Newtake squatted like a toad upon this weary waste. Its crofts were bare and frozen two feet deep; its sycamores were naked save for snow in the larger forks, and one shivering concourse of dead leaves, where a bough had been broken untimely, and thus held the foliage. Suffering almost animate peered from its leaded windows; the building scowled; cattle lowed through the hours of day, and a steam arose from their red hides as they crowded together for warmth. Often it gleamed mistily in the light of Will's lantern when at the dead icy hour before dawn he went out to his beasts. Then he would rub their noses, and speak to them cheerfully, and note their congealed vapours where these had ascended and frozen in shining spidery hands of ice upon the walls and rafters of the byre. Fowls, silver-spangled and black, scratched at the earth from habit, fought for the daily grain with a ferocity the summer never saw, stalked spiritless in puffed plumage about the farmyard and collected with subdued clucking upon their roosts in a barn above the farmyard carts as soon as the sun had dipped behind the hills. Ducks complained vocally, and as they slipped on the glassy pond they quacked out a mournful protest against the times.
The snow which fell did not melt, but shone under the red sunshine, powdered into dust beneath hoof and heel; every cart-rut was full of thin white ice, like ground window-glass, that cracked drily and split and tinkled to hobnails or iron-shod wheel. The snow from the house-top, thawed by the warmth within, ran dribbling from the eaves and froze into icicles as thick as a man's arm. These glittered almost to the ground and refracted the sunshine in their prisms.
Warm-blooded life suffered for the most part silently, but the inanimate fabric of the farm complained with many a creak and crack and groan in the night watches, while Time's servant the frost gnawed busily at old timbers and thrust steel fingers into brick and mortar. Only the hut-circles, grey glimmering through the snow on Metherill, laughed at those cruel nights, as the Neolithic men who built them may have laughed at the desperate weather of their day; and the cross beside Blanchard's gate, though an infant in age beside them, being fashioned of like material, similarly endured. Of more lasting substance was this stone than an iron tongue stuck into it to latch the gate, for the metal fretted fast and shed rust in an orange streak upon the granite.
Where first this relic had risen, when yet its craftsman's work was perfect and before the centuries had diminished its just proportions, no living man might say. Martin Grimbal suspected that it had marked a meeting-place, indicated some Cistercian way, commemorated a notable deed, or served to direct the moorland pilgrim upon his road to that trinity of great monasteries which flourished aforetime at Plympton, at Tavistock, and at Buckland of the Monks; but between its first uprising and its last, a duration of many years doubtless extended.
The antiquary's purpose had been to rescue the relic, judge, by close study of the hidden part, to what date it might be assigned, then investigate the history of Newtake Farm, and endeavour to trace the cross if possible. After his second repulse, however, and following upon a conversation with Phoebe, whom he met at Chagford, Martin permitted the matter to remain in abeyance. Now he set about regaining Will's friendship'in a gradual and natural manner. That done, he trusted to disinter the coveted granite at some future date and set it up on sanctified ground in Chagford churchyard, if the true nature of the relic justified that course. For the present, however, he designed no step, for his purpose was to visit the Channel Islands early in the new year, that he might study their testimony to prehistoric times.
A winter, to cite whose parallel men looked back full twenty years, still held the land, though February had nearly run. Blanchard daily debated the utmost possibility of his resources with Phoebe, and fought the inclement weather for his early lambs. Such light as came into life at Newtake was furnished by little Will, who danced merrily through ice and snow, like a scarlet flower in his brilliant coat. The cold pleased him; he trod the slippery duck pond in triumph, his bread-and-milk never failed. To Phoebe her maternal right in the infant seemed recompense sufficient for all those tribulations existence just now brought with it; from which conviction resulted her steady courage and cheerfulness. Her husband's nebulous rationalism clouded Phoebe's religious views not at all. She daily prayed to Christ for her child's welfare, and went to church whenever she could, at the express command of her father. A flash of folly from Will had combined with hard weather to keep the miller from any visit to Newtake. Mr. Lyddon, on the beginning of the great frost, had sent two pairs of thick blankets from the Monks Barton stores to Phoebe, and Will, opening the parcel during his wife's absence, resented the gift exceedingly, and returned it by the bearer with a curt message of thanks and the information that he did not need them. Much hurt, the donor turned his face from Newtake for six weeks after this incident, and Phoebe, who knew nothing of the matter, marvelled at her father's lengthy and unusual silence.
As for Will, during these black days, the steadfast good temper of his wife almost irritated him; but he saw the prime source of her courage, and himself loved their small son dearly. Once a stray journal fell into his hands, and upon an article dealing with emigration he built secret castles in the air, and grew more happy for the space of a week. His mother ailed a little through the winter, and he often visited her. But in her presence he resolutely put off gloom, spoke with sanguine tongue of the prosperity he foresaw during the coming spring, and always foretold the frost must break within four-and-twenty-hours. Damaris Blanchard was therefore deceived in some measure, and when Will spent five shillings upon a photograph of his son, she felt that the Newtake prospects must at least be more favourable than she feared, and let the circumstance of the picture be generally known.
Not until the middle of March came a thaw, and then unchained waters and melted snows roared and tumbled from the hills through every coomb and valley. Each gorge, each declivity contributed an unwonted torrent; the quaking bogs shivered as though beneath them monsters turned in sleep or writhed in agony; the hoarse cry of Teign betokened new tribulations to the ears of those who understood; and over the Moor there rolled and crowded down a sodden mantle of mist, within whose chilly heart every elevation of note vanished for days together. Wrapped in impenetrable folds were the high lands, and the gigantic vapour stretched a million dripping tentacles over forests and wastes into the valleys beneath. Now it crept even to the heart of the woods; now it stealthily dislimned in lonely places; now it redoubled its density and dominated all things. The soil steamed and exuded vapour as a soaked sponge, and upon its surcharged surface splashes and streaks and sheets of water shone pallid and ash-coloured, like blind eyes, under the eternal mists and rains. These accumulations threw back the last glimmer of twilight and caught the first grey signal of approaching dawn; while the land, contrariwise, had welcomed night while yet wan sunsets struggled with the rain, and continued to cherish darkness long after morning was in the sky. Every rut and hollow, every scooped cup on the tors was brimming now; springs unnumbered and unknown had burst their secret places; the water floods tumbled and thundered until their rough laughter rang like a knell in the ears of the husbandmen; and beneath crocketed pinnacles of half a hundred church towers rose the mournful murmur of prayer for fair weather.
There came an afternoon in late March when Mr. Blee returned to Monks Barton from Chagford, stamped the mud off his boots and leggings, shook his brown umbrella, and entered the kitchen to find his master reading the Bible.
"'Tis all set down, Blee," exclaimed Mr. Lyddon with the triumphant voice of a discoverer. "These latter rains be displayed in the Book, according to my theory that everything 's theer!"
"Pity you didn't find 'em out afore they comed; then us might have bought the tarpaulins cheap in autumn, 'stead of payin' through the nose for 'em last month. Now 't is fancy figures for everything built to keep out rain. Rabbit that umberella! It's springed a leak, an' the water's got down my neck."
"Have some hot spirits, then, an' listen to this—all set out in Isaiah forty-one—eighteen: 'I will open rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land springs of water.' Theer! If that ban't a picter of the present plague o' rain, what should be?"
"So 't is; an' the fountains in the midst of the valleys be the awfullest part. Burnish it all! The high land had the worst of the winter, but we in the low coombs be gwaine to get the worst o' the spring—safe as water allus runs down-long."
"'T will find its awn level, which the prophet knawed."
"I wish he knawed how soon."
"'T is in the Word, I'll wager. I may come upon it yet."
"The airth be damn near drowned, an' the air's thick like a washin'-day everywheers, an' a terrible braave sight o' rain unshed in the elements yet."
"'T will pass, sure as Noah seed a rainbow."
"Ess, 't will pass; but Monks Barton's like to be washed to Fingle Bridge fust. Oceans o' work waitin', but what can us be at? Theer ban't a bit o' land you couldn't most swim across."
"Widespread trouble, sure 'nough—all awver the South Hams, high an' low."
"By the same token, I met Will Blanchard an hour agone. Gwaine in the dispensary, he was. The li'l bwoy's queer—no gert ill, but a bit of a tisseck on the lungs. He got playin' 'bout, busy as a rook, in the dirt, and catched cold."
Miller Lyddon was much concerned at this bad news.
"Oh, my gude God!" he exclaimed, "that's worse hearin' than all or any you could have fetched down. What do Doctor say?"
"Wasn't worth while to call un up, so Will thought. Ban't nothin' to kill a beetle, or I lay the mother of un would have Doctor mighty soon. Will reckoned to get un a dose of physic—an' a few sweeties. Nature's all for the young buds. He won't come to no hurt."
"Fust thing morning send a lad riding to Newtake," ordered Mr. Lyddon. "Theer's no sleep for me to-night, no, nor any more at all till I hear tell the dear tibby-lamb's well again. 'Pon my soul, I wonder that headstrong man doan't doctor the cheel hisself."
"Maybe he will. Ban't nothin 's beyond him."
"I'll go silly now. If awnly Mrs. Blanchard was up theer wi' Phoebe."
"Doan't you grizzle about it. The bwoy be gwaine to make auld bones yet—hard as a nut he be. Give un years an' he'll help carry you to the graave in the fulness of time, I promise 'e," said Billy, in his comforting way.
THE CROSS UPREARED
Mr. Blee had but reported Will correctly, and it was not until some hours later that the child at Newtake caused his parents any alarm. Then he awoke in evident suffering, and Will, at Phoebe's frantic entreaty, arose and was soon galloping down through the night for Doctor Parsons.
