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Children of the Mist
by Eden Phillpotts
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"Doan't be in such a hurry, my son. What's brought 'e, an' who do 'e want?"

"My business is private, mister; I wants to see the head man."

"The Governor? Won't nobody less do? You can't see him without proper appointment. But maybe a smaller man might serve your turn?"

Will reflected, then laughed at the warder with that sudden magic of face that even softened hard hearts towards him.

"To be plain, mate, I'm here to stop. You'll be sure to knaw 'bout it sooner or late, so I'll tell 'e now. I've done a thing I must pay for, and 't is a clink job, so I've comed right along."

The warder grew rather sterner, and his eye instinctively roamed for a constable.

"Best say no more, then. Awnly you've comed to the wrong place. Police station's what you want, I reckon."

"Why for? This be County Gaol, ban't it?"

"Ess, that's so; but we doan't take in folks for the axin'. Tu many queer caraters about."

Will saw the man's eyes twinkle, yet he was puzzled at this unexpected problem.

"Look here," he said, "I like you, and I'll deal fair by you an' tell you the rights of it. Step out here an' listen."

"Mind, what you sez will be used against you, then."

"Theer ban't no secret in it, for that matter."

The husband thereupon related his recent achievement, and concluded thus:

"So, having kicked up a mort o' trouble, I doan't want to make no more—see? An' I stepped here quiet to keep it out of the papers, an' just take what punishment's right an' vitty for marryin' a maid wi'out so much as by your leave. Now, then, caan't 'e do the rest?"

He regarded the warder gravely and inquiringly, but as the red-faced man slowly sucked up the humour of the situation, his mouth expanded and his eyes almost disappeared. Then he spoke through outbursts and shakings of deep laughter.

"Oh Lard! Wheerever was you born to?"

Will flushed deeply, frowned, and clenched his fists at this question.

"Shut your gert mouth!" he said angrily. "Doan't bellow like that, or I'll hit 'e awver the jaw! Do'e think I want the whole of Exeter City to knaw my errand? What's theer to gape an' snigger at? Caan't 'e treat a man civil?"

This reproof set the official off again, and only a furious demand from Blanchard to go about his business and tell the Governor he wanted an interview partially steadied him.

"By Gor! you'll be the death of me. Caan't help it—honour bright—doan't mean no rudeness to you. Bless your young heart, an' the gal's, whoever she be. Didn't 'e knaw? But theer! course you didn't, else you wouldn't be here. Why, 't is purty near as hard to get in prison as out again. You'll have to be locked up, an' tried by judge an' jury, and plead guilty, and be sentenced, an' the Lard He knaws what beside 'fore you come here. How do the lawyers an' p'licemen get their living?"

"That's news. I hoped to save Miller Lyddon all such trouble."

"Why not try another way, an' see if you can get the auld gentleman to forgive 'e?"

"Not him. He'll have the law in due time."

"Well, I'm 'mazin' sorry I caan't oblige 'e, for I'm sure we'd be gude friends, an' you'd cheer us all up butivul."

"But you 'm certain it caan't be managed?"

"Positive."

"Then I've done all a man can. You'll bear witness I wanted to come, won't 'e?"

"Oh yes, I'll take my oath o' that. I shaan't forget 'e."

"All right. And if I'm sent here again, bimebye, I'll look out for you, and I hopes you'll be as pleasant inside as now."

"I'll promise that. Shall be awnly tu pleased to make you at home. I like you; though, to be frank, I reckon you'm tu gnat-brained a chap to make a wife happy."

"Then you reckon a damned impedent thing! What d' you knaw 'bout it?"

"A tidy deal. I've been married more years than you have hours, I lay."

"Age ban't everything; 't is the fashion brains in a man's head counts most."

"That's right enough. 'T is something to knaw that. Gude-bye to 'e, bwoy, an' thank you for makin' me laugh heartier than I have this month of Sundays."

"More fule you!" declared Will; but he was too elated at the turn of affairs to be anything but amiable just now. Before the other disappeared, he stopped him.

"Shake hands, will 'e? I thank you for lightenin' my mind—bein' a man of law, in a manner of speakin'. Ess, I'm obliged to 'e. Of coourse I doan't want to come to prison 'zackly. That's common sense."

"Most feel same as you. No doubt you're in the wrong, though the law caan't drop on honest, straightforrard matrimony to my knowledge. Maybe circumstances is for 'e."

"Ess, they be—every jack wan of 'em!" declared Will. "An' if I doan't come here to stop, I'll call in some day and tell 'e the upshot of this coil in a friendly way."

"Do so, an' bring your missis. Shall be delighted to see the pair of 'e any time. Ax for Thomas Bates."

Will nodded and marched off, while the warder returned to his post, and when he had again made fast the door behind him, permitted the full splendor of his recent experience to tumble over his soul in a laughter perhaps louder than any heard before or since within the confines of one of Her Majesty's prisons.



CHAPTER X

THE BRINGING OF THE NEWS

Phoebe meantime returned to Chagford, withdrew herself into her chamber, and feverishly busied brains and hands with a task commended that morning by Will when she had mentioned it to him. The various trinkets and objects of value lavished of late upon her by John Grimbal she made into a neat packet, and tied up a sealskin jacket and other furs in a second and more bulky parcel. With these and a letter she presently despatched a maid to Mr. Grimbal's temporary address. Phoebe's note explained how, weak and friendless until the sudden return of Will into her life, she had been thrown upon wickedness, falsehood, and deceit to win her own salvation in the face of all about her. She told him of the deed done that day, begged him to be patient and forget her, and implored him to forgive her husband, who had fought with the only weapons at his command. It was a feeble communication, and Phoebe thought that her love for Will might have inspired words more forcible; but relief annihilated any other emotion; she felt thankful that the lying, evasion, and prevarication of the last horrible ten days were at an end. From the nightmare of that time her poor, bruised conscience emerged sorely stricken; yet she felt that the battle now before her was a healthy thing by comparison, and might serve to brace her moral senses rather than not.

At the tea-table she first met her father, and there were present also Billy Blee and Mr. Chapple. The latter had come to Monks Barton about a triumphal arch, already in course of erection at Chagford market-place, and his presence it was that precipitated her confession, and brought Phoebe's news like a thunderbolt upon the company.

Mr. Chapple, looking up suddenly from the saucer that rested upon his outspread fingers and thumb, made a discovery, and spoke with some concern.

"Faith, Missy, that's ill luck—a wisht thing to do indeed! Put un off, like a gude maid, for theer 's many a wise sayin' 'gainst it."

"What's her done?" asked Billy anxiously.

"Luke 'pon her weddin' finger. 'Tis poor speed to put un on 'fore her lard an' master do it, at the proper moment ordained by Scripture."

"If she hasn't! Take un off, Miss Phoebe, do!" begged Mr. Blee, in real trepidation; and the miller likewise commanded his daughter to remove her wedding-ring.

"An auld wife's tale, but, all the same, shouldn't be theer till you 'm a married woman," he said.

Thus challenged, the way was made smooth as possible for the young wife. She went over to her father, walked close to him, and put her plump little hand with its shining addition upon his shoulder.

"Faither dear, I be a married woman. I had to tell lies and play false, but't was to you an' Mr. Grimbal I've been double, not to my husband that is. I was weak, and I've been punished sore, but—"

"Why, gal alive! what rigmarole 's this? Married—ay, an' so you shall be, in gude time. You 'm light-headed, lass, I do b'lieve. But doan't fret, I'll have Doctor—"

"Hear me," she said, almost roughly. "I kept my word—my first sacred word—to Will. I loved him, an' none else but him; an' 'tis done—I've married him this marnin', for it had to be, an' theer's the sign an' token of it I've brought along with me."

She drew the copy of the register from her pocket, opened it with trembling fingers, set it before Mr. Lyddon, and waited for him to speak. But it was some time before he found words or wind to do so. Literally the fact had taken his breath. A curious expression, more grin than frown—an expression beyond his control in moments of high emotion—wrinkled his eyelids, stretched his lips, and revealed the perfect double row of his false teeth. His hand went forward to the blue paper now lying before him, then the fingers stopped half way and shook in the air. Twice he opened his mouth, but only a sharp expiration, between a sigh and a bark, escaped.

"My God, you've shook the sawl of un!" cried Billy, starting forward, but the miller with an effort recovered his self-possession, scanned the paper, dropped it, and lifted up his voice in lamentation.

"True—past altering—'t is a thing done! May God forgive you for this wicked deed, Phoebe Lyddon—I'd never have b'lieved it of 'e—never—not if an angel had tawld me. My awn that was, and my awnly one! My darter, my soft-eyed gal, the crown of my grey hairs, the last light of my life!"

"I pray you'll come to forgive me in time, dear faither. I doan't ax 'e to yet a while. I had to do it—a faithful promise. 'T was for pure love, faither; I lied for him—lied even to you; an' my heart 's been near to breakin' for 'e these many days; but you'd never have listened if I'd told 'e."

"Go," he said very quietly. "I caan't abear the sight of'e just now. An' that poor fule, as thrawed his money in golden showers for 'e! Oh, my gude God, why for did 'E leave me any childern at all? Why didn't 'E take this cross-hearted wan when t' other was snatched away? Why didn't 'E fill the cup of my sorrer to the brim at a filling an' not drop by drop, to let un run awver now I be auld?"

