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 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 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 farm-yard 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. He got up, and holding the knife behind him, he crept over towards your mother's chair. I seed him feel at it, then there came a wild look over his face, and he out with the carving knife, and dug the blade right into the leather, and it came through at the back. I guess he's going as his brother did." He looked with a cunning covert glance at her, and continued, "It is not that these matters concern me, but I don't want to change places in my old age. 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."
"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. "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."
"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 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." He drew her in at the door; a ferocious expression flickered over his face.
"I cannot endure this longer. Mehalah! you are killing me."
"What am I doing to make you suffer?" she asked.
"You are doing all you can." He gathered himself up, as though to spring on her and tear her; but she stepped back beyond his spring.
"I give you no occasion for this," she said; "you speak like a madman."
"It is you who drive me to act and speak like one," he cried. "You now have money. 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," 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. In her simplicity and guilelessness she would not believe that there was any wrong in meeting the friend of her childhood.
"My dear Glory," he said, "I am delighted to see you. Has the prophet been in his frenzies again? 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, and the sooner you are freed from this tyranny and torture, the better for both of us."
"Glory, dear! is it true that you have been left a small fortune?"
"Yes, it is true, something like three hundred pounds a year."
"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."
"Oh George, to think how happy we might have been!"
"Why, Glory, with three hundred a year we might have lived as gentlefolks, away from all ugly sights and memories."
"I had no ugly memories in the old days," she said sorrowfully.
"You have now. How delightful it would be to cast it all away."
"Oh, George!" She trembled and gave one great sob, that shook her.
"We might take a cottage by Plymouth Harbour, and live at ease."
"Why do you talk like this to me, George? I cannot bear it. 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."
"I do not understand what you mean," he said. "You have told me that Elijah Rebow is nothing to you in reality. You have no tie to bind you to him save the farce you went through in church."
"It is impossible, George!" exclaimed Mehalah. "There is another tie that I cannot break."
"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 told me 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 dangerous, Glory. I do not understand you."
"I suppose you do not," she said, with a sob; "but you must see this, I have made him a helpless creature dependent on me. I brought him into this condition, and I must help him to bear the affliction."
"You do not love me or you would leave him to his fate."
"I do love you!" she cried. "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."
"You will not. Hark!" A burst of merry bells from West Mersea church tower swept over the water. "There is a wedding to-day. Did the bells peal when you were married?"
"They shall when you become mine. Not those Mersea bells, but some others where we are not known."
"It cannot be. Do not tempt and torture me. I must not leave Elijah. I am not, and never will be his; but now I cannot desert him."
"This is too bad of you," said the young man angrily.
"Can we not live on true to each other yet separated?"
"It is not in nature. If you do not come with 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."
"You could not do it. You could not take another."
"You think another girl would not have me? You are mistaken."
"You could not do it," she persisted. "The George I knew 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 follow me."
"Do you not see," she cried passionately, trembling with vehemence "that I cannot. Would you have me desert him in his helplessness? I cannot do it. There is something in my bosom will not let me. If I were to go against that I should never be at ease."
"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. Keep to him. I shall look for a mate elsewhere."
"George!" she said plaintively, "I am sorry for it. I will do anything for you. True to you I will remain, but I will not leave Elijah."
"Very well, 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. I owe reparation for your treatment of her once on my boat."
"If you will run off with me, we will be married and live happily on your little fortune and my pension and what I can pick up. If not, I shall go to Phoebe Musset, and ask her to be my wife."
"You can take her, her, to your heart?"
"Delighted to do so."
"Then, George! I never knew you, I never understood you."
"Once again, will you come with me?"
"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, like a wounded bird trying to rise but unable, seeking a covert where it may hide its head and die.