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Children of the Mist
by Eden Phillpotts
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"Then I'll take myself off, an' my temper, tu," said Will, and prepared to do so; while Mr. Lyddon listened to husband and wife, and his last hope for the future dwindled and died, as he heard them quarrel with high voices. His daughter clung to him and supported his action, though what it had been she did not know.

"Caan't 'e see you're breakin' faither's heart all awver again just as 'twas mendin'?" she said. "Caan't 'e sing smaller, if 'tis awnly for thought of me? Doan't, for God's love, fling away like this."

"I met un man to man, an' did his will with a gude thankful heart, an' comed in the dawn to faace a job as—"

"'Tweren't the job, an' you knaw it," broke in Mr. Lyddon. "I wanted to prove 'e an' all your fine promises; an' now I knaw their worth, an' your worth. An' I curse the day ever my darter was born in the world, when I think she'm your wife, an' no law can break it."

He turned and went into the house, and Phoebe stood alone with her husband.

"Theer!" cried Will. "You've heard un. That was in his heart when he spoke me so fair. An' if you think like he do, say it. Lard knaws I doan't want 'e no more, if you doan't want me!"

"Will! How can you! An' us not met since our marriage-day. But you'm cruel, cruel to poor faither."

"Say so, an' think so; an' b'lieve all they tell 'e 'gainst your lawful husband; an' gude-bye. If you'm so poor-spirited as to see your man do thicky work, you choosed wrong. Not that 'tis any gert odds. Stop along wi' your faither as you loves so much better 'n me. An' doan't you fear I'll ever cross his threshold again to anger un, for I'd rather blaw my brains out than do it."

He shook and stuttered with passion; his eyes glowed, his lips changed from their natural colour to a leaden blue. He groped for the gate when he reached it, and passed quickly out, heedless of Phoebe's sorrowful cry to him. He heard her light step following and only hastened his speed for answer. Then, hurrying from her, a wave of change suddenly flowed upon his furious mind, and he began to be very sorry. Presently he stopped and turned, but she had stayed her progress by now, and for a moment's space stood and watched him, bathed in tears. At the moment when he hesitated and looked back, however, his wife herself had turned away and moved homewards. Had she been standing in one place, Will's purposes would perchance have faded to air, and his arm been round her in a moment; but now he only saw Phoebe retreating slowly to Monks Barton; and he let her go.

Blanchard went home to breakfast, and though Chris discovered that something was amiss, she knew him too well to ask any questions. He ate in silence, the past storm still heaving in a ground-swell through his mind. That his wife should have stood up against him was a sore thought. It bewildered the youth utterly, and that she might be ignorant of all details did not occur to him. Presently he told his wrongs to Chris, and grew very hot again in the recital. She sympathised deeply, held him right to be angry, and grew angry herself.

"He 'm daft," she said, "an' I'd think harder of him than I do, but that he's led by the nose. 'Twas that auld weasel, Billy Blee, gived him the wink to set you on a task he knawed you'd never carry through."

"Theer's truth in that," said Will; then he recollected his last meeting with the miller's man, and suddenly roared with laughter.

"'Struth! What a picter he was! He agged an' agged at me till I got fair mad, an'—well, I spiled his meal, I do b'lieve."

His merriment died away slowly in a series of long-drawn chuckles. Then he lighted his pipe, watched Chris cleaning the cups and plates, and grew glum again.

"'Twas axin' me—a penniless chap; that was the devil of it. If I'd been a moneyed man wi'out compulsion to work, then I'd have been free to say 'No,' an' no harm done. De'e follow?"

"I'm thankful you done as you did. But wheer shall 'e turn now?"

"Doan't knaw. I'll lay I'll soon find work."

"Theer's some of the upland farms might be wanting harrowin' an' seed plantin' done."

"Who's to Newtake, Gran'faither Ford's auld plaace, I wonder?"

"'Tis empty. The last folks left 'fore you went away. Couldn't squeeze bare life out of it. That's the fourth party as have tried an' failed."

"Yet gran'faither done all right."

"He was a wonnerful man of business, an' lived on a straw a day, as mother says. But the rest—they come an' go an' just bury gude money theer to no better purpose than the gawld at a rainbow foot."

"Well, I'll go up in the village an' look around before Miller's got time to say any word against me. He'll spoil my market if he can, I knaw."

"He'd never dare!"

"I'd have taken my oath he wouldn't essterday. Now I think differ'nt. He never meant friendship; he awnly wanted for me to smart. Clem Hicks was right."

"Theer's Mr. Grimbal might give 'e work, I think. Go an' ax un, an' tell un I sent 'e."

A moment later Chris was sorry she had made this remark.

"What be talkin' 'bout?" Will asked bluntly. "Tell un you sent me?"

"Martin wants to be friends."

"'Martin,' is it?"

"He axed me to call un so."

"Do he knaw you'm tokened to Clem?"

"Caan't say. It almost 'peared as if he didn't last time he called."

"Then sooner he do the better. Axed you to call un 'Martin'!"

He stopped and mused, then spoke again.

"Our love-makin's a poor business, sure enough. I've got what I wanted an', arter this marnin', could 'most find it in me to wish my cake was dough again; an' you—you ain't got what you want, an' ban't no gert sign you will, for Clem's the weakest hand at turnin' a penny ever I met."

"I'll wait for un, whether or no," said Chris, fiercely. "I'll wait, if need be, till we'm both tottling auld mumpheads!"

"Ess; an' when Martin Grimbal knaws that is so, 'twill be time enough to ax un for work, I dare say,—not sooner. Better he should give Clem work than me. I'd thought of him myself, for that matter."

"I've axed Clem to ax un long ago, but he won't."

"I'll go and see Clem right away. 'Tis funny he never let the man knaw 'bout you. Should have been the first thing he tawld un."

"Perhaps he thought 'twas so far off that—"

"Doan't care what he thought. Weern't plain dealin' to bide quiet about that, an' I shall tell un so."

"Well, doan't 'e quarrel with Clem. He'm 'bout the awnly friend you've got left now."

"I've got mother an' you. I'm all right. I can see as straight as any man, an' all my brain-work in the past ban't gwaine to be wasted 'cause wan auld miller fellow happens to put a mean trick on me. I'm above caring. I just goes along and remembers that people has their failings."

"We must make allowance for other folk."

"So us must; an' I be allus doin' it; so why the hell doan't they make allowance for me? That's why I boil awver now an' again—damn it! I gets nought but kicks for my halfpence—allus have; an' I won't stand it from mortal man much longer!"

Chris kept her face, for Will's views on conduct and man's whole duty to man were no new thing.

"Us must keep patient, Will, 'specially with the auld."

"I be patient. It 'mazes me, looking back, to see what I have suffered in my time. But a man's a man, not a post or a holy angel. Us wouldn't hear such a deal about angels' tempers either if they'd got to faace all us have."

"That's profanity an' wickedness."

"'Tis truth. Any fule can be a saint inside heaven; an' them that was born theer and have flown 'bout theer all theer time, like birds in a wood, did ought to be even-tempered. What's to cross'em?"

"You shouldn't say such things!"

Suddenly a light came into his eyes.

"I doan't envy 'em anyway. Think what it must be never to have no mother to love 'e! They 'm poor, motherless twoads, for all their gold crowns an' purple wings."

"Will! whatever will 'e say next? Best go to Clem. An' forget what I spoke 'bout Martin Grimbal an' work. You was wiser'n me in that."

"I s'pose so. If a man ban't wiser 'n his sister, he's like to have poor speed in life," said Will.

Then he departed, but the events of that day were still very far from an end, and despite the warning of Chris, her brother soon stood on the verge of another quarrel. It needed little to wake fresh storms in his breast and he criticised Clement's reticence on the subject of his engagement in so dictatorial and hectoring a manner that the elder man quickly became incensed. They wrangled for half an hour, Hicks in satirical humour, Will loud with assurances that he would have no underhand dealings where any member of his family was concerned. Clement presently watched the other tramp off, and in his mind was a dim thought. Could Blanchard forget the past so quickly? Did he recollect that he, Clement Hicks, shared knowledge of it? "He's a fool, whichever way you look at him," thought the poet; "but hardly such a fool as to forget that, or risk angering me of all men."

Later in the day Will called at a tap-room, drank half a pint of beer, and detailed his injuries for the benefit of those in the bar. He asked what man amongst them, situated as he had been, had acted otherwise; and a few, caring not a straw either way, declared he had showed good pluck and was to be commended; But the bulky Mr. Chapple—he who assisted Billy Blee in wassailing Miller Lyddon's apple-trees—stoutly criticised Will, and told him that his conduct was much to blame. The younger argued against this decision and explained, with the most luminous diction at his command, that 'twas in the offering of such a task to a penniless man its sting and offence appeared.

"He knawed I was at low ebb an' not able to pick an' choose. So he gives me a starvin' man's job. If I'd been in easy circumstances an' able to say 'Yes' or 'No' at choice, I'd never have blamed un."

"Nonsense and stuff!" declared Mr. Chapple. "Theer's not a shadow of shame in it."

"You'm Miller's friend, of coourse," said Will.

"'Tis so plain as a pike, I think!" squeaked a hare-lipped young man of weak intellect who was also present. "Blanchard be right for sartain."

"Theer! If soft Gurney sees my drift it must be pretty plain," said Will, in triumph.

"But as 'tis awnly him that does, lad," commented Mr. Chapple, drily, "caan't say you've got any call to be better pleased. Go you back an' do the job, like a wise man."

"I'd clear the peat out o' Cranmere Pool sooner!" said Will.

