[from Hall Caine Drink]
BREAKFAST was ready for me at the inn, but I could not touch it until I had written to Lucy. I told her with what concern I heard of her illness, how I hoped for her speedy recovery, how grievous was my disappointment at not seeing her immediately on my arrival in her country, with much besides of too intimate a nature to be repeated here. After this letter had been despatched by hand, I sat down to breakfast, and the landlady herself waited upon me. She was a worthy Cumberland woman in middle life, very staid and serious, but somewhat more talkative than the generality of her race. Her name vas Tyson ; her husband was something of a sportsman; they were living on the Clousedale property.
Mrs. Tyson had much to say about Lucy, whom she had known since earliest childhood - of her goodness to the poor, her personal sweetness to everybody, her generosity (exhibited in many ways), and generally of the qualities of mind and heart which had endeared her beyond all others to the people of the district wherein she had been born and reared. It did not surprise me that, as seen in the eyes of those who had known her longest and most intimately, my darling proved to be as good as she was beautiful. I gathered that she was interested in various local institutions for the social welfare of the people-in workmen's clubs an evening ragged-school, and a branch of the RReehabite order, which she had helped to establish. It appeared that, at her own cost-the parish church lying two miles away in the dale-she had even gone so far as to build and endow a little chapel-of-ease for the use of the community which had grown up on the moor-top around the pits which her family had worked for generations. The landlady was warm in her narration of these good offices, and when I inquired about Lucy's health, if it had ever hitherto given cause for anxiety, she answered "No," that only twice before, as far back as they could remember, had she been at all unwell, and both attacks had been within the past six months.
"Nothing serious, surely?" I said.
"Nay, not that I know of," said the landlady. But the poor young lady seemed that glad to be better that she never knew how to be good enough to anybody the moment she was gotten round. And a cruel pity it was to see her white face going from house to house with her basket and her purse. It was at one such time she got her new Scotch parson to start the Rechabites. The sweet little body went over the moor herself, persuading the miners to take the pledge-and a good thing for some of them, too, for all it's the wife of a publican that says so."
AIy nig11it-long journey had wearied me, and I went to bed and ; slept soundly. Some time late in the afternoon I awoke, and then it occurred to me. that it might, perhaps, set at rest the anxiety which I could not help but feel if I were to go to see Lucy's doctor. On this errand, after I had taken some dinner, I set out at the direction of the landlady.
The doctor was not at home. He was at the public dispensary in the village. I learned that this dispensary was another of Lucy's charities. The outer room was filled with women and children waiting their turn to enter the room within. 13 .s I stood among them, while my card was taken to the doctor, I heard my dear one's name coupled with praises and blessings.
"It'll be made up to her," said one woman. "The Lord will pay her back," said another. The doctor's name was Godwin. At first sight it occurred to me that he hardly justified it. I found him a hard-faced man, with a square head and steely grey eyes. He had been educated in Germany, and I learned afterwards that he took pride in being abreast of all modern developments of his science. This, and his resolute personal character, had given him a, certain superiority over old-fashioned county practitioners, though he was understood to be an Atheist, and certainly never attended church.
I explained that I was a friend of Miss Clousedale's; and he seemed to be aware of our relations. I inquired if her illness were it all serious, and he answered me less promptly than I had expected. "No, not serious-not at present," he said.
As he volunteered no further explanation, I made bold to ask if Lucy's trouble were a feminine ailment. After a moment he answered "Yes," and was silent again.
Some nervous complaint, no doubt?" I said, whereupon he said "Yes" once more, repeated my words mechanically, and then looked up quickly and asked if I were making any " stay" in the district. I was nettled by his reserve, and told him that Lucy was to be my wife, that I had come expressly and by an old appointment from London to visit her; that, by the wish of her nurse, and, as I understood, by his own wish also, I was now staying at the inn in the village, but I was looking forward to changing my quarters to Clousedale hall as soon as he could assure me that my presence there would be no disadvantage to his patient.
" It will be some days still," he said.
I thought the man was treating me with scant courtesy, and I made no disguise of my annoyance. On leaving I went the length of hinting that per- haps I should think it necessary to telegraph for a specialist. My threat had no effect. The man saw me to the door with frigid politeness and all but the silence of a Sphinx.
Going back by the main street of the village, I passed in the gathering darkness of the winter evening a little red-brick Gothic church, standing in the midst of a closely populated district of very poor cottages. It was the chapel-of-ease that had been built and endowed by Lucy. I recognised it by its foundation-stone, which bore a gilt-lettered inscription in my dear one's honour. There were lights burning, the door was open, and I glanced within. Some ladies were decorating the windows and the timbers of the open roof, from ladders held by two or three miners.
When I got back to the "Wheatsheaf;," I asked if there were any message from Clousedale Hall. There was no letter, but a gentleman was waiting to see me. It was the clergyman. His name was McPherson, and he was a middle-aged Scotchman of severe aspect. He had come to tell me that my letter had been received, but that Miss Clousedale was not well enough to reply to it. Then, on his own account, he proceeded to advise the postpone-ment of my intended visit.
" Is she so seriously unwell ? " I asked. " I fear she is," he answered.
" What is her illness?"
He hesitated a moment, and then said, "I cannot rightly say."
"Has she ever had it before ? " " Twice before."
"And she recovered on both occasions?"
"By the grace of God, yes-for the time, at all events."
