DECLARATION OF WAR

As soon as Winefred had eaten something, had changed her dress, and cleaned her face and hands of the soil that had adhered to them, Mrs. Marley despatched her to Bindon to inform Mrs. Jose of what had occurred. The farmer’s wife was so kind-hearted that Jane knew that she might calculate on receiving prompt assistance from her.
When the girl had departed on her errand, Jane sat brooding with her eyes on the floor. Occasionally she looked at the man extended in the bed, but his eyes were now shut, and he seemed to be asleep; consequently her services were not in immediate requisition, and she was free to think over what had taken place. But her mind was in a turmoil, and she was incapable of arresting the successive pictures, fancies that whirled around in her head, to consider one apart from the rest.
To think clearly is not given to all. By some it is acquired through education, but to others education aggravates the confusion. A totally ignorant person with a limited range of ideas is accordingly often a far more valuable member of the community than one whose head is a ragbag stuffed with odds and ends, new and old, unco-ordinated. Nature has not furnished every brain with nests of boxes into which to sort its ideas; but education of a proper sort should be directed to the inculcation of mental tidiness, and not to the accumulation of articles which serve only to make the confusion worse confounded.
Herein is the radical defect of our national educational system. We stuff our children’s brains with facts more or less valuable, many of no importance whatever—the height of Chimborazo, the number of gallons of water rolled down by the Mississippi, the population of Timbuctoo, but make no attempt to cultivate observation, and develop the reasoning powers. A Scots child’s mind is made to digest what is put[108] into it, that of an English child only to gorge facts. Therefore, in the race of life, he is left behind; he lies his length sleeping off his surfeit, whilst the Scotsman steps into and walks off in his shoes.
Jane was uneducated; a woman of strong feelings and few ideas, who was accustomed to be governed by one thought at a time. Now her contracted mind was in a turmoil with the crowding in of many and diverse thoughts—the reappearance of her husband or betrayer, whichever he was; the wrong done to her by the captain, as shown by Olver Dench; the peril of life in which her child had been placed; the discovery of Rattenbury’s hoarded gains; the stroke that had cast him speechless and powerless before her, at the moment of discovery; all these matters mingled and entangled themselves in her mind inextricably. She strove hard to fix her attention on one subject only, but at once another started up to claim consideration.
As she thus sat, the door opened and the ferryman entered.
‘Hey, Jane! So the captain is down. Just heard the tidings from his son. How came that about? Had a brush with the sharks? They have been about in the night, I hear. Where is he?’
Jane pointed, and Olver went to the bedside, called to the sick man, and said, ‘How came this about, captain? I saw Jack, but he was in such a vast hurry he could tell me no particulars, so I came up to learn them myself, and to see if I could be helpful. Don’t be down-hearted. You will pull through. How came you hurt? A knock over the head?’
The stricken man opened his eyes.
‘Come, give an old mate a word,’ said Dench.
‘He cannot speak,’ Jane explained. ‘He has not spoken since he fell. Jack has gone for a surgeon to let blood.’
‘A stroke is it, and not from a cutlass,’ said the ferryman. ‘Who would have expected that, old man? On my soul, I thought you would never have come to an end like this, like a sick cat before the fire. But it is a queer business, too. I reckon they thought to have you fast. By my liver, I am inclined to think it is shammed, so as to throw the enemy off the scent.’
He looked intently at Rattenbury, and satisfied himself that the man really was ill. Then he turned himself abruptly about, came before Jane, and said in a low tone, ‘He is tricky as a fox, but there is no deceit here. His game is played. How came this about?’
[109]
‘I was away at Bindon. When I returned, he lay his length on the floor.’
‘He will not speak again till he chirps Allēluja in kingdom come,’ said the ferryman. ‘Let the surgeon do his best, he cannot pull him round. I am glad Jack is gone. That leaves the house clear for an hour. Jane, I spoke with you the other day about sharing, and you would not hearken. The chance has come again, as though offered by an auctioneer, so that hearken and consent you must, unless you are a bigger fool than I take you to be. We have a clear hour before us.’
‘Winefred has gone for Mrs. Jose,’ said Jane, with a flutter of alarm at her heart.
‘Then we have but half an hour at our disposal. In that half hour we must discover where the captain has hidden his money.’
‘I will be no sharer with you.’
‘Oh, so! You would have it all to yourself! That will not answer.’
‘Leave the house; you have no right to be here,’ said Jane Marley.
‘Eh!’ mocked Dench. ‘You give orders as though you were mistress; orders you have no power to enforce.’
‘Jack Rattenbury shall know of this.’
‘Let him know.’ He stood mustering the room with his eyes.