His thundering knock fell upon the physician's door, and a moment later a window above him was opened.
"Why can't you ring the bell instead of making that fiendish noise, and waking the whole house? Who is it?"
"Blanchard, from Newtake."
"'T is my bwoy. He've got something amiss with his breathing parts by the looks of it."
"Doan't delay. Gert fear comed to his mother under the darkness, 'cause he seemed nicely when he went to sleep, then woke up worse. So I felt us had better not wait till morning."
"I'll be with you in five minutes."
Soon the Doctor appeared down a lane from the rear of the house. He was leading his horse by the bridle.
"I'm better mounted than you," he said, "so I'll push forward. Every minute saved is gained."
Will thanked him, and Doctor Parsons disappeared. When the father reached home, it was to hear that his child was seriously ill, though nothing of a final nature could be done to combat the sickness until it assumed a more definite form.
"It's a grave case," said the physician, drearily in the dawn, as he pulled on his gloves and discussed the matter with Will before departing. "I'll be up again to-night. We mustn't overlook the proverbial vitality of the young, but if you are wise you will school your mind and your wife's to be resigned. You understand."
He stroked his peaked naval beard, shook his head, then mounted his horse and was gone.
From that day forward life stood still at Newtake, in so far as it is possible for life to do so, and a long-drawn weariness of many words dragged dully of a hundred pages would be necessary to reflect that tale of noctural terrors and daylight respites, of intermittent fears, of nerve-shattering suspense, and of the ebb and flow of hope through a fortnight of time. Overtaxed and overwrought, Phoebe ceased to be of much service in the sick-room after a week without sleep; Will did all that he could, which was little enough; but his mother took her place in the house unquestioned at this juncture, and ruled under Doctor Parsons. The struggle seemed to make her younger again, to rub off the slow-gathering rust of age and charm up all her stores of sense and energy.
So they battled for that young life. More than once a shriek from Phoebe would echo to the farm that little Will was gone; and yet he lived; many a time the child's father in his strength surveyed the perishing atom, and prayed to take the burden, all too heavy for a baby's shoulders. In one mood he supplicated, in another cursed Heaven for its cruelty.
There came a morning in early April when their physician, visiting Newtake before noon, broke it to husband and wife that the child could scarcely survive another day. He promised to return in the evening, and left them to their despair. Mrs. Blanchard, however, refused to credit this assurance, and cried to them to be hopeful still.
In the afternoon Mr. Blee rode up from Monks Barton. Daily a messenger visited Newtake for Mr. Lyddon's satisfaction, but it was not often that Billy came. Now he arrived, however, entered the kitchen, and set down a basket laden with good things. The apartment lacked its old polish and cleanliness. The whitewash was very dirty; the little eight-day clock on the mantelpiece had run down; the begonias in pots on the window-ledge were at death's door for water. Between two of them a lean cat stretched in the sun and licked its paws; beside the fire lay Ship with his nose on the ground; and Will sat close by, a fortnight's beard upon his chin. He looked listlessly up as Mr. Blee entered and nodded but did not speak.
"Well, what 's the best news? I've brought 'e fair-fashioned weather at any rate. The air 's so soft as milk, even up here, an' you can see the green things grawin' to make up for lost time. Sun was proper hot on my face as I travelled along. How be the poor little lad?"
"Alive, that's all. Doctor's thrawed un awver now."
"Never! Yet I've knawed even Parsons to make mistakes. I've brought 'e a braave bunch o' berries, got by the gracious gudeness of Miller from Newton Abbot; also a jelly; also a bottle o' brandy—the auld stuff from down cellar—I brushed the Dartmoor dew, as 't is called, off the bottle myself; also a fowl for the missis."
"No call to have come. 'T is all awver bar the end."
"Never say it while the child's livin'! They 'm magical li'l twoads for givin' a doctor the lie. You 'm wisht an' weary along o' night watchings."
"Us must faace it. Ban't no oncommon thing. Hope's dead in me these many days; an' dying now in Phoebe—dying cruel by inches. She caan't bring herself to say 'gude-by' to the li'l darling bwoy."
"What mother could? What do Mrs. Blanchard the elder say?"
"She plucks up 'bout it. She 'm awver hopeful."
"Doan't say so! A very wise woman her."
Phoebe entered at this moment, and Mr. Blee turned from where he was standing by his basket.
"I be cheerin' your gude man up," he said.
She sighed, and sat down wearily near Will.
"I've brought 'e a chick for your awn eatin' an'—"
Here a scuffle and snarling and spitting interrupted Billy. The hungry cat, finding a fowl almost under its nose, had leapt to the ground with it, and the dog observed the action. Might is right in hungry communities; Ship asserted himself, and almost before the visitor realised what had happened, poor Phoebe's chicken was gone.
"Out on the blamed thieves!" cried Billy, astounded at such manners. He was going to strike the dog, but Will stopped him.
"Let un bide," he said. "He didn't take it, an' since it weern't for Phoebe, better him had it than the cat. He works for his livin', she doan't."
"Such gwaines-on 'mongst dumb beasts o' the field I never seen!" protested Billy; "an' chickens worth what they be this spring!"
Presently conversation drifted into a channel that enabled the desperate, powerless man to use his brains and employ his muscles; while for the mother it furnished a fresh gleam of hope built upon faith. Billy it was who brought about this consummation. Led by Phoebe he ascended to the sick-room and bid Mrs. Blanchard "good-day." She sat with the insensible child on her lap by the fire, where a long-spouted kettle sent forth jets of steam.
"This here jelly what I've brought would put life in a corpse I do b'lieve; an' them butivul grapes, tu,—they'll cool his fever to rights, I should judge."
"He 'm past all that," said Phoebe.
"Never!" cried the other woman. "He'm a bit easier to my thinkin'."
"Let me take un then," said the mother. "You'm most blind for sleep."
"Not a bit of it. I'll have forty winks later, after Doctor's been again."
Will here entered, sat down by his mother, and stroked the child's little limp hand.
"He ban't fightin' so hard, by the looks of it," he said.
"No more he is. Come he sleep like this till dark, I lay he'll do braave."
Nobody spoke for some minutes, then Billy, having pondered the point in silence, suddenly relieved his mind and attacked Will, to the astonishment of all present.
"'Tis a black thought for you to knaw this trouble's of your awn wicked hatching, Farmer," he said abruptly; "though it ban't a very likely time to say so, perhaps. Yet theer's life still, so I speak."
Will glared speechless; but Billy knew himself too puny and too venerable to fear rough handling. He regarded the angry man before him without fear, and explained his allusion.
"You may glaze 'pon me, an' stick your savage eyes out your head; but that doan't alter truth. 'T 'as awnly a bit ago in the fall as I told un what would awvertake un," he continued, turning to the women. "He left the cross what Mr. Grimbal found upsy-down in the airth; he stood up afore the company an' damned the glory of all Christian men. Ess fay, he done that fearful thing, an' if 't weern't enough to turn the Lard's hand from un, what was? Snug an' vitty he weer afore that, so far as anybody knawed; an' since—why, troubles have tumbled 'pon each other's tails like apple-dranes out of a nest."
The face of Phoebe was lighted with some eagerness, some deep anxiety, and not a little passion as she listened to this harangue.
"You mean that gate-stone brought this upon us?" she asked.
"No, no, never," declared Damaris; "'t is contrary to all reason."
"'T is true, whether or no; an' any fule, let alone a man as knaws like I do, would tell 'e the same. 'T is common sense if you axes me. Your man was told 't was a blessed cross, an' he flouted the lot of us an' left it wheer 't was. 'T is a challenge, if you come to think of it, a scoffin' of the A'mighty to the very face of Un. I wouldn't stand it myself if I was Him."
"Will, do 'e hear Mr. Blee?" asked Phoebe.
"I hear un. 'T is tu late now, even if what he said was true, which it ban't."
"Never tu late to do a gude deed," declared Billy; "an' you'll have to come to it, or you'll get the skin cussed off your back afore you 'm done with. Gormed if ever I seed sich a man as you! Theer be some gude points about 'e, as everything must have from God A'mighty's workshop, down to poisonous varmints. But certain sure am I that you don't ought to think twice 'pon this job."
"Do 'e mean it might even make the differ'nee between life an' death to the bwoy?" asked Phoebe breathlessly.
"I do. Just all that."
"Will—for God's love, Will!"
"What do 'e say, mother?"
"It may be truth. Strange things fall out. Yet it never hurted my parents in the past."
"For why?" asked Billy. "'Cause they didn't knaw 't was theer, so allowance was made by the Watching Eye. Now 't is differ'nt, an' His rage be waxing."
"Your blessed God 's got no common sense, then—an' that's all I've got to say 'bout it. What would you have me do?"
Will put the question to Mr. Blee, but his wife it was who answered, being now worked up to a pitch of frenzy at the delay.
"Go! Dig—dig as you never digged afore! Dig the holy stone out the ground direckly minute! Now, now, Will, 'fore the life's out of his li'l flutterin' body. Lay bare the cross, an' drag un out for God in heaven to see! Doan't stand clackin' theer, when every moment's worth more'n gawld."
"So like's not He'll forgive 'e if 'e do," argued Mr. Blee. "Allowed the Lard o' Hosts graws a bit short in His temper now an' again, as with them gormed Israelites, an' sich like, an' small blame to Him; but He's all for mercy at heart, 'cordin' to the opinion of these times, so you'd best to dig."
"Why doan't he strike me down if I've angered Him—not this innocent cheel?"
"The sins of the fathers be visited—" began Mr. Blee glibly, when Mrs. Blanchard interrupted.
