J. H.

At the same moment, as Jane was on the threshold and about to shut the door behind her, Winefred appeared, but Winefred so covered with soil, so be-chalked, as to be hardly recognisable. Yet Jane knew her at once.
In the conflict of emotion in her heart the shock was too great. She reeled and caught the doorposts, and stood speechless, her mouth open—staring.
‘Mother! have you missed me?’
Jane was unable to answer. She gasped for breath.
Behind Winefred was a young man.
‘Mother, have you been frightened?’
Then, still speechless, Mrs. Marley pointed to the figure on the floor.
Instantly, with an exclamation, the young man dashed past her, and knelt by the prostrate captain.
Jane’s head was dazed. For a moment the earth spun round, and a blue cloud rose and enveloped her. She would have fallen had not her daughter caught and sustained her.
Winefred led her within to a seat, and as Jane entered she shrank from the captain. She put her hands before her eyes and remained breathing hard, and trembling in every limb. After a while she withdrew her hands, looked at the young man, and asked, ‘Who is that?’
‘It is Jack—Jack Rattenbury,’ answered Winefred, who still had her arm about her mother, afraid lest she should slip down in a faint.
Jane remained silent and motionless for a minute, then with a sharp turn of the body shook herself together, rallied her senses, and said, ‘Run, run for a doctor—I had been out searching for you, Winnie, and when I came back I found him thus.’
Jack stooped over his father, endeavouring to get him to speak,[103] but although old Rattenbury’s eyes rested on him, and his mouth moved, he was unable to articulate words.
‘He has had a fit,’ said Mrs. Marley, as she stood up, almost herself again. ‘If you are Jack, help me to carry him to bed. I have tried to lift him, but have failed. I had not the strength; he is a heavy man.’
‘No, mother,’ said Winefred, ‘Jack and I will do that. You are too shaken.’
‘Yes,’ said the young man, rising, ‘that is the proper thing to be done. But lest he should suffer from cold, and there is no fireplace in another room, we will have a bed moved in here.’
Winefred now removed her arm from encircling her mother, and the three proceeded to make the stricken man as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.
Then said Jane again, ‘Run for a doctor. He must let blood. It is the right thing to be done in such a case. Do you go, Jack, and Winefred and I will attend to your father till your return.’
Jack once more bent over the captain, took his hand and spoke to him, and again Job Rattenbury laboured ineffectually to utter some words. At the same time his eyes turned to the wardrobe.
‘I cannot catch his meaning,’ said Jack. ‘There is something on his mind, something he is most desirous to communicate. Can you guess at his meaning, Mrs. Marley?’
‘No,’ answered Jane, compressing her lips. ‘You are wasting precious time, and risking the loss of his life to dally thus. Go for the surgeon at once; he must breathe a vein.’
The young man nodded, looked at his father, and left.
When he was gone, Jane turned to her daughter. ‘It is in vain. No doctor can mend him. But I am glad that the young man is away. Now’—she clutched her daughter’s hands—’tell me all. Tell me where you have been—why you have been away.’
‘O mother,’ said Winefred, ‘it is a long story. Must you have it at once?’
‘I must know all. Why is he—that Jack, with you?’
‘But for him I should not be here now.’
‘Why so?’
Then Winefred related her story. She told how that she had overheard the directions given by the officer of the coastguard to his man, how that, knowing that the smugglers were to be trapped, she had done her utmost to caution them and save them from plunging into the snare.
[104]
‘You hear this!’ exclaimed Jane in a tone of triumph, springing from her chair, and going before Rattenbury. ‘You hear this! you—you who dared to say that she had betrayed you. She betray! She has, on the contrary, been the saving of your band. I am glad that you lie thus, stricken down, judged by God for what you said.’
‘Mother,’ pleaded Winefred, drawing the excited woman back to her seat, ‘do not speak to him in that fashion. Listen to the remainder of my story.’
‘You do not know what he has done,’ said Mrs. Marley. ‘He came here last night, and because the guard were out, and his plans known, he would have it that you had betrayed him, and he drove me from the house. He lied when he said that you had called the preventive men about him, and now God has beaten him to the ground for saying it.’ Looking again at the man on the bed, she cast at him, ‘You—listen to what follows.’
Winefred continued her story to the fall of the rock, without interruption from her mother, who, however, at times, nervously, sympathetically gripped her hands, and throughout with eager eyes looked into the face of her child, trembling and breathless to hear the sequel.
‘And then?’ she asked, when Winefred paused.