My anger was rising. This man, like the doctor, was keeping me at arm's length.
And you advise me," I said, "to go back to London ? "
" For the present," lie replied. "Without seeing her ? "
"To see her would be impossible." " Is it her own wish ? "
He hesitated again, then answered falteringly, "Yes-I think so--that was my inference."
My patience was well-nigh exhausted before I saw the clergyman out of the house. Another man was then coming in at the door-a big, hasty, deep- chested fellow. with a game-bag over his shoulder and a gun under his arm. It was Tyson, the land-lord. He saluted me as we passed in the hall. There was something open and fearless in the air of the man that appealed to me at the moment, and, having parted fromy my parson, I followed my landlord into his little red parlour at the back of the bar. He gave me a cheery welcome, and began to joke about my visitor, called him "Mr. Sky-Pilot," and said it was the first time his reverence had deigned to cross the threshold of the "Wheatsheaf." I learned that Mr. McPherson was a fanatical teetotaller, and that this was understood to be the qualification that had led to his appointment by the patroness of his living.
"No wonder, nowther," said Tyson, " seeing the lesson she's been getting all the days of her life, poor lady! "
" What lesson ? " I asked.
"Nay, hast a nivver head tell of owd Georgie Clous'al ? "
I remembered the talk of the miners in the train. `~ Thirsty owd Georgie ? " I said.
" The verra man," said my landlord. " She's for breaking the curse, I reckon."
" What curse ? " I asked.
"'Then you know nowt of the Clous'al history, sir?"
I had to confess that though Miss Clousedale was my friend, my intimate friend, I knew nothing about her family. Mrs. Tyson was laying her husband's tea. " Shaf, John! " she said, " don't bother thy head with such owd wife's stories."
I drew my chair to the fire. "A story of a curse?" I said. "I must hear it at all costs."
Tyson laughed. " Thoo must tak' it as it comes, then," he said, and while he munched his great mouthfuls he told his tale.
Old George Clousedale, the grandfather of Lucy, and the founder of the fortunes of the Clousedale family, was a hard and cruel master. It. was told of him that if he saw a poor widow picking cinders from the refuse of the smelting-house, to warm her old bones on a wintry day, he would drive her away with threats and oaths. One Sunday morning two of his miners were walking home from the church in the valley, when, crossing the beck, they kicked up a bright red stone. It was good, solid iron ore. This was a find that promised great results. The men agreed to say nothing of their discovery until such time as they could take out royalties and begin mining on their own account.
One of.the two was faithful to his bond; the other broke it secretly. While the first was borrowing money towards his visit to the lord of the manor, the second went to the house of his master, told all, and accepted a bribe of twenty pounds. Within a week George Clousedale had bought up the royalties of another mine, and was sinking another shaft. The miner who had been betrayed was mad with rage. He went in search of his faithless partner and thrashed him within an inch of his life. The man was arrested, and George Clousedale was the magistrate by whom he was tried. He was sentenced to some months' imprisonment.
The poor fellow was young, and he had been the only support of his mother, and when he was sent to Carlisle the old woman went up to the house of George Clousedale and asked for the master. He cane out to her in the hall, and she railed at him as a traitor and a tyrant. Losing himself at lier insults, lie snatched a riding-whip from the wall, struck her on the head, and told her to be off to hell, and never dare to show her face in his house again. -The woman drew herself up to him and cried, " You brutal ruffian! It's yourself that will go to hell; but before you go you will have the fire of hell in your body, and feel a thirst that can never be quenched! You will drink and drink till you die, and your children will drink, and your children's children, and your great-grandchildren, for ever and ever!" But," I said, "you don't mean to tell me the curse came true?"
"Have it as you like, sir," said Tyson; "but in less nor six weeks Geordie Clous'al was tak'n with a burning heat of his inside, and lie drank, and drank, and drank, and in a twelvemonth he was dead."
" What children had he?"
"Only a son-young Geordie, as we caw'd him. Geordie laughed at the owd tale as they telt of, but at forty he was seized with the same burning thirst, and at fifty he was in a drunkard's grave."
" And-and Lucy- Miss Clousedale ? " I asked. " She was nobbut a bairn when her fadder died, and they've taken Time by the forelock, . and brought her- up teetotal."
I laughed, Tyson laughed, his wife laughed, and we all laughed together. " A good old witch story," I said, with a shiver. "I wonder whoever makes these gruesome yarns ? ','
But the thing possessed me. I came back to it again and again. The pit that had been the first cause of the quarrel was the one known as " Owd I3oney." It brought wealth to the Clousedale family and was the chief source of Lucy's fortune. Her father died rich, but his last ten years were years of pain and terror. The unquenchable thirst which tormented him came in periodical attacks which grew more and more frequent, appearing first at intervals of six months, then of three, and then of one. Thus in narrowing circles the burning fever eneompassod the man like a deadly serpent, and throttled hinn at the end.
My landlord's story might have interested me at any time, but at that moment it seemed to have a horrible fascination. Under other circumstances
I might have speculated on the power of imagination to induce the fate it dreads; but the creeping mystery of Lucy's illness made it difficult to think dispassionately. I hardly dared to formulate the fears that were floating in my soul.
Eventually I made up my mind to " sleep on it," and so went off to bed. Some hours later I awoke from a fitful and troubled sleep, and heard the singing of hymns in the street outside. I had forgotten that it was Christmas Eve.