Chris entered most closely into her brother's feelings and spared him the expressions of sorrow and sympathy which stung him, even from his mother's lips, uttered at this crisis. She set about preparing supper, which weeping Phoebe had forgotten.
"You'll weather it yet, bwoy," Mrs. Blanchard said.
"Theer's a little bit as I've got stowed away for'e; an' come the hay—"
"Doan't talk that way. 'Tis done with now. I'm quite cool'pon it. We must go as we'm driven. No more gropin' an' fightin' on this blasted wilderness for me, that's all. I be gwaine to turn my back 'pon it—fog an' filthy weather an' ice an' snow. You wants angels from heaven to help 'e, if you're to do any gude here; an' heaven's long tired o' me an' mine. So I'll make shift to do wi'out. An' never tell me no more lies 'bout God helpin' them as helps themselves, 'cause I've proved it ban't so. I be gwaine to furrin' lands to dig for gawld or di'monds. The right build o' man for gawld-seekin', me; 'cause I've larned patience an' caan't be choked off a job tu easy."
"Think twice. Bad luck doan't dog a man for ever. An' Phoebe an' the childer."
"My mind's made up. I figured it out comin' home from Moreton. I'm away in six weeks or less. A chap what's got to dig for a livin' may just as well handle his tools where theer's summat worth findin' hid in the land, as here, on this black, damned airth, wheer your pick strikes fire out o' stone twenty times a day. The Moor's the Moor. Everybody knaws the way of it. Scratch its faace an' it picks your pocket an' breaks your heart—not as I've got a heart can be broken."
"If 'e could awnly put more trust in the God of your faithers, my son. He done for them, why shouldn't He do for you?"
"Better ax Him. Tired of the fam'ly, I reckon."
"You hurt your mother, Will, tellin' so wicked as that."
"An' faither so cruel," sobbed Phoebe. "I doan't knaw what ever us have done to set him an' God against us so. I've tried that hard; an' you've toiled till the muscles shawed through your skin; an' the li'l bwoy took just as he beginned to string words that butivul; an' no sign of another though't is my endless prayer."
"The ways of Providence—" began Mrs. Blanchard drearily; but Will stopped her, as she knew he would.
"Doan't mother—I caan't stand no more on that head today. I'll dare anybody to name Providence more in my house, so long as 'tis mine. Theer's the facts to shout out 'gainst that rot. A honest, just, plain-dealin' man—an' look at me."
"Meantime we're ruined an' faither doan't hold out a finger."
"Take it stern an' hard like me. 'Tis all chance drawin' of prize or blank in gawld diggin'. The 'new chums,' as they call 'em, often finds the best gawld, 'cause they doan't knaw wheer to look for it, an' goes pokin' about wheer a skilled man wouldn't. That's the crooked way things happen in this poor world."
"You wouldn't go—not while I lived, sure? I couldn't draw breath comfortable wi'out knawin' you was breathin' the same air, my son."
"You'll live to knaw I was in the right. If fortune doan't come to you, you must go to it, I reckon. Anyways, I ban't gwaine to bide here a laughing-stock to Chagford; an' you'm the last to ax me to."
"Miller would never let Phoebe go."
"I shouldn't say 'by your leave' to him, I promise'e. He can look on an' see the coat rottin' off my back in this desert an' watch his darter gwaine thin as a lath along o' taking so much thought. He can look on at us, hisself so comfortable as a maggot in a pear, an' see. Not that I'd take help—not a penny from any man. I'm not gwaine to fail. I'll be a snug chap yet."
The stolid Chown entered at this moment.
"Butcher'll be up bimebye. An' the last of em's failed down," he said.
"So be it. Now us'll taake our supper," answered his master.
The meal was ready and presently Blanchard, whose present bitter humour prompted him to simulate a large indifference, made show of enjoying his food. He brought out the brandy for his mother, who drank a little with her supper, and helped himself liberally twice or thrice until the bottle was half emptied. The glamour of the spirit made him optimistic, and he spoke with the pseudo-philosophy that alcohol begets.
"Might have been worse, come to think of it. If the things weren't choked, I doubt they'd been near starved. 'Most all the hay's done, an' half what's left—a load or so—I'd promised to a chap out Manaton way. But theer't is—my hand be forced, that's all. So time's saved, if you look at it from a right point."
"You'm hard an' braave, an' you've got a way with you 'mong men. Faace life, same as faither did, an' us'll look arter Phoebe an' the childer," said Chris.
"I couldn't leave un," declared Will's wife. "'T is my duty to keep along wi'un for better or worse."
"Us'll talk 'bout all that later. I be gwaine to act prompt an' sell every stick, an' then away, a free man."
"All our furniture an' property!" moaned Phoebe, looking round her in dismay.
"All—to the leastest bit o' cracked cloam."
"A forced sale brings nought," sighed Damaris.
"Theer's hunderds o' pounds o' gude chattels here, an' they doan't go for a penny less than they 'm worth. Because I'm down, ban't no reason for others to try to rob me. If I doan't get fair money I'll make a fire wi' the stuff an' burn every stick of it."
"The valuer man, Mr. Bambridge, must be seen, an' bills printed out an' sticked 'pon barn doors an' such-like, same as when Mrs. Lezzard died," said Phoebe. "What'll faither think then?"
Will laughed bitterly.
"I'll see a few's dabbed up on his awn damned outer walls, if I've got to put 'em theer myself. An' as to the lists, I'll make 'em this very night. Ban't my way to let the dust fall upon a job marked for doin'. To-night I'll draw the items."
"Us was gwaine to stay along with 'e, Will," said his mother.
"Very gude—as you please. Make shake-downs in the parlour, an' I'll write in the kitchen when you'm gone to bed. Set the ink an' pen an' paper out arter you've cleared away. I'm allowed to be peart enough in matters o' business anyway, though no farmer o' course, arter this."
"None will dare to say any such thing," declared Phoebe. "You can't do miracles more than others."
"I mind when Ellis, to Two Streams Farm, lost a mort o' bullocks very same way," said Mrs. Blanchard.
"'Tis that as they'll bring against me an' say, wi' such a tale in my knawledge, I ought to been wiser. But I never heard tell of it before, though God knows I've heard the story often enough to-day."
It was now dark, and Will, lighting a lantern, rose and went out into the yard. From the kitchen window his women watched him moving here and there; while, as he passed, the light revealed great motionless, rufous shapes on every hand. The corpses of the beasts hove up into the illumination and then vanished again as the narrow circle of lantern light bobbed on, jerking to the beat of Will's footsteps. From the window Damaris observed her son make a complete perambulation of his trouble without comment. Then a little emotion trembled on her tongue.
"God's hand be lifted 'gainst the bwoy, same as 't was 'gainst the patriarch Job seemin'ly. Awnly he bent to the rod and Will—"
"He'm noble an' grand under his sorrows. Who should knaw but me?" cried Phoebe. "A man in ten thousand, he is, an' never yields to no rod. He'll win his way yet; an' I be gwaine to cleave to un if he travels to the other end o' the airth."
"I doan't judge un, gal. God knaws he's been the world to me since his faither died. He'm my dear son. But if he'd awnly bend afore the A'mighty breaks him."
"He's got me."
"Ess, an' he'm mouldin' you to his awn vain pride an' wrong ways o' thinking. If you could lead un right, 't would be a better wife's paart."
"He'm wiser'n me, an' stronger. Ban't my place to think against him. Us'll go our ways, childern tu, an' turn our backs 'pon this desert. I hate the plaace now, same as Will."
Chris here interrupted Phoebe and called her from the other room.
"Wheer's the paper an' ink to? I be setting out the things against Will comes in. He axed for 'em to be ready, 'cause theer's a deal o' penmanship afore him to-night. An' wheer's that li'l dictionary what I gived un years ago? I lay he'll want it."
TWO MIGHTY SURPRISES
Will returned from survey of his tribulation. Hope was dead for the moment, and death of hope in a man of Blanchard's character proved painful. The writing materials distracted his mind. Beginning without interest, his composition speedily absorbed him; and before the task was half completed, he already pictured it set out in great black or red print upon conspicuous places.
"I reckon it'll make some of 'em stare to see the scholar I am, anyways," he reflected.
Through the hours of night he wrote and re-wrote. His pen scratched along, echoed by an exactly similar sound from the wainscots, where mice nibbled in the silence. Anon, from the debris of his composition, a complete work took shape; and when Phoebe awoke at three o'clock, discovered her husband was still absent, and sought him hurriedly, she found the inventory completed and Will just fastening its pages together with a piece of string. He was wide awake and in a particularly happy humour.
"Ban't you never comin' to bed? 'T is most marnin'," she said.
"Just comin'. What a job! Look here—twelve pages. I be surprised myself to think how blamed well I've got through wi' it. You doan't knaw what you can do till you try. I used to wonder at Clem's cleverness wi' a pen; but I be purty near so handy myself an' never guessed it!"
"I'm sure you've made a braave job of it. I'll read it fust thing to-morrow."
"You shall hear it now."
"Not now, Will; 't is so late an' I'm three paarts asleep. Come to bed, dearie."
"Oh—if you doan't care—if it's nought to you that I've sit up all night slavin' for our gude—"
"Then I'll hear it now. Coourse I knaw 't is fine readin'. Awnly I thought you'd be weary."
"Sit here an' put your toes to the heat."
He set Phoebe in the chimney corner, wrapped his coat round her, and threw more turf on the fire.
"Now you'm vitty; an' if theer's anything left out, tell me."
"I lay, wi' your memory, you've forgot little enough."
"I lay I haven't. All's here; an' 't is a gert wonder what a lot o' gude things us have got. They did ought to fetch a couple o' hunderd pound at least, if the sale's carried out proper."
"They didn't cost so much as that."
