Story type: Literature
Young Mr. Ellington strolled down the narrow walk that led through the woods from the Hall to the sea. The morning had lain heavy on his hands, for he was without companionship, and he was not one of the happy folk who can make resources or who find a sufficient delight in mere living. A few sharp commonplaces delivered with dry imperiousness by the old Squire; a little well-meaning babble from a couple of timid maiden aunts–such was the range of his converse with his kind from day to day. And this quiet dreariness had lasted for months past, and seemed likely to last as far into the future that young Ellington faced his prospect with a sort of pained confusion of mind, and began by slow degrees to understand the bovine apathy of the ploughmen. Old Mr. Ellington was a magnate who would have been commended by Mr. John Ruskin. The fashions of other country people did not influence him to imitation, and he steadfastly performed that feat of “living on the land” which is supposed to bring such blessedness to all whom the land supports. For fifty years he had never been twenty miles beyond the bounds of his southernmost farm, and for fifty years the ugly Hall had never opened its doors to an invited guest. People talked a good deal, and made theories more or less malignant, but the hard old man minded them no whit. He went on his own road with perfect propriety, outraging every convention in the most virtuous manner, and opposing a dry reticence to the curiosity and wonderment of the few neighbours who continued to have any vivid remembrance of his existence. In fine weather his stout and opinionated cob bore him gravely along the lanes. The cottagers’ children ceased their play and looked respectfully sheepish as he rode by; the farm girls dropped their elaborate curtseys, and the labourers at the roadside made efforts to appear at their ease. These and the farmers were the only people who saw his daily progress, and they all held him a good deal in fear. Nothing escaped his steady eye. If anything displeased him he did not use words, for he had not talents of the vocal description, but he took very sudden means of making his displeasure felt. Within his domain he was absolute master. He disliked the intrusion of even passing strangers, and the harmless bagmen who sometimes travelled along the coast road found no hostelry on the estate. It was said that he once met an alien person walking in the woods, and that this erratic foreigner was smoking a pipe. The most learned purveyors of myths were never able to detail exactly what happened, but the incident was always mentioned with awe. The inhabitants of the district never managed to get up any personal feeling about the Squire;–they regarded him as an operation of Nature. So he lived his life in his colourless fashion, rousing no hate, gaining no love, and fulfilling his duties as though his own epitaph were an abiding vision to him. He cared for no enjoyments, and did not particularly like to see other people enjoying themselves. He seemed to fancy that laughter should be taken like the Sacrament, and, for his own part, he preferred not being a communicant. When his only son was killed in a pitiful frontier skirmish, the old man rode out as usual on the day following the receipt of the ill news. The gamekeeper said that he drew up his cob alongside the fence of a paddock wherein was kept an aged pony that the heir had ridden long ago. He watched the stumbling pensioner cropping the bright grass for a few minutes, breathed heavily, turned the cob into the road again, and went on with sharp eyes glancing emotionless. His daughter-in-law died soon after, and he assumed sole charge of the young Ellington whom we have seen making a forlorn pilgrimage under the trees. The young man had received a queer sort of nondescript education. All the Ellingtons for a generation or two back had gone in due course to Eton and Oxford, but no such conventional training was vouchsafed to the latest of the family. The hand of the private tutor had been heavy upon him, and he was brought up absolutely without a notion of what his own future might be. He had mooned about among books to some trifling extent, but the taste for study had never taken him. The silly mode of culture which he had undergone availed nothing against the instincts of his race. His grandfather was a sort of living aberration–a queer variety such as Nature will sometimes interpolate amid the most steady of strains; but young Ellington’s moods, and tendencies, and capabilities reverted to the old line. Yet, despite his restless energy, despite his incapacity for that active thought which makes solitude bearable, he was crushed into the mould that the Squire had prepared for him. His distractions were few, and in his vigorous mind, with its longing for instant action, its continual revolt against self-contained speculation, there arose a dull fear of the future, a longing for deliverance. It was not a merry existence for a young man who heard the brave currents of life sounding around and calling him vaguely to come and adventure himself with the rest. He knew that the sons of the men who laughed at his grandfather laughed also at him, and regarded him with a somewhat impertinent wonder, but he dared explain himself to none, and dared seek companionship with none. This is why he looked so listless as he lounged toward the sea that fine afternoon. There was enough all round him to please anyone with an eye for the quiet beauty of inanimate things. The lights slid and quivered on the golden windings of the walk. Here and there the beams that came through were toned into a kind of floating greenness that looked glad and tender. The light wind overhead set the leaves talking, and their silky rustle sounded sharp through the low murmur of the near sea. Now and then came other sounds. A cushat would moan from her high fir-top, or a pheasant deep in the shadows would call with his resonant guttural. But young Mr. Ellington did not heed the sounds and sights that asked his attention; he hardly heeded his own being, and his footsteps grated on till the veil of the trees seemed drawn back, and he saw the shining sea glimmering under a light haze. Far out toward the centre of the blue circle, a fishing-boat lunged heavily as the deliberate rollers came shoreward, and upon this boat he fixed his eye with that meaningless intentness born of weariness.
