This attitude of Roland's was a very cruel one. It taught Denas to feel that her secrecy was not her fault. She continually told herself that she would have been glad to talk over her future plans with her parents if they would only have listened to her; that it was not her fault if they were unreasonable and bigoted—not her fault if her mind had grown beyond her surroundings; that her father and mother ought to consider that her education and her companionship with Elizabeth Tresham had led naturally to the craving for a wider life; and that if they give the first they ought in common justice to be ready to consider the consequences with her.
"But they will not," she thought angrily. "They want me to settle down and be content with Tris Penrose. I dare not tell them that Roland loves me. Roland dare not tell them either. I cannot say a word to them about my voice and the money it may make. Roland says any reasonable father and mother would be quite excited at the prospect and glad to go to London with me. But will my father and mother do so? Oh, no! In order to do myself justice I am obliged to run away. It is too bad! Any sensible person would feel sorry for me."
With such specious reasoning she satisfied her conscience, and the afternoon wore away in gathering gloom and fierce scuds of rain. It was nearly dark at four o'clock, and she rose and brought a small round table to the hearth and began to put on it the tea-cups and the bread and butter. As she did so Joan entered the room. Her arms were full of clean clothing, but glancing at the table she threw them above her head, and regardless of the scattered garments cried out:
"Denas! Look to the loaf! Some poor ship be in distress! Pray God it be not your father's."
Then Denas with trembling hands lifted the loaf, which she had inadvertently laid down wrong side upward, and placed it, with a "God save the ship and all in her," in the proper position. But Joan was thoroughly unnerved by the ominous incident, and she sat down with her apron over her head, rocking herself slowly to her inaudible prayer; while Denas, with a resentful feeling she did not try to understand, gathered up the pieces of linen and flannel her mother had apparently forgotten.
Into this scene stepped a young man in the Burrell Court livery. He gave Denas a letter, but refused the offer of a cup of tea, because "the storm was hurrying landward, and he would be busy all to catch the cliff-top before it caught him."
Joan took no notice of the interruption, and Denas felt her trouble over such a slight affair as a turned loaf to be almost a personal offence. In a short time she said: "Mother, your tea is waiting; and I have a letter from Mrs. Burrell, if you care anything about it."
"Aw, my girl, I care little for Mrs. Burrell's letters to-night. She be well and happy, no doubt; and my old dear is in the wind's teeth and pulling hard against a frosty death."
"Father knows the sky and the sea, and I think it is cruel hard of him to take such risks."
"And where will the fishers be who do take no risks? Fish be plenty just before a storm, and the London market-boat waiting for the take; and why wouldn't the men do their duty, danger or no danger?"
"I would rather die than be a fisher's wife."
"Aw, my girl, the heart for one isn't in you."
"I never saw you so nervous before, mother."
"Nervous! Nervous! No, my dear, it be downright fear. I never knew what fear was before. I've gone down-daunted—that be the trouble, Denas. I've had such dreams lately—such creepy-like, ghastly old dreams of wandering in wayless ways covered with water; of seeing the hearth-place full of cold ashes and the lights put out; and of carrying the 'Grief Child' in my breast, a puny, wailing bit of a baby that I could not be rid of, nor yet get away from—sights and sounds after me night and day that do give me a turn to think of; and what they do mean I haven't mind-light for to see. God help us! But I do fear they be signs of trouble. And who goes into the way of trouble but your father? May God save him from it!"
"Trouble is no new thing, mother."
"That be the truth. Trouble be old as the floods of Dava."
"And it does seem to me religious people, who are always talking about trusting God, are a poor, unhappy kind. If you do believe, mother, that God is the good Father you say He is—if you do think He has led millions to His own heavenly city—I wonder at you always fearing that He is going to forget you and let you lose your way and get into all kinds of danger and sorrow."
"There, then! You be right for once, my dear. Your father, he do serve the Lord with gladness, but a wife's heart is nothing but a nest of fear. And it be true that I do not think so much of serving the Lord as of having the Lord serve me; and when it is me and always me, and your heart be top-full of your dismal old self, how can you serve God with gladness? You be right to give me a set-down, Denas. Come, now, what is Mrs. Burrell's letter about? I be pleased and ready to hear it now, my dear."
"This is what she says, mother:
"'DEAR DENAS:—I am troubled about Roland and you. I want very much to talk things over with you. If I offended you when you were at the Court, I am very sorry for it. Come and spend a day next week with me. I will send the carriage to Miss Mohun's.
"Why is she troubled about you and that young man? Is he not in London now?"
"He is here, and there, and everywhere. Would you go to the Court again, mother? I told you how Elizabeth behaved to me."
"Aw, then she had the bride-fever, my dear. She will be come to her senses by this time. Yes, yes, if you aren't very sure how to act, take the kind way rather than the ill way; you will be mostly right, my dear."
Of course Denas had no idea of taking either way, but the invitation furnished her with a reason for wearing her best dress on Monday; and she had been much exercised to find out a cause for this unusual finery. She felt quite excited over this fortunate incident, and she could not avoid a smile when she reflected that Elizabeth had so opportunely furnished her with the very thing she wanted.
Then for an hour or two Joan quite controlled herself. She asked after the news of the upper town, and listened with interest to her daughter's description of the dresses she was helping to fashion. From this topic they glided naturally to Christmas and its coming festivities, and Joan talked a good deal of the new silver watch they had decided to give John as a Christmas gift, and so for some time she was as full of plans and happy hopes as a little child could be.
She did not notice that after a while Denas grew weary and constrained, that speech seemed a trouble to her, that she lost herself frequently in reverie, and was as nearly nervous as she had accused her mother of being. But the conversation finally flagged so much that Joan began to worry about the weather once more. The wind was now frightful, the icy rain rattled against the windows, and at the open door Joan could hear billow on billow, crash on crash, shrieking blast on shrieking blast. She was unable to preserve her cheerfulness. Like all strong hearts in anxiety, she became silent. The platitudes of Denas, dropped without interest, annoyed her; she only moved her head in reply.
Midnight came, and no boats. There was a pitifully frequent opening of cottage doors, and the sudden flashes of fire and candle light that followed revealed always some white, fearful face thrust out into the black night, in the hope of hearing the shouts of the home-coming men. Joan could not keep away from the door; and the yawning of Denas, her shifting movements, her uncontrolled sleepiness, irritated Joan. In great anxiety, companionship not perfectly sympathetic is irritating; mere mortals quiver under its infliction. For Denas could not perceive any special reason for unusual fear; she longed to go to bed and sleep, as she had done many a time before under the same circumstances. She laid the Bible on the table before Joan and said: "Won't you read a psalm and lie down a bit, mother?"
"No. Read for yourself, and to bed then if you want to go."
Denas opened the book. Her father's mark was in the psalms, and she began to read to herself.
Joan's face was beneath her blue apron. David's words did not interpret her at this hour; only her own lips could speak for her own sorrow and fear. There was a deep stillness in the house. Outside the tempest raged wildly. It seemed to Joan as if hours passed in that interval of heart-trembling; she was almost shocked when the old clock gave its long whirring warning and then struck only one. Her first look was to the fire. It wanted replenishing. Her next was at Denas. The girl was fast asleep. Her hands were across the open Bible, her face was dropped upon them. Joan touched her and said not unkindly:
"A little bit of Bible-reading do send people to sleep quick, don't it, Denas?"
"I was so tired, mother."
"Aw, my dear, you be no worse than Christian in the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' He did go to sleep, too, when he was reading his roll. Come, my girl, it is your time for bed. Sitting up won't help you to bear trouble."
"Mother, won't it be time enough to bear trouble when it is really here to be borne?"
"It do seem as if it would. Love be a fearful looker-forward. Go to bed, my girl; maybe you will sleep sorrow away."
So Denas went to bed and did not awake until the grey light of the stormy morning was over everything. She could hear the murmur of voices in the living-room, and she dressed quickly and went there. John Penelles sat by the fire drinking hot tea. His hair had yet bits of ice in it, his face still had the awful shadow that is cast by the passing-by of death. Denas put her arms around his neck and kissed him; she kissed him until she began to sob, and he drew her upon his knee, and held her to his breast, and said in a whisper to her:
"Ten men drowned, my dear, and three frozen to death; but through God's mercy father slipped away from an ugly fate."
"Oh, father, how could you bear it?"
