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Children of the Mist
by Eden Phillpotts
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"Ess fay! an' draw you a dockyment in all the cautiousness of the law's language," promised Billy Blee. "'T is a fact makes me mazed every time I think of it," he continued, "that mere fleeting ink on the skin tored off a calf can be so set out to last to the trump of doom. Theer be parchments that laugh at the Queen's awn Privy Council and make the Court of Parliament look a mere fule afore 'em. But it doan't do to be 'feared o' far-reachin' oaths when you 'm signing such a matter, for 't is in the essence of 'em that the parties should swear deep."

"I'll mind what you say, Billy," promised Grimbal; "I'll pump old Ford as dry as I can, then be off to London and get such a good, binding deed of purchase as you suggest."

And it was this determination that presently led to a violent breach between the young man and his elder.

John waited upon Mr. Ford, at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage, where he had first lodged with his brother on their return from abroad, and found the lawyer exceedingly pleasant when he learned the object of Grimbal's visit. Together they drove over to the Red House, and its intending tenant soon heard all there was to tell respecting price and the provisions under which the estate was to be disposed of. For this information he expressed proper gratitude, but gave no hint of his future actions.

Mr. Ford heard nothing more for a fortnight. Then he ascertained that John Grimbal was in the metropolis, that the sale of the Red House and its lands had been conducted by the London agent, and that no penny of the handsome commission involved would accrue to him. This position of affairs greatly (and to some extent reasonably) angered the local man, and he did not forgive what he considered a very flagrant slight. Extreme acerbity was bred in him, and his mind, vindictive by nature, cherished from that hour a hearty detestation of John Grimbal. The old man, his annual holiday ruined by the circumstance, went home to Newton, vowing vague vengeance and little dreaming how soon opportunity would offer to deal his enemy a return blow; while the purchaser of the Red House laughed at Ford's angry letters, told him to his face that he was a greedy old rascal, and went on his way well pleased with himself and fully occupied with his affairs.

Necessary preliminaries were hastened; an architect visited the crumbling fabric of the old Red House and set about his plans. Soon, upon the ancient foundations, a new dwelling began to rise. The ancient name was retained at Martin's entreaty and the surrounding property developed. A stir and hum crept through the domain. Here was planting of young birch and larch; here clearing of land; here mounds of manure steamed on neglected fallows. John Grimbal took up temporary quarters in the home farm that he might be upon the spot at all hours; and what with these great personal interests, good news of his property in Africa, and the growing distraction of one soft-voiced, grey-eyed girl, the man found his life a full and splendid thing.

That he should admit Phoebe into his thoughts and ambitions was not unreasonable for two reasons: he knew himself to be heartily in love with her by this time, and he had heard from her father a definite statement upon the subject of Will Blanchard. Indeed, the miller, from motives of worldly wisdom, took an opportunity to let John Grimbal know the situation.

"No shadow of any engagement at all," he said. "I made it plain as a pikestaff to them both. It mustn't be thought I countenanced their crack-brained troth-plighting. 'T was by reason of my final 'Nay' that Will went off. He 's gone out of her life, and she 'm free as the air. I tell you this because you may have heard different, and you mix with the countryside and can contradict any man who gives out otherwise. And, mind you, I say it from no ill-will to the bwoy, but out of justice to my cheel."

Thus, to gain private ends, Mr. Lyddon spoke, and his information greatly heartened the listener. John had more than once sounded Phoebe on the subject of Will during the past few months, and was bound to confess that any chance he might possess appeared small; but he was deeply in love and a man accustomed to have his own way. Increasing portions of his time and thought were devoted to this ambition, and when Phoebe's father spoke as recorded, Grimbal jumped at the announcement and pushed for his own hand.

"If a man that was a man, with a bit of land and a bit of stuff behind him, came along and asked to court her, 't would be different, I suppose?" he inquired.

"I'd wish just such a man might come, for her sake."

"Supposing I asked if I might try to win Phoebe?"

"I'd desire your gude speed, my son. Nothing could please, me better."

"Then I've got you on my side?"

"You really mean it? Well, well! Gert news to be sure, an' I be pleased as Punch to hear 'e. But take my word, for I'm richer than you by many years in knawledge of the world, though I haven't seen so much of it. Go slow. Wait a while till that brown bwoy graws a bit dim in Phoebe's eyes. Your life 's afore you, and the gal 's scarce marriageable, to my thinking. Build your house and bide your time."

"So be it; and if I don't win her presently, I sha'n't deserve to."

"Ess, but taake time, lad. She 'm a dutiful, gude maiden, and I'd be sore to think my awn words won't carry their weight when the right moment comes for speaking 'em. Blanchard's business pulled down the corners of her purty mouth a bit; but young hearts caan't keep mournful for ever."

Billy Blee then took his turn on the argument. Thus far he had listened, and now, according to his custom, argued on the popular side and bent his sail to the prevalent wind of opinion.

"You say right, Miller. 'T is out of nature that a maid should fret her innards to fiddlestrings 'bout a green bwoy when theer's ripe men waitin' for her."

"Never heard better sense," declared John Grimbal, in high good-humour; and from the red-letter hour of that conversation he let his love grow into a giant. A man of old-fashioned convictions, he honestly believed the parent wise who exercised all possible control over a child; and in this case personal interest prompted him the more strongly to that opinion. Common sense the world over was on his side, and no man with the facts before him had been likely to criticise Miller Lyddon on the course of action he thought proper to pursue for his daughter's ultimate happiness. That he reckoned without his host naturally escaped the father's thought at this juncture. Will Blanchard had dwindled in his mind to the mere memory of a headstrong youngster, now far removed from the scene of his stupidity and without further power to trouble. That he could advise John to wait a while until Will's shadow grew less in Phoebe's thought, argued kindness and delicacy of mind in Mr. Lyddon. Will he only saw and gauged as the rest of the world. He did not fathom all of him, as Mrs. Blanchard had said; while concerning Phoebe's inner heart and the possibilities of her character, at a pinch, he could speak with still less certainty. She was a virgin page, unturned, unscanned. No man knew her strength or weakness; she did not know it herself.

Time progressed; the leaf fell and the long drought was followed by a mild autumn of heavy rains. John Grimbal's days were spent between the Red House and Monks Barton. His rod was put up; but he had already made friends and now shot many partridges. He spent long evenings in the society of Phoebe and her father at the farm; and the miller not seldom contrived to be called away on these occasions. Billy proved ever ready to assist, and thus the two old men did the best in their power to aid Grimbal's suit. In the great, comfortable kitchen, generally at some distance from each other, Phoebe and the squire of the new Red House would sit. She, now suspecting, was shy and uneasy; he, his wits quickened by love, displayed a tact and deftness of words not to have been anticipated from him. At first Phoebe took fire when Grimbal criticised Will in anything but a spirit of utmost friendliness; but it was vital to his own hopes that he should cloud the picture painted on her heart if he could; so, by degrees and with all the cleverness at his command, he dropped gall into poor Phoebe's cup in minute doses. He mourned the extreme improbability of Blanchard's success, grounding his doubt on Will's uneven character; he pictured Blanchard's fight with the world and showed how probable it was that he would make it a losing battle by his own peculiarities of temper. He declared the remoteness of happiness for Miss Lyddon in that direction to be extreme; he deplored the unstable nature of a young man's affection all the world over; and he made solid capital out of the fact that not once since his departure had her lover communicated with Phoebe. She argued against this that her father had forbidden it; but Mr. Grimbal overrode the objection, and asked what man in love would allow himself to be bound by such a command. As a matter of fact, Will had sent two messages at different times to his sweetheart. These came through Clement Hicks, and only conveyed the intelligence that the wanderer was well.

So Phoebe suffered persistent courting and her soft mould of mind sank a little under the storm. Now, weary and weak, she hesitated; now a wave of strength fortified her spirit. That John Grimbal should be dogged and importunate she took as mere masculine characteristics, and the fact did not anger her against him; but what roused her secret indignation almost as often as they met was his half-hidden air of sanguine confidence. He was humble in a way, always the patient lover, but in his manner she detected an indefinable, irritating self-confidence—the demeanour of one who already knows himself a conqueror before the battle is fought.

Thus the position gradually developed. As yet her father had not spoken to Phoebe or pretended to any knowledge of what was doing; but there came a night, at the end of November, when John Grimbal, the miller, and Billy sat and smoked at Monks Barton after Phoebe's departure to bed. Mr. Blee, very well knowing what matter moved the minds of his companions, spoke first.

"Missy have put on a temperate way of late days it do seem. I most begin to think that cat-a-mountain of a bwoy 's less in her thoughts than he was. She 'm larnin' wisdom, as well she may wi' sich a faither."

"I doan't knaw what to think," answered Mr. Lyddon, somewhat gloomily. "I ban't so much in her confidence as of auld days. Damaris Blanchard's right, like enough. A maid 's tu deep even for the faither that got her, most times. A sweet, dear gal as ever was, for all that. How fares it, John? She never names 'e to me, though I do to her."

"I'm biding my time, neighbour. I reckon 't will be right one day. It only makes me feel a bit mean now and again to have to say hard things about young Blanchard. Still, while she 's wrapped up there, I may whistle for her."

"You 'm in the right," declared Billy. "'T is an auld sayin' that all manner of dealings be fair in love, an' true no doubt, though I'm a bachelor myself an' no prophet in such matters."

"All's fair for certain," admitted John, as though he had not before considered the position from this standpoint.

"Ay, an' a darter's welfare lies in her faither's hand. Thank God, I'm not a parent to my knowledge; but 'tis a difficult calling in life, an' a young maiden gal, purty as a picksher, be a heavy load to a honest mind."

"So I find it," said the miller.

"You've forbid Will—lock, stock, and barrel—therefore, of coourse, she 's no right to think more of him, to begin with," continued the old man. It was a new idea.