He had begun to time his vague thought by the regular swing of the black boat, when his attention was called by a clinking sound. Someone was trying to open a wicket which opened from a by-road to the left of him. He caught a glimpse of bright colour through the bars, and stepped smartly forward. The wicket was easy to open from his side, and he soon released the wayfarer from trouble. She took one slight pace back, curtsied, and said, “Thank you, sir.” It was not a very remarkable speech, but coming upon Ellington’s ear in his blank mood, it sounded friendly and pleasant to a strange degree. He wanted to hear the voice again. He rested for a brief space–not long enough to make the interval seem awkward–and glanced swiftly at the girl whom he had aided. His faculties did not rise readily into keenness after his recent hour of lethargy, but he saw in an indefinite way that she was tall, and the elastic pose of her figure as she prepared to pass by him gave him somehow an impression of power. After an instant of hesitation he met the clear look of a pair of brown eyes, and he felt that he must say something. He fancied his slight pause had made him appear a trifle clumsy, and he sought to effect a graceful parting. But, alas! for the grace of solitary young men! The one right phrase, the one right gesture would not come, and so, although his manner was sufficiently easy at ordinary times, he could only say, “I’m very glad I happened to be by.” The girl was not sophisticated enough to regard him with anything like humour. She smilingly accepted his remark as cogent, and replied, “Yes. Old Trumbull has funny notions about fitting on latches, hasn’t he?” Here was a distinct opportunity for further pleasing conversation, and the unfortunate Mr. Ellington was feeble. “Oh, you know Trumbull?” he said, with alacrity. “He and I are great friends, but I don’t interfere with his professional matters. I’m afraid he would discharge me if I did.”
This was an unmistakably humorous allusion, and the girl once more flashed her white teeth in a pretty smile. Such a reception of his not very striking remarks put the young man at his ease, and he became composed enough to observe delicately the face of his new acquaintance. He had but little time, for of course he could not stand for long babbling stupidities with a country girl. The face was strong and dark, with composed, full lips, and a dusky glow in the cheeks. The eyes which had at first put him to such confusion looked liquid and strangely attractive when the light of laughter was in them. Mr. Ellington had fallen in with a beautiful girl. He did not formulate any opinion on the subject all at once, but he prolonged the conversation into the second five minutes. Then he said casually, “I’ve not seen you passing this way before,” and the dark young lady made answer, with complete simplicity, “No, but I always come through here on Thursday afternoons as I go to my aunt’s over at the Dean.”
Mr. Ellington said “good-bye” at last, and the tall, strong figure of the girl disappeared round a bluff of the shrubbery, her feet lighting on the gravel with crisp, decided firmness.
It was not an exciting incident, but in truth the things that alter lives, and give us our strongest emotions, do really happen in fashions the reverse of picturesque. A couple of young folk had exchanged a score or so of vapid words, yet before many weeks had gone several people had reason for wishing the trivial interview had never been.