"By Gor! Didn't they? Well, set out in full, like this here, they do sound as if they ought to be worth it. Now, I'll read 'em to see how it all sounds in spoken words."
He cleared his throat and began:
"'Sale this day to Newtake Farm, near Chagford, Dartmoor, Devonshire. Mr. William Blanchard, being about to leave England for foreign parts, desires to sell at auction his farm property, household goods, cloam, and effects, etc., etc., as per items below, to the best bidder. Many things so good as new.' How do 'e like that, Phoebe?"
"Butivul; but do 'e mean in all solemn seriousness to go out England? 'T is a awful thought, come you look at it close."
"Ess, 't is a gert, bold thing to do; but I doan't fear it. I be gettin' into a business-like way o' lookin' 'pon life of late; an' I counts the cost an' moves arter, as is the right order. Listen to these items set out here. If they 'm printed big, wan under t'other, same as I've wrote 'em, they'll fill a barn door purty nigh!"
Then he turned to his papers.
"'The said goods and chattels are as follows, namely,'—reg'lar lawyer's English, you see, though how I comed to get it so pat I caan't tell. Yet theer 'tis—'namely, 2 washing trays; 3 zinc buckets; 1 meat preserve; 1 lantern; 2 bird-cages; carving knife and steel (Sheffield make)—'"
"Do'e judge that's the best order, Will?"
"Coourse 't is! I thought that out specially. Doan't go thrawin' me from my stride in the middle. Arter 'Sheffield make,' 'half-dozen knives and forks; sundry ditto, not so good; hand saw; 2 hammers; 1 cleaver; salting trendle; 3 wheelbarrows—'"
"Doan't forget you lent wan of 'em to Farmer Thackwell."
"No, I gived it to un, him bein' pushed for need of wan. It slipped my memory. '2 wheelbarrows.' Then I goes on, 'pig stock; pig trough; 2 young breeding sows; 4 garden tools; 2 peat cutters; 2 carts; 1 market trap; 1 empty cask; 1 Dutch oven; 1 funnel; 2 firkins and a cider jib; small sieve; 3 pairs new Bedford harrows; 1 chain harrow (out of repair).' You see all's straight enough, which it ban't in some sales. No man shall say he's got less than full value."
"You'm the last to think of such a thing."
"I am. It goes on like this: '5 mattocks; 4 digging picks; 4 head chains; 1 axe; sledge and wedges; also hooks, eyes, and hasps for hard wood.' Never used 'em all the time us been here. '2 sets of trap harness, much worn.' I ban't gwaine to sell the dogs—eh? Us won't sell Ship or your li'l terrier. What do 'e say?"
"No. Nobody would buy two auld dogs, for that matter."
"Though how a upland dog like Ship be gwaine to faace the fiery sunshine on furrin gawld diggings, I caan't answer. Here goes again: '1 sofa; 1 armchair; 4 fine chairs with green cloth seats; 1 bedstead; 2 cots; 1 cradle; feather beds and palliasses and bolster pillows to match; wash-stands and sets of crockery, mostly complete; 2 swing glasses; 3 bedroom chairs; 1 set of breeching harness—'"
"Hadn't 'e better put that away from the furniture?"
"No gert odds. 'Also 1 set leading harness; 2 tressels and ironing board; 2 fenders; fire-irons and fire-dogs; 1 old oak chest; 1 wardrobe; 1 Brussels carpet (worn in 1 spot only)—'"
"Ban't worn worth namin'."
"Ess fay, 'tis wheer I sit Sundays—'9 feet by 11; 3 four-prong dung forks.' I'll move them. They doan't come in none tu well theer, I allow. '5 cane-seated chairs, 1 specimen of wax fruit under glass.'"
"I caan't paart wi' that, lovey. Faither gived it to me; an' 'twas mother's wance on a time."
"Well, bein' a forced sale it ought to go. An' seein' how Miller's left us to sail our awn boat to hell—but still, if you'm set on it."
He crossed it out, then suddenly laughed until the walls rang.
"Hush! You'll wake everybody. What do 'e find to be happy about?"
"I was thinkin' that down in them furrin, fiery paarts we'm gwaine to, as your wax plums an' pears'll damned soon run away. They'll melt for sartin!"
"Caan't be so hot as that! The li'l gal will never stand it. Read on now. Theer ban't much left, surely?"
"Scores o' things! '1 stuffed kingfisher in good case with painted picture at back; 1 fox mask; 1 mahogany 2-lap table; 1 warming-pan; Britannia metal teapot and 6 spoons ditto metal; 5 spoons—smaller—ditto metal.'"
"I found the one us lost."
"Then 'tis '6 spoons—smaller—ditto metal.' Then, 'ironing stove; 5 irons; washing boiler; 4 fry pans; 2 chimney crooks; 6 saucepans; pestle and mortar; chimney ornaments; 4 coloured almanacs—one with picture of the Queen—'"
"They won't fetch nothin'."
"They might. 'Knife sharper; screen; pot plants; 1 towel-rail; 1 runner; 2 forms; kitchen table; scales and weights and beam; 1 set of casters; 4 farm horses, aged; 3 ploughs; 1 hay wain; 1 stack of dry fern; 1-1/2 tons good manure; old iron and other sundries, including poultry, ducks, geese, and fowls.' That's all."
"Not quite; but I caan't call to mind much you've left out 'cept all the china an' linen."
"Ah! that's your job. An' I just sit here an' brought the things to my memory, wan by wan! An' that bit at the top came easy as cutting a stick!"
"'Tis a wonnerful piece o' work! An' the piano, Will?"
"I hadn't forgot that. Must take it along wi' us, or else send it down to mother. Couldn't look her in the faace if I sold that."
"Ban't worth much."
"Caan't say. Cost faither five pound, though that was long ago. Anyway I be gwaine to buy it in."
Silence then fell upon them. Phoebe sighed and shivered. A cock crew and his note came muffled from the hen-roost. A dim grey dawn just served to indicate the recumbent carcasses without.
"Come to bed now an' take a little rest 'fore marnin', dearie. You've worked hard an' done wonders."
"Ban't you surprised I could turn it out?"
"That I be. I'd never have thought 'twas in 'e. So forehanded, tu! A'most afore them poor things be cold."
"'Tis the forehandedness I prides myself 'pon. Some of us doan't know all that's in me yet. But they'll live to see it."
"I knaw right well they will."
"This'll 'maze mother to-morrow."
"'Twill, sure 'nough."
"Would 'e like me to read it just wance more wi'out stoppin', Phoebe?"
"No, dear love, not now. Give it to us all arter breakfast in the marnin'."
"So I will then; an' take it right away to the auctioneer the minute after."
He put his papers away in the drawer of the kitchen table and retired. Uneasy sleep presently overtook him and long he tossed and turned, murmuring of his astonishment at his own powers with a pen.
His impetuosity carried the ruined man forward with sufficient speed over the dark bitterness of failure confessed, failure advertised, failure proclaimed in print throughout the confines of his little world. He suffered much, and the wide-spread sympathy of friends and acquaintance proved no anodyne but rather the reverse. He hated to see eyes grow grave and mouths serious upon his entry; he yearned to turn his back against Chagford and resume the process of living in a new environment. Temporary troubles vexed him more than the supreme disaster of his failure. Mr. Bambridge made considerable alterations in his cherished lucubration; and when the advertisement appeared in print, it looked mean and filled but a paltry space. People came up before the sale to examine the goods, and Phoebe, after two days of whispered colloquies upon her cherished property, could bear it no longer, and left Newtake with her own little daughter and little Timothy. The Rev. Shorto-Champernowne himself called, stung Will into sheer madness, which he happily restrained, then purchased an old oak coffer for two pounds and ten shillings.
Miller Lyddon made no sign, and hard things were muttered against him and Billy Blee in the village. Virtuous indignation got hold upon the Chagford quidnuncs and with one consent they declared Mr. Lyddon to blame. Where was his Christian charity—that charity which should begin at home and so seldom does? This interest in others' affairs took shape on the night before the Newtake sale. Then certain of the baser sort displayed their anger in a practical form, and Mr. Blee was hustled one dark evening, had his hat knocked off, and suffered from a dead cat thrown by unseen hands. The reason for this outrage also reached him. Then, chattering with indignation and alarm, he hurried home and acquainted Mr. Lyddon with the wild spirit abroad.
As for Blanchard, he roamed moodily about the scene of his lost battle. In his pockets were journals setting forth the innumerable advantages of certain foreign regions that other men desired to people for their private ends. But Will was undecided, because all the prospects presented appeared to lead directly to fortune.
The day of the sale dawned fine and at the appointed hour a thin stream of market carts and foot passengers wound towards Newtake from the village beneath and from a few outlying farms. Blanchard had gone up the adjacent hill; and lying there, not far distant from the granite cross, he reclined with his dog and watched the people. Him they did not see; but them he counted and found some sixty souls had been attracted by his advertisement. Men laughed and joked, and smoked; women shrugged their shoulders, peeped about and disparaged the goods. Here and there a purchaser took up his station beside a coveted lot. Some noticed that none of those most involved were present; others spread a rumour that Miller Lyddon designed to stop the sale at the last moment and buy in everything. But no such incident broke the course of proceedings.
Will, from his hiding-place in the heather, saw Mr. Bambridge drive up, noted the crowd follow him about the farm, like black flies, and felt himself a man at his own funeral. The hour was dark enough. In the ear of his mind he listened to the auctioneer's hammer, like a death-bell, beating away all that he possessed. He had worked and slaved through long years for this,—for the sympathy of Chagford, for the privilege of spending a thousand pounds, for barely enough money to carry himself abroad. A few more figures dotted the white road and turned into the open gate at Newtake. One shape, though too remote to recognise with certainty, put him in mind of Martin Grimbal, another might have been Sam Bonus. He mused upon the two men, so dissimilar, and his mind dwelt chiefly with the former. He found himself thinking how good it would be if Martin proposed to Chris again; that the antiquary had done so was the last idea in his thoughts.