"God help us, Denas, we must bear what is sent."
"What a night it has been! How did you live through it?"
"It's dogged as does it and lives through it. It's dogged as does anything, my dear, all over the world. I stuck to the boat and the boat stuck to me. God Almighty Himself can't help a coward."
The storm continued all day, but began to slacken in intensity at sunset. There was of course no service at Pendree. John, even if he had not been so worn out, could not have reached the place in such a storm, either by land or sea. But the neighbours, without seeming premeditation, gathered in John's cottage at night, and he opened his Bible and read aloud:
"Terrors take hold on him, as waters; a tempest stealeth him away in the night. The east wind carrieth him away, and he departeth; and as a storm hurleth him out of his place."
And it was to these words, with their awful application to the wicked, that Denas listened the last night she intended to spend under her father's roof. John's discourses were nearly always like his nature, tender and persuasive; and this terrible sermon wove itself in and out of her wandering thoughts like a black scroll in a gay vesture. It pained and troubled her, though she did not consider why it should do so. After the meeting was over John was very weary; but he would not go to bed until he had eaten supper. He "wanted his little maid to sit near him for half-an-hour," he said. And he held her hand in his own hand, and gave her such looks of perfect love and blessed her so solemnly and sweetly when at length he left her that she began to sob again and to stand on tiptoe that she might throw her arms around his neck and touch his lips with hers once more.
Her kisses were wet with her tears, and they made John's heart soft and gentle as a baby's. "She be the fondest little maid," he said to his wife. "She be the fondest little maid! I could take a whole year to praise her, Joan, and then I could not say enough."
In reality, the last two days, with their excess of vital emotions, had worn Denas out. Never before had the life into which she was born looked so unlovely to her. She preferred the twitter and twaddle of Priscilla's workroom to the intense realities of an existence always verging on eternity. She dared to contrast those large, heroic fishers, with their immovable principles and their constant fight with all the elemental forces for their daily bread, with Roland Tresham; and to decide that Roland's delicate beauty, pretty, persuasive manners, and fashionable clothing were vastly superior attributes. So she was glad when the morning came, for she was weary of enduring what need no longer be endured.
It still rained, but she put on her best clothing, and Joan was not pleased at her for doing so. She thought she might come home some night when the rain was over and change her dress for the visit to Burrell Court. This difference of opinion made their last meal together a silent one; for John was in a deep sleep and Joan would not have him disturbed. Denas just opened the door and stood a moment looking at the large, placid face on the white pillow. As she turned away, it seemed as if she cut a piece out of her heart; she had a momentary spasm of real physical pain.
Joan had not yet recovered from her night of terror. Her face was grey, her eyes heavy, her heart still beating and aching with some unintelligible sense of wrong or grief. And she looked at her child with such a dumb, sorrowful inquiry that Denas sat down near her and put her head on her mother's breast and asked: "What is it, mother? Have I done anything to grieve you?"
"Not as I know by, dear. I wish you hadn't worn your best dress—dresses do cost money, don't they now?"
"Yes, they do, mother. There then! Shall I take it off? I will, to please you, mother."
"No, no! The will be as good as the deed from my little girl. Maybe you are right, too. Dress do go a long way to pleasing."
"Then good-bye. Kiss me, mother! Kiss me twice! Kiss me again, for father!"
So Joan kissed her child. She smoothed her hair, and straightened her collar, and put in a missed button, and so held her close for a few moments, and kissed her again; and when Denas had reached the foot of the cliff, she was still watching her with the look on her face—the look of a mother who feels as if she still held her child in her arms.
O love! love! love! Is there any sorrow in life like loving?
 Family, race.
A SEA OF SORROW.
"Time the shuttle drives; but we Give to every thread its hue And elect our destiny." —BURLEIGH.
"Life does not make us, we make life."
"He gave me trust, and trust has given me means Once to be false for all." —DRYDEN.
"He at the news Heart-struck, with chilling gripe of sorrow, stood, That all his senses bound." —MILTON.
It had been raining a little when Denas bade her mother farewell, but by the time she reached the top of the cliff the rain had become fog. She stood still awhile and turned her face to the sea, and saw one drift after another roll inland, veiling the beach, and the boats, and the cottages, and leaving the whole scene a spectacle of desolation.
It affected her painfully. The love and hope in her heart did not lift her above the depressing influence of that mournful last view of her home. Was the thing that she was going to do worth while? Was anything in life worth while? The little town had a half-awakened Monday-morning look. Every one seemed to be beginning another week with an "Oh, dear me!" sort of feeling. Miss Priscilla was just dressing her shop window, and as cross as crossed sticks over her employment. She said that Denas was late, and wondered "for goodness' sake why she was so dressed up."
It gave Denas a kind of spiteful pleasure to answer: "She was dressed to go to Burrell Court and spend a day with Mrs. Burrell. When she sent Mr. Burrell word the day she would come the carriage would call for her."
"If you mean the day I can spare you best, I cannot spare you at all this week. There now!"
"I am not thinking of you sparing me, Priscilla. I am waiting for a fine day."
"Upon my word! Am I your mistress or are you mine? And what is more, that Roland Tresham is not coming here again. I have some conscience, thank goodness! and I will not sanction such ways and such carryings on any longer. He is a dishonourable young man."
"Has he not paid you, Priscilla?"
Before Priscilla could find the scathing words she required, an hostler from the Black Lion entered the shop and put a letter into the hand of Denas.
Priscilla turned angrily on the man and ordered him to leave her shop directly. Then she said: "Denas Penelles, you are a bad girl! I am going to write to Mrs. Burrell this day, and to your father and mother also."
"I would not be a fool if I was you, Priscilla."
Denas was reading the letter, and softly smiling as she uttered the careless words. For indeed affairs were at a point now where Priscilla's interference would hurt herself more than others. The note was, of course, from Roland. It told her that all was ready, and that the weather being so bad as to render walking very tiresome and miserable, he had engaged a carriage which would be waiting for her on the west side of the parish church at seven o'clock that night; and her lover would be waiting with it, and if Roland was to be believed, everything joyful and marvellous was waiting also.
This letter was the only sunshine throughout the day. Priscilla's bad temper was in the ascendant, both in the shop and in the workroom. She scolded Denas for working so slowly, she made her unrip whatever she did. She talked at Denas in talking to the other girls, and the girls all echoed and shadowed their mistress' opinions and conduct. Denas smiled, and her smile had in it a mysterious satisfaction which all felt to be offensive. But for the certain advent of seven o'clock, the day would have been intolerable.
About half-past six she put on her hat and cloak, and Miss Priscilla ordered her to take them off. "You are not going outside my house to-night, Denas Penelles," she said. "If you sew until ten o'clock, you will not have done a day's work."
"I am going home, Priscilla. I will work for you no more. You have behaved shamefully to me all day, and I am going home."
Priscilla had not calculated on such a result, and it was inconvenient to her. She began to talk more reasonably, but Denas would listen to no apology. It suited her plans precisely to leave Priscilla in anger, for if Priscilla thought she had gone home she would not of course send any word to her parents. So she left the workroom in a pretended passion, and shut the shop door after her with a clash that made Miss Priscilla give a little scream and the forewoman ejaculate:
"Well, there then! A good riddance of such a bad piece! I do say that for sure."
Very little did Denas care for the opinions of Priscilla and her work-maidens. She knew that the word of any girl there could be bought for a day's wage; she was as willing they should speak evil as well of her. Yet it was with a heart full of anger at the day's petty slights and wrongs that she hastened to the place mentioned by Roland. As she turned into the street at one end the carriage entered it at the other. It came to meet her; it stopped, and Roland leaped to her side. In another moment she was in the carriage. Roland's arm was around her; he was telling her how grateful he was; how happy! how proud! He was promising her a thousand pleasures, giving her hope after hope; vowing an unalterable and never-ending love.
And Denas surrendered herself to his charm. After the last three dreadful days, it did seem a kind of heaven to be taken right out of a life so hard and unlovely and so full of painful emotions; to be kissed and flattered and to be treated like a lady. The four miles she had expected to walk went like a happy dream; she was sorry when they were passed and the bare railway station was reached. It was but a small place lit by a single lamp, but Roland improvised a kind of couch, and told her to sleep while he watched and smoked a cigar.