The girl thought but once more about the matter. On her way back the clink of the closing wicket brought young Ellington to her mind again, and she said to herself, “What a nice free lad the young squire is! They were saying he was a kind of close fellow with a bad temper. He doesn’t look like that. I wonder what makes him flatten his hair down so funny? He asked me about next Thursday.” And there Miss Mary Casely ceased her maiden meditations, and walked on with her sharp step, and with a mind vacant of all coherent thought, as only the truly rustic mind can be. Presently she passed a row of one-storied cottages which ran along the edge of the low cliff, and she tapped at the door of a somewhat larger house which stood in a dignified manner a little apart from the fishermen’s cottages. She heard a strong voice say, “Oh! It’s her, back again.” Then a heavy step crunched the sand of the flooring, and made the windows rattle in their frames. The door opened, and the same deep voice said, “Ye’ve getten here then, hinny. What kind of a night is it?”
The man stooped low to escape the lintel, and then straightened himself up in the road.
If you had searched from Yarmouth to Berwick the whole coast along you could not have found a more superb creature. He stood six feet four, but his limbs were so massive, and the outward arch of his broad chest was so full, that you might easily have guessed his inches wrongly. As he turned westward toward the last light that still glowed in dim bars from behind the hills, his face showed with a noble outline. He looked round for a space, said, “Ay, the lads’ll be having a bonny night,” then strode heavily to his “settle” once more, and prepared to chat with his daughter. When the lamp was lit, the grandeur of his face became finely apparent. His hair was coarse, and black, and lustreless; it hung heavily over a heavy brow. His jaw was square and powerful, but its firmness was saved from seeming absolutely cruel by the kindly lines of the mouth. Not a feature of the man was unmarked by signs of keenness and strength. You would not have chosen him for an enemy unless you happened to be a thought inexperienced. This was Mr. Thomas Casely. For fifty-four years he had dwelt in that house on the cliff-edge; his father still lived in one of the small cottages near by, and his grandfather and great-grandfather had spent their lives in the same village before him. Probably the progenitors of the Caselys and the Ellingtons came over together on a thieving expedition, and, finding the natives of the region amenable to emphatic arguments, settled quietly and used their long vessels henceforth for comparatively honest purposes.
A deal of very curious talk is spent over the ancient Scandinavians who used to harry the peaceful farmers long ago. We learn that these rapacious gentlemen were above all things “deep-thoughted,” and that they had rather fine notions about poetry and the future life. They were, in short, a species of bloodthirsty AEsthetics. Instead of devoting themselves to intense amours and sonnets, they were the Don Juans of Death, but in no other point did they differ materially from the cultured creature who lives up to his blue china.
This notion seems wrong. From all observations, I should incline to say that the earliest Ellington who settled in England was a big ruffian who disliked work, and who had a sharp eye to business; whilst the earliest Caselys were probably thievish fellows, who loved moonless nights, and objected to the use of cold water. Under the influence of softening generations, the Caselys and Ellingtons had dropped their predatory tendencies, and lived peaceful lives. Furthermore, it is certain that the heartiest amity had prevailed between the houses for more years than I care to reckon. Travel and town life had given polish to some of the aristocrats, and taught them to use reasonable haughtiness toward inferior creatures; but even a haughty greeting is better than a remonstrance delivered with a mace. At any rate, all the Caselys were brought up to offer reverence to the Squire, and the tradition of mutual esteem and distant respect had never been broken. A correct notion of the rights of labour had not been expounded anywhere near the estate, and the roughest fellow on Mr. Ellington’s land probably felt loyalty towards the Family. This state of things cannot withstand the advance of culture for very long, but meantime it offers even unto this day an interesting specimen of ancient usage.
When his daughter had got out her knitting, Thomas Casely drew down his shaggy brows, and looked at her with a queer twinkle of kindness.
“You’ll have had a grand talk with them over at the Dean?”
“No, father. The old Squire rode round, and he wanted to see so many things about the stackyard, aunt couldn’t get away. Bob was in for a minute.”
“What for didn’t Bob see you home?”
“Oh, I cannot be fashed with him. When he’s dressed to come out, he looks just like as if he’d got mixed suits of other folks’ clothes on.”
“You’ll not have to be proud, my woman. He’s just as good, and better, than the most of the lads round here. I never knew no good come of pride.”
“I never knew what pride meant; but if I walk with a lad I like him to be bonny, and I want to see him not look like a countryman altogether. Bob isn’t bonny.”
“Ay, well, hinny, if you want fine clothes, I doubt you’ll get nobody but the young squire.” This Mr. Casely said with a slow smile, and Mary thought suddenly, “Next Thursday afternoon.”
