-to-do young farmer, but there happened to be no man of this kind
available.  There were, indeed, at Peldon four bachelor brothers of the
name of Marriage, but they were grown grey in celibacy and not disposed
to change their lot.  One of the principal Mersea farmers was named
Wise, and had a son of age, but he was an idiot.  The rest were
afflicted with only daughters—afflicted from Phoebe’s point of view,
blessed from their own.  There was a widower, but to take a widower was
like buying a broken-kneed horse.

George was comfortably off.  He owned some oyster pans and gardens, and
had a fishing smack.

But he was not a catch.  There were, however, no catches to be angled,
trawled or dredged for.  Phoebe did not trouble herself greatly about
the future.  Her father and mother would, perhaps, not be best pleased
were she to marry off the land, but the wishes of her parents were of no
weight with Phoebe, who was determined to suit her own fancy.

As she approached the ’City,’ she saw Glory surrounded by young boatmen,
eager to get a word from her lips or a glance from her eyes.  Phoebe’s
heart contracted with spite, but next moment swelled with triumph at the
thought that it lay in her power to wound her rival and exhibit her own
superiority, before the eyes of all assembled on the beach.

’There is the boy from the Leather Bottle, George,’ said she, ’he shall
take the horse.’

De Witt descended and helped her to alight, then directly, to her great
indignation, made his way to Mehalah.  Glory put out both hands to him
and smiled. Her smile, which was rare, was sweet; it lighted up and
transformed a face somewhat stern and dark.

’Where have you been, George?’

’I have been driving that girl yonder, what’s-her-name, to Waldegraves.’

’What, Phoebe Musset?  I did not know you could drive.’

’I can do more than row a boat and catch crabs, Glory.’

’What induced you to drive her?’

’I could not help myself, I was driven into doing so.  You see, Glory, a
fellow is not always his own master.  Circumstances are sometimes
stronger than his best purposes, and like a mass of seaweed arrest his
oar and perhaps upset his boat.’

’Why, bless the boy!’ exclaimed Mehalah.  ’What are all these excuses
for?  I am not jealous.’

’But I am,’ said Phoebe who had come up.  ’George, you are very
ungallant to desert me.  You have forgotten your promise, moreover.’

’What promise?’

’There! what promise you say, as if your head were a riddle and
everything put in except clots of clay and pebbles fell through.
Mehalah has stuck in the wires, and poor little I have been sifted out.’

’But what did I promise?’

’To show me the hull in which you and your mother live, the "Pandora" I
think you call her.’

’Did I promise?’

’Yes, you did, when we were together at the Decoy under the willows.  I
told you I wished greatly to be introduced to the interior and see how
you lived.’  Turning to Mehalah, ’George and I have been to the Decoy.
He was most good-natured, and explained the whole contrivance to me,
and—and illustrated it.  We had a very pleasant little trot together,
had we not, George?’

’Oh! this is what’s-her-name, is it?’ said Mehalah in a low tone with an
amused look.  She was neither angry nor jealous, she despised Phoebe too
heartily to be either, though with feminine instinct she perceived what
the girl was about, and saw through all her affectation.

’If I made the promise, I must of course keep it,’ said George, ’but it
is strange I should not remember having made it.’

’I dare say you forget a great many things that were said and done at
the Decoy, but,’ with a little affected sigh, ’I do not, I never shall,
I fear.’

George De Witt looked uncomfortable and awkward. ’Will not another day
do as well?’

’No, it will not, George,’ said Phoebe petulantly. ’I know you have no
engagement, you said so when you volunteered to drive me to
Waldegraves.’

De Witt turned to Mehalah, and said, ’Come along with us, Glory! my
mother will be glad to see you.’

’Oh! don’t trouble yourself, Miss Sharland—or Master Sharland, which is
it?’—staring first at the short petticoats, and then at the cap and
jersey.

’Come, Glory,’ repeated De Witt, and looked so uncomfortable that
Mehalah readily complied with his request.

’I can give you oysters and ale, natives, you have never tasted better.’

’No ale for me, George,’ said Phoebe.  ’It is getting on for five
o’clock when I take a dish of tea.’

’Tea!’ echoed De Witt, ’I have no such dainty on board.  But I can give
you rum or brandy, if you prefer either to ale.  Mother always has a
glass of grog about this time; the cockles of her heart require it, she
says.’

’You must give me your arm, George, you know I have sprained my ankle.
I really cannot walk unsupported.’

De Witt looked at Mehalah and then at Phoebe, who gave him such a
tender, entreating glance that he was unable to refuse his arm.  She
leaned heavily on it, and drew very close to his side; then, turning her
head over her shoulder, with a toss of the chin, she said, ’Come along,
Mehalah!’

Glory’s brow began to darken.  She was displeased. George also turned
and nodded to the girl, who walked in the rear with her head down.  He
signed to her to join him.

’Do you know, Glory, what mother did the other night when I failed to
turn up—that night you fetched me concerning the money that was stolen?
She was vexed at my being out late, and not abed at eleven.  As you
know, I could not be so.  I left the Ray as soon as all was settled, and
as you put me across to the Fresh Marsh, I got home across the pasture
and the fields as quickly as I could, but was not here till after
eleven. Mother was angry, she had pulled up the ladder, but before that
she tarred the vessel all round, and she stuck a pail of sea water atop
of the place where the ladder goes.  Well, then, I came home and found
the ladder gone, so I laid hold of the rope that hangs there, and then
souse over me came the water.  I saw mother was vexed, and wanted to
serve me out for being late; however, I would not be beat, so I tried to
climb the side, and got covered with tar.’

’You got in, however?’

’No, I did not, I went to the public-house, and laid the night there.’

’I would have gone through tar, water, and fire,’ said Glory vehemently.
’I would not have been beat.’

’I have no doubt about it, you would,’ observed George, ’but you forget
there might be worse things behind.  An old woman after a stiff glass of
grog, when her monkey is up, is better left to sleep off her liquor and
her displeasure before encountered.’

’I would not tell the story,’ said Mehalah; ’it does you no credit.’

’This is too bad of you, Glory!  You ran me foul of her, and now
reproach me for my steering.’

’You will run into plenty of messes if you go after Mehalah at night,’
put in Phoebe with a saucy laugh.

’Glory!’ said De Witt, ’come on the other side of Phoebe and give her
your arm.  She is lame.  She has hurt her foot, and we are coming now to
the mud.’

’Oh, I cannot think of troubling Mehalah,’ said Phoebe sharply; ’you do
not mind my leaning my whole weight on you, I know, George.  You did not
mind it at the Decoy.’

’Here is the ladder,’ said De Witt; ’step on my foot and then you will
not dirty your shoe-leather in the mud.  Don’t think you will hurt me.
A light feather like you will be unfelt.’

’Do you keep the ladder down day and night?’ asked Glory.

’No.  It is always hauled up directly I come home. Only that one night
did mother draw it up without me. We are as safe in the "Pandora" as you
are at the Ray.’

’And there is this in the situation which is like,’ said Phoebe, pertly,
’that neither can entice robbers, and need securing, as neither has
anything to lose.’

’I beg your pardon,’ answered George, ’there are my savings on board.
My mother sleeps soundly, so she will not turn in till the ladder is up.
That is the same as locking the door on land.  If you have money in the
till——’

’There always is money there, plenty of it too.’

’I have no doubt about it, Phoebe.  Under these circumstances you do not
go to bed and leave your door open.’

’I should think not.  You go first up the ladder, I will follow.
Mehalah can stop and paddle in her native mud, or come after us as suits
her best.’  Turning her head to Glory she said, ’Two are company, three
are none.’  Then to the young man, ’George, give me your hand to help me
on deck, you forget your manners.  I fear the Decoy is where you have
left and lost them.’

She jumped on deck.  Mehalah followed without asking for or expecting
assistance.

The vessel was an old collier, which George’s father had bought when no
longer seaworthy for a few pounds. He had run her up on the Hard,
dismasted her, and converted her into a dwelling.  In it George had been
born and reared.  ’There is one advantage in living in a house such as
this,’ said De Witt; ’we pay neither tax, nor tithe, nor rate.’

’Is that you?’ asked a loud hard voice, and a head enveloped in a huge
mob cap appeared from the companion ladder.  ’What are you doing there,
gallivanting with girls all day?  Come down to me and let’s have it
out.’

’Mother is touchy,’ said George in a subdued voice; ’she gets a little
rough and knotty at times, but she is a rare woman for melting and
untying speedily.’

’Come here, George!’ cried the rare woman.

’I am coming, mother.’ He showed the two girls the ladder; Mrs. De Witt
had disappeared.  ’Go down into the fore cabin, then straight on.  Turn
your face to the ladder as you descend.’  Phoebe hesitated.  She was
awestruck by the voice and appearance of Mrs. De Witt.  However, at a
sign from George she went down, and was followed by Mehalah.  Bending
her head, she passed through the small fore-cabin where was George’s
bunk, into the main cabin, which served as kitchen, parlour, and bedroom
to Mrs. De Witt.  A table occupied the centre, and at the end was an
iron cooking stove. Everything was clean, tidy, and comfortable.  On a
shelf at the side stood the chairs.  Mrs. De Witt whisked one down.

’Your servant,’ said she to Phoebe, with more amiability than the girl
anticipated.  ’Yours too, Glory,’ curtly to Mehalah.

Mrs. De Witt was not favourable to her son’s attachment to Glory.  She
was an imperious, strong-minded woman, a despot in her own house, and
she had no wish to see that house invaded by a daughter-in-law as strong
of will and iron-headed as herself.  She wished to see George mated to a
girl whom she could browbeat and manage as she browbeat and managed her
son.  George’s indecision of character was due in measure to his
bringing up by such a mother.  He had been cuffed and yelled at from
infancy.  His intimacy with the maternal lap had been contracted head
downwards, and was connected with a stinging sensation at the rear.
Self-assertion had been beat or bawled out of him.  She was not a bad,
but a despotic woman.  She liked to have her own way, and she obtained
it, first with her husband, and then with her son, and the ease with
which she had mastered and maintained the sovereignty had done her as
much harm as them.

If a beggar be put on horseback he will ride to the devil, and a woman
in command will proceed to unsex herself.  She was a good-hearted woman
at bottom, but then that bottom where the good heart lay was never to be
found with an anchor, but lay across the course as a shoal where deep
water was desired.  Her son knew perfectly where it was not, but never
where it was. Mrs. De Witt in face somewhat resembled her nephew, Elijah
Rebow, but she was his senior by ten years.  She had the same hawk-like
nose and dark eyes, but was without the wolfish jaw.  Nor had she the
eager intelligence that spoke out of Elijah’s features.  Hers were hard
and coarse and unillumined with mind.

When she saw Phoebe enter her cabin she was both surprised and
gratified.  A fair, feeble, bread-and-butter Miss, such as she held the
girl to be, was just the daughter she fancied.  Were she to come to the
’Pandora’ with whims and graces, the month of honey with George would
assume the taste of vinegar with her, and would end in the new
daughter’s absolute submission.  She would be able to convert such a
girl very speedily into a domestic drudge and a recipient of her abuse.
Men make themselves, but women are made, and the making of women,
thought Mrs. De Witt, should be in the hands of women; men botched them,
because they let them take their own way.

Mrs. De Witt never forgave her parents for having bequeathed her no
money; she could not excuse Elijah for having taken all they left,
without considering her. She found a satisfaction in discharging her
wrongs on others.  She was a saving woman, and spent little money on her
personal adornment.  ’What coin I drop,’ she was wont to say, ’I drop in
rum, and smuggled rum is cheap.’

But though an article is cheap, a great consumption of it may cause the
item to be a serious one; and it was so with Mrs. De Witt.

The vessel to which she acted as captain, steward, and cook, was named
the ’Pandora.’  The vicar was wont to remark that it was a ’Pandora’s’
box full of all gusts, but minus gentle Zephyr.

’Will you take a chair?’ she said obsequiously to Phoebe, placing the
chair for h er, after having first breathed on the seat and wiped it
with her sleeve. Then turning to Mehalah, she asked roughly, ’Well,
Glory! how is that old fool, your mother?’

’Better than your manners,’ replied Mehalah.

’I am glad you are come, Glory,’ said Mrs. De Witt, ’I want to have it
out with you.  What do you mean by coming here of a night, and carrying
off my son when he ought to be under his blankets in his bunk? I won’t
have it.  He shall keep proper hours.  Such conduct is not decent.  What
do you think of that?’ she asked, seating herself on the other side of
the table, and addressing Phoebe, but leaving Mehalah standing. ’What do
you think of a girl coming here after nightfall, and asking my lad to go
off for a row with her all in the dark, and the devil knows whither they
went, and the mischief they were after.  It is not respectable, is it?’

’George should not have gone when she asked him,’ said the girl.

’Dear Sackalive! she twists him round her little finger.  He no more
dare deny her anything than he dare defy me.  But I will have my boy
respectable, I can promise you.  I combed his head well for him when he
came home, I did by cock!  He shall not do the thing again.’

’Look here, mother,’ remonstrated George; ’wash our dirty linen in
private.’

’Indeed!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt.  ’That is strange doctrine!  Why, who
would know we wore any linen at all next our skin, unless we exposed it
when washed over the side of the wessel?  Now you come here.  I have a
bone to pick along with you, George!’

To be on a level with her son, and stare him full in the eyes, a way she
had with everyone she assailed, she sat on the table, and put her feet
on the chair.

’What has become of the money?  I have been to the box, and there are
twenty pounds gone out of it, all in gold.  I haven’t took it, so you
must have.  Now I want to know what you have done with it.  I will have
it out.  I endure no evasions.  Where is the money? Fork it out, or I
will turn all your pockets inside out, and find and retake it.  You want
no money, not you. I provide you with tobacco.  Where is the money?
Twenty pounds, and all in gold.  I was like a shrimp in scalding water
when I went to the box to-day and found the money gone.  I turned that
red you might have said it was erysipelas.  I shruck out that they might
have heard me at the City.  Turn your pockets out at once.’

George looked abashed; he was cowed by his mother.

’I’ll take the carving knife to you!’ said the woman, ’if you do not
hand me over the cash at once.’

’Oh don’t, pray don’t hurt him!’ cried Phoebe, interposing her arm, and
beginning to cry.

’Dear Sackalive!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt, ’I am not aiming at his
witals, but at his pockets.  Where is the money?’

’I have had it,’ said Mehalah, stepping forward and standing between De
Witt and his mother.  ’George has behaved generously, nobly by us.  You
have heard how we were robbed of our money.  We could not have paid our
rent for the Ray had not George let us have twenty pounds.  He shall not
lose it.’

’You had it, you!—you!’ cried Mrs. De Witt in wild and fierce
astonishment.  ’Give it up to me at once.’

’I cannot do so.  The greater part is gone.  I paid the money to-day to
Rebow, our landlord.’

’Elijah has it!  Elijah gets everything.  My father left me without a
shilling, and now he gets my hard-won earnings also.’

’It seems to me, mistress, that the earnings belong to George, and
surely he has a right to do with them what he will,’ said Mehalah
coldly.

’That is your opinion, is it?  It is not mine.’  Then she mused: ’Twenty
pounds is a fortune.  One may do a great deal with such a sum as that,
Mehalah; twenty pounds is twenty pounds whatever you may say; and it
must be repaid.’

’It shall be.’

’When?’

’As soon as I can earn the money.’

Mrs. De Witt’s eyes now rested on Phoebe, and she assumed a milder
manner.  Her mood was variable as the colour of the sea; ’I’m obliged to
be peremptory at times,’ she said; ’I have to maintain order in the
wessel. You will stay and have something to eat?’

’Thank you; your son has already promised us some oysters,—that is,
promised me.’

’Come on deck,’ said George.  ’We will have them there, and mother shall
brew the liquor below.’

The mother grunted a surly acquiescence.

When the three had re-ascended the ladder, the sun was setting.  The
mouth of the Blackwater glittered like gold leaf fluttered by the
breath.  The tide had begun to flow, and already the water had
surrounded the ’Pandora.’  Phoebe and Mehalah would have to return by
boat, or be carried by De Witt.

The two girls stood side by side.  The contrast between them was
striking, and the young man noticed it.  Mehalah was tall, lithe, and
firm as a young pine, erect in her bearing, with every muscle well
developed, firm of flesh, her skin a rich ripe apricot, and her eyes,
now that the sun was in them, like volcanic craters, gloomy, but full of
fire.  Her hair, rich to profusion, was black, yet with coppery hues in
it when seen with a side light.  It was simply done up in a knot, neatly
not elaborately.  Her navy-blue jersey and skirt, the scarlet of her cap
and kerchief, and of a petticoat that appeared below the skirt, made her
a rich combination of colour, suitable to a sunny clime rather than to
the misty bleak east coast.  Phoebe was colourless beside her, a faded
picture, faint in outline.  Her complexion was delicate as the rose, her
frame slender, her contour undulating and weak.  She was the pattern of
a trim English village maiden, with the beauty of youth, and the
sweetness of ripening womanhood, _sans_ sense, _sans_ passion, _sans_
character, _sans_ everything—pretty vacuity.  She seemed to feel her own
inferiority beside the gorgeous Mehalah, and to be angry at it.  She
took off her bonnet, and the wind played with her yellow curls, and the
setting sun spun them into a halo of gold about her delicate face.

’Loose your hair, Mehalah,’ said the spiteful girl.

’What for?’

’I want to see how it will look in the sun.’

’Do so, Glory!’ begged George.  ’How shining Phoebe’s locks are.  One
might melt and coin them into guineas.’

Mehalah pulled out a pin, and let her hair fall, a flood of warm black
with red gleams in it.  It reached her waist, and the wind scattered it
about her like a veil.

If Phoebe’s hair resembled a spring fleecy cloud gilded by the sun,
buoyant in the soft warm air, that of Mehalah was like an angry thunder
shower with a promise of sunshine gleaming through the rain.

’Black or gold, which do you most admire, George?’ asked the saucy girl.

’That is not a fair question to put to me,’ said De Witt in reply; but
he put his fingers through the dark tresses of Mehalah, and raised them
to his lips.  Phoebe bit her tongue.

’George,’ she said sharply.  ’See the sun is in my hair.  I am in glory.
That is better than being so only in name.’

’But your glory is short-lived, Phoebe; the sun will be set in a minute,
and then it is no more.’

’And hers,’ she said spitefully, ’hers—you imply—endures eternally.  I
will go home.’

’Do not be angry, Phoebe, there cannot be thunder in such a golden
cloud.  There can be nothing worse than a rainbow.’

’What have you got there about your neck, George?’ she asked, pacified
by the compliment.

’A riband.’

’Yes, and something at the end of it—a locket containing a tuft of black
horsehair.’

’No, there is not.’

’Call me "mate," as you did when we were at the Decoy.  How happy we
were there, but then we were alone, that makes all the difference.’

George did not answer.  Mehalah’s hot blood began to fire her dark
cheek.

’Tell me what you have got attached to that riband; if you love me, tell
me, George.  We girls are always inquisitive.’

’A keepsake, Phoebe.’

’A keepsake!  Then I must see it.’  She snatched at the riband where it
showed above De Witt’s blue jersey.

’I noticed it before, when you were so attentive at the Decoy.’

Mehalah interposed her arm, and placing her open hand on George’s
breast, thrust him out of the reach of the insolent flirt.

’For shame of you, how dare you behave thus!’ she exclaimed.

’Oh dear!’ cried Phoebe, ’I see it all.  Your keepsake.  How
sentimental!  Oh, George!  I shall die of laughing.’

She went into pretended convulsions of merriment. ’I cannot help it,
this is really too ridiculous.’

Mehalah was trembling with anger.  Her gipsy blood was in flame.  There
is a flagrant spirit in such veins which soon bursts into an explosion
of fire.

Phoebe stepped up to her, and holding her delicate fingers beside the
strong hand of Mehalah, whispered, ’Look at these little fingers.  They
will pluck your love out of your rude clutch.’  She saw that she was
stinging her rival past endurance.  She went on aloud, casting a saucy
side glance at De Witt, ’I should like to add my contribution to the
trifle that is collecting for you since you lost your money.  I suppose
there is a brief.  Off with the red cap and pass it round.  Here is a
crown.’

The insult was unendurable.  Mehalah’s passion overpowered her.  In a
moment she had caught up the girl, and without considering what she was
doing, she flung her into the sea.  Then she staggered back and panted
for breath.

A cry of dismay from De Witt.  He rushed to the side.

’Stay!’ said Mehalah, restraining him with one hand and pressing the
other to her heart.  ’She will not drown.’

The water was not deep.  Several fisherlads had already sprung to the
rescue, and Phoebe was drawn limp and dripping towards the shore.
Mehalah stooped, picked up the girl’s straw hat, and slung it after her.

A low laugh burst from someone riding in a boat under the side of the
vessel.

’Well done, Glory!  You served the pretty vixen right.  I love you for
it.’

She knew the voice.  It was that of Rebow.  He must have heard, perhaps
seen all.



                             *CHAPTER VII.*

                          *LIKE A BAD PENNY.*


’For shame, Glory!’ exclaimed De Witt when he had recovered from his
surprise but not from his dismay. ’How could you do such a wicked and
unwomanly act?’

’For shame, George!’ answered Mehalah, gasping for breath.  ’You stood
by all the while, and listened whilst that jay snapped and screamed at
me, and tormented me to madness, without interposing a word.’

’I am angry.  Your behaviour has been that of a savage!’ pursued George,
thoroughly roused.  ’I love you, Glory, you know I do.  But this is
beyond endurance.’

’If you are not prepared, or willing to right me, I must defend myself,’
said Mehalah; ’and I will do it. I bore as long as I could bear,
expecting every moment that you would silence her, and speak out, and
say, "Glory is mine, and I will not allow her to be affronted."  But not
a step did you take, not a finger did you lift; and then, at last, the
fire in my heart burst forth and sent up a smoke that darkened my eyes
and bewildered my brain.  I could not see, I could not think.  I did not
know, till all was over, what I had done.  George! I know I am rough and
violent, when these rages come over me, I am not to be trifled with.’

’I hope they never may come over you when you have to do with me,’ said
De Witt sulkily.

’I hope not, George.  Do not trifle with me, do not provoke me.  I have
the gipsy in me, but under control.  All at once the old nature bursts
loose, and then I do I know not what.  I cannot waste my energy in words
like some, and I cannot contend with such a girl as that with the
tongue.’

’What will folks say of this?’

’I do not care.  They may talk.  But now, George, let me warn you.  That
girl has been trifling with you, and you have been too blind and foolish
to see her game and keep her at arm’s length.’

’You are jealous because I speak to another girl besides you.’

’No, I am not.  I am not one to harbour jealousy. Whom I trust I trust
with my whole heart.  Whom I believe I believe with my entire soul.  I
know you too well to be jealous.  I know as well that you could not be
false to me in thought or in act as I know my truth to you.  I cannot
doubt you, for had I thought it possible that you would give me occasion
to doubt, I could not have loved you.’

’Sheer off!’ exclaimed George, looking over his shoulder.  ’Here comes
the old woman.’

The old woman appeared, scrambling on deck, her cap-frills bristling
about her ears, like the feathers of an angry white cockatoo.

’What is all this?  By jaggers! where is Phoebe Musset?  What have you
done with her?  Where have you put her?  What were those screams about?’

’Sheer off while you may,’ whispered De Witt; ’the old woman is not to
be faced when wexed no more than a hurricane.  Strike sail, and run
before the wind.’

’What have you done with the young woman? Where is she?  Produce the
corpse.  I heard her as she shruck out.’

’She insulted me,’ said Mehalah, still agitated by passion, ’and I flung
her overboard.’

Mrs. De Witt rushed to the bulwarks, and saw the dripping damsel being
carried—she could not walk—from the Strand to her father’s house.

’You chucked her overboard!’ exclaimed the old woman, and she caught up
a swabbing-mop.  ’How dare you?  She was my visitor; she came to sip my
grog and eat my natives at my hospitable board, and you chucked her into
the sea as though she were a picked cockleshell!’

’She insulted me,’ said Mehalah angrily.

’I will teach you to play the dog-fish among my herrings, to turn this
blessed peaceful "Pandora" into a cage of bears!’ cried Mrs. De Witt,
charging with her mop.

Mehalah struck the weapon down, and put her foot on it.

’Take care!’ she exclaimed, her voice trembling with passion.  ’In
another moment you will have raised the devil in me again.’

’He don’t take much raising,’ vociferated Mrs. De Witt.  ’I will teach
you to assault a genteel young female who comes a wisiting of me and my
son in our own wessel.  Do you think you are already mistress here?
Does the "Pandora" belong to you?  Am I to be chucked overboard along
with every lass that wexes you?  Am I of no account any more in the eyes
of my son, that I suckled from my maternal bottle, and fed with egg and
pap out of my own spoon?’

’For heaven’s sake,’ interrupted George, ’sheer off, Mehalah.  Mother is
the dearest old lady in the world when she is sober.  She is a Pacific
Ocean when not vexed with storms.  She will pacify presently.’

’I will go, George,’ said Mehalah, panting with anger, her veins
swollen, her eye sparkling, and her lip quivering; ’I will go, and I
will never set foot in this boat again, till you and your mother have
asked my pardon for this conduct; she for this outrage, you for having
allowed me to receive insult, white-livered coward that you are.’

She flung herself down the ladder, and waded ashore.

Mrs. De Witt’s temper abated as speedily as it rose. She retired to her
grog.  She set feet downwards on the scene; the last of her stalwart
form to disappear was the glowing countenance set in white rays.

George was left to his own reflections.  He saw Mehalah get into her
boat and row away.  He waved his cap to her, but she did not return the
salute.  She was offended grievously.  George was placed in a difficult
situation.  The girl to whom he was betrothed was angry, and had
declared her determination not to tread the planks of the ’Pandora’
again, and the girl who had made advances to him, and whom his mother
would have favoured, had been ejected unceremoniously from it, and
perhaps injured, at all events irretrievably offended.

It was incumbent on him to go to the house of the Mussets and enquire
for Phoebe.  He could do no less; so he descended the ladder and took
his way thither.

Phoebe was not hurt, she was only frightened.  She had been wet through,
and was at once put to bed. She cried a great deal, and old Musset vowed
he would take out a summons against the aggressor.  Mrs. Musset wept in
sympathy with her daughter, and then fell on De Witt for having
permitted the assault to take place unopposed.

’How could I interfere?’ he asked, desperate with his difficulties.  ’It
was up and over with her before I was aware.’

’My girl is not accustomed to associate with cannibals,’ said Mrs.
Musset, drawing herself out like a telescope.

As George returned much crestfallen to the beach, now deserted, for the
night had come on, he was accosted by Elijah Rebow.

’George!’ said the owner of Red Hall, laying a hand on his cousin’s
shoulder, ’you ought not to be here.’

’Where ought I to be, Elijah?  It seems to me that I have been
everywhere to-day where I ought not to be.  I am left in a hopeless
muddle.’

’You ought not to allow Glory to part from you in anger.’

’How can I help it?  I am sorry enough for the quarrel, but you must
allow her conduct was trying to the temper.’

’She had great provocation.  I wonder she did not kill that girl.  She
has a temper, has Mehalah, that does not stick at trifles; but she is
generous and forgiving.’

’She is so angry with me that I doubt I shall not be able to bring her
back to good humour.’

’I doubt so, too, unless you go the right way to work with her; and that
is not what you are doing now.’

’Why, what ought I to do, Elijah?’

’Do you want to break with her, George?  Do you want to be off with
Glory and on with milk-face?’

’No, I do not.’

’You are set on Glory still?  You will cleave to her till naught but
death shall you part, eh?’

’Naught else.’

’George!  That other girl has good looks and money.  Give up Mehalah,
and hitch on to Phoebe.  I know your mother will be best pleased if you
do, and it will suit your interests well.  Glory has not a penny, Phoebe
has her pockets lined.  Take my word for it you can have milk-face for
the asking, and now is your opportunity for breaking with Glory if you
have a mind to do so.’

’But I have not, Elijah.’

’What can Glory be to you, or you to Glory?  She with her great heart,
her stubborn will, her strong soul, and you—you—bah!’

’Elijah, say what you like, but I will hold to Glory till death us do
part.’

’Your hand on it.  You swear that.’

’Yes, I do.  I want a wife who can row a boat, a splendid girl, the
sight of whom lights up the whole heart.’

’I tell you Glory is not one for you.  See how passionate she is, she
blazes up in a moment, and then she is one to shiver you if you offend
her.  No, she needs a man of other stamp than you to manage her.’

’She shall be mine,’ said George: ’I want no other.’

’This is your fixed resolve?’

’My fixed resolve.’

’For better for worse?’

’For better for worse, till death us do part.’

’Till death you do part,’ Elijah jerked out a laugh. ’George, if you are
not the biggest fool I have set eyes on for many a day, I am much
mistaken.’

’Why so?’

’Because you are acting contrary to your interests. You are unfit for
Glory, you do not now, you never will, understand her.’

’What do you mean?’

’You let the girl row away, offended, angry, eating out her heart, and
you show no sign that you desire reconciliation.’

’I have though.  I waved my hat to her, but she took no notice.’

’Waved your hat!’ repeated Rebow, with suppressed scorn.  ’You never
will read that girl’s heart, and understand her moods.  Oh, you fool!
you fool! straining your arms after the unapproachable, unattainable,
star!  If she were mine——’ he stamped and clenched his fists.

’But she is not going to be yours, Elijah,’ said George with a careless
laugh.

’No, of course not,’ said Elijah, joining in the laugh. ’She is yours
till death you do part.’

’Tell me, what have I done wrong?’ asked De Witt.

’There—you come to me, after all, to interpret the writing for you.  It
is there, written in letters of fire, Mene, mene, tekel, Upharsin!  Thou
art weighed in the balance and found wanting, and this night shall thy
kingdom be taken from thee and given to——’

’Elijah, I do not understand this language.  What ought I to do to
regain Mehalah’s favour?’

’You must go after her.  Do you not feel it in every fibre, that you
must, you mud-blood?  Go after her at once.  She is now at home, sitting
alone, brooding over the offence, sore at your suffering her to be
insulted without making remonstrance.  Her wrong will grow into a
mountain in her heart unless it be rooted up to-night.  Her pride will
flame up as her passion dies away, and she will not let you speak to her
another tender word.  She will hate and despise you.  The little crack
will split into a wide chasm.  I heard her call you a white-livered
coward.’

’She did; you need not repeat it.  She will be sorry when she is cool.’

’That is just it, George.  As soon as passion abates, her generous heart
will turn to self-reproach, and she will be angry with herself for what
she has done.  She will accuse herself with having been violent, with
having acted unworthily of her dignity, with having grown in too great a
heat about a worthless doll.  She will be vexed with herself, ashamed of
herself, unable in the twilight of her temper to excuse herself.
Perhaps she is now in tears.  But this mood will not last. To-morrow her
pride will have returned in strength, she will think over her wrongs and
harden herself in stubbornness; she will know that the world condemns
her, and she will retire into herself in defiance of the world. Look up
at the sky.  Do you see, there is Charles’ Wain, and there is
Cassiopæa’s Chair.  There the Serpent and there the Swan.  I can see
every figure plain, but your landsman rarely can.  So I can see every
constellation in the dark heaven of Mehalah’s soul, but you cannot. You
would be wrecked if you were to sail by it.  Now, George, take Glory
while she is between two moods, or lose her for ever.  Go after her at
once, George, ask her forgiveness, blame yourself and your mother, blame
that figure-head miss, and she will forgive you frankly, at once.  She
will fall on your neck and ask your pardon for what she has done.’

’I believe you are right,’ said De Witt, musing.

’I know I am.  As I have been working in my forge, I have watched the
flame on the hearth dance and waver to the clinking of the hammer.
There was something in the flame, I know not what, which made it wince
or flare, as the blows fell hard or soft.  So there are things in Nature
respond to each other without your knowing why it is, and in what their
sympathy consists. So I know all that passes in Mehalah’s mind.  I feel
my own soul dance and taper to her pulses.  If you had not been a fool,
George, you would already have been after her.  What are you staying for
now?’

’My mother; what will she say?’

’Do you care for her more than for Glory?  If you think of her now, you
lose Glory for ever.  Once more I ask you, do you waver?  Are you
inclined to forsake Mehalah for milk-face?’

’I am not,’ said De Witt impatiently; ’why do you go on with this?  I
have said already that Glory is mine.’

’_Unless_ death you do part.’

’_Till_ death us do part, is what I said.’

’Then make haste.  An hour hence the Ray house will be closed, and the
girl and her mother in bed.’

’I will get my boat and row thither at once.’

’You need not do that.  I have my boat here, jump in.  We will each take
an oar, and I will land you on the Ray.’

’You take a great interest in my affairs.’

’I take a very great interest in them,’ said Rebow dryly.

’Lead the way, then.’

’Follow me.’

Rebow walked forward, over the shingle towards his boat, then suddenly
turned, and asked in a suppressed voice, ’Do you know whither you are
going?’

’To the Ray.’

’To the Ray, of course.  Is there anyone on the Hard?’

’Not a soul.  Had I not better go to my mother before I start and say
that I am going with you?’

’On no account.  She will not allow you to go to the Ray.  You know she
will not.’

De Witt was not disposed to dispute this.

’You are sure,’ asked Rebow again, ’that there is no one on the Hard.
No one sees you enter my boat. No one sees you push off with me.  No one
sees whither we go.’

’Not a soul.’

’Then here goes!’  Elijah Rebow thrust the boat out till she floated,
sprang in and took his oar.  De Witt was already oar in hand on his
seat.

’The red curtain is over the window at the Leather Bottle,’ said George.
’No signalling to-night, the schooner is in the offing.’

’A red signal.  It may mean more than you understand.’

They rowed on.

’Is there a hand on that crimson pane,’ asked Rebow in a low tone, ’with
the fingers dipped in fire, writing?’

’Not that I can see.’

’Nor do you see the writing, Mene, mene, tekel, Upharsin.’

’You jest, Elijah!’

’A strange jest.  Perhaps the writing is in the vulgar tongue, thou art
weighed and found wanting, feeble fool, and thy kingdom is taken from
thee, and given to ME.’

Mehalah sat by the hearth, on the floor, in the farmhouse at the Ray.
Her mother was abed and asleep. The girl had cast aside the cap and
thrown off her jersey.  Her bare arms were folded on her lap; and the
last flicker of the red embers fell on her exposed and heaving bosom.

Elijah Rebow on the Hard at Mersea had read accurately the workings and
transitions in the girl’s heart. Precisely that was taking place which
he had described. The tempest of passion had roared by, and now a tide
of self-reproach rose and overflowed her soul.  She was aware that she
had acted wrongly, that without adequate cause she had given way to an
outburst of blind fury. Phoebe was altogether too worthless a creature
for her jealousy, too weak to have been subjected to such treatment.
Her anger against George had expired.  He did well to be indignant with
her.  It was true he had not rebuked Phoebe nor restrained his mother,
but the reason was clear.  He was too forbearing with women to offend
them, however frivolous and intemperate they might be. He had relied on
the greatness of his Glory’s heart to stand above and disregard these
petty storms.

She had thrown off her boots and stockings, and sat with her bare feet
on the hearth.  The feet moved nervously in rhythm to her thoughts.  She
could not keep them still.  Her trouble was great.  Tears were not on
her cheeks; in this alone was Elijah mistaken. Her dark eyes were fixed
dreamily on the dying fire—they were like the marsh-pools with the
will-o’-the-wisp in each.  They did not see the embers, they looked
through the iron fireback, and the brick wall, over the saltings, over
the water, into infinity.

She loved George.  Her love for him was the one absorbing passion of her
life.  She loved her mother, but no one else—only her and George.  She
had no one else to love.  She was without relations.  She had been
brought up without playfellows on that almost inaccessible islet, only
occasionally visiting Mersea, and then only for an hour.  She had seen
and known nothing of the world save the world of morass.  She had mixed
with no life, save the life of the flocks on the Ray, of the fishes and
the seabirds.  Her mind hungered for something more than the little
space of the Ray could supply. Her soul had wings and sought to spread
them and soar away, whither, however, she did not know.  She had a dim
prevision of something better than the sordid round of common cares
which made up the life she knew.

With a heart large and full of generous impulses, she had spent her
girlhood without a recognition of its powers.  She felt that there was a
voice within which talked in a tongue other from that which struck her
ears each day, but what that language was, and what the meaning of that
voice, she did not know.  She had met with De Witt.  Indeed they had
known each other, so far as meeting at rare intervals went, for many
years; she had not seen enough of him to know him as he really was, she
therefore loved him as she idealised him.  The great cretaceous sea was
full of dissolved silex penetrating the waters, seeking to condense and
solidify.  But there was nothing in the ocean then save twigs of weed
and chips of shells, and about them that hardest of all elements drew
together and grew to adamant.  The soul of Mehalah was some such vague
sea full of ununderstood, unestimated elements, seeking their several
centres for precipitation, and for want of better, condensing about
straws.  To her, George De Witt was the ideal of all that was true and
manly.  She was noble herself, and her ideal was the perfection of
nobility. She was rude indeed, and the image of her worship was rough
hewn, but still with the outline and carriage of a hero.  She could not,
she would not, suppose that George De Witt was less great than her fancy
pictured.

The thought of life with him filled her with exultation. She could leap
up, like the whooper swan, spread her silver wings, and shout her song
of rapture and of defiance, like a trumpet.  He would open to her the
gates into that mysterious world into which she now only peeped, he
would solve for her the perplexities of her troubled soul, he would lead
her to the light which would illumine her eager mind.

Nevertheless she was ready to wait patiently the realisation of her
dream.  She was in no hurry.  She knew that she could not live in the
same house or boat with George’s mother.  She could not leave her own
ailing mother, wholly dependent on herself.  Mehalah contentedly tarried
for what the future would unfold, with that steady confidence in the
future that youth so generally enjoys.

The last embers went out, and all was dark within. No sound was audible,
save the ticking of the clock, and the sigh of the wind about the eaves
and in the thorntrees.  Mehalah did not stir.  She dreamed on with her
eyes open, still gazing into space, but now with no marsh fires in the
dark orbs.  The grey night sky and the stars looked in at the window at
her.

Suddenly, as she thus sat, an inexpressible distress came over her, a
feeling as though George were in danger, and were crying to her for
help.  She raised herself on the floor, and drew her feet under her, and
leaning her chin on her fingers listened.  The wind moaned under the
door; everything else was hushed.

Her fear came over her like an ague fit.  She wiped, her forehead, there
were cold drops beading it.  She turned faint at heart; her pulse stood
still.  Her soul seemed straining, drawn as by invisible attraction, and
agonised because the gross body restrained it.  She felt assured that
she was wanted.  She must not remain there.  She sprang to her feet and
sped to the door, unbolted it and went forth.  The sky was cloudless,
thick strewn with stars.  Jupiter glowed over Mersea Isle.  A red gleam
was visible, far away at the ’City.’  It shone from the tavern window, a
coloured star set in ebony.  She went within again.  The fire was out.
Perhaps this was the vulgar cause of the strange sensation.  She must
shake it off.  She went to her room and threw herself on the bed.
Again, as though an icy wave washed over her, lying on a frozen shore,
came that awful fear, and then, again, that tension of her soul to be
free, to fly somewhere, away from the Ray, but whither she could not
tell.

Where was George?  Was he at home?  Was he safe? She tried in vain to
comfort herself with the thought that he ran no danger, that he was
protected by her talisman.  She felt that without an answer to these
questions she could not rest, that her night would be a fever dream.

She hastily drew on her jersey and boots; she slipped out of the house,
unloosed her punt, and shot over the water to Mersea.  The fleet was
silent, but as she flew into the open channel she could hear the distant
throb of oars on rowlocks, away in the dark, out seaward. She heard the
screech of an owl about the stacks of a farm near the waterside.  She
caught as she sped past the Leather Bottle muffled catches of the
nautical songs trolled by the topers within.

She met no boat, she saw no one.  She ran her punt on the beach and
walked to the ’Pandora,’ now far above the water.  The ladder was still
down; therefore George was not within.  ’Who goes there?’ asked the
voice of Mrs. De Witt.  ’Is that you, George?  Are you coming home at
last?  Where have you been all this while?’

Mehalah drew back.  George was not only not there, but his mother knew
not where he was.

The cool air and the exercise had in the mean time dissipated Mehalah’s
fear.  She argued with herself that George was in the tavern, behind the
red curtain, remaining away from his mother’s abusive tongue as long as
he might.  His boat lay on the Hard.  She saw it, with the oars in it.
He was therefore not on the water; he was on land, and on land he was
safe.  He wore the medal about his neck, against his heart.

How glad and thankful she was that she had given him the precious charm
that guarded from all danger save drowning.

She rowed back to the Ray, more easy in her mind, and anchored her punt.
She returned cautiously over the saltings, picking her way by the
starlight, leaping or avoiding the runnels and pools, now devoid of
water, but deep in mud most adhesive and unfathomable.

She felt a little uneasy lest her mother should have awoke during her
absence, and missed her daughter. She entered the house softly; the door
was without a lock, and merely hasped, and stole to her mother’s room.
The old woman was wrapt in sleep, and breathing peacefully.

Mehalah drew off her boots, and seated herself again by the hearth.  She
was not sleepy.  She would reason with herself, and account for the
sensation that had affected her.

Hark! she heard some one speak.  She listened attentively with a flutter
at her heart.  It was her mother.  She stole back on tiptoe to her.  The
old woman was dreaming, and talking in her sleep.  She had her hands out
of bed together and parted them, and waved them, ’No, Mehalah, no!  Not
George! not George!’ she gave emphasis with her hand, then suddenly
grasped her daughter’s wrist, ’But Elijah!’  Next moment her grasp
relaxed, and she slept calmly, apparently dreamlessly again.

Mehalah went back.

It was strange.  No sooner was she in her place by the hearth again than
the same distress came over her. It was as though a black cloud had
swept over her sky and blotted out every light, so that neither sun, nor
moon, nor star appeared, as though she were left drifting without a
rudder and without a compass in an unknown sea, under murky night with
only the phosphorescent flash of the waves about, not illumining the way
but intensifying its horror.  It was as though she found herself
suddenly in some vault, in utter, rayless blackness, knowing neither how
she came there nor whether there was a way out.

Oppressed by this horror, she lifted her eyes to the window, to see a
star, to see a little light of any sort.  What she there saw turned her
to stone.

At the window, obscuring the star’s rays, was the black figure of a man.
She could not see the face, she saw only the shape of the head, and
arms, and hands spread out against the panes.  The figure stood looking
in and at her.

Her eyes filmed over, and her head swam.

She heard the casement struck, and the tear of the lead and tinkle of
broken glass on the brick floor, and then something fell at her feet
with a metallic click.

When she recovered herself, the figure was gone, but the wind piped and
blew chill through the rent lattice.

How many minutes passed before she recovered herself sufficiently to
rise and light a candle she never knew, nor did it matter.  When she had
obtained a light she stooped with it, and groped upon the floor.

                  *      *      *      *      *      *

Mrs. Sharland was awakened by a piercing scream.

She sprang from her bed and rushed into the adjoining room.  There stood
Mehalah, in the light of the broken candle lying melting and flaring on
the floor, her hair fallen about her shoulders, her face the hue of
death, her lips bloodless, her eyes distended with terror, gazing on the
medal of Paracelsus, which she held in her hand, the sea-water dripping
from the wet riband wound about her fingers.

’Mother!  Mother!  He is drowned.  I have seen him.  He came and
returned me this.’

Then she fell senseless on the floor, with the medal held to her heart.



                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

                             *WHERE IS HE?*


If there had been excitement on the Hard at Mersea on the preceding day
when the schooner anchored off it, there was more this morning.  The
war-vessel had departed no one knew whither, and nobody cared.  The bay
was full of whiting; the waters were alive with them, and the gulls were
flickering over the surface watching, seeing, plunging.  The fishermen
were getting their boats afloat, and all appliances ready for making
harvest of that fish which is most delicious when fresh from the water,
most flat when out of it a few hours.

Down the side of the ’Pandora’ tumbled Mrs. De Witt, her nose sharper
than usual, but her cap more flabby.  She wore a soldier’s jacket,
bought second-hand at Colchester.  Her face was of a warm complexion,
tinctured with rum and wrath.  She charged into the midst of the
fishermen, asking in a loud imperative tone for her son.

To think that after the lesson delivered him last week, the boy should
have played truant again!  The world was coming to a pretty pass.  The
last trumpet might sound for aught Mrs. De Witt cared, and involve
mankind in ruin, for mankind was past ’worriting’ about.

George had defied her, and the nautical population of the ’City’ had
aided and abetted him in his revolt.

’This is what comes of galiwanting,’ said Mrs. De Witt; ’first he
galiwants Mehalah, and then Phoebe. No good ever came of it.  I’d pass a
law, were I king, against it, but that smuggling in love would go on as
free under it as smuggling in spirits.  Young folks now-a-days is grown
that wexing and wicious——  Where is my George?’ suddenly laying hold of
Jim Morell.

The old sailor jumped as if he had been caught by a revenue officer.

’Bless my life, Mistress!  You did give me a turn. What is it you want?
A pinch of snuff?’

’I want my George,’ said the excited mother. ’Where is he skulking to?’

’How should I know?’ asked Morell, ’he is big enough to look after
himself.’

’He is among you,’ said Mrs. De Witt; ’I know you have had him along
with a party of you at the Leather Bottle yonder.  You men get together,
and goad the young on into rebellion against their parents.’

’I know nothing about George.  I have not even seen him.’

’I’ve knitted his guernseys and patched his breeches these twenty years,
and now he turns about and deserts me.’

’Tom!’ shouted Morell to a young fisherman, ’have you seen George De
Witt this morning?’

’No, I have not, Jim.’

’Oh, you young fellows!’ exclaimed the old lady, loosing her hold on the
elder sailor, and charging among and scattering the young boatmen.
’Where is my boy?  What have you done with him that he did not come home
last night, and is nowhere wisible?’

’He went to the Mussets’ last evening, Mistress. We have not set eyes on
him since.’

’Oh! he went there, did he?  Galiwanting again!’  She turned about and
rushed over the shingle towards the grocery, hardware, drapery, and
general store.

Before entering that realm of respectability, Mrs. De Witt assumed an
air of consequence and gravity.

She reduced her temper under control, and with an effort called up an
urbane smile on her hard features when saluting Mrs. Musset, who stood
behind the counter.

’Can I serve you with anything, ma’am?’ asked the mother of Phoebe, with
cold self-possession.

’I want my George.’

’We don’t keep him in stock.’

’He was here last night.’

’Do you suppose we kept him here the night?  Are you determined to
insult us, madam?  You have been drinking, and have forgot yourself and
where you are. We wish to see no more of your son.  My Phoebe is not
accustomed to demean herself by association with cannibals.  It is
unfortunate that she should have stepped beyond her sphere yesterday,
but she has learned a lesson by it which will be invaluable for the
future.  I do not know, I do not care, whether the misconduct was that
of your son or of your daughter-in-law. Birds of a feather flock
together, and lambs don’t consort with wolves.  I beg, madam, that it be
an understood matter between the families that, except in the way of
business, as tobacco, sugar, currants, or calico, intimacy must cease.’

’Oh indeed!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt, the colour mottling her cheek.
’You mean to insinuate that our social grades are so wery different.’

’Providence, madam, has made distinctions in human beings as in
currants.  Some are all fruit, and some half gravel.’

’You forget,’ said Mrs. De Witt, ’that I was a Rebow—a Rebow of Red
Hall.  It was thence I inherit the blood in my weins and the bridge of
my nose.’

’And that was pretty much all you did inherit from them,’ observed Mrs.
Musset.  ’Much value they must be to you, as you have nothing else to
boast of.’

’Oh, indeed, Mistress Musset!’

’Indeed, Mistress De Witt!’ with a profound curtsey.

Mrs. De Witt attempted an imitation, but having been uninstructed in
deportment as a child, and inexperienced in riper years, she got her
limbs entangled, and when she had arrived at a sitting posture was
unable to extricate herself with ease.

In attempting to recover her erect position she precipitated herself
against a treacle barrel and upset it. A gush of black saccharine matter
spread over the floor.

’Where is my son?’ shouted Mrs. De Witt, her temper having broken
control.

’You shall pay for the golden syrup,’ said Mrs. Musset.

’Golden syrup!’ jeered Mrs. De Witt, ’common treacle, the cleanings of
the niggers’ feet that tread out the sugar-cane.’

’It shall be put down to you!’ cried the mistress of the store, defying
her customer across the black river. ’I will have a summons out against
you for the syrup.’

’And I will have a search-warrant for my son.’

’I have not got him.  I should be ashamed to keep him under my
respectable roof.’

’What is this disturbance about?’ asked Mr. Musset, coming into the shop
with his pipe.

’I want my son,’ cried the incensed mother.  ’He has not been seen since
he came here last night.  What have you done to him?’

’He is not here, Mistress.  He only remained a few minutes to enquire
after Phoebe, and then he left.  We have not seen him since.  Go to the
Leather Bottle; you will probably find him there.’

The advice was reasonable; and having discharged a parting shot at Mrs.
Musset, the bereaved mother departed and took her way to the quaint old
inn by the waterside, entitled the Leather Bottle.

Mrs. De Witt pushed the door open and strode in.  No one was there save
the host, Isaac Mead.  He knew nothing of George’s whereabouts.  He had
not seen him or heard him spoken of.  Mrs. De Witt having entered, felt
it incumbent on her to take something for the good of the house.

The host sat opposite her at the table.

’Where can he be?’ asked Mrs. De Witt.  ’The boy cannot be lost.’

’Have you searched everywhere?’

’I have asked the lads; they either know nothing, or won’t tell.  I have
been to the Musset’s.  They pretend they have not seen him since last
night.’

’Perhaps he rowed off somewhere.’

’His boat is on the Hard.’

’Do not bother your head about him,’ said the host with confidence, ’he
will turn up.  Mark my words.  I say he will certainly turn up, perhaps
not when you want him, or where you expect him, but he assuredly will
reappear.  I have had seven sons, and they got scattered all over the
world, but they have all turned up one after another, and,’ he added
sententiously, ’the world is bigger than Mersea.  It is nothing to be
away for twelve or fourteen hours.  Lads take no account of time, they
do not walue it any more than they walue good looks.  We older folks do;
we hold to that which is slipping from us.  When we was children, we
thought we could deal with time as with the sprats.  We draw in all and
throw what we can’t consume away.  At last we find we have spoiled our
fishing, and we must use larger meshes in our net.  I will tell you
another thing, Mistress,’ continued the host, who delighted to moralise,
’time is like a clock, when young it goes slow, and when old it gallops.
When you and I was little, we thought a day as long as now we find a
year.  As we grew older years went faster; and the older we wax the
greater the speed with which time spins by; till at last it passes with
a whisk and a flash, and that is eternity.’

’He cannot be drowned,’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’That would be too
ridiculous.’

’It would, just about.’  After a moment’s consideration Isaac added, ’I
heard that Elijah Rebow was on the Hard last night, maybe your George is
gone off with him.’

’Not likely, Isaac.  I and Elijah are not on good terms.  My father left
me nothing.  Elijah took all after his parents, and I did not get a
penny.’

’You know we have war with foreigners,’ observed the publican.  ’Now I
observe that everything in this world goes by contraries.  When there’s
peace abroad, there is strife at home, and _vice versâ_.  There was a
man-of-war in the bay yesterday.  I should not wonder if that put it
into George’s head to be a man-of-peace on land.  When you want to
estimate a person’s opinions, first ask what other folks are saying
round him, and take the clean contrary, and you hit the bull’s-eye.  If
you see anything like to draw a man in one direction, look the opposite
way, and you will find him. There was pretty strong intimation of war
yesterday with the foreigners, then you may be dead certain he took a
peaceful turn in his perwerse vein, and went to patch up old quarrels
with Elijah.’

’It is possible,’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’I will row to Red Hall and find
out.’

’Have another glass before you go,’ said the landlord. ’Never hurry
about anything.  If George be at his cousin’s he will turn up in time.
There is more got by waiting than by worrying.’

’But perhaps he is not there.’

’Then he is elsewhere.’

’He may be drowned.’

’He will turn up.  Drowned or not, he will turn up. I never knew boys to
fail.  If he were a girl it would be different.  You see it is so when
they drown.  A boy floats face upwards, and a girl with her face down.
It is so also in life.  If a girl strays from home, she goes to the
bottom like a plummet, but a boy on the contrary goes up like a cork.’

Mrs. De Witt so far took Isaac Mead’s advice that she waited at her home
till afternoon.  But as George did not return, she became seriously
uneasy, not so much for him as for herself.  She did not for a moment
allow that any harm had befallen him, but she imagined this absence to
be a formal defiance of her authority. Such a revolt was not to be
overlooked.  In Mrs. De Witt’s opinion no man was able to stand alone,
he must fall under female government or go to the dogs.  Deliberate
bachelors were, in her estimation, God-forsaken beings, always in
scrapes, past redemption.  She had ruled her husband, and he had
submitted with a meekness that ought to have inherited the earth.
George had been always docile.  She had bored docility into him with her
tongue, and hammered it into him with her fist.

The idea came suddenly on her,—What if he had gone to the war schooner
and enlisted? but was dismissed as speedily as impossible.  Tales of
ill-treatment in the Navy were rife among the shoremen.  The pay was too
small to entice a youth who owned a vessel, a billyboy, and oyster pans.
He might do well in his trade, he must fare miserably in the Navy.
Captain MacPherson had indeed invited George and others to follow him,
but not one had volunteered.

She determined at last, in her impatience, to visit Red Hall, and for
that purpose she got into the boat. Mrs. De Witt was able to row as well
as a man. She did not start for Red Hall without reluctance. She had not
been there since her marriage, kept away by her resentment.  Elijah had
made no overtures to her for reconciliation, had never invited her to
revisit her native place, and her pride prevented her from making first
advances.  She had been cut off by her father, the family had kept aloof
from her, and this had rankled in her heart.  True, Elijah’s father and
mother were dead, and he was not mixed up in the first contentions; but
he had inherited money which she considered ought to have fallen to her.

She was, however, anxious to see the old place again.  Her young life
there had not been happy; quite the reverse, for her father had been
brutal, and her mother Calvinistic and sour.  Yet Red Hall was, after
all, her old home; its marshes were the first landscape on which her
eyes had opened, its daisies had made her first necklaces, its bulrushes
her first whips, its sea-wall the boundary of her childish world.  It
was a yearning for a wider, less level world, which had driven her in a
rash moment into the arms of Moses De Witt.

The tide was out, so Mrs. De Witt was obliged to land at the point near
the windmill.  She walked thence on the sea-wall.  She knew that wall
well, fragrant with sovereign wood in summer, and rank with sea spinach.
The aster blooming time was past, and the violet petals had fallen off,
leaving only the yellow centres.

There, before her, like a stranded ark, was the old red house,
unaltered, lonely, without a bush or tree to screen it.

The cattle stood browsing in the pasture as of old. In the marsh was a
pond, a flight of wild fowl was wheeling round it, as in the autumns
long ago.  There was the little creek where her punt had lain, the punt
in which she had been sometimes sent to Mersea to buy groceries for her
mother.

The hard crust about the heart of Mrs. De Witt began to break, and the
warm feeling within to ooze through.  Gentler sentiments began to
prevail.  She would not take her son by the ears and bang his head, if
she should find him at Red Hall.  She would forgive him in a Christian
spirit, and grant his dismissal with an innocuous curse.

She walked straight into the house.  Elijah was crouched in his leather
chair, with his head on one side, asleep.  She stood over him and
contemplated his unattractive face in silence, till he suddenly started,
and exclaimed, ’Who is here?  Who is this?’

Next moment he had recognised his visitor.

’So you are come, Aunt.  You have not honoured me before.  Will you have
some whisky?’

’Thank you, Elijah, thank you.  I am dry with rowing.  But how come you
to be asleep at this time of day?  Were you out after ducks last night?’

’No, I was not out.  I lay abed.  I went to bed early.’

