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Children of the Mist
by Eden Phillpotts
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"He's furnishing his new house and busy about the formation of a volunteer corps. I met him not long since in Fingle Gorge."

"Be you friends now, if I may ax?"

"I tried to be. We live and learn. Things happened to me a while ago that taught me what I didn't know. I spoke to him and reminded him of the long years in Africa. Blood's thicker than water, Blanchard."

"So 'tis. What did he make of it?"

"He looked up and hesitated. Then he shook his head and set his face against me, and said he would not have my friendship as a gift."

"He's a gude hater."

"Time will bring the best of him to the top again some day. I understand him, I think. We possess more in common than people suppose. We feel deeply and haven't a grain of philosophy between us."

"Well, I reckon I've allus been inclined to deep ways of thought myself; and work up here, wi' nothing to break your thoughts but the sight of a hawk or the twinkle of a rabbit's scut, be very ripening to the mind. If awnly Phoebe was here! Sometimes I'm in a mood to ramp down-long an' hale her home, whether or no. But I sweats the longing out o' me wi' work."

"The day will soon come. Time drags with me just now, somehow, but it races with you, I'll warrant. I must get on with my book, and see Hicks and try and persuade him to help me."

"'Tis like your big nature to put it that way. You'rn tu soft-hearted a man to dwell in a house all alone. Let the dead stones bide, Martin, an' look round for a wife. Theer's more gude advice. Blamed if I doan't advise everybody nowadays! Us must all come to it. Look round about an' try to love a woman. 'T will surprise 'e an' spoil sleep if you can bring yourself to it. But the cuddlin' of a soft gal doan't weaken man's thews and sinews neither. It hardens 'em, I reckon, an' puts fight in the most poor-spirited twoad as ever failed in love. 'Tis a manly thing, an' 'boldens the heart like; an', arter she's said 'Yes' to 'e, you'll find a wonnerful change come awver life. 'Tis all her, then. The most awnself[8] man feels it more or less, an' gets shook out of his shell. You'll knaw some day. Of course I speaks as wan auld in love an' married into the bargain."

[8] Awnself=selfish.

"You speak from experience, I know. And is Phoebe as wise as you, Will?"

"Waitin' be harder for a wummon. They've less to busy the mind, an' less mind to busy, for that matter."

"That's ungallant."

"I doan't knaw. 'Tis true, anyway. I shouldn't have failed in love wi' her if she'd been cleverer'n me."

"Or she with you, perhaps?"

"P'r'aps not. Anyway as it stands we'm halves of a whole: made for man and wife. I reckon I weern't wan to miss my way in love like some poor fules, as wastes it wheer they might see't wasn't wanted if they'd got eyes in their heads."

"What it is to be so wise!"

Will laughed joyously in his wisdom.

"Very gude of 'e to say that. 'Tis a happy thing to have sense enough. Not but we larn an' larn."

"So we should. Well, I must be off now. I'm safe on the Moor to-day!"

"Ess, by the looks of it. Theer'll likely come some mist after noon, but shouldn't be very thick."

So they parted, Blanchard having unconsciously sown the seed of an ugly crop that would take long in reaping. His remarks concerning Clement Hicks were safe enough with Martin, but another had heard them as he worked within earshot of his master. Bonus, though his judgment was scanty, entertained a profound admiration for Will; and thus it came about, that a few days later, when in Chagford, he called at the "Green Man" and made some grave mischief while he sang his master's praises. He extolled the glorious promise of Newtake, and the great improvements already visible thereon; he reflected not a little of Will's own flamboyant manner to the secret entertainment of those gathered in the bar, and presently he drew down upon himself some censure.

Abraham Chown, the police inspector, first shook his head and prophesied speedy destruction of all these hopes; and then Gaffer Lezzard criticised still more forcibly.

"All this big-mouthed talk's cracklin' of thorns under a potsherd," hesaid. "You an' him be just two childern playin' at shop in the gutter, an' the gutter's wheer you'll find yourselves 'fore you think to. What do the man knaw? Nothin'."

"Blanchard's a far-seein' chap," answered Sam Bonus stoutly. "An' a gude master; an' us'll stick together, fair or foul."

"You may think it, but wait," said a small man in the corner. Charles Coomstock, nephew of the widow of that name already mentioned, was a wheelwright by trade and went lame, owing to an accident with hot iron in youth.

"Ax Clem," continued Mr. Coomstock. "For all his cranky ways he knaws Blanchard better'n most of us, an' I heard un size up the chap t'other day in a word. He said he hadn't wit enough to keep his brains sweet."

"He'm a braave wan to talk," fired back Bonus. "Him! A poor luny as caan't scrape brass to keep a wife on. Blanchard, or me either, could crack un in half like a dead stick."

"Not that that's anything for or against," declared Gaffer Lezzard. "Power of hand's nought against brain."

"It gaws a tidy long way 'pon Dartymoor, however," declared Bonus. "An' Blanchard doan't set no 'mazin' store on Hicks neither, if it comes to words. I heard un say awnly t'other forenoon that the man was a weak saplin', allus grumblin', an' might be better for a gude hiding."

Now Charles Coomstock did not love his cousin Clement. Indeed, none of those who had, or imagined they had, any shadow of right to a place in Mary Coomstock's will cared much for others similarly situated; but the little wheelwright was by nature a spreader of rumours and reports—an intelligencer, malignant from choice. He treasured this assertion, therefore, together with one or two others. Sam, now at his third glass, felt his heart warm to Will. He would have fought with tongue or fist on his behalf, and presently added to the mischief he had already done.

"To shaw 'e, neighbours, just the man he is, I may tell 'e that a larned piece like Martin Grimbal ackshually comed all the way to Newtake not long since to ax advice of un. An' 'twas on the identical matter of this same Hicks. Mr. Grimbal wanted to give un some work to do, 'bout a book or some such item; an' Will he ups and sez, 'Doan't,' just short an' straight like that theer. 'Doan't,' he sez. 'Let un shaw what's in un first'; an' t'other nodded when he said it."

Having now attested his regard for the master of Newtake, Sam jogged off. He was pleased with himself, proud of having silenced more than one detractor, and as his little brain turned the matter over, his lips parted in a grin.

Coomstock meanwhile had limped into the cottage where Clement lived with his mother. He did not garble his news, for it needed no artistic touch; and, with nice sense of his perfect and effective instrument, he realised the weapon was amply sharp enough without whetting, and employed the story as it came into his hand. But Mr. Coomstock was a little surprised and disappointed at his cousin's reserve and self-restraint. He had hoped for a hearty outburst of wrath and the assurance of wide-spreading animosity, yet no such thing happened, and the talebearer presently departed in some surprise. Mrs. Hicks, indeed, had shrilled forth a torrent of indignation upon the sole subject equal to raising such an emotion in her breast, for Clem was her only son. The man, however, took it calmly, or appeared to do so; and even when Charles Coomstock was gone he refused to discuss the matter more.

But had his cousin, with Asmodeus-flight, beheld Clement during the subsequent hours which he spent alone, it is possible that the wheelwright had felt amply repaid for his trouble. Not until dawn stole grey along the village street; not until sparrows in the thatch above him began their salutation to the morning; not until Chagford rookery had sent forth a harmonious multitude to the hills and valleys did Clement's aching eyes find sleep. For hours he tossed and turned, now trembling with rage, now prompted by some golden thread in the tangled mazes of his mind to discredit the thing reported. Blanchard, as it seemed, had come deliberately and maliciously between him and an opportunity to win work. He burnt to know what he should do; and, like a flame of forked light against the sombre background of his passion, came the thought of another who hated Blanchard too. Will's secret glowed and gleamed like the writing on the wall; looking out, Hicks saw it stamped on the dark earth and across the starry night; and he wished to God that the letters might so remain to be read by the world when it wakened. Finally he slept and dreamed that he had been to the Red House, that he had spoken to John Grimbal, and returned home again with a bag of gold.

When his mother came to call him he was lying half uncovered in a wild confusion of scattered bed-clothes; and his arms and body were jerking as a dog's that dreams. She saw a sort of convulsion pinch and pucker his face; then he made some inarticulate sounds—as it were a frantic negation; and then the noise of his own cry awakened him. He looked wildly round and lifted his hands as though he expected to find them full.

"Where is it? Where is it? The bag of money? I won't—I can't—Where is it, I say?"

"I wish I knawed, lovey. Dream-gawld, I'm afeared. You've bin lying cold, an' that do allus breed bad thoughts in sleep. 'Tis late; I done breakfast an hour ago. An' Okehampton day, tu. Coach'll be along in twenty minutes."

He sighed and dragged the clothes over himself.

"You'd best go to-day, mother. The ride will do you good, and I have plenty to fill my time at home."

Mrs. Hicks brightened perceptibly before this prospect. She was a little, faded woman, with a brown face and red-rimmed, weak eyes, washed by many years of sorrow to the palest nondescript colour. She crept through the world with no ambition but to die out of the poorhouse, no prayer but a petition that the parish might not bury her at the end, no joy save in her son. Life at best was a dreary business for her, and an occasional trip to Okehampton represented about the only brightness that ever crept into it. Now she bustled off full of excitement to get the honey, and, having put on a withered bonnet and black shawl, presently stood and waited for the omnibus.

Her son dwelt with his thoughts that day, and for him there was no peace or pleasure. Full twenty times he determined to visit Newtake at once and have it out with Will; but his infirmity of purpose acted like a drag upon this resolution, and his pride also contributed a force against it. Once he actually started, and climbed up Middledown to reach the Moor beyond; then he changed his mind again as new fires of enmity swept through it. His wrongs rankled black and bitter; and, faint under them, he presently turned and went home shivering though the day was hot.