Presently a brown figure crept through Newtake gate, hesitated a while, then began to climb the hill and approach Blanchard. Ship recognised it before Will's eyes enabled him to do so, and the dog rose from a long rest, stretched, sniffed the air, then trotted off to the approaching newcomer.
It was Ted Chown; and in five minutes he reached his master with a letter. "'Tis from Miller Lyddon," he said. "It comed by the auctioneer. I thought you was up here."
Blanchard took it without thanks, waited until the labourer had departed, then opened the letter with some slight curiosity.
He read a page of scriptural quotations and admonitions, then tore the communication in half with a curse and flung it from him. But presently his anger waned; he rose, picked up his father-in-law's note, and plodded through it to the end.
His first emotion was one of profound thanksgiving that he had done so. Here, at the very end of the letter, was the practical significance of it.
"Powder fust, jam arter, by God!" cried Will aloud. Then a burst of riotous delight overwhelmed him. Once again in his darkest hour had Fortune turned the wheel. He shouted, put the letter into his breast pocket, rose up and strode off to Chagford as fast as his legs would carry him. He thought what his mother and wife would feel upon such news. Then he swore heartily—swore down blessings innumerable on Miller Lyddon, whistled to his dog, and so journeyed on.
The master of Monks Barton had reproved Will through long pages, cited Scripture at him, displayed his errors in a grim procession, then praised him for his prompt and manly conduct under the present catastrophe, declared that his character had much developed of recent years, and concluded by offering him five-and-thirty shillings a week at Monks Barton, with the only stipulation that himself, his wife, and the children should dwell at the farm.
Praise, of which he had received little enough for many years, was pure honey to Will. From the extremity of gloom and from a dark and settled enmity towards Mr. Lyddon, he passed quicker than thought to an opposite condition of mind.
"'Tis a fairy story—awnly true!" he said to himself as he swept along.
Will came near choking when he thought of the miller. Here was a man that believed in him! Newtake tumbled clean out of his mind before this revelation of Mr. Lyddon's trust and confidence. He was full to the brainpan with Monks Barton. The name rang in his ears. Before he reached Chagford he had planned innumerable schemes for developing the valley farm, for improving, saving, increasing possibilities in a hundred directions. He pictured himself putting money into the miller's pocket. He determined to bring that about if he had to work four-and-twenty hours a day to do it. He almost wished some profound peril would threaten his father-in-law, that he, at the cost of half his life, if need be, might rescue him and so pay a little of this great debt. Ship, taking the cue from his master, as a dog will, leapt and barked before him. In the valley below, Phoebe wept on Mrs. Blanchard's bosom, and Chris said hard things of those in authority at Monks Barton; up aloft at Newtake, shillings rather than pounds changed hands and many a poor lot found no purchaser.
Passing by a gate beneath the great hill of Middledown, Will saw two sportsmen with a keeper and a brace of terriers, emerge from the wild land above. They were come from rabbit shooting, as the attendant's heavy bag testified. They faced him as he passed, and, recognising John Grimbal, Will did not look at his companion. At rest with the world just then, happy and contented to a degree he had not reached for years, the young farmer was in such amiable mood that he had given the devil "good day" on slightest provocation. Now he was carried out of himself, and spoke upon a joyous inclination of the moment.
"Marnin' to 'e, Jan Grimbal! Glad to hear tell as your greyhound winned the cup down to Newton coursing."
The other was surprised into a sort of grunt; then, as Will moved rapidly out of earshot, Grimbal's companion addressed him. It was Major Tremayne; and now the soldier regarded Blanchard's vanishing figure with evident amazement, then spoke.
"By Jove! Tom Newcombe, by all that's wonderful," he said.
THE SECRET OUT
NOW many different persons in various places were simultaneously concerned with Will Blanchard and his affairs.
At Newtake, Martin Grimbal was quietly buying a few lots—and those worth the most money. He designed these as a gift for Phoebe; and his object was not wholly disinterested. The antiquary could by no means bring himself to accept his last dismissal from Chris. Seeing the vague nature of those terms in which she had couched her refusal, and remembering her frank admission that she could love him, he still hoped. All his soul was wrapped up in the winning of Chris, and her face came between him and the proof-sheets of his book; the first thoughts of his wakening mind turned to the same problem; the last reflections of a brain sinking to rest were likewise occupied with it. How could he win her? Sometimes his yearning desires clamoured for any possible road to the precious goal, and he remembered his brother's hint that a secret existed in Will's life. At such times he wished that he knew it, and wondered vaguely if the knowledge were of a nature to further his own ambition. Then he blushed and thought ill of himself But this personal accusation was unjust, for it is the property of a strong intellect engaged about affairs of supreme importance, to suggest every possible action and present every possible point of view by the mere mechanical processes of thinking. The larger a brain, the more alternative courses are offered, the more facets gleam with thought, the more numerous the roads submitted to judgment. It is a question of intellect, not ethics. Right actions and crooked are alike remorselessly presented, and the Council of Perfection, which holds that to think amiss is sin, must convict every saint of unnumbered offences. As reasonably might we blame him who dreams murder. Departure from rectitude can only begin where evil thought is converted into evil action, for thought alone of all man's possessions and antecedents is free, and a lifetime of self-control and high thinking will not shut the door against ideas. That Martin—a man of luminous if limited intellect—should have considered every possible line of action which might assist him to come at the highest good life could offer was inevitable; but he missed the reason of certain sinister notions and accused himself of baseness in giving birth to them. Nevertheless, the idea recurred and took shape. He associated John's assertion of a secret with another rumour that had spread much farther afield. This concerned the parentage of little Timothy the foundling, for it was whispered widely of late that the child belonged to Blanchard. Of course many people knew all the facts, were delighted to retail them, and could give the mother's name. Only those most vitally concerned had heard nothing as yet.
These various matters were weighing not lightly on Martin's mind during the hours of the Newtake sale; and meantime Will thundered into his mother's cottage and roared the news. He would hear of no objection to his wish, that one and all should straightway proceed to Monks Barton, and he poured forth the miller's praises, while Phoebe was reduced to tears by perusal of her father's letter to Will.
"Thank Heaven the mystery's read now, an' us can see how Miller had his eyes 'pon 'e both all along an' just waited for the critical stroke," said Mrs. Blanchard. "Sure I've knawed him these many years an' never could onderstand his hard way in this; but now all's clear."
"He might have saved us a world of trouble and a sea o' tears if he'd awnly spoken sooner, whether or no," murmured Chris, but Will would tolerate no unfriendly criticism.
"He'm a gert man, wi' his awn way o' doin' things, like all gert men," he burst out; "an' ban't for any man to call un in question. He knawed the hard stuff I was made of and let me bide accordin'. An' now get your bonnets on, the lot of 'e, for I'm gwaine this instant moment to Monks Barton."
They followed him in a breathless procession, as he hurried across the farmyard.
"Rap to the door quick, dear heart," said Phoebe, "or I'll be cryin' again."
"No more rappin' after thicky butivul letter," answered Will. "Us'll gaw straight in."
"You walk fust, Phoebe—'tis right you should," declared Mrs. Blanchard. "Then Will can follow 'e; an' me an' Chris—us'll walk 'bout for a bit, till you beckons from window."
"Cheer up, Phoebe," cried Will. "Trouble's blawed awver for gude an' all now by the look of it. 'Tis plain sailing hencefarrard, thank God, that is, if a pair o' strong arms, working morning an' night for Miller, can bring it about."
So they went together, where Mr. Lyddon waited nervously within; and Damaris and Chris walked beside the river.
Upon his island sat the anchorite Muscovy duck as of yore. He was getting old. He still lived apart and thought deeply about affairs; but his conclusions he never divulged.
Yet another had been surprised into unutterable excitement during that afternoon. John Grimbal found the fruit of long desire tumble into his hand at last, as Major Tremayne made his announcement. The officer was spending a fortnight at the Red House, for his previous friendship with John Grimbal had ripened.
"By Jove! Tom Newcombe, by all that's wonderful!" he exclaimed, as Will swung past him down the hill to happiness.
"That's not his name. It's Blanchard. He's a young fool of a farmer, and Lord knows what he's got to be so cock-a-hoop about. Up the hill they're selling every stick he's got at auction. He's ruined."
"He might be ruined, indeed, if I liked. 'Tom Newcombe' he called himself when he was with us."
"He certainly was, and my servant; about the most decent, straightforward, childlike chap that ever I saw."
"You're surprised. But it's a fact. That's Newcombe all right. You couldn't forget a face and a laugh like his. The handsomest man I've ever seen, bar none. He borrowed a suit of my clothes, the beggar, when he vanished. But a week later I had the things back with a letter. He trusted me that far. I tried to trace him, of course, but was not sorry I failed."
"Yes, giving a reason for his desertion. Some chap was running after his girl and had got her in a corner and bullied her into saying 'Yes,' though she hated the sight of him. I'd have done anything for Tom. But he took the law into his own hands. He disappeared—we were at Shorncliffe then if I remember rightly. The chap had joined to get abroad, and he told me all his harum-scarum ambitions once. I hope the poor devil was in time to rescue his sweetheart, anyway."
"Yes, he was in time for that."
"Should you see him again, Tremayne, I would advise your pretending not to know him. Unless, of course, you consider it your duty to proclaim him."
"Bless your life, I don't know him from Adam," declared the Major. "I'm not going to move after all these years. I wish he'd come back to me again, all the same. A good servant."
"Poor brute! What's the procedure with a deserter? Do you send soldiers for him or the police?"
"A pair of handcuffs and the local bobby, that's all. Then the man's handed over to the military authorities and court-martialled."
