Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LII

The Scarfe

Jordas, without suspicion of pursuit, had allowed no grass to grow under the feet of Marmaduke on the homeward way. His orders were to use all speed, to do as he had done at the lawyer’s private door, and then, without baiting his horse, to drive back, reserving the nose-bag for some very humpy halting-place. There is no such man, at the present time of day, to carry out strict orders, as the dogman was, and the chance of there being such a one again diminishes by very rapid process. Marmaduke, as a horse, was of equal quality, reasoning not about his orders, but about the way to do them.

There was no special emergency now, so far as my lady Philippa knew; but the manner of her mind was to leave no space between a resolution and its execution. This is the way to go up in the world, or else to go down abruptly; and to her the latter would have been far better than to halt between two opinions. Her plan had been shaped and set last night, and, like all great ideas, was the simplest of the simple. And Jordas, who had inklings of his own, though never admitted to confidence, knew how to carry out the outer part.

“When the turbot comes,” she said to Welldrum, as soon as her long sight showed her the trusty Jordas beginning the home ascent, “it is to be taken first out of the car, and to my sister’s sitting-room; the other things Jordas will see to. I may be going for a little walk. But you will at once carry up the turbot. Mrs. Carnaby’s appetite is delicate.”

The butler had his own opinion upon that interesting subject. But in her presence it must be his own. Any attempt at enlargement of her mind by exchange of sentiment — such as Mrs. Carnaby permitted and enjoyed — would have sent him flying down the hill, pursued by square-toed men prepared to add elasticity to velocity. Therefore Welldrum made a leg in silence, and retreated, while his mistress prepared for her intended exploit. She had her beaver hat and mantle ready by the shrubbery door — as a little quiet postern of her own was called — and in the heavy standing desk, or “secretary,” of her private room she had stored a flat basket, or frail, of stout flags, with a heavy clock weight inside it.

“Much better to drown the wretched thing than burn it,” she had been saying to herself, “especially at this time of year, when fires are weak and telltale. And parchment makes such a nasty smell; Eliza might come in and suspect it. But the Scarfe is a trusty confidant.”

Mistress Yordas, while sure that her sister (having even more than herself at stake) would approve and even applaud her scheme, was equally sure that it must be kept from her, both for its own sake and for hers. And the sooner it was done, the less the chance of disturbing poor Eliza’s mind.

The Scarfe is a deep pool, supposed to have no bottom (except, perhaps, in the very bowels of the earth), upon one of the wildest head-waters of the Tees. A strong mountain torrent from a desolate ravine springs forth with great ferocity, and sooner than put up with any more stabs from the rugged earth, casts itself on air. For a hundred and twenty feet the water is bright, in the novelty and the power of itself, striking out freaks of eccentric flashes, and even little sun-bows, in fine weather. But the triumph is brief; and a heavy retribution, created by its violence, awaits below. From the tossing turmoil of the fall two white volumes roll away, with a clash of waves between them, and sweeping round the craggy basin, meet (like a snowy wreath) below, and rush back in coiling eddies flaked with foam. All the middle is dark deep water, looking on the watch for something to suck down.

What better duty, or more pious, could a hole like this perform, than that of swallowing up a lawyer; or, if no such morsel offered, then at least a lawyer’s deeds? Many a sheep had been there ingulfed, and never saluted by her lambs again; and although a lawyer by no means is a sheep (except in his clothing, and his eyes perhaps), yet his doings appear upon the skin thereof, and enhance its value more than drugs of Tyre. And it is to be feared that some fleeced clients will not feel the horror which they ought to feel at the mode pursued by Mistress Yordas in the delivery of her act and deed.

She came down the dell, from the private grounds of Scargate, with a resolute face, and a step of strength. The clock weight, that should know time no more, was well imbosomed in the old deed-poll, and all stitched firmly in the tough brown frail, whose handles would help for a long strong cast. Towering crags, and a ridge of jagged scaurs, shut out the sunset, while a thicket of dwarf oak, and the never-absent bramble, aproned the yellow dugs of shale with brown. In the middle was the caldron of the torrent, called the “Scarfe,” with the sheer trap-rock, which is green in the sunlight, like black night flung around it, while a snowy wreath of mist (like foam exhaling) circled round the basined steep, or hovered over the chasm.

Miss Yordas had very stanch nerves, but still, for reasons of her own, she disliked this place, and never came near it for pleasure’s sake, although in dry summers, when the springs were low, the fury of the scene passed into grandeur, and even beauty. But a Yordas (long ago gone to answer for it) had flung a man, who plagued him with the law, into this hole. And what was more disheartening, although of less importance, a favorite maid of this lady, upon the exile of her sweetheart, hearing that his feet were upside down to hers, and that this hole went right through the earth, had jumped into it, in a lonely moment, instead of taking lessons in geography. Philippa Yordas was as brave as need be; but now her heart began to creep as coldly as the shadows crept.

For now she was out of sight of home, and out of hearing of any sound, except the roaring of the force. The Hall was half a mile away, behind a shoulder of thick-ribbed hill; and it took no sight of this torrent, until it became a quiet river by the downward road. “I must be getting old,” Miss Yordas thought, “or else this path is much rougher than it used to be. Why, it seems to be getting quite dangerous! It is too bad of Jordas not to see to things better. My father used to ride this way sometimes. But how could a horse get along here now?”

