Run to Earth, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 18

At Anchor.

The current of life flowed on at River View Cottage without so much as a ripple in the shape of an event, after the appalling midnight visit of Miser Screwton’s ghost, until one summer evening, when Captain Duncombe came home in very high spirits, bringing with him an old friend, of whom Miss Duncombe had heard her father talk very often; but whom she had hitherto never seen.

This was no other than George Jernam, the captain of the “Albatross,” and the owner of the “Stormy Petrel” and “Pizarro.”

In London the captain of the “Albatross” found plenty of business to occupy him. He had just returned from an African cruise, and though he had not forgotten the circumstances which had made his last intended visit to England only a memorable and melancholy failure, he was in high spirits.

The first few days hardly sufficed for the talks between George Jernam and Joyce Harker, who aided him vigorously in the refitting of his vessel. He had been in London about a week before he fell in with honest Joe Duncombe. The two men had been fast friends ever since the day on which George, while still a youngster, had served as second-mate under the owner of the “Vixen.”

They met accidentally in one of the streets about Wapping. Joseph Buncombe was delighted to encounter a sea-faring friend, and insisted on taking George Jernam down to River View Cottage to eat what he called a homely bit of dinner.

The homely bit of dinner turned out to be a very excellent repast; for Mrs. Mugby prided herself upon her powers as a cook and housekeeper, and to produce a good dinner at a short notice was a triumph she much enjoyed.

Susan Trott waited at table in her prettiest cotton gown and smartest cap.

Rosamond Duncombe sat by her father’s side during the meal; and after dinner, when the curtains were drawn, and the lamp lighted, the captain of the “Vixen” set himself to brew a jorum of punch in a large old Japanese china bowl, the composition of which punch was his strong point.

Altogether that little dinner and cheerful evening entertainment seemed the perfection of home comfort. George Jernam had been too long a stranger to home and home pleasures not to feel the cheerful influence of that hospitable abode.

For Joseph Duncombe the companionship of his old friend was delightful. The society of the sailor was as invigorating to the nostrils of a seaman as the fresh breeze of ocean after a long residence inland.

“You don’t know what a treat it is to me to have an old shipmate with me once more, George,” he said. “My little Rosy and I live here pretty comfortably, though I keep a tight hand over her, I can tell you,” he added, with pretended severity; “but it’s dull work for a man who has lived the best part of his life on the sea to find himself amongst a pack of spooney landsmen. Never you marry a landsman, Rosy, if you don’t want me to cut you off with a shilling,” he cried, turning to his daughter.

Of course Miss Rosamond Duncombe blushed on hearing herself thus apostrophized, as young ladies of eighteen have a knack of blushing when the possibility of their falling in love is mentioned.

George Jernam saw the blush, and thought that Miss Duncombe was the prettiest girl he had ever seen.

George Jernam stayed late at the cottage, for its hospitable owner was loth to let his friend depart.

“How long do you stay in London, George?” he asked, as the young man was going away.

“A month, at least — perhaps two months.”

“Then be sure you come down here very often. You can dine with us every Sunday, of course, for I know you haven’t a creature belonging to you in London except Harker; and you can run down of an evening sometimes, and bring him with you, and smoke your cigar in my garden, with the bright water rippling past you, and all the ships in the Pool spreading their rigging against the calm grey sky; and I’ll brew you a jorum of punch, and Rosy shall sing us a song while we drink it.”

It is not to be supposed that George Jernam, who had a good deal of idle time on his hands, could refuse to oblige his old captain, or shrink from availing himself of hospitality so cordially pressed upon him.

He went very often in the autumn dusk to spend an hour or two at River View Cottage, where he always found a hearty welcome. He strolled in the garden with Captain Duncombe and Rosamond, talking of strange lands and stranger adventures.

Harker did not always accompany him; but sometimes he did, and on such occasions Rosamond seemed unaccountably glad to see him. Harker paid her no more attention than usual, and invariably devoted himself to Joe Duncombe, who was frequently lazy, and inclined to smoke his cigar in the comfortable parlour. On these occasions George Jernam and Rosamond Duncombe strolled side by side in the garden; and the sailor entertained his fair companion by the description of all the strangest scenes he had beheld, and the most romantic adventures he had been engaged in. It was like the talk of some sea-faring Othello; and never did Desdemona more “seriously incline” to hear her valiant Moor than did Miss Duncombe to hear her captain.

One of the windows of Joseph Duncombe’s favourite sitting-room commanded the garden; and from this window the captain of the “Vixen” could see his daughter and the captain of the “Albatross” walking side by side upon the smoothly kept lawn. He used to look unutterably sly as he watched the two figures; and on one occasion went so far as to tap his nose significantly several times with his ponderous fore-finger.

“It’s a match!” he muttered to himself; “it’s a match, or my name is not Joe Duncombe.”

Susan Trott was not slow to notice those evening walks in the garden. She told the dashing young baker that she thought there would be a wedding at the cottage before long.

“Yours, of course,” cried the baker.

“For shame, now, you impitent creature!” exclaimed Susan, blushing till she was rosier than the cherry-coloured ribbons in her cap; “you know what I mean well enough.”

Neither Captain Duncombe nor Susan Trott were very far wrong. The “Albatross” was not ready for her next cruise till three months after George Jernam’s first visit to River View Cottage, nor did the captain of the vessel seem particularly anxious to hasten the completion of the repairs.

