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- The Splendid Spur - 40/44 -
The day-spring came at last, and in the sick light of it I went down to the cottage for spade and pickaxe. In the tumult of my senses I hardly noted that our prisoner, the dragoon, had contrived to slip his bonds and steal off in the night.
And then Delia, seeing me return with the sad tools on my shoulder, spoke for the first time:
"First, if there be a well near, fetch me two buckets of water, and leave us for an hour."
Her voice was weary and chill: so that I dared not thank her, but did the errand in silence. Then, but a dozen paces from the spot where Joan's father lay, I dug a grave and strew'd it with bracken, and heather, and gorse petals, that in the morning air smell'd rarely. And soon after my task was done, Delia call'd me.
In her man's dress Joan lay, her arms cross'd, her black tresses braided, and her face gentler than ever 'twas in life. Over her wounded breast was a bunch of some tiny pink flower, that grew about the tor.
So I lifted her softly as once in this same place she had lifted me, and bore her down the slope to the grave: and there I buried her, while Delia knelt and pray'd, and Molly browsed, lifting now and then her head to look.
When all was done, we turn'd away, dry-eyed, and walked together to the cottage. The bay horse was feeding on the moor below; and finding him still too lame to carry Delia, I shifted the saddles, and mending the broken rein, set her on Molly. The cottage door stood open, but we did not enter; only look'd in, and seeing Jan Tergagle curl'd beside the cold hearth, left him so.
Mile after mile we pass'd in silence, Delia riding, and I pacing beside her with the bay. At last, tortur'd past bearing, I spoke--
"Delia, have you nothing to say?"
For a while she seem'd to consider: then, with her eyes fix'd on the hills ahead, answered--
"Much, if I could speak: but all this has changed me somehow--'tis, perhaps, that I have grown a woman, having been a girl--and need to get used to it, and think."
She spoke not angrily, as I look'd for; but with a painful slowness that was less hopeful.
"But," said I, "over and over you have shown that I am nought to you. Surely--"
"Surely I am jealous? 'Tis possible--yes, Jack, I am but a woman, and so 'tis certain."
"Why, to be jealous, you must love me!"
She look'd at me straight, and answered very deliberate--
"Now that is what I am far from sure of."
"But, dear Delia, when your anger has cool'd--"
"My anger was brief: I am disappointed, rather. With her last breath, almost, Joan said you were weaker than she: she lov'd you better than I, and read you clearer. You _are_ weak. Jack"--she drew in Molly, and let her hand fall on my shoulder very kindly--"we have been comrades for many a long mile, and I hope are honest good friends; wherefore I loathe to say a harsh or ungrateful-seeming word. But you could not understand that brave girl, and you cannot understand me: for as yet you do not even know yourself. The knowledge comes slowly to a man, I think; to a woman at one rush. But when it comes, I believe you may be strong. Now leave me to think, for my head is all of a tangle."
Our pace was so slow (by reason of the lame horse), that a great part of the afternoon was spent before we came in sight of the House of Gleys. And truly the yellow sunshine bad flung some warmth about the naked walls and turrets, so that Delia's home-coming seem'd not altogether cheerless. But what gave us more happiness was to spy, on the blue water beyond, the bright canvas of the _Godsend_, and to hear the cries and stir of Billy Pottery's mariners as they haul'd down the sails.
And Billy himself was on the lookout with his spyglass. For hardly were we come to the beach when our signal--the waving of a white kerchief--was answered by another on board; and within half an hour a boat puts off, wherein, as she drew nearer, I counted eight fellows.
They were (besides Billy), Matt. Soames, the master, Gabriel Hutchins, Ned Masters, the black man Sampson, Ben Halliday, and two whose full names I have forgot--but one was call'd Nicholas. And, after many warm greetings, the boat was made fast, and we climbed up along the peninsula together, in close order, like a little army.