CHAPTER VI

A SWARM OF BEES

Above Chagford rise those lofty outposts of Dartmoor, named respectively Nattadown and Middledown. The first lies nearer to the village, and upon its side, beneath a fir wood which crowns one spur, spread steep wastes of fern and furze. This spot was a favourite one with Clement Hicks, and a fortnight after the incidents last related he sat there smoking his pipe, while his eyes roved upon the scene subtended before him. The hill fell abruptly away, and near the bottom glimmered whitewashed cots along a winding road. Still lower down extended marshy common land, laced with twinkling watercourses and dotted with geese; while beyond, in many a rise and fall and verdant undulation, the country rolled onwards through Teign valley and upwards towards the Moor. The expanse seen from this lofty standpoint extended like a mighty map, here revealing a patchwork of multicoloured fields, here exhibiting tracts of wild waste and wood, here beautifully indicating by a misty line, seen across ascending planes of forest, the course of the distant river, here revealing the glitter of remote waters damaskeened with gold. Little farms and outlying habitations were scattered upon the land; and beyond them, rising steadily to the sky-line, the regions of the Moor revealed their larger attributes, wider expanses, more savage and abrupt configurations of barren heath and weathered tor. The day passed gradually from gloom to brightness, and the distance, already bathed in light, gleamed out of a more sombre setting, where the foreground still reflected the shadows of departing clouds, like a picture of great sunshine framed in darkness. But the last vapours quickly vanished; the day grew very hot and, as the sky indicated noon, all things beneath Clement's eyes were soaked in a splendour of June sunlight. He watched a black thread lying across a meadow five miles away. First it stretched barely visible athwart the distance green; in half an hour it thickened without apparent means; within an hour it had absorbed an eighth part at least of the entire space. Though the time was very unusual for tilling of land, Hicks knew that the combined operations of three horses, a man, and a plough were responsible for this apparition, and he speculated as to how many tremendous physical and spiritual affairs of life are thus wrought by agents not visible to the beholder. Thus were his own thoughts twisted back to those speculations which now perpetually haunted them like the incubus of a dream. What would Will Blanchard say if he woke some morning to find his secret in John Grimbal's keeping? And, did any such thing happen, there must certainly be a mystery about it; for Blanchard could no more prove how his enemy came to learn his secret than might some urban stranger guess how the dark line grew without visible means on the arable ground under Gidleigh.

From these dangerous thoughts he was roused by the sight of a woman struggling up the steep hill towards him. The figure came slowly on, and moved with some difficulty. This much Hicks noted, and then suddenly realised that he beheld his mother. She knew his haunt and doubtless sought him now. Rising, therefore, he hastened to meet her and shorten her arduous climb. Mrs. Hicks was breathless when Clement reached her, and paused a while, with her hand pressed to her side, before she could speak. At length she addressed him, still panting between the syllables.

"My heart's a pit-pat! Hurry, hurry, for the Lard's sake! The bees be playin'[9] an' they'll call Johnson if you ban't theer directly minute!"

[9] Playing = swarming.

Johnson, a thatcher, was the only other man in Chagford who shared any knowledge of apiarian lore with Clement.

"Sorry you should have had the journey only for that, mother. 'Twas so unlikely a morning, I never thought to hear of a swarm to-day. I'll start at once, and you go home quietly. You're sadly out of breath. Where is it?"

"To the Red House—Mr. Grimbal's. It may lead to the handlin' of his hives for all us can say, if you do the job vitty, as you 'm bound to."

"John Grimbal's!"

Hicks stood still as though this announcement had turned him into stone.

"Ess fay! Why do 'e stand glazin' like that? A chap rode out for 'e 'pon horseback; an' a bit o' time be lost a'ready. They 'm swarmin' in the orchard, an' nobody knaws more 'n the dead what to be at."

"I won't go. Let them get Johnson."

"'Won't go'! An' five shillin' hangin' to it, an' Lard knaws what more in time to come! 'Won't go'! An' my poor legs throbbin' something cruel with climbin' for 'e!"

"I—I'm not going there—not to that man. I have reason."

"O my gude God!" burst out the old woman, "what'll 'e do next? An' me—as worked so hard to find 'e—an' so auld as I am! Please, please, Clem, for your mother—please. Theer's bin so little money in the house of late days, an' less to come. Doan't, if you love me, as I knaws well you do, turn your back 'pon the scant work as falls in best o' times."

The man reflected with troubled eyes, and his mother took his arm and tried to pull him down the hill.

"Is John Grimbal at home?" he asked.

"How shude I knaw? An' what matter if he is? Your business is with the bees, not him. An' you've got no quarrel with him because that Blanchard have. After what Will done against you, you needn't be so squeamish as to make his enemies yourn."

"My business is with the bees—as you say, mother," he answered slowly, repeating her words.

"Coourse 'tis! Who knaws a half of what you knaw 'bout 'em? That's my awn braave Clem! Why, there might be a mort o' gude money for a man like you at the Red House!"

"I'll go. My business is with the bees. You walk along slowly, or sit down a while and get your breath again. I'll hurry."

She praised him and blessed him, crying after him as he departed,—"You'll find all set out for 'e—veil, an' gloves, an' a couple of bee-butts to your hand."

The man did not reply, but soon stumbled down the steep hill and vanished; then five-and-twenty minutes later, with the implements of his trade, he stood at the gate of the Red House, entered, and hastened along the newly planted avenue.

John Grimbal had not yet gone into residence, but he dwelt at present in his home farm hard by; and from this direction he now appeared to meet the bee-keeper. The spectacle of Grimbal, stern, grave, and older of manner than formerly, impressed Hicks not a little. In silence, after the first salutation, they proceeded towards an adjacent orchard; and from here as they approached arose an extravagant and savage din, as though a dozen baited dogs, each with a tin kettle at his tail, were madly galloping down some stone-paved street, and hurtling one against the other as they ran.

"They can stop that row," said Hicks. "'Tis an old-fashioned notion that it hurries swarming, but I never found it do so."

"You know best, though beating on tin pots and cans at such a time's a custom as old as the hills."

"And vain as many others equally old. I have a different method to hurry swarming."

Now they passed over the snows of a million fallen petals, while yet good store of flowers hung upon the trees. June basked in the heart of the orchard and a delicious green sweetness and freshness marked the moment. Crimson and cream, all splashed with sunlight, here bloomed against a sky of summer blue, here took a shade from the new-born leaves and a shadow from branch and bough. To the eye, a mottled, dimpled glory of apple-blossom spread above grey trunks and twisted branches, shone through deep vistas of the orchard, brightened all the distance; while upon the ear, now growing and deepening, arose one sustained and musical susurration of innumerable wings.

"You will be wise to stay here," said Hicks. He himself stopped a moment, opened his bag, put on his veil and gloves, and tucked his trousers inside his stockings.

"Not I. I wish to see the hiving."

Twenty yards distant a play of light and glint and twinkle of many frantic bees converged upon one spot, as stars numerically increase towards the heart of a cluster. The sky was full of flying insects, and their wings sparkled brightly in the sun; though aloft, with only the blue for background, they appeared as mere dark points filling the air in every direction. The swarm hung at the very heart of a little glade. Here two ancient apple-trees stood apart, and from one low bough, stretched at right angles to the parent stem, and not devoid of leaves and blossoms, there depended a grey-brown mass from which a twinkling, flashing fire leaped forth as from gems bedded in the matrix. Each transparent wing added to the dazzle under direct sunlight; the whole agglomeration of life was in form like a bunch of grapes, and where it thinned away to a point the bees dropped off by their own weight into the grass below, then rose again and either flew aloft in wide and circling flight or rushed headlong upon the swarm once more. Across the iridescent cluster passed a gleam and glow of peacock and iris, opal and mother-of-pearl; while from its heart ascended a deep murmur, telling of tremendous and accumulated energy suddenly launched into this peaceful glade of apple-blossom and ambient green. The frenzy of the moment held all that little laborious people. There was none of the concerted action to be observed at warping, or simultaneous motion of birds in air and fishes in water; but each unit of the shining army dashed on its own erratic orbit, flying and circling, rushing hither and thither, and sooner or later returning to join the queen upon the bough.

The glory of the moment dominated one and all. It was their hour—a brief, mad ecstasy in short lives of ceaseless toil. To-day they desisted from their labours, and the wild-flowers of the waste places, and the old-world flowers in cottage gardens were alike forgotten. Yet their year had already seen much work and would see more. Sweet pollen from many a bluebell and anemone was stored and sealed for a generation unborn; the asphodels and violets, the velvet wallflower and yellow crocuses had already yielded treasure; and now new honey jewels were trembling in the trumpets of the honeysuckle, at the heart of the wild rose, within the deep cups of the candid and orange lilies, amid the fairy caps of columbines, and the petals of clove-pinks. There the bees now living laboured, and those that followed would find their sweets in the clover,—scarlet and purple and white,—in the foxgloves, in the upland deserts of the heather with their oases of euphrasy and sweet wild thyme.

"Is it a true swarm or a cast?" inquired John Grimbal.

"A swarm, without much question, though it dawned an unlikely day for an old queen to leave the hive. Still, the weather came over splendid enough by noon, and they knew it was going to. Where are your butts? You see, young maiden queens go further afield than old ones. The latter take but a short flight for choice."

"There they are," said Grimbal, pointing to a row of thatched hives not far off. "So that should be an old queen, by your showing. Is she there?"

"I fancy so by the look of them. If the queen doesn't join, the bees break up, of course, and go back to the butt. But I've brought a couple of queens with me."

"I've seen a good few drones about the board lately."

"Sure sign of swarming at this season. Inside, if you could look, you'd find plenty of queen cells, and some capped over. You'd come across a murder or two as well. The old queens make short work of the young ones sometimes."

"Woman-like."

Hicks admitted the criticism was just. Then, being now upon his own ground, he continued to talk, and talk well, until he won a surly compliment from his employer.

