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Children of the Mist
by Eden Phillpotts
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With another year Blanchard and Hicks became in some sort reconciled, though the former friendship was never renewed. The winter proved a severe one, and Will experienced a steady drain on his capital, but he comforted himself in thoughts of the spring, watched his wheat dapple the dark ground with green, and also foretold exceptional crops of hay when summer should return. The great event of his wife's advent at Newtake occupied most of his reflections; while as for Phoebe herself the matter was never out of her mind. She lived for the day in June that should see her by her husband's side; but Miller Lyddon showed no knowledge of the significance of Phoebe's twenty-first birthday; and when Will brought up the matter, upon an occasion of meeting with his father-in-law, the miller deprecated any haste.

"Time enough—time enough," he said. "You doan't want no wife to Newtake these years to come, while I do want a darter to home."

So Phoebe, albeit the course of operations was fully planned, forbore to tell her father anything, and suffered the day to drift nearer and nearer without expressly indicating the event it was to witness.



CHAPTER XI

TOGETHER

Though not free from various temporal problems that daily demanded solution, Will very readily allowed his mind a holiday from all affairs of business during the fortnight that preceded his wife's arrival at Newtake. What whitewash could do was done; a carpet, long since purchased but not laid down till now, adorned the miniature parlour; while out of doors, becoming suddenly conscious that not a blossom would greet Phoebe's eyes, Will set about the manufacture of a flower-bed under the kitchen window, bound the plat with neat red tiles, and planted therein half a dozen larkspurs—Phoebe's favourite flower—with other happy beauties of early summer. The effort looked raw and unhappy, however, and as ill luck would have it, these various plants did not take kindly to their changed life, and greeted Phoebe with hanging heads.

But the great morning came at last, and Will, rising, with the curious thought that he would never sleep in the middle of his bed again, donned his best dark-brown velveteens and a new pair of leathern gaiters, then walked out into the air, where Chown was milking the cows. The day dawned as brightly as the events it heralded, and Will, knowing that his mother and Chris would be early at Newtake, strolled out to meet them. Over against the farm rose moorland crowned by stone, and from off their granite couches grey mists blushing to red now rose with lazy deliberation and vanished under the sun's kiss. A vast, sweet, diamond-twinkling freshness filled the Moor; blue shadows lay in the dewy coombs, and sun-fires gleamed along the heather ridges. No heath-bell as yet had budded, but the flame of the whins splashed many undulations, and the tender foliage of the whortleberry, where it grew on exposed granite, was nearly scarlet and flashed jewel-bright in the rich texture of the waste. Will saw his cattle pass to their haunts, sniffed the savour of them on the wind, and enjoyed the thought of being their possessor; then his eyes turned to the valley and the road which wound upwards from it under great light. A speck at length appeared three parts of a mile distant and away started Blauchard, springing down the hillside to intercept it. His heart sang within him; here was a glorious day that could never come again, and he meant to live it gloriously.

"Marnin', mother! Marnin', Chris! Let me get in between 'e. Breakfast will be most ready by time we'm home. I knawed you d keep your word such a rare fashion day!"

Will soon sat between the two women, while Mrs. Blanchard's pony regulated its own pace and three tongues chattered behind it. A dozen brown paper parcels occupied the body of the little cart, for Damaris had insisted that the wedding feast should be of her providing. It was proposed that Chris and her mother should spend the day at Newtake and depart after drinking tea; while Phoebe was to arrive in a fly at one o'clock.

After breakfast Chris busied herself indoors and occupied her quick fingers in putting a dozen finishing touches; while Mrs. Blanchard walked round the farm beside Will, viewed with outspoken approval or secret distrust those evidences of success and failure spread about her, and passed the abandoned attempt to reclaim land without a word or sign that she remembered. Will crowed like a happy child; his mother poured advice into his unheeding ears; and then a cart lumbered up with a great surprise in it. True to her intention Mrs. Blanchard had chosen the day of Phoebe 's arrival to send the old piano to Newtake, and now it was triumphantly trundled into the parlour, while Will protested and admired. It added not a little to the solid splendour of the apartment, and Mrs. Blanchard viewed it with placid but genuine satisfaction. Its tarnished veneer and red face looked like an old honest friend, so Will declared, and he doubted not that his wife would rejoice as he did.

Presently the cart destined to bring Phoebe's boxes started for Chagford under Ted Chown's direction. It was a new cart, and the owner hoped that sight of it, with "William Blanchard, Newtake," nobly displayed on the tail-board, would please his father-in-law.

Meantime, at Monks Barton the great day had likewise dawned, but Phoebe, from cowardice rather than philosophy, did not mention what was to happen until the appearance of Chown made it necessary to do so.

Mr. Blee was the first to stand bewildered before Ted's blunt announcement that he had come for Mrs. Blanchard's luggage.

"What luggage? What the douce be talkin' 'bout?" he asked.

"Why, everything, I s'pose. She 'm comin' home to-day—that's knawn, ban't it?"

"Gormed if 'tis! Not by me, anyways—nor Miller, neither."

Then Phoebe appeared and Billy heard the truth.

"My! An' to keep it that quiet! Theer'll be a tidy upstore when Miller comes to hear tell—"

But Mr. Lyddon was at the door and Phoebe answered his questioning eyes.

"My birthday, dear faither. You must remember—why, you was the first to give me joy of it! Twenty-one to-day, an' I must go—I must—'tis my duty afore everything."

The old man's jaw fell and he looked the picture of sorrowful surprise.

"But—but to spring it like this! Why to-day? Why to-day? It's madness and it's cruelty to fly from your home the first living moment you've got the power. I'd counted on a merry evenin,' tu, an' axed more 'n wan to drink your gude health."

"Many's the merry evenings us'll have, dear faither, please God; but a husband's a husband. He've been that wonnerful patient, tu, for such as him. 'T was my fault for not remindin' you. An' yet I did, now an' again, but you wouldn't see it. Yet you knawed in your heart, an' I didn't like to pain 'e dwellin' on it overmuch."

"How did I knaw? I didn't knaw nothin' 't all 'bout it. How should I? Me grawin' aulder an' aulder, an' leanin' more an' more 'pon 'e at every turn. An' him no friend to me—he 's never sought to win me—he 's—"

"Doan't 'e taake on 'bout Will, dearie; you'll come to knaw un better bimebye. I ban't gwaine so far arter all; an' it's got to be."

Then the miller worked himself into a passion, dared Chown to take his daughter's boxes, and made a scene very painful to witness and quite futile in its effect. Phoebe could be strong at times, and a life's knowledge of her father helped her now. She told Chown to get the boxes and bade Billy help him; she then followed Mr. Lyddon, who was rambling away, according to his custom at moments of great sorrow, to pour his troubles into any ear that would listen. She put her arm through his, drew him to the riverside and spoke words that showed she had developed mentally of late. She was a woman with her father, cooed pleasantly to him, foretold good things, and implored him to have greater care of his health and her love than to court illness by this display of passion. Such treatment had sufficed to calm the miller in many of his moods, for she possessed great power to soothe him, and Mr. Lyddon now set increased store upon his daughter's judgment; but to-day, before this dreadful calamity, every word and affectionate device was fruitless and only made the matter worse. He stormed on, and Phoebe's superior manner vanished as he did so, for she could only play such a part if quite unopposed in it. Now her father silenced her, frightened her, and dared her to leave him; but his tragic temper changed when they returned to the farm and he found his daughter's goods were really gone. Then the old man grew very silent, for the inexorable certainty of the thing about to happen was brought home to him at last.

Before a closed hackney carriage from the hotel arrived to carry Phoebe to Newtake, Miller Lyddon passed through a variety of moods, and another outburst succeeded his sentimental silence. When the vehicle was at the gate, however, his daughter found tears in his eyes upon entering the kitchen suddenly to wish him "good-by." But he brushed them away at sight of her, and spoke roughly and told her to be gone and find the difference between a good father and a bad husband.

"Go to the misery of your awn choosin'; go to him an' the rubbish-heap he calls a farm! Thankless an' ontrue,—go,—an' look to me in the future to keep you out of the poorhouse and no more. An' that for your mother's sake—not yourn."

"Oh, Faither!" she cried, "doan't let them be the last words I hear 'pon your lips. 'T is cruel, for sure I've been a gude darter to 'e, or tried to be—an'—an'—please, dear faither, just say you wish us well—me an' my husband. Please say that much. I doan't ax more."

But he rose and left her without any answer. It was then Phoebe's turn to weep, and blinded with tears she slipped and hurt her knee getting into the coach. Billy thereupon offered his aid, helped her, handed her little white fox terrier m after her, and saw that the door was properly closed.

"Be o' good cheer," he said, "though I caan't offer 'e much prospects of easy life in double harness wi' Will Blanchard. But, as I used to say in my church-gwaine days, 'God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.' Be it as 'twill, I dare say theer 's many peaceful years o' calm, black-wearin' widowhood afore 'e yet, for chaps like him do shorten theer days a deal by such a tearin', high-coloured, passionate way of life."

Mr. Blee opened the gate, the maids waved their handkerchiefs and wept, and not far distant, as he heard the vehicle containing his daughter depart, Mr. Lyddon would have given half that he had to recall the spoken word. Phoebe once gone, his anger vanished and his love for her won on him like sunshine after storm. Angry, indeed, he still was, but with himself.

For Phoebe, curiosity and love dried her tears as she passed upward towards the Moor. Then, the wild land reached, she put her head out of the window and saw Newtake beech trees in the distance. Already the foliage of them seemed a little tattered and thin, and their meagreness of vesture and solitary appearance depressed the spectator again before she arrived at them.