There used to be a bridle-road from the grounds of Scargate to a ford below the force, and northward thence toward the Tees; or by keeping down stream, and then fording it again, a rider might hit upon the Middleton road, near the rock that warned the public of the blood-hounds. This bridle-road kept a great distance from the cliffs overhanging the perilous Scarfe; and the only way down to a view of the fall was a scrambling track, over rocks and trunks, unworthy to be called a foot-path. The lady with the bag had no choice left but to follow this track, or else abandon her intention. For a moment she was sorry that she had not been satisfied with some less troublesome destruction of her foe, even at the risk of chance suspicions. But having thus begun it, she would not turn back, and be angry with her idle fears when she came to think of them.

With hereditary scorn of second thoughts she cast away doubt, and went down the steep, and stood on the brow of sheer rock, to recover her breath and strength for a long bold cast. The crag beneath her feet was trembling with the power of the flood below, and the white mist from the deep moved slowly, shrouding now, and now revealing, the black gulf and its slippery walls. For the last few months Miss Yordas had taken very little exercise, and seldom tasted the open air; therefore the tumult and terror of the place, in the fading of the sky and darkening of the earth, got hold of her more than they should have done.

With the frail in her right hand, poised upon three fingers (for the fourth had been broken in her childhood), she planted the sole of her left foot on the brink, and swung herself for the needful cast.

A strong throw was needful to reach the black water that never gave up anything: if the bag were dropped in the foaming race, it might be carried back to the heel of the fall. She was proud of her bodily strength, which was almost equal to that of a muscular man, and her long arm swelled with the vigor of the throw. But just when the weight should have been delivered, and flown with a hiss into the bottomless abyss, a loose flag of the handle twisted on her broken finger. Instead of being freed, the bag fell back, struck her in the chest, and threw her back, for the clock weight was a heavy one. Her balance was lost, her feet flew up, she fell upon her back, and the smooth beaver cloak began sliding upon the slippery rock. Horrible death was pulling at her; not a stick nor a stone was in reach of her hands, and the pitiless crags echoed one long shriek above all the roar of the water-fall. She strove to turn over and grasp the ground, but only felt herself going faster. Her bright boots were flashing against the white mist — a picture in her mind forever — her body was following, inch by inch. With elbow and shoulder, and even hair coils, she strove to prolong the descent into death; but the descent increased its speed, and the sky itself was sliding.

Just when the balance was inclining downward, and the plunge hanging on a hair’s-breadth, powerful hands fell upon her shoulders; a grating of a drag against the grain was the last thing she was conscious of; and Sir Duncan Yordas, having made a strong pull, at the imminent risk of his life, threw back his weight on the heels of his boots, and they helped him. His long Indian spurs, which had no rowel, held their hold like a falcon’s hind talon; and he drew back the lady without knowing who she was, having leaped from his horse at her despairing scream. From his knowledge of the place he concluded that it was some person seeking suicide, but recoiling from the sight of death; and without another thought he risked his life to save.

Breathless himself — for the transit of years and of curry-powder had not improved his lungs — he labored at the helpless form, and laid it at last in a place of safety.

“What a weight the lady is!” was his first idea; “it can not be want of food that has driven her, nor of money either; her cloak would fetch a thousand rupees in Calcutta. And a bag full of something — precious also, to judge by the way she clings to it. Poor thing! Can I get any water for her? There used to be a spring here, where the woodcocks came. Is it safe to leave her? Certainly not, with her head like that; she might even have apoplexy. Allow me, madam. I will not steal it. It is only for a cushion.”

The lady, however, though still in a stupor, kept her fingers clinched upon the handle of the bag; and without using violence he could not move them. Then the stitching of the frail gave way, and Sir Duncan espied a roll of parchment. Suddenly the lady opened large dark eyes, which wandered a little, and then (as he raised her head) met his, and turned away.

“Philippa!” he said, and she faintly answered “Yes,” being humbled and shaken by her deadly terror, and scarcely sure of safety yet, for the roar and the chasm were in sight and hearing still.

“Philippa, are you better? Never mind what you were thinking of. All shall be right about that, Philippa. What is land in comparison with life? Look up at me. Don’t be afraid to look. Surely you know your only brother! I am Duncan, who ran away, and has lived for years in India. I used to be very kind to you when we were children, and why should I alter from it now? I remember when you tumbled in the path down there, and your knee was bleeding, and I tied it up with a dock leaf and my handkerchief. Can you remember? It was primrose time.”

“To be sure I do,” she said, looking up with cheerfulness; “and you carried me all the way home almost, and Eliza was dreadfully jealous.”

“That she always was, and you not much better. But now we are getting on in life, and we need not have much to do with one another. Still, we may try not to kill one another by trumpery squabbles about property. Stay where you are for a moment, sister, and you shall see the end of that.”

Sir Duncan took the bag, with the deed inside it, returned in three steps to the perilous shelf, and with one strong hurl sent forth the load, which cleft the white mist, and sank forever in the waves of the whirlpool.

“No one can prosecute me for that,” he said, returning with a smile, “though Mordacks may be much aggrieved. Now, Philippa, although I can not carry you well, from the additions time has made to you, I can help you home, my dear; and then on upon my business.”

The pride and self-esteem of Miss Yordas had never been so crushed before. She put both hands upon her brother’s shoulders, and burst into a flood of tears.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31