Phoebe turned to him in bitter tears, but the man's head was down on his hands beside his plate and cup, and he, too, wept, with a pitiful childish squeak between his sobs. Weakness so overwhelming and so unexpected—a father's sorrow manifested in this helpless feminine fashion—tore the girl's very heartstrings. She knelt beside him and put her arms about him; but he pushed her away and with some return of self-control and sternness again bid her depart from him. This Phoebe did, and there was silence, while Mr. Lyddon snuffled, steadied himself, wiped his face with a cotton handkerchief, and felt feebly for a pair of spectacles in his pocket. Mr. Chapple, meantime, had made bold to scan the paper with round eyes, and Billy, now seeing the miller in some part recovered, essayed to comfort him.

"Theer, theer, maister, doan't let this black come-along-o't quench 'e quite. That's better! You such a man o' sense, tu! 'T was awver-ordained by Providence, though a artful thing in a young gal; but women be such itemy twoads best o' times—stage-players by sex, they sez; an' when love for a man be hid in 'em, gormed if they caan't fox the God as made 'em!"

"Her to do it! The unthankfulness, the cold cruelty of it! An' me that was mother an' father both to her—that did rock her cradle with these hands an' wash the li'l year-auld body of her. To forget all—all she owed! It cuts me that deep!"

"Deep as a wire into cheese, I lay. An' well it may; but han't no new thing; you stablish yourself with that. The ways o' women 's like—'t was a sayin' of Solomon I caan't call home just this minute; but he knawed, you mind, none better. He had his awn petticoat trouble, same as any other Christian man given to women. What do 'e say, neighbour?"

Billy, of opinion that Mr. Chapple should assist him in this painful duty, put the last question to his rotund friend, but the other, for answer, rose and prepared to depart.

"I say," he answered, "that I'd best go up-along and stop they chaps buildin' the triumphant arch. 'Pears won't be called for now. An' theer's a tidy deal else to do likewise. Folks was comin' in from the Moor half a score o' miles for this merry-makin'."

"'T is a practical thought," said Billy. "Them as come from far be like to seem fules if nothin' 's done. You go up the village an' I'll follow 'e so quick as I can."

Mr. Chapple thereupon withdrew and Billy turned to the miller. Mr. Lyddon had wandered once and again up and down the kitchen, then fallen into his customary chair; and there he now sat, his elbows on his knees, his hands over his face. He was overwhelmed; his tears hurt him physically and his head throbbed. Twenty years seemed to have piled themselves upon his brow in as many minutes.

"Sure I could shed water myself to see you like this here," said Mr. Blee, sympathetically; "but 't is wan of them eternal circumstances we 'm faaced with that all the rain falled of a wet winter won't wash away. Theer 's the lines. They 'm a fact, same as the sun in heaven 's a fact. God A'mighty's Self couldn't undo it wi'out some violent invention; an' for that matter I doan't see tu clear how even Him be gwaine to magic a married woman into a spinster again; any more than He could turn a spinster into a married woman, onless some ordinary human man came forrard. You must faace it braave an' strong. But that imp o' Satan—that damn Blanchard bwoy! Theer! I caan't say what I think 'bout him. Arter all that's been done: the guests invited, the banns axed out, the victuals bought, and me retracin' my ballet night arter night, for ten days, to get un to concert pitch—well, 't is a matter tu deep for mere speech."

"The—the young devil! I shall have no pity—not a spark. I wish to God he could hang for it!"

"As to that, might act worse than leave it to Jan Grimbal. He'll do summat 'fore you've done talkin', if I knaw un. An' a son-in-law 's a son-in-law, though he've brought it to pass by a brigand deed same as this. 'T is a kicklish question what a man should do to the person of his darter's husband. You bide quiet an' see what chances. Grimbal's like to take law into his awn hands, as any man of noble nature might in this quandary."

The disappointed lover's probable actions offered dreary food for thought, and the two old men were still conversing when a maid entered to lay the cloth for supper. Then Billy proceeded to the village and Mr. Lyddon, unnerved and restless, rambled aimlessly into the open air, addressed any man or woman who passed from the adjacent cottages, and querulously announced, to the astonishment of chance listeners, that his daughter's match was broken off.

An hour later Phoebe reappeared in the kitchen and occupied her usual place at the supper-table. No one spoke a word, but the course of the meal was suddenly interrupted, for there came a knock at the farmhouse door, and without waiting to be answered, somebody lifted the latch, tramped down the stone passage, and entered the room.

Now Phoebe, in the privacy of her little chamber beneath the thatch, had reflected miserably on the spectacle of her husband far away in a prison cell, with his curls cropped off and his shapely limbs clad convict-fashion. When, therefore, Will, and not John Grimbal, as she expected, stood before her, his wife was perhaps more astonished than any other body present. Young Blanchard appeared, however. He looked weary and hungry, for he had been on his legs during the greater part of the day and had forgotten to eat since his pretence of wedding-breakfast ten hours earlier. Now, newly returned from Exeter, he came straight to Monks Barton before going to his home.

Billy Blee was the first to find his voice before this sudden apparition. His fork, amply laden, hung in the air as though his arm was turned to stone; with a mighty gulp he emptied his mouth and spoke.

"Gormed if you ban't the most 'mazin' piece ever comed out o' Chagford!"

"Miller Lyddon," said Will, not heeding Mr. Blee, "I be here to say wan word 'fore I goes out o' your sight. You said you'd have law of me if I took Phoebe; an' that I done, 'cause we was of a mind. Now we 'm man an' wife, an' I'm just back from prison, wheer I went straight to save you trouble. But theer 's preambles an' writs an' what not. I shall be to mother's, an' you can send Inspector Chown when you like. It had to come 'cause we was of a mind."

He looked proudly at Phoebe, but departed without speaking to her, and silence followed his going. Mr. Lyddon stared blankly at the door through which Will departed, then his rage broke forth.

"Curse the wretch! Curse him to his dying day! An' I'll do more—more than that. What he can suffer he shall, and if I've got to pay my last shilling to get him punishment I'll do it—my last shilling I'll pay."

He had not regarded his daughter or spoken to her since his words at their first meeting; and now, still ignoring Phoebe's presence, he began eagerly debating with Billy Blee as to what law might have power to do. The girl, wisely enough, kept silence, ate a little food, and then went quietly away to her bed. She was secretly overjoyed at Will's return and near presence; but another visitor might be expected at any moment, and Phoebe knew that to be in bed before the arrival of John Grimbal would save her from the necessity of a meeting she much feared. She entered upon her wedding-night, therefore, while the voices below droned on, now rising, now falling; then, while she was saying her prayers with half her mind on them, the other half feverishly intent on a certain sound, it came. She heard the clink, clink of the gate, thrown wide open and now swinging backwards and forwards, striking the hasp each time; then a heavy step followed it, feet strode clanging down the passage, and the bull roar of a man's voice fell on her ear. Upon this she huddled under the clothes, but listened for a second at long intervals to hear when he departed. The thing that had happened, however, since her husband's departure and John Grimbal's arrival, remained happily hidden from Phoebe until next morning, by which time a climax in affairs was past and the outcome of tragic circumstances fully known.

When Blanchard left the farm, he turned his steps very slowly homewards, and delayed some minutes on Rushford Bridge before appearing to his mother. For her voice he certainly yearned, and for her strong sense to throw light upon his future actions; but she did not know everything there was to be known and he felt that with himself, when all was said, lay decision as to his next step. While he reflected a new notion took shape and grew defined and seemed good to him.

"Why not?" he said to himself, aloud. "Why not go back? Seeing the provocation—they might surely—?" He pursued the idea silently and came to a determination. Yet the contemplated action was never destined to be performed, for now an accident so trifling as the chance glimmer of a lucifer match contributed to remodel the scheme of his life and wholly shatter immediate resolutions. Craving a whiff of tobacco, without which he had been since morning, Will lighted his pipe, and the twinkle of flame as he did so showed his face to a man passing across the bridge at that moment. He stopped in his stride, and a great bellow of wrath escaped him, half savage, half joyful.

"By God! I didn't think to meet so soon!"

Here was a red-hot raving Nemesis indeed; and Will, while prepared for a speedy meeting with his enemy, neither expected nor desired an encounter just then. But it had come, and he knew what was before him. Grimbal, just returned from a long day's sport, rode back to his hotel in a good temper. He drank a brandy-and-soda at the bar, then went up to his rooms and found Phoebe's letter; whereupon, as he was in muddy pink, he set off straight for Monks Barton; and now he stood face to face with the man on earth he most desired to meet. By the light of his match Will saw a red coat, white teeth under a great yellow moustache, and a pair of mad, flaming eyes, hungry for something. He knew what was coming, moved quickly from the parapet of the bridge, and flung away his pipe to free his hands. As he did so the other was on him. Will warded one tremendous stroke from a hunting-crop; then they came to close quarters, and Grimbal, dropping his whip, got in a heavy half-arm blow on his enemy's face before they gripped in holds. The younger man, in no trim for battle, reeled and tried to break away; but the other had him fast, picked him clean off the ground, and, getting in his weight, used a Yankee throw, with intent to drop Will against the granite of the bridge. But though Blanchard went down like a child before the attack, he disappeared rather than fell; and in the pitchy night it seemed as though some amiable deity had caught up the vanquished into air. A sudden pressure of the low parapet against his own legs as he staggered forward, told John Grimbal what was done and, at the same moment, a tremendous splash in the water below indicated his enemy's dismal position. Teign, though not in flood at the time, ran high, and just below the bridge a deep pool opened out. Around it were rocks upon which rose the pillars of the bridge. No sound or cry followed Will Blanchard's fall; no further splash of a swimmer, or rustle on the river's bank, indicated any effort from him. Grimbal's first instincts were those of regret that revenge had proved so brief. His desire was past before he had tasted it. Then for a moment he hesitated, and the first raving lust to kill Phoebe's husband waned a trifle before the sudden conviction that he had done so. He crept down to the river, ploughed about to find the man, questioning what he should do if he did find him. His wrath waxed as he made search, and he told himself that he should only trample Blanchard deeper into water if he came upon him. He kicked here and there with his heavy boots; then abandoned the search and proceeded to Monks Barton.