"Come to think of it, she hasn't—eh?" asked John.

"No, that's true enough," admitted Mr. Lyddon.

"I speak, though of low position, but well thought of an' at Miller's right hand, so to say," continued Mr. Blee; "so theer 't is: Missy's in a dangerous pass. Eve's flesh be Eve's flesh, whether hid under flannel or silk, or shawed mother-naked to the sun after the manner of furrin cannibals. A gal 's a gal; an' if I was faither of such as your darter, I'd count it my solemn duty to see her out of the dangers of life an' tidily mated to a gude man. I'd say to myself, 'Her'll graw to bless me for what I've done, come a few years.'"

So Billy Blee, according to his golden rule, advised men upon the road they already desired to follow, and thus increased his reputation for sound sense and far-reaching wisdom.

"It's true, every word he says," declared John Grimbal.

"I believe it," answered the miller; "though God forbid any word or act of mine should bring wan tear to Phoebe's cheek. Yet, somehow, I doan't knaw but you 'm right."

"I am, believe me. It's the truth. You want Phoebe's real happiness considered, and that now depends on—well, I'll say it out—on me. We have reached the point now when you must speak, as you promised to speak, and throw the weight of your influence on my side. Then, after you've had your say, I'll have mine and put the great question."

Mr. Lyddon nodded his head and relapsed into taciturnity.



CHAPTER VI

AN UNHAPPY POET

That a man of many nerves, uncertain in temper and with no physical or temporal qualifications, should have won for himself the handsomest girl in Chagford caused the unreflective to marvel whenever they considered the point. But a better knowledge of Chris Blauchard had served in some measure to explain the wonder. Of all women, she was the least likely to do the thing predicted by experience. She had tremendous force of character for one scarce twenty years of age; indeed, she lived a superlative life, and the man, woman, child, or dog that came within radius of her existence presently formed a definite part of it, and was loved or detested according to circumstances. Neutrality she could not understand. If her interests were wide, her prejudices were strong. A certain unconscious high-handedness of manner made the circle of her friends small, but those who did love her were enthusiastic. Upon the whole, the number of those who liked her increased with years, and avowed enemies had no very definite reasons for aversion. Of her physical perfections none pretended two opinions; but the boys had always gone rather in fear of Chris, and the few men who had courted her during the past few years were all considerably her seniors. No real romance entered into this young woman's practical and bustling life until the advent of Clement Hicks, though she herself was the flame of hearts not a few before his coming.

Neurotic, sensual, as was Chris herself in a healthy fashion, a man of varying moods, and perhaps the richer for faint glimmerings of the real fire, Hicks yet found himself no better than an aimless, helpless child before the demands of reality. Since boyhood he had lived out of touch with his environment. As bee-keeper and sign-writer he made a naked living for himself and his mother, and achieved success sufficient to keep a cottage roof over their heads, but that was all. Books were his only friends; the old stones of the Moor, the lonely wastes, the plaintive music of a solitary bird were the companions of his happiest days. He had wit enough to torture half his waking hours with self-analysis, and to grit his teeth at his own impotence. But there was no strength, no virile grip to take his fate in his own hands and mould it like a man. He only mourned his disadvantages, and sometimes blamed destiny, sometimes a congenital infirmity of purpose, for the dreary course of his life. Nature alone could charm his sullen moods, and that not always. Now and again she spread over the face of his existence a transitory contentment and a larger hope; but the first contact with facts swept it away again. His higher aspirations were neither deep nor enduring, and yet the man's love of nature was lofty and just, and represented all the religion he had. No moral principles guided him, conscience never pricked. Nevertheless, thus far he had been a clean liver and an honest man. Vice, because it affronted his sense of the beautiful and usually led towards death, did not attract him. He lived too deep in the lap of Nature to be deceived by the pseudo-realism then making its appearance in literature, and he laughed without mirth at these pictures from city-bred pens at that time paraded as the whole truth of the countryman's life. The later school was not then above the horizon; the brief and filthy spectacle of those who dragged their necrosis, marasmus, and gangrene of body and mind across the stage of art and literature, and shrieked Decay, had not as yet appeared to make men sicken; the plague-spot, now near healed, had scarce showed the faintest angry symptom of coming ill. Hicks might under no circumstances have been drawn in that direction, for his morbidity was of a different description. Art to this man appeared only in what was wholesome; it even embraced a guide to conduct, for it led him directly to Nature, and Nature emphatically taught him the value of obedience, the punishment of weakness, the reward for excess and every form of self-indulgence. But a softness in him shrank from these aspects of the Mother. He tried vainly and feebly to dig some rule of life from her smiles alone, to read a sermon into her happy hours of high summer sunshine. Beauty was his dream; he possessed natural taste, and had cultivated the same without judgment. His intricate disposition and extreme sensitiveness frightened him away from much effort at self-expression; yet not a few trifling scraps and shreds of lyric poetry had fallen from his pen in high moments. These, when the mood changed, he read again, and found dead, and usually destroyed. He was more easily discouraged than a child who sets out to tell its parent a story, and is all silence and shamefaced blushes at the first whisper of laughter or semblance of a smile. The works of poets dazed him, disheartened him, and secret ambitions toward performance grew dimmer with every book he laid his hands on. Ambition to create began to die; the dream scenery of his ill-controlled mental life more and more seldom took shape of words on paper; and there came a time when thought grew wholly wordless for him; a mere personal pleasure, selfish, useless, unsubstantial as the glimmer of mirage over desert sands.

Into this futile life came Chris, like a breath of sweet air from off the deep sea. She lifted him clean out of his subjective existence, awoke a healthy, natural love, built on the ordinary emotions of humanity, galvanised self-respect and ambition into some activity, and presently inspired a pluck strong enough to propose marriage. That was two years ago; and the girl still loved this weakly soul with all her heart, found his language unlike that of any other man she had seen or heard, and even took some slight softening edge of culture into herself from him. Her common sense was absolutely powerless to probe even the crust of Clement's nature; but she was satisfied that his poetry must be a thing as marketable as that in printed books. Indeed, in an elated moment he had assured her that it was so. During the earlier stages of their attachment, she pestered him to write and sell his verses and make money, that their happiness might be hastened; while he, on the first budding of his love, and with the splendid assurance of its return, had promised all manner of things, and indeed undertaken to make poems that should be sent by post to the far-away place where they printed unknown poets, and paid them. Chris believed in Clement as a matter of course. His honey must at least be worth more to the world than that of his bees. Over her future husband she began at once to exercise the control of mistress and mother; and she loved him more dearly after they had been engaged a year than at the beginning of the contract. By that time she knew his disposition, and instead of displaying frantic impatience at it, as might have been predicted, her tolerance was extreme. She bore with Clem because she loved him with the full love proper to such a nature as her own; and, though she presently found herself powerless to modify his character in any practical degree, his gloomy and uneven mind never lessened the sturdy optimism of Chris herself, or her sure confidence that the future would unite them. Through her protracted engagement Mrs. Blanchard's daughter maintained a lively and sanguine cheerfulness. But seldom was it that she lost patience with the dreamer. Then her rare, indignant outbursts of commonplace and common sense, like a thunderstorm, sweetened the stagnant air of Clement's thoughts and awoke new, wholesome currents in his mind.

As a rule, on the occasion of their frequent country walks, Clem and Chris found personal problems and private interests sufficient for all conversation, but it happened that upon a Sunday in mid-December, as they passed through the valley of the Teign, where the two main streams of that river mingle at the foothills of the Moor, the subject of Will and Phoebe for a time at least filled their thoughts. The hour was clear and bright, yet somewhat cheerless. The sun had already set, from the standpoint of all life in the valley, and darkness, hastening out of the east, merged the traceries of a million naked boughs into a thickening network of misty grey. The river beneath these woods churned in winter flood, while clear against its raving one robin sang little tinkling litanies from the branch of an alder.

Chris stood upon Lee Bridge at the waters' meeting and threw scraps of wood into the river; Clem sat upon the parapet, smoked his pipe, and noted with a lingering delight the play of his sweetheart's lips as her fingers strained to snap a tough twig. Then the girl spoke, continuing a conversation already entered upon.

"Phoebe Lyddon's that weak in will. How far's such as her gwaine in life without some person else to lean upon?"

"If the ivy cannot find a tree it creeps along the ground, Chrissy."

"Ess, it do; or else falls headlong awver the first bank it comes to. Phoebe's so helpless a maiden as ever made a picksher. I mind her at school in the days when we was childer together. Purty as them china figures you might buy off Cheap Jack, an' just so tender. She'd come up to dinky gals no bigger 'n herself an' pull out her li'l handkercher an' ax 'em to be so kind as to blaw her nose for her! Now Will's gone, Lard knaws wheer she'll drift to."

"To John Grimbal. Any man could see that. Her father's set on it."

"Why don't Will write to her and keep her heart up and give her a little news? 'Twould be meat an' drink to her. Doan't matter 'bout mother an' me. We'll take your word for it that Will wants to keep his ways secret. But a sweetheart—'tis so differ'nt. I wouldn't stand it!"

"I know right well you wouldn't. Will has his own way. We won't criticise him. But there's a masterful man in the running—a prosperous, loud-voiced, bull-necked bully of a man, and one not accustomed to take 'no' for his answer. I'm afraid of John Grimbal in this matter. I've gone so far as to warn Will, but he writes back that he knows Phoebe."

"Jan Grimbal's a very differ'nt fashion of man to his brother; that I saw in a moment when they bided with us for a week, till the 'Three Crowns' could take 'em in. I hate Jan—hate him cruel; but I like Martin. He puts me in mind o' you, Clem, wi' his nice way of speech and tender quickness for women. But it's Phoebe we'm speaking of. I think you should write stern to Will an' frighten him. It ban't fair fightin', that poor, dear Phoebe 'gainst the will o' two strong men."