But the gate, thrown widely open, was reached at last, and there stood Will and Mrs. Blanchard, Chris, Ted Chown, and the great bobtailed sheep-dog, "Ship," to welcome her. With much emotion poor Phoebe alighted, tottered and fell into the bear-hug of her husband, while the women also kissed her and murmured over her in their sweet, broad Devon tongue. Then something made Will laugh, and his merriment struck the right note; but Ship fell foul of Phoebe's little terrier and there was a growl, then a yelp and a scuffling, dusty battle amid frightened fowls, whose protests added to the tumult. Upon this conflict descended Will's sapling with sounding thuds administered impartially, and from the skirmish the smaller beast emerged lame and crying, while the sheep-dog licked the blood off his nose and went to heel with a red light glimmering through his pale blue eyes.

Happiness returned indoors and Phoebe, all blushes and praises, inspected her new home and the preparations made within it for her pleasure. Perhaps she simulated more joy than the moment brought, for such a day, dreamed of through years, was sure in its realisation to prove something of an anti-climax after the cruel nature of all such events. Despite Chris and her ceaseless efforts to keep joy at the flood, a listlessness stole over the little party as the day wore on. Phoebe found her voice not to be relied upon and felt herself drifting into that state between laughter and tears which craves solitude for its exhibition. The cows came home to be milked, and there seemed but few of them after the great procession at Monks Barton. Yet Will demanded her separate praises for each beast. In the little garden he had made, budding flowers, untimely transplanted, hung their heads. But she admired with extravagant adjectives, and picked a blossom and set it in her dress. Anon the sun set, with no soft lights and shadows amidst the valley trees she knew, when sunset and twilight played hide-and-seek beside the river, but slowly, solemnly, in hard, clean, illimitable glory upon horizons of granite and heather. The peat glowed as though it were red-hot, and night brooded on the eastern face of every hill. Only a jangling bell broke the startling stillness then, and, through long weeks afterwards the girl yearned for the song of the river, as one who has long slept by another's side sadly yearns for the sound of their breathing by night, when they are taken away. Phoebe had little imagination, but she guessed already that the life before her must differ widely from that spent under her father's roof. Despite the sunshine of the time and the real joy of being united to her husband at last, she saw on every side more evidences of practical life than she had before anticipated. But these braced her rather than not, and she told herself truly that the sadness at bottom of her heart just then was wholly begotten of the past and her departure from home. Deep unrest came upon her as she walked with her husband and listened to his glad voice. She longed greatly to be alone with him that her heart might be relieved. She wanted his arms round her; she wanted to cry and let him kiss the tears away.

Damaris Blanchard very fully understood much that was passing through her daugher-in-law's mind, and she hastened her departure after an early cup of tea. She took a last look at all the good things she had provided for the wedding supper—a meal she declared must not be shared with Will and Phoebe—and so made ready to depart. It was then her turn, and her bosom throbbed with just one dumb, fleeting shadow of fear that found words before her second thought had time to suppress them.

"You won't love me no less, eh, Will?" she whispered, holding his hand between hers; and he saw her grey eyes almost frightened in the gloaming.

"My God, no! No, mother; a man must have a dirty li'l heart in un if it ban't big enough to hold mother an' wife."

She gripped his hand tighter.

"Ess fay, I knaw, I knaw; but doan't 'e put your mother first now,—ban't nature. God bless an' keep the both of 'e. 'Twill allus be my prayer."

The cart rattled away, Chris driving, and such silence as Phoebe had never known held the darkening land. She noted a yellow star against the sombre ridge of the world, felt Will's arm round her and turned to him, seeking that comfort and support her nature cried out for.

Infinitely tender and loving was her husband then, and jubilant, too, at first; but a little later, when Chown had been packed off to his own apartment, with not a few delicacies he had never bargained for, the conversation flagged and the banquet also.

The table was laden with two capons, a ham, a great sugared cake, a whole Dutch cheese, an old-fashioned cut-glass decanter containing brown sherry, and two green wine-glasses for its reception; yet these luxuries tempted neither husband nor wife to much enjoyment of them. Indeed Phoebe's obvious lowness of spirits presently found its echo in Will. The silences grew longer and longer; then the husband set down his knife and fork, and leaving the head of the table went round to his wife's side and took her hand and squeezed it, but did not speak. She turned to him and he saw her shut her eyes and give a little shiver. Then a tear flashed upon her lashes and twinkled boldly down, followed by another.

"Phoebe! My awn li'l wummon! This be a wisht home-comin'! What the plague's the matter wi' us?"

"Doan't 'e mind, dear heart. I'm happy as a bird under these silly tears. But 'twas the leavin' o' faither, an' him so hard, an' me lovin' him so dear, an'—an'—"

"Doan't 'e break your heart 'bout him. He'll come round right enough. 'Twas awnly the pang o' your gwaine away, like the drawin' of a tooth."

"Everybody else in the world knaws I ought to be here," sobbed Phoebe, "but faither, he won't see it. An' I caan't get un out of my mind to-night, sitting that mournfui an' desolate, wi' his ear deaf to Billy's noise an' his thoughts up here."

"If he won't onderstand the ways of marriage, blessed if I see how we can make him. Surely to God, 'twas time I had my awn?"

"Ess, dear Will, but coming to-day, 'pon top of my gert joy, faither's sorrow seemed so terrible-like."

"He'll get awver it, an' so will you, bless you. Drink up some of this braave stuff mother left. Sherry 't is, real wine, as will comfort 'e, my li'l love. 'Tis I be gwaine to make your happiness henceforward, mind; an' as for Miller, he belongs to an auld-fashioned generation of mankind, and it's our place to make allowances. Auld folk doan't knaw an' won't larn. But he'll come to knaw wan solid thing, if no more; an' that is as his darter'll have so gude a husband as she've got faither, though I sez it."

"'Tis just what he said I shouldn't, Will."

"Nevermind, forgive un, an' drink up your wine; 'twill hearten 'e."

A dog barked, a gate clinked, and there came the sound of a horse's hoofs, then of a man dismounting.

Will told the rest of the story afterwards to Mrs. Blanchard.

"''Tis faither,' cries Phoebe, an' turns so pale as a whitewashed wall in moonlight. 'Never!' I sez. But she knawed the step of un, an' twinkled up from off her chair, an' 'fore ever the auld man reached the door, 't was awpen. In he comed, like a lamb o' gentleness, an' said never a word for a bit, then fetched out a little purse wi' twenty gawld sovereigns in it. An' us all had some fine talk for more'n an hour, an' he was proper faither to me, if you'll credit it; an' he drinked a glass o' your wine, mother, an' said he never tasted none better and not much so gude. Then us seed un off, an' Phoebe cried again, poor twoad, but for sheer happiness this time. So now the future's clear as sunlight, an' we'm all friends—'cept here an' theer."



CHAPTER XII

THROUGH ONE GREAT DAY

Just within the woods of Teign Valley, at a point not far distant from that where Will Blanchard met John Grimbal for the first time, and wrestled with him beside the river, there rises a tall bank, covered with fern, shadowed by oak trees. A mossy bridle-path winds below, while beyond it, seen through a screen of wych-elms and hazel, extend the outlying meadows of Monks Barton.

Upon this bank, making "sunshine in a shady place," reclined Chris, beneath a harmony of many greens, where the single, double, and triple shadows of the manifold leaves above her created a complex play of light and shade all splashed and gemmed with little sun discs. Drowsy noon-day peace marked the hour; Chris had some work in her hand, but was not engaged upon it; and Clement, who lolled beside her, likewise did nothing. His eyes were upon a mare and foal in the meadow below. The matron proceeded slowly, grazing as she went, while her lanky youngster nibbled at this or that inviting tuft, then raced joyously in wide circles and, returning, sought his mother's milk with the selfish roughness of youth.

"Happy as birds, they be," said Chris, referring to the young pair at Newtake. "It do make me long for us to be man an' wife, Clem, when I see 'em."

"We're that now, save for the hocus-pocus of the parsons you set such store by."

"No, I'll never believe it makes no difference."

"A cumbrous, stupid, human contrivance like marriage! Was ever man and woman happier for being bound that way? Can free things feel their hearts beat closer because they are chained to one another by an effete dogma?"

"I doan't onderstand all that talk, sweetheart, an' you knaw I don't; but till some wise body invents a better-fashion way of joining man an' maid than marriage, us must taake it as 'tis."

"There is a better way—Nature's."

She shook her head.

"If us could dwell in a hole at a tree-root, an' eat roots an' berries; but we'm thinking creatures in a Christian land."

She stretched herself out comfortably and smiled up at him where he sat with his chin in his hands. Then, looking down, he saw the delicious outline of her and his eyes grew hot.

"God's love! How long must it be?" he cried; then, before she could speak, he clipped her passionately to him and hugged her closely.

"Dearie, you'm squeezin' my breath out o' me!" cried Chris, well used to these sudden storms and not averse to them. "We must bide patient an' hold in our hearts," she said, lying in his arms with her face close to his. "'Twill be all the more butivul when we'm mated. Ess fay! I love 'e allus, but I love 'e better in this fiery mood than on the ice-cold days when you won't so much as hold my hand."

"The cold mood's the better notwithstanding, and colder yet would be better yet, and clay-cold best of all."

But he held her still, and pressed his beard against her brown neck. Then the sound of a trotting horse reached his ears, he started up, looked below, and saw John Grimbal passing by. Their eyes met, for the horseman chanced to glance up as Clement thrust his head above the fern; but Chris was invisible and remained so.