"What would he get?"
"Depends on circumstances and character. Tom might probably have six months, as he didn't give himself up. I should have thought, knowing the manner of man, that he would have done his business, married the girl, then come back and surrendered. In that case, being peace time, he would only have forfeited his service, which didn't amount to much."
So John Grimbal learned the secret of his enemy at last; but, to pursue a former simile, the fruit had remained so long out of reach that now it was not only overripe, but rotten. There began a painful resuscitation of desires towards revenge—desires long moribund. To flog into life a passion near dead of inanition was Grimbal's disgusting task. For days and nights the thing was as Frankenstein's creation of grisly shreds and patches; then it moved spasmodically,—or he fancied that it moved.
He fooled himself with reiterated assurances that he was glorying in the discovery; he told himself that he was not made of the human stuff that can forgive bitter wrongs or forget them until cancelled. He painted in lurid colours his past griefs; through a ghastly morass of revenge grown stale, of memories deadened by time, he tried to struggle back to his original starting-point in vanished years, and feel as he felt when he flung Will Blanchard over Rushford Bridge.
Once he wished to God the truth had never reached him; then he urged himself to use it instantly and plague his mind no more. A mental exhaustion and nausea overtook him. Upon the night of his discovery he retired to sleep wishing that Blanchard would be as good as his rumoured word and get out of England. But this thought took a shape of reality in the tattered medley of dreams, and Grimbal, waking, leapt on to the floor in frantic fear that his enemy had escaped him.
As yet he knew nothing of Will's good fortune, and when it came to his ears it unexpectedly failed to reawaken resentment or strengthen his animosity. For, as he retraced the story of the past years, it was with him as with a man reading the narrative of another's wrongs. He could not yet absorb himself anew in the strife; he could not revive the personal element.
Sometimes he looked at himself in the glass as he shaved; and the sight of the grey hair thickening on the sides of his head, the spectacle of the deep lines upon his forehead and the stamp of many a shadowy crow's-foot about his blue eyes—these indications served more than all his thoughts to sting him into deeds and to rekindle an active malignancy.
A year and more than a year passed by, during which time some pure sunshine brightened the life of Blanchard. Chagford laughed at his sustained good fortune, declared him to have as many lives as a cat, and secretly regretted its outspoken criticism of Miller Lyddon before the event of his generosity. Life at Monks Barton was at least wholly happy for Will himself. No whisper or rumour of renewed tribulation reached his ear; early and late he worked, with whole-hearted energy; he differed from Mr. Blee as seldom as possible; he wearied the miller with new designs, tremendous enterprises, particulars concerning novel machinery, and much information relating to nitrates. Newtake had vanished out of his life, like an old coat put off for the last time. He never mentioned the place and there was now but one farm in all Devon for him.
Meantime a strange cloud increased above him, though as yet he had not discerned so much as the shadow of it. This circumstance possessed no connection with John Grimbal. Time passed and still he did not take action, though he continued to nurse his wrongs through winter, spring, and summer, as a child nurses a sick animal. The matter tainted his life but did not dominate it. His existence continued to be soured and discoloured, yet not entirely spoiled. Now a new stone of stumbling lay ahead and Grimbal's interest had shifted a little.
Like the rest of Chagford he heard the rumour of little Timothy's parentage—a rumour that grew as the resemblance ripened between Blanchard and the child. Interested by this thought and its significance, he devoted some time to it; and then, upon an early October morning, chance hurried the man into action. On the spur of an opportunity he played the coward, as many another man has done, only to mourn his weakness too late.
There came a misty autumn sunrise beside the river and Grimbal, hastening through the valley of Teign, suddenly found himself face to face with Phoebe. She had been upon the meadows since grey dawn, where many mushrooms set in silvery dew glimmered like pearls through the mist; and now, with a full basket, she was returning to Monks Barton for breakfast. As she rested for a moment at a stile between two fields, Grimbal loomed large from the foggy atmosphere and stood beside her. She moved her basket for him to pass and her pulses quickened but slightly, for she had met him on numerous occasions during past years and they were now as strangers. To Phoebe he had long been nothing, and any slight emotion he might awaken was in the nature of resentment that the man could still harden his heart against her husband and remain thus stubborn and obdurate after such lapse of time. When, therefore, John Grimbal, moved thereto by some sudden prompting, addressed Will's wife, she started in astonishment and a blush of warm blood leapt to her face. He himself was surprised at his own voice; for it sounded unfamiliar, as though some intelligent thing had suddenly possessed him and was using his vocal organs for its own ends.
"Don't move. Why, 't is a year since we met alone, I think. So you are back at Monks Barton. Does it bring thoughts? Is it all sweet? By your face I should judge not."
She stared and her mouth trembled, but she did not answer.
"You needn't tell me you're happy," he continued, with hurried words. "Nobody is, for that matter. But you might have been. Looking at your ruined life and my own, I can find it in my heart to be sorry for us both."
"Who dares to say my life is ruined?" she flashed out. "D' you think I would change Will for the noblest in the land? He is the noblest. I want no pity—least of all yourn. I've been a very lucky woman—and—everybody knaws it whatever they may say here an' theer."
She was strong before him now; her temper appeared in her voice and she took her basket and rose to leave him.
"Wait one moment. Chance threw us here, and I'll never speak to you again if you resent it. But, meeting you like this, something seemed to tell me to say a word and let you know. I'm sorry you are so wretched—honestly."
"I ban't wretched! Never was a happier wife."
"Never was a better one, I know; but happy? Think. I was fond of you once and I can read between the lines—the little thin lines on your forehead. They are newcomers. I'm not deceived. Nor is it hidden. That the man has proved faithless is common knowledge now. Facts are hard things and you've got the fact under your eyes. The child's his living image."
"Who told you, and how dare you foul my ears and thoughts with such lies?" she asked, her bosom heaving. "You'm a coward, as you always was, but never more a coward than this minute."
"D' you pretend that nobody has told you this? Aren't your own eyes bright enough to see it?"
The man was in a pitiful mood, and now he grew hot and forgot himself wholly before her stinging contempt. She did not reply to his question and he continued,—
"Your silence is an answer. You know well enough. Who's the mother? Perhaps you know that, too. Is she more to him than you are?"
Phoebe made a great effort to keep herself from screaming. Then she moved hastily away, but Grimbal stopped her and dared her to proceed.
"Wait. I'll have this out. Why don't you face him with it and make him tell you the truth? Any plucky woman would. The scandal grows into a disgrace and your father's a fool to stand it. You can tell him so from me."
"Mind your awn business an' let me pass, you hulking, gert, venomous wretch!" she cried. Then a blackguard inspiration came to the man, and, suffering under a growing irritation with himself as much as with Phoebe, he conceived an idea by which his secret might after all be made a bitter weapon. He assured himself, even while he hated the sight of her, that justice to Phoebe must be done. She had dwelt in ignorance long enough. He determined to tell her that she was the wife of a deserter. The end gained was the real idea in his mind, though he tried to delude himself. The sudden idea that he might inform Blanchard through Phoebe of his knowledge really actuated him.
"You may turn your head away as if I was dirt, you little fool, and you may call me what names you please; but I'm raising this question for your good, not my own. What do I care? Only it's a man's part to step in when he sees a woman being trampled on."
"A man!" she said. "You'm not in our lives any more, an' we doan't want 'e in 'em. More like to a meddlin' auld woman than a man, if you ax me."
"You can say that? Then we'll put you out of the question. I, at least, shall do my duty."
"Is it part of your duty to bully me here alone? Why doan't 'e faace the man, like a man, 'stead of blusterin' to me 'bout it? Out on you! Let me pass, I tell 'e."
"Doan't make that noise. Just listen and stand still. I'm in earnest. It pleases me to know the true history of this child, and I mean to. As a Justice of the Peace I mean to."
"Ax Will Blanchard then an' let him answer. Maybe you'll be sorry you spoke arter."
"You can tell him I want to see him; you can say I order him to come to the Red House between eight and nine next Monday."
"Be you a fule? Who's he, to come at your bidding?"
"He's a—well, no matter. You've got enough to trouble you. But I think he will come. Tell him that I know where he was during the autumn and winter of the year that I returned home from Africa. Tell him I know where he came from to marry you. Tell him the grey suit of clothes reached the owner safely—remember, the grey suit of clothes. That will refresh his memory. Then I think he will come fast enough and let me have the truth concerning this brat. If he refuses, I shall take steps to see justice done."
"I lay he's never put himself in the power of a black-hearted, cruel beast like you," blazed out the woman, furious and frightened at once.
"Has he not? Ask him. You don't know where he was during those months? I thought you didn't. I do. Perhaps this child—perhaps the other woman's the married one—"
Phoebe dropped her basket and her face grew very pale before the horrors thus coarsely spread before her. She staggered and felt sick at the man's last speech. Then, with one great sob of breath, she turned her back on him, nerved herself to use her shaking legs, and set off at her best speed, as one running from some dangerous beast of the field.
Grimbal made no attempt to follow, but watched her fade into the mist, then turned and pursued his way through the dripping woodlands. Sunrise fires gleamed along the upper layers of the fading vapours and gilded autumn's handiwork. Ripe seeds fell tapping through the gold of the horse-chestnuts, and many acorns also pattered down upon a growing carpet of leaves. Webs and gossamers twinkled in the sunlight, and the flaming foliage made a pageant of colour through waning mists where red leaves and yellow fell at every breath along the thinning woods. Beneath trees and hedgerows the ripe mosses gleamed, and coral and amber fungi, with amanita and other hooded folk. In companies and clusters they sprang or arose misshapen, sinister, and alone. Some were orange and orange-tawny; others white and purple; not a few peered forth livid, blotched, and speckled, as with venom spattered from some reptile's jaws. On the wreck of the year they flourished, sucked strange life from rotten stick and hollow tree, opened gills on lofty branch and bough, shone in the green grass rings of the meadows, thrust cup and cowl from the concourse of the dead leaves in ditches, clustered like the uprising roof-trees of a fairy village in dingle and in dene.