"You're a bee-master, in truth! Nobody'll deny you that."

Clement laughed rather bitterly.

"Yes, a king of bees. Not a great kingdom for man to rule."

The other studied his dark, unhappy face. Trouble had quickened Grimbal's own perceptions, and made him a more accurate judge of sorrow when he saw it than of yore.

"You've tried to do greater things and failed, perhaps," he said.

"Why, perhaps I have. A man's a hive himself, I've thought sometimes—a hive of swarming, seething thoughts and experiences and passions, that come and go as easily as any bees, and store the heart and brain."

"Not with honey, I'll swear."

"No—gall mostly."

"And every hive's got a queen bee too, for that matter," said Grimbal, rather pleased at his wit responsible for the image.

"Yes; and the queens take each other's places quick enough, for we're fickle brutes."

"A strange swarm we hive in our hearts, God knows."

"And it eats out our hearts for our pains."

"You've found out that, have you?" asked John curiously.

"Long ago."

"Everybody does, sooner or later."

There was a pause. Overhead the multitude dwindled while the great glimmering cluster on the tree correspondingly increased, and the fierce humming of the bees was like the sound of a fire. Clement feared nothing, but he had seen few face a hiving without some distrust. The man beside him, however, stood with his hands in his pockets, indifferent and quite unprotected.

"You will be wiser to stand farther away, Mr. Grimbal. You're unlikely to come off scot-free if you keep so close."

"What do I care? I've been stung by worse than insects."

"And I also," answered Clement, with such evident passion that the other grew a little interested. He had evidently pricked a sore point in this moody creature.

"Was it a woman stung you?"

"No, no; don't heed me."

Clement was on guard over himself again. "Your business is with bees"—his mother's words echoed in his mind to the pulsing monotone of the swarm. He tried to change the subject, sent for a pail of water, and drew a large syringe from his bag, though the circumstances really rendered this unnecessary. But John Grimbal, always finding a sort of pleasure in his own torment, took occasion to cross-question Clement.

"I suppose I'm laughed at still in Chagford, am I not? Not that it matters to me."

"I don't think so; an object of envy, rather, for good wives are easier to get than great riches."

"That's your opinion, is it? I'm not so sure. Are you married?"

"No."

"Going to be, I'll wager, if you think good wives can be picked off blackberry bushes."

"I don't say that at all. But I am going to be married certainly. I'm fortunate and unfortunate. I've won a prize, but—well, honey's cheap. I must wait."

"D' you trust her? Is waiting so easy?"

"Yes, I trust her, as I trust the sun to swing up out of the east to-morrow, to set in the west to-night. She's the only being of my own breed I do trust. As for the other question, no—waiting isn't easy."

"Nor yet wise. I shouldn't wait. Tell me who she is. Women interest me, and the taking of 'em in marriage."

Hicks hesitated. Here he was drifting helpless under this man's hard eyes—helpless and yet not unwilling. He told himself that he was safe enough and could put a stop on his mouth when he pleased. Besides, John Grimbal was not only unaware that the bee-keeper knew anything against Blanchard, but had yet to learn that anybody else did,—that there even existed facts unfavourable to him. Something, however, told Hicks that mention of the common enemy would result from this present meeting, and the other's last word brought the danger, if danger it might be, a step nearer. Clement hesitated before replying to the question; then he answered it.

"Chris Blanchard," he said shortly, "though that won't interest you."

"But it does—a good deal. I've wondered, some time, why I didn't hear my own brother was going to marry her. He got struck all of a heap there, to my certain knowledge. However, he 's escaped. The Lord be good to you, and I take my advice to marry back again. Think twice, if she's made of the same stuff as her brother."

"No, by God! Is the moon made of the same stuff as the marsh lights?"

Concentrated bitterness rang in the words, and a man much less acute than Grimbal had guessed he stood before an enemy of Will. John saw the bee-keeper start at this crucial moment; he observed that Hicks had said a thing he much regretted and uttered what he now wished unspoken. But the confession was torn bare and laid out naked under Grimbal's eyes, and he knew that another man besides himself hated Will. The discovery made his face grow redder than usual. He pulled at his great moustache and thrust it between his teeth and gnawed it. But he contrived to hide the emotion in his mind from Clement Hicks, and the other did not suspect, though he regretted his own passion. Grimbals next words further disarmed him. He appeared to know nothing whatever about Will, though his successful rival interested him still.

"They call the man Jack-o'-Lantern, don't they? Why?"

"I can't tell you. It may be, though, that he is erratic and uncertain in his ways. You cannot predict what he will do next."

"That's nothing against him. He's farming on the Moor now, isn't he?"

"Yes."

"Where did he come from when he dropped out of the clouds to marry Phoebe Lyddon?"

The question was not asked with the least idea of its enormous significance. Grimbal had no notion that any mystery hung over that autumn time during which he made love to Phoebe and Will was absent from Chagford. He doubted not that for the asking he could learn how Will had occupied himself; but the subject did not interest him, and he never dreamed the period held a secret. The sudden consternation bred in Hicks by this question astounded him not a little. Indeed, each man amazed the other, Grimbal by his question, Hicks by the attitude which he assumed before it.

"I'm sure I haven't the least idea," he answered; but his voice and manner had already told Grimbal all he cared to learn at the moment; and that was more than his wildest hopes had even risen to. He saw in the other's face a hidden thing, and by his demeanour that it was an important one. Indeed, the bee-keeper's hesitation and evident alarm before this chance question proclaimed the secret vital. For the present, and before Clement's evident alarm, Grimbal dismissed the matter lightly; but he chose to say a few more words upon it, for the express purpose of setting Hicks again at his ease.

"You don't like your future brother-in-law?"

"Yes, yes, I do. We've been friends all our lives—all our lives. I like him well, and am going to marry his sister—only I see his faults, and he sees mine—that's all."

"Take my advice and shut your eyes to his faults. That's the best way if you are marrying into his family. I've got cause to think ill enough of the scamp, as you know and everybody knows; but life's too short for remembering ill turns."

A weight rolled off Clement's heart. For a moment he had feared that the man knew something; but now he began to suspect Grimbal's question to be what in reality it was—casual interrogation, without any shadow of knowledge behind it. Hicks therefore breathed again and trusted that his own emotion had not been very apparent. Then, taking the water, he shot a thin shower into the air, an operation often employed to hasten swarming, and possibly calculated to alarm the bees into apprehension of rain.

"Do wasps ever get into the hives?" asked Mr. Grimbal abruptly.

"Aye, they do; and wax-moths and ants, and even mice. These things eat the honey and riddle and ruin the comb. Then birds eat the bees, and spiders catch them. Honey-bees do nothing but good that I can see, yet Nature 's pleased to fill the world with their enemies. Queen and drone and the poor unsexed workers—all have their troubles; and so has the little world of the hive. Yet during the few weeks of a bee's life he does an amount of work beyond imagination to guess at."

"And still finds time to steal from the hives of his fellows?"

"Why, yes, if the sweets are exposed and can be tasted for nothing. Most of us might turn robbers on the same terms. Now I can take them, and a splendid swarm, too—finest I've seen this year."

The business of getting the glittering bunch of bees into a hive was then proceeded with, and soon Clement had shaken the mass into a big straw butt, his performance being completely successful. In less than half an hour all was done, and Hicks began to remove his veil and shake a bee or two off the rim of his hat.

John Grimbal rubbed his cheek, where a bee had stung him under the eye, and regarded Hicks thoughtfully.

"If you happen to want work at any time, it might be within my power to find you some here," he said, handing the bee-master five shillings. Clement thanked his employer and declared he would not forget the offer; he then departed, and John Grimbal returned to his farm.



CHAPTER VII

AN OFFER OF MARRIAGE

Billy Blee, who has appeared thus far as a disinterested spectator of other people's affairs, had yet his own active and personal interests in life. Them he pursued, at odd times, and in odd ways, with admirable pertinacity; and as a crisis is now upon him and chance knits the outcome of it into the main fabric of this narrative, Billy and his actions command attention.

Allusion has already been made, and that frequently, to one Widow Coomstock, whose attractions of income, and the ancillary circumstance of an ample though elderly person, had won for her certain admirers more ancient than herself. Once butt-woman, or sextoness, of Chagford Church, the lady had dwelt alone, as Miss Mary Reed, for fifty-five years—not because opportunity to change her state was denied her, but owing to the fact that experience of life rendered her averse to all family responsibilities. Mary Reed had seen her sister, the present Mrs. Hicks, take a husband, had watched the result of that step; and this, with a hundred parallel instances of misery following on matrimony, had determined her against it. But when old Benjamin Coomstock, the timber merchant and coal-dealer, became a widower, this ripe maiden, long known to him, was approached before his wife's grave became ready for a stone. To Chagford's amazement he so far bemeaned himself as to offer the sextoness his hand, and she accepted it. Then, left a widow after two years with her husband, Mary Coomstock languished a while, and changed her methods of life somewhat. The roomy dwelling-house of her late partner became her property and a sufficient income went with it. Mr. Coomstock's business had been sold in his lifetime; the money was invested, and its amount no man knew, though rumour, which usually magnifies such matters, spoke of a very handsome figure; and Mrs. Coomstock's lavish manner of life lent confirmation to the report. But though mundane affairs had thus progressed with her, the woman's marriage was responsible for very grave mental and moral deterioration. Prosperity, and the sudden exchange of a somewhat laborious life for the ease and comfort of independence, played havoc with Widow Coomstock. She grew lax, gross in habit and mind, self-indulgent, and ill-tempered. When her husband died her old friends lost sight of her, while only those who had reason to hope for a reward still kept in touch with her, and indeed forced themselves upon her notice. Everybody predicted she would take another husband; but, though it was now nearly eight years since Mr. Coomstock's death, his widow still remained one. Gaffer Lezzard and Billy Blee had long pursued her with varying advantage, and the latter, though his proposals were declined, yet saw in each refusal an indication to encourage future hope.