All this time there was no sign or sound about the House of Gleys to show that anyone mark'd us or noted our movements. The gate was closed, the windows stood shutter'd, as on my former visit: even the chimneys were smokeless. Such effect had this desolation on our spirits, that drawing near, we fell to speaking in whispers, and said Ned Masters--
"Now a man would think us come to bury somebody!"
"He might make a worse guess," I answer'd.
Marching up to the gate, I rang a loud peal on the bell; and to my astonishment, before the echoes had time to die away, the grating was push'd back, and the key turn'd in the lock.
"Step ye in--step ye in, good folks! A sorry day,--a day of sobs an' tears an' afflicted blowings of the nose--when the grasshopper is a burden an' the mourners go about seeking whom they may devour the funeral meats. Y' are welcome, gentlemen."
'Twas the voice of my one-eyed friend, as he undid the bolts; and now he stood in the gateway with a prodigious black sash across his canary livery, so long that the ends of it swept the flagstones.
"Is Master Tingcomb within?" I helped Delia to dismount, and gave our two horses to a stable boy that stood shuffling some paces off.
"Alas!" the old man heav'd a deep sigh, and with that began to hobble across the yard. We troop'd after, wondering. At the house door he turn'd---
"Sirs, there is cold roasted capons, an' a ham, an' radishes in choice profusion for such as be not troubled wi' the wind: an' cordial wines--alack the day!"
He squeez'd a frosty tear from his one eye, and led us to a large bare hall, hung round with portraits; where was a table spread with a plenty of victuals, and horn-handled knives and forks laid beside plates of pewter; and at the table a man in black, eating. He had straight hair and a sallow face; and look'd up as we enter'd, but, groaning, in a moment fell to again.
"Eat, sirs," the old servitor exhorted us: "alas! that man may take nothing out o' the world!"
I know not who of us was most taken aback. But noting Delia's sad wondering face, as her eyes wander'd round the neglected room and rested on the tatter'd portraits, I lost patience.
"Our business is with Master Hannibal Tingcomb," said I sharply.
The straight-hair'd man look'd up again, his mouth full of ham.
"Hush!"--he held his fork up, and shook his head sorrowfully: and I wonder'd where I had Been him before. "Hast thou an angel's wings?" he ask'd.
"Why, no, sir; but the devil's own boots--as you shall find if I be not answer'd."
"Young man--young man," broke in the one-eyed butler: "our minister is a good minister, an' speaks roundabout as such: but the short is, that my master is dead, an' in his coffin."
"The mortal part," corrected the minister, cutting another slice.
"Aye, the immortal is a-trippin' it i' the New Jeroosalem: but the mortal was very lamentably took wi' a fit, three days back--the same day, young man, as thou earnest wi' thy bloody threats."
"Aye, sir, an' verily--such a fit as thou thysel' witness'd. 'Twas the third attack--an' he cried, 'Oh!' he did, an' 'Ah!'--just like that. 'Oh!' an' then 'Ah!' Such were his last dyin' speech. 'Dear Master,' says I, 'there's no call to die so hard:' but might so well ha' whistled, for he was dead as nails. A beautiful corpse, sirs, dang my buttons!"
"Show him to us."
"Willingly, young man." He led the way to the very room where Master Tingcomb and I had held our interview. As before, six candles were burning there: but the table was push'd into a corner, and now their light fell on a long black coffin, resting on trestles in the centre of the room. The coffin was clos'd, and studded with silver nails; on the lid was a silver plate bearing these words written-- "_Hannibal Tingcomb_, MDCXLIIL," with a text of Scripture below.
"Why have you nail'd him down?" I asked.
"Now where be thy bowels, young man, to talk so unfeelin'? An' where be thy experience, not to know the ways o' thy blessed dead in summer time?"
"When do you bury him?"
"To-morrow forenoon. The spot is two mile from here." He blinked at me, and hesitated for a minute. "Is it your purpose, sirs, to attend?"
"Be sure of that," I said grimly. "So have beds ready to-night for all our company."
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