At the edge of the woods John Grimbal stood, and the hour was very dark for him and he cursed at the loss of his manhood. His heart turned to gall before the thought of the thing he had done, as he blankly marvelled what unsuspected base instinct had thus disgraced him. He had plumbed a possibility unknown within his own character, and before his shattered self-respect he stood half passionate, half amazed. Chance had thus wrecked him; an impulse had altered the whole face of the problem; and he gritted his teeth as he thought of Blanchard's feelings when Phoebe should tell her story. As for her, she at least had respected him during the past years; but what must henceforth be her estimate of him? He heaped bitter contempt upon himself for this brutality to a woman; he raged, as he pursued long chains of consequences begot of this single lapse of self-control. His eye was cleared from passion; he saw the base nature of his action and judged himself as others would judge him. This spectacle produced a definite mental issue and aroused long-stagnant emotions from their troubled slumbers. He discovered that a frank hatred of Will Blanchard awoke and lived. He told himself this man was to blame for all, and not content with poisoning his life, now ravaged his soul also and blighted every outlook of his being. Like a speck upon an eyeball, which blots the survey of the whole eye, so this wretch had fastened upon him, ruined his ambitions, wrecked his life, and now dragged his honour and his very manhood into the dust. John Grimbal found himself near choked by a raging fit of passion at last. He burnt into sheer frenzy against Blanchard; and the fuel of the fire was the consciousness of his own craven performance of that morning. Flying from self-contemplation, he sought distraction and even oblivion at any source where his mind could win it; and now he laid all blame on his enemy and suffered the passion of his own shame and remorse to rise, as it had been a red mist, against this man who was playing havoc with his body and soul. He trembled under the loneliness of the woods in a debauch of mere brute rage that exhausted him and left a mark on the rest of his life. Even his present powers appeared trifling and their exercise a deed unsatisfying before this frenzy. What happiness could be achieved by flinging Blanchard into prison for a few months at most? What salve could be won from thought of this man's disgrace and social ruin? The spectacle sank into pettiness now. His blood was surging through his veins and crying for action. Primitive passion gripped him and craved primitive outlet. At that hour, in his own deepest degradation, the man came near madness, and every savage voice in him shouted for blood and blows and batterings in the flesh.
Phoebe Blauchard hastened home, meanwhile, and kept her own counsel upon the subject of the dawn's sensational incidents. Her first instinct was to tell her husband everything at the earliest opportunity, but Will had departed to his work before she reached the farm, and on second thoughts she hesitated to speak or give John Grimbal's message. She feared to precipitate the inevitable. In her own heart what mystery revolved about Will's past performances undoubtedly embraced the child fashioned in his likeness; and though she had long fought against the rumour and deceived herself by pretending to believe Chris, whose opinion differed from that of most people, yet at her heart she felt truth must lie hidden somewhere in the tangle. Will and Mr. Lyddon alone knew nothing of the report, and Phoebe hesitated to break it to her husband. He was happy—perhaps in the consciousness that nobody realised the truth; and yet at his very gates a bitter foe guessed at part of his secret and knew the rest. Still Phoebe could not bring herself to speak immediately. A day of mental stress and strain ended, and she retired and lay beside Will very sad. Under darkness of night the threats of the enemy grew into an imminent disaster of terrific dimensions, and with haunting fear she finally slept, to waken in a nightmare.
Will, wholly ignorant of the facts, soothed Phoebe's alarm and calmed her as she clung to him in hysterical tears.
"No ill shall come to 'e while I live," she sobbed: "not if all the airth speaks evil of 'e. I'll cleave to 'e, and fight for 'e, an' be a gude wife, tu,—a better wife than you've been husband."
"Bide easy, an' doan't cry no more. My arm's round 'e, dearie. Theer, give awver, do! You've been dreamin' ugly along o' the poor supper you made, I reckon. Doan't 'e think nobody's hand against me now, for ban't so. Folks begin to see the manner of man I am; an' Miller knaws, which is all I care about. He've got a strong right arm workin' for him an' a tidy set o' brains, though I sez it; an' you might have a worse husband, tu, Phoebe; but theer—shut your purty eyes—I knaw they 'm awpen still, for I can hear your lashes against the sheet. An' doan't 'e go out in the early dews mushrooming no more, for 't is cold work, an' you've got to be strong these next months."
She thought for a moment of telling him boldly concerning the legend spreading on every side; but, like others less near and dear to him, she feared to do so.
Knowing Will Blanchard, not a man among the backbiters had cared to risk a broken head by hinting openly at the startling likeness between the child and himself; and Phoebe felt her own courage unequal to the task just then. She racked her brains with his dangers long after he was himself asleep, and finally she determined to seek Chris next morning and hear her opinion before taking any definite step.
On the same night another pair of eyes were open, and trouble of a sort only less deep than that of the wife kept her father awake. Billy had taken an opportunity to tell his master of the general report and spread before him the facts as he knew them.
The younger members of the household had retired early, and when Miller Lyddon took the cards from the mantelpiece and made ready for their customary game, Mr. Blee shook his head and refused to play.
"Got no heart for cards to-night," he said.
"What's amiss, then? Thank God I've heard little to call ill news for a month or two. Not but what I've fancied a shadow on my gal's face more'n wance."
"If not on hers, wheer should 'e see it?" asked Mr. Blee eagerly." I've seed it, tu, an' for that matter theer's sour looks an' sighs elsewheer. People ban't blind, worse luck. 'Tis grawed to be common talk, an' I've fired myself to tell you, 'cause 'tis fitting an' right, an' it might come more grievous from less careful lips."
"Go on then; an' doan't rack me longer'n you can help. Use few words."
"Many words must go to it, I reckon. 'Tis well knawn I unfolds a bit o' news like the flower of the field—gradual and sure. You might have noticed that love-cheel by the name of Timothy 'bout the plaace? Him as be just of age to harry the ducks an' such-like."
"A nice li'l bwoy, tu, an' fond of me; an' you caan't say he'm a love-cheel, knawin' nothin' 'bout him."
"Love-cheel or changeling, 'tis all wan. Have'e ever thought 'twas coorious the way Blanchard comed by un?"
"Certainly 'twas—terrible coorious."
"You never doubted it?"
"Why for should I? Will's truthful as light, whatever else he may be."
"You believe as he went 'pon the Moor an' found that bwoy in a roundy-poundy under the gloamin'?"
"Ess, I do."
"Have'e ever looked at the laddie close?"
"Oftentimes—so like Will as two peas."
"Theer 'tis! The picter of Will! How do'e read that?"
"Never tried to. An accident, no more."
"A damn queer accident, if you ax me. Burnish it all! You doan't see yet, such a genius of a man as you tu! Why, Will Blanchard's the faither of the li'l twoad! You've awnly got to know the laws of nature an' such-like to swear to it. The way he walks an' holds his head, his curls, his fashion of lording it awver the birds an' beasts, the sudden laugh of un—he's Will's son, for a thousand pound, an' his mother's alive, like as not."
"No mother would have gived up a child that way."
"'Zactly so! Onless she gived it to the faither!" said Billy triumphantly.
Mr. Lyddon reflected and showed an evident disposition to scoff at the whole story.
"'Tis stuff an' rubbish!" he said. "You might as well find a mare's nest t'other side an' say 'twas Will's sister's child. 'Tis almost so like her as him, an' got her brown eyes in the bargain."
"God forbid!" answered Billy, in horror. "That's flat libel, an' I'd be the last to voice any such thing for money. If a man gets a cheel wrong side the blanket 'tis just a passing sarcumstance, an' not to be took too serious. Half-a-crown a week is its awn punishment like. But if a gal do, 'tis destruction to the end of the chapter, an' shame everlasting in the world to come, by all accounts. You didn't ought to think o' such things, Miller,—takin' a pure, gude maiden's carater like that. Surprised at 'e!"
"'Tis just as mad a thought wan way as t'other, and if you'm surprised so be I. To be a tale-bearer at your time o' life!"
"That gormed Blanchard's bewitched 'e from fust to last!" burst out Billy. "If a angel from heaven comed down-long and tawld 'e the truth 'bout un, you wouldn't b'lieve. God stiffen it! You make me mad! You'd stand 'pon your head an' waggle your auld legs in the air for un if he axed 'e."
"I'll speak to him straight an' take his word for it. If it's true, he 'm wickedly to blame, I knaw that."
"I was thinkin' of your darter. 'Tis black thoughts have kept her waking since this reached her ears."
"Did you tell her what people were sayin'? I warrant you did!"
"You'm wrong then. No such thing. I may have just heaved a sigh when I seed the bwoy playin' in front of her, an' looked at Blanchard, an' shook my head, or some such gentle hint as that. But no more."
"Well, I doan't believe a word of it; an' I'll tell you this for your bettering,—'tis poor religion in you, Blee, to root into other people's troubles, like a pig in a trough; an' auld though you be, you 'm not tu auld to mind what it felt like when the blood was hot an' quick to race at the sight of a maid."
"I practice same as I preach, whether or no," said Billy stoutly, "an' I can't lay claim to creating nothing lawful or unlawful in my Maker's image. 'Tis something to say that, in these godless days. I've allus kept my foot on the world, the flesh, an' the Devil so tight as the best Christian in company; an' if that ban't a record for a stone, p'raps you'll tell me a better. Your two-edged tongue do make me feel sometimes as though I did ought to go right away from 'e, though God knaws—God, He knaws—"
Billy hid his face and began to weep, while Mr. Lyddon watched the candle-light converge to a shining point upon his bald skull.