And he turned homewards again, wretched enough, yet fiercely prodding his temper when it flagged, and telling himself repeatedly that he had acted as became a man of spirit and of judgment. Then, upon a day sufficiently leaden and dreary until that moment, burst forth sudden splendours, and Will's life, from a standpoint of extreme sobriety in time, instantly passed to rare brightness. Between the spot on the highway where Chris met him and his arrival at home, the youth enjoyed half a lifetime of glorious hopes and ambitions; but a cloud indeed shadowed all this overwhelming joy in that the event responsible for his change of fortune was itself sad.

While yet twenty yards from her brother Chris cried the news to him.

"He's dead—Uncle—he went quite sudden at the end; an' he'm to lie to Chagford wi' gran'faither an' gran'mother."

"Dead! My God! An' I never seed un more! The best friend to me ever I had—leastways I thought so till this marnin'."

"You may think so still."

"Ess, so I do. A kind man inside his skin. I knawed un better'n most people—an' he meant well when he married me, out of pure love to us both."

"He's left nobody no money but Mrs. Watson and you."

"If 'tis five pound, 'tis welcome to-day; an' if 'tis five shillin', I'll thank un an' spend it 'pon a ring to wear for un. He was a gude auld blid, an' I'm sorry he's gone."

"Will, Uncle's left 'e a thousand pound!"

"What! You'm jokin'."

"Solemn truth. 'Tis in mother's letter."

A rush of joy lighted up the young man's face. He said not a word; then his eyes grew moist.

"To think as he could have loved a daft fule like me so well as that! Me—that never done nothin'—no, not so much as to catch a dish of trout for un, now an' again, when he was here."

"You couldn't, bein' water-keeper."

"What matter for that? I ought to have poached for un, seein' the manner of man he was."

He kept silence for a while, then burst out—

"I'll buy the braavest marble stone can be cut. Nobody shall do it but me, wi' doves or anchors or some such thing on it, to make it a fine sight so long as the world goes on."

"Theer's plenty room 'pon the auld slate, for that matter," said Chris.

"Damn the auld slate! The man shall have white marble carvings, I tell 'e, if I've got to spend half the money buying 'em. He b'lieved in me; he knawed I'd come to gude; an' I'm grateful to un."

During the evening Will was unusually silent and much busied with thought. He knew little of the value of money, and a thousand pounds to his mind represented possibilities wholly beyond the real power of that sum to achieve. Chris presently visited the vicarage, and after their supper, brother and sister sat late and discussed the days to come. When the girl retired, Will's thoughts for a moment concerned themselves with the immediate past rather than the future; and then it was that he caught himself blankly before his own argument of the morning. To him the force of the contention, now that his position was magically changed, appeared strong as before. A little sophistry had doubtless extricated him from this dilemma, but his nature was innocent of it, and his face grew longer as the conclusion confronting him became more clear. From his own logic—a mysterious abstraction, doubtless—he found it difficult to escape without loss of self-respect. He still held that the deed, impossible to him as a pauper, might be performed without sacrifice of dignity or importance by a man of his present fortune. So the muddle-headed youth saw his duty straight ahead of him; and he regretted it heartily, but did not attempt to escape from it.

Ten minutes later, in his working clothes, he set out to Monks Barton, carrying an old horn lantern that had swung behind his father's caravan twenty years before. At the farm all lights were out save one in the kitchen; but Will went about his business as silently as possible, and presently found the spade where he had flung it, the barrow where he had overthrown it in the morning. So he set to work, his pipe under his nose, his thoughts afar off in a golden paradise built of Uncle Ford's sovereigns.

Billy Blee, whose attic window faced out upon the northern side of the farm, had gone to bed, but he was still awake, and the grunt of a wheelbarrow quickly roused him. Gazing into the night he guessed what was doing, dragged on his trousers, and hurried down-stairs to his master.

The miller sat with his head on his hand. His pipe was out and the "night-cap" Phoebe had mixed for him long ago, remained untasted.

"Guy Fawkes an 'angels! here's a thing! If that Jack-o'-lantern of a bwoy ban't back again. He'm delvin' theer, for all the world like a hobgoblin demon, red as blood in the flicker of the light. I fancied't was the Dowl hisself. But 't is Blanchard, sure. Theer's some dark thought under it, I'll lay, or else he wants to come around 'e again."

His master doubted not that Billy was dreaming, but he went aloft and looked to convince himself. In silence and darkness they watched Will at work. Then Mr. Blee asked a question as the miller turned to go.

"What in thunder do it mean?"

"God knaws, I doan't. The man or bwoy, or whatever you call un, beats me. I ban't built to tackle such a piece as him. He's took a year off my life to-day. Go to your bed, Billy, an' let un bide."

"Gormed if I wouldn't like to slip down an' scat un ower the head for what he done to me this marnin'. Such an auld man as me, tu! weak in the hams this ten year."

"But strong in the speech. Maybe you pricked him with a bitter word, an'—theer, theer, if I ban't standin' up for the chap now! Yet if I've wished un dead wance, I have fifty times since I first heard tell of un. Get to bed. I s'pose us'll knaw his drift come to-morrow."

Mr. Lyddon and Billy retired, and both slept ere Will Blanchard's work was done. Upon its completion he sought the cold nocturnal waters of the river, and then did a thing he had planned an hour before. Entering the farmyard, he flung a small stone at Phoebe's window in the thatch, then another. But the first had roused his wife, for she lay above in wakefulness and sorrow. She peeped out, saw Blanchard, knew him in the lantern light, and opened the window.

"Will, my awn Will!" she said, with a throbbing voice.

"Ess fay, lovey! I knawed you'd sleep sweeter for hearin' tell I've done the work."

"Done it?"

"Truth."

"It was a cruel, wicked shame; an' the blame's Billy Blee's, an' I've cried my eyes out since I heard what they set you to do; an' I've said what I thought; an' I'm sorry to bitterness about this marnin', dear Will."

"'T is all wan now. I've comed into a mort of money, my Uncle Ford bein' suddenly dead."

"Oh, Will, I could a'most jump out the window!"

"'T would be easier for me to come up-long."

"No, no; not for the world, Will!"

"Why for not? An' you that lovely, twinklin' in your white gownd, an' me your lawful husband, an' a man o' money! Damned if I ain't got a mind to climb up by the pear-tree!"

"You mustn't, you mustn't! Go away, dear, sweet Will. An' I'm so thankful you've forgiven me for being so wicked, dear heart."

"Everybody'll ax to be forgiven now, I reckon; but you—theer ban't nothin' to forgive you for. You can tell your faither I've forgived un to-morrow, an' tell un I'm rich, tu. 'T will ease his mind. Theer, an' theer, an theer!"

Will kissed his hand thrice, then vanished, and his wife shut her window and, kneeling, prayed out thankful prayers.

As her husband crossed Rushford Bridge, his thought sped backward through the storm and sunshine of past events. But chiefly he remembered the struggle with John Grimbal and its sequel. For a moment he glanced below into the dark water.

"'T is awver an' past, awver an' past," he said to himself. "I be at the tail of all my troubles now, for theer's nought gude money an' gude sense caan't do between 'em."



BOOK II

HIS ENTERPRISE

CHAPTER I

SPRINGTIME

Nature, waking at the song of woodland birds to find herself naked, fashioned with flying fingers such a robe of young green and amber, hyacinth and pearl as only she can weave or wear. A scent of the season rose from multitudinous "buds, and bells, and stars without a name"; while the little world of Devon, vale and forest, upland and heathery waste, rejoiced in the new life, as it rang and rippled with music and colour even to the granite thrones of the Moor. Down by the margin of Teign, where she murmured through a vale of wakening leaves and reflected asphodels bending above her brink, the valley was born again in a very pageant of golden green that dappled all the grey woods, clothed branch and bough anew, ran flower-footed over the meadow, hid nests of happy birds in every dell and dingle, and spread luxuriant life above the ruin of the year that was gone. A song of hope filled each fair noon; no wasted energy, no unfulfilled intent as yet saddened the eye; no stunted, ruined nursling of Nature yet spoke unsuccess; no canker-bitten bud marked the cold finger of failure; for in that first rush of life all the earthborn host had set forth, if not equal, at least together. The primroses twinkled true on downy coral stems and the stars of anemone, celandine, and daisy opened perfect. Countless consummate, lustrous things were leaping, mingling, and uncurling, aloft and below, in the mazes of the wood, at the margins of the water. Verdant spears and blades expanded; fair fans opened and tendrils twined; simultaneous showers of heart-shaped, arrow-shaped, flame-shaped foliage, all pure emerald and translucent beryl, made opulent outpouring of that new life which now pulsed through the Mother's million veins. Diaphanous mist wreaths and tender showers wooed the Spring; under silver gauze of vernal rain rang wild rapture of thrushes, laughter of woodpeckers, chime and chatter of jackdaws from the rock, secret crooning of the cushat in the pines. From dawn till dusk the sweet air was winnowed by busy wings; from dawn till dusk the hum and murmur of life ceased not. Infinite possibility, infinite promise, marked the time; and man shared a great new hope with the beasts and birds, and wild violet of the wood. Blood and sap raced gloriously together, while a chorus of conscious and unconscious creation sang the anthem of the Spring in solemn strophe and antistrophe.