In a short time he returned, and said that there was no train to Plymouth until midnight; but an express for London would pass in half an hour, and they had better take it. Denas thought a moment, and answered with a decision that made Roland look curiously at her: "No. I will not go to London to be married. I know the preacher at Plymouth. We will wait for the Plymouth train." It was not a very pleasant wait. It was cold and damp and inexpressibly dreary, and Roland could not avoid showing that he was disappointed in not taking the London train.
But the hours go by, no matter to what measure, and midnight came, and the train came, and the comfort and privacy of a first-class carriage restored the lover-like attitude of the runaways. Early in the morning they reached Plymouth, and as soon as possible they sought the house of the Wesleyan preacher. It stood close to the chapel and was readily found. A written message on Roland's card brought him at once to the parlour. He looked with interest and curiosity and some disapproval at the couple.
"Mr. Tresham," he said, glancing at the card which he held in his hand, "you wish me to marry you. I think——" He was going to make some inquiries or objections, but he caught the expression of anxiety in the face of Denas, and then he looked carefully at her and asked:
"Have I not seen you before?"
"Yes, sir, when you preached at St. Penfer last summer. I am the daughter of John Penelles."
"The fisher Penelles?"
"Oh! Yes, Mr. Tresham, I will marry you at once. It will be the best thing, under the circumstances, I am sure. Follow me, sir." As they went along a narrow covered way, he called a servant and gave her an order, and then opening a door ushered the would-be bride and bridegroom into the chapel, and straight to the communion rail.
Denas knelt down there, and for a few moments lost herself in sincere prayer. After all, in great emotion prayer was her native tongue. When she stood up and lifted her eyes, the preacher's wife and two daughters were at her side, and the preacher himself was at the communion table, with the open book in his hand. The bare chapel in the grey daylight; the strange tones of the preacher's voice in the empty place; the strange women at her side—it was all like a dream. She felt afraid to move or to look up. She answered as she was told, and she heard Roland answer also. But his voice did not sound real and happy, and when he took the plain gold ring from the preacher's hand and said after him, "With this ring I thee wed," she raised her eyes to her husband's face. It was pale and sombre. No answering flash of love met hers, and she felt it difficult to restrain her tears.
In truth, Roland was smitten with a sudden irresolution that was almost regret. As Denas knelt praying, there had come to his mind many a dream he had had of his own wedding. He had always thought of it in some old church that would be made to glow with bride-roses and ring with bride-music. Young maidens and men of high degree were to tread the wedding march with him. Dancing and feasting, gay company and rich presents, were to add glory to some fair girl wife, whom he would choose because, of all others, she was the loveliest; and the wealthiest, and the most to be desired.
And then his eyes fell upon the girl at his feet, in her plain dark dress crushed and disordered with a night's travel; the bare, empty chapel; the utter want of music, flowers, company, or social support of any kind; the small, rigid-looking preacher without surplice or insignia of holy office; the half-expressed disapproval on the countenances of the three women present as witnesses—it was not thus Elizabeth was married; it was not thus he himself ought to have been married. How the surroundings might affect Denas he did not even think; and yet the poor girl also had had her dreams, which this cold, dreary reality in no measure redeemed.
But the ring was on her finger; she was Roland's wife. Nothing could ever make her less. She heard the preacher say: "Come into the vestry, Mrs. Tresham, and sign the register." And then Roland gave her his arm and kissed her, and she went with the little company, and took the pen from her husband's hand, and wrote boldly for the last time her maiden name:
Roland looked inquiringly at her, and she smiled and answered: "That is right, dear. I was christened Denasia."
Very small things pleased Roland, and the new name delighted him. All the way to London he spoke frequently of it. "You are now Denasia, my darling," he said. "Let the old name slip with the old life. Besides, Denasia is an excellent public name. You can sing under it splendidly. Such a noble name! Why did you let everyone spoil it?"
"Everyone thought Denas was my name. Father and mother always called me Denas, and people forgot that it was only part of my name. Fisher-folk have short names, or nicknames."
"But, really, Denasia Penelles is a very distinguished name. A splendid one for the public."
"Why not Denasia Tresham?"
"Because, my dear, there are Treshams living in London who would be very angry at me if I put their name on a bill-board. The Treshams are a very proud family."
"Roland, it would kill my father if I put his name on anything that refers to a theatre. You don't know how he feels on that subject. It is a thing of life and death—I mean the soul's life or death—to him."
A painful discussion, in which both felt hurt and angry and both spoke in very affectionate terms, followed. It lasted until they reached the great city which stretches out her hands to every other city. Roland had secured rooms in a very dull, respectable house in Queen's Square, Bloomsbury. He had often stayed there when his finances did not admit of West End luxuries, and the place was suitable for many other reasons.
Then followed two perfectly happy weeks for Denas. She had written a few lines to her parents while waiting for a train at Exeter, and she then resolved not to permit herself to grieve about their grief, because it could do them no good and it would seriously worry and annoy Roland. And Roland was so loving and generous. At his command modistes and milliners turned his plebeian bride into a fashionable, and certainly into a very lovely lady. She had more pretty costumes than she had ever dreamed of; she had walking-hats and dress-hats, and expensive furs, and she grew more beautiful with each new garment. They went to theatres and operas; they went riding and walking; they had cosey little dinners at handsome restaurants; and Roland never once named money, or singing, or anything likely to spoil the charm of the life they were leading.
During this happy interval Denas did not quite forget her parents. She wrote to them once, and she very often wondered through whom and in what manner they received the news of their loss. It was her own hand which dealt the blow. Miss Priscilla really thought Denas had gone back to her home, and she resolved on the following Sunday afternoon to walk down to the fishing village and "make it up" with her. About Wednesday, however, there began to be floating rumours of the truth. Several people called on Priscilla and asked after the whereabouts of Denas; and the landlord of the Black Lion was talking freely of the large bill Roland had left unsettled there. But none of these rumours reached the ears of the fisher-folk, nor were they likely to do so until the St. Penfer Weekly News appeared. The first three days of the week had been so foggy that no boat had cared to risk a sail over the bar; but on Thursday morning all was clear, and the men were eager to get out to sea. John Penelles was hastening toward his boat, when he heard a voice calling him. It was the postman, and he turned and went to meet him.
"Here be a letter for you, John Penelles. Exeter postmark. I came a bit out of my way with it. I thought you would be looking for news."
The man was thinking of Denas and the reports about her flight; but John's unconcern puzzled him, and he did not care to say anything more definite to the big fisherman. And, as it happened, a letter was expected from Plymouth, on chapel business; for the very preacher who had married Roland and Denas had been asked to come to St. Penfer and preach the yearly missionary sermon. John had no doubt this letter from Exeter referred to the matter. He said so to the postman, and with the unconscious messenger of sorrow in his hand went back to his cottage.
For letters were unusual events with John. If this referred to the missionary service, he would have to read it in public next Sunday, and he was much pleased and astonished that it should have been sent to him. He felt a certain importance in the event, and was anxious to share his little triumph with his "old dear." Joan did not quite appreciate his consideration. She had her hands in the dough, and her thoughts were upon the pipeclaying which she was going to give to the flagged floor of her cottage. She had hoped men-folks with their big boots would keep away until her work was dry and snow-white.
"Here be a letter from Exeter, Joan, to me. 'Twill be about the missionary service. I thought you would like to know, my dear."
"Hum-m-m!" answered Joan. "I could have done without the news, John, till the bread was baked and the floor was whitened." She had her back to John, but, as he did not speak again, she turned her face over her shoulder and looked at him. The next moment she was at his side.
"What is it, John? John Penelles, speak to me."
John stood on the hearth with his left arm outstretched and holding an open letter. His eyes were fixed on it. His face had the rigid, stubborn look of a man who on the very point of unconsciousness arrests his soul by a peremptory act of will. He stood erect, stiff, speechless, with the miserable slip of white paper at the end of his outstretched arm.
Joan gently forced him back into his chair; she untied his many neckcloths; she bared his broad, hairy chest; she brought him water to drink; and at length her tears and entreaties melted the stone-like rigour; his head fell forward, his eyes closed, his hand unclasped, and the letter fell to the floor. It did not interest Joan; nothing on earth was of interest to her while her husband was in that horror of stubborn suffering.
"John," she whispered, with her face against his face—"John! My John! My good heart, be yourself and tell Joan what is the matter. Is it sickness of your body, John? Is it trouble of your mind, John? Be a man, and speak to God and to me. God is our refuge and our strength—think o' that. A very present help in trouble—present, not a long way off, John, not in heaven; but here in your heart and on your hearth. Oh, John! John! do speak to me."