’Elijah, where is my son?’

He started, and looked at her suspiciously.

’How am I to know?’

’I cannot find him anywhere,’ said the mother.  ’I fear the boy has
levanted.  I may have been a little rough with him, but it was for his
good.  You cannot clean a deck with whiting, you must take holystone to
the boards, and it is so with children.  If you are not hard, you get
off no edges, if you want to polish them, you must be gritty yourself.
I doubt the boy is off.’

’What makes you think so?’

’I have not seen him.  Nobody at Mersea has seen him.  Have you?’

’Not since last night.’

’You saw him then?’

’Yes, he was on the beach going to Mehalah.’

’Galiwanting!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt.  ’Oh, what wickedness comes of
galiwanting!’  Then, recovering herself, ’But how could he get there?
His boat was left on the Hard!’

’I suppose he went by land.  He said something to that effect.  You see
the tide would have been out if he purposed to stay some time.’

’But what should make him go to the Ray?  He had seen Mehalah on his
boat.’

’He said there had been a quarrel, and he was bent on making it up.  Go
and look for him on the Ray. If he is not back on your boat already, you
will find him, or hear of him, there.’

’Oh, the worries to parents that come of galiwanting!’ moaned Mrs. De
Witt, ’none who have not experienced can tell.  Do not stay me, Elijah.
Dear sackalive; I must go home.  I dare say the boy is now on the
"Pandora," trying to look innocent.’  She rubbed her hands, and her eyes
glistened.  ’By cock!’ she exclaimed, ’I would not be he.’  She was out
of the room, without a farewell to her nephew, down the steps, away over
the flat to the sea-wall and her boat, her heart palpitating with anger.

It was late in the afternoon before Mrs. De Witt got back to Mersea.
She ascended her ladder and unlocked the hatches.  She looked about her.
No George was on deck.  She returned to the shore and renewed her
enquiries.  He had not been seen.  No doubt he was still galivanting at
the Ray.  The uncertainty became unendurable.  She jumped into her boat
once more, and rowed to the island inhabited by Glory and her mother.

With her nose high in the air, her cap-frills quivering, she stepped out
of the skiff.  She had donned her military coat, to add to her imposing
and threatening aspect.

The door of the house was open.  She stood still and listened.  She did
not hear George’s voice.  She waited; she saw Mehalah moving in the
room.  Once the girl looked at her, but there was neither recognition
nor lustre in her eyes.  Mrs. De Witt made a motion towards her, but
Glory did not move to meet her in return.

As she stepped over the threshold, Mrs. Sharland, who was seated by the
fire, turned and observed her. The widow rose at once with a look of
distress in her face, and advanced towards her, holding out her hand.

’Where is George?’ asked Mrs. De Witt, ignoring the outstretched palm,
in a hard, impatient tone.

’George!’ echoed Mehalah, standing still, ’George is dead.’

’What nonsense!’ said Mrs. De Witt, catching the girl by the shoulder
and shaking her.

’I saw him.  He is dead.’  She quivered like an aspen.

The blood had ebbed behind her brown skin.  Her eyes looked in Mrs. De
Witt’s face with a flash of agony in them.

’He came and looked in at the window at me, and cast me back the
keepsake I had given him, and which he swore not to part with while life
lasted.’

’Dear sackalive!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt; ’the girl is dreaming or
demented.  What is the meaning of all this, Mistress Sharland?’

’Last night,’ explained the widow, ’as Mehalah was sitting here in the
dark, some one came to the window, stove it in—look how the lead is
torn, and the glass fallen out—and cast at the feet of Mehalah a medal
she had given George on Thursday.  She thinks,’ added the old woman in a
subdued tone, ’that what she saw was his spirit.’

Mrs. De Witt was awed.  She was not a woman without superstition, but
she was not one to allow a supernatural intervention till all possible
prosaic explanations had been exhausted.

’Is this Gospel truth?’ she asked.

’It is true,’ answered the widow.

’Did you see the face, Glory?  Are you sure that what you saw was
George?’

’I did not see the face.  I saw only the figure. But it was George.  It
could have been no other.  He alone had the medal, and he brought it
back to me.’

’You see,’ explained the widow Sharland, ’the coin was an heirloom; it
might not go out of the family.’

’I see it all,’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt.  ’Galiwanting again!  He came to
return the keepsake to Mehalah, because he wanted to break with her and
take on with another.’

’No, never!’ exclaimed Mehalah vehemently.  ’He could not do it.  He was
as true to me as I am to him. He could not do it.  He came to tell me
that all was over.’

’Dear sackalive!’ said Mrs. De Witt, ’you don’t know men as I do.  You
have had no more experience of them than you have of kangaroos.  I will
not believe he is dead.’

’He is dead,’ Mehalah burst forth with fierce vehemence.  ’He is
drowned, he is not false.  He is dead, he is dead.’

’I know better,’ said Mrs. De Witt in a low tone to herself as she bit
her thumb.  ’That boy is galiwanting somewhere; the only question to me
is Where.  By cock!  I’d give a penny to know.’



                             *CHAPTER IX.*

                             *IN MOURNING.*


A month passed, and no tidings whatever of George De Witt had reached
his mother or Mehalah.  The former constantly expected news of her son.
She would not believe in his death, and was encouraged in her opinion by
Isaac Mead.  But Mehalah had never entertained hope; she did not look
for news, she knew that George was drowned.

His body had not been found.  His disappearance had been altogether
mysterious.  Mrs. De Witt used every effort to trace him, but failed.
From the moment the door of the Mussets had closed upon him, no one had
seen him.  With the closing of that door the record of his life had
closed.  He had passed as completely beyond pursuit as though he had
passed through the gate of death.

There was but one possible way of accounting for his disappearance, and
it was that at which public opinion arrived.  He had gone round by the
Strood from Mersea to reach the Ray, which was on that side accessible,
but with difficulty, and occasionally only by land, had lost his way
among the saltmarshes in the night, had fallen into one of the myriad
creeks that traverse this desolate region, and had been engulfed in the
ooze.  The sea will give up her dead after a storm and with the tide,
but the slime of the marshes never.

Mehalah made no attempt to account for the disappearance of George; it
was sufficient for her that he was lost to her for ever.  But his mother
made enquiries when selling shrimps along the Colchester road, and on
the island.  He had nowhere been seen.  He had not visited the Rose.

It was Elijah Rebow who finally brought Mrs. De Witt to admit that her
son was entirely lost to her.

He visited her in November.  She was surprised and pleased to see him.
Since the disappearance of George, Mrs. De Witt had taken more
vigorously than before to grog.  Her feelings needed solace, and she
found it in her glass.  Perhaps the presence of George had acted as a
restraint on his mother.  She had not wished him to suppose her a
habitual tippler.  Her libations had been performed when he was away, or
under the excuse of stomachics.  On the subject of her internal
arrangements, discomforts, and requirements, Mrs. De Witt had afforded
her son information more copious than interesting.  Her digestion
sympathised with all the convulsions then shaking Europe.  Revolutions
were brought about there by the most ordinary edibles, and were always
to be reduced by spirituous drinkables.

The topic of her internal economy, when introduced by Mrs. De Witt,
always prefaced a resolve to try a drop of cordial.  Now that George was
gone, Mrs. De Witt brooded over her loss at home, stirring her glass as
if it were the mud of the marshes, and she hoped to turn George up out
of the syrup of the dissolving sugar.

Mrs. De Witt had laid aside her red coat, as inappropriate to her
forlorn condition.  The month of October had seen a sad deterioration in
the mistress of the ’Pandora.’  Her funds had been fast ebbing.  The
bread-winner was gone, and the rum-drinker had obtained fresh excuse for
deep potations.  There were fish in the sea to be caught, but he that
had netted them was now under the mud.  Things could not go on thus for
ever.

Mrs. De Witt was musing despondingly over her desperate position, when
Elijah appeared above the hatchway and descended to the cabin.

Mrs. De Witt had stuck a black bow in her mob cap, as a symbol of her
woe.  She hardly needed to hang out the flag, for her whole face and
figure betokened distress.  It cannot be said that her maternal bowels
yearned after her son out of love for him so much as out of solicitude
for herself.  She naturally grieved for her ’poor boy,’ but her grief
for him was largely tinctured with anxiety for her own future.  How
should she live?  On what subsist?  She had her husband’s old hull as a
home, and a fishing smack, and a rowing boat.  There was some money in
the box, but not much.  ’There’s been no wasteful outlay over a
burying,’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’That is a good job.’

But, as already said, Mrs. De Witt only yielded reluctantly to the
opinion that her boy was drowned. She held resolutely in public to this
view for reasons she confided to herself over her rum.  ’It is no use
dropping a pint of money in dragging for the body, and burying it when
you’ve got it.  To my notion that is laying out five pound to have the
satisfaction of spending another five.  George was a gentleman,’ she
said with pride.  ’If he was to go from his pore mother, he went as
cheap from her as a lad could do it.’

Another reason why she refused to believe in his death was
characteristic of the illogicality of her sex. This she announced to
Rebow.  ’You have it in a nutshell.  How can the poor boy be drowned?
For, if so, what is to become of me, and I a widow?’

’Mrs. De Witt,’ said Rebow, helping himself to some rum, ’you may as
well make your mind easy on this point.  If George be not dead where can
he be?’

’That I do not take on myself to say.’

’He is nowhere on Mersea, is he?’

’Certainly not.’

’He did not go along the Colchester road beyond the Strood?’

’No, or I should have heard of him.’

’Moreover, he told me he purposed going to the Ray.’

’To be sure he did.’

’And he never reached the Ray.’

’No, for certain.’

’Then it is obvious he must have been lost between Mersea and the Ray.’

’There is something in what you say, Elijah; there is what we may term
argument in it.’

’There was a reason why he should go to the Ray.’

’I suppose there was.’

’He had quarrelled with Glory, and desired to make it up that night.’

’I know there had been a squall.’

’Then do not flatter yourself with false hopes. George is gone past
recall; you and Glory must give him up for ever.’

Mrs. De Witt shook her head, wiped her eyes with the frill of her cap,
looked sorrowfully into her glass and said, ’Pore me!’

’You are poor indeed,’ said Elijah, ’but how poor I suspect rather than
know.  What have you got to live upon?’

’That is just it,’ answered Mrs. De Witt; ’my head has been like the
Swin light, a rewolving and a rewolving. But there is this difference,
the Swin rewolves first light and then dark alternately, whereas in my
head there has been naught rewolving but warious degrees of darkness.’

’What do you propose doing?’

’Well, I have an idea.’ Mrs. De Witt hitched her chair nearer to her
nephew, and breathed her idea and her spirit together into his ear.  ’I
think I shall marry.’

’You——!’

’Yes, I.  Why not?  There is the billyboy running to waste, rotting for
want of use, crying out for a master to take her out fishing.  There are
as many fisher-boys on shore as there are sharks in the ocean, ready to
snap me up were I flung to them.  I have felt them. They have been
a-nibbling round me already.  Consider, Elijah! there is the "Pandora,"
good as a palace for a home, and the billyboy and the boat, and the
nets, and the oyster garden, and then there is my experience to be
thrown in _gratis_, and above all,’ she raised herself, ’there is my
person.’

Rebow laughed contemptuously.

’What have these boys of their own?’ asked Mrs. De Witt, laying down the
proposition with her spoon. ’They have nothing, no more than the
sea-cobs.  They have naught to do but swoop down on whatever they can
see, sprats, smelt, mullet, whiting, dabs, and when there is naught
else, winkles.  Their thoughts do not rise that proudly to me, and I
must stoop to them.  I tell you what, Elijah, if I was to be raffled
for, at a shilling a ticket, there would be that run among the boys for
me, that I could make a fortune.  But I won’t demean myself to that.  I
shall choose the stoutest and healthiest among them, then I can send him
out fishing, and he can earn me money, as did George, and so I shall be
able to enjoy ease, if not opulence.’

’But suppose the lads decline the honour.’

’I should like to see the impertinence of the lad that did,’ said Mrs.
De Witt firmly.  ’I have had experience with men, and I know them in and
out that familiarly that I could find my way about their brains or
heart, as you would about your marshes, in the dark. No, Elijah, the
question is not will they have me, but whether I will be bothered with
any more of the creatures.  I will not unless I can help it.  I will not
unless the worst comes to the worst.  But a woman must live, Elijah.’

’How much have you got for current expenses?’

’Only a few pounds.’

’There are five and twenty pounds owed you by the Sharlands.  You are
not going to let them have it as a present?’

’No, certain, I am not.’

’Do you expect to get it by waiting for it?’

’To tell you the truth, Elijah, I hadn’t given that five and twenty
pounds a thought.  I will go over to the Ray and claim the money.’

’You will not get it.’

’I must have it.’

’They cannot possibly pay.’

’But they shall pay.  I want and will have my money.’

’Mehalah will pretend that George gave her the money.’

’No, she will not.  She acknowledged the debt to me before George’s
face.  She promised repayment as soon as she had sufficient.’

’If you do not seize on their goods, or some of them, you will never see
the colour of the coin again.’

’I must and will have it.’

’Then follow my advice.  Put in an execution.  I will lend you my men.
All you have to do is to give notice on this island when the sale is to
be, get together sufficient to bid and buy, and you have your money. You
must have an auction.’

’Can I do so, Elijah?’

’Of course you can.  Go over to the Ray at once and demand your money.
If they decline to pay, allow them a week’s grace, more if you like.
I’ll go with you, when the sale is to take place, and perhaps bid. We
will have a Dutch auction.’

’By cock!  I’ll do it.  I will go there right on end.’

At once, with her natural impetuosity, the old woman started.  Before
departing, however, to heighten her importance, and give authority and
sternness to her appearance, she donned her red coat.  In token of
mourning she wrapped a black rag round her left arm. Over her cap she
put a broad-brimmed battered straw hat, in front of which she affixed
with a hair-pin the large black bow that had figured on her cap.  Thus
arrayed she entered her boat and rowed to the Ray.

The demand for the money filled Mrs. Sharland with dismay.  It was a
demand as unexpected as it was embarrassing.  She and Mehalah were
absolutely without the means of discharging the debt.  They had, indeed,
a few pounds by them, which had been intended to serve to carry them
through the winter, and these they offered Mrs. De Witt, but she refused
to receive a portion on account when she wanted the whole of the debt.

Mrs. Sharland entreated delay till spring, but Mrs. De Witt was
inexorable.  She would allow no longer than a week.  She departed,
declaring that she would sell them up, unless the five and twenty pounds
were produced.

Since the death or disappearance of George De Witt, Mehalah had gone
about her usual work in a mechanical manner.  She was in mourning also.
But she did not exhibit it by a black bow on her cap or a sable rag
round her arm, like the mother of the lost lad.  She still wore her red
cap, crimson kerchief and blue jersey.  But the lustre was gone from her
eyes, the bloom from her cheek, animation from her lips. There was no
spring in her step, no lightness in her tone.  The cow was milked as
regularly as usual, and foddered as attentively as before.  The house
was kept as scrupulously clean, Mrs. Sharland ministered to with the
same assiduity, but the imperiousness of Mehalah’s nature had gone.  The
widow found to her astonishment that she was allowed to direct what was
to be done, and that her daughter submitted without an objection.

It is the way with strong natures to allow their griefs no expression,
to hide their sorrows and mask their wounds.  Glory did not speak of
George.  She did not weep.  She made no lamentation over his loss; more
wonderful still in her mother’s eyes, she uttered no reproaches against
anyone for it.  A weak nature always exhausts its troubles in reproaches
of others; a strong one eats out its own heart.  Mehalah listened with a
dull ear to her mother’s murmurs, and made no response.  Mrs. Sharland
set her down as unfeeling. A feeble querulous woman like her was quite
unable to measure the depth of her daughter’s heart, and understand its
working.  The result was that she read them wrong, and took false
soundings.

When her mother was in bed and asleep, then Mehalah sat at the hearth,
or leaned at the window looking at the stars, hour by hour, immovable,
uttering no sound, not building castles in the clouds, not weaving any
schemes for her future, not hoping for anything, not imagining anything,
but exhaling her pain.  As the turned earth after the plough may be seen
in a sudden frost to smoke, so was it with that wounded heart, it
smoked, gave up its fever heat, and in silence and solitude cooled.
There was something, which yet was no _thing_, to which her weary soul
stretched, in dim unconsciousness.  There was a communing without words,
even without the thoughts which form into words, with that Unseen which
is yet so surely felt. It was the spirit—that infinite essence so
mysteriously enclosed within bounds, in strange contradiction to its
nature, asserting its nature and yearning for Infinity.

The human heart in suffering is like the parched soil in summer; when
its sky is overcast and it cannot see beyond the cloud that lies low
over it, then it must harbour its heat, and gape with fever.  But,
should a rent appear in the earthborn vaporous veil, through which it
can look into unfathomable space, at once it radiates the ardour that
consumes it, casts off the fever that consumes it, and drinks in, and is
slaked by, the dew of heaven.



                              *CHAPTER X.*

                           *STRUCK COLOURS.*


Woman is the natural enemy of woman.  When one woman is over thirty or
plain, and the other is young or beautiful, the enmity on one side is
implacable and unqualified by mercy.  A woman can be heroically
self-sacrificing and behave with magnificent generosity towards man, but
not towards one of her own sex. She is like the pillar that accompanied
the Israelites and confounded the Egyptians; she is cloud and darkness
to these, but light and fire to those.  She will remorselessly pursue,
and vindictively torment a sister who offends by having a better profile
and less age. No act of submission will blunt her spite, no deed of
kindness sponge up her venom.  There is but one unpardonable sin in the
sight of Heaven; there are two in the eyes of a middle-aged woman, youth
and beauty.  She is unconscious of fatigue in the pursuit, and without
compunction in the treatment of the member of her sex who has sinned
against her in one particular or other.  The eternal laws of justice,
the elementary principles of virtue, are set aside as inappropriate to
the world of women.  Generosity, charity, pity are unknown quantities in
the feminine equation.  As the Roman tyrant wished that mankind had but
one neck which he might hack through, so woman would like that womankind
had but one nose which she might put out of joint.  Every woman is a
kill-joy to every other woman, a discord in the universal harmony.  Her
ideal world is that of the bees, in which there is but one queen, and
all other shes are stung to death.  Eve was the only woman who tasted of
happiness unalloyed, because in Eden she had no sisters.

The iron maid of Nuremberg was sweet and smiling externally, but a touch
revealed the interior bristling with spikes, and the victim thrust into
her embrace was only released a corpse to drop into an _oubliette_. All
women are Nuremberg maidens, with more or fewer spikes, discovered
perhaps by husbands, unsuspected by the rest of men, but known to all
other women, who are scarred from their embraces.

Mehalah knew that no leniency was to be looked for in Mrs. De Witt.  She
thought that lady exceptionally rigorous and exacting; she thought so
because she knew nothing of the world.  Her mother spent her breath in
repinings that could not help, and in hopes which must be frustrated.
The extremity of the danger roused Mehalah from her dreams.  There was
no pity to be expected from the creditor, and there was no means that
she could see of defraying the debt. She considered and tried to find
some road out of the difficulty, but could discover none.  Now more than
ever did she need the advice, if not the help, of him who was gone.
There was nothing on the farm that could be sold without leaving them
destitute of means of carrying it on and defraying the next half-year’s
rent.  The cow, the ewes, her boat, were necessary to them.  The
furniture in the house was of little value, and it was impossible for
her to transport it to Colchester for sale.

She sat thinking of the situation one evening over the fire opposite her
mother, without uttering a word. Her hands with her knitting needles lay
in her lap; she could not work, she was too fully engrossed in the cares
which pressed on her.

Presently her mother roused her from her reverie, by saying, ’There is
no help for it, Mehalah, you must go to Wyvenhoe, and find out my
cousin, Charles Pettican. He is my only relative left;—at least as far
as I know, and him I have not seen for fifteen or sixteen years.  I do
not even know if he be yet alive.  We haven’t had a chance of meeting.
I go nowhere, I am imprisoned on this island, and he is cut off from us
by the river Colne.  I see no way out of our trouble but that of
borrowing money from him.  He was a kind-hearted lively fellow when
young, but what he is now that he is old I cannot tell.  You must go and
try what you can do with him.  He is well off, and would not miss twenty
pounds more than twenty pence.’

Mehalah greatly disliked the idea of going to a stranger, to one who,
though a connection, was quite unknown to her, and begging a loan of
him.  It galled her pride and wounded her independence.  It lowered her
in her own eyes.  She would rather have worked her fingers to the bone
than so stoop, but no work of hers could raise twenty pounds in a week.
The thought was altogether so intolerable to her, that she fought
against it as long as she could.  She would herself cheerfully have gone
out of her home and left the farm rather than do this, but she was
obliged to consider her mother. She yielded at last most reluctantly;
and with tears of mortification filling her eyes, and her cheeks burning
with shame, she threw aside her customary costume, and dressed herself
in dark blue cloth gown, white kerchief, and a bonnet, and took her way
to Wyvenhoe.  She had to walk some seven miles.  Her road led her to the
top of high ground overlooking the mouth of the Colne.

The blue water was dotted with sails.  Beyond the river on a height rose
from above trees the lofty tower of Brightlingsea.  Up a winding creek
she looked, and at the head could distinguish the grey priory of St.
Osyth, then the seat of the Earl of Rochford, at the entrance to a noble
park.  She descended the hill, and by a ferry crossed the river to the
village of Wyvenhoe.

On her walk she had mused over what she should say to Mr. Charles
Pettican, without coming to any determination.  Her mother had let fall
some hints that her cousin had once been her fond admirer, but that they
had been parted by cruel parents.  Mrs. Sharland’s reminiscences were
rather vague, and not much reliance could be placed on them; however,
Mehalah hoped there might be some truth in this, and that old
recollections might be stirred in the breast of Mr. Pettican, and
stimulate him to generosity.  The river was full of boats, and on the
landing were a number of people. ’We’re lively to-day,’ said the
ferryman who put her over, ’the regatta is on.  It is late this season,
but what with one thing and another, we couldn’t have it earlier no
way.’

’Will Mr. Pettican be there?’

’Lor bless you, no,’ answered the man, ’that’s impossible.’

Glory asked her way to the house of her mother’s cousin.  He was, or
rather had been, a shipbuilder. He occupied a little compact wooden
house painted white, on the outskirts of the village.  It was a cheerful
place.  The shutters were after the French fashion, external, and
painted emerald green.  The roof was tiled and looked very red, as
though red ochred every morning by the housemaid after she had
pipeclayed the walls. Over the door of the house was a balcony with
elaborate iron balustrades gilt; against these leaned two figureheads,
females, with very pink and white complexions, and no expression in
their faces.

There was a sanded path led from the gate to the door, and there were
two green patches of turf, one on each side of it.  In the centre of
that on the left was another figure-head—a Medusa with flying serpent
locks, but with a face as passionless and ordinary as that of a
milliner’s block.  In the midst of the other plot rose a mast.  On this
day, when all Wyvenhoe was _en fête_, a flag ought properly to be flying
from the mast.  Every other in the village and on the water was adorned
with its bunting, but that of Mr. Pettican alone ignored the festival.

As Mehalah ascended the walk, a gull with its wings clipped uttered a
fierce scream, and rushing across the garden with outspread pinions,
dashed at her foot with his sharp beak, and then falling back, threw out
his breast, elevated his bill, and broke into a long succession of
discordant yells, whoops, and gulps.

At the same moment one pane in the window on the right of the door
opened, a little dry face peered through and nodded.

’If you’re going to knock, don’t.  Come in, and make no noise about it.
It’s very kind.  She’s out.’

The gull made a second assault at Mehalah’s foot.

’Kick him,’ said the face; ’don’t fear you will hurt him.  He is as good
as a watch dog.  Open the door, and when you are in the hall turn to the
right-hand.’

Then the pane was slammed to, and Mehalah turned the handle of the front
door.  She found herself in a narrow passage with a flight of very steep
stairs before her, and a door on each hand.  Over each of these on a
bracket stood a ship fully rigged, with all her sail on.

She entered the room on the right as directed, and found herself in a
little parlour with very white walls, and portraits of ships, some in
worsted work on canvas, others painted in oils, others again in
water-colours, covering the walls.

In the window, half sat, half reclined, an old man, with a scrubby grey
head, a pair of very lively eyes, but with a trembling feeble mouth.

He wore very high shirt-collars, exceedingly stiff, and thick folds of
black silk round his neck.  His blue coat had a high black velvet
collar.  The little man seemed to draw his head in between his blinkers
and beneath his coat-collar, and lose his face in his cravat, then at
will to project his head from them, as though he were a tortoise
retiring into or emerging from his shell.

As Glory came in, the little wizened face was scarce perceptible, save
that the bright eyes peeped and twinkled at her from somewhere in a
chaos of black velvet, blue cloth, white linen, and black silk; then all
at once the head shot forward, and a cheery voice said, ’I can’t rise to
meet you, Mary,’ he made at the same time a salutation with his hand,
’or I would throw myself at your feet.  Glad to see you.  How are you,
Lizzy, my dear.’

’My name is neither Mary nor Lizzy, but Mehalah.’

’Let it be Methuselah or Melchisedek, or what you like, it is all one to
me.  I don’t care for the name you give a wine when it is good, I drink
it and smack my lips, whether you call it Port, or Tarragona, or
Roussillon; and I don’t bother about a girl’s name.  If she is sweet and
sunny, and bright and pretty as’—he made a little bow and a great
flourish of his hand as a salute—’as you are, I see her and listen to
her, and admire her.’

’My name’s——’

’I have told you it don’t matter.  I never yet met with a girl’s name
that wasn’t pretty, except one, and I thought that pretty once.’

’What name?’

’Admonition.’

’Why do you not like it?’

The little man looked out of the window, along the walls, then turned
his head round and sighed.  ’Never mind.  Do you see that figure-head
out there?  It belonged to a wessel I built; she was called the
"Medusa."  Bad luck attended her.  She was always fouling other wessels.
She ran down a Frenchman once, but that was no matter, and she did the
same by a Dutchman.  Well, at last she got such a character that I was
forced to change her head and her name, but then she fared worse than
before.  Changing their names don’t always mend wessels and women.
Well!’ with another sigh, ’we will leave unpleasant topics, and laugh
and be jolly while we may.  You haven’t told me how you are. This is
very kind of you to drop in on me.  It is like old times; my halcyon
days, as I think they call ’em. I haven’t had such a wisit since,’ he
waved towards his flagstaff, ’since I lowered my flag.’

’But, sir,’ said Mehalah, ’you must let me explain my purpose in coming
here; and to do that, I must tell you who I am, and whence I come.’

’I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t care a bit about it.  Be jolly and
gather the rosebuds while you may. She ain’t out for long, and we must
be joyful at such opportunities as are afforded us.  I know as well as
you do why you have come.  You have come in the goodness of your female
heart to cheer a poor crippled wretch like me.’

’I did not know you were a cripple, sir!’

’You didn’t.  Give me my crutches.  Look at this.’  He placed his
crutches under his arms, swung himself dexterously off his chair, and
stumped round the room, dragging his lower limbs behind him, as though
they did not belong to him.  They were lifeless.  When he returned to
his seat he threw himself down.  ’Now, Jemima, put up my legs on that
chair.  I can’t stir them myself.  I couldn’t raise them an inch if you
was to promise me a kiss for my pains.  There, thank ye; now sit down
and be jolly.’

’Sir,’ said Mehalah, ’you remember my mother, Mistress Sharland.’

’What!  Liddy Vince, pretty cousin Liddy!  I should think I did remember
her.  Why, it is only the other day that she married.’

’I am her daughter, and my age is nineteen.’

’I haven’t seen her for—well, never mind how many years.  Years don’t
tell on a man as they do on a woman; they mellow him, but wither her.
So you are her daughter, are you?  Stand round there by my feet where I
can see you.’

He drew his head down among his clothes and peered at her from between
his tall white collars.  ’You are an uncommon fine girl,’ he said, when
his observation was completed, ’but not a bit like Liddy.  You are more
like her mother—she was the deuce of a splendid woman, such eyes, such
hair—but she was a——’ he hesitated, his courtesy forbade his saying what
rose to the tongue.

’A gipsy;’ Mehalah supplied the words.

’Well, she was, but she couldn’t help it, you know. But that is not what
I was about to say.  I intended to observe that she was a—little before
my time.  She was old when I knew her, but I’ve heard what a beauty she
was, and her eyes always remained large and noble, and her hair
luxuriant.  But women don’t improve with age as does good port, and as
do men.  Well, now, tell me your name.’

’Mehalah.’

’A regular Essex marshland name.  I hope I shall remember it.  But I
have to carry so many names of nice-looking girls in my head, and of
ships I have built, that they run one another down, and I cannot be sure
to recall them.  My memory is not going.  Don’t suppose that.  Why,
bless your dear heart, I can remember everything your mother and I said
to one another when we were sweet upon each other.  That don’t look like
a failing memory, does it?  But you see, as we go on in life, every day
brings something more to remember, and so this head gets choke full.  A
babe a year old has some three hundred and sixty-five things to
recollect, that is if he remembers only one thing per diem, and a man of
fifty has over eighteen million of things stuffed away in this little
warehouse,’ tapping his head; ’so he has to rummage and rout before he
can find the particular article he wants.  His memory don’t go with age,
but gets overchoked.  Now, to change the topic, why haven’t you been to
see me before?’

’Sir!  I could not.  I did not know you, and you live a long way from
the Ray.  Mother cannot walk so far.’

’And I can’t neither, but not from age but from accident.  So your
mother can’t walk a matter of seven miles.  Dear me!  How women do
deteriorate either with age or with marriage!  I could; I would think
nothing of it but for my accident.  Now tell me what has brought you
here, Mehalaleel?’

’I have come,’ answered Mehalah, looking down, ’because driven by
necessity to apply to you, as our only relative.’

’Bless my soul!  Want my help!  How?  I wish I could as easily apply for
yours.  My dear girl, I am past help.  I’ve hauled down my flag.  All is
up with me.  I’m drawn up on the mud and put to auction. They are
breaking me up.  Tell your mother so.  Tell her that time was—but let
bygones be bygones.  How is she looking?  Are the roses altogether
faded?’

’She is very feeble and suffering.  She is greatly afflicted with ague.’

’She had it as a girl.  One day as I was courting her and whispering
pretty things in her ear, she was going to blush and smile, when all at
once the fit of shivers came on her, and she could do nought but chatter
her teeth and turn green and stream with cold sweat.  So she is very
feeble, is she?’

’She is weak and ailing.’

’Women never do improve, like men, by ripening,’ said Mr. Pettican.
’Girls are angels up to one and twenty, some a little bit later, but
after that they deteriorate and become old cats.  They are roses up to
marriage and after that are hips, with hard red skins outside and choke
and roughness within.  Men are quite the reverse.  They are louts to
twenty-five, as unformed in body as young colts, and in mind as young
owls; after that they begin to ripen, and the older they get the better
they grow.  A man is like a medlar, only worth eating when rotten.  A
young man is raw and hard and indigestible, but a man of forty is full
of juice and sweetness.  Now don’t tell your mother what I have said
about old women.’

’I will not.’

’Sit ye down, sit ye down, and be jolly.  Don’t stand.  It does not fare
to be comfortable.’

’Sir, I must mention the object of this visit.’

’All in good time.  But first let us be jolly.  Give me some fun, I
haven’t had any since—since,’ he pointed sadly to his flagless staff and
shook his head.  ’It is all up with me, save when a stray gleam of
liveliness and mirth shoots athwart my gloomy sky.  But that is rarely
the case now.’

’Thank you, sir,’ said Mehalah, taking a chair. ’Now to the point.’

’First be jolly.  I have enough of mouths drawn down at the corners—but
never mind now.  Begone dull care, thou canker.  Come!  I should like
your mother to know all about me.  You will tell her how young I am
looking.  You will say that I would be sure to come tripping over to see
her but for my accident.’

’I will tell her how I have seen you.’

’You needn’t dwell on the crutches; but she knows, she has heard of that
affliction of mine, it was the talk of the county, thousands of tender
hearts beat in sympathy with me.  My accident is one of long standing. I
won’t say when it happened.  I have not a good head for dates, but
anyhow it was not quite last year, or the year before that.  It has told
on me.  I look older than I really am, and yet I am hearty and well.  I
have such an appetite.  Just pull me up, dear, in the chair, and I will
tell you what I eat.  I had a rasher of bacon and a chop for breakfast,
and a pewter of homebrewed beer; that don’t look like a failing
digestion, does it. And I shall eat,—Lord bless you!  You would laugh to
see me at my dinner, I eat like a ploughboy.  That is not like the decay
of old age attacking the witals, is it, my pretty?  Now listen to me,
and I will tell you all about it.  Do you chance to notice here and
there a little grey in my hair?  Just as though a few grains of salt had
dropped among black pepper?  They come of care, dearest, not of years.
I never had a grizzled hair on my head till—till I struck my colours.
Now I’ll tell you all about it, and you tell your mother.  She will pity
me.  One day in my yard I stumbled over a round of timber and fell on my
back on it, and hurt my spine, and I’ve been a cripple ever since.  It
is a sad pity—such a fine, strapping, manly fellow as I, in the prime of
age, to be laid by like an old condemned wessel! Well! here I have had
to lie in my window, looking out, and not seeing much to interest me.
But the girls of Wyvenhoe, bless their kind hearts,—they are angels up
to one and twenty—used to come to the window, and wish me a good day,
and ask after my health, and have pleasant little gossips, and be
altogether jolly. Next, whenever they could, some one or two would bring
her knitting or needlework, and come in, and sit here and spend an hour
or so, talking, laughing and making fun.  That was pleasant, wasn’t it?
It is wonderful what a lot those dear girls had to say for themselves;
they became quite confidential with me, and told me all their love
affairs, and how matters stood, and who their sweethearts were.  It was
worth while being ill and laid on one’s back to enjoy such society.
Whenever I was dull and wanted some chat, I sent my man to hoist the
flag, and the next girl that went by, "Ah!" said she, "there’s that poor
fellow would like my society," and in she came and sat talking with me
as long as she was able.  Then sometimes I had a dish of tea brought in,
or some cakes, or fruit. It was a pleasant time.  I wish it were to come
over all again.  Tell your mother all this.  I was quite the pet of all
the kind-hearted young folks in Wyvenhoe. Now that is over.  I’ll tell
you about it.’  He sighed and passed a shaking hand over his bright,
twinkling eyes.  ’You must explain it all to your mother—Liddy that was.
You see, I don’t forget her name.  Now tell me yours again; it is gone
from me.’

’Mehalah.’

’I’ll write it down in my note-book and then I shall remember it.  My
memory is overstocked, and it takes me a deal of time to find in it what
I want.  But your mother’s name don’t get buried, but lies at hand on
the top.  You’ll tell her so.  Now about my troubles.  There was one
damsel, who was called Admonition; and she was very particularly
pleasant and attentive to me, and many a little teasing and joking I had
with her about her name.  She was the girl fullest of fun, she regularly
brimmed over with it, and it ran down her sides.  She was a milliner,
and had to work for her living.  She had no relations and no money of
her own.  It is curious what a lot of cousins she has now, mostly in the
sea-faring line, and all young.  Then she was always ready for a chat.
She would bring her needlework and sit with me by the hour.  I thought
it vastly pleasant, and how much more pleasant it would be if she were
always by my side to keep me laughing and chirpy.  I must tell you that
I go down some degrees when alone,—not that my spirits fail me with
age,—it is constitutional. I was so as a boy.—Bless me! it seems to me
only the other day when I was a romping lout of a lad—I’m crisp and
crackly like seaweed in an East wind when I am in female society, that
is, female society up to one and twenty—but I’m like the same seaweed in
a Sou’wester when I’m alone.  One day the flag was flying, but no
visitor came except Admonition.  It was the day of the Regatta.  She
said, and the tears came into her eyes, that she was a lone girl, with
no one to accompany her, so she had come to sit with me.  She tried to
cheer up and laugh, but she felt her loneliness so that my heart was
touched, and I proposed and we were married.’  There ensued a long
pause.  Mr. Pettican looked out of the window.  ’I had a queer sort of
premonitory feeling when I said, "I take thee Admonition to my wedded
wife," but it was too late then to retract.  Now the flag that has
braved a thousand breezes is down. It has not flown since that day.’

’Where is Mrs. Pettican now?’ asked Mehalah.

’At the Regatta,’ answered the cripple.  ’You’ll tell your mother how I
am situated.  She will drop a tear for poor Charlie.  I will tell you
what, Me——’ he looked at his note-book, ’Mehalah; men fancy all girls
sultana raisins, but when they bite them they get very hard pips between
their teeth.  There’s a Methodist preacher here has been haranguing on
conversion, and persuading Admonition that she is a new creature.  I
know she is.  She was converted on the day of the marriage ceremony; but
the conversion was not something to boast of.  Matrimony with women is
what jibbing is with ships, they go through a movement of staggering and
then away they start off on a tack clean contrary to the course they
were sailing before. Marriage, Mehalah, is like Devonshire cream; it is
very rich and tasty, but it develops a deal of bile.  Look here, my
pretty!’  In a moment he was off his chair, stumping in his crutches
round the room, dragging his paralysed limbs after him.  He returned to
his chair. ’Put up my legs, dear,’ he begged; then said, ’That is the
state of my case; my better half is Admonition, the poor paralysed,
helpless, dead half is me.’

He did not speak for some moments, but brushed his eyes with his feeble
hand.  At last he said, ’I’ve unburdened my soul.  Tell your mother.
Now go ahead, and let me know what you want.’

Mehalah told Mr. Pettican the circumstances.  She said that her mother
wanted a loan of fifteen or twenty pounds.  If she could not procure the
sum, she would have her cow taken from her, then they would be unable to
pay the rent next Lady Day, and be without milk for the winter.  They
would be turned out of the little farm on which her mother had lived so
long, in quiet and contentment, and this would go far to break her
mother’s heart.  She told him candidly that the loan could only be
repaid in instalments.

The old man listened patiently, only passing his hand in an agitated
manner across his face several times.

’I wish I could help you,’ he said, when she had done; ’I have money.  I
have laid by some.  There is plenty in the box and more at the bank, but
I can’t get at it.’

’Sir!’

’Before I struck my colours, Mehalah, I did what I liked with my money;
on market days my man went into Colchester, and I always gave him a
little sum to lay out in presents for my kind visitors.  Bless you; a
very trifle pleased them.  It is different now.  I don’t spend a penny
myself.  The money is spent for me.  I don’t keep the key of my cashbox.
Admonition has it.’

’Then,’ said Mehalah, rising from her seat, ’all is over with us.  My
mother, your cousin, will in her old age be cast destitute into the
world.  But, if you really wish to help her, be a man, use your
authority, and do what you choose with your own.’

’Bless me!’ exclaimed Mr. Pettican touching his brow with his trembling
hand, ’I will be a man.  Am I not a man!  If I don’t exert my authority,
people will say I am in my dotage.  I—I—in my flower and cream of my
age—in the dotage!  Go, Me——’ he looked in his note-book, ’Mehalah,
fetch me my cashbox, it is in the bedroom cupboard upstairs, on the
right, over this.  Bring the box down.  Stay though!  Before you come
down just feel in my wife’s old dress pocket. She may have forgotten to
take her keys with her to the Regatta.  It is just possible.’

’I cannot do that.’

’Well, no, perhaps you had better not.  Do you happen to have a bunch of
keys with you?’

’No, sir.’

’Well, never mind.  Bring me the case.  I will be a man.  I will show
the world I am not in my dotage. I will be of the masculine gender,
dative case, if it pleases me, and Admonition may lump it if she don’t
like it.’

Mehalah obeyed.  She found the box, which was of iron, brought it
downstairs, and placed it on the table by Mr. Pettican.  ’I’ve been
turning the matter over in my mind,’ said he, ’and I see a very happy
way out of it without a row.  Give me the poker.  You will find a cold
chisel in that drawer.’

’I will tell you my idea.  Whilst I am left here all alone, burglars
have broken into the house, knowing my helpless condition, and have
ransacked the place, found my cashbox and broken it open.’  He chuckled
and rubbed his hands.  ’I shall be able accurately to describe the
ruffians.  One has a black moustache, and the other a red beard, and
they look like foreigners and speak a Dutch jargon.’

He put the chisel to the lid, and struck at it with the poker, starting
the hinges by the blow.

At that moment the door was flung wide, and in swam a dashing young
woman in very gay colours, on the arm of a yachtsman.

’Charles!’ she cried; ’what are you after?’ then turning abruptly on
Mehalah, ’And pray what are you doing here, in my house?’  Mr.
Pettican’s head, which had been craned forward in eagerness over the
box, retreated amidst the collar and cravat, and almost disappeared.

’Who are you?’ she asked of Mehalah, with an insulting air.  ’Out of
this house with you at once!’

’My dear Monie!’ pleaded Mr. Pettican, lifting his shaking hands into an
attitude of prayer.

’No "My dears" and "Monies" to me,’ said the wife.  ’I want to know what
you are after with my cashbox?  Ho, ho! trying to prize it open and
squander my little sums laid aside for household expenses on—Heaven
knows whom.’

’Mr. Pettican is my mother’s cousin,’ said Mehalah.

’Cousin, indeed! never heard Mr. Pettican speak of you.  Cousins are
sure to turn up when money is wanted.’

’Mr. Pettican,’ said Mehalah, refusing to notice the insolent woman, ’be
a man and let me have the money you promised.’

’I should like to be a man, oh!  I wish I were a man! But I can’t, I
can’t indeed, dear.  I haven’t been myself since I hauled down my flag.’

’Charles, hold out your hand, and invite my cousin Timothy to dinner.
He has kindly consented to stay a fortnight with us.’

’Timothy!’ echoed Mr. Pettican, ’I did not know you had such a cousin.’

’Do you think you know anything of my relations?’ exclaimed Admonition;
’I should hope not, they are a little above your sphere.  There are lots
more cousins!’

The poor little man sat shrinking behind his blinkers, peering piteously
now at Mehalah, and then at his wife.

’Be a man,’ said Mehalah, grasping him by both hands.  ’Save us from
ruin.’

’Can’t do it, Pretty, can’t.  I have struck my colours.’



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                           *A DUTCH AUCTION.*


Mehalah returned sadly to the Ray.  The hope that had centred in help
from Wyvenhoe had been extinguished.

Her mother was greatly disappointed at the ill-success of the
application, but flattered at her cousin’s recollection of her.

’If it had not been for that woman’s coming in when she did, we should
have had the money,’ said Mrs. Sharland.  ’What a pity she did not
remain away a little longer.  Charles is very well disposed, and would
help us if he could pluck up courage to defy his wife. Suppose you try
again, Mehalah, some other day, and choose your time well.’

’I will not go there again, mother.’

’If we do get turned out of this place we might settle at Wyvenhoe, and
then choose our opportunity.’

’Mother, the man is completely under his wife’s thumb.  There is no help
to be found there.’

’Then, Mehalah, the only chance that remains, is to get the money from
the Mersea parson.’

’He cannot help us.’

’There is no harm trying.’

The day on which Mrs. De Witt had threatened to come had passed, without
her appearing.  True it had blown great guns, and there had been storms
of rain. Mrs. Sharland hoped that the danger was over.  The primitive
inhabitants of the marshes had dwelt on piles, she built on straws.
Some people do not realise a danger till it is on them and they cannot
avert it. Mrs. Sharland was one of these.  She liked her grievance, and
loved to moan over it; if she had not a real one she invented one, just
as children celebrate funerals over dolls.  She had been so accustomed
to lament over toy troubles that when a real trouble threatened she was
unable to measure its gravity.

She was a limp and characterless woman.  Mehalah had inherited the rich
red blood of her grandparents, and Mrs. Sharland had assimilated only
the water, and this flowed feebly through her pale veins.  Her nature
was parasitic.  She could not live on her own root, but must adhere to a
character stronger than herself.  She had hung on and smothered her
husband, and now she dragged at her daughter.  Mehalah must stand
upright or Mrs. Sharland would crush her to the ground. There are women
like articles of furniture that will ’wobble’ unless a penny or a wedge
of wood be put under their feet.  Mrs. Sharland was always crying out
for some trifle to steady her.

Mehalah did not share her mother’s anticipations that the danger had
passed with the day, that Mrs De Witt’s purpose had given way to kinder
thoughts; she was quite sure that she would prove relentless and push
matters to extremities.  It was this certainty which drove her to act
once more on her mother’s suggestion, and go to the Mersea Rectory, to
endeavour to borrow the sum of money needed to relieve them from
immediate danger.

She found the parson in his garden without his coat, which hung on the
hedge, making a potatoe pie for the winter.

He was on all fours packing the tubers in straw. His boots and gaiters
were clogged with clay.

’Hallo!’ he exclaimed as Mehalah came up.  ’You are the girl they call
Glory?  Look here.  I want you to see my kidneys.  Did you ever see the
like, come clean out of the ground without canker.  Would you like a
peck?  I’ll give them you.  Boil beautiful.’

’I want to speak with you, sir.’

’Speak then by all means, and don’t mind me.  I must attend to my
kidneys.  A fine day like this is not to be wasted at this time of the
year.  Go on.  There is an ashtop for you.  I don’t care for the potatoe
as a potatoe.  It don’t boil all to flour as I like.  You can have a few
if you like.  Now go on.’

Down went his head again, and was buried in a nest of straw.  Mehalah
waited.  She did not care to address his back and legs, the only part of
his person visible.

’You can’t be too careful with potatoes,’ said the parson, presently
emerging, very red in the face, and with a pat of clay on his nose.
’You must make them comfortable for the winter.  Do to others as you
would they should do to you.  Keep them well from frost, and they will
boil beautiful all the winter through.  Go on with your story.  I am
listening,’ and in went the head again.

Mehalah lost heart.  She could not begin thus.

’Pah! how I sweat,’ exclaimed the parson, again emerging.  ’The sun
beats down on my back, and the black waistcoat draws the heat.  And we
are in November.  This won’t last.  Have you your potatoes in, Glory?’

’We have only a few on the Ray.’

’You ought to have more.  Potatoes like a light soil well drained.  You
have gravel, and with some good cow-dung or sheep-manure, which is
better still, with your fall, they ought to do primely.  I’ll give you
seed.  It is all nonsense, as they do here, planting small whole
potatoes.  Take a good strong tuber, and cut it up with an eye in each
piece; then you get a better plant than if you keep the little
half-grown potatoes for seed.  However, I’m wasting time.  I’ll be back
in a moment.  I must fetch another basket load. Go on with your story
all the same: I can hear you.  I shall only be in the shed behind the
Rectory.’

Parson Tyll was a curate of one parish across the Strood and of the two
on the island.  The rector was non-resident, on the plea of the
insalubrity of the spot. He had held the rectory of one parish and the
vicarage of the other thirty years, and during that period had visited
his cures twice, once to read himself in, and on the other occasion to
exact some tithes denied him.

’All right,’ said Mr. Tyll, returning from the back premises, staggering
under a crate full of roots.  ’Go on, I am listening.  Pick up those
kidneys which have rolled out.  Curse it, I hate their falling and
getting bruised; they won’t keep.  There now, you never saw finer
potatoes in your life than these.  My soil here is the same as yours on
the Ray.  Don’t plant too close, and not in ridges.  I’ll tell you what
I do.  I put mine in five feet apart and make heaps round each.  I don’t
hold by ridges.  Hillocks is my doctrine.  Go on, I am listening.  Here,
lend me a hand, and chuck me in the potatoes as I want them.  You can
talk all the same.’

Parson Tyll crept into his heap and seated himself on his haunches.
’Chuck away, but not too roughly. They mustn’t be bruised.  Now go on, I
can stack the tubers and listen all the same.’

’Sir,’ said Mehalah, out of heart at her reception, ’we are in great
trouble and difficulty.’

’I have no doubt of it; none in the world.  You don’t grow enough
potatoes.  Now look at my kidneys. They are the most prolific potatoes I
know.  I introduced them, and they go by my name.  You may ask for them
anywhere as Tyll’s kidneys.  Go on, I am listening.’

’We owe Mrs. De Witt a matter of five and twenty pounds,’ began Mehalah,
red with shame; ’and how to pay her we do not know.’

’Nor I,’ said the parson.  ’You have tried to go on without potatoes,
and you can’t do it.  Others have tried and failed.  You should keep
geese on the saltings, and fowls.  Fowls ought to thrive on a sandy
soil, but then you have no corn land, that makes a difference. Potatoes,
however, especially my kidneys, ought to be a treasure to you.  Take my
advice, be good, grow potatoes.  Go on, I am listening.  Chuck me some
more.  How is the stock in the basket?  Does it want replenishing?  Look
here, my lass, go to the coach-house and bring me some more.  There is a
heap in the corner; on the left; those on the right are ashtops. They go
in a separate pie.  You can talk as you go, I shall be here and
harkening.’

Mehalah went sullenly to the place where the precious roots were stored,
and brought him a basketful.

’By the way,’ said the parson, peeping out of his mole-hill at her, ’it
strikes me you ought not to be here now.  Is there not a sale on your
farm to-day?’

’A sale, sir?’

’A sale, to be sure.  Mrs. De Witt has carried off my clerk to act as
auctioneer, or he would be helping me now with my potatoes.  She has
been round to several of the farmers to invite them to attend and bid,
and they have gone to see if they can pick up some ewes or a cow cheap.’

Mehalah staggered.  Was this possible?

’Go on with your story, I’m listening,’ continued the parson, diving
back into his burrow, so that only the less honourable extremity of his
vertebral column was visible.  ’Talk of potatoes.  There’s not one to
come up to Tyll’s kidneys.  Go on, I am all attention! Chuck me some
more potatoes.’

But Mehalah was gone, and was making the best of her way back.

Parson Tyll was right.  This fine November day was that which it had
struck Mrs. De Witt was most suitable for the sale, that would produce
the money.

Mehalah had not long left the Strood before a strange procession began
to cross the Marshes.

Mrs. De Witt sat aloft in a tax-cart borrowed of Isaac Mead, the
publican, by the side of his boy who drove.  Behind, very uncomfortably,
much in the attitude of a pair of scissors, sat the clerk, folded nearly
double in the bottom of the cart; his head reclined on Mrs. De Witt’s
back and the seat of the vehicle, his legs hung over the board at the
back, and swung about like those of a calf being carried to market or to
the butcher’s.  Mrs. De Witt wore her red coat, and a clean washed or
stiffly starched cap. She led the way.  The road over the Marshes was
bad, full of holes, and greasy.  A recent tide had corrupted the clay
into strong brown glue.

The farmers and others who followed to attend the sale had put up their
gigs and carts at the cottage of the Strood keeper, and pursued their
way on foot.  But Mrs. De Witt was above such feebleness of nerve.  She
had engaged the trap for the day, and would take her money’s worth out
of it.  The boy had protested at the Strood that the cart of his master
could not go over the marshes, that Isaac Mead had not supposed it
possible that it would be taken over so horrible and perilous a road.
Mrs. De Witt thereupon brought her large blue gingham umbrella down on
the lad’s back, and vowed she would open him like an oyster with her
pocket-knife unless he obeyed her.  She looked quite capable of
fulfilling her threat, and he submitted.

The cart jerked from side to side.  The clerk’s head struck Mrs. De Witt
several sharp blows in the small of her back.  She turned sharply round,
pegged at him with the umbrella, and bade him mind his manners.

’Let me get out.  I can’t bear this, ma’am,’ pleaded the man.

’It becomes you to ride to the door as the officer of justice,’ answered
she.  ’If I can ride, so can you. Lie quiet,’ and she banged at him with
the umbrella again.

At that moment there came a jolt of a more violent description than
before, and Mrs. De Witt was suddenly precipitated over the
splash-board, and, after a battle in the air, on the back of the
prostrate horse, with her feet, hands and umbrella she went into a mud
hole. The horse was down, but the knees of the clerk were up far above
his head.  He struggled to rise, but was unable, and could only bellow
for assistance.

Mrs. De Witt picked herself up and assisted the boy in bringing the
horse to his feet again.  Then she coolly pinned up her gown to her
knees, and strode forward.  The costume was not so shocking to her
native modesty as might have been supposed, nor did it scandalise the
farmers, for it was that adopted by the collectors of winkles on the
flats.  The appearance presented by Mrs. De Witt was, however,
grotesque.  In the mud her legs had sunk to the knees, and they looked
as though she wore a pair of highly polished Hessian boots.  The skirt
and the red coat gave her a curious nondescript military cut, as half
Highlander. Though she walked, she would not allow the clerk to
dismount.  She whacked at the pendant legs when they rose and protested,
and bade the fellow lie still; he was all right, and it was only proper
that he, the functionary on the occasion, should arrive in state,
instead of on his own shanks.

’If you get up on the seat you’ll be bobbed off like a pea on a drum.
Lie in the bottom of the cart and be peaceful, as is your profession,’
said Mrs. De Witt, with a dig of the umbrella over the side.

They formed a curious assemblage.  There were the four brothers Marriage
of Peldon, not one of whom had taken a wife.  Once, indeed, the
youngest, Herbert, had formed matrimonial schemes; but on his
ventilating the subject, had been fallen on by his three brothers and
three unmarried sisters who kept house for them, as though he had hinted
the introduction of a cask of gunpowder into the cellars.  He had been
scolded and lectured, and taunted, as the apostate, the profligate, the
prodigal, who was bent on the ruin of the family, the dissipation of the
accumulated capital of years of labour, the introducer of discord into a
united household. And yet the household was only united in theory, in
fact the brothers were always fighting and swearing at one another about
the order of the work to be executed on the farm, and the sisters
quarrelled over the household routine.

There was Joshua Pudney, of Smith’s Hall, who loved his bottle and
neglected his farm, who grew more thistles than wheat, and kept more
hunters than cows, a jolly fat red-faced man with white hair, always in
top boots.  Along with him was Nathaniel Pooley, who combined preaching
with farming, was noted for sharp practice in money matters, and for not
always coming out of pecuniary transactions with clean hands.  Pudney
cursed and Pooley blessed, yet the labourers were wont to say that
Pudney’s curses broke no bones, but Pooley’s blessings did them out of
many a shilling.  Pudney let wheat litter in his stubble, and bid the
gleaners go in and be damned, when he threw the gate open to them.
Pooley raked the harvest field over thrice, and then opened the gleaning
with an invocation to Providence to bless the widow, the fatherless, and
the poor who gathered in his fields.

Farmer Wise was a gaunt, close-shaven man, always very neatly dressed, a
great snuff-taker.  He was a politician, and affected to be a Whig,
whilst all the rest of his class were Tories.  He was argumentative,
combative, and cantankerous, a close, careful man, and reported a miser.

A dealer, riding a black pony, a wonderful little creature that
scampered along at a flying trot, came up and slackened rein.  He was a
stout man in a very battered hat, with shabby coat; a merry man, and a
good judge of cattle.

The proceedings of the day were, perhaps, hardly in accordance with
strict English law, but then English law was precisely like Gospel
precepts, made for other folk. On the Essex marshes people did not
trouble themselves much about the legality of their proceedings; they
took the law into their own hands.  If the law suited them they used it,
if not they did without it.  But, legally or not legally, they got what
they wanted.  It was altogether inconvenient and expensive for the
recovery of a small debt to apply to a solicitor and a magistrate, and
the usual custom was, therefore, to do the thing cheaply and easily
through the clerk of the parish constituted auctioneer for the occasion,
and the goods of the defaulter were sold by him to an extemporised
assembly of purchasers on any day that suited the general convenience.
The clerk so far submitted to legal restrictions that he did not run
goods _up_, but down; he began with an absurdly high figure, instead of
one preposterously low.

When the cart and its contents and followers arrived at the Ray, the
horse was taken out, and the vehicle was run against a rick of hay, into
which the shafts were deeply thrust, so as to keep the cart upright,
that it might serve as a rostrum for the auctioneer.

’We’ll go and take stock first,’ said the clerk; ’we’ve to raise
twenty-five pounds for the debt and twenty shillings my costs.  What is
there to sell?’