Grimbal stopped and greeted the bee-keeper.

"Have you forgotten your undertaking to see my hives once a month?"

"No, I meant coming next week."

"Well, as it happens I want to speak with you, and the present time's as good as another. I suppose you were only lying there dreaming?"

"That's all. I'll come and walk along beside your horse."

He squeezed his sweetheart's hand, whispered a promise to return immediately, then rose and stumbled down the bank, leaving Chris throned aloft in the fern. For a considerable time John Grimbal said nothing, then he began suddenly,—

"I suppose you know the Applebirds are leaving my farm?"

"Yes, Mrs. Applebird told my mother. Going to Sticklepath."

"Not easy to get a tenant to take their place."

"Is it not? Such a farm as yours? I should have thought there need be no difficulty."

"There are tenants and tenants. How would you like it—you and your mother? Then you could marry and be comfortable. No doubt Chris Blanchard would make a splendid farmer's wife."

"It would be like walking into paradise for me; but—"

"The rent needn't bother you. My first care is a good tenant. Besides, rent may take other shapes than pounds, shillings, and pence."

Hicks started.

"I see," he said; "you can't forget the chance word I spoke in anger so long ago."

"I can't, because it happened to be just the word I wanted to hear. My quarrel with Will Blanchard's no business of yours. The man's your enemy too; and you're a fool to stand in your own light, You know something that I don't know, concerning those weeks during which he disappeared. Well, tell me. You can only live your life once. Why let it run to rot when the Red House Farm wants a tenant? A man you despise, too."

"No. I promised. Besides, you wouldn't be contented with the knowledge; you'd act on it."

Grimbal showed a lightning-quick perception of this admission; and Hicks, too late, saw that the other had realised its force. Then he made an effort to modify his assertion.

"When I say 'you'd act on it,' I mean that you might try to, though I much doubt really if anything I could tell you would damage Blanchard."

"If you think that, then there can be no conscientious objection to telling me. Besides, I don't say I should act on the knowledge. I don't say I shall or I shall not. All you ve got to do is to say whether you'll take the Red House Farm at a nominal rent from Michaelmas."

"No, man, no. You've met me in a bad moment, too, if you only knew. But think of it—brother and sister; and I, in order to marry the woman, betray the man. That's what it comes to. Such things don't happen."

"You re speaking plainly, at any rate. We ought to understand each other to-day, if ever. I'll make you the same offer for less return. Tell me where he was during those weeks—that's all. You needn't tell what he was doing."

"If you knew one, you'd find out the other. Once and for all, I'll tell you nothing. By an accidental question you discovered that I knew something. That was not my fault. But more you never will know from me—farm or no farm."

"You're a fool for your pains. And the end will be the same. The information must reach me. You're a coward at heart, for it's fear, not any tomfoolery of morals, that keeps your mouth shut. Don't deceive yourself. I've often talked with you before to-day, and I know you think as I do."

"What's that to do with it?"

"Everything. 'Good' and 'evil' are only two words, and what is man's good and what is man's evil takes something cleverer than man to know. It's no nonsense of 'right' and 'wrong' that's keeping you from a happy home and a wife. What is it then?"

Hicks was silent a moment, then made answer.

"I don't know. I don't know any more than you do. Something has come over me; I can't tell you what. I'm more surprised than you are at my silence; but there it is. Why the devil I don't speak I don't know. I only know I'm not going to. Our characters are beyond our own power to understand."

"If you don't know, I'll tell you. You're frightened that he will find out. You're afraid of him."

"It's vain trying to anger me into speaking," answered the other, showing not a little anger the while; "I'm dumb henceforward."

"I hope you'll let your brain influence you towards reason. 'Tis a fool's trick to turn your back on the chance of a lifetime. Better think twice. And second thoughts are like to prove best worth following. You know where to find me at any rate. I'll give you six weeks to decide about it."

John Grimbal waited, hoping that Hicks might yet change his mind before he took his leave; but the bee-keeper made no answer. His companion therefore broke into a sharp trot and left him. Whereupon Clement stood still a moment, then he turned back and, forgetting all about Chris, proceeded slowly homewards to Chagford, deep in thought and heartily astonished at himself. No one could have prompted his enemy to a more critical moment for this great attack; no demon could have sent the master of the Red House with a more tempting proposal; and yet Hicks found himself resisting the lure without any particular effort or struggle. On the one side this man had offered him all the things his blood and brain craved; on the other his life still stretched drearily forward, and nothing in it indicated he was nearer his ambition by a hair's-breadth than a year before. Yet he refused to pay the price. It amazed him to find his determination so fixed against betrayal of Will. He honestly wondered at himself. The decision was bred from a curious condition of mind quite beyond his power to comprehend. He certainly recoiled from exposure of Blanchard's secret, yet coldly asked himself what unsuspected strand of character held him back. It was not fear and it was not regard for his sweetheart's brother; he did not know what it was. He scoffed at the ideas of honour or conscience. These abstractions had possessed weight in earlier years, but not now. And yet, while he assured himself that no tie of temporal or eternal interest kept him silent, the temptation to tell seemed much less on this occasion than in the past when he took a swarm of John Grimbal's bees. Then, indeed, his mind was aflame with bitter provocation. He affected a cynical attitude to the position and laughed without mirth at a theory that suddenly appeared in his mind. Perchance this steadfastness of purpose resulted, after all, from that artificial thing, "conscience," which men catch at the impressionable age when they have infantile ailments and pray at a mother's knee. If so, surely reason must banish such folly before another dawn and send him hot-foot at daybreak to the Red House. He would wait and watch himself and see.

His reflections were here cut short, for a shrill voice broke in upon them, and Clement, now within a hundred yards of his own cottage door, saw Mr. Lezzard before him.

"At last I've found 'e! Been huntin' this longful time, tu. The Missis wants 'e—your aunt I should say."

"Wants me?"

"Ess. 'T is wan o' her bad days, wi' her liver an' lights a bitin' at her like savage creatures. She'm set on seein' you, an' if I go home-along without 'e, she'll awnly cuss."

"What can she want me for?"

"She 's sick 'n' taken a turn for the wuss, last few days. Doctor Parsons doan't reckon she can hold out much longer. 'Tis the drink—she'm soaked in it, like a sponge."

"I'll come," said Hicks, and half an hour later he approached his aunt's dwelling and entered it.

Mrs. Lezzard was now sunk into a condition of chronic crapulence which could only end in one way. Her husband had been ordered again and again to keep all liquor from her, but, truth to tell, he made no very sustained effort to do so. The old man was sufficiently oppressed by his own physical troubles, and as the only happiness earth now held for him must depend on the departure of his wife, he watched her drinking herself to death without concern and even smiled in secret at the possibility of some happy, quiet, and affluent years when she was gone.

Mrs. Lezzard lay on the sofa in her parlour, and a great peony-coloured face with coal-black eyes in it greeted Clement. She gave him her hand and bid her husband be gone. Then, when Gaffer had vanished, his wife turned to her nephew.

"I've sent for you, Clem Hicks, for more reasons than wan. I be gwaine down the hill fast, along o' marryin' this cursed mommet[12] of a man, Lezzard. He lied about his money—him a pauper all the time; and now he waits and watches me o' nights, when he thinks I'm drunk or dreamin' an' I ban't neither. He watches, wi' his auld, mangy poll shakin', an' the night-lamp flingin' the black shadow of un 'gainst the bed curtain an' shawin' wheer his wan front tooth sticks up like a yellow stone in a charred field. Blast un to hell! He'm waitin' for my money, an' I've told un he's to have it. But 'twas only to make the sting bite deeper when the time comes. Not a penny—not a farthing—him or any of 'em."

[12] Mommet = scarecrow.

"Don't get angry with him. He's not worth it. Tell me if I can help you and how. You'll be up and about again soon, I hope."

"Never. Not me. Doctor Parsons be to blame. I hate that man. He knawed it was weakness of heart that called for drink after Coonistock died; an' he let me go on an' on—just to gain his own dark ends. You'll see, you'll see. But that reminds me. Of all my relations you an' your mother's all I care for; because you'm of my awn blood an' you've let me bide, an' haven't been allus watchin' an' waitin' an' divin' me to the bottle. An' the man I was fule enough to take in his dotage be worst of all."

"Forget about these things. Anger's bad for you."

"Forget! Well, so I will forget, when I ve told 'e. I had the young man what does my business, since old Ford died, awver here last week, an' what there is will be yourn—every stiver yourn. Not the business, of course; that was sold when Coonistock died; but what I could leave I have. You expected nothin,' an' by God! you shall have all!"

She saw his face and hastened to lessen the force of the announcement in some degree.

"Ban't much, mind, far less than you might think for—far less. Theer's things I was driven to do—a lone woman wi'out a soul to care. An' wan was—but you'll hear in gude time, you'll hear. It concerns Doctor Parsons."

"I can't believe my senses. If you only knew what happened to me this morning. And if you only knew what absolute paupers we are—mother and I. Not that I would confess it to any living soul but you. And how can I thank you? Words are such vain things."

"Ban't no call to thank me. 'Tis more from hatred of t' others than love of you, when all's said. An' it ban't no gert gold mine. But I'd like to be laid along wi' Coomstock; an' doan't, for God's love, bury Lezzard wi' me; an' I want them words on auld George Mundy's graave set 'pon mine—not just writ, but cut in a slate or some such lasting thing. 'Tis a tidy tomb he've got, wi' a cherub angel, an' I'd like the same. You'll find a copy o' the words in the desk there. My maid took it down last Sunday. I minded the general meaning, but couldn't call home the rhymes. Read it out, will 'e?"

