EXIT JOB

When the doctor arrived he gave no hope of permanent improvement. The captain, said he, must be kept quiet; supposing that nothing were allowed to agitate him, he might in part recover his faculties, but this was rather to be desired than to be anticipated.
Mrs. Jose carried off Winefred. It was advisable that the girl should not be in the house, and Jack and Mrs. Marley undertook to sit up with the patient during the night, taking their watches alternately; Jack to wake the first part.
Between twelve and one the young man roused Mrs. Marley and retired to bed. His father was in much the same condition, apparently; he had remained perfectly quiet, and had slept.
Jane left her bed on being summoned. She had not taken off her clothes. She found the fire made up and the kettle on the boil at the side. Jack had been sitting before the grate, and had made some grog, sufficient to moisten his throat, and to help him to spend the hours, but he had taken a moderate amount only.
Jane seated herself near the sick-bed and took her knitting. The captain’s eyes were closed, not shut, and she could see the glitter of the eyeballs under the lashes; but whether he slept imperfectly, or whether he was half-awake and was observing her, she could not decide.
There is no occupation like knitting for breeding thought. A man smokes to encourage concentration of his mental faculties; but a woman, when she knits, diffuses her thoughts, they spread like the antennæ of a sea-anemone in all directions, and lay hold of everything that drifts by in the current of memory, to draw it in, twist, distort, magnify it, take it into the innermost receptacles, and there suffer indigestion from it, often in the acutest form.
[116]
As Jane worked with nimble fingers her mind was busy, busy mainly over Job’s accumulations.
Not for an instant did she question the suggestion that they were acquired by defrauding her father and brother, nor did she doubt that her brother’s death had been procured by the man now lying powerless in her presence. She had not inquired of others whether what Dench had thrown out was an opinion generally entertained, whether it had any foundation whatever. She accepted the assumption as a self-evident fact, and started from it.
Jane Marley was in no little degree concerned about her own future and that of her child. The captain would not last many days, and she would then have to leave the Undercliff, as the house would pass to Jack. It was a freehold, acquired originally by squatting on the land a generation ago.
To be on the trudge again was not a prospect Jane relished. It was true that Mrs. Jose had offered to take her and Winefred in—but that was not intended to be for a permanency, only whilst the maid was recovering from white swelling. Moreover, Jane knew so much of herself as to be aware that by temper she was disqualified to live as one of an establishment with other servants. Indeed, the mistress who did not fall out speedily with Jane must be of a peculiarly forbearing temper. Jane was wilful, unyielding, and passionate. She knew it.
Whither, then, was she to go? What was she to do?
Her husband had been in the neighbourhood, but had not visited her, and had vanished again, after seeing and speaking to his child. She could not build on the hope of obtaining assistance from him, even had not her pride revolted against the thought of soliciting it.
In a day or two she would have to make up her bundle and leave; then Jack Rattenbury would take up his residence there. The house would be his own, with all the money it contained; and he would take his ease, rattle the coin in his pocket, fling it about, and be what his father intended—a gentleman.
It is a hard thing for one who has land and home, an income and kindred, to enter into the feeling of desolation and hopelessness that possesses the heart of one who is absolutely adrift in life, without a single attachment, without a single point in the outlook, on which to fix the eye and to which aim.
Jane Marley’s life had been broken at an early period—made purposeless by no fault of her own. If she staggered, it was not that her head was light, but that the ground gave way under her feet.
[117]
When young, when possessed of the elasticity of youth to carry her forward, and form for herself a future, she had been cruelly wronged. Now she had passed the turn of life, the sap was withdrawing, the forces of her soul were in decline, and her heart became sick at a prospect without an elevation in it—a future that was all cloud.
For herself she felt little concern, her life had been a failure, and to that she submitted. As she knitted and observed the ball of worsted at her feet, she thought that this wool was being used up with a purpose and to a profitable end, whereas the thread of her life had been involved in a hopeless tangle. Winefred was on the verge of womanhood, and promised to be handsome, but this very fact was fraught with danger, and might occasion her ruin, as it had been that of her mother before.
Jane’s heart was on fire. She was prepared to do anything, everything in her power to assure to her child a healthy and a happy life, but the means of obtaining this were not available. She had harrowed and cross-harrowed her brain, tearing up all her experiences, searching after what she could not find. She had lived hitherto a precarious existence, tramping over the country, hawking ribbons, pins, needles, tapes, and ballads. On the mean profits she had maintained herself and her child. She had done more. She had been so intent on qualifying Winefred to take a position superior to her own that she had sent her to school, and had kept her there. Was it not, said she, due to her own defective education that she had been unable to retain her husband’s affection?
