Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
BLACK GANG CHINE
"Come, Lady; while Heaven lends us grace, Let us fly this cursed place, Lest the sorcerer us entice With some other new device. Not a word or needless sound Till we come to holier ground. I shall be your faithful guide Through this gloomy covert wide." MILTON.
Never was maiden in a worse position than that in which Anne Woodford felt herself when she revolved the matter. The back of the Isle of Wight, all along the Undercliff, had always had a wild reputation, and she was in the midst of the most lawless of men. Peregrine alone seemed to have any remains of honour or conscience, and apparently he was in some degree in the hands of his associates. Even if the clergyman came, there was little hope in an appeal to him. Naval chaplains bore no good reputation, and Portsmouth and Cowes were haunted by the scum of the profession. All that seemed possible was to commit herself and Charles to Divine protection, and in that strength to resist to the uttermost. The tempest had returned again, and seemed to be raging as much as ever, and the delay was in her favour, for in such weather there could be no putting to sea.
She was unwilling to leave the stronghold of her chamber, but Hans came to announce breakfast to her, telling her that the Mynheeren were gone, all but Massa Perry; and that gentleman came forward to meet her just as before, hoping 'those fellows had not disturbed her last night.'
"I could not help hearing much," she said gravely.
"Brutes!" he said. "I am sick of them, and of this life. Save for the King's sake, I would never have meddled with it."
The roar of winds and waves and the beat of spray was still to be heard, and in the manifest impossibility of quitting the place and the desire of softening him, Anne listened while he talked in a different mood from the previous day. The cynical tone was gone, as he spoke of those better influences. He talked of Mrs. Woodford and his deep affection for her, of the kindness of the good priests at Havre and Douai, and especially of one Father Seyton, who had tried to reason with him in his bitter disappointment, and savage penitence on finding that 'behind the Cross lurks the Devil,' as much at Douai as at Havant. He told how a sermon of the Abbe Fenelon's had moved him, and how he had spent half a Lent in the severest penance, but only to have all swept away again in the wild and wicked revelry with which Easter came in. Again he described how his heart was ready to burst as he stood by Mrs. Woodford's grave at night and vowed to disentangle himself and lead a new life.
"And with you I shall," he said.
"No," she answered; "what you win by a crime will never do you good."
"A crime! 'Tis no crime. You know I mean honourable marriage. You owe no duty to any one."
"It is a crime to leave the innocent to undeserved death," she said.
"Do you love the fellow?" he cried, with a voice rising to a shout of rage.
"Yes," she said firmly.
"Why did not you say so before?"
"Because I hoped to see you act for right and justice sake," was Anne's answer, fixing her eyes on him. "For God's sake, not mine."
"Yours indeed! Think, what can be his love to mine? He who let them marry him to that child, while I struggled and gave up everything. Then he runs away--runs away--leaving you all the distress; never came near you all these years. Oh yes! he looks down on you as his child's governess! What's the use of loving him? There's another heiress bespoken for him no doubt."
"No. His parents consent, and we have known one another's love for six years."
"Oh, that's the way he bound you to keep his secret! He would sing another song as soon as he was out of this scrape."
"You little know!" was all she said.
"Ay!" continued Peregrine, pacing up and down the room, "you know that all that was wanting to fill up the measure of my hatred was that he should have stolen your heart."
"You cannot say that, sir. He was my kind protector and helper from our very childhood. I have loved him with all my heart ever since I durst."
"Ay, the great straight comely lubbers have it all their own way with the women," said he bitterly. "I remember how he rushed headlong at me with the horse-whip when I tripped you up at the Slype, and you have never forgiven that."
"Oh! indeed I forgot that childish nonsense long ago. You never served me so again."
"No indeed, never since you and your mother were the first to treat me like a human being. You will be able to do anything with me, sweetest lady; the very sense that you are under the same roof makes another man of me. I loathe what I used to enjoy. Why, the very sight of you, sitting at supper like the lady in Comus, in your sweet grave dignity, made me feel what I am, and what those men are. I heard their jests with your innocent ears. With you by my side the Devil's power is quelled. You shall have a peaceful beneficent life among the poor folk, who will bless you; our good and gracious Queen will welcome you with joy and gratitude; and when the good time comes, as it must in a few years, you will have honours and dignities lavished on you. Can you not see what you will do for me?"