"Well, she's had paltry food for a lover since he went away. He's got certain ideas, and she'll hear direct when—but there, I must shut my mouth, for I swore by fantastic oaths to say nothing."

"He ought to write, whether or no. You tell Will that Jan Grimbal be about building a braave plaace up under Whiddon, and is looking for a wife at Monks Barton morning, noon, an' evening. That's like to waken him. An' tell him the miller's on t'other side, and clacking Jan Grimbal into Phoebe's ear steadier than the noise of his awn water-wheel."

"And she will grow weak, mark me. She sees that red-brick place rising out of the bare boughs, higher and higher, and knows that from floor to attics all may be hers if she likes to say the word. She hears great talk of drawing-rooms, and pictures, and pianos, and greenhouses full of rare flowers, and all the rest—why, just think of it!"

"Ban't many gals as could stand 'gainst a piano, I daresay."

"I only know one—mine."

Chris looked at him curiously.

"You 'm right. An' that, for some queer reason, puts me in mind of the other wan, Martin Grimbal. He was very pleasant to me."

"He's too late, thank God!"

"Ess, fay! An' if he'd comed afore 'e, Clem, he'd been tu early. Theer's awnly wan man in the gert world for me."

"My gypsy!"

"But I didn't mean that. He wouldn't look at me, not even if I was a free woman. 'T was of you I thought when I talked to Mr. Grimbal. He'm well-to-do, and be seekin' a house in the higher quarter under Middledown. You an' him have the same fancy for the auld stones. So you might grow into friends—eh, Clem? Couldn't it so fall out? He might serve to help—eh? You 'm two-and-thirty year auld next February, an' it do look as though they silly bees ban't gwaine to put money enough in the bank to spell a weddin' for us this thirty year to come. Theer's awnly your aunt, Widow Coomstock, as you can look to for a penny, and that tu doubtful to count on."

"Don't name her, Chris. Good Lord! poor drunken old thing, with that crowd of hungry relations waiting like vultures round a dying camel! Never think of her. Money she has, but I sha'n't see the colour of it, and I don't want to."

"Well, let that bide. Martin Grimbal's the man in my thought."

"What can I do there?"

"Doan't knaw, 'zactly; but things might fall out if he got to like you, being a bookish sort of man. Anyway, he's very willing to be friends, for that he told me. Doan't bear yourself like Lucifer afore him; but take the first chance to let him knaw your fortune's in need of mendin'."

"You say that! D' you think self-respect is dead in me?" he asked, half angry.

There was no visible life about them, so she put her arms round him.

"I ax for love of 'e, dearie, an' for want of 'e. Do 'e think waitin' 's sweeter for me than for you?"

Then he calmed down again, sighed, returned the caress, touched her, and stroked her breast and shoulder with sudden earthly light in his great eyes.

"It 's hard to wait."

"That's why I say doan't lose chances that may mean a weddin' for us, Clem. Theer 's so much hid in 'e, if awnly the way to bring it out could be found."

"A mine that won't pay working," he said bitterly, the passion fading out of eyes and voice. "I know there 's something hidden; I feel there 's a twist of brain that ought to rise above keeping bees and take me higher than honey-combs. Yet look at hard truth. The clods round me get enough by their sweat to keep wives and feed children. I'm only a penniless, backboneless, hand-to-mouth wretch, living on the work of laborious insects."

"If it ban't your awn fault, then whose be it, Clem?"

"The fault of Chance—to pack my build of brains into the skull of a pauper. This poor, unfinished abortion of a head-piece of mine only dreams dreams that it cannot even set on paper for others to see."

"You've given up trying whether it can or not, seemin'ly. I never hear tell of no verses now."

"What 's the good? But only last night, so it happens, I had a sort of a wild feeling to get something out of myself, and I scribbled for hours and hours and found a little morsel of a rhyme."

"Will 'e read it to me?"

He showed reluctance, but presently dragged a scrap of paper out of his, pocket. Not a small source of trouble was his sweetheart's criticism of his verses.

"It was the common sight of a pair of lovers walking tongue-tied, you know. I call it 'A Devon Courting.'"

He read the trifle slowly, with that grand, rolling sea-beat of an accent that Elizabeth once loved to hear on the lips of Raleigh and Drake.

"Birds gived awver singin', Flittermice was wingin', Mists lay on the meadows— A purty sight to see. Down-long in the dimpsy, the dimpsy, the dimpsy, Down-long in the dimpsy Theer went a maid wi' me.

"Five gude mile o' walkin', Not wan word o' talkin', Then I axed a question And put the same to she. Up-long in the owl-light, the owl-light, the owl-light, Up-long in the owl-light, Theer corned my maid wi' me.

"But I wonder you write the common words, Clem—you who be so much tu clever to use 'em."

"The words are well enough. They were not common once."

"Well, you knaw best. Could 'e sell such a li'l auld funny thing as that for money?"

He shook his head.

"No; it was only the toil of making it seemed good. It is worthless."

"An' to think how long it took 'e! If you'd awnly put the time into big-fashioned verses full of the high words you've got. But you knaw best. Did 'e hear anything of them rhymes 'bout the auld days you sent to Lunnon?"

"They sent them back again. I told you 't was wasting three stamps. It 's not for me, I know it. The world is full of dumb singers. Maybe I haven't got even a pinch of the fire that must break through and show its flame, no matter what mountains the earth tumbles on it. God knows I burn hot enough sometimes with great thoughts and wild longings for love and for sweeter life and for you; but my fires—whether they are soul-fires or body-fires—only burn my heart out."

She sighed and squeezed his hand, understanding little enough of what he said.

"We must be patient. 'T is a solid thing, patience. I'm puttin' by pence; but it 's so plaguy little a gal can earn, best o' times and with the best will."

"If I could only write the things I think! But they vanish before pen and paper and the need of words, as the mists of the night vanish before the hard, searching sun. I am ignorant of how to use words; and those in the world who might help me will never know of me. As for those around about, they reckon me three parts fool, with just a little gift of re-writing names over their dirty shop-fronts."

"Yet it 's money. What did 'e get for that butivul fox wi' the goose in his mouth you painted 'pon Mr. Lamacraft's sign to Sticklepath?"

"Ten shillings."

"That's solid money."

"It isn't now. I bought a book with it—a book of lies."

Chris was going to speak, but changed her mind and sighed instead.

"Well, as our affairs be speeding so poorly, we'd best to do some gude deed an' look after this other coil. You must let Will knaw what 's doin' by letter this very night. 'T is awnly fair, you being set in trust for him."

"Strange, these Grimbal brothers," mused Clement, as the lovers proceeded in the direction of Chagford. "They come home with everything on God's earth that men might desire to win happiness, and, by the look of it, each marks his home-coming by falling in love with one he can't have."

"Shaws the fairness of things, Clem; how the poor may chance to have what the rich caan't buy; so all look to stand equal."

"Fairness, you call it? The damned, cynical irony of this whole passion-driven puppet-show—that's what it shows! The man who is loved cannot marry the woman he loves lest they both starve; the man who can give a woman half the world is loathed for his pains. Not that he 's to be pitied like the pauper, for if you can't buy love you can buy women, and the wise ones know how to manufacture a very lasting substitute for the real thing."

"You talk that black and bitter as though you was deep-read in all the wickedness of the world," said Chris; "yet I knaw no man can say sweeter things than you sometimes."

"Talk! It 's all talk with me—all snarling and railing and whining at hard facts, like a viper wasting its venom on steel. I'm sick of myself—weary of the old, stale round of my thoughts. Where can I wash and be clean? Chrissy, for God's sake, tell me."

"Put your hope in the Spring," she said, "an' be busy for Will."

In reality, with the approach of Christmas, affairs between Phoebe and the elder Grimbal had reached a point far in advance of that which Clement and Chris were concerned with. For more than three months, and under a steadily increasing weight of opposition, Miller Lyddon's daughter fought without shadow of yielding. Then came a time when the calm but determined iteration of her father's desires and the sledge-hammer love-making of John Grimbal began to leave an impression. Even then her love for Will was bright and strong, but her sense of helplessness fretted her nerves and temper, and her sweetheart's laconic messages, through the medium of another man, were sorry comfort in this hour of tribulation. With some reason she felt slighted. Neither considering Will's peculiarities, nor suspecting that his silence was only, the result of a whim or project, she began to resent it. Then John Grimbal caught her in a dangerous mood. Once she wavered, and he had the wisdom to leave her at the moment of victory. But on the next occasion of their meeting, he took good care to keep the advantage he had gained. Conscious of his own honest and generous intentions, Grimbal went on his way. The subtler manifestations of Phoebe's real attitude towards him escaped his observation; her reluctance he set down as resulting from the dying shadow of affection for Will Blanchard. That she would be very happy and proud and prosperous in the position of his wife, the lover was absolutely assured. He pursued her with the greater determination, in that he believed he was saving her from herself. What were some few months of vague uncertainty and girlish tears compared with a lifetime of prosperity and solid happiness? John Grimbal made Phoebe handsome presents of pretty and costly things after the first great victory. He pushed his advantage with tremendous vigour. His great face seemed reflected in Phoebe's eyes when she slept as when she woke; his voice was never out of her ears. Weary, hopeless, worn out, she prayed sometimes for strength of purpose. But it was a trait denied to her character and not to be bestowed at a breath. Her stability of defence, even as it stood, was remarkable and beyond expectation. Then the sure climax rolled in upon poor Phoebe. Twice she sought Clement Hicks with purpose to send an urgent message; on each occasion accident prevented a meeting; her father was always smiling and droning his desires into her ear; John Grimbal haunted her. His good-nature and kindness were hard to bear; his patience made her frantic. So the investment drew to its conclusion and the barriers crumbled, for the forces besieged were too weak and worn to restore them; while a last circumstance brought victory to the stronger and proclaimed the final overthrow.