The reader will see that these rustics had not attained that quaint sententious wisdom proper to the rustics of fiction. In their ungrammatical way they talked much like human beings.
When Mr. Ellington turned once more to the sea, after Mary Casely had passed out of sight, the look of things had somehow altered in his eyes. He went to the edge of the rocks, and looked down on the short ripples that broke into whiteness below him. He was taken with the beauty of the clear green water that moved over the shallows, and he found himself watching the swift changes of shade caused by the passage of the light breeze with something like active interest. The ragworts and the wild geraniums made a yellow and purple fretwork all around him, and the colour gave him a sense of keen gladness. He faced round and entered the quivering gloom of the woods again, but his step on the gravel was sharp and firm. Every faculty of him seemed to have waked. A blackbird bugled cheerily in the underwood, and Ellington felt a strange thrill. He reached the Hall, and sat down to wait for the dressing-bell, but the hour before dinner, usually so heavy to him, went by briskly. During dinner he made no attempt at sustained conversation, yet he answered his grandfather’s few short questions with a ready cheerfulness and fluency which made the old man regard him with narrowed eyes.
When the night came fairly on, he sat looking out of his window into the scented darkness. Had you asked him what he was thinking of, he could not have told you, yet I suppose something unusual must have been passing through his mind, for, when he had finally risen with a sigh of content to close the window, he stepped up to the looking-glass and regarded himself with curiosity. Once he smiled, as if by way of practice, and then a sudden sense of shame seemed to come over him, for he reddened and turned away. Most people will be able to guess what ailed him, but he himself did not know at the time.
The week went away but slowly. On the Wednesday evening the old Squire said: “You’ll go over to Branspath to-morrow morning early. Richards will drive you in, and you must call on Chernside and tell him I wish to see him in the afternoon about Gibson’s lease. He’ll know what you mean.” The young man shifted uneasily. “Couldn’t you send a note by Richards?” He felt his face hot as he asked the question.
“Well, yes, I could, if I chose, but I want Richards to order a few things in the High Street. He’ll pick you up when you’ve done with Chernside.” At two o’clock next day young Mr. Ellington was back again at the Hall. As he stepped down from the dog-cart, Richards pointed to the horse. “I doubt we’ve done him some harm, Sir. Forty-five minutes from the High Moor–the black mare couldn’t do it no quicker. Matchem here hasn’t been driven for three weeks now.” The horse was drooping his head, the lather slid down his flanks,–so I fancy there had been hard going.
The young Squire gave an indifferent look and hurried indoors. Within an hour he was walking rather quickly toward the sea, without one sign of the dreaminess that overweighed him when last he took the same road. Presently (he knew it would come) a firm step came over the gravel, and his heart went fast. Before he had got rid of his momentary dimness of sight, he found himself obliged to stammer out something: “You managed the wicket by yourself this time.” The girl laughed brightly. Ellington felt bound to go on speaking–
“You are going over to the Dene?”
“Yes; I think I’ll take the short cut through the Ride.”
“I think, if you don’t mind, we may as well go by the Three Plantations.” He said “we” with the utmost ease, and, noticing no sign of dissent, he walked on by the side of the girl, and a new chapter of his life began.
Neither of them could tell exactly how they came to be walking together, yet each of them would have been disappointed had it not fallen out so. Neither of them had made a definite resolve to meet the other, but the girl had made most calculations on the event. Within a month from that day the pair were strolling under the gloom of the firs in the Three Plantations. This time young Mr. Ellington had his arm round his companion’s waist; her tall figure was leaned towards him.
They were talking low, and the rustling sound of their whispers echoed a little beneath the sombre arch of the trees.
They came to the little bridge which crossed the head of the Dean, and then he took both her hands and said, “Now, good-bye; to-morrow at the high end of the New Plantation.” They had got to daily meetings within that short month.
“I’ll be there. You won’t mind if I’m a bit behind time? Sometimes they want me, and I don’t care for my father to ask where I’m going.”
“I’ve promised to wait for you, darling, half a lifetime, if need be. Why should I grudge an hour?”
This question was not articulately answered, but the reply was satisfactory. Then the couple parted.
