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HOME > Classical Novels > The Shuttle50 > CHAPTER 43 HIS CHANCE
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 Betty walked much alone upon the marshes1 with Roland at her side. At intervals3 she heard from Mr. Penzance, but his notes were necessarily brief, and at other times she could only rely upon report for news of what was occurring at Mount Dunstan. Lord Mount Dunstan's almost military supervision4 of and command over his villagers had certainly saved them from the horrors of an uncontrollable epidemic5; his decision and energy had filled the alarmed Guardians6 with respect and this respect had begun to be shared by many other persons. A man as prompt in action, and as faithful to such responsibilities as many men might have found plausible7 reasons enough for shirking, inevitably8 assumed a certain dignity of aspect, when all was said and done. Lord Dunholm was most clear in his expressions of opinion concerning him. Lady Alanby of Dole9 made a practice of speaking of him in public frequently, always with admiring approval, and in that final manner of hers, to whose authority her neighbours had so long submitted. It began to be accepted as a fact that he was a new development of his race—as her ladyship had put it, “A new order of Mount Dunstan.”  
The story of his power over the stricken people, and of their passionate10 affection and admiration11 for him, was one likely to spread far, and be immensely popular. The drama of certain incidents appealed greatly to the rustic12 mind, and by cottage firesides he was represented with rapturous awe13, as raising men, women, and children from the dead, by the mere14 miracle of touch. Mrs. Welden and old Doby revelled16 in thrilling, almost Biblical, versions of current anecdotes17, when Betty paid her visits to them.
“It's like the Scripture18, wot he done for that young man as the last breath had gone out of him, an' him lyin' stiffening19 fast. 'Young man, arise,' he says. 'The Lord Almighty20 calls. You've got a young wife an' three children to take care of. Take up your bed an' walk.' Not as he wanted him to carry his bed anywheres, but it was a manner of speaking. An' up the young man got. An' a sensible way,” said old Mrs. Welden frankly22, “for the Lord to look at it—for I must say, miss, if I was struck down for it, though I s'pose it's only my sinful ignorance—that there's times when the Lord seems to think no more of sweepin' away a steady eighteen-shillin' a week, and p'raps seven in family, an' one at the breast, an' another on the way—than if it was nothin'. But likely enough, eighteen shillin' a week an' confinements23 does seem paltry24 to the Maker25 of 'eaven an' earth.”
But, to the girl walking over the marshland, the humanness of the things she heard gave to her the sense of nearness—of being almost within sight and sound—which Mount Dunstan himself had felt, when each day was filled with the result of her thought of the needs of the poor souls thrown by fate into his hands. In these days, after listening to old Mrs. Welden's anecdotes, through which she gathered the simpler truth of things, Betty was able to construct for herself a less Scriptural version of what she had heard. She was glad—glad in his sitting by a bedside and holding a hand which lay in his hot or cold, but always trusting to something which his strong body and strong soul gave without stint26. There would be no restraint there. Yes, he was kind—kind—kind —with the kindness a woman loves, and which she, of all women, loved most. Sometimes she would sit upon some mound27, and, while her eyes seemed to rest on the yellowing marsh2 and its birds and pools, they saw other things, and their colour grew deep and dark as the marsh water between the rushes.
The time was pressing when a change in her life must come. She frequently asked herself if what she saw in Nigel Anstruthers' face was the normal thinking of a sane28 man, which he himself could control. There had been moments when she had seriously doubted it. He was haggard, aging and restless. Sometimes he—always as if by chance—followed her as she went from one room to another, and would seat himself and fix his miserable29 eyes upon her for so long a time that it seemed he must be unconscious of what he was doing. Then he would appear suddenly to recollect30 himself and would start up with a muttered exclamation31, and stalk out of the room. He spent long hours riding or driving alone about the country or wandering wretchedly through the Park and gardens. Once he went up to town, and, after a few days' absence, came back looking more haggard than before, and wearing a hunted look in his eyes. He had gone to see a physician, and, after having seen him, he had tried to lose himself in a plunge32 into deep and turbid33 enough waters; but he found that he had even lost the taste of high flavours, for which he had once had an epicurean palate. The effort had ended in his being overpowered again by his horrors—the horrors in which he found himself staring at that end of things when no pleasure had spice, no debauchery the sting of life, and men, such as he, stood upon the shore of time shuddering34 and naked souls, watching the great tide, bearing its treasures, recede35 forever, and leave them to the cold and hideous36 dark. During one day of his stay in town he had seen Teresita, who had at first stared half frightened by the change she saw in him, and then had told him truths he could have wrung37 her neck for putting into words.
“You look an old man,” she said, with the foreign accent he had once found deliciously amusing, but which now seemed to add a sting. “And somesing is eating you op. You are mad in lofe with some beautiful one who will not look at you. I haf seen it in mans before. It is she who eats you op—your evil thinkings of her. It serve you right. Your eyes look mad.”
He himself, at times, suspected that they did, and cursed himself because he could not keep cool. It was part of his horrors that he knew his internal furies were worse than folly38, and yet he could not restrain them. The creeping suspicion that this was only the result of the simple fact that he had never tried to restrain any tendency of his own was maddening. His nervous system was a wreck39. He drank a great deal of whisky to keep himself “straight” during the day, and he rose many times during his black waking hours in the night to drink more because he obstinately40 refused to give up the hope that, if he drank enough, it would make him sleep. As through the thoughts of Mount Dunstan, who was a clean and healthy human being, there ran one thread which would not disentangle itself, so there ran through his unwholesome thinking a thread which burned like fire. His secret ravings would not have been good to hear. His passion was more than half hatred41, and a desire for vengeance42, for the chance to re-assert his own power, to prove himself master, to get the better in one way or another of this arrogant43 young outsider and her high-handed pride. The condition of his mind was so far from normal that he failed to see that the things he said to himself, the plans he laid, were grotesque44 in their folly. The old cruel dominance of the man over the woman thing, which had seemed the mere natural working of the law among men of his race in centuries past, was awake in him, amid the limitations of modern days.
“My God,” he said to himself more than once, “I would like to have had her in my hands a few hundred years ago. Women were kept in their places, then.”
He was even frenzied45 enough to think over what he would have done, if such a thing had been—of her utter helplessness against that which raged in him—of the grey thickness of the walls where he might have held and wrought46 his will upon her—insult, torment47, death. His alcohol-excited brain ran riot—but, when it did its foolish worst, he was baffled by one thing.
“Damn her!” he found himself crying out. “If I had hung her up and cut her into strips she would have died staring at me with her big eyes—without uttering a sound.”
There was a long reach between his imaginings and the time he lived in. America had not been discovered in those decent days, and now a man could not beat even his own wife, or spend her money, without being meddled48 with by fools. He was thinking of a New York young woman of the nineteenth century who could actually do as she hanged pleased, and who pleased to be damned high and mighty21. For that reason in itself it was incumbent49 upon a man to get even with her in one way or another. High and mightiness50 was not the hardest thing to reach. It offered a good aim.
His temper when he returned to Stornham was of the order which in past years had set Rosalie and her child shuddering and had sent the servants about the house with pale or sullen51 faces. Betty's presence had the odd effect of restraining him, and he even told her so with sneering52 resentment53.
“There would be the devil to pay if you were not here,” he said. “You keep me in order, by Jove! I can't work up steam properly when you watch me.”
He himself knew that it was likely that some change would take place. She would not stay at Stornham and she would not leave his wife and child alone with him again. It would be like her to hold her tongue until she was ready with her infernal plans and could spring them on him. H............
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