This culmination resulted from a visit to the spiritual head of Phoebe's dwelling-place. The Rev. James Shorto-Champernowne, Vicar of Chagford, made an appointment to discuss the position with Mr. Lyddon and his daughter. A sportsman of the old type, and a cleric of rare reputation for good sense and fairness to high and low, was Mr. Shorto-Champernowne, but it happened that his more tender emotions had been buried with a young wife these forty years, and children he had none. Nevertheless, taking the standpoint of parental discipline, he held Phoebe's alleged engagement a vain thing, not to be considered seriously. Moreover, he knew of Will's lapses in the past; and that was fatal.

"My child, have little doubt that both religion and duty point in one direction and with no faltering hands," he said, in his stately way. "Communicate with the young man, inform him that conversation with myself has taken place; then he can hardly maintain an attitude of doubt, either to the exalted convictions that have led to your decision, or to the propriety of it. And, further, do not omit an opportunity of well-doing, but conclude your letter with a word of counsel. Pray him to seek a Guide to his future life, the only Guide able to lead him aright. I mean his Mother Church. No man who turns his back upon her can be either virtuous or happy. I mourned his defection from our choir some years ago. You see I forget nobody. My eyes are everywhere, as they ought to be. Would that he could be whipped back to the House of God—with scorpions, if necessary! There is a cowardice, a lack of sportsmanlike feeling, if I may so express it, in these fallings away from the Church of our fathers. It denotes a failing of intellect amid the centres of human activity. There is a blight of unbelief abroad—a nebulous, pestilential rationalism. Acquaint him with these facts; they may serve to re-establish one whose temperament must be regarded as abnormal in the light of his great eccentricity of action. Now farewell, and God be with you."

The rotund, grey-whiskered clergyman waved his hand; Miller Lyddon and his daughter left the vicarage; while both heard, as it seemed, his studied phrases and sonorous voice rolling after them all the way home. But poor Phoebe felt that the main issues as to conscience were now only too clear; her last anchor was wrenched from its hold, and that night, through a mist of unhappy tears, she succumbed, promised to marry John Grimbal and be queen of the red castle now rising under Cranbrook's distant heights.

That we have dealt too scantily with her tragic experiences may be suspected; but the sequel will serve to show how these circumstances demand no greater elaboration than has been accorded to them.



CHAPTER VII

LIBATION TO POMONA

A WINTER moon threw black shadows from stock and stone, tree and cot in the valley of the Teign. Heavy snow had fallen, and moor-men, coming down from the highlands, declared it to lie three feet deep in the drifts. Now fine, sharp weather had succeeded the storm, and hard frost held both hill and vale.

On Old Christmas Eve a party numbering some five-and-twenty persons assembled in the farmyard of Monks Barton, and Billy Blee, as master of the pending ceremonies, made them welcome. Some among them were aged, others youthful; indeed the company consisted mostly of old men and boys, a circumstance very easily understood when the nature of their enterprise is considered. The ancients were about to celebrate a venerable rite and sacrifice to a superstition, active in their boyhood, moribund at the date with which we are concerned, and to-day probably dead altogether. The sweet poet[2] of Dean Prior mentions this quaint, old-time custom of "christening" or "wassailing" the fruit-trees among Christmas-Eve ceremonies; and doubtless when he dwelt in Devon the use was gloriously maintained; but an adult generation in the years of this narrative had certainly refused it much support. It was left to their grandfathers and their sons; and thus senility and youth preponderated in the present company. For the boys, this midnight fun with lantern and fowling-piece was good Christmas sport, and they came readily enough; to the old men their ceremonial possessed solid value, and from the musty storehouse of his memory every venerable soul amongst them could cite instances of the sovereign virtue hid in such a procedure.

[2] The sweet poet.

"Wassaile the trees, that they may beare You many a Plum, and many a Peare; For more or lesse fruites they will bring, As you doe give them Wassailing."

Hesperides.

"A brave rally o' neighbours, sure 'nough," cried Mr. Blee as he appeared amongst them. "Be Gaffer Lezzard come?"

"Here, Billy."

"Hast thy fire-arm, Lezzard?"

"Ess, 't is here. My gran'son's carrying of it; but I holds the powder-flask an' caps, so no ruin be threatened to none."

Mr. Lezzard wore a black smock-frock, across the breast of which extended delicate and skilful needlework. His head was hidden under an old chimney-pot hat with a pea-cock's feather in it, and, against the cold, he had tied a tremendous woollen muffler round his neck and about his ears. The ends of it hung down over his coat, and the general effect of smock, comforter, gaitered shanks, boots tied up in straw, long nose, and shining spectacles, was that of some huge and ungainly bird, hopped from out a fairy-tale or a nightmare.

"Be Maister Chappie here likewise?" inquired Billy.

"I'm waitin'; an' I've got a fowling-piece, tu."

"That's gude then. I be gwaine to carry the auld blunderbuss what's been in Miller Lyddon's family since the years of his ancestors, and belonged to a coach-guard in the King's days. 'T is well suited to apple-christenin'. The cider's here, in three o' the biggest earth pitchers us'a' got, an' the lads is ready to bring it along. The Maister Grimbals, as will be related to the family presently, be comin' to see the custom, an' Miller wants every man to step back-along arterwards an' have a drop o' the best, 'cordin' to his usual gracious gudeness. Now, Lezzard, me an' you'll lead the way."

Mr. Blee then shouldered his ancient weapon, the other veteran marched beside him, and the rest of the company followed in the direction of Chagford Bridge. They proceeded across the fields; and along the procession bobbed a lantern or two, while a few boys carried flaring torches. The light from these killed the moonbeams within a narrow radius, shot black tongues of smoke into the clear air, and set the meadows glimmering redly where contending radiance of moon and fire powdered the virgin snow with diamond and ruby. Snake-like the party wound along beside the river. Dogs barked; voices rang clear on the crystal night; now and again, with laughter and shout, the lads raced hither and thither from their stolid elders, and here and there jackets carried the mark of a snowball. Behind the procession a trampled grey line stretched out under the moonlight. Then all passed like some dim, magic pageant of a dream; the distant dark blot of naked woodlands swallowed them up, and the voices grew faint and ceased. Only the endless song of the river sounded, with a new note struck into it by the world of snow.

For a few moments the valley was left empty, so empty that a fox, who had been prowling unsuccessfully about Monks Barton since dusk, took the opportunity to leave his hiding-place above the ducks' pool, cross the meadows, and get him home to his earth two miles distant. He slunk with pattering foot across the snow, marking his way by little regular paw-pits and one straight line where his brush roughened the surface. Steam puffed in jets from his muzzle, and his empty belly made him angry with the world. At the edge of the woods he lifted his head, and the moonlight touched his green eyes. Then he recorded a protest against Providence in one eerie bark, and so vanished, before the weird sound had died.

Phoebe Lyddon and her lover, having given the others some vantage of ground, followed them to their destination—Mr. Lyddon's famous orchard in Teign valley. The girl's dreary task of late had been to tell herself that she would surely love John Grimbal presently—love him as such a good man deserved to be loved. Only under the silence and in the loneliness of long nights, only in the small hours of day, when sleep would not come and pulses were weak, did Phoebe confess that contact with him hurt her, that his kisses made her giddy to sickness, that all his gifts put together were less to her than one treasure she was too weak to destroy—the last letter Will had written. Once or twice, not to her future husband, but to the miller, Phoebe had ventured faintly to question still the promise of this great step; but Mr. Lyddon quickly overruled all doubts, and assisted John Grimbal in his efforts to hasten the ceremony. Upon this day, Old Christmas Eve, the wedding-day lay not a month distant and, afterwards the husband designed to take his wife abroad for a trip to South Africa. Thus he would combine business and pleasure, and return in the spring to witness the completion of his house. Chagford highly approved the match, congratulated Phoebe on her fortune, and felt secretly gratified that a personage grown so important as John Grimbal should have chosen his life's partner from among the maidens of his native village.

Now the pair walked over the snow; and silent and stealthy as the vanished fox, a grey figure followed after them. Dim as some moon-spirit against the brightness, this shape stole forward under the rough hedge that formed a bank and threw a shadow between meadow and stream. In repose the grey man, for a man it was, looked far less substantial than the stationary outlines of fences and trees; and when he moved it had needed a keen eye to see him at all. He mingled with the moonlight and snow, and became a part of a strange inversion of ordinary conditions; for in this white, hushed world the shadows alone seemed solid and material in their black nakedness, in their keen sharpness of line and limit, while things concrete and ponderable shone out a silvery medley of snow-capped, misty traceries, vague of outline, uncertain of shape, magically changed as to their relations by the unfamiliar carpet now spread between them.

The grey figure kept Phoebe in sight, but followed a path of his own choosing. When she entered the woods he drew a little nearer, and thus followed, passing from shadow to shadow, scarce fifty yards behind.

Meanwhile the main procession approached the scene of its labours. Martin Grimbal, attracted by the prospect of reading this page from an old Devonian superstition, was of the company. He walked with Billy Blee and Gaffer Lezzard; and these high priests, well pleased at their junior's attitude towards the ceremony, opened their hearts to him upon it.

"'T is an ancient rite, auld as cider—maybe auld as Scripture, to, for anything I've heard to the contrary," said Mr. Lezzard.

"Ay, so 't is," declared Billy Blee, "an' a custom to little observed nowadays. But us might have better blooth in springtime an' braaver apples come autumn if the trees was christened more regular. You doan't see no gert stock of sizable apples best o' years now—li'l scrubbly auld things most times."