Now, urged thereto by whispers that Mr. Lezzard had grown the richer by three hundred pounds on the death of a younger brother in Australia, Billy determined upon another attack. He also was worth something—less indeed than three hundred pounds; though, seeing that he had been earning reasonably good wages for half a century, the fact argued but poor thrift in Mr. Blee. Of course Gaffer Lezzard's alleged legacy could hardly be a sum to count with Mrs. Coomstock, he told himself; yet his rival was a man of wide experience and an oily tongue: while, apart from any question of opposition, he felt that another offer of marriage might now be made with decorum, seeing that it was a full year since the last. Mr. Blee therefore begged for a half-holiday, put on his broadcloth, blacked his boots, anointed his lion-monkey fringe and scanty locks with pomatum, and set forth. Mrs. Coomstock's house stood on the hill rising into the village from Chagford Bridge. A kitchen garden spread behind it; in front pale purple poppies had the ill-kept garden to themselves.

As he approached, Mr. Blee felt a leaden weight about his newly polished boots, and a distinct flutter at the heart, or in a less poetical portion of his frame.

"Same auld feeling," he reflected. "Gormed if I ban't gettin' sweaty 'fore the plaace comes in sight! 'Tis just the sinkin' at the navel, like what I had when I smoked my first pipe, five-and-forty years agone!"

The approach of another man steadied Billy, and on recognising him Mr. Blee forgot all about his former emotions and gasped in the clutch of a new one. It was Mr. Lezzard, evidently under some impulse of genial exhilaration. There hung an air of aggression about him, but, though he moved like a conqueror, his gait was unsteady and his progress slow. He had wit to guess Billy's errand, however, for he grinned, and leaning against the hedge waved his stick in the air above his head.

"Aw, Jimmery! if it ban't Blee; an' prinked out for a weddin', tu, by the looks of it!"

"Not yourn, anyway," snapped back the suitor.

"Well, us caan't say 'zactly—world 's full o' novelties."

"Best pull yourself together, Gaffer, or bad-hearted folks might say you was bosky-eyed.[10] That ban't no novelty anyway, but 't is early yet to be drunk—just three o'clock by the church."

[10] Bosky-eyed = intoxicated.

Mr. Blee marched on without waiting for a reply. He knew Lezzard to be more than seventy years old and usually regarded the ancient man's rivalry with contempt; but he felt uneasy for a few moments, until the front door of Mrs. Coomstock's dwelling was opened to him by the lady herself.

"My stars! You? What a terrible coorious thing!" she said.

"Why for?"

"Come in the parlour. Theer! coorious ban't the word!"

She laughed, a silly laugh and loud. Then she shambled before him to the sitting-room, and Billy, familiar enough with the apartment, noticed a bottle of gin in an unusual position upon the table. The liquor stood, with two glasses and a jug of water, between the Coomstock family Bible, on its green worsted mat, and a glass shade containing the stuffed carcass of a fox-terrier. The animal was moth-eaten and its eyes had fallen out. It could be considered in no sense decorative; but sentiment allowed the corpse this central position in a sorry scheme of adornment, for the late timber merchant had loved it. Upon Mrs. Coomstock's parlour walls hung Biblical German prints in frames of sickly yellow wood; along the window-ledge geraniums and begonias flourished, though gardeners had wondered to see their luxuriance, for the windows were seldom opened.

"'It never rains but it pours,'" said Widow Coomstock. She giggled again and looked at Billy. She was very fat, and the red of her face deepened to purple unevenly about the sides of her nose. Her eyes were bright and black. She had opened a button or two at the top of her dress, and her general appearance, from her grey hair to her slattern heels, was disordered. Her cap had fallen off on to the ground, and Mr. Blee noticed that her parting was as a broad turnpike road much tramped upon by Time. The room smelt stuffy beyond its wont and reeked not only of spirits but tobacco. This Billy sniffed inquiringly, and Mrs. Coomstock observed the action. "'Twas Lezzard," she said. "I like to see a man in comfort. You can smoke if you mind to. Coomstock always done it, and a man's no man without, though a dirty habit wheer they doan't use a spittoon."

She smiled, but to herself, and was lost in thought a moment. He saw her eyes very bright and her head wagging. Then she looked at him and laughed again.

"You'm a fine figure of a man, tu," she said, apropos of nothing in particular. But the newcomer understood. He rumpled his hair and snorted and frowned at the empty glasses.

"Have a drop?" suggested Mrs. Coomstock; but Billy, of opinion that his love had already enjoyed refreshment sufficient for the time, refused and answered her former remark.

"A fine figure?—yes, Mary Coomstock, though not so fine for a man as you for a woman. Still, a warm-blooded chap an' younger than my years."

"I've got my share o' warm blood, tu, Billy."

It was apparent. Mrs. Coomstock's plump neck bulged in creases over the dirty scrap of white linen that represented a collar, while her massive bust seemed bursting through her apparel.

"Coourse," said Mr. Blee, "an' your share, an' more 'n your share o' brains, tu. He had bad luck—Coomstock—the worse fortune as ever fell to a Chaggyford man, I reckon."

"How do 'e come at that, then?"

"To get 'e, an' lose 'e again inside two year. That's ill luck if ever I seen it. Death's a envious twoad. Two short year of you; an' then up comes a tumour on his neck unbeknawnst, an' off he goes, like a spring lamb."

"An' so he did. I waked from sleep an' bid un rise, but theer weern't no more risin' for him till the Judgment."

"Death's no courtier. He'll let a day-labourer go so peaceful an' butivul as a child full o' milk goes to sleep; while he'll take a gert lord or dook, wi' lands an' moneys, an' strangle un by inches, an' give un the hell of a twistin'. You caan't buy a easy death seemin'ly."

"A gude husband he was, but jealous," said Mrs. Coomstock, her thoughts busy among past years; and Billy immediately fell in with this view.

"Then you'm well rid of un. Theer's as gude in the world alive any minute as ever was afore or will be again."

"Let 'em stop in the world then. I doan't want 'em."

This sentiment amused the widow herself more than Billy. She laughed uproariously, raised her glass to her lips unconsciously, found it empty, grew instantly grave upon the discovery, set it down again, and sighed.

"It's a wicked world," she said. "Sure as men's in a plaace they brings trouble an' wickedness. An' yet I've heard theer's more women than men on the airth when all's said."

"God A'mighty likes 'em best, I reckon," declared Mr. Blee.

"Not but what 't would be a lonesome plaace wi'out the lords of creation," conceded the widow.

"Ess fay, you 'm right theer; but the beauty of things is that none need n't be lonely, placed same as you be."

"'Once bit twice shy,'" said Mrs. Coomstock. Then she laughed again. "I said them very words to Lezzard not an hour since."

"An' what might he have answered?" inquired Billy without, however, showing particular interest to know.

"He said he wasn't bit. His wife was a proper creature."

"Bah! second-hand gudes—that's what Lezzard be—a widow-man an' eighty if a day. A poor, coffin-ripe auld blid, wi' wan leg in the graave any time this twenty year."

Mrs. Coomstock's frame heaved at this tremendous criticism. She gurgled and gazed at Billy with her eyes watering and her mouth open.

"You say that! Eighty an' coffin-ripe!"

"Ban't no ontruth, neither. A man 's allus ready for his elm overcoat arter threescore an' ten. I heard the noise of his breathin' paarts when he had brown kitty in the fall three years ago, an' awnly thrawed it off thanks to the gracious gudeness of Miller Lyddon, who sent rich stock for soup by my hand. But to hear un, you might have thought theer was a wapsies' nest in the man's lungs."

"I doan't want to be nuss to a chap at my time of life, in coourse."

"No fay; 't is the man's paart to look arter his wife, if you ax me. I be a plain bachelor as never thought of a female serious 'fore I seed you. An' I've got a heart in me, tu. Ban't no auld, rubbishy, worn-out thing, neither, but a tough, love-tight heart—at least so 't was till I seed you in your weeds eight year agone."

"Eight year a widow! An' so I have been. Well, Blee, you've got a powerful command of words, anyways. That I'll grant you."

"'T is the gert subject, Mary."

He moved nearer and put down his hat and stick; she exhibited trepidation, not wholly assumed. Then she helped herself to more spirits.

"A drop I must have to steady me. You men make a woman's heart go flutterin' all over her buzzom, like a flea under her—"

She stopped and laughed, then drank. Presently setting down the glass again, she leered in a manner frankly animal at Mr. Blee, and told him to say what he might have to say and be quick about it. He fired a little at this invitation, licked his lips, cleared his throat, and cast a nervous glance or two at the window. But nobody appeared; no thunder-visaged Lezzard frowned over the geraniums. Gaffer indeed was sound asleep, half a mile off, upon one of those seats set in the open air for the pleasure and convenience of wayfarers about the village. So Billy rose, crossed to the large sofa whereon Mrs. Coomstock sat, plumped down boldly beside her and endeavoured to get his arm round the wide central circumference of her person. She suffered this courageous attempt without objection. Then Billy gently squeezed her, and she wriggled and opened her mouth and shut her eyes.

"Say the word and do a wise thing," he urged. "Say the word, Mary, an' think o' me here as master, a-keeping all your damn relations off by word of command."

She laughed.

"When I be gone you'll see some sour looks, I reckon."

"Nothing doan't matter then; 't is while you 'm here I'd protect 'e 'gainst 'em. Look, see! ban't often I goes down on my knees, 'cause a man risin' in years, same as me, can pray to God more dignified sittin'; but now I will." He slid gingerly down, and only a tremor showed the stab his gallantry cost him.