As life's litany rises once again, and before the thunder of that music rolling from the valleys to the hills, human reason yearly hesitates for a moment, while hope cries out anew above the frosty lessons of experience. For a brief hour the thinker, perhaps wisely, turns from memory, as from a cloud that blots the present with its shadow, and spends a little moment in this world of opal lights and azure shades. He forgets that Nature adorned the bough for other purpose than his joy; forgets that strange creatures, with many legs and hungry mouths, will presently tatter each musical dome of rustling green; forgets that he gazes upon a battlefield awaiting savage armies, which will fill high Summer with ceaseless war, to strew the fair earth with slain. He suffers dead Winter to bury her dead, seeks the wine of life that brims in the chalices of Spring flowers: plucks blade and blossom, and is a child again, if Time has so dealt with him that for a little he can thus far retrace his steps; and, lastly, he turns once more to the Mother he has forgotten, to find that she has not forgotten him. The whisper of her passing in a greenwood glade is the murmur of waters invisible and of life unseen; the scent of her garment comes sweet on the bloom of the blackthorn; high heaven and lowly forget-me-not alike mirror the blue of her wonderful eyes; and the gleam of the sunshine on rippling rivers and dreaming clouds reflects the gold of her hair. She moves a queen who, passing through one fair corner of her world-wide kingdom, joys in it. She, the sovereign of the universe, reigns here too, over the buds and the birds, and the happy, unconsidered life of weald and wold. Each busy atom and unfolding frond is dear to her; each warm nest and hidden burrow inspires like measure of her care and delight; and at this time, if ever, we may think of Nature as forgetting Death for one magic moment, as sharing the wide joy of her wakening world, as greeting the young mother of the year's hopes, as pressing to her bosom the babes of Spring with many a sunny smile and rainbowed tear.

Through the woods in Teign Valley passed Clement Hicks and his sweetheart about a fortnight after Lawyer Ford had been laid to rest in Chagford Churchyard. Chris talked about her brother and the great enterprise he had determined upon. She supported Will and spoke with sanguine words of his future; but Clement regarded the project differently.

"To lease Newtake Farm is a fool's trick," he said. "Everybody knows the last experiments there. The place has been empty for ten months, and those who touched it in recent years only broke their hearts and wasted their substance."

"Well, they weern't such men as Will. Theer's a fitness about it, tu; for Will's awn gran'faither prospered at Newtake; an' if he could get a living, another may. Mother do like the thought of Will being there somehow."

"I know it. The sentiment of the thing has rather blinded her natural keen judgment. Curious that I should criticise sentiment in another person; but it 's like my cranky, contrary way. Only I was thinking of Will's thousand pounds. Newtake will suck it out of his pocket quicker than Cranmere sucks up a Spring shower."

"Well, I'm more hopeful. He knows the value of money; an' Phoebe will help him when she comes up. The months slip by so quickly. By the time I've got the cobwebs out of the farm an' made the auld rooms water-sweet, I dare say theer'll be talk of his wife joining him."

"You going up! This is the first I've heard of it."

"I meant to tell 'e to-day. Mother is willing and I'm awnly tu glad. A man's a poor left-handed thing 'bout a house. I'd do more 'n that for Will."

"Pity he doesn't think and do something for you. Surely a little of this money—?"

"Doan't 'e touch on that, Clem. Us had a braave talk 'pon it, for he wanted to make over two hundred pound to me, but I wouldn't dream of it, and you wouldn't have liked me tu. You 'm the last to envy another's fair fortune."

"I do envy any man fortune. Why should I starve, waiting for you, and—?"

"Hush!" she said, as though she had spoken to a little child. "I won't hear no wild words to-day in all this gude gold sunshine."

"God damn everything!" he burst out. "What a poor, impotent wretch He's made me—a thing to bruise its useless hands beating the door that will never open! It maddens me—especially when all the world's happy, like to-day—all happy but me. And you so loyal and true! What a fool you are to stick to me and let me curse you all your life!"

"Doan't 'e, doan't 'e, Clem," said Chris wearily. She was growing well accustomed to these ebullitions. "Doan't grudge Will his awn. Our turn will come, an' perhaps sooner than we think for. Look round 'pon the sweet fresh airth an' budding flowers. Spring do put heart into a body. We 'm young yet, and I'll wait for 'e if 't is till the crack o' doom."

"Life's such a cursed short thing at best—just a stormy day between two nights, one as long as past time, the other all eternity. Have you seen a mole come up from the ground, wallow helplessly a moment or two, half blind in the daylight, then sink back into the earth, leaving only a mound? That's our life, yours and mine; and Fate grudges that even these few poor hours, which make the sum of it, should be spent together. Think how long a man and woman can live side by side at best. Yet every Sunday of your life you go to church and babble about a watchful, loving Maker!"

"I doan't know, Clem. You an' me ban't everybody. You've told me yourself as God do play a big game, and it doan't become this man or that woman to reckon their-selves more important than they truly be."

"A great game, yes; but a cursed poor game—for a God. The counters don't matter, I know; they'll soon be broken up and flung away; and the sooner the better. It's living hell to be born into a world where there's no justice—none for king or tinker."

"Sit alongside of me and smell the primrosen an' watch thicky kingfisher catching the li'l trout. I doan't like 'e in these bitter moods, Clem, when your talk's all dead ashes."

He sat by her and looked out over the river. It was flooded in sunlight, fringed with uncurling green.

"I'm sick and weary of life without you. 'Conscious existence is a failure,' and the man who found that out and said it was wise. I wish I was a bird or beast—or nothing. All the world is mating but you and me. Nature hates me because I survive from year to year, not being fit to. The dumb things do her greater credit than ever I can. The—"

"Now, I'll go—on my solemn word, I'll go—if you grumble any more! Essterday you was so different, and said you'd fallen in love with Miss Spring, and pretended to speak to her and make me jealous. You didn't do that, but you made me laugh. An' you promised a purty verse for me. Did 'e make it up after all? I lay not."

"Yes, I did. I wasted two or three hours over it last night."

"Might 'e get ten shillings for it, like t' other?"

"It's not worth the paper it's on, unless you like it. Your praise is better than money to me. Nobody wants any thoughts of mine. Why should they?"

"Not when they 'm all sour an' poor, same as now; but essterday you spoke like to a picture-book. Theer's many might have took gude from what you said then."

He pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and flung it into her lap.

"I call it 'Spring Rain,'" he said. "Yesterday the world was grey, and I was happy; to-day the world is all gold, and I'm finding life harder and heavier than usual. Read it out slowly to me. It was meant to be read to the song of the river, and never a prettier voice read a rhyme than yours."

Chris smoothed the paper and recited her lover's lyrics. They had some shadow of music in them and echoed Clem's love of beautiful things; but they lacked inspiration or much skill.

"'Neath unnumbered crystal arrows— Crystal arrows from the quiver Of a cloud—the waters shiver In the woodland's dim domain; And the whispering of the rain Tinkles sweet on silver Teign— Tinkles on the river.

"Through unnumbered sweet recesses— Sweet recesses soft in lining Of green moss with ivy twining— Daffodils, a sparkling train, Twinkle through the whispering rain, Twinkle bright by silver Teign, With a starry shining.

"'Mid unnumbered little leaf-buds— Little leaf-buds surely bringing Spring once more—song birds are winging; And their mellow notes again Throb across the whispering rain, Till the banks of silver Teign Echo with their singing."

Chris, having read, made customary cheerful comment according to her limitations.

"'T is just like essterday—butivul grawing weather, but 'pears to me it's plain facts more 'n poetry. Anybody could come to the streamside and see it all for themselves."

"Many are far away, pent in bricks and mortar, yearning deep to see the dance of the Spring, and chained out of sight of it. This might bring one glimpse to them."

"An' so it might, if you sold it for a bit of money. Then it could be printed out for 'em like t'other was."

"You don't understand—you won't understand—even you."

"I caan't please 'e to-day. I likes the li'l verses ever so. You do make such things seem butivul to my ear—an' so true as a photograph."

Clem shivered and stretched his hand for the paper. Then, in a moment, he had torn it into twenty pieces and sent the fragments afloat.

"There! Let her take them to the sea with her. She understands. Maybe she'll find a cool corner for me too before many days are passed."

Chris began to feel her patience failing.

"What, in God's name, have I done to 'e you should treat me like this?" she asked, with fire in her eyes.

"Been fool enough to love me," he answered. "But it's never too late for a woman to change her mind. Leave a sinking ship, or rather a ship that never got properly launched, but, sticking out of its element, was left to rot. Why don't you leave me, Chris?"

She stroked his hand, then picked it up and laid her soft cheek against it.

"Not till the end of the world comes for wan of us, Clem. I'll love 'e always, and the better and deeper 'cause you 'm so wisht an' unlucky somehow. But you 'm tu wise to be miserable all your time."

"You ought to make me a man if anything could. I burn away with hopes and hopes, and more hopes for the future, and miss the paltry thing at hand that might save me."

"Then miss it no more, love; seek closer, an' seek sharper. Maybe gude work an' gude money 's awnly waitin' for 'e to find it. Doan't look at the moon an' stars so much; think of me, an' look lower."

Slowly the beauty of the hour and the sweet-hearted girl at his elbow threw some sunshine into Clement's moody heart. For a little while the melancholy and shiftless dreamer grew happier. He promised renewed activity in the future, and undertook, as a first step towards Martin Grimbal, to inform the antiquary of that great fact which his foolish whim had thus far concealed.

"Chance might have got it to his ears through more channels than one, you would have thought; but he's a taciturn man, asks no questions, and invites no confidences. I like him the better for it. Next week, come what may, I'll speak to him and tell him the truth, like a plain, blunt man."

"Do 'e that very thing," urged Chris. "Say we'm lovers these two year an' more; an' that you'd be glad to wed me if your way o' life was bettered. Ban't beggin', as he knaws, for nobody doubts you'm the most book-learned man in Chagford after parson."

Together they followed the winding of the river and proceeded through the valley, by wood, and stile, and meadow, until they reached Rushford Bridge. Here they delayed a moment at the parapet and, while they did so, John Grimbal passed on foot alone.

"His house is growing," said Clement, as they proceeded to Mrs. Blanchard's cottage.

"Aye, and his hearth will be as cold as his heart—the wretch! Well he may turn his hard face away from me and remember what fell out on this identical spot! But for God's gude grace he'd have been hanged to Exeter 'fore now."

"You can't put yourself in his shoes, Chris; no woman can. Think what the world looked like to him after his loss. The girl he wanted was so near. His hands were stretched out for her; his heart was full of her. Then to see her slip away."