"An' the cider from 'em—poor roapy muck, awnly fit to make 'e thirst for better drink," criticised Gaffer Lezzard.

"'Tis this way: theer's gert virtue in cider put to apple-tree roots on this particular night, accordin' to the planets and such hidden things. Why so, I can't tell 'e, any more 'n anybody could tell 'e why the moon sails higher up the sky in winter than her do in summer; but so 't is. An' facts be facts. Why, theer's the auld 'Sam's Crab' tree in this very orchard we'm walkin' to. I knawed that tree three year ago to give a hogshead an' a half as near as damn it. That wan tree, mind, with no more than a few baskets of 'Redstreaks' added."

"An' a shy bearer most times, tu," added Mr. Lezzard.

"Just so; then come next year, by some mischance, me being indoors, if they didn't forget to christen un! An', burnish it all! theer wasn't fruit enough on the tree to fill your pockets!"

"Whether 't is the firing into the branches, or the cider to the roots does gude, be a matter of doubt," continued Mr. Lezzard; but the other authority would not admit this.

"They 'm like the halves of a flail, depend on it: wan no use wi'out t'other. Then theer's the singing of the auld song: who's gwaine to say that's the least part of it?"

"'T is the three pious acts thrawn together in wan gude deed," summed up Mr. Lezzard; "an' if they'd awnly let apples get ripe 'fore they break 'em, an' go back to the straw for straining, 'stead of these tom-fule, new-fangled hair-cloths, us might get tidy cider still."

By this time the gate of the orchard was reached; Gaffer Lezzard, Billy, and the other patriarch, Mr. Chapple,—a very fat old man,—loaded their weapons, and the perspiring cider-carriers set down their loads.

"Now, you bwoys, give awver runnin' 'bout like rabbits," cried out Mr. Chapple. "You 'm here to sing while us pours cider an' shoots in the trees; an' not a drop you'll have if you doan't give tongue proper, so I tell 'e."

At this rebuke the boys assembled, and there followed a hasty gabbling, to freshen the words in young and uncertain memories. Then a small vessel was dipped under floating toast, that covered the cider in the great pitchers, and the ceremony of christening the orchard began. Only the largest and most famous apple-bearers were thus saluted, for neither cider nor gunpowder sufficient to honour more than a fraction of the whole multitude existed in all Chagford. The orchard, viewed from the east, stretched in long lines, like the legions of some arboreal army; the moon set sparks and streaks of light on every snowy fork and bough; and at the northwestern foot of each tree a network of spidery shadow-patterns, sharp and black, extended upon the snow.

Mr. Blee himself made the first libation, led the first chorus, and fired the first shot. Steaming cider poured from his mug, vanished, sucked in at the tree-foot, and left a black patch upon the snow at the hole of the trunk; then he stuck a fragment of sodden toast on a twig; after which the christening song rang out upon the night—ragged at first, but settling into resolute swing and improved time as its music proceeded. The lusty treble of the youngsters soon drowned the notes of their grandfathers; for the boys took their measure at a pace beyond the power of Gaffer Lezzard and his generation, and sang with heart and voice to keep themselves warm. The song has variants, but this was their version—

"Here 's to thee, auld apple-tree, Be sure you bud, be sure you blaw, And bring forth apples good enough— Hats full, caps full, three-bushel bags full, Pockets full and all— Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hats full, caps full, three-bushel bags full, Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Then Billy fired his blunderbuss, and a flame leapt from its bell mouth into the branches of the apple-tree, while surrounding high lands echoed its report with a reverberating bellow that rose and fell, and was flung from hill to hill, until it gradually faded upon the ear. The boys cheered again, everybody drank a drop of the cider, and from under a cloud of blue smoke, that hung flat as a pancake above them in the still air, all moved onward. Presently the party separated into three groups, each having a gunner to lead it, half a dozen boys to sing, and a dwindling jar of cider for the purposes of the ceremony. The divided choirs clashed their music, heard from a distance; the guns fired at intervals, each sending forth its own particular detonation and winning back a distinctive echo; then the companies separated widely and decreased to mere twinkling, torchlit points in the distance. Accumulated smoke from the scattered discharges hung in a sluggish haze between earth and moon, and a sharp smell of burnt powder tainted the sweetness of the frosty night.

Upon this scene arrived John Grirnbal and his sweetheart. They stood for a while at the open orchard gate, gazed at the remote illumination, and heard the distant song. Then they returned to discussion of their own affairs; while at hand, unseen, the grey watcher moved impatiently and anxiously. The thing he desired did not come about, and he blew on his cold hands and swore under his breath. Only an orchard hedge now separated them, and he might have listened to Phoebe's soft speech had he crept ten yards nearer, while John Grimbal's voice he could not help hearing from time to time. The big man was just asking a question not easy to answer, when an unexpected interruption saved Phoebe from the difficulty of any reply.

"Sometimes I half reckon a memory of that blessed boy still makes you glum, my dear. Is it so? Haven't you forgot him yet?"

As he spoke an explosion, differing much in sound from those which continued to startle the night, rang suddenly out of the distance. It arose from a spot on the confines of the orchard, and was sharp in tone—sharp almost as the human cries which followed it. Then the distant lights hastened towards the theatre of the catastrophe. "What has happened?" cried Phoebe, thankful enough to snatch conversation away from herself and her affairs.

"Easy to guess. That broken report means a burst gun. One of those old fools has got excited, put too much powder into his blunderbuss and blown his head off, likely as not. No loss either!"

"Please, please go and see! Oh, if 'tis Billy Blee come to grief, faither will be lost. Do 'e run, Mr. Grimbal—Jan, I mean. If any grave matter's failed out, send them bwoys off red-hot for doctor."

"Stop here, then. If any ugly thing has happened, there need be no occasion for you to see it."

He departed hastily to where a distant galaxy of fiery eyes twinkled and tangled and moved this way and that, like the dying sparks on a piece of burnt paper.

Then the patient grey shadow, rewarded by chance at last, found his opportunity, slipped into the hedge just above Grimbal's sweetheart, and spoke to her.

"Phoebe, Phoebe Lyddon!"

The voice, dropping out of empty air as it seemed, made Phoebe jump, and almost fall; but there was an arm gripped round her, and a pair of hot lips on hers before she had time to open her mouth or cry a word.

"Will!"

"Ess, so I be, alive an' kicking. No time for anything but business now. I've followed 'e for this chance. Awnly heard four day ago 'bout the fix you'd been drove to. An' Clem's made it clear 't was all my damn silly silence to blame. I had a gert thought in me and wasn't gwaine to write till—but that's awver an' done, an' a purty kettle of feesh, tu. We must faace this coil first."

"Thank God, you can forgive me. I'd never have had courage to ax 'e."

"You was drove into it. I knaw there's awnly wan man in the world for 'e. Ban't nothin' to forgive. I never ought to have left 'e—a far-seein' man, same as me. Blast him! I'd like to tear thicky damned fur off you, for I lay it comed from him."

"They were killing me, Will; and never a word from you."

"I knaw, I knaw. What's wan girl against a parish full, an' a blustering chap made o' diamonds?"

"The things doan't warm me; they make me shiver. But now—you can forgive me—that's all I care for. What shall I do? How can I escape it? Oh, Will, say I can!"

"In coourse you can. Awnly wan way, though; an' that's why I'm here. Us must be married right on end. Then he's got no more power over 'e than a drowned worm, nor Miller, nor any."

"To think you can forgive me enough to marry me after all my wickedness! I never dreamed theer was such a big heart in the world as yourn."

"Why, we promised, didn't us? We'm built for each other. I knawed I'd only got to come. An' I have, at cost, tu, I promise 'e. Now we'll be upsides wi' this tramp from furrin paarts, if awnly you do ezacally what I be gwaine to tell you. I'd meant to write it, but I can speak it better as the chance has come."

Phoebe's heart glowed at this tremendous change in the position. She forgot everything before sight and sound of Will. The nature of her promises weakened to gossamer. Her first love was the only love for her, and his voice fortified her spirit and braced her nerves. A chance for happiness yet remained and she, who had endured enough, was strong in determination to win it yet at any cost if a woman could.

"If you awnly knawed the half I've suffered before they forced me, you'd forgive," she said. His frank pardon she could hardly realise. It seemed altogether beyond the desert of her weakness.

"Let that bide. It's the future now. Clem's told me everything. Awnly you and him an' Chris knaw I'm here. Chris will serve 'e. Us must play a hidden game, an' fight this Grimbal chap as he fought me—behind back. Listen; to-day fortnight you an' me 'm gwaine to be married afore the registrar to Newton Abbot. He 'm my awn Uncle Ford, as luck has it, an' quite o' my way o' thinkin' when I told him how 't was, an' that Jan Grimbal was gwaine to marry you against your will. He advised me, and I'm biding in Newton for next two weeks, so as the thing comes out right by law. But you've got to keep it still as death."

"If I could awnly fly this instant moment with 'e!"

"You caan't. 'T would spoil all. You must stop home, an' hear your banns put up with Grimbal, an' all the rest of it. Wish I could! Meat an' drink 't would be, by God! But he'll get his pay all right. An' afore the day comes, you nip off to Newton, an' I'll meet 'e, an' us'll be married in a wink, an' you'll be back home again to Monks Barton 'fore you knaw it."

"Is that the awnly way? Oh, Will, how terrible!"

"God knaws I've done worse 'n that. But no man's gwaine to steal the maid of my choosin' from me while I've got brains and body to prevent it."

"Let me look at you, lovey—just the same, just the same! 'Tis glorious to hear your voice again. But this thin coat, so butivul in shaape, tu! You 'm a gentleman by the look of it; but 't is summer wear, not winter."