"Ban't the time to argue, Will. Do it, an' do it sharp, if't will add wan grain o' hope to the baaby's chance."
The younger woman's sufferings rose to a frantic half-hushed scream at the protracted delay.
"O Christ, why for do 'e hold back? Ban't anything worth tryin' for your awn son? I'd scratch the stone out wi' my raw, bleedin' finger-bones if I was a man. Do 'e want to send me mad? Do 'e want to make me hate the sight of 'e? Go—go for love of your mother, if not of me!"
"An' I'll help," said Billy, "an' that chap messin' about in the yard can lend a hand likewise. I be a cracked vessel myself for strength, an' past heavy work, but my best is yours to call 'pon in this pass."
Will turned and left the sick-room without more words, while Billy followed him.
The farmer fetched two picks and a shovel, called Ted Chown and a minute later had struck the first blow towards restoration of his granite cross. All laboured with their utmost power, and Will, who had flung off his coat and waistcoat, bared his arms, tightened his belt, and did the work of two men. The manual labour sweetened his mind a little, and scoured it of some bitterness. While Mr. Blee, with many a grunt and groan, removed the soil as the others broke it away, Blanchard, during these moments of enforced idleness, looked hungrily at the little window of the upper chamber where all his hopes and interests were centred. Then he swung his pick again.
Presently a ray of sunlight brightened Newtake, and contributed to soothe the toiling father. He read promise into it, and when three feet below the surface indications of cross-arms appeared upon the stone, Will felt still more heartened. Grimbal's prediction was now verified; and it remained only to prove Billy's prophecy also true. His tremendous physical exertions, the bright setting sunshine, and the discovery of the cross affected Will strangely. His mind swung round from frank irreligion, to a sort of superstitious credulity, awestricken yet joyful, that made him cling to the saving virtue of the stone. Because Martin had been right in his assertion concerning the gate-post, Blanchard felt a hazy conviction that Blee's estimate of the stone's virtue must also prove correct. He saw his wife at the window, and waved to her, and cried aloud that the cross was uncovered.
"A poor thing in holy relics, sure 'nough," said Billy, wiping his forehead.
"But a cross—a clear cross? Keep workin', Chown, will 'e? You still think 'twill serve, doan't 'e, Blee?"
"No room for doubt, though woful out o' repair," answered Billy, occupied with the ancient monument. "Just the stumps o' the arms left, but more'n enough to swear by."
All laboured on; then the stone suddenly subsided and fell in such a manner that with some sloping of one side of the excavated pit they were able to drag it out.
"Something's talking to me as us have done the wan thing needful," murmured Will, in a subdued voice, but with more light than the sunset on his face. "Something's hurting me bad that I said what I said in the chamber, an' thought what I thought. God's nigher than us might think, minding what small creatures we be. I hope He'll forgive them words."
"He's a peacock for eyes, as be well knawn," declared Mr. Blee. "An' He've got His various manners an' customs o' handlin' the human race. Some He softens wi' gude things an' gude fortune till they be bound to turn to Him for sheer shame; others He breaks 'pon the rocks of His wrath till they falls on their knees an' squeals for forgiveness. I've seed it both ways scores o' times; an' if your little lad 's spared to 'e, you'll be brought to the Lard by a easier way than you deserve, Blanchard."
"I knaw, I knaw, Mr. Blee. He 'm surely gwaine to let us keep li'l Willy, an' win us to heaven for all time."
The cross now lay at their feet, and Billy was about to return to the house and see how matters prospered, when Will bade him stay a little longer.
"Not yet," he said.
"What more's to do?"
"I feel a kind o' message like to set it plumb-true under the sky. Us caan't lift it, but if I pull a plank or two out o' the pig's house an' put a harrow chain round 'em, we could get the cross on an' let a horse pull un up theer to the hill, and set un up. Then us would have done all man can."
He pointed to the bosom of the adjacent hill, now glowing in great sunset light.
"Starve me! but you 'm wise. Us'll set the thing up under the A'mighty's eye. 'Twill serve—mark my words. 'Twill turn the purpose of the Lard o' Hosts, or I'm no prophet."
"'Tis in my head you 'm right. I be lifted up in a way I never was."
"The Lard 's found 'e by the looks of it," said Billy critically, "either that, or you 'm light-headed for want of sleep. But truly I think He've called 'e. Now 't is for you to answer."
They cleaned the cross with a bucket or two of water, then dragged it half-way up the hill, and, where a rabbit burrow lessened labour, raised their venerable monument under the afterglow.
"It do look as if it had been part o' the view for all time," declared Ted Chown, as the party retreated a few paces; and, indeed, the stone rose harmoniously upon its new site, and might have stood an immemorial feature of the scene.
Blanchard stayed not a moment when the work was done but strode to Newtake like a jubilant giant, while Mr. Blee and Chown, with the horse, tools, and rough sledge, followed more slowly.
The father proceeded homewards at tremendous speed; a glorious hope filled his heart, sharing the same with sorrow and repentance. He mumbled shamefaced prayers as he went, speaking half to himself, half to Heaven. He rambled on from a petition for forgiveness into a broken thanksgiving for the mercy he already regarded as granted. His labours, the glamour of the present achievement, and the previous long strain upon his mind and body, united to smother reason for one feverish hour. Will walked blindly forward, now with his eyes upon the window under Newtake's dark roof below him, now turning to catch sight of the grey cross uplifted on the hill above. A great sweeping sea of change was tumbling through his intellect, and old convictions with scraps of assured wisdom suffered shipwreck in it. His mind was exalted before the certainty of unutterable blessing; his soul clung to the splendid assurance of a Personal God who had wrought actively upon his behalf, and received his belated atonement.
Far behind, Mr. Blee was improving the occasion for benefit of young Ted Chown.
"See how he do stride the hill wi' his head held high, same as Moses when he went down-long from the Mount. Look at un an' do likewise, Teddy; for theer goes a man as have grasped God! 'Tis a gert, gay day in human life when it comes."
Will Blanchard hurried through the farm gate, where it swung idly with its sacred support gone forever; then he drew a great breath and glanced upwards before proceeding into the darkness of the unlighted house. As he did so wheels grated at the entrance, and he knew that Doctor Parsons must be just behind him. Above stairs the sick-room was still unlighted, the long-necked kettle still puffed steam, but the fire had shrunk, and Will's first word was a protest that it had been allowed to sink so low. Then he looked round, and the rainbow in his heart faded and died. Damaris sat like a stone woman by the window; Phoebe lay upon the bed and hugged a little body in a blanket. Her hair had fallen down; out of the great shadows he saw the white blur on her face, and heard her voice sound strange as she cried monotonously, in a tone from which the first passion had vanished through an hour of iteration.
"O God, give un back to me; O God, spare un; O kind God, give my li'l bwoy back."
In the soft earth they laid him, "the little child whose heart had fallen asleep," and from piling of a miniature mound, from a small brown tumulus, now quite hid under primroses, violets, and the white anemones of the woods, Will Blanchard and his mother slowly returned to Newtake. He wore his black coat; she was also dressed in black; the solitary mourning coach dragged slowly up the hill to the Moor, and elsewhere another like it conveyed Mr. Lyddon homeward.
Neither mother nor son had any heart to speak. The man's soul was up in arms; he had rebelled against his life, and since the death of his boy, while Phoebe remained inert in her desolation and languished under a mental and bodily paralysis wherein she had starved to death but for those about her, he, on the contrary, found muscle and mind clamouring for heroic movement. He was feverishly busy upon the farm, and ranged in thought with a savage activity among the great concerns of men. His ill-regulated mind, smarting under the blows of Chance, whirled from that past transient wave of superstitious emotion into an opposite extreme. Now he was ashamed of his weakness, and suffered convictions proper to the narrowness of an immature intellect to overwhelm him. He assured himself that his tribulations were not compatible with the existence of a Supreme Being. Like poor humanity the wide world over, his judgment became vitiated, his views distorted under the stroke of personal sorrow, and, beneath the pressure of that gigantic egotism which ever palsies the mind of man at sudden loss of what he holds dearest upon earth, poor Blanchard cried in his heart there was no God.
Here we are faced with a curious parallel, offered within the limits of this narrative. As the old labourer, Blee, had arrived at the same conclusion, then modified it and returned to a creed in the light of subsequent events, so now Will had found himself, on the evening of his child's funeral, with fresh interests aroused and recent convictions shaken. An incipient negation of Deity, built upon the trumpery basis of his personal misfortunes, was almost shattered within the week that saw its first existence. A mystery developed in his path, and startling incidents awoke a new train of credulity akin to that already manifested over the ancient cross. The man's uneven mind was tossed from one extreme of opinion to the other, and that element of superstition, from which no untutored intellect in the lap of Nature is free, now found fresh food and put forth a strong root within him.
Returning home, Will approached Phoebe with a purpose to detail the sad, short scene in Chagford churchyard, but his voice rendered her hysterical, so he left her with his mother, put on his working clothes, and wandered out into the farmyard. Presently he found himself idly regarding a new gate-post: that which Martin Grimbal formerly brought and left hard by the farm. Ted Chown had occupied himself in erecting it during the morning.
The spectacle reminded Will of another, and he lifted his eyes to the cross on the undulation spread before him. As he did so some object appeared to flutter out of sight not far above it, among the rocks and loose 'clatters' beneath the summit of the tor. This incident did not hold Will's mind, but, prompted to motion, restless, and in the power of dark thoughts, he wandered up the Moor, tramped through the heather, and unwittingly passed within a yard of the monument he had raised upon the hill. He stood a moment and looked at the cross, then cursed and spat upon it. The action spoke definitely of a mental chaos unexampled in one who, until that time, had never lacked abundant self-respect. His deed done, it struck Will Blanchard like a blow; he marvelled bitterly at himself, he knew such an act was pitiful, and remembered that the brain responsible for it was his own. Then he clenched his hands and turned away, and stood and stared out over the world.