‘Well, mother, after Jack Rattenbury left, so he has told me, he walked along the beach, but he felt uneasy at having left me behind and alone, partly on account of the gaugers being about, and angry at having lost their prey, and partly because of the crumbling and fall of the rock; so when he got with the rest of the men opposite the Chesil Bank, he would not cross over with them, but turned back and retraced his steps till he came to the place where the rift had been formed. But by this time it was quite dark, for the moon was down. On reaching the chasm he could see no lantern, nor hear a sound; he was afraid to call out lest he should draw attention from the men who were about on the cliffs, and were drawing together as if they had a scent. Then he went along the beach, but saw nothing, and he did not well know what to do. He could not ascend by the path lest he should run into the arms of the coastguard, so he turned and went back again. He thought he heard voices aloft, but was not sure. He did not like to go home—I mean to Beer—without some knowledge of what had happened to me.’
‘Go on.’
‘Then at last the dawn came, and he returned to the cleft, and he saw that there had been a fall of rock, not very great, yet there[105] certainly had been one, for the mouth of the cavern was hidden. He clambered over the rubbish and called.’
‘And you answered?’
‘Mother, it was like this. I had fainted. I do not know how long I lay insensible. I do not know whether it were a real faint or I slept—when I came round, came to know anything—then I saw something like a star, just a little point of light. Mother, if I had not seen that little star, I do not think I should ever have come to my senses again, but have gone dazed, or slept or fainted off again into endless night. But when I saw that pinpoint—it was no more—then my mind and my life came back again to me; and I began to think and to remember, and I knew what had happened, and was able to consider what should be done. I guessed that the star was just one little bit of opening left that had not been covered. I daresay when the rock fell it was covered, but the heap sank and let this tiny hole appear. Through it came the light and the sweet morning air. I scrambled towards it, and then, just then, I heard him call, and I cried in reply. He heard me, and I tore away with my hands at the soil on one side, and he cleared away without as fast as he could. We were like a pair of rabbits. At length an opening was made through which I could wriggle like a worm. Look at my hands——’
Her mother clasped her to her heart. She could not speak.
‘But,’ said Jane, after a long pause, ‘you might have escaped without him.’
‘Yes, perhaps, but not so soon. Then Jack and I built up the entrance, so that none might find it till such time as he could come by night and flit all the goods away. He came on with me here.’ Winefred looked towards the bed, ‘I suppose the excitement of the night has been too much for the captain. And, O mother, it nearly killed you. You did seem frightened and ready to fall when I came upon you at the door. Mother, dear, I do not like the way his eyes watch us. Do let me put up a screen.’
‘He cannot hurt you now.’ Then, starting up, ‘But, Winefred, you have not had anything to eat.’ She looked at the clock; it had stopped. ‘I do not know the hour.’
‘That I can give,’ said the girl. She went into her bedroom, if so the recess could be called under the stair, and produced the watch that had been left by her beneath her pillow.
Her mother stared at the gold timepiece.
‘How came you by that?’
[106]
‘It was given to me, mother.’
‘Who gave it you?’ asked Jane, as she snatched the watch to her and turned it about. There was some enamelling on the back in blue and white.
‘A gentleman gave it me. I should have told you before. Indeed, I intended to tell you yesterday, but you were in an ill-humour, and so I waited, and then the chance passed.’
‘I have seen this watch before. I know it well,’ said Jane in a muffled voice. Again a sense of giddiness came upon her. So much had occurred, such a rush of strange events had passed over her, such a storm of various emotions had torn her, that she hardly knew what was happening now, or was likely to happen next.
‘There was a gentleman who came to me yesterday on the beach when I was picking up pebbles. He had very curled whiskers, and was sprucely dressed. He wore a fine hat and a green coat. He gave me the watch.’
‘Did he say anything to you?’ asked Jane in the same low, suppressed tone. She held the watch in her hand and turned it about.
‘Yes, he spoke of you, mother; he continued asking about you, and what you were doing, and where you had been. He was strange in his manner.’
‘Did he tell you his name?’
‘No, but there are initials on the case, J. H.’
‘It surely must be he!’ said Mrs. Marley. ‘He would at one time have given me the watch—it is the same; but I could not read the hours then; I have learned that since. It is he. Why did he not come to see me? Did he say he would do that?’
‘No, mother, he was in a hurry.’
‘Where was he going?’
‘He did not say.’
‘Tell me—tell me something more. What was he like? I do not mean his hat and his coat.’
‘He was a rather handsome man, but he had hardly any chin, and that spoiled his face; and he was for ever fumbling with something, generally with a key; and he blew down it, and turned it about at the end of his tongue. But when he spoke of you I thought he was going to cry.’
‘It was he,’ said Jane, and she knitted her hands together about the watch on her lap.
‘Who, mother?’
‘Child—you met your father.’