"You 'm a masterful auld shaver, sure 'nough!" said Mrs. Coomstock, regarding Billy with a look half fish like, half affectionate.

"Rise me up, then," he said. "Rise me up, an' do it quick. If you love me, as I see you do by the faace of you, rise me up, Mary, an' say the word wance for all time. I'll be a gude husband to 'e an' you'll bless the day you took me, though I sez it as shouldn't."

She allowed her fat left hand, with the late Mr. Coomstock's wedding-ring almost buried in her third finger, to remain with Billy's; and by the aid of it and the sofa he now got on his legs again. Then he sat down beside her once more and courageously set his yellow muzzle against her red cheek. The widow remained passive under this caress, and Mr. Blee, having kissed her thrice, rubbed his mouth and spoke.

"Theer! 'T is signed and sealed, an' I'll have no drawin' back now."

"But—but—Lezzard, Billy. I do like 'e—I caan't hide it from 'e, try as I will—but him—"

"I knawed he was t'other. I tell you, forget un. His marryin' days be awver. Dammy, the man's 'most chuckle headed wi' age! Let un go his way an' say his prayers 'gainst the trump o' God. An' it'll take un his time to pass Peter when all 's done—a bad auld chap in his day. Not that I'd soil your ears with it."

"He said much the same 'bout you. When you was at Drewsteignton, twenty year agone—"

"A lie—a wicked, strammin', gert lie, with no more truth to it than a auld song! He 'm a venomous beast to call home such a thing arter all these years."

"If I did take 'e, you'd be a gude an' faithful husband, Billy, not a gad-about?"

"Cut my legs off if I go gaddin' further than to do your errands."

"An' you'll keep these here buzzin' parties off me? Cuss 'em! They make my life a burden."

"Doan't fear that. I'll larn 'em!"

"Theer 's awnly wan I can bide of the whole lot—an' that's my awn nephew, Clem Hicks. He'll drink his drop o' liquor an' keep his mouth shut, an' listen to me a-talkin' as a young man should. T'others are allus yelpin' out how fond they be of me, and how they'd go to the world's end for me. I hate the sight of 'em."

"A time-servin' crew, Mary; an' Clement Hicks no better 'n the rest, mark my word, though your sister's son. 'T is cupboard love wi' all. But money ban't nothin' to me. I've been well contented with enough all my life, though 't is few can say with truth that enough satisfies 'em."

"Lezzard said money was nothin' to him neither, having plenty of his awn. 'T was my pusson, not my pocket, as he'd falled in love with."

"Burnish it all! Theer 's a shameful speech! 'Your pusson'! Him! I'll tell you what Lezzard is—just a damn evil disposition kep' in by skin an' bones—that's Lezzard. 'Your pusson'!"

"I'm afraid I've encouraged him a little. You've been so backward in mentioning the subject of late. But I'm sure I didn't knaw as he'd got a evil disposition."

"Well, 't is so. An' 't is awnly your bigness of heart, as wouldn't hurt a beetle, makes you speak kind of the boozy auld sweep. I'll soon shaw un wheer he's out if he thinks you 'm tinkering arter him!"

"He couldn't bring an action for breach, or anything o' that, could he?"

"At his time of life! What Justice would give ear to un? An' the shame of it!"

"Perhaps he misunderstood. You men jump so at a conclusion."

"Leave that to me. I'll clear his brains double-quick; aye, an' make un jump for somethin'!"

"Then I suppose it's got to be. I'm yourn, Billy, an' theer needn't be any long waitin' neither. To think of another weddin' an' another husband! Just a drop or I shall cry. It's such a supporting thing to a lone female."

Whether Mrs. Coomstock meant marriage or Plymouth gin, Billy did not stop to inquire. He helped her, filled Lezzard's empty glass for himself, and then, finding his future wife thick of speech, bleared of eye, and evidently disposed to slumber, he departed and left her to sleep off her varied emotions.

"I'll mighty soon change all that," thought Mr. Blee. "To note a fine woman in liquor 's the frightfullest sight in all nature, so to say. Not but what with Lezzard a-pawin' of her 't was enough to drive her to it."

That night the lover announced his triumph, whereon Phoebe congratulated him and Miller Lyddon shook his head.

"'T is an awful experiment, Billy, at your age," he declared.

"Why, so 't is; but I've weighed the subject in my mind for years and years, an 't wasn't till Mary Coomstock comed to be widowed that I thought I'd found the woman at last. 'T was lookin' tremendous high, I knaw, but theer 't is; she'll have me. She 'm no young giglet neither, as would lead me a devil's dance, but a pusson in full blooth with ripe mind."

"She drinks. I doan't want to hurt your feelings; but everybody says it is so," declared the miller.

"What everybody sez, nobody did ought to believe," returned Mr. Blee stoutly. "She 'm a gude, lonely sawl, as wants a man round the house to keep off her relations, same as us has a dog to keep down varmints in general. Theer 's the Hickses, an' Chowns, an' Coomstocks all a-stickin' up theer tails an' a-purrin' an' a-rubbin' theerselves against the door-posts of the plaace like cats what smells feesh. I won't have none of it. I'll dwell along wi' she an' play a husband's part, an' comfort the decline of her like a man, I warn 'e."

"Why, Mrs. Coomstock 's not so auld as all that, Billy," said Phoebe. "Chris has often told me she's only sixty-two or three."

But he shook his head.

"Ban't a subject for a loving man to say much on, awnly truth 's truth. I seed it written in the Coomstock Bible wan day. Fifty-five she were when she married first. Well, ban't in reason she twald the naked truth 'bout it, an' who'd blame her on such a delicate point? No, I'd judge her as near my awn age as possible; an' to speak truth, not so well preserved as what I be."

"How's Monks Barton gwaine to fare without 'e, Blee?" whined the miller.

"As to that, be gormed if I knaw how I'll fare wi'out the farm. But love—well, theer 't is. Theer 's money to it, I knaw, but what do that signify? Nothin' to me. You'll see me frequent as I ride here an' theer—horse, saddle, stirrups, an' all complete; though God He knaws wheer my knees'll go when my boots be fixed in stirrups. But a man must use 'em if theer 's the dignity of money to be kept up. 'T is just wan of them oncomfortable things riches brings with it."

While Miller Lyddon still argued with Billy against the step he now designed, there arrived from Chagford the stout Mr. Chappie, with his mouth full of news.

"More weddin's," he said. "I comed down-long to tell 'e, lest you shouldn't knaw till to-morrow an' so fall behind the times. Widow Coomstock 's thrawed up the sponge and gived herself to that importuneous auld Lezzard. To think o' such a Methuselah as him—aulder than the century—fillin' the eye o' that full-bodied—"

"It's a black lie—blacker 'n hell—an' if't was anybody but you brought the news I'd hit un awver the jaw!" burst out Mr. Blee, in a fury.

"He tawld me hisself. He's tellin' everybody hisself. It comed to a climax to-day. The auld bird's hoppin' all awver the village so proud as a jackdaw as have stole a shiny button. He'm bustin' wi' it in fact."

"I'll bust un! An' his news, tu. An' you can say, when you'm axed, 't is the foulest lie ever falled out of wicked lips."

Billy now took his hat and stick from their corner and marched to the door without more words.

"No violence, mind now, no violence," begged Mr. Lyddon. "This love-making 's like to wreck the end of my life, wan way or another, yet. 'T is bad enough with the young; but when it comes to auld, bald-headed fules like you an' Lezzard—"

"As to violence, I wouldn't touch un wi' the end of a dung-fork—I wouldn't. But I'm gwaine to lay his lie wance an' for all. I be off to parson this instant moment. An' when my banns of marriage be hollered out next Sunday marnin', then us'll knaw who 'm gwaine to marry Mother Coomstock an' who ban't. I can work out my awn salvation wi' fear an' tremblin' so well as any other man; an' you'll see what that God-forsaken auld piece looks like come Sunday when he hears what's done an' caan't do nought but just swallow his gall an' chew 'pon it."



CHAPTER VIII

MR. BLEE FORGETS HIMSELF

The Rev. James Shorto-Champernowne made no difficulty about Billy's banns of marriage, although he doubtless held a private opinion upon the wisdom of such a step, and also knew that Mrs. Coomstock was now a very different woman from the sextoness of former days. He expressed a hope, however, that Mr. Blee would make his future wife become a regular church-goer again after the ceremony; and Billy took it upon himself to promise as much for her. There the matter ended until the following Sunday, when a sensation, unparalleled in the archives of St. Michael's, awaited the morning worshippers.

Under chiming of bells the customary congregation arrived, and a perceptible wave of sensation swept from pew to pew at the appearance of more than one unfamiliar face. Of regular attendants we may note Mrs. Blanchard and Chris, Martin Grimbal, Mr. Lyddon, and his daughter. Mr. Blee usually sat towards the back of the church at a point immediately behind those benches devoted to the boys. Here he kept perfect order among the lads, and had done so for many years. Occasionally it became necessary to turn a youngster out of church, and Billy's procedure at such a time was masterly; but of opinion to-day that he was a public character, he chose a more conspicuous position, and accepted Mr. Lyddon's invitation to take a seat in the miller's own pew. He felt he owed this prominence, not only to himself, but to Mrs. Coomstock. She, good soul, had been somewhat evasive and indefinite in her manner since accepting Billy, and her condition of nerves on Sunday morning proved such that she found herself quite unable to attend the house of prayer, although she had promised to do so. She sent her two servants, however, and, spending the time in private between spirtual and spirituous consolations of Bible and bottle, the widow soon passed into a temporary exaltation ending in unconsciousness. Thus her maids found her on returning from church.