"To be sure, Joan! The letter, dear; read it—read it aloud—I may be mistaken—it isn't possible, I'm sure. God help us both!"
Joan lifted the letter and read aloud the words written so hastily in a few moments of time, but which brought to two loving hearts years of anxious sorrow:
"'DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER:—I have just been married to Roland Tresham, and we are on our way to London. I love Roland so much, I hope you will forgive me. I will write more from London. Your loving child,
"Oh, Joan, my dear! My heart be broken! My heart be broken! My heart be broken!"
"Now, John, don't you be saying such wisht dismal, ugly words. A heart like yours is hard to break. Not even a bad daughter can do it. Oh, my dear, don't you talk like that there! Don't, John."
"'Tis the Lord's will, Joan—I do know that."
"It be nothing of the kind, John. It be the devil's will when a child do wrong such love as yours and mine. And there, now! Will you break your brave old heart, that has faced death a hundred times, for the devil? No, 'tis not like to be, I'm sure. Look at the worst of it. Denas does say she be married. She does write her name with his name. What then? Many a poor father and mother have drunk the cup we be drinking—nothing strange have come to us."
"I do not believe she be the man's wife."
"Aw, my dear, I do believe it. And Denas be my daughter, and I will not let you or any other man say but that she be all of an honest woman. 'Tis slander against your awn flesh and blood to say different, John." And Joan spoke so warmly that her temper had a good effect upon her husband. It was like a fresh sea-breeze. He roused himself and sat upright, and began to listen to his wife's words.
"Denas be gone away—gone away for ever from us—never more our little maid—never more! All this be true. But, John, her heart was gone a long time ago. Our poor ways were her scorn; she have gone to her awn, my dear, and we could not keep her. 'Tis like the young gull you brought home one day, and, when it was grown, no love kept it from the sea. You gave it of your best, and it left you; it lay in your breast, John, and it left you. My dear! my dear! she be the man's wife. Say that and feel that and stick to that. He be no son to us, that be sure; but Denas is our daughter. And maybe, John, things are going to turn out better than you think for. Denas be no fool."
"Oh, Joan, how could she?"
At this point Joan broke down and began to sob passionately, and John had to turn comforter. And thus the painful hours went by, and the bread was not baked, and the boats went to sea without John; and the two sorrowful hearts sat together on their lonely hearth and talked of the child who had run away from their love. They were uncertain what to say to their neighbours, uncertain what their neighbours would say to them. John thought he ought to go to Exeter and see all the clergymen there, and so find out if Denas had been lawfully married. Joan thought it "a wisht poor business to go looking for bad news. Sit at your fireside, old man, or go far out to sea if you like it better, and if bad news be for you it will find you out, do be sure of that."
The next day it did find them out. The St. Penfer News, published on Thursday, which was market-day, contained the following item: "On Monday night the daughter of John Penelles, fisher, ran off with Mr. Roland Tresham. The guilty pair went direct to London. Great sympathy is felt for the girl's father, who is a thoroughly upright man and a Wesleyan local preacher of the St. Penfer circuit."
One of the brethren thought it his duty to show this paragraph to John. And the "old man" in John gained the mastery, and with a great oath he swore the words were a lie. Then, being sneeringly contradicted, he felled "the man of duty" prone upon the shingle. Then he went home and thoroughly terrified Joan. The repressed animal passion of a lifetime raged in him like a wild beast. He used words which horrified his wife, he kicked chairs and tables out of his way like a man drunk with strong liquor. He said he would go to St. Merryn's and get his money, and follow Roland and Denas to the end of the world; and if they were not married, they should marry or die—both of them. He walked his cottage floor the night through, and all the powers of darkness tortured and tempted him.
For the first time in all their wedded life Joan dared not approach her husband. He was like a giant in the power of his enemies, and his struggles were terrible. But she knew well that he must fight and conquer alone. Hour after hour his ceaseless tramp, tramp, tramp went on; and she could hear him breathing inwardly like one who has business of life and death in hand.
Toward dawn she lost hold of herself and fell asleep. When she awoke it was broad daylight, and all was still in the miserable house. Softly she opened the door and looked into the living-room. John was on his knees; she heard his voice—a far-off, awful voice—the voice of the soul and not of the body. So she went back, and with bowed head sat down on the edge of her bed and waited. Very cold was the winter morning, but she feared to make a movement. She knew it was long past the breakfast hour; she heard footsteps passing, the shouts of the fishers, the cries of the sea-birds; she believed it to be at least ten o'clock.
But she sat breathlessly still. John was wrestling as Jacob wrestled; a movement, a whisper might delay the victory or the blessing. She almost held her breath as the muttered pleading grew more and more rapid, more and more urgent. Then there was a dead silence, a pause, a long deep sigh, a slow movement—and John opened the door and said softly, "Joan." There was the light of victory on his face; the cold strong light of a lifted sword. Then he sat down by her side; but what he told her and how she comforted him belong to those sacred, secret things which it is a sacrilege against love to speak of.
They went together to the cold hearth, and kindled the fire, and made the meal both urgently needed, and, as they ate it, John spoke of the duty before him. He had sworn at Jacob Trenager and knocked him down; he had let loose all the devils within him; he had failed in the hour of his trial, and he must resign his offices of class leader and local preacher.
It was a bitter personal humiliation. How his enemies would rejoice! Where he had been first, he must be last. After he had eaten, he took the plan out of the Bible and looked at it. As he already knew, he was appointed to preach at St. Clair the following evening. He had prepared his sermon on those three foggy days that began the week. He then thought he had never been so ready for a preaching, and he had the desire of a natural orator for his occasion. But how could he preach to others when he had failed himself? The flight of his daughter was in every mouth, and in some measure he would be held responsible for her sin. Was not Eli punished for his son's transgressions? The duty before him was a terrible one. It made his brown face blanch and his strong, stern mouth quiver with mental anguish.
But he laid the plan on the table and crossed out carefully all the figures which represented John Penelles. Then he wrote a few lines to the superintendent and enclosed his self-degradation. Joan wondered what he would do about the St. Clair appointment, for he had asked no one to take his place, and early in the afternoon he told her to get the lantern ready, as he was going there. She divined what he purposed to do, and she refused to go with him. He did not oppose her decision; perhaps he was glad she felt able to spare herself and him the extra humiliation.
Never had the little chapel been so crowded. All his mates from the neighbouring villages were present; for everyone had some share of that itching curiosity that likes to see how a soul suffers. A few of the leaders spoke to him; a great many appeared to be lost in those divine meditations suitable to the house of worship. John's first action awakened everyone present to a sense of something unusual. He refused to ascend the pulpit. He passed within the rails that enclosed the narrow sacred spot below the pulpit, drew the small table forward, and, without the preface of hymn or prayer, plunged at once into his own confession of unworthiness to minister to them. He read aloud the letter which he had received from his daughter, and averred his belief in its truthfulness. He told, with the minutest veracity, every word of his quarrel with Jacob Trenager. He confessed his shameful and violent temper in his own home; his hatred and his desire and purposes of revenge; and he asked the pardon of Trenager and of every member of the church which had been scandalized by the action of his daughter and by his own sinfulness.
His voice, sad and visibly restrained by a powerful will, throbbed with the burning emotions which made the man quiver from head to feet. It was impossible not to feel something of the anguish that looked out of his large patient eyes and trembled on his lips. Women began to sob hysterically, men bent their heads low or covered their faces with their hands; an irresistible wave of sorrow and sympathy was carrying every soul with it.
But, even while John was speaking, a man rose and walked up the aisle to the table at which John stood. He turned his face to the congregation, and, lifting up his big hand, cried out:
"Be quiet, John Penelles. I be to blame in this matter. I be the villain! There isn't a Cornishman living that be such a Judas as I be. 'Twas under my old boat Denas Penelles found the love-letters that couldn't have come to her own home. Why did I lend my boat and myself for such a cruel bad end? Was it because I liked the young man? No, I hated him. What for, then?" He put his hand in his pocket, took out a piece of gold, and, in the sight of all, dashed it down on the table.