Into the presence of the miller he thundered, and for a time said nothing of the conflict from which he had come. The scene needs no special narration. Vain words and wishes, oaths and curses, filled John Grimbal's mouth. He stamped on the floor, finding it impossible to remain motionless, roared the others down, loaded the miller with bitter reproaches for his blindness, silenced Mr. Blee on every occasion when he attempted to join the discussion. The man, in fine, exhibited that furious, brute passion and rage to be expected from such a nature suddenly faced with complete dislocation of cherished hopes. His life had been a long record of success, and this tremendous reverse, on his first knowledge of it, came near to unhinge John Grimbal's mind. Storm succeeded storm, explosion followed upon explosion, and the thought of the vanity of such a display only rendered him more frantic. Then chance reminded the raging maniac of that thing he had done, and now, removed from the deed by a little time, he gloried in it.

"Blast the devil—short shrift he got—given straight into my hand! I swore to kill him when I heard it; an' I have—pitched him over the bridge and broken his blasted neck. I'd burn in ragin' hell through ten lifetimes to do it again. But that's done once for all. And you can tell your whore of a daughter she's a widow, not a wife!"

"God be gude to us!" cried Billy, while Mr. Lyddon started in dismay. "Is this true you'm tellin'? Blue murder? An' so, like's not, his awn mother'll find un when she goes to draw water in the marnin'!"

"Let her, and his sister, too; and my God-damned brother! All in it—every cursed one of 'em. I'd like—I'd like—Christ—"

He broke off, was silent for a moment, then strode out of the room towards the staircase. Mr. Lyddon heard him and rushed after him with Billy. They scrambled past and stood at the stair-foot while Grimbal glanced up in the direction of Phoebe's room, and then glared at the two old men.

"Why not, you doddering fools? Can you still stand by her, cursed jade of lies? My work's only half done! No man's ever betrayed me but he's suffered hell for it; and no woman shall."

He raged, and the two with beating hearts waited for him.

Then suddenly laughing aloud, the man turned his back, and passed into the night without more words.

"Mad, so mad as any zany!" gasped Mr. Blee. "Thank God the whim's took un to go. My innards was curdlin' afore him!"

The extravagance of Grimbal's rage had affected Mr. Lyddon also. With white and terrified face he crept after Grimbal, and watched that tornado of a man depart.

"My stars! He do breathe forth threatenings and slaughters worse 'n in any Bible carater ever I read of," said the miller, "and if what he sez be true—"

"I'll wager 't is. Theer 's method in him. Your son-in-law, if I may say it, be drownded, sure 's death. What a world!"

"Get the lanterns and call Sam Bonus. He must stand to this door an' let no man in while we 'm away. God send the chap ban't dead. I don't like for a long-cripple to suffer torture."

"That's your high religion. An' I'll carry the brandy, for 't is a liquor, when all 's said, what 's saved more bodies in this world than it 's damned sawls in the next, an' a thing pleasant, tu, used with sense—specially if a man can sleep 'fore 't is dead in un."

"Hurry, hurry! Every minute may mean life or death. I'll call Bonus; you get the lanterns."

Ten minutes later a huge labourer stood guard over Monks Barton, and the miller, with his man, entered upon their long and fruitless search. The thaw had come, but glimmering ridges of snow still outlined the bases of northern-facing hedges along the river. With infinite labour and some difficulty they explored the stream, then, wet and weary, returned by the southern bank to their starting-point at Rushford Bridge. Here Billy found a cloth cap by the water's edge, and that was the only evidence of Will's downfall. As they clambered up from the river Mr. Lyddon noted bright eyes shining across the night, and found that the windows of Mrs. Blanchard's cottage were illuminated.

"They 'm waitin' for him by the looks of it," he said. "What ought us to do, I wonder?"

Billy never objected to be the bearer of news, good or ill, so that it was sensational; but a thought struck him at seeing the lighted windows.

"Why, it may be he's theer! If so, then us might find Grimbal didn't slay un arter all. 'T was such a miz-maze o' crooked words he let fly 'pon us, that perhaps us misread un."

"I wish I thought so. Come. Us can ax that much."

A few minutes later they stood at Mrs. Blanchard's door and knocked. The widow herself appeared, fully dressed, wide awake, and perfectly collected. Her manner told Mr. Lyddon nothing.

"What might you want, Miller?"

"'T is Will. There's bin blows struck and violence done, I hear."

"I can tell 'e the rest. The bwoy's paid his score an' got full measure. He wanted to be even with you, tu, but they wouldn't let un."

"If he ban't dead, I'll make him smart yet for his evil act."

"I warned 'e. He was cheated behind his back, an' played with the same cards what you did, and played better."

"Wheer is he now? That's what I want to knaw."

"Up in the house. They met on the bridge an' Grimbal bested him, Will bein' weary an' empty-bellied. When the man flinged him in the stream, he got under the arch behind the rocks afore he lost his head for a time and went senseless. When he comed to he crawled up the croft and I let un in."

"Thank God he's not dead; but punishment he shall have if theer's justice in the land."

"Bide your time. He won't shirk it. But he's hurted proper; you might let Jan Grimbal knaw, 't will ease his mind."

"Not it," declared Billy; "he thought he'd killed un; cracked the neck of un."

"The blow 'pon his faace scatted abroad his left nostril; the fall brawked his arm, not his neck; an' the spurs t' other was wearin' tored his leg to the bone. Doctor's seen un; so tell Grimbal. Theer's pleasure in such payment."

She spoke without emotion, and showed no passion against the master of the Red House. When Will had come to her, being once satisfied in her immediate motherly agony that his life was not endangered, she allowed her mind a sort of secret, fierce delight at his performance and its success in the main issue. She was proud of him at the bottom of her heart; but before other eyes bore herself with outward imperturbability.

"You'll keep the gal, I reckon?" she said quietly; "if you can hold hand off Will till he'm on his legs again, I'd thank you."

"I shall do what I please, when I please; an' my poor fule of a daughter stops with me as long as I've got power to make her."

"Hope you'll live to see things might have been worse."

"That's impossible. No worse evil could have fallen upon me. My grey hairs a laughing-stock, and your awn brother's hand in it. He knawed well enough the crime he was committing."

"You've a short memory, Miller. I lay Jan Grimbal knaws the reason if you doan't. The worm that can sting does, if you tread on it. Gude-night to 'e."

"An' how do you find yourself now?" Billy inquired, as his master and he returned to Monks Barton.

"Weary an' sick, an' filled with gall. Was it wrong to make the match, do 'e think, seein' 't was all for love of my cheel? Was I out to push so strong for it? I seem I done right, despite this awful mischance."

"An' so you did; an' my feelin's be the same as yours to a split hair, though I've got no language for em at this unnatural hour of marnin'," said Billy.

Then in silence, to the bobbing illumination of their lanterns, Mr. Lyddon and his familiar dragged their weary bodies home.



CHAPTER XI

LOVE AND GREY GRANITE

The lofty central area of Devon has ever presented a subject of fascination to geologists; and those evidences of early man which adorn Dartmoor to-day have similarly attracted antiquarian minds for many generations past. But the first-named student, although his researches plunge him into periods of mundane time inconceivably more remote than that with which the archaeologist is concerned, yet reaches conclusions more definite and arrives at a nearer approximation to truth than any who occupy themselves in the same area with manifold and mysterious indications of early humanity's sojourn. The granite upheaval during that awful revolt of matter represented by the creation of Dartmoor has been assigned to a period between the Carboniferous and Permian eras; but whether the womb of one colossal volcano or the product of a thousand lesser eruptions threw forth this granite monster, none may yet assert. Whether Dartmoor first appeared as a mighty shield, with one uprising spike in its midst, or as a target supporting many separate bosses cannot be declared; for the original aspect of the region has long vanished, though our worn and weathered land of tors still shadows, in its venerable desolation, those sublimer, more savage glories manifested ere the eye of man or beast existed to receive an image of them.