A wild, south-west wind blew, and fitful rain-storms sped separately across the waste. Over the horizon clouds massed darkly, and the wildernesses spread beneath them were of an inflamed purple. The seat of the sun was heavily obscured at this moment, and the highest illumination cast from sky to earth broke from the north. The effect thus imparted to the scene, though in reality no more than usual, affected the mind as unnatural, and even sinister in its operation of unwonted chiaro-oscuro. Presently the sullen clearness of the distance was swept and softened by a storm. Another, falling some miles nearer, became superimposed upon it. Immediately the darkness of the horizon lifted and light generally increased, though every outline of the hills themselves vanished under falling rain. The turmoil of the clouds proceeded, and after another squall had passed there followed an aerial battle amid towers and pinnacles and tottering precipices of sheer gloom. The centre of illumination wheeled swiftly round to the sun as the storm travelled north, then a few huge silver spokes of wan sunshine turned irregularly upon the stone-strewn desert.
Will watched this elemental unrest, and it served to soothe that greater storm of sorrows and self-condemnation then raging within him. His nature found consolation here, the cool hand of the Mother touched his forehead as she passed in her robe of rain, and for the first time since childhood the man hid his face and wept.
Presently he moved forward again, walked to the valleys and wandered towards southern Teign, unconsciously calmed by his own random movements and the river's song. Anon, he entered the lands of Metherill, and soon afterwards, without deliberate intention, moved through that Damnonian village which lies there. A moment later and he stood in the hut-circle where he himself had been born. Its double stone courses spread around him, hiding the burrows of the rabbits; and sprung from between two granite blocks, brave in spring verdure, with the rain twinkling in little nests of flower buds as yet invisible, there rose a hawthorn. Within the stones a ewe stood and suckled its young, but there was no other sign of life. Then Blanchard, sitting here to rest and turning his eyes whither he had come, again noticed some sudden movement, but, looking intently at the spot, he saw nothing and returned to his own thoughts. Sitting motionless Will retraced the brief course of his career through long hours of thought; and though his spirit bubbled to white heat more than once during the survey, yet subdued currents of sense wound amid his later reflections. Crushed for a moment under the heavy load of life and its lessons, he presented a picture familiar enough, desirable enough, necessary enough to all humanity, yet pathetic as exemplified in the young and unintelligent and hopeful. It was the picture of the dawn of patience—a patience sprung from no religious inspiration, but representing Will's tacit acknowledgment of defeat in his earlier battles with the world. The emotion did not banish his present rebellion against Fate and evil fortune undeserved; but it caused him to look upon life from a man's standpoint rather than a child's, and did him a priceless service by shaking to their foundations his self-confidence and self-esteem. Selfish at least he was not from a masculine standard, and now his thoughts returned to Phoebe in her misery, and he rose and retraced his steps with a purpose to comfort her if he could.
The day began to draw in. Unshed rains massed on the high tors, but towards the west one great band of primrose sky rolled out above the vanished sun and lighted a million little amber lamps in the hanging crystals of the rain. They twinkled on thorns and briars, on the grass, the silver crosiers of uncurling ferns, and all the rusty-red young heather.
Then it was that rising from his meditations and turning homeward, the man distinctly heard himself called from some distance. A voice repeated his name twice—in clear tones that might have belonged to a boy or a woman.
Turning sharply upon a challenge thus ringing through absolute loneliness and silence, Blanchard endeavoured, without success, to ascertain from whence the summons came. He thought of his mother, then of his wife, yet neither was visible, and nobody appeared. Only the old time village spread about him with its hoary granite peering from under caps of heather and furze, ivy and upspringing thorn. And each stock and stone seemed listening with him for the repetition of a voice. The sheep had moved elsewhere, and he stood companionless in that theatre of vanished life. Trackways and circles wound grey around him, and the spring vegetation above which they rose all swam into one dim shade, yet moved with shadows under oncoming darkness. Attributing the voice to his own unsettled spirit, Blanchard proceeded upon his road to where the skeleton of a dead horse stared through the gloaming beside a quaking bog. Its bones were scattered by ravens, and Will used the bleached skull as a stepping stone. Presently he thought of the flame-tongues that here were wont to dance through warm summer nights. This memory recalled his own nickname in Chagford—"Jack-o'-Lantern"—and, for the first time in his life, he began to appreciate its significance. Then, being a hundred yards from his starting-place in the hut-circle, he heard the hidden voice again. Clear and low, it stole over the intervening wilderness, and between two utterances was an interval of some seconds.
For one instant the crepitation of fear passed over Blanchard's scalp and skin. He made an involuntary stride away from the voice; then he shook himself free of all alarm, and, not desirous to lose more self-respect that day, turned resolutely and shouted back,—
"I hear 'e. What's the business? I be comin' to 'e if you'll bide wheer you be."
That some eyes were watching him out of the gathering darkness he did not doubt, and soon pushing back, he stood once more in the ruined citadel of old stones, mounted one, steadied himself by a young ash that rose beside it, and raised his voice again,—
"Now, then! I be here. What's to do? Who's callin' me?"
An answer came, but of a sort widely different from what he expected. There arose, within twenty yards of him, a sound that might have been the cry of a child or the scream of a trapped animal. Assuming it to be the latter, Will again hesitated. Often enough he had laughed at the folk-tales of witch hares as among the most fantastic fables of the old; yet at this present moment mystic legends won point from the circumstances in which he found himself. He hurried forward to the edge of a circle from which the sound proceeded. Then, looking before him, he started violently, sank to his knees behind a rock, and so remained, glaring into the ring of stones.
* * * * *
In less than half an hour Blanchard, with his coat wrapped round some object that he carried, returned to Newtake and summoned assistance with a loud voice.
Presently his wife and mother entered the kitchen, whereupon Will discovered his burden and revealed a young child. Phoebe fainted dead away at sight of it, and while her husband looked to her Mrs. Blanchard tended the baby, which was hungry but by no means alarmed. As for Will, his altered voice and most unusual excitement of manner indicated something of the shock he had received. Having described the voice which called him, he proceeded after this fashion to detail what followed:
"I looked in the very hut-circle I was born, an' I shivered all over, for I thought 'twas the li'l ghost of our wee bwoy—by God, I did! It sat theer all alone, an' I stared an' froze while I stared. Then it hollered like a gude un, an' stretched out its arms, an' I seed 'twas livin' an' never thought how it comed theer. He 'in somethin' smaller than our purty darling, yet like him in a way, onless I'm forgetting."
"'Tis like," said Damaris, dandling the child and making it happy. "'Tis a li'l bwoy, two year old or more, I should guess. It keeps crying 'Mam, mam,' for its mother. God forgive the woman."
"A gypsy's baby, I reckon," said Phoebe languidly.
"I doan't think it," answered her husband; "I'm most feared to guess what 'tis. Wan thing's sure; I was called loud an' clear or I'd never have turned back; an' yet, second time I was called, my flesh crept."
"The little flannels an' frock be thick an' gude, but they doan't shaw nought."
"The thing's most as easy to think a miracle as not. He looked up in my eyes as I brought un away, an' after he'd got used to me he was quiet as a mouse an' snuggled to me."
"They'd have said 'twas a fairy changeling in my young days," mused Mrs. Blanchard, "but us knaws better now. 'Tis a li'l gypsy, I'll warn 'e, an' some wicked mother's dropped un under your nose to ease her conscience."
"What will you do? Take un to the poorhouse?" asked Phoebe.
"'Poorhouse'! Never! This be mine, tu. Mine! I was called to it, weern't I? By a human voice or another, God knaws. Theer's more to this than us can see."
His women regarded him with blank amazement, and he showed considerable impatience tinder their eyes. It was clear he desired that they should dwell on no purely materialistic or natural explanation of the incident.
"Baan't a gypsy baaby," he said; "'tis awnly the legs an' arms of un as be brown. His body's as white as curds, an' his hair's no darker than our awn Willy's was."
"If it ban't a gypsy's, whose be it?" said Phoebe, turning to the infant for the first time.
"Mine now," answered Will stoutly. "'Twas sent an' give into my awn hand by one what knawed who 'twas they called. My heart warmed to un as he lay in my arms, an' he'm mine hencefarrard."
"What do 'e say, Phoebe?" asked Mrs. Blanchard, somewhat apprehensively. She knew full well how any such project must have struck her if placed in the bereaved mother's position. Phoebe, however, made no immediate answer. Her sorrowful eyes were fixed on the child, now sitting happily on the elder woman's lap.
"A nice li'l thing, wi' a wunnerful curly head—eh, Phoebe? Seems more 'n chance to me, comin' as it have on this night-black day. An' like our li'l angel, tu, in a way?" asked Will.
"Like him—in a way, but more like you," she answered; "more like you than your awn was—terrible straange that—the living daps o' Will! Ban't it?"
Damaris regarded her son and then the child.
"He be like—very," she admitted. "I see him strong. An' to think he found the bwoy 'pon that identical spot wheer he fust drawed breath himself!"
"'Tis a thing of hidden meaning," declared Will. "An' he looked at me kindly fust he seed me; 'twas awnly hunger made un shout—not no fear o' me. My heart warmed to un as I told 'e. An' to come this day!"