’Wait a bit, gaffer,’ said the cattle jobber; ’you’re a trifle too
quick.  The old lady must demand the money first.’

’I’m agoing to do so, Mr. Mellonie,’ said Mrs. De Witt; ’you teach your
grandmother to shell shrimps.’  Then, looking round on about twenty
persons who had assembled, she said, ’Follow me.  Stay! here comes more.
Oh! it is Elijah Rebow and his men come to see fair play.  Come by water
have you, Elijah?  We are not going to sell anything of yours, you
needn’t fear.’

She shouldered her umbrella like an oar, and strode to the house door.
Mrs. Sharland was there, white and trembling.

’Have you got my money?’ asked Mrs. De Witt.

’Oh, mistress,’ exclaimed the unfortunate widow, ’do have pity and
patience.  Mehalah has just gone to get it.’

’Gone to get it?’ echoed Mrs. De Witt.  ’Why, where in the name of
wonder does she expect to get it?’

’She had gone to Parson Tyll to borrow it.’

’Then she won’t get it,’ said the drover.  ’There’s no money to be wrung
out of empty breeches pockets.’

’Let me into the house,’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’Let us all see what you
have got.  There’s a clock.  Drag it out, and stick it up under the tree
near the cart. That is worth a few pounds.  And take that chair.’

’It is my chair.  I sit in it, and I have the ague so bad.’

’Take the chair,’ persisted Mrs. De Witt, and Rebow’s men carried it
forth.  ’There’s some good plates there.  Is there a complete set?’

’There are only six.’

’That is better than none.  Out with them. What have you got in the
corner cupboard?’

’Nothing but trifles.’

’We’ll sell the cupboard and the dresser.  You can’t move the dresser,
Elijah.  We’ll carry it in our heads. Look at it,’ she said to the
clerk; ’see you don’t forget to put that up.  Now shall we go into the
bedrooms, or go next to the cowhouse?’

’Leave the bedroom,’ said Mellonie, ’you can’t sell the bed from under
the old woman.’

’I can though, if I don’t raise enough,’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’I’ve slept
on a plank many a time.’

’Oh dear!  Oh dear!’ moaned the widow Sharland; ’I wish Mehalah had
returned; perhaps she has the money.’

’No chance of that, mistress,’ said Rebow.  ’You are sold up and done
for past escape now.  What will you do next, you and that girl Glory,
I’d like to know?’

’I think she will get the money,’ persisted the widow.

Elijah turned from her with a sneer.

’Outside with you,’ shouted Mrs. De Witt.  ’The sale is going to begin.’

The men—there were no women present except Mrs. De Witt—quickly
evacuated the house and pushed into the stable and cowhouse.

There was no horse, and only one cow.  The sheep were on the saltings.
There was no cart, and very few tools of any sort.  The little farm was
solely a sheep farm, there was not an acre of tillage land attached to
it.

The clerk climbed up into the cart.

’Stop, stop, for Heaven’s sake!’ gasped Mehalah dashing up.  ’What is
this!  Why have we not been warned?’

’Oh yes! forewarned indeed, and get rid of the things,’ growled Mrs. De
Witt.  ’But I did tell you what I should do, and precious good-natured I
was to do it.’

Mehalah darted past her into the house.

’Tell me, tell me!’ cried the excited mother, ’have you the money?’

’No.  The parson could not let me have it.’

’Hark! they have begun the sale.  What is it they are crying now?’

’The clock, mother.  Oh, this is dreadful.’

’They will sell the cow too,’ said the widow.

’Certain to do so.’

’There!  I hear the dresser’s put up.  Who has bought the clock?’

’Oh never mind, that matters nothing.  We are ruined.’

’Oh dear, dear!’ moaned Mrs. Sharland, ’that it should come to this!
But I suppose I must, I must indeed.  Run, Mehalah, run quick and unrip
the belt of my green gown.  Quick, fetch it me.’

The girl hastily obeyed.  The old woman got her knife, and with
trembling hand cut away the lining in several parts of the body.
Shining sovereigns came out.

’There are twenty here,’ she said with a sigh, ’and we have seven over
of what George let us have.  Give the wretches the money.’

’Mother, mother!’ exclaimed Mehalah.  ’How could you borrow!  How could
you send me——!’

’Never mind, I did not want to use my little store till every chance had
failed.  Run out and pay the money.’

Mehalah darted from the door.

The clerk was selling the cow.

’Going for twenty-five pounds.  What? no one bid, going for twenty-five
pounds, and dirt cheap at the money, all silent!  Well I never, and such
a cow! Going for twenty-three——’

’Stop!’ shouted Mehalah.  ’Here is Mrs. De Witt’s money, twenty-five
pounds.’

’Damnation!’ roared Elijah, ’where did you get it?’

’Our savings,’ answered Mehalah, and turned her back on him.



                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                          *A GILDED BALCONY.*


Mehalah was hurt and angry at her mother’s conduct. She thought that she
had not been fairly treated. When the loss sustained presumably by
Abraham Dowsing’s carelessness had been discovered, Mrs. Sharland had
not hinted the existence of a private store, and had allowed De Witt to
lend her the money she wanted for meeting the rent.  Glory regarded this
conduct as hardly honest.  It jarred, at all events, with her sense of
what was honourable.  On the plea of absolute inability to pay the rent,
they had obtained five and twenty pounds from the young fisherman.  Then
again, when Mrs. De Witt reclaimed the debt, Mehalah had been subjected
to the humiliation of appealing to Mr. Pettican and being repulsed by
Admonition.  She had been further driven to sue a loan of the parson;
she had not, indeed, asked him for the money, but that was only because
he avoided, intentionally or not she could not say, giving her the
chance.  She had gone with the intention of begging, and his manner, and
the accidental discovery that the sale was already taking place, had
alone prevented her from undergoing the shame of asking and being
refused.

She did not like to charge her mother with having behaved dishonourably,
for she felt instinctively that her mother’s views and hers were not
coincident.  Her brow was clouded, and an unpleasant gleam flickered in
her eyes.  She resisted the treatment she had been subjected to as
unnecessary.  It was only justifiable in an extreme emergency, and no
such emergency had existed.  Her mother would rather sacrifice her
daughter’s self-respect than break in on the little hoard.

’Charles said he had money in the bank, did he?’ asked Mrs. Sharland.

’Yes.’

’To think of that!  My cousin has an account in the bank, and can write
his cheques, and one can cash cheques signed Charles Pettican!  That is
something to be proud of, Mehalah.’

’Indeed, mother?’

’And you say he has a beautiful house, with a verandah.  A real gilt
balcony.  Think of that!  And Charles is my cousin, the cousin of your
own mother. There’s something to think of, there.  I couldn’t sleep last
night with dreaming of that house with its green shutters and a real
balcony.  I do believe that I shall die happy, if some day I may but see
that there gilded—you said it was gilded—balcony.  Charles Pettican with
a balcony!  What is the world coming to next! A real gilded balcony, and
two figureheads looking over—there’s an idea!  Did you tell me there was
a sofa in his sitting-room; and I think you said the dressing-table had
a pink petticoat with gauze over it.  Just think of that.  I might have
been Mrs. Charles Pettican, if all had gone well, and things had been as
they should have, and then I should have had a petticoat to my
dressing-table and a balcony afore my window.  I am glad you went, it
was like the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon and seeing all his glory,
and now you’ve come back into your own land, and filled me with your
tidings.’

Mehalah let her mother meander on, without paying any attention to what
she said.  Mrs. Sharland had risen some stages in her self-importance
since she had heard how prosperous in a pecuniary sense her relation
was.  It shed a sort of glory on her when she thought that, had fate
ruled it so, she might have shared with him this splendour, instead of
being poor and lonely on the desolate Ray.  Mrs. Sharland would have
loved a gossip, but never got a chance of talking to anyone with a
similar partiality.  Had she married Mr. Charles Pettican she would have
been in the vortex of a maelstrom of tittle-tattle.  It was something to
puff her up to think that if matters had taken another turn this would
have been her position in Wyvenhoe.

’I don’t think Mrs. De Witt had any notion how rich and distinguished my
relatives are, when she came here asking for her five and twenty pounds.
I’ll take my oath on it, she has no cousin with a balcony and a sofa. I
don’t suppose we shall be troubled much now, when it is known that my
cousin draws cheques, and that the name of Charles Pettican is honoured
at the bank.’

’You forget we got, and shall get, no help from him.’

’I do not forget it, Mehalah.  I remember perfectly how affably he spoke
of me—his Liddy Vince, his pretty cousin.  I do not forget how ready he
was to lend the money.  Twenty pounds! if you had asked fifty, he’d have
given it you as readily.  He was about to break open his cash-box, as he
hadn’t the key by him, and would have given me the money I wanted, had
not a person who is no relation of mine interposed.  That comes of
designing women stepping in between near relatives.  Charles Pettican is
my cousin, and he is not ashamed to acknowledge it; why should he?  I
have always maintained myself respectable, and always shall.’

’Mother,’ said Mehalah, interrupting this watery wash of vain twaddle,
’you should not have borrowed the money of George De Witt.  That was the
beginning of the mischief?’

’Beginning of what mischief?’

’The beginning of our trouble.’

’No, it was not; Abraham’s carelessness was the beginning.’

’But, mother, I repeat it, you did wrong in not producing your hidden
store instead of borrowing.’

’I did not borrow.  I never asked George De Witt for his money, he
proposed to let us have it himself.’

’That is indeed true; but you should have at once refused to take it,
and said it was unnecessary for us to be indebted to him, as you had the
sum sufficient laid by.’

’That is all very well, Mehalah, but when a generous offer is made me,
why should I not accept it?  Because there’s still some milk of
yesterday in the pan, do you decline to milk the cow to-day?  I was glad
of the opportunity of keeping my little savings untouched. Besides, I
always thought George would make you his wife.’

’I thought so too,’ said Mehalah in a low tone, and her face became sad
and blank as before; she went off into a dream, but presently recovered
herself and said, ’Then, when Mrs. De Witt asked for her money, why did
you not produce it, and free us of her insults and annoyance?’

’I did not want to part with my money.  And it has turned out well.  If
I had done as you say, we should not have revived old acquaintance, and
obtained the valuable assistance of Charles Pettican.’

’He did not assist us.’

’He did as far as he was able.  He would have given us the money, had
not untoward circumstances intervened.  He as good as let us have the
twenty pounds.  That is something to be proud of—to be helped by a man
whose name is honoured at the bank—at the Colchester Bank.’

’But, mother, you have given me inexpressible pain!’

’Pained you!’ exclaimed Mrs. Sharland.  ’How could I?’

Her eyes opened wide.  Mehalah looked at her. They had such different
souls, that the girl saw it was of no use attempting to explain to her
mother what had wounded her; her sensations belonged to a sense of which
her mother was deprived.  It is idle to speak of scarlet to a man who is
blind.

’I did it all for you,’ said Mrs. Sharland reproachfully.  ’I was
thinking and caring only for you, Mehalah, from beginning to end, from
first to last.’

’Thinking and caring for me!’ echoed Glory in surprise.

’Of course I was.  I put those gold pieces away, one a quarter from the
day you were born, till I had no more savings that I could put aside.  I
put them away for you.  I thought that when I was gone and buried, you
should have this little sum to begin the world upon, and you would not
say that your mother died and left you nothing.  Nothing in the world
would have made me touch the hoard, for it was your money,
Mehalah—nothing but the direst need, and you will do me the justice to
say that this was the case to-day.  It would have been the worst that
could have happened for you to-day had the money not been paid, for you
would have sunk in the scale.’

’Mother!’ exclaimed Mehalah, intensely moved, ’you did all this for me;
you thought and cared for _me_—for _me_!’

The idea of her mother having ever done anything for her, ever having
thought of her, apart from herself, of having provided for her
independently of herself, was too strange and too amazing for Mehalah to
take it in at once.  As long as she remembered anything she had worked
for her mother, thought for her, and denied herself for her, without
expecting any return, taking it as a matter of course that she should
devote herself to her mother without the other making any
acknowledgment.

And now the thought that she had been mistaken, that her mother had
really cared for and provided for her, overwhelmed her.  She had not
wept when she thought that George De Witt was lost to her, but now she
dropped into her chair, buried her face in her arms, and burst into a
storm of sobs and tears.

Mrs. Sharland looked at her with a puzzled face. She never had
understood Mehalah, and she was content to be in the dark as to what was
passing in her breast now.  She settled back in her chair, and turned
back to the thoughts of Charles Pettican’s gilt balcony, and petticoated
dressing-table.

By degrees Mehalah recovered her composure, then she went up to her
mother and kissed her passionately on the brow.

’Mother dear,’ she said in a broken voice, ’I never, never will desert
you.  Whatever happens, our lot shall be cast together.’

Then she reared herself, and in a moment was firm of foot, erect of
carriage, rough and imperious as of old.

’I must look after the sheep on the saltings,’ she said.  ’Abraham’s
head is turned with the doings here to-day, and he has gone to the Rose
to talk and drink it over.  The moon is full, and we shall have a high
tide.’

Next moment Mrs. Sharland was alone.

The widow heaved a sigh.  ’There is no making heads or tails of that
girl, I don’t understand her a bit,’ she muttered.

’I do though,’ answered Elijah Rebow at the door. ’I want a word with
you, mistress.’

’I thought you had gone, Elijah, after the sale.’

’No, I did not leave with the rest.  I hung about in the marshes,
waiting a chance when I might speak with you by yourself.  I can’t speak
before Glory; she flies out.’

’Come in, master, and sit down.  Mehalah is gone down to the saltings,
and will not be back for an hour.’

’I must have a word with you.  Where has Glory been?  I saw her go off
t’other day in gay Sunday dress towards Fingringhoe.  What did she go
after?’

Mrs. Sharland raised herself proudly.  ’I have a cousin lives at
Wyvenhoe, and we exchange civilities now and then.  I can’t go to him
and he can’t come to me, so Mehalah passes between us.’

’What does she go there for?’

’My cousin, Mr. Charles Pettican—I dare say you have heard the name, it
is a name that is honoured at the bank——’ she paused and pursed up her
lips.

’Go on, I have heard of him, an old shipbuilder.’

’He made his fortune in shipbuilding,’ said Mrs. Sharland.  ’He has laid
by a good deal of money, and is a free and liberal man with it, among
his near relatives.’

’Curse him,’ growled Elijah, ’he let you have the money?’

’I sent Mehalah to my cousin Charles, to ask him to lend me a trifle,
being for a moment inconvenienced,’ said Mrs. Sharland with stateliness.

’She—Glory—went cringing for money to an old shipbuilder!’ exclaimed
Rebow with fury in his face.

’She did not like doing so,’ answered the widow, ’but I entreated her to
put her prejudices in her pocket, and do as I wished.  You see, Master
Rebow, this was not like asking strangers.  Charles is my cousin, my
nearest living relative, and some day, perhaps, there is no knowing——’
she winked, and nodded, and ruffled up in her pride.  ’We are his
nearest of kin, and he is an old man, much older than I am.  I am young
compared to him, and he is half-paralysed.’

’He gave the money without any difficulty or demur?’ asked Elijah, his
face flaming.

’He was most willing, anxious, I may say, to help. You see, Master
Rebow, he is well off, and has no other relatives.  He is a man of
fortune, and has a gilt balcony before his house, and a real sofa in his
sitting-room. His name is engraved on brass on a plate on the door, it
commands respect and receives honour at the Colchester Bank.’

’So you are fawning on him, are you?’ growled Elijah.

’He has real oil-paintings on his walls.  There’s some in water-colours,
and some in worsted work, but I make no count of them, but real oils,
you know; there’s something to think of in that.  A man don’t break out
into oil unless he has money in the bank at command.’

Mrs. Sharland was delighted with the opportunity of airing her
re-discovered cousin, and exalting his splendour before some one other
than her daughter.

’A valance all round his bed—there’s luxury!’ said the widow, ’and that
bed a whole tester.  As for his dressing-table, it wears a better
petticoat than I, pink calico that looks like silk, and over it gauze,
just like a lady at an assembly ball, a real quality lady.  My cousin is
not one to see his Liddy—he calls me his pretty cousin Liddy—my name
before I was married was Vince, but instead of Sharland it might have
been Pettican, if all had been as it ought.  I say cousin Charles is not
the man to see his relatives sold up stick and stock by such as Mrs. De
Witt.’

’You think if you can’t pay me my rent, he will help you again?’

’If I feel a little behind-hand, Master Rebow, I shall not scruple
sending Mehalah to him again.  Charles is a man of kind and generous
heart, and it is touching how he clings to his own flesh and blood.  He
has taken a great affection for Mehalah.  He calls her niece, and wants
her to look on him as an uncle, but you know that is not the real
relationship.  He was my mother’s only brother’s son, so we was first
cousins, and he can only be a cousin of some sort to Mehalah, can he?’

’Oh curse your cousinships!’ broke in Elijah angrily. ’To what an extent
can you count on his help?’

’To any amount,’ said the widow, too elated to care to limit her
exaggeration.

’How is Mehalah?  Is she more inclined to think of me?’

Mrs. Sharland shook her head.

’She don’t love me?’ said Elijah with a laugh.

’I fear not, Elijah.’

’She won’t be disposed to take up her quarters at Red Hall?’

Mrs. Sharland sighed a negative.

’Nor to bear with me near her all day?’

’No, Elijah.’

’No, she won’t,’ said he with a jerky laugh, ’she won’t till she is made
to.  She won’t come to Red Hall till she can’t help it.  She won’t live
with me till I force her to it.  Damn that cousin!  He stands in my
path. I will go see him.  There comes Mehalah, back from the saltings.
I must be off.’

’My cousin is a man of importance,’ observed Mrs. Sharland, bridling up
at Elijah’s slighting remark.  ’He is not accustomed to be cursed.  Men
with names that the bank honours, and who have gilded balconies over
their doors, don’t like it, they don’t deserve it.’



                            *CHAPTER XIII.*

                           *THE FLAG FLIES.*


A month after the interrupted auction, Elijah Rebow appeared one day
before Mr. Pettican’s door at Wyvenhoe.  The gull was screaming and
flying at his feet. His stick beat a loud summons on the door, but the
noise within was too considerable for the notices of a visitor to be
heard and responded to.

Elijah remained grimly patient outside, with a sardonic smile on his
face, and amused himself with tormenting the gull.

Presently the door flew open, and a dashing young woman flung out, with
cherry-coloured ribands in her bonnet, and cherry colour in her cheeks.

’All right, Monie?’ asked a voice from the balcony, and then Elijah was
aware of a young man in a blue guernsey and a straw hat lounging over
the balustrade, between the figureheads, smoking a pipe.

’He has learned his place at last,’ answered Admonition; ’I never saw
him so audacious before.  Come along, Timothy.’  The young man
disappeared, and presently emerged at the door.  At the same time a
little withered face was visible at the window, with a dab of putty, as
it seemed, in the middle of it, but which was probably a nose flattened
against the glass. Two little fists were also apparent shaken violently,
and a shrill voice screamed imprecations and vowed vengeance behind the
panes, utterly disregarded by Admonition and Timothy, who stared at
Elijah, and then struck down the gravelled path without troubling
themselves to ask his business.

The door was left open, and Elijah entered, but stood on the threshold,
and looked after the pair as they turned out of the garden-gate, and
took the Colchester road, laughing and talking, and Admonition tossing
her saucy head, in the direction of the face at the window, and then
taking the sailor’s arm.

A wonderful transformation had taken place in Mrs. Pettican’s exterior
as well as in her manner since her marriage.

She had been a soft demure little body with melting blue eyes and rich
brown hair very smoothly laid on either side of her brow—a modest brow
with guilelessness written on it—and the simplest little curls beside
her round cheeks.  She wore only black, in memory of a
never-to-be-forgotten mother, and a neat white cap and apron.  If she
allowed herself a little colour, it was only a flower in her bosom.
Poor Charles Pettican!  How often he had supplied that flower!

’I can’t pick one myself, Admonition,’ he had said; ’you go into my
garden and pluck a rose.’

’But _you_ must give it me,’ she had invariably said on such occasions,
with a shy eye just lifted, and then dropped again.

And of course Mr. Pettican had presented the flower with a compliment,
and an allusion to her cheek, which had always deepened the modest flush
in it.

Now Admonition affected bright colours—cherry was her favourite.  She
who had formerly dressed below her position, now dressed above it; she
was this day flashing through Wyvenhoe in a straw broad-brimmed hat with
crimson bows, lined with crimson, and in a white dress adorned with
carnation knots, and a red handkerchief over the shoulders worn bare in
the house. There was no doubt about it, that Admonition looked very well
thus attired, better even than in her black.

Her hair was now frizzled over her brow, and she wore a mass of curls
about her neck, confined in the house by a carnation riband.  The soft
eyes were now marvellously hard when directed upon the husband, and only
retained their velvet for Timothy.  The cheek now blushed at nothing,
but flamed at the least opposition.

’I married one woman and got another,’ said Charles Pettican to himself
many times a day.  ’I can’t make it out at all.  Marriage to a woman is,
I suppose, much like a hot bath to a baby; it brings out all the bad
humours in the blood.  Young girls are as alike as flour and plaster of
Paris, and it is not till you begin to be the making of them that you
find the difference.  Some make into bread, but others make into stone.’

When Elijah Rebow entered the little parlour, he found Mr. Pettican
nearly choked with passion.  He was ripping at his cravat to get it off,
and obtain air. His face was nearly purple.  He took no notice of his
visitor for a few moments, but continued shaking his fist at the window,
and then dragging at his neckcloth.

Being unable to turn himself about, the unfortunate man nearly strangled
himself in his inability to unwind his cravat.  This increased his
anger, and he screamed and choked convulsively.

’You will smother yourself soon,’ observed Elijah dryly, and going up to
Mr. Pettican, he loosened the neckcloth.

The cripple lay back and panted.  Presently he was sufficiently
recovered to project his head towards Rebow, and ask him what he wanted,
and who he was.

Elijah told him his name.  Charles Pettican did not pay attention to
him; his mind was engrossed by other matters.

’Come here,’ said he, ’here, beside me.  Do you see them?’

’See what?’ asked Elijah in return, gruffly, as Pettican caught his arm,
and drew him down, and pointed out of the window.

’There they are.  Isn’t it wexing to the last degree of madness?’

’Do you mean your daughter and her sweetheart?’

’Daughter!’ echoed the cripple.  ’Daughter!  I wish she was.  No, she’s
my wife.  I don’t mean her.’

’What do you mean then?’

’Why, my crutches.  Don’t you see them?’

’No, I do not,’ answered Rebow looking round the room.

’They are not here,’ said Pettican.  ’Admonition flew out upon me,
because I wouldn’t draw more money from the bank, and she took away my
crutches, to confine me till I came into her whimsies.  There they are.
They are flying at the mast-head.  She got that cousin of hers to hoist
them.  She knows I can’t reach them, that here I must lie till somebody
fetches them down for me.  You should have heard how they laughed, those
cousins as they call themselves, as my crutches went aloft.  Oh! it was
fun to them, and they could giggle and cut jokes about me sitting here,
flattening my nose at the pane, and seeing my crutches hoisted.  They
might as well have robbed me of my legs—better, for they are of no use,
and my crutches are.  Fetch me them down.’

Elijah consented, chuckling to himself at the distress of the
unfortunate shipbuilder.  He speedily ran the crutches down, and
returned them to Pettican.

’Turning me into fun before the whole town!’ growled Pettican, ’exposing
my infirmity to all the world!  It was my wife did it.  Admonition urged
on her precious cousin Timothy to it.  He did fare to be ashamed, but
she laughed him into it, just as Eve jeered Adam into eating the apple.
She has turned off my servant too, and here am I left alone and helpless
in the house all day, whilst she is dancing off to Colchester market
with her beau—cousin indeed!  What do you think, master—I don’t know
your name.’

’Elijah Rebow, of Red Hall.’

’What do you think, Master Rebow?  That cousin has been staying here a
month, a whole calendar month. He has been given the best room, and
there have been junketings without number; they have ate all the oysters
out of my pan, and drank up all my old stout, and broken the necks of
half the whisky bottles in my cellar, and smoked out all my havannahs.
I have a few boxes, and indulge myself occasionally in a good cigar,
they come costly.  Well, will you believe me!  Admonition routs out all
my boxes, and gives her beau a havannah twice a day or more often, as he
likes, and I haven’t had one between my lips since he came inside my
doors.  That lot of old Scotch whisky I had down from Dundee is all
drunk out.  Before I married her, Admonition would touch nothing but
water, and tea very weak only coloured with the leaf; now she sucks
stout and rum punch and whisky like a fish.  It is a wonder to me she
don’t smoke too.’

The cripple tucked his recovered crutches under his arms, rolled himself
off his chair, and stumped vehemently half a dozen times round the room.
He returned at length, out of breath and very hot, to his chair, into
which he cast himself.

’Put up my legs, please,’ he begged of Elijah. ’There!’ he said, ’I have
worked off my excitement a little.  Now go into the hall and look in the
box under the stairs, there you will find an Union Jack.  Run it up to
the top of the mast.  I don’t care.  I will defy her.  When that girl
who came here the other day—I forget her name—sees the flag flying she
will come and help me.  If Admonition has cousins, so have I, and mine
are real cousins.  I doubt but those of Admonition are nothing of the
sort.  If that girl——’

’What girl?’ asked Rebow gloomily, as he folded his arms across his
breast, and scowled at Charles Pettican.

’I don’t know her name, but it is written down.  I have it in my
note-book—Ah!  Mehalah Sharland. She is my cousin, her mother is my
cousin.  I’ll tell you what I will do, master.  But before I say another
word, you go up for me into the best bed-room—the blue room, and chuck
that fellow’s things out of the window over the balcony, and let the
gull have the pecking and tearing of them to pieces.  I know he has his
best jacket on his back; more’s the pity.  I should like the gull to
have the clawing and the beaking of that, but he can make a tidy mess of
his other traps; and will do it.’

’Glory——’ began Elijah.

’Ah! you are right there,’ said Pettican.  ’It will be glory to have
routed cousin Timothy out of the house; and if the flag flies, my
cousin—I forget her name—Oh! I see, Mehalah—will come here and bring her
mother, and before Master Timothy returns with Admonition from
market—they are going to have a shilling’s worth on a merry-go-round, I
heard them scheme it—my cousins will be in possession, and cousin
Timothy must content himself with the balcony, or cruise off.’

’Glory—or Mehalah, as you call her.’

’I’ll not listen to another word, till you have chucked that fellow’s
trape overboard.  There’s a portmantle of his up there, chuck that over
with the rest, and let the gull have the opening and examination of the
contents.’

There was nothing for it but compliance, if Elijah wished to speak on
the object of his visit.  The old man was in an excited condition which
would not allow him to compose his mind till his caprices were attended
to, and his orders carried out.  Rebow accordingly went upstairs and
emptied the room of all evidences of its having been occupied.  There
was a discharge of boots, brush, clothes, pipes, into the garden, at
which Pettican rubbed his hands and clucked like a fowl.

Rebow returned to the parlour, and the old shipbuilder was profuse in
his thanks.  ’Now,’ said he, ’run the flag up.  You haven’t done that
yet.  Then come and have a glass of spirits.  There is some of the
whisky left, not many bottles, but there is some, and not locked up, for
Admonition thought she had me safe when she hoisted my crutches up the
mast-head.  Go now and let the bunting float as of old in my halcyon
days.’  This was also done; the wind took, unfurled, and flapped the
Union Jack, and the old man crowed with delight, and swung his arms.

’That is right.  I haven’t seen it fly for many months; not since I was
married.  Now that girl, I forget her name, oh!  I have it
here—Mehalah—will see it, and come to the rescue.  Do you know her?’

’What, Glory?’

’That ain’t her name.  Her name is—is—Mehalah.’

’We call her Glory.  She is the girl.  I know her,’ he laughed and his
eyes glittered.  He set his teeth. Charles Pettican looked at him, and
thought he had never seen a more forbidding countenance.  He was
frightened, and asked hastily,

’Who are you?’

’I am Elijah Rebow, of Red Hall.’

’I don’t know you or the place.’

’I am in Salcott and Virley.  You know me by name.’

’Oh! perhaps I do.  My memory is not what it once was.  I get so put out
by my wife’s whimsies that I can’t collect my faculties all at once.  I
think I may have heard of you, but I haven’t met you before.’

’I am the landlord of Glory—Mehalah, you call her. The Ray, which is
their farm, belongs to me, with all the marshes and the saltings, and
all that thereon is.  I bought it for eight hundred pounds.  Glory and
her mother are mine.’

’I don’t understand you.’

’I bought the land, and the farm, and them, a job lot, for eight hundred
pounds.’

’I remember, the girl—I forget her name, but I have it here, written
down——’

’Glory!’

’No, not that, Mehalah.  I wish you wouldn’t call her what she is not,
because it confuses me; and I have had a deal to confuse me lately.
Marriage does rummage a man’s hold up so.  Mehalah came here a few weeks
back to ask me to lend her some money, as her mother could not pay the
rent.  Her mother is my cousin, Liddy Vince that was, I used to call her
"Pretty Liddy," or Lydia Languish, after a character in a play, because
of her ague, and because she sort of languished of love for me.  And I
don’t deny it, I was sweet on her once, but the ague shivers stood in
the way of our love waxing wery hot.’

’You lent her the money.’

’I—I——’ hesitated Mr. Pettican.  ’You see how I am circumstanced, my
wife——’

’You lent her the money.  Mistress Sharland told me so.’

’She did!’ exclaimed Pettican in surprise.

’Yes, she did.  Now I want to know, will you do that again?  I am
landlord.  I bought the Ray for eight hundred pounds, and I don’t want
to drop my money without a return.  You understand that.  A man doesn’t
want to give his gold away, and be whined out of getting interest for it
by an old shivering, chattering woman, and flouted out of it by a devil
of a girl.’  His hands clenched fiercely.

’Of course, of course,’ said the cripple.  ’I understand you.  You think
those two can’t manage the farm, and were better out of it.’

’I want to be sure of my money,’ said Elijah, knitting his dark brows,
and fixing his eyes intently on Pettican.

’I quite understand,’ said the latter, and tapping his forehead, he
added, ’I am a man of business still. I am not so old as all that,
whatever Admonition may say.’

’Now what I want to know,’ pursued Elijah, ’is this—for how long are you
going to pay your cousin’s rent? For how long is that Glory to come to
me and defy me, and throw the money down before me?’

’I don’t quite take you,’ said Pettican.

’How many times will you pay their rent?’ asked Rebow.

’Well!’ said the cripple, passing his hand over his face.  ’I don’t want
them to stay at your farm at all. I want them to come here and take care
of me.  I cannot defend myself.  If I try to be a man—that girl, I
forget her name, you confuse me about it—told me to be a man, and I will
be a man, if she will back me up. I have been a man somewhat, have I
not, master, in chucking cousin Timothy’s traps to the gull—that I call
manly.  You will see the girl—-Mehalah—I have the name now.  I will keep
my note-book open at the place. Mehalah, Mehalah, Mehalah, Mehalah.’

’I want to know——’ broke in Elijah.

’Let me repeat the name ten times, and then I shall not forget it
again.’  Pettican did so.  ’You called her something else.  Perhaps we
are not speaking of the same person.’

’Yes, we are.  I call her Glory.  I am accustomed to that name.  Tell me
what you want with her.’

’I want her and her mother to come and live with me, and take care of
me, and then I can be a man, and make head against the wind that is now
blowing in my teeth.  Shall you see them?’

’Yes.’

’To-day?’

’Perhaps.’

’Then pray make a point of seeing the girl or her mother, in case she
should not notice the flag, and say that I wish them to come here at
once; at once it must be, or I shall never have courage to play the man
again, not as I have to-day.  They did put my monkey up by removing my
crutches and hoisting them to the masthead, leaving me all by myself and
helpless here.  I should wish Mehalah to be here before Admonition and
her beau return.  They won’t be back till late.  There’s a horsemanship
at Colchester as well as a merry-go-round, and they are going to both,
and perhaps to the theatre after that.  There’ll be junketings and
racketings, and I—poor I—left here with no one to attend to me, and my
crutches at the mast-head.  You will tell the girl and her mother that I
expect their help, and I will be a man, that I will.  It would be
something to boast of, would it not, if Timothy were to return and find
his room occupied and his baggage picked to rags, and if Admonition were
to discover that I have cousins as well as she?’

’You are bent on this?’

’I rely on you.  You will see them and tell them to come to me, and I
will provide for them whilst I am alive, and afterwards—when I am no
more—we won’t talk or think of such an eventuality.  It isn’t pleasant
to contemplate, and may not happen for many years. I am not so old as
you might think.  My infirmity is due to accident; and my digestion is,
or rather was, first-rate.  I could eat and drink anything before I was
married.  Now I am condemned to see others eat and drink what I have
laid in for my own consumption, and I am put off with the drumstick of
the fowl, or the poorest swipes of ale, whilst the others toss off my
stout—bottled stout.  I will not endure this any longer. Tell that
girl—I forget her name—and her mother that they must come to me.’

’But suppose they will not come.’

’They will, I know they will.  The female heart is tender and
sympathetic, and compassionates misery. My suffering will induce them to
come.  If that will not, why then the prospects of being comfortably off
and free from cares will make them come.  I have plenty of money.  I
won’t tell you, I have not told Admonition, how much.  I have money in
the Colchester Bank.  I have South Sea shares, and insurances, and
mortgages, and I shall not let Admonition have more money than I can
help, as it all goes on cousin Timothy, and whirligigs and
horsemanships, or regattas, and red ribands, and what not; none is spent
on me. No, no.  The Sharlands shall have my money.  They are my cousins.
I have cousins as well as Admonition. I will be a man and show that I
have courage too.  But I have another inducement that will be sure to
bring them.’

’What is that?’

’I have observed,’ said Pettican, with a hiccuppy giggle, ’that just as
tom-cats will range all over the country in search of other tom-cats,
just for the pleasure of clawing them and tearing out their hair, so
women will hunt the whole country-side for other women, if there be a
chance of fighting them.  Tell my cousin Liddy that Admonition is game,
she has teeth, and tongue, and nails, and sets up her back in a corner,
and likes a scrimmage above everything, and my word for it, Liddy—unless
the ague has taken the female nature out of her—will be here before
nightfall to try her teeth, and tongue, and nails on Admonition.  It is
said that if on a May morning you rub your eyes with cuckoo spittle, you
see things invisible before, the fairies in the hoes dancing and
feasting, swimming in eggshells on the water to bore holes in ships’
sides, milking the cows before the maids come with the pail, and
stealing the honey from the hives.  Well, marriage does much the same
sort of thing to a man as salving his eyes in cuckoo spittle; it affords
him a vision of a world undreamt of before; it gives him an insight into
what is going on in the female world, and the workings and brewings and
the mischief in women’s hearts.  Tell Liddy Sharland about my
Admonition, and she will be here, with all her guns run out and ready
charged, before nightfall.’

Rebow shook his head.  ’Mistress Sharland and Glory won’t come.’

’Don’t say so.  They must, or I shall be undone. I cannot live as I
have, tyrannised over, insulted, trampled on by Admonition and her
cousin.  I will no longer endure it.  The flag is flying.  I have
proclaimed my independence and defiance.  But, as you see, I am unable
to live alone.  If Liddy and her daughter will not come to me, I shall
be driven to do something desperate.  My life has become intolerable, I
will bear with Admonition no longer.’

’What will you do?’ asked Elijah with a sneer.

’I tell you, I do not care.  I am reckless, I will even fire the house,
and burn it over their heads.’

’What good would that do?’

’What good would it do?’ repeated Pettican.  ’It would no longer be a
shelter for Admonition and that beau Timothy.  I am not going to be
trifled with, I have endured too much.  I will be a man.  I shouldn’t
mind a bit smoking them out of this snug lair.’

’And what about yourself?’

’Oh, as for me, I could go to the Blue Anchor, and put up there for the
rest of my days.  I think I could be happy in a tavern, happier than
here, and I should have the satisfaction of thinking I had shaken the
weevils out of the biscuit.’

Elijah started, and strode up and down the room, with head bent, and his
eyes fixed on the floor.  His hands were clenched and rigid at his side.

’You will tell Liddy,’ said the cripple, watching him.

’Smoke them out!  Ha! ha! that is a fine idea!’ burst forth from Elijah,
with a laugh.

’You will tell Liddy,’ repeated Charles Pettican. ’You must, you know,
or I am lost.  If Admonition were to return with Timothy at her heels,
and were to find the flag flying, and me alone——’ he passed his agitated
hand over his face, and his lips trembled.

’I see,’ said Rebow.  ’You would then cease to be a man.’

It was late when Admonition and her cousin returned from the market.  It
was so dark that they did not see the flag.  But as Admonition put her
hand on the gate it was grasped.

’Stop,’ said Elijah.  ’A word with you.’

’Who are you?’ asked Mrs. Pettican in alarm, and Timothy swaggered
forward to her defence.

’Never mind who I am.  I have waited here some hours to warn you.  Was
there a girl, a handsome girl, a glorious girl, here to see that man,
your husband, a month ago?  You need not answer.  I know there was. She
is his cousin.  He lent her money.’

’No, he did not.  I stopped that, didn’t I, Tim?’

’He lent her money.  You think you stopped that, but you did not.  He
let her have the money, twenty pounds, how I know not.  She had his
money, and she will have more, _all_, unless you keep a sharp watch on
him.’

’Tim! do you hear this?’ asked Admonition.

’He will send for his cousin to live in the house with him, and to
support him against you.’

’Oh, oh!  That’s fine, isn’t it, Tim?’

’If they come, your reign is at an end.  That girl, Glory, has a head of
iron and the heart of a lion.  No one can stand against her but one.
There is only one in all the world has dared to conquer her, and he will
do it yet.  Don’t you think you will be able to lift a little finger
against her will.  She will be too strong for you and a hundred of your
Timothys.’

Admonition laughed.  ’My little mannikin daren’t do it.  He is under my
thumb.’

’The flag is flying,’ sneered Elijah.

At that moment the faint light of evening broke through the clouds and
Admonition saw the Union Jack at the mast-head.

’He is right.  There is audacity!  Run, Tim, haul it down, and bring it
me.  It shall go into the kitchen fire to boil the water for a glass of
grog.’



                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

                          *ON THE BURNT HILL.*


It was Christmas Eve.  A hard frost had set in.  The leaves which had
hung on the thorn trees on the Ray rained off and were whirled away by
the wind and scattered over the rising and falling waters in the Rhyn.
On the saltings were many pools, filled from below, through crab
burrows, from the channels; when the tide mounted, the water squirted up
through these passages and brimmed the pools, and when the tide fell, it
was sucked down through them as if running out of a colander.  Now a
thin film of ice was formed about the edges of these pondlets, and the
marsh herbs that dipped in them were encased in crystal.  The wild geese
and ducks came in multitudes, and dappled the water of Mersea channel.

’There’s four gone,’ said Abraham Dowsing in a sulky voice to Mehalah.

’Four what?’

’Four ewes to be sure, of what else have we more than one?’

’Where are they?’

’That is what I should like to know.  Two went yesterday, but I said
nothing about it, as I thought they might be found, or that I hadn’t
counted aright; but there’s two more missing to-day.’

’What can have become of them?’

’It’s no use asking me.  Is it like I should know?’

’But this is most extraordinary.  They must have wandered off the
saltings, on to the causeway, and so away.’

’That is likely, ain’t it,’ said Abraham.  ’It is like the ways of
sheep, to scatter, and two or three to go off and away from all the
flock.  I’ll believe that when sheep change their nature.’

’They must have fallen into a pool and been drowned.’

’Then I should find their carcases; but I haven’t. Perhaps there has
been a spring tide at the wrong time of the year and overflowed and
drowned them.  That’s likely, isn’t it?’

’But, Abraham, they must be found.’

’Then you must find ’em yourself.’

’Where can they be?’

’I’ve told you it is no use asking me.’

’Can they have been stolen?’

’I reckon that is just about it.’

’Stolen!’ exclaimed Mehalah, her blood flashing to her face and
darkening cheek and brow.  ’Do you mean to tell me that some scoundrel
has been here in the night, and carried off four of our ewes?’

Abraham shrugged his shoulders; ’Mud tells tales at times.’

Mehalah trembled with anger.

’Some boat was here last night, and night afore, and the keel marks
remain.  I saw them, and I saw footprints of sheep too, near them.’

’When?’

’The tide is up, and you can’t see.  Near the Burnt Hill.’

’Abraham, this is not to be borne.’

’Who is to help it?’

’I will.  I will watch,’ she stamped her foot fiercely on the red
glasswort; ’I will kill the cowardly sneaking thief who comes here to
rob the widow and the orphan.’

’You must see him first,’ said Abraham, ’and sheep-stealers don’t
generally let themselves be seen.’

’A man who steals sheep can be hung for it.’

’Yes.’

’I’ll catch him,’ she laughed, ’and the gallows will be set up on the
Burnt Hill, and then he shall dangle till his bones drop away into the
ooze.’

’You must catch him first,’ said the shepherd, and shrugged his
shoulders again.

Mehalah strode up and down in the marsh, her brows knit, and the veins
swollen on her temples.  She breathed fast and her blood sang in her
ears.  To be robbed in this cowardly manner!  The thought was maddening.
Hitherto she and her mother had deemed themselves perfectly safe on the
Ray: nothing had ever been taken from them; the ooze and the sea water
walled them in.  The Ray was a trap from which there was no escape save
by boat.  It was said that once a deserter found his way into Mersea
Isle and lingered about the marshes for many days.  He dared not return
by the causeway, thinking it would be watched and he would be secured,
and he had no money wherewith to bribe a boatman to put him across
elsewhere.  One evening he lit on a farmer with a spade over his
shoulder going to the sea-wall to block a rent against an expected tide.
He fell on the man from behind, wrenched away his spade and cut his head
open with it, then turned out his pockets in search of coin, but found
none.  The man was taken.  He could not escape, and was hung on the
marshes where the murder was done, by the mouth of the Pyefleet.

If Mersea was a trap, how much more so the Ray. The Sharlands had not
even a lock to their door.  No one was ever seen on the island after
dark save those who dwelt there, for the hill was surrounded on all
sides, save where girt by the sea, by a labyrinth of creeks and pools.
A robber there would be like a fly in a cobweb, to be caught at once.
The sheep were allowed to ramble all over the marsh and saltings, they
could thread their way; and it was only when the moon was full or new,
and the wind in the south-east, that the shepherd drove them into fold
till the waters subsided.  There were times—such as the coincidence of a
peculiar wind with an equinoctial tide—when to leave the sheep on the
marsh would be to ensure their being drowned.  This was so well known,
that precaution was always taken against the occasion.

The sense of being treated unjustly, of being cruelly wronged, of
advantage being taken of their feebleness, filled Mehalah’s heart with
bitterness, with rage.  An over-mastering desire for revenge came upon
her.  She, a girl, would defend her property, and chastise the man who
injured her.  She gave up all thought of obtaining the assistance of
Abraham, if it ever entered her mind. The old man was too slow in his
movements, and dull of sight and hearing, to be of use.  As likely as
not, moreover, he would refuse to risk himself on the saltings at night,
to expose himself to the ague damp or the bullet.  What could he, a
feeble old loon, do against a sturdy sheep-stealer?

’Whom do you suspect?’ asked Glory abruptly.

He drew up his shoulders.

’Come, tell me.’

’An empty belly.’

’Abraham! one man cannot have taken four sheep for himself.’

Another shrug.

There was nothing to be got out of the dogged rustic. Mehalah waited
till evening, then she wrapped a cloak round her, put her pistol in her
belt, and walked through the marsh to the point indicated by the
shepherd as the Burnt Hill.

Through all the low flat coast land of this region, above the saltings,
or pasture overflowed by high tides occasionally, are scattered at
irregular intervals large broad circular mounds of clay burned to brick
red, interspersed with particles of charcoal.  A few fragments of bone
are found in them, relics of the meals of those who raised these heaps,
but they cover no urns, and enclose no cists, they contain no skeletons.
They were never intended as funeral monuments, and are quite different
from the hoes or barrows which stand on high land, and which were burial
mounds.  The burnt or red hills are always situate at high-water mark;
near them, below the surface of the vegetable deposit, are multitudes of
oyster shells.  Near them also are sometimes found, sunk in the marsh,
polished chert weapons.  Who raised these mounds?  For what purpose were
they reared? These are questions that cannot be answered satisfactorily.
One thing is certain.  An immense amount of wood must have been consumed
to burn such a mass of clay, and the country must then have been more
overgrown with timber than at present.  Many of the mounds are now
enclosed in fields by sea-walls which hold out the tide, the plough has
been drawn over them, and the spade has scattered them over the surface,
colouring a whole field brick red, and making it rich for the production
of corn.  There is no better manure than a red hill.

But why were these mounds so laboriously raised? The tradition of the
marsh-dwellers is that they were platforms for huts, the earth burned as
a prevention to ague.  It is curious that in the marshy regions of
Central Africa the natives adopt a precisely similar method for their
protection from miasma.  But why men dwelt in such numbers on the
saltings remains undetermined.  Whether they lived there to burn the
glasswort for nitre, or to steam the sea water for salt, or to take
charge of oyster grounds, is uncertain. Fragments, very broken, of
pottery are found in these heaps, scattered throughout them, but not a
specimen of a perfect vessel.  The burnt hills are built up on the old
shingle of the shore, with no intervening line of vegetable matter, the
growth of the marsh has been later and has risen about their bases and
has partly buried them.

Glory reached the Burnt Hill, and stood on it.  A cold east wind wailed
over the waste; a white fog like curd lay on the water, and the surface
of the saltings, clinging to the surface and rising scarce above three
feet from it.  Here and there it lifted itself in a vaporous column, and
moved along in the wind like a white spectral woman, nodding her head
and waving her arms cumbered with wet drapery.  Above, the sky was
clear, and a fine crescent moon sparkled in it without quenching the
keenness of the stars.  Cassiopeia was glorious in her chair, Orion
burned sideways over Mersea Isle. No red gleam was visible to-night from
the tavern window at the City, the veil of fog hung over it and
curtained it off.  To the north-west was a silvery glow at the horizon,
then there rose a pure ray as of returning daylight, it was answered by
a throb in the north-east, then it broke into two rays, and again united
and spread, and suddenly was withdrawn.  Mehalah had often seen the
Aurora, and she knew that the signals portended increased cold or bad
weather.

She seated herself on the mound, and drew her cloak about her more
closely, the damp cold bit into her flesh; she knew she was safe from
ague on the burnt earth.

Her anger subsided, not that she resented the wrong the less, but that
her mind had passed to other contemplations.  She was thinking of
George, of her dead hopes, of the blankness of the future before her.  A
little sunlight had fallen on her sad and monotonous life, but it had
been withdrawn, and had left her with nothing to live for, save her
mother.  Her heart had begun to expand as a flower, and a frost had
fallen on it, and blackened its petals.  She brooded now on the past.
She wished for nothing in the future.  She had no care for the present.
It was all one to her what befell her, so long as her mother were cared
for.  She had no one else to love.  She was without a friend.  She would
resent an injury, and fight an enemy.  George might have introduced her
into a new world of gentleness, and pity, and love.  Now the door to
that world was shut for ever, and she must beat her way through a world
of hard realities, where every man’s hand was lifted against his
brother, and where was hate and resentment, and exacting of the
uttermost farthing.  She had gone forth seeking help, and except from
George, had found none. Mrs. De Witt, Phoebe Musset, Admonition, such
were the women she had met; and the men were selfish as Parson Till,
fools as Charles Pettican, surly as Abraham Dowsing, or brutal as Elijah
Rebow.

Hark!—She caught the dip of an oar.

She drew in her breath and raised her head.  Then she saw a boat shoot
out of the mist, white and ghost-like as the mist forms that stalked
over the water, and in the boat a man.

There he was!  The sheep-stealer, come once more to rob her mother and
herself.  At once her furious passion boiled up in her veins.  She saw
before her the man who had wronged her; she thought nothing of her own
weakness beside his strength, of there being no one within call to come
to her aid, should his arm be stouter than hers.  She sprang to her feet
with a shout, such as an Indian might utter on leaping on his foe, and
rushed to the water’s edge, just as the man had landed, and had her
hands at his throat in a moment.

’You coward, you thief!’ she cried shaking him savagely.

’Glory!’

In an instant a pair of stronger hands had wrenched her hands away and
pinioned them.

’By heaven! you wild cat, what are you flying at me like that for?  What
has brought you here at this time of night?’

Mehalah was abashed.  Her rage sank.  She had mistaken her man.  This
was no sheep-stealer.  She could not speak, so great was her agitation.
She writhed to free herself, but writhed in vain.  Elijah laughed at her
attempts.

’What are you here for?’ he asked again.  ’Can you not answer my
question?’

’Some one has been stealing our ewes,’ she said.

’And you took me for the thief,’ said Rebow.  ’Much obliged for the
compliment.  _Me_—the owner of Red Hall, and the man that purchased the
Ray, the farm house, and the marshes and the saltings and all that
thereon is for eight hundred pounds, to be taken and hanged for
sheep-lifting!  A likely story, Glory.  You must manage better another
time.’

’What brings you here?’ asked Mehalah sullenly, angry with herself and
with him.

’That is the question I asked of you, and you return it.  I will tell
you.  I am out duck-shooting, but the mist lies so thick on the water,
and eats into the marrow of the bones.  I could see no ducks, and I was
freezing in my punt; so I have come to lie with my gun on the Burnt Hill
awhile till the fog clears, as it will in an hour, when I shall return.’

’Were you here yesterday night?’

’No, I was not; I was up Tottesbury creek and got a dozen pair of wild
duck.  Will you have some?  I have a pair or two in the punt.’

’I have refused them before, and I refuse them again.’

’Why do you ask me if I were here yesternight?’

’Because then two sheep were taken.  Were you here the night before?’

’No, I was then on Abbots’ Hall marshes.  Do you suspect me still of
sheep-stealing?’ he asked scoffingly.

’I do not, but I thought had you been here you might have seen some
signs of the villains who have robbed us.’

’Come here, Glory! out of the fog on to the Burnt Hill.’

’I am going home.’

’You are not, till I have said what I have to say. Come out of the ague
damps.’

’I am going home, now.’

He held her by both wrists.  She was strong, but her strength was
nothing to his.  She made no great effort to get away.  If he chose to
speak to her, she would listen to him.  If she struggled in his grasp,
it would make him think she feared him.  She would not allow him to
suppose himself of such importance to her. If he insulted her, she had
her pistol, and she would not scruple to defend herself.

He drew her to the top of the mount; there they were clear of the mist,
which lay like snow below and round them, covering the morass and the
water.  The clear cut crescent moon hung over a clump of pines on
Mersea.  Rebow looked at it, then waved an arm in the direction.

’Do you see Grim’s Hoe yonder?—That great barrow with the Scotch pines
on top?  Do you know how it comes there?  Have you heard the tale?’

Mehalah was silent.

’I will tell you, for I often think of it, and so will you when you have
been told the tale.  In the old times when the Danes came here, they
wintered on Mersea Isle, and in the summer they cruised all along the
coast, burning and plundering and murdering.  There were two chiefs to
them, brothers, who loved one another, they were twins, born the same
hour, and they had but one heart and soul; what one willed that willed
the other, what one desired that the other desired also.  One spring
they sailed up the creek to St. Osyth’s, and there they took Osyth and
killed her.  She had a sister, very beautiful, and she fell to the lot
of the brothers.  They brought her back to Mersea, and then each would
have her for his own.  So the brothers fell out whose she should be, and
all their love turned to jealousy, and their brotherhood to enmity, and
it came about that they fought with their long swords who should have
the maid. They fought, and smote, and hacked one another till their
armour was broken, and their flesh was cut off, and their blood flowed
away, and by nightfall they were both dead.  Thereupon the Danes drew
their ship up to the top of the hill just above the Strood, and they
placed the maid in the hold with a dead brother on either side of her,
in his tattered harness, sword in hand, and they heaped a mountain over
them and buried them all, the living and the dead together.’

Rebow paused, and pointed to the moon hung over the hoe.

’When the new moon appears, the flesh grows on their bones, and the
blood stanches, and the wounds close, and breath comes back behind their
ribs.  When the moon is full they rise in the ship’s hold and fall on
one another, and if you listen at full moon on the hoe you can hear the
brothers fighting below in the heart of the barrow.  You hear them curse
and cry out, and you hear the clash of their swords.  But when the moon
wanes the sounds grow fainter, their armour falls to bits, their flesh
drops away, the blood oozes out of all the hacked veins, and at last all
is still.  Then, when there is no moon, you can hear the maid mourning
and sobbing: you can hear her quite distinctly till the new moon
reappears, and then she is hushed, for the brothers are recovering for a
new fight.  This will go on month after month, year after year, till one
conquers the other and wins the maid; but that will never be, for the
brothers are of the same age, and equally strong, and equally resolute.’

’Why have you told me this?’ asked Mehalah.

’Why have I told you this, Glory?’ repeated Rebow; ’because you and I
are like those brothers, only they began with love and ended with
fighting, and you and I begin with fighting and must and shall end with
love. I love you, Glory, and yet, at times, I almost hate you.’

’And I,’ broke in Mehalah, ’hate you with my whole heart, and never,
never can love you.’

’You have a strong spirit, so have I,’ said Elijah; ’I like to hear you
speak thus.  For long you have let me see that you have hated me: you
have fought me hard, but you shall love me yet.  We must fight, Glory;
it is our destiny.  We were made for one another, to love and fight, and
fight and love, till one has conquered or killed the other.  How can you
live at the Ray, and I at Red Hall, apart?  You know, you feel it, that
we must be together to love and fight, and fight and love, till death.
What is the use of your struggling against what must come about?  As
soon as ever I saw you I knew that you were ordained for me from the
moment you were born.  You grew up and ripened for me, for me, and no
one else.  You thought you loved George De Witt.  I hated you for loving
him.  He was not worthy of you, a poor, foolish, frightened sop.  You
would have taken him and turned him inside out and torn him to pieces,
in a week, disgusted with the fellow that made calf-love to you, when
you had sounded his soul and found a bottom as soon as the lead went out
of your hand.  You thought George De Witt would belong to you.  It could
not be.  You cannot oppose your destiny.  A strong soul like yours must
not mate but with a strong soul like mine.  Till I saw you I hated
women, poor, thin-headed, hollow-souled toys.  When I saw you I saw the
only woman who could be mine, and I knew, as the pointers yonder know
the polestar, that you were destined to me.  You hate me because you
know this as well as I do.  You know that there is no man on earth who
can be yours save me, but you will play and fight with your destiny.
Sooner or later you must bend to it.  Sooner or later you must give way.
You thought of George De Witt, and he is swept out of your path.  You
may fancy any other man, and he will go this way or that, and nothing
will prosper till you set your face in the direction whither your
destiny points.  You can take no other than me, however much you may
desire it.  You need me and I need you.  You may hate me and go on
hating me and fighting me to the last, but you cannot escape me.

’Elijah,’ said Mehalah, ’escape you I will.  Since I have known you, you
have been mixed up with all the ills that have come upon us, I do not
know how; but I seem to feel that you are like an evil wind or a
blighting cloud passing over my life.  I would look up and laugh, but I
cannot, I turn hard, and hate the world—only because you are in it.  It
would be another world without you.’

’Why do you turn hard and hate the world? Because you are on a wrong
road, you are battling against your destiny.  All goes across with you,
because you are across your proper path.  Why do you hate me?  Because
you feel in your soul that you must sooner or later be mine, and your
haughty will rebels against having your future determined for you.  Yet
I know it.  The time is at hand when you will take me for better, for
worse, for all life.  We cannot live a moment the one without the other.
If I were to die you would die too, you would rage and writhe against
death, but it would come.  I know it.  Our lives are bound up together
in one bundle, and the knife that cuts one string cuts the other also.
Our souls are twins to love and to hate, to fondle and fight, till death
us do part!  Till death us do part!’ repeated Rebow scornfully, ’Death
can no more part us than life.  We will live together and we will die
together, and moulder away in one another’s arms.  The worm that gnaws
me shall gnaw you.  I think of you night and day.  I cannot help it: it
is my fate.  I knew it was so the moment I saw you.  I came here.  I
cannot keep away till you come to me to Red Hall.’