When the “Albatross” did drop down into the Channel, she sailed on a cruise that was to last less than six months; and when George Jernam touched English ground again, he was to return to claim Rosamond Duncombe as his plighted wife. This arrangement had Joyce Harker’s hearty approbation; but when he, too, had taken leave of George Jernam, he turned away muttering, “I think he really has forgotten Captain Valentine now; but I have not, I have not. No, I remember him better than ever now, when there’s no one but me.”

The “Albatross” came safely back to the Pool in the early spring weather. George Jernam had promised Rosamond that she should know of his coming before ever he set foot on shore, and he contrived to keep his word.

One fine March day she saw a vessel sailing up the river, with a white flag flying from the main-mast. On the white flag blazed, in bright red letters, the name, “Rosamond!”

When Miss Duncombe saw this, she knew at once that her lover had returned. No other vessel than the “Albatross” was likely to sport such a piece of bunting.

George Jernam came back braver, truer, handsomer even than when he went away, as it seemed to Rosamond. He came back more devoted to her than ever, she thought; and a man must have been indeed cold of heart who could be ungrateful for the innocent, girlish affection which Rosamond revealed in every word and look.

The wedding took place within a month of the sailor’s return; and, after some discussion, George Jernam consented that he and his wife should continue to live at the cottage.

“I can’t come here to take possession of your house,” he had said, addressing himself to his future father-in-law; “that would be rather too much of a good thing. I know you’d like to keep Rosy in the neighbourhood, and so you shall. I’ll do as you did. I’ll find a little bit of ground near here, and build myself a comfortable crib, with a view of the river.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” replied Captain Duncombe. “If that’s what you are going to do, you shall not have my Rosy. I’ve no objection to her having a husband on the premises; but the day she leaves my roof for the sake of any man in Christendom, I’ll cut her off with a shilling — and the shilling shall be a bad one.”

The captain of the “Albatross” took his young wife into Devonshire for a brief honeymoon; and during this pleasant spring-time holiday, Rosamond made the acquaintance of her husband’s aunt. Susan Jernam was pleased with the bright-eyed, pure-minded, modest girl, and in the few days they were together, learned to regard her with a motherly feeling, which was destined to be of priceless value to Rosy at an unforeseen crisis of the new life that began so fairly.

Never did a married couple begin their new life with a fairer prospect than that which lay before George Jernam and his wife when they returned to River View Cottage. Captain Duncombe received his son-inlaw with the hearty welcome of a true seaman; but a few days after George Jernam’s return, the old sailor took him aside, and made an announcement which filled him with surprise.

“You know how fond I am of Rosy,” he said, “and you know that if Providence had blessed me with a son of my own, he couldn’t have been much dearer to me than you are; so come what may, neither you or Rosy must doubt my affection for both of you. Come now, George, promise me you won’t.”

“I promise, with all my heart,” answered Captain Jernam; “I should no more think of doubting your goodness or your love for us, than I should think of doubting that there’s a sun shining up aloft yonder. But why do you speak of this?”

“Because, George, the truth of the matter is, I’m going to leave you.”

“You are going to leave us?”

“Yes, old fellow. You see, a lazy, land-lubber’s life doesn’t suit me. I’ve tried it, and it don’t answer. I thought the sound of the water washing against the bank at the bottom of my garden, and the sight of the ships in the Pool, would be consolation enough for me, but they ain’t, and I’ve been sickening for the sea for the last six mouths. As long as my little Rosy had nobody in the world but me to take care of her, I stayed with her, and I should have gone on staying with her till I died at my post. But she’s got a husband now, and two trust-worthy women-servants, who would protect her if you left her — as I suppose you must leave her, sooner or later — so there’s no reason why I should stop on shore any longer, pining for a sight of blue water.”

“And you really mean to leave us!” exclaimed George Jernam. “I am afraid your going will break poor Rosy’s heart.”

“No it won’t, George,” answered Captain Duncombe. “When a young woman’s married, her heart is uncommonly tough with regard to everybody except her husband. I dare say poor little Rosy-posy will be sorry to lose her old father; but she’ll have you to console her, and she won’t grieve long. Besides, I’m not going away for ever, you know. I’m only just going to take a little cruise to the Indies, with a cargo of dry goods, make a bit of money for my grandchildren that are to be, and then come home again, fresher than ever, and settle down in the bosom of my family. I’ve seen a neat little craft that will suit me to a T; and I shall fit her out, and be off for blue water before the month is ended.”

It was evident that the old sailor was in earnest, and George Jernam did not attempt to overrule his determination. Rosamond pleaded against her father’s departure, but she pleaded in vain. Early in June Captain Duncombe left England on board a neat little craft, which he christened the “Young Wife,” in compliment to his daughter.

Before he went, George promised that he would himself await the return of his father-in-law before he started on a new voyage.

“I can afford to be idle for twelve months, or so,” he said; “and my dear little wife shall not be left without a protector.”

So the young couple settled down comfortably in the commodious cottage, which was now all their own.

To Rosamond, her new existence was all unbroken joy. She had loved her husband with all the romantic devotion of inexperienced girlhood. To her poetic fancy he seemed the noblest and bravest of created beings; and she wondered at her own good fortune when she saw him by her side, fond and devoted, consent to sacrifice all the delights of his free, roving life for her sake.

“I don’t think such happiness can last, George,” she said to him one day.

That vague foreboding was soon to be too sadly realized! The sunshine and the bright summer peace had promised to last for ever; but a dark cloud arose which in one moment overshadowed all that summer sky, and Rosamond Jernam’s happiness vanished as if it had been indeed a dream.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50