Excitement within the holy edifice reached fever-heat when a most unwonted worshipper appeared in the venerable shape of Mr. Lezzard. He was supported by his married daughter and his grandson. They sought and found a very prominent position under the lectern, and it was immediately apparent that no mere conventional attendance for the purpose of praising their Maker had drawn Mr. Lezzard and his relations. Indeed he had long been of the Baptist party, though it derived but little lustre from him. Much whispering passed among the trio. Then his daughter, having found the place she sought in a prayer-book, handed it to Mr. Lezzard, and he made a big cross in pencil upon the page and bent the volume backwards so that its binding cracked very audibly. Gaffer then looked about him with a boldness he was far from feeling; but the spectacle of Mr. Blee, hard by, fortified his spirit. He glared across the aisle and Billy glared back.

Then the bells stopped, the organ droned, and there came a clatter of iron nails on the tiled floor. Boys and men proceeded to the choir stalls and Mr. Shorto-Champernowne fluttered behind, with his sermon in his hand. Like a stately galleon of the olden time he swept along the aisle, then reached his place, cast one keen glance over the assembled congregation, and slowly sinking upon his hassock enveloped his face and whiskers in snowy lawn and prayed a while.

The service began and that critical moment after the second lesson was reached with dreadful celerity. Doctor Parsons, having read a chapter from the New Testament, which he emerged from the congregation to do, and which he did ill, though he prided himself upon his elocution, returned to his seat as the Vicar rose, adjusted his double eyeglasses and gave out a notice as follows:

"I publish the banns of marriage between William Blee, Bachelor, and Mary Coomstock, Widow, both of this parish. If any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is for the first time of asking."

There was a momentary pause. Then, nudged by his daughter, who had grown very pale, Gaffer Lezzard rose. His head shook and he presented the appearance of a man upon the verge of palsy. He held up his hand, struggled with his vocal organs and at last exploded these words, sudden, tremulous, and shrill:

"I deny it an' I defy it! The wummon be mine!"

Mr. Lezzard succumbed instantly after this effort. Indeed, he went down as though shot through the head. He wagged and gasped and whispered to his grandson,—

"Wheer's the brandy to?"

Whereupon this boy produced a medicine bottle half full of spirits, and his grandfather, with shaking fingers, removed the cork and drank the contents. Meantime the Vicar had begun to speak; but he suffered another interruption. Billy, tearing himself from the miller's restraining hand, leapt to his feet, literally shaking with rage. He was dead to his position, oblivious of every fact save that his banns of marriage had been forbidden before the assembled Christians of Chagford. He had waited to find a wife until he was sixty years old—for this!

"You—you to do it! You to get up afore this rally o' gentlefolks an' forbid my holy banns, you wrinkled, crinkled, baggering auld lizard! Gormed if I doan't wring your—"

"Silence in the house of God!" thundered Mr. Shorto-Champernowne, with tones so resonant that they woke rafter echoes the organ itself had never roused. "Silence, and cease this sacrilegious brawling, or the consequences will be unutterably serious! Let those involved," he concluded more calmly, "appear before me in the vestry after divine service is at an end."

Having frowned, in a very tragic manner, both on Mr. Blee and Mr. Lezzard, the Vicar proceeded with the service; but though Gaffer remained in his place Billy did not. He rose, jammed on his hat, glared at everybody, and assumed an expression curiously similar to that of a stone demon which grinned from the groining of two arches immediately above him. He then departed, growling to himself and shaking his fists, in another awful silence; for the Vicar ceased when he rose, and not until Billy disappeared and his footfall was heard no more did the angry clergyman proceed.

A buzz and hubbub, mostly of laughter, ascended when presently Mr. Shorto-Champernowne's parishioners returned to the air; and any chance spectator beholding them had certainly judged he stood before an audience now dismissed from a theatre rather than the congregation of a church.

"Glad Will weern't theer, I'm sure," said Mrs. Blanchard. "He'd 'a' laughed out loud an' made bad worse. Chris did as 't was, awnly parson's roarin' luckily drowned it. And Mr. Martin Grimbal, whose eye I catched, was put to it to help smilin'."

"Ban't often he laughs, anyway," said Phoebe, who walked homewards with her father and the Blanchards; whereon Chris, from being in a boisterous vein of merriment, grew grave. Together all returned to the valley. Will was due in half an hour from Newtake, and Phoebe, as a special favour, had been permitted to dine at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage with her husband and his family. Clement Hicks had also promised to be of the party; but that was before the trouble of the previous week, and Chris knew he would not come.

Meantime, Gaffer Lezzard, supported by two generations of his family, explained his reasons for objecting to Mr. Blee's proposed marriage.

"Mrs. Coomstock be engaged, right and reg'lar, to me," he declared. "She'd gived me her word 'fore ever Blee axed her. I seed her essterday, to hear final 'pon the subjec', an' she tawld me straight, bein' sober as you at the time, as 't was me she wanted an' meant for to have. She was excited t' other day an' not mistress of herself ezacally; an' the crafty twoad took advantage of it, an' jawed, an' made her drink an' drink till her didn't knaw what her was sayin' or doin'. But she'm mine, an' she'll tell 'e same as what I do; so theer's an end on 't."

"I'll see Mrs. Coomstock," said the Vicar. "I, myself will visit her to-morrow."

"Canst punish this man for tryin' to taake her from me?"

"Permit yourself no mean desires in the direction of revenge. For the present I decline to say more upon the subject. If it were possible to punish, and I am not prepared to say it is not, it would be for brawling in the house of God. After an experience extending over forty years, I may declare that I never saw any such disreputable and horrifying spectacle."

So the Lezzard family withdrew and, on the following day, Mrs. Coomstock passed through most painful experiences.

To the clergyman, with many sighs and tears, she explained that Mr. Lezzard's character had been maligned by Mr. Blee, that before the younger veteran she had almost feared for her life, and been driven to accept him out of sheer terror at his importunity. But when facts came to her ears afterwards, she found that Mr. Lezzard was in reality all he had declared himself to be, and therefore returned to him, threw over Mr. Blee, and begged the other to forbid the banns, if as she secretly learnt, though not from Billy himself, they were to be called on that Sunday. The poor woman's ears tingled under Mr. Shorto-Champernowne's sonorous reproof; but he departed at last, and by the time that Billy called, during the same day, she had imbibed Dutch courage sufficient to face him and tell him she had changed her mind. She had erred—she confessed it. She had been far from well at the time and, upon reconsideration of the proposal, had felt she would never be able to make Mr. Blee happy, or enjoy happiness with him.

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Coomstock had accepted both suitors on one and the same afternoon. First Gaffer, who had made repeated but rather vague allusion to a sum of three hundred pounds in ready money, was taken definitely; while upon his departure, the widow, only dimly conscious of what was settled with her former admirer, said, "Yes" to Billy in his turn. Had a third suitor called on that event-ful afternoon, it is quite possible Mrs. Coomstock would have accepted him also.

The conversation with Mr. Blee was of short duration, and ended by Billy calling down a comprehensive curse on the faithless one and returning to Monks Barton. He had attached little importance to Lezzard's public protest, upon subsequent consideration and after the first shock of hearing it; but there was no possibility of doubting what he now learned from Mrs. Coomstock's own lips. That she had in reality changed her mind appeared only too certain.

So he went home again in the last extremity of fury, and Phoebe, who was alone at the time, found herself swept by the hurricane of his wrath. He entered snorting and puffing, flung his hat on the settle, his stick into the corner; then, dropping into a seat by the fire, he began taking off his gaiters with much snuffling and mumbling and repeated inarticulate explosions of breath. This cat-like splutter always indicated deep feeling in Mr. Blee, and Phoebe asked with concern what was the matter now.

"Matter? Tchut—Tchut—Theer ban't no God—that's what's the matter!"

"Billy! How can you?"

"She'm gwaine to marry t'other, arter all! From her awn lips I've heard it! That's what I get for being a church member from the womb! That's my reward! God, indeed! Be them the ways o' a plain-dealin' God, who knaws what's doin' in human hearts? No fay! Bunkum an' rot! I'll never lift my voice in hymn nor psalm no more, nor pray a line o' prayer again. Who be I to be treated like that? Drunken auld cat! I cussed her—I cussed her! Wouldn't marry her now if she axed wi' her mouth in the dirt. Wheer's justice to? Tell me that. Me in church, keepin' order 'mong the damn boys generation arter generation, and him never inside the door since he buried his wife. An' parson siding wi' un, I'll wager. Mother Coomstock 'll give un hell's delights, that's wan gude thought. A precious pair of 'em! Tchut! Gar!"

"I doan't really think you could have loved Mrs. Coomstock overmuch, Billy, if you can talk so ugly an' crooked 'bout her," said Phoebe.

"I did, I tell 'e—for years an' years. I went down on my knees to the bitch—I wish I hadn't; I'll be sorry for that to my dying day. I kissed her, tu,—s' elp me, I did. You mightn't think it, but I did—a faace like a frost-bitten beetroot, as 't is!"

"Doan't 'e, please, say such horrible things. You must be wise about it. You see, they say Mr. Lezzard has more money than you. At least, so Mrs. Coomstock told her nephew, Clement Hicks. Every one of her relations is savage about it."

"Well they may be. Why doan't they lock her up? If she ban't mad, nobody ever was. 'Money'! Lezzard! Lying auld—auld—Tchut! Not money enough to pay for a graave to hide his rotten bones, I lay. Oh, 't is enough to—theer, what 's the use of talkin'? Tchut—Tchut!"

At this point Phoebe, fearing even greater extravagances in Mr. Blee's language, left him to consider his misfortunes alone. Long he continued in the profoundest indignation, and it was not until Miller Lyddon returned, heard the news, and heartily congratulated Billy on a merciful escape, that the old man grew a little calmer under his disappointment, and moderated the bitterness and profanity of his remarks.



