M. E. (Mary Elizabeth) Braddon.

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sitting by the same fireside. It was as if they were people of old
time giving shelter to a prophet. They scarcely dared speak to
him, but approached him with an awful respect. It was an
understood thing that he had no more to do with the business
which had in years past occupied half his time and some portion
of his care. James now took the helm in the commercial vessel,
and felt that he was of the stuff that makes great captains.
Joshua seemed hardly aware of the change that had come over his
life. He was a dreamer and lived in a world of dreams.

So the year began, and it was early spring again, and Naomi
felt that her youth was gone, and that the years could bring her
nothing but age and death. They would come and go and make
no difference in her life. They held no promise, they knew no

Chaptek XXIX.


It was March — just a year since the old Squire had been
stricken with his fatal illness. The daffodils were blooming in
sunny places. There was a faint tinge of green upon the hedgerows.

Naomi was sitting alone in the twilit parlour in the calm grey
evening. She had done all her daily duties, and could afford to
rest from her toil. She looked at the familiar scene — the glimpse
of sea, the curve of the road winding up the hill towards Pentreath
Grange — with sad, hopeless eyes. No bright harbinger of joy
would ever come to her by yonder road, down which she had seen
the Squire's funeral train slowly descending with wind-tossed
plumes and scarves less than a year ago.

' I had such a strange sense of loss that day,' she thought, re-
membering the dismal procession, and her own feelings as she
watched its approach. * I seemed to know that the end of my
happiness had come ; that change, or sorrow, or death was near.'

Twilight deepened, and the scene took a shadowy look. Who
was this walking down the hill at a leisurely pace, with a careless
easy gait which seemed familiar? Nay, it was fiimiliar, for it set

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Naomi's heart beating vehemently ; it made her cold and faint.
This was no peasant returning from his work. She knew how the
CombhoUow population carried themselves. This tall slim figure,
so straight and yet so easy of motion — was no son of the soil, no
hard-handed agricultural labourer, no fisherman smelling of tar
and sea-weed, with wet raiment all glistening and scaly.

She stood up, and opened the window— stood with the chill
March breeze blowing upon her pale terror-stricken face. This
time she felt verily as if she were seeing a ghost.

*He has come back,' she thought. 'He is not dead. Oh,
foolish fear! Oh, wretched doubt of the best and truest upon
earth I He is safe ; and has come back again. I shall see him
once again — living and happy. My God, I thank thee I '

The figure came nearer. Yes, it was Oswald Pentreath. She
saw the well-remembered face in the dim light. How well he
looked; how strong; how brave I Travel and strange countries
had improved him. His chest had expanded — he walked with a
firmer step — ^held his head higher. And he was coming to her
fether's house — boldly ; with no stealthy approach. He came as
a man who had done no evil, and had no cause for fear.

' He is cured of his folly ; he is my true and noble lover once
again. Oh God, Thou art full of mercy ; Thy love aboundeth.'

The familiar figure was closp at hand. There was nothing
but the narrow front garden between him and Naomi ; yet now
there was a strangeness — her heart grew lead. The young man
looked up at the house enquiringly, like a stranger who recon-
noitres an unfamiliar place. He glanced up and down the street
— <iuite empty of humanity at this moment, the solitary young
woman with a basket, who had constituted its traffic a minute
ago, having just gone indoors — then looked again at the house,
and became conscious of Naomi's pale face at the window.

*I beg your pardcm,' he began courteously. *Is this Mr.

Life-long sorrows are not so keen as a sudden stab like this —
an arrow that pierces the heart and kills its hope for ever. It was
not Oswald's voice. There was a likeness in the tone; that family
resemblance so often to be found in the tones of kindred ; but
these tones were more decided — rougher. They lacked the poetic
languor — the gentle sweetness — of Oswald's utterance. This
speaker was one who had conmianded men on the high seas ; not
the musing idler who had wasted half his life lying listlessly in
summer woods, or wandering with his rod beside autunm's swollen

It was not Oswald. For the space of half a minute, the surg^

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ing blood in Naomi's brain almost blinded her. For an instant
or so reason faltered, and she was on the verge of imconsciousness.
Then the strong yomig soul resumed her power, and she compre-
hended that this was no shade from A\'emus, but her lost lover's
sailor brother, the Squire's runaway son,

* Yes,' she answered, with a steady voice, * this is Mr. Haggard's
house. Do you want to see my father ? '

'Ah, then you are Naomi,' cried the stranger eagerly. *I
think I would rather talk to you than to your father. You can
tell me more. I have only just come home, and I am very un-
happy about my brother. May I come in, please ? '

How friendly, how dear his voice sounded in its resemblance
to the voice of Oswald. The familiar tones comforted Naomi,
somehow, after that bitter disappointment just now. Her heart
was lifted up from its despair. Arnold had come home — Arnold
would find out all about his beloved brother.

