Mehalah: a story of the salt marshes (1920)/Chapter 28



"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 Phœbe 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?"


"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 Salcot. 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."