CHAPTER IX

A DIFFERENCE WITH THE DUCHY

Newtake Farm, by reason of Will's recent occupancy, could offer no very considerable return during his first year as tenant; but that he understood and accepted, and the tribulation which now fell upon him was of his own making. To begin with, Sam Bonus vanished from the scene. On learning, soon after the event, that Bonus had discussed Hicks and himself at Chagford, and detailed his private conversation with Martin Grimbal, Blanchard, in a fury, swept off to the loft where his man slept, roused him from rest, threw down the balance of his wages, and dismissed him on the spot. He would hear no word in explanation, and having administered a passionate rebuke, departed as he had come, like a whirlwind. Sam, smarting under this injustice, found the devil wake in him through that sleepless night, and had there stood rick or stack within reach of revenge, he might have dealt his master a return blow before morning. As usual, after the lapse of hours, Will cooled down, modified his first fiery indignation, and determined, yet without changing his mind, to give Bonus an opportunity of explaining the thing he had done. Chris had brought the news from Clement himself, and Will, knowing that his personal relations with Clement were already strained, felt that in justice to his servant he must be heard upon the question. But, when he sought Sam Bonus, though still the dawn was only grey, he found the world fuller for him by another enemy, for the man had taken him at his word and departed. During that day and the next Will made some effort to see Bonus, but nothing came of it, so, dismissing the matter from his mind, he hired a new labourer—one Teddy Chown, son of Abraham Chown, the Inspector of Police—and pursued his way.

Then his unbounded energy led him into difficulties of a graver sort. Will had long cast covetous eyes on a tract of moorland immediately adjoining Newtake, and there being little to do at the moment, he conceived the adventurous design of reclaiming it. The patch was an acre and a half in extent—a beggarly, barren region, where the heather thinned away and the black earth shone with water and disintegrated granite. Quartz particles glimmered over it; at the centre black pools of stagnant water marked an abandoned peat cutting; any spot less calculated to attract an agricultural eye would have been hard to imagine; but Blanchard set to work, began to fill the greedy quag in the midst with tons of soil, and soon caused the place to look business-like—at least in his own estimation. As for the Duchy, he did not trouble himself. The Duchy itself was always reclaiming land without considering the rights and wrongs of the discontented Venville tenants, and Will knew of many a "newtake" besides this he contemplated. Indeed, had not the whole farm, of which he was now master, been rescued from the Moor in time past? He worked hard, therefore, and his new assistant, though not a Bonus, proved stout and active. Chris, who still dwelt with her brother, was sworn to secrecy respecting Will's venture; and so lonely a region did the farm occupy that not until he had put a good month of work into the adjacent waste were any of those in authority aware of the young farmer's performance.

A day came when the new land was cleaned, partly ploughed, and wholly surrounded by a fence of split stumps, presently to be connected by wires. At these Chown was working, while Will had just arrived with a load of earth to add to the many tons already poured upon that hungry central patch. He held the tailboard of the cart in his hand and was about to remove it; when, looking up, his heart fluttered a moment despite his sturdy consciousness of right. On the moor above him rode grey old Vogwell, the Duchy's man. His long beard fluttered in the wind, and Will heard the thud of his horse's hoofs as he cantered quickly to the scene, passed between two of the stakes, and drew up alongside Blanchard.

"Marnin', Mr. Vogwell! Fine weather, to be sure, an' gude for the peat next month; but bad for roots, an' no mistake. Will 'e have a drink?"

Mr. Vogwell gazed sternly about him, then fixed his little bright eyes on the culprit.

"What do this mean, Will Blanchard?"

"Well, why not? Duchy steals all the gude land from Venwell men; why for shouldn't us taake a little of the bad? This here weern't no gude to man or mouse. Ban't 'nough green stuff for a rabbit 'pon it. So I just thought I'd give it a lick an' a promise o' more later on."

"'A lick an' a promise'! You've wasted a month's work on it, to the least."

"Well, p'raps I have—though ban't wasted. Do 'e think, Mr. Vogwell, as the Duchy might be disposed to give me a hand?"

Will generally tackled difficulties in this audacious fashion, and a laugh already began to brighten his eye; but the other quenched it.

"You fool! You knawed you was doin' wrong better'n I can tell you—an' such a plaace! A babe could see you 'm workin' awver living springs. You caan't fill un even now in the drouth, an' come autumn an' rain 't will all be bog again."

"Nothing of the sort," flamed out Will, quite forgetting his recent assertion as to the poverty of the place. "Do 'e think, you, as awnly rides awver the Moor, knaws more about soil than I as works on it? 'Twill be gude proofy land bimebye—so good as any Princetown way, wheer the prison men reclaim, an' wheer theer's grass this minute as carries a bullock to the acre. First I'll plant rye, then swedes, then maybe more swedes, then barley; an', with the barley, I'll sow the permanent grass to follow. That's gude rotation of crops for Dartymoor, as I knaw an' you doan't; an' if the Duchy encloses the best to rob our things[11], why for shouldn't we—"

[11] Things = beasts; sheep and cattle.

"That'll do. I caan't bide here listenin' to your child's-talk all the marnin'. What Duchy does an' doan't do is for higher 'n you or me to decide. If this was any man's work but yours I'd tell Duchy this night; but bein' you, I'll keep mute. Awnly mind, when I comes this way a fortnight hence, let me see these postes gone an' your plough an' cart t' other side that wall. An' you'll thank me, when you've come to more sense, for stoppin' this wild-goose chase. Now I'll have a drop o' cider, if it's all the same to you."

Will opened a stone jar which lay under his coat at hand, and answered as he poured cider into a horn mug for Mr. Vogwell—

"Here's your drink; but I won't take your orders, so I tell 'e. Damn the Duchy, as steals moor an' common wheer it pleases an' then grudges a man his toil."

"That's the spirit as'll land 'e in the poorhouse, Will Blanchard," said Mr. Vogwell calmly; "and that's such a job as might send 'e to the County Asylum," he added, pointing to the operations around him. "As to damning Duchy," he continued, "you might as well damn the sun or moon. They'd care as little. Theer 'm some varmints so small that, though they bite 'e with all their might, you never knaw it; an' so 't is wi' you an' Duchy. Mind now, a fortnight. Thank 'e—so gude cider as ever I tasted; an' doan't 'e tear an' rage, my son. What's the use?"

"'Twould be use, though, if us all raged together."

"But you won't get none to follow. 'Tis all talk. Duchy haven't got no bones to break or sawl to lose; an' moormen haven't got brains enough to do aught in the matter but jaw."

"An' all for a royal prince, as doan't knaw difference between yether an' fuzz, I lay," growled Will. "Small blame to moormen for being radical-minded these days. Who wouldn't, treated same as us?"

"Best not talk on such high subjects, Will Blanchard, or you might get in trouble. A fortnight, mind. Gude marnin' to 'e."

The Duchy's man rode off and Will stood angry and irresolute. Then, seeing Mr. Vogwell was still observing him, he ostentatiously turned to the cart and tipped up his load of earth. But when the representative of power had disappeared—his horse and himself apparently sinking into rather than behind a heather ridge—Will's energy died and his mood changed. He had fooled himself about this enterprise until the present, but he could no longer do so. Now he sat down on the earth he had brought, let his horse drag the cart after it, as it wandered in search of some green thing, and suffered a storm of futile indignation to darken his spirit.

Blanchard's unseasoned mind had, in truth, scarcely reached the second milestone upon the road of man's experience. Some arrive early at the mental standpoint where the five senses meet and merge in that sixth or common sense, which may be defined as an integral of the others, and which is manifested by those who possess it in a just application of all the experience won from life. But of common sense Will had none. He could understand laziness and wickedness being made to suffer; he could read Nature's more self-evident lessons blazoned across every meadow, displayed in every living organism—that error is instantly punished, that poor food starves the best seed, that too much water is as bad as too little, that the race is to the strong, and so forth; but he could not understand why hard work should go unrewarded, why good intentions should breed bad results, why the effect of energy, self-denial, right ambitions, and other excellent qualities is governed by chance; why the prizes in the great lottery fall to the wise, not to the well-meaning. He knew himself for a hard worker and a man who accomplished, in all honesty, the best within his power. What his hand found to do he did with his might; and the fact that his head, as often as not, prompted his hand to the wrong thing escaped him. He regarded his life as exemplary, felt that he was doing all that might in reason be demanded, and confidently looked towards Providence to do the rest. To find Providence unwilling to help him brought a wave of riotous indignation through his mind on each occasion of making that discovery. These waves, sweeping at irregular intervals over Will, left the mark of their high tides, and his mind, now swinging like a pendulum before this last buffet dealt by Fate in semblance of the Duchy's man, plunged him into a huge discontent with all things. He was ripe for mischief and would have quarrelled with his shadow; but he did worse—he quarrelled with his mother.

She visited him that afternoon, viewed his shattered scheme, and listened as Will poured the great outrage upon her ear. Coming up at his express invitation to learn the secret, which he had kept from her that her joy might be the greater, Mrs. Blanchard only arrived in time to see his disappointment. She knew the Duchy for a bad enemy, and perhaps at the bottom of her conservative heart felt no particular delight at the spectacle of Newtake enlarging its borders. She therefore held that everything was for the best, and counselled patience; whereupon her son, with a month's wasted toil staring him in the face, rebelled and took her unconcerned demeanour ill. Damaris also brought a letter from Phoebe, and this added fuel to the flame. Will dwelt upon his wife's absence bitterly.

"Job's self never suffered that, for I read 'bout what he went through awnly last night, for somethin' to kill an hour in the evenin'. An' I won't suffer it. It's contrary to nature, an' if Phoebe ban't here come winter I'll go down an' bring her, willy-nilly."

"Time'll pass soon enough, my son. Next summer will be here quick. Then her'll have grawin' corn to look at and fine crops risin', an' more things feedin' on the Moor in sight of her eyes. You see, upland farms do look a little thin to them who have lived all their time in the fatness of the valleys."