’I shall never go there again,’ said Mehalah sullenly,

’Not before New Year?’

’Never.’

He laughed.  ’She would swear to it, and yet at the New Year she will be
there.  And she will take me and be mine.  For me she must and will
love.  It is her fate; she cannot oppose that for ever.  For me she
would even give up George De Witt.’

’George De Witt is dead.’

’I say, were it to come to this, George or Elijah, one or the other, you
would fly to Elijah and cast George off.’

’Let me go.  I will have no more of this mad babble,’ said Mehalah,
wrenching her hands out of his grasp.  She would not run away.  She was
too proud. She folded her arms on her breast and confronted him.

’Hark!’ she said, ’the Christmas bells.’

Faint and far off could be heard the merry pealing of the Colchester
bells.  The wind had shifted.

’Peace on earth and good will to men,’ muttered Elijah; ’but to them
that fight against their destiny fury and hate.’

’Go back, Elijah, and speak to me no more on this matter.  I will not
hear you again.  I have but endured it now.’

’This is Christmas Eve,’ said Rebow.  ’In eight days is the New Year,
and then you will be in Red Hall, Glory!’

’Listen to me, Elijah,’ exclaimed Mehalah passionately. ’If you find me
there, then you may hope to see your other fond dream fulfilled.
Destiny will have been too strong for me.’

’Farewell.’

’May we not meet again.’

’We shall.  It cannot be helped.  I feel it coming. You may fight
against it; you cannot escape.  Destiny must fulfil itself.  We must
fight and love, and love and fight in life, in death, and through
eternity, like the old warriors in Grim’s Hoe.’

’Farewell.’

’Till this day sen’night.’



                             *CHAPTER XV.*

                           *NEW YEAR’S EVE.*


No more sheep were stolen; but then the moon was filling her horns, and
a robbery could not be committed without chance of detection.  But
though nothing further had been taken, Mehalah was uneasy.  Some
evilly-disposed person had visited the Ray and plundered her and her
mother of four ewes; others, or the same, might attempt the house, in
the hopes of finding money there.  The auction had shown people that
Mistress Sharland was not without money.

On New Year’s Eve Mehalah went to Colchester to make some purchases for
the New Year.  The kalends of January and not the Nativity of Christ is
the great winter festival among the Essex peasantry on the coast. They
never think of wishing one another a Happy Christmas, but only a Merry
New Year.  No yule log is burnt, no mummers dance, no wassail bowl is
consumed at Christmas, but each man who can afford it deems himself
bound to riot and revel, to booze and sing, to wake the death of the old
year, and baptise the new with libations of brandy or ale.

When Mehalah returned, she brought with her a new lock and key for the
house-door.  There had been once a lock there, but it had been broken
many years ago, and had never been repaired.  On the Ray no lock was
needed, it had been supposed.  Mehalah was of a different opinion now.
The short day had closed some time ago; she had seen it die over
Bradwell from Abberton Hill, but the full moon was rising, and she knew
her way over the marshes, she could thread the tangle easily by
moonlight.  She reached the Ray, threw open the door, and strode in.
Her mother was by the fire, with her head on the table.  Mehalah’s heart
stood still for a moment, and then her face flushed.  The smell of
spirits in the close room, the attitude of her mother, the stupefied
eyes which opened on her, and then closed again without recognition,
convinced her that her mother had been drinking.

Mehalah was angry as well as distressed.  This was a new trouble, one to
which she was quite unaccustomed. She knew that her mother had taken a
little rum-and-water against her ague, and she had not grudged it her.
But of late there had been something more than this. Since Rebow had
supplied Mrs. Sharland with spirits, the old woman had been unable to
resist the temptation of going to her keg whenever she felt lonely or
depressed. Mehalah had insisted on her mother receiving no more from
Elijah Rebow, but she was by no means certain that the widow had
complied with her desire.  The sight of her mother in this condition
angered Mehalah, for she was sure now that a fresh supply had been
obtained, and was secreted somewhere.  She was angry with her mother for
deceiving her and with Rebow for tempting the old woman and laying her
under an obligation to him.  She was angry with herself for not having
watched her mother more closely, and explored the places of concealment
which abounded in the old house.

She stood over her mother for some moments with folded arms and bowed
head, her brows knit, and a gloomy light in her eyes.  Then she shook
her roughly and spoke harshly to her.

’Mother! answer me.  You have received more from Rebow?’

’It was very kind, very kind indeed,’ stuttered the old woman.  ’Capital
for ague shivers and rheumatic pains in the bones.’

’Has Elijah been here again?’

’He’s wery civil; he knows what suits old bones.’

’Has he brought you another keg?’

’It is stowed away,’ said the widow drowsily. ’Quite comfortable.  Go to
bed, Mehalah, it’s time to get up.’

The girl drew back in disgust and wrath.  Elijah was making her own
mother despicable in her eyes.  She was quite resolved what to do.  She
thrust open the door to the cellar, and behind a heap of faggots found a
fresh keg, evidently recently brought, and quite full. She drew it forth
into the front room and held it up.

’Mother!’ she shouted.

’I am here, Mehalah.  The ague isn’t on me yet.’

’Do you see this little cask?  It is full, quite full.’

’Don’t do that, child, you may drop it.’

’I shall dash it to pieces,’ said the girl, and she flung it with her
whole force on the bricks.  A stave was broken: the precious liquor
spurted out.  Some flew into the fire and flashed into blue flame up the
chimney.  In a moment the floor was swimming, and the thirsty bricks
were sucking in the spirit.  The old woman was too besotted with drink
to understand what was done.  Mehalah’s bosom heaved with passion and
excitement.

’I have done with that,’ she said; ’I said that I would, and I have kept
my word.  Never, never shall my poor mother be like this again.  He did
it.’  She knit her hands, and a fire flickered in her eye, like that of
the burning spirit in the chimney.

’Now come to bed, mother.’  She drew or carried the old woman out of the
room, undressed her, and put her in bed.  Mrs. Sharland made no
resistance.  She submitted drowsily, and her head was no sooner on the
pillow than she fell asleep.

Mehalah returned to the front room.  She got out some tools and set
herself to work at once to fasten on the lock.  She was accustomed to
doing all sorts of things herself; she could roughly carpenter, she had
often patched her boat.  The old farmhouse was in a decayed condition
and needed much mending, and for several years she had done what was
required to it.  To put on a lock was a trifle; but the old nails that
had fastened the former lock remained in the wood, and had to be punched
out, and the keyhole was not quite in the right place when the lock was
first put on, and had to be altered.  At length the lock was fast, a
strong lock, strong for such a worm-eaten door.

Mehalah went to her mother’s room and looked at the old woman.  She
slept heavily, unlike her usual sleep, which would be broken at once by
the entry of her daughter with a light.

Mehalah returned to the kitchen and seated herself at the hearth.  How
long had this keg of spirits been in the house?  She had paid no
attention to the introduction of spirits since George’s death, her mind
had been occupied with other matters.  Her mother and Rebow had taken
advantage of this.  How was it that Rebow came to the house when she was
away?  He never came when she was present, at least not since the night
when the money was stolen; but she was sure that he visited her mother
during her absence, from little things let drop by the old woman.

How did he manage to time his visits so as not to meet her?  She would
find out when he was last at the Ray Farm.  She sprang up, and went out
of the door, unlocking it to let herself go forth; and she called
Abraham.  There was no answer.  The old man was already turned into his
loft over the cowhouse, and asleep.

She called him again, but with equal want of success.  Not a thunderbolt
falling on the thorns beside the house would rouse him.  Mehalah knew
that, and went back to her seat by the fire, relocking the door.  ’I
will ask him in the morning.  He must know.’

She drew off her shoes, and put her bare feet on the warm hearth.  She
was without her guernsey and cap, for she did not wear them when she
went to Colchester.

She fell, as was her wont, to thinking.  Since the death of George, she
had been accustomed to sit thus over the fire, after her mother had
retired.  She was not thinking of him now, she was thinking of Elijah.
His words, his strange, mad, fierce words, came back to her.  Was there
a destiny shaping her life against her will, and forcing her into his
arms?  She shuddered at the thought.  To hate and love, and love and
hate, year out, year in, that was what they were fated to do, according
to him.  That he was drawn towards her by some attractive power
exercised against her will, she knew full well, but she would not allow
that he exercised the least attraction on her.  Yet she did feel that
there was some sort of spell upon her.  Hate him as she did and would,
she knew that she could not altogether escape him, she had an
instinctive consciousness that she was held by him, she did not
understand how, in his hands.  Perhaps it was her destiny to hate and
fight him; for how long?  Love him she never could, she never would.
There was an assurance in his manner and tone which impressed her
against her better judgment.  He spoke as though it were but a matter of
time before she yielded herself wholly to him, and came under his roof
and joined her lot with his, for life and for death.  What right had he
to assume this?  What grounds had he for this confidence?  None but a
blind, dogged conviction in his own mind that destiny had ordained them
for each other.  Then she thought of the story of Grim’s Hoe, of the two
who loved and hated, embraced and fought eternally therein, those two
destined from their mother’s womb to be together in life and death, with
twin souls and bodies, who had they lived in love might have rested in
death, but as they fought must fight on.  There they were, in the old
hollow womb of the ship down in the earth in darkness, loving one
another as brothers, fighting each other as rivals; the conflict lasting
till one shall master the other, a thing that never can be, for both
were born with equal strength, and equal purpose, and equal stubbornness
of will.  The fumes of the spilled spirits hung in the air, and
stimulated Mehalah’s brain. Instead of stupefying, they quickened her
mind into activity.  Her heart beat.  She felt as if she were in the
ship hold watching the eternal conflict, and as if she must take a part
with one or the other; as if her so doing would determine the victory.
But which should she will to conquer, when each was the counterpart of
the other?  She could not bear this thought, she could not endure the
fumes of the spirit, it suffocated her.  She sprang up.  The full moon
was glaring in at the window from a cloudless sky.

She opened the door.  The air was cold, but there was little wind.  She
could see on the south-east horizon, at the highest point of the island,
the great Hoe crowned with black pines.

The moon was at full.  The old warriors were now hewing at one another,
and the dim, frightened captive maid looked on with her hands on her
heart, her great eyes gleaming like glow-worms in the decaying ship
hold.  Ha! at each sword stroke the sparks flashed. Ha! the cut flesh
glimmered like phosphorescent fish, and the blood ran like blue fire.
Was the story true? Could anyone hear the warriors shout and smite, who
chose to listen at the full of the moon?  The distance to Grim’s Hoe was
not over two miles.  Mehalah thought she must go there and listen with
her own ears.  She would go.

Once more she returned to her mother’s room, and saw that Mrs. Sharland
was asleep.  Then she drew on her shoes, her guernsey, and her red cap,
went out, locked the door, and put the key in her pocket.

’Who went there?’  She started.  She thought she saw something—some one,
move; but then laughed. The moon was so bright that it cast her shadow
on the wall, distinct and black as if it were a palpable body. She stood
still, listened, and looked round.  She could see the stretch of the
saltings as distinctly as if it were day, only that the shadows were
inky black, not purple as by sunlight.  Not a sound was to be heard.

’I will go,’ she said, and she strode off towards the causeway.

The path over the marshes was perfectly distinct. She walked fast, the
earth crackled under her feet, the frost was keen.  Her eyes rose ever
and anon to Grim’s Hoe.  The pines on it did not stir, they stood like
mourners above a grave.

The Mersea channel gleamed like a belt of silver, not a ripple was on
the water on the west side of the causeway, and but slight flapping
wavelets, driven by the north-east wind, played with the tangles on the
piles on the other side of the Strood.

She reached the island of Mersea by the causeway, now dry, and began to
ascend the hill.  Once she turned and looked back.  She could see the
Ray rising above the marshes, bathed in moonlight, patched with coal
black shadows cast by the ancient thorn trees, and the farm buildings.

Before her rose the great barrow, partly overgrown with shrubs, but bare
on the north-west towards the Strood.  It was a bell-shaped mound rising
some thirty feet above the surface of the ground.  She paused a moment
at the foot and listened.  Not a sound.  She must then climb the
tumulus, and lie on the top between the pines, and lay her ear to the
ground.  She stepped boldly up the little path trodden by children and
sheep, and in a few moments was at the top.  She stopped to breathe, to
look up at the wan white moon that gazed down on her, and then she cast
herself on the ground, with her face to the north-west.

What was that?  A fir cone fell beside her.  There was no sound.  Hist!
a stoat ran past and disappeared in a hole.  Then she heard screams.  A
poor rabbit was attacked and its blood sucked.  She lifted her head, and
then laid it on the ground again.  Her eyes were fixed on the distance.

What was that?  In a moment she was on her feet.

What was that red spot over the marshes, on the Ray, among the trees?
What was that leaping, dancing, lambent tongue, shooting up and
recoiling?  What was that white rising cloud above the thorns?

Before she knew where she was, Mehalah was flying down the hill towards
the Strood, the dead Danish warriors forgotten in the agony of her fear.
As she ran on, her eyes never left the Ray, and she saw the red light
grow in intensity and spread in body.  The farm was on fire.  The house
was on fire, and her mother was in a dead sleep within—locked in—and the
key was in her pocket.

O God! what had she done?  Why had she gone? Had not the spilled spirits
caught fire and set the house in flames!  Why had she locked her mother
in? a thing never done before.  Mehalah ran, terror, horror, anguish at
her heart.  She did not look at her path, she took it instinctively, she
did not heed the rude bridges, she dashed across them, and one broke
under her hasty foot, and fell away after she had passed.  The flames
were climbing higher.  She could see them devouring the wooden tarred
walls.  Then came a great burst of fire, and a rushing upwards of
blazing sparks.  The roof had fallen in.  A pillar of blue and golden
light stood up and illumined the whole Ray.  The thorn trees looked now
like wondrous, finely-ramified, golden seaweeds in a dim blue sea.
Mehalah would not pause to look at anything, she saw only flames leaping
and raging where was her home, where lay her mother.  How could she
reach the place before the house was a wreck, and her dear mother was
buried beneath the burned timbers of the roof, and the hot broken tiles?

She was there at last, before the great blaze; she could see that some
one or two men were present.

’My mother, my mother!’ she gasped, and fell on her knees.

’Be still, Glory, she is safe, no thanks to you.’

Mehalah lost consciousness for a few moments.  The revulsion of feeling
was so great as to overcome her. When she recovered, she was still
unable for some time to gather all her faculties together, rise, look
round, and note what had taken place.

The whole farmhouse was on fire, every wall was flaming, and part of the
roof had fallen in.  If once the house were to catch fire it was certain
to go like tinder.  A spout of flame came out of her mother’s bed-room
window.  The fire glowed and roared in the old kitchen sitting-room.

’Where is my mother?’ asked Mehalah abruptly.

’She is all safe,’ answered Abraham Dowsing, who was dragging some saved
bedding out of reach of the sparks.  ’She is in the boat.’

’The cow?’ asked Mehalah.

’She is all right also.  The fire has not caught the stable.’

’Who got my mother out?’

’I did, Glory!’ answered Elijah Rebow.  ’You owe her life to me.  Why
were you not here?  Fighting your destiny, I suppose.’

Several articles were scattered about under the trees. The Sharlands had
not many valuables; such as they had seemed to have been saved.

’Where is my mother?  Lead me to her.’

’She is in the boat, Glory!’ said Rebow.  ’Come with me.  The fire must
burn itself out.  There is nothing further to be done; we must put your
mother at once under shelter.  There is a cruel frost, and she will
suffer.’

’Where is she?  What have you done with her?’ again asked Mehalah, still
hardly collected and conscious of what she said.

’She is safe in my boat, well wrapped up.  Come with me.  You shall see
her.  Abraham and my man shall stay and watch till the fire dies out,
and see that no further harm is done, and then follow in your boat.’

’Where are you going?’

’I am going to place your mother under cover, at once, or the cold will
kill her.  Come on, Glory!’

Elijah led the way down the steep gravelly slope to the Rhyn.  There
floated his boat—his large two-oared boat, and in the stern half lay,
half crouched, Mrs. Sharland, amidst blankets and bedding.

’Joseph!’ shouted Elijah to one of the men by the fire, ’follow us as
soon as you can, and bring Abraham Dowsing with you.  We will fetch away
the traps to-morrow.’

Mrs. Sharland was wailing and wringing her hands.

’Oh Mehalah! this is dreadful! too dreadful!’

’Step in and take the oar,’ said Elijah impatiently. ’We must get off,
and house the old woman as soon as possible, or she will be
death-struck.’

The flames were reflected in the water about the boat, it seemed to
float in fire.

’Take the oar!’ ordered Elijah gruffly.

Mehalah obeyed mechanically.  He thrust the boat off, and cast himself
in.

No word was spoken for some time, Mehalah’s eyes were fixed on her
burning home, with despair. Her brain was numb, her heart oppressed.
Mrs. Sharland wailed and wept, and uttered loud reproaches against
Mehalah, which the girl heard not.  She was stunned, and could not take
in the situation.

The boat shot past the head of the Ray.

There stood the low broad bulk of the Burnt Hill. Mehalah roused
herself.

Elijah looked over his shoulder and laughed.

’Up Salcot Fleet!’ he said shortly.

’What!’ suddenly exclaimed Mehalah, as a pang shot through her heart.
’Whither are we going?’

’To Red Hall,’ answered Elijah.

’I will not go there!’ exclaimed the girl in a tone of despair, as she
drew her hands sharply from the oar, and the boat swung round.

’Take the oar again,’ ordered Elijah.  ’Where else can your mother go?
You must think of her.  She cannot be left to die of cold on the
marshes, this night.’

A groan escaped Mehalah’s breast.  She resumed the oar.  ’Hold hard!’
shouted Elijah after a row of half-an-hour.  He sprang into the water,
and drew the boat ashore.

’Give your mother a hand and help her to land,’ he said peremptorily.
Mehalah obeyed without a word.

Rebow caught the girl by both hands as she stepped on shore.

’Welcome, Glory! welcome to Red Hall!  The new year sees you under the
roof where you shall rule as mistress; your destiny is mightier than
your will.’



                             *CHAPTER XVI.*

                           *IN NEW QUARTERS.*


When the boat reached the landing place for Red Hall, Mrs. Sharland was
found to have been so overcome with terror, and numbed with frost, as to
be unable to walk. She moaned under her blankets, but made no effort to
rise.  Elijah was obliged to carry her out of the boat upon the
sea-wall, and then with the assistance of Mehalah she was conveyed to
the house in their arms. Neither spoke, and Mrs. Sharland’s
lamentations, over various articles she had prized, and which she feared
were lost or destroyed, remained unattended to.

The old woman was wrapped up from the cold in a blanket that enfolded
her entire person and head, and she kept working an aperture for her
face, whilst being carried, not so much to obtain air, as to give vent
to queries.

’My green bombazine,—where is it?’

The folds of the blanket closed over the face.  The fingers worked at
them, till they had made a gap.

’Is the toad-jug saved?’ at the same time a point of a nose and a thin
finger emerged from the wraps.

’There was a dozen of Lowestoft soup-dishes!’  A jerk as she was being
lifted over a rail sent her head and shoulders deeper into the blanket,
and it was some minutes before she had grubbed a hole for herself again.

’The warming-pan!  I can’t go to bed unless I have the sheets aired.’

A spring across a dyke buried the old woman again ’in woollen.’  She
emerged only as the house was reached to exclaim ’My rum!’

’You’ve come where there’s lots of that,’ said Elijah, and he indicated
with his chin to Mehalah to carry her up the steps into the hall.

A red fire was glowing and painting the walls.  The great room was warm,
and Mrs. Sharland battled out of her envelopes as soon as she became
aware that she was under cover.

’Take me to bed,’ she said; ’my legs are frozen. I can’t go a step.  Oh!
is the toad-jug saved?’

’I will carry her now,’ said Elijah.  ’You light a candle, Glory, and
follow me.’

He took the old woman over his shoulder, and led the way up the stairs.
Mehalah followed with a light she had kindled at the hearth.  He
conducted into a bed-room, comfortably furnished, with white curtains to
the windows, and a low tester bed in the corner.

’Light the fire,’ he ordered, and Mehalah applied the candle to the
straw and chips in the grate. Presently the flames were dancing up the
chimney, and making the whole chamber glow.  The old woman was laid on
the bed.

’This looks comfortable,’ said she; ’just as if you was prepared for
us.’

’I was prepared for you.  Everything was ready. Glory knows that I have
been expecting you and her. I told her she must come, sooner or later.
Sooner or later the same roof must cover both, as sooner or later the
same grave will hold us both.  She would fight me, and would not come to
me, but her destiny is stronger than her will.  My will is the destiny
of her life.  It shapes and directs it.’

Mehalah did not speak.  She could not speak. She was stunned.  A belt of
iron bound her heart and restrained its free bounds, a weight of lead
crushed her brain and killed its independence of action.  She, who had
been hitherto a law to herself, whose will had been unfettered, now
discovered herself a captive under the thraldom of a will mightier, or
more ungovernable, than her own.  She had no time or power to think how
to escape, and free herself from the situation in which she was placed.
All her thoughts that she could collect must be about her mother.  She
must think of herself when she had more leisure.  But though she could
not think of herself, she could feel that she was conquered, and a
captive, and that escape would not be easy.

’There,’ said Elijah, indicating a door, ’there is another little room
for you and your mother to put away what you like.  If you want
anything, come downstairs.’

Elijah went heavily down the stairs and out at the door.  Mehalah looked
from the window, and saw him on his way to the boat.  He was going back
to the Ray.  She could still see a red cloud hanging over her burnt
home.  The tears rose in her heart at the sight, but would not well out
at her eyes.  She stood and looked long at the dying fire, drawing the
window curtain behind her to screen from her the light of the room.  Her
mother lay quiet, evidently pleased at having got into such comfortable
quarters, and exhausted with her alarm.  By degrees she dozed off into
unconsciousness of her loss and of her situation, and Mehalah remained
at the window looking moodily over the fens and the water, at the ruby
spark that marked her old home.

She was standing in the same place when the boats arrived, bringing
portions of their goods to Red Hall. She heard the voices of Rebow and
other men below. She opened the door and listened.  He was giving them
something to eat and drink.  Abraham Dowsing was there.  She could
distinguish his voice.

’If I hadn’t turned you out, you’d have been burnt,’ said Rebow.

’A good job for mistress we saved the cowhouse,’ answered Abraham, with
sulky unwillingness to admit that he was indebted to Elijah for
anything.

’Don’t you think you owe me your life?’ asked Rebow.

’The cowhouse didn’t burn.’

’No.  But it would have, had not we been there to keep the flames off,’
observed one of the men.

’Good job for mistress I wasn’t burnt.  I don’t know how she’d got along
without me.’

’It did not matter particularly to yourself then, Abby?’

’Don’t know as it did.  A man must die some time, and I’ve always heard
as smothering is a nice quiet sort of death—better than being racked
with cramps and tormented with rheumatics and shivered into the pithole
with agues.’  After a pause Abraham’s voice was heard to add, ’Besides,
I should have woke, myself, with the fire and smoke.’

’Not you.  And if you had, what could you have done to save the old
woman?  She’d have been burnt to a cinder before you woke.’

’That’s mistress’ matter, not mine,’ answered Dowsing.

’You could not have got the things out of the house.’

’They are not mine,’ retorted Abraham angrily. ’You are not going to
make a merit to me of saving what are the belongings of other folk?’

’They belong to your mistress.’

’Well, so they do, that is, they don’t belong to me; so none of your
boasting to me, as if I owed you anything.’  This ungracious remark, but
one not unnatural for a rude peasant jealous lest an obligation should
place him in a position of disadvantage, was followed by silence, during
which the party ate.

Presently Abraham asked, ’How came you to be there?’

’Master sent Jim out with me in the big boat after ducks, and he was in
the punt,’ answered one of the men.  ’He bade us lie by at the mouth of
the Rhyn, while he went on to drive the birds our way; there was a lot,
and we thought to pepper into a whole flight.  He was not long away—not
above an hour—when we saw the Ray house afire, and heard him shouting to
us to come on, so we rowed as hard as hard, and by the time we landed he
had broke open the door, and got the old lady out.  We helped as best we
might, and saved a deal of things.’

’They ain’t worth much,’ said Abraham.  ’There’s nothing in the house
worth five pound,—take the whole lot.  The cow was the only thing would
pay for saving, and she was safe.  I slept in the loft over her.’

’The life of your mistress was worth something, I hope, Abby.’

’Don’t know that.  Not to me, anyhow.  She’s not mistress; it is Mehalah
that orders, and does everything. I don’t reckon an old woman’s life is
worth a crown, not to nobody but herself, may be; but that is her
concern not mine.  She was an ailing aguish body.  Why!’ exclaimed
Abraham banging his can of ale on the table, ’when you’ve saved an old
woman who is nought but a trouble to everybody as does with her, of what
wally is it?  They might have paid you to let her alone, but not to lug
her out of the fire.  Now, Mehalah, she was another sort.  But you
didn’t save her.’

’Where was she?  She was not in the house.’

’How am I to know?  I don’t spy after her. Others may,’ he gave a sly,
covert look at Elijah, ’I don’t.  But I reckon she was out on the
saltings watching for the sheep-stealers.’

’Have you had sheep-stealers on the Ray?’

’Aye, we have.’

’Did you watch for them at night?’

’I!’ with a grunt.  ’They were not my sheep. No, thank you.  Let them
that wallys the sheep watch ’em.  I do what I’m paid to do, and I don’t
do more.’

Mehalah did not listen to the whole of this conversation.  She had
satisfied herself that Abraham was there, and had heard how Rebow and
his men came to be on the spot when the fire broke out; she then closed
the door again, and returned to the window.  She did not leave her
station till dawn, except to attend to the fire, to make it up from the
heap stacked by the side of the chimneypiece.  When day began to break,
she seated herself on a stool by the bed, and laying her head on the
mattress fell asleep, and slept for an hour or two, uneasily, troubled
by dreams and the discomfort of her position.

When she awoke the house was quiet.  She went downstairs, with
reluctance, and found no one stirring, but the fire made up and a kettle
boiling over it, the table spread with everything she could desire for
breakfast.  Elijah, Abraham, and the other men were gone. There was a
canister with tea on the board.  Mehalah made her mother some, and took
it up to her.

The old woman was awake, and drank the tea with eagerness.

’I don’t think I can get out of bed to-day, Mehalah!’ she said.  ’I feel
my limbs all of an ache; the cold has got into the marrow of my bones,
and I feel as if the frost were splitting them, as at times it will
split pipes.  I must lie abed till the thaw comes to them.’

’Can you eat anything?’

’I think I can.’

’Mother, how long are we going to remain here?’

’It is wery comfortable, I am sure.’

’But we cannot stay in this house.’

’Where else can we go?’

’I will get into service somewhere.’

’You cannot leave me.  Where shall I go?  I cannot leave my bed, and I
don’t think the frost will get out of my bones for a week or more.’

’I can not, I will not, remain here.’

’Where can we go?’

Mehalah put both her hands to her brow.  She could not answer this
question.  Were she alone, she could get a situation in a farmhouse,
perhaps; but with a sick mother dependent on her, this was not possible.
No farmer would take them both in for the sake of her services.

’Where else can we go?’ again asked Mrs. Sharland; then in a repining
voice, ’If Master Rebow houses us for a while, it is very good of him,
and we must be thankful, for we have no chance of shelter elsewhere.
Where is the money to pay for rebuilding the farmhouse?  Do you think my
cousin, Charles Pettican——’

’No, no,’ exclaimed Mehalah, ’not a word about him.’

’He spoke up and promised most handsomely,’ said Mrs. Sharland.

’He can do nothing, mother, I will not ask him.’

’A man that has a gilded balcony to his house wouldn’t miss a few pounds
for running up a wooden cottage.’

’I will not go to him again.’

’My dear child,’ said Mrs. Sharland, ’I don’t doubt he would take us in
on a visit for a while, when we are forced to leave Red Hall.’

’You think we shall not be obliged to remain here?’

’I don’t see how we can.  It is very good of Master Rebow to house us
for a bit, but I doubt we can’t stick as fixtures.  I only wish we
could.  Anyhow stay here a bit we must.  We have nowhere else to go to,
except to my cousin Charles.’

Mehalah knew what this alternative was worth.  It was a relief to her to
hear her mother speak of their stay in Red Hall as only temporary.  She
could not endure to contemplate the possibility of its being permanent.
She formed a hope that she would be able to find work somewhere, and
hire a small cottage; she was strong enough to do as much as a man.

During the day, everything that had been rescued from the fire on the
Ray was brought to Red Hall, even the cow, which was driven round by
land, a matter of eleven miles.  The old clock arrived, and was set up
in the large room below, an old cypress chest or ’sprucehutch’ as Mrs.
Sharland called it, covered with curious shallow carvings picked out
with burnt umber, representing a hawking party, that contained her best
clothes, and was a security against moth, was conveyed into her bedroom.
It weighed half a ton.  The old Lowestoft dishes she valued were placed
in the rack in the hall along with the ware that belonged to Elijah.
The toad-jug, a white jug with a painted and glazed figure of a toad
squatting inside it in the neck, was also brought to Red Hall, so even
were two biscuit-china poodles with shaven posteriors and with manes and
tufted tails, that had stood on the chimneypiece at the Ray.  The
warming-pan of brass with a stamped portrait of H.M. George I. on it was
likewise transported to Red Hall, and hung up in the little oak-panelled
parlour behind the entrance hall generally occupied by Rebow.

By degrees most of the property of Mrs. Sharland was brought to the
house, and the small oak parlour was furnished with it.  Her arm-chair
of leather with high back was placed in the hall by the great fireplace
that bore the inscription, ’When I hold, I hold fast.’  There were also
some things belonging specially to Glory that had been saved, and these
were put in the oak parlour.  The satisfaction of Mrs. Sharland at
finding herself surrounded by her goods was extreme.  She did not leave
her bed, but she insisted on her daughter bringing her up everything
that could be carried, that she might turn it about, and inspect it
minutely and rejoice over what was uninjured, and bewail what had
suffered.  One of the poodles had lost an ear and part of its tail.  The
old woman cried and grumbled and scolded about this injury, as though it
were on a level with the destruction of the house.  She would see the
men Jim and Joe who had brought it from the Ray in the boat; she
catechised them minutely, she insisted on knowing which had brought the
dog out of the burning house, where it had been placed till removal, and
fretted, till they promised to examine the spot beneath the thorn tree
where the china brute had spent the night, and also the bottom of the
boat, for the missing tail tuft and ear tip.

’You know,’ she said, ’if I boil them in milk with the dog, I can get
them to stick on.’

Among certain persons, the mind is destitute of perspective, and
consequently magnifies trifles and disregards great evils.  Mrs.
Sharland had a mind thus constituted.  She harped all day on the
battered biscuit-china dog, because it was placed on the mantelpiece of
her bedroom, and was under her eyes whenever she turned her head that
way.  The farmhouse was almost forgotten in her distress about the tail;
her flaming home formed but a red background to the mutilated white
poodle.

Mehalah saw nothing of Elijah Rebow all day.  He was several times in
the house; directly her foot sounded on the stairs, however, he
disappeared.  But she saw and felt that he was considering her; his care
to recover all the little treasures and property on the Ray evinced
this; and in the house he provided everything she could need; he placed
meat on the table in the hall for her dinner, and had boiled potatoes
over the fire.  They were set ready for her, she had only to take them
out. Her mother ate heartily, and was loud in expressions of
satisfaction at the comfort that surrounded them.

’I hope, Mehalah, we shan’t have to leave this in a hurry.’

Glory did not answer.

Towards evening Abraham Dowsing arrived with the cow.  The girl heard
the low, and ran down—she could not help it—and threw her arms round the
neck of the beast.  There was a back stair leading to the kitchen and
yard, by which she could descend without entering the hall, and by this
means she avoided Elijah, who, she was aware, was there.

Elijah, however, came to the top of the steps after she had descended,
and looked into the yard where she was.  Mehalah at once desisted from
lavishing her tenderness on the animal.

Abraham stood sulkily by.

’I’ve had a long bout,’ he said.

’I dare say you have, Abraham,’ she answered.

’I want something to eat and drink, I haven’t bit nought since morning.
There’s nothing but ashes on the Ray now, and they are red-hot.  You
don’t expect me to fill my belly on them.’

Mehalah put her hand to her mouth and checked her tongue, as she was
about to tell him to go indoors and get some supper.  She had now
nothing to give the old man.  She lived on the bounty of Rebow.

’I cannot go without my wittles,’ persisted Abraham. ’Now I want to know
where my wittles are to come from.  I paid fourpence at the Rose for
some bread and cheese, and you owes me that.’

’There is the money,’ said Mehalah producing the coin.

’Ah! that is wery well.  But where am I to get my wittles now?  Am I
your servant or ain’t I?  If I am,—where’s my wittles?’

’Come here, Abraham,’ said Elijah, from the kitchen door.  ’There is
bread and cold potatoes and meat here. You shall have your supper, and
you can sleep in the loft.’

’Look here, master,’ pursued the sullen old man, ’I want to know further
where I’m to look for my wages.’

’To me,’ said Rebow.  ’I take you on.’

’Where am I to work?’

’Here, or on the Ray, looking after the sheep.’

’The sheep are not yours, they are hers,’—pointing to Mehalah with his
thumb.

’The Ray and Red Hall are one concern,’ answered Rebow.  ’You look to me
as your master, and to her as your mistress;’ then he entered and
slammed the door.

Abraham shrugged his shoulders.  He leered at Mehalah, who had put her
hands to her forehead.

’When are you going to church?  Eh, mistress?  I thought it was coming
to this.  But I don’t care so long as I gets my wittles and wage.’

Abraham went slowly into the cattlehouse with the cow.  Mehalah remained
rooted to the spot, pressing her brow.

This was more than she could endure.  She ran up the steps, she would
speak to Rebow while her heart was full.  She dashed through the kitchen
and into the hall. He was not there.  As she ran on, she tripped and
almost fell; and recovered herself with horror.  She had almost
precipitated herself through the trap into the vault beneath.  The door
was thrown back, her foot had caught this.  Faugh!  an odour rose from
the cellar as from the lair of a wild beast.  She looked in, there was
the maniac racing up and down in the den fastened by his chain,
jabbering and uttering incoherent cries.  He was almost naked, covered
with filthy rags, and his hair hung over his face so that she could
distinguish no features by the dim light that strayed down from the
trap, and from the horn lanthorn that Elijah had placed on the steps.
Rebow had a pitchfork, and he was tossing fresh straw to his brother,
and raking out the sodden and crushed litter of the wretched man.

Mehalah could not bear the sight; she withdrew. She needed a little
while by herself to consider what was best to be done, to think of what
had taken place. She opened the front door, and descended by the long
flight of steps over the arch.  Then she saw that a shutter covered the
circular window that in summer lighted the den of the maniac.  This was
now closed to shut out the cold of winter.  There was a door.  As she
looked, Rebow opened it from within, and appeared, raking out the litter
and the gnawed bones, the relics of his brother’s repasts.  He did not
notice her, or he pretended not to do so, and she shrank back.  Her wish
to speak with him had gone from her.  She was not equal to an interview
till she had been alone for a while, and had gathered up her strength.
An interview with him must be a contest.  It was clear to her that he
was resolved that she should stay at Red Hall. She was equally
determined not to do so.  But how to get away and remove her mother was
more than she could discover.

She left the house and the garden round it, and walked through the
meadow till she reached the sea-wall. She ascended that, and went along
it to the spot where the Red Hall marsh divided the Tollesbury Fleet
from the Virley and Salcott Creeks.

Then she threw herself beneath the windmill, the mill that pumped the
water out of the dykes, and worked day and night whenever there was wind
to move the sails.  The mill was now at work.  The wings rushed round,
and the pump painfully creaked, and after every stroke sent a dash of
water into the sea over the wall.

Mehalah hoped that here, away from her mother and Rebow, and the sights
and sounds of Red Hall, she might be able to think.  But it was not so.
Her numbed head was unable to form any plans.  She looked out at sea, it
was leaden grey, ruffled with angry waves, and the mews screamed and
dipped in them. The sky overhead was overcast.  The Bradwell shore
looked grey and bleak and desolate; there was not a sail in the offing.
The fancy took her to sit and wait, and if she saw a ship pass to take
it as a good omen, a promise of escape from her present perplexity.

She sat and waited.  The sea darkened to a more sullen tint.  The mews
were no longer visible.  Mersea with its trees and church tower
disappeared.  Bradwell coast loomed black as pitch against the last
lingering light of day.  Not a sail appeared.

Far away, out to sea, as the darkness deepened, gleamed a light.  It
gleamed a moment, then grew dim and disappeared in the blackness.  A
minute, and then it waxed, but waned again, and once more all was night.
So on, in wearisome iteration.  What she saw was the revolving Swin
light fifteen miles from land, a floating Pharos.  She thought of
Elijah’s words, she thought of the horrible iterations in the barrow on
the hill, the embracing and fighting, embracing and fighting, loving and
hating, loving and hating, till one should conquer of the twin but rival
powers.



                            *CHAPTER XVII.*

                            *FACE TO FACE.*


Mehalah returned slowly to the house, her spirits oppressed with gloom.
It was night without and within, before her face, and in her soul.  The
wind sighed and sobbed among the rushes and over the fen, in a
disconsolate, despairing manner, and the breath of God within—the living
soul—sighed and sobbed like His breath that blew over the wintry marsh
without. Not a star looked down from His heaven above, and none looked
up from His heaven below in the little confines of a human heart.
Mehalah could scarce see her way in the fen, among the dykes and drains;
she was as unable to find a path in the level of her life.

She reached Red Hall at last, and mounted the front stairs to the
principal door.  She would see Elijah now. It were better to speak with
him and come to some understanding at once.  It was intolerable to allow
the present position to remain unexplained, and the future undetermined.
She hesitated at the door.  It was not without a struggle that she could
open it and go in and face the man whose hospitality she was receiving
and yet whom she abhorred.  She knew that she was greatly indebted to
him.  He had saved her mother’s life, he had secured from destruction a
large amount of their property; yet she could not thank him.  She
resented his intrusion into their affairs, when anyone else would have
been unobjectionable.  She disliked him all the more because she knew
she was heavily in his debt; it galled her almost past endurance to feel
that she and her mother were then subsisting on his bounty.

’Come in, Glory!’ shouted Elijah from within, as she halted at the door.

She entered.  He was seated by the fire with his pipe in his hand; he
had heard her step on the stairs, and had paused in his smoking, and had
waited in a listening, expectant attitude.

He signed her to take a chair—her mother’s chair—on the other side of
the hearth.  She paid no attention to the sign, but stood in the middle
of the room, and unconsciously covered her eyes with her hands.  Her
pulses quivered in her temples.  Her heart grew cold, and a faintness
came over her.

’The light is not too strong to dazzle you,’ said Elijah, ’put your
hands down, I want to see your face.’

She made an effort to retain them where they were, but could not; they
fell.

’Sit down.’

She shook her head.

’Sit down.’

’I want to speak with you, Elijah, for a moment. I must speak with you.’
Her heart palpitated, her breast heaved.  She could only utter short
sentences.

’Sit down there!’ he beckoned with the stalk of his pipe.

She still refused to obey.  Her power was slipping from her.  The
exhaustion after the excitement she had gone through had affected even
her stout will. She resolved to oppose him in this trifling matter, but
knew that her resolution was infirm.  She clung desperately to what
remained to her of power.

’I will not listen to a word you say unless you sit down.’

He paused, and looked at her; then he said, ’Go to your mother!’ and
continued his smoking, with face averted.

’Elijah, I know what you have done, and are doing now for my mother.’

He sprang from his seat, and strode up and down the room, turning and
glowering at her, sucking at his pipe, and making it red and angry like
his eyes in the firelight.  He walked fast and noisily on the brick
floor, with his high shoulders up and his head down. She watched him
with painful apprehension; he reminded her of the mad brother pacing in
the vault below.  She could not speak to him whilst he persisted in this
irritating, restless tramp.  There was no help for it.  She dropped into
her mother’s leather chair.

’There!’ said he, and he flung a ring with some keys attached to it,
into her lap.  ’Take them.  They are yours now.  The keys of everything
in the house, except of——’ he jerked his pipe towards the den beneath.

’I cannot take them,’ she said, and let them slide off her lap upon the
floor.

’Pick them up!’ he ordered.

’No,’ she said firmly, ’I will not.  Elijah, we must come to an
understanding with each other.’

’We already understand each other,’ he said, pausing in his walk.  ’We
always did.  I can read your heart. I know everything that passes there,
just as if it was written in red letters on a page.  I understand you,
and there’s nobody else in the world that can.  I was made to read you.
I heard a Baptist preacher say one day that God wrote a book, and then
He created mankind to read it.  You are a book, and God made me to read
you. I can do it.  That wants no scholarship, it comes by nature to me.
Others can’t.  They might puzzle and rack their heads, they’d make
nothing of you.  But you are clear as light of day to me.  You
understand me?’

’I do not.’

’You _will_ not.  You set your obstinate, wicked mind against
understanding me.  I heard a preacher once say—I went to chapel along of
my mother when I was a boy; I goes nowhere now but to the Ray after
you—What is God?  It is that as makes a man, and keeps him alive, and
gives him hopes of happiness, or plunges him in hell.  Every man has his
own God; for there is something different makes and mars each man. What
do I want but you, Glory?  It is you that can make and keep me alive,
and you are my happiness or my hell.’

’But,’ said he standing still again, and flourishing his hand and pipe,
’as I was saying, I heard a preacher say once, that God made every man
of a lump of clay and a drop of spittle, and that He made always two at
a time.  He couldn’t help it.  He has two hands and ain’t right and left
handed as we, but works with both, and then He casts about the men He
has made, anywhere.  Hasn’t He made all things double?  Have not you two
hands and two feet and two eyes?  Is there not a sun and a moon, are
there not two poles to the earth, and two sexes, and day and night, and
winter and summer? and—’ he went up before Mehalah, and with a burst of
passion—’and you and me?’  Then he recommenced his pacing, but slower,
and continued, ’Wherever those two are that God made with His two hands,
they must come together.  It don’t matter where they be, if one is in
Mersea, and t’other is in Asia, or Africa, or China, or America, or
London, it don’t matter, soon or late, they must come together, and when
they come together then they are in heaven. Now if a man takes some
other left-handed figure—it was the left hand made woman—then it don’t
matter, he can’t go against his destiny.  He has taken the wrong woman,
and he is not happy.  He knows it all along, and he feels restless and
craving in his soul, and if he does not find the proper one in this
world when he goes out of it, he waits and wanders, till the proper one
dies and begins to hunt about for her right-hand man.  That is what
makes ghosts to ramble.  Ghosts are those that have married the wrong
ones, wandering and waiting, and seeking for their right mates.  Do you
hear the piping and the crying at the windows of a winter night?  That
is the ghosts looking in and sobbing because they are out in the cold
shivering till they meet their mates.  But when they meet, then that is
heaven.  There’s a heaven for everyone, but that is only once for all
when the two doubles find each other, and if that be not in this life,
why it is after. And there is a hell too, but that isn’t reserved for
all, and it does not last for ever and ever, but is only when one has
taken the wrong mate and has found it out.’  He stopped.  He had become
very earnest and excited by what he had said.  He came again over
against Mehalah.  ’Glory!’ he continued, ’don’t you see how the moon
goes after the sun and cannot come to him? She is his proper mate and
double, and the sun don’t know, and won’t have it, and so day and night,
and winter and summer, and waxing and waning goes on and on. But that
won’t go on for ever.  The sun will grow sad at heart, and wane for want
of the moon some day, and then there will be a great flare and blaze and
glory, and they will be in heaven.  And now the two poles of the earth
are apart, and so long as they keep apart, the world rolls on in misery
and pain, and that is what makes earthquakes, and volcanoes, and great
plagues—the poles are apart which ought to be together. But they are
drawing gradually nearer each other. The seasons now are not what they
used to be, and that is it.  The poles are not where they were, they are
straining to meet.  And some day they will run into one, and that will
be the end.  I’ve heard say that in the Bible it is spoken that there’ll
be an end of this world.  I could have known that without the Bible. The
poles must come together some day, and be one. Glory!’ he went on, ’you
and I are each other’s doubles, you was made with God’s left hand, and I
with his right, at the same moment of time, and He cast you into the
Ray, and me to Red Hall.  There was not much space between, only some
water and ooze and marsh, and we’ve been drawing and drawing nearer and
closer for ever so long, and now you are here, under my roof.  You can’t
help it.  You cannot fight agin it. You was made for me and I for you,
and you’ll have a life of hell unless you take me now.  I must be yours.
You thought you’d resist and take George De Witt. It might have been.
Suppose you had, and I had died years before you.  You would have heard
me crying at your window and beating at your door, and you would have
felt me drawing and drawing of you, whether you chose or not, taking the
heart away from your George, and bringing it to me.  Then at last, you’d
have died, and then, then, you’d have been mine, and you would have
found our heaven after thirty, forty, fifty years of hell.’

The terrible earnestness of the man imposed on Mehalah.  He spoke what
he believed.  He gave utterance, in his rude fierce way, to what he
felt.  She, untaught, full of dim gropings after something higher,
vaster, than the flat, narrow life she led, was startled.

’Heaven with you!’ she cried, drawing back; ’never! never!’

’Heaven with me, and with none but me.  You can’t get another heaven but
in my arms, for you was made for me by God.  I told you so, but you
would not believe it.  Try, if you like, to find it elsewhere.  God
didn’t make you and George De Witt out of one lump. He couldn’t have
done it—You, Glory! strong, great, noble, with a will of iron, and that
weak, helpless, vulgar lout, tied to his mother’s apron.  He couldn’t
have done it.  He made, like enough, Phoebe Musset and George De Witt
out of one piece, but you and me was moulded together at the same time,
out of the same clay, and the same breath is in our hearts, and the same
blood in our veins.  You can’t help it, it is so. You can not, you shall
not, escape me.  Soon or late you must find your proper mate, soon or
late you must seek your double, soon or late find your heaven.’

He came now quietly and seated himself in his chair opposite Mehalah.

’What did you fare to say, Glory?’ he asked.  ’I interrupted you.’

’I must thank you first for what you have done for my mother.’

’I have done nothing for her,’ said Elijah sharply.

’You drew her out of the burning house.  You saved her goods from the
flames.  You have sheltered her here.’

’I have done nothing for her,’ said Elijah again. ’Whatever I have done,
I did for you.  But for you she might have burned, and I would not have
put out a finger to help her.  What care I for her?  She is naught to
me.  She wasn’t destined for me; that was you.  I saved her because she
was _your_ mother.  I collected your things from the blazing house.  I
have taken you in.  I take her in only as I might take in your shoe, or
your cow, because it is yours.  She is naught to me.  I don’t care if I
never saw or heard her again.’

He got up and went to the window, took a flask thence; then brought his
gun from a corner, and began to polish the brass fittings with rag,
having first put on the metal some of the vitriol from the bottle.

’Look at this,’ he said, dropping some of the acid on the tarnished
brass.  ’Look how it frets and boils till it has scummed away the filth,
and then the brass is bright as gold.  That’s like me.  I’m fretted and
fume with your opposition, and I dare say it is as well I get a little.
But after a bit it will bring out the shining metal.  You will see what
I am.  You don’t like me now, because I’m not shapely and handsome as
your George De Witt.  But there is the gold metal underneath; he was but
gilt pinchbeck—George De Witt!’ he repeated.  ’That was a fancy of
yours, that he was your mate!  You could not have loved him a week after
you’d known what he was.  Marriage would have rubbed the plating off,
and you would have scorned and cast him aside.’

’Elijah!’ said Mehalah, ’I cannot bear this.  I loved once, and I shall
love for ever,—not you!—you—never,’ with gathering emphasis, ’George,
only George, none but George.’

’More fool you,’ said Rebow sulkily.  ’Only I don’t believe it.  You say
so to aggravate me, but you don’t think it.’

She did not care to pursue the subject.  She had spoken out her heart,
and was satisfied.

’Well, what else had you to say?  I didn’t think you was one of the
bread and butter curtsey-my-dears and thanky, sirs!  That is a new
feature in you, Glory! It is the first time I’ve had the taste of thanks
from you on my tongue.’

’You never gave me occasion before.’

’No more I did,’ he answered.  ’You are right there.  And I don’t care
for thanks now.  I’d take them if I valued them, but I don’t.  I don’t
care to have them from you.  I don’t expect thanks from my body when I
feed it, nor from my hands when I warm ’em at the fire; they belong to
me, and I give ’em their due.  What I do for you I do for myself, for
the same reason.  You belong to me.’

’I must speak,’ said Mehalah.  ’This is more than I can endure.  You say
things of me, and to me, which I will not suffer.  Do you mean to insult
me?  Have I ever given you the smallest reason to encourage you to
assume this right?’

’No.  But it must be.  You can’t always go against fate.’

’I do not believe in this fate, this destiny, of which you talk,’ said
the girl gathering up her strength, as her indignation swelled within
her.  ’You have no right over me whatever.  I have been brought here
against my will, but at the same time I cannot do other than acknowledge
your hospitality.  Had you not given us a shelter, I know not whither we
should have gone.  I ask you to let us shelter here a little longer, but
only a little longer, till I have found some situation where I can work,
and support my mother.  We must sell our little goods, our sheep and
cow, and with the proceeds——’

’With the proceeds you will have to pay the rent of the Ray to Lady
Day.’

’You cannot be so ungenerous,’ gasped Mehalah, flashing wrathfully
against him.  ’This undoes all your kindness in housing us.  But if it
must be, so be it. We will sell all, and pay you every penny; yes, and
for our keep in this house, as long as we are forced to remain.’

’Not so fast, Glory,’ said Elijah composedly.  ’There are various things
to be considered first.  You can’t find a situation—no one would take
you in along of an old bedridden mother.’

’I can but try.’

’Aye, try; try by all means, and then come back to me.  You have tried a
deal of tricks to escape me, but you can’t do it.  You tried by
borrowing money of George De Witt, you tried by going to that old
palsied shipbuilder, you tried at Parson Tyll’s, you tried, I don’t know
how at last, and you got the money; but yet you couldn’t escape me.  You
tried to get George De Witt as your husband, to keep you from me in
life, but it came to naught.  He’s gone out of the path that leads from
you to me.  You may heap up what you will, but the earth will open, and
swallow all obstructions, and leave the way smooth and open.  Did you
ever see the old place—they call it the Devil’s Walls—by Payne’s? No, I
dare say you don’t know thereabouts.  Well, I’ll tell you how that spot
lies waste, and covered with brambles and nettles now.  The old lords
D’Arcy thought to build a castle there.  Then the Salcott creek ran up
so far, and they could row and sail right up to their gates, were the
mansion built.  But it could not be. The masons built all day, and at
night the earth sucked the walls in.  They worked there a whole year,
and they brought stones from Kent, and they poured in boulders, and they
laid bricks, but it was all of no good, the earth drank in everything
they put on it, as water.  At last they gave it up, and they built
instead on the hill where stands Barn Hall.  It will be the same with
you. You may build what you like, and where you like, it will go; it
cannot stand, it will be swallowed up; you can only build on me.’

’Elijah!  I insist on your listening to me.  I will not hear this.’

’You will not?  I do not care, you must.  My will will drink in yours.
But go on; say what you wish.’

’I am going to propose this.  Pay me a wage, and I will work here.  I
will attend to the house and the cows, and do anything you require of
me.  You have no servant, and you need one.  You shall let me be your
servant.  I shall not be ashamed to be that, but I will not remain here
unless my place be determined and recognised.’

’You shall be the mistress.’

’I do not want, I do not choose to be anything else in this house but
your hired servant.  Pay me a wage, and I will remain till I can find
some other situation; refuse, and, if I have to leave my mother, I will
go out of this house to-night.’

’If you leave your mother, I will throw her out.’

’I would fetch her away.  I would carry her in my arms.  I will not stay
here on any other terms.’

’I will humour you.  You shall be paid.  I will give you five shillings
a week.  Is that enough?’

’More than enough, with my keep and that of my mother.  I thank you now.
In future speak of me to the men as their fellow-servant, and not as you
did recently to Abraham as their mistress.’

’I shall speak to them as I like.  Am I to be controlled by you?’

’Then I will leave.  I will carry my mother to the inn at Salcott, and
rest there till I can find some other shelter.’

’Now look here, Glory,’ said Elijah.  He put his gun aside, and leaned
his elbows on his knees, and faced her.  ’It is of no use your talking
of running away from me.  You may run, but I can draw you back.  I sit
here of a night brooding over my fire, I begin thinking of you.  I
think, I think, and then a spirit takes me as it were, and fills me with
fierce will, to bring you here.  I feel I have threads at every finger
and threads to my knees and to my feet, all fast to you, and if I stir,
I move you.  I lift my finger, and you raise yours.  I wave my hand up,
and you throw up yours.  You don’t know it.  I do.  I know that I have
but to rise up from my chair, and I lift you up wherever you may be, in
your bed, in your grave, and then, if I draw in with my will, I wind up
these threads, and you come, you come, from wheresoever you are, out of
your bed in your smock, out of your grave in your shroud; doors are
nothing, my will can burst them open; locks are naught, my will can
wrench them off; the screws in the coffin lid and five feet of earth are
nothing, I could draw you through all.  I could draw you over the ooze,
and you would not be sucked in by it. I could draw you over the water,
and you would not wet your foot.  I could draw you through the marsh and
you would not break a bullrush; look there—’ he waved his arm towards
the door.  ’That door would fly open, and there you would stand, like
one dreaming, with your eyes wide open as they are now, with your cheek
colourless as now, with your lips parted as now, helpless, unable to
stir a finger, or utter a sound, against my will, and you would rush
into my arms, and fall on my heart. I can do all that.  I feel it.  I
know it.  I have sat here and wanted to do it, but I have not.  I would
not have you come to me in that way, but come of your own free will.
You must come to me one way or other.  Look here!’ he raised his hand,
and involuntarily, unconsciously, she lifted hers.

’Pick up the keys.’

She stooped and took them up.

’One day,’ he said, ’you refused to take a piece of money that fell,
when I bade you.  Now you are more compliant.  My will is gaining over
yours.  Your will is stout and rebellious, but it must bend and give way
before mine.  Go; I have done with you for the present.’



                            *CHAPTER XVIII.*

                             *IN A COBWEB.*


A month passed.  Mrs. Sharland recovered, as far as recovery was
possible to one of her age and enfeebled constitution, much shaken by
the events of the night that saw the destruction of her home and the
abrasion of the ear and tail of her biscuit-china poodle.  After
remaining in bed for more than a week, Mehalah almost by force obliged
her to get up and descend.  When once she had taken this step and found
that her leather high-backed chair was before the fire in the hall, she
showed no further desire to spend her days upstairs.  Her life resumed
the old course it had run at the Ray, but she sat more by the fire, and
did less in the house than formerly.  She devolved most of the domestic
work on her daughter.  That she had declined in strength of late was
obvious.  Old people will go on from year to year without any visible
alteration, till some shock, or change in their surroundings takes
place, when they drop perceptibly a stage, and from that moment
declension becomes rapid.