"Ess, 'tis cold enough; an' I've got to get back to Newton to-night. An' never breathe that man's name no more. I'll shaw 'e wat 's a man an' what ban't. Steal my true love, would 'e?—God forgive un, I shaan't—not till we 'm man an' wife, anyway. Then I might. Give 'e up! Be I a chap as chaanges? Never—never yet."

Phoebe wept at these words and pressed Will to her heart.

"'Tis strength, an' fire, an' racing blood in me to hear 'e, dear, braave heart. I was that weak without 'e. Now the world 's a new plaace, an' I doan't doubt fust thought was right, for all they said. I'll meet 'e as you bid me, an' nothin' shall ever keep me from 'e now—nothing!"

"'T is well said, Phoebe; an' doan't let that anointed scamp kiss 'e more 'n he must. Be braave an' cunnin', an' keep Miller from smelling a rat. I'd like to smash that man myself now wheer he stands,—Grimbal I mean,—but us must be wise for the present. Wipe your shiny eyes an' keep a happy faace to 'em, an' never let wan of the lot dream what's hid in 'e. Cock your li'l nose high, an' be peart an' gay. An' let un buy you what he will,—'t is no odds; we can send his rubbish back again arter, when he knaws you'm another man's wife. Gude-bye, Phoebe dearie; I've done what 'peared to me a gert deed for love of 'e; but the sight of 'e brings it down into no mighty matter."

"You've saved my life, Will—saved all my days; an' while I've got a heart beating 't will be yourn, an' I'll work for 'e, an' slave for 'e, an' think for 'e, an' love 'e so long as I live—an' pray for 'e, tu, Will, my awn!"

He parted from her as she spoke, and she, by an inspiration, hurried towards the approaching crowd that the trampled marks of the snow where she had been standing might not be noted under the gleam of torches and lanterns.

John Grimbal's prophecy was happily not fulfilled in its gloomy completeness: nobody had blown his head off; but Billy Blee's prodigality of ammunition proved at last too much for the blunderbuss of the bygone coach-guard, and in its sudden annihilation a fragment had cut the gunner across the face, and a second inflicted a pretty deep flesh-wound on his arm. Neither injury was very serious, and the general escape, as John Grimbal pointed out, might be considered marvellous, for not a soul save Billy himself had been so much as scratched.

With Martin Grimbal on one side and Mr. Chapple upon the other, the wounded veteran walked slowly and solemnly along. The dramatic moments of the hour were dear to him, and while tolerably confident at the bottom of his mind that no vital hurt had been done, he openly declared himself stricken to death, and revelled in a display of Christian fortitude and resignation that deceived everybody but John Grimbal. Billy gasped and gurgled, bid them see to the bandages, and reviewed his past life with ingenuous satisfaction.

"Ah, sawls all! dead as a hammer in an hour. 'T is awver. I feel the life swelling out of me."

"Don't say that, Billy," cried Martin, in real concern. "The blood's stopped flowing entirely now."

"For why? Theer's no more to come. My heart be pumping wind, lifeless wind; my lung-play's gone, tu, an' my sight's come awver that coorious. Be Gaffer Lezzard nigh?"

"Here, alongside 'e, Bill."

"Gimme your hand then, an' let auld scores be wiped off in this shattering calamity. Us have differed wheer us could these twoscore years; but theer mustn't be no more ill-will wi' me tremblin' on the lip o' the graave."

"None at all; if 't wasn't for Widow Coomstock," said Gaffer Lezzard. "You 'm tu pushing theer, an' I say it even now, for truth's truth, though it be the last thing a man's ear holds."

"Break it to her gentle," said Billy, ignoring the other's criticism; "she'm on in years, and have cast a kindly eye awver me since the early sixties. My propositions never was more than agreeable conversation to her, but it might have come. Tell her theer's a world beyond marriage customs, an' us'll meet theer."

Old Lezzard showed a good deal of anger at this speech, but being in a minority fell back and held his peace.

"Would 'e like to see passon, dear sawl?" asked Mr. Chapple, who walked on Billy's left with his gun reversed, as though at a funeral.

"Me an' him be out, along o' rheumatics keeping me from the House of God this month," said the sufferer, "but at a solemn death-bed hour like this here, I'd soon see un as not. Ban't no gert odds, for I forgive all mankind, and doan't feel no more malice than a bird in a tree."

"You're a silly old ass," burst out Grimbal roughly. "There's nothing worth naming the matter with you, and you know it better than we do. The Devil looks after his own, seemingly. Any other man would have been killed ten times over."

Billy whined and even wept at this harsh reproof. "Ban't a very fair way to speak to an auld gunpowder-blawn piece, like what I be now," he said; "gormed if 't is."

"Very onhandsome of 'e, Mr. Grimbal," declared the stout Chappie; "an' you so young an' in the prime of life, tu!"

Here Phoebe met them, and Mr. Blee, observing the signs of tears upon her face, supposed that anxiety for him had wet her cheeks, and comforted his master's child.

"Doan't 'e give way, missy. 'T is all wan, an' I ban't 'feared of the tomb, as I've tawld 'em. Us must rot, every bone of us, in our season, an' 't is awnly the thought of it, not the fear of it, turns the stomach. But what's a wamblyness of the innards, so long as a body's sawl be ripe for God?"

"A walkin' sermon!" said Mr. Chappie.

Doctor Parsons was waiting for Billy at Monks Barton, and if John Grimbal had been brusque, the practitioner proved scarcely less so. He pronounced Mr. Blee but little hurt, bandaged his arm, plastered his head, and assured him that a pipe and a glass of spirits was all he needed to fortify his sinking spirit. The party ate and drank, raised a cheer for Miller Lyddon and then went homewards. Only Mr. Chappie and Gaffer Lezzard entered the house and had a wineglass or two of some special sloe gin. Mr. Lezzard thawed and grew amiable over this beverage, and Mr. Chappie repeated Billy's lofty sentiments at the approach of death for the benefit of Miller Lyddon.

"'T is awnly my fearless disposition," declared the wounded man with great humility; "no partic'lar credit to me. I doan't care wan iotum for the thought of churchyard mould—not wan iotum. I knaw the value of gude rich soil tu well; an' a man as grudges the rames[3] of hisself to the airth that's kept un threescore years an' ten's a carmudgeonly cuss, surely."

[3] Rames = skeleton; remains.

"An' so say I; theer's true wisdom in it," declared Mr. Chapple, while the miller nodded.

"Theer be," concluded Gaffer Lezzard. "I allus sez, in my clenching way, that I doan't care a farden damn what happens to my bones, if my everlasting future be well thought on by passon. So long as I catch the eye of un an' see um beam 'pon me to church now an' again, I'm content with things as they are."

"As a saved sawl you 'm in so braave a way as the best; but, to say it without rudeness, as food for the land a man of your build be nought, Gaffer," argued Mr. Chapple, who viewed the veteran's withered anatomy from his own happy vantage ground of fifteen stone.

But Gaffer Lezzard would by no means allow this.

"Ban't quantity awnly tells, my son. 'T is the aluminium in a man's bones that fats land—roots or grass or corn. Anybody of larnin', 'll tell 'e that. Strip the belly off 'e, an', bone for bone, a lean man like me shaws as fair as you. No offence offered or taken, but a gross habit's mere clay and does more harm than gude underground."

Mr. Chapple in his turn resented this contemptuous dismissal of tissue as matter of no agricultural significance. The old men went wrangling home; Miller Lyddon and Billy retired to their beds; the moon departed behind the distant moors; and all the darkened valley slept in snow and starlight.



CHAPTER VIII

A BROTHERS' QUARREL

Though Phoebe was surprised at Will Blanchard's mild attitude toward her weakness, she had been less so with more knowledge. Chris Blanchard and her lover were in some degree responsible for Will's lenity, and Clement's politic letter to the wanderer, when Phoebe's engagement was announced, had been framed in words best calculated to shield the Miller's sore-driven daughter. Hicks had thrown the blame on John Grimbal, on Mr. Lyddon, on everybody but Phoebe herself. Foremost indeed he had censured Will, and pointed out that his own sustained silence, however high-minded the reason of it, was a main factor in his sweetheart's sufferings and ultimate submission.

In answer to this communication Blanchard magically reappeared, announced his determination to marry Phoebe by subterfuge, and, the deed accomplished, take his punishment, whatever it might be, with light heart. Given time to achieve a legal marriage, and Phoebe would at least be safe from the clutches of millionaires in general.

Much had already been done by Will before he crept after the apple-christeners and accomplished his meeting with Phoebe. A week was passed since Clement wrote the final crushing news, and during that interval Will had been stopping with his uncle, Joel Ford, at Newton Abbot. Fate, hard till now, played him passing fair at last. The old Superintendent Registrar still had a soft corner in his heart for Will, and when he learnt the boy's trouble, though of cynic mind in all matters pertaining to matrimony, he chose to play the virtuous and enraged philosopher, much to his nephew's joy. Mr. Ford promised Will he should most certainly have the law's aid to checkmate his dishonourable adversary; he took a most serious view of the case and declared that all thinking men must sympathise with young Blanchard under such circumstances. But in private the old gentleman rubbed his hands, for here was the very opportunity he desired as much as a man well might—the chance to strike at one who had shamefully wronged him. His only trouble was how best to let John Grimbal know whom he had to thank for this tremendous reverse; for that deed he held necessary to complete his revenge.

As to where Will had come from, or whither he was returning, after his marriage Joel Ford cared not. The youngster once wedded would be satisfied; and his uncle would be satisfied too. The procedure of marriage by license requires that one of the parties shall have resided within the Superintendent's district for a space of fifteen days preceding the giving of notice; then application in prescribed form is made to the Registrar; and his certificate and license are usually received one clear day later. Thus a resident in a district can be married at any time within eight-and-forty hours of his decision. Will Blanchard had to stop with his uncle nine or ten days more to complete the necessary fortnight, and as John Grimbal's marriage morning was as yet above three weeks distant, Phoebe's fate in no way depended upon him.