"An' quite right, tu; as you was the first to say at the time. Who's gwaine to pity a thief who loses the purse he's stole, or a poacher that fires 'pon another man's bird an' misses it?"

"All the same, I doubt he would have made a better husband for Phoebe Lyddon than ever your brother will."

His sweetheart gasped at criticism so unexpected.

"You—you to say that! You, Will's awn friend!"

"It's true; and you know it as well as anybody. He has so little common sense."

But Chris flamed up in an instant. Nothing the man's cranky temper could do had power to irritate her long. Nothing he might say concerning himself or her annoyed her for five minutes; but, upon the subject of her brother, not even from Clem did Chris care to hear a disparaging word or unfavourable comment. And this criticism, of all others, levelled against Will angered her to instant bitter answer before she had time to measure the weight of her words.

"'Common sense'! Perhaps you'll be so kind as to give Will Blanchard a li'l of your awn—you being so rich in it. Best look at home, and see what you can spare!"

So the lovers' quarrel which had been steadily brewing under the sunshine now bubbled over and lowered thunder-black for the moment, as such storms will.

Clement Hicks, perfectly calm now that his sweetheart's temper was gone, marched off; and Chris, slamming the cottage door, vanished, without taking any further leave of him than that recorded in her last utterance.



CHAPTER II

NEWTAKE FARM

Clement Hicks told the truth when he said that Mrs. Blanchard fell something short of her usual sound judgment and sagacity in the matter of Will's enterprise. The home of childhood is often apt enough to exercise magic, far-reaching attraction, and even influence a mind for the most part unsentimental. To Damaris the thought of her son winning his living where her father had done so was pleasant and in accordance with eternal fitness. Not without emotion did she accompany Will to Newtake Farm while yet the proposed bargain awaited completion; not without strange awakenings in the dormant recesses of her memory did Will's mother pass and pass again through the scenes of her earliest days. From the three stone steps, or "upping stock," at the farmhouse door, whereat a thousand times she had seen her father mount his horse, to the environment of the farmyard; from the strange, winding staircase of solid granite that connected upper and lower storeys, to each mean chamber in Newtake, did Mrs. Blanchard's eyes roam thoughtfully amid the ghosts of recollections. Her girl's life returned and the occasional bright days gleamed forth again, vivid by contrast with the prevailing grey. So active became thought that to relieve her mind she spoke to Will.

"The li'l chamber over the door was mine," she said; "an' your poor uncle had the next. I can just mind him, allus at his books, to his faither's pride. Then he went away to Newton to join some lawyer body an' larn his business. An' I mind the two small maids as was my elder sisters and comed betwixt me an' Joel. Both died—like candles blawed out roughly by the wind. They wasn't made o' the stuff to stand Dartymoor winters."

She paused for a few moments, then proceeded:

"Theer, to west of the yard, is a croft as had corn in it wan year, though 'tis permanent grass now, seemin'ly. Your faither corned through theer like a snake by night more'n wance; an' oftentimes I crept down house, shivering wi' fear an' love, to meet him under moonlight while the auld folks slept. Tim he'd grawed to a power wi' the gypsy people by that time; but faither was allus hard against un. He hated wanderers in tents or 'pon wheels, or even sea-gwaine sailor-men—he carried it that far. Then comed a peep o' day when Tim's bonny yellow caravan 'peared around the corner of that windin' road what goes all across the Moor. At the first stirring of light, I was ready an' skipped out; an', to this hour, I mind the last thing as touched me kindly was the red tongue of the sheep-dog. He ran a mile after the van, unhappy-like; then Tim ordered un away, an' he stood in the white road an' held up his paw an' axed a question as plain as a human. So Tim hit un hard wi' a gert stone, an' he yelped an' gived me up for lost, an' bolted home wi' his tail between his legs an' his eye thrawed back full of sadness over his shoulder. Ess fay! I can see the dust puffin' up under his pads in the grey dawn so clear as I can see you."

Again she stopped, but only for breath.

"They never answered my writings. Faither wouldn't an' mother didn't dare. But when I was near my time, Timothy, reckoning they'd yield then if ever, arranged to be in Chagford when I should be brought to bed. Yet 'twas ordained differ'nt, an' the roundy-poundy, wheer the caravan was drawed up when the moment corned, be just round theer on Metherill hill, as you knaws. So it happened right under the very walls of Newtake. In the stone circle you comed; an' by night arterwards, sweatin' for terror, your gran'mother, as had heard tell of it, sneaked from Newtake to kiss me an' press you to her body. Faither never knawed till long arter; an' though mother used to say she heard un forgive me on his death-bed, 'twas her awn pious wish echoing in her awn ears I reckon. But that's all awver an' done."

Mrs. Blanchard now sank into silent perambulation of the deserted chambers. In the kitchen the whitewash was grimy, the ceiling and windows unclean. Ashes of a peat fire still lay upon the cracked hearthstone, and a pair of worn-out boots, left by a tramp or the last tenant, stood on the window-sill. Dust and filth were everywhere, but no indication of dampness or decay.

"A proper auld rogue's-roost of dirt 'tis just now," said Will; "but a few pound spent in the right way will do a deal for it."

"An' soap an' water more," declared Mrs. Blanchard, escaping from her reverie. "What's to be spent landlord must spend," she continued. "A little whitewash, and some plaster to fill them holes wheer woodwork's poking through the ceiling, an' you'll be vitty again. 'Tis lonesome-like now, along o' being deserted, an' you'll hear the rats galloping an' gallyarding by night, but 'twill soon be all it was again—a dear li'l auld plaace, sure enough!"

She eyed the desolation affectionately.

"Theer's money in it, any way, for what wan man can do another can."

"Aye, I hope so, I b'lieve 'tis so; but you'll have to live hard, an' work hard, an' be hard, if you wants to prosper here. Your gran'faither stood to the work like a giant, an' the sharpest-fashion weather hurt him no worse than if he'd been a granite tor. Steel-built to his heart's core, an' needed to be."

"An' I be a stern, far-seein' man, same as him. 'Tis generally knawn I'm no fule; and my heart's grawed hard, tu of late days, along wi' the troubles life's brought."

She shook her head.

"You'm your faither's son, not your gran'faither's. Tim was flesh an' blood, same as you. T'other was stone. Stone's best, when you've got to fight wi' stone; but if flesh an' blood suffers more, it joys more, tu. I wouldn't have 'e differ'nt—not to them as loves 'e, any way."

"I sha'n't change; an' if I did to all the world else, 'twouldn't be to you, mother. You knaw that, I reckon. I'm hopeful; I'm more; I'm 'bout as certain of fair fortune as a man can be. Venwell rights[6] be mine, and theer's no better moorland grazing than round these paarts. The farm-land looks a bit foul, along o' being let go to rack, but us'll soon have that clean again, an' some gude stuff into it, tu. My awn work'll be staring me in the faace before summer; an' by the time Phoebe do come to be mistress, nobody'll knaw Newtake, I promise 'e."

[6] Venwell rights = Venville rights.

Mrs. Blanchard viewed with some uneasiness the spectacle of valley-born and valley-nurtured Phoebe taking up her abode on the high lands. For herself she loved them well, and the Moor possessed no terrors for her; but she had wit to guess that her daughter-in-law would think and feel differently. Indeed, neither woman nor man might reasonably be blamed for viewing the farm without delight when first brought within the radius of its influence.

Newtake stood, a squat and unlovely erection, under a tar-pitched roof of slate. Its stone walls were coated with a stucco composition, which included tallow as an ingredient and ensured remarkable warmth and dryness. Before its face there stretched a winding road of white flint, that climbed from the village, five miles distant, and soon vanished amid the undulations of the hills; while, opposite, steep heathery slopes and grassy coombs ascended abruptly to masses of weathered granite; and at the rear a hillside, whereon Metherill's scattered hut-circles made incursions even into the fields of the farm, fell to the banks of Southern Teign where she babbled between banks of brake-fern and heather. Swelling and sinking solemnly along the sky, Dartmoor surrounded Newtake. At the entrance of the yard stood a broken five-barred gate between twin masses of granite; then appeared a ragged outbuilding or two, with roofs of lichen-covered slate; and upon one side, in a row, grew three sycamores, bent out of all uprightness by years of western winds, and coated as to their trunks with grey lichen. Behind a cowyard of shattered stone pavement and cracked mud stood the farm itself, and around it extended the fields belonging thereto. They were six or seven in number, and embraced some five-and-fifty acres of land, mostly indifferent meadow.

Seen from the winding road, or from the bird's-eye elevation of the adjacent tor, Newtake, with its mean ship-pens and sties, outbuildings and little crofts, all huddled together, poverty-stricken, time-fretted, wind-worn, and sad of colour, appeared a mere forlorn fragment of civilisation left derelict upon the savage bosom of an untamable land. It might have represented some forsaken, night-foundered abode of men, torn by earthquake or magic spell from a region wholly different, and dropped and stranded here. It sulked solitary, remote, and forgotten; its black roof frowned over its windows, and green tears, dribbling down its walls in time past, had left their traces, as though even spring sunlight was powerless to eradicate the black memories of winters past, or soften the bitter certainty of others yet to come. The fields, snatched from the Moor in time long past, now showed a desire to return to their wild mother again. The bars of cultivation were broken and the land struggled to escape. Scabious would presently throw a mauve pallor over more than one meadow croft; in another, waters rose and rushes and yellow iris flourished and defied husbandry; elsewhere stubble, left unploughed by the last defeated farmer, gleamed silver-grey through a growth of weeds; while at every point the Moor thrust forward hands laden with briar and heather. They surmounted the low stone walls and fed and flourished upon the clods and peat that crowned them. Nature waved early gold of the greater furze in the van of her oncoming, and sent her wild winds to sprinkle croft and hay-field, ploughed land and potato patch, with thistledown and the seeds of the knapweed and rattle and bracken fern. These heathen things and a thousand others, in all the early vigour of spring, rose triumphant above the meek cultivation. They trampled it, strangled it, choked it, and maddened the agriculturist by their sturdy and stubborn persistence. A forlorn, pathetic blot upon the land of the mist was Newtake, seen even under conditions of sunlight and fair weather; but beheld beneath autumnal rains, observed at seasons of deep snow or in the dead waste of frozen winters, its apparition rendered the most heavy-hearted less sad before the discovery that there existed a human abode more hateful, a human outlook more oppressive, than their own.