Mrs. Sharland was unmistakably contented with her position at Red Hall.
She enjoyed comforts which were not hers at the Ray.  She saw more
people, some gossip reached her ears.  There was a village, Salcotty
within two miles, and the small talk of a village will overflow its
bounds, and dribble into every house in its neighbourhood.  Every little
parish throws up its coarse crop of vulgar tittle-tattle, on which the
inhabitants feed, and which is exactly adapted to their mental
digestion.  Human characters as well as skins are subject to parasitic
attacks, but human beings are the vermin which burrow their heads into,
and blow themselves out on the blood of moral life.  There are certain
creatures which will lie shrivelled up on their backs, and endure flood
and frost and burning sun, without its killing them, with suspended
animation, till the animal on which they feed chances to come that way,
when they leap into activity and voracity at once.  Mrs. Sharland had
been laid aside on the Ray, without neighbours, and therefore without
matter of interest and objects of attack.  She was now within leaping,
lancing, and sucking distance of fresh life, and she rejoiced in renewed
vigour, not of body, but of mind, if mind that can be called which has
neither thought nor instinct, but only a certain gravitation which sets
the tongue in motion.  The brain of the rustic is as unlike the brain of
the man of culture as the maggot is unlike the butterfly; the one is the
larva of the other.  They feed, live, move in different spheres; one
chews cabbage, the other sips honey; one crawls on the earth, the other
flies above it; one is clumsy in all its motions, the other agile; one
is carnal, the other is spiritual.  And yet—wondrous thought! the one is
the parent of the other.

Mehalah had a great deal to do, and that work of a sort she had not been
much engaged on at the Ray. No female hand had been employed at Red Hall
since the death of Elijah’s mother, and everything was accordingly
falling out of repair and into disorder.  She saw nothing of Rebow
except at meals, and not always then, for he was often away with beasts
at market, or at sales making purchases.

The rich marshes of Red Hall were unrivalled for the grazing of cattle,
and the rearing of young stock.

As Mehalah was well occupied, her mind was taken off from herself, and
she was for a while satisfied with her position.  Rebow had not spoken
to her in the manner she so disliked, and she had small occasion to
speak with the men.  Her mother, on the contrary, seized every occasion
to entangle them in talk, or to initiate a conversation with Rebow.  He
maintained a surly deference towards her, and condescended at times to
answer her queries and allow himself to be drawn into talk by the old
woman.  When that was the case, Mehalah found excuse to leave the room
and engage herself in the kitchen or among the cows.

Abraham Dowsing saw much less of her than formerly. The old man, with
all his sulky humour and selfish greed, had got a liking for the girl.
He was much at the Ray, but often about Red Hall, where he got his food.

If he went after the sheep for the day, Mehalah provided him with
’baggings,’ provision during his absence.

Lambing time was at hand, when he would be away for some weeks,
returning only occasionally.  Mehalah noticed that the shepherd
hesitated each time he received his food, as though he desired to speak
to her, but put off the occasion.  At last, one day at the beginning of
February, when he was about to depart for the Ray, and would be absent
some days, he said to her in a low dissatisfied tone, ’I suppose, when I
come back after the lambing, you’ll have been to church with him.’

’What do you mean?’

’What do I mean?’ repeated Abraham, ’I mean what I say.  I ain’t one of
those that says one thing and means another.  Nobody can accuse me of
that.’

’I do not understand you, Abraham.’

’There’s none so dull as them that won’t take,’ he pursued.

’I don’t hold, myself, that much good comes of going to church with a
man, except this, that you fasten him, and he can’t cast you off when
he’s tired of you.’

Mehalah flushed up.

’Abraham,’ she said angrily, ’I will not allow you to speak thus to me.
I understand you now, and wish I did not.’

’Oh! you do take at last!  That’s well.  I’d act on it if I was you.  A
man, you see, don’t make no odds of taking up with a girl, and then when
he’s had a bit of her tongue and temper, he thinks he’d as lief be
without her, and pick up another.  He’d ring a whole change on the
bells, he would, if it warn’t for churches.  That is my doctrine.
Churches was built, and parsons were made, for tying up of men, and the
girls are fools who let the men make up to them, and don’t seize the
opportunity to tie them.’

’Abraham, enough of this.’

’It is no odds to me.  I don’t care so long as I has my wittles and my
wage.  Only I’d rather see you mistress here than another.  I’d get my
wittles more regular and better, because you know me and my likings, and
a new one wouldn’t.  That’s all.  Every man for himself, is my
doctrine.’

’I forbid this for once and all.  I am servant on wage here just as you
are; I am that, and I shall never be anything else.’

’Oh, there you think different from most folks.  You don’t think
according to your interests; and mistress, let me tell you, you don’t
talk as does the master.’

He went away mumbling something about it being no concern of his, and if
some people did not know how to eat their bread and butter when they had
it in their hands it was no odds to him.

Mehalah was hurt and incensed.  She went to her mother.

’Mother,’ she said, ’when will you be able to move? I shall look out for
a situation elsewhere.’

’What, my dear child!  Move from here, where I am so comfortable!  You
can not.  Elijah won’t hear of it.  He told me so.  He told me you was
to remain here, and I should spend the rest of my days here in quiet.
It is a very pleasant place, and more in the world than was the Ray.  I
am better off here than I was there.  Now we get everything for nothing,
we don’t lay out a penny, and you get wage beside.’

’Mother, Abraham has been speaking to me.  He has hinted, what I do not
like, that I ought to marry Elijah——’

’So you ought,’ said the widow.  ’Elijah, I am sure, is willing.  It is
what he has been wishing and hoping for all along, but you have been so
stubborn and set against him.  After all he has done for us you might
yield a bit.’

’I will never marry him.’

’Don’t say that.  You will do anything to secure a comfortable home for
me.  It may not be long that I may have to trouble you,—I know you look
on me as a trouble, I know that but for me you would feel free, and go
away into the world.  You think me a burden on you, because I can do
nothing: you are young and lusty.  But I bore with you, Mehalah, when
you was young and feeble, and I laid by for you money that would have
been very acceptable to me, and bought me many little comforts that I
forbore, to save for you——’  The old woman with low cunning had
discovered the thread to touch, to move her daughter.

’Say no more, say not another word, mother,’ exclaimed Mehalah.  ’You
know that I never, never will forsake you, that you are more to me a
thousand times than my own life.  But there is one thing I never will do
for you.  I never will marry Elijah.’

’I am afraid, Mehalah, that folks will talk.’

’I fear so too, but they have no occasion.  I will show them that.  I
will find a situation elsewhere.’

’You shall not, Mehalah!’

’I must, mother.’

She thought for some time what she should do, and then put on her
bonnet, and walked into Salcott.  She had not been into the village
since her arrival at Red Hall.

Salcott is a small village of old cottages at the head of a creek that
opens out of the Blackwater.  It has a church with a handsome tower
built of flints, but with no chancel.  Within a bowshot, across the
creek, connected with it by a bridge, is Virley church, a small
hunchbacked edifice in the last stages of dilapidation, in a graveyard
unhedged, unwalled; the church is scrambled over by ivy, with lattice
windows bulged in by the violence of the gales, and a bellcot leaning on
one side like a drunkard.  Near this decaying church is a gabled farm,
and this and a cottage form Virley village.  The principal population
congregates at Salcott, across the wooden bridge, and consisted—a
hundred years ago—of labourers, and men more or less engaged in the
contraband trade.  Every house had its shed and stable, where was a
donkey and cart, to be let on occasion to carry smuggled goods inland.
At the end of the village stands a low tavern, the Rising Sun, a mass of
gables; part of it, the tavern drinking-room, is only one storey high,
but the rest is a jumble of roofs and lean-to buildings, chimneys, and
ovens, a miracle of picturesqueness.  Mehalah walked into the bar, and
found there the landlady alone.

’I have come here, mistress,’ she said abruptly, ’in search of work.  I
am strong and handy, and will do as much as a man.  I will serve you
faithfully and well if you will engage me.  I have an infirm mother who
must be lodged somewhere, so I ask for small wage.’

’Who are you?  Where do you come from?’ asked the landlady eyeing her
with surprise.

’My name is Mehalah Sharland.  I lived on the Ray till the house was
burned down.  Since then I have been at Red Hall.’

’Oh!’ exclaimed the woman, her countenance falling.  ’You are the young
woman, are you, that I heard tell of?’

’I am the young woman now in service there, but wanting to go and work
elsewhere.’

’I’ve heard tell of you,’ said the landlady dryly.

’What have you heard of me?’

The woman looked knowingly at her, and smiled.

’Pray what does Master Rebow say to your leaving him?  You and he have
fallen out, have you?’ said the hostess knowingly.  ’You’ll come
together all the faster for it.  There’s nothing like a good breeze for
running a cargo in.’

’Can you give me work?’

’I dursn’t do it.’

’Have you need of anyone now?’

’Well,’ with a cough, ’if Master Rebow were agreeable, I might find such
a girl as you wery handy about the house.  I’ve lost the last girl I
had; she’s took with the small-pox.  You could have her bed, and her
work, and her wage, and welcome.  But unless the master gave his
consent,’ she began to dust the table, ’I dursn’t do it.’

’Is he your landlord?’

’No, he is not.’

’Then why need you doubt about taking me?’

’Because Rebow wouldn’t allow of it.’

’He could not stop me.  I am not engaged to him for any time.’

’I dursn’t do it.  How long have you been with Rebow?’

’A little more than a month.’

’You’ve never gone against him perhaps.  If you had, you wouldn’t ask me
the reason why I dursn’t stand in his way.’

Mehalah considered.  She had opposed Elijah from the very beginning.

’There’s no one would dare to do it,’ continued the landlady.  ’If you
want to get from Master Rebow, you must go farther inland; but I doubt
if you’ll escape him.  However,’ and she tossed her head, ’you only want
to make him fast.  If a girl gives way at once, she’s cheap.’

’You mistake me, you altogether mistake me,’ said Mehalah indignantly.
’I will not remain in his house any longer; I must and I will go
elsewhere.’

’If Elijah Rebow was to take the purse out of my pocket, or the bed from
under me, if he was to take my daughter from my side, I dursn’t say nay.
If you think to escape against the will of the master, you are
mistaken.’

’I shall.’

’Look here,’ said the landlady; ’take my advice and go back and be mum.
I won’t say another word with you, lest I get into trouble.’  She turned
and left the bar.

Mehalah went out, more determined than ever to break away from Red Hall,
whether her mother desired it or not.

She crossed the creaking rude wooden bridge to Virley.  The churchyard
and the farmyard seemed all one.  The pigs were rooting at the graves.
A cow was lying in the porch.  An old willow drooped over a stagnant
pool beneath the chancel window.  Shed roof-tiles and willow leaves lay
mouldering together on the edge of the pond.  The church of timber and
brick, put up anyhow on older stone foundations, had warped and cracked;
the windows leaned, fungus growths sprouted about the bases of the
timbers.  Every rib showed in the roof as on the side of a horse led to
the knackers.

The farm was but little more prosperous in appearance than the church.
Patched windows and broken railings showed a state of decline.  Mehalah
walked into the yard, where she saw a man carrying a pitchfork.

’Who is the master here?’ she asked.

’I am.’

’Is there a mistress?’

’Yes.  What have you to say to her?’

Mehalah told her story as she had told it to the landlady of the Rising
Sun.  ’I will work for my keep and that of my mother, and work harder
than any man on your farm.’

’Where do you come from?’

’Red Hall.’

’Oh!’ said the farmer, with a whistle, ’Rebow’s girl, eh?’

’I am working for him now.’

’Working for him, come now that’s fine.’

’I am working for him,’ repeated Mehalah with clouding brow.

’And you want to come here.  You think my missus would let you, do you?
Now tell me, what put you on to coming to me?  Has Elijah picked a
quarrel with me, that he sends you here?  Does he want occasion against
me?  Do you think I want to run any risks with my barns and my cattle
and my life?  No, thank you.  I dursn’t do it.’

’Tell me, where can I find work?’

’You must go out of the reach of Rebow’s arm, if you find it.’

’You won’t give me any?’

He shook his head.  ’For my life, I dursn’t do it.’  He laughed and put
out his hand to chuck her under the chin, she struck his fingers up with
her fist. ’There ain’t a better judge of beasts in all the marshes than
Rebow, nor in horse-flesh neither.  You ain’t a bad bit of meat neither.
I approve his taste.’

Mehalah wrenched the pitchfork out of his hand. Her eyes flamed.  She
would have struck him; but was suddenly assailed from behind by the
farmer’s wife.

’Now then, hussy, what are you up to?’

The girl could not answer; her anger choked the words in her throat.

’She’s that wench of Rebow’s, you know,’ said the farmer.  ’I guess it
is cat and dog in that house.’

’Get you gone,’ shouted the woman, ’go out of my premises, hussy!  I
don’t want my place to be frequented by such as you.  Get you gone at
once, or I will loose the mastiff.’

Mehalah retired with bowed head, and her arms folded on her bosom.  She
halted on the bridge, and kicked fragments of frozen earth and gravel
into the water.  A woman going by looked at her.

’Where is the parson?’ asked Mehalah.

’Yonder, you go over the marsh by the hill with the windmill on it, and
you come to a road, you’ll find a blacksmith’s shop, and you must ask
there.  He’s the curate, there’s no rector hereabouts.  They keep away
because of the ague.’

Mehalah cross the fen indicated, passed beside the windmill and the
blacksmith’s shop, and found the cottage occupied by the curate, a poor
man, married to a woman of a low class, with a family of fourteen
children, packed in the house wherever they could be stowed away.  The
curate was a crushed man, his ideas stunned in his head by the uproar in
which he dwelt. His old scholarship remained to him in his brain like
fossils in the chalk, to be picked ont, dead morsels. There was nothing
living in the petrified white matter that filled his skull.

Mehalah knocked at the door.  The parson opened it, and admitted her
into his kitchen.  As soon as the wife heard a female voice, she rushed
out of the back kitchen with her arms covered with soap suds, and stood
in the door.  A little-minded woman, she lived on her jealousy, and
would never allow her husband to speak with another woman if she could
help it.

’What do you want, my dear?’ asked the curate.

’Ahem!’ coughed the wife.  ’Dear, indeed!  Pray who are you, miss?’

Mehalah explained that she sought work, and hoped that the parson would
be able to recommend her.

’You don’t, you don’t——’ faltered he.

’You don’t suppose I’d take you on here,’ said the parson’s wife.
’You’re too young by twenty years.  I don’t approve of young women; they
don’t make good servants.  I like a staid matronly person of forty to
fifty, that one can trust, and won’t be gadding after boys or——’ she
shook her suds at her husband.  ’But I don’t at present want any
servant.  We are full.’

’We don’t keep any,’ said the pastor.

’Edward! don’t demean us, we do keep servants—occasionally.  You know we
do, Edward.  Mrs. Cutts comes in to scour out and clean up of a
Saturday. You forget that.  We pay her ninepence.’

’Who are you, my dear—I mean, young woman?’ asked the curate.

’Yes, who are you?’ said his better half.  ’We must know more of you
before we can recommend you among our friends.  Our friends are very
select, and keep quite a better sort of servants, they don’t pick up
anybody, they take so to speak the cream, the very purest quality.’

Mehalah gave the required information.  Mrs. Rabbit bridled and blew
bubbles.  The Reverend Mr. Rabbit became depressed, yet made an effort
to be confidential.  ’You’d better—you’d better marry him,’ he hinted.
’It would be a satisfaction on all sides.’

’What is that?  What did you say, Edward?  No whisperings in my house,
if you please.  My house is respectable, I hope, though it mayn’t be a
lordly mansion. I do drive a conweyance,’ she said, ’I hire the
blacksmith’s donkey-cart when I go out to make my calls, and drop my
cards.  So I leave you to infer if I’m not respectable.  And
Miss—Miss—Miss—’ with a giggle and a curtsey, ’when may I have the
felicity of calling on you at Red Hall, and of learning how respectable
that establishment has become?  There’s room for improvement,’ she said,
tossing her nose.

At that moment a rush, a roar, an avalanche down the narrow stairs,
steep as a ladder.  In a heap came the whole fourteen, the oldest
foremost, the youngest in the rear.

’We’ve got him, we’re going to drown him.’

’What is it?’ feebly enquired the father, putting his hands to his ears.

’We’ll hold him to the fire and pop his little eyes.’

’No, they’re too small.’

’Into the water-butt with him!’

A yell.

’He’s bitten me.  Drown him!’

’What is it?’ shouted the mother.

’A bat.  Tommy found him in the roof.  We’re going to put him in the
butt, and see if he can swim.’

The whole torrent swept and swirled round Mehalah, and carried her to
the front door.

The curate stole out after her.

’My good girl,’ he whispered, ’botch it up.  Marry. Most marriages
hereabouts are botches.’

’Edward!’ shouted Mrs. Rabbit, ’come in, no sneaking outside after
lasses.  Come back at once.  Always wanting a last word with suspicious
characters.’

’Marry!’ was the pastor’s last word, as he was drawn back by two soapy
hands applied to his coat tails, and the door was slammed.

Mehalah walked away fast from the yelping throng of children congregated
about the water-butt, watching the struggles of the expiring bat.  She
took the road before her, and saw that it led to Peldon, the leaning
tower of which stood on a hill that had formed the northern horizon from
the Ray.  There was a nice farm by the roadside, and she went there, and
was met with excuses.  The time was not one when a girl could be
engaged.  There was no work to be done in the winter. The early spring
was coming on, she urged, and she would labour in the fields like a man.
Then the sick mother was mentioned as an insuperable objection.  ’We
can’t have any old weakly person here on the premises,’ said the
farmer’s wife.  ’You see if she was to die, you’ve no money, and we
should be put to the expense of the burying; anyhow there’d be the
inconvenience of a corpse in the house.’

Mehalah went on; and now a hope dawned in her. Another two miles would
bring her to the Rose, the old inn that stood not far from the Strood.
There she was known, and there she was sure, if possible, she would be
accommodated and given work.

She walked forward with raised head, the dark cloud that had brooded on
her brow began to rise, the bands about her heart that had been
contracting gave way a little.  There was the inn, an old-fashioned
house, with a vine scrambling over the red tile roof, and an ancient
standard sign before the door, on the green, bearing a rose, painted the
size of a gigantic turnip.

Mehalah walked into the bar.  The merry landlord and his wife greeted
her with delight, with many shakes of the hands, and much condolence
over the disasters that had befallen her and her mother.

’Well, my dear,’ said the landlady, confidentially, ’you’re well out of
it, if you come here.  To be sure we’ll take you in, and I dare say
we’ll find you work; bring your mother also.  It ain’t right for a
handsome wench like you to be living all along of a lone man in his
farm.  Folks talk.  They have talked, and said a deal of things.  But
you come here.  What day may we expect you?’

’I must bring my mother by water.  The tide will not suit for a week.
It must be by day, my mother cannot come in the boat if there be much
rain; and we shall not be able to come—at least there will be a
difficulty in getting away—should Rebow be at home. Expect us some day
when the weather is favourable and there be an afternoon tide.’

’You will be sure to come?’

’Sure.’



                             *CHAPTER XIX.*

                            *DE PROFUNDIS.*


Mehalah’s heart was lighter now than it had been for many a week.  She
had secured her object.  She could be out of the toils of Rebow, away
from his hateful presence.

She had worked hard and conscientiously at Red Hall, and felt that she
had to some extent cancelled the obligation he had laid on her.  Her
proud spirit, lately crushed, began to arise; her head was lifted
instead of being bowed.

Rebow remarked the change in her, and was satisfied either that she had
reconciled herself to her position, or that she meditated something
which he did not understand.

Mrs. Sharland did not share in her daughter’s exultation.  She grumbled
and protested.  She was very comfortable at Red Hall, she was sure
Elijah had been exceedingly kind to them.  They had wanted nothing.  The
house was much better than the old ramshackle Ray, and their position in
it superior to any they could aspire to at the Rose.  This was a hint to
Mehalah, but the girl refused to take it.  As for Elijah, what was there
to object to in him?  He was well off, very well off, a prosperous man,
who spent nothing on himself, and turned over a great deal of money in
the year.  He was not very young, but he was a man who had seen the
world and was in his prime of strength and intelligence.  Mrs. Sharland
thought that they could not do better than settle at the Red Hall and
make it their home for life, and that Mehalah should put her foolish
fancies in her pocket and make the best of what offered.

But Mehalah’s determination bore down all opposition.

St. Valentine’s Day shone bright with a promise of spring.  The grey
owls were beginning to build in the hayrick, the catkins were timidly
swelling on the nut bushes; in the ooze the glasswort shot up like
little spikes of vitriol-green glass.  A soft air full of wooing swept
over the flats.  The sun was hot.

The tide flowed at noon, and Elijah was absent.

Mehalah, deaf to her mother’s remonstrances, removed some of their
needful articles to the boat, and at last led her mother, well wrapped
up, to the skiff.

When the girl had cast loose, and was rowing on the sparkling water, her
heart danced and twinkled with the wavelets; there was a return of
spring to her weary spirit, and the good and generous seeds in her
uncultivated soul swelled and promised to shoot.  She was proud to think
that she had carried her point, that in spite of Rebow, she had
established her freedom, that her will had proved its power of
resistance.  She even sang as she rowed, she,—whose song had been hushed
since the disappearance of George.  She had not forgotten him, and cast
away her grief at his loss, but the recoil from the bondage and moral
depression of Red Hall filled her with transient exultation and
joyousness.

The row was long.

’O mother!’ she said, as she passed under the Ray hill, ’I must indeed
run up and look at the place.  I cannot go by.’

’Do as you will,’ said Mrs. Sharland.  ’I cannot control you.  I don’t
pretend to.  My wishes and my feelings are nothing to you.’

Mehalah did not notice this peevish remark, she was accustomed to her
mother’s fretfulness.  She threw the little anchor on the gravel at the
’hard,’ and jumped on shore.  She ascended the hill and stood by the
scorched black patch which marked her old home. The house had burned to
the last stick, leaving two brick chimneys standing gauntly alone.
There was the old hearth at which she had so often crouched, bare, cold,
and open.  A few bricks had been blown from the top of the chimney, but
otherwise it was intact.

As she stood looking sadly on the relics, Abraham Dowsing came up.

’What are you doing here?’

’I have come away from Red Hall, Abraham,’ she said gaily, ’I do not
think I have been so happy for many a day.’

’When are you going back?’

’Never.’

’Who then is to prepare me my wittles?’ he asked sullenly.  ’I ain’t
going to be put off with anything.’

’I do not know, Abraham.’

’But I must know.  Now go back again, and don’t do what’s wrong and
foolish.  You ought to be there, and mistress there too.  Then all will
run smooth, and I’ll get my wittles as I like them.’

’You need not speak of that, Abraham, I shall never return to Red Hall.
I have quitted it and I hope have seen the last of the hateful house and
its still more hateful master.’

’I wonder,’ mused the shepherd, ’whether I could arrange with Rebow to
get my wittles from the Rose.’

’That is where I am going to.’

’Oh!’ his face lightened, ’then I don’t mind.  Do what you think best.’
His face darkened again.  ’But I doubt whether the master will keep me
on when you have left.  I reckon he only takes me because of you; he
thinks you wouldn’t like it, if I was to be turned adrift.  No.  You had
better go back to Red Hall. Make yourself as comfortable as you can.
That’s my doctrine.’

Presently the old man asked, ’I say, does the master know you have
left?’

’No, Abraham.’

’Are you sure?’

’I never told him.’

’Did your mother know you had made up your mind to leave?’

’Yes, I told her so a week ago.’

’And you suppose she has kept her mouth shut? She couldn’t do it.’

’If Elijah had suspected we were going to-day,’ said Mehalah, ’I do not
think he would have left home; he would have endeavoured to prevent me.’

’Perhaps.  But he’s deep.’

’Good day, Abraham!’  She waved him a farewell with a smile.  She knew,
and made allowance for the humours of the old man.  In a moment she was
again by her mother, at the oar, and speeding with the flowing tide up
the Rhyn to the ’hard’ at its head belonging to the Rose Inn.

’Have you brought the toad-jug with you, Mehalah?’

’No, mother.’

’Nor the china dogs?’

’No, mother.’

’It is of no use, I will not live at the Rose.  I will not get out of
the boat.  I must have all my property about me.’

’I will fetch the other things away.  When you are housed safely, then I
shall not care.  I will go back and bring away all our goods.’

’You are so rough.  I won’t let anyone handle the china but myself.
Last time the poodles were moved, you know one lost a ear and a bit of
its tail.  There is no one fit to touch such things but me.  Those
rough-handed fellows, Jim and Joe, what do they know of the value of
those dogs?  You will promise me, Mehalah, to be gentle with them.  Put
them in the foot of a pair of stockings and wrap the legs round them,
and then perhaps they will travel.  I wouldn’t have them lose any more
of their precious persons,—no, not for worlds,—not for worlds.’

’I will take heed, mother.’

’And mind and stuff my old nightcap,—the dirty one, I mean—and my
bedsocks into the toad-jug, then it won’t break.  You’ll promise me
that, won’t you; if that were injured, I’d as soon die as see it.’

’I will use the utmost precaution with it.’

’Then there are the soup plates, of Lowestoft.  I had them of my father,
and he had them of his grandmother; there’s a dozen of them, and not a
chip or a crack.  True beauties as ever you saw, I think you’d best put
them in the folds of some of my linen.  Put them between the sheets,
wide apart, in the spruce hutch.’

’All right, mother; now hold hard, here we are.’

The boat grated on the bottom, and then it was drawn up by a firm hand.
Mehalah looked round and started.

Elijah and two other men were there.  Elijah had stepped into the water,
and pulled the boat ashore.

’Here we are, Glory!’ he said, ’waiting ready for you.  The sheriff’s
officer with his warrant, all ready. You haven’t kept us waiting long.’

’What is that?  What is that?’ screamed Mrs. Sharland.

’Step out, Glory! step out, mistress!’ said Elijah.

’What is the meaning of this?’ asked Mehalah, a cloud suddenly darkening
her sky and quenching the joy of her heart.

’I’ve a warrant against you, madam,’ said the man who stood by Rebow.
’Please to read it.’  He held it out.

’What is this?’ screamed Mrs. Sharland, rising in the boat and
staggering forwards.  Mehalah helped her on shore.

’This is what it is,’ answered Rebow.  ’You and Glory there are my
tenants for the Ray.  The farm is mine, with the marshes and the
saltings.  I gave eight hundred pounds for it.  You’ve burnt down my
premises, between you, you and Glory there.  You’ve robbed me of a
hundred or two hundred pounds worth of property with your wilfulness or
carelessness.  Now, I want to know, how is it you have not built up my
farmhouse again?’

’I can’t do it.  I haven’t the money!’ wailed Mrs. Sharland.  ’I am
sure, Master Rebow, there was nothing but pure accident in the fire.  I
never thought——’

’Pure accident!’ scoffed Elijah.  ’Do you call that pure accident,
soaking the whole chamber in spirits, with a fire burning on the hearth,
and dashing the cask staves here and there, on the fire and off it.’

Mehalah looked at him.

’Ah, ha!  Glory!  You think I don’t know it. You think I didn’t see you!
Why, I was at the window.  I saw you do it.  Tell me, mother, did not
Glory smash the keg I had just given you?’

’I believe she did, Elijah!  I am very sorry.  I did my best to stop
her, but she is a perverse, rebellious girl.  You must forgive her, she
intended no harm.’

’If you saw me do it, why did you let the house catch fire?’ asked
Mehalah, looking hard in Rebow’s face.

’Could I help it?’ he asked in reply.  ’There you sat by the hearth, and
no harm came of it.  At last you went out, and locked and double-locked
the door. I went down to my boat.  I tell you, I was uneasy, and I
looked back, and I saw by the light in the room that the spirit had
caught.  I ran back and tried to get in.  The floor was flaming.’

’The floor was of brick,’ said Mehalah.

’The door was fast locked.  You know best why you locked it.  It never
was fastened before that night. You screwed on the lock, then you went
out of the place yourself, leaving the room on fire, and fastened the
door that none might get in.’

’A lie!’ exclaimed the girl.

’Is it a lie?  I don’t think it.  I can’t cipher out your doings any
other way.  I tried to break open the door, but you had put too stout a
fastening on.  Then I burst open the window, and when the wind got in,
it made the fire rage worse.  So I ran and shouted to my men in the big
boat, and I got a balk and I stove the door in, and then it was too late
to do more than save your mother and her goods.  As for you, you left
her and them to burn together; you wanted to be off and free of her.  I
know you.’

’Oh, Master Rebow!  I know I’m a burden to her, but she would not do
that!’ put in Mrs. Sharland.

’Why did you watch me?’ asked Mehalah, and then regretted that she had
put the question.

’You see,’ said Elijah turning to the officer, ’she didn’t think anyone
was near to give evidence against her.’

’Here I am,’ said Mehalah, ’put me in prison, do with me what you will.
I am innocent of all intent to burn the farm.’

’I could hang you for it,’ laughed Elijah.  ’That pretty neck where the
red handkerchief hangs so jauntily would not look well with a hemp rope
round it.  You’d dangle on the Ray, where the house stood. You’d have a
black cap then pulled over those dark eyes and brown skin, not a red
one, not a red one, Glory!’ he rubbed his hands.

’I have no warrant against you,’ said the bailiff to Mehalah.  ’You
stand charged with nothing.  The warrant is against your mother.’

’Against me?  What will you do with me?’ cried the old woman.

’You must go to prison if you cannot build the house up again, and
restore it as good as it was to the landlord.  He can’t be at a loss by
your neglect.’

’I cannot do it.  I have not the money.’

’Then you must go to prison till you get it.’

Mrs. Sharland sank on the gravel.  She wept and wrung her hands.  This
was worse than the burning of the house, worse even than the lesion of
the ear and tail of the poodle.

’I won’t go.  I can’t go!’ she sobbed.  ’I’ve the ague so bad.  I suffer
from rheumatism in all my bones. Let me alone,’ she pleaded, ’and I
promise I’ll go to bed and never get out of it again.’

’You’ll suffer in prison, I can promise you,’ said Elijah exultingly.
’You’ll have no bed to crawl into, unless you can pay for it; you’ll
have no blankets to wrap round you in the cold frosty night, if you
can’t pay for them; you’ll have no fire to shiver by when there is ice
on the ponds, if you haven’t money to pay for it.  The frost in your
bones will make you shriek and jabber in prison.’

’I have no money.  I gave the last to pay off Mrs. De Witt,’ wailed the
wretched woman.  ’But there are the sheep.’

’They go to pay your rent up to Lady Day, aye, and till Michaelmas.  I
haven’t had notice yet that you are about to quit.  You can’t give up
the farm without, and I will exact every penny of my rent.’

’Then I am at your mercy,’ sobbed Mrs. Sharland. She turned to Mehalah
and pleaded, ’Haven’t you a word to say, to save me?’

The girl was silent.  What could she say?

’Come along, madam, it is of no use.  The warrant is here, and come
along you must.’

’I will not go to prison.  I will not.  I shall die of cold and ague and
rheumatics there.  My bones will burst like water-pipes, and I’ll shiver
the teeth out of my jaws and the nails off my fingers and toes.  I won’t
go!’ she screamed.  ’You must carry me, I can’t walk. I’m a dying old
woman.’

’Would you like to go back to Red Hall?’ asked Elijah gravely.

’Oh!  Master Rebow, if I might!  I could shiver in comfort.’

’You and Glory!  You and Glory!’  He looked from one to the other.  ’I
don’t take back one without the other.’

’Take me back!’ wailed Mrs. Sharland.  ’I know you won’t be so cruel as
to send me to prison.  Let me go back to my armchair; Mehalah! promise
him everything.’

’I will promise him nothing,’ she said gloomily. ’If ever I hated this
man, I hate him now.’

’Then she must go to prison,’ growled Rebow. ’Now look you here, Glory!
I don’t ask much.  I only ask you to go back with your mother, and work
for me as you have worked hitherto.  I do not say a word about anything
else.  You thought to escape me.  You cannot.  I have told you all along
that it is impossible. As for the future, let the future determine.  I
wish to let you take your own course.  I will not say another word about
my wishes, till you come to me, of your own accord, and say that you
will be mine.  There!  I promise you that.  I will not force you any
further; but I will not allow you to leave my house.  There you must
remain till you come to me and bid me take you, till you come and give
yourself freely into my hands. Do you hear me, Glory?’

’Mehalah, save me,’ pleaded Mrs. Sharland.  ’Do what you can to save me
from prison.  Did I not lay by for you when I was a widow and needy?
And will you refuse me this?’

’One thing or another,’ said Rebow.  ’Either your mother rots in prison,
with no escape possible till she goes out to her grave in a pauper’s
shell, or you and she return at once to Red Hall, on the same conditions
as you have been there hitherto, on the conditions you proposed
yourself.’

Mehalah trembled.

’Let us go back,’ said Mrs. Sharland.  ’Help me into the boat.  He
couldn’t have spoken more fair. You see, Mehalah, the Ray house is a
great loss to him, and he gave eight hundred pounds for it.’

’And the marshes, and the saltings, and for you and Glory, and all
things,’ put in Rebow.

Mehalah held out her arms.  Her head swam; she stood as though balancing
herself on a high wall.  Then she clasped her hands over her forehead,
and burst into a storm of tears.

’Jim!’ said Elijah, ’get the old doll into the stern, and you row her
back to Red Hall.  Take her under your arm and chuck her in anyhow.’

He looked at the convulsed girl with an ugly smile of triumph.

’Give me the warrant, bailiff!’  He took the paper, held it under
Mehalah’s eyes and tore it in pieces, and scattered them over the water.

’Shove off, Jim.  Row the old bundle back quick. Glory and I are going
to drive home.’

Mehalah looked up, with a gasp as though stung.

’Yes, Glory!  To-day is Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day it is.  I have
my little gig here.  It accommodates two beautifully.  I am going to
take you up by my side, and drive you home, _home_, to your home and
mine, Glory, in it; and all along the road, here at the Rose where the
horse is standing, at Peldon, at Salcott and Virley,—all along the
road,—at the parson’s, at the Rising Sun, at Farmer Goppin’s,—everywhere
I’ll let them see that I’m out a-junketing to-day along with my
Valentine.’

All power of resistance was gone from Mehalah. The landlady at the Rose
looked at her with pitying eyes, as she was helped up into the gig.

’I thought you was coming to us,’ said the woman.

’You thought wrong,’ answered Elijah with a boisterous laugh.  ’Glory is
coming back to me.  We’ve had a bit of a tiff, but have made it up.
Haven’t we, Glory?’

The girl’s head fell in shame on her bosom.  She could not speak, but
the tears rolled out of her eyes and streaked the ’Gloriana’ on her
breast.

He did not say a word to her as he drove home; but he stopped wherever
she had halted a few days before.  At Peldon farm he drew up, and struck
at the door.  He asked if there was a bullock there to be sold.  The
woman came into the garden with him.

’Out a Valentining along with my lass,’ he said, indicating Mehalah with
his whip over his shoulder.

He arrested his horse at the parson’s cottage, and shouted till the door
opened, and Mr. Rabbit appeared, with Mrs. Rabbit behind his back,
peeping over his shoulder.

’I say,’ roared Rebow, ’one of those cursed brats of yours has been on
my marshes plaguing my cows, and has run two of them lame.  Let him try
it on again, let him put his foot on my ground, and I’ll cut it off, and
send him limping home.’

He stopped at the Rising Sun and called for spirits, and offered some to
Mehalah.  She turned aside her head in disgust; he drove up to Virley
Hall farm, and into the yard, and called forth Farmer Goppin and his
wife.

’I tell you,’ he said, ’one of my cattle has been straying, I don’t
suppose she has done damage; she got into this here yard, I’m told.  You
turned her out. I’m a man of few words, but I thank ye.  I am carrying
her home before she is pounded.’

And then he drove straight to Red Hall.

Mehalah descended, crushed, broken, no more herself, the bold haughty
girl of the Ray.  She crept upstairs, took off her red cap and tore it
with her hands and teeth.  Her liberty was for ever gone from her.

Her mother was in their common bedroom, the boat had returned before the
cart, for the way by water was the shortest, and tide had favoured.  The
old woman babbled about her grievances, and rejoiced at Rebow’s
magnanimity.  She was busy replacing all the little articles that had
been carried away, and were now brought back.

Mehalah could not endure the thrumming of her talk, and she hid herself
in a corner of the little inner apartment, an empty room lighted by a
small triangular window.  There she crouched in the corner, on the
ground, with her head on her knees and her hands in her hair behind.
She sat there motionless.  The fountain of her tears was dried up.  The
hectic flames burned in her cheeks, but all the rest of her face was
deadly in its pallor.  She could not think, she could not feel.  She had
experienced but one such another period of agony, that when the medal
was restored and she knew that George was lost to her.  That moment was
sweet to this.  That was one of pure pain, this of pain and humiliation,
of crushed pride, of honour trampled and dragged in the dirt.  Her
self-respect had had its death-wound, and she sat and let her heart
bleed away.  Once or twice she put her hand on the floor.  She thought
that that must have been flooded with blood and tears, as if, when she
took her hand up, it must be steeped red.  It was not so.

But the soul has its ichor as well as the heart, and when it is cut deep
into it also drains away, and is left empty, pulseless, pallid.  Mrs.
Sharland came in and spoke to her daughter, but got no answer.  Mehalah
looked up at her, but there was no expression in her eyes, she did not
hear, or if she heard, did not understand what was said to her.  The old
woman went away muttering.

The evening fell, and Mehalah still sat crouched in her corner.  The
golden triangle which had stood on the wall opposite her had moved to
her side, turned to silver, and now was but a nebulous patch on the
white plaster.  With the death of the day some abatement came to
Mehalah’s distress.  She moved her cramped limbs.  She rose to her
knees, and fixed her eyes on the sky that glimmered grey through the
triangular window. A star was hanging there.  She saw it, and looked at
it long, it shone through her eyes and down into the dark abyss in her
soul.  By little her ideas began to shape themselves; recollections of
the past formed over that despairing gulf; she could not think of the
present; she had not the power or the will to look into the future.

A year had passed since, on such an evening as this, looking on that
star, she had stood with George de Witt on the Ray beneath the thorn
trees, and he had gaily called her his Valentine, and given her in jest
a picture of the Goddess of Liberty as proclaimed in Paris, wearing the
bonnet rouge.  She a goddess!  She who was now so weak.  Her power was
gone.  Liberty! She had none.  She was a slave.

She drew herself up on her knees, and strained her united fingers, with
the palms outward, towards that glittering star, and moaned, ’My
Valentine!  My George, my George!’

Suddenly, as if in answer to that wail from her wounded heart, there
came a crash, and then loud, pealing, agonising, a cry from below out of
the depths, and yet in the air about—’Glory!  Glory!  Glory!’



                             *CHAPTER XX.*

                            *IN PROFUNDUM.*


The cry roused Mehalah, as a step into cold water is a shock bringing a
somnambulist instantly to full consciousness.

In a minute she was outside the house, looking for the person whose
appeal had struck her ear.  She saw the wooden shutter that had closed
the window of the madman’s den broken, hanging by one hinge.  Two
bleached, ghostly hands were stretched through the bars, clutching and
opening.

At his door, above the steps, stood Elijah.

’Hah!  Glory!’ he said, ’has the crazed fool’s shout brought you down?’

She was stepping towards the window.  Rebow ran down before her.

’Go in!’ he shouted to his brother.  ’Curse you, you fool! breaking the
shutter and yelling out, scaring the whole house.’  He had a whip, a
great carter’s whip in his hand, and he smacked it.  The hands
disappeared instantly.

’Bring me a hammer and nails,’ ordered Rebow. ’You will find them in the
window of the hall.’

Mehalah obeyed.  Rebow patched up the shutter temporarily.  There were
iron bars to the window. The wooden cover had a small hole in it to
admit a little light.  During the summer the shutter was removed.  It
was used to exclude the winter cold.

’Why did he call me?’ asked Mehalah.

’He did not.’

’I heard his cry.  He called me thrice, Glory! Glory!  Glory!’

’He was asking for his victuals,’ said Rebow, with a laugh.  ’Look you
here, Glory!  I have been alone in this house so long, and have thought
of you, and brooded on you, and had none to speak to about you. At last
I took to teaching my brother your name.  I wouldn’t give him his food
till he said it.  I taught him like a parrot.  I made him speak your
name, as you make a dog sit up and beg for a bit of bread.  I’ve been
about on the road all day, on account of your perversity and wilfulness,
and so forgot to give my brother his food.  But I don’t care.  He had no
right to smash the shutter and yell out the way he has.  I’ll punish him
for it.  I’ll lay into him with the whip, so as he shall not forget.
He’ll be quieter in future.’

’Do not,’ said Mehalah.  ’It is a shame; it is wicked to treat a poor
afflicted wretch thus.’

’Oh! you are turned advocate, are you?  You take the side of a madman
against the sane.  That is like a perverse creature such as you.  What
has he done for you, that you should try to save his back?’

’No mercy is to be looked for at your hands,’ said Mehalah sullenly.

’Look you here, Glory! the moon is full, and that always makes him
madder.  I have to keep him short of food, and strap his shoulders, or
he would tear the walls down in his fury.’

’Let me attend to him,’ asked Mehalah.

’You’d be afraid of him.’

’I should pity him,’ said the girl.  ’He and I are both wretched, both
your victims, both prisoners, wearing your chains.’

’You have no chains round you, Glory.’

’Have I not?  I have, invisible, may be, but firmer, colder, more given
to rust into and rub the flesh than those carried by that poor captive.
I have tried to break away, but I cannot.  You draw me back.’

’I told you I could.  I have threads to every finger, and I can move you
as I will.  I can bring you into my arms.’

’That—never,’ said Mehalah gloomily and leisurely.

’You think not?’

’I am sure not.  You may boast of your power over me.  You have a power
over me, but that power has its limits.  I submit now, but only for my
mother’s sake.  Were she not dependent wholly on me, were she dead, I
would defy you and be free, free as the gull yonder.’

Elijah put his hand inside his door, drew out his gun, and in a moment
the gull was seen to fall.

’She is not dead,’ said Mehalah, with a gleam of triumph in her sad
face.

’No, but winged.  The wretch will flutter along disabled.  She will try
to rise, and each effort will give her mortal agony, and grind the
splintered bones together and make the blood bleed away.  She will skim
a little while above the water, but at length will fall into the waves
and be washed ashore dead.’

’Yes,’ said Mehalah; ’you will not kill, but wound—wound to the quick.’

’That is about it, Glory!’

’Let me repeat my request,’ she said; ’allow me to attend to your
brother.  I must have someone, some thing, to pity and minister to.’

’You can minister to me.’

’So I do.’

’And you can pity me.’

’Pity you!’ with scorn.

’Aye.  I am to be pitied, for here am I doing all I can to win the heart
of a perverse and stubborn girl, and I meet with nothing but contempt
and hate.  I am to be pitied.  I am a man; I love you, and am defied and
repulsed, and fled from as though I had the pestilence, and my house
were a plague hospital.’

’Will you let me attend to your brother?’

’No, I will not.’

The shutter was dashed off its hinges, flung out into the yard, and the
two ghastly hands were again seen strained through the bars.  Again
there rang out in the gathering night the piteous cry, ’Glory!  Glory!
Glory!’

’By God! you hound,’ yelled Elijah, and he raised his whip to bring it
down in all its cutting force on the white wrists.

’I cannot bear it.  I will not endure it!’ cried Mehalah, and she
arrested the blow.  She caught the stick and wrenched it out of the hand
of Rebow before he could recover from his surprise, and broke it over
her knee and flung it into the dyke that encircled the yard.  There was,
however, no passion in her face, she acted deliberately, and her brown
cheek remained unflushed.  ’I take his cry as an appeal to me, and I
will protect him from your brutality.’

’You are civil,’ sneered Elijah.  ’What are you in this house?  A
servant, you say.  Then you should speak and act as one.  No, Glory! you
know you are not, and cannot be, a servant.  You shall be its mistress.
I forgive you what you have done, for you are asserting your place and
authority.  Only do not cry out and protest if in future I speak to the
workmen of you as the mistress.’

A hard expression settled on Mehalah’s brow and eyes.  She turned away.

’Are you going?  Have you not a parting word, mistress?’

’Go!’ she said, in a tone unlike that usual with her.  ’I care for
nothing.  I feel for no one.  I am without a heart.  Do what you will
with that brother of yours.  I am indifferent to him and to his fate.
Everything in the world is all one to me now.  If you had let me think
for the poor creature and feed him, and attend to him, I might have
become reconciled to being here; I could at least have comforted my soul
with the thought that I was ministering to the welfare of one unhappy
wretch and lightening his lot.  But now,’ she shrugged her shoulders.
’Now everything is all one to me.  I can laugh,’ she did so, harshly.
’There is nothing in the world that I care for now, except my mother,
and I do not know that I care very much for her now.  I feel as if I had
no heart, or that mine were frozen in my bosom.’

’You do not care now for your mother!’ exclaimed Rebow.  ’Then leave her
here to my tender mercy, and go out into the world and seek your
fortune.  Go on the tramp like your gipsy ancestry.’

’Leave my mother to your mercy!’ echoed Mehalah. ’To the mercy of you,
who could cut your poor crazed brother over the fingers with a great
horsewhip!  To you, who have stung and stabbed at my self-respect till
it is stupefied; who have treated me, whom you profess to love, as I
would not treat a marsh briar.[1]  Never.  Though my heart may be
stunned or dead, yet I have sufficient instinct to stand by and protect
her who brought me into the world and nursed me, when I was helpless.
As for you, I do not hate you any more than I love you.  You are nothing
to me but a coarse, ill-conditioned dog.  I will beat you off with a
hedge-stake if you approach me nearer than I choose.  If you keep your
distance and keep to yourself, you will not occupy a corner of my
thoughts.  I take my course, you take yours.’  She walked moodily away
and regained her room.


[1] Horse-fly.


Mrs. Sharland began at once a string of queries. She wanted to know who
had cried out and alarmed them, what Mehalah had been saying to Rebow,
whether she had come to her senses at last, how long she was going to
sulk, and so on.

Mehalah answered her shortly and rudely; that the cry had come from the
madman, that he meant nothing by it, he had been taught to yell thus
when he wanted food, that he had been neglected by his brother and was
distressed; as for her mother’s other questions, she passed them by
without remark, and brushing in front of the old woman, went into the
inner chamber.

’Mehalah!’ called Mrs. Sharland.  ’I will not have you glouting in there
any longer.  Come out.’

The girl paid no attention to her.  She leaned her head against the wall
and put her hands to her ears. Her mother’s voice irritated her.  She
wanted quiet.

’This is too much of a good thing,’ said the old woman, going in after
her.  ’Come away, Mehalah, you have your work to do, and it must be
done.’

’You are right,’ answered the girl in a hard tone, ’I am a servant, and
I will do my work.  I will go down at once.’  She knitted her brows, and
set her teeth. Her complexion was dull and dead.  Her hair was in
disorder, and fell about her shoulders.  She twisted it up carelessly,
and tied it round her head with George’s handkerchief.

When she returned, her mother was in bed, and half-asleep.  Mehalah went
to the window, the window that looked towards the Ray, and drawing the
curtains behind her, remained there, her head sunk, but her eyes never
wavering from the point where her home had been when she was happy, her
heart free, and her self-respect unmangled.  So passed hour after hour.
There was full moon, but the sky was covered with clouds white as curd,
scudding before a north-west wind. The moon was dulled but hardly
obscured every now and then, and next moment glared out in naked
brilliancy.

Everything in the house was hushed.  Elijah had gone to bed.  Mehalah
had heard his heavy tread on the stair, and the bang of his door as he
shut it; it had roused her, she turned her head, and her face grew
harder in the cold moonlight.  Then she looked back towards the Ray.

Her mother was asleep.  The starlings and sparrows who had worked their
way under the eaves, and were building nests between the ceiling and the
tiles, stirred uneasily; they were cold and hungry and could not sleep.
Anyone not knowing what stirred would have supposed that mice were
holding revel in the attics. There yonder on the marsh was something
very white, like paper, flapping and flashing in the moonlight. What
could it be?  It moved a little way, then blew up and fell and flapped
again.  Was it a sheet of paper?  If so how came it not to be swept away
by the rushing wind.  No, it was no sheet of paper.  Mehalah’s curiosity
was roused.  She opened the window and looked out.  At the same moment
it rose, fluttered nearer, eddied up, and fell again.  A cloud drifted
over the moon and made the marsh grey, and in the shadow the restless
object was lost, the flash of white was blotted over.  When the moon
gleamed out again, she saw it once more.  It did not move.  The wind
tore by, and shook the casement in her hand, but did not lift and blow
away that white object.  Then there was a lull.  The air was still for a
moment.  At that moment the white object moved again, rose once more and
fluttered up, it was flying, it was nearing,—it fell on the roof of the
bakehouse under the window.  Now Mehalah saw what this was.  It was the
wounded gull, the bird Rebow had shot.

The miserable creature was struggling with a broken wing, and with
distilling blood, to escape to sea, to die, and drop into the dark,
tossing, foaming waves, to lose itself in infinity.  It could not expire
on the land, it must seek its native element, the untamed, unconfined
sea; it could not give forth its soul on the trampled, reclaimed,
hedged-in earth.

Was it not so with Glory?  Could her free soul rest where she now was?
Could it endure for ever this tyranny of confinement within impalpable
walls?  She who had lived, free as a bird, to be blown here and there by
every impulse, when every impulse was fresh and pure as the unpolluted
breath of God that rushes over the ocean.  Was she not wounded by the
same hand that had brought down the white mew?  There she was
fluttering, rising a little, again falling, her heart dim with tears,
her life’s vigour bleeding away, the white of her bosom smeared with
soil that adhered, as she draggled in the mire, into which he had cast
her. Whither was she tending?  She turned her face out to sea—it lay
stretched before her ink-black.  Red Hall and its marshes were to her a
prison, and freedom was beyond its sea-wall.

She was startled by a sound as of bricks falling. She listened without
curiosity.  The sound recurred again, and was followed after a while by
a grating noise, and then a rattle as of iron thrown down.  She heard
nothing further for a few minutes, and sank back into her dull dream,
and watching of the poor mew, that now beat its wings on the roof, and
then slid off and disappeared.  Was it dead now?  It did not matter.
Mehalah could not care greatly for a bird.  But presently from out of
the shadow of the bakehouse floated a few white feathers.  The gull was
still wending its way on, with unerring instinct, towards the rolling
sea. Just then Mehalah heard a thud, as though some heavy body had
fallen, accompanied by a short clank of metal. She would have paid it no
further attention had she not been roused by seeing the madman striding
and then jumping, with the chain wound round one arm.  He looked up at
the moon, his matted hair was over his face, and Mehalah could not
distinguish the features. He ran across the yard, and then leaped the
dyke and went off at long bounds, like a kangaroo, over the pasture
towards the sea-wall.

Mehalah drew back.  What should she do?  Should she rouse Elijah, and
tell him that his brother had wrenched off the grating of his window and
worked his way out, and was now at large in the glare of moon on the
marshes, leaping and rejoicing in his freedom?  No, she would not.  Let
the poor creature taste of liberty, inhale the fresh, pure air, caper
and race about under no canopy but that of God’s making.  She would not
curtail his time of freedom by an hour.  He would suffer severely for
his evasion on the morrow, when Elijah would call out his men, and they
would hunt the poor wretch down like a wild beast.  She could see Rebow
stand over him with his great dog-whip, and strike him without mercy.
She rouse Rebow!  She reconsign the maniac to his dark dungeon, with its
dank floor and stifling atmosphere!  The gull was forgotten now; its
little strivings overlooked in anxiety for the mightier strivings of the
human sufferer.  Yet all these three were bound together by a common
tie! Each was straining for the infinite, and for escape from thraldom;
one with a broken wing, one with a broken brain, one with a broken
heart.  There was the wounded bird flapping and edging its way outwards
to the salt sea.  There was the dazed brain driving the wretched man in
mad gambols along the wall to the open water. There was the bruised soul
of the miserable girl yearning for something, she knew not what, wide,
deep, eternal, unlimited, as the all-embracing ocean.  In that the bird,
the man, the maid sought freedom, rest, recovery.

She could not go to bed and leave the poor maniac thus wandering
unwatched.  She would go out and follow him, and see that no harm came
to him.

She took off her shoes, shut the window.  Her mother was sleeping
soundly.  She undid the door and descended the stairs.  They creaked
beneath her steps, but Rebow, who had slept through the noise made by
his brother in effecting his escape, was not awakened by her footfall.
She unlocked the back door, closed it, and stole forth.

As she passed the bakehouse she lit on the wounded bird.  In a spasm of
sympathy she bent and took it up. It made a frantic effort to escape,
and uttered its wild, harsh screams; but she folded her hands over the
wings and held the bird to her bosom and went on.  The blood from the
broken bone and torn flesh wet her hand, and dried on it like glue.  She
heeded it not, but walked forward.  By the raw moonlight she saw the
madman on the wall.  He had thrown down his chain.  He heeded it not
now.  There had been sufficient intelligence or cunning in his brain to
bid him deaden its clanking when making his escape from the house.

He sprang into the air and waved his arms; his wild hair blew about in
the wind, it looked like seaweed tangles.  Then he sat down.  Mehalah
did not venture on the wall, but crept along in the marsh.  He had got a
stone, and was beating at his chain with it upon the stone casing of the
wall on the sea face.  He worked at it patiently for an hour, and at
last broke one of the links.  He waved the chain above his head with a
shout, and flung it behind him into the marsh.  He ran on. Mehalah stole
after him.  He never looked back, always forwards or upwards.  Sometimes
he danced and shouted and sang snatches to the moon when it flared out
from behind a cloud.  Once, when at a bend of the wall, his shadow was
cast before him, he cowered back from it, jabbering, and putting his
hands supplicatingly towards it; then he slipped down the bank, laughed,
and ran across the marsh, with his shadow behind him, and thought in his
bewildered brain that he had cunningly eluded and escaped the figure
that stood before him to stop him.  He reached the mill that worked the
pump. He must have remembered it: it was mixed up somehow with the
confused recollections in his brain, for it did not seem to startle or
frighten him.  He scarcely noticed it, but, uttering a howl, a wild,
triumphant shout, sprang upon a duck punt hauled up on the wall. It was
Elijah’s punt, left there occasionally, quite as often as at the landing
near the house, a small, flat-bottomed boat, painted white, with a pair
of white, muffled oars in it.

In a moment, before Mehalah had considered what to do, or whether she
could do anything, he had run the punt down into the water, and had
seated himself in it, and taken the oars and struck out to sea, out
towards the open, towards the unbounded horizon.

He rowed a little way, not very far, and then stood up.  He could not
apparently endure to face the land, the place of long confinement, he
must turn and look out to sea.

Mehalah stood on the sea-wall.  The waves were lapping at her feet.  The
tide had turned.  It flowed at midnight, and midnight was just past.
She had forgotten the gull she bore, in her alarm for the man, she
opened her arms, and the bird fluttered down and fell into the water.

The moon was now swimming in a clear space of sky free of cloudfloes.
In that great light the man was distinctly visible, standing, waving his
arms in the white punt, drifting, not rapidly, but steadily outwards. In
that great light went out also, on the same cold, dark water, the dying
bird, that now stirred not a wing.

Mehalah watched motionless, with a yearning in her heart that she could
not understand, her arms extended towards that boundless expanse towards
which the man and the bird were being borne, and into which they were
fading.  He was singing!  Some old, childish lay of days that were
happy, before the shadow fell.

There stood Glory, looking, indistinctly longing, till her eyes were
filled with tears.  She looked on through the watery vail, but saw
nothing.  When she wiped it away she saw nothing.  She watched till the
day broke, but she saw nothing more.



                             *CHAPTER XXI.*

                               *IN VAIN!*


Mrs. De Witt was not happy, taken all in all.  There were moments indeed
of conviviality when she boasted that she was now what she had always
wanted to be, independent, and with none to care for but herself, ’none
of them bullet-headed, shark-bellied men to fuss and worrit about.’  But
she laboured, like the moon, under the doom of passing through phases,
and one of these was dark and despondent.  As she lay in her bunk of a
raw morning, and contemplated her toes in the grey light that fell
through the hatches, she was forced to admit that her financial position
was not established on a secure basis.  It reposed on smelt, shrimps,
dabs and eels, a fluctuating, an uncertain foundation.  She strode about
the island and the nearest villages on the mainland, with a basket on
her arm, containing a half-pint measure, and a load of shrimps, or swung
a stick in her hand from which depended slimy eels.  She did a small
trade at the farm-houses, and reaped some small retail profits. The
farmers’ wives were accustomed to see her in sunshine habited in scarlet
more or less mottled with crimson, in storm wearing a long grey military
great coat.  In summer a flapping straw hat adorned her head; in winter
a fur cap with a great knob at the top, and fur lappets over her ears.
In compliment to her condition of mourner a big black bow was sewn to
the summit of the knob, and she looked like a knight helmeted, bearing
as crest a butterfly displayed, sable. It was seldom that she was
dismissed from a farmhouse without having disposed of a few shrimps, or
some little fish; for if she were not given custom regularly, she took
huff and would not call with her basket again, till an apology were
offered, and she was entreated to return.