But the earliest human problems presented by Devon's watershed admit of no sure solution, albeit they date from a time adjacent contrasted with that wherein the land was born. Nature's message still endures for man to read as his knowledge grows; but the records of our primal fellows have grown dim and uncertain as the centuries rolled over them. There exists, however, within the lofty, lonely kingdom of the granite, a chain of human evidences extending from prehistoric ages to the ruined shepherd's cot of yesterday. At many spots a spectator may perceive in one survey the stone ruin of the Danmonian's habitation, and hypaethral temple or forum, the heather-clad debris left by Elizabethan streamers of alluvial tin, the inky peat-ridges from which a moorman has just cut his winter firing. But the first-named objects, with kindred fragments that have similarly endured, chiefly fire imagination. Seen grey at gloaming time, golden through sunny dawns, partaking in those spectral transformations cast upon the moor by the movement of clouds, by the curtains of the rain, by the silver of breaking day, the monotone of night and the magic of the moon, these relics reveal themselves and stand as a link between the present and the far past. Mystery broods over them and the jealous wings of the ages hide a measure of their secret. Thus far these lonely rings of horrent stones and the alignments between them have concealed their story from modern man, and only in presence of the ancient pound, the foundations of a dwelling, the monolith that marked a stone-man's sepulchre, the robbed cairn and naked kistvaen, may we speak with greater certainty and, through the glimmering dawn of history and the records of Britain's earliest foes, burrow back to aboriginal man on Dartmoor. Then research and imagination rebuild the eternal rings of granite and, erecting upon them tall domes of thatch and skins on wattle ribs, conceive the early village like a cluster of gigantic mushrooms, whose cowls are uplifted in that rugged fastness through the night of time. We see Palaeolithic man sink into mother earth before the superior genius of his Neolithic successor; and we note the Damnonian shepherds flourishing in lonely lodges and preserving their flocks from the wolf, while Egypt's pyramids were still of modern creation, and the stars twinkled in strange constellations, above a world innocent as yet of the legends that would name them. The stone-workers have vanished away, but their labour endures; their fabricated flints still appear, brought to light from barrows and peat-ties, from the burrows of rabbits and the mounds of the antiquary mole; the ruins of their habitations, the theatres of their assemblies and unknown ceremonies still stand, and probably will continue so to do as long as Dartmoor's bosom lies bare to the storm and stress of the ages.

Modern man has also fretted the wide expanse, has scratched its surface and dropped a little sweat and blood; but his mansion and his cot and his grave are no more; plutonic rock is the only tablet on which any human story has been scribbled to endure. Castles and manor-houses have vanished from the moorland confines like the cloudy palaces of a dream; the habitations of the mining folk shall not be seen to-day, and their handiwork quickly returns to primitive waste; fern and furze hide the robbed cairn and bury the shattered cross; flood and lightning and tempest roam over the darkness of a region sacred to them, and man stretches his hand for what Nature touches not; but the menhir yet stands erect, the "sacred" circles are circles still, and these, with like records of a dim past, present to thinking travellers the crown and first glory of the Moor. Integral portions of the ambient desolation are they—rude toys that infant humanity has left in Mother Nature's lap; and the spectacle of them twines a golden thread of human interest into the fabric of each lonely heath, each storm-scarred mountain-top and heron-haunted stream. Nothing is changed since skin-clad soldiers and shepherds strode these wastes, felt their hearts quicken at sight of women, or their hands clench over celt-headed spears before danger. Here the babies of the stone-folk, as the boys and girls to-day, stained their little mouths and ringers with fruit of briar and whortle; the ling bloomed then as now; the cotton-grass danced its tattered plume; the sphagnum mosses opened emerald-green eyes in marsh and quaking bog; and hoary granite scattered every ravine and desert valley. About those aboriginal men the Moor spread forth the same horizon of solemn enfolding hills, and where twinkle the red hides of the moor-man's heifers through upstanding fern, in sunny coombs and hawthorn thickets, yesterday the stone-man's cattle roamed and the little eyes of a hidden bear followed their motions. Here, indeed, the first that came in the flesh are the last to vanish in their memorials; here Nature, to whom the hut-circle of granite, all clad in Time's lichen livery of gold and grey, is no older than the mushroom ring shining like a necklace of pearls within it—Nature may follow what course she will, may build as she pleases, may probe to the heart of things, may pursue the eternal Law without let from the pigmies; and here, if anywhere from man's precarious standpoint, shall he perceive the immutable and observe a presentment of himself in those ephemera that dance above the burn at dawn, and ere twilight passes gather up their gauze wings and perish.

According to individual temperament this pregnant region attracts and fascinates the human spectator or repels him. Martin Grimbal loved Dartmoor and, apart from ties of birth and early memories, his natural predilections found thereon full scope and play. He was familiar with most of those literary productions devoted to the land, and now developed an ambition to add some result of personal observation and research to extant achievements. He went to work with method and determination, and it was not until respectable accumulations of notes and memoranda already appeared as the result of his labours that the man finally—almost reluctantly—reconciled himself to the existence of another and deeper interest in his life than that furnished by the grey granite monuments of the Moor. Hide it from himself he could no longer, nor yet wholly from others. As in wild Devon it is difficult at any time to escape from the murmur of waters unseen, so now the steady flood of this disquieting emotion made music at all waking hours in Martin's archaeologic mind, shattered his most subtle theories unexpectedly, and oftentimes swept the granite clean out of his head on the flood of a golden river.

After three months of this beautiful but disquieting experience, Martin resigned himself to the conclusion that he was in love with Chris Blanchard. He became very cautious and timid before the discovery. He feared much and contemplated the future with the utmost distrust. Doubt racked him; he checked himself from planning courses of conduct built on mad presumptions. By night, as a sort of debauch, in those hours when man is awake and fancy free, he conceived of a happy future with Chris and little children about him; at morning light, if any shadow of that fair vision returned, he blushed and looked round furtively, as though some thought-reader's cold eye must be sneering at such presumption. He despaired of finding neutral ground from which his dry mind could make itself attractive to a girl. Now and again he told himself that the new emotion must be crushed, in that it began to stand between him and the work he had set himself to do for his county; but during more sanguine moods he challenged this decision and finally, as was proper and right, the flood of the man's first love drowned menhir and hut-circle fathoms deep, and demanded all his attention at the cost of mental peace. An additional difficulty appeared in the fact that the Blanchard family were responsible for John Grimbal's misfortune; and Martin, without confusing the two circumstances, felt that before him really lay the problem of a wife or a brother. When first he heard of the event that set Chagford tongues wagging so briskly, he rightly judged that John would hold him one of the conspirators; and an engagement to Chris Blanchard must certainly confirm the baffled lover's suspicions and part the men for ever. But before those words, as they passed through his brain, Martin Grimbal stopped, as the peasant before a shrine. "An engagement to Chris Blanchard!" He was too much a man and too deep merged in love to hesitate before the possibility of such unutterable happiness.

For his brother he mourned deeply enough, and when the thousand rumours bred of the battle on the bridge were hatched and fluttered over the countryside, Martin it was who exerted all his power to stay them. Most people were impressed with the tragic nature of the unfortunate John's disappointment; but his energetic measures since the event were held to pay all scores, and it was believed the matter would end without any more trouble from him. Clement Hicks entertained a different opinion, perhaps judging John Grimbal from the secrets of his own character; but Will expressed a lively faith that his rival must now cry quits, after his desperate and natural but unsuccessful attempt to render Phoebe a widow. The shattered youth took his broken bones very easily, and only grunted when he found that his wife was not permitted to visit him under any pretence whatever; while as for Phoebe, her wild sorrow gradually lessened and soon disappeared as each day brought a better account of Will. John Grimbal vanished on the trip which was to have witnessed his honeymoon. He pursued his original plans with the modification that Phoebe had no part in them, and it was understood that he would return to Chagford in the spring.

Thus matters stood, and when his brother was gone and Will and Phoebe had been married a month, Martin, having suffered all that love could do meantime, considered he might now approach the Blanchards. Ignorantly he pursued an awkward course, for wholly unaware that Clement Hicks felt any interest in Will and his sister beyond that of friendship, Martin sought from him the general information he desired upon the subject of Chris, her family and concerns.

Together the two men went upon various excursions to ancient relics that interested them both, though in different measure. It was long before Martin found courage to bring forth the words he desired to utter, but finally he managed to do so, in the bracing conditions that obtained on Cosdon Beacon upon the occasion of a visit to its summit. By this time he had grown friendly with Hicks and must have learnt all and more than he desired to know but for the bee-keeper's curious taciturnity. For some whim Clement never mentioned his engagement; it was a subject as absent from his conversation as his own extreme poverty; but while the last fact Martin had already guessed, the former remained utterly concealed from him. Neither did any chance discover it until some time afterwards.

The hut-circles on Cosdon's south-eastern flank occupied Martin's pencil. Clement gazed once upon the drawing, then turned away, for no feeling or poetry inspired the work; it was merely very accurate. The sketches made, both men ascended immense Cosdon, where its crown of cairns frets the long summit; and here, to the sound of the wind in the dead heather, with all the wide world of Northern Devon extended beneath his gaze under a savage sunset, Martin found courage to speak. At first Hicks did not hear. His eyes were on the pageant of the sky and paid tribute of sad thought before an infinity of dying cloud splendours. But the antiquary repeated his remark. It related to Will Blanchard, and upon Clement dropping a monosyllabic reply his companion continued:

"A very handsome fellow, too. Miss Blanchard puts me in mind of him."

"They're much alike in some things. But though Chris knows her brother to be good to look at, you'll never get Will to praise her. Funny, isn't it? Yet to his Phoebe, she's the sun to a star."

"I think so too indeed. In fact, Miss Blanchard is the most beautiful woman I ever saw."

Clement did not answer. He was gazing through the sunset at Chris, and as he looked he smiled, and the sadness lifted a little from off his face.

"Strange some lucky fellow has not won her before now," proceeded the other, glancing away to hide the blush that followed his diplomacy.