Phoebe had taken the child, and was looking over its body in a half-dazed fashion for the baby marks she knew. Silently she completed the survey, but there was neither caress in her fingers nor softness in her eyes. Presently she put the child back on Mrs. Blanchard's lap and spoke, still regarding it with a sort of dull, almost vindictive astonishment.
"Terrible coorious! Ban't no child as ever I seed or heard tell of; an' nothin' of my dead lamb 'bout it, now I scans closer. But so like to Will! God! I can see un lookin' out o' its baaby eyes!"
A WANDERER RETURNS
Ripe hay swelled in many a silver-russet billow, all brightened by the warm red of sorrel under sunshine. When the wind blew, ripples raced over the bending grasses, and from their midst shone out mauve scabious and flashed occasional poppies. The hot July air trembled agleam with shining insects, and drowsily over the hayfield, punctuated by stridulation of innumerable grasshoppers, there throbbed one sustained murmur, like the remote and mellow music of wood and strings. A lark still sang, and the swallows, whose full-fledged young thrust open beaks from the nests under Newtake eaves, skimmed and twittered above the grass lands, or sometimes dipped a purple wing in the still water where the irises grew.
Blanchard and young Ted Chown had set about their annual labour of saving the hay, and now a rhythmic breathing of two scythes and merry clink of whetstones against steel sounded afar on the sleepy summer air. The familiar music came to Phoebe's ear where she sat at an open kitchen window of Newtake. Her custom was at times of hay harvest to assist in the drying of the grass, and few women handled a fork better; but there had recently reached the farm an infant girl, and the mother had plenty to do without seeking beyond her cradle.
Phoebe made no demur about receiving Will's little foundling of the hut-circle. His heart's desire was usually her amibition also, and though Timothy, as the child had been called, could boast no mother's love, yet Phoebe proved a kind nurse, and only abated her attention upon the arrival of her own daughter. Then, as time softened the little mound in Chagford churchyard with young green, so before another baby did the mother's bereavement soften, sink deeper into memory, revive at longer intervals to conjure tears. Her character, as has been indicated, admitted of no supreme sustained sorrow. Suffer she did, and fiery was her agony; but another child brought occupation and new love; while her husband, after the first sentimental outburst of affection over the infant he had found at Metherill, settled into an enduring regard for him, associated him, by some mental process impossible of explanation, with his own lost one, and took an interest, blended of many curious emotions, in the child.
Drying hay soon filled the air with a pleasant savour, and stretched out grey-green ribbons along the emerald of the shorn meadows. Chown snuffled and sweated and sneezed, for the pollen always gave him hay fever; his master daily worked like a giant from dawn till the owl-light, drank gallons of cider, and performed wonders with the scythe. A great hay crop gladdened the moormen, and Will, always intoxicated by a little fair fortune, talked much of his husbandry, already calculated the value of the aftermath, and reckoned what number of beasts he might feed next winter.
"'Most looks as if I'd got a special gift wi' hay," he said to his mother on one occasion. She had let her cottage to holiday folk, and was spending a month on the Moor.
Mrs. Blanchard surveyed the scene from under her sunbonnet and nodded.
"Spare no trouble, no trouble, an' have it stacked come Saturday. Theer'll be thunder an' gert rains after this heat. Be the rushes ready for thatchin' of it?"
"Not yet; but that's not to say I've forgot."
"I'll cut some for 'e myself come the cool of the evenin'. An' you can send Ted with the cart to gather 'em up."
"No, no, mother. I'll make time to-morrow."
"'Twill be gude to me, an' like auld days, when I was a li'l maid. You sharp the sickle an' fetch the skeiner out, tu, for I was a quick hand at bindin' ropes o' rushes, an' have made many a yard of 'em in my time."
Then she withdrew from the tremendous sunshine, and Will, now handling a rake, proceeded with his task.
Two days later a rick began to rise majestically at the corner of Blanchard's largest field, while round about it was gathered the human life of the farm. Phoebe, with her baby, sat on an old sheepskin rug in the shadow of the growing pile; little Tim rollicked unheeded with Ship in the sweet grass, and clamoured from time to time for milk from a glass bottle; Will stood up aloft and received the hay from Chown's fork, while Mrs. Blanchard, busy with the "skeiner" stuck into the side of the rick, wound stout ropes of rushes for the thatching.
Then it was that Will, glancing out upon the Moor, observed a string of gypsy folk making slow progress towards Chagford. Among the various Romany cavalcades which thus passed Newtake in summer time this appeared not the least strange. Two ordinary caravans headed the procession. A man conducted each, a naked-footed child or two trotted beside them, and an elder boy led along three goats. The travelling homes were encumbered with osier-and cane-work, and following them came a little broken-down, open vehicle. This was drawn by two donkeys, harnessed tandem-fashion, and the chariot had been painted bright blue. A woman drove the concern, and in it appeared a knife-grinding machine and a basket of cackling poultry, while some tent-poles stuck out behind. Will laughed at this spectacle, and called his wife's attention to it, whereon Phoebe and Damaris went as far as the gate of the hayfield to win a nearer view. The gypsies, however, had already passed, but Mrs. Blanchard found time to observe the sky-blue carriage and shake her head at it.
"What gwaines-on! Theer's no master minds 'mongst them people nowadays," she said. "Your faither wouldn't have let his folk make a show of themselves like that."
"They 'm mostly chicken stealers nowadays," declared Will; "an' so surly as dogs if you tell 'em to go 'bout theer business."
"Not to none o' your name—never," declared his mother. "No gypsy's gwaine to forget my husband in his son's time. Many gude qualities have they got, chiefly along o' living so much in the awpen air."
"An' gude appetites for the same cause! Go after Tim, wan of 'e. He've trotted down the road half a mile, an' be runnin' arter that blue concern as if't was a circus. Theer! Blamed if that damned gal in the thing ban't stoppin' to let un catch up! Now he'm feared, an' have turned tail an' be coming back. 'Tis all right; Ship be wi' un."
Presently the greater of Will's two ricks approached completion, and all the business of thatch and spar gads and rush ropes began. At his mother's desire he wasted no time, and toiled on, long after his party had returned to Newtake; but with the dusk he made an end for that day, stood up, rested his back, and scanned the darkening scene before descending.
At eveningtide there had spread over the jagged western outlines of the Moor an orange-tawny sunset, whereon the solid masses of the hills burnt into hazy gold, all fairy-bright, unreal, unsubstantial as a cloud-island above them, whose solitary and striated shore shone purple through molten fire.
Detail vanished from the Moor; dim and dimensionless it spread to the transparent splendour of the horizon, and its eternal attributes of great vastness, great loneliness, great silence reigned together unfretted by particulars. Gathering gloom diminished the wide glory of the sky, and slowly robbed the pageant of its colour. Then rose each hill and undulation in a different shade of night, and every altitude mingled into the outlines of its neighbour. Nocturnal mists, taking grey substance against the darkness of the lower lands, wound along the rivers, and defined the depths and ridges of the valleys. Moving waters, laden with a last waning gleam, glided from beneath these vapoury exhalations, and even trifling rivulets, now invisible save for chance splashes of light, lacked not mystery as they moved from darkness into darkness with a song. Stars twinkled above the dewy sleep of the earth, and there brooded over all things a prodigious peace, broken only by batrachian croakings from afar.
These phenomena Will Blanchard observed; then yellow candle fires twinkled from the dark mass of the farmhouse, and he descended in splendid weariness and strode to supper and to bed.
Yet not much sleep awaited the farmer, for soon after midnight a gentle patter of small stones at his window awakened him. Leaping from his bed and looking into the darkness he saw a vague figure that raised its hand and beckoned without words. Fear for the hay was Will's first emotion, but no indication of trouble appeared. Once he spoke, and as he did so the figure beckoned again, then approached the door. Blanchard went down to find a woman waiting for him, and her first whispered word made him start violently and drop the candle and matches that he carried. His ears were opened and he knew Chris without seeing her face.
"I be come back—back home-along, brother Will," she said, very quietly. "I looked for mother to home, but found she weern't theer. An' I be sorry to the heart for all the sorrow I've brought 'e both. But it had to be. Strange thoughts an' voices was in me when Clem went, an' I had to hide myself or drown myself—so I went."
"God's gudeness! Lucky I be made o' strong stuff, else I might have thought 'e a ghost an' no less. Come in out the night, an' I'll light a candle. But speak soft. Us must break this very gentle to mother."
"Say you'll forgive me, will 'e? Can 'e do it? If you knawed half you'd say 'yes.' I'm grawed a auld, cold-hearted woman, wi' a grey hair here an' theer a'ready."
"So've I got wan an' another, tu, along o' worse sorrow than yours. Leastways as bad as yourn. Forgive 'e? A thousand times, an' thank Heaven you'm livin'! Wheer ever have 'e bided? An' me an' Grimbal searched the South Hams, an' North, tu, inside out for 'e, an' he put notices in the papers—dozens of 'em."
"Along with the gypsy folk for more 'n three year now. 'Twas the movin' an' rovin', and the opening my eyes on new things that saved me from gwaine daft. Sometimes us coined through Chagford, an' then I'd shut my eyes tight an' lie in the van, so's not to see the things his eyes had seen—so's not to knaw when us passed the cottage he lived in. But now I've got to feel I could come back again."
"You might have writ to say how you was faring."
"I didn't dare. You'd bin sure to find me, an' I didn't want 'e to then. 'Tis awver an' done, an' 'twas for the best."
"You'm a woman, an' can say them silly words, an' think 'em true in your heart, I s'pose. 'For the best!' I caan't see much that happens for the best under my eyes. Will 'e have bite or sup?"
"No, nothin'. You get back to your bed. Us'll talk in the marnin'. I'll bide here. You an' Phoebe be well, an'—an' dear mother?"