The profits of the trade were not however considerable, and such as they
were underwent reduction on all her rounds.  She consumed the major part
of them in her orbit at the ’Fountain,’ the ’Fox,’ the ’Leather Bottle’
or the ’Dog and Pheasant.’  In the bar of each of these ancient taverns,
Mrs. De Witt was expected and greeted as cordially as at the
farm-kitchen.  There she was wont to uncasque, and ruffle out her white
cap, and turn out her pockets to count her brass.  There also this brass
underwent considerable diminution.  The consumption of her profits
generally left Mrs. De Witt in a condition rather the worse than the
better.  She was a sinking fund that sucked in her capital.  However
cheery of face, and crisp of gathers, Mrs. De Witt may have started on
her mercantile round, the close saw her thick of speech, leery of eye,
festoony of walk, vague in her calculations, reckless of measurement
with her little pewter half-pint, and generally crumpled in cap and
garment.  If she were still able to rattle a few coppers in her pocket
when she stumbled up the ladder, toppled down into the hold, and tumbled
into her bunk, she was happy. She was her own mistress, she had no
helpless, foolish man, husband or son, to consider, and before whom to
veil her indiscretions; she pulled up the ladder as soon as she was
home; and, as she said, sat up for no one but herself.

She had not quite reconciled her smoking to her conscience, when she had
a son to set a model of life to, before whom to posture as the ideal of
womanhood and maternity; then when his foot was heard on the ladder she
would slip her clay into the oven, and murmur something about a pinch
out of her snuff-box having fallen on the stove, or about her having
smoked her best gown as a preventive to moth.  Now she smoked with
composure, and turned over in her mind the various possibilities that
lay before her.  Should she bow to the hard necessity of leading about a
tame man again, or should she remain in her present condition of
absolute freedom?  The five-and-twenty pounds had nearly disappeared,
and she was not certain that she could live in comfort on her gains by
the trade in shrimps and eels.

Mrs. De Witt was a moralist, and when nearly drunk religious.  She was
not a church-goer, but she was fond of convivial piety.  Over her cups
she had a great deal to say of her neighbours’ moral shortcomings and of
her own religious emotions.  When in a state of liquor she was always
satisfied that she was in a state of grace.  In her sober hours she
thought of nothing save how to make both ends meet.  She mused on her
future, and hovered in her choice, she feared that sooner or later she
must make her election, to take a man or to do without one.  The eagle
can gaze on the sun without blinking, but Mrs. De Witt could not fix her
eye on matrimony without the water coming into it.  That was a step she
would not take till driven to it by desperation.  The _Pandora’s_ bottom
was not all that could be wished, it was rotten.  Mrs. De Witt saw that
the repair of the _Pandora_ was a matter she could not compass.  When
she let in water, Mrs. De Witt would admit a husband.  Whilst a plank
remained impervious to the tide, so would her breast to matrimonial
dreams.

The spring tides came, and with them seawater oozing in at the rotted
joints of the vessel.  Mrs. De Witt was well aware of the presence of
bilgewater in the bottom.  Bilgewater has the faculty of insisting on
cognisance being taken of its presence.  Whenever she returned to the
_Pandora_, the odour affected her with horror, for it assured her that
her days of independence were numbered.  But all at once a new light
sprang up in the old lady’s mind, she saw a middle course open to her; a
way of maintaining a partial independence, on a certainty of
subsistence.

She had not returned the call made her by her nephew Elijah Rebow.  Half
a year had elapsed, but that was no matter.  Etiquette of high life does
not rule the grades to which the Rebows and De Witts belonged.  Why
should not she keep house for her nephew?  He was well off, and he was
little at home; his house was large, she would have free scope in it for
carrying on her own independent mode of life, and her keep would cost
her nothing.  That house had been her home.  In it she had been born and
nurtured. She had only left it to be incumbered with a husband and a
son.  Now she was free from these burdens, what more reasonable than
that she should return?  It was the natural asylum to which she must
flee in her necessity.

It was true indeed that Rebow had taken in Mrs. Sharland and Glory, but
what ties attached them to him equal to hers of flesh and blood.  Was
she not his aunt?

Now that Mrs. De Witt saw that it was clearly in her interest to
disestablish the Sharlands and install herself in their place, she saw
also, with equal clearness, that morality and religion impelled her to
take this course.  What was Elijah’s connection with Glory? Was it not a
public scandal, the talk of the neighbourhood? As aunt of Rebow was she
not in duty bound to interfere, to act a John the Baptist in that
Herod’s court, and condemn the intimacy as improper?

Mrs. De Witt pulled herself up, morally as well as physically, and in
habit also.  That is, she was sitting on her military coat tails, and
with a gathering sense of her apostleship of purity she shook them out,
she drew in at the same time the strings of her apron and of her cap,
tightened and lifted her bustle, so that the red military tails cocked
in an audacious and defiant—if not in an apostolic and missionary
manner. She ran her fingers through the flutings of her frills, to make
them stand out and form a halo round her face, like the corolla of white
round the golden centre of the daisy.  Then she drank off a noggin of
gin to give herself courage, and away she started, up the companion,
over the deck, and down the ladder, to row to Red Hall with her purpose
hot in her heart.

After the disappearance of the madman, Mehalah had returned to the house
and to her room.  She said nothing next day of what she had seen.
Elijah and his men had searched the marshes and found no trace of the
man save the broken chain.  That Rebow took back, and hung over his
chimney-piece.  He enquired in Salcott and Virley, but no one there had
seen anything of the unfortunate creature.  It was obvious that he had
not gone inland.  He had run outward, and when it was found that the
punt was gone, the conclusion arrived at was that the madman had left
the marshes in it.

Elijah rowed to Mersea, and made enquiries without eliciting any
information.  He went next to Bradwell on the south coast of the great
Black water estuary, there his punt had been found, washed ashore; but
no traces of the man were to be discovered.  That he was drowned
admitted of no doubt.  Rebow satisfied himself that this was the case,
and was content to be thus rid of an encumbrance.  Mehalah’s knowledge
of the matter was unsuspected, and she was therefore not questioned.
She did not feel any necessity for her to mention what she had seen.  It
could be of no possible advantage to anybody.

Her life became monotonous, but the monotone was one of gloom.  She had
lost every interest; she attended to her mother without heart; and
omitted those little acts of tenderness which had been customary with
her, or performed them, when her mother fretted at the omission, in a
cold, perfunctory manner. Mrs. Sharland had been accustomed to be
overruled by her daughter, but now Mehalah neither listened to nor
combated her recommendations.  She rarely spoke, but went through the
routine of her work in a mechanical manner.  Sometimes she spoke to her
mother in a hard, sharp tone the old woman was unused to, and resented;
but Mehalah ignored her resentment.  She cared neither for her mother’s
love nor for her displeasure.

When she met the men about the farm, if they addressed her, she repelled
them with rudeness, and if obliged to be present with them for some
time, did not speak.

Neither had she a word for Rebow.  She answered his questions with
monosyllables, or not at all, and he had often to repeat them before she
condescended to answer.  He spoke at meal times, and attempted to draw
her into conversation, but she either did not listen to him, was
occupied with her own thoughts, or she would not appear to hear and be
interested in what he said.

A morose expression clouded and disfigured her countenance, once so
frank and genial.  Joe remarked to Jim that she was growing like the
master.  Jim replied that folks who lived together mostly did resemble
one another.  He knew a collier who had a favourite bull-dog, and they
were as alike in face as if they were twins.

Mehalah avoided Abraham, she rarely spoke to him, and when he attempted
to open a conversation with her she withdrew abruptly.  When all her
work was done, she walked along the sea-wall to the spit of land, and,
seating herself there, remained silent, brooding, with dull, heavy eyes
looking out to sea at the passing sails, or the foaming waves.

She did not think, she sat sunk in a dull torpor. She neither hoped
anything nor recalled anything.  As she had said to Elijah, she neither
loved nor hated; she did not fear him or desire him.  She disliked to be
in his presence, but she would not fix her mind on him, and concern
herself about him.  Her self-respect was sick, and till that was
recovered nothing could interest and revive her.

Mehalah was seated under the windmill when Mrs. De Witt drew to land.
That lady was on her war-path, and on seeing the person whom she
designed to attack and rout out of her shelter, she turned the beak of
her boat directly upon her, and thrust ashore at Mehalah’s feet.

The sight of Mrs. De Witt in her red coat roused the girl from her
dream, and she rose wearily to her feet and turned to walk away.

’Glory!’ shouted the fishwife after her.  ’Sackalive! I want to speak to
you.  Stop at once.’

Mehalah paid no attention to the call, but walked on.  Mrs. De Witt was
incensed, and, after anchoring her boat, rushed after and overtook her.

’By Cock!’ exclaimed the lady, ’here’s manners! Didn’t you hear me
hollering to you to hold hard and heave to?’  She laid her hand on
Mehalah’s shoulder. The girl shook it off.

’Sackalive!’ cried Mrs. De Witt.  ’We are out of temper to-day.  We have
the meagrims.  What is all this about?  But I suppose you can’t fare to
look an honest woman in the face.  The wicious eye will drop before the
stare of wirtue!’

’What have you to say to me?’ asked Mehalah moodily.

’Why, I want to speak along of you about what concerns you most of all.
Now his father and his mother are dead, who’s to look after Elijah’s
morals but me, his aunt?  Now I can’t stand these goings on, Glory!
Here are you living in this out-of-the way house with my nephew, who is
not a married man, and folks talk.  My family was always respectable, we
kept ourselves up in the world.  My husband’s family I know nothing
about.  He was a low chap, and rose out of the mud, like the winkles.  I
took him up, and then I dropped him again; I was large and generous of
heart when I was young—younger than I am now.  I wouldn’t do it again,
it don’t pay.  The man will raise the woman, but the woman can’t lift
the man.  He grovels in the mud he came out of.  She may pick him out
and wipe him clean a score of times, but when she ain’t looking, in he
flops again.  I have had my experience. Moses was a good-looking man,
but he looked better raw than cooked, he ate tougher than he cut.  He
wasn’t the husband that he seemed to promise as a bachelor.  George was
another; but he was an advance on Moses, he had a little of me in him.
There was Rebow mixed with De Witt; he was a glass of half and half, rum
and water.  But this is neither here nor there.  We are not talking of
my family, but of you. I’m here for my nephew’s welfare and for yours.
Glory! you ain’t in Red Hall for any good.  Do you think my nephew can
take in an old woman that is not worth sixpence to bait lines with, and
feed her and find her in liquor for nothing!  Everybody knows he’s after
you. He’s been after you ever so long.  Everybody knows that.  He had a
hankering after you when George was a galliwanting on the Ray.  That’s
known to all the world.  Well, you can’t live in the house with him and
folks not talk.’

’Do you dare to believe——’

’Glory!  I always make a point to believe the worst. I’m a religious
person, and them as sets up to be religious always does that.  It is
part of their profession. When I buy fish of the men, I say at once, it
stinks, I know it ain’t fresh! when I take shrimps I say, they’re a week
out of the water, and they won’t peel nicely. So I look upon you and
everyone else, and then it’s a wery pleasing surprise when I find that
the stale fish turns out fresh.  But it ain’t often that happens.  It
may happen now and then, just as now and then a whale is washed up on
Mersea Island.  Now look you here, Glory! don’t you believe that Elijah
will marry you and make an honest woman of you.  He won’t do it. He
don’t think to do it.  He never did intend it.  He belongs to a better
family than yours.  You have gipsy blood in your veins, and he knows it;
that’s as bad as having king’s evil or cancer.  I made a mistake and
looked below me.  He won’t do it.  He knows that I made a mistake, he
won’t do the same.  There’s as much difference in human flesh as there
is in that of flat-fish, some is that of soles, other is that of dabs;
some is fresh and firm as that of small eels, other is coarse and greasy
as that of conger.  The Rebows belong to another lot from you
altogether.  Elijah knows it. He never thought to marry you.  He
couldn’t do it.’

Mehalah, stung even through the hard panoply of callousness in which she
had encased herself, turned surlily on the woman.

’You lie!  It is I who will not marry him.’

’There’s an Adam and Eve in every brown shrimp,’[1] said Mrs. De Witt
sententiously; ’and there’s wigour and weakness in every human creature.
It is possible that at a time when Eve is up in Elijah he may have
proposed such a foolish thing as to marry you, and it is possible that,
at a time when Adam was the master in you, you may have refused him.  I
don’t deny it.  But I do say that Elijah will never marry you in cold
blood. And I’ll tell you what—you won’t stand out against him for long.
He has too much of the Adam, and you too little for that.  You may set
up your pride and self-will against him, but you will give way in the
end—your weakness will yield to his strongheadedness. What he purposes
he will carry out; you cannot oppose Elijah; the Adam in his heart is
too old and wigorous and heady.’


[1] Children find in the front paddles of the brown shrimp, when pulled
out, two quaint little figures which they call Adam and Eve.


Mehalah made no answer.  Sunk in her dark thoughts she strode on, her
arms folded over her heart, to still and crush it; her head bowed.

’Now Glory!’ pursued Mrs. De Witt; ’I’ve a bit of a liking for you,
after all, and I’m sorry for what I was forced to do about that five and
twenty pounds.  I tell you, I am sorry, but I couldn’t help it.  I
couldn’t starve, you know—I was a lone widow without a son to help me.
As I said, I’ve a sort of a liking for you, for you was the girl my
George——’  Mehalah’s breast heaved, she uttered an ill-suppressed cry,
and then covered her face.

’My poor George,’ went on the old woman, aware that she had gained an
advantage.  ’He was wery fond of you.  Sackalive! how he would love to
talk of you to me his doting old mother, and scheme how you was to live
in love together!  That boy’s heart was full of you, full as——’ she cast
about for a simile, ’as a March sprat is full of oil.  Now I know, my
George—he was a good lad! and more like me in features than his father,
but he hadn’t the soul of a Rebow!—My George, I feel sure, couldn’t rest
in his grave, if he’d got one, knowing as how tongues were going about
you, and hearing what wicked things was said of your character.  A
woman’s good name is like new milk. If it once gets turned there’s no
sweetening it after, and I can tell you what, Glory! your name is not as
fresh as it was; look to it before it is quite curdled and sour.’

’I can do nothing!  I can do nothing!’ moaned the despairing girl.

’Look you here, Glory!’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’I’m the aunt of the party,
and I must attend to his morals. I’ll go in and see him and I’ll manage
matters.  He’s my nephew.  I can do anything with him.  Trust me with
men, girl.  I know ’em.  They are like nettles. Grasp ’em and they are
harmless; touch ’em trembling, and they sting you.  They are like eels,
try to hold them where you will and they wriggle away, but run a skewer
through their gills and you have them.’

’What are you here for, talking to my girl?’ asked Rebow, suddenly
coming from behind the house, which Mrs. De Witt had now reached.

’Sackalive!’ exclaimed his aunt, ’how you flustered me.  We was just
talking of you when you appeared. It is wonderful how true proverbs are;
they are the Bible of those that don’t read, a sort of scripture written
in the air.  But I want a talk along of you, Elijah, that is what I’m
come after, I your precious aunt, who loves you as the oyster loves his
shell, and the crab its young that it cuddles.’

’What do you want with me?’

’Come, Elijah, let us go indoors.  To tell you Gospel truth, I’m dry
after my row and want a wet. As I wet I will talk.  I’ve that to say to
you that concerns you greatly.’

’Follow me,’ he said surlily, and led the way up the steps.  Mehalah
turned back, but walked not to the point where she had been sitting
before, lest she should be again disturbed on the return of Mrs. De Witt
to her boat.  She went instead to the gate at the bridge over the dyke,
that led towards Salcott.  There was no real road, only a track through
the pasture land.  She leaned her hands on the bar of the gate and laid
her weary head on her hands.  Outside the gate was a tillage field with
green wheat in it glancing in the early summer air.  Aloft the larks
were spiring and caroling.  In the ploughed soil of Mehalah’s heart
nothing had sprung up,—above it no glad thought soared and sang.  Her
head was paralysed and her heart was numb.  The frost lay there, and the
clods were as iron.

In the meantime Mrs. De Witt was in the hall with her nephew,
endeavouring to melt him into geniality, but he remained morose and
unimpressionable.

By slow approaches she drew towards the object of her visit.

’I have been very troubled, nephew, by the gossip that goes about.’

’Have you?’ asked he, ’I thought you were impervious to trouble short of
loss of grog.’

’You know, Elijah, that your character is precious to me.  I wally it,
for the honour of the family.’

’What are you driving at?’ he asked with an oath. ’Speak out, and then
take your slimy tongue off my premises.’

’This is my old home, Elijah, the dear old place where I spent so many
happy and innocent days.’

’Well, you are not likely to spend any more of either sort here now.
Say what you have to say, and begone.’

’You fluster me, Elijah.  When I have a glass of rare good stuff such as
this, I like to sit over it, and talk, and sip, and relax.’

’I don’t,’ he said; ’I gulp it down and am off.  Come, say your say, and
be quick about it.  I have my affairs to attend to and can’t sit here
palavering with an old woman.’

’Oh!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt, in rising wrath, ’if I were young it would
be different, if I were not a moral and religious character it would be
different, if I were not a Rebow, but half gipsy, half boor, it would be
different!’

’If you allude to Glory, with that sneer,’ said he, ’I tell you, it
would be different.’

’I dare say!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt tossing her head.  ’Blood and
kinship are all forgot.’

’You forgot them fast enough when you ran after Moses De Witt.’

’I did demean myself, I admit,’ said she; ’but I have repented it since
in dabs and sprats, and I don’t intend to do it again.  Listen to me,
Elijah.  Once for all, I want to know what you mean by keeping this girl
Glory here?’

’You do, do you?—So do I.  I wonder; she defies and hates me, yet I keep
her.  I keep her here, I can do no other.  I would to God I could shake
free of her and forget her, forget that I had ever seen her, but I can’t
do it.  She and I are ordained for one another.’

’Parcel of stuff!’ exclaimed his aunt.  ’You send her packing, her and
her old fool of a mother, and I will come and keep house for you.’

’Pack Glory off!’ echoed Elijah.

’Yes, break this wretched, degrading tie.’

’I couldn’t do it!’ he said.  ’I tell you again, I would if I could.  I
know as well as if it were written in flames on the sky that no good can
come of her being here, but for better for worse, for well or for woe,
here we two are, and here we remain.’

’You love her??

’I love her and I hate her.  I love her with every fibre and vein, and
bone and nerve, but I hate her too, with my soul, because she does not
love me, but hates me.  I could take her to my heart and keep her
there,’ his breast heaved and his dark eyes flared, ’and kiss her on her
mouth and squeeze the breath out of her, and cast her dead at my feet.
Then perhaps I might be happy.  I am now in hell; but were she not here,
were I alone, and she elsewhere, it would be hell unendurable in its
agonies, I should go mad like my brother.  She must be mine, or my fate
is the same as his.’

’Are you going to marry her?’

’She will not marry me.  Believe what I say.  That girl, Glory, is the
curse and ruin of me and of this house. I know it, and yet I cannot help
it.  She might have made me happy and built up my prosperity and family.
Then I should have been a good and a glad man, a man altogether other
from what I am now.  But your son came in the way.  He marred
everything.  Glory still thinks of him, it does not matter that he be
gone.  She will cling to him and keep from me.  Yet she is destined for
me.  She never was for George.  If he were to turn up—I don’t say that
it is possible or even probable, but suppose he were—she would fly to
him.  I might chain her up, but she’d break away.  There is nothing for
it,’ he pursued, drooping into a sullen mood. ’We must battle it out
between us.  None can or must intervene; whoever attempts it shall be
trampled under our feet.  We must work out our own fate together; there
is no help for it.  I tell you, if I were born again, and I knew that
this were before me, I’d fly to the Indies, to Africa, anywhere to be
from her, so as never to see her, never to know of her, and then I might
jog on through life in quiet, and some sort of happiness. But that is
not possible.  I have seen her.  I have her here under my roof, but we
are still apart as the poles. Go away, aunt, it is of no good your
interfering.  No one comes here, she and I must work the sum out between
us.  There’s a fate over all and we cannot fight against it, but it
falls on us and crushes us.’

Mrs. De Witt was awed.  She rose.  She knew that her mission was
fruitless, that there was no possibility of her gaining her point.

She opened the door, and started back before an apparition in carnation
and white.

’Whom have we here?’

’Mrs. Charles Pettican, madam,’ said the apparition with a stately
curtsey.



                            *CHAPTER XXII.*

                           *THE LAST STRAW.*


Mehalah was lost to consciousness, leaning on the gate, her aching brow
and leaden eyes in her hand.  She did not hear the larks that sang above
her, nor saw the buttercups and daisies that smiled to her from below.
By the gate was a willow covered with furry flower now ripe and shedding
its golden pollen.  The soft air scattered the delicate yellow dust over
the girl’s hair and neck and shoulders, a minute golden powder, but she
noticed it not.  The warm air played caressingly with some of her dark
hair, and the sun brought out its copper glow—she was unaware of all.

A little blue butterfly flickered above her and lighted on her head, it
lay so still that the insect had no fear.

Then a hand shook the gate.

’Gone to sleep, girl?’ asked a female voice.

Mehalah looked up dreamily.

A young, handsome, and dashing lady before her, in white and carnation,
a crimson feather in her hat, and carmine in her cheeks.  Mehalah slowly
recognised Admonition.

Mrs. Pettican looked curiously at her.

’Who are you?—Oh!  I know, the girl Sharland!’ and she laughed.

Mehalah put her hand to the latch to open the gate.

’You need not trouble,’ said Admonition: ’I want nothing from you.  I
have heard of you.  You are the young person,’ with an affected cough,
’whom Master Rebow has taken to live with him I think.  You had the
assurance once to come to my dear husband, and to pester him.’

’He was kind to me,’ said Mehalah to herself.

’Oh yes, he was very kind indeed.  He did not know much of you then.
Report had not made him familiar with your name.’

Mehalah looked moodily at her.  It was of no use pretending to
misunderstand her.  It was of no use resenting the insinuation.  She
sullenly bore the blow and suffered.

’I have come here on your behalf,’ said Admonition, speaking to her
across the gate.  She had the gate half open, and kept it between them.

’You have nothing to do with me, or I with you,’ said Mehalah.

’Oh! nothing, I am respectable.  I keep myself up, I look after my
character!’ sneered Mrs. Pettican. ’Nevertheless I am here with an offer
from my husband. He is ready to receive your mother into his house; I do
not approve of this, but he is perverse and will have his way.  He will
take her in and provide for her.’

’Mehalah looked up.  A load was being lifted from her heart.  Were her
mother taken in by Mr. Pettican, then she could leave, and leave for
ever, Red Hall.

’Yes.  He admits his relationship,’ said Admonition. ’I would not, were
I he, now that the name is—well—not so savoury as it was.  But he is not
particular. Men are not.  I have been brought up, I am thankful to say,
with very strict ideas, and have been formed in a school quite other
from that of Mr. Pettican. However, as I was observing—you need not come
near me—keep the gate between us, please.’

’You were saying,’ anxiously repeated Mehalah, who had stepped forward
in her eagerness.

’I was saying that Mr. Pettican will overlook a great deal, and will
receive your mother into his house, and provide her with all that is
necessary.  But you——’

’I,’ repeated Mehalah, breathlessly.

’You must never, never set foot within my doors. I could not allow it.
I am a person of respectability, I value proprieties.  I could not allow
my house to be spoken of as one which admitted—’ with a contemptuous
shrug.

Mehalah took no notice of the insult.  She looked hard at Admonition,
and said gravely, ’You will shelter and care for my mother, on condition
that I never go near her.’

’Yes.’

’I may never see her, never speak to her, never kiss her again.’

’No, I could not suffer you to enter my respectable house.’

’Not even if she were dying?’

’My character would not allow of it.  The respectability of my house
must be maintained.’

Mehalah thought for awhile.

’I cannot make up my mind at once,’ she said.

’It will be a great relief to you to get rid of your mother.’

’Yes, immeasurable.’

’I thought as much!’ with a toss of the head, and curl of the lip.

Mehalah did not give attention to these marks of contempt.  Presently
she asked, ’And who will attend to my mother?’

’I will.’

’_You!_’ exclaimed Glory, with a flash of her old indignation.  ’_You_,
who neglect and illtreat the husband who lifted you out of the gutter.
You who have not gratitude and generosity to the man to whom you owe
your position and comforts!  How would you treat a poor, helpless, aged
woman trusting to your mercy unconditioned, when the man who bound you
to him by most solemn and sacred promises is insulted, and neglected,
and degraded by you?  No, never.  My mother shall never, never be left
to you of all women in the world.  Never, never, never!’ she beat her
hand on the gate.  ’Let me bear my burden, let it crush me, but she
shall not be taken from me and die of neglect and cruel treatment.  I
can bear!’ she raised herself with a poor effort of her old energy, ’I
will bear all for her. She once bore with me.’

’Drab!’ hissed Admonition, and she flung past her, shaking the gate
furiously as she went by.

It was with carnation in her cheek as well as in her dress and hat that
she appeared before Mrs. De Witt and Elijah Rebow.

Mrs. De Witt drew back to let Mrs. Pettican in.

’I think you was passing out,’ said the latter; ’madam, your servant.’

’Your servant, madam,’ from Mrs. De Witt, still lingering.

’Now then, one at a time.  Aunt, go out and shut the door,’ said Rebow
peremptorily, and the old woman was obliged to obey.

’What has brought you here?’ asked Elijah surlily.

Mrs. Pettican looked round, then drew nearer.  ’I think,’ she said, ’you
once advised me something, but I don’t know how far your interest is the
same as it was.’

’What do you mean?’

’I don’t know whether you would be satisfied to get Mehalah Sharland off
your hands now, or keep her here.’

’She remains here, she never shall leave it.’

’It is just this,’ said Admonition.  ’My husband has of late been
plucking up a little courage, or showing obstinacy.  My cousin Timothy—I
don’t know what to make of him—he is not what he was.  He is always
making some excuse or other to get away, and I find he goes to Mersea.
He hasn’t been as dutiful and amiable to me of late, as I have a right
to expect, considering how I have found him in food and drink and
tobacco, the best of all, and no stint.  There’s some game up between
him and my husband, and I believe it is this, I know it is this.
Charles is bent on getting Mrs. Sharland and her daughter, the latter
especially, to come and live with him and take care of him.  He dares to
say I neglect him.  He reckons on pitting that girl against me, he
thinks that she would be more than a match for me.’

’He thinks right,’ burst in Rebow with a laugh.

’I won’t have her in the house.  I don’t mind taking in the old woman,
but the daughter I will not admit.’

’You are right.  She’d master you and make you docile or drive you out,’
jeered Rebow.

’She shall not come.  I have told her so.  I will not be opposed and
brow-beaten in my own house.  I will not have the care of my husband
wrested from me.’

’Have you come here to tell me this?’

’I know that Charles and Timothy have put their heads together.  They
are both up in rebellion against me, and Timothy has walked over to
Mersea to get a boat and row here to invite that girl to come with her
mother to Wyvenhoe, and take up their abode with my husband.  Charles
promises if they will do so to provide for them and leave them
everything in his will, so as to make them independent at my cost.  When
I got wind of this—I overheard the scheme by the merest accident—I got a
gig and was driven over to Salcott, and the boy has put up the horse at
the inn, and I walked on. I will stop this little game.  The girl shall
not come inside the house.  If she puts in her little finger, her fist
will follow, and I will be driven out, though I am the lawful wife of
Charles Pettican.  I don’t know what Timothy means by aiding and
abetting him in this.  I will have it out with him, and that very soon.
I want to know what are your views.  I have been pretty plain with mine.
You may help me or hinder me, but I hope I shall be able to keep my door
locked against such as that girl, and if Timothy thinks to flirt along
with her under my roof, and before my face, he is vastly mistaken.  That
husband of mine is deeper than I suspected, or he would not have come
over Timothy and got him to aid him in this.  But I see it all.  Timothy
thinks if the girl gets there, and is to have Charles’ money, he will
make up to her, marry her, and share the plunder.  If that be his game
he has left me out of his calculations.  Timothy is a fool, or he would
not have gone over from me to Charles.  I’ll have the matter out here——’

’Not in this room,’ said Elijah.  ’There’s rows enough go on in here
without your making another. Set your mind at rest: Glory does not leave
this house. But I advise you to see your cousin, and, if possible,
prevent him from making the proposal.  If she hears it, she will be off
to-morrow, and carry her mother with her; and then there may be trouble
to you and me to get her back.’

’She shall not come across my doorstep.’

’I tell you if once she hears that the chance is given her, she will go,
and not you nor a legion of such as you could keep her out.  Go upstairs
and go straight on till you come to a door.  Go in there; it is the
bedroom of Glory and her mother.  Never mind the old fool—she is sick
and in bed.  You will find a small room or closet beyond, with a
three-cornered window in it. Look out of that.  It commands the whole
bay, and you will see a boat, if it approaches the Hall.  There’s Sunken
island and Cobb marsh between you and Mersea City.  You will see a boat
creep through one of the creeks of Cobb marsh into Virley flat, and that
will be the boat with your cousin in it.  If you come down then you will
meet him as he lands.’

As soon as Admonition had rushed past Mehalah the girl walked away from
the gate and ascended the sea-wall.  She could obtain peace nowhere.
She could hide nowhere, be nowhere without interruption.  She saw Mrs.
De Witt depart, and thought that now she could sit on the wall and
remain unmolested.  But again was she disturbed, this time by old
Abraham. He was at the near landing-stage, just come from the Ray—the
landing-place employed when tides were full. ’Hark ye, mistress,’ said
the shepherd.  ’I’ve had much on my tongue this many a day, but you
haven’t given me the chance to spit it out.  I won’t be put off any
longer.’

She did not answer or move away.  The reaction after the momentary
kindling of hope and burst of passion had set in, and she had relapsed
into her now wonted mood.

’It is of no use, mistress, your going on as you are,’ continued the old
man.  ’Wherever he is, the master speaks of you as no man ought to speak
save of his wife; and all the world knows you are not that.  What are
you, then?  You are in a false position, and that is one of your own
making.’

’You know it is not, Abraham.’

’I know it is one you could step out of to-morrow if you chose,’ he
said.  ’The master has offered you your right place.  As long as you
refuse to take it so long everybody will be turned against you, and you
against everybody.  You keep away from everybody because you shame to
see them and be seen by them. I know you don’t like the master, but
that’s no reason why you shouldn’t take him.  Beggars mustn’t be
choosers.  He is not as young and handsome as George De Witt, but he is
not such a fool, and he has his pockets well lined, which the other had
not.’

’It is of no use your saying this to me, Abraham,’ said Mehalah sadly.

’No, it is not,’ pursued the dogged old man.  ’Here you must stick as
long as your mother lives, and she may live yet a score of years.
Creaky gates last longest. Why, she ain’t as old as I, and there’s a
score of years’ work in me yet.  How can you spend twenty years here
along of the master, with all the world talking?  It will shame you to
your grave, or brazen you past respect.  This state of things can’t do
good to anybody.  You must take him, and set yourself right with the
world, or go from here.’

’I cannot get away.  Would to heaven I could!’

’Then you must marry him.  There is no escape from it, for your own
sake.  Why, girl,’ the shepherd went on, ’if you was his wife you would
have a lawful right and place here—this house, these marshes, these
cattle would be yours.  You would not be dependent on him for anything;
you would hold them as a right. Now he can have you and your mother in
prison at any time, for you are still his tenants and owe him rent for
the Ray.  But if you marry him, you cut away his power: he can’t proceed
against you and your mother for one penny.  You would cancel the debt,
do away with the obligation.  If you was to marry him, and saw your way
clear, I fancy you might go away at any time, and he would have no hold
on you.  Now he has you fast by this claim.  And now your character is
being ruined by association with him.  There,’ continued the old man, ’I
doubt I never said so much afore; but I have known you since you was a
girl, and I no more like to see you going to the bad than I like to see
a field that has been well tilled allowed to be overrun with thistles,
or a sheep lie down in the fen and die of rot that might have been saved
with a little ointment stuck on in proper time.’

Mehalah made no response.

’I dare say it stings.’ said Dowsing.  ’I’ve seen sheep jump with pain
when the copperas comes against a raw; but that’s better than to lie
down and rot away without an effort, and without a word, as you are
doing now.’  He gave her a nod, and went on his way.

Mehalah stepped into his boat and seated herself in her usual manner,
with her head in her arms, and sank into her wonted torpor.

’Now, then, young woman!’

Again interrupted, again aroused.  There was no rest for her that day.

’Jump on land, will you, young woman, and let this lass step into your
boat and get ashore without having to go into the mud.’

’Timothy! that is Mehalah!’ exclaimed Phoebe Musset.  She was in the
boat with Admonition’s cousin. ’I’d rather you carried me.  I do not
want to be obliged to her for anything.’

Mehalah stepped from her boat upon the turf, and held out her hand
mechanically to assist the girl.

’Don’t hold out your hand to me!’ screamed Phoebe. ’I wouldn’t touch it.
Keep to yourself, if you please, and let me pass.’

’Why, Phoebe!’ exclaimed Timothy, ’what is the matter?  I have come here
to see this girl.’

’What!—to see Mehalah—or Glory, as you sailor and fisher fellows like to
call her?’

’Yes.’

’Then I’m ashamed to have come with you,’ said Phoebe, pouting.  ’You
offered me a nice little row on the water, and the sun was so bright,
and the air so warm, and you were so agreeable, that I ventured; but I
would not have stepped into the boat had I known you were coming to
visit another young woman, and she one of so smirched a character.’

’Phoebe!  For shame!’

’For shame!’ repeated the girl turning on Timothy. ’For shame to you, to
bring me here with you when you are visiting this——’  She eyed Mehalah
from head to foot with studied insolence, and sniffed.  ’I know her. A
bad, spiteful cat! always running after fellows.  She tried to wheedle
poor George De Witt into marrying her.  When he was lost, she burnt her
house and flung herself on the mercy, into the arms, of Rebow.  Now, I
suppose, she is setting her red cap at you.  Oh! where is the cap gone,
eh?’ turning to Mehalah as she skipped ashore.

Timothy was fastening the boat to that of Dowsing.

Mehalah’s wrath was rising.  She had endured much that day—more than she
could well bear.  The impertinence of this malicious girl was
intolerable altogether.  She turned away to leave her.

’Stop! stop!’ shouted Timothy.  ’I have come here with a message to you.
I have come here expressly to see you.  I picked up Miss Musset on the
way——’

’You picked me up just to amuse me till you found Glory!’ screamed
Phoebe.  ’Now you pitch me overboard, as that savage treated me once.  I
will not stand this.  Timothy, come back this instant!  Row me back to
Mersea.  I have not come here to be insulted.  I will not speak another
word with you unless you——’

’For heaven’s sake,’ cried Timothy, tearing down the sea-wall and
jumping into the boat, ’come in, Phoebe, at once, or I shall be off and
leave you!’

’What is the matter now?’

He had his knife out, and was hacking through the cord that attached his
boat to Dowsing’s.  In another moment he was rowing as hard as he could
down the creek.

Admonition appeared on the wall.  Timothy had detected her crossing the
marsh, and fled.

She turned in fury on Phoebe.

Mehalah withdrew to the windmill, away from their angry voices, and
remained sitting by the sea till the shadows of evening fell.

Then she returned, a fixed determination in her face, which was harder
and more moody than before.

She walked deliberately to the hall, opened the door, and stepped in.
Elijah was there, crouched over the empty hearth, as though there was a
fire on it.  He looked up.

’Well, Glory?’

Her bosom heaved.  She could not speak.

’You have something to say,’ he proceeded.  ’Won’t the words come out?
Do they stick?’  His wild dark eye was on her.

’Elijah,’ she said, with burning brow and cheek, ’I give up.  I will
marry you.’

He gave a great shout and sprang up.

’Listen patiently to me,’ she said, with difficulty controlling her
agitation.  ’I will marry you, and take your name, but only to save
mine.  That is all.  I will neither love you, nor live with you, save as
I do now. These are my terms.  If you will take them, so be it. If not,
we shall go on as before.’

He laughed loudly, savagely.

’I told you, Glory, my own, own Glory, what must be.  You would not come
under my roof, but you came. You would not marry me—now you submit.  You
will not love me—you must and shall.  Nothing can keep us apart.  The
poles are drawing together.  Perhaps there may be a heaven for us both
here.  But I do not know.  Anyhow the sum is nearer the end than it was.
Glory, this day week you shall be my wife.



                            *CHAPTER XXIII.*

                          *BEFORE THE ALTAR.*


Virley Church has been already described, as far as its external
appearance goes.  The interior was even less decent.

It possessed but one bell, which was tolled alike for weddings and for
funerals; there was a difference in the pace at which it went for these
distinct solemnities, but that was all.  The bell produced neither a
cheerful nor a lugubrious effect on either occasion, as it was cracked.
The dedication of Virley Church is unknown—no doubt because it never had
a patron; or if it had, the patron disowned it.  No saint in the
calendar could be associated with such a church and keep his character.
St. Nicholas is the patron of fishers, St. Giles of beggars, but who
among the holy ones would spread his mantle over worshippers who were
smugglers or wreckers?  When we speak of worshippers we use an
euphemism; for though the church sometimes contained a congregation, it
never held one of worshippers. Salcott and Virley, the Siamese-twin
parishes, connected by a wooden bridge, embraced together five hundred
souls.  There were two churches, but few churchgoers.

On the day of which we write, however, Virley Church was full to
overflowing.  This is not saying much, for Virley Church is not bigger
than a stable that consists of two stalls and a loose box, whereof the
loose box represents the chancel.  When the curate in charge preached
from the pulpit—the rectors of the two parishes were always
non-resident—they kept a curate between them—he was able to cuff the
boys in the west gallery who whispered, cracked nuts, or snored.

The bellringer stood in the gallery, and had much ado to guard his
knuckles from abrasion against the ceiling at each upcast of the rope.
He managed to save them when tolling for a burial, but when the movement
was double-quick for a wedding his knuckles came continually in contact
with the plaster; and when they did an oath, audible throughout the
sacred building, boomed between the clangours of the bell.

Virley Church possessed one respectable feature, a massive chancel-arch,
but that gaped; and the pillars slouched back against the wall in the
attitude of the Virley men in the village street waiting to insult the
women as they went by.

On either side of the east window hung one table of the Commandments,
but a village humourist had erased all the ’nots’ in the Decalogue; and
it cannot be denied that the parishioners conscientiously did their
utmost to fulfil the letter of the law thus altered.

The congregation on Sundays consisted chiefly of young people.  The
youths who attended divine worship occupied the hour of worship by
wafting kisses to the girls, making faces at the children, and
scratching ships on the paint of the pews.  Indeed, the religious
services performed alternately at the two churches might have been
discontinued, without discomposure to any, had not traditional usage
consecrated them to the meeting of young couples.  The ’dearly beloveds’
met in the Lord’s house every Lord’s day to acknowledge their ’erring
and straying like lost sheep’ and make appointments for erring and
straying again.

The altar was a deal table, much wormeaten, with a box beneath it.  The
altar possessed no cover save the red cotton pocket-handkerchief of the
curate cast occasionally across it.  The box contained the battered
Communion plate, an ironmoulded surplice with high collar, a
register-book, the pages glued together with damp, and a brush and pan.

The Communion rails had rotted at the bottom; and when there was a
Communion the clerk had to caution the kneelers not to lean against the
balustrade, lest they should be precipitated upon the sanctuary floor.
No such controversy as that which has of late years agitated the Church
of England relative to the position of the celebrant could have affected
Virley, for the floor in the midst, before the altar, had been eaten
through by rats, emerging from an old grave, and exposed below gnawed
and mouldy bones a foot beneath the boards.

A marriage without three ’askings’ was a novelty in Salcott and Virley
sufficient to excite interest in the place; and when that marriage was
to take place between one so well known and dreaded as Elijah Rebow and
a girl hardly ever seen, but of whom much was spoken, it may well be
supposed that Virley Church was crowded with sightseers.  The gallery
was full to bursting.  Sailor-boys in the front amused themselves with
dropping broken bits of tobacco-pipe on the heads below, and giggling at
the impotent rage of those they hit.

There was a sweep in Salcott, who tenanted a tottering cottage, devoid
of furniture.  The one room was heaped with straw, and into this the
sweep crept at night for his slumbers.  This man now appeared at the
sacred door.

’Look out, blackie!’ shouted those near; ’we are not going to be smutted
by you.’

’Then make way for your superiors.’

’Superiors!’ sneered a matron near.

’Well, I am your superior,’ said the sweep, ’for my proper place is
poking out at the top of a chimney, and yours is poking into the fire at
the bottom.  Make way. I have a right to see as well as the best of
you.’

The crowd contracted on either side in anxiety for their clothes, and
the sweep worked his way to the fore.

’I’ll have the best place of you all,’ he said, as the gods in the
gallery received him with ironical cries of ’Sweep! sweep!’

He charged into the chancel, and sent his black legs over the Communion
rails.

At some remote period the chancel of Virley had fallen, and had been
rebuilt, with timber and bricks on the old walls left to the height of
two feet above the floor.  As the old walls were four feet thick, and
the new walls only the thickness of one brick, the chancel was provided
with a low seat all round it, like the _cancellæ_ of an ancient
basilica.  The sweep, with a keen eye peering through his soot, had
detected this seat and seen that it was unappropriated.  He was over the
altar with a second jump, and had seated himself behind it, facing west,
in the post of dignity occupied in the Primitive Church by the bishop,
with his legs under the table, and his elbows on it, commanding the best
view attainable of everything that went on, or that would go on, in the
church.

His example was followed at once.  A rush of boys and men was made for
the chancel; the railings fell before them, and they seized and
appropriated the whole of the low seat that surrounded the sanctuary.

’I’ve the best place now, you lubbers,’ said the sweep.  ’I shall have
them full in face, and see the blushes of the bride.’

’They are a-coming! they are a-coming!’ was repeated through the church.
A boy peering out of the window that lighted the gallery had seen the
approach of the procession from Red Hall over the wooden bridge.

In came the Reverend Mr. Rabbit, very hot and sneezy—he laboured under
hay fever all the blooming time of the year.  He got to the altar.  The
clerk dived into the box and rose to the surface with the register-book
and the surplice.

’Where is the ink?’

’Here is a pen,’ said the clerk, producing one with nibs parted like the
legs of the Colossus of Rhodes.

’But we shall want ink.’

’There is a bottle somewhere in the box,’ said the clerk.

’Never mind if there ain’t,’ observed one of the elders seated by the
table; ’there is the sweep here handy, and you have only to mix a bit of
his smut with the tears of the bride.’

’Shut that ugly trap of yours,’ said the chimney-cleaner.

’It may be ugly,’ retorted the humourist, ’but it is clean.’

’Here they are!’ from the gallery.

’Make way!’ shouted Mrs. De Witt, battering about her with her umbrella.
’How are people to get married if you stuff up the door, as though
caulking a leak?’

She drove her way in.

’Now, then,’ said she, ’come on, Mistress Sharland. Dear soul alive! how
unmannerly these Virley people are!  They want some of us from Mersea to
come and teach them manners.  Now, then, young Spat!’ she shouted to a
great boy in a fishing guernsey, ’do you want your head combing?  Do you
see what you have done to my best silk gown?  What do you mean coming to
a house of worship in mud-splashers?[1]  Are you come here after
winkles?’


[1] Wooden paddles, worn by those who go out ’winkling’ in the mud, to
prevent their sinking.


’I ain’t got my splashers on,’ said the boy.

’Then you have feet as big and as dirty as paddles. You have trodden on
my best silk and took it out at the gathers.’  Then, turning and looking
through the door behind her, she waved her umbrella with a proud
flourish.  ’Come on, hearties!  I’ve cleared the way.’

She put her shoulder to the crowd and wedged her way further ahead.
’Ah!’ she said, ’here are a lot of sniggering girls.  If all was known
what ought to be known some of you ought to be getting married to-day.
Leave off your laughing up there!’ gesticulating towards the boys in the
loft.  ’Don’t you know yet how to behave in a place of worship?  I have
a great mind to draw my _Pandora_ up at Virley hard and settle here and
teach you.’

Mehalah came in, pale, with sunken eyes, that burned with feverish
brightness.  A hectic flush dyed her cheeks.  Her lips were set and did
not tremble.

After having given her promise, under conditions, to Rebow she had
neither slept nor eaten.  She had abandoned her habit of retiring to the
shore to sit and brood, and maintained instead incessant activity.  When
she had done what was necessary for others she made work for herself.

Mrs. Sharland had forgotten her ague and left her bed in the excitement
and pleasure of her daughter’s submission.  She had attempted several
times to speak to Mehalah of her approaching marriage, but had not been
able to wring a word out of her.  From the moment Glory gave her consent
to Rebow she said not another syllable on the subject to him or to
anyone. She became more taciturn and retiring, if possible, than before.
Abraham Dowsing had saluted her and attempted a rough congratulation.
She had turned her back and walked away.

Elijah’s conduct was the reverse of Glory’s.  His gloom was gone, and
had made way for boisterous and demonstrative joy.  His pride was
roused, and he insisted on the marriage preparations being made on a
liberal scale.  He threw a purse into Mrs. Sharland’s lap, and bade her
spend it how she liked on Mehalah’s outfit and her own.  The old woman
had been supremely happy in arranging everything, her happiness only
dashed by the unsympathetic conduct of one chief performer in the
ceremony, her daughter, whom she could not interest in any point
connected with it.

There had been a little struggle that morning. Mehalah had drawn on her
blue ’Gloriana’ jersey as usual, and Mrs. Sharland had insisted on its
coming off. The girl had submitted after a slight resistance, and had
allowed herself passively to be arrayed as her mother chose.

Elijah was dressed in a blue coat, with brass buttons, and
knee-breeches.  No one had seen him so spruce before.

’I say, dame,’ whispered Farmer Goppin to his wife, ’the master of Red
Hall is turning over a new leaf to-day.’

’Maybe,’ she answered, ’but I doubt it will be a blank one.  Look at the
girl.  It won’t be a gay[2] for him.’


[2] Essex for ’Picture.’


’Move on!’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’I’ll keep the road.’

Mrs. De Witt had come at Rebow’s special request. She had put on for the
occasion her silk dress, in which she had gone from home and been
married.  Her figure had altered considerably through age and maternity,
and the dress was now not a little too tight for her. Her hooking
together had been a labour of difficulty, performed by Mrs. Sharland at
Red Hall; it had been beyond her own unassisted powers, in the
_Pandora_, when she drew on the ancient dress.

’Dear Sackalive!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt when she extracted the garment
from the lavender in which it had lain, like a corpse in balm, for some
five-and-twenty years, ’I was a fool when I last put you on; and I won’t
fit myself out in you again for the same purpose, unless I am driven to
it by desperate circumstances.’

Unable to make the body meet, she had thrown a smart red coat over it;
and having engaged a boy to row her to Red Hall, sat in the stern, with
her skirt pinned over her head, as though the upper part of her person
were enveloped in a camera lucida; in which she was viewing in miniature
the movements of the outer world. On reaching Red Hall she had thrown
off the scarlet, and presented her back pleadingly to Mrs. Sharland.

’I ought not to have done it, but I did,’ said she in a tone of
confidence.  ’I mean I oughtn’t to have put this gown on, last time I
wore it,’ she explained when Mrs. Sharland inquired her meaning.  ’It
was thus it came about: I was intimate with the sister of Moses De Witt,
and one Mersea fair I went over to the merrymakings, and she inwited me
to take a mouthful with her and her brother on board the _Pandora_.  I
went, and I liked the looks of the wessel, and of Moses, so I said to
him, "You seem wery comfortable here, and I think I could make myself
comfortable here too. So, if you are noways unobjectionable, I think I
will stay."  And I did.  I put on my silk gown, and was married to
Moses, in spite of all my parents said, and I turned the sister of De
Witt out and took her place.’

Mrs. De Witt felt great restraint in the silk gown. Her arms were like
wings growing out of her shoulderblades. She was not altogether
satisfied that the hooks would hold, and therefore carried to church
with her the military coat, over her arm.  She wore her hair elaborately
frizzled.  She had done it with the stove poker, and had worn it for
some days in curl-papers. Over this was a broad white chip hat, tied
under her chin with skyblue ribands, and she had inserted a sprig of
forget-me-nots inside the frizzle of hair over her forehead.  ’Bless my
soul,’ she said to herself, ’the boys will go stark staring mad of love
at the sight of me.  I look like a pretty miss of fifteen—I do, by
Cock!’

Mrs. De Witt succeeded in bringing her party before the altar, at which
still sat the sweep, deaf to the feeble expostulations of the curate,
which he had listened to with one eye closed and his red tongue hanging
out of the corner of his mouth.

Mr. Rabbit was obliged to content himself with a protest, and vest
himself hastily for the function.

’Look here,’ said Mrs. De Witt, who took on herself the office of master
of the ceremonies: ’I am not going to be trodden on and crumpled.  Stand
back, good people; stand back, you parcel of unmannerly cubs!  Let me
get where I can keep the boys in order and see that everything gives
satisfaction.  I have been married; I ought to know all the ways and
workings of it, and I do.’

She thrust her way to the pulpit, ascended the stair, and installed
herself therein.

’Oh, my eye!’ whispered the boys in the gallery. ’The old lady is busted
all down her back!’

’What is that?’ asked Mrs. De Witt in dismay. She put her hands behind
her.  The observation of the boys was just.  Her efforts to clear a way
had been attended with ruin to the fastenings of her dress, and had
brought back her arms to their normal position at the expense of
hooks-and-eyes.

’It can’t be helped,’ said Mrs. De Witt, ’so here goes!’  And she drew
on her military coat to hide the wreck.

’Now, then, parson, cast off!  Elijah, you stand on the right, and Glory
on the left.’

The curate sneezed violently and rubbed his nose, and then his inflamed
eyes.  The dust of the flowering grass got even into that mouldy church,
rank with grave odours and rotting timber.  He began with the
Exhortation.  Mrs. De Witt followed each sentence with attention and
appropriate gesture.

’"Is not to be enterprised nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or
wantonly,"’ she repeated, with solemn face and in an awestruck whisper;
then, poking the boys in the gallery with her umbrella, ’Just you listen
to that, you cubs!’  Then she nodded and gesticulated at the firstly,
secondly, and thirdly of the address to those whom she thought needed
impressing with the solemn words.  Elijah answered loudly to the
questions asked him whether he would have the girl at his side to be his
wedded wife.  Her answer was faint and reluctantly given.

’"Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?"’

There was a pause.

’Speak up, Mistress Sharland, speak up!’ said Mrs. De Witt in a tone of
authority.  ’Or, if you don’t speak, curtsey.’

The curate was affected with a violent sneezing fit. When he recovered
he went on.

Rebow clasped Mehalah’s hand firmly, and firmly repeated the sentences
after the priest.

’"I, Elijah, take thee——"’ began the curate; then asked, in a whisper,
’What is the bride’s name?’

’Mehalah,’ answered the mother.

’"I, Elijah, take thee, Mehalah, to my wedded wife,"’ began the curate.

’"I, Elijah, take thee, Glory, to my wedded wife,"’ repeated Rebow.

’That is not the name,’ protested Mr. Rabbit.

’I marry Glory, and no one else; I take her by that name and by none
other,’ said Rebow.  ’Go on.’

’Say the words after me,’ the curate whispered to Mehalah, who began to
tremble.  She obeyed, but stopped at the promise ’to love, cherish, and
to obey.’ The curate repeated it again.

"To obey,"’ said Mehalah.

Mr. Rabbit looked uncertain how to act.

’"To love, cherish, and obey,"’ he suggested faintly.

’Go on,’ ordered Rebow.  ’Let her obey now; the rest will come in due
season.’

The priest nervously submitted.

’Now for the ring,’ said the clerk.  ’Put it on the book.’

Rebow was taken by surprise.  ’By heaven!’ he said, ’I forgot all about
that.’

’You must have something to use for the purpose,’ said the curate.
’Have you no ring of your own?’

’No.  Am I like to have?’

’Then let her mother lend her her own marriage-ring.’

’She shall not,’ said Rebow angrily.  ’No, no! Glory’s marriage with me
is not a second-hand affair, and like that of such fools as she,’
pointing to Mrs. Sharland.  ’No, we shall use a ring such as has never
been used before, because our union is unlike all other unions.  Will
this do?’ He drew the link of an iron chain from his pocket.

’This is a link broke off my brother’s fetters.  I picked it up on the
sea-wall this morning.  Will it do?’

’It must do for want of a better,’ said the curate.

Elijah threw it on the book; then placed it on Mehalah’s finger, with a
subdued laugh.  ’Our bond, Glory,’ he said, in a low tone, ’is not of
gold, but of iron.’



                            *CHAPTER XXIV.*

                          *THE VIAL OF WRATH.*


Elijah Rebow, in the pride and ostentation of his heart, had invited the
curate, the clerk, Mrs. De Witt, Farmer Goppin, Reuben Grout, innkeeper
of the ’Rising Sun,’ and several others to eat and drink with him and
his bride at Red Hall after the ceremony.  The marriage had taken place
in the afternoon.  The law in Marshland was flexible as osier—it must
bend to man’s convenience, not man submit to law.

Mrs. De Witt took the management of everything out of the hands of the
feeble Mrs. Sharland.  ’You’re not up to the job,’ she said.  ’It wants
some one with eyes in her elbows and as many legs as a crab.’

Mrs. De Witt was everywhere, in the kitchen, the hall, the oak parlour.
She had pinned up her silk dress about her, so that it might take no
harm.

’There,’ said she to the assembled guests, as she brought in a pail full
of shrimps and set it on the table. ’Stay your appetites on them, and
imitate the manners of high society, which always begins with fish and
works up to solids.  I brought them myself as my contribution to the
feast.  Do you, Elijah, hand a wet round: if the others be like me they
are dry.  Marriage, as I always found it, is a dry job.’

’Where is Glory?’ asked Elijah.

’Oh, yes!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt.  ’That is like you, Elijah, shouting,
"Where is Glory?"  Do you think she is to come here toozling about among
the wittles in her best gown?  She is upstairs getting her dress
changed.’

He was pacified.

Mrs. Sharland passed here and there, eager to be supposed useful,
actually getting across Mrs. De Witt’s path and interfering with her
proceedings.

’I can’t stand this,’ said the fishwife.  ’You go upstairs and see after
Mehalah.  I am going to dish up the pudding.’

’I will take the gravy in the sauceboat,’ said Mrs. Sharland.

’Don’t get your shivers on at the time, then, and send the grease over
everyone,’ advised Mrs. De Witt.

’There now, Elijah!’ exclaimed she, full of pride, when the table was
spread.  ’Do look at them dumplings. They are round, plump, and
beautiful as cherubs’ heads on monuments.’

’Where is Glory?’ asked Rebow.

’Run up,’ said Mrs. De Witt to the mother, ’tell the girl we are waiting
for her.  Bid her come at once before the gravy clots.’

An Essex dinner begins with dumplings soused in gravy.  When these have
been demolished the flesh follows.

The guests sat, with black-handled knives and forks in hand, mouths and
noses projected, and eyes riveted on the steaming puddings, ready to cut
into them the moment the signal was given.

Mrs. Sharland was slow of foot.  Every step was taken leisurely up the
stairs and along the passage.

’I’m afeared,’ said Farmer Goppin, ’the outer edge of the pudding, about
an inch deep all round, is getting the chill.’