Clement opened the desk, and found and read the paper. It contained a verse not uncommon upon the tombstones of the last rural generation in Devon:

"Ye standers-by, the thread is spun; All pomp and pride I e'er did shun; Rich and poor alike must die; Peasants and kings in dust must lie; The best physicians cannot save Themselves or patients from the Grave."

"Them's the words, an' I've chose 'em so as Doctor Parsons shall have a smack in the faace when I'm gone. Not that he's wan o' the 'best physicians' by a mighty long way; but he'll knaw I was thinking of him, an' gnash his teeth, I hope, every time he sees the stone. I owe him that—an' more 'n that, as you'll see when I'm gone."

"You mustn't talk of going, aunt—not for many a day. You're a young woman for these parts. You must take care—that's all."

But he saw death in her face while he spoke, and could scarcely hide the frantic jubilation her promise had awakened in him. The news swept him along on a flood of novel thoughts. Coming as it did immediately upon his refusal to betray Will Blanchard, the circumstance looked, even in the eyes of Hicks, like a reward, an interposition of Providence on his behalf. He doubted not but that the bulk of mankind would so regard it. There arose within him old-fashioned ideas concerning right and wrong—clear notions that brought a current of air through his mind and blew away much rotting foliage and evil fruit. This sun-dawn of prosperity transformed the man for a moment, even awoke some just ethical thoughts in him.

His reverie was interrupted, for, on the way from Mrs. Lezzard's home, Clement met Doctor Parsons himself and asked concerning his aunt's true condition.

"She gave you the facts as they are," declared the medical man. "Nothing can save her. She's had delirium tremens Lord knows how often. A fortnight to a month—that's all. Nature loves these forlorn hopes and tinkers away at them in a manner that often causes me to rub my eyes. But you can't make bricks without straw. Nature will find the game 's up in a few days; then she'll waste no more time, and your aunt will be gone."

Home went Clement Hicks, placed his mother in a whirl of mental rejoicing at this tremendous news, then set out for Chris. Their compact of the morning—that she should await his return in the woods—he quite forgot; but Mrs. Blanchard reminded him and added that Chris had returned in no very good humour, then trudged up to Newtake to see Phoebe. Cool and calm the widow stood before Clement's announcement, expressed her gratification, and gave him joy of the promised change in his life.

"Glad enough am I to hear tell of this. But you'll act just—eh? You won't forget that poor auld blid, Lezzard? If she'm gwaine to leave un out the account altogether, he'll be worse off than the foxes. His son's gone to foreign paarts an' his darter's lyin'-in—not that her husband would spare a crust o' bread for auld Lezzard, best o' times."

"Trust me to do what's right. Now I'll go and see after Chris."

"An' make it up with Will while sun shines on 'e. It's so easy, come gude fortune, to feel your heart swellin' out to others."

"We are good friends now."

"Do'e think I doan't knaw better? Your quarrel's patched for the sake of us women. Have a real make-up, I mean."

"I will, then. I'll be what I was to him, if he'll let me. I'll forgive everything that's past—everything and every body."

"So do. An' doan't 'e tell no more of them hard sayings 'gainst powers an' principalities an' Providence. Us be all looked arter, 'cording to the unknawn planning of God. How's Mrs. Lezzard?"

"She'll be dead in a fortnight—perhaps less. As likely as not I might marry Chris before the next new moon."

"Doan't think 'pon that yet. Be cool, an' keep your heart in bounds. 'T is allus the way wi' such as you, who never hope nothing. Theer comes a matter as takes 'em out of themselves, then they get drunk with hope, all of a sudden, an' flies higher than the most sanguine folks, an' builds castles 'pon clouds. Theer's the diggin' of a graave between you and Chris yet. Doan't forget that."

"You can't evade solid facts."

"No, but solid facts, seen close, often put on a differ'nt faace to what they did far-ways off."

"You won't dishearten me, mother; I'm a happy man for once."

"Be you? God forbid I should cloud 'e then; awnly keep wise as well as happy, an' doan't fill Chris with tu gert a shaw of pomps an' splendours. Put it away till it comes. Our dreams 'bout the future 's allus a long sight better or worse than the future itself."

"Don't forbid dreaming. That's the sole happiness I've ever had until now."

"Happiness, you call it? 'T is awnly a painted tinsel o' the mind, and coming from it into reality is like waking arter tu much drink. So I've heard my husband say scores o' times—him bein' a man much given to overhopefulness in his younger days—same as Will is now."

Clement departed, and presently found himself with the cooler breezes of the high lands upon his hot forehead. They put him in mind of Mrs. Blanchard again, and their tendency, as hers had been, was to moderate his ardour; but that seemed impossible just now. Magnificent sunshine spread over the great wastes of the Moor; and through it, long before he reached Newtake, Clement saw his sweetheart returning. For a little time he seemed intoxicated and no longer his own master. The fires of the morning woke in him again at sight of her. They met and kissed, and he promised her some terrific news, but did not tell it then. He lived in the butterfly fever of the moment, and presently imparted the fever to her. They left the road and got away into the lonely heather; then he told her that they would be man and wife within a fortnight.

They sat close together, far from every eye, in the shade of a thorn bush that rose beside a lonely stone.

"Within the very shadow of marriage, and you are frightened of me still! Frightened to let me pick an apple over the orchard wall when I am going through the gate for my own the next moment! Listen! I hear our wedding bells!"

Only the little lizard and the hovering hawk with gold eyes saw them.

"Our wedding bells!" said Chris.

Towards set of sun Hicks saw his sweetheart to her mother's cottage. His ecstatic joys were sobered now, and his gratitude a little lessened.

"To think what marvels o' happiness be in store for us, Clem, my awn!"

"Yes—not more than we deserve, either. God knows, if there 's any justice, it was your turn and mine to come by a little of the happiness that falls to the lot of men and women."

"I doan't see how highest heaven's gwaine to be better than our married life, so long as you love me."

"Heaven! Don't compare them. What's eternity if you're half a ghost, half a bird? That's the bribe thrown out,—to be a cold-blooded, perfect thing, and passionless as a musical box. Give me hot blood that flows and throbs; give me love, and a woman's breast to lean on. One great day on earth, such as this has been, is better than a million ages of sexless perfection in heaven. A vain reward it was that Christ offered. It seemed highest perfection to Him, doubtless; but He judged the world by Himself. The Camel-driver was wiser. He promised actual, healthy flesh in paradise—flesh that should never know an ache or pain—eternal flesh, and the joys of it. We can understand that, but where's the joy of being a spirit? I cling to the flesh I have, for I know that Nature will very soon want back the dust she has lent me."



CHAPTER XIII

THE WILL

Agreeably to the prediction of Doctor Parsons, Mrs. Lezzard's journey was ended in less than three weeks of her conversation with Clement Hicks. Then came a night when she made an ugly end; and with morning a group of gossips stood about the drawn blinds, licked their lips over the details, and generally derived that satisfaction from death common to their class. Indeed, this ghoulish gusto is not restricted to humble folk alone. The instinct lies somewhere at the root of human nature, together with many another morbid vein and trait not readily to be analysed or understood. Only educated persons conceal it.

"She had deliriums just at the end," said Martha, her maid. "She called out in a voice as I never heard afore, an' mistook her husband for the Dowl."

"Poor sawl! Death's such a struggle at the finish for the full-blooded kind. Doctor tawld me that if she'd had the leastest bit o'liver left, he could 'a' saved her; but 'twas all soaked up by neat brandy, leaving nought but a vacuum or some such fatal thing."

"Her hadn't the use of her innards for a full fortnight! Think o' that! Aw. dallybuttons! It do make me cream all awver to hear tell of!"

So they piled horror upon horror; then came Clement Hicks, as one having authority, and bade them begone. The ill-omened fowls hopped off; relations began to collect; there was an atmosphere of suppressed electricity about the place, and certain women openly criticised the prominent attitude Hicks saw fit to assume. This, however, did not trouble him. He wrote to the lawyer at Newton, fixed a day for the funeral, and then turned his attention to Mr. Lezzard. The ancient resented Clement's interference not a little, but Hicks speedily convinced him that his animosity mattered nothing. The bee-keeper found this little taste of power not unpleasant. He knew that everything was his own property, and he enjoyed the hate and suspicion in the eyes of those about him. The hungry crowd haunted him, but he refused it any information. Mr. Lezzard picked a quarrel, but he speedily silenced the old man, and told him frankly that upon his good behaviour must depend his future position. Crushed and mystified, the widower whispered to those interested with himself in his wife's estate; and so, before the reading of the will, there slowly grew a very deep suspicion and hearty hatred of Clement Hicks. None had considered him in connection with Mrs. Lezzard's fortune, for he always kept aloof from her; but women cannot easily shut their lips over such tremendous matters of news, and so it came about that some whisper from Chris or dark utterance from old Mrs. Hicks got wind, and a rumour grew that the bee-keeper was the dead woman's heir.

Facts contributed colour to the suspicion, for it was known that Clement had of late given Chris one or two pretty presents, and a ring that cost gold. His savings were suspected to justify 110 such luxuries; yet that a speedy change in his manner of life might be expected was also manifest from the fact that he had been looking into the question of a new stone cottage, on the edge of the Moor, where the heather in high summer would ripple to the very doors of his beehives.