"Doan't go against a word in season, my dear sawl. 'Tis our duty to set each other right. That's what we'm put here for, I doubt. Many's the time you've given me gude advice, an' I've thanked 'e an' took it."
Then he went for the spirits and mixed Mr. Blee a dose of more than usual strength.
"You'm the most biting user of language in Chagford, when you mind to speak sour," declared Billy. "If I thought you meant all you said, I'd go an' hang myself in the barn this instant moment. But you doan't."
He snuffled and dried his scanty tears on a red handkerchief, then cheered up and drank his liquor.
"It do take all sorts to make a world, an' a man must act accordin' as he'm built," continued Mr. Lyddon. "Ban't no more use bein' angered wi' a chap given to women than 'tis bein' angered wi' a fule, because he's a fule. What do 'e expect from a fule but folly, or a crab tree but useless fruit, or hot blood but the ways of it? This ban't to speak of Will Blanchard, though. 'Pon him we'll say no more till he've heard what's on folks' tongues. A maddening bwoy—I'll allow you that—an' he've took a year or two off my life wan time an' another. 'Pears I ban't never to graw to love un as I would; an' yet I caan't quite help it when I sees his whole-hearted ferment to put money into my pocket; or when I hears him talk of nitrates an' the ways o' the world; or watches un playin' make-believe wi' the childer—himself the biggest cheel as ever laughed at fulishness or wanted spankin' an' putting in the corner."
On the following morning Miller Lyddon arose late, looked from his window and immediately observed the twain with whom his night thoughts had been concerned. Will stood at the gate smoking; small Timothy, and another lad, of slightly riper years, appeared close by. The children were fighting tooth and nail upon the ownership of a frog, and this reptile itself, fastened by the leg to a stick, listlessly watched the progress of the battle. Will likewise surveyed the scene with genial attention, and encouraged the particular little angry animal who had most claim upon his interest. Timothy kicked and struck out pretty straight, but fought in silence; the bigger boy screamed and howled and scratched.
"Vang into un, man, an' knock his ugly head off!" said Will encouragingly, and the babe to whom he spoke made renewed efforts as both combatants tumbled into the road, the devil in their little bright eyes, each puny muscle straining. Tim had his foe by the hair, and the elder was trying to bite his enemy's leg, when Martin Grimbal and Chris Blanchard approached from Rushford Bridge. They had met by chance, and Chris was coming to the farm while the antiquary had business elsewhere. Now a scuffle in a cloud of dust arrested them and the woman, uninfluenced by considerations of sportsmanship, pounced upon Timothy, dragged him from his operations, and, turning to Will, spoke as Martin Grimbal had never heard her speak before.
"You, a grawed man, to stand theer an' see that gert wild beast of a bwoy tear this li'l wan like a savage tiger! Look at his sclowed faace all streaming wi' blood! 'S truth! I'd like to sarve you the same, an' I would for two pins! I'm ashamed of 'e!"
"He hit wi' his fistes like a gude un," said Will, grinning; "an' he'm made o' the right stuff, I'll swear. Couldn't have done better if he was my awn son. I be gwaine to give un a braave toy bimebye. You see t'other kid's faace come to-morrow!"
Martin Grimbal watched Chris fondle the gasping Timothy, clean his wounds, calm his panting heart; then, as though a superhuman voice whispered in his ear, her secret stood solved, and the truth of Timothy's parentage confronted him in a lightning flash of the soul. He looked at Chris as a man might gaze upon a spectre; he stared at her and through her into her past; he pieced each part of the puzzle to its kindred parts until all stood complete; he read "mother" in her voice, in her caressing hands and gleaming eyes as surely as man reads morning in the first light of dawn; and he marvelled that a thing so clear and naked had been left to his discovery. The revelation shook him not a little, for he was familiar with the rumours concerning Tim's paternity, and had been disposed to believe them; but from the moment of the new thought's inception it gripped him, for he felt that the thing was true. As lamps, so ordered that the light of each may fall on the fringe of darkness where its fellow fades, and thus complete a chain of illumination, so the present discovery, duly considered, was but one point of truth revealing others. It made clear much that had not been easy to understand, and the tremendous fact rose in his mind as a link in such a perfect sequence of evidence that doubt actually vanished before he had lost sight of Chris and passed dumfounded upon his way. Her lover's sudden death, her own disappearance, the child's advent at Newtake, and the woman's subsequent return—these main incidents connected a thousand others and explained what little mystery still obscured the position. He pursued his road and marvelled as he went how a tragedy so thinly veiled had thus escaped every eye. Within the story that Chris had told, this other story might be intercalated without convicting her of any spoken falsehood. Now he guessed at the reason why Timothy's mother had refused to marry him on his last proposal; then, thinking of the child, he knew Tim's father.
So he stood before the truth; and it filled his heart with some agony and some light. Examining his love in this revelation, he discovered strange things; and first, that it was love only that had opened his eyes and enabled him to solve the secret at all. Nobody had made the discovery but himself, and he, of all men the least likely to come at any concern others desired to hide from him, had fathomed this great fact, had won it from the heart of unconscious Chris. His love widened and deepened into profound pity as he thought of all that her secret and the preservation of it must have meant; and tears dimmed his eyes as he pictured her life since her lover's passing.
To him the discovery hurt Chris so little that for a time he underrated the effect of it upon other people. His affection rose clean above the unhappy fact, and it was some time before he began to appreciate the spectacle of Chris under the world's eye with the truth no longer hidden. Then a sense of his own helplessness overmastered him; he walked slowly, drew up at a gate and stood motionless, leaning over it. So silent did he stand, and so long, that a stoat hopped across the road within two yards of him.
He realised to the full that he was absolutely powerless. Chris alone must disperse the rumours fastening on her brother if they were to be dispersed. He knew that she would not suffer any great cloud of unjust censure to rest upon Will, and he saw what a bitter problem must be overwhelming her. Nobody could help her and he, who knew, was as powerless as the rest. Then he asked himself if that last conviction was true. He probed the secret places of his mind to find an idea; he prayed for some chance spark or flash of genius to aid him before this trial; he mourned his own simple brains, so weak to aid him in this vital pass. But of all living men the accidental discovery was most safe with him. His heart went out to the secret mother, and he told himself that he would guard her mystery like gold.
It was strange in a nature so timorous that not once did a suspicion he had erred overtake him, and presently he wondered to observe how ancient this discovery of the motherhood of Chris had grown within his mind. It appeared as venerable as his own love for her. He yearned for power to aid; without conscious direction of his course he proceeded and strode along for hours. Then he ate a meal of bread and cheese at an inn and tramped forward once more upon a winding road towards the village of Zeal.
Through his uncertainty, athwart the deep perplexity of his mind, moved hope and a shadowed joy. Within him arose again the vision of happiness once pictured and prayed for, once revived, never quite banished to the grey limbo of ambitions beyond fulfilment. Now realities saddened the thought of it and brought ambition within a new environment less splendid than the old. But, despite clouds, hope shone fairly forth at last. So a planet, that the eye has followed at twilight and then lost a while, beams anew at dawn after lapse of days, and wheels in wide mazes upon some new background of the unchanging stars.
Elsewhere Mr. Lyddon braced himself to a painful duty, and had private speech with his son-in-law. Like a thunderbolt the circling suspicions fell on Will, and for a moment smothered his customary characteristics under sheer surprise.
The miller spoke nervously, and walked up and down with his eyes averted.
"Ban't no gert matter, I hope, an' I won't keep 'e from your work five minutes. You've awnly got to say 'No,' an' theer's an end of it so far as I'm concerned. 'Tis this: have 'e noticed heads close together now an' again when you passed by of late?"
"Not me. Tu much business on my hands, I assure 'e. Coourse theer's envious whisperings; allus is when a man gets a high place, same as what I have, thanks to his awn gude sense an' the wisdom of others as knaws what he's made of. But you trusted me wi' all your heart, an' you'll never live to mourn it."
"I never want to. You'm grawing to be much to me by slow stages. Yet these here tales. This child Timothy. Who's his faither, Will, an' who's his mother?"
"How the flaming hell should I knaw? I found him same as you finds a berry on a briar. That's auld history, surely?"
"The child graws so 'mazing like you, that even dim eyes such as mine can see it."
A sudden flash of light came into Blanchard's face. Then the fire died as quickly as it had been kindled, and he grew calm.
"God A'mighty!" he said, in a voice hushed and awed. "They think that! I lay that's why your darter's cried o' nights, then, an' Chris have grawed sad an' wisht in her ways, an' mother have pet the bwoy wan moment an' been short wi' un the next."
He remained marvellously quiet under this attack, but amazement chiefly marked his attitude. Miller Lyddon, encouraged by this unexpected reasonableness, spoke again more sternly.
"The thing looks bad to a wife an' mother, an' 'tis my duty to ax 'e for a plain, straightforward answer 'pon it. Human nature's got a ugly trick of repeatin' itself in this matter, as we all knaws. But I'll say nought an' think nought till you answers me. Be the bwoy yourn or not? Tell me true, with your hand on this."
He took his Bible from the mantelpiece, while Will, apparently cowed by the gravity of the situation, placed both palms upon it, then fixed his eyes solemnly upon Mr. Lyddon.
"As God in heaven's my judge, he ban't no cheel of mine, and I knaw nothing about him—no, nor yet his faither nor mother nor plaace of birth. I found un wheer I said, and if I've lied by a fraction, may God choke me as I stand here afore you."
"An' I believe you to the bottom!" declared his father-in-law. "I believe you as I hopes to be believed myself, when I stands afore the Open Books an' says I've tried to do my duty. You've got me on your side, an' that's to say you'll have Phoebe an' your mother, tu, for certain."