’And there is a scum of fat forming on the gravy, said Reuben Grout,
’just like cat-ice on my duck-pond, or like mardlins[1] in spring on a
ditch.  Had not I better set the gravy against the fire till the good
lady comes down?’


[1] ’Mardlins’ are duckweed.


’She is coming,’ said Rebow; and then he drummed on the table with his
knife.  Mrs. Sharland leisurely returned.  She was alone.

’Well?’ from Rebow.

’Mehalah is not in her room.’

’Curse it!’ said Elijah.  ’Where is she, then?  Go and fetch her.’

’I do not know where she is.’

’She will be here directly,’ said Rebow, controlling himself.  ’You may
fall to, neighbours.’

At the word every fork was plunged into the puddings, and every knife
driven into their hearts.  Each sought who could appropriate to himself
the largest block of pudding.  Then there ensued a struggle for the
gravy, and great impatience was manifested by those who had to wait till
others had well drenched their hunches of dough in the greasy liquor.

Rebow leaned back in his chair, holding knife and fork erect on the
table.  ’Why is she not here?  She ought to be here.’

’Take some dumpling, Elijah?’

’I won’t eat till my Glory comes.’

’Lord preserve you!’ exclaimed Mrs. De Witt, slapping his back.  ’Go on
and eat.  You don’t understand girls, as you do calves, that is a fact.
Why, a girl on her marriage-day is shamefaced, and does not like to be
seen.  In high society they hide their heads in their wails all day.
That is what the wails are for. I was like that.  You may look at me,
but it is true as that every oyster wears a beard.  When I was married
to Moses I was that kittle, coy young bird I would have dived and hid
among the barnacles on the keel of the wessel, had I been able to keep
under water like a duck.’

’Where is she?’

’How do I know?  Never fear; she is somewhere—gone out to get a little
fresh air.  It was hot and stank in that hold of an old church.  What
with the live corpses above in the pews and the dead ones below deck, it
gave me a headache, and you may be sure Mehalah was overcome.  I saw she
did not look well. The pleasure, I suppose, has been too much for her.
A wery little tipple of that topples some folks over.’

’You think so?’

’I am sure of it.  Have I not been a bride myself? I know about those
sort of things by actual experience. I’ve gone through the operation
myself.  It is wery like being had up before the magistrate and
convicted for life.’

Elijah was partly satisfied, and he began to eat; but his eyes turned
restlessly at intervals to the door.

’Don’t you put yourself out,’ murmured Mrs. De Witt as she leaned over
his shoulder and emptied his glass of spirits.  ’Girls are much like
scallops.  If you want to have them tender and melting in your month,
you must treat them with caution and patience.  You take the scallops
and put them first in lukewarm water, working up into a gentle simmer,
and at last, but not under two hours, you toast them, and pepper and
butter them, and then they are scalding and delicious.  But if you go
too fast to work with them, they turn to leather, and will draw the
teeth out of your gums if you bite into them.  Girls must be treated
just similarly, or you spoil them.  You wouldn’t think it, looking at
me, but my Moses, with all his faults, knew how to deal with me, and he
got me that soft and yielding that he could squeeze me through his
fingers like Mersea mud. True as gospel.  Fill your glass, Elijah; it
don’t look hospitable to allow it to stand empty.’

When the lady in her red coat entered, holding triumphantly above her
head a leg of boiled mutton, there was a general burst of delight.

’A hunter’s dinner!’ said Goppin.

’But where is the bride?’ asked Grout.  ’I want to drink health and a
long family to her.’

’Glory ought to be here.  Go up, Mistress Sharland, and bring her down.
She has returned by this time,’ said Rebow.

’I don’t think she has,’ said the old woman.

’I am sure of it; go and look.’

The widow revisited the bedroom.

When she returned she said, ’No, Elijah; Mehalah has not come back.  She
has taken off her bridal dress and laid it on the bed, and has put on
her blue jersey, and I see she has taken with her a red cap.’

’She tore that to pieces.’

’She has been knitting a new cap this week,’ said Mrs. Sharland.

’I like that!  She has done it to please me,’ said Elijah, his eye
twinkling.  ’I loved her in that; and I hate to see her as she was
tricked out to-day.’

’We are waiting for you to carve,’ said Goppin.

’Don’t forget we like fat,’ said Grout.

’I say,’ murmured Jabez Bunting, a storekeeper, ’look at the gravy, how
it oozes out; I’m fit to jump at the sight.  Don’t think we eat like
ladies of quality, Rebow.  Give us good large helpings, and the redder
and rawer the better.’

’Some one,’ said Elijah, ’tell Abraham Dowsing to go on the sea-wall and
look out for Glory, and bring her home.’

’There’s the boy what rowed me here,’ said Mrs. De Witt.  ’He is sitting
outside on the step, and I’m throwing him the bits of skin and fat and
gristle.  I’ll send him.’

’Really,’ observed the Rev. Mr. Rabbit, after a fit of sneezing, ’the
circumstance reminds the student of Holy Writ somewhat of Queen Vashti.’

’What do you mean?’ asked Elijah abruptly.

’No offence, no offence meant,’ gasped the curate, waxing very red; ’I
only thought your good lady was to-day like Queen Vashti.’

’Glory is like nobody,’ said Rebow, with some pride. ’There never was,
there never can be, another Glory. I don’t care who or what your Vashti
was—Was she beautiful?’ shortly interrupting himself.

’Did she bring property into the family!’ asked Mrs. De Witt, leaning
over Elijah’s shoulder and emptying his tumbler.  ’Elijah! you must
replenish.  Look hospitable, and keep the liquor flowing.’

’I really don’t know,’ said Mr. Rabbit.

’Then what do you mean by saying she was like my Glory?’ asked Rebow
angrily.

’I—I only suggested that there was a faint similarity in the
circumstances, you know.  King Ahasuerus made a great feast—as you have
done.’

’Was there boiled mutton at it?’ asked Grout.

’I really cannot say.  It is not recorded.’

’Give me boiled mutton, a little underdone, and I ask for nothing more,’
said Goppin.

’And,’ went on the curate, ’he naturally wished his wife to be present.
He wanted her to come down to be seen of his lords and princes.’

’Go on!  Damn your sneezing.  Put it off till you’re preaching, and then
no one will care,’ said Rebow.

’But,’ pursued the parson, when he had wiped his nose and eyes, and
recovered breath after the fit, ’Queen Vashti refused to come down.’

’Well, what did the husband say to that?’ asked Elijah.

’If he was a sensible man,’ said Goppin, ’he cut into the mutton, and
didn’t bother about she.’

’You don’t know, neighbour, that it was a leg of mutton,’ said Grout.
’It might have been sirloin.’

’Sirloin!’ exclaimed Bunting; ’I wouldn’t go ten yards to taste sirloin.
There’s not enough on the bone, except fat.’

’Go on,’ said Elijah to the curate.  ’How did the man—king, was he—take
it?’

’He dismissed Vashti, and took Esther to be his queen.  But then,’ put
in the frightened curate, thinking he had suggested a startling
precedent, ’Ahasuerus was not a Christian, and knew no better.’

’Do you think,’ laughed Rebow, ’that I would cast off my Glory for any
other woman that ever was born? No, I would not.  Let her do what she
likes.  She don’t care to associate with such as you.  She holds herself
above you.  And she’s right.  She is one the like of whom does not
exist.  She has a soul stronger and more man-like than anyone of you.
If she don’t choose to come and guzzle here along of you, she’s right.
I like her for it.’

He flung himself back in his chair and drained his full glass.

’I ask you, Goppin!  Did you ever see the equal of my Glory?’

’I can’t say as ever I did, Rebow,’ answered the farmer.

’I took the liberty to chuck her under the chin, and she up with the
pitchfork out of my hand, and had like to have sent me to kingdom come,
had not my good woman been nigh to hand, and run to the rescue.  I hope
you’ll find her more placable when you come to ask a kiss.’

Elijah rubbed his hands, and laughed boisterously.

’Ha!’ shouted he, ’that is my Glory!  I tell you, Goppin, she’d have
drove the prongs of the fork into your flesh as I dig this into the
meat,’ and he stabbed at the joint fiercely with his carving fork.

’I dare say,’ grumbled the farmer, wincing and rubbing his leg.  ’I’d
for my part rather have a more peacable mate; but there’s no choosing
fat beasts for others, as the saying goes.’

’What do you think of her?’ asked Rebow, turning round with exultation
on Bunting and Grout.

’She came to my old woman,’ said the latter, ’and asked her to take her
in and give her work.  She wanted to leave you.’

’She did,’ exclaimed Rebow.  ’And what did your old woman say to that?’

’She said she durstn’t do it.  She durstn’t do it.’

’She durstn’t do it!’ echoed Elijah with a great laugh.  ’That was fine.
She durstn’t do it!’

’No,’ pursued Grout, ’without your leave.’

’And you wouldn’t have dared to do it neither,’ turning to Bunting, who
shook his head.

’No, you would not dare.  I’d like to see the man or woman in Salcott or
Virley as would dare.  I reckon there is none that knows me would make
the venture. By God!’ he burst forth.  ’Where is the girl?  I will have
her here; and I’m cursed if you shall not all stand on your legs, and
drink to her health and happiness as the most splendid woman as ever was
or shall be.’

’Abraham Dowsing is at the door,’ said Mrs. Sharland.

’Come in, and say what you have to say before us all,’ called Elijah.
’If it be anything about my Glory, say it out.’

’She is gone off in her boat,’ said the old man; ’I saw her.’

’Why did you not stop her then?’ asked Mrs. De Witt.

’I stop her!’ repeated Abraham.  ’She is my mistress, and I a servant.’

’That is right,’ said Elijah, ’if she had taken a whip and lashed your
back till it was raw, you couldn’t stop her.  Where is she gone to?’

Abraham drew up his shoulders.  ’That’s her concern. It’s no odds to me.
But I tell ye what, Master. Here are you feasting here, and we han’t had
nothing extra with our wittles.  I ask that we may eat and drink
prosperity to you both, to her and you.’

’You shall,’ said Elijah.

’Stay,’ put in Mrs. De Witt.  ’What do you mean, you old barnacle, you?
Let your superiors eat their fill first, and then you and the other men
shall have what’s over.  That’s fair.  I shall manage for you. Go,
Abraham.’

The supper drew to a close.  Elijah drank a great deal.  He was fretted,
though he tried not to show it, by the absence of Glory.  As more
spirits were drunk and pipes were lighted in the hall, whilst the men of
the farm fed in the kitchen, several of those present repeated their
regret that she in whose honour they were assembled, the new mistress of
the house in which they had met, had not deigned to show herself, and
receive their good wishes and congratulations.

Rebow gulped down the contents of glass after glass.

Mrs. De Witt had seated herself with the rest, and was doing her best to
make up for lost time, with the bottle.

’Elijah!’ said she, ’one or other must establish the mastery, either you
or Glory.  I did think she were a bit shy at first to come among us; but
now the night is coming on and still she is away.  I don’t deny that
this ain’t civil.  But then, she has lived all her life on the Ray, and
can’t know the fashions of high society; and again, poor thing, it’s her
first experience of matrimony.  She will do better next time.  Let us
drink!’ said she, holding up her brimming glass, ’to her profiting
speedily by her experience, and next time we have all of us the honour
of attending at her wedding, may she do us the favour to respond.’

’Amen!’ said the clerk, who was present.

’Go out some one, and see if she is coming,’ said Rebow, his dark face
burning with anger and drink. He could not, however, wait till the
messenger returned, but left his guests, and went forth himself.  He
mounted the sea-wall, and turned his eyes down the creek; nothing was
visible.  He stood there, bareheaded, cursing, for a quarter of an hour,
and then went back with knitted brows.

He found his guests preparing to depart.

’Go along!’ he said; ’I want no congratulations; say nothing.  Glory and
I have a marriage different from other folks, as she and I are not like
other folks, We must fight it out between us.’

He waved his guests away, with a rude impatient gesture.

Mrs. De Witt roused her boat-boy by kicking him off the steps—he had
gone to sleep there—and then tumbling on top of him.  She staggered up,
tucked the lad under her arm, and marched off.

’If I meet Glory by the way, I’ll send her home, I’ll be sure and mind
it,’ said she to Rebow as she departed.

He went in.  He ordered Mrs. Sharland to go to her bed.  The charwoman,
had in for the day, cleared the table of all the glasses, save that of
Elijah, and retired.  He was left alone.  He went to the back door and
fastened it.  Glory should not slink home that way without facing him.
He seated himself in his armchair, and refilled his tumbler with spirits
and water.  He was very angry.  She had deliberately insulted him before
his guests, defied him in the face of the principal people of the
parish.  It would be spoken of, and he would be laughed at throughout
the neighbourhood.

The black veins in his brow puffed out.  A half-drunken, half-revengeful
fire smouldered in his deep-set eyes.  There was no lamp or candle
burning in the room, but the twilight of midsummer filled it with a grey
illumination.

He walked to the door, opened it, and looked out. The gulls were crying
over the marsh, and the cattle were browsing in it.  No Mehalah was to
be seen.

’On my wedding day!’ he muttered, and he resumed his seat.  ’On that for
which I have worked, to which I have looked, for which I have thought
and schemed, she flies in my face, she scorns me, she shows everyone
that she hates me!’

His pipe was out, he threw it impatiently away.

’She does not know me, or she would not dare to do it.  There is no one
in all the neighbourhood dare defy me but she.  Everyone fears me but
she, for everyone knows me but she.  Know me she must, know me she
shall.  There will be no wringing love out of her till she bends under
me and fears me.  She will never fear me till she knows all.  She shall
know that; by God!’ he cried aloud, ’I will tell her that which shall
make her shrink and fall, and whine at my feet; and then I shall take
her up, and drag her to my heart, and say, "Ah, ha!  Glory! think what a
man you have gotten to-day, a man whom none can withstand.  There is
none like me, there is none will dare what I will dare.  You and I, I
and you, are alone in the world. One must submit or there is no peace.
You must learn to cower beneath me, or we shall fight for ever."’

He went out again upon the sea-wall, but saw nothing, and came back more
angry.  As he stood on his steps he heard from the path to Salcott a
burst of merriment.  He swore an ugly oath.  Those men, rolling home,
were ridiculing him, keeping his marriage feast without the presence of
his bride!

He flung himself again into his chair, and rocked himself in it.  He
could not sit there, tortured with auger and love, in the gloaming,
doing nothing.  He emptied the bottle, there was not a drop more in it,
and he cast it in the hearth.  Then he fetched down his old musket
mounted in brass, and getting the vitriol bottle from the window, began
to rub and polish the metal.

He wearied of that in the end.  His mind could not be drawn off Glory,
and wondering where she was, and why she had thus gone away.

’I love her,’ he muttered, as he replaced his gun on the nails above the
chimney-piece, ’but yet I hate her. My very heart is like Grimshoe with
love and hate warring together, and neither gets the mastery.  I could
clasp her to my breast, but I could tear out her heart with my nails,
because it will not love me.’  He rocked himself in his seat savagely,
and his breath came fast: ’We must work the riddle out between us. We
can get no help, no light from any others; she and I, and I and she, are
each other’s best friends and worst foes.’

A firm hand was on the door, it was thrown open, and in the grey light
stood Mehalah.

’Where have you been?’ asked Elijah, hardly able to speak, so agitated
with fury and disappointed love was he.

’I have been,’ she said composedly, ’on the Ray, sitting there and
dreaming of the past.’

’Of the past!’ shouted Rebow.  ’You have been dreaming of George?’

’Yes, I have.’

’I thought it, I knew you were,’ he yelled.  ’Come here, my wife.’

’I am not your wife.  I never will be your wife, except in name.  I told
you so.  I can not, and I will not love you.  I can not, and I will not,
be aught to you but a housekeeper, a servant.  I have taken your name to
save mine, that is all.’

’That is all because you love George De Witt.’

’George De Witt is dead.’

’I don’t care whether he be dead or not, you think that he is your
double.  I tell you, as I have told you before, he is not.  I am.’

’I will not listen to more of this,’ she said in a hard tone.  ’Let me
pass, let me go to my room.’

’I will not let you pass,’ he swore; the breath came through his
nostrils like the snorting of a frightened horse; ’I will not.  Hear me,
Glory, my own Glory! hear me you shall.’  He grasped her arms between
the elbow and shoulder with his iron hands, and shook her savagely.

’Listen to me, Glory, you must and shall.  You do not love me, Glory,
because you do not fear me.  The dog whom I beat till it howls with
torture creeps up to me and licks my hand.  A woman will never love her
equal, but she will worship her superior.  You have shown me to-day that
you think yourself on a level with me.  You have donned again your cap
of liberty,’ he raised one hand to her head, plucked off the cap and
cast it on the floor, ’thinking that now you have taken me before the
world, you have broken my power over you.  You do not know me, Glory!
you do not know me.  Listen to me!’  Through the twilight she could see
his fierce eyes flaring at her, her hair was disturbed by the hot blasts
of his labouring lungs.  His fingers that held her twitched convulsively
as he spoke.

’Listen to me, Glory! and know me and respect me.  I am no more to be
escaped from than fate.  I am mighty over you as a Providence.  You may
writhe and circumvent, but I meet you at every turn, and tread you down
whenever you think to elude me. Listen to me, Glory!’  He paused, and
drew a long breath; ’Listen, I say, to me.  Glory! how did you lose your
money that night that Abraham Dowsing sold your sheep?  I feel you
stirring and starting in my hands.  Yes, I took it.  You went out with
George De Witt, and left the purse on the table.  When your mother left
the room, I took the money.  You may have it back now when you like, now
that I have you. I took it—you see why.  To have you in my power.’

’Coward and thief!’ gasped Mehalah.

’Ah! call me names if you like; you do not know me yet, and how
impossible it is to resist me.  You thought when you had got the money
again, from George, that you had escaped me.’

’Stay!’ exclaimed Mehalah.  ’It was you,’ with compressed scorn, ’that
fired on George and me in the marsh.’

’I fired at him, not at you; and had you not changed the place of the
lanthorn in the boat, I should have shot him.’

The girl shuddered in his hands.

’I feel you,’ he said with savage exultation.  ’You are beginning to
know me now, and to tremble. When you know all, you will kneel to me as
to your God, as almighty over your destiny, irresistible, able to crush
and kill whom I will, and to conquer where I will.  George De Witt stood
in my way to you.’

Mehalah’s heart leaped and then stood still.  Her pulse ceased to beat.
She seemed to be hanging in space, seeing nothing, feeling nothing,
hearing only, and only the words of the man before her.

’He left Mersea City one night.  He left it in my boat with me.’

’He paused, rejoicing in her horror at this revelation of himself to
her.

’Have you not a question to ask me, "Where he now is?  What I know of
him?"’

No—she could not speak, she could not even breathe.

’Do you remember when you came on Michaelmas Day to pay me my rent, how
you heard and saw my mad brother in the cell there below?’

He paused again, and then chuckled.  ’The poor wretch died and I buried
him there.  I brought George here, I made him drunk, and chained him in
my brother’s place, and he went mad with his captivity in darkness and
cold and nakedness.’

The blood spouted from her heart through every artery.  She tried to cry
but could not, she strove to escape his hands, she was unable.  She
panted, and her eyes stood open, fixed as those of a corpse, staring
before her.

’You lost your sheep,’ he went on, with exultation. ’I took them.  I
took them to rob you of every chance of paying me, and keeping clear of
me.’

She did not hear him.  She cared nothing about sheep.  She was thinking
of George, of his imprisonment and madness.

’At last, when I feared that after all you might slip from me by means
of that cripple at Wyvenhoe, I did more.  I watched you on New Year’s
Eve; I waited for you to go to sleep, that I might fire your house.  You
did better than I had thought, you went out; and then I set the Ray Farm
in flames.  What cared I for the loss?  It was nothing.  By it I gained
you, I secured you under my roof, by burning you out of the shelter of
your own.’  He swelled with pride. ’You know me now, Glory!  Now think
you that escape from me is possible?  No, you do not, you cannot.  I
hedge you in, I undermine the ground you tread.  I saw away the posts
that hold up the roof above your head.  You know now what I am,
irresistible, almighty, as far as you are concerned, your fate
incarnate.  And I know you.  I know that you are one who will never
yield till you have found a man who is mightier in will and in power
than you; those who have fought are best friends after the struggle,
when each knows his own strength and the full measure of the resistance
of the other.  We have had one wrestle, and I have flung you at every
round; you in your pride have stood up again, and wiped the blood from
your heart, and the tears from your eyes, and tried another fall with
me; but now, Glory, you have tried your last. Hitherto you fought not
knowing the extent of my power, thinking that I put forth my full might
when I spoke, but that I had no strength to act.  Now you see what I can
do, and what I have done, and you will abandon the fruitless battle.
Glory!  Glory!  Come to my heart.  You fear me now, and fear is the
first step leading to love.  Glory!  my own Glory!’ his voice faltered,
and his fingers worked, ’I love you madly.  I will do and dare all for
you.  I will live for you and for nothing in the world but you.  Never
till this day in the church have I so much as held your hand.  Never
till this moment, Glory! have I held you to my heart, never till this
moment have I felt it bounding against mine, never till this moment have
I kissed those dear, dear lips, as I shall now.’

He drew her to him.  He unloosed his hands to throw his arms round her.
She felt them closing on her like a hoop of iron, she felt his heart
beating like the strokes of a blacksmith with his hammer; his burning
breath was on her cheek.  He!  He kiss her! She lie on that heart which
had schemed and carried out the destruction of her George!

She cried out.  She found her tongue.  ’Let go! I hate you as I never
hated you before!  I hate you as a mad dog, as a poisonous adder!  Let
go!’  She writhed and slipped partly away.

’Never till I have held you to my breast and kissed you,’ he said.

’That never, never!’ she gasped.  She got her hands on his breast and
forced his arms asunder behind her.

’Ha, ha! strong,’ he laughed, ’but not strong as I.’  He gripped her
wrists and bent her arms back.  She threw herself on the ground, he drew
her up.  She flung herself against the chair, crushing his hand against
the chimney-piece, so that he let go with it for an instant.  She groped
about with her free hand, in the dark, for some weapon, she grasped
something. He cursed her for the pain she had given him, and attempted
again to seize her hand.  In a moment she had struck him—him the coward
assailant, him the thief, him the murderer—between the brows with the
weapon her hand had taken.  It was a blow with her whole force.  There
followed a crash of glass, then a sense as of her hand being plunged
into fire.  Then a shriek loud, tearing through roof and wall, loud,
agonised, as only a man or a horse can utter in supreme moments of
torture; and Rebow fell on the floor, writhing like a worm, with his
hands over his face and eyes.



                             *CHAPTER XXV.*

                           *IN THE DARKNESS.*


Day by day Elijah Rebow lay, or sat, in the darkened oak parlour with
his eyes bandaged, a prey to wrath, pain, despair.  The vitriol from the
broken vial had got into his eyes, and there was reason to fear had
blinded them.

He was obliged to have the burning balls kept from the light, but he
raged under the obligation.  He wanted to see, he could not be patient
under restraint. He could ill understand that in all things he might not
have his way, even in such a matter as this.  He chafed also at having
been conquered by Glory.  That she should have defied and beaten him,
and beaten him in such a crushing manner, cut his pride to the quick.

None knew how the accident had occurred save himself and Mehalah.  To
the doctor he had merely said that in getting the vitriol bottle from
the shelf, it had fallen and broken on his forehead.

Mrs. Sharland remained in as complete ignorance of the truth as the
rest, and her lamentations and commiserations, poured on Elijah and her
daughter, angered him and humiliated her.  Mehalah had suffered in mind
agonies equal in acuteness to those endured in body by Elijah.

Horror and hatred of herself predominated.  She had destroyed, by one
outburst of passion, the eyesight of a man, and wrecked his life.  What
henceforth for thirty or forty years could life be to Rebow?—to one who
could not endure existence without activity?  She had rendered him in a
moment helpless as a babe, and dependent on herself for everything.  She
must attend to his every want, and manage the farm and his business for
him.  By a stroke, their relative positions were reversed.  The wedding
night had produced a revolution in their places of which she could not
have dreamed.  She felt at once the burden of the responsibilities that
came upon her.  She was called upon by those on the farm to order and
provide for everything connected with it.  She had to think for the
farm, and think for the master into whose position she had forced her
way.

She hated herself for her rash act.  She hated the man whom she had
mutilated, but more herself.  If by what she had done she had in one
sense made herself master, in another she had cast herself into bondage.
By the terrible injury she had inflicted on Rebow she had morally bound
herself to him for life to repair that injury by self-devotion.  Had it
been possible for her to love him, even to like him, this would have
been light to her, with her feminine instinct, but as it was not
possible, the slavery would be inexpressibly painful.

Love will hallow and lighten the most repulsive labours, the most
extreme self-sacrifice, but when there is no love, only abhorrence,
labour and self-sacrifice crush mentally and morally.  She must bear the
most fierce and insulting reproaches without an attempt to escape them,
she had in part deserved them.  These she could and would endure, but
his caresses!—no! however deeply she might have sinned against him,
however overflowing her pity for his helpless condition might be, she
could not tolerate affection from the man who by his own confession
merited her profound loathing.  He had taken an unoffending man, and had
imprisoned him and blinded his reason by cruelty; it seemed to her as if
Providence had used her hand to exact a just retribution on Rebow by
condemning him to an equally miserable condition.  The recompense was
justly meted, but would that it had been dealt by another hand!

In one particular she was blameless, and able to excuse herself.  She
had acted without intent to do bodily harm, and in ignorance of the
weapon she had used.  She had been carried away by the instinct of
self-preservation, and had taken up what was readiest at hand, without a
wish to do more than emancipate herself from the grasp of the man she
detested.  He had brought the consequences on his own eyes by his own
act.

But though she quite recognised that he had done this, and that he
richly deserved the consequences, yet she could not relieve her
conscience from the gnawings of self-reproach, from the scalding blush
of shame at having executed a savage, unwomanly vengeance on the man who
had wronged her.  Had her victim been a woman and a rival, she would
perhaps have gloried in her act; but the female mind is perverse in its
twists and complexion, and it will tingle with pain for having hurt a
man, however little that man may be loved, when it would plume itself
for having done the same to a woman who has been a friend.  A woman must
think and act rightly towards a man, but can do neither towards one of
her own sex.

Mehalah’s bosom was a prey to conflicting emotions. She pitied Elijah,
and she pitied George.  Her deep pity for George forced her to hate his
torturer, and grudge him no suffering to expiate his offence.  When she
thought of what George de Witt must have endured in the vault, of his
privations there, of the gradual darkening and disturbance of his
faculties, and then of how Elijah had stepped between him and her, and
spoiled their mutual dream of happiness, and ruined both their lives,
the hot blood boiled in her heart, and she felt that she could deal
Rebow the stroke again, deliberately, knowing what the result must be,
as a retributive act.  But when she heard him, as now, pacing the oak
parlour, and in his blindness striking against the walls, her pity for
him mounted and overlapped her wrath.  Moreover, she was perplexed about
the story of George’s imprisonment.  There was something in it she could
not reconcile with what she knew. Elijah had confessed that on the night
of George’s disappearance he had enticed the young man to Red Hall, made
him drunk or drugged him, and then chained him in the vault, in the
place of his own brother who had died.  It was Rebow and not De Witt
who, that same night, had appeared at her window, driven in the glass
and flung the medal at her feet.  But was this possible? She knew at
what hour George had left the Mussets’ shop, and she knew about the time
when the medal had been cast on the floor before her.  It was almost
incredible that so much had taken place in the interval. It was no easy
row between Red Hall and the Ray, to be accomplished in half an hour.

Surely, also, had George De Witt been imprisoned below, he could have
found some means to make himself heard, to communicate with the men
about the farm, in the absence of Rebow.  Would a few months in that
dark damp cell derange the faculties of a sane man?

Mehalah lifted the trap and went down.  The vault was a cellar not below
the soil, but with floor level with the marsh outside, or only slightly
beneath.  It had a door fastened from within by a bolt, but also
provided with a lock; and there was the circular window already
described.  The shutter had not been replaced, and the sunlight entered,
and made the den less gloomy and horrible than Mehalah had conceived it
to be.  She found the staple to which the chain had been attached, away
from the door and the window.  It was obvious how the maniac had got
loose.  The chain had been attached to the staple by a padlock.  Elijah
sometimes unlocked this, when he was cleaning the straw from the cell
and supplying fresh litter.  He had carelessly turned the key in the
lock, and left it unfastened.  The madman had found this out after Rebow
was gone, and had taken advantage of the circumstance to break out at
the window.  The chain and padlock, with the key in it, were now hung
over the fireplace in the hall, mocking the inscription below, ’When I
take hold, I hold fast.’

Mehalah seated herself in the window of the hall, and took up some
needlework.  Elijah was still pacing the parlour and beating against the
opposite walls, muttering curses when he struck the oak panels.
Presently she heard him groping along the walls for the door, and
stumbling over chairs.  He turned the handle and entered the hall.

He stood before her in the doorway of the darkened chamber, with
extended quivering hands, his head bowed, his eyes covered with a thick
bandage.  He wore his red plush waistcoat and long brown coat.  His dark
hair was ruffled and stood up like rushes over a choked drain.  He
turned his head aside and listened.  Mehalah held her breath.

’You are there,’ he said.  ’Although you try to hide from me, I know you
are there and watching me.  I am in the dark but I can see.  I can see
you always and everywhere, with your eyes—great angry brown eyes—on me,
and your hand lifted to strike me into endless night.’

Mehalah did not speak.  Why should she?  She could say nothing that
could do either any good.

’Have you put the hot fire to your tongue and scorched it out as you
have put it to my eyes?’ he asked.  ’Can’t you speak?  Must I sit alone
in darkness, or tramp alone up and down in black hell, feeling the
flames dance in my eye-sockets, but not seeing them, and have no one to
speak to, no one to touch, no one to kick, and beat, and curse?  Go out
and fetch me a dog that I may torture it to death and laugh over the
sport.  I must do something.  I cannot tramp, tramp, and strike my head
and shoulders against the walls till I am bruised and cut, with no one
to speak to, or speak to me.  By heaven! it is bad enough in Grimshoe
with two in the shiphold mangling each other, but there is excitement
and sport in that.  It is worse in that wooden hold yonder, for there I
am all alone.’

He stopped speaking, and began to feel round the room.  He came to the
chimney and put his fingers into the letters of the inscription.  ’Ha!’
he muttered, ’When I lay hold, I hold fast.  I laid hold of you,
Mehalah, but I have not let go yet, though I have burned my fingers.’

This was the first time he had called her by her Christian name.  She
was surprised.

’Mehalah!’ he repeated, ’Mehalah!’ and then laughed bitterly to himself.
’You are no more my Glory. There is no Glory here for me; unless, in
pity for what a ruin you have made, you take me to your heart and love
me.  If you will do that I will pardon all, I will not give a thought to
my eyes.  I can still see you standing in the midst of the fire, unhurt
like a daughter of God.  I do not care.  I shall always see you there,
and when the fire goes out and only black ashes remain, I shall see you
there shining like a lamp in the night, always the same.  I do not care
how many years may pass, how old you may wax, whether you may become
bent and broken with infirmities, I shall always see my Glory with her
rich black shining hair, her large brown eyes, and form as elastic and
straight as a pine-tree.  I shall see the blue jersey and the red cap
and scarlet skirt.’  He raised his hands and wrung them in the air above
his head: ’What do I care for other sights? These long flat marshes have
nothing beautiful in them. The sea is not here what it is on other
coasts, foaming, colour-shifting like a peacock’s neck; here it is of
one tone and grey, and never tosses in waves, but creeps in like a thief
over the shallow mud-flat, and babbles like a dotard over the mean
shells and clots of weed on our strand.  There is nothing worth seeing
here.  I do not heed being blinded, so long as I can see you, and that
not you nor all your vitriol can extinguish.  Heat skewers white hot in
the fire, and drive them in at the eye-sockets through all obstruction
into the brain, and then, perhaps, you will blind me to that vision.
Nothing less can do it.  Pity me and love me, and I forgive all.’

He crept past the chimney-piece and was close to the window.  He touched
Mehalah with one hand, and in a moment had her fast with both.

’I cannot love you,’ she said, ’but I pity you from the depth of my
soul, and I shall never forgive myself for what I have done.’

’Look here!’ he snatched his bandages away and cast them down.  ’This is
what you have done.  I have hold of you, but I cannot see you with my
eyes. I am looking into a bed of wadding, of white fleeces with red
ochre smears in them, rank dirty old fleeces unsecured—that is all I
see.  I suppose it is the window and the sunshine.  I feel the heat of
the rays; I cannot see them save as streaks of wool.’

’Elijah!’ exclaimed the girl, ’let me bandage your eyes again.  You were
ordered to keep all light excluded.’

’Bah!  I know well enough that my eyesight is gone. I know what you have
done for me.  Do you think that a few days in darkness can mend them?  I
know better. Vitriol will eat away iron, and the eyes are softer than
iron.  You knew that when you poured it on them.’

’I never intended to do you the harm,’ said Mehalah passionately, and
burst into tears.  He listened to her sobbing with pleasure.

’You are sorry for me?’

’I am more than sorry.  I am crushed with shame and grief for what I
have done.’

’You will love me now, Mehalah.’

She shook her head and one of her tears fell on his hand; he raised his
hand and put it to his eyes; then sighed.  ’I thought one such drop
would have restored them whole as before.  It would, had there been
sweetness in it, but it was all bitter.  There was only anger with self
and no love for me.  I must bide on in blackness.’  He put his hands on
each side of her head, twisted his thumbs resting on her cheek-bones,
and her unrestrained tears ran over them.

He stood quite still.

’This is the best medicine I could get,’ he said; ’better nor all
doctor’s messes.  To listen to your heart flowing over, to feel your
warm tears trickle, does me good.  In spite of everything, Glory!  I
must love you, and yet, Mehalah!  I have every cause to hate you.  I
have made you, who were nothing, my wife, mistress of my house and
estate, with a property and position above everyone else in Salcott and
Virley, equal to any of the proud yeomen’s wives on Mersea Isle.  I have
made a home for your mother, and in return you have plunged me in
eternal night, and deny me your love.’

’Let us not recriminate,’ said Mehalah through her tears, ’or I should
have enough to charge you with.  I never sought to be your wife.  You
drove me into the position in spite of my aversion to it; in spite of
all my efforts to escape.  You have wounded me in a cruel and cowardly
manner past forgiveness.  You have ruined my life and all my prospects
of happiness. George——’

He shook her furiously.

’I will not listen to that name,’ he said through his teeth.

’You could bear to hold him in chains there below,’ she answered.

’You said, Let us not recriminate, and you pour a torrent of
recriminations over me,’ he gasped.  ’If I have wronged you, you have
redressed all with one vial of vitriol in the eyes, where man is most
sensitive. With that firejuice you purged away all the past wrongs, I
expiated in that liquid flame all the evil I had done you.  You don’t
know what I have suffered.  You have had no such experience of pain as
to imagine the tortures I have undergone.  If the anguish were all, it
would be enough atonement; but it is not all.  There is the future
before me, a future of night.  I shall have to trust to someone to do
everything for me, to be eyes, and hands, and feet to me.  Whom can I
trust?  How do I know that I shall not be deserted, and left to die in
my darkness, a prey to ravenous men?  If you loved me, then I could lean
on you and be at peace.  But you do not love me, and you will leave me
when it suits your pleasure.’

’No, Elijah,’ said Mehalah sadly; ’that I never will do.  I have robbed
you of your sight.  I did it unwittingly, in self-defence, perhaps also
in anger at knowing how cruelly, wickedly, cowardly you had behaved to
me and to another whom I loved.’

’Whom you love still!’ with a cry of rage.

’One whom I loved,’ repeated Mehalah, sadly; ’and I must atone for my
mad act as far as lies in my power. I will stay by you.  I will never
forsake you.’

’Listen to me, Mehalah,’ said Elijah, with concentrated vehemence; ’you
know what was said—that the person you loved went out in a boat and was
lost.  The body was never found.  Should the man turn up again.’

’That is impossible.’

’I don’t care for impossibilities.  I live now in a dream-world where
there is no line drawn between the possible and the impossible.  Should
he reappear, what then?’

’Still I would remain at my post of duty,’ said the girl, humouring his
fancy.

’The post of duty, not of love,’ he muttered.

’I said duty,’ she replied; ’I will never leave that.’

His thumbs twitched on her cheek-bones and worked their way to the
corners of her eyes; she sharply withdrew her head.

He laughed.  ’You thought I was going to gouge your eyes out with my
thumbnails,’ he said, ’that I was going to repay you in kind.  No, I was
not; but should the dead return to life and reclaim you, I may do it.
You cannot, you shall not escape me.  You and I, and I and you, must
sink or swim together.  Say again, Mehalah, that you will stand by me.’

’I promise it you, Elijah, I promise it you here solemnly, before God.’
She sank on her knees.  ’I have brought you unwittingly into darkness,
and in that darkness I will hold to you and will cherish you.’

’Ha!’ he shouted.  ’At the altar you refused to swear that.  To love,
cherish, and obey is what the parson tried to make you say; but all you
swore to was to obey, you denied the other, and now you take oath to
cherish.  The wheel of fate is turning, and you will come in time to
love where you began to obey and went on to cherish.’



                            *CHAPTER XXVI.*

                       *THE FORGING OF THE RING.*


Mrs. Sharland was failing.  The excitement of the marriage had roused
her to activity, but when that was over she relapsed, her energy
evaporated, and she took to her bed with the avowed intention of not
leaving it again, except for a christening in the family, till carried
to her grave.  She did not understand Mehalah, she fretted because the
arrangements after the eventful day remained the same as before; her
daughter shared her room and kept as much away from Elijah as was
possible, showed him none of the love of a wife to her husband, and was
distressed when spoken to by her new name.

’You are either Mistress Rebow or you are not,’ said the old woman
peevishly to her daughter one night, in their room, ’and if you are not,
then I don’t understand what the ceremony in the church was for. You
treat Elijah Rebow as coldly and indifferently as if he were naught to
you but master, and you to him were still hired servant.  I don’t
understand your goings on.’

’He and I understand each other, that is enough,’ answered Mehalah.  ’I
have married him for his name and for nothing else.  In no other light
will I regard him than as a master: I told him when I agreed to go to
church with him that I would be his no further than the promise to obey
went; I take his name to save mine—that is all.  He is not my husband,
and never shall be, in any other way.  I will serve him and serve him
devotedly, but not give him my love.  That I cannot give.  I gave my
heart away once for all, and it has not been restored to me.’

’That is all nonsense,’ said Mrs. Sharland.  ’Didn’t I love Charles
Pettican, and weren’t we nigh coming to a declaration, only a fit of the
ague shivers cut it short? I married your father, and loved him truly as
a good wife and not as a hired servant, for all that.’

’Elijah and I understand each other,’ answered Mehalah.  ’I suppose
there is something of truth in what he says over and over again, that he
and I are different from others, and that there’s none can understand us
but our two selves.’

’Then you are made for one another.’

’So he says, but I will not believe it.  No.  That cannot be.  Some have
peace and happiness drop into their lap, others have to fight their way
to it, and that is our fate.  But that we shall find it in each other,
that I never will admit.  In George——’ she covered her eyes, and left
her sentence unfinished.

The charge of Mrs. Sharland was, to some extent, unjust.  Mehalah did
attend to Elijah with as much care and as assiduously as she was able,
considering the amount of work which had devolved upon her.  Her mother
was ill and in bed, Elijah helpless.  She had to see after and direct
everything about the farm and house, beside ministering to the two
invalids. Consequently she was unable to devote much time to Elijah, but
whenever she had a few moments of relief from work she devoted them to
him.  She took her needlework either to him in the oak parlour, or
brought him into the hall.  She had now somewhat lightened her labours
by engaging a charwoman, and was therefore more able than before to be
with Rebow and her mother.  Each complained if left long alone, and she
had much difficulty in portioning her time between them.  She tried, but
tried in vain, to induce her mother to make an effort and come
downstairs, so that she might sit with both at once; this would save her
from distraction between two exacting and conflicting claims, and some
restraint would be placed on the intercourse between Rebow and herself
by the presence in the room of a third party.

Elijah was not entirely blinded, he was plunged not in darkness but in
mist.  He could see objects hazily, when near; he could distinguish
figures, but not faces, when within a few yards of him, but nothing
distant. The wall and a black cloud on the horizon were equally remote
to his vision.

He wandered about, with a stick, and visited his cattle sheds and
workmen; or sat under the south wall of his house in the sun.  The pump
was there, and to it Mehalah sometimes came.  He listened for her step.
He could distinguish her tread from that of the charwoman.  He took no
notice of this woman, though she came up to him occasionally and said a
few commiserating words.

The men thought that he was gentler in his affliction than he had been
before.  He did not curse them, as had been his wont.  He asked about
the cattle, and the farm, and went his way.  Mehalah also noticed that
he was less fierce; she was able also to attribute this softening to its
right cause, to her own influence. He was, to some extent, happy,
because she was often with him, sought him instead of shunning him,
spoke to him kindly, instead of rebuffing him when he addressed her, and
let him know and feel that she thought of him, and was endeavouring to
make him comfortable in his great deprivation.

As he sat in the sun and looked up at the bright orb, which he saw only
as a nebulous mass of light, she was ever present before his inward eye,
she in her pride and beauty.  He did not think; he sat hour by hour,
simply looking at her—at the image ever before him, and listening for
her step or voice.  An expression of almost content stole across his
strongly marked features, but was occasionally blurred and broken by an
uneasy, eager, enquiring look, as if he were peering and hearkening for
something which he dreaded.  In fact, he was not satisfied that George
De Witt would never reappear. Had he been set at rest on this point, he
could have been happy.

Mehalah was touched by his patience, his forgiveness of the irreparable
wrong she had done him.  He had said that if she loved him he would
pardon all.  He was ready to do this at a less price; though he craved
for her love, he was contented, at least for the present, with her
solicitude.  He had been accustomed to open hostility and undisguised
antipathy.  Now that he met with consideration and tenderness from her,
he became docile, and a transformation began to be operated in his
nature.  Love him, she could not, but she felt that but for what he had
done to George, she could regard him without repugnance.  Pity might
ripen into friendship.  Into a deeper and more rich feeling it never
could, for he had barred the way to this possibility by his dealing with
De Witt.

She ventured occasionally to approach the subject, but it always
produced such agitation in the manner of Rebow that she was obliged to
desist from seeking explanation of the particulars which perplexed her.
The slightest allusion to George De Witt troubled the master of Red
Hall, made his face darken, and brought on an access of his old
violence, from which he did not recover for a day or two.

Mrs. De Witt came to see him.

’Lawk a day!’ she said; ’what a job to find you in this predicament!’

He turned his whitened eyes on her, with a nervous twitch in the muscles
and a tremour of the lips.  ’Well! What news?’

’News!’ echoed the lady; ’dear sackalive! who’d expect to find news in
Mersea? you might as well drag for oysters in a horsepond.’

He was satisfied, and let her talk on without attending to her.

A few days later, he called the charwoman to him as she was going to the
pump.

’What is your name?’

’Susan Underwood.  I’m a married woman, with three small children, and
another on its way.’

He fumbled in his pocket, and took out a crown.

’Any news?—from Mersea, I mean.’

’I don’t come from Mersea.  Thank your honour all the same.’

’But if there were news there it would get to Virley or Salcott, or
wherever you live.’

’It would be sure.  I did hear,’ she said, ’that Farmer Pooley has been
a-wisiting a little more nor he ought at widow Siggars’ cottage, her as
has a handsome daughter, and so, they do say, has Farmer Pudney; and the
other day they met there, and was so mad each to find the other, that
the one up with his hunting whip and the other with his bible and
knocked each other down, and each had to be carried home on a shutter.’

’Go and tell those tales to the old woman upstairs. I have no patience
to listen to them.  That’s the sort of garbage women feed on, as maggots
on rotten meat.’

’But it is true.’

’Who cares whether true or not?  It is all the same to me.  Has anyone
arrived at Mersea?’

’Not yet, sir, but they do say that the parson’s wife has expectations.’

’Go back to the kitchen,’ growled Elijah, and relapsed into his dream.

A few minutes after, Mehalah came out, and seated herself on the bench
beside him.  She was knitting. He put out his hand and felt her, and
smiled.  He raised his hand to her head.

’Glory! when you wear the red cap in the sun I know it, I see a scarlet
light like a poppy, and it pleases me.  Let me hold the ball, then I can
feel every stitch you take with your fingers.’

She put the wool gently into his palm; and began to talk to Mm
concerning the farm.  He listened, and spoke in a tone and with a manner
different from his habit formerly.

Presently his hand stole up the thread, and he caught her fingers and
drew her hand down on her lap. Her first impulse was to snatch it away,
but she conquered it, and let him feel over her hand without a movement
of dislike.

’You have not yet a ring,’ he said; ’you have no gold wedding circle
like other married women.’

’Our union is unlike all others,’ she said.

’That is true; but you must wear my ring.  I shall not be happy till you
do.  I shall think you will cast me off unless I can feel the ring that
has no ending round your finger.  Where is the link with which I married
you?’

’I have it here,’ she said; ’I have not cast it off, and I shall not
cast you off.  I have fastened it by a string and carry it in my bosom.’

He seemed pleased.  ’You wear it for my sake.’

’I wear it,’ she replied, truthfully, ’because I took a solemn oath on
that day, and I will not go from it. What I undertook that I will
fulfil, neither more nor less.  What I did not promise I will not do,
what I did undertake that I will execute.’

’And you bear the ring in your bosom——’

’As a reminder to me of my promise.  I will not be false to myself or to
you.  Do not press me further. You know what to expect and what not to
expect.  If I could love you I would; but I cannot.  I did not promise
that then and I will not promise it now, for I know the performance is
out of my power.’

’You must wear the wedding ring on your finger.’

’I cannot wear this link, it is too large.’

’I will get you a gold ring, such as other women wear.’

’No.  I cannot wear a lie; the gold ring belongs to the perfect
marriage, to the union of hearts.  It befits not ours.’

’You are right,’ he said, and sighed.  He still held her hand; she made
a slight effort to withdraw it, but he clasped the hand the tighter.

’Let me touch and hold you, Glory,’ he said. ’Remember I can no more see
you, except mistily.  You must allow me some compensation.  I know what
you are now, sitting here in the sun, with your hair full of rich
coppery gleams, and your eyes full of light and darkness at once, and
your cheek like a ripe apricot. I know what you are, splendid, noble, as
no other girl in the whole world; but you have shut my eyes, that I may
not see you, so allow me, at least, to feel you.’  He paused.  Then he
went on: ’You are right, our union is unlike any other, as you and I are
different from all others in the world.  The married life of some is
smooth and shining and rustless like the gold, but ours is quite
contrary, it is rough and dark and full of blisters and canker.  It may
be different some day——’ he turned his dim eyes enquiringly at her, ’but
not now, not now.  Nevertheless as the ring is without an end so is our
union.  Give me the link of iron, Glory, and come with me to the forge.
I will beat out a bit of the metal into a ring, one small enough and
light enough for you to wear.’

He got up, and holding her hand, bade her lead him to the forge.

Near the bakehouse was a small smithy, fitted up with all necessary
appliances.  Rebow was a skilful workman at the anvil, and shod his own
horses, and made all that was needed in iron for the house and farm.

Mehalah conducted him to the shop, and brought fire from the kitchen for
the forge, she worked the bellows and blew the fire into size and
strength, whilst Elijah raked the coals together.

’Where is the link, Glory?’ he asked, and went up to her.  He put his
hand to her neck, before she did, and drew out of her bosom something.

’That is not the link, Elijah,’ she said; ’it is my medal—the medal
that——’

He uttered a fierce cry, and wrenching it off, dashed it on the ground.
He would have stamped on it had he been able to see it.

Mehalah’s cheek flushed, but she said nothing. She saw where the coin
had rolled.  She stooped, picked it up, impressed a kiss upon it, and
hid it once more in her bosom.

’Here is the iron link,’ she said; he took it from her sullenly.

The flame gleamed up blue above the wetted coal, and glared out white
through the crevices in the clot, as the bellows panted, and Rebow drew
the coals together or broke into the glaring mass with an iron rod.

’I heard a preacher once take as his text,’ said he, ’Our God is a
consuming fire; and he told all in the chapel that this was writ in
Scripture and therefore must be true to the letter, for God wrote it
Himself, and He knew what He was better than any man.  He said that fire
warms and illumines at a distance, but if you come too close it dazzles
and burns up.  And he told us it was so with God.  You can’t keep too
far off of Him to be comfortable and safe; the nearer you get, the worse
it is for you; and to my thinking that is Hell, when you get sucked into
the very core of the fire in the heart of God.  You must be consumed
because you are not divine, fire alone can live in fire; most folks are
clay and water, and they are good enough, they get light and warmth, but
when they die they burn up like this dock of coke.  But there are other
folk, like you and me, Glory! who are made of fire and clay; it takes
but a word or a thought to make us roar and blaze and glow like this
furnace. There is passion in us—and that is a spark of the divine.  I do
not care what the passion be, love or hate, or jealousy or anger, if it
be hot and red and consuming so that it melts and burns all that opposes
it, that fiery passion is of God and will live, live on for ever, in the
central heart and furnace, which is God. When you and I die, Glory! and
are sucked into the great fiery whirlpool, we shall not be burnt up
altogether, but intensified.  If I love you with fiery passion here I
shall love you with fiery passion ten thousand times hotter hereafter;
my passion will turn to glaring white heat, and never go out for all
everlasting, for it will be burning, blazing in God who is eternal.  If
you hate me, you will be whirled in, and your fury fanned and raked into
a fiery phrenzy which will rage on for ages on ages, and cannot go out,
for it will be burning in the everlasting furnace of God.  If I love,
and you hate with infinite intensity for an infinity of time—that is
Hell.  But if you love and I love, our love grows hotter and blazes and
roars and spurts into one tongue, cloven like the tongues at Pentecost,
twain yet one, and that is Heaven.  My love eating into yours and
encircling it, and yours into mine, and neither containing nor consuming
the other, but going on in growing intensity of fiery fury of love from
everlasting to everlasting, that is Heaven of Heavens.’

He was heating the link, held between the teeth of long shanked pincers,
and then withdrawing it, and forging it on the anvil as he spoke.

’Glory!’ he said; ’tell me, you do not hate me?’

She hesitated.

’Glory!’ he repeated, and laid hammer and pincer on the anvil, and
leaned his head towards her, as she shrank into the dark corner by the
bellows, ’Glory! tell me, you do not hate me.’

’Elijah,’ she said, ’I must be candid with you. When I think of what, by
your own confession, you have done to him whom I loved more than all the
world——’

He raised his hammer and brought it down on the link, cutting it in
half, and sending one fiery half across the smithy.

’When I think of what you have done to him, I feel that I do hate you,
and that I have every cause and right to hate you.  I could forgive
everything else. I have turned over in my mind all that you have done to
me, the cruel way in which you worked till you had brought me within
your power, the heartless way in which you got my good name to be evil
spoken of, and drove me out of self-defence to take your hand before the
altar of God, I have thought of all this, and I feel that my
act—unintentional though it was—yet my act, which has blinded you, has
expiated all those offences. You have wronged me, and I have wronged
you.  I have ruined your life, but you have also ruined mine. We are
quits so far.  You have my frank forgiveness. I blot out all the past,
as far as it concerns me, from my memory.  It shall no more rankle in my
heart. You have shown me a generous forgiveness of my misdeed, and I
would imitate you.  But what you did to George is not to be expiated.
You sinned against him more terribly, more wickedly than against me, and
he alone can pardon you.  That I cannot forgive; and for that crime I
must still hate you.’

He stood trembling—a strange weakness came over him—he was not angry,
savage, morose; he seemed a prey to fear and uncertainty.

’Tell me, tell me truly, Glory!  Does that alone prevent you from loving
me?  Had I never done what I said I had done, could you love me?’

’I do not say that,’ she replied.  ’As I have told you before, I gave my
heart once for all to George De Witt.  I never could love you with my
fresh full heart, as a woman should love her husband, but I feel that I
could like you as a friend.  I do pity you.  God knows how bitterly I
have suffered from remorse for what I did unwittingly, and how sincere I
am in my repentance and desire to deal tenderly and truly by you,
Elijah. I feel sometimes as if I could like you; I do acknowledge that
you and I stand apart from others, and alone can understand each other;
but then that great crime of your life against George rises up before me
and drives back my rising compassion.’

Rebow worked again at the link, beating out the fragment into a wire,
and cutting it again.  He was thinking whilst he wrought.

’Sooner or later,’ he muttered at last, ’all will out.’

He worked with difficulty, and slowly, as he could not see, and was
obliged to feel the iron, and cool it repeatedly to ascertain whether it
was as he desired it.

’Look here, Glory!’ he said, ’when iron is taken from the smelting
furnace it is crystalline and brittle; there is no thread and texture in
it, but we burn it and beat it, and as we work we beat our stubborn
purpose into the metal, and it is the will of the smith which goes
through his arm and hammer into the iron and converts it to steel; he
drives his will into the metal, and that becomes the fibre in it.  You
don’t find it so in nature.  The human soul must part with something and
transfuse it into the inanimate iron, and there it will lie and last,
for the will of man is divine and eternal.  It is much the same with all
with which we have to do.  I have spent time and labour over you, and
thought and purpose have been consumed in making you my wife; they are
none of them lost, they are all in you, they have become fibres in your
soul.  You may not be aware of it, but there they all are.  The more one
thinks and labours for the other the more he ingrafts himself in the
nature of the other.  I have heard of sound men having their healthy
blood drawn off and injected into the veins of the sick, and restoring
them thus to activity and health.  We are always doing this with our
wills, injecting their fire into the hearts of others, and so by degrees
transfusing their natures.  You are pouring yourself into me, and I into
you, whether we know it or not, till in time we are alike in colour and
tone and temperature.’

He had worked the piece of steel into a rude ring, not very cumbrous,
and he bade Mehalah try it on her finger.  It was too small.  He easily
enlarged it, and then got a file to smooth off the roughnesses.

’I had rather you wore this than a ring of gold,’ he said, ’for there is
part of my soul in this iron.  I have made it in spite of my blindness,
because I had the will to do so.  The whole metal is full of my purpose,
which tinctures it as wine stains water; and with it goes my resolve
that you shall be mine altogether in heart and soul, in love as well as
in pity, for now and for all eternity.  You will wear that on your
finger, the finger that has a nerve leading from the heart.  Stretch out
your hand, Glory, and let me put it on.  Stretch out your hand over the
hearth, above the fire, our God is a consuming fire, and this is His
proper altar.’

He stood on one side of the furnace, she on the other; the angry red
coals glowed below, and a hot smoke rose from them.

She extended her hand to him, and he grasped it with the left above the
fire, and held the steel ring in his right.

’Glory!’ he said in a tremulous voice.  ’At the altar in the church you
swore to obey me.  In the hall you knelt and swore to cherish me; here,
over the fire, the figure of our God, as I put the iron ring on, swear
to me also to love me.’

She did not answer.  She stood as though frozen to ice; with her eyes on
the door of the smithy, where stood a figure—the figure of a man.

Suddenly she uttered a piercing cry.  ’George! my George! my George!’
and withdrew her hand from the grasp of Elijah.  The iron ring fell from
his fingers into the red fire below and was lost.



                            *CHAPTER XXVII.*

                       *THE RETURN OF THE LOST.*


Mehalah was clasped in the arms of George De Witt.

’Who is there?  Where is he?’ shouted Elijah, staggering forward with
his great pincers raised ready to strike.

George drew the girl out of the way, and let the angry man burst out of
the door and pass, beating the air with his iron tool.  He put his arm
round her, and led her from the house.  She could not speak, she could
only look up at him as at one risen from the dead.  He led her towards
the sea-wall, looking behind him at the figure of the blind man, rushing
about, and smiting recklessly in his jealousy and fury, and hitting
bushes, rails, walls, anything in hopes of smiting down the man whose
name he had heard, and who he knew had come back to break in on and ruin
his hopes.