To-day heavy moorland vapours wrapped Newtake in ghostly raiment, yet no forlorn emotions clouded the survey of those who now wandered about the lifeless farm. In the mind of one, here retracing the course of her maidenhood, this scene, if sad, was beautiful. The sycamores, whose brown spikes had burst into green on a low bough or two, were the trees she loved best in the world; the naked field on the hillside, wherein a great stone ring shone grey through the silver arms of the mist, represented the theatre of her life's romance. There she had stolen oftentimes to her lover, and in another such, not far distant, had her son been born. Thoughts of little sisters rose in the naked kitchen, with the memory of a flat-breasted, wild-eyed mother, who did man's work; of a father, who spoke seldom and never twice—a father whose heavy foot upon the threshold sent his children scuttling like rabbits to hidden lairs and dens. She remembered the dogs; the bright gun-barrel above the chimney-piece; the steam of clothes hung to dry after many a soaking in "soft" weather; the reek of the peat; the brown eyes and steaming nostrils of the bullocks, that sometimes looked through the kitchen window in icy winter twilights, as though they would willingly change their byres for the warmth within.

Mrs. Blanchard enjoyed the thought that her son should reanimate these scenes of her own childhood; and he, burning with energy and zeal, and not dead to his own significance as a man of money, saw promises of prosperity on either hand. It lay with him, he told his heart, to win smiling fatness from this hungry region. Right well he knew how it came about that those who had preceded him had failed, missed their opportunities, fooled themselves, and flung away their chances. Evidences of their ignorance stared at him from the curtains of the mist, but he knew better; he was a man who had thought a bit in his time and had his head screwed on the right way, thank God. These facts he poured into his mother's ear, and she smiled thoughtfully, noted the changes time had wrought, and indicated to him those things the landlord might reasonably be expected to do before Will should sign and seal.

The survey ended, her son helped Damaris into a little market-cart, which he had bought for her upon coming into his fortune. A staid pony, also his purchase, completed the equipage, and presently Mrs. Blanchard drove comfortably away; while Will, who yet proposed to tramp, for the twentieth time, each acre of Newtake land, watched her depart, then turned to continue his researches. A world of thought rested on his brown face. Arrived at each little field, he licked his pencil, and made notes in a massive new pocketbook. He strode along like a conqueror of kingdoms, frowned and scratched his curly head as problem after problem rose, smiled when he solved them, and entered the solution in his book. For the wide world was full of young green, and this sanguine youth soared lark-high in soul under his happy circumstances. Will breathed out kindness to all mankind just at present, and now before that approaching welfare he saw writ largely in beggarly Newtake, before the rosy dawn which Hope spread over this cemetery of other men's dead aspirations, he felt his heart swell to the world. Two clouds only darkened his horizon then. One was the necessity of beginning the new life without his life's partner; while the other, formerly tremendous enough, had long since shrunk to a shadow on the horizon of the past. His secret still remained, but that circumstance was too remote to shadow the new enterprise. It existed, however, and its recurrence wove occasional gloomy patterns into the web of Will Blanchard's thought.



CHAPTER III

OVER A RIDING-WHIP

Will completed his survey and already saw, in his mind's eye, a brave masque of autumn gold spreading above the lean lands of Newtake. From this spectacle to that of garnered harvests and great gleaming stacks bursting with fatness the transition was natural and easy. He pictured kine in the farmyard, many sheep upon the hills, and Phoebe with such geese, ducks, and turkeys as should make her quite forget the poultry of Monks Barton. Then, having built castles in the air until his imagination was exhausted, Will shut the outer gate with the touch of possession, turned a moment to see how Newtake looked from the roadway, found only the shadow of it looming through the mist, and so departed, whistling and slapping his gaiters with an ash sapling.

It happened that beside a gate which closed the moorland precincts to prevent cattle from wandering, a horseman stood, and as the pedestrian passed him in the gathering gloaming, he dropped his hunting-stock while making an effort to open the gate without dismounting.

"Bide wheer you be!" said Will; "I'll pick un up an' ope the gate for 'e."

He did so and handed the whip back to its owner. Then each recognised the other, and there was a moment of silence.

"'Tis you, Jan Grimbal, is it?" asked the younger. "I didn't knaw 'e in the dimpsy light."

He hesitated, and his words when they came halted somewhat, but his meaning was evident.

"I'm glad you'm back to home. I'll forget all what's gone, if you will. 'Twas give an' take, I s'pose. I took my awn anyway, an' you comed near killing me for't, so we'm upsides now, eh? We'm men o' the world likewise. So—so shall us shake hands an' let bygones be, Jan Grimbal?"

He half raised his hand, and looked up, with a smile at the corner of his lip ready to jump into life if the rider should accept his friendship. But Grimbal's response was otherwise.

To say little goodness dwelt in this man had been untrue, but recent events and the first shattering reverse that life brought him proved sufficient to sour his very soul and eclipse a sun which aforetime shone with great geniality because unclouded. Fate hits such men particularly hard when her delayed blow falls. Existences long attuned to success and level fortune; lives which have passed through five-and-thirty years of their allotted span without much sorrow, without sharp thorns in the flesh, without those carking, gnawing trials of mind and body which Time stores up for all humanity—such feel disaster when it does reach them with a bitterness unknown by those who have been in misery's school from youth. Poverty does not bite the poor as it bites him who has known riches and afterwards fights destitution; feeble physical circumstances do not crush the congenital invalid, but they often come near to break the heart of a man who, until their black advent, has known nothing but rude health; great reverses in the vital issues of life and fortune fail to obliterate one who knows their faces of old, but the first enemy's cannon on Time's road must ever bring ugly shock to him who has advanced far and happily without meeting any such thing.

Grimbal's existence had been of a rough-and-ready sort shone over by success. Philosophy he lacked, for life had never turned his mind that way; religion was likewise absent from him; and his recent tremendous disappointment thus thundered upon a mind devoid of any machinery to resist it. The possession of Phoebe Lyddon had come to be an accepted and accomplished fact; he chose her for his own, to share the good things Fortune had showered into his lap—to share them and be a crowning glory of them. The overthrow of this scheme at the moment of realisation upset his estimate of life in general and set him adrift and rudderless, in the hurricane of his first great reverse. Of selfish temperament, and doubly so by the accident of consistent success, the wintry wind of this calamity slew and then swept John Grimbal's common sense before it, like a dead leaf. All that was worst in him rose to the top upon his trouble, and since Will's marriage the bad had been winning on the good and thrusting it deeper and deeper out of sight or immediate possibility of recovery. At all times John Grimbal's inferior characteristics were most prominently displayed, and superficial students of character usually rated him lower than others really worse than himself, but who had wit to parade their best traits. Now, however, he rode and strode the country a mere scowling ruffian, with his uppermost emotions still stamped on his face. The calamity also bred an unsuspected sensitiveness in him, and he smarted often under the reflection of what others must be thinking. His capability towards vindictiveness proved very considerable. Formerly his anger against his fellow-men had been as a thunder-storm, tremendous but brief in duration; now, before this bolt of his own forging, a steady, malignant activity germinated and spread through the whole tissue of his mind.

Those distractions open to a man of Grimbal's calibre presently blunted the edge of his loss, and successful developments of business also served to occupy him during the visit he paid to Africa; but no interests as yet had arisen to obscure or dull his hatred of Will Blanchard. The original blaze of rage sank to a steady, abiding fire, less obviously tremendous than that first conflagration, but in reality hotter. In a nature unsubtle, revenge will not flourish as a grand passion for any length of time. It must reach its outlet quickly and attain to its ambition without overmuch delay, else it shrivels and withers to a mere stubborn, perhaps lifelong, enmity—a dwarfish, mulish thing, devoid of any tragic splendour. But up to the point that John Grimbal had reached as yet, his character, though commonplace in most affairs, had unexpectedly quickened to a condition quite profound where his revenge was concerned.

He still cherished the certainty of a crushing retaliation. He was glad he had not done Blanchard any lifelong injury; he was glad the man yet lived for time and him to busy themselves about; he was even glad (and herein appeared the unsuspected subtlety) that Will had prospered and come by a little show of fortune. Half unconsciously he hoped for the boy something of his own experiences, and had determined with himself—in a spirit very melodramatic but perfectly sincere at present—to ruin his enemy if patience and determination could accomplish it.

In this mood, with his wrongs sharpened by return to Chagford and his purposes red-hot, John Grimbal now ran against his dearest foe, received the horsewhip from him, and listened to his offer of peace.

He still kept silence and Will lowered the half-lifted arm and spoke again.

"As you please. I can bide very easy without your gude word."

"That's well, then," said the other, in his big voice, as his hands tightened. "We've met again. I'm glad I didn't break your neck, for your heart's left to break, and by the living God I'll break it! I can wait. I'm older than you, but young enough. Remember, I'll run you down sooner or later. I've hunted most things, and men aren't the cleverest beasts and you're not the cleverest man I've bested in my time. You beat me—I know it—but it would have been better for you if you hadn't been born. There's the truth for your country ears, you damned young hound. I'll fight fair and I'll fight to the finish. Sport—that's what it is. The birds and the beasts and the fish have their close time; but there won't be any close time for you, not while I can think and work against you. So now you know. D' you hear me?"