Then Blanchard's mood changed, and there came a tremendous rebound from the tension of the last few minutes. In the anti-climax following upon his oath, passion, chained a while by astonishment, broke loose in a whirlwind.
"Let 'em believe or disbelieve, who cares?" he thundered out. "Not me—not a curse for you or anybody, my awn blood or not my awn blood. To harbour lies against me! But women loves to believe bad most times."
"Who said they believed it, Will? Doan't go mad, now 'tis awver and done."
"They did believe it; I knaw, I seed it in theer faaces, come to think of it. 'Tis the auld song. I caan't do no right. Course I've got childer an' ruined maids in every parish of the Moor! God damn theer lying, poisonous tongues, the lot of 'em! I'm sick of this rotten, lie-breeding hole, an' of purty near every sawl in it but mother. She never would think against me. An' me, so true to Phoebe as the honey-bee to his awn butt! I'll go—I'll get out of it—so help me, I will—to a clean land, 'mongst clean-thinking folk, wheer men deal fair and judge a chap by his works. For a thought I'd wring the neck of the blasted child, by God I would!"
"He've done no wrong."
"Nor me neither. I had no more hand in his getting than he had himself. Poor li'l brat; I'm sorry I spoke harsh of him. He was give me—he was give me—an' I wish to God he was mine. Anyways he shaa'n't come to no harm. I'll fight the lot of 'e for un, till he 's auld enough to fight for hisself."
Then Will burst out of Monks Barton and vanished. He passed far from the confines of the farm, roamed on to the high Moor, and nothing further was seen of him until the following day.
Those most concerned assembled after his departure and heard the result of the interview.
"Solemn as a minister he swore," explained Mr. Lyddon; "an' then, a'most before his hands was off the Book, he burst out like a screeching, ravin' hurricane. I half felt the oath was vain then, an' 't was his real nature bubblin' up like."
They discussed the matter, all save Chris, who sat apart, silent and abstracted. Presently she rose and left them, and faced her own trouble single-handed, as she had similarly confronted greater sorrows in the past.
She was fully determined to conceal her cherished secret still; yet not for the superficial reason that had occurred to any mind. Vast mental alterations had transformed Chris Blanchard since the death of Clement. Her family she scarcely considered now; no power of logic would have convinced her that she had wronged them or darkened their fame. In the past, indeed, not the least motive of her flight had centred in the fear of Will; but now she feared nobody, and her own misfortune held no shadow of sin or shame for her, looking back upon it. Those who would have denied themselves her society or friendship upon this knowledge it would have given her no pang to lose. She could feel fiercely still, as she looked back to the birth of her son and traced the long course of her sufferings; and she yet experienced occasional thrills of satisfaction in her weaker moments, when she lowered the mask and reflected, not without pride, on the strength and determination that had enabled her to keep her secret. But to reveal the truth now was a prospect altogether hateful in the eyes of Chris, and she knew the reason. More than once had she been upon the brink of disclosure, since recent unhappy suspicions had darkened Phoebe's life; but she had postponed the necessary step again and again, at one thought. Her fortitude, her apathy, her stoic indifference, broke down and left her all woman before one necessity of confession; her heart stood still when she remembered that Martin Grimbal must know and judge. His verdict she did, indeed, dread with all her soul, and his only; for him she had grown to love, and the thought of his respect and regard was precious to her. Everybody must know, everybody or nobody. For long she could conceive of no action clearing Will in the eyes of the wider circle who would not be content to take his word, and yet leaving herself uninvolved. Then the solution came. She would depart once more with the child. Such a flight was implicit confession, and could not be misunderstood. Martin must, indeed, know, but she would never see him after he knew. To face him after the truth had reached his ear seemed to Chris a circumstance too terrible to dwell upon. Her action, of course, would proclaim the parentage of Timothy, and free Will from further slanderings; while for herself, through tears she saw the kind faces of the gypsy people and her life henceforth devoted to her little one.
To accentuate the significance of the act she determined to carry out her intention that same day, and during the afternoon opportunity offered. Her son, playing alone in the farmyard, came readily enough for a walk, and before three o'clock they had set out. The boy's face was badly scratched from his morning battle, but pain had ceased, and his injuries only served as an object of great interest to Timothy. Where water in ditch or puddle made a looking-glass he would stop to survey himself.
A spectator, aware of certain facts, had viewed the progress of Chris with some slight interest. Three ways were open to her, three main thoroughfares leading out of Chagford to places of parallel or greater importance. Upon the Moor road Will wandered in deep perturbation; on that to Okehampton walked another man, concerned with the same problem from a different aspect; the third highway led to Moreton; and thither Chris might have proceeded unchallenged. But a little public vehicle would be returning just then from the railway station. That the runaway knew, and therefore selected another path.
In her pocket was all the money that she had; in her heart was a sort of alloyed sorrow. Two thoughts shared her mind after she had decided upon a course of action. She wondered how quickly Tim would learn to call her "mother," for that was the only sweet word life still held; yet of the child's father she did not think, for her mind, without special act of volition, turned and turned again to him upon whom the Indian summer of her love had descended.
UNDER COSDON BEACON
Beneath a region where the "newtakes" straggle up Cosdon's eastern flank and mark a struggle between man and the giant beacon, Chris Blanchard rested a while upon the grass by the highway. Tim, wrapped in a shawl, slept soundly beside his mother, and she sat with her elbows on her knees and one hand under her chin. It was already dusk; dark mist wreaths moved upon the Moor, and oncoming night winds sighed of rain. Then a moment before her intended departure from this most solitary spot she heard footsteps upon the road. Not interested to learn anything of the passer-by, Chris remained with her eyes upon the ground, but the footsteps stopped suddenly before her, whereupon she looked up and saw Martin Grimbal.
After a perambulation of twenty miles he had now set his face homewards, and thus the meeting was accomplished. Utmost constraint at first marked the expression of both man and woman, and it was left for Martin to break the silence, for Chris only started at seeing him, but said nothing. Her mind, however, ranged actively upon the reason of Grimbal's sudden appearance, and she did not at first believe it accidental.
"Why, my dear, what is this? You have wandered far afield!"
He addressed her in unnatural tones, for surprise and emotion sent his voice up into his head, and it came thin and tremulous as a woman's. Even as he spoke Martin feared. From the knowledge gleaned by him that morning he suspected the meaning of this action, and thought that Chris was running away.
And she, at the same moment, divined that he guessed the truth in so far as the present position was concerned. Still she did not speak, and he grew calmer and took her silence as an admission.
"You're going away from Chagford? Is it wise?"
"Ess, Martin, 'tis best so. You see this poor child be breedin' trouble, an' bringing bad talk against Will. He ban't wanted—little Timothy—an' I ban't wanted overmuch, so it comed to me I'd—I'd just slip away out of the turmoil an' taake Tim. Then—"
She stopped, for her heart was beating so fast that she could speak no more. She remembered her own arguments in the recent past,—that this flight must tell all who cared to reflect that the child was her own. Now she looked up at Martin to see if he had guessed it. But he exhibited extreme self-control and she was reassured.
"Just like your thoughtful self to try and save others from sorrow. Where are you going to, Chris? Don't tell me more than you please; but I may be useful to you on this, the first stage of the journey."
"To Okehampton to-night. To-morrow—but I'd rather not say any more. I don't care so long as you think I'm right."
"I haven't said that yet. But I'll go as far as Zeal with you. Then we'll get a covered cab or something. We may reach the village before rain."
"No call for your coming. 'Tis awnly a short mile."
"But I must. I'll carry the laddie. Poor little man! Hard to be the cause of such a bother."
He picked Timothy up so gently that the child did not wake.
"Now," he said, "come along. You must be tired already."
"How gude you be!" she said wearily. "I'm glad you doan't scold or fall into a rage wi' me, for I knaw I'm right. The bwoy's better away, and I'm small use to any now. But I can be busy with this little wan. I might do worse than give up my life to un—eh, Martin?"
Then some power put words in his mouth. He trembled when he had spoken them, but he would not have recalled them.
"You couldn't do better. It's a duty staring you in the face."
She started violently, and her dark skin flamed under the night.
"Why d'you say that?" she asked, with loud, harsh voice, and stopping still as she did so. "Why d'you say 'duty'?"
He, too, stood and looked at her.
"My dear," he answered, "love's a quick, subtle thing. It can make even such a man as I am less stupid than Nature built him. It fires dull brains; it adds sight to dim eyes; it shows the bookworm how to find out secrets hidden from keener spirits; it lifts a veil from the loved one and lets the lover see more than anybody else can. Be patient with me. I spoke because I love you still with all my heart and soul, Chris; I spoke, because what I feel for you is lifelong, and cannot change. Had I not still worshipped the earth under your feet I would have died rather than tell you. But love makes me bold. I have watched you so long and prayed for you so often. I have seen little differences in you that nobody else saw. And to-day I know. I knew when you picked up Timothy and flew at Will. Since then I've wandered Heaven can tell where, just thinking and thinking and wondering and seeing no way. And all the time God meant me to come and find you and tell you."
She understood; she gave one bitter cry that started an echo from ruined mine-workings hard at hand; then she turned from him, and, in a moment of sheer hopeless misery, flung herself and her wrecked ambitions upon the ground by the wayside.
For a moment the man stood scared by this desperate answer to his words. Then he put his burden down, approached Chris, knelt beside her, and tried to raise her. She sat up at last with panting breast and eyes in which some terror sat.
"You!" she said. "You to knaw! Wasn't my cup full enough before but that my wan hope should be cut away, tu? My God, I 'mauld in sorrow now—very auld. But 't is awver at last. You knaw, an' I had to hear it from your awn lips! Theer 's nought worse in the world for me now."
Her hands were pressed against her bosom, and as he unconsciously moved a little towards her she shrank backwards, then rose to her feet. Timothy woke and cried, upon which she turned to him and picked him up.