George De Witt walked lamely, he had a somewhat stiff leg; otherwise he
seemed well.

’How manly you have grown!’ exclaimed Mehalah, holding him at arms’
length, and contemplating him with pride.

’And you, Glory, have become more womanly; but in all else are the
same.’

’Where have you been, George?’

’At sea, Glory, and smelt powder.  I have been a sailor in His Majesty’s
Royal Navy, in the Duke of Clarence, and I am pensioned off, because of
my leg.’

’Have you been wounded?’

’Not exactly.  A cannon-ball, as we were loading, struck me on the shin
and bruised the bone, so that I have been invalided with swellings and
ulcerations.  I ain’t fit for active service, but I’m not exactly a
cripple.’

’But George! when did this take place?  I do not understand.  After your
escape?’

’Escape, Glory?  I have had no escape.’

’From confinement in Red Hall,’ she added.

’I never was confined there.  I do not know what you are talking about.’

Mehalah passed her hand over her face.

’George!  I thought that Elijah had made you drunk and then put you in
his cellar, chained there till you went mad.’

’There is not a word of truth in this,’ said De Witt. ’Who told you such
a tale?’

’Elijah himself.’

’Elijah is a rascal.  I have enough cause against him without that.’

’Then tell me about yourself.  I am bewildered. How came you to
disappear?’

’Let us walk together to the spit by the windmill, and I will tell you
all.’

They turned the way he said, and he did not speak again till they had
reached the spot.

’We will sit down, Glory; I suffer still somewhat from my leg, so that I
am always glad to rest.  Now I will tell you the whole story.  You
remember the evening when we quarrelled.  You had behaved rather roughly
to Phoebe Musset.’

’I remember it only too well, George.’

’After you had left, I went to the Mussets’ house to inquire after
Phoebe, who had been well soused in the sea by you; and on my return I
fell in with Elijah Rebow.  He took me to task for not having gone after
you and patched up our little difference.  He said that a quarrel should
never be allowed to cool, but mended while hot.  He persuaded me to let
him row me in his boat to the Ray.  He said he was going there after
ducks or something of that sort, I do not remember exactly.  I agreed,
and got into his punt with him, and we made for the Rhyn.  We had
scarcely entered the channel when a lugger full of men ran across our
bows and had us fast in a jiffy.  I was overpowered before I knew where
I was, and taken by the men in their boat.’

’Who were they, George?’ asked Mehalah, breathlessly.

’They were some of the crew of the _Salamander_, a war schooner then
lying in the offing, come to press me into the service with Captain
Macpherson, who had been on the coast-guard, but was appointed to the
command. I was carried off as many another man has been, without my
consent, and made to serve His Majesty on compulsion.’

’But, George! how about your medal that I gave you?  That was returned
to me the same night.’

’I suppose it was,’ he replied coolly.  ’As I was taken, Elijah said to
me, "Have you no token to send back to Glory?"  I bade him tell you how
I was impressed, and how I would return to you whenever the war was over
and I was paid off; but he asked for some token, that you might believe
him.  Well, Glory!  I had nothing by me save your medal, and I handed it
to him and told him to give it to you with my love.’

Mehalah wrung her hands and moaned.

’I have a notion,’ continued George, ’that Rebow was somehow privy to my
being pressed; for he went out that afternoon to the _Salamander_ in his
cutter, and had a private talk with Captain Macpherson, who was short of
men.  Now I fancy, though I can’t prove it, that he schemed with the
captain how he should catch me, and that Elijah with set purpose took me
into the trap set for me.  He is deep enough to do such a dirty trick.’

Mehalah’s head sank on her knees, and she sobbed aloud.

’And now, Glory, dearest!’ he went on, ’the rascal has got you to marry
him, I am told.  How could you take him?  Why did you not wait for me?
You were promised to me, and we looked on one another as soon to be
husband and wife.  You must have soon forgotten your promise.’

’I thought you were dead,’ she gasped.

’So did my mother.  I do not understand.  Elijah knew better.’

’But he told no one.  He allowed us all to suppose you were drowned in
one of the fleets.’

’It is very hard,’ said George, ’for a fellow to return from the wars to
reclaim his girl, and to find her no longer his.  It is a great blow to
me, Glory!  I did so love and admire you.’

She could only sway to and fro in her distress.

’It is very disappointing to a chap,’ said George, putting a quid in his
cheek.  ’When he has calculated on getting a nice girl as his wife, and
in battle and storm has had the thoughts of her to cheer and encourage
him; when he has some prize-money in his pocket, and hopes to spend it
on her—well, it is hard.’

’George,’ said she between her sobs, ’why did you return the medal?  I
gave it you, and you swore never to part with it.  You should not have
sent it to me.’

’Did I really swear that, Glory?’ he answered; ’if so, I had forgotten.
You see I was so set upon and flustered that night, I did not rightly
consider things as they should have been considered.’  He stopped.

’Well?’ asked Mehalah, eagerly.

’Don’t catch me up, Glory.  I only stopped to turn the quid.  As I was
about to say, I did not remember what I had promised.  I had nothing
else to send you that would serve as a token.  The medal was an article
about which there could be no mistake.  I knew when you saw that you
would make sure Elijah’s story was true, and my promise would be
sacred—I have kept it, I have returned to you, Glory, and if you were
not married I should make you my wife.  I love you still, as I always
did love you.  I’ve seen a sight of fine girls since I left Mersea.
There’s more fish in the sea than come out of it; but I’m darned if I
have seen a finer anywhere, or more to my liking than you, Glory.  You
were my first love, and the sight of you brings back pleasant memories.
The more I look at you now, the more I feel inclined to wring that old
prophet’s neck. You are too good for such a chap as he; you should have
waited for me.  You had promised, and might have had patience.  But,
Lord bless me! how the girls do run after the men!  Glory!  I have seen
the world since I left Mersea, and I know more of it than I did. I
suppose you thought that as I was gone to Davy Jones’s locker you must
catch whom you could.’

’George!’ exclaimed Mehalah, ’do not speak to me thus.  I cannot bear
it.  I know you are only talking in this way to try me, and because you
resent my marriage.  I promised once to be true to you, I gave you my
heart, and I have remained, and I will remain, true to you; my heart is
yours, and I can never recover it and give it to another.’

’This is very fine and sentimental, Glory,’ said George; ’I’ve smelt
powder and I know the colour of blood.  I’ve seen the world, and know
what sentiment is worth; it is blank cartridge firing; it breaks no
bones, but it makes a noise and a flash.  I don’t see how you can call
it keeping true to me when you marry another man for his money.’

’You are determined to drive me mad,’ exclaimed Mehalah.  ’Have mercy on
me, my own George, my only George!  I have loved and suffered for you.
God can see into my heart, and knows how deeply it has been cut, and how
profusely it has bled for you.  You must spare me.  I have thought of
you.  I have lived only in a dream of you.  The world without you has
been dead and blank.  I have not had a moment of real joy since your
disappearance; it seems to me as though a century of torment had drawn
its slow course since then. No, George!  I have married for nothing but
to save my self-respect.  I was forced by that man, whom I will not name
now, so hateful and horrible to me is the thought of him—I was forced by
him from my home on the Ray to lodge under his roof.  He smoked my
mother and me out of our house as if we were foxes. When he had me
secure he drew a magician’s circle round me, and I could not break
through it.  My character, my name were tarnished, there was nothing for
it but for me to marry him.  I did so, but I did so under stipulations.
I took his name, but I am not, and never shall be, more to him than his
wife in the register of the parish.  I have never loved him—I never
undertook to love him.’

’This is a queer state of things,’ said George. ’Dashed if, in all my
experience of life and of girls, I came across anything similar, and I
have seen something. I have not spent all my days in Mersea.  I’ve been
to the West Indies.  I’ve seen white girls, and yellow girls, and brown
girls, and copper-coloured girls, and black ones—black as rotted
seaweed.  I have—they are all much of a muchness, but this beats my
experience. You are not like others.’

’So he says; he and I are alone in the world, and alone can understand
one another.  Do you understand me, George?’

’I’m blessed if I do.’

She was silent.  She was very unhappy.  She did not like his tone: there
was an insincerity, a priggishness about it which jarred with her
reality and depth of feeling.  But she could not analyse what offended
her. She thought he was angry with her, and had assumed a taunting air
to cover his mortification.

She drew the medal from her bosom.

’George! dear, dear George!’ she said vehemently, ’take the pledge
again.  I give it you with my whole heart once more.  I believe it saved
you once, it may save you again.  At all events, it is a token to you
that my heart is the same, that I care for and love none but you in the
whole wide world.’

He took it and suspended it round his neck.

’I will keep it for your sake,’ he said; ’you may be sure it will be
treasured by me.’

’Keep it better than you did before.’

’Certainly I will.  I shall value it inexpressibly.’

’George!’ she went on, trembling in all her limbs, and rising to her
feet.  ’George! my first and only love! as I give it you back now, I
make you the same promise that I made you before.  I will love—love—love
you and you only, eternally.  I swore then to be true to you, and I have
been true.  Swear again to me the same.’

’Certainly.  I shall always love you, Glory!  I’m damned if it is
possible for a fellow not to, you are so handsome with those flashing
eyes and glowing cheeks. A fellow must be made of ice not to love you.’

’Be true to me, as I to you.’

’To be sure I will, Glory!’ and added in an undertone, ’rum sort of
truth hers, to go and marry another chap.’

’What is that you say, George?’

’Take care, Glory!’ exclaimed the sailor; ’here comes the old prophet
with a pair of tongs over his shoulder, staggering along the wall
towards us.  I had better sheer off.  He don’t look amiable.  Good-bye,
Glory!’

’Oh, George!  I must see you again.’

’I will come again.  You will see me often enough. Sailors can no more
keep away from handsome girls than bees from clover.’

’George, George!’

Elijah came up, his face black with passion.

’Mehalah!’ he roared, as he swung his iron pincers.

She caught his wrist and disarmed him.

’I could bite you, and tear your flesh with my teeth,’ he raged.  ’All
was so peaceful and beautiful, and then he came from the dead and broke
it into shivers. Where are you?’  He put out his hands to grasp her.

’Do not touch me!’ she cried, loathing in her voice. ’With my whole soul
I abhor you, you base coward. You lied to me about George, a hateful lie
that made me mad, and yet the reality is almost as bad—it is worse.  He
is alive and free, and I am bound, bound hand and foot, to you.’



                           *CHAPTER XXVIII.*

                          *TIMOTHY’S TIDINGS.*


’Mehalah!’ roared the wretched man, smiting at her with both his
clenched fists, and nearly precipitating himself into the mud, by
missing his object, ’Mehalah! where are you?  Come near, and let me beat
and kill you.’

’Why are you angry, Elijah?’ asked the girl.  ’The man you betrayed to
the pressgang has returned, are you vexed at that?’

’Come near me,’ he shouted.

’You have gained your end, and may well be content that he is alive.
You have separated us for ever; what more could you desire?  His hopes
and mine are alike shattered by your act.  You lied to me about his
madness, but though that wickedness was not wrought to which you
pretended, you have done that which passes forgiveness.’

’Where is he?’

’He is gone.  He would not meet you.  He could not deal the punishment
you deserve on a blinded man.’

’You have been discussing me—the blinded man,’ raved Elijah.  ’Yes, you
first blind me that I may not see, and then you meet and intrigue with
your old lover, in security, knowing I cannot watch, and pursue, and
punish you.’

’Go back to the house, Elijah.  You are in no fit temper to speak to on
this subject.’

’Oh yes! go back and sit in the hall alone, whilst you are with him—your
George!  No, Mehalah!  I tell you this.  I will not be deceived.  Though
I be blind, I can and will see and follow you.  I will sell my soul to
the devil for twenty-four hours’ vision, that I may track and catch and
crush your two heads together, and trample the life out of you with my
big iron-heeled boots.  You shall not see him, you shall never see him
again.  Give me back my pincers, and I will make an end of it all.’

’Elijah, you must trust me.  I married you in self-respect, and I shall
never forget the respect I owe to myself.’

’I cannot trust you,’ he answered, ’because you are just one of those
whose movements no one can calculate. I tell you what, Mehalah.  God
made most folks of clockwork and stuck them on their little plots of
soil to spin round and run their courses, like the figures on an Italian
barrel-organ.  You look at Mersea island, that is the board of such a
contrivance, and on it are so many dolls; they twist about, and you know
that if God turns the handle for ten minutes or for ten years, or for
ten times ten years, they will do exactly the same things in exactly the
same ways, just as He made them and set them to spin.  But as He was
making the dolls that were to twirl and pirouette His breath got into
some, and they are different from the rest.  They don’t go according to
the clockwork, and don’t follow the circles of the machine, as set
agoing by the organ-handle.  God himself can’t count on them, for they
have free wills, and His breath is genius and independence in their
hearts.  They go where they list, and do what they will, they follow the
impulse of the breath of God within, and not the wires that fasten them
to the social mechanism.  I do not know what I may do.  I do not know
what you may do. We have the breath of God in us.  I am sure that you
have, and I am sure that I have; but I know that there is none in your
mother, none in such as George De Witt. The laws of the land and of
religion are the slits in the board on which the dolls dance, and they
only move along these slits; but you and I, and such as have free souls,
go anywhere, and do anything.  We have no law. The wind bloweth where it
listeth, and thou canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth;
so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.  I heard a preacher once
explain that text, and he said that the wind was the Spirit of God and
it went where it willed, and so all who were born of the Spirit followed
their wills, and there was neither right nor wrong to them, for they
were blown about, across and up and down, where others not so born dare
not step, and they never forfeited their sonships whatever they did, for
it was not they, but the divine will in them that drove them.  Mehalah!
you are one with a free, headlong will, and how can I count on what you
will do?  There is no cut track along which you must run.  The puppets
dance their rounds, but you rush in and out and upset those that are in
your way.  I am the same.  You have seen and learned my way.  Who could
reckon on me?  I never mapped out my course, but went on as I was
impelled; and so will you.  But be sure of this, Mehalah!  I shall not
endure your desertion of me.  Beware how you meet and speak to George De
Witt again.’

’Elijah,’ said the girl; ’I give you only what I promised you, my
obedience, never expect more.  Your crooked courses are not such as can
gain respect, much less regard.  You say that you act on impulse, and
have not mapped your course.  I do not believe you. You have worked with
a set purpose before you to get rid of George, and obtain hold over me.
Your purpose was deliberate, your plans laid in cold blood.  You have
got as much as you can get.  You have obtained some sort of control over
me, but my soul is free, my heart is free, and these you shall never
bring into slavery.’

’I was ready half an hour ago to forgive you for having blinded me.  I
cannot forgive you now.  You have done me a wicked wrong.  You acted on
impulse, without purpose, you say.  I do not believe it.  There was set
design and cold scheming in it all.  You knew that George De Witt was
not dead—or you thought he might be yet alive and might return, so you
dashed the firejuice into my eyes to blind them to what would take place
on his reappearance.’

’This is false!’ exclaimed Mehalah indignantly.

’So is it false that I schemed and worked,’ he said. ’Do you not
understand, Mehalah, that what we do, we do for an end which we do not
see?  We act on the spur of passion, and the acts link together, and
make a complete chain in the end.  I did at the moment what I thought
must be done, and so it was brought about that you became my wife.  You
acted as anger and love inspired, and now I am made helpless, whilst you
sport with your lover.  But I tell you, Mehalah, I will not endure this.
I don’t care if you die and I die, but parted we shall not be.  You and
I must find our heaven in each other and nowhere else.  You are going
after wandering lights if you expect a port away from my heart.
Wrecking lights attached to asses’ heads.’  He stamped and caught at
her.

’My heart was given to George before I knew you,’ said Glory sadly; ’I
have long known him, and we had long been promised to each other.  We
had hoped to be married this spring and then we should have been happy,
unspeakably happy.  He has been true to me and I will be true to him.
We cannot now marry. You have prevented that; but we can still love one
another and be true to each other, and live in the thought and
confidence of the other.  He trusts me and I trust him.  He is now
bitterly distressed to find that you have separated us, but in time he
will be reconciled, and then it will be as of old, when I was on the
Ray.  We shall see one another, and we shall be true, loving friends,
but nothing more; nothing more is possible.  You have barred that.’

’Is this your resolve?’ he asked, turning livid with anger; even his
lips a dead leaden tint.

’It is not a resolve, it is what must be.  I must love him, I cannot
help it.  We must see each other. We can never be man and wife, that you
have succeeded in preventing, and for that I shall never forgive you.
But I will not be false to my oath.  I will still serve you, and I will
cherish you in your wretchedness and blindness.’

’This will not do,’ he cried.  ’My whole nature, my entire soul, cries
out and hungers for you, for your nature, for your soul.  I must have
your whole being as mine, I will not be master of a divided Glory!
allegiance here, love there, cold obedience to me and gushing devotion
to him.  The thought is unendurable. O God!’ he burst forth in an agony,
’why did I not take you in my arms when the Ray house was burning, and
spring with you into the flames and hold you there in the yellow
wavering tongue of fire, till we melted into one lump?  Then we should
both have been at peace now, both in one, and happy in our unity.’  He
strode up and down, with his head down.

’Mehalah! have you seen water poured on lime? What a fume and boiling
takes place, the two fight together which shall obtain the mastery, but
neither gets it all its own way in the end, but one enters into and
penetrates every pore of the other, and the heat and the steam only
continue till every part of one is impregnated with the other.  You and
I are mixing like water and lime, and we rage and smoke, but there is
peace at the end, in view, when we are infused the one into the other,
when it is neither I nor you, but one being.  The mixture must be
complete some day, in this life or the next; and then we shall clot into
one hard rock, imperishable and indivisible.’

’Elijah! try to take interest in something else; think of something
beside me.  I can be nothing more to you than what I am, so rest
contented with what you have got, and turn your thoughts to your farm,
or anything else.’

’I cannot do it, Mehalah.  I put a little plant once in a pot and filled
the vessel with rich mould, and the plant grew and at last broke the pot
into a hundred pieces, and I found within a dense mat of fibres; the
root had eaten up and displaced all the soil and swelled till it rent
the vessel.  It has been so with my love of you.  It got planted, how I
know not, in my heart, and it has thrown its roots through the whole
chamber, and devoured all the substance, and woven a net of fibres in
and out and up and down, and has swelled and is thrusting against the
walls, till there is scarce love there any more but horrible, biting,
wearing pain.  I cannot kill the plant and pluck it out, or it will
leave a great void. I must let it grow till it has broken up the vessel.
It grows and makes root, but will not flower.  There has been scarce
leaf, certainly no blossom, to my love.  It is all downward, inward,
clogging, bursting tangle of fibre.  Can you say it is so with you?  You
cannot. Your care for that fool George is but a slip struck in that may
root or not, that must be nursed or it will wither.  Tear it up and cast
it away.  It is not worthy of you.  George is a simple fool.  I know
him.  A clown without a soul.  Why, Glory! there are none hereabouts
with souls but you and me.  Your mother has none, Mrs. De Witt has none,
Abraham has none.  They can’t understand the ways and workings of those
that have souls.  They are bodies, ruled by bodily wants, and look at
all things out of bodily eyes, and interpret by bodily instincts all
things done by those spiritually above them. But you understand me, and
I understand you.  Soul speaks to soul.  I’ve heard a preacher say that
once on a time the sons of God went in unto the daughters of men, and
what they begat of them were cursed of heaven. That means that men with
souls married vulgar women with only instincts and appetites, and such
unions are unnatural.  The sons of God must marry the daughters of God,
and leave the animal men and women to pig together and breed listless,
dull-eyed, muddle-headed, dough-hearted, scandal-mongering generations.
The curse of God would have rested upon you if you had married George De
Witt.  I have saved you from that. You have mated with your equal.’

’What happiness, what blessing has attended our union?’ she asked
bitterly.

’None,’ he replied, ’because you oppose your will to the inevitable.  We
must be united entirely, and blended into one, but you resist, and so
misery ensues.  I am blinded and wretched, and you, you——’

’I am wretched also,’ she said; ’but stay! here comes someone to speak
to us.’

’Who is it?’

’I do not know exactly.  A young man who came here one day with Phoebe
Musset.’

’What does he want with us?  I will have no young men coming here.’

The person who approached was Timothy Spark, ’cousin’ to Admonition
Pettican.  He was dressed in a new suit of mourning.  He lounged along
the sea-wall with his hands in his pockets.

’Your servant, master,’ he said to Elijah as he came up.  ’Your most
devoted servant,’ he added with a bow to Mehalah, and a simper.
’Charmed to see my dear and beautiful cousin so well.’

’Cousin!’ exclaimed Rebow, stepping back and frowning.

’Certainly, certainly,’ said Timothy.  ’I am cousin to Admonition, wife,
or rather let me say widow of the late lamented Charles Pettican, and he
was first cousin to Mrs. Sharland, so my pretty cousin Mehalah will not,
I am sure, deny the relationship.  Let me offer you an arm,’ he wedged
his way between Rebow and Glory.

’First cousin once and a half removed,’ he said. ’Drop the fractions and
say cousin, broadly.  Certainly, certainly so.  Is it not so, my dear?’
In an undertone and aside to Mehalah.  ’Let us drop the old fellow
behind.  I have a word to say in your ear, cousin Mehalah!  By the way,
how do you shorten that long name?  It is such a mouthful.  But I
forget, where is my memory going?  Glory is the name you go by among
relatives and friends.  Come along, Glory!  Lean on my arm.  The blind
gentleman is a little unsteady on his pins and can’t keep up with us.
He will be more comfortable taking his airing slowly by himself; we
shall distract him with our frolicsome talk.  He is in a serious mood,
perhaps pious.’

’Say what you have to say at once,’ said Elijah surlily.  ’I must hear
it.  What did you say about _late_ Charles Pettican?’

’The poor gentleman is deceased,’ said Timothy; ’and his disconsolate
widow is drinking down her grief in hot toddy.’

’Mr. Charles Pettican dead!’ exclaimed Mehalah with grief.

’Dead as Nebuchadnezzar,’ replied Timothy; ’rather rapid at the last,
the paralysis attacked his vitals, and then it was all over with him in
a snap.  Fortunately, he had made his will.  You haven’t taken my arm
yet, my pretty cousin.  You won’t? well then, I will continue.  I
flatter myself that my influence prevailed, and he made a will not in
favour of Admonition, who had really become too exacting towards myself,
and inconsiderate towards him, for us to endure it much longer.  He
threw himself on my honour, and I told him I relied on his gratitude.
We put our heads together.  Admonition has had a fall.  She gets only a
hundred pounds.  My friend Charles, in token of my friendship, has
kindly, I may say handsomely, remembered me,—and all the bulk of his
property he has bequeathed to my good cousin here, Glory.  I need hardly
say that this has proved as great a surprise to Admonition as it must be
to you.  Admonition brought it on herself.  She should not have
attempted to displace me; I am not a person so unimportant as to be
dispensed with at pleasure.  Admonition cannot recover from the shock
and mortification, and I left her at Wyvenhoe, venting it in language
not flattering to the late lamented.  She led me a dance, and him she
treated like a galley-slave, so that she has got her deserts.  I saw
that she was carrying it on a little too far for the endurance of
Charles, so I had a talk with him on the matter, and offered to help him
in the management of his affairs for a trifling salary, and he was good
enough to see how advantageous it would be to him to have me as a friend
and adviser; so we put our heads together, and then Admonition tried to
bundle me out of the house, and much to her surprise learned that I was
as securely installed therein as herself.  I was private secretary and
accountant to Charles, and cousin Admonition had to knuckle under then.
Curiously enough, she had picked up another cousin about that time, one
I had never heard of before in my life, and she wanted to bring him into
the house in my place; I did not allow that game to be played.  I kept
my berth, and Admonition was in a pretty temper about it, you may be
sure.  How Charles chuckled!  He enjoyed it. Upon my word I believe he
chuckles in his grave to think how he has done Admonition in the end;
and he smirks doubtless to consider also how he has served me.’

’What has he left Mehalah?’ asked Rebow surlily.

’I cannot tell you exactly, but I suspect about two hundred and fifty to
three hundred pounds a year; a nice little fortune, and dropping in very
unexpectedly, I presume.  I am executor, and shall have the choicest
pleasure in explaining all to my sweet cousin.  Is it not near about
your dinner-time?’

’Yes.’

’Then I don’t mind picking a bone and drinking a glass with you.  The
drive is long from Wyvenhoe. You happen perhaps to have a spare room in
the house?’

No answer was given to this question.

’Because I have brought over my little traps.  I thought it best.  We
can talk over matters, and I will show you what the amount of property
is that Charles has left.  I have the will with me, it is not proved
yet. I shall do that shortly.’

’There’s an inn at Salcott.  The "Rising Sun."  You can go there.  We do
not take in strangers.’

’Certainly, certainly! only you see,’ touching Elijah knowingly in the
ribs, ’I’m not a stranger, but a friend and relative of the family, a
cousin; you understand, a cousin, and ready to make myself agreeable to
one,’ with a bow to Mehalah, ’and useful to the other,’ with a tap on
Rebow’s arm.

’You can settle all you have to say on business in an hour if you stick
to it, and then you can be gone,’ said Elijah in ill-temper, withdrawing
his arm from the familiar touch.

’Certainly, certainly,’ said Timothy.  ’But then, I must call again, and
yet again, always I am sure, with increasing pleasure, but still at some
inconvenience to myself.  I thought I might just settle in here, you
might give me a shake-down in any nook, and I would make myself a most
invaluable member of the family.  You, old gentleman, with your
affliction, want an overlooker to the farm, and who could serve your
purpose better than myself, a friend and a relation, a cousin, almost
first cousin, with just a remove or so between, not worth
particularising.  I could devote my time to your affairs——’

’I don’t want you.  I will not have you!’ exclaimed Rebow angrily.  ’Why
have you come here, you meddling puppy?  Did I ask you to come?  Did
Mehalah want you?  I know you and your ways.  You got into Pettican’s
house hanging on to the skirts of his wife, and then made mischief
between man and wife; and now you come here to play the same game; you
come because I am blind and helpless, and sneaking behind my Glory; you
want to steal in to play the fool with her and set us one against the
other.  We want none of you here.  We are not so tender together that we
desire another element of discord to enter into the jangled clash of
bells.  Be off with you.  As for the matter of Mehalah’s inheritance,
the lawyers shall communicate with us, and between you and her.  I will
not have you set your foot inside my house.’

’Stay,’ said Glory; ’I must know if this be really true.  Am I really
inheritor of such a fortune?’

’I have the will in my pocket.’

’Show it me.’

Timothy produced the document and read it to Elijah and Mehalah.  Both
drew near.

’Let me see it!’ said Rebow vehemently, and grasped at the paper with
nervous hand.

’My good friend,’ remarked Timothy patronisingly; ’the state of your
eyes, if I mistake not, will prevent your being able to read it.’

’I must feel it then.’

He grasped it fiercely and in a moment tore it with his hands, and then,
biting the fragments, rent it further and further.

’For heaven’s sake!’ exclaimed the young man in dismay.

’Ha!  Glory!  Did you suppose you were to be made independent of me?
Did you think I would let you get a fortune of your own, to emancipate
you from me? That you might go off with it, and enjoy it along with your
George De Witt?’

He dashed the tatters about him.

’You mad fool!’ exclaimed Timothy Spark.  ’Do you suppose that by such a
scurvy trick as this you will despoil my pretty cousin of her money, and
perhaps of her liberty?’

’I have done it,’ shouted Rebow wrathfully.  ’You cannot make the will
whole, I have chewed and swallowed portions, and others the winds have
taken into the sea.’

’Indeed!’ said Timothy.  ’Do you suppose that this is the original?  Of
course not.  It is an authenticated copy.  The original will is left
with Morrell the lawyer, and this is but a transcript.’

Rebow gnashed his teeth.

’It seems to me,’ said Timothy, ’that after all I shall be called upon
to step in between husband and wife, and to protect my pretty dark-eyed,
rosy-lipped cousin.  I am sure you have a spare room where I can have a
shake-down.’



                            *CHAPTER XXIX.*

                             *TEMPTATION.*


Elijah Rebow sank into a sullen fierce silence.  He scarcely stirred
from the house except to the forge, where he groped among the dead ashes
for the iron ring, which however he never found.  He sat in his hall,
smoking, his elbows on the arms of his chair, his head sunk on his
breast, with his dull eyes on the floor. He seemed brooding over
something, which occupied all his thoughts, and he rarely spoke.

There had been little difficulty in getting rid of Timothy.  He lingered
a day or two about Salcott and Red Hall, but as he met with angry
repulse from Rebow, and no encouragement from Mehalah, he abandoned the
ground as unproductive.  He was an idle, good-for-nothing young man,
hating work, and when he was obliged to leave comfortable quarters at
Wyvenhoe, hoped to settle himself into a similar position at Salcott.
He was conceited, and fancied himself able to make conquests when he
liked, and never for a moment doubted that his looks and address would
have ingratiated him with Mehalah, and won him a lodgment in the house.
He had been hovering about Phoebe Musset for some time, as she was
thought to have money.  Her parents had no other child, and the farm and
shop would have suited him.  When he met with a rebuff at Red Hall he
betook himself to Mersea, and was much surprised to be received there
with coldness where he had expected warmth.  The reason was that George
De Witt had returned, a sailor in the Royal Navy, covered with glory
according to his own account, and Phoebe was more disposed to set her
cap at him than flirt with the shore-loafer, Timothy Spark.

As Mehalah was crossing the farmyard one day, old Abraham Dowsing
stopped her.

’I want to speak along of you,’ he said in his uncouth, abrupt manner.
’What does the master mean by his goings on?  I saw him to-day after his
dinner sitting with the great knife in his hand.  The door was open and
I was at the bottom of the steps, and I looked up, and there he was
making stabs with it into the air. Then he got up, and holding the knife
behind him, he crept over towards your mother’s leather-backed chair. I
seed him feel at it, and when he did touch it, then there came a wild
look over his face, and he out with the carving knife, quick as thought,
and he clutched the back of the chair with his left, and dug the blade
right into the leather, and it came through at the back. You look next
time you go into the hall.  I guess he’s going as his brother did.’

’Going out of his mind, Abraham?’

’Yes, I reckon.  What else does it all mean?  It is either that, or
there is something that deadly angers him.’

He looked with a cunning covert glance at her.

’It is not that these matters concern me, over much, but I don’t want to
change places in my old age.  I’m comfortable enough here.  I gets my
wittles regular, and my swipes of ale.  Take care of yourself, Mistress.
I’ve heard as how the master got somebody pressed when he was in the
way,—there’s a tale about it abroad. He won’t stand that party about
here much, and I wouldn’t adwise the encouragement of him.’

’George De Witt is my friend.  He may come when he likes,’ said Mehalah
gravely.  ’He and I have known one another since we were children, and
my marriage need not destroy an old friendship.’

’I mentioned no names,’ said the old man.  ’You can’t say I did.  One
thing I be sure of.  Whenever somebody comes here, the master knows it;
he knows it by a sort of instinct, I fancy.  I see him at the head of
the steps looking out as though he could see, and biting at the air,
just as a mad dog snaps at everything and nothing.’

’There is George!’ suddenly exclaimed Mehalah, as she saw the young
sailor’s figure rise on the sea-wall.

’And there is the master,’ muttered Abraham, pointing to Elijah, who
appeared at his door, peering about, and holding his hand to his ear.

Mehalah hesitated a moment, and then went up the steps to him.

’Do you want to come down?’ she asked; ’shall I lead you?’

’Yes, help me.’  He clutched her hand by the wrist and came out and
stood on the stair.  Then he grasped her shoulder with the other hand,
and he began to shake and twist her.

She could see into his heart as into clear water, to the ugly snags and
creeping things at the bottom. She saw that the temptation had come on
him to fling her down: but she saw also that it was immediately
overcome.  He knew she read his thoughts.  ’The height is not much,’ he
muttered; ’you might sprain an ankle but not break your neck.  I will
not hurt you, do not fear.  Hurt you!  Good God!  I would not hurt you,
not give you one moment’s pain, I would bear hours of agony rather than
make you suffer for one second.  But what must be, must be!  There is no
way out of the marsh but over the dyke.  There is no peace which is not
won by a fight and wounds.  Let me go back.’  He drew her in at the
door, a ferocious expression flickered over his face, like
phosphorescent illumination over dead fish.

’I cannot endure this longer.  Mehalah! you are killing me.  This is
worse than the fire-juice in my eyes, you are drenching my heart and
brain in vitriol, I feel it gnawing and stinging and blackening as it
consumes a way to the inner core, leaving charred matter behind.’

’What am I doing, to make you suffer?’ she asked.

’You are doing all you can.  I cannot, I will not endure that agony.
Have you seen the coal heap in the forge, how the fire rages and glows
within before the blast?  Water is thrown on without quenching the fire,
it only intensifies its heat.  At last the black mass cracks on all
sides and the white fury shoots out in spits and knives of flame.  It is
so with me.  The fire is here.’  He smote his breast and then his brain.
’It is raging, panting, whitening, intensifying, and at last it will
break out on all sides.  Who is blowing the fire into vehemence?  It is
you—you—you!’

He gathered himself up, like a crouching beast, as though to spring on
her and strangle or tear her; but she stepped back beyond his spring.

’I give you no occasion for this,’ she said; ’you speak and act like a
madman.’

’It is you who drive me to act and speak like one,’ he cried.  ’You are
now mistress of yourself, you have money—as much as you want; now you
will shake me off.  Now you will desert the man who stood between you
and your fool.  You will go off with him and forget me.  It shall not
be.’ He clutched his hands into his sides.  ’It never shall be.’

’I will not listen to this.  I will not endure such words,’ she
exclaimed.  ’Remain here and cool.’  Then she left the room, and,
walking across the pasture to the landing-place, extended her hand with
a smile to George.  It was a relief to her to be away for a while from
the gloom and savagery of the man to whom she was bound for life.  In
her simplicity and guilelessness she would not believe that there was
any wrong in meeting the friend of her childhood, her almost brother.
She needed some light on her sad life, and the light shone from him.

’My dear Glory,’ he said,’ I am delighted to see you. What a colour
there is in your cheeks.  Has the prophet been in his frenzies again?  I
fear so.  You must not allow it.  You should not endure it.’

’How can I help it, George? it is the man’s nature to rave; he has it in
his blood.  I almost fear he will go mad like his poor brother.’

’The sooner the better.’

’Do not say that.  You do not know how dreadful was the condition of
that miserable wretch.’

’I do say it, Glory, dearest!  I say it, because the sooner you are
freed from this tyranny and torture, the better for both of us.’

’How so?’

’Glory, dear! is it true that you have been left a small fortune?’

’Yes, it is true.  It seems that there is money in various securities,
the savings of Charles Pettican’s life, and they bring in something like
three hundred pounds a year.  Sometimes it may be less, sometimes
perhaps more.’

’And is this money absolutely your own?’

’Entirely.’

’You may do with it what you like?’

’Yes, altogether; even Elijah cannot touch it.  I will give you all if
you like, or as much as you like.’

’I would not touch it without you, Glory.’

She sighed.

’Oh, George, George! to think how happy we might have been!’

’We may be, Glory.’

’I do not see how that is possible.  I have no more any hopes, but it is
a great pleasure to me to see you and to hear you talk.  I think of old
days and old dreams of happiness.’

’Why, Glory! with three hundred a year we might have lived as
gentlefolks, doing nothing.  We might have bought a little house and
garden just anywhere, at the other end of England, in Scotland, or where
you liked, away from all ugly sights and memories.’

’I had no ugly memories in the old days,’ she said sorrowfully.

’I suppose not.  But you have now.  My Glory! how delightful it would be
to cast all the horrible past away like a bad dream; all the past from
when I was pressed into the service, to now—to drop it all out of memory
as though it never had been, and to take up the story of life from that
interruption.’

’Oh, George!’  She trembled and gave one great sob, that shook her.

’How we should live to one another, live in one another, and love one
another.  Why, Glory! we should not care for any others to come and
disturb us, we should be so happy——’

She covered her face.

’On three hundred a year,’ he went on.  ’That is a beautiful sum.  I
suppose you need not live here on it: you might live where you liked on
the money.  It is not laid out on land in Wyvenhoe?’

’No, no.’

’You might take, let us suppose, a cottage by Plymouth Harbour.  I have
been there; it is a lovely spot, where you would see ships of all sorts
sailing by; and just draw your money and live at ease.’

’I suppose so.’

’And nobody there would know you, whence you came, and what your
history.  They would not care to ask.  That would be a new life, and in
it all the past would be forgotten.’

’Why do you talk like this to me, George?  I cannot bear it.  You raise
pictures before me which never can exist.  All I want is to live on here
in my sorrow and difficulties, and just now and then to see you and talk
to you, and thus to get refreshed and go back to my duties again with a
lighter heart, and strengthened to bear my burden.’

’I do not understand what you mean by duties,’ he said.  ’You have told
me more than once that you have only formally taken Elijah Rebow as a
husband, but that he is nothing to you in reality, you do not love him,
and have no tie to bind you to him save the farce you went through with
him in church.’

’There is another,’ said Mehalah in a faint tone.

’What other?  What other can there be?  You do not look on him as your
husband, do you?’

’No I do not, and I never will.’

’You do not even wear a wedding ring.’

’No.’

’He understood that he was to be regarded by you in no other light than
as one who gave his name to you in consideration for some service.’

’That was all.’

’Then I cannot see that you are not free.  You promised to be my wife,
quite as solemnly as you have promised anything to Elijah, and you made
your agreement with him on the supposition that I was dead. He knew he
was deceiving you, and that I was alive to claim the fulfilment of your
oath to me.  He got your promise from you under false representations,
and it cannot stand.  You did not know how matters stood, or you would
never have taken it.’

’Never, never!’

’Through all, you say, you have held true to me.’

’Indeed I have, George.’

’Then Glory, my dearest, our course is quite clear. You are not bound to
this man, but you are bound to me.  Your tie to him is worthless and is
snapped; your tie to me is strong and holds.  I insist on the
fulfilment, I have a right to do so.  I must have you as my own.  Come
away with me.  Come to any part of England, where you will, where we are
not known, where our names have never been heard, and we will be
properly married in a church, and live together happily the rest of our
lives.  As for your mother, she is failing fast.  I will wait till her
death, or we can take her away at once with us.’

’Oh, George, George!’  Mehalah’s tones were those of one in acute pain.
She flung herself on the ground at his feet, and clasped her hands on
her brow.

He looked at her with some surprise: ’This will be a change for the
better.  You will escape out of darkness into sunshine, and leave all
your miseries in this hateful marsh behind your back.’

’George!  George!’ she moaned.

’Elijah deserves not a thought,’ he went on.  ’He has behaved like a
villain from beginning to end, and if he is served out now, no one will
pity him.’

’It is impossible, George!’ exclaimed Mehalah, lifting herself on her
knees and holding her knitted fingers against her heart.  ’It cannot be,
George.  It never can be.  There is another tie that I cannot break.’

’What tie?’

’I must own it, though it steep me in shame.  It was I, George, who
blinded him, I in mad fear and anger mingled, not knowing what I did,
poured the vitriol over his eyes.’

George De Witt drew back from her.

’Glory! how dreadful!’

’It is dreadful, but it was done without premeditation. He had me in his
arms and told me what he had done to you—’ she corrected herself—’what
he pretended he had done to you, and then he tried to kiss me, and in a
moment of loathing and effort to escape I did the deed. I did not know
what was in the bottle.  I did not know what I laid hold of.’

’You are a dangerous person to deal with, Glory. I should be sorry to
provoke you.  I do not understand you.’

’I suppose you do not,’ she said, with a sob; ’but you must see this,
George.  I have blinded him and made him a helpless creature dependent
on me.  I did it, and I must atone for it.  I brought him into this
condition, and I must expiate what I did by helping him to bear the
affliction.’

’He exasperated you.’

’Yes, but think what he is now, a wreck.  I must tow the wreck into
port.  There is no help for it; I cannot leave him, I have brought this
on myself, and I must bear it.’

’Glory! what nonsense!  You do not love me or you would at once come
away with me, and leave him to his fate.  He has richly deserved it.’

’I not love you!’ she cried.  ’Oh, George! how can you doubt that I do?
I have suffered for you, dreamed of you, lived for you.  My world
without you is a world without a sun.’

’Then come with me.’

’I cannot do it.  I have done that which binds me to Elijah.  I must not
leave him.’

’You will not.  Hark!’  A burst of merry bells from West Mersea church
tower swept over the water. ’There is a wedding to-day yonder, and the
bells are being pealed in honour of it.  Did the bells peal when you
were married?’

’No.’

’They shall when you become mine.  Not those Mersea bells, but some
others where we are not known.’

’It cannot, it cannot be.  George! do not tempt and torture me.  I must
not leave Elijah.  I have linked my fate to his by my own mad act, and
that cannot be undone.  Oh, George! if it had not been for that, I might
have listened to you and followed you; for I am not, and never will be
his; but now I cannot desert him in his darkness and despair.  I could
not be happy with you if I were to leave him.’

’This is too bad of you,’ said the young man angrily. ’You are to me an
incomprehensible girl.’

’Can we not live on as we are at present, true to each other yet
separated?’

’No, we cannot.  It is not in nature.  I will tell you what, Glory!  If
you do not come away with me and marry me, I will marry someone else.
There are more fish in the sea than come out of it.’

She rose to her feet and stood back, and looked at him with wide open
eyes.  ’George, this is a cruel jest. It should not be uttered.’

’It is no jest, but sober earnest,’ he answered sullenly. ’Glory!  I
don’t see why I should not marry as well as you.’

’Oh, George!  George! do not speak to me in this way.  I have been true
to you, and you have promised to be true to me.’

’Conditionally,’ he interjected.

’You could not do it.  You could not take another woman to your heart.
George! you talk of impossibilities.’

’Indeed!  Do you think that another girl would not have me?  If so, you
are mistaken.’

’You could not do it,’ she persisted.  ’If you were to, it would not be
the George I knew and loved and lost, but another.  The George I knew
and loved and lost was true to me as I to him; he could no more take
another to his heart than can I.’

’But you have, Glory.’

’I have not.  Elijah sits nowhere near my heart.’

’I do not believe it.  If he did not, you would shake him off without
another thought and follow me.’

’Do you not see,’ she cried passionately, holding out both her palms,
and trembling with her vehemence, ’that I cannot.  I by my own act have
made him helpless, and would you have me desert him in his helplessness?
I cannot do it.  There is something in here, in my bosom, I know not
what it is, but it will not let me.  If I were to go against that I
should never be at ease.’

’You are not at ease now.’

’That would be different.  I have my sorrow now, but my distress then
would be of another sort and utterly unendurable.  I cannot explain
myself.  George! you ought to understand me.  If I were to say these
words to Elijah he would see through my heart at once, and all the
thoughts in it would be visible to him as painted figures in a church
window.  To you they seem all broken and jumbled and meaningless.’

’I tell you again, Glory, I do not understand you. Perhaps it is as well
that we should live apart.  I hate to have a knot in my hands I can’t
untie.  If Elijah understands you, keep to him.  I shall look for a mate
elsewhere.’

’George!’ she said plaintively, ’You are angry and offended.  I am sorry
for it.  I will do anything for you.  True to you I must and will
remain, but I will not leave Elijah and follow you.  I could not do it.’

’Very well then, I shall look for a wife elsewhere.’

’You cannot do it,’ she said.

’Can I not?’ echoed George De Witt with a laugh; ’I rather believe there
is a nice girl at Mersea who only wants to be asked to jump into my
arms.  It seems to me that I owe her reparation for your treatment of
her once on my boat.’

’What!’

’Now, Glory! let us understand one another.  If you will run off with
me—and I see nothing but some silly sentiment to hinder you—then we will
be married and live happily together on your little fortune and my
pension and what I can pick up.’

She shook her head.

’If you will not, why then, I shall go straight from here to Phoebe
Musset, and ask her to be my wife; and you may take my word for it that
in three weeks the bells that are now pealing from Mersea tower will be
pealing again for us.’

’You could not do it.’

’Indeed I will.  I shall go direct to her.  My mother wishes it and I
know that Phoebe is ready with her yes.’

’You can take her, _her_, to your heart?’

’Delighted to do so.’

’Then, George!  I never knew you, I never understood you.’

’I dare say not, no more than I can understand you. Once again, will you
come with me?’

’No, never.’

’You never loved me.  I shall go to Phoebe and have done with Glory.’

She lifted her hands to heaven, pressed them to her heart, and then ran
with extended arms back to Red Hall, stumbling and recovering herself,
and fluttering on, still with arms outstretched, like a wounded bird
trying to rise but unable, seeking a covert where it may hide its head
and die.



                             *CHAPTER XXX.*

                          *TO WEDDING BELLS.*


She ran on.  Red Hall was before her.  The sun had set, and scarlet,
amber, and amethyst were the tints of the sky, blotted by the great bulk
of the old house standing up alone against the horizon.

She ran on, and the wedding bells of Mersea steeple chanted joyously in
the summer evening air, and the notes flew over the flats like melodious
wildfowl.

She ran up the steps, in at the door of the hall, where sat Elijah with
his finger feeling the inscription on the chimney-piece, with the red
light glaring through the western window on his forehead, staining it
crimson.

She cast herself at his feet; she placed her elbows on his knees, and
laid her head upon them.  Dimly he saw the scarlet cap like a broken
poppy droop and fall before him, he put out his hand and it rested upon
it.

She had come to him, to the only heart that was constant, that was not
to be shaken and moved from its anchorage; to the only soul that
answered to her own, to the only mind that read her thoughts.  The
George of her fancy, the ideal of truth and steadfastness, was
dissolved, and had disappeared leaving a mean vulgar object behind from
which she shrank.  To him whom she had hated, with whom she had fought
and against whom she had stiffened her back, she now flew as her only
support, her only anchorage.

She could not speak, her thoughts chased through her head in wild
disorder like the clouds when there are cross currents in the sky.

Now and then a spasmodic sob broke from her and shook her.

’What is the matter, Mehalah?  Where have you been?’

She did not answer.  She could not.  She was choking.  Perhaps she did
not hear him, or hearing did not understand the import of his words.

She saw only the falling to pieces into dust of an idol.  Better had
George died, and she had lived on looking upon him as her ideal of
manhood, noble, straightforward, truthful, constant.  She would have
been content to drudge on in her weary life at Red Hall and would have
borne Elijah’s humours and her mother’s fretfulness, without a hope
herself, if only she might still have maintained intact her image of all
that was honourable and steadfast.  She could not bear the revulsion of
feeling.  She was like a religionist who, on lifting the purple veil of
the sanctuary, has found his God, before whom he had offered libations
and prayers, to be some grovelling beast.

’Where have you been?’ again asked Elijah placing his hands on her
shoulders.

She raised her head, and gasped for breath, she essayed to speak but
could not.

’Why do you not answer me?’ he asked, not with fierceness in his tone,
but with iron resolve.

’Mehalah!’ he said firmly, solemnly.  ’There have passed many days since
George De Witt returned, and since Charles Pettican’s bequest has
rendered you independent of me.  I have waited, and wanted to hold you,
as I hold you now, firmly, fast in my strong hands. You feel them on
your shoulders.  They shall never let go.  Now that I hold I shall hold
fast.  Mehalah! we have old scores to wipe out.  Days and weeks of blind
agony in me, hours, days of horrible internal torture whilst George De
Witt has been here.  I hold you now and all must now be made square
between us.’

She tried to raise her hands, but he held her shoulders so tightly she
could not move them.

’Elijah!’ she said, ’do with me what you will.  It is all one to me.’

’Where have you been? with whom have you been?’

’I have been with him.’

’I knew it.  You shall never be with him again.’

She sighed.  She knew that he spoke truly.  Never could she see him
again, in the old light; she never could meet him again on the old
footing.

’Mehalah!’ he went on, and his hands shook, and shook her; ’I have loved
you; but now I hate and love you at the same time.  You have caused me
to suffer tortures, the like of which I could not suppose it possible
any man could have endured, and have lived. You little knew and less
cared what I endured in my eyes when they were burnt out.  You little
know and less care what I have endured in my soul since George De Witt
has been back.’

’Elijah,’ she said raising her heavy head, ’let me speak.  George——’

’No never,’ he interrupted, ’never shall you utter his name again.’  He
covered her mouth with his hand.

’No, I could not bear it,’ he went on.  ’Mehalah! your heart has never
been mine, and I will not endure to be longer without it.  Could you
come to my breast and let my arms lap round you and our hearts beat
against each other’s bosom, and glue your lips to mine? No, no,’ he
answered himself.  ’Not now, I cannot expect it.  He has stood in my
path, he has risen out of the waters to part us.  Whilst we are on the
earth we cannot be united, because he intercepts the current which runs
from my heart to yours, and from yours to mine.  Although he might be
far away, a thousand miles distant, yet the tide of your affection would
set to him.  The moon they tell us is some hundreds of thousands of
miles from the ocean, and yet the water throbs and rises, and falls and
retreats responsive to the impulse of the moon, because moon and earth
are both in one sphere.  As long as you and he are together in one orb,
there is no peace for me, your love will never flow to me and dance and
sparkle about me.  I must look elsewhere for peace, elsewhere for union,
without which there is no peace.  Lift up your head, Mehalah!  Why is it
resting thus heavily on my knee?  I do not know what has come over you.
Yes—’ he said suddenly, in a louder tone, ’Yes I do know what it is.  It
is the shadow of the cloud, the scent before the rain.  You have crept
to me, you have cast yourself at my feet, you have leaned your head on
my knee, you lift your arms to my heart, for the consummation is at
hand. Mehalah!  Do you understand me?’

’Yes.’

’Yes.  We two understand each other, and none others can.  Now, Mehalah!
Glory! you shall not escape me.  Glory! will you kiss me?’

He put his hand to her head, and felt it shaken in the negative.

’No.  I did not suppose you would.  You would kiss George, but not me;
but you never shall belong to another but me.  Hold up your face,
Glory!’

He lifted it with one hand, and peered at it through the haze that ever
attended him.

’Glory!’ he said.  ’Will you swear to me, if I let you go one minute,
that you will place yourself here, at my feet, in my hands, as you lie
now?’

’Yes.’

’It is dark, is it not?  I can see nothing, not your flaming cap.  I
will let you go.  I can trust your lightest word.  Go and kindle me a
candle.’  He relaxed his grasp, and she staggered to her feet, and
dully, in a dream obeyed.  There was a candle on the chimney-piece, she
took it to the hearth in the kitchen and lighted it there.  The
charwoman was gone.

’Go upstairs,’ he said.  ’There has been no sound in the house this
hour.  Go and kiss your mother and come back.’

She obeyed again, and crept lifelessly up the stairs; in another moment
he heard a low long muffled wail.

He listened.  She did not return.

’Mehalah!’ he called.

He waited a minute and then called again.

She came down bearing the light.  He did not see, but the candle
glittered in tears rolling down her cheeks.

’Come to your place,’ he ordered.  ’Remember you swore.’

She threw herself at his feet.

’My mother! my mother!’

’She is dead,’ said Elijah.  ’I knew it.  I heard her feebly cry for
you, an hour ago, and I crept upstairs, and I listened by her bed, and
held my hand to her heart till it ceased.’

Mehalah did not speak, her frame shook with emotion.

He took the candle, raised her face with his hand under the chin and
held the light close to it.

’I cannot see much,’ he said; ’I can see scarce anything of the dear
face, of the great brown eyes I loved so well, I can see only something
flame there.  That is the cap.’  He took it off and passed his hand
through her rich hair.  ’I can see, I think I can see, the flicker of
the candle flame in the eyes.  I can see the mouth, that mouth I have
never touched, but I see it only as a red evening cloud across the sky.’

’Let me go!’ she wailed.  ’My mother! my mother!’

’We will go together to her,’ he answered; ’stay one moment.’

He put down the candle, and once more laid his hand on her head, and now
he pressed it back with his left hand.  Did she see in the dull eyes a
gathering moisture, the rising of a tide?  A tear ran down each of his
rugged cheeks.  Then he suddenly rose, and he struck her full in the
forehead with his iron fist, heavy as a sledge hammer.  She dropped in a
heap on the floor.

’Glory! my own, own Glory!’ he cried, and listened.

There was no answer.

’Glory! my love! my pride! my second self! my double!’

He caught her up, and she hung across his knee. He held his ear to her
mouth and hearkened.

’Oh Glory! my own! my own!’

He stretched his hand above the mantelpiece and plucked down the chain
and padlock; he secured the key.  Then he cast the chain over his arm
and drew the inanimate girl to him and held her in his firm grasp, and
lifted her over his shoulder, and felt his way out at the door and down
the steps.

No one was in the yard.  No one on the pasture.

The sun had set some time, but there was blood and fire on the horizon,
clouds seamed with flame, and streaks of burning crimson.

He cautiously descended the stairs, and crossing the yard, made his way
over the pasture to the landing place.  He knew the path well.  He could
have trod it in the darkest night without error.  He came to the
sea-wall, and there he laid Mehalah, whilst he groped for his boat, and
unloosed the rope that attached it to the shore.

He returned, and took up the still unconscious girl.

He felt her feeble breath on his cheek as he carried her, but he did not
see the spot of returning colour in her face.  He was eager, and hasty.
He knew no delay, but pressed on.  He carried her into the boat and took
his oars and began to row, with her lying in the bottom.

The tide was running out.  His instinct guided him.

The bells of Mersea tower were dancing a merry peal.

The windows of the ’Leather Bottle’ were lighted up, and the topers were
drinking prosperity to the married pair.

George De Witt was making his way to the Mussets, little conscious that
Mehalah was lying in a boat, stunned, and being carried out seaward.

Presently Elijah felt sure by the fresher breeze and increased motion
that he was out cf the fleet in deep water.  Then he quietly shipped his
oars.

He lifted Mehalah, and drew her into his arms and laid her against his
heart.

’My Glory! my own dearest! my only one!’ he moaned.  ’I could not help
it.  You would have left me had I not done this.  There was no other way
out of the tangle, there was no other path into the light. Glory! we
were created for each other, but a perverse fortune has separated your
heart from mine here.  We shall meet and unite in another world.  We
must do so, we were born for each other.  Glory!  Glory!’

She stirred and opened her eyes, and drew a long breath.

’Are you waking, Glory?’ he asked.  ’Hark, hark! the marriage bells are
ringing, ringing, ringing, for you and me.  Now Glory! now only is our
marriage! now only, locked together, shall we find rest.’

He took the iron chain, and wound it round her and him, tying them
together tight, and then he fastened the padlock and flung the key into
the sea.

’Once I turned the key in the lock carelessly, and he who was bound by
this chain escaped.  I have fastened it firmly now, it will not fall
apart for all eternity. Now Glory!  Now we are bound together for
everlasting.’

She sighed.

’Do you hear me?’ he asked.  ’It is well.  Glory! one kiss?’

He put down his hand into the bottom of the boat, and drew out the plug,
and tossed it overboard.  At once the cold sea-water rushed in and
overflowed his feet.

’Glory!’ he cried, and he folded her to his heart, and fastened his lips
fiercely, ravenously to hers.

He felt her heart throb, faintly indeed, but really.

Merrily pealed the musical bells.  Cans of ale had been supplied the
ringers, and they dashed the ropes about in a fever of intoxication and
sympathy.  Joy to the wedded pair!  Long life and close union and
happiness without end!  The topers at the ’Leather Bottle’ brimmed their
pewter mugs and drank the toast with three cheers.

The water boiled up, through the plughole, and the boat sank deeper.
Life was beginning to return to Mehalah, but she neither saw nor knew
aught.  Her eyes were open and turned seaward, to the far away horizon,
and Elijah relaxed his hold one instant.

’Elijah!’ she suddenly exclaimed, ’How cold!’

’Glory!  Glory!  It is fire!  We are one!’ The bells pealed over the
rolling sea—no boat was on it, only a sea-mew skimming and crying.



                                THE END.



                           LONDON: PRINTED BY
                SPOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE
                         AND PARLIAMENT STREET





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