The distrust created by these facts was quickly set at rest, for Mrs. Lezzard sank under ground within four days of her dissolution; then, after the eating of funeral baked meats, those interested assembled in the parlour to hear the will. The crowd whispered and growled, and looked gloomily across at Hicks and the little figure of his mother who had come in rusty black to witness his triumph. Then a young lawyer from Newton adjusted his spectacles, rustled his papers, and poured himself out a glass of grocer's port before proceeding. But his task involved no strain upon him, and was indeed completed within five minutes. Black disappointment, dismay, and despair were the seeds sown by that unimpassioned voice; and at his conclusion a silence as blank as any that reigned in the ears of the dead fell upon those who listened—on those who had hoped so much and were confronted with so little.

"The will is remarkably concise. Mrs. Lezzard makes sundry bitter statements which I think none will blame me for not repeating, though all may see them here who desire so to do; she then constitutes Mr. Clement Hicks, her nephew, sole residuary legatee. There is no condition, no codicil; but I have regretfully to add that Mr. Hicks wins little but this barren expression of good-will from the testatrix; for the sufficient reason that she had nothing to leave. She laboured under various delusions, among others that her financial position was very different from what is the case. Upon her first husband's death, Mrs. Coomstock, as she was then, made an arrangement with my late senior partner, Mr. Joel Ford, and purchased an annuity. This absorbed nearly all her capital; the rest she lost in an undesirable speculation of her own choosing. I am amazed at the present extent of her obligations. This dwelling-house, for instance, is mortgaged to her medical man, Doctor Parsons, of Chagford. There is barely money to meet the debts. Some fifty or sixty pounds in my hands will be absorbed by the calls of the estate. Mrs. Lezzard's tastes—I sorrow to say it—were expensive in some directions. There is an item of ten pounds twelve shillings for—for brandy, if I may be pardoned for speaking plainly. The funeral also appears to have been conducted on a scale more lavish than circumstances warranted. However, there should be sufficient to defray the cost, and I am sure nobody will blame Mr. Hicks for showing this last respect to an amiable if eccentric woman. There is nothing to add except that I shall be delighted to answer any questions—any questions at all."

A few moments later, the lawyer mounted his dog-cart and rattled off to enjoy a pleasant drive homeward.

Then the company spoke its mind, and Mary Lezzard's clay might well have turned under that bitter hornet-buzz of vituperation. Some said little, but had not strength or self-command to hide tears; some cursed and swore. Mr. Lezzard wept unheeded; Mrs. Hicks likewise wept. Clement sat staring into the flushed faces and angry eyes, neither seeing the rage manifested before him, nor hearing the coarse volleys of reproach. Then in his turn he attracted attention; and hard words, wasted on the dead, hurtled like hail round his ears, with acid laughter, and bitter sneers at his own tremendous awakening. Stung to the quick, the lame wheelwright, Charles Coomstock, gloated on the spectacle of Clement's dark hour, and heaped abuse upon his round-eyed, miserable mother. The raw of his own wound found a sort of salve in this attack; and all the other poor, coarse creatures similarly found comfort in their disappointment from a sight of more terrific mortification than their own. Venomous utterances fell about Clement Hicks, but he neither heard nor heeded: his mind was far away with Chris, and the small shot of the Coomstocks and the thunder of the Chowns alike flew harmlessly past him. He saw his sweetheart's sorrow, and her grief, as yet unborn, was the only fact that much hurt him now. The gall in his own soul only began to sicken him when his eye rested on his mother. Then he rose and departed to his home, while the little, snuffling woman ran at his heels, like a dog.

Not until he had escaped the tempest of voices, and was hidden from the world, did the bee-keeper allow his own cruel disappointment to appear. Then, while his mother wept, he lifted up his voice and cursed God. As his relations had won comfort by swearing at him, so now he soothed his soul unconsciously in blasphemies. Then followed a silence, and his mother dared to blame him and remind him of an error.

"You wouldn't turn the bee-butts when she died, though I begged and prayed of 'e. Oh, if you'd awnly done what an auld woman, an' she your mother, had told 'e! Not so much as a piece of crape would 'e suffer me to tie 'pon 'em. An' I knawed all the while the hidden power o' bees."

Presently he left her, and went to tell Chris. She greeted him eagerly, then turned pale and even terrified as she saw the black news in his face.

"Just a gull and laughing-stock for the gods again, that's all, Chris. How easily they fool us from their thrones, don't they? And our pitiful hopes and ambitions and poor pathetic little plans for happiness shrivel and die, and strew their stinking corpses along the road that was going to be so gorgeous. The time to spill the cup is when the lip begins to tremble and water for it—not sooner—the gods know! And now all's changed—excepting only the memory of things done that had better been left undone."

"But—but we shall be married at once, Clem?"

He shook his head.

"How can you ask it? My poor little all—twenty pounds—is gone on twopenny-halfpenny presents during the past week or two. It seemed so little compared to the fortune that was coming. It's all over. The great day is further off by twenty pounds than it was before that poor drunken old fool lied to me. Yet she didn't lie either; she only forgot; you can't swim in brandy for nothing."

Fear, not disappointment, dominated the woman before him as she heard. Sheer terror made her grip his arm and scream to him hysterically. Then she wept wild, savage tears and called to God to kill her quickly. For a time she parried every question, but an outburst so strangely unlike Chris Blanchard had its roots deeper than the crushing temporary disaster which he had brought with him. Clement, suspecting, importuned for the truth, gathered it from her, then passed away into the dusk, faced with the greatest problem that existence had as yet set him. Crushed, and crushed unutterably, he returned home oppressed with a biting sense of his own damnable fate. He moved as one distracted, incoherent, savage, alone. The glorious palace he had raised for his happiness crumbled into vast ruins; hope was dead and putrid; and only the results of wild actions, achieved on false assumptions, faced him. Now, rising out of his brief midsummer madness, the man saw a ghost; and he greeted it with groan as bitter as ever wrung human heart.

Miller Lyddon sat that night alone until Mr. Blee returned to supper.

"Gert news! Gert news!" he shouted, while yet in the passage; "sweatin' for joy an' haste, I be!"

His eyes sparkled, his face shone, his words tripped each other up by the heels.

"Be gormed if ban't a 'mazin' world! She've left nought—dammy—less than nought, for the house be mortgaged sea-deep to Doctor, an' theer's other debts. Not a penny for nobody—nothin' but empty bottles—an' to think as I thought so poor o' God as to say theer weern't none! What a ramshackle plaace the world is!"

"No money at all? Mrs. Lezzard—it can't be!" declared Mr. Lyddon.

"But it is, by gum! A braave tantara 'mongst the fam'ly, I tell 'e. Not a stiver—all ate up in a 'nuity, an' her—artful limb!—just died on the last penny o' the quarter's payment. An' Lezzard left at the work'us door—poor auld zawk! An' him fourscore an' never been eggicated an' never larned nothin'!"

"To think it might have been your trouble, Blee!"

"That's it, that's it! That's what I be full of! Awnly for the watchin' Lard, I'd been fixed in the hole myself. Just picture it! Me a-cussin' o' Christ to blazes an' lettin' on theer wasn't no such Pusson; an' Him, wide awake, a-keepin' me out o' harm's way, even arter the banns was called! Theer's a God for 'e! Watchin' day an' night to see as I comed by no harm! That's what 't is to have laid by a tidy mort o' righteousness 'gainst a evil hour!"

"You 'm well out of it, sure enough."

"Ess, 't is so. I misjudged the Lard shocking, an' I'm man enough to up and say it, thank God. He was right an' I was wrong; an' lookin' back, I sees it. So I'll come back to the fold, like the piece of silver what was lost; an' theer'll be joy in heaven, as well theer may be. Burnish it all! I'll go along to church 'fore all men's eyes next Lard's Day ever is."

"A gude thought, tu. Religion's a sort of benefit society, if you look at it, an' the church be the bank wheer us pays in subscriptions Sundays."

"An' blamed gude interest us gets for the money," declared Mr. Blee. "Not but what I've drawed a bit heavy on my draft of late, along o' pretendin' to heathen ways an' thoughts what I never really held with; but 't is all wan now an' I lay I'll soon set the account right, wi' a balance in my favour, tu. Seein' how shameful I was used, ban't likely no gert things will be laid against me."

"And auld Lezzard will go to the Union?"

"A very fittin' plaace for un, come to think on 't. Awver-balanced for sheer greed of gawld he was. My! what a wild-goose chase! An the things he've said to me! Not that I'd allow myself—awuly from common humanity I must see un an' let un knaw I bear no more malice than a bird on a bough."

They drank, Billy deeper than usual. He was marvellously excited and cheerful. He greeted God like an old friend returned to him from a journey; and that night before retiring he stood stiffly beside his bed and covered his face in his hands and prayed a prayer familiar among his generation.

"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless the bed that I lie on, Four cornders to my bed, Four angels overspread Two tu foot an' two tu head, An' all to carry me when I'm dead. An' when I'm dead an' in my graave, An' all my bones be rotten. The greedy worms my flaish shall ate, An' I shall be forgotten; For Christ's sake. Amen."

Having sucked from repetition of this ancient twaddle exactly that sort of satisfaction the French or Roman peasant wins from a babble of a dead language over beads, Billy retired with many a grunt and sigh of satisfaction.

"It do hearten the spirit to come direct to the Throne," he reflected; "an' the wonder is how ever I could fare for near two year wi'out my prayers. Yet, though I got my monkey up an' let Jehovah slide, He knawed of my past gudeness, all set down in the Book o' Life. An' now I've owned up as I was wrong; which is all even the saints can do; 'cause Judgment Day, for the very best of us, will awnly be a matter o' owning up."