‘I shall improve my mind a bit. Jane, be advised and offer no opposition. I tell you we are in the same boat. We have both been cheated. I want no more than is my due. I am an honest man, and I diddle nobody—but then I don’t choose to be diddled myself—and if you have spirit you will be of the same mind. We will leave a third for Jack, and divide the rest between ourselves. I shall search the house if need be, whether you like it or no.’
He had spoken in a low tone to Mrs. Marley. Now he went to the side of Job Rattenbury, and said aloud, as though addressing one who was deaf: ‘Mate, we have been old friends for over a score of years. You can trust me. Your time is not long, and you know it. You desire to say something, and cannot fashion your mouth to the words. You would tell me your last wishes, and how I am to dispose of your property, and where your cash is stowed. What do you say, governor? You will trust me. That is as it should be. Try your hand, hold out your flapper to show that you comprehend me.’
[110]
The paralysed man made an effort to extend his arm.
‘That is brave. You can use your fingers. What say you to writing your wishes? But, understand, mate, you must say first where your money is, and then, in due course, how you would dispose of it. I will bring you a slate; there is one hanging there by the chimney-breast, I will hold it before you, and you shall scribble thereon what you like. I ask for no copyhand. Rely on me. I can keep counsel.’
He brought the slate, and, seating himself on the bed, placed the pencil that was attached to the slate in the sick man’s hand.
Captain Rattenbury had his faculties now, he clearly comprehended what was desired of him, and he made an effort to respond. He held the pencil awkwardly between his fingers, and began to write.
‘That is fine,’ said Olver. ‘I can read that. I, capital I. Go along, governor.’
Again the pencil moved.
‘Yes—right enough, F. What comes next?—So it is, an E.’
The sick man paused. The pencil had slipped between the wrong fingers, and required readjusting. Dench placed it again between thumb and forefinger.
Jane looked on uneasily.
‘Right, old mate, an A. What follows FEA?—So! an R. You fear! Come, now, what do you fear? Is it Death?’
Job Rattenbury turned his eyes in the direction of Mrs. Marley. Then with clumsy, shaking hand he made a scrawl.
‘I cannot decipher that. It is like a spider. Try again, old man. Ah! J, is it? What next?’
Again the pencil scratched.
‘An A now. I fear Ja—. Come, finish.’
But the captain’s powers were exhausted, the pencil fell, and the hand after it.
In vain did Dench replace it, the fingers could no longer clutch nor direct it. Rattenbury made painful attempts, but all failed.
‘No good,’ said Olver at last; ‘and, drat it! there does not seem to be much daylight in what he has written. Jane, can you make anything out of it?’
She vouchsafed no reply, but looked towards the door.
‘Ah!’ said the boatman, ‘expecting some from Bindon, are you? Then no time is to be lost.’
He took the captain’s clothes and examined them. ‘No[111] keys! That tells something. But what have we here? A bag of gold.’
‘Leave it,’ said Jane; ‘thief that you are! Jack knows of this. Take it at your peril.’
‘I hope to find more than this,’ said Olver. ‘I shall look upstairs first.’
‘Stay,’ exclaimed the woman, springing to her feet. ‘You shall not search. The preventive men have been here already and have looked into every corner and probed every wall. They found nothing.’
Olver laughed. ‘They hunted after kegs of brandy, looked for large hiding-places. I know better than to do that. There will be none such here.’
‘You shall not go,’ said Jane, and attempted to intercept him.
‘Beware how you interfere with me,’ threatened Dench. ‘The captain can’t speak, and I shall make sure that you do not if you interfere with me in my work. Jane, be reasonable. What I want is my own money. I do not intend to take anything that by right should belong to you and your Winefred. We have both been pillaged by this man! Hands off! Let me pass!’
It was not possible to oppose him. He was the stronger of the two. He mounted a few steps, then descended again.
‘A staircase,’ said he, ‘is a rare hiding-place, I must try every step.’
He examined each riser and footplace, but fruitlessly; then Jane heard him ransacking the chamber overhead. This engaged him for some time. He clearly believed that Captain Job had concealed the money in his bedroom, and he left no corner unexplored. Presently, dissatisfied with the result, angry and impatient, he descended, lighted a candle and mounted again to search a recess he had discovered in the roof, formed by a set-off from the chimney.
But this also was disappointing. He came down once more, blew out the candle and replaced it in the brass holder on the mantelshelf.
‘No,’ said he contemplatively, ‘there is nothing aloft. Not a box there, not a drawer is locked, and I have overhauled all the bunks. No keys in his pocket. He is deep.’
He planted himself in a chair, placed his elbows on his knees, and set his chin in his hands. His cunning, wicked eyes roved about the room.