"That's what I did it for. One pound! A wisht beggarly bit of money! Judas asked thirty pieces. I sold Paul Pyn for one piece, and it was too much—too much for such a ghastly, mean old rascal. I be cruel sorry—but there then! where be the good of 'sorry' now? That bit of gold have burnt my soul blacker than a coal! dreadful! aw, dreadful! I wouldn't touch it again to save my mean old life. And if there be a man or a woman in Cornwall that will touch it, they be as uncommon bad as I be! that is sure."
"Paul, I forgive you, and there is my hand upon it. A man can only be 'sorry.' 'Sorry' be all that God asks," said John Penelles in a low voice.
"I be no man, John. I be just a cruel bad fellow. I never had a child to love me or one to love. No woman would be my wife. I be kind of forsaken—no kith or kin to care about me," and, with his brown, rugged face cast down, he began to walk toward the door. Then Ann Bude rose in the sight of all. She went to his side; she took his hand and passed out of the chapel with him. And everyone looked at the other, for Paul had loved Ann for twenty years and twenty times at least Ann had refused to be his wife. But now, in this hour of his shame and sorrow, she had gone to his side, and a sigh and a smile passed from heart to heart and from face to face.
John stood still, with his eyes fixed on the piece of gold. It lay on the table like a guilty thing. All Pyn's sin seemed to have passed into it. Men and women stood up to look at it where it lay—the wretched tool of a bad man. It was a relief when Jacob Trenager gave out a hymn, a greater relief that John Penelles went out while they were singing it. Brothers and sisters all wished to talk about John and John's trouble, but to talk to him in his grief and humiliation was a different thing. Only the old chapel-keeper watched him going along the rocky coast at a dangerous speed, his lantern swinging wildly to his big strides.
But a five-minutes' walk brought John to a place where he was alone with God and the sea. Oh, then, how he cried out for pity! for comfort! for help! for forgiveness! His voice was not the inaudible pleading of a man praying in his chamber; it was like the despairing call of a strong swimmer in the death-billows. It went out over the ocean; it went out beyond time and space; it touched the heart of the Divinity who pitieth the sufferers, "even as a father pitieth his children."
There was a glow of firelight through his cottage window, but no candle. Joan was bending sorrowfully over the red coals. John was glad of the dim light, glad of the quiet, glad of the solitude, for Joan was only his other self—his sweeter and more hopeful self. He told her all that had passed. She stood up beside him, she held his head against her breast and let him sob away there the weight of grief and shame that almost choked him. Then she spoke bravely to the broken-down, weary man:
"John, my old dear, don't you sit on the ash-heap like Job, and bemoan yourself and your birthday, and go on as if the devil had more to do with you than with other Christians. Speak up to your Heavenly Father, and ask Him 'why,' and answer Him like a man; do now! And go to Exeter in the morning, and make yourself sure that Denas be a honest woman. I, her mother, be sure of it; but there then! men do be so bad themselves, they can't trust their own hearts, nor their own ears and eyes. 'I believe' will make a woman happy; but a man, God knows, they must go to the law and the testimony, or they are not satisfied. It's dreadful! dreadful!"
They talked the night away, and early in the morning John went to Exeter. With the proofs of his daughter's marriage in his hand, he felt as if he could face his enemies. Joan was equal to them without it. She knew they would find her out, and they found her singing at her work. Her placid face and cheery words of welcome nonplussed the most spiteful; the majority who came to triumph over her went away without being able to say one of the many evil thoughts in their hearts; and not a few found themselves hoping and wishing good things for the bride.
But it was a great effort, and many times that day Joan went into the inner room, and buried her face in her pillow, and had her cry out. Only she confidently expected John to bring back the proofs of her child's marriage, and in that expectation she bore without weakening the slant eye, and the shrugged shoulder, and the denying looks of her neighbours. And of course John found no minister in Exeter who had married Denas Penelles and Roland Tresham; and it never once struck him that Denas had been married in Plymouth and found no time to write until she reached Exeter. Neither did Joan think of such a possibility; yet when her husband came in without a word and sat down with a black, stubborn face, she knew that he had been disappointed.
That night John held his peace, even from good; and Joan felt that for once she must do the same. So they sat together without candle, without speech, bowed to the earth with shame, feeling with bitter anguish that their old age had been beggared of love, and honour, and hope, and happiness; and, alas! so beggared by the child who had been the joy and the pride of their lives.
At the same hour Denas sat with Roland in one of the fine restaurants to be found in High Holborn. They had eaten of the richest viands, the sparkle of the champagne cup was in both their eyes, and they were going anon to the opera. Denas had a silk robe on and a little pink opera cloak. Her long pale gloves and her bouquet of white roses were by her side. Roland was in full evening dress. Their eyes flashed; their cheeks flamed with pleasant anticipations. They rose from their dinner with smiles and whispered love-words; and Roland ordered with the air of a lord, "A carriage for the opera."
From John and Joan these events were mercifully hidden. It is only God who can bear the awful light of omniscience and of omnipresence. The things we cannot see! The things we never know! Let us be unspeakably grateful for this blessed ignorance! For many a heart would break that lives on if it only knew—if it only saw—how unnecessary was its love to those it loves so fondly!
A PIECE OF MONEY AND A SONG.
"Tis but a Judas coin, though it be gold; The price of love forsworn, 'tis full of fears And griefs for those who dare to hold; And leaves a stain, only washed clean with tears."
"Behold and listen while the fair Breaks in sweet sounds the willing air; She raised her voice so high, and sang so clear, At every close she made the attending throng Replied, and bore the burthen of the song; So just, so small, yet in so sweet a note, It seemed the music melted in the throat." —DRYDEN.
The piece of money left by Pyn might have been a curse; no one would touch it. While the women stood in groups talking of poor John Penelles and Denas, the men held an informal meeting around the table on which it lay.
"This be the communion table," said Jacob Trenager; "some one ought to take the money off it. And I think it be best to carry the gold to the superintendent; he will tell us what to do with it;" and, after some objections, Jacob took charge of the sinful coin, and the next morning he went up the cliff to St. Penfer with it.
The preacher heard the story with an intense interest. "Jacob," he answered, "I suppose there be none so poor in your village as to feel it might do them good?"
"Man, nor woman, nor child, would buy a loaf with it, sir; none of us men would let them. If Denas Penelles have gone out of the way, sir, she be a fisher's daughter, and the man and the money that beguiled her be hateful to all of us."
"Your chapel—is it not very poor?"
"Not poor enough to take the devil's coin, sir."
"Well, Jacob, I cannot say that I feel any more disposed to use it than you do. We know it was the wage of sin, and neither the service of God nor the poor will be the better for it. I think we will give it back to the young man. It may help to show him how his fellows regard the thing he did."
"That be the best way of all, sir. But he be in London, and hard to find no doubt."
"I will take it to his sister. I do not hold her quite guiltless."
So Jacob threw the sovereign on the preacher's desk, and it lay on the green baize, a yellow, evil-looking thing. For men love to make their thoughts palpable to their senses, and this bit of gold was visible sin—part of the price of a desolated home.
It was singular to see this same personification troubling the educated preacher as well as the unlearned fisherman. The Rev. William Farrar, when left alone with the unwelcome coin, looked askance at it. He did not like to see it on his desk, he had a repugnance to touch it. Then he forced himself to lift the sovereign, and by an elaborate fingering of the coin convince his intellect that he had no foolish superstition on the subject. Anon he took out his purse for its safe keeping, but suddenly, after a moment's hesitation, he snapped the clasp tight, and threw the bit of money on the chimney-piece. For a momentary flash of thought had brought vividly before him the sinful Babylonish garment which troubled the camp of Israel. Perhaps that sinful money might be equally malign to his own household.
He had resolved to take it to Mrs. Burrell in the afternoon, for the morning was his time for study and writing. But he found it impossible to think of his sermon. That sovereign on the mantelpiece was in all his thoughts. His back was to it, and yet he saw the dull shining disc. In spite of his reason and his faith, in spite of a very strong will and of a practiced command over himself, he felt the presence of the rejected coin to be a weight and an influence he could not pretend to ignore.
So he resolved to leave every other duty and go to Burrell Court, though it was a long walk, and the thick misty Cornish rain had begun to fall. Indeed, there was nothing but a vapourish shroud, a dim, grey chaos, as far as his eye could reach. The strip of road on which he trod was apparently the only land left to tread on—all the rest of creation had disappeared in a spectral mist. But above the mist the lark was singing joyously, singing for the song's sake, and the melody went down into his heart and preached him a better sermon than he was ever likely to write.