Here, by all experience and reason, and in the natural sequence of events Clement Hicks might have been expected to make his confession and rejoice in his prize, but for some cause, from some queer cross-current of disposition, he shut his mouth upon the greatest fact of his life. He answered, indeed, but his words conveyed a false impression. What sinister twist of mind was responsible for his silence he himself could not have explained; a mere senseless monkey-mischief seemed to inspire it. Martin had not deceived him, because the elder man was unused to probing a fellow-creature for facts or obtaining information otherwise than directly. Clement noted the false intonation and hesitation, recollected his sweetheart's allusion to Martin Grimbal, and read into his companion's question something closely akin to what in reality lay behind it. His discovery might have been expected to hasten rather than retard the truth, and a first impulse in any man had made the facts instantly clear; but Clement rarely acted on impulse. His character was subtle, disingenuous, secretive. Safe in absolute possession, the discovery of Martin's attachment did not flutter him. He laughed in his mind; then he pictured Chris the wife of this man, reviewed the worldly improvement in her position such a union must effect, and laughed no more. Finally he decided to hold his peace; but his motives for so doing were not clear even to himself.

"Yes," he answered, "but she's not one to give her hand without her heart."

These words, from Martin's point of view, embraced a definite assurance that Chris was free; and, as they walked homewards, he kept silence upon this thought for the space of half an hour. The uneasy hopes and black fears of love circled him about. Perhaps his timorous mind, in some moods, had been almost relieved at declaration of the girl's engagement to another. But now the tremendous task of storming a virgin heart lay ahead of him, as he imagined. Torments unfelt by those of less sensitive mould also awaited Martin Grimbal. The self-assertive sort of man, who rates himself as not valueless, and whose love will not prevent callous calculation on the weight of his own person and purse upon the argument, is doubtless wise in his generation, and his sanguine temperament enables him to escape oceans of unrest, hurricanes of torment; but self-distrust and humility have their value, and those who are oppressed by them fall into no such pitiable extreme as that too hopeful lover on whose sanguine ear "No" falls like a thunderbolt from red lips that were already considered to have spoken "Yes." A suitor who plunges from lofty peaks of assured victory into failure falls far indeed; but Martin Grimbal stood little chance of suffering in that sort as his brother John had done.

The antiquary spoke presently, fearing he must seem too self-absorbed, but Clement had little to say. Yet a chance meeting twisted the conversation round to its former topic as they neared home. Upon Chagford Bridge appeared Miller Lyddon and Mr. Blee. The latter had been whitewashing the apple-tree stems—a course to which his master attached more importance than that pursued on Old Christmas Eve—and through the gathering dusk the trunks now stood out livid and wan as a regiment of ghosts.

"Heard from your brother since he left?" Mr. Lyddon inquired after evening greetings.

"I cannot yet. I hope he may write, but you are more likely to hear than I."

"Not me. I'm nothing to un now."

"Things will come right. Don't let it prey on your mind. No woman ever made a good wife who didn't marry where her heart was," declared Martin, exhibiting some ignorance of the subject he presumed to discuss.

"Ah! you was ag'in' us, I mind," said the miller, drawing in. "He said as much that terrible night."

"He was wrong—utterly. I only spoke for his good. I saw that your daughter couldn't stand the sight of him and shivered if he touched her. It was my duty to speak. Strange you didn't see too."

"So easy to talk afterwards! I had her spoken word, hadn't I? She'd never lied in all her life afore. Strange if I had seen, I reckon."

"You frightened her into falsehood. Any girl might have been expected to lie in that position," said Clement coolly; then Mr. Blee, who had been fretting to join the conversation, burst into it unbidden.

"Be gormed if I ban't like a cat on hot bricks to hear 'e! wan might think as Miller was the Devil hisself for cruelty instead o' bein', as all knaws, the most muty-hearted[4] faither in Chagford."

[4] Muty-hearted = soft-hearted.

"As to that, I doan't knaw, Billy," declared Mr. Lyddon stoutly; "I be a man as metes out to the world same measure as I get from the world. Right is right, an' law is law; an' if I doan't have the law of Will Blanchard—"

"There's little enough you can do, I believe," said Hicks; "and what satisfaction lies in it, I should like to know, if it's not a rude question?"

The old man answered with some bitterness, and explained his power.

"William Blanchard's done abduction, according to Lawyer Bellamy of Plymouth; an' abduction's felony, and that's a big thing, however you look 'pon it."

"Long an' short is," cut in Billy, who much desired to air a little of his new knowledge, "that he can get a sentence inside the limits of two years, with or without hard labour; at mercy of judge and jury. That's his dose or not his dose, 'cording to the gracious gudeness of Miller."

"Will's nearly ready to go," said Clement. "Let his arm once be restored, and he'll do your hard labour with a good heart, I promise you. He wants to please Mr. Lyddon, and will tackle two months or two years or twenty."

"Two an' not a second less—with hard labour I'll wager, when all's taken into account."

"Why are you so hot, Billy Blee? You're none the worse."

"Billy's very jealous for me, same as Elijah was for the Lard o' Hosts," said Mr. Lyddon.

Then Martin and Clement climbed the steep hill that lay between them and Chagford, while the miller and his man pursued their way through the valley.



CHAPTER XII

A STORY-BOOK

Despite the miller's explicit declaration, there was yet a doubt as to what he might do in the matter of Will Blanchard. Six weeks is a period of time that has often served to cool dispositions more fiery, purposes more inflexible than those of Mr. Lyddon, and his natural placidity of temperament, despite outbreaks, had begun to reassert itself. Billy Blee, misunderstanding his master in this, suspected that the first fires of rage were now sunk into a conflagration, not so visible, but deeper and therefore more dangerous to the sufferer, if not to other people. He failed to observe that each day of waiting lessened the miller's desire towards action, and he continued to urge some step against Will Blanchard, as the only road by which his master's peace of mind might be regained. He went further, and declared delay to be very dangerous for Mr. Lyddon's spleen and other physical organs. But though humanity still prevented any definite step, Billy's master so far adopted his advice as to see a solicitor and learn what the law's power might be in the matter. Now he knew, as was recorded in the previous chapter; and still Mr. Lyddon halted between two opinions. He usually spoke on the subject as he had spoken to Martin Grimbal and Clement Hicks; but in reality he felt less desire in the direction of revenge than he pretended. Undoubtedly his daughter contributed not a little to this irresolution of mind. During the period of Will's convalescence, his wife conducted herself with great tact and self-restraint. Deep love for her father not only inspired her, but also smoothed difficulties from a road not easy. Phoebe kept much out of sight until the miller's first dismay and sorrow had subsided; then she crept back into her old position and by a thousand deft deeds and proper speeches won him again unconsciously. She anticipated his unspoken desire, brightened his every-day life by unobtrusive actions, preserved a bright demeanour, never mentioned Will, and never contradicted her father when he did so.

Thus the matter stood, and Mr. Lyddon held his hand until young Blanchard was abroad again and seeking work. Then he acted, as shall appear. Before that event, however, incidents befell Will's household, the first being an unexpected visit from Martin Grimbal; for the love-sick antiquary nerved himself to this great task a week after his excursion to Cosdon. He desired to see Will, and was admitted without comment by Mrs. Blanchard. The sufferer, who sat at the kitchen fire with his arm still in a sling, received Martin somewhat coldly, being ignorant of the visitor's friendly intentions. Chris was absent, and Will's mother, after hoping that Mr. Grimbal would not object to discuss his business in the kitchen, departed and left the men together.

"Sit down," said Will. "Be you come for your brother or yourself?"

"For myself. I want to make my position clear. You must not associate me with John in this affair. In most things our interests were the same, and he has been a brother in a thousand to me; but concerning Miss—Mrs. Blanchard—he erred in my opinion—greatly erred—and I told him so. Our relations are unhappily strained, to my sorrow. I tell you this because I desire your friendship. It would be good to me to be friends with you and your family. I do not want to lose your esteem by a misunderstanding."

"That's fair speech, an' I'm glad to hear 'e say it, for it ban't my fault when a man quarrels wi' me, as anybody will tell 'e. An' mother an' Chris will be glad. God knaws I never felt no anger 'gainst your brother, till he tried to take my girl away from me. Flesh an' blood weern't gwaine to suffer that."

"Under the circumstances, and with all the difficulties of your position, I never could blame you."

"Nor Phoebe," said the other warmly. "I won't have wan word said against her. Absolute right she done. I'm sick an' savage, even now, to think of all she suffered for me. I grits my teeth by night when it comes to my mind the mort o' grief an' tears an' pain heaped up for her—just because she loved wan chap an' not another."

"Let the past go and look forward. The future will be happy presently."

"In the long run 't will for sure. Your brother's got all he wants, I reckon, an' I doan't begrudge him a twinge; but I hope theer ban't no more wheer that comed from, for his awn sake, 'cause if us met unfriendly again, t' other might go awver the bridge, an' break worse 'n his arm."

"No, no, Blanchard, don't talk and think like that. Let the past go. My brother will return a wiser man, I pray, with his great disappointment dulled."

"A gert disappointment! To be catched out stealin', an' shawed up for a thief!"

"Well, forgive and forget. It's a valuable art—to learn to forget."

"You wait till you 'm faaced wi' such trouble, an' try to forget! But we 'm friends, by your awn shawm', and I be glad 't is so. Ax mother to step in from front the house, will 'e? I'd wish her to know how we 'm standin'."