• At that thought a sudden dread came upon her, like a vision
of doom.

If there were any guilty mystery in Oswald's fate, would not
his brother bring the deed to light ? Her shapeless fears rose up
like gorgons and confrouted her.

She opened the door for Arnold, and stood dumbly as he came
in and held out his hand to her.

' How deadly cold your hand is 1 ' he exclaimed. * Fm afraid
I startled you coming so suddenly. People say I am very like
my brother. And I daresay you are anxious about Oswald.'

He had gone into the parlour with her, and seated himself
with a familiar friendliness close to the chair into which Naomi
had simk, scarcely able to stand.

* Yes ; I have been very anxious,' she said faintly.

* I can see that. Please God, there is no real cause for fear,
though old Nicholas has frightened me a little by his raven-like
talk. The last letter I had from my brother was written in London,
on the fourteenth of Jidy. He urged me to come home, and told
me he had some thoughts of going to America ; and that, if he
went, I was to take care of the estate in his absence ; and to con-
sider myself master, and so on, in his geuerous reckless way — as
ready to give up all his privileges as Esau was to swop his birth-
right against a dish of lobscouse. This letter has ' been following
me from port to port, and I only got it nine or ten weeks ago at
Shanghai, where my ship was waiting for a' cargo. I went straight
to Oswald's London agent when I left the docks ; but he could tell
me nothing, except that my brother had made all arrangements
for a long absence from England. He was to have sailed for New

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York on the fourteenth of August. But a thing that puzzled this
lawyer fellow a little was that Oswald should have drawn no money
since he left home. " He may have taken plenty with him," said I
— for you see Oswald was brought up to make a little money go a
Icng way, or to do without it altogether mostly. " So he may,"
said the lawyer ; " but I find that young men generally do draw a
good deal of money when they've got any sources to draw upon —
and even, sometimes, when they have not. It's a way they have."
This made me rather uneasy, and I came down here as fast as those
blundering coaches, which hardly do five knots an hour, could
bring me. And the old house looked so lonely and dismal without
Oswald, that the mere sight of it made me miserable ; and then old
Nicholas's raven croakings made me worse — so I came straight
off to you for comfort.'

* I can tell you nothing,' answered Naomi, with a sigh.

* Nicholas told me you had received no letter. That's strange,
certainly. He would have written to you before anyone, I should

* No, I had no right to expect any letter from him. I expected

* What — not as his betrothed wife ? '

* Our engagement was broken off some time before he went.
Did you not know ? '

* Not a word. His last mention of you was full of affection —
not in his latest letter, by the way, but in the one which told me
of my father's death. I was to come home, and be very fond of
you, and we were all to be happy together.'

* Yes, I know,' said Naomi, with a pang of bitterest remem-
brance. How often had Oswald talked to her of union and love
and happiness —sweet domestic joys which Arnold was to share !

^ But why was your engagement broken off?' asked the sailor
bluntly. * Did you quarrel ? '

^ Quarrel ? No.'

^ He must have behaved very ill, then.'

*No, no. It was my father's wish. I obeyed my father in
setting Oswald free. And he accepted his liberty — he was grate-
ful for his release. Love does not always last a lifetime : there
is a difference, you see. I think that he once loved me, but '

Here the tears rained down upon her trembling hands. Arnold
drew nearer to her, and gently pressed one of those cold hands
with a brotherly kindness.

* My poor girl — my sister that was to have been I He be-
haved badly, I'm afraid. There was something wild and queer in
l^s last letter, and then th^t sudden jr^sojve to go to America ! I

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ought to have seen that things had gone wrong with him. Poor
Oswald I And I expected to see him so happy with you.*

* Providence willed it otherwise. I was too happy with him,
I think : too much absorbed in the joys of this world.'