"We'm well. You doan't ax me after the fust cheel Phoebe had."
"I knaw. I put some violets theer that very night. We were camped just above Chagford, not far from here."
"Theer's a li'l gal now, an' a bwoy as I'll tell'e about bimebye. A sheer miracle't was that falled out the identical day I buried my Willy. No natural fashion of words can explain it. But that'll keep. Now let me look at'e. Fuller in the body seemin'ly, an' gypsy-brown, by God! So brown as me, every bit. Well, well, I caan't say nothin'. I'm carried off my legs wi' wonder, an' joy, tu, for that matter. Next to Phoebe an' mother I allus loved 'e best. Gimme a kiss. What a woman, to be sure! Like a thief in the night you went; same way you've comed back. Why couldn't 'e wait till marnin'?"
"The childer—they grawed to love me that dear—also the men an' women. They've been gude to me beyond power o' words for faither's sake. They knawed I was gwaine, an' I left 'em asleep. 'T was how they found me when I runned away. I falled asleep from weariness on the Moor, an' they woke me, an' I thrawed in my lot with them from the day I left that pencil-written word for 'e on the window-ledge."
"Me bein' in the valley lookin' for your drowned body the while! Women 'mazes me more the wiser I graw. Come this way, to the linhay. There's a sweet bed o' dry fern in the loft, and you must keep out o' sight till mother's told cunning. I'll hit upon a way to break it to her so soon as she's rose. An' if I caan't, Phoebe will. Come along quiet. An' I be gwaine to lock 'e in, Chris, if't is all the same to you. For why? Because you might fancy the van folks was callin' to 'e, an' grow hungry for the rovin' life again."
She made no objection, and asked one more question as they went to the building.
"How be Mrs. Hicks, my Clem's mother?"
"Alive; that's all. A poor auld bed-lier now; just fading away quiet. But weak in the head as a baaby. Mother sees her now an' again. She never talks of nothin' but snuff. 'T is the awnly brightness in her life. She's forgot everythin' 'bout the past, an' if you went to see her, she'd hold out her hand an' say, 'Got a little bit o' snuff for a auld body, dearie? 'an' that's all."
They talked a little longer, while Will shook down a cool bed of dry fern—not ill-suited to the sultry night; then Chris kissed him again, and he locked her in and returned to Phoebe.
Though the wanderer presently slept peacefully enough, there was little more repose that night for her brother or his wife. Phoebe herself became much affected by the tremendous news. Then they talked into the early dawn before any promising mode of presenting Chris to her mother occurred to them. At breakfast Will followed a suggestion of Phoebe's, and sensibly lessened the shock of his announcement.
"A 'mazin' wonnerful dream I had last night," he began abruptly. "I thought I was roused long arter midnight by a gert knocking, an' I went down house an' found a woman at the door. 'Who be you?' I sez. 'Why, I be Chris, brother Will,' she speaks back, 'Chris, come home-along to mother an' you.' Then I seed it was her sure enough, an' she telled me all about herself, an' how she'd dwelt wi' gypsy people. Natural as life it weer, I assure 'e."
This parable moved Mrs. Blanchard more strongly than Will expected. She dropped her piece of bread and dripping, grew pale, and regarded her son with frightened eyes. Then she spoke.
"Tell me true, Will; don't 'e play with a mother 'bout a life-an'-death thing like her cheel. I heard voices in the night, an' thought 't was a dream—but—oh, bwoy, not Chris, not our awn Chris!—'t would 'most kill me for pure joy, I reckon."
"Listen to me, mother, an' eat your food. Us won't have no waste here, as you knaw very well. I haven't tawld 'e the end of the story. Chris, 'pearin' to be back again, I thinks, 'this will give mother palpitations, though 't is quite a usual thing for a darter to come back to her mother,' so I takes her away to the linhay for the night an' locks her in; an' if 't was true, she might be theer now, an' if it weer n't—"
Damaris rose, and held the table as she did so, for her knees were weak under her.
"I be strong—strong to meet my awn darter. Gimme the key, quick—the key, Will—do 'e hear me, child?"
"I'll come along with 'e."
"No, I say. What! Ban't I a young woman still? 'T was awnly essterday Chris corned in the world. You just bide with Phoebe, an' do what I tell 'e."
Will handed over the key at this order, and Mrs. Blanchard, grasping it without a word, passed unsteadily across the farmyard. She fumbled at the lock, and dropped the key once, but picked it up quickly before Will could reach her, then she unfastened the door and entered.
Jon Grimbal's desires toward Blanchard lay dormant, and the usual interests of life filled his mind. The attitude he now assumed was one of sustained patience and observation; and it may best be described in words of his own employment.
Visiting Drewsteignton, about a month after the return of Chris Blanchard to her own, the man determined to extend his ride and return by devious ways. He passed, therefore, where the unique Devonian cromlech stands hard by Bradmere pool. A lane separates this granite antiquity from the lake below, and as John Grimbal rode between them, his head high enough to look over the hedge, he observed a ladder raised against the Spinsters' Rock, as the cromlech is called, and a man with a tape-measure sitting on the cover stone.
It was the industrious Martin, home once again. After his difference with Blanchard, the antiquary left Devon for another tour in connection with his work, and had devoted the past six months to study of prehistoric remains in Guernsey, Herm, and other of the Channel Islands.
Before departing, he had finally regained his brother's friendship, though the close fraternal amity of the past appeared unlikely to return between them. Now John recognised Martin, and his first impulse produced pleasure, while his second was one of irritation. He felt glad to see his brother; he experienced annoyance that Martin should thus return to Chagford and not call immediately at the Red House.
"Hullo! Home again! I suppose you forgot you had a brother?"
"John, by all that's surprising! Forget? Was it probable? Have I so many flesh-and-blood friends to remember? I arrived yesterday and called on you this morning, only to find you were at Drewsteignton; so I came to verify some figures at the cromlech, hoping we might meet the sooner."
He was beside his brother by this time, and they shook hands over the hedge.
"I'll leave the ladder and walk by you and have a chat."
"It's too hot to ride at a walk. Come you here to Bradmere Pool. We can lie down in the shade by the water, and I'll tether my horse for half an hour."
Five minutes later the brothers sat under the shadow of oaks and beeches at the edge of a little tarn set in fine foliage.
"Pleasant to see you," said Martin. "And looking younger I do think. It's the open air. I'll wager you don't get slimmer in the waist-belt though."
"Yes, I'm all right."
"What's the main interest of life for you now?"
John reflected before answering.
"Not quite sure. Depends on my mood. Just been buying a greyhound bitch at Drewsteignton. I'm going coursing presently. A kennel will amuse me. I spend most of my time with dogs. They never change. I turn to them naturally. But they overrate humanity."
"Our interests are so different. Yet both belong to the fresh air and the wild places remote from towns. My book is nearly finished. I shall publish it in a year's time, or even less."
"Have you come back to stop?"
"Yes, for good and all now."
"You have found no wife in your wanderings?"
"No, John. I shall never marry. That was a dark spot in my life, as it was in yours. We both broke our shins over that."
"I broke nothing—but another man's bones."
He was silent for a moment, then proceeded abruptly on this theme.
"The old feeling is pretty well dead though. I look on and watch the man ruining himself; I see his wife getting hard-faced and thin, and I wonder what magic was in her, and am quite content. I wouldn't kick him a yard quicker to the devil if I could. I watch him drift there."
"Don't talk like that, dear old chap. You're not the man you pretend to be, and pretend to think yourself. Don't sour your nature so. Let the past lie and go into the world and end this lonely existence."
"Why don't you?"
"The circumstances are different. I am not a man for a wife. You are, if ever there was one."
"I had him within a hair's-breadth once," resumed the other inconsequently. "Blanchard, I mean. There 's a secret against him. You didn't know that, but there is. Some black devilry for all I can tell. But I missed it. Perhaps if I knew it would quicken up my spirit and remind me of all the brute made me endure."
"Yet you say the old feeling is dead!"
"So it is—starved. Hicks knew. He broke his neck an hour too soon. It was like a dream of a magnificent banquet I had some time ago. I woke with my mouth watering, just as the food was uncovered, and I felt so damned savage at being done out of the grub that I got up and went down-stairs and had half a pint of champagne and half a cold roast partridge! I watch Blanchard go down the hill—that's all. If this knowledge had come to me when I was boiling, I should have used it to his utmost harm, of course. Now I sometimes doubt, even if I could hang the man, whether I should take the trouble to do it."
"Get away from him and all thought of him."
"I do. He never crosses my mind unless he crosses my eyes. I ride past Newtake occasionally, and see him sweating and slaving and fighting the Moor. Then I laugh, as you laugh at a child building sand castles against an oncoming tide. Poor fool!"
"If you pity, you might find it in your heart to forgive."
"My attitude is assured. We will call it one of mere indifference. You made up that row over the gate-post when his first child died, didn't you?"
"Yes, yes. We shall be friendly—we must be, if only for the sake of the memory of Chris. You and I are frank to-day. But you saw long ago what I tried to hide, so it is no news to you. You will understand. When Hicks died I thought perhaps after years—but that's over now. She 's gone."
"Didn't you know? She 's back again."
"Back! Good God!"
John laughed at his brother's profound agitation.
"Like as not you'd see her if you went over Rushford Bridge. She 's back with her mother. Queer devils, all of them; but I suppose you can have her for the asking now if you couldn't before. Damnably like her brother she is. She passed me two days ago, and looked at me as if I was transparent, or a mere shadow hiding something else."
A rush of feeling overwhelmed Martin before this tremendous news. He could not trust himself to speak. Then a great hope wrestled with him and conquered. In his own exaltation he desired to see all whom he loved equally lifted up towards happiness.