Mrs. Blanchard appeared with her daughter, and subsequent conversation banished a haunting sense of disloyalty to his brother from Martin's mind. Chris never looked more splendid or more sweet than in that noon, new come from a walk with Clement Hicks. Martin listened to her voice, stayed as long as he dared, and then departed with many emotions breaking like a storm upon his lonely life. He began to long for her with overwhelming desire. He had scarcely looked at a woman till now, and this brown-eyed girl of twenty, so full of life, so beautiful, set his very soul helplessly adrift on the sea of love. Her sudden laugh, like Will's, but softer and more musical, echoed in the man's ear as he returned to his house and, in a ferment, tramped the empty rooms.

His own requirements had been amply met by three apartments, furnished with sobriety and great poverty of invention; but now he pictured Chris singing here, tripping about with her bright eyes and active fingers. Like his brother before him, he fell back upon his money, and in imagination spent many pounds for one woman's delight. Then from this dream he tumbled back into reality and the recollection that his goddess must be wooed and won. No man ever yet failed to make love from ignorance how to begin, but the extent and difficulties of his undertaking weighed very heavily on Martin Grimbal at this juncture. To win even a measure of her friendship appeared a task almost hopeless. Nevertheless, through sleepless nights, he nerved himself to the tremendous attempt. There was not so much of self-consciousness in him, but a great store of self-distrust. Martin rated himself and his powers of pleasing very low; and unlike the tumultuous and volcanic methods of John, his genius disposed him to a courtship of most tardy development, most gradual ripening. To propose while a doubt existed of the answer struck him as a proceeding almost beyond the bounds of man's audacity. He told himself that time would surely show what chance or hope there might be, and that opportunity must be left to sneak from the battle at any moment when ultimate failure became too certainly indicated. In more sanguine moods, however, by moonlight, or alone on the high moors, greater bravery and determination awoke in him. At such times he would decide to purchase new clothes and take thought for externals generally. He also planned some studies in such concerns as pleased women if he could learn what they might be. His first deliberate if half-hearted attack relied for its effect upon a novel. Books, indeed, are priceless weapons in the armory of your timid lover; and let but the lady discover a little reciprocity, develop an unsuspected delight in literature, as often happens, and the most modest volume shall achieve a practical result as far beyond its intrinsic merit as above the writer's dream.

Martin, then, primed with a work of fiction, prayed that Chris might prove a reader of such things, and called at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage exactly one fortnight after his former visit. Chance favoured him to an extent beyond his feeble powers to profit by. Will was out for a walk, and Mrs. Blanchard being also from home, Martin enjoyed conversation with Chris alone. He began well enough, while she listened and smiled. Then he lost his courage and lied, and dragging the novel from his pocket, asserted that he had bought the tale for her brother.

"A story-book! I doubt Will never read no such matter in his life, Mr. Grimbal."

"But get him to try. It's quite a new thing. There's a poaching adventure and so forth—all very finely done according to the critical journals."

"He'll never sit down to that gert buke."

"You read it then, and tell him if it is good."

"Me! Well, I do read now and again, an' stories tu; but Will wouldn't take my word. Now if Phoebe was to say 't was braave readin', he'd go for it fast enough."

"I may leave it, at any rate?"

"Leave it, an' thank you kindly."

"How is Will getting on?"

"Quite well again. Awnly riled 'cause Mr. Lyddon lies so low. Clem told us what the miller can do, but us doan't knaw yet what he will do."

"Perhaps he doesn't know himself," suggested Martin. The name of "Clem," uttered thus carelessly by her, made him envious. Then, inspired by the circumstance, a request which fairly astounded the speaker by its valour dropped on his listener's ear.

"By the way, don't call me 'Mr. Grimbal.' I hope you'll let me be 'Martin' in a friendly way to you all, if you will be so very kind and not mind my asking."

The end of the sentence had its tail between its legs, but he got the words cleanly out, and his reward was great.

"Why, of course, if you'd rather us did; an' you can call me 'Chris' if you mind to," she said, laughing. "'T is strange you took sides against your brother somehow to me."

"I haven't—I didn't—except in the matter of Phoebe. He was wrong there, and I told him so,—"

He meant to end the sentence with the other's name, only the word stuck in his throat; but "Miss Blanchard" he would not say, after her permission, so left a gap.

"He'll not forgive 'e that in a hurry."

"Not readily, but some day, I hope. Now I must really go—wasting your precious time like this; and I do hope you may read the book."

"That Will may?"

"No—yes—both of you, in fact. And I'll come to know whether you liked it. Might I?"

"Whether Will liked it?"

She nodded and laughed, then the door hid her; while Martin Grimbal went his way treading upon air. Those labourers whom he met received from him such a "Good evening!" that the small parties, dropping back on Chagford from their outlying toil, grinned inquiringly, they hardly knew at what.

Meantime, Chris Blanchard reflected, and the laughter faded out of her eyes, leaving them grave and a little troubled. She was sufficiently familiar with lovers' ways. The bold, the uncouth, the humble, and timorous were alike within her experience. She watched this kind-faced man grow hot and cold as he spoke to her, noted the admixture of temerity and fear that divided his mind and appeared in his words. She had seen his lips tremble and refuse to pronounce her name; and she rightly judged that he would possibly repeat it aloud to himself more than once before he slept that night. Chris was no flirt, and now heartily regretted her light and friendly banter upon the man's departure. "I be a silly fule, an' wouldn't whisper a word of this to any but Clem," she thought, "for it may be nothing but the nervous way of un, an' such a chap 's a right to seek a sight further 'n me for a wife; an' yet they all 'pear the same, an' act the same soft sort o' style when they 'm like it." Then she considered that, seeing what friendship already obtained between Clement and Martin Grimbal, it was strange the latter still went in ignorance. "Anyways, if I'm not wrong, the sooner he 'm told the better, for he's a proper fashioned man," she thought.

While Chris was still revolving this matter in her mind, Mrs. Blanchard returned with some news.

"Postmistress stepped out of the office wi' this as I corned down the village," she said. "'T is from Mrs. Watson, I fancy."

Her daughter brought a light, and the letter was perused. "Uncle 's took bad," Mrs. Blanchard presently announced; "an' sends to say as he wants me to go along an' help Sarah Watson nurse un."

"Him ill! I never thought he was made of stuff to be ill."

"I must go, whether or no. I'll take the coach to Moreton to-morrow."

Mrs. Blanchard mentally traversed her wardrobe as she drank tea, and had already packed in anticipation before the meal was ended. Will, on returning, was much perturbed at this bad news, for since his own marriage Uncle Ford had become a hero among men to him.

"What's amiss she doan't say—Mrs. Watson—but it's more 'n a fleabite else he wouldn't take his bed. But I hopes I'll have un to rights again in a week or so. 'Mind me to take a bottle of last summer's Marshmally brew, Chris. Doctors laugh at such physic, but I knaw what I knaw."

"Wonder if't would better him to see me?" mused Will.

"No, no; no call for that. You'll be fit to stand to work by Monday, so mind your business an' traapse round an' look for it. Theer 's plenty doin' 'pon the land now, an' I want to hear you' ve got a job 'fore I come home. Husbands must work for two; an' Phoebe'll be on your hands come less than a couple o' years."

"One year and five months and seven days 't is."

"Very well. You've got to mind a brace of things meantime; to make a vitty home for her by the sweat of your body, an' to keep your hands off her till she 'm free to come to 'e."

"Big things both, though I ban't afeared of myself afore 'em. I've thought a lot in my time, an' be allowed to have sense an' spirit for that matter."

"Spirit, ess fay, same as your faither afore you; but not so much sense as us can see wi'out lightin' cannel."

"Wonder if Uncle Joel be so warm a man as he'd have us think sometimes of an evenin' arter his hot whiskey an' water?" said Chris.

"Don't 'e count on no come-by-chance from him. He's got money, that I knaw, but ban't gwaine to pass our way, for he tawld me so in as many words. Sarah Watson will reap what he's sawed; an' who shall grumble? He 'm a just man, though not of the accepted way o' thinkin'."

"Why for didn't he marry her?" asked Will.

"Caan't tell'e, more'n the dead. Just a whim. I asked her same question, when I was last to Newton, an' she said 't was to save the price of a licence she reckoned, though in his way of life he might have got matrimony cheap as any man. But theer 't is. Her 's bin gude as a wife to un—an' better 'n many—this fifteen year."

"A very kind woman to me while I was biding along with uncle," said Will. "All the same you should have some of the money."

"I'm well as I be. An' this dead-man-shoe talk's vain an' giddy. I lay he'm long ways from death, an' the further the better. Now I be gwaine to pack my box 'fore supper."

Mrs. Blanchard withdrew, and Chris, suddenly recollecting it, mentioned Martin Grimbal's visit. Will laughed and read a page or two of the story-book, then went out of doors to see Clement Hicks; and his sister, with a spare hour before her while a rabbit roasted, sat near the spit and occupied her mind with thought.

Will's business related to himself. He was weary of waiting for Mr. Lyddon, and though he had taken care to let Phoebe know by Chris that his arm was well and strong enough for the worst that might be found for it to do, no notice was taken of his message, no sign escaped the miller.