"Do you think a broken-hearted victim would be able to do you any good?" said she, looking up with tears in her eyes. "I do believe, sir, that you mean well by me, in your own way, and I could, yes, I can, be sorry for you, for my mother did feel for you, and yours has been a sad life; but how could I be of any use or comfort to you if you dragged me away as these cruel men propose, knowing that he who has all my heart is dying guiltless, and thinking I have failed him!" and here she broke down in an agony of weeping, as she felt the old power in his eyes that enforced submission.
He marched up and down in a sort of passion. "Don't let me see you weep for him! It makes me ready to strangle him with my own hands!"
A shout of 'Pilpignon!' at the door here carried him off, leaving Anne to give free course to the tears that she had hitherto been able to restrain, feeling the need of self-possession. She had very little hope, since her affection for Charles Archfield seemed only to give the additional sting of jealousy, 'cruel as the grave,' to the vindictive temper Peregrine already nourished, and which certainly came from his evil spirit. She shed many tears, and sobbed unrestrainingly till the Bretonne came and patted her shoulder, and said, "Pauvre, pauvre!" And even Hans looked in, saying, "Missee Nana no cry, Massa Perry great herr--very goot."
She tried to compose herself, and think over alternatives to lay before Peregrine. He might let her go, and carry to Sir Edmund Nutley letters to which his father would willingly swear, while he was out of danger in Normandy. Or if this was far beyond what could be hoped for, surely he could despatch a letter to his father, and for such a price she must sacrifice herself, though it cost her anguish unspeakable to call up the thought of Charles, of little Philip, of her uncle, and the old people, who loved her so well, all forsaken, and with what a life in store for her! For she had not the slightest confidence in the power of her influence, whatever Peregrine might say and sincerely believe at present. If there were, more palpably than with all other human beings, angels of good and evil contending for him, swaying him now this way and now that; it was plain from his whole history that nothing had yet availed to keep him under the better influence for long together; and she believed that if he gained herself by these unjust and cruel means the worse spirit would thereby gain the most absolute advantage. If her heart had been free, and she could have loved him, she might have hoped, though it would have been a wild and forlorn hope; but as it was, she had never entirely surmounted a repulsion from him, as something strange and unnatural, a feeling involving fear, though here he was her only hope and protector, and an utter uncertainty as to what he might do. She could only hope that she might pine away and die quickly, and perhaps Charles Archfield might know at last that it had been for his sake. And would it be in her power to make even such terms as these?
How long she wept and prayed and tried to 'commit her way unto the Lord' she did not know, but light seemed to be making its way far more than previously through the shutters closed against the storm when Peregrine returned.
"You will not be greatly troubled with those fellows to-day," he said; "there's a vessel come on the rocks at Chale, and every man and mother's son is gone after it." So saying he unfastened the shutters and let in a flood of sunshine. "You would like a little air," he said; "'tis all quiet now, and the tide is going down."
After two days' dark captivity, Anne could not but be relieved by coming out, and she was anxious to understand where she was. It was, though only in March, glowing with warmth, as the sun beat against the cliffs behind, of a dark red brown, in many places absolutely black, in especial where a cascade, swelled by the rains into imposing size, came roaring, leaping, and sparkling down a sheer precipice. On either side the cove or chine was closely shut in by treeless, iron-coloured masses of rock, behind one of which the few inhabited hovels were clustered, and the boat which had brought her was drawn up. In front was the sea, still lashed by a fierce wind, which was driving the fantastically shaped remains of the great storm cloud rapidly across an intensely blue sky. The waves, although it was the ebb, were still tremendous, and their roar re-echoed as they reared to fearful heights and broke with the reverberations that she had heard all along. Peregrine kept quite high up, not venturing below the washed line of shingle, saying that the back draught of the waves was most perilous, and in a high wind could not be reckoned upon.
"No escape!" he said, as he perceived Anne's gaze on the inaccessible cliff and the whole scene, the wild beauty of which was lost to her in its terrors.
"Where's your ship?" she asked.
"Safe in Whale Chine. No putting to sea yet, though it may be fair to-morrow."
Then she put before him the first scheme she had thought out, of letting her escape to Sir Edmund Nutley's house, whence she could make her way back, taking with her a letter that would prove his existence without involving him or his friends in danger. And eagerly she argued, "You do not know me really! It is only an imagination that you can be the better for my presence." Then, unheeding his fervid exclamation, "It was my dear mother who did you good. What would she think of the way in which you are trying to gain me?"
"That I cannot do without you."