So it happened that in a few brief weeks this quiet young man had drifted into a disgraceful intrigue. He did not think it disgraceful, because he had not reflected at all. The future was barred to him, and he lived from one day to another content with the joy that the day brought. He had made promises with rash profusion, and his promises had been believed. Further and further he had been drawn, till the fire of his blood made him fancy that he was proceeding voluntarily.
To Mary Casely the whole affair seemed quite natural. She knew nothing about the pitiful stories of village maidens which make so much of the stock of fiction. She had never read a story, so she fancied that her secret meetings were part of the fixed order of life. She happened to have a sweetheart who dressed well and spoke beautifully, and that was all the difference between her and other girls. Besides this, she was a singularly determined young woman. She had made up her mind to marry the young Squire; he in his folly had given no single hint of the vast, the insuperable difficulties that lay in the way; and so the bitter business went on.
The summer passed into autumn, and late November came. Such an affair as that of Mary Casely and the young Squire could not be long kept out of the reach of acrid village gossip. Once or twice, as young Ellington walked out of church from the pew by the chancel, he fancied he saw the gardeners and farm-people looking at him with intelligence, and he felt something catching at his throat.
When December came in, his misery had grown to acuteness. His old passive wretchedness had given way to a settled nervous dread which wore the brightness from his comely face.
One grey afternoon he took the old road to the sea again. The wind was crying drearily, and the trees creaked as they swayed to each swift gust. He shivered when he came in sight of the sea, for the low sky was leaden. The very foam looked dull. Every few seconds came a muffled boom, as a roller shattered itself against the rocks, and a tower of spray shot up and fell on the sodden grass.
The wild flowers were gone, and the bents bowed themselves cheerlessly.
How many things else were gone! How many things else were cheerless!
He turned round when he could bear waiting no longer, and prepared to carry his miseries home. Something ill must have happened. At the bluff of the shrubbery where he had first seen Mary pass out of sight he heard a step, but it was not that sharp, steady step he had learnt to know so well. He was face to face with Mr. Casely. It had come at last. For weeks he had foreshadowed this meeting in his dreams, and the fear had so worked on him that he had learned a trick of glancing suddenly over his shoulder. Casely looked steadily down at the young Squire for a time that seemed long, and then, unclenching his tense jaw, said quietly–
“It wasn’t me you were expecting to meet.”
“I didn’t expect to meet you. No; how do you come to be passing this way?”
“I’ve been up to the Hall seeing your grandfather. You know what I’ve been for very near as well as I do. And now I have to talk to you. Speak straight, or I’ll break you in two across my knee.”
Ellington was not more of a coward than other men. But he didn’t heed the threat. His grandfather know. Nothing else was in his stunned mind. He stood staring–unable to get a word past his lips. Casely spoke, louder–
“What ails you? Have I to hit you?”
Then the young fellow found his voice.
“I wish you would. I wish you would kill me where I stand. I’m all in the wrong, and I have no right to answer you. It began well–I mean, I meant no harm. Never any man dared offer one of us a blow before, but it has come to that now. I wouldn’t lift a hand to stop you. I haven’t an excuse to give you.”
“A nice thing it is for your father’s son to be standing slavering there and cowering to me like a whelp. I don’t despise you for it, for I know what you mean; but isn’t it bonny? You haven’t an excuse! Have you nothing else–not a promise like them you’ve made to the lass?”
“I’d marry her now, but I know it would be a hundred thousand times worse for her than if she married a common sailor man. I’m past wretchedness. It couldn’t be.”
“And what about her? And, what about me? How is it for us? Now, look you, my fine young man! I’ll not stop a minute longer, or else there’ll be murder. But I’ll tell you this much. I know as well as you there can be nothing more. I’m not mad. She can’t marry you, and you knew that before you started lying to her. It’s all over, and we must face the folk in the place the best way we can. You’re sorry, I see you are; but understand this–sorry or not, if it wasn’t that me and my forebears has had nothing but good from them that went before you, and was better than you, I’d kill you now, and reckon you no more than a herring. You’d better get away out of my sight.”