"If I was bidin' in one of them stone roundy-poundies, with nothin' but a dog-kennel for a home, she ought to be shoulder to shoulder wi' me. Did you leave my faither cause other people didn't love un?"

"That was differ'nt. Theer s Miller Lyddon. I could much wish you seed more of him an' let un come by a better 'pinion of 'e. 'T s awnly worldly wisdom, true; but—"

"I'm sick to death o' worldly wisdom! What's it done for me? I stand to work nine an' ten hour a day, an' not wi'out my share o' worldly wisdom, neither. Then I'm played with an' left to whistle, I ban't gwaine to think so much, I tell 'e. It awnly hurts a man's head, an' keeps him wakin' o' nights. Life's guess-work, by the looks of it, an' a fule's so like to draw a prize as the wisest."

"That's not the talk as'll make Newtake pay, Will. You 'm worse than poor Blee to Monks Barton. He's gwaine round givin' out theer ban't no God 't all, 'cause Mrs. Coomstock took auld Lezzard 'stead of him."

"You may laugh if you like, mother. 'Tis the fashion to laugh at me seemin'ly. But I doan't care. Awnly you'll be sorry some day, so sure as you sit in thicky chair. Now, as you've nothin' but blame, best to go back home. I'll put your pony in the shafts. 'Twas a pity you corned so far for so little."

He went off, his breast heaving, while the woman followed him with her eyes and smiled when he was out of sight. She knew him so well, and already pictured her repentant son next Sunday. Then Will would be at his mother's cottage, and cut the bit of beef at dinner, and fuss over her comfort according to his custom.

She went into the farmyard and took the pony from him and led it back into the stall. Then she returned to him and put her arm through his and spoke.

"Light your pipe, lovey, an' walk a li'l way along down to the stones on the hill, wheer you was born. Your auld mother wants to talk to 'e."



CHAPTER X

CONNECTING LINKS

Spaces of time extending over rather more than a year may now be dismissed in a chapter.

Chris Blanchard, distracted between Will and her lover, stayed on at Newtake after the estrangement, with a hope that she might succeed in healing the breach between them; but her importunity failed of its good object, and there came an August night when she found her own position at her brother's farm grow no longer tenable.

The blinds were up, and rays from the lamp shot a broad band of light into the farmyard, while now and again great white moths struck soft blows against the closed window, then vanished again into the night. Will smoked and Chris pleaded until a point, beyond which her brother's patience could not go, was reached. Irritation grew and grew before her ceaseless entreaty on Clement's behalf; for the thousandth time she begged him to write a letter of apology and explanation of the trouble bred by Sam Bonus; and he, suddenly rising, smashed down his clay pipe and swore by all his gods he would hear the name of Hicks mentioned in his house no more. Thus challenged to choose between her lover and her brother, the girl did not hesitate. Something of Will's own spirit informed her; she took him at his word and returned home next morning, leaving him to manage his own household affairs henceforth as best he might.

Upon the way to Chagford Chris chanced to meet with Martin Grimbal, and, having long since accepted his offer of friendship, she did not hesitate to tell him of her present sorrow and invite his sympathy. From ignorance rather than selfishness did Chris take Martin literally when he had hoped in the past they might remain friends, and their intercourse was always maintained by her when chance put one in the other's way—at a cost to the man beyond her power to guess.

Now he walked beside her, and she explained how only a word was wanting between Will and Clement which neither would speak. Hicks had forgiven Will, but he refused to visit Newtake until he received an apology from the master of it; and Blanchard bore no ill-will to Clement, but declined to apologise for the past. These facts Martin listened to, while the blood beat like a tide within his temples, and a mist dimmed his eyes as the girl laid her brown hand upon his arm now and again, to accentuate a point. At such moments the truth tightened upon his soul and much distressed him.

The antiquary had abandoned any attempt to forget Chris, or cease from worshipping her with all his heart and soul; but the emotion now muzzled and chained out of sight he held of nobler composition than that earlier love which yearned for possession. Those dreary months that dragged between the present and his first disappointment had served as foundations for new developments of character in the man. He existed through a period of unutterable despair and loneliness; then the fruits of bygone battles fought and won came to his aid, and long-past years of self-denial and self-control fortified his spirit. The reasonableness of Martin Grimbal lifted him slowly but steadily from the ashes of disappointment; even his natural humility helped him, and he told himself he had no more than his desert. Presently, with efforts the very vigour of which served as tonic to character, he began to wrestle at the granite again and resume his archaeologic studies. Speaking in general terms, his mind was notably sweetened and widened by his experience; and, resulting from his own failure to reach happiness, there awoke in him a charity and sympathy for others, a fellow-feeling with humanity, remarkable in one whose enthusiasm for human nature was not large, whose ruling passion, until the circumstance of love tinctured it, had led him by ways which the bulk of men had pronounced arid and unsatisfying. Now this larger insight was making a finer character of him and planting, even at the core of his professional pursuits, something deeper than is generally to be found there. His experience, in fact, was telling upon his work, and he began slowly to combine with the labour of the yard-measure and the pencil, the spade and the camera, just thoughts on the subject of those human generations who ruled the Moor aforetime, who lived and loved and laboured there full many a day before Saxon keel first grated on British shingle.

To Chris did Martin listen attentively. Until the present time he had taken Will's advice and made no offer of work to Clement; but now he determined to do so, although he knew this action must mean speedy marriage for Chris. Love, that often enough can shake a lifetime of morality, that can set ethics and right conduct and duty playing a devil's dance in the victim's soul, that can change the practised customs of a man's life and send cherished opinions, accepted beliefs, and approved dogmas spinning into chaos before its fiery onslaught—love did not thus overpower Martin Grimbal. His old-fashioned mind was no armour against it, and in that the passion proved true; religion appeared similarly powerless to influence him; yet now his extreme humility, his natural sense of justice and the dimensions of his passion itself combined to lead him by a lofty road. Chris desired another man, and Martin Grimbal, loving her to that point where her perfect happiness dominated and, indeed, became his own, determined that his love should bear fruit worthy of its object.

This kindly design was frustrated, however, and the antiquary himself denied power to achieve the good action that he proposed, for on visiting Clement in person and inviting his aid in the clerical portions of a considerable work on moorland antiquities, the poet refused to assist.

"You come too late," he said coldly. "I would not help you now if I could, Martin Grimbal. Don't imagine pride or any such motive keeps me from doing so. The true reason you may guess."

"Indeed! I can do nothing of the sort. What reason is there against your accepting an offer to do remunerative and intellectual work in your leisure hours—work that may last ten years for all I can see to the contrary?"

"The reason is that you invited another man's judgment upon me, instead of taking your own. Better follow Will Blanchard's advice still. Don't think I'm blind. It is Chris who has made you do this."

"You're a very difficult man to deal with, really. Consider my suggestion, Hicks, and all it might mean. I desire nothing but your welfare."

"Which is only to say you are offering me charity."

Martin looked at the other quietly, then took his hat and departed. At the door he said a last word.

"I don't want to think this is final. You would be very useful to me, or I should not have asked you to aid my labour. Let me hear from you within a week."

But Clement was firm in his folly; while, although they met on more than one occasion, and John Grimbal repeated his offer of regular work, the bee-keeper refused that proposal, also. He made some small sums out of the Red House hives, but would not undertake any regular daily labour there. Clement's refusal of Martin resulted from his own weak pride and self-conscious stupidity; but a more subtle tangle of conflicting motives was responsible for his action in respect of the elder Grimbal's invitation. Some loyalty to the man whom he so cordially disliked still inhabited his mind, and with it a very considerable distrust of himself. He partly suspected the reason of John Grimbal's offer of work, and the possibility of sudden temptation provoking from him utterance of words best left unsaid could not be ignored after his former experience at the hiving of the swarm.

So he went his way and told nobody—not even Chris—of these opportunities and his action concerning them. Such reticence made two women sad. Chris, after her conversation with Martin, doubted not but that he would make some effort, and, hearing nothing as time passed, assumed he had changed his mind; while Mrs. Hicks, who had greatly hoped that Clement's visit to the Red House might result in regular employment, felt disappointed when no such thing occurred.

The union of Mr. Lezzard and Mrs. Coomstock was duly accomplished to a chorus of frantic expostulation on the part of those interested in the widow's fortune. Mr. Shorto-Champernowne, having convinced himself that the old woman was in earnest, could find no sufficient reason for doing otherwise than he was asked, and finally united the couple. To Newton Abbot they went for their honeymoon, and tribulation haunted them from the first. Mrs. Lezzard refused her husband permission to inquire any particulars of her affairs from her lawyer—a young man who had succeeded Mr. Joel Ford—while the Gaffer, on his side, parried all his lady's endeavours to learn more of the small fortune concerning which he had spoken not seldom before marriage. Presently they returned to Chagford, and life resolved itself into an unlovely thing for both of them. Time brought no better understanding or mutual confidence; on the contrary, they never ceased from wrangling over money and Mrs. Lezzard's increasing propensity towards drink. The old man suffered most, and as his alleged three hundred pounds did not appear, being, indeed, a mere lover's effort of imagination, his wife bitterly resented marriage under such false pretences, and was never weary of protesting. Of her own affairs she refused to tell her husband anything, but as Mr. Lezzard was found to possess no money at all, it became necessary to provide him with a bare competence for the credit of the family. He did his best to win a little more regard and consideration, in the hope that when his wife passed away the reward of devotion might be reaped; but she never forgave him, expressed the conviction that she would outlive him by many years, and exhausted her ingenuity to make the old man rue his bargain. Only one experience, and that repeated as surely as Mr. Blee met Mr. Lezzard, was more trying to the latter than all the accumulated misfortune of his sorry state—Gaffer's own miseries appeared absolutely trivial by comparison with Mr. Blee's comments upon them.

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