'Why should we not be happy in this world? God would
never have made so fair a world for a scene of suffering. You
can't . imagine — ^you stay-at-home people — how beautiful this
earth is. The birds and animals and reptiles and insects are
happy. All free creation enjoys itself, from its birth till its
death. Why should man be wretched, or the source of misery in
others? Why should Providence be offended because you and
my brother loved each other and were happy ? '

Naomi could not answer. It was an article of her religion
that Heaven disapproved of too much earthly bliss.

' But you must have known where he was going — he told you
his plans surely ? ' asked Arnold.

*No, I knew nothing of his intentions — directly,' answered
Naomi, a faint blush dyeing her pallid cheek.

* Did you not see him when he came back to the Grange in
the beginning of August? He came to bid you good-bye, I
suppose 1 '

' No, I did not see him.'

* Then why did he come back to CombhoUow at all ? I can
hear of nothing that he did in the way of business, except to pack
those trunks, which he left behind him after all his trouble. What
was the motive of his return ? '

* Indeed, I cannot tell you,' faltered Naomi, sorely distressed.
Arnold looked troubled. He got up and walked up and down

the narrow parlour, as he had walked his quarterdeck in many an
hour, of doubt and difficulty.

* I can't understand it,' he said. * It is the strangest business
altogether. Why did he come back and pack his trunks, and
have them taken to the coach, and why did he not appear to claim
them ? If he did not leave by the coach, how did he get ai?^ay ? '

' There are vessels that sail between Rockmouth and Bristol,
are there not ? ' suggested Naomi. * He may have gone that way.'

* A slow roundabout way for him to choose, after making up
his mind to go by the coach. I begin to feel as anxious as
Nicholas. Oh, my dearest Oswald, where are you, and why this
mystery? God grant that he is safe and happy somewhere I God
grant there has been no foul play I '

At these words Naomi's face took a deathlike hue. But the
room was too dark for Arnold to see the change.

* If harm of any kind has happened to him, Heaven help the

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wrongdoers,, for they shall have no mercy from me ! I'll himt them
down. But no, I won't think it. I won't believe that he has
come to an untimely end. The brother who carried me in his
arms, and was so gentle and loving, and whom I loved, God
knows, with all my heart, though I left him ! How I have looked
forward to our reunion, and counted upon it, and built upon it
in all these years. And I come back to find him far away, and his
fate a mystery.' He threw himself into a chair and sobbed
aloud, honest manly tears coming from a true and brave heart.

It was Naomi's turn to comfort now. She bent over him, and
laid her hand lightly on his shoulder.

* Pray do not say that evil has befallen him,' she said. ' He
may have changed his mind as to his way of travelling at the
last ; who can tell what trifling thing may have influenced him ? '

' What did he do with himself all that day ? ' asked Arnold.
* Nicholas tells me that he left the Grange before one o'clock, and
the coach was not to pick him up till after eight in the evening.
Where was he ? With whom did he spend his time ? He seems
to have no friends in CombhoUow but you and your family, and
he was not with you ? '


' Cannot you help me to find out where he was ? '

' No, I cannot.'

' That's a pity. If I could only find out the people who saw
the last of him here, they might enlighten me as to his intentions.
I must see what I can do elsewhere. I came to you naturally for
help ; but then I did not know your engagement was broken off.'

Sally brought in the lighted candles, and started and stared at
sight of the sea-captain.

' Don't be frightened, Sally,' said Naomi ; ' this is Captain
Pentreath, the Squire's brother.'

' Lor' sakes ! ' faltered the hand-maiden, ' I took he for the
young Squire's ghost.'

*Is your father at home?' asked Arnold presently; 'I should
like to see him.'

* No, it is his class-night ; he will not be home for nearly an
hour. And I know he could tell you nothing more than I have
told you,' added Naomi.

* Perhaps not, but he might advise me ; I have heard that he
is a superior man. I should like to see him : I'll call to-morrow.
Good-night, Naomi — I may call you Naomi, I hope, for my brother's
sake ? He told me to think of you as a sister.'

' I should like you to think me so still, if you can,' Naomi an-
swered gently. And then he pressed her hand, and was gone.