Listening to it, he reached, before he was aware, the great gates of the Court. Mrs. Burrell was at home, and he sent a request for an interview. Elizabeth instantly suspected that he had come on some affair relating to that wretched business. She was in trouble enough about it, but she was also proud and reticent, and not inclined to discuss Roland with a stranger.
Quite intentionally she gave to her manner a good deal of that haughtiness which young wives think dignity, but which is in reality the offensive freshness of new-made honour. The preacher offered her his hand, but she did not see it, being fully occupied in arranging the long train of cashmere, silk, and lace which, in those days, made morning dresses a misnomer.
"I am the Wesleyan preacher from St. Penfer, Mrs. Burrell."
"Can I do anything for you, sir? though really, if yours is a charitable visit, I must remind you that my own church looks to me for all I can possibly afford."
"I do not come, Mrs. Burrell, to ask for money. I bring you this sovereign, which belongs to Mr. Roland Tresham."
The gold fell from his fingers, spun round a few times, and, dropping upon the polished mahogany table, made a distinct clink.
"I do not understand you, Mr. Farrar."
The preacher hastened to make the circumstance more intelligible. He related the scene at the St. Clair chapel with a dramatic force that sprang from intense feeling, and Elizabeth listened to his solemn words with angry uneasiness. Yet she made an effort to treat the affair with unconcern.
"What have I to do with the sovereign, sir?" she asked. "I am not responsible for Mr. Tresham's acts. I did my best to prevent the disgrace that has befallen the fisherman's daughter."
"I think you are to blame in a great measure."
"Yes. I am sure you are. You made a companion of the girl—I may say a friend."
"No, sir, not a friend. She was not my equal in any respect."
"Say a companion then. You taught her how to dress, how to converse, how to carry herself above her own class. You permitted her to wander about the garden with your brother."
"I always watched them."
"You let her talk to him—you let her sing with him."
"Never but when I was present. From the first I told her what Roland was—told her to mind nothing at all he said."
"If you had put a glass of cold water before a man dying of thirst, would you have been justified in telling him not to drink? You might even have added that the water contained poison; all the same, he would have drunk it, and your blame it would be for putting it within his reach."
"Indeed, Mr. Farrar, I will not take the blame of the creature's wickedness. It is a strange thing to be told that educating a girl and trying to lift her a step or two higher is a sin."
"It is a sin, madam, unless you persevere in it. God does not permit the rich, for their own temporary glory or convenience, to make experiments with an immortal soul, and then abandon it like a soiled glove or a game of which they have grown weary. What you began you ought in common justice to have carried on to such perfection as was possible. No circumstances could justify you in beguiling a girl from her natural protectors and then leaving her in the midst of danger alone."
"Sir, this is my affair, not yours. I beg leave to say that you know nothing whatever of the circumstances."
"Indeed, I know a great deal about them, and I can reasonably deduce a great deal more."
"And pray, sir, what do you deduce?"
"The right of Denas Penelles to have been retained as your companion. Having made a certain refinement of life necessary to her, you ought in common justice to have supplied the want you created."
"All this trouble arose when I was on my wedding-trip."
"I think you ought to have taken her with you."
"I think so. It was hard to be suddenly deprived of every social pleasure and refinement and sent back to a fisher's cottage to cure fish, and knot nets, and knit fishing-shirts. How could you have borne it?"
"Mr. Farrar, such a comparison is an insult."
"I mean no insult; far from it. Even my office would give me no right to insult you. I only wish to awaken your conscience. Even yet it may take up your abandoned duty."
"Perhaps you do not know that I endeavoured last week to see Denas. I wrote to her. I asked her to come and see me. I told her I wanted to talk with her about Mr. Tresham. She did not even answer my letter. I consider myself clear of the ungrateful girl—and as I am busy this morning I will be obliged to you, sir, to excuse my further attendance. Take the sovereign with you; give it to the poor."
"God will feed His poor, madam."
She made a little scornful laugh and asked: "Do you really inquire into the character of all the money your church receives?"
"No further, madam, than you inquire into the character of the visitors you receive. Plenty of thieves and seducers are in every society, but it is not until a man is publicly known to be a thief or a seducer that we are justified in refusing him a courteous reception. A great deal of money is the wages of sin, and it passes through our hands and we are not stained by its contact; but if I give you a piece of gold and say, 'It is the price of a slain soul, or a slain body, or a slain reputation,' would you like to put it in your purse, or buy bread for your children with it, or take it to church and offer it to God? I wish you good-morning, Mrs. Burrell."
And Elizabeth bowed and stood watching him until the door was closed and she was alone with the coin. It offended her. It had been the cause of a most humiliating visit. She looked at it with scorn and loathing. A servant entered with a card; she took it eagerly, and pointing to the money said, "Carry it to Mr. Tresham's room and lay it upon the dressing-table." She was grateful to get it out of her sight, and very glad indeed to see the visitor who had given her such a prompt opportunity for ridding her eyes of its gleaming presence.
Thus it is that not only present but absent personalities rule us. In St. Penfer, Paul Pyn and Ann Bude, John and Joan Penelles, the Rev. Mr. Farrar and Mrs. Burrell, were all that morning governed in some degree by Roland's evilly spent sovereign; and he far off in London was in the hey-day of his honeymoon with Denas. They were so gay, so thoughtless and happy that people turned to look at them as they wandered through the bazars or stood laughing before the splendid windows in Regent Street. Many an old man and woman smiled sympathetically at them; for all the world loves a lover, and none could tell that these lovers had forfeited their right to sympathy by stealing their pleasure from those who ought to have shared it with them.
But as yet the world was only an accident of their love, and there was a whole week before them of unbroken and unsatiated delight—a whole week in which neither of them thought of the past or the future; in which every hour brought a fresh pleasure, something new to wear, or to see, or to hear. If it could only have lasted! Alas! the ability to enjoy went first. Amusements of every kind grew a little—a very little—tiresome. The first glory was dimmed; the charm of freshness was duller; the unreasoning delight of ignorance a little less enthusiastic every day; and about the close of the third week Roland said one morning, "You look weary, Denasia, my darling."
"I am tired, Roland—tired of going a-pleasuring. I never thought anything like that could possibly happen. Ought I not to be taking lessons, learning something, doing something about my voice?"
"It is high time, love. Money melts in London like ice in summer. Suppose we go and see Signor Maria this morning."
"I would like to go very much."
"Then make yourself very fine and very pretty, and let me hear if your voice is in good order to-day." He went to the piano and struck a few chords, and throughout the still, decorous house, people in every room heard the sweet voice chanting:
"I will go back to the great sweet mother, Mother and lover of men—the sea"—
heard it again in the weird, startling incantation:
"Weave me the nets for the gray, gray fish"—
and up and down stairs doors were softly opened, and through every heart there went a breath of the salt sea and a longing for the wide stretches of rippled sands and tossing blue waters.
Roland perceived the effect of the music and was satisfied. He had no fear of their future. What if the gold was low in his purse? That charmful voice was an unfailing bank from which to draw more. He was so proud of his darling, so full of praises and admiration, that Denas really put on an access of genius as she robed herself to his flattering words. Pleasure, and hope, and a pretty pride in her husband's eulogies lent her new physical graces. She was conscious that there were eyes at every window watching Roland and herself leave the house, and she felt certain that their owners were saying: "What a handsome couple! How fond they are of each other! What a wonderful voice she has!"
It is easy to be gay, and even beautiful, to such thoughts; and Roland and Denas reached Signor Maria's in a glow of good-humour and good hope. The Signor was at home and ready to receive them. He was a small, thin, dark man with long, curling black hair and bright black eyes. He bowed to Roland and looked with marked interest into the fair, sparkling face of Denas. He was much pleased with her appearance and quite interested in her ambitions. Then he opened the piano and said, "Will monsieur play, or madame?"
Roland played and Denas sang her very best. The Signor listened attentively, and Roland was sure of an enthusiastic verdict; on the contrary, it was one of depressing qualifications. The Signor acknowledged the quality of the voice, its charmful, haunting tones—but for the opera! oh, much more—very, very much more was needed. Madame must go to Italy for three years and study. She must learn the Italian language; the French; the German. Ah! then there was the acting also! Had madame histrionic power? That was indispensable for the grand opera. But in three years—perhaps four—with fine teachers her voice might be very rich, very charming. Now it was harsh, crude, unformed. Yes, it wanted the soft, mellowing airs of Italy. Where had madame been living—what was called "brought up?"