"Ess," said Will, meeting the other's fierce eyes; "I hear 'e, an' so might the dead in Chagford buryin'-ground. You hollers loud enough. I ban't 'feared of nothing a hatch-mouthed,[7] crooked-minded man, same as you be, can do. An' if I'm a hound, you 'm a dirty red fox, an' everybody knaws who comes out top when they meet. Steal my gal, would 'e? Gaw your ways, an' mend your ways, an' swallow your bile. I doan't care a flicker o' wildfire for 'e!"

[7] Hatch-mouthed = foul mouthed; profane.

John Grimbal heard only the beginning of this speech, for he turned his back on Will and rode away while the younger man still shouted after him. Blanchard was in a rage, and would have liked to make a third trial of strength with his enemy on the spot, but the rider vanished and Will quickly cooled as he went down the hill to Chagford. The remembrance of this interview, for all his scorn, chilled him when he reflected on John Grimbal's threats. He feared nothing indeed, but here was another cloud, and a black one, blown violently back from below the horizon of his life to the very zenith. Malignity of this type was strange to him and differed widely from the petty bickerings, jealousies, and strifes of ordinary country existence. It discouraged him to feel in his hour of universal contentment that a strong, bitter foe would now be at hand, forever watching to bring ruin on him at the first opportunity. As he walked home he asked himself how he should feel and act in Grimbal's shoes, and tried to look at the position from his enemy's standpoint. Of course he told himself that he would have accepted defeat with right philosophy. It was a just fix for a man to find himself in,—a proper punishment for a mean act. Arguing thus, from the right side of the hedge, he forgot what wiser men have forgotten, that there is no disputing about man's affection for woman, there is no transposition of the standpoint, there is no looking through another's eyes upon a girl. Many have loved, and many have rendered vivid pictures of the emotion, touched with insight of genius and universally proclaimed true to nature from general experience; but no two men love alike, and neither you nor another man can better say how a third feels under the yoke, estimate his thrall, or foretell his actions, despite your own experience, than can one sufferer from gout, though it has torn him half a hundred times, gauge the qualities of another's torment under the same disease. Will could not guess what John Grimbal had felt for Phoebe; he knew nothing of the other's disposition, because, young in knowledge of the world and a boy still, despite his age, it was beyond him to appreciate even remotely the mind of a man fifteen years older than himself—a man of very different temper and one whose life had been such as we have just described.

Home went Blanchard, and kept his meeting secret. His mother, returning long before him, was already in some argument with Chris concerning the disposal of certain articles of furniture, the pristine splendour of which had been worn off at Newtake five-and-thirty years before. At Farmer Ford's death these things passed to his son, and he, not requiring them, had made them over to Damaris.

"They was flam-new when first my parents married and comed to Newtake, many a year ago; and now I want 'em to go back theer. They've seed three generations, an' I'd be well pleased that a fourth should kick its li'l boots out against them. They 'm stout enough yet. Sweat went to building of chairs an' tables in them days; now it's steam. Besides, 'twill save Will's pocket a tidy bit."

Chris, however, though she could deny Will nothing, was divided here, for why should her mother part from those trifles which contributed to the ample adornment of her cottage? Certain stout horsehair furniture and a piano were the objects Mrs. Blanchard chiefly desired should go to Newtake. The piano, indeed, had never been there before. It was a present to Damaris from her dead husband, who purchased the instrument second-hand for five pounds at a farm sale. Its wiry jingle spoke of evolution from harpsichord or spinet to the modern instrument; its yellow keys, from which the ivory in some cases was missing, and its high back, stained silk front, and fretted veneer indicated age; while above the keyboard a label, now growing indistinct, set forth that one "William Harper, of Red Lion Street, Maker of piano-fortes to his late Majesty" was responsible for the instrument very early in the century.

Now Will joined the discussion, but his mother would take no denial.

"These chairs and sofa be yours, and the piano's my present to Phoebe. She'll play to you of a Sunday afternoon belike."

"An' it's here she'll do it; for my Sundays'll be spent along with you, of coourse, 'cept when you comes up to my farm to spend 'em. That's what I hope'll fall out; an' I want to see Miller theer, tu, after he've found I'm right and he'm wrong."

But the event proved that, even in his new capacity as a man of money and a landholder, Will was not to win much ground with Mr. Lyddon. Two circumstances contributed to the continued conflict, and just as Phoebe was congratulating herself and others upon the increasing amity between her father and her husband matters fell out which caused the miller to give up all hope of Will for the hundredth time. First came the occupancy of Newtake at a rent Mr. Lyddon considered excessive; and then followed a circumstance that touched the miller himself, for, by the offer of two shillings more a week than he received at Monks Barton, Will tempted into his service a labourer held in great esteem by his father-in-law.

Sam Bonus appeared the incarnation of red Devon earth, built up on solid beef and mutton. His tanned face was framed in crisp black hair that no razor had ever touched; his eyes were deep-set and bright; his narrow brow was wrinkled, not with thought, but as the ape's. A remarkably tall and powerful frame supported Sam's little head. He laboured like a horse and gave as little trouble, triumphed in feats of brute strength, laughed at a day's work, never knew ache or pain. He had always greatly admired Blanchard, and, faced with the tempting bait of a florin a week more than his present wage, abandoned Monks Barton and readily followed Will to the Moor. His defection was greatly deplored, and though Will told Mr. Blee what he intended beforehand, and made no secret of his design to secure Sam if possible, Billy discredited the information until too late. Then the miller heard of his loss, and, not unnaturally, took the business ill.

"Gormed if it ban't open robbery!" declared Mr. Blee, as he sat and discussed the matter with his master one evening, "an' the thankless, ill-convenient twoad to go to Blanchard, of all men!"

"He'll be out of work again soon enough. And he needn't come back to me when he is. I won't take him on no more."

"'Twould be contrary to human nature if you did."

"Human nature!" snapped the miller, with extreme irritation. "'Twould puzzle Solomon to say what's come over human nature of late days."

"'Tis a nut wi' a maggot in it," mused Billy: "three parts rotten, the rest sweet. An' all owing to fantastic inventions an' new ways of believin' in God wi'out church-gwaine, as parson said Sunday. Such things do certainly Play hell with human nature, in a manner o' speakin'. I reckon the uprising men an' women's wickeder than us, as sucked our mothers in quieter times afore the railroads."

"Bonus is such a fule!" said Mr. Lyddon, harking back to his loss. "Yet I thought he belonged to the gude old-fashioned sort."

"I told un he was out in his reckoning, that he'd be left in the cold bimebye, so sure as Blanchard was Blanchard and Newtake was Newtake; but he awnly girned his gert, ear-wide girn, an' said he knawed better."

"To think of more gude money bein' buried up theer! You've heard my view of all ground wi' granite under it. Such a deal ought to have been done wi' that thousand pound."

"Oughts are noughts, onless they've strokes to 'em," declared Billy. "'Tis a poor lookout, for he'm the sort as buys experience in the hardest market. Then, when it's got, he'll be a pauper man, with what he knaws useless for want o' what's spent gettin' it. Theer's the thought o' Miss Phoebe, tu,—Mrs. Blanchard, I should say. Caan't see her biding up to Newtake nohow, come the hard weather."

"'Wedlock an' winter tames maids an' beastes,'" said Mr. Lyddon bitterly. "A true saw that."

"Ess; an' when 'tis wedlock wi' Blanchard, an' winter on Dartymoor, 'twould tame the daughter of the Dowl, if he had wan."

Billy laughed at this thought. His back rounded as he sat in his chair, his head seemed to rise off his lower jaw, and the yellow frill of hair under his chin stood stiffly out.

"He's my son-in-law; you 'pear to forget that, Blee," said Mr. Lyddon; "I'm sure I wish I could, if 'twas even now an' again."

Thereupon Billy straightened his face and cast both rancour and merriment to the winds.

"Why, so he be; an' grey hairs should allus make allowance for the young youths; though I ain't forgot that spadeful o' muck yet, an' never shall. But theer's poison in bwoy's blood what awnly works out of the brain come forty. I'm sure I wish nothing but well to un. He's got his saving graces, same as all of us, if we could but see 'em; an' come what may, God looks arter His awn chosen fules, so theer's hope even for Blanchard." "Cold consolation," said Mr. Lyddon wearily; "but't is all we've got. Two nights since I dreamt I saw un starvin' on a dunghill. 'T was a parable, I judge, an' meant Newtake Farm."



CHAPTER IV

DEFEATED HOPES

Below Newtake Farm the river Teign wound, with many a foaming fall and singing rapid, to confluence with her twin sister in the valley beneath. Here, at a certain spot, above the forest and beneath the farm, stood Martin Grimbal on a bright afternoon in May. Over his head rose a rowan, in a soft cloud of serrated foliage, with clusters of grey-green flower buds already foretelling the crimson to come; about his feet a silver army of uncurling fronds brightened the earth and softened the sharp edges of the boulders scattered down the coomb. Here the lover waited to the music of a cuckoo, and his eyes ever turned towards a stile at the edge of the pine woods, two hundred yards distant from him.

The hour was one of tremendous possibilities, because Fate had been occupied with Martin through many days, and now he stood on the brink of great joy or sorrow. Clement Hicks had never spoken to him. During his quarrel with Chris, which lasted a fortnight, the bee-keeper purposely abstained from doing her bidding, while after their reconciliation every other matter in the world was swallowed up for a time in the delight of renewed love-making. The girl, assuming throughout these long weeks that Martin now knew all, had met him in frank and kindly spirit on those occasions when he planned to enjoy her society, and this open warmth awoke renewed heart for Grimbal, who into her genial friendship read promise and from it recruited hope. His love now dominated his spiritual being and filled his life. Grey granite was grey granite only, and no more. During his long walks by pillar-stone, remote row, and lonely circle, Chris, and Chris alone, occupied his brain. He debated the advisability of approaching Will, then turned rather to the thought of sounding Mrs. Blanchard, and finally nerved himself to right action and determined to address Chris. He felt this present heart-shaking suspense must be laid at rest, for the peace of his soul, and therefore he took his courage in his hands and faced the ordeal.