Then Mr. Casely tramped towards the wicket, and went home. He sat long into the night, and when he went to bed he flung himself on the coverlid with his clothes on. Towards morning he said aloud–“I’m glad he didn’t think to offer me money. If he had, I would have pulled his windpipe out.”
The young gentleman thus alluded to by Mr. Casely had gone home in a state of stupefaction. He did not attempt to frame a thought. His limbs took him along mechanically. He passed one of his aunts as he went to his room, but he did not make any sign. When he had settled down, a tap came at his door.
“Mr. Ellington’ll have dinner laid for him in his study. He wants to see you, Sir, in the study as soon after dinner as possible.”
Young Ellington heard this without any fresh shock. The worst had passed, and nothing henceforth could hurt him.
He could eat nothing. He found himself adding up the number of glasses; dividing it into couples; counting the squares on the wall-pattern; going through all the forlorn trivialities that employ the mind when suffering has passed out of the conscious stage. When his time came for meeting the terrible old man, he stepped straight into the study without knocking, and stood stupidly waiting for the voice that he knew would come. A thought of dignity never occurred to him. Had he been a mere libertine he would have brazened it out, and would have tried at flippancy. But he was not a libertine; he was simply an inexperienced young man who was suffering remorse at its deadliest.
“You had better sit down.”
He sought a chair, took his seat, and once more waited.
“Need we exchange any words about this business? You can have nothing to say, so perhaps you had better leave the talking to me. You have behaved like a scoundrel. You have crippled my hands. Only a year ago I turned Thomson’s girl off the estate, and gave her father notice to quit the cottage after her. I got some newspaper chatter aimed at me then, and now, by God, you’ve done worse than the fellow who ruined poor Thomson. Look up there, and you’ll see your father’s portrait. He was a merry lad in his day, but he wouldn’t have intrigued with a washerwoman. That’s about what you have done. However, we’ll have no more scolding. Of course, you understand that the affair is to be done with?”
“It depends upon you, Sir. If you will, I dare marry her.”
“I thought you were a little mad. Go! I wish I could say go for altogether. I have some time to live though, and you shall know something meanwhile. Go!”
The unfortunate had not a word to say even against his grandfather’s brutal insolence. He went, and passed the night in much the same way as did Casely, save that where Casely’s pride was still stubborn, Ellington’s pride was broken.
When the spring came there were gay doings at the Hall. Old Mr. Ellington had taken a sudden turn, and the housekeeper was near bidding good-bye to her reason. There were extra men engaged in the stables, and the black mare, Matchem, and the Squire’s cob had very grand company indeed. Things went so far that one morning the Branspath hounds met on the Common by the Hall. For fifty-five years such a thing had not been seen. The great dappled dogs stood in a clump by the high north wall of the fruit garden, and the villagers stared round in wonder. The gorse to the southward of the House was drawn, and a fox was found. There was a wild crash and clamour for a few minutes in the plantation where Mary Casely used to meet her lover, and then I am sorry to say that the Huntsman began to use very bad language. Nothing had been attended to; the hounds might as well have been entered at rabbits. The fox never even had occasion to break covert, and the gay assemblage rode away towards Branspath before two o’clock in the afternoon. The science of earth-stopping had not been pushed to its final term on the Ellington estate, but still there was hope now that the hounds had once been permitted to cross the border which divided Squire Ellington’s property from that of the next sporting landowner.
After the abortive intrusion of the hounds there were still other attempts at gaiety. The village began somehow to look brisk; the ancient stagnation passed away, and grey cottagers spoke fondly of the old times.
Throughout all this liveliness Mr. Casely kept to the mode of living he had adopted ever since the night when he made allusions to Mr. Ellington’s windpipe. He went about his work as usual, but he spoke to no one. He dropped going to church, and he never, as in past times, drove his cart into Branspath. Mary had been sent to a relation’s in the South. Her father would not mention her name, and his family and neighbours were particularly careful to say nothing about the girl who had gone. Sometimes Casely would think about his pet, but he spared words. Once a neighbour stepped in unawares, and found the strong man stretched with his face on the settle, and sobbing hard; but he sat up when he found he was not alone, spoke an oath or two, and was ready for everyday chat.