Denas answered she had always lived by the sea, and the Signor nodded intelligently and said: "Yes! yes! that was what he heard in her voice; the fresh wild winds—yes, wild and salt! It is airs from the rose gardens, velvety languors off the vineyards, heat and passions of the sunshine madame wants. Indeed, monsieur may take madame to Italy for two, three, perhaps four years, and then expect her to sing. Yes, then, even in grand opera."
This was undoubtedly the Signor's honest opinion, but Roland and Denas were greatly depressed by it; Denas especially so, for she had an inward conviction that he was right; she had heard the truth. It was almost two different beings that left Signor Maria's house. Silently Roland handed Denas into the waiting cab, silently he seated himself beside her.
"I am afraid I have disappointed you, Roland."
"Yes, a little. But we are going now to Mr. Harrison's. There is nothing foreign about him. He is English, and he knows what English people like. I shall wait for his verdict, Denas."
"It was a long ride to Mr. Harrison's, and Roland did not speak until they were at his door. This professor was a blond, effusive, large man of enthusiastic temperament. He was delighted to listen to Mrs. Tresham, and he saw possibilities for her that Signor Maria never would have contemplated; though when Roland told him what Maria had said he endorsed his opinion so far as to admit the excellence of such a training for a great prima donna.
"But Mrs. Tresham may learn just as well by experience as by method," he averred. "She sings as the people enjoy singing. She sings their songs. She has a powerful voice, which will grow stronger with use. I think Mr. Willis will give her an immediate engagement. Suppose we go and see. Willis is at the hall, I should say, about this time."
This seemed a practical and flattering offer, and Roland gladly accepted it. Willis Hall was soon reached. It was used only for popular concerts and very slight dramas in which there was a great deal of singing and dancing. It had a well-appointed stage and scenery, but the arrangement of the seats showed a general democracy and a great freedom of movement for the audience.
"Willis is always on the lookout for novelties," said Professor Harrison, "and I am sure these fishing songs will 'fetch' such an audience as he has."
As he was speaking Mr. Willis approached. He listened to Professor Harrison's opinion and kept his eyes on Denas while he did so. He thought her appearance taking, and was pleased to give her voice a trial. The hall was empty and very dull, but a piano was pulled forward to the front of the stage and Roland took his seat before it. Denas was told to step to the front and sing to the two gentlemen in the gallery. They applauded her first song enthusiastically, and Denas sang each one better. But it was not their applause she listened to—it was the soft praises of Roland, his assurances of her success, which stimulated her even beyond her natural power.
At the conclusion of the trial Mr. Willis offered Denas twelve pounds a week, and if she proved a favourite the sum was to be gradually increased. The sum, though but a pittance of Roland's dreams, was at least a livelihood and an earnest of advance, and it was readily accepted. Then the little company sat down upon the empty stage and discussed the special songs and costumes in which Denas was to make her debut.
Never before in all his life had Roland found business so interesting. He said to Denas, as they talked over the affair at their own fireside, that he thought he also had found his vocation. He felt at home on the stage. He never had felt at home in a bank or in a business office. He was determined to study, and create a few great characters, and become an actor. He felt the power; it was in him, he said complacently. "Now," he added, "Denas, if you become a great singer and I a great actor, we shall have the world at our feet. And I like actors and those kind of people. I feel at home with them. I like the life they lead—the jolly, come-day go-day, wandering kind of life. I never was meant for a respectable man of business. No: the stage! the stage! That is my real life. I am certain of it. I wonder I never thought of it before."
It had been arranged that Denas was to open with Neil Gow's matchless song of "Caller Herrin'!" and her dress was of course that of an idealized Newhaven fisher-girl. Her short, many-coloured skirts, her trig latched shoon, her open throat, and beautiful bare arms lifted to the basket upon her head was a costume which suited her to admiration. When she came stepping down the stage to the immortal notes, and her voice thrilled the house with the ringing musical "cry" that none hear and ever forget:
Cal-ler her-rin'! cal-ler her-rin'! cal-ler her-rin'!
the assembly broke into rapturous delight. It was a song not above their comprehension and their feeling. It was interpreted by one to whom the interpretation was as natural as breathing. She was recalled again, and again, and again, and the uproar of approval only ceased when the next singer advanced with a roll of music in his hand. He was a pale, sentimental young man whose forte was despairing love-songs, but
"The last links are broken That bound me to thee"
had little interest after Mademoiselle Denasia's unique melody. For it was by this name Denas had consented to be known, the French prefix having but a very indefinite significance to her mind. Roland had told her that it meant a lady, and that all singers were either mademoiselle or madame, and that she was too young for madame, and the explanation had been satisfactory.
Certainly, if signs could be trusted Mademoiselle Denasia was likely to be a name in many mouths; for her second and third songs were even more startling in their success than "Caller Herrin'," and Mr. Willis would permit no further recalls.
"We must give them Denasia in small doses," he said, laughing; "she is too precious to make common," and Roland winced a moment at the familiar tone in which his wife's name was spoken. But both alike were under a spell. The intoxicating cup of public applause was at their lips. Their brains were full of the wildest dreams, their hearts full of the wildest hopes. No consideration at that time could have turned their feet aside from the flower-covered, treacherous path they were so gayly treading.
Such a life would have simply been beyond the power of John and Joan Penelles to imagine. Its riot of dress and emotions and its sinful extravagance in every direction would have been to them an astounding revelation of the possibilities of life. As it was, their anxiety took mainly one direction: the uncertainty attending the marriage of their daughter. Denas had indeed said she was Roland's wife, but the St. Penfer News implied a very different relationship; and John had all that superstitious belief in a newspaper which is so often an attribute of ignorance.
At any rate, the want of authentic data about the marriage humiliated and made him miserable. Two more weeks had passed since that eventful Sunday night service at St. Clair, and yet John had no assurance of a more certain character to rely on. Three or four illustrated papers had been received with "love from your daughter, Denas Tresham," written on the title-page; but the claim thus made satisfied no one but Joan. Joan believed in the validity of the name, and handed around the sheets with a confidence few cared to in any degree dispute.
The third Sunday was an important one to the fisher-folk. There was to be a missionary sermon preached in the St. Clair chapel, and John and Joan went there. The chapel was crowded. Joan got a seat, but John lingered in the small vestibule within the door among the few brethren waiting for the strange preacher. It was the same person who had married Roland and Denas, and after he had shaken himself free from his dripping cloak he looked at the men around him, and his eyes fell upon John. And probably all the circumstances of that marriage were either well known or accurately divined, for he took the big fisherman by the hand and said cheerfully:
"John Penelles, I am glad, very glad indeed to meet you. I suppose you know that it was I who married your daughter?"
If a fixed star had fallen at John's feet he could not have been more amazed. His large face lightened from within, he clasped firmly the preacher's hand, but was so slow in forcing speech from his swelling heart that the preacher continued:
"Yes, they came to me, and I remembered your pretty child. I tied them true and fast, you may be sure of that, John."
"In Plymouth Wesleyan chapel, to be sure."
"Thank God! Thank you too, sir! You might say so—some people here be slow to believe, sir, and it be breaking my heart, it be indeed, sir."
There was only a nod and smile in reply, but John was extremely happy. He tried to get near to Joan and tell her; but the aisles were full and the service was beginning. John held his own service, and the singing, and the prayer, and preaching were just a joyful accompaniment to the thanksgiving in his heart. At length the service was over, and the preacher lifted a number of slips of paper and began to read aloud the announcements made on them. Missionary meetings, tea meetings for missions, a bazaar at St. Penfer for missions, a Bible meeting, a class meeting, and the service for that evening. Then, while the congregation were still expectant, he said in a clear, pleasant voice:
"I am requested also to say that on December the 17th, on Tuesday morning at nine o'clock, I united in the holy bands of marriage Denasia, the daughter of John Penelles, fisher of St. Penfer, to Roland Tresham, gentleman of that place. The ceremony was performed by me in the Wesleyan chapel at Plymouth; myself, my wife, and two daughters being witnesses to it. We will now sing the 444th hymn:
"'Lord over all, if Thou hast made, Hast ransomed every soul of man.'"