"Go!" she cried suddenly. "If ever you loved me, get out of my sight now, or you'll make me want to kill myself again."
He saw the time was come for strong self-assertion, and spoke.
"Listen!" he said. "You don't understand, but you must. I'm the only man in the world who knows—the only one, and I've told you because it was stamped into my brain to tell you, and because I love you perhaps better than one creature has any right to love another."
"You knaw. Isn't it enough? Who else did I care for? Who else mattered to me? Mother or brother or other folk? I pray you to go an' leave me. God knaws how hard it was to hide it, but I hugged it an' suffered more 'n any but a mother could fathom 'cause things weer as they weer. Then came this trouble, an' still none seed. But 't was meant you should, an' the rest doan't matter. I'd so soon go back now as not."
"So you shall," he answered calmly; "only hear this first. Last time I spoke about what was in my heart, Chris, you told me you could love me, but that you would not marry me, and I said I would never ask you again. I shall keep my word, sweetheart. I shall not ask; I shall take without asking. You love me; that is all I care for. The little boy came between last time; now nothing does."
He took the woman in his arms and kissed her, but the next moment he was flying to where water lay in a ditch, for his unexpected attitude had overpowered Chris. She raised her hands to his shoulders, uttered a faint cry, then slipped heavily out of his arms in a faint. The man rushed this way and that, the child sat and howled noisily, the woman remained long unconscious, and heavy rain began to fall out of the darkness; yet, to his dying day that desolate spot of earth brought light to Martin's eyes as often as he passed it.
Chris presently recovered her senses, and spoke words that made her lover's heart leap. She uttered them in a sad, low voice, but her hand was in his, pressing it close the while.
"Awften an' awften I've axed the A'mighty to give me wan little glint o' knawledge as how 'twould all end. If I'd knawed! But I never guessed how big your sawl was, Martin. I never thought you was the manner of man to love a woman arter that."
"God knows what's in my heart, Chris."
"I'll tell 'e everything some day. Lookin' back it doan't 'pear no ways wicked, though it may seem so in cold daylight to cold hearts."
"Come, come with me, for the rain grows harder. I know where I can hire a covered carriage at an inn. 'Tis only five minutes farther on, and poor Tim's unhappy."
"He'm hungry. You won't be hard 'pon my li'l bwoy if I come to 'e, Martin?"
"You know as well as I can tell you. There's one other thing. About Chagford, Chris? Are you afraid of it? I'll turn my back on it if you like. I'll take you to Okehampton now if you would rather go there."
"Never! 'Tis for you to care, not me. So you knaw an' forgive—what's the rest? Shadows. But let me hold your hand an' keep my tongue still. I'm sick an' fainty wi' this gert turn o' the wheel. 'T is tu deep for any words."
He felt not less uplifted, but his joy was a man's. It rolled and tumbled over his being like the riotous west wind. Under such stress his mind could find no worthy thing to say, and yet he was intoxicated and had to speak. He was very unlike himself. He uttered platitudes; then the weight of Timothy upon his arm reminded him that the child existed.
"He shall go to a good school, Chris."
"I wish I could die quick here by the roadside, dear Martin, for living along with you won't be no happier than I am this moment. My thoughts do all run back, not forward. I've lived long enough, I reckon. If I'd told 'e! But I'd rather been skinned alive than do it. I'd have let the rest knaw years agone but for you."
Driving homewards half an hour later, Chris Blanchard told Martin that part of her story which concerned her life after the birth of Timothy.
"The travellin' people was pure gawld to me," she said. "And theer's much to say of theer gert gudeness. But I can tell 'e that another time. It chanced the very day Will's li'l wan was buried we was to Chagford, an' the sad falling-out quickened my awn mind as to a thought 'bout my cheel. It comed awver me to leave un at Newtake. I left the vans wheer they was camped that afternoon, an' hid 'pon the hill wi' the baaby. Then Will comed out hisself, an' I chaanged my thought an' followed un wheer he roamed, knawin' the colour of his mind through them black hours as if 'twas my awn. 'Twas arter he'd left the roundy-poundy wheer he was born that I put my child in it, then called tu un loud an' clear. He never knawed the voice, which was the awnly thing I feared. But a voice long silent be soon forgot. I bided at hand till I saw the bwoy in brother Will's arms. An' then I knawed 'twas well an' that mother would come to see it. Arterwards I suffered very terrible wi'out un. But I fought wi' myself an' kept away up to the time I'd fixed in my mind. That was so as nobody should link me with the li'l wan in theer thoughts. Waitin' was the hard deed, and seein' my bwoy for the first time when I went to Newtake was hard tu. But 'tis all wan now."
She remained silent until the lengthy ride was ended and her mother's cottage reached. Then, as that home she had thought to enter no more appeared again, the nature of the woman awoke for one second, and she flung herself on Martin's heart.
"May God make me half you think me, for I love you true, an' you'm the best man He ever fashioned," she said. "An' to-morrow's Sunday," she added inconsequently, "an' I'll kneel in church an' call down lifelong blessings on 'e."
"Don't go to-morrow, my darling. And yet—but no, we'll not go, either of us. I couldn't hear my own banns read out for the world, and I don't think you could; yet read they'll be as sure as the service is held."
She said nothing, but he knew that she felt; then mother and child were gone, and Martin, dismissing his vehicle, proceeded to Monks Barton with the news that all was well.
Mrs. Blanchard heard her daughter's story and its sequel. She exhibited some emotion, but no grief. The sorrow she may have suffered was never revealed to any eye by word or tear.
"I reckoned of late days theer was Blanchard blood to the child," she said, "an' I won't hide from you I thought more'n wance you was so like to be the mother as Will the faither of un. Go to bed now, if you caan't eat, an' taake the bwoy, an' thank God for lining your dark cloud with this silver. If He forgives 'e, an' this here gude grey Martin forgives 'e, who be I to fret? Worse'n you've been forgived at fust hand by the Lard when He travelled on flesh-an'-blood feet 'mong men; an' folks have short memories for dates, an' them as sniggers now will be dust or dotards 'fore Tim's grawed. When you've been a lawful wife ten year an' more, who's gwaine to mind this? Not little Tim's fellow bwoys an' gals, anyway. His awn generation won't trouble him, an' he'll find a wise guardian in Martin, an' a lovin' gran'mother in me. Dry your eyes an' be a Blanchard. God A'mighty sends sawls in the world His awn way, an' chooses the faithers an' mothers for 'em; an' He's never taught Nature to go second to parson yet, worse luck. 'Tis done, an' to grumble at a dead man's doin's—specially if you caan't mend 'em—be vain."
"My share was half, an' not less," said Chris.
"Aye, you say so, but 'tis a deed wheer the blame ban't awften divided equal," answered Mrs. Blanchard. "Wheer's the maiden as caan't wait for her weddin' bells?"
The use of the last two words magically swept Chris back into the past. The coincidence was curious, and she remembered when a man, destined never to listen to such melody, declared impatiently that he heard it in the hidden heart of a summer day long past. She did not reply to her mother, but arose and took her child and went to rest.
BAD NEWS FOR BLANCHARD
On the morning that saw the wedding of Chris and Martin, Phoebe Blanchard found heart and tongue to speak to her husband of the thing she still kept locked within her mind. Since the meeting with John Grimbal she had suffered much in secret, but still kept silence; and now, after a quiet service before breakfast on a morning in mid-December, most of those who had been present as spectators returned to the valley, and Phoebe spoke to Will as they walked apart from the rest. A sight of the enemy it was that loosed her lips, for, much to the surprise of all present, John Grimbal had attended his brother's wedding. As the little gathering streamed away after the ceremony, he had galloped off again with a groom behind him, and the incident now led to greater things.
"Chill-fashion weddin'," said Will, as he walked homewards, "but it 'pears to me all Blanchards be fated to wed coorious. Well, 't is a gude matter out o' hand. I knaw I raged somethin' terrible come I fust heard it, but I think differ'nt now, specially when I mind what Chris must have felt those times she seed me welting her child an' heard un yell, yet set her teeth an' never shawed a sign."
"Did 'e note Jan Grimbal theer?"
"I seed un, an' I catched un wi' his eye on you more 'n wance. He 's grawed to look nowadays as if his mouth allus had a sour plum in it."
"His brain's got sour stuff hid in it if his mouth haven't. Be you ever feared of un?"
"Not me. Why for should I be? He'll be wan of the fam'ly like, now. He caan't keep his passion alive for ever. We 'm likely to meet when Martin do come home again from honeymooning."
"Will, I must tell you something—something gert an' terrible. I should have told 'e 'fore now but I was frightened."
"Not feared to speak to me?"
"Ess, seeing the thing I had to say. I've waited weeks in fear an' tremblin', expecting something to happen, an' all weighed down with fright an' dread. Now, what wi' the cheel that's comin', I caan't carry this any more."
Being already lachrymose, after the manner of women at a wedding, Phoebe now shed a tear or two. Will thereupon spoke words of comfort, and blamed her for hiding any matter from him.
"More trouble?" he said. "Yet I doan't think it,—not now,—just as I be right every way. I guess 't is your state makes you queer an' glumpy."
"I hope 't was vain talk an' not true anyway."
"More talk 'bout me? You'd think Chagford was most tired o' my name, wouldn't 'e? Who was it now?"
"Him—Jan Grimbal. I met him 'mong the mushrooms. He burst out an' said wicked, awful things, but his talk touched the li'l bwoy. He thought Tim was yourn an' he was gwaine to do mischief against you."
"Damn his black mind! I wonder he haven't rotted away wi' his awn bile 'fore now."
"But that weern't all. He talked an' talked, an' threatened if you didn't go an' see him, as he'd tell 'bout you in the past, when you was away that autumn-time 'fore us was married."