THE COMING OF ABEL BEHENNA IV

Good or bad, it’s good enough for me! Take it or leave it as you like,’ she said, to which he replied quickly: ‘Nay lass! Aught that concerns you is good enow for me. I did but think of you lest you might have pain or disappointment hereafter. If you love Eric better nor me, in God’s name say so, and I think I’m man enow to stand aside. Likewise, if I’m the one, don’t make us both miserable for life!’ Face to face with a difficulty, Sarah’s weak nature proclaimed itself; she put her hands before her face and began to cry, saying– ‘It was my mother. She keeps telling me!’ The silence which followed was broken by Eric, who said hotly to Abel: ‘Let the lass alone, can’t you? If she wants to choose this way, let her. It’s good enough for me–and for you, too! She’s said it now, and must abide by it!’ Hereupon Sarah turned upon him in sudden fury, and cried: ‘Hold your tongue! what is it to you, at any rate?’ and she resumed her crying. Eric was so flabbergasted that he had not a word to say, but stood looking particularly foolish, with his mouth open and his hands held out with the coin still between them. All were silent till Sarah, taking her hands from her face laughed hysterically and said: ‘As you two can’t make up your minds, I’m going home!’ and she turned to go. ‘Stop,’ said Abel, in an authoritative voice. ‘Eric, you hold the coin, and I’ll cry.
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Now, before we settle it, let us clearly understand: the man who wins takes all the money that we both have got, brings it to Bristol and ships on a voyage and trades with it. Then he comes back and marries Sarah, and they two keep all, whatever there may be, as the result of the trading. Is this what we understand?’ ‘Yes,’ said Eric. ‘I’ll marry him on my next birthday,’ said Sarah. Having said it the intolerably mercenary spirit of her action seemed to strike her, and impulsively she turned away with a bright blush. Fire seemed to sparkle in the eyes of both men. Said Eric: ‘A year so be! The man that wins is to have one year.’ ‘Toss!’ cried Abel, and the coin spun in the air. Eric caught it, and again held it between his outstretched hands. ‘Heads!’ cried Abel, a pallor sweeping over his face as he spoke. As he leaned forward to look Sarah leaned forward too, and their heads almost touched. He could feel her hair blowing on his cheek, and it thrilled through him like fire. Eric lifted his upper hand; the coin lay with its head up. Abel stepped forward and took Sarah in his arms. With a curse Eric hurled the coin far into the sea. Then he leaned against the flagstaff and scowled at the others with his hands thrust deep into his pockets. Abel whispered wild words of passion and delight into Sarah’s ears, and as she listened she began to believe that fortune had rightly interpreted the wishes of her secret heart, and that she loved Abel best. Presently Abel looked up and caught sight of Eric’s face as the last ray of sunset struck it. The red light intensified the natural ruddiness of his complexion, and he looked as though he were steeped in blood. Abel did not mind his scowl, for now that his own heart was at rest he could feel unalloyed pity for his friend. He stepped over meaning to comfort him, and held out his hand, saying: ‘It was my chance, old lad. Don’t grudge it me. I’ll try to make Sarah a happy woman, and you shall be a brother to us both!’ ‘Brother be damned!’ was all the answer Eric made, as he turned away. When he had gone a few steps down the rocky path he turned and came back. Standing before Abel and Sarah, who had their arms round each other, he said: ‘You have a year. Make the most of it! And be sure you’re in time to claim your wife! Be back to have your banns up in time to be married on the 11th April. If you’re not, I tell you I shall have my banns up, and you may get back too late.’ ‘What do you mean, Eric? You are mad!’ ‘No more mad than you are, Abel Behenna. You go, that’s your chance! I stay, that’s mine! I don’t mean to let the grass grow under my feet. Sarah cared no more for you than for me five minutes ago, and she may come back to that five minutes after you’re gone! You won by a point only–the game may change.’ ‘The game won’t change!’ said Abel shortly. ‘Sarah, you’ll be true to me? You won’t marry till I return?’ ‘For a year!’ added Eric, quickly, ‘that’s the bargain.’ ‘I promise for the year,’ said Sarah. A dark look came over Abel’s face, and he was about to speak, but he mastered himself and smiled. ‘I mustn’t be too hard or get angry tonight! Come, Eric! we played and fought together. I won fairly. I played fairly all the game of our wooing! You know that as well as I do; and now when I am going away, I shall look to my old and true comrade to help me when I am gone!’ ‘I’ll help you none,’ said Eric, ‘so help me God!’ ‘It was God helped me,’ said Abel simply. ‘Then let Him go on helping you,’ said Eric angrily. ‘The Devil is good enough for me!’ and without another word he rushed down the steep path and disappeared behind the rocks. When he had gone Abel hoped for some tender passage with Sarah, but the first remark she made chilled him. ‘How lonely it all seems without Eric!’ and this note sounded till he had left her at home–and after. Early on the next morning Abel heard a noise at his door, and on going out saw Eric walking rapidly away: a small canvas bag full of gold and silver lay on the threshold; on a small slip of paper pinned to it was written: ‘Take the money and go. I stay. God for you! The Devil for me! Remember the 11th of April.–ERIC SANSON.’ That afternoon Abel went off to Bristol, and a week later sailed on the Star of the Sea bound for Pahang. His money–including that which had been Eric’s–was on board in the shape of a venture of cheap toys. He had been advised by a shrewd old mariner of Bristol whom he knew, and who knew the ways of the Chersonese, who predicted that every penny invested would be returned with a shilling to boot. As the year wore on Sarah became more and more disturbed in her mind. Eric was always at hand to make love to her in his own persistent, masterful manner, and to this she did not object. Only one letter came from Abel, to say that his venture had proved successful, and that he had sent some two hundred pounds to the bank at Bristol, and was trading with fifty pounds still remaining in goods for China, whither the Star of the Sea was bound and whence she would return to Bristol. He suggested that Eric’s share of the venture should be returned to him with his share of the profits. This proposition was treated with anger by Eric, and as simply childish by Sarah’s mother.

by: Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

The following is reprinted from a collection of short stories entitled: Dracula’s Guest. Bram Stoker. London: Routledge, 1914.

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