CHAPTER XIV

A HUNDRED POUNDS

The maddening recollection of things done wrought upon Clement Hicks until it bred in him a distracted frenzy and blinded his judgment. He lost all sense of proportion in his endeavour to come at a right course of action, and a mind long inclined towards one road now readily drifted upon it. To recover the position had been quite possible, and there were not wanting those ready and eager to assist him; but at this crisis in his fortune the man lost all power of reflection or self-control. The necessity for instant action clamoured to him through daylight and darkness; delay drove him hourly into a hysterical condition approaching frenzy, and every road to escape save one appeared bolted and barred against him. But, try as he might, his miseries could not be hidden, and Will Blanchard, among others, sympathised very heartily with the great disappointment that had now fallen upon Chris and her sweetheart. His sister's attitude had astonished both him and his mother. They fancied that Blanchards were made of sterner stuff; but Chris went down before the blow in a manner very unexpected. She seemed dazed and unable to recover from it. Her old elastic spirit was crushed, and a great sorrow looked from her eyes.

Neither Will nor her mother could rouse her, and so it came about that thinking how best he could play a brother's part, the master of Newtake decided on a notable deed and held that the hour for it must be delayed no longer. He debated the circumstance from every point of view, examined his accounts, inspected the exact figures represented by the remainder of his uncle's legacy and then broke the matter to Phoebe. To his mother he had already spoken concerning the intention, and she approved it, though without knowing particulars. Phoebe, however, happened to be quite as familiar with Will's affairs as Will himself, and while his determination to give Clement and Chris a hundred pounds was easily come at and most cheering to his heart, the necessity of breaking the news to his wife appeared not so easy or pleasant. Indeed, Will approached the task with some trepidation, for a recent event made it doubly difficult. They sat together one night, after six weeks of married life, and he plunged into the matter.

"'Tis sad them two being kept apart like this," he said abruptly.

"'Tis so. Nobody feels it more'n me. Matters was hard with us, and now they 'm all smooth and the future seems fairly bright, tu."

"Very bright," he said stoutly. "The hay's best ever come off my ground, thanks to the manure from Monks Barton; and look at the wurzels! Miller hisself said he've never seed a more promising crop, high or low. An' the things be in prime kelter, tu; an' better than four hunderd pound of uncle's money still left."

"Long may it be left, I'm sure. 'Tis terrible work dipping into it, an' I looks at both sides of a halfpenny 'fore I spend it. Wish you would. You'm tu generous, Will. But accounts are that difficult."

This was not the spirit of the hour, however.

"I was gwaine to say that out of all our happiness an' fortune we might let a little bubble awver for Chris—eh? She'm such a gude gal, an' you love her so dearly as what I do a'most."

Phoebe read the project in a flash, but yet invited her husband to explain.

"What d'you mean?" she asked distrustfully and coldly.

"I can see in your face you knaw well enough. That four-hunderd-odd pound. I've sometimes thought I should have given Chris a bit of the windfall when first it comed. But now—well, theer's this cruel coil failed on 'em. You knaw the hardness of waiting. 'Twould be a butivul thing to let 'em marry an' feel't was thanks to us."

"You want to go giving them money?"

"Not 'give' 'zactly. Us'll call it a loan, till the time they see their way clearer."

Phoebe sighed and was silent for a while.

"Poor dears," she said at length. "I feel for 'em in my heart, same as you do; yet somehow it doan't look right."

"Not right, Phoebe?"

"Not wise, then. Remember what you say the winters be up here—such dreary months with no money coming in and all gwaine out to keep life in the things."

"'Tis a black, bitin' business on the high farms—caan't deny that."

"Money flies so."

"Then let some fly to a gude end. You knaw I'm a hard, keen man where other people be concerned, most times."

His wife laughed frankly, and he grew red.

"Damn it, Phoebe, doan't you take me like that else you'll get the rough edge of my tongue. 'Tis for you to agree with what I'm pleased to say, not contradict it. I be a hard, keen man, and knaws the value of money as well as another. But Chris is my awn sister, an' the long an' the short is, I'm gwaine to give Clem Hicks a hunderd pound."

"Will! It's not reasonable, it's not fair—us working so hard an'—an'—"

"They 'm to have it, anyway."

Her breath caught in a little, helpless gasp. Without a word she picked up the material in her hands, huddled it up, and thrust it across the table towards him. Then the passion faded out of his face, his eyes softened and grew dreamy, he smiled, and rubbed his brown cheek with the flannel.

"My awn, li'l clever woman, as have set about the fashioning of a bairn so soon! God bless 'e, an' bless 'e an' be gude to 'e, an' the wee thing coming!"

He put his arm round her and patted her hair and purred softly to her; whereupon she relented and kissed him.

"You knaw best, Will, dearie; you nearly allus knaw best; but your heart's bigger 'n your pocket—an' a li'l child do call so loud for the spendin' o' money."

"Aye, I knaw, I knaw; 'tis a parent's plaace to stand up for his offspring through fire an' water; an' I reckon I won't be the worst faither as ever was, either. I can mind the time when I was young myself. Stern but kind's the right rule. Us'll bring un up in the proper way, an' teach un to use his onderstandin' an' allus knuckle down 'fore his elders. To tell 'e truth, Phoebe, I've a notion I might train up a cheel better'n some men."

"Yes, Will, I think so, tu. But 'tis food an' clothes an' li'l boots an' such-like comes first. A hunderd pounds be such a mort o' money."

"'Twill set 'em up in a fair way."

"Fifty wouldn't hardly do, p'r'aps?"

"Hardly. I like to carry a job through clean an' vitty while I'm on it."

"You've got such a big spirit."

"As to that, money so spent ban't lost—'tis all in the fam'ly."

"Of course 'tis a gude advertisement for you. Folk'll think you'm prosperin' an' look up to you more."

"Well, some might, though I doan't 'zactly mean it like that. Yet the putting out o' three figures o' money must make neighbours ope their eyes. Not that I want anybody to knaw either."

So, against her judgment, Phoebe was won over, and presently she and her husband made merry at prospect of the great thing contemplated. Will imitated Clement's short, glum, and graceless manner before the gift; Phoebe began to spend the money and plan the bee-keeper's cottage when Chris should enter it as a bride; and thus, having enjoyed an hour of delight the most pure and perfect that can fall to human lot, the young couple retired.

Elsewhere defeat and desolation marked the efforts of the luckless poet to improve his position. All thoughts drifted towards the Red House, and when, struggling from this dark temptation, he turned to Martin Grimbal rather than his brother, Fate crushed this hope also. The antiquary was not in Chagford, and Clement recollected that Martin had told him he designed some visits to the doom rings of Iceland, and other contemporary remains of primeval man in Brittany and in Ireland. To find him at present was impossible, for he had left no address, and his housekeeper only knew that he would be out of England until the autumn.

Now the necessity for action gained gigantically upon Hicks, and spun a net of subtle sophistry that soon had the poor wretch enmeshed beyond possibility of escape. He assured himself that the problem was reduced to a mere question of justice to a woman. A sacrifice must be made between one whom he loved better than anything in the world, and one for whom he cared not at all. That these two persons chanced to be brother and sister was an unfortunate accident, but could not be held a circumstance strong enough to modify his determination. He had, indeed, solemnly sworn to Will to keep his secret, but what mattered that before this more crushing, urgent duty to Chris? His manhood cried out to him to protect her. Nothing else signified in the least; the future—the best that he could hope for—might be ashy and hopeless now; but it was with the immediate present and his duty that he found himself concerned. There remained but one grim way; and, through such overwhelming, shattering storm and stress as falls to the lot of few, he finally took it. To marry at any cost and starve afterwards if necessary, had been the more simple plan; and that course of action must first have occurred to any other man but this; to him, however, it did not occur. The crying, shrieking need for money was the thing that stunned him and petrified him. Shattered and tossed to the brink of aberration, stretched at frightful mental tension for a fortnight, he finally succumbed, and told himself that his defeat was victory.

He wrote to John Grimbal, explained that he desired to see him on the morrow, and the master of the Red House, familiar with recent affairs, rightly guessed that Hicks had changed his mind. Excited beyond measure, the victor fixed a place for their conversation, and it was a strange one.

"Meet me at Oke Tor," he wrote. "By an accident I shall be in the Taw Marshes to-morrow, and will ride to you some time in the afternoon.—J.G."

Thus, upon a day when Will Blanchard called at Mrs. Hicks's cottage, Clement had already started for his remote destination on the Moor. With some unconscious patronage Will saluted Mrs. Hicks and called for Clement. Then he slapped down a flat envelope under the widow's eyes.

"Us have thought a lot about this trouble, mother, an' Phoebe's hit on as braave a notion as need be. You see, Clem's my close friend again now, an' Chris be my sister; so what's more fittin' than that I should set up the young people? An' so I shall, an' here's a matter of Bank of England notes as will repay the countin'. Give 'em to Clem wi' my respects."

Then Will suffered a surprise. The little woman before him swelled and expanded, her narrow bosom rose, her thin lips tightened, and into her dim eyes there came pride and brightness. It was her hour of triumph, and she felt a giantess as she stood regarding the envelope and Will. Him she had never liked since his difference with her son concerning Martin Grimbal, and now, richer for certain news of that morning, she gloried to throw the gift back.

"Take your money again, bwoy. No Hicks ever wanted charity yet, least of all from a Blanchard. Pick it up; and it's lucky Clement ban't home, for he'd have said some harsh words, I'm thinking. Keep it 'gainst the rainy days up to Newtake. And it may surprise 'e to knaw that my son's worth be getting found out at last. It won't be so long 'fore he takes awver Squire Grimbal's farm to the Red House. What do 'e think o' that? He've gone to see un this very day 'bout it."