"And what would you have in me? I could be only wretched, and feel all my life--such a life as it would be--that you had wrecked my happiness. Oh yes! I do believe that you would try to make me happy, but don't you see that it would be quite impossible with such a grief as that in my heart, and knowing that you had caused it? I know you hate him, and he did you the wrong; but he has grieved for it, and banished himself. But above all, of this I am quite sure, that to persist in this horrible evil of leaving him to die, because of your revenge, and stealing me away, is truly giving Satan such a frightful advantage over you that it is mere folly to think that winning me in such a way could do you any good. It is just a mere delusion of his, to ruin us both, body and soul. Peregrine, will you not recollect my mother, and what she would think? Have pity on me, and help me away, and I would pledge myself never to utter a word of this place nor that could bring you and yours into danger. We would bless and pray for you always."
"No use," he gloomily said. "I believe you, but the others will never believe a woman. No doubt we are watched even now by desperate men, who would rather shoot you than let you escape from our hands."
It seemed almost in connection with these words that at that moment, from some unknown quarter, where probably there was an entrance to the Chine, Sir George Barclay appeared with a leathern case under his arm. It had been captured on the wreck, and contained papers which he wanted assistance in deciphering, since they were in Dutch, and he believed them to be either despatches or bonds, either of which might be turned to profit. These were carried indoors, and spread on the table, and as Anne sat by the window, dejected and almost hopeless as she was, she could not help perceiving that, though Peregrine was so much smaller and less robust than his companions, he exercised over them the dominion of intellect, energy, and will, as if they too felt the force of his strange eyes; and it seemed to her as if, supposing he truly desired it, whatever he might say, he must be able to deliver her and Charles; but that a being such as she had always known him should sacrifice both his love and his hate seemed beyond all hope, and "Change his heart! Turn our captivity, O Lord," could only be her cry.
Only very late did Burford come back, full of the account of the wreck and of the spoils, and the struggles between the wreckers for the flotsam and jetsam. There was much of savage brutality mated with a cool indifference truly horrible to Anne, and making her realise into what a den of robbers she had fallen, especially as these narratives were diversified by consultations over the Dutch letters and bills of exchange in the wrecked East Indiaman, and how to turn them to the best advantage. Barclay and Burford were so full of these subjects that they took comparatively little notice of the young lady, only when she rose to retire, Burford made a sort of apology that this little business had hindered his going after the parson. He heard that the Salamander was at the castle, and redcoats all about, he said, and if the Annick could be got out to- morrow they must sail any way; and if Pil was still so squeamish, a Popish priest could couple them in a leash as tight as a Fleet parson could. And then Peregrine demanded whether Burford thought a Fleet parson the English for a naval chaplain, and there was some boisterous laughter, during which Anne shut herself up in her room in something very like despair, with that one ray of hope that He who had brought her back from exile before would again save her from that terrible fate.
She heard card-playing and the jingle of glasses far into the night, as she believed, but it seemed to her as if she had scarcely fallen asleep before, to her extreme terror, she heard a knock and a low call at her door of 'Guennik.' Then as the Bretonne went to the door, through which a light was seen, a lantern was handed in, and a scrap of paper on which the words were written: "On second thoughts, my kindred elves at Portchester shall not be scared by a worricow. Dress quickly, and I will bring you out of this."
For a moment Anne did not perceive the meaning of the missive, the ghastly idea never having occurred to her that if Charles had suffered, the gibbet would have been at Portchester. Then, with an electric flash of joy, she saw that it meant relenting on Peregrine's part, deliverance for them both. She put on her clothes with hasty, trembling hands, thankful to Guennik for helping her, pressed a coin into the strong toil-worn hand, and with an earnest thrill of thankful prayer opened the door. The driftwood fire was bright, and she saw Peregrine, looking deadly white, and equipped with slouched hat, short wrapping cloak, pistols and sword at his belt, dark lantern lighted on the table, and Hans also cloaked by his side. He bent his head in salutation, and put his finger to his lips, giving one hand to Anne, and showing by example instead of words that she must tread as softly as possible, as she perceived that he was in his slippers, Hans carrying his boots as well as the lantern she had used. Yet to her ears the roar of the advancing tide seemed to stifle all other sounds. Past the other huts they went in silence, then came a precipitous path up the cliff, steps cut in the hard sandy grit, but very crumbling, and in places supplemented by a rude ladder of sticks and rope. Peregrine went before Anne, Hans behind. Each had hung the lantern from his neck, so as to have hands free to draw her, support her, or lift her, as might be needful. How it was done she never could tell in after years. She might jestingly say that her lightened heart bore her up, but in her soul and in her deeper moments she thought that truly angels must have had charge over her. Up, up, up! At last they had reached standing ground, a tolerably level space, with another high cliff seeming to rise behind it. Here it was lighter--a pale streak of dawn was spreading over the horizon, both on sky and sea, and the waves still leaping glanced in the light of a golden waning moon, while Venus shone in the brightening sky, a daystar of hope.