All interested persons had their own theories upon this silence. Mrs. Blanchard suspected that Mr. Lyddon would do nothing at all, and Will readily accepted this belief; but he found it impossible to wait with patience for its verification. This indeed was the harder to him because Clement Hicks predicted a different issue and foretold an action of most malignant sort on the miller's part. What ground existed for attributing any such deed to Mr. Lyddon was not manifest, but the bee-keeper stuck to it that Will's father-in-law would only wait until he was in good employment and then proceed to his confusion.

This conviction he now repeated.

"He's going to make you smart before he's done with you, if human nature's a factor to rely upon. It's clear to me."

"I doan't think so ill of un. An' yet I ban't wishful to leave it to chance. You, an' you awnly, knaw what lies hid in the past behind me. The question is, should I take that into account now, or go ahead as if it never had failed out?"

"Let it alone, as it has let you alone. Never rake it up again, and forget it if you can. That's my advice to you. Forget you ever—"

"Hush!" said Will. "I'd rather not hear the word, even 'pon your lips."

They then discussed the main matter from the opposite vantage-grounds of minds remote in every particular; but no promising procedure suggested itself to either man, and it was not until upon his homeward way that Will, unaided, arrived at an obvious and very simple conclusion. With some glee he welcomed this idea.

"I'll just wait till Monday night," he said to himself, "an' then I'll step right down to Miller, an' ax un what's in the wind, an' if I can help his hand. Then he must speak if he's a man."



CHAPTER XIII

THE MILLER'S OFFER

Will, followed his determination and proceeded to Monks Barton on the following Monday evening, at an hour when he knew that Mr. Lyddon would have finished supper and be occupied about a pipe or a game of cards with Mr. Blee. The old men occasionally passed an hour at "oaks" or "cribbage" before retiring, but on this occasion they were engaged in conversation, and both looked up with some surprise when Blanchard appeared.

"You—you here again!" said the miller, and his mouth remained slightly open after the words.

"You 'm allus setting sober hair on end—blessed if you ain't!" was Billy's comment.

Will, for his part, made no introductory speeches, but went straight to the point.

"Theer's my arm," he said, thrusting it out before him. "'T is mended so neat that Doctor Parsons says no Lunnon bone-setter could have done it better. So I've comed just to say theer's no call for longer waitin'. 'T was a sportsmanlike thing in you, Miller Lyddon, to bide same as you did; and now, if you'd set the law movin' an' get the job out o' hand, I'd thank you kindly. You see, if they put me in for two year, 't will leave mighty li'l time to get a home ready for Phoebe against the day she comes of age."

"You needn't be at any trouble about that."

"But I shall be. Do 'e think my wife's gwaine to be any differ'nt to lesser folks? A home she'll have, an' a braave, vitty home, tu, though I've got to sweat blood for it. So if you'd take your bite so soon as convenient, you'd sarve me."

"I doan't say you 'm axin' anything onreasonable," said Mr. Lyddon, thoughtfully. "An' what might you think o'doin, when you comes out o' prison?"

"First gude work that offers."

"Maybe you doan't kuaw that chaps whose last job was on the treadmill finds it uncommon hard to get another?"

"Depends what they was theer for, I should reckon, Miller"

"Not a bit of it. Gaol-birds is all feathered alike inside clink, an' honest men feathers 'em all alike when they come out," declared Will's father-in-law.

"A sheer Cain, as no man will touch by the hand—that's what you'll be," added Billy, without apparent regret.

"If that's so," said Will, very calmly, "you'd best to think twice 'fore you sends me. I've done a high-handed deed, bein' forced into the same by happenings here when I went off last summer; but 't is auld history now. I'd like to be a credit to 'e some time, not a misery for all time. Why not—?" He was going to suggest a course of action more favourable to himself than that promised; but it struck him suddenly that any attitude other than the one in which he had come savoured of snivelling for mercy. So he stopped, left a break of silence, and proceeded with less earnestness in his voice.

"You've had a matter of eight weeks to decide in, so I thought I might ax'e, man to man, what's gwaine to be done."

"I have decided," said the miller coldly; "I decided a week ago."

Billy started and his blue eyes blinked inquiringly. He sniffed his surprise and said "Well!" under his breath.

"Ess, 't is so, I didn't tell 'e, Blee, 'cause I reckoned you'd try an' turn me from my purpose, which wasn't to be done."

"Never—not me. I'm allus in flat agreement with 'e, same as any wise man finds hisself all times."

"Well, doan't 'e take it ill, me keepin' it to myself."

"No, no—awnly seem' how—"

"If it 's all the same," interrupted Will, "I'd like to knaw what you 'm gwaine for to do."

"I'm gwaine to do nort, Will Blanchard—nort at all. God He knaws you 've wronged me, an' more 'n me, an' her—Phoebe—worst of all; but I'll lift no hand ag'in' you. Bide free an' go forrard your awn way—"

"To the Dowl!" concluded Billy.

There was a silence, then Will spoke with some emotion.

"You 'm a big, just man, Miller Lyddon; an' if theer was anything could make me sorry for the past—which theer ban't—'t would be to knaw you've forgived me."

"He ain't done no such thing!" burst out Mr. Blee. "Tellin' 'e to go to the Dowl ban't forgivin' of 'e!"

"That was your word," answered Will hotly, "an' if you didn't open your ugly mouth so wide, an' shaw such a 'mazing poor crop o' teeth same time, me an' Miller might come to onderstanding. I be here to see him, not you."

"Gar! you 'm a beast of a bwoy, looked at anyhow, an' I wouldn't have no dealin's with 'e for money," snorted the old man.

"Theer we'll leave it then, Blanchard," said Mr. Lyddon, as Will turned his back upon the last speaker without answering him. "Go your way an' try to be a better man; but doan't ax me to forget what 's passed—no, nor forgive it, not yet. I'll come to a Christian sight of it some day, God willin'; but it 's all I can say that I bear you no ill-will."

"An' I'm beholden enough for that. You wait an' keep your eye on me. I'll shaw you what's in me yet. I'll surprise 'e, I promise. Nobody in these paarts 'cept mother, knaws what 's in me. But, wi'out boastful words, I'll prove it. Because, Miller, I may assure 'e I'm a man as have thought a lot in my time 'bout things in general."

"Ess, you'm a deep thinker, I doan't doubt. Now best to go; an', mind, no dealins wi' Phoebe, for that I won't stand."

"I've thought that out, tu. I'll give 'e my word of honour 'pon that."

"Best to seek work t'other side the Moor, if you ax me. Then you'll be out the way."

"As to that, I'd guessed maybe Martin Grimbal, as have proved a gert friend to me an' be quite o' my way o' thinking, might offer garden work while I looked round. Theer ban't a spark o' pride in me—tu much sense, I hope, for that."

The miller sighed.

"You've done a far-reachin' thing, as hits a man from all sorts o' plaaces, like the echo in Teign Valley. I caan't see no end to it yet."

"Martin Grimbal's took on Wat Widdicombe, so you needn't fule yourself he'll give 'e work," snapped Mr. Blee.

"Well, theer be others."

And then that sudden smile, half sly, half sweet, leapt to Will's eyes and brightened all his grave face, as the sun gladdens a grey sky after rain.

"Look now, Miller Lyddon, why for shouldn't you, the biggest man to Chagford, give me a bit of work? I ban't no caddlin'[5] chap, an' for you—by God, I'd dig a mountain flat if you axed me!"

[5] Caddling = loafing, idling.

"Well, I be gormed!" gasped Billy. It was a condition, though whether physical or mental he only knew, to which Will reduced Mr. Blee upon every occasion of their meeting.

"You hold your jaw an' let me talk to Mr. Lyddon. 'Tis like this, come to look at it: who should work for 'e same as what I would? Who should think for my wife's faither wi' more of his heart than me? I'd glory to do a bit of work for 'e—aye, I would so, high or low; an' do it in a way to make you rub your eyes!"

Billy saw the first-formed negative die still-born on his master's lips. He began to cry out volubly that Monks Barton was over-manned, and that scandal would blast every opening bud on the farm if such a thing happened. Will glared at him, and in another moment Mr. Blee might have suffered physically had not the miller lifted his hand and bid both be silent.

For a full minute no man spoke, while in Mr. Lyddon's mind proceeded a strange battle of ideas. Will's audacity awakened less resentment than might have been foreseen. The man had bent before the shock of his daughter's secret marriage and was now returning to his customary mental condition. Any great altitude of love or extremity of hate was beyond Mr. Lyddon's calibre. Life slipped away and left his forehead smooth. Sorrow brought no great scars, joy no particular exaltation. This temperament he had transmitted to Phoebe; and now she came into his mind and largely influenced him. A dozen times he opened his mind to say "No," but did not say it. Personal amiability could hardly have overcome natural dislike of Blanchard at such a moment, but the unexpected usually happens when weak natures are called upon to make sudden decisions; and though such may change their resolve again and again at a later date and before new aspects of the problem, their first hasty determination will often be the last another had predicted from them.

A very curious result accrued from Mr. Lyddon's mental conflict, and it was reached by an accidental train of thought. He told himself that his conclusion was generous to the extreme of the Christian ideal; he assured himself that few men so placed had ever before acted with such notable magnanimity; but under this repeated mental asseveration there spoke another voice which he stifled to the best of his power. The utterance of this monitor may best be judged from what followed.

"If I gave you work you'd stand to it, Will Blanchard?" he asked at length.

"Try me!"

"Whatsoever it might be?"

"Try me. Ban't for me to choose."