"Well, well! This be news, and no mistake—gude news, tu, I s'pose. Jan Grimbal! An' what Clem doan't knaw 'bout farmin', I'll be mighty pleased to teach un, I'm sure."

"No call to worry yourself; Clem doan't want no other right arm than his awn."

"Chris shall have the money, then; an' gude luck to 'em both, say I."

He departed, with great astonishment the main emotion of his mind. Nothing could well have happened to surprise him more, and now he felt that he should rejoice, but found it difficult to do so.

"Braave news, no doubt," he reflected, "an' yet, come to think on it, I'd so soon the devil had given him a job as Grimbal. Besides, to choose him! What do Clement knaw 'bout farmin'? Just so much as I knaw 'bout verse-writin', an' no more."



CHAPTER XV

"THE ANGEL OF THE DARKER DRINK"

Patches of mist all full of silver light moved like lonely living things on the face of the high Moor. Here they dispersed and scattered, here they approached and mingled together, here they stretched forth pearly fingers above the shining granite, and changed their shapes at the whim of every passing breeze; but the tendency of each shining, protean mass was to rise to the sun, and presently each valley and coomb lay clear, while the cool vapours wound in luminous and downy undulations along the highest points of the land before vanishing into air.

A solitary figure passed over the great waste. He took his way northward and moved across Scorhill, leaving Wattern Tor to the left. Beneath its ragged ridges, in a vast granite amphitheatre, twinkled the cool birth-springs of the little Wallabrook, and the water here looked leaden under shade, here sparkled with silver at the margin of a cloud shadow, here shone golden bright amid the dancing heads of the cotton-grass under unclouded sunlight. The mist wreaths had wholly departed before noon, and only a few vast mountains of summer gold moved lazily along the upper chambers of the air. A huge and solitary shadow overtook the man and spread itself directly about him, then swept onwards; infinite silence encompassed him; once from a distant hillside a voice cried to him, where women and children moved like drab specks and gathered the ripe whortleberries that now wove purple patterns into the fabric of the Moor; but he heeded not the cry; and other sound there was none save the occasional and mournful note of some lonely yellowhammer perched upon a whin. Into the prevalent olive-brown of the heath there had now stolen an indication of a magic change at hand, for into the sober monotone crept a gauzy shadow, a tremor of wakening flower-life, half pearl, half palest pink, yet more than either. Upon the immediate foreground it rippled into defined points of blossom, which already twinkled through all the dull foliage; in the middle distance it faded; afar off it trembled as a palpable haze of light under the impalpable reeling of the summer air. A week or less would see the annual miracle peformed again and witness that spacious and solemn region in all the amethystine glories of the ling. Fiercely hot grew the day, and the distances, so distinct through mist rifts and wreaths in the clearness of early morning, now retreated—mountain upon mountain, wide waste on waste—as the sun climbed to the zenith. Detail vanished, the Moor stretched shimmering to the horizon; only now and again from some lofty point of his pilgrimage did the traveller discover chance cultivation through a dip in the untamed region he traversed. Then to the far east and north, the map of fertile Devon billowed and rolled in one enormous misty mosaic,—billowed and rolled all opalescent under the dancing atmosphere and July haze, rolled and swept to the sky-line, where, huddled by perspective into the appearance of density, hung long silver tangles of infinitely remote and dazzling cloud against the blue.

From that distant sponge in the central waste, from Cranmere, mother of moorland rivers, the man presently noted wrinkles of pure gold trickling down a hillside two miles off. Here sunshine touched the river Taw, still an infant thing not far advanced on the journey from its fount; but the play of light upon the stream, invisible save for this finger of the sun, indicated to the solitary that he approached his destination. Presently he stood on the side of lofty Steeperton and surveyed that vast valley known as Taw Marsh, which lies between the western foothills of Cosdon Beacon and the Belstone Tors to the north. The ragged manes of the latter hills wind through the valley in one lengthy ridge, and extend to a tremendous castellated mass of stone, by name Oke Tor.

This erection, with its battlements and embrasures, outlying scarps and counterscarps, remarkably suggests the deliberate and calculated creation of man. It stands upon a little solitary hill at the head of Taw Marsh, and wins its name from the East Okement River which runs through the valley on its western flank. Above wide fen and marsh it rises, yet seen from Steeperton's vaster altitude, Oke Tor looks no greater than some fantastic child-castle built by a Brobding-nagian baby with granite bricks. Below it on this July day the waste of bog-land was puckered with brown tracts of naked soil, and seamed and scarred with peat-cuttings. Here and there drying turfs were propped in pairs and dotted the hillsides; emerald patches of moss jewelled the prevailing sobriety of the valley, a single curlew, with rising and falling crescendos of sound, flew here and there under needless anxiety, and far away on White Hill and the enormous breast of Cosdon glimmered grey stone ghosts from the past,—track-lines and circles and pounds,—the work of those children of the mist who laboured here when the world was younger, whose duty now lay under the new-born light of the budding heath. White specks dotted the undulations where flocks roamed free; in the marsh, red cattle sought pasture, and now was heard the jingle-jangle of a sheep-bell, and now the cry of bellowing kine.

Like a dark incarnation of suffering over this expansive scene passed Clement Hicks to the meeting with John Grimbal. His unrest was accentuated by the extreme sunlit peace of the Moor, and as he sat on Steeperton and gazed with dark eyes into the marshes below, there appeared in his face the battlefield of past struggles, the graves of past hopes. A dead apathy of mind and muscle succeeded his mental exertion and passion of thought. Increased age marked him, as though Time, thrusting all at once upon him bitter experiences usually spread over many years of a man's life, had weighed him down, humped his back, thinned his hair, and furrowed his forehead under the load. Within his eyes, behind the reflected blue of the sky, as he raised them to it, sat mad misery; and an almost tetanic movement of limb, which rendered it impossible for him to keep motionless even in his present recumbent position, denoted the unnatural excitation of his nerves. The throb and spasm of the past still beat against his heart. Like a circular storm in mid-ocean, he told himself that the tempest had not wholly ended, but might reawaken, overwhelm him, and sweep him back into the turmoil again. As he thought, and his eye roved for a rider on a brown horse, the poor wretch was fighting still. Yesterday fixed determination marked his movements, and his mind was made up; to-day, after a night not devoid of sleep, it seemed that everything that was best in him had awakened refreshed, and that each mile of the long tramp across Dartmoor had represented another battle fought with his fate. Justice, Justice for himself and the woman he loved, was the cry raised more than once aloud in sharp agony on that great silence. And only the drone of the shining-winged things and the dry rustle of the grasshoppers answered him.

Like the rest of the sore-smitten and wounded world, he screamed to the sky for Justice, and, like the rest of the world, forgot or did not know that Justice is only a part of Truth, and therefore as far beyond man's reach as Truth itself. Justice can only be conceived by humanity, and that man should even imagine any abstraction so glorious is wonderful, and to his credit. But Justice lies not only beyond our power to mete to our fellows; it forms no part of the Creator's methods with us or this particular mote in the beam of the Universe. Man has never received Justice, as he understands it, and never will; and his own poor, flagrant, fallible travesty of it, erected to save him from himself, and called Law, more nearly approximates to Justice than the treatment which has ever been apportioned to humanity. Before this eternal spectacle of illogical austerity, therefore, man, in self-defence and to comfort his craving and his weakness, has clung to the cheerful conceit of immortality; has pathetically credited the First Cause with a grand ultimate intention concerning each suffering atom; has assured himself that eternity shall wipe away all tears and blood, shall reward the actors in this puppet-show with golden crowns and nobler parts in a nobler playhouse. Human dreams of justice are responsible for this yearning towards another life, not the dogmas of religion; and the conviction undoubtedly has to be thanked for much individual right conduct. But it happens that an increasing number of intellects can find solace in these theories no longer; it happens that the liberty of free thought (which is the only liberty man may claim) will not longer be bound with these puny chains. Many detect no just argument for a future life; they admit that adequate estimate of abstract Justice is beyond them; they suspect that Justice is a human conceit; and they see no cause why its attributes should be credited to the Creator in His dealings with the created, for the sufficient reason that Justice has never been consistently exhibited by Him. The natural conclusion of such thought need not be pursued here. Suffice it that, taking their stand on pure reason, such thinkers deny the least evidence of any life beyond the grave; to them, therefore, this ephemeral progression is the beginning and the end, and they live every precious moment with a yearning zest beyond the power of conventional intellects to conceive.

Of such was Clement Hicks. And yet in this dark hour he cried for Justice, not knowing to whom or to what he cried. Right judgment was dead at last. He rose and shook his head in mute answer to the voices still clamouring to his consciousness. They moaned and reverberated and mingled with the distant music of the bellwether, but his mind was made up irrevocably now; he had determined to do the thing he had come to do. He told himself nothing much mattered any more; he laughed as he rose and wiped the sweat off his face, and passed down Steeperton through debris of granite. "Life's only a breath and then—Nothing," he thought; "but it will be interesting to see how much more bitterness and agony those that pull the strings can cram into my days. I shall watch from the outside now. A man is never happy so long as he takes a personal interest in life. Henceforth I'll stand outside and care no more, and laugh and laugh on through the years. We're greater than the Devil that made us; for we can laugh at all his cursed cruelty—we can laugh, and we can die laughing, and we can die when we please. Yes, that's one thing he can't do—torment us an hour more than we choose."