"I wish to Heaven you would open your eyes and raise them from your dogs and find a wife, John."
"Ah! We all want the world to be a pretty fairy tale for our friends. You scent your own luck ahead, and wish me to be lucky too. I ought to thank you for that; but, instead, I'll give you some advice. Don't bother yourself with the welfare of others; to do that is to ruin your own peace of mind and court more trouble than your share. Every big-hearted man is infernally miserable—he can't help it. The only philosopher's stone is a stone heart; that is what the world 's taught me."
"Never! You're echoing somebody else, not yourself, I'll swear. I know you better. We must see much of each other in the future. I shall buy a little trap that I may drive often to the Red House. And I should like to dedicate my book to you, if you would take it as a compliment."
"No, no; give it to somebody who may be able to serve you. I'm a fool in such things and know no more about the old stones than the foxes and rabbits that burrow among them. Come, I must get home. I'm glad you have returned, though I hated you when you supported them against me; but then love of family 's a mere ghost against love of women. Besides, how seldom it is that a man's best friend is one of his own blood."
They rose and departed. John trotted away through Sandypark, having first made Martin promise to sup with him that night, and the pedestrian proceeded by the nearest road to Rushford Bridge.
Chris he did not see, but it happened that Mr. Lyddon met him just outside Monks Barton, and though Martin desired no such thing at the time, nothing would please the miller but that his friend should return to the farm for some conversation.
"Home again, an' come to glasses, tu! Well, they clear the sight, an' we must all wear 'em sooner or late. 'T is a longful time since I seed 'e, to be sure."
"All well, I hope?"
"Nothing to grumble at. Billy an' me go down the hill as gradual an' easy as any man 's a right to expect. But he's gettin' so bald as a coot; an' now the shape of his head comes to be knawed, theer 's wonnerful bumps 'pon it. Then your brother's all for sport an' war. A Justice of the Peace they've made un, tu. He's got his volunteer chaps to a smart pitch, theer's no gainsaying. A gert man for wild diversions he is. Gwaine coursin' wi' long-dogs come winter, they tell me."
"And how are Phoebe and her husband?"
"A little under the weather just now; but I'm watchin' 'em unbeknawnst. Theer's a glimmer of hope in the dark if you'll believe it, for Will ackshally comed to me esster-night to ax my advice—my advice—on a matter of stock! What do 'e think of that?"
"He was fighting a losing battle in a manly sort of way it seemed to me when last I saw him."
"So he was, and is. I give him eighteen month or thereabout—then'll come the end of it."
"The 'end'! What end? You won't let them starve? Your daughter and the little children?"
"You mind your awn business, Martin," said Mr. Lyddon, with nods and winks. "No, they ban't gwaine to starve, but my readin' of Will's carater has got to be worked out. Tribulation's what he needs to sweeten him, same as winter sweetens sloes; an' 't is tribulation I mean him to have. If Phoebe's self caan't change me or hurry me 't is odds you won't. Theer's a darter for 'e! My Phoebe. She'll often put in a whole week along o' me still. You mind this: if it's grawn true an' thrawn true from the plantin', a darter's love for a faither lasts longer 'n any mortal love at all as I can hear tell of. It don't wear out wi' marriage, neither, as I've found, thank God. Phoebe rises above auld age and the ugliness an' weakness an' bad temper of auld age. Even a poor, doddering ancient such as I shall be in a few years won't weary her; she'll look back'ards with butivul clear eyes, an' won't forget. She'll see—not awnly a cracked, shrivelled auld man grizzling an' grumbling in the chimbley corner, but what the man was wance—a faither, strong an' lusty, as dandled her, an' worked for, an' loved her with all his heart in the days of his bygone manhood. Ess, my Phoebe's all that; an' she comes here wi' the child; an' it pleases me, for rightly onderstood, childern be a gert keeper-off of age."
"I'm sure she's a good daughter to you, Miller. And Will?"
"Doan't you fret. We've worked it out in our minds—me an' Billy; an' if two auld blids like us can't hatch a bit o' wisdom, what brains is worth anything? We'm gwaine to purify the awdacious young chap 'so as by fire,' in holy phrase."
"You're dealing with a curious temperament."
"I'm dealing with a damned fule," said Mr. Lyddon frankly; "but theer's fules an' fules, an' this partickler wan's grawed dear to me in some ways despite myself. 'T is Phoebe's done it at bottom I s'pose. The man's so full o' life an' hope. Enough energy in un for ten men; an' enough folly for twenty. Yet he've a gude heart an' never lied in's life to my knawledge."
"That's to give him praise, and high praise. How's his sister? I hear she's returned after all."
"Ess—naughty twoad of a gal—runned arter the gypsies! But she'm sobered now. Funny to think her mother, as seemed like a woman robbed of her right hand when Chris went, an' beginned to graw into the sere onusual quick for a widow, took new life as soon as her gal comed back. Just shaws what strength lies in a darter, as I tell 'e."
The old man's garrulity gained upon him, and though Martin much desired to be gone, he had not the heart to hasten.
"A darter's the thing an'—but't is a secret yet—awnly you'll see what you'll see. Coourse Billy's very well for gathered wisdom and high conversation 'bout the world to come; but he ban't like a woman round the house, an' for all his ripe larnin' he'll strike fire sometimes—mostly when I gives him a bad beating at 'Oaks' of a evenin'. Then he'm so acid as auld rhubarb, an' dots off to his bed wi'out a 'gude-night.'"
For another ten minutes Mr. Lyddon chattered, but at the end of that time Martin escaped and proceeded homewards. His head throbbed and his mind was much excited by the intelligence of the day. The yellow stubbles, the green meadows, the ploughed lands similarly spun before him and whirled up to meet the sky. As he re-entered the village a butcher's cart nearly knocked him down. Hope rose in a glorious new sunrise—the hope that he had believed was set for ever. Then, passing that former home of Clement Hicks and his mother, did Grimbal feel great fear and misgiving. The recollection of Chris and her love for the dead man chilled him. He remembered his own love for Chris when he thought she must be dead. He told himself that he must hope nothing; he repeated to himself how fulfilment of his desire, now revived after long sleep, might still be as remote as when Chris Blanchard said him nay in the spring wastes under Newtake five years and more ago. His head dinned this upon his heart; but his heart would not believe and responded with a sanguine song of great promise.
At a spot in the woods some distance below Newtake, Martin Grimbal sat and waited, knowing she whom he sought must pass that way. He had called at the farm and been welcomed by Phoebe. Will was on the peat beds, and, asking after Chris, he learnt that she had gone into the valley to pick blackberries and dewberries, where they already began to ripen in the coombs.
Under aisles of woodland shadows he sat, where the river murmured down mossy stairs of granite in a deep dingle. Above him, the varying foliage of oak and ash and silver birch was already touched with autumn, and trembled into golden points where bosses of pristine granite, crowned with the rowan's scarlet harvest, arose above their luxuriance. The mellow splendour of these forests extended to the river's brink, along which towered noble masses of giant osmunda, capped by seed spears of tawny red. Here and there gilded lances splashed into the stream or dotted its still pools with scattered sequins of sunshine, where light winnowed through the dome of the leaves; and at one spot, on a wrinkled root that wound crookedly from the alder into the river, there glimmered a halcyon, like an opal on a miser's bony finger. From above the tree-tops there sounded cynic bird-laughter, and gazing upwards Martin saw a magpie flaunt his black and white plumage across the valley; while at hand the more musical merriment of a woodpecker answered him.
Then a little child's laugh came to his ear, rippling along with the note of the babbling water, and one moment later a small, sturdy boy appeared. A woman accompanied him. She had slipped a foot into the river, and thus awakened the amusement of her companion.
Chris steadied herself after the mishap, balanced her basket more carefully, then stooped down to pick some of the berries that had scattered from it on the bank. When she rose a man with a brown face and soft grey eyes gleaming through gold-rimmed spectacles appeared immediately before.
"Thank God I see you alive again. Thank God!" he said with intense feeling, as he took her hand and shook it warmly. "The best news that ever made my heart glad, Chris."
She welcomed him, and he, looking into her eyes, saw new knowledge there, a shadow of sobriety, less of the old dance and sparkle. But he remembered the little tremulous updrawing of her lip when a smile was born, and her voice rang fuller and sweeter than any music he had ever heard since last she spoke to him. A smile of welcome she gave him, indeed, and a pressure of his hand that sent magic messages with it to the very core of him. He felt his blood leap and over his glasses came a dimness.
"I was gwaine to write first moment I heard 'e was home. An' I wish I had, for I caan't tell 'e what I feel. To think of 'e searchin' the wide world for such a good-for-nought! I thank you for your generous gudeness, Martin. I'll never forget it—never. But I wasn't worth no such care."
"Not worth it! It proved the greatest, bitterest grief of all my life—but one—that I couldn't find you. We grew by cruel stages to think—to think you were dead. The agony of that for us! But, thank God, it was not so. All at least is well with you now?"
"All ban't never well with men an' women. But I'm more fortunate than I deserve to be, and can make myself of use. I've lived a score of years since we met. An I've comed back to find't is a difficult world for those I love best, unfortunately."
Thus, in somewhat disjointed fashion, Chris made answer.
"Sit a while and speak to me," replied Martin. "The laddie can play about. Look at him marching along with that great branch of king fern over his shoulder!"
"'T is an elfin cheel some ways. Wonnerful eyes he've got. They burn me if I look at'em close," said Chris. She regarded Timothy without sentiment and her eyes were bright and hard.