That day Chris was going up to Newtake. She had not yet settled there, though her brother and Sam Bonus were already upon the ground, but the girl came and went, busying her fingers with a hundred small matters that daily increased the comfort of the little farm. Her way lay usually by the coomb, and Martin, having learned that she was visiting Will on the occasion in question, set out before her and awaited her here, beside the river, in a lonely spot between the moorland above and the forest below. He felt physically nervous, yet hope brightened his mind, though he tried to strangle it. Worn and weary with his long struggle, he paced up and down, now looking to the stile, now casting dissatisfied glances upon his own person. Shaving with more than usual care, he had cut his chin deeply, and, though he knew it not, the wound had bled again since he left home and ruined both his collar and a new tie, put on for the occasion.

Presently he saw her. A sunbonnet bobbed at the stile and Chris appeared, bearing a roll of chintz for Newtake blinds. In her other hand she carried half a dozen bluebells from the woods, and she came with the free gait acquired in keeping stride through long tramps with Will when yet her frocks were short. Martin loved her characteristic speed in walking. So Diana doubtless moved. The spring sunshine had found Chris and the clear, soft brown of her cheek was the most beautiful thing in nature to the antiquary. He knew her face so well now: the dainty poise of her head, the light of her eyes, the dark curls that always clustered in the same places, the little updrawing at the corner of her mouth as she smiled, the sudden gleam of her teeth when she laughed, and the abrupt transitions of her expression from repose to gladness, from gladness back again into repose.

She saw the man before she reached him, and waved her bluebells to show that she had done so. Then he rose from his granite seat and took off his hat and stood with it off, while his heart thundered, his eye watered, and his mouth twitched. But he was outwardly calm by the time Chris reached him.

"What a surprise to find 'e here, Martin! Yet not much, neither, for wheer the auld stones be, theer you 'm to be expected."

"How are you, Chris? But I needn't ask. Yes, I'm fond of the stones."

"Well you may be. They talk to 'e like friends, seemingly. An' even I knaw a sight more 'bout 'em now. You've made me feel so differ'nt to 'em, you caan't think."

"For that matter," he answered, leaping at the chance, "you've made me feel different to them."

"Why, how could I, Martin?"

"I'll tell you. Would you mind sitting down here, just for a moment? I won't keep you. I've no right to ask for a minute of your time; but there's dry moss upon it—I mean the stone; and I was waiting on purpose, if you'll forgive me for waylaying you like this. There's a little thing—a big thing, I mean—the biggest—too big for words almost, yet it wants words—and yet sometimes it doesn't—at least—I—would you sit here?"

He was breathing rather hard, and his words were tripping. Managing his voice ill, the tones of it ran away from bass to shrill treble. She saw it all at a glance, and realised that Martin had been blundering on, in pure ignorance and pure love, all these weary weeks. She sat down silently and her mind moved like light along the wide gamut of fifty emotions in a second. Anger and sorrow strove together,—anger with Clem and his callous, cynic silence, sorrow for the panting wretch before her. Chris opened her mouth to speak, then realised where her flying thoughts had taken her and that, as yet, Martin Grimbal had said nothing. Her unmaidenly attitude and the sudden reflection that she was about to refuse one before he had asked her, awoke a hysteric inclination to laugh, then a longing to cry. But all the anxious-visaged man before her noted was a blush that waved like auroral light from the girl's neck to her cheek, from her cheek to her forehead. That he saw, and thought it was love, and thanked the Lord in his clumsy fashion aloud.

"God be praised! I do think you guess—I do think you guess! But oh, my dear, my dear, you don't know what 's in my heart for you. My little pearl of a Chris, can you care for such a bear of a man? Can you let me labour all my life long to make your days good to you? I love you so—I do. I never thought when the moment came I should find tongue to speak it, but I have; and now I could say it fifty thousand times. I'd just be proud to tie your shoe-string, Chris, my dear, and be your old slave and—Chris! my Chris! I've hurt you; I've made you cry! Was I—was I all wrong? Don't, don't—I'll go—Oh, my darling one, God knows I wouldn't—"

He broke off blankly and stood half sorrowful, half joyous. He knew he had no right as yet to go to the comfort of the girl now sobbing beside him, but hope was not dead. And Chris, overcome by this outpouring of love, now suffered very deep sorrow, while she turned away from him and hid her face and wept. The poor distracted fool still failed to guess the truth, for he knew tint tears are the outcome of happiness as well as misery. He waited, open-mouthed, he murmured something—God knows what—then he went close and thought to touch her waist, but feared and laid his hand gently on her shoulder.

"Don't 'e!" she said; and he began to understand and to struggle with himself to lessen her difficulty.

"Forgive me—forgive me if you can, Chris. Was I all wrong? Then I ought to have known better—but even an old stick like me—before you, Chris. Somehow I—but don't cry. I wouldn't have brought the tears to your eyes for all the world—dense idiot I am—"

"No, no, no; no such thing 't all, Martin. 'Tis I was cruel not to see you didn't knaw. You've been treated ill, an' I'm cryin' that such a gude—gude, braave, big-hearted man as you, should be brought to this for a fule of a gal like me. I ban't worthy a handshake from 'e, or a kind word. An'—an'—Clem Hicks—Clem be tokened to me these two year an' more. He'm the best man in the world; an' I hate un for not tellin' 'e—an'—an'—"

Chris sobbed herself to the end of her tears; and the man took his trial—like a man. His only thought was the sadness his blunder had brought with it for her. To misread her blush seemed in his humility a crime. His consistent unselfishness blinded him, for an instant at least, to his own grief. He blamed himself and asked pardon and prepared to get away out of her sight as soon as possible.

"Forgive me, Chris—I needn't ask you twice, I know—such a stupid thing—I didn't understand—I never observed: but more shame to me. I ought to have seen, of course. Anybody else would—any man of proper feeling."

"How could 'e see it with a secret chap like him? He ought to have told 'e; I bid un speak months since; an' I thought he had; an' I hate un for not doing it!"

"But you mustn't. Don't cry any more, and forget all about it. I could almost laugh to think how blind I've been. We'll both laugh next time we meet. If you're happy, then I'll laugh always. That's all I care for. Now I know you're happy again, I'm happy, too, Chris—honour bright. And I'll be a friend still—remember that—always—to you—to you and him."

"I hate un, I say."

"Why, he didn't give me credit for being such a bat—such a mole. Now I must be away. We'll meet pretty soon, I expect. Just forget this afternoon as though it had never been, even though it's such a jolly sunny one. And remember me as a friend—a friend still for all my foolishness. Good-by for the present. Good-by."

He nodded, making the parting a slight thing and not missing the ludicrous in his anxiety to spare her pain. He went down the valley, leaving her sitting alone. He assumed a jaunty air and did not look round, but hastened off to the stile. Never in his most light-hearted moments had he walked thus or struck right and left at the leaves and shrubs with such a clumsy affectation of nonchalance. Thus he played the fool until out of sight; then his head came down, and his feet dragged, and his walk and mien grew years older than his age. He stopped presently and stood still, staring upon the silence. Westering sunlight winnowed through the underwood, splashed into its sombre depths and brightened the sobriety of a grey carpet dotted with dead cones. Sweet scents floated downward upon the sad whisper that lives in every pine forest; then came suddenly a crisp rattle of little claws and a tiny barking, where two red squirrels made love, high aloft, amid the grey lichens and emerald haze of a great larch that gleamed like a green lamp through the night of the dark surrounding foliage.

Martin Grimbal dropped his stick and flung down his body in the hushed and hidden dreamland of the wood. Now he knew that his hope had lied to him, that the judgment he prided himself upon, and which had prompted him to this great deed, was at fault. The more than common tact and delicacy of feeling he had sometimes suspected he possessed in rare, exalted moments, were now shown vain ideas born from his own conceit; and the event had proved him no more subtle, clever, or far-seeing than other men. Indeed, he rated himself as an abject blunderer and thought he saw how a great overwhelming fear, at the bottom of his worship of Chris, had been the only true note in all that past war of emotions. But he had refused to listen and pushed forward; and now he stood thus. Looking back in the light of his defeat, his previous temerity amazed him. His own ugliness, awkwardness, and general unfitness to be the husband of Chris were ideas now thrust upward in all honesty to the top of his mind. No mock modesty or simulated delicacy inspired them, for after defeat a man is frank with himself. Whatever he may have pretended before he puts his love to the test, however he may have blinded himself as to his real feelings and beliefs before he offers his heart, after the event has ended unfavourably his real soul stands naked before him and, according to his character, he decides whether himself or the girl is the fool. Grimbal criticised his own audacity with scanty compassion now; and the thought of the tears of Chris made him clench one hand and smash it hard again and again into the palm of the other. No passionate protest rose in his mind against the selfish silence of Clement Hicks; he only saw his own blindness and magnified it into an absolute offence against Chris. Presently, as the sunlight sank lower, and the straight stems of the pines glimmered red-gold against the deepening gloom, Martin retraced the scene that was past and recalled her words and actions, her tears, the trembling of her mouth, and that gesture when the wild flowers dropped from her hand and her fingers went up to cover her eyes. Then a sudden desire mastered him: to possess the purple of her bluebell bouquet. He knew she would not pick it up again when he was gone; so he returned, stood in that theatre of Fate beneath the rowan, saw where her body had pressed the grass, and found the fading flowers.

Then he turned to tramp home, with the truth gnawing his heart at last. The excitement was over, all flutter of hope and fear at rest. Only that bitter fact of failure remained, with the knowledge that one, but yesterday so essential and so near, had now vanished like a rainbow beyond his reach.