But she had not been able to save money. She had no little store on which to fall back.
She had received offers for Winefred from farmers’ wives to take her as a servant; but these she had refused. Partly for a selfish reason, because she could not endure to be separated from her daughter, but also because she did not choose that Winefred, the child of a gentleman, should definitely adopt a menial life in a farmhouse till every chance was gone of placing her in a superior situation. The poor mother could find no gate out of her difficulties.
As her fingers worked, tremulous with the fever of her brain, the thought of the meeting of Winefred with her father rose into prominence. It had been unsatisfactory, in that he had made no promise to the child, he had done nothing for her, save give her a watch, unsuitable to her position, were her position to be one of poverty. But was not this gift an earnest of a purpose to[118] do something more? It was well that he had seen her, for he must have observed that she was educated, and altogether other from what her mother had been.
If only some opportunity were to arise whereby the girl might be lifted to a higher shelf, so as to show J. H. what she really was, what capabilities were in her, what cause he would have to be proud of her, then Jane would be ready to efface herself, or remain far away in the background and in obscurity.
Why should Captain Job be able to convert his cub into a gentleman, and she be debarred from raising her child? What had Rattenbury himself been? What had been his wife’s birth? Both came of the seafaring class, neither had derived from gentle blood. They had occupied a position to which they had been born. Why then should Jack be promoted? On the other hand Winefred had a real gentleman for her father, and had therefore a half claim to be a lady.
Moreover, Jack was to obtain his advantages and advancement by means of money accumulated by the old smuggling adventurer through the despoiling of others, even of her father, and by the sacrifice of her brother.
She had a right to some of the store. It did not belong to Captain Job because it was under his roof, and in his cupboard; it belonged to the men who by their blood and sweat had earned it, and she entered into their inheritance, acquired their rights. Olver had spoken the truth. In all common equity the money was hers. Dench had forfeited his rights by the betrayal of his mates. She was shrewd enough to see that Olver could only have known of the expedition, and of the attempt to trap those taking part in it, by having been first privy to it and then by having betrayed it. To herself Jane said that the sum she required was not large, just sufficient to enable her to tide over her present difficulties, to secure a home, to establish herself in a little business—a small shop, perhaps. Thus furnished, her future would be secure, and there would be a prospect open for her child.
This—the having a shop—had long been an object of ambition, so as not to be compelled to tramp over the country exposed to every weather, away from her child, carrying her pack.
How much had Captain Job saved during his long career? Surely it could be no robbery if she were to deduct from it the modest sum that she so greatly required, and to which she had a moral right.
She stood up, laid her knitting down on the chair, and went[119] to the wardrobe, then halted, and going to the window closed the shutters. Then she stood, with her finger to her lip, listening to make sure that Jack was asleep upstairs.
She heard his heavy breathing. He was young—sleep sealed up eyes and ears so soon as his head was laid on the pillow.
She took the candle from the table, and holding it aloft looked at the captain.
He lay as he had lain for many hours, motionless, apparently unconscious.
Then she replaced the candle and went again towards the wardrobe. Something caught and lightly restrained her feet. She looked down, they were entangled in the worsted of her knitting. She stooped to disengage them. Next she lightly opened the doors of the wardrobe, and putting her hands to the pegs drew the rack forward.
She could not well look into the drawer without a stool. She therefore sought this; it had been thrust into a corner. She brought it forward and placed it before the range of dangling garments. Then she stepped upon it to examine the contents of the drawer. She had previously seen purses, bags, and boxes. She opened one of the latter, and found that it contained banknotes. She untied a bag, it was stuffed with sovereigns. In a purse were a number of old guineas. She lifted the lid of a small japanned case—it contained jewels. The value of the stones she could not guess. She took up a brooch and held it so that it shone in the feeble glimmer of the candle. ‘Ah!’ thought she, ‘how well this would become my Winefred!’
All at once she started, and her heart stood still. She was plucked from behind.
In a moment she turned, and was frozen with fear. The palsied man had rolled himself from the bed to the floor, and with a supreme effort had wormed himself along it till he reached where she stood. With one hand he had stretched forth and laid hold of her dress that he might drag her away from his store.
But the effort had been the last of which he was capable, and when Jane stooped to wrench her garment out of the hand that clutched it, it was already that of a dead man.