Mr. Ford explained the position to Will, and the lover accepted it cheerfully.

"As to the marriage, that'll be hard and fast as a bench of bishops can make it; but wedding a woman under age, against the wish of her legal guardian, is an offence against the law. Nobody can undo the deed itself, but Miller Lyddon will have something to say afterwards. And there's that blustering blackguard, John Grimbal, to reckon with. Unscrupulous scoundrel! Just the sort to be lawless and vindictive if what you tell me concerning him is true."

"And so he be; let un! Who cares a brass button for him? 'T is awnly Miller I thinks of. What's worst he can do?"

"Send you to prison, Will."

"For how long?"

"That I can't tell you exactly. Not for marrying his daughter of course, but for abduction—that's what he'll bring against you."

"An' so he shall, uncle, an' I'll save him all the trouble I can. That's no gert hardship—weeks, or months even. I'll go like a lark, knawin' Phoebe's safe."

So the matter stood and the days passed. Will's personal affairs, and the secret of the position from which he had come was known only to Clement Hicks. The lover talked of returning again thither after his marriage, but he remained vague on that point, and, indeed, modified his plans after the above recorded conversation with his uncle. Twice he wrote to Phoebe in the period of waiting, and the letter had been forwarded on both occasions through Clement. Two others knew what was afoot, and during that time of trial Phoebe found Chris her salvation. The stronger girl supported her sinking spirit and fortified her courage. Chris mightily enjoyed the whole romance, and among those circumstances that combined to make John Grimbal uneasy during the days of waiting was her constant presence at Monks Barton. There she came as Phoebe's friend, and the clear, bright eyes she often turned on him made him angry, he knew not why. As for Mrs. Blanchard, she had secretly learnt more than anybody suspected, for while Will first determined to tell her nothing until afterwards, a second thought rebuked him for hiding such a tremendous circumstance from his mother, and he wrote to her at full length from Newton, saying nothing indeed of the past but setting out the future in detail. Upon the subject Mrs. Blanchard kept her own counsel.

Preparations for Phoebe's wedding moved apace, and she lived in a dim, heart-breaking dream. John Grimbal, despite her entreaties, continued to spend money upon her; yet each new gift brought nothing but tears. Grown desperate in his determination to win a little affection and regard before marriage, and bitterly conscious that he could command neither, the man plied her with what money would buy, and busied himself to bring her happiness in spite of herself. Troubled he was, nevertheless, and constantly sought the miller that he might listen to comforting assurances that he need be under no concern.

"'T is natural in wan who's gwaine to say gude-bye to maidenhood so soon," declared Mr. Lyddon. "I've thought 'bout her tears a deal. God knaws they hurt me more 'n they do her, or you either; but such sad whims and cloudy hours is proper to the time. Love for me's got a share in her sorrow, tu. 'T will all be well enough when she turns her back on the church-door an' hears the weddin'-bells a-clashing for her future joy. Doan't you come nigh her much during the next few weeks."

"Two," corrected Mr. Grimbal, moodily.

"Eh! Awnly two! Well, 't is gert darkness for me, I promise you—gert darkness comin' for Monks Barton wi'out the butivul sound an' sight of her no more. But bide away, theer's a gude man; bide away these coming few days. Her last maiden hours mustn't be all tears. But my gifts do awnly make her cry, tu, if that's consolation to 'e. It's the tenderness of her li'l heart as brims awver at kindness."

In reality, Phoebe's misery was of a complexion wholly different. The necessity for living thus had not appeared so tremendous until she found herself launched into this sea of terrible deception. In operation such sustained falsity came like to drive her mad. She could not count the lies each day brought forth; she was frightened to pray for forgiveness, knowing every morning must see a renewal of the tragedy. Hell seemed yawning for her, and the possibility of any ultimate happiness, reached over this awful road of mendacity and deceit, was more than her imagination could picture. With loss of self-respect, self-control likewise threatened to depart. She became physically weak, mentally hysterical. The strain told terribly on her nature; and Chris mourned to note a darkness like storm-cloud under her grey eyes, and unwonted pallor upon her cheek. Dr. Parsons saw Phoebe at this juncture, prescribed soothing draughts, and ordered rest and repose; but to Chris the invalid clung, and Mr. Lyddon was not a little puzzled that the sister of Phoebe's bygone sweetheart should now possess such power to ease her mind and soothe her troubled nerves.

John Grimbal obeyed the injunction laid upon him and absented himself from Monks Barton. All was prepared for the ceremony. He had left his Red House farm and taken rooms for the present at "The Three Crowns." Hither came his brother to see him four nights before the weddingday. Martin had promised to be best man, yet a shadow lay between the brothers, and John, his mind unnaturally jealous and suspicious from the nature of affairs with Phoebe, sulked of late in a conviction that Martin had watched his great step with unfraternal indifference and denied him the enthusiasm and congratulation proper to such an event.

The younger man found his brother scanning a new black broadcloth coat when he entered. He praised it promptly, whereupon John flung it from him and showed no more interest in the garment. Martin, not to be offended, lighted his pipe, took an armchair beside the fire, and asked for some whiskey. This mollified the other a little; he produced spirits, loaded his own pipe, and asked the object of the visit.

"A not over-pleasant business, John," returned his brother, frankly; "but 'Least said, soonest mended.' Only remember this, nothing must ever lessen our common regard. What I am going to say is inspired by my—"

"Yes, yes—cut that. Spit it out and have done with it. I know there's been trouble in you for days. You can't hide your thoughts. You've been grim as a death's-head for a month—ever since I was engaged, come to think of it. Now open your jaws and have done."

John's aggressive and hectoring manner spoke volubly of his own lack of ease. Martin nerved himself to begin, holding it his duty, but secretly fearing the issue in the light of his brother's hard, set face.

"You've something bothering you too, old man. I'm sure of it. God is aware I don't know much about women myself, but—"

"Oh, dry up that rot! Don't think I'm blind, if you are. Don't deceive yourself. There's a woman-hunger in you, too, though perhaps you haven't found it out yet. What about that Blanchard girl?"

Martin flushed like a schoolboy; his hand went up over his mouth and chin as though to hide part of his guilt, and he looked alarmed and uneasy.

John laughed without mirth at the other's ludicrous trepidation.

"Good heavens! I've done nothing surely to suggest—?"

"Nothing at all—except look as if you were going to have a fit every time you get within a mile of her. Lovers know the signs, I suppose. Don't pretend you're made of different stuff to the rest of us, that's all."

Martin removed his hand and gasped before the spectacle of what he had revealed to other eyes. Then, after a silence of fifteen seconds, he shut his mouth again, wiped his forehead with his hand, and spoke.

"I've been a silly fool. Only she's so wonderfully beautiful—don't you think so?"

"A gypsy all over—if you call that beautiful."

The other flushed up again, but made no retort.

"Never mind me or anybody else. I want to speak to you about Phoebe, if I may, John. Who have I got to care about but you? I'm only thinking of your happiness, for that's dearer to me than my own; and you know in your heart that I'm speaking the truth when I say so."

"Stick to your gate-posts and old walls and cow-comforts and dead stones. We all know you can look farther into Dartmoor granite than most men, if that's anything; but human beings are beyond you and always were. You'd have come home a pauper but for me."

"D' you think I'm not grateful? No man ever had a better brother than you, and you've stood between me and trouble a thousand times. Now I want to stand between you and trouble."

"What the deuce d' you mean by naming Phoebe, then?"

"That is the trouble. Listen and don't shout me down. She's breaking her heart—blind or not blind, I see that—breaking her heart, not for you, but Will Blanchard. Nobody else has found it out; but I have, and I know it's my duty to tell you; and I've done it."

An ugly twist came into John Grimbal's face. "You've done it; yes. Go on."

"That's all, brother, and from your manner I don't believe it's entirely news to you."

"Then get you gone, damned snake in the grass! Get gone, 'fore I lay a hand on you! You to turn and bite me! Me, that's made you! I see it all—your blasted sheep's eyes at Chris Blanchard, and her always at Monks Barton! Don't lie about it," he roared, as Martin raised his hand to speak; "not a word more will I hear from your traitor's lips. Get out of my sight, you sneaking hypocrite, and never call me 'brother' no more, for I'll not own to it!"

"You'll be sorry for this, John."

"And you too. You'll smart all your life long when you think of this dirty trick played against a brother who never did you no hurt. You to come between me and the girl that's promised to marry me! And for your own ends. A manly, brotherly plot, by God!"

"I swear, on my sacred honour, there's no plot against you. I've never spoken to a soul about this thing, nor has a soul spoken of it to me; that's the truth."

"Rot you, and your sacred honour too! Go, and take your lies with you, and keep your own friends henceforth, and never cross my threshold more—you or your sacred, stinking honour either."

Martin rose from his chair dazed and bewildered. He had seen his brother's passion wither up many a rascal in the past; but he himself had never suffered until now, and the savagery of this language hurled against his own pure motives staggered him. He, of course, knew nothing about Will Blanchard's enterprise, and his blundering and ill-judged effort to restrain his brother from marrying Phoebe was absolutely disinterested. It had been a tremendous task to him to speak on this delicate theme, and regard for John alone actuated him; now he departed without another word and went blankly to the little new stone house he had taken and furnished on the outskirts of Chagford under Middledown. He walked along the straight street of whitewashed cots that led him to his home, and reflected with dismay on this catastrophe. The conversation with his brother had scarcely occupied five minutes; its results promised to endure a lifetime.