In the autumn Casely happened to be out on the green, watching the women spreading the nets to dry. It was a lovely day, and the larks were singing wildly one against the other far up toward the sky. Suddenly the chattering women grew quiet. A slender young lady, daintily dressed, walked gracefully along the road that bordered the green. There was silence while she passed, save for the larks’ sweet jargoning. As soon as the neat tall figure was sufficiently far off, one of the women said–
Another made answer within Casely’s hearing–
“Oh, it’s the young Squire’s lass. She’s a daughter of some big man away down South. They’re to be married come the spring o’ the year.”
Casely watched the graceful young lady over the crest of the next rise, then turned homeward and sat down silent as usual. Now it happened that the lady when she passed the gossiping fishers was going to meet young Ellington. That gentleman had lately persuaded his grandfather to buy a light boat for the better navigation of a heavy dull stream that ran deep and silent round the southerly border of the home farm, and the individual undutifully referred to as “the young Squire’s lass” was about to trust herself in the new craft with her lover. Ellington had everything ready when the girl reached the stream. When she had stepped aboard, he said–
“You called at Marchman’s for Aunt Esther and Miss Marshall?”
“Yes! But they teased. They said they were having such an interesting gossip with poor old Hannah, they would prefer following me. They thought we might employ our time till they came up.”
“It’s just as well. I’m sure, if you don’t mind, I don’t. Which way shall we go?”
“I cannot tell. The stream is so slack I could hardly guess where the sea lay if I didn’t know.”
“Well, now, I’ll tell you what I propose doing. We can slip over the bar as the wind is just now. There’s always a little rough water just where the burn joins the sea, but when we get over that the sea outside is quite smooth. Then we can sail, and save the bore of pulling.”
So the confident young man pointed the boat’s stem down stream, and after a little jerky work on the bar stood clear out into blue water.
He was used to sailing, so that he really took his boat rather cleverly round to the north-east. Then he made fast the sheet, since he wanted one hand free; the boat lay prettily over till the water gurgled again under her sharp bows, and Mr. Ellington felt the contentment and exhilaration born of swift movement. But of course he must needs proceed in this matter as in all others without thought of the future. The tide was running fast out, and a surface current which always skirts the bay set the boat ever more eastward. The rocks grew a little dim before Ellington looked round and considered the situation. He felt quite easy in his mind, however, and, stepping forward, let go the tiny halliard, whereupon the sail came down.
“Now,” he said, “we’re just going to let her take her own way for an hour.”
This sailor-like resolution pleased his companion mightily, so the boat was allowed to wheel lazily, and curtsey to the slight waves as they set to the shore. Then the young people chatted softly, and forgot the time.
Now those who have watched the humours of autumn weather by the coast will have noticed that very often after a warm breeze has been blowing for hours, there will suddenly come a chill easterly waft. This will be followed by a steady cold wind. The trees are blown white, the grass is black with shadows, and the sea springs up like magic into a short nasty “lipper.” Within half-an-hour the lipper has gathered size, and in a terribly short time there are ugly, medium-sized waves bowling fiercely and regularly westward. The change mostly comes just about an hour after the tide has turned. Ellington and his companion were talking on heedlessly, when the girl, interrupting him in the middle of a speech, said, shivering, “How cold it has turned!”
“Yes,” returned Ellington, “it often comes like that. Do you see how she’s beginning to caper? So, there! Softly, softly!” he cried, as though he were talking to a horse. A spirt of water had jerked over the boat’s side.
He ran up his sail, and as the little craft swung on her light heels, and drew away to the west, he said, “I wish I hadn’t got you into this mess. But never mind, I don’t think it’s more than a wetting and a fuss when we get home, at the worst of it.”
Mr. Casely was sitting by his fire in the sanded kitchen. Excepting two very old fellows, he was the only man left in the village that afternoon, for all the other men and lads had gone north on the morning tide. His noble face had got the beginnings of a few new lines since we first saw him; his mouth was sorrowful, and his brows fell heavier than ever.
A woman came in rather hurriedly, and said, “Thou’d better come out a minute, honey. The sea’s come on very coarse, and the young Squire’s boat’s gettin’ badly used out there, about a mile to the east’ard.”
“Who’s in her?”
“The young Squire and his lass.”
“I’ll be out directly. Has he ever made the landin’ before?”