Suicide was always a familiar thought with this man, but it had never been farther from his mind than of late. Cowardly in himself, his love for Chris Blanchard was too great to suffer even the shadow of self-slaughter to tempt him at the present moment. What might happen in the future, he could not tell; but while her happiness was threatened and her life's welfare hung in the balance, his place was by her side. Then he looked into Will Blanchard's future and asked himself what was the worst that could result from his pending treachery. He did not know and wished time had permitted him to make inquiries. But his soul was too weary to care. He only looked for the ordeal to be ended; his aching eyes, now bent on his temporal environment, ranged widely for the spectacle of a rider on a brown horse.

A red flag flapped from a lofty pole at the foot of Steeperton, but Hicks, to whom the object and its significance were familiar, paid no heed and passed on towards Oke Tor. On one side the mass rose gradually up by steps and turrets; on the other, the granite beetled into a low cliff springing abruptly from the turf. Within its clefts and crannies there grew ferns, and to the north-east, sheltered under ledges from the hot sun, cattle and ponies usually stood or reclined upon such a summer day as this, and waited for the oncoming cool of evening before returning to pasture. On the present occasion, however, no stamp of hoof, snort of nostril, whisk of tail, and hum of flies denoted the presence of beasts. For some reason they had been driven elsewhere. Clement climbed the Tor, then stood upon its highest point, and turning his back to the sun, scanned the wide rolling distances over which he had tramped, and sought fruitlessly for an approaching horseman. But no particular hour had been specified, and he knew not and cared not how long he might have to wait.

In a direction quite contrary to that on which the eyes of Hicks were set, sat John Grimbal upon his horse and talked with another man. They occupied a position at the lower-most end of Taw Marsh, beneath the Belstones; and they watched some seventy artillerymen busily preparing for certain operations of a nature to specially interest the master of the Red House. Indeed the pending proceedings had usually occupied his mind, to total exclusion of all other affairs; but to-day even more momentous events awaited him in the immediate future, and he looked from his companion along the great valley to where Oke Tor appeared, shrunk to a mere grey stone at the farther end. Of John Grimbal's life, it may now be said that it drifted into a confirmed and bitter misogyny. He saw no women, spoke of the sex with disrespect, and chose his few friends among men whose sporting and warlike instincts chimed with his own. Sport he pursued with dogged pertinacity, but the greater part of his leisure was devoted to the formation of a yeomanry corps at Chagford, and in this design he had made good progress. He still kept his wrongs sternly before his mind, and when the old bitterness began to grow blunted, deliberately sharpened it again, strangling alike the good work of time and all emotions of rising contentment and returning peace. Where was the wife whose musical voice and bright eyes should welcome his daily home-coming? Where were the laughing and pattering-footed little ones? Of these priceless treasures the man on the Moor had robbed him. His great house was empty and cheerless. Thus he could always blow the smouldering fires into active flame by a little musing on the past; but how long it might be possible to sustain his passion for revenge under this artificial stimulation of memory remained to be seen. As yet, at any rate, the contemplation of Will Blanchard's ruin was good to Grimbal, and the accident of his discovery that Clement Hicks knew some secret facts to his enemy's disadvantage served vastly to quicken the lust for a great revenge. From the first he had determined to drag Clement's secret out of him sooner or later, and had, until his recent offer of the Red House Farm, practised remarkable patience. Since then, however, a flicker of apparent prosperity which overtook the bee-keeper appeared to diminish Grimbal's chances perceptibly; but with the sudden downfall of Clement's hopes the other's ends grew nearer again, and at the last it had scarcely surprised him to receive the proposal of Hicks. So now he stood within an hour or two of the desired knowledge, and his mind was consequently a little abstracted from the matter in hand.

The battery, consisting of four field-guns, was brought into action in the direction of the upper end of the valley, while Major Tremayne, its commanding officer and John Grimbal's acquaintance, explained to the amateur all that he did not know. During the previous week the master of the Red House and other officers of the local yeomanry interested in military matters had dined at the mess of those artillery officers then encamped at Okehampton for the annual practice on Dartmoor; and the outcome of that entertainment was an invitation to witness some shooting during the forthcoming week.

The gunners in their dark blue uniforms swarmed busily round four shining sixteen-pounders, while Major Tremayne conversed with his friend. He was a handsome, large-limbed man, with kindly eyes.

"Where's your target?" asked Grimbal, as he scanned the deep distance of the valley.

"Away there under that grey mass of rock. We've got to guess at the range as you know; then find it. I should judge the distance at about two miles—an extreme limit. Take my glass and you'll note a line of earthworks thrown up on this side of the stone. That is intended to represent a redoubt and we're going to shell it and slay the dummy men posted inside."

"I can see without the glass. The rock is called Oke Tor, and I'm going to meet a man there this afternoon."

"Good; then you'll be able to observe the results at close quarters. They'll surprise you. Now we are going to begin. Is your horse all right? He looks shifty, and the guns make a devil of a row."

"Steady as time. He's smelt powder before to-day."

Major Tremayne now adjusted his field-glasses, and carefully inspected distant earthworks stretched below the northern buttresses of Oke Tor. He estimated the range, which he communicated to the battery; then after a slight delay came the roar and bellow of the guns as they were fired in slow succession.

But the Major's estimate proved too liberal, for the ranging rounds fell far beyond the target, and dropped into the lofty side of Steeperton.

The elevation of the guns was accordingly reduced, and Grimbal noted the profound silence in the battery as each busy soldier performed his appointed task.

At the next round shells burst a little too short of the earthworks, and again a slight modification in the range was made. Now missiles began to descend in and around the distant redoubt, and each as it exploded dealt out shattering destruction to the dummy men which represented an enemy. One projectile smashed against the side of Oke Tor, and sent back the ringing sound of its tremendous impact.

Subsequent practice, now that the range was found, produced results above the average in accuracy, and Major Tremayne's good-humour increased.

"Five running plump into the redoubt! That's what we can do when we try," he said to Grimbal, while the amateur awarded his meed of praise and admiration.

Anon the business was at an end; the battery limbered up; the guns, each drawn by six stout horses, disappeared with many a jolt over the uneven ground, as the soldiers clinked and clashed away to their camp on the high land above Okehamptou.

Under the raw smell of burnt powder Major Tremayne took leave of Grimbal and the rest; each man went his way; and John, pursuing a bridle-path through the marshes of the Taw, proceeded slowly to his appointment.

An unexpected spring retarded Grimbal's progress and made a considerable detour necessary. At length, however, he approached Oke Tor, marked the tremendous havoc of the firing, and noted a great grey splash upon the granite, where one shell had abraded its weathered face.

John Grimbal dismounted, tied up his horse, then climbed to the top of the Tor, and searched for an approaching pedestrian. Nobody was visible save one man only; amounted soldier riding round to strike the red warning flags posted widely about the ranges. Grimbal descended and approached the southern side, there to sit on the fine intermingled turf and moss and smoke a cigar until his man should arrive. But rounding the point of the low cliff, he found that Hicks was already there.

Clement, his hat off, reclined upon his back with his face lifted to the sky. Where his head rested, the wild thyme grew, and one great, black bumble-bee boomed at a deaf ear as it clumsily struggled in the purple blossoms. He lay almost naturally, but some distortion of his neck and a film upon his open eyes proclaimed that the man neither woke nor slept.

His lonely death was on this wise. Standing at the edge of the highest point of Oke Tor, with his back to the distant guns, he had crowned the artillerymen's target, himself invisible. At that moment firing began, and the first shell, suddenly shrieking scarcely twenty yards above his head, had caused Hicks to start and turn abruptly. With this action he lost his balance; then a projection of the granite struck his back as he fell and brought him heavily to the earth upon his head.

Now the sun, creeping westerly, already threw a ruddiness over the Moor, and this warm light touching the dead man's cheek brought thither a hue never visible in life, and imparted to the features a placidity very startling by contrast with the circumstances of his sudden and violent end.



CHAPTER XVI

BEFORE THE DAWN

It proclaims the attitude of John Grimbal to his enemy that thus suddenly confronted with the corpse of a man whom he believed in life, his first emotion should have betokened bitter disappointment and even anger. Will Blanchard's secret, great or small, was safe enough for the present; and the hand stretched eagerly for revenge clutched air.

Convincing himself that Hicks was dead, Grimbal galloped off towards Belstone village, the nearest centre of civilisation. There he reported the facts, directed police and labourers where to find the body and where to carry it, and subsequently rode swiftly back to Chagford. Arrived at the market-place, he acquainted Abraham Chown, the representative of the Devon constabulary, with his news, and finally writing a brief statement at the police station before leaving it, Grimbal returned home.

Not until after dark was the impatient mother made aware of her son's end, and she had scarcely received the intelligence before he came home to her—with no triumphant news of the Red House Farm, but dead, on a sheep-hurdle. Like summer lightning Clement's fate leapt through the length and breadth of Chagford. It penetrated to the vicarage; it reached outlying farms; it arrived at Monks Barton, was whispered near Mrs. Blanchard's cottage by the Teign, and, in the early morning of the following day, reached Newtake.

Then Will, galloping to the village while dawn was yet grey, met Doctor Parsons, and heard the truth of these uncertain rumours which had reached him.

"It seems clear enough when Grimbal's statement comes to be read," explained the medical man. "He had arranged a meeting with poor Hicks on Oke Tor, and, when he went to keep his appointment, found the unfortunate man lying under the rocks quite dead. The spot, I must tell you, was near a target of the soldiers at Okehampton, and John Grimbal first suspected that Hicks, heedless of the red warning flags, had wandered into the line of fire and been actually slain by a projectile. But nothing of that sort happened. I have seen him. The unfortunate man evidently slipped and fell from some considerable height upon his head. His neck is dislocated and the base of the skull badly fractured."

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