Martin's eyes were opened in the light of this experience. John came into his mind, and estimating his brother's sufferings by his own, the stricken man found room in his sad heart for pity.



CHAPTER V

THE ZEAL OF SAM BONUS

Under conditions of spring and summer Newtake Farm flattered Will's hopes not a little. He worked like a giant, appropriated some of that credit belonging to fine weather, and viewed the future with very considerable tranquillity. Of beasts he purchased wisely, being guided in that matter by Mr. Lyddon; but for the rest he was content to take his own advice. Already his ambition extended beyond the present limits of his domain; already he contemplated the possibility of reclaiming some of the outlying waste and enlarging his borders. If the Duchy might spread greedy fingers and inclose "newtakes," why not the Venville tenants? Many besides Will asked themselves that question; the position was indeed fruitful of disputes in various districts, especially on certain questions involving cattle; and no moorland Quarter breathed forth greater discontent against the powers than that of which Chagford was the central parish.

Sam Bonus, inspired by his master's sanguine survey of life, toiled amain, believed all that Will predicted, and approved each enterprise he planned; while as for Chris, in due time she settled at Newtake and undertook woman's work there with her customary thoroughness and energy. To her lot fell the poultry, the pair of fox-hound puppies that Will undertook to keep for the neighbouring hunt, and all the interior economy and control of the little household.

On Sundays Phoebe heard of the splendid doings at Newtake; upon which she envied Chris her labours, and longed to be at Will's right hand. For the present, however, Miller Lyddon refused his daughter permission even to visit the farm; and she obeyed, despite her husband's indignant protests.

Thus matters stood while the sun shone brightly from summer skies. Will, when he visited Chagford market, talked to the grizzled farmers, elaborated his experience, shook his head or nodded it knowingly as they, in their turn, discussed the business of life, paid due respect to their wisdom, and offered a little of his own in exchange for it. That the older men lacked pluck was his secret conviction. The valley folk were braver; but the upland agriculturists, all save himself, went in fear. Their eyes were careworn, their caution extreme; behind the summer they saw another shadow forever moving; and the annual struggle with those ice-bound or water-logged months of the early year, while as yet the Moor had nothing for their stock, left them wearied and spiritless when the splendour of the summer came. They farmed furtively, snatching at such good as appeared, distrusting their own husbandry, fattening the land with reluctance, cowering under the shadow of withered hopes and disappointments too numerous to count. Will pitied this mean spirit and, unfamiliar with wet autumns and hard winters on the high land, laughed at his fellow-countrymen. But they were kind and bid him be cautious and keep his little nest-egg snug.

"Tie it up in stout leather, my son," said a farmer from Gidleigh. "Ay, an' fasten the bag wi' a knot as'll take 'e half an hour to undo; an' remember, the less you open it, the better for your peace of mind."

All of which good counsel Blanchard received with expressions of gratitude, yet secretly held to be but the croaking of a past generation, stranded far behind that wave of progress on which he himself was advancing crest-high.

It happened one evening, when Clement Hicks visited Newtake to go for a walk under the full moon with Chris, that he learnt she was away for a few days. This fact had been mentioned to Clement; but he forgot it, and now found himself here, with only Will and Sam Bonus for company. He accepted the young farmer's invitation to supper, and the result proved unlucky in more directions than one. During this meal Clem railed in surly vein against the whole order of things as it affected himself, and made egotistical complaint as to the hardness of life; then, when his host began to offer advice, he grew savage and taunted Will with his own unearned good fortune. Blanchard, weary after a day of tremendous physical exertion, made sharp answer. He felt his old admiration for Clem Hicks much lessened of late, and it nettled him not a little that his friend should thus attribute his present position to the mere accident of a windfall. He was heartily sick of the other's endless complaints, and now spoke roughly and to the point.

"What the devil's the gude of this eternal bleat? You'm allus snarlin' an' gnashin' your teeth 'gainst God, like a rat bitin' the stick that's killin' it."

"And why should God kill me? You've grown so wise of late, perhaps you know."

"Why shouldn't He? Why shouldn't He kill you, or any other man, if He wants the room of un for a better? Not that I believe parson's stuff more 'n you; but grizzlin' your guts to fiddlestrings won't mend your fortune. Best to put your time into work, 'stead o' talk—same as me an' Bonus. And as for my money, you knaw right well if theer'd been two thousand 'stead of wan, I'd have shared it with Chris."

"Easy to say! If there had been two, you would have said, 'If it was only four'! That's human nature."

"Ban't my nature, anyway, to tell a lie!" burst out Will.

"Perhaps it's your nature to do worse. What were you about last Christmas?"

Blanchard set down knife and fork and looked the other in the face. None had heard this, for Bonus, his meal ended, went off to the little tallet over a cattle-byre which was his private apartment.

"You'd rip that up again—you, who swore never to open' your mouth upon it?"

"You're frightened now."

"Not of you, anyway. But you'd best not to come up here no more. I'm weary of you; I don't fear you worse than a blind worm; but such as you are, you've grawed against me since my luck comed. I wish Chris would drop you as easy as I can, for you'm teachin' her to waste her life, same as you waste yours."

"Very well, I'll go. We're enemies henceforth, since you wish it so."

"Blamed if you ban't enough to weary Job! 'Enemies'! It's like a child talkin'. 'Enemies'! D'you think I care a damn wan way or t'other? You'm so bad as Jan Grimbal wi' his big play-actin' talk. He'm gwaine to cut my tether some day. P'r'aps you'll go an' help un to do it! The past is done, an' no man who weern't devil all through would go back on such a oath as you sweared to me. An' you won't. As to what's to come, you can't hurt a straight plain-dealer, same as me, though you'm free an' welcome to try if you please to."

"The future may take care of itself; and for your straight speaking I'll give you mine. Go your way and I'll go my way; but until you beg my forgiveness for this night's talk I'll never cross your threshold again, or speak to you, or think of you."

Clement rose from his unfinished food, picked up his hat, and vanished, and Will, dismissing the matter with a toss of his head and a contemptuous expiration of breath, gave the poet's plate of cold potato and bacon to a sheep-dog and lighted his pipe.

Not ten hours later, while yet some irritation at the beekeeper's spleen troubled Blanchard's thoughts as he laboured upon his land, a voice saluted him from the highway and he saw a friend.

"An' gude-marnin' to you, Martin. Another braave day, sure 'nough. Climb awver the hedge. You'm movin' early. Ban't eight o'clock."

"I'm off to the 'Grey Wethers,' those old ruined circles under Sittaford Tor, you know. But I meant a visit to you as well. Bonus was in the farmyard and brought me with him."

"Ess fay, us works, I tell 'e. We'm fightin' the rabbits now. The li'l varmints have had it all theer way tu long; but this wire netting'll keep 'em out the corn next year an' the turnips come autumn. How be you fearin'? I aint seen 'e this longful time."

"Well, thank you; and as busy as you in my way. I'm going to write a book about the Dartmoor stones."

"'S truth! Be you? Who'll read it?"

"Don't know yet. And, after all, I have found out little that sharper eyes haven't discovered already. Still, it fills my time. And it is that I'm here about."

"You can go down awver my land to the hut-circles an' welcome whenever you mind to."

"Sure of it, and thank you; but it's another thing just now—your brother-in-law to be. I think perhaps, if he has leisure, he might be useful to me. A very clever fellow, Hicks."

But Will was in no humour to hear Clement praised just then, or suggest schemes for his advancement.

"He'm a weak sapling of a man, if you ax me. Allus grumblin', an' soft wi' it—as I knaw—none better," said Blanchard, watching Bonus struggle with the rabbit netting.

"He's out of his element, I think—a student—a bookish man, like myself."

"As like you as chalk's like cheese—no more. His temper, tu! A bull in spring's a fule to him. I'm weary of him an' his cleverness."

"You see, if I may venture to say so, Chris—"

"I knaw all 'bout that. 'Tis like your gudeness to try an' put a li'l money in his pocket wi'out stepping on his corns. They 'm tokened. Young people 's so muddle-headed. Bees indeed! Nice things to keep a wife an' bring up a fam'ly on! An' he do nothin' but write rhymes, an' tear 'em up again, an' cuss his luck, wi'out tryin' to mend it. I thought something of un wance, when I was no more 'n a bwoy, but as I get up in years I see the emptiness of un."

"He would grow happy and sweeter-hearted if he could marry your sister."

"Not him! Of course, if it's got to be, it will be. I ban't gwaine to see Chris graw into an auld maid. An' come bimebye, when I've saved a few hunderd, I shall set 'em up myself. But she's makin' a big mistake, an', to a friend, I doan't mind tellin' 'e 'tis so."

"I hope you're wrong. They'll be happy together. They have great love each for the other. But, of course, that's nothing to do with me. I merely want Hicks to undertake some clerical work for me, as a matter of business, and I thought you might tell me the best way to tackle him without hurting his feelings. He's a proud man, I fancy."

"Ess; an' pride's a purty fulish coat for poverty, ban't it? I've gived that man as gude advice as ever I gived any man; but what's well-thought-out wisdom to the likes of him? Get un a job if you mind to. I shouldn't—not till he shaws better metal and grips the facts o' life wi' a tighter hand."

"I'll sound him as delicately as I can. It may be that his self-respect would strengthen if he found his talents appreciated and able to command a little money. He wants something of that sort—eh?"

"Doan't knaw but what a hiding wouldn't be so gude for un as anything," mused Will. There was no animosity in the reflection. His ill-temper had long since vanished, and he considered Clement as he might have considered a young, wayward dog which had erred and brought itself within reach of the lash.

"I was welted in my time hard an' often, an' be none the worse," he continued.

Martin smiled and shook his head.

"Might have served him once; too late now for that remedy, I fear."

There was a brief pause, then Will changed the conversation abruptly.

"How's your brother Jan?" he asked.

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