Peregrine drew a long breath, and gave an order in a very low voice in Dutch to Hans, who placed his boots before him, and went off towards a shed. "He will bring you a pony," said his master.
"Excuse me;" and he was withdrawing his hand, when Anne clasped it with both hers, and said in a voice of intense feeling--
"Oh, how can I thank you and bless you! This is putting the Evil Angel to flight."
"'Tis you that have done it! You see, I cannot do the wicked act where you are," he answered gloomily, as he turned aside to draw on his boots.
"Ah! but you have won the victory over him!"
"Do not be too sure. We are not out of reach of those rascals yet."
He was evidently anxious for silence, and Anne said no more. Hans presently brought from some unknown quarter, a little stout pony bridled and saddled; of course not with a side saddle, but cloaks were arranged so as to make a fairly comfortable seat for Anne, and Peregrine led the animal on the ascent to St. Catherine's Down. It was light enough to dispense with the lanterns, and as they mounted higher the glorious sight of daybreak over the sea showed itself-- almost due east, the sharp points of the Needles showing up in a flood of pale golden light above and below, with gulls flashing white as they floated into sunlight, all seeming to Anne's thankful heart to be a new radiance of joy and hope after the dark roaring terrors of the Chine.
As they came out into the open freedom of the down, with crisp silvery grass under their feet, the breadth of sea on one side, before them fertile fields and hills, and farther away, dimly seen in gray mist, the familiar Portsdown outlines, not a sound to be heard but the exulting ecstasies of larks, far, far above in the depths of blue, Peregrine dared to speak above his breath, with a question whether Anne were at ease in her extemporary side saddle, producing at the same time a slice of bread and meat, and a flask of wine.
"Oh, how kind! What care you take of me!" she said. "But where are we going?"
"Wherever you command," he said. "I had thought of Carisbrooke. Cutts is there, and it would be the speediest way."
"Would it not be the most dangerous for you?"
"I care very little for my life after this."
"Oh no, no, you must not say so. After what you are doing for me you will be able to make it better than ever it has been. This is what I thought. If you would bring me in some place whence I could reach Sir Edmund Nutley's house at Parkhurst, his servants would help me to do the rest, even if he be not there himself. I would never betray you! You know I would not! And you would have full time to get away to your place in Normandy with your friends."
"You care?" asked he.
"Of course I do!" exclaimed she. "Do I not feel grateful to you, and like and honour you better than ever I could have thought?"
"You do?" in a strange choked tone.
"Of course I do. You are doing a noble, thankworthy thing. It is not only that I thank you for his sake, but it is a grand and beautiful deed in itself; and if my dear mother know, she is blessing you for it."
"I shall remember those words," he said, "if--" and he passed his hand over his eyes. "See here," he presently said; "I have written out a confession of my identity, and explanation that it was I who drew first on Archfield. It is enough to save him, and in case my handwriting has altered, as I think it has, and there should be further doubt, I shall be found at Pilpignon, if I get away. You had better keep it in case of accidents, or if you carry out your generous plan. Say whatever you please about me, but there is no need to mention Barclay or Burford; and it would not be fair to the honest free-traders here to explain where their Chine lies. I should have brought you up blindfold, if I could have done so with safety, not that I do not trust you, but I should be better able to satisfy those fellows if I ever see them again, by telling them I have sworn you to secrecy."
Then he laughed. "The gowks! I won all those Indian bonds of them last night, but left them in a parcel addressed to them as a legacy."
Anne took the required pledge, and ventured to ask, "Shall I say anything for you to your father?"
"My poor old father! Let him know that I neither would nor could disturb Robert in his inheritance, attainted traitor as the laws esteem me. For the rest, mayhap I shall write to him if the good angel you talk of will help me."
"Oh do! I am sure he would rejoice to forgive. He is much softened."
"Now, we must hush, and go warily. I see sheep, and if there is a shepherd, I want him not to see us, or point our way. It is well these Isle of Wight folk are not early risers."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.