‘Dang it, Jane,’ said he, ‘it is somewhere. He is not the[112] man to bury his money in a bank. Besides, had he done that, there would have been a pass-book. I have not found one anywhere. I have looked into every chest and turned out every drawer, and poked into every nook upstairs. This room is not ceiled or I would have said there was a place between the plancheon and plaster. But that cannot be. Now I’ll rummage the inner room.’
‘That has been mine,’ said Jane. ‘And that hole under the stair is where my Winney has slept.’
‘It is more like to be in the kitchen,’ said Dench. ‘He would not trust it where a woman made her lair. But if here, it will not be where any one else would make a hiding-place, as beneath the hearthstone or up the chimney, nor under the floor. It is certain to be in the very last place that would occur to any other man but he.’
He went to the clockcase.
‘This is not going. Is there aught stops the works?’
‘The clock has run down,’ said Jane Marley.
She was uneasy, fearing lest he should find the hiding-place, but she did not allow her feelings to transpire. She assumed a sulky mood.
He turned to the window and lifted the lid of the seat. ‘There is a box here.’
‘Yes—a box.’
‘He keeps his grog here; and where his grog is, there his money will not be. Too many itching fingers go after the bottle of spirits to make that safe.’
He tapped a bit of wainscot, but it sounded dead.
‘There are shutters,’ mused he; ‘what does a man in a cottage want with folding shutters? As well expect to meet with a pier-glass. They hide something. Excuse me, Jane, if I darken the room whilst I look.’
Still his search was without result.
‘I am hanged,’ growled he. ‘But, ha! there is still the wardrobe left.’
He crossed the room to the closet beside the fire.
Jane’s heart rose into her mouth.
Dench threw open one of the doors. He hesitated a moment about unbolting the other valve; did not do so, but groped in the pockets of the dresses that were there suspended in double range; he was disappointed in those he searched. Then he unhasped the second valve, and closed the first, that he might submit the rest of the clothes to the same search. Had he[113] looked over his shoulder, he would have seen a light spring into Jane’s eyes.
‘By my liver,’ said Dench to himself, ‘I did suppose that I should find he used his wife’s old rags as his bank.’
He drew some of them aside, and laughed contemptuously. ‘See—those fellows who have been before me have riddled the backboards with gimlet holes. By Moses!’—he started back and shut the door.
What alarmed him and interrupted him in his search was the passing before the window of Mrs. Jose and Winefred. When they entered he was standing beside the bed of Captain Job, with a look of commiseration on his face.
‘Drat it,’ said Olver, ‘it may be womanly, but I can’t help it, only a man does not care for females to witness his condition.’ He wiped his eyes. ‘Just come to take a farewell of my old mate. Not long, for this vale of tears. But we mustn’t repine, must we, Mrs. Jose? Scripture——’
Mrs. Jose did not regard the ferryman. She pushed past him. He was no favourite of the farmer’s wife. Moreover, Olver was at a loss how to finish his sentence. He was not primed with texts.
Mrs. Jose went at once to the side of the sick man.
Dench took occasion to draw back, and nudging Jane Marley, he said in an undertone, ‘A word outside with you.’
She hung back.
‘I must have it,’ said he behind his hand. ‘It is of serious importance.’
After a little further hesitation she yielded, and accompanied him without.
He conducted her a few paces from the cottage to a spot that was not overlooked, and which was beyond earshot. Then, turning upon her in a threatening tone, and with a menacing action, he said, ‘Jane, I have been bawked, but it is there. It is certainly there. But he is deep, deep as hell. Find it, and I shall make it worth your while to confide in me. It is the strictly right, square, and honest thing I want to do, that the poor devil may have rest for his soul where he is going. You would like to have peace of mind on your deathbed, and it is a Christian duty in us to redress a great wrong he has committed, so that he may have a happy death. He robbed your father, your brother, you, and your child, and he has robbed me. All I seek is to do what is right and take what is properly mine, and[114] give you what properly belongs to you. Make me your friend and not your enemy.’
‘A friend!’ said Jane contemptuously. ‘Of what value to me would be the friendship of a man who steals from his friend when that friend is unable to lift a finger to protect himself?’
‘Steals! steals!’ echoed Dench; ‘you take advantage of me as being a woman. I would reclaim only what is mine own, and that for the benefit of his soul. Beware lest you get hold of anything without taking me into partnership.’
‘I do not fear you—bully as you are,’ said Jane; ‘for I know enough to make you shake before me.’
He laughed scornfully.
‘What do you know?’
‘Tell me this, Olver Dench: What happens when a man has betrayed his mates?’
The colour deserted his cheeks.
‘You have said enough to let me see that it was you who gave information. I have but to speak the word to David Nutall.’
‘Come, Jane, let us be friends.’
‘No.’
He remained silent for fully a minute.
‘Enemies then?’ he asked at length, in a voice little raised above a whisper.
‘Enemies if you will. Friends never.’