"I will, then. Come to-morrow by five, an' Billy shall show 'e what's to do."

It would be difficult to say which, of those who heard the miller's resolve received it with most astonishment. Will's voice was almost tremulous.

"You'll never be sorry, never. I couldn't have hoped such a thing. Caan't think how I comed to ax it. An' yet—but I'll buckle to anything and everything, so help me. I'll think for 'e an' labour for 'e as no hireling that was ever born could, I will. An' you've done a big, grand-fashion thing, an' I'm yours, body an' bones, for it; an' you'll never regret it."

The young man was really moved by an issue so unexpected. He had uttered his suggestion on the spur of the moment, as he uttered most things, and such a reception argued a greatness of heart and generosity of spirit quite unparalleled in his experience. So he departed wishing all good on Mr. Lyddon and meaning all good with his whole soul and strength.

When he had gone the miller spoke; but contrary to custom, he did not look into Mr. Blee's face while so doing.

"You'm astonished, Billy," he said, "an' so be I, come to think of it. But I'm gettin' tu auld to fret my life away with vain strife. I be gwaine to prove un. He'd stand to anything, eh? 'Twas his word."

"An' well he might."

"Can 'e picture Blanchard cleaning out the pigs' house?"

"No fay!"

"Or worse?"

"Ah!"

They consulted, and it presently appeared that Mr. Lyddon deliberately designed to set Will about the most degrading task the farm could furnish.

"'Twill sting the very life of un!" said Billy gleefully, and he proceeded to arrange an extremely trying programme for Will Blanchard.

"Doan't think any small spite leads me to this way of dealing with un," explained Mr. Lyddon, who knew right well that it was so. "But 'tis to probe the stuff he's made of. Nothing should be tu hard for un arter what he've done, eh?"

"You'm right. 'Tis true wisdom to chastise the man this way if us can, an' shake his wicked pride."

Billy's genius lent itself most happily to this scheme. He applauded the miller's resolution until his master himself began to believe that the idea was not unjust; he ranged airily, like a blue-fly, from one agglomeration of ordure to another; and he finally suggested a task, not necessary to dwell on, but which reached the utmost height or depth of originality in connection with such a subject. Mr. Lyddon laboured under some shadow of doubt, but he quickly agreed when his man reminded him of the past course of events.

"'Tis nothin', when all's said. Who'd doubt if he'd got to choose between that or two year in gaol? He'm lucky, and I'll tell un so come the marnin'."

Thus matters were left, and the miller retired in some secret shame, for he had planned an act which, if great in the world's eye, had yet a dark side from his own inner view of it; but Mr. Blee suffered no pang from conscience upon the question. He heartily disliked Blanchard, and he contemplated the morrow with keen satisfaction. If his sharp tongue had power to deepen the wound awaiting Will's self-respect, that power would certainly be exercised.

Meantime the youth himself passed homeward in a glow of admiration for Mr. Lyddon.

"I'd lay down my life smilin' for un," he told Chris, who was astounded at his news. "I'll think for un, an' act for un, till he'll feel I'm his very right hand. An' if I doan't put a spoke in yellow Billy's wheel, call me a fule. Snarling auld swine! But Miller! Theer's gude workin' religion in that man; he'm a shining light for sartain."

They talked late upon this wondrous turn of fortune, then Will recollected his mother and nothing would serve but that he wrote instantly to tell her of the news.

"It'll cheer up uncle, tu, I lay," he said.

"A letter comed while you was out," answered Chris; "he'm holding his awn, but 'tis doubtful yet how things be gwaine to fare in the upshot."

"Be it as 'twill, mother can do more 'n any other living woman could for un," declared Will.



CHAPTER XIV

LOGIC

As Mr. Blee looked out upon a grey morning, the sallows leaping from silver to gold, from bud to blossom, scattered brightness through the dawn, and the lemon catkins of the hazel, the russet tassels of alders, brought light along the river, warmth into the world. A bell beat five from Chagford Church tower, and the notes came drowsily through morning mists. Then quick steps followed on the last stroke of the hour and Will stood by Billy's side in Monks Barton farmyard. The old man raised his eyes from contemplation of a spade and barrow, bid Blanchard "Good morning" with simulated heartiness, and led the way to work, while Will followed, bringing the tools. They passed into a shrubbery of syringa bushes twenty yards distant, and the younger man, whose humour had been exceedingly amiable until that moment, now flushed to his eyes before the spectacle of his labour.

"Do 'e mean that Miller's got nothin' for me to do but this?"

"Plenty, plenty, I 'sure 'e; but that ban't your business, be it? Theer's the work, an' I'd rather 'twas yourn than mine. Light your pipe an' go ahead. Not a purty job, more 'tis; but beggars mustn't be choosers in this hard world."

Billy bolted after these remarks. He heard a growl behind him, but did not look round. Half an hour later, he crept back again by a circuitous route, watched Will awhile unseen, then stole grinning away to milk the cows.

The young man, honestly thunderstruck at the task planned for him, judged that thinking would not mend matters, and so began to work quickly without stopping to reflect. But his thoughts could not be controlled, any more than his disposition changed. A growing consciousness of deep and deliberate insult surged up in him. The more he brooded the slower he worked, and finally anger mastered determination. He flung down his spade, saluted a red sunrise with the worst language at his command, and strode down to the river. Here, for some time and until blue smoke began to climb from the kitchen chimney of the farm, Will paced about; then with a remarkable effort returned to his task. He actually started again, and might have carried the matter to completion; but an evil demon was abroad, and Billy, spying the young man at work anew, reappeared.

"You'm makin' poor speed, my son," he said, viewing the other's progress with affected displeasure.

It proved enough, for Will's smouldering fires were ready to leap at any fuel.

"Go to blue, blazing hell!" he cried. "You'm at the bottom of this business, I'll lay a pound. Get out o' my sight, you hookem-snivey auld devil, or I'll rub your dirty ginger poll in it, sure's death!"

"My stars! theer's crooked words! Do 'e try an' keep tighter hand on your temper, Blanchard. A man should knaw hisself anyways 'fore he has the damn fulishness to take a wife. An' if you ax me—"

Mr. Blee's remarks were here brutally arrested, for the contents of Will's spade saluted his furrowed features, and quite obliterated the old man. He fled roaring, and the other flung his spade twenty yards away, overturned his wheelbarrow, and again strode to the river. He was fairly bubbling and boiling now, nor did the business of cleaning gaiters and boots, arms and hands, restore him to peace. A black pig gazed upon him and grunted as he came up from the water. It seemed to him a reincarnation of Billy, and he kicked it hard. It fled screaming and limping, while Will, his rage at full flood, proceeded through the farmyard on his way home. But here, by unhappy chance, stood Mr. Lyddon watching his daughter feed the fowls. Her husband ran full upon Phoebe, and she blushed in a great wave of joy until the black scowl upon his face told her that something was amiss. His evident anger made her start, and the involuntary action upset her bowl of grain. For a moment she stood motionless, looking upon him in fear, while at her feet fought and struggled a cloud of feathered things around the yellow corn.

"If you've done your job, Will, may'st come and shaake Phoebe by the hand," said Mr. Lyddon nervously, while he pretended not to notice the other's passion.

"I haven't done it; and if I had, is a scavenger's hand fit to touch hers?" thundered Blanchard. "I thought you was a man to swear by, and follow through thick an' thin," he continued, "but you ban't. You'm a mean, ill-minded sawl, as would trample on your awn flesh an' blood, if you got the chance. Do your awn dirty work. Who be I that you should call on me to wallow in filth to please your sour spite?"

"You hear him, you hear him!" cried out the miller, now angry enough himself. "That's how I'm sarved for returnin' gude to his evil. I've treated un as no man else on God's airth would have done; and this is what I gets. He's mad, an' that's to speak kind of the wretch!"

The young wife could only look helplessly from one to the other. That morning had dawned very brightly for her. A rumour of what was to happen reached her on rising, but the short-lived hope was quickly shattered, and though she had not seen him since their wedding-day, Phoebe was stung into bitterness against Will at this juncture. She knew nothing of particulars, but saw him now pouring harsh reproaches on her father, and paying the miller's unexampled generosity with hard and cruel words. So she spoke to her husband.

"Oh, Will, Will, to say such things! Do 'e love me no better 'n that? To slight dear faither arter all he's forgiven!"

"If you think I'm wrong, say it, Phoebe," he answered shortly. "If you'm against me, tu—"

"'Against you!' How can you speak so?"

"No matter what I say. Be you on his side or mine? 'Cause I've a right to knaw."

"Caan't 'e see 'twas faither's gert, braave, generous thought to give 'e work, an' shaw a lesson of gudeness? An' then we meet again—"

"Ess fay—happy meetin' for wife an' husband, me up to the eyes in—Theer, any fule can see 'twas done a purpose to shame me."

"You're a fule to say it! 'Tis your silly pride's gwaine to ruin all your life, an' mine, tu. Who's to help you if you've allus got the black monkey on your shoulder like this here?"

"You'm a overbearin', headstrong madman," summed up the miller, still white with wrath; "an' I've done with 'e now for all time. You've had your chance an' thrawed it away."

"He put this on me because I was poor an' without work."

"He didn't," cried the girl, whose emotions for a moment took her clean from Will to her father. "He never dreamed o' doin' any such thing. He couldn't insult a beggar-man; an' you knaw it. 'Tis all your ugly, wicked temper!"

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