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There Was some kind of comfort in the sailor's friendliness, in
this brave, strong, manly figure, suddenly introduced into the dull
scene of a sorrow-shadowed life. He was so like Oswald, and yet
so imlike. And he loved his brother so dearly. Oswald's &te
would be no longer a mystery. All those unspoken fears, which
had preyed upon her like a consuming disease, would be proved
vain and foolish. He was safe, he was happy in some strange
land. There needed only a little energy and cleverness to find
out all about him, and Arnold would supply both.

Then there flashed upon her the memory of that awful moment
in the wood, when she saw her father go by with a look upon his
face that seemed to her like the brand of Cain, full of awful mean-

Chaptbr XXX.

'where 18 THY BROTHER?*

' Father,' said Naomi at supper-time, ' Captain Pentreath has
come home, and wants to see you to-morrow.'

' Captain Pentreath ! ' echoed Joshua, staring at her blankly ;
« who's he?'

'Oswald's brother.'

' Oh, Arnold, the younger son ; the boy who ran away to sea ?
He's come home, has he, to take possession of the estate ? That's
a good thing.'

' Not to take possession, fiither ; to take care of the old place,
perhaps. He has no right to take possession in his brother's life-

'Not xmless he had stayed away seven years without being
heard of,' interjected Jim, the English mind having a firm grip
upon this idea of seven years.

' Why should anyone suppose him dead ? ' asked Naomi with a
look that was half indignant, half apprehensive ; ' he has only been
away a little more than six months. His brother has come home
to look for him ; he is determined to find him.'

'What's the use of looking for him at Combhollow, when
everybody knows he's gone to America ? ' cried Jim.

* I mean that Captain Pentreath is going to find out all about
his brother, when and how he left England.'

* Poor worm ! ' exclaimed Joshua with lofty scorn. * His
brother's fate is in the hands of God. As if he could make or
mend it I '

' But he has a right to know, father, and it is natural he should
be anxious.'

' That shows be belongs to the unregenerate^' said Jim, glad \fi

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have a fling at the creed which had been forced upon him beforie
he was able to form his own estimate of its merits, like vaccina-
tion. * If he were sure of his own election, he needn't care a toss
what became of his brother /

' In time, perhaps not,' said Joshua, with an awful look ; ' but
how dreadful to know him lost in eternity. Better to remain
for ever ignorant of the fete of those we love than to be sure of
their condemnation.'

'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' said Naomi, for the first
time in her life daring to lift up her voice against her father.
' Who can be sure of another's condemnation ? It is blasphemy to
say such a thing.'

' What new Daniel is this ? ' exclaimed Joshua, scomfiilly. * Is
my daughter going to be my teacher? I tell you, Naomi, there
are some sins which cannot be repented of. There is a guiltiness
which seals the sinner's doom, and sends him, self-convicted, to
receive his Maker's sentence.'

'I have no fear that Oswald would be such a sinner,' an-
swered Naomi, meeting her father's dark look with defiant eyes.
' Weak, erring, led astray by one more erring than himself — yes,
he might be these, but not a deliberate offender, not obstinately

What was this new feeling which made her talk to her father
as if she was arguing with an adversary ? She felt a thrill of
horror at her own audacity. But she was not mistress of herself
when her father spoke harsh words of Oswald Pentreath. Beason
grew clouded and the voice of passion cried aloud in defence of
her lost lover. He was weak, and she would not let the strong
man spurn him. He was absent, and she would not hear him

Cynthia sat silent, and heard them talk of the man who had
loved her too well, whose only sin and sorrow was to have let his
heart go out to her as a young bird flies from its nest into the
glad new world. He had loved her, and that love had darkened
bis life. She could see him looking down at her, as on that last
day, passion-pale, bidding his eternal farewell. What a dream it
had been — so fair, so sweet, so unreal I She had suffered herself to
be beloved, and to love again, and in this dreaming, half-uncon-
scions state had tasted an ineffable happiness. She did not regret
this lost dream-world ; she would not have recalled its vanished
sweetness ; she was honestly repentant of her sin against the
husband she honoured ; but the past was ineffaceable — a part of
her being.

I cannot but remember such things wero
That were most precious to me.