“Yes, but Tom’s Harry was always with him.”
When Casely stepped to the cliff edge, he saw that matters were a little awkward. The boat was as yet in no very great danger, but the real pinch would not come till Ellington tried to land. For two miles along the coast there was not a single yard of shore where you dared beach a boat, excepting just opposite the village. Here there was a broad gap through the jagged reef which fringed the shore, and through this gap the fishermen’s boats had shot in fair or foul weather for more generations than men could remember.
Casely said to one of the women–
“He’ll be all right if he comes in to the north of the Cobbler. If he doesn’t, it’s a bad job.”
The Cobbler’s Seat was one of a pair of huge rocks, which lay right in the very gap wherethrough the boats had to run in. A progressive people would have had the impediments blasted away, but the fisher-folk were above all things conservative, and so the Cobbler remained year after year to make the inward passage exciting. When the tide was running in hard, a boat attempting the south passage was certain to be taken in a nasty swirling eddy, and dashed heavily against the big stone. When any sea was on, the run in required much nicety of handling.
Ellington had been told long ago that he must keep the church tower and the flagstaff in one if he wanted to hit the gap fairly. He carried out his instruction as well as he knew how.
The boat came dashingly in, flinging the spray gallantly aside as she ducked and plunged in the short sea.
Casely saw that Ellington was going wrong. For an instant he had an ungenerous thought. “Should I save him?” He shook himself as though he were shaking off water, and sang out with all the strength of his tremendous voice–“Hard down with it!” He waved to the northward with passionate energy. But it was too late. The boat staggered as the eddy hit her, swerved sharp to starboard, and took in a great plash of water, then she struck the Cobbler, and kept repeating the blow with vicious, short bumps that stove in her head. Ellington sprang out, and got a foothold. He seized the girl, and dragged her beside him. The boat turned clumsily over, and swirled away past. Then the wrecked couple climbed out of reach of the lunging waves, and stood breathless. Casely said, “That’s a bad job, Jinny. The Cobbler’ll be covered half a fathom in forty minutes’ time.”
The woman he spoke to was his cousin. She said, “Can he swim?”
“Him! The big baby! He never could do anything like a man since the day he was whelped. Old John Ellington would have had the lass half-way ashore by this time.”
“Let him drown!” This unladylike speech came from Jinny, who had been very fond of Mary Casely.
“No! no!” said Casely, frowning heavily, “I’ll not do that, Jinny. Tell Hannah to fetch a rope, and call the other women. If we could only have got a coble out it would have been all right, but there’s nobody to pull except a few daft wives and old Adam.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll swim off, and you women folk can haul me in with the lass. After that I’ll maybe try for him.”
Then this rare fellow had the rope fastened under his armpits, flung off his sea-boots and his sleeve-waistcoat, and struck off with a breast stroke that made never a splash. The spray cut his face, the lashing feathers on the tops of the waves half-blinded him, but he held doggedly on, and presently hung on to the bladderweed that fringed the Cobbler’s Seat. He climbed lightly up, and spoke to the girl.
“You’ll lie quiet, my bonny woman, and don’t be frightened if you get a mouthful or two. Let me have you under the arms, and look smart.”
He waved and shouted, then let himself lightly down into the sea, while the women ran up the beach with the straining rope. When his feet ground in the shallow water, he was bleeding at the mouth, but he carried the girl past the foam.
“Take her up to our house, and send for Bella to put her in bed. She’s nigh done for. And now, my lasses, give us that dry rope; this one’s over stiff.”
He struck off again, and was not long in getting to the stone; but it was difficult work to climb up, for the wind was fairly whistling by this time, and the waves had got a heavy impetus. Ellington was blue with cold, and chattering at the teeth. He had cramped his fingers in a hole bored by the common mollusc, which honeycombs the rocks, and as he crouched he looked not particularly noble.
“Now, my man, there isn’t much time, or else this would be a fine place for us to have a talk. I’ve saved your lass for you, and I wish you had done the same to mine for me. Now, come on; and mind, if you struggle, I’ll fell you like a stirk.”
Once more the women ran to the high end of the beach, and then Ellington was handed to them, limp and sick with sea water.
This was how Mr. Casely revenged himself.