"I hope he will turn out well. Will spoke of him the other day. He is very fond of the child. It is singularly like him, too—a sort of little pocket edition of him."
"So I've heard others say. Caan't see it at all myself. Look at the eyes of un."
"Will believes the boy has got very unusual intelligence and may go far."
"May go so far as the workhouse," she answered, with a laugh. Then, observing that her reply pained Martin, Chris snatched up small Tim as he passed by and pressed him to her breast and kissed him.
"You like him better than you think, Chris—poor little motherless thing."
"Perhaps I do. I wonder if his mother ever looks hungry towards Newtake when she passes by?"
"Perhaps others took him and told the mother that he was dead."
"She's dead herself more like. Else the thing wouldn't have falled out."
There was a pause, then Martin talked of various matters. But he could not fight for long against the desire of his heart and presently plunged, as he had done five years before, into a proposal.
"He being gone—poor Clem—do you think—? Have you thought, I mean? Has it made a difference, Chris? 'T is so hard to put it into words without sounding brutal and callous. Only men are selfish when they love."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
A sudden inspiration prompted his reply. He said nothing for a moment, but with a hand that shook somewhat, drew forth his pocketbook, opened it, fumbled within, and then handed over to Chris the brown ruins of flowers long dead.
"You picked them," he said slowly; "you picked them long ago and flung them away from you when you said 'No' to me—said it so kindly in the past. Take them in your hand again."
"Dead bluebells," she answered. "Ess, I can call home the time. To think you gathered them up!" She looked at him with something not unlike love in her eyes and fingered the flowers gently. "You'm a gude man, Martin —the husband for a gude lass. Best to find one if you can. Wish I could help'e."
"Oh, Chris, there's only one woman in the world for me. Could you—even now? Could you let me stand between you and the world? Could you, Chris? If you only knew what I cannot put into words. I'd try so hard to make you happy."
"I knaw, I knaw. But theer's no human life so long as the road to happiness, Martin. And yet—"
He took her hand and for a moment she did not resist him. Then little Tim's voice chimed out merrily at the stream margin, and the music had instant effect upon Chris Blanchard.
She drew her hand from Martin and the next moment he saw his dead bluebells hurrying away and parting company for ever on the dancing water. Chris watched them until they vanished; then she turned and looked at him, to find that he grew very pale and agitated. Even his humility had hardly foreseen this decisive answer after the yielding attitude Chris first assumed when she suffered him to hold her hand. He looked into her face inquiring and frightened. The silence that followed was broken by continued laughter and shouting from Timothy. Then Martin tried to connect the child's first merriment with the simultaneous change in the mood of the woman he worshipped, but failed to do so.
At that moment Chris spoke. She made utterance under the weight of great emotion and with evident desire to escape the necessity of a direct negative, while yet leaving her refusal of Martin's offer implicit and distinct.
"I mind when a scatter of paper twinkled down this river just like them dead blossoms. Clem thrawed them, an' they floated away to the sea, past daffadowndillies an' budding lady-ferns an' such-like. 'T was a li'l bit of poetry he'd made up to please me—and I, fule as I was, didn't say the right thing when he axed me what I thought; so Clem tore the rhymes in pieces an' sent them away. He said the river would onderstand. An' the river onderstands why I dropped them dead blossoms in, tu. A wise, ancient stream, I doubt. An' you 'm wise, tu; an' can take my answer wi'out any more words, as will awnly make both our hearts ache."
"Not even if I wait patiently? You couldn't marry me, dear Chris? You couldn't get to love me?"
"I couldn't marry you. I'm a widow in heart for all time. But I thank God for the gude-will of such a man as you. I cherish it and 't will be dear to me all my life. But I caan't come to 'e, so doan't ax it."
"Yet you're young to live for a memory, Chris."
"Better 'n nothing. And listen; I'll tell you this, if 't will make my 'No' sound less hard to your ear. I loves you—I loves you better 'n any living man 'cept Will, an' not less than I love even him. I wish I could bring 'e a spark of joy by marryin' you, for you was allus very gude, an' thought kindly of Clem when but few did. I'd marry you if 't was awnly for that; yet it caan't never be, along o' many reasons. You must take that cold comfort, Martin."
He sighed, then spoke.
"So be it, dear one. I shall never ask again. God knows what holds you back if you can even love me a little."
"Ess, God knaws—everything."
"I must not cry out against that. Yet it makes it all the harder. To think that you will dedicate all your beautiful life to a memory! it only makes my loss the greater, and shows the depths of you to me."
She uttered a little scream and her cheek paled, and she put up her hands with the palms outward as though warding away his words.
"Doan't 'e say things like that or give me any praise, for God's sake. I caan't bear it. I be weak, weak flesh an' blood, weaker 'n water. If you could only see down in my heart, you'd be cured of your silly love for all time."
He did not answer, but picked up her basket and proceeded with her out of the valley. Chris gave a hand to the child, and save for Tim's prattle there was no speaking.
At length they reached Newtake, when Martin yielded up the basket and bade Chris "good-night." He had already turned, when she called him back in a strange voice.
"Kiss the li'l bwoy, will 'e? I want 'e to. I'm that fond of un. An' he 'peared to take to 'e; an' he said 'By-by' twice to 'e, but you didn't hear un."
Then the man kissed Tim on a small, purple-stained mouth, and saw his eyes very lustrous with sleep, for the day was done.
Woman and child disappeared; the sacking nailed along the bottom of Newtake Gate to keep the young chicks in the farmyard rustled over the ground, and Martin, turning his face away, moved homewards.
But the veil was not lifted for him; he did not understand. A secret, transparent enough to any who regarded Chris Blanchard and her circumstances from a point without the theatre of action, still remained concealed from all who loved her.
THE END OF THE FIGHT
Will Blanchard was of the sort who fight a losing battle,
"Still puffing in the dark at one poor coal, Held on by hope till the last spark is out."
But the extinction of his ambitions, the final failure of his enterprise happened somewhat sooner than Miller Lyddon had predicted. There dawned a year when, just as the worst of the winter was past and hope began to revive for another season, a crushing catastrophe terminated the struggle.
Mr. Blee it was who brought the ill news to Monks Barton, having first dropped it at Mrs. Blanchard's cottage and announced it promiscuously about the village. Like a dog with a bone he licked the intelligence over and, by his delay in imparting the same, reduced his master to a very fever of irritation.
"Such a gashly thing! Of all fules! The last straw I do think. He's got something to grumble at now, poor twoad. Your son-in-law; but now—theer—gormed if I knaw how to tell 'e!"
Alarmed at this prelude, with its dark hints of unutterable woe, Mr. Lyddon took off his spectacles in some agitation, and prayed to know the worst without any long-drawn introduction.
"I'll come to it fast enough, I warn 'e. To think after years an' years he didn't knaw the duffer'nce 'twixt a bullock an' a sheep! Well—well! Of coourse us knawed times was tight, but Jack-o'-Lantern be to the end of his dance now. 'T is all awver."
"What's the matter? Come to it, caan't 'e?"
"No ill of the body—not to him or the fam'ly. An' you must let me tell it out my awn way. Well, things bein' same as they are, the bwoy caan't hide it. Dammy! Theer's patches in the coat of un now—neat sewed, I'll grant 'e, but a patch is a patch; an' when half a horse's harness is odds an' ends o' rope, then you knaw wi'out tellin' wheer a man be driving to. 'T is 'cordin' to the poetry!—
"'Out to elbows, Out to toes, Out o' money, Out o' clothes.'
"Caan't 'e say what's happened, you chitterin' auld magpie? I'll go up village for the news in a minute. I lay 'tis knawn theer."
"Ban't I tellin' of 'e? 'Tis like this. Will Blanchard's been mixin' a bit of chopped fuzz with the sheep's meal these hard times, like his betters. But now I've seed hisself today, lookin' so auld as Cosdon 'bout it. He was gwaine to the horse doctor to Moreton. An' he tawld me to keep my mouth shut, which I've done for the most paart."
"A little fuzz chopped fine doan't hurt sheep."
"Just so. 'Cause why? They aint got no 'bibles' in their innards; but he've gone an' given it same way to the bullocks."
"'Tis death to beasts wi' 'bibles.' An' death it is. The things caan't eat such stuff' cause it sticketh an' brings inflammation. I seed same fule's trick done wance thirty year ago; an' when the animals weer cut awpen, theer 'bibles' was hell-hot wi' the awfulest inflammation ever you heard tell of."
"How many's down? 'Twas all he had to count upon."
"Awnly eight standin' when he left. I could have cried 'bout it when he tawld me. He 'm clay in the Potter's hand for sartain. Theer's nought squenches a chap like havin' the bailiffs in."
"Cruel luck! I'd meant to let him be sold out for his gude—but now."
"Do what you meant to. Doan't go back on it. 'Tis for his gude. 'Twas his awn mistake. He tawld me the blame was his. Let un get on the bed rock. Then he'll be meek as a worm."
"I doubt it. A sale of his goods will break his heart."
"Not it! He haven't got much as'll be hard to paart from. Stern measures—stern measures for his everlastin' welfare. Think of the wild-fire sawl of un! Never yet did a sawl want steadin' worse'n his. Keep you to the fust plan, and he'll thank'e yet."
Elsewhere two women—his wife and sister—failed utterly in well-meaning efforts to comfort the stricken farmer. Presently, before nightfall, Mrs. Blanchard also arrived at Newtake, and Will listened dully with smouldering eyes as his mother talked. The veterinary surgeon from Moreton had come, but his efforts were vain. Only two beasts out of five-and-twenty still lived.
"Send for butcher," he said. "He'll be more use than I can be. The thing is done and can't be undone."