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Though full of anxious thoughts, Arnold Pentreath brought
brightness and pleasant days to the old Grange and all who came
within his influence. His candid intelligent face, the frank Jiearti-
ness of his manners, with just a dash of the seaman's bluntness,
and that firm straightforwardness which comes from the habit of
commanding others and restraining oneself — all these things gave
him immediate mastery over the simple folks at Combhollow.
The old servants worshipped him. He had been the most daring
and mischievous of the two brothers, in boyhood, and naturally the
most popular. He had defied his old father, and had won golden
opinions from the household by his juvenile mutinies. He came
back a man, broad-shouldered and strongly built, bronzed and
battered a little by all kinds of climates and hard weather, but all
the handsomer, in the eyes of a sea-loving population, for his sun-
burnt cheek and the stubborn crispness of his hair. He was fonder
of his fellow-men than Oswald had been, and, instead of dreaming
over Childe Harold in Pentreath Wood, was out and about all day,
trarnping along the lanes, making acquaintance with every hind
who worked upon his land, tossing cottage children in his strong
arms, with a kindly word for every one he met.

He had not been three days at the Grange before the fact of
his return was known far and wide, and brought all manner of
applicants to the old house to ask favours which no agent would
grant. He heard all complaints with an equable good nature, and
lent his attention to the smallest detail. The slates blown off the
homestead in ^ they high winds — now do'ee see what you can do
for us. Squire.' The granary thatch which had * cotched fire ' in
such a mysterious way after last midsummer's thunder-storm, that
old Farmer Westall was firmly convinced it was the work of Nancy
Do when, the witch.

' For she be a witch. Squire,' said the farmer, ' that's well be-
knownst. And I do say as it ain't right a spiteful old woman like
she should be allowed to meddle with forked lightning.'

* Well, farmer, if it was witchcraft fired the bam, you can't
expect me to pay for new thatching it ? ' argued Arnold.

' But look'ee now. Squire. It was the ould gentleman, your
feyther, brought it on us. All they witches bore an evil eye to-
wards him. He were so hard upon 'em, and that screwy, never a
drop of milk or a faggot to give 'em.'

' Wasn't it you, now, that refused old Nancy the faggots, Farmer
Westall ? ' suggested Arnold.

^ Well, now, you ?re a bit of a conjurer yourself. Squire. There
was one day as the ould ooman come for some wood to bile her
kittle, and I wasn't in the best of tempers, for oiu: ould sow had

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etten up seven pegs, and I thowt it was some 0' Nancy's work, so I
calls out, "Nowjist look yere, Nancy; you had a faggot, yesterday,
and another the day afore that, and I didn't make that stack o'
wood o' purpose for you, old lady." So she gives a sniff and a
grunt, and off she goes, and it wasn't a week from that when the
lightning caught the thatch o' my biggest bam. And Fm a man
with a long fambly. Squire, and I've had the roof covered up any-
how with some old boards and a bit of tarpaulin ever since, be-
cause Bill Stowell, the thatcher, asks a mort 0' money before he'll
make a good job of it I '

* We'll see what can be done, farmer. Perhaps I might go
halves in the expense, if the bam was roofed in to my satisfeiction.
I'm only a steward, you see — a kind of deputy for my brother.'

Farmer Westall sighed and looked glum. Old Nicholas, the
butler, had infected most of his acquaintance with his own dismal
ideas about the absent lord of the manor. It was a general
opinion that the vessel in which Oswald had sailed for America
had gone to the bottom.

' There are some folks that '11 never get no luck out o' the sea,'
said the voice of public opinion as represented by the fishermen of
CombhoUow. 'Remember that storm, and the way the *' Dol-
phin " went to pieces. The two sailors was saved easy enough,
but the Squire would have been drownded or knocked to pieces on
they rocks but for Joshua Haggard. And what were the use of
saving him ? He never did no good to the Haggards ; and here
he is gone down to the bottom, as sure as fate. It was what were
meant from the fust, and there's never no good in flying in the
face of Providence. You may save a ship's cargo — that's man's
business — and an honest way of providin' for a fambly : but they
as is aboard the ship is in the care o' Providence, and it's clean
blasphemy to risk your life in fishing of 'em out of the water 1 '

Captain Pentreath had exhausted his resources, and had found
no clue to his brother's proceedings after that August noontide in
which he had left the Grange, with the avowed intention of going
to Exeter — on his way to London — by the evening coach. Arnold

Online LibraryM. E. (Mary Elizabeth) BraddonBelgravia → online text (page 32 of 53)