Meanwhile, and at the identical hour of this tremendous rupture, Chris Blanchard, well knowing that the morrow would witness Phoebe's secret marriage to her brother, walked down to see her. It happened that a small party filled the kitchen of Monks Barton, and the maid who answered her summons led Chris through the passage and upstairs to Phoebe's own door. There the girls spoke in murmurs together, while various sounds, all louder than their voices, proceeded from the kitchen below. There were assembled the miller, Billy Blee, Mr. Chapple, and one Abraham Chown, the police inspector of Chagford, a thin, black-bearded man, oppressed with the cares of his office.

"They be arranging the programme of festive delights," explained Phoebe. "My heart sinks in me every way I turn now. All the world seems thinking about what's to come; an' I knaw it never will."

"'T is a wonnerful straange thing to fall out. Never no such happened before, I reckon. But you 'm doin' right by the man you love, an' that's a thought for 'e more comfortin' than gospel in a pass like this. A promise is a promise, and you've got to think of all your life stretching out afore you. Will's jonic, take him the right way, and that you knaw how to do—a straight, true chap as should make any wife happy. Theer'll be waitin' afterwards an' gude need for all the patience you've got; but wance the wife of un, allus the wife of un; that's a butivul thing to bear in mind."

"'T is so; 't is everything. An' wance we'm wed, I'll never tell a lie again, an' atone for all I have told, an' do right towards everybody."

"You caan't say no fairer. Be any matter I can help 'e with?"

"Nothing. It's all easy. The train starts for Moreton at half-past nine. Sam Bonus be gwaine to drive me in, and bide theer for me till I come back from Newton. Faither's awnly too pleased to let me go. I said 't was shopping."

"An' when you come home you'll tell him—Mr. Lyddon—straight?"

"Everything, an' thank God for a clean breast again."

"An' Will?"

"Caan't say what he'll do after. Theer'll be no real marryin' for us yet a while. Faither can have the law of Will presently,—that's all I knaw."

"Trust Will to do the right thing; and mind, come what may to him, theer's allus Clem Hicks and me for friends."

"Ban't likely to be many others left, come to-morrow night. But I've run away from my own thoughts to think of you and him often of late days. He'll get money and marry you, won't he, when his aunt, Mrs. Coomstock, dies?"

"No; I thought so tu, an' hoped it wance; but Clem says what she've got won't come his way. She's like as not to marry, tu—there 'm a lot of auld men tinkering after her, Billy Blee among 'em."

Sounds arose from beneath. They began with harsh and grating notes, interrupted by a violent hawking and spitting. Then followed renewal of the former unlovely noises. Presently, at a point in the song, for such it was, half a dozen other voices drowned the soloist in a chorus.

"'T is Billy rehearsin' moosic," explained Phoebe, with a sickly smile. "He haven't singed for a score of years; but they've awver-persuaded him and he's promised to give 'em an auld ballet on my wedding-day."

"My stars! 't is a gashly auld noise sure enough," criticised Phoebe's friend frankly; "for all the world like a stuck pig screechin', or the hum of the threshin' machine poor faither used to have, heard long ways off."

Quavering and quivering, with sudden painful flights into a cracked treble, Billy's effort came to the listeners.

"'Twas on a Monday marnin' Afore the break of day, That I tuked up my turmit-hoe An' trudged dree mile away!"

Then a rollicking chorus, with rough music in it, surged to their ears—

"An' the fly, gee hoppee! The fly, gee whoppee! The fly be on the turmits, For 't is all my eye for me to try An' keep min off the turmits!"

Mr. Blee lashed his memory and slowly proceeded, while Chris, moved by a sort of sudden mother-instinct towards pale and tearful Phoebe, strained her to her bosom, hugged her very close, kissed her, and bid her be hopeful and happy.

"Taake gude heart, for you 'm to mate the best man in all the airth but wan!" she said; "an', if 't is awnly to keep Billy from singing in public, 't is a mercy you ban't gwaine to take Jan Grimbal. Doan't 'e fear for him. There'll be a thunder-storm for sartain; then he'll calm down, as better 'n him have had to 'fore now, an' find some other gal."

With this comfort Chris caressed Phoebe once more, heartily pitying her helplessness, and wishing it in her power to undertake the approaching ordeal on the young bride's behalf. Then she departed, her eyes almost as dim as Phoebe's. For a moment she forgot her own helpless matrimonial projects in sorrow for her brother and his future wife. Marriage at the registry office represented to her, as to most women, an unlovely, uncomfortable, and unfinished ceremony. She had as easily pictured a funeral without the assistance of the Church as a wedding without it.



CHAPTER IX

OUTSIDE EXETER GAOL

Within less than twelve hours of the time when she bid Chris farewell Phoebe Lyddon was Phoebe Lyddon no more. Will met her at Newton; they immediately proceeded to his uncle's office; and the Registrar had made them man and wife in space of time so brief that the girl could hardly realise the terrific event was accomplished, and that henceforth she belonged to Will alone. Mr. Ford had his little joke afterwards in the shape of a wedding-breakfast and champagne. He was gratified at the event and rejoiced to be so handsomely and tremendously revenged on his unfortunate enemy. The young couple partook of the good things provided for them; but appetite was lacking to right enjoyment of the banquet, and Will and his wife much desired to escape and be alone.

Presently they returned to the station and arrived there before Phoebe's train departed. Her husband then briefly explained the remarkable course of action he designed to pursue.

"You must be a braave gal and think none the worse of me. But't is this way: I've broke law, and a month or two, or six, maybe, in gaol have got to be done. Your faither will see to that."

"Prison! O, Will! For marryin' me?"

"No, but for marryin' you wi'out axin' leave. Miller Lyddon told me the upshot of taking you, if I done it; an' I have; an' he'll keep his word. So that's it. I doan't want to make no more trouble; an' bein' a man of resource I'm gwaine up to Exeter by first train, so soon as you've started. Then all bother in the matter will be saved Miller."

"O Will! Must you?"

"Ess fay, 't is my duty. I've thought it out through many hours. The time'll soon slip off; an' then I'll come back an' stand to work. Here's a empty carriage. Jump in. I can sit along with 'e for a few minutes."

"How ever shall I begin? How shall I break it to them, dearie?"

"Hold up your li'l hand," said Will with a laugh. "Shaw 'em the gawld theer. That'll speak for 'e. 'S truth!" he continued, with a gesture of supreme irritation, "but it's a hard thing to be snatched apart like this—man an' wife. If I was takin' 'e home to some lew cot, all our very awn, how differ'nt 't would be!"

"You will some day."

"So I will then. I've got 'e for all time, an' Jan Grimbal's missed 'e for all time. Damned if I ban't a'most sorry for un!"

"So am I,—in a way,—as you are. My heart hurts me to think of him. He'll never forgive me."

"Me, you mean. Well, 't is man to man, an' I ban't feared of nothing on two legs. You just tell 'em that 't was to be, that you never gived up lovin' me, but was forced into lyin' and such-like by the cruel way they pushed 'e. Shaw 'em the copy of the paper if they doan't b'lieve the ring. An' when Miller lifts up his voice to cuss me, tell un quiet that I knawed what must come of it, and be gone straight to Exeter Gaol to save un all further trouble. He'll see then I'm a thinking, calculating man, though young in years."

Phoebe was now reduced to sighs and dry sobs. Will sat by her a little longer, patted her hands and spoke cheerfully. Then the train departed and he jumped from it as it moved and ran along the platform with a last earnest injunction.

"See mother first moment you can an' explain how 't is. Mother'll understand, for faither did similar identical, though he wasn't put in clink for it."

He waved his hand and Phoebe passed homewards. Then the fire died out of his eyes and he sighed and turned. But no shadow of weakness manifested itself in his manner. His jaw hardened, he smote his leg with his stick, and, ascertaining the time of the next train to Exeter, went back to bid Mr. Ford farewell before setting about his business.

Will told his uncle nothing concerning the contemplated action; and such silence was unfortunate, for had he spoken the old man's knowledge must have modified his fantastic design. Knowing that Will came mysteriously from regular employment which he declined to discuss, and assuming that he now designed returning to it, Mr. Ford troubled no more about him. So his nephew thanked the Registrar right heartily for all the goodness he had displayed in helping two people through the great crisis of their lives, and went on his way. His worldly possessions were represented by a new suit of blue serge which he wore, and a few trifles in a small carpet-bag.

It was the past rather than the present or future which troubled Will on his journey to Exeter; and the secret of the last six months, whatever that might be, lay heavier on his mind than the ordeal immediately ahead of him. In this coming achievement he saw no shame; it was merely part payment for an action lawless but necessary. He prided himself always on a great spirit of justice, and justice demanded that henceforth he must consider the family into which he had thus unceremoniously introduced himself. To no man in the wide world did he feel more kindly disposed than to Miller Lyddon; and his purpose was now to save his father-in-law all the annoyance possible.

Arrived at Exeter, Will walked cheerfully away to the County Gaol, a huge red-brick pile that scarce strikes so coldly upon the eye of the spectator as ordinary houses of detention. Grey and black echo the significance of a prison, but warm red brick strikes through the eye to the brain, and the colour inspires a genial train of ideas beyond reason's power instantly to banish. But the walls, if ruddy, were high, and the rows of small, remote windows, black as the eye-socket of a skull, stretched away in dreary iron-bound perspective where the sides of the main fabric rose upward to its chastened architectural adornments. Young Blanchard grunted to himself, gripped his stick, from one end of which was suspended his carpet-bag, and walked to the wicket at the side of the prison's main entrance. He rang a bell that jangled with tremendous echoes among the naked walls within; then there followed the rattle of locks as the sidegate opened, and a warder looked out to ask Will his business. The man was burly and of stout build, while his fat, bearded face, red as the gaol walls themselves, attracted Blanchard by its pleasant expression. Will's eyes brightened at the aspect of this janitor; he touched his hat very civilly, wished the man "good afternoon," and was about to step in when the other stopped him.

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