And all the congregation rose, and in the rising the conscious glance that passed through the chapel was lost in a more general purpose. It was presumed, at least, that everyone was singing a prayer for the heathen. Only Joan Penelles made no effort to think of India or Africa. Her face, full of radiant assurance, looked confidently over the crowd, seeking her husband's mutual glance of pleasure. Her faith had been justified. Her girl was an honourable wife—the wife of a gentleman well known to all. She had no longer any need to hide the wounding look or doubtful word in a protesting attitude, as painful to her as it was offensive to others.
Well, it is a very hard thing to rejoice with those that do rejoice; evidently in that little chapel it was easier for the worshippers to be sorry for the heathen than to be glad for their brother and sister Penelles. Never had John and Joan felt themselves so far away from the sympathy of their fellows. Only a few rough men who handled the nets with John, and who knew how hard the duty had been to him since his little girl went away, said a word of congratulation. But one and another of these, as they passed John and Joan on their way home, said a hearty "Praise God, brother John," or a "God bless you both, 'twas good news for you this morning." But, with or without sympathy, the happy father and mother walked to their house that day up-head and bravely. Their hearts had been miraculously lightened, and it was not until the burden had rolled away that they knew how woefully heavy it had been.
The next afternoon, when the wind was blowing inland too fiercely to permit boats to leave the harbour, a man who had been up the cliff brought back with him a letter for the Penelles. It was evidently from Denas. John looked at the postmark, "London," and turned it around and around till Joan was nervous. "Aw, then, John, do open it, and read what be inside—do, my dear!" And John read:
"DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER:—I have been intending to write to you every day, but I have been so happy that the days went away like a dream. I wish you knew my dear Roland as I do. He is the kindest of men, the most generous, the dearest in the whole world. He does nothing but try how to give me pleasure. He has bought me such lovely dresses, and rings, and bracelets, and he takes me everywhere. I never, never did think life could be so happy. I am going to have lessons too. I am to be taught how to sing and to do other things right, and your little Denas is the very happiest girl in the world. London is such a grand place, the very streets are all shows. Your loving daughter,
"P. S.—Perhaps you may wonder where we were married. It was at Plymouth, by the Wesleyan preacher. Father knows him, I think. D. T."
A dead silence followed the reading of the letter. Joan sat upright with a troubled face. She had been washing the dinner dishes; the towel lay across her lap, and her fingers pleated and unpleated the bit of coarse linen. John laid his arms across his knees and dropped a stern face toward them. The bit of white paper was in his big brown fingers. He did not speak a word; his heart was full, his eyes were full, his tongue was heavy and dumb. Joan grew restless and hot with anger, for she was wounded in every sense.
"Aw, my dear, she be so happy with that man she do forget the days she was happy with you and me, John. She do forget all and everything. Aw, then, 'tis a cruel, thoughtless letter. Cruel beyond words to tell—dreadful! aw, dreadful! God help us! And I do wish I could forget her! And I do be sorry she was ever born."
"Whist! whist! my old dear. She has gone into the wilderness. Our one little ewe lamb has gone into the wilderness, and aw, my dear, 'twill keep us busy all night and day to send love and prayer enough after her. There be wolves there, Joan; wolves, my dear, ready to devour—and the man she loves, he be one of them. Poor little Denas!"
Then Joan went on with her housework, but John sat silent, bending down toward the letter. And by and by his white face glowed with a dull red colour, and he tore the letter up, tore it very slowly into narrow ribbon-like strips, and let them fall, one by one, at his feet. He was in a mood Joan did not care to trouble. It reminded her of the day when he had felled Jacob Trenager. She was glad to see him rise and go to the inner room, glad to hear that he bolted the door after him. For in that temper it was better that John should complain to God than talk with any human being.
A VISIT TO ST. PENFER.
"Oh, waly waly, but love be bonny A little while while it is new; But when 'tis auld it waxeth cauld And fades away like morning dew." —OLD SONG.
"Oh, and is all forgot— All school days' friendship, childhood's innocence?
. . . . . . . . . .
Our sex as well as I may chide you for it, Though I alone do feel the injury." —SHAKESPEARE.
Denasia made her debut in the last ten days of January, and she retained the favour of that public which frequented Willis Hall for three months. Then her reputation was a little worn; people whistled and sang her songs and were pleased with their own performance of them. And Roland, also, had tired a little of the life—of its regularity and its obligations. He was now often willing to let any other performer who desired to do so take his place at the piano. He began to have occasional lookings-backward to Burrell Court and the respectability it represented.
Then at the close of April Denasia fell ill. The poor girl fretted at the decline of enthusiasm in her audience. She made stupendous efforts to regain her place in the popular favour, and she failed because of the natural law which few are strong enough to defy—that change is as necessary to amusement as fidelity is to duty. Denasia did not indeed reason about the event; the simple fact that she had no recalls and no clamorous approval made her miserable, and then sickness followed.
She was very ill indeed, and for four weeks confined to her room; and when she was able to consider a return to the hall, Roland found that her place had been taken by a Spanish singer with a mandolin and a wonderful dance. That was really a serious disappointment to the young couple, for during the month money had been going out and none coming in. For even when Denasia had been making twenty-five pounds a week, they had lived and dressed up to the last shilling; so that a month's enforced idleness and illness placed them deeply in debt and uncomfortably pressed for the wherewithal to meet debt.
Denasia also had been much weakened by her illness. Her fine form and colour were impaired, she was nervous and despondent; and a suffering, sickly wife was quite out of Roland's calculations and very much out of his sympathies. Poverty had a bad effect upon him. To be without money to buy the finest brand of cigars, to be annoyed by boarding-house keepers, tailors, and costumers, to have to buy medicines with cash when he was without his usual luxuries, was a condition of affairs that struck Roland as extremely improper for a young man of his family and education.
And he disliked now to interview managers. Mademoiselle Denasia was a recognised member of the profession which more than any other demands that everyone stand upon their merits; and Denasia had not been a very pronounced success. She remained just about where she had begun, and managers naturally thought that she had done the best of which she was capable. That best was not a phenomenal one, and Roland, as her husband and business agent, received no extraordinary amount of respect. He was offended where he had no reason for offence—offended often because everyone did not recognise him as a member of an old Cornish family and the son of an ex-lord mayor of London. Often he felt obliged, in order to satisfy his own self-respect, to make the fact known; and the chaff, or indifference, or incredulity, with which his claims were received made him change his opinions regarding the "jolly company of actors." In fact, he was undoubtedly at this period of Denasia's career her very worst enemy; for whatever Denasia might be, Roland and his pretensions were usually regarded as a great bore.
One afternoon in May he became thoroughly disgusted with the life he had chosen for himself. The bright sunshine made the shabby carpet and tawdry furniture and soiled mirrors intolerably vulgar. They had just finished a badly cooked, crossly served, untidy dinner, and Roland had no cigar to mend it. Denasia had not eaten at all; she lay on the bright blue sofa with shut eyes, and her faded beauty and faded dress were offensive to the fastidious young man.
She was thinking of her father's cottage, of the love at its hearth, and of the fresh salt winds blowing all around it. Roland half-divined her thoughts, and his own wandered to Burrell Court and his long-neglected sister.
Suddenly he resolved to go and see her. Elizabeth had always plenty of money, then why should he be without it? And the desire having entered his heart, he was as imperative as a spoiled child for its gratification. Denasia's physical condition did not appeal to him in any degree; he could not help her weakness and suffering, and certainly it was very inconvenient for him. He felt at that hour as if Denasia had broken her part of their mutual compact, which had not included illness or loss of prestige and beauty. He turned sharply to her and said:
"Denasia, I am going to St. Penfer. I shall have to sell a ring or something valuable in order to get the fare, but I see no other way. Elizabeth never disappointed my expectations; she will give me money, I am sure."
"Don't leave me, Roland. I will get well, I will indeed, dear. I am better this afternoon. In a few days—in a week, Roland, I can find some place to sing. Please have a little patience. Oh, do, my dear!"
"Little patience! What are you saying, Denasia? You are very ungrateful! Have I not had patience for a whole month? Have I not spent even my cigar-money for you? Patience, indeed!"
"Is there nowhere but St. Penfer? No person but Elizabeth?"
"I can go to St. Merryn's, if you like. Give me an